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Archive for March, 2009

You do not need to see the end of your dish washing activity and the beginning of you moving to the fridge. That is not going to stop mental proliferation from happening. And it won’t stop suffering – not in a million lifetimes. You can eat as many mandarins ‘mindfully’ as you like, you will not decrease thirst if you establish your home in the forms you see, even if your house is empty.

When the Buddha is talking about “with regard to the seen only the seen” … heard … felt (i.e. tasted/smelled/felt) and “with regard to the cognized just the cognized” (yes, any mental activity included) he is not talking about

“with regard to the driving just the driving, with regard to the ice cream eating just the ice cream eating”.

Yet that is how many people understand sati, due to the unfortunate translation of “sati” as “mindfulness”. (Well, to be honest, there is hardly any better word to capture “sati”. But more on that later).

Why is the Buddha, when he is talking about uncovering the source of human suffering pointing towards that subtle experience of sights, sounds, thoughts, feeling, in short: sense contact’s rise and fall? Not just once, but consistently, in all instances where he points out the pathway to Nibbana?

Because that is the level to which we must go in order to develop a deep existential exhaustion, a samsaric fatigue…a mind opening (or shall we say “blowing out”) experience. He does not want us to give up driving or eating ice cream or unloading our dishwasher.

Samsara is not overcome by movements within the samsaric context and its powerful pictures which we weave into compelling storybooks and then place “our self” right in the middle of it. So as to find orientation. So as to find a stronghold in a fleeting world.

Samsara is only worn off like an old skin of a snake if we fundamentally alienate from it. The internal and external. In a complete and ultimate way.

Therefore, the coming and going necessary to be seen is the rising and falling of the building blocks of life. In these six senses or five groups of grasping which are just classification schemes (another group of grasping) describing however that level of observation which we need to reach to develop the ultimate ability to let go. They are as fundamental realities as name and form is real. Yes, you get it 🙂

At this point the true meaning of sati comes into play. 

Because the story of samsara is so compelling I am drawn to indulge myself in the data my vision delivers (very crude way of explaining, I know) to me rather than looking at how this data is processed. The duality which is created in each moment by consciousness based on name and form spiraling into being is not seen if I take the fabricated world for granted. (and even that is just a concept, a ‘working theory’ – which works to uncover the plot we are caught in)

No matter of cleaning my kitchen “mindfully” – which, if you take the word colloquially, is just observing the story as it passes by – will reduce avijja, because, with every step in the kitchen, ever jump from one heap of grasping to the next, one acceptance of the veil through which I “see” and “hear” I acknowledge avijja.

Engulfed in darkness of not seeing seeing not seeing where one vision came and was replaced by another grasping of sound; of a sound related feeling; of a sound related perception; and of sound related world fabrication and sound-knowing – i will embed my conceived ego in a relationship to the world as the senses present it to me. I will fall for their story and perceive myself “in” or “as part of” that world: for example as “a good meditator” thinking that i do what i am supposed to do. So, right mindfulness is not about “feeling more alive” or “enjoying the pure present”. It is about leaving that home which the senses provide.

What is the difference in indulging in thoughts about the future (mind-mind/object) and endulging in this present moments fantasy of “oh, i am just feeling my breath, i am so mindful” (body/feeling). There is none. In both cases we are caught in the nebula of avijja or not-knowing sense contact (phassa) and so paticca samuppada rolls on. We might see the beginning and end of a breath. But that is not disillusioning us from samsara…

In order to make the fundamental samsara-transcending paradigm shift however, I will have to employ sati, a faculty of memory – which can only work in conjunction with concentration and has to be developed in order to get so strong as to rip through this samsaric nebula, moha, which keeps us trapped in the storybook our senses tell us.

How does “samma sati” display its characteristic of memory?

I will bind my mind to a certain meditation object, i.e. the breath, a feeling in the body, a jhanic state etc. Now, whenever my attention “moves” to another object (i.e. my mind takes hold and positions itself with avijja into another object-subject relationship, making “me” the subject of duality, i immediately let go and get back to my previous object of attention, lets say the breath.

So now you wonder…what has that to do with mindfulness? Why is going back to a fixed object any different than from moving along with whatever arises? And what is the difference to someone who tries to suppress sense activity by trying to concentrate?

Because, simply, here you remember continuously. The power of remembering stops the mind (consciousness) in “growing” on its perceived object. In spinning new and more data on the perceived object, in weaving and interpretation of that sensory data…in placing itself into a relationship with the object.

Here is another way to understand how vipassana uncovers the interplay between consciousness and the senses and explains how sati, or “extreme mindfulness” makes that process possible:

Lets say you listen to a seemingly chaotic radio transmission. How can you distinguish and learn the patterns in this quick fluctuating mesh of frequencies? Well, by studying patterns…By establishing a baseline you can see the coming and going of patterns. So start to see differences. This is what we attempt in vipassana as well and why we need concentration.

The attention on our breath for example is a series of similar 5-groups-grasping events which, if we can hold onto them, will create some kind of boring but extremely recognizable samsaric baseline. Every time now our attention shifts, whatever object will present itself – the seen, the heard, the thought… will become clearer and clearer to our understanding. Simply because it appears so well defined now like a mountain peak in comparison to the ongoing “stick with the breath” concentration. We will start to see the pattern of existence – if we dare to look. But wait! We need something to get back immediately otherwise we would lose our concentration and get stuck in the story this new object of our attention wants us to identify with… Here the noting comes handy. Almost like a reminder. And that is samma sati. And this is why concentration leads to wisdom, but only if it is combined with nyana-dassana. In a pure samatha environment any shift of attention is seens as a loss and thus the practice of samatha operates still on a level of avijja!

So, we are simply noting the newly arisen object … the just seen …. the just heard … but nothing more!!! than that (and nothing more following it, due to the abrupt break in the growing proliferation by the power of sati, or remembering and concentration combined) we will be able to note that object which tried to take us in. We will be able to see how the house is being build right in front of our eyes

While before I enjoyed the ready-made houses my mind had built for me, like Potemkin’s village in awe over the  facades of sensual proliferation, now I start to see how these fragile components of life are wrought moment afte moment.

