Is there a difference in practice between approaching positive states and abandoning negative states?

I have tried for a long time to abandon the negative, which in my case is not too severe (e.g. not drugs, nor physical violence, etc.), but seemingly the focus on abandoning seems less efficient than actually approaching constructive states, such as doing meditation or exercising. If one's problems are not too severe, should one prioritize doing virtuous behaviours (e.g. meditation) above trying to limit the negative?

I had read in psychological texts that an attitude based on approach can be superior to one based on avoidance. Is such a distinction made in Buddhism in any way?

2 Answers 2


They shouldn't be done in isolation. It should be a comprehensive approach which is exactly why the Buddha taught the Four Right Exertions:

There is the case where a monk generates desire, endeavors, arouses persistence, upholds & exerts his intent:

1. for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen...
2. for the sake of the abandoning of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen...
3. for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen...(and)
4. for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen. ~~ MN 78 ~~


The problem with santa100s explanation is that the definition of: "generating desire, endeavor, persistence, etc for the sake of the arising of skillful things" is the abandoning of unskillful things through not-doing.

Unskilful Things: lies, harming living beings, taking the ungiven.

Skillful Things: the abstention from lies, harming living beings, taking the ungiven.

One way of stating the goal of the Dhamma is that it is the ending of kamma. Kamma is intentional action.

Ending kamma is accomplished by abstention from the creation of new kamma while wearing away old kamma by intentional not-doings. E.g., faced with the desire to get that which can only be got by a lie, one abstains from the lie thereby bringing an old stream of kamma (the stream that resulted in the sensations that gave rise to the desire) to an end.

In the same way as we explain using desire to end desire, one uses intentional action to end kamma to end kamma.

There is here also a matter of stages. A very beginner would be well advised to intentionally create some good kamma as this will foster self-confidence. But it should be kept in mind that:

"The best course does not have a gains-honour-reputation-core, nor an accomplishment-in-ethics-core, nor a accomplishment-in-serenity-core, nor a knowledge-vision-core.

But there is beggars, unshakable heart-release — here, beggars the best course is for attainment of this.

This is it's hardwood.

This is it's encompassing end.

MN 29 http://buddhadust.net/backmatter/indexes/sutta/mn/idx_majjhima_nikaya_1.htm#p29

MN 30 http://buddhadust.net/backmatter/indexes/sutta/mn/idx_majjhima_nikaya_1.htm#p30

Another way to describe the goal which also points to not-doing, is:

This is it! This is the culmination! That is, the calming of all own-making, the resolution of all involvements, the withering away of thirst, dispassion, extinction, Nibbāna.'

-AN 11.7: http://buddhadust.net/dhamma-vinaya/bd/an/11_elevens/an11.007.olds.bd.htm#p4

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