Enlightenment is not your birthright.
Those who succeed do so only through proper effort.
Living and acting appropriately is a huge part of the Eightfold Path, but can only be of real benefit when combined with work on one’s own personal growth. The last three parts of the Path are concerned with Mental Development; the ways to develop and improve one’s own mental well being, and it starts, as do all things really, with Right Effort. Because it’s all very well knowing the Dharma and reading and meditating, but unless I put the effort into the way I’m living, there’s just no point.
There are four parts to Right Effort:
The Effort to abandon unskilful habits
Habits that have already arisen, that are harmful for me and for others, such as anger, fear and hatred. This is considerably difficult for me, as I have a tendency to turn away from my anger, to push it away and let it simmer and grow. Letting go of something is difficult if you’re holding on so tightly that it’s cutting your hand.
But it’s an important effort, to take all that anger and fear and regret, and acknowledge and let it go gently, to find the appropriate way to do so. It’s impossible to just stop being angry, but there are ways to acknowledge that anger and let it go.
Forgiveness, as I see it, is a selfish action. When I forgive someone for some wrong I perceive, I do it for my own state of mind, not for theirs. And when I’ve wronged someone else, I can’t make them forgive me, but I can forgive myself, and let go of the regret. First, of course, comes the acknowledgement that I did act unskillfully, otherwise I’ll cling to resentment and delusion. But seeing the situation, and letting go of all anger and fear around that situation -that’s Right Effort.
The Effort to prevent the arising of unskillful habits
The much more difficult attempt to just not get angry in the first place. This one, I have no idea about, really. I’ve found that seeing and acknowledging anger and then letting it pass in a way that doesn’t affect my world to usually be effective, but sometimes it sneaks back when I’m not looking. So really, it comes down to paying attention to that transition. How many times do I suddenly snap back fro something and say “whoa, turns out I’m depressed/angry/sulky right now.” The goal is to be able to see this coming and identify it at the start. It’s hard.
The Effort to develop skillful habits
Skilful habits being that of awareness, mindfulness and loving kindness, the cultivation of these I occasionally go to deliberately. I mentioned in my post on Right Intent – which I view as strongly related to Right Effort about metta practice that I use to access loving kindness. I also frequently use techniques to heighten mindfulness. Usually this starts with a breath, focusing on the physical center of my body where the breath is going, and observance brought to something physical in my space, like the feeling of the floor beneath my feet or the cotton of my shirt against my skin. Bringing myself back to what’s happening now.
The Effort to maintain skilful habits
Once beneficial states of mind are here, it also takes effort to hold on to them. This, again, is a struggle for someone whose moods changes as wildly as mine do, but it is something that comes easier with Practice. To notice when I’m in a skillful state of mind, without that sense of smugness and achievement that is itself unhelpful, but to notice, accept and acknowledge in a way that I can keep it up.
It’s harder than I can describe, really, to keep an effort up all the time. It takes mental energy I don’t always have. But the more I work on it, the easier maintaining that effort becomes.
Right Effort Links
Zencast #87 Right Effort
This post can also be found at Thagomizer.net. Feel free to join in the conversation wherever you feel most comfortable.