Archive for the ‘Theravada’ Category

wallpaper-164121The Buddhist world has seen its fair share of “gurus” and “masters” who introduced “secret meditation techniques” and found instructions nobody had ever seen before because they “allegedly” got lost or distorted over time – only to be (re-)introduced by the new spiritual leader, usually with side effects in favor of the discoverer commonly known as “lābhasakkāra“. But that could not be further from the Buddha’s Dhamma:

Buddha: ” Now, Siha, make a proper investigation. Proper investigation is good in the case of well-known men like yourself.””

General Siha: “I, Lord, am even exceedingly pleased, satisfied with that which the Lord said to me : ‘ Now, Siha, make a proper investigation . . . like yourself.’ For if. Lord, members of other sects had secured me as a disciple, they would have paraded a banner all round Vesali, saying : ‘ Siha, the general, has joined our disciplehood.'”

Buddha: For a long time, Siha, your family has been a well-spring to the Niganthas (Jains). You will bethink you to give alms to those who approach you ? ”

General Siha: ” I, Lord, am even exceedingly pleased, satisfied with that which the Lord said to me : ‘ For a long time, Siha, your family . . . those who approach you ? ‘ I have heard, Lord : The recluse Gotama speaks thus : ‘ Gifts should be given, to me only, not to others should gifts be given ; gifts should be given to my disciples only, not to the disciples of others should  gifts be given. What is given to me is alone of great  fruit, what is given to others is not of great fruit ; what is  given to my disciples is alone of great fruit, what is given to the disciples of others is not of great fruit.’ But then the Lord  urged upon me giving to the Niganthas too. Indeed, Lord,  we shall know the right time for that. So I, Lord, go for a third time to the Lord for refuge and to dhamma and to the Order of monks. May the Lord accept me as a layfollower going for refuge from this day forth for as long as life lasts.” [1]

The idea of such a secretive teaching – only open to the initiated – is truly missing from the picture the suttas paint of the time when the Dhamma was taught by the Buddha himself – and no matter how excited you might be about modern mainstream Buddhism – once you familiarize yourself with only a few original discourses of the Buddha – you will immediately start to see and feel that incredible rational, carefully questioning, personally investigative teaching which makes modern interpretations of Buddhism sometimes seem wildly out of touch – not just with reality but indeed, with the most ancient form of Buddhism. The teaching we can study in the ancient discourses of the Buddha will probably remind you of … wait a second! … some kind of scientific methodology in analysing life and then again some kind of pragmatic engineering practice when it comes to solving the mind-body machinery’s suffering. But I am getting off topic 😉

Back to the topic: For anyone still searching for the “lost key” or “secret passageway to Nirvana” I highly recommend a look at the following extremely “mundane” discussion between two senior disciples of the Buddha as recorded and passed down in the Pali Canon, at least 300 BC:

[Anuruddha & Sariputta discuss meditation]

Anuruddha: “Brother Sariputta with the divine eye, which is clarified and supernormal, I am able to perceive a thousandfold world system. My energy is strong and inflexible; my remembrance is alert and unforgetful; my body is calmed and unexcited; my mind is collected and unified. Yet my mind is still not freed, without clinging, from the defiling taints (asava).”

Thereupon Sariputta replied: “When you think, brother Anuruddha, that with your divine eye you can perceive a thousandfold world system, that is self-conceit in you. When you think of your strenuous energy, your alert mindfulness, your calmed body and your concentrated mind, that is agitation in you. When you think that your mind is still not liberated from the cankers, that makes for scruples in you. It will be good if the revered Anuruddha would discard these three things, would not pay attention to them and would instead direct his mind towards the Deathless-element (Nibbana).”

Having heard Sariputta’s advice, Anuruddha again resorted to solitude and earnestly applied himself to the removal of those three obstructions within his mind (AN 3:128), more: Wheel 262, BPS.

wallpaper-1189895This passage is remarkable (besides the fact that it haunted me for the last 20 years). I cannot remember how many times it came up when I had discussions about progress in meditation with various friends and students. But just recently it hit me that what we see in this episode and which I was most consciously unaware of is the fact this itself, is a documented case of someone seeking and receiving (!) meditation instructions at the time of the Buddha.

It may or may not be such a novel thought for you. But please take some time and really think about it. There is something truly remarkable about the fact that we get a direct peek into the (typical?) way meditation interviews where conducted at the time of the Buddha. Now, there are arguably many more similar instances (Buddha giving Rahula instructions, monks coming to the Buddha asking for personal instructions etc.) but in many of those cases it could be argued that they serve the purpose of a more philosophical discussion than literal instructions on meditation practice. Such a case is really hard to make when you read the above exchange between Sariputta and Anuruddha. There seems to be no other way you can take this as just what it is: a meditation interview.

In this short sutta, there is nothing real philosophical. The style is prosaic, no-nonsensical, non-mystical, pragmatic in its approach regarding the discussion of meditation obstacles. Its prosaic direct style is similar to other sutta passages but here clearly no philosophy is discussed. What Sariputta says is exactly what he means. He takes in Anuruddha’s problem and gives him an advice. Their topic is pretty serious. We can be sure that if this text was transmitted correctly, Sariputta does not just make a joke. His meditation advice which to us might sound “ZEN” style is probably exactly how meditation interviews were conducted at the time of the Buddha. It probably also show us that pointing out hindrances and trying to get rid of them was mentioned and applied in exactly the very same manner. You DID exactly what you HEARD and there was no “secret silver bullet” in between the two. Some secretly transmitted extra layer of instruction which is now lost forever. This will also explain why people nowadays are so confused about “missing” jhana instructions when they are, literally, all over the place staring the reader in their eyes – but unfortunately not in a format which lends itself to a modern reader lacking the mindset (or context) of the Pali texts. This would be the perfect job for a generation of new translators!

