Investigation; the 2nd Factor of Awakening

  • Investigation; the 2nd Factor of Awakening

Investigation is the second Factor of Awakening, and is one of three arousing factors as it has the quality of enlivening the mind. The other two are Effort & Energy and Rapture & Joy. We’ll discuss those two next week.

It is important to remember that these factors unfold naturally in order; each is conditioned by the previous one. Well-established steady mindfulness is the ground out of which investigation grows.  With mindfulness, we become aware of what is present, and with investigation, we look into the nature of what we find, the truth of things, the dharma. Investigation requires bringing an open curiosity into our meditation practice seeded with kind, nonjudgmental awareness.

“Investigation of the dharma means not settling for second-hand knowledge or adopting someone else’s opinion. It says ‘I must see for myself what is true.’ What makes a buddha is the courage and willingness to look directly and honestly into the body, the heart, and the mind without relying on or settling for what others say is true. Over the years of meditation, it is this quality that keeps practice alive.”

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

The Buddha was very clear on this point of finding out for oneself what is true, that blind faith cannot lead to full awareness into the truth of how things are. But it is through investigation for oneself into one’s ownexperience that insight and wisdom grow. Yet, the question remains. What is it that we learn from investigating our experiences? What is the truth discerning wisdom that arises? One of the core foundational teachings of the Buddha is that of The Three Characteristics of Experience.

1.      Everything is always changing. That which has the nature to arise has the nature to cease. Things come into being, stick around for a while, then change into something else or disappear entirely. This is the insight into impermanence, anicca in Pali.

2.      Life is challenging. For everyone. By its very nature, life is full of joy and sorrow, gain and loss, good health and sickness, ease and difficulty. When the mind is caught in the continual wishing for things to be other, or the grasping onto what is, anguish, fear, stress, or dissatisfaction develop. This is the insight into suffering, dukkha in Pali.

3.      Everything is dependent on everything else. Because of this, that. Nothing, by nature is made up of only itself. Any structure is made up of its component parts; the human body, a book, a tree, a flower, even water.  All are made up of parts that can be broken down into smaller and smaller parts, and ultimately it becomes impossible to locate an identifiable whole self or inherently solid object. This is the insight into interconnection,or more classically, not-self, anatta in Pali.

One of my teachers, Heather Sundberg, offers a delightfully simple and clear way of understanding the experience of the three characteristics. She says something like this, “Everything changes. Everything. When we hold on too tightly and push things away too hard, it hurts. And please, don’t take life so personally. It’s not personal. It’s just the manifestation of a whole bunch of conditions intersecting at any given moment in time.”

We learn for ourselves through direct experience that impermanence, suffering, and interconnection are universal, true for everyone everywhere. With practice and through investigation we cultivate the capacity to navigate our lives skillfully with wisdom, clarity, and discernment. And by knowing what’s what we can make wise choices.  With wise choices, we have more ease, with more ease we have less suffering, with less suffering, we are kinder, with more kindness, we experience more peace. This is a self-supporting cycle. Each is dependent upon and a reflection of the other.

Here is a meditation practice for working with investigation from another great teacher, Martine Batchelor, from her book, Let Go; A Buddhist Guide to Breaking Free of Habits.

Questioning Meditation – “What is this?

Settling in, assuming a comfortable posture, begin by tuning in to your breath. Breathing in, be aware of breathing in; breathing out, ask: “What is this?” When you ask “What is this?” you are opening yourself to the whole moment. You are not asking anything specific. This meditation is about questioning, not about answering. The questioning is open-ended. Feel the question in the body, the heart, and the mind.

Try not to look for any answers. No analysis, no speculation, just the internal gesture of inquiry. As you develop a sense of questioning and curiosity, try to remain stable and alert. Focus on the question within a wide-open awareness and allow yourself to be available to the moment fully. Continue with the questioning for as long as you like. When you’re ready, let it go and rest in the open space of inquiry. 

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