One of term used in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism to mean practice is Learning to be Buddha. （学佛） I find this term interesting and meaningful.
The 2nd point to gauge our spiritual progress is 精进。In Sanskrit, Virya. Viriya (Pali). When translated into English it means an unwavering enthusiastic and determined attitude that manifested into diligent effort.
Wow! what a mouthful of words right?
This kind of mental energy is wrathful in the sense that one is willing to sacrifice everything in the pursuit of one’s goal (enlightenment). There is no doubt in every step. Only forward moving.
Earlier on, I mentioned about learning to be Buddha. If we read the biography of Gautama Buddha, we see the way this mentality is being demonstrated in his life.
When Siddhartha embarked on his quest for a way to end sufferings, he learnt from the most acclaimed teachers of his time. During that period, he achieved the same spiritual attainment as his 2 teachers. Then he realised that such attainments did not provide an answer to end sufferings. That’s why he left them to try out extreme asceticism.
From here, we can witness the effort of learning. Siddhartha attained the same level before concluding that it doesn’t work for him. That is something we could learn from. Many of us, practice in a lazy manner. Without even attaining a fraction of what our teacher taught, we simply conclude that the method is not working. Then we “shop” for another practice. Then we loose faith, as nothing seemed to work. Then we start to wonder, is enlightenment even possible? Sounds familiar?
In the practice of extreme asceticism, it is believed that by restricting the senses and subjecting one’s body to extremity, a person can experience Truth or God. Yah, Siddhartha tried that too. His effort was so intense that he nearly died from that experience. No ascetic had gone to such extreme previously. Thus,Siddhartha concluded that such torturous method is dangerous and unfruitful, it also does not provide an answer to end sufferings.
These 2 episodes are important because it demonstrated the attitude of practice in Siddhartha. It also taught Buddhist to reject the 2 extremes in their spiritual practice. Buddhist can thank him for debunking this 2 methods. Save us lots of time right?
- The extreme of mental suppression is to be rejected.
- The extreme of physical penance to our body is to be rejected
After that, Siddhartha settled on a practice of his own and attained Enlightenment. The Buddhist approach to Enlightenment is known as the Middle Way. When Siddhartha decided to settle on this method, he also put in his best. Basically, he vowed never to stop his meditation unless he found the Answer to end sufferings.
If we read biographies of past masters who are reputedly enlightened. We will discover the same trend. VIRYA! Their are super diligent. Each day of their life is meaningful, because they look forward to a breakthrough in their practice everyday. No slack whatsoever. That is when they were practicing.
When they attained the Truth, they become the Truth! They embodify Virya. They become the Practice. Buddha and his Sangha spent their entire life benefiting others. Their daily life is infused with all the good qualities such as mindfulness, contentment, discipline, diligence, loving kindness, compassion, equanimity….
After enlightenment, they don’t turn into spineless lout or God-like spiritual leader demanding special privileges and leeching off from society. This is important because many charlatans pretend to be enlightened beings.
So do we have Virya? Do we get up early to practice one day and then slack off another day? Do we keep chant for 5 minutes before that effort breaks and we start fantasizing what we want for lunch?
You know yourself and me too. No kidding. Have fun measuring your own level of spiritual attainments. May all be well and happy.