RIGHT EFFORT (Samma Vayama)

The Buddha begins the training of the mind with right effort. He places a special stress on this factor because the practice of the path requires work, energy and exertion. The Buddha is not a saviour: "The Enlightened Ones point out the path, you yourselves must make the effort". he says further, "the goal" is for the energetic person not for the lazy one. Here we come to the great optimism of Buddhism, the optimism which refutes all charges of pessimissm. The Buddha says through right effort we can transform the whole structure of our lives. We are not the hopeless victims of our past conditioning. We are not the victims of our genes or of our environment., but through mental training it is possible to raise the mind to the high plateau of wisdom, enlightenment and liberation.

Right effort can be broken down into four aspects. If we observe the states that arise in the mind, we see that they fall into two basic classes, wholesome states and unwholesome states. The unwholesome states are the states of mind rooted in the defilements, in greed, hatred and delusion, and in their offshoots. The wholesome side consists of the virtuous qualities that should be developed and cultivated, such as the eight factors of the path, the four foundations of mindfulness, the seven factors of enlightenment , etc.

With regard to each of these wholesome and unwholesome states there are two tasks we have to perform. So the four aspects of right effort are as follows:

(a)  The effort to prevent un arisen unwholesome states from arising
At a time when the mind is calm, something may happen which will spark off a defilement. eg. attachment to a pleasant object, aversion to an unpleasant object. By maintaining watchfulness over the senses, we are able to prevent the unarisen defilement from arising. We are able to simply take note of the object without reacting to the object by way of greed or aversion.

(b)   The effort to abandon the arisen unwholesome states
That is to eliminate the defilements that have arisen. When we see that a defilement has arisen we have to apply energy to eliminate it.
This can be done by a variety of methods.

(c)  Develop the undeveloped wholesome states
We have many beautiful, potential qualities stored up in the mind. We have to bring these up to the surface of the mind, eg. loving kindness, compassion etc.

(d)  Strengthen and cultivate the existing wholesome states.
We must avoid falling into complacency and have to make effort to sustain the wholesome states and to develop them to full growth and completion.

A further word of caution has to be added about right effort. The mind is a very delicate instrument and its development requires a precise balancing of the different mental faculties. We need keen mindfulness to recognize what kind of mental state has arisen and a certain degree of wisdom to keep the mind in balance to prevent it from veering to extremes. This is the middle way.

Effort should be balanced without exhausting the mind on the one hand and without letting it fall into stagnation on the other. The Buddha says in order to get good music from a lute, its strings have to be tuned not too tight and not too loose.

Practicing the path must be done in the same way. The way to practising is according to the Middle Way: balance energy and calm.

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