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The Buddha

It perhaps speaks well of Buddhists that so many people in the United States suddenly become automatic experts on Buddhism when they see any self described Buddhist speaking or acting like anything but a doormat and immediately criticize that person for being at all sharp or not a doormat according to their obviously very limited understanding of the Buddha and Buddhism. This is rich in a hegemonically Christian country, where their Christ, at best, sounds a lot like the Buddha, but the nation exists only because good Christians have spent five hundred years killing Natives and relied at the outset on slave labor.

The Buddha was very exacting and could be very blunt in explaining what he had realized. Since he got it all right, it makes little sense to expect him to have soft peddled his insights. In one of his discourses, he said, “Bhikkhus, it is because one has not developed and cultivated the seven factors of enlightenment that one is called ‘an unwise dolt.’” “Bhikkus” is the term he used to describe the monks who followed him, although in some instances, he means anyone who follows him, so he was talking to you and me as well. Um, don’t be an “unwise dolt.”

So obviously, it would be, um, unwise of me to publish that quotation without also listing all seven of the factors of enlightenment, which I likely should have done long ago. My apologies. They are very important in Buddhism.

They are:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Investigation of dharmas
  3. Energy
  4. Rapture or happiness
  5. Calm
  6. Concentration
  7. Equanimity

Each of these factors encourages and helps develop the next. These are characteristics of your mind. Anything that occurs outside of consciousness is irrelevant because we cannot know it.

One teacher describes mindfulness as “remembering the present,” or remembering to pay attention to what you are doing while you are doing it. It is possible to spend hours explaining each of these factors. The estimable Joseph Goldstein spent five years, a few months at a time, explicating the seven factors of enlightenment. His talks are well worth the time to listen to.

Most of these words are pretty simple and mostly mean what they mean in ordinary English. The one term here that is likely unfamiliar to speakers of English is “dharmas,” as in “investigation of dharmas.” The word has many meanings. It can refer to the entirety of the Buddha’s teachings, but it can also just mean “truth.”

Developing mindfulness leads to increased awareness of consciousness, and thus of truth. The truth is enormously simple, but our devices for hiding it from ourselves are multiple and hugely complex, so finding the truth requires careful investigation.

According to one discourse, this is the one factor that leads to awakening all by itself. The others are still very useful as supports to mindfulness and to meditation.

So, according to the Buddha, the options are to develop and cultivate the seven factors of enlightenment, or remain an unwise dolt. Your choice.

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Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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