“It is a question of discipline,” the little prince said. . . . “You must see to it that you pull up regularly all the baobabs.”

Sometimes, when thinking about practice and realization and the effort they require, I think of Saint-Exupéry’s little prince. Every morning, just after waking, he’d cull dangerous young baobabs from harmless rose or radish seedlings, knowing the massive trees would overtake his tiny planet otherwise.

Virya (Skt.) or viriya (Pali) can be variously translated as “effort,” “energy,” “diligence,” or “enthusiasm.” As the sixth of the paramis or “perfections,” virya is the enthusiastic and sustained energy needed to free ourselves from the endless round of samsara. But when linked to the fifth factor in the noble eightfold path—right effort—energy is also the practice of nurturing the good mental states growing in the garden of our mind and rooting out the bad ones. And although this perfection sounds like a lot of hard work, regularly pulling out mental weeds can be a very simple task. As the little prince points out, all we have to do is remember the danger of letting the baobabs grow unimpeded. Then it’s just a matter of acting quickly and decisively to uproot unskillful thoughts, fueled by virya’s proximate cause: a sense of spiritual urgency.

  • “The Sanskrit term is virya and the term is derived from vir, which means ‘to overcome,’ implying here also courage and bravery. So it is the effort, mental effort, through which one applies oneself to perfecting our qualities. It is the energy, the diligence, the effort we put into becoming excellent.” Karma Trinlay Rinpoche
  • “Since habits are, by definition, deeply ingrained patterns, and all moments are immediately lost, I need to enlist every moment to teach me about suffering and the end of suffering. Knowing that I haven’t a moment to lose keeps my Energy level high.” –Sylvia Boorstein
  • Tip: Remind yourself that no moment is wasted on the path. A moment of laziness, complacency, disappointment, or distraction is simply another opportunity to practice. Use this reminder as a way to begin again or to reaffirm your aspiration to awaken.
  • “Exertion is like the fine steel of a sword blade. . . . To truly sever the confusion and duality of the usual mind with Manjusri’s sword of dhyana [concentration] and prajna [wisdom] we must be able to exert this fully, holding nothing back.” –Anzan Hoshin
  • Tip: Think about the things that help you maintain your practice. Ask yourself, how do you remember to practice when you forget? How do you keep yourself inspired, enthusiastic, engaged—especially if you’ve been practicing for a while?

This is the fifth installment of our Pocket Paramis series of quick tips to keep in mind while working with the ten perfections: generosity, ethical conduct, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, lovingkindness, and equanimity. If you need a visual reminder, a printable/downloadable version is available here.

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