Today is the Equinox, the heart of the Ohigan season, and today I’ll write about Effort.
By some accounts the Six Paramitas came about as a Mahayana response to what they felt was an over emphasis on development of self by only adhering to the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path, which are primarily focused on self.
Effort as one of the Six Paramitas is viewed slightly different than Effort as one of the Eight-Fold Path. Here, Effort is our effort on behalf of others. Effort is also sometimes translated as Striving.
What kinds of effort should w make is of course a legitimate question, and the answer can simply be stated as effort to bring good and prevent harm. Effort is also the activity of doing the entire Six Paramitas, as it takes both physical and mental effort to live up to and follow these six guidelines.
Doing good and preventing harm can in some ways be seen as an extension to Dana and following the Five Precepts. And indeed it is so. We can not really separate one from all of the others.
By continually doing what is suggested in these Buddhist guides we become better able to do them better. Over time, with continued effort we can become so good at following these guides that it becomes easier to do them than to not. This is both effort and patience, is it not.
Whatever our faults may be, we did not acquire that fault over night. We must expect to need to exert as much effort to change it as we actually exerted to create it. In my case it has taken 60 years to create the kind of person I am, good points and bad points. If I want to change something bad about myself then I will need to strive equally as hard to create new good to replace it. Perhaps it will take less time, but only if I exert concentrated effort. An overgrown garden where weeds have taken over didn’t become that way over night, and will not suddenly and magically revert back to a weed free and orderly state merely because we wish it to be so, but only by continued attention to its defects and nurturing of its perfections.
Speaking out against or preventing harm to others is often easier to do as a mental activity, and it certainly helps to begin there, however at some point the effort must be made to develop the kind of life that can move from thought to action.
There are many ways of looking at effort or striving, but they all amount to ‘just doing it’. In many ways it is as Yoda says, there is no try there is only do, or something like that. In Buddhism we do consider trying but ultimately trying is just another phase of doing. Continually exerting effort in the trying phase allows us to accomplish the doing phase.
A good musician doesn’t become so, without effort. We do not become better able to follow the Six Paramitas without first making those humble attempts and falling short. There is no wasted effort in Buddhism.
I repeat, there is no wasted effort in Buddhism.