The Perfection of Vigor:
Quotes from the Theravada Tradition

The Perfection of Vigor is stated immediately after the Perfection of Wisdom:

  1. because the function of wisdom is perfected by the arousing of energy;
  2. to show the auspicious work the bodhisattva undertakes for the welfare of beings after having reached the patience acceptance of their emptiness;
  3. to state the causal bases for exertion right after the basis of equanimity; and
  4. to state the arousing of energy right after the activity of wise consideration.

A Treatise on the Paramis


Viriya: Literally, the state of a hero or strong person (vira). Variously translated into English as vigor, energy, effort, exertion.

Viriya is one of the Seven Factors of Awakening: Mindfulness, investigation, vigor, joy, tranquility, concentration, equanimity.

It is one of the Five Faculties: Confidence, vigor, mindfulness, concentration, discernment.

Closely related words: Vàyamà, effort (as in sammà vàyamà or right effort factor of the eightfold path). Padhàna, endeavor (as in samma-ppadhàna or the [four] right endeavors).

Other important words related to effort:
   Atapa, ardent effort
   Apammada, vigilance, heedfulness, energetic mindfulness



It is for you to make strong effort
The Buddhas only tell you how.

Dhammapada 276



The Dharma is for those who are industrious, not for those who are lazy.

Anguttara IV. 229



Be quick in making effort.

Dhammapada 236



From time to time someone devoted to the higher training should give attention to three things: concentration, energetic effort, and equanimity. In giving regular attention to each of these, then one's mind will become pliant, workable, lucid, and wieldy, and it will be well concentrated to overcome the taints.

Anguttara Nikaya III.42



What is the power of vigor? Here, monks, a practitioner lives with energy set upon the abandoning of everything unwholesome and the acquiring of everything wholesome; one is steadfast and strong in effort, not shirking one's task in regard to wholesome qualities.

Anguttara Nikaya V.92



Vigor (viriya) is the state of a hero (vira). Its characteristic is exertion. Its function is to support or consolidate related mental qualities. It is manifested as non-collapse. Because of the saying, "Stirred, one strives wisely," its proximate cause is what stirs the heart. When initiated properly, it should be seen as the root of all attainments.

Visuddhimagga XIV, 137



The characteristic of vigor is strengthening and support. As an old house stands when strengthened by new pillars, so, when strengthened by vigor, wholesome states do not fall away or deteriorate.

Atthasalini I, part IV



Vigilance (apammada) is the path to the Deathless;
    Negligence the path to death.
The vigilant do not die;
    The negligent are as if already dead.
Knowing this distinction,
    Vigilant sages rejoice
In vigilance,
    Delighting in the field of the noble ones.

Dhammapada 21-22




Absorbed in meditation, persevering,
    Always steadfast,
The wise touch Nibbana,
    The ultimate rest from toil.

Dhammapada 23



The practitioner who delights in vigilance
    And fears negligence
    Advances like a fire,
    Burning fetters subtle and gross.

Dhammapada 31



Better than one hundred years lived
    Lazy and lacking in vigor
Is one day lived
    With vigor and exertion.

Dhammapada 108



Inactive when one should be active,
    Lazy [though] young and strong,
Disheartened in one's resolves,
    Such an indolent, lethargic person
Doesn't find the path of insight.

Dhammapada 280



With steady effort
    One should do what is to be done
Because the lax practitioner stirs up
    Even more dust.

Dhammapada 313



As if one's head were on fire
    A practitioner should live mindfully.

Theragatha 39



These are the five factors for exertion. Which five?

  1. Confidence or conviction when a practitioner is convinced of the Tathagata's Awakening: "Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy and rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine & human beings, awakened, blessed."
  2. Being free from illness & discomfort, endowed with good digestion -- not too cold, not too hot, of moderate strength -- fit for exertion.
  3. Being neither fraudulent nor deceitful. One presents oneself to the Teacher or to his wise friends in the holy life in line with what one actually is.
  4. Being persistent in abandoning unskillful mental qualities and taking on skillful mental qualities. Being steadfast, solid in his effort, not shirking his duties with regard to skillful mental qualities.
  5. Being discerning, endowed with discernment leading to the arising of the goal -- noble, penetrating, leading to the right ending of stress.

Anguttara Nikaya V.53



"Monks, there are these eight grounds for laziness. Which eight?

