""Right effort is marked by continuity of endeavor." — The Aquarian Almanac"

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September 26, 2015 Theme for Contemplation: Right Effort

“Learn that no efforts, not the smallest – Whether in right or wrong direction – can vanish from the world of causes. E’en wasted smoke remains not traceless.?

—The Voice of the Silence

—For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.? – T.S. Eliot

Renunciation of the fruit of actions says the Gita.

September 27, 2015 Theme for Contemplation: Right Effort

? You yourselves must strive: the Tathagathas are only signposts. Those who have entered the Path and are meditative will be released from the bonds of Mara.?

— Buddha

“A man must believe in his innate power of progress.?

— H.P. Blavatsky

Sometimes we must believe in ourselves despite the evidence.

With conviction in our thoughts and beliefs, the evidence will manifest in due time.

Until then, continue to believe for the better anyway.

I agree with Shen.  I suppose the more we sense that we are truly immortal souls that have lived thousands of lives and had unnumbered experiences and challenges, the foundation for inner belief will grow.

September 26, 2015 Theme for Contemplation: Right Effort

? The man of virtue makes the difficulty to be overcome his first business, and success only a subsequent consideration.?

— Confucius

? Flinch not, neither give up nor despair, if thou dost not invariably succeed in acting from right principles.?

— Marcus Aurelius

September 29, 2015 Theme for Contemplation: Right Effort

? Slow but sure moves the might of the gods.?

— Euripides

“We never know, believe me, when we have succeeded best.?

— Miguel de Unamuno

What is wrong effort?

Good question!  For one looking for quick results.

Here's a classical Buddhist interpretation of Right Effort. There's an insightful statement here that addresses your question.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/waytoend.html#ch5

"Energy (viriya), the mental factor behind right effort, can appear in either wholesome or unwholesome forms. The same factor fuels desire, aggression, violence, and ambition on the one hand, and generosity, self-discipline, kindness, concentration, and understanding on the other. The exertion involved in right effort is a wholesome form of energy, but it is something more specific, namely, the energy in wholesome states of consciousness directed to liberation from suffering. This last qualifying phrase is especially important. For wholesome energy to become a contributor to the path it has to be guided by right view and right intention, and to work in association with the other path factors. Otherwise, as the energy in ordinary wholesome states of mind, it merely engenders an accumulation of merit that ripens within the round of birth and death; it does not issue in liberation from the round.

"Time and again the Buddha has stressed the need for effort, for diligence, exertion, and unflagging perseverance. The reason why effort is so crucial is that each person has to work out his or her own deliverance. The Buddha does what he can by pointing out the path to liberation; the rest involves putting the path into practice, a task that demands energy. ..."

This is a great contribution.  thank you.  It helps point to the mental and will energy side of the equation.

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Permalink Reply by Shen Rampersaud on September 30, 2015 at 2:41pm

Your link offers a comprehensive explanation. From what I understand, Right Effort is supported by concentration and concentration requires viriya or energy in the form of wholesome states.

This wholesome energy must also be directed by right intention and right view (among other factors).

It's fascinating that the components the make up Right Effort have sub-components, all of which must be practiced prior to embodying Right Effort. None exists in isolation nor can be practiced independently of the other...

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on October 1, 2015 at 10:15am

Yes the integrated nature of eightfold path is important indeed. Keeping in mind Peter's reminder that this scheme is all in relation to the quest for enlightenment or put another way the quest to conquer suffering how might that context help us to define "Right Effort"?

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on October 1, 2015 at 11:50am

Well, I suppose the starting point might be to ask ourselves: "are my actions helping to relieve suffering, or are they contributing to it?" in each decision we make.

I also think it's important to always keep in mind that this question is not only asked in reference to our own suffering, but to the suffering of any being capable of suffering whom we may have some influence on. So, do our daily actions help relieve the suffering of others, of ourselves, of the total bulk of suffering overall? When we ask that question, the answer can guide us in redirecting our efforts when needed.

I believe this formed a large part of the thought and decision process of Gandhi, for instance, in his Satyagraha movement and in his individual choices in regards to lifestyle/diet/clothing/etc., etc. The same kind of thought and effort is noticeable in someone like Martin Luther King through the civil rights movement. It also forms the foundation of the modern vegan/animal-rights movement. Each of these can be seen as attempts to more fully embody "right effort".

