Archive for the ‘Patipatti’ Category

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

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

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

Fast forward to the 1990’s  😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, in 1997, something amazing happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some particular characteristics of Mahamevnawa:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

.) Biography of the Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda

.) Dhamma websites affiliated with Mahamegha/Mahamevnawa:





Ven. Anandajoti Bhikkhu’s impressions

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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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[This story is part of our Arahant series.]

Once, they say, the elder Mahāsīva of ‘Mountainpeak’ lived in the city of Mahagama, in Tissa’s Abbey.

There, he taught eighteen groups of young monks in the three baskets – the traditional teachings of the Buddha as they had been handed down – in full length and according to its exact meaning. Following the elder’s instruction sixty thousand monks achieved holiness.

One of those young monks thought to himself: “O, what a blessing this happiness of salvation is! I bet our teacher enjoys it too.” And as he explored his teacher’s heart, he realized that his teacher was still a worlding, someone who was still subject to the cycle of rebirth who had not even attained to the state of a stream enterer.

The young monk thought: “Through a clever gift, I will arouse urgency in my teacher!” He left his hut and went to Mahasiva, venerating his teacher with a deep bow. Finishing all obligations of a pupil he sat down.

Then the Elder Mahasiva said to his disciple: “Why have you come, brother alms-goer?” – “’When the Venerable Sir will offer me an opportunity, I would like to learn a verse of the Dhamma (dhammapada)‘, this was my idea with which I came to the Venerable Sir.” – “Many monks learn from me at this time, brother. I do not think that there will be any opportunity for you.”

And when he had not received any opportunity from his teacher for a whole night and a whole day he went back to Mahasiva and asked him: “If you have so little time, Venerable Sir, how do will you be able to give death an opportunity?” Mahasiva thought: “This monk has not come to learn from me. He has come, to shake me up, that is why he came.

Then his disciple said to him: “Like all the other monks, o Sir, who benefited from your instruction so you too need to develop your own mind and benefit from the teaching of the Tipitaka.”

After these words he venerated his teacher a last time and vanished before his teacher’s eyes by mental power into the jewel-colored sky.

After his former student had filled him with a sense of urgency he finished all classes in the afternoon and evening. Then he prepared his bowl and robe, and after he gave a final lesson in the morning he took on all thirteen ascetic practices of purification (dhutaṅga) with firm determination and departed for the monastery of ‘Mountainpeak”. There, he removed bed and chair from his monk’s cell and made this silent vow: “Until the achievement of holiness I will not sit on a chair nor rest on a bed.”

Then he directed his mind on walking meditation with the thought: “Today, verily, will I attain holiness, today, verily, will I acquire holiness.”

Without gaining any holiness, however – despite all efforts to reach it, came along the day of the big pavarana – the full moon ceremony at the end of the three months of the rain season retreat. When he realized that he still had not achieved path nor fruit of Nirvana, Mahasiva thought: “O, how difficult is this for me, although devoted to Vipassana to attain to holiness (arahatta)!”

However, without giving up and only practicing standing and walking meditation for thirty years he applied himself to the work of a true ascetic.

One night, when the full moon disc of another pavarana ceremony lit up the nightly sky, he thought: “What is probably brighter? The bright moon or my unbroken virtue?”

And as he reflected on his virtues as a monk which since the day of his higher ordination he had not broken, not even the smallest of all rules, a deep joy and satisfaction arose in him.

On the foundation of this joy his mind concentrated and he attained the supramundane knowledges, and together with analytical knowledge, experienced the Nibbana of an Arahant.” 

Manorathapurani,  AN Commentary

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In the  “Group-Section” (Khandhasamyutta) of the Samyutta Nikaya numerous short suttas can be found which – if we squeeze them in the right manner – provide valuable information how a puthujjana (or unenlightened being) turns into an ariyapuggalo (an enlightened being). As promised at the end of the last post we will have a close look at how the Buddha mentions vipassana meditation implicitly without using the term “vipassana”.

Lets have a look at a couple of those texts. Once you learn the pattern of how to look at them you will realize what a treasure box of practical meditation and dhamma knowledge is hidden in these pali texts. I hope to be able to show you that they are pragmatic meditation instructions and less views of metaphysical speculation. 

Lets start with one, which describes the status quo – the state of mind most of us find ourselves confronted with: 

‘‘Vedanaṃ attato samanupassati, vedanāvantaṃ vā attānaṃ; attani vā vedanaṃ, vedanāya vā attānaṃ. ‘Ahaṃ vedanā, mama vedanā’ti pariyuṭṭhaṭṭhāyī hoti. Tassa ‘ahaṃ vedanā, mama vedanā’ti pariyuṭṭhaṭṭhāyino, sā vedanā vipariṇamati aññathā hoti. Tassa vedanāvipariṇāmaññathābhāvā uppajjanti sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā.

He sees (inherently) feeling as self (himself), or himself as having a feeling, or in himself a feeling, or himself in a feeling. “I am feeling. The feeling is mine”, so does he remain pre-occupied (with feeling). Therefore, for him who is pre-occupied as “I am feeling. This is my feeling”, this feeling will change and alter. And from this change and alteration of the feeling arises sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, despair. [SN Khandhasamyutta. pi]

This is our dilemma, problem. The identification with feelings, thoughts, perceptions. This is what we take up and believe to be “us”. When it changes it creates all kinds of aggravation. When these 5 groups of grasping change (which they need to) suffering (dukkha) is the result. The first noble truth.

‘‘Ko ca, bhikkhave, rūpassa samudayo, ko vedanāya samudayo, ko saññāya samudayo, ko saṅkhārānaṃ samudayo, ko viññāṇassa samudayo? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu abhinandati abhivadati ajjhosāya tiṭṭhati.

‘‘Kiñca abhinandati abhivadati ajjhosāya tiṭṭhati? Rūpaṃ abhinandati abhivadati ajjhosāya tiṭṭhati. Tassa rūpaṃ abhinandato abhivadato ajjhosāya tiṭṭhato uppajjati nandī. Yā rūpe nandī tadupādānaṃ. Tassupādānapaccayā bhavo; bhavapaccayā jāti; jātipaccayā jarāmaraṇaṃ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā sambhavanti. Evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti.

‘‘Vedanaṃ abhinandati…pe… saññaṃ abhinandati… saṅkhāre abhinandati… viññāṇaṃ abhinandati abhivadati ajjhosāya tiṭṭhati. Tassa viññāṇaṃ abhinandato abhivadato ajjhosāya tiṭṭhato uppajjati nandī. Yā viññāṇe nandī tadupādānaṃ. Tassupādānapaccayā bhavo; bhavapaccayā jāti; jātipaccayā…pe… evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo hoti.

‘‘Ayaṃ, bhikkhave, rūpassa samudayo; ayaṃ vedanāya samudayo; ayaṃ saññāya samudayo; ayaṃ saṅkhārānaṃ samudayo; ayaṃ viññāṇassa samudayo.

