Updated: Feb 8
The 4th Paramita is Virya Paramita: The Practice towards the Perfection of Energy. Pronounced “Veer”- “ya”. Some people who come to the practice are perhaps looking for enlightenment; they may have placed the attainment of Buddhahood through diligent practice on a pedestal - where being a Buddha or Bodhisattva is unreachable. Seeing diligence as a loyal effort towards attaining something unachievable in this lifetime. Like reaching heaven or having THE perfect body. Yet the vows of Bodhisattvas state “the Buddha Way is unsurpassable” and ends with “I vow to realise it.” (but we UNDERSTAND we are vowing (praying) to do the impossible) There is a subtle difference between Buddha with a big B and buddha with a little b. We have the seeds within; how do we water them?
The first three Paramitas can be seen as general access - anyone can practice them: Generosity/Dana, Morality/Sila and Patience/Ksanti
However, this Paramita is a mental and physical discipline. It requires dedication. Anyone who focuses their attention and intention on the practice of cultivating a regular practice can be said to be working with the paramita of diligence. Like regularly going to the gym. Is that ‘just’ a physical practice or does it require a mental dedication too? What is the intention? To get fit? To tone up? To lose weight? Surely, in a similar manner to Buddhism then; the practice of the intention creeps into other areas of our lives.
Virya is energy or zeal. It comes from an ancient Indian-Iranian word that means “hero,” “strong-man” and it is also the root of the English word "virile." So we can see this Paramitas as;
The perfection of zeal. The perfection of enthusiastic effort.
Also, the perfection of maintaining energy. Virya implies a courageous or heroic effort. It is of mind, body and the foundation of action/karma. If the intention of the mind is true, the body's actions and efforts will be true,
to the true intention of the act.
It requires effort towards the maintenance and cultivation of effort. Its opposites are sloth and defeatism. Is it “heroic” to practice self-acceptance and to extend acceptance to others? Perhaps. It takes courage to get to acknowledge and work with discernment on our flaws. Equally to moderate the extension of our skills. Why might we lack diligence? - it’s likey to be some story we are telling ourselves. "I'm too tired." "I'm too sore." "I'll do it later." Through self-knowledge: we might come to a point where we see the light and dark as having equal value: The past, the ancestry, of our individual and collective experiences have brought us to this moment; Each and every moment we can be there with that, either in suffering through it,
craving a way out of it, or understanding and being at peace with what we can of it. Cultivating an effort to be proactive, advocate, and liberate. It IS also ok to rest, reassess and reinvigorate.
We can stop our suffering by hitting the pause button or kicking our own butt into action. We can change the way we interact internally with our responses:
to our feelings, thoughts, impulses and our hard-held beliefs.
Our internal stories feed our reactions and interactions with the world. Just by taking a sacred pause, we choose to stop the flow. A breath, or three. To realise the accumulation of the experiences has been hooked, and to ‘just’ deal with the one in front of us. Chop wood. Carry water.
In the development of our own character and courage: we engage in spiritual training. If we were at the gym we might take on a personal trainer.
This spiritual training in Soto Zen Buddhism is best done under the guidance of a Zen teacher or priest, to bring ourselves onto and into the Buddha Way.
The path we walk is an individual one, where footsteps of walking with Sangha are side by side NOT one set. No one is going to carry you on their back BUT they are there to support and encourage you.
When we, individually, dedicate our fearless efforts to meet our dragons on the path, to reach their treasure without sword or armour, then we can extend this self-compassion and understanding to the benefit of others. To understand that we ALL suffer and that we are ALL at different points in handling it. ALL Buddhists, the broader Sangha; come together with the intention of supporting the effort to extend this open-heartedness. Supporting as a group, each individual in this fearless effort. We are never truly alone in our efforts. There is someone to turn to. The diligence is to see the tools of this path, as a different way of dealing with suffering than we have used before. Not the sword of attacking action to obtain, nor the armour of defensive reaction having been attacked. Taking the time to get to know how to use these new ‘foreign’ Buddhist tools, as we would the equipment in the gym. Gym membership starts with an induction to each piece of equipment. The appropriate way to use it and to understand which part of the body it works on. Similarly, we in our sangha communities, study and discuss our learnings of Dharma and dharma/life, at an introductory level before we might take Kai Sanbo then Jukai and onwards. Gradually adding an understanding of the tools and their deeper applications to our lives, and how through the ripples of our changing actions and reactions, we affect those around us, without any extra effort than personal Practice. Then putting effort into doing abundant good for others, with Prajna/wisdom, to
discern the ‘Right’ level of action aka Right effort.
