Spiritual advancement depends on the emergence of five cardinal virtues: Faith, Strength, Mindfulness, Concentration and Wisdom. The behavior of the ordinary man of the world is determined by his sensual instincts and impulses. In the further course, new spiritual powers gradually take over, until in the end the five cardinal virtues dominate and shape everything we feel and think. These virtues are called indriya in Sanskrit and Pali, variously translated as ability, controlling ability, or spiritual ability. The same five virtues are called powers (bala) when the emphasis is on the fact that they are “unshaken by their opposites”.
Faith is called “the seed” and without it the plant of spiritual life cannot begin at all. Indeed, without faith, one cannot do anything worthwhile at all. This is true not only of Buddhism, but of all religions and even modern pseudo-religions such as Communism. And that belief is much more than simply accepting beliefs. It requires the combination of four factors – intellectual, volitional, emotional and social.
1. Intellectual, belief is an affirmation of teachings that are not supported by readily available, direct factual evidence. To be a matter of faith, a belief must go beyond the evidence available, and the believer must be willing and ready to fill in the gaps in the evidence with an attitude of patient and trusting acceptance. Faith taken in this sense has two opposites, viz. H. a dull ignorance of things worth believing and doubt or perplexity. In any type of religion, some assumptions are placed on trust and accepted on the authority of scriptures or teachers.
In general, however, belief is viewed as only a preliminary step, merely a temporary state. In due course direct spiritual awareness will know what faith dared and longed to know: “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.” It usually takes a long time for the virtue of wisdom to grow strong enough to support vigorous insight into the true nature of reality. Until then, a whole series of doctrinal points must be taken into account.
What are the objects of belief in Buddhism? There are four main ones: (1) the belief in karma and reincarnation; (2) acceptance of the fundamental teachings about the nature of reality, such as conditional co-production, voidness, etc.; (3) Faith in the “Three Refuges”, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Order; and (4) a belief in the effectiveness of prescribed practices and in nirvana as the last resort out of our troubles. I’ll say more about that when I’ve delved into the other aspects of the faith.
2. In these skeptical times we dwell far too much on the intellectual side of faith anyway. shraddha (Pali: saddha) the word we render “faith” is etymologically related to the Latin cor, “the heart”, and faith is far more a matter of the heart than of the mind. It is, as Prof. Radhakrishnan puts it succinctly, the “striving for self-realization by concentrating the mental energies on a given idea”. Voluntary belief implies a determined and courageous act of will. It combines a firm commitment that you will do something with confidence that you can do it. Suppose the people living on one side of a river are doomed to perish from many enemies, disease, and famine. Safety is on the other bank. The man of faith is then compared to the person who swims the river, braves its perils, saves himself and inspires others by his example. The unbelievers will continue to stagger on the other side. The opposites of this aspect of faith are shyness, cowardice, fear, vacillation, and a shabby, mean, and calculating mentality.
3. Emotionally belief is an attitude of serenity and clarity. Its opposite here is worry, the state of being troubled by many things. It is said that one who has faith loses the “five terrors”, i.e. he stops worrying about the necessities of life, loss of reputation, death, an unfortunate rebirth and the impression he makes could do to an audience. It is quite obvious that the burden of life needs to be greatly lightened by believing in karma, emptiness, or not-self. Even an unpleasant fate can be more easily accepted when it is understood as justice, when anger is explained as the inevitable retribution, when law seems to rule instead of blind chance, when even apparent loss must turn into real gain. And if there is no self, then what and who do we worry about? If there is only one great emptiness, then what disturbs our radiance?
