Right Effort in Buddhism – The Sixth Spoke of the Wheel

Right Effort in Buddhism – The Sixth Spoke of the Wheel

The next three spokes of the wheel of Dharma have to do with Concentration (Samadhi) which entails concentrating on a single object of meditation for the realization of Nirvana or enlightenment.

right view in buddhism

In the Indian Pali language the word for right effort is “Samma-Vayama” which can also be translate as “Right endeavor”, “Right Diligence” or we can phrase this as “Authentic/Realistic Endeavour” or “Authentic/Realistic Diligence”.

Defining Right Effort

At the very basic level, Right Effort in Buddhism means that we exert ourselves to develop wholesome qualities and abandon unwholesome qualities.

The Buddha taught that there are Four Kinds of Right Effort:

  1. The effort to prevent unwholesome qualities (motivated by ego, a sense of ‘me’ and ‘mine’) from arising (i.e. greed, anger, ignorance)
    This doesn’t mean that we should judge or resist these qualities from arising, but rather refers to the quality of not being so attached to these qualities that arise within us.
  2. The effort to let go of unwholesome qualities that have already arisen within us
  3. The effort to cultivate wholesome qualities (which stems from Right View) such as generosity (opposite of greed), loving kindness (opposite of anger), and wisdom (opposite of ignorance)
  4. The effort to strengthen the wholesome qualities that have already arisen within us

So what this means is that we should let go of negative qualities and make the effort to prevent them arising again through mindfulness of our thoughts, speech, and actions.

On the other hand, this is also saying that we should cultivate positive qualities and strengthen those qualities within us. It is the effort to be aware and see clearly.

Simply put, we can say that by doing this we are weakening the negative neural connections in our brains and strengthening the positive neural connections.

So once we develop the energy of right effort, then that effort becomes easier in the future as the positive connections become stronger and the negative connections become weaker.

Applying Right Effort

right effort in buddhism

Ajahn Chah

So how do we apply Right Effort in Buddhism to our daily lives?  Of course it isn’t easy and this is something that we work on every moment of every day.  It is to be aware of suffering (dukkha) and putting forth the effort to find the way out of suffering.

So in order to practice this in daily life, it’s important to pay attention to ourselves and to what comes up within ourselves to be aware of our suffering and at the same time be aware that there definitely is an end to suffering.

It’s also best to check in with yourself every now and then and just notice whether our thoughts are wholesome (stemming from Right View conducive to Nirvana) or unwholesome (stemming from and egoistic view that is consistent with Samsara, the world of suffering).

Conclusion

Right Effort is important but don’t overdo it. I will close with a teaching that was given to Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm by his teacher Ajahn Chah on the topic of Right Effort:

“Sometimes people ask the question ‘Should I be meditating all the time throughout the day, always watching my breath, or watching something else?’  The answer of course is no. If you are moving bricks, put all your effort into moving those bricks in the right place.  Give it one hundred percent. If it’s time to eat, eat with one hundred percent attention, and watch what you’re eating, don’t watch your breath otherwise the food might fall out of your mouth.  Do one thing at a time, and give it everything you’ve got.”

I think these are wise words indeed and something that I think it would be beneficial for anyone to practice.

I hope you enjoyed this article on Right Effort in Buddhism and as always feel free to leave a comment below.

May we attain perfect Buddhahood for the sake of all living beings!


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12 Responses to Right Effort in Buddhism – The Sixth Spoke of the Wheel

  1. sc88 says:

    Yes, thanks for the post! It makes alot of sense to me. Ive recently started reading and listening to Eckhart Tolles teachings and this is basically what he teaches too, that suffering is self imposed and can be removed by us being mindful or as he puts it being present, always observing what we are thinking and simply observe them without judgement… to always focus on the NOW as thats all there is. Not everyone will understand what I just said but those who do, KNOW what im pointing to and what your post is pointing to too.

    • Ian H says:

      Thanks for the comment! I like Eckhart Tolle’s teachings, they are very similar to Buddhist teachings and I think that he was very much influenced by them.

  2. Duramaxin says:

    Wow! your website is really informative. You better make the top rankings with content like that! It is nicely executed and you can tell it is thought through. You have great paragraphs! Short and sweet, you can’t beat that can you? I learned more then i asked for thats for sure.

  3. Margaret says:

    I really enjoy reading your posts and finding out more about the Buddhist religion. Is it a religion or is it a philosophy? It seems that today there are more unwholesome qualities in our society than wholesome qualities. I really hope more people come to your site and read about Buddhism and try to practice it in their lives. Do you think the teachings of Buddha are pretty much the same as taught by Christ?

    • Ian H says:

      Thank you! I would say that it is more an applied philosophy than a religion. There is a method described “The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold path” which when followed leads to the cessation of suffering and there are numerous sutras that go into detail about many others who have attained a state of enlightenment as well. I would call it the “science of the spirit”.

      I think Jesus attained the same state and said many of the same things and taught some of the same parables (e.g. prodigal son), though he phrased it in a way that was understandable to the fiercely theistic Israelites. So in my view, and in the view of many Buddhist monks out there Jesus is considered to be another Buddha of Infinite Compassion.

  4. Eliah says:

    Great post! I think that we all need to become more aware of our thoughts putting our energy into only the positive ones.

    I have recently only just grasped what that actually means and how to put it into practice. Like you say its an on going effort but I already see great benefits of being able to do this.

    Thanks for the reminder of all this, hope to read more great posts from your website 🙂

    • Ian H says:

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, it requires a lot of mindfulness but that gets easier the more we practice it and keep strengthening the positive neural connections in our brains.

  5. RuthM says:

    I find Buddhism so interesting. I am a Christian, but somehow Buddhism seems to have the most virtuous principles of any religion. Its made up of gentle forgiving souls and hatred is never found amongst Buddhists.

    I love this and I want to learn more and perhaps take some of those learnings into my own life.

    Top article!

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Ruth,

      I think that Buddhism may be the least organized religion and originally was not a religion at all. One does not need to “convert” to Buddhism to benefit from the Dharma but can apply the teachings no matter what the faith. And this is something that the Dalai Lama also teaches.

  6. Steven says:

    I like this post a lot I am particularly drawn towards the statement about ego and anger.

    I myself used to have anger and ego and ever since I made my life about giving I seem to receive a lot more, in fact, I seem to be following a path but I never knew this was buddhism.

    Ever since i dropped the ego my life is a lot more abundant and i don’t mean financial abundant just more happier.

    I feel like Buddhism is for me, is it a religion and how do I practise it?

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