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  • Thong Tri Temple

The Fourth Noble Truth, Part II: The Seven Factors of Enlightenment

Updated: Jan 31

| Loving-kindness {Metta} |



Set #6: Seven Factors of Enlightenment (Bodhi) Practices, also known as the seven states of awakening - The elimination of evil, the development of virtue, the feeling of joy versus suffering, and eventual enlightenment are the four achievements that are the result of practicing the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. Beginning with the first factor of mindfulness, they tend to flow in a progression towards the last factor of equanimity with each factor’s development based on the preceding ones.


1. [23] Mindfulness – the first factor of enlightenment is developed by contemplating on the body, feelings, the mind, and mind objects. In order to maintain awareness of reality, one cultivates non-judgmental awareness moment to moment. Mindfulness is also the seventh factor of the Noble Eightfold Path.


Right Mindfulness is awareness of the whole body and mind; being mindful of the Dharma teachings which are beneficial for the Buddhist path. Living in the present moment and being conscious of what one is doing encourages the awareness of the impermanence of the body, feelings, and mind. It encourages awareness of the four true realities or the Four Noble Truths and the Seven Factors of Awakening.


2. [24] Investigation – The second factor of enlightenment refers to selection of the proper Dharma and investigating the Dharma through meditation. Through investigation and meditation, one gains analytical knowledge of their true nature consisting of the three universal characteristics of Impermanence, Non-Self and the Law of Cause and Effect. Well-developed mindfulness helps the important process of investigating phenomena as they arise.


In addition, an investigation into the Dharma is both an investigation into the Teachings of the Buddha as well as into the nature of Existence. The Buddha taught his disciples not to accept what he said/taught on blind faith, but instead to investigate his teachings to realize the truth of them for themselves.

 

3. [25] Constant Effort – The third factor of enlightenment is constant effort, which is necessary throughout the enlightenment process from beginning to end. With determined effort, one acts to prevent the development of unwholesome mental defilements that have not yet arisen such as sensual desire, ill will, laziness, restlessness, and doubt. Constant effort includes the sustained effort to eliminate the unwholesome states that interfere with concentration, such as craving, anger, hatred, boredom, agitation, and confusion. The corresponding positive effort is to try hard to develop and perfect those wholesome qualities that contribute to mental clarity and calm, alertness, energy, joy, tranquility, and equanimity. With determined effort, one can maintain the wholesome mental states that have arisen. 


There are three stages of effort required to complete a particular task from start to finish: 

  1. the effort required to initiate a task

  2. the effort required to continue on with the task

  3. the effort required to continue until the task is completed


Right effort provides the energy to develop the other seven factors, especially the factor of Right concentration necessary for the Right development of Right wisdom.


4. [26] Joy or high spirits - The fourth factor of joy or pleasure is the non-sensual happiness and satisfaction felt in the mind as well as the lightness and waves of happiness felt in the body. Five types or degrees of pleasure have been described based on the intensity and materiality of mental development (from least to greatest): lesser pleasure, excess pleasure, overwhelming pleasure, sublime pleasure, and pervasive pleasure.


5. [27] Tranquility – The fifth factor of enlightenment is tranquility of the body and consciousness which naturally follows joy and leads to concentration. There are two types: tranquility of mental qualities or the body, and tranquility of the mind or consciousness. The mental qualities that are quieted are the aggregates of feeling, perception, and mental formations. As tranquility develops, the opposite factors of restlessness and remorse will be brought under control. Like happiness, tranquility cannot be forced or created. It arises naturally from other factors. This factor is akin to the satisfaction of a person who is resting after finishing a job.


6. [28] Concentration –  The sixth factor of enlightenment is concentration, which is the calm one-pointedness of mind when focusing on a specific internal or external object. In meditation, the main objective is to develop tranquility and a state of deep concentration by practicing the Four Absorptions, also called the Four Jhanas.


There are three levels of concentration that one can achieve in meditation: 

  • preliminary concentration

  • access concentration 

  • fixed concentration


As concentration becomes stronger and deeper, the five mental hindrances of sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness, and doubt are gradually overcome. An appropriate balance between the factors of effort and concentration is required to facilitate the development of concentration as a factor of enlightenment.