4. Socially, and this is more difficult to understand, belief involves faith and trust in the Buddha and the Sangha. Its opposite here is preoccupied with worries about one’s sensual social environment, worries that spring from either social pressure or social isolation.The break with the normal social environment is of course only complete in the case of the monk who, as the formula says, “leaves his homeland in faith”. To a lesser extent, it must be performed by every practitioner of the Dharma, who must “live apart” from his society, in spirit if not in deed. The company of others and the help we expect from them is usually a mainstay of our sense of security. By taking refuge in the Buddha and the Sangha, one turns from the visible and tangible to the invisible and ephemeral. By relying on spiritual powers one gains the power to disregard public opinion and social discouragement. A certain amount of defiant contempt for the world and its ways is inseparable from a spiritual life. The spiritual human being does not “belong” to his visible environment, in which he must rather feel alien. He belongs to the community of saints, to the family of the Buddha. Buddhism replaces the natural environment with a spiritual one, with the Buddha for the father, the Prajnaparamita for the mother, the fellow seekers for brothers and sisters, relatives and friends. With these more invisible forces, one must learn to form satisfying social relationships. To fulfill this task, faith requires a considerable capacity for renunciation.
This concludes our review of the four factors that contribute to the formation of faith. Faith, like other spiritual qualities, is somewhat paradoxical in that on the one hand it is a gift that cannot be obtained simply by wanting it, and on the other it is a virtue to be cultivated can. The ability to believe varies with the constitution of the individual and his social circumstances. It is common to classify personality types according to whether they are dominated by greed, hate, or confusion. Those who walk in greed are said to be more prone to faith than the other two because of the kinship between faith and greed. To quote Buddhaghosa (Visuddhimagga III,75): “As on the unwholesome plane greed clings and takes no offense, so on the wholesome plane faith has the qualities of morality, etc. As greed does the harmful Faith does not let go of what is useful.”
Regarding social conditions, there are ages of faith and ages of faith-disbelief. Rather, the present age encourages unbelief. It places great value on intellectual cleverness, so faith is easily mistaken for nothing but a weak head or a lack of intellectual integrity. It multiplies distractions from the sense world to such an extent that the stillness of the unseen world is harder than ever to attain. It exposes citizens to such a wide variety of conflicting viewpoints that it is difficult for them to make a choice. The prestige of science, concern for a high standard of living and the disappearance of all institutions of undisputed authority are the main enemies of faith in our society today. It is largely a matter of temperament whether we believe that things will get better in the near future.
Faith is strengthened and built as a virtue through self-discipline, not through debating opinions. Intellectual difficulties are by no means the greatest obstacles to faith. Doubts are inevitable, but how to deal with them depends on the character. The first of our four “Articles of Faith” illustrates this situation well. There are many good reasons to embrace reincarnation. This is not the place to explain them, and I must content myself with referring the reader to the very impressive “East-West Anthology” on Reincarnation that J. Head and S.L. Cranston in 1961 (New York, The Julian Press Inc.). Yet, although belief in reincarnation is perfectly rational and not in conflict with any known fact, the ordinary man’s sight is so limited that he has no access to the decisive evidence, which is direct and immediate experience.
< The Reincarnation posits at least two things: (1) that behind the natural causality linking events in the physical world are other, invisible chains of moral causality that ensure that all good deeds are rewarded, all bad deeds punished; and (2) that this chain of moral sequences is not broken by death but continues from rebirth to rebirth. To the average person, these two assumptions are not absolute, conclusive, or provable beyond a reasonable doubt. However plausible they may seem on rational grounds, Buddhism teaches that they do not become a matter of direct experience until the "superknowledge" (abhijna, abhiñña) develops became. The fourth “super-knowledge” is the memory of one’s past rebirths, and the fifth is the knowledge of other people’s rebirths, whereby one “sees that everything that happens to them happens in accordance with their deeds.“There are many well-authenticated cases of individuals who spontaneously recall certain details from one or another of their own past lives, and these people evidently have an additional reason for believing in reincarnation that those who do not remember lack able to have ever lived before. However, full assurance in this matter is only given to those who can, on the basis of the fourth jhana and by taking certain prescribed and disciplined steps in stepping out of this jhana.” remember their multiple earlier lives”, according to the well-known formula: “There I was, that was my name, that was my family, that was my caste, that was my food, that was the happiness, the suffering that I experienced , that was the length of my life. Died there, I was born elsewhere and had that name, etc.” When a monk has practiced properly and successfully, “these things become as clear to him as illuminated by a lamp” (Visuddhimagga, xiii, 23).
