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wallpaper-164121The Buddhist world has seen its fair share of “gurus” and “masters” who introduced “secret meditation techniques” and found instructions nobody had ever seen before because they “allegedly” got lost or distorted over time – only to be (re-)introduced by the new spiritual leader, usually with side effects in favor of the discoverer commonly known as “lābhasakkāra“. But that could not be further from the Buddha’s Dhamma:

Buddha: ” Now, Siha, make a proper investigation. Proper investigation is good in the case of well-known men like yourself.””

General Siha: “I, Lord, am even exceedingly pleased, satisfied with that which the Lord said to me : ‘ Now, Siha, make a proper investigation . . . like yourself.’ For if. Lord, members of other sects had secured me as a disciple, they would have paraded a banner all round Vesali, saying : ‘ Siha, the general, has joined our disciplehood.’”

Buddha: For a long time, Siha, your family has been a well-spring to the Niganthas (Jains). You will bethink you to give alms to those who approach you ? “

General Siha: ” I, Lord, am even exceedingly pleased, satisfied with that which the Lord said to me : ‘ For a long time, Siha, your family . . . those who approach you ? ‘ I have heard, Lord : The recluse Gotama speaks thus : ‘ Gifts should be given, to me only, not to others should gifts be given ; gifts should be given to my disciples only, not to the disciples of others should  gifts be given. What is given to me is alone of great  fruit, what is given to others is not of great fruit ; what is  given to my disciples is alone of great fruit, what is given to the disciples of others is not of great fruit.’ But then the Lord  urged upon me giving to the Niganthas too. Indeed, Lord,  we shall know the right time for that. So I, Lord, go for a third time to the Lord for refuge and to dhamma and to the Order of monks. May the Lord accept me as a layfollower going for refuge from this day forth for as long as life lasts.” [1]

The idea of such a secretive teaching – only open to the initiated – is truly missing from the picture the suttas paint of the time when the Dhamma was taught by the Buddha himself – and no matter how excited you might be about modern mainstream Buddhism – once you familiarize yourself with only a few original discourses of the Buddha – you will immediately start to see and feel that incredible rational, carefully questioning, personally investigative teaching which makes modern interpretations of Buddhism sometimes seem wildly out of touch – not just with reality but indeed, with the most ancient form of Buddhism. The teaching we can study in the ancient discourses of the Buddha will probably remind you of … wait a second! … some kind of scientific methodology in analysing life and then again some kind of pragmatic engineering practice when it comes to solving the mind-body machinery’s suffering. But I am getting off topic ;-)

Back to the topic: For anyone still searching for the “lost key” or “secret passageway to Nirvana” I highly recommend a look at the following extremely “mundane” discussion between two senior disciples of the Buddha as recorded and passed down in the Pali Canon, at least 300 BC:

[Anuruddha & Sariputta discuss meditation]

Anuruddha: “Brother Sariputta with the divine eye, which is clarified and supernormal, I am able to perceive a thousandfold world system. My energy is strong and inflexible; my remembrance is alert and unforgetful; my body is calmed and unexcited; my mind is collected and unified. Yet my mind is still not freed, without clinging, from the defiling taints (asava).”

Thereupon Sariputta replied: “When you think, brother Anuruddha, that with your divine eye you can perceive a thousandfold world system, that is self-conceit in you. When you think of your strenuous energy, your alert mindfulness, your calmed body and your concentrated mind, that is agitation in you. When you think that your mind is still not liberated from the cankers, that makes for scruples in you. It will be good if the revered Anuruddha would discard these three things, would not pay attention to them and would instead direct his mind towards the Deathless-element (Nibbana).”

Having heard Sariputta’s advice, Anuruddha again resorted to solitude and earnestly applied himself to the removal of those three obstructions within his mind (AN 3:128), more: Wheel 262, BPS.

wallpaper-1189895This passage is remarkable (besides the fact that it haunted me for the last 20 years). I cannot remember how many times it came up when I had discussions about progress in meditation with various friends and students. But just recently it hit me that what we see in this episode and which I was most consciously unaware of is the fact this itself, is a documented case of someone seeking and receiving (!) meditation instructions at the time of the Buddha.

It may or may not be such a novel thought for you. But please take some time and really think about it. There is something truly remarkable about the fact that we get a direct peek into the (typical?) way meditation interviews where conducted at the time of the Buddha. Now, there are arguably many more similar instances (Buddha giving Rahula instructions, monks coming to the Buddha asking for personal instructions etc.) but in many of those cases it could be argued that they serve the purpose of a more philosophical discussion than literal instructions on meditation practice. Such a case is really hard to make when you read the above exchange between Sariputta and Anuruddha. There seems to be no other way you can take this as just what it is: a meditation interview.

In this short sutta, there is nothing real philosophical. The style is prosaic, no-nonsensical, non-mystical, pragmatic in its approach regarding the discussion of meditation obstacles. Its prosaic direct style is similar to other sutta passages but here clearly no philosophy is discussed. What Sariputta says is exactly what he means. He takes in Anuruddha’s problem and gives him an advice. Their topic is pretty serious. We can be sure that if this text was transmitted correctly, Sariputta does not just make a joke. His meditation advice which to us might sound “ZEN” style is probably exactly how meditation interviews were conducted at the time of the Buddha. It probably also show us that pointing out hindrances and trying to get rid of them was mentioned and applied in exactly the very same manner. You DID exactly what you HEARD and there was no “secret silver bullet” in between the two. Some secretly transmitted extra layer of instruction which is now lost forever. This will also explain why people nowadays are so confused about “missing” jhana instructions when they are, literally, all over the place staring the reader in their eyes – but unfortunately not in a format which lends itself to a modern reader lacking the mindset (or context) of the Pali texts. This would be the perfect job for a generation of new translators!

This should seriously give us to think. If we were to interpret this episode as indeed to be a record of how a “typical” meditation instruction went down, then this would unlock a lot of other parts in the canon. Passages which would then have to be read in the very same way straight forward (non-commentarial) way: i.e. at face value, making the search for some “hidden” or “newly to be developed” meditation system unnecessary or even questionable (at least if you take the Buddha-Dhamma as your teacher, that is). It should also trigger our inquisitive nature into “trying out sutta practices” which before we just looked at as “spectators” – not realizing that what we read are actual DIY instructions.

So Venerable Anuruddha, obviously at this point quite knowledgeable in the fourth jhana and experienced in directing his mind (abhininnāmeti) towards some, let’s say “special skills” born out of the power of a very concentrated mind, struggles with the part for which he undertook his training – Nirvana – and is puzzled why the very path (which is as such described in numerous suttas all over the tipitaka) that lead him to the fourth jhana and such exalted mental powers – does not automatically lead to Nirvana.

Consider another important observation: The way Ven. Anuruddha is displayed in this text (including Ven. Sariputta) borders on the comical. The text has no problem to depict these Buddhist icons in such a struggling human way – which is very encouraging as to its authenticity and in stark contrast to commentarial exaggerations like Buddhaghosa’s hard-to-digest Dhammapada hagiography. Instead here we have one practitioner who was able to replicate an experiment (=Sariputta) and another stops by to ask why his perfect setup is failing (=Anuruddha). He is then told that he is too worried or taken in by his own experiential setup and that he should not lose sight of the main goal over the side-effects of his operation.

wallpaper-2334520But unlike later Mahayana sources which enjoyed outright ridiculing Sariputta (cf. Lankāvatara….) as the pinnacle of Arahant-wisdom – in this present old Indian record the story is short, unembellished, getting to the point, recording a valuable lesson which helped Anuruddha accomplish the highest goal for which the Buddha actually started teaching: Nirvana.

If this is a meditation interview, you should seriously consider and think about the Gelañña Sutta in the Samyutta Nikaya. If you ever wondered what a meditation instruction from the Buddha would look like when you could go and visit him with a time machine, or when the Buddha would give a 10 day retreat and explain the exercises: The Gelañña Sutta  sutta should prepare you well enough and leave nothing to wish for – even without a time machine. Well, in a certain way, it IS a time machine…

Surely, all of the above (especially after reading the Gelanna Sutta) raises the question (again) of how contemplation played part in the meditation techniques at the time of the Buddha, how all of the above is related to “sati” (remembrance, aka ‘mindfulness’) and memory in general as well as “thinking and reflecting” as “vitakka vicara” as a tool for increased mindfulness and how its intrinsic connection with the experience of jhanic bliss, happiness and calmness is bound so much more holistically to the development of insight when compared to the current (bluntly mechanical) mainstream Theravada practices of vipassana (with a few exceptions of course, here and there).

Consider this:

Sitting down, closing your eyes, the meditation on Anapana-sati according to the sixteen steps outlined by the Buddha is a case in point. If you start at the beginning ;-) the exercise is pretty clear: From the outline describing how you should sit and observe the breathing carefully – the exercise is clear. For the pure novice, it will likely take weeks/months to pass beyond this point. For the experienced meditator it will take only seconds to a few minutes until his mind’s continuous  observation falls into a lock-step with the inhaling and exhaling. Automatically – as a necessity – the fully continued awareness of the breathing process will lead to a heightened awareness of all the subtleties in the breathing process.

So far the first two steps happen naturally and just require training. They are logical, inviting for self-investigation (ehi-passiko) one of the principles of the Dhamma and can be affirmed by anyone who ever gave it a try (paccattam veditabbo viññūhi).

After that the Buddha’s exposition in the Anapanasati sutta switches from a passive (relative – it still needs a lot of skillful exercising to achieve this) observation (pajāṇāti) to a very active approach: in Pali the Buddha now has the meditator “train himself” (sikkhati) to feel the whole body while breathing and then calm down the activity of the body (which manifests itself to the meditator quite clearly as the breathing ) – the more he calms down his breathing, the stiller the mind. This is similar to the idea of a surfer standing on a surf board, highly aware of his posture, board and waves, maybe in an intuitive way if he is very skilled – but the effect is the same: while the surfer stays on the board, the meditator stays with full awareness on his breathing, body and relaxed and calm mind … at that point it is just a question of time (and usually not very long) that mental elation, bliss, pīti comes into the picture -which again the exposition of the Buddha explains as the next stage in sutta on breathing meditation.

Thus here in the Anapanasati Sutta too we find clear meditation instructions which have only one (well maybe more than that, but mainly one) big hindrance to be recognized as such: the clarity of the translator to recognize the instruction as such and phrase it in such a modern equivalent way so as to make it recognizable to be a pragmatic instruction and not a “philosophic discussion”. As you may have guessed, this works best when your experience backs your translation effort. To this end, it would probably be easier if you’d walk into a bookstore and found 50 different translations of the Middle Length sayings – such a competition would probably drive the investigation and deep analysis of the Buddhist texts which – being what they are – is mostly going to benefit their practical application and will less result in theological hair-splitting (as revelation based religions are in danger of).

Unfortunately we do not have such a variety of translation efforts (yet) but that might change in the future. The main situation to keep in mind is that in the current environment it is important to remember the amazing clarity the original texts preserve while at the same time  centrifugal forces of entropy (whether through Western cultural nihilism or Eastern monastic hedonism ;-)) make it easier for us to miss the simple, straightforward, highly pragmatic core teachings of the Buddha.[2]

wallpaper-772514Therefore: I highly suggest to carefully read about the experiment from those who actually succeeded in it (before all others who had an easy time repeating empty words). One example: Reading the Theragatha or Therigatha can reveal a host of information from a very pragmatic side. Just one quick example: the never ending discussion how to interpret the jhanas is beautifully captured by “first hand” experiences like this one and are a wonderful record to compare against your own experience:

Lahuko vata me kayo phuttho ca pltisukhena vipulena

Tulamiva eritam malutena, pilavativa me kayo”ti

Light, varily, feels my body filled with joy and bliss

Like a cotton ball carried by the breeze, floating… [Thag 1.399]

When you read how the first generation of “investigators” (savakas, i.e. listening (sic!) students) carefully replicated the path in themselves with tremendous success try to take most of their meditation records (can’t avoid that historical entropy and noise in any communication) so literal that your personal investigation will lead you to find out what produces the very same results and what does not. It is only logical that for you to succeed in this, you have to know the path well enough before attempting to walk it. Provided such knowledge and paired with a determined pragmatic mindset you will sooner than later see the path re-appear by itself.[3]

 

 

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[1]‘‘Dīgharattaṃ kho te, sīha, nigaṇṭhānaṃ opānabhūtaṃ kulaṃ, yena nesaṃ upagatānaṃ piṇḍakaṃ dātabbaṃ maññeyyāsī’’ti. ‘‘Imināpāhaṃ, bhante, bhagavato bhiyyosomattāya attamano abhiraddho, yaṃ maṃ bhagavā evamāha – ‘dīgharattaṃ kho te, sīha, nigaṇṭhānaṃ opānabhūtaṃ kulaṃ, yena nesaṃ upagatānaṃ piṇḍakaṃ dātabbaṃ maññeyyāsī’ti. Sutaṃ me taṃ, bhante, samaṇo gotamo evamāha – ‘mayhameva dānaṃ dātabbaṃ, na aññesaṃ dānaṃ dātabbaṃ; mayhameva sāvakānaṃ dānaṃ dātabbaṃ, na aññesaṃ sāvakānaṃ dānaṃ dātabbaṃ; mayhameva dinnaṃ mahapphalaṃ, na aññesaṃ dinnaṃ mahapphalaṃ; mayhameva sāvakānaṃ dinnaṃ mahapphalaṃ, na aññesaṃ sāvakānaṃ dinnaṃ mahapphala’nti. Atha ca pana maṃ bhagavā nigaṇṭhesupi dāne samādapeti. [Mahavagga, Vinaya Pitaka]

[2] Simile: Imagine Einstein discovered the Relativity Theory and everyone becomes so fascinated by the term “relativity” itself that they start writing books about the “relativity” of the color red on the back of a ladybug. While that’s experiental as well, and has something to do with “relativity”, it’s not what Einstein meant. Yes, you are laughing, what an absurd idea. But that is what happened to some very popular interpretations of Buddhism in the West. Take the term “interconnectivity” as a wild (and completely out of context) speculation on paticca samuppada. Similarly, in the days of the Buddha we meet – in the suttas – a generation of lay people and renunciants who, carefully investigating the Buddha’s “theory” of Dhamma by trying to replicate his experiment of “Awakening” carefully re-build his set of instruments, i.e. the noble eightfold path. We can witness and admire their entire honest, humble and utterly critical investigation into the truth the Buddha discovered – and it is sad, that still to this day, many Buddhist’s have such little exposure to the original discourses of the Buddha.

[3] Hoti so, āvuso, samayo yaṃ taṃ cittaṃ ajjhattameva santiṭṭhati sannisīdati ekodi hoti samādhiyati. Tassa maggo sañjāyati. So taṃ maggaṃ āsevati bhāveti bahulīkaroti. Tassa taṃ maggaṃ āsevato bhāvayato bahulīkaroto saṃyojanāni pahīyanti, anusayā byantīhonti. [AN IV, Patipada Vaggo. Yuganaddha Sutta]

2300 years ago emperor Ashoka‘s son, a Buddhist monk by the name of Mahinda, was sent to Sri Lanka to propagate the Buddha’s message  to the people of Sri Lanka. He met the king, who happened to be on a hunting expedition in a forest and was invited to the capital of the country, Anuradhapura.

