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Be like water - but what if i fail

i really like the quote "be like water" and wanted to live by it - but the problems was what happenes when i fail - when i cant meditate or more truly too lazy to meditate - and always take a few days break no matter what ?

because water don't fail - they don't take a break - so when i do fail and not meditate and get lazy it breaks my whole motivation cause the "be like water" theory doesn't work cause water don't stop and get back up

can someone here help me find some explanation to make the "be like water" quote reasonable to failing as well

This is not a buddhist connected idea directly - but i ask this to help my practice - and its very very important for me if i get a good reply - very wholsome kamma +++ plus its more related to the practice than other questions ive seen here before

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    Breath, how about, instead of focusing on having a meditation schedule, you meditate all the time? You have thoughts about having to meditate - say "thinking, thinking" etc. Give it a try. – Anca Sep 8 '16 at 10:47
  • From where or from whom did you hear, or read, the expression, "Be like water"? – ChrisW Sep 16 '16 at 9:46
  • @ChrisW. My guess is Bruce Lee. He says it in one of his videos. – Lanka Oct 2 '16 at 14:32
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If "be like water" is Buddhist, it sounds to me like an Eastern form of it (i.e. Chan or Zen).

One view/aspect of Chan or Zen is that it's the result of Buddhism's mixing with Taoism.

If you want to know more about "be like water", one place to find that might be in the (Taoist, not Buddhist) Tao Te Ching, for example,

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.

For example, you wrote,

because water dont fail - they dont take a break - so when i do fail and not meditate and get lazy it breaks my whole motivation cause the "be like water" theory dosnt work cause water dont stop and get back up

The Tao Te Ching has imagery of water occupying the low places, the valleys:

All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power.

I'm not sure I understood your question, but if you find yourself in a low place, maybe that (where you are, in the low, in the place) is where you meditate: without self-striving to get back up before you do.

Also, water has three states: vapour rises, water flows, ice is more solid. When you wrote, when I read, "I fail", I thought of that as being more like ice than being like water: because it sounds like a fixed/solid view of "I" ... instead of a natural/flowing view (I'm not sure how water could be said to fail).

Also I think that Zen meditation posture includes being solidly planted/rooted on/with the ground.

Also, on topic, a different example of being like water, here is one story: Great Waves. I'm not sure what "bashful" means in the story, I suppose it's a harmful or confused or ignorant form of being 'self-conscious'.

  • im meditate for some years - always falling back and stoping the meditation - i cant get a constant regular practice - i have a teacher - he dosnt have any advice to motivate me - from theravada tradition - i tried meditating 1 minute each day - meditating 2 hours full force - tried listening to dhamma talks - avoiding meditation im really desperate now - if i dont have self striving than i just wont meditate i liked the "be like water" thing - though it falls apart for me because water dosnt stop for a few weeks – breath Sep 8 '16 at 7:34
  • also im getting a why try attitode - its not as if i didnt try i did 3-4 retreats - i practice for some years - and try several different approaches but i always stop - even when i say i wont - cant meditate constantly (each day) more than a month maximum - and usually its much less - 2 weeks tops and i retried to get a constant practice so many times - i need some motivation or some technique and i cant find it in buddhism at least now - so thought maybe i can "translate" the be like water thing to my needs – breath Sep 8 '16 at 7:36
  • Isn't it like breathing: i.e. you meditate when you have/feel a need to? – ChrisW Sep 8 '16 at 7:37
  • never - i dont enjoy meditation at all - dont feel a need for it - if i have a good meditaiton it can be bearable /// and the way i meditate which is how youttdhammo teaches - it brings up a lot of stuff - which you are mindful of and let go of - but it brings up a lot of stuff - and they are not nice stuff - at least the ones i notice more lol – breath Sep 8 '16 at 7:52
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    @breath. Vipassana meditation is not meant to be pleasant or to make one feel good. Its meant to allow one to see reality clearly - to see our own defilements and work with them. This is not a joy ride. Its hard work looking at the stuff we normally wouldnt want looking at. Don't be too hard on yourself. This is not an easy path. The easy path would be to just let the mind attach to whatever it wants and don't care about purification of mind. – Lanka Oct 2 '16 at 14:37
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You're clinging to your theory. Clinging causes fear of letting it go. And hence your predicament. Let it be.

