Next in our practice of the Thirty-seven Limbs is the Four Right Efforts. This group of practices concerns unwholesome and wholesome states. The first and second efforts are preventing new evil from arising and ending existing evil. Moreover, in addition to the avoidance and elimination of evil, virtues should be cultivated. This is accomplished with the third and fourth right efforts of generating new virtues and enhancing existing virtues.
The standards for virtue, which serve as the foundation for both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, are the Ten Virtuous Karmas. The opposite of the Ten Virtuous Karmas are the Ten Evil Karmas. Why are these karmas called “evil”? As we read in The Seeker’s Glossary of Buddhism, “Buddhism is not dualistic, and, therefore, does not divide phenomena into absolute ‘good’ or ‘evil’. It recognizes ‘evil’ as ‘limitation’, and, therefore, purely relative. There is therefore no ‘problem of Evil’ as in theistic systems of thought. All evil is traced to desire for self. The ‘basic evil’ is the idea of separateness, and the Buddhist goal is the removal of evil by the eradication of every selfish inclination.” [i]
If an evil thought has already arisen or a wrongdoing already been committed, steps should be taken to prevent it from happening again. The evil karmas of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, divisive speech, harsh speech, enticing speech, greed, anger, and ignorance are harmful to all those involved. When thoughts of these negative karmas are extinguished, wholesome and virtuous thoughts and behavior will follow.
The Four Right Efforts underlies all the Buddha’s teachings. We should eliminate what is evil and give rise to what is virtuous. As an example, consider the Six Paramitas of giving, precept observation, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and innate wisdom. Greed is bad; giving is virtuous. Committing wrongdoings is bad; observing the precepts is virtuous. Anger is bad; patience is virtuous. Laziness is bad; diligence is virtuous. An unfocused mind is bad; meditative concentration is virtuous. Ignorance is bad; innate wisdom is virtuous.
We need to eradicate greed, wrongdoing, anger, laziness, an unfocused mind, and ignorance, and replace them with their opposites: giving, precept observation, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and innate wisdom. Doing so, we will have continuous pure thoughts. Eventually, we will attain Supreme, Perfect Enlightenment—Buddhahood.
[i] Seeker’s Glossary of Buddhism, 2nd Edition, 1998, p 240