Archive for the ‘vipassana’ Category

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

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

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

Fast forward to the 1990’s  😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, in 1997, something amazing happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some particular characteristics of Mahamevnawa:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

.) Biography of the Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda

.) Dhamma websites affiliated with Mahamegha/Mahamevnawa:





Ven. Anandajoti Bhikkhu’s impressions

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

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

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

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

Let’s simplify this and break it down:

Step 1 – This is what you have to do

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

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

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

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

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

The impermanent form the monk sees like “impermanent”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two further quotes on this topic:

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

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

and similarly:

‘‘Na so rajjati rūpesu, rūpaṃ disvā paṭissato;
Virattacitto vedeti, tañca nājjhosa tiṭṭhati.
‘‘Yathāssa passato rūpaṃ, sevato cāpi vedanaṃ;
Khīyati nopacīyati, evaṃ so caratī sato;
Evaṃ apacinato dukkhaṃ, santike nibbānamuccati.

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

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

Sā assa hoti sammādiṭṭhi. This is his right view.

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

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

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

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

Sammā passaṃ nibbindati. Seeing correctly he becomes disenchanted.

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

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

Step 4 – Watch out for a transformation to occur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else needs to be said? 😉

Or in the words of the Buddha:

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

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

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


Comparing ITI with english LIKE

Quoting from

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Eng-3) “I was like ‘wow’!”

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

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

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

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

(Eng-4) “I was thus: ‘Wow!'”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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Practical ideas on anussati, sati and apilapanā.

Today I would like to invite you to a short experiment. It is going to be very simple. Here is the experiment:

Think of a random number, for instance “1325”. Now close your eyes and try to keep that number in your mind, continously, don’t forget it, don’t think of anything else. Just this number and only this number. Try your best to just keep that number in the forefront of your mind at all times. You must try to hold it continously, without letting it slip from your attention! It has to be one ongoing “ride”. Think of it as learning how to ride a bike: you will fall off (the number) but you will get back on it immediately, trying to stay on it as long as you can. Don’t let it go and keep coming back! Your goal should be to stick with it, as long as you possibly can – and then increase those little moments.

Do this for at least 5 minutes. If you don’t, it will be hard for you to understand what this post is trying to illustrate.

Thanks for trying :-). Trying to tame the mind means training ones skill of mental one-pointedness. But there is so much more going on when you develop that skill which may have reminded you of your days as a child, when you tried to find your balance on the saddle of a bike, only to realize that you were falling off the bike almost as quickly as you got on it.

Developing the Jhanas is exactly the same type of activity as the one you just exercised. Developing the jhanas is like learning how to ride a (mental) bike. When learning how to ride a bike there are three important things involved: First of all, you see others on the bike and see how much fun they have. You want that too. Secondly, almost everyone you see did learn it, so you are thinking: I can do it too. Third, when you are up on the bike, you learn to intuitively avoid falling – but that takes lot of practice. You know now, that the falling was actually part of the game, and it taught you how NOT to fall. In order to develop the skill to keep your balance your mind had to learn to avoid extreme movements away from the center. You also realized that eventually, once you started to keep going, the balance was easy to hold and the fun bike ride started.
Concentration meditation and learning to get into the jhanas are a very very similar process. No one would consider constant falling off a bike to be called “riding a bike”. Similarly, constantly “loosing” ones meditation object and never getting to the first jhana is like trying to get on a bike but never succeeding. It is like a perpetual state of meditation-trial. We would not expect someone to get very far either, if he is still struggling with finding his balance on a bike – and in the same way, from the perspective of the suttas, the ability to ride that bike is a presupposed training, something which allows you to cover a lot of ground with insight meditation, but also something which everyone and obviously did not have a hard time doing. So lets get back to the essentials of riding that bike.

When you did the little exercise above you were asked to use the number in lieu of a meditation object (a meditation object is nothing else than a mental object – in the case of this number probably a picture or a sound, your thought of it) and you were eager and tried diligently to keep that mental object stable and continously in the presence of your mind. You probably also noticed that you needed effort, but that too much effort was contra-productive and made your mind bubble even more. But you probably also noted that as soon as you were not careful you would lose your focus on what you originally intended to hold in your mind, what you wanted to continously remember.  I hope you find those five minutes challenging and that challenge interesting.

So, lets summarize:

  1. To get on a bike, you need a bike – this is your meditation object
  2. Your goal is it to effortlessly be in a state of riding, needing hardly any “effort” to stay balanced and enjoying the breeze – this is your blissful jhanic state of calm, mental, focused abiding
  3. To develop that knowledge of keeping the balance you need lots of practice – the same for meditation
  4. You have to have a measure of progress: less falling from the bike, longer stretches of effortless riding – the same applies for meditation
  5. The challenge in riding the bike is to get up to speed while the body is yet moving too quickly too strongly too far away from the center – same in meditation: in the beginning it is a catch 22 where the mind is too quickly and strongly moving away from your meditation object which will make your mental bike wobble and throw you off…

It is through renewed practice, knowing the technique and checking your progress, that you will eventually master the skill of mental biking – with all the benefits it will bestow on you.

Let’s talk a little bit more about the technique and have a look at some definitions the Buddha is teaching in the suttas on this topic.

We compared meditation to the idea of  “riding” a “thought” like you ride a bike. Does not that challenge, and it definitely is a challenge, remind you of the following story the Buddha told:

“Suppose the loveliest girl of the land was dancing and singing and a crowd assembled. A man was there wishing to live, not to die, wishing for happiness, averse to suffering. If someone said to him, ‘Good man, carry around this bowl of oil filled to the brim between the crowds and the girl. A man with a sword will follow you, and if you spill even a drop, he will cut off your head,’ would that man stop attending to that bowl of oil and turn his attention outward to the girl? This simile shows how you should train yourselves.”

‘‘Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, ‘janapadakalyāṇī, janapadakalyāṇī’ti kho, bhikkhave, mahājanakāyo sannipateyya. ‘Sā kho panassa janapadakalyāṇī paramapāsāvinī nacce, paramapāsāvinī gīte. Janapadakalyāṇī naccati gāyatī’ti kho, bhikkhave, bhiyyosomattāya mahājanakāyo sannipateyya. Atha puriso āgaccheyya jīvitukāmo amaritukāmo sukhakāmo dukkhappaṭikūlo. Tamenaṃ evaṃ vadeyya – ‘ayaṃ te, ambho purisa, samatittiko telapatto antarena ca mahāsamajjaṃ antarena ca janapadakalyāṇiyā pariharitabbo. Puriso ca te ukkhittāsiko piṭṭhito piṭṭhito anubandhissati. Yattheva naṃ thokampi chaḍḍessati tattheva te siro pātessatī’ti. Taṃ kiṃ maññatha, bhikkhave, api nu so puriso amuṃ telapattaṃ amanasikaritvā bahiddhā pamādaṃ āhareyyā’’ti? ‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’. ‘‘Upamā kho myāyaṃ, bhikkhave, katā atthassa viññāpanāya. Ayaṃ cevettha attho – samatittiko telapattoti kho, bhikkhave, kāyagatāya etaṃ satiyā adhivacanaṃ. Tasmātiha, bhikkhave, evaṃ sikkhitabbaṃ – ‘kāyagatā sati no bhāvitā bhavissati bahulīkatā yānīkatā vatthukatā anuṭṭhitā paricitā susamāraddhā’ti. Evañhi kho, bhikkhave, sikkhitabba’’nti.
(SN, PTS.  5. 170)

In some of the previous posts we have come across the idea that such an effort as described above in fact entails samma sati which in due course would lead to a meditative absorption or collectedness called samma samadhi (the two last parts of the Buddha’s noble eightfold path). In the “Mahāniddesa-Aṭṭhakathā” we find a very telling description of samma sati. It also allows us to better understand a similar term which the suttas also apply to the practice of sati, namely “anussati“. The Mahāniddesa-Aṭṭhakathā (Commentary on the Mahaniddesa) has the following line which makes it very clear what the practice of sati, i.e. anussati, means. An explanation which seems to match our observation after all of the aforesaid – and it will be especially obvious to you, if you tried the initial experiment as suggested in the beginning. Have a look how meditation gets defined in that over 2000 year old text:

Punappunaṃ saraṇato anussaraṇa-vasena ‘anussati’.
Again and again remembering, through the method of continously remembering [lit.: along-remembering], (that is called) “anussati”.
[Mahāniddesa-Aṭṭhakathā, PTS 1.51]

This is quite a telling and very descriptive explanation – but it seems certainly very intuitive and striking to someone who practices concentration meditation. Typically “anussati” is translated into English simply as “recollection”. Nothing wrong with such a translation, besides the obvious drawback that the word “anu-sati” tells you actually how to practice just through the name itself (anu-after/along, sati-remembrance) and the word “recollection” however is more vague and unclear as to “how” to practice.(1) What is described as “anu-saraṇa”  is exactly what we try when someone asks us to keep one object in the forefront of our mind, we try to keep it upright, established, alive in our mind without letting go of it. “anu-” is a prefix in Pāli and carries the connotation of “following after, along, alongside, going after”. “saraṇa” means remembering, related to the word sati (as a  noun) and sarati (the verb) – anussaraṇa is a nominalized verb, expressing the active character of the verb’s activity. So here in this case, anussati then describes the method of “along- or follow along remembering” – does not that seem like a pretty good description of our own little experiment from the beginning? Now, in theory, you yourself would know – and that just by looking at the name – how to practice any of the following meditations exercises:

buddhānussati (anussati on the Buddha), asubhānussati (on the loathesomeness of the body), maraṇānussati (on death), upasamānussati (on peace), dhammānussati (on the Dhamma), sanghānussati (on the sangha), cāgānussati (on giving), etc….