‘‘Ko ca, bhikkhave, rūpassa atthaṅgamo, ko vedanāya… ko saññāya… ko saṅkhārānaṃ… ko viññāṇassa atthaṅgamo?

Idha, bhikkhave, nābhinandati nābhivadati nājjhosāya tiṭṭhati.


What, o monks, is the rising of form….what is the rising of consciousness? Here, o monks, a monk delights, enjoys, remains indulged. What does he delight in, enjoy, remains indulged with? He delights in form, enjoys it, remains indulged with it. To him who does delights in form, enjoys it and indulges in it there arises agreement/enticement. What is enticement with the form, that is grasping. Based on this grasping there is existence/being [See Ven. Nyanananda for discussion on proper understanding of bhava. Condition here does NOT imply a timeline but a causality. At the same moment that we identify with we automatically do grasp and do exist. The one cannot be without the other]. Based on this being is birth. Based on birth is old age and death and sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress and despair come into being. This is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. 

What, o monks, is the vanishing of form?…of consciousness? It is the not taking delight in/ not enjoying / not indulging in. etc etc… [The text following is the exact opposite. So the end of suffering would come about if our thirst or tanha would not be pono-bhavika – of such a nature that our being is born again, moment after moment.]

[Pali in Khandhasamyutta, SN]


This is the second noble truth. Every time a sound catches your attention (conventional speak) your sound – world gets born. Every time a feeling in the body emerges, a thought appears – there is a renewed endless process of self-identification taking place in every moment. That is why nibbana is so close and far away at the same time. If we could stop this existence-addiction for only one moment…

But in order to do so, we need to see this process of identification first hand. Once it gets uncovered, dispassion needs to be developed towards this eternal activity/habit. If the mind for one moment does not take a stand on an object or consciousness does not feed on an object the world as we know it falters. Nirodho.

Khandhasamyutta, 7. Anudhammasuttaṃ

39…‘‘Dhammānudhammappaṭipannassa, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno ayamanudhammo hoti yaṃ rūpe nibbidābahulo vihareyya, vedanāya nibbidābahulo vihareyya, saññā nibbidābahulo vihareyya, saṅkhāresu nibbidābahulo vihareyya, viññāṇe nibbidābahulo vihareyya. Yo rūpe nibbidābahulo viharanto, vedanāya… saññāya… saṅkhāresu nibbidābahulo viharanto, viññāṇe nibbidābahulo viharanto rūpaṃ parijānāti, vedanaṃ… saññaṃ… saṅkhāre… viññāṇaṃ parijānāti, so rūpaṃ parijānaṃ, vedanaṃ… saññaṃ… saṅkhāre… viññāṇaṃ parijānaṃ parimuccati rūpamhā, parimuccati vedanā, parimuccati saññāya , parimuccati saṅkhārehi, parimuccati viññāṇamhā, parimuccati jātiyā jarāmaraṇena sokehi paridevehi dukkhehi domanassehi upāyāsehi, parimuccati dukkhasmāti vadāmī’’ti. 

“For a monk practicing the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma, what accords with the Dhamma is this: that he dwells cultivating disenchantment with regard to form, that he dwells cultivating disenchantment with regard to consciousness. As he dwells cultivating disenchantment with regard to form… feeling… perception… interpretations… consciousness, he completely comprehends form… feeling… perception… interpretations… consciousness. As he completely comprehends form… feeling… perception… interpretations… consciousness, he is totally un-bound from form… feeling… perception… fabrications… consciousness. He is totally un-bound from sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs. He is totally un-bound (freed), I say, from suffering.”

[Pali and English SN 22.39]


Now we are getting closer to a practical advice on this matter. In this sutta the Buddha says that someone who practices the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma will dwell/meditate/remain in such a fashion that he tries to be a “nibbidābahulo”. What does that mean? Nibbidā is the pali word for “dissatisfaction” or “weariness” or “disenchantment”.  “Bahulo” simply means “often”. The objects towards which he is supposed to exercise this mind-set are “forms, feelings, perception, mental representation, conscious-ness”. If he is able to do so (not once!) but “most of the time” or “very often” (bahulo) dwelling in such a state of observation (viharo) then the Buddha says he will develop a “parijānaṃ”, a round-about-knowing. He will get to know these 5 groups very well. From this he will free himself completely (pari+mucchati) from those five groups of grasping. In fact, as a reminder of the 4 noble truth (and nothing else this sutta stands for) he will free himself from birth, death, disease etc. etc. from suffering, says the Buddha (vadāmi).  And this is the third noble truth. 

In our minds we can picture the first couple of days when the Buddha lectured and instructed his first group of friends on the path he had just discovered. We can picture how a discourse such as this (a little bit more hands-on than his famous first sermon which was more like a summary) was at the core of his instructions… leading to the birth of the first round of Arahants.

In fact, the Buddha makes this little instruction into a general message to all who enter the order out of faith:

Saddhāpabbajitassa, bhikkhave, kulaputtassa ayamanudhammo hoti – yaṃ rūpe nibbidābahulo vihareyya.

Which noble son/daughter gone forth from the household life out of faith, o monks, this is how they are in accordance with the teaching: “Dwell frequently in nibbida towards forms”.

To summarize so far:

  1. Our objects of observation have to be (all) five groups of grasping
  2. The five groups of grasping make up our every moment life-experience
  3. Thus we will have to observe our moment for moment life-experience in a mode of  nibbidā
  4. We will have to do this very often (bahulo) / continuously
  5. In order to achieve this deep penetrating view we need a good portion of concentration or have to develop it underway
  6. Eventually, this method of viewing ones own perception process will develop a deeper experiential understanding these 5 groups (i.e. our moment to moment life experience) very deeply
  7. In due time “we” will experience a freedom from those 5 groups which we usually take up and identify with as ourselves. 
  8. The result from that experience will be subtle at first but nevertheless transformational

Next question: How can this state of nibbidā be induced? What needs to be done in order to set it up?

We need a special form of looking at the current present moment. Lets see if we can find more about this:


15. Sāvatthinidānaṃ. ‘‘Rūpaṃ, bhikkhave, aniccaṃ. Yadaniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ; yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanattā; yadanattā taṃ ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ. Vedanā aniccā. 

In Savatthi. “Form, o monks, is impermanent. What is impermanent is suffering. What is suffering cannot be yourself. What is not yourself this has to be looked at with right knowing as far as it appears (‘as it really is’) in such a manner: “This is not mine. I am not this. This is not my self.” … Feeling is impermanent…Consciousness is impermanent…etc.


and again here. even better now:

3. Aniccasuttaṃ

45. Sāvatthinidānaṃ. ‘‘Rūpaṃ, bhikkhave, aniccaṃ. Yadaniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ ; yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanattā ; yadanattā taṃ ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ. Evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya passato cittaṃ virajjati vimuccati anupādāya āsavehi. Vedanā aniccā…

Form, o monks, is impermanent. What is impermanent is painful. What is painful is non-self. What is non-self that has to be seen clearly (yathabhuta) with right knowing thus: “This is not mine. This am i not. This is not my self.”

