The path to spiritual awakening does not consist of philosophy and speculation. All of the Buddha’s teachings were based on empirical observation and critical analysis; and they always had a practical application as their aim. Those who follow the path to enlightenment must utilize the teachings by diligently weeding out those qualities which will hinder progress while concurrently developing those qualities and practices which will further one’s progress.

In traditional Buddhism there are thirty-seven requisites of awakening that one must develop if one is to attain the goal. They consist of the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four ways to power, the five faculties, the five powers, the seven factors of awakening, and the eightfold path covered under the four noble truths. These thirty-seven requisites provide a road map for one’s Buddhist practice.

At the heart of the thirty-seven requisites is the eightfold path of the Middle Way that provides the most fundamental course of development. The other twenty-nine elements consist of further details and explanations of the eightfold path. The eightfold path of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration can itself be simplified as the threefold training of morality, concentration and wisdom. Morality includes right speech, right action, and right livelihood, and is to refrain from what is detrimental. Concentration involves right mindfulness, and right concentration, and is the way to attain wholesome qualities. Morality and concentration both require right effort. Wisdom encompasses right view and right intention, and can be understood as the purification of the mind. The Dhammapada uses this threefold scheme as a summary of the teaching of all buddhas:

Refraining from all that is detrimental,

The attainment of what is wholesome,

The purification of one’s mind:

This is the instruction of Awakened Ones.

(The Dhammapada, verse 183)

The five faculties and the five powers, however, may provide the most inclusive framework for a review of all the thirty-seven requisites. The five faculties are faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. These five faculties are the abilities which one must cultivate in order to attain enlightenment. The five powers are the same as the five faculties but viewed as the power to remain unshaken by their opposites: lack of faith, laziness, forgetfulness, distraction, and ignorance. It is these five faculties and five powers which enable us to follow the demands of the threefold training. (see Connected Discourses of the Buddha, pp. 1688 – 89, and also note 230 on pp. 1936 – 37)

The first is the faculty and power of faith, which should be understood as confidence or trust. Buddhism is not a creed that we can benefit from by merely professing its tenets. We must put the four noble truths into practice. However, in order to be willing to undergo the discipline and training involved, there must be some level of faith or confidence in the threefold refuge: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. There must be confidence that the Buddha really did achieve perfect universal enlightenment and is therefore the right teacher; that the Dharma he taught is truly the way to become enlightened; and that the Sangha is the community that truly practices and preserves the Buddha’s teachings and can facilitate our own training. These three are also known as the three jewels because of their inestimable value insofar as they enable us to overcome suffering. Furthermore, we must have confidence in our own abilities, so that we can follow the path through all adversity, obstructions or setbacks, whether internal or external.

In this way, we can adopt the right view of the Buddha, even before it has been personally verified by our own practice and experience. Specifically, right view refers to the knowledge of the four noble truths and all that they entail. Right intention can also be included, because the adoption of the Buddha’s view will naturally reveal the destructiveness of greed and aggression, and the benefits of an altruistic and unselfish outlook. The power of faith implies the absence of ulterior motives and the presence of a sincere aspiration to accomplish the goal of enlightenment. Together, right view and right intention comprise the training of wisdom. At this stage, however, faith takes the place of wisdom. In a sense, faith allows us to borrow the Buddha’s wisdom until such time as our own wisdom has been perfected through putting the Buddha’s teachings into practice.

So, empowered by faith, we embark upon the development of morality or ethical living. This consists of right speech, right action and right livelihood. Right speech means to refrain from false, malicious, harsh, or idle speech. Right action means to refrain from killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. Right livelihood means to seek an occupation that does not cause harm to or exploits others, such as dealing in weapons, slaves, meat, intoxicants, or poisons, or making a living through deception and fraud.

The Buddha did not try to legislate morality for his lay followers, nor did he try to establish any authority over them. For those who took the threefold refuge and became lay followers the Buddha did provide five precepts as a reiteration of the demands of right action and right speech with the addition of a prohibition against intoxicants that cloud the mind and destroy one’s inhibitions against breaking the first four. In the following discourse the Buddha teaches the monks that the threefold refuge and the five precepts conferred upon lay followers can be looked upon as eight streams of merit:

There are, O monks, eight streams of merit, streams of the wholesome, nourishments of happiness, that are heavenly, ripening in happiness, conducive to heaven, and that lead to whatever is wished for, loved and agreeable, to one’s welfare and happiness. What are the eight?