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Sounds like you're in some kind of meditation crisis. From what I've read it seems to me that you on the one hand think of meditation as something beneficial (because you want to practice it daily), but on the other hand are currently a bit aversed to meditation and yourself (when you find yourself unable to do it). And as a result you experience frustration because your practice is not as you want it to be.

You should definitely check if you push yourself too hard or if you are too serious about your practice. Because if you try too hard and are too hard with yourself, a natural response of the mind is to resist and dislike. This makes it hard to meditate and you feel guilty because you can't keep up with your expectations...

I've read in one comment you practice according to the technique of Ven. Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu. I don't think I'm in a position where I could give you the right advise how to deal with this. But according to this technique you would try to be objective about your emotions when they arise or are present by saying to yourself "unmotivated, unmotivated ..", "disliking, disliking ...", "frustrated, frustrated ...", "overwhelmed, overwhelmed ...", "thinking, thinking ...", "bored, bored ...".

It's probably best to discuss this with a teacher. If you don't meet with one, you can start an online course with Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu at https://meditation.sirimangalo.org/schedule and ask him for advice. This would probably help you with your motivation as well.

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"Be like water" - so when you fail you keep going. There is no going back. You keep going and learning will happen (almost) by itself.

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Nothing will happen if you fail Buddhist practise, apart from not have higher (non-sensual) free happiness & not being able to be free from suffering when inevitable life changes occur, such as aging, illness, loss & death occur.

If you don't have higher happiness, you can still chase pleasures in the world (if you enjoy them) as ordinary people do, such as watching TV, relationships, family, traveling, sports, etc.

If you don't know how to end suffering, you can still suffer, cry, hug & celebrate at funerals or fear your own death, as ordinary people do.

That's about it. If you fail Buddhist practise, God or Buddha will not punish you and there is no nasty reincarnation waiting for you.

Please try to relax about Buddhism because Buddhism exists to free people from suffering rather than to create suffering in people.

If you listen to the wrong teachers, Buddhism can certainly create suffering for you.

Ideally, Buddhism is practised to overcome suffering a person is already aware of. There is no point consuming medicine if you are not sick or using a fire-water-hose when there is no discernible fire occurring. A fire-water-hose is heavy & will just bring weariness if used for no reason.

The reasons why we practise meditation should come from motivation from within us (rather than from what other people & teachers tell us).

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Everything comes in cycles. There have obviously been times you feel very dedicated and enthusiastic. There are times you are completely the opposite. Keep it in your head that these are both constructs, basically just ephemeral thoughts and feelings that pass and don't cling to them and call them me. You are most definitely attaching yourself to "be like water". Stop it. Know that that too is a mental construct and not real - let go of it. You just go to the mat and sit and keep pulling yourself back no matter how distracted you get. Everyone goes though these periods - just sustain. Maybe instead of "be like water" you should take a practice of "let go" and give it a try - whatever mental image you get just "let go".

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There is a lot of confusion here. "Be like water" is a quote popularized by Bruce Lee. His philosophy is to become fluid and adaptable like water, being able to fit into any container, with special attention to the application of martial arts and fighting. This is a goal founded in Taoism, aiming to harmonize with the universe.

The Buddha although often using the metaphors of the elements including water in his discourses for the practice of the Dharma. For example: entering the stream of the Noble Eightfold Path, which steadily flows towards the ocean of enlightenment.

The problem is when you stretch the metaphor too far. Like you pointed out, water is passive. This is great if you are trying to resist the pulls of external forces of aversion and craving, you still your mind into non reactivity.

"Develop the meditation in tune with water. For when you are developing the meditation in tune with water, agreeable & disagreeable sensory impressions that have arisen will not stay in charge of your mind. Just as when people wash what is clean or unclean in water — feces, urine, saliva, pus, or blood — the water is not horrified, humiliated, or disgusted by it; in the same way, when you are developing the meditation in tune with water, agreeable & disagreeable sensory impressions that have arisen will not stay in charge of your mind.

