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What is the equivalent of "willpower" in Buddhism? How is it developped?

Thank you.

4 Answers 4


The term is padhana - effort, exertion, striving, as in The Four Right Exertions.

Another term is vayama, The Right Effort step of the Eightfold Path.

Another word is chanda - will or intent.

There is the case where a bhikkhu generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for ... [specific practices]

"Generates desire" is an important phrase here.

According to my root Guru, the key to effort is joy. If effort gets you what you're looking for, it makes you happy, then you're motivated to practice more. So the key is not as much to force oneself, but rather, to find the right narrative or frame of reference in which you feel motivated.

So in Buddhism willpower is not as much just sheer force, as it is ability to control one's attention and concentration, to not let external influences change one's frame of reference from position in which the motivation exists naturally.

  • 1
    See also this answer -- I'd guess these two answers are related.
    – ChrisW
    Nov 1, 2017 at 13:05
  • So, if I understand correctly, in this view something generating both joy and effort (e.g. reading, or exercise) might be more effective than something simply effortful? And, also, something one feels like doing at a given moment (i.e. subjectively interesting) might be more effective as well?
    – user7302
    Nov 1, 2017 at 13:12
  • That's right. As ChrisW pointed out, this is a Vajrayana-flavored approach. Like in Aikido, we use student's preexisting inertia and desire as fuel for practice. (Of course Buddha Gotama did this all the time too.)
    – Andriy Volkov
    Nov 1, 2017 at 14:02

What is the equivalent of "willpower" in Buddhism? How is it developped?

Here are 3 aspects where "willpower" can be experienced and developed.

Practical Aspect - Meditation:

Vitakka means to apply the mind to the object. Vicara means to continuously keep the mind on the object.

Vitakka is like striking a bell once.

Vicara is like striking a bell continuously with a little pause between strikes so the bell sounds have a balanced and continuous flow.

Five Spiritual Faculties:

In SN 45.8: Magga-vibhanga Sutta: An Analysis of the Path, the Buddha teaches how to deal with unskillful, unwholesome states of mind by practicing the factor of Right Effort:

"... And what, bhikkhus, is right effort? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu generates desire for the nonarising of unarisen evil unwholesome states; he makes an effort, arouses energy, applies his mind, and strives. He generates desire for the abandoning of arisen evil unwholesome states…. He generates desire for the arising of unarisen wholesome states…. He generates desire for the maintenance of arisen wholesome states, for their nondecay, increase, expansion, and fulfilment by development; he makes an effort, arouses energy, applies his mind, and strives. This is called right effort ...".

The Ten Paramis:

The perfection of determination should be reviewed thus: "Without firmly undertaking the practice of giving (and the other paaramiis), maintaining an unshakeable determination in the encounter with their opposites, and practicing them with constancy and vigor, the bases of enlightenment — i.e., the requisites such as giving, etc. — do not arise."

-- A Treatise on the Paramis, by Acariya Dhammapala

I attended a Goenka retreat a while back. In this tradition, Goenka taught "Adhiṭṭhāna meditation", which is a meditation where one makes the resolution to not move for the duration of the meditation session. On the retreat the duration were set to 1 hour. If not moving at all is too difficult, one can choose to only move e.g. 3 times. The result of this is a strengthening of ones determination on the Path.


The question head refer to western psychology's willpower, right?

Tipitaka is teaching about the best willpower for receiving the 6 profit: this life profit, next life, nibbāna profit, own profit, the others profit, and social public profit (atthattha, parattha, attāparattha, diṭṭhadhammattha, samparāyikattha, and paramattha).

Target of every teaching in tipitaka is just nibbāna profit, if not, it is not buddha's teaching. It is just the other religious teaching, although that religious member can attains wholesome jhāna (añña-titthiya/diṭṭhi in V.N. Mahavagga Mahākhandhaka).

But the path to enlighten nibbāna profit, is an eightfold path, path with eight element, so the practitioner who ้heading to nibbāna must manage and dedelop/meditate eightfold path's elements.

These eightfold path's elements is the cause of nibbāna profit and the other 5 profits, too. Also, buddha taught to meditate eightfold path. So, tipitaka is teaching about the best willpower.

For more explanation:

You avoid your gift for monk by giving monk gift, to receive the higher gain from that monk such as adhi-sikkhā teaching, higher class study, more than just drunk in that gift, lower class.

You avoid your hell view physical happiness by observe the adhi-sīla, to receive the meditation-chance.

You avoid whole your present physical happiness by meditate concentration meditation, to receive the insight-meditation-chance.

You avoid whole your future happiness by meditate insight-meditation, to enlighten nibbāna.

The received chance is fruit that come with the other 5 profits, too.

So, tipitaka is teaching about the best willpower.


Will Power also same as normal definition of it. To achieve Nirvana people needs strong will power. simply its mean the idea of "I will definitely do till i get result (Nirvana) and not giving up".

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