Here, monks, a noble disciple has gone for refuge to the Buddha. This is the first stream of merit, stream of the wholesome, nourishment of happiness, which is heavenly, ripening in happiness, conducive to heaven, and which leads to whatever is wished for, loved and agreeable, to one’s welfare and happiness.

Further, a noble disciple has gone for refuge to the Dharma This is the second stream of merit … … that leads to whatever is wished for, loved, and agreeable, to one’s welfare and happiness.

Further, a noble disciple has gone for refuge to the Sangha. This is the third stream of merit … … that leads to whatever is wished for, loved, and agreeable, to one’s welfare and happiness.

There are further, monks, these five gifts – pristine, of long standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated and never before adulterated, that are not being adulterated and that will not be adulterated, not despised by wise ascetics and brahmins. What are these five gifts?

Here, monks, a noble disciple gives up the destruction of life and abstains from it. By abstaining from the destruction of life, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility and oppression. By giving immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression, he himself will enjoy immeasurable freedom from fear, hostility and oppression. This is the first of those great gifts and the fourth flood of merit.

Further, a noble disciple gives up the taking of what is not given and abstains from it. By abstaining from taking what is not given, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from fear…. This is the second of those great gifts and the fifth flood of merit.

Further, monks, a noble disciple gives up sexual misconduct and abstains from it. By abstaining from sexual misconduct, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from fear… This is the third of those great gifts and the sixth flood of merit.

Further, monks, a noble disciple gives up false speech and abstains from it. By abstaining from false speech, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from fear… This is the fourth of those great gifts and the seventh flood of merit.

Further, monks, a noble disciple gives up wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the basis for negligence, and abstains from them. By abstaining from wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression. By giving to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression, he himself will enjoy immeasurable freedom from fear, hostility and oppression. This is the fifth of those great gifts and the eighth flood of merit.

These, monks, are the eight streams of merit, streams of the wholesome, nourishments of happiness, which are heavenly, ripening in happiness, conducive to heaven, and which lead to whatever is wished for, loved, and agreeable, to one’s welfare and happiness. (In the Buddha’s Words, pp. 172-174)

More comprehensive than the five precepts are the ten courses of wholesome conduct. The ten courses of wholesome conduct are actually a restatement of right action as three kinds of wholesome bodily conduct, right speech as the four kinds of wholesome verbal conduct, right intention as the first two of the three kinds of wholesome mental conduct, and right view as the third of the three kinds of wholesome mental conduct.

Householders, there are three kinds of righteous bodily conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dharma. There are four kinds of righteous verbal conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dharma. There are three kinds of righteous mental conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dharma.

And how, householders, are there three kinds of righteous bodily conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dharma? Here someone, abandoning the destruction of life, abstains from the destruction of life; with rod and weapon laid aside, conscientious, merciful, he dwells compassionate to all living beings. Abandoning the taking of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not given; he does not take by way of theft the wealth and property of others in the village or in the forest. Abandoning sexual misconduct, he abstains from sexual misconduct; he does not have intercourse with women who are protected by their mother, father, mother and father, brother, sister, or relatives, who have a husband, who are protected by law, or with those already engaged. That is how there are three kinds of righteous bodily conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dharma.

And how, householders, are there four kinds of righteous verbal conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dharma? Here someone, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech; when summoned to a court, or to a meeting, or to his relatives’ presence, or to his guild, or to the royal family’s presence, and questioned as a witness thus: “So, good man, tell what you know,” not knowing, he says, “I do not know,” or knowing, he says, “I know”; not seeing, he says, “I do not see,” or seeing, he says, “I see”; he does not in full awareness speak falsehood for his own ends, or for another’s ends, or for some trifling worldly end. Abandoning malicious speech, he abstains from malicious speech; he does not repeat elsewhere what he has heard here in order to divide [those people] from these, nor does he repeat to these people what he heard elsewhere in order to divide [these people] from those; thus he is one who reunites those who are divided, a promoter of friendship, who enjoys concord, rejoices in concord, delights in concord, a speaker of words that promote concord. Abandoning harsh speech, he abstains from harsh speech; he speaks such words as are gentle, pleasing to the ear, and loveable, as go to the heart, are courteous, desired by many, and agreeable to many. Abandoning idle chatter, he abstains from idle chatter; he speaks at the right time, speaks what is fact, speaks what is good, speaks on the Dharma and the discipline; at the right time he speaks such words as are worth recording, reasonable, moderate, and beneficial. That is how there are four kinds of righteous verbal conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dharma.

