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Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Spiritual Faculties

The Spiritual Faculties
-- Lakbima Online
By Ajahn Nyanadhammo Thero

A Dhamma theme which is very close to my heart is the five indriya - the Five Spiritual Faculties. These Five Spiritual Faculties are the qualities of practise, the qualities of mind that one needs to bring to the spiritual path. There’s saddha , which is faith; viriya, energy; sati, mindfulness; samadhi, which is calm concentration; and panna, wisdom. They become powers through which the mind becomes very dynamic and can end suffering.

Path out of suffering

Saddha is often translated as faith, confidence or conviction. The Buddha said that faith comes from having seen that the human condition is unsatisfactory. It is imperfect, wrought with dissatisfaction, discontentment, pain, grief, fear, and anxiety. Having seen that, then the mind naturally seeks a path out of that state. It questions the meaning of life and how to find inner happiness. So this faith looks for a path out of suffering. For people who come across the Buddha’s words, to hear that there is a cause for unsatisfaction and that there is the ending of unsatisfactoin and a path to practise for that release: that brings this faith. It’s often because we haven’t understood dukkha - or because we think that dukkha shouldn’t occur - that we don’t leap forth to find a way out.
Recently a lady came to speak with me explaining that a friend of hers had just given birth to a child, and the child had died. She was very upset because she was going to be the godmother, and she said, “This shouldn’t happen, this is unfair.” So there is the presumption that life should be fair. But with experience, we start to see and understand that life isn’t always fair. So dukkha is the unfairness of existence. It is not a fair abiding.
So, having seen dukkha, we seek a way out. In the case of that lady: having experienced suffering, she came to the monastery and decided that she would practise the Dhamma and share the merits of her practise with that deceased child. She began seeking a way of dealing with suffering. When the Buddha described faith he talked about faith in four aspects: faith in the Buddha, the person who has become fully enlightened in this world and teaches a path out of dukkha, and in the Dhamma, those teachings of the Buddha; and in the Sangha those monks, nuns and lay-people who have realised that truth in their own lives; and in the training. This last one means having faith that this practise we’re engaged in will yield results. Faith in the training also intrinsically implies faith in our own abilities to realise truth: faith that we can do it.
The Buddha defined viriya, as applicatable to four things. The first: if an unwholesome state of mind arises, one recognises it first and then one strives to overcome it. If the mind gains strength, and develops this quality of preventing unwholesome states to arise, that leads on to the next aspect of Right Effort, which is encouraging wholesome states which haven’t yet arisen to arise. One puts forth effort to purposely arouse a thought of loving-kindness in the mind. If one’s not thinking a thought of compassion, one intentionally arouses a thought of compassion in the mind. If one’s not thinking a thought of renunciation or letting go, one purposely arouses that in the mind. And when these qualities have arisen the final aspect is to sustain them: make much of thoughts of loving-kindness, compassion or renunciation; rejoice in them, make them great, infinite, immeasurable.

