Episode 23

July 17, 2023


The Five Spiritual Strengths | Ajahn Tate

Hosted by

Sol Hanna
The Five Spiritual Strengths | Ajahn Tate
The Forest Path Podcast
The Five Spiritual Strengths | Ajahn Tate

Jul 17 2023 | 00:17:39


Show Notes

This episode is a talk given by the Thai forest meditation master Ajahn Tate and is titled “The Five Spiritual Strengths”. This is based on the five ‘bala’ in Pali, and indeed in the book “Words of the Master” translated by Steven Towler the title is “5 Bala (strengths)”, and I have translated the title […]
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Episode Transcript

Today, I am going to talk about “strengths”. There are two kinds of strength. Physical strength can be developed by maintaining good health. Strength of mind, however, is something much harder to see. It has to be composed of the “5 Bala”. As far as taking care of the mind is concerned, the 5 Bala are not its strengths. Instead, they are the means to develop strength of mind. Taking care of the mind is done via “Saddhā (faith) Bala”. Faith is a great source of strength. “Viriya (diligent effort)” is another source of strength. “Sati (mindfulness) Bala” and “Samādhi (firm concentration) Bala” and “Paññā (wisdom) Bala” are other facets of strength of mind. When these five Dhamma appear together they make the heart bold and fearless. They also have the power to propel us to Magga (path), Phala (fruit) and Nibbāna – cessation (of suffering). It can then be said that one has achieved the goal that one set out to achieve. In terms of what is sometimes said, such as you don’t have enough Parami (perfection) or your merit is too little, it all stems from these 5 Bala. You simply don’t have them in sufficiency. Saddhā Bala Saddhā means faith, strong belief in doing good. Belief that doing good begets good and doing evil begets evil. Belief that no one else can take your place (in this cycle of good and evil). Belief that the perpetrator of the deed is the one who receives the result. The Lord Buddha was full of energy. So much so that He was able to sacrifice everything and give away all his possessions. Having made this commitment, He was able to sustain it. To begin with, we must be completely satisfied with giving alms. We must lend our full strength to this. Later, we can channel this Saddhā into other things. Reckless people don’t care for Saddhā and become noncommittal when it comes to doing good. Later on, the Saddhā that would be born from Sila (morality), Samādhi and Paññā is also exhausted. Belief in self-sacrifice is gone and so is the merit that goes with it. I want you to have firm Saddhā in looking after your Sila, regardless of whether you keep 5 precepts or 8 precepts or 10 precepts with good kamma. But don’t set your sights on 227 precepts like monks unless you have strong faith because that would be a waste of time. The same can be said of Samādhi. If you are not satisfied with having just a little Khanika Samādhi or a little Upacāra Samādhi, you won’t practise further. You will abandon Samādhi. On the other hand, if you are gratified by the amount of Samādhi that you have, you should resolve to develop steadfastly, to the best of your ability. Progress will naturally follow. Paññā is no different. If we don’t resolve to examine the little insights that we get, if we don’t drive Saddhā to be fearless, then it will all be for naught. The reason why people cannot be bothered is because they don’t have Saddhā. They are uncertain about what they are doing because they lack Saddhā. They make excuses. They let things slip their mind. They are confused. They forget. This is because their Saddhā is lacking. This is how Saddhā is lost. Because of this you should promote Saddhā. Making Saddhā fearless and nurturing it is the first step. Develop Saddhā as much as you can. When you have Saddhā, Viriya will be encouraged and this will assist in performing a whole host of tasks, such as being philanthropic and seeking out opportunities to be generous. No matter how small or great that generosity may be, always have it at the forefront of your thoughts. Having Saddhā, supports acts like these. Viriya Bala Diligent effort, try to maintain it constantly. When you have Sila established, work at keeping it and don’t let it lapse. At first, looking after Sila is intermittent. Work hard to keep it for longer. Try to make Sila become your second nature. As its purity increases, keep Sila at the forefront of your thoughts. Know what is flawed and what is perfection. Those that don’t consider Sila can have goodness inside them, but they don’t see the value of it. In the olden days they used to say, this is like a monkey having glass, or a chicken having gemstones. Try to see the value of maintaining Sila. Try to see the value of Paññā and Samādhi. However much you practise Samādhi, a lot or a little, just think back to the time when you didn’t practise at all. If you’ve meditated a few times, it’s good that you see what Samādhi is. Those who don’t see the value of Samādhi will never practise. Experiencing Samādhi gives rise to perseverance and effort. If you keep