This should seriously give us to think. If we were to interpret this episode as indeed to be a record of how a “typical” meditation instruction went down, then this would unlock a lot of other parts in the canon. Passages which would then have to be read in the very same way straight forward (non-commentarial) way: i.e. at face value, making the search for some “hidden” or “newly to be developed” meditation system unnecessary or even questionable (at least if you take the Buddha-Dhamma as your teacher, that is). It should also trigger our inquisitive nature into “trying out sutta practices” which before we just looked at as “spectators” – not realizing that what we read are actual DIY instructions.

So Venerable Anuruddha, obviously at this point quite knowledgeable in the fourth jhana and experienced in directing his mind (abhininnāmeti) towards some, let’s say “special skills” born out of the power of a very concentrated mind, struggles with the part for which he undertook his training – Nirvana – and is puzzled why the very path (which is as such described in numerous suttas all over the tipitaka) that lead him to the fourth jhana and such exalted mental powers – does not automatically lead to Nirvana.

Consider another important observation: The way Ven. Anuruddha is displayed in this text (including Ven. Sariputta) borders on the comical. The text has no problem to depict these Buddhist icons in such a struggling human way – which is very encouraging as to its authenticity and in stark contrast to commentarial exaggerations like Buddhaghosa’s hard-to-digest Dhammapada hagiography. Instead here we have one practitioner who was able to replicate an experiment (=Sariputta) and another stops by to ask why his perfect setup is failing (=Anuruddha). He is then told that he is too worried or taken in by his own experiential setup and that he should not lose sight of the main goal over the side-effects of his operation.

wallpaper-2334520But unlike later Mahayana sources which enjoyed outright ridiculing Sariputta (cf. Lankāvatara….) as the pinnacle of Arahant-wisdom – in this present old Indian record the story is short, unembellished, getting to the point, recording a valuable lesson which helped Anuruddha accomplish the highest goal for which the Buddha actually started teaching: Nirvana.

If this is a meditation interview, you should seriously consider and think about the Gelañña Sutta in the Samyutta Nikaya. If you ever wondered what a meditation instruction from the Buddha would look like when you could go and visit him with a time machine, or when the Buddha would give a 10 day retreat and explain the exercises: The Gelañña Sutta  sutta should prepare you well enough and leave nothing to wish for – even without a time machine. Well, in a certain way, it IS a time machine…

Surely, all of the above (especially after reading the Gelanna Sutta) raises the question (again) of how contemplation played part in the meditation techniques at the time of the Buddha, how all of the above is related to “sati” (remembrance, aka ‘mindfulness’) and memory in general as well as “thinking and reflecting” as “vitakka vicara” as a tool for increased mindfulness and how its intrinsic connection with the experience of jhanic bliss, happiness and calmness is bound so much more holistically to the development of insight when compared to the current (bluntly mechanical) mainstream Theravada practices of vipassana (with a few exceptions of course, here and there).

Consider this:

Sitting down, closing your eyes, the meditation on Anapana-sati according to the sixteen steps outlined by the Buddha is a case in point. If you start at the beginning 😉 the exercise is pretty clear: From the outline describing how you should sit and observe the breathing carefully – the exercise is clear. For the pure novice, it will likely take weeks/months to pass beyond this point. For the experienced meditator it will take only seconds to a few minutes until his mind’s continuous  observation falls into a lock-step with the inhaling and exhaling. Automatically – as a necessity – the fully continued awareness of the breathing process will lead to a heightened awareness of all the subtleties in the breathing process.

So far the first two steps happen naturally and just require training. They are logical, inviting for self-investigation (ehi-passiko) one of the principles of the Dhamma and can be affirmed by anyone who ever gave it a try (paccattam veditabbo viññūhi).

After that the Buddha’s exposition in the Anapanasati sutta switches from a passive (relative – it still needs a lot of skillful exercising to achieve this) observation (pajāṇāti) to a very active approach: in Pali the Buddha now has the meditator “train himself” (sikkhati) to feel the whole body while breathing and then calm down the activity of the body (which manifests itself to the meditator quite clearly as the breathing ) – the more he calms down his breathing, the stiller the mind. This is similar to the idea of a surfer standing on a surf board, highly aware of his posture, board and waves, maybe in an intuitive way if he is very skilled – but the effect is the same: while the surfer stays on the board, the meditator stays with full awareness on his breathing, body and relaxed and calm mind … at that point it is just a question of time (and usually not very long) that mental elation, bliss, pīti comes into the picture -which again the exposition of the Buddha explains as the next stage in sutta on breathing meditation.

Thus here in the Anapanasati Sutta too we find clear meditation instructions which have only one (well maybe more than that, but mainly one) big hindrance to be recognized as such: the clarity of the translator to recognize the instruction as such and phrase it in such a modern equivalent way so as to make it recognizable to be a pragmatic instruction and not a “philosophic discussion”. As you may have guessed, this works best when your experience backs your translation effort. To this end, it would probably be easier if you’d walk into a bookstore and found 50 different translations of the Middle Length sayings – such a competition would probably drive the investigation and deep analysis of the Buddhist texts which – being what they are – is mostly going to benefit their practical application and will less result in theological hair-splitting (as revelation based religions are in danger of).

