Archive for June, 2009

One may wonder why and how the modern vipassana movement was revived a little bit more than a century ago in Burma.

When we look back at the history of Theravada countries in the 19th century, many of these countries actually went through a phase of pali revival. The printing presses and first Asian publishers, supported by a wake of national identity and longing for independance, started to pickup Buddhist texts and support Buddhist causes. Knowledge disseminated quicker, easier. Burma’s leadership in pali studies was definitely a role model for Thailand and Sri Lanka. Reading the commentaries of course helped scholastically inclined personalities to further their knowledge, but eventually practically inclined monks soon focused their attention on the Visuddhimagga.

Some old temples in Sri Lanka give a prime example of this. If you go through their libraries you will be astonished to see how many printed editions of pali texts can be found which all originated around the same time as the vipassana system was revived in Burma. When this first Buddhist reformation was slowly underway (partially as a response to the relentless efforts of Christian missionaries) the Visuddhimagga with its chapters on samatha and vipassana meditation became a center point of interest.*

Not only does the Visuddhimagga (“Path to Purity”) explain concentration meditation in a very detailed fashion – at least giving you some bright ideas where to start – the same is true for insight meditation and references on its characteristics as explained in the later chapters of the Visuddhimagga.

Still, reading the Visuddhimagga (or in any translations) is a daunting adventure. Scholastic platitudes abound.

However, there is one reason why reading the Visuddhimagga especially in pali can be of added value: Many of the associations which are implicit can only be detected with some prior knowledge of the suttas and their terminology. These references are difficult to uncover when studying a translation (which had to deal with dry scholasticism and commentarial grammar) although Ven. Ñāṇamolis footnotes do a great job in this regard.

This is why recently I was struck when reading  the chapter on Bhanganupassana in the Visuddhimagga in pali. My first thought was: Is this a different book?!

This is where the journey starts:

738. Puna udayabbayañāṇe yogo kimatthiyoti ce? Lakkhaṇasallakkhaṇattho. Udayabbayañāṇaṃ hi heṭṭhā dasahi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhaṃ hutvā yāthāvasarasato tilakkhaṇaṃ sallakkhetuṃ nāsakkhi. Upakkilesavimuttaṃ pana sakkoti. Tasmā lakkhaṇasallakkhaṇatthamettha puna yogo karaṇīyo.

Again yoking to the insight of rising and falling has which purpose? The purpose of noting/labelling/marking the characteristics [lit. ‘Noting the Notables’].

Because before the insight of rising and falling was besmeared with the ten defilements one was unable to note/label/mark the three characteristics as they really are (as they appear)**.

The next paragraph is not that important for our discussion, but I added it anyway, this time in Bhikkhu Ñāṇamolis translation, just so you get the context…

739. Lakkhaṇāni pana kissa amanasikārā kena paṭicchannattā na upaṭṭhahanti? Aniccalakkhaṇaṃ tāva udayabbayānaṃ amanasikārā santatiyā paṭicchannattā na upaṭṭhāti. Dukkhalakkhaṇaṃ abhiṇhasampaṭipīḷanassa amanasikārā iriyāpathehi paṭicchannattā na upaṭṭhāti. Anattalakkhaṇaṃnānādhātuvinibbhogassa amanasikārā ghanena paṭicchannattā na upaṭṭhāti. Udayabbayampana pariggahetvā santatiyā vikopitāya aniccalakkhaṇaṃ yāthāvasarasato upaṭṭhāti. Abhiṇhasampaṭipīḷanaṃ manasikatvā iriyāpathe ugghāṭite dukkhalakkhaṇaṃ yāthāvasarasato upaṭṭhāti. Nānādhātuyo vinibbhujitvā ghanavinibbhoge kate anattalakkhaṇaṃ yāthāvasarasato upaṭṭhāti.

Now the characteristics fail to become apparent when something is not given attention and so something conceals them. What is that? Firstly, the characteristic of impermanence does not become apparent because, when rise and fall are not given attention, it is concealed by continuity. The characteristic of pain does not become apparent because, when continuous oppression is not given attention, it is concealed by the postures. The characteristic of not self does not become apparent because, when resolution into the various elements is not given attention, it is concealed by compactness.

However, when continuity is disrupted by discerning rise and fall, the characteristic of impermanence becomes apparent in its true nature. [See our discussion on this in a prior posting]. When the postures are exposed by attention to continous oppression, the characteristic of pain becomes apparent in its true nature. When the resolution of the compact is effected by resolution into elements, the characteristic of not-self becomes apparent in its true nature.***

740. Ettha ca aniccaṃ, aniccalakkhaṇaṃ, dukkhaṃ, dukkhalakkhaṇaṃ, anattā, anattalakkhaṇanti ayaṃ vibhāgo veditabbo. Tattha aniccanti khandhapañcakaṃ. Kasmā? Uppādavayaññathattabhāvā , hutvā abhāvato vā…

And here the following differences should be understood: the impermanent, and the characteristic of impermanence; the painful, and the characteristic of pain; the not-self, and the characteristic of not-self. Herein, the five aggregates are impermanent. Why? Because they rise and fall and change, or because of their non-existence after having been.

‘‘Yadaniccaṃ taṃ dukkha’’nti (saṃ. ni. 3.15) vacanato pana tadeva khandhapañcakaṃ dukkhaṃ. Kasmā? Abhiṇhapaṭipīḷanā…

Those same five aggregates are painful because of the words: “What is impermanent is painful”. Why? Because of continuous oppression.

‘‘Yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanattā’’ti (saṃ. ni. 3.15) pana vacanato tadeva khandhapañcakaṃ anattā. Kasmā? Avasavattanato, avasavattanākāroanattalakkhaṇaṃ.

Those same five aggregates are not self because of the words “What is painful is not self”. Why? Because there is not exercising of power over them.

So far so good. Now comes another important paragraph:

Tayidaṃ sabbampi ayaṃ yogāvacaro upakkilesavimuttena vīthipaṭipannavipassanāsaṅkhātena udayabbayānupassanāñāṇena yāthāvasarasato sallakkheti.

The diligent practicioner (yogāvacaro)  notes (sallakkheti) all of this (tay’idam sabbampi) as it presents itself (yāthavasara-sato) ** with a knowing and observation of the rising and falling, that is free from defilements (upakkilesa) and that is an insight which follows the path.

From a vipassana meditation standpoint the translation of this last paragraph makes sense. We continue noting (labelling/marking – sallakkheti) as “impermanent” etc. whatever our mind goes to (experiences) or whatever enters our mind.

The continuity of doing so has become possible because we overcame certain mental defilements which blotted our ability to continuously observe. Furthermore our knowing is observing the arising and disappearing and the clear sight (vipassana) is following with the practice.

It is interesting to see how the Visuddhimagga in this last little paragraph draws a similar bridge between the sutta’s description of the insight process and a noting process which Mahasi later re-energizes.

But this connection becomes even more obvious when you turn the page:


741. Tassevaṃ sallakkhetvā punappunaṃ ‘‘aniccaṃ dukkhamanattā’’ti rūpārūpadhamme tulayato tīrayato taṃ ñāṇaṃ tikkhaṃ hutvā vahati, saṅkhārā lahuṃ upaṭṭhahanti, ñāṇe tikkhe vahante saṅkhāresu lahuṃ upaṭṭhahantesu uppādaṃ vā ṭhitiṃ vā pavattaṃ vā nimittaṃ vā na sampāpuṇāti. Khayavayabhedanirodheyeva sati santiṭṭhati. Tassa ‘‘evaṃ uppajjitvā evaṃ nāma saṅkhāragataṃ nirujjhatī’’ti passato etasmiṃ ṭhāne bhaṅgānupassanaṃ nāma vipassanāñāṇaṃ uppajjati.

Now, this is a pretty powerful paragraph. It starts out like this:

Having thus noted/marked, again and again weighing and examining form- (object) and non-form- (subject) related things thus: “impermanent, painful, not self”, he proceeds, his knowing having become really swift, and the formations establish (themselves) lightly/easily; and, while his knowledge is fast and the formations appear easily he does not obtain the rising, staying, persisting nor object. Quite contrary his sati establishes itself firmly in the destruction, cessation, breaking up and cessation.

For him who sees thus: “So having come into being so namely these formations cease” in this state the vipassana insight called ‘Observation of Breaking up’ arises.

