Death will be so quick to swoop on you;
Gather merit till that moment comes!
Wait till then to banish laziness?
Then there'll be no time, what will you do?
"This I have not done. And this I'm only starting.
And this -- I'm only halfway through..."
Then is the sudden coming of the Lord of Death,
And oh, the thought "Alas, I'm finished!"
Morning practice at Deming Zen Center is a quiet time. I get there a little before seven o'clock, turn on the heat, and start a kettle for tea. Occasionally somebody joins me. This morning, I bowed alone.
My body is still strong but when I do prostrations I can feel the age in the feet, definitely the knees, fatigued muscles and joints. Ten years ago, the 108 bows barely worked up a sweat. Now it's a reminder that this body is changing -- and not just in the cosmetic sense where we see white hairs and wrinkled skin. Truly, there is no youth and age, from the perspective of the dharma. But this body has limits and at some point, so to speak, it will be time to turn it in.
Moreover, I have long had a peculiar sense that it might be sooner rather than later. Not the sort of thing anyone wants to hear about, but there it is. Maybe it is just some insecurity or misguided worry. Anyway, it inspires me to practice and work, and not waste time or money on stupid things.
Myo Ji Sunim was known for her devotion to prostration practice. When I lived at Cambridge Zen Center, she would visit a couple of times a year and lead 1,000 prostrations for anyone who wanted to participate. It would take about two hours, and most of us were pretty young. Sunim was considerably older, but she did all of the prostrations while chanting, and that kept us going when we began to think we were tired. One day, at the end of a thousand bows, she looked around the room and said, "You are all young! Practice hard and train yourselves while you're young! I'm starting to get tired."
To drive her point home, she died rather suddenly in 2011.
The Bodhicaryavatara calls the opposite of perseverance "laziness," but this is a laziness much deeper than the fleeting resistance to getting off a comfortable sofa. The laziness described in this scripture is a kind of depression or sinkhole. We can sink into these spaces of comfort and distraction, craving sleep or comfort food or "a better social life." This kind of laziness is not inactive: going to the gym can keep you very busy and physically fit, but if we do it as a form of escape from life, then it is a kind of "laziness" from the perspective of the dharma. When I feel an urge to buy a gym membership, it's usually due to vain thoughts about the state of my body; so I do some bows instead. Vanity takes time and energy; and dwelling on it is laziness. Dwelling on anything, for that matter.