In the royal park Mahamegha (lit. “great rain shower”) the first Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka thought for a moment what discourse of the Buddha would benefit his audience best and then decided to recite (from memory) the Cula-hatthipadopama Sutta (which you can read here). Yes, that was it.

Within a very short time, the island of Sri Lanka adopted the original teachings of the Buddha by listening to the discourses which the monks had handed down (at that time) for a mere 250 years. With the embrace of the Dhamma an astonishing cultural blossoming ensued. Large monasteries where build, giant stupas constructed, people gave up hunting and became mostly farmers and merchants. Cave monasteries where constructed even in the most hidden jungles and corners of the island. Eventually, when Northern India lost the sources of early Buddhism through historic calamities it was Sri Lanka that became a heritage (or time capsule) for Asian Buddhists who would travel from as far as China in search of the original teachings of the Buddha.

Fast forward to the 1990′s  ;-)

When I went to Sri Lanka in 1994 for the first time, I had no expectations as to the country except for one: it would be a great place to find printed editions of the Buddha’s discourses in Pali (remember these where pre-Internet times ;-). Somehow I was under the impression it would be very easy in a Buddhist country with such an amazing history to find a set of printed Pali texts. I was in for a big surprise.

In the 1990′s when you asked someone where you could buy the “Middle Length Sayings” of the Buddha, you would earn blank stares – not just from lay people, also from monks. Remember, this is similar to going to Italy and asking someone where you could by the New Testament of Lucas and nobody would have any clue what you are talking about.

Many monks then where strongly convinced that meditation would lead to mental illness and should  better not be undertaken. The belief that rebirth in a divine world by offering food, money and wealth to monks was the best choice of a declined age was very prevalent.

Even though the last 100 years had seen certain waves of attempts to revive Buddhism in Sri Lanka (which I later learned from the wonderful book “Forest monks of Sri Lanka”) what I found in the country was a thin shell of the Buddha’s teaching mostly held together by the 2300 year old culture that showed cracks here and there but had stopped to breathe the living wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings which it had enshrined, literally, behind thick vitrines but forgotten to utilize.

The Buddha’s discourses had become objects of worship carefully kept behind closed bookshelves. The Pali language knowledge amongst monks (with some exceptions of course) was abysmal. The general public had almost no idea what the Buddha taught other than what the “priests” would tell them which very often boiled down to a simple idea that they had missed their chance and had to wait for the occurance of the next Buddha.

The reason why the country had sunk to a level of European pre-reformation days was (amongst many others) in my humble opinion the absolute lack of knowledge about the teachings of the Buddha.

Let me explain. When a monk entered his monastic training in those days, he was supposed to first learn the Pali of the commentaries. It would take him years to master that. At which point he could then start (!) to learn the Pali of the actual discourses of the Buddha which most never ventured into. Secondly, the only modern translation of the discourses of the Buddha which had been done in the 1950′s was fabricated by a few scholar monks who sometimes would simply transpose the Pali into an archaic sanskritized Sinhalese which nobody was able to understand. This translation fostered the idea that the Buddha’s teachings where simply too difficult for the ordinary person to grasp. It would be, again to use a rough simile, as if a country like the modern United States had only one bible translation available and that would be the King James Bible (or actually something even older).  You can imagine how daunting the idea appeared to most Sri Lankans to “read” the teachings of the Buddha. Very soon even this first general attempt to translate the Tipitaka, the so called “Buddha Jayanthi Tripitaka” edition went out of print and dispersed over the island with very few temples or monasteries owning full collections.

It is still amazing that on top of this decline in Buddhist learning several attempts for revival were made by individual monks who tried to re-establish virtue and meditation in the Sangha. This lead to the emergence of the so called “arannya” or forest hermitages which usually where place for meditation and Dhamma study for the few monks (and sometimes lay people) who were looking for the teachings of the Buddha and tried to practice them. They usually were located in remote areas and limited as to their impact on the general public and Buddhist practice.

Then, in 1997, something amazing happened.

The Dhamma started raining again on the island of Sri Lanka. Based on the historic backdrop you might be able to understand that when a young monk one day “accidentally” ran across the word of the Buddha he was mesmerized and surprised to find that since his ordination he had never been taught or heard of the discourses of the Buddha. It sparked a decade long search in which he toured through all the contemporary forest hermitages to learn from the few living masters which the Sri Lankan forest monk tradition had timidly created. It even led him to the Himalaya’s ready to learn concentration meditation from the yogi’s and practice in the solitude of the mountains. Then one day he realized that all the while the Buddha himself (in form of his teaching) existed right in front of him, an untapped reservoir of wisdom, ready for anyone who would embrace it confidently – well, if you were humble enough to dedicate yourself to it.

He went back to Sri Lanka and decided to let go of his own opinions but rather try an experiment: To completely put into practice the Dhamma according to the Sutta Pitaka itself – in other words, to make the Buddha’s discourses his teacher. Without help of the commentaries (which is almost a sacrilege if you know the importance which is attached to commentarial and abhidhamma literature in Theravada countries). Without looking for outside help or even trusting his own opinions – unless verified contextually by other suttas.

As samsara has it, I ran into him coincidentally that very year, when passing through a meditation monastery where he was just one among the many young monks at that time. I used to encourage Sri Lankan monks all the time to pick up reading the sutta’s to which in this particular case they responded saying: “ha, you are just like this monk. he tells us the same thing. when you go to his cell, you can see the whole tipitaka nicely stacked up” (remember: which was an amazing thing at that time and meant that he had spent long time hunting down the books all over the country).

I was very keen on meeting this strange and extraordinary Sri Lankan bhikkhu who seemed to have (in my eyes) a Western approach to Buddhism in that he did the most rational thing someone would attempt in Theravada Buddhism: study the Buddha’s own words – which for (all the reasons listed above) seemed to escape most of my Sri Lankan friends and thus made him very peculiar. After a short conversation and some great advice (which would alter the trajectory of my life) I left him and forgot about this episode for a long time. The name of this young monk was: Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda.

Fast forward to 2010. Sri Lanka in the Age of Reformation.

You can imagine my surprise when ten years later a reform movement hit Sri Lanka which in its size, reach and quality does not seem to have an equal. Maybe it was the long span of darkness which makes its light shine so bright. Either way, what is astonishing is the impact it has had so far on society as a whole. All of a sudden young men and women (very often with a Universitybackground) give up families and possessions and ordain. Tens of thousands of lay people gather around stupas to sit for hours in the sun listening to the word of the Buddha – and mind you – not the artistic creative preaching of a modern interpreter of the Buddha’s message – quite the opposite – they will listen to an almost unchanged contemplative reading of a particular sutta.

This reform movement (even though it does not consider itself a movement nor a reform, but from a Western standpoint that is how it appears to me) inspired by this young monk started very humbly. In 1997 they began with a small monastery with a couple of lay people coming to the Dhamma talks offered. However something was fundamentally different from the very beginning.

In an attempt to follow the Buddha’s footsteps as close as possible the monks of this group do not present their own opinions about the Dhamma. You can see them sit with usually with an open book of some discourse of the Buddha and slowly and painstakingly careful will they take the audience through a sutta of the Buddha making sure that everyone remembers and reflects over this teaching even long after they have left the monastery. In fact, the idea of carefully reflecting over the Buddha’s teaching becomes a corner stone of their method.

Not adding their own opinion but just contemplatively slow absorbing and (memorizing) the meaning and advice of the Buddha as he gave it 2500 years ago became the “brand” of this group which following in the footsteps of Mahinda who brought the Dhamma to Sri Lanka created the inspiration for the name this group is now known as in Sri Lanka:  “Mahamegha” (or Maha-meo-nawa in Sinhala, which means ‘rain shower’ in English and was the name of the location of the first sermon of Dhamma in Sri Lanka).

Their symbol, adopted from the time of emperor Ashoka becomes the ancient Dhammawheel protected by two lions. Their admission standards (to become a monk or nun) are very high for a Theravada country – young lay men and women spend up to a year and longer in preparation before allowed to enter the order. Their emphasis on purity in conduct and virtue is exemplary, the training programs for young monks is the study and memorization of the Sutta Pitaka. Their meditation practice includes every meditation advice given by the Buddha in his discourses (from Metta, Buddhanussati, Anapanasati to Satipatthana and Aniccanupassana).

Within a short time their popularity exploded and everyone in Sri Lanka is rubbing their eyes how something like this is possible so suddenly. Ven. Gnanananda, the driving motor behind the popularization of quite ancient and original form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka published a modern translation of the Suttas in a contemporary very easy to understand Sinhala which of course helped to make Mahamevnawa even more popular. At this point in time (2012) Mahamevnawa (or Pali: Mahamegha) has reached vast portions of Sri Lanka’s society. For the first time in centuries the word of the Buddha is freely available again and handed back to anybody who is interested to “see the Dhamma for himself”.

Some particular characteristics of Mahamevnawa:

.) Teaching style: Similarly to the practice of the early Buddhist Sangha. Mahamevnawa’s teaching style is very unique. The monks will read from the Suttas, helping to explain the Sutta by quoting from other relevant passages in the discourses of the Buddha, keeping their own commentary to an absolute minimum. Suttas are picked depending on occasion and level of training of the audience. The Suttas are read in Sinhala or English (in the native language of the audience) to facilitate true undestanding of the meaning with occasional reference to Pali when deemed helpful. Usually Dhamma “talks” like this are alternated with sitting meditations. Attention and memorization of the discourses his highly encouraged. Mahamevnawa’s Dhamma talks will feature many questions to the audience by the monk which in most cases make sure that the audience follows and in fact makes an effort to memorize the key points of the Sutta in discussion. At the end of such Dhamma talks “Q&A” sessions are quite common.

.) Practice: Mahamevnawa has an extensive program for lay people which includes reading some preliminary books before everyone is encouraged to do their own Dhamma study by frequently reading suttas (according to some kind of recommendation) and contemplating the word of the Buddha. Precepts are emphasized frequently and strongly as well as is saddha, or confidence in the Buddha as teacher and the Dhamma as the raft. Mahamevnawa will point to suttas which make clear that even progress on the path is caused and conditioned. There seems to be the understanding that the Dhamma should work quite naturally: If you lay the right foundation progress is not just to be expected, positive changes  and rewards of the Dhamma practice are inevitable and “quite natural”. But there is no rush or “hunt for experiences” on the other hand, rather an emphasis on building a proper foundation, step by step.

.) Ceremonies. In the early days of Mahamevnawa rituals where kept to a bare minimum (This was criticized in Sri Lanka). As the popularity of the movement has reached vast parts of society some symbolic offerings have been included in their practice. (This is now criticized in Sri Lanka) ;-) The ceremonies they organize however, are always combined by recitation of discourses and verses in Sinhala/English to encourage mental qualities like confidence and inspiration which are deemed helpful for the practice of the Dhamma (in other words they are not seens as an end in and by themselves) and are usually of a style reminiscent of the Sutta Pitaka’s Apadana. Just to give you another example of their philosophy: When careful analysis of the Sanchi stupa (one of the few remaining stupas in India from the time of Ashoka) revealed that the early Buddhist community worshiped the last seven Buddha’s as their spiritual teachers, Mahamevnawa introduced “Sat Budu Vandanawa” or a commemoration ceremony along the lines of what we can see in Sanchi on this ancient stupa as part of their yearly programs offered in their centers. During such an event the qualities of the seven last Buddhas (which are mentioned in the suttas) are turned into a contemplative reflection in Sinhalese – so that the audience can reflect over the qualities of the Awakened Ones. This follows their credo to “model our practice closely in accordance with the early Buddhist Sangha”. From a Western stand point all ceremonies will probably always seem more extravagant as we are used to (well, besides maybe Tibetan practices) but it would be misleading to judge the entire philosophy of Mahamevnawa based on this.

.) Meditation in general:  They seem to be the only contemporary school of Buddhism (besides a similar small group in Germany) to my knowledge which practices meditation “directly from the book”. Meaning that many of their meditations start out as contemplations (which you are encouraged to learn by heart). The contemplation is considered to be the vitakka/vicara part which will lead into jhana. Especially for lay people they are very strong on guided meditations to encourage people to meditate. Mahamevnawa monks, nuns and lay people don’t just practice all kinds of meditations (whatever you come across in the suttas you can be sure a Mahamevnawa monk or nun will have experience with), they also will practice them exactly as found in the suttas while gracefully ignoring the commentarial tradition. In fact Ven. Nyanavira would be delighted to see their clipped list of books in the Sutta Pitaka which they actually pay most attention to.

.) Jhana. Exactly as in the suttas. Lay people and monks are encouraged to develop them – but not as a purpose of and in itself. They are seen as a natural outcome of all the other steps which the Buddha encourages people to practice. They are also seen as the method by which the vipassana contemplation will dramatically deepen.

.)Vipassana. Exactly as in the suttas. Here is a little story which will give you a good idea of Mahamevnawa’s philosophy on this topic: One day a monk came to Ven. Gnanananda and asked him for advice for his vipassana or insight meditation. He asked whether Ven. Gnanananda had some kind of special technique or system which he could recommend (similar to the Burmese Vipassana). Ven. Gnanananda agreed very positively, took the visiting monk with him to his hut and opened the door. In the back of the hut was a copy of the Suttapitaka. He pointed to it and said: “This is my teacher who knows all about Vipassana. Everything you need you can find in there. In particular the Samyutta Nikaya (the grouped discourses) has a lot of great advice on insight meditation. All you need is right there.” – the monk was disappointed, so the story and left. ;-) It is actually very impressive (though a novel idea if you have been practicing with some kind of Burmese Vipassana which I guess many of you have) that someone would take the Suttas themselves literally as blue print for insight meditation. To understand how this works let me  give you an idea: Say you learn the Anatta Lakkhana Sutta by heart (or close to its meaning) and then in your mind repeatedly go over it (in that sutta the Buddha talks about the non-self characteristic of all sense impressions as a tool to attain complete liberation and freedom of the mind). While doing so your mind enters a deeply concentrated state. Now, still investigating according to the direct advice of the Buddha you practice vipassana. Et voila. I think if you boil it down to one idea, it is that “yoniso manasikara” in this sense is understood to mean “careful or radical investigation” rather than “direct attention” (which would be more the commentarial reading anyway).

.) Ordination, monasteries and nuns. At the current moment Mahamegha/Mahamevnawa is still (almost) only a Sri Lankan movement. However there are signs that that is about to change. In Sri Lanka itself they have over 40 branch monasteries and half a dozen more overseas. The overseas monasteries are where the Sri Lankan monks trained in this inspiring culture of “Let’s listen to the Buddha himself for a change” meet the Western Buddhist world (or Asian Buddhists if you include  Korea and other countries). There are about 600 monks affiliated with Mahamevnawa in Sri Lanka including 4 nun training centers.

