Joyful perseverance or diligence in Buddhism

Diligence or Vīrya (Sanskrit) is one of the six paramitas or perfections that is so important for everything we do. It is said to be the engine for all the other five perfections, the engine that makes everything work.

“From this very moment on, I will use this precious human existence to attain realization of the ultimate truth for the sake of all beings, so that I may lead them away from suffering and all its causes.”

Buddhist teachings talk about three types of effort or diligence that help us on our spiritual journey:

  • Armor-like diligence: This type of effort acts like armor, protecting us against all forms of laziness. Laziness can hold us back and reduce our enthusiasm. To overcome this, we first need to understand what our goals are and then commit ourselves fully to the practices that we know well. This means focusing intensely and confidently on these practices without getting distracted.
  • The zeal of application: Also known as the dedication to apply bodhicitta, or the mind of enlightenment, in our daily lives, this form of diligence is about consistently applying ourselves to the teachings every single day. It involves actively doing good for others and accumulating positive actions while deliberately avoiding negative or harmful behaviors. This is driven by a genuine desire to move away from actions that don’t help us grow spiritually.
  • Insatiable perseverance: This is about endlessly doing good for others, whether it benefits them now or in the long run. We should never feel content with the good we’ve already done; instead, we should always look for new beginnings and small ways to help. Whenever there’s a chance to do something beneficial for someone else, no matter how minor it may seem, we should seize that opportunity.

These types of diligence encourage us to keep pushing forward, to constantly improve ourselves and help others, starting with small acts and building up to larger commitments.

Three types of laziness

#1 The laziness of idleness

When we are constantly putting things off, and we know we are putting things off. The antidote for the laziness of idleness is to reflect on impermanence, to remember that we don’t know how long we will be around. We keep planning activities that we feel are so important now but we have to leave them all when the time comes for us to leave our body.

#2 The laziness of unwholesome tendencies or negative activity

The antidote: we should recognize that the Dharma is a real source of joy. It is said that hearing the Dharma, brings faith and inspiration. Reflecting on the Dharma helps us to overcome all our obstacles and to dispel the distractions and wandering thoughts that give rise to negative emotions. And meditating on the Dharma causes understanding to arise. So if we think about these benefits then we will be pulled toward positive activity rather than the kind of activity that gives rise to negative results. We will gradually be fired up by the fact that the Dharma is a true source of joy and our old habits actually are a cause of suffering.

#3 The laziness of defeatism

The attitude where we think: I cannot do it! We are feeling sorry for ourselves and finding excuses. The antidote: We should think that everybody’s capable. If we really believe in the Buddhist teachings, the Buddha said that everybody has Buddha Nature. So we all are capable. If we apply ourselves in the right way we can achieve whatever we put our mind to.

How to Encourage Diligence

The key factors that foster diligence are aspiration, self-confidence, joyfulness, and relinquishment. Among these, relinquishment holds particular significance: it entails knowing when to let go, avoiding becoming overly fixated on a single pursuit. Instead, it’s essential to maintain balance. Relinquishment also involves never settling for what we’ve accomplished, but rather continually striving for improvement. Even when we achieve something, we should view it as just a small step and maintain the enthusiasm to progress further. This means not becoming overly attached to past successes, but instead remaining focused on continually surpassing our previous efforts.