When it is thus clearly seen with knowing the mind will dis-color (virajjati) and un-bind (vi-mucchati) not-uptaken by the influxes…

important is that everything has to be seen like this. any conceptual way of defining form needs to be looked with the label mentioned above:

‘‘Tasmātiha , soṇa, yaṃ kiñci rūpaṃ atītānāgatapaccuppannaṃ ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā yaṃ dūre santike vā, sabbaṃ rūpaṃ ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ.

Therefore, Sona, whatever form (there is) whether it is past, present or future, whether internal or external or coarse or refined or low or sublime or far or near – all form has to be seen so: “This is not mine. This am i not. This is not my self”.


Alternative to this very frequent non-identification label proposed by the Buddha for meditative vipassana usage is the following instruction:


9. Nandikkhayasuttaṃ

51. Sāvatthinidānaṃ. ‘‘Aniccaññeva, bhikkhave, bhikkhu rūpaṃ aniccanti passati. Sāssa hoti sammādiṭṭhi. Sammā passaṃ nibbindati. Nandikkhayā rāgakkhayo, rāgakkhayā nandikkhayo. Nandirāgakkhayā cittaṃ vimuttaṃ suvimuttanti vuccati.

[Please have a look at my article on iti-sallekkheti where i discuss this idea]

and because it is so instructive, yet another sutta-vipassana-instruction:

pañcasu upādānakkhandhesu udayabbayānupassī vihāsi– ‘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, tassa pañcasu upādānakkhandhesu udayabbayānupassino viharato na cirasseva anupādāya āsavehi cittaṃ vimuccī”ti.

He dwells follow-looking at the rising and falling with regard to the five groups of grasping: “Such is form”, “Such is the rising of form”, “Such is vanishing of form”…”Such is consciousness”, “Such is the rising of consciousness”, “Such is the vanishing of consciousness”. Who thus dwells follow-looking (anu-passana == not to take ones eye from it, a continous looking, think “bahulo” as discussed above) at the rising and falling with regard to the five groups of grasping will before long free (un-bind) his mind from the influxes through not-uptaking.  [this passage is found all over the canon, for example in DN, Mahapadana Sutta]


Once you agree with me on this more literal reading of the texts you will find it everywhere. 

Here we can see that using a simple label as a reminder (sati) and tool of looking at the current moment gets classified as an exercise in right view. So, wisdom / pannya is vipassana. In various stages of development, obviously. Because even some initial understanding of the 4 noble truths is wisdom but it will crystallize and become perfected when it is applied to seeing the rising and falling.

When he thus looks rightly in this manner the Buddha says that the process of nibbida (see above) will follow suit. This will start to destroy the forces which make us take up and identify with the groups of grasping. They will start to lose their grasp.

‘‘Yo, bhikkhave, rūpasmiṃ chandarāgo taṃ pajahatha. Evaṃ taṃ rūpaṃ pahīnaṃ bhavissati ucchinnamūlaṃ tālāvatthukataṃ anabhāvaṃkataṃ āyatiṃ anuppādadhammaṃ.

What, o monks, there is of enthrallment-impulse with regard to form, feeling etc. that you have to give up. So this form will be given up. It will be cut at the root like a palm tree – unable to exist again in the future destined to not appear again. [chanda-raga makes a lot of sense if you think of it as the force which makes you dive into the action of the world as presented by the 5 groups of grasping. It is this pull which makes you identify with your seeing and thinking while you read this text. Source: Pali, SN Khandhasamyutta]


What we have to give up towards the form in the current moment which we are watching is “chandaraga”. Chandaraga – is the enthrallment/enamoredness + impuls / coloring (chanda + raga) necessary for identification.

Here is another indication as to how our meditative observation has to look like:


9. Sāvatthinidānaṃ. ‘‘Rūpaṃ, bhikkhave, aniccaṃ atītānāgataṃ; ko pana vādo paccuppannassa! Evaṃ passaṃ, bhikkhave, sutavā ariyasāvako atītasmiṃ rūpasmiṃ anapekkho hoti; anāgataṃ rūpaṃ nābhinandati; paccuppannassa rūpassa nibbidāya virāgāya nirodhāya paṭipanno hoti. Vedanā aniccā…

Form etc. is impermanent, in the past and future. How even more so in the present! When you see this you won’t look (back) at the old forms nor would you hope/expect for new ones. Instead you strife/proceed to (develop) nibbida, viraga and nirodha towards the present form.


This is why if you want to find the “Buddha inside” of you, there is only this direct path (but many ways to express it):

‘‘Tathāgato, bhikkhave, arahaṃ sammāsambuddho rūpassa nibbidā virāgā nirodhā anupādā vimutto sammāsambuddhoti vuccati. Bhikkhupi, bhikkhave, paññāvimutto rūpassa nibbidā virāgā nirodhā anupādā vimutto paññāvimuttoti vuccati.

The Tathagata, o monks, the holy one, fully awakened one is called “fully enlightened” because of the nibbida viraga nirodha (extinction) anupada (non-up-taking) un-binding (vimutto) of forms, feelings, perceptions, intentions, consciousness. The monk who is un-bound through wisdom is unbound by wisdom due to the nibbida, viraga, nirodha, anupada, vimutto of forms, feelings, perpceptions, intentions and consciousness. [The Buddha saying that this is the gist of the path and here with regard to this attainment of nibbana, there is no difference between any other arhant and himself]

Please have a closer look at the last sutta. Can you discover some kind of progressive development mentioned? And if so, what does nirodha stand for? So we are looking at a first stage of nibbida which is followed by a viraga and eventually  nirodha. Nirodha itself is followed by an anupada and a vimutto. Does sound very much like the vipassana-nyanas? Yes, i think it does. Nirodho could well be identified by the experience of nibbana (bhavanirodho nibbanam). The anupada and vimutto would be the result of this experience. The residue of the fruition moment, something a stream-enterer and upwards are equipped with, the “transformation” they experience. Sure, they continue to live, but a certain distance/unbinding towards the 5 groups has set in. BTW, to translate “Nibbana” with “Unbinding” just because one feels uneasy by its literal meaning of “Blowing out / Cessation” seems less than optimal, IMHO. This choice of translation  is probably born out of the same fear which makes people argue that Nibbana is a “dhamma” or an object or island or paradies – which would put it back into samsara. There is however a pali word which could be translated as “Un-binding” or “Free-dom” and that is “vi-mutti” which has this beautiful connotation of losening ones grip / hold and to let go – an un-binding. Still, with the word “Nibbana” the Buddha wanted to conjure up the picture of a fire (which is a process and no “self” and burns on conditions and ceases if these conditions fail) blown out. A blazing fire finds peace when it goes out, not when it travels somewhere 🙂

If this is so the nibbida, viraga part looks like the stages known as nibbida-nyana and adinava-nyana. A follow up on this idea seems to be a good theme for another post.

