Understanding the dharma helps you with your meditation practices. Here is a summary of some key teachings which are fundamental to your comprehension of the dharma. The practice path does not consist of philosophy and speculation. All of the Buddha’s teachings were based on empirical observation and critical analysis; and they always have a practical application.
While the context of our programs is the Buddha’s teachings, the practices we teach are universal. Our objective is to retain the depth and liberating potential of traditional Buddhist trainings, but focusing on the practical core teachings and presenting these teachings in ways that are relevant to the lives of lay people in today’s world.
Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths are traditionally identified as the first and most important teachings teaching given by the Buddha. The Four Noble Truths provide a thorough explanation of human suffering, as well as a method, a path that leads to happiness, inner peace, and compassion. They are the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. The Four Noble Truths are a contingency plan for dealing with the suffering humanity faces.
- The suffering (dukkha) to be investigated: Suffering, incapable of satisfying, painful, discontent. The First Noble Truth is a plain and obvious realization that all life contains suffering at various levels. This includes physical suffering like pain, injury, and illness and emotional and mental uneasiness and discomfort, like feeling frustrated, inadequate, being disappointed regarding your job, experiencing depression or being angry and upset, etc. Suffering is also a characteristic of tension in the mind, like stress, anxiety, restlessness, unease, boredom, etc.
- The origin of suffering (samudaya) to be abandoned: Craving, clinging, desire or attachment. In the second noble Truth, the Buddha tells us that the root of all suffering is attachment to the desire to have or craving (sensual desires, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming), the attachment to the desire not to have or aversion (a fear of getting, or to be in contact with what we don’t want or what we don’t like) and the attachment to ignorant views (one’s incapacity to see the true nature of the self and the world, to see things as they really are, without the filter of the discriminating mind).
- There end to suffering (nirodha) to be realized: Cessation/ending/eliminating all craving and attachment. The Third Noble Truth reveals to us that there is a way to end suffering, and we can realize this in our life. It also invites us to transform, to finally get free from our suffering and dissatisfaction. This is the most important of the Four Noble Truths because it gives us hope that inner peace, freedom, liberation is possible. The Buddha stated that to put an end to suffering, we need to let go of our attachment to our desires. Please notice that he didn’t say “letting go of your desires” since getting rid of desires altogether is impractical and impossible. The important is not becoming a slave to our desires
- The way to the end of suffering (magga) to be developed: The path to end dukkha – Noble Eightfold Path. The final Noble Truth is the Buddha’s prescription for the end of suffering. This is a set of principles called the Eightfold Path. Buddhism never requests blind faith from its followers, so apply the Eightfold Path into your life. You’ll be amazed to see where the self-discovery and serenity resulting from it will take you.
The Buddha is often compared to a physician. In the first Truth, he diagnosed suffering is the illness. In the second Truth he recognized attachment is the cause. The third Truth is the understanding that there is a remedy, a cure to that suffering. In the fourth Noble Truth, the Buddha gives us the prescription, the antidote to achieve relief from suffering. That remedy is the Eightfold Path.
37 Qualities Contributing to Enlightenment (Bodhipakkhiyadhamma)
Both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists recognize seven sets of qualities as complementary facets of the Buddhist path to awakening. Within these seven sets of Enlightenment qualities, there are thirty-seven individual qualities that form the foundation for all schools of Buddhism. They represent the most basic doctrine of the Buddha and the practical application of the Four Noble Truths. Those who follow the path should utilize the teachings by diligently developing those qualities and practices which will further one’s progress.
- Four Foundations of Mindfulness (satipatthana)
- Four Great Efforts (sammapadhana)
- Four Bases of Mental Power (iddhipada)
- Five Spiritual (Controlling) Faculties (pancha indriya)
- Five Spiritual Power (pancha bala)
- Seven Factors of Enlightenment (sapta bojjhanga)
- The Noble Eightfold Path (ariya atthangika magga)
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana)
The four foundations of mindfulness are what constitute the path of right mindfulness, and they are: the contemplation of the body, the feelings, mind, and mind objects. 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 for all kinds of fantasizing or scheming.
