There is nothing we can accomplish in life without investing energy. In this article we discuss virya and how to cultivate it.
Many of us dream about being an elite athlete, performer, artist or actor. Yet, if we were a fly on a wall, and able to see how much time and effort these people gave to their sports and crafts, we might have second thoughts. An incredible degree of dedication is involved.
They have found and committed to the “one thing” that moves them. It is a kind of single pointed clarity. As one verse in the Bhagavad-gita says, “their aim is one” whereas for many of us our minds are “many branched”; this results in our energy dissipating.
If this level of dedication, a singular aim, is required for worldly pursuits, why would we think it’s any different for the highest aim? – spiritual awakening.
Commitment and persistence
It’s crucial to understand, however, that virya is not about being ambitious in achieving conventional goals. It’s not a hardassed “take no prisoners” attitude. A fanatical drive, an “at all costs” approach, is counterproductive to the cultivation of virya because it is self serving, and sacrifices present needs for an overarching goal. Virya paramita, the perfection of energy, is more sensitive and tuned in than that. It defines the cultivation of energy and inspiration for investing in what is beneficial, useful, skilful and valuable for the people around us and for society as a whole.
Our whole spiritual journey is dependent on virya. If there’s no virya, there is no ground for the other virtues – generosity, patience, loving kindness, meditation and wisdom – we need to come to full awakening.
Going with the flow, or swimming against the stream?
People who swim against the stream, people who question things, are rare in the society. It appears much easier to go with the flow, to adopt the identity that is given to us and roll through life enjoying our privileges without reflection. Like an individual animal in a school of fish, we simply follow the logic of our generation, and do what it does. Virya is the antidote to inertia, to unthinkingly maintaining status quo and staying in our comfort zone.
The Dynamic Mindfulness method is based on free inquiry. A lot of energy is needed for such inquiry, and a certain kind of courage to question the conventional belief system, the popular and widely accepted ways.
Virya is also about having the guts to look deeply with ourselves, to inquire deeply and to take our life into our own hands. This motivation does not only take into account our own benefits, but the benefits of others, as well.
Defined as the Right Effort on the Noble Eightfold Path, Virya is an effort we invest to recognize the evil (unbeneficial) deeds and to let go of them, as well as the effort to recognize the good deeds and continue or start doing them.
It is utterly important for the cultivation of virya to understand the Law of Cause and Effect: that what we do, think and say plants seeds that eventually give rise to our experience of reality. If we plant positive, beneficial, seeds, we can have confidence that due to this cosmic law, helpful experiences will come to us. That’s how we gather inspiration for that which is beneficial.
The main tool to practice virya is making vows.
This comes from Ch’an Buddhism. We vow to persist in something because we understand that it’s beneficial for ourselves and for others. Vows establish intention and continuity in all our endeavors.
How to make vows?
If we pause and reflect on a situation, we understand the consequences of inactivity and lethargy versus being attentive and diligent on the path. We can distinguish between short term satisfaction and long term benefits.
Vows help to direct our energy, they are like a spring board. Without vows, we move as the wind moves, with our moods and circumstances shifting constantly, without a bearing.
Once we are clear about the direction we want to go, we have removed a lot of dilemmas and we are ready to make vows. Vows can be small, big and grand.
Vows are process oriented.
There is a huge difference between finding contentment in the process, and chasing some far fetched goal ahead of us. Being process oriented turns each step into success. We are in a continuous state of realization and contentment.
It is incredible how much we can accomplish in life by making vows and understanding the Law of Cause and Effect. This way, we walk in one direction continuously, and we start getting the results. Our confidence starts to grow and we can accomplish so much more than we initially thought. Take a moment, and consider what vows would you like to live your life by?
Day-to-day practice of teaching yoga and maintaining your yoga business
Practice gives the best results when it is continuous, and this is the same with developing your teaching and maintaining your business. These three aspects – practice, teaching, business – are interconnected. Never forget that your practice is the ground.
Find inspiration for practice and teaching yoga by staying in touch with the community and with your mentors. This requires both energy and clarity. It is important to be clear about the direction of our life and practice, to be clear that we are moving away from that which is false toward that which is truthful, and in this our relationships play a decisive role. Isolation can drain us of virya. Sangha is vital.
Self Centered versus Non Selfish Motivation
Strong will is often connected with success in life. However, there is a fine line between strong will and virya, and the difference comes down to the motivation driving you.
It is immensely important to clarify what motivates you for this work. What is the ground for your teaching profession? It’s valuable to take the time to inquire into this deeply.
If you direct your practice and teaching yoga for the benefit of all beings, it is a nonselfish motivation, the altruistic ideal of the Bodhisattva. This is a deeply personal decision, and a process of maturation; it’s not a “one-time decision”, but something we come back to again and again.
An unselfish motivation for developing your teaching does not mean that the energy invested in it is somehow less than the standard ambition that drives narrow personal interest and ambition.
It is not easy to motivate ourselves to move in a beneficial direction, and it’s even harder to motivate others to go in that direction. However, such deeds create greater returns. Unselfish motivation requires a different understanding of effort and reward in teaching yoga.
Letting go of resistance
On the spiritual journey it is inevitable we experience resistance. Suddenly we go through a time when we feel as if we are waist deep in mud. Everything becomes harder. This is a good sign because it shows our ego or habituated self is digging its heels in, trying to avoid transformation, which means the process of transformation is underway. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t feel resistance.
The good news is however engrained our habits seem, they are not permanent. Like everything in the universe, they are subject to change based on causes and conditions. They are acquired through the way we think and act, and the way our environment shapes us if we are unaware. With awareness, we can create new, beneficial habits, and let go of the old.
The problem is we tend to treasure our habitual self. We tell ourselves and others, “this is how I am, this is me …”. So often I hear people saying, “I’m not a business person, I’m not good at that, I am only a yogi”. When people say this, I usually feel a need for change, a certain frustration behind the words, but this strong identification stands in the way of change.
It is important to know that we have the power to create and recreate ourselves.
Nothing is fixed and there is a huge freedom and energy in knowing this!