37 Limbs of Enlightenment – 4 mindfulness (cattāro satipaṭṭhānā)
4 mindfulness (四念处) – Being mindful that (1) Our physical body is impure and repulsive (2) All sensations leads to sufferings (3) Mind is impermanent (4) there is no “I”
4 right efforts (四正勤) – (1) cease all unwholesomeness (2) do not create new unwholesomeness (3) preserve and maintain existing wholesomeness (4) Create new wholesomeness
4 bases of miraculous power (四如意足) – (1) Concentration build upon desire (desire for samandhi) (2) Concentration based on persistence (3) Concentration build upon intention (4) Concentration of contemplation (Reference Link)
5 roots ( 五根) – (1) Faith/conviction (2) Energy/persistence (3) Mindfulness (4) Stillness / jhanas (5) Wisdom/understanding
5 powers (that arises from the 5 roots) – (1) Faith/conviction (2) Energy/persistence (3) Mindfulness (4) Stillness / jhanas (5) Wisdom/understanding
7 factors of Enlightenment (七菩提) – (1) Mindfulness (2) Investigation (3) Effort (4) rapture (5) Relaxation (6) Concentration, (7) Equanimity
8 fold path (八正道) – (1) Right Understanding (2) Right Intent (3) Right Speech (4) Right Action (5) Right Livelihood (6) Right Effort (7) Right Mindfulness (8) Right Concentration.
This teaching of the 37 limbs of enlightenment (bodhipakkhiyā dhammā) is “hidden” in the sutra and we won’t know about it unless a Tripitaka Master (Buddhist monks or nuns familiar with the 3 baskets of Dharma) explains it to us. The reason for this is because Mahayana Sutra reaches out to people skillfully and guide them towards Buddha’s messages when they are receptive to it.
Thus, in this sutra, it is stated as railings, sky nets and trees. Elements of protection that we can easily relate with. If one asks, “what are they protecting us from?” The answer is “Samsara”. Then explaining the factors of enlightenment comes next. This is because Enlightenment protects us from Samsara.
The 37 limbs of enlightenment consist of all the factors that are necessary for enlightenment. Needless to say, the practice of Pureland Buddhism and the chanting of Buddha’s name should ideally be done to develop these 37 factors. In this manner, I found pureland Buddhism to be aligned with Theravada teachings as well.
Why not just put the 37 factors of enlightenment in the sutra?
1. Most people are not interested about enlightenment.
2. Disclosing all 37 factors will likely “scare” beginners away. We will continue our journey slowly. Lets start with the 4 mindfulness in this post.
Even the following paragraph may scare people off. This is because it deals with emptiness. So be forewarned.
Personally, the idea of emptiness used to scare me. But I would wish mentally, “May my practice improve and when I am mentally ready to receive it, may the Dharma appears to me then.” I would shut the book and move on to something simpler.
(1) Our physical body is impure and repulsive (mindfulness of body)
Our human body is precious because it allows us the best faculties / tools for attaining enlightenment. However, many people are attached to it and become obsessed with it. Billion dollars industries are build upon such attachments. Businessmen sell us their products that promise to keep our body young and beautiful.
While cherishing our body is good, being obsessed with it isn’t.
Obsession with our physical body creates sufferings because it is destined to age and rot. We try to overcome its natural stink by taking perfumed bath or applying perfume. We pretend that it is beautiful when in reality it is just a skin bag containing bones and organs, plus foul smelling liquids and matters. And we spend a fortune throughout our lifetime trimming and styling our hair? For some people, extra care is also taken for their nails.
As we age, our bone starts to protrude and our skin starts to sag. The condition of our body is really not within our control and being attached to it will not help.
When we are attached to our physical body, we cannot “let it go”. In that manner our mind is “locked” to it. Thus, it becomes difficult for the mind to experience “beyond” the body. That is one of our ignorance; the mistaken belief that our physical body is “I” or “Me” Throughout history, people of various cultures and religions are stuck with this ignorance. That is why we mistakenly believe we have a soul, “an ethereal form” that is a copy of our physical body and that “soul” resides in our physical body and that “soul” exit upon death. That is one of the ignorances.
One of the Buddhist meditation (Theravada) involves contemplating the foulness of our human body. It helps us overcome our attachment to our physical form.
