Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Would Buddha Do About Procrastination?

Sitting last evening with the other stalwart member of my taking-the-summer-off sangha, I found myself thinking about whether or not it makes sense, from a Buddhist point of view, to concern myself with procrastination.  Of course, the thing to do while attempting to meditate is to notice where my mind has gone off to and then to gently bring it back to my breath.  Which I did.  Before it wandered off in a new direction.

But I was left with an interest in thinking more about my question.  And what I came up with first is that I have only the foggiest understanding of what Buddhism "says" about anything.  I don't really call myself a Buddhist.  Rather I am a student of Buddhism.  Which should let me off the hook for sometime to come, as far as "getting it" goes.  

I have progressed only slightly beyond the common misperception of the practice, so intriguingly presented in Mark Salzman's novel The Soloist--not to be confused with Steve Lopez's novel of the same name, which ultimately became a "major motion picture"--that "anything goes," or "It's all good."

In Salzman's story, a comparative religion teacher at a community college is called to testify in the trial of a Zen student who killed his master during a meditation retreat.  
The gist of his testimony was that Zen is an iconoclastic sect of Buddhism that encourages impulsive, spontaneous behavior. . . . a nihilistic philosophy which teaches that everything is an illusion, and that all value judgements like good or bad, right or wrong, are meaningless.  [p. 174]
But if this community college instructor's view is a distortion, what of this from last night's reading?
. . . [E]verything is transitory, including ourselves.  But the self, or ego, would like us to believe that everything is permanent.  If we actually admitted that everything is transitory, we would have no solid ground for attachment--and ego is based on attachment.  Grasping to a nonexistent self, we misread our world and lose the true treasure of our mind. [from It's Up to You:  The Practice of Self-Reflection on the Buddhist Path, by Dzigar KongtrĆ¼l; p. 19]
 And attachment, of course, is to be avoided because of its relationship to suffering.  But is it attachment to desire to get something done?  To care about whether something gets done or not?  Apparently not, though I don't yet understand why. 

This morning, I began to poke around the internet to see how Buddhists think about procrastination.  (One reason I love blogging--it legitimizes my urge to surf.)  In tomorrow's post, I will share some of what I found.

In the meantime, I'll try to remain in a state of nonjudgemental awareness about the whole thing.

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