Nourishing the Spiritual Faculties

Luang Por Pasanno • May 2013

We just had Ajahn Dtun staying at the monastery, and he very generously shared teachings with us. For most people here, I think, his presence and way of being were uplifting and generated the arising of faith. Now, whenever faith or confidence arises in us—whether from the presence of a teacher or whatever the source—it’s important to use that faith to benefit our practice. The wholesome result of faith is the inclination to apply effort or energy. In this way faith is nourishment for effort and energy in our practice.

These two qualities are among the five spiritual faculties: saddhā, viriya, sati, samādhi, and paññā—faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. None of these factors stand alone. They support, feed, and nourish each other. We need to attend to saddhā—faith or confidence—in a skillful way, so that it helps nourish the qualities of effort, mindfulness, wisdom, and samādhi. Together these qualities bring a steadiness of mind, a clarity of awareness. In the suttas, the Buddha teaches that the spiritual faculties are a direct source of awakening. When we generate and nurture them, we are directly nourishing the conditions for awakening.

In his teachings, Tan Ajahn Dtun emphasized samādhi—concentration or collectedness of mind—the fourth spiritual power. In doing so, he also specified that the function of samādhi is to stabilize and steady mindfulness. Ajahn Chah taught this as well. This is important because it’s easy for us to get caught up in our preconceptions about the various states of samādhi and their purposes. Having read or heard about samādhi states from various teachers, we may misunderstand the most important reason for practicing samādhi. Again, it’s for the stabilization of mindfulness. When mindfulness isn’t steady, we have to return to a wholesome meditation object and use formal exercises for developing samādhi, such as the mindfulness exercises described in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.

Further, samādhi and mindfulness are mutually dependent—each nourishes the other. Samādhi develops through the continuity of mindfulness practice, and the stabilization of mindfulness requires a continuity of samādhi. The continuity of samādhi and the stability of mindfulness are essential components of the path to awakening.

Each of these wholesome and skillful spiritual faculties positively influences and supports so many aspects of the Buddha’s path. We can get a glimpse of their power when we see them exemplified in the elder teachers whom we come in contact with. It’s important that we take full advantage of these teachings and teachers. They are invaluable supports for our practice and spiritual cultivation.