- Contemplating the body in the body (kayanupassana) – 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.
- Contemplating feelings in the feelings (vedananupassana) – From mindfulness of the body, its activities, constituents and dissolution, we then begin to observe feelings with the same non-judgmental clear awareness of pleasant, unpleasant, neutral; initial reactions to sensory input
- Contemplating mind in the mind (cittanupassana) – In becoming mindful of the mind itself, we watch for any greed, anger, or ignorance within the mind. We watch for any mental laziness, prejudices, or unfounded opinions. We also watch for the mind which is free from these things, the mind which is clear, concentrated and has developed pure awareness of the mind-states, moods (greed, aversion, delusion and their opposites)
- Contemplating mind objects in mind objects (dhammanupassana) – This includes mental events, five hindrances which prevent one from concentrating the mind and attaining insight (sensual desire, ill will, sloth/torpor, restlessness/remorse, and doubt), five aggregates, six sense bases, seven factors of enlightenment, and four Noble Truths. Once we are free of ignorant craving and have a clear awareness and understanding of the true nature of phenomena we can then understand the four noble truths on the basis of our own understanding. So, 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.
In the Satipatthana sutta, Buddha stated that The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana) is the one and the only way for the purification of beings, for overcoming sorrow and lamentation, for the cessation of physical and mental pain, for attainment of the Noble Paths, and for the realization of Nibbana.
- Contemplating the body in the body (kayanupassana)
Contemplation of the body as the body with no sense of mine, myself or “I”:
- Mindfulness of breathing (anapana pabba)
- Mindfulness of the four postures: Walking, standing, sitting and lying down (iriyapatha pabba)
- Clear understanding of all activities (sampajanna pabba)
- Mindfulness of the impurities of the body (paticulamanasika pabba)
- Mindfulness of the elements: Earth element, water element, heat element and air element (dhatumanasikapabba)
- Mindfulness of the stages of a decaying corpse (navasivathika pabba)
- Contemplating feelings in the feelings (vedananupassana)
Contemplation of feelings as feelings with no sense of mine, myself or “I”:
- Pleasant feelings (sukhavedana)
- Unpleasant feelings (dukkhavedana)
- Neither pleasant nor unpleasant feelings (adukkhamasukha vedana)
- Contemplating mind in the mind (cittanupassana)
Contemplation of the mind as mind with no sense of mine, myself or “I”:
- A mind with greed or without greed;
- A mind with anger or without anger;
- A mind with delusion or without delusion;
- A lazy mind;
- A distracted mind;
- A developed or undeveloped mind;
- An inferior or superior mind;
- A concentrated or un-concentrated mind;
- A mind free from defilements or not free from defilements.
- Contemplating mind objects in mind objects (dhammanupassana)
Contemplation of mind objects just as mind objects with no sense of mine, myself or “I”:
- Five mental hindrances: sense desire (kamachanda),ill will (vyapada), sloth and torpor (thina-middha), restlessness and worry (uddhacca–kukkucca), and sceptical doubt (vicikiccha)
- Five aggregates of clinging: the body (rupa), feeling (vedana), perception (sanna), mental formations (sankhara), and consciousness (vinnana). Six internal and external sense bases: the eye and the visible objects, the ear and the sounds, the nose and the odours, the tongue and the tastes, the body and the tactile objects, and the mind and the mind objects
- Seven factors of enlightenment: the factor of mindfulness (sati sambojjhanaga), the factor of investigation of phenomena (dhammavicaya sambojjhanga), the factor of effort (viriya sambojjhanga), the factor of rapture (piti sambojjhanga), the factor of tranquillity (passaddhi sambojjhanga), the factor of concentration (samadhi sambojjha), and the factor of equanimity (upekkha sambojjhanga) and
- The Four Noble Truths: the Noble Truth of suffering (dukkha sacca), the Noble Truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya sacca), the Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering (nirodha sacca), and the Noble Truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering (magga sacca)
Four Great Efforts (Sammapadhana)
The four Great Efforts for getting rid of existing negative actions (akusala) and not developing any more.
