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The 37 Aids to Awakening - Part 6

Updated: Dec 28, 2021

The Seven Factors of Awakening (Bojjhanga)

These factors are the opposite of the five hindrances. As we overcome the hindrances, the factors of Awakening increase. Or, as the factors of Awakening increase, the hindrances decrease.

The seven factors are about developing stillness (samadhi) which is the condition for insight to arise which is Awakening. The seven factors are a causal sequence, the first factor leading to the second which leads to the third etc. The factors are:

1. Mindfulness i.e. the satipatthana practices

2. Investigation of what is wholesome vs. unwholesome, blameworthy vs. not blameworthy, dark vs. light, what holds us back in our practice vs what aids our practice.

These first two factors are like pedaling uphill. The remaining factors are like coasting downhill.

3. Energy - this arises once our investigation leads us to let go of our defilements. Energy is different from effort. Effort is something we do. Energy is something that naturally arises from the conditions we have put in place.

4. Joy - this usually arises on its own. If not, we can nudge it....see below

5. Tranquility - this arises when joy settles down. It is a deep, inner contentment, the opposite of restlessness and craving. It feels solid like a rock. We don't want to move. We would be happy to be in this state forever.

6. Stillness (Samadhi) - this refers to the jhana states.

7. Equanimity - this refers to the fourth jhana. It is beyond happiness and suffering. It's neutral, but is more fulfilling than happiness. The meaning of upekkha is "looking on". We look on and are not perturbed by whatever we experience. This is described as the imperturbable mind. It can accept insights that may have upset us before we developed equanimity. This is the end of the path. We are now at the place where insights occur. The major insights are of rebirth, kamma (that our intentional actions have consequences) and Awakening (to how reality is). As long as we start with right view (i.e. we see reality as summarized in the Four Noble Truths) we will eventually Awaken.

Happiness (sukha) isn't mentioned in the seven factors but is embedded in the last three factors.

The seven factors are:

- supported by the four applications of mindfulness (satipatthanas)

- mindfulness is supported by morality (sila)

- morality is supported by mindfulness and sampojanya i.e. knowing the purpose of the action we are doing and if the action is appropriate to our purpose.

- mindfulness and sampojanya are supported by yonisomanasikara i.e. wise reflection: are the good qualities increasing and the bad qualities decreasing? Definition of this term is given in MN 2.

- yonisomanasikara is supported by faith (saddha)

- faith is supported by hearing the true Dhamma (the teachings of the Buddha on reality)

- and this is why spiritual friends (kalyanamittas) are at the root of our practice as they share the true Dhamma with us

A foundation for the seven factors to develop is seclusion....taking time away from our busy lives for our practice. Another foundation is the fading away of the sensory world....simplifing our lives more and more.

Joy: if it doesn't arise on its own, we can nudge it with reflections on:

- Buddha

- Dhamma

- Sangha

- Sila

- generosity

- devas

- kalyanamittas

To recollect the Buddha, reflect that he is fully Awakened (an arahant), therefore worthy, accomplished in true knowledge and power i.e. understanding reality, well gone (happy), knower of the world (understanding rebirth, understanding what leads to happiness, to suffering), unsurpassed trainer of those capable of being trained.

Ajahn Brahmali said that arousing joy by reflecting on the qualities of the Buddha takes time. But an immediate result of recollecting the qualities of the Buddha is that it occupies our mind so it's not focused on desire or ill will or confusion. The purpose of the reflection is to inspire us and this inspriation leads to joy, which leads to the subsequent factors of Awakening: tranquility, samadhi and equanimity. The major benefit of the Path is that it allows us to live peacefully in an afflicted society. As we go through our day we feel an evenness, at ease, relaxed. We can use reflection during breath meditation: we temporarily switch from the breath to reflection to arouse joy and then return to the breath.

Reflection on the other topics mentioned takes the same format. Recollection of Dhamma means reading the suttas or listening to Dhamma talks and feeling inspired. Or we just recall the Dhamma in general: that it was fully expounded by the Buddha i.e. nothing was left out and that it can be experienced by the wise in this very lifetime.

For the Sangha, this refers to noble ones (ariyas) i.e. those who have realized at least one of the four stages of Awakening. They are practicing the true way. They have internalized the Path. We recognize these noble ones because since their defilements are removed, the opposite qualities appear: when desire is gone, there is generosity, when ill will is gone there is compassion, when restlessness is gone there is peacefulness, when sloth and torpor is gone there is clarity and when doubt is gone there is confidence.

Devas are angels, beings living in the heavenly realms. We can think about our loved ones who have died and are now in a happy place and this will make us happy (mudita - feeling happiness for the happiness of others).

Kalyanamittas are spiritual friends. We can reflect on how they support our practice. This gratitude will lead to joy.

The factors of Awakening and the hindrances

Letting go of desire: this isn't something we force. It is through reflection that we understand what causes our suffering and our happiness. By repeated reflecting the message sinks in and we automatically start to let go. It doesn't usually happen the first time we reflect. It's a gradual process.

The hindrances block our clear view of reality and they require nutriment to survive. When we watch the breath, the hindrances are starved as we are not paying attention to them. We've already used sense restraint in our daily life to let go of the gross hindrances. In meditation we are dealing with the subtle hindrances. It's hard to see the dangers in desire. So we can try and focus the opposite in our daily life: the beauty in metta, in compassion and in the beautiful qualities of other people.

Ill will is fueled by attention to something we resist i.e. focus on the negative aspect of something.

The last three hindrances are usually a result of the the first two. Therefore, emphasis is put on focusing on the first two hindrances. And out of those, ill will is the most destructive, so it's important to focus on it the most.

Sloth and torpor (dullness and drowsiness): we often use escape to deal with this hindrance - sleep our life away or escape into sensual pleasures.

Restlessness and agitation is connected with craving (we're not content with the present moment) or immorality. It requires letting go of doing as a source of a self identity. We go into stillness instead.

Doubt is about what are good teachings or what is wholesome vs unwholesome.

Photo by Grey Man Images

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