The Buddha’s 5 Steps to Enlightenment
The Buddha recommended that his new monks sit at the root of a tree until they were able to calm their minds and attain jhana levels. Once their minds were calm, which means that they were capable of concentrating without the intrusion of distracting thoughts and emotions, they we instructed further.
The next four steps involved becoming intimately aware of and acquainted with the “Four Foundations of Mindfulness:” Body, Feelings, Mind, and Dhammas or truths.
Awareness of the body includes: Its impermanence, its unattractiveness, its make-up (merely elements of the earth that will someday return to the earth), its demise (actually contemplating dead bodies in cemeteries and imagining our own deaths), conversely contemplating the body’s well being and joy, its feelings of physical hunger, pain, heat, cold etc., and the body’s breathing.
Awareness of feelings refers to the initial feelings we have when something impinges upon one of our senses, which is either a feeling of danger, a feeling of attraction, or a feeling of indifference. This is a strict survival phenomena in the beginning of practice, which happens just before the mind identifies and judges whatever impinges on our senses. It’s an initial gut feeling.
Awareness of mind involves all of the various mind states that arise after the initial feeling, for example, greed, hatred, lust, jealousy, and so forth (the Buddha lists fifty-two mental states). Basically, awareness of mind involves noticing whatever state of mind we are in at the moment, how the mind builds an ego or “I” thought, and how it all quickly changes.
Awareness of Dhammas or truths entail contemplation of certain Buddhist principles (that we should never take as truths until we prove them true for ourselves), for example, that the five hindrances to meditation are; sense desires, ill will, laziness, agitation/restlessness, and doubt.
In practice, all of the above Four Foundations of Mindfulness are worked with simultaneously. We seem to be working on only one, but subconsciously, all aspects are being investigated together. Then, as our mindfulness and insights become ever more subtle, we begin to appreciate the depth of this practice of mindfulness.
The instructions appear to be very simple and straightforward, however, they are quite complex. For example, the Buddha’s instructions on sitting at the root of a tree until a monk’s mind calms down. This one step could easily take twenty years or longer in order to attain the deep regions of concentration, or jhana levels, that the Buddha recommended. However, not to be discouraged, all levels of practice would be simultaneously investigated subconsciously, or even consciously, even though the monk might think that he is only working on concentration. Each day of the twenty years that might be required would be an awakening in itself.
Buddhism is a life long practice that affects every aspect of life, as practitioners uncover ever-deepening layers of awareness of subtleties that went completely unnoticed before. This is the unfolding and development of wisdom, compassion, and awareness, and the beginning of a new existence, ever more free of fear.
This is the introduction to a new Reality; the primordial Reality beyond existence that we inherently are, and to which we will all return.