Dharma Topic: Joyful Diligence

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Dear Still Water Friends,

Many of us have inside us a deep longing for an abiding inner peace. Weare searching for a way of life which allows us to live with grace,dignity, love, and joy. This longing is captured for me in a stanzafrom the Buddha’s Discourse on Happiness:

To live in the world
with your heart undisturbed by the world,
with all sorrows ended, dwelling in peace —
this is the greatest happiness.

In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, the Six Paramitas areoffered as concrete practices which help us to make the transition fromour current place of agitation and suffering to the other shore ofpeace and joy. On prior Thursday evenings we have explored theparamitas of dana (generosity), shila (morality) and kshanti (inclusiveness).

This Thursday Evening we will explore together the fourth of the Six Paramitas, virya in Sanskrit. Virya is about focusing our energy on what we need to do to take us across the river of suffering. Sometimes viryais translated as diligence, continued effort, or perseverance – gettingup each day and attending to the important spiritual work that isalways in front of us. Sometimes virya is translated as joyful exertion, or enthusiasm — doing what needs to be done because it is so satisfying and so much fun.

And what is it we are suppose to be doing with our joyful diligence?Thich Nhat Hanh (in a summer 1997 Dharma talk) suggests we continuallydirect our attention to the quality of the seeds in our consciousnesswe feed through our actions of thought, speech, and body:

We know that when we cookpotatoes, we have to keep the pot covered and should not take the lidoff because the heat might get out.  Also, we have to keep thefire on underneath. If we turn the fire off, then the potatoes couldnot cook. After five minutes, if we turn the fire out, then we cannotexpect the potatoes to cook, even if we turn on the fire for anotherfive minutes, and we turn it off. That is why there should be continuedprogress, continued practice, the continuation, the steadypractice-that is called virya.

In terms of consciousness, we know that there are seeds to be wateredand there are seeds to be transformed, and if we can continue to waterthe positive seeds and to refrain from watering the negative seeds,instead we know how to transform them-that is the process of continuedtransformation.

In a complementary perspective, Pema Chodron (In When Things Fall Apart)suggests that what allows us to connect with “the spark and joy that’savailable in every moment” is keeping in our minds our deepestaspirations:

The more we connect with a bigger perspective, the more we connect with energetic joy. Exertion [virya] istouching in to our appetite for enlightenment. It allows us to act, togive, to work appreciatively with whatever comes our way. If we reallyknew how unhappy it was making this whole planet that we all try toavoid pain and seek pleasure — how that was making us so miserable andcutting us off from our basic heart and our basic intelligence — thenwe would practice meditation as if our hair were on fire. We wouldpractice as if a big snake had just landed in our lap. There wouldn’tbe any question of thinking we had a lot of time and we could do thislater.

You are invited to join us for our meditation period(beginning at 7 pm) and for our program.  Our discussion will lookat what supports us in bringing virya, joyful diligence, to our practice — and also, what cancels it, what sucks it away?

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher