Active Laziness

There is an old Tibetan story that I love, called ‘The Father of ‘As Famous as the Moon.'” A very poor man, after a great deal of hard work, had managed to accumulate a whole sack of grain. He was proud of himself, and when he got home he strung the bag up with a rope from one of the rafters of his house to keep it safe from rats and thieves. He left it hanging there, and settled down underneath it for the night as an added precaution. Lying there, his mind began to wander: “If I can sell this grain off in small quantities, that will make the biggest profit. With that I can buy some more grain, and do the same again, and before too long I’ll become rich, and I’ll be someone to reckon with in the community. Plenty of girls will be after me. I’ll marry a beautiful woman, and before too long we’ll have a child … it will have to be a son … what on earth are we going to call him?” Looking round the room, his gaze fell upon the little window, through which he could see the moon rising.

‘What a sign!” he thought. “How auspicious! That’s a really good name. I’ll call him ‘As Famous as the Moon.’…” Now while he had been carried away in his speculation, a rat had found its way up to the sack of grain and chewed through the rope. At the very moment the words “As Famous as the Moon” issued from his lips, the bag of grain dropped from the ceiling and killed him instantly. “As Famous as the Moon,” of course, was never born.

How many of us, like the man in the story, are swept away by what I have come to call an “active laziness”? Naturally there are different species of laziness: Eastern and Western. The Eastern style is like the one practiced to perfection in India. It consists of hanging out all day in the sun, doing nothing, avoiding any kind of work or useful activity, drinking cups of tea, listening to Hindi film music blaring on the radio, and gossiping with friends. Western laziness is quite different. It consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues. 

– Sogyal Rinpoche from the Tibetan book of Living and Dying

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