The tough part, I think, is garnering the strength and courage to change our efforts and actions when we realize that they are contributing to suffering. If one were masterful in this, one would, I think, not hesitate to immediately make a change whenever one recognizes suffering resulting from one's actions, even when that suffering may be seemingly far removed from oneself, or not immediately felt by oneself. And that ability to change/redirect one's efforts is likely at the heart of "right effort", since it is change itself that is the effort.

Permalink Reply by Peter on October 2, 2015 at 4:13am

Jon writes: Well, I suppose the starting point might be to ask ourselves: "are my actions helping to relieve suffering, or are they contributing to it?" in each decision we make.

———————

That makes a lot of sense, Jon.  It's a moment by moment, day by day 'effort'.  The Buddha also gives us a clue to Gerry’s question, at least to my mind, when he refers to the kind of desire behind Right Effort that we should generate in order to counteract the causes of suffering.  In brief, he says we need to:

- generate the desire that unwholesome states of mind will not arise in the present or future

- generate the desire to abandon those unwholesome states that already exist in the mind

- generate the desire to develop wholesome states of mind not yet present

- generate the desire to maintain and nurture those wholesome states of mind already present

In one way, this seems to be about the energy needed by the Will when we wish to bring about any radical change or transformation in ourselves or in our lives.  As that old Hermetic aphorism states, ‘Behind Will stands Desire.’

In order to generate a genuine desire to change we often need to reflect deeply upon our current state in order to understand why such change is needed and to be fully convinced that it is necessary.  As you rightly say, Jon, this is the tough part! Yet, without this we so often find ourselves unable to give up the old patterns and lack the energy of motivation needed to establish the new behaviours.  That’s why the Buddha invites people, over and over again, to look at the nature of suffering and those states of mind that lead to it - these being the first two noble truths.   It's a bit like showing pictures of physical organs deteriorating with cancer to people who smoke and asking them to reflect upon the connection between these two.

This suggests that one thing we might need to do is get an idea of what the Buddha meant by ’suffering’ and why it is that those activities and states of mind we regards as pleasant and harmless the Buddha argues keep us bound to the wheel of suffering from one life to the next.  Then linked to that we might need to reflect upon just what it is that constitutes a wholesome state of mind and an unwholesome state of mind.

Permalink Reply by Peter on October 1, 2015 at 9:14am

Jon, that’s a really good commentary on Right Effort as taught in Buddhism. Thanks. It comes from Bhikku Bodhi’s little book on ‘The Noble Eightfold Path: the way to end suffering?, which is worth reading for those interested in Theravada Buddhism or who simply want to know more about the Eightfold Path.

Below is a passage from the Samyuta Nikaya, which purports to give the Buddhas’ words on the analysis of the Eightfold Path. I’ve only put the passage on Right Effort:

“And what, bhikkhus, is right effort? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu generates desire for the non-arising of unarisen evil unwholesome states; he makes an effort, arouses energy , applies his mind, and strives. He generates desire for the abandoning of arisen evil unwholesome states.... He generates desire for the arising of unarisen wholesome states.... He generates desire for the maintenance of arisen wholesome states, for their non-decline, increase, expansion, and fulfilment by development; he makes an effort, arouses energy, applies his mind, and strives. This is called right effort.?  (Samyuta Nikaya 45:8)

Apologies to all for repeating what I said last time when we looked at Right Livelihood, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the Noble Eightfold Path is, in essence, the Fourth Noble Truth in Buddhism. These four being:

a) that suffering exists; ‘ in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering’, 
b) that the causes of suffering arise from craving, grasping and seeking to hold onto that which is impermanent and has no intrinsic existence of its own - whether these be possession, roles in the world or our sense of egoity, 
c) that there can be an end to suffering (something the Buddha realised directly as part of his own enlightenment)
d) that just as there are causes that lead to suffering, there are causes that lead to the cessation of suffering, namely the Eightfold Path.

So, the “Right’ in each of the eight aspects of the Path (Right Understanding, Right Intention etc etc) refers to generating causes that bring that will eventually lead to the end to suffering.