  1. "There is the case where a monk has some work to do. The thought occurs to him: 'I will have to do this work. But when I have done this work, my body will be tired. Why don't I lie down?' So he lies down. He doesn't make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. This is the first ground for laziness.
  2. "Then there is the case where a monk has done some work. The thought occurs to him: 'I have done some work. Now that I have done work, my body is tired. Why don't I lie down?' So he lies down...
  3. "Then there is the case where a monk has to go on a journey. The thought occurs to him: 'I will have to go on this journey. But when I have gone on the journey, my body will be tired. Why don't I lie down?' So he lies down...
  4. "Then there is the case where a monk has gone on a journey. The thought occurs to him: 'I have gone on a journey. Now that I have gone on a journey, my body is tired. Why don't I lie down?' So he lies down...
  5. "Then there is the case where a monk, having gone for alms in a village or town, doesn't get as much coarse or refined food as he would like for his fill. The thought occurs to him: 'I, having gone for alms in a village or town, haven't gotten as much coarse or refined food as I would like for my fill. This body of mine is tired & unsuitable for work. Why don't I lie down?' So he lies down...
  6. "Then there is the case where a monk, having gone for alms in a village or town, gets as much coarse or refined food as he would like for his fill. The thought occurs to him: 'I, having gone for alms in a village or town, have gotten as much coarse or refined food as I would like for my fill. This body of mine is heavy & unsuitable for work -- stuffed with beans, as it were. Why don't I lie down?' So he lies down...
  7. "Then there is the case where a monk comes down with a slight illness. The thought occurs to him: 'I have come down with a slight illness. There's a need to lie down.' So he lies down...
  8. "Then there is the case where a monk has recovered from his illness, not long after his recovery. The thought occurs to him: 'I have recovered from my illness. It's not long after my recovery. This body of mine is weak & unsuitable for work. Why don't I lie down?' So he lies down. He doesn't make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. This is the eighth ground for laziness.

"These are the eight grounds for laziness.

"There are these eight grounds for the arousal of energy. Which eight?

  1. "There is the case where a monk has some work to do. The thought occurs to him: 'I will have to do this work. But when I am doing this work, it won't be easy to attend to the Buddha's message. Why don't I make an effort beforehand for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized?' So he makes an effort for the attaining of the as-yet- unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. This is the first ground for the arousal of energy.
  2. "Then there is the case where a monk has done some work. The thought occurs to him: 'I have done some work. While I was doing work, I couldn't attend to the Buddha's message. Why don't I make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet- unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized?' So he makes an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet- unrealized. This is the second ground for the arousal of energy.
  3. "Then there is the case where a monk has to go on a journey. The thought occurs to him: 'I will have to go on this journey. But when I am going on the journey, it won't be easy to attend to the Buddha's message. Why don't I make an effort beforehand for the attaining of the as-yet- unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized?' So he makes an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet- unrealized. This is the third ground for the arousal of energy.
  4. "Then there is the case where a monk has gone on a journey. The thought occurs to him: 'I have gone on a journey. While I was going on the journey, I couldn't attend to the Buddha's message. Why don't I make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as- yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized?' So he makes an effort for the attaining of the as-yet- unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. This is the fourth ground for the arousal of energy.
  5. "Then there is the case where a monk, having gone for alms in a village or town, doesn't get as much coarse or refined food as he would like for his fill. The thought occurs to him: 'I, having gone for alms in a village or town, haven't gotten as much coarse or refined food as I would like for my fill. This body of mine is light & suitable for work. Why don't I make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as- yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized?' So he makes an effort for the attaining of the as-yet- unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. This is the fifth ground for the arousal of energy.
  6. "Then there is the case where a monk, having gone for alms in a village or town, gets as much coarse or refined food as he would like for his fill. The thought occurs to him: 'I, having gone for alms in a village or town, have gotten as much coarse or refined food as I would like for my fill. This body of mine is light & suitable for work. Why don't I make an effort for the attaining of the as-yet- unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized?' So he makes an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet- unrealized. This is the sixth ground for the arousal of energy.
  7. "Then there is the case where a monk comes down with a slight illness. The thought occurs to him: 'I have come down with a slight illness. Now, there's the possibility that it could get worse. Why don't I make an effort beforehand for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized?' So he makes an effort for the attaining of the as-yet- unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. This is the seventh ground for the arousal of energy.
  8. "Then there is the case where a monk has recovered from his illness, not long after his recovery. The thought occurs to him: 'I have recovered from my illness. It's not long after my recovery. Now, there's the possibility that the illness could come back. Why don't I make an effort beforehand for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as- yet-unrealized?' So he makes an effort for the attaining of the as-yet-unattained, the reaching of the as-yet-unreached, the realization of the as-yet-unrealized. This is the eighth ground for the arousal of energy.

