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Seven Factors of Enlightenment
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Seven Factors of Enlightenment (39 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
August 4, 2013 - Dallas, Texas

We've been talking about the seven chakras for the last few weeks, and I will continue to give teachings that relate somehow to one or all of these energy centers. I would like to start off by talking about the seven factors of enlightenment that Buddha gave, factors that generate the kind of energy necessary for awakening.

First is the energy of mindfulness, which is at the foundation of our practice. And I will just list them all. Second is investigation of the dharma. The third is energy. And the fourth is blissful joy. The fifth is tranquility. The sixth is Samadhi, concentration. And the seventh is upeksha, equanimity, or letting go.

Now, sometimes the way this teaching is expressed is to think of mindfulness as the central balancing factor giving balance to the more energetic factors, the investigation of dharma, energy, joy, and then the more calming factors, tranquility, concentration, equanimity. What mindfulness does is it helps us to deeply be aware of which factor is arising in us. So mindfulness has to always be there because mindfulness means awareness. The mindfulness just is a very aware, all-inclusive quality, and it helps us to know when we need a little bit more energizing factors and when we need more common factors to help keep our practice balanced. And you know, if you want, you can even think of them corresponding somewhat to the seven chakras. It doesn't quite, but you can think of it sort of corresponding if it helps you to remember them in this order.

So I would like to talk first about mindfulness and then talk a little about the other ones, and if you have questions about any of these, please feel free to raise your hand and ask about it. But first, mindfulness has two aspects, which we have shared before. Mindfulness means simply awareness, and so there is an aspect of mindfulness which is to be able to be aware, to allow ourselves to be more and more aware, because most of the time our awareness is very small and we're really only focusing or concentrating on whatever we kind of want to be aware of.

But there is also a slightly more active aspect of mindfulness and awareness, which is that we want to be aware of how within our minds on that there is this part of us that is one of threethings usually, which is to when you are aware of things, you start wanting to cling to those things that seem to bring pleasure. Or you seem to want to avoid or push away those things which bring the opposite of pleasure, unpleasant experiences. And then there is a tendency of just completely not wanting to be aware at all, just ignoring that which is neither pleasurable nor unpleasant, so things that are neutral to us that we do not really care about, that we are indifferent to. The mindfulness helps us to be aware of it and also to be actively aware of how our mind as these threethings and to let go of doing that, it just somehow just be aware that is what is happening, but try to step back and come back to just conclusive awareness. So not grabbing onto, not pushing away, and not completely ignoring, but just being present.

So, most of us when we come to the meditation center, we start off trying to learn about meditation and mindfulness and all of that, and that is great. But if you're just sitting there meditating and that is all you are doing is only focusing on your breath, that is wonderful, and we have to keep doing that for the rest of our life because we have very, very powerful monkey minds. So it is important to always come back to mindfulness, even if you think you are advanced. You never ever graduate from mindfulness. Mindfulness is always going to be a part of our practice. So stay mindful of the present moment, mindful of the breath, all of that, but be sure that you are continuing to progress on your path of practice as well.

That is why it is important that after we have established ourselves in mindfulness, after a few days, weeks, months, and maybe years, that we also begin to practice not only what is called samatha but also Vipassana, which corresponds to the second factor. In other words, it is looking deeply, truly investigating reality, investigating the truth, investigating the way things actually operate in our minds and in the world. And so we want to bring an inquisitiveness to our practice as well.

And some of the things that we want to investigate primarily are the Noble Truths that the Buddha taught. Where is it that I am experiencing suffering, and can I see what are the causes of that suffering? And do I really believe that there is a possibility of transforming that suffering? And am I following the path, the correct path that helps me to transform that suffering, or am I following a different kind of path that adds to that suffering? So really deeply investigating these Noble Truths is important, and also to investigate the reality of impermanence and also how we tend to cling to our self-identity and how that sometimes is actually delusional for us. So it is important to investigate the nature of suffering and the nature of impermanence and the nature of the self. So this is very important. Yes?

Audience Member: So I hear this word, the dharma, a lot. Is there a set of written documents the way that there is with the Bible, or what is it?