Until that time comes, we cannot claim to fully know that the doctrine of karma and rebirth is true, we believe in part And that Our belief is made less by our dialectical skill than by upholding the virtues of patience and courage, for we must be willing to wait patiently until we are spiritually ripe for the emergence of over-knowledge, however distant that may seem. Second, we must be willing to take risks. Life is never 100% secure anywhere, least of all for our beliefs. A merchant must risk his property to gain wealth. A soldier must risk his property if he takes life to save his own life. The spiritual man must risk his own soul to save his soul. The stake increases automatically with the prospect of winning. Of course we can be wrong. I sometimes wonder what I would think if I did not wake up after death on the bardo plane, as I now fondly imagine, but faced Acheron and the three-headed Cerberus, or, worse, sick – treated with fire and brimstone in a Christian hell. The experience would be, I’ll admit, quite unsettling. In the face of this uncertainty, all I can say is that I am prepared to accept the consequences and that I hope my supply of boldness, audacity and good humor will not run out.
The choice is yours, increase or minimize intellectual doubts. It does not seem unreasonable to attribute the difficulties of teaching to one’s own distance from the truth, one’s own intellectual and moral imperfections. How can one expect to remember one’s past lives when one cannot currently recall every hour what one did on a single day a month ago? If one hesitates to accept the not immediately obvious lesson that this world is the result of ignorance and the craving of nonexistent individuals for nonexistent objects – is it not perhaps because of the very high density of one’s ignorance, of which one has evidence all day long can collect? Doubts are effectively overcome when one purifies one’s life to become more worthy of knowledge. It is a condition of all learning that one accepts a lot on the basis of trust, that in case of doubt one agrees with the teacher. Otherwise one learns nothing at all and remains excluded from all truth. Having faith means taking a deep breath, tearing yourself away from your daily worries and concerns, and resolutely turning towards a broader and more enduring reality. First of all, we ourselves are too stupid and inexperienced to recognize the traces that lead to salvation. So we must place our trust in the sages of the past and listen carefully to their words, muffled by the distance and noise of the present but still just audible.
A final word on tolerance, without which faith remains raw and uncertain of itself. It is a constant test of our faith that we constantly meet with people who believe differently. We are easily tempted to wish this scandal away, to coerce others, if only by argument, and to destroy them, if only by thinking them fools. Intolerance towards people of other faiths, which is often mistaken for zeal, betrays nothing like inner doubt. Of course, we can always console ourselves with the fact that others, in their own way, believe what we’re doing and that it all comes down to the same thing in the end. But that doesn’t always sound very convincing, and I’m afraid we’ll have to learn to cope with their presence.
Besides faith, power (Skr.: virya; Pali: viriya). Little needs to be said about the need to be energetic, if you have one you want to achieve something. Obviously, without strength, without strenuous exertion, without perseverance, you can’t make much headway. Everyone knows what “power” is, although a generation that made the fortune of discoverers of the “Night Hunger” might wish they had more.
However, the fact that faith and strength are virtues does not mean that they are all good and that they should be strengthened at all times, regardless of the consequences. Excess is to be rejected, even with virtues. All five virtues must be considered as a whole. Their balance and harmony is almost as important as the virtues themselves. They support each other to some extent, but also stand in each other’s way. One must sometimes be used to correct the excess of the other. In this way, concentration must come to the rescue of latent power failures. When strength and energy go their own way, tranquility is in jeopardy. We all know adrenaline-fueled people who are always busy, maybe even “insanely efficient,” but not particularly restful. Strength alone breeds excitement and must be controlled through the development of concentrated calm.
