IX PATHWAYS TO POWER The four pathways to power are, according to the Buddha, essential as
PATHWAYS TO POWER
The four pathways to power are, according to the Buddha, essential
aspects of realizing liberation. He said: "If a monk or nun has missed
the four pathways to power, they have missed the way to liberation. If
they have practiced the four pathways to power, they are practicing
the right way."
These four pathways are initially mundane, which means they are an
endeavor, which all of us are capable of pursuing. Only when they have
become powers, are they supermundane and constitute four of the 37
factors of enlightenment.
Because they are so essential to practice and cannot be disregarded,
we need to know about them in detail. We have to understand them in an
analytical way, so that we can check up on our own results. This is
the criterion that eventually turns knowledge into wisdom. We can
learn any of the Buddha's teachings by heart, that's not so difficult,
but consequently we need to look at these teachings in the light of
personal endeavor. We can check whether our practice has borne fruit
or not. If so, we will continue in the same way as before; if not we
need to alter our approach. By investigating within whether we are
actually doing what the Buddha taught and whether it has become part
of our own inner being, we gain insight into our mind's capacity. When
we see that, through practice, we have been able to enlarge the
abilities of our mind, we will not become complacent, but resolve to
increase them further.
The four pathways to power start out with //chandha-samadhi//.
//Chandha// is intention, and can be wholesome, unwholesome or
neutral. It also means desire or direction. In order to make it a
pathway to power we have to use it as the intention towards complete
insight. //Samadhi//, as part of the term, means that the intention
has to be fully concentrated and not dissipated. This would be the
difference between living a worldly life or living a life wholly
dedicated to spiritual endeavor.
In a worldly life, we are forced to dissipate our intentions into
different directions. It is the nature of life in the world. The
necessity for obtaining and looking after many different objects, even
though we can minimize that, will take up some time. There are always
people and material aspects who have a claim on us. We have to honor
those claims. Our own ambitions and desires are being fostered in the
world as being useful and commendable. In order to cultivate
"concentration of intention" leading to total liberation, we need to
be in circumstances where no obstacles arise.
All four of the pathways have willpower as an adjunct. Concentration
of intention also includes one-pointedness. It only becomes a true
pathway when our intention is directed towards the greatest power of
all, namely the power arising from letting go of all craving.
The second pathway is "concentration of energy,"
(//viriya-samadhi//). Everyone has a certain amount of physical energy
which sometimes becomes detrimental to our mental endeavor when there
is too much restlessness. If we have too little physical energy, that
is also counterproductive. But mental energy can be increased, namely
by being one-pointed, using our energy in one direction only, not
having many irons in the fire. We need to be clear about what is of
the utmost importance for us in this life. This needs checking up in
the quiet introspection of our own contemplation. "What is it that I
want most?" "Where do I want to expend my energy?" "What is my main
The answer may not be to come to the end of //dukkha//. That is all
right too. But we can benefit by concentrating our energy and
intention no matter where we are heading, as it will protect us from
wasting our time with useless actions.
The willpower we can arouse depends very much on our insight. If we
have seen the urgency of our own spiritual growth, we will find it
easier to have the will for practice. All of us are subject to
instinctual actions and reactions based on desire and craving.
Willpower helps us to let go of these and direct our energy into
different channels. Urgency (//samvega//) is an essential part of
successful practice. When our insights give rise to seeing the whole
world on fire from craving and ourselves burning with it, then urgency
will become a natural part of our make-up and willpower a concomitant
to it. Willpower arises in direct proportion to urgency, which is
connected to our insight into the world around us; the world which
does not stop at our front door, because it lives in our own heart and
The next pathway to power is "concentration of consciousness,"
(//citta-samadhi//) or one-pointedness of concentration. When
intention and energy come together in a powerful way coupled with
willpower, meditative concentration can result. The first two pathways
are causes for the third one to arise, leading to meditative
absorptions. Deep tranquillity in one's meditation is the underlying
factor needed for profound insights, which can change an ordinary
worldling to a noble one, which is the goal of our practice.
Most people today are not really aware of that, but are interested
in meditation to gain release from stress. That too is all right. Why
not? The Buddha's purpose and teaching were relief and release from
//dukkha// once and for all, so that it can never arise again. If we
translate //dukkha// as stress, which we can well do, then we might
say, "yes it is relief from stress. But the kind of release the Buddha
had in mind is based on the depth of insight, where we realize and
experience that is isn't really //dukkha// that disappears, but the
"me" who is experiencing it vanishes.
One-pointed intention and one-pointed effort lead to one-pointed
consciousness. The mind finds itself in a state of awareness where
there are no obstructions or obstacles resulting from thinking.