Unfortunately we do not have such a variety of translation efforts (yet) but that might change in the future. The main situation to keep in mind is that in the current environment it is important to remember the amazing clarity the original texts preserve while at the same time  centrifugal forces of entropy (whether through Western cultural nihilism or Eastern monastic hedonism ;-)) make it easier for us to miss the simple, straightforward, highly pragmatic core teachings of the Buddha.[2]

wallpaper-772514Therefore: I highly suggest to carefully read about the experiment from those who actually succeeded in it (before all others who had an easy time repeating empty words). One example: Reading the Theragatha or Therigatha can reveal a host of information from a very pragmatic side. Just one quick example: the never ending discussion how to interpret the jhanas is beautifully captured by “first hand” experiences like this one and are a wonderful record to compare against your own experience:

Lahuko vata me kayo phuttho ca pltisukhena vipulena

Tulamiva eritam malutena, pilavativa me kayo”ti

Light, varily, feels my body filled with joy and bliss

Like a cotton ball carried by the breeze, floating… [Thag 1.399]

When you read how the first generation of “investigators” (savakas, i.e. listening (sic!) students) carefully replicated the path in themselves with tremendous success try to take most of their meditation records (can’t avoid that historical entropy and noise in any communication) so literal that your personal investigation will lead you to find out what produces the very same results and what does not. It is only logical that for you to succeed in this, you have to know the path well enough before attempting to walk it. Provided such knowledge and paired with a determined pragmatic mindset you will sooner than later see the path re-appear by itself.[3]




[1]‘‘Dīgharattaṃ kho te, sīha, nigaṇṭhānaṃ opānabhūtaṃ kulaṃ, yena nesaṃ upagatānaṃ piṇḍakaṃ dātabbaṃ maññeyyāsī’’ti. ‘‘Imināpāhaṃ, bhante, bhagavato bhiyyosomattāya attamano abhiraddho, yaṃ maṃ bhagavā evamāha – ‘dīgharattaṃ kho te, sīha, nigaṇṭhānaṃ opānabhūtaṃ kulaṃ, yena nesaṃ upagatānaṃ piṇḍakaṃ dātabbaṃ maññeyyāsī’ti. Sutaṃ me taṃ, bhante, samaṇo gotamo evamāha – ‘mayhameva dānaṃ dātabbaṃ, na aññesaṃ dānaṃ dātabbaṃ; mayhameva sāvakānaṃ dānaṃ dātabbaṃ, na aññesaṃ sāvakānaṃ dānaṃ dātabbaṃ; mayhameva dinnaṃ mahapphalaṃ, na aññesaṃ dinnaṃ mahapphalaṃ; mayhameva sāvakānaṃ dinnaṃ mahapphalaṃ, na aññesaṃ sāvakānaṃ dinnaṃ mahapphala’nti. Atha ca pana maṃ bhagavā nigaṇṭhesupi dāne samādapeti. [Mahavagga, Vinaya Pitaka]

[2] Simile: Imagine Einstein discovered the Relativity Theory and everyone becomes so fascinated by the term “relativity” itself that they start writing books about the “relativity” of the color red on the back of a ladybug. While that’s experiental as well, and has something to do with “relativity”, it’s not what Einstein meant. Yes, you are laughing, what an absurd idea. But that is what happened to some very popular interpretations of Buddhism in the West. Take the term “interconnectivity” as a wild (and completely out of context) speculation on paticca samuppada. Similarly, in the days of the Buddha we meet – in the suttas – a generation of lay people and renunciants who, carefully investigating the Buddha’s “theory” of Dhamma by trying to replicate his experiment of “Awakening” carefully re-build his set of instruments, i.e. the noble eightfold path. We can witness and admire their entire honest, humble and utterly critical investigation into the truth the Buddha discovered – and it is sad, that still to this day, many Buddhist’s have such little exposure to the original discourses of the Buddha.

[3] Hoti so, āvuso, samayo yaṃ taṃ cittaṃ ajjhattameva santiṭṭhati sannisīdati ekodi hoti samādhiyati. Tassa maggo sañjāyati. So taṃ maggaṃ āsevati bhāveti bahulīkaroti. Tassa taṃ maggaṃ āsevato bhāvayato bahulīkaroto saṃyojanāni pahīyanti, anusayā byantīhonti. [AN IV, Patipada Vaggo. Yuganaddha Sutta]

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

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

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

Fast forward to the 1990’s  😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, in 1997, something amazing happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some particular characteristics of Mahamevnawa:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

.) Biography of the Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda

.) Dhamma websites affiliated with Mahamegha/Mahamevnawa:





Ven. Anandajoti Bhikkhu’s impressions

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

The answer is very simple.

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

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

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

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

Which are those two?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Mettagu asks:


Kathaṃ nu dhīrā vitaranti oghaṃ, jātiṃ jaraṃ sokapariddavañca;

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

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

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

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


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


‘‘Kittayissāmi te dhammaṃ, Diṭṭhe dhamme anītihaṃ;

Yaṃ viditvā sato caraṃ, tare loke visattikaṃ’’.

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

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

You will cross over the world entanglements.


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

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

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

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

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


First, a very very literal approximation:

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

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

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

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

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


Okay, here now the entire verse:


Whatever you experience (in your meditation)

above, below around and in the middle –

Towards these any delight and entering into

Having dispelled (and) consciousness (or discriminating) –

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


The entire setup reminds us of a couple of things: 

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“It is a shackle”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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…to you all! May you “live long and prosper” 😉

The above image, quite appropriate for the day, is one of the most skilled artistic representations of the “Buddha visiting the devas” (looks like 33) I have ever seen…thanks go to the Youth Buddhism Team for posting this saddha-instilling artwork.

Below a Vesakha Greeting Card version of the above picture. Please feel free to copy and use for your own purposes.


The Teacher


1242. Overcoming the devious ways and range of Mara, he walks (free), having broken up the things that make for barrenness of mind. See him producing release from bonds, unattached, separating (the Teaching) into its constituent parts.

1243. He has shown the path in a variety of ways with the aim of guiding us across the flood. Since the undying has been shown (to them), the Dhamma-seers (are those who) stand immovable.

1244. The light-maker, having penetrated (the Dhamma), saw the overcoming of all standpoints. Having understood and experienced it, he taught the topmost (Dhamma-teaching) to the five.