Lets have a look at yet another short sutta from the Khandha-Samyutta. Here is another one, extremely detailed and deep about the goal, specifically explaining the interplay of consciousness versus the 4 other groups (which constitue what is otherwise known as ‘name-and-form‘ in Buddhism) how this intrinsic interplay is fed and watered and sustained by the opposite of nibbida, by nandi:

54. Sāvatthinidānaṃ. ‘‘Pañcimāni, bhikkhave, bījajātāni. Katamāni pañca? Mūlabījaṃ, khandhabījaṃ, aggabījaṃ, phalubījaṃ, bījabījaññeva pañcamaṃ. Imāni cassu, bhikkhave, pañca bījajātāni akhaṇḍāni apūtikāni avātātapahatāni sārādāni [sārādāyīni (katthaci)] sukhasayitāni, pathavī [paṭhavī (sī. syā. kaṃ. pī.)] ca nāssa, āpo ca nāssa; api numāni [api nu imāni (sī. pī.)], bhikkhave, pañca bījajātāni vuddhiṃ virūḷhiṃ vepullaṃ āpajjeyyu’’nti? ‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’. ‘‘Imāni cassu, bhikkhave, pañca bījajātāni akhaṇḍāni…pe… sukhasayitāni, pathavī ca assa, āpo ca assa; api numāni, bhikkhave, pañca bījajātāni vuddhiṃ virūḷhiṃ vepullaṃ āpajjeyyu’’nti? ‘‘Evaṃ, bhante’’. ‘‘Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, pathavīdhātu, evaṃ catasso viññāṇaṭṭhitiyo daṭṭhabbā. Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, āpodhātu, evaṃ nandirāgo daṭṭhabbo. Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, pañca bījajātāni, evaṃ viññāṇaṃ sāhāraṃ daṭṭhabbaṃ’’.

‘‘Rūpupayaṃ, bhikkhave, viññāṇaṃ tiṭṭhamānaṃ tiṭṭheyya, rūpārammaṇaṃ rūpappatiṭṭhaṃ nandūpasecanaṃ vuddhiṃ virūḷhiṃ vepullaṃ āpajjeyya. Vedanupayaṃ vā, bhikkhave, viññāṇaṃ tiṭṭhamānaṃ tiṭṭheyya…pe… saññupayaṃ vā, bhikkhave, viññāṇaṃ tiṭṭhamānaṃ tiṭṭheyya…pe… saṅkhārupayaṃ vā, bhikkhave, viññāṇaṃ tiṭṭhamānaṃ tiṭṭheyya, saṅkhārārammaṇaṃ saṅkhārappatiṭṭhaṃ nandūpasecanaṃ vuddhiṃ virūḷhiṃ vepullaṃ āpajjeyya.

‘‘Yo, bhikkhave, evaṃ vadeyya – ‘ahamaññatra rūpā aññatra vedanāya aññatra saññāya aññatra saṅkhārehi viññāṇassa āgatiṃ vā gatiṃ vā cutiṃ vā upapattiṃ vā vuddhiṃ vā virūḷhiṃ vā vepullaṃ vā paññāpessāmī’ti, netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati.

‘‘Rūpadhātuyā ceva, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno rāgo pahīno hoti. Rāgassa pahānā vocchijjatārammaṇaṃ patiṭṭhā viññāṇassa na hoti. Vedanādhātuyā ce… saññādhātuyā ce… saṅkhāradhātuyā ce… viññāṇadhātuyā ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno rāgo pahīno hoti. Rāgassa pahānā vocchijjatārammaṇaṃ patiṭṭhā viññāṇassa na hoti. Tadappatiṭṭhitaṃ viññāṇaṃ avirūḷhaṃ anabhisaṅkhaccavimuttaṃ. Vimuttattā ṭhitaṃ. Ṭhitattā santusitaṃ. Santusitattā na paritassati. Aparitassaṃ paccattaññeva parinibbāyati. ‘Khīṇā jāti, vusitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ, kataṃ karaṇīyaṃ, nāparaṃ itthattāyā’ti pajānātī’’ti. Dutiyaṃ.



At . There the Blessed One addressed the monks: “Monks.”

“Yes, lord,” the monks responded.

The Blessed One said: “Monks, there are these five means of propagation. Which five? Root-propagation, stem-propagation, joint-propagation, cutting-propagation, & seed-propagation as the fifth. And if these five means of propagation are not broken, not rotten, not damaged by wind & sun, mature, and well-buried, but there is no earth and no water, would they exhibit growth, increase, & proliferation?”

“No, lord.”

“And if these five means of propagation are broken, rotten, damaged by wind & sun, immature, and poorly-buried, but there is earth & water, would they exhibit growth, increase, & proliferation?”

“No, lord.”

“And if these five means of propagation are not broken, not rotten, not damaged by wind & sun, mature, and well-buried, and there is earth & water, would they exhibit growth, increase, & proliferation?”

“Yes, lord.”

“Like the earth property, monks, is how the four standing-spots for consciousness should be seen. Like the liquid property is how delight & passion should be seen. Like the five means of propagation is how consciousness together with its nutriment should be seen.

“Should consciousness, when taking a stance, stand attached to form, supported by form, established on form, watered with delight, it would exhibit growth, increase, & proliferation.

“Should consciousness, when taking a stance, stand attached to feeling, supported by feeling, established on feeling, watered with delight, it would exhibit growth, increase, & proliferation.

“Should consciousness, when taking a stance, stand attached to perception, supported by perception, established on perception, watered with delight, it would exhibit growth, increase, & proliferation.

“Should consciousness, when taking a stance, stand attached to interpretation, supported by interpretation, established on interpretation, watered with delight, it would exhibit growth, increase, & proliferation.

“Were someone to say, ‘I will describe a coming, a going, a passing away, an arising, a growth, an increase, or a proliferation of consciousness apart from form, from feeling, from perception, from interpretation,’ that would be impossible.

“If a monk abandons passion for the property of form … (mental) interpretations (sankhara)

“If a monk abandons passion for the property of consciousness, then owing to the abandonment of passion, the support is cut off, and there is no base for consciousness. Consciousness, thus unestablished, not proliferating, not performing any function, is released. Owing to its release, it is steady. Owing to its steadiness, it is contented. Owing to its contentment, it is not agitated. Not agitated, he extinguishes within. He knows this: ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'” [Bijasutta in SN]



A-savas coming!

A-savas coming!

While there are so many more beautiful suttas in this part of the pali canon, this was nothing more than a very shallow look at them. In any event, many of these texts convey a very pragmatic message. Very often it seems only a question of how we approach the texts (from a meditative background number one, and number two with a very self-critical  literal approach, looking for similar passages in the canon and questioning our pre-programmed interpretation) to derive at important observations for our own practice.


On the other hand, it might seem as if the Buddha’s path is like a puzzle. As soon as you combine a handful of pieces the progress and structure of the overall puzzle gets clearer and more obvious by the minute. Instead of looking at each piece of the puzzle individually and fantasising about its possible meaning it seems more important to take a plunge and simply do it!  Everthing will eventually fall in place!

