Seven Facets of Insight

On mindfulness, investigation into the nature of things, energy, delight, tranquillity, concentration and equanimity.

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Seven Facets of Insight

Seven Facets of Insight


The following pages are called the Seven Facets of Insight, although their subject matter is more commonly referred to as the “Seven Factors of Enlightenment” (satta sambojjhaṅga). Factors are constituents (aṅga) which form the make-up, whereas “facets” seem to indicate their various aspects.

It is a point of controversy, whether enlightenment or realisation is a gradual process of evolution (and that seems to be the predominant view of present Theravāda in Sri Lanka, though far from exclusive), or whether the knowing and seeing of the truth is not an evolution at all. To many, (orthodox as well as independent thinkers) it is rather a revolution than an evolution. There will be, of course, the necessary ground conditions, but the factual moment of enlightenment or realisation is a point of seeing (not a point of view!) which cannot be taught, although it would be possible to pin-point the obstacles to seeing.

For some, these obstacles appear as help; their danger lies in our attachment to those crutches. We note a thorn in our flesh; then we make use of another thorn to remove it. Having succeeded, what are we doing with the two thorns? Do we throw them away? Or do we keep them for further use on another occasion? That would be like preserving them as relics, and enshrining them in a dagoba!

The seven facets are not to be seen as a system of evolution in emancipation; but each aspect provides a more complete view as from a different approach and thus they do not constitute a gradual course of enlightenment, but rather different sights, till in the end the picture is complete. Each facet reflects the light and thereby sheds new light, allowing the light to shine through. Each one gives more freedom; yet, there is no freedom till all obstacles have been removed. Thus these factors are facets; they do not lead to the light, but they allow the light which is within each one of us to shine through and brighten our understanding, if we care and dare to look.

Such is the revolution of the mind, when thought ceases and insight takes over.

Seven Facets of Insight (satta sambojjhaṅga)

It is clear from the Pāli word that the seven factors to be discussed here are not seven steps or stages which gradually lead up to enlightenment. They are the constituents of enlightenment (bojjhaṅga), the members (aṅga), the components so to say, which contribute each and all to the full realisation of enlightenment (bodhi). Enlightenment is not, however, something dependent on those factors, or separate from them. They constitute and are enlightenment. And thus one may say that enlightenment, although not produced by them, as Nibbāna is the unconditioned (asaṅkhata). It contains them, comprises, includes those constituents. Without them there would be no enlightenment, no realisation.

To understand this clearly one should be very pure in conscience and in consciousness, that is innocent and unprejudiced. Without such purity of virtue, which is non-attachment to property and views, without such clarity of intelligence, unbiased and unconditioned, there can be no penetrating insight which alone can see and understand the reality of things as they are (yathā-bhūta-ñāṇa-dasana). This “seeing” has no special object and no intention of purpose; and thus truth is not a goal to achieve, enlightenment is not a destination, realisation is not an ideal to become real; but it is a total revolution in living, a complete freedom from all restrictions, an awakening of intelligence, which cannot revert to a dream-state of memory and imagination, while seeing what is.

The constituents of this supreme enlightenment (sambojjhaṅga) are seven, and they are included in another set of 37 factors which form the culture and the development of wisdom (bodhipakkhiya dhamma). Here we are interested in the seven constituents (satta sambojjhaṅga) which form the penetrating insight of the four Noble Truths, which is the realisation of the deliverance of Nibbāna.

The seven are mindfulness (sati), investigation into the nature of things (dhamma-vicaya), energy (viriya), delight (pīti), tranquillity (passaddhi), concentration (samādhi) and equanimity (upekkhā), It is the harmony of these seven which constitute enlightenment, and are thus the seven conditions which conduce to full comprehension and the complete ending of all conflict. Individually, however, they seem to have characteristics which are more suitable to some states of mind than others on different occasions. Thus, investigation into the nature of things together with energy and delight are more profitable when a sluggish mind needs exertion, while tranquillity, equanimity and concentration assist in subduing an over-enthusiastic mind. Mindfulness on the other hand is essential in providing food for all.

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