Calm & Tranquility; the 5th Factor of Awakening

  • Calm & Tranquility; the 5th Factor of Awakening

Out of the energy and exhilaration of Rapture & Joy, we come to rest in the settled stillness of the next Factor of Awakening, Calm & Tranquility, Passadhi in Pali. Here we are so far:  Stable and continuous mindfulness leads to investigation and discerning wisdom. This stirs up the energy and effort that leads to rapture and joy, which in turn open the door to calm and tranquility. Our meditation practice is then deliberately directed towards nurturing this calm through quieting the mind and body.

Best of any song

Is bird song

In the quiet, but first

You must have the quiet.

                              - Wendell Berry

I love this poem. Intentionally spending time in quiet places allows us to hear our own thoughts and notice the details. We need this time and space to still the noise of our lives, inside and out.  Meditation practice turns down the volume of a discursive mind, calms the body and allows our innate wisdom to surface.

“Inner calmness is a way of being that can transform our lives. Taking one thing at a time as our focus, letting the imperfections of life be, fosters a sense of the present, a contentment with the moment….As our skill in meditation grows, we can learn the art of letting go and finding a calm center in the midst of our changing sense. As we sit, extraordinary levels of silence and peace can open up for us….We can learn how happiness comes from a heart at rest and not from changing our outer circumstances.”

-Joseph Goldstein & Jack Kornfield, Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, 1987.

Another way to access and develop a quiet mind is to suspend our penchant for living our lives swinging on the pendulum between our likes and dislikes believing our opinions as gospel. By loosening the grip on our habitual fixed views, letting go of the continual evaluation of “I like this and I don’t like that,” and not clinging to this running commentary of judgments, we give ourselves room to breathe. This is not to say that we need to relinquish our points of view or opinions, (we need discerning wisdom), but by releasing our likes and dislikes even momentarily, our minds become calmer, more spacious, and we make room for wisdom and compassion to grow. It also makes life is easier and less contentious.

            “The Great Way is not difficult

               For those who have no preferences.

               When love and hate are both absent

Everything becomes clear and undisguised.

Make the smallest distinction however

And heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

If you wish to see the truth

Then hold no opinions for or against anything.

To set up what you like against what you dislike

Is the disease of the mind.

When the deep meaning of things is not understood

The mind’s essential peace is disturbed to avail.”

-from Verses on the Faith Mind
the Third Zen Patriarch, Seng-tsan

In the Satipattana Sutta, the Buddha’s seminal teaching on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the following specific meditation instructions are clearly laid out for developing this factor of calm and tranquility. From the sutta:

“Breathing in long, he knows ‘I breathe in long,’ breathing out long, he knows ‘I breathe out long.’ Breathing in short, he knows ‘I breathe in short,’ breathing out short, he knows ‘I breathe out short.’ He trains thus: “I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body,’ he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body.’ He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in calming the [body],’ he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out calming the [body].’”

The sutta directs us to both knowing and training, a wonderful description of what practice actually is. It is one thing to “know” and become aware of the breath, and quite another and a little more difficult to “train” oneself to experience the breath as a means of developing calm, peace and ease. 

Thich Nhat Hanh adds to this instruction by recommending a slight upward curve at the corners of the mouth, a gentle smile. He says smiling causes the whole body to relax. Try it out and see if you feel more at ease, if it lightens your heart.

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