The purification of conduct established by the prior three
factors of moral discipline serves as the basis for the next
factors of the path which focus on concentration — right
effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. The power
of sustained concentration acts as the support for insight-wisdom,
the primary tool for deliverance. Right concentration brings
the requisite stillness to the mind; to do so, however, the
factor of concentration needs the aid of effort and mindfulness.
Right effort provides the energy demanded by the task, right
mindfulness the steadying points for awareness. (A
simile from the suttas>>>)
The Buddha begins the training of the mind with right effort.
He places a special stress on this factor because the practice
of the path requires work, energy and exertion.
The awakened one points out the path, you yourself must
make the effort.
The goal, the Buddha says, is for the energetic person not
for the lazy one. Here we see the great optimism of
Buddhism. Through effort, through exertion, we can transform
the whole structure of our lives. We are not the hopeless
victims of our past conditioning; we are not the victims
of our genes or of our environment. Through mental training,through
practice and exercise, it is possible to raise the mind to
the high plateau of wisdom, enlightenment and liberation.
The four aspects of right effort
If we observe the states that arise in the mind, we see
that they fall into two basic classes
Unwholesome states Unwholesome states of mind are rooted in the defilements,
in greed, hatred, delusion and in their offshoots. To prevent
these states from arising we apply:
The effort to prevent unarisen unwholesome states
The first side of right effort aims at overcoming unwholesome
states, states of mind tainted by defilements. The defilements
that impede concentration are usually presented as the "five
hindrances" : sensual desire, ill will, dullness
and drowsiness, restlessness and worry, and doubt. They
are referred to as "hindrances" because they
block the path to liberation; they grow up and over the
mind preventing calm and insight, the primary instruments
for progress. By maintaining watchfulness over the senses,
we are able to prevent the unarisen defilement from arising.
coming soon: Ashoka course on the five hindrances
taught by Joseph Goldstein.
The effort to abandon the arisen unwholesome
states Despite the effort at sense control the defilements
may still surface. When we see that a defilement has
arisen we have to apply energy to eliminate it.
This can be done by a variety of methods. In the Vitakkasanthana
Sutta sutta (Majjhima Nikaya N0. 20) the Buddha gives
five methods for training the mind to overcome unwholesome
Wholesome states Along with the removing of defilements one cultivates
wholesome states of mind such as the eight factors of the
path, the four foundations of mindfulness, and the seven
factors of enlightenment. To strengthen these unwholesome
Develop the undeveloped wholesome states We have many beautiful, potential qualities stored
up in the mind, for example, loving kindness and compassion.
We have to bring these up to the surface of the mind
to make them shine forth.
Strengthen and cultivate the existing wholesome
must avoid falling into complacency and
have to make effort to sustain
states that have been developed
and to develop
them to full growth and completion.
By applying these four aspects of right effort, step-by-step,
we cleanse the mind of its defilements until it becomes bright
and pure and radiant.
Right intention and right effort
It might seem right intention and right effort are very
The middle way (Not too tight, not too loose)
Right effort requires caution. The mind is a very delicate
instrument and its development requires a precise balancing
of the different mental faculties. We need keen mindfulness
to recognize what kind of mental state has arisen and
a certain degree of wisdom to keep the mind in balance to
prevent it from veering to extremes. This is the middle
Effort should be balanced without exhausting the mind on
the one hand and without letting it fall into stagnation
on the other. There's a story in the Buddhist literature
that illustrates this.
Practicing the path must be done in the same way, balancing
energy and calm.
To develop the mind further, to make it capable of gaining
concentration and insight, we have to enter the practice
of the next factor of the path, right mindfulness.
Right mindfulness is the clear awareness of what is happening
in us and around us at the successive moments of experience. Mindfulness
is a form of attention. To practice mindfulness involves
attending to our experience.
But mindfulness differs somewhat from ordinary attention.
Ordinarily the faculty of attention is used as an instrument
for serving our purposes -- our biological and psychological
needs. Attention serves as an instrument of the rest of the
mind, so that we notice what the mind demands and desires, we
notice the things that serve the mind’s desires;
we neglect the other things, we don’t attend them.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a kind of attention which
operates independently of all ulterior aims and purposes.
Mindfulness is an attention which observes our experience,
carefully and precisely, always attending to what is occurring
what is in the present, without limiting the field of observation,
without making any discriminations, without subordinating
the acts of attention to external purposes.
The four foundations of mindfulness
The Buddha systemized the practice of mindfulness according
to the objects of mindfulness:
The mindful contemplation of the body
The mindful contemplation of feelings
The mindful contemplation of states of mind
The mindful contemplation of mind objects
The Buddha says that the four foundations of mindfulness
form the only way that leads to the attainment of purity,
to the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, to the end of
pain and grief, to the entering upon the right path and the
realization of Nibbana.
These will be taught in the Ashoka course on Vipassana meditation.
For a brief introduction click here.
Right effort and right mindfulness work together in close
cooperation. Right mindfulness makes us aware what kind of
state has arisen. Then through right effort we apply our
energy to eliminate unwholesome states – states that
lead us to distraction and entanglement. And through right
effort we strive to arouse and strengthen the wholesome state
that lead to calm and clarity.
Right effort and right mindfulness are directed to the eighth
factor of the path, right concentration.
Concentration here is wholesome one-pointedness of the mind,
wholesome unification of the mind. To develop concentration
we generally begin with a single object and attempt to fix
the mind on this object so that it remains there without
wavering. We use right effort to keep the mind focused on
the object, right mindfulness to be aware of the hindrances
to concentration, then we use effort to eliminate hindrances
and strengthen the aids to concentration. With repeated practice
the mind becomes gradually stilled and tranquil. With further
practice we can develop deep states of absorption.
The stilled mind — gateway to wisdom When the mind is stilled and collected it serves
as the means to develop insight. Having developed right concentration,
when the mind has become a powerful tool, we direct it to
the four foundations of mindfulness, contemplating the body,
feeling, states of mind and mental objects.
An instrument of discovery As I mentioned at the beginning of this lesson,
the eight factors are not meant to be followed in sequence.
The path consists of eight factors working simultaneously.
They all perform distinctive functions, all contributing
in their unique way to attainment of the end of suffering.
Though right concentration claims the last place among the
factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, concentration itself
does not mark the path's culmination. The attainment of concentration
makes the mind still and steady, unifies its concomitants,
opens vast vistas of bliss, serenity, and power. But by itself
it does not suffice to reach the highest accomplishment,
release from the bonds of suffering. To reach the end of
suffering demands that the Eightfold Path be turned into
an instrument of discovery, that it be used to generate the
insights unveiling the ultimate truth of things. This requires
the combined contributions of all eight factors, and thus
a new mobilization of right view and right intention.