Maha-Rahulovada Sutta: The Greater Exhortation to Rahula

However, a fundamental aspect of the Buddhadharma Noble Eightfold Path is Right Effort.

"And what, monks, is right effort?

[i] "There is the case where a monk generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen.

[ii] "He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the abandonment of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen.

[iii] "He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen.

[iv] "He generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen: This, monks, is called right effort."

The definition (the four Right Exertions)

We cannot possibly be 'non reactive' like water without some serious work cultivating ourselves when faced with cravings and aversion, because we are steeped in our bad habits.

Abandoning the wrong factors of the path "One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one's right effort...

"One tries to abandon wrong resolve & to enter into right resolve: This is one's right effort...

"One tries to abandon wrong speech & to enter into right speech: This is one's right effort...

"One tries to abandon wrong action & to enter into right action: This is one's right effort...

"One tries to abandon wrong livelihood & to enter into right livelihood: This is one's right effort."

Without doing so, we are not actually practicing the Buddhadharma and will go nowhere. And our claims of being like water will only be empty conceptualizations.

Further more, else where in the canon, the Buddha compares a mind that is overwhelmed by afflictions to a bowl of water that is tainted:

"Well, Brahman, when a man dwells with his heart possessed and overwhelmed by sense-desires, and does not know, as it really is, the way of escape from sense-desires that have arisen, then he cannot know or see, as it really is, what is to his own profit, nor can he know and see what is to the profit of others, or of both himself and others. Then even sacred words he has long studied are not clear to him, not to mention those he has not studied.

"Imagine, Brahman, a bowl of water mixed with lac, turmeric, dark green or crimson dye. If a man with good eyesight were to look at the reflection of his own face in it, he would not know or see it as it really was. In the same way, Brahman, when a man dwells with his heart possessed and overwhelmed by sense-desires... then he cannot know or see, as it really is, what is to his own profit, to the profit of others, to the profit of both. Then even sacred words he has long studied are not clear to him, not to mention those he has not studied.

"Again, Brahman, when a man dwells with his heart possessed and overwhelmed with ill-will... then he cannot know or see...

"Imagine a bowl of water, heated on a fire, boiling up and bubbling over. If a man with good eyesight were to look at the reflection of his own face in it, he would not know or see it as it really was...

"Again, Brahman, when a man dwells with his heart possessed and overwhelmed by sloth-and-torpor... then he cannot know or see...

"Imagine a bowl of water covered over with slimy moss and water-plants. If a man with good eyesight were to look at the reflection of his own face in it, he would not know or see it as it really was...

"Again, Brahman, when a man dwells with his heart possessed and overwhelmed by worry-and-flurry... then he cannot know or see...

"Imagine a bowl of water ruffled by the wind, so that the water trembled, eddied and rippled. If a man with good eyesight were to look at the reflection of his own face in it, he would not know or see it as it really was...

"Again, Brahman, when a man dwells with his heart possessed and overwhelmed by doubt-and-wavering... he cannot know or see...

"Imagine a bowl of water, agitated, stirred up muddied, put in a dark place. If a man with good eyesight were to look at the reflection of his own face in it, he would not know or see it as it really was. In the same way, Brahman, when a man dwells with his heart possessed and overwhelmed by doubt-and-wavering... then he cannot know or see, as it really is, what is to his own profit, to the profit of others, to the profit of both. Then even sacred words he has long studied are not clear to him, not to mention those he has studied.

Sangaravo Sutta: Sangarava The Hindrances

Here the goal isn't simply to be/have water, but to have pure water.

