Archive for the ‘Jhana’ Category

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]




[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]

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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.


a theravadin…


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

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Practical ideas on anussati, sati and apilapanā.

Today I would like to invite you to a short experiment. It is going to be very simple. Here is the experiment:

Think of a random number, for instance “1325″. Now close your eyes and try to keep that number in your mind, continously, don’t forget it, don’t think of anything else. Just this number and only this number. Try your best to just keep that number in the forefront of your mind at all times. You must try to hold it continously, without letting it slip from your attention! It has to be one ongoing “ride”. Think of it as learning how to ride a bike: you will fall off (the number) but you will get back on it immediately, trying to stay on it as long as you can. Don’t let it go and keep coming back! Your goal should be to stick with it, as long as you possibly can – and then increase those little moments.

Do this for at least 5 minutes. If you don’t, it will be hard for you to understand what this post is trying to illustrate.

Thanks for trying :-). Trying to tame the mind means training ones skill of mental one-pointedness. But there is so much more going on when you develop that skill which may have reminded you of your days as a child, when you tried to find your balance on the saddle of a bike, only to realize that you were falling off the bike almost as quickly as you got on it.

Developing the Jhanas is exactly the same type of activity as the one you just exercised. Developing the jhanas is like learning how to ride a (mental) bike. When learning how to ride a bike there are three important things involved: First of all, you see others on the bike and see how much fun they have. You want that too. Secondly, almost everyone you see did learn it, so you are thinking: I can do it too. Third, when you are up on the bike, you learn to intuitively avoid falling – but that takes lot of practice. You know now, that the falling was actually part of the game, and it taught you how NOT to fall. In order to develop the skill to keep your balance your mind had to learn to avoid extreme movements away from the center. You also realized that eventually, once you started to keep going, the balance was easy to hold and the fun bike ride started.
Concentration meditation and learning to get into the jhanas are a very very similar process. No one would consider constant falling off a bike to be called “riding a bike”. Similarly, constantly “loosing” ones meditation object and never getting to the first jhana is like trying to get on a bike but never succeeding. It is like a perpetual state of meditation-trial. We would not expect someone to get very far either, if he is still struggling with finding his balance on a bike – and in the same way, from the perspective of the suttas, the ability to ride that bike is a presupposed training, something which allows you to cover a lot of ground with insight meditation, but also something which everyone and obviously did not have a hard time doing. So lets get back to the essentials of riding that bike.

When you did the little exercise above you were asked to use the number in lieu of a meditation object (a meditation object is nothing else than a mental object – in the case of this number probably a picture or a sound, your thought of it) and you were eager and tried diligently to keep that mental object stable and continously in the presence of your mind. You probably also noticed that you needed effort, but that too much effort was contra-productive and made your mind bubble even more. But you probably also noted that as soon as you were not careful you would lose your focus on what you originally intended to hold in your mind, what you wanted to continously remember.  I hope you find those five minutes challenging and that challenge interesting.

So, lets summarize:

  1. To get on a bike, you need a bike – this is your meditation object
  2. Your goal is it to effortlessly be in a state of riding, needing hardly any “effort” to stay balanced and enjoying the breeze – this is your blissful jhanic state of calm, mental, focused abiding
  3. To develop that knowledge of keeping the balance you need lots of practice – the same for meditation
  4. You have to have a measure of progress: less falling from the bike, longer stretches of effortless riding – the same applies for meditation
  5. The challenge in riding the bike is to get up to speed while the body is yet moving too quickly too strongly too far away from the center – same in meditation: in the beginning it is a catch 22 where the mind is too quickly and strongly moving away from your meditation object which will make your mental bike wobble and throw you off…

It is through renewed practice, knowing the technique and checking your progress, that you will eventually master the skill of mental biking – with all the benefits it will bestow on you.

Let’s talk a little bit more about the technique and have a look at some definitions the Buddha is teaching in the suttas on this topic.

We compared meditation to the idea of  “riding” a “thought” like you ride a bike. Does not that challenge, and it definitely is a challenge, remind you of the following story the Buddha told:

“Suppose the loveliest girl of the land was dancing and singing and a crowd assembled. A man was there wishing to live, not to die, wishing for happiness, averse to suffering. If someone said to him, ‘Good man, carry around this bowl of oil filled to the brim between the crowds and the girl. A man with a sword will follow you, and if you spill even a drop, he will cut off your head,’ would that man stop attending to that bowl of oil and turn his attention outward to the girl? This simile shows how you should train yourselves.”

‘‘Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, ‘janapadakalyāṇī, janapadakalyāṇī’ti kho, bhikkhave, mahājanakāyo sannipateyya. ‘Sā kho panassa janapadakalyāṇī paramapāsāvinī nacce, paramapāsāvinī gīte. Janapadakalyāṇī naccati gāyatī’ti kho, bhikkhave, bhiyyosomattāya mahājanakāyo sannipateyya. Atha puriso āgaccheyya jīvitukāmo amaritukāmo sukhakāmo dukkhappaṭikūlo. Tamenaṃ evaṃ vadeyya – ‘ayaṃ te, ambho purisa, samatittiko telapatto antarena ca mahāsamajjaṃ antarena ca janapadakalyāṇiyā pariharitabbo. Puriso ca te ukkhittāsiko piṭṭhito piṭṭhito anubandhissati. Yattheva naṃ thokampi chaḍḍessati tattheva te siro pātessatī’ti. Taṃ kiṃ maññatha, bhikkhave, api nu so puriso amuṃ telapattaṃ amanasikaritvā bahiddhā pamādaṃ āhareyyā’’ti? ‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’. ‘‘Upamā kho myāyaṃ, bhikkhave, katā atthassa viññāpanāya. Ayaṃ cevettha attho – samatittiko telapattoti kho, bhikkhave, kāyagatāya etaṃ satiyā adhivacanaṃ. Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, evaṃ sikkhitabbaṃ – ‘kāyagatā sati no bhāvitā bhavissati bahulīkatā yānīkatā vatthukatā anuṭṭhitā paricitā susamāraddhā’ti. Evañhi kho, bhikkhave, sikkhitabba’’nti.
(SN, PTS.  5. 170)

In some of the previous posts we have come across the idea that such an effort as described above in fact entails samma sati which in due course would lead to a meditative absorption or collectedness called samma samadhi (the two last parts of the Buddha’s noble eightfold path). In the “Mahāniddesa-Aṭṭhakathā” we find a very telling description of samma sati. It also allows us to better understand a similar term which the suttas also apply to the practice of sati, namely “anussati“. The Mahāniddesa-Aṭṭhakathā (Commentary on the Mahaniddesa) has the following line which makes it very clear what the practice of sati, i.e. anussati, means. An explanation which seems to match our observation after all of the aforesaid – and it will be especially obvious to you, if you tried the initial experiment as suggested in the beginning. Have a look how meditation gets defined in that over 2000 year old text:

Punappunaṃ saraṇato anussaraṇa-vasena ‘anussati’.
Again and again remembering, through the method of continously remembering [lit.: along-remembering], (that is called) “anussati”.
[Mahāniddesa-Aṭṭhakathā, PTS 1.51]

This is quite a telling and very descriptive explanation – but it seems certainly very intuitive and striking to someone who practices concentration meditation. Typically “anussati” is translated into English simply as “recollection”. Nothing wrong with such a translation, besides the obvious drawback that the word “anu-sati” tells you actually how to practice just through the name itself (anu-after/along, sati-remembrance) and the word “recollection” however is more vague and unclear as to “how” to practice.(1) What is described as “anu-saraṇa”  is exactly what we try when someone asks us to keep one object in the forefront of our mind, we try to keep it upright, established, alive in our mind without letting go of it. “anu-” is a prefix in Pāli and carries the connotation of “following after, along, alongside, going after”. “saraṇa” means remembering, related to the word sati (as a  noun) and sarati (the verb) – anussaraṇa is a nominalized verb, expressing the active character of the verb’s activity. So here in this case, anussati then describes the method of “along- or follow along remembering” – does not that seem like a pretty good description of our own little experiment from the beginning? Now, in theory, you yourself would know – and that just by looking at the name – how to practice any of the following meditations exercises:

buddhānussati (anussati on the Buddha), asubhānussati (on the loathesomeness of the body), maraṇānussati (on death), upasamānussati (on peace), dhammānussati (on the Dhamma), sanghānussati (on the sangha), cāgānussati (on giving), etc….

At this point you might say; “wait a second. isn’t anussati typically translated as ‘recollection’? I get what you are saying, how anussati could mean a continuous process of keeping a memory in the mind, but how would one explain the Buddha’s ‘recollection of former lives’ (pubbenivesānussati) or Buddhaghosa’s description of ‘recollecting’ the virtues of the Buddha?”
Valid questions. The connotations of the English expression ‘recollection’ are not very meditative. When we hear ‘recollection’ we think of a random way of bringing stuff back into our memory, a (more or less – stress on more) random  jumping around. However, ‘anussati‘ as we see it utilized in Pali, has a narrower meaning. It means that you are staying with a memory (preferably only one). Whether it is the case of the Buddha remembering memories of former lives, you can see that in the description of such a ‘recollection’ the meditator recalls one life after the other in a constant succession, without letting go of the object of the concentration. It is therefore a veritable ‘along’-remembering, without interruptions(4) – and drawing you a w a y from the senses => the decisive necessity to get to the first jhana. A similar observation can be made reading the Visuddhimagga’s description of meditation on body-parts: first the meditator is asked to recite them in a certain succession (anyone can do that, a very smart way to introduce meditation), then, at a certain point, the meditator is now asked to “flip the switch” and continue to “chant” mentally, i.e. recollect uninterruptedly in a mentally voiced manner(3) – that is the same what you would do when someone asks you to mentally keep a number in your head without letting any other “distraction” take over. Here too, your ‘recollection’ becomes a sustained, continous effort, which succeeds when the practice of anussati evokes first mental bliss (through sense reduction –  viveka from kama) and then via an automatic centering in the jhanic dwelling.

About the interesting Mahaniddesa passage on “sati(8) to which the above quoted definition is given in the subcommentary and which he had examined in another post on this blog (Understanding Vipassana) there is another synonym listed(17) for the practice of sati, namely “apilāpanatā” which will, at a closer look, support our interpretation of sati and especially anussati as a method of keeping an object continously present in mind. The PED says about “apilāpanatā”(16)

Apilāpanatā (f.) in the pass. at Dhs 14 = Nd2 628 is evidently meant to be taken as a + pilāpana + tā (fr. pilavati, plu), but whether the der. & interpret. of Dhs A is correct, we are unable to say. On general principles it looks like popular etym. Mrs. Rh. D. translates (p. 16) “opposite of superficiality” (lit “not floating”); see her detailed note Dhs trsl. 16.

Imagine this scenario: You are caught in a wild river and out of sheer luck you are able to grab a hold of a rock. What do you think you will try to do? You will try to hold onto it with all your might, trying to not let it go:

Yathā hi udake lābukaṭāhādīni palavanti, na anupavisanti, na tathā ārammaṇe sati. Ārammaṇañhi esā anupavisati, tasmā ‘‘apilāpanatā’’ti vuttā. “
Just as in the water pumpkins and kettles, etc. swim, but do not dive into the water, in such a way sati (is) not – regarding the object. It is called “apilapanata” (not letting float/get away) because it does enter the object.”

The attainment of the jhana, according to this simile, is achieved by a “not-floating away” or “not-drifting-away”. This is similar to a person in a wild river pushed along by the current who would try to hold on to a stone – long enough to pull himself out of the water and step on that stone. Such a temporary break (because he has not yet crossed the river but is still caught in the middle) on the steady rock in the middle of a wild river means also that no effort is necessary to maintain that calm position and one feels calmness and aloofness while the river/stream of the senses retreats(2). However, if you ever did that in your life, you know that the water can still get you – washing over the rock, water gushing up – and if you are not careful you will slip and fall back into the river(18).

The really bigger picture – the “what”

Let’s leave the detailed expedition into jhana kindling (pun intended – (20)) for a moment and make sure we understand the general setting. Sometimes we can see a big misunderstanding arising from those practicing vipassana exclusively in the way they might understand how samadhi works (because it works counter-intuitive to vipassana) – at the same time we can see a similar misunderstanding on the side of those who idealize samadhi and want it alone to be a kind of a substitute for vipassana. Let’s address misunderstanding one: It is correct that the practice of samadhi is characterized by the development of a skill of holding onto an object – a singular, very faint (because it being mental, rupaloka) object. Thus it fulfills the idea of overcoming thirst by using thirst. Albeit, during such a process and training, we are moving closer to Nirvana, incrementally. This skill of mental balancing and the resulting one-pointedness and calmness of the mind (by then being able to effortlessly ‘ride the bike’ with grace and balance resting on the needlepoint of sharp awareness) allows for the feat which vipassana will make possible:
It is crucial to understand that “vipassana” means that we have to break into the operation of the feeling, perception, and “becoming conscious” of any sense object, including the slightest mental activities – only if we are able to observe this entirety in its rising and falling, are we able to utterly exhaust our interest in it and let go of it all. And here is the challenge: if our samadhi is not that developed our vision will be blurred (because we have not learned to stay on one object – we will get cheated and tricked by lot’s of objects which we will fall for and thus not see) and it will take much longer (and some chose it that way – in ‘dry’ vipassana – where you will have to built up concentration on the fly with vipassana – which most vipassana systems, even if they don’t acknowledge it – do take into account). It will take much longer then to develop a clarity from which to let go which is necessary so that we don’t even get tricked into the faintest mental shadows of anything we become aware of / consciousness of, do not identify with them, and thus stall the process of re-lease.
So there is a purpose to the effort of getting the mind one-pointed; yes learning how to hold onto one object by letting go of others, even if, in the very end, our goal is it to transcend the holding of any object (apanihita-cetovimutti). In other words: Already the practice of sila and even further the practice of samadhi is a repeated process of self-restraint, first bodily, then verbal and eventually mentally where the roaming of the mind is hindered further and further (Yāni sotāni lokasmiṃ, sati tesaṃ nivāraṇaṃ) until the gearbox of samsara becomes visible and its complete six-fold excuse-less observation triggers a samsaric exhaustion (Sotānaṃ saṃvaraṃ brūmi, paññāyete pidhiyyare) and a turning away (nibbidā, virāgā) entails which leads to a freedom (vimutti) which, even from the perspective of the jhāna, seems impossible: one stops without an object, after having dried up the river once, allowing one to find the ability to attain to such an object-less samadhi (animitta-, apaṇihita, suññata-cetovimutti) which is impossible to attain to if one were to just use concentration on objects.