There are plenty of profound quotes we can find that inspire us to keep going, to never give up, to always make an effort in our lives & so on. These are valuable. But the kind of effort the Buddha is revering to in his analysis above has to do specifically with bringing an end to suffering and liberation from the cycle of samsara both for oneself and for all beings. Right Effort is that effort or energy that contributes to the Path. Hence Bikkhu Bodhi’s commentary:

“For wholesome energy to become a contributor to the path it has to be guided by right view and right intention, and to work in association with the other path factors. Otherwise, as the energy in ordinary wholesome states of mind, it merely engenders an accumulation of merit that ripens within the round of birth and death; it does not issue in liberation from the round.?
(The Noble Eightfold Path, p62)

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on October 1, 2015 at 10:23am

I believe the value in the quotes and poems and passages is to help theosophical students realize that the spiritual quest is universal, shared by all men at all times. The Buddha was not talking about a different Reality than Plato or Lao Tzu.  The key ideas from each teacher can often be found in the other.  And all of the teachings can be found in the symbolism of Nature Herself.  So the whole exercise is not to narrow or confuse but rather to connect and broaden.  In the end the more we dwell and think about these ideas the richer our experience will be with them and hopefully the whole endeavor throws light on the steps ahead for each student.

Permalink Reply by Peter on October 1, 2015 at 1:54pm

Gerry, of course you are right - the quest is universal and the underlying fundamental truths can be found in all the major traditions.  I hoped only to point out that the effort spoken of by the Buddha in the eightfold path has a particular focus and meaning, as Jon's quote from Bhikku Bodhi had already highlighted.  

There are indeed many valuable quotes and poems from other traditions which encourage us to make an effort and keep going, but not all of them will throw light on our specific study topic of Right Effort as a factor in the Buddha's Eightfold Path. Isn't it possible that sometimes quotes and one liners from other traditions may actually detract from or dilute the meaning of the subject in hand, rather than broaden it?  It's sometimes difficult to know why a quote is relevant until the person giving it shares what it means for them.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on October 1, 2015 at 4:04pm

First I believe it is a mistake to look at the message of the  Buddha outside the context of the universal pilgrimage of mankind. The Buddha did not come for Buddhist scholars he came for humanity as a whole.  The great gift of the theosophical movement is to begin to look at all of the traditions through the lens of core theosophical principles one of the best sources of which is the Secret Doctrine. There are many Buddhas, many Mahatmas, many Adepts and all universally come to guide mankind.  Their words and thoughts slip through the lines of poets, wisemen, and those who are inspired. To recognize the abundance of wisdom all about us is very important.

Secondly making distinctions and connections in a thoughtful fashion, is both stimulating and healthy.  We all can do more Thinking.  Making the mind pliable, flexible and focussed helps us walk towards the light.  Right Thought is part of Right Effort.  We need clarity before we act.  Thinking things through is a crucial part of the process and testing our perceptions and observations is good too.  The many quotations are aids in this process and kind of what this discussion group is all about.

Permalink Reply by Peter on October 2, 2015 at 3:23am

Gerry, I probably agree with underlying substance of all that you’ve said in your first paragraph. There’s certainly nothing I’ve said so far that opposes your view. I’m sorry to see that it comes across as if I do. Of course, as students of theosophy we will want to look at other traditions through the lens of core theosophical teachings. That said, wouldn’t we need to know what a tradition actually teaches on a particular topic before we can apply the theosophical lens to that particular teaching?

The current theme for this week, given to us by yourselves, is “Right Effort from the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path.? It doesn’t seem unreasonable to want to clarify what the Buddha meant by and taught about ‘Right Effort’ if we intend a) to look at it through the theosophical lens and b) to see the universal nature of his teachings across other traditions. That would likely mean either sharing our own understanding of what the Buddha taught or providing some passages from the texts which contain a record his teachings on the topic. That doesn’t imply the Buddha’s teaching is only for scholars. We would do the same if we were looking at a topic HPB wrote about. It’s the approach taken in the study group on the Bhagavad Gita.

I’ve no doubt the many quotes the moderators share are offered in the spirit of aiding our study. I feel I’m walking on egg shells here as I don’t wish to offend or sound ungrateful. I would only say that it is hard for me to see the relevance of some of those quotes to our topic of 'Right Effort as taught by the Buddha'. That doesn’t mean I question the value of those quotes and passages in themselves, or that I believe other traditions have nothing to add to the Buddha’s teachings. As I said previously, sometimes we only know why I person believes a quote is relevant to the topic in hand when they share their own thoughts about the connection between the two.

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on September 30, 2015 at 2:04pm

September 30, 2015 Theme for Contemplation: Right Effort

“Never set thy hand to the work, till thou hast first prayed the Gods to accomplish what thou art going to begin.?

— Pythagoras

“Plod on, plunge last in the great Sea, that so

Thy little drop make oceans seven times seven.?

