FIVE SPIRITUAL POWERS (panc’indriyani)

These are also known as the Five Spiritual Faculties, qualities which are developed basically through meditation and which the Buddha spoke of as essential to our path of liberation. They are also referred to as the Five Controlling Faculties because they direct the whole unfolding of our spiritual practice.They are sometimes described as a team of five horses, consisting of two pairs with mindfulness in the lead. Faith and wisdom need to be in balance. The understanding that comes from the development of wisdom needs the power of faith to bring it more directly into our everyday experience and make it more alive. If concentration is not balanced with energy, the calmness it generates can turn into dullness or sleepiness. Concentration needs the vibrancy of energy in order to develop the penetrating insight leading to wisdom. Mindfulness brings balance to all the powers, and for this reason is rightfully pictured in the lead.


The word “saddha,” which literally means “to place the heart upon,” most often gets translated from the Pali into English as “faith,” which can be confusing. We’re not talking about “blind faith” here, a belief in something we cannot directly verify, or believing in something just because it has been passed down to us or is something we’ve heard. Saddha more accurately means a trust or confidence that has been achieved through our own investigation and experience. There are different levels to faith. At first we may be inspired – by a story we hear about the Buddha, or by something we read or by a piece of art work. The impetus for the arising of this inspiration comes from outside of ourselves. Later, as we practice, what arises is “verified faith,” which comes from inside ourselves, a product of our own efforts, reflections and insights as we encounter the realities of the dhamma, especially around such truths as impermanence and non-self. The deeper the understanding and realization, the deeper the faith. It comes not only from our hearts and minds but also from a deep intuitive knowing. It becomes unshakable. Faith has the power to dispel doubt and worry so that we abide inspired and confident.


This second spiritual power is also described as effort or vigor and even persistence and perseverance. As with so much of life, nothing happens unless we make the effort and stick with it. The understanding of energy here is similar to that of Right Effort as described previously in the Noble Eightfold Path (please see above). One practice that is suggested that could help motivate us, could help rouse up our energy is the contemplation/reflection on impermanence and the inevitability of our own death. Everything all around us is in a constant state of change and so is consequently unsatisfactory. Soon we will die. The precious gift of the dharma is available now. Who knows when it will be available to us again. Carpe diem: “Seize the day.”


Please see the explanation for Right Concentration as part of the Noble Eightfold Path.


When concentration and mindfulness are sufficiently developed we experience penetrating insight into the Three Characteristics of Phenomena (see above), dukkha (suffering), anicca (impermanence) and anatta (non-self). This resultant wisdom is not primarily an intellectual understanding, but is rather more of an intuitive knowing that resonates in the deepest parts of our being. We see into the very nature of impermanence, that everything is in a state of flux, from the smallest molecules of our own minds and bodies, the weather, the world, empires and civilizations, right on up to whole galaxies and universes. Because it’s all changing we see that we can’t rely on it, that there is an inherent unsatisfactoriness to things, the reality of dukkha. As we look further we begin to see and understand that there is no “self” to which all these changes are happening, that our “self” is also just another collection of momentary, changing experiences brought about by causes and conditions. The deeper the concentration and mindfulness, the deeper the insight, the deeper the wisdom, the deeper the awakening. And so it is.


Listed as the fifth of the Five Spiritual Powers but actually the one in the lead and the one that balances all the others. Considering its importance it’s not surprising that it keeps showing up on all the lists. Please see Right Mindfulness as described previously in the Noble Eightfold Path.

There are five different images used to illustrate these cards, part of a series of photographs I’ve done entitled “Wild Sky.” They were all shot in New Mexico.