What is Awakening?

1140356057MY9W76What is Awakening?

Awakening is often called enlightenment, liberation, freedom, nibbana (Pali), or nirvana (Sanskrit). Some say that it is the ability to be free from greed, aversion, and delusion — also known as “cessation” and “cooling out.” It is the freedom that arises when the mind is no longer attached to what it wants and is free from demands. The mind no longer rejects or reacts to what it is unpleasant (aversion) and does not crave sensory pleasures (greed). It no longer suffers from the Five Hindrances of greed, aversion, sloth and torpor, restlessness, agitation, and doubt, which obstruct awakening. It recognizes when they are present, and this awareness opens the path to working with them. It is said that the “Seven Factors of Awakening” antidote the Five Hindrances.

When we are not lost in stress, in a sense of un-satisfactoriness, dukkha, or suffering, we begin to realize that there is a path to happiness through letting go, of relinquishing our physical and mental pain, and that there can be ease and balance in life. And we understand that this is what has brought us here; now we are ready to inquire into what it is that can bring us awakening.

Awakening is not just one thing; it is composed of seven qualities of heart and mind that are developed by beginning to practice mindfulness. There is a story about this: Shortly before the Buddha died, he called together his disciples and told them what he had discovered on his path to his own spiritual development. They were certain truths that would quicken and strengthen our being and become our “best friends.” They were not beliefs or creeds; they were “The Seven factors of Awakening.”

How do they work together in meditation practice and in daily life? We learn how to create these conditions by what the Buddha called “the sure heart’s release,” which offered the complete release of dukkha in the mind. Going for the highest happiness, beyond any sense of temporary wellbeing, and uprooting dukkha.

There are two ways to understand how they unfold:

  • Linear — developing one factor leads to the next.
  • Balancing mindfulness — the other six factors follow.

1 – Mindfulness (Sati) is a simple way of knowing what our experience is moment by moment without judgment and means to recollect or remember. Often called “Loving Awareness,” with kindness we recognize being in a body with body sensations and the six sense gates: seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, and the mind factors of thinking and emotions. By being present, we begin to have curiosity about what we are noticing, leading to…

2 – Investigation (Dhamma Vichya). The more present you are, the more you want to pay attention and know what is this moment about. You begin to get interested — what is arising and passing away? What is the nature of my immediate experience? What does this sensation feel like, how is it changing? What is the sensation of my breath? A curiosity about what is happening right now, like a child. This interest leads to vitality, it can be enlivening and this leads to…

3 – Energy or Effort (Viriya). Energetic effort — also called strength, courage, enthusiasm, and hero. When we have enthusiasm, our energy is directed toward establishing skillful states of mind. It comes out of motivation and aspiration for our practice and it becomes a heroic journey to understand the nature of our experience. We continue inquiring even under conditions of adversity — when we are tired or restless, angry or sad. U Tejaniya says Wise Effort is to “keep reminding oneself to be awake.” My long distance running was a type of perseverance. As the mind becomes more alert and present it becomes delighted in what is going on leading to…

4 – Joy (Piti) is having a rapt attention like rapture. We take a joyful interest (mind) in this moment. A fascination. Taking time in nature, in a project, a fullness that is both energetic and joyful. In meditation joy is born out of concentration, sustaining our practice, Ajahn Brahm calls this “a beautiful breath”; the mind lights up and this is satisfying. If the mind gets too excitable, the words from the I Ching “Excess joy destroys the heart” apply. Then let it even itself out and begin to cultivate calm through…

5 – Tranquility or calm (Pasadi) is also known as ease, serenity, relaxation — pacifying factors in mind and body that settle attention in the present. There is no struggle, and afflictive thoughts slow down and no longer assault us. There is less greed and aversion. The ancient Greek story of Ulysses out at sea — so much to contend to with storms, monsters, being lost, and then the “Sirens”… he plugged his ears and had his men tie him down so he did not jump overboard to go to them. He had made this effort and there was great relief once it passed as he could relax into the moment. There was fear about being destroyed by the “Sirens” and now he was in a safe harbor. We trust we can come back again and it’s all okay. Ajahn Amaro says, “Rest in the natural ease, peace and ease, and pay attention to whatever disturbs us.” These temporary rest stops are what we look for in practice. We are so used to intensity in our culture that we worry if we are not always being busy and doing. This emerges from the unconditional stillness of peace into…

6 – Concentration or calm concentration (Samadhi). We begin to bask in happiness and this leads to trusting this state, a simple collectedness of mind. This state does not come about by forcing or over-effort but by a trust and relaxing, allowing calm. (In the West this word has a narrow focus, which is often focusing on one thing and closing off all else.) The entire psyche is collected in this present moment; the one point that includes everything else. When mind comes together it is steady, stabile, unified, and whole and is not thrown off by afflictive mind sates so easily.

7 – Equanimity (Upekkha) from the tranquility and stability of mind, a state of mind balance arises and it stays steady in in alternating currents of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. It is not a cold and distant state; that is the far enemy of it. When we can be in the state of balance, the heart is more open, we feel loving friendliness and compassion. A state of equipoise and mind becomes spacious, calm and present, and dispassionate. There is neutrality. “Upe” means to look over to see the big picture, an overview of things, and not pushed around by conditions. Big mind, beautiful mind. We can experience sublime emotions and be deeply gratified.

Awakening and liberation are optimal conditions for the mind to let go. There are three Uplifting factors (investigation, energy, and joy) and three Calming factors (tranquility, concentration and equanimity). Both are needed for balance. Mindfulness is the balancing factor — alertness and ease. We can always readjust.