Continuing the Four Right Efforts from previous post
Unwholesome States that have arisen should be abandoned. This sounds rather straightforward, and it is. But it is often difficult to recognise when you are entertaining an unwholesome mind state. A meditator can recognise anger as burning oneself, or spite as poisoning oneself … and then see the advantage in letting that emotion go. It is more difficult to recognise desire and greed as being unwholesome. Often desire is for blameless things, and so the mind state cannot be considered bad, evil or wrong. Yet it sucks in your attention and distracts from the balance of mindfulness and practise. If the things you like develop from simple pleasure in something without attachment, to something that you think about, desire and work to get, then it is distracting you from mindfulness practise. Few people want to make every moment of every day all about meditation, but you still have to recognise when you are being mindful and when you are distracted from it. A typical sutta example is very direct:
Herein a monk does not admit sensual thought, but abandons it, expels it, makes an end of it, drives it out of renewed existence. So too with thoughts that are malign or cruel. He does not admit those unprofitable states that from time to time arise. This monks is “the effort to abandon”.
Unwholesome states that have not arisen you restrain yourself from. Very clear, but again if you bear this teaching in mind then it suddenly becomes very obvious how much you actually want those mind conditions. The saying goes no one is evil, but many are seduced by it. Greed, hate and delusion are invited in at some point, and only if you are mindful can you catch this subtle desire and let it go. Depression is a good example – part of you feels at home with the condition. Anger, greed… all are the same in that their owner invites them in for one reason or another. Worry is a comfort – and if you stop worrying by restraining the thoughts, you start to worry that you are not worrying enough…
All emotions are fed by thoughts. Thinking is the fuel for every emotion and like any fire the emotion will fade if you do not feed it with its fuel. It takes some will power at times to hold yourself off from dwelling on an emotion. If you are not careful the emotion will take hold and you will have to find a way to abandon it before you can restrain yourself from falling into it again. Thoughts have two functions – to focus the mind on a topic, and to intensify the experience. All emotions cease if you do not keep feeding them. Don’t worry about the future – you only have to deal with what is in front of you. Whatever the temptation is right now, you restrain the thoughts and the emotion will not be able to take hold.
The Sutta gives a direct explanation based upon the Six Sense model of consciousness
Monks, on seeing an object with the eye, do not be entranced by the signs and features [general features or details]. In as much as dejection or coveting, and unwholesome states will flow in upon one who leaves the sense doors unguarded he applies himself to such control, sets a guard over the eye and wins restraint thereof. [similarly for the ear and sounds, nose and odours, tongue and tastes, body and sensations, mind and thoughts.] This monks is called the “effort to restrain”.
Wholesome states that have arisen, you seek to maintain them. Many people do not notice their good qualities, and thus lose the chance to appreciate themselves and maintain those qualities. Too often people focus only on their bad qualities, and the things they want to change. Patience, energy, metta, compassion, wisdom, kindliness – all people have good qualities, and admitting them and taking some pride and appreciation for them is a good way to ensure they are maintained. Kind of like the time Mohammed Ali was accused of being irascible, and he said “I don’t know what irascible is, but if it’s good, then I’m it”
Psychologist Martin Seligman shocked the world of psychology when he proposed that psychologists should be looking at what makes people happy rather than trying to fix problems that make them unhappy. He was granted 30 m$ to investigate this and you can see the results on a web site named ‘authentic happiness‘. But there is little need to investigate – all he says is: find your positive quality and nurture it.
Herein a monk makes an effort, sets forth energy, lays hold of and exerts his mind for the persisting, the non-confusion, the development, increase, cultivation and fulfilment of profitable states that have arisen.
Wholesome states that have not arisen, you seek to cultivate them. With all the emphasis on dukkha (suffering) in Buddhism, this clause should not be overlooked. There are lots of beautiful (Sobhana) states of mind that can and should be developed. Is your mind in a ‘beautiful’ state or not? Simply asking a question such as this, can lead to great clarity, and a sense of knowing what it is you have to do. You have to find your own ways to bring about the beautiful states of mind, using whatever tools or techniques you have to hand. Keep reading, keep listening, and keep mindful, and then the methods and ways appear that you can pick up and use.
Herein a monk develops the ‘Limbs of Wisdom’ that are mindfulness, investigation of Dhamma, energy, zest, tranquility of body, concentration and equanimity – all of which are based on withdrawal from the world of sense desire, based on dispassion, and end in self-surrender.
Of all the teachings that appear in the suttas this one on the right efforts is probably the most common -more so even than mindfulness and concentration. It is common sense, and does not involve belief or dogma. It does not depend on your teachers having perfect practise – even if no one else you can find actually practises this teaching it still makes perfect sense. By bearing it in mind, you should find that the course of action ahead of you becomes clear. And you have a tool that can be used with all mindstates, even the really negative ones. Fair-weather meditators only meditate when they feel good, and when the situation is particularly conducive to meditation. But with the right efforts, this is a practise that can be picked up at all times, both when feeling positive and when feeling negative, when meditating and going about daily life.
Whether he walk, stand, sit or lie
The monk who thinks of evil worldly things
Walking the wrong path, by delusion blinded
Can never touch supreme enlightenment
Whether he walk, stand, sit or lie
The monk controlling thoughts, who takes delight
In ceasing from all thoughts – sure is such a one
Fit to touch supreme enlightenment