And how, householders, are there three kinds of righteous mental conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dharma? Here someone is not covetous; he does not covet the wealth and property of others thus: “Oh, may what belongs to another be mine!” His mind is without ill will, and he has intentions free from hate thus: “May these beings be free from enmity, affliction, and anxiety! May they live happily!” He has right view, undistorted vision, thus: “There is what is given and what is offered and what is sacrificed; there is fruit and result of good and bad actions; there is this world and the other world; there is mother and father; there are beings who are reborn spontaneously; there are good and virtuous ascetics and brahmins in the world who have themselves realized by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world.” That is how there are three kinds of righteous mental conduct, conduct in accordance with the Dharma. So householders, it is by reason of such righteous conduct, such conduct in accordance with the Dharma that some beings here, on the breakup of the body, after death, are reborn in a good destination, even in a heavenly world. (Ibid, pp. 158-160)

Four times a lunar month come the uposhadha or “fasting days.” These are the days of the new moon, waxing half-moon, full moon, and waning half-moon. On the new and full moon uposhadha days the monastic Sangha comes together to recite the precepts. On all four uposhadha days the monastic Sangha will expound the Dharma to the householders. During uposhadha, the householders might also observe eight precepts in order to approximate the lifestyle of the arhats, those who are awakened by following the Buddha’s teachings and are completely free of birth and death. These eight precepts consist of the five precepts (though in this case the precept against sexual misconduct becomes a precept to refrain from all sexual relations) that are given to the lay followers and an additional three that point to a life of simplicity. In the following passage the Buddha explains the eight precepts or uposhadha observance to the monks:

When, O monks, the uposhadha observance is complete in eight factors, it is of great fruit and benefit, luminous and pervasive. And how is the uposhadha observance complete in eight factors?

Here, monks, a noble disciple reflects thus: “As long as they live the arhats abandon the destruction of life, abstain from the destruction of life; with the rod and weapon laid aside, they are conscientious and merciful and dwell compassionate toward all living beings. Today I too, for this day and night, will do likewise. I will imitate the arhats in this respect, and the uposhadha observance will be fulfilled by me.” This is the first factor it possesses.

Further, he reflects: “As long as they live the arhats abandon the taking of what is not given, abstain from taking what is not given; they accept only what is given, expect only what is given, and dwell with honest hearts devoid of theft. Today, I too, for this day and night, will do likewise…” This is the second factor it possesses.

As long as they live the arhats abandon sexual relations and observe celibacy, living apart, refraining from the coarse practice of sexual intercourse. Today I too, for this day and night, will do likewise,,,” This is the third factor it possesses.

As long as they live the arhats abandon false speech, abstain from false speech; they are speakers of truth, adherents of truth, trustworthy and reliable, no deceivers of the world. Today I too, for this day and night, will do likewise…” This is the fourth factor it possesses.

As long as they live the arhats abandon wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the basis of negligence, and abstain from them. Today I too, for this day and night, will do likewise…” This is the fifth factor it possesses.

As long as they live the arhats eat only one meal a day and refrain from eating at night, outside the proper time. Today I too, for this day and night, will do likewise…” This is the sixth factor it possesses.

As long as they live the arhats abstain from dancing, singing, instrumental music, and unsuitable shows, and from adorning themselves by wearing garlands and applying scents and ointments. Today I too, for this day and night, will do likewise…” This is the seventh factor it possesses.

As long as they live the arhats abandon the use of high and luxurious beds and seats and abstain from using them; they make use of low resting places, either small beds or straw mats. Today I too, for this day and night, will do likewise. I will imitate the arhats in this respect, and the uposhadha observance will be fulfilled by me.” This is the eighth factor it possesses.