{Here, for comparison purposes, Ñāṇamolis translation. It is really an excellent translation, but does not attach any importance to the way the punappunaṃ ‘‘aniccaṃ dukkhamanattā’’ti is being used.}

>>When he repeatedly observes in this way, and examines and investigates material and immaterial states, [to see] that they are impermanent, painful, and not self, then if his knowledge works keenly, formations quickly become apparent.<<

{whereas slightly more literal it would read: again and again weighing … thus: “impermanent, painful, not self”.}

So, one paragraph before Buddhaghosa tells us that a diligent practicioner (yogāvacaro)  notes/labels/observes/marks (sallakkheti) all of this (tay’idam sabbampi) as it presents itself (yāthavasara-sato)**. He was referring to the suttas ‘‘Yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanattā’’ti formula of explaining the observation of the three characteristics but in this powerful passage he ties those two ideas closer together and says that

Tassevaṃ sallakkhetvā, punappunaṃ ‘‘aniccaṃ dukkhamanattā’’ti tīrayato

For him who thus noted, again and again observing so: “imperment, dukkha, non-self”.

…eventually the insight knowledge of bhanga or dissolution arises….(which, BTW quite a few among readers of this blog have probably experienced in their own vipassana meditation. Here a short “contemporary” word on this insight experience by Mahasi Sayadaw:

At such a stage, the arising of formations, that is, the first phase of the process, is not apparent (as it is in the case of knowledge of arising and passing away), but there is apparent only the dissolution, that is, the final phase, having the nature of vanishing. Therefore the meditator’s mind does not take delight in it at first, but he may be sure that soon, after becoming familiar (with that stage of the practice), his mind will delight in the cessation (of the phenomena) too, which is called their dissolution. With this assurance he should again turn to the practice of continuous noticing. [Mahasi Sayadaw, Progress of Insight, Chapter 6]

So our current meditative experience using a noting system as an approach to establish our attention/witnessing (sati) of the five groups of grasping seems quite in line with the Visuddhimaggas explanation at this point.

And the Visuddhimagga draws a direct connection between this insight activity and the “seeing and knowing of the rising and falling” as mentioned in the suttas, where it is said that this type of insight into impermanence serves as a  trigger to the process of enlightenment. If this is the case, than the idea of a meditation as expressed in such lines as

‘‘Sukhaṃ vā yadi vā dukkhaṃ, adukkhamasukhaṃ saha;
Ajjhattañca bahiddhā ca, yaṃ kiñci atthi veditaṃ.
‘‘Etaṃ dukkhan” ti ñatvāna, mosadhammaṃ palokinaṃ;
Phussa phussa vayaṃ passaṃ, evaṃ tattha virajjatī’’ti.

Whatever there is that can be felt/experienced, inside or outside,
Pleasure or pain, or neither pleasure nor pain;
Having known it so: “This is painful” of deceptive nature, disolving
In every moment of contact (“phussa, phussa” – lit. “touched, touched”)
Seeing its passing away, thus he there becomes disenchanted.

[Sutta Nipāta, Dvayatānupassana Sutta, v. 743, en]

..is exactly as what the Visuddhimagga sees here too: a description of meditation, rather than just a philosophical statement. A sujet for and application of meditation rather than a religious dogma or purely philosophical statement.

While we happen to be at this point: The Visuddhimagga then goes on to quote the Patisambhidamagga and makes a profound remark:

‘‘Kathaṃ ārammaṇapaṭisaṅkhā bhaṅgānupassane paññā vipassane ñāṇaṃ? Rūpārammaṇatā cittaṃ uppajjitvā bhijjati, taṃ ārammaṇaṃ paṭisaṅkhā tassa cittassa bhaṅgaṃ anupassati.

How is the observation of the breaking up of objects a knowledge with regard to insight?

The mind too, which has the form as its object, arises and breaks up. He watches the breaking up of that mind which (just) observed the breaking up of a form object.

This is really quite an amazing thing to watch/experience in vipassana. As these old texts (the Patisambhidamagga  was probably canonized around 150-200 years after the Buddha) highlight it is quite a show and a sign of an advanced state of mindfulness and skill in observation to be so un-fooled by the mind that one is even able to see the impermanence of the “watcher”. The Visuddhimagga adds:

Tassa cittassa bhaṅgaṃ anupassatīti yena cittena taṃ rūpārammaṇaṃ khayato vayato diṭṭhaṃ, tassa cittassa aparena cittena bhaṅgaṃ anupassatīti attho. Tenāhu porāṇā ‘‘ñātañca ñāṇañca ubhopi vipassatī’’ti.

“He watches the breaking up of that mind” – having seen the cessation and dissappearing of the form object with his mind, he watches in the next moment (aparena, later) that particular mind’s breaking up. Therefore the ancient meditation masters (porāṇā) have said: “He sees clearly both: the known and the knowing”

So cool 🙂 It sounds like a ZEN koan:

ñātañca ñāṇañca ubhopi vipassatī

The known and the knowing – both of which he sees clearly.

Something you can imagine an old hermit monk to have said to his disciples,  which was later recorded in the Patisambhidhamagga and is now referenced by Buddhaghosa. Which is true for many other hints these late canonical and early none canonical texts give us with regards to early Buddhist meditation practice.


*so much so, that you can find old Sinhalese editions of the Visuddhimagga with interlinear translations. Sometimes one sentence in Sinhala, one in Pali. Or sometimes the left column on each page in Sinhala and the opposite in pali.

**yāthāvasarasato – a very interesting term.

However, the fascinating rendering of yāthāvasarasato as yatha-avasara-sato needs some backing. The PED simply translates it as “to see things as they really are” interpreting it as “yathava-sarasato”. Ñāṇatiloka and Ñāṇamoli translate it in this way too.

This might remind you of the discussion on this blog on a very similar term, used by the Buddha, “yathabhuta” were I was arguing that while “as it really is” is not completely wrong, there could also be something more meditation-relevant be implied. Every time you perceive an object in your vipassana meditation it is only after the fact (when it has already become “bhuta”, i.e. “when it appeared”, “has come into existance”) that you note it. But this is the point were you have to note it immediately – stopping the mind from falling into papañcā…its creative tendency to place subject and object apart and spin a story around them.

Let’s check some other places where this term appears:

399Sammappaññāya sudiṭṭhanti hetunā kāraṇena vipassanāpaññāya yāthāvasarasato diṭṭhaṃ.

which the sub-commentary explains as “Yāthāvasarasato diṭṭhanti yathābhūtasabhāvato paccakkhaṃ viya.”

So it is really being perceived as a synonym for yathābhūta and depending on how you interpret that word it might just simply mean “as it really is” or, focusing more on the subjective side of things, “as it found entrance”/”came into” (your mind), i.e. “appears to you”, “manifested itself to you”.

***[Ñānamoli’s footnote on this runs as follows]Commenting on this Vis. paragraph, Pm. [Visuddhimagga Commentary] says:’ “When continuity is disrupted” means when continuity is exposed by observing the perpetual otherness of states as they go on ocurring in succession. For it is not through the connectedness of states that the characteristic of impermanence becomes apparent to one who rightly observes rise and fall, but rather the characteristic becomes more thoroughly evident through their disconnectedness, as if they were iron dart. [Again, another discussion on this blog as to why the interruption plays such an important role and the role of mindfulness in this]. “When the postures are exposed”  means when the concealment of the pain that is actually inherent in the postures is exposed. For when pain arises in a posture, the next posture adopted removes the pain, as it were, concealing it. But once it is correctly known how the pain in any posture is shifted by substituting another posture for that on, then the concalment of the pain that is in them is exposed because it has become evident that formations are being incessantly overwhelmed by pain. “Resolution of the compact” is effected by resovling [what appears compact] in this way “The earth element is one, the wate element is another” [ah…a form of noting?! :-)], etc., distinguishing each one; in this way “Contact is one, feeling is another”, etc. distinguishing each one. “When the resolution of the compact is effected” means that what is compact as a mass and what is compact as a function or object has been analysed. For when …states have arisen… then, owing to misinterpreting that as a unity, compactness of mass is assumed through failure to subject formations to pressure….But when they are seen after resolving themby means of knowledge into these elements, they disintegrate like froth subjected to compression by the hand. They are mere objects (dhammas) occuring due to conditions and void.

Read Full Post »

The Pali language has a very interesting verb called “maññati”. Or rather the way the Buddha uses this verb is very intriguing.

It is related to our English “to mean” or German “meinen”. It can be translated in a variety of ways such as “to think, believe, suppose, superimpose, to imagine, to dream, to mean, to measure, to appear, to be of the opinion of“…

This little verb is sometimes used by the Buddha to express a certain attitude which we should not entertain when facing the world in our insight meditation.

In the jhanas though, quite the opposite is true: up to the point of upekkha we do put ourselves into a relationship with the world. With a very narrow and focused one but with full intention. The grasping and holding of one {usually mental} object versus other sense impressions requires a great deal of identification. Eventually, however, when our meditation enters the realm of clear-sight (vipassana) it gets transformed into a pure vision.