I start to see their entering my consciousness and yes, even the destruction of my consciousness together with its content moment after moment… like a world vanishing in a crevice under my running feet. It sounds scary, and is, but seeing life as it is will eventually lead to less and less grasping and holding of its perceived (deducted, inferred!) crumbling and therefore inherently distressing reality. There is no place for rest there, in any moment. Even the moments of deepest jhanic concentration states are filled with subtle terror in the face of ever dying samsara. While the movie continues and all seems as if it goes on as it did before the loosening of its grip simply through the power of truth and awakening in this ongoing building process makes you one move closer to ultimate peace. You could say: In order to find the Deathless, death has to die 🙂

So indeed it is sati in conjunction with concentration which does the final work. Because, if concentration cannot keep you on your object (and that is where the jhanas come in handy) the power of sati will not be strong enough to pull you back often enough. You will be lost in the story of your mind the story of your senses and they DO know how to trick you into thinking or believing that you are not tricked 🙂

So while concentration keeps you in one point and sati brings you back quickly you might wonder what is so special about this. Why hasn’t someone before the Buddha done this? The truth is, it is extremely tricky. And we only do it, because of the faith and trust we developed in the Buddha and his teaching. Otherwise no one would do this kind of thing…because, as the Buddha says…avijja is far too thick…we have been sitting in this movie theatre for far too long a time. Anytime someone in the movie tells us to look at ourselves how we sit in a movie, we nod our head and look in the movie for a clue about how we sit in a movie…instead of starting to let the story of the film fade away by not showing ANY attention to the content of the movie any longer but by just acknowledging every frame. Then, when we start to realize that there are only frames – and all of them are just that – just frames! The story becomes less and less intriguing…However, what really does start to intrigue us is the how and what.

From here, from the realization of frames the Buddha says the “Stream-Enterer” entered a stream which will lead to the dis-connection to the loosening the vi-mutti. And he also said it would take an utmost of 7 death-shocks to completely convince the mind that there is nothing to fear in letting go of the perceptual scam we have been falling for.

So while we can see how a more colloquial understanding of “mindfulness” (as it is really used in plain English)  has its benefits of getting to where we eventually need to go with our increasing microscopic vision to unhook “ourselves” from samsara (sorry the conventional expressions) there still remains doubt whether the English word “mindfulness”  captures the precise activity implicated by sati and its role in Buddhist meditation properly.

Especially its power to reflect back and to use this atomic mental movement of “letting go” in a moment of sense impression to prevent mental proliferation by power of turning back and remembering (pati-sati) our anchor point plays such a pivotal role in Buddhist meditation.

Let’s say this, though:

One famous heritage of Buddhist philosophy in India was its shaping and redefinition of many common words which later became part of the mainstream Indian language and culture in their new and reshaped meaning. This is how Buddhism left a lasting imprint, infesting Hinduism with many Dhamma ideas. Have a look at the Yoga Sutra, for a very good example.

Something similar seems happening to the little English word “mindfulness”. As this word was used to translate the Buddhist concept of “sati” it naturally conjures associations in the English native speaker which do not fit the meaning of the original pali word sati (as seen above). Thus, sometimes people might find themselves “mindfully” indulging in eating an ice cream cone thinking that they practice “Buddhism” while in reality this activity has nothing to do what “sati” intends to stand for.

However, by practice and teaching and renewed reflection the usage of this English term by many famous teachers started to create new associations which are floating around in texts and speeches and which lead to a re-shaping of the understanding of “mindfulness” in its Buddhist use of the term – at least in Buddhist circles.

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What do Vibhajjavada and Early Tibetan Meditation have in common? Quick answer: they knew about the importance of insight meditation.

Long answer: Just stumbled over this very interesting academic paper on a technical term called “bhūta-pratyavekṣā” used by the Mahayana Buddhist monk Kamalasila (8th century) in his famous work “Bhāvanākrama” (Meditation Technique) dealing with “vipaśyanā”. So anyway, if I understand my Buddhist history correctly, these 3 texts on meditation, supposedly the origin of all Tibetan meditation, have their origin in an author of Indian origin, a monk of  the 7th century who is propagating Mahayana Sutra knowledge in Tibet.

From a modern Pali-Canon-ready-at-your-fingertips perspective it is hilarious to note that this Venerable Kamalasila (a Mahayana monk) was defending the gradual practice of bhavana (which he boiled down to samatha and vipassana) against the Chinese ZEN ideas of a “sudden enligthenment” (Mahayana too).

Wow. We are so blessed with crucial information which to access these people had to cross deserts, countries, oceans.

It was interesting to compare the observations Martin Adam made in his paper on this Sanskrit text (which I, admittedly, only read in small parts) to some ideas I noted in earlier posts on this blog, about the meaning and understanding of the Buddha’s term “yathabhuta”-nyana-dassana in conjuction with vipassana practice.

In fact, if we were ancient Indian monks, and someone asked us to come up with a synonym for “yathabhuta nyanadassana” for the upcoming Nalanda Thesaurus of the year 400 AD, we might very well use a phrase like “bhūta-pratyavekṣā”.

But have a look for your self:

Such translations might be seen as having the merit of indicating that the cognition involved in pratyavekṣā is of a special sort. i.e. it is not merely a case of ordinary pratyavekṣā, but more particularly one that is true or correct. Just as vipaśyanā is a special kind of seeing, indicated by the prefix vi- so too, it might be thought, bhūtapratyavekṣā is special kind of cognition, one that is epistemically faithful to the object cognized. Yet it is also the case that bhūta may be translated substantively as ‘what is,’ ‘the real,’ ‘reality,’ and so on. 2 The word holds a spectrum of meanings, shading from the clearly epistemic (e.g. correct, exact, true) to the clearly ontic (e.g. what has become, element, reality). [Comm.: This would be the general translation most current translations follow through when they translate yathabhuta with “as it really is”] Here, grammatically, the adjectival and substantive correspond to the epistemic and the ontic senses respectively. In translating the compound, if one wished to emphasize the veracity of the cognition involved in pratyavekṣā one would tend to choose from among the former set of possibilities. If, on the other hand, one wished to emphasize the actuality of the object cognized one would want to opt for one of the latter; this is the course I have chosen in taking the compound to be a ṣāṣṭhī-tatpuruṣa.3

