Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Effort" to practice Buddhism (sutra)

Amber Larson and Dhr. Seven (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly; Ven. Nyanatiloka Thera, Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines (4th Edition edited by Ven. Nyanaponika, BPS.lk)
The Buddha in gold, brass, and stone, Thailand (MarmaladeToast flickr.com)
Under a sprawling pipal tree -- bodhi!
The Four Right Efforts (samma-padhāna), which together form the sixth factor of the Noble Eightfold Path, are the effort: (1) to avoid, (2) to overcome, (3) to develop, and (4) to maintain. That is to say:

One endeavors, strives, makes an effort to avoid unwholesome states (generally, those states motivated by greed, hatred/fear, or delusion/wrong view) that are not yet present.

One endeavors to overcome unwholesome states that arise. 

One develops wholesome states (generally, those motivated by nongreed, nonhatred/nonfear, and nondelusion) -- such as the Seven Factors of Enlightenment.
One endeavors to maintain (and consummate, bring to culmination, fruition) wholesome states that have arisen. 

Intensive sitting meditation is one kind of striving (meditationguidance.com)
"The meditator rouses the will to avoid the arising of harmful, unwholesome things not yet arisen... to overcome them... to develop wholesome things not yet arisen... [and] to maintain them, without allowing them to disappear, to bring them to growth, to maturity, and to the full perfection of development. One makes (a balanced) effort, rouses energy, exerts mind/heart, and strives" (AN IV, 13).  
NOTE: It is critical to bear in mind that overexertion is not right effort. The Buddha did not succeed under the Bodhi tree by overexerting as so many assume by not reading carefully. It is exactly because of struggling and overexertion that he could not succeed. Only when Siddhartha relaxed and began making a balanced-effort, which included the purifying meditative-absorptions (jhanas) he had fearfully been avoiding for years, did he finally reach the path to insight and enlightenment. He let go, allowed bliss of absorption and, remaining attentive, emerged to practice Dependent Origination -- the systematic pursuit of the 12 causal links that make up suffering. Siddhartha had set originally off to find the solution to the problem of suffering, so he asked: "Why is there suffering?" The practice of Dependent Origination answers this question through mindful application, insight-practice (vipassana), which begins as the fourfold setting up of mindfulness (on body, feelings, mind, and mind states). In this connection, the Buddha once taught a famous lute player to neither over-tighten nor under-tighten the strings of the instrument. Balance is the way to get the right sound -- balance between overexerting and underexerting.

Hi, I'm meditating (Kirsten Johnson)
(1) "What now, O meditators, is the effort to avoid? Perceiving a form, or a sound, or an odor, or a taste, or a bodily or mental impression, the medtitator neither adheres to (clings to, is entranced by) the whole nor to its parts. And one strives to ward off that through which harmful and unwholesome things might arise, such as greed and sorrow, if one remained with unguarded senses. And one watches over the (six) senses, restrains the senses. This is called the effort to avoid.
(2) "What now is the effort to overcome? The meditator does not retain any thought of sensual lust, or any other harmful, 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 Seven Factors of Enlightenment, bent on solitude, on detachment, on extinction, and ending in liberation (deliverance, emancipation, nirvana), namely: mindfulness, keen investigation of phenomena, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration (collectedness of mind), and equanimity. This is called the effort to develop.
OK, breaktime! (Vincenzo Rossi/flickr)
(4) "What now is the effort to maintain? The meditator keeps firmly in mind (attention) a favorable object of concentration, such as the mental image (nimitta) of [light, or the cemetery meditations of] a skeleton, a (very repulsive) corpse infested with worms, a corpse blue-black in color, a festering corpse, a corpse riddled with holes, a corpse swollen up. [In this way, one frequently given to lust is temporarily freed of lust so insight may dawn and permanently free one of hindrances, fetters, and defilements.] This is called the effort to maintain" (AN IV, 14).

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