In May of this year, members of Le Refuge, a Buddhist group located near Marseilles, invited me to lead an nine-day retreat on the topic of the five faculties (indrīya): conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and discernment. These are a set of qualities that the Buddha numbered among his most important teachings. When put in charge of the mind, they lead all the way to awakening. Taken together, they deal primarily with the practice of meditation, which makes them a good framework for a meditation retreat. However, the first faculty—conviction—focuses on questions of self and world: what kinds of happiness you believe you are capable of attaining, along with what kind of happiness you believe can be found in the world. This means that the five faculties also provide an excellent framework for covering the entire practice of the Buddha’s teachings, both on retreat and in the world at large.
The talks of the retreat were presented in two series: a series of evening talks on the five faculties, and a series of morning talks on practical issues arising in meditation, treating them in light of the five faculties. Every afternoon, there was a period for questions and answers concerning issues arising from the talks and from the retreatants’ experiences in meditation.
The present book is based on both series of talks along with some of the questions and answers taken from the Q&A periods, presented chronologically. In a few cases, questions have been taken out of order and placed immediately after the talks to which they seem most clearly related. The talks, questions, and answers have been edited and expanded so as to make their coverage of the main topics of the retreat more complete than I was able to manage on the spot.
The talks draw on suttas, or discourses, from the Pāli Canon and on the writings and talks of the ajaans, or teachers, of the Thai forest tradition, in which I was trained. For people unfamiliar with the Canon, I have added passages from the discourses at the back of the book to flesh out some of the points made in the talks. These are followed by a glossary of Pāli terms.
For people unfamiliar with the Thai forest tradition, you should know that it is a meditation tradition founded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century by Ajaan Sao Kantasīlo and Ajaan Mun Bhūridatto. The ajaans mentioned in the talks trained under Ajaan Mun. Of these, Ajaan Fuang Jotiko and Ajaan Suwat Suvaco were my teachers. Ajaan Fuang, although he spent some time training directly under Ajaan Mun, spent more time training under one of Ajaan Mun’s students, Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo.
Many people have helped with the preparation of this book. In particular, I would like to thank the people of Le Refuge who made the retreat possible; my interpreter, Khamaṇo Bhikkhu (Than Lionel); and Philippe and Watthani Cortey-Dumont, who hosted my entire stay in France. Here at Metta, the monks at the monastery helped in preparing the manuscript, as did Addie Onsanit, Nathaniel Osgood, and Isabella Trauttmansdorff. Any mistakes in the book, of course, are my own responsibility.
Metta Forest Monastery