A great Buddhist story from a book I’m reading (Awakening The Buddha Within) beautifully describes the balance between effort and effortlessness. It goes like this:
“By the time Buddha became ill and died, he had been teaching for 45 years and many of his disciples had become enlightened. One who had not was Buddha’s ever-present attendant, Ananda. This might be seem strange because of all the disciples, Ananda had heard every word that the Buddha taught and memorised them all. But, due to his busy schedule, Ananda had little time for his own solitary meditation practice.
Several months after the Buddha’s death, it became imperative for Ananda to become enlightened. The First Council was to take place in order to recite and codify all the teachings spoken by Buddha. Ananda was essential to this meeting, however, because he wasnt enlightened, he wasnt qualified to attend.
Ananda did the only thing he could do under the circumstances: he went into retreat, a meditation marathon, striving round-the- clock for enlightenment. Finally it was the morning of the day before the First Council meeting, and Ananda was still meditating. Then midnight, 2AM, 3AM on the day of the meeting and still nothing. Then, fifteen minutes before the 4AM wake-up call Ananda finally just gave up.
Exhausted he began to tip over from meditation into a sleeping position. Ananda stopped trying to be something he wasn’t; and then, before his head hit the pillow, in an instant he was a liberated arrant – totally awake. Ananda became enlightened finally by letting go, simply stopping and seeing things just as they are.
It was the end of the struggle. No more trying to become an arhant, and he became an arhant.
In surrendering, and giving up, Ananda got what he was looking for. By being just who he was, Ananda woke up.
Ananda’s selfless personal service, in itself, didn’t bring him enlightenment; neither did round-the-clock meditation. Without his service or the meditation, he would not have accomplished his goal. Yet it was in letting go and surrendering to effortlessness that he finally reached enlightenment.”
“First perfect your instrument. Then just play.”
(Charlie Parker – Jazz Saxophonist)