MCTB Mindfulness as Fifth Spiritual Faculty
Mindfulness is in a category all by itself, as it can balance and perfect all the others. This does not mean that one shouldn't be informed by the other two pairs, but that mindfulness is really, really important. Mindfulness means knowing what is as it is right now. It is the quality of mind that knows things as they are. If you are trying to do this you are balancing energy and concentration, and also balancing faith and wisdom. From energy the mind is alert and attentive, from concentration it is stable. Faith here may also mean acceptance, and wisdom here is clear comprehension.
Notice that this has nothing to do with some sort of vague spacing out in which we wish that reality would go away and our thoughts would never arise again. I don't know where people get the idea that vague aversion to experience and thought is related to insight practice, but it seems to be a common one. Mindfulness is about being very clear about our actual reality as it actually is. It is about being here now. The ultimate truth is found in the ordinary sensations that make up our world. If you are not mindful of them or reject them because you are looking for “depth” and “transcendence,” then you will be unable to appreciate what they have to teach and be unable to do insight practices.
So, if you know things just as they are, this is enough. We just keep coming back to that one, don't we, but from lots of different angles. Each one of these angles might be useful to you at different times, and having a few little lists to look at as we walk our path can bring fresh perspectives and keep us from getting stuck.
The Five Spiritual Faculties have also been presented in another order that can be useful: faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom. In this order, they apply to each of the Three Trainings. We have faith that training in morality is a good idea and that we can do it, so we exert energy to live up to a standard of clear and skillful living. We realize that we must pay attention to our thoughts, words and deeds in order to do this, so we try to be mindful of them. We realize that we often fail to pay attention, so we try to increase our ability to concentrate on how we live our life. In this way, through experience, we become wiser in a relative sense, learning how to live a good and useful life. Seeing our skill improve and the benefits it has for our life, we generate more faith, and so on.
We also may have faith that we might be able to attain to high states of consciousness, so we sit down on a cushion and energetically try to stabilize our attention. We realize that if we are not paying attention, being mindful, then this is impossible, so we work on mindfulness of our object and of the qualities of the state we wish to attain. We develop strong concentration on an object, stabilizing more consistently. We attain to high states and thus gain an understanding of how to navigate in that territory and the uses of doing so. Our success creates more faith, and so we apply energy to further develop our concentration abilities.
We begin to think it might be possible to awaken, we have faith, so we energetically explore the sensations that make up our world without exception. With an alert and energetic mind we explore this heart, mind and body just as it is now with mindfulness. Reality becomes more and more interesting, so our concentration grows, and this combination of the first four produces fundamental wisdom. Wisdom leads to more faith, and the cycle goes around again.
The teaching of the Five Spiritual Faculties has also been explored at great length in many books, and there really is a lot to it. In its simple form you can easily apply it, and it can really help sometimes. Balance and strengthen. Strengthen and balance. These are the cycles we go through with these faculties, and there is no limit to the level at which they can be mastered.
One other thing is accurately said of the Five Spiritual Faculties as they apply to insight training: when they are balanced and perfected, this is sufficient cause for awakening.