What, now, is Right Effort? There are Four Great Efforts; the effort to avoid, the effort to overcome, the effort to develop, and the effort to maintain.
The Effort to Avoid (Samvara-ppadhana)
What, now is the effort to Avoid? Herein the disciple rouses his will to avoid the arising of evil, unwholesome things that have not yet arisen; and he makes efforts, stirs up his energy; exerts his mind and strives.
Thus, when he perceives a form with the eye, a sound with the ear, and an odor with the nose, a taste with the tongue, an impression with the body, or an object with the mind, he neither adheres to the whole, nor to its parts. And he strives to ward off that through which evil and unwholesome things, greed and sorrow, would arise, if he remained with unguarded senses; and he watches over his senses, restrains his senses.
Possessed of this noble ‘Control over the Senses’ he experiences inwardly a feeling of joy, into which no evil thing can enter.
This is called the effort to avoid.
The Effort to Overcome (Pahana-ppadhana)
What, now, is the effort to Overcome? There the disciple rouses his will to overcome the evil, unwholesome things that have already arisen; and he makes effort, stirs up his energy, exerts his mind and strives.
He does not retain any thought of sensual lust, ill-will or grief, or any other evil and unwholesome states that may have arisen; he abandons them, dispels them, destroys them, causes them to disappear. (Anguttara-Nikaya, IV. 13, 14)
Five Methods of Expelling Evil Thoughts:
If, whilst regarding a certain object, there arise in the disciple, on account of it, evil and unwholesome thoughts connected with greed, hatred and delusion, then the disciple (1) should, by means of this object, gain another and wholesome object. (2) Or, he should reflect on the misery of these thoughts; ‘Unwholesome, truly, are these thoughts! Blamable are these thoughts! Of painful result are these thoughts!’ (3) Or he should pay no attention to these thoughts. (4) Or, he should consider the compound nature of these thoughts. (5) Or, with teeth clenched and tongue pressed against the gums, he should with his mind restrain, suppress and root out these thoughts; and in doing so these evil and unwholesome thoughts of greed, hatred and delusion will dissolve and disappear; and the mind will inwardly become settled and calm, composed and concentrated.
This is called the effort to overcome. (Majjhima-Nikaya, 20)
The Effort to Develop (Bhavana-ppadhana)
What, now, is the effort to Develop? Herein the disciple rouses his will to arouse wholesome things that have not yet arisen; and he makes effort, stirs up his energy, exerts his mind and strives.
Thus he develops the ‘Elements of Enlightenment’ (bojjhanga), based on solitude, on detachment, on extinction, and ending in deliverance, namely: ‘Mindfulness’ (sati), ‘Investigation of the Law’ (dhamma-vicaya), ‘Energy’ (viriya), ‘Rapture’ (piti), ‘Tranquillity’ (passaddhi), ‘Concentration’ (samadhi), and ‘Equanimity’ (upekkha).
This is called the effort to develop.
The Effort to Maintain (Anurakkhana-ppadhana)
What, now, is the effort to Maintain? Herein the disciple rouses his will to maintain the wholesome things that have already arisen, and not to allow them to disappear, but to bring them to growth, to maturity and to the full perfection of development (bhavana); and he makes effort, stirs up his energy, exerts his mind and strives.
Thus, for example, he keeps firmly in his mind a favorable object of concentration that has arisen, such as the mental image of a skeleton, of a corpse infested by worms, of a corpse blue-black in color, of a festering corpse, of a corpse riddled with holes, of a corpse swollen up.
This is called the effort to maintain. (Anguttara-Nikaya, IV. 13, 14)
Truly, for a disciple who is possessed of faith and has penetrated the Teaching of the master, it is fit to think: ‘Though skin sinews and bones wither away, though flesh and blood of my body dry up, I shall not give up my efforts till I have attained whatever is attainable by manly perseverance, energy and endeavour.’
This is called Right Effort. (Majjhima-Nikaya, 70)
The effort of Avoiding, Overcoming,
Of Developing and Maintaining:
These four great efforts have been shown
By him, the scion of the sun.
And he who firmly clings to them,
May put an end to suffering.
(Anguttara-Nikaya, IV. 14)
Source: Nyanatiloka (compiler, translator). The Word of the Buddha: An Outline of the Teaching of the Buddha in the Words of the Pali Canon. 14th edition. Kandy, Ceylon: Buddhist Publication Society, 1967. (Pages 55-57) [This format has been produced by Alexander Peck.]
- For a PDF copy, click Right Effort.
- For an MS Word copy, click Right Effort.
Right Effort is the wholehearted, diligent, and energetic endeavor to train our mind and heart. We are to restrain or prevent unwholesome states of mind from arising. We are to make an effort to dispel and abandon those unwholesome states of mind that have already arisen in our awareness. In addition, we are to make an effort to cultivate positive, pure, loving, virtuous, and wholesome states of mind and heart which have not yet arisen or been developed within us. We are also to make an effort to maintain those positive, pure, loving, virtuous, and wholesome states of mind and heart which have already arisen and been cultivated within us. We should develop and bring these wholesome states to maturity and perfection.
Right Effort means we put forth the diligent effort to be mindful and aware at each moment so we can prevent and eradicate unwholesome thoughts, speech, and actions. In this way, we are also able to avoid being carried away by distractions. We are to develop steady perseverance, making a firm, unshakable resolve to practice the Dharma. We endeavor to express love, compassion, wisdom, and virtue in our thoughts, speech, and actions. If we truly want to awaken and attain liberation from suffering, we must practice with determination, diligence, and consistency. We must train the mind and heart by diligently applying the necessary effort. Through Right Effort we cultivate mental discipline/concentration (samadhi), an essential aspect of the Path.
Source: SourcePoint Global Outreach, The Heart of Dharma Collection (Mount Shasta, CA: Naljor Prison Dharma Service, n.d.) http://sourcepointglobaloutreach.org/what-we-offer/