I wondered recently whether the ideas of developing positive qualities and abandoning negative qualities are different. To me, it seems developing positive qualities requires an active effort, a type of striving. In contrast, abandoning negative qualities requires a relinquishing, a restraint.

Are these endeavours two different aspirations? Does achieving one ascertain the achievement of the other or not?

In other words, does one lead automatically to the other, or should one intentionally implement both?

  • Perhaps I meant whether these are linked with doing and non-doing respectively.
    – user7302
    Sep 23, 2018 at 12:36

3 Answers 3


In my opinion, this boils down to the differences I previously outlined between "formless" and "form-full" paths.

The formless path is about relinquishing negative qualities without explicitly striving to generate the positive ones - an activity which would require creation of (contrived) forms.

On the formless path, the positive qualities are expected to manifest implicitly, as a by product of removing the negative. We say the positive qualities "co-emerge". While the form-full path involves strong emphasis on defining objectives and reaching them, which is an explicit way to generate the positive qualities.

In terms of drawbacks, the formful path is prone to issues associated with Form, such as attachment, reification, and pride. While the formless path is prone to the opposite set of issues such as loss of motivation, uncertainty, and low self esteem.

It seems that most people naturally incline towards one or the other, and so in practice it becomes a matter of recognizing the pitfalls associated with either path and knowingly compensating for them.

  • What about combining both?
    – user7302
    Sep 25, 2018 at 11:28

If a person could maintain his/her mind on what that should be taken in (kusala or moral) and those that should be gotten rid of (akusala or immoral)” daily without fail, that itself lead to the removal of greed, hate and ignorance. Nibbāna is removal of greed, hate, ignorance: “rāgakkhayō dōsakkhayō mōhakkhayō idaṃ vuccati nibbānanti“. - Nibbāna pañhā Sutta (SN 38.1).

In Sri Lanka, parents tell their child to clean his/her room by saying, “kämaraya (room) assa passa (or aspas) karāganna”. When cleaning the room, the child needs to get rid of the clutter (passa), but also can take in (assa) something like a flower vase to make the room look more pleasant, or to take in a chair that can be useful. So, one does not throw away everything or take in everything. One needs to be selective in taking in “good things” and throwing away “bad things”. That is where mindfulness comes in.

Similarly in the practice of Dhamma we should make a habit of taking in kusala & getting rid of akusala, or, equivalently, taking in the Noble Eightfold Path/discarding the miccā eightfold path, this eventually lead the practitioner to the getting rid of dasa akusala.

In the assāsa Sutta (SN38.5), it is specifically said what needs to be “taken in” (assāsa): “Katamo panāvuso maggo katamā paṭipadā etassa assāsassa sacchikiriyāyāti (what needs to be “taken in”). Ayameva kho āvuso ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo etassaassāsassa sacchikiriyāya (it is the Noble Eightfold Path that needs to be “taken in”). Seyyathīdaṃ (namely): sammādiṭṭhi sammāsaṅkappo sammāvācā sammākammanto sammāājīvo sammāvāyāmo sammāsati sammāsamādhi”.


While the Four Right Exertions share a common goal/objective of ending dukkha and attaining liberation, each has its own purpose and function. A quick analogy is the case of a chain smoker. His objective is to regain a strong healthy body. So not only s/he'd need to exert effort to abandon his negative habit of chain smoking, s/he'd also need to exert effort to cultivate positive habits like: sleep more regularly, eat more healthy fruits/vegetables, and perform more frequently physical exercises, etc.

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