Indriya (literally "belonging to or agreeable to Indra") is the Sanskrit and Pali term for physical strength or ability in general, and for the senses more specifically. The term literally means "belonging to Indra," chief deity in the Rig Veda and lord of the Trāyastriṃśa heaven (also known as Śakra or Sakka in Buddhism) hence connoting supremacy, dominance and control, attested in the general meaning of "power, strength" from the Rig Veda.[1][2][3][4]

In Buddhism, the term refers to multiple intrapsychic processes and is generally translated as "faculty" or, in specific contexts, as "spiritual faculty" or "controlling principle."[5] In Buddhism, depending on the context, indriya traditionally refers to one of the following groups of faculties:

5 spiritual faculties

In the Pali Canon's Sutta Pitaka, indriya is frequently encountered in the context of the "five spiritual faculties" (Pali: pañc' indriyāni):

  1. faith or conviction or belief (saddhā)
  2. energy or persistence or perseverance (viriya)
  3. mindfulness or memory (sati)
  4. stillness of the mind (samādhi)
  5. wisdom or understanding or comprehension (pañña).

Together, this set of five faculties is one of the seven sets of qualities lauded by the Buddha as conducive to Enlightenment.[6]

SN 48.10 is one of several discourses that characterizes these spiritual faculties in the following manner:

In SN 48.51, the Buddha declares that, of these five faculties, wisdom is the "chief" (agga).[9]

Balancing the spiritual faculties

In AN 6.55, the Buddha counsels a discouraged monk, Sona, to balance or "tune" his spiritual faculties as one would a musical instrument:

"... what do you think: when the strings of your [lute] were neither too taut nor too loose, but tuned to be right on pitch, was your [lute] in tune & playable?"
"Yes, lord."
"In the same way, Sona, over-aroused persistence leads to restlessness, overly slack persistence leads to laziness. Thus you should determine the right pitch for your persistence, attune the pitch of the [five] faculties [to that], and there pick up your theme."[10][11]

Relatedly, the Visuddhimagga and other post-canonical Pali commentaries[12] caution against one spiritual faculty overpowering and inhibiting the other four faculties, and thus generally recommend modifying the overpowering faculty with the investigation of states (see dhamma vicaya) or the development of tranquillity (samatha). Moreover, these commentaries especially recommend that the five spiritual faculties be developed in counterbalancing dyads:

  Faith Under-
Energy Concen-
The balancing of the five spiritual faculties.

The commentator Buddhaghosa adds:

Relation to the Five Powers

In SN 48.43, the Buddha declares that the five spiritual faculties are the Five Powers and vice versa. He uses the metaphor of a stream passing by a mid-stream island; the island creates two streams, but the streams can also be seen as one and the same.[14] The Pali commentaries remark that these five qualities are "faculties" when used to control their spheres of influence, and are "powers" when unshakeable by opposing forces.[15]

5 material or 6 sensory faculties

In the Sutta Pitaka, six sensory faculties are referenced in a manner similar to the six sense bases. These faculties consist of the five senses with the addition of "mind" or "thought" (manas).

  1. vision (cakkh-indriya)
  2. hearing (sot-indriya)
  3. smell (ghān-indriya)
  4. taste (jivh-indriya)
  5. touch (kāy-indriya)
  6. thought (man-indriya)

The first five of these faculties are sometimes referenced as the five material faculties (e.g., pañcannaṃ indriyānaṃ avakanti).[16]

22 phenomenological faculties

In the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the notion of indriya is expanded to the twenty-two "phenomenological faculties" or "controlling powers" (Pali: bāvīsati indriyāni)[17] which are:

  1. eye/vision faculty (cakkh-indriya)
  2. ear/hearing faculty (sot-indriya)
  3. nose/smell faculty (ghān-indriya)
  4. tongue/taste faculty (jivh-indriya)
  5. body/sensibility faculty (kāy-indriya)
  6. mind faculty (man-indriya)
  1. femininity (itth-indriya)
  2. masculinity (puris-indriya)
  3. life or vitality (jīvit-indriya)
  1. physical pleasure (sukh-indriya)
  2. physical pain (dukkh-indriya)
  3. mental joy (somanassa-indriya)
  4. mental grief (domanass-indriya)
  5. equanimity (upekhha-indriya)
  1. faith (saddh-indriya)
  2. energy (viriy-indriya)
  3. mindfulness (sat-indriya)
  4. concentration (samādhi-indriya)
  5. wisdom (paññ-indriya)
  1. thinking "I shall know the unknown" (anaññāta-ñassāmīt-indriya)
  2. gnosis (aññ-indriya)
  3. one who knows (aññātā-vindriya)

According to the post-canonical Visuddhimagga, the 22 faculties along with such constructs as the aggregates, sense bases, Four Noble Truths and Dependent Origination are the "soil" of wisdom (paññā).[19]

