Half Moon Day: The Five Indriya, Part 1.

April 13, 2008


The Five Spiritual Faculties, Part 1


Here we go again – another Part One!




This is going to be a brief piece on one of my favourite sets of teachings: The Five Spiritual Faculties (Indriya).

There are five spiritual faculties that, when maintained in being and developed, merge in the deathless, reach to the deathless and end in the deathless. What five? They are the faculties of confidence, energy, mindfulness, samadhi and wisdom.”

S.48:57 *1.

As well as this list showing us five qualities that are essential to our progression on the path, it is laid out in such a way so that we can understand how they must be developed in harmony, with each balancing one another. For now I’m going to focus on this principle of balance.

Our deluded minds easily swing from one extreme to the other: from straining too much to gain concentration, to slumping back and allowing our mind to have a free run; from being launched into the clouds with inspiration, to being buried in the ground with despair. Faith or confidence must be balanced with wisdom, and energy or vigour must be balanced with samadhi. And where does our good friend mindfulness fit into this equation? Mindfulness, like a king on his throne, sits in the middle and watches over his four subjects, ensuring that balance is maintained.

To help us understand this balancing act we can picture two sets of scales in our minds. On the first set we have confidence or faith on one side and wisdom on the other, with mindfulness as the pivot.. On the second set we have energy on one side and samadhi on the other, with mindfulness again as the pivot. These scales show us where we need to apply the principle of balance. Notice how mindfulness is the pivotal point for both pairs. Mindfulness is the king of the practice; it watches over us, keeps things in order, applies effort when it is needed and reduces it when it is not. It notices when a quality is lacking and when one is in excess.


Wisdom Must Balance Confidence.

It seems that real wisdom is in no danger of being developed to excess as wisdom is wisdom. You can’t have too much of that! But confidence can outweigh wisdom sometimes when it starts to mutate into dogmatic views and blind belief. Wisdom is then flung off the scales altogether and is nowhere to be seen!


Confidence / Faith

Confidence in this context primarily means confidence in the Buddha and his Teachings, and in one’s ability to follow the Eightfold path successfully. It is an indispensable part of this path for many reasons, not least because we are aiming for that state which is entirely outside of this conditioned and unsatisfactory experience of ours – that is – Nibbana: the unconditioned, the further shore, the deathless.

As Buddhists we triumphantly hold above our heads as a footballer the World Cup Trophy the fact that the Buddha warned against blind belief. We are so proud that he encouraged us to investigate, to probe and to examine what he was saying. There’s this amazing story in the scriptures which runs as follows:

There was a famous millionaire layman called Upali. He was a follower of another religion and he was sent to meet the Buddha in order to argue with him and convert him. But after talking with the Buddha he was so impressed that he decided to become a Buddhist. But the Buddha said:

Make a proper investigation first, proper investigation is good for a well-known person like yourself.”

Now I am even more pleased and satisfied when the Lord says to me ‘Make a proper investigation first.’ For if members of another religion had secured me as a disciple they would have paraded a banner all around the town saying ‘Upali has joined our religion.’ But the Lord says to me: ‘Make a proper investigation first, proper investigation is good for a well-known person like yourself.’

MII 379 *2

We come to Buddhism and we find the Buddha saying: “Don’t just believe what I say.” And what does that do? It give us tremendous confidence! When we hear the religious dogma spewed out by some people we shudder. They tell us not to question, not to probe, not to investigate. And what does that do? It makes us question, it makes us probe, it makes us investigate! And what happens when we do that? The brittle facade which depends on blind belief cracks and crumbles and comes tumbling down. But the Buddha knew that if we probed his teachings we would find nothing wrong with them.

And so on encountering Buddhism our confidence is immediately aroused. We then begin to follow the instructions and meditate and consequently we experience results; our confidence is beginning to be verified, and on being verified it grows. And so we continue to apply effort; having gained results already it seems logical that if we pursue the training the results will keep coming. So the confidence we are talking about here is firmly rooted in wisdom – we begin to ‘know for ourselves’ and confidence in the Dhamma arises. This confidence propels us forwards. We need this confidence. It fuels us as we traverse the periods of difficulty that we inevitably go through. If we don’t have that confidence then we will stop when things don’t go our way. But if we persist with our practice then wisdom eventually deepens, and once again, with the deepening of wisdom our confidence in the path and its effectiveness gains strength.

