The Eightfold Path Summary IIIa: The Concentration Element: Skillful Effort

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 149-192)

This is the third talk summarizing the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path is divided into three elements:

  1. Wisdom
  2. Morality
  3. Concentration

This talk addresses the Concentration Element.

The Concentration Element

The Concentration Element is about how we practice to find freedom and cease suffering.  It consists of three steps:

  • Skillful Effort:  how we can strive for wholesome states of mind.
  • Skillful Mindfulness: how we can pay attention moment to moment to what is.
  • Skillful Concentration:  how we can focus our attention.

This talk addresses Skillful Effort.

Skillful Effort

This step addresses the thoughts that arise in our minds.  These can be about bodily sensations, feelings (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral), perceptions, or emotions (four of the five aggregates).

There are two types of thoughts – wholesome and unwholesome:

  • Unwholesome thoughts cause suffering.
  • Wholesome thoughts cause happiness and peace.  We can strive for wholesome states of mind using skillful effort and other steps of the path including skillful mindfulness and skillful concentration.

Unwholesome States

Unwholesome states (or thoughts) can be categorized in a gross sense by the Five Hindrances or in a finer sense by the Ten Fetters.

The Five Hindrances are:

  • Greed
  • Ill-will
  • Dullness and drowsiness
  • Restlessness and worry
  • Doubt

The Ten Fetters are

  • Belief in the existence of a permanent self or soul
  • Doubt in the message of the Buddha
  • Belief that one can end suffering merely by following rules and rituals
  • Greed for sensual pleasures
  • Hatred
  • Subtle desire to exist in fine material form
  • Subtle desire to exist in immaterial form
  • Conceit or the underlying perception of self-identity.
  • Restlessness and worry
  • Ignorance

Nurturing Wholesome Thoughts

In order to nurture wholesome thoughts, we can direct our effort in four ways:

  • Prevent the arising of unwholesome states of mind
  • Overcome unwholesome states which have arisen
  • Strive for wholesome states to arise
  • Maintain those wholesome states which have arisen

Prevent the arising of unwholesome states of mind

Practice:  Use the morality elements (Skillful Speech, Skillful Action, Skillful Livelihood), Skillful mindfulness, Skillful Understanding (wisdom), Skillful Thinking (patience) and Skillful Effort.  This is a way to guard the sense doors.

With morality as a base, you apply mindfulness (paying attention moment to moment to what is) as you increasingly remember to apply it.  The insights expand your wisdomPatience is required when you don’t feel you are making progress fast enough.  All of this requires skillful effort!

Overcome unwholesome states which have arisen

Practice:  Use complete mindfulness to overcome the Hindrances and the Fetters

Strive for wholesome states to arise

Practice:  Remember your skillful actions in the past

Maintain those wholesome states which have arisen

Practice:  Develop strong mindfulness, study the dharma, meditate, reflect on the Brahma Viharas (Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity)

Right Effort is the third factor of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment: Mindfulness, Investigation, Effort, Joy, Tranquility, Concentration, Equanimity

Reflection

  • Read this talk every day and reflect on it.
  • Also, take the opportunity to review the  talks on Skillful Effort.
  • What meaning does Skillful Effort have for you?

Meditation

  • Continue your practice of meditation using either concentration, insight or both.

Next: The Eightfold Path Summary IIIb: The Concentration Element: Skillful Mindfulness and Skillful Concentration
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The Eightfold Path Summary II: The Morality Element