Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 3.7.1:  Sammāvāyāmo

Vibhaṅgasuttaṃ-7 : What is Right Effort?


Subhānupassiṃ viharantaṃ, indriyesu asaṃvutaṃ;

Bhojanamhi cāmattaññuṃ, kusītaṃ hīnavīriyaṃ;

Taṃ ve pasahati1 māro, vāto rukkhaṃva dubbalaṃ.


Asubhānupassiṃ viharantaṃ, indriyesu susaṃvutaṃ;

Bhojanamhi ca mattaññuṃ, saddhaṃ āraddhavīriyaṃ;

Taṃ ve nappasahati māro, vāto selaṃva pabbataṃ.2


Who dwells pursuing pleasures, uncontrolled in his senses;

Immoderate in food, slothful and indifferent;

Will get defeated by Māra like a gale will throw down a week tree!


Who dwells scrutinizing impurities, with senses restrained;

Moderate in food, filled with faith and unyielding energy;

Māra will not overcome, like a gale will not move a rocky mountain!


      While the present lesson intends to delineate the basic characteristics of sammāvāyāmo3, this chapter proceeds by presenting respective and required qualities to develop sammāvāyāmo. Also it refers to dangers the Buddha regularly used to alert his disciples not to fall prey to laziness, sloth, negligence, idleness: - appamādo, kosajjaṃ, ālasyaṃ - direct, apparent and ever present adversaries to spiritual progress.

      The suttas use three main terminologies in Pāli when expressing endeavour, effort perseverance and striving one has to undertake: vīriya; vāyāmo and padhāna.

      Vīriya is often highlighted as āraddhavīriya4 and comprises the unrelenting, unyielding mental energy behind all endeavours. It appears as an indispensable constituent not only of sammāvāyāmo: vīriyaṃ ārabhati - but also constitutes one of the essential factors of the indriyabala and the third, essential part of the seven bojjhaṅge.

      Sammāvāyāmo as a constituent of the Path and the main factor to shun all manifestations of micchādiṭṭhi is qualified in the following way: ‘So micchādiṭṭhiyā pahānāya vāyamati, sammādiṭṭhiyā, upasampadāya, svāssa hoti sammāvāyāmo. So sato micchādiṭṭhiṃ pajahati, sato sammādiṭṭhiṃ upasampajja viharati, sāssa hoti sammāsati. Itiyime, itissime tayo dhammā sammādiṭṭhiṃ anuparidhāvanti anuparivattanti, seyyathidaṃ – sammādiṭṭhi, sammāvāyāmo, sammāsati.’ – ‘He stirs up effort to abandon wrong view and to acquire right view: that is that one’s right effort. Thus fully aware he abandons wrong view and acquires right view and dwells therein: that is that one’s right awareness. These three states follow and circle around right view, these are: right view, right effort and right awareness.’

      This accentuates the motivation and the base of what is sammāvāyāmo – it is the unrelenting effort on the base of sammādiṭṭhi with the intention of moving further on the Eightfold Noble Path by understanding the importance of coming out of suffering by eliminating all unwholesome states and driving out all facets of wrong views5.

      Padhāna, translated as exertion is explained in the Saṃvarasutta6, which qualifies the four distinctive marks of saṃvarappadhānaṃ, pahānappadhānaṃ, bhāvanāppadhānaṃ, anurakkhaṇāppadhānaṃ—the exertion of striving to restrain, striving to reject, striving to develop and striving to preserve.

      Their respective characteristics will be further highlighted in related texts that demonstrate how to ward off, to restrain –saṃvara the influence of the sense-doors –indriyesu susaṃvutaṃ – which would result in evil and unwholesome states—pāpakā akusalā dhammā7. The Nīvaraṇapabbaṃ8, selected from the Mahāsatipaṭṭhānasutta reveals endorsed procedures for a meditator rejecting the negative and disturbing impact of the hindrances–pahāna9. A selection from the Ānāpānassatisutta10 describes the gradual process of establishing the sambojjhaṅgabhāvanā, while a selection from the Visuddhimagga refers to an narrative of Mahātissatthero who’s example of maintaining his chosen object of meditation with steadfast effort is an inspiring model for every meditator–anurakkha11.

      The well-known simile the Buddha provided to Bhikkhu Soṇa, who mistook unbalanced effort with sammāvāyāmo points to the need for exertion with well-balanced equanimity12, while the final selections of this chapter depict quotations that highlight proper development of adhiṭṭhāna - resolved, but steadied determination in one’s own exertions and tallied efforts13.

May the suttas chosen for this chapter prove beneficial in supporting meditators in their spiritual quest, may more and more come out of their suffering!


1. pasahati: overcome, subdue

2. Yamakavaggo, Dhammapadapāḷi, Khuddakanikāye

3. The exposition of sammāvāyāmo appears at various places and describes the four exertions (padhānāni) with identical wording. For example: “Cattārimāni, bhikkhave, sammappadhānāni. Katamāni cattāri? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu anuppannānaṃ pāpakānaṃ akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ anuppādāya chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati; uppannānaṃ pāpakānaṃ akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ pahānāya ……. Here the Padhānasutta concludes with the following verses:

 “Sammappadhānā māradheyyābhibhūtā, te asitā jātimaraṇabhayassa pāragū; te tusitā jetvā māraṃ savāhiniṃ te anejā, sabbaṃ namucibalaṃ upātivattā te sukhitā”ti.

“By right exertion have they conquered the realm of Māra, they have reached beyond the fear of birth and death, those satisfied have vanquished Māra with all its host, thus escaped all the power of Namuci (Māra), they rejoice.” (Padhānasuttaṃ, Caravaggo, Paṭhamapaṇṇāsakaṃ, Catukkanipātapāḷ, Aṅguttaranikāyo)

4. āraddhavīriya: āraddha + vīriya: resolved, firm + energy

5. Please see lesson: 3.6.14 Mahācattārīsakasuttaṃ - Discerning Wrong View and Developing Right View, The importance of sammādiṭṭhi as forerunner that precedes all wholesome states has been highlighted in more detail here.

6. see lesson: 3.7.3 Saṃvarasuttaṃ

9. These are: kāmacchandanīvaraṇaṃ,  byāpādanīvaraṇaṃ,  thinamiddhanīvaraṇaṃ,  uddhaccakukkuccanīvaraṇaṃ,  vicikicchānīvaraṇaṃ


Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.7.1

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Last modified: Thursday, 28 December 2023, 10:38 AM