- Effort to prevent akusala (negative actions) states. Not letting an unwholesome-unskillful thought arise, which has not yet arisen – Guarding
- Effort to abandon akusala states. Not to let an unwholesome-unskillful thought continue, which has already arisen – Abandon
- Effort to develop kusala (positive actions) states. To make a wholesome-skillful thought arise, which has not arisen – Develop
- Effort to maintain kusala states. To make a wholesome-skillful thought continue, which has already arisen – Sustain
The unwholesome mental states that have not arisen yet refer to the five mental hindrances of sense desire (kamacchanda); ill will (vyapada); sloth and torpor (thina middha); restlessness and remorse (uddaccha kukkuccha); and sceptical doubt (vicikicca).
The unwholesome mental states to be abandoned are the thoughts of sensual desire, hatred and cruelty while the wholesome mental states to be cultivated and maintained are the seven factors of enlightenment.
The Four Bases of Mental Power (Iddhipada)
The four bases of spiritual power have undertaken the noble path leading to the destruction of suffering.
- Will or aspiration to practice to end suffering (Chanda)
- Effort or earnestness to end suffering (Viriya)
- Consciousness or mind to end suffering (Citta)
- Investigation to end suffering (Vimamsa)
By practicing to develop these four mental qualities, it is possible to develop wholesome mental states and the supra-mundane knowledge pertaining to the eradication of mental defilements.
Five Spiritual (Controlling) Faculties (pancha indriya)
The Five Spiritual (Controlling) Faculties are faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. They are considered to be latent faculties which can be developed by anyone through proper discipline and training. When the Five Spiritual Faculties have been developed, they are called the Five Spiritual Powers (pancha bala).
- Faith or conviction (Saddha): This is the investigative faith that is essential for one to develop skillful mental qualities and engage in skillful activities like meditation to achieve spiritual.
- Effort or energy (Viriya): This is the persistence in avoiding un-arisen unskillful mental qualities, abandoning arisen unskillful mental qualities, cultivating un-arisen skillful mental qualities and maintaining arisen skillful mental qualities.
- Mindfulness (Sati): Mind remains in the present moment by contemplating on the body just as the body, feelings just as feelings, mind just as the mind and mind objects just as mind objects..
- Concentration (Samadhi): In practice, by choosing an appropriate meditation object and focusing attention on that, one develops deep states of concentration called Jhyana.
- Wisdom (Panna): Through wisdom, one realizes the suffering, cause of suffering, cessation of suffering and the path leading to the cessation of suffering.
Among the five spiritual faculties, the faculties of faith and wisdom are paired together while effort and concentration are paired together in a reciprocal relationship. There has to be a balance between faith and wisdom as well as between effort and concentration in order to facilitate spiritual progress.
The faculty of mindfulness acts as the moderator to ensure that each pair maintains the correct balance without resorting to either extreme, which can adversely affect the spiritual development. If, for example, faith dominates over wisdom, the ability of analysis and investigation will weaken whereas should wisdom dominate over faith it will lead to doubt and uncertainty. Similarly, if effort or energy dominates over concentration it will cause restlessness and agitation whereas when concentration dominates over effort it will cause sloth and torpor.
Five Spiritual Powers (pancha bala)
The Five Strengths are faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. They are parallel facets of the five “controlling faculties.”
- Faith or conviction (Saddha)
- Effort or energy (Viriya)
- Mindfulness (Sati)
- Concentration (Samadhi)
- Wisdom (Panna)
The five spiritual faculties and the five spiritual powers are very similar in number and terminology. When the five spiritual faculties are developed and cultivated well they become firm, strong and powerful enough to oppose and control the factors that can oppose the five spiritual faculties. As powers, faith controls doubt, energy controls laziness, mindfulness controls heedlessness, concentration controls distraction and wisdom controls ignorance. 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.