Insight does not arise from thoughts, but is an inner, intuitive
knowing quite different from discursive and logical thinking, rather
an outcome of a clear and calm mind. This leads the awareness into the
depths of truth, which has always been there, but which did not rise
to the surface before, so that the mind could not grasp it previously.
What the Buddha experienced under the Bodhi Tree, when he was able
to formulate the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path, was
not a result of discursive thinking nor of logical or learned
understanding. It was a deep inner experience which arose from a
totally calm mind without obstructions.
It is our saving grace that a mind can do only one thing at a time.
When we are calm and concentrated all our hindrances are momentarily
laid to rest. This is the boon of meditation. When there are no
obstacles in the mind, it has the ability to recognize an entirely
different depth than it does under ordinary circumstances, when we are
always in danger of having greed, hate or deluded mind states arise.
When we arouse the pathways to power we create a different dimension
in the mind. This is essential, as otherwise we may believe in the
Buddha and his teaching, but may not be able to prove it ourselves. It
is up to all of us to live the Dhamma in heart and mind.
The fourth pathway is the "concentration of investigation."
Subsequent to the experience of calm and tranquillity with their
inherent expansion of consciousness, comes investigation for insight.
The meditative calm becomes a condition for insight through
concentrated investigation, when we realize the impermanence of even
the best meditative states. None of the pathways, however, only apply
to meditation. While they benefit us greatly in the context of
meditation, they are useful and practicable in all other moments of
We certainly need concentrated intention in daily living. We cannot
one day intend to be kind, the next day selfish, then kind again and
expect to be peaceful and happy. We also need to know what we are
aiming for in mundane living. If we want a university education, we
have to concentrate on that intention. We cannot go to university one
day, stay home the next day and expect to pass examinations.
Concentration of energy is also a basic requirement of daily living.
If we conserve our energy to use it where it bears the best fruit, our
mundane endeavors will flourish and be easily accomplished. If we
develop and cultivate right intention, energy, willpower and
concentration, we can increase our potential manifold.
Notwithstanding any results we may see in ourselves, we should never
expect to be either totally perfect or totally imperfect. We need to
look upon ourselves as practitioners, those who are learning. In the
Buddha's time they were called //savaka//, which means "hearer." If we
consider ourselves in that way, we need not search for perfection or
imperfection, but rather try to draw nearer to giving up all ideas of
"me" and "mine."
Concentrated investigation of phenomena is an aspect of our moment
to moment mindfulness, which enables us to see //anicca//
(impermanence), //dukkha// (unsatisfactoriness) or //anatta//
(corelessness) wherever we look. Everything that exits proclaims these
three characteristics, so that we need never be without Dhamma
consciousness. Usually one of the three aspects becomes more pregnant
with meaning for us and our mind veers in that direction to
investigate the underlying truth behind the reality in which we live.
We are never without an object for investigation. Our thoughts and
feelings are full of these three characteristics. When there is a
pleasant feeling, can we keep it? Do we feel unhappy when it is gone?
Are we beginning to see this whole person we are so concerned with, as
nothing but flux and flow, with no solid core to be found anywhere?
When we look at ourselves again and again, we will eventually realize
that we cannot find an unchanging substance within.
Depth of insight arises through the meditative process. However, we
need to assist our practice by investigative thoughts and directions
in daily living. If our mind is concerned with worldly affairs or
sensual pleasures during the day, it is asking too much of it to
become calm and insightful in the evening. It is an unrealistic
expectation, which no mind can fulfill. We need to prepare our mind,
so that it is used to thinking in terms of Dhamma consciousness, with
mindfulness already established as a daily habit. Then we can proceed
with meditation without first having to shed all mental burdens. We
are already facing in the right direction and can easily achieve calm
and peacefulness, which are our resource for mental energy.
When we are young, we may be inclined to think that our body is our
source of energy. But the body can fall sick at any time, can be
maimed or even die. Our real energy source lies in the fact that the
mind can renew itself and become powerful through the arising of deep
tranquillity. Then it doesn't matter whether the body is old and
decrepit or young and healthy, because mind is the master and body the
We need the meditative calm as our fuel supply. It is more important
even than food. Although one does eventually have to have food again,
one can go without it for quite a long time, much longer than usually
thought possible, and still have much energy to meditate. We have this
natural resource within, yet very few people take advantage of it. In
order to make use of it, the mind needs protection during daily
living, so that it is already in the right frame of consciousness when
meditation begins. Insight into the futility of ambitions and desires
helps to lessen discursive and distracting thinking.
The four pathways to power are mundane when we are practicing and
become supermundane when we have perfected them. They bring total
liberation from //dukkha// if culmination of intention, energy
willpower, calm and insight is achieved, which they demand of us.
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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank