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Jul 25, 2012

The Most Important Work in Human Life - Proper, Strong Effort in Vipassana

(from the Vipassana Research Newsletter, dated October, 1990) 


Viriya, The Pāramī of Proper Efforts

From time to time, because of the ingrained habit pattern of the mind, the meditator is inundated by waves of craving, aversion, sloth and torpor, mental agitation, and scepticism. These are nothing but the reaction of one’s own mental defilements, trying to stop the process of purification one has begun. The wise student persists in the struggle, using all his or her energy to oppose these enemies. One thereby strengthens oneself in the pāramī of viriya.


 Pāramīs are virtues—that is, good human qualities. By perfecting them, one crosses the ocean of misery and reaches the stage of full liberation, full enlightenment. Everyone who is working to liberate oneself has to develop the ten pāramīs. They are needed to dissolve the ego and to reach the stage of egolessness. A student of Dhamma who aspires to attain the final stage of liberation joins a Vipassana course in order to develop these pāramīs.

Little by little, one develops these pāramīs in every course. They should be developed in daily living as well. However, in a meditation course environment, the perfection of the pāramī can be greatly accelerated.

The Venerable Webu Sayadaw (1896-1977)
His viriya, or great effort in meditation, was so strong that it is said he never slept lying down. He remained alert even at night by taking rest in a slightly reclining position.

A human life is of limited duration, with limited capabilities. It is important to use one’s life to the best purpose. And there can be no higher purpose than to establish oneself in Dhamma, in the path, which leads one out of defilements, out of the illusion of self, to the final goal of ultimate truth. Therefore no effort is more worthwhile for a human being than the exertion of all one’s faculties to take steps on this path.

In a Vipassana course, a meditator makes best use of his energy and of the time at his disposal by developing the faculties of sati (awareness) and of paññā (insight). The student strives to become conscious of everything that is happening within himself, from the grossest to the subtlest level. At the same time, one strives to observe dispassionately whatever reality may manifest at this moment, with the understanding that this experience is impermanent, this will also change. These two faculties, in proper combination, will lead the meditator along the path to full liberation, full enlightenment.

From time to time, because of the ingrained habit pattern of the mind, the meditator is inundated by waves of craving, aversion, sloth and torpor, mental agitation, and scepticism. These are nothing but the reaction of one’s own mental defilements, trying to stop the process of purification one has begun. The wise student persists in the struggle, using all his or her energy to oppose these enemies. One thereby strengthens oneself in the pāramī of viriya.
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Questions and Answers


Student: Aren’t there any chance happenings, random occurrences without a cause?

Goenkaji: Nothing happens without a cause. It is not possible. Sometimes our limited senses and intellects cannot clearly find it, but that does not mean that there is no cause.

Student: Are you saying that everything in this life is predetermined?

Goenkaji: Well, certainly our past actions will give fruit, good or bad. They will determine the type of life we have, the general situation in which we find ourselves. But that does not mean that whatever happens to us is predestined, ordained by our past actions, and that nothing else can happen. That is not the case. Our past actions influence the flow of our life, directing them towards pleasant or unpleasant experiences. But present actions are equally important. Nature has given us the ability to become masters of our present actions. With the mastery we can change our future.

Student: But surely the actions of others also affect us?

Goenkaji: Of course. We are influenced by the people around us and by our environment, and we keep influencing them as well. If the majority of people, for example, are in favour of violence, then war and destruction occur, causing many to suffer. But if people start to purify their minds, then violence cannot happen. The root of the problem lies in the mind of each individual human being, because society is composed of individuals. If each person starts changing, then society will change, and war and destructions will become rare events.

Student: We’ve talked quite a bit about anicca, impermanence. What about the teaching of anattā, which is ordinarily understood as “no self” and “no abiding self?” Ordinarily we think that we need a self in order to function in the world. We have expressions like “self-esteem” and “self-confidence”, and we believe that “ego strength” is a measure of a person’s ability to cope with daily life. What does this “no-self” teaching mean?

Goenkaji: For those who haven’t experienced the stage of “no-self,” it is true that in the apparent world there must be an ego, and this ego must be stimulated. If I don’t crave anything, I won’t get the stimulation I need to function. In my courses, whenever I say that craving and attachment are harmful, people say that if there were no attachment, no craving, what would be the fun of living? There would be no life. We’d all be like vegetables.

Being a family man who has done business in the world, I can understand their concern. But I also understand that when you work with this technique and reach the stage where ego dissolves, the capacity to work increases many-fold. When you lead a very ego-centred life, your whole attitude is to do as much as possible for yourself. But this attitude makes you so tense that you feel miserable. When, as a result of doing Vipassana, the ego dissolves, then by nature the mind is full of love, compassion and goodwill. You feel like working, not only for your own benefit, but for the benefit of all. When the narrow-minded ego-stimulation goes away, you feel so much more relaxed, and so much more capable of working. This is my own experience, and the experience of so many people who have walked on the path.
This technique does not make you inactive. A responsible person in society is full of action. What goes away is the habit of blind reaction. When you work with reaction, you generate misery. When you work without reaction, you generate positive feeling.
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