The Buddha spoke about five spiritual faculties which turn into
spiritual powers if we cultivate and develop them. We all have these
faculties within and developing them means making them powerful
qualities which become factors of enlightenment. As long as they are
only faculties, they are potentials for enlightenment.
The Buddha compared them to a team of horses with one lead horse and
two pairs that are pulling a wagon. The lead horse can go as fast or
as slow as it likes, the others have to fall into step with it. The
pairs have to be in balance with each other, otherwise if one goes
faster than the other, the wagon will topple.
The leading faculty is mindfulness. It is up to us how much of it we
can find in any given moment. Mindfulness is a moment-to-moment mental
factor which can be compared to an observer. If we have an observer
with us all the time, it is more likely that we will stay on the path.
The first pair that has to be balanced is faith and wisdom. There is
an analogy that the Buddha gave for these two qualities: he compared
faith to a blind giant who meets up with a small, very sharp-eyed
cripple, called wisdom. The blind giant, named faith, says to the
small, sharp-eyed cripple named wisdom: "I'm strong and can go very
fast, but I can't see where I'm going. You're small and weak, but have
sharp eyes. If you will ride on my shoulders, together we could go
very far." This tells us that faith without wisdom, while being a
strong faculty, is yet unable to find the right direction. We say
"faith can move mountains," but being blind, faith doesn't know which
mountain needs moving. However coupled with wisdom, there is enormous
potential. The reason for such strength, is that heart and mind are
brought into harmony. The mind can have wisdom and the heart can have
faith. When heart and mind are brought to a point of co-existence, of
no separation, the power which develops, is far greater than just 1 +
1 = 2. It is more like 2 to the power of 2.
Faith as a quality in the heart has such great value because it is
connected with love. We can only have faith in something or someone we
love. Faith is also connected to devotion, which is a giving of
oneself and a lessening of pride. These are valuable and necessary
spiritual qualities. If we are devoted to a high ideal such as
Buddha-Dhamma-Sangha, then we have the understanding that there is
something greater than ourselves.
The devotion we can have for that ideal is manifested in giving our
love and admiration, respect and gratitude, which are very important
and helpful qualities to develop.
But the Buddha taught that blind faith is useless. Blind faith means
that one believes what one is told without personal investigation,
that one has faith in something that one's family adheres to, or
because it has been written down in special books, because it has been
transmitted from teacher to disciple, because it is something that one
likes anyway, that promises some mystical revelation, or because the
teacher is a respected person. All these are no reasons to follow a
spiritual path. Do not believe because somebody told you so! But if
there is some wisdom in the mind, and without it life would be quite
unbearable, we can quite easily investigate whether our faith and
devotion are justified.
We can for instance, verify the first and second Noble Truths within
ourselves many times in a day. If we do that, we know what they mean,
only believing them is not very helpful, because it will not make any
difference in our hearts and minds. We can check out the impermanence
and unsatisfactoriness of all worldly phenomena without much
difficulty. Thereby we gradually gain more and more wisdom.
The unwavering faith in the Buddha-Dhamma-Sangha is one of the
results that a stream-enterer (//sotapanna//) gains when s/he has the
first path moment, because until then the fetter of doubt still
exists. If we have established unwavering faith within ourselves in
the veracity and exactitude of the Buddha's teachings, we have taken
an important step. The heart quality within us will have opened up in
a way which will be most helpful, but understanding has to go along.
In Pali the one word //citta// denotes feeling and thinking, but in
English we have to distinguish between heart and mind because we
consider feeling a heart quality and thinking a mind quality,
otherwise, we can't express what we really mean.
Our thinking capacity is rationality and logic, which is impaired by
our emotionalism, by the reactions to our feelings. The formula for
growth is: "purification of emotions brings clarification of thought."
If our emotions are pure, as they are for example in devotion,
gratitude, respect and faith, our thoughts have a much greater
capacity for clarity. The impure emotions connected with passions of
either wanting or not wanting, are those which hinder our thinking
capacity. We can't think "straight" when we are under the sway of
Our education system doesn't take any notice of that, nor do parents
teach this to their children, yet the Buddha taught it quite clearly.
Each human being has a right and left hemisphere in the brain which we
classify as male and female, the right being female, left being male.