The bigger picture – the “how”

We have to understand that  the purpose of sati is not “to observe in a neutral fashion“(15). Sati in Pali terminology is a very precise technical term describing the skill of staying with the object (paṭṭhana – something we tie ourselves to) one wants to keep in mind. That of course brings something else about: upekkha – or equanimity in the highest form of jhanic calmness. Very refined in the fourth jhana, obviously. Equanimity is the pinnacle of concentration for obvious reasons: it means the state of utter balance which makes our mind (temporarily) unshakeable and therefore neutral in its observation. However – and this is quite important to the practice, sati of such a level is called purified (satiparisuddham) because of the mind’s ability to continously stay with one object is unpertubed – but does such a “bare awareness” alone lead to Nirvana? And, even more important, is someone whose mind is grasping at a meditative object in a very subtle manner be able -without technique – to look through the stickyness of his attainment? What else needs to be done at that point? So far in our description, there is nothing “Buddhist” about the samadhi. If sati is keeping focus on an object and such focus leads to strongest equanimity, where does wisdom enter the equation? Addressing the misconception that samādhi alone by itself, without right view, leads to Nirvana made the Buddha point out that samadhi is a tool for the realization of paticcasamuppada. But how?  It is at this crucial point in our practice, that samma-ditthi(21), or right view, with which the entire noble path starts and is “funded by”, that this correct view “enriches” your samādhi and turns it into something supramundane, something directed towards helping us break out of samsara. How could that be done? It is with this power of concentration (which was built up using effort – viriya – and presence of mind/recollection – sati) that the meditator directs(22) his mind towards an understanding of the mass of suffering which the Buddha found to spring off at the conceptually atomic level of five components of grasping (23) – lit. masses of fuel . This sharp view which one has to activate is called vipassana and gets boosted by the tranquility (samatha – it doesnt have to be boosted to the highest extreme(24) but it makes so much more sense developing it to the best of our ability), by the skill of continous attention (sati), the strong equanimity (upekkha) – none of which (i.e. viriya, sati and upekkha) in themselves would lead to nirvana, as anyone who does concentrate, will experience them too.
Most of his time we find the Buddha in the suttas talking about this particular part of meditation practice, where we direct our deep attention towards a direct experience of dependent origination to make wisdom grow – he called this practice variously “ñāṇadassana” (seeing-knowing), or “yathābhūa ñāṇadassanā” (to seeing-knowing as it has become) or “iti pajanati” or “sammapaññāya daṭṭhabbam“(25). The object of such a deep and careful (non-analytical!) uncompromising direct all-encompassing observation(26) were described by the Buddha in varying shades: the five groups of grasping, the six sense spheres, the dependent origination – all of which describe the same process(27), namely experience, in the moment of its occcurence, at the deepest possible level of observation – beyond names and forms on the one hand (nama rupa) and consciousness (vinnyana) on the other there is nothing else left which makes the world tick – from an experiental point of view – the point of view which wants to see how suffering is born. The Buddha at this point highlighted to us, that such a prolonged observation (nibbidābahulo(28)), a wisdom which sees the rising and falling(29),  would by (natural) law (dhammatā) lead to a certain disenchantment so that finally Nirvana takes place. The rest is history, as they say.

These last two paragraphs was just meant as a bird-view picture of the path – nothing new to many of you, but giving this post a little bit of a broader perspective in regard to the path of practice and the place of sati and practice of anussati in it.


  1. This is a dilemma for most translators and the reason why Pali in translation loses its “preciseness” or makes long notes necessary.
  2. The attainment of phalasamapatti would be that you are in the middle of the stream yet you have no stone to hang on to, still you are not washed away (animitta). The Nirvanic experience would resemble the river (temporarily) drying up.
  3. Evaṃ kālasataṃ kālasahassaṃ kālasatasahassampi vācāya sajjhāyo kātabbo. Vacasā sajjhāyena hi kammaṭṭhānatanti paguṇā hoti, na ito cito ca cittaṃ vidhāvati. Koṭṭhāsā pākaṭā honti, hatthasaṅkhalikā viya vatipādapanti viya ca khāyanti.Yathā pana vacasā, tatheva manasāpi sajjhāyo kātabbo. Vacasā sajjhāyo hi manasā sajjhāyassa paccayo hoti. Manasā sajjhāyo lakkhaṇapaṭivedhassa paccayo hoti. (Vism. I, par.180 CST4) – “…So the teacher who expounds the meditation subject should tell the pupil to do the reictation verbally first….The recitation should be done verbally in this way a hundred times, a thousand times, even a hundred thousand times. For it is through verbal recitation that the meditation subject becomes familiar, and the mind being thus prevented from running here and there….The mental recitation [sic!] should be done just as it is done verbally. For the verbal recitation is a condition for the mental recitation and the mental recitation is a condition for the penetration of the characteristic (of this meditation). Mostly Nyanamoli transl. see p. 262.
  4. anekavihitaṃ pubbenivāsaṃ anussarati. Seyyathidaṃ – ekampi jātiṃ dvepi jātiyo tissopi jātiyo catassopi jātiyo pañcapi jātiyo dasapi jātiyo vīsampi jātiyo tiṃsampi jātiyo cattālīsampi jātiyo paññāsampi jātiyo jātisatampi jātisahassampi jātisatasahassampi anekānipi jātisatāni anekānipi jātisahassāni anekānipi jātisatasahassāni – ‘amutrāsiṃ evaṃnāmo evaṃgotto evaṃvaṇṇo evamāhāro evaṃsukhadukkhappaṭisaṃvedī evamāyupariyanto, so tato cuto amutra udapādiṃ; tatrāpāsiṃ evaṃnāmo evaṃgotto evaṃvaṇṇo evamāhāro evaṃsukhadukkhappaṭisaṃvedī evamāyupariyanto, so tato cuto idhūpapanno’ti. Iti sākāraṃ sauddesaṃ anekavihitaṃ pubbenivāsaṃ anussarati.
  5. which puts it right in the vicinity of the Milindapanha, Patisambhiddamagga and similar texts
  6. Buddhānussatīti buddhassa guṇānussaraṇaṃ. Evaṃ anussarato hi pīti uppajjati. So taṃ pītiṃ khayato vayato paṭṭhapetvā arahattaṃ pāpuṇāti. Upacārakammaṭṭhānaṃ nāmetaṃ gihīnampi labbhati, esa nayo sabbattha. DN-A. PTS, p. 3.1037
  7. Buddhānussatīti buddhaṃ ārabbha uppannā anussati, buddhaguṇārammaṇāya satiyā etaṃ adhivacanaṃ. Taṃ panetaṃ buddhānussatikammaṭṭhānaṃ duvidhaṃ hoti cittasampahaṃsanatthañceva vipassanatthañca. Kathaṃ? Yadā hi asubhārammaṇesu aññataraṃ bhāventassa bhikkhuno cittuppādo upahaññati ukkaṇṭhati nirassādo hoti, vīthiṃ nappaṭipajjati, kūṭagoṇo viya ito cito ca vidhāvati. Tasmiṃ khaṇe esa mūlakammaṭṭhānaṃ pahāya ‘‘itipi so bhagavā’’tiādinā nayena tathāgatassa lokiyalokuttaraguṇe anussarati. Tassevaṃ buddhaṃ anussarantassa cittuppādo pasīdati, vinīvaraṇo hoti. So taṃ cittaṃ evaṃ dametvā puna mūlakammaṭṭhānaṃyeva manasi karoti. Kathaṃ? Yathā nāma balavā puriso kūṭāgārakaṇṇikatthāya mahārukkhaṃ chindanto sākhāpalāsacchedanamatteneva pharasudhārāya vipannāya mahārukkhaṃ chindituṃ asakkontopi dhuranikkhepaṃ akatvāva kammārasālaṃ gantvā tikhiṇaṃ pharasuṃ kārāpetvā puna taṃ chindeyya. Evaṃsampadamidaṃ daṭṭhabbaṃ. So evaṃ buddhānussativasena cittaṃ paridametvā puna mūlakammaṭṭhānaṃ manasikaronto asubhārammaṇaṃ paṭhamajjhānaṃ nibbattetvā jhānaṅgāni sammasitvā ariyabhūmiṃ okkamati. Evaṃ tāva cittasampahaṃsanatthaṃ hoti. Yadā panesa buddhānussatiṃ anussaritvā ‘‘ko ayaṃ itipi so bhagavātiādinā nayena anussari, itthi nu kho puriso nu kho devamanussamārabrahmānaṃ aññataro nu kho’’ti pariggaṇhanto ‘‘na añño koci, satisampayuttaṃ pana cittameva anussarī’’ti disvā ‘‘taṃ kho panetaṃ cittaṃ khandhato viññāṇakkhandho hoti, tena sampayuttā vedanā vedanākkhandho, tena sampayuttā saññā saññākkhandho, sahajātā phassādayo saṅkhārakkhandhoti ime cattāro arūpakkhandhā hontī’’ti arūpañca vavatthapetvā tassa nissayaṃ pariyesanto hadayavatthuṃ disvā tassa nissayāni cattāri mahābhūtāni, tāni upādāya pavattāni sesaupādārūpāni ca pariggahetvā ‘‘sabbampetaṃ rūpaṃ rūpakkhandho’’ti vavatthapetvā ‘‘idañca rūpaṃ purimañca arūpa’’nti saṅkhepato rūpārūpaṃ, pabhedato pañcakkhandhe puna ‘‘saṅkhepato pañcapete khandhā dukkhasacca’’nti dukkhasaccaṃ vavatthapetvā ‘‘tassa pabhāvikā taṇhā samudayasaccaṃ, tassā nirodho nirodhasaccaṃ, nirodhapajānanā paṭipadā maggasacca’’nti evaṃ pubbabhāge cattāri ca saccāni vavatthapetvā paṭipāṭiyā ariyabhūmiṃ okkamati. Tadāssa imaṃ kammaṭṭhānaṃ vipassanatthaṃ nāma hoti. Ayaṃ khotiādi appanāvāro vuttanayeneva veditabbo. AN-A. PTS, p. 2.20
  8. Yā sati anussati paṭissati, sati saraṇatā dhāraṇatā apilāpanatā asammussanatā, sati satindriyaṃ satibalaṃ sammāsati satisambojjhaṅgo ekāyanamaggo – ayaṃ vuccati sati. Imāya satiyā upeto samupeto, upagato samupagato, upapanno samupapanno, samannāgato so vuccati sato.
  9. A beautiful version of an interlinear Visuddhimagga: http://thepathofpurification.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html
  10. Yathā hi udake lābukaṭāhādīni palavanti, na anupavisanti, na tathā ārammaṇe sati (?? read: yati?). Ārammaṇañhi esā anupavisati, tasmā ‘‘apilāpanatā’’ti vuttā. “Just as in the water pumpkins and kettles, etc. swim, but not dive into the water, in such a way sati (is) not – regarding the object. It is called “apilapanata” (not letting float/get away) because it does enter the object.”
  11. Also very interesting passage in the incredible Petakopadesa: Ayaṃ vīriyasambojjhaṅgo. Iminā vīriyena dve dhammā ādito avippaṭisāro pāmojjañca yā puna pīti avippaṭisārapaccayā pāmojjapaccayā, ayaṃ pītisambojjhaṅgo. Yaṃ pītimanassa kāyo passambhati. Ayaṃ passaddhisambojjhaṅgo. Tena kāyikasukhamānitaṃ yaṃ sukhino cittaṃ samādhiyati, ayaṃ samādhisambojjhaṅgo. Yaṃ samāhito yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti, ayaṃ dhammavicayasambojjhaṅgo. Yā sīlamupādāya pañcannaṃ bojjhaṅgānaṃ upādāyānulomatā nimittāyanā pītibhāgiyānañca visesabhāgiyānañca apilāpanatā sahagatā hoti anavamaggo, ayaṃ satisambojjhaṅgo. Petakop. PTS, p.186 – “When the body of the one whose mind is blissful calms down, that is the awakening factor of calmness. Through that bodily ease, when the mind of the happy one settles, that is the awakening factor of samadhi. When he, who is mentally focused/settled (samahito) knows (observes) whatever has become (come into being, he has become aware of), this is the awakening factor of unheaping mental things (dhamma-vicaya: mental deconceptualization, mental deconstuctionism :-) ).  What is the following along of the taking up of the practice of the five factors of awakening, that which leads to the creation of bliss and realization, that not-floating away-ness, that going-with, that not-off-the path-ness, this is the awakening factor of sati.
  12. Almost need to translate sati here as “memory” (or is it sati from as?): Satiparicite hi dhamme paññā pajānāti, no sammuṭṭhe. Through memory accumulated dhammas with wisdom he can know, but not forgotten (ones). Cf. also passage with reference to Note 7: Tassa tattha sukhino dhammapadā plavanti . Dandho, bhikkhave, satuppādo; atha so satto khippaṃyeva visesagāmī hoti. Sotānugatānaṃ, bhikkhave, dhammānaṃ, vacasā paricitānaṃ, manasānupekkhitānaṃ, diṭṭhiyā suppaṭividdhānaṃ ayaṃ paṭhamo ānisaṃso pāṭikaṅkho. To such a happy one living here (deva world) words of the Dhamma float (through the mind). Slow, o monks, is the arising of his memory, but quickly does he attain realization… AN IV, 191. See also the post “Sati is not Mindfulness?” where we quoted Colette Cox on a similar observation.
  13. yena yena cittaṃ abhinīharati tena tena sati anuparivattati. Yena yena vā pana sati anuparivattati tena tena cittaṃ abhinīharati. Tena vuccati – ‘‘anuṭṭhitā’’ti – “Through whatever one draws ones mind, around that sati will circle. By whatever sati circles around moving along, through that the mind is drawn. There it says: “anutthita” – along-standing.
  14. The Mahaniddessa Comy is a very interesting commentary. Seems the Ven. Upasena was more inclined to pickup meditative data from the ancient Sinhala Comy than Buddhaghosa, who seems slightly more leaning towards dogmatic/theoretical explanations. Look at this description of sati and samadhi: Ekaggatāniddese acalabhāvena ārammaṇe tiṭṭhatīti ṭhiti. Parato padadvayaṃ upasaggavasena vaḍḍhitaṃ. Apica sampayuttadhamme ārammaṇamhi sampiṇḍetvā tiṭṭhatīti saṇṭhiti. Ārammaṇaṃ ogāhetvā anupavisitvā tiṭṭhatīti avaṭṭhiti. Kusalapakkhasmiñhi cattāro dhammā ārammaṇaṃ ogāhanti – saddhā sati samādhi paññāti. Teneva saddhā okappanāti vuttā, sati apilāpanatāti, samādhi avaṭṭhitīti, paññā pariyogāhanāti. Akusalapakkhe pana tayo dhammā ārammaṇaṃ ogāhanti – taṇhā diṭṭhi avijjāti. Teneva te oghāti vuttā. Cittekaggatā panettha na balavatī hoti. Yathā hi rajuṭṭhānaṭṭhāne udakena siñcitvā sammaṭṭhe thokameva kālaṃ rajo sannisīdati, sukkhante sukkhante puna pakatibhāvena vuṭṭhāti, evameva akusalapakkhe cittekaggatā na balavatī hoti. Yathā pana tasmiṃ ṭhāne ghaṭehi udakaṃ āsiñcitvā kudālena khanitvā ākoṭanamaddanaghaṭṭanāni katvā upalitte ādāse viya chāyā paññāyati, vassasatātikkamepi taṃmuhuttakataṃ viya hoti, evameva kusalapakkhe cittekaggatā balavatī hoti.
  15. For instance a recent book on Vipassana related topics by Joseph Goldstein, Mirka Knaster (link) as an example but in general a theory found in the more popular books “on mindfulness”.
  16. Very nice note by Ven. Nyanaponika to: “ Zu plavanti oder apilapanti vgl. die Bezeichnung der Achtsamkeit (sati) als das Nicht-Entgleitenlassen (aus dem Geiste; apilāpanatā) in Dhammasanganī und »Fragen des Königs Milinda« (Übers. v. Nyanatiloka, I, 61; »Der einzige Weg«, Vlg. Christiani; S.  94).” (link)
  17. The text passage where one can found this neat little clarification of how anussati is related to sati and dharaṇā was the commentary to the Mahāniddesa. The Mahāniddesa is itself an old gloss-like commentary to the probably two oldest texts in the Buddhist Pali Canon (which makes them the most ancient Indian texts besides the 3 Vedas). This commentary on the Mahaniddessa was edited by the ancient monk Upasena and originates from between the 2nd century BC up to the 3rd CE.)
    In this particular section of the commentary on the Mahaniddesa (The Kamasuttavannana section) we can find many interesting thoughts on concentration meditation.
  18. Have a look at this post: “Background noise in the jhanas”. Like sitting on a stone in a river, the jhana experience is not digital but rather analog: The river (of the senses) still does exist and so also the “contamination” or level of purity of the jhana depends on many factors, including (mainly) the “roughness” of the sense stream, the “aloofness” of the rock.
  19. If you like to read more about manasikāra vs. amanasikāra and how it has to do with “keeping something in your mind”, have a look at this recent post (http://theravadin.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/yoniso-manasi-karotha/).
  20. jhāna < jhāyati – “kindling”. If you ever had to kindle a fire the old fashioned way, you know how careful, slow, patient an exercise that is – but also how rewarding ;-)
  21. Katamo ca, bhikkhave, ariyo sammāsamādhi saupaniso saparikkhāro? Seyyathidaṃ – sammādiṭṭhi, sammāsaṅkappo, sammāvācā, sammākammanto, sammāājīvo, sammāvāyāmo, sammāsati; yā kho, bhikkhave, imehi sattahaṅgehi cittassa ekaggatā parikkhatā – ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, ariyo sammāsamādhi saupaniso itipi, saparikkhāro itipi. Tatra, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi pubbaṅgamā hoti. …Katamā ca, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi ariyā anāsavā lokuttarā maggaṅgā? Yā kho, bhikkhave, ariyacittassa anāsavacittassa ariyamaggasamaṅgino ariyamaggaṃ bhāvayato paññā paññindriyaṃ paññābalaṃ dhammavicayasambojjhaṅgo sammādiṭṭhi maggaṅgaṃ – ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi ariyā anāsavā lokuttarā maggaṅgā. …sammāvāyāmassa sammāsati pahoti, sammāsatissa sammāsamādhi pahoti, sammāsamādhissa sammāñāṇaṃ pahoti, sammāñāṇassa sammāvimutti pahoti. MN PTS, p. 3.75
  22. āsavānaṃ khayañāṇāya cittaṃ abhininnāmesiṃ MN, PTS 1.22 et al.
  23. yampicchaṃ na labhati tampi dukkhaṃ, saṅkhittena pañcupādānakkhandhā dukkhā. DN, PTS. 2.305 – Katame ca, bhikkhave, saṅkhittena pañcupādānakkhandhā dukkhā? Seyyathidaṃ – rūpupādānakkhandho, vedanupādānakkhandho, saññupādānakkhandho, saṅkhārupādānakkhandho, viññāṇupādānakkhandho.
  24. Ananda to lay person explaining how from first jhana alone vipassana can lead to Nirvana (somewhere in MN, have to look this up)
  25. various places all over the canon, especially frequent  in the Saṃyutta Nikāya  but anytime the Buddha describes the practice of the final steps towards Nirvana.
  26. The completeness or thoroughness of this approach is the single most biggest challenge for any vipassanā meditator. Avijja – we don’t see what we don’t see. :-) Sabbaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahānāya vo, bhikkhave, dhammaṃ desessāmi. Taṃ suṇātha. Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sabbaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahānāya dhammo? Cakkhuṃ, bhikkhave, abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ, rūpā abhiññā pariññā pahātabbā, cakkhuviññāṇaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ, cakkhusamphasso abhiññā pariññā pahātabbo, yampidaṃ cakkhusamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ…pe… jivhā abhiññā pariññā pahātabbā, rasā abhiññā pariññā pahātabbā, jivhāviññāṇaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ, jivhāsamphasso abhiññā pariññā pahātabbo, yampidaṃ jivhāsamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ. Kāyo abhiññā pariññā pahātabbo… mano abhiññā pariññā pahātabbo, dhammā abhiññā pariññā pahātabbā, manoviññāṇaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ, manosamphasso abhiññā pariññā pahātabbo, yampidaṃ manosamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ. Ayaṃ kho, bhikkhave, sabbaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahānāya dhammo’’ti. SN, PTS 4.16 or “Tasmātiha, anurādha, yaṃ kiñci rūpaṃ atītānāgatapaccuppannaṃ ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā yaṃ dūre santike vā, sabbaṃ rūpaṃ ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ. SN, PTS 4. 382
  27. A sutta which beautifully discusses and explains that and, IMHO cuts through any attempt of scholastically solidifying these pragmatic concepts was discussed here, in an older post: Ingredients of insight progress.
  28. Dhammānudhammappaṭipannassa, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno ayamanudhammo hoti yaṃ rūpe nibbidābahulo [nibbidābahulaṃ (pī. ka.)] vihareyya, vedanāya nibbidābahulo vihareyya, saññā nibbidābahulo vihareyya, saṅkhāresu nibbidābahulo vihareyya, viññāṇe nibbidābahulo vihareyya. Yo rūpe nibbidābahulo viharanto, vedanāya… saññāya… saṅkhāresu nibbidābahulo viharanto, viññāṇe nibbidābahulo viharanto rūpaṃ parijānāti, vedanaṃ… saññaṃ… saṅkhāre… viññāṇaṃ parijānāti, so rūpaṃ parijānaṃ, vedanaṃ… saññaṃ… saṅkhāre… viññāṇaṃ parijānaṃ parimuccati rūpamhā, parimuccati vedanā, parimuccati saññāya, parimuccati saṅkhārehi, parimuccati viññāṇamhā, parimuccati jātiyā jarāmaraṇena sokehi paridevehi dukkhehi domanassehi upāyāsehi, parimuccati dukkhasmāti vadāmī’’ti. SN, PTS 3.40
  29. Paññavā hoti, udayatthagāminiyā paññāya samannāgato, ariyāya nibbedhikāya sammā dukkhakkhayagāminiyā. Evaṃ kho, mahānāma, ariyasāvako sattahi saddhammehi samannāgato hoti.

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Imagine you being a surfer. Even if you have never actually surfed, just imagine for a moment standing in the ocean, close to the beach, holding your board in both your hands, looking out at the sea, watching the waves. Let’s imagine you are a very practiced surfer, so your mind will note all the little details, feels comfortable with it and is in sync with the wind and the waves and your body. You notice and register all the details: How the water washes up your body, how the waves lift and sink your board, you feel the water currents, the wind and the reaction of your own body to it all. You are also aware of your mind, your reaction when you see a promising wave come closer, your anticipation…

All you are waiting for is that perfect moment, where your training, the wave and your board become one. But you also know, for that to happen, a lot of patience will be necessary. Whenever you feel a wave could carry you along for a ride, you try to catch it, ride with it, climb up on your board and find the balance.

But most of the time, you are thrown off the board even before the wave becomes strong enough to carry you or before you find your right balance.

Eventually though, once in a while, the conditions match perfectly. There is a wave, having built up in the water, rising higher and higher, unblocked. At the same time you and your board are ready. The wave comes and you catch it, it pulls you along, now you get up on your board – carefully but routinely – until you stand with your two feet on top of that board and you feel the feeling of joy and bliss as you are riding on the force of nature.

Finding and surfing the jhana is a very similar activity. However, in the case of the jhānas (“igniting, kindling”), it is you yourself who creates the waves or kindles the flame of concentration.

Here, in concentration meditation (samathā bhāvanā, calmness development) your meditation object (or rather its mental perception) is your surf board. You have to really know your meditation object well, like you have to get to know your surfboard. You have to have a good grip of it and most important of all: you have to learn to find your balance on the object without getting thrown off the topic especially by the five sens(ual) impressions.

Secondly, there is lots of patience and practice necessary. You have to get an intuitive feeling to know when the conditions are right. You also have to find the right spot in the ocean, away from the cliffs and rocks (mental hindrances). All of this, however, comes through continous practice. Sure, it will definitely help to have a surfing master as your teacher but even he is no substitute for practice, practice, practice. So while he will make sure that you hold the meditation surfboard properly, that you (technically at least) pull yourself on top of it, it is your dedicated practice rounds which make you better and better. Here too we can note, that if your technique is wrong your effort will be misdirected and it will take very long for you to succeed. At the same time, if your technique is correct, but you dont put enough effort into the sport, you will not get very far. Eventually though, you will have learned jhāna meditation like you learned how to ride a bike, go ice-skating or learned to balance waves. That does not mean, of course, that you will always catch a deep wave of bliss, but the probability of a good and long ride will be greater.

In order to become a master of concentration meditation you will have to get up on your meditation object a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand times – only to be shaken off again and again. The mind will go in all 6 directions…images, sounds… thoughts will cause you to loose your balance.

But when you did master the jhanic experience you are more like the experienced surfer, who does not care at all – not in the slightest, when he is not in top form one day or when he falls from the board more often than usual, because you are confident in your skills and you know that you can do it. You remember the days when you began, when part of your failure was your lack of confidence in your skills and that the only solution was lots of practice and as many successful “rides” as possible. The more successful “flight hours” of jhanic gliding you can collect, the more confident and experienced your mind becomes and the easier and more natural it will be to “light the flame” of samādhi.

Then you will also know, that the crucial moment is when you are up on that board and you have to find your balance.

The meditation object, like the surfboard in the water, is not a solid block of stone…it is alive, obviously, like anything mental, it is movement and flux. Balancing on a wave comes closer to what you have to do than for instance if you compare it to riding a bike. You need to find the strength and intuitive skill to stay on it as long as it takes to make your “ride” become almost self-sustained. The upasampajja viharati as the Buddha calls it, “having attained he dwells” is the mark of a jhanic experience where the effort of finding mental balance with the help of a meditation object turns into the “autopilot” like experience of deeper concentration which seems to go on without any effort, i.e. “a state”.

Once you reach a certain speed and are comfortable with your balance the wave will come and lift you up, higher and higher and now you are surfing along, experiencing the bliss of the first jhana. It is interesting to note, in this regard, that the better your balance will be, the stronger that wave is going to be experienced.

At this point, to stay with the picture, the second jhana would resemble that smooth sailing along as the wave starts to falter and you finish your surfing by gliding and floating along on the last impulses of that former wave.

Just at that moment, when the second jhana/phase of your surfing experience cannot get any calmer and smoother, a trapeze would appear in front of you, hanging down from a helicopter, just in front of you…so you would grab that bar and it would lift you gently out of the water, now making your movement even more so a floating experience while the splashing sea falls further and further away down below.

Finally in our story, the fourth jhana is you way up in the sky, looking down at the ocean with great remoteness and calmness, alert of your situation, but at the same time so remote and equanimous of what goes on down there. You reached the perfect vantage point for observation. But this post is more about the starting point of your journey, the first jhāna, and its connection to a (mental) act of balancing.

At this point, let me go back to the surfer in the waves, who is waiting to catch a good ride and is constantly trying to balance himself on that little board. The balancing act which takes place in the mind of a meditator resembles the activity which all of you have experienced when you play a common memory game with your friends or kids. It is the game known as “I packed my bag” where you have to memorize a list of items which you take with you on vacation. Each one of you, in turn, has to imagine putting something into his bag and the other has to repeat that list and add one more item…after some time, the list gets longer and longer, you are getting into that strange position, where you are desparately trying to hold onto that mental collection of a list. That effort, that energy[1] that skill of not loosing something mental, something you need to keep in memory, that challenge, that desire to sustain it, to be and remain with it, that in fact is sati (remembrance )[2]. And it is indeed the same skill which allows you to balance out the little shocks and tremors while you are getting up on that board of your meditation object trying to stay on it as long as you possibly can while the “six animals” of the senses pull at you. Now you can see, why the Buddha, in that simile of the six animals (which I can only highly recommend)  mentioned the sati-paṭṭhānas as the objects for concentration[3] Understanding the role of memory as the faculty of keeping a mental object in the presence of the mind and therefore a prerequisite for concentration meditation might also explain, at least to some extant, why we see the Buddha would sometimes define sammā sati with the skill or ability of recollecting what was heard or done a long time ago. In the following quote you can also see how effort+keeping in the mind=lead to samadhi:

Saddhassa hi, bhante, ariyasāvakassa evaṃ pāṭikaṅkhaṃ yaṃ āraddhavīriyo viharissati – akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ pahānāya, kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ upasampadāya, thāmavā daḷhaparakkamo anikkhittadhuro kusalesu dhammesu. Yaṃ hissa, bhante, vīriyaṃ tadassa vīriyindriyaṃ.

‘‘Saddhassa hi, bhante, ariyasāvakassa āraddhavīriyassa etaṃ pāṭikaṅkhaṃ yaṃ satimā bhavissati, paramena satinepakkena samannāgato, cirakatampi cirabhāsitampi saritā anussaritā. Yā hissa, bhante, sati tadassa satindriyaṃ.

‘‘Saddhassa hi, bhante, ariyasāvakassa āraddhavīriyassa upaṭṭhitassatino etaṃ pāṭikaṅkhaṃ yaṃ vossaggārammaṇaṃ karitvā labhissati samādhiṃ, labhissati cittassa ekaggataṃ. Yo hissa, bhante, samādhi tadassa samādhindriyaṃ. SN Apanasutta, Indriyasamyutta (PTS 5.225, 5.197) et al.

[The power of exercising]

Verily of the faithful, Sir, noble disciple can be expected that he will dwell arousing effort – to get rid / reject unhelpful (mental) objects, to attain to beneficial mental objects, to be very firm and strongly advancing and not giving up on beneficial (mental) objects. Such effort of his, Sir, that is the faculty of (right) effort.

[The skill of keeping in mind]

Verily of the faithful, Sir, noble disciple who applies his effort can be expected that he will remember (lit. be having rememberance), equipped with the highest prudence of remembrance, remembering what was done or spoken a long time ago. That which is his rememberance, Sir, that is the faculty of (right) remembrance.

[The gained faculty of concentration]

Verily of the faithful, Sir, noble disciple who applies his effort and has established his remembrance (ability to keep an object in mind) can be expected that he attains concentration letting go of (external) sense-objects[4], the mind’s one-pointedness. [5]

It is fascinating in this regard, quasi coming full circle back to the beginning discussion of how the first jhana resembles an act of balancing (a mental object) in the present moment, that we find the Buddha mentioning learning texts and Dhamma thoughts in one breath with building up mental concentration, by using such verbs as “anuvitakketi, anuvicareti” which themselves are found in the description of the first jhana.[6]

It does not surprise then, that Buddhaghosa in his description of how to attain a jhanic experience requires you to pick a “thought” or “name” for instance for the meditation object of “earth” to guide you into the absorption. Have a look at the following passage from the Visuddhimagga which shows in a powerful way how everything we mentioned before  falls together in this very very simple but straightforward exercise of holding a mental object in the presence of the mind (here a visualization of earth, light etc.) while at the same time applying the power of a dedicated thought/name/label to fixate the mind on the object. This is done by “repeating” (i.e. keeping in mind !) our object of attention and focusing on the mental perception (mental image) of a disk of earth:

Apica vaṇṇaṃ amuñcitvā nissayasavaṇṇaṃ katvā ussadavasena paṇṇattidhamme cittaṃ paṭṭhapetvā manasi kātabbaṃ. Pathavī mahī, medinī, bhūmi, vasudhā, vasundharātiādīsu pathavīnāmesu yamicchati, yadassa saññānukūlaṃ hoti, taṃ vattabbaṃ. Apica pathavīti etadeva nāmaṃ pākaṭaṃ, tasmā pākaṭavaseneva pathavī pathavīti bhāvetabbaṃ. Visuddhimagga, I, par. 57

Whatever name for earth he likes, be it “pathavī” (earth), “mahī” (Great One), “medinī” (Friendly One), “bhūmi” (Ground), “vasudhā” (Wealth-Provider), “vasundharā” (Wealth-Bearer), etc. – whichever suits (supports) his (meditative) perception, that he should say. However, “pathavi” (earth) is the common name (used), therefore applying the common (name) one develops meditation (thinking/labeling) “earth, earth”. (This authors transl. Cf. Nyanamoli’s in his Vism. IV, 29. [7]

The same entrance to the jhanas can of course be achieved with any other meditation object. Whether it is “Buddho, Buddho – if you think Buddhanussati; or “Long breathing in, long breathing out” if you think Anapanasati or even look at other religious traditions (Ave Maria, Visualization of light in Yoga, Tibetan Visualizations) etc etc… the same principle is successfully applied to generate internal concentration through the force of uninterrupted (narrow) recollection.

Having said all that, the surfing metaphor is just one among many other similar “balancing activities” which work well in describing what needs to be done and what can be expected when taking up concentration meditation – especially for those of you who have never meditated or think of meditation as something super-mystical.

You might want to compare your physical balance finding experience (which you most likely had as a child) with the list below and then you might be surprised to see how much of that experience actually resembles what you are trying to achieve in jhāna meditation.

  • How to ride a bike
  • How to glide on a skateboard
  • Ice-skating
  • How to ride on rollerblades
  • Balancing Beam

Don’t forget:  proper technique, lots of patience, and never stop exercising!

Dhp. 35


1.) Sammā viriya, anyone? :-) See the quote in the next paragraph.

2.) Though this particular case (kid’s game after all) may not be an example of sammā sati (or right remembrance on the path to Nibbana) due to the fact that your mind is moving back and forth on that list, moving back and forth between sense impressions and thus will not be able to collect and concentrate into a “state” it still gives you a good preliminary “feel” for what is necessary to “keep the mind tugged continuously” on an object(ive).

3.) which Dhammadinna mentions explicitely as objects for sati leading to samadhi in the famous MN Culavedallasutta.

4.) vossaggārammaṇaṃ karitvā “letting go of sense objects” – lit. “letting go” (vossagga) + “object” (ārammana) + “having done” (karitvā). I am not following the more commentarial explanation that this implies letting go of all senses and therefore indicates a nirvanic samādhi (More detail on this in Patisambhid 2.96). The passages where samādhi is explained in the suttas don’t seem to mention Nibbana in any way and even add paññā on top of this list (see next footnote). Looks pretty straightforward to me, simply indicating what a samādhi is -> a moving away from the outside objects by letting go of them and narrowing the mind down on (mental/inner) one (eka)  point/peak.

5.) In case you are missing “vipassanā” in this important list, have a look at parallel passages where sammā samādhi is augmented by a definition of samatha supercharged vipassana: “‘‘Katamañca, bhikkhave, samādhindriyaṃ? Idha, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako vossaggārammaṇaṃ karitvā labhati samādhiṃ, labhati cittassa ekaggataṃ – idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, samādhindriyaṃ. ‘‘Katamañca, bhikkhave, paññindriyaṃ? Idha, bhikkhave, ariyasāvako paññavā hoti udayatthagāminiyā paññāya samannāgato ariyāya nibbedhikāya, sammā dukkhakkhayagāminiyā – idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, paññindriyaṃ. Imāni kho, bhikkhave, pañcindriyānī’’ti. Navamaṃ.

6.) Almost as if memorization becomes a precursor/utility for meditative mental training: “So yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ vitthārena paresaṃ deseti, yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ vitthārena paresaṃ vāceti, yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ vitthārena sajjhāyaṃ karoti, yathāsutaṃ yathāpariyattaṃ dhammaṃ cetasā anuvitakketi anuvicāreti manasānupekkhati. AN 3.361 (PTS). What is interesting here is the sequence. Teaching others, quoting to others, chanting, reflecting the Dhamma which as (it was) heard and memorized (yathāsutaṃ + yathāpariyattaṃ). This little list shows how the Dhamma was considered to be internalized. At each of these stages pīti was said to be able to arise and lead to concentration. All these activities are applications of the memory. Anuvitakketi and anuvicāreti seem to denote a more contemplative mental activity (cf. the “Yaṃ kho, bhikkhu, rattiṃ anuvitakketvā anuvicāretvā divā kammante payojeti kāyena vācāya ‘manasā’” and also in “tappatirūpī ceva kathā saṇṭhāti, tadanudhammañca anuvitakketi, anuvicāreti, tañca purisaṃ bhajati” where they seem to just indicate simply “pondering and reflecting” vs. the more limited or rather disciplined application of “keeping one thought” in mind, as mentioned in the examples above (“buddho, buddho,…”; “earth, earth,…”;”long in, long out,…”) where we find them expressed with a form of sikkhati (evaṃ sikkhitabbaṃ – thus you have to train).

7.) To me, this is one of the most important paragraphs in Buddhaghosa’s Vism on jhāna practice. It outlines the application of a label/name in combination with the primary meditation object (the form or visualisation of earth, which is nothing else than a “saññā”, a mental perception. The same thing is done when applying oneself to breath (here breath becomes the saññā or meditative perception) and a thought is used to keep the mind fixed to it, to keep it in mind, to establish remembrance, non-forgetfulness (of the object) which in turn leads to samādhi. The same process can be applied to any other samathā meditation object, for instance in mettā bhāvanā, just to name some important ones, it is the “perception of friendship” which becomes the meditative object and a thought (the shorter the better) is used to tug the mind to it and keep the mental perception in the forefront, to make it grow, shut down the external sense perception and give rise to samādhi. Nothing mysterious, esp. not for those who learned how to ride a bike :-)

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Buddha’s path

This post is based on some of the observations made in this post. It might help to understand this article.

One day the Buddha mentioned to his students that his own meditation object with which he realized Nibbana was the mindfulness or “remembering of in-and-out-breathing” meditation, short for  “Ana-pana-sati:-)

‘‘Ahampi sudaṃ, bhikkhave, pubbeva sambodhā anabhisambuddho bodhisattova samāno iminā vihārena bahulaṃ viharāmi. Tassa mayhaṃ, bhikkhave, iminā vihārena bahulaṃ viharato neva kāyo kilamati na cakkhūni; anupādāya ca me āsavehi cittaṃ vimucci. [SN, Mahavagga, Anapanasatisamyutta]

I too, o monks, before my awakening as a yet not fully awakened one as someone looking for awakening [i.e. bodhisatto - so all Buddhists below stream enterers are de facto bodhisattos :-). Theravada is full of them!] used to dwell quite often in this abiding. And through dwelling very often in this abiding o monks, neither did my body get tired nor my eyes; and I was released from the influxes of the mind [āsavehi cittaṃ vimucci = an expression for the attainment of nibbana. It is rather indirect and expresses one of the benefits of nibbana].

We know from many sutta passages that the Buddha entered the 4 jhanas before his insights into the 4 noble truths led to his final insights into the impermanent, unsatisfiable and ego-less nature of the world. We also know that he remembered his former lives and saw the working of the principle of karma based on that strong concentration he gained during the first part of the night. 

Is there any chance to pin down what happened when he directed his mind to the “discovery” of the 4 noble truths? Is there any other account on what he was practicing during that night? In fact we have a second account. And that is the sutta on Anapanasati. Here the Buddha talks about how to properly practice and develop meditation using breath as one’s primary object for meditation.

It is quite fascinating to see how the Buddha details this exercise which encompasses elements of jhanic meditation, vipassana, the 4 satipatthana and the 7 factors of enlightenment.

We can see how his whole system of meditation could have originated from this one exercise. Many of you probably know how one deep insight/experience allows you to talk about it in various ways. In order to share your experiential insight you can use examples, stories or come up with classifications. In a certain way that is what the Buddha did. Born from this one night in Uruvela he organized, exemplified, classified and taught the long lost path to the “inner city”.

It is important to remember: The teaching of the Buddha is only a means for a very specific final goal – the experience of Nibbana. There are many benefits on the path to Nibbana, but none of which include clinging to views and fighting for words.


Viññātasārāni subhāsitāni, sutañca viññātasamādhisāraṃ;

Na tassa paññā ca sutañca vaḍḍhati, yo sāhaso hoti naro pamatto. [Suttanipata, Kiṃsīlasuttaṃ]

Well spoken words have understanding as their essence

And what you heard and understood – it all has concentration as its essence.

But neither knowing nor learning grow,

For that man who is superficial and negligent. [Simply beautiful!]

Therefore, it appears paramount to see beyond any particular method described in this instruction and derive the key elements of practice. Once we isolate them and understand their significance we can see that although there seem to be so many pathways and descriptions on how to practice that essentially there is only one way to go.  

All instructions are nothing more than variations on the same theme – which is a combination of samatha and vipassana (or a gradual training in sila/samadhi/panya or the noble eightfold path or….) – the entire body of the Buddha – Dhamma (Buddhadharma, for you Mahayana friends out there :-)

añño esa, āvuso, gatakassa maggo nāmāti āha [See story for details]

Remember what we said about people trying to get to the peak of a mountain: From below the peak seems so far away, and there seems to be a multitude of ways to go up there of which you have no clue which are the safest, the shortest, the longest, the steepest…no idea. You can only find out by a.) taking the hand of a trusted tour guide and/or b.) start walking. Once of course you get to the peak like the Buddha, in whatever direction you look you see a path to where you are right now. The birds eye and the knowledge of your experience allows you to guide anyone interested in climbing to the peak. 

And thus while Anapanasati is still a core exercise today for both practices – jhana and vipassana meditation – , you could essentially take any other meditation object to induce concentration (like the 4 brahmavihara, kasina, etc) after some prior training in moral restraint (the most basic form of concentration training) and enter into a form of deep continuous watching, vipassana.

Let me try to walk you through “Buddha’s meditation”. This posting is NOT supposed to be an instruction for meditation but rather an illustration of how samatha and vipassana co-operate:


148. ‘‘Kathaṃ bhāvitā ca, bhikkhave, ānāpānassati kathaṃ bahulīkatā mahapphalā hoti mahānisaṃsā? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu araññagato vā rukkhamūlagato vā suññāgāragato vā nisīdati pallaṅkaṃ ābhujitvā ujuṃ kāyaṃ paṇidhāya parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā. So satova assasati satova [sato (sī. syā. kaṃ. pī.)]passasati.

And how, o monks, the remembering of in-breath-out-breath, how often done will have great fruits and great benefits? Here, o monks, a monk, gone to the forest or gone to the foot of a tree or gone to an empty building and sits down with crossed legs having straightened body having set up around the nose  remembering. 

This first passage is pretty straightforward. The only remarkable thing is probably the expression “parimukham satim upatthapetva”. In general it is clear from the context what this has to mean: “to direct ones attention towards that part of the face where one can feel the breath”. Still, it is interesting to see how and what words are used. Especially in the light of recent ideas i discussed on this blog about taking a more literal look at sati, i.e. as “remembering” and then to see where that might take one. So here it says that, after finding a suitable spot for meditation and putting our body into a comfortable position for a meditation, have to set up (lit. upa-thapeti up-placing, erecting, setting up) sati. Yes, we could go with the general translation of sati as mindfulness and say to establish mindfulness around the face. In fact this implies that we need to remember, focus on the breath. Stressing the “memory” connotation of sati emphasizes that it is not just one moment of awareness which is necessary, but rather a continuous activity which we need to be actively pursued. We need to “keep the breath in mind”.  Next we will see how the Buddha helps us to get from here into the jhanas:

‘‘Dīghaṃ vā assasanto ‘dīghaṃ assasāmī’ti pajānāti, dīghaṃ vā passasanto ‘dīghaṃ passasāmī’ti pajānāti; rassaṃ vā assasanto ‘rassaṃ assasāmī’ti pajānāti, rassaṃ vā passasanto ‘rassaṃ passasāmī’ti pajānāti; ‘sabbakāyapaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘sabbakāyapaṭisaṃvedī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘passambhayaṃ kāyasaṅkhāraṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘passambhayaṃ kāyasaṅkhāraṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati.

[1] Breathing in long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in long’; or breathing out long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out long.’ [2] Or breathing in short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in short’; or breathing out short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out short.’ [3] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in feeling the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out feeling the entire body.’ [4] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming my bodily activity.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming bodily activity.’

This second part is split into two approaches. The first (and only in this whole meditation instruction) talks about getting to know our breath. Getting to know it as long/short or “coarse and refined”. This is the inital “getting in touch with our breathing” phase. It allows us to settle and get in touch with the point of concentration, our breathing.

Secondly the “real” training part (“sikkhati” – he trains, exercises) starts the process of inducing the jhanas. After we mentally lock the breathing with a feeling/conscious perception of our entire body the next step starts to work like a self-hypnosis: We “tell” our body to calm done even further. The breathing becomes refined – but not as a singular activity, but rather a body-encompassing ‘whole’ experience. Now we are going into the jhanas 1 and 2:

‘‘‘Pītipaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘pītipaṭisaṃvedī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘sukhapaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘sukhapaṭisaṃvedī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘cittasaṅkhārapaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘cittasaṅkhārapaṭisaṃvedī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘passambhayaṃ cittasaṅkhāraṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘passambhayaṃ cittasaṅkhāraṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati.

[5] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in feeling rapture/elation.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out feeling rapture/elation.’ [6] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in feeling  happiness.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out feeling happiness.’ [7] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in feeling mental activity.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out feeling mental activity.’ [8] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming mental activity.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming mental activity.’

It is quite obvious that the Buddha is talking about a jhanic experience here. Sorry, i need to correct. He is not talking about the experience of a jhana, he is pointing out how to archieve one. Each of these little instructions can be read like a mental determination by the meditator: “I will breath in, feeling elation”, “I will breathe out, feeling elation”.  If he already “had” gained piti and is only acknowleding the fact, we would read something like

“pītipaṭisaṃvedī assasāmī’ti pajānāti 

But that is not what the text says. We have a future form in each sentence … something expressing a wish, a “may I”. And then there is the verb “sikkhati” – the training. It almost sounds like “autogenous training”.  So after calming down the body and breathing he trains himself “may i feel piti”, “may i feel sukha”. It sounds strange that these things get spelled out, but its not that strange if you are familiar with Leigh’s or Ayya Khemas accounts of the 4 jhanas (search ‘smile’) you know that they do something very similar … for instance the famous “looking for the smile”. In fact, especially with metta meditation it is so easy to enter the jhanas because the smile of loving kindness comes with the start of the excercise, free of charge.

So here, this person is looking for the piti AFTER he connected with his whole body and started to calm it down. Then, when he IS experiencing piti and sukha he continues to the second jhana. Now it is fascinating to see, that we entered the first jhana by first “connecting with the whole body” and then by “calming it down”. The same is done here at this point once again: “Cittasaṅkhāra” might stand for the piti and sukha just experienced (or still a form of vitakka, or both). In order to go beyond those “coarse” qualities of the first jhana (i.e. into jhana no. 2-3) we need to get a mental “generalization” of them. By summarizing them as a “mental activity” or “mind representation” we transcend the piti and sukha – we move above them, away from their mesmerizing (in-drawing-grip) by simply reckognizing that they are, indeed, “just mental activity themselves” which keep us from entering even deeper states of concentration. They have fullfilled their purpose. Finally for the 2nd jhana to be established, the Buddha asks us to now calm down that “mental feeling chatter”.

From here our journey takes us to the third and 4th jhana:

‘‘‘Cittapaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘cittapaṭisaṃvedī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘abhippamodayaṃ cittaṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘abhippamodayaṃ cittaṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati ; ‘samādahaṃ cittaṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘samādahaṃ cittaṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘vimocayaṃ cittaṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘vimocayaṃ cittaṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati.

[9] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in feeling/being aware of the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out feeling/being aware of the mind.’ [10] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in deeply gladening the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out deeply gladening the mind.’ [11] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in unifying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out unifying the mind.’ [12] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in releasing the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out releasing the mind.’

Again, after having calmed down the content of our mind which brought us to such a refined state of concentration the next step is to get in touch with an even subtler “concept” a subtler “representation” of what is going on. We determine to “simply feel the mind”. This part of the exercise might sound most familiar to our Western way of talking about “become one”, “experience the stillness of your mind” etc. etc. So, what then does the “abhippamodayaṃ” stand for? Haven’t we already gone beyond piti and sukha? It is very easy to see that these two lines are hinting at the 3rd jhana if you look at the definition for the third jhana real quick:


With the fading away of rapture dwelling equanimous,

sato ca sampajàno, sukhan ca kàyena patisamvedeti,
mindful (staying on his object/remembering it), clearly knowing it, experiencing happiness through the body,

yan-tam ariya acikkhanti. “Upekkhako satimà sukhavihàro”ti,
about which the Noble Ones declare: “He lives pleasantly, mindful, and equanimous”

tatiyam jhànam upasampajja viharanto. 
dwelling (thus) having attained the third absorption.


