Archive for the ‘Samatha’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there also a false way how to do this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The Buddha:]..

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

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

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

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

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

Then that bhikkhu made remorseful by the deity became concerned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, what are good meditations to do so?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


a theravadin…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The power of exercising]

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

[The skill of keeping in mind]

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

[The gained faculty of concentration]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dhp. 35


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Pali Text


‘‘Yāni sotāni lokasmiṃ, Sati tesaṃ nivāraṇaṃ;

Sotānaṃ saṃvaraṃ brūmi,paññāyete pidhiyyare’’.

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

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

The paraphrasing early commentary explains:

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

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

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

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

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

[CullaNiddesa – Parayanavagga, pi]

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

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

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

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

In other words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lets close with some voices from the Commentaries…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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The question whether to practise samatha or vipassana comes up again and again. 

 In the early days of the Burmese Vipassana movement long debates were waged on which approach would be the correct one (samatha || vipassana, that is).

 This question seems like a non-question. The Buddhas emphasis on the importance on samatha is clear while his whole teaching revolves around insight or ‘knowing and seeing’ as it was coined in the early days of his teaching.

 So, being a joint vehicle, both the serious Buddhist concentration meditator and the enthusiastic vipassana meditator will meet at the same place in their meditation eventually – albeit from different routes.

 However, while the uniqueness of the vipassana method is based on the simple fact that its discovery and explanation is only found in a Buddha-originating context – the attempt to develop strong insight without necessary groundwork in samatha meditation will simply prolong the journey (let alone what a lack in virtue might do in this regard…)

 Below an excerpt from a recent chat which came across a similar topic and might shed some ideas on this subject:

