The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes The Perfection of Energy (viriya-parami) contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as on Pāramitā. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

(5) Fifth Pāramī: The Perfection of Energy (vīriya-pāramī)

Bodhisatta’s Exertion of Energy

In matters of the Perfection of Energy, the Texts give the example of a maned lion whose nature is to put forth maximum effort whether in hunting a rabbit or in hunting an elephant. He does not exert less in hunting a rabbit because it is a small animal; nor does he strive more in hunting an elephant because of its great size. In both cases, he uses equal degree of exertion.

Following the ways of a maned lion, a Bodhisatta while fulfilling the Perfection of Energy, does not make less effort for ordinary tasks nor put forth more energy for more arduous ones. He always makes the same amount of maximum exertion, whether the task is small or great.

Deep Impression of Past Exertions on The Buddha

As a result of the habit of employing uniform energy whether attending to big or small affairs in past lives as a Bodhisatta, when He finally became an Enlightened One, the Buddha made equal efforts when giving discourses. He did not reduce His effort and deliver an address casually to a single person; neither did he put forth more energy to enable the audience at the extreme end hear Him when addressing a huge assembly as, for example, at the time of delivering the First Sermon. He maintained an even voice putting forth equal energy for both occasions.

Special Glory of the Buddha. The Buddha being blessed with unthinkable majestic glory, His voice uttered with uniform exertion reaches all who listen. If there is only one person listening to Him, only that person hears the discourse. When there are many people, each person, whether near or far from the Buddha, hears Him clearly. (When the Chief Disciple Mahāthera Sāriputta gave the Discourse of Samacitta Suttanta, as the audience was very large, his normal voice could not reach all of them; he had to make them all hear him with the help of his Supernormal Psychic Powers of Accomplishments (Iddhividha Abhiññana); he had to use the ‘abhiññā loud-speaker,’ so to say. However, it was not necessary for the Buddha to do so to make everyone in the audience hear Him.) This is the special glory of the Buddha.

Every Buddha exerts Himself to fulfil the Perfection of Energy in all His previous lives as a Bodhisatta. In addition, in His last birth when He would gain Enlightenment, He renounces the world and makes strenuous efforts to practise austerities (dukkaracariya) at least for seven days. Having performed the austerities, as the time draws near for Buddhahood, He sits on a seat of grass at the foot of the Bodhi tree and makes a resolute effort with a firm determination: “Let only My skin remain; let only My sinews remain; let only My bones remain; let all the blood and flesh dry up, I will not rise from this seat until I have attained Omniscience (sabbaññuta-ñāṇa).”

Through this effort, He developed the Knowledge of Insight as powerful as a thunder bolt (Mahā Vajira Vipassanā Ñāṇa) which enables Him to realize first, the Law of Dependent Origination, followed by the knowledge of the three characteristics of impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) and unsubstantiality (anatta) in all material and mental phenomena (rūpa and nāma).

Energy (Vīriya) like Wisdom (Paññā), is a mental concomitant, but whereas Wisdom is, as stated before, always associated with moral consciousness, energy being a miscellaneous type of concomitant (pakiṇṇaka cetasika) is associated with both moral and immoral consciousness and also of indeterminate type (abyākata) which is neither moral nor immoral. Consequently, energy can be wholesome or unwholesome or indeterminate. Effort which is wholesome is known as Right Effort (Sammā vāyāma); effort employed for wrong purpose is unwholesome and is called Wrong Effort (Micchā vāyāma). It is only the Right Effort which should be cultivated to the fullest extent as the Perfection of Energy.

Right Exertion (Sammappadhhana)

Right Effort (Sammā vāyāma)is also known as Right Exertion (Sammappadhāna). The meaning is the same. In exposition on Sammappadhāna of the Abhidhamma Vibhanga, the Buddha has explained four kinds of Right Exertion:

(1) The endeavour to prevent the arising at any time, any place on any object of evil which has not yet arisen; or which one cannot recall to mind of having arisen at a certain time, at a certain place, on a certain object.

(2) The endeavour to put away evil that has a risen.

(As a matter of fact, it is impossible to abandon evil that had already arisen or that had arisen and passed away. The evil that had arisen in the past had ceased; it is no longer existing. What does not exist cannot he removed. What is to be understood here is that one should strive to prevent arising of new evil which is of similar nature to the one that has arisen before.)

