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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