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Five Spiritual Faculties - The Way to Wisdom - Unchecked

by Sangharakshita

THE FIVE SPIRITUAL FACULTIES

A seminar on "The Way to Wisdom" by Dr Edward Conze (Wheel Publications, No 65/66)
held at Padmaloka on the weekend of 28th/29th October, 1978. Those present: Ven.
Sangharakshita, Surata, John Wakeman, Suvajra, Andy Skilton, Mahamati, Mark Bowden,
Susiddhi, Jos Hincks.
* * * * * *
Sangarakshita: All right then, "The Way to Wisdom", which, as I said, is a short but quite
concentrated text, an essay by Dr Edward Conze on the Five Spiritual Faculties, and not all
that many pages but probably it will keep us well occupied and busy for all the time that we
have at our disposal. All right, let's start: let's read a paragraph at a time going round the
circle clockwise. So maybe Jos could read the first paragraph.
Text: Spiritual progress depends
we do feel and think. (Page 1)
S: I think there should probably be a comma after "do" - "everything we do, feel and think." I
think that's really the meaning. So this intro- ductory paragraph really sums it all up very
well: it tells us what spiritual progress depends on. Usually people have got a very, you
know, vague, not to say wishy-washy, idea about spiritual progress and what it consists in,
but here we are given a very clear criterion indeed. We're told it depends on the emergence of
five cardinal virtues, five "Indriyas,' as the footnote says, "variously translated by 'faculties',
'controlling faculties', or 'spiritual faculties'." So spiritual pro- gress consists in the emergence
of these five - that is to say, faith, vigour, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom - which is
very specific indeed. And then it contrasts, or Dr Conze contrasts, these five spiritual
faculties or five cardinal virtues with the sense-based instincts and impulses. And this is
quite important, that spiritual progress takes place when, instead of being dominated, instead
of being shaped, in everything that we do, feel and think by our sense-based instincts and
impulses, we start depending more and more upon the
-1-
five spiritual faculties; they become more and more emergent, they come more and more
definitely into operation, they gradually take over. So we should try to see, as it were, what
the present situation is, because you know, we're not always very, you know, clear about it.
We're not usually very clear what is actually dominating and shaping everything we do, feel
and think; we're often unaware of our own motivations. So according to what it is is said
here, "The conduct of the ordinary worldling," - 'worldling' you understand, probably Dr
Conze has at the back of his mind the Pali 'puthujjana', that is to say a person who is not an
'Arya', anyone who falls short of Stream Entry, is called a worldling - he just goes round and
round in the cycle of existence, the Wheel of Life. And he's governed by these sense-based
instincts and impulses. Now we just need to reflect upon this and to realize the extent to
which we are governed by these sense-based instincts and impulses. Now what do you think
these are anyway, these instincts and impulses? Well take a very, very common one: food,
the, you know, that is absolutely basic, the instinct or the impulse, if you like, to eat. Three
times a day you eat. So your life is virtually shaped by that, by the fact that you have to eat.
If you make an appointment with some- body at the back of your mind ther is the thought,
"Well, I've got to leave time forlunch, I've got to leave time for tea." (Laughter) It's there all
the time, isn't it? Or, if you're going out, "Will I have time to eat first, or shall I eat when I
come back?" That thought interweaves with every other thought. And if you haven't had
anything to eat for a day, or even two or three days, I think the thought of food is absolutely
uppermost. So not only that, but one of the reasons why you have to work is to earn so that
you can eat; maybe that's the main reason. If you didn't have to eat your life would be
completely different you know. If you fed as it were on the air that you inhale you probably
wouldn't feel such a strong need to have a job and to earn
-2-
money, because food is the basic thing that you have to work and earn for. And then you
wouldn't need things like kitchens and cooking implements and cups and saucers and plates
and you wouldn't need gas stoves or fuel. No shopping. So just... you know... you can see
there- fore the extent to which you're... everything we do and feel and think is somehow
linked wi~h the fact that we have to eat, with that part- icular instinct, and this is why, you
