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Venerable Ledi Sayadaw
FIVE MENTAL POWERS
The Mental Powers (balàni) are thus called because "they overpower opposing mental states" . Or, as the commentaries explain: they are powerful in the sense of being unshaken (akampanatthena) by opposition .
Parallel to the Faculties, there are five Powers (bala):
They are like five generals or commanders engaged in destroying the hostile kingdom of Personality Belief. They are the fivefold strength on which Bhikkhus and layfolk can place their reliance.
As in the case of the Faculties, the Power of Faith (saddhà-bala) is of two kinds: 1. The Power of Ordinary Faith (pakati-saddhà), 2. the Power of Developed Faith (bhàvanà-saddhà).
"Ordinary Faith", which has no development through specific practice, associates with Craving (tanhà) according to circumstances, and can thus produce only the ordinary good actions (pakati-kusala-kamma) of Almsgiving (Liberality; dàna), Morality (sìla), etc. The limited measure of strength it possesses, cannot overcome Craving. On the contrary, Craving (tanhà) keeps "Ordinary Faith" under its power.
This is how Craving keeps Ordinary Faith under its power:- The Pàli texts mention, with the greatest clarity, four "Traditional Practices of the Noble Ones" (ariya-vamsa) . They are:
They constitute the realm of saddhà . In the present-day world, this great kingdom of saddhà lies hidden and submerged. Today, beings take pleasure and enjoyment in material things (paccayàmisa): they take pleasure and enjoy-ment in worldly rank, dignity, and honour (lokàmisa); they take pleasure and enjoyment in the attainment of the pleasant life, in worldly riches, and in power and dominion (vattàmisa); and thus is the great kingdom of tanhà established as clearly as the great ocean round the island. This shows the weakness of Ordinary Faith (pakati-saddhà) in this world.
It is Developed Faith which has its genesis in the successful practice of Body Contemplation (such as Mindfulness on Breathing) -- being pursued until disappear-ance of the distraction and unsettled condition of the mind -- that can dispel Craving (tanhà) which takes pleasure and enjoyment in the afore-mentioned three kinds of worldliness (àmisa). It is this Developed Faith (bhàvanà saddhà) that can save Bhikkhus and lay-folk who are in the course of being drowned and submerged in the ocean of the three Cravings , and that enables them to reach the island haven of the kingdom of saddhà, as manifested (e.g.) in the four Traditional Practices of the Noble (ariya-vamsa-dhamma). In the context of the Bodhipakkhiya-dhamma it is this Developed Faith that should be acquired.
Of the two kinds of Energy (viriya), Ordinary Energy, which is without development practice, associates with laziness (kosajja) according to the occasion and produces the ordinary good acts (pakati-kusala-kamma) of Liberality (Almsgiving), Morality, the study of the sacred texts, etc. This Ordinary Energy cannot dispel laziness. On the contrary, it is laziness which controls Ordinary Energy and keeps it under subjection.
When beings encounter a Buddha Sàsana, they acquire the knowledge that in the past unfathomable Samsàra they have been the kinsfolk of Personality Belief (sakkàya-ditthi), of Evil Deeds (duccarita) and the inhabitants of the Lower Worlds of Misery (apàya-loka). The Pàli texts clearly prescribe the method of the Ariya-vamsa, the Traditional Practice of the Noble, as a way of dispelling laziness; and the fourth of them, delight in meditation, should be practised until release from such a state of laziness (being Energy’s opposite) is attained.
The way of dispelling laziness may be thus described (in the case of a monk) . Having equipped himself with the Sikkhàs (the Training Rules -- which are the Buddha's heritage) and which the monk undertakes in the Ordination Hall at the time of his becoming a Bhikkhu, he, in accordance with these Training Rules ,
and applies himself scrupulously to mindful Body Contemplation, -- these are the acts of Energy that dispel the unwholesome volitional actions (akusala kamma) arising out of laziness (kosajja). They are acts comprised in the realm of viriya (energy).
