2. Cutting Through to Ultimate Reality
by Sharpening the Controlling Faculties
Vipassanā meditation can be seen as a process of developing certain positive mental factors until they are powerful enough to dominate the state of the mind quite continuously. These factors are called “the controlling faculties,” and they are five in number: faith, effort or energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Especially in an intensive retreat setting, proper practice develops strong and durable faith, powerful effort, deep concentration, penetrative mindfulness, and the unfolding of more and more profound insight or wisdom. This final product, intuitive wisdom or paññā;, is the force in the mind which cuts through into the deepest truth about reality, and thus liberates us from ignorance and its results: suffering, delusion, and all the forms of unhappiness.
For this development to occur, however, the appropriate causes must be present. Nine causes lead to the growth of the controlling faculties; they are listed here, and will be discussed in more detail below. The first cause is attention directed toward the impermanence of all objects of consciousness. The second is an attitude of care and respect in meditation practice. The third is maintaining an unbroken continuity of awareness. The fourth cause is an environment that supports meditation. The fifth is remembering circumstances or behavior that have been helpful in one’s past meditation practice so that one can maintain or recreate those conditions, especially when difficulties may arise. The sixth is cultivating the qualities of mind which lead toward enlightenment. The seventh is willingness to work intensely in meditation practice. The eighth is patience and perseverance in the face of pain or other obstacles. The ninth and last cause for the development of the controlling faculties is a determination to continue practicing until one reaches the goal of liberation.
A yogi can travel far in this practice if he or she fulfills even just the first three causes for the controlling faculties to arise. That is, the yogi’s mental state will come to be characterized by faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom if she or he is aware of the passing away of mental and physical phenomena meticulously, respectfully, and with persistent continuity. Under these conditions, the inner hindrances to meditation will soon be removed. The controlling faculties will calm the mind and clear it of disturbances. If you are such a yogi, you will experience a tranquillity you may never have felt before. You may be filled with awe. “Fantastic, it’s really true! All those teachers talk about peace and calm and now I’m really experiencing it!” Thus faith, the first of the controlling faculties, will have arisen out of your practice.
This particular kind of faith is called “preliminary verified faith.” Your own experience leads you to feel that the further promises of the Dhamma may actually be true.
With faith comes a natural inspiration, an upsurge of energy. When energy is present, effort follows. You will say to yourself, “This is just the beginning. If I work a little harder, I’ll have experiences even better than this.” A renewed effort guides the mind to hit its target of observation in each moment. Thus mindfulness consolidates and deepens.
Mindfulness has the uncanny ability to bring about concentration, one-pointedness of mind. When mindfulness penetrates into the object of observation moment by moment, the mind gains the capacity to remain stable and undistracted, content within the object. In this natural fashion, concentration becomes well-established and strong. In general, the stronger one’s mindfulness, the stronger one’s concentration will be.
With faith, effort, mindfulness and concentration, four of the five controlling faculties have been assembled. Wisdom, the fifth, needs no special introduction. If the first four factors are present, wisdom or insight unfolds of itself. One begins to see very clearly, intuitively, how mind and matter are separate entities, and begins also to understand in a very special way how mind and matter are connected by cause and effect. Upon each insight, one’s verified faith deepens.
A yogi who has seen objects arising and passing away from moment to moment feels very fulfilled. “It’s fabulous. Just moment after moment of these phenomena with no self behind them. No one at home.” This discovery brings a sense of great relief and ease of mind. Subsequent insights into impermanence, suffering and absence of self have a particularly strong capacity to stimulate faith. They fill us with powerful conviction that the Dhamma as it has been told to us is authentic.
Vipassanā practice can be compared to sharpening a knife against a whetstone. One must hold the blade at just the right angle, not too high or too low, and apply just the right amount of pressure. Moving the knife blade consistently against the stone, one works continuously and until the first edge has been developed. Then one flips the knife over to sharpen the other edge, applying the same pressure at the same angle. This image is given in the Buddhist scriptures. Precision of angle is like meticulousness in practice, and pressure and movement are like continuity of mindfulness. If meticulousness and continuity are really present in your practice, rest assured that in a short time your mind will be sharp enough to cut through to the truth about existence.
ONE: ATTENTION TO IMPERMANENCE
The first cause for development of the controlling faculties is to notice that everything which arises will also dissolve and pass away. During meditation one observes mind and matter at all the six sense doors. One should approach this process of observation with the intention to notice that everything which appears will, in turn, dissolve. As you are no doubt aware, this idea can only be confirmed by actual observation.
This attitude is a very important preparation for practice. A preliminary acceptance that things are impermanent and transitory prevents the reactions that might occur when you discover these facts — sometimes painfully — through your own experience. Without this acceptance, moreover, a student might spend considerable time with the contrary assumption, that the objects of this world might be permanent, an assumption that can block the development of insight. In the beginning you can take impermanence on faith. As practice deepens, this faith will be verified by personal experience.
TWO: CARE AND RESPECT
The second basis for strengthening the controlling faculties is an attitude of great care in pursuing the meditation practice. It is essential to treat the practice with the utmost reverence and meticulousness. To develop this attitude it may be helpful to reflect on the benefits you are likely to enjoy through practice. Properly practiced, mindfulness of body, feelings, mind and mind objects leads to the purification of the mind, the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, the complete destruction of physical pain and mental distress, and the attainment of nibbāna. The Buddha called it satipaṭṭhāna meditation, meaning meditation on the four foundations of mindfulness. Truly it is priceless!
Remembering this, you may be inspired to be very careful and attentive toward the objects of awareness that arise at the six sense doors. On a meditation retreat, you should also try to slow down your movements as much as possible, appreciating the fact that your mindfulness is at an infant stage. Slowing down gives mindfulness the chance to keep pace with the movements of the body, noting each one in detail.
The scriptures illustrate this quality of care and meticulousness with the image of a person crossing a river on a very narrow footbridge. There is no railing, and swift water runs below. Obviously, this person cannot skip and run across the bridge. He or she must go step by step, with care.
A meditator can also be compared to a person carrying a bowl brimful of oil. You can imagine the degree of care that is required not to spill it. This same degree of mindfulness should be present in your practice.
This second example was given by the Buddha himself. It seems there was a group of monks residing in a forest, ostensibly practicing meditation. They were sloppy, though. At the end of a sitting, they would leap up suddenly and unmindfully. Walking from place to place, they were careless; they looked at the birds in the trees and the clouds in the sky, not restraining their minds at all. Naturally they made no progress in practice.
