Viriya, effort, is not a question of what you do outwardly, but just the constant inner awareness and restraint.

“Once when I was staying with an Ajahn I had to sew myself a robe. In those days there weren’t any sewing machines, one had to sew by hand, and it was a very trying experience. The cloth was very thick and the needles were dull; one kept stabbing oneself with the needle, one’s hands became very sore and blood kept dripping on the cloth. Because the task was so difficult I was anxious to get it done. I became so absorbed in the work that I didn’t even notice that I was sitting in the scorching sun dripping with sweat.

The Ajahn came over to me and asked why I was sitting in the sun and not in the cool shade. I told him that I was really anxious to get the work done, ‘Where are you rushing off to?’ He asked. ‘I want to get this job done so that I can do my sitting and walking meditation.’ I told him. ‘When is our work ever finished?’ he asked. ‘Oh! …’ This finally brought me around.

‘Our worldly work is never finished,’ he explained. ‘You should use such occasions as this as exercises in mindfulness, and then when you have worked long enough just stop. Put it aside and continue your sitting and walking practice.’

Now I began to understand his teaching. Previously, when I sewed, my mind also sewed and even when I put the sewing away my mind still kept on sewing. When I understood the Ajahn’s teaching I could really put the sewing away. When I sewed, my mind sewed, then when I put the sewing down, my mind put the sewing down also. When I stopped sewing, my mind also stopped sewing. Know the good and the bad in travelling or in living in one place. You don’t find peace on a hill or in a cave; you can travel to the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment, without coming any closer to enlightenment. The important thing is to be aware of yourself, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. Viriya, effort, is not a question of what you do outwardly, but just the constant inner awareness and restraint.”

Ajahn Chah

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