. . . the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, . . .
In our practice of the thirty-seven limbs of enlightenment, the five roots and the five powers are followed by the seven factors of enlightenment. These factors help us know how to prevent obstacles from arising in our practice.
The first factor of enlightenment is mindfulness. Mindfulness enables us to know real from false and helps us distinguish between what are genuine needs and what are simply desires. With this awareness, we will then know what we should pursue, as opposed to what we typically pursue—the five desires of wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep! In foolishly chasing these desires, we ignore the second of the four foundations of mindfulness: mindfulness of feelings as suffering.
Failing to grasp the cause of suffering, we set ourselves up for even more suffering. Desiring wealth, we become frustrated when we feel that we do not have enough. Longing for fame, we feel irritated when others do not praise us in the way we want. Craving a particular food, we feel disappointed when it fails to satisfy us in the way we expect.
Such endless desires and our resultant feelings are all wandering, pointless thoughts. We pursue things of this world, forgetting that they are illusory and temporary, not real and lasting. When we realize that everything in the cycle of rebirth is an illusion, we will come
to understand that impermanent worldly phenomena cannot go with us when we die. The only thing that will go with us is our karma. We must strive, therefore, to accomplish good karmas and avoid committing those that are bad. Having the wisdom to tell real from
false—this is being mindful.
The second factor of enlightenment is the correct choice of teaching. This factor addresses the need to evaluate correctly the teachings that are available so that we can choose the method that is best suited to our abilities and conditions. For example, drawn to Buddhism,
we have evaluated the teachings and picked the Pure Land method of learning and practice. Now, as students of the Pure Land school, we need to choose our teacher. This accomplished, we need to learn how to practice from him or her, so that we can progress in
the right direction.
The third factor of enlightenment is diligence: the tireless striving to attain a goal. Usually, we are enthusiastic when we choose to begin a new endeavor. But, as is often the case, this enthusiasm wanes after a while. If we are not careful, this can also happen with our
practice. There is a saying that in the first year of learning Buddhism, a Buddha is right in front of us. In the second year, a Buddha is on the distant horizon. In the third year, he is off in the clouds. All too easily, our interest dwindles. If this happens, then even learning
and practicing Buddhism can become mindless routine. But if we are able to maintain our original enthusiasm and sincerity for learning Buddhism, buddhahood will surely be achieved.
The fourth factor of enlightenment is joy. Dharma joy is peaceful and pure. Once we have tasted the flavor of the Dharma, there will be no stopping us. During our learning and chanting, we will feel real joy, a sign that we are making courageous and diligent
The fifth factor of enlightenment is ease, which enables our mind to become stable and calm. To accomplish this, we need to know how to rid ourselves of afflictions. Afflictions quickly arise when we are affected by our surroundings and frustrated in the face of difficulties.
It is very easy to reach this point, where we just want to give up. Instead of being troubled and wanting to abandon our practice, we need to delve more deeply into it. We do so by initially using our buddha-name chanting to master our afflictions and then to eliminate
them. When our chanting is firmly entrenched, we will naturally be neither angry in adverse conditions nor attached to pleasant ones.
The sixth factor of enlightenment is concentration. The goal of concentration in our practice is to uncover our true nature. As Buddhists, we need single-minded concentration. We achieve this by delving deeply into one method and being immersed in it for a long time.
We should not try to learn various methods. Trying to succeed by learning many methods is like trying to arrive at a destination by taking different routes, all at the same time.
If we concentrate on our practice of chanting Amitabha Buddha’s name and resist the temptation to learn other methods, we will be able to achieve constant mindfulness. In this state, we will no longer have thoughts stemming from selfishness, greed, anger, ignorance,
or arrogance. We will no longer crave wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep. We will not have eliminated these afflictions, but we will be able to keep them in check. At that time, we will be continuously aware of Amitabha Buddha.
But if we are intrigued by many things and want to learn as much as we can from them, we will make little progress in reaching constant mindfulness. In the end, we may learn much but will achieve little. Clearly, this is not what we want to happen. We need to remember
that the key to success in all undertakings is single-minded concentration.
The seventh factor of enlightenment is equanimity. Not yet having attained equanimity, we usually find ourself tempted by external stimuli. Our senses will be aroused by these stimuli and we will react to them. But we should not be attached to them. When they are
gone, we should not yearn for them. Every time we reminisce about them, a seed is planted in our store consciousness as we create yet another karmic cause. Although our speech and actions may not be creating a karmic cause, our thoughts are. We should remember
that “all phenomena are illusory” and “all conditioned existences are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow.”
We need to turn to these seven factors of enlightenment when we encounter problems in our learning and practice. They can help us determine the right method to prevent more obstacles from arising. If we feel sleepy or for whatever reason cannot be mindful of
Amitabha, we can use mindfulness, diligence, and joy to aid us in selecting the most suitable practice. For example, after doing sitting meditation for a while, we may switch to prostrations or walking meditation. Or, if we think that chanting is tedious, we can think of the
beautiful aspects of the Pure Land: how everything there glows with light, how soft the golden ground is, or how beautifully the birds sing.
Alternatively, should we feel agitated or become distracted by external stimuli, we can practice ease, concentration, and equanimity to calm ourselves. We can think of how Amitabha gave rise to extraordinary compassion and made his great vows for our benefit,
and then encourage ourselves to be more like him. We can think of someone whose practice we admire and respect, and try to be more like that person. Or, we can remind ourselves how content we are when we sincerely practice.
These are just some of the ways we can overcome obstacles in our practice and, thus, continue to move forward on the path to enlightenment.
— Chapter 18, "Pure Mind, Compassionate Heart: Lessons from the Amitabha Sutra", Venerable Wuling
Photo credit link