kalyanamitta: … and these aggregates are still just concepts
 me: exactly…they are
  that is why also the jhana are, in fact, inferior
  to any vipassana insight
  everything else keep syou in the realm of rebirth…which
 kalyanamitta: really?
me: in other words means…it leaves you with nothing
 kalyanamitta: the buddha used jhana to see the three true knowledges, no?
 me: because, even if you were Warren Buffet and owned the planet…in 2 billion years from now, it would be nothing more than adream
 kalyanamitta: how is that different.
 me: he did not realize nibbana because of the jhanas
  he realized nibbana because of the 4 noble truth..which was his way of doing vipassana
 kalyanamitta: no, i know, but he used them to make his mind workable etc…
 me: but of course he prepared himself using the jhanas
  it is easier with strong concentration…vipassanas view will be sharp and crisp right away
 kalyanamitta: so, if my mind were to get the fourth jhana i could see the same things?
 me: yes….he did
  not necessarily
kalyanamitta: why not?
  he said, jhanas then three true knowledges
 me: if you are in the 4th jhana, your concentration is pretty darn sharp…but you need to archieve a feat of insight
 kalyanamitta: it sounded progressive
 me: yes, and it is
  but not conditioned
  not this causes that
  but this is a support for that
 kalyanamitta: yeah, he directed his mind to the three true knowledges
 me: exactly
  you got it
  that is the critical thing there
 kalyanamitta: so, why can’t we do that?
 me: we do
  actually that is what you do
 kalyanamitta: why do we have to label everything?
 me: in each moment, where you note a thought, or sound
  you direct your direct knowledge to suffering
  to the five groups of grasping
kalyanamitta: i don’t get it.
 me: okay,
  let me try
  you know the 5 groups, right?
 kalyanamitta: cause i don’t see my past lives or kamma or four noble truths
  when i see my leg hurts and note it lol
me: okay, just one sec here
  lets take the leg
 kalyanamitta: yes, form feelings perception mental formations and consciousness
 me: but do you know what they mean
  apply them on the moment when you feel your leg hurts
  where are your 5 groups there?
 kalyanamitta: sure.
  it all happens so fast
i know that there is form, or a mind made form, and that there is feeling, and then it is perceived, and then a thought occurs and then i’m consciouss about all this
  that’s all i got
 me: okay, let me help you
  and this is just a sample
  to show you that this is suffering we do observe in this little vipassana exercise, which actually is not little but the application of direct knowledge itself
so, there is the leg, which in reality is some tangible object
  we dont know that it is a leg
  there is something tangible
  then a feeling, lets say a painful
  then a perception, a numb, deep rudimentary mental perception of “the leg”
  that is perception.
kalyanamitta: ok
 me: then comes sankhara, which is the “imagination” of it, the “putting it into perspective”
  the next layer (like the OSI model, you know, of communication) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OSI_model]
 kalyanamitta: mental proliferation or fabrication
  which layer 1-7?
 me: this adds the relationship to it, like “there is my leg, beneath me, below..”
 kalyanamitta: 🙂
 me: we have only layer 1-5
kalyanamitta: lol
 me: and all of this is nested in consciousness, which in pali just means “the knowing”
  so these 5 are just categorizations
 kalyanamitta: yeah
 me: the Buddha used for us to capture and better understand what quickly occurs in split seconds in each moment
  that is where he directed his attention to
  and he started simply recognizing it
 kalyanamitta: so, where is rebirth, for example, four noble truths. i don’t get it from the labeling, the connection. i don’t get it
 me: now the Buddha did this based on the jhanas which i entered before
  but thousands of his listeners in his sermons did not
 kalyanamitta: ask me to do by labeling you mean, right?
 me: they attained to all stages of enlightenement by applying this direct knowledge
  while listening to him
  they sure did not have all jhanas developed
  yes, the labeling
because what the labeling does is it stops your minds operations short
  like a grain of sand in a machine
 kalyanamitta: if they didn’t have jhanas, how can the regular mind with all the defilements and hindrances see anything of unbinding?
 me: into prolongs, artificially, the whole perception-proliferation-life creating machin our mind is made of
 kalyanamitta: ok
me: which allows us to break this whirlpool of
  consciousness on the one side and
  name (feeling, perception, imagination) and form (reall physical world) on the other hand
 kalyanamitta: just by paying attention is what your saying?
 me: once they break apart, which will happen in your vipassana the whole world breaks apart
amazing isnt it
  that is what the Buddha over and over calls
  “to see it as it is” (yathabhuta, nyanadassana, yoniso manasikaro)
  “direct knkowledge”
  etc etc
  so that is what he called in the early days “vipassana”
that term was introduced later in his life… that is my personal believe…so the term appears in the suttas
and the quintessence of this practice is all over the suttas…just the ‘coinage’ is different and of course the practice of adjoining concentration meditation was a given.
 kalyanamitta: i heard the same
 me: anyway…so what you do is quite extraordinary and the Buddhas system
 kalyanamitta: maybe by buddhaghosa
 me: well, there are only a view suttas which use vipassana but there are
  maybe some of his pupils started using that term
no problem…was long as we understand what this is all about
 kalyanamitta: ok
 me: my feeling is, that many people seem to know what vipassana is
  but actually have no clue what this really really is all about
  so, even if the buddha used the rocket lauchpad of jhana
  nobody has to
even listening to his sermons was enough for most to become stream enterers
  because they got to some first intrinsic insight using his direct seeing approach and experienced their “first nibbana”
  if you will
 kalyanamitta: but he always says go practice jhana and not go practice labeling things
 me: that is what i thought too, for many years
  now i do know that it is not the case
did you ever read the Samyutta NIkaya
 kalyanamitta: not the whole thing, no lol