Right Mindfulness

The next faculty is Right Mindfulness, and mindfulness has two aspects: an ability to recall and the ability to know what one is doing. One remembers for example, “I am watching the breath”, “I am watching this out-breath, I am watching this in-breath.” And then one has the ability to remember and recall the purpose of watching the breath.
Often people are told when meditating to watch the breath at the tip of the nose, but actually many people find that this is a distraction. If you look in the suttas, the Buddha never tells us to watch the breath in a physical place. He says to know that you are breathing in and to know that you are breathing out. The important thing is to note it in time. So: “Am I breathing in at this time, or am I breathing out at this time?” Mindfulness also knows its goal. It recalls why we’re watching the breath: so that we’re knowing the breath, in each moment in time, for the purpose of calming the mind. But to achieve calm, it’s also important to approach meditation with the right attitude. One has to be content to watch the breath or else you can’t watch the breath; the mind will go elsewhere. So, this sense of contentment is important because it composes the mind. There was a layman who used to come and see Ajahn Chah, who had a lot of complaints - his fields weren’t producing very much, and his buffalo was getting old, and his house wasn’t big enough and his kids weren’t satisfying him... and he said he was getting really sick of the world, and becoming dispassionate. Craving arises because we have discontentment with what we have. But when we have that sense of `It’s good enough’, then the mind starts to settle down and come to a place of ease. And it’s from that place of ease, well-being and contentment that the mind can go into what we call samadhi. Samadhi- the next of the Spiritual Faculties - is often translated as `concentration’ but I prefer the concept of peace. It is the ability to let go of what is disturbing and go to a place in the mind which is less disturbing. As we progressively give things up and tranquilise the mind, the mind will become more and more peaceful and blissful. Then it can even give up blissfulness and go to a state of equanimity. The tranquillity of meditation has a lot of benefits: it gives energy to the mind by providing a place of rest. Then when the mind comes out of that state we can put it to work. It’s like our bodies: if we get over-tired, we need to rest, and then when we’ve slept enough we can get up and go to work. We don’t over-sleep and not work at all - nor do we over-work and not rest at all. There has to be a balance. Each person will have their own balance of how much the mind needs to go into tranquillity, and how much the mind needs to work, to investigate and consider, in order to develop insight and understanding.
There are various steps to calming the mind. The first is developing the sense of well-being, and contentment. Then the next is when from that contentment a sense of gladness arises. When there’s gladness in the mind that leads to rapture. And that rapture then leads to tranquility of the body, this buoyancy of the body, which leads to happiness: a happiness of the mind as it dwells on wholesomeness. Now when that arises, then the mind becomes concentrated. The precondition for concentration is happiness. If one asks, “Well, why am I not calm and concentrated?” it is because the mind is not dwelling happily on a wholesome object. So when you watch the breath, watch it to see its beauty. Joyfully, happily watch each in-breath, and know it as a friend that you haven’t seen for a long time.
With each breath that comes in, you’re glad to greet that breath; and with each breath that goes out you’re glad with the breath. Glad of the in-breath, glad of the out-breath. And as we do that, then the mind gradually lets go of distraction, lets go of the body, and then lets go of all thinking. The body feels light, and the mind becomes more and more calm and concentrated. The result of calming the mind down is that one has access to wisdom. We use the Buddha’s wisdom to develop our own. The wisdom of the Buddha’s enlightenment is that all conditioned things are impermanent; that all conditioned things are dukkha and that all things are not-self. We have received that, so we put it to work with our experience, using his wisdom to cultivate our own. This Right View is also defined as the opposites to the four perversions or distortions of view. These distortions in seeing mean that we do not see the world as it truly is. Because of the perversion of the mind we see what is impermanent as permanent. Through the distortion of the mind we see what is dukkha as sukha - what is unsatisfactory as satisfying. Through the distortions and perversions of the mind, we see what is non-self as self. And we see what is not beautiful as beautiful.


I once remember asking Ajahn Chah, as to how he’d developed his immense loving-kindness. And his response was: “You’re like a child who sees an adult running, and that child hasn’t learnt to walk yet but wants to run.” That was the first part of his response, the second part was: “When you see that all conditioned things are impermanent then you automatically have loving-kindness. You cannot not have loving-kindness.” That was loving-kindness arising out of wisdom, because the wisdom of seeing things as they really are means that aversion cannot arise any more. It is cut off at its roots.
So that ability to see things with Right View; this is impermanent, this is unsatisfactory, this is not-self, is very important. Watch conditions arising in the mind: is this permanent or impermanent; for example, the aching in the knee now? Is this permanent or impermanent? - and you notice it changes, it pulsates. If it’s pulsating then it’s impermanent. You won’t find any sensation that does not change.
And if it is impermanent, it’s unsatisfying. And anything that changes and cannot satisfy or be satisfied is not worthy of calling `me’ or `mine’.
Therefore that letting go process can occur. To see the non-beautiful in those things that we take to be beautiful: now what that means is seeing that the body is not beautiful. We decorate the body and the reason we do so is to cover up its non-beautiful aspects. If we believe, “This body is me, is mine, is beautiful”, then when it gets old, when it gets sick and starts to fall apart, we suffer.

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