know, fasting is considered quite an important spiritual practice; it just gives us a holiday
from eating, even if it's only for a day. And I know from my own experience of fasting,
especially when I did slightly longer fasts in India - say a week or ten days - you f8el so free;
there's as it were so little you have to do. It's almost as though you've got - well, if not infinite
time, but certainly an enormous amount of time on your hands if you're not having to think
about food or about eating or about meals or even about cooking. It really does occupy in a
way quite a disproportionate amount of our... you know, time and energy.
So this is just one very basic simple example, you know, that we usually, we usually
overlook, of a sense-based instinct and impulse, and there are you know all sorts of others
there's no need to go into in detail. There's what for instance I sometimes call the 'X Factor'.
-
I don't know if any of you have heard me talk about this but it comes up in this sort of
way: that suppose you ask somebody to do something and they say they're not able to do it,
but you know they're - but maybe they give reasons but you know they're not giving the real
reason. The 'X Factor' is some factor at the back of their mind which is in- fluencing them
deeply but of which they're hardly aware and it's usually a factor of this sort. Yes, and I
sometimes say the 'X Factor' is more often than not the sex factor. (Laughter) maybe they
promised their girlfriend that they'll go out with har that evening, but they don't want to say
so: "I can't come because that's what I promised." It's
-3-
that 'X Factor'. They'll say almost anything other than that: "Well, I'm busy," or "I don't feel
too well tonight," or whatever it might be. But there is that factor at the back of their mind
very often dominating and shaping everything that they do and feel and think, and again just
like the food. And in this way there are so many things; they can be on sort of higher and
higher levels. You can get for instance some people who might be so interested, say, in
something like books. Yes, if they visit any new town or new city or even a new village,
what's the first thing they look for? A bookehop! (Laughter) fflaybe that is unconsciously
influencing them the whole time because that's what they're interested in.
So in this sort of way the ordinary worldling, as Conze calls him, is governed by his
sense-based instincts and impulses and we don't realize this. I mean the id~als we profess
usually have a quite minimal, a quit~ peripheral, you know, effect on our conduct, on our life.
But what is really - 'dominating' is not too strong a word - what is really dominating and
shaping everything we do and feel and think are these sense-based instincts and impulses. So
we' need to be very well aware of ourselves and just to see what is happening. Otherwise we
can so easily deceive ourselves and rationalize.
So these instincts and impulses are sense-based and there are five physical senses.
They're based therefore on the five physical senses; and also on what Buddhists call the sixth
sense, which is the ordinary mind. And, as it were corresponding to them, or, you know,
functioning as their counterparts, are the Five Spiritual Faculties of faith, vigour, mindfulness,
con~entration and wisdom. So you see the sort of analogy between them. Normally we're
under the domination of our five physical senses plus the mind, but, as we m~ke spiritual
progress, these five other faculties, or senses if you like, come into operation, come into play
and gradually take over so that our lives, instead of being governed by sense-based instincts
and impulses, are governed by these
-4-
five higher spiritual faculties and this is the sign of spiritual pro- gress. When we become
aware that we're less and less swayed by the senses and the lower mind and more and more
influenced by the five spiritual faculties then we can be sure that, you know, spiritual pro-
gress is actually occurring~ So this way of putting it in a way pres- ents the whole situation
very neatly and very clearly and in a way that we can really understand. So, "As we progress,
new, spiritual forces gradually take over* until in the end the five cardinal virtues dominate
and shape eusrything we do, feel and think." So one can there- fore, you know, think of
spiritual life itsel~ entirely in terms of the five cardinal virtues or the five spiritual fa~tulties
and quite a lot of early Buddhist literature does just that. You may remember that in Conze's
"Buddhist Texts Through the Ages11 the selections from the Pali Scriptures are arranged
under these five headings, of faith, vigour, mindfulness, ...

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