On the night of the Buddha’s awakening, he vowed: “I shall not give up my efforts until I have attained liberation by perseverance, energy and endeavor.” This demonstrates the quality of virya, courageous energy, the fifth parami (manifestation of the awakened mind). The Buddha’s awakening demonstrated the power of indefatigable energy arising from spiritual urgency—the recognition that now is the only reality.
Practicing the Path to liberation demands unremitting effort in the mind to abandon unskillful mental qualities and develop the skillful. Through this vitality, stillness comes. Through diligent attention, the grace and mystery of life are revealed. By this effort, we do not seek to “improve” ourselves. Rather, we open our minds to understanding what qualities of heart keep us bound and suffering and those that lead to freedom. This is a radical shift that requires profound compassion.
Exerting courageous energy is not striving and pushing to make something happen. It calls for balance—neither too much effort nor too little. We see when effort is tight and we relax. We see when it is flagging and we arouse energy, with equanimity.
Then, we can see when we’re caught, asleep, attached, or frightened and make the effort courageously to let go that which obstructs clear seeing. Doing so, we awaken to the unvarnished truth of experience. Through our effort to be present in body, mind and heart, presently the invisible is made visible. Will you arouse effort, energy and vitality in your practice, with urgency?
As we witness and engage in the challenges and expressions of anguish in our world, we also see the joy and inexpressible beauty in all of life. When we take refuge in the Buddha, we remember that like us, the Buddha was a human being, and our refuge in Awakened Mind/Heart realizes our potential—luminous, spotless, wise, allowing the expression of wisdom and compassion in the truth of how things are.
The qualities of Buddhamind/heart are chanted daily in Buddhist monasteries: elimination of greed, aversion and ignorance; wisdom; endowment with knowledge, living in concord with that knowledge; adept in the art of choosing the right words to benefit the listener; beautiful and excellent; seer of the world as it really is; incomparable tamer of the conditioned mind/heart; exalted, fulfilling the ten perfections.
Reflecting and contemplating, we are “the one who knows truth” and “acts in accordance with that knowing.” Wisdom is already here. We know the world as it is and as it arises in consciousness—the fears, desires, views and opinions, perceptions that come and go in the mind.
In taking refuge in the Buddha, we allow that-which-is-wise to lead us. We turn to our Buddha-wisdom—it trains us to live in a skillful way, as individuals in these bodies and as heartful members of the collective, in wisdom, goodness and kindness. We learn to be of benefit, rather than harm, to the world. Buddha is the teacher. We are the teacher. The Buddha, as refuge, trains all to see things as they are, to embody truth.
Take refuge in the awakened mind/heart in the midst of the world.
Once faith in the Path is established, “heroic effort,” the second of the Five Spiritual Faculties, is an indispensible ingredient in our quest for freedom and happiness.
On the night of the Buddha’s awakening, he vowed: “I shall not give up my efforts until I have attained liberation by perseverance, energy and endeavor.” He was singly focused on liberation, with the wherewithal to apply wholehearted energy.
In modern times, increased demands for time and attention from varied corners of our lives leave dispersed and depleted the energy needed for what is most important. Pressure to respond to external stimuli, technological and otherwise, leaves little energy to establish priorities and work toward attaining our most important internal goals and even less energy for furthering communal goals of justice and equity. Many students and colleagues report burnout and consequent inability to establish appropriate boundaries and wise plans for use of energy. Despite knowing the uncertainty of life and the preciousness of the present opportunity for practice, we find ourselves drained from lesser habitual activities, unable to find the time or energy for our most important endeavor—freedom.
Exerting courageous effort is not striving and pushing with ambition and tension to make something happen. It is relaxed, confident diligence in consistently cultivating the qualities of heart that set us free. Energy applied in this way may test our limits, but is not dispersed or depleted. It grows. Although this may appear to be a paradox, the results of courageous effort will happily surprise you.
This waking life is like a dream. If we know we’re dreaming, will we hold on to the people in the dream? get upset about how we feel or that we lost something in that dream? Son to Mom: “Pretend you are surrounded by monsters and they are all coming at you. You’re really frightened. You think they’re going to attack you. What would you do?” Mom: “I don’t know—What would you do?” Son: “Stop pretending!”
Examining the aggregates of existence in the past few weeks, we see that we live in a constructed reality. Consciousness storing received sense impressions in memory and projecting them into the future, we create a solid, personal, view of an abiding self. But consciousness is only here and now—the present moment is all there is. The texture of thoughts, mental states, perceptions, body sensations is ephemeral, empty. Appearances are insubstantial, fleeting, generated by a nervous system pulsing on and off thousands of times every second. What feels solid is just hardness conveyed by the sense of touch, another fleeting sense impression. We may never know what underlying reality truly is.
The wisdom of the teaching of the five aggregates is to see “emptiness” or “selflessness,” which does not denote nothingness, a state of desolation—it points to the transparency and spaciousness of experience. The potentially deeply liberating effect of meditation is that it gives a steady basis from which emptiness—the impermanent and insubstantial nature of sense experiences that arise and dissolve, appear and fade—is revealed.
Buddha: “Empty phenomena roll on. This view alone is true.” Look deeply, be free.