Grammatically bhūta is the past passive participle of the verbal root √bhū. Taken substantivally, it can refer to anything that is the result of a natural process of becoming (bhāva). In most instances the word would not in itself be understood as referring to something that results from a process of deliberate cultivation (bhāvanā); in that case we would expect to find the causal sense reflected in a strengthened base: ‘bhāvita’ as opposed to bhūta. Thus initially, in the context of meditation, it seems most appropriate to take the word as referring either to the elements of conventional reality (dharmas), which arise on their own – or else to some aspect of these elements that is real irrespective of one’s realization of it. In Mādhyamika hermeneutics [and not just there, in pali it seems to be the same] the term bhūta is associated with the meaning that is ultimately real, i.e. the ‘object’ indicated in nītārtha teachings (See Thurman 1978, 32-34, Author, XX). Indeed Kamalaśīla takes the term this way himself, explicitly identifying it with the selflessness of persons and dharmas.

And discerning reality is said to be insight. But reality (bhūta, T. yang dag pa) is the selflessness of persons and dharmas (pudgaladharmanairātmya, T. gang zag dang / chos la bdag med pa). Here, the selflessness of the person is the aggregates’ lack of self and belonging to a self. The selflessness of dharmas is precisely their being like an illusion.

Thus from this passage it would appear that Kamalaśīla himself adhered to a non-adjectival understanding of bhūta; it is here clearly identified with the abstract noun, nairātmya or selflessness.

As for the compound’s second member, pratyavekṣā, it too has a wide spectrum of possible meanings — ranging from perceptual cognition at the one end to intellectual cognition at the other: ‘perception,’ ‘observation,’ ‘examination,’ ‘discernment,’ ‘analysis,’ and ‘investigation.” The word ‘discernment’ seems to occupy somewhat of a middle position, carrying perceptual as well as intellectual connotations.5 In the present context this is highly desirable. The Sanskrit word is derived from the verbal root √īkṣ, which means to see, behold, perceive, view, observe, look or gaze at. It is combined with the upasārga prefixes ‘prati-‘(toward, back to) and ‘ava-‘ (down). In philosophical contexts the latter often suggests a sense of depth or penetration. The total sense of pratyavekṣā, then, is both ‘looking deeply into’ and ‘reflecting back upon’.

With bhūta understood as its object, the entire compound can be seen to convey the sense of ‘Reflecting upon (and) looking deeply into reality.’

In our discussion on “yathabhuta” I suggested to take bhuta very literal and translate

evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ [link]

Translates as: So this (i.e. ‘impermanence’, nom. acc.) yatha-bhutam (adv, as far as / according to the becoming) with full knowing has to be seen.

Or: So this impermanence has to be seen with proper knowing as it [the object] has become [i.e. objectified, became reality, appeared, presented itself, etc. etc.]

Or even more English: “In such a way impermanence has to be seen, knowing it properly/directly as it manifests itself“.

Here a comparison to similar constructions:

yatha rucim … according to ones liking / as long as i enjoy it

yatha ditthim … according to ones views / as far as my views go

yatha sukham … according to ones happiness / as far as i like it / as long as it goes with my happiness / only where i am happy

yatha bhutam … according to its becoming / according to how it has become / according to how it presents itself / as far as it presents itself / only where it has become (come into existance)

I know, people just like to call it “as it really is”…translated as such a million times and cited in every book about Buddhist meditation. But what does that mean? Not the English “as it really is”. What is it that “yatha bhutam” wants to convey in Pali?

We have to understand that our latin word “reality” and whatever concepts and associations you and me connect with it may confuse us. In Pali the word for “reality” in this case as it is used by the Buddha is the past participle of becoming. Yes!, an insight meditator will acknowledge, this is how i would define reality: It is six sense object after six sense object that is born in a becoming…But, for others, the English term “reality” seems rather abstract.

Therefore: Yathabhuta does not mean we have to study philosophy to get a knowledge of what “reality” means. Yathabhuta implies we need to sharpen our concentration, attention and mindfulness in such a way that we “know-and-see” with the direct vision of experience of looking and knowing at the objects of our own becoming: sights, sounds, … mental objects.

Let’s go back to the Bhavanakramah though. In the description of the proper vidarshana practise as laid down in this late Mahayana book we find Martin Adams examining Kamalasilas explanations:

They compose a system of progressively more subtle insights into the nature of reality. While they clearly possess the character of wisdom (prajñā), because they are undertaken in a condition of samādhi they are properly considered instances of bhāvanāmayī prajñā. They are distinct from cases of ordinary intellectual inference insofar as they are directly ‘based upon’ objects being concurrently experienced in meditation. The meditator remains one-pointedly focused upon these mental images, holding them in view while simultaneously ‘analysing’ them. In brief: one looks, recognizes the object, and continues to analyse it while holding one’s gaze. Recognizing its unreality, one abandons it. The process might be thought of as analogous to research undertaken with a microscope: one focuses, recognizes the object one wishes to observe, and makes one’s observations. After drawing one’s conclusions about the object, one lets go of it. One then looks again with a new, revised object in mind — one’s new observations being based upon the conclusions reached thus far.

Oops.

Lets have a look:

one focuses –

so far so good

recognizes the object one wishes to observe,

starts to note…

and makes one’s observations.

noting the object

After drawing one’s conclusions about the object, one lets go of it.

…this of course is a trap. If a meditator would start “analyzing” his six-sense object, he would, in fact, “miss” the observation of another sense impression (-> his analysis) and thus lose his vipassana observation, getting caught by Mara :-). Well, granted, these are subtleties of the insight-war, and as we all know, the Buddha encouraged us to leave the raft (Dhamma) behind when we come closer to the other shore…

While it seems clear that Kamalaśīla regarded this mental process as perceptual or quasi-perceptual in nature, such a notion might not be intuitively obvious to a modern western interpreter. The inclination might be to think of the whole procedure as basically one of ordinary rational thought (cintāmayī prajñā). One would then want to translate bhūtapratyavekṣā accordingly as ‘correct analysis’. But it should now be clear that taking this phrase to refer to a purely rational process would be to significantly impoverish Kamalaśīla’s account. Such an interpretation would miss both the affective and the perceptual dimensions of the process.