(3) The endeavour to bring about the arising of the good which has not yet arisen or which one cannot recall to mind of having arisen at a certain time, a certain place, on a certain object.

(4) The endeavour to maintain and further develop the good that has arisen or that is arising. (Here also what is to be understood is that one should strive to bring about the repeated arising of the good similar to the one that has already arisen.)

Eleven Factors of Developing Energy

The Satipatthana Vibhanga Commentary and the Mahā Satipatthana Sutta Commentary describe eleven factors of development of energy.

(1) Reflecting on the dangers of lower worlds of existence

(Apāya bhaya paccavekkhanata).

Energy will develop in him who reflects thus: “If I am lax in making effort, I may be reborn in the realms of misery (apāya). Of the four realms of misery, if I am reborn in the realm of continuous suffering (niraya), I will suffer intense pains resulting from numerous, terrible tortures; or if I am reborn in the animal world, I may be subjected to all forms of ill-treatment by human beings; or if I am reborn in the ghost realm (peta-loka), I will be tormented by hunger for long periods (of world-cycles) between the appearance of one Buddha and of another: or if I am reborn in the demon world (asura loka), with my huge body, sixty or eighty cubits in length, of bones and skins only, I will suffer from heat, cold or winds. In any of these terrible rebirths, I will get no chance of developing the four Right Exertions. This life is my only opportunity to do so.”

(2) Perceiving the benefits accruing from development of energy


Energy will develop in him who, reviewing and seeing the advantages of developing energy, reflects thus: “A lazy man can never get out of the cycle of rebirths (saṃsāra) and attain the supramundane Paths and Fruition States. Only the industrious can attain them.

The beneficial result of making effort is the attainment of the supramundane Path and Fruition States which are so difficult to realize.”

(3) Reviewing the path to be tread

(Gamanavithi paccavekkhanatā).

Energy will develop in him who reflects thus: “All Buddhas, Paccekabuddhas and Noble Disciples of a Buddha realize their goals by walking along the path of industry. Exertion is the straight path trod by the Noble Ones. No idle person can follow this road. Only the industrious take to this path.”

(4) Honouring the alms food of devotees


This factor is the specific concern of bhikkhus. Energy will develop in him who, regarding with esteem and appreciation rich food offered by devotees, reflects thus: “These devotees are not my relatives;they give me this alms food not because they want to make their living by depending on me; they do so only because of the great merit that accrues from giving (to the Sangha). The Buddha does not allow us to eat alms food in a light minded, irresponsible manner, or to live an easy-going life. He permits it only for the purpose of practising the Dhamma to achieve liberation from saṃsāra. Alms food is not for the lazy or the indolent. Only men of diligence are worthy of it.”

(5) Reflecting on the nobility of the inheritance

(Dāyajjamahatta paccavekkhanatā).

Energy will develop in him who reflects thus: “The heritage of the Buddha known as ‘the treasures of the virtuous’ to be received by His disciples is of seven kinds: faith (saddhā), morality (sīla), learning (suta), liberality (cāga), wisdom (paññā), moral shame (hirī), and moral dread (ottappa).

The indolent are not entitled to inherit from the Buddha. Just as bad children, disowned by their parents, cannot inherit from them, even so those who are lazy cannot receive the ‘treasures of the virtuous’ as heritage from the Buddha. Only men of diligence deserve this inheritance.”

(6) Reflecting on the nobility of the Teacher, the Buddha


Energy will develop in him who reflects thus: “My Teacher, the Buddha, is so noble that the ten-thousand world-universe shook when He took conception (as a Bodhisatta for His last life), when He renounced the world, when He became the Enlightened One, when He expounded the First Sermon (Dhammacakka-pavattana Sutta), when He performed the Twin Miracle at Savatthi to defeat the heretics (titthiya), when He descended from the

Tāvatiṃsa deva-world to Sankassa Nagara, when He renounced the Vital Principle (Āyusankhāra) and when He passed into Parinibbāna. Being a true son (or daughter) of such a noble Buddha, should I remain care-free and lazy without exerting myself to practise His Teachings?”

(7) Reflecting on the nobility of own lineage

(Jāti mahatta paccavekkhanatā).

