Welcome to the Course

The five spiritual powers may not be as well-known as other Buddhist teachings, but they offer a powerful pathway for deepening meditation and living in the light of what practice reveals.

Welcome to The Five Spiritual Powers

Throughout this course, you'll find a transcript or summary of the video content beneath each talk or meditation. You don't need to read these, but they may contain tables, diagrams, or other visual aids. These transcripts will be collected for download in each unit's workbook.

A pathway to awakening

A very warm welcome to this course offered jointly by Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and Bodhi College, on the five spiritual powers. The word for this in the ancient Indian language of Pāli is the indriyas, sometimes translated as powers or strengths or faculties that lead to awakening. The Buddha taught that these five powers when cultivated, developed and brought to fruition would lead to the same understandings and the same liberation of heart that the Buddha had come to know on his own journey. We can think of these five indriyas as virtues. We can think of them as seeds of potentiality. We can think of them as pathways to be cultivated, both in our formal meditation and in the whole of our lives

Let's name these five indriyas, these five spiritual powers.

The Five Spiritual Powers Pāli term
Confidence, trust, sometimes translated as faith. Saddhā
Courage: fearlessness, perseverance, dedication. Viriya
Mindfulness is a present-moment recollection, a clear sense of knowing and a clear comprehension. Sati
Stillness of mind, collectedness of mind, a gatheredness of the heart. Samādhi
The development and fruition of deep and liberating understanding and clear comprehension. Paññā

All of these together lead directly to a deepening understanding of our inner world of experience, and of the world around us. They are pathways that bring about the end of distress. They are pivotal qualities in the development of a life of flourishing, a heart of clarity and stillness and depth.

Over the length of this course, we will reflect on each of these spiritual powers and invite you to consider what difference they would make in your practice and in your life.

A sense of balance

The Buddha often summed up his teaching as being about suffering and the end of suffering. And sometimes our practice can be concerned with that which is difficult: dukkha (suffering), the hindrances, and how we can overcome them. These five spiritual powers are really important as another teaching, one about the end of suffering. Alongside teachings like the eightfold path, they give us a sense of what needs to be cultivated, what frees the heart and mind. 

This particular list invites a sense of balance. So some of us may have a very strong capacity for insight, understanding, wisdom. Other people may have a strong sense of trust, confidence, and faith. But this collection of qualities is really inviting us to see how we can bring all of these different faculties together in a path of liberation.

So the five spiritual powers then, are really a practice that we can cultivate on the cushion, in our meditation practice, they are qualities that we can bring to our formal practice of meditation; and they're very much something we can cultivate in the midst of our daily life, in the midst of all the ups and downs and challenges we all experience. How do we bring these powers, these faculties, to meet what life brings and to free the heart in the middle of it all?

A very practical way to pursue the Buddhist path

As you probably know, in the teachings of the Buddha, you find different angles on what might be called the path: the path of practice, the path to cultivate that which is useful, that which is wholesome, the path to freeing ourselves from co-creating our experience in a way that leads to endless stress and endless suffering. One characteristic of the Buddhist teachings is that there are different ways of looking at the path. So you can subsume an understanding of the path under the eightfold path, or under the five strengths, or under the four foundations of mindfulness. Every bit of the teachings is a part of every other bit. We might be able to explain that a bit more deeply as we go along. 

In principle, all these teachings are a response of the human heart to the human situation. The human situation is one where we live in uncertainty. We are aware of our own impermanence. And how do we respond? What is worthwhile? What is useful? Where do we seek for happiness? Usually we have a sense of where we seek happiness, where we try to avoid or deal with suffering. And that instinctual sense of where happiness is to be found is not always to be trusted. In Buddhist terms, it is often clouded by not understanding, not knowing, by ignorance.

