The Buddhist Path to Enlightenment (study)

by Dr Kala Acharya | 2016 | 118,883 words

This page relates ‘The Seven Factors of Enlightenment (Introduction)’ of the study on the Buddhist path to enlightenment. The Buddha was born in the Lumbini grove near the present-day border of India and Nepal in the 6th century B.C. He had achieved enlightenment at the age of thirty–five under the ‘Bodhi-tree’ at Buddha-Gaya. This study investigates the teachings after his Enlightenment which the Buddha decided to teach ‘out of compassion for beings’.

1(b). The Seven Factors of Enlightenment (Introduction)

[Full title: The Seven Factors of Enlightenment (Satta-bojjhaṅga or Sapta-bodhyaṅga)—Introduction]

They are namely:

  1. the enlightenment factors of mindfulness (sati-sambojjhaṅga, S. smṛti),
  2. the enlightenment factors of investigation (dhammavicaya-sambojjhaṅga, S. dharmapravicaya),
  3. the enlightenment factors of effort (vīriya-sambojjhaṅga, S. vīrya),
  4. the enlightenment factors of joy (pīti-sambojjhaṅga, S. prīti),
  5. the enlightenment factors of tranquility (passaddhi-sambojjhaṅga, S. praśrabdhi),
  6. the enlightenment factors of concentration (samādhi-sambojjhaṅga, S. samādhi) and
  7. the enlightenment factors of equani-mity (upekkhā-sambojjhaṅga, S. upekṣā).

[From MN I, p. 61]:

"If the mindfulness awakening factor is present in him, he knows: ‘there is the mindfulness awakening factor in me'; if the mindfulness awakening factor is not present in him, he knows: ‘there is no mindfulness awakening factor in me'; and he also knows how the unarisen mindfulness awakening factor can arise, and how the arisen mindfulness awakening factor can be perfected by development.

If the investigation-of-dhammas awakening factor is present in him, he knows …
If the effort awakening factor is present in him, he knows: …
If the joy awakening factor is present in him, he knows …
If the tranquillity awakening factor is present in him, he knows…
If the concentration awakening factor is present in him, he knows…

If the equanimity awakening factor is present in him, he knows: ‘there is the equanimity awakening factor in me'; if the equanimity awakening factor is not present in him, he knows: ‘there is no equanimity awakening factor in me'; and he also knows how the unarisen equanimity awakening factor can arise, and how the arisen equanimity awakening factor can be perfected by development."

According to Majjhima Nikāya commentary, each of the seven factors of enlightenment is surveyed as follows:

1. Mindfulness (sati)—(i) clear knowledge, (ii) avoiding un-mindful people and associating with mindful people and (iii) inclining the mind accordingly towards the development of sati.

2. Investigation (dhammavicaya)—(i) theoretical inquiry (ii) bodily cleanliness, (iii) balance of the five faculties, (iv) avoiding the company of unwise people and associating with wise people, (v) reflecting on the deeper aspects of Dhamma and (vi) inclining the mind accordingly.

3. Effort (vīriya)—(i) reflecting on the fearfulness of the planes misery, (ii) seeing the benefits of effort, (iii) reflection on the path to be practiced, (iv) honouring the offerings one has received, (v) reflecting on the inspiring qualities of the tradition one is following, of one’s teacher, of one’s status as a follower of the Buddha, and of companions in the holy life and (vi) avoiding lazy people and the associating with energetic people, inclining the mind accordingly.

4. Joy or rapture (pīti)—(i) recollection of Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, one’s virtues, one’s acts of generosity, heavenly beings and the peace of realization, (ii) avoiding uncultured people and associating with refined people, (iii) reflecting on inspiring discourses and (iv) inclining the mind accordingly.

5. Tranquility (passaddhi)—(i) good food, agreeable weather, comfortable posture, (ii) balanced behavior (iii) avoiding restless people and associating with calm people and (iv) inclining the mind accordingly.

6. Concentration (samādhi)—(i) bodily cleanliness, (ii) balancing the five faculties, (iii) skill in taking up the sign of concentration, (iii) skill in inciting, restraining and not interfering with mind at the right time, (iv) avoiding distracted people and associating with attentive people, (v) reflecting on the attainment of absorption and (vi) inclining the mind accordingly.

7. Equanimity (upekkhā)—(i) detachment towards people and things, (ii) avoiding prejudiced people and associating with impartial people and (iii) inclination of mind accordingly.

One of the three discourses on the bojjhaṅgas mentioned above begins:

Thus I heard. At one time the Buddha was living at Rājagaha, at Veḷuvana bamboo grove, in the squirrels’ feeding-ground. At that time the venerable Mahākassapa, who was living in Pipphalī Cave, was sick, stricken with a severe illness.

Then the Buddha rising from his solitude at eventide visited the venerable Mahākassapa, took his seat, and spoke to the venerable Mahākassapa in this wise:

“Well, Kassapa. How is it with you? Are you bearing up, are you enduring? Do your pains lessen or increase? Are there signs of your pains lessening and not increasing?”

“No, Lord. I am not bearing up, I am not enduring. The pain is very great. There is a sign not of the pains lessening, but of their increasing.”

Kassapa, these seven factors of enlightenment are well expoundded by me, cultivated and much developed by me, and when cultivated and much developed they conduce to full realization, perfect wisdom, to nibbāna. What are the seven?

1. “Mindfulness (sati). This, Kassapa, is well expounded by me, cultivated and much developed by me, and when cultivated and much developed, it conduces to full realization, perfect wisdom, to nibbāna.

