The Five Faculties of the Middle Way
Just as the human body has five sense organs that guide us along our way, the mindful path consists of five faculties that are vital to our progress. The Rudolph of our team of reindeer is Mindfulness, which sets the pace for our development and illuminates the dark or unconscious places before us. The remaining four faculties act to balance each other and keep the sleigh moving smoothly along. The first pair consists of Faith and Wisdom and the second couple is made up of Energy and Concentration. In today’s discussion, we’ll take an in-depth look at the faculties of Mindfulness, Faith and Wisdom.
The concept of mindfulness has become so popular in modern culture that it is moving towards the status of a cliche, if it has not already arrived there. This begs the question, what is actually meant by the word mindfulness in this application? As you can already tell, from our perspective there is no balancing pair required for this faculty. By its very nature, mindfulness is already a balanced and moderating concept. In fact, one could say that it is the path and is applicable at all times and in all situations.
When we speak about mindfulness, we are referring to a mental state that is fully present in the here and now. It is an awareness that remains free from illusion and the distractions of planning for the future and analyzing the past. When we are mindful we are able to keep things in perspective and maintain a sense of balance and calm, even in the midst of chaos. In that headspace, we are able to respond to what is happening around us and we can make observations in a detached and equanimous way.
For those of us raised in other religions, the concept of faith can have very different connotations to what we are intending to convey here.
You should always be encouraged to test the teachings in your own experience and to only accept something as being true if it proves itself in your inner laboratory.
That being said, beginning a new practice or trying a novel path does require some level of faith to proceed. You must be convinced that the work you are going to engage in has a good chance of helping you on your journey. Without that, you will likely lack the incentive to move in that fresh direction.
Of course, it certainly helps us to know that many practitioners have engaged in these practices before us and have had success in moving beyond their small, egoic selves and towards a more enlightened way of being. With this proven track record, we can step fully into these teachings with a sense of faith in their effectiveness.
The journey towards wisdom involves a leap of faith in a new direction. From there, we open ourselves up to receiving knowledge through the teachings of those who have come before us. When we process those lessons and engage with them in a diligent way, the work has the ability to transform into tried and true wisdom. This deep sense of knowing is continually balanced by the ever-evolving need to take further leaps of faith into the unknown. After all, the wise know the limits of their knowledge and humbly return to the process of learning and growing over and over again.
Yesterday we began our exploration of the five faculties that make up the work we are engaged in. We emphasized the importance of Mindfulness as the anchor that grounds the entirety of our practice. Additionally, the balanced pair of Faith and Wisdom were presented and we surveyed the landscape of opening ourselves to new knowledge and integrating those teachings into our lives. Now we’ll take a look at the remaining two faculties of Energy and Concentration.
We need a sense of enthusiasm and motivation to move us forward as we engage in these meditative practices. Without that energy, we become lethargic and we’re likely to struggle in keeping things rolling along. Although it may look to a casual observer like meditation and other mindful practices are sedentary and require no energy at all, the reality is that this is far from the truth. Significant energy is required to maintain focus, to work with challenging emotional content and to break through the illusions that we have built around us.
As with pretty much everything that we deal with in these lessons, we come back to the concept of balance and moderation on the middle path. When it comes to energy, we’re striving after a feeling of remaining calm and centered while still having the vigor to engage in the work. If we allow ourselves to get too worked up, it can become very difficult to concentrate and we’ll struggle to engage in the practice in any sort of productive way.
Many meditation practices are exercises in cultivating the ability to concentrate. In our Vipassana course we start with the practice of following the breath, noticing when we wander away from that task and gently returning to the natural rise and fall of our respiration. We then moved on to cultivating beneficial emotional states, once again utilizing our ability to focus in bringing ourselves back to that work. Most recently, we’ve added the vipassana practice of body scanning. This practice once again revolves around the ability to concentrate, narrowing in on very small places in our body and noticing everything and anything that is alive in that space in time.
The ability to focus the mind is crucial to our progress on this journey. It helps us to truly observe our minds and the habitual patterns that drive us in our daily lives. If we are never able to get our brains to settle down, we will forever find ourselves spinning in circles and living in the midst of the grand illusion that has been built by our egos.
As we mentioned above, the right kind of energy can be very helpful to our concentration skills. Alternatively, being too erratic or depressed can make the task of focusing the mind seem nearly impossible.
In conclusion, we invite you to explore each of these five faculties in your practice. By doing an inventory of areas where you excel and those that you struggle with, you can focus your attention more effectively on the areas where you are weak while also celebrating the places where you are a mindful rock star.