The Spiritual Side of Sloth

In many faiths, sloth is more than just laziness--though couch potatoes are frowned upon, too.

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The Maitri Upanishad, a later text than the classical Upanishads, explains that one cannot reach the ultimate realization by leading a life of sloth. "When a man, having freed his mind from sloth, distraction, and vacillation, becomes as it were delivered from his mind, that is the highest point."

Other Hindu texts back this theme up. The Tirukkural warns against sloth and laziness: "Procrastination, forgetfulness, laziness and sleep--these four form the coveted ship which bears men to their destined ruin; Seldom do men possessed by sloth achieve anything special, even when supported by the earth's wealthy proprietors; The lazy ones, inept in noble exertion, invite sharp scoldings and must endure the shame of scornful words (61: 606-608)."


Several Hadith demonstrate the Muslim view of sloth. Abu Hurairah reported, "Allah likes sneezing and dislikes yawning. When any one of you sneezes and says `Al-hamdu lillah (praise be to Allah)', it becomes obligatory upon every Muslim who hears him to respond with 'Yarhamuk-Allah (may Allah have mercy on you)'. Yawning is from the devil. When one of you feels like yawning, he should restrain it as much as possible, for the devil laughs when one of you yawns.'' Yawning is seen as a sign of sloth.


The Hadith collection Muslim includes the saying "O Allah! I seek refuge in You from worry and sorrow. I seek refuge in You from incapacity and sloth, from stinginess and cowardice, and I seek refuge in You from the burden of debt, and from being transgressed by men."

Some Muslims consider Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, to be a time to discard slothful habits, since it is a period that tests both spiritual and physical endurance. Muslims fast during daylight hours during Ramadan, and it is also a special time set aside for worship and spiritual purification.


Jewish tradition teaches that time should be highly valued, and Judaism sees sloth, and its expression in laziness or procrastination, as impinging on the value of time. Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, teaches Jews to treat time itself as holy, something that should not be wasted. Time is holy because there is so much to do in a very limited timeframe. The famous sage Rabbi Hillel is best known for asking, "And if I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?," thereby eschewing procrastination. Honoring time, avoiding procrastination, and performing tasks at the proper time are all seen in Judaism as ways of sanctifying life.

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