.) Retreat opportunities. As is typical for Sri Lankan forest monasteries the Mahamevnawa meditation centers are usually open for the general public to join the monks and nuns in their daily practice. Typically this requires that you will take the 8 to 10 precepts during your stay at their facilities. Food and lodging will be free of charge but of course you are welcome to offer a donation (not to the monastics though! all money matters are handled by the lay organizations which run the financials of the monasteries). Make sure you inquire from the monasteries if you can stop by for a visit and also how long you are intending to stay. References which indicate a little bit about your background will help. During your stay you will receive free meditation advice, be able to regularly listen to Dhamma talks and in general follow their monastic timetable (which means getting up early, cleaning the monastery, doing meditation, helping with meal preparations, a long calm afternoon for meditation and some morning and evening chanting sessions).

What’s next? If you happen to live close to one of their meditation monasteries / centers (called “asapuwa”) and if you are interested in their approach to Buddhist training I would highly encourage you to join or support their communities.

Even though they are mainly driven by Sri Lankan expats at this point the overseas monks do speak English and are very eager to share the Dhamma with anybody no matter what your cultural, ethnic or religious background may be. One way to become active in their communities is to offer dana to the Sangha and thus always get an opportunity for a personal Dhamma talk with the opportunity to ask questions on meditation etc. If you are willing to help even more there is always the need in “bridging the cultures” to facilitate that the Dhamma reaches those who are eager to learn it.

As the second generation of Sri Lankans overseas blends into their new home cultures so Mahamevnawa, by bringing the fundamental principles of the Dhamma to different cultures, is also in the process of learning how to translate their direct reading of the Buddha’s discourses into various cultures other than the Sri Lankan. Any help to further this development can be considered great merit and will help the Dhamma to last a little while longer (You will feel the same way once you had a chance to meet their well trained monks and nuns). Either way, their centers are definitely a great place to meet very refined human beings and find noble friendships along the path to Nibbana. Please leave comments if you have any further questions.

Further reading:

.) Newspaper article interview with Ven. Gnanananda about Buddhism in Sri Lanka

.) Gallery with pictures from some of their (branch) monasteries and here

.) Biography of the Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda

.) Dhamma websites affiliated with Mahamegha/Mahamevnawa:

http://english.mahamevnawa.lk/

http://dhammamedicine.net/

http://readingfaithfully.org/

http://www.mahamevnawaflorida.org/

Ven. Anandajoti Bhikkhu’s impressions

Yesterday I stopped by at the new asapuwa in Tampa where Bhante Vimala gave a very very interesting little Dhamma talk, which I wanted to share with you. It was not planned or anything, but you know me, I like talking about the Dhamma and so I posed a question to the venerable Bhikkhu which I had been contemplating for a couple of weeks.

I asked him about a recurring passage in the Suttas which explains insight meditation in the following way:

Iti rupam iti rupassa samudayo iti rupassa atthagamo, iti vedana iti vedanaya samudayo iti vedanaya atthagamo iti sanna …iti vinnaõam iti vinnaõassa samudayo iti vinnaõassa atthagamoti. Evam bhavita kho bhikkhave, aniccasanna evam bahulikata sabbam kamaragam pariyadiyata, sabbam ruparagam  pariyadiyati, sabbam bhavaragam pariyadiyati, sabbam avijjam pariyadiyati, sabbam asmimanam pariyadiyati, samuhantiti.

in English:

Going into secluded place a trainee abides considering and discriminating (form, sensation, perception, mental activities, consciousness) as impermanent. ” Thus form, thus is origin of form, thus is extinction of form.
Thus is sensation, thus sensation arises, thus sensation ceases. Thus is perception, thus perception arises, thus perception ceases.. These are volitions, thus volition arise, thus volition cease. Thus is consciousness, thus consciousness rise, thus consciousness is cease.” Cultivated thus, Oh Monks, the perception of impermanence when practiced frequently overpowers, uproots, removes and abolishes all lust for Form, all lust for existence, all ignorance and all pride ( i.e. Arhantship).

I asked Bhante, “how has such a meditation to be done” ? (*)
Bhante Vimala was very delighted in talking about this topic, he said he was looking forward to more discussions on these topics which, he said, fascinate him the most.
To answer my question he first went into the Satipatthana Sutta (where this passage occurs as well) but when he implored him to point out to me whether he saw any indicator of “contemplation” in this passage he right away asked me to bring Samyutta Nikaya, Vol. 4 from the library.
He opened the book and looked up a Sutta called “Gelañña Sutta”. You can read the whole sutta online here.
Reading the Pali he made me translate it on the fly to check whether I could follow the text. That’s how we went through the sutta line by line. In the sutta, the Buddha (quoting himself) first explains a section of the Satipatthana Sutta (the same Bhante had mentioned to me earlier) – one of the exercises on how to be mindful while moving the body around, a part of the section on mindfulness of the body, or kayanupassana: “Knowing” while walking that one is walking. Knowing while stretching the arms or legs that one is stretching them…and also when eating, drinking etc. to be aware of the activity. By the way Bhante talked in Sinhala for most of the time so he explained “terum gannawa” for “sampajanakari” which translates roughly as “being aware of”, “knowing, understanding what is happening”.
Here is where it gets interesting. My initial question was especially with regard to how important really “contemplation” or “thinking” was when observing form, feeling, ..consciousness – the five trunks (khandha) that make up what we generally call “our life”, which we are holding onto (upadana+khandha).
So Bhante Vimala, coming back to my question, reminds me that up to this point, in the Gelañña Sutta, the Buddha talks about an exercise which has clearly to do with “knowing” or “just being aware” of the activity as it happens. Period. BUT, after the Buddha finished quoting this awareness-exercise from the Satipatthana Sutta, he goes on to say what will happen, next! This is what the Buddha has to say at this point:

As a monk is dwelling thus mindful & alert — heedful, ardent, & resolute — a feeling of pleasure arises in him. He discerns that ‘A feeling of pleasure has arisen in me. It is dependent on a requisite condition, not independent. Dependent on what? Dependent on this body. Now, this body is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen. Being dependent on a body that is inconstant, fabricated, & dependently co-arisen, how can this feeling of pleasure that has arisen be constant?‘ He remains focused on inconstancy with regard to the body & to the feeling of pleasure. He remains focused on dissolution…dispassion…cessation…relinquishment with regard to the body & to the feeling of pleasure. As he remains focused on inconstancy…dissolution…dispassion…cessation…relinquishment with regard to the body & to the feeling of pleasure, he abandons any latent tendency to passion with regard to the body & the feeling of pleasure.

In a wonderful way, this sutta handed down to us, is kind of a commentary by the Buddha himself on his own Satipatthana Sutta – but even more important it gives a very direct indicator as to how the monks would have practiced Satipatthana at the time of the Buddha. Clearly, that “discerning” is a thought process. At least in this Sutta, as Bhante pointed out, the Buddha is unmistakably talking about a mental process of reflection going on at that moment. It is a type of reflection, which (and this was my immediate thought) would alter the perception (sannya) of that monk towards the most atomic elements of his life as he experiences it – in a certain way, similar to the effect of a meditation on disgust for the body which would alter the way we look at the body… but in this case of course with an exceedingly more profound implication.
Bhante Vimala was very happy to be able to show me this sutta and said if you deeply understand what this means, the implications of this, in conjunction with the Maha-hatthipadopama Sutta [MN 28 | en ], you have all you ever need to know (to make progress) to Nibbana.
He also added that through a continued contemplation along the lines of what the Buddha suggests, the “ownership” of our feelings which we take for granted and which leads usually to raga, dosa and moha (desire, anger and delusion), will be step by step diminished…in fact, he said, it will turn out to be as if we hand over the “ownership” of the feelings to paticcasamuppada itself – we start seeing them as something “alien” (not ourselves) because we realize that these “things” arise and pass away due to their own nature of being caused (sankhata).
I was very happy to have been blessed by Bhante’s great explanation and great pointer to this excellent sutta and felt I have to share this with some of you who I know are very keen on learning more and more about samatha and vipassana as taught by the Supreme Buddha.
Bhante will be leaving on the 18th for Washington (the new assapuwa there is organizing an event for practicing precepts, Dhamma talk and meditation) and he will be back on the 20th for another couple of days before Bhante Jeevananda arrives.
with metta & appreciation of your friendship
========
(*)As some of you know I have been intrigued by the use of “iti” in the Pali denoting some form of direct speech for quite some time. “Iti” marks a direct speech or something thought in the mind. I was curious to see how Bhante would interpret a passage like this regarding his (and Mahamevnawa’s) good knowledge of the suttas – and especially their focus on contemplation as a meditative technique.

Bhikkhu = Beggarmonk

Theragatha v.127-128

‘‘Tiṇṇaṃ me tālapattānaṃ,
gaṅgātīre kuṭī katā;
Chavasittova me patto,
paṃsukūlañca cīvaraṃ.
‘‘Dvinnaṃ antaravassānaṃ,
ekā vācā me bhāsitā;
Tatiye antaravassamhi,
tamokhandho padālito’’ti.

==
(English)
Using three palm leaves I made myself
a hut on the bank or river Ganges.
A skull itself that was my (alms)bowl,
And ragged rugs such was my robe.

And in between two years I spoke
Not more than just one time -
The third year was when I broke through
And left behind forever darkness.

(KEN translation:)
DREI Palmenwedel baut’ ich einst
Als Obdach auf, im Gangesgau,
Ein Schädel war mein Bettelnapf,
Die Fetzenkutte Leichengut.

Zwei Herbste hab’ ich so geruht,
Geredet einmal einen Satz-
lm dritten Herbste bin ich heil
Aus Nacht und Nebel drungen durch.

~~-♦-~~

Theragatha, v.985

Pallaṅkena nisinnassa, jaṇṇuke nābhivassati;
Alaṃ phāsuvihārāya, pahitattassa bhikkhuno.

When for him, who sits with legs crossed, the knee stays dry -
that is enough already to count as a pleasant dwelling for a devoted beggarmonk.

more Theragatha

~~-♦-~~

Itivuttaka, 42 – Jivaka Sutta:

This was said by the Lord…
“Bhikkhus, this is contemptible means of subsistence, this gathering of alms. In the world, bhikkhus, it is a form of abuse to say “You alms-gatherer(bhikkhu) ! Wandering about clutching a begging bowl!’ Yet this means of subsistence has been taken up by young men of good family for a reason, for a purpose. They have not been reduced to it by kings nor by robbers nor because of debt nor through freer nor from loss of an alternative means of livelihood, but with the single thought: “We are beset by birth, aging and death, by sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair; overcome by suffering, afflicted by suffering. Perhaps an end can be discerned of this whole mass of suffering!”
“So this young man of good family has gone forth (into homelessness), but he may be covetous for objects of desire, strongly passionate, unconcentrated, of wandering mind and uncontrolled faculties. Just as a brand from a funeral pyre, burnt at both ends and in the middle smeared with exrements, can be used as timber neither in the village nor in the forest, so by such a simile do I speak about this person: he has missed out on the enjoyments of a householder, yet he does not fulfill the purpose of recluseship.”

He has missed both a laymen’s pleasure
And his recluseship, too, the luckless man!
Ruining it, he throws it away
And perishes like a funerary brand.

Far better for him to swallow
A fiery hot iron ball
Than that immoral and uncontrolled
He should eat the country’s alms.

~~-♦-~~

Samyutta Nikaya, 20. Bhikkhusamyutta, Sutta No. 8

…Nanda, it is not suitable for the son of a clansman like you who has gone forth out of faith to wear a stamped down ironed robe, to anoint the eyes and carry a shining bowl. It is suitable for the son of a clansman like you who has gone forth out of faith to be a forest dweller, to partake morsel food, to wear robes made of rags and not expect sensual pleasures.

5. The Blessed One, the well gone Teacher further said:

When will I see Nanda the forest dweller,
Wearing rag robes, satisfied with the morsel food
And not desiring sensual pleasures.

6. Then in the meantime venerable Nanda became a forest dweller wearing rag robes, satisfied with the morsel food and one not expecting sensual pleasures.

~~-♦-~~

Samyutta Nikaya, Opammasamyutta (19), Sutta 8

…Monks, at present the monks live diligent and zealous to dispel as though have taken a block of wood for the pillow. And Màra the Evil One does not obtain a cause and reason to intervene.

6. Monks, in the future there will be a time when the softness of the beautiful hands and feet of the monks would dry up and they would sleep until sun rise with their huge bodies. Then Màra the Evil One will obtain a cause and chance to intervene.

~~-♦-~~

Anguttara Nikaya, III, Devadutavagga, Hatthaka Sutta

I heard thus. At one time the Blessed One was abiding in Alavi on a cattle track seated on a spread of leaves in the Simsapa forest. Hatthaka of Alavaka walking and wandering for exercise saw the Blessed One seated on a spread of leaves in the Simsapa forest and approached, worshipped the Blessed One, sat on a side and said:…`Sir, wintry nights are cold, it’s the time of snow fall, the ground, with cattle made ruts is rough, the spread of leaves is thin, snow falls through the trees, minus their leaves, the cold wind blows through the earth-colored robe clinging to the body, and yet the Blessed One says Yes, prince, I slept well, I’m one of those who sleep well in this world.’….

…etc, etc. ;-)
why do so few Buddhist monks call themselves “bhikkhu” ?! ;-)
for more quotes from the suttas on the topic of “right livelihood of a bhikkhu”, have a look at this little book, which provides a long collection of similar passages from the Suttas, all strung together from the moment of entering the Order until attainment of arahantship, in the words of the Buddha:
PS: On a slightly different note, but interesting for purposes of studying the way of life of a “mendicant” – If you like to get an idea how this might have looked like in an even colder climate like Europe, enjoy this pretty accurate historical movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqD5KPE6LYw&feature=related

Can a practice that we undertake which does not purify our mind be truly considered “cultivation of the mind”? Let’s forget our concepts and ideas about “meditation” for a moment and look at some words of the Awakened One on how to clean and purify our minds as a beautiful activity in and by itself…

[The Buddha:]…Here, bhikkhus, the ordinary man has not seen Noble Ones and Great Men, not clever and not tamed in their teaching, does not know the thoughts that should be thought and should not be thought. So he thinks thoughts that should not be thought and does not think thoughts that should be thought. Bhikkhus, what thoughts that should not be thought are thought? Those thoughts that arouse non-arisen sensual desires, and thoughts that develop arisen sensual desires….He thinks unwisely in this manner:`Was I in the past or wasn’t I in the past? Who was I in the past? How was I in the past? Become who and who was I in the past? Will I be in the future, or will I not be in the future? What will I be in the future? How will I be in the future? Who will I become and who will I be in the future?’

So manasikaraṇīye dhamme appajānanto amanasikaraṇīye dhamme appajānanto, ye dhammā na manasikaraṇīyā, te dhamme manasi karoti, ye dhammā manasikaraṇīyā te dhamme na manasi karoti…. ‘‘So evaṃ ayoniso manasi karoti – ‘ahosiṃ nu kho ahaṃ atītamaddhānaṃ? Na nu kho ahosiṃ atītamaddhānaṃ? Kiṃ nu kho ahosiṃ atītamaddhānaṃ? Kathaṃ nu kho ahosiṃ atītamaddhānaṃ? Kiṃ hutvā kiṃ ahosiṃ nu kho ahaṃ atītamaddhānaṃ? =>Middle Length Sayings, (Majjhima Nikaya), Sabbāsava Sutta.