Similarly, faith alone without wisdom can easily degenerate into mere gullibility. Wisdom alone can teach what is worth believing. This can be illustrated in Don Quixote, who is perhaps the purest embodiment of faith in literature, and whose actions show that too much faith in itself is not necessarily a good thing. Cervantes’ novel gives a fine and detailed description of all the main attributes of the faith. Don Quixote endures all tribulations energetically, fearlessly, without complaint and even calmly, because he wants to help others, all equally, according to their needs. Plunging into the midst of the boiling lake, he reaches the pinnacle of self-sacrifice of which faith itself is capable. “And just when he doesn’t know what will happen to him, he finds himself in the midst of fields of flowers more beautiful than those of Elysium.” His faith has conquered the senses, he transmutes common sense data, and the barber’s sink becomes Mambrino’s helmet. And yet, if we consider the intellectual basis of his belief, we find that it consists in nothing other than belief in the truth and veracity of the romances which describe the fictional and not particularly edifying doings of the knights errant of the past. That is why his adventures are a sad sight, why he even represents the caricature of a medieval knight, why faith, bereft of all reason, becomes slightly pathological in this case.
Lord. Blyth asserts that “the Don Quixote of the first part is Zen embodied,” that “the man who surpasses Hakuin, Rinzai, Eno, Daruma, and Shakyamuni is himself Don Quixote de la Mancha, knight errant.”[ 5] Zen , like all good things, it seems, can be abused. It is not very likely that when the cloak of “Zen” is thrown over them, all asses will become tigers, all absurdities into depths. Irrationalism is not without its appeal, but it can be overdone. To claim that a scripture, a belief, that one belief is as good as another smacks more of contemporary spiritual nihilism than the wisdom of Seng-t’san. I admit that I’ve always liked Don Quixote because he said that the “perfection” of madness is not “going mad for any actual reason” but “going mad without the slightest constraint or necessity”. But still, I can’t help but feel that there is a difference, perhaps intangible but nonetheless real, between the perfection of madness and the perfection of wisdom. Don Quixote’s faith was quite childish because he had no judgment and his eyesight was flawed. Blyth himself finally admits that Don Quixote “lacks the Confucian virtue of prudence, the balance of mental powers” (p.210). I’m not so sure about prudence, but “balance of mind” is certainly not only a Confucian virtue, but also a Buddhist virtue, and a very essential one at that. Buddhaghosa, whom I present here, leaves us in no doubt about this. What distinguishes a bhikkhu from a knight-errant is that he is essentially sober and calm, his view of the world is pleasantly rational, he avoids violence in the pursuit of his ends, and he evaluates his own role in his world actual size relative to the universe.
A Buddhist owes his sobriety to the cultivation of the third virtue of mindfulness (Skr.: smriti, Pali: sati). While faith and power, when carried to excess, differ from their counterparts, viz. H. wisdom and calm concentration must be restrained, the virtue of mindfulness does not share this handicap. “Mindfulness should be strong everywhere. For it protects the mind from excitement into which it might fall, since faith, power and wisdom can excite us; and from inertia into which it may fall, since concentration favors inertia. Therefore mindfulness is desirable everywhere, like salt in all sauces, like the prime minister in all offices of state.Hence it is said: “The Lord has made mindfulness beneficial everywhere, for the mind finds refuge in mindfulness, and mindfulness is its protector. Without mindfulness there can be no effort or restraint of mind.’ “
Although traces of it are not entirely lacking in other religious and philosophical disciplines, in Buddhism alone mindfulness is central and the emphasis on mindfulness is mindfulness is not just the seventh of the stages of the sacred eightfold path, the third of the five virtues, and the first of the seven limbs of enlightenment. It is sometimes almost equated with Buddhism itself. Thus, at the beginning of the Satipatthana Sutta we read that “the four practices of mindfulness are the only path (ekayano maggo) that leads beings to purity , to overcome sorrow and lamentation, to soothe pain and sadness, to enter into the right method, and to attain nirvana.”
