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The Seven Factors of Enlightenment

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The Seven Factors of Enlightenment are seven qualities that both lead to enlightenment and also describe enlightenment. The Buddha referred to these factors in several of his sermons recorded in the Pali Tipitika. The factors are called satta bojjhanga in Pali and sapta bodhyanga in Sanskrit.

The factors are said to be particularly useful as antidotes to the Five Hindrances -- sensual desire, ill will, sloth, restlessness, and uncertainty.

1. Mindfulness

Right Mindfulness is the seventh part of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, and it is essential to Buddhist practice. Mindfulness is a whole-body-and-mind awareness of the present moment. To be mindful is to be fully present, not lost in daydreams, anticipation, indulgences, or worry.

Mindfulness also means releasing habits of mind that maintain the illusion of a separate self. Mindfulness does not judge between likes and dislikes. Mindfulness means dropping conceptualizations -- when being mindful of breath, for example, it is just breath, not "my" breath.

2. Investigation

The second factor is keen investigation into the nature of reality. In some schools of Buddhism, this keen investigation is analytical. The Pali term for this second factor is dhamma vicaya, which means to investigate the dhamma or dharma.

The word dharma has many uses in Buddhism. It's broadest meaning is something like "natural law," but it more often refers to the teaching of the Buddha. It also can refer to the nature of existence or to phenomena as manifestations of reality.

So this investigation of dharma is both an investigation into the Buddha's doctrines as well as into the nature of existence. The Buddha taught his disciples to not accept what he said on blind faith, but instead to investigate his teaching to realize the truth of them for themselves.

3. Energy

The Sanskrit word for energy is virya (or viriya in Pali), which also is translated as "zeal" and "enthusiastic effort." The word virya originated from vira, which in ancient Indo-Iranian language means "hero." Virya, then, retains a connotation of heroic effort and a warrior's determined zeal.

The Theravadin scholar Piyadassi Thera said that when the prince who would become the Buddha began his quest for enlightenment, he took as his motto ma nivatta, abhikkhama -- "Falter not; advance." The quest for enlightenment requires tireless strength and courage.

4. Happiness

Of course, we all want to be happy. But what do we mean by "happy"? The spiritual path often begins when we deeply realize that getting what we want doesn't make us happy, or at least not happy for very long. What will make us happy?

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama said, "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions." It's what we do, not what we get, that grows happiness.

It is a basic Buddhist teaching that the craving for things we think are outside ourselves binds us to suffering. When we see this for ourselves, we can begin to let go of craving and find happiness. Read More: The Four Noble Truths; Renunciation

5. Tranquility

The fifth factor is calmness or tranquility of body and consciousness. While the previous factor is a more joyous happiness, this factor is more like the contentment of one who has finished his work and is resting.

Like happiness, tranquility cannot be forced or contrived. It arises naturally from the other factors.

6. Concentration

Like mindfulness, Right Concentration also is part of the Eightfold Path. How do mindfulness and concentration differ? Very basically, mindfulness is a whole-body-and-mind awareness, usually with some frame of reference -- body, feelings, or mind. Concentration is focusing all of one's mental faculties onto one physical or mental object and practicing the Four Absorptions, also called the Four Dhyanas (Sanskrit) or Four Jhanas (Pali).

Another word associated with Buddhist concentration is samadhi. The late John Daido Loori Roshi, a Soto Zen teacher, said, "Samadhi is a state of consciousness that lies beyond waking, dreaming, or deep sleep. It's a slowing down of our mental activity through single-pointed concentration."

In deepest samadhi, all sense of "self" disappears, and subject and object are completely absorbed into each other.

7. Equanimity

Equanimity in the Buddhist sense is a balance between the extremes of aversion and desire. In other words, it is not being pulled this way and that by what you like and dislike.

Theravadin monk and scholar Bhikkhu Bodhi said that equanimity is "evenness of mind, unshakeable freedom of mind, a state of inner equipoise that cannot be upset by gain and loss, honor and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Upekkha is freedom from all points of self-reference; it is indifference only to the demands of the ego-self with its craving for pleasure and position, not to the well-being of one's fellow human beings."

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