Having said that, what does it really mean 🙂 to “mean” something?…………………

Doesn’t “meaning” always imply an opinion? A certain attitude, thought, perception, relationship, mental concept or opinion  about/towards a thing?

Therefore, in a passage like this:

90. ‘‘Ejā, bhikkhave, rogo, ejā gaṇḍo, ejā sallaṃ. Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, tathāgato anejo viharati vītasallo. Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu cepi ākaṅkheyya ‘anejo vihareyyaṃ vītasallo’ti, cakkhuṃ na maññeyya, cakkhusmiṃ na maññeyya, cakkhuto na maññeyya, cakkhu meti na maññeyya; rūpe na maññeyya, rūpesu na maññeyya, rūpato na maññeyya, rūpā meti na maññeyya; cakkhuviññāṇaṃ na maññeyya, cakkhuviññāṇasmiṃ na maññeyya, cakkhuviññāṇato na maññeyya, cakkhuviññāṇaṃ meti na maññeyya; cakkhusamphassaṃ na maññeyya, cakkhusamphassasmiṃ na maññeyya, cakkhusamphassato na maññeyya, cakkhusamphasso meti na maññeyya. Yampidaṃ cakkhusamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi na maññeyya, tasmimpi na maññeyya, tatopi na maññeyya, taṃ meti na maññeyya.

‘‘So evaṃ amaññamāno na kiñcipi loke upādiyati. Anupādiyaṃ na paritassati. Aparitassaṃ paccattaññeva parinibbāyati. [Samyutta Nikaya, Salayatana]

…we can see that the Buddha asks us  not to entertain any “opinion” about sights nor the way we perceive sights, sounds…thoughts. Clearly, it left Dandapani puzzled, when the Buddha mentioned that his teaching is the teaching of no-view, of less concepts – even with regard to his own teaching. His teaching is the no-conceptualization-conceptualization :-), or what we call “a raft”.

Therefore in our vipassana sessions (based on proper instruction and technique) our practice should reflect the above quoted passage of the Buddha and follow along these lines:

  1. do not form an opinion about the seeing, hearing…thinking
  2. do not form an opinion or believe to be in the seeing,hearing…thinking
  3. do not form an opinion that you are apart of the seeing,hearing…thinking
  4. do not form an opinion that “seeing is mine”
  5. do not form an opinion or believe to be sights, sounds…thoughts
  6. do not form an opinion to be among them
  7. nor entertain an opinion that you are apart from them
  8. do not think, believe, opinionate that “these sights are mine“.
  9. do not form an opinion about the knowing of the seeing, hearing….thinking
  10. do not think that you are in the knowing of the seeing
  11. nor do believe or think that you are apart from the knowing of seeing
  12. nor do think that any “knowing of seeing is mine”
  13. do not form an opinion towards the contact, the moment of experience of seeing, hearing…thinking
  14. do not form an opinion to be in the experience of seeing
  15. nor do think or believe that you are apart from that experience of seeing
  16. or that the “experience of seeing is mine
  17. and even when it comes to any feeling, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral which arises based on that experience of seeing
  18. do not form an opinion about it
  19. do not form an opinion to be in (part of it)
  20. do not form an opinion to be apart from it (outside)
  21. do not form an opinion “this feeling is mine”

Hope you read carefully through that list. No redundancy but guided meditation. In fact we can see a very thorough  application of the famous formula “in the seen, just the seen” in each present moment. A clear instruction of how to face ‘it’ (i.e. what has ‘become’, aka yathābhūta, each moment).

But thats not the entire message. We can also take this as a gauge (!) when we think about our own particular vipassana technique we apply. Check for yourself, does your vipassana technique move your attention in such a direction as noted above or do you still attach to certain objects forming an opinion about them?

A proper vipassana method should therefore help us to establish a vision of insight without any opinion, any predisposition, any fabricated perception. Just letting the bare experience experience itself. Over and over and over again. This has to include the method itself…it just becomes another object of vipassana. How could such a technique look like? Venerable Nyanananda gives us a hint in the following remarkable essay:

What prevents this insight is that grasping or `upàdàna‘. Generally in the world, very few are keen on emptying the well. The majority simply draw water to make use of it. But there is no end to this making use of the water. Only when one decides upon emptying the well, will one be drawing water just to throw it away without grasping. This is the position of those who are keen on seeing the emptiness if the world, and it is they that are fully appeased in the world. The word `parinibbutà‘ in this context does not mean that the arahants have passed away. They live in the world fully appeased, having extinguished the fires of lust, hate and delusion. [One of the most excellent articles by Ven. Nyanananda summarizing their (Nyanarama and his) understanding of insight meditation after studying vipassana approaches for over half a century. In theory AND practice.]

With regard to the above quoted passage from the Samyutta Nikaya, could it be true that we find our entire Buddhist meditation explicitely explained in such redundant sutta passages? I’d say yes 🙂

The following text passage might serve as another example. (That is if you grant our little “iti – sallakkheti” theory, as entertained in this blog, some validity). So the question could be: do some of the most boring repetitions in the suttas in fact breath the air of pure pragmatism, if looked at from the pragmatic angle of a vipassanā meditator who needs to note anything in the same neutral way in order to make progress? Funny that such a question needs to be raised in the first place if you think about the life and teaching of the Buddha and his utter pragmatism, his focus on the three characteristics and his explanation on what will get you to the same vision and knowledge as is his…

‘‘Taṃ kiṃ maññatha, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ niccaṃ vā aniccaṃ vā’’ti?

What do you think/believe/what is your opinion, o monks, is form permanent or impermanent (does it stay or does it go?)

‘‘Aniccaṃ, bhante’’.

It is impermanent, Sir.

‘‘Yaṃ panāniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vā taṃ sukhaṃ vā’’ti?

But what is impermanent, is that satisfying or unsatisfactory?

‘‘Dukkhaṃ, bhante’’.

It is unsatisfactory, Sir.

‘‘Yaṃ panāniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vipariṇāmadhammaṃ, kallaṃ nu taṃ samanupassituṃ – ‘etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’’’ti?

But what is impermanent, unsatisfactory, ruled by constant change, is it smart to observe it [sam-anu-passati: together-follow-looking] thus [iti – do not skip the word!!!]

“This is mine. This I am, this is my self”?

‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’.

No, really not, Sir.

…{same goes for the other 5 groups/or senses}

‘‘Tasmātiha, bhikkhave,

Therefore, o monks,

yaṃ kiñci rūpaṃ

w h a t e v e r   form

atītānāgatapaccuppannaṃ ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā yaṃ dūre santike vā

be it past, future, present, inside, outside, coarse, subtle, low or refined, close to you or far away [i t  d o e s      n o t     m a t t e r – this is probably the part a vipassana teachers repeats MOST often in his instructions]

sabbaṃ rūpaṃ

all form

– ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ.

have to be seen, together with full knowing, as they have become (or ‘as they are’) thus: “This is NOT mine, This I am NOT, This is NOT my self”.

Yā kāci vedanā… yā kāci saññā… ye keci saṅkhārā… yaṃ kiñci viññāṇaṃ

Again, the same goes for all other groups, i.e. characteristics of experience of a single moment in time. The experience of an object (a form), a feeling, a perception of it, an intention related to it, a knowing/bein conscious of it. No matter what they are, how they are, where they are, they all need to be treated in the same non-opinionated fashion.

Evaṃ passaṃ, bhikkhave,

Seeing thus o monks (not “meditating” or “doing jhana” etc. etc. but “seeing” pres. part. of passati, to see.) the stress lies on the way this particular seeing/vision as it was just described

sutavā ariyasāvako rūpasmimpi nibbindati, vedanāyapi nibbindati, saññāyapi nibbindati, saṅkhāresupi nibbindati, viññāṇasmimpi nibbindati;

the hearer [the one who actually listened, learned and does practice accordingly :-)], the noble follower, gets weary off (nibbindati… lit. to “not find anything in something any more” … means getting weary of a thing, to have enough of, be satiated, turn away from, to be disgusted with, loosing interest in it)

gets weary of forms, feelings….consciousness

nibbindaṃ virajjati,

getting weary his (passion) fades away (vi-rajjati, lit. de-coloring, fading away)

virāgā vimuccati.

from the fading away he is detached (released).

Vimuttasmiṃ vimuttamiti ñāṇaṃ hoti.

When released (loc abs…in the moment/right after his realization) he has this (experiental) knowledge/insight thus “liberated/freed”

‘Khīṇā jāti, vusitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ, kataṃ karaṇīyaṃ, nāparaṃ itthattāyā’ti pajānātī’’ti.

and he knows thus: “extinct is birth, lived is the holy life, done is what had to be done, there is no more of this state of being’.”

