Archive for the ‘Mindfulness’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there also a false way how to do this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The Buddha:]..

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

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

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

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

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

Then that bhikkhu made remorseful by the deity became concerned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, what are good meditations to do so?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


a theravadin…


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

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One evening about two weeks ago I picked up the Samyutta Nikaya and stumbled over a short sutta which mesmerized me for the next two weeks. It is one of those short yet deep suttas which makes the Samyutta Nikaya so special. In this particular sutta the Buddha explains his entire teaching in five simple sentences. All those mountains of ink, hours of Dhamma talks, decades of spiritual search – reduced to five short sentences. A Buddha’s awakened humor 😉 towards our desire to proliferate into eternity.

It felt like a veritable Theravadin ZEN experience, staring at those couple of lines, knowing that all the wisdom you can develop through the Buddha’s teaching is contained in a few lines, a handful of words. In other words, it is (like many other suttas) a profound call for action and like many similar discourses of the Buddha it provides an instruction, a description of the process and a definition of progress and goal – exactly what someone who wants to replicate an experiment is looking for.

What is this sutta? What are those five sentences? Have a look:

“Aniccaññeva, bhikkhave, bhikkhu rūpaṃ aniccanti passati. Sāssa hoti sammādiṭṭhi. Sammā passaṃ nibbindati. Nandikkhayā rāgakkhayo, rāgakkhayā nandikkhayo. Nandirāgakkhayā cittaṃ vimuttaṃ suvimuttanti vuccati. Aniccaññeva, bhikkhave, bhikkhu vedanaṃ…saññaṃ…saṅkhārā…viññāṇaṃ aniccanti passati. Sāssa hoti sammādiṭṭhi. Sammā passaṃ nibbindati. Nandikkhayā rāgakkhayo, rāgakkhayā nandikkhayo. Nandirāgakkhayā cittaṃ vimuttaṃ suvimuttanti vuccati.” [Nandikkhayasuttaṃ, Samyutta Nikaya, Khandhasamyutta. PTS 3.51 for the five khandhas, PTS 4.141 parallel version with for the senses. Translation further below – want you to go through this slowly, step by step, to better see the beauty ;-). Todo: Learn this by heart.]

Let’s simplify this and break it down:

Step 1 – This is what you have to do

Aniccaṃ rūpaṃ bhikkhu “aniccan” ti passati. The monks sees the impermanent form thus “impermanent”.

Aniccaṃ rūpaṃ … Impermanent form
bhikkhu … (the/a) monk
“aniccan” ti passati … he sees (passati) “impermanent” thus (aniccam iti) = He sees thus “impermanent”.

Some necessary remarks regarding the “iti passati” in the sutta.

In a couple of older posts (here and here) we had been looking into this particular Sanskrit/Pali way of marking direct speech/thought and its application towards meditation. Pali like Sanskrit does not have what we call indirect speech. Everything you hear or think has to be expressed in a direct form in Pali, marked off with the word “iti” meaning “thus”. Interestingly enough, there is a very good way for a modern native speaker of English to understand this particular grammatical construct:

Translating the above into somewhat colloquial modern English we could say:

The impermanent form the monk sees like “impermanent”.

Here the Pali uses “thus” (iti) in a similar manner as the English”be like – quotative”. If you don’t know what that is please have a look at the following example:

B. Expressing the contents of one’s thought:
(Skt-2) manyate pāpakam kṛtvā “na kaścid vetti mām” iti
“After committing some sins, one thinks ‘nobody knows me’.” [Mahabharata 1.74.29; cited from Speijer[1]:§493b] 

(Eng-2) “And I thought like ‘wow, this is for me’.” [OED, 2nd Supplement[2]; 1970, no earlier citations]

There are some great resources on this topic. If you are interested, have a look at the following links, with a lot more examples. But chances are you hear someone say “…and I like, wow, you did awesome” when you listen to (young) people talk.

So what does that mean with regard to meditation practice? How do we “see something as impermanent”. Is it meditation with labels as practiced in Mahasi Vipassana meditation traditions? Some form of noting process? Or meant to be “thoughtless” after all?

First of all, I really think that this instruction is complete. There is no secret meditation instruction hidden. The native Pali (Prakrit) listener knew what he had to do after listening to the above instruction (see the verse of Malunkyaputta further below).

We should probably take this sentence itself as the meditation instruction. Clearly the Buddha refers to a process of ñāṇadassanā or seeing-and-knowing time and again as the means of awakening – and this line is a perfect example of “knowing and seeing”. The Buddha refers to something that is not just “ordinary” seeing (otherwise: bhikkhu aniccam rupam passati). It is also not an exercise in thinking (otherwise: “bhikkhu rupassa aniccatam cinteti”).

Rather it has to do with kind of an observation (here in form of the verb passati; elsewhere as samanupassati or paccavekkhati). An observation which needs to be close to real time of sense-contact (otherwise there is no way to see the impermanence of forms, feeling etc.).

This clearly is an indicator of a meditative environment in which this “experiment” needs to be conducted. At the same time there seems to be an element of “knowing” which has to go along with that observation. Similar to an “addiction” we cannot expect any results “all of a sudden” (in most cases) – it will take some time. That “knowing” part of the meditative exercise has to recognize the fundamental characteristic of form, feeling…cognition. Impermanence. Whether “tagging” that experience mentally as such with a short label or not is the way to go can easily be tested if we look at step no.3 below, which defines a very precise milestone to judge our progress.

Two further quotes on this topic:

‘‘Sukhaṃ vā yadi vā dukkhaṃ, adukkhamasukhaṃ saha;
Ajjhattañca bahiddhā ca, yaṃ kiñci atthi veditaṃ. ‘‘Etaṃ dukkhanti ñatvāna, mosadhammaṃ palokinaṃ [palokitaṃ (sī.)]
Phussa phussa vayaṃ passaṃ, evaṃ tattha vijānati [virajjati (ka. sī.)]
Vedanānaṃ khayā bhikkhu, nicchāto parinibbuto’’ti.

From the amazing Dvayatanupassana Sutta in the Sutta Nipata, v.743-44:
“Pleasant or painful, neither pleasant nor painful also,
Inside or from outside – whatever there is to be felt:
Having perceived it “this is painful” thus,
A treacherous thing, bound to breaking up again,
Hit and hit (over and over by sense-contact) while seeing the passing away –
There, in such a way, he knows [or: he becomes dispassionate – altern. reading].
Through the destruction of feelings the monk becomes desireless, fully extinguished.

and similarly:

‘‘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 remembers (lit. back-remembers, i.e. comes back to his meditation object)
With a dispassionate mind he feels it, and does not grasp (does not rest) on this form. When he sees form like that, and experiences feeling in such a way,
It falls away, it does not amass, thus he practices remembering/witnessing.
Thus suffering/pain is reduced, and close is he to the extinction (Nibbana), they say.
[For more info on this passage see this post: Malunkyaputta’s vipassana instruction]

Step 2 – Look, 8-fold path, 4 noble truth – all included!

Sā assa hoti sammādiṭṭhi. This is his right view.

… (fem. sg. pron.) This (fem.), She [right view]
assa … to him, his
hoti … is
sammādiṭṭhi … right view.