ChiSing: Yes. The word dharma has many levels of meaning. You can think of the most general meaning of dharma as truth, and in Zen we have a teaching that truth is beyond words, the truth of existence, the truth of reality, the truth of true nature. So even though the truth can be expressed in words and written documents and teachings, ultimately truth transcends all of that. So especially in Zen, we try to find what is beneficial and useful in written teachings and spoken teachings but also know that truth cannot be confined to words. What happens is many times people then tend to idolize books and words, and that causes religious wars throughout history. So we want to be careful that we want to use words and use writings and teachings to benefit us but not to cling to them because truth is always arising each moment fresh and new and our experience. So we always have to keep open to that.

Another way the word dharma is used is to mean your path, and I kind of used the questions—what is mine to love? What is mine to learn? What is mine to live?—in that sense of dharma. What is your life path in this lifetime? What is it that you are here for? That is very important, and the Hindus use that word in that way sometimes. What is your dharma? What is your mission in life?

And then another way that the word dharma is used of course is that many times it means the Buddha's teachings or the many writings that have come to us through the centuries from the Buddha and other Buddhist teachers. But then one last meaning of dharma, basically can be translated as phenomenon. In other words, everything is a dharma. Everything is an expression of reality, an expression of the true nature, so everything is a dharma. So every phenomenon is a dharma, which is very interesting because if you translate dharma as phenomenon and you realize that dharma also relates the words truth and the teachings and the path of enlightenment and the Buddha's wisdom, then that is very interesting because then that means that maybe it is a hint that you can find truth in each experience, in everything around us and within us. Truth is everywhere. So we want to investigate the truth of the way things are.

And that, for instance, in China, the use of the word Tao to express that, the way. The way of reality as it is. Dharma, Tao. The Jews use the word Torah, the law, but not just meaning the Commandments, but also the law of the way things work, the principles of reality, divine principles of the universe. And later on the Christians used the word logos to express the word. It is not really just about the written words, but the word is a living mind, a universal mind of wisdom that was incarnate, according to the Christians, and a human being named Jesus, but also is incarnate in all of us when we awaken to the same truth of that universal wisdom. And then of course, there are many other words like some of the Gnostics use the word Sophia, wisdom, to express the same idea of universal truth.

So we want to invetigate. We wanted not just investigate, but have an investigative attitude, an inquisitive attitude. And there are actually spiritual practices called inquiry, and there are some ancient practices that relate to inquiry, such as asking yourself the question, who am I? Or what is this? Or just having that inquisitive attitude in the practice. Now remember, though, investigation of the dharma does not mean analytical left brain thinking only. It can sometimes include that if it is appropriate, but most of the time it is more about the whole mind approach where you are just sitting with it, breathing with reality as it is, and just allowing the wisdom to arise without trying to make it happen.

It is like just being with a plant that you have planted and just being with it, watering it, taking care of it, and just allowing it to create the first leaves, allowing it to make the first flower bud, allowing it to blossom, etc. Allowing it to make a fruit or whatever it is. So we don't squeeze it out of the plant. And you might want to know the answer to something, but that is not the way the universe operates. So do not try to squeeze the answers out of your practice, but just practice and gently allow, but with an inquisitiveness, an investigativeness, and opening of your heart to the truth.

Now, as we progress on our path, we have mindfulness as foundation, and you start to open to insight in the practice. Many times we start to realize oh, we need a little more energy in the practice. Maybe we were all excited about learning mindfulness, and then we started to learn some insights, but then maybe after a few months our motivation, our energy started to dwindle, and that is why we also need to cultivate our energy. There is a Buddhist word, merit, which is punya, and that is spiritual energy through cultivating practices that cause positive energy—you know, meditating and supporting the community, spiritual community, such as this one, giving money and giving food to the monks, chanting, bowing, reciting the teachings out loud. That is a nice practice because many times you can read a teaching silently, but when you actually say it out loud, there is some energy it creates, a little bit extra energy. I've noticed that, and if you try it out, maybe you will notice that also. There is extra energy when you actually say it out loud, an extra vibration of that support.

So, it is important for us to generate energy in our practice. Otherwise we lose the oomph, and so many other things can just distract us so easily, or things come up in life where they become way more important than our practice, but if we have energy, we will be more likely to stay on the path and not let these other things detract from our past.

Now, it is all good to have energy and everything, but sometimes we try too hard. It is like I go to Zen centers where people are like really trying to get enlightened. But it is important to also cultivate the factor of joy in our practice. And I love Thich Nhat Hanh because Thich Nhat Hanh always reminds us of this, in every retreat, to cultivate joy, allowed joy. And again, you don't have to squeeze joy out of your practice, okay?