Finally, there was one beautiful sutta which answers a couple of questions using a very simple aspect (nibbidabahulo) which we covered above. This will close the loop:

115. Sāvatthinidānaṃ. Ekamantaṃ nisinno kho so bhikkhu bhagavantaṃ etadavoca – ‘‘‘dhammakathiko dhammakathiko’ti, bhante, vuccati. Kittāvatā nu kho, bhante, dhammakathiko hotī’’ti? ‘‘Rūpassa ce, bhikkhu, nibbidāya virāgāya nirodhāya dhammaṃ deseti ‘dhammakathiko bhikkhū’ti alaṃ vacanāya. Rūpassa ce, bhikkhu, nibbidāya virāgāya nirodhāya paṭipanno hoti, ‘dhammānudhammappaṭipanno bhikkhū’ti alaṃ vacanāya. Rūpassa ce, bhikkhu, nibbidā virāgā nirodhā anupādāvimutto hoti, ‘diṭṭhadhammanibbānappatto bhikkhū’ti alaṃ vacanāya…

In Savatthi. Sitting to one side a monk said to the Blessed one this: “A speaker of the Dhamma, a speaker of the Dhamma’, o Lord, was it said. How is one a speaker of the Dhamma’? “When one teaches the Dhamma towards the disenchantment, disinterest, dissolvement of forms, feelings, etc…this alone is enough to be called “a Dhamma speaking monk”. If one practices towards the disenchantment, disinterest, dissolvement of forms, feelings… etc. this is enough to be called “a monk practicing according to the Dhamma”. If one has attained the non-grasping freedom through the disenchantment, disinterest, dissolvement of forms, feelings…etc. this is enough to be called “a monk who has attained Nibbana in this very life”. [Pali]


The next post which will be the third one in this series will look at the Anapanasati-sutta and detail how the Buddha’s own jhana-vipassana experience lead him to Nibbana. Stay tuned 😉



Some relevant pali words mentioned in this post as defined by the PED:
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 withvirajjati & 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
Virajjati [vi+rajjati] to detach oneself, to free oneself of passion, to show lack of interest in (loc.). S ii.94, 125 (nibbindaŋ [ppr.] virajjati); iii.46, 189; iv.2, 86; A v.3; Sn 739=S iv.205 (tattha); Th 1, 247; Sn 813 (na rajjati na virajjati), 853; Nd1 138, 237; Miln 245; Sdhp 613. — pp. viratta. — Caus. virājeti to put away, to estrange (acc.) from (loc.), to cleanse (oneself) of passion (loc.), to purify, to discard as rāga Dii.51; S i.16=Sn 171 (ettha chandaŋ v.=vinetvā viddhaŋsetvā SnA 213); S iv.17=Kvu 178; A ii.196 (rajanīyesu dhammesu cittaŋ v.); Sn 139, 203; Th 1, 282; Pv ii.1319 (itthi — cittaŋ=viratta — citta PvA 168); ThA 49; DhA i.327 (itthi — bhāve chandaŋ v. to give up desire for femininity). — pp. virājita.     

Rāga [cp. Sk. rāga, fr. raj: see rajati] 1. colour, hue; colouring, dye Vin ii.107 (anga˚ “rougeing” the body: bhikkhū angarāgaŋ karonti); ThA 78; SnA 315 (nānāvidha˚). — 2 (as t. t. in philosophy & ethics) excitement, passion; seldom by itself,…


You can get a complete version of the Samyutta Nikaya in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s fine translation here.

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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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Temple monks - Dana 1960

Temple monks - Dana 1960



Dana 2008

Temple monks - Dana 2008

Found all the differences? Maybe now you know why there is no English translation of the Phusso Theragatha? v. 949 – 980. Hmmm….

The online versions of the Theragatha seem to ignore this interesting gatha. Seems like every monastic translator is working his way around these verses 🙂 But they are not unimportant, especially today, quite the contrary:


Theragatha – Phusso Thero {pali}

Having seen many monks,
Of noble stature, developed and restrained,
The wise one of the Pandaraso clan,
Asked Phusso, his beloved friend:

How do you think will be the monks
In future times behave?
What will they ponder, what desire?
Pray tell me, this i ask of you!

Well hear my word, Pandaraso,
You sage and dear old friend:
Mark clear my word, remember it
I will explain the future times:

Full hatred and full enmity
Concealing and insensible,
Jealous of each, each teaching of his own
So will they be in future times.

Believing that they realized
The truth so deep. These monks just take it light –
They walk just on this worldly shore – respectless crowd,
And blame each other for this and that.

Many a disadvantage will then appear
In future times.
The teachings oh so well explained,
These foolish monks will spoil.

Within the Sangha void of virtue
They show themselves so bold as standard;
They will become much even stronger,
Loud with their mouth, untrained at all.

Those in the Sangha, full of virtue
Will show up less, behaving right,
They will become much even weaker,
Not looking for their benefit, humble and shy.

Gold, silver – money – they accept
As well as house and cattle, land!
And servant, maid – these unwise monks:
This will the future bring, my friend.

These fools will walk without restraint,
And unrestrained in virtues’ path,
And haughty will their walk like be
They find their joy in heated arguments.

Puffed up they walk and dress in dark
These fellows want to look like saints?
Deceitful, stubborn is their heart
And boastful babblers that they are! 

They will apply gel to their hair
Use make-up for their fancy looks.
Such will they walk on city streets,
Adorned with gold and ivory.

The brown robe of the purified,
The dress of all the Arahants,
They hate that robe and wear instead:
A (white) clean dress – find here delight.

They long for riches, long for pleasure,
Are lazy without energy,
They flee the hermitage, the wood,
And closer move to city walls.

‘And those who gain the most,
Enjoy frivolous their wrong life,
They will be honored, will be leaders,
And people take refuge in unrestrained monks.

‘Those without gains
Will not be honored,
And even if they are best trained,
And wise: nobody joins their fellowship.

The various patches
Which we color and sew into a robe:
They hate those ugly robes and look instead
To wear clean (white) robes like other pilgrims do.

‘Without respect for pale brown robes,
Against their very mind goes this:
The reason for the begger’s robe
These “bhikkhus” will not tolerate.

Hit by a spear – long time ago,
In bitter pain, an elephant,
once fell into a trap
Unthinkable, unheard before:

‘There saw the elephant a man 
A hunter clad in arhants cloth,
And deep his pain, deep his complaint,
He spoke this word, his final one:

‘«One who wears the stainless robe

who’s yet not free from stain,

without restraint and truthfulness
Does not deserve the stainless robe.

‘«But one who is self-cleansed of stain,
in moral conduct firmly set,
having restraint and truthfulness
He does deserve the stainless robe.»

‘Who, void of virtue, foolish,
Is servant of his sensual pleasures,
Whose mind is scattered, dull unclear:
Does not deserve the stainless robe.

‘Yet who endowed with virtue is,
Empty of lust, whose mind well stilled,
With purified and cleared up mind:
Yes, he deserves the stainless robe.

‘The haughty cocky fool indeed,
In whom no virtue can be found –
Yes, white householders cloths dress fine:
What should he care for brownish robes?

