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.
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:
- 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.
- The effort to let go of unwholesome qualities that have already arisen within us
- 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)
- 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
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).
“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!