Fascinating. So the above way of looking at form (and feeling, perception, mental activities and cognition) – seeing those five elements (or what constitutes the entirety of our “being” in each conscious moment) as impermanent is – according to the Buddha in this sutta – the practice of right view. Right view is not an opinion. It is a way of observing ourselves in a real-time psychological manner without giving thoughts and mental constructs any habitat. As the brahmins at the time of the Buddha used to say, after learning about the Buddha’s teaching – “wow, all we ever studied was hear-say (itihasa) – your teaching is timeless, immediate”.

Again, right view is explained in many Sutta’s as the realization of the four noble truths. Here the Buddha summarizes in one line, that the real realization of the four noble truths is born out of the simple observation of nature. Knowing suffering/pain, its origin, its cessation and even the path(!) will be understood and realized by the student who applies himself to step 1. If stream entry is your true goal, put your books away 😉

Step 3 – This is what will happen to you – and if it doesn’t something is wrong.

Sammā passaṃ nibbindati. Seeing correctly he becomes disenchanted.

Sammā … Right, correct.
passaṃ … seeing (pres. part.)
nibbindati … he gets fed up with, wearied of, satiated, disgusted with, disenchanted, disillusioned. Literally from nir+vindati – to find (vindati) nothing [see http://glossary.buddhistdoor.com/en/word/98321/nibbindati].

So here we get a wonderful guideline for our meditation. According to the Buddha our mode of observation has to lead to nibbida – some kind of “disgust, dissatisfaction, disenchantment” with the five aggregates. If it does that, we are on the right path. If we see more delusion or infatuation then something about our approach must be wrong.

Step 4 – Watch out for a transformation to occur

Nandikkhayā rāgakkhayo, rāgakkhayā nandikkhayo. With the waning of delight wanes passion. With the waning of passion wanes delight.

nandi… delight, fun.
rāga… passion, color, desire.
khayo … destruction, waning, decay.

This formula is quite particular. The first thing I am reminded of is the simile of “love lost” where the Buddha equates the term nandi-raga with the passion/emotion we feel towards someone we believe belongs to us, but who betrays us and thus creates pain. He doesnt even say “this is similar” – no, he uses the exact same expression. See that post here, for cross-reference and more details here.

Look at this nice list for how the word ksaya (sanskr.) was associated: http://vedabase.net/k/ksaya

Step 5 – And finally, you are done. Awakened like the Buddha.

Nandirāgakkhayā cittaṃ vimuttaṃ, “suvimuttan” ti vuccati. With the destruction of delight and passion the mind is de-tached. “Fully de-tached” thus it is said.

Nandirāgakkhayā … from the delight-passion-destruction (abl).
cittaṃ … the mind.
vimuttaṃ… vimutta (ppp. from muñcati – to loosen, release) = detached, or even closer “vi- (ab-) mutta (geloest)” in German.
“suvimuttam” iti vuccati …. “well-freed” thus it is called.

A perfect description of “enlightenment” or “awakening” by the Buddha. Clear, straight forward, almost clinical in its description of what the Arahants mind “feels” like from the inside. If you share this truly, congratulations, kata-kiccham – your job is done.

What else needs to be said? 😉

Or in the words of the Buddha:

Whatever should be done, monks, by a compassionate teacher out of compassion for his disciples, desiring their welfare, that I have done for you. These are the feet of trees, monks, these are empty huts. Meditate, monks, do not be negligent, lest you regret it later. This is our instruction to you.” (The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, p. 1378)

And celestial coral flowers and heavenly sandalwood powder from the sky rain down upon the body of the Tathagata, and drop and scatter and are strewn upon it in worship of the Tathagata. And the sound of heavenly voices and heavenly instruments makes music in the air out of reverence for the Tathagata. 6. “Yet it is not thus, Ananda, that the Tathagata is respected, venerated, esteemed, worshipped, and honored in the highest degree. But, Ananda, whatever bhikkhu or bhikkhuni, layman or laywoman, abides by the Dhamma, lives uprightly in the Dhamma, walks in the way of the Dhamma, it is by such a one that the Tathagata is respected, venerated, esteemed, worshipped, and honored in the highest degree. Therefore, Ananda, thus should you train yourselves: ‘We shall abide by the Dhamma, live uprightly in the Dhamma, walk in the way of the Dhamma.'”

And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: “Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with diligence!” (Digha Nikaya, Mahaparinibbana Sutta)


Comparing ITI with english LIKE

Quoting from

“Both Sanskrit iti and English like can occur in the following contexts:

A. When quoting words actually utttered, alongside a verb of speaking:
(Skt-1) kathitam avalokitayā “madanodyānam gato mādhava” iti
“Avalokita had told me that Madhava was gone to the grove of Kama.” [Mālatīmādhava I, p. 11; cited from Speijer[1]:§493a]

(Eng-1) “She said like ‘I want to go too’.”

B. Expressing the contents of one’s thought:
(Skt-2) manyate pāpakam kṛtvā “na kaścid vetti mām” iti
“After committing some sins, one thinks ‘nobody knows me’.” [Mahabharata 1.74.29; cited from Speijer[1]:§493b] 

(Eng-2) “And I thought like ‘wow, this is for me’.” [OED, 2nd Supplement[2]; 1970, no earlier citations]

C. More general setting forth of motives, emotions, judgements etc.:
(Skt-3) vyāghro mānuṣam khādati iti lokāpavādaḥ
“‘The tiger eats the man’ is slanderous gossip.” [Hitopadesha10; cited from Speijer[1]:§493c]

(Eng-3) “I was like ‘wow’!”

There are obvious differences between English quotative like and Sanskrit iti, including the fact that English quotative like precedes the “quotation”, while Sanskrit iti follows it (in conformity with the general left-branching nature of Sanskrit syntax).

Further, Sanskrit iti doesn’t have any of the other functions or meanings associated with English like. English like derives ultimately from Proto-Germanic *lîko– “body, form, appearance”, while Sanskrit iti is built from the pronominal stem i-. In fact, itistill has pronominal uses, even in Classical Sanskrit, as in the following example.

(Skt-4) tebhyas pratijnāya nalaḥ kariṣya iti
“Nala promised them he would do thus.” [Nala 3,1; cited from Speijer[1]:§492]

Amusingly, I find that (pretending that a parallel development has taken place in English) replacing “quotative” like with thus actually seems grammatical to me—though wholly unidiomatic, e.g.:

(Eng-4) “I was thus: ‘Wow!'”

(Somehow I imagine that if thus had been recruited as a quotative in English rather than like, the use of a quotative marker wouldn’t be so stigmatised, since there would be no association with fillerlike and, moreover, thus is largely used in formal registers of English.)

However, there is another element in Sanskrit which—though not as frequently used in this function as iti—actually is more similar to English quotative like in its syntax and semantics: yathāYathāis, properly speaking, a relative pronoun and is often part of relative-correlative constructions of the form yathā X…tathā Y“As X…., so Y”. However, it can occur without correlative tathā, and in fact can have the meaning “like”, as in the following example:

(Skt-5) mansyante mām yathā nṛpam
“They will consider me like a king.” [Mahabharata 4.2.5; cited from Speijer[1]:§470a]

Yathā can also function as a sort of quotative, but—unlike iti and like like—it precedes rather than follows the quoted discourse:

(Skt-6) viditam eva yathā “vayam malayaketau kimcitkālāntaram uṣitāḥ”.
“It is certainly known (to you) that I stayed for some time with Malayaketu.” [Mudrarakshasa VII; cited from Speijer[1]:§494]
(Or, maybe: “You certainly know, like, ‘I stayed for some time with Malayaketu’.”)