Note: we must be aware of that fine mental balance. While we contemplate the foulness of our human body to achieve a state of detachment towards it; that detachment doesn’t become hostile. We still cherish our human body and will not hate it, ignore it or inflict any self-harm upon it. This meditation practice help us reach an objective detachment. Much like how we look through a microscope to observe bacterial.
In summary, this 1st mindfulness is to help us overcome our attachment to our body. It removes our mistaken belief that our body is “me”. That opens up opportunity for us to advance spiritually.
(2) All sensations leads to sufferings (Mindfulness of feelings)
This is observing and realizing that all our sensations, such as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, tactile feeling and thoughts are all leading towards sufferings. These sensations does not provide real lasting happiness or Ultimate Happiness. For example, if we like a particular taste and were forced to taste that same taste forever, we become weary of that taste and might even develop a repulsiveness towards it.
Such mindfulness is for developing a state of detachment, so that we do not mistaken our sensation of this world as the ultimate reality or our sensory perception as happiness. While we strive to be detached, we cherish our senses and do not loathe or hate it. This is because without our senses, we cannot enter the Dharma path.
Our experience of existence is defined by our sensory experience. If we are not color blind, we see more colors. Some people are born with extra sensory perception and can see beyond what normal people perceive. Some people with eye disease sees things differently too. None of us have the ultimate claim as to what reality really is. Our “reality” is what we perceive. To a dog, their colored world differs from us?
When we are detached from our sensory perceptions, we remove that ignorance of believing that our sensory stimulations and its corresponding feelings is “I” or “me”. We invert our ignorance and realize how they actual create that illusion of “I”.
In short, we want to develop a detachment towards feeling.
(3) Mind is impermanent (Mindfulness of thoughts)
Have you experience that “inner voice”? That talking presence in our mind. That personality within. Some people may even have conflicting voices; as if there is an “angelic self” versus a “devilish” one.
And if you are practicing to gain Jhana, its irritating right?
All those mental ongoing in our mind is not “I” or “me”. They are just thoughts that arise and fall. Inputs from our sensory perceptions that we receive since birth. And for some people, inputs that were from previous lifetimes and not forgotten yet.
Education plays a role. We were taught to think in certain way too. Fell happy, feel proud or take offense at certain sensory inputs. To a conservative person, the Fxxx word is devastating and offensive. To another person, its just another vocabulary.
All these humdrums or clashing thoughts and ideas are mental fermentations. No real substance. like bubbles rising and popping. Unfortunately, we ignorantly believe that it is “I” or “me”. And due to that ignorance, we are “lock” into that persona, we believe is “I” or “me”
Since ideas and thoughts come and go, there is no distinctive “I”. There is no “I”. Some people already know this deep inside but they refuse to see the truth because it is so frightening. Thus , they cling to certain beliefs, ideologies and philosophies that defines them. They feel threatened when their beliefs are challenged because you are chipping away their “I”. They lash out to protect that illusive “I”
In Buddhism, we need to realize that all these mental fermentations are in reality empty of substance.
(4) there is no “I” (Mindfulness of phenomena)
From the above 3, we appreciate that the “I” that we perceive is just a phenomenon arising . In reality, our body is not “me”, our perception and feeling is not “me”, our mental going-on inside our head is not “me”. Instead they come together to create a phenomenon of a “me”. In another word, this “me” (this human self) is just an illusion. Like the fire ring created by swinging a firebrand in a circular motion.
When we have a “me”, then there is “others”. Thus, our perception that other people is uniquely different from us is also flawed. Then we take a step further and contemplate the phenomenon of other sentient beings. Thus, we realize that all beings are nothing more than phenomenon arising and falling. When conditions are right and present, phenomenon arises. Then they fall apart.
Just like a tree coming from a seed? we cannot split a seed to find a tree nor split a match stick into halves in search of the fire within….
If we penetrate the Truth of non-I, that is the 1st state of Theravada enlightenment. It is an irreversible process to the mind and one will only be reborn 7 times in fortunate state of existence before reaching enlightenment.
How do we integrate the above with devotional chanting of Amitabha’s name and a wish to be reborn in a world called Ultimate Bliss?
If we let go of “I” and Samsara, then we are reborn into the world of Enlightenment. Isn’t it so?
May all be well and happy.