[The Buddha:]…Such a monk, o monks, who has heard the Dhamma, dwells with a double kind of seclusion – he dwells with his body secluded and with his mind secluded. When he dwells thus secluded he (constantly) remembers verbatim [lit. "remembers along"] that Dhamma [i.e. the one he heard] and follows that Dhamma in thoughts [lit. "thinks along"]. At such a time, o monks, when a monk thus secluded remembers and thinks about that Dhamma again and again, mindfulness [lit. memory] as a factor of awakening has begun for that monk…mindfulness [sati, lit. remembrance, memory] as a factor of awakening is being cultivated at that time by that monk…

Tathārūpānaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhūnaṃ dhammaṃ sutvā dvayena vūpakāsena vūpakaṭṭho viharati – kāyavūpakāsena ca cittavūpakāsena ca. So tathā vūpakaṭṭho viharanto taṃ dhammaṃ anussarati anuvitakketi.‘‘Yasmiṃ samaye, bhikkhave, bhikkhu tathā vūpakaṭṭho viharanto taṃ dhammaṃ anussarati anuvitakketi, satisambojjhaṅgo tasmiṃ samaye bhikkhuno āraddho hoti…samādhisambojjhaṅgaṃ tasmiṃ samaye bhikkhu bhāveti..Diṭṭheva dhamme paṭikacca aññaṃ ārādheti. =>SN, Mahavagga, Sīlasutta.

So if reflection/contemplation is so important, should not it be emphasized duly in our Buddhist practice? How important is proper thinking really? How does it relate to the noble eight-fold path? Can we find some more quotes?

[The Buddha:]…And what, Kevatta, is the miracle of instruction? Here, Kevatta, a monk teaches thus: “Think in this way, do not think in that way. Reflect [lit. 'keep in mind', 'attend to'] in this way, do not reflect in that way. Reject this, attain and dwell in that”. This is called, Kevatta, the miracle of instruction.

‘‘Katamañca, kevaṭṭa, anusāsanīpāṭihāriyaṃ? Idha, kevaṭṭa, bhikkhu evamanusāsati – ‘evaṃ vitakketha, mā evaṃ vitakkayittha, evaṃ manasikarotha, mā evaṃ manasākattha, idaṃ pajahatha, idaṃ upasampajja viharathā’ti. Idaṃ vuccati, kevaṭṭa, anusāsanīpāṭihāriyaṃ. =>DN, Kevatthasutta

[The Buddha:]…”I too, Brahmin, instruct thus: - “Think in this way, do not think in that way. Reflect [lit. 'keep in mind', 'attend to'] in this way, do not reflect in that way. Reject this, attain and dwell in that”.

Ahañhi, brāhmaṇa, evamanusāsāmi – ‘evaṃ vitakketha, mā evaṃ vitakkayittha; evaṃ manasi karotha, mā evaṃ manasākattha; idaṃ pajahatha, idaṃ upasampajja viharathā’’’ti. =>AN, 3. Brahmanavagga, Dvebrahmana Sutta.

[The Buddha:]…as he has heard and learned the Dhamma he follows it in his thinking, follows it reflecting, closely investigates it with his mind. Him, thus thinking and reflecting and investigating along the Dhamma which he has heard and memorized [lit. pariyatta means 'taken-up completely'] his heart is released trough the ultimate destruction of attachment.

…yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti manasānupekkhati. Tassa yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakkayato anuvicārayato manasānupekkhato anuttare upadhisaṅkhaye cittaṃ vimuccati. Ayaṃ, ānanda, chaṭṭho ānisaṃso kālena atthupaparikkhāya. => AN, 6. Mahavaggo, Phagguna Sutta

But can this be “meditation” ? I always thought getting rid of thoughts is meditation? Stilling the mind? Is proper thinking meditation? Why is it necessary?

[The Buddha:]….Whenever, o monks, a monk follows and reflects upon and investigates along, that Dhamma, which he has heard, which he as memorized, then, at that time, he is experiencing the meaning, he is experiencing the Dhamma. Him, who is experiencing the meaning, experiencing the Dhamma gladness arises. For the gladdened one, joy arises. The joyful one’s body becomes tranquil. When his body become tranquil he feels happiness. The happy one’s mind becomes collected, concentrated…

Yathā yathā, bhikkhave, bhikkhu yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti manasānupekkhati tathā tathā so tasmiṃ dhamme atthapaṭisaṃvedī ca hoti dhammapaṭisaṃvedī ca. Tassa atthapaṭisaṃvedino dhammapaṭisaṃvedino pāmojjaṃ jāyati. Pamuditassa pīti jāyati. Pītimanassa kāyo passambhati. Passaddhakāyo sukhaṃ vedeti. Sukhino cittaṃ samādhiyati.

Wow! This is very straight forward. So you do follow the Buddha’s words in your mind. If I understand this correctly, a contemplation on a topic of the Dhamma itself, if practiced correctly, will turn into a deep meditation by itself. Very interesting. But how can thinking lead to a concentrated mind, to the jhanas, to vipassana?

[The Buddha:]….Whoever, o monks, greedy has rid himself of greediness, ill-tempered has rid himself of ill-temper, angry has kid himself of anger…He observes himself cleansed from all these evil unwholesome qualities. Him, observing himself cleansed from all these evil unwholesome qualities gladness arises. For the gladdened one joy is born. The body of the joyful calms down. With a calm body he feels happiness. The happy one’s mind attains concentration.

Yassa kassaci, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno abhijjhālussa abhijjhā pahīnā hoti, byāpannacittassa byāpādo pahīno hoti, kodhanassa kodho pahīno hoti… So sabbehi imehi pāpakehi akusalehi dhammehi visuddhamattānaṃ samanupassati. Tassa sabbehi imehi pāpakehi akusalehi dhammehi visuddhamattānaṃ samanupassato pāmojjaṃ jāyati, pamuditassa pīti jāyati, pītimanassa kāyo passambhati, passaddhakāyo sukhaṃ vedeti, sukhino cittaṃ samādhiyati. =>MN, Cula Assapura Sutta

Do you always have to start out with thinking? What if someone has trained, lets say his metta thinking, to such an extant that he often experiences bliss right away when he starts his contemplation exercise…does not he almost have a “shortcut” to samadhi?

[The Buddha:]…here he does not think and reflect and investigate the Dhamma the way he heard and learned it, but instead he has well grasped, well attended to, well held up in his mind and well penetrated with wisdom a certain object of mental unification: whenever, o monks, that monks has well grasped, attended to, well held up in his mind and wisely penetrated that object of mental unification at that time he experiences the meaning and nature of that object. Experiencing the meaning and nature of that meditative object gladness arises. For the gladdened one joy is born. The body of the joyful calms down. With a calm body he feels happiness. The happy one’s mind attains concentration.

nāpi yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti manasānupekkhati; api ca khvassa aññataraṃ samādhinimittaṃ suggahitaṃ hoti sumanasikataṃ sūpadhāritaṃ suppaṭividdhaṃ paññāya. Yathā yathā, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno aññataraṃ samādhinimittaṃ suggahitaṃ hoti sumanasikataṃ sūpadhāritaṃ suppaṭividdhaṃ paññāya tathā tathā so tasmiṃ dhamme atthapaṭisaṃvedī ca hoti dhammapaṭisaṃvedī ca. Tassa atthapaṭisaṃvedino dhammapaṭisaṃvedino pāmojjaṃ jāyati. Pamuditassa pīti jāyati. Pītimanassa kāyo passambhati. Passaddhakāyo sukhaṃ vedeti. Sukhino cittaṃ samādhiyati.

Is there also a false way how to do this?

[The Buddha:]… And again, o monks, there a monk thinks and reflects and investigates along a Dhamma which he heard and memorized. He, with those Dhamma-thoughts, spends too much of the day, neglects (mental) seclusion, does not yoke himself to inner mental tranquility. This monk, o monks, is called someone who is a “Think-a-lot” not a “Dhamma-dweller”.

‘‘Puna caparaṃ, bhikkhu, bhikkhu yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti manasānupekkhati. So tehi dhammavitakkehi divasaṃ atināmeti, riñcati paṭisallānaṃ, nānuyuñjati ajjhattaṃ cetosamathaṃ. Ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhu – ‘bhikkhu vitakkabahulo, no dhammavihārī’’’.

Okay. So to summarize, the Buddha encourages his students to hear the Dhamma. Then listen in such a way that they remember it. Then go and dwell on the Dhamma they learned in a calm contemplative fashion. If they do so, the mind will get unified, experiencing jhana. If they practice thus frequently, they might experience the stilling of the mind right away. However, while contemplating a topic of the Dhamma is the way to still the mind, if one just “thinks about” and “daydreams” one is missing the point either. So the goal has to be to experience, ultimately, what you are thinking about. Okay, so tell me, how did the monks at the time of the Buddha do this practice of correct thinking or reflection to purify their minds?

[The Buddha:]…He is equipped with this noble mass of virtue, equipped with this noble restraint of the senses, equipped with this noble remembrance and clear awareness, equipped with this noble contentment and he takes refuge in a secluded place, a jungle, the foot of a tree, a mountain, a gorge, a mountain cave, a cemetery, a forest abode, under the open sky, on a heap of straw. He, after his meal, when he has come back from his alms round sits down, having crossed his legs and straightened his body and having had his awareness/remembrance settle in front of him [lit. 'around his face'].

He dwells with a mind freed from sensual desire, having rid himself of desire towards the world, he cleanses his mind from sensual desire. He has given up anger and ill-will, dwelling with a heart free of ill-temper he is filled with compassion and welfare towards all living beings, he cleanses his mind from ill-temper. He has rejected sloth and torpor, without sloth and torpor he dwells, perceiving light, remembering and clearly aware, he cleanses his mind of sloth and torpor. He has thrown out restlessness and remorse, he dwells stilled, with his heart inside at peace, he cleanses his mind from restlessness and remorse. He has given up doubt, dwells having gone beyond doubt, he is without doubt regarding the wholesome qualities, he cleanses his mind from doubt.

Let’s say, great king, a man has taken on a debt to endeavor in some business. That business succeeds. So those former debts which he had, he is able to eliminate them and he would have something left to support a wife. He would think thus: “I have taken on a debt before, to endeavor in this business. That business of mine succeeded. Now I am able to pay off those debts and beyond that something remains which allows me to support a wife.” He would based on that become glad, experience  happiness.

‘‘So iminā ca ariyena sīlakkhandhena samannāgato, iminā ca ariyena indriyasaṃvarena samannāgato, iminā ca ariyena satisampajaññena samannāgato, imāya ca ariyāya santuṭṭhiyā samannāgato, vivittaṃ senāsanaṃ bhajati araññaṃ rukkhamūlaṃ pabbataṃ kandaraṃ giriguhaṃ susānaṃ vanapatthaṃ abbhokāsaṃ palālapuñjaṃ. So pacchābhattaṃ piṇḍapātappaṭikkanto nisīdati pallaṅkaṃ ābhujitvā ujuṃ kāyaṃ paṇidhāya parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā.

‘‘So abhijjhaṃ loke pahāya vigatābhijjhena cetasā viharati, abhijjhāya cittaṃ parisodheti. Byāpādapadosaṃ pahāya abyāpannacitto viharati sabbapāṇabhūtahitānukampī, byāpādapadosā cittaṃ parisodheti. Thinamiddhaṃ pahāya vigatathinamiddho viharati ālokasaññī, sato sampajāno, thinamiddhā cittaṃ parisodheti. Uddhaccakukkuccaṃ pahāya anuddhato viharati, ajjhattaṃ vūpasantacitto, uddhaccakukkuccā cittaṃ parisodheti. Vicikicchaṃ pahāya tiṇṇavicikiccho viharati, akathaṃkathī kusalesu dhammesu, vicikicchāya cittaṃ parisodheti.

218. ‘‘Seyyathāpi, mahārāja, puriso iṇaṃ ādāya kammante payojeyya. Tassa te kammantā samijjheyyuṃ. So yāni ca porāṇāni iṇamūlāni, tāni ca byantiṃ kareyya siyā cassa uttariṃ avasiṭṭhaṃ dārabharaṇāya. Tassa evamassa – ‘ahaṃ kho pubbe iṇaṃ ādāya kammante payojesiṃ. Tassa me te kammantā samijjhiṃsu. Sohaṃ yāni ca porāṇāni iṇamūlāni, tāni ca byantiṃ akāsiṃ, atthi ca me uttariṃ avasiṭṭhaṃ dārabharaṇāyā’ti. So tatonidānaṃ labhetha pāmojjaṃ, adhigaccheyya somanassaṃ=> DN 2, Sāmaññaphala Sutta.

So the monks spend their afternoons actively purifying their mind from unwholesome qualities and states and if they succeeded would experience the bliss and final tranquility of the jhanas. Obviously, this is not a five minute activity!!! This purification of the mind is the exercise regiment for their afternoon seclusion! The five hindrances which the monks try to purify themselves from are an embodiment of unwholesome qualities against which the Buddha offered a wide variety of meditation (thinking – or rather contemplation) topics. Let’s look at some examples of what these monks would actually have practiced:

[The Buddha:]…o monks, even if robbers cut your limbs one after another with a two handled saw, if your mind be defiled on account of that, you have not done the duty in my dispensation. Then too you should train thus: “Our minds will not change, we will not utter evil words. We will abide compassionate with thoughts of loving kindness not angry. We will pervade that person with thoughts of loving kindness. Having pervaded that person with a mind of loving kindness we will dwell thus and from that object onward pervade the whole world with a mind of loving kindness…” Monks, you should train thus. Monks, you should constantly attend to the advice on the simile of the saw. Is there anything small or large in those words of others which you then would not be able to endure? – No, Sir – Therefore, o monks, often reflect [lit. attend to, manasikarotha, "make it in your mind"] on the simile of the saw, it will be for your welfare and happiness for a long time.

‘‘Ubhatodaṇḍakena cepi, bhikkhave, kakacena corā ocarakā aṅgamaṅgāni okanteyyuṃ, tatrāpi yo mano padūseyya, na me so tena sāsanakaro. Tatrāpi vo, bhikkhave, evaṃ sikkhitabbaṃ – ‘na ceva no cittaṃ vipariṇataṃ bhavissati, na ca pāpikaṃ vācaṃ nicchāressāma, hitānukampī ca viharissāma mettacittā na dosantarā. Tañca puggalaṃ mettāsahagatena cetasā pharitvā viharissāma tadārammaṇañca sabbāvantaṃ lokaṃ mettāsahagatena cetasā vipulena mahaggatena appamāṇena averena abyābajjhena pharitvā viharissāmā’ti. Evañhi vo, bhikkhave, sikkhitabbaṃ. ‘‘Imañca tumhe, bhikkhave, kakacūpamaṃ ovādaṃ abhikkhaṇaṃ manasi kareyyātha. Passatha no tumhe, bhikkhave, taṃ vacanapathaṃ, aṇuṃ vā thūlaṃ vā, yaṃ tumhe nādhivāseyyāthā’’ti? ‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’. ‘‘Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, imaṃ kakacūpamaṃ ovādaṃ abhikkhaṇaṃ manasikarotha. Taṃ vo bhavissati dīgharattaṃ hitāya sukhāyā’’ti. => MN 21.