In turn samadaham and vimocayam would denote our intention of transcending jhana 3 and moving into an even further concentrated and equanimious state of mind, the 4th jhana. The only “strange” term here might be “vimocayam” to “free” our mind. But again, with a look at the general description of the 4 jhanas it is this quality of having gone beyond all former mental states of happiness and unhappiness (a form of freedom) that we now dwell in the 4th jhana.


pubbeva somanassadomanassànam atthangamà,
and with[case: ablativ; due to/from ] the previous disappearence of mental well-being and sorrow,

adukkhaü, asukhaü, upekkhà-satipàrisuddhiü, 
without pain, without pleasure, and with purity of equanimity-remembering [now equanimity is at the center of focus, it is pure in as much as the mind does not leave it - the constant memory (aka mindfulness) of equanimity is purified],

catuttham jhànam upasampajja viharanto.
dwelling having attained the fourth absorption. [link]


Certainly, the next step looks like the beginning of something new: Vipassana. With the “perfection” in samma samadhi comes power to examine the reality fabric of life, the 5 groups of grasping. Look at how similar this terminology is when compared to many of the short suttas on insight which we discussed in the post on “the process of awakening“. This fact actually was the main intent of going into this sutta in the first place. Let’s have a closer look how we can utilize the gained power in concentration and what the Buddha wants us to apply it to. Because, the simple “directing his mind to the 4 noble truth” is in fact (as we can see here) the major task to accomplish. Getting jhanic concentration is nothing, compared to the following work:

‘‘‘Aniccānupassī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘aniccānupassī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘virāgānupassī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘virāgānupassī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘nirodhānupassī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘nirodhānupassī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘paṭinissaggānupassī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘paṭinissaggānupassī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati. Evaṃ bhāvitā kho, bhikkhave, ānāpānassati evaṃ bahulīkatā mahapphalā hoti mahānisaṃsā.

[13] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in observing impermanence.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing observing impermanence.’ [14] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in observing dispassion [literally, fading].’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe observing dispassion.’ [15] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in observing cessation.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out observing cessation.’ [16] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in observing relinquishment.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out observing relinquishment.’


So here he trains himself to see impermanence. Remember, before the text was saying that one had to feel / experience something. Happiness, concentration etc. Now, we turn towards an activity of observation – based on the breath (and many modern vipassana systems take the breath as their anchor point for observation – so does the Ledi-UBaKhin-Goenka group as well as the Nyanarama-Nyanananda-(AyyaKhema-Amatagavesi etc etc.) group of people).

If you read this sutta isolated though, you would definitely have a lot of questions. For one, the whole walk-through of samatha meditation is so clear when you know that this text refers to the jhanas – and how it does that. You can vividly imagine how each of these determinations or steps is a push into the direction of experiencing of the jhanic concentration states.

The last paragraph includes (and triggered!!) the whole gamut of what the commentarial literature generally known as “vipassana nyana” or insight stages. Let us try and hint at some of the discussions going on regarding this paragraph.

However, before you continue, here are 3 other posts which on which some of the following remarks are based:

  1. The method of noting in pali texts
  2. Additional meaning behind the term “sati”
  3. The insight passages in the Samyutta Nikaya
  4. Nirodha and Nibbana

Aniccanupassana is pretty straightforward and we it is clear as to what this term implies. Many suttas talk about the fact that we need to see the impermanence of any incoming of the five groups of grasping – in whatever form or facette they present themselves to us. Here is an explanation on Aniccanupassana in the context of the breathing meditation as explained in the Patisambhidamagga:


180. Kathaṃ ‘‘aniccānupassī assasissāmī’’ti sikkhati, ‘‘aniccānupassī passasissāmī’’ti sikkhati? Aniccanti kiṃ aniccaṃ? Pañcakkhandhā aniccā. Kenaṭṭhena aniccā? Uppādavayaṭṭhena aniccā…

‘‘Rūpe aniccānupassī assasissāmī’’ti sikkhati, ‘‘rūpe aniccānupassī passasissāmī’’ti sikkhati. 

‘‘Vedanāya…pe… saññāya… saṅkhāresu… viññāṇe… cakkhusmiṃ…pe… jarāmaraṇe aniccānupassī assasissāmī’’ti sikkhati, ‘‘jarāmaraṇe aniccānupassī passasissāmī’’ti sikkhati. Aniccānupassī assāsapassāsavasena dhammā upaṭṭhānaṃ sati anupassanā ñāṇaṃ. Dhammā upaṭṭhānaṃ, no sati; sati upaṭṭhānañceva sati ca. Tāya satiyā tena ñāṇena te dhamme anupassati. Tena vuccati – ‘‘dhammesu dhammānupassanāsatipaṭṭhānabhāvanā’’ti. -

How is “He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in observing impermanence.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing observing impermanence.’” to be understood? “Impermanent” – what is impermanent? The five groups are impermanent. What is the meaning of impermanent? The meaning of impermanence is the rising and disappearing…

He trains himself: “I will see the impermence with regard to the form breathing in”. He trains himself: “I will see impermanence with regard to form while breathing out.”…feeling, perception,…Through this keeping-in-mind (sati as memory)/ through this knowing he observes these things. For this reason it was said: He develops satipatthana observing the dhamma with regard to the dhammas.

[This among many other passages shows that the Patisambhidamagga encapsulates much more pragmatic meditation-related information than it's semi-commentarial status would make u]


Some have argued that viragananupassi and nirodhanupassi stand for the contemplation of anicca, dukkha, anatta (So an idea in Ledi Sayadaw’s book vipassanadipani). It seems unlikely at least in our case, because we find suttas where for each contemplation (on dukkha and anatta) the Buddha closes with the words that they lead to viraga and nirodho. (In fact, the sequence anicca/dukkha/anatta – seeing will lead to viraga-nirodha-vimutti is extremely frequent in all parts of the suttas. More here)

Secondly, if anicca-anupassana stands for the observation of seeing the rising and falling (=both of which are factors of impermanence) then it is equally unlikely that nirodhanupassana is again a focus on the falling/vanishing aspect of our experience. Except if we understand these 4 steps to correlate to the vipassana nyana in which case:

  • aniccanupassana –  observation of impermanence
  • viraganupassana – we start looking at it disenchanted. turning away from the middle part of a rising/persisting/falling object we get disillusioned, so much so that we start to see the ending in every moment which leads to
  • nirodhanupassana – we start to see the vanishing / dissappearing aspect more (which correlates to the bhanganyana in the commentaries). this in turn leads to 
  • patinissaganupassana – the mode of letting go and thus stands for the vipassana nyanas of adinava and muncitukamyata maybe even sankharupekkha.

An alternative interpretation for the last step in this series would look like this

  • aniccanupassana – our mode of observation (could also equally be “dukkhanupassana or anatta-anupassana”)
  • viraganupassana – a process of disenchantment starts
  • nirodhanupassana – we experience a nirodha moment
  • patinissaganupassana – we are now experiencing the phala (attainment) which made us “give up” or “let go”  or literally “throw back” all 5 groups of grasping in a very profound manner.

So while in the first “sequence” patinissaggo is part of the process of turning a moment of nirodha into a nibbana, the second interpretation seems more like the experience of the state of phala-samapatti. One could argue that both interpretations are equally valid. After all, even modern vipassana meditation masters acknowledge that the way to enter the phalasamapatti state is to simply do a determination before noting according to ones technique. This would eventually result in a nirodho where one would “jump” or “let go” and thus re-attain nibbana or dwell in an adjacent state of mind (samapatti).


Here again the Patisambhidamagga comes to the rescue and has a similar two-fold outlook on patinissaggo. Hard to tell if that subtlety is really what is meant though:

“Rūpaṃ pariccajatīti – pariccāgapaṭinissaggo. Rūpanirodhe [see also 'Ye ca kho keci, soṇa, samaṇā vā brāhmaṇā vā rūpaṃ pajānanti, rūpasamudayaṃ pajānanti, rūpanirodhaṃ pajānanti, rūpanirodhagāminiṃ paṭipadaṃ pajānanti' here rupanirodho is simply the vanishing of rupa, the disappearing of the sense impression] nibbāne cittaṃ pakkhandatīti – pakkhandanapaṭinissaggo” -

There are two “relinquishments…he gives up the form this is called the rejecting-relinquishment. In the destruction of form this nibbana his mind rejoices in – this is called the rejoicing-relinquishment.

Patisambhidamagga,  paragraph 180


(With regard to nirodha it is important to understand that nirodha means what it says: “cessation“. Sometimes it gets translated as “quenching” by translators in order to avoid the proximity to “destruction” but this is v e r y far stretched. If the original text does not fit our understanding maybe something is wrong with our understanding of the text. The following will make this clear.)

There has been said much more and much better on this topic of “nibbida-viraga-nirodha”. For example from the most venerable Nyanananda.  It is going to be a lengthy quote, but quite an important one. This is from his 16th sermon on Nibbana:


The worldling who attends to the arising aspect and ignores the cessation aspect is carried away by the perception of the compact. But the mind, when steadied, is able to see the phe nomenon of cessation: thitam cittam vippamuttam, vayancassànupassati, ”the mind steadied and released contemplates its own passing away”.

With that steadied mind the arahant attends to the cessation of preparations. At its climax, he penetrates the gamut of existence made up of preparations, as in the case of a flame, and goes beyond the clutches of death.

As a comparison for existence, the simile of the flame is quite apt. We happened to point out earlier, that the word upàdàna can mean “grasping” as well as “fuel”. The totality of existence is sometimes referred to as a fire. The fuel for the fire of existence is grasping itself. With the removal of that fuel, one experiences extinction.

The dictum bhavanirodho nibbànam clearly shows that Nibbàna is the cessation of existence. There is another significant discourse which equates Nibbàna to the experience of the cessation of the six sense-bases, saëàyatananirodha. The same experience of realization is viewed from a different angle. We have already shown that the cessation of the six sense-bases, or the six sense-spheres, is also called Nibbàna.

The discourse we are now going to take up is one in which the Buddha presented the theme as some sort of a riddle for the monks to work out for themselves.

Tasmàtiha, bhikkhave, se àyatane veditabbe yattha cakkhum ca nirujjhati rupasannà ca virajjati, se àyatane veditabbe yattha sotanca nirujjhati saddasannà ca virajjati, se àyatane veditabbe yattha ghànanca nirujjhati gandhasannà ca virajjati, se àyatane veditabbe yattha jivhà ca nirujjhati rasasannà ca virajjati, se àyatane veditabbe …se àyatane veditabbe yattha mano ca nirujjhati dhammasa¤¤à ca virajjati, se àyatane veditabbe, se àyatane veditabbe.

“Therefore, monks, that sphere should be known wherein the eye ceases and perceptions of form fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the ear ceases and perceptions of sound fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the nose ceases and perceptions of smell fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the tongue ceases and perceptions of taste fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the body ceases and perceptions of the tangible fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the mind ceases and percep tions of mind objects fade away, that sphere should be known, that sphere should be known.”

There is some peculiarity in the very wording of the pas sage, when it says, for instance, that the eye ceases, cakkhunca nirujjhati and perceptions of form fade away, rupasannà ca virajjati. As we once pointed out, the word viràga, usually ren dered by “detachment”, has a nuance equivalent to “fading away” or “decolouration”. Here that nuance is clearly evident. When the eye ceases, perceptions of forms fade away.

The Buddha is enjoining the monks to understand that sphere, not disclosing what it is, in which the eye ceases and perceptions of form fade away, and likewise the ear ceases and perceptions of sound fade away, the nose ceases and percep tions of smell fade away, the tongue ceases and perceptions of taste fade away, the body ceases and perceptions of the tangible fade away, and last of all even the mind ceases and per ceptions of mind objects fade away. This last is particularly note worthy.

Saëàyatananirodhaü, kho àvuso, Bhagavatà sandhàya bhàsitam. “Friends, it is with reference to the cessation of the six sense-spheres that the Exalted One has preached this sermon.”

When those monks approached the Buddha and placed Venerable ânanda’s explanation before him, the Buddha ratified it. Hence it is clear that the term àyatana in the above passage refers not to any one of the six sense-spheres, but to Nibbàna, which is the cessation of all of them.

The passage in question bears testimony to two important facts. Firstly that Nibbàna is called the cessation of the six sense-spheres. Secondly that this experience is referred to as an àyatana, or a `sphere’. [link]



This is whay at this point you most likely remember the one book on this important part of Buddhist meditation by the most Venerable Ñāṇārāma Mahāthera: The seven contemplations

If you are really really interested in a full study on the last 4 steps of insight meditation this book is highly recommended.

It is even more readable and informative than the famous “The seven stages of purification and the insight knowledges”. However, unlike the latter there seems to be no online version available (at least not in English – could someone ask the BPS to release the material?).

If you happen to own this book, open chapter 8 and read the summary. It will give you a very profound explanation on the sequence of nibbida, viraga, nirodha and patinissaggo.

Below are some other instances in the suttas where this formula appears. As always we can approxmiate to the meaning of pali texts best by simply looking at our passage in various contexts.

Below a collection of some such passages where these 4 stages of insight meditation or “modes of observation” occur:


 Idha devānaminda bhikkhuno sutaṃ hoti: sabbe dhammā nālaṃ abhinivesāyāti. Evañca taṃ devānaminda bhikkhuno sutaṃ hoti: sabbe dhammā nālaṃ abhinivesāyāti, so sabbaṃ dhammaṃ abhijānāti. Sabbaṃ dhammaṃ abhiññāya sabbaṃ dhammaṃ parijānāti. Sabbaṃ dhammaṃ pariññāya yaṃ kiñci vedanaṃ vedeti sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā, so tāsu vedanāsu aniccānupassī viharati, virāgānupassī viharati, nirodhānupassī viharati, paṭinissaggānupassī viharati. So tāsu vedanāsu aniccānupassī viharanto, virāgānupassī viharanto, nirodhānupassī viharanto, paṭinissaggānupassī viharanto na ca kiñci 1 loke upādiyati. Anupādiyaṃ na paritassati. Aparitassaṃ paccattaññeva parinibbāyati. Cūḷataṇhāsaṅkhayasutta, MN

Here, king of gods, the bhikkhu becomes learned, that anything is not suitable to settle in. Becomes learned, learning all things thoroughly and accurately recognising all things Feels all feelings pleasant, unpleasant or neither unpleasant nor pleasant. In those feelings he sees impermanence, detaches the mind from them, and sees their cessation, and gives them up. Abiding seeing impermanence, detachment, cessation and giving up of those feelings, does not seize anything in the world. Not seizing does not worry. Not worried is internally extinguished. [MN 37]


or this one:


‘‘Sato, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajāno kālaṃ āgameyya. Ayaṃ vo amhākaṃ anusāsanī. Kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sato hoti? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ; vedanāsu vedanānupassī viharati…pe… citte cittānupassī viharati…pe… dhammesu dhammānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ. Evaṃ kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sato hoti.

Note: When you think about this…it almost seems as if the Buddha thought: Okay, what is the best way i can get my monks to see the true nature of the 5 groups of grasping. They are so subtle….Hm….That’s it! Why don’t i spell out an excercise which sounds more tangible but when they follow it in due course will get to a much more refined vision of the rising and vanishing of these 5 groups. So, there is body (= rupa) and feeling (= vedana) and lets call the rest  simply “the mind” and its objects “mind objects” (= sanna, sankhara, vinnana). And thus the 4 satipatthana were born, another king’s path to seeing the 5 groups of grasping (1. noble truth), seeing their arising (2. noble truth) due to tanha and upadana, seeing their destruction (3. noble truth) and establishing a practice to the realization thereof (4. noble truth).

