I believe that to make our life purposeful and fruitful, there is an essential and vital underlying factor – strength of mind. Without fortitude of mind, concentration, we are destined not to succeed. A focused and productive life will escape us.
Not surprisingly, the Buddha taught how to develop a mind of resilience and courage – a mind with the ability for concentration. His four precious principles are given in the Samyutta Nikaya (Chapter 51), in the Pali Canon. These are known as the four Iddhipada or paths to power (also referred to as the four bases of power).
To have strength of mind, then, four basic mental qualities need to be developed. These four bases of spiritual power are the ability of concentration on:
Desire – intention, aspiration, purpose, will
Persistence – effort, energy
Intentness – consciousness, thoughts, mind
Ingenuity – analysis, investigation, contemplation
Desire is an important factor in freeing us from laziness which creeps in one of three forms:
(1) Keeping ourselves busy in things that are not essential (typical in some ways of the 21st century);
(2) losing interest when we don’t see immediate results that we want; that is, trying something, not having patience, and then leaving it;
(3) putting ourselves down in thinking “I can’t do it” (a lack of self-confidence).
Even with strong desire or intention, if we do not have persistence, we will not succeed. Simply put, it is not enough to want to do something – we actually have to do something about it. Needed is continuous and consistent effort. Otherwise, desire or intention is impotent. For example, whenever suffering arises, we realize that there is no simple way out. Only through effort do we overcome suffering. Likewise, we have to work at developing wholesome mental states, and ridding ourselves of unwholesome mental states.
Even if we exert a lot of effort, we also need intentness – a consciousness of the necessity to keep going. In other words, we need to think about our practice, keeping it in mind or being conscious of it at all times – for example, being mindful of our feelings and thoughts.
Ingenuity (or analysis) involves seeing how we may be falling into bad habits or wrong practice; learning to work with the imperfect mind we have; examining ourselves; and balancing our mental faculties. Whenever we gain a degree of success, and become satisfied and happy with it, then we will not advance further.
This set of four mental qualities is one of the seven sets of qualities attributed to the Buddha as conducive to Enlightenment.
In closing, the Samyutta Nikaya (in the Viraddha Sutta, SN 51.2), highlights the utmost significance of these four mental qualities:
“Bhikkhus, those who have neglected the four bases for spiritual power have neglected the noble path leading to the complete destruction of suffering. Those who have undertaken the four bases for spiritual power have undertaken the noble path leading to the destruction of suffering.”
And from the Iddhipada-vibhanga Sutta, Thanissaro Bhikkhu translates: “These four bases of power, when developed and pursued, are of great fruit and great benefit [emphasis mine].” A fitting closing to answer the question: What do we need to make our life purposeful and fruitful?
Source: “Iddhipada-vibhanga Sutta: Analysis of the Bases of Power” (SN 51.20), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 1 July 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn51/sn51.020.than.html. Retrieved on 8 September 2013.)
© 2013 Alexander Michael Peck