[The Buddha:]…I do not see a better thing, o monks, that will prevent sensual desire from arising when it has not arisen yet and will remove sensual desire once arisen – than a (meditative) object of impurity. Wisely reflecting o monks on the object of impurity (of the body) o monks, will not allow unarisen sensual desire to arise and will remove sensual desire which arose.

Nāhaṃ, bhikkhave, aññaṃ ekadhammampi samanupassāmi yena anuppanno vā kāmacchando nuppajjati uppanno vā kāmacchando pahīyati yathayidaṃ, bhikkhave, asubhanimittaṃ. Asubhanimittaṃ, bhikkhave, yoniso manasi karoto anuppanno ceva kāmacchando nuppajjati uppanno ca kāmacchando pahīyatī’ => AN 1.

[The Buddha:]...a monk reflects on this body from the top to the bottom of his feet, from below to the hair on his head, surounded by skin, filled with various kinds of impurities: “In this body there is hair, body-hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh…just like, o monks, there would be a bag filled with various kinds of grains…and a man with sharp vision would open up the bag and investigate it thus: “These are wheat grains, these are rice grains, these are beans…”

…bhikkhu imameva kāyaṃ uddhaṃ pādatalā, adho kesamatthakā, tacapariyantaṃ pūraṃ nānappakārassa asucino paccavekkhati – ‘atthi imasmiṃ kāye kesā lomā nakhā dantā taco maṃsaṃ…‘‘Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, ubhatomukhā putoḷi [mūtoḷī (sī. syā. pī.)] pūrā nānāvihitassa dhaññassa, seyyathidaṃ – sālīnaṃ vīhīnaṃ muggānaṃ māsānaṃ tilānaṃ taṇḍulānaṃ. Tamenaṃ cakkhumā puriso muñcitvā paccavekkheyya – ‘ime sālī ime vīhī ime muggā  => MN 10.

So this reflecting according to the Buddha’s teaching, did the Buddha do something similar before his enlightenment?

[The Buddha:]...Before even, o monks, my awakening, as yet an unawakened, the awakening searching, this thought occured to me: “What now if I were to dwell (exercise) breaking up my thoughts and dividing them into two”? And I, o monks, whenever a thought of sensual desire, a thought of ill-will or a detrimental thought arose, I put it on one side, and whenever a thought of renunciation, a thought of non-ill-will and not detrimental arose, I put it on the other side…and I knew: “In me arose a detrimental thought. This thought will lead to my own disadvantage, it will lead to other’s disadvantage, it will lead to both, it destroys my wisdom, it will bring trouble, it will not lead to cessation.” – (When I was thinking) “Leads to my own disadvantage” thus o monks reflecting [patisancikkhati] that thought vanished. (When I was thinking) “Leads to others disadvantage” thus o monks reflecting that thought vanished...”will destroy my wisdom, cause trouble, does not lead to cessation.” that thought vanished. Thus I, o monks, got rid of those thoughts, cleaned myself of them, made and end to them….Whatever one thinks along, reflects along often, thereto the mind is bent….Just as, o monks, in the last month of the summer, when all the cowherds are watching over the cows they sit at the root of a tree or under the open sky and have to make their remembrance: – “(there) are the cows”. In the same way, o monks, I had to make my remembrance (thinking) “(there) are these thoughts”…And energetic was, o monks, my effort, not negligent, ongoing was my remembrance, not disturbed or lost, stilled was my body, tranquil, and one-pointed my mind, collected. Then I, o monks, entered the first jhana away from sensuality, away from other unwholesome thoughts, with thought and reflection experiencing joy born of seclusion, dwelling in it.

Pubbeva me, bhikkhave, sambodhā anabhisambuddhassa bodhisattasseva sato etadahosi – ‘yaṃnūnāhaṃ dvidhā katvā dvidhā katvā vitakke vihareyya’nti. So kho ahaṃ, bhikkhave, yo cāyaṃ kāmavitakko yo ca byāpādavitakko yo ca vihiṃsāvitakko – imaṃ ekaṃ bhāgamakāsiṃ; yo cāyaṃ nekkhammavitakko yo ca abyāpādavitakko yo ca avihiṃsāvitakko – imaṃ dutiyaṃ bhāgamakāsiṃ….So evaṃ pajānāmi – ‘uppanno kho me ayaṃ vihiṃsāvitakko. So ca kho attabyābādhāyapi saṃvattati, parabyābādhāyapi saṃvattati, ubhayabyābādhāyapi saṃvattati, paññānirodhiko vighātapakkhiko anibbānasaṃvattaniko’. ‘Attabyābādhāya saṃvattatī’tipi me, bhikkhave, paṭisañcikkhato abbhatthaṃ gacchati; ‘parabyābādhāya saṃvattatī’tipi me, bhikkhave, paṭisañcikkhato abbhatthaṃ gacchati; ‘ubhayabyābādhāya saṃvattatī’tipi me, bhikkhave, paṭisañcikkhato abbhatthaṃ gacchati; ‘paññānirodhiko vighātapakkhiko anibbānasaṃvattaniko’tipi me, bhikkhave, paṭisañcikkhato abbhatthaṃ gacchati. So kho ahaṃ, bhikkhave, uppannuppannaṃ vihiṃsāvitakkaṃ pajahameva vinodameva byantameva naṃ akāsiṃ‘‘Yaññadeva, bhikkhave, bhikkhu bahulamanuvitakketi anuvicāreti, tathā tathā nati hoti cetaso…Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, gimhānaṃ pacchime māse sabbasassesu gāmantasambhatesu gopālako gāvo rakkheyya, tassa rukkhamūlagatassa vā abbhokāsagatassa vā satikaraṇīyameva hoti – ‘etā  gāvo’ti. Evamevaṃ kho, bhikkhave, satikaraṇīyameva ahosi – ‘ete dhammā’ti..‘‘Āraddhaṃ kho pana me, bhikkhave, vīriyaṃ ahosi asallīnaṃ, upaṭṭhitā sati asammuṭṭhā passaddho kāyo asāraddho, samāhitaṃ cittaṃ ekaggaṃ. So kho ahaṃ, bhikkhave, vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja vihāsiṃ.  =>MN 19, Dvedhavitakka

[The Buddha:]..

Ràhula, when you desire to do some mental action, you should reflect. In doing, this mental action, will I trouble myself? Is it demerit? Is it unpleasant? When reflecting if you know, this mental action will trouble me. It is demerit and unpleasant. Then, if possible you should not do it. Ràhula, when reflecting if you know, this mental action will not bring me trouble. It is merit and pleasant. Then Ràhula, you should do such mental actions. Even while doing that mental action, you should reflect. Does this mental action give me, others, trouble? Is it demerit and unpleasant? Ràhula, if that is so, give up that mental action. If you know, this mental action does not bring me, others trouble. It’s merit, and pleasant Then follow it up. Having done such mental actions too you should reflect. Did it cause me, others, trouble? Was it demerit? Was it unpleasant? When reflecting if you know, this mental action caused me, others, trouble. It is demerit and unpleasant. Then you should be disgusted and loathe such mental actions. Ràhula, when reflecting if you know, this mental action did not cause me, others, trouble, it was merit and it was pleasant. Then you should pursue such things of merit day and night delightedly. Ràhula, whoever recluses or brahmins purified their bodily actions, verbal actions and mental actions in the past, did by reflecting. Whoever recluses or brahmins will purify their bodily, verbal and mental actions in the future will do so reflecting reflecting. Whoever recluses or brahmins purify their bodily, verbal, and mental actions at present do so reflecting. Therefore Ràhula, you should train thus. Reflecting I will purify my bodily, verbal and mental actions.

Yadeva tvaṃ, rāhula, manasā kammaṃ kattukāmo ahosi…Karontenapi te, rāhula, manasā kammaṃ tadeva te manokammaṃ paccavekkhitabbaṃ…Katvāpi te, rāhula, manasā kammaṃ tadeva te manokammaṃ paccavekkhitabbaṃ – ‘yaṃ nu kho ahaṃ idaṃ manasā kammaṃ akāsiṃ idaṃ me manokammaṃ attabyābādhāyapi saṃvattati, parabyābādhāyapi saṃvattati, ubhayabyābādhāyapi saṃvattati – akusalaṃ idaṃ manokammaṃ dukkhudrayaṃ dukkhavipāka’nti?Sace kho tvaṃ, rāhula, paccavekkhamāno evaṃ jāneyyāsi – ‘yaṃ kho ahaṃ idaṃ manasā kammaṃ akāsiṃ idaṃ me manokammaṃ attabyābādhāyapi saṃvattati, parabyābādhāyapi saṃvattati, ubhayabyābādhāyapi saṃvattati – akusalaṃ idaṃ manokammaṃ dukkhudrayaṃ dukkhavipāka’nti, evarūpaṃ pana [evarūpe (sī. pī.), evarūpe pana (syā. kaṃ.)] te, rāhula, manokammaṃ [manokamme (sī. syā. kaṃ. pī.)] aṭṭīyitabbaṃ harāyitabbaṃ jigucchitabbaṃ; aṭṭīyitvā harāyitvā jigucchitvā āyatiṃ saṃvaraṃ āpajjitabbaṃ. Sace pana tvaṃ, rāhula, paccavekkhamāno evaṃ jāneyyāsi – ‘yaṃ kho ahaṃ idaṃ manasā kammaṃ akāsiṃ idaṃ me manokammaṃ nevattabyābādhāyapi saṃvattati, na parabyābādhāyapi saṃvattati, na ubhayabyābādhāyapi saṃvattati – kusalaṃ idaṃ manokammaṃ sukhudrayaṃ sukhavipāka’nti, teneva tvaṃ, rāhula, pītipāmojjena vihareyyāsi ahorattānusikkhī kusalesu dhammesu….Ye hi keci, rāhula, atītamaddhānaṃ samaṇā vā brāhmaṇā vā kāyakammaṃ parisodhesuṃ, vacīkammaṃ parisodhesuṃ, manokammaṃ parisodhesuṃ, sabbe te evamevaṃ paccavekkhitvā paccavekkhitvā kāyakammaṃ parisodhesuṃ, paccavekkhitvā paccavekkhitvā vacīkammaṃ parisodhesuṃ, paccavekkhitvā paccavekkhitvā manokammaṃ parisodhesuṃ. => MN 61.

oh, so they were cleansing their mind. this is facinating. can you quote another suttas where we can see how that was done?

I heard thus. At one time a certain bhikkhu lived in a certain stretch of forest in the country of Kosala. At that time, this bhikkhu sitting for seclusion during the day thought evil thoughts of demerit such as sensual thoughts, angry thoughts and hurting thoughts. Then a deity living in that stretch of forest out of compassion, wishing to arouse remorse, approached that bhikkhu. Approaching, said these stanzas:

Thinking unwisely the good one is submerged in thoughts,
Give up the unwise thinking and be wise
Bhikkhus in the Community of the Teacher, become virtuous
And doubtlessly delight, realizing pleasantness.û

Then that bhikkhu made remorseful by the deity became concerned.

231. Ekaṃ samayaṃ aññataro bhikkhu kosalesu viharati aññatarasmiṃ vanasaṇḍe. Tena kho pana samayena so bhikkhu divāvihāragato pāpake akusale vitakke vitakketi, seyyathidaṃ  kāmavitakkaṃ, byāpādavitakkaṃ, vihiṃsāvitakkaṃ. Atha kho yā tasmiṃ vanasaṇḍe adhivatthā devatā tassa bhikkhuno anukampikā atthakāmā taṃ bhikkhuṃ saṃvejetukāmā yena so bhikkhu tenupasaṅkami; upasaṅkamitvā taṃ bhikkhuṃ gāthāhi ajjhabhāsi –

‘‘Ayoniso manasikārā, so vitakkehi khajjasi;
Ayoniso paṭinissajja, yoniso anucintaya.
‘‘Satthāraṃ dhammamārabbha, saṅghaṃ sīlāni attano;
Adhigacchasi pāmojjaṃ, pītisukhamasaṃsayaṃ;
Tato pāmojjabahulo, dukkhassantaṃ karissasī’’ti. => Vanasamyutta 11, SN. Akusalavitakkasuttaṃ.

So you are saying that cultivation (bhavana) is really cultivating a whole different mindset throughout the day (besides purifying ones bodily and verbal actions, of course!) by following in your mind along the way the Buddha recommended looking at things. Does not that mean we first have to know at least a couple of suttas very well (by heart) in order to do that? In other words – don’t we have to know at least a little piece of Dhamma to reflect accordingly, to actually have topics of the Dhamma to reflect upon or – similarly – see the disadvantage of unwholesome states of the mind?

[The Buddha:]...With the arising of trust, he visits him and grows close to him. Growing close to him, he lends ear. Lending ear, he hears the Dhamma. Hearing the Dhamma, he remembers it [lit. "carries the Dhamma, ie. remember it]. Remembering it, he reflects upon the meaning of those dhammas.

saddhājāto upasaṅkamati, upasaṅkamanto payirupāsati, payirupāsanto sotaṃ odahati, ohitasoto dhammaṃ suṇāti, sutvā dhammaṃ dhāreti, dhatānaṃ [dhāritānaṃ (ka.)] dhammānaṃ atthaṃ upaparikkhati, =>MN 95

so, if meditation is this continous proper reflection throughout my day, what will happen? Can you show me how this continous pondering over the Dhamma or contemplation alongside the thoughts of the Dhamma fits into the whole pathway of the Buddha’s teaching? What is the big picture?

[The Buddha:]... In the same way, o monks, due to keeping wrong company he does not get to hear the true Dhamma. Not getting to hear the true Dhamma trust (in the message of the Buddha) is weakened. Without conviction wise reflection (in accordance with the Dhamma) does not get fulfilled. Without wise reflection on the Dhamma remembrance and clear awareness do not get fulfilled. If they are not fulfilled the sense doors will not be well guarded. With the senses not well guarded he will behave wrong in one of three ways (body, speech, mind). Due to fulfilling bad actions in body, mind, speech the five hindrances will get stronger. Because the five hindrances get stronger, ignorance (of the four noble truths) will grow….

Thus now, o monks, with keeping good company his listening to the true Dhamma gets fulfilled. Because of listening to the true Dhamma his faith/conviction grows. Due to his conviction (in the teaching of the Buddha) his wise reflections start to grow. With fulfilled wise reflections his remembrance and clear awareness will get fulfilled. When his memory and awareness are fulfilled [which allows hims to actually guard and identify what is going on at the doors of his senses] his guarding of the senses will grow. When his guarding of the senses is fulfilled his behavior in body, speech and mind will get purified. When his wholesome behavior in body, speech and mind is fulfilled the four pillars of memory will get fulfilled [now he is able to keep is pure mind on the meditation objects, which act like pillars for his continues awareness]. When the four pillars of memory are fulfilled the seven factors of awakening will get fulfilled [they are: memory (sic!) =>investigation of the Dhamma (sic!), =>effort => joy => tranquility of the body => collectedness (can you see the pattern!!!) => equanimity]. When the seven factors of awakening are fulfilled knowledge and liberation will be achieved.

