The primary obstacle to the practice and fulfillment of virya paramita, according to sutras and commentaries that I have read, is kausidya. Kausidya is almost always translated into the English word “laziness”. I noticed that every time that I read this, I would experience a twinge of shame or anger or doubt. I think that “laziness” is a poor if not outright incorrect translation of the sanskrit word kausidya. “Laziness” has been used throughout the past two millennia (at least) as a negative epithet to identify entire classes of beings and is most often used to imply that someone is intentionally making a choice to avoid working. It is used by racists to describe people of color. By the wealthy and powerful to diminish the struggling poor. By teachers, parents and folks with higher education degrees to describe children who learn differently or carry genetic attributes that make it difficult for them to apply themselves to the narrow academics of school. By psychologists, psychiatrists, and sociologists to describe folks with diseases that could not be diagnosed as such (chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety). By those who have dutifully adhered to societal expectations of achievement to describe artisans, spiritual practitioners, and seekers. “Laziness” does refer to obstacles of the diligence that is dedicated to greed, power, polarization and self aggrandizement but definitely not to the diligence that is associated with the practice of virya.
Kausidya in the case of virya/diligence is referring to the things that get in the way of one’s ability to turn the attention of the body, speech or mind away from habitual unconscious practices and toward presence and goodness.
Kausidya as an obstacle, might be something in the genetic stream that prevents someone from being able to bring attention to the task at hand, the object of meditation, or to follow the thought process of a spiritual teaching. As an obstacle, it could also be the result of early childhood imprinting or trauma that triggers an unconscious survival mechanism that avoids silence, or isolation, or acts of kindness and compassion.
Kausidya as an obscuration is a more conscious turning away from practices that may provide benefit for self or other. This turning away may be related to rigid concepts developed over time, like religious dogma, political perspectives, or negative judgments about certain practices of compassion and kindness. For example, the thoughts, speech or actions that move us to withhold generosity because of someone’s religion or lack thereof. Or when we withhold love from someone who holds a different political perspective. Or when we judge certain spiritual or personal perspectives as wrong because they do not line up with our way of practice or feelings.
Kausidya can also be very subtle, like a silk veil. This type seems more like avoidance rather than outright turning away. It could be as simple as not following through on a resolution to practice, or volunteer, or show up for someone because life got busy. This kausidya might also be the choice to self medicate with intoxicants, entertainment, or social media rather than sit silently in contemplation, or listen/read/study something that may inspire us to look for ways to practice selflessness, harmlessness and peace.
Virya is basically the diligent practice of turning toward goodness, by practicing selfless, harmlessness, peace, meditation and developing the capacities to understand the true nature of all beingness or wisdom. When we turn away from these practices, this wisdom and this goodness, that is Kausidya. Reflecting on these turnings perhaps you might notice a direct experience through the body, heart, mind of the difference in the quality of virya and kausidya. There might be an opportunity to experience and understand the difference between the true, mindful nature of being and the habitual, unconscious way of being.
With these words I pay homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, sentient beings, and the totality. May these words not confuse, bring doubt, or harm, but bring ease and warmth and an end to suffering for all beings throughout all times and in all directions.
Here are a few more resources for studying and reflecting on virya.
Looking into Laziness. Pema Chodron. Lion’s Roar September 7, 2021.: https://www.lionsroar.com/start-where-you-arelooking-into-laziness/
From The Noble Great Vehicle Sūtra: The Questions of Sāgaramati. Chapter Five. Practicing Diligence. https://read.84000.co/translation/toh152.html?part=UT22084-058-001-chapter-5#UT22084-058-001-chapter-5
Virya Paramita: Universal Energy and Personal Failure. Kathie Fischer. https://www.upaya.org/2015/11/kathie-fischer-virya-paramita-six-perfections-part-7a/
Photo Collage by Hisham Baroocha. https://www.instagram.com/p/CfDQTi1oVSA/
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