(Yathā and iti (since they occupy different syntactic positions) can also co-occur.)

So there is at least one antique parallel for the development of modern English like as a quotative marker.

Returning to the more commonly used iti, the following Sanskrit example—occurring when one of the heroes of the Mahabharata has performed an act of generosity so great that even the gods are impressed—I think is a great parallel for examples like “I was like, ‘Wow!'”:

(Skt-7) tato ‘ntarikṣe vāg āsīt “sādhu sādhv” iti
“Then a voice in the sky was like ‘Wow! Wow!'” [Mahabharata 14.91.15]

This line might be more usually translated as “then a voice in the sky said ‘Bravo! Bravo!'”, but there is actually no verb of speaking:āsīt means “was”.


Nibbindati [nis+vindati, vid2] to get wearied of (c. loc.); to have enough of, be satiated, turn away from, to be disgusted with. In two roots A. vind: prs. nibbindati etc. usually in combn with virajjati & vimuccati (cp. nibbāna III. 2). Vin i.35; S ii.94; iv.86, 140; A v.3; Dh 277 sq.; It 33; J i.267; Miln 235, 244; Sdhp 612. ppr. nibbindaŋ S iv.86; PvA 36 (nibbinda — mānasa); ger. nibbindiya J v.121 (˚kārin). — B. vid: Pot. nibbide (v. l. BB nibbije) J v.368 (=nibbindeyya Com.); ger. nibbijjitvā J i.82, & nibbijja Sn 448=S i.124 (nibbijjâpema=nibbijja pakkameyya SnA 393). — pp. nibbiṇṇa. See also nibbidā.


Khaya [Sk. kṣaya to kṣi, kṣiṇoti & kṣiṇāti; cp. Lat. situs withering, Gr. fqi/sis, fqi/nw, fqi/w wasting. See also khepeti under khipati] waste, destruction, consumption; decay, ruin, loss; of the passing away of night VvA 52; mostly in applied meaning with ref. to the extinction of passions & such elements as condition, life, & rebirth, e. g. āsavānaŋ kh. It 103 sq., esp. in formula āsavānaŋ khayā anāsavaŋ cetovimuttiŋ upasampajja A i.107= 221=D iii.78, 108, 132=It 100 and passim. — rāgassa, dosassa, mohassa kh. M i.5; A i.299, cp. rāga˚, dosa˚, moha˚, A i.159; dosa˚ S iii.160, 191; iv.250. — taṇhānaŋ kh. Dh 154; sankhārānaŋ kh. Dh. 383; sabbamaññitānaŋ, etc. M i.486; āyu˚, puñña˚ Vism 502. — yo dukkhassa pajānāti idh’ eva khayaŋ attano Sn 626=Dh 402; khayaŋ virāgaŋ amataŋ paṇītaŋ Sn 225. — In exegesis of rūpassa aniccatā: rūpassa khayo vayo bhedo Dhs 645=738=872. — See also khīṇa and the foll. cpds. s. v.: āyu˚, upadhi˚, upādāna˚, jāti˚, jīvita˚, taṇha˚, dukkha˚, puñña˚, bhava˚, loka˚, saŋyojana, sabbadhamma˚, samudda˚.
 — âtīta (a) gone beyond, recovered from the waning period (of chanda, the moon=the new moon) Sn 598; — ânupassin (a) realizing the fact of decay A iv.146 sq.= v.359 (+vayânupassin); — ñāṇa knowledge of the fact of decay Mii.38=Pug 60; in the same sense khaye ñāṇa Nett 15, 54, 59, 127, 191, cp. kvu 230 sq.; — dhamma the law of decay A iii.54; Ps i.53, 76, 78.


Nandi1 & (freq.) Nandī (f.) [Sk. nandi, but cp. BSk. nandī Divy 37] 1. joy, enjoyment, pleasure, delight in (c. loc.) S i.16, 39, 54; ii.101 sq. (āhāre); iii.14 (=upādāna); iv.36 sq.; A ii.10 (kāma˚, bhava˚, diṭṭhi˚), iii.246; iv.423 sq. (dhamma˚); Sn 1055 (+nivesana); Nd2 330 (=taṇhā); Pug 57; Dhs 1059≈(in def. of taṇhā); Vbh 145, 356, 361; DhsA 363; ThA 65, 167. — For nandī at Miln 289 read tandī. — 2. a musical instrument: joy — drum [Sk. nandī] Vin iii.108 (=vijayabheri). Cp. ā˚.
 — (y)āvatta “turning auspiciously” (i. e. turning to the right: see dakkhiṇāvatta), auspicious, good Nett 2, 4, 7, 113 (always attr. of naya); — ûpasecana (rāgasalla) sprinkled over with joy, having joy as its sauce Nett 116, 117; cp. maŋsûpasecana (odana) J iii.144=vi.24; — kkhaya the destruction of (finding) delight S iii.51; — (ŋ)jaha giving up or abandoning joy Sn 1101 (+okañjaha & kappañjaha); Nd2 331; — bhava existence of joy, being full of joy, in˚parikkhīṇa one in whom joy is extinct (i. e. an Arahant), expld however by Com. as one who has rid himself of the craving for rebirth (tīsu bhavesu parikkhīnataṇha DhA iv.192=SnA 469) S i.2, 53; Sn 175, 637=Dh 413; — mukhī (adj. — f.) “joyfaced,” showing a merry face, Ep. of the night (esp. the eve of the uposatha) Vin i.288 (ratti); ii.236 (id.); — rāga pleasure & lust, passionate delight S ii.227; iii.51; iv.142, 174, 180; M i.145; Dhs 1059≈, 1136; esp. as attr. of taṇhā in phrase n — r — sahagata — taṇhā (cp. M Vastu iii.332: nandīrāgasahagatā tr̥ṣṇā) Vin i.10; S iii.158; v.425 sq.; Ps ii.137; Nett 72; — saŋyojana the fetter of finding delight in anything Sn 1109, 1115; Nd2 332; — samudaya the rise or origin of delight M iii.267.

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From the Theragatha, the Verses of the Elders.

445. Uppajje te sace kodho, āvajja kakacūpamaṃ;
Uppajje ce rase taṇhā, puttamaṃsūpamaṃ sara. (1)

446.‘‘Sace dhāvati cittaṃ te, kāmesu ca bhavesu ca;
Khippaṃ niggaṇha satiyā, kiṭṭhādaṃ viya duppasun”ti;

445. If anger arises in you, turn to the simile of the saw;
If craving for taste arises, remember the simile of the son’s flesh.

446. If your mind races into sensual pleasures or into becomings
Quickly take it down with (a) memory, like (you would) crop eating bad cattle.(2)

A couple of observations: Obviously this is not the first, but one among many similar passages in the Canon where “sati” (lit. memory/remembrance, mostly translated as ‘mindfulness’) appears in proximity to words which obviously evoke associations to its literal meaning, i.e. memory.

