Before we dive in to the actual verses on the perfection of effort, I want to first say a few words about the relationship between the perfection of patience and the perfection of effort. All of the six perfections mutually reinforce one another – strengthening our experience and realization of one makes all of the others easier. Likewise, we can say that the earlier perfections are the foundation for the later perfections, for example giving is the foundation of moral discipline because giving counters our attachment, the principle cause of our non-virtue. In the same way, patience is the foundation of effort.
How can we understand this? Patience is a mind that is able to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, including adverse conditions or unpleasant feelings. It can do this because it knows how to transform whatever arises – the good, the bad, and the ugly – into spiritual fuel. Effort is taking delight in engaging in virtue. It does not mean working hard, gritting our teeth and grinding on, it means genuinely enjoying ourselves as we travel the spiritual path. The Kadampa path is called the “Joyful” path, and the joyful here comes from our joyful effort. We cannot “enjoy” things we are pushing away with aversion, we are pushing them away precisely because we don’t enjoy them. Since we encounter unpleasant things all of the time, if we are encountering them with an unhappy mind, we necessarily do not have joyful effort, even if it seems we are “practicing” Dharma in response to what is arising. So at least half of our time is not “joyful.”
But as we saw in our discussion of the last chapter, we need the mind of patience acceptance to also spiritually transform so-called pleasant experiences, such as wealth, happiness, praise, and a good reputation. Normally, our attachment hijacks these experiences and transforms them into “enjoying samsara” not “enjoying our spiritual practice.” There are many people who think the mind of renunciation is a tight, unhappy mind that deprives itself of joy. After all, aren’t we renouncing samsara’s pleasures? Without the mind of patient acceptance, we do not know how to wholeheartedly welcome pleasant conditions with a spiritual mind. We just welcome them with our ordinary mind of attachment. Further, when good things happen, we normally show no interest in spiritual practice. We are happy to enjoy our pleasant life, and only feel the need to practice when samsara shows its ugly head.
But effort is not just joyful, it is also energy that powers our practice forward – in other words, it is fuel. The wisdom of the perfection of patience knows how to transform everything into spiritual fuel, and this fuel in turn powers our practice forward with effort. We need to differentiate effort in our Dharma practice into two types: impure and pure. Impure effort is effort we put into our Dharma practice for the sake of this life and pure effort is for the sake of our own or other’s future lives. Pure effort and spiritual effort are synonymous, because they concern things beyond this life. Pure effort itself has three levels – effort aimed at escaping lower rebirth, effort aimed at escaping samsara, and effort aimed at becoming a Buddha to liberate all beings from samsara.
All three of these types of pure effort depend upon patience. Many people deny the existence of lower realms and many people live in denial about all of the unpurified negative karma that remains on our mind. To patiently accept also means to mentally be at peace with the truth of Dharma. When we don’t know how to process facts such as lower rebirth, we tend to push such teachings away. But we need to embrace the horror of what they imply before we will feel a burning energy to do something about it. Likewise, patience is the foundation of renunciation. As long as we push away samara’s sufferings and chase after its pleasures, our real motivation is to find a comfortable place within samsara, not escape it. The wisdom of patient acceptance accepts the truth of samsaric existence and it is able to transform all of its experiences into spiritual fuel propelling our practice. Others still become very attached to those they love not suffering, and when they go down, we go down with them. We alternate between the extremes of indifference to others suffering or being crushed and discouraged by it. Just as we need to accept the truth of our own suffering before we will generate renunciation, so too we need to accept the truth of others’ suffering before we will be compelled to seek to become a Buddha to do something about it.
For all of these reasons, we can see clearly without patience, then, we have no effort.