The Factors of Enlightenment

One of the clearest and most useful ways to describe practice is in the terms of the seven factors of enlightenment. These are the natural qualities of mind that the Buddha described as the constituents of a proper spiritual practice. A mind in which these factors are fully developed and balanced experiences freedom.

Three of these factors are passive elements. They are concentration, or one-pointedness of mind; tranquility, or quietness of mind; and equanimity, or detachment and balance of mind in the face of change. Three other factors are energetic elements. These are effort, which means the volition to be mindful; investigation, or silent observation of what is happening; and rapture, which manifests as bliss and an intense interest in the spiritual practice.

The seventh factor is mindfulness, the key to practice. The development of this particular quality of mind automatically develops all of the other factors. Mindfulness, noticing the object in the present moment, also has the function of brining these factors into proper balance.

Using the factors of enlightenment, once can evaluate the whole range of meditation techniques and spiritual paths. All of the approaches to practice may be considered in the light of the development of these seven qualities of mind. Some will develop the energy factors more rapidly or strongly. Others strengthen concentration or equanimity more quickly. No need to be concerned with the form of the practice or the words or style of the teaching. Simply see if it will lead to the development of the factors of enlightenment.

It all comes back to mind. Mind is the start and end of all spiritual work. One can examine a path to see what qualities of mind are developed and see if that path will help to to bring the factors of enlightenment further into balance. If so, then use it, remembering that getting caught in further opinions and comparisons of various practices can be a great obstacle to liberation. Relax. Do your own practice and honor those around you with love.

This excerpt is taken from the book, “Living Dharma: Teaching and Meditation Instructions from Twelve Theravada Masters

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