That such an understanding does not accurately reflect Kamalaśīla’s own views can be seen clearly in the passages that follow. Therein a meditative analysis is performed on mental dharmas. A conclusion is reached that the subject side of the subject-object dichotomy is just as illusory as the object-side, upon which it depends. Mind is recognized as nondual. This ‘conclusion’ is clearly regarded by Kamalaśīla as an experience. It is a realization, one that forms the basis for the next ‘inference,’ (or better, perhaps, ‘movement’) — the recognition that goes beyond the dualistic knowledge of a nondual mind to enter into a knowledge that is without any appearance of duality whatsoever. Ultimately, Kamalaśīla states, one should not even be attached to this nondual knowledge of nonduality, since it is too has arisen in dependence upon subject and object — which have already been established as unreal.13 Abiding in such a state, one has come to experience the emptiness of all dharmas, up to and including even the knowledge of nonduality.

How can the mind remain focused on one point and engage in conceptual analysis at the same time? On this understanding, Kamalaśīla’s account would appear to be unintelligible.

Well, it cannot be both at the same time. This is why in the suttas any insight meditation is described in terms of seeing, not thinking. Not conceptualization as Kamalasilas text defines it. But then, this really depends on how vikalpa and nirvikalpa was understood in India in the 8th century….At face value I would associate a state like the 4th jhana or a phala samapatti with a notion of “nirvikalpa” where all thought related activity has calmed down or evaporated. In that sense vipassana or noting practice is indeed not “nirvikalpa”. But it also has nothing to do with simply random or even analytical thinking. These procedures would just keep the mind in the realm of thought (keyword: avitakkavacara) and foster delusion. Not knitting chains of thoughts is the answer to finding Nibbana (irrespective of their content) but rather the development (bhavana) of a (thoughtless) knowing vision, a nyana-dassana, a vi-passana.

Still fascinating to see that even at this time, more than 1000 years after the Buddha’s parinibbana and 200 years after Buddhaghosas Theravada compendium “Visuddhimagga” was written – in the time of deepest Mahayana twists-and-turns, they knew that meditation consisted of only two things:

tatra yady api bodhisattvānām aparimito ‘pramāṇādibhedena bhagavatā samādhir upadiṣṭaḥ, tathāpi śamathavipaśyanābhyāṃ sarve samādhayo vyāptā iti [Bhavanakramah]

In that context, even if the samādhi of bodhisattvas was taught by the Bhagavan to be limitless, by way of the (four) immeasurables and all the rest, nevertheless all samādhis are subsumed under tranquillity and insight.

I am so glad to be travelling Theravadin 🙂

On another note: The longer you practice vipassana the more distinct the five groups of grasping become. In the beginning everything is confused…was this a feeling? Was this a form? Eventually the mind, without actually analyzing or thinking simply sees the or understands the object in its separating characteristics much better and sharper. I wonder if that is the origin of our Vibhajjavada == Theravada idea or Kamalasilas vibhāvya:

Thus having broken down (vibhāvya, T. rnam par bshig nas) dharmas with a material form, he should break down (vibhāvya, T. rnam par bshig bya) those without material form’. It is apparent that here the conceptual analysis or ‘breaking down’ of experienced realities is considered part of the process of insight.

You only need a couple of elder Thera’s who were gifted in making these conceptual distinctions drawn from their personal meditation experience to create the dry monstrosity of abhidharmic “dharma” classifications.

After all, in our samatha practices something similar happens…First, piti and sukha and upekkha appear but the meditator does not know what they are, how to distinguish between them. One has a very deep concentration and wonders what that may have been. (Years) later the distinction between those factors of an absorption are crystal clear to his/her mind.

One could imagine that something similar happened on the grand scheme of things when these personal descriptions of experience of reality where taken as indications for absolute reality and more theoretically inclined monks started devising a theoretical system…Funny, when in the end, these names where just used as means to overcome all names.

As long as we can see them as concrete waysigns on the path, they will have served their purpose. Like the Bhavanakrama. Though, as I must confess, I rather identify with pointers like these 😉

Here is the reference to these very interesting abstracts:

http://www.equinoxjournals.com/ojs/index.php/BSR/article/downloadSuppFile/5651/722

http://web.uvic.ca/pacificasia/faculty/files/AdamBSR.pdf

http://www.amazon.ca/Stages-Meditation-Compact-Disc-Hours/dp/1559277068

This one is very good too:

http://web.uvic.ca/pacificasia/faculty/files/AdamGroundworkForAMetaphysicOfBuddhist.pdf

http://www.sunypress.edu/PDF/61162.pdf

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Sappuriso ca kho, bhikkhave, kataññū hoti katavedī. Sabbhi hetaṃ, bhikkhave, upaññātaṃ yadidaṃkataññutā kataveditā. Kevalā esā, bhikkhave, sappurisabhūmi yadidaṃ kataññutā kataveditā’’ti.

Katannu – Sutta, AN

Just wanted to say “thank you” to all of you who came and shared time with me. Hope the next 10,000 visitors will find even more interesting and helpful observations.

 

 

Chattamāṇavaka from the Vimānavatthu

886.

‘‘Ye vadataṃ pavaro manujesu, sakyamunī bhagavā katakicco;

Pāragato balavīriyasamaṅgī, taṃ sugataṃ saraṇatthamupehi.

887.

‘‘Rāgavirāgamanejamasokaṃ, dhammamasaṅkhatamappaṭikūlaṃ;

Madhuramimaṃ paguṇaṃ suvibhattaṃ, dhammamimaṃ saraṇatthamupehi.

888.

‘‘Yattha ca dinna mahapphalamāhu, catūsu sucīsu purisayugesu;

Aṭṭha ca puggaladhammadasā te, saṅghamimaṃ saraṇatthamupehi.