1245. When the Dhamma has been thus well taught, what indolence could there be in those who know the Dhamma? Therefore, vigilant and ever revering, one should follow the training in the Fortunate One’s dispensation.

1242. Overcoming the devious ways and range of Mara, he walks (free), having broken up the things that make for barrenness of mind.27 See him producing release from bonds, unattached, separating (the Teaching) into its constituent parts.28
1243. He has shown the path in a variety of ways with the aim of guiding us across the flood. Since the undying has been shown (to them), the Dhamma-seers (are those who) stand immovable.
1244. The light-maker, having penetrated (the Dhamma), saw the overcoming of all standpoints.29 Having understood and experienced it, he taught the topmost (Dhamma-teaching) to the five.30

1245. When the Dhamma has been thus well taught, what indolence could there be in those who know the Dhamma? Therefore, vigilant and ever revering, one should follow the training in the Fortunate One’s dispensatio


[Ven. Vangisa, Theragatha]


If you have no clue what “Vesakh” means, here two links for further reading:


Vesak II

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Famous words by the Buddha:

Vuttaṃ kho panetaṃ bhagavatā: yo paṭiccasamuppādaṃ passati so dhammaṃ passati; yo dhammaṃ passati so paṭiccasamuppādaṃ passatīti. Paṭiccasamuppannā kho panime yadidaṃ pañcupādānakkhandhā. Yo imesu pañcasu upādānakkhandhesu chando ālayo anunayo ajjhosānaṃ so dukkhasamudayo. Yo imesu pañcasu upādānakkhandhesu chandarāgavinayo chandarāgappahānaṃ, so dukkhanirodho’ti 

Now, the Blessed One has said, “Whoever sees dependent arising sees the Dhamma; whoever sees the Dhamma sees dependent arising.” And these things — the five groups of grasping — are dependently arisen. Any desire, embracing, grasping and holding-on to these five groups of grasping is the origination of suffering. Any subduing of desire and passion, any abandoning of desire and passion for these five grasping-groups is the cessation of suffering. [MN, 28]”

Intriguing, indeed. But what does it mean “to see dependent origination”?

Surely, it does not imply simply some intellectual grasp of this list of concepts which are mentioned in almost every Buddhist book.

It should be clear from this passage quoted from the Middle Length Sayings and many other instances that the concept of paticcasamuppada tries to focus on this very  present  moment – how it comes about, what it consists of and how it conditions the next moment(s).


Now we don’t know about time, but whatever present moment of reality we look at we find and recognize these factors which the Buddha explained as paticcasamuppada…and, like in layers of different abstraction [think: OSI Model] all of them rest on the preceding ones or wrap them into higher levels of complexity: Build on the background of ignorance does consciousness and name and form play through the senses. And from mere tanha for more arises via mana into full fledged views and ideas (ditthi) our ego. Not so much in time, as you can see, as in layers of complexity or papanca, proliferation. 

If you will, paticcasamuppada explains life. And every time you are able to explain something thoroughly you can manipulate it (sounds like science? Well, not materia-listic science but real-istic science.**

If you are still following conventional commentarial explanations that dependent origination mainly talks about three lives, the things I just mentioned but especially the interpretations which follow will definitely escape you. Therefore, to make most out of this post (or for later referencing) please read these articles/clarifications first, before you continue..or come back to them, in case you like to better understand what the following observations are based on:

  1. Ñāṇavīra (probably the first in modern times to note this),
  2. Ñāṇananda – discusses this in even more detail than Ven. Nyanavira from Nibbana Sermon 2 to at least Nibbana Sermon No. 6
  3. Buddhadasa – the only Thai monk who follows this refined understanding
  4. and Bhikkhu Bodhi’s abhidhammic-materialistic criticism who brings forth all arguments against seeing paticcasamuppada mainly focusing on the present moment, but could be easily refuted, IMHO).

And while you could still apply paticcasamuppada to explain rebirth, that is definitely not at its center core…If that did not become clear yet, wait till the end of this blog post :-). Wait, lets restate this: Paticcasamuppada only talks about re-birth: The rebirth which takes place in each moment. Once you understand continuity through conditions on this scale, it is kind of a given that life will go on no matter what – as long as those conditions are in place.

For the Buddha the problem did not lie in a past or future life, but the present moment.

Let me introduce you to a (maybe clumsy) simile which might make you aware of how your every day vipassana meditation can be seen in terms of navigating through the layers of paticcasamuppada:


Imagine there is a leak in a pipe or fountain and water gushes and streams out. Lets say “you” are a little ball, which dances on this fountain of water.

Every time your noting is quick and fast what will happen is that you start diving down into that fountain at various levels, sometimes closer to its source sometimes only superficial. What is the source? The birth of this very moment. Now, and now, and now….you get it.

That is why sometimes you only note concepts, emotions…the world…at a very conceptualized, proliferated level.

Here it is that you break precepts, or get into fights, that you vote for parties or fight over religious dogmas.

At other times you note your identification with these things. Further breaking into those layers of experiential abstraction at other times you note the feeling which underlies these objects.

Increasing concentration and insight further and you sometimes go as deep as contact…towards the event horizon of each current moment.

buddha1You note consciousness and name and form in its barest notability. And as we know from the definition of paticcasamuppada… the interplay of consciousness and name and form in this moment is based on intentions of the moment(s) [and yes, lifes] before…which in due course can only arise when ignorance of exactly this entire process wraps us up.


So the past is made up of myrads of moments like the present one. And because in those moments you “were” under the influence of not knowing you created intentions, preparations, determinations, creations – whatever we should call those sankharas which lead to new moments of existance like the current one. And here, in this moment again, you are wrapt up in avijja, or “ignorance” of that process of being wrapt up. And so now too, you work on the foundation for future moments. But this present moment, could be the very last.