Then what is “Mindfulness”? The Abhidharma, guided by the etymology of the Sanskrit term ( smriti from smri, “to remember”), defines it as an act of remembering that prevents ideas from “floating away,” and the Combats forgetfulness, neglect and distraction. This definition in itself, while correct, does not really make the function of this virtue clear to us today. The theoretical assumptions underlying the various practices that are summarized under the term “mindfulness” are too self-evident What one assumes is, i hat the mind consists of two unequal parts – a depth that is calm and still, and a surface that is disturbed. The surface layer is in constant motion and turmoil. The center at the bottom of the mind, beyond both the conscious and unconscious minds, as modern psychologists understand it, is very still. However, the depth is usually so overlaid that people remain incredulous when they hear of a submerged patch of stillness in their innermost heart. Usually the surface is so restless that the calm of the deep can only be perceived at rare intervals.
Mindfulness and concentration are the two virtues that deal with the development of inner calm. The main enemies of spiritual stillness are: (1) the senses; (2) the movements of the body; (3) the passions, desires, and desires; and (4) discursive thinking. They have the power to be enemies when: (1) they are not subject to discipline; and (2) when the ego identifies with what is going on on the surface of the mind, becomes heartily involved, and creates the illusion that these activities are “my” doings, “my” concerns, and the realm in which “I” live and have my being. When we are so occupied with worldly things, we have neither power nor freedom. To defeat these enemies of spiritual stillness we must: (1) withdraw the senses from their objects as the tortoise retracts its limbs; (2) keep track of our muscle movements; (3) stop wanting anything and separate all desires from the ego; and (4) breaking off discursive thinking.
Through the exertion of the imagination one must try to see oneself at rest, floating freely, with no force being exerted on one’s spiritual self. So the practice of mindfulness is a series of efforts aimed at maintaining that isolation. Mindfulness is the name given to the measures we take to preserve the initially not very large patch of inner peace. You sort of draw a line around that area and watch out for intruders at its borders. The expectation is that conscious attention will decompose the power of enemies, diminishing their numbers and separating them from the ego. As varied as the numerous exercises that fall under the term mindfulness may seem, they all have one purpose in common, to preserve the beginning and growing calm in the heart.
1. As for the sensory stimuli, first there is the “restraint of the senses”, also called “guarding the sensory doors”. Sensory stimulation can disturb inner calm for two reasons: (1) because it allows unwanted states like greed, hate, etc. to invade and overwhelm the mind; (2) because attention to the sense world, however necessary and seemingly harmless, distracts from the object of wisdom, which is the emptiness of the dharmas. One cannot grasp what is meant by “withholding of the dominant senses” if one takes it as quite natural for the mind to dwell on sensual objects. This is indeed highly unnatural. In its natural purity, thought dwells in quiet contemplation of emptiness. The spirit that sees, hears, etc. is a fallen spirit.
