Contentment is one of the first lessons we learn in Buddhism. Yet, it is quite easy to confuse contentment with not having to work hard (or laziness). Certainly, if one is truly contented, then he/she should be just as contented at working hard as when resting.
The Buddha that we come to know in the sutta is one who praised hard work and diligence. One only needs to reflect on the Buddha’s own example to learn how hardworking and committed he was to teaching the Dhamma. – One of the most celebrated stories in Buddhism was that of how the 5 ascetics attained enlightenment and became the Buddha’s first disciples. Yet few realised that the Buddha actually walked on foot for over 200 km from Bodhigaya to Deer Park in order to teach the 5 ascetics! Traditions tell us that it took him 11 days to walk the whole distance.
This little known act by the Buddha clearly encapsulated the Buddha’s compassion and dedication, and the need to be diligent.
There are more examples in the sutta where the Buddha urges us to work hard and not to idle:
“There are, young householder, these six evil consequences in being addicted to idleness:
He does no work, saying: (a) that it is extremely cold, (b) that it is extremely hot, (c) that it is too late in the evening, (d) that it is too early in the morning, (e) that he is extremely hungry, (f) that he is too full.
Living in this way, he leaves many duties undone, new wealth he does not get, and wealth he has acquired dwindles away.”
As lay Buddhist, we depend on ourselves for our livelihoods. In the Sigalovada Sutta the Buddha reminded us that one who is lazy will give all kinds of excuses not to work. Carried to the extreme, this will lead to one’s downfall.
In the Appativana Sutta, the Buddha gave yet another teachings on the importance of being diligence when striving for Enlightenment;
“Monks, I have known two qualities through experience: discontent with regard to skillful qualities and unrelenting exertion. Relentlessly I exerted myself, [thinking,] ‘Gladly would I let the flesh & blood in my body dry up, leaving just the skin, tendons, & bones, but if I have not attained what can be reached through human firmness, human persistence, human striving, there will be no relaxing my persistence.’ From this heedfulness of mine was attained Awakening. From this heedfulness of mine was attained the unexcelled freedom from bondage.
You, too, monks, should relentlessly exert yourselves, [thinking,] ‘Gladly would we let the flesh & blood in our bodies dry up, leaving just the skin, tendons, & bones, but if we have not attained what can be reached through human firmness, human persistence, human striving, there will be no relaxing our persistence.’ You, too, in no long time will reach & remain in the supreme goal of the holy life for which clansmen rightly go forth from home into homelessness, knowing & realizing it for yourselves in the here & now.
Thus you should train yourselves: ‘We will relentlessly exert ourselves, [thinking,] “Gladly would we let the flesh & blood in our bodies dry up, leaving just the skin, tendons, & bones, but if we have not attained what can be reached through human firmness, human persistence, human striving, there will be no relaxing our persistence.”‘ That’s how you should train yourselves.”
Here in the Appamada Sutta, the Buddha encourages the monks to be “diligent in these four achievements”;
Bhikkhus, be diligent in these four achievements. What four?
Bhikkhus, be diligent to dispel bodily misconduct and to develop bodily good conduct
Bhikkhus, be diligent to dispel verbal misconduct and to develop verbal good conduct
Bhikkhus, be diligent to dispel mental misconduct and to develop mental good conduct
Bhikkhus, be diligent to dispel wrong view and to develop right view
Bhikkhus, when the bhikkhu has dispelled bodily misconduct and developed bodily good conduct, dispelled verbal misconduct and developed verbal good conduct, dispelled mental misconduct and developed mental good conduct, has dispelled wrong view and developed right view, he does not fear the hereafter and he does not fear death.