Virya – The Perfection of Effort
This month we continue with a series on the perfections. Having already looked at generosity and virtue, we come to vīrya. Some ways that vīrya is commonly translated are: “effort”, “diligence”, “energy”, “vigor” and “exertion”. The question that immediately arises for me is “diligent effort at what, exactly?”
What is perfected effort?
It turns out that this type of effort is very specific: it arises from a sense of urgency to set out on, develop into, and mature in a spiritual practice. It is the energy to gladly engage in wholesome activities and complete them. Or, another way to put it, is as the Four Right Exertions:
Discontinue unskillful mental qualities and behaviors
Do not allow new unskillful habits to arise
Continue skillful mental qualities and behaviors
Give rise to new skillful habits.
How does this show up in Mondo Zen?
Through concentration-meditation we interrupt the me, me, me, me, me, me, me, pattern of self-referencing “hysterical historical” and relax into the absolute purity of our deepest nature. This in itself is not a lackadaisical affair! (Or, is it?)
Having transcended the hysterical historical, we experience the “FESTIVE SPA” (this awareness which is fearless, empty, silent, timeless, imperturbable, vast, eternal, still, peaceful and aware). Transcending transcendence, we rest in this fearless budh-centric perspective to get the deeper information from our thoughts, feelings and emotions. This fearless heart cannot be broken, it never blinks and never turns away from that which is present.
I’m emphasizing fearless because this word, vīrya, carries a connotation of heroic effort, the idea of bravely moving forward with whatever is necessary on the path of spiritual liberation– perhaps even transcending the transcendence of transcendence. Or maybe the complete commitment to not raise hinderances in our own mind, therefore no fear arises. When we’re here, far beyond upside down views– so that “I think therefore I am” gets flipped to “I am, therefore there is thinking,” This enlightened mind is called Nirvana.
Abiding in Clear Deer Heart/Mind, we notice that unskillful self-defeating pattern of suffering and choose to respond skillfully from this deeper caring. We also notice that which is skillful and accords with our understanding of impermanence and selflessness. Not surprisingly, the skillful qualities that emerge end up looking a lot like virtue (sīla) as described in our precepts, several of which touch on different forms of generosity (dāna).
The ramifications of taking this attitude in our life can be subtle and profound. We become compassionately curious about the world around us, and celebrate our interdependency. We sink into the authentic being that emerges from selfless awareness. As constant learners we radically accept where we are in the process of setting an intention, seeking out what we need to fulfil it, applying our practice to fulfilling it, and then assessing how it all went and resetting our intention. In this process there is an opportunity to remember and choose. In this remembering and choosing, there is freedom and unreasonable joy.