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Cultivation as if Playing a Stringed Instrument

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When Sronakotivimsa first became a monk, he was very enthusiastic. He was so enthusiastic, in fact, he expended too much energy trying to improve himself. The path seemed long, and as Stronakotivimsa assessed himself, he decided it was more than he could do. He had to quit.

He felt ashamed of himself, but he saw no other option than to go to the Buddha and explain that he was going to have to leave the monastery because he was just not able to go on.

Sronakotivimsa expected that the Buddha would criticize him for his decision, so he was surprised when the Buddha only spoke to him with great kindness and understanding.He asked, "What was your profession before you became a monk?"

Sronakotivimsa replied, "I was a musician. I played the sitar."

The Buddha looked at Sronakotivimsa for a moment and then said, "If a sitar string is tuned to tightly, what will happen when you start to play?"

Sronakotivimsa answered, "The string will break."

"If the string is tuned too loosely," the Buddha asked, "what will happen then?"

"If the string is too loose, you will not be able to play anything," Sronakotivimsa replied.

"There you have it, Sronakotivimsa," the Buddha said, as he smiled with great consideration and understanding. "Practicing the Dharma is just like tuning a string on a sitar. If we practice with too much intensity, it is just as if we had tuned a string too tightly. It will break easily. Conversely, if we are lax in our practice and let the days slip by without doing anything to improve ourselves, then it is as if we had tuned our string too loosely. Nothing much will come of our meager labors.

"Up until now you have been overly diligent and energetic in your practice. That is part of your nature. If you return to the world now, there is a great danger that you will continue in much the same way. You will overdo it there, too. You will very likely throw yourself into the pleasures and demands of the world and cause yourself great suffering and pain.

"Sronakotivimsa, true practice requires that we understand how to find a balance between suffering and joy, between pleasure and pain. We need to walk the middle way between these two extremes. Can you understand that?"

"Oh!" Sronakotivimsa said as if suddenly awakened. "So practice is like tuning a string on a sitar. If you get it just right, you will be able to play beautiful music!"

After their talk, Sronakotivimsa decided to stay in the monastery. From that day forward, he made great progress in his practice.

- Where is your Buddha Nature? Stories to Instruct and Inspire (by Ven. Master Hsing Yun)