Dharma Notes‎ > ‎

The Five Powers

As children growing up in central Vietnam, my
brothers, sisters, and I used to run out to the yard
every time it rained. It was our way of taking a
shower. We were so happy! Sometime later, our
mother would call us and serve us a bowl of rice
with pickled bean sprouts or salty fish. We'd take
our bowls and sit in the doorway, eating and
continuing to watch the falling rain. We were free
of all worries and anxieties, not thinking about the
past, the future, or anything at all. We just enjoyed
ourselves, our food, and each other. On New Year's
Day, Mother served us special cakes, and we went
outside and ate the cakes while playing with the
cat and the dog. Sometimes our New Year's clothes
were so starchy that they squeaked as we walked.
We thought we were in paradise.

Growing up, we began to worry about
homework, the right clothes, a good job, and
supporting our family, not to mention war, social
injustice, and so many other difficulties. We
thought our paradise was lost, but it was not. We
only had to remember how to water the seeds of
paradise in ourselves, and we were able to produce
true happiness again. Even today, you and I can
return to our own paradise every time we breathe
in and out mindfully. Our true home was not only
in the past. It is present now. Mindfulness is the
energy we can produce in our daily lives to bring
our paradise back.

The Five Faculties, or Bases (indriyani) are the
power plants that can help us generate this energy
in ourselves. The Five Powers (balani) are that
energy in action. The Five Faculties and Powers
are faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and
insight. When practiced as bases, they are like
factories that produce electricity. When practiced
as powers, they have the capacity to bring about
all the elements of the Eightfold Path, just as
electricity manifests as light or heat.

The first of the five is faith (shraddha). When
we have faith, a great energy in us is unleashed. If
our faith is in something unreliable or false, not
informed by insight, sooner or later it will lead us
to a state of doubt and suspicion. But when our
faith is made of insight and understanding, we will
touch the things that are good, beautiful, and
reliable. Faith is the confidence we receive when
we put into practice a teaching that helps us
overcome difficulties and obtain some
transformation. It is like the confidence a farmer
has in his way of growing crops. It is not blind. It
is not some belief in a set of ideas or dogmas.

The second power is diligence (virya), the
energy that brings joy into our practice. Faith gives
birth to diligence, and this diligence continues to
strengthen our faith. Animated with diligent
energy, we become truly alive. Our eyes shine, and
our steps are solid.

The third power is mindfulness (smriti). To
look deeply, to have deep insight, we use the
energy of Right Mindfulness. Meditation is a
power plant for mindfulness. When we sit, eat a
meal, or wash the dishes, we can learn to be
mindful. Mindfulness allows us to look deeply and
see what is going on. Mindfulness is the plow, the
hoe, and the irrigation source that waters insight.
We are the gardener — plowing, sowing, and
watering our beneficial seeds.

The fourth power is concentration (samadhi).
To look deeply and see clearly, we need
concentration. When we eat, wash dishes, walk,
stand, sit, lie down, breathe, or work in
mindfulness, we develop concentration.
Mindfulness leads to concentration, and
concentration leads to insight and to faith. With
these four qualities, our life is filled with joy and
the energy of being alive, which is the second

The fifth power is insight, or wisdom (prajña),
the ability to look deeply and see clearly, and also
the understanding that results from this practice.
When we can see clearly, we abandon what is false,
and our faith becomes Right Faith.

When all five power plants are working,
producing electricity, they are no longer just
faculties. They become the Five Powers. There is a
difference between producing something and
having the power that it has generated. If there is
not enough energy in our body and mind, our five
power plants need repair. When our power plants
function well, we are able to produce the energy
we need for our practice and for our happiness.
Our store consciousness contains the seeds of
all of these energies. When joy or anger is not
present in our mind consciousness, we may say, "I
don't have that," but we do. It's below, in our store
consciousness. Under the right conditions, that
seed will manifest. We may say, "I'm not angry. I
don't have anger in me," but anger is still there in
our unconscious mind. Everyone has a seed of
anger lying dormant, below, in our store
consciousness. When we practice, our effort is to
water positive seeds and let the negative seeds
remain dormant. We don't say, "Until I've gotten
rid of all my bad seeds, I can't practice." If you get
rid of all your unwholesome seeds, you won't have
anything to practice. We need to practice now with
all the unwholesome seeds in us. If we don't, the
negative seeds will grow and cause a great deal of

Practicing the Five Powers is a matter of
cultivating the earth of our store consciousness and
sowing and watering good seeds. Then, when they
arise into our mind consciousness and become
flowers and fruits, they will scatter more good
seeds throughout our store consciousness. If you
want wholesome seeds to be in your mind
consciousness, you need the condition of
continuity. "Fruits of the same nature" will resow
wholesome seeds in you.

