indriya Paccaya - powers

Indriya Paccaya – Condition of Faculties

Faculties refer to the various capacities and powers a person, or more accurate, mental or material phenomena, may possess. Through past intentions to do, to see, to hear, feel and think (etc.), a being acquires certain material as well as mental faculties. Some of which are designed for the knowing and comprehension of the world (i.e. various sense organs), while others allow for an interaction with that world.

Thus, they may either be classified into material faculties and mental faculties, wherein the material faculties are certain organs and capacities of the physical matter. While the mental faculties are inherent or developed capacities of the mind.

Or alternatively, they may be divided into faculties of action (kamm-indriya), which allow for an interaction with and a responds towards the world, (into which may fall, for example the body faculty and the sex faculties)… And faculties of knowing (ñan-indriya), which allow for a knowing and comprehension of the world (into which may fall most of the other categories). Tradition enumerates 22 faculties, which should perhaps be thought of as showing the extent of the condition, but must not necessarily be seen as its full limit. In here I will first name and then explain each.

The Traditional List of 22 Faculties

(1) the eye faculty,

(2) the ear faculty,

(3) the nose faculty,

(4) the tongue faculty,

(5) the body faculty,

(6) the femininity faculty,

(7) the masculinity faculty,

(8) the life faculty,

(9) the mind faculty,

(10) the pleasure faculty,

(11) the pain faculty,

(12) the faculty of goodness,

(13) the faculty of evilness,

(14) the balance faculty,

(15) the inspiration faculty,

(16) the inner strength faculty,

(17) the mindfulness/clarity faculty,

(18) the unity faculty,

(19) the wisdom faculty,

(20) the faculty, “I will know the unknown,”

(21) the faculty of perfect knowledge,

(22) the faculty of one who has perfect knowledge

22 Faculties

The Sense-Faculties and the Body

We acquire our sense organs as well as our body with everything attached to it during the time in our mothers womb (having brought with us the seeds for their arising from our past lives) …but throughout life we can influence their workings through training, nutrition or negligence. Conscious effort can turn an ordinary eye into an organ of great precision or render a body capable of all sorts of feasts. And so it is also with the various other organs.

I have shown briefly already in the main blog (Keys to the Abhidhamma System) the meaning of the senses and why their consideration is important. The difference in considering them here as faculties, is to broaden one’s general conception of them. Along traditional lines, they are first treated as phenomena that can be directly apprehended, while under the Paṭṭhāna conditions their consideration should be broadened through considering them in relation to their functions. Further, I too have shown in the above mentioned blog, that it will not be possible to gain a comprehensive understanding of the powers and capacities of the mind without any understanding of the body with its sensory organs and internal processes.

Along traditional lines, all capabilities performed with the body including skillfulness in speech, as well as in action will both come under the body faculty (bodily faculties) as well as under the life-faculty.

The Life-Faculty

The Life-Faculty, refers to both physical and mental vitality. The amount of physical vitality the body is capable of manifesting is called the physical life-faculty. The amount of mental life the mind manifests is called the mental life-faculty.

The Faculties of Masculinity and Femininity

These are the capacity to act and think in accordance with one’s gender….That is a capacity to fulfill that gender role and thus social role in life.

Pleasure-Pain Faculty

Pleasure and Pain are capacities of both the body and the mind. Thus, would no sentient being survive without a capacity to feel pain when something threatens the body, or pleasure when something proves beneficial to the body. Yet, as beings evolve and not only function as sensory beings, but also grow in mental life, pleasure and pain will not only arise through sense contact, but will more and more often arise through contact with mind objects also.

The Faculties of Goodness and Evilness

Good mindedness and evilness, are on the other hand capacities which are entirely mental. To be either good or evil is an acquired capacity of the mind. Thus will a capacity for goodness usually manifest as compassion, sympathetic joy, respectfulness, helpfulness and so on.

On the reverse side, will evilness or ‘bad mindedness’ manifest as deliberate cruelty, sadism, wicked mindedness, evil craftiness and similar things. These are capacities which are acquired and gradually develop through paying attention to life in an unskillful manner.

The Faculty of Balance

Often translated as the Faculty of Equanimity, it is the mind’s capacity to maintain equilibrium or to produce balance.

The Mind-Faculty

The Mind Faculty refers to all potential and actual capacities and powers the mind possess or may possess. Intelligence, creativity, imagination and similar capacities belong under this category. Along the line of the Abhidhamma system, the different parts of the mental process, as well as all the wholesome and unwholesome mental factors listed in the beginning part of this book, will also give a clue as to where to start exploring the mind’s capacities and powers.

The Faculty of Inspiration, usually termed the faculty of faith, is the capacity of consciousness to connect the mind with some higher idea or ideal.

The Faculty of Exertion, is the capacity bring up energy for the purpose of surmounting obstacles.

The Faculty of Clarity (Sati), is usually translated as mindfulness. It is the capacity to gain clarity of mind by intelligently paying attention to what is present.

The Faculty of Samadhi (unity of mind), is the capacity to bring together and harmonise body and mind.

The Faculty of Wisdom, is the faculty or capacity to create meaning by relating particular things to some bigger picture.

These previous 5 are usually referred to as the 5 spiritual faculties. Because they have some more outstanding role in Buddhist practice, they will be elaborated more specifically further downwards.

The Faculty of ‘I will know the unknown’,… may either mean the first steps away from ordinary life, where on realising the dissatisfactory nature of ordinary life, one starts seeking for the truth. Or it may also may mean the first sparkling of unshakable confidence, that one is capable of knowing truths through direct intuition, without having to rely on any external force (such as teachers).

The Faculty of Knowledge (sometimes translated as ‘The faculty of perfect knowledge’) …

Knowledge itself can become a faculty, both in this life as well as in those to come. As for example when a person reflects on Kamma, thinking about it, …he will slowly start to perceive certain relations between actions and their result…The more he does that, the keener that faculty becomes and in time he will be able to perceive and understand with ever greater depth.

But in here it may both mean any accumulation of philosophical or spiritual knowledge acquired, or it may more specifically also refer to the intuition of what is the goal (of the spiritual quest) and what is the path thereto.

Yet, if there is entirely no correspondence between knowledge acquired and life experiences, knowledge will not be regarded as a faculty at all, but rather, as it is in fact only stored up impressions, belongs under the ‘object-governance’ condition (see ‘Condition of Objects’ and ‘Governance Condition).

The Faculty of One who has Higher Knowledge, may equally refer just in general to the faculty of a knowledgeable person who has some insight into higher things, or it may more specifically mean the faculty of perfect intuition regarding all that is essential for the spiritual life.

Along the line of mental processing, the indriyas of knowing and the indriyas of action, as well as perhaps the pleasure and pain faculties will be the main causal conditions for ordinary human beings, through the action or stimulation of which new mental processes are getting generated and thus for the inception of new kamma.

For further evolved human beings, will be more and more the spiritual faculties, of faith or inner confidence, of spiritual exertion, of regaining clarity of mind (mindfulness), of collection of mind and of wisdom and reflection, that are generating new mental processes from within.

Usually only when these are developed, will the higher faculties of searching for higher truth and knowledge as an evolving faculty become the main causes for the arising of mental processes.

Five Spiritual Faculties

5 Spiritual Faculties

As these 5 spiritual faculties fulfill quite a prominent role in Buddhist practice, we may consider them in a more elaborate manner after this simple definition list.

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 the 5 spiritual faculties. 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).

When we compreheded these faculties thus 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 primarily to the ‘preparatory parts’ of the mental process. That is, sense-door adverting and investigation. 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 these 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 (we have mentioned them in the first part of the book) 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.

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