Five spiritual faculties

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Thirty-seven factors of enlightenment
Sets of factors
1-4: four foundations of mindfulness
5-8: four right exertions
9-12: four bases of miraculous power
13-17: five spiritual faculties
18-22: five powers
23-29: seven aspects of enlightenment
29-35: eightfold path
Related topics
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The five spiritual faculties (Pali: pañca indriyāni) are:

  1. saddha - faith or conviction or belief
  2. viriya - energy or persistence or perseverance
  3. sati - mindfulness or memory
  4. samādhi - concentration or focus
  5. prajna - wisdom or understanding or comprehension

This set of five faculties is one of the seven sets of the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment.

Brief description

SN 48.10 is one of several discourses that characterizes these spiritual faculties in the following manner:

In SN 48.51, the Buddha declares that, of these five faculties, wisdom is the "chief" (agga).[3]

Balancing the spiritual faculties

The Visuddhimagga and other Pali commentaries[4] caution against one spiritual faculty overpowering and inhibiting the other four faculties, and thus generally recommend modifying the overpowering faculty with the investigation of states (see dhamma vicaya) or the development of tranquillity (samatha). Moreover, these commentaries especially recommend that the five spiritual faculties be developed in counterbalancing dyads:

Mindfulness
  Faith Under-
standing
 
Energy Concen-
tration
Mindfulness
The balancing of the five spiritual faculties.
  • "For one strong in faith and weak in understanding has confidence uncritically and groundlessly. One strong in understanding and weak in faith errs on the side of cunning and is as hard to cure as one sick of a disease caused by medicine. With the balancing of the two a man has confidence only when there are grounds for it." (Vism. Ch. IV, §47, ¶1)
  • "... [I]dleness overpowers one strong in concentration and weak in energy, since concentration favours idleness. Agitation overpowers one strong in energy and weak in concentration, since energy favours agitation. But concentration coupled with energy cannot lapse into idleness, and energy coupled with concentration cannot lapse into agitation. So these two should be balanced ; for absorption comes with the balancing of the two." (Vism. Ch. IV, §47, ¶2)
  • "... One working on concentration needs strong faith, since it is with such faith and confidence that he reaches absorption." (Vism. Ch. IV, §48)
  • "... Then there is [balancing of] concentration and understanding. One working on concentration needs strong unification, since that is how he reaches absorption; and one working on insight needs strong understanding, since that is how he reaches penetration of characteristics; but with the balancing of the two he reaches absorption as well." (Vism. Ch. IV, §48)

The commentator Buddhaghosa adds:

  • "Strong mindfulness, however, is needed in all instances; for mindfulness protects the mind lapsing into agitation through faith, energy and understanding, which favour agitation, and from lapsing into idleness through concentration, which favours idleness." (Vism. Ch. IV, §49).[5]

Relation to the five powers

In SN 48.43, the Buddha declares that the five spiritual faculties are the five powers and vice-versa. He uses the metaphor of a stream passing by a mid-stream island; the island creates two streams, but the streams can also be seen as one and the same.[6] The Pali commentaries remark that these five qualities are "faculties" when used to control their spheres of influence, and are "powers" when unshakeable by opposing forces.[7]

The five spiritual faculties are ‘controlling' faculties because they control or master their opposites:

  1. Faith (saddha) - controls doubt
  2. Energy/Effort/Persistence (viriya) – controls laziness
  3. Mindfulness (sati); - controls heedlessness
  4. Concentration (samādhi) - controls distraction
  5. Wisdom/Discernment (pañña, prajña) – controls ignorance

References

  1. Alternatively, SN 48.8 and AN V.15 identify "faith" as referring to the four-fold faith of the stream-enterer which Conze (1993), n. 28, and Nyanaponika & Bodhi (1999), p. 297, n. 9, identify as faith in the Triple Gem and "perfect morality."
  2. Bodhi (2000), pp. 1671-73; and, Thanissaro (1997a).
  3. Bodhi (2000), p. 1695.
  4. For instance, in an end note associated with AN 6.55, Nyanaponika & Bodhi (1999, pp. 301-2, n. 31) reference the Aṅguttara Aṭṭhakathā (AN commentary).
  5. Direct quotes from the Visuddhimagga are from Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli (1999), pp. 128-9. Also mentioned in Bodhi (2000), p. 1511; and, Conze (1993), Part II, sec. 5, "The Balance of the Faculties."
  6. Bodhi (2000), pp. 1688-89.
  7. Bodhi (2000), p. 1511.


Sources

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