Some people may think that in order to become a great person and realize what Buddhism is, they have to attain some kind of wonderful personality. We may think that one day we will become great Buddhists, but first we have to make some extraordinary efforts and learn extraordinary skills. But after all we have to let go of our ideas about Buddhism and great Buddhists of the past, present and future and return to our actual life and deal with our actual problems. In Buddhism it is much more important to make efforts for the sake of efforts than make efforts in order to receive results.
For example, at work I learned after many years of trying hard to be a better teacher that it is better to just make efforts this lesson, this week, this month, without worrying about my past mistakes and how much my students will learn when I try hard to teach them. So now I just make my efforts every day, sometimes it is going on well, sometimes not, sometimes I am exhausted and sometimes I am full of energy. At times I am a bit pessimistic and some other times a bit optimistic, but in general, I just make my efforts to teach English, over and over and over again. That makes me a real English teacher. Even if some people say that I am a very good English teacher, I don't know if I deserve that evaluation. Even if some people criticize me, I think they may not understand what it takes to teach English. But of course, I have never been an ideal, perfect English teacher and never will be.
It is exactly the same in Buddhism. At the beginning you wonder what it takes to become some kind of well respected Buddhist, a great human being. But after many years of practice and study you have to admit that the only thing that really matters is making efforts every day for the sake of efforts. So after all, even if some people say that you are an idiot and don't understand Buddhism, if you are making efforts sincerely to live your life, that's all you can do and the best you can do. If some people say, hey, look at that person, what a wonderful Buddhist!, you know they may have very little idea what that wonderful Buddhist actually is in real life. They don't know his or her weaknesses and bad hair days.
You make efforts and necessarily notice all the mistakes you have made. I have just vacuumed my bedroom and realized that no matter how hard I try, I can never ever vacuum the carpet perfectly. No matter how hard we may try, we can never ever clean anything perfectly. And it is the same in Buddhism - no matter how many hours of zazen you practice every day, no matter how many enlightenments you experience, no matter how many sesshins you go to, no matter how many times you read Shobogenzo, you can never ever become a perfectly enlightened person and can never claim that you have finished or completed anything in your life. Even if people think that so and so is a great Buddhist teacher, the teacher knows: "I only make efforts, I have experience but there is always something I can learn. I will never stop making efforts." I am not talking about people I dream about. I can notice how my teacher makes efforts in his everyday life and never stops. I doubt he will tell you that has finished learning what life is.
So only making efforts, day after day, no matter how many times we stumble, is the point. We may have been infected with ideas about wonderful Chinese masters of which we only know great things. But they probably made a mistake after mistake, never becoming perfect, never rigidly completing the tasks of every day life and saying "Now I am a perfect human being". They just kept making efforts. And master Dogen wrote that at one point he completed the task of never-ending practice. So in other words, master Dogen at one point realized that the meaning of Buddhism is never to stop making efforts, never to stop practicing, never to stop learning.
When we realize that making efforts is all we have to do, and when we realize that while making efforts we necessarily make mistakes and that we can never do anything perfectly, we just let go of the idea that we could become great or special. We realize that we can only be ordinary people who make efforts like my grandma did. Day after day, she worked, never complained, never said she was great. She was happy when she finished her job well, but she started the next day, and did the same thing day after day. She knew that her task, her mission was just to do her duties and enjoy spending time with her grandchildren and scold my grandpa when she found him smoking at the toilet.
Now we should also understand that we make efforts and mistakes within the universe that is perfectly clear and without an error. We are playing in the midst of something great. We can never finish anything or make anything that would be on par with the universal greatness. On the other hand, we are part of the universal greatness, no matter how hard we may try to mess up things. Even if we never take a shower, never clean our house and yell at people all the time, we can never escape the great clarity of the universe. Now why do Buddhists make efforts if we are part of something perfectly bright? It is the same situation with trees and grass. Why do they grow even if they have to die? Why are there trees and bugs and why do they reproduce if the universe is wonderful even without them? It is their nature to move and change and do something. We are people, we are part of the living world on this planet, so we cannot stop making efforts. Just like birds, cows, bugs, bacteria or the wind and rain, we are very dynamic and active. Now what kind of actions are natural and what kind of actions are sick? When we practice zazen, we reconnect with the source of our life, we reconnect to the universal law and that reconnection sends signals to our body and mind and we act naturally. We make the right kinds of efforts. Yet making the right efforts does not prevent us from making mistakes. Even ants and bees make mistakes, all living beings make mistakes, but having made a mistake, they try again. Have you seen a toddler learning to walk? Do they worry about making mistakes? No. They walk and fall down. They raise and walk again. They fall. They get up and fall again. This is an example of a perfect Buddhist life, this is how we should live. And even when we learn to walk, there are zillions of other things we have to deal with. Do trees ever stop growing? Not until they dry up. Do they ever stop trying? Never as long as they are alive. Do bees ever say: "Finished, I am now a perfect bee, I am not going to do anything any more!"? No. Never. If we want to live a life of a buddha, all we have to do is making efforts every day, no matter if we make mistakes or not, and never stop. Let's join the efforts of mountains and clouds and do things for the sake of things. Then results will appear, just like a beautiful old pine has appeared on a cliff overlooking the endless sea.