When the Buddha came to know of this, his investigation showed that the fault lay in the monks’ lack of respect and reverence for the Dhamma, for the teaching, and for meditation. The Buddha then approached the monks and spoke to them about the image of carrying a bowl of oil. Inspired by his sutta, or discourse, the monks resolved thereafter to be meticulous and careful in all that they did. As a result they were enlightened in a short time.
You can verify this result in your own experience on a retreat. Slowing down, moving with great care, you will be able to apply a quality of reverence in noting your experience. The slower you move, the faster you will progress in your meditation.
Of course, in this world one must adapt to the prevailing circumstances. Some situations require speed. If you cruise the highway at a snail’s pace, you might end up dead or in jail. At a hospital, in contrast, patients must be treated with great gentleness and allowed to move slowly. If doctors and nurses hurry them along so that the hospital’s work can be finished more efficiently, the patients will suffer and perhaps end up on a mortuary slab.
Yogis must comprehend their situation, wherever they are, and adapt to it. On retreat, or in any other situation, it is good to be considerate and to move at a normal speed if others are waiting behind you. However, you must also understand that one’s primary goal is to develop mindfulness, and so when you are alone it is appropriate to revert to creeping about. You can eat slowly, you can wash your face, brush your teeth and bathe with great mindfulness — as long as no one is waiting in line for the shower or tub.
THREE: UNBROKEN CONTINUITY
Persevering continuity of mindfulness is the third essential factor in developing the controlling faculties. One should try to be with the moment as much as possible, moment after moment, without any breaks in between. In this way mindfulness can be established, and its momentum can increase. Defending our mindfulness prevents the kilesas, the harmful and painful qualities of greed, hatred and delusion, from infiltrating and carrying us off into oblivion. It is a fact of life that the kilesas cannot arise in the presence of strong mindfulness. When the mind is free of kilesas, it becomes unburdened, light and happy.
Do whatever is necessary to maintain continuity. Do one action at a time. When you change postures, break down the movement into single units and note each unit with the utmost care. When you arise from sitting, note the intention to open the eyelids, and then the sensations that occur when the lids begin to move. Note lifting the hand from the knee, shifting the leg, and so on. Throughout the day, be fully aware of even the tiniest actions — not just sitting, standing, walking and lying, but also closing your eyes, turning your head, turning doorknobs and so forth.
Apart from the hours of sleeping, yogis on retreat should be continuously mindful. Continuity should be so strong, in fact, that there is no time at all for reflection, no hesitation, no thinking, no reasoning, no comparing of one’s experiences with the things one has read about meditation — just time enough to apply this bare awareness.
The scriptures compare practicing the Dhamma to starting a fire. In the days before the invention of matches or magnifying glasses, fire had to be started by the primitive means of friction. People used an instrument like a bow, held horizontally. In its looped string they entwined a vertical stick whose point was inserted into a slight depression in a board, which was in turn filled with shavings or leaves. As people moved the bow back and forth, the stick’s point twirled, eventually igniting the leaves or shavings. Another method was simply to roll that same stick between the palms of the hands. In either case, people rubbed and rubbed until sufficient friction accumulated to ignite the shavings. Imagine what would happen if they rubbed for ten seconds and then rested for five seconds to think about it. Do you think a fire would start? In just this way, a continuous effort is necessary to start the fire of wisdom.
Have you ever studied the behavior of a chameleon? The scriptures use this lizard to illustrate discontinuous practice. Chameleons approach their goals in an interesting way. Catching sight of a delicious fly or a potential mate, a chameleon rushes suddenly forward, but does not arrive all at once. It scurries a short distance, then stops and gazes at the sky, tilting its head this way and that. Then it rushes ahead a bit more and stops again to gaze. It never reaches its destination in the first rush.
People who practice in fits and starts, being mindful for a stretch and then stopping to daydream, are chameleon yogis. Chameleons manage to survive despite their lack of continuity, but a yogi’s practice may not. Some yogis feel called to reflect and think each time they have a new experience, wondering which stage of insight they have reached. Others do not need novelty, they think and worry about familiar things.
“I feel tired today. Maybe I didn’t sleep enough. Maybe I ate too much. A little nap might be just the ticket. My foot hurts. I wonder if a blister is developing. That would affect my whole meditation! Maybe I should just open my eyes and check.” Such are the hesitations of chameleon yogis.
FOUR: SUPPORTIVE CONDITIONS
The fourth cause for developing the controlling faculties is to make sure that suitable conditions are met for insights to unfold. Proper, suitable and appropriate activities can bring about insight knowledge. Seven types of suitability should be met in order to create an environment that is supportive of meditation practice.
The first suitability is that of place. A meditative environment should be well-furnished, well-supported, a place where it is possible to gain insight.
Second is what is known as suitability of resort. This refers to the ancient practice of daily alms rounds. A monk’s place of meditation should be far enough from a village to avoid distraction, but near enough so that he can depend on the villagers for daily alms food. For lay yogis, food must be easily and consistently available, yet perhaps not distractingly so. Under this heading, one should avoid places which ruin one’s concentration. This means busy, active places where the mind is likely to be distracted from its meditation object. In short, a certain amount of quiet is important, but one must not go so far from the noises of civilization that one cannot obtain what one needs to survive.
The third suitability is that of speech. During a retreat, suitable speech is of a very limited kind and quantity. The commentaries define it as listening to Dhamma talks. We can add participating in Dhamma discussions with the teacher — that is, interviews. It is essential at times to engage in discussions of the practice, especially when one is confused or unsure about how to proceed.
But remember that anything in excess is harmful. I once taught in a place where there was a potted plant which my attendant was overzealous in watering. All its leaves fell off. A similar thing could happen to your samādhi if you get involved in too many Dhamma discussions. And one should carefully evaluate even the discourses of one’s teacher. The general rule is to exercise discretion as to whether what one is hearing will develop the concentration that has already arisen, or cause to arise concentration that has not yet arisen. If the answer is negative, one should avoid the situation, perhaps even choosing not to attend the teacher’s discourses or not requesting extra interviews.
Yogis on intensive retreat should of course avoid any kind of conversation as much as possible, especially chatting about worldly affairs. Even serious discussion of the Dhamma is not always appropriate during intensive practice. One should avoid debating points of dogma with fellow yogis on retreat. Thoroughly unsuitable during retreats are conversations about food, place, business, the economy, politics and so forth; these are called “animal speech.”
