05/19/2010 06:36 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Don't Just Do Something ... Sit There.

The words of this blog's title have been attributed, by some liberal/jocular scholars, to the Buddha, who as you may know, sat in meditation under the Bodhi tree for seven years as the last necessary step before attaining enlightenment.

Any serious student of Buddhism will acknowledge that the essential component of Buddhism is the stilling of the mind. As long as the mind remains restless we remain restless.

"Life reflects the mind.
Your life will be like the state of your mind."*

The restless state is an agitated state. In it, there is no sense of completion- something needs to be done to "finish" things and move on to a state of resolution and peace. So, we tend to be in a hurry to bring about this desired state. Hurry means haste. In the Sufi tradition it is said:

"Hastiness is the father of anger,
Anger is the father of sin"*

Once, when I was in my kitchen, I went to the refrigerator to get some blueberries for breakfast. I was running late, and my mind was racing; I had a quick mental flash-image of spilling the blueberries all over the floor. Sure enough, 5 seconds later I did exactly that and hundreds of blueberries cascaded onto the floor. As they did, I stepped on a few, grinding them into and staining (permanently) an expensive Persian carpet. I was furious at myself, and cursed out loud for some time, berating myself for my clumsiness and haste. It was the perfect example of the above quote; haste turned to anger, then to sin. This small incident was tiny in the larger scope of life, but think of the ramifications in a more crucial setting! We read, in the papers, every day of crimes committed as a result of anger.

Which brings us back to the Buddha; he saw so clearly that the peace we seek is always with us -- deep inside -- and we need only to quiet the emotions and activities and we will have complete resolution and calm-a state of completeness. This also applies to our daily activities as well as doing meditation.

In Ryutaku-Ji Zen Monastery in Japan, as a lay monk, I was eager to learn meditation; after all, I had traveled 10,000 miles to do that. When I asked the Roshi (the Zen Master) if I could meditate instead of work, he refused my request firmly, saying, "No: work is best meditation." I was assigned to a job sweeping leaves from the wide pathway leading from the road to the monastery a distance of several hundred yards. My tool was a bamboo broom and the task was made more tedious by the fact that the pathway was composed of shiny white round pebbles, and not even one was to go onto the bordering grass.

I cursed the job in the beginning, thinking all kinds of negative thoughts about the value of menial labor. But as the weeks progressed and my mind became calmer, I began to see clearly that it was my mind that was causing all the upset. Once my 'hasty' mind slowed down, and I accepted the work, it was quite satisfying, and by the end of the summer I eagerly awaited the morning hour when I would walk with my broom to the pathway. I had come to love this task and would not have traded it for the world.

Patience is the opposite of hastiness and it is the broom that sweeps away the 'mind leaves.' The resulting clean path is a joy to behold and to walk upon.

And finally the words of a Sufi Master:

"Hasty intellect and impetuous anger will destroy even the priceless love of
God, that beautiful love with which He does good things for you.They will also destroy the love others have for you. This hasty intellect and uncontrollable anger must be given up. Give them up."

Man must have true faith. He must have the one thing called faith in God. No matter what race or religion you belong to or what scriptures you follow, if you should find a buried pot of gold when digging in the earth, take it! Or, if you find some precious stones, take them! Don't think, "This belongs to some religion other than mine." Don't let that prevent you from taking it.

Similarly, if you find God's qualities, God's conduct, God's truth, His wisdom or His good words, take them, no matter where they may be. If you have wisdom take them and progress. Do not let doubt, suspicion, or discrimination make you discard them, thinking, "This is from another religion. My religion is better!" That would be ignorant. "Search for truth and wherever you find it take it and keep it with you in your treasury. It will give you immense benefit."*

* M.R.Bawa Muhaiyaddeen