I have been thinking about Right Effort, one of the steps on the Eightfold Path taught by the Buddha after his enlightenment. Effort brings up a sense of strain, “Phew! That was an effort, glad that is over with” and straining isn’t quite what is being encouraged in Buddhist Practice. We often talk about ‘willingness’ in attempting to convey the feel of the kind of gentle, steady effort needed in practice. However that again doesn’t quite hit the descriptive mark for me either.
The teachings of the Buddha we have are obviously translations. The Sanskrit word virya is the one that is, more often than not, translated as effort. Virya can, however, also mean valour, vigour, energy, strength and courage. These are all qualities I saw in the ‘old monk’, as he was referred to, who I had the good fortune to spend a few days with while in Malaysia in late May. He had just retired from being the president of the Malaysian Buddhist Association and where ever we went people would stop and honor him with a smile and a bow. Because he was elderly and a bit frail looking and, perhaps just because he was an honored elder, people would join us and accompany him while we walked, assisting him in and out of cars, up steps and across busy roads.
Here he is visiting a temple which clung to the slopes of a mountain now being topped by a massive statue of Kanzeon. There will be a pavilion with eight pillars, symbolizing the Eightfold Path, standing over it eventually.
When we had finished this tour, uh! It was SO hot, we went for a meal in the heart of Penang. Across a very busy four (or so) lane urban road from the restaurant was our next destination. As far as I could tell we were approximately two hours late for the appointment and the meal had not yet arrived! This didn’t seem to concern anybody and the old monk had a way of smiling with his eyes and slightly opening his mouth at the same time that said silently, “Relax”. So I did, until it came to crossing the road after the meal!
Miss Chin, who had taken responsibility at this point, caught hold of the monks elbow and approached the curb. The road was like a river full of sharks rushing past, we like timid turtles waiting our chance to cross at our peril. We were not taking any chances with our valuable companion. Suddenly the old monk broke free of Miss Chin and launched himself into the traffic, it did not seem to slow down, he reached the other side and proceeded to almost run down the other side to the temple and his appointment. An example of, “when it is time to make a move, you do it”, without hesitation! So there we have it, Right Effort; energy, courage, vigor and valour encapsulated in this wonderful example of Buddhist practice. Incidently the only English he spoke had been taught him by Rev. Master Jiyu when she was at Cheng Hoon Teng. He lived there at that time and was, as far as I could tell, present at her ordination.
The rest of us caught up with the old monk. To this day I still feel that something unexplainable happen out there on the road that day.