At this point you might say; “wait a second. isn’t anussati typically translated as ‘recollection’? I get what you are saying, how anussati could mean a continuous process of keeping a memory in the mind, but how would one explain the Buddha’s ‘recollection of former lives’ (pubbenivesānussati) or Buddhaghosa’s description of ‘recollecting’ the virtues of the Buddha?”
Valid questions. The connotations of the English expression ‘recollection’ are not very meditative. When we hear ‘recollection’ we think of a random way of bringing stuff back into our memory, a (more or less – stress on more) random  jumping around. However, ‘anussati‘ as we see it utilized in Pali, has a narrower meaning. It means that you are staying with a memory (preferably only one). Whether it is the case of the Buddha remembering memories of former lives, you can see that in the description of such a ‘recollection’ the meditator recalls one life after the other in a constant succession, without letting go of the object of the concentration. It is therefore a veritable ‘along’-remembering, without interruptions(4) – and drawing you a w a y from the senses => the decisive necessity to get to the first jhana. A similar observation can be made reading the Visuddhimagga’s description of meditation on body-parts: first the meditator is asked to recite them in a certain succession (anyone can do that, a very smart way to introduce meditation), then, at a certain point, the meditator is now asked to “flip the switch” and continue to “chant” mentally, i.e. recollect uninterruptedly in a mentally voiced manner(3) – that is the same what you would do when someone asks you to mentally keep a number in your head without letting any other “distraction” take over. Here too, your ‘recollection’ becomes a sustained, continous effort, which succeeds when the practice of anussati evokes first mental bliss (through sense reduction –  viveka from kama) and then via an automatic centering in the jhanic dwelling.

About the interesting Mahaniddesa passage on “sati(8) to which the above quoted definition is given in the subcommentary and which he had examined in another post on this blog (Understanding Vipassana) there is another synonym listed(17) for the practice of sati, namely “apilāpanatā” which will, at a closer look, support our interpretation of sati and especially anussati as a method of keeping an object continously present in mind. The PED says about “apilāpanatā”(16)

Apilāpanatā (f.) in the pass. at Dhs 14 = Nd2 628 is evidently meant to be taken as a + pilāpana + tā (fr. pilavati, plu), but whether the der. & interpret. of Dhs A is correct, we are unable to say. On general principles it looks like popular etym. Mrs. Rh. D. translates (p. 16) “opposite of superficiality” (lit “not floating”); see her detailed note Dhs trsl. 16.

Imagine this scenario: You are caught in a wild river and out of sheer luck you are able to grab a hold of a rock. What do you think you will try to do? You will try to hold onto it with all your might, trying to not let it go:

Yathā hi udake lābukaṭāhādīni palavanti, na anupavisanti, na tathā ārammaṇe sati. Ārammaṇañhi esā anupavisati, tasmā ‘‘apilāpanatā’’ti vuttā. ”
Just as in the water pumpkins and kettles, etc. swim, but do not dive into the water, in such a way sati (is) not – regarding the object. It is called “apilapanata” (not letting float/get away) because it does enter the object.”

The attainment of the jhana, according to this simile, is achieved by a “not-floating away” or “not-drifting-away”. This is similar to a person in a wild river pushed along by the current who would try to hold on to a stone – long enough to pull himself out of the water and step on that stone. Such a temporary break (because he has not yet crossed the river but is still caught in the middle) on the steady rock in the middle of a wild river means also that no effort is necessary to maintain that calm position and one feels calmness and aloofness while the river/stream of the senses retreats(2). However, if you ever did that in your life, you know that the water can still get you – washing over the rock, water gushing up – and if you are not careful you will slip and fall back into the river(18).

The really bigger picture – the “what”

Let’s leave the detailed expedition into jhana kindling (pun intended – (20)) for a moment and make sure we understand the general setting. Sometimes we can see a big misunderstanding arising from those practicing vipassana exclusively in the way they might understand how samadhi works (because it works counter-intuitive to vipassana) – at the same time we can see a similar misunderstanding on the side of those who idealize samadhi and want it alone to be a kind of a substitute for vipassana. Let’s address misunderstanding one: It is correct that the practice of samadhi is characterized by the development of a skill of holding onto an object – a singular, very faint (because it being mental, rupaloka) object. Thus it fulfills the idea of overcoming thirst by using thirst. Albeit, during such a process and training, we are moving closer to Nirvana, incrementally. This skill of mental balancing and the resulting one-pointedness and calmness of the mind (by then being able to effortlessly ‘ride the bike’ with grace and balance resting on the needlepoint of sharp awareness) allows for the feat which vipassana will make possible:
It is crucial to understand that “vipassana” means that we have to break into the operation of the feeling, perception, and “becoming conscious” of any sense object, including the slightest mental activities – only if we are able to observe this entirety in its rising and falling, are we able to utterly exhaust our interest in it and let go of it all. And here is the challenge: if our samadhi is not that developed our vision will be blurred (because we have not learned to stay on one object – we will get cheated and tricked by lot’s of objects which we will fall for and thus not see) and it will take much longer (and some chose it that way – in ‘dry’ vipassana – where you will have to built up concentration on the fly with vipassana – which most vipassana systems, even if they don’t acknowledge it – do take into account). It will take much longer then to develop a clarity from which to let go which is necessary so that we don’t even get tricked into the faintest mental shadows of anything we become aware of / consciousness of, do not identify with them, and thus stall the process of re-lease.
So there is a purpose to the effort of getting the mind one-pointed; yes learning how to hold onto one object by letting go of others, even if, in the very end, our goal is it to transcend the holding of any object (apanihita-cetovimutti). In other words: Already the practice of sila and even further the practice of samadhi is a repeated process of self-restraint, first bodily, then verbal and eventually mentally where the roaming of the mind is hindered further and further (Yāni sotāni lokasmiṃ, sati tesaṃ nivāraṇaṃ) until the gearbox of samsara becomes visible and its complete six-fold excuse-less observation triggers a samsaric exhaustion (Sotānaṃ saṃvaraṃ brūmi, paññāyete pidhiyyare) and a turning away (nibbidā, virāgā) entails which leads to a freedom (vimutti) which, even from the perspective of the jhāna, seems impossible: one stops without an object, after having dried up the river once, allowing one to find the ability to attain to such an object-less samadhi (animitta-, apaṇihita, suññata-cetovimutti) which is impossible to attain to if one were to just use concentration on objects.