In this case we see an explicit reference to sarati, “to remember” and āvajjati to “tend to, pay attention, direct the mind towards”. At the same time it is being explained very clearly how and why “memory” serves as such an important role in the process of meditation: It is through the means of sati that the mind is being pulled away from “unskillful” objects.

Also very fascinating: two such detrimental “feeding grounds” for our mind (in this simile the stubborn ox) are mentioned by the Arahant elder who spoke these verses: – the first one is kāma or sensual desires which could be taken to stand for the enemy number one preventing samatha or concentration meditation to develop and the second item bhava (if this is the intention) summarizes perfectly the vipassanā branch of meditation: preventing the mind from going into bhavas (loc. pl.) or moments of becoming, that is identifying and becoming one is ones experience, which, if you remember the idea of dependent origination, is the result of a thirst-driven taking-up (identification) of experience in each and every moment as “you” – and considered to be the root of all problems.

These verses are so over-flowing in depth regarding meditation technique/instructions that you could write entire books on it – and then again, if you understand them properly, I guess, you would not 🙂

The Theragatha verses above very likely refer to this teaching/simile by the Buddha, which we find in the different spot in the Pali Canon, in the book of the six sense bases, in the Samyutta Nikaya, the “Themed Collection” of discourses of the Buddha:

Suppose that corn had ripened and the watchman was heedless. A corn-eating ox, invading the corn to eat it, would intoxicate itself as much as it liked. In the same way, an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person, not exercising restraint with regard to the six media of sensual contact, intoxicates himself with the five strings of sensuality as much as he likes.

“Now suppose that corn had ripened and the watchman was heedful. The corn-eating ox would invade the corn to eat it, but then the watchman would grab it firmly by the muzzle. Having grabbed it firmly by the muzzle, he would pin it down by the forehead. Having pinned it down by the forehead, he would give it a sound thrashing with a stick. Having given it a sound thrashing with a stick, he would let it go.

“A second time… A third time, the corn-eating ox would invade the corn to eat it, but then the watchman would grab it firmly by the muzzle. Having grabbed it firmly by the muzzle, he would pin it down by the forehead. Having pinned it down by the forehead, he would give it a sound thrashing with a stick. Having given it a sound thrashing with a stick, he would let it go.

“As a result, the corn-eating ox — regardless of whether it went to the village or to the wilds, was standing still or lying down — wouldn’t invade the corn again, because it would recall the earlier taste it got of the stick.

“In the same way, when a monk’s mind is held back, thoroughly held back, from the six media of sensory contact, his mind settles inwardly, grows steady, unified, & concentrated.”

Source: SN 35, 205.

Next up a passage from the Saratthapakasini, the venerable old Samyutta Nikaya commentary which had something to say about the meaning of “crop-eating cattle”. This gives you an idea how A, the Theragatha eye-witness report from around the time of the Buddha which we quoted in the beginning and B, the Buddha’s own words where understood approximately at C, the time between 100 BC – 200 AD:

Evameva khoti idhāpi sampannakiṭṭhamiva pañca kāmaguṇā daṭṭhabbā, kiṭṭhādo viya kūṭacittaṃ, kiṭṭhārakkhassa appamādo viya imassa bhikkhuno chasu dvāresu satiyā avissajjanaṃ, daṇḍo viya suttanto, goṇassa kiṭṭhābhimukhakāle daṇḍena tāḷanaṃ viya cittassa bahiddhā puthuttārammaṇābhimukhakāle anamataggiyadevadūtaādittaāsīvisūpamaanāgatabhayādīsu taṃ taṃ suttaṃ āvajjetvā cittuppādassa puthuttārammaṇato nivāretvā mūlakammaṭṭhāne otāraṇaṃ veditabbaṃ. Tenāhu porāṇā –

‘‘Subhāsitaṃ sutvā mano pasīdati,
Dameti naṃ pītisukhañca vindati;
Tadassa ārammaṇe tiṭṭhate mano,
Goṇova kiṭṭhādako daṇḍatajjito’’ti.

“In the same way” thus here (in this simile) ripened corn has to be seen as (illustrating) the five strands of sensual pleasure; the crop eater as the cheating mind; the crop protector’s heedfulness (or: [continuous] non-negligence = a+pamāda) as the monk’s paying attention/attending through mindfulness (lit. memory) towards the six sense doors; the stick as the suttas, the time when the oxen approaches the crops and receives a beating with the stick – that has to be understood as the time when the mind goes out and while approaching the various objects and having been directed towards (the memory of !) a sutta like “Unconceivable is the beginning of Samsara“, “The messengers of the devas“, “The house on fire“, “The simile of the vipers“, “The dangers in the future“, etc. and thus having restrained (or pulled away) the mind from the various objects descents into its (former/original) meditation object. Therefore the ancient masters said:

“When one hears the well-spoken the mind becomes pleased,
And one finds bliss and happiness on taming the mind.
Then one’s mind stops at the objects (of the senses)
Like a stick-stricken crop-eating ox.

Source: Samyutta-Atthakatha (Saratthappakasini), PTS p. 3.66

Amazing: the suttas are the stick 😉 – maybe next time you might want to give your mind a “sound thrashing with the stick of memorized words of wisdom” when it tries to “intoxicate itself with the five sense pleasure” swaying away from the object of meditation. Who knows, you might find that your mind “settles inwardly, grows steady, unified and concentrated” 🙂


(1) this verse seems to equate sarati = āvajjati. An interesting detail to better understand how the faculty of memory was perceived in the early Buddhist (meditative) context (and supports some of the recent observations made in this blog regarding the interpretation/role of sati)

(2) nigaṇhati = lit. “taking down”. The context in the Buddha’s simile in SN 35 (see above) explains the “taking down” in describing how the “cowboy” would “pin down” the oxen before beating it with a stick: “Nāsāyaṃ suggahitaṃ gahetvā uparighaṭāyaṃ suniggahitaṃ niggaṇheyya – Having grabbed it firmly by the muzzle, he would pin it down by the forehead“. A similar passage occurs in MN (PTS 1.137) in the “snake simile”: Tamenaṃ ajapadena daṇḍena suniggahitaṃ niggaṇheyya. Where the snake is being pinned down with the help of a U-shaped stick. In both cases the “wild animal” (here the mind) is being “brought to a hold” with the help of a tool (memory of the Dhamma) and allow it to settle down, calm down, experience samādhi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The power of exercising]

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

[The skill of keeping in mind]

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

[The gained faculty of concentration]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dhp. 35


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is the practice of vipassanā the application of viriya (energy), sati (mindfulness), samadhi (concentration) but only when it generates wisdom (paññā), more specifically ñāṇadassana (knowing and seeing)?


The Sutta-Pitaka has a couple of texts which are not the word of the Buddha but close reporters. They originated and developed during the first 100 to 300 years after the parinibbana of the Buddha, such as the Theragatha, Culla- and Mahaniddesa, Patisambhidhamagga, Nettipakarana, Petakopadesa and Milindapanha. Although traditionally considered “canonical” they show traces of further developing pali, new terminology and efforts of systematization.

