The 4 Right Exertions (part of the TiltedCandle series on the 7 Sets!)

The 4 Right Exertions are the moral actions of the psyche to lead one to attainment. (7 sets main

This painting depicts Devadatta on one of his ...

) You can use the term “wrong” here. It means evil, bad, or simply unskillful — they are interchangeable in terms of leading you toward or away from enlightenment, which are the only terms relevant.

Endeavor, arouse persistence, uphold and exert one’s intent for the sake of:

1. The non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not arisen.
2. The abandonment of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen.
3. The arising of good, skillful qualities that have arisen.
4. The maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude and culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen.

The purpose of this set is to give one basic good guidance in knowing where you are and where you need to go next. It is somewhat similar to the discussion of learning that you find in self-help circles:

In terms of learning a new skill, there is the issue of competence and of how conscious that competence is. When we get very good at a skill, such as reading, in the beginning we struggle with it but it becomes second nature to us. We say it goes from a conscious activity to an unconscious one.

The Buddha did not teach this, but I think it’s a useful comparison. The very general phases to skill learning are:

1. Unconscious incompetence. Imagine someone who does not even know they cannot read. Not only are they thoroughly incompetent as a reader, but they are unconscious of their incompetence.

2. Conscious incompetence. They discover they do not know they cannot read, and become fully aware of what it means.

3. Conscious competence. They struggle to learn the skill. When a learner complains that they are having difficulty grasping the material, teachers will often say,, “That’s all right. You’re working on developing your conscious competence. What specifically is the trouble?”

4. Unconscious competence. Second nature. This is mastery of a skill. When someone needs to focus on what they are doing to do it adequately, they are beginning to develop unconscious competence. When they do not need to focus except when there is the possibility of getting it wrong, they are mastering unconscious competence.

The two models, while different, both have the function and purpose of allowing the student to take the long view of their learning. Therefore when they start to consider things that have not gone well, or even things that have gone well, they now have the ability to put that knowledge to work in the larger picture of their development.


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