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On the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, Part Four: Tranquility, Concentration, and Equanimity

Tranquility leads to clarity in concentration and then to equanimity on the path to purity.

To quote Venerable Piyadassi Thera:

The fifth factor of enlightenment is calm or tranquillity (passadhi). Passaddhi is two-fold. Kaya passadhi is calm of body. Kaya here means all the mental properties rather than the physical body; in other words, calm of the aggregates of feeling . . . perception . . . and the volitional activities or conformations. Citta-passaddhi is the calm of the mind—that is the aggregate of consciousness.

Passaddhi is compared to the happy experience of a weary walker who sits down under a tree in a shade or the cooling of a hot place by rain. Hard it is to tranquilize the mind. It trembles and it is unsteady, difficult to guard and hold back. It quivers like a fish taken from its watery home and thrown on the dry ground. It wanders at will. Such is the nature of this ultra subtle mind. It is systematic reflection (yoniso manasikara) that helps the aspirant for enlightenment to quieten the fickle mind. Unless a man cultivates tranquility of mind, concentration cannot be developed. A tranquilized mind keeps away all superficialities and futilities. 

The Tathagata, the tamed, teaches the Dhamma for the purpose of training the human heart. . . . All the havoc wrought in the world is wrought by men who have not learned the way of mental calm, balance and poise. . . . The calm attitude at all times shows a man of culture. . . . To be composed in the mind in the midst of unfavourable is hard indeed.

A man who cultivates calm of mind does not get upset, confused or excited when confronted with the eight vicissitudes of the world. He endeavors to see the rise and fall of all things conditioned, how things come into being and then pass away. Free from anxiety and restlessness, he will see the fragility of the fragile . . . as he came so he went.

Such is the advantage of a tranquilized mind. It is unshaken by loss or gain, blame and praise and undisturbed by adversity. This frame of mind is brought about by viewing the sentient world in its proper perspective. Thus calm or passadhi leads a man to enlightenment and deliverance from suffering. (Piyadassi Thera)

The sixth factor of enlightenment is samadhi, concentration: “It is only the tranquilized mind that can easily concentrate on a subject of meditation. The calm concentrated mind sees things as they really are. . . . The unified mind brings the five hindrances under subjugation.” (Piyadassi Thera)

Concentration is the intensified steadiness of mind comparable to a flickering flame of a lamp in a windless place. It is concentration that fixes the mind aright and causes it to be unmoved and undisturbed. Correct practice of samadhi maintains the mind and the mental properties in a state of balance like a steady hand holding a pair of scales. Right concentration dispels passions that disturb the mind, and brings purity and placidity of mind. The concentrated mind is not distracted by sense objects. Concentration of the highest type cannot be disturbed under the most adverse circumstances.

One who is intent on the development of samadhi should develop a love of virtue, sila, for it is virtue that nourishes the mental life and makes it coherent and calm, equable and full of rich content.

Many are the impediments that confront a yogi, an aspirant for enlightenment, but there are five particular hindrances that hinder concentrative thought, samadhi, and obstruct the way to deliverance. . . . They are known as the five hindrances, (panca nivarana) the five hindrances. The Pali term nivarana denotes that which hinders or obstructs mental development (bhavana). They are called the hindrances because they close in, cut off and obstruct. They close the doors to deliverance. (Piyadassi Thera)

The five hindrances that block the door to deliverance are: (i) sensual desires for the pleasant and delightful, which arouses craving, which when frustrated turns into wrath and destructiveness; (ii) ill-will, resentment, and indignation, which arises in face of the unpleasant and painful, which hates being separated from what is loved and desired, and which is revolted by what it deems to be unpleasant smells, tastes, dishes or drinks or behavior, and a thousand other trifles; (iii) lassitude or laxity of mind that, sometimes even stubbornly retard mental development; (iv) restlessness and worry, arising from impatience, brooding or guilt causing agitation or mental worry connected to past deeds or future wants; and (v) doubt, which means perplexity and mental agitation in the face of a lack of confidence and mental itching due to taking a cynical view of things, an inability to decide and doubts about one’s ability to reach higher states. 

The five hindrances are the field in which we have to work to improve our mental health or suffer the consequences. It is a field in which vipassana provides us insight to improve our mental development on the path.

It is said that the yogi, far from the maddening crowd’s ignoble strife, fixes his mind on an object of meditation and, by struggling with unceasing efforts, inhibits the five hindrances thereby relentlessly washing out the impurities of his mind and turning his mind to an understanding of reality in the highest sense: “He has broken through the eggshell of ignorance.” (Piyadassi Thera)

The seventh factor of enlightenment is equanimity (upekka), which means neutrality or mental equipoise as opposed to hedonic indifference. Equanimity arises out of a calm concentrated mind. It is the quality of not being disturbed by the welter of experience and the vicissitudes of life. One with perfect equanimity never wavers or rocks no matter what happens in life. One with equanimity through impartiality avoids wrong paths such as greed, hate and delusion. He has developed a detached attitude towards all beings and inanimate things—the proximate cause of his equanimity being an understanding  that all beings are the results of their actions in accordance with the law of kamma.

The Venerable Piyadassi concludes his exposition by saying:

The only thing necessary on our part for full realization of the truth is firm determination, endeavor and earnestness to study and apply the teaching, each working it out for himself to the best of his ability.

Tranquility leads to clarity in concentration, which leads to equanimity on the path to purity.


Piyadassi Thera. 2008. The Seven Factors of Enlightenment: Satta Bojjhaga.  Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society. BPS Online Edition.

Related features from BDG

On the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, Part One
On the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, Part Two: Mindfulness and Keen Awareness
On the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, Part Three: Arousing Energy and Attaining Rapture

More from Theravada Teachings by Prof. David Dale Holmes

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