5 Mental Faculties for Buddhist Meditation

The 5 Mental Faculties Required for Buddhist Meditation

If you think that Buddhist meditation might be more complex than it seems, you are correct. However, the complexities will not seem so difficult after some practice. Buddhist meditation prescribes 5 mental faculties or factors. To be successful in either Samatha or Vipassana meditation you must be aware of these 5 mental faculties.

Simply put, the 5 mental faculties are 1) confidence in the “Triple Gem” 2) intense effort 3) constant and continuous mindfulness 4) strong concentration and 5) wisdom or insight knowledge. However, each mental faculty carries individual meanings that should be clarified. Additionally, the mental faculties need to be balanced against each other and I will discuss this below.

Confidence in the Triple Gem – Pali “Saddha”

Saddha requires confidence in the “Triple Gem”. The 3 components of the triple gem are 1) Buddha 2) Sangha 3) Dhamma

The Buddha

Gautama Buddha was the original Buddha of our time and and he revealed the perfected Dhamma to sentient beings. Successful Buddhist meditation requires unshakable faith in the Buddha.


The Sangha is the worldwide assortment of Buddhist monks and nuns plus all lay Buddhist devotees.


The Dhamma is the teachings of the Buddha. It establishes the path to enlightenment and it is the principle of cosmic order.

Additionally, Saddha also means unshakable confidence in the form of meditation that you are using. Without sufficient Saddha you will lack the dedication and energy necessary to achieve access to higher levels of consciousness.

Intense Effort or Zeal – Pali “Viriya”

Careful noting of the mental and physical phenomenon that arise during meditation requires intense and constant effort. All of the mental and physical phenomenon must be promptly and sufficiently noted to keep the mind from wandering constantly. Additionally, the Buddha used a different word to describe the effort required for Vipassana meditation. The pali word padhana is a word that denotes a more strenuous effort than viriya. Thus, practitioners of Vipassana meditation should be prepared for a more challenging practice compared to Samatha meditation.

Constant and Continuous Mindfulness – Pali “Sati”

As a result of applying viriya (intense effort) the practitioner of Buddhist meditation will be able to maintain constant mindfulness. However, sati is not only for formal meditation practice. The Buddha taught that devotees should maintain a constant state of mindfulness during all waking hours. Mindfulness is considered very important because it gives rise to “right understanding of phenomenon”. Therefore, by applying constant and strong mindfulness you will achieve a state of deep concentration called Samadhi.

Deep Concentration – Pali “Samadhi”

There are 3 types samadhi. 1) Upacara Samadhi (access concentration) 2) Appana Samadhi (absorption concentration) and 3) Khanika Samadhi (momentary concentration).

Develop Jhanas for Better Samatha Meditation→

Upacara and Appana Samadhi are only possible when practicing Samatha meditation technique. Khanika Samadhi is possible when using Vipassana meditation practice but access and absorption Samadhi are not possible. The reason is because Vipassana does not focus on a single concentration point. Vipassana meditation technique requires taking multiple mental and physical phenomenon as concentration points. Therefore, only momentary concentration is possible. However, it is taught that momentary concentration in Vipassana meditation can be considered equal to the level of access concentration in Samatha meditation.

Wisdom or Insight Knowledge – Pali “Panna”

It is easy to assume that insight knowledge is the same as book knowledge. However, they are not the same. Wisdom and knowledge are very different! Wisdom only comes with experience whereas knowledge can be attained by simple study. For example, after reading this post the reader may obtain some knowledge of Buddhist meditation. However, reading this post will certainly not give you insight knowledge! For that, the reader must put the teachings of the Buddha into practice.

Panna covers two types of wisdom

1) Vipassana Panna is the type of insight knowledge that one attains after realizing the specific and general characteristics of all phenomenon. The general characteristics require the realization of the 3 true laws of nature. This is the impermanent, unsatisfactory and selfless nature of all mental and physical phenomenon. Additionally, the specific characteristics of phenomenon are comprised of over 50 classifications. After the realization of the specific and general characteristics one will be rewarded with mundane wisdom called Lokiya Panna

2) Through unwavering dedication to the practice of Buddhist meditation and the mastery of Lokiya Panna one will come to realize path knowledge or enlightenment. This enlightenment knowledge is called supramundane wisdom and the Pali term is Lokuttara Panna. Lokuttara Panna realizes the Four Noble Truths: the truth about suffering, the truth about the cause of suffering, the truth about the cessation of suffering and the truth about the path leading to the cessation of suffering.

Saddha and Panna

Confidence in the “Triple Gem” and wisdom or insight knowledge must be kept in balance. When one’s confidence exceeds their wisdom they can become credulous and believe whatever they hear. As a result, wisdom must be used to counter overconfidence and then the devotee can retain healthy skepticism.

However, complications can also arise when one begins to experience success in Buddhist meditation practice. It is possible that acquiring knowledge and experience may lead one to question the teachings of the Buddha. It is important to remember that the Buddha found the path to enlightenment by himself and had no teacher. Therefore, the Buddha is never wrong and one must balance confidence with insight knowledge.


It is important to keep applying Viriya in order to maintain constant and continuous mindfulness. Sati is the only one of the 5 mental faculties that can never be excessive.

Viriya and Samadhi

Successful Buddhist Meditation requires that strenuous effort is balanced with deep concentration. When one becomes more conditioned to meditation practice then they may become very proficient at concentration. The deep state of concentration is therefore more easily obtained. As a result, during meditation it will become relatively easier to note and observe the phenomenon as they arise.

However, this can create decreasing effort and oversight of phenomenon because the concentration is overpowering. Therefore, Viriya must remain persistent even though concentration seems to come much easier. Otherwise the practitioner may fall under the false illusion they are following the path.  

Additionally, too much strenuous effort can lead to too much noting and it becomes a distraction. Thus, over application of strenuous effort can become hyperactive. This can break concentration and make it more difficult to achieve and maintain concentration.


Talks on Meditation Given in the Blue Mountains By Venerable Chanmyay Sayadaw