Energy will develop in him who reflects thus: “My lineage is not humble; I am descended from (the first king) Mahasammata of pure and high caste; I am the brother of Rāhula who is the grandson of King Suddhodāna and Queen Mahā Māyā, who belonged to the House of King Okkāka, one of the descendants of Mahāsammata; Rāhula is the Buddha’s son;since I have also taken the name of Buddha’s son of Sakya ancestry, we are brothers. Being of such noble ancestry, I should not live a life of indolence but exert myself to practise the noble Teaching.”

(8) Reflecting on the nobility of companions in the holy life

(Sabrahmacārimahatta- paccavevekkhanatā).

Energy will develop in him who reflects thus: “My companions in the holy life, the Mahāthera Sāriputta and Mahā Moggallāna, as well as eighty Great Disciples, who practised the noble Dhamma, have already realized the supramundane Paths and Fruition States. I should follow the way of the venerable companions in the holy life.” (9) Keeping away from those who are indolent (Kusita puggala parivajjanata).

Energy will develop in him who avoids idle ones, i.e. those who forsake all physical, verbal and mental activities to lie down and roll in sleep like a python that has eaten its fill.

(10) Associating with people who are industrious and energetic

(Araddha vīriya puggala sevanatā).

Energy will develop in him who associates himself with industrious and energetic people who are devoted only to their task whole-heartedly.

Men of dedication (pahitatta) are always determined not to leave their efforts in carrying out a set task until success is achieved (or if not successful until death). Those lacking dedication hesitate even before beginning a work with the thought. “Shall I succeed or not?” While carrying out the work, if the expected goal is not easily achieved, he flinches with the thought, “Even though I carry on with the work, I shall not succeed” and thus they stop putting effort.

(11) Inclination towards development of Energy in all four postures

(Tad adhimuttatā).

Energy will develop in him who is intent on and inclined to cultivating it in all four postures of lying down, sitting, standing and walking. These are the eleven factors which develop Energy.

The Main Foundation of Energy

The main foundation of Energy is the emotion of dread (saṃvega). It is of three kinds:

(1) Cittutrāsa Saṃvega

Disturbance of mind through dread of dangers of elephants, tigers, weapons, such as swords, spears, etc. is known as “Cittutrāsa Saṃvega.” In terms of Abhidhamma, it is the mental concomitant of aversion (dosa). Through weak aversion arises fear; through strong aversion arises aggressiveness.

(2) Ottappa Saṃvega

Dread to do evil is Ottappa Saṃvega. It is a wholesome type of mental concomitant (sobhana cetasika).

(3) Ñāṇa Saṃvega

Dread that arises as religious emotion through reflecting on cause and effect is known as Ñāṇa Saṃvega. It is the kind of fear of saṃsāra felt by the virtuous. In the Texts, Ñāṇa Saṃvega is described also as the knowledge that is accompanied by moral dread of evil.

(Should one include Dhamma Saṃvega which is the wisdom of Arahats that arises accompanied by moral dread on seeing the dangers of conditioned phenomena, there will be four kinds of Saṃvega).

Of these types of saṃvega, only ñāṇa saṃvega should be considered as the main spring of Energy. When one sees the dangers of saṃsāra through wisdom and is stirred by moral dread, one would certainly work arduously for liberation from these dangers. Without such wisdom, one will not work for it at all.

Even in everyday mundane life, a student who is struck with fear of poverty, that is, one who has ñāṇa saṃvega will work hard reflecting thus: “Without education, I will be faced with poverty when I grow up”; another who is not moved by such anxiety, that is, one who has no ñāṇa saṃvega, will put forth no effort whatever to acquire knowledge.

Similarly, motivated by fear of poverty, workers assiduously devote themselves to work which provides them with necessities of life; whereas those who do not consider for their future will remain indolent and carefree. It should be surmised from what has been said that only ñāṇa saṃvega can cause the development of Energy.

But this applies only to the development of Energy which serves as a Perfection. As already mentioned, there are two kinds of Energy, namely, Energy which is developed for a wholesome act and that developed for an unwholesome act. The energy necessary for an unwholesome act is also caused by stirring of emotion (saṃvega); but it is cittutrāsa saṃvega and not ñāṇa saṃvega that serves as its foundation.

