January 27 – Balancing the faculties

By | January 27, 2023

Dear Friends,

We have concluded the series of talks from Gil on each of the faculties, so I’ll wrap up the month with a few closing reflections to pull everything together (I hope).

The first thing to I want to visit is the idea of balance. The comments that follow are informed by an article from Edward Conze, an article from Bhikkhu Bodhi, a teaching from Ayya Khema, a chapter from a book by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield, as well as various talks I have heard over the years.

One of the analogies that I’ve heard is that balancing the faculties is like a horse-drawn carriage with a lead horse (mindfulness), and two pairs of horses that follow: faith and wisdom, energy and concentration. If the pairs of horses are balanced, then mindfulness can have some steadiness, otherwise it might need to do extra work if the other horses are pulling unevenly.

If we don’t have enough faith, we can be cynical and inclined to give up. If we have too much faith, we can become dogmatic and inflexible. If we don’t have enough wisdom, we can be gullible or narrow-minded. If we over-emphasize wisdom, we can be vain or emphasize gaining knowledge over practice and direct experience. When there is a balance of faith and wisdom, wisdom has a heart-felt quality, with openness, curiosity, humility, gratitude, wonder, and steadiness.

When energy is low, there is sluggishness in the body and mind. With excess energy, there can be restlessness, agitation, tension, jumpiness, and a lack of focus. With too little concentration, the mind can get lost in thought. With too much concentration, there can be a straining, a tightness in the mind and body, from trying to focus too narrowly. When the two are balanced, there is a balance in the posture (upright and relaxed), and in the mind (bright, receptive, and a steady focus).

Mindfulness can monitor and help balance the other faculties, and it is influenced and informed by them too. As Bhikkhu Bodhi says, “Above the complementary pairs stands the faculty of mindfulness, which protects the mind from extremes and ensures that the members of each pair hold one another in a mutually restraining, mutually enriching tension.” Or as it says in the Visuddhimagga (as quoted in the article by Edward Conze), “Strong mindfulness, however, is needed in all instances; for mindfulness protects the mind from lapsing into agitation through faith, vigor and wisdom, which tend to agitation, and from lapsing into indolence through concentration, which tends to indolence. So it is as desirable in all instances as a seasoning of salt in all curries”.

If something in our practice seems “off”, we can check if the faculties are in balance. Is the mind being rigid in belief or over-confident? Is the body too tight or too slumped? What can we adjust in this moment to bring the faculties back into balance?

Here’s a meditation from Mark Nunberg that goes through all five of the faculties (28 minutes):

With good wishes,

If you restore balance in your own self, you will be contributing immensely to the healing of the world.

Deepak Chopra, https://chopra.com/articles/top-30-deepak-chopra-quotes