‘‘Evamevaṃ kho, bhikkhave, asappurisasaṃsevo paripūro asaddhammassavanaṃ paripūreti, asaddhammassavanaṃ paripūraṃ assaddhiyaṃ paripūreti, assaddhiyaṃ paripūraṃ ayonisomanasikāraṃ paripūreti, ayonisomanasikāro paripūro asatāsampajaññaṃ paripūreti, asatāsampajaññaṃ paripūraṃ indriyaasaṃvaraṃ paripūreti, indriyaasaṃvaro paripūro tīṇi duccaritāni paripūreti, tīṇi duccaritāni paripūrāni pañca nīvaraṇe paripūrenti, pañca nīvaraṇā paripūrā avijjaṃ paripūrenti; evametissā avijjāya āhāro hoti, evañca pāripūri….

‘‘Iti kho, bhikkhave, sappurisasaṃsevo paripūro saddhammassavanaṃ paripūreti, saddhammassavanaṃ paripūraṃ saddhaṃ paripūreti, saddhā paripūrā yonisomanasikāraṃ paripūreti, yonisomanasikāro paripūro satisampajaññaṃ paripūreti, satisampajaññaṃ paripūraṃ indriyasaṃvaraṃ paripūreti, indriyasaṃvaro paripūro tīṇi sucaritāni paripūreti, tīṇi sucaritāni paripūrāni cattāro satipaṭṭhāne paripūrenti, cattāro satipaṭṭhānā paripūrā satta bojjhaṅge paripūrenti, satta bojjhaṅgā paripūrā vijjāvimuttiṃ paripūrenti; evametissā vijjāvimuttiyā āhāro hoti, evañca pāripūri. => AN, Yamakvagga, Avijjasutta.

Ah! If I reflect right, sort my thoughts, catch them right when they come up and purify my thinking step by step by adding more good thoughts, chastising bad thoughts, gradually changing my thinking towards the wholesome and good, I act like  the doorkeeper in the Buddha’s simile of sati. This doorkeeper promotes sense restraint. And sense restraint means I will not fall for unwholesome qualities of my mind which could break my sila which in due course would destroy my mental energy break up my concentration and destroy my efforts in building up wisdom. You translate sati as memory and sampajaññā as awareness. In the above steps of progression it fits in nicely, as memory is essential after listening to the Dhamma to remember and continously go over the “thoughts of the Dhamma” in this form of contemplative meditation. What was the simile of sati as the doorkeeper again?

[The Buddha:] …”Similarly, o monks, just when there is a doorkeeper of a royal border-town, who is wise, smart, intelligent and who blocks those who he does not know and lets those proceed who he does know and who thus protects those inside and wards off those outside. In the same way, o monks, a noble disciple is remembering, is equipped with the highest carefulness and remembers things done a long time ago, spoken a long time ago, remembers in accordance. With memory as the doorkeeper, o monks, the noble disciple rejects the unwholesome and cultivates the wholesome. He rejects that which is with blemish and cultivates what is free of blemish, he always keeps himself pure.

‘‘Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, rañño paccantime nagare dovāriko hoti paṇḍito byatto medhāvī aññātānaṃ nivāretā ñātānaṃ pavesetā abbhantarānaṃ guttiyā bāhirānaṃ paṭighātāya. Evamevaṃ kho, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako satimā hoti paramena satinepakkena samannāgato cirakatampi cirabhāsitampi saritā anussaritā. Satidovāriko, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako akusalaṃ pajahati, kusalaṃ bhāveti; sāvajjaṃ pajahati, anavajjaṃ bhāveti; suddhaṃ attānaṃ pariharati. => AN, 10. Nagaropamasutta

What a wonderful simile! This is why sati or memory plays such an important part in Buddhist practice. When I think wisely I nourish the doorkeeper, I create a doorkeeper that way. Because, after all, the doorkeeper as to be aware of people passing by (sampajaññā, as in “knowing what is going on right at this moment”) but he also has to remember who these people are to make a sound judgement, whether he should let them in or not (sati)! If his memory (in this case, his memory of the Dhamma) fails him, he will not recognize bad and unwholesome things as bad, like a doorkeeper with bad information – he will make wrong choices in terms of who he lets in. Now it also makes sense, why the Buddha mentioned that listening to the Dhamma and trusting it are the predecessors of sati, memory. Without them, there is no memory of the teachings. But if there is, whatever goes through our senses, we will carefully investigate in line with our knowledge of wholesome and unwholesome. So this practice will lead to real sense restraint. And real sense restraint will lead to a pure life. A purified conduct in body, speech and mind will nourish the meditation practice automatically and fundamentally. The four foundation of binding the continuous remembrance of the mind that is, and they in due course will lead to a highly concentrated mind through joy and happiness, creating the source of concentration and wisdom… now I understand, how wonderful mental training can be – but also how life pervasive mental training has to be, if I expect results! And how important to know, meditation cannot be isolated to sitting down on a cushion – at least according to the Buddha – if our goal is final liberation from samsara (that’s a whole different topic, of course). And finally, it cannot be restricted to the mind alone, it needs to include purification of deeds and words, otherwise only 1/3 of the foundation is laid.

Finally, what are good meditations to do so?

[The Buddha: ] … Once, when the Buddha was dwelling near Savatthi at the Jeta Grove, the householder Anathapindika visited him and, after greeting him politely, sat down at one side.
The Exalted One addressed Anathapindika, “Are alms given in your house, householder?”
“Yes, Lord, alms are given by my family, but they consist only of broken rice and sour gruel.”
“Householder, whether one gives coarse or choice alms, if one gives with respect, thoughtfully, by one’s own hand, gives things tht are not leftovers, and with belief in the result of actions, then, wherever one is born as a result of having given with respect, the mind will experience pleasantness.”
“Long ago, householder, there lived a brahman named Velama who gave very valuable gifts. He gave thousands of bowls of gold, silver and copper, filled with jewels; thousands of horses with trappings; banners and nets of gold; carriages spread with saffron-colored blankets; thousands of milk-giving cows with fine jute ropes and silver milk pails; beds with covers od fleece, white blankets, embroidered coverlets, and with crimson cushions at the ends; lengths of cloth of the best flax, silk, wool and cotton. And how to describe all the food, sweets and syrups that he gave? They flowed like rivers.”
“Householder, who was the brahman who made those very valuable gifts? It was me.”
“But, when those gifts were given, householder, there were no worthy recipients. Although the brahman Velama gave such valuable gifts, if he had fed just one person of right view, the fruit of the latter deed would have been greater.”
“…and though he fed a hundred people of right view, the fruit of feeding a Once-returner would have been greater.”
“…and though he fed a hundred Sakadagamis, the fruit of feeding one Non-returner would have been greater.”
“…and though he fed a hundred Anagamis, the fruit of feeding one Arahat would have been greater.”
“…and though he fed a hundred Arahats, the fruit of feeding one Non-teaching Buddha would have been greater.”
“…and though he fed a hundred Paccekkabuddhas, the fruit of feeding a Perfect One, a Teaching Buddha, would have been greater.”
“…and though he fed a Sammasambuddha, the fruit of feeding the Order of monks with the Buddha at its head would have been even greater.”
“…and though he fed the Sangha with the Buddha at its head, the fruit of building a monastery for the use of the Sangha would have been even greater.”
“…and though he built a monastery for the monks, the fruit of sincerely taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha would have been even greater.”
“…and though he sincerely took refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha, the fruit of sincerely undertaking the Five Moral Precepts would have been even greater.”
“…and though he sincerely undertook the Five Precepts, the fruit of developing (concentration on radiating) metta, even for just to the extent of a whiff of scent, would have been even greater.”
“…and though he developed universal lovingkindness, the fruit of cultivating the awareness of anicca-even for the moment of a finger snap-would have been even greater.

yo ca antamaso gandhohanamattampi mettacittaṃ bhāveyya, yo ca accharāsaṅghātamattampi aniccasaññaṃ bhāveyya, idaṃ tato mahapphalatara’’nti.  =>Anguttara Nikaya, Navakanipata, Sutta 20

[The Buddha:] …Ràhula, develop loving kindness; when it is developed, anger fades. Ràhula, develop compassion; when it is developed, anger fades. Ràhula, develop joy with others; when it is developed discontentment fades. Ràhula, develop equanimity; when it is developed aversion fades. Ràhula, develop the thought of loathesomeness; when it is developed lust fades. Ràhula, develop the perception of impermanence; when it is developed the conceit `I am’ fades.

‘‘Mettaṃ, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi. Mettañhi te, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvayato yo byāpādo so pahīyissati. Karuṇaṃ, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi. Karuṇañhi te, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvayato yā vihesā sā pahīyissati. Muditaṃ, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi. Muditañhi te, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvayato yā arati sā pahīyissati. Upekkhaṃ, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi. Upekkhañhi te, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvayato yo paṭigho so pahīyissati. Asubhaṃ, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi. Asubhañhi te, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvayato yo rāgo so pahīyissati. Aniccasaññaṃ, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi. Aniccasaññañhi te, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvayato yo asmimāno so pahīyissati. => MN 62.

[The Buddha:] … The notion of impermanence, o monks, cultivated, often done, makes all sensual desire fade away, makes all desire for forms fade away, makes all desire of existence fade away, makes all ignorance fade away and completely eradicates the conceit of “I am”. In the Autumn the farmer ploughs his field, cutting and tearing all the roots with a huge plough…Just as the reapers would reap the reeds, and holding the top of the reeds would shake off the seeds…Just as when the stem of a bunch of mangoes is broken, all the mangoes in the bunch get dismantled…Just as all the rafters meet at the ridgepole, supporting the framework of a gabled roof, and it is said to be the chief beam…Monks in the Autumn when the sky is clear, is free from clouds, the sun having ascended in the sky, has dispelled all darkness and burns and shines, in the same manner the monk, developing the perception of impermanence, destroys all sensual greed, all material greed, the greed `to be’, all ignorance, and the measuring `I am’…And how, o monks, is this perception of impermanence developed…? (he reflects thus) Such is form. Such is the arising of form. Such is the disappearing of form. Such is feeling…such is perception…such is intention…such mental formation…such is cognition, such is the arising of cognition, such is the disappearing of cognition.”

‘‘Aniccasaññā, bhikkhave, bhāvitā bahulīkatā sabbaṃ kāmarāgaṃ pariyādiyati, sabbaṃ rūparāgaṃ pariyādiyati, sabbaṃ bhavarāgaṃ pariyādiyati, sabbaṃ avijjaṃ pariyādiyati, sabbaṃ asmimānaṃ samūhanati’’….‘‘Kathaṃ bhāvitā ca, bhikkhave, aniccasaññā kathaṃ bahulīkatā sabbaṃ kāmarāgaṃ pariyādiyati…pe… sabbaṃ asmimānaṃ samūhanati? ‘Iti rūpaṃ, iti rūpassa samudayo, iti rūpassa atthaṅgamo; iti vedanā… iti saññā… iti saṅkhārā… iti viññāṇaṃ, iti viññāṇassa samudayo, iti viññāṇassa atthaṅgamo’ti – => SN, Khandhasamyutta, Aniccasaññāsutta.

[The Buddha:] … Collectedness, o monks, cultivate, once collected a monk, o monks, will understand “form is impermanent”. Thus seeing and knowing a noble disciple will be freed from birth….

Samādhiṃ, bhikkhave, bhāvetha, samāhito, bhikkhave, bhikkhu rūpaṃ aniccanti pajānāti. Evaṃ passaṃ ariyasāvako parimuccati jātiyāpi => Samādhi Sutta, SN, Salāyatanasamyutta.

[Ven. Udayi reports]…Amazingly, O Lord, astonishing, O Lord, how very much it helped me, that I won the sympathy and reverence, shame and shyness towards the Blessed One. Earlier, O Lord, when I lived in the home I did not care much for the Dhamma, did not care too much of the Sangha. But when I, O Lord, began to notice that I won sympathy and esteem for the Blessed One, shame and shyness, it was then that I went from home into homelessness. And the Blessed one taught me the Dhamma thus: Such is form. Such is the arising of form. Such is the disappearing of form. Such is feeling…such is perception…such is intention…such mental formation…such is cognition, such is the arising of cognition, such is the disappearing of cognition.” And am I, O Lord, went into an empty hut and turned these five factors of grasping upward and downward and truly understood: ‘This is suffering” understood in accord with reality, ‘That’s the sufferings origin”  understood in accordance with reality ‘ This is the cessation of suffering’ understood in accord with reality ‘ this is the procedure leading to the cessation of suffering”…

‘‘Acchariyaṃ, bhante, abbhutaṃ, bhante! Yāva bahukatañca me, bhante, bhagavati pemañca gāravo ca hirī ca ottappañca. Ahañhi, bhante, pubbe agārikabhūto samāno abahukato ahosiṃ dhammena  abahukato saṅghena. So khvāhaṃ bhagavati pemañca gāravañca hiriñca ottappañca sampassamāno agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajito. Tassa me bhagavā dhammaṃ desesi – ‘iti rūpaṃ, iti rūpassa samudayo, iti rūpassa atthaṅgamo; iti vedanā…pe… iti saññā… iti saṅkhārā… iti viññāṇaṃ, iti viññāṇassa samudayo, iti viññāṇassa atthaṅgamo’ti. ‘‘So khvāhaṃ, bhante, suññāgāragato imesaṃ pañcupādānakkhandhānaṃ ukkujjāvakujjaṃ samparivattento ‘idaṃ dukkha’nti yathābhūtaṃ abbhaññāsiṃ, ‘ayaṃ dukkhasamudayo’ti yathābhūtaṃ abbhaññāsiṃ, ‘ayaṃ dukkhanirodho’ti yathābhūtaṃ abbhaññāsiṃ, ‘ayaṃ dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā’ti yathābhūtaṃ abbhaññāsiṃ. Dhammo ca me, bhante, abhisamito, maggo ca me paṭiladdho; yo me bhāvito bahulīkato tathā tathā viharantaṃ tathattāya upanessati yathāhaṃ – ‘khīṇā jāti, vusitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ, kataṃ karaṇīyaṃ, nāparaṃ itthattāyā’ti pajānissāmi. => Udayi Sutta, SN

[The Buddha:] Bhikkhus, what is the concentration developed and made much would conduce to a gain of knowledge and vision? Here, bhikkhus, the bhikkhu attends to the perception of light and intends the perception of daylight. In the day time, intends night and in the night, intends day. Thus with an open mind develops the uncovered mind, full of light. Bhikkhus, this concentration developed and made much would conduce to a gain of knowledge and vision. Bhikkhus, what is the concentration developed and made much would conduce to remembering awareness? Here, bhikkhus, to the bhikkhu feelings arise, persist and fade knowingly, perceptions arise, persist and fade knowingly and thoughts arise, persist and fade knowingly. Bhikkhus, this concentration developed and made much conduces to mindfull awareness. Bhikkhus, what samādhi developed and made much would conduce to the destruction of desires (āsavakkhaya, i.e. Nibbāna)? Here, bhikkhus, the bhikkhu abides reflecting the arising and fading of the five holdling masses.Such is feeling…such is perception…such is intention…such mental formation…such is cognition, such is the arising of cognition, such is the disappearing of cognition.”