Thus they shed a very profound light on the early teachings of the Buddha as they supplement the Buddha’s own explanations from different angles with additional expressions, explanations. In fact they contain the understanding of Buddhism as present during the first few generations of “Buddhist meditation masters”. This is very helpful, because the more explanations on some of the profound concepts  in the teachings of the Buddha we can get the better we can understand their implications and meaning.

In the Cullaniddesa (which is a thesaurus style commentary on another text from the discourses of the Buddha), for instance, we read this beautiful passage. It is a comment on the Parayana-vagga of the Sutta-Nipata:

The Pali Text


‘‘Yāni sotāni lokasmiṃ, Sati tesaṃ nivāraṇaṃ;

Sotānaṃ saṃvaraṃ brūmi,paññāyete pidhiyyare’’.

Whatever streams there are in this world, mindfulness hinders them;

I tell you what blocks them, it is through wisdom that they are stopped.

The paraphrasing early commentary explains:

Sati tesaṃ nivāraṇanti. Satīti yā sati anussati paṭissati sati saraṇatā dhāraṇatā apilāpanatā asammussanatā sati satindriyaṃ satibalaṃ sammāsati satisambojjhaṅgo ekāyanamaggo – ayaṃ vuccati sati. Nivāraṇanti āvaraṇaṃ nīvaraṇaṃ saṃvaraṇaṃ rakkhanaṃ gopananti – sati tesaṃ nivāraṇaṃ.

“Mindfulness hinders them”. “Mindfulness”, is that mindfulness which is an observation, returning attention, mindfulness, carrying, non-floating [altern. repetition], un-forgetfulness, mindfulness, faculty of mindfulness, power of mindfulness, mindfulness as component of awakening, the direct path – this is called mindfulness.

Paññāyete pidhiyyareti. Paññāti yā paññā pajānanā vicayo pavicayo dhammavicayo sallakkhaṇā upalakkhaṇā paccupalakkhaṇā paṇḍiccaṃ kosallaṃ nepuññaṃ vebhabyā cintā upaparikkhā bhūrī [bhūri (ka.)] medhā pariṇāyikā vipassanā sampajaññaṃ patodo paññā paññindriyaṃ paññābalaṃ paññāsatthaṃ paññāpāsādo paññāāloko paññāobhāso paññāpajjoto paññāratanaṃ amoho dhammavicayo sammādiṭṭhi. Paññāyete pidhiyyareti – paññāyete sotā pidhīyanti pacchijjanti na savanti na āsavanti na sandanti nappavattanti. ‘‘Sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā’’ti jānato passato paññāyete sotā pidhīyanti pacchijjanti na savanti na āsavanti na sandanti nappavattanti. ‘‘Sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā’’ti jānato passato paññāyete sotā pidhīyanti pacchijjanti na savanti na āsavanti na sandanti nappavattanti. ‘‘Sabbe saṅkhārā anattā’’ti jānato passato paññāyete sotā pidhīyanti pacchijjanti na savanti na āsavanti na sandanti nappavattanti. ‘‘Avijjāpaccayā saṅkhārā’’ti jānato passato paññāyete sotā pidhīyanti pacchijjanti na savanti na āsavanti na sandanti nappavattanti. ‘‘Saṅkhārapaccayā viññāṇa’’nti…and so forth

“It is through wisdom ( knowing) that they are stopped”. “Wisdom”, that is the wisdom which is a knowing, examination, breaking apart, un-heaping the things  (see Thag 593), marking, up-marking (tagging), back-marking, skill, proficiency, experience, expertise, thought, on-looking, wisdom, wiseness, insight, clear-sight,  clear comprehension (lit. “together-knowing”), a spur, a knowing , the faculty of knowing, the power of knowing, the skill of knowing, confidence of knowing, the light of knowing, the shining of knowing, the lamp of knowing, the jewel of knowing, the unbewilderedness, the unheaping of things, the right view.

“It is through knowing that they are stopped” – it is through knowing that these streams are shut down, come asunder, do not flow, do not rush on, do not proceed, do not continue. “All formations are impermanent” thus knowing and seeing for such a one through wisdom these streams are shut down, they come asunder, do not flow, do not rush on, do not proceed, do not continue. “All formations are painful”, “All formations are impermanent”, “Ignorance based are the formations”, “Formation based is consciousness”…[dependent origination]….thus knowing and seeing for such a one through wisdom these streams are shut down, they come asunder, do not flow, do not rush on, do not proceed, do not continue.

[CullaNiddesa – Parayanavagga, pi]

A very enlightening paragraph, IMHO…here we can see that “sati” is defined as  the faculty of staying with an object and the concept of paññā is brought in (as a separate additional notion) and points towards the actual insight creating part of insight meditation!

Such a differentiation between sati and paññā would explain why the suttas see sati so close to the concept of samadhi.

Sati, most commonly translated as “mindfulness”, serves more or less as a foundation – together with viriya (energy) and samadhi (concentration) for ultimately the development of paññā (or “wisdom”, “knowing reality as it is”), as indicated in the above quote.

We could then take a step further and think of the paññā- or knowing-part in our vipassana practice as the actual “labelling” or “noting” activity which identifies the object, “tags” or “marks” it (sallakkheti) so to speak, to facilitate a seeing of the frames instead of the motion picture of existence, while sati just makes the mind stay with this mode of observation, holding it back from sinking or immersing into the storyline again, the identification, the creation of mental proliferation (papañcā) in varying degrees (understood as taṇhā, māna, diṭṭhi).

In other words:

Sati, as a faculty of memory appears in the early pali texts and commentaries as the ability to stay with an object (“saraṇatā dhāraṇatā apilāpanatā asammussanatā, i.e. “remembering, keeping, non-floating or repetition, non-loosing”).

Together with viriya, or energy, it allows the mind to raise concentration or samādhi. These three forces are said to be standing on the shoulders of each other* – which is also represented in the way we find them listed in the noble eightfold path.

Here it is sati’s only function not to immerse or sink into an object but to continuously follow it or carry it.

The identification with an object leads to the “floating with” objects and happens when we loose our awareness (sammosa), i.e. we become forgetful of the task at hand, forget to repeat. In this case our effort in an ongoing attention at the setup of experience itself, not its content. (Very much unlike concentration, where it is sati which keeps the attention one one particular object of concentration, a sense object. In insight meditation the attention is not at one particular sense object at the expense of all others – the attention is at the process itself, disecting it forcefully with applied paññā, i.e. sam+pajaññā). So in vipassanā we have shifted from the “normal” state of mind, which is attending ANY of the six sense objects’ content via concentration which meant attending only ONE selected sense object to now attending to the PROCESS of experience itself.

However, in order to do that – and to loosen the compelling story-telling force of the six sense objects (including thinking!!) we need paññā here in form of tagging/marking of some sort to quickly “know”, “recognize” something as what it is, “see” it and let go of it immediately. If we were to attend to any of these objects longer than necessary we are already proliferating inside the context of a content provided (even if we think in thoughts of the Dhamma) and thereby miss the actual role of paññā: seeing anything(!) as coming, going, painful in its unreliable nature, void of control, self-less, fake.