Other faculty groupings

At times in the Pali Canon, different discourses or Abhidhammic passages will refer to different subsets of the 22 phenomenological faculties. Thus, for instance, in the Abhidhamma there are references to the "eightfold form-faculty" (aṭṭhavidhaṃ indriya-rūpaṃ) which includes the first five sensory faculties (eye, ear, nose, tongue and body faculties) plus the three physical faculties (femininity, masculinity and vitality).[20]

See also


  1. ^ Bodhi (2000), p. 1509
  2. ^ Conze (1993), n. 1
  3. ^ Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 122, entry "indriya"
  4. ^ Thanissaro (1998), Part II, sec. E, "The Five Faculties."
  5. ^ Bodhi (2000) translates indriya as "spiritual faculty" and, at times (particularly when referring to Abhidhammic sources), "faculty." Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli (1999) consistently translate indriya simply as "faculty" both in the context of the five spiritual faculties (e.g., pp. 128-9) and the 22 phenomenological faculties (Ch. XVI). Conze (1993) mentions and uses translations of "faculty," "controlling faculty" and "spiritual faculty," and refers to the five indriya as "cardinal virtues." Thanissaro (1998) uses "faculty." Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 122-123, entry for "Indriya," (retrieved 2007-05-27) defines it as: "Indriya is one of the most comprehensive & important categories of Buddhist psychological philosophy & ethics, meaning 'controlling principle, directive force, élan, dynamis'...: (a) with reference to sense-perceptibility 'faculty, function'...."
  6. ^ While the Pali commentaries consistently use the term bodhipakkhiyā dhammā ("states conducive to enlightenment") to refer to seven sets of enlightenment qualities (i.e., the four frames of reference, four right exertions, four bases of power, five faculties, five powers, seven bojjhanga, and Noble Eightfold Path) (see, e.g., Bodhi, 2000, p. 1937, n. 235), a search of the Sinhala SLTP tipitaka (using La Trobe University's search engine at "La Trobe University: Pali Canon Online Database". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-11-21.) finds the Pali phrase bodhipakkhiyā dhammā occurring only once in the early suttas: in the Sālā Sutta (SN 48.51) where the term references solely these five spiritual faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom (Bodhi, 2000, p. 1695).
  7. ^ Alternatively, SN 48.8 and AN V.15 identify "faith" as referring to the four-fold faith of the stream-enterer which Conze (1993), n. 28, and Nyanaponika & Bodhi (1999), p. 297, n. 9, identify as faith in the Triple Gem and "perfect morality."
  8. ^ Bodhi (2000), pp. 1671-73; and, Thanissaro (1997a).
  9. ^ Bodhi (2000), p. 1695.
  10. ^ Thanissaro (1997b). See also Nyanaponika & Bodhi (1999), pp. 168-70. Following Nyanaponika & Bodhi, the Pali word vīṇā (which Thanissaro leaves untranslated) is translated here as "lute"; other square-bracketed phrases are from Thanissaro (1997b). In Nyanaponika & Bodhi (1999), they translate this excerpt's last line as: "Therefore, Soa, keep your energy in balance, penetrate to a balance of the spiritual faculties, and there seize your object." In the associated end note (pp. 301-2, n. 31), they provide the commentary's interpretation of "object" (nimitta) as: "When such balance exists, the object can arise clearly, just like the reflection of the face in a mirror; and you should seize this object, be it of tranquillity, insight, path or fruition."
  11. ^ See also the Aggi Sutta ("Fire Discourse," SN 46.53) in which, within the context of the seven enlightenment factors, the Buddha counsels that one should develop energy (and other factors) when experiencing a sluggish mind and develop concentration (and other factors) when experiencing an excited mind (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 1605-7).
  12. ^ For instance, in an end note associated with AN 6.55, Nyanaponika & Bodhi (1999, pp. 301-2, n. 31) reference the Aṅguttara Aṭṭhakathā (AN commentary).
  13. ^ Direct quotes from the Visuddhimagga are from Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli (1999), pp. 128-9. Also mentioned in Bodhi (2000), p. 1511; and, Conze (1993), Part II, sec. 5, "The Balance of the Faculties."
  14. ^ Bodhi (2000), pp. 1688-89.
  15. ^ Bodhi (2000), p. 1511.
  16. ^ Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), pp. 122-23.
  17. ^ Bodhi (2000), pp. 1508-1509, refers to these 22 faculties as "phenomenological faculties"; while Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 122-3, entry on "indriya" refers to these 22 faculties as "controlling powers."
  18. ^ The five feeling faculties are essentially an expanded scale of the three vedana, where pleasant and unpleasant feelings/sensations are divided between physical and mental experiences (see, e.g., Bodhi, 2000, p. 1510).
  19. ^ Buddhaghosa & Ñāṇamoli (1999), pp. 442-443.
  20. ^ See, for instance, Dhs. 709-717, 971-973 (Rhys Davids, 2003, pp. 215-217, 247); and, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), pp. 122-123.