In the deepest concentration, all sense of "self" disappears; subject and object are completely absorbed into each other. Concentration is also the eighth factor of the Noble Eightfold Path.


The Four Absorptions are also called the Four Jhanas

  • In the first stage of Jhana (Infinite Space), passionate desires and certain unwholesome thoughts such as lust, ill-will, sluggishness, anxiety, restlessness, and doubt are eliminated. Feelings of joy and happiness are maintained; along with some mental activities. 

  • In the second stage of Jhana (Infinite Consciousness), all intellectual activities are extinguished. Calmness and “one-pointedness” of the mind are developed; while feelings of joy and happiness are still retained. 

  • In the third stage of Jhana (Nothingness), the feeling of joy, which is a positive feeling, also fades; while the tendency of happiness still remains in addition to mindfulness, equanimity, and clarity. 

  • In the fourth stage of Jhana (Neither Perception nor Non-Perception), all sensations cease, even happiness and unhappiness, joy and sorrow; they all disappear; leaving only pure equanimity and awareness. 


7. [29] Equanimity - The seventh factor of enlightenment is Equanimity, which is the balance between the two extremes of aversion and desire. In other words, it is not pulled one way or another by one's likes and dislikes, and accepts reality as-it-is. One who has developed equanimity, such as an Arahant, will not react to worldly experiences such as gain and loss, fame and bad reputation, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Equanimity is the mental quality of being non-reactive and neutral with a perfectly balanced mind in the face of worldly experiences. Equanimity is also a factor associated with Jhana (see the four Jhanas above ) or the deep meditative stages of concentration where one can be freed from the delusion of a separate self. 


Equanimity is one of the four immeasurable qualities that is the purpose of meditation and includes loving-kindness, compassion, and sympathetic joy. 


A few words about the immeasurable traits….


The Four Immeasurable Traits or qualities are Equanimity, Loving-kindness, Compassion, and Sympathetic Joy. Each of these traits are accompanied by a practice. For example, compassion is an action of love and care. They are immeasurable, because it’s important to be mindful of your agenda (or hidden agenda) when executing these actions. When you think you have compassion, it may actually be masked by pity or an agenda that is meant to make yourself feel better rather than a genuine action of love and care for another. When you do have genuine compassion for another, our love, care, and respect will be felt by others. 


See below the near and far enemies for each of these immeasurable traits: 


Equanimity (Immeasurable)

Indifference (Near Enemy)

Hatred (Far Enemy)


Loving-Kindness (Immeasurable)

Sentimentality (Near Enemy)

Ill Will (Far Enemy)


Compassion (Immeasurable)

Pity (Near Enemy)

Cruelty (Far Enemy)


Sympathetic Joy (Immeasurable)

Hypocrisy (Near Enemy)

Jealousy (Far Enemy)


Additionally …..


As we mentioned earlier, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment are repeated several times throughout the 7 sets of requisites.


The Seven Factors of Enlightenment, when cultivated by a practitioner, lead to awakening or Enlightenment through the realization of the four Noble Truths. The seven factors tend to flow in a progression beginning with the first factor of mindfulness, towards the last factor of equanimity. Each factor’s development is based on the preceding ones. 


Although thirty-seven requisites of enlightenment have been described in Buddhist teachings, in reality there are only fourteen different requisites, because five requisites seem to appear repeatedly in the seven sets of requisites while the remaining nine qualities only appear once. Examples are as follows:

 

The requisite of effort appears nine times:

  • four times in the four types of Right Effort (requisite set 2)

  • effort in the four bases of mental power (requisite set 3)

  • effort in the five spiritual controlling faculties (requisite set 4)

  • effort in the five spiritual strength powers (requisite set 5)

  • effort in the seven factors of enlightenment (requisite set 6)

  • Right Effort in the Noble Eightfold Path


The requisite of mindfulness appears eight times: 

  • four times in the four foundations of mindfulness (requisite set 1)

  • mindfulness in the five spiritual controlling faculties (requisite set 4)

  • mindfulness in the five spiritual strength powers (requisite set 5)

