Why work on one thing at a time according to the buddhism ? Did Lord Buddha advise us to do that ?

Are there any deep desires in multi-tasking ? (Like wanting to gain more in short amount of time)

Edit: I mean by "doing one thing at a time" is working on 2 different subjects at the same time(Without finishing the first work) . Ex: practising samatha and vipassana together, learning maths and arts at the same time.

Edit: Example for "not doing one thing at a time" : Started to write a book yesterday. Whithout finishing it, starting to write an another book today.


4 Answers 4


The instruction to do "one thing at a time" is implied by the Buddha's praise of Sāriputta's practice, which was intense, deep and accomplished methodically one by one:

MN111:1.6: The Buddha said this: “Sāriputta is astute, mendicants. He has great wisdom, widespread wisdom, laughing wisdom, swift wisdom, sharp wisdom, and penetrating wisdom. For a fortnight he practiced discernment of phenomena one by one.

That fortnight was critical for Sariputta because it made him an arahant.

MN111:21.1: And if there’s anyone of whom it may be rightly said that they have attained mastery and perfection in noble ethics, immersion, wisdom, and freedom, it’s Sāriputta. And if there’s anyone of whom it may be rightly said that they’re the Buddha’s true-born child, born from his mouth, born of the teaching, created by the teaching, heir to the teaching, not the heir in material things, it’s Sāriputta.

Multi-tasking entails that one momentarily averts attention from one task in order to attend to other things in rapid succession. Clearly, driving while listening to the radio and thinking about what we want for dinner isn't practicing "one by one". Instead, conventional multi-tasking normally manifests as intermittent aversion to the unpleasant necessities while intermittently attending to the pleasant. The delusion that multi-tasking is effective is what makes it necessary to have laws that forbid dangerous multi-tasking such as texting and driving. Multi-tasking is therefore unskillful.

Practicing one by one is skillful.


According to Abhidhamma, we can do only one thing at a time. (mind or thought-moment) However, as we are not paying attention we think they all happen at once. When you practice Satipathana you will understand this. When you practice Samatha you keep your attention only on the meditation object. In Vipassana you keep your attention only on one bodily activity (walking or breathing normally) but when you are experienced you extend to various daily activities.

  • 2
    Is it only "do" one thing at a time? Or is it only "be aware of" one thing at a time. or only "think" one thing at a time?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 18, 2020 at 9:48
  • @SarathW I updated the question. I mean by "doing one thing at a time" is starting an another task without finishing the current task. Thanks.
    – Dum
    Commented Mar 18, 2020 at 10:25
  • This is a very complex question. You have to read and practice for a while to fully grasp this.
    – SarathW
    Commented Mar 18, 2020 at 10:37

It is not possible to practice Samatha and Vipassana together. When it says practicing Samatha and Vipassana in tandem does not mean you practice them at the same time. However, you can interchange between the two. Generally in Vipassana, the first four stages (upto "He trains himself, 'I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.'[3] He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.'" are considered Samatha.



"Never half ass two things; whole ass one thing." - Ron Swanson

Put another way, there's only one road to enlightenment. The terrain of that road is less important than there only being one of them. What is your one road?

Case 48 of the Mumonkan
Kempõ's One Road

A monk asked Kempõ Oshõ, "It is written, 'Bhagavats in the ten directions. One straight road to Nirvana.'

I still wonder where the road can be."

Kempõ lifted his staff, drew a line, and said, "Here it is."

Later the monks asked the same question to Unmon, who held up his fan and said, "This fan jumps up to the thirty-third heaven and hits the nose of the deity Sakra Devanam Indra.

When you strike the carp of the eastern sea, the rain comes down in torrents."

Mumon's Comment

One, going to the bottom of the sea, lifts up clouds of dust; the other, on the top of the highest mountain, rises towering waves to wash the sky. One holding fast, the other letting go, each stretches out his hand to support the profound teaching. They are just like two riders starting from opposite ends of the course and meeting in the middle. But none on earth can be absolutely direct. When examined with a true eye, neither of these two great masters knows the road.

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