AUDIO – Listen here 🙂

(Visharad Srima Ratnayake)

*

Who, born amongst man is best of all,

The sage of the sakyas, the Blessed One, who did what had to be done,

Who has gone beyond all with strongest effort

To the Welcome One take your refuge

The teaching unconditioned most agreeable

Leading to the fading away of desire, to stillness and freedom of despair,

sweet and subtle and well proclaimed,

To this Teaching take your refuge

Where the gift given reaps great benefit as they say,

To the four pairs of purest beings,

And to the eight types of people who see the truth clearly,

To this community take your refuge

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In an earlier post I pointed out to one of my personal favorite suttas in the pali canon, Bahiyas instruction. While the story surrounding Bahiya is very exciting and the instruction the Buddha gave him summarizes the gist of vipassana very vividly in a couple of lines (a favorite passage many books on Buddhist meditation like to quote), there is one other place (and only one)  in the Sutta-Pitaka where this exact same instruction was given -in another instance to another person. 

It was Malunkyaputta whom the Buddha instructed in the same manner as Bahiya with that famous line “in the seen, there should only be the seen”.

Now this second source is highly valuable to understand and analyze one of the most quoted references to vipassana practice. Below you will find a copy of the pali text and my attempt (introductory parts are from Ven. Thanissaro’s translation) at a close translation – focusing on meaning and its application towards meditation, rather than readability. 

This is the sutta:

2. Mālukyaputtasuttaṃ

Atha kho āyasmā mālukyaputto [māluṅkyaputto (sī.)] yena bhagavā tenupasaṅkami…pe… ekamantaṃ nisinno kho āyasmā mālukyaputto bhagavantaṃ etadavoca – ‘‘sādhu me, bhante, bhagavā saṃkhittena dhammaṃ desetu, yamahaṃ bhagavato dhammaṃ sutvā eko vūpakaṭṭho appamatto ātāpī pahitatto vihareyya’’nti.

Then Ven. Malunkyaputta went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One: “It would be good, Lord, if the Blessed One would teach me the Dhamma in brief so that, having heard the Dhamma from the Blessed One, I might dwell alone, in seclusion, heedful, ardent, & resolute.”

‘‘Ettha dāni, mālukyaputta, kiṃ dahare bhikkhū vakkhāma! Yatra hi nāma tvaṃ, bhikkhu, jiṇṇo vuddho mahallako addhagato vayoanuppatto saṃkhittena ovādaṃ yācasī’’ti.

“Here now, Malunkyaputta: What will the young monks say when you — aged, old, elderly, along in years, come to the last stage of life — ask for an admonition in brief?”

‘‘Kiñcāpāhaṃ, bhante, jiṇṇo vuddho mahallako addhagato vayoanuppatto. Desetu me, bhante , bhagavā saṃkhittena dhammaṃ, desetu sugato saṃkhittena dhammaṃ, appeva nāmāhaṃ bhagavato bhāsitassa atthaṃ ājāneyyaṃ. Appeva nāmāhaṃ bhagavato bhāsitassa dāyādo assa’’nti.

“Lord, even though I’m aged, old, elderly, along in years, come to the last stage of life, may the Blessed One teach me the Dhamma in brief! May the One Well-gone teach me the Dhamma in brief! It may well be that I’ll understand the Blessed One’s words. It may well be that I’ll become an heir to the Blessed One’s words.”

‘‘Taṃ kiṃ maññasi, mālukyaputta, ye te cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā adiṭṭhā adiṭṭhapubbā, na ca passasi, na ca te hoti passeyyanti? Atthi te tattha chando vā rāgo vā pemaṃ vā’’ti? ‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’.

“What do you think, Malunkyaputta: the forms cognizable via the eye that are unseen by you — that you have never before seen, that you don’t see, and that are not to be seen by you: Do you have any desire or passion or love there?” – “Varily no, Sir”

‘‘Ye te sotaviññeyyā saddā assutā assutapubbā, na ca suṇāsi, na ca te hoti suṇeyyanti? Atthi te tattha chando vā rāgo vā pemaṃ vā’’ti? ‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’.‘‘Ye te ghānaviññeyyā gandhā aghāyitā aghāyitapubbā, na ca ghāyasi, na ca te hoti ghāyeyyanti? Atthi te tattha chando vā rāgo vā pemaṃ vā’’ti? ‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’.‘‘Ye te jivhāviññeyyā rasā asāyitā asāyitapubbā, na ca sāyasi, na ca te hoti sāyeyyanti? Atthi te tattha chando vā rāgo vā pemaṃ vā’’ti? ‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’. ‘‘Ye te kāyaviññeyyā phoṭṭhabbā asamphuṭṭhā asamphuṭṭhapubbā, na ca phusasi, na ca te hoti phuseyyanti? Atthi te tattha chando vā rāgo vā pemaṃ vā’’ti? ‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’.

“The sounds cognizable via the ear…

“The aromas cognizable via the nose…

“The flavors cognizable via the tongue…

“The tactile sensations cognizable via the body…

‘‘Ye te manoviññeyyā dhammā aviññātā aviññātapubbā, na ca vijānāsi, na ca te hoti vijāneyyanti? Atthi te tattha chando vā rāgo vā pemaṃ vā’’ti? ‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’.

“The ideas cognizable via the intellect that are uncognized by you — that you have never before cognized, that you don’t cognize, and that are not to be cognized by you: Do you have any desire or passion or love there?” “Varily no, Sir!”

‘‘Ettha ca te, mālukyaputta, diṭṭhasutamutaviññātabbesu dhammesu diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṃ bhavissati, sute sutamattaṃ bhavissati, mute mutamattaṃ bhavissati, viññāte viññātamattaṃ bhavissati.

And here to you, Malunkyaputta, with regard to all seen, heard, felt and cognized objects – in the seen should just be the seen, in the heard just be the heard, in the felt just be the felt, in the cognized just be  the cognized.

Yato kho te, mālukyaputta, diṭṭhasutamutaviññātabbesu dhammesu diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṃ bhavissati, sute sutamattaṃ bhavissati, mute mutamattaṃ bhavissati, viññāte viññātamattaṃ bhavissati; tato tvaṃ, mālukyaputta, na tena. Yato tvaṃ, mālukyaputta, na tena; tato tvaṃ, mālukyaputta, na tattha. Yato tvaṃ, mālukyaputta, na tattha; tato tvaṃ, mālukyaputta, nevidha, na huraṃ, na ubhayamantarena. Esevanto dukkhassā’’ti.

