Gilana Sutta: Seven Factors of Enlightenment

by

Introdution

There are seven factors of enlightenment taught by the Buddha that are to be cultivated and developed further for enlightenment to be realized. In the Gilana Sutta the Buddha teaches Sariputta’s brother Cunda these seven factors and then concludes with teaching Cunda the ultimate purpose of the Dhamma: to be empty of clinging to material gain, or status, or offerings, or unskillful ambitions, or clinging to unskillful associations.

This last, clinging to unskillful associations, is an ongoing theme throughout the Pali Canon and refers to the unskillfulness and difficulties that arise from clinging to beliefs and practices that have become a part of “Dhamma” practice but are not part of what the Buddha taught.

Due to conditioned thinking, it can be very difficult to recognize unskillful practices that have developed from one’s associations, and even more difficult to abandon these teachings due to peer self-identification.

It is by cultivating these seven factors within the framework of the Eightfold Path that all self-referential views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths can be recognized and abandoned.

My comments within the sutta are in italics.

The Gilana Sutta

One evening, the Buddha, while lying ill, was approached by Sariputta’s younger brother Cunda. The Buddha spoke directly to Cunda to plant the seed of understanding in his mind.

“Venerable Cunda, let these seven factors of enlightenment arise in your mind.”

“These seven factors of enlightenment are well expounded and are cultivated and fully developed by one awakened. They bring perfect understanding, full realization, and Nibbana. What are the seven?

“Mindfulness is a factor of enlightenment. Mindfulness is carefully taught by the Buddha. Mindfulness is cultivated and fully developed by one awakened. Mindfulness brings perfect understanding, full realization, and Nibbana.

The Buddha teaches mindfulness in two direct applications. One application is The Four Foundations of Mindfulness [1] and the other application is to be mindful, to hold in mind, each factor of the Eightfold Path. [2]

“Investigation of the Dhamma is a factor of enlightenment. Investigation of the Dhamma is carefully taught by the Buddha. Investigation of the Dhamma is cultivated and fully developed by one awakened. Investigation of the Dhamma brings perfect understanding, full realization and Nibbana.

“Persevering effort is a factor of enlightenment. Persevering effort is carefully taught by the Buddha. Persevering effort is cultivated and fully developed by one awakened. Persevering effort brings perfect understanding, full realization, and Nibbana.

“Investigation of the Dhamma” and “Persevering Effort” are both components of Right Effort and engaging whole-heartedly in what the Buddha actually taught.

“Joyful engagement in the Dhamma is a factor of enlightenment. Joyful engagement is carefully taught by the Buddha. Joyful engagement in the Dhamma is cultivated and fully developed by one awakened. Joyful engagement in the Dhamma brings perfect understanding, full realization, and Nibbana.

Recognizing the singular importance that an awakened human being’s teachings continue to be available brings joy and careful focus and avoids a conditioned mind’s need to adapt and accommodate the purity of the Buddha’s Dhamma.

“Tranquility is a factor of enlightenment. Tranquility is carefully taught by the Buddha. Tranquility is cultivated and fully developed by one awakened. Tranquility brings perfect understanding, full realization, and Nibbana.

“Concentration is a factor of enlightenment. Concentration is carefully taught by the Buddha. Concentration is cultivated and fully developed by one awakened. Concentration brings perfect understanding, full realization, and Nibbana.

Tranquility and concentration are both the focus and purpose of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation when practiced with the framework of the Eightfold Path.

“Equanimity is a factor of enlightenment. Equanimity is carefully taught by the Buddha. Equanimity is cultivated and fully developed by one awakened. Equanimity brings perfect understanding, full realization, and Nibbana.

Equanimity is the ongoing quality of an awakened, fully mature human being.

“These seven factors of enlightenment are carefully taught by the Buddha and all seven are cultivated and fully developed by one awakened. These seven factors of enlightenment bring perfect understanding, full realization, and Nibbana.”

Nibbana means “extinguished” as in the fires of passion arising from ignorance of Four Noble Truths have been extinguished through direct engagement with the Eightfold Path.

“Therefore train yourselves to continue to abandon clinging to material gain, clinging to status, clinging to offerings, clinging to unskillful ambitions, and clinging to unskillful associations.”

The Buddha consistently describes awakening as “released” or “empty” of clinging.

End Of Sutta

These seven factors of enlightenment are first to be cultivated. Like an untouched garden holds the potential for useful and purposeful crops, our minds hold the potential for useful and purposeful insight and resulting awakening.

