Little by little

A very nice quote from Shunryu Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind:*

After you practice for a while, you will realize that it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress. Even though you try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little. It is not like going out in a shower in which you know you will get wet. In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little. If you mind has ideas of progress, you may say “Oh this pace is terrible!” But actually it is not…It is like learning a foreign language; you cannot do it all of a sudden, but by repeating it over and over you will master. (page 46)

It occurred to me too that coal becomes a diamond after a very long time, but it’s foolish to say it isn’t making progress. It just takes a while, but once it becomes a diamond, the progress is very clear. Diamonds also happen to be an important Buddhist analogy for the mind that is firm and rock-solid in its understanding of the Dharma, and firm in its conviction that the Dharma is true.

This advice, though intended for Soto Zen, really can apply to any Buddhist sect and its practices: reciting the nembutsu (Jodo Shu, Jodo Shinshu), reciting mantras (Shingon, Tendai, Tibetan), meditation (Theravada, Zen), whatever your practice is. As one who has been practicing Pure Land for over 3 years, I often question whether it has made me a better person, or whether the Three Minds have arisen in me or not,** but when I read this passage it really struck home for me. It’s both humbling and also encouraging.


* – This was actually the first Buddhist book I ever read, after taking an interest in Buddhism at 16 (now 31). Funny how 15 years later I am reading the book anew.

** – Chances are, if the question comes up, it hasn’t. It’s a stupid thing to worry about, I know, but I tend to think too much. ;p

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2 Comments on “Little by little”

  1. Nice comment on watching a piece of coal slowly become a diamond and assuming that nothing is happening. I like the way this relates to Practice.

  2. Gerald Ford says:

    Hi Mary,

    Glad you liked it. Feel free to use it as you see fit. ;)

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