‘The monks and nuns in future times
With upset minds, without respect
Enjoy to put down anyone,
Who mastered silence, kindliness.

‘And even if the elder monks
Teach how to wear the robes,
They listen not, impatient fools,
Are known to follow sensual joys.

‘And thus these untrained foolish men
Will just enjoy to blame each other,
Not listening to teachers, elders,
Like bad a breed of untrained horse.

‘This is the future’s face my friend,
This will indeed their “progress” be:
Which monks and nuns in later times,
Will have to face, that’s what they get.

‘Befor however such a time,
This great a danger comes to us,
Be mild in mind, and listen good,
Respect each other full of joy.

‘Develop kindness and compassion,
Restrain in virtue quite yourself;
And seek out striving, dedication
Give never up, the goal is close!

‘View carelessness as precipice
And carefulness as certitude:
Thus on the path eightfold it’s known:
You will touch soon the deathlessness.’


PS: This translations is far from perfect, but at least it gives the gist of Thera Phussa’s reflections. It is especially helpful for monks/nuns in the Sangha to help keeping the Sangha on track. Here some very positive examples from today: here and here and many more!!

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If you are a monk, i guess you do not read (online). But if you do, this text was written exactly for you 🙂

In 100 BC Buddhist monks faced a tough question:

“Should we preferably memorize and thus keep alive the discourses of the Buddha as they have been handed down to us or should we focus more on realization (meditation) and transfer the practice instead.”

Well, why not do both, you may ask. The problem at that time was: famine and a war ravaging the countryside. Many monks died of hunger and the Sangha was low on people who could memorize books. It is said that at one point only one monk had survived who could remember the Mahaniddesa. So close to oblivion were parts of the Pitaka.

Finally the monks voted in favor of keeping the memory of the teachings alive and thought that it is from the textual understanding that in later times the Dhamma could be realized again. They guessed that if they did achieve realization and all became Arahants maybe down the line the teacher-pupil transmission of knowledge would wither away and with it the entire Buddhist teaching.

The meditative monks were not happy with the decision in favor of book knowledge. But they did not voice their opposition though.

Now, 2100 years later, that ancient problem seems solved. Maybe not once and for all, but definitely for our current day and age. There are millions of copies of the original teachings of the Buddha. The pali canon is widely available on CDROM, as a download, web-based and in several book editions. Yes, you can even read it on ebook readers.

Scholars abound and dry scholastic knowledge on “Buddhism” swamps the bookshelves. Some deeper some more superficial – but it seems that the Tipitaka itself will be even better accessible to interested lay people and monks as the years pass by. More translations and magnificent editions are very likely to be sponsored by Buddhists around the globe. The benefits of a global interactive Southeast Asia and China – especially for Buddhists – are adamant.

Looking at the meditation / practice side in the Sangha though, we can only wonder: There is room for quite some improvement. Maybe you are the one who will make that difference!

Instead of going to the forests, young monks head to the streets, universities and political arena. A task made for lay life is taken over by laymen in robes, who, because of ignorance or boredom forsake the training grounds of frugality and virtue and the battlefields of insight and concentration for the semi-luxurious life of … well, laymen.

Don’t get this wrong. Sure, there is a great need for such and many other worldly activities. However, it is not what the banner of the Arahants was made for. And it is not just the Vinaya, but also conscience which should intervene.

Now, lets imagine if we would bring back to life those monks who created the distinction between “book” monks (ganthadhura) and meditative monks (vipassanadhura or dhutangikas) in the first place and who decided to spent most of the time handing down the texts, bound up by activities which are closer to the scholar than the practicioner: let us imagine that they would all come together to vote again, based on the current 21st century state of affairs.

Would they not unanimously vote in favor of realization, i.e. striving for Nibbana?! At that time, they knew what this Sasana stood for, and felt it and awkward deviation to book-learn instead to realize and guide others but reluctantly they ventured on this path, because in the long run, they thought, practice of the teachings and thus liberation of the mind would not be lost. And again: Videos, transcripts and dhamma talks of experienced meditative monks, that is what the lay and monk Sangha is in need of.

Should some monks have forgotten the real reason of the existence and foundation of the Sangha?

The Theravadin countries abound in monks/nuns an and perfect conditions for more or less intensive meditation practice. For the development of sila, samadhi and panna. However, the monk communities of Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma etc. etc., seeing no need in handing down scriptures any more are now – for a big part, lost in monotheistic-like unreflected worship or political and social activism or they compete in scholarly activities with lay people.

While all those activities are and should be in the domain of lay people they need not, in the present day and age, be in the domain of monks. Exceptions may exemplify the rule. Of course. But in the end, to be honest, the robe is donned and a man or woman becomes the sun or daughter of the Buddha for the sake of Nibbana not Mannana.

Therefore, the world and heavens are always in need of teachers who master samatha and vipassana. And monks, nowadays, find the best resources they could possibly expect for once again making the realization of Nibbana and the end of samsaric suffering their paramount goal.:

‘‘Bhante, imasmiṃ sāsane kati dhurāni nāmā’’ti pucchi. Āvuso, vipassanādhuraṃ, ganthadhuranti. ‘‘Bhante, gantho nāma paṭibalassa bhāro, mayhaṃ pana dukkhūpanisā saddhā, vipassanādhuraṃ pūressāmi kammaṭṭhānaṃ me dethā’’ti vanditvā nisīdi. Thero ‘‘vattasampanno bhikkhū’’ti vattasīse ṭhatvā tassa kammaṭṭhānaṃ kathesi. So kammaṭṭhānaṃ gahetvā vipassanāya ca kammaṃ karoti, vattañca pūreti. Ekadivasaṃ cittalapabbatamahāvihāre vattaṃ karoti, ekadivasaṃ gāmeṇḍavālamahāvihāre, ekadivasaṃ gocaragāmamahāvihāre. Thinamiddhe okkantamatte vattaparihānibhayena palālavaraṇakaṃ temetvā sīse ṭhapetvā pāde udake otāretvā nisīdati. So ekadivasaṃ cittalapabbatamahāvihāre dve yāme vattaṃ katvā balavapaccūsakāle niddāya okkamituṃ āraddhāya allapalālaṃ sīse ṭhapetvā nisinno pācīnapabbatapasse sāmaṇerassa aruṇavatiyasuttantaṃ sajjhāyantassa –

‘‘Ārambhatha nikkamatha, yuñjatha buddhasāsane;

Dhunātha maccuno senaṃ, naḷāgāraṃva kuñjaro.

‘‘Yo imasmiṃ dhammavinaye, appamatto vihassati;

Pahāya jātisaṃsāraṃ, dukkhassantaṃ karissatī’’ti. (saṃ. ni. 1.185) –

Happy Vesakh B.E. 2552!

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There are a couple of instances in the Pitaka, where the Buddha compares our moment to moment experience (zoom out and you would call it “life”) with a swift river.

In some similes he compares our journey from Samsara to Nibbana as crossing a stream and trying to reach the safe haven of “the other shore”.

