Wise Effort

The Wisdom Trainings consist of Right of Wise View and Wise Thinking. The Ethics Trainings are Wise Speech, Action and Livelihood. The Meditation Trainings are Wise Effort, Wise Mindfulness and Wise Concentration. From the connected discourses on the path #6, called “A Certain Bhikkhu” (Monk) comes this teaching:

At Savatthī. Then a certain bhikkhu approached the Buddha…. Sitting to one side, that bhikkhu said, “Venerable sir, it is said, ‘the holy life, the holy life.’ What, venerable sir, is the holy life? What is the final goal of the holy life?”

“This Noble Eightfold Path, bhikkhu, is the holy life; that is, right view through right concentration. The destruction of greed, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of delusion: this is the final goal of the holy life.”

We start our study of the Meditation Trainings with Wise Effort, which is essentially the intentional and sustained practice of the Noble Eightfold Path. When we make a commitment to master anything in life we need determination and perseverance. The “Holy Life” is no different. With wise effort we develop mindfulness and concentration as well as wisdom and ethics.

The Dalai Lama was giving a talk one day while sitting under the Bodhi tree, and the pilgrims had come from miles and miles on foot from the high Himalayas to be with the him in Bodhgaya, and he said to them, “Okay, you’re here, and you think you’re very fortunate because you have the blessings of being under this Bodhi tree where the Buddha was enlightened, with all these famous lamas, and the Dalai Lama himself, and you have the teachings, the sacred meditations, and mantras, and all these things. It won’t do you any good. The only thing that makes it work is if you take the trouble to practice it. All the rest of it is very nice, but you might as well watch Dallas or something like that. It’s not so different. Maybe you would learn more from Dallas, I don’t know. At least it wouldn’t be pretentiously spiritual.” What is needed then is “effort.”  

Effort is central in our spiritual practice. It’s the effort of learning how to cultivate or generate that which is skillful – which means awareness, loving-kindness, or caring for the world around you, or living more in the present, the effort to abandon the habits, the fears of things that we get caught in that create suffering and that keeps us in the muck. This is wonderful because it’s a teaching that we can apply to our daily life; it’s not just a retreat teaching; it’s small habits and all the little pieces of life. Our life is made up of little activities, little habits, and little ways.

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