When we get carried away by the “story” the sense objects tell us (in our vipassana meditation), we therefore first loose our wisdom (paññā), then our concentration on the process, then our sati and eventually our energy. In fact, you could also view it the other way round: each of these mental skills developed props up the other one. Only by aligning them properly, paññā is able to do its job.

Therefore sati is said to be the power of observation, of not slipping into the objects but to be constantly aware of one (samatha) or their process (vipassana). An ability which first is trained, then mastered and eventually comes natural to (and in increasing amounts via Stream-Entry up to) the Arahant due to his freedom.

Here is the most fascinating aspect though: While this is probably no new information, the role of paññā as indicated in this text is separately defined from mindfulness.

Here, paññā is not just a mere synonym for sati or mindfulness! Yes, it almost looks as if sati alone is not the factor per se developing wisdom and enlightenment – at least according to the interpretation of a passage as quoted above.

Here, it appears, that in a sequence of strengthening faculties such as effort, mindfulness and concentration eventually a certain form of knowing or paññā has to be established in order to “realize” the four noble truth. This distinction between sati as support for concentration and sati with regard to a mode of observation leading to wisdom could be the reason for so much confusion with regard to the role of samātha vs. vipassanā meditation. Both need make use of the last three members of the noble eightfold path, but especially vipassana goes beyond in directing the developed (and concentrated) mind to the source of suffering in order to achieve wisdom.

That determining of the source and elements of existance is not something – or so it seems – that “just” happens to appear by mere observation of the conventional content and storyline our senses present to us as the finished product of their activity.

In the Buddha’s words, we might add, it is “yoniso” manasikāro not just “manasikāro” which is essential. It is the attention which goes to the source (yoni, lit. womb) of existence not simply attention (manasikāra) or even worse an attention which is a-yoniso – basically that kind of attention we use all day long, when we drive our cars, speak to other people, etc. There to “sati” and “manasikāra” are at work, but they further the delusion of permanence and personality.

So it is true, both samathā or concentration meditation and insight meditation need mindfulness: Both of them need ongoing observation. However, while the samathā meditation needs sati to stay with its one object (not necessarily applying paññā), the vipassana practice does not generate wisdom merely by utilizing sati.

Now that is a problem (for certain circles of vipassanā practice, especially in the weakened, wisdom-stripped form we find in the West). If sati alone would make us enlightened then sati would be the last member in the noble eightfold path, not samadhi. If samadhi alone would make us enlightened then there would be no mentioning of yathābhūta ñāṇadassana, or yoniso manasikāro, there would be no need to name the nexus of paticcasamuppada or the intrinsics of the mechanism of now, when consciousness is propped up by name and form. No need for sammādiṭṭhi and sampaññā and no need for entire Sutta collections like the book on the six sense spheres or the five groups of grasping.

But because these things  have to be seen, because they are the key for sati&samadhi to drill into, they make the cornerstone of Buddhist practice and obviously get mentioned more than anything else in the Tipitaka.

And because by looking at the 3D 6D movie of life in a way as to identify its individual frames and not fall for its story, it is paññā, the knowing, which is at the heart of vipassanā in form of developing ñāṇa (insight) and dassanā (seeing).

But it is not as mysterious as it sounds. Because indeed, if you go through the Cullaniddesa/SuttaNipata quote above you will see that what is understood as the practice of developing paññā or wisdom/insight in the early pali texts is ultimately linked to the practice of viriya, sati, samadhi as a manifestation of yoniso manasikara (attention which looks to the origin) or yathabhuta nyanadassana (the knowing and seeing of things as they present themselves, as they have come into existance).

An analogy. These three factors of the noble eightfold path which comprise “bhavanā” or “meditational development” are used as some sort of a laser. But any good laser is only as good as the work it is put to. It needs to be directed properly. This laser is not “Buddhist” by nature, but the direction it was pointed to, and the object it was applied and the person who understood why this would make a fundamental difference, indeed, was uniquely Buddhist. What is that direction? Obviously, the 4 noble truths, summarized in short as: the five groups of grasping, our obsession with them  and the true nature of their characteristics, which, if seen without making any exception, will lead to a transcendental (literally) experience.

The directing of this laser in the appropriate fashion is the wisdom part of the training. And the technique used – and here of course disagreement might abound – is some form of noting/labeling/naming/recognising/marking/calling out the characteristics of our experience, i.e. the five groups of grasping. But this is something which, if you get to this point in your own personal practice, you can of course find out easily – what method helps you best in not getting drawn into the ruminations of your 6 (!, again, including thinking!) senses, the tricky show they put up to pull us in – so far, personally, I haven’t seen anything working better than the noting technique esp. if used with a very limited set of labels (see this article, my favorite on the topic).

So, the bottom line is this, I guess: Sati supports Samadhi. Neither of them alone make the Christian mystic who experiences the Brahma Viharas in jhanic experiences an Arhant. Samadhi was practiced before and after the Buddha and observation, sati, if not sustained by concentration, is a weak laser, unreliable to uncover the fabric of existance not enough to support the generating of wisdom. The Buddha’s diamond to cut through delusion is wisdom, as in sila, samadhi, panna. And that paññā, while resting heavily on energy, mindfulness and concentration is knowing the nature of our experience as it presents itself to us. Again, not attending the s t o r y of our six senses but h o w they fabricate that story which keeps us trapped between longing and rejecting.

Lets close with some voices from the Commentaries…

Yaṃ viditvāti yaṃ dhammaṃ ‘‘sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā’’tiādinā nayena sammasanto viditvā.

“What one has experienced” – whatever object one has experienced, noting (lit. touching) it in this way “sabbe sankhara anicca” and so forth

Yaṃ viditvā sato caranti viditaṃ katvā tulayitvā tīrayitvā vibhāvayitvā vibhūtaṃ katvā, ‘‘sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā’’ti viditaṃ katvā tulayitvā tīrayitvā vibhāvayitvā vibhūtaṃ katvā, ‘‘sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā’’ti… ‘‘sabbe dhammā anattā’’ti…pe… ‘‘yaṃ kiñci samudayadhammaṃ sabbaṃ taṃ nirodhadhamma’’nti viditaṃ katvā tulayitvā tīrayitvā vibhāvayitvā vibhūtaṃ katvā.

“What one having experienced/learnt/got to know one proceeds mindfully” is having made the  experience, having weighed it, examined it, having developed it, having made it distinct; “all formations are impermanent” thus having made the experience, having weighed it, examined it, having developed it having made it distinct (vi-bhūta).

“all things are not-self”..etc..”whatever is subject to arising all that is also subject to cessation” thus having made the experience, having weighed it, examined it, having developed it having made it distinct.

…and the commentary on the Samyuttanikaya’s chapter on sense impressions contains a remarkable summary of vipassana instructions as they were known to Theravadin practice during the time of the commentaries (100 BC to approx. 300AD). This will be part of another separate post but here a straight forward translation as it adds some perspective to everything mentioned before:

So ‘‘vipassanaṃ paṭṭhapessāmī’’ti upādārūpakammaṭṭhānavasena cakkhupasādādayo pariggahetvā ‘‘ayaṃ rūpakkhandho’’ti vavatthapeti, manāyatanaṃ ‘‘arūpakkhandho’’ti. Iti sabbānipetāni nāmañceva rūpañcāti nāmarūpavasena vavatthapetvā, tesaṃ paccayaṃ pariyesitvā vipassanaṃ vaḍḍhetvā, saṅkhāresammasantoanupubbena arahatte patiṭṭhāti. Idaṃ ekassa bhikkhuno yāva arahattā kammaṭṭhānaṃ kathitaṃ hoti.