The ability of sensory experience to compel the mind to take a specific action is greatly diminished when each sensory stimulus is examined at the point where it crosses the threshold of consciousness. Attention, normally passive, involuntary, and compulsive, is subject to voluntary control. In the process of imposing some control on the senses, one will be surprised to find how eager they are to function, how eager they are to find suitable objects with which to exercise their impulses and instincts, their hopes and fears, their interests and appetites, their Satisfaction and its satisfaction can nourish complaints. It’s not so bad that you see things, hear sounds, etc., but it’s a mental health threat to get interested and carried away, picking up on what you see and hear and picking up as a sign of what’s important.’ /p>
The practice of mindfulness is not limited to noticing what enters the mind through the sense organs. One also tries to determine what is allowed to enter and generally to reduce the number of sensations by restricting the use of the physical organ, for example by walking with eyes directed only a few meters or yards forward. Moreover, by an effort of will one refuses to cooperate with one’s usual impulses to make a merely casual observation a matter of moment to which one returns again and again. Finally, the intruder is weakened and worn down by corresponding reflections. He is held from the heart and discounted – as trivial, as already past, as nothing special, and thinking, “It’s none of my business, it doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s just a waste when salvation and nirvana are taken into account.” “
2. Second, in relation to the muscle movements of the body – a restless body is a byproduct of a disturbed mind, both its cause and its symptom. Important to mindfulness is Being aware of the position and movement of the body and suppressing and correcting uncontrolled, hasty and uncoordinated movements when walking, eating, speaking etc. However, this practice cannot always be carried out of the mindful has little survival value, but where it can be applied, we appreciate this practice, which sometimes contracts us to an amazing degree in an amazingly short amount of time significant as it may seem compared to the splendor of Buddhist art and metaphysics, this education is its indispensable cornerstone. The bhikkhu is recognized by his dignified and self-controlled demeanor. And of course we should not forget that mindful attention to muscle movement includes breathing exercises, which are a most fertile source of insight.
3. Where we are confronted with the disruption of passions and insane thoughts in general, defending our inner calm becomes more difficult. Mindfulness itself becomes the beginning of concentration.
At this point one may ask oneself whether the practice of the five cardinal virtues, from faith to wisdom, can be promoted at all by writing articles about them. Of course, saving traditional doctrine from current misunderstandings is not an entirely useless endeavor, let alone the joy of putting fleas in people’s ears and fomenting debates about the importance of faith or the value of scholarship. But what about the virtues themselves? Thomas a Kempis once said he would rather feel remorse than know the definition of it. What is important for a Buddhist is that he is strong in faith, strength, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom, and of what use is knowing how they are defined? Detailed advice on how to practice these virtues, of course, can never be given in articles written for the general reader. Such advice must always be addressed to a person, must take into account their individual constitution and can therefore only be given orally.
On the other hand, if mindfulness is a virtue, then so is the ability to remember one’s virtues, a feature of Buddhist life. And how can one care about the presence or absence of mental states within oneself if one cannot see them for what they are? The Satipatthana Sutta recommends a systematic meditation on the wholesome and unwholesome states of mind that arise in the mind. For example, to quote the sutta: (1) when there is power, there is power; (2) when there is no power, that there is no power; (3) how the absent energy was generated; and (4) how and under what conditions it grows to greater perfection. Psychology is so important to Buddhist teaching because one cannot know definitively about the makeup of one’s mind unless one is familiar with the categories into which mental states can be analyzed. A mindful person is well informed about their own mental state.His ability for introspection is highly developed. And his interest in his own mind won’t make him truly egocentric, as long as he remembers to deal with the ebb and flow of impersonal processes. Furthermore, in the higher states of mind, rational clarity is essential to avoid constant self-deception and wasteful groping in the dark. In a new country, a map is useful to know where you are. The handbooks of mystical theology written by the practicing contemplatives of the Catholic Church are also replete with descriptions of the sublime virtues.
But that is not all. Where the Buddhist virtues are described for a lay audience, the all-important fact must not go unmentioned that the upper reaches of these virtues require a reform of life-style greater than almost any layman is willing to undertake. The higher level of mindfulness and almost the full range of concentration and wisdom require a degree of withdrawal from the world that is incompatible with the life of an ordinary citizen. Anyone who does not want to achieve radical isolation from the world can only practice these virtues in a very rudimentary form. It’s pretty pointless to pretend it’s not a total break with established ways of living and thinking. Unless we make the sacrifices associated with withdrawal from the world, we must remain alien to the fullness of mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom.
But if monastic life is a necessary condition for these virtues, why talk about her at all? Partly because it is salutary, if painful, to see their absence within us, and partly because they represent the subjective counterpart of the scriptures we read. The suttas describe the world as it appears on a spiritual plane where concentration and wisdom have matured. Understanding the Scriptures is aided by understanding the subjective attitudes that correspond to them. And although we are compelled to go beyond the realm of our immediate experience, and although the description tends to become less and less tangible as it rises to higher heights, we shall now attempt to explain the traditional without touching the higher realms of the Mindfulness to take into account definitions of focus and wisdom as passed down to us.
