The Four Right Kinds of Striving
16] “Again, Udāyin, I have proclaimed to my disciples the way to develop the Four Right Kinds of Striving. Here a monk awakens enthusiasm for the non-arising of unarisen evil unwholesome states, and he makes effort, arouses energy, exerts his mind, and strives.
Besides enthusiasm, the Pāli word “chanda” also means joyful interest or enthusiasm. A mind which points towards a wholesome object like joy has this quality of joyful interest.
Thus, the first Right Kind of Striving is to cultivate a mind that has joyful interest and enthusiasm so that mind becomes clear and free from unwholesome states. Joy grows when mind is smiling and happy during our daily life as well as during meditation. As a result, mind will be uplifted and wholesome at that time. Nowadays, these Four Right Kinds of Striving are usually called the Four Right Efforts. Some meditation teachers request the meditator to put out strenuous effort to note what is happening in the present moment. But this sutta clearly shows us that this is not that kind of mindfulness.
Mindfulness of joyful interest and enthusiasm, i.e. having a smiling mind leads to a mind which is light, open, accepting, and without any tension. This is the proper definition of right effort, and according to the sutta it actually has nothing to do with noting a phenomena until it goes away.
He awakens enthusiasm for the abandoning of arisen evil unwholesome states, and he makes effort, arouses energy, exerts his mind, and strives.
The second right kind of right striving teaches one to abandon heavy emotional states like anger, sadness, jealousy, anxiety, stress, depression, fear, etc., and replace them with a smiling mind which relaxes away even the subtlest tension. This is the wholesome state of joyful interest and enthusiasm. By cultivating such a smiling mind, one overcomes the ego-identification with these states as being “Mine”. A good sense of humor about oneself is a skillful tool to develop when treading the spiritual path.
He awakens zeal for the arising of unarisen wholesome states, and he makes effort, arouses energy, exerts his mind, and strives.
This means seeing that mind brings up joyful interest and enthusiasm when these wholesome states are not in mind. In other words, the cultivation of mindfulness means cultivating joy and a smiling mind. Even when there is a neutral mind that is merely thinking this and that, this is the time to practice smiling in mind and experiencing joyful interest and enthusiasm.
He awakens enthusiasm for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase, and fulfillment by development of arisen wholesome states, and he makes effort, arouses energy, exerts his mind, and strives. And thereby many disciples of mine abide having reached the consummation and perfection of direct knowledge.
The fourth Right Kind of Striving refers to a continuous practice, not only during the formal practice of meditation but also during the daily activities.
At one time the author was approached by some questioning students asking: “How can one attain Nibbāna by practicing smiling and having joyful interest?” They thought that they had made a very profound statement because they think Nibbāna is attained by looking at pain and suffering all of the time. These students are not practicing how to be light and happy as taught by the Buddha. The author replied to them by asking some cross questions: “How can you get to Nibbāna without smiling and having joyful interest in your mind?
Isn’t joy one of the awakening factors? Didn’t the Buddha say “We are the Happy Ones”?”
Here you can see the importance of developing a mind that smiles and has joyful interest. There arises a true change of perspective in your mind when you have joyful interest and a smile. You are not so heavy and grumpy when things become difficult. This is because there is not so much ego-attachment and the meditator can see a situation clearly.
When mind does not smile and has no joyful interest, everything becomes heavy and all mental states and thoughts become depressing. Mind becomes overly serious and takes everything negatively.
For example, let’s say that you are very happy and I come along and give you a rose. You might take that rose and admire the color, the shape, and the fragrance. You think, “What a beautiful flower! Just seeing it makes me even happier”. But, if you are in a depressed or angry mood and I come along and gave you that same rose, your mind would see the thorns instead. You might even think, “Ugh! This rose is so ugly. I hate it!” At that time, all that is seen are the thorns. But, in actual fact, the rose is the same. The only difference is your mood. Joyful interest and smiling helps to make the world around you a better place to live. This, however, is not to say that we won’t go through trials and tribulations. We will! However, the perspective of having joy in mind changes a big problem into a small one.