Venerable Piyadassi Maha Thera explained about the first two enlightenment factors of mindfulness and keen investigation.
The first factor of enlightenment is sati or mindfulness, the most effective instrument to be used in attaining self-mastery and finding the path to liberation. Mindfulness is fourfold: mindfulness in contemplation of the body, feeling, mind, and mental objects the way they really are, as opposed to how the mind imagines them to be.
Ven. Piyadassi observed:
The man lacking in this all-important quality of mindfulness cannot achieve anything worthwhile.
The Buddha’s final admonition on his deathbed was:
Transient are all component things. Work out your deliverance with heedfulness.
The last words of the Ven. Sariputta, the Master’s foremost disciple, who pre-deceased the Buddha were:
Strive on with heedfulness. This is my advice to you.
In both injunctions, the significant word in Pali is appamada—incessant heedfulness. It means being continually heedful of your actions in every waking moment.
Ven. Piyadassi noted:
Only when a man is fully aware and mindful of his activities can he distinguish good from bad and right from wrong. It is in the light of mindfulness that he will see the beauty or ugliness of his deeds.
The Buddha said:
Monks, I know not of any other single thing of such power to cause the arising of good thoughts not yet arisen, or to cause the waning of evil thoughts if already arisen, as heedfulness. In him, who is heedful, good thoughts not yet arisen, do arise, and evil thoughts, if arisen, do wane.
Ven. Piyadassi explained:
Constant mindfulness and vigilance are necessary to avoid ill and to perform good. The man with presence of mind who surrounds himself with watchfulness of mind (satima), the man of courage and earnestness gets ahead of the lethargic, the heedless (pamatto), as a race horse outstrips a decrepit hack.
The true image of the Buddha is the picture of mindfulness, or, as Ven. Piyadassi said:
He is the sada sato, the ever mindful the ever vigilant. He is the very embodiment of mindfulness.
Ven. Piyadassi further stated:
Right mindfulness or awareness, in a way, is superior to knowledge, because in the absence of mindfulness it is just impossible for a man to make the best of his learning. Intelligence devoid of mindfulness tends to lead a man astray and entice him from the path of rectitude and duty. Even people who are well informed and intelligent fail to see a thing in its proper perspective when they lack this all important quality of mindfulness. . . . Mindfulness is the chief characteristic of all wholesome actions tending to one’s own or another’s profit.
The Dhammapada, a collection of sayings of the Buddha, notes that:
The man who delights in mindfulness and regards heedlessness with dread, is not liable to fall away. He is in the vicinity of Nibbana. (32)
The second factor of enlightenment is keen investigation of the Dhamma.
“It is the sharp, analytical knowledge of understanding the true nature of all constituent things,” as Ven. Piyadassi puts it. “It is seeing things as they really are; seeing things in their proper perspective. It is the analysis of all component things into their fundamental elements, right down to their ultimates. Through keen investigation one understands that all compounded things pass through the inconceivably rapid moments of uppada, thiti, and bhanga, or of arising, peaking, and ceasing, just as a river in flood sweeps to a climax and fades away. The whole universe is constantly changing, not remaining the same for two consecutive moments. All things in fact are subjected to causes and conditions and effects (hetu, paccaya, and phala).”
The man who is heedful, using keen investigation, will come to see the true nature of things as they arise and peak and cease.
The Buddha taught:
The doctrine is for the wise and not for the unwise. And those who become wise will see cause and effect, seed and fruit, the rise and fall of all compounded things.
Buddhism does not call for blind faith; it calls for keen investigation. Investigate, by observing and analyzing closely, the phenomena of life as they continuously roll on, arising and ceasing, beginning and ending, according to the law of impermanence—with all elements arising, peaking, and ceasing such that nothing is unchanging or permanent.
“He that cultivates dhammavicaya, investigation of the Dhamma,” said Ven. Piyadassi, “focuses his mind on the five aggregates of grasping and endeavors to realize the rise and fallor the arising and passing away of this conglomeration of bare forces . . . this conflux of mind and matter. . . . It is only when he reaches the evanescence of his own mind and body that he experiences happiness and joyful anticipation.
“Thus it is said: ‘Whenever he reflects on the rise and fall of the aggregates, he experiences unalloyed joy and happiness. To the discerning one that reflection is deathless—Nibbana.’ (Dhp 374)
“What is impermanent and not lasting, he sees as sorrow fraught. What is impermanent and sorrow fraught he understands as being void of a permanent and everlasting soul, self, or ego entity. It is this grasping, this realization of the three characteristics, or laws of transience, sorrow and non-self—anicca, dukkha, and anatta—that is known to Buddhists as vipassana-nana or penetrative insight, which, like the razor-edged sword, entirely eradicates all the latent tendencies (anusaya) and with it all of the varied ramifications of sorrow’s cause are finally destroyed.”
The person who is so liberated can penetrate into the darkest recesses of the mind to recognize the true nature of all that underlies appearance. Such a person has a clarity of vision that sees the true nature of phenomena.
Mindfulness and keen investigation are key elements in the Seven Factors of Enlightenment and without cultivating them it would be impossible for the practitioner to ever climb close to the clear and pure heights of the peak of awareness and deliverance.
Piyadassi Thera. 2008. The Seven Factors of Enlightenment: Satta Bojjhaṅga. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society BPS Online Edition