The left or male side is in charge of the right side of the body and
vice versa. Just as the pairs of horses have to balance, both sides,
male and female have to attain a harmonious whole. the male side is
usually connected to our rationality, logic, linear thinking,
understanding. The female side is connected to feelings, nurturing,
caring, compassion, love, all the emotional qualities. Each of us has
both sides, the emotional and the mental capacity. Very few people
develop both equally. Therefore their cart often topples. Emotionalism
is just as much a danger as thinking without being in touch with one's
feelings. That too can go very much astray.
In school we were taught to debate. We were given a subject to
debate with another child. When we finished, we changed sides and were
asked to hold the opposite view and debate, giving all factors of the
other side. Any child can do it, any grown-up can do it. It is just
straight-forward thinking. One can have the opposite opinion by the
flip of a coin. There is no inherent truth in any opinion, because
it's simply linear thinking. However, if these thoughts are connected
to our feelings we can no longer debate the opposite side. This is the
old story of having to bite into a mango to know its taste. We can be
told many things about a mango. It's sweet, delicious, soft, but we
cannot imagine its taste unless we get the feeling of the mango on our
tongue and have the personal experience. Then we can no longer debate
whether the mango is sweet or not, because we have experienced the
truth. This is the difference between just thinking or thinking
coupled with the experience of feeling.
A person who goes too far on the side of rational thinking has to
learn to balance with feelings, the female side. Anyone who thinks to
the extent where the experience of feelings is hardly known, has to
practice much mindfulness of feelings. On the other hand, the female
side is often emotionalism. This means we are carried away by our
emotions and consequently our thinking is impaired. The quality of
logical thinking, of delving into a thought process and being able to
analyze, is not possible when the emotions are at the forefront. Of
course in women this has a connection to the mores of the patriarchal
society, but primarily it is due to the fact of not having developed
one's potential for both sides, which is inherent in all of us.
The person who is primarily analytical is often under the impression
that this will actually bring about all the desired results. Such a
person, unless prodded and told often enough, will not try to get in
touch with feelings. The one who is always relating and reacting to
emotions is so habituated that s/he can no longer do anything else,
until shown through the meditative process that there is an
If one lives only in relation and in reaction to one's emotions,
life can become quite difficult. People who live like that often try
to deaden their emotions as a way out of their dilemma. That's of
course not the answer, rather to purify them. Naturally the person who
is a thinker also has to purify the emotions, but before such a person
can do that, s/he first needs to get in touch with them. The one who
lives with emotions and reacts to them all the time, also has to be in
touch with them, but not to deaden them, but to encourage wholesome
reactions. As the purification of the emotions takes place, thinking
will no longer be overshadowed by diffuse uncertainties. Unless we do
that, we only use half of our potential. This is what faith and wisdom
can mean to us, the emotions and the thinking. When we cultivate both,
we develop our faculties into powers. Harmonizing our emotional with
our thinking capacities is the essence of harmonizing faith with
A powerful mind is a great asset, but only in conjunction with
purified emotions. Faith is one such purified emotion. Faith is much
easier for people whose primary defilement is greed, rather than hate.
Faith arouses pleasant feelings, which is greed's direction. In this
case, greed is an asset, although basically it is, of course, a
negative characteristic. But if we use it in a positive way, we are
engaged in a purification process, wanting that which is wholesome,
which leads us to the supermundane.
First greed opens up into faith, resulting in pleasant feelings.
Then we can use greed to want successful meditation, stream-entry
(//sotapatti//), liberation. All are cravings, but they're going in
the right direction, of using greed to get rid of greed. That is our
best approach because greed is only truly eliminated by the
non-returner (//anagami//). If we use our craving in that manner, we
are at least searching for that which will give us the greatest
benefit, rather than pleasure through the senses.