The purpose of having this kind of prohibition is to prevent distractions from arising in the yogi’s mind. Lord Buddha, out of deep compassion for meditating yogis, said, “For an ardent meditator, speech should not be indulged. If indeed speech is resorted to frequently, it will cause much distraction.”
Of course it may become really necessary to talk during a retreat. If so, you should be careful not to exceed what is absolutely necessary to communicate. You should also be mindful of the process of speaking. First there will be a desire to speak. Thoughts will arise in the mind as to what to say and how to say it. You should note and carefully label all such thoughts, the mental preparation for speaking; and then the actual act of speaking itself, the physical movements involved. The movements of your lips and face, and any accompanying gestures, should be made the objects of mindfulness.
Some years ago in Burma there was a high-ranking government official who had just retired. He was a very ardent Buddhist. He had read a lot of Buddhist scriptures and literature in the fine translations available in Burmese and had also spent some time meditating. His practice was not strong, but he had a lot of general knowledge and he wanted to teach, so he became a teacher.
One day he came to the center in Rangoon to meditate. When I give instructions to yogis, usually I explain the practice and then compare my instructions to the scriptural texts, trying to reconcile any apparent differences. This gentleman immediately began to ask me, “From where did this quotation come and what is its reference?” I advised him politely to forget about this concern and to continue his meditation, but he could not. For three days in a row, he did the same thing at each interview.
Finally I asked him, “Why are you here? Did you come here to be my student, or to try to teach me?” It seemed to me he had only come to show off his general knowledge, not because he wished to meditate.
The man said airily, “Oh, I’m the student and you’re the teacher.”
I said, “I’ve been trying to let you know this in a subtle way for three days, but I must now be more direct with you. You are like the minister whose job it was to marry off brides and bridegrooms. On the day it was his turn to get married, instead of standing where the bridegroom should stand, he went up to the altar and conducted the ceremony. The congregation was very surprised.” Well, the gentleman got the point; he admitted his error and there after became an obedient student.
Yogis who truly want to understand the Dhamma will not seek to imitate this gentleman. In fact it is said in the texts that no matter how learned or experienced one may be, during a period of meditation one should behave like a person who is incapable of doing things out of his or her own initiative, but is also very meek and obedient. In this regard, I’d like to share with you an attitude I developed in my youth. When I am not skilled, competent or experienced in a particular field, I do not intrude in a situation. Even if I am skilled, competent and experienced in a field, I do not intrude unless someone asks for my advice.
The fourth suitability is that of person, which chiefly relates to the meditation teacher. If the instruction given by one’s teacher helps one to progress, developing concentration that has already arisen, or bringing about concentration that has not yet arisen, then one can say that this teacher is suitable.
Two more aspects of suitability of person have to do with the community that supports one’s practice, and one’s own relationship with the community of other people. In an intensive retreat, yogis require a great deal of support. In order to develop their mindfulness and concentration, they abandon worldly activities. Thus, they need friends who can perform certain tasks that would be distracting for a yogi in intensive practice, such as shopping for and preparing food, repairing the shelter, and so on. For those engaged in group practice, it is important to consider one’s own effect on the community. Delicate consideration for other yogis is quite helpful. Abrupt or noisy movements can be very disruptive to others. Bearing this in mind, one can become a suitable person with respect to other yogis.
The fifth area of suitability, of food, means that the diet one finds personally appropriate is also supportive to progress in meditation. However, one must bear in mind that it is not always possible to fill one’s every preference. Group retreats can be quite large, and meals are cooked for every one at once. At such times, it is best to adopt an attitude of accepting whatever is served. If one’s meditation is disturbed by feelings of lack or distaste, it is all right to try to rectify this if convenient.
The Story of Mātikamātā
Once sixty monks were meditating in the forest. They had a laywoman supporter named Mātikamātā, who was very devout. She tried to figure out what they might like, and every day she cooked enough food for all of them. One day Mātikamātā approached the monks and asked whether a lay person could meditate as they did. “Of course,” she was told, and they gave her instructions. Happily she went back and began to practice. She kept up her meditation even while she was cooking for the monks and carrying out her household chores. Eventually she reached the third stage of enlightenment, anagami or nonreturner; and because of the great merit she had accumulated in the past, she also had psychic powers such as the deva eye and deva ear — i.e. the abilities to see and hear distant things — and the ability to read people’s minds.
Filled with joy and gratitude, Mātikamātā said to herself, “The Dhamma I’ve realized is very special. I’m such a busy person, though, looking after my household chores as well as feeding the monks every day, I’m sure those monks have progressed much further than I.” With her psychic powers she investigated the meditation progress of the sixty monks, and saw to her shock that none of them had had even the vaguest ghost of a vipassanā insight.
“What’s wrong here?” Mātikamātā wondered. Psychically, she looked into the monks’ situation to determine where the unsuitability lay. It was not in the place they were meditating. It was not because they weren’t getting along — but it was that they were not getting the right food! Some of the monks liked sour tastes, others preferred the salty. Some liked hot peppers and others liked cakes, and still others preferred vegetables. Out of great gratitude for the meditation instructions she had received from them, which had led her to profound enlightenment, Mātikamātā began to cater to each monk’s preference. As a result, all of the monks soon became arahants, fully enlightened ones.
This woman’s rapid and deep attainments, as well as her intelligence and dedication, provide a good model for people like parents and other caretakers, who serve the needs of others, but who do not need to relinquish aspirations for deep insights.
While on this subject I would like to talk about vegetarianism. Some hold the view that it is moral to eat only vegetables. In Theravāda Buddhism there is no notion that this practice leads to an exceptional perception of the truth.
The Buddha did not totally prohibit the eating of meat. He only lay down certain conditions for it. For example, an animal must not be killed expressly for one’s personal consumption. The monk Devadatta asked him to lay down a rule expressly forbidding the eating of meat, but the Buddha, after thorough consideration, refused to do so.
In those days as now, the majority of people ate a mixture of animal and vegetable food. Only Brahmins, or the upper caste, were vegetarian. When monks went begging for their livelihood, they had to take whatever was offered by donors of any caste. To distinguish between vegetarian and carnivorous donors would have affected the spirit of this activity. Furthermore, both Brabmins and members of other castes were able to join the order of monks and nuns. The Buddha took this fact into consideration as welt with all of its implications.