2. “Investigation of the dhamma (dhammavijaya)…

3. “Effort (vīriya)…

4. “Joy or rapture (pīti)…

5. “Tranquility (passaddhi)…

6. “Concentration (samādhi)…

7. “Equanimity (upekkhā), Kassapa, is well expounded by me …

“These seven factors of enlightenment, verily, Kassapa, are well expounded by me, cultivated and much developed by me, and when cultivated and much developed they conduce to full realization, perfect wisdom, to nibbāna.”

“Verily, Blessed One, they are factors of enlightenment! Verily, Welcome One, they are factors of enlightenment!” uttered Mahā kassapa.

Thus spoke the Buddha, and the Venerable Mahākassapa rejoicing welcomed the utterances of the Worthy One. And the Venerable Mahākassapa rose from that illness. There and then that ailment of the Venerable Mahā Kassapa vanished.[1]

Another discourse (Mahācunda-bojjhaṅga sutta) of the three mentioned above reveals that at one time the Buddha himself was ill, and the venerable Mahācunda recited the bojjhaṅgas, factors of enlightenment, and that the Buddha’s grievous illness vanished.[2]

Man’s mind tremendously and profoundly influences and affects the body. If allowed to function viciously and entertain unwholesome and harmful thoughts, mind can cause disaster, even kill a being; but mind also can cure a sick body. When concentrated on right thoughts with right understanding, the effects mind can produce are immense.

Buddhism (Buddha-dhamma) is the teaching of enlightenment. One who is keen on attaining enlightenment should first know clearly the impediments that block the path to enlightenment.

Life, according to the right understanding of a Buddha, is suffering, and that suffering is based on ignorance or avijjā. Ignorance is the experiencing of that which is unworthy of experiencing, namely evil. Further it is the non-perception of the conglomerate nature of the aggregates; non-perception of sense-organ and object in their respective and objective natures; non-perception of the emptiness or the relativity of the elements; non-perception of the dominant nature of the sensecontrolling faculties; non-perception of the thus-ness—the infallibility—of the four truths. And the five hindrances (pañca nīvaraṇāni) are the nutriment of (or condition for) this ignorance. They are called hindrances because they completely close in, cut off, and obstruct. They hinder the understanding of the way to release from suffering. These five hindrances are: sensuality (kāmacchanda); ill will (vyāpā-da); sloth and torpor (thīnamiddha); restlessness and remorse (uddhacca-kukkucca); and doubt (vicikicchā).

And what is the nutriment of these hindrances? The three evil modes of life (tini duccaritāni)—bodily, vocal and mental wrong-doing. This threefold nutriment is in turn nourished by non-restraint of the senses (indriya asaṃvaro), which is explained by the commentator as the admittance of lust and hate into the six sense-organs of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.

The nutriment of non-restraint is shown to be lack of mindfulness and of complete awareness (asati asampajañña). In the context of nutriment, the reason for non-restraint is the drifting away of the object (dhamma)—the lapsing from the mind of the knowledge of the lakkhaṇas or characteristics of existence (impermanence, suffering, and voidness of self), and forgetfulness of the true nature of things. It is when one does not bear in mind the transience and the other characteristics of things, and one allows oneself all kinds of liberties in speech and deed, and gives rein to full thought imagery of an unskilful kind. Lack of complete awareness is lack of these four: complete awareness of purpose (sāttha sampajañña); of suitability (sappāya sam-pajañña); of resort (gocara sampajañña); and of non-delusion (asam-moha sampajañña). When one does a thing without a right purpose, when one looks at things or does actions which do not help the growth of the good, when one does things inimical to improvement, when one forgets the Dhamma which is the true resort of one who strives, when one deludedly lays hold of things, believing them to be pleasant, beautiful, permanent and substantial, when one behaves thus, then too nonrestraint is nourished.

And below this lack of mindfulness and complete awareness lies unwise attention (ayonisomanasikāra). The books say unwise attention is reflection that is off the right course; that is, taking the impermanent as permanent, the painful as pleasure, the soulless as a soul, and the bad as good. The constant rolling-on that is saṃsāra is rooted in unsystematic thinking. When unsystematic thinking increases, it fulfills two things: ignorance and lust for becoming. Ignorance being present, the origination of the entire mass of suffering comes to be. Thus a person who is a shallow thinker, like a ship drifting at the wind’s will, like a herd of cattle swept into the whirlpools of a river, like an ox yoked to a wheel-contraption, goes on revolving in the cycle of existence, saṃsāra.

And it is said that imperfect confidence (assaddhiyaṃ) in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha is the condition which develops unsystematic reflection, and imperfect confidence is due to non-hearing of the true law, the Dhamma (asaddhammasavanaṃ).

Finally, one does not hear the Dhamma through lack of contact with the wise, thorough not consorting with the good (asappurisa saṃseva). Thus want of good friendship, kalyāṇa mittatā, appears to be the basic reason for the ills of the world. And conversely, the basis and nutriment of all good is shown to be good friendship that furnishes one with the food of the sublime Dhamma which in turn produces confidence in the Triple Gem, Tiratana, the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha. When one has confidence in the Triple Gem there come into existence profound or systematic thinking, mindfulness, and complete awareness, restraint of the senses, the three good modes of life, the four arousings of mindfulness, the seven factors of enlightenment and deliverance through wisdom, one after another in due order.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

SN V, p. 79

[2]:

SN V, p. 81

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