It might be partially a philosophical statement but more than that, I honestly do believe this was intended to be a meditation instruction. If you look at how the Buddha addresses the monks…it gets pretty powerful. And he also uses the gerundium daṭṭhabbaṃ “has to be seen as”. If you take it as an instruction for meditation and go through the pali there is no reason why you could not start meditating on this (even while you would hear the Buddha say it). Those of you out there, who have done some vipassana retreats before probably can relate to this idea better than others, I guess.

But again, I tried to be extremely literal, showing several alternative semantics….you might not see any meditation related context…its just that when I try to put myself into the shoes of people who sat across the Buddha…what would be the most important thing on their minds?? Honestly, what would be your thoughts? Would not you think: Please tell me more about how samsara works and how to attain that Nibbana you are talking about…well, especially when faced with samsara :

This was said by the Lord…

“Bhikkhus, the skeletons of a single person, running on and wandering in samsara for an aeon, would make a heap of bones, a quantity of bones as large as this Mount Vepulla, if there were someone to collect them and if the collection were not destroyed.”

The bones of a single person
Accumulated in a single aeon
Would make a heap like a mountain —
So said the Great Sage.
He declared it to be
As great as Mount Vepulla
To the north of Vulture’s Peak
In the hill-fort of Magadha.
But when one sees with perfect wisdom
The four noble truths as they are —
Suffering, the origin of suffering,
The overcoming of suffering,
And the noble eightfold path
Leading to relief from suffering —
Having merely run on Seven times at the most,
By destroying all fetters
One makes an end of suffering.

[Itivuttaka, I. 24]


Recommended reading: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.074.than.html

Read Full Post »

…sounds like Zen, might be Zen, but is no Zen?

Hidden within in the scholastic bodies of ancient Theravadin commentarial literature dwell gems of wisdom taught by ancient Masters of Buddhist meditation. One such beautiful little gem, an allegory, really needs some more attention.

Everyone knows about the 10 pictures in the ZEN tradition of “Taming the Wild Ox” but only a few know that a similar story of a farmer who is out looking for his oxen can already be found in the Visuddhimagga, a commentary on Theravada Buddhism compiled about 500 AD. The Visuddhimagga, the crown jewel of commentarial literature is far more than a dry scholastic theoretical treatise. Based on the suttas, commentaries and Buddhist practice of the 1-3rd century the famous commentator Buddhaghosa put together many pragmatic meditation instructions both of concentration and insight meditation.

This particular story, the potential boilerplate version for the now famous ZEN story, appears in the Wisdom section of the Visuddhimagga, chapter XXI, and describes and compares the insight process of a meditator to a farmer’s different stages of search and discovery of his lost ox.

While in ZEN this story became quite mystical and, well, Zen-like 🙂 it is pretty down to earth and sounds Theravadin clear cut (bordering to boring) in pali. Have a look at the following few lines with an attempt in translation further below:

793. Goti ekassa kira kassakassa rattibhāge niddaṃ okkantassa vajaṃ bhinditvā goṇā palātā, so paccūsasamaye tattha gantvā olokento tesaṃ palātabhāvaṃ ñatvā anupadaṃ gantvā rañño goṇe addasa. Te ‘‘mayhaṃ goṇā’’ti sallakkhetvā āharanto pabhātakāle ‘‘na ime mayhaṃ goṇā, rañño goṇā’’ti sañjānitvā ‘‘yāva maṃ ‘coro aya’nti gahetvā rājapurisā na anayabyasanaṃ pāpenti, tāvadeva palāyissāmī’’ti bhīto goṇe pahāya vegena palāyitvā nibbhayaṭṭhāne aṭṭhāsi. Tattha ‘‘mayhaṃ goṇā’’ti rājagoṇānaṃ gahaṇaṃ viya bālaputhujjanassa ‘‘ahaṃ mamā’’ti khandhānaṃ gahaṇaṃ, pabhāte ‘‘rājagoṇā’’ti sañjānanaṃ viya yogino tilakkhaṇavasena khandhānaṃ ‘‘aniccā dukkhā anattā’’ti sañjānanaṃ, bhītakālo viya bhayatupaṭṭhānañāṇaṃ, vissajjitvā gantukāmatā viya muñcitukamyatā, vissajjanaṃ viya gotrabhu, palāyanaṃ viya maggo, palāyitvā abhayadese ṭhānaṃ viya phalaṃ.

The “ox”. Once there was a farmer, as they say, who in the night became overwhelmed by sleep and his oxen broke through the fence running away.

When we woke up in the early morning and went to where he kept his oxen he realized that they had run away [“palātabhāvaṃ ñatvā” – having known their running-away-nature]. Then he followed their tracks and saw the king’s oxen. He labelled [sallakkheti]  them “These are mine” (mistakenly) and took them with him. Later, when the sun had come out, he realized (sañjānitvā) “Not are these my oxen, they belong to the king”. When they will catch me thus “He is a thief” the king’s men will make me come into distress and misfortune. I will therefore quickly send them away. Full of fear he quickly ran away and later, free of fear found a place to rest.

In this story grasping the king’s oxen thus “my oxen” is the same as the foolish worldling’s grasping of the groups (khandhas) thus “I, mine”. The realization in the morning (when the sun came out) with “These are the king’s oxen” is similar to the Yogis realization of the groups thus “impermanent, suffering, non-self” with the help of the three characteristics. The time he is afraid resembles the arising of the insight knowledge of fear and the wish to expel them is similar to the insight knowledge of desire for freedom. The actual dismissing them is the gotrabhu-insight knowledge. Their running off is similar to the attainment of Nibbana (magga) and when he ran away, that place free from any fear is a synonym for the fruit of Nibbana (phala, the meditative state).

This was a pretty self explaining metaphor. A nice analogy which was intended to help understanding exactly what and how we react when vipassana meditation starts to uncover the true characteristics of life. From the insight into seeing and falling, over a period of fear and disorientation to the desire to let go and the eventual freedom ensuing with the peace of Nibbana. For further information read on “the insight knowledges

If this is really the same “Meme” then it is interesting to see how 300-500 years later this story surfaces in ZEN writings in Japan. Here is a short quote on the ZEN history and Chinese whispers [ :-), the story really went through China as the Visuddhimagga or more likely the Vimuttimagga where translated in China in the 6th century and found their way into the Chinese Chan culture. Especially the pragmatic aspect of the Vimuttimagga/Visuddhimagga must have had a strong influence on Chinese Chan masters].

Among the various formulations of the levels of realization in Zen, none is more widely known than the Oxherding Pictures, a sequence of ten illustrations annotated with comments in prose and verse. It is probably because of the sacred nature of the ox in ancient India that this animal came to be used to symbolize man’s primal nature or Buddha-mind. The original drawings and the commentary that accompanies them are both attributed to Kakuan Shien (Kuo-an Shih-yuan), a Chinese Zen master of the twelfth century, but he was not the first to illustrate the developing stages of Zen realization through pictures. Earlier versions of five and eight pictures exist in which the ox becomes progressively whiter, the last painting being a circle. [Hm, should we think Nibbana?! Like in our Visuddhimagga story…]

This implied,that the realization of Oneness (i.e., the effacement of every conception of self and other) was the ultimate goal of Zen. But Kakuan, feeling this to be incomplete, added two more pictures beyond the circle to make it clear that the Zen man of the highest spiritual development lives in the mundane world of form and diversity and mingles with the utmost freedom among ordinary men, whom he inspires with his compassion and radiance to walk in the Way of the Buddha. [Sources: Here]

“Since the ninth century, students of Zen Buddhism have drawn a parallel between the individual
path to enlightenment and the story of the herder and his missing ox. There are 10 stages in the
parable, beginning with the search for the ox, in which a boy is racked with doubt because “Nothing
has been lost in the first place,/ So what is the use of searching?” In the final stage, the boy
reappears as the Buddha of the Future, enlightened. The scroll reprinted here is the oldest
known version of the Japanese Ten Oxherding Songs, dating to 1278, and the only known
example with illustrations in color along with the calligraphy. [Source: Here]

This is a beautiful clear example for the differences but also joint history of Zen-Mahayana and Theravadin Buddhist practice. But of course, not necessarily do we have a connection here. The idea of using an oxen to display levels of progress suggests it, but oxen are all over the place and taming them could have been used regardless of any older tradition.

It is funny though, that our Visuddhimagga text starts to get interesting where the Zen pictures stop. When the farmer realizes his deadly mistake, he quickly lets go of the oxen. Our Zen farmer, after bringing the oxen home, seems content. Maybe its his oxen after all 🙂

OR, if you look at some of the ZEN interpretations there are actually some which could be better understood if someone would take this Visuddhimagga text and check the pictures again…If  you follow this link you can see how the farmer now roams about, in a secure place and the oxen is gone…maybe he let it go,  like the Visuddhimagga suggests would be prudent 🙂 ! Just have a look at some of the descriptions of step 7 and 8 in the story of the oxen with the pali text.

