Viriya is our fifth subject in this Ten Perfections series. The word roughly translates as “Energy,” and relates to the idea of diligence and resolve to a particular end, that end in Buddhism being the release from kamma, the unbinding from the realm of being, Nibbana (Nirvana).
This putting forth of energy has to have a certain consistency to it whether one be well or ill, tired or well-rested, busy or idle. It does not refer to an idea of one pushing as hard as possible for as long as possible, as in sprinting, but more akin to endurance running. You put forth just the right amount of energy so as to make progress as well as be sustainable for as long as it takes to reach the goal — in this case, possibly one’s entire life (or longer).
With Viriya comes a sort of gladness, not the idea that one has to keep working, dragging one’s self through the work, but of perhaps even wanting the work itself (as challenging as it may be). One perfecting Viriya would also be eliminating the hinderance of sloth and torpor — physical laziness and mental lethargy — which is a problem in meditation. Constant energy and gladness in the practice would render impossible the act of falling asleep while meditating, for instance, and would be conducive to the rigorous meditation schedules kept at many monasteries, and in particular, the late bed-times and early wake-times.
The practice of this perfection, at least to me, involves several of the other perfections. Generosity comes into play because with the arising of energy I can give more of myself to my family and others who need my time and effort. Virtue is reinforced by Viriya as energy and diligence is put into mindfulness of the body, and in particular, knowing one’s actions (and failures to act). One’s energy also supports his or her resolve toward renunciation; toward contentment with little and restraint in sensual indulgences.
I practice this perfection in particular by choosing to not sleep as many hours unless the body really needs it, such as when I have been ill. That isn’t meant to imply that I never oversleep, but that I know that doing so is unproductive and I can choose to not do so. Sometimes we’re tempted to sleep an extra hour here or there but when we do, we tend to forget that we’re just wasting away the limited hours a precious human life, so rare and difficult to obtain.
When a man is sluggish and gluttonous, sleeping and rolling around in bed like a fat domestic pig, that sluggard undergoes rebirth again and again. Dhammapada 325
I have read that avoiding those who are lazy is also a means toward this perfection, which in retrospect I believe I also practice to a certain degree by keeping to myself much of the time and associating mainly with people who are also putting forth a certain level of energy themselves (particularly at work). If one associates with unwise friends, one will be immersed in unwise acts, but one who intends to strive must find wise friends or practice alone.
“With regard to external factors, I don’t envision any other single factor like friendship with admirable people as doing so much for a monk in training, who has not attained the heart’s goal but remains intent on the unsurpassed safety from bondage. A monk who is a friend with admirable people abandons what is unskillful and develops what is skillful.” Itivuttaka 17
If for company you find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, you should, overcoming all impediments, keep his company joyously and mindfully. If for company you cannot find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, then, like a king who leaves behind a conquered kingdom, or like a lone elephant in the elephant forest, you should go your way alone. Dhammapada 328-329
Practicing with energy does not mean zealotry, in case that idea has come to mind. While I believe the Buddha would want us to direct friends to his teachings, I don’t think Buddhists are called to convert the masses as expected in certain branches of Christianity. If one practices rightly, that is sufficient example to those who might accept the teachings.
If one puts forth the right effort, right energy, one will see the right results. Do you have more you can give to your practice? In putting forth energy, may you realize an end to suffering and be well, friends!