2021-03-06 Mindfulness of Breathing (47) Tranquility Factor of Awakening
7:29PM Mar 7, 2021
We're continuing to discuss the Seven Factors of Awakening. Following the joy factor of awakening, we come to the tranquility factor of awakening. In the teachings of the Buddha, that pattern repeats itself many times. First there's joy, and then there's tranquility.
One of the common phrases in the 'suttas' is that "when the mind is joyful, the body becomes tranquil. And when the body is tranquil, there arises happiness." Exactly how this works, I can't tell you. It depends a little bit on what we think joy is.
But I think it's very reassuring to begin to experience feelings of delight, joy, happiness, and goodness in meditation. It's reassuring. Something can release. Something can relax: "This is good. I'm here. I'm starting to be home. This is a good place to be. It's okay not to be running around searching, wanting, fighting, resisting, and hoping. It's okay to be reassured – just to be here, settled and relaxed."
The function of tranquility in the Buddhist path of meditation is not tranquility for its own sake, but tranquility for the sake of happiness. Joy precedes tranquility, and that opens up the possibility of a deeper happiness. Exactly what we mean by happiness, perhaps each of us will have a different idea of that. But it's something that opens up throughout the body. It's often considered to be an embodied feeling of contentment, happiness, warmth, and goodness, which tranquility enables.
Tranquility is something that's meant to spread throughout our body, to open up our body, so the tensions of the body are not holding things in check. As the body opens up more and more, and we get to feel and open to the body, there's more room for well- being. This embodied sense of well-being doesn't depend on what's happening in the world. It doesn't depend on having our desires met, or having a positive evaluation. It doesn't depend on someone praising us, or on having worldly success. It comes from a state of mind and body that we've settled into in a meditative way.
It's not easy to experience this. In terms of the Factors of Awakening, tranquility is step five. Just as with 'ānāpānasati,' whether we know it or not, we're all moving through these factors. On different days, different ones are salient.
I think that, percentage-wise, the average meditator spends much of their time on the first factor – mindfulness. They spend somewhat less time with investigation, effort, even less time feeling joy, tranquility, and happiness. They spend less time feeling 'samadhi,' concentration and equanimity.
I'm saying this so that we don't set ourselves up, thinking that it has to be linear, that it has to be more and more of the good stuff. Meditation has a lot to do with starting over, working with with what we have and what's going on. And then, slowly, we might find ourselves developing and moving in the direction that the Seven Factors of Awakening are pointing to.
But to return to tranquility, in the mid 1970s, when the first American vipassanā teachers in our lineage were establishing 'vipassanā' in United States, they were looking for a retreat center. They came across a closed monastery in Barre, Massachusetts, a small town. As they were driving through town to see the place, they saw a little statue commemorating the colonial times or the Revolutionary War. On it was the motto of the town: "Tranquil and Alert.' And they said, "Oh, this is our place. This is the place for our meditation center: "Tranquil and Alert."
So certainly, the tranquility that comes along with alertness, not bright, energetic alertness, but a kind of clarity and simplicity of alertness – being really 'here,' present – is what's needed. Not the tranquility in which we get lethargic or dull, or start falling asleep. This is a danger with tranquility. It's easy to linger, rest, and indulge in it in such a way that it becomes soporific. It puts us to sleep.
The art of meditation is to be able to stay alert and clear, while being in deep tranquility. That's why I like the metaphor – the image for tranquility – of a lake early in the morning. The air is completely still, quiet, and very clear at dawn. Everything on the surface of the lake is still, quiet, peaceful, and completely clear. There is clarity that comes with tranquility.
It's important, when there's a lot of tranquility, to bring into balance these factors of awakening. It might be that a little more energy is needed to keep that clarity. Part of the function of the joy factor is to keep a bit brightness there, so the mind can be soft, light, and bright, at the same time.
So, we're tracking ourselves. It's very important in any kind of meditation state that there are some nourishing qualities present. There's an art of not indulging in it, not resting or savoring it in a certain way – but also of allowing ourselves to be nourished by it. Allowing ourselves to feel the goodness of it without leaning into, holding on to it, or becoming complacent.
As people get calmer in meditation, and a lot of their tensions and anxieties settle down, it's very easy to fall into complacency, and be content to feel calm and relaxed. The mind wanders off and falls asleep because there's not really the bright practice of engagement. So this 'bright' tranquility, serenity and peace comes along – bright, tranquil, and alert.
As I've said already, for the Buddha, each of these factors of awakening, have something that nourishes them. In the case of tranquility: "Tranquility nourishes tranquility." If you want to be tranquil, find tranquility, because that tranquility feeds and influences us.
Some people find tranquility in the places they go. There are, believe it or not, buildings that are tranquil buildings. I used to go into some of the churches in Europe when I lived there. I'd just sit quietly. Some of them were quite tranquil and peaceful. It was wonderful, in the hustle and bustle of town, to come across this wonderful church. I'd go in, and it would be so peaceful. I'd just sit there for a while and take it in. It was nourishing to take it in.
Many people associate tranquility with places in nature, even if it's a very small park. It can be a tranquil place. Yesterday, I was in a park, and there was a place in the park with a few trees. And I thought, "This is a peaceful place." It was nice to be there and take it in.
Maybe tranquility can be found with a cup of tea. Just contentedly drink the tea. Drink the tea as if this is meant to be a place to drink...tranquility. A bit of a footnote is that the word 'pīti,' is the word for joy in Pali. It also means to drink – nourishment, drinking in something.
When you sit and meditate, can you support yourself with tranquility as you meditate? Do you just leave it to chance? Do you gamble that "Today, I'm going to sit down and maybe there'll be some tranquility"? Or do you sit down in a place that's tranquil?
Sometimes people find that straightening their room before they meditate seems to support a little more tranquility – rather than a messy room, a clean place. Take some time to value tranquility, calmness. Sit down and see if there's any of it here.
"Tranquility, nourishes tranquility." The ability to recognize it allows us to feel it when it's there, and to avail ourselves of it. I love the term 'nourishment' – to be nourished by this. It goes along with translating 'kusala,' the word for skillful or wholesome, as 'wholesome.' One thing wholesome implies is something that's healthy and nourishing for us – wholesome bread, for example.
What we're doing on this Buddhist path is nourishing ourselves with what's wholesome. And that's a very different paradigm for meditation practice than the acquisitive paradigm: "I've got to do it. I've got to work at it, and get concentrated, make something happen, and get something to happen to me." There can be a lot of unhealthy, un-nourishing attitudes that we bring to meditation.
Is there a nourishing attitude? Is there an attitude of: "Do this practice. Engage in our life. Live our life." – so that the very way we live feels nourishing, wholesome, and supportive, that is onward leading?
Each of these factors of awakening is onward leading. With tranquility, your practice is not a dead end. When you're practicing mindfulness and sit sincerely, tranquility itself is an onward-leading support to go to happiness and contentment. This then becomes a support for samādhi, for concentration.
If we take samādhi to be unification of mind, in which we have a feeling of becoming whole, then tranquility allows us to be at ease in our whole body and mind. Tranquility supports us to be really centered and 'here' in a deep way, without the tensions, conflicts, and divisions that prevent us from feeling wholeness. We then understand how being tranquil is a support for the feeling of wholeness or unification that comes with samādhi.
This will be the topic for tomorrow. And so, for now, you're left with tranquility. It can't be that bad. Thank you.