Concentration (samadhi) continues the work of mindfulness. It deepens our ability to regain the peaceful stillness of our inner nature. But here we are immediately faced with the difficulty that “concentration” occurs twice in Buddhist psychology: (1) as a factor essential to all thought; and (2) as a special and rather rare virtue.
1. Concentration, in its simplest form, is the narrowing of the field of attention in a volitionally determined way and for a specific time. The mind is one-pointed, does not waver, does not disperse, and becomes steady like the flame of a lamp in the absence of wind. Without a certain degree of one-pointedness, no mental activity can take place at all. Strictly speaking, every mental act lasts only a moment, which is immediately followed by the next. The function of concentration is to provide some stability to this constant flow by allowing the mind to stand in or on the same object for more than a moment without distraction. Furthermore, it is a synthetic property (sam-a-dhi = synthesis) that holds together several simultaneously occurring states of mind, “like water binds soap scum.”
Buddhaghosa emphasizes the fact that intellectual concentration can also be found in unhealthy thoughts. The mind must be undistracted lest the murderer’s knife miss, the theft fail. A single-purpose mind is able to do what it does more effectively, for good or bad. The higher concentration levels of this species owe much to the presence of the ‘hunting instinct’ and are best seen in an ermine following a rabbit. Intellectual focus is a quality that is ethically and spiritually neutral. Many scientists have an unusually high ability for concentrated thinking. However, anyone who knows the “scientific humanists” who inhabit our great cities will agree that their intellectual achievements are conducive to neither peace of mind nor spiritual advancement. When Sir Isaac Newton boiled his watch in place of the egg his landlady had given him, he showed the intensity with which he was focused on his intellectual task. But the result of his intellectual labor was to cast a dark shadow over the spiritual radiance of the universe, and since then the celestial harmonies have become almost inaudible. As H.W. Longfellow put it in his poem about The Arsenal at Springfield:
2.How is concentration as a spiritual virtue different from concentration as a condition of the intellect? Spiritual or transic concentration results less from intellectual effort than from a rebirth of the whole personality, including the body, emotions, and will. It is impossible to achieve without some physical discipline, since we must be able to sustain the prescribed posture, do the prescribed breathing exercises, and so on. It also builds on a shift in perspective that we might well call “ethical”. Tradition is fairly clear on this point. Before we can even approach spiritual concentration, we must have appeased or repressed five vices known as the “five hindrances”: sensual desire, ill will, sloth and sloth, excitement and guilt, and doubt. Where these obstacles are present, where concentrated thinking has merged with greed, a desire to excel, get a good job, etc., concentration as a spiritual virtue is not found.
In this sense, physical Ease given and self-purification are the first two distinguishing marks of spiritual concentration. The third is the shifting of attention from the sensory world to another, more subtle realm. The methods by which this shift is effected are traditionally known as the four trances (jhana) and the four formless realizations. They are essentially training in increasing introversion, achieved by gradually reducing the effect of external stimuli. As a result of their successful retreat and renunciation, the spiritually focused release the inner calm that resides in their hearts. However, this focus cannot be gained if attention is not paid to sensory data and everything sensory is viewed as equally unimportant. Subjectively it is characterized by a gentle, calm and pacified passivity, objectively by abstraction into an unearthly world of experience that raises you above the world and gives you a certainty that is greater than anything the senses can teach you. The experience is so satisfying that it burns the world and only its cold ashes are found upon returning to it.
And so we come to wisdom (skr.: prajna; Pali pañña), the highest of all virtues.
