2021-03-01 Mindfulness of Breathing (43) Mindfulness Factor Of Awakening
5:02PM Mar 1, 2021
Good morning, and welcome to a new theme for these morning teachings. The theme is the Seven Factors of Awakening. This follows the practice and teaching of "experiencing the mind" – experiencing the mind state. The mind state, or the mind, is a broader experience of our interiority – our inner life – than noticing the particular activities of mind that are operating – for example, thinking or particular emotions.
The state of mind is like the mood or atmosphere – the general state of the way we are – our state of being, almost. As we experience our state of mind more fully, we start becoming aware that there are different states of mind that we can experience – different qualities, characteristics, and features of our state of mind.
The Seven Factors of Awakening can be seen both as particular practices we do, and as qualities or characteristics of the state of mind, or the state of awareness. As the state of awareness, state of mind, becomes more highlighted and noticeable – something we can rest in and feel – then, we can start noticing these qualities of awareness – qualities of our state of mind, our state of awareness.
There are seven factors. The first is usually translated as mindfulness. The second, usually as investigation. Then, effort, joy, tranquility, samādhi (usually translated as concentration), and equanimity. These are considered the crown jewels of Buddhism.
Apparently, in ancient India, a monarch had seven jewels that represented the monarchy. So in Buddhism, those seven jewels are the Seven Factors of Awakening. A curious metaphor, found in the ancient texts, is that a monarch has seven special sets of clothes – suits to wear on different occasions. In the same way that a monarch has special – maybe opulent – suits of clothes to wear, so Buddhist practitioners, as they develop in practice, have the Seven Factors of Awakening as their suit.
It's kind of a strange metaphor, but I think that what's suggested by it is that a suit is something you wear for a while. Instead of clothes, you wear a factor for a while. So with these different factors of awakening, at different times, different factors represent the state of mind we're in. We wear that state for a while.
There can be a time when mindfulness involves a great sense of clear awareness. A clear sense of awareness stands out, and that's the primary characteristic of our state of mind. At other times, there might be a great sense of tranquility, or joy, or unification (samādhi), or equanimity which stands out. Of the Seven Factors of Awakening, each one can stand out and be the primary characteristic. Or, it's possible to be aware of all seven in balance and working together in a certain way. We can recognize them together and see how we need to bring them into balance.
Many years ago, when I sat a long retreat, at some point in the practice, the Seven Factors of Awakening stood out in highlight. This can happen when the mind is really settled and at peace. These factors become the primary characteristics of what we notice with mindfulness, because everything else is abated – quiet, still and peaceful. The seven factors are what remain.
I was actually instructed to balance them, to bring the factors into balance. At some point, the teacher said: "I notice when you talk about bringing the Seven Factors of Awakening into balance, you 'never' talk about equanimity. It seems like you're always tinkering with them."
I realized, "Yes, I was always thinking I had to fix them and get them just right. I had no equanimity around whatever state I was in." That helped me settle back and become more equanimous.
The first of the Seven Factors of Awakening is 'sati' – the ancient Pali word for it. It can be translated in a number of different ways – 'mindfulness' is the most common. The way that mindfulness practices came to the West, there are many things that are called 'mindfulness' – perhaps all of them appropriately so.
Sometimes mindfulness is referred to as clear recognition of what's happening. It's a cognitive act – for example, recognizing hearing my voice right now. Or recognizing there's pressure on your butt if you're sitting on a chair. Or, the recognition that, "My hand is cold, but my torso is warm."
This clear recognition of things is sometimes fostered by using mental notes. The recognition becomes more highlighted and focused through mental noting.
Sometimes what's called mindfulness is feeling – experiencing, 'sensing' experiences. Some teachers emphasize the language of feeling: "Feel your breathing. Sense your breathing. Experience what's going on." It's more sensory. We're resting in the sensory capacity of the body to be mindful, to be aware.
Sometimes what's emphasized is the power of observation – simply observing what's happening, but not interfering with it.
Those three – recognition, feeling, and observation – are emphasized by the Buddha as practices we can do. But they're not necessarily what he calls 'sati' or mindfulness. He has other terms for those activities.
These other activities are part of mindfulness 'practice,' because they're the practices that lead to 'sati' – a state of awareness. What we're looking for as we practice these things – clearly recognizing what's happening, focusing on the breathing, feeling the experience more fully, observing the experience as it's happening – is what we're moving toward – a state of awareness.
When it becomes a state, Bhikkhu Bodhi sometimes uses the translation of "lucid awareness," when there's a sense of lucidity, clarity, openness, and luminosity. There are many metaphors to describe the state of mindfulness.
It's not easy to be there, to rest in that state or be with it. That's why in the process of 'ānāpānasati' and deepening practice – with time and when we get a sense of the state of mind – we can become aware that there's a state of awareness that's almost coterminous with the state of mind. It's almost the same thing, or occurs within the same domain.
'Sati' – mindfulness – is a state that we allow for. I think that the word 'awareness' is my preferred way of translating 'sati.' We 'are' aware. We say, "I am aware." To paraphrase Descartes, "I am aware, therefore I am." The phrase "I am" implies an identity: "This defines me." "I am aware" suggests a broad way of being or existing – existing in awareness.
It's not easy to rest in or be with, but it is possible. One of the ways to get to that is to begin living at the speed of mindfulness. This is particularly valuable to do while on a retreat, where nothing really has to be done and there's no hurry to do anything. There's more time to take it easy and to do things at a slower pace than usual.
What I mean by "practicing at the speed of mindfulness, at the speed of awareness" is: whatever you're going to do – do it at the speed that keeps you closely aware of being aware. You're cognizant of yourself, being aware as you do it. Be aware in whatever way awareness is for you at a particular time – through the recognition of what you're doing as you're doing it, by sensing and feeling it as you do it, or simply observing it quietly, in the back of your mind.
"At the speed of mindfulness, the speed of awareness," you stay close, so you know you're doing it. You know you're part of it. You're allowing something to register in the present moment around the experience. This is opposed to doing things so quickly that you're ahead of yourself. You're into the next thing. You're thinking more about the next thing than being there for each thing you do.
It doesn't necessarily mean you have to do things slowly. I was a short-order cook after I came back from three years in a Zen monastery. I learned to be very aware, spinning around, doing many things at once in the kitchen, working fast. In some ways, I found it easier to be aware there because I could let go of all my distractions and just be in the dance of the kitchen.
It doesn't necessarily have to be fast or slow. But generally – especially on retreat for most people – slower is the beginning access point for that to happen.
Mindfulness, the first factor of awakening, is sometimes seen as a particular activity of mind, a practice we do – and sometimes as a state of mind. Hopefully, the activity of doing it – the practice – leads to this lucidity of awareness – the state of being mindful and aware. And hopefully, you'll feel the goodness, freedom and benefits of doing that.
So thank you. We'll continue these morning talks on the factors of awakening tomorrow.