‘‘Katamā ca, bhikkhave, samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā ñāṇadassanappaṭilābhāya saṃvattati? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu ālokasaññaṃ manasi karoti, divāsaññaṃ adhiṭṭhāti – yathā divā tathā rattiṃ, yathā rattiṃ tathā divā. Iti vivaṭena cetasā apariyonaddhena sappabhāsaṃ cittaṃ bhāveti. Ayaṃ, bhikkhave, samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā ñāṇadassanappaṭilābhāya saṃvattati.‘‘Katamā ca, bhikkhave, samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā satisampajaññāya saṃvattati? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno viditā vedanā uppajjanti, viditā upaṭṭhahanti, viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti; viditā saññā…pe… viditā vitakkā uppajjanti, viditā upaṭṭhahanti, viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti. Ayaṃ, bhikkhave, samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā satisampajaññāya saṃvattati. ‘‘Katamā ca, bhikkhave, samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā āsavānaṃ khayāya saṃvattati? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu pañcasu upādānakkhandhesu udayabbayānupassī viharati – ‘iti rūpaṃ, iti rūpassa samudayo, iti rūpassa atthaṅgamo, iti vedanā, iti vedanāya samudayo, iti vedanāya atthaṅgamo; iti saññā, iti saññāya samudayo, iti saññāya atthaṅgamo; iti saṅkhārā, iti saṅkhārānaṃ samudayo, iti saṅkhārānaṃ atthaṅgamo; iti viññāṇaṃ, iti viññāṇassa samudayo, iti viññāṇassa atthaṅgamo’ti. Ayaṃ, bhikkhave, samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā āsavānaṃ khayāya saṃvattati. => SN, Rohitassavaggo, Samādhibhāvana Sutta.

Therefore contemplation leads progressively into a deeper state of meditation, a samādhi, which is set on the right topic, a topic of wisdom generating quality. The practice of samathā and vipassanā

[Ven. Sariputta declares]…”For, Lord, all the Blessed Ones, Arahats, Fully Enlightened Ones of the past had abandoned the five hindrances,  the mental defilements that weaken wisdom; had well established their minds in the four foundations of mindfulness; had duly cultivated the seven factors of enlightenment, and were fully enlightened in unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment. And, Lord, all the Blessed Ones, Arahats, Fully Enlightened Ones of the future will abandon the five hindrances, the mental defilements that weaken wisdom; will well establish their minds in the four foundations of mindfulness; will duly cultivate the seven factors of enlightenment, and will be fully enlightened in unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment. And the Blessed One too, Lord, being at present the Arahat, the Fully Enlightened One, has abandoned the five hindrances, the mental defilements that weaken wisdom; has well established his mind in the four foundations of mindfulness; has duly cultivated the seven factors of enlightenment, and is fully enlightened in unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment.”

Ye te, bhante, ahesuṃ atītamaddhānaṃ arahanto sammāsambuddhā, sabbe te bhagavanto pañca nīvaraṇe pahāya cetaso upakkilese paññāya dubbalīkaraṇe catūsu satipaṭṭhānesu suppatiṭṭhitacittā, satta sambojjhaṅge yathābhūtaṃ bhāvetvā anuttaraṃ sammāsambodhiṃ abhisambujjhiṃsu. Yepi te, bhante, bhavissanti anāgatamaddhānaṃ arahanto sammāsambuddhā, sabbe te bhagavanto pañca nīvaraṇe pahāya cetaso upakkilese paññāya dubbalīkaraṇe catūsu satipaṭṭhānesu suppatiṭṭhitacittā, satta sambojjhaṅge yathābhūtaṃ bhāvetvā anuttaraṃ sammāsambodhiṃ abhisambujjhissanti. Bhagavāpi, bhante, etarahi arahaṃ sammāsambuddho pañca nīvaraṇe pahāya cetaso upakkilese paññāya dubbalīkaraṇe catūsu satipaṭṭhānesu suppatiṭṭhitacitto satta sambojjhaṅge yathābhūtaṃ bhāvetvā anuttaraṃ sammāsambodhiṃ abhisambuddho… => DN 16

If you read all of the above up to this point, I sincerely wish that you may benefit immensely from these words of the Awakened One and attain Nibbana in this very life! (For everyone else who did not get this far, I have the same wish, but they did n’t see this message ;-) May you not repeat my mistake of thinking that meditation practice and purification of the mind are two separate things. Thanks for stopping ;-) by.

mettāya,

a theravadin…

==

Translations (and mistakes) are mostly mine and with some adaptations (less the mistakes) from metta.lk 

The Lay Disciple

This is the disciple of the Buddha, living in the house. He has confidence in the Buddha’s awakening. He trains himself to purify his actions and his speech. He cultivates generosity, learns to sacrifice and let go. And this is his practice: he embraces opportunities to listen to the Dhamma – the word of the Buddha, of awakened monks & nuns. But that’s not all. He makes it a point to remember the Dhamma he heard. He tries to memorize it, keep it in his mind. Because he knows that thus he will think about it, look at it, investigate it, deeply understand it. Then, by such practice, he knows this to be a natural law, his life will follow suit, inevitably.

Slowly but surely his whole life gets touched and transformed by the magic that is the miracle of the Dhamma: In his work he is industrious, hard-working and diligent. In his financial manners, he is generous, avoiding debt, knowing the benefits of saving and he never forgets to uplift the mind of his family and friends. He takes good care of his parents who he owes his training and guidance in life and instructs & supports his children and companions always on the lookout to associate with good and noble people. Thus his worldly live is in balance allowing him to devote more time and clarity to his spiritual life.

At least once a week, clad in white which symbolizes purity, he enjoys a day of silence and contemplation. He makes up his mind to invest into this noble training of body, speech and mind. He knows, such a day spent following in the footsteps of the Arahants will be, at the end of his earthly days, worth more than any fortune in his bank account. That day, he reminds himself of the Dhamma he learned, he might fast that day too, keeping it light and simple, reflecting over the words of the Buddha. He might recollect the Buddha’s qualities, what makes an Awakened One such, he might recollect the Dhamma and Sangha. He might recollect the qualities of the Devas knowing that his life if purified in this way will lead to such a state of mind and no other destination.

Every day, he starts his morning with the 5 wholesome reflections. Every morning he might re-affirm his confidence in the master, recluse Gotama and his explanation of the Dhamma and the group of disciples who follow this path earnestly. Every morning he might reflect on the virtues he is determined to bring into his life and he might think how he can practice generosity that day. Every day, he might make it a point, to increase his memory of the Buddha’s teachings, reciting the words of the Awakened from memory. Every day you can find him calmly reflecting over the meaning of the Dhamma he learned. Others call it meditation, he calls it sammā samādhi and bhāvanā, or development, for he knows it is like a plant, it needs continued attention and careful handling to let it grow strong to bear fruit.

He knows, that from confidence comes serenity and from serenity joy. That inner joy will lead him more than often into the calm abiding of the four jhānas. He knows how to utilize the perfect calmness and equanimity of the fourth jhana to recollect his past lifes, yes, he might master such similar skills, but over all, he knows no higher joy than to reflect over the impermanence of the six senses, watching their bubbling arising and passing away as his wisdom grows, knows no higher joy than to observe the five aggregates arising and dissolving, contemplating the dependent origination leading to deep insight and purifying wisdom.

As his weekly meditation days (Uposatha) grow in depth, guided and aligned by the words of the Buddha which he cherishes like an ancient treasure, his skill in deepening his awakening through the application of the meditations as described by the Buddha becomes formidable. He, still wearing a white garment, living among wife and children, keeps his mind firmly engaged in the mindfulness on the body, or the four satipatthanas, or the meditation on breathing, leading to deep insight & wisdom & the fruits of stream entry, once return and non-return. This he knows as the path to Nibbana as pointed out by the Awakened One.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Based on the following suttas:

Majjhima Nikaya, Middle collection
M. 75th (VIII, 5) Māgandiya Sutta (Māgandiyo)

translated from Pāli by Karl Eugen Neumann

THIS HAVE I HEARD. At one time the Blessed One was staying in the Kuru country, in a town of the Kurus called Kammasadammam, at the altar hearth of a Brahman from the Bharadvajer-lineage, on a straw mat. And the Master, getting ready early, took bowl and robe and went to Kammasadammam for his alms meal. And as the Sublime One, walking from house to house, had received alms, he returned, took the meal and then went to a nearby forest grove, for the day. Inside this forest thicket, the Sublime One sat at the foot of a tree, to dwell there until sunset.

Now came Māgandiyo, a pilgrim, strolling on a promenade, to the altar hearth of the Bharadvajer Brahmin. And there he saw the straw mat arranged, and when he had noticed that he spoke thus to Bharadvajer Brahmin:

“For whom is here at Sir Bharadvajo’s altar hearth the straw mat arranged? It looks like a seat of an ascetic.”

“It is, o Māgandiyo, the ascetic Gotama, the Sakyerson who has renounced the legacy of the Sakya! This Lord Gotama is greeted everywhere with the joyous glorious call: ‘So indeed, this is the Sublime One, the Holy One,the fully Awakened One, proven in knowledge and character, the Welcome One, the Knower of the worlds, the incomparable leader of the herd of men, the master of the gods and men, the Awakened One, the Sublime One.’ For this Sir Gotama the seat is arranged.”‘

“Bad, verily, O Bharadvajo, we have seen that we have seen the seat of Sir Gotama, the core-biter.”

“Let go, Māgandiyo, of such talk! Even many learned princes and learned priests, learned ascetics and learned citizens are thrilled and genuinely initiated by this Lord Gotama, in the salutary law.”

“And if, oh Bharadvajo, that Lord Gotama came to face, we should say it to his face: ‘A core-biter is the ascetic Gotama, I say: and why I say that? Because he, as such, is against our own statutes.’”

“If it is agreeable to Sir Māgandiyo, I want to tell the ascetic Gotama.”

“Not that I want to burden Sir Bharadvajo with it, but he may say it.” But the Blessed One heard with his heavenly ear, the purified, superhuman, reaching beyond borders, this talk of the Brahmin of the Bharadvaja lineage with the pilgrim Māgandiyo.

When the Blessed One had now finished towards evening the peace of thought, he returned to the altar hearth of the Bharadvaja Brahmin and sat down on the arranged straw mat. Then came the Bharadvajer-Brahmin and approached the Sublime One, exchanging courteous and friendly greeting and memorable words and sat down on the side. And when the Bharadvajer-Brahmin sat to the side, the Blessed One addressed him thus:

“Did you, Bharadvajo, have any conversation here with Māgandiyo the pilgrims about this straw mat?”

At these words the Brahman Bharadvajo, taken by awe, replied to he Exalted One:

“That’s just now what we wanted to inform Lord Gotama about: ‘But Lord Gotama has now made us become silent.”

And no sooner this conversation of the Sublime One with the Bharadvajer Brahmins had begun, there came Māgandiyo the pilgrims strolling on his walk, back to the altar hearth of the Bharadvajer Brahmin, and he walked to the Sublime One, exchanging courteous greeting and friendly, memorable words with the Sublime One and sat down on the side. And as the pilgrim Māgandiyo sat aside, the Blessed One addressed him thus:

“The eye, Māgandiyo indulges in the forms, loves the forms, enjoys the forms: it the Tathagata has subdued, made waiting, saddled and bridled; to rein it in he shows the teaching. Have you, Māgandiyo thought of this as you saidst: ‘A core-biter is the ascetic Gotama?’ “

“Of this, sure, O Gotama, I thought when I said, ‘A core-biter is the ascetic Gotama, I say: and why I say that? Because he, as such, is against our own statutes.’”

“The ear, Māgandiyo indulges in the sounds, the nose, Māgandiyo in the scents, the tongue, Māgandiyo, indulges in the juices, the body, Māgandiyo indulges in the tangibles, the mind, Māgandiyo indulges in ideas, loves ideas, delights in ideas: the mind has been tamed by the Perfect One, made waiting, saddled and bridled; to rein it in he teaches the teaching. Have you, Māgandiyo thought of that, when you spoke.? ‘A core-biter is the ascetic Gotama’ “

“Of this, sure, O Gotama, I thought when I said, ‘A core-biter is the ascetic Gotama, I say: and why I say that? Because he, as such, is against our own statutes.’”

“What do you think Māgandiyo: it was there someone first being served by the forms entering into consciousness through the eye, which he longed for, loved, lovely, pleasant, appropriate for desire, charming, who had then later understood the forms’ arising and passing away, understood their misery, their refreshment and renunciation; who then discarded the desire for forms, the fever for forms and has conquered the thirst and gained the stilling of his own mind: what you want now, Māgandiyo argue against such a one ?”

“Nothing, oh Gotama!”

“What do you think Māgandiyo: it was there someone first being served by the sounds entering into consciousness through the ear, by the scents entering into consciousness through the nose, by the tastes entering into consciousness through the tongue, by the tangibles entering into consciousness through the body, by the ideas entering into consciousness through the mind which he longed for, loved, lovely, pleasant, appropriate for desire, charming, who had then later understood the ideas’ arising and passing away, understood their misery, their refreshment and renunciation therefrom; who then discarded the desire for ideas, the fever for ideas and has conquered the thirst and gained the stilling of his own mind: what you want now, Māgandiyo argue against such a one ?”

“Nothing more, O Gotama!”

“I used to, Māgandiyo, also live in the house and was gifted with the possession and enjoyment of the five desires: the forms entering into consciousness through the eye, the sounds entering into consciousness through the ear, the fragrances entering into consciousness through the nose, the juices entering into consciousness through the tongue, the tangibles entering into consciousness through the body, the ones longed-for, loved, lovely, pleasant,  appropriate for desire, charming. And I owned Māgandiyo, three palaces, one for fall, one for winter, one for the summer. And I spent, Māgandiyo, the four autumn months in the autumn palace, served by invisible music, and did not rise to come down from the balcony. Later then I understood according to truth the desire’s arising and passing away, its refreshment and misery and renunciation therefrom and I rejected the desiring pleasure, denied the desiring fever, conquered thirst and attained the ebbing of my own mind. And I saw how the other beings who yielded to the desire, consumed of desiring thirst, ignited by desiring fever, how they indulge in desires, and I could not envy could find no pleasure in it: and why not? Because yes, Māgandiyo, my joy, far from desires, far from unwholesome things, come close to heavenly bliss: such joy enjoying I could not find anything attractive in the common, find no pleasure in it.

“Just if, Māgandiyo, there was a father, or the son of a householder, rich, with money and property powerfully gifted in possession and enjoyment of the five desires. And he had traveled on the righteous path in works, words and thoughts and at the dissolution of the body, after death, reappeared on the good track, enters into a heavenly world, up to the realm of the thirty-three gods. And he lived in the ‘Blissful Forest’, with an array of nymphs, in the possession and enjoyment of the five heavenly desires. And he perceived a householder, or the son of a householder, who owns the five worldy desires and enjoys them what do you think Māgandiyo, would this son of the gods, who owns the ‘Blissful Forest’ with an array of nymphs and the heavenly five desires enjoy that householder, or son of a householder and envy him, and miss the five human desires, turn to human desires? “

“Certainly not, O Gotama!”

“And why not?”

“Human desires, O Gautama, are to be preferred and be preceded by heavenly desires.”