When monks, the uposhadha is complete in these eight factors, it is of great fruit and benefit, luminous and pervasive. (Ibid, pp. 174-175)

Those who become novice monks or nuns take upon themselves 10 precepts that are almost identical to the eight uposhadha precepts, though of course they are not taken just for the uposhadha but as a permanent way of life. The difference is that the seventh precept is divided into two as follows:  (7) abstain from dancing, singing, instrumental music, and unsuitable shows, and (8) from adorning themselves by wearing garlands and applying scents and ointments. The uposhadha precept to abstain from high and luxurious bed and seats thereby becomes the ninth novice precept. The tenth novice precept is to abstain from accepting gold and silver. Because monks and nuns, including novices, were to live by begging for their necessities they were not to collect money or otherwise get involved in buying or selling.

Upon full ordination, a monk or nun would take up 227 or 311 precepts respectively. That is according to the Theravadin Vinaya, other schools have different enumerations. Most of these precepts are more specific and stringent applications of the 10 novice precepts, but many are precepts governing propriety and good order within the monastic community.

The precepts and the development of morality is a very fundamental part of the Buddhist path. The precepts lay the groundwork for the further mental and emotional development that will eventually lead to liberation. In taking up the precepts, the follower of the Buddha consciously affirms the most basic values that all people seem to know instinctively. Through the development of basic morality, we are protected from all manner of evil; whether the inner torment of a guilty conscience, the social and legal consequences of wrongdoing, or a future rebirth in unfortunate circumstances. Taking the precepts is also a sign of determination and sincerity. It shows that we are no longer willing to compromise our integrity for worldly gain, because we have aspired to the highest goal. The precepts also cause us to be more mindful of our daily activities; they provide a yardstick by which we can improve our character in every facet of life through exploring their implications in everyday situations.

The precepts are not just negative injunctions either; each of the precepts has a positive value as well. Those who truly follow the precepts against killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and taking intoxicants as presented in the passage quoted above will naturally develop the qualities of humility, love, compassion, generosity and honesty. Such people will not harm themselves or others; and instead, will seek to protect all beings. In being guided by the precepts, we can cultivate a character that is not only blameless, but also pure and worthy of respect.

Morality alone, however, does not bring about liberation. Morality may be the indispensable groundwork, but if the cultivation of the mind does not follow, then it becomes a spiritual dead-end. A morality that is not supported by the practice of concentration and insight can easily wither away or degenerate into puritanical self-righteousness. The upholding of the precepts, therefore, must be accompanied by right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

The faculty and power of energy is the same as right effort of the eightfold path of which the four right efforts is a further explanation. Energy also appears as one of the seven factors of enlightenment and one of the four ways to power. The fact that energy or right effort under its different aspects accounts for nine of the thirty-seven elements of enlightenment shows how vitally important it is in Buddhist training.

Right effort means avoiding unwholesome mental states that have not arisen, overcoming unwholesome mental states that have already arisen, developing wholesome mental states that have not yet arisen, and maintaining those wholesome mental states that have arisen. In this way, we can uphold the precepts and develop those qualities that are conducive to mindfulness and concentration, such as the seven factors of enlightenment, which will be covered under mindfulness.

In Buddhist mental cultivation, we refrain from unwholesome mental states by consciously guarding the senses. In other words, we should not indiscriminately allow external phenomena to disturb our minds or guide our actions. Guarding the senses means making the effort to critique our environment and reflect before acting impulsively or allowing the mind to get entangled in unhealthy thoughts or desires. Guarding the senses also means staying away from environments and activities that we know are unhealthy and keeping to healthy and uplifting environments and activities, away from temptation and other dangers.

Overcoming already arisen unwholesome thoughts involves the use of one of five methods taught by the Buddha in the Vitakkasanthana (Removal of Distracting Thoughts) Sutta of the Middle Length Discourses (Ibid, pp. 275 – 278). The first is to replace the unwholesome thoughts with wholesome ones, such as the three jewels. If we cannot wrest the mind away from the unwholesome thoughts, or the wholesome thoughts are not powerful enough, then we can instead contemplate the negative consequences that will inevitably follow if we continue to dwell on or act upon the unwholesome thoughts. If this does not work, then we are urged to simply ignore them, and find something to do which will engage all of our attention. If the thoughts are impossible to ignore and there is no suitable task or distraction at hand, then we should objectify and analyze the thoughts until they lose their urgency and we have discovered their causes and conditions. If even this does not work, then we are advised to remember our spiritual resolve and wait them out until they eventually disperse on their own. By following some or all of these five methods, we should be able to overcome evil unwholesome states of mind that have already arisen.

