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What Is the Real Meaning of "Shojin 精進" (Diligence)?

The Buddha’s wisdom is the light that brightens our life. If we practice the Buddhist teachings, our daily life will dramatically change.

In Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha teaches us the six good deeds that bring us happiness (Six Paramitas). The fourth one is “diligence” (effort).

So let's focus on "diligence" this time.

In Japan, the word translated as "diligence" here, shojin (精進), is commonly associated with a particular kind of cuisine that doesn’t use any meat or fish. Those who are familiar with this definition may think that the meaning of shojin is to diligently stick to such a diet. However, this is not the real meaning of shojin. The word consists of two Chinese characters; these have the combined meaning of "moving forward diligently." Therefore, shojin refers to making efforts as we move toward the light. Buddhism teaches us that our destiny is determined by the seeds we sow (what each person does). If we sow good seeds (do good deeds), good effects (happiness) will come to us, and if we sow bad seeds (do bad deeds), bad effects (misfortune) will come to us.

Retired Japanese-Chinese baseball player Sadaharu Ou, who is renowned as the “Home Run King of the World,” says that if we make a persistent effort, we will surely be rewarded:

“There's never a case in which our efforts won’t be rewarded. Even if the effort doesn’t bear fruit right away, it will never be wasted. If you are not getting results, that means you still haven't made enough effort.”

Now let’s look at the story of one of Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciples, who followed his teachings, made effort, and led a happy life.

Cuda-panthaka, one of the Ten Great Disciples of Buddha, was so dull by birth that he couldn’t remember even his own name. Even his brother became fed up with him and drove him out of the house. When he was sobbing outside the gate, Shakyamuni Buddha, who was passing by, stopped to ask him what the matter was. Cuda-panthaka tearfully told him what had happened. Shakyamuni Buddha said gently to him, “There's no need to be sad. You are aware of your foolishness, but there are many fools who think themselves wise. Being aware of one’s stupidity is next to enlightenment.”

He gave Cuda-panthaka a broom and instructed him to say, “I sweep the dust away, I wash the dirt away” as he swept. Cuda-panthaka tried very hard to remember the sacred phrase. However, when he remembered “I sweep the dust away,” he forgot “I wash the dirt away”, and when he remembered “I wash the dirt away,” he forgot “I sweep the dust away.”

Even so, he continued that for twenty years. Just once during those two decades, Shakyamuni Buddha praised him.

“No matter how many years you keep sweeping, you don’t make any progress. However, you patiently continue without getting discouraged. Making progress is important, but continuing constantly is much more important. This is an admirable trait - one that I do not see in my other disciples.” In this way, he valued Cuda-panthaka's constant diligent effort.

Later Cuda-panthaka realized that dust and dirt did not only accumulate where he thought they would but in places he least expected. Surprised, he thought, “I knew I was stupid, but there’s no telling how much more of my stupidity exists in places I don’t even notice.”

Cuda-panthaka earnestly kept sweeping for twenty years.

In the end Cuda-panthaka attained the enlightenment of an arhat. This is the very fruit of encountering a great teacher and the true teachings, and his long years of effort. Constant, diligent effort to plant good seeds is important.

(Please refer to Something You Forgot... Along the Way pg. 131 and Unshakable Spirit pg. 156)


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