An indigent person in need of money will make effort to steal; he cannot take up a proper mental attitude (yoniso manasikāra). This is an example of how wrong effort arises through unwholesome cittutrāsa saṃvega. A person who does not possess a proper mental attitude will have recourse to wrong efforts to prevent possible dangers falling upon him. But a person with right frame of mind will not exert to do wrong actions; he always strives for good ones.

Thus, whereas the main foundation of Energy is the emotion of dread (saṃvega), it is the mental attitude which determines the kind of energy whether wholesome or unwholesome to develop.

As a Perfection, unwholesome energy is not to be considered; it is only blameless, wholesome energy that is reckoned as a Perfection.

When we consider the four Right Exertions, it would seem that only energy that causes wholesome acts serves as a Perfection. But, although an effort may not result in wholesome acts, if it is neither a wrong effort nor the kind that would produce unwholesome acts, it should be counted as a Perfection of Energy.

As an example of super effort for Perfection, the Commentary cites the story of Mahajanaka. The Bodhisatta, as Prince Janaka, made effort of swimming for seven days in the ocean (when the ship he was travelling in sank). His strenuous endeavour was not motivated by a desire to perform wholesome acts or to practise charity, observe morality or cultivate meditation. It does not result in arising of unwholesome states such as greed, hatred, bewilderment either and may thus be regarded as blameless. Prince Janaka’s supreme exertion, being blameless and being free from unwholesomeness, counts as fulfilment of Perfection of Energy.

When the ship was about to be wrecked, seven hundred people on board wept and lamented in desperation without making any attempt to survive the disaster. Prince Janaka, unlike his fellow travellers, thought to himself: “To weep and lament in fear when faced with danger is not the way of the wise; a wise man endeavours to save himself from an impending danger. A man with wisdom as I am, I must put forth effort to swim my way through to safety.” With this resolve and without any trepidation, he courageously swam across the ocean. Being urged by such a noble thought, his performance was laudable and the effort he put forth for this act was also extremely praiseworthy.

Bodhisattas in every existence undertake what they have to do bravely and without flinching; not to say of rebirths in the human world, even when he was born as a bull, the Bodhisatta performed arduous tasks (Pātha Jātaka, Ekaka Nipāta, 3-Kuru Vagga). Thus as a young bull named Kanha, the Bodhisatta, out of gratitude to the old woman who had tended him, pulled five hundred carts loaded with merchandise across a big swamp.

Even as an animal, the development of Energy as a Perfection by the Bodhisatta was not slackened; when reborn as a human, the tendency to put forth effort persisted in him. Extreme hardships he went through as King Kusa, in his endeavours to win back the favours of Princess Pabhavati (who ran away from him because of his ugly appearance), are examples of determined effort, unyielding in face of difficulties of the Bodhisatta. The latent tendency to develop such energy remained with a Bodhisatta throughout all his various existences.

[The Life of Mahosadha]

The Qualities of Energy

(1) When Energy takes a predominant place in performing multifarious functions, it acquires the name of Vīriyadhipati, one of the four Predominance-Conditions (Adhipati).

(2) It forms a constituent part of the twenty-two controlling Faculties (indriya) and is known as Vīriyindriya. But only the energy that is associated with mundane moral consciousness is reckoned as the Perfection of Energy. In the five Controlling Faculties (indriya) of the Bodhipakkhiya Dhamma also, the vīriyindriya, just as in the case of paññindriya, is counted as a Perfection, only when it is included in the mundane purifications (of morality and mind).

Likewise, concerning the four kinds of Right Exertion (sammappadhāna) it is only the energy included in the mundane purification that is considered as a Perfection.

(3) The factor of Energy included in the Five Powers (bala) is known as Power of Energy (vīriya-bala); in the Four Means of Accomplishment (iddhipada) as

Accomplishment by Energy (vīriyiddhipāda); in the Seven Factors of Enlightenment (bojjhaṅga) as Energy Factor of Enlightenment (vīriya-sambojjhaṅga) and in the Eight Constituents of the Noble Path (ariya-maggaṅga) as Right Effort (sammā-vāyāma). These various factors of Energy under different names are reckoned as Perfection of Energy only in association with mundane moral consciousness which arises while undertaking mundane purification.

Contemplating on these special qualities of Energy, may you fulfil the Perfection of Energy to its highest possible stage.

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