This realm of Energy remains obscure and is unknown in the present-day world. Today, although Bhikkhus are aware that they belong to that class of beings still possessed of Personality Belief and evil deeds and liable to rebirth in lower worlds of misery, yet they live permanently in dwellings constructed in towns and villages by their donors; they take pleasure in the receipt of large gifts and benefits, they are unable to dispense with the company of other people, etc., all of which acts are comprised within the realm of Laziness (kosajja) and this realm of Laziness is as conspicuous as the sea that inundates an island. This shows the weakness of Ordinary Energy (pakati-viriya).
It is only Developed Energy (bhàvanà-viriya) -- such as being satisfied with a minimum of sleep, being always alert and active, being fearless, being bold and firm in living alone, being steadfast in meditative practice -- that can dispel Laziness. In the context of the Bodhipakkhiya-dhammà (Requisites of Englihtenment) it is this Developed Energy that should be acquired.
The detailed meaning of the Powers of Mindfulness, Concentration and Wisdom may be known by following the lines of the explanation given above. Here I shall just give a concise explanation.
The antithesis of Mindfulness (sati) is mutthasacca, confused Mindfulness or absentmindedness. It means inability to become absorbed in the work of Tranquillity Meditation (samatha bhàvanà) or of Insight Meditation (vipassanà-bhàvanà); inability to concentrate and to control one's mind; the wandering of thoughts to objects other than the object of concentration. Ordinary Mindfulness that one possesses in a rudimentary state from birth cannot dispel that absentmindedness. Only Developed Mindfulness can do it.
The antithesis of Concentration (samàdhi) is Distraction (vikkhepa) of mind (i.e. wandering thoughts and idle fancies). It is the inability to concentrate, to control the mind and keep its attention fixed on one object. It is the arising of thoughts on objects other than the object of concentration. It is the unquiet and restless state of mind when applying itself to the work of meditation. Ordinary Concentration cannot dispel the unwholesome state of Distraction. Only Developed Concentration (bhàvanà-samàdhi) can do it.
The antithesis of Wisdom (pannà) is Delusion (sammoha). It is ignorance, lack of clarity, mistiness and absence of lucidity of mind. It is the darkness shrouding the mind. This Delusion cannot be removed by Ordinary Wisdom (pakati-pannà), nor by erudition (pariyatti-pannà), which may comprise knowledge of the whole Ti-Pitaka. It is only Wisdom Developed by Meditation (bhàvanà-pannà) that has set up mindful Body Contemplation, which can gradually dispel Delusion.
This shows the meaning of the five unwholesome opposites (patipakkha-akusala-dhamma) coupled with the respective Powers (bala).
These five unwholesome opposing forces are:
(1) Craving (tanhà),
The five things that can counteract and dispel them are called Powers (bala). If any one of these Powers is weak and unable to dispel the respective opposite, meditation, be it Tranquillity or Insight, cannot be very successful as far as Neyya individuals are concerned, i.e. those in need of guidance.
Hence, at the present day, some persons can emerge out of the realm of Craving (tanhà) because of the strength of their Power of Faith (saddhà-bala). They are rid of attachment to material things and to worldly dignities and honours. But as they are deficient in the other four Powers, they are unable to rise above the stage of contentment (santuttthi) with their living conditions.
Some persons can emerge out of the realm of Craving and Laziness because they are strong in the Powers of Faith and Energy. They are constant in keeping to a life of contentment, and (if monks) firm in keeping to forest -- and hill dwellings and in the observance of the strict ascetic practices (dhutanga; as exemplifying their energy). But as they are weak in the other three Powers, they are unable to practise mindful Body Contemplation, or do the work of Tranquillity and Insight meditation.
Some persons, again, are strong in the first three Powers and thus can rise up to the work of mindful Body Contemplation (kàyagatà sati), achieving concentration, e.g., on out-and in-breath or in contemplating the bones of the body. But being deficient in the other two Powers, they cannot rise up to the task of Jhàna and Insight.
