In our last blog, we looked at the first three of the six paramitas. Here we look at the last three.
4. Right Effort
We generally describe right effort as abandon and refrain the unwholesome, develop and maintain the wholesome. But a definition is not a plan.
Right Effort requires us to simplify our life and to restructure it in ways that conduce to the performance of our practice. We can, once we see how, create an environment in which our practice can thrive. After all, what we are doing now is creating an environment in which our practice is difficult. So it is more a shift in style than something new.
Right Effort keeps us on the Path. We shift our lives in order to lower our stress levels. By minimizing our interactions with others we minimize “selfing,” ego-energizing involvements and conflicts. By taking the conditions of our body and mind seriously, we eliminate deleterious habits, eliminations that can be ended easily, providing we grasp the power that meditation and practice. We do instead of thinking and talking. We meditate and we gain insight. We create an environment in which practice can flourish and in which the sense of well-being we derive from this induces us to further practice.
Five Right Efforts
Techniques for Ridding Ourselves of Defilements:
1. For every defilement there is an antidote (patience for anger; generosity for jealousy, etc). The first of these right efforts is to replace the defilement with the wholesome mindstate that is its opposite.
This is often described as abandon and refrain, develop and maintain.:
2. The second of the five right efforts is to activate these positive mindstates: regret and distaste. Ordinarily in the West these are considered negative mindstates, but in Buddhism these are positive mental qualities that we can used to abandon an unwanted thought or action.
Here’s how: Reflect briefly, quietly and gently on an unwholesome action, seeing it harmful. Next consider its undesirable consequences until a very gentle distaste for it sets in. Then, as regret arises in us we use that regret to calmly push the thought away, shelving it until and similar situation arises again. Next time, though, when we look at what happened last time we were in this type of situation, the regret leads us to change strategies. No guilt, no wallowing, no ruminating.
3. In this third method, we confront the defilement directly, scrutinize and investigate its structure and the structure of each of its components. When this is done, the defilement quiets down and disappears on its own. This contemplative destructuring, which requires patience to learn, is a very powerful tools for evaporating everything from physical pain to depression. Note that this is not a therapeutic model; we are not looking for sources and origins, we are only looking at the mental paradigms and models with which the defilement is created.
These first three are very effective ways to reset our behavior, to help establish new and lasting habitual patterns, leading to ever-increasing wholesomeness in our thoughts and actions.
4. The fourth technique is to strongly divert our attention away from the defilement. When a powerful, unwholesome thought arises and demands to be noticed, instead of indulging it we forcefully redirect our attention to a mindful presence somewhere elsewhere. This has a limited value, though, as it is weak at resetting our habitual behavior and only works if the defilement is met with a diversion of equal or greater strength.
5. The fifth right effort, to be used only as a last resort, is suppression–to vigorously wrestle the defilement to the ground and keep it pinned there until it can safely get up and redirect our attention to something better for us. Like four, this too has limited value and limited effectiveness, because it has little resetting strength.
Meditation is what charges our mindfulness battery, and mindfulness is the driving force of a clear, peaceful, calm, quiet and confident mind.
What do we just do? We just sit, still, without moving, and focus on our breath. No numbers, no words, no visualizations, no wondering about the breathing. Just noticing it go in and out: in the diaphragm, chest, or at the tip of the nostrils. When a thought, a sensation, a feeling, a sound, whatever, arises as a distraction and we notice that we are thinking or feeling of hearing, we let go of that distraction and mindfully return to observing our breath.
We don’t judge or evaluate our meditation. We just sit.
Meditation is about letting go, not attaining. How do we let go? We let go by focusing our attention on something else. For example, when we notice we are listening to a bird, we let go by simply (re)focusing on our breath.
Allow the breath to be natural. Don’t try to change it or control it. Simply breathe. Simply observe.
Wisdom, in the paramita context, can be considered as the understanding and intention that leads us to maintaining the practices of right effort, mindfulness and meditation. The right understanding, or view, is no view–just being mindfully present. The right intention is the intention to wholeheartedly and with utter diligence make it our life’s work to be generous, disciplined, patient, and mindful; plus be meditators.
Conceptually, Buddhist wisdom is often described as the four noble truths: there is suffering, its causes, that it is possible to end suffering, and the path to ending it. A level deeper of that concept are the five aggregates. And on the deepest level, wisdom is understanding and someday realizing the twelve links of dependent origination.
We will look at the aggregates and the links in upcoming blogs.