Thursday, November 2, 2017

Buddhism: What is "right" effort? (sutra)

Compiled by Ven. Nyanatiloka, Buddhist Dictionary: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines edited and updated by Dhr. Seven and Ananda (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

Bathing and practicing in the River Jordan, Palestine's own Ganges, I will purify myself?

Right effort, right effort! What is right effort? The answer is fourfold, the cleansing and purification of the mind/heart.
  • "Right"? Each of the Path factors is preceded with samma or "right." Why? Not all effort or exertion is profitable and beneficial. The Pali word sammā), samyañc in Sanskrit, means "right, proper, as it ought to be, best" (Thomas William Rhys Davids; William Stede, Pali-English Dictionary, pp. 695-696) and is contrasted with the opposite miccha ("wrong or misguided").
  • "Meditation" (bhavana) in Buddhism is not limited to sitting in lotus position. It literally means "bringing into being," calling into existence, producing, cultivating, developing, sometimes by contemplation and reflection (anussati) -- most notably of the 12 causal-links of Dependent Origination in insight meditation -- other times by still and silent absorption in some field of effort like the 40+ meditation subjects the Buddha recommended.
The Four Right Efforts (samma-padhāna or sammā-vāyāma) form the sixth spoke in the wheel of the Noble Eigthfold Path. They are the effort to:
  1. avoid (samvara-padhāna)
  2. overcome (pahāna-padhāna)
  3. develop (bhāvanā-padhāna)
  4. maintain (nurakkhana-padhāna).
The Wheel of Rebirth vs. the Wheel of the Path
The first (1) is the effort to avoid unwholesome states, such as harmful thoughts and so on. The second (2) is to overcome unwholesome states.

The third (3) is to develop wholesome states, such as the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. The fourth (4) is to maintain the wholesome states (often summarized as the Ten Courses of Wholesome Action) to completion.

"The meditator rouses will to avoid the arising of unskillful states, namely, unwholesome things not yet arisen... to overcome them if they have arisen... to develop wholesome things not yet arisen... to maintain them once they are present, not to let them disappear but instead bringing them to growth, to full maturity, to perfection of development.

"One one makes effort, stirs up energy, exerts heart/mind, and strives" (A. IV, 13).

SUTRA explanations
Balance your exertions with ease.
(1) "O meditators, what now, is the effort to avoid? Perceiving a form, a sound, an odor, a taste, a bodily or mental impression, the meditator neither adheres to the whole nor to its parts.

One strives to ward off that through which unskillful and unwholesome things might arise -- such as greed, hatred/fear, delusion, and sorrow -- if one were to remain with senses unguarded; one watches over the senses, restrains the senses. This is called the effort to avoid.
(2) "What now is the effort to overcome? The meditator retains no thought of sensual lust, or any other unskillful, unwholesome states that may have arisen; one abandons them, dispels them, destroys them, causes them to disappear. This is called the effort to overcome.
(3) "What now is the effort to develop? The meditator develops the Factors of Enlightenment, bent on solitude [i.e., withdrawal into meditation/absorption], on letting go/detachment, on happiness, on extinction, and ending in deliverance/liberation, namely:
  1. mindfulness (sati)
  2. investigation of phenomena (dhamma-vicaya)
  3. energy/effort (viriya)
  4. joy/rapture (pīti)
  5. tranquillity (passaddhi)
  6. coherence/concentration (samādhi)
  7. unbiased equanimity (upekkhā).
"This is called the effort to develop."

Cemetery meditations are not for hate-types.
(4) "What now is the effort to maintain? The meditator keeps firmly in mind/heart a favorable object of attention (reflection/contemplation), such as the [repulsive] mental image of a skeleton, a corpse infested by worms, a corpse blue-black in color, a festering corpse, a corpse riddled with holes, a corpse swollen up [the purpose of which is to temporarily overcome lust and sensual craving to gain liberating-insight]. This is called the effort to maintain" (A. IV, 14).

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