The bigger picture – the “how”

We have to understand that  the purpose of sati is not “to observe in a neutral fashion“(15). Sati in Pali terminology is a very precise technical term describing the skill of staying with the object (paṭṭhana – something we tie ourselves to) one wants to keep in mind. That of course brings something else about: upekkha – or equanimity in the highest form of jhanic calmness. Very refined in the fourth jhana, obviously. Equanimity is the pinnacle of concentration for obvious reasons: it means the state of utter balance which makes our mind (temporarily) unshakeable and therefore neutral in its observation. However – and this is quite important to the practice, sati of such a level is called purified (satiparisuddham) because of the mind’s ability to continously stay with one object is unpertubed – but does such a “bare awareness” alone lead to Nirvana? And, even more important, is someone whose mind is grasping at a meditative object in a very subtle manner be able -without technique – to look through the stickyness of his attainment? What else needs to be done at that point? So far in our description, there is nothing “Buddhist” about the samadhi. If sati is keeping focus on an object and such focus leads to strongest equanimity, where does wisdom enter the equation? Addressing the misconception that samādhi alone by itself, without right view, leads to Nirvana made the Buddha point out that samadhi is a tool for the realization of paticcasamuppada. But how?  It is at this crucial point in our practice, that samma-ditthi(21), or right view, with which the entire noble path starts and is “funded by”, that this correct view “enriches” your samādhi and turns it into something supramundane, something directed towards helping us break out of samsara. How could that be done? It is with this power of concentration (which was built up using effort – viriya – and presence of mind/recollection – sati) that the meditator directs(22) his mind towards an understanding of the mass of suffering which the Buddha found to spring off at the conceptually atomic level of five components of grasping (23) – lit. masses of fuel . This sharp view which one has to activate is called vipassana and gets boosted by the tranquility (samatha – it doesnt have to be boosted to the highest extreme(24) but it makes so much more sense developing it to the best of our ability), by the skill of continous attention (sati), the strong equanimity (upekkha) – none of which (i.e. viriya, sati and upekkha) in themselves would lead to nirvana, as anyone who does concentrate, will experience them too.
Most of his time we find the Buddha in the suttas talking about this particular part of meditation practice, where we direct our deep attention towards a direct experience of dependent origination to make wisdom grow – he called this practice variously “ñāṇadassana” (seeing-knowing), or “yathābhūa ñāṇadassanā” (to seeing-knowing as it has become) or “iti pajanati” or “sammapaññāya daṭṭhabbam“(25). The object of such a deep and careful (non-analytical!) uncompromising direct all-encompassing observation(26) were described by the Buddha in varying shades: the five groups of grasping, the six sense spheres, the dependent origination – all of which describe the same process(27), namely experience, in the moment of its occcurence, at the deepest possible level of observation – beyond names and forms on the one hand (nama rupa) and consciousness (vinnyana) on the other there is nothing else left which makes the world tick – from an experiental point of view – the point of view which wants to see how suffering is born. The Buddha at this point highlighted to us, that such a prolonged observation (nibbidābahulo(28)), a wisdom which sees the rising and falling(29),  would by (natural) law (dhammatā) lead to a certain disenchantment so that finally Nirvana takes place. The rest is history, as they say.

These last two paragraphs was just meant as a bird-view picture of the path – nothing new to many of you, but giving this post a little bit of a broader perspective in regard to the path of practice and the place of sati and practice of anussati in it.


