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Buddhism 101: The Seven Factors of Enlightenment
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Buddhism 101: The Seven Factors of Enlightenment (15 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
September 20, 2015 - Dallas, Texas

So what are the seven factors of enlightenment? The first one is simply mindfulness. You can think of that as the foundation of our practice: mindfulness, awareness, nonjudgmental acceptance. That is why we always come back to the practice of mindfulness. It is a foundation of our enlightenment.

And then after a while, you get used to practicing mindfulness and being aware of your breath, letting go of past and future, being able to be present fully, to being aware without judging and trying to control everything, just allowing. As you get into that practice of mindfulness, then you can also begin to cultivate the second factor. One translation is "investigation of dharma," and dharma is an interesting word because it means a lot of different things. It can mean your life path. It can mean the truth. It can mean the teachings of the enlightened one. And it also means just reality as it is, all phenomenon.

So as we have strong mindfulness, then we can utilize that mindfulness toward investigating reality, investigating the teachings of the enlightened ones, investigating the truth. And so, as you investigate, practice mindfulness, gain insight, then sometimes you might find that your motivation may dry up a little bit, which is why we need this third factor, which is energy. It also translates sometimes as right effort, discipline. Because we need to have motivational energy and discipline and effort, true spiritual effort, to continue on the path. We cannot just practice halfheartedly. If we really want to realize full enlightenment, we really need to put our whole heart into our mindfulness and investigation of truth. We need energy and commitment toward that. I believe most all of you, or all of you here, have that kind of energy.

And you know, sometimes our personal energy dries up, so that is why we rely also on the energy of the community. That is why if we continue coming every week to sangha, even if our personal energy ebbs and flows, it may be low, but every week, we get an uplift. And we not only get uplifted from others; we uplift others as well. So we need that energy. And of course, we also get energy from nature. We get energy from the enlightened, higher beings, who are there to be of support for us. They are like our cheerleaders. They can't practice for us in the sense that we have to actually practice, but they can be cheerleaders, and they can show us an example of how to practice and encourage us.

Then, eventually as you are practicing mindfulness, inquiry, energy, you should also start to experience joy in your practice. If after several days, weeks, months, years, you still do not find joy in your practice, maybe you might want to rethink how you are practicing because every person I know who practices frequently has experiences of deep, blissful joy. I have had that experience a few times in my life, a very, very profound joy. And it is not joy that is dependent on external circumstances. In fact, one time, I had a complete amazing experience of bliss for several days while I was getting the flu. My body was feeling worse and worse, but my spirit was just feeling limitless. So it is not dependent on external circumstances.

And there are different words for joy in Sanskrit. This is a little bit different word from the other word for joy that we sometimes talk about, which is mudita, which means sympathetic joy. When we see someone feeling joyful or blessed, then we feel blessed and joyful for them. That is the opposite of jealousy. So if your neighbor he wins the lottery, you feel mudita for them, yay, not, "Oh great. Why couldn't it have been me? Why them?" See, that is jealousy. That is not mudita. That is not sympathetic joy.

But here, this joy is a different word. It is the word pīti, which means blissful ecstatic joy. Isn't that nice that there is room for that in our practice? It is not all just serious and somber. We get to have joy also in our practice.

Pīti. It is not pity, but pīti. So, ecstatic blissful joy. It can happen, and it is part of our practice. But joy is only part of the path. We should not get stuck in being too clingy to one thing of bliss, because that bliss needs to move into a state of peace, to see peace, tranquility, serenity. So, joy eventually leads a movement to peaceful peace. It is great to have ecstasy and bliss, but the usefulness of that bliss is enhanced when it transforms into peace, because actually true happiness is not just ecstatic joyful experiences of happiness. True happiness is when that joy matures into this steady state of peace, so true happiness is actually peace more than joy.

And then, as you keep practicing with mindfulness, insight, energy, joy, and peace, it will lead to samadhi, or concentration. That is such a technical, scholarly word. I like to translate it as the deep peace of oneness, truly here and now, fully here all the time, not half and half, but truly always present, fully engaged, fully in love with life, fully available to see the light in everything and everyone. True samadhi, true concentration, true oneness.

But that is not the end of the story, because there is one last quality, and that is equanimity. Again, that is a very scholarly word, so let's say the quality of letting go, letting be, letting be, and letting go, or simply release. Because in the highest stages of our practice, some people might actually get caught in concentration. They can become arrogant because they are so, "Well, not everyone has this level of concentration," and some people do, so they might get a little arrogance about it. It is like, "Well, I am superior because I am much more concentrated. I can meditate longer than you," but they have to let that go. You know?

Even the desire for enlightenment, even though it is a great desire, at some point in your practice, you have to let that go, too. Let go of everything. Let go of your expectations. Let go of your progress. Let go to your pride. Let go of your accomplishments. Let go of enlightenment, and then be enlightened. The secret of enlightenment is actually letting go and letting be, letting everything flow.

There is a story that I will close with. The Buddha's attendant Ananda was with him almost his entire teaching career. Ananda had the best memory of all the disciples of the Buddha, so Ananda always accompanied the Buddha whenever possible because he could memorize everything the Buddha said and repeat it to everyone else.

However, he did not reach liberation or enlightenment by the time the Buddha died, and so the other disciples who had attained enlightenment, they would not let him be part of the final assembly after the Buddha's death to recall everything the Buddha taught, but they needed him. But only those that were enlightened were allowed to be in this meeting, and Ananda was not fully enlightened, just partially. But he really needed to be at that meeting, because he was the only one who memorized everything.

So what did he do? He practiced and practiced and practiced as hard as he could the day before the meeting all day long, just practicing, practicing, practicing. And it finally was nighttime. He was so exhausted, and he didn't know what to do, so he just finally said, "Ah, okay. Whatever." He fell down on his bed and his head hit the pillow or whatever he was sleeping on, and the moment his head touched the pillow, he was enlightened. Now what that story means is that at the very final stages of your practice, you have to let that all go. Let it all go. When you finally stop trying so hard and let it go, enlightenment.

So if you like, you can correspond these to the seven chakras. I think of these as the root chakra, which is the foundation of our practice, and then the investigation of the dharma is our sexual energy center. Energy is at our solar plexus chakra, joy in our heart chakra, peace, and concentration in the third eye, equanimity, letting it all go, letting it be, just trusting in the universe. Because we do not actually make ourselves enlightened. Enlightenment is already our true nature, so we have to let go of our ego's ideas and energies and realize there's nobody there. It is already there available to us. We just need to wake up to it.

So anyway, those are the seven factors of enlightenment. I hope that you will utilize all of these different qualities in your practice, including joy. I felt so much joy tonight with the music, chanting Om Mani Padme Hum. I visualized Quan Yin's motherly mothering arms reaching out to the whole world through us. What a precious jewel that is. Our practice keeps the world going, so thank you for being embodiments of Quan Yin, embodiments of Om Mani Padme Hum, embodiments of wisdom and compassion in the world, not just for Buddhists, but for all beings, because we have to be in harmony and cooperate with each other if we are going to seek world awakening.

That is the only way, to let go and release our arrogance and help each other, appreciate each other, even with our various different symbols. But what good is this symbol if you get too attached to the symbol that you forget about the reality of the symbol? Even Buddhists need to be careful not to get too attached to Buddhism, too attached to our different symbols. Remember the point of the symbols is to help us view the reality at some point and let go of what you think you know about Buddhism and just be Buddhist, right? Not just believe in Buddhism, but be Buddhist in the sense of be Buddha, be love, be compassionate beyond all limits. Just be a human being. That's why we came here.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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