The Seven Factors of Awakening

A good way to frame the qualities of mind that we aim to cultivate through meditation, is the seven factors of awakening as described by the Buddha. We learn through experience that mental and physical phenomena are interrelated and inter-dependent on other phenomena. These mental factors, in themselves, are a cause and prerequisite of insight and awakening. If these qualities of mind present, awakening as described in this book is both imminent and inevitable- by definition.

In the beginning, the practice of meditation can be dry, boring, and not very spiritual feeling, but we are developing qualities of mind that will lead to the end of suffering, so that pursuit in itself can give a person direction and faith, when they are wondering how focusing on the breath will give them any sort of spiritual insight. It can be helpful to think of meditation as a mental skill and a way to significantly improve your well-being and sense of satisfaction and presence in life. 

The seven factors are:

  1. Mindfulness (sati)
  2. investigation (dhammavicaya)
  3. Energy (viriya)
  4. Rapture or happiness (piti)
  5. Calm (passaddhi)
  6. Concentration (samadhi)
  7. Equanimity (upekkha)


Mindfulness is the moment-by-moment awareness of the mind’s activities and movements, and the effect of objects in the mind. It is a moment-by moment awareness of oneself and the experience of being a living breathing being. There is a “knowing” of phenomena that occurs in addition to the sense phenomena themselves. Knowing the mind’s state and activities is mindfulness.


Investigation is the curious, inquisitive quality of mind that naturally develops as the other factors of awakening are developed. Therefore it is the least useful factor of awakening to directly cultivate, and arises in itself when mindfulness and energy are present. Calm and rapture can nourish the mind, making it satisfied and equanimous in the moment, and this natural curious quality of mind can then arise. 


This is simply the awake quality of mind. Awakening is being more awake, This is energy. There is a high level of concentrated energy that is harnessed in the mind of a meditation practitioner. The opposite of energy is dullness. Therefore, when dullness arises as an obstascle, we develop the opposite – energy- by training the mind through intention to perceive more deeply and more clearly. 


This is physical pleasure and mental pleasure that is brought about by unification of mind – not dependent on sense objects. Rapture is an orgasmic, blisssfull feeling of pleasure that is very very soothing for the mind. Rapture is highly compatible with the other factors, but when rapture is misbaslanced, then it can become an obstacle. This is a natural phase of development toward full calm abiding, and a quality of mind that is present in balance with the other factors. 


Calm is a factor of mind that balances the energy and rapture. Mindfulness and investigation will be weak if calm is not developed in conjunction with the other factors. Without calm, the energy asnd rapture will lead to a manic, aroused, and volatile state of mind, that will miss the subtler aspects of mind because they are overpowered by the strength of rapture and energy. 


This is the ability to fix the mind on a specific range of expefrience and have the mind remain more or less with the chosen object of meditation. This is a quality of steadiness, and if there is no steadiness in the mind, it will be unable to perceive more subtle phenomena because distractions, agitation, and other hindrances take the mind away from the intended object. 


Equanimity is a quality of mind that naturally arises in meditation due to the development of samatha, and also the development of dispassion. Samatha provides the mind a refuge and a spring of joy and pleasure, and the mind eventually reaches a point of satisfaction, then this naturally leads to equanimity. Equanimity is a state of non-grasping toward objects. Developing dispassion through insight into the workings of the mind, in combination with the joy a pleasure of mental unification, are two powerful ways to reach a state of equanimity and have this factor arise in the mind. We can treat equanimity as an indirect result. Trying to be equanimous does not often lead to equanimity. But dispassion through insight and calm abiding of samatha provide the conditions fro equanimity to naturally blossom. Therefore, in the development of the mental factors of awakening, equanimity is a natural feature and co-arising and co-dependent phenomenon- dependent on the development of the other factors.

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