The Seven Factors of Awakening, an Introduction

May 7, 2013

“Someone once asked Lama Govinda how one could fit together the various traditions that represent [the] Buddha’s teaching. He replied that one can think of [the] Buddha’s dharma as a wonderful seed planted in the earth, out of which has blossomed a tree with deep roots, great branches, leaves, flowers and fruit. He said that sometimes a person might point to the roots and say that it is just here that we can find the real dharma, while someone else may say, ‘Oh, no, it’s in the flowers,’ and still another will say that it is to be found in the fruit. But of course, these different parts cannot really be separated; the roots sustain the tree in their own way, the leaves nourish their way, and the fruit depends on the roots and leaves and branches as well. The Seven Factors of Awakening are like the sap that runs through the Buddha’s tree,… nourishing all parts of it.”

 -from Seeking the Heart of Wisdom,
   Joseph Goldstein & Jack Kornfield
The Buddha’s teaching on the Seven Factors of Awakening comes from the Satipatthana Sutta, and is part of the Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness, Mindfulness of the Dhammas. These factors are qualities of mind and heart that arise naturally as an outgrowth of meditation practice, though they are not limited to meditation alone. Over the coming weeks we’ll look at these factors individually. They include:
Energy & Effort
Rapture & Joy
Calm & Tranquility
In the Sutta, the Buddha taught the Factors of Awakening after the Hindrances because they function as antidotes to the Hindrances. For example, doubt can be uprooted by applying investigation. Restlessness and worry are dissolved with concentration. This list of factors is divided into three categories which clearly describe their function; equalizing, arousing, and stabilizing. Mindfulness is the ground, the great equalizer, the soil out of which the other six grow. The arousing factors are investigation, energy & effort, and rapture & joy. The stabilizing factors are calm & tranquility, concentration, and equanimity. When developed and put into practice, these qualities loosen up the stuck mind which then inclines and guides it towards awakening. The awakened mind is one that sees clearly, is free of contention, and allows us to access our innate goodness for the purpose of living a skillful, peaceful, wise and compassionate life.  
I see these factors as an arc with mindfulness and equanimity at the base of the two legs, the others rising up and over from them. They unfold and develop in sequence quite beautifully and naturally. One leads to the next and each is dependent on the one that precedes it. Think of it this way; as we become aware of what is present, we investigate its nature. Investigation requires energy and effort, and once there is clarity and understanding, rapture and joy arise, the “ah-ha” moment. This is the top of the arc. As rapture and joy subside, calm and tranquility emerge, allowing the mind to rest. Out of a calm mind comes a concentrated mind, and out of this settled concentrated mind, equanimity develops.

“Neither mother nor father,
  Nor any other relative can do
  One as much good
  As one’s own well-directed mind.”            
                  -The Buddha, from The Dhammapada
                    Gil Fronsdal, translator