Mindfulness of the Dhammas: The Seven Factors of Awakening II

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

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

In the previous talk, we discussed the progressive nature of the seven factors.  Following is more detail about each factor.

Mindfulness

  1. Definition: Paying attention moment to moment to what is.
    1. Paying attention – concentrating – not distracted
    2. Moment to moment – not in past or future
    3. To what is: not adding anything

What does mindfulness do?

  • Brings us into the present
  • Gives an awareness of conditioning – We add stuff and don’t realize that that is what we are doing
    • Judgments
    • Commentary
    • Decision-making
  • Promotes less reactivity

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) 

Investigation

Investigation can counteract the hindrance of doubt.  There are several questions to explore:

  • Is this experience/action skillful or unskillful? Unskillful actions stem from desire, aversion and delusion and skillful actions are rooted in generosity, loving-kindness and knowing the three characteristics of all phenomena:  impermanence, inability to provide lasting satisfaction and selfless nature.  This is our moral compass.
  • Is this a habit pattern? If so, all the better to investigate.
  • Are you taking this personally? The universe is not selectively picking on you; others share the same experiences.
  • Do you understand the nature of thought? Thought is just another phenomenon – impermanent, unable to provide lasting satisfaction and of selfless nature.

“Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche noted: “When a rainbow appears we see many beautiful colors— yet a rainbow is not something we can clothe ourselves with, or wear as an ornament; it simply appears through the conjunction of various conditions. Thoughts arise in the mind in just the same way. They have no tangible reality or intrinsic existence at all. There is therefore no logical reason why thoughts should have so much power over us, nor any reason why we should be enslaved by them. . . . Once we recognize that thoughts are empty, the mind will no longer have the power to deceive us. But as long as we take our deluded thoughts as real, they will continue to torment us mercilessly, as they have been doing throughout countless past lives.  Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, “Teachings on Nature of Mind and Practice,” Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, winter 1991.

Energy

Energy can counteract the hindrance of sloth and torpor.

Goldstein notes:  “Through the wisdom arising from investigation, we become inspired to make efforts to fully actualize it. And this inspiration becomes the basis for the cultivation of viriya, or energy…..In its most basic meaning of “energy,” is the capacity for activity, the power to do something. This energetic capacity, the power to do, manifests in a variety of ways.”  Energy can give us strength to develop skillful states of mind and courage for determination, resolve, testing the limits.  Energy is best applied when the mind is relaxed through concentration practice so that there is less “efforting.”

Joy (Rapture)

When mindfulness, investigation and energy are applied, joy often arises spontaneously. This is the joy of non-attachment, of freedom.  This factor is called piti in Pali.  It is physical and can suffuse the whole body.  The Buddha described it as:  “Suppose a skilled bath attendant or his apprentice were to pour soap flakes into a metal basin, sprinkle them with water and knead them into a ball, so that the ball of soap flakes would be pervaded by moisture, encompassed by moisture, suffused by moisture inside and out and yet would not trickle. In the same way one drenches, steeps, saturates and suffuses one’s body with the rapture and happiness born of seclusion, so that there is no part of one’s body that is not suffused by rapture and happiness.” (DN 2.78) 41)

We can get a taste of joy by focusing on pleasant sensations in the body after reaching a sufficient level of concentration.

Calm (Tranquility)

After joy falls away, calm arises. There is a sense of serenity and peace. Calm can counteract the hindrance of  restlessness and worry.

“When the mind is tranquil, free of desire, even temporarily, a kind of happiness and ease arise that are subtler and more refined than the joy of rapture, which can be a little excitable. And it is this happiness of tranquility that, in turn, becomes the conditioning factor for concentration and liberating wisdom.” Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

Concentration

We start mediation with concentration practice to calm the mind.  After the first five factors of awakening have been experienced, we reach a new and deeper level of concentration which is what the Buddha called a pleasant abiding.  It is seclusion from the hindrances.

Equanimity

Equanimity is an evenness, an unshakeable balance of mind.  The eight winds of worldly reality:  gain/loss, praise/blame, fame/disrepute and pleasure/pain are experienced as balanced rather than desiring only the positives and having aversion for the negatives.

The wisdom aspect of equanimity is beautifully expressed in the famous opening lines of “On the Faith Mind,” by the Third Zen Ancestor: “The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When attachment and aversion are both absent, the way is clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening.

As the Buddha noted in the Satipatthana Sutta, equanimity can be likened to “And as one abides Independent, not clinging to anything in the world.”

With equanimity, there is a true letting go of all of the hindrances.

Reflection

  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.
  • Continue to practice the Seven Factors of Awakening meditation as what you perceive as problems or reactivity arise.

Meditation

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

Next: Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Four Noble Truths I
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