The development and maintaining of wholesome states of mind involves the practice of right mindfulness and right concentration. So, it is to the practice of mental cultivation through mindfulness and concentration, as well as to the upholding of the precepts, that we must expend our efforts.

Right mindfulness is the path that includes the faculty of mindfulness and the power of mindfulness as well as the four foundations of mindfulness, which in turn lead to the seven factors of enlightenment of which mindfulness is the first factor. This repetition underscores the importance of mindfulness to Buddhist practice. It is due to right mindfulness that Buddhist mental cultivation can be distinguished from other forms of meditation. Right mindfulness leads directly to right concentration. On the basis of mindfulness comes the wise attention that opens up into true insight and liberation.

The four foundations of mindfulness constitute the path of right mindfulness, and they are: the contemplation of the body, feelings, mind, and mental objects. Each of these four embraces a multitude of phenomena towards which one’s bare attention is to be directed. What this means is that we must simply pay attention to these phenomena just as they are, without trying to judge them or analyze them or use them as springboards for fantasizing or scheming. We should simply take notice of them, and when the mind begins to wander into all kinds of extraneous considerations, such as dwelling on the past or projecting into the future, we just return to the phenomena at hand; thereby cultivating bare attention and abandoning hopes, fears, regrets, brooding, speculation and other forms of dwelling on the past or future or anything other than what is right at hand. This is to be done at all times, so that one is truly dealing with the realities of the present moment instead of with the projections of the mind. In fact, the Buddha taught the proper attitude of mindfulness in the following verse:

Let not a person revive the past

Or on the future build his hopes;

For the past has been left behind

And the future has not been reached.

Instead with insight let him see

Each presently arisen state;

Let him know that and be sure of it,

Invincibly, unshakably.

Today the effort must be made;

Tomorrow Death may come, who knows?

No bargain with Mortality

Can keep him and his hordes away,

But one who dwells thus ardently,

Relentlessly, by day, by night -

It is he, the Peaceful Sage has said,

Who has one fortunate attachment.

(Middle Length Discourse, p. 1039)

The practice of mindfulness does not mean, however, that we restrict our attention only to ourselves. The Buddha’s instructions clearly state that we should contemplate the body, feelings, mind, and mental objects of ourselves or others or both. This indicates that we should be aware of the activities and phenomena around us, and how they relate to our own experience. In addition, as we gain a clearer understanding of ourselves, we can begin to have a better understanding of others. Mindfulness should not lead to narcissism but to clear awareness.

In addition, we should be mindful without fixating upon what is observed. We should simply watch the arising and vanishing of phenomena and their interactions without getting unduly caught up in it. In sitting meditation we should just sit and observe with pure awareness. In daily life, we should observe and act with care and attentiveness.

The contemplation of the body includes mindfulness of the breath, which holds the pride of place among the various practices described by the Buddha due to its capacity to embrace the other three types of contemplation as well as leading through all the various states of concentration and ultimately to liberation. It is also the practice that is recommended for sitting mediation in a quiet place apart from our daily activities for set periods of time. Here is what the Buddha taught regarding mindfulness of the breath:

Monks, when mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated, it is of great fruit and great benefit. When mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated, it fulfills the four foundations of mindfulness. When the four foundations of mindfulness are developed and cultivated, they fulfill the seven enlightenment factors. When the seven enlightenment factors are developed and cultivated, they fulfill true knowledge and deliverance.

And how, monks, is mindfulness of breathing developed and cultivated, so that it is of great fruit and great benefit?

Here a monk, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.