— Jalaluddin

Permalink Reply by Grace Cunningham on October 2, 2015 at 10:38am

One important aspect of right effort is steadiness and consistency.  It is not good enough to try a little here and a little there. If one is trying to regain their health through good diet and exercise they have to stay with it regularly to make a difference.  Any discipline or practice aimed to overcome some character defect that causes oneself and others pain requires regularity.  Slowly over time life atoms, elementals, are recharged and the defect is amended.  In this way right effort is working with Karma.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on October 2, 2015 at 11:53am

I want to delve into the idea of "effort" a little; perhaps that'll be helpful.

What do we mean by "effort"? What is the difference between "effort" and "action"?

If a stone is rolling downhill, is there any "effort" involved in continuing to roll? But, if the stone is to change directions, is not that when effort is needed?

Is effort needed to alleviate suffering only because we have accumulated a tendency towards suffering and need to change our direction? Does a Buddha require constant "effort" to not suffer? Or is there a point at which "wholesome" action becomes "effortless"?

A lot of effort is needed to launch a shuttle into space, but once set in orbit, no further effort is needed. How does this principle relate to the idea of "right effort" and why "effort" is necessary on the path?

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Permalink Reply by Peter on October 3, 2015 at 6:11am

Great questions, Jon - since no one else has responded, here are a few tentative and by no means complete thoughts for members to improve upon, add to, or disagree with.

Q. What do we mean by ‘effort’? What is the difference between effort and action?

A. The terms ‘effort’, ‘exertion’ and ’energy’ are synonymous. Effort could be seen as the exertion we make or the energy we put into physical or mental action. Physical action is a movement of some kind, while exertion is the amount of energy or force involved in that movement. That said, effort (energy or force) is sometimes required to halt action, to hold back, or to restrain - physically or mentally. So effort and action appear to be related but are not identical.

Q. If a stone is rolling downhill, is there any "effort" involved in continuing to roll? But, if the stone is to change directions, is not that when effort is needed?

A. A stone doesn’t make an effort. Nor do mechanical objects. Does nature make an effort to rain or snow? Does a tree or a plant or a human foetus make an effort to grow? The term ‘effort’ seems to be used in relation to particular forms of consciousness. We don’t normally use the term ‘effort’ when talking about members of the mineral and vegetable kingdoms, but we do find it easier to use that term for members of the animal kingdom; for example, we say the lion makes repeated efforts to catch its prey, and the deer makes an effort to escape.

In our human realm, ‘effort’ normally refers to a psychological state. This is the case even when we are talking about physical effort. For example, we say that Jim could work faster or harder or climb that wall etc if only he made the effort. Jim’s lack is seen to exist in the psychological sphere not in his physical body.

Coming back to the question. Yes, often effort is needed to change direction. But we also put a lot of effort into not changing - look at how defensive we can be at times, when challenged!  Importantly, many people complain just how much effort is required to keep going as usual, to maintain their mental equilibrium or status quo in their lives.

A conscious change to our outlook or behaviour often needs more than just effort, we usually need to see and accept there is a reason to change even when help and support are available. As the old joke goes, ‘How many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb?’ Answer: ‘Only one, but the light bulb needs to want to change.’

Q. Is effort needed to alleviate suffering only because we have accumulated a tendency towards suffering and need to change our direction? Does a Buddha require constant "effort" to not suffer? Or is there a point at which "wholesome" action becomes "effortless"?

A. The Buddha refers to three general types of suffering which would require too much space to include here. Buddhism along with Advaita state our primary problem is one of ignorance: firstly we grasp on to a sense of personal egoity which has no real existence and thus causes problems for ourselves and others; secondly, our tendency is largely pleasure seeking and we don’t see the connection between our actions (largely mental) and the karmic causes we thereby generate that keep us bound to the wheel of suffering over many lifetimes. Theosophy teaches the same, but indirectly.
Does a Buddha still need effort not to suffer? We are told that he does not. Our ignorance, sense of egoity and our craving after life’s pleasures are interconnected and all feed each other. Once these have been overcome completely and wisdom destroys ignorance there is no return.

Q. A lot of effort is needed to launch a shuttle into space, but once set in orbit, no further effort is needed. How does this principle relate to the idea of "right effort" and why "effort" is necessary on the path?

A. I think the first part of this question may well have been answered above. Our mental and psychological make up (or skandhas) are partly the result of influences in this life. The teaching is that underneath these are latent tendencies ingrained in us and repeated over many, many lifetimes. The effects of our current conditioning may be relatively easy to challenge and change, while the latent tendencies are likely to prove very resistant, hence the effort to deal with these may require a great effort indeed.

