Vīryapāramitā: On the perfection of energy

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Photo by Florian Zeh on Unsplash

When I’m under an energy rush, I usually accomplish many things. I read avidly. I exercise a lot, write like crazy, learn about many topics, organize items, turn in work on time, etc.

But that’s the positive side.

Energy in excess sometimes makes me aggressive. It makes me judge those who are not as productive as I am. It makes me disconnect from reality and the rhythm of others.

Working under this frenzy gives me headaches, my immune system is affected, I get fevers, and of course, I get burned out. Others get very annoyed by me.

Excessive rest also hurts me

When I spend many days with minor physical and mental movement, lethargy eventually takes over and makes me depressed. It makes me feel bad, and on many occasions, it even makes me anxious.

I see how I waste time as if I had plenty. I don’t read the books I said I would read. I don’t record the music I said I was going to record. I don’t do the dishes I said I was going to clean.

When I finally manage to move, my body weighs me down. Ideas do not appear. I realize that I am stuck in a dazed state.

And the worst of all is that even though I’ve had enough sleep, I still feel tired.

I went to see the doctor, and she recommended changing my diet. So I did, and I noticed a difference. But still, the energy wasn’t always there when it was supposed to be.

Over time I realized the mind has a lot to do with proper energy management.

The balance acquired from Dharma practice

The Buddha spoke of following a middle path. He said that the spiritual life is not about blindly indulging in the enjoyment of pleasure, nor is it about mortifying the body or mind with extreme ascetic practices (as he had done by depriving himself of food before becoming enlightened).

He often mentioned that a musician could not play his lute if the strings were too tight or loose.

He said that when meditating, attention to breathing should be like this. Not too tense, not too relaxed. If you meditate with a lot of effort, eventually, you will feel restless. But, on the other hand, if you do it too comfortably, you’ll fall asleep.

All his teachings point to the balanced management of energy.

Perfecting energy management

The Sanskrit word virya is usually translated as energy, vigor, effort, and perseverance.

The Buddha mentioned virya when he spoke of the Five Spiritual Faculties: saddha (faith), viriya (energy), sati (mindfulness), samadhi (concentration), and pañña (wisdom).

He said that all five must be present in a spiritual practitioner. The greater the balance between the faculties, the greater the nobility in the practitioner.

The perfection of energy management, or viryaparamita, is one of the virtues sought when one enters the Buddhist path. I have tried to achieve this ideal in the following way:

  • By eating well
  • Getting enough sleep 
  • Exercising 
  • Taking care of my hygiene 
  • Going to therapy 
  • Meditating
  • Working in an organized way 
  • Cultivating healthy friendships
  • Cultivating the Five Spiritual Faculties mentioned by the Buddha.

Here at Active Dharma, I call this process “Wholesome Action.” It consists of doing everything good for you and others and abandoning everything harmful to you and others.

The second step is more subtle and requires instruction, Dharma study, and practice.

In short, cultivating the Five Faculties is done interdependently. One will not improve energy management if one doesn’t develop the rest of the faculties.

Lack of faith affects energy

Without faith (saddha) in the Dharma, we cannot practice it with dedication, diligence, and dedication. Of course, skepticism is healthy when evaluating the teacher, the guide, or the guru. But you can only assess Dharma and its benefits by practicing the Dharma.

But skepticism can also come from a pessimist perspective. This sort of doubt is present when we think things like “it won’t work,” “I won’t make it,” “I don’t see a future for it,” “I don’t believe in that method at all,” or “I don’t believe in myself.”

Here, one can perceive the connection between faith (or lack of faith) and energy. There will be no enthusiasm, motivation, or intention to act or move if there are doubts of this type in our minds. And if you force yourself, your mind will be in the way of your actions. You will feel it and sense you need to put more effort into doing activities.

To cultivate faith, we can look at the benefits of people who have practiced the Dharma with very positive results. Seeing people with such unshakable calm can inspire us to have the conviction to practice the Dharma.

Lack of mindfulness also affects energy

Sati, or mindfulness, plays a crucial role in managing energy. In Buddhism, when we talk about mindfulness, we are not just talking about bare attention. Instead, we talk about bearing in mind the right intentions, perspectives, and teachings. We pay attention to our experience to stop doing what harms us and do what is good for us. According to Buddhism, that is right mindfulness.

This faculty allows us to identify harmful states where we are losing energy. For example, if we cultivate thoughts of anger, the amount of energy we spend when nurturing an emotion as strong as anger is brutal. Sati helps us stop wasting valuable energy on harmful emotions.

To practice Sati, we need to distinguish between correct and incorrect behavior. Then, of course, someone else has to teach us how to make this distinction. But, now that we have these criteria, we are ready to pay attention to start making healthy adjustments.

You have to distribute energy

Concentration, or samadhi, plays a significant role in healthy energy management. A mind without concentration is a mind that is scattered, fragmented, restless, and prey to wrong thoughts or intense emotions. But when the mind is tamed, emotions and the body’s subtle energy calm down.

When the mind cultivates stillness by observing, say, the breath, consciousness expands. Awareness distributes energy throughout the body.

To cultivate concentration, you need to receive meditation instruction from a person who has mastered the practice of meditation. What you do is place your attention on an ordinary object, such as your breath, and learn to stay there. This process will eventually teach the mind to stop being scattered and thus achieve a state of deep concentration.

The release of energy

Finally, pañña or wisdom perfects the expression of energy. When we realize the truth of the dependent arising of all things, our mind awakens and opens entirely to all phenomena. This opening further “levels” the energy we perceive through our senses. Wisdom not only allows us to see where there are energetic blockages, but it also reveals the fundamental mistake we make, which forces us to distort our natural expression of energy.

Before having wisdom, we become attached to everything, we block everything, we cling to all emotions, and without a doubt, this makes us manage the energy of our mind and body in terrible ways.

Virya goes from one end to the other. Sometimes it is highly restless, and other times it is too inactive. Both extremes hurt us.

To cultivate wisdom, you need to understand the teachings of dependent arising conceptually. Things do not occur by themselves. They arise dependently. This arising implies that nothing has inherent existence, revealing an even deeper occurrence: the emptiness of reality. If nothing has inherent existence, everything is empty. But it is an emptiness that appears, that is here. It is an open space devoid of misconceptions about how things arise and exist.

In this open space of reality, awareness releases energy in all directions. But since nothing obstructs its path, nothing stops it, and therefore the energy is constant.

It is energy that flows free and balanced, without any obstruction.