  • mindfulness in the seven factors of enlightenment (requisite set 6)

  • Right Mindfulness in the Noble Eightfold Path


The requisite of wisdom appears five times: 

  • wisdom in investigation in the four bases of mental power (requisite set 3)

  • wisdom in the five spiritual controlling faculties (requisite set 4) 

  • wisdom in the five spiritual strength powers (requisite set 5)

  • wisdom in investigation in the seven factors of enlightenment (requisite set 6)

  • Right View in the Noble Eightfold Path


The requisite of concentration appears four times: 

  • concentration in the five spiritual controlling faculties (requisite set 4) 

  • concentration in the five spiritual strength powers (requisite set 5) 

  • concentration in the seven factors of enlightenment (requisite set 6) 

  • Right Concentration in the Noble Eightfold Path


The requisite of faith appears twice: 

  • faith in the five spiritual controlling faculties (requisite set 4) 

  • faith in the five spiritual strength powers (requisite set 5) 



Prerequisites to Requisites of Enlightenment


In the Sambhogakaya Sutra of the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha listed the following nine qualities as prerequisites for the development of the thirty-seven requisites of enlightenment.


1.   Have admirable friends, companions, and comrades

2.   Maintain virtuous behavior with restraint and compliance to the training rules

3.   Listening to talk that is sobering, straightforward, and conducive to understanding. This will include conversations about humility, contentment, the value of detachment and tranquility, effort, morality, concentration, wisdom and knowledge of true vision, and release from craving

4.   Make an effort to abandon unwholesome mental qualities and develop skillful mental qualities

5.   Develop the wisdom of arising and ceasing

6.   Contemplate abandoning unattractive desires

7.   Develop good will to abandon ill-will

8.   Practice mindfulness of breathing in and out  to remove distracting thinking

9.   Develop awareness of impermanence to uproot the ego “I am” 


These Thirty-Seven Requisites of Enlightenment, also known as the thirty-seven limbs of enlightenment described in seven different sets are believed to be the essence of the entirety of the Buddha’s teachings with regard to the ultimate goal of attaining Enlightenment and liberation from all suffering. They are recognized by both the Mahayana and Theravada traditions of Buddhism. According to Buddhist teachings, the ultimate goal is to achieve Nirvana, described as a supra-mundane state of the highest bliss and eternal happiness free from the sufferings of birth, sickness, old age, death, grief, lament, and despair. Any Buddhist disciple who wishes to attain Nirvana must always develop these thirty-seven factors of enlightenment, which also included The Noble Eightfold Path.



Read further to find out about the seventh and final set of requisites, Part III: The Noble Eightfold Path.


May you all be free from suffering and all the causes of suffering!


Namo Shakyamuni Buddha.



References:

“Chơn Lý,” Tác Giả Đức Tổ Sư Minh Đăng Quang (Language in Vietnamese)


“Phật Học Phổ Thông,” Tác Giả Hòa Thượng Thích Thiện Hoa (Language in Vietnamese)

“The Seeker’s Glossary of BUDDHISM,” Edited by the Van Hien-Study Group, Sutra Translation Committee of the United States & Canada

“A Simple Path – Basic Buddhist Teachings,” by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama

“The Buddha and His Teachings,” by Venerable Narada Mahathera (Sri Lanka 1970), Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc.

“Buddhism,” from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism.

"Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth" (SN 56.11), translated from the Pali by Ñanamoli Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 13 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.nymo.html .

"Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (3)" (Ud 8.3), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 3 September 2012, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/ud/ud.8.03.than.html

“A Verb for Nirvana by the Theravada Scholar Thanissaro Bhikkhu 2005”

“Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012, Sambodhi sutta, The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya, Wisdom Publications.”

“The Noble Eightfold path: The Way to the End of Suffering, Bhikku Bodhi, 1994, ‘The Wheel Publications, No: 308/311’, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka.”

“Spiritual faculties, Ayya Khema, accessible at “(To Be Seen); Here and Now”; Ten Dhamma Talks” by Sister Ayya Khema, ‘Access to Insight (Legacy Edition)’, November 2013.”

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