2021-04-07 Mindfulness of Breathing (71) Seven Factors of Awakening
2:54PM Apr 7, 2021
Having covered the 16 steps of mindfulness of breathing, the Buddha's instructions in this practice continue into first explaining how mindfulness of breathing comes along with the fulfillment – a powerful word 'fulfillment' – of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. As I said yesterday, each of the four parts, the four tetrads, of the 16 steps, is directly connected to one of the four foundations of mindfulness.
If you do the first tetrad – connecting to the breathing, feeling the breath body, relaxing the bodily formations – do that well – fully enter into that deeply – it also fulfills the first foundation of mindfulness, the mindfulness of the body, and so forth.
What is interesting is that next, the Buddha says that fulfilling the four foundations of mindfulness fulfills, brings about, evokes, the Seven Factors of Awakening. The way it does that is if you do the first tetrad fully, This fulfills the first foundation of mindfulness. The full fulfillment of the first foundation of mindfulness then awakens, or brings along with it, the seven factors of awakening. The seven factors of awakening then lead to awakening.
The implication here is that each of the tetrads of ānāpānasati can be complete in itself – you don't have to go through the 16 steps one after the other. It's enough that your practice is staying with any one of the four. I think for many people, just staying with the first step. So the first four steps are not elementary or remedial and you want to get to the higher steps. You're supposed to guide yourself through them. The first four steps can take you all the way to awakening – just doing that.
After the Buddha died, there were early commentaries, and they went in a similar way to say that if you do the first tetrad, this also fulfills the other 12 steps. Somehow, the simplicity of being present for breathing – and the body, and relaxing the body, calming the body – doing that fully brings about all the other benefits, all the other movements of practice.
To me, this has a lot to do with the simplicity of this practice. The simpler we can be – the less entangled we are in trying, in wanting, just being here in a simple way – is onward leading. It sets free – the water begins flowing down the mountainside. You have to put up big boulders and blockages to stop it. You can do that, but it's a lot of work. If you remove the obstacles, water will flow.
This practice of ānāpānasati – mindfulness of breathing – is a practice of becoming simpler and simpler in that we step away from all the obstacles. We release the obstacles – and then something unfolds, moves and deepens.
The meditator doesn't have to be concerned about that deepening – just go along for the ride – if we can stay intimate, connected and trusting this mindfulness of breathing – mindfulness of being in the body – letting the body relax and soften around the breathing. And not get caught up in other things. Simpler and simpler, just breathing, just breathing: focused, settled, steady, composed on the breathing. The idea is not to force that – a lot this has to do with letting go. Just allow yourself to become simpler and simpler.
The Buddha says the fulfillment of the first foundation of mindfulness, fulfills the first of the seven factors of awakening, which is mindfulness itself. When mindfulness is fulfilled – the language is interesting – the language is more like then it's a natural, or what flows out of that, what arises out of that – as opposed to what we're supposed to do.
It continues this process of simplicity, where we're just getting out of the way, and something begins to bubble up and unfold – this miracle of the Dharma. He says that when the mindfulness has become well developed, then what follows is investigation. One looks more carefully, with wisdom, at what's happening. If mindfulness is clear, investigation is seeing in more detail what is clear, what is happening – greater clarity and investigation of discerning what is here.
For the Buddha the more we discern – the more we see clearly what's here – gives rise to energy, engagement, and interest. "Oh, this is good," partly because the more we can investigate, what we're investigating, discerning and seeing if we're really mindful – is how the trail, the path, opens in front of us into where freedom is, into what is wholesome and beneficial.
We follow the choices that are in the wholesome direction, because we know what's unwholesome. We know that clinging, grasping and aversion don't really work. We choose not to go there. We don't stop having those feelings, but we don't get involved, we don't pick up. To the degree that there is choice, we choose what's wholesome.
For meditators, that wholesome thing can be as simple as just staying with the breathing. Being mindful of breathing is considered a phenomenally wholesome and healthy thing to do. Then there is energy for that. Enthusiasm for that arises. Not that you have to be enthusiastic or interested – it just flows out of the practice as it deepens.
As we have this interested engagement, then what flows out of that is joy and delight – happiness about this. What flows out of this is that something deeper settles, relaxes, feels reassured, becomes calm and tranquil – a deeper tranquility and serenity. This deeper serenity and tranquility leads to greater concentration – more settledness, steadiness, and composure. Then from this deeper composure and settled concentration flows equanimity, deep non-reactivity of the mind.
Equanimity is the pinnacle of simplicity. That's where things are so simple, we're just aware, and the awareness is not ruffled by any wanting and not wanting. Until we get to this stage of equanimity, awareness is not completely simple, so don't worry about it. Don't try to have perfection.
The movement is to be as simple as you can. We move through the seven beautiful factors. That's the miracle of practice – that this simple awareness – staying in the simplicity of it – can lead to these beautiful qualities of: mindfulness; deeper discernment or investigation; energy, engagement or effort; joy; tranquility; concentration; and equanimity.
Part of the value of this deep equanimity is that with this radical simplicity, we are getting closer and closer to where the mind is not for or against anything. It's just there – luminous, clear, present, fully here. Without wants and aversions. Without building a self or having a self-referential self-help project. Self concern or conceit fall away, because things have gotten so simple and clear.
Equanimity is that way. Because it is not doing, wanting or trying to get anything, at some point, awareness can discover rest, letting go, and release – where any remnant, any way of structure – personality structure, linguistic structure – any ways in which the mind is involved with things and thinking about things – just releases, lets go.
There's experience of freedom. The nature of this freedom is that people say, "Well, now I know what the practice is about!" "Oh so, this is what it's about – this level, this possibility of being free from any attachment, any clinging, any agitation, any contraction at all." "Wow, this is possible!"
I would call it the ultimate fulfillment of simplicity. It's a simplicity, which – rather than being boring, or feeling like we're missing out on the wonderful things of life – "This is the wonderfulness!" This peace, clarity, and happiness of freedom is one of the greatest things in this universe. One then knows: "This is what practice can do. This is what simple, clear awareness is."
It is said in the ancient world – this is not meant to be discouraging (I hope it's encouraging) – the ancient lore is that then, this is when Dharma practice begins. With the first real taste of freedom, we know what the practice is really about. We have no doubts about it anymore: "Oh, now I can start practicing. This is what the practice is" and a huge confidence arises.
In the ancient language of the Buddha, a person at that point is called a practitioner. Of course, we're practitioners before that – wonderful practitioners, with a lot of benefit before this kind of freedom. Usually in English, they translate the word 'sekha' as a trainee. Now, this is a person who is ready to train. Now, this is a person who knows what the practice is about.
All from this simplicity. You don't have to make it complicated. Even the very first step of ānāpānasati, the commentaries say, is enough. Just stay there. Be with that. That is enough to go all the way. You'll be taken. You'll be carried there – if you do it sincerely, fully, and regularly.
The text goes on to one more teaching for tomorrow. That is the teaching of what ānāpānasati practice looks like when a person has become a trainee – become a practitioner in the way I'm talking about. How do we practice after the first glimpse of awakening?
Thank you very much, and I'm looking forward to being here with you again tomorrow.