Ox lost, man remaining

As an expression of the Theravada spirit of this Blog, however, we let our search for the oxen end in the beautiful empty circle, a synonym for Nibbana:


(1)If you were to just follow the “idea” of taming a bull and look for references in the suttas, you might come up with an article like this by Ven. Walpola Rahula. My guess is he was not aware of this particular similie in the Visuddhimagga which fits the story of the bull much better than other references to the general theme of “taming” the mind like an unruly animal. The Zen story revolves around stages of development – exactly the same ideas as in the analogy given in the Visuddhimagga – a picturesque walk through a ZEN’s version of the insight knowledge…

(2) Other references: Herding the Ox

(3) Visuddhimagga/Vimuttimagga in Chinese Tripitaka: “Samghapala (459-524 C.E.), the translator of the Chinese ver sion of the A-yu-wang jing, was a monk from the kingdom of Funan (in the eastern part of present-day Thailand), who came to China during the Qi dynasty (479-501 C.E.) and stayed at Zheng guan Monastery in the capital, where he studied Mahayana texts under the Indian monk Gunabhadra and “mastered the languages of several countries”. When Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty came to power, he invited Samghapala in the fifth year of Tian jinn (506 C.E.) to translate Buddhist texts into Chinese. In the course of the subsequent seventeen years, he translated eleven Buddhist texts into Chinese, making a total of forty-eight fascicles, including the A yu-wang jing and the Vimuktimarga, with the assistance of Chinese Buddhist monks and lay scholars under imperial patronage. In the fifth year of Pu-tong (524 C.E.), he died of illness at the age of sixty-five at Zheng-guan Monastery.”

Read Full Post »

Surely, most of you had had experience with the following most common approaches towards establishing a Buddhist practice:

  • Scanning through bits and pieces of Buddhist literature and patching them together into your own personal regiment.
  • Following the (ad-hoc) instructions of a specific (charismatic) teacher who explains in his own terminology or particular tradition
  • A training according to a (streamlined) meditation system.

Some might finally end up at option number three and yes, one could argue that even the noble eightfold path is a systematic approach in practicing the Dhamma – though open to lots of interpretations.

Here is a short list of why meditation systems seem to have such a benefit over other less organized approaches:

A meditation (development) system is….

  1. Repeatable
  2. Clearly defined / structured
  3. Student and teacher can compare progress and results (!!!)
  4. The same terminology and concepts are used. This too helps explaining, understanding and comparing progress / results
  5. It is independent of a teacher or guru. Even after the death of a charismatic master the system can be applied. It relies less on “people” but rather on application of the system.
  6. The system itself can be considered the teacher (like the Buddha venerated the Dhamma as his teacher)
  7. A system can easily be taught and distributed. Well, at least easier than the specific heritage of a teacher personality.
  8. A system has a scientific element: Like an experiment that someone tries to replicate successfully.
  9. A system motivates students: The path is clearly structured, many other former students can help and define the path. Progress is made step by step and can be compared with others.
  10. Teachers of such a system are able to better judge the progress of individual students based on their prior experience with the same set of instructions on former students…. This will lead to better teachers and an ever refined system.
  11. It is better, the more detailed it is and/or the better teachers can anticipate and judge another person’s progress


BTW, this is not about advocating any particular Buddhist meditation system. Looking at the Suttas we can see how system(s) were in place already during the time of the Buddha. And even a certain methodology needs to allow for variations based on the character of the meditator – but this too, could be approached in a ‘systematic’ fashion.

Of course, once such a system becomes merely recorded on paper and dies out (no person-to-person transmission left) it is kind of hard to re-surrect it properly just from the “words” used for recording it.

One more reason to be thankful that recent decades have seen many authentic varients of meditation systems (Mahasi, Goenka, Nyanarama etc.) even though they cannot always be matched literally and perfectly to the ancient days some of the posts on this blog might highlight what seems to me at least a closeness in spirit 🙂

So while personally looking back into the texts for verfication and inspiration (for instance on this blog) there is nothing I would trade a proper step by step “living” meditation system in for.

Possible improvements of these meditation systems would be to further refine their instructions (after mastering them) and by updating them based on experience of students of those systems and their relationship to the clear instructions left by the Buddha which – obviously – make more and more sense to those who actually walk along their lines. This would benefit teacher and student alike who can take a look at the textual “evidence” left by the Buddha and compare it 1:1 to their own experiences.

That the Buddha’s teaching was intended as a systematic approach (or containing systematic approaches) can also be drawn from this famous remark:

“Sariputta, Buddha Vipassi’s, Buddha Sikhi’s Buddha Vessabhu’s teaching did not last long. Sariputta, Buddha Kakusandha’s, Buddha Konagamana’s and Buddha Kassapa’s(*) teaching lasted long.”

“And what, Lord, is the cause, what the reason why when Vipassin was Buddha and when Sikhin was Buddha and when Vessabhu was Buddha the teaching did not last long ?”

“Sariputta, the Buddha Vipassin and the Buddha Sikhin and the Buddha Vessabhu were weary of [lit. ‘exhausted’ from kilāsu] preaching dhamma in detail to the disciples; and these had little of the  Suttas in prose or in prose and verse, the Expositions, the Songs, the Verses of Uplift, the Quotations, the Jatakas, the Miracles, the Miscellanies; the course of training for the disciples was not made known, the Patimokkha was not appointed.

After the disappearance of these enlightened ones, these Buddhas, after the disappearance of the disciples enlightened under these enlightened ones,’ those last disciples of various names, of various clans of various strata, who had gone forth from various families, caused this teaching&practice rapidly to disappear.

It is as if, Sariputta, various flowers, loose on a flat piece of wood, not tied together by a thread, are scattered about, whirled about and destroyed by the wind. What is the cause ? Inasmuch as they are not held together by a thread, even so, Sariputta, at the disappearance of these enlightened ones, these Buddhas, at the disappearance of the disciptes enlightened under these enlightened ones, those last disciples of various names, of various clans, of various social strata, who had gone forth from various families, caused this Brahma-life rapidly to disappear. Andthese Buddhas were untiring in exhorting the disciples, for they read their minds with their own:

Formerly, Sariputta, the Buddha Vessabhu, perfected, all enlightened one, in a certain awe-inspiring jungle-thicket exhorted and admonished a congregation of a thousand monks, reading their minds with his own, and saying: Apply the mind thus, you should not apply the mind thus ; pay attention thus,’ you should not pay attention thus; forsake this; having attained this, abide in it.

Then Sariputta, when these thousand monks had been exhorted and admonished by Vessabhu, the Buddha, perfected, all enlightened one, their minds were freed from the cankers without grasping. Moreover, Sariputta, whoever not devoid of passion, is in a terror of the awe-inspiring jungle-thicket, and enters the jungle thicket, as a rule his hair stands on end. This, Sariputta, is the cause, this is the reason why, when Vipassin was Buddha and when Sikhin was Buddha and when Vessabhu was Buddha, the Brahma-life did not last long.”

” But what, Buddha, is the cause, what the reason why when Kakusandha was Buddha, and when Konagamana was Buddha and when Kassapa was Buddha the Brahma-life lasted long?” [8]

” Sariputta, the Buddha Kakusandha and the Buddha Konagamana and the Buddha Kassapa were diligent in giving dhamma in detail to the disciples, and these had much of the Suttas in prose or in prose and in verse, the Expositions, the Songs, the Verses of Uplift, the Quotations, the Jatakas, the Miracles, the Miscellanies….

The course of training for disciples was made known, the Patimokkha was appointed. At the disappearance of these enlightened ones, these Buddhas, at the disappearance of the disciples who were enlightened under these enlightened ones, those last disciples of various names, of various clans, of various social strata, who had gone forth from various families, established the teaching and practice for a very long time.

It is as if, Sariputta, various flowers, loose on a piece of wood, well tied together by a thread [lit. ‘sutta’ – the thread], are not scattered about or whirled about or destroyed by the wind. What is the reason for this ? They are well tied together by the thread.

Even so, Sariputta, at the disappearance of these enlightened ones, these Buddhas, at the disappearance of the disciples who were enlightened under these enlightened ones, those last disciples of various names, of various clans, of various strata, who had gone forth from various families, established the teaching&practice for a very long time.

This, Sariputta, is the cause, this  the reason why when Kakusandha was the Buddha, and when Konagamana was the Buddha and when Kassapa was the Buddha, the teaching and practice lasted long.”

[Slightly adjusted but based on I.B. Horners translation of the Vinaya text. Here.]