“Wisdom is based on concentration, as the saying goes: ‘He who is concentrated knows what is real.'” So is concentration a sine qua non for wisdom? The answer lies in distinguishing three levels of wisdom according to whether it operates at the following level: (1) learning about what tradition has to say about the psychological and ontological categories that define the making objects of wisdom wisdom; (2) discursive reflection on the basic facts of life; and (3) meditative development. The third alone requires the aid of transic concentration, while without it the first two can be practiced. And the wisdom that comes from learning and reflecting should not be despised.
The mainstream Buddhist tradition has always held learning in high esteem. Our attitude towards the apple of knowledge differs from that of many Christians. Overall, we find it more nutritious than perishable. The wisdom that is the fifth and crowning virtue is not the wisdom found in nature’s untutored child, the shoddy backwoods sage, or the self-proclaimed suburban philosopher. It can only work after absorbing a large amount of traditional information, acquiring a lot of sound learning. The required skill in metaphysical and psychological analysis would be impossible without a good knowledge of the material upon which that skill was to be exercised. From this point of view, learning is perhaps less regrettable than its absence.
The second stage after learning is reflection, which is an operation of the intellect. Even the relative beginner can greatly increase their wisdom through discursive meditations on the basic facts of life. Eventually this meditation technique reaches maturity at the level of mental development (bhavana), and then it actually requires the help of mindfulness and concentration.
“Wisdom” is, of course, only a very approximate equivalent of prajna. To the average person today, “wisdom” seems to denote a composite made up of qualities such as prudence , prudence, a pronounced awareness of values, serenity and the sovereignty over the world gained through understanding how it works. The Buddhist concept of “wisdom” is not dissimilar but more precise. It is best clarified by first giving its connotations and then its actual definition.
As for the connotations, in the Dhammasangani we read: “On this occasion, wisdom, understanding, search and inquiry is the dominant of wisdom , search for Dharma; discernment, discernment, differentiation, erudition, expert knowledge, subtlety, clarity, reflection, inquiry, breadth, wisdom, a guide (to true welfare and to the signs as they really are), discernment, understanding, a spur (urging the mind to get back on the right path); Wisdom, wisdom as virtue, wisdom as strength (because ignorance cannot supplant it), the sword of wisdom (that cuts through the defilements), the sublime (and surpassing) height of wisdom, the light, splendor and splendor of wisdom , the treasure of wisdom, absence of delusion, quest for dharmas, right view.” Wisdom is distinguished from mere prudence by its spiritual purpose, and we are expressly told that it is designed to “cut off the defilements.”
Now for the actual definition: “Wisdom permeates in dharmas as they are in themselves. It dispels the darkness the delusion that conceals the properness of the dharmas.”
Then what does wisdom meditate on? Wisdom can be viewed as dealing with three possible themes: (1) true reality; (2) the meaning of life; (3) lifestyle. Buddhist tradition holds that the second and third depend on the first. Essentially, wisdom is the strength of mind that enables contact with true reality, also called the realm of dharmas. Deceit, foolishness, confusion, ignorance and self-deception are the opposite of wisdom. Because ignorance, not sin, is the root evil, wisdom is considered the supreme virtue. Holiness without wisdom is not considered impossible, but it cannot be attained by the path of knowledge, of which these descriptions alone apply. The paths of belief, love, works, etc. each have their own laws.
As an unshakable penetration into the true nature of objects, wisdom is the ability to meditate in particular ways on the dharmic constituents of the universe . The rules of this meditation are laid down in the scriptures, particularly the Abhidharma, and an excellent description can be found in the last part of Buddhaghosa’s Path of Purification. Mindfulness and concentration, as we have seen, were based on assuming a duality in the mind – between its calm depths and its agitated surface. Wisdom similarly assumes a duality between the surface and the depth of all things. Objects are not what they appear to be. Their true reality, in which they stand out as dharmas, is in contrast to their common sense appearance, and much power of wisdom is required to go beyond the deceptive appearance and to the reality of to advance dharmas themselves.