I admit, this is difficult to understand. So yes, I just threw the common understanding (and until recently also my) understanding overboard which says that in and through vipassana we only [sic] “break paticcasamuppada at the feeling level”.

I say we can and do break into these links at various levels all the time in our vipassana sessions.

Sometimes we note a feeling. What about the rest of the 5 groups of grasping in that moment? Are the five groups of grasping chained and come one after the other in time like “moments”. No, they do not. These terms are just names to describe experience. And sometimes our awareness (part of name and consciousness) witnesses one part of itself in a moment of vipassana. But then, in the next moment, we are already at the next moment of life.

However, until we get down to the level of consciousness and name and form – we (our “I”, you remember, the little ball) is all the time pushed up again by the fountain. 

Does not that feel exactly like vipassana? Sometimes a series of extremely refined “notings” and sometimes we find ourselves caught up in larger emotions and ideas. We are delving into (i.e. recognizing)  parts of the now-reality in varying degrees of abstraction: More often emotions, ideas. Less often pure object. Even less often just the feeling of a moment. Rarely what lies beyond – where in the “contact” consciousness and name-and-form align.

So what are we trying to get to?

If in this moment we would be able to stop at the level of consciousness and name and form (where the present moment is conceived in) we would have removed the vail of ignorance, destroyed sankharas (at least for one moment) and thus “we” would extinguish the foundations for the birth of (or better “into”?) the next moment.

In that one moment the entire pyramid of life comes falling down.  Vinnanassa nirodhena … etth’etam uparujjhati…  …bhavanirodho nibbanam …sankharasamatho etc. etc.

The implications of understanding this (i.e. theoretically and even more so pragmatically) are quite numerous.(*)

We now understand what in fact we are trying to achieve in our vipassana -mindful-noting-pure-attentional mode. We understand, that it is not time (although that might be helpful) but rather skill/ability gained through pushing this mental cultivation towards the brink of experiental existance…

Have you ever tried to extinguish a candle flame with two fingers? Sometimes you need several attempts..you get closer and further away from the wick but one moment you succeed and the dancing burning fighting flame disappears… smoke (phala samapatti?) indicates the attainment but overall peace concurs.

So what is paticcasamuppada?

A description of experience (like the 5 groups of grasping and the six sense impressions). However, it also indicates the conditions keeping samsara going which, if tumbled lead instantly to the cessation of samsara. Whereas the description of the 5 groups of grasping needs additional qualifiers (groups of grasping) the paticcasamuppada is a self-sufficient explanation of the entire Dhamma.

Again, we might think of the similes of trees and seeds which the Buddha sometimes used for explaining the “sprouting” of consciousness. Each moment of life is like the sprouting of a seedling, planted by the previous fully blossomed paticcasamuppada into the tree of “suffering” and each new seedling in every moment almost instantaneously blossoms into a new tree…and so on… (like the simile of the forest, our life is a growing forest – or a forest fire, as no other trees seem to be left standing)

So with vipassana it seems as if we stop or slow down the blooming or growing of this flower/tree for a short period.

Sometimes we slow down that process just before the flowers open sometimes we delve deeper and stop the growth of its stem or even closer to its root… But we never fully succeed in stopping it at the moment where the seed touches earth. (Whether it is really a when and not a what, I leave that question open for Arahants to answer 🙂

So, in most cases we note and see one part of this process of “growth into concepts” or growth of papanca (proliferation) and each time we only succeed in slowing down for a moment.

It seems however, that that is enough, over the long course of insight meditation to do two things:

  1. We start to get an experiental understanding of the entire process of “becoming a self” in each present moment
  2. We start to get “skilled” in our reflective attention (pati-vekkhana == looking back, pati-san-cikkhati == looking back) until there will be one moment where we catch the process where consciousness gets born on grounds of the sankharas of previous moments.

The funny/paradox thing is this: as we unravel our avijja in this moment to see the beginning of this moment we – in the moment we do succeed – also destroy the very foundation for this to happen in the next moment – bam! and before you know it – cessation. Skilled cessation through the power of developed insight.

Of course, having seen that, the mind never completely functions like it did before. It found its own samsara-off switch, 😉 .



(*) Still, this article itself is floating in uncharted territory. I haven’t read the SN, Nidanavagga in quite some time but will try to provide citations to support this line of interpretation (in the next couple of months) – or make you aware of suttas which are in conflict with this paticcasamuppada interpretation.

(**) real. lat < res ‘the thing’ < > same idea in pali for dhamma

Further Reading: This is a nice read very much along the lines of recent observations made on this blog as well: The five groups of grasping as fuel for experience and DO as a description of experience not of things. Thanks, Jaya!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The worldling who attends to the arising aspect and ignores the cessation aspect is carried away by the perception of the compact. But the mind, when steadied, is able to see the phe nomenon of cessation: thitam cittam vippamuttam, vayancassànupassati, “the mind steadied and released contemplates its own passing away”.

With that steadied mind the arahant attends to the cessa tion of preparations. At its climax, he penetrates the gamut of existence made up of preparations, as in the case of a flame, and goes beyond the clutches of death.

As a comparison for existence, the simile of the flame is quite apt. We happened to point out earlier, that the word upà dàna can mean “grasping” as well as “fuel”. The totality of existence is sometimes referred to as a fire. The fuel for the fire of existence is grasping itself. With the removal of that fuel, one experiences extinction.

The dictum bhavanirodho nibbànam clearly shows that Nibbàna is the cessation of existence. There is another signifi cant discourse which equates Nibbàna to the experience of the cessation of the six sense-bases, saëàyatananirodha. The same experience of realization is viewed from a different angle. We have already shown that the cessation of the six sense-bases, or the six sense-spheres, is also called Nibbàna.

The discourse we are now going to take up is one in which the Buddha presented the theme as some sort of a riddle for the monks to work out for themselves.