‘‘Kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajāno hoti? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu abhikkante paṭikkante …bhāsite tuṇhībhāve sampajānakārī hoti. Evaṃ kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajānakārī hoti. Sato, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajāno kālaṃ āgameyya. Ayaṃ vo amhākaṃ anusāsanī.

[..so far so good..this is exactly as in the Satipatthana sutta. But look how this text continues here. This sutta reads like a comment on the satipatthana (esp. vedana part) itself. This is very good for all sorts of cross-reference:]

‘‘Tassa ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno evaṃ satassa sampajānassa appamattassa ātāpino pahitattassa viharato uppajjati sukhā vedanā, so evaṃ pajānāti – ‘uppannā kho myāyaṃ sukhā vedanā. Sā ca kho paṭicca, no appaṭicca. Kiṃ paṭicca? Imameva kāyaṃ paṭicca. Ayaṃ kho pana kāyo anicco saṅkhato paṭiccasamuppanno. Aniccaṃ kho pana saṅkhataṃ paṭiccasamuppannaṃ kāyaṃ paṭicca uppannā sukhā vedanā kuto niccā bhavissatī’ti! So kāye ca sukhāya ca vedanāya aniccānupassī viharati, vayānupassī viharati, virāgānupassī viharati, nirodhānupassī viharati, paṭinissaggānupassī viharati. Tassa kāye ca sukhāya ca vedanāya aniccānupassino viharato, vayānupassino viharato, virāgānupassino viharato, nirodhānupassino viharato, paṭinissaggānupassino viharato, yo kāye ca sukhāya ca vedanāya rāgānusayo, so pahīyati.


If  in that remembering and aware monk, o monks…an agreable sensation arises, he thus knows: “Arisen is an agreable sensation. This is was caused by something not without cause. Based on what? Based on this very body. But this body is impermanent, fabricated, dependently originated. How could this sensation therefore be permanent?! He dwells seeing impermanence of agreable feelings with regard to the body…dwells seeing the fading…dwells seeing the cessation….dwells seeing the giving up. Whatever there was of a tendency of craving towards body or feeling that will vanish in him.


Another note: It is interesting how Goenka always relates vedana to the body…and it is strange in a way. This text in particular might move the body in the foreground (the body, in fact, is a synonym for “form” as all our physical objects we perceive are “routed” through this antenna. From a deeper perspective however, speaking of the “six sense spheres” is more precise. So, of course, vedana can also be triggered by thoughts…(or any of the six sense objects) but then, that has always been a problem, to “note” in vipassana even the most refined mental concepts and the thoughts springing up from dhamma-related content…[Like this one, :-) ]


When it comes to the benefits this meditation on breathing is able to generate (i.e. Nibbana, no by-products implied here) we find a couple of suttas in the Samyutta Nikaya which describe the resulting state of mind of a master of this meditation. After the attainment of nibbana this is how an Anapanasati concentration would look like:

‘‘Evaṃ bhāvite kho, bhikkhave, ānāpānassatisamādhimhi evaṃ bahulīkate, sukhaṃ ce vedanaṃ vedayati, sā ‘aniccā’ti pajānāti, ‘anajjhositā’ti pajānāti, ‘anabhinanditā’ti pajānāti; dukkhaṃ ce vedanaṃ vedayati, ‘sā aniccā’ti pajānāti, ‘anajjhositā’ti pajānāti, ‘anabhinanditā’ti pajānāti; adukkhamasukhaṃ ce vedanaṃ vedayati, ‘sā aniccā’ti pajānāti, ‘anajjhositā’ti pajānāti, ‘anabhinanditā’ti pajānāti’’.

Having thus developed, o monks, the concentration of breathing in and out, having does practiced it often, whenever he feels a feeling he knows “impermanent”…”un-identified”…”undelighted”…[the same for painful or neutral feelings]

It is important to understand that this last paragraph reflects on the state of a Stream-enterer … Arahant – and not someone who just started out with this meditation. While “newcomers” will have to exert (sikkhati) themselves to look at any feeling etc. in a fashion of pure and total observation – this mode of observation comes naturally to the enlightened being.

We have to make sure that our training encompasses everything that arises while we are bent on observing impermanence. Even thoughts about the Dharma are thoughts. A thought like “Just let it go” is an object, with a mind-consciousness and a mind-feeling and a mind-perception entailed. Don’t get fooled by this subtle grasping but rather:

Sukhaṃ vā yadi vā dukkhaṃ, adukkhamasukhaṃ saha;
ajjhattaṃ ca bahiddhā ca, yaṃ kiñci atthi veditaṃ.
Etaṃ dukkhaṃ ti ñatvāna mosadhammaṃ palokinaṃ;
phussa phussa vayaṃ passaṃ, evaṃ tattha virajjati; 
Vedanānaṃ khayā bhikkhu, nicchāto parinibbuto’ti.

If it is a agreeable or unagreeable or neutral feeling

within or without, WHATEVER it is you feel

“This is suffering” having it known {noted} as such

of deceiving nature destined to decay

Whenever whenever you are hit with a sense impression

See it disappearing

So will it there fade away

The monk from the cessation of feelings

Is wishless and completely extinguished.



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And I show you how :-)

Okay, caught your attention (did you see what happened when you read this headline)?

Now, let me rephrase a bit: This post is about how a Vipassana-opponent turned into a Vipassana-proponent. Interested? This is the story:

If you were raised in the West and got to know Buddhism from a scientific background and tradition-teacher-critical mindset (think Kalama Sutta) your premise of uncovering Nibbana in this lifetime would read like this:

First of all, I am only interested in what Buddha taught. Where can I find out what he taught? What is the most authentic and most original representation of his teachings/discourses going back to his time? Let me start my praxis and understanding from there, rather than through third class secondary literature or contradicting contemporary interpretations.

Obviously, your focus would then fall on the texts of the Sutta Pitaka of the (Theravadin) Pali Canon, the most ancient surviving (textual) tradition encapsulating the words of the Buddha.

Now, if you start reading those texts in any modern translation, you will come to the conclusion, that Buddhist meditation  is all about (based on morality, of course) attaining jhanas, or deep concentration states of the mind. You believe that wisdom will come on its own. And your favorite Dhammapada verse would sum that idea up like this:

“Natthi jhanam apannassa / panna natthi ajhayato

yamhi jhananca panna ca / sa ve nibbanasantike.”

“There is no meditation for him who is without wisdom;

there is no wisdom for him who is without meditation.

Nearer to Nibbana is he, in whom meditation and wisdom meet.” (Dhp 372) and (here)

Your next step however involves finding other people practicing on the path. Then, looking around, you hear people talk and write about vipassana. Vipassana? That is not even mentioned once(*) in the suttas, what is that? You read about vipassana and find out that it originated (at least in its modern revived practice) in Burma in the country of Abhidhamma, propagated by monks who learn and love the late abhidhammic scholasticism and commentaries…Those parts of the Buddhist canon, which you know from historical and text critical studies to be the least reliable teachings. At least that is what you conclude.

As an outspoken and tradition-critical Buddhist you get into arguments with other people who are so enthused about their latest vipassana retreat. It is true, your own attempt at getting into jhanic states (or deep concentrations states) is cumbersome and slow. You cannot understand why these other vipassana “junkies” would be able to progress on the path of the Dhamma, if they have not even undertaken some training in concentration meditation – let alone practice only “dry vipassana”. “Yikes”, you think. You try to tell them that their practice is wrong. Or will not bear fruits, because, what they do is neither explained nor legitimized in the most ancient Buddhist texts, or is it?

If you happen to be in Thailand or a Thai related tradition, your pretence against vipassana could be worse. For whatever reason (jealousy towards their little under-developed Northern neighbour?) Thai meditation masters are known for their struggle with wild tigers in jungle infested regions as part of their zen-like adventurous struggle towards nibbana. But they are not known for systematic meditation methodologies. Especially not in vipassana training.

If you happen to be in Sri Lanka, arguments are found for both meditation approaches. Chances are you find people on both sides of the argument, however, in recent decades, the majority definitely turned in favor towards (Burmese-style) vipassana. In the Western world, despite groups of people in favor of jhana meditation (usually among the few who DO study the pali canon) vipassana rules the day. However, the closer someone professes to have studied the most authentic pali suttas they will show reluctance to except vipassana meditation. Reason: It looks like its not mentioned in the texts, or is it??

Here you might find yourself in a peculiar situation. Are the early texts wrong and the many people vouching for vipassana right? Or are they missing a crucial part and the suttas correct in that jhana is needed first before attempting vipassana or insight meditation?

Let me show you how to solve this (apparently) difficult problem. For that matter, let us imagine a personal story:

From whatever karmic reason, being a stern vipassana sceptic (probably not for the first time), trying to carefully navigate between the past and present views about the Dhamma, and in order to find the authentic path and achieve Nibbana in this very life, you come in contact with a very active, highly trained meditation group. They teach jhanas and vipassana. However, they won’t teach you the jhanas. Not yet.

Why? What is their argument?

You don’t need full jhana concentration to start doing vipassana. (You keep your doubts to yourself). You don’t know your time of death! (Sure, granted). Are you willing to risk death and thus loose this special samsaric opportunity to gain insights into the nature of your mind just because of some desire for deep concentration states? You think: I can show you dozens of passages which will highlight the importance of strong concentration before insight can be born. But lets say you agree to the challenge and keep your scepticism to yourself. They invite you for a 20 day retreat. Let the practice and its results be your guide, they say. Not theory. Not texts. Not tradition. So, in the true spirit of the Kalama Sutta you start the work.

So interestingly enough as soon as you agree, (this being a proper place) …. You are taught the basics in concentration meditation…(as I said, we imagine a very good systematic place)…Every meditation session includes a reflection on your sila (virtues), includes small exercises in concentration and eventually applies a thorough vipassana methodology – without a full blown mastering of the jhanas, of course… just enough to sustain concentration for the task at hand – which is the noting of the appearing and vanishing of the six sense bases…or five groups of grasping….peeking “under the hood” of samsara. First slowly, clumsy. Then quicker and sharper. To see impermance, dukkha and emptiness of a self.

Now, as time passes, you are astonished. You find yourself walking through the commentarial vipassanāñāṇa in a personal direct experience in real-life, yet even those vipassana insights have not been discussed in the suttas, or have they?

However, you know how emphatic the Buddha was about seeing the rising and falling and the wisdom born thereof.

And yes, the further you practice vipassana in this systematic way, the more you understand how your six senses work, how concepts and thoughts are empty. What you did not believe in your wildest dreams to be true comes true. A method which seems to have originated from nowhere creates knowledge which remind you of the results the sutta speak of. However, the path you took seems not to be mentioned in the suttas. Can this be?

A huge dilemma: How in all the world can it be, that the suttas talk 90% about jhanas when they mention meditation and you don’t hear them talk about vipassana, wheras the commentaries and the working vipassana techniques (so popular nowadays) are not mentioned once?

At that point, convinced by the experience and practice of vipassana meditation you look back at the suttas. You are convinced that you need to take a closer look. Something is wrong here – and it is not your result-producing practice.

So you go back to the pali texts and translations and try to look for an answer. Very soon you understand, that the various modern translations are the culprits in “hiding vipassana”. We could also say the commentaries, as they failed to better relate pragmatic knowledge and concepts of their times to the suttas (but, well, the Burmese example shows, some were able to figure it out reading and studying the texts close enough).

Well, or we could simply acknowledge the fact, that meditation practice is hardly a matter for texts and difficult to transmit between real people in real life – even harder on the paper. So it is and always will be a challenge to convey meditation experience and practice on a page – or palm leaf.

Because, in truth, the suttas are FULL of references to vipassana, in fact theses references probably dwarf any mentioning of the jhanas by 100:1. But the word vipassana is not what one has to look for. This insight producing part of the Buddhas teaching was so central to his mission that he spoke about it almost every time someone came to him with a question. But only later in his life he started using the term “vipassana” which in later centuries became exclusively used to what the Buddha coined “sati” during his life.

So the term he is using is hardly ever “vipassana” (some suttas, mostly commentaries use this term) and not “noting”  (commentaries use this term, sallakkheti).

The Buddha uses “sati – remembering”  instead or he uses “yoniso manasikaro – proper attention” or he uses “iti pajanati – to know “thus” or he uses various verbs related to “samanupassati – seeing,observing” etc. etc..

Remembering/Noting/Witnessing as a function of the mind to withstand the drag of the sense impressions and to actively witness with wise attention what is going on with the help of a (small number of very specific) labels.

And the Buddha uses “iti pajanati”. He uses direct speech. He tells us what to do – in fact how to note our experience – how to use a very simple concept like “This is not mine. This am i not. This is not my self” to de-conceptualize our constantly proliferating world-experience.

But the many scholarly (and contemporary) translators (in most cases) could not recognize this. They translate “you have to see the forms as empty” when it  more literally says  “you have to see the form so: ‘empty’”. A tiny little change, granted, but suddenly the missing link re-appears. And vipassana is all over the place. In fact, not only that – now references of how to use sustained thoughts in helping to induce concentration meditation appear in the pali texts and even jhana meditation lightens up.

Here is another exapmle. Such an obvious pali sentence as this one

Atthi kayo’ti pan’assa sati paccupatthita hoti yava-d-eva nana-mattaya pati-ssati-mattaya

Lit.: “(There) is a body” so too his remembering/noting/attention established is, just for the sake of knowing, for the sake of awareness.

from the famous satipatthana sutta gets translated by one famous scholar monks as:

he has clear mindfulness of the existence of the body only to extent that will serve to make it an object of gnosis (ñana) and recollection.

Therefore, a more literal translation – careful towards the application of meditation practice – would show that the Buddha’s “samma sati” is in fact the commentaries favorite “vipassana”. (more on this here)

And so, the seeming contradiction between jhana and vipassana dissolves into a close link between the two. Whereas the one uses thoughts to increase concentration on an object (think: “buddho, buddho”) the other uses specific labels to aid the development of deep insight by directing/guiding the bare attention: “This is feeling”. “This is how feeling appears”. “This is how feeling vanishes”. Left alone the mind behaves like a monkey in a forest. Both, insight and concentration meditation prosper on the usage of sati, that is “remembering”.

We could make changes and say instead “sati and samadhi” if we do not like to say “samatha and vipassana”…yes, that would probably have been the terminology of Buddhist meditation at the time of the Buddha. But nothing is wrong to use the preferred commentarial terminology and say “samatha-vipassana”. After all, these are all simply names/concepts relating to a pragmatic approach in meditation. That is why the Buddha mentioned vipassana implicitely when talking about jhanas and implicitely concentration when talking about vipassana. It gets problematic if these “notions”, “thoughts”, “views” start to interfere with our practice and we avoid walking on the entire noble eightfold path.

A little add-on:

Another problem is the mistaken role of jhanas in the recent vipassana revival. Jhanas are mistaken to be a hindrance or annoyance to the insight meditator. Very often jhanic states deriving from the intense “noting” practice are not acknowledged as such and lead to confusion. Someone with prior training in concentration has an easier time gauging his experiences (and continuing to note) by-products of a deep concentration. Therefore, the so-called “upacara” samadhi or “access” concentration is many times the result of a concentrated meditator untrained in the mastery of the jhanas. This will lead to jhanic experiences which then appear random and fuzzy and attract the wrong kind of attention by a vipassana meditator who never experienced them before. What could be a support due to the narrower focus of attention now turns into a hindrance, a broken and unsustained, underdeveloped jhana.

Final note: While our criticism was primarily directed towards the Jhānapubbaṅgamāvāda(i.e. the group of people who say that jhanas have to be developed first, like this) including the hint that “directing once mind towards realization of the 4 noble truth” is where the “real” work starts :-) we did try to balance our constructive criticism with remarks on the importance of one-pointedness. Vipassanāparāmāsāvāda (i.e. the group of people who separate vipassana from morality and concentration and place it above all) are in danger of dancing on the same spot and slowing down their progress. Khanika or ‘momentary’ concentration in this regard is an oxymoron, in my humble opinion. Think about it.

