First, thank you to the folks who shared their experiences and contemplations of virya. These sharings and the responses deepen everyone’s understanding and enliven the unique practices and paths that each of us traverse and help weave the tapestry of the sangha that is absolutely inclusive. It would be great to hear from more folks this week.
Contemplating virya over the past few weeks, I have noticed that, in my experience, there seems to be three expressions of diligence or vigor. These expressions overlap and intermingle but I experience a distinct flavor for each. Similar to the way the three flavors of neapolitan ice cream can be distinguished even though they are in the same spoonful. The first two are initiated and sustained by a concept of something that needs to be achieved or something that can be gained through effort and striving. The third is a virya that has no goal, no past or future and is experienced as enthusiastic delight.
The first expression of virya comes about and is sustained by a strong craving for something that will give me pleasure, or that will fulfill a desire to achieve something that I think is better than the current situation, or that will help me become someone who I think is better than who I think I am right now. This might be called “diligence for self”. This vigor can lead to results that provide positive benefit for not just for self but there might be collateral benefit for others. “Diligence for self” can also lead to destructive behavior and cause great harm. It seems that the different results are dependent on mindfulness – benefit or delusional ignorance – harm. I also notice that when I have engaged, patience, generosity and or moral discipline, in the throes of this type of diligence, the likelihood of negative results have been diminished. This is also the case with the second expression.
This second expression of virya is the diligence that arises and is sustained as the result of a desire to improve a situation or experience for someone else. This might be called “diligence for other”. In these instances the vigor that drives my activity is to fulfill a need that I perceive in the world. The achieved result may benefit me but the initiating motivation is the benefit, or improvement of a situation, for the other. This expression overlaps sometimes with “diligence for self”. For example, I can remember doing housework as a child that helped my mom that would get me a bigger allowance or some craved approval from my parents. It seems that “diligence for other” is a no brainer for bringing about benefit rather than harm because even if there is a sub level motivation of benefit for self there is benefit for others as a result. Unfortunately, when this diligence separates out individuals or groups for benefit , without taking into consideration the whole of beingness, it will likely lead to harm. This diligence, when narrowly focused on a result for one individual or group of individuals, can be terribly destructive and is a primary reason for the isolation, polarization, poverty, crime, war, extinction, climate catastrophes etc. that we are experiencing today.
The third expression of virya is the essential nature of the first two. This is the virya paramita or transcendent diligence and vigor that manifests as delightful enthusiasm.
Inherent in “diligence for self” and “diligence for other” are the immeasurable activities of the four brahmaviharas: loving kindness, unconditioned compassion, unrelenting joy, and absolute equanimity. These are the expressions of reality that have no future goal, no desire to reify past glory, and are manifest as a result of diligent mindfullness of the present situation. This virya is the effortless manifestation of goodness. It is the spontaneous gift of flowers to a beggar. It is remembering that the one who caused harm to our child is suffering too and offering prayers of ease for them. It is the consistent mindful care of a dying companion no matter the personal loss or cost. It is the deep listening to a daughter whose suffering was brought about by their upbringing even if you were the parent. It is showing up for family no matter how exhausted. It is waking over and over again through the night to feed a newborn. It is dancing and drawing others into the dance of life even when the body is dying. It is inviting someone who has caused you pain to tell their story. It is practicing calm abiding in the midst of the torrent of global suffering.
All of these expressions of virya paramita come out of the deepest knowing that there is no ultimate separate self or other. This is the “diligence for self” that knows self as other and “diligence for other” that knows other as self. It is natural, spontaneous and all inclusive. These expressions of vrya paramita sprout unbidden with delightful enthusiasm for life because “Of course! What else would I do?”
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.
Practicing in sangha, even virtually, supports the practice of meditation differently than practicing solitarily. The members of the Sangha of the Pandemic, invite you to practice with us. No experience is required. There is no cost. Everyone is welcome.
We practice on ZOOM:
- Mondays – Calm abiding and insight meditation. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Tuesdays – Body awareness. 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Thursdays – Tonglen, 6:30 AM Pacific Time
- Sundays – Brahmavihara. 7 AM Pacific Time
- Mondays and Wednesdays: 4:30 PM Pacific Time
ZOOM Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89989680789
Please feel free to reach out with questions or insights. Please also feel free to forward this post and invite others to join the sangha. You may find more reflections, poetry, art at sanghaofthepandemic.org . If you would like to comment or offer feedback and insight you may do so in the comment section on the website or by email to email@example.com
If you have questions about meditation practice, or would like to have a conversation about the practice or anything else, you can check in with William by making an appointment. Go to “Check In Appts.”