  • I didn't know that quote was popularized by Bruce Lee. I guess that Bruce Lee may have got that simile from martial arts -- apparently Bruce Lee's teacher taught him chi sao (sticking hands), and I guess that chi sao is more or less the same as tuishou from (taoist) Tai Chi, therefore a soft/internal style (although the little I remember of Bruce Lee's "fights" in movies looked like a 'hard' style). – ChrisW Sep 16 '16 at 9:59
  • Taoist based martial artists like to make this distinction between 'hard' and 'soft' style, often as a form of promotion, ultimately hard and soft are only relative distinctions. The soft styles still hit pretty hard, and the hard styles often have subtle techniques. Speaking of which, when I was younger I used to practice wushu, which was a good healthy exercise, but it's only from learning Buddhism that I have found solace from the feelings of anxiety and stress. – Yinxu Sep 18 '16 at 3:05
  • Well "water" seems relatively soft or yin to me, which is why I mentioned that; but I suppose water can be/become hard, too. I learned and liked to practice a Tai Chi form (the Chen first/long form, which takes about 20 minutes). I found that to be exercise (strengthen legs, improve posture), and stress-relief: stress-relief, partly from having an activity to think about, and as learning and practice was a social activity, but most especially when I learned to coordinate my breathing (inhale and exhale) with the form. – ChrisW Sep 18 '16 at 12:52
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When I first began my path as a Buddhist practitioner I faced a very similar problem. It can be hard at times especially when you're not feeling motivated. It can even feel like a war between the ego and the will. I hope by giving you a few practical tips which maybe useful for your practice. Remember to only take what works for you. No one is the same and what works for one person may not for another.

  1. Make it a personal habit to listen to the Dharma both in the morning and at night. The Dharma will help guide you, motivate you, and support you through the help of the Sangha. For myself, I enjoy listening to Dharmaseed.org and the San Francisco Zen Center. Both offer talks which I find very encouraging especially on my harder days. Sometimes if I'm feeling miserable I will even listen to a talk by Ajahn Brahm. He has a true gift in making personal matters just wash away.

  2. learn to build discipline through the simple things in life. Believe it or not I first began my discipline through drinking black coffee. It may sound small to most people, but through it I found a wonderful practice. Now, because I began with small steps I only eat two meals a day; and occasionally do whole day fasts.

  3. Remind yourself to live without any goals, with no aim, and with no targets. This isn't to say you're avoiding your responsibilities, quite the contrary, instead you're now focusing on your responsibilities without adding stress, impatience, and other hindrances caused by desire. You'll never become a mathematician by thinking of becoming a mathematician, but only by doing math.

Now let's consider your quote on "Being [/ Becoming] like Water". A quote I found by Bruce Lee gives a fantastic overview by what is meant by becoming like water,

"Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend."

The lesson behind becoming like water is to separate the notion of doing and the doer. Suzuki Roshi, an American Zen teacher, once said

"There are, strictly speaking, no enlightened people, there is only enlightened activity."

If you are looking for a more practical approach to "Being like Water" than I recommend practicing Shikantaza also known as "just-to-sit" or "just-sitting". That is, we don't practice sitting Zazen to gain anything but to sit. There is nothing more and nothing less. There are no distinctions between the sitter and the sitting. There are no distinctions between the walker and the walking. There are no distinctions between the sleeper and the act of sleeping. It simply just is. The moment you say "I am walking" or "I am sitting" you are no longer the water.

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Be fluid water. Grab it stab it unchanging. Resilient rock.

  • Your answer sounds like a Haiku Poem, but it does not have the 5 syllable: 7 syllable: 5 syllable format. I wonder whether this is a "seriously bad haiku" or what? – Saptha Visuddhi Sep 15 '16 at 0:40
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    @SapthaVisuddhi The OP's simile was "Be like water" and I think the purpose of this answer is to add adjectives to explain that simile: be fluid (like water), e.g. not rigid or static or attached to obsolete mental conceptions; be unchanging (like water), i.e. unaffected/untroubled/unchanged when someone or something tries to grab or stab you; and resilient like rock, i.e. impersonal, don't take things 'personally' which would make you fragile. – ChrisW Sep 16 '16 at 14:02
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    Great explanation @ChrisW. I am so sorry but I never so it in this light. Now I'll have to take back the above comment that I made. At the time of my writing the above, I was thinking of Ven. Sariputta's lion'n roar, that he is by nature, like the earth, water, fire and wind. It was that quality of water that I had in mind. – Saptha Visuddhi Sep 16 '16 at 15:51

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