Breathing in long, he understands: “I breathe in long”; or breathing out long, he understands: “I breathe out long.” Breathing in short, he understands: “I breathe in short”; or breathing out short, he understands: “I breathe out short.” He trains thus: “I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body [of breathe]“; he trains thus: “I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body [of breathe].” He trains thus: “I shall breathe in tranquilizing the bodily formation”; he trains thus: “I shall breathe out tranquilizing the bodily formation.” (Middle Length Discourse, pp. 943-944)

This is best practiced in the morning before leaving our homes and at night before going to bed. Through beginning and ending each day with a set period of mindfulness, a rhythm and a pattern of mindfulness is set up which eventually begins to permeate the rest of the day as well. This bare attention that is discovered and developed through periods of stillness and quiet will soon take note of the four basic postures of walking, standing, sitting and lying down. Eventually, all of ones activities throughout the day will become the subjects of mindfulness, or bare attention. In time, we will no longer act unconsciously, as if on an automatic pilot, but with clear comprehension. As the Buddha says:

Again, monks, a monk is one who acts with clear comprehension when going forward or returning; who acts with clear comprehension when looking ahead and looking away; who acts with clear comprehension when bending and stretching his limbs; who acts with clear comprehension when wearing his robes and carrying his outer robe and bowl; who acts with clear comprehension when eating, drinking, chewing, and tasting; who acts with clear comprehension when defecating and urinating; who acts with clear comprehension when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent. (In the Buddha’s Words, p. 283)

The ability to maintain clear comprehension throughout our life is a vital skill that involves the ability to pause and take stock of each moment. Clear comprehension includes four different areas of awareness that should be applied to every moment. The first is the clear comprehension of the domain of experiencing in order to recognize how and in what ways we are being affected by any given situation. The next step is to clearly comprehend the purpose of any given action in order to ascertain the goals and intentions behind them. Next, we should clearly comprehend the suitability of any action given the circumstances that we find ourselves in. Finally, there is the clear comprehension of non-delusion or reality. This means that we will simply see each situation for what it is without any bias or mental projections. In doing this, we can bring mindfulness and wisdom into every part of our lives.

From mindfulness of bodily activity we can go on to the basic constituents of our physical being. Everything from the details of our anatomy to the four elements of earth, air, fire and water (or matter, movement, heat, and liquid) are recollected as the basic facts of existence. This recognition of the components of life then leads to the recognition of their eventual dissolution through contemplating the gradual decomposition of human remains. In this way, the mindfulness of the body covers all the realities of bodily existence.

From mindfulness of the body, its activities, constituents and dissolution, we then begin to observe feelings with the same non-judgmental clear awareness. We become aware of all the pleasant, painful, and neutral feelings that occur in each moment and whether they are of a sensual or non-sensual nature. In meditation, this means that we stay with the breath and simply takes note of feelings as they arise, and then return to the state of watchfulness by centering on the breath.

The next step is to become aware of our general state of mind. Unlike feelings, these mental states are overall predispositions within the mind. In other words, we take note of what the mind tends to dwell on or how it tends to interpret or judge different phenomena. The mental states also include the mind’s clarity, adaptability and concentration. So, in becoming mindful of the mind itself, we watch for any greed, hatred, or delusion within the mind. We watch for any mental laziness, prejudices, or unfounded opinions. We take note of any distraction, anxiety or weariness. On the positive side, we also watch for the mind that is free from these things, the mind that is clear, concentrated and has developed pure awareness.

Finally, we become mindful of all the myriad phenomena that can be observed and contemplated by the mind. This includes the five hindrances that prevent us from concentrating the mind and attaining insight, these are: sensual desire, ill will, dullness/drowsiness, restlessness/remorse, and doubt. In regard to these, one observes whether they are present or not, how they arise, how they are abandoned and how they are prevented from arising in the future.

The arising and disappearance of the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness are also included in the mindfulness of phenomena.

The six senses and their objects are likewise included, namely: eyes and forms, ears and sounds, nose and odors, tongue and flavors, body and tangibles and the mind and mental objects. We should also contemplate the arising of attachments dependent upon the senses and how these attachments can be abandoned and future attachments prevented from arising.