The first is the power of faith, which should be understood as confidence or trust in the teachings of Buddha. When faith becomes a power, it manifests as the four immeasurables, or brahma vihara, namely loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. When effort or energy and concentration become powers, they lead to deep states of concentration, or Jhana. When mindfulness becomes a power, one is able to develop mindfulness by contemplating on the body, feelings, mind and the mind objects. When wisdom becomes a power it leads to the insight into the three universal characteristics of impermanence: unsatisfactoriness (anicca); suffering (dukkha); and not self (anatta).
The Seven Factors of Enlightenment (sapta bojjhanga)
The seven factors of enlightenment which are mental phenomena that lead directly to enlightenment. In meditation, one should develop the following seven factors of Enlightenment:
The base and balancing factor
- Mindfulness (sati)
To use when experiencing sloth & torpor (thīna-middha) to regain mindfulness
- Investigation of dharma (dhamma vicaya)
- Energy or effort (viriya)
- Joy or rapture (piti)
To use when experiencing restlessness & worry (uddhacca-kukkucca) to regain mindfulness
- Tranquillity (passaddhi)
- Concentration (samadhi)
- Equanimity (upekkha)
The Seven Factors of Enlightenment (sapta bojjhanga), when cultivated by a practitioner, lead to awakening or enlightenment through the realization of the four Noble Truths. They have also been described as qualities of a noble person or an enlightened person. Beginning with the first factor of mindfulness, they tend to flow in a progression towards the last factor of equanimity with each factor’s development based on the preceding ones.
- Mindfulness (sati), the first factor of enlightenment, means non-judgmental awareness from moment to moment and is also the 7th factor of the Noble Eight-fold Path. It is developed by contemplating on the body, feelings, the mind and the mind objects.
- Investigation of dharma (dhamma vicaya), the second factor of enlightenment, refers to the quality of mind that critically discriminates and investigates into the nature of mind and matter or mental and physical phenomena. Through investigation, one gains an analytical knowledge of their true nature consisting of the three universal characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and absence of a self. Well-developed mindfulness helps the process of critical investigation into the phenomena as they arise.
- Energy or effort (viriya), the third factor of enlightenment, is essential throughout the enlightenment process from beginning to end. With determined effort, one acts to prevent the development of mental defilements—sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, and skeptical doubt—that have not yet arisen. Subsequently, effort is directed to abandon the unwholesome mental states that have already arisen by abandoning thoughts of sensual desire, hatred and cruelty. With determined effort, one also acts to cultivate un-arisen wholesome mental states and to maintain the wholesome mental states that have already arisen. Here, the wholesome mental states are the seven factors of enlightenment. There are three stages of effort required to accomplish a particular task from beginning to completion: the effort required to begin a task (arambha dhatu viriya); sustained effort required to carry on with the task (nikkama dhatu viriya); and the effort required to continue till the completion of the task (parakkama dhatu viriya).
- Joy or rapture (piti), the fourth factor of enlightenment, is the non-sensual (niramisa) happiness and satisfaction felt in the mind as well as the lightness and the waves of bliss felt in the body. Five types or degrees of rapture have been described based on how strong and mature the mental development is: lesser rapture, momentary rapture, overwhelming rapture, uplifting rapture and pervasive rapture.
- Tranquillity (passaddhi), the fifth factor (passaddhi) of enlightenment, is calm, serenity, quietness or tranquility naturally follows joy or rapture and leads on to concentration. It is of two types: kaya passaddhi, meaning tranquility of the mental qualities; and citta passaddhi, meaning tranquility of the mind or consciousness. The mental qualities that are quietened in kaya passaddhhi are the aggregates of feeling (vedana); perception (sanna); and the mental formations (sankhara). When tranquility develops, the opposite factors of restlessness and remorse (uddaccha kukkuccha) are controlled.