A proposal for today’s Theravada practice therefore, could look like this:

Our practice needs to establish a balance between sila, samādhi and paññā . One possibility is to incorporate reflection on sila and preparation on samathā into a preamble for every vipassanā meditation session. In fact there are such integrating and systematic approaches out there (esp. in Lanka) and if this post serves any good it might do some advertisement for such comprehensive approaches to Buddhist training.

“Now what is concentration, lady, what is its topic, what are its requisites, and what is its development”

“Singleness of mind is concentration, friend Visakha; the four foundations of sati are its topic; the four right efforts are its requisites; and any cultivation, development, & pursuit of these qualities is its development.” [Dhamma Dinna in MN 44]

In the next post we will look at some of the pali texts which show the ubiquity of “vipassanā” in the suttas =>


(*) The term vipassana is already mentioned and used in the suttas albeit not very common. Mostly in conjunction with samatha-vipassana but most of the passages which do mention vipassana in the suttas could be from younger text strata. I have another post in my draft folder with some quantification on this topic which i will link to at this place once it’s posted.

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…was Ayya Khema‘s noble intention. Let us all walk in her footsteps.

From an email thread:

better i respond now, before letting this lie around too long…so short answers. if not clear enough, give me a call :-)

I’m glad we talked about the Buddhanussati meditation, i tried it last night… it seems to be helpful…  It is hard to find on the internet exactly how to do it, so i was using the instructions that you gave long time ago for the kammatthana, using ‘sattha’ or ‘sattha devamanussanam’.   Is is the best way, or should i think about all the virtues…?

Did you ever read the life of the Buddha, like “Old path, white clouds” or such similar books? Knowing the life of the Buddha makes him “knowable”. In Buddhanussati you try to rest your mind on ONE quality of the Buddha. Of course, one could also do a contemplation on the Buddha, and most people do, but if you want to develop jhana, you are right, you would have to get away from “many thoughts about and/or why the Buddha is the teacher of gods and men” … and start hooking your mind on a “feeling” or “mental perception” of this. It sounds more difficult than it is. REPEAT the ONE THOUGHT again and again “teacher of gods and men” (or whatever of the 9 attributes of the Buddha is your favorite one, like “Buddho” etc.) and after a while you will get a resonance in your mind… even without “discoursive thinking on this topic” your mind will fall into a wordless “notion” of what “teacher of gods and men” stands for… if you start gliding on this “notion” piti will appear… and YES you THEN “shift” your attention towards piti. BUT that is something which normally happens by itself so you do not have to worry about “making it”. If you notice piti rising, you sure can mentally, thoughtless, let it come in and ride on it… after all, that is what the eagle does. piti is the warm uplifting stream of air.
- should i recollect a virtue, then try to generate a feeling, or just contemplate the virtue only?  I mean, should the goal be to have a ‘feeling’, like with metta meditation?
yes, very similar along the lines of metta…. “loving kindness”, “loving kindness”, “loving kindness” – based on the mentally sustained perception/feeling of unconditioned pure love.
- if it is a feeling, should it be a feeling directed toward the buddha?  I know you aren’t supposed to do metta for a dead person, so since it seems like if i was to generate a feeling towards the buddha (based on a virtue) in this case, it would be similar to metta, probably that’s not what i’m supposed to do… ?
yes… but you start with the concept, “teacher of gods and men” again and again… until it becomes a thoughtless experience…a “mental feeling” if you will ;-) thus drawing you away from the 5 senses and pacifying your mind…subduing the 5 hindrances. Contemplation is not Concentration.
- i was reading that Buddhanussati can only be used to get to ‘access concentration’, not to jhana, but still i’m thinking that this further indicates that it should be done as more of a contemplation rather than a generation of a feeling.  Then that would explain why they say it would not lead to jhana due to its ‘complexity’.
exactly…ANY contemplation will not lead to the Jhanas …  See, the point is that even metta will not lead to the jhanas as long as you go on doing a contemplation with it. Entertaining a train of thoughts will not lead to a one pointedness by definition.
But because people start moving towards the “nice feeling” when doing the modern mainstream metta meditation, it is easier for them to be taken over by piti (once in a while) and thus it helps many to find (stumble over) the jhanas from time to time. Once you know that you make it even more difficult with many thoughts to reach a concentrated state of mind getting into the Jhanas becomes an easy exercise.Buddhanussati could do the same for you, if you know what is important to get to the jhanas…. If you just abstractly think about the attributes of the Buddha, of course, it is “too complex” but if you FALL into one attribute and make your mind rest on it, you will draw your attention away from the outside and will see how the jhana factors align, the 5 hindrances vanish, piti will arise and your jhana journey begin. In fact, there are many instances reported in the commentaries where people felt piti after doing buddhanussati…

hope this brings some light into the matter.

Question:  When doing Samatha, if I get to the point of sustained attention using metta, should i shift my attention somewhere else at this point?
yes, Leigh is great. He was taught by Ayya Khema how to practice jhana meditation. And as you know, Ayya Khemas teacher was Ven. Nyanarama – who was Ven. Nyanananda and also our meditation teacher :-)
Again, i know we are not making a differentiation between access concentration and jhana like he is, but Leigh is just saying that access concentration is when you are able to sustain attention on the object, seems like he is meaning before piti/sukha…
this would be vicara.
Anyway, I was wondering what your opinion is on shifting attention … here he is talking about breath, but later he is saying to shift the attention like this for any object you are using…  he means to shift it to any pleasant sensation in the body that you notice:

If the breath gets very, very subtle, or if it disappears entirely, instead of taking a deep breath, shift your attention away from the breath to a pleasant sensation. This is the key thing. You watch the breath until you arrive at access concentration, and then you let go of the breath and shift your attention to a pleasant sensation. There is not much point in watching the breath that has gotten extremely subtle or has disappeared completely. There’s nothing left to watch. Shift your attention to a pleasant sensation, preferably a pleasant physical sensation.

see… i would express it a bit differently. This is usually happening by itself. Because, if the foundation is laid, this “pleasant sensation” (piti) will get noticed by you in any case and as soon as you note it your attention will shift to it and you will start “riding the wave” and booom you suddenly find yourself in “a state” and just enjoy it… there you go. Jhana no. 1.
So, i think he is right, but if people start SEARCHING for this feeling BEFORE they got a good foundation they will break down their foundation by additional mental activity…the “looking for the sensation” then becomes a disturbance. If you can make sure that your shift is sooooo subtle and happens when it should happen, it is okay. Tell that to someone with limited experience in this arena and you might confuse them. Hope you are not.

You will need a good bit of concentration to watch a pleasant physical sensation, because a mildly pleasant feeling somewhere in your body is not nearly as exciting as the breath coming in and the breath going out. You’ve got this mildly pleasant sensation that’s just sitting there; you need to be well-concentrated to stay with it.

One reason i’m asking is because let’s say i’m using metta: i have the metta feeling, AND i have sustained attention on metta, but then what? i remember i already asked you before how to tell the difference between metta feeling (meditation object) and piti/sukha… and you said that the piti/sukha would be sustained without effort…. but it is still not clear, since it seems like the metta feeling is also sustained without effort.. at least to some extent, before piti arises, isn’t it?  Then when i was reading Leigh’s instructions, i was wondering if i need to somehow shift the attention…???
Shift the attention to where? see, this piti will come like a beautiful  invisible wave from the “background” of your mind… that sounds very flowery, but it is very very similar to metta feeling,,, still whereas you have to hold the metta, the piti will start holding you.… when you feel that is coming, sure, you need to watch it….but if that happens you will want to watch it anyway….hope this makes it a bit clearer…it is really not that complicated once you got it… keep going, once you go there one or two times, you will know what i mean. it will sure come, especially, if you can already hold your attention at the metta feeling for some periods of time.
Also, one more question, this is from Bhante G’s book, he is saying this should be done after reaching first jhana, but before going on to the second jhana:
Perfecting the first jhana:
The meditator should try to acquire five kinds of mastery over the jhana: mastery in adverting, in attaining, in resolving, in emerging and in reviewing.
- Mastery in adverting is the ability to advert to the jhana factors one by one after emerging from the jhana, wherever he wants, whenever he wants, and for as long  as he wants.
- Mastery in attaining is the ability to enter upon jhana quickly
- mastery in resolving the ability to remain in the jhana for exactly the pre-determined length of time,
- mastery in emerging the ability to emerge from jhana quickly without difficulty,
- mastery in reviewing the ability to review the jhana and its factors with retrospective knowledge immediately after adverting to them.
Question:  I think ‘advert’ means ‘directing attention to’, but not clear, what do you think he means in the part i highlighted above? What do you think about this, is it necessary?

That is a rather fancy translation of the pali for “paccavekkhana”.

Here is an entire posting on this topic:

Jhanas are a better foundation of any Vipassana practice and they are less difficult than many people think. The more people know and practice right concentration the bigger the benefit for the Dhamma overall. Being less mysterious than most people imagine they are not less enjoyable and beneficial once you are able to attain them repetitively. One way of better understanding them is to imagine concentration as a process. Your mind will quite naturally pass through the four jhanas when you succeed in moving your attention inward holding and focusing it on a mental object. The rest will happen by itself. Have a look at the jhana factors to understand your progress and know the 5 hindrances to identify your weak spots. Good luck!

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If you drive back from a peaceful mountain region to the busy town you can reflect on all the milestonesSerenity and passing sights either while you drive or when you are back home.

Now of course watching the scenery while driving is usually not recommended. It may very well be outright dangerous to look back while driving on a highway. If you do that at all, you would have to do that very quickly. But you can.

The safer approach of course is reflecting on your passage long time afterwards, when you are home, sitting on your sofa with a cup of tea. But then of course the journey is long gone and not everything is as fresh in your memory as it was during the trip when you just “saw” it.

The Suttas and Visuddhimagga tell us about the ability to “look back” (pacca-vekkhati), look over our shoulders, so to speak, when practicing meditation, especially the jhanas.

As mentioned in an earlier post, for the beginner it is quite hard to come into deep states of concentration but especially for the intermediate meditator with one or two years of consistent practice it is sometimes challenging to just stumble over absorptions but not to know where they come from or how to locate them “at will”. Mastery of the jhanas is nothing else than the ability to plunge into any of those concentrated states by will, at any time. But how to get there?

One very important foundation is of course the proper understanding of one’s own meditation object, and practice. What is supposed to happen if i concentrate on one object and what exactly do i have to do? A good meditation teacher will answer those questions precisely and render this post unnecessary. So it is for those meditating in Alaska who have no one to ask :-)

At the very beginning a proper understanding of vitakka and vicara is necessary. They stand for what the meditator is trying to archieve: He is trying to bind his wandering mind to one object…and one object only.

Any diviation is a loss in concentration. Maybe not a complete break up but nevertheless a loss a diminuation. According to the simile the Buddha gave with regard to the six animals each longing towards a different realm the meditator’s object is like the pole in the middle on which the six animals are bound by a rope and around which they will circle and eventually calm down.

However, just having a pole won’t keep the animals away from roaming around. They will simply drag the pole with them. The pole needs to go into the earth. Deep inside.

Here comes vitakka and vicara to our rescue. Vitakka is the thought which resembles a hammer and drives the pole, for instance “light”, “light”, “light” down into the ground. Each repetition of “light”, “light” is another blow with the hammer prolonging the steadiness of the object – in this case the perception of light.

But we are not to mindlessly recite a mantra here. We want clarity and gain concentration so that we can induce this whenever we like. As mentioned above – we are looking for mastery.

Therefore, lets try to understand vicara, the second jhanic factor. Vicara is like the resonance after the hammer hit the pole. It is the movement into the ground, the resonance of a bell hit by a stick.

If you think “loving kindness”, “loving kindness” …now pause for a moment and watch your mind. The “being on the topic” just after you think such a concentrated thought (vitakka) dwelling on the object of your concentration (“the feeling/perception of kindness towards all”) is what vicara (“moving about”) is all about.

Soon, if these two factors are established piti, or joy, will follow in due course. This is like a very natural law: The mind, subdued and calmed by one calming thought and focusing on one object/color/feeling/perception (depending on what your meditation subject is. If it is loving kindness it will more be a feeling. if it is breathing, it will be the feeling of the breathing, if it is light, it will be the perception of light) …a mind thus steadied will experience joy because of a reduction in sense impressions.

So the only task at hand for you seeking the entrance into the first of the four jhanas is establishing a repeated focused thought like “loving kindness” and a “mental listening” or “close thoughtless observation” or “dwelling and gliding on” the aftermath after striking the bell with this meditative thought. The longer you can hold your mind gliding on this resonance the quicker you will establish vitakka and vicara. Having established those two, piti will come in quickly.

So far so good. How does the method of pacca-vekkhati or “looking back” come into play here, helping us to master states of absorption?

Giving it a modern name, we would probably call it “tagging”. The purpose of pacca-vekkhati is a tagging and labeling of our actual experience. That way the mind establishes signposts and it will be easier and easier to repeat and identify an experience.

Think of someone doing samatha meditation like a person stumbling through a stretch of forest. In theEntering the forest middle of the forest runs a straight clear clean and beautiful path. But this path is – initially – very small and hard to find. Now the person might start entering the forest from many different sides but wherever it enters (whatever the subject of meditation is) in the beginning it will be hard for that person to even come across this path.

Most of the time the person enters the forest, soon is lost by all the trees and bushes stopping his advance into the forest and he turns in circles and after a while gives up and leaves the forest.

However, once in a while, this person would – by chance – stumble over this clear clean beautiful trail. Standing there, it looks around and says: “Wow, this is a beautiful trail”. But his dwelling on this path and walking along is only for a very short time. For one, because this trail is not very wide in the beginning and as soon as he looses track he finds himself again surrounded by trees and lost.

What will help this person to find this trail more often and stay on it for longer periods of time? Tagging!

Path in the forestA boy scouts first resort to finding his way to and fro in any unknown place is to leave markers and waysigns. In the same manner a meditator desiring to master the jhana has to make use of paccavekkhana or “looking back” and has to “tag” those factors which make up the individual jhanas. That way he will not only find the track quicker, more easily but also widen the path and thus deepen his experience allowing the jhana factors to become much stronger.

Now, how do we do the tagging of such faint mental things like jhana factors? The most difficult part for you will be to identify what is what. If you know, what is what, you are almost there. Knowing what is what is like seeing a glimmer of the path through the canopy and trunks of trees.

Let’s do this for the first jhana together and you try to tag the jhana factors of the remaining 3 jhana as an excercise on your own.

These are the five factors of the first jhana:

vitakka (thought)

vicara (gliding/resonance)

piti (joy)

sukha (happiness, comfortableness)

upekkha (equanimity, deep serenity)

Traditionally in each sucessive jhana the factors are reduced. So that the

2nd jhana has only piti, sukha, upekkha. The 3rd has sukha, upekkha. And the 4th only upekkha.

Now with regard to the first jhana, the thought which we use to set up the pole with can be any concise mentioning of the topic like “earth, earth” or “loving kindness”. Do not mix this up with mental chatter about your meditation topic. We use one thought to substitute all others. So go on repeating this thought. Then, once in a while think: “This is vitakka”. Now, doing this reflection/looking back/paccavekkhana you have to be careful like the driver looking back on the road. You temporarily diminish your concentration by letting in a “stray thought”. That is fine as long as you do not loose control over your vehicle and crash into other cars, piling up a heap of thoughts: this would mean losing your concentration. But, if you just, once in a while, internally “tag” what you experience then that will be no problem at all, even beneficial – because now your mind knows what to look for.