trying, one day you will succeed, for sure. Bala are the powers that make things happen. Sati Bala Sati means firm mindfulness of various objects. When Saddhā and Viriya have been present, there may be times when delusion causes you to believe in the wrong things. Your effort becomes ill-directed, towards unwholesome things. If there is no Sati cocooning the heart, there will be nothing watching over it, determining what is proper or improper, right or wrong, or what is in accordance with the Dhamma, the teaching of the Lord Buddha, or not. Listening to the directions of a teacher or his admonishment must be done with Sati protecting the heart so as to determine if the words are correct. This way, you will travel the right path. Most of us just have Saddhā, but Saddhā must be supported by Viriya in order to provide the most assistance in seeing what is improper. When we do do something improper, it is not up to someone else to admonish us. Taking responsibility is the right thing to do. It is not appropriate for someone else to reprimand us. Someone else doing so is not the same as doing it ourselves because it is we who have the strong Saddhā and much Viriya. Those who have Sati walk evenly. They don’t lean to one side or the other. This is called “Majjhima Patipada (the Middle Way)”. Ordinarily, those with Sati don’t see themselves as being good. People are generally not good. Because of this we have to be careful, paying close attention to things when taking instruction from others. As I have said consistently, “Someone who says they are a good person is yet to be a good person. Those who think they are special or super smart, are stupid.” Samādhi Bala Samādhi is one of the most important foundations (of Dhamma). Saddhā, Viriya and Sati must come together in order to achieve Samādhi. If these factors don’t come together, then there will be great confusion. Wherever Buddhism goes, it teaches. If that teaching does not penetrate your heart, you haven’t reached the essence of Buddhism. All the factors must coalesce in order for the teaching to enter the heart. Everything in this world has to have a point of origin. Making a living, whether by trading or working in government, in whatever city, the commonality is we do it to feed ourselves. The point is to make money. We make money and put it all together in a wallet or purse. Even with farming, for example rice farming, the rice has to be carried and mixed together in the rice yard, then it has to be gathered into the barn. It then must be dehusked. Then it has to be boiled before it is concentrated in the mouth and then the stomach. And that is an end of the matter. Buddhism’s teachings are very broad. If the factors don’t coalesce and achieve Samādhi, then you won’t reach the heart of Buddhism23. This is why I have consistently said, “Buddhism teaches that there is a point of convergence that is the ultimate, beyond doubt. The end of the line. This is unlike other philosophies of life which teach eternalism.” Just as the 84,000 stanzas of the Dhamma can be summed up in a single word, “vigilance”. Magga is the path to tread to reach Magga, Phala and Nibbāna, which coalesce at the singularity of Maggasamaṅgi (the coalescence of the Eightfold Path). So, it is said that Buddhism teaches about reaching the end but there is no “traveller24” that follows this path and reaches the end. Paññā Bala Paññā investigates our Sankhāra (conditioned phenomena25) and body. Whatever is seen, we focus the magnifying glass on it. Right in front of our eyes we see old age and dysfunctional disintegration; a body withered and wrinkled. This is Aniccaṁ (impermanent), Dukkhaṁ (suffering) and Anattā (void of self). This is all you need to see. There is no need to look elsewhere. Try to focus your attention on this consistently. Through doing so, you will see the root cause of aging and disintegration. The deterioration of Sankhāra is not so easy to see. Sometimes they go through their whole lifecycle, and we don’t even notice. Even when we are old and near death, we are still intoxicated by the idea of youth. Those who scrutinise aging, dilapidation and withering away see the investigation as wonderful. They see it as being the way to freedom. Samādhi won’t arise if there is no Paññā. Without Paññā there is no Saddhā, no Viriya. The Saddhā that I am talking about is not some sort of mystical Saddhā. The notion to give alms and make merit is an aspect of Paññā, causing us to seek out such opportunities. This is Paññā. Putting in the effort to make merit is also called Paññā. The reason that the Citta can converge (into a singularity) is because of Paññā. Samādhi is achieved because of Paññā. These types of Paññā are weak types. When convergence26 happens, it’s called Paññā. If the highest level of Paññā is reached, this is called “Vipassana Paññā”. These Five Bala encourage the heart to have fierce and solid energy. So much so that Samādhi is achieved. This Samādhi is then capable of developing Paññā at the most advanced level, which, in turn, can lead to Magga, Phala and Nibbāna.

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