Thus, one needn’t restrict oneself to vegetarianism to practice the Dhamma. Of course, it is healthy to eat a balanced vegetarian diet, and if your motivation for not eating meat is compassion, this impulse is certainly wholesome. If, on the other hand, your metabolism is adjusted to eating meat, or if for some other reason of health it is necessary for you to eat meat this should not be considered sinful or in any way detrimental to the practice. A law that cannot be obeyed by the majority is ineffective.
The sixth type of suitability is that of weather. Human beings have a fantastic ability to adapt to weather. No matter how hot or cold it may be, we devise methods of making ourselves comfortable. When these methods are limited or unavailable, one’s practice can be disrupted. At such times it may be better to practice in a temperate climate, if possible.
The seventh and last kind of suitability is that of posture. Posture here refers to the traditional four postures: sitting, standing, walking and lying down. Sitting is best for samatha or tranquillity meditation. In the tradition of Mahāsi Sayādaw, vipassanā practice is based on sitting and walking. For any type of meditation, once momentum builds, posture does not really matter; any of the four is suitable.
Beginning yogis should avoid the lying and the standing postures. The standing posture can bring about pain in a short while: tightness and pressure in the legs, which can disrupt the practice. The lying posture is problematic because it brings on drowsiness. In it there is not much effort being made to maintain the posture, and there is too much comfort.
Investigate your own situation to find out whether the seven types of suitability are present. If they are not, perhaps you should take steps to ensure they are fulfilled, so that your practice can develop. If this is done with the aim of making progress in your practice, it will not be self-centered.
FIVE: REAPPLYING HELPFUL CONDITIONS FROM THE PAST
The fifth way of sharpening the controlling faculties is to bring about the completion of meditative insight using what is called “the sign of samādhi.” This refers to circumstances in which good practice has occurred before: good mindfulness and concentration. As we all know, practice is an up and down affair. At times we are high up in the clouds of samādhi-land; at other times, we’re really depressed, assaulted by kilesas, not mindful of anything. Using the sign of samādhi means that when you are up in those clouds, when mindfulness is strong, you should try to notice what circumstances led to this good practice. How are you working with the mind? What are the specific circumstances in which this good practice is occurring? The next time you get into a difficult situation, you may be able to remember the causes of good mindfulness and establish them again.
SIX: CULTIVATING THE FACTORS THAT LEAD TO ENLIGHTENMENT
The sixth way of sharpening the controlling faculties is cultivating the factors of enlightenment: mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture or joy, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity. These qualifies of mind, or mental factors, are actually the causes which bring about enlightenment. When they are present and alive in one’s mind, the moment of enlightenment is being encouraged, and may be said to be drawing nearer. Furthermore, the seven factors of enlightenment belong to what is known as “noble path and fruition consciousness.” In Buddhism, we speak of “consciousnesses” when we mean specific, momentary types of consciousness — particular mental events, with recognizable characteristics. Path and fruition consciousness are the linked mental events that constitute an enlightenment experience. They are what is occurring when the mind shifts its attention from the conditioned realm to nibbāna, or unconditioned reality. The result of such a shift is that certain defilements are uprooted, so that the mind is never the same afterwards.
While working to create the conditions for path and fruition consciousness, a yogi who understands the factors of enlightenment can use them to balance her or his meditation practice. The enlightenment factors of effort, joy, and investigation uplift the mind when it becomes depressed, while the factors of tranquility, concentration, and equanimity calm the mind when it becomes hyperactive.
Many times a yogi may feel depressed and discouraged, having no mindfulness, thinking that his or her practice is going terribly badly. Mindfulness may not be able to pick up objects as it has in the past. At such a time it is essential for a yogi to pull out of this state, brighten the mind. He or she should go in search of encouragement and inspiration. One way to do this is by listening to a good Dhamma talk. A talk can bring about the enlightenment factor of joy or rapture; or it can inspire greater effort, or it can deepen the enlightenment factor of investigation by providing knowledge about practice. These three factors of enlightenment — rapture, effort and investigation — are most helpful in facing depression and discouragement.
Once an inspiring talk has brought up rapture, energy or investigation, you should use this opportunity to try to focus the mind very clearly on objects of observation, so that the objects appear very clearly to the mind’s eye.
At other times, yogis may have an unusual experience, or for some other reason may find themselves flooded with exhilaration, rapture and joy. The mind becomes active and overenthusiastic. On a retreat you can spot such yogis beaming, walking around as if they were six feet above the ground. Due to excess energy, the mind slips; it refuses to concentrate on what is happening in the present moment. If attention touches the target object at all, it immediately goes off on a tangent.
If you find yourself excessively exhilarated, you should restore your equilibrium by developing the three enlightenment factors of tranquility, concentration and equanimity. A good way to start is by realizing that your energy is indeed excessive; and then reflecting. “There’s no point in hurrying. The Dhamma will unfold by itself. I should just sit back coolly and watch with gentle awareness.” This stimulates the factor of tranquility. Then, once the energy is cooled, one can begin to apply concentration. The pactical method of doing this is to narrow down the meditation. Instead of noting many objects, cut down to concentrate more fully on a few. The mind will soon renew its normal, slower pace. Lastly, one can adopt a stance of equanimity, cajoling and soothing the mind with reflections like, “A yogi has no preferences. There’s no point in hurrying. The only thing that matters is for me to watch whatever is happening, good or bad.”
If you can keep your mind in balance, soothing excitement and lightening up depression, you can be sure that wisdom will shortly unfold on its own.
Actually, the person best qualified to rectify imbalances in practice is a competent meditation teacher. If he or she keeps steady track of students through interviews, a teacher can recognize and remedy the many kinds of excesses that yogis are susceptible to.
I would like to remind all yogis never to feel discouraged when they think something is wrong with their meditation. Yogis are like babies or young children. As you know, babies go through various stages of development. When babies are in a transition from one stage of development to another, they tend to go though a lot of psychological and physical upheaval. They seem to get irritated very easily and are difficult to care for. They cry and wail at odd times. An inexperienced mother may worry about her baby during periods like this. But truly, if infants don’t go through this suffering they will never mature and grow up. Babies’ distress is often a sign of developmental progress. So if you feel your practice is falling apart, do not worry. You may be just like that little child who is in a transition between stages of growth.
SEVEN: COURAGEOUS EFFORT
The seventh way of developing the controlling faculties is to practice with courageous effort so much so that you are willing to sacrifice your body and life in order to continue the practice uninterrupted. This means giving rather less consideration toward the body than we tend to be accustomed to give to it. Rather than spending time beautifying ourselves or catering to our wishes for greater comfort, we devote as much energy as possible to going forward in meditation.