Next step: Repeating this vitakka is just the first step to pull yourself closer to a concentrated mind. Now you add the following task: After each repetition of the thought take close attention to the “state of your mind” directly after thinking the thought for instance “loving kindness” … the gliding/flapping of your wings or resonance that thought leaves…if you think you identified it, tag it, thinking: “This is vicara”.

Now repeat those two tags…But not constantly…just once in a while. As if you would check on the way you take through the forest not to stray off to far.

Once you established vitakka and vicara the joy will not be far away. As we said in the beginning, it is given, a natural law, that the mind will feel joyous once the calmness of vitakka and vicara laid the foundation.

A note beside: Sukha and Upekkha in the first jhana kind of hide behind the first three factors which are very dominant at first. The progression of the jhanas is a progress in refinement. As the gross factors will diminish the finer onces will gain strength. But that is something you might like to find out by yourself.

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For many, this is a big issue. Some take the position to say, that it cannot be a jhana if the meditator experiences “any” (other) sense impression, than the meditation topic.

Others say, wait a moment, i can clearly experience the 4 jhanas and even distinguish the individual factors which make up each jhana. But i do hear sounds and experience thoughts, albeit in a “background” not bothering my concentration at all.

Between those two “views” sometimes debates take place, where for the most part, group number one cites the Visuddhimagga whereas group number two has such prominent teachers like Ayya Khema and many many students as witnesses of their experience.

Now lets try to solve this mystery :-)

Kindly have a look at the following chart. You will need some time to study and understand it. For those of you with some vipassana experience it will make more sense than to others. Okay, here we go:

States of Mind

In its daily operation the mind is torn between a barrage / an onslaught of six different sense impressions (pictures, sounds, odors, tastes, feelings and – according to the Buddhist teaching – thoughts).

Usually they come and go very quickly, objects of interest alternating swiftly, weaving and echoing a 3D life – like net of experiences through their fast succession, so that you, reading this text, indeed feel that you sit in a room, look at a screen and think some more or less important things. But, if you were to watch yourself in slow motion, this experience-movie would break down into frames of sense impressions piling up on each other, creating the impression of continuity.

Now, what does this have to do with samatha or serenity meditation and the jhanas? Well, how does the mind operate when it is highly concentrated on just ONE of those sense impressions? Or at least trying to do so.

Because, you can say, that concentration meditation or samatha is a meditator’s effort to bind the mind to just one of those six sense impressions. And here, we don’t mean binding it to one sense faculty, which would be staring at a sunset and taking in numerous changing sights, but really to try to hook the mind on one single object – suppressing the stream and barrage of sense chatter and experiencing joy and bliss by the resulting peacefulness. Let’s have a quick look at this wonderful simile of the Buddha:

“Just as if a person, catching six animals of different ranges, of different habitats, were to bind them with a strong rope. Catching a snake, he would bind it with a strong rope. Catching a crocodile… a bird… a dog… a hyena… a monkey, he would bind it with a strong rope. Binding them all with a strong rope, and tying a knot in the middle, he would set chase to them.

“Then those six animals, of different ranges, of different habitats, would each pull toward its own range & habitat. The snake would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the anthill.’ The crocodile would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the water.’ The bird would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll fly up into the air.’ The dog would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the village.’ The hyena would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the charnel ground.’ The monkey would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the forest.’ And when these six animals became internally exhausted, they would submit, they would surrender, they would come under the sway of whichever among them was the strongest.

“Just as if a person, catching six animals of different ranges, of different habitats, were to bind them with a strong rope. Catching a snake… a monkey, he would bind it with a strong rope. Binding them all with a strong rope, he would tether them to a strong post or stake.

“Then those six animals, of different ranges, of different habitats, would each pull toward its own range & habitat. … The monkey would pull, thinking, ‘I’ll go into the forest.’ And when these six animals became internally exhausted, they would stand, sit, or lie down right there next to the post or stake.{SN 35, 206}

Now of course, contrary to a phala samapatti, this bliss is bought by suppression…but it is a peaceful abiding nevertheless and one which the Buddha encouraged everyone to enjoy and not to fear. In a way, this is the worldly preview of Nibbana which would be an absorption not with suppression but an abiding in utter letting-go(don’t even try to imagine this, because you will probably end up in just racing through tons of different thought-moments while doing so. A better approach is to sit down and do some vipassana-meditation noting each sense impression.)

So, did we answer the questions whether one can hear background noise in the jhanas? Studying the chart we might be able to recognise that both parties are, in fact, right. However the experience on shutting out more or less of the other sense impressions is something individual / concentration and meditation session dependent. As the mind is no robot and knows lots of shades in the strength of its experience the deepness of the jhana depends on the stability of the concentration on the meditation subject (which is one sense impression).

It seems then, that after the mind crosses a certain “threshold” in focusing on one topic only that the jhana factors of piti and sukha, of bliss and happiness start to manifest itself and signs of the first jhana manifest themselves. Knowing how to interpret this with regard to how the mind is torn in all directions by the other sense impressions makes clear, that a deep concentration will be based on ones strength of exclusion.

The experience of sense impressions to be in the background for someone experiencing the jhanas thus is easily explained. The other sense impressions seem to have moved into a background, because his mind is preoccupied for “long” spans of time with just one other impression – his/her meditation topic – which now fills such a dominant position for the meditator’s awareness/attention.

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Have you ever wondered, where the Buddha’s “meditation instructions” are? Why doesn’t he talk about them in the Pali Canon? Or does he? Well, he does… In fact, he cannot get any clearer explaining how exactly your practice of Buddhist meditation would look like. Lets take this passage, for example:

“Samādhiṃ bhikkhave bhāvetha, samāhito bhikkhave bhikkhu rūpaṃ aniccanti pajānāti, evaṃ
passaṃ ariyasāvako parimuccati jātiyāpi

Now, if you read most translations you will probably never come across a translation like this:

“Develop concentration, o monks, a concentrated monk, o monks knows form (thinking): “impermanent”. So seeing, the noble disciple will be freed from birth, etc.

But instead most translators will find this translation too clumsy or too literal. They will translate it for you this way (missing the juicy stuff):

“Develop concentration, o monks, a concentrated monk, o monks knows form as impermanent. So seeing, the noble disciple will be freed from birth, etc.

Some of you might say, that is the same, but the second translation sounds more readable…well, i disagree. Strongly. And here is why: This second translation misses a big point. The first literal translation makes this passage from the Buddha a meditation instruction.

Buddha literally asks the monks to “note”, or “label” any form (saying but more likely thinking) “impermanent”. He even starts the second sentence saying “so seeing”. The second translation makes you immediately wonder: “how do i see it as impermanent”. Whereas, in the first translation, it tells you exactly what to do.

Of course, you need to know how the word “iti” is used in Pali. Whenever in pali someone would talk, say or think something, the word “iti” or shortened “ti” is used to mark the end of the expression. It works like our modern day ” ” and implies something said or thought. Normally translations would translate this with either direct or indirect speech marking the sentence with an apostrophe. If you happen to have this background knowledge even a still closer literal translation would make sense to you:

“Develop concentration, o monks, a concentrated monk, o monks knows form (thinking): “impermanent”. So seeing, the noble disciple will be freed from birth, etc.

However, in cases where the Buddha is talking about a meditation topic, as far as i know, nobody came of the idea to follow through and translate such a passage in the same way! Probably because of limited exposure to Buddhist meditation and practice methods.

(Remember: Vipassana practice with the usage of “labels” was reintroduced into Theravadan practice just recently in the 50s from Burma. Even for samatha practice the only place translations get this right is in Visuddhimagga’s description of the kasinas where even a modern day translator would know to translate “pathavi, pathavi”, i.e. literally. Besides, monks/scholars who translated the majority of Pali texts usually tended to have a more academic interest in Buddhism).

So most translations from the Pali canon where made before this not unimportant detail of Buddhist practice become known.

Another supporting argument for this “unusual” but more literal translation and similar passages is the fact that in the above cited quotation, if the Buddha would really had meant “knows/regards as form” in Pali he would have said it this way:

..rūpaṃ aniccato pajānāti,..

…which would this time literally translate as “perceives/regards/knows form as impermanent” … but, as we saw, this is not what the Buddha said here.

Now, very often, after the Buddha or another monk gives such a direct instruction they would point out to trees, huts and meditation places. “Go, sit down, and practice!”. It really could not get more practical then that!!!

But we, reading those passages, because of this tiny change in our translation (or omission) are looking for the instruction and did not find one, asking ourselves, so “i am supposed to see form, etc. as impermanent, but practically, how do i do it. What do i need to do in terms of taking an action?” – that is really tragic, because the Pali text DID give the practical instruction:

just, when you perceive it, label it, noting: “impermanent”.

Here is a list of other instructions, randomly taken from the texts…they abound with direct instructions to “note”, “label” or acknowledge knowingly:

yaṃ pana tattha avasiṭṭhaṃ hoti taṃ ‘santamidaṃ atthī’ti pajānāti.

‘‘So sukhañce vedanaṃ vedeti, ‘sā aniccā’ti pajānāti, ‘anajjhositā’ti pajānāti, ‘anabhinanditā’ti pajānāti. Dukkhañce vedanaṃ vedeti, ‘sā aniccā’ti pajānāti, ‘anajjhositā’ti pajānāti, ‘anabhinanditā’ti pajānāti. Adukkhamasukhañce vedanaṃ vedeti, ‘sā aniccā’ti pajānāti, ‘anajjhositā’ti pajānāti, ‘anabhinanditā’ti pajānāti.

Dīghaṃ vā assasanto ‘dīghaṃ assasāmī’ti pajānāti.

So upekkhakova samānoupekkhakosmī’ti pajānāti.

So ‘idaṃ dukkha’nti yathābhūtaṃ abbhaññāsiṃ, ‘ayaṃ dukkhasamudayo’ti yathābhūtaṃ abbhaññāsiṃ, ‘ayaṃ dukkhanirodho’ti yathābhūtaṃ abbhaññāsiṃ,

Rūpaṃ vedayitaṃ saññā – viññāṇaṃ yā ceva vetanā
“Neso’hamasmi na me so – attā” iti diṭṭho virajjati.


The suttas are full with this kind of meditation instruction. If you like to look this up for yourself just search for “*ti jānāti” (or similar) with a program like the CST4 in the pali canon. It will return hundreds of results with instructions for samatha as well as vipassana type meditations.

Finally the Buddha often would end his sermon saying:

Yaṃ, bhikkhave, satthārā karaṇīyaṃ sāvakānaṃ hitesinā anukampakena anukampaṃ upādāya, kataṃ vo taṃ mayā. Etāni, bhikkhave, rukkhamūlāni, etāni suññāgārāni; jhāyatha, bhikkhave, mā pamādattha; mā pacchā vippaṭisārino ahuvattha. Ayaṃ vo amhākaṃ anusāsanī’’ti.

Whatever a teacher should do — seeking the welfare of his disciples, out of sympathy for them — that have I done for you. Over there are the roots of trees; over there, empty dwellings. Practice jhana, Ananda. Don’t be heedless. Don’t later fall into regret. This is our message to you all.” {MN 106}

Did we really expect him to “hide” his instructions? Not emphasize them clearly and make them obvious to anyone willing to hear? It seems then, that the “ordinary” listener at Buddhas time could indeed – while listening or after hearing a sermon – apply the teachings and put them into practice right away, without the need to seek guidance from a series of seminars which would iniate him. For, at the time of the Buddha, the meaning of “iti” was clear.

We, on the other hand, had to wait for a Ledi or Mahasi Sayadaw to make use of the commentarial “sallekkhati”-verb (to mark, lable) or alāpeti (to ‘count’)   to explain something hidden in plain sight.


Thanks to the input of Dmytro and others one crucial thing to understand here is that even though “iti” may imply a form of noting it does NOT imply thinking (in that case we would find a word like ‘cinteti’ or ‘vitakketi’ etc.) If you ever participated in a Mahasi/Goenka/Nyanarama style vipassana retreat you would know what is meant by that. “Thinking” would imply random, discursive elaboration…it would imply a continuous identification with “Dhamma thoughts”… no, this is definitely not meant here (and hopefully not misunderstood).

The correct way of using a label/noting would rather resemble a quick, swift and decisive “tagging” of the object which drew our attention in and starts to unfold into a proliferating world. The usage of such a short label like “this is impermanent” or simply “impermanent” is only a means in facilitating our vision. If not stopped by this label (especially on weak concentration grounds) the mind will simply continue to pull you in. So with the help of such a label the mind is stopped in its tracks, can quickly return to its anchor point (like breath) and within this “differential” is able to see what just happens/ed.

An article by the most Venerable Katukurunde Nyanananda goes into detail and explains how the labeling could be refined to support the progressing concentration and awareness of the insight meditator:


Finally a remark on the usage of “iti”…this is from the PED – in bold my highlighting

Iti (ti) (indecl.) [Vedic iti, of pron. base *i, cp. Sk. itthaŋ thus, itthā here, there; Av. ipa so; Lat. ita & item thus. Cp. also P. ettha; lit. "here, there (now), then"] emphatic<->deictic particle “thus“. Occurs in both forms iti & ti, the former in higher style (poetry), the latter more familiar in conversational prose. — I. As deictic adv. “thus, in this way” (Vism 423 iti = evaŋ) pointing to something either just mentioned or about to be mentioned: (a) referring to what precedes Sn 253 (n’eso maman ti iti naŋ vijaññā), 805; It 123 (ito devā. . . taŋ namassanti); Dh 74 (iti bālassa sankappo thus think the — foolish), 286 (iti bālo vicinteti); Vv 7910 (= evaŋ VvA 307); VvA 5. — (b) referring to what follows D i.63 (iti paṭisañcikkhati); A i.205 (id.) — II. As emphatic part. pointing out or marking off a statement either as not one’s own (reported) or as the definite contents of (one’s own or other’s) thoughts [sic!]. On the whole untranslatable (unless written as quotation marks) [...that's why its missing in many translations...the dictionary makes a case for omitting it...], often only setting off a statement as emphatic, where we would either underline the word or phrase in question, or print it in italics, or put it in quot. marks (e. g. bālo ti vuccati Dh 63 = bālo vuccati). — 1. in direct speech (as given by writer or narrator), e. g. sādhu bhante Kassapa lābhataŋ esā janatā dassanāyā ti. Tena hi Sīha tvaŋ yeva Bhagavato ārocehī ti. Evaŋ bhante ti kho Sīho . . . . D i.151. — 2. in indirect speech: (a) as statement of a fact “so it is that” (cp. E. “viz.”, Ger. “und zwar”), mostly untranslated Kh iv. (arahā ti pavuccati); J i.253 (tasmā pesanaka — corā t’ eva vuccanti); iii.51 (tayo sahāyā ahesuŋ makkato sigālo uddo ti); PvA 112 (ankuro pañca — sakaṭasatehi . . . aññataro pi brāhmaṇo pañca — sakaṭasatehī ti dve janā sakata — sahassehi . . . patipannā). — (b) as statement of a thought “like this”, “I think”, so, thus Sn 61 (“sango eso” iti ñatvā knowing “this is defilement”), 253 (“neso maman” ti iti naŋ vijaññā), 783 (“iti’ han” ti), 1094 (etaŋ dīpaŋ anāparaŋNibbānaŋ iti naŋ brūmi I call this N.), 1130 (aparā pāraŋ gaccheyya tasmā “Parāyanaŋ” iti).

This goes to show that the proposed literal usage of “iti” in the context of a meditation instruction is not that far fetched. In fact, it seems as literal as it can get. Granted, it makes more sense if you try it in your meditation. And though in theory it looks strange because of all the books on Buddhism which taught us that the canon has to be “interpreted” before we can use it for meditation – from a pragmatic standpoint it immediately would justify most modern vipassana techniques. In fact they now would look like heirs to the original pali texts…even though these techniques were probably “re-invented” in Burma through following the commentarial overlay…

For other posts on this blog on this topic:

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