It is my belief that the practices of all spiritual lineages are the practices of focusing one’s will on the effort of liberation from suffering. This effort is seeded in an experience of the inherent nature of beingness, which is unconditioned Universal Goodness, empty of suffering.
Within the practice of virya paramita there seem to be two aspects or faculties of virya that are active in beingness. One is virya that is “not transcendent” or not paramita. This practice is the conscious or unconscious application of vigor and diligence to achieve liberation. This application is initiated by experiences of suffering and absence of suffering that are present in our memory or unconscious imprints. In a sense these experiences and memories are the engines of the drive for freedom from discomfort, illness, death, aging, sickness, emotional distress, confusion; suffering of any type. This time centered virya is usually about the achievement of a specific goal based on some concept of suffering or what the liberation of suffering should look like. The results of this conceptual diligence may be liberating for some but harmful for others. Because it is seeded in a personal concept or idea of freedom and not the direct experience, it is, most often, not universal. It is based on past experiences and projections into, or desires for the future. Because it is time centered and conceptual it may not be appropriately or fully responsive to the present situation. This is not a judgment or diminishment of this type of virya. This is just the way things are working while one is in the practice “phase” of any paramitas.
The other manifestation is virya paramita or transcendent virya. This is the inherent, natural, omnipresent force of beingness. It is neither created or uncreated. It is goalless and fulfilled. It is the active aspect or faculty of Universal Goodness. The concepts or experience of “basic” virya, when related to diligence and vigor, is often experienced as an application of effort. Virya paramita is diligence and vigor without effort. Virya paramita is effortlessness. It is the cause, the condition, and the fruition of the practice of the diligence and vigor to eliminate suffering. Virya paramita, perfect, transcendent, pure diligence is the inherent nature of all effort. It is beyond normal sense experiences and inconceivable by normal thought processes. To borrow a phrase from another lineage; virya paramita is the Alpha and Omega of all efforts and practices to end suffering.
These aspects can be pointed to using a few similes.
Taking some liberties with Plato’s allegory of the cave. A person without education or an understanding of reality is like someone in a cave always facing the back of the cave with their backs to the opening. When the sun and the light of day arise they become completely entranced by the shadows on the wall of the cave which disappear and return. There is fear of losing the experience of entrancement with the shadows so they keep diligent watch on the back wall. Seeing only the shadows, they develop the concept that the shadows and all that they perceive from that vantage point is all of reality. At some point there is a pull or a sense that there might be something behind them where they have not looked before. Eventually with great effort they turn away from the entrancement of the shadows, and are able to see the light of the day and all things outside the cave of entrancement. Over time and with persistent curiosity they realize that the light from the orb in the sky is the cause of not only the shadow but the ability to see the shadow. The effort that was needed to stay focused on the shadows and then to turn away from the entrancing shadows is no longer needed. There is just seeing the expanded reality of the world in the light of the sun.
While living their entire life in a dark, heavily canopied forest without any knowledge of the sky beyond the trees’ boughs and leaves, a person comes upon a clearing with a small, still, clear pond. Within the pond is a bright white disc of light. They are so absorbed by the pond and the light they do not see the open sky and assume, because of their lifelong experience, that a canopy of trees remains. The person is absorbed by and in awe at the beauty of the light. In their awe they reach out for the light in the pond and it wavers and disappears in their effort to grasp it. Then through repeated efforts there is the awareness that stillness keeps the light in place and available to be experienced. So they make great effort to be still and not try to grasp the light in the pond. Soon, the person begins to overcome their fear of losing the light and senses, intuits or understands that there must be a source of this disc of light other than the pond. So they begin to look around and eventually see the true moon shining in the vast heavens. And that the effort to grasp the disc or to keep the pond still were not needed to see the true moon.
Basic virya or diligence is the effort of turning away from the entrancements, beliefs, learned concepts, or unconscious imprints that drive us to grasping, attachment, fear of loss, aversion and hatred. These activities of vigor and diligence are seeded by but only reflections or shadows of the pure diligence and vigor of the virya paramita that is ever-present in beingness. And even though these shadows and entrancements are ultimately realized to be empty of true reality they are also the perceptions (though unreal) that point us to the light of the sun, the beauty of the luminescent moon and the purity of gold. And even thought the efforts of basic virya, diligence are ultimately realized as mere shadows of the transcendent, perfect, pure and effortless virya paramita, they are the necessary practices to move us out of our caves, to turn our senses toward the vast sky and to realize the pure gold of Universal Goodness that is the true nature of all beingness.
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/
Painting by Cveto Vidovic, Slovenia. https://www.saatchiart.com/cvetovidovic
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/seyer/files/plato_republic_514b-518d_allegory-of-the-cave.pdf
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