Permalink Reply by barbaram on October 3, 2015 at 4:22pm

Q. What do we mean by ‘effort’? What is the difference between effort and action?

Peter has answered the question very thoroughly about the definition of "effort."   The only thing I would add is that context is very important.  If we are looking at "effort" from the perspective of the Eightfold Path and Four Noble Truths, then the meaning of effort would be very different.   

Q. If a stone is rolling downhill, is there any "effort" involved in continuing to roll? But, if the stone is to change directions, is not that when effort is needed?

The only additional thought I have is that "effort" always involves a motive.  We generally do not make an effort for its own sake.  Motives, efforts, and results are sequential components in this regard.

Q. Is effort needed to alleviate suffering only because we have accumulated a tendency towards suffering and need to change our direction? Does a Buddha require constant "effort" to not suffer? Or is there a point at which "wholesome" action becomes "effortless"?

Peter explained this beautifully.  Once samsara is conquered,  suffering ceases.  It is ignorance that creates suffering. So, I doubt Buddha needs to make effort not to suffer.

Q. A lot of effort is needed to launch a shuttle into space, but once set in orbit, no further effort is needed. How does this principle relate to the idea of "right effort"

Two things come to mind reading this question, on the mundane level, when we learn a language, there are a lot of efforts involved but once we master the language, it becomes habitual and no efforts are needed.   This requires mastering a skill or technique.  On the spiritual level, we make efforts to acquire the needed qualities.  After a long period of practice, we accrete the virtues (devic essence) into our being which purify our constitution.  Then, efforts are not needed because the paramitas have become part of our being.  This requires the assimilation of the subtle forces.

Q: Why "effort" is necessary on the path?

At our point of evolution, effort seems necessary because it helps us to develop our will, strengthen our character, and unfolds our inner potentials.   

Permalink Reply by Peter on October 7, 2015 at 9:40am

Hi Barbara,  Yes, the context really is important - thank you.  

I think you are quite right in that ‘effort’ always involves a motive.  “Motives, efforts, and results are sequential components in this regard.?  That’s a nice way to put it. 

Presumably ‘Right Understanding’ also needs to present given that’s it’s possible to have ‘good’ motives and make a ‘strong’ effort yet still be acting out of ignorance as to the way things are, which it turn has an effect on the results.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on October 2, 2015 at 11:56am

Question: what is the relation between "right effort" and "virya" (vide the Paramitas. SeeVoice of the Silence, where Virya is described as "the dauntless energy that fights its way to the supernal Truth, out of the mire of lies terrestrial")? Are these synonymous, or are there important distinctions between "right effort" and "dauntless energy"?

Permalink Reply by Peter on October 3, 2015 at 7:23am

Jon - yes, Right Effort from the Noble Eightfold Path and Virya (dauntless or joyous energy) from the Six Paramitas are the same.  They both refer to the energy needed to develop virtue and inhibit non-virtue on the Path.  Theravada Buddhism tends to focus on the Eightfold Path while Mahayana Buddhism tends to focus on the Six Paramitas.  The Dalai Lama, for example, explains Virya as the “Effort which maintains enthusiasm for virtue and assists all the other perfections.? (‘How to Practice’, 108)

Permalink Reply by ModeratorTN on October 2, 2015 at 12:25pm

October 2, 2015 Theme for Contemplation: Right Effort

“To dry one’s eyes and laugh at a fall,

And baffled, get up and begin again.?

— Robert Browning

“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.?

— M,K. Gandhi

Permalink Reply by Peter on October 3, 2015 at 7:48am

“To dry one’s eyes and laugh at a fall,  And baffled, get up and begin again.? Browning

“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.?  Gandhi

One of the things that the two quotes above have in common is that they are morally neutral.  A successful military leader, dictator or, say, a person who has trodden over their colleagues and fought their way to the top of a multimillion pound corporation might also put their name to the first quote.  Perhaps any sports person who hasn’t been successful might want to put their name to the second.

Effort in itself is neutral - both the aspiring saint and the selfish person of evil intent each make efforts related to their respective desires.  The Buddha is saying more than this in his Noble Eightfold Path. For the Buddha, Right Effort is not morally neutral; it has to do with generating the energy and desire to inhibit the unwholesome or non-virtuous states of mind that lead to suffering while developing and nurturing those wholesome states of mind that lead away from suffering and to, eventually, complete liberation from samsara. It relies on an understanding of the causes that lead to suffering and those causes that lead to liberation.  It becomes the operational and motivational force of that understanding.