The Buddha's path is called the middle path, which means a path of
balance. We have to balance all extremes, so that they become a useful
basis for a harmonious person, whose practice will flourish. This is
one reason why the Buddha recommended the meditation on the
loathsomeness of the body. People often say they don't want to think
of their body as loathsome, it is a good working machine and very
useful. But we are actually enamored with our body; we are hanging on
to it, loving it, trying to preserve it, keeping it young and
beautifying it. We are attached to it and consider it "me". The
loathsomeness of the body meditation is not designed to disgust us,
but only to create a balance to our identification with our body. We
can compare this with walking on a tight-rope; if we balance too far
to the right, we fall down, too far on the left, we topple. Constant
balancing is necessary, which has to be done by everyone for
If we know ourselves to be reacting to our emotions, we need to
start analyzing and inquiring into ourselves. It is difficult for
someone who has always lived in reaction to their emotions to see
beyond them. The meditation practice helps greatly, because the
tranquillity that is bound to arise to some extent is conducive to
penetration into reality. We need some self-knowledge, otherwise we
can't make any changes. Introspection and attention to one's feelings
and thoughts should provide enough insight into ourselves to lay the
foundation for a meaningful change.
The other pair is energy and concentration. It's not physical energy
that's needed, but rather mental energy, which has little to do with
the capacities of the body. We need unwavering determination for this
practice, which is transformed energy. The Buddha compared us with the
man who's wearing a turban that is on fire. Obviously, if a man is
wearing a turban that is on fire, he is most anxious to get rid of it.
That same kind of determination is needed to practice diligently.
Energy is also dependent upon one-pointed direction. We realize what
is most important and don't vacillate between social life, social
action, practice, entertainment and the many other options open to us.
Everybody has more energy for those things they like. We have to be
very careful that we don't use up our energy searching for pleasant
sense contacts because we like them. We have to be attentive to the
fact that pleasant sense contacts are so short-lived they will never
give us complete satisfaction, and that we're using up our energy
without getting any real fulfillment. So it turns into a waste of our
If we see clearly through attention, mindfulness and introspection,
that if we put our energy into meditation and practice of Dhamma, our
//dukkha// is greatly reduced thereby, and that we actually have a
mode of living which includes everything else, then we will certainly
turn in that direction. The rest of daily living happens anyway. Most
people use up about 98% of their energy just to stay alive. Not that
they have to work so hard to make a living, but just to attend to
their daily duties and responsibilities, just to keep going. If our
energy is used for meditation, mindfulness and bare attention, the
mind faculties sharpen to the point where minor things and duties
necessary to stay alive, are done in an easy and harmonious flow. We
can start using our energy for that, which is most important.
If energy is not coupled with concentration, it becomes restlessness
and we can notice that in meditation. Sometimes there is no
concentration, yet there is a lot of energy. Then mind and body become
restless; we would like to jump up and run away. If concentration is
too strong and there is no energy, then the third hindrance arises,
namely sloth and torpor. That is also easily noticeable in meditation.
People who are used to concentrating and can do it well, may
occasionally lack energy, and consequently concentration becomes
conducive to sleepiness. That is a time when the meditation should be
directed towards insight, rather than calm.
Calm meditation which is pure concentration, may result in
sleepiness when there is not enough energy. But insight meditation,
with attention on impermanence, the constant arising and ceasing of
thoughts and feelings, may bring up the energy that is needed. As we
only have a limited amount of vigor, we have to use it in the best
possible way. Most people do not realize that energy is a great asset
and squander it on totally irrelevant activities. When we realize that
it is essential for the spiritual path, then we may become more
careful with it. As the body gets older, physical energy is reduced,
but that does not have to include mind energy. On the contrary. When
the body is young and full of vigor a lot of physical activity may
take place, and the mind may be neglected. In a older person when body
activity becomes less, the mind may receive most of the attention, and
mental energy could be increased.
Energy and concentration have to balance, primarily in meditation.
When these faculties become powers, they result in the meditative
absorptions. When wisdom becomes a power, it means insight into the
three characteristics of impermanence (//anicca//), unsatisfactoriness
(//dukkha//) and corelessness (//anatta//). When faith turns into a
power, then it also manifests as the four immeasurable emotions
(//brahma vihara//): loving kindness (//metta//), compassion
(//karuna//), sympathetic joy (//mudita//), equanimity (//upekkha//).
Mindfulness is a power when all four foundations (i.e. mindfulness of
body, feeling, volition and thought content) are habitually attended
to. To become a master of all of these aspects is an ideal but to
practice them is a necessity. And since all of us have these faculties
within, there is every reason to cultivate them. One finds oneself a
more harmonious and balanced person, with less difficulties, capable
of helping others. To develop these five faculties should be a primary
object in one's life. The balancing of them needs to be seen as
connecting heart with mind.
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