Other persons can achieve the attainment of Jhàna because they are strong in the first four Powers, but as the Power of Wisdom is weak in them, they cannot rise to the work of Insight (vipassanà). Some persons are strong in the Power of Wisdom as far as their learning in Dhamma and Ti-Pitaka is concerned. They are also wise in understanding the teachings on the ultimate realities (paramattha dhamma). But because they lack the backing of the other four Powers they cannot emerge from the realm of Craving, Lassitude, Absent-mindedness and Distraction. They live and die within the confines of these unwholesome states. In this way, whenever one is deficient in anyone of the Powers, one cannot rise above the realm of the respective opposite force.
Of the five Powers, those of Energy and Wisdom are also Iddhipàdas, "Bases of (Spiritual) Success". Hence, if these two Powers are strong and coordinated, it does not happen that one cannot rise up to the work of Insight (vipassanà) because of the weakness of the other three Powers.
People who do not know the functions of the Bases of Success (iddhipàda), the Controlling Faculties (indriya) and the Powers (bala), do not know why their zeal is weak and which are the opposing forces (patipakkha) that assail them. They do not know the qualities of mind which they have to cultivate, and, hence, the desire to cultivate them never arises. It is thus that the Traditional Practices of the Noble (ariya-vamsa) are on the verge of disappearing at the present day.
I shall give an illustration. There is a species of bull called usabha. It is a bull worth more than a thousand ordinary bulls. If the characteristics and distinctive signs of that bull be recognised, and it be reared and nurtured properly, its limbs and marks will develop, and its strength and powers will increase. It can then guard even a hundred cattle pens from the incursions of lions and leopards.
If the owner of such a bull is ignorant of all these, and if thus he does not rear and nurture it properly but keeps and tends it just as he would any other ordinary bull; if he employs it in ploughing and drawing carts in company with other bulls; its distinctive marks and limbs will fail to develop, and its strength and powers will remain dormant. It will thus live and die just like any other bull.
A knowing owner, however, will separate such a bull from the rest and keep it in a specially constructed shed. He will cover the floor of the shed with clean sand and will fix a ceiling to the roof. He will keep the shed clean and will feed the bull with paddy and pulses fit for human consumption. He will wash and bathe it. In such a case, the distinctive marks and limbs will develop, and its strength and powers will increase enormously.
In this Buddha Sàsana, Neyya individuals (requiring guidance) resemble the owner of the bull. The five Powers of these Neyya individuals resemble the usabha bull. The Satipatthàna Vibhanga, Sammappadhàna Vibhanga, Iddhipàda Vibhanga, Indriya Vibhanga, Bojjhanga Vibhanga, and Magganga Vibhanga, of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, and the Mahà-satipatthàna Sutta, Satipatthàna Samyutta, Sammappam dhàna Samyutta, Iddhipàda Samyutta, Indriya Samyutta, Balam Samyutta, and Bojjhanga Samyutta of the Sutta Pitaka, resemble the expository books which expound the distinctive signs, marks and characteristics, of usabha bulls, the methods how such bulls are to be reared and taken care of, and the strength and powers that such bulls can attain if reared and nurtured properly.
Those Neyya individuals, who through ignorance do not attempt to develop the five Powers through the work of meditation and who thus remain satisfied with the lower attainments within the Sàsana, such as dàna, sìla, and the study of scriptures, resemble the ignorant owner of an usabha bull who does not rear and nurture it properly.
In this world, there are many kinds of worldly undertakings. There are undertakings that can be accom-plished by the strength of wealth, and there are undertakings that can be accomplished by the strength of knowledge. Even in the case of the cultivation of land, several kinds of strength are needed for its accomplishment. Sometimes the strength of wealth has to be garnered first, and at other times the strength of knowledge. Preparatory education and study constitute the garnering of the strength of knowledge.
Similarly, in the Buddha Sàsana, there are five Powers needed for the work of samatha, vipassanà, and the attainment of the Holy Paths and Fruits and Nibbàna. It is only when these Powers are first accumulated that the great works mentioned can be undertaken. Those persons who do not possess even one of the five Powers cannot evoke a desire to undertake these great tasks. It does not occur to them that those great tasks can be accomplished in this life. They live forgetfully and without determination. If it is pointed out to them that the tasks can be accomplished, they do not wish to hear it. They do not know that such untoward thoughts occur to them because they are utterly impoverished in their spiritual Powers. They lay the blame at the door of pàrami, or dvihetuka, or at the unfavourable times .
