Four Right Efforts


1. Four Right Efforts

The 4 Right Efforts (also known as, 4 Proper Exertions, 4 Right Exertions, 4 Great Efforts, 4 Right Endeavours or 4 Right Strivings) (Pāḷi: sammappadhāna; Skt.: samyak-pradhāna or samyakprahāṇa) are an integral part of the Buddhist path to Bodhi (awakening).

Built on the insightful recognition of the arising and non-arising of various mental qualities over time and of our ability to mindfully intervene in these ephemeral qualities,

the 4 Right Efforts encourage the relinquishment of harmful mental qualities and the nurturing of beneficial mental qualities.

The 4 Right Efforts are associated with the Noble Eightfold Path's factor of Right Effort (sammā-vāyāma) and the 5 Spiritual Faculties' faculty of Energy (viriya); and, are one of the 7 sets of Bodhi-pakkhiya-dhamma, factors related to Bodhi.

The 4 Right Efforts are found in the Vinaya Piṭaka, Sutta Piṭaka, Abhidhamma Piṭaka and Pāḷi commentaries.

Additionally, a similar-sounding but different concept, the 4 Efforts, is referenced in the literature as well. These 2 concepts are presented below.

2. 4 Right Efforts

The 4 Right Efforts (cattārimāni sammappadhānāni) are defined with the following traditional phrase:

There is the case where a monk generates desire, endeavours, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for:

1) the sake of the non-arising [anuppādāya] of evil, unskilful qualities that have not yet arisen.

2) ... the sake of the abandonment [pahānāya] of evil, unskilful qualities that have arisen.

3) ... the sake of the arising [upādāya] of skilful qualities that have not yet arisen.

4) ... the maintenance [ṭhitiyā], non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skilful qualities that have arisen.

This elaboration is attributed to the Buddha in response to the following questions:

  1. What is right effort? (SN 45.8, in the context of the Noble 8-fold Path)
  2. What is the faculty of energy? (SN 48.10, in the context of the 5 Spiritual Faculties)
  3. What are the 4 right strivings? (SN 49.1ff.)

This formulation is also part of an extensive exposition by Ven. Sāriputta when addressing the question of What is this Dhamma that has been well-proclaimed by the Lord [Buddha]? (DN 33).

In addition, in a section of the Aṅguttara Nikāya known as the Snap of the Fingers Section (AN 1.16.6, Accharāsaṅghātavaggo),

the Buddha is recorded as stating that, if a monk were to enact one of the 4 Right Efforts for the snap of the fingers (or, only for one moment) then he abides in Jhāna, has done his duties by the Teacher, and eats the country's alms food without a debt.

A similar 2-part elaboration is provided by the Buddha in SN 48.9, again in the context of the 5 Spiritual Faculties, when he states:

And what, bhikkhus, is the faculty of Energy?

Here, bhikkhus, the noble disciple dwells with Energy aroused for the abandoning of unwholesome states and the acquisition of wholesome states; he is strong, firm in exertion, not shirking the responsibility of cultivating wholesome states.

- This is the faculty of Energy.

What constitutes unskilful or unwholesome (akusala) and skilful or wholesome (kusala) qualities is taken up in the Abhidhamma Piṭaka and the post-canonical Pāḷi commentaries:

In general, the unskilful states are the 3 defilements (kilesa):

  1. greed (lobha),
  2. hatred (dosa)
  3. delusion (moha).

Skilful states are the defilements' opposites:

  1. non-greed (alobha),
  2. non-hatred (adosa)
  3. non-delusion (amoha).

3. 4 Efforts

Throughout the Pāḷi Canon, a distinction is made between the 4-fold Efforts (padhāna) and the 4 Right Efforts (sammappadhāna).

While similarly named, canonical discourses consistently define these different terms differently, even in the same or adjacent discourses.

The 4 Efforts (cattārimāni padhānāni) are summarized as:

  1. Restraint (saṁvara padhāna) of the senses.
  2. Abandonment (pahāna padhāna) of defilements.
  3. Cultivation (bhāvanā padhāna) of Enlightenment Factors.
  4. Preservation (anurakkhaṇā padhāna) of concentration, for instance, by using charnel-ground contemplations.