By the way, in Buddhism, there are many different words for joy. There are two primary words that we use. One is the word mudita, which means sympathetic joy. In other words, it is being happy when someone else is happy, and you just feel the happiness with them. When they have some good fortune happen, you just feel like you are so happy with them. And that is sympathetic joy. That is a very wonderful kind of joy. But the joy here is actually another word, pitti, which is much more of a rapturous, blissful joy. And so it is so important. I am so happy to find in the Buddha's teachings a place for blissful, rapturous joy. You know? It doesn't just belong to the yogis or other traditions. It also is a part of Buddhism, even though sometimes maybe some who this might be very somber, and you don't know that is part of the path. But it really is. It is right here in the seven factors of enlightenment. Joy is a part of our path. I am so happy to know that, that it is there.

So as we are practicing mindfulness, investigation of dharma, gaining insight, and cultivating merit, creating that spiritual energy, joy just arises naturally, and you don't have to make it happen. Just allow your heart to open to it. And there is a secret to joy. A lot of times, people try to do this more directive cultivation, and you know, sometimes we do need a little bit of a jumpstart, a more directed cultivation of things. But most of the time the best way to cultivate something is not the direct of way, but the allowing way, allowing. And so I have found a secret to cultivating joy is to not try to make myself feel joy, but rather to let go into peace. It is very interesting.

So in other words, instead of trying to go to something that is going to make me go, aaah! Or go to a concert or a baseball game or something or whatever—you know, there are all kinds of things that can generate enlightened, cool, manic energy. But have you ever noticed that afterwards it is like you kind of come down? But see, that this kind of joy does not have a crash because it is not directed cultivation. It is an allowing, like a blossoming, so it comes from peace actually. So it is interesting. At retreats, people have told me that they don't try to be joyful, but by practicing letting go and practicing peace, they felt joy. They felt happiness. They felt their heart open.

So, I hope that you continue on the path of your practice because if you have not experienced this rapturous, blissful joy blossoming in your experience, you will if you just stay on the path. And it does not always happen every day. It might only happen once every few months or once every few years, but because of equanimity and not being attached, you're able to just allow joy, not try to make it happen, but just allow that joy to arise. Okay. So these three energies are the more energizing factors, and now we're going to talk about the more common factors.

The fifth factor is tranquility, peacefulness, and of course, as you practice mindfulness and insight and cultivating positive energy, your heart fills with joy. But it is not just about joy. See, a lot of people make the mistake of stopping when they experience this kind of bliss, and then they think that is nirvana or that is it. I don't need anything else. This was good enough for me. But then you are actually cutting short the path of enlightenment and awakening if you are stuck on the bliss. But be careful not to be stuck on the bliss because the bliss just helps to motivate you to stay on the path, but not to stop there. It's there because if you didn't have it, you would not continue on the path. Who would want to continue on the path without some joy? So the joy is there just to help encourage us. But that joy needs to open us up to a deeper happiness.

See, there are two kinds of happiness. There is joyful happiness, and there is peaceful happiness. And the joy is that joyful happiness that arises, but it hopefully can help us go to a deeper, more mature kind of happiness that doesn't require bliss, but you can just rest in that contentment, that tranquility, that peace of just allowing. So you'll begin to see how your mind and your heart and your body start to be affected by this tranquility. And people around you, dogs, cats will notice it. Children will notice it. There is a more peaceful energy around you. And it is not maybe all the time, but you start seeing more and more of it. So there is a tranquility that can happen in our practice.

And so as we keep practicing, hopefully our Samadhi concentration energy is increasing over time. You are able to be more and more deeply present in each moment, rather than constantly ADHD all the time. Your monkey mind is now calming down to the point where you are able to experience states of deep concentration for longer and longer in more frequent periods in your life. And again, don't make a mistake to think that just because you have an experience of deep concentration and Samadhi, that that is the end of the path.

And by the way, just for those who are from a more yogic perspective, remember that sometimes one word in one tradition is used differently than the same word in another tradition, and you cannot really compare sometimes unless you have this understanding. For example, in the yogic path, the word that is used to describe enlightenment and ultimate nirvana and oneness is Samadhi, and there are different levels of Samadhi, but in Buddhism we don't use that word in that same way. So we have different meaning. So what they call somebody, we might call something else, and what we call enlightenment or nirvana and all that—they are trying to use the word Samadhi also point to that. So just be aware that people in different traditions use words differently, but what is more important is which word are they using to point the same thing that you are trying to point to. And rather than having arguments about the words, it is better to experience what the words are pointing to.