‘bhagavato ca, sāriputta, vipassissa bhagavato ca sikhissa bhagavato ca vessabhussa brahmacariyaṃ na ciraṭṭhitikaṃ ahosi. bhagavato ca, sāriputta, kakusandhassa bhagavato ca koṇāgamanassa bhagavato ca kassapassa brahmacariyaṃ ciraṭṭhitikaṃ ahosī’’ti.

1.) Wiederholbar
2.) Klar abgesteckt
3.) Schuler und Lehrer koennen Fortschritt mit anderen vergleichen (!!!! so wichtig)
4.) Es werden die selben sprachlichen Konzepte benutzt um den Fortschritt vergleichbar zu machen
5.) Das System kann unabhaenging von einem “Guru” oder “Meister” gelehrt werden.
6.) Das System IST der Meister (Buddha verehrte den Dhamma als seinen Lehrer)
7.) Das System kann weitergegeben werden. Ein “Guru” stirbt irgendwann
8.) Ein System baut auf einer nahezu wissenschaftlichen Vorgehen auf…Wie ein Experiment, dass man versucht erfolgreich zu wiederholen
9.) Ein System motiviert Schuler: Der Weg ist klar strukturiert. Schritt fuer Schritt Fortschritte.
10.) Lehrer eines solchen Systems koennen aufgrund gleicher/aehnlicher Anweisungen bei vielen Teilnehmern besser lernen wie sich der Fortschritt gestaltet….das wird sie zu b e s s e r e n Lehrern machen, je oefter sie das System lehren……..

19. ‘‘ko nu kho , bhante, hetu ko paccayo, yena bhagavato ca vipassissa bhagavato ca sikhissa bhagavato ca vessabhussa brahmacariyaṃ na ciraṭṭhitikaṃ ahosī’’ti? ‘‘bhagavā ca, sāriputta, vipassī bhagavā ca sikhī bhagavā ca vessabhū kilāsuno ahesuṃ sāvakānaṃ vitthārena dhammaṃ desetuṃ. appakañca nesaṃ ahosi suttaṃ geyyaṃ veyyākaraṇaṃ gāthā udānaṃ itivuttakaṃ jātakaṃ abbhutadhammaṃ vedallaṃ. apaññattaṃ sāvakānaṃ sikkhāpadaṃ. anuddiṭṭhaṃ pātimokkhaṃ. tesaṃ buddhānaṃ bhagavantānaṃ antaradhānena buddhānubuddhānaṃ sāvakānaṃ antaradhānena ye te pacchimā sāvakā nānānāmā nānāgottā nānājaccā nānākulā pabbajitā te taṃ brahmacariyaṃ khippaññeva antaradhāpesuṃ. seyyathāpi, sāriputta, nānāpupphāni phalake nikkhittāni suttena asaṅgahitāni tāni vāto vikirati vidhamati viddhaṃseti. taṃ kissa hetu? yathā taṃ suttena asaṅgahitattā. evameva kho, sāriputta, tesaṃ buddhānaṃ bhagavantānaṃ antaradhānena buddhānubuddhānaṃ sāvakānaṃ antaradhānena ye te pacchimā sāvakā nānānāmā nānāgottā nānājaccā nānākulā pabbajitā te taṃ brahmacariyaṃ khippaññeva antaradhāpesuṃ. (etc) found in [Vinaya, I, Veranjakanda]

(*) Note: Seems like the Buddhas changed their strategy in teaching the Dhamma. The last four Buddhas established and left a systematic organization of their teachings.

Read Full Post »

In one of his prefaces to the translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, Karl Eugen Neumann (who lived many years before the relativity theory was conceived, let alone quantum physics) once made the following observation:

These discourses originated in the 6th century before Christ: but sometimes they leave the impression that they belong to the 6th century after Schopenhauer.

Schopenhauer based on Kant and others of course had lead philosophy towards a much subtler understanding of the interplay between physical world and consciousness in which the physical world (the “object”) derives its quality of “being”. Whenever we speak of something “to be” or “to exist” we indirectly imply a consciousness or observation of that object. But Schopenhauer (and in fact the Buddha) did a greater job explaning this than I do 🙂

It seemed for some time now that material-istic (aka physical) science was catching up as well… And though there have been all kinds of new-agy metaphysicists jumping on this band-wagon, – still there are honorable researchers who try to console the philosophical angle with the physical evidence.

In a discussion on the book “Quantum Enigma” (on the role of consciousness in quantum physics) I found this rather nice summary by Prof. David Mermin:

Does quantum mechanics give consciousness a special role to play in our description of the physical world? Opinions range all over the map. I myself would say yes, but in a rather limited sense: the laws of physics are conceptual tools we have discovered in our collective efforts to impose coherence on how the world impinges on us, and ultimately the world gets through to each of us only through our conscious perceptions. This, of course, is as true of classical physics as it is of quantum physics. What makes quantum physics special is that it forces us (or ought to force us) to acknowledge this to be the character of physical law, while in classical physics we could (and did) fool ourselves into thinking that the abstractions we created to help us organize our perceptions had an independent existence of their own.

Take space-time, for example. We organize our perceptions into events, and for many purposes it is illuminating to represent those events as points in an abstract four-dimensional continuum. This is so useful that most of us reify this abstract scheme, believing that we inhabit a world that is such a four- (or, for a few of us, ten-) dimensional continuum. The reification of abstract time and space goes so far back in human history that it’s easy to miss the intellectual sleight of hand. The reification of electric and magnetic fields is more recent but also came to be taken for granted, until it started to unravel (for some of us) with the arrival of quantum electrodynamics. The strongest hints of how we have been fooling ourselves emerge when we try to reify quantum states, and thereby run into “the measurement problem” and “quantum nonlocality.”

Quantum phenomena have finally brought home (or should have brought home) to us that the purpose of physical law is, as Niels Bohr so succinctly put it, “only to track down, so far as it is possible, relations between the manifold aspects of our experience.” That experience is, by its very nature, conscious experience. It is only in this profoundly philosophical sense that quantum mechanics has led physics to an encounter with consciousness.

[Review of Quantum Enigma]


A reason why it sometimes seems that the further we scientifically progress the closer we go back in time to the explanations of the ‘Awakened One’.

Luckily, in order to study the mind we do not need expensive (material) equipment like this…one simple reason the Buddha gave us is that in the case of “consciousness” experimental replication is all about e x p e r i e n t i a l replication. Obviously 🙂 and so it says that one quality of the teaching of the Buddha is: 

paccattam veditabbo vinnuhi

(it) has to be realize personally each by himself/herself alone

Still, its interesting to see the timelessness of the Dhamma and exciting to watch the physical implications of all this. Here are some other links to a Buddhist understanding of “the world”.

Let’s talk about the world

The world II – concept and reality



One of the best descriptions of Schopenhauer’s philosophy I have seen can be found here if you do not intend to read his famous WWR.

Read Full Post »

Yoke of Oxen

Recently I was asked whether jhana and vipassana meditation ultimately lead to the same results.*

My answer was, that I would rather rephrase that question:

“How are jhana and vipassana faculties tied together on the path to Nibbana?”


A pure jhana practicioner (like your typical yogi in the Himalaya) who is hooked on a nimitta is not likely to “move” towards Nibbana.

A pure vipassana practicioner (dry vipassana) who discursively buries himself  in lists of abhidharmic concepts is not likely to move towards Nibbana either.


A jhana trained person observing with direct vision the rising and falling of the 5 groups of grasping AND a concentrated vipassana meditator experiencing jhanic states during stretches of intensive vipassana both will meet at a stage in their battle where their position is indistinguishable from each other.


What we do see, when studying the Tipitaka and early post-canonical Buddhist texts on meditation as well as early Buddhist history is this:

In the beginning the distinction between concentration and the specific “insight” part was almost indistinguishable. Not because they are the same but because the method of samadhi was a give for everyone and many cases even before meeting the Buddha and the special attention was on understanding craving, thirst with regard to the interplay of senses and moments of experience. The teaching of dependent origination was the key to freedom. Something which came as a revelation to even the most gifted concentration meditators among the students of the Buddha (think of Anuraddha’s story meeting Sariputta). But at the early days of the Dhamma sati and samadhi were joined forces to attain panya. The distinction was just mentioned after the enlightenment of the Buddha not completely detailed to the last inch.

Now, over time  however- and this already started to happen during the lifetime of the Buddha – we see that with more people, more explanations, more refinement of instructions the noble eightfold path and its areas of expertise and training got more and more refined and elaborated on.

No exception for the concentration (jhanic) and insight (sati toward panya) parts of meditation.

This is how the terms samatha vipassana are finally born which from then on would be used to describe two qualities necessary on the path.

Coming back to the question I was asked:

To me (and this is my little 2 cents on it) these two “forces” are part of the noble eightfold path. They can be trained separately but in order to attain Nibbana they will automatically “connect” and support each other.