______ Thich Nhat Hanh in Your True Home (p. 57). Excerpt 47 “The Mind of Enlightenment” Says: “BODHICHITTA (SANSKRIT) is the mind of enlightenment, beginner’s mind. When we’re inspired by the desire to practise and transform our suffering so we can help the many people around us who suffer, the mind of that moment is very beautiful.” ______
So what are we practising in Soto Zen Buddhism?
Buddhism and enlightenment can conjure the idea of monastic, scholarly, monks:
dusty old dudes, in gloomy, dark, study halls shuffling to the zendo and back.
We hear of masters of Zen - but what are they the masters of? Gardening? Chanting? Martial Arts? Calligraphy? Tea Ceremonies? It can also conjure imagery of young smiling children who are learning to dedicate themselves to a set of rules and doctrine that might also be conjured by the words Soto Zen practice. We’re here to say it's none of the above. Yet it contains elements of the above. Where studying, chanting, gardening, martial arts, calligraphy or tea ceremonies, might be avenues to assist the training the body and mind in the discipline of diligence. Emila Heller of the San Francisco Zen Center discusses suffering and the practice of sitting in meditation aka zazen, in a podcast “Disease and Medicine, just one thing”
Dogen sees the ‘only’ practice of Soto Zen as that of Zazen. Sitting with the breath. For no longer than 20 - 30 minutes twice a day, is the guidance in our sangha. A place where we meet ourselves and attempt to drop the self. ‘Just’ being with the breath. Sounds simple enough right? But it takes dedication, perhaps more so outside of a zendo or monastery, to sit alone at home or wherever twice a day, in one spot, for 20 minutes. With just ourselves, our breath and our thoughts for company. AND we are guided to drop the company of thoughts - Yikes! AND then repeat it twice, a day, every day, like medicine - to cure what? Diligence is the maintenance of the mental and physical effort to 'medicate'
the dis-ease of suffering.
I believe that it is key to try to retain or return to a beginner's mind. To know the beauty of this thing or moment in front of me.
No master’s, no teachers, no students: no doors, no barriers, just a new way of seeing this world to explore.
There is always something new to learn or see and subtle elements of even sitting to focus on and “master”. Accepting that when we focus on one element our head gets in the way of seeing the bigger picture. If scholars only focus on the texts of Dharma, what are they missing of the dharma of life?
Cultivating the right effort contains shifts in the ebbs and flows of effort in alignment with the rest of the Noble Eightfold Path, all the paramitas and the precepts. As Thich Nhat Hanh said we have to be “inspired by the desire”.
That's right: know that effort ebbs and flows. We humans in our being, get tired and bored and become unenthusiastic. This IS normal. If we remain with that image of going to the gym, if we were sore we might avoid going. But we could equally change the focus: quads not biceps. Legs or arms. Attending to a regimented diet and allowing ourselves the grace of fewer reps, for a time. Whilst in Zazen we can sit and gently consider our posture, allowing ourselves to adjust our positions. We can send Metta. Focus on the contact points of the body with cushion, floor and clothing. Meeting the breath: cold on entry: warm on exit. We can set a focused intention from the paramitas, Noble Eight Fold Path or precepts for how we are going to try to interact with our lives today, this week, or this hour.
Adapting as we compassionately react with karmic effort. The ripples are instantaneous and potentially longer-lasting than we can ever imagine. Hence the stones in the Zen gardens.
Healthier eating would be a part/an element of the changes to support the action of going to the Gym, intending to obtain THE perfect body. When sore or lethargic choosing to focus on protein intake to build muscle instead, or to take 1 flight of stairs, not all of them. We’d change our menus for variety. Perhaps then the intention of both is the effort of maintaining the body, with the effort of the mind? Similarly, we use the guidance of the precepts to put effort into Buddhism becoming part of our lifestyle choices: - In not killing we might choose to become vegan or more veg-centric. But in considering the quality of plant life too; do we choose to only eat organic? It is an individual choice.
This is why we ask for the guidance of the Zen teacher or priest to come to Buddha's Dharma/teachings.
Doing it alone is hard. Just sitting can allow the dragons to roar loudly. Practice can become stagnant or overwhelming. Becoming part of the sangha keeps us on a path we have dipped our toe into, through support and gentle encouragement.
The choice is ours to go deeper into the stream, to let Soto Zen Buddhism become part of our lives, body, mind and action.
Diligence is the cultivation of the effort to stick with it and embrace it, even when it's mixed in with the rodeo ride of life. We take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.