Proceeding from the mindfulness of phenomena are the seven factors of awkening that lead directly to awakening. The first factor is mindfulness itself, developed through the practice outlined above. Through mindfulness we gain an impartial awareness of the myriad physical and mental phenomena that constitutes our daily life and can begin to investigate these phenomena just as they are without superimposing any subjective considerations. This is the development of the investigation-of-states enlightenment factor. This is followed by the development of tireless energy that is freed when we impartially observe and investigate phenomena instead of wasting our energy and attention on an endless treadmill of anxiety and desire. The energy awakening factor is then followed by that of rapture, the joy we feel when all of that energy is released and we are freed from the bonds of worldly anxieties and cares. The rapture awakening factor then leads to the state of tranquility, where we finally attained peace. The tranquility awakening factor then leads to the awakening factor of concentration. At this point, it can be seen how the practice of right mindfulness leads to the development of the seven factors of awakening, which in turn leads to right concentration. Concentration, in turn, leads to the last awakening factor of equanimity. Once we have developed equanimity we are no longer bound by worldly concerns or any other kinds of obsessions, fixations, or bias. In this way, we attain nirvana, the extinction of the fire of ignorant craving which is the source of suffering.

Once we are free of ignorant craving and have a clear awareness and understanding of the true nature of phenomena we can then directly perceive the four noble truths firsthand. The four noble truths themselves become the objects of mindfulness, no longer as a mere theory or set of propositions, but as our own experience.

Right concentration, the last part of the eightfold path, consists of the faculty of concentration and the power of concentration. Concentration, as we have just seen, is also one of the seven factors of awakening developed through the practice of right mindfulness.

And what, monks, is right concentration? Here, monks, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a monk enters and dwells in the first dhyana, which is with thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. With the subsiding of thoughts and examination, he enters and dwells in the second dhyana, which has internal confidence and unification of mind, is without thought and examination, and has rapture and happiness born of concentration. With the fading away as well of rapture, he dwells equanimous and, mindful and clearly comprehending, he experiences happiness with the body; he enters and dwells in the third dhyana of which the noble ones declare: “He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily.” With the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous passing away of joy and dejection, he enters and dwells in the fourth dhyana, which is neither painful nor pleasant and includes purification of mindfulness by equanimity. This is called right concentration. (Ibid, p. 240)

Right mindfulness and right concentration overlap and reinforce one another. The practice of mindfulness allows us to become aware of and overcome the five hindrances of sensual desire, ill will, dullness/drowsiness, restlessness/remorse, and doubt. This corresponds to the relinquishing of sense desires and unwholesome mental states which precedes one’s entry into the first dhyana or state of absorption. The four dhyanas then describe the deepening of ones concentration until only pure equanimity and mindfulness remain. In many ways the succession of the four dhyanas correspond to the development of the seven factors of awakening.

By themselves, these dhyana states lead to temporary freedom from life’s troubles. They can also lead to rebirth in the four heavens of the realm of form. They may also lead to further and more refined states of absorption which take as their basis the realms of space, consciousness, nothingness, and the realm of neither perception nor yet non-perception. These four formless trances also provide temporary relief and the possibility of rebirth into the formless heavens. However, none of these states of consciousness alone provide the answer to the problem of birth and death.

Alternatively, the dhyanas make it possible to follow the four ways to power: resolution, energy, mind, and investigation. The four ways to power refer to the concentration of our resolve, energy, mental power, and investigative ability to accomplish a goal. Through concentration and the development of these four ways to power it is said that we can even attain various miraculous powers, including physical transformations (such as multiplying one’s body, walking on water, flying through the air), clairaudience, mind reading, recollecting past lives, clairaudience and the destruction of the defilements. All but the last of these miraculous powers are relegated to the mundane world of birth and death; though they might facilitate our practice through increasing the scope of our awareness and ability to render compassionate help to others. The last power, the destruction of the defilements, is itself the goal of Buddhist practice. However, its attainment does not require the development of the other miraculous powers.

In the final analysis, the true purpose of right concentration in Buddhism is not to attain altered states of consciousness or to secure a place in heaven or even to attain miraculous power. The true purpose is to pave the way for insight into the true nature of form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness in order to realize the four noble truths for oneself and attain nirvana. That is why Buddhist meditation practice is called the practice of concentration and insight.