He thinks: “I will begin with the practice of vipassanā” and whatever form he has taken up by practising his meditation object having caught it from the eye, ear, etc. entrances he designates (points out, defines = vavatthapeti) it so: “This is the group of form” and if it is a mental entrance “This is a formless group”**.

Thus, having designated ALL of these so: “this is just name, just form” according to them being name-and-form, he develops (increases) his clear-sight (vipassana) having searched for their cause/origin/support, he attains the Arahantship by and by through seeing (sammasanto is lit. “touching”) the formations.


*Thus satipatthana could be understood as sati+patthana, the mindfulness and its objects. Sati directed towards the five groups of grasping is sati aiding in the development of wisdom (whereas sati applied on an object like “light” aids in the development of concentration on light, it is here that sati applied on the nature of the body, sensations etc. it aids in the concentration on the nature of reality, sparking insights into the mechanics of the five groups of grasping, developing detachment and finally release).

**This paragraph has a LOT to say about ancient vipassana practice and is very condensed in its description. A couple of notes: The meditator seems to make up his mind to start with vipassana (probably under the guidance of some meditation teaching preceptor) and then takes ANY of the six senses sense impressions as he “catches” (pariggaheti) them through one of the six sense organs (pasāda) and “designates, points out, determines” (see definition of vavatthapeti in the PED), i.e. he “labels” or “notes” them in this way: “This is a form” – if his awareness catches the object-aspect of the five groups of grasping and he labels “This is not a form” when he catches feelings, perceptions, intentions, conscious awareness of the object  (anything “subjective”) and notes that too.

This way he basically just experiences the five groups of grasping simply as what they are: namely “names” (or name evoking, see Nyananandas discussion on this in his first Nibbana sermons, anything “subjective”) and forms (the “objective” reality). By seeing them in this fashion he becomes aware of their foundation and relationship (paccaya) which is the interplay between name-form and consciousness. When he proceeds in this way, so the commentary, he eventually will realize arahantship (at the end of the path) by relentlessly “touching” or “observing” all formations in this manner.

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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.

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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

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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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Many people  (especially those who intensively try to put the Buddhas eightfold path into practice) have thought about the meaning of samma sati or “right mindfulness”. In fact, the meaning of this important aspect of Buddhist practice had troubled me for a long time 🙂 (1)

The problem occurs when we start looking closer at the oldest Buddhist scriptures available, the Pali texts and look for the meaning and connotations of this important Buddhist term. Before we begin, however,  a very short introductory remark:

Why is ‘sati’ so important with regard to the path to Nibbana?

Because it is at the center core of the entire Buddhist meditation:

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

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

So, what is wrong with translating sati as mindfulness? Well for one, the word does mean something different, as almost any pali dictionary would show:

Sati (f.) [Vedic smṛti: see etym. under sarati2] memory, recognition, consciousness, D i.180; ii.292; Miln 77 — 80; intentness of mind, wakefulness of mind, mindfulness, alertness, lucidity of mind, self — possession, conscience, self — consciousness D i.19; iii.31, 49, 213, 230, 270 sq.; A i.95; Dhs 14; Nd1 7; Tikp 61; VbhA 91; DhsA 121; Miln 37; etc. [link]

and under sarati we find:

Sarati2 [smṛ, cp. smṛti=sati; Dhtp 248 “cintā”; Lat memor, memoria=memory; Gr. me/rimna care, ma/rtu witness, martyr; Goth. maúrnan=E. mourn to care, etc.] to remember D ii.234; Vin i.28; ii.79; J ii.29. …. — Caus. sāreti to remind Vin ii.3 sq., 276; iii.221; sārayamāna, reminding J i.50; ppr. pass. sāriyamāna Vin iii.221; w. acc. D ii.234; w. gen. Dh 324; J vi.496; with foll. fut. II. (in ˚tā) Vinii.125, 4; iii.44, 9, etc. — Caus. II. sarāpeti Vin iii.44; Miln 37 (with double acc.), 79. [link]

Well, what the heck does remembering (->sati, nominalized from the verb sarati, to remember) or remembrance have to do with mindfulness?

There are two ways we can solve this mystery: We can look at the actual meditation technique the Buddha wanted us to perform and which he used the term sati for. From there we look at our experience and chose the best English equivalent which comes to our mind. Think Vipassana. Think Noting. Though many people will think “slow motion” and mistake it for sampajanna, but more about this below.

The other approach is a linguistic / historic approach. And though in terms of practice the Vipassana exercises have always made sense to me, especially compared to the instructions by the Buddha found in hundreds of Suttas in the Samyutta Nikaya  etc… i always wondered about the linguistic puzzle – sati seemed to imply something different than ‘mindfulness’. Either the term was not translated precise enough or some background information felt missing.

Nowadays when we are interested in practicing mindfulness in a Buddhist context we tend to think about Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw and Ledi Sayadaw and Goenka retreats who brought the Vipassana Meditation from the jungle back into mainstream Theravadan teaching. Whenever you have a chance and study their explanations on how to put the Sati Patthana Sutta into practice they will talk about “Labelling” or “Noting” sense impressions (and in their pali expositions will use the term sallakheti – as did Ven. Buddhaghosa in his Visuddhimagga (2).

But back to the use of sallakkheti. Where did this term come from? While the Commentarial literature uses the term sallakheti, meaning “to label”, when describing the intrinsics of Vipassana practice, sure the Buddha never did! He never used a word like sallakkheti but sati instead! Hence the scepticism of so many people in the beginning towards Burmese vipassana. So, where is the connection, what are we missing?

It is literacy!

Why would the Buddha make use of a term of which basically no one at his time had any practical experience with? Writing, though known, was only used for correspondences between kings – on a highly official basis. Performed by a guilt of writers. No one ordinary used writing for making shopping lists – even the Brahmins did not dare to entrust anything of (religious) importance to the fragility of palm leaves in a tropical climate.

If you wanted to make a shopping list at the time of the Buddha, if you wanted to catch and ‘note’ and witness something, you needed to use …yes,  your memory! The notion of labelling and noting makes sense to us in an age of literacy. Or to listeners / readers at the time of Buddhaghosa (and probably even before that, approx. since the 1st century before CE when the Buddhist texts were put to palm leafes for the first time) and literacy and writing started to replace what until then was an extraordinarily and highly cultivated general ability to memorize and to mentally take note.

2500 years ago the Buddha did not say to his monks: “Whenever you see a form, hear a sound, etc. just ‘take a note‘”. And so he did not say “please label the sense impressions”.

But he used the proper pali word for the same activity based on the prevalent oral culture and so he asked people to use “sati” or “remembering” to “take a (mental) note”  to “mentally witness” of what just occured.

Therefore, we could very well render samma sati in the noble eightfold path as “right noting” or “right witnessing” or “right attention”.