  1. This is a dilemma for most translators and the reason why Pali in translation loses its “preciseness” or makes long notes necessary.
  2. The attainment of phalasamapatti would be that you are in the middle of the stream yet you have no stone to hang on to, still you are not washed away (animitta). The Nirvanic experience would resemble the river (temporarily) drying up.
  3. Evaṃ kālasataṃ kālasahassaṃ kālasatasahassampi vācāya sajjhāyo kātabbo. Vacasā sajjhāyena hi kammaṭṭhānatanti paguṇā hoti, na ito cito ca cittaṃ vidhāvati. Koṭṭhāsā pākaṭā honti, hatthasaṅkhalikā viya vatipādapanti viya ca khāyanti.Yathā pana vacasā, tatheva manasāpi sajjhāyo kātabbo. Vacasā sajjhāyo hi manasā sajjhāyassa paccayo hoti. Manasā sajjhāyo lakkhaṇapaṭivedhassa paccayo hoti. (Vism. I, par.180 CST4) – “…So the teacher who expounds the meditation subject should tell the pupil to do the reictation verbally first….The recitation should be done verbally in this way a hundred times, a thousand times, even a hundred thousand times. For it is through verbal recitation that the meditation subject becomes familiar, and the mind being thus prevented from running here and there….The mental recitation [sic!] should be done just as it is done verbally. For the verbal recitation is a condition for the mental recitation and the mental recitation is a condition for the penetration of the characteristic (of this meditation). Mostly Nyanamoli transl. see p. 262.
  4. anekavihitaṃ pubbenivāsaṃ anussarati. Seyyathidaṃ – ekampi jātiṃ dvepi jātiyo tissopi jātiyo catassopi jātiyo pañcapi jātiyo dasapi jātiyo vīsampi jātiyo tiṃsampi jātiyo cattālīsampi jātiyo paññāsampi jātiyo jātisatampi jātisahassampi jātisatasahassampi anekānipi jātisatāni anekānipi jātisahassāni anekānipi jātisatasahassāni – ‘amutrāsiṃ evaṃnāmo evaṃgotto evaṃvaṇṇo evamāhāro evaṃsukhadukkhappaṭisaṃvedī evamāyupariyanto, so tato cuto amutra udapādiṃ; tatrāpāsiṃ evaṃnāmo evaṃgotto evaṃvaṇṇo evamāhāro evaṃsukhadukkhappaṭisaṃvedī evamāyupariyanto, so tato cuto idhūpapanno’ti. Iti sākāraṃ sauddesaṃ anekavihitaṃ pubbenivāsaṃ anussarati.
  5. which puts it right in the vicinity of the Milindapanha, Patisambhiddamagga and similar texts
  6. Buddhānussatīti buddhassa guṇānussaraṇaṃ. Evaṃ anussarato hi pīti uppajjati. So taṃ pītiṃ khayato vayato paṭṭhapetvā arahattaṃ pāpuṇāti. Upacārakammaṭṭhānaṃ nāmetaṃ gihīnampi labbhati, esa nayo sabbattha. DN-A. PTS, p. 3.1037
  7. Buddhānussatīti buddhaṃ ārabbha uppannā anussati, buddhaguṇārammaṇāya satiyā etaṃ adhivacanaṃ. Taṃ panetaṃ buddhānussatikammaṭṭhānaṃ duvidhaṃ hoti cittasampahaṃsanatthañceva vipassanatthañca. Kathaṃ? Yadā hi asubhārammaṇesu aññataraṃ bhāventassa bhikkhuno cittuppādo upahaññati ukkaṇṭhati nirassādo hoti, vīthiṃ nappaṭipajjati, kūṭagoṇo viya ito cito ca vidhāvati. Tasmiṃ khaṇe esa mūlakammaṭṭhānaṃ pahāya ‘‘itipi so bhagavā’’tiādinā nayena tathāgatassa lokiyalokuttaraguṇe anussarati. Tassevaṃ buddhaṃ anussarantassa cittuppādo pasīdati, vinīvaraṇo hoti. So taṃ cittaṃ evaṃ dametvā puna mūlakammaṭṭhānaṃyeva manasi karoti. Kathaṃ? Yathā nāma balavā puriso kūṭāgārakaṇṇikatthāya mahārukkhaṃ chindanto sākhāpalāsacchedanamatteneva pharasudhārāya vipannāya mahārukkhaṃ chindituṃ asakkontopi dhuranikkhepaṃ akatvāva kammārasālaṃ gantvā tikhiṇaṃ pharasuṃ kārāpetvā puna taṃ chindeyya. Evaṃsampadamidaṃ daṭṭhabbaṃ. So evaṃ buddhānussativasena cittaṃ paridametvā puna mūlakammaṭṭhānaṃ manasikaronto asubhārammaṇaṃ paṭhamajjhānaṃ nibbattetvā jhānaṅgāni sammasitvā ariyabhūmiṃ okkamati. Evaṃ tāva cittasampahaṃsanatthaṃ hoti. Yadā panesa buddhānussatiṃ anussaritvā ‘‘ko ayaṃ itipi so bhagavātiādinā nayena anussari, itthi nu kho puriso nu kho devamanussamārabrahmānaṃ aññataro nu kho’’ti pariggaṇhanto ‘‘na añño koci, satisampayuttaṃ pana cittameva anussarī’’ti disvā ‘‘taṃ kho panetaṃ cittaṃ khandhato viññāṇakkhandho hoti, tena sampayuttā vedanā vedanākkhandho, tena sampayuttā saññā saññākkhandho, sahajātā phassādayo saṅkhārakkhandhoti ime cattāro arūpakkhandhā hontī’’ti arūpañca vavatthapetvā tassa nissayaṃ pariyesanto hadayavatthuṃ disvā tassa nissayāni cattāri mahābhūtāni, tāni upādāya pavattāni sesaupādārūpāni ca pariggahetvā ‘‘sabbampetaṃ rūpaṃ rūpakkhandho’’ti vavatthapetvā ‘‘idañca rūpaṃ purimañca arūpa’’nti saṅkhepato rūpārūpaṃ, pabhedato pañcakkhandhe puna ‘‘saṅkhepato pañcapete khandhā dukkhasacca’’nti dukkhasaccaṃ vavatthapetvā ‘‘tassa pabhāvikā taṇhā samudayasaccaṃ, tassā nirodho nirodhasaccaṃ, nirodhapajānanā paṭipadā maggasacca’’nti evaṃ pubbabhāge cattāri ca saccāni vavatthapetvā paṭipāṭiyā ariyabhūmiṃ okkamati. Tadāssa imaṃ kammaṭṭhānaṃ vipassanatthaṃ nāma hoti. Ayaṃ khotiādi appanāvāro vuttanayeneva veditabbo. AN-A. PTS, p. 2.20
  8. Yā sati anussati paṭissati, sati saraṇatā dhāraṇatā apilāpanatā asammussanatā, sati satindriyaṃ satibalaṃ sammāsati satisambojjhaṅgo ekāyanamaggo – ayaṃ vuccati sati. Imāya satiyā upeto samupeto, upagato samupagato, upapanno samupapanno, samannāgato so vuccati sato.
  9. A beautiful version of an interlinear Visuddhimagga: http://thepathofpurification.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html
  10. Yathā hi udake lābukaṭāhādīni palavanti, na anupavisanti, na tathā ārammaṇe sati (?? read: yati?). Ārammaṇañhi esā anupavisati, tasmā ‘‘apilāpanatā’’ti vuttā. “Just as in the water pumpkins and kettles, etc. swim, but not dive into the water, in such a way sati (is) not – regarding the object. It is called “apilapanata” (not letting float/get away) because it does enter the object.”
  11. Also very interesting passage in the incredible Petakopadesa: Ayaṃ vīriyasambojjhaṅgo. Iminā vīriyena dve dhammā ādito avippaṭisāro pāmojjañca yā puna pīti avippaṭisārapaccayā pāmojjapaccayā, ayaṃ pītisambojjhaṅgo. Yaṃ pītimanassa kāyo passambhati. Ayaṃ passaddhisambojjhaṅgo. Tena kāyikasukhamānitaṃ yaṃ sukhino cittaṃ samādhiyati, ayaṃ samādhisambojjhaṅgo. Yaṃ samāhito yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti, ayaṃ dhammavicayasambojjhaṅgo. Yā sīlamupādāya pañcannaṃ bojjhaṅgānaṃ upādāyānulomatā nimittāyanā pītibhāgiyānañca visesabhāgiyānañca apilāpanatā sahagatā hoti anavamaggo, ayaṃ satisambojjhaṅgo. Petakop. PTS, p.186 – “When the body of the one whose mind is blissful calms down, that is the awakening factor of calmness. Through that bodily ease, when the mind of the happy one settles, that is the awakening factor of samadhi. When he, who is mentally focused/settled (samahito) knows (observes) whatever has become (come into being, he has become aware of), this is the awakening factor of unheaping mental things (dhamma-vicaya: mental deconceptualization, mental deconstuctionism 🙂 ).  What is the following along of the taking up of the practice of the five factors of awakening, that which leads to the creation of bliss and realization, that not-floating away-ness, that going-with, that not-off-the path-ness, this is the awakening factor of sati.
  12. Almost need to translate sati here as “memory” (or is it sati from as?): Satiparicite hi dhamme paññā pajānāti, no sammuṭṭhe. Through memory accumulated dhammas with wisdom he can know, but not forgotten (ones). Cf. also passage with reference to Note 7: Tassa tattha sukhino dhammapadā plavanti . Dandho, bhikkhave, satuppādo; atha so satto khippaṃyeva visesagāmī hoti. Sotānugatānaṃ, bhikkhave, dhammānaṃ, vacasā paricitānaṃ, manasānupekkhitānaṃ, diṭṭhiyā suppaṭividdhānaṃ ayaṃ paṭhamo ānisaṃso pāṭikaṅkho. To such a happy one living here (deva world) words of the Dhamma float (through the mind). Slow, o monks, is the arising of his memory, but quickly does he attain realization… AN IV, 191. See also the post “Sati is not Mindfulness?” where we quoted Colette Cox on a similar observation.
  13. yena yena cittaṃ abhinīharati tena tena sati anuparivattati. Yena yena vā pana sati anuparivattati tena tena cittaṃ abhinīharati. Tena vuccati – ‘‘anuṭṭhitā’’ti – “Through whatever one draws ones mind, around that sati will circle. By whatever sati circles around moving along, through that the mind is drawn. There it says: “anutthita” – along-standing.
  14. The Mahaniddessa Comy is a very interesting commentary. Seems the Ven. Upasena was more inclined to pickup meditative data from the ancient Sinhala Comy than Buddhaghosa, who seems slightly more leaning towards dogmatic/theoretical explanations. Look at this description of sati and samadhi: Ekaggatāniddese acalabhāvena ārammaṇe tiṭṭhatīti ṭhiti. Parato padadvayaṃ upasaggavasena vaḍḍhitaṃ. Apica sampayuttadhamme ārammaṇamhi sampiṇḍetvā tiṭṭhatīti saṇṭhiti. Ārammaṇaṃ ogāhetvā anupavisitvā tiṭṭhatīti avaṭṭhiti. Kusalapakkhasmiñhi cattāro dhammā ārammaṇaṃ ogāhanti – saddhā sati samādhi paññāti. Teneva saddhā okappanāti vuttā, sati apilāpanatāti, samādhi avaṭṭhitīti, paññā pariyogāhanāti. Akusalapakkhe pana tayo dhammā ārammaṇaṃ ogāhanti – taṇhā diṭṭhi avijjāti. Teneva te oghāti vuttā. Cittekaggatā panettha na balavatī hoti. Yathā hi rajuṭṭhānaṭṭhāne udakena siñcitvā sammaṭṭhe thokameva kālaṃ rajo sannisīdati, sukkhante sukkhante puna pakatibhāvena vuṭṭhāti, evameva akusalapakkhe cittekaggatā na balavatī hoti. Yathā pana tasmiṃ ṭhāne ghaṭehi udakaṃ āsiñcitvā kudālena khanitvā ākoṭanamaddanaghaṭṭanāni katvā upalitte ādāse viya chāyā paññāyati, vassasatātikkamepi taṃmuhuttakataṃ viya hoti, evameva kusalapakkhe cittekaggatā balavatī hoti.
  15. For instance a recent book on Vipassana related topics by Joseph Goldstein, Mirka Knaster (link) as an example but in general a theory found in the more popular books “on mindfulness”.
  16. Very nice note by Ven. Nyanaponika to: “ Zu plavanti oder apilapanti vgl. die Bezeichnung der Achtsamkeit (sati) als das Nicht-Entgleitenlassen (aus dem Geiste; apilāpanatā) in Dhammasanganī und »Fragen des Königs Milinda« (Übers. v. Nyanatiloka, I, 61; »Der einzige Weg«, Vlg. Christiani; S.  94).” (link)
  17. The text passage where one can found this neat little clarification of how anussati is related to sati and dharaṇā was the commentary to the Mahāniddesa. The Mahāniddesa is itself an old gloss-like commentary to the probably two oldest texts in the Buddhist Pali Canon (which makes them the most ancient Indian texts besides the 3 Vedas). This commentary on the Mahaniddessa was edited by the ancient monk Upasena and originates from between the 2nd century BC up to the 3rd CE.)
    In this particular section of the commentary on the Mahaniddesa (The Kamasuttavannana section) we can find many interesting thoughts on concentration meditation.
  18. Have a look at this post: “Background noise in the jhanas”. Like sitting on a stone in a river, the jhana experience is not digital but rather analog: The river (of the senses) still does exist and so also the “contamination” or level of purity of the jhana depends on many factors, including (mainly) the “roughness” of the sense stream, the “aloofness” of the rock.
  19. If you like to read more about manasikāra vs. amanasikāra and how it has to do with “keeping something in your mind”, have a look at this recent post (https://theravadin.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/yoniso-manasi-karotha/).
  20. jhāna < jhāyati – “kindling”. If you ever had to kindle a fire the old fashioned way, you know how careful, slow, patient an exercise that is – but also how rewarding 😉
  21. Katamo ca, bhikkhave, ariyo sammāsamādhi saupaniso saparikkhāro? Seyyathidaṃ – sammādiṭṭhi, sammāsaṅkappo, sammāvācā, sammākammanto, sammāājīvo, sammāvāyāmo, sammāsati; yā kho, bhikkhave, imehi sattahaṅgehi cittassa ekaggatā parikkhatā – ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, ariyo sammāsamādhi saupaniso itipi, saparikkhāro itipi. Tatra, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi pubbaṅgamā hoti. …Katamā ca, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi ariyā anāsavā lokuttarā maggaṅgā? Yā kho, bhikkhave, ariyacittassa anāsavacittassa ariyamaggasamaṅgino ariyamaggaṃ bhāvayato paññā paññindriyaṃ paññābalaṃ dhammavicayasambojjhaṅgo sammādiṭṭhi maggaṅgaṃ – ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, sammādiṭṭhi ariyā anāsavā lokuttarā maggaṅgā. …sammāvāyāmassa sammāsati pahoti, sammāsatissa sammāsamādhi pahoti, sammāsamādhissa sammāñāṇaṃ pahoti, sammāñāṇassa sammāvimutti pahoti. MN PTS, p. 3.75
  22. āsavānaṃ khayañāṇāya cittaṃ abhininnāmesiṃ MN, PTS 1.22 et al.
  23. yampicchaṃ na labhati tampi dukkhaṃ, saṅkhittena pañcupādānakkhandhā dukkhā. DN, PTS. 2.305 – Katame ca, bhikkhave, saṅkhittena pañcupādānakkhandhā dukkhā? Seyyathidaṃ – rūpupādānakkhandho, vedanupādānakkhandho, saññupādānakkhandho, saṅkhārupādānakkhandho, viññāṇupādānakkhandho.
  24. Ananda to lay person explaining how from first jhana alone vipassana can lead to Nirvana (somewhere in MN, have to look this up)
  25. various places all over the canon, especially frequent  in the Saṃyutta Nikāya  but anytime the Buddha describes the practice of the final steps towards Nirvana.
  26. The completeness or thoroughness of this approach is the single most biggest challenge for any vipassanā meditator. Avijja – we don’t see what we don’t see. 🙂 Sabbaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahānāya vo, bhikkhave, dhammaṃ desessāmi. Taṃ suṇātha. Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sabbaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahānāya dhammo? Cakkhuṃ, bhikkhave, abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ, rūpā abhiññā pariññā pahātabbā, cakkhuviññāṇaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ, cakkhusamphasso abhiññā pariññā pahātabbo, yampidaṃ cakkhusamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ…pe… jivhā abhiññā pariññā pahātabbā, rasā abhiññā pariññā pahātabbā, jivhāviññāṇaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ, jivhāsamphasso abhiññā pariññā pahātabbo, yampidaṃ jivhāsamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ. Kāyo abhiññā pariññā pahātabbo… mano abhiññā pariññā pahātabbo, dhammā abhiññā pariññā pahātabbā, manoviññāṇaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ, manosamphasso abhiññā pariññā pahātabbo, yampidaṃ manosamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi abhiññā pariññā pahātabbaṃ. Ayaṃ kho, bhikkhave, sabbaṃ abhiññā pariññā pahānāya dhammo’’ti. SN, PTS 4.16 or “Tasmātiha, anurādha, 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. SN, PTS 4. 382
  27. A sutta which beautifully discusses and explains that and, IMHO cuts through any attempt of scholastically solidifying these pragmatic concepts was discussed here, in an older post: Ingredients of insight progress.
  28. Dhammānudhammappaṭipannassa, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno ayamanudhammo hoti yaṃ rūpe nibbidābahulo [nibbidābahulaṃ (pī. ka.)] 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. SN, PTS 3.40
  29. Paññavā hoti, udayatthagāminiyā paññāya samannāgato, ariyāya nibbedhikāya sammā dukkhakkhayagāminiyā. Evaṃ kho, mahānāma, ariyasāvako sattahi saddhammehi samannāgato hoti.

