Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Enlightenment and Invoking Spiritual Power

Ven. Acharya Buddharakkhita, India (WQ edit)
Sanskrit Chanting from Malaysia, Petaling Jaya Tibetan Han version

The Jaya Mangala Gatha ("Stanzas of Victory," "Halo'd Triumphs," or "Verses of Success") celebrates the triumph of the creative power of goodness over the destructive force of the unwholesome. Although pessimists have asserted that what is bad, being infectious, spreads easily and therefore prevails in the world, goodness is even more infectious and spreads yet more easily.

One bad overpowering another can never be considered a victory, for bad alone is perpetuated. Goodness, however, not only overpowers what is base and unskilful, but triumphs by sublimating and transmuting it. It is no mere idealistic sentiment; this grand conquest is a verifiable truth. It is the basis of social evolution, a civilizing force countering selfish brutality or what some call the "law of the jungle."

The eight episodes in the Buddha's life that are touted in the Jaya Mangala Gatha depict him drawing on subjective sources of power in order to triumph over various malevolent forces. Each verse expresses an act of will born of unshakable confidence in the efficacy of good spiritual power, which can be tapped for the welfare of oneself and others. This is the central unifying theme of these Stanzas of Victory.

In a Buddhist context, the invocation of spiritual power is more than an earnest wish for a transmission from a higher source. It means evoking, activating, and perfecting one's own higher potentials, through volition and balanced self-effort. These powers are distinct and specific. They are divided into three categories, known in Pali as paramis (Perfections), balas (Powers), and Roads to Success (iddhipadas).

MOD (Messengers of Dharma) present the Jaya Mangala Gatha in Singapore

There are ten spiritual perfections (paramis) to be consummated in order to achieve nirvana or "spiritual liberation." When fulfilled they enable one to destroy the mental fetters that create bondage to birth, aging, death, and rebirth. These perfections also ensure success in meeting external dangers and challenges:

  1. Giving (dana)
  2. Personal moral purification (sila)
  3. Renunciation (nekkhamma)
  4. Wisdom (prajna)
  5. Balanced effort (viriya) [neither too strenuous nor too slack]
  6. Enduring patience (khanti)
  7. Truthfulness (sacca)
  8. Determination (adhitthana)
  9. Universal love (metta)
  10. Equanimity (upekkha)

They are integral to the attainment of enlightenment ("personal-buddhahood") and are absolute necessities for the cultivation of supreme buddhahood. In accordance with one's aspiration, they are fulfilled at one of three levels of intensity:


As a prerequisite to arhatship, they must all be developed. The seeker treading the Path taught by a buddha when it is available then becomes an arhat (someone who is enlightened but not necessarily able to effectively teach) and attains nirvana.

The aspirant to perfect-buddhahood (sammsambuddha), however, must stop short of nirvana in order to make manifest the resolve to become an eminently skillful teacher who re-establishes the liberating Dharma when it has been lost, obscured, or destroyed in the world.


Fulfillment of the ten perfections twice over, through the course of many lifetimes, is necessary for the arising of an independently-enlightened buddha who is however unable to teach. This kind of buddha is known as a "non-teaching perfectly enlightened one" (pacceka-buddha). These more numerous hermit-like buddhas must rediscover nirvana for themselves. As they appear during time cycles when the Dharma is lost to the world, they are unable to impart the Teachings or to help others attain enlightenment.

In order to become an extremely rare Supremely or Perfectly Enlightened One (sammasam-buddha), one must exert oneself to fulfill the ten perfections thrice over. To accomplish this will take a "buddha-to-be," or bodhisattva, incalculable aeons. The Rebirth Tales (Jataka stories) chronicle the great sacrifices made by the historical Bodhisattva (who became the Buddha) in fulfilling these perfections. A Perfectly Enlightened One not only rediscovers nirvana without the benefit of the Dharma, but also enables innumerable beings to experience enlightenment.

When the Teachings no longer exist in the world -- when they are no longer remembered, preserved in some form or other, or practiced -- the Dharma remains the same. But no one is able to access it until a buddha agains makes it known. While it still exists in the world, it is perpetuated through a buddha's disciples, the Sangha, which is the most likely place to find arhats.

There are seven powers (balas), which are also known as "spiritual faculties" or indriyas. Their cultivation is necessary for the successful development of the Ten Perfections:

  1. Conviction, confidence, or faith (saddha)
  2. Right effort (viriya)
  3. Mindfulness (sati)
  4. Meditative absorption (jhana, samadhi)
  5. Wisdom (prajna)
  6. Moral shame (hiri)
  7. Moral dread (ottappa)

The Four Bases of Psychic Power (iddhipadas) are:

  1. Concentration and effort of will (chanda-samadhi)
  2. Concentration of energy (viriya-samadhi)
  3. One-pointedness of mind (citta-samadhi)
  4. Concentration of investigation (vimamsa-samadhi)

When fully developed through the meditative absorptions (jhanas), these give the aspirant supernatural abilities capable of subduing malevolent forces. They also enable one to provide comfort and assistance to those dependent on one for spiritual protection.

The spiritual powers remain dormant until activated and made relevant to a given situation by right effort, which recurs as a common factor in all three categories. Right effort means the persevering and balanced fourfold application of:

  1. restraint
  2. overcoming
  3. developing
  4. maintaining

One restrains unwholesome impulses that have not yet arisen from arising, overcomes any that have arisen; develops the good that has not yet arisen, and maintains any that have arisen.

The Halo'd Verses (Jayamangala Gatha) can be construed as a meeting ground of self-effort and "grace." While this inspirational paradigm for generating various spiritual powers involves personal energy and effort, it also invokes the grace of spiritual immanence, tejasa. Here, then, is an integrated approach fusing intellect, emotion, and volition.

Recited daily as a spiritual discipline, with conviction and understanding, these verses lead to the systematic unfoldment of inner faculties that draw upon the power of the Buddha. Just as a crystal absorbs and emits electromagnetic energy, one who taps this power also shares it. Thus, with boundless compassion, the Buddha made available an inexhaustible source of spirituality, which overcomes all impediments and dangers from within and without. Hence the earnest invocation of the seeker, "By this mighty triumph may joyous victory be mine!"

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