When now to you, Malunkya, with regard to seen-heard-felt-cognized objects in the seen just the seen will be….in the cognized just the cognized will be – Then, Bahiya, you will not be with it. If you are not with it, Bahiya, you will not be there. If you are not there, Bahiya, then you are neither here nor there nor in between both ends. This indeed is the end of suffering.

Now in order to demonstrate how he understood the Buddha, Malunkyaputta details what we need to do in order to see “in the seen just the seen” and “in the heard only the heard” and in the “cognized only the cognized”. This, if you will, is the authentic “Power IN the now” and – feeling like a heart surgeon looking at the open heart of Buddhism, this is all we would ever need in order to capture its essence.

‘‘Imassa khvāhaṃ, bhante, bhagavatā saṃkhittena bhāsitassa vitthārena atthaṃ ājānāmi –

“I understand in detail, lord, the meaning of what the Blessed One has said in brief:

‘‘Rūpaṃ disvā sati muṭṭhā, piyaṃ nimittaṃ manasi karoto;

Sārattacitto vedeti, tañca ajjhosa [ajjhosāya (sī.)] tiṭṭhati.

‘‘Tassa vaḍḍhanti vedanā, anekā rūpasambhavā;

Abhijjhā ca vihesā ca, cittamassūpahaññati;

Evaṃ ācinato dukkhaṃ, ārā nibbānamuccati.

Having seen a form, lost remembering [ones meditation object],

A mind enthralled feels, and this (form) he grasps (lit. stands on as support)

For such a one feelings grow, various and initiated by form;

Greed and Anger will beat up his mind

Thus suffering will be heaped up, far is he from Nibbana it is said

…[the same is repeated for all other sense impressions]

Finally comes the part describing the ancient insight meditation exercise. Now we know from previous posts that this perception of impermanence (aniccasaññī) or suffering (dukkhasaññī) or non-self / emptiness (anattasaññī) will eventually jump start a process of nibbidā which will lead to a viraga which in turn will make the mind let go when nirodha occurs. 

The question this sutta solves is the “how do we create such an aniccasaññā”? 

Taking your favorite object of concentration as the starting point, you would start to “note/label” whatever (!) your mind would turn to.  That could be a form, a sound, a taste, a smell, a body-touch-related feeling, a thought. 

Quickly you would note whatever would present itself to your mind and you would turn immediately around back to your concentration object. The concentration should be good already so that your noting / sati will be strongly established (upatthāna). Otherwise you will be lost shortly in a wave of sense impressions. In any case, (very similar when one starts to practice any form of samatha, long before reaching an “abiding” in the jhanas) it takes quite a while  before such an exercise of noting becomes routine and turns from a very labor intensive “manual” exercise into a … yes, you got it, into a “saññā” (perception – it turns into a real-time mode of observation), in this case an anicca-saññā if impermanence is the main characteristic of focus.

Again, this is not about “reflection” not about “mental theorizing” not about “contemplation” (which imply all forms of wild, random, trains of thought). Rather, what will be established by such an exercise within a couple of weeks / months, is a “mode of direct vision” a yathābhuta-ñānadassana which by definition will lead to nibbida:

‘‘Na so rajjati rūpesu, rūpaṃ disvā paṭissato;

Virattacitto vedeti, tañca nājjhosa tiṭṭhati.

‘‘Yathāssa passato rūpaṃ, sevato cāpi vedanaṃ;

Khīyati nopacīyati, evaṃ so caratī sato;

Evaṃ apacinato dukkhaṃ, santike nibbānamuccati.

He does not delight in forms, having seen a form he re-members (lit. returns to his remembering [a meditation object as anchor point, for example his breath, see below].(**)

With a dispassionate mind he feels, and does not grasp (does not rest) on this form.

It falls away, does not amass, thus he practices remembering/witnessing.

Thus suffering is reduced, and close is he to the blowing-out (Nibbana), they say.

The translation of “paṭissato” begs for some clarifying remarks. IMHO, this term too is crucial towards a better understanding of the practice of insight meditation as described in these early pali texts. If you compare general translations they have little to say on this word…many simply translate it as a synonym for “sato” and thus say again “mindful”. To most people it does not make any sense why suddenly sati is combined with the prefix “pati” which in pali means “back” or is used reflexive.

However, if you have been practicing yourself some form of vipassana or insight meditation you might remember (LOL) that in the process of your meditation you had to continously bring back your attention (your manasikara) which went to the “just” arisen “object” -whatever that may be. This is quite different from an approach in samatha meditation where your object suppresses the five senses. In the case of vipassana you allow for a miniscule attention off your concentration harboring object for the sake of a quick and decisive sharp look which however has to remain a look and stop the mind, bringing it back immediately in order to safeguard further proliferation which otherwise would immediately occur. This way you are able to look at the frames of the movie, not the content.

The further your progress, the more subtle stuff your mental microscope will notice – your attention which went to the womb (yoni) of the just arisen object – to wherever and whatever it has come into being (yatha-bhuta)  – your attention which thus went to the source  (yoniso manasikara) of each established sense contact (phassa) will then be re-directed BACK (paṭi-) to your main concentration object. While the zoom and scale of your microscope will be directly linked to the amount of concentration you are currently operating under it is clear that there IS some form of “returning to the focus of ones object which one tries to keep in mind” taking place. Exactly this little but essential part of the exercise as implied by “patissato” is described in the Mahasatipatthanasutta with the words:

Atthi kayo’ti panassa sati paccupatthita hoti yavadeva nanamattaya patissatimattaya

“There is a body” so too (using this note) is his remembering/noting/attention established, just for the sake of knowing (i.e. to gain insight, just to be aware of whatever object presented itself!) and for the sake of back-remembering (for the sake of getting quickly back to his meditation object as too keep the concentration up – this is what this “note” is used for).

Thus, my interpretation of “pati-ssato” tries to capture this integral part of vipassana.