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Many of you already know about my deep gratitude towards Ven. Ñāṇananda who I consider to be one of the greatest living Dhamma and Meditation masters. If anything you ever read on this blog might have helped you, all that potential puñña goes straight to this exceptional monk whose singular patience, learning, insight, wisdom, humility and penetration of the Dhamma I owe so much.

Now the Ven. Bhikkhu Yogananda (whom I have never heard of before but who considered himself a “Nyanavirist” – which actually is not a bad foundation bringing you quite close to Ven Ñāṇananda’s vicinity of understading) has posted a very detailed report on his meeting with Ven. Ñāṇananda, a meeting which occurred last year. He did an excellent job of summarizing that experience (‘escaping’ Pa Auks Na Uyana monastery 🙂 ) and foremost of all, the most interesting Dhamma discussion wich took place between the two.

There is lots of interesting points raised. Especially for those of you who are already acquainted with Ven. Ñāṇananda’s writings (such as “Magic of the Mind”, “Concept and Reality”…”Nibbana – the Mind Stilled”) this post is a great read, because Ven. Yogananda has the Ven. Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda clarify some rather tricky Dhamma questions (which is his specialty anyways). He also did a great job of introducing the closest student Ven. Nyanarama probably ever had to a wider audience in his short but very honest and close observation of his meeting with the “heretic sage”. So here is the link for those of you interested:


On a side note: I found it quite fascinating to hear that Ven. Ñāṇananda (again an exception in this matter) is outspoken about a Western import to Sri Lanka with regard to the interpretation of Nibbana/Nirvana. He explains what is wrong with the notion of perceiving Nirvana as “a flame unbound” – a concept/mistranslation which leads towards an existentialist interpretation of the Dhamma and a notion which, when confronted with it 30 years ago in Sri Lanka itself, resulted in the creation of his masterpiece of contemporary Buddhist insight literature: The 33 Nibbana Sermons. If you haven’t read anything from Ven. Ñāṇananda yet, these are a great way to start.

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Take a classic text of Hinduism, the revered Yogasutra (approx. 200 BCE (2)) and compare its semantics and vocabulary to the Buddhist canonical texts. Such a comparison will make it pretty obvious that the author of the Yoga Sutra was highly influenced by (contemporary?) Buddhist philosophy and meditation practice.

Furthermore: A student of canonical Buddhist texts might in fact have an easier time understanding the Yoga Sutra, than a Hindu practitioner who has no other (earlier, i.e. Buddhist) frame of reference for understanding this text except perhaps late Hindu/Brahmanic commentaries of which some seem to avoid (or don’t know) the original Buddhist references of this text.

The closeness of the Yoga sutra in style, vocabulary and subject to canonical Pali texts could also simply mean that Patañjali (or whoever inspired his writing) had been practicing meditation within the Sangha (pure speculation 😉 ) for a while before returning (back) into the fold of Brahmanism and then rephrasing his experience to add a divine spin to his experience while substantially borrowing technical terms from Buddhist meditation as originally developed or shaped by the Buddha for the purpose of meditation.

Equally possible, and even more likely, Buddhist meditation practice at that time had so comprehensively permeated Hindu practices (after 200 years of strong influence through Buddhist philosophy and meditation techniques), that these technical terms as well as descriptions of jhanic practices had become such a common mainstream knowledge that they ceased to appear particular ‘Buddhist’ (similar to the adoption of ideas of ‘nirvana’ and ‘karma’ in Christian countries…)

Especially if you read the sutta (which is very short) in one fluid stroke, it really amazes you how close it is to the thoughts and topics on samādhi, jhāna and samathā (concentration) meditation as defined by the earlier Pāli texts.

For a starter (bird eye view, details will follow below), if we look at the “ashtanga yoga” or the “eighfold yoga path” (sic) we are of course reminded of the Buddha’s central definition of the Noble Eightfold path. But rather than following the Buddhist textbook definition of the Noble eightfold path, the yoga path interpretation follows (to our astonishment?) another Buddhist path description: When pressed to describe his actual meditative system as taught to his disciples the Buddha lists a number of steps which are outlined in numerous suttas in the Middle Length Sayings (as listed in MN 26 etc.) and remind us very much of the yogic (pragmatic?) path as idealized by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra:

Compare these two “pathways to achieve samādhi”. First Patanjali’s in the Yoga Sutra:

  1. Yama [moral codes] see (6)
  2. Niyama [self-purification and study],
  3. Asana [posture]
  4. Pranayama [breath control]
  5. Pratyahara [moving away from 5 senses]
  6. Dharana [concentration] see (7)
  7. Dhyana [meditation]
  8. Samadhi [absorption]

Below is a list of steps recommended by the Buddha when asked about gradual development through his teaching. This list is found in many suttas of MN and DN and elsewhere:

  1. Sila [moral codes], Santosa (Contentment)
  2. Sense Restraint [pulling away from the senses]
  3. “Asana” [mindfulness in all bodily postures]
  4. Anapanasati [focusing on breath]
  5. Overcoming 5 hindrances
  6. Sati [keeping the object in mind, often glossed with dharana in the Pali commentaries] see (7)
  7. Jhana [absorptions]
  8. Samadhi [result of absorptions, the "attainment" or samāpatti of various sorts]

I am, of course, not the first one to note similarities such as the above one.(3) A few other people have noticed obvious and less obvious parallels. Which means that even Wikipedia has an entry for the Yoga Sutra in which we read:

Karel Werner writes that “Patanjali’s system is unthinkable without Buddhism. As far as its terminology goes there is much in the Yoga Sutras that reminds us of Buddhist formulations from the Pāli Canon and even more so from the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma and from Sautrāntika.” Robert Thurman writes that Patanjali was influenced by the success of the Buddhist monastic system to formulate his own matrix for the version of thought he considered orthodox…..The division into the Eight Limbs (Sanskrit Ashtanga) of Yoga is reminiscent of Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path; inclusion of Brahmaviharas (Yoga Sutra 1:33) also shows Buddhism's influence on parts of the Sutras. [Source: Wikipedia]

Now, this is were it gets interesting for us, here in this blog, and its relevance to Buddhist meditation practice:

Does all of the above mean that the Yogasutra is a Brahmanic commentary or at least a snapshot of mainstream (Buddhist influenced) meditation practices in the second century BCE?

