Family Group: Viriya

This weeks Santigāmā family group was a chance for everyone to take a look at the parami of Energy, or Viriya.  It was interesting to note that as we tried to approach the topic we had to distinguish it from Vayama, or Effort/Striving, which is a part of the Noble Eightfold Path.  Viriya is something much more basic and essential, involving our willingness and ability to work towards a task.

We started with a discussion about energy, and the difference between high and low states.  Low states were pretty obvious, as we all demonstrated just lying around not wanting to do anything.  But high states are more elusive.  It can seem like having a lot of energy means we’ll be bouncing off the walls, but that’s actually a low energy state from the perspective of getting things done.  Most of our effort will be wasted.  Instead, high energy could be better described as balanced energy.  When our energy is aroused and balanced, we can do anything we put our minds to.

Luna, the family cat, was able to provide a great example of this.  Like most cats, she divides her time pretty evenly between lounging and restlessly zipping around and exploring every crevice in the house.  Unbalanced energy at work.  Contrast this with the house mice that were making their presence known in early january.  They worked steadily and there was almost know time when they weren’t heard if they were present.  They explored, open new tunnels, found food, had babies.  There is no more amazing force in the world that the mouse’s tooth – the size of a mustard seed but diligently applied, it can level anything.

Our story for the session involved the Bodhisatta, or Buddha-to-be, getting out of a tight situation.  We followed it up with a similar activity requiring balanced energy and thinking: an escape room crafted with parami clues!


STORY: The Caravan Leader


Once upon a time, the Bodhisatta was born in a city at the edge of a vast, hot desert. The people of the city were merchants, meaning they made their living by trading. Most of the people of the city liked to play it safe and traded things that were easy to get around where they lived. But the really adventurous traders would cross the great desert to trade with a city on the other side.

It was a dangerous journey because the desert was so big. It took seven long weeks of travel to cross. A caravan of wagons could only barely carry enough water to make it across, and if anything happened after the third week there wouldn’t be enough water to turn around and make it home. Many traders died of thirst trying to cross the desert.

The Bodhisatta in this life was an adventurous trader. He had made the journey several times and was becoming wealthier. He was now in charge of a caravan of ten wagons with oxen and people to drive them. One day when the time was right for a journey, he gathered everyone up to cross the great desert.

At the beginning of their journey everything went well. It was hot but they had plenty of water. The ox-drivers started drinking extra because of their thirst, but the Bodhisatta stopped them.

BODHISATTA: Be careful how much you drink! If we use too much water now, we won’t have enough for the end of the journey. The trick to success is to drink the same amount every day even if you feel thirsty. Don’t be fooled!

Everyone followed his advice and things went smoothly the next two weeks. Even though people were thirsty they carefully watched what they drank.

But during the third week disaster struck. The lead ox-driver fell asleep in the night, and his ox started turning slightly. Nobody else noticed. When they woke in the morning they were still in the desert so the lead ox-driver thought everything was fine. He fell asleep the next night, and the next. But then they woke up one morning and saw wagon tracks and hoof prints ahead of them.

They realized they had been walking in one big circle! They had wasted almost a whole week. Now they were in deep, deep trouble. They didn’t have enough water to return home, and they didn’t have enough water to reach the far city.

Everyone cried in fear when they realized what had happened. They all lay down sulking and had no energy to go any further. What was the point? They knew they wouldn’t make it. Their water would run out and they would die of thirst in the desert.

The Bodhisatta watched them all give up, but he didn’t give up. He tried to think of a plan that would save everyone. He looked at the wagons, and the oxen, and the people. Then he looked out across the wide desert.

As he was looking, he saw something in the distance. It was a certain kind of plant that grew in the desert. The Bodhisatta knew this plant only grew in a place where there was water under the surface.

BODHISATTA: Come everybody! It’s time to get to work!

The Bodhisatta brought everyone to where the plants were and handed out shovels. He told them to start digging, that water was under them. At first people dug a little, but quickly gave up.

EVERYBODY: It’s too hot!

BODHISATTA: I know it’s hot, but we have to keep digging!

They dug some more, but then started putting down their shovels.

EVERYBODY: This is pointless! We don’t see any water! We will die of thirst digging.

BODHISATTA: It’s true you don’t see water yet, but that’s because you haven’t dug deep. Success only comes to those who work.

They dug a little more. Now the hole was getting deep, but still no water.

EVERYBODY: We can’t go on!

BODHISATTA: But you must! Listen – if you give up and stop digging you will die of thirst here. Or you can try to travel to one city or the other but die of thirst on the road. If you keep digging it is true, there might not be any water. But if you keep digging there MAY be water. Using your energy and digging is the only option where you live. So why not try?

The Bodhisatta was able to convince them to keep trying, and just then they reached a buried pocket of water. It started to bubble up, and as the sand shifted became a big rush of water. It quickly filled the hole they had dug and became a big pool.

Everyone laughed and celebrated. They drank deep, and splashed, and filled all their water containers. Then they let their oxen drink and bathe. Finally, refreshed, they set off again in the direction of the far city. With all the extra water they made it with no problems. And, selling their goods, they became rich. They lived happily for the rest of their lives, celebrating the amazing energy of their leader the Bodhisatta.

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