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Five Spiritual Faculties

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Every person who through proficiency in some skill rises himself up above his fellow human beings, does so through having found some way of cultivating a dynamic interaction of these 5 spiritual faculties. That is through: Inspiration, Exertion or Vigour, Clarity, Inner Unity and Wisdom. But, although it might be easy enough to understand them intellectually, it is usually not such an easy task to deliberately cultivate them.

So here some clues about how to grasp what is needed to cultivate them in meditation.

As a good starting point, these 5 faculties may be grasped through certain qualities they have in common with the four primary elements.* Thus we can perceive inspiration (saddhā) as ‘the light of inspiration’, as having a relation to the fire element. Vīrya, vigour, due to its association with energy, may also be understood to posses certain qualities of the fire element, but it too has the moving quality of the wind element. Clarity (sati), as it simply reflects what is there, has this distinguishing quality in common with the water element. Samādhi in the sense of unity of body and mind, will be easily recognizable as the stabilising element, thus being properly understood as relating to the earth element. While wisdom, pañña, is often perceived as ‘the voice of wisdom’ and thus possess certain characteristics common with the air element, the subtlest of elements.

But these 5 faculties can also be correlated to certain parts of the body, which will equally make it easier to recognise them from early on. Thus we may see, that although inspiration may come from without, it lights up/ gives its light to the heart within. Vigour on the other hand may be perceived to so to say reside in the solar plexus area, the central area from which digested food gives energy to the whole of the body. Clarity arises within that part of the brain, where the senses so to say merge together. Samādhi, relates to the nervous system as a whole, but has as its focal area the spine. While the voice of wisdom will be perceived to arise first in the larger outer part of the brain (the neo-cortex).

Then, when we have thus comprehended these faculties through certain characteristics they project into matter, we may slowly learn to perceive them as mental things proper. For that, we will look for what mental functions they exert. Thus, inspiration ‘lights up’ the mind. It is basically an uplifting sense-perception or idea, which ‘comes in’ (inspires), either through any of the 5 senses, or which arises directly from the stream of bhavanga (life-continuum), entering into the space of the mind. Vigour energises certain bodily and mental processes. Thus, it can relate either to the vibrating bhavanga, or to any part of the active mental process. Clarity, ‘clears’ both the body (especially the brain) and the mind. And thus relates to all the active parts of the mental process. That is, sense-door adverting till memorisation (tadārammaṇa). Samādhi harmonises body and mind. Which makes it foremost an aspect of the arrested bhavanga. While wisdom directs their activities. That is, it processes various related impressions, evolves ideas about them and based on that often initiates action by the power of intent.

But these 5 also have their counterparts or antagonists. And it is precisely for the removing of these that they are most needed. Any truly creative act usually starts with the battle between the spiritual faculties and their 5 antagonists.

Ordinary life is naturally inclining towards matter and not to heaven or the higher things. Thus do certain hindrances (see main blog) arise precisely as a reaction to a life which is not ideal. And a turning towards the more ideal things, naturally makes it unavoidable to deal with these.

Principally will all the 5 hindrances only be kept at bay for a prolonged period of time through a continuous, dynamic action of all the 5 spiritual faculties. But for the purpose of being better prepared for unclear situations, which might demand quick decision making, one may look which hindrance is best removed by precisely which spiritual faculty. Thus, is slothfulness and laziness usually best removed by inspiration and vigour. Sense-desire and ill-will may also be removed by these, but clarity of mind will usually be the first right antidote. Restlessness evidently is the precise antagonist (or counterpart) to samādhi. Thus the one will best remove the other. While doubt may most naturally be removed by wisdom.

When this battle of removing the unwholesome and asserting the wholesome becomes continuous, there will be no more consideration as,…’I stand’, ‘I walk’, ‘I sit’. There will be only, clarity noticing the situation, wisdom deciding upon a way of improvement, effort acting upon the command of the voice of wisdom, until some amount of samādhi is attained. Then again clarity will notice the depth and general condition of the samādhi, wisdom will judge how to improve it, effort will follow. Until the inspiration for the struggle fades, or the material to work upon has diminished below a point of workability.

The cause of this struggle really is the strong desire to know the higher things (that is the faculty of ‘May I know the unknown’) and it is this which will gradually develop into an understanding of the way to attain true knowledge for oneself.

These 4 elements have been explained throughout this website, especially in the main blog ‘Keys to the Abhidhamma System’. Thus we will not explain here more about their general nature and use.

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