The Lotus Sutra says, "All sentient beings have
t he Buddha nature (Buddhata)." With the right
conditions, the seed of Buddha nature in us will
grow. We could also call that seed the seed of Right
Mindfulness or the seed of insight, wisdom, or
right faith. These are, in fact, one seed. To practice
means to help that wonderful seed manifest. When
we are mindful, concentration is already there.
When we are concentrated, there is insight and
wisdom. When we have faith, there is energy.
Mindfulness is the seed of Buddha in us.
Concentration is, therefore, already present in this
seed of mindfulness in us.

The appellation "Buddha" comes from the root
of the verb budh — which means to wake up, to
understand, to know what is happening in a very
deep way. In knowing, understanding, and waking
up to reality, there is mindfulness, because
mindfulness means seeing and knowing what is
happening. Whether our seeing is deep or
superficial depends on our degree of awakening. In
each of us, the seed of Buddha, the capacity to
wake up and understand, is called Buddha nature.
It is the seed of mindfulness, the awareness of
what is happening in the present moment. If I say,
"A lotus for you, a Buddha to be," it means, "I see
clearly the Buddha nature in you." It may be
difficult for you to accept that the seed of Buddha
is in you, but we all have the capacity for faith,
awakening, understanding, and awareness, and that
is what is meant by Buddha nature. There is no
one who does not have the capacity to be a

But the treasure we are looking for remains
hidden to us. Stop being like the man in the Lotus
Sutra, who looked all over the world for the gem
that was already in his pocket. Come back and
receive your true inheritance. Don't look outside
yourself for happiness. Let go of the idea that you
don't have it. It is available within you.
T h e Bodhisattva Never-Despising could not
dislike anyone, because he knew that each of us
has the capacity to become a Buddha. He would
bow to every child and adult and say, "I do not
dare to underestimate you. You are a future
Buddha." Some people felt so joyful upon hearing
this that faith arose in them. But others, thinking
that he was making fun of them, shouted and
hurled stones at him. He continued this practice for
his whole life, reminding others they had the
capacity to wake up. Why wander all over the
world looking for something you already have?
You are already the richest person on Earth.
How can we help someone who feels she
cannot love herself? How can we help her be in
touch with the seed of love already in her, so it can
manifest as a flower and she can smile? As a good
friend, we have to learn to look deeply into our
own consciousness and into the consciousness of
others. We can help our friend cultivate that seed
and realize her capacity to love.

There is a sixth power called "capacity" or
"inclusiveness" (kshanti). The capacity to be
happy is very precious. Someone who is able to be
happy even when confronted with difficulties, has
the capacity to offer light and a sense of joy to
herself and to those around her. When we are near
someone like this, we feel happy, also. Even when
she enters hell, she will lighten up hell with the
sound of her laughter. There is a bodhisattva
named Kshitigarbha whose practice is to go into
the places of deepest suffering and bring light and
laughter to others. If your Sangha has one person
like that, someone who can smile, be happy, and
have faith in all circumstances, it is a good Sangha.
Ask yourself, "Am I like that?" At first glance,
you might think not. You might have an inferiority
complex, which is the second kind of pride.

Please follow the advice of Never-Despising Bodhisattva
and look deeply into your store consciousness to
accept that the seed of happiness, the capacity to
love and to be happy, is there. Practice joy. You
may think that washing dishes is menial work, but
when you roll up your sleeves, turn on the water,
and pour in the soap, you can be very happy.
Washing the dishes mindfully, you see how
wonderful life is. Every moment is an opportunity
to water the seeds of happiness in yourself. If you
develop the capacity to be happy in any
surroundings, you will be able to share your
happiness with others.

