Fundamental Teachings of Buddhism: Right Effort

In the last three weeks, we’ve begun investigating what Buddha called the Noble Eightfold Path. 

The Noble Eightfold Path originates from Buddha’s very first teaching ever over 2500 years ago at Deer Park in Sarnath, India outside of the only remaining functioning religious city in the world, Varanasi. 

The Four Noble Truths are:

  1. Suffering or unsatisfactoriness, is an innate characteristic of existence
  2. Suffering, or dukkha, arises from our craving, desire and our attachments
  3. There is a path out of suffering
  4. The marga, or path, is the Noble Eightfold path.

The Noble Eightfold Path is divided into three sections: Ethical Conduct, Mental Discipline and Wisdom. 

Dharma Wheel

It’s important to note that none of these teachings is linear. I could have started anywhere on the wheel. 

A few weeks ago, we began with the three factors of the eightfold path that constitute Ethical Conduct

First we should note that the Buddhist ethical and moral conduct aims at promoting a happy and harmonious life both for the individual and society. This moral conduct is considered an indispensable foundation for all higher spiritual attainments. No spiritual development is possible without this moral basis.  

We discussed Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood in the past lessons. 

As a reminder, the word “right” in this context, does not mean “right or wrong.” There is no right way to practice. This “right” is akin to when we might “right” a ship that’s off course. This is very important for you to keep in mind as you practice the eightfold path. 

Today we begin the next section on Mental Discipline which includes right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. 

Let’s Examine Right Effort

If we spend our time working toward things like possessions, sex or food, that is not right effort. If we work around the clock for profit or fame or run away from our suffering, that is not right effort either. 

  • Right effort involves the energetic will to prevent evil and unwholesome states of mind from arising and
  • To get rid of such evil and unwholesome states that have already arisen within a man
  • Produce, to cause to arise, good and wholesome states of mind not yet arisen and
  • To develop and bring to perfection the good and wholesome states of mind already present in each one of us. 

Let’s talk about store consciousness for a minute. Thich Naht Hanh liked to teach this often. 

In our store consciousness, think of seeds below the ground that have not begun to sprout or mature. Those seeds might be anger, hatred, impatience, greediness, jealousy, meanness. 

In our mind consciousness, think of seeds that have sprouted and are already in play – perhaps it’s kindness, love, compassion, patience, understanding. But we can also have other not so nice sprouted seed in our mind consciousness, like anger, greed, etc…

When we practice right effort, we are attempting to:

  1. Prevent unwholesome seeds in our store consciousness that have not yet arisen from arising
  2. Helping the unwholesome seeds that have already arisen to return to ur store consciousness
  3. Finding ways to water the  wholesome seeds in our store consciousness that have not yet arisen and asking our friends to do the same
  4. Nourish the wholesome seeds that have already arisen so that they will stay present in our mind consciousness and grow stronger.

The idea with your practice of Right Effort is to nourish joy, ease and interest. If we have joy, ease and interest, right effort will arise naturally. 

It takes energy to look into our suffering and to see what has brought about that suffering. But this insight will lead us to see how to end our suffering, and the path needed to do so. 

When we can embrace our suffering, we see its origins and we see that it can end because there is a path. Our suffering is at the center. 

The path that doesn’t run away from but embraces our suffering is the path that will lead us to liberation. 

When unwholesome seeds have arisen, we have to take care of them. When unwholesome seeds are dormant, our job is to help them sleep peacefully and be transformed at the base.