Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Seven Factors of Awakening I

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (pp.147-158)

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 225-284) 

“And how are the four frames of reference developed & pursued so as to bring the seven factors for awakening to their culmination? 

“On whatever occasion the monk remains focused on the body in & of itself — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world, on that occasion his mindfulness is steady & without lapse. When his mindfulness is steady & without lapse, then mindfulness as a factor for awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development. 

Remaining mindful in this way, he examines, analyzes, & comes to a comprehension of that quality with discernment. When he remains mindful in this way, examining, analyzing, & coming to a comprehension of that quality with discernment, then analysis of qualities as a factor for awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development. 

In one who examines, analyzes, & comes to a comprehension of that quality with discernment, persistence is aroused unflaggingly. When persistence is aroused unflaggingly in one who examines, analyzes, & comes to a comprehension of that quality with discernment, then persistence as a factor for awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development. 

In one whose persistence is aroused, a rapture not-of-the-flesh (unworldly joy) arises. When a rapture not-of-the-flesh arises in one whose persistence is aroused, then rapture as a factor for awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development. 

For one enraptured at heart, the body grows calm and the mind grows calm. When the body & mind of a monk enraptured at heart grow calm, then serenity as a factor for awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development. 

For one who is at ease — his body calmed — the mind becomes concentrated. When the mind of one who is at ease — his body calmed — becomes concentrated, then concentration as a factor for awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development. 

He carefully watches the mind thus concentrated with equanimity. When he carefully watches the mind thus concentrated with equanimity, equanimity as a factor for awakening becomes aroused. He develops it, and for him it goes to the culmination of its development.

Anapanasati Sutta: Mindfulness of Breathing translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu MN 118

The Seven Factors of Awakening

Just as the Five Hindrances describe the negative (unskillful) states of mind, the Seven Factors of Awakening describe the positive (skillful) states of mind to replace the hindrances. The Seven Factors of Awakening have been called the antihindrances.

The Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutta teaches contemplating the seven factors of awakening.  In this sutta, each factor is contemplated as being present, not present, conditions leading the its arising and how it can be perfected by development.  The Anapanastati Sutta as noted above also demonstrated the sequential progression of the factors.  Joseph Goldstein notes:  “And, as we will see, these seven factors form a progression, each one leading to the next. So if we prime the pump of the enlightened mind and practice the first of the awakening factors, all the rest follow along.”  Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

The progression is as follows:  As you cultivate your mindfulness (paying attention from moment to moment to what is), it becomes an established form of practice.  Your mental object of mindfulness becomes mindfulness.  You learn that with strong mindfulness, you investigate all phenomena to discover that they all share the same three characteristics (impermanence, dissatisfaction and selflessness).  Thus the mental object of mindfulness becomes investigation.  With investigation, you develop exert more energy (effort, persistence) and shift your mental object of mindfulness to energy.  With these three powerful factors in action, you feel joy which leads to contentment.  With contentment, restlessness disappears and you are able to cultivate powerful concentration.  When all of these six factors (mindfulness, investigation, effort, joy, contentment, and concentration), you feel that your life is in harmony and balance. When this occurs, you are experiencing the seventh and final factor, equanimity.

With equanimity, the desire ends for things to be other than they are.  You don’t wish for permanence, lasting satisfaction, or for a self.  The Seven Factors of Enlightenment are then in alignment with the Four Noble Truths which will be discussed later.

“We can achieve this goal within this life.  When we do, all suffering ceases.  All questions come to an end.  All anxiety, worry, fear, and tension disappear, never to return.  There is no craving, no clinging to anything.  We live in harmony, perfect balance.  All our senses are sharpened.  We still eat, drink, talk, and use our body and mind, but with full awareness, total mindfulness.  Our morality does not make us believe we are superior to others.  Our concentration does not make us praise ourselves and disparage others.  Our wisdom gives us perfect loving-friendliness, perfect compassion and perfect appreciative (sympathetic joy).  Enjoying perfect equanimity, we are never again troubled by life’s ups and downs.”  Bhante Gunaratana Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness p. 220

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is paying attention moment to moment to what is.  There are four applications of mindfulness that R.M.L. Gethlin, a noted scholar describes:

  • Not forgetting – always coming back to mindfulness when we get lost.
  • Presence of mind – directly facing and experiencing whatever is arising
  • Remembering – always knowing what is skillful and what is not (our inner moral compass)
  • Close association with wisdom – paying bare attention with clear comprehension (purpose, suitability, domain, non-delusion)

The Practical Application of the Seven Factors of Awakening

The seven factors of awakening are the positive qualities needed to achieve the goal of our practice. These factors help to defeat the forces of the hindrances and the delusions that arise and cause suffering.

Here is step by step process to try while meditating or reflecting.

Setting:  Meditation

Time:  about 30 minutes

  • Look to see which of the Five Hindrances is present:
    1. Sense Desire (wanting)
    2. Aversion
    3. Sloth and Torpor (physical drowsiness and mental dullness)
    4. Restlessness and Worry
    5. Doubt
  • Start with a concentration practice using the breath as the object of attention.  When the mind is sufficiently quiet (usually 10-15 minutes), proceed with the next step.
  • Apply mindfulness by paying attention moment to moment to what is.  With strong mindfulness, you can proceed to examine the “what is.”
  • Investigate the “what is”
  1. Feeling
    1. Note the valence: pleasant, unpleasant, or neither pleasant nor unpleasant
    2. Note the Intensity of the arousal
  2. Perception (identification)
    1. Is this what is sensed or an identification of the mind?
  3. Mental formations
    1. What emotions are arising?
  • Apply energy (effort, persistence) and don’t give up investigating.
  • Notice if joy arises.
    1. If joy doesn’t arise, try increasing concentration on the breath and then shifting to the smile on your lips.
  • Notice if calm (tranquility) arises
  • Notice if your concentration is increased.
  • Notice if equanimity arises.
  • Look to see if the hindrance has changed or is absent.

Reflection

  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.
  • Apply the Seven Factors of Awakening using the meditation as noted above. What do you experience?

Meditation

  • Meditate using the mindfulness of the breath technique and focus your insight meditation on states of mind.

Next: Mindfulness of the Dhammas: The Seven Factors of Awakening II
Previous: Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Six Sense Bases