  did you?!
 me: you get that impression if you read Majjhima…because there almost every sutta is about the approach (for monks! mind you)
  the appraoch based on the 3 vijjas, with jhana and then vipassana
kalyanamitta: yes, and that makes sense to me
 me: (oh yes, i did, in fact, read the  sutta pitaka several times – it is not such a marvelous task as it may seem)
  so, but if you go ahead and look at the Samyutta
 kalyanamitta: i don’t believe you
 me: especially
 kalyanamitta: !
 me: Khandha and Salyatana vaggas
  almost every sutta is on vipassana
  no mention of jhanas whatsoever
  hundreds of suttas
  all start like this
  let me find one for you
kalyanamitta: then why would he say in the dhammapada that when one has jhana he is close to unbinding?
 me: ah.too long
 kalyanamitta: yes, i’ve read similar ones before
 me: because, from a pragmatic and just pragmatic standpoint, someone with strong jhana of course has it easier to apply his laser like attention to SEE what is going on
it will only take LONGER for the vipassana meditator to SEE the same things…but then again: a hindu yogi with deep 4th jhana will not see the rising and falling of the 5 groups of grasping just because his mind is so concentrated…
 kalyanamitta: so, someone with my scatter mind is going to struggle lol
 me: sure
  and i am completely honest
  but the jhanas alone and in themselves would never rescue you
  you would still have to do vipassana at one point or the other
 kalyanamitta: so it seems stupid not to get jhana but then i’m back to square one
me: that is why my teachers (and i was myself VERY eager to get to the jhanas first) talked me out of it and said: first vipassana after some initial samatha…make sure you make this life count
 kalyanamitta: yes, but after!
  it seems logical to a, master jhana, b, label things
me: but not necessarily the full blown mastery of the same. it makes sense that if you look at what is happening in your mind in the labelling fashion day in day out though from a samsara-freedom aspiring standpoint 
 kalyanamitta: what does strong vipassana mean?
 me: (in a monastery setting that is 3 months)
kalyanamitta: oh
 me: that you wil lbreak through A LOT of delusions and attachments
  day and (almost all) night
  like in the time of the Buddha
  so, it is still doable
  now the question is, what do you pragmatically do from here
fight with the stupid hindrances and bad sourroundings to get to some unstable jhana for the next years
 or you try to just train for better concentrationa nd then go for a REAL vipassana hard core retreat in a few years for 3 months
 kalyanamitta: i don’t know.
 me: or you do some “dry” vipassana with whatever concetntration you got for the next couple of years with definitely a lot of insights at the same time.. all viable options
kalyanamitta: is there peace in my mind from labeling things?
 me: no, but from seeing the rising and falling of the six sense objects
  that peace (eventually) will be final
kalyanamitta: but, what about in the meantime?
 me: and labeling == stopping and seeing == realizing the start and end of sense objects == seeing them breaking down == disgusted == turning away == (eventually) nibbana
 kalyanamitta: i guess
 me: see, i see for your current “life” and time you got two alternative routes
either take it very slowly and do not expect anything big but steadily work on your concentration
 kalyanamitta: ok
me: and then maybe plan ahead for some very serious multi-month vipassana retreat…there are lots of places some with good teachers too, where you can just do that
use the concentration you have now and you might from time to time archieve (stumble over) using each of your free time for vipassana meditation at home with the intention to leave the jhanas alone, develop more insight, make your precious life count and also plan to do some strong vipassana whenever you life allows for it
kalyanamitta: i guess
 me: OR: if you are really really obsessed with jhana first route, in a couple of years, when you have time for it, find a teacher for jhana practise and do that first but those teachers are rare also and you still have to add the insight job on top of it, which is what got you started in the first place 🙂
Know pali? This link might be for you:
At the time of the Buddha, it seems, many of the “recluses” where doing some form of concentration anyways. Now of course instead of focusing on Indra, Agni or Varuna the Buddha pointed them to the development of insight, using what they got, clearing away any mysticism of concentrated states by a logical and rational clear-cut definition of meditative absorptions – the jhanas – and pointing them towards the enlightened trick of clear unwavering self observation, satipatthana:
“Yā kho, āvuso visākha, cittassa ekaggatā ayaṃ samādhi; cattāro satipaṭṭhānā samādhinimittā; cattāro sammappadhānā samādhiparikkhārā. Yā tesaṃyeva dhammānaṃ āsevanā bhāvanā bahulīkammaṃ, ayaṃ ettha samādhibhāvanā”ti. 
The one-pointedness of the mind, Brother Visakha, that is called concentration.
The four foundations/anchorages/pillars of remembering are the objects of concentration.
The four right efforts are the requisites of concentration.
And the repeated and habitual practice and development of these things, this is called “Development of concentration” . MN 44 [pi] [en]
In today’s Buddhist terminology though, the one-pointedness part would be looked at separately and understood as samatha or concentration meditation, whereas the second part, the vipassana-style meditation would be considered an insight meditation approach. In this paragraph above we see that this whole exercise was (yet) perceived as the development of concentration  – calmness, concentration and eventually the witnessing power of unshakeable remembering “atthi kayo” (there is a body), “atthi vedana” (there is a feeling), “atthi citta” (there is a mind), “atthi dhammo” (there is a mind object) – to be the earliest form of insight meditation. The terminology wasn’t yet as frozen as it is today, after 2500 years, but unlike today, the people who spoke about it knew what they meant 🙂
In any case, from here, the next look would be the Salayatana and Khandha Samyutta of the Samyutta Nikaya to see how the early Vipassana instructions further developed and what parts of the instruction are more important than others. 

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