The Four Supreme Efforts
The Four Great Striving or The Four Supreme Efforts
Mindfulness of the thinking process is what Buddha called the “Four Supreme Efforts. These four help us to let go of unwholesome thoughts that arise in our mind and we substitute at that time, with a wholesome thought.
Out of our thoughts arise speech and action. We cannot talk without having thought it first and we cannot act without having made up our minds to do so. Although people speak and act so impulsively and they are not aware that a thought has gone ahead, that does not mean there was none. It just means that mindfulness and clear comprehension were lacking.
The mind is the most precious assert we have. No jewel can compare with it, because the mind contains the seed of enlightenment. Unless we use the mind properly, we foolishly bury a jewel in the dirt. People often do so, primarily because they have had no training otherwise.
When we recognise that we have this most precious jewel of a mind, we will guard it from being scratched, bumped and dirtied, from losing its lustre and brilliance. Rather we make sure that the jewel of the mind remains pure and luminous and thereby make good karma. The action itself, the Buddha said, is not of the foremost importance, it is the intention behind it.
The guard we keep on our mind will assure you that whatever we do is done with the right intention, the second step on the Noble Eightfold Path, which is our guide line. Karma making depends on the mind and the mind’s purity depends on meditation. If we meditate diligently and regularly, eventually we will see with clarity what goes in our mind. If we watch the mind in meditation, we will learn to watch the mind also in daily living. Then we have a very good chance of making of good kamma. Unless we become masters of our own minds we cannot escape from making bad kamma. The mind is constantly in danger of thinking something unwholesome The Negativities in the mind are innumerable: “I do not like it, cannot stand it: I’ am afraid, It is boring,” Al l are negativities concerned with anger. I want to get it, keep it, renew it,” are also bad kamma, connected with greed. All arise in the mind.
If we become tired of the ever-recurring cycle of loss and gain, praise and blame, fame and ill-fame, happiness and on happiness- the eight worldly circumstances (lokadhamma) we need to make a determined effort to shed clinging and craving. This effort has meditation as its base, but that is not all. Meditation is a means for gaining access to the ability to rid ourselves of the tendencies of greed and hate. The meditative process gives the mind the clarity to see these tenancies within ourselves, so that we can do something about them.
Our duty in this life as human beings with our senses and bodies intact, and being able to hear the true Dhamma, is to guard our mind and experience it in its natural state, which is pure, luminous, and pliable. Such a mind can reach the depth of the teaching where we find nobody that owns it.
The four Supreme Efforts
- To avoid unwholesome states of mind
- To over-come the unwholesome states of mind
- To develop wholesome states of mind
- To maintain wholesome states of mind
1. The first effort is not to let an unwholesome thought arise which has not yet arisen. To realise that these thoughts are not good and they give bad results.
2. The second effort, not to continue an unwholesome thought which has already arisen. This can be done with any one of good will, if you can understand that there is nobody else to blame. Unwholesome thinking is not due to outer triggers, but results from our own defilements.
3. The third step is to make a wholesome thought arise which has not yet already arisen. This means that we continually watch over our mind and encourage positive wholesome thoughts.
4. Finally to make a wholesome thought, which has already arisen, continue in the mediation practice. This concerns our meditation subject. But in daily life it means our minds reaction. If we show some sensitivity towards ourselves, we can feel that there is a disturbance within when unwholesome thinking arises, a feeling of resistance. Unwholesome thoughts have been thought of so often for so many years, that they have become part and parcel of our thinking process. It takes mindfulness and determination to let go.
Our inner being manifests in feeling, which arises through our sense contacts. Thinking produces unpleasant feelings, such as being ill at ease, or unhappy. Seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling are the five outer senses. Thinking is the inner one. All of them make a contact and produce a feeling.
The four supreme efforts are called “supreme” not merrily because they are supremely difficult, but also supremely beneficial. A serious meditator wants to transcend the human realm while still in human form and these efforts are our challenge. They are so well explained by the Buddha that we can clearly see the difficulties we are faced with and the reasons why we are still roaming about in samsara. But we do not have to continue that unendingly. Knowing the path and the way to tread upon it, we have the opportunity to become free of all fetters.
Sadu. Sadu Sadu!