On the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, Part Two: Mindfulness and Acute Awareness

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

Venerable Piyadassi Maha Thera explained the first two factors of enlightenment which are mindfulness and deep inquiry.

The first illumination factor is sati or mindfulness, the most effective instrument to use to achieve self-mastery and find the path to liberation. Mindfulness is fourfold: mindfulness in the contemplation of the body, feelings, mind, and mental objects as they actually are, as opposed to how the mind imagines them.

Fri. Piyadassi observed:

A man without this important quality of mindfulness cannot accomplish anything worthwhile.

The Buddha's final warning on his deathbed was:

Transients are all building blocks. Work on your deliverance carefully.

The last words of Ven. Sariputta, the Master's greatest disciple, who died before the Buddha, was:

Strive vigilantly. This is my advice to you.

In both injunctions, the significant word in Pali is appamada— incessant vigilance. This means being continually mindful of your actions in every waking moment.

Fri. Piyadassi noted:

Only when a man is fully conscious and attentive to his activities can he distinguish right from wrong and right from wrong. It is in the light of full consciousness that he will see the beauty or ugliness of his actions.

The Buddha said:

Monks, I know of no other thing of such power to cause the appearance of good thoughts not yet appeared, or to cause the decline of bad thoughts if they have already appeared, such as alertness. In one who is attentive, good thoughts that have not yet arisen arise, and bad thoughts, if they arise, diminish.

Fri. Piyadassi explained:

Constant attention and vigilance are necessary to avoid evil and do good. The man with presence of mind who surrounds himself with alertness of mind (satima), the courageous and serious man is ahead of the lethargic, the carefree (pamatto), like a racehorse outpaces a decrepit hack.

The true image of the Buddha is the image of mindfulness or, as Ven. Piyadassi said:

It is the sada sato, always attentive, always vigilant. He is the epitome of mindfulness.

Fri. Piyadassi added:

In a way, mindfulness or awareness is superior to knowledge, because in the absence of mindfulness it is simply impossible for a man to get the most out of his learning. Intelligence devoid of full awareness tends to lead man astray and lure him away from the path of rectitude and duty. Even well-informed and intelligent people fail to see things in their proper perspective when they lack the all-important quality of mindfulness. . . . Mindfulness is the main characteristic of all healthy actions tending to benefit ourselves or others.

Le Dhammapadaa collection of sayings of the Buddha, notes that:

The man who delights in mindfulness and regards carelessness with fear is not liable to fall. It is close to Nibbana. (32)

The second factor of enlightenment is a thorough investigation of the Dhamma.

“It is the analytical and keen knowledge of understanding the true nature of all constituent things,” as Ven. Piyadassi says it. “It’s about seeing things as they really are; see things in their proper perspective. It is the analysis of all the things that compose it down to their fundamental elements, down to their ultimates. Through careful investigation, it is understood that all compound things go through incredibly rapid moments of Uppada, Thiti, et bhanga, or to arise, to culminate and to cease, just as a river in flood reaches its peak and disappears. The entire universe is constantly changing and does not stay the same for two consecutive moments. In fact, all things are subject to causes, conditions and effects (hetu, paccayaet phala).”

The attentive man, using careful investigation, will come to see the true nature of things as they arise, reach their climax and cease.

The Buddha taught:

The doctrine is for the wise and not for the unwary. And those who become wise will see cause and effect, seed and fruit, rise and fall of all compound things.

Buddhism does not call for blind faith; this requires careful investigation. Investigate, by careful observation and analysis, the phenomena of life as they continually unfold, arise and cease, begin and end, according to the law of impermanence – with all elements arising, culminating and ceasing in such so that nothing is immutable or permanent.

“He who cultivates dhammavicaya, investigation into the Dhamma,” said Ven. Piyadassi, “concentrates his mind on the five grasping aggregates and strives to realize the rise and fall or the appearance and disappearance of this conglomerate of naked forces. . . this mixture of spirit and matter. . . . Only when he achieves the evanescence of his own mind and body does he experience happiness and joyful anticipation.

“Thus it is said: “Whenever he reflects on the rise and fall of the aggregates, he experiences unadulterated joy and happiness. For the discerning, the reflection is immortal: Nibbana. (374 DH)

“What is fleeting and not lasting, he considers a heavy sorrow. What is ephemeral and heavy with sorrow he understands to be devoid of a permanent and eternal soul, self, or ego entity. It is this understanding, this awareness of the three characteristics, or laws of transience, of grief and not-self…anicca, dukkha, et anatta—which Buddhists call vipassana-nana or penetrating insight, which, like the sharp sword, entirely eradicates all latent tendencies (anusaya) and with it all the various ramifications of the cause of sorrow are finally destroyed. »

The person thus liberated can penetrate into the darkest recesses of the mind to recognize the true nature of all that underlies appearance. Such a person has clear vision which sees the true nature of phenomena.

Mindfulness and deep inquiry are key elements of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment and without cultivating them, it would be impossible for the practitioner to approach the clear and pure heights of the pinnacle of consciousness and deliverance.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

Leave comments