- Concentration (samadhi), the sixth factor of enlightenment, which is calm one-pointedness of the mind focused on a particular internal or external object, follows the factor of tranquility while the other factors of faith, investigation, effort and joy are also conducive to the development of concentration. In concentration meditation (samatha bhavana), the main objective is to develop tranquility and deep states of concentration (Jhana). As the concentration becomes stronger and deeper, the five mental hindrances of sensual desire ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, and skeptical doubt are gradually overcome. There has to be a proper balance between the factors of effort and concentration in order to facilitate the development of concentration as an enlightenment factor. There are certain necessary factors that one needs to consider before one begins concentration meditation: moral discipline, a suitable place for meditation, correct effort, determination, and a spiritual friend. The spiritual friend can help the meditator choose the right object for meditation and can also provide guidance and support.
- Equanimity (upekkha), the seventh factor of enlightenment, is facilitated by the preceding six factors and is the mental quality of being non-reactive and neutral with a perfectly balanced mind in the face of experiences such as pleasure and pain. Someone with well-developed equanimity, such as an Arahant, will not react to worldly experiences such as gain and loss, fame and ill repute, praise and blame or pleasure and pain. Equanimity is the last of the four immeasurables (brahma vihara), the others being loving kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy. Equanimity is also a factor associated with Jhana or deep meditative stages in concentration meditation.
The Noble Eightfold Path (ariya atthangika magga)
The eightfold path of the middle way provides the path of Dharma practices leading to liberation from samsara, the painful cycle of rebirth, while the other twenty-nine qualities consist of further details and explanations of the eightfold path. The eightfold path can itself be simplified as the threefold training of sila (morality), samadhi (meditation/concentration) and prajna (insight/wisdom). So, the thirty-seven qualities can be simply understood as an explanation of the threefold training.
Insight, Wisdom (prajna) Factors:
At the beginning, however, faith takes the place of wisdom. In a sense, we have faith on the Buddha’s wisdom in order to practice correctly, until such time as our own wisdom has been perfected.
- Right View or Understanding (samma-ditthi) – Right view is divided into two types: mundane right view and supra-mundane right view. Mundane right view is having a correct understanding of the mechanism of volitional actions, or kamma, in which wholesome actions will lead to good results and unwholesome actions, will lead to bad results. Supra-mundane right view is the correct understanding of the Four Noble Truths of suffering (dukkha), the cause of suffering (samudaya), cessation of suffering (nirodha) and the path leading to the cessation of suffering (magga).
- Right Intention or Resolve (sammá-sankappa) – evolves as a result of right view and leads to the development of morality (sila). It has three aspects: The intention of renunciation, the intention of good will and the intention of harmlessness, loving-kindness.
Moral virtue (sila) Factors:
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 (samma vaca) – is abstaining from lying, malicious or divisive speech, abusive or harsh speech.
- Right Action (samma kammanta) – is abstaining from killing any living beings, stealing and sexual misconduct.
- Right Livelihood (samma ajiva) – is abstaining from dishonest and harmful means of livelihood. Right livelihood is the avoidance of five particular trades: 1) Trading in living beings; 2) Trading in arms and weapons; 3) Trading in alcohol and other intoxicants; 4) Trading in poisons; and 5) Trading in meat.
Concentration/Meditation (samadhi) Factors:
The development and maintaining of wholesome states of mind involves 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 Effort (samma-vayama) – provides necessary energy to develop the other seven factors, particularly the factor of right concentration that is necessary to develop right wisdom. It has four aspects: 1) Effort to prevent the development of unwholesome mental states that have not arisen, 2) Effort to abandon unwholesome mental states that have arisen, 3) Effort to develop the wholesome mental states that have not arisen, and 4) Effort to maintain the wholesome mental states that have arisen.
- Right Mindfulness (samma-sati) – is to be developed through the four foundations of mindfulness: 1) contemplation of the body, 2) contemplation of feelings; 3) contemplation of the mind; and 4) contemplation of the mind objects.
- Right Concentration (samma-samadhi) – when developed properly, the other seven factors of the path from right view to right mindfulness become supportive and requisite conditions for the development of right concentration. Unlike the higher levels of concentration developed in other mundane situations in life, right concentration has to be wholesome and accompanied by the suppression of the mental hindrances. With proper development and progress, right concentration will lead to deep meditative absorption states, or Jhana, and attainment of insight and wisdom.