If, however. these people set up work in one of the satipatthàna, such as in ànàpàna sati, and if thereby they set up the three Powers of saddhà, viriya, and sati, such untoward thoughts will certainly disappear. It is inevitable that new wholesome thoughts must arise. This is because they have developed their strength.
This is how the strength is developed. Although such a person cannot as yet attain an insight into Body and Mind, the weak Faith grows through the control exercised over Craving (tanhà) for material wants (paccayàmisa) and worldly achievements (lokàmisa). The weak Energy grows through control of lassitude. Weak Mindfulness grows through control of absent-mindedness. Concentration and Wisdom, too, gather strength through control of distraction and delusion. When these Powers grow, it is inevitable that there must be a change in the mind of the meditator.
A person who is afflicted with a major disease has no desire to take an interest in the ordinary affairs and activities of the world. But if, after taking proper medicine and treatment, his grave illness is gradually cured and he is aroused from his apathy, it is inevitable that he will again take interest in normal activities. Here, the five unwholesome opposing forces, i.e. craving, lasssitude, etc., resemble major diseases. The work of Tranquillity and Insight meditation resembles the affairs and activities of the world. Work in the field of Satipatthàna, such as Mindfulness of Breathing, resembles the proper medicines and treatment taken. The rest of this comparison can be easily understood.
Hence did the Buddha say: "He develops the Powers of Faith, Energy, Mindfulness, Concentration and Wisdom" (saddhàbalam bhàveti ...).
In this world, the strength of builders lies in good tools, such as awls, chisels, axes, knives, saws, etc. Only when equipped with such tools can they undertake to build. Similarly, in the Sàsana, the tools of Tranquillity and Insight meditation (samatha and vipassanà) for achieving the knowledge of the Paths and Fruitions of Sainthood (magga-and phala-nàna) consist of Developed Faith, Developed Energy, Developed Mindfulness, Developed Concentration and Developed Wisdom (bhàvanà-saddhà, etc.), which are developed through one of the Satipatthànas, such as Mindfulness of Breathing. These five Powers are the strength of meditators (yogàvacara). Hence these five Powers must be developed in order to undertake successfully the work of Tranquillity and Insight meditation within the Buddha Sàsana. This is the meaning of the word bhàveti (he develops) in the text quoted above.
 Paramattha Dipani, by Ledi Sayadaw
 Com. to Anguttara-Nikàya, Ekaka-nipàta.
 Anguttara-Nikàya, Catukka Nipata (The Fours), Ariyavamsa-Sutta. Translated in "With Robes and Bowl", by Bhikkhu Khantipàlo (The Wheel No. 83/84), p. 70.
 This in the sense of confidence in these traditional values of simple living and mental culture, which, in such a general formulation, apply also to lay followers. - Editor.
 The 3 Cravings are: Sensual Craving, Craving for Existence and Craving for self-annihilation.
 In the case of layfolk, the principles underlying the four "Traditional Practices" (ariya-vamsa) should be applied to their circumstances of life as strictly as possible. These principles may be summarized in a popular phrase as "simple living and high (meditative) thinking". - Editor.
 For instance, the 'Four Supports' (nissaya) of a monk's life, among which is the undertaking to live "at the foot of a tree" (though, in the same formula, also monasteries, hermitages, etc., are said to be permissible, i.e. for those unable to live the stricter life). - (Ed.)
 Some believe that these are times when the Holy Paths and the Fruits thereof can no longer be attained, and tend to defer effort till the pàramis ripen. Some believe that persons of the present day are dvi-hetuka (i.e. beings reborn with two root-conditions, namely Detachment and Amity), and as such they cannot attain the Holy Paths and the Fruits thereof in the present life.
Sincere thanks to Mr. Sunanda
Pham Kim Khanh for supplying this electronic copy
(Binh Anson, 05-2002)
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