But in the Buddhist path, we don't want to stop even in Samadhi or concentration because even that we have to let go of. Even the highest state of consciousness, we have to let go of, and that is why we have the seventh factor of enlightenment that completes the path of enlightenment, deep equanimity, letting go. So whatever spiritual experiences you have, whatever stage of consciousness you may attain, you also have to let that go. And you know, it's helpful to have a strong desire for enlightenment to keep you motivated, but at the end, even that desire has to be let go of. Even that can block you. So the very end, everything has to be like go of. You have to let go of your idea of what enlightenment looks like. You have to let go of your pride and arrogance in your spiritual attainment. You have to let go of what you think you know. So this deep letting go quality, equanimity, upeksha, it is very, very important.

So all of these qualities are important on the path, and of course they are all occurring at different levels at different times in your life. It is not just a linear path because we are practicing mindfulness through all of this. And as we are practicing, we're just being mindful, is there the energy of investigativeness right now in the past right now? Is there energy? Is the joy? Is there peace? Is there concentration? Is there letting go? Awareness is important because it helps you to know, ah, right now, joy is arising. To be able to be with that without clinging to it, you see. Or the opposite, ah, joy is not arising. But just to be with it, be with it as it is. It is very important.

So are there any questions on this?

Audience Member: ChiSing, I guess for me, I have kind of a paradox with mindfulness and being aware. I would say the more I am aware, you become more aware of injustice, whether in politics or in religion or in the workplace or wherever, and it just seems like the more you are aware of injustice and the more you want to fight against it, well, that creates conflicts, and there does not seem to be too much joy in fighting injustice. It just seems like for me, thinking about the environment or whatever, it seems like you're always in a state of conflict, and it can even fester and be pretty rancid.

ChiSing: Mm-hmm. Well, again, there are many, many levels and depths of mindfulness. So in our journeys, it is always like a mixture of different things. I mean, all of us have a different path. There are what? Forty people in the room. They're going to be 40 different ways people do this path, right?

Audience Member: I guess I'm wondering how can you fight injustice and be happy about it.

Audience Member: You know, Thich Nhat Hanh, when we went to Magnolia Grove and went on retreat with him, he talked to us specifically about that. He even answered some questions from people in the audience. There was a young girl who was talking about dealing with conflict among her friends, and he talked to us about peace missions that he goes on where he brings Arabs and Israelis together, and what I experienced from his words and just his presence was he is so—even though he has a lot of those same judgments about the way we are treating the environment is not right, his attitude about it was all love, even dealing with people who were ready to be hateful to each other in his presence. He still was at a level above that where he had acceptance for all of it. So, I am not there. It gets to me when—

Audience Member: Yeah. I guess I am still not there.

Audience Member: Yeah. It is the interconnectedness and equanimity.

ChiSing: Aaron?

Audience Member: I see it is like there are always storms going on, and I've said this before, but I was in an airplane one time and we were flying through the storm, and the plane was shaking, and I was like oh my gosh. How are we going to make it through this? And the pilot pulled up and went right above the clouds, and the sky above was really, really beautiful. Right below me was still a storm going on, but now I could see it from a different point of view. So mindfulness, when I come into the present moment, allows me to see things in a different way.

So even when there is conflict around me, maybe what I need to do is bring this mindful energy to these people to calm down the situation. So even though there is always conflict, I don't have a problem at this moment right now. It's perfect. And that's what mindfulness is about. You take a breath, and you focus on your breath, and you let go because that equanimity on seven, it means, I'm just going to let it go. I'm just going to feel it. I can't solve the world's problems. I'm going to let it go, and I'm going to do my part in this moment and bring positive energy and love to the situation. I'm going to let it go.

Audience Member: I had an experience recently that I was having tremendous conflict with this one person with behavior that I felt was abusive towards me, and I know what you're talking about with the fight. And as I continued to look deeper, this was an amazing experience, which is the reason I share it. As I continued to look deeper at it, what I realized is but when that person was saying and doing all those things that felt so abusive to me, they were actually loving me and the only way they knew how. Even though it didn't feel that way to me, that person was not acting that way specifically to abuse.

There was something in that behavior driving the result that they were—that was coming out from them. It was just like a total shift with a 360—or 180, I guess—where I could suddenly see it in a whole different way. It didn't mean I just had to just stand there and take it, but it gave me a new way to see that conflict, and I'm able to actually feel like tenderness about it. That is the only expression you know. I don't know. I can't say it felt good, but I was able to let go of that fight that you're talking about. It was neat.