But in some of those instances where the Buddha employs this simile, he actually puts us right in the middle of the water, comparing our moment to moment experience with a person caught in the middle of a wild mountain river.

Imagine yourself being washed away in a swift river, floating midstream. The waves push you up only to pull you down again. You are pulled under water, you may get close to drowning in the water. You stretch your legs and arms, paddling like crazy in the wild water just to find a hold on something. Catch something, grasp something to keep up with the pushing and pulling currents.

According to this simile (see below) each moment of our lives resembles such a scary situation. Because, in a certain sense, reality as such means constant change and the onslaught of sense impressions share a similarity with the currents of a stream. In order to “stay alive” we need to keep our head/ego above the water.

We could not live one moment, if sounds, thoughts, pictures, feelings would come into being and simply continue unchanged – never changing again. If such a thing would happen, there would be no thinking, no moving, no perceiving possible: Everything would freeze in a moment and unknowing eternity would be the result. Now, that is not the case. We know very well, that life comes with death and a new car will one day break. But on a much more intimate level, not one moment stays the same.

Because all life is a question of measurement of this against that, of object and subject …the sounds you hear, the pictures you see, the body you feel. It all is like a cocoon or a huge meshed echo of sense impressons and mental activity creating the seemingly robustness of a river in which you swim, but on zooming close to that little fellow in the water who so aptly learnt to survive in the waves you will see – that he is frantically trying to keep himself above the water in each moment of being…(that is the strange feeling in the back of your mind, deeply buried, that longing for final contentment which makes you skydive, found a family, go on demonstrations, buy new cloth…makes you “live” through objects).

So you try to keep your head above the water because of the fear of reality, because of the fear of:

  • impermanence which seems to take away our foundations – whatever water we just splashed against to pull ourselves upwards will give way and we loose ground again
  • exhaustion because of this eternal fight for being, fight for existence in a very fleeting fluid environment causes discontentment, unsatisfactoriness on a very deep level
  • and emptiness, as there seems to be no lasting hold – not in the seen, not in the heard, not in the felt, not even in the thought, the water arround us is so merciless natural.

Now on the rivers edges towards which such a flood victim is pushed there are some plants which he will try to hold onto in order to keep his head above the water:

At Savatthi. There the Blessed One said, “Monks,suppose there were a river, flowing down from the mountains, going far, its current swift, carrying everything with it, and — holding on to both banks — kasa grasses, kusa grasses, reeds, birana grasses, & trees were growing. Then a man swept away by the current would grab hold of the kasa grasses, but they would tear away, and so from that cause he would come to disaster. He would grab hold of the kusa grasses… the reeds… the birana grasses… the trees, but they would tear away, and so from that cause he would come to disaster.

“In the same way, there is the case where an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — assumes form (sense objects) to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form. That form tears away from him, and so from that cause he would come to disaster.

“He assumes feeling to be the self, or the self as possessing feeling – perception – preparations – consciousness, oror consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness. That consciousness tears away from him, and so from that cause he would come to disaster. AN 22.93

A little bit later In the same discourse the Buddha goes on giving a vipassana instruction to the monks. Like we saw in prior posts he finally asks the monks to simply note whatever there is (appears in their meditation) :

“Thus, monks, any form whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every form is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment [noting] as: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.’

The list of categories given here is not supposed to be a checklist. If you’d sit down and go through that list, trying “to think your way” through each of the phenomena in terms of “okay, let me see, what could a past feeling be” – doing it that way you would of course mean that you indulge in a number of feelings already NOT seeing them as they are but being hooked on them.

Instead “past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near” stands for “all possible” contents or “whatever the content be, which arises” or “regardless what form, feeling etc. you perceive”. A method where the insight meditator would disregard the “content” of the sense current and regardless of what the water would push under his nose he would exert himself NOT to hold it. Because holding / resting in a strong current brings disaster. The insight meditators approach instead is to simply acknowledge / note and then disregard it.

Now lets continue with this beautiful simile. How could that poor guy get out of the water?

It is like the insight meditator had someone standing on the shore of the river seeing him being carried along by the swift current. The man on the river would shout: Look, there! Not far from you there is an elevation in the river bed. If you make it against the current and paddle up there you can stand with your feet! You won’t loose any further ground! So not excepting the pushing and shoving of the water but simply letting it float through his empty hands to push forward he dives into the water against the current parting it in his effort (getting better and better while fighting forward) and coming closer and closer to that elevation.

What is his biggest obstacle before reaching that first safe elevation in the river from which a sand bank leads to the shore where the other man gave him such a helpful advice? Well, think of all the piranhas (bad company) and logs in the water (disease and sudden death) which may appear and knock him out immediately. Or him losing faith in the message or the man on the river before even trying to do as he suggested. And don’t forget his exhaustion after swimming against the stream!

It is sure that the odds are way against him arriving on that safe little island in the water.

Lets suppose he makes it nevertheless. Now feeling that high ground with his toes for the first time he immediate feels relief (stream entry). Doubt whether the man on the shore really was trying to help him subsides, because now he knows that the instructions where correct. He can experience it as a fact. Would other people still floating in the water belief him? They may or may not, there is no way to “proof” it to them, that his feet feel ground. The only way for others would be to follow in his footsteps (paccattam veditabbo vinnuhi). But again, although the feet touch the ground, he is still 3/4 under water and the sense stream and “in-fluxes” (a-sava, lit. in-streamings) will push him in one or the other direction. However, as strong as they may push, he cannot lose that ground, he knows this spot now, tugging his toe into the ground.

Eventually, going further up on that elevation in the river bed he still can feel the tugging of water currents, but now the water reaches only up to his hips (once returner)! The karmic pushing and pulling lost its power over him and those unwholesome influxes (effluents) like greed and hatred which used to helplessly push him in their direction carrying him with them loose their grip on him. He still feels their slight nudging against his legs, but that does not mean that he has to follow them, the water falls back, the foundation under his feet is sound.

Next comes the moment where he completely leaves the water (anagami). Losing contact with the water will probably feel funny after all that time in the river.

Eventually he will reach the shore and be in the same position as the man who helped him escape in the first place. His skin will completely dry. No water left. The stream will be a remote detached event for him…still be there, but somehow completely separate. A feeling of aloofness, of ultimate freedom and release from the state of being trapped in the river currents.

In the Anguttaranikaya we find a very interesting simile with a similar context. Here the Buddha uses the river simile to show the different stages of the enlightened ones who successfully escape the full force of the water, the streaming sense experience delivering karmic ups and downs:

‘‘Cattārome, bhikkhave, puggalā santo saṃvijjamānā lokasmiṃ. Katame cattāro? Anusotagāmī puggalo, paṭisotagāmī puggalo, ṭhitatto puggalo, tiṇṇo pāraṅgato thale tiṭṭhati brāhmaṇo. etc.:

“These four types of individuals are to be found existing in the world. Which four? The individual who goes with the flow, the individual who goes against the flow, the individual who stands fast, and the one who has crossed over, gone beyond, who stands on firm ground: a brahman.