As one would cultivate a new garden by preparing the soil, choosing appropriate seeds, mindfully planting the seeds to allow for proper development, and ongoing attention, the Dhamma is to be cultivated as well.

With a focused mindfulness of the Buddha’s Dhamma distraction is minimized. To fully develop the innate quality of mindfulness, mindfulness must be exercised. Mindfulness means to hold in mind. Holding in mind the Buddha’s Dhamma one remains focused on first awakening to the Four Noble Truths. One avoids the distractions of other dhammas, disciplines or ideas.

Cultivating mindfulness, these qualities or factors of enlightenment incline the mind towards awakening. They all lead to developing discernment as to the what, where and how of Dhamma practice.

Like today, during the Buddha’s time there were many distractions to other ideas and practices seemingly helpful or even necessary towards gaining understanding. As a subtle aspect of conditioned thinking it can be very difficult to recognize and abandon contradictory practices that one has become associated with and enamored of. The Eightfold Path provides the framework for recognizing and abandoning unskillful practices.

The story of the distraction and schism caused by Devadatta, the Buddha’s cousin is an archetypal story of the damage done by allowing grasping, aversion and deluded thinking to interfere with cultivation of the Dhamma.

Devadatta achieved a certain level of intuitive powers through preliminary development but gained little initial wisdom or discernment. He decided that he had a more comprehensive understanding than the Buddha. Devadatta was driven by the need to establish himself as an enlightened being. He wanted to introduce his own “dhamma.” Devadatta plotted to have the Buddha killed so that he could take over the Sangha.

He succeeded in distracting 500 monks to follow him. The plot failed and most of the monks returned to the Buddha’s sangha. The Buddha used this situation as an opportunity to teach mindfulness of the Dhamma and point out the dangers of heedlessness:

Devadatta Sutta (Excerpt)

“Distracted by eight untrue dhammas, his mind overcome, Devadatta is headed for a state of further ignorance and confusion. Which eight?

“Distracted by clinging to material gain…

“Distracted by clinging to lack of material gain…

“Distracted by status…

“Distracted by lack of status…

“Distracted by offerings of praise and goods…

“Distracted by lack of offerings of praise and goods …

“Distracted by clinging to ambition…

“Distracted by unwholesome associations, his mind overcome, Devadatta is headed for a state of further ignorance and confusion.”

“It’s for this compelling reason that one should keep abandoning clinging, craving, and any unwholesome association and unwholesome friendship.”

“You should train yourselves: ‘I will keep abandoning again & again any clinging to material gain… any clinging to lack of material gain… any clinging to status… any clinging to lack of status… any clinging to offerings of praise and goods … any clinging to offerings of praise and goods … any clinging to ambition… any clinging to unwholesome friendship.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.”

End of Sutta Excerpt

With mindfulness of the Dhamma, holding in mind the Dhamma without distraction, investigation of the Dhamma can then bring understanding. As a factor of enlightenment, the Buddha is pointing out the importance of a complete Dhamma practice of incorporating the entire Eightfold Path as the path of awakening.

The Buddha taught to investigate the Dhamma thoroughly without distraction in order to fully understand the Dhamma. The Dhamma is not magically imposed on a mind. The Dhamma must be cultivated wholeheartedly.

With cultivation of persevering effort generated through Right Intention, the intention to abandon all causes of stress and unhappiness, distraction is minimized and mindfulness is deepened further.

Through joyful engagement with the Dhamma generated from Right View clinging to views is diminished and tranquility deepens. With increasing tranquility, concentration and insight deepens.  Within the framework of the Eightfold Path, Shamatha-Vipassana meditation develops a tranquil and well-concentrated mind allowing for insight to occur.

These qualities or factors of enlightenment are taught by the Buddha to remain free of the distraction of craving, aversion, and further deluded thinking. With gentle awareness of self and others, these qualities are mindfully recognized and cultivated with joyful enthusiasm as a practical response to conditioned thinking. The mind’s natural non-distracted state, samadhi, is cultivated and developed and equanimity prevails.

Peace.

[1] Four Foundations of Mindfulness

[2] Mindfulness of the Eightfold Path

My Dhamma articles are based primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland and Maurice Walsh, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight. (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/)

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.  

Every teaching the Buddha presented during his forty-five-year teaching career was taught in the context of Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths. I have made contextual edits to the suttas from the Sutta Pitaka for further clarity, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths supporting concentration and refined mindfulness developing skillful insight of Three Marks Of Existence.

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