Posted on January 29, 2014 by Universal Life Church Monastery
“He who labors diligently need never despair; for all things are accomplished by diligence and labor.” – Menander
Diligence refers to careful and persistent work or effort. The diligent carry a zealous yet careful nature in their actions. They have a decisive work ethic, are steadfast in their beliefs, uphold their convictions at all times (especially when no one is looking) and do not easily give up. Diligence is the virtue of hard work, and is indicative of a belief that work in itself is good.
Diligence in Hinduism
“Who so performeth – diligent, content – the work allotted him, whatever it be, lays hold of perfectness!”
-The Bhagavad Gita 18:45
Diligence is closely aligned with the concept of work. Work is the staple of human life: when we are idle, we become irritable, when we retire we decline. Work is important in Hinduism because it is one of the four paths to God.
This path is called the karma yoga. It asserts that one does not need to retire to a cloister to find God. God can be found in the world of everyday affairs just as readily as anywhere else. How this is done depends on the worker’s nature, and whether the yogi approaches work intellectually (Jana) or in the spirit of love (Bhakti). Keep in mind that the main goal of Hinduism is to transcend the limits of the finite self.
First, let us look at the Bhakti yoga. These are people who bring their ardent and affectionate nature to their work. They work for God and for others, not for themselves. Acts are no longer performed for their personal reward, they are performed as service to God. The person is merely a channel through which the love and will of God are carried out.
An example of Bhakti yoga would be a person mowing and taking care their elderly neighbors yard as well as their own. However this person does not tell their neighbor, for this would foil the point. Instead, she does the extra work with no thought of seeking recognition. Doing so would inflate the ego. In this sense, Bhakti yoga is closely aligned with humility.
The Jana approach to work is more intellectual than emotional. It might help to think of Bhakti as a pastor and Jana as a philosopher. For the Jana, work is done unselfishly, but the approach is slightly different, since they see the world differently than the Bhakti. To the Jana, the idea of an infinite being at the center of one’s self is more meaningful than the idea of a divine author who created and watches over the world with love.
The Jana believe the way to enlightenment is work done in detachment from the empirical self. This involves drawing a line between the “finite” self that performs acts, and the “eternal” self that observes the action. It may help to think of it in terms of body and soul. People most often approach work in terms of what it will bring their body, or finite self. Examples are the money or glory work will bring. But doing working towards these ends only tightens the chains on the ego cage.
The Jana decided that work should be done in a state of detached presence. The worker performs his duties in identification of the eternal, but since the acts are being performed by the empirical, finite self, the true self has nothing to do with them. This is a difficult concept to grasp, but such is the nature of the Jana.
Both the affectionate (Bhakti) and the philosophical (Jana) framework strive to starve the ego by depriving it of the consequences, good and bad, upon which it feeds. For the Hindu, diligence goes beyond careful and persistent labor: it is the way to escape the limits of the self to achieve enlightenment.
Diligence in Christianity
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Unlike the Hindu Karma Yogas, Christians do not believe they can obtain salvation through diligence. In Christianity salvation comes from the grace and mercy of God through Christ, it cannot be earned. This does not mean diligence has no place in Christianity; it is key to the Christian path.
Christian diligence begins with faith and is manifested through love. God provided us His word in order that we may come to know him, and through diligence we can fulfill His purpose in our lives. The apostle Peter advises us the importance of diligence as we mature in Christ, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge.” (2 Peter 1:5) It begins with faith, then virtue and knowledge are obtained through diligence.
If the Bible is our path to God, we can turn to the it to understand the role of diligence in the Christian life. The book of Proverbs has many precepts about it, “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich.”; “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, But the soul of the diligent is made fat.” (Proverbs 12:24, 13:4)
Returning to second Peter, we read, “be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” These “things” Peter speaks of are faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, kindness, and charity. They are the fruit that comes from faith and a sign that that faith is alive and vibrant. These things must be earned through diligence.
The parable of the five golden talents is a good example of Christian diligence. The story shows how we should be productive with the talents that God has provided. In the parable, the master gives each of his servants a number of golden talents. It was not said, but all the servants knew that they were expected to increase their talents while the lord was gone. When he returned, he rewarded the servants who were productive and increased their talents, “His lord said unto him, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.’” (Matthew 25:21)
The golden talents represent the blessings God has given to his children. During this life we are expected to use these things responsibly to increase our virtue, faith, and to help others increase their own. When the Lord comes again, those who were diligent with their talents will be rewarded.
Diligence in Buddhism
“Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.”
Diligence is one of the points on the Noble Eightfold Path. Right Effort, also called Right Work, involves training and exerting oneself to develop wholesome qualities. The Buddha taught that there are four aspects to Right Effort:
1. The effort to prevent unhealthy qualities- greed, anger, lust, sloth, etc.- from developing.
2. The effort to destroy unhealthy qualities that have already manifested.
3.The effort to cultivate wholesome qualities- generosity, love, kindness, wisdom, etc.- that have not yet been developed.
4. The effort the strengthen wholesome qualities that have already arisen.
Effort is key to this whole process. But the Buddha wouldn’t want us to think that Right Effort just means practicing hard, it means simply practicing right. (Remember the Middle Way, the path between extremes.) Practicing this should be like playing a well-tuned instrument. Strings that are too loose won’t make a sound, but if they are too tight they will break. Thich Nhat Hahn, a Zen teacher, once said, “The Fourfold Right Diligence is nourished by joy and interest. If your practice does not bring you joy, you are not practicing correctly.”
However, this does not mean diligence will be always be easy and fun. Sometimes it will be difficult and tiresome. Buddha taught that in these situations we should follow the ox’s example. The ox marches through the deep mire carrying a heavy load. He is tired, but keeps a steady gaze forward, and will not relax until he comes out of the mire. It is only then he takes a respite. The mire is sin, passion, desire, sloth, and ill will. This can only be escaped by earnestly and steadily working out of them.
How to be Diligent
Today’s world is fast-paced and filled with obstacles and distractions. Technology meant to make life easier and more connected has ironically made it more complicated and nuanced. With all this swirling around, staying committed to a task requires focus. Most of us could benefit from increasing our diligence. Here are a few ways to do so:
Create Goals. When you get into a car, you most likely have a destination in mind. If not, you will just drive around aimlessly. The same goes for goals: they are needed to give us a direction. Accomplishing smaller goals will give you confidence and the experience will enable you to better tackle larger, long-term goals. Track your progress along the way and make note of your achievements
Create Standards. Think of problem areas in your life and set a standard to which you will not go below. Sometimes it’s difficult to correct unpleasant habits, but this is necessary to build confidence. It can help to pick a role model to emulate to keep your mind focused.
Stay Positive. A positive attitude goes a long way. It’s easier to stick to your ultimate intentions when you get rid of negativity and pessimism. Keep your eyes on the goal, and like the Buddha taught, follow the example of the ox.
Release Stress.Find positive outlets to release stress and doubts. Releasing stress in constructive ways is important because it will further your goals while allowing you to release and recharge. Examples of such activities include working out, cooking, dancing, drawing, video gaming, carpentry, traveling, mountain climbing, writing, basket-weaving, etc.