If you ask vipassana meditators, the further they go, the more and more jhanic experiences they get. They might lack training identifying and harnessing them. They are simply induced by the extreme amount of concentration which correct vipassana produces.

Same is true for samatha. Moving from the Jhanas using some form of noting and letting go of experience (on a fundamental level) the rising and falling is noticed stronger and stronger.

Both oxen are yoked and will culminate in the moment we step through the door to freedom (vimutti). So even if you let one run first for a while, the other one will never be far behind and eventually catch up – due to the yoke…

That however is only true if

a.) you have two bulls, not just one

b.) they run in the right direction




* For other posts on this topic see here. It is just a very popular question 🙂

Read Full Post »

Sometimes we forget all about gratitude and respect for the help we receive from others.

If one were to look at our attitude towards the many hardships and sacrifices of all the people who came before us who made it possible that we can meditate and practice and yes, also improve our understanding of the Dhamma … it sometimes is really pitiable.

Think of the millions of monks who fled from religious persecution and starvation during the centuries, their hardships of travel, of cold and heat, to simply hear or learn or preserve one line of the Dhamma…

I would like to share the following two paragraphs with you. It seems to me, they do reflect different mind-sets:

“Answering in this way when thus asked, Lord, am I speaking in line with what the Blessed One has said, am I not misrepresenting the Blessed One with what is unfactual, am I answering in line with the Dhamma so that no one whose thinking is in line with the Dhamma will have grounds for criticizing me?”
“Certainly, Bhumija, in answering in this way when thus asked, you are speaking in line with what I have said, you are not misrepresenting me with what is unfactual, and you are answering in line with the Dhamma so that no one whose thinking is in line with the Dhamma will have grounds for criticizing you.”

[Bhumija Sutta and many other places]


Buddhism is not a monolithic entity. It is rather a tradition from which people who consider themselves Buddhists draw inspiration and to which they add as they respond to the problems of their lives, sometimes reformulating the doctrine in new ways to make it more relevant, sometimes returning to earlier principles when they seem to be timely or in danger of becoming lost. The tradition is thus a history of what Buddhists think and do. [Book on Buddhism]

…which reminds me of this story.  True, this post is almost off topic but after reading that particular passage in a “Buddhist book” I thought I might share this with you. There is Robert L’Orange’s famous quote “Na aññatrā tathāgathassa sotabbaṃ maññāmi”* – of course that is a bit extreme, but when you think about the above quotation…one really is intended to skip 90% of contemporary Buddhist literature. Why go for the bronze if you can tap into silver … Gold, obviously, being the practice of the Dhamma. 🙂

Between Blind Faith – Gratitude – Disrespect. Let’s find the middle path. 🙂


* Nice pali saying for Theravadin fundamentalists ;-). Translation: “I do not consider anything worth listening to which was not spoken by the Tathagatha” :-). Robert L’Orange was one of the first Europeans to embrace Buddhism in 18-something. He learned Sanskrit, Pali and was a good friend of Karl Eugen Neumann…before he vanished either into the desert or Asian jungle)

**Another quote on this topic from Sue Hamilton’s excellent book: “Early Buddhism. A new approach“:

Furthermore, it is in these very canonical texts that evidence can be found of their oral preservation from the very
early stages of the Buddhist tradition. There is considerable evidence that conscious efforts were made to ensure accuracy
in such preservation, and that accuracy continued to be a factor when teachings began to be written down. The prime
reason why accuracy was desired was to preserve the teachings for as long as possible. The specialising groups who undertook this
would have taken their task extremely seriously, not merely for the sake of taking pride in their accuracy but because the survival
of the Buddha’s teachings, the Dhamma, depended on it.

Furthermore, it is in these very canonical texts that evidence can be found of their oral preservation from the very early stages of the Buddhist tradition. There is considerable evidence that conscious efforts were made to ensure accuracy in such preservation, and that accuracy continued to be a factor when teachings began to be written down. The prime reason why accuracy was desired was to preserve the teachings for as long as possible. The specialising groups who undertook this would have taken their task extremely seriously, not merely for the sake of taking pride in their accuracy but because the survival of the Buddha’s teachings, the Dhamma, depended on it.

Read Full Post »

“Tell me, which part of the Tripitaka is the most ancient? Which part would I want to read, study and practice if I look for the most authentic instructions?”

The answer is very simple.

There are two little collections of verses in the entire Pitaka which take up a very unique position. They are kind of tugged away in the mass of teachings but here is what is so special about them:

First of all, they had already been memorized and were cherished by the young Buddhist community during the lifetime of the Buddha. How do we know? Well, there are other ancient suttas in the Tipitaka which refer to these verses as common knowledge amongst lay people and monks during Buddha’s lifetime.

Secondly these two collections are the only ones which have such an ancient commentary attached to them, that that commentary itself is now part of the Tipitaka.

And finally, after a mere 250 years, emperor Ashoka when recommending texts for study selected a few of his recommendations from these collections.

Which are those two?

The “Book of the Eights” (Atthaka-vagga) and the “Book of the Way Beyond” (Parayana-vagga).*

Having set the stage, let us focus on the Parayana Vagga for a second.

It consists of questions and answers between sixteen (young) brahmin priests who all came to see the Buddha.

When we read these verses we can see that some of the terms which would later become standard repertoire of the Buddhist teaching are still in their “infancy”, i.e. we see how the Buddha originally started using them before everyone knew what they meant and they became (Buddhist) technical terminology.

When the sixteen brahmins come to the Buddha “Ajita” starts with very general questions about the world and what might be wrong with it.

But very soon the topic moves into a philosophical/psychological arena.

Ajita wants to know why our minds make us behave like they do and the Buddha responds that that is because of the six streams, i.e. the six sense impressions.

Now Ajita is curious and wonders what one could do about that and the Buddha responds with two tools: sati (“mindfulness”/”remembering”/”witnessing”) and panna (wisdom/knowing).

But Ajita wonders: Isn’t that mental activity as well? How could we ever get beyond all streams? And the Buddha answers, you are right, eventually, what you are looking for is “viññāṇassa nirodhena** the extinguishing of the apart-knowing (vi-ñāṇa), generally known and translated as “consciousness”. It is that part of our knowing/consciousness which is able to distinguish (“vi-“, as indicated by the prefix).

Now the next brahmin priest, Tissa-Metteyya takes up the state of such a developed person and wants to know more about the attainment such an “arahant”, i.e. “worthy” person would live in.

Having attained a preliminary understanding of the Buddha’s message we enter round too of their Q&A:

The third question is from another brahmin ascetic, Punnaka, who wants to know about his and his ancestors practice. Did their rituals and worshipping, their sacrificing and prayers lead at least some of them towards that same goal the Buddha is referring to? Of course that question was bound to come. If what you are saying is right and it really sounds extremely fascinating, then what about our (ancient) religious practices and traditions.

And Buddha’s answer is a clear “sorry, no”. Fire worshipping priests of yore did not attain to that state of Nibbana… And he gives a reason as well: The very fact that wishing, desiring and hoping was ALL their practice consisted of they would never get beyond “existence”.

Mettagu, the next brahmin to ask a question is now puzzled…if religious tradition does not help overcome suffering then what is the source of all suffering according to the Buddha. If it has nothing to do with God(s) trying to challenge us or helping us in our salvation…Now we would expect a very long answer but the Buddha explains the source of all suffering there is, was and ever will be in one word:


How can this one short answer give an explanation to the complexities of life, you might ask? Once you get the implications behind the meaning of this word you are almost enlightened 🙂

Upa-dhi, literally means something on which you stand. “Upa” means “on” and the root “dhā” implies “standing”. So whenever we stand on something we create the basis for suffering. Whatever we identify with, attach with, make our self part of or foundation for ourselves this will lead to suffering. From a simple feeling, sense impression, act of volition  with which we attach and identify to the grand (composite) scale of identifying with sports cars or relationships, wealth, poverty, politics, religion etc. etc. The source of our sorrow, pain and suffering, in one word, really, is just “upa-dhi” – Making and Taking something as the foundation of yourself.
At this point in the conversation  “Mettagu” is very impressed with the Buddha’s explanations so far and is the first (but not the last one) to ask for a meditation instruction (and the reason for this blogpost in the first place) 🙂

Let’s have a look at the Buddha’s four line gatha (verse) advising Mettagu how to realize Nibbana, the freedom of suffering, the state of non-upadhi:

Mettagu asks:


Kathaṃ nu dhīrā vitaranti oghaṃ, jātiṃ jaraṃ sokapariddavañca;

Taṃ me muni sādhu viyākarohi, tathā hi te vidito esa dhammo’’.

Well how did the wise ones cross over the flood? Over Birth, Age, Sorrow and Despair?

