20 Minutes A Day

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The past couple of days I have been reading and re-reading Chapter 15 in the Lotus Sutra, “The Appearance of Bodhisattvas from Underground”. I have even pulled out all of the various translations that I have of the Lotus Sutra to compare how each translator has dealt with this chapter.

It isn’t a very complicated chapter, so I don’t know exactly why I felt compelled to look beyond the one translation that I normally use, the Murano. I mainly was interested in seeing how each translator described the Bodhisattvas that make their sudden and first appearance in this chapter.

Here are a couple of quotes describing these Bodhisattvas:

“These great Bodhisattvas have studied and practiced the Wisdom of the Buddha for the past innumerable kalpas.”

“These sons of mine studied my teachings strenuously day and night in order to attain the enlightenment of the Buddha”

These quotes are actually descriptions of those who practice the Lotus Sutra in this age, and one challenge of our practice is to realize that this is the case.  So, if we believe this is about ourselves how do we cary out this practice and fulfill these descriptions.

When I was much younger and just beginning my practice of Buddhism I was given the encouragement to make a sincere effort to study something about Buddhism just 20 minutes each day.  At the time I sincerely tried to do this every day.  I set aside time right before going to bed and read from books about Buddhism.  At the time I was in the military and living in an open squad-bay barracks, so reading at that time was challenging to say the least.  Either someone would complain about the light or else there would be a rowdy group at one end blasting music from a record player, concentrating was challenging to say the least.

Anyway, I continued to do this and after a year or so it dawned on me that almost as if by magic I had accumulated a large amount of knowledge and had read quite a number of books.  Now this reading was in addition to other reading that I was doing and so was dedicated strictly to topics on Buddhism.  It was then that I realized that I had been tricked into studying 100 hours a year.

Imagine if someone suggested to you that you study or do anything for 100 hours.  We would I suspect feel that it was not possible, that we couldn’t do it, or that it would be beyond comprehension to schedule so much time.  And yet if we devote 20 minutes a day regularly to one thing for a year we would actually accumulate over 100 hours towards that goal.

At Buddhist temples part of the daily activity is cleaning the temple every day.  When you go to temple grounds in Japan they always look so beautiful.  Even in the fall season when leaves are falling you almost never see leaves piled up or laying on the ground.  The morning routine at temples does not include hours and hours cleaning, instead usually the clean up is for half an hour or forty-five minutes.  It is the accumulated effort of only a few minutes that yields these results.

So the trick to think about when ever we set out to accomplish some large goal or some major change or self improvement is not to think about all the accumulated effort required but to think about the small chunks of effort we can pile up every day.

20-minutes-a-day sounds small but over a year the amount of time accumulated is phenomenal, so don’t become discouraged.

“Arouse your power of faith, and do good patiently! You will be able to hear the Dharma that you have never heard before.” Lotus Sutra Chapter 15