The Four Paths to Success

Statue of a reclining monk drinking tea

Having recently discussed the individual factors comprising the ‘four paths to success’ (iddhipāda), the following passage from Buddhadhamma illustrates how these four factors apply in a practical setting:

These four paths to success are mutually supportive and tend to arise in unison. For example, one may be very enthusiastic about something and very energized; with such energy the mind is focused and one pays close attention; there is then the opportunity for wisdom to be used for investigation. The separation of these four factors aims to highlight in different situations which factor is prominent, acting as a catalyst for the others.

For example, several people may be listening to a Dhamma talk. One person likes to study the Dhamma and listens with delight in the truth; she wants to deepen her understanding of the Dhamma (or perhaps simply takes pleasure in that particular talk or she likes the speaker) and listens with one-pointed attention. Chanda is thus the predominant factor and induces concentration along with other virtues.

Another person has a disposition, or simply has a conviction in that moment, that when facing a necessary task, one must fight and gain victory—one must confront the task at hand and bring it to completion. He thus sees the subject matter of the talk as a challenge, as something that must be understood. In this case viriya is the prevailing factor.

Another person has the disposition of being attentive and responsible; whatever she engages with she responds and pays attention to. She is thus determined to follow the presentation of the talk; in this case citta is the predominant factor.

Finally, a fourth person wishes to examine whether the Dhamma being propounded is true or not, wholesome or not, or he looks at the logic of the presentation. While listening he investigates and his mind is one-pointed on the subject of the talk. In this case vimaṁsā is chief.

Due to the interrelationship of these factors, there are some passages which determine the prominent or leading factor in specific circumstances. Moreover, they refer to the four paths to success as the four ‘governors’ (adhipati) or the four kinds of ‘sovereignty’ (adhipateyya).

The gist of developing concentration in line with the four paths to success is to take one’s work, activity, or desired goal as the object of attention, and then to muster enthusiasm, energy, focused attention, or investigation as a primary support. This will give rise to strong concentration, which leads to both joy and success.

In Dhamma practice, in the act of studying, or while performing any other activity, when one wishes for concentration in order to accomplish the task, one should generate one of the four paths to success as a leading spiritual factor. Concentration, contentment, and success in one’s work can then be expected to arise naturally. Moreover, part of one’s meditation and spiritual practice will take place in the classroom, at home, in the fields, at the office, and indeed everywhere.

For example, when a teacher teaches a subject of study, she makes herself a ‘virtuous friend’ (kalyāṇa-mitta), by helping the pupils see the value of this branch of knowledge and by revealing how this knowledge may be beneficial to their lives, say as an aid to finding work in the future, as a way to move ahead in life, or as profitable in some other way (here she uses craving as a means for generating enthusiasm). Or better than that, she points out the benefits for everyone, say as a way of helping all human beings (this is ‘pure’ enthusiasm), until the pupils develop a love for learning because they want to gain this knowledge. This is a way of rousing chanda.

Alternatively, she may speak of this knowledge as something which tests a person’s awareness, discernment, and capability, stimulating an ardour for learning, or she discusses the accomplishments of others, producing a fighting spirit in the pupils. This is a way of rousing viriya.

She may stimulate a sense of responsibility in the pupils, so that they see the connection and importance of this knowledge to their lives and to society as a whole, say by pointing out issues of danger and safety. This way, although the students may not be particularly passionate about the subject of study, they will take an interest and give their undivided attention. This is a way of rousing citta.

She may teach using methods of inquiry, experimentation, or reasoning, say by posing questions or conundrums, which requires the pupils to apply investigation. Thus the pupils will study intently. This is a method of applying vimaṁsā.

It is even better if the teacher is able to recognize the disposition of individual students and rouses the specific factor leading to success which is compatible with his or her disposition; or she may rouse several factors simultaneously. At the same time, students (or anyone else engaged in work) who are clever may apply wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra) to rouse the paths to success by themselves.

From: Ven. Phra Payutto’s chap­ter in Bud­dhad­hamma on concentration.

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