"These are the eight grounds for the arousal of energy."

Anguttara Nikaya VIII.80



As Ven. Sona was meditating in seclusion [after doing walking meditation until the skin of his soles was split & bleeding], this train of thought arose in his awareness: "Of the Blessed One's disciples who have aroused their persistence, I am one, but my mind is not released from the effluents through lack of clinging/sustenance. Now, my family has enough wealth that it would be possible to enjoy wealth & make merit. What if I were to disavow the training, return to the lower life, and to enjoy wealth & make merit?" Then the Blessed One, as soon as he perceived with his awareness the train of thought in Ven. Sona's awareness -- as a strong man might extend his flexed arm or flex his extended arm -- disappeared from Mount Vulture Peak, appeared in the Cool Wood right in front of Ven. Sona, and sat down on a prepared seat. Ven. Sona, after bowing down to the Blessed One, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, the Blessed One said to him, "Just now, as you were meditating in seclusion, didn't this train of thought appear to your awareness: 'Of the Blessed One's disciples who have aroused their persistence, I am one, but my mind is not released from the effluents... What if I were to disavow the training, return to the lower life, and to enjoy wealth & make merit?'"

"Yes, lord."

"Now what do you think, Sona. Before, when you were a house- dweller, were you skilled at playing the lute?"

"Yes, lord."

"...And when the strings of your lute were too taut, was your lute in tune and playable?"

"No, lord."

"...And when the strings of your lute were too loose, was your lute in tune and playable?"

"No, lord."

"...And when the strings of your lute were neither too taut nor too loose, but tuned (lit: 'established') to be right on pitch, was your lute in tune and playable?"

"Yes, lord."

"In the same way, Sona, over-aroused persistence leads to restlessness, overly slack persistence leads to laziness. Thus you should determine the right pitch for your persistence, attune ('penetrate, 'ferret out') the pitch of the [five] faculties [to that], and there pick up your theme."

"Yes, lord," Ven. Sona answered the Blessed One. Then, having given this exhortation to Ven. Sona, the Blessed One -- as a strong man might extend his flexed arm or flex his extended arm -- disappeared from the Cool Wood and appeared on Mount Vulture Peak.

So after that, Ven. Sona determined the right pitch for his persistence, attuned the pitch of the [five] faculties [to that], and there picked up his theme. Dwelling alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, and resolute, he in no long time reached and remained in the supreme goal of the holy life for which clansmen rightly go forth from home into homelessness, knowing and realizing it for himself in the here and now. He knew: "Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world." And thus Ven. Sona became another one of the arahants.

Anguttata Nikaya VI.55



"There are these four exertions. Which four? The exertion to guard, the exertion to abandon, the exertion to develop, and the exertion to maintain.

"And what is the exertion to guard? There is the case where a monk, on seeing a form with the eye, doesn't grasp at any theme or variations by which -- if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the eye -- evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. He practices with restraint. He guards the faculty of the eye. He achieves restraint with regard to the faculty of the eye. (Similarly with the ear, nose, tongue, body, and intellect.) This is called the exertion to guard.

"And what is the exertion to abandon? There is the case where a monk doesn't acquiesce to a thought of sensuality that has arisen [in him]. He abandons it, destroys it, dispels it, wipes it out of existence. He doesn't acquiesce to a thought of ill will... a thought of harmfulness... any evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen [in him]. He abandons them, destroys them, dispels them, wipes them out of existence. This is called the exertion to abandon.

"And what is the exertion to develop? There is the case where a monk develops the mindfulness factor for awakening dependent on seclusion... dispassion... cessation, resulting in letting go. He develops the investigation of qualities factor for awakening... the persistence factor for awakening... the rapture factor for awakening... the serenity factor for awakening... the concentration factor for awakening... the equanimity factor for awakening dependent on seclusion... dispassion... cessation, resulting in letting go. This is called the exertion to develop.

"And what is the exertion to maintain? There is the case where a monk maintains a favorable theme of concentration -- the skeleton perception, the worm-eaten perception, the livid perception, the festering perception, the falling-apart perception, the bloated perception. This is called the exertion to maintain.

"These are the four exertions.


"Guarding & abandoning,
    developing and maintaining:
these four exertions, taught
    by the Kinsman of the Sun [the Buddha].
A monk who strives
    ardently at them
reaches the ending
    of stress."

AN IV.14