In Anguttara Nikaya 63 and 64 (as translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi below), the same words are used, in one verse for a male disciple and in the next verse for a female disciple of the Buddha:
Bhikkhus, growing in five ways, a female noble disciple grows by a noble growth, and she absorbs the essence and the best of this life. What five? She grows in faith, virtuous behavior, learning, generosity, and wisdom. Growing in these five ways, a female noble disciple grows by a noble growth, and she absorbs the essence and the best of this life.
It’s a powerful encouragement to be told that the essence and the best of life can be absorbed if we grow in certain areas:
- Virtuous behavior
A spiritual practice often begins with faith – faith that there is something more than the material world, faith that actions are important, faith in the awakening of the Buddha, or in the Buddha’s path. Consider the nature of your own faith for a moment. What does it center around?
Virtuous behavior is the foundation for any spiritual growth. The primary way that we show a reverence for life is to keep the five precepts (non-harming of life, non-taking, refraining from harmful sexual activities, truthfulness, and restraint from intoxicants). The Buddha’s path is experiential, not theoretical, and our experience is made up of our actions and words and the results that they bring.
Learning here means not just memorizing the eight-fold path or specific chants, but learning from our experience; watching what comes of our intentions and actions and making adjustments, steering away from the unwholesome and towards the wholesome. Mistakes are part of growth, if we acknowledge and learn from them.
Generosity is our first lesson in letting go. We let go of what we want and offer time and resources and good will, open-handedly and open-heartedly, to others. Practiced deeply enough, generosity can bring about sublime mental states.
Lastly, I think of wisdom as more of a result than a practice. But it is true that we each have some store of wisdom already, and if we call on it and rely on it, it will grow.