Although it may feel very youthful right now, our body becomes completely useless when we die. What use can one make of a corpse? The body is like a very fragile container which can be used as long as it is intact, but the moment it drops on the floor, it is of no further help to us.
While we are alive and in reasonably good health, we have the good fortune to be able to practice. Let us try to extract the precious essence from our bodies before it is too late, before our bodies become useless corpses! Of course, it is not our aim to hasten this event. We should also try to be sensible, and to maintain this body’s health, if only for our practice to continue.
You might ask what essence one can extract from the body. A scientific study was once made to determine the market value of the substances composing the human body: iron, calcium and so on. I believe it came to less than one American dollar, and the cost of extracting all those components was many times greater than this total value. Without such a process of extraction, a corpse is valueless, beyond providing compost for the soil. If a dead person’s organs can be used for transplants into living bodies, this is good; but in this case, progress toward becoming an entirely lifeless and valueless corpse has only been delayed.
The body can be looked at as a rubbish dump, disgusting and full of impurities. Uncreative people have no use for things they might find in such a dump, but an innovative person understands the value of recycling. He or she may take a dirty, smelly thing off the rubbish heap and clean it and be able to use it again. There are many stories of people who have made millions from the recycling business.
From this rubbish heap we call our body, we can nonetheless extract gold through the practice of the Dhamma. One form of gold is sīla, purity of conduct, the ability to tame and civilize one’s actions. After further extraction, the body yields up the controlling faculties of faith, mindfulness, effort, concentration and wisdom. These are priceless jewels which can be extracted from the body through meditation. When the controlling faculties are well-developed, the mind resists domination by greed, hatred and delusion. A person whose mind is free of these painful oppressive qualities experiences an exquisite happiness and peace that cannot be bought with money. His or her presence becomes calm and sweet so that others feel uplifted. This inner freedom is independent of all circumstances and conditions, and it is only available as a result of ardent meditation practice.
Anyone can understand that painful mental states do not vanish just because we wish them to do so. Who has not wrestled with a desire they knew would hurt someone if they indulged it? Is there anyone who has never been in an irritable, grumpy mood and wished they were feeling happy and contented instead? Has anyone failed to experience the pain of being confused? It is possible to uproot the tendencies which create pain and dissatisfaction in our lives, but for most of us it is not easy. Spiritual work is as demanding as it is rewarding. Yet we should not be discouraged. The goal and result of vipassanā meditation is to be free from all kinds, all shades and all levels of mental and physical suffering. If you desire this kind of freedom, you should rejoice that you have an opportunity to strive to achieve it.
The best time to strive is right now. If you are young, you should appreciate your good situation, for young people have the most energy to carry out the meditation practice. If you are older you may have less physical energy, but perhaps you have seen enough of life to have gained wise consideration, such as a personal understanding of life’s fleetingness and unpredictability.
“Urgency Seized Me”
During the Buddha’s time there was a young bhikkhu, or monk, who had come from a wealthy family. Young and robust, he’d had the chance to enjoy a wide variety of sense pleasures before his ordination. He was wealthy, he had many friends and relatives, and his wealth made available to him the full panoply of indulgences. Yet he renounced all this to seek liberation.
One day when the king of that country was riding through the forest, he came across this monk. The king said, “Venerable sir, you are young and robust; you are in the prime of youth. You come from a wealthy family and have lots of opportunities to enjoy yourself. Why did you leave your home and family to wear robes and live in solitude? Don’t you feel lonely? Aren’t you bored?”
The monk answered, “O great king, when I was listening to the Buddha’s discourse that leads to arousing spiritual urgency, a great sense of urgency seized me. I want to extract the optimum utility from this body of mine in time before I die. That is why I gave up the worldly life and took these robes.”
If you still are not convinced of the need to practice with great urgency, without attachment to body or life, the Buddha’s words may also be helpful for you.
One should reflect, he said, on the fact that the whole world of beings is made up of nothing but mind and matter which have arisen but do not stay. Mind and matter do not remain still for one single moment; they are in constant flux. Once we find ourselves in this body and mind, there is nothing we can do to prevent growth from taking place. When we are young we like to grow, but when we are old we are stuck in an irreversible process of decline.
We like to be healthy, but our wishes can never be guaranteed. We are plagued by sickness and illness, by pain and discomfort, throughout our existence. Immortal life is beyond our reach. All of us will die. Death is contrary to what we would wish for ourselves, yet we cannot prevent it. The only question is whether death will come sooner or later.
Not a single person on earth can guarantee our wishes regarding growth, health or immortality. People refuse to accept these facts. The old try to look young. Scientists develop all manner of cures and contraptions to delay the process of human decay. They even try to revive the dead! When we are sick we take medicines to feel better. But even if we get well, we will get sick again. Nature cannot be deceived. We cannot escape old age and death.
This is the main weakness of beings: beings are devoid of security. There is no safe refuge from old age, disease and death. Look at other beings, look at animals, and most of all, look at yourself.
If you have practiced deeply, these facts will come as no surprise to you. If you can see with intuitive insight how mental and physical phenomena arise endlessly from moment to moment, you know there is no refuge anywhere that you can run to. There is no security. Yet, if your insight has not reached this point, perhaps reflecting on the precariousness of life will cause some urgency to arise in you, and give you a strong impulse to practice. Vipassanā meditation can lead to a place beyond all these fearsome things.
Beings have another great weakness: lack of possessions. This may sound strange. We are born. We begin procuring knowledge right away. We obtain credentials. Most of us get a job, and buy many items with the resulting wages. We call these our possessions, and on a relative level, that is what they are — no doubt about it. If possessions really belonged to us, though, we would never be separated from them. Would they break, or get lost, or stolen the way they do if we owned them in some ultimate sense? When human beings die there is nothing we can take with us. Everything gained, amassed, stored up and hoarded is left behind. Therefore it is said that all beings are possession-less.
All of our property must be left behind at the moment of death. Property is of three types, the first of which is immovable property: buildings, land, estates, and so forth. Conventionally these belong to you, but you must leave them behind when you die. The second type of property is moveable property: chairs, toothbrushes and clothing — all the things you carry along as you travel about during your existence on this planet. Then there is knowledge: arts and sciences, the skills you use to sustain your life and that of others. As long as we have a body in good working order, this property of knowledge is essential. However, there is no insurance against losing that either. You may forget what you know, or you may be prevented from practicing your specialty by a government decree or some other unfortunate event. If you are a surgeon you could badly break your arm, or you could meet with some other kind of attack on your well-being which leaves you too neurotic to continue your livelihood.