Another small remark on “carati sato”. While it is true that it literally means “he walks sato” and is usually translated as “he walks mindful” it is strange while at the one hand we are looking at an extremely subtle description of observing the six senses (rather fast!) and then, out of the nothing, the verse closes “thus he walks mindful”. Seen in context “carati” while meaning a physical movement also carriers a connotation of “proceeding”, going forward”, i.e. “practice”. This now makes perfect sense in such a text like ours. Ven. Malunkyaputta concludes that we ought to persist and practice this mode of observation continuously. It emphasizes the fact that it is unlikely for most people to be called “near Nibbana” when they are able to only recognize form etc. in this manner for one moment. 

As AN, 7 stated:

Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco puggalo sabbasaṅkhāresu aniccānupassī viharati, aniccasaññī, aniccapaṭisaṃvedī satataṃ samitaṃ abbokiṇṇaṃ cetasā adhimuccamāno paññāya pariyogāhamāno. So āsavānaṃ khayā…pe… sacchikatvā upasampajja viharati.

We need to practice our aniccānupassana always (satatam) samitam (without interruption) determined without interruptions by the mind (abbokiṇṇaṃ cetasā adhimuccamāno) with wisdom completely yoked to this exercise (paññāya pariyogāhamāno).

Good luck 🙂

This sutta is one of the many which, if it would have been the only one to survive, would have been enough to re-discover “Buddhism” as intended by the Buddha. 

Anyway, if you are looking for some small sutta to learn by heart which explains vipassana in a direct and beautiful manner, this could definitely be one of your favorites…

 

 

PED Definition and some more passages with patissati:
Paṭissati (f.) [paṭi+sati of smṛ] mindfulness, remembrance, memory M i.36 sq.; Dhs 23; Pug 25. app˚ lapse of memory Dhs 1349.

 

‘‘Evaṃ khandhe avekkheyya, bhikkhu āraddhavīriyo; Divā vā yadi vā rattiṃ, sampajāno paṭissato.

 

‘‘Yo ca mettaṃ bhāvayati, appamāṇaṃ paṭissato; Tanū saṃyojanā honti, passato upadhikkhayaṃ.
‘‘Sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā’’ti  … na parapaṭibaddhagū jānāti passati asammūḷho sampajāno paṭissato.
Punappunaṃ saratīti paṭissato.
Paṭissatoti paṭissatisaṅkhātāya satiyā yutto

(**)In fact, the English word re-members looks very much like pati-sati: 

remember: c.1300, from O.Fr. remembrer (11c.), from L. rememorari “recall to mind, remember,” from re- “again” + memorari “be mindful of,” from memor “mindful”.

In this case pati-sati would literally imply some form of calling back into mind. Bringing our attention back to something.

 

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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.

[abbreviated:]

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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While preparing the post on Anapanasati I came across several discussions on the topic of “nirodho”. Currently re-

reading the SN on the Khandhas myself I stumbled over one sutta which kept me pondering. In that particular sutta, the Buddha was using nirodho for the cessation of forms interchangeably with the nirodho of the experience of Nibbana. I never had thought this through so when I came across the following passage from Ven. Nyananandas sermons it made “click” and I think more sense now.

First, if you will bear with me, I quote his text before going into details about the connection between “rupanirodho” and Nibbanam:

At that point Venerable Sàriputta comes out with his own experience, revealing that he himself once attained to such a samàdhi, when he was at Andhavana in Sàvatthi. Venerable ânanda, however, is still curious to ascertain what sort of perception he was having, when he was in that samàdhi. The explanation given by Venerable Sàriputta in response to it, is of utmost importance. It runs:

Bhavanirodho nibbanam, bhavanirodho nibbànan’ti kho me, avuso, anna’va sanna uppajjati anna’va sanna nirujjhati.

Seyyathapi, avuso, sakalikaggissa jhàyamànassa annà’va acci uppajjati, annà’va acci nirujjhati, evam eva kho me àvuso bhavanirodho nibbànam, bhavanirodho nibbànam ‘ti annà’va sannà uppajjati annà’va sannà nirujjhati, bhavanirodho nibbànam sannã ca panàham, àvuso, tasmim samaye ahosim.

“One perception arises in me, friend: `cessation of existence is Nibbàna’, `cessation of existence is Nibbàna’, and an other perception fades out in me: `cessation of existence is Nibbana cessation of existence is Nibbàna’.

Just as, friend, in the case of a twig fire, when it is burning one flame arises and another flame fades out. Even so, friend, one perception arises in me: `cessation of existence is Nib bàna’, `cessation of existence is Nibbàna’, and another per ception fades out in me: `cessation of existence is Nibbàna’, `cessation of existence is Nibbàna’, at that time, friend, I was of the perception `cessation of existence is Nibbàna’.”

The true significance of the simile of the twig fire is that Venerable Sàriputta was attending to the cessation aspect of preparations. As we mentioned in connection with the formula etam santam, etam panitam, “this is peaceful, this is excel lent”, occurring in a similar context, we are not to conclude that Venerable Sàriputta kept on repeating ‘cessation of exis tence is Nibbàna’.

The insight into a flame could be different from a mere sight of a flame. Worldlings in general see only a process of burning in a flame. To the insight meditator it can appear as an intermittent series of extinctions. It is the outcome of a penetrative vision. Just like the flame, which simulates compact ness, existence, too, is a product of sankhàras, or preparations.

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 cessa tion 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 upà dàna 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 signifi cant 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.

Without giving any clue to the meaning of this brief exhortation, the Buddha got up and entered the monastery, leaving the monks perplexed. Wondering how they could get it ex plained, they approached Venerable ânanda and begged him to comment at length on what the Buddha had preached in brief. With some modest reluctance, Venerable ânanda complied, urging that his comment be reported to the Buddha for confirmation. His comments, however, amounted to just one sentence:

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 pas sage refers not to any one of the six sense-spheres, but to Nibbàna, which is the cessation of all of them.

The commentator, Venerable Buddhaghosa, too accepts this position in his commentary to the passage in question. Salàyatananirodhan’ti salàyatananirodho vuccati nibbànam, tam sandhàya bhàsitan ti attho, “the cessation of the six sense-spheres, what is called the cessation of the six sense-spheres is Nibbàna, the meaning is that the Buddha’s sermon is a reference to it”.

