By Daniel Scharpenburg
Buddhism is full of lists.
In many cases these lists overlap, the Buddha used different words in different contexts to express a lot of the same ideas. The Eight Awarenesses of Enlightenment was a list given by the Buddha on the last day of his life.
This teaching is a guide to us on the path. It’s said that fully realizing these Awarenesses is attaining Enlightenment.
These aren’t steps on a path that we progress on; rather, they are a list of things we’re trying to cultivate all at the same time. Each of these rises together and they support each other. This can be thought of as a circle, rather than a line.
Freedom From Desire
It isn’t that we shouldn’t want things, but that we shouldn’t be controlled by our desires. The things we want can very easily own and control us. Our desires can really cause trouble when we see ourselves as small and separate from the world instead of connected to everything. When we think things are lacking in our lives, we try to fill that empty space. We can find contentment if we can manage our constant need for more.
When we are free from desire, we can be content. Being discontent causes us to consistently desire and wish for things that we don’t have. When we don’t have our incessant desires hindering and overwhelming us, we can manifest contentment.
Serenity arises from the other awarenesses. It’s not a fleeting state of calm, but a transcendent one—a state of serenity that we can manifest even when things are going bad. This is the serenity that comes from really and truly being in the present moment, instead of being distracted by the past or the future.
Diligence is our determination to strive on the path, not giving up when things get hard or when things arise to distract us.
This is paying attention to the world around us. It’s our capacity to be here now, not distracted by the past, the future, our imaginations or our preconceptions. If we are mindful then we are reacting only to what’s really going on, not to what we think or expect.
This is our ability to cultivate deep concentration. It is a profound state of meditation that can be called single pointedness of mind, because we have transcended dualism. Self and other have disappeared and we are paying attention to the way things really are.
This is wisdom that is actually experienced, rather than discussed or thought about. This is the insight that casts away the ignorance of the small self and views things from the perspective of our true nature.
Devotion to Truth
This might seem strange to see at the end of our list, but it is important. When we aren’t devoted to the truth, it’s very easy to cause a lot of harm to ourselves and others. This represents not just not lying, but a few other things as well. We shouldn’t do anything harmful with our speech. We shouldn’t gossip, spread half truths, or speak badly of others. We should be harmonious with all of our speech.
Editor: Dana Gornall