O Sage, please explain this to me very well, because you have experienced/known this dhamma (thing, principle, etc. etc)

[This and following verses, Sutta Nipata, Chapter 5: pali]


And the Buddha says, no problem, listen well and I will explain everything to you:


‘‘Kittayissāmi te dhammaṃ, Diṭṭhe dhamme anītihaṃ;

Yaṃ viditvā sato caraṃ, tare loke visattikaṃ’’.

I will tell you this dhamma, seen in the now – not based on hearsay (history, tradition, culture…)

Which having experienced/understood it and (then) practicing it (lit. walking in remembering it)

You will cross over the world entanglements.


Now we would expect the Buddha to give us a clear, easy to understand, well defined instruction for our meditation, correct? After all, the Buddha mentioned in other occasions, that his teaching is open for all to come and see. In contrast to other teachers which have something called “the fist of a teacher” meaning that they would hold back information for only the “initiated” people, the Buddha’s Dhamma fulfills more the reasoning of science: visible and open for public scrutiny; an invitation for all to study it, see it and (if possible) replicate it.

Unfortunately, looking at most contemporary translations, you would wonder WHERE that meditation instruction has gone. It seems, as if the Buddha only leaves Mettagu with a very general description of what needs to be done. Well, you would think, “probably he explained it in more detail later, not recorded in the text”. Or did he? 

However, here is my objection: Why would a text, which was up to this verse so detailed and even modern in its dialog suddenly stop explaining on such a detailed level and introduce mere commonplaces? Especially when we see how the entire conversation is structured and culminates at this very important pragmatic point.

And so looking very closely at the following verse especially with regard to observations we made in prior blog posts*** , we really CAN decipher a clear cut meditation instruction in the next few lines, but in order to do that, we have to “update” or “revise” a couple of standard-English terms used in Pali translations. Are you ready? Let’s go:

1061. ‘‘Yaṃ kiñci sampajānāsi,
Uddhaṃ adho tiriyañcāpi majjhe;
Etesu nandiñca nivesanañca, 
panujja viññāṇaṃ bhave na tiṭṭhe.”


First, a very very literal approximation:

Yaṃ kiñci sampajānāsi … what-ever (that-whichever) you perceive (know/experience/are aware of)

Uddhaṃ adho tiriyañ c’āpi majjhe … above, below, around and in the middle

etesu – panujja …. In these (with regard to these) having given up/dispelled/removed/pushed away

  1. nandi … delight
  2. nivesana … living-in (forming a home, settling, entering into, a place to stay, settlement). I really like the psychology of this word…In your vipassana meditation you can nicely observe how you “enter and settle” into the world based on “not seeing” sense contact but falling for the movie/story-line it is weaving.
  3. viññāṇa … lit.apart-knowing (the distinguishing, mental categorizing, analysis)

bhave na tiṭṭhe … you may/will not not stand (opt. of tiṭṭhati) in “being”.


Okay, here now the entire verse:


Whatever you experience (in your meditation)

above, below around and in the middle –

Towards these any delight and entering into

Having dispelled (and) consciousness (or discriminating) –

Do not stay in the being  (i.e. moment) 


The entire setup reminds us of a couple of things: 

First of all it looks like a meditative environment. Whatever you perceive in all directions. Whatever your mind is aware of in any direction. No matter what you perceive. Think: Closed eyes, concentrated mind…and now you experience the “stream of the six senses” and it feels like the sixfold sense information is experienced in and around you. The body “below”, the “sound” around or above. The “thought” in the middle.

What should you do with that? How should you approach it? The Buddha’s answer indicates an increasing refinement: Make sure that you give up “delight” towards any of those experiences. Make sure you do not “build a house” on them…Do not “move into them”, try not to “identify” with them.

Eventually you are trying not to stay in the ever-ongoing “being” in the moment. If there “is” in the moment, then there is a “you” and a “they”. There is a birth, a sorrow and a death for “you”.

Interesting also how viññāṇa is used in this context. You can either add it to the list of nandi, nivesana and vinnana as more and more refined ways of how we build our identification in the present moment, or alternatively, if you wanted to stick with the general translation of viññāṇa as “consciousness” you could say they indicate that you should try to give up “conscious delight” or “conscious housing” in anything surrounding you.


Mettagu is very excited with this answer and wants to know if there is more, but the Buddha basically finishes his question indicating that this is all you need to practice on the way to full enlightenment.

We could be satisfied at this point with the Parayanavagga and be glad to get such a deep insight into Buddhist (vipassana/insight/sati/wisdom…) meditation. But wait! More good things to come.


Dhotaka, the next brahmin asking Buddha a question, obviously was listening to Mettagu’s instruction. Now he himself would like to get a personalized meditation instruction to attain Nibbana, that attainment/state the Buddha had described as freedom from suffering. (Beautiful are the references and metaphors on Nibbana “ākāsova abyāpajjamāno” – undisturbed like the sky/space, “santi” the peace, “vivekadhamma” the principle of solitude etc.)

It is interesting to see that when you look at Dhotaka’s question, it seems as if he is expecting a very personalized instruction.

But when we look at Buddha’s answer we see that the Buddha starts out in the same way as for Mettagu, maybe implying ‘Dhotaka, this thing is true for all people. Mettagu’s instruction was not limited to him as a person but an example of a general principle’. This, of course, might be in between the lines, but let’s have a look at the second meditation instruction which the Buddha shares with our 16 brahmin ascetics and which is not “in between the lines” but literally an instruction for meditation:

‘‘Yaṃ kiñci sampajānāsi,
Uddhaṃ adho tiriyañcāpi majjhe;
Etaṃ viditvā “saṅgo”ti loke,
bhavābhavāya mākāsi taṇha’’nti.

First two lines are identical to the previous meditation instruction given to Mettagu. This is important! Like in a mathematical formula we can now assume that the last two lines offer additional insight into what the last two lines  of “Mettagu’s instruction” stood for. Here the Buddha gives a little variation to enhance Dhotaka’s understanding of his meditation instruction given to Mettagu.

So, if your question was: How do I train my mind not to go for delight/housing in the present moment, how can I leave “bhava”, the identification of me and mine in each moment…Here is Buddha’s even more explicit answer:

Whatever you experience, above, below around and in the middle (in your meditation)

Etaṃ viditvā “saṅgo”ti loke ….Having known/experienced/perceived that,  (then think/mark/tag) “This is a shackle” with regard to the world

bhavābhavāya mākāsi taṇham … from (moment of) being to (moment of being) do not do/make thirst. Or “do not make thirst to neither being nor non-being” – bhavabhava allows both interpretations. 


The “etam viditva” refers to the first two lines. Whenever you experience something around/in you in your vipassana meditation it already occured. However, now immediately after that experience, which means immediately when you become aware of it, you are supposed to do this:

“It is a shackle”

Hmmm… Does not that just sound like a version of our good old labeling? Yes, and of course, this crucial part of the instruction only makes sense, if you try to translate the direct speech in this case as …well, direct speech/thought and do not morph it into a vague general meaning of “you have to understand it as shackle”.

If you leave it in its literal form you would actually rather tend towards a translation like the following:

“Whatever you experience of the world, above, below, around and in the middle, 

Right after having known/experienced it (know it as/think of it as/apply a label of) “This is a shackle”.

The ” … ” is indicated by the “(i)ti” which means “so” in pali and stands for a direct or indirect speech or thought. Something someone tells or thinks. ***

If you were to follow your sense impressions (streams) in this fashion, of course, you would minimize the application of thirsting for objects/content. Instead of proliferation and conceptualization you start to see through the fabric of impressions and impulses and the “rising and falling” starts to become visible. Something most of you who did some vipassana at one time in their life probably experienced.

Seeing the rising and falling is a very important step in the process of insight, as implicated in many other passages we can find in the Suttas.

As you can see from the above, this was only a very abbreviated discussion on the first few verses of the Parayana only  with a little highlighting of the meditation instructions therein. Definitely a little yet very deep text reflecting Buddhism as it was intended by the Buddha and all of that in condensed powerful verses.

I hope you enjoy reading the Parayana and let me know about your insights into its theory and application,




* Here is a wikipedia entry on those two chapters of the Sutta Nipata.

** On viññāṇassa nirodhena see other blog posts like this, this and this.

*** If you will, this entire article serves as yet another ‘evidence’ connecting the (in)direct speech/thought  particle “iti” which stands for something said or thought with the modern day application of “labeling” your experience in insight meditation practice. When you “label” something you in fact “tag” it as if “adressing” it with a short “statement” – the same idea “iti” conveys, but, Buddha’s time being an oral not a literate culture, the meaning of “label” is equivalent to the usage of “iti”. Here, here and here some prior articles on this topic.

Read Full Post »