Gilana Sutta: Seven Factors of Enlightenment

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Introduction

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

Samyutta Nikaya 55.54

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 wholeheartedly 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.

Peace.

 

  1. Four Foundations of Mindfulness
  2. Mindfulness of the Eightfold Path

My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

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

I have made contextual edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

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