Otherwise you might think, This is an unhappy
situation. I must go somewhere else. And you'll go
from place to place wandering like the prodigal
son. When you realize your own capacity to be
happy anywhere, you can put down roots in the
present moment. You can take whatever the
conditions of the present moment are and make
them the foundation of your life and your
happiness. When the sun is shining, you are
happy. When it is raining, you are also happy.
You don't need to go anywhere else. You don't
need to travel into the future or return to the past.
Everything in the present moment belongs to your
true home. All the conditions for happiness are
here. You only have to touch the seeds of
happiness that are already in you.

When you enter a well-tended garden and see a
fresh, beautiful rose, you want to pick it. But to do
so, you have to touch some thorns. The rose is
there, but the brambles are also there. You have to
find a way to understand the thorns so you can
pick the rose. Our practice is the same. Don't say
that because there are thorns you cannot be happy.
Don't say that because there is still anger or
sadness in your heart, you cannot enjoy anything
at all. You have to know how to deal with your
anger and sadness so you don't lose the flowers of

When our internal formations (samyojana) and
suffering are dormant in our store consciousness, it
is a good time to practice watering the positive
seeds. When feelings of pain come into our
conscious mind, we have to breathe mindfully and
practice walking meditation in order to deal with
those feelings. Don't lose the opportunity to water
the seeds of happiness, so that more seeds of
happiness will enter your store consciousness.
When the Buddha was about to pass away, his
attendant Ananda cried and cried. The Buddha
comforted him, saying, "Buddhas in the past had
good attendants, but none were as good as you,
Ananda." He was watering the seeds of happiness
in Ananda, because Ananda had looked after
Buddha with all his heart. He said, "Ananda, have
you seen the wonderful fields of golden rice
stretching out to the horizon? They are very
beautiful." Ananda replied, "Yes, Lord, they are
very beautiful." The Buddha was always reminding
Ananda to notice the things that are beautiful.
Ananda was anxious about taking care of the
Buddha well, and he wasn't able to pick the rose of
his daily life. When you see a cloud in the sky, ask
your friend, "Do you see that cloud? Isn't it
splendid?" How can we live so that the seeds of
happiness in us are watered every day? That is the
cultivation of joy, the practice of love. We can
practice these things easily when we have the
energy of mindfulness. But without mindfulness,
how can we see the beautiful rice fields? How can
we feel the delightful rain? Breathing in, I know the
rain is falling. Breathing out, I smile to the rain.
Breathing in, I know that rain is a necessary part of
life. Breathing out, I smile again. Mindfulness
helps us regain the paradise we thought we had

We want to return to our true home, but we are
in the habit of running away. We want to sit on a
lotus flower, but instead we sit on burning
charcoal, and we want to jump off. If we sit firmly
in the present moment, it is as though we are
sitting on a lotus. The Buddha is always
represented as sitting peacefully on a lotus flower,
because he was always at home. He didn't need to
run anymore. To enjoy sitting in the present
moment is called "just sitting" or "non-action."
Venerable Thich Quang Duc was able to sit
peacefully even while fire was blazing all around
him. He was burning, but he was still sitting on a
lotus. That is the ultimate capacity to sit
peacefully in any circumstance, knowing that
nothing is lost.

The capacity to feel at peace anywhere is a
positive seed. The energy to run away is not. If we
practice mindfulness, whenever the energy of
wanting to run away arises, we can smile at it and
say, "Hello, my old friend, I recognize you." The
moment we recognize any habit energy, it loses a
little of its power. Every time Mara appeared, the
Buddha said, "I know you, my old friend," and
Mara fled.

In the Samiddhi Sutra, we are taught to practice
so that our happiness is present here and now. It
isn't necessary to run away or abandon our present
home and look for an illusory home, a so-called
paradise that is really just a shadow of happiness.
When we produce faith, energy, mindfulness,
concentration, and insight in our power plants, we
realize that our true home is already filled with
light and power.

From "Heart of the Buddha's Teachings"
by Thich Nhat Hanh