This is one of the oldest Buddhist teachings.
These are the seven things considered most important qualities in helping us on the path.
Buddhism is full of lists because lists are easy to remember. This is one of the most important lists and it’s emphasized in just about every Buddhist tradition. You’ll notice that some of these are related to one another, and that’s okay.
Mindfulness is an awareness to the reality of things. It is considered an antidote to delusion. It’s a clear and relaxed awareness of what’s going on around us. It involves being in the present moment instead of distracted remembering the past or thinking about the future.
Investigation involves investigating the Dharma for ourselves. The Buddha said, “Believe nothing no matter where you read it or who said it unless it agrees with your common sense and observation.” He was suggesting that we aren’t practicing the Dharma because he said so, but to see if it works for ourselves. The Buddha really wanted us to think.
Diligence represents not giving up. I tell people that the easiest thing in the world is not meditating. I’m at home early in the morning and no one is around and I have to make the choice to meditate. I could easily not do it and watch Netflix. In the modern world, we have millions of ways to distract and entertain ourselves. But I cultivate the quality of diligence. It means not giving up, pursuing the path with determination. When I was a kid I remember teachers talking about a quality called stick-to-it-iveness. I didn’t believe that was a word and I still don’t. But, that is the same thing as diligence.
Joy represents positive thinking. If you are excited about chanting a mantra or meditating, you are using the factor of joy. We aren’t practicing Buddhism because we think we are supposed to. We are practicing to transform ourselves, to transform our suffering and to bring some contentment to our lives. That is something to get excited about.
Tranquility refers to our ability to relax. This is important on the Buddhist path because if we have a lot of anxiety about the path, that can cause problems too. So, the cultivation of Tranquility represents our ability to manage our stress and anxiety. When we take a deep breath when we are upset or angry or nervous, we are engaging Tranquility.
Concentration is our ability to focus. When we count our breaths during meditation, that is Concentration. We are trying to keep our minds on our breathing. When we really strengthen our ability to concentrate, it gives us real insights into our lives. But, it is something we have to strengthen over time. Improving our concentration obviously helps us in a lot of other ways such as focusing on something we have to study for school or some new project at work.
Equanimity is probably the deepest one of the seven factors. It represents facing the difficulties of life without getting needlessly attached to them. When something bad happens and I get stressed out or angry about it, I am often making the situation a lot worse. If I face a problem with Equanimity, then I am not letting the problem be bigger than it is. We have a tendency in our lives to make things bigger than they are. Equanimity is our ability to resist that.
So, these are the Seven Factors of Awakening. My favorite is diligence. What’s yours?
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Fabian Nick