Right Effort is the sixth step in the noble eight steps that lead to Nirvana as taught by The Buddha. Right effort, or exertion, or striving, is an important factor on the path to liberation. Buddha elaborated what right effort is, and where it comes from. Right Effort is preceded by Right View, and when it is wholesome, it leads to liberation. Right Effort is central in any spiritual practice. Let us remember Buddha did not come to teach merely to ‘Be good and do good;’ he came to lead us to Nirvana. He realized that each soul is potentially divine (Buddha) and the only way to be rid of all suffering is to realise one’s divine nature. He taught the noble eight-fold practice for the attainment of Nirvana.
The five steps we discussed before are mere preparations for the more intense interior practice. These five steps make the body and mind fit instruments leading to Samadhi.
Right effort is an attitude of mind and of great importance. Here we are concerned both with the nature of the effort and also its proper direction. The following illustrates the right attitude of the mind:
“Do you profess to be a husbandman?” asked the Brahman. “Where, then, are your bullocks? Where is the seed and the plough?”
The Blessed One said: “Faith is the seed I sow: good works are the rain that fertilizes it; wisdom and modesty are the plough; my mind is the guiding-rein; I lay hold of the handle of the law; earnestness is the goad I use, and exertion is my draught-ox. This ploughing is ploughed to destroy the weeds of illusion. The harvest it yields is the immortal fruit of Nirvana, and thus all sorrow ends.” Though Buddha did not speak of God he believed in reincarnation and taught the law of Karma. According to this law what we are now is the result of all the actions we did in the past. We are not born as a blank slate but with all the innumerable impressions we gathered from the
beginning of our journey in this world.
Right effort involves many things, the control of the passions, avoidance of evil thoughts, and stimulation of right states of mind. Of these none is more important than our awareness of our subconscious, our biggest problem.
The subconscious mind
The subconscious mind is that part of the mind of which one is not fully aware but which influences one's actions and feelings. We all know the nature of the conscious mind. We think, we feel, we act, and we are conscious of our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
All our conscious experiences are stored in the form of impressions in our subconscious mind. It is these impressions that create our present bodies and minds, and direct our ambitions, actions and reactions. Most of these lie deep in the subconscious and what is expressed is only the tip of the iceberg. We are, however, not aware of these impressions that control us. Unless we become aware of these impressions we will not be able to move forward. A Buddha is a realized soul and is fully aware of the nature of the mind. The subconscious, as many believe, is not all evil; the nature of man is good and divine; evil tendencies are merely a temporary phenomena. The evil impressions can be eradicated through proper training of the mind.
What we call our character is the result of what we have thought, felt and done, of all these accumulated tendencies; and not merely of this present life only. The subconscious mind carries the record of all our past lives. This record determines and controls our conscious thoughts, feelings, and actions. In short, our actions and reactions in this life are governed by our individual character.
What about free will? In our present state of mind ‘free will’ is a misnomer, we have very little of free will. There is, however, a certain freedom, which is not of the will or of the mind or of the intellect, but it is a freedom of the spirit within us. Of this the Bible says: “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” However this Kingdom, at present, is covered by our conscious and subconscious mind. Yoga helps us remove these obstructions and manifest our true nature. This is what the Buddha is teaching us through his noble eight-fold way. In order to manifest this divine nature we must acquire purity of mind by controlling the outgoing senses. We have to practice bringing the senses back from the sense objects, so that our attention may be fastened upon God. Distractions, evil thoughts, and wicked desires are sure to arise in the mind. To overcome these we must struggle hard for a long time, may be for many lives. Swami Brahmanandaji used to say, “Struggle! Struggle! Struggle! If there is no struggle in life, if life goes on smoothly, we remain unawakened!” But we have to struggle in the right way.
Buddha believed that every soul is a potential Buddha. However, if we wish to purge these unwholesome impressions and bring up the helpful and wholesome impressions, we need to be aware of them. Hence the Buddha taught Vipassana meditation which can give us insight into the workings of the entire mind. That is where Right Effort comes in.
The Five Hindrances
There are five hindrances that obstruct Right Effort, so one must recognise and overcome them. They are:
1. Sensual desire.
2. Ill will.
3. Sloth, torpor, or drowsiness.
4. Restlessness and worry.
5. Uncertainty, doubt or scepticism.
TheBuddha taught that mindfulness of the body,
sensations,feelings and thoughts will help one overcome these hindrances. Then we can practise Right Effort. Right Effort as taught by Buddha consists of four endeavours.
1. The effort to prevent unwholesome qualities - especially greed, anger and ignorance - from arising.
2. The effort to extinguish unwholesome qualities that already have arisen.
3. The effort to cultivate skilful, or wholesome, qualities that have not yet arisen. Awakening to the four noble truths, intense yearning to attain Nirvana, awareness, loving kindness, and compassion - these are some of the wholesome qualities one needs to acquire and develop.
4. The effort to strengthen the wholesome qualities that have already arisen.
When Right Effort is practised earnestly and with the right attitude the mind becomes pure, strong and easily turns inwards. This leads one to Right Concentration, the seventh step taught by the Buddha.
(to be continued)