In Buddhism, Wise Effort is the sixth step and the start in developing concentration along the Eightfold Path which guides the individual to a wholesome and skilful life. Wise Effort can be understood as the diligent and balanced application of energy and intention which drives our effort to take wise action. The concept of Wise Effort is based on the understanding that our thoughts, speech, and actions have a profound impact on our well-being and the well-being of others. So developing the self-awareness and understanding of what is motivating the energy behind your intention is key. Is it fear or faith, criticism or curiosity, judgement or discernment, resentment or compassion?
By actively engaging in the practice of the Eightfold Path, individuals can transform their heart-mind and cultivate virtues that lead to peace, happiness, and liberation from suffering.
Wise Effort encompasses four aspects:
- Effort in preventing unwholesome qualities of thoughts, emotions, and behaviours: It requires developing self-awareness and mindfulness to recognise the triggers and patterns that lead to unwholesome actions, and taking steps to make wiser choices not to engaging in them.
- Effort in detaching with love from unwholesome qualities thoughts, emotions, or behaviours have already arisen: Wise Effort entails making a deliberate effort to detach with love or let go using mindfulness techniques to observe and release unwholesome mental states YS 1.31 and redirect one’s attention, cultivating positive alternatives 4 Brahmaviharas or YS1.33.
- Effort in cultivating, nurturing and developing wholesome qualities such as loving-kindness, compassion, generosity, patience, and wisdom: This includes intentionally cultivating ethical choices that lead to healthier thoughts and emotions, to promote healing, inspiration and transformation of the pain or suffering felt. Motivated by this energy and intention then actively engaging in practices that enhance these qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, generosity, patience, and wisdom.
- Effort in maintaining, sustaining and deepening wholesome qualities: This involves integrating these qualities into one’s daily life, consistently practicing wiser actions, and strengthening the healthier habits that lead you towards lasting fulfilment, deeper contentment and freedom.
It’s important to note that Wise Effort does not imply forceful striving to be hyper-positive, bypassing the shadow side of ourselves or being self-indulgent in entertaining self-criticism or self-judgment when feel we fall short of our intentions. It is about cultivating a balanced an a mindful approach to self-practice by applying effort with kindness, patience, and non-attachment.
According to the Yoga Sutras, Yoga means meditation. Stilling the mental/emotional fluctuations of the mind. YS 1.2 Citta Vritti Nirodha. We Hatha Yogis do this by Kiya Nirodha (physical stillness), Prana Nirodha (energetic stillness) to achieve the goal of practice, Citta Vritti Nirodha (mental stillness).
Contemplation and Meditation is a fundamental practice in Yoga and in Buddhism that supports Wise Effort. Practitioners are encouraged to reflect on the results of their efforts and observe how their thoughts, speech, and actions impact their own well-being and the well-being of others. This reflection helps in adjusting and refining one’s efforts that influences wise action and livelihood.
Sometimes we need help with this and both Yoga and Buddhist practitioners often seek guidance and support from spiritual or Yoga teachers, fellow practitioners, or spiritual communities. This is the effort in engaging in discussions, attending meditation groups, or participating in retreats which can provide encouragement, inspiration, and valuable guidance on the path of Wise Effort.
It’s important to note that practicing Wise Effort is a gradual and ongoing process. It requires patience, perseverance, and self-reflection. Practitioners aim to cultivate a mind and heart that is free from suffering and full of compassion and wisdom.
Presence = Intention + Attention.