None of these kinds of possessions can bring any security during existence on earth, let alone during the afterlife. If one can understand that we possess nothing, and that life is extremely transitory, then we will feel much more peaceful when the inevitable comes to pass.
Our Only True Possession
However, there are certain things that follow human beings through the doors of death. This is kamma (Sanskrit: karma), the results of our actions. Our good and bad kammas follow us wherever we are; we cannot get away from them even if we want to.
Believing that kamma is your only true possession brings a strong wish to practice the Dhamma with ardor and thoroughness. You will understand that wholesome and beneficial deeds are an investment in your own future happiness, and harmful deeds will rebound upon you. Thus, you will do many things based on noble considerations of benevolence, generosity, and kindness. You will try to make donations to hospitals, to people suffering from calamity. You will support members of your family, the aged, the handicapped and underprivileged, your friends, and others who need help. You will want to create a better society by maintaining purity of conduct, taming your speech and actions. You will bring about a peaceful environment as you strive to meditate and tame the obsessive kilesas that arise in the heart. You will go through the stages of insight and eventually realize the ultimate goal. All of these meritorious deeds of dāna, of giving; of sīla, morality; and of bhāvanā, mental development or meditation — they will follow you after death, just as your shadow follows you wherever you go. Do not cease to cultivate the wholesome!
All of us are slaves of craving. It is ignoble, but it is true. Desire is insatiable. As soon as we get something, we find it is not as satisfying as we thought it would be, and we try something else. It is the nature of life, like trying to scoop up water in a butterfly net. Beings cannot become contented by following the dictates of desire, chasing after objects. Desire can never satisfy desire. If we understand this truth correctly, we will not seek satisfaction in this self-defeating way. This is why the Buddha said that contentment is the greatest wealth.
There is a story of a man who worked as a basket weaver. He was a simple man who enjoyed weaving his baskets. He whistled and sang and passed the day happily as he worked. At night he retired to his little hut and slept well. One day a wealthy man passed by and saw this poor wretched basket weaver. He was filled with compassion and gave him a thousand dollars. “Take this,” he said, and go enjoy yourself.”
The basket weaver took the money with much appreciation. He had never seen a thousand dollars in his life. He took it back to his ramshackle hut and was wondering where he could keep it. But his hut was not very secure.
He could not sleep all night because he was worrying about robbers, or even rats nibbling at his cash.
The next day he took his thousand dollars to work, but he did not sing or whistle because he was worrying so much about his money again. Once more, that night he did not sleep, and in the morning he returned the thousand dollars to the wealthy man, saying, “Give me back my happiness.”
You may think that Buddhism discourages you from seeking knowledge or credentials, or from working hard to earn money so you can support yourself and family and friends and contribute to worthy causes and institutions. No. By all means, make use of your life and your intelligence, and obtain all these things legally and honestly. The point is to be contented with what you have. Do not become a slave of craving: that is the message. Reflect on the weaknesses of beings so that you can get the most from your body and life before you are too sick and old to practice and can only depart from this useless corpse.
EIGHT: PATIENCE AND PERSEVERANCE
If you practice with heroic effort, entertaining no considerate attachment to body or life, you can develop the liberating energy which will carry you through the higher stages of practice. Such a courageous attitude contains within itself not only the seventh, but also the eighth means of developing the controlling faculties. This eighth quality is patience and perseverance in dealing with pain, especially painful sensations in the body.
All yogis are familiar with the unpleasant sensations that can come up during the course of a single sitting, the suffering of the mind in reaction to these sensations, and on top of that, the mind’s resistance to being controlled as it must be in the practice.
An hour’s sitting requires a lot of work. First, you try to keep your mind on the primary object as much as possible. This restraint and control can be very threatening to the mind, accustomed as it is to running wild. The process of maintaining attention becomes a strain. This strain of the mind, resisting control, is one form of suffering.
When the mind fills with resistance, often the body reacts also. Tension arises. In a short time you are besieged by painful sensations. What with the initial resistance and this pain on top of it, you’ve got quite a task on your hands. Your mind is constricted, your body is tight, you lose the patience to look directly at the physical pain. Now your mind goes completely bonkers. It may fill with aversion and rage. Your suffering is now threefold: the mind’s initial resistance; the actual physical pain; and the mental suffering that results from physical suffering.
This would be a good time to apply the eighth cause for strengthening the controlling faculties, patience and perseverance, and try to look at the pain directly. If you are not prepared to confront pain in a patient way, you only leave open the door to the kilesas, like greed and anger. “Oh, I hate this pain. If only I could get back the wonderful comfort I had five minutes ago.” In the presence of anger and greed, and in the absence of patience, the mind becomes confused and deluded as well. No object is clear, and you are unable to see the true nature of pain.
At such a time you will believe that pain is a thorn, a hindrance in your practice. You may decide to shift position in order to “concentrate better.” If such movement becomes a habit, you will lose the chance to deepen your meditation practice. Calmness and tranquility of mind have their foundation in stillness of body.
Constant movement is actually a good way to conceal the true nature of pain. Pain may be right under your nose, the most predominant element of your experience, but you move your body so as not to look at it. You lose a wonderful opportunity to understand what pain really is.
In fact we have been living with pain ever since we were born on this planet. It has been close to us all our lives. Why do we run from it? If pain arises, look on it as a precious opportunity really to understand something familiar in a new and deeper way.
At times when you are not meditating, you can exercise patience toward painful sensations, especially if you are concentrating on something you are interested in. Say you are a person who really loves the game of chess. You sit in your chair and look very intently at the chessboard, where your opponent has just made a fantastic move, putting you in check. You may have been sitting on that chair for two hours, yet you will not feel your cramped position as you try to work out the strategy to escape from your predicament. Your mind is totally lost in thought. If you do feel the pain, you may very well ignore it until you have achieved your goal.
It is even more important to exercise patience in the practice of meditation, which develops a much higher level of wisdom than does chess, and which gets us out of a more fundamental kind of predicament.