If that is the case, it definitely warrants a closer look In fact, because of the fact that it is NOT a Buddhist text which however shares fundamental “core” ideas about meditation it could serve as yet another pointer towards a deeper understanding of some of the Buddhist terminology as understood in the early centuries of Buddhist practice.

Therefore, if you read the Yoga sutra in a Buddhist context, might it give you some ideas as to how people at that time understood and (or !) practiced Buddhist meditation? Could it maybe be of some help to get yet another “triangulation” or pointer in the direction of early Buddhist meditation? The more we know how people practiced a few hundred years after the Buddha passed away, the better we can understand how some of his teachings evolved and how they were actually put into practice and explained/taught.

What makes this idea fascinating is that this text will definitely be filtered through the eyes of a Brahmin, but, he would still be under the influence of contemporary Buddhist meditation “knowledge” which was so accepted that it had become “mainstream”. It would show us, how much and what in particular, was considered to be the “gist” of meditation (beyond philosophical discussion about its purpose) so that it was considered universally true and thus able to “crossed over” into other religious forms of practice.

Under that viewpoint, the Yogasutra is indeed quite revealing.

Let me show you some example passages which might throw further light on this idea.

Passages like the following really look like a direct copy&paste from the Buddha-Dhamma. Some of them even make no sense whatsoever in a theological-soul-seeking-creator-type religion, but absolutely sense in the philosophy of liberation through concentration and wisdom. Nevertheless, they were considered “true” and “accepted” so the Brahmin had no other choice as to incorporate them into his brahmanic philosophy. (Almost reminds one of the Western Christian, who, because of the mainstream acceptance of the idea of karma, might find ways to incorporate that idea into his own religious views). Look at the following list of defilements, which the Yoga sutra says one has to overcome:

“Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (egoism), Raga-Dvesha (likes and dislikes), Abhinivesha (clinging to mundane life) are the five Kleshas or afflictions. Destroy these afflictions. You will attain Samadhi.” [Quote: Wikipedia]

What will strike the Buddhist reader when looking at this paragraph is the simple fact that all these defilements listed are those which are supposed to be gone in an Arahant, LOL.

Lets look at the terms used: Avijja, ignorance is even listed first (clearly, from a Buddhist standpoint it is considered to be the root of all problems). Next comes “asmitā” which gets superficially translated as “egoism” through the superficial understanding it had developed in the Sanskrit tradition which was unaware of the deeper meaning of this term as portraid in the Pali Suttas (or tried to spin it into their own religious context).

This very specific Buddhist term, which tries to express the deep rooted mental “notion of I am” (asmi-tā) gets a clear explanation in the suttas, but here, in this text and later times, fades away into a mere “selfishness” as a moral defilement missing its deeper originally psychological application. In the suttas “asmi-māna” is a deeply rooted psychological tendency of the mind which only the Arahant overcomes [see "The scent of am" in this blog for more on that topic]. And then there is “abhinivesa“, a term Buddha uses to explain how our mind enters and takes up the five groups of grasping. “nivesa” is a living place, a house – a simile brought up by the Buddha to show how our consciousness moves “into” the experience of sense contact and makes itself comfortable as if living in a house (Cf. SuttaNipata, Atthakavagga, Magandiyasutta and SN, Haliddakanisutta). This very particular psychological usage is flattened in the Brahmanic context to mean simply an “attachment to mundane life”. The question remains: Was such a superficial understanding also Patanjali’s or did just later commentators on the Yoga Sutra miss these implications because they had no knowledge or no access to the earlier Buddhist environment in which the Yoga Sutra developed?

And something enligthening about the Buddhist “Sati” can be found too:

Here is another gem from a Buddhist perspective. What I really find enlightening is the usage of the term “dhāranā” in the Yoga Sutra.

This is one of the points were our contemporary Buddhist knowledge could gain insights. “dhāranā“, which means literally “holding up, carrying, keeping (in mind)”…(9) is a nice description of the task at hand in meditation practice. In meditation too, we need to keep and hold our object of meditation in focus, in our mind, without loosing it. This central characteristic of the task at hand when trying to develop concentration meditation is reflected 1:1 by the literal meaning of the Buddhist term sati (literally “rememberance/remembering”) which is nowadays most commenly translated simply as “mindfulness” – a translation about which we raised doubts in quite a number of posts on this blog [link].

Here is why, in a nutshell: In order to keep the meditation object in your mind you need to remember it. Rememberance here means that you have to hold your object of concentration. You have to keep it present. That is exactly what the faculty of memory does, usually being pushed hard by the six sense impressions with new data, which, if given in, will result in a more or less wild jumping around.

If you are able to hold your one-pointedness however (or rather: the longer you are able), one of the laws of the mind which the Buddha rediscovered and explained in detail, is that this “artificial” abating of the senses by holding and focusing on one particular mental object will equate to less sense-stimulation. As a result calmness and mental happiness (piti) and physical happiness (sukha) will arise and show first signs of a strengthened concentration.

That is also why quite logically samma sati has to come before samma samadhi in the Buddhist eightfold path – or, as shown here in the Yoga sutra “dhāranā” is the final stage before attaining “samadhi”.

Here the Yoga Sutra gives us a great gloss on the original meaning as understood in the first few centuries of Buddhist practice and might help us getting a more precise understanding of what “samma sati” was intended to mean or imply originally. (Cf. our post on yoniso manasikara and you will see how close yoniso manasikara and sati are.

Quite in contrast, or rather as a by-product of the practice of sati is another term which would much better be described by “mindfulness”. It is the Pali term sampajaññā – which literally means “together-knowing”, i.e. being very attentive while doing some activity, ergo “mindfulness” – but this activity is then a result of sati (because keeping ones mind fixed on an object, sati, will lead to a heightened awareness of what gets into our way of keeping the mind tight to the one object, creating an increased awareness of the few sense impressions which can trickle in). According to this concept “mindfulness” is the outcome of sati and not the practice of sati itself!!

But again, both activities are practically happening at more or less the same time, even if not in the same order and so the mainstream English translation may be excused – while such a fine distinction, however has its benefits: You cannot keep one object focused in your mind without developing or causing mindfulness to arise – but (unfortunately!) you can be attentive to all your actions without (!) working on your concentration (think: eating an ice cream, i.e. sense indulgence. This is actually what, (IMHO unfortunately), some Western “Buddhist” interpretations idealize).

There is a difference between getting purposely carried away by the sense impressions by focusing on their physical benefit and increasing/supporting rāga and nandi – or, from the perspective of the Buddha Gotama, trying to stay your ground using remembrance and thereby experiencing a hightened awareness of what tries to shift you away so that it results in an increased mindfulness which, at its peak experience turns into total equanimity towards both, pleasurable and painful sensations.

In this order, therefore, what we should understand as vipassanā is not at all a synonym for sati but rather something which grows out of the combination of all these factors especially of course the last two, samma sati and samma samadhi applied to the ruthless observation of what comes into being (yathābhūta).