Now, based on this observation, the following utterances make even more sense:

yoniso manasikara” (Important: not just attention – but attention directed towards the source)

“ditthe ditthamattam” – in the seen only the seen, [Udana 1.10]

iti pajanati

And so, yes, it is about the direct experience, the direct seeing (therefore the additional use of words like vi-passati, nyana-dassana, pajanati, pacca-vekkhati, etc. etc.  when describing the mediators activity- all related to the action of seeing not thinking or reflecting or pondering over.) Thus the 4 sati-patthana, or foundations/pillars of sati are used as anchor points for our concentration. A highly concentrated mind, based on a firm grounding and preliminary training in keeping moral precepts is able to create a mental differential between the point of concentration and the sense objects ‘catching our awareness’ = their rising and falling… Thus, while sati has a very specific meaning (Buddha loved clarity, like any other good scientist 🙂 Sati or Vipassana meditation can and should never be done without the proper preparation.

By now you will wonder how the term sati became so established as “mindfulness”. Well, mindfulness will be a result of ones practice of noting, especially during the noting…during the seeing. However, the best term translated as mindfulness is in fact a separate pali word called “sam-pajanna“, lit. ‘to know together with’ – so to know while you do something that you do it, as in this exercise:

“Furthermore, when going forward & returning, he makes himself fully alert; when looking toward & looking away… when bending & extending his limbs… when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe & his bowl… when eating, drinking, chewing, & savoring… when urinating & defecating… when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, & remaining silent, he makes himself fully alert.

“In this way he remains focused internally on the body in & of itself, or focused externally… unsustained by anything in the world. This is how a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself. [Funny how this part gets always neglected though it seems to be the central part in the whole practice of the 4 satipatthana – but more on this one maybe another time]

“Puna caparaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhu abhikkante paṭikkante sampajānakārī hoti, ālokite vilokite sampajānakārī hoti, samiñjite pasārite sampajānakārī hoti, saṅghāṭipattacīvaradhāraṇe sampajānakārī hoti, asite pīte khāyite sāyite sampajānakārī hoti, uccārapassāvakamme sampajānakārī hoti, gate ṭhite nisinne sutte jāgarite bhāsite tuṇhībhāve sampajānakārī hoti.[MN 10, link]

And this concept has been moved to the forefront in many essays about Theravadan (sati-) meditation.

Even if sati and sampajanna go together, the unclear understanding of sati lead to such strange believes that if you just ate your ice-cream with intense scruteny and would deeply “mindfully” indulge into your emotions while eating it, you would practice for enlightenment. While this way of observation definitely intensified the sense impressions (due to the simple fact of strong concentration) it does little to actually see the rising and falling of those sense impressions. You could say that this ability/wisdom(3), to eventually see the rising and falling (appearing and disappearing) of sense impressions is the demarkation line between proper practice of sati according to the suttas and indulgence in sensual pleasures with hightened concentration.

It is this wisdom of seeing the rising and falling which will make the mind turn away from samsara, sure, realizing its frame like structure makes the movie’s compelling story and its grasp on our minds fade and dispassion and eventually freedom will result – bhavanirodho nibbanam. While the Buddha explained this pretty clearly he also said that there can be something called “wrong sati” or miccha sati (wrong attention) – So, quite contrary to popular believe, mindfulness per se is not “inherently good” – if it does not go to the root of the experience it might easily turn into some form of … shall we say Tantrism? Definitely a deeper enjoyment of the sensual experience due to strong concentration but without the disillusioning effect of samma sati – a noting which needs to be done in the right fashion (i.e. in an un-identifying manner, deconceptualizing).

Unfortunately, while eating that ice-cream and just “being with the activity” we are carried away by a stream, a wave of sights, tasts, feelings, thoughts – which we do not see as such: We outright identify with them in every moment; object and consciousness establishing reality which we grasp/become and this is where our thirst is working  – it’s not the ice cream’s fault that we suffer…so when people start thinking of what they have to give up in order to overcome their craving – right there, right at that moment, right in that very thought alone lies freedom and bondage – Mara binding them to existance they suffer when the ice melts. And death smiles knowing you won’t escape – or you smiling, because you already did escape 🙂

(1) A recent discussion on a similar thought here and here . This is how i would reconcile these two positions: The aspect of memory/remembering which Ven. Thanissaro focuses on is the aspect of noting/labeling using a concept like “form, form” or “feeling, feeling” to stop the proliferating process of the mind in its tracks. Concentration is needed to not get overwhelmed by overpowering sense impressions and to at least find some temporary footing at a meditation object. However, the use of names to unlock the mystery of name-and-form in this vipassana exercise has as its goal to create an extreme clear vision (nanadassana) of what is happening in each moment of the interplay of the five groups of grasping in each moment of being/life. So yes, it is bare attention, but not in an indulging sense but rather in a very controlled and precise deep way. A method which will after diligent application create a direct experience/seeing of the rising and falling of all sense impressions/5 groups of grasping leading to the peace of nibbana as described above and other places.

(2) guess where the Burmese ‘re-discovered this practice from’ 🙂 – while the ZEN Buddhists were fascinated by Visuddhimagga’s (actually Vimuktimargas see comments below) concentration/jhanic/dhyanic/chan/zen aspects, the Burmese were even more impressed by its explanations about how to reach full enlightenment by insight meditation).

(3) Terms like these show the more active and “knowing/knowledge through observation” quality of “panna” or “wisdom” as it is usally translated  moving it much closer to the practice of sati then any form of abstract knowledge: manasikārakusalatā paññā – wisdom from proper attention, āyatanakusalatā paññā – wisdom from skill with regard to the senses, paccuppannānaṃ dhammānaṃ vipariṇāmānupassane paññā udayabbayānupassane ñāṇan – wisdom through a following-seeing of objects in the present moment as they change, follow-seeing of the appearing and disappearing.

(4) Two most interesting book on this topic are “In the mirror of Memory”  edited by Janet Gyatso (esp. Collette Cox’ article), a wonderful compilation of all kinds of Indian sources on the connection between sati

…Mindfulness is chosen here not, as in many cases, to avoid confusion with the psychological function of smrti as memory, but precisely for the opposite reason; that is, to indicate at the outset what this chapter will illustrate: that the contexts for the operation of smrti suggested by the term mindfulness actually encompass the psychological functions of memory as they were understood within Indian Buddhism. [link]

and memory and “Mindfulness in Early Buddhism” by Tse-fu Kuan. Just don’t forget to practice 🙂

Next in this series: Coming back to remember: Sati II


UPDATE: For those of you who found this post via a search engine or direct link, I would like to invite you to read the following post on yoniso manasikara” and “understanding vipassana” in addition to the above article. The closer you look at sati the more obvious it is how “remembering” (one’s object) is essential to what samma sati was intended to mean and how that faculty of the mind, which keeps us on an object is utilized for jhanic meditation as well as in observation of the six sense-spheres. You might also be interested in Malunkyaputta’s Vipassana instruction. Please also check out How To Really Cleanse Your Mind as it focuses on the memory aspect for sati even further with some influence on my understanding due to great Sutta Dhamma talks by Mahamevnawa monks in recent months.

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