Strategies for Dealing with Pain
The degree of penetration into the true nature of phenomena depends very much on the level of concentration we can develop. The more one-pointed the mind, the more deeply it can penetrate and understand reality. This is particularly true when one is being aware of painful sensations. If concentration is weak, we will not really feel the discomfort which is always present in our bodies. When concentration begins to deepen, even the slightest discomfort becomes so very clear that it appears to be magnified and exaggerated. Most human beings are myopic in this sense. Without the eyeglasses of concentration, the world appears hazy, blurry and indistinct. But when we put them on, all is bright and clear. It is not the objects that have changed; it is the acuity of our sight.
When you look with the naked eye at a drop of water, you do not see much. If you put a sample under the microscope, however, you begin to see many things happening there. Many things are dancing and moving, fascinating to watch. If in meditation you are able to put on your glasses of concentration, you will be surprised at the variety of changes taking place in what would appear to be a stagnant and uninteresting spot of pain. The deeper the concentration, the deeper your understanding of pain. You will be more and more enthralled the more clearly you can see that these painful sensations are in a constant state of flux, from one sensation to another, changing, diminishing, growing stronger, fluctuating and dancing. Concentration and mindfulness will deepen and sharpen. At times when the show becomes utterly fascinating, there is a sudden and unexpected end to it, as though the curtain is dropped and the pain just disappears miraculously.
One who is unable to arouse enough courage or energy to look at pain will never understand the potential that lies in it. We have to develop courage of mind, heroic effort, to look at pain. Let’s learn not to run from pain, but rather to go right in.
When pain arises, the first strategy is to send your attention straight toward it, right to the center of it. You try to penetrate its core. Seeing pain as pain, note it persistently, trying to get under its surface so that you do not react.
Perhaps you try very hard, but you still become fatigued. Pain can exhaust the mind. If you cannot maintain a reasonable level of energy, mindfulness and concentration, it is time to gracefully withdraw. The second strategy for dealing with pain is to play with it. You go into it and then you relax a bit. You keep your attention on the pain, but you loosen the intensity of mindfulness and concentration. This gives your mind a rest. Then you go in again as closely as you can; and if you are not successful you retreat again. You go in and out, back and forth, two or three times.
If the pain is still strong and you find your mind be coming tight and constricted despite these tactics, it is time for a graceful surrender. This does not mean shifting your physical position just yet. It means shifting the position of your mindfulness. Completely ignore the pain and put your mind on the rising and falling or whatever primary object you are using. Try to concentrate so strongly on this that the pain is blocked out of your awareness.
Healing Body and Mind
We must try to overcome any timidity of mind. Only if you have the strength of mind of a hero will you be able to overcome pain by understanding it for what it really is. In meditation many kinds of unbearable physical sensations can arise. Nearly all yogis see clearly the discomfort that has always existed in their bodies, but magnified by concentration. During intensive practice pain also frequently resurfaces from old wounds, childhood mishaps, or chronic illnesses of the past. A current or recent illness can suddenly get worse. If these last two happen to you, you can say that Lady Luck is on your side. You have the chance to overcome an illness or chronic pain through your own heroic effort, without taking a drop of medicine. Many yogis have totally overcome and transcended their health problems through meditation practice alone.
About fifteen years ago there was a man who had been suffering from gastric troubles for many years. When he went to his checkup, the doctor said he had a tumor and needed surgery. The man was afraid that the operation would be unsuccessful and he might die.
So he decided to play it safe in case he did die. “I had better go meditate,” he said to himself. He came to practice under my guidance. Soon he began to feel a lot of pain. At first it was not bad, but as he made progress in practice and reached the level of insight connected with pain, he had a severe, unbearable, torturous attack. He told me about it and I said, “Of course you are free to go home to see your doctor. However, why don’t you stay a few more days?”
He thought about it and decided there still was no guarantee he would survive the operation. So he decided to stay and meditate. He took a teaspoon of medicine every two hours. At times the pain got the better of him; at times he overcame the pain. It was a long battle, with losses on both sides. But this man had enormous courage.
During one sitting the pain was so excruciating that his whole body shook and his clothes were soaked in sweat. The tumor in his stomach was getting harder and harder, more and more constricted. Suddenly his idea of his stomach disappeared as he was looking at it. Now there was just his consciousness and a painful object. It was very painful but it was very interesting. He kept on watching and there was just the noting mind and the pain, which got more and more excruciating.
Then there was a big explosion like a bomb. The yogi said he could even hear a loud sound. After that it was all over. He got up from his sitting drenched in sweat. He touched his belly, but in the place where his tumor once protruded, there was nothing. He was completely cured. Moreover, he had completed his meditation practice, having had an insight into nibbāna.
Soon afterwards this man left the center and I asked him to let me know what the doctor said about the gastric problem. The doctor was shocked to see that the tumor was gone. The man could forget the strict diet he had followed for twenty years, and to this day he is alive and in good health. Even the doctor became a vipassanā yogi!
I have come across innumerable people who have recovered from chronic headaches, heart trouble, tuberculosis, even cancer and severe injuries sustained at an early age. Some of them had been declared incurable by doctors. All of these people had to go through tremendous pain. But they exercised enormous perseverance and courageous effort, and they healed themselves. More important, many also came to understand far more deeply the truth about reality by observing pain with tenacious courage and then breaking through to insight.
You should not be discouraged by painful sensations. Rather, have faith and patience. Persevere until you understand your own true nature.
NINE: UNWAVERING COMMITMENT
The ninth and last factor leading to the development of the controlling faculties is the quality of mind that keeps you walking straight to the end of the path without becoming sidetracked, without giving up your task.
What is your objective in practicing meditation? Why do you undergo the threefold training of sīla, samādhi and paññā? It is important to appreciate the goal of meditation practice. It is even more important to be honest with yourself, so that you can know the extent of your commitment to that goal.
Good Deeds and Our Highest Potential
Let us reflect on sīla. Having this amazing opportunity to be born on this planet as human beings, understanding that our wondrous existence in this world comes about as a result of good deeds, we should endeavor to live up to the highest potential of humanity. The positive connotations of the word “humanity” are great loving-kindness and compassion. Would it not be proper for every human being on this planet to aspire to perfect these qualities? If one is able to cultivate a mind filled with compassion and loving-kindness, it is easy to live in a harmonious and wholesome way. Morality is based on consideration for the feelings of all beings, others as well as oneself. One behaves in a moral way not only to be harmless toward others, but also to prevent one’s own future sorrow. We all should avoid actions that will lead to unfavorable consequences, and walk the path of wholesome actions, which can free us forever from states of misery.
