This word perseverance means “keeping on.” That is, we keep on with whatever we start, such as coming to Dharma school, studying lessons regularly and well, and constantly and unfailingly doing whatever we know we ought to do. Of course, if we find we have mistakenly begun to do anything of an unwise nature, we must not persevere in such action as that. But, to know what is right and to begin to do it and then stop, usually means we are lacking in strength of character. This is certainly not our Buddhist way of living.
Laziness and putting off are great weakeners of character. As a rule, a lazy person plans to do things tomorrow. Such persons have good intentions but weak actions. A gardener who knows that his plants need water today and neglects his duty, saying that he will water the garden tomorrow, will soon find a dead garden or else only a few plants left and even those will probably not have blossoms. It is quite the same in our lives. If we fail to do what we know we ought to do, or else constantly put off doing it, presently we find that character has become weak and our lives have no blossoms of good deeds. Good intentions can never take the place of good actions and, once we start on good actions, we ought to persevere. Just to “keep on keeping on” is really a very great virtue.
Next to laziness and putting off, comes the bad habit of doing things by fits and starts, something like a clock that tells time now and then and runs only in a stop and start fashion. If we come to Dharma school just now and then and study just now and then and do good deeds by starts and stops, then we are not much different from the clock that tells the hour only now and then.
So many starts are very good ones, if only they were kept up. It is a rather well-known fact that a brilliant youth who leads a sort of start and stop life, will accomplish far less than a much less brilliant youth who perseveres – who just keeps on steadily. He is not a “quitter” and he will get something of real value of life. Our Buddhist idea of the proper way to live is to know the Dharma and steadily use the Dharma each and every day of life. A “stop-start Buddhist” is only deceiving himself; he is not really a Buddhist at all. Let us keep this word perseverance in mind. It is ever so important to everyone and especially to all who are trying to follow Lord Buddha.
THE HARE AND THE TOROISE
Once, a long time ago, a race was arranged between a hare and a tortoise. There was much laughter and joking because very many of those who gathered to watch this odd contest were so sure that such a swift creature as the hare would surely be the winner. It just did not seem possible to them that such a slow mover as the tortoise could even make a good start. The race began and the hare sped off like the wind. The tortoise made a slow start but he kept on moving. He neither increased nor decreased his pace. Soon the swift hare was tired. He looked back and could not even see the tortoise who was very far behind. So the hare sat down to take a rest. After a rest he got up and walked slowly on for a time and looked back again. The tortoise was still not in sight. So the hare decided to take a little nap. He made himself comfortable under the shade of a tree and was soon fast asleep. After awhile, the tortoise got as far as the tree and saw the hare asleep. Quietly but slowly and surely, tortoise moved on. After a time, the tortoise reached the stopping point and was declared the winner of the race. Then the hare finished his nap and started off at a very fast pace to the finish-line. To his great surprise he found the tortoise already there. Swiftness is no guarantee of winning a race unless there is perseverance with the swiftness.
Lord Buddha, I will follow
Thy Dharma without cease,
And keeping always at Thy side,
My heart will know Thy peace.
Steadfast and loyal I will be
In thought and word and deed;
Thus persevering all the way,
I shall sow Buddha-seed.
There’s sowing time and harvest time,
And what we sow we reap;
Thus children all should persevere
Thy way to know and keep.