Tasmàtiha, bhikkhave, se àyatane veditabbe yattha cakkhum ca nirujjhati rupasannà ca virajjati, se àyatane veditabbe yattha sotanca nirujjhati saddasannà ca virajjati, se àyatane veditabbe yattha ghànanca nirujjhati gandhasannà ca virajjati, se àyatane veditabbe yattha jivhà ca nirujjhati rasasannà ca virajjati, se àyatane veditabbe …se àyatane veditabbe yattha mano ca nirujjhati dhammasa¤¤à ca virajjati, se àyatane veditabbe, se àyatane veditabbe.

“Therefore, monks, that sphere should be known wherein the eye ceases and perceptions of form fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the ear ceases and perceptions of sound fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the nose ceases and perceptions of smell fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the tongue ceases and perceptions of taste fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the body ceases and perceptions of the tangible fade away, that sphere should be known wherein the mind ceases and percep tions of mind objects fade away, that sphere should be known, that sphere should be known.”

There is some peculiarity in the very wording of the pas sage, when it says, for instance, that the eye ceases, cakkhunca nirujjhati and perceptions of form fade away, rupasannà ca virajjati. As we once pointed out, the word viràga, usually ren dered by “detachment”, has a nuance equivalent to “fading away” or “decolouration”. Here that nuance is clearly evident. When the eye ceases, perceptions of forms fade away.

The Buddha is enjoining the monks to understand that sphere, not disclosing what it is, in which the eye ceases and perceptions of form fade away, and likewise the ear ceases and perceptions of sound fade away, the nose ceases and percep tions of smell fade away, the tongue ceases and perceptions of taste fade away, the body ceases and perceptions of the tangible fade away, and last of all even the mind ceases and per ceptions of mind objects fade away. This last is particularly note worthy.

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

Saëàyatananirodhaü, kho àvuso, Bhagavatà sandhàya bhàsitam. “Friends, it is with reference to the cessation of the six sense-spheres that the Exalted One has preached this sermon.”

When those monks approached the Buddha and placed Venerable ânanda’s explanation before him, the Buddha ratified it. Hence it is clear that the term àyatana in the above pas sage refers not to any one of the six sense-spheres, but to Nibbàna, which is the cessation of all of them.

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

The passage in question bears testimony to two important facts. Firstly that Nibbàna is called the cessation of the six sense-spheres. Secondly that this experience is referred to as an àyatana, or a `sphere’. [link]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Min. 1:50 – 3:50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idha, bhikkhave, nābhinandati nābhivadati nājjhosāya tiṭṭhati.


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

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

[Pali in Khandhasamyutta, SN]


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

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

Khandhasamyutta, 7. Anudhammasuttaṃ

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

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

[Pali and English SN 22.39]


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

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

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

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

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

To summarize so far:

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

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

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


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

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


and again here. even better now:

3. Aniccasuttaṃ

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


9. Nandikkhayasuttaṃ

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

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

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

pañcasu upādānakkhandhesu udayabbayānupassī vihāsi– ‘iti rūpaṃ, iti rūpassa samudayo, iti rūpassa atthaṅgamo; iti vedanā, iti vedanāya samudayo, iti vedanāya atthaṅgamo; iti saññā, iti saññāya samudayo, iti saññāya atthaṅgamo; iti saṅkhārā, iti saṅkhārānaṃ samudayo, iti saṅkhārānaṃ atthaṅgamo; iti viññāṇaṃ, iti viññāṇassa samudayo, iti viññāṇassa atthaṅgamo’ti, tassa pañcasu upādānakkhandhesu udayabbayānupassino viharato na cirasseva anupādāya āsavehi cittaṃ vimuccī”ti.

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

“Yes, lord,” the monks responded.

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

“No, lord.”

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

“No, lord.”

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

“Yes, lord.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



A-savas coming!

A-savas coming!

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


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

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

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

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


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



Some relevant pali words mentioned in this post as defined by the PED:
Nibbindati [nis+vindati, vid2] to get wearied of (c. loc.); to have enough of, be satiated, turn away from, to be disgusted with. In two roots A. vind: prs. nibbindati etc. usually in combn withvirajjati & vimuccati (cp. nibbāna III. 2). Vin i.35; S ii.94; iv.86, 140; A v.3; Dh 277 sq.; It 33; J i.267; Miln 235, 244; Sdhp 612. ppr. nibbindaŋ S
Virajjati [vi+rajjati] to detach oneself, to free oneself of passion, to show lack of interest in (loc.). S ii.94, 125 (nibbindaŋ [ppr.] virajjati); iii.46, 189; iv.2, 86; A v.3; Sn 739=S iv.205 (tattha); Th 1, 247; Sn 813 (na rajjati na virajjati), 853; Nd1 138, 237; Miln 245; Sdhp 613. — pp. viratta. — Caus. virājeti to put away, to estrange (acc.) from (loc.), to cleanse (oneself) of passion (loc.), to purify, to discard as rāga Dii.51; S i.16=Sn 171 (ettha chandaŋ v.=vinetvā viddhaŋsetvā SnA 213); S iv.17=Kvu 178; A ii.196 (rajanīyesu dhammesu cittaŋ v.); Sn 139, 203; Th 1, 282; Pv ii.1319 (itthi — cittaŋ=viratta — citta PvA 168); ThA 49; DhA i.327 (itthi — bhāve chandaŋ v. to give up desire for femininity). — pp. virājita.     

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


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

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And I show you how 🙂

Okay, caught your attention (did you see what happened when you read this headline)?

Now, let me rephrase a bit: This post is about how a Vipassana-opponent turned into a Vipassana-proponent. Interested? This is the story:

If you were raised in the West and got to know Buddhism from a scientific background and tradition-teacher-critical mindset (think Kalama Sutta) your premise of uncovering Nibbana in this lifetime would read like this:

First of all, I am only interested in what Buddha taught. Where can I find out what he taught? What is the most authentic and most original representation of his teachings/discourses going back to his time? Let me start my praxis and understanding from there, rather than through third class secondary literature or contradicting contemporary interpretations.

