In this fourth instalment of our series on the Six Perfections, we boost our energy levels by looking at Virya: Exertion.
The new lazy?
“I am soooooo busy,” I said. “Oh my god, same here,” my friend replied. We shook our heads saying this, our bodies implying we would rather say ENOUGH to this constant busyness. How many times have you had this conversation? How many times have you thought to yourself? “Gee whizz kiddo, you really are a busy bee!”
It seems we all feel increasingly like busy bees. It’s become a badge of honour, as if not being busy is a sign we’re messing up. Busyness is in vogue.
However, in the Buddhist tradition perpetual busyness very definitely isn’t cool. Moreover, busyness is considered a form of laziness. It’s a sign we are caught in a self-absorbed way of life, forgetting our deeper calling. In our frenetic society, with it’s attention-greedy economy, it’s all too easy for busyness to result in spiritual laziness. We cruise mindlessly, like a hamster on a wheel. There are three forms of laziness that Buddhist texts say commonly impact us.
Casualness: this refers to being too attached to comfort and leisure time. We can’t be bothered making an effort. It feels too hard!
Losing heart: this describes what happens when we become disheartened and give up believing we could ever really transform ourselves. We then use this as a justification to indulge our laziness.
Avoidance: This is when we are preoccupied with six million things, but not our spiritual practice. We exert ourselves to make money, gain fame, become brilliantly educated, achieve high status and so forth. And in the process we forget what’s really important. This form of laziness is the most dangerous!
The solution to these? Our very own caped avenger!
Finding our inner hero
The antidote to this laziness-disguised-as-busyness is the fourth of the Six Paramitas of Perfection: Virya – diligence or exertion.
The word comes from the Sanskrit vira, meaning “hero” and is translated as diligence, persistence, enthusiasm, exertion. Both mental and physical energy are needed to move forward on the path, not just for our own sake, but to benefit all beings – the aim of a Bodhisattva.
There is nothing we can achieve in life without investing energy and having persistence. This is especially so for the spiritual path. Virya helps us to see through all the clutter and noise of everyday life and to continue applying effort where it matters most: on our spiritual practice. Like Superwoman, we can hear and see crucial things calling for our help and attention.
In the Buddhist tradition, it’s considered that without this fourth paramita we won’t achieve much with the first three. They will eventually collapse, and we will lapse into our default egocentric way of being. Constant effort is required.
How do we practice Perfection of Energy?
There are four essential ways to cultivate and maintain our spiritual exertion.
By making vows to ourselves
Vows serve as a springboards which ensure the continuity of the practice. Without vows and aspirations, we can easily slip into laziness and find all kinds of excuses for not practicing.
You want to meditate, but then you don’t. You feel inspired for a home yoga practice, but there’s an email to answer. You set the intention to start working on a new project, but there’s all this cleaning to do. Making vows sets in motion a strong intentionality that helps us cut through distraction.
- Tip: write down your vows on a piece of paper and keep it somewhere you can see it.
By taking action
We take action with energy in three key ways: to overcome our harmful or negative qualities and obstacles, to cultivate virtue, and to always make an effort to work with and help others.
- Tip: ask yourself this question each morning – who can I help today?
By never becoming complacent
We practice virya paramita by never sitting back and feeling like our work is done. Our entire life is the practice. We don’t allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking we can cruise or compartmentalise our spiritual life from life in general. We stay attentive and responsive.
- Tip: At the end of each day, write down what the most important things are tomorrow for your spiritual practice.
By staying organised
Working full time, exercising, hobbies, caring for friends and family, eating and so on all take a lot of time. It’s almost natural after taking care of all these things, to believe we have no time for anything else. This is why good scheduling and daily planning are a good way to practice diligence: we keep our eye on the ball and make time for our spiritual practice.
- Tip: Look at where you are wasting the most time. Consider how to use this differently.
Following the joy
Vows and all this sound like awfully serious business. However, it’s super important to remember this is all based on a sense of joy and clarity, rather than moral or religious obligation. We are committing TO something positive. We do this because it makes all of our lives more wonderful. Not because we should or have to.
Also important to keep in mind is that virya paramita is not the same as the force and relentless effort seen in workaholics. That behaviour is often about avoiding unresolved trauma. Virya paramita is based on finding a delight in the practice of mindfulness and the paramitas. As we begin to cultivate them, a sense of joy arises and with it an energy to continue on the path.
Our energy and life force are impermanent and virya helps us to persist regardless of the obstacles that may cross our path. We never give up. If we absorb ourselves in the task at hand, we’ll be amazed how much we can achieve!
Fourth Paramita: the power of practice
The practice of Virya or diligence is grounded in the understanding of the Law of the Cause and Effect and the strong willpower accompanying this understanding. It allows us to understand that by applying ourselves consistently, the results will eventually come.
We trust that the seeds we plant will germinate, sprout, grow and eventually offer flowers and fruit. That is the way of the world. In a similar way, we trust that by applying ourselves constantly, with diligence, our hearts and minds will bare the fruit of awakening in good time.
The fruit of such an attitude toward life and practice is joy. This is the driving force of our diligence and what makes the practice effortless.
So put on your superhero cape, and take to the sky!