Book of Analysis, right striving (Vb 8): translator's introduction

By Waltham St. Lawrence

(8) Analysis Of Right Striving (Sammappadhānavibhaṅga).

Whereas in the seventh vibhaṅga determination was made as to the only path to tread for the attainment of ultimate realization, in this the eighth vibhaṅga a statement and analysis is given of the first actual practical steps to be taken on that path.

Since it may be said by some that at least up to the completion of Paṭiccasamuppādavibhaṅga only seemingly highly speculative and theoretical considerations have been the subject of discussion, it is perhaps fitting at this point to attempt to explain what might otherwise appear to be the dilemma of the relative importance of practice and theory in the Buddhist Teaching. It is therefore to be said quite categorically that it is the putting into practice of the Teaching which is the supreme duty. It is action which counts, and throughout the whole of his Teaching the Buddha is instructing his many inquirers and disputants as to what is to be done to [xliii] improve their degree of advancement towards the final goal, and in dissuading them from inquiry into and discussion of the many theories of existence, non-existence, ideas of soul and so on. Why then is it that the Buddhist Scriptures contain such an enormous amount of highly analytical material with theoretical examination of the minute points of psychology, and what might almost be called hair-splitting degrees of examination of mental factors, word meanings, causal relations and minutiae of behaviour? The reasons are plain, easy to comprehend and logical in argument. Whatever it is one wishes to do—and particularly in the case of the attaining of Nibbāna which to the beginner can be only a concept—it is very helpful to have a guide as to what course should be taken and as to what is the meaning of this or that, otherwise one works only on a basis of trial and error.

It is all very well to say, " I know what is right and what is wrong". The fact is, very few people do know when it comes to the precision of moral behaviour essential to correct development toward release. It is this exactitude of behaviour; mental, verbal and physical, and the consequences thereof, that the Scriptures elucidate in detail.

It is all very well to say, "I know what needs to be done to break the continuity of rebirth and death ", in fact very few people know even of the most elementary reasons for this continuity of process, let alone of breaking it. It is the detailed description, analysis and reasons given for this cyclic process that the Scriptures spend so much care in putting before us.

It is all very well to say, "What do I want to know all these definitions of terms for, it only clutters up the mind?" The question is, though, how many people when they seriously ask themselves as to the extent and range of some such apparently simple terms as greed, hatred and ignorance, can know their full and proper implications and manifestations within their own thoughts and actions, particularly when they discern the need to eradicate them. This the Scriptures are at pains to make clear and apparent to the dullest reader.

To practise is the main thing, but what to practise, how to practise and the reasons for practising are made clear in the Scriptures. However, scholastic and analytic knowledge just for its own sake is worse than useless, it is a burden. The aim is to gain understanding of causes and effects so that practice may be [xliv] guided and fostered along the very very difficult path to emancipation from suffering, The purpose of close study of the Scriptures is not to make oneself a mine of technical information, this will probably stimulate pride and egotism, It is to use all the vast mass of invaluable information as a guide, a corrective and as a means by which, when coupled with incessant right practice, the whole concept of "I", "Me" and "Mine" may disintegrate utterly.

The Four Right Strivings (Sammappadhānā) then are the first steps on the one and only path. The instruction to the worker is, "To engender wish (chandaṃ janeti), to make effort (vāyamati), to arouse energy (vīriyaṃ ārabhati), to exert the mind (cittaṃ paggaṇhāti), to strive (padahati)". To strive for what reason?

  1. For the non-arising of bad states not yet arisen.
  2. For the abandoning of bad states which have arisen,
  3. For the arising of good states not yet arisen.
  4. For the maintaining, etc, of good states which have arisen.

These are the Four Right Strivings.

The question straight away arises, what is the definition of a bad state? How can it be recognized, not just the obvious ones but those which are subtle, deep, complicated and hidden from view? What are good states? Are they really good, or does one just think they are good?

This is where adequate study as well as practice is absolutely essential, and, from the point of view of study, it is Dhammasaṅgaṇī—the first book of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka—which sets out in detail all the possible states that can arise, good and bad, and shows their factorial content.

In this eighth vibhaṅga the analysis is threefold, the Suttanta analysis dealing with the subject in elementary statement and definition of terms, the Abhidhamma method expressing it in the absolute method of the supramundane states, then finally by the section of Interrogation.