Obviously, your focus would then fall on the texts of the Sutta Pitaka of the (Theravadin) Pali Canon, the most ancient surviving (textual) tradition encapsulating the words of the Buddha.

Now, if you start reading those texts in any modern translation, you will come to the conclusion, that Buddhist meditation  is all about (based on morality, of course) attaining jhanas, or deep concentration states of the mind. You believe that wisdom will come on its own. And your favorite Dhammapada verse would sum that idea up like this:

“Natthi jhanam apannassa / panna natthi ajhayato

yamhi jhananca panna ca / sa ve nibbanasantike.”

“There is no meditation for him who is without wisdom;

there is no wisdom for him who is without meditation.

Nearer to Nibbana is he, in whom meditation and wisdom meet.” (Dhp 372) and (here)

Your next step however involves finding other people practicing on the path. Then, looking around, you hear people talk and write about vipassana. Vipassana? That is not even mentioned once(*) in the suttas, what is that? You read about vipassana and find out that it originated (at least in its modern revived practice) in Burma in the country of Abhidhamma, propagated by monks who learn and love the late abhidhammic scholasticism and commentaries…Those parts of the Buddhist canon, which you know from historical and text critical studies to be the least reliable teachings. At least that is what you conclude.

As an outspoken and tradition-critical Buddhist you get into arguments with other people who are so enthused about their latest vipassana retreat. It is true, your own attempt at getting into jhanic states (or deep concentrations states) is cumbersome and slow. You cannot understand why these other vipassana “junkies” would be able to progress on the path of the Dhamma, if they have not even undertaken some training in concentration meditation – let alone practice only “dry vipassana”. “Yikes”, you think. You try to tell them that their practice is wrong. Or will not bear fruits, because, what they do is neither explained nor legitimized in the most ancient Buddhist texts, or is it?

If you happen to be in Thailand or a Thai related tradition, your pretence against vipassana could be worse. For whatever reason (jealousy towards their little under-developed Northern neighbour?) Thai meditation masters are known for their struggle with wild tigers in jungle infested regions as part of their zen-like adventurous struggle towards nibbana. But they are not known for systematic meditation methodologies. Especially not in vipassana training.

If you happen to be in Sri Lanka, arguments are found for both meditation approaches. Chances are you find people on both sides of the argument, however, in recent decades, the majority definitely turned in favor towards (Burmese-style) vipassana. In the Western world, despite groups of people in favor of jhana meditation (usually among the few who DO study the pali canon) vipassana rules the day. However, the closer someone professes to have studied the most authentic pali suttas they will show reluctance to except vipassana meditation. Reason: It looks like its not mentioned in the texts, or is it??

Here you might find yourself in a peculiar situation. Are the early texts wrong and the many people vouching for vipassana right? Or are they missing a crucial part and the suttas correct in that jhana is needed first before attempting vipassana or insight meditation?

Let me show you how to solve this (apparently) difficult problem. For that matter, let us imagine a personal story:

From whatever karmic reason, being a stern vipassana sceptic (probably not for the first time), trying to carefully navigate between the past and present views about the Dhamma, and in order to find the authentic path and achieve Nibbana in this very life, you come in contact with a very active, highly trained meditation group. They teach jhanas and vipassana. However, they won’t teach you the jhanas. Not yet.

Why? What is their argument?

You don’t need full jhana concentration to start doing vipassana. (You keep your doubts to yourself). You don’t know your time of death! (Sure, granted). Are you willing to risk death and thus loose this special samsaric opportunity to gain insights into the nature of your mind just because of some desire for deep concentration states? You think: I can show you dozens of passages which will highlight the importance of strong concentration before insight can be born. But lets say you agree to the challenge and keep your scepticism to yourself. They invite you for a 20 day retreat. Let the practice and its results be your guide, they say. Not theory. Not texts. Not tradition. So, in the true spirit of the Kalama Sutta you start the work.

So interestingly enough as soon as you agree, (this being a proper place) …. You are taught the basics in concentration meditation…(as I said, we imagine a very good systematic place)…Every meditation session includes a reflection on your sila (virtues), includes small exercises in concentration and eventually applies a thorough vipassana methodology – without a full blown mastering of the jhanas, of course… just enough to sustain concentration for the task at hand – which is the noting of the appearing and vanishing of the six sense bases…or five groups of grasping….peeking “under the hood” of samsara. First slowly, clumsy. Then quicker and sharper. To see impermance, dukkha and emptiness of a self.

Now, as time passes, you are astonished. You find yourself walking through the commentarial vipassanāñāṇa in a personal direct experience in real-life, yet even those vipassana insights have not been discussed in the suttas, or have they?

However, you know how emphatic the Buddha was about seeing the rising and falling and the wisdom born thereof.

And yes, the further you practice vipassana in this systematic way, the more you understand how your six senses work, how concepts and thoughts are empty. What you did not believe in your wildest dreams to be true comes true. A method which seems to have originated from nowhere creates knowledge which remind you of the results the sutta speak of. However, the path you took seems not to be mentioned in the suttas. Can this be?

A huge dilemma: How in all the world can it be, that the suttas talk 90% about jhanas when they mention meditation and you don’t hear them talk about vipassana, wheras the commentaries and the working vipassana techniques (so popular nowadays) are not mentioned once?

At that point, convinced by the experience and practice of vipassana meditation you look back at the suttas. You are convinced that you need to take a closer look. Something is wrong here – and it is not your result-producing practice.