After mindfulness and concentration have led to genuine insight, we come to the faculty of wisdom and the power of wisdom. At this point, we no longer need to go by faith or borrowed wisdom. We see the truth for ourselves. Once all the thirty-seven requisites of awakening have been followed, we can successively enter the four classes of holiness. These four classes are referred to as “paths” when one first enters such a state and “fruits” when one realizes the benefits from the path attained. Specifically, the benefits of the four classes refers to our progressive liberation from the ten fetters which keep us trapped in the ordinary life of birth and death and all the suffering, fear and anxiety which makes up that life.

The first class is that of the stream-enterer who is liberated from the first three of the ten fetters. The first fetter is identity view. This is the notion that there is a substantial, autonomous, unchanging, and independent self that must be protected and appeased. The next fetter is debilitating doubt in regard to the three jewels of Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. This does not refer to a healthy sense of doubt that can motivate us to find out the truth for ourselves; rather, it refers to lack of trust, either in oneself or in the three jewels, which can prevent one from following the path at all. Finally, there is the fetter of the wrong grasp of rules and observances. This refers to the belief that rules or ritual observances of themselves can bring about salvation or ensure good fortune or safeguard against misfortune. This kind of superstition engenders a false security and a dependency which blocks the way to following the true path to liberation as taught by the Buddha. It should be noted that these three fetters primarily deal with beliefs and opinions that prevent one from following the Dharma. These three fetters keep one preoccupied with one’s own welfare and the maintenance of the status quo, which then becomes a distrust of the three jewels. The stream-enterer is firmly convinced that only by trusting the three jewels and taking up the five precepts (at least) can they escape from the constant bondage of self-concern and false security and thereby attain liberation. The stream-enterer has entered the stream of the true teaching, follow the precepts perfectly and, at most, will only undergo seven more rebirths as a human or heavenly being in the realm of desire before realizing nirvana.

The second class is that of the once-returner. The once-returner has partially overcome the fetters of sensual desire and ill will. Such feelings may still occur, but they no longer hold sway over them. Not only are the once-returner’s ideas and behavior in accord with the Dharma, even his emotional life has been tamed. As the name indicates, the once-returner will only undergo one more rebirth as a human or heavenly being in the realm of desire before achieving nirvana.

The third class is that of the non-returner. The non-returner is completely liberated from the fetters of sensual craving and ill will. These negative emotions no longer arise at all. For the non-returner, nirvana will be attained either within their present lifetime or after being reborn in the pure abodes among the heavens in the realm of form.

The final class of holiness is that of the arhat. The arhat is one who has overcome even the more subtle forms of clinging that are the last five of the ten fetters. The sixth fetter is the desire for a form realm existence. This is the notion of a continued existence in a spiritual body in a refined heavenly existence. The seventh fetter is the desire for a formless realm existence. This is the notion of a continued existence as a pure thought form. Both of these are simply more subtle cases of a desire to immortalize an unchanging autonomous self and show a preoccupation with continued existence. It is still self-attachment, though in a much more refined and sophisticated form. The eighth fetter is conceit, which refers to pride in one’s accomplishments on the path. Though not necessarily craving, this fetter still betrays a lingering self-preoccupation. The ninth fetter is restlessness. Restlessness is the residual need to accomplish something and make one’s mark upon the world. It is the habitual need to assert a self in the midst of the world’s demands and temptations. Finally, there is the fetter of ignorance. This is the fetter that obscures the selfless true nature of reality that is revealed by the Dharma. It is not the mere intellectual ignorance or delusion that is broken through by the stream-enterer. This is the root ignorance that views the self as a substantial reality and gives rise to all the habits, emotions and ideas that stem from the inability to come to terms with the selfless ungraspable nature of reality. The arhat has seen through all this, and has liberated himself from all passions, fixations and false views. The arhat is one who has achieved the freedom of nirvana.

Sources

Bodhi, Bhikkhu, ed. In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2005.

Bodhi, Bhikkhu, trans. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000.

Carter, John Ross and Palihawadana, Mahinda, trans. The Dhammapada. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Fryba, Mirko. The Art of Happiness: Teachings of Buddhist Psychology. Boston: Shambhala, 1989.

Nanamoli, Bhikkhu and Bodhi, Bhikkhu, trans. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Botson: Wisdom Publications, 1995.

Walshe, Maurice, trans. The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995.