Buddhism, Science, and Laziness
by Stephen Pike

The Monk and the Philosopher is a dialogue between academic philosopher Jean-François Revel and his son Matthieu Ricard, a western-trained scientist turned Buddhist monk. Matthieu argues convincingly that the divergence in thought between Western and Eastern cultures over the past few hundred years has been detrimental to Western happiness. Where the west has prioritized progress through applied physical science, the eastern Buddhist tradition has focused on a more contemplative science of the mind. This idea of an entire field of thought centered around how we think and what fulfills us fascinates me. Here’s Matthieu, the monk, with a passage that’s stuck with me:

“It’s interesting to reflect on how and why we choose to spend our lives doing whatever we do - to the extent that we choose at all. I’d like to mention the Buddhist definition of laziness, which seems quite relevant here. We speak of three kinds of laziness. The first is simply to spend all your time eating and sleeping. The second is to tell yourself, “Someone like me will never manage to perfect themselves.” In the Buddhist context, such laziness makes you feel that it’s pointless even trying, you’ll never attain any spiritual realization. Discouragement makes you prefer not even to begin making any effort. And the third kind, the one most relevant here, is to waste your life on tasks of secondary importance, without ever getting down to what’s most essential. You spend all your time trying to resolve minor problems, one after another in an endless sequence, like ripples on the surface of a lake. You tell yourself that once you’ve finished this or that project you’ll start giving some meaning to your life. I think that the horizontal dispersion of knowledge has something to do with that third form of laziness, even when people work hard on something for a whole lifetime.”

It’s that third type of laziness — working hard yet never feeling satisfied — that I’ve found the most dangerous.