“And who is the individual who goes with the flow? There is the case where an individual indulges in sensual passions and does evil deeds. This is called the individual who goes with the flow.

“And who is the individual who goes against the flow? There is the case where an individual doesn’t indulge in sensual passions and doesn’t do evil deeds. Even though it may be with pain, even though it may be with sorrow, even though he may be crying, his face in tears, he lives the holy life that is perfect & pure. This is called the individual who goes against the flow.

“And who is the individual who stands fast? There is the case where an individual, with the total ending of the first set of five fetters (Anagami), is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world. This is called the individual who stands fast.

“And who is the individual who has crossed over (Arahant), gone beyond, who stands on firm ground: a brahman? There is the case where an individual, through the ending of the mental fermentations, enters & remains in the fermentation-free awareness-release & discernment-release, having known & made them manifest for himself right in the here & now. This is called the individual who has crossed over, gone beyond, who stands on firm ground: a brahman. AN 4.5

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Continuing on where i stopped the other day, i was amazed to see the interpretation of the next line of the Sutta Nipata by our alleged Mahakaccayana:

‘‘Paññā ceva sati ca,

Nāmarūpañca mārisa;

Etaṃ me puṭṭho pabrūhi, katthetaṃ uparujjhatī’’ti.

‘‘Yametaṃ pañhaṃ apucchi, ajita taṃ vadāmi te;

Yattha nāmañca rūpañca, asesaṃ uparujjhati;

Viññāṇassa nirodhena, etthetaṃ uparujjhatī’’ti. (see Snip for a translation)

Ayaṃ pañhe anusandhiṃ pucchati. Anusandhiṃ pucchanto kiṃ pucchati? Anupādisesaṃ nibbānadhātuṃ

This question was raised in allusion. To which alludes this question? To the nibbana state without residual clinging.

Of course, after clarifying which role mindfulness and “knowing” (paññā) play in the day to day life of an insight meditator or enlightened being the question comes up what happens if even these things vanish?

Paññā and sati are still part of some mental activity going on and it is here that the Buddha says, well, you are right Ajita, name-and-form will cease to be if consciousness ceases to be.

Mahakaccayana expounding on this verse rightfully and excitingly refers to the “Anupādisesaṃ nibbānadhātuṃ” the nibbanic state without residual clinging. Nowadays this term is usually interpreted as some beyond-life nibbana (paradise/realm) but – as Ven. Nyanananda points out in a couple of his Nibbana sermons, that does not make much sense and in fact this type of “element” or “state” refers to the meditative attainment an arahant can enter even during his life – (which, at his death, eventually will lead to no rebirth).

While talking about this the Netti brings up two words: Dassanabhumi and Bhavanabhumi. Plane of seeing and plane of development. Down the road those two terms are explained to mean a stream winner (dassanabhumi) and the rest of the enlightened ones (bhavanabhumi). So, the thing which sets the stream enterer apart from both the common folk (puthujjana) without training and also from those with higher attainments is the fact that he had this first initial realization in form of “seeing”. “Seeing things as they are, you might say. Seeing the rising and falling very clearly. And the lasting effect of this “breakthrough in thoughtless self-observation”. The transformation in his case, or better the special ability distinguishing him from everyone below that “rank” is his ability to “see” what is going on.

Of course that power of real-time seeing how his six senses operate did not come for free. It involved a process of insight meditation – maybe even for months, years or life-times. Nevertheless i was curious and did a search on this term, as it seemed not to be part of the sutta-vocabulary, and i just wanted to make sure where else this term was used in the pitaka.

And guess what the results of this search were? Yes, only Petakopadesa and Nettipakarana use these terms.

Both books are really so close in terms of content discussed and style of presentation. IMHO they read like “notes” someone took while listening to Ven. Mahakaccayana teaching and explaining the Buddha’s teachings to the lay people and monks in Avanti- and then of course they “suffered” being handed down over two or three centuries in an “unauthorized” fashion before being admitted to the Pali Canon and frozen in their current state. Together with the Patisambhidamagga and maybe Milindapanha they give a pretty good second angle on the early suttas and discourses of the Buddha and that is probably why Buddhaghosa rests so strongly on them when he edited his Visuddhimagga and the commentaries…

Anyway, looking up the parallel topic in the Petakopadesa (PTS, pp. 135) this little jewel differentiated those 4 stages of enlightenment even further. Hold on, this is very exciting (at least for me):

So, the thing which differentiates every yet “unenlightened person” from what the stream-enterer is, is a “seeing”. One could say, the thing most noticeable for a sotapanna would thus be his newly gained ability to “see” what is going on…something those not sharing this stage can only “wonder” about but not really experience, well, obviously, because they need to go through the same process of realization.

Now, what would the once returner come up with as the most noticeable description of him realizing the second stage. According to the meditation-knowledge captured and handed down by the petakopadesa the once-returner would say:”Hey, wow, this (emotions of greed and hate) has become less” (Tanubhūmi) – the stage of lessening.

What is next? Again continuing with insight meditation, going through the nyanas, at some point the next realization would among other things make the Anagami say something like: “Wow, greed and hatred are completely gone. No trace of them left” (Vītarāgabhūmi). So, this would really distinguish the Anagami from an once returner. Can we imagine how such a mental state would “feel like”? Well, only if we probably reach to that stage.

The final Arahant level of spheres where one is destined to live one’s last life is summarized in the term katābhūmi. So the Arahant gained this special extra knowledge that he “is done” (kata). He knows it. No second guessing. Like the Stream-enterer “sees it” the Arahant simply “knows that he is done”. We might think that such a knowledge is just interfered or conceptualized…but even the stage of a stream-enterer already seems to be – although so close – so far away at the same time.

Think of someone climbing up a hill. He comes back and talks about a certain cliff he stood on and “seeing”/”looking at” our most beautiful valley. Well, there you are, sitting in the same valley he talks about, but you never went up that hill, you have absolutely no clue of what he is talking about, you can only imagine it, because once you climbed on top of your roof – but that was the highest point your attachment let you get away from your dear home.

Then comes the second guy talking about an even higher cliff where the atmosphere becomes “so thin”. Now you and number one wonder what that person is talking about. But while you still wonder, another guy comes along who went even further up the mountain, where there is only ice and he could not even see the valley any longer, the clouds making everything below him look just serene and peaceful. And eventually all of them meet the last wanderer, who climbed on top of that mountain and tells them about reaching and standing there on a mountain peak. Of course, there might be such a thing, you wonder, but how does he know that there is no higher path leading up? Well, how should he explain, that standing on that top, you simply know: “this is the top”.

So, anyway, apologizing for this crude simile, but the nice “keywords” only found in the Netti and Petakopadesa describing those four stages of enlightenment seem to portrait them in a very valuable and experiential manner, adding additional insight into the suttas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the five factors of the first jhana:

vitakka (thought)

vicara (gliding/resonance)

piti (joy)

sukha (happiness, comfortableness)

upekkha (equanimity, deep serenity)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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