Audience Member: What I've learned is that no matter what the situation is, you can stop and think about it. You may not have much time to think about it, but just practice what you've learned in all your affairs, and whether the person is being difficult or kind, just treat them with the kindness that you would treat your mother or anyone else, the unconditional love that you can spread around. Have unconditional love for everyone, and don't fake it, but you don't have to make it worse. When you get out of the situation, you will feel a lot better than if you just blew up on them, so when you leave, you won't be like, oh, I should've said this or this, too. If you do that and you get a few moments afterwards, you're like, well, actually, I did the right thing, so I feel good.

ChiSing: Next.

Audience Member: I just read something that said how you treat me is your karma. How I react is mine, and I choose to react with love. That is my karma. I just react with love.

ChiSing: I like that. Thank you.

Audience Member: Can you say that one more time?

Audience Member: How you treat me is your karma. And how I react is mine, and I choose to react with love.

Audience Member: That is like Nelson Mandela. That could change the fate of a whole country.

ChiSing: Yes.

Audience Member: Yeah. I want to touch base on equanimity. I actually went to a 10-day Vipassana retreat, and it was like a mind training boot camp. Because you meditate like 10 1/2 hours a day, and they take care of everything for you so you don't have to focus on even dressing up or anything. You could take only pajamas if you wanted. So the only focus is on ourselves. You don't speak to others or focus on anything other than ourselves. That was the hardest thing was to just face myself and be with all the things that were coming up. And the training was to be conscious no matter what I do, like you said, to investigate what is actually going on. If I am not mindful, which is most of the time, it is like whether I am mindful or not, it is going on anyway.

So when I get mindful about it, am conscious about whatever is happening around me, then at least I get the clarity of mind to actually take the right action. Because when I'm angry or upset, I'm still getting a lot of the karma, but I'm like a moth drawn to a flame or something. I'm not able to take the right action. But at least when I am equanimous, nobody is saying don't take action. Detachment. People say, "Oh, detachment means you don't care." No. Actually, you actually care more. You become more aware of other people's suffering. But yet when you have detachment you have the clarity of mind to actually take the right action, so you get more energized to take the right action.

ChiSing: That's right.

Audience Member: That's why I guess surgeons can't operate on their own family. It is too emotional.

ChiSing: Right. Right.

Audience Member: But here I am actually able to become more mindful, so I'm able to investigate more, and actually I can understand what exactly is going on and take the right action. That is how I came to understand that.

ChiSing: So much wisdom is in the room, you know? So nice. We have to be careful not to be blinded by our idealism because that can actually obstruct us from actually doing the work that is right in front of us, and I say that because I do that sometimes. It is like, okay, I wish I could like—because I remember like a few weeks ago, I wish I could reach out to more people with this message of mindfulness. I wish we could grow the sangha more, and I wish all Dallasites would come to the Center at some point, and then we would have enough people to build a big giant temple.

The reality is everyone has their path. Everyone has their karma. Everyone is going to connect with whoever they are supposed to, and I have no control over that. But what is mine to do is whoever does actually come here, am I actually being present for them? If I'm so concerned about all the other people but I don't even know who they are, I never met them, if I am so concerned with that, I can't really be fully present with the ones who are actually right here in this room.

I was thinking a lot about that the past couple of weeks because there are some people that have been wanting a little bit more attention from me, and I realized I ought to give it. Because at first I was afraid of giving too much of my energy to lots of people because I have this belief, whether it is true or not, that I have a limited supply of energy. There is a part of me that is an introvert, and I'm like, oh, I don't want to give away too much time and energy to people. You know what? It's not like I'm going to give it to every single person on the planet. It is that if this is my karma to have a center like this, then whoever is in the room, I need to open and be willing to give my energy, and if someone actually asked for my help, I need to just be okay with giving my attention and time.

So I'm going to try harder on that. I'm going to try harder. But part of the process is I have to overcome this belief that I am limited and that I have only a limited supply of energy. So actually, when these things happen, it helps me to confront the areas of my own shadows and unbelief and non-trust. So it actually helps me. If any of you have ever had any conflicts with me at the Center, just know that I am working on it and that you are a blessing because you help me to see my growing edges and I hope that it's mutually beneficial, that we can all do that for each other. So I appreciate all of you.

Thank you.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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