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]

 

If this is the case, if Nibbana is the cessation of the six sense sphere what then is the difference between the cessation of a form, a feeling, etc. and Nibbana? According to this there is none. 

Let’s continue on this thought for a while. What are the implications? If we take a real life example and reflect how the sound of a bird catches our attention and draws our awareness away from – let’s say – the breathing. What did happen? The tactile-consciousness-and its object “vanishes” and instead the sound-consciousness appears. This transition happens extremely quickly. 99% of people who hear about this might acknowledge it, but have no clue that such a piece of information could be personal experience. 

Let’s have a look at the vanishing of the first 5er group of grasping. In this moment of feeling the breath there was a form (the physical tactile form) and a feeling (maybe an agreeable sensation) and a perception (perception of something bodily) and a sankhara and consciousness or awareness / knowing of the form by means of name. All of these qualities of one and the same personal experience of one moment of breathing disappeared in that moment where sound and sound consciousness “made themselves present”. 

What prevented this gap of vanishing 5 groups to be bridged? It is tanha, tanha ponobhavika.

Thirst is a description of that state of affairs which can be observed in our life moment by moment. The world is like a crumbling dissolving bridge giving way under our very feet. This spurs a reaction which is thirsting for another hold. This thirst / longing results in another placing of our feet, another upa-adana, another taking up 5 groups.

We fear to let go, because it goes against our samsaric nature. We believe that this extinguishing (Nibbana) would mean the destruction of our personality. Vipassana shows us, that there is no such thing in the first place. 

Also, tanha is described as “sewing”. She sews the “two ends” together. She sews the ceasing existence together with a rising existence. While our physical karmic representation is re-born slower, our 5 group moment to moment experience is a continuous rebirth(*).

Anyway, back to that moment where one form vanishes, rupanirodham.

Now what would happen if – instead of taking on another new object, our mind would let go completely. Would practice a patinissaggo, a cago. What would it find? What if we were able in this this very one moment not to take hold on another experience. What if we would let go of the last 5 groups of grasping, let go of sound, feeling, thinking but would NOT take up another one. Basically letting the nirodha of an object be a complete nirodha (asesaviraganirodho)?

In that one moment the entire chain of existential causality as depicted in the famous dependend origination would crumble and instantaneously dissolve – for a moment. Release and freedom will be felt as soon as we come back. 

But can we achieve this by will (intention, mental sankhara) or feeling, or thinking, or…. no.

According to the Buddha it is only through clear and unwavering observation of ANY incoming object (visual, sound, smell, taste, tactile, thought) that a certain alienation will set in automatically (it is a dhammata, a natural law, says the Buddha). Like someone watching a movie with very strong concentration is dismissing the content, the story of the movie but starts to concentrate on the frames instead. The seeing of each film frame coming and going will make him find less and less interest (nir-vindati = nibbindati, lit. de-finding) and the story will loose its fascination and color (vi-raga, lit. dis-coloring). When the spell of the movie has lost its impact so much that he is able to let go one frame but not take up another, the movie stops.

If we would experience this once, if we were able through training and were to develop such an ability to so fundamentally let go of life, this ability would have transformational characteristics. 

As we know, we would come back, as did the Buddha (our body, the frozen karmic vessel, works as a re-animator). We know that he and his monks could prolong this state through the use of strong concentration states. And while karmic forces and remaining defilements will push us back into the waves of sense impressions we gained an insight which will fundamentally change the fabric of “our” existence.

After this reflection, if you were able to follow me, the meaning by the following statement by the Buddha appears crystal clear:

‘‘Tathāgato, bhikkhave, arahaṃ sammāsambuddho rūpassa nibbidā virāgā nirodhā anupādā vimutto sammāsambuddhoti vuccati. Bhikkhupi, bhikkhave, paññāvimutto rūpassa nibbidā virāgā nirodhā anupādā vimutto paññāvimuttoti vuccati. [Samyutta Nikaya, Khandhasamyutta.]

The Tathagata, o monks, the holy one, fully awakened one is called “fully enlightened” because of the (the fact) that he is freed (vimutto, pt perf.)  through (case: ablativ, implying “from, because of, through”) the not-finding-anything, the disenchantment, the nirodha (cessation) and not-taking-up-again of form.

With other words: He attained release/freedom because he did not take up anything (anupada) after the form disappeared after he was experiencing disenchantment because he got weary of it.  This reads like a precise description of all the events which have to take place, one after the other, for our little “thought experiment to work!

It is also interesting to see that “nibbida” and “viraga” are crucial for this to work. While i write and while you read this text all the time there is a constant nirodha going on. But neither of us “knows” this. We are wrapt in an ignorance – the ignorance of how this story is fabricated – we are concentrated on the delusional content. If we, however, would apply our sharp tools of vipassana meditation our viewpoint (cmp. Ven. Nyananandas beautiful parabel of the magic show) our point of view would undergo a slight but important change. Now we would see & experience the form vanish, but with out the haste and desire to grasp another one. It is like bungee jumping without rope…If you would fear such a jump or desire to be safe or even desire to die – you would find your leg bound by a rope…but if you were simply able to “not care anymore” for any form, feeling, etc. even consciousness  then then suddenly the jump would occur without a rope. Jumping and letting go – this is nirodho & patinissaggo or nirodho and anupada. The result is vimutto – freedom.

By the time we have trained this ability to the extent of an Arahant, once this bodily physical representation of our karmic flame vanishes (the slowest changing part of our 5 groups of grasping  machinery) our consciousness will take no other hold and the nirodha of the last sense experience in that life will be a complete nirodha of samsara.

Even better: During our life time we can again and again enter this “state of fruition” or “phala-samapatti” and enjoy its peace and freedom by slowing down the movie or letting it disintegrate without fear or hope or thirst for more.

Min. 1:50 – 3:50

(*) Apropos rebirth: Think of the body as the candle and the flame the remaining 4 groups of grasping. When the candle is burned out it topples and sets on fire a new candle. The flame however – which keeps the fire burning, nourishing on the wick of sense contact is burning from moment to moment. When the candle falls but there is nothing burning in that moment, no new candle will be lit up.

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