So we all know about laziness, right? Well, in Buddhism there is something called ‘active laziness’ and, in the west, we are experts at it. It sounds almost contradictory as, in the case of active laziness, you don’t usually sit around slothfully but, rather exert huge amounts of energy in distraction, endlessly avoiding the most important things – being still and healing ourselves.
Have you ever noticed how hard it can be to just sit still without daydreaming, planning or ruminating about times past? It can feel so foreign just sitting, just being without any specific purpose. To some this would seem a complete waste of time. However, from the Buddhist perspective, engaging endlessly in activity is a waste of time. After all, how much of our movement and thoughts actually bring a meaningful outcome? Could we not be more efficient, purposeful and conscious in our actions? Too often we are swept away by half-cocked ideas and a never-ending torrent of discursive thoughts. However, it doesn’t take much effort to see how deluded we can be when we actually listen objectively to what they are telling us.
I think the story of the Mexican Fisherman summarises active laziness really well:
The Fisherman Story
A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village.
An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.
“Not very long,” answered the Mexican.
“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.
The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
The American asked, “But what do you do with all your time?”
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs…I have a full life.”
The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you!
You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.
Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant.”
“You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise.”
“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.
“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.
“And after that?”
“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stock and make millions!”
“Millions? Really? And after that?”
“After that — and this is the best part — you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, catch a few fish, take a siesta, and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends!”
Our whole lives can fly by us through busy-ness and distraction, grasping after the next ‘hit’ of some ‘thing’ that will somehow make us complete. Maybe if we are still and at ease the true clarity required to successfully navigate our way through life can dawn.