So you go back to the pali texts and translations and try to look for an answer. Very soon you understand, that the various modern translations are the culprits in “hiding vipassana”. We could also say the commentaries, as they failed to better relate pragmatic knowledge and concepts of their times to the suttas (but, well, the Burmese example shows, some were able to figure it out reading and studying the texts close enough).

Well, or we could simply acknowledge the fact, that meditation practice is hardly a matter for texts and difficult to transmit between real people in real life – even harder on the paper. So it is and always will be a challenge to convey meditation experience and practice on a page – or palm leaf.

Because, in truth, the suttas are FULL of references to vipassana, in fact theses references probably dwarf any mentioning of the jhanas by 100:1. But the word vipassana is not what one has to look for. This insight producing part of the Buddhas teaching was so central to his mission that he spoke about it almost every time someone came to him with a question. But only later in his life he started using the term “vipassana” which in later centuries became exclusively used to what the Buddha coined “sati” during his life.

So the term he is using is hardly ever “vipassana” (some suttas, mostly commentaries use this term) and not “noting”  (commentaries use this term, sallakkheti).

The Buddha uses “sati – remembering”  instead or he uses “yoniso manasikaro – proper attention” or he uses “iti pajanati – to know “thus” or he uses various verbs related to “samanupassati – seeing,observing” etc. etc..

Remembering/Noting/Witnessing as a function of the mind to withstand the drag of the sense impressions and to actively witness with wise attention what is going on with the help of a (small number of very specific) labels.

And the Buddha uses “iti pajanati”. He uses direct speech. He tells us what to do – in fact how to note our experience – how to use a very simple concept like “This is not mine. This am i not. This is not my self” to de-conceptualize our constantly proliferating world-experience.

But the many scholarly (and contemporary) translators (in most cases) could not recognize this. They translate “you have to see the forms as empty” when it  more literally says  “you have to see the form so: ‘empty’”. A tiny little change, granted, but suddenly the missing link re-appears. And vipassana is all over the place. In fact, not only that – now references of how to use sustained thoughts in helping to induce concentration meditation appear in the pali texts and even jhana meditation lightens up.

Here is another exapmle. Such an obvious pali sentence as this one

Atthi kayo’ti pan’assa sati paccupatthita hoti yava-d-eva nana-mattaya pati-ssati-mattaya

Lit.: “(There) is a body” so too his remembering/noting/attention established is, just for the sake of knowing, for the sake of awareness.

from the famous satipatthana sutta gets translated by one famous scholar monks as:

he has clear mindfulness of the existence of the body only to extent that will serve to make it an object of gnosis (ñana) and recollection.

Therefore, a more literal translation – careful towards the application of meditation practice – would show that the Buddha’s “samma sati” is in fact the commentaries favorite “vipassana”. (more on this here)

And so, the seeming contradiction between jhana and vipassana dissolves into a close link between the two. Whereas the one uses thoughts to increase concentration on an object (think: “buddho, buddho”) the other uses specific labels to aid the development of deep insight by directing/guiding the bare attention: “This is feeling”. “This is how feeling appears”. “This is how feeling vanishes”. Left alone the mind behaves like a monkey in a forest. Both, insight and concentration meditation prosper on the usage of sati, that is “remembering”.

We could make changes and say instead “sati and samadhi” if we do not like to say “samatha and vipassana”…yes, that would probably have been the terminology of Buddhist meditation at the time of the Buddha. But nothing is wrong to use the preferred commentarial terminology and say “samatha-vipassana”. After all, these are all simply names/concepts relating to a pragmatic approach in meditation. That is why the Buddha mentioned vipassana implicitely when talking about jhanas and implicitely concentration when talking about vipassana. It gets problematic if these “notions”, “thoughts”, “views” start to interfere with our practice and we avoid walking on the entire noble eightfold path.

A little add-on:

Another problem is the mistaken role of jhanas in the recent vipassana revival. Jhanas are mistaken to be a hindrance or annoyance to the insight meditator. Very often jhanic states deriving from the intense “noting” practice are not acknowledged as such and lead to confusion. Someone with prior training in concentration has an easier time gauging his experiences (and continuing to note) by-products of a deep concentration. Therefore, the so-called “upacara” samadhi or “access” concentration is many times the result of a concentrated meditator untrained in the mastery of the jhanas. This will lead to jhanic experiences which then appear random and fuzzy and attract the wrong kind of attention by a vipassana meditator who never experienced them before. What could be a support due to the narrower focus of attention now turns into a hindrance, a broken and unsustained, underdeveloped jhana.

Final note: While our criticism was primarily directed towards the Jhānapubbaṅgamāvāda(i.e. the group of people who say that jhanas have to be developed first, like this) including the hint that “directing once mind towards realization of the 4 noble truth” is where the “real” work starts 🙂 we did try to balance our constructive criticism with remarks on the importance of one-pointedness. Vipassanāparāmāsāvāda (i.e. the group of people who separate vipassana from morality and concentration and place it above all) are in danger of dancing on the same spot and slowing down their progress. Khanika or ‘momentary’ concentration in this regard is an oxymoron, in my humble opinion. Think about it.

A proposal for today’s Theravada practice therefore, could look like this:

Our practice needs to establish a balance between sila, samādhi and paññā . One possibility is to incorporate reflection on sila and preparation on samathā into a preamble for every vipassanā meditation session. In fact there are such integrating and systematic approaches out there (esp. in Lanka) and if this post serves any good it might do some advertisement for such comprehensive approaches to Buddhist training.

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

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

In the next post we will look at some of the pali texts which show the ubiquity of “vipassanā” in the suttas =>


(*) The term vipassana is already mentioned and used in the suttas albeit not very common. Mostly in conjunction with samatha-vipassana but most of the passages which do mention vipassana in the suttas could be from younger text strata. I have another post in my draft folder with some quantification on this topic which i will link to at this place once it’s posted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and under sarati we find:

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is literacy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iti pajanati

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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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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