Kamma is our only true property. It will be very helpful if you can take this view as a basic foundation for your behavior, for your practice, for your life as a whole. Whether good or bad, kamma follows us everywhere, in this life and the next. If we perform skillful, harmonious actions, we will be held in high esteem in this very life. Wise persons will praise us and hold us in affection, and we will also be able to look forward to good circumstances in our future lives, until we attain final nibbāna.
Committing bad or unskillful actions brings about dishonor and notoriety even in this life. Wise people will blame us and look down upon us. Nor in the future will we be able to escape the consequences of our deeds.
In its powerful potential to bring good and bad results, kamma can be compared to food. Some foods are suitable and healthy, while others are poisonous to the body. If we understand which foods are nutritious, eating them at the proper time and in proper amounts, we can enjoy a long and healthy life. If, on the other hand, we are tempted by foods which are unhealthy and poisonous, we must suffer the consequences. We may fall sick and suffer a great deal. We may even die.
Practicing dāna or generosity can lessen the greed that arises in the heart. The five basic sīla precepts help control the emotions and very gross defilements of greed and hatred. Observing the precepts, the mind is controlled to the extent that it does not manifest through the body and perhaps not even through speech.
If you can be perfect in precepts, you may appear to be a very holy person, but inside you may still be tortured by eruptions of impatience, hatred, covetousness and scheming. Therefore, the next step is bhāvanā; which means in Pāli; the cultivation of exceptionally wholesome mental states.” The first part of bhāvanā is to prevent unwholesome states from arising. The second part is the development of wisdom in the absence of these states.
Blissful Concentration and its Flaws
Samatha bhāvanā or concentration meditation, has the power to make the mind calm and tranquil and to pull it far away from the kilesas. It suppresses the kilesas, making it impossible for them to attack. Samatha bhāvanā is not unique to Buddhism. It can be found in many other religious systems, particularly in Hindu practices. It is a commendable undertaking in which the practitioner achieves purity of mind during the time he or she is absorbed in the object of meditation. Profound bliss, happiness and tranquillity are achieved. At times even psychic powers can be cultivated through these states. However, success in samatha bhāvanā does not at all mean that one gains an insight into the true nature of reality in terms of mind and matter. The kilesas have been suppressed but not uprooted; the mind has not yet penetrated the true nature of reality. Thus, practitioners are not freed from the net of saṃsāra, and may even fall into states of misery in the future. One can attain a great deal through concentration and yet still be a loser.
After the Buddha’s supreme enlightenment he spent forty-nine days in Bodh Gaya enjoying the bliss of his liberation. Then he started to think about how he could communicate this profound and subtle truth to other beings. He looked around and saw that most of the world was covered by a thick layer of dust, of kilesas. People were wallowing in deepest darkness. The immensity of his task dawned on him.
Then it occurred to him that there were two-people who would be quite receptive to his teaching, whose minds were quite pure and clear of the kilesas. In fact, they were two of his former teachers, the hermits Āḷāra the Kālāma and Uddaka the Rāmaputta. Each of them had a large number of followers due to their attainments in concentration. The Buddha had mastered each of their teachings in turn, but had realized that he was seeking something beyond what they taught.
Yet both of these hermits’ minds were very pure. Āḷāra the Kālāma had mastered the seventh level of concentration, and Uddaka the Rāmaputta the eighth, or highest, level of absorption. The kilesas were kept far from them, even during the times when they were not actually practicing their absorptions. The Buddha felt certain they would become completely enlightened if only he would speak a few significant words of Dhamma to them.
Even as the Buddha considered in this way, an invisible deva, a being from a celestial realm, announced to him that both of the hermits had died. Āḷāra the Kālāma had passed away seven days before, and Uddaka the Rāmaputta only the previous night. Both had been reborn in the formless world of the brahmas, where mind exists but matter does not. Therefore the hermits no longer had ears for hearing nor eyes for seeing. It was impossible for them to see the Buddha or to listen to the Dhamma; and, since meeting with a teacher and listening to the Dhamma are the only two ways to discover the right way of practice, the two hermits had missed their chance to become fully enlightened.
The Buddha was moved. “They have suffered a great loss,” he said.
What exactly is missing from concentration meditation? It simply cannot bring the understanding of truth. For this we need Vipassanā meditation. Only intuitive insight into the true nature of mind and matter can free one from the concept of ego, of a person, of self or “I.” Without this insight which comes about through the process of bare awareness, one cannot be free from these concepts.
Only an intuitive understanding of the mechanism of cause and effect — that is, seeing the link of recurrence of mind and matter — can free one from the delusion that things happen without a cause. Only by seeing the rapid arising and disappearance of phenomena can one be released from the delusion that things are permanent, solid and continuous. Only by experiencing suffering in the same intuitive way can one deeply learn that samsaric existence is not worth clinging to. Only the knowledge that mind and matter just flow by according to their own natural laws with no one, and nothing, behind them, can impress upon one’s mind that there is no atta, or self essence.
Unless you go through the various levels of insight and eventually realize nibbāna, you will not understand true happiness. With nibbāna as the ultimate goal of your practice, you should try to maintain a high level of energy, not stopping or surrendering, never retreating until you reach your final destination.
First you will make the effort needed to establish your meditation practice. You focus your mind on the primary object of meditation, and you return to this object again and again. You set up a routine of sitting and walking practice. This is called “Launching Energy;” it puts you on the path and gets you moving forward.
Even if obstacles arise, you will stick with your practice, overcoming all obstacles with perseverance. If you are bored and lethargic, you summon up ardent energy. If you feel pain, you overcome the timid mind that prefers to withdraw and is unwilling to face what is happening. This is called “Liberating Energy,” the energy necessary to liberate you from indolence. You will not retreat. You know you will just keep walking until you reach your goal.
After that, when you have overcome the intermediate difficulties and perhaps have found yourself in a smooth and subtle space, you will not become complacent. You will go into the next gear, putting in the effort to lift your mind higher and higher. This is an effort which neither decreases nor stagnates, but is in constant progress. This is called “Progressive Effort,” and it leads to the goal you desire.
Therefore, the ninth factor conducive to sharpening the controlling faculties actually means applying successive levels of energy so that you neither stop nor hesitate, surrender nor retreat, until you reach your final goal and destination.
As you go along in this way, making use of all of the nine qualities of mind described above, the five controlling faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom will sharpen and deepen. Eventually they will take over your mind and lead you on to freedom.
I hope you can examine your own practice. If you see that it is lacking in some element, make use of the above information to your own benefit.
Please walk straight on until you reach your desired goal!