What are the different types of laziness that can prevent us from practising Dharma?

A student writes:

I am very interested in the different types of laziness: sloth and listlessness, the laziness of despair – not believing you can become enlightened, and the laziness of being too busy and distracted to practice. I hadn’t thought of these as being kinds of laziness. Is there anything more you can say on this?

Lama Shenpen responds:

Interesting distinctions are being made here. We all know the laziness of just not wanting to bother ourselves too much. It might be that one part of us thinks something would be good to do but another part says ‘yes but…maybe later’. If you actually thought it was not good to do then it wouldn’t be laziness, it would be a difference of opinion.

You can only be lazy about something you actually think would be a good thing to do but then somehow you just cannot be bothered right then… and then again later and then again later. Somehow you never get around to doing it, and you regret that because you really thought it was the right thing to do.

Laziness is not rebellion but they look the same. When we are rebelling we can rebel openly and say to ourselves and others why we don’t want to do something or we can just rebel inwardly not even admitting it to ourselves. Nonetheless we drag our feet or we do it with bad grace, resentment and/or a despairing, angry feeling of having been defeated.

Laziness of being busy and distracted is the laziness that keeps us in samsara*. We really believe that this, that and the other are more important than Dharma. Even when we think of death we think, ‘it won’t happen today, there is time for that later so I will just get on with what is under my nose and do the Dharma thing later.’

We never give ourselves time to notice that what we are doing isn’t going anywhere, we never let the Dharma really penetrate deeply enough for it to change us and allow us to let go of all the worldly things that seem so important to us and everyone around us. We give ourselves to value systems that allow no time to just relax and be – just be with the openness, clarity and sensitivity of our being… and to stop and consider that feels like a threat.

We would rather say we just don’t have time for all that so we don’t even realise that we have never let the Dharma really penetrate deeply enough and that is our true laziness – we didn’t want to be challenged like that, we didn’t want to change.

Then there is the laziness of thinking ‘what’s the use? I couldn’t ever reach enlightenment or improve in any way. I am just a stupid person who is never going to change however much I try’. So in this way we actually give in to despair or this belief that we are no good or incapable.

Maybe we feel comfortable with that because such a belief means we don’t have to change or challenge ourselves, maybe we feel uncomfortable and ashamed about that and treat ourselves with disrespect, almost shouting at ourselves for being so bad and so hopeless while at the same time clinging on to the belief that we really have no choice.

All of this is laziness because it’s based on beliefs that stop us following the path of Dharma – Awakening, Liberation, Peace and Happiness.

When we drop these beliefs, we find that we allow our Heart Wish to challenge us and let ourselves feel uncomfortable and bewildered as we let go of past habits and wait to see what bubbles up to replace them, waiting for a response from the world and giving time for another response to arise in us.

It is all about discovery and trust – trusting the nature of reality and letting go of all we are clinging on to. That is where the genuine energy of the Six Paramitas – generosity/dana, shila*, kshanti*, virya*, meditation and wisdom are to be found.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

*Samsara – The endless wandering round in an endless succession of lives each characterised by suffering. It is existence as experienced by unenlightened beings, whether it’s the tread-mill of living from day to day, going nowhere except into old age and death, or the suffering of being trapped in delusion from one life to the next.

*Shila – Discipline, which one enters by making a commitment. This is done formally by taking precepts or vows from a preceptor. The initial intention or vow and the keeping of it are the shila. There are different shilas for different purposes or stages of the path. There is a basic shila which all followers of the Buddhas are naturally committed to when they take Refuge (the five shilas of abstaining from killing, stealing, lying, sexual abuse and drunkenness).

*Kshanti -Translated variously as ‘patience’, ‘forbearance’ or ‘endurance’. Not only does the Bodhisattva have to bear adversities on the path, but also the truth revealed on the path which are uncomfortable or shocking.

*Virya – Focused, steady energy arising from interest, enjoyment and enthusiasm.

Find out more about joining Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training – the structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at www.ahs.org.uk/training