And so this reciprocal process rolls on: wisdom giving rise to confidence and confidence giving rise to wisdom. They become like a pair of rocket-powered bulldozers that blast through all obstructions. They are a powerful combination! When these factors are of a certain potency (and this goes for all the faculties) it is said they transform into the Five Bala, the Five Powers. When this level is reached we no longer have to strive to develop them; that stage has passed. They now flow by themselves. The five faculties and the mind become one and the same and they soon merge with the deathless.

Once one passes through the first gate of Enlightenment – the stage of Sotapanna, or Stream Entry – then wisdom makes its first substantial triumph by liberating the mind from the first three of the ten fetters: personality view, doubt, and blind attachment to rules and rituals. So we see that with the perfection of a level of wisdom, doubt, the opposite of confidence, is eliminated. And so at the level of Sotapanna our wisdom, and our confidence in the Dhamma and the path leading to it, are unshakeable.

Back to where we’re at! We have a degree of confidence and a degree of wisdom. Now, it is our duty to both develop and maintain balance between the two.


The Pitfalls of Faith

To have confidence in the Buddha and his teachings is a wonderful thing; if you have it you are very fortunate! But if king mindfulness takes his eyes off this subject for too long then it can get a little out of hand and send us off target. And so we must keep a close eye on it and bring the mind that flies too high with confidence and faith back down to earth with wisdom.

I once knew a monk who was a faith type. His eyes would sparkle with faith whenever he saw a senior monk. He let that outweigh his wisdom though and unfortunately it was a part of his downfall. When faith outbalances wisdom we can forget ourselves. We can become dependent on outside things as sources of confidence and inspiration. We read books and look at pictures and listen to talks and meet great teachers and we are inspired; but this source of confidence is not always reliable and we must be careful to keep it in moderation. If we become dependent on these things then we are liable to crash if one day those things fail to inspire us. We must look within, study within, probe and investigate within; then we will gradually gain the vision of the Dhamma which cannot be taken away from us and which will serve as a powerful and constant source of inspiration. We will then not need outside stimulus.

Anyway, back to that monk. Early on in his monastic life he had the privilege of spending a few days with a quite senior monk. Now this monk, at first glance, was very impressive. He had presence and an unshakeable quality to him. He was inspiring.

A year or so later it became clear that the young monk had invested too much confidence in this monk, and that he had relied on him as a source of inspiration. Because, on hearing the news that the very impressive monk had disrobed, the young monk’s world shook. His faith had been ‘out there’; it had been dependent on unreliable sources. And so when this source ceased to deliver he was deeply shaken, and doubt and uncertainty invaded his mind.

Wisdom comprehends the unreliable nature of all things in this world and enables us to avoid the pitfalls of faith.

So we must not become dependent on external sources for inspiration. Begin to see the Dhamma in your own mind and you won’t go wrong. Our confidence will be verified as we make the Dhamma our own. Even if we were the only person on the planet following this path we could not be diverted.



Confidence is neglected when our questioning and thinking goes beyond its reasonable boundaries and we consequently fail to actually get on with the task at hand. Like the man who was shot by an arrow but refused to have it removed until he knew: who shot it; from what the bow was made; what type of feathers were on the arrow – were they duck, goose, or swan feathers?; from what the bow’s string was made etc, etc. Now, before the man had his questions answered he’d be dead! The Buddha said that the wise man pulls the arrow out. In the same way we each must remove the arrow that is lodged in our minds; the arrow of craving. Any questions?

I used to question deeply, and read philosophical things, and think a lot, and thanks to that I eventually arrived at the golden gates of Buddhism. But on reaching those gates I put the questions, the books and the thoughts down. They had served their purpose and now it was time for me to enter the gates and get on with it. It is so important that we go beyond the theory and the thinking and, having confidence in the Dhamma, as it says in that well known advert – JUST DO IT.





So that’s just a sketch of two of the Five Indriya. I’ll write about balancing energy and samadhi sometime soon….


*1. From ‘The Life of the Buddha’, Bhikkhu Nanamoli.

*2. From ‘Good Question, Good Answer’, Ven. S. Dhammika.



The next teaching will be on:

The Full Moon Day, Sunday, 20th April


One Response to “Half Moon Day: The Five Indriya, Part 1.”

  1. ant said

    I agree with the uncertain nature of things; the mind continues to build and create ‘certainties’ for itself, till it realises there’s no real home in this, and looks unequivocally for a real refuge. That’s the problem with faith, it was like me and Ajahn Mun in my early monk days, I was constantly looking for inspiration but it bought a lot of suffering. Mindfulness and awareness dispels all that, and helps you come to terms with the way things actually are. Metta ant

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