One could say, vipassanā is a name for the practice of sati+samadhi as applied to anicca/dukkha/anatta (i.e. generating wisdom) directed at the six-sense-process, including any mental activity. Therefore, you won’t hear of vipassana but sati in the Yogasutra, whereas the Buddhist texts will clearly mention (think: aniccanupassana) how samādhi is just the start of your insight journey. (4)

But we got side-tracked 😉 . Suffice it to say that in particular any reference to Buddhist philosophy as mentioning of anicca or anatta would points towards the goal of Nibbana, a philosophical tenet which the Yoga system of course won’t refer to. In its essence the Yoga school falls under the eternalist position. So while it definitely would need sati to produce samadhi, it definitely did not need to point that samadhi to understand anicca, dukkha anatta – something which would not at all fit into the world view of an eternalist – Rather, it tries to interpret samadhi itself as a union or at least coming closer to God. Something which comes quite natural to a theist – as for instance an evangelical Christian would never interpret the reduction of his sensual focus on one mental object and the resulting bliss to be a product of psychological techniques but rather a “devine sign of God touching him” – after all, besides in the Dhamma of the Buddha (whose main interest this was), in most scenarios we are inclined to fall for the story of our senses – including the mental impressions/thoughts/feelings/perceptions.

To stay in the Christian context for a moment longer: Let’s summarize that what Patanjali does in the above quoted passage would resemble someone taking a large chunk from the vocabulary and terminology of the New Testament and giving them a Buddhist spin.

Funny, that is exactly how many many contemporary New-Age-type books are written – an amalgation of English/Christian terms and vocabulary trying to express an Eastern mind-set. So we can picture that the situation in India was similar when the Yoga sutra was written with regard to the Buddhist philosophy.

This Buddhist philosophy with its particular terminology as established by the Buddha had become so pervasive to religious thought, that in order to appear credible someone writing on meditation would have to borrow or base his argument on many of those very predominant Buddhist concepts. This was probably done not even consciously, as most current day New Age authors don’t even reflect how their texts appear as they are more concerned with the message they deliver.

So, for the fun of it, below I “translated” (or rather transliterated, as these languages are so close) the Sanskrit Yoga sutra text “back” into Pāli. Very similar to when I tried this with the Heart Sutra (see here) it does help to see how the same text sounds in Pali and then to discover parallels in the early Buddhist texts.

However, having said all that, the pragmatism invoked by this sutra (which makes it so valuable) also indicates much more than a simple textual rip-off. Reading this text you cannot dismiss the notion, especially as a concentration meditator, that whoever wrote or inspired this text, at one time personally experienced jhana and samadhi and wanted to convey his experience making use of a Buddhist enriched meditation lingo even if his interpretation caters to a brahmanic audience.

Anyway here we go (the paragraph “headers” and translation are by this author, some key Buddhist technical terms have been underlined):

Patañjalino yogasuttaṃ (Part I of IV)


atha yogānusāsanaṃ ||1||
And now an instruction in yoking
yogo citta-vaṭṭi-nirodho ||2||
Yoking is the extinction of mind movement
tadā diṭṭhā (muni) svarūpe’avaṭṭhānaṃ ||3||
(Only) Then the seer allows (to be) in (his) true nature.
vaṭṭi-sarūpam itaritaraṃ ||4||
(Else) at other times one becomes (equal to) that (mental) activity.


vaṭṭī pañcā; kilesā ca akilesā ca ||5||
(Mental) Activities there are five; some defiling and some non-defiling:
pamāṇa-vipariyesa-vikappa-niddā-sati ||6||
Experience (Evidence), Misperception (Illusion), Thinking, Sleep, Memory.
Paccakkh’ānumān’āgamā honti pamāṇāni ||7||
That which one directly sees (paccakkha) and analyzes, taking it as a reference – that is called experience.
vipariyeso miccā-ñāṇam atad-rūpa-patiṭṭhitaṃ ||8||
Illusion is wrong knowledge, based on something (lit. “a form”) which is not such.
sadda-ñāṇānupattī vatthu-suñño vikappo ||9||
Thinking is sound-knowledge without sound-sense-base.
abhāva-paccay’-ārammaṇā vaṭṭi niddā ||10||
Lacking/Not having sense objects as a cause is the mental activity called sleep.
anubhūta-visayāsammosā sati ||11||
Non-confusion (or not losing) the (sense) object previously experienced is called memory
abhyāsa-virāgehi tesaṃ nirodho ||12||
Their [i.e. of those activities] extinction (comes about) through the practice of detachment (virāga).


tatra tiṭṭha-yatano abhyāso ||13||
Here now “practice” means the endeavour of staying (i.e. becoming unmovable mentally – a great description for concentration)
so pana dīgha-kāla-nirantara-sakkār’āsevito daḷha-bhūmi ||14||
But that (practice) has to be on the firm basis of long uninterrupted careful exercise [yep, how true! ]
diṭṭhānusavika-visaya-vitaṇhāya vasīkāra-saññā virāgaṃ ||15||
Detachment is the mastery (vasi-kāra) of perception, of not-thirsting (vitaṇhā) for what follows (anu-savika, lit. after-flow) the sense experience of seeing.
taṃ paramaṃ purisa-akkhātā guṇa-vitaṇhaṃ ||16||
This is the highest: the thirstless-ness for the senses (cp. kāma-guṇa in Pali!) based on the knowledge of the purisa, i.e soul.

Attainment – the Jhānas
1st Jhāna

vitakka-vicār-ānand-āsmitā rūp’ānugamā sampajaññatā ||17||
An awareness of the (realm of) form: a self-awareness based on thought, remaining (with it) and inner happiness.
virāma-paṭicca-ābhyāsa-pubbo saṃkhāraseso añño ||18||
(This attainment) is based on detachment practiced before and of other remaining activities
bhava-paṭicca videha-prakṛti-layānām ||19||
(For instance) Based on (this) existence and ones own personal characteristics
saddhā-viriya-sati-samādhi-paññā-pubbaka itaresam ||20||
and further ( based on such qualities) like saddhā (faith), viriya (strength), sati (remembrance), samādhi (concentration), and paññā (wisdom)
tibba-saṃvegānām āsanno||21||
(for such ones) with strong dedication attain (this goal, the first jhāna).

Further into the jhānas. Tips and tricks.

mudu-majjhim’ādhi-mattatā tato’pi viseso ||22||
There is also a difference (in result) as the “lesser”, “middle” and “higher” (achievement).
issara-paṇidhānā vā ||23||
Or based on the application (devotion) to aLord (a meditation master).
kilesa-kamma-vipākāsayā aparāmissā purisa-vises’ issaro ||24||
The master is a person not affected by the karmic result of (past) defilements and desires.
tatra niratisayaṃ sabbaññatā-bījaṃ ||25||
Therein lies the unsurpassable seed for omniscience.
sa pubbesam api guru kālen’ānavacchedanā ||26||
Such a teacher those (in) former (times) would never leave.
tassa vācako pāṇavo ||27||
His saying (is) life/breath/utterance
taj-jappo tad-attha-bhāvanam ||28||
praying that (repeatedly saying that) – this is the meaning/goal of meditation
tato pratyak-cetanādhigamo’pi antarāyābhāvo ca ||29||
Then one attains one’s own mind and destroys all hindrances:
Disease, doubts, not being removed from clinging to indolence, mistaken vision, and not having had attained (meditative) stages, or not firm (in them).
citta-vikkhepā te’ntarāyā ||30||
Those are the (causes of) mental-distractions (which he overcomes).
dukkha-domanass’aṅgam ejayatv’assāsa-passāsā vikkhepa-saha-bhuvaḥ ||31||
Physical and mental pain arise in the body, trembling in in-breathing and out-breathing appears in conjunction with (the aformentioned) distractions