“Just in the same way now, Māgandiyo did I used to also live in the house and was gifted with the possession and enjoyment of the five desires: . Later then I understood according to truth the desire’s arising and passing away, its refreshment and misery and renunciation therefrom and I rejected the desiring pleasure, denied the desiring fever, conquered thirst and attained the ebbing of my own mind. And I saw how the other beings who yielded to the desire, consumed of desiring thirst, ignited by desiring fever, how they indulge in desires, and I could not envy could find no pleasure in it: and why not? Because yes, Māgandiyo, my joy, far from desires, far from unwholesome things, come close to heavenly bliss: such joy enjoying I could not find anything attractive in the common, find no pleasure in it.

“Just if, Māgandiyo, when a leper, whose limbs have become covered with ulcers, rotten, worm-eaten, are scratched by the nails and sore, would bake them at a pit full of burning coals with scraps of skin tearing down from the body. And his friends and comrades, relatives and cousins ​​ordered him a knowledgeable doctor, and this knowledgeable doctor would give him a cure, and he used this remedy and would be freed from leprosy and was cured, felt good, independent, and could go where he wanted. And he saw other lepers, with limbs full of sores, foul-grown, eaten by worms and scratched by the nails sore, as they dried them up at a pit full of burning coals with shreds of skin hanging down from the body. What do you think Māgandiyo, would this man envy those lepers or miss the glowing coal pit and the use of the remedy? “

“Oh no, oh Gotama!”

“And why not?”

“If one is ill, oh Gotama, then one needs a cure. If one is not sick, then you do not need it.”

“Just in the same way now, Māgandiyo did I used to also live in the house and was gifted with the possession and enjoyment of the five desires: . Later then I understood according to truth the desire’s arising and passing away, its refreshment and misery and renunciation therefrom and I rejected the desiring pleasure, denied the desiring fever, conquered thirst and attained the ebbing of my own mind. And I saw how the other beings who yielded to the desire, consumed of desiring thirst, ignited by desiring fever, how they indulge in desires, and I could not envy could find no pleasure in it: and why not? Because yes, Māgandiyo, my joy, far from desires, far from unwholesome things, come close to heavenly bliss: such joy enjoying I could not find anything attractive in the common, find no pleasure in it.

“Just if, Māgandiyo, when a leper, whose limbs have become covered with ulcers, rotten, worm-eaten, are scratched by the nails and sore, would bake them at a pit full of burning coals with scraps of skin tearing down from the body. And his friends and comrades, relatives and cousins ​​ordered him a knowledgeable doctor, and this knowledgeable doctor would give him a cure, and he used this remedy and would be freed from leprosy and was cured, felt good, independent, and could go where he wanted.  And two strong men grabbed him under the arms and dragged him toward the glowing coal pit. What do you think Māgandiyo? Would not this man pull back his body in every possible way?”

“Certainly, oh Gotama!”

“And why is that?”

“That fire, oh Gotama, is so painful to endure and even terribly scorching and terribly injuring.”

“What do you think Māgandiyo: is only now the fire painful to endure and terribly scorching and dreadfully injuring, or was it earlier too painful to endure and terribly scorching and dreadfully injuring?”

“Now, O Gautama, the fire is painful to endure and terribly scorching and dreadfully injuring and even before the fire was painful to endure and terribly scorching and dreadfully injuring. But that leper, oh Gotama, whose limbs were full of sores, had become rotten, worm-eaten, were scratched by the nails with shreds of skin tearing down from his body, he had become confused and had lost his mind, and that his how he endured the painful fire believing: ‘That feels good’ “

“Just in the same way, however, Māgandiyo, were also the desires of the past painful to bear and terribly scorching and frightfully injuring, and also the desires of the future will be painful to endure and terribly scorching and frightfully injuring, and even the desires of today are painful to bear and terribly scorching and frightfully injuring. But these beings, Māgandiyo, yielded to the desire of desiring thirst, inflamed by desiring fever, have become confused in their senses, lost their mind, and while they painfully endure the desires they believe: ‘This feels good’.

“As if, Māgandiyo, a leper, whose limbs are covered with ulcers, rotten, worm-eaten, are scratched by the nails and tearing shreds of skin off his body close to a fire pit full of burning coals – the more and more now, Māgandiyo, those lepers scratch themselves, the more and more his open wounds get filled with dirt, odor and pus, and yet he feels a certain complacency, a certain enjoyment by rubbing the open wounds. In the same way, Māgandiyo, do the beings who indulge in desires, surrendering to desires and desiring thirst, consumed by desiring fever and ignited by passions – the more and more now, Māgandiyo, they are given to the desires and desiring thirst, consumed by desiring fever and inflamed and indulging in desires – the more and more grows in them desire, the more they are ignited by the lustful fever, and yet they feel a certain complacency, a certain enjoyment following the five sense desires.

“What do you think Māgandiyo: have you seen such a king or a prince, who, endowed with the possession and enjoyment of the five desires, without rejecting the desire and without having denied the desiring fever, has defeated his thirst and attained to the ebbing of his own mind, or finds it or will find it? “

“Probably not, oh Gotama!”

“Well, Māgandiyo: Neither have I heard nor seen, Māgandiyo, that a king or a prince, in the possession and enjoyment of the five desires, without rejecting the desiring pleasure, and without having denied the desiring fever, defeated thirst and attained to the ebbing of his own mind, or is, or will find it. But whoever also Māgandiyo, of all the ascetics and priests, overcame thirst and did attain the ebbing of their own mind, or does so or will in the future - each has truly seen the desires’ arising and passing away, their refreshment and misery and renunciation therefrom and rejected the desiring pleasure, denied the desiring fever, and then conquered the thirst and found the ebbing of his own mind, or finds it, or will find it. “

And the Blessed One was heard on this occasion saying the following verses:

“Health is the highest good,
The extinction of delusion highest salvation,
The eightfold real is the best of all pathways
To extinguish forever. “

At these words the pilgrims Māgandiyo said to the Exalted One:

“Wonderful, oh Gotama, is great, oh Gotama, how well Lord Gotama has put it:

“Health is the highest good,
The extinction of delusion highest salvation’

I too have heard this, oh Gotama, this word of the pilgrims and their former masters and teachers of yore:

“Health is the highest good,
The extinction of delusion highest salvation’

With them, oh Gotama, it is consistent! “

“What you heard there Māgandiyo, the word of the pilgrims and their former masters and teachers of yore:

“Health is the highest good,
The extinction of delusion highest salvation’

what does ‘health‘ mean? what means ‘the extinction of delusion’? “

So asked, the pilgrim Māgandiyo wiped his hand over eyes and forehead:

“The meaning of ‘health’, o Gotama, is the same as the meaning of ‘extinction of delusion’. I am now, oh Gotama, healthy, feel good and am wanting for nothing.”

“Just if, Māgandiyo, there were a man born blind: who sees no black and no white objects, not blue, not yellow, not red, not green, he did not see what is equal and what is not equal, would see no stars and no moon and no sun. And he heard the word of someone who can see: ‘proper, indeed, my dear, is a white dress, fine, without stains and clean.’ And he sought to gain such and someone deceived him, someone gave him a shirt greasy and grimy and second hand. ‘Here you go, my dear man, here is a white dress, very fine, without stains and clean’. And he took and clothed himself with it and happily he would run around saying: ‘proper, indeed, is a white dress,very fine, without stains and clean.’ What do you think Māgandiyo; would this man knowingly had accepted that greasy and grimy old shirt, put it on and running around made such happy exclamation or because he trusted that seeing man who sold it to him? “

“Without knowing it, certainly, oh Gotama, without seeing it he had accepted that greasy and grimy old shirt, put it on and talked about it chearfully, because he believed that man who could see.”

“Just in the same way, Māgandiyo, the other ascetics and pilgrims are blind and eyeless, don’t know of health, do not see the extinction of delusion, and yet they say the phrase:

‘Health is the highest good,
‘The extinction of delusion highest salvation.’

Those ancient holy ones, Māgandiyo, the fully Awakened Ones (Buddhas) were saying this:

“Health is the highest good,
The extinction of delusion highest salvation,
The eightfold real is the best of all pathways
To extinguish forever. “

This is now gradually becoming a common saying. But this body here, Māgandiyo is a sickly thing, a brest-like thing, a painful thing, an evil thing, a fragile thing, and from this body, which is a sickly thing, a brest-like thing, a painful thing, an evil thing, is a fragile thing, you say: ‘The meaning of health, oh Gotama, is the same as teh meaning of extinction of delusion.’  You are lacking the noble vision, Māgandiyo, equipped with the noble vision you knew what health is, would see the extinction of delusion. “

“I trust the Lord Gotama as much and think as well that Lord Gotama can show me his teaching such that I become aware of health, may see the extinction of delusion!”

“Just about, Māgandiyo if it were a man born blind because: who sees no black and no white objects, not blue, not yellow, not red, not green, he did not see what right and what is not equal, would see no stars and no moon and no sun. And his friends and comrades, relatives and cousins ​​ordered him a knowledgeable doctor, and this knowledgeable doctor would give him a cure, and he used this remedy and could not clear his eyes, could not  purify the eyes. What do you think Māgandiyo: would not that artist have plagued and struggled with his patient in vain “?

“Certainly, oh Gotama!”

“Just in the same way, Māgandiyo, I could probably expound to you the doctrine about health and about the extinction of delusion and you might not perceive health and not see the extinction of delusion: and it would be my plague and my struggle with you would be in vain.”

“I trust the Lord Gotama as much and think as well that Lord Gotama can show me his teaching such that I become aware of health, may see the extinction of delusion!”

“Just as, Māgandiyo there were a man born blind: who sees no black and no white objects, not blue, not yellow, not red, not green, he did not see what is equal and what is not equal, would see no stars and no moon and no sun. And he heard the word of a seeing person: ‘proper, indeed, my dear friend, is a white dress, a fine one, without stains and clean.’ And he sought to gain such and it deceived him another man with a shirt greasy and grimy a used one. ‘Take it, dear man, a white dress, very fine, without stains and clean’. And he took it and clothed himself with it. And his friends and comrades, relatives and cousins, they would order a knowledgeable  doctor, and this knowledgeable doctor would give him a cure, and let’ him drain himself up and down using ointment, balm and sneezing powder and under this treatment his eyes were clear up and get purified and as he would start to see he would loose his pleasure and joy in the old greasy and grimy used shirt, and he thought of the man as his enemy, as his adversary, and thought perhaps even the fact that he sought his life: ‘Long time has passed, verily, that I was deceived by that man, deceived and betrayed with this old greasy and grimy slave-shirt, saying: ‘Here thou have, dear man, a white dress ,very fine, no stains and clean “:

Just in the same way, Māgandiyo, I could expound to you the doctrine about health and about the extinction of delusion, and you would perceive health, and see the extinction of delusion: and as you would start seeing your joy and delight in the five pieces of clinging would perish and you would think: ‘For a long time, verily, I was cheated by this heart, deceived, betrayed! Because I attachingly attached to form, attachingly attached to feeling, attachingly attached to perception, attachingly attached to (mental) distinctions, attachingly attached to consciousness.  Thus from attachment resulted becoming and from becoming birth, from birth, aging and death, woe, misery, suffering, grief and despair: this is how this mass of suffering comes about. ‘”

“I trust the Lord Gotama and believe as much that the Lord Gotama can show me his teaching so that I will get up from this seat free from blindness!”

“Well then, Māgandiyo, join good people, and joining good people, Māgandiyo, you will listen to good teaching, and when you will listen to the good teaching, Māgandiyo, you will live in accordance with the teaching and living in accordance with it, Māgandiyo, you will know by yourself, see by yourself: ‘That’s the infirm, the brest-like, the painful. There the infirm, the brest-like, the painful will be dissolved without residue. In this way in me through dissolution of attachment becoming will dissolve and from the dissolving of becoming birth will dissolve. Through the dissolution of birth  aging and dying, woe, misery, suffering, grief and despair: that suffering will find its end. ‘”

After these words, Māgandiyo the pilgrim turned to the Sublime one and said:

“Well said, oh Gotama, excellent, oh Gotama. Just as if one, oh Gotama, would turn upside what had fallen down, or reveal the concealed or point out the right way to the misguided one, or bring light into the darkness: ‘Whoever has eyes to see, may he see’: in the same way has Lord Gotama explained the doctrine in various ways and so I take refuge in the Lord Gotama, in the teaching and discipleship. May Lord Gautama accept me as his student, give me the entrance into his order.”!

“Who was, Māgandiyo, first in another order and then comes to this doctrine and discipline, and wants to receive the entrance into the order, stays for four months, and after a lapse of four months he will, if he remains, will be introduced into the order and trained well by experienced monks: for I have seen here some some variability. “

“If, O Lord, the former members of other orders, which will enter in this doctrine and discipline, will receive the consecration, after four months, and after a lapse of four months – if they remained so – are introduced to the monkhood by very experienced by monks, I want to stay four years, and after a lapse of four years, if I remained, therefore, be allowed to enter the order.”

Māgandiyo the pilgrim was accepted by the Sublime One, and entered the order.

Not long, after the venerable Māgandiyo was admitted to the Order, there he had, lonely, isolated, pursuing tirelessly in hot, heartfelt earnestness quite soon achieved what attracts noble sons entirely away from home into homelessness: that supreme goal of asceticism in this very life he made it apparent to himself, realized and attained to it: ‘Dried up is birth, perfected the asceticism, the work accomplished, no longer is this world’. He too now, the venerable Māgandiyo, had become one of the saints.

===

Karl Eugen Neumann was one of the first European Buddhists. His translation of Dhp, MN, DN, Thag, This and Snip in an incredibly poetic and non-commentarial reading of the Suttas with footnotes expressing his vast array of literary, philogical and artistic knowledge spanning across 2500 years of Eastern and Western religious and philosophical life are an amazing rendering of the beauty of the Buddha’s words into a modern language.

This translation of MN 75 from the German translation of the middle length discourses by KEN does not strive for perfectionism in a word by word rendering of the original Pali (how could it, being a secondary translation Pali-German-English ;-)).

While KEN was extremely ambitious to render the frequent Pali alliterations, the melody, rhythm and word order as close as possible to the source texts, my personal attempt to translate this important sutta into English from the German original was just an attempt to try to capture the “flavor” of KEN’s translation style in English – even if it’s just a distant echo of the original – and with a lot of help of google translate.

Maybe one or the other Pali translator (who might not be fluent in German) might enjoy KEN’s sometimes un-orthodox but always beautifully rhythmic rendering of the Buddha’s words. It will not come as a surprise that Hermann Hesse (like many other poets and writers) were deeply influenced by Neumann’s translation.

About this discourse, MN 75, Karl Eugen Neumann wrote to one of his best friends, the famous Italian scientist Giuseppe de Lorenzo, in a letter dated “Vienna, May 9th 1900

“You are absolutely right when you praise No. 75  as exceedingly beautiful master piece: if we just had this one discourse, so would it alone show the perfected greatness of Gotama and his teaching. It is the deepest metaphysics spoken in a comprehensible manner. What did Wagner once – brilliant enthusiastically – say? “The language most appropriate to highest insight was spoken by that Buddha.” Every word fits like an Ashokan thought-pillar.

Karl Eugen Neumann was born October 18th, 1865 and passed away on that same day, October 18th, 1915 having dedicated his whole life to the translation of the Tipitaka.

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