So coming into contact with a clear answer to the human situation as the Buddha gives it, faith might arise, and a trust: "This is worth trying. This is worth pursuing." The Buddha doesn't try to convince anyone. And out of that faith, a sense of "Yes, I want to do this. I want to apply myself to this." Effort, energy, courage arises. Out of that, a need for non-forgetfulness, for remembering, for being present to life: mindfulness is required. And when mindfulness gains a certain momentum, the ability to calm the mind, to clear the mind from tendencies that obstruct a true well-being emerges, known as samādhi, which then enables us to clearly feel and see how things actually work in terms of how we co-create suffering and how we bring about the causes for true well-being. That's what it's about.

Sometimes hearing about these different groups like the eightfold path and the five spiritual powers and the four foundations of mindfulness and the seven factors of awakening, one can get confused: "What's important, and what should I practice?" And it's important to understand that the Buddhist teachings are often like a hologram. You'll find every aspect of the path in every other aspect if one looks deeply. And these five spiritual powers are a very practical way to pursue the path.

We'll take multiple approaches

The course involves many different ways that you can learn, develop your understanding, and apply these teachings. So you will hear us giving talks, setting out the key ideas of these powers. You'll also hear us discussing with each other and perhaps some differences of understanding or emphasis, and the way that these can be brought to life as we reflect on them in conversation. There'll also be some guided meditations that will really support you in applying this in your own practice and suggestions about how to really make this a daily life practice.

So in this way we're reflecting a very ancient Buddhist understanding of learning, that we:

  1. hear the teachings
  2. reflect on the teachings
  3. cultivate the qualities. 

And our intention is to offer these three levels of learning in this new way on this course.

A practice for deep meditation and daily life

I find that many people speak to me about their practice, but not so many people speak to me about their path. And what is offered in these five spiritual powers is a pathway of cultivation that we develop, and explore, and deepen in, in every moment of our life, in all of the circumstances and conditions of our life, and not solely upon our meditation cushion. If mindfulness is cultivated only in formal meditation, it ignores the bulk of our lives. If collectedness is not practiced and cultivated in our lives, I feel that our opportunities for deepening in collectedness on the cushion are quite slim. 

A path suggests something which is inclusive and seamless between what happens in formal meditation and the very ways in which we live our lives and interface with the world, and the kind of footprint that we leave on the world around us, and upon our own minds and hearts with every word and every thought and with every act.

Seeking accuracy, finding balance

So this course is going to benefit you in terms of understanding these qualities individually, but also understanding how they fit together as a whole teaching. So when we look at these words like mindfulness—which many of us think we know these days—when we actually think about what does sati mean? Is sati a little different from mindfulness? What are the subtleties and nuances we can explore there? Or we might think of wisdom, but is paññā correctly translated as "wisdom"? What happens if we think of it as insight, or understanding? And what does samādhi mean? These days, we move away from the translation of "concentration," but actually again, to pick out what does that word samādhi really mean, and how can we apply it in our lives?

So we'll be looking at all of these terms individually and drawing out these nuances, but also at how this teaching is a collective. Because often in our practice we might emphasize one of these powers. Some of us are very drawn to practices of collectedness of mind. Others may have a very strong sense of what brings wisdom and clear seeing. Other people may have a strong sense of trust, confidence, and faith. This teaching is saying, can we balance these qualities? Can we perhaps cultivate what we have not paid so much attention to? Can we continue to develop what is already a strength?

This is about growth

People do not begin in meditation practice, or begin to walk this path, in order to stay the same, or to be a more mindful spectator upon their own disasters and difficulties. People begin seeking for change. The five spiritual powers honors this sense of aspiration, this sense of possibility that indeed, as human beings, we can change. We can find a way to step out of compulsion, reactivity. We can find the ways to flourish and thrive and know a greater sense of freedom and wakefulness in our lives. This is the heart of the teaching of the five indriyas, the five spiritual powers.

A natural progression through the spiritual powers

So in this course, we will talk about these qualities one by one, and in the sixth unit we will provide an overview and ideas and aspects how these work in practice and how they fit together.

Complete and Continue