Meditation Objects

tat-pratiṣedhārtham ekatattābhyāsaḥ ||32|| In order to subdue those (use) this practice of oneness:
mettā-karuṇā-mudita-upekkhā sukha-dukkha-puññāpuñña-visayānaṃ bhāvanātassa cittapasādanaṃ||33||
A calm happiness of the mind (citta-pasada) is achieved by meditation on Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha with regard to happiness, pain as well as good luck and bad luck.
pracchardana-vidhāraṇābhyāṃ vā prāṇasya ||34|| Or inbreathing and outbreathing is also a (great) meditation exercise.
visayavatī vā pa-vatti uppannā manaso thiti-nibandhinī ||35|| It helps to stop and bind down the mind’s arising activity which is due to the power of the senses.
visokā vā jotimatī ||36|| And makes the mind free of sorrow and radiant.
vīta-rāga-visayaṃ vā cittam ||37|| Free from desire for the senses.
svapna-niddā-jnānālambanaṃ vā ||38|| Dream, sleep,
yathābhimata-dhyānād vā ||39||
param-aṇu-parama-mahattvānto’ssa vasīkāri ||40||
kkhīṇa-vaṭṭi abhijātass’eva maṇī grahītṛ-grahaṇa-grāhyeṣu tat-stha-tad-anjanatāsamāpatti
||41|| When you succeed in destroying (mental) activity or motion [khina-vatti] that will give birth to a jewel and a one holding (it) and object being held and the holding itself – that standing still, that is known as an attainment.
tatra saddattha-ñāṇa-vikappaiḥ saṃkiṇṇā savitakkā samāpatti, ||42||
There is the attainment/state which is “with thought” and defiled by meaning-of-sound-knowing-thoughts
sati-parisuddhaṃ svarūpa-suññevattha-matta-nibbhāsā nivitakkā ||43||
(and on the other hand) there is the one without thought (nirvitakka) with clearest mindfulness and which is of the nature of speechless-emptiness
etadeva savicārā nirvicārā ca sukkhuma-visayā akkhātā ||44||
In the same way a state of with-vicara and without-vicara can be explained due to the subtleness of the object.
sukkhuma-visayattaṃ c’āliṅga-pary’avasānam ||45|| It culminates in a subtle object without characteristics.
tā eva sa-bījo samādhi ||46|| That though still is samadhi with a seed.
nirvicāra-visārad’ajjhatta-pasādo ||47|| You gain inner happiness through confidence in (concentration) without reflection (vicara, related to vitakka).
itaṃbharā tatra paññā ||48|| Thus filled with truth there is wisdom.
sut’ānumāna-paññāyā añña-visayā vises’atthatā ||49|| This wisdom is of a different realm than the knowledged gained through learning.
taj-jo saṃkhāro’ñña-saṃkhāra-paṭibaddhī ||50||
That such born (induced) (meditative) activity obstructs (all) other activities.
tassāpi nirodhe sabba-nirodhā nibbījo samādhi ||51||
From the extinction of that too all is extinguished – and that is the seedless-samadhi.
iti patañjali-viracite yoga-sutte paṭhamo samādhi-pādo |||
Such is Patañjali’s first Samadhi-chapter in the Yoga Sutra.


(Buddhist) Observations and Comments on the Yogasutra (by line number)

[1] Oneself to the object of meditation, i.e.: an instruction (anusāsana) in meditation practice (yoga).

[2] vaṭṭi: turbulence, whirlpool, activity, lit. going round and round. fig. derived from lit. ‘wick’ (something turned in circles) In this context, simply: “meditation is … ‘stopping of the busy mind’” (which is very active and its activity resembles a circling around). This is probably the most straightforward (and correct) translation

[3] In Pali the word ḍṛistar does not exist, it would rather use something like muni; meaning is the same – except, of course, that “seer” reminds one in this case really more of the “seeing” part in the process. I pali-ised the Sanskrit ḍṛistar into Pāli diṭṭhār to show that semantic relationship with diṭṭha. Alternative translation: “Then the seer allows for (or has an opportunity – avaṭṭhāna) [to be] in the true nature (his or the nature of things – whatever Patañjali’s philosophy would call for.

[7] Lit.: ”What comes through direct seeing and measurement is called experience”.

[9] Or: “Thinking is sound-knowledge without physical sound object (vatthu)”. Funny, I did not know that when I wrote this little piece just recently: Thoughts as silent sounds). Same explanation of what (sound-) thoughts are.

[12] Virāga and nirodha in one sentence: you cannot get more canonical Buddhist than that. Interesting is, however, the down-to-earth non-metaphysical usage of these terms in this regard. They are simply applied to the process of meditation, even more specific: to the process of concentration meditation. This is food for thought (no pun intended).

[14] Looks like the author of the mediaval Pali subcommentary to the Digha Nikaya did a similar reading. We find: “Tathā hi sasambhārābyāso, dīghakālābyāso, nirantarābyāso, sakkaccābyāsoti cattāro abyāsā caturadhiṭṭhānaparipūritasambandhā anupubbena mahābodhiṭṭhānā sampajjanti.” These definitions of strong determination looking very similar to the Yogasutra are only found in that subcommentary and – what a surprise, it also is one of the only few places to use daḷha and bhūmi in the same sentence…Would be interesting to see what else that particular subcommentary has to say about meditation.

[16] i.e. here we have the brahmanic spin: it is this getting closer to the soul which allows us to overcome thirst/craving or taṇhā. This little sentence gives so much away! Still, here at this point in time, Patañjali is so convinced of the Buddhist goal “giving up craving, getting rid of thirst”, i.e. vitaṇhā, as he states it. However, he will not let go of the idea of a soul without which his theistic philosophy would collapse and nothing in this text would make it distinguishable from a Buddhist treatise. So riding on the back of Buddhist terminology and meditation principles he introduces the “purisa” or soul into the discussion (if it is read this way), stating that by being closer to your “true nature” (svarūpa) and inner man “purisa”, i.e. soul, you can clear yourself of thirst/craving. Nice try.

[17] Here we have our copy-cat description of the first jhāna very similar to the way the Buddha describes it time and again in the Pali texts: “So vivicceva kāmehi, vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.” But, to his credit, the first jhāna simply shows certain criteria, which, if you share the language of origin, will get explained in a similar fashion. In fact, we have quite a beautiful description of the first jhāna: An explanation that the first jhāna is a form of sampajaññatā (mindfulness of what goes on) following the realm of form (our meditation topic is a mental form) and a happiness combined with the thought we are trying to hold onto which in itself could be described as the pure experience of “I am” (asmitā – the term is being used more losely in this place as the suttas would allow). Nevertheless, the listing of vitakka/vicāra at the first mentioning of meditative absorption is a clear reference to the Yogasutra’s Buddhist origin.
Interesting also, is the connection which is being made at this point with sampajaññatā: Think about everything we said before about sati. If sati is really simply the holding of an object (sati’s paṭṭhāna, so to speak) then it is interesting to see how sampajaññā in this case gets identified with the state of the first jhāna. Could that mean, that when the Buddha mentions those two in the Pāli texts, he implicitly meant samathā-vipassanā? This is not at all such a strange idea, as many vipassana meditators, focusing on subtler objects will quite quickly show signs of the first jhāna. Could it then be that this term “sampajaññatā” was seen as the first result of a concentrated mind? In any case, experience will teach you very quickly that when you try to hold one object in your mind, your awareness of what happens in the present moment will dramatically increase, simply due to the fact that your endeavor to stay with the object is under constant jeopardy through the siege of sense impressions…

[20] The Buddha mentions these 5 factors when he was training arūpa-jhāna under his former two teachers. He also mentions them as crucial factors when striving for enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. Later, in the course of his teaching years, he gave them the name of “powers” (bala) and explained that they, if perfected, would lead to enlightenment.

[24] Besides the question whether issaro here could be read as merely refering to a meditation master (which fits perfectly in the discussion up to verse 27 where it starts to not fit any longer..is open for discussion (Cf. Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally’s translation at this point). I have to admit, at first I was sceptical to interpret it that way, because remembering MN 1 it seemed more logical to assume issaro was foremost used to denote "the Lord" (i.e. your God). But, using CST4 and searchinga around, I did find quite some nice references where esp. in the Theragatha issaro was simply used to imply "master". Interesting is also the word āsayih…which I substituted with the simple Pāli word for wish/desire “āsā”. However, it “almost” sounds like “āsava” which would fit even better in the context of kamma and vipāka. But the idea of āsava is very particular (“that which flows into you, overwhelming you) and may or may not have been intended in this place. BTW, the Sanskrit aparāmṛṣṭaḥ took a while to crack. It comes from a+parā+mṛṣṭaḥ which in Pali (literally) turns into aparā+missā (lit. “by nothing higher mixed/shaken”. In the Pali canon, however, such a word cannot be found (another Pali-zation). A Buddha’s contemporary "Kosalan" (if I may throw that theory in here) would probably have opted for a word like “apariyuṭṭhāna” instead, which offers a similar meaning.

[26] Lit. would not “cut loose” (an+ava+chedana), i.e. abandon -not even for a (short) time (kalena).

[27] panavah (interpretated as “om” in Hindu literature). It all depends if you read verses 24-27 as implying “issaro” to mean ‘God’ or if you take it simply to refer to the meditation master from whom you learn meditation. If you do a search in the Tipitaka, you will see that at the time of the Buddha “issara” was in used to denote ones teacher (see Theragatha for instance).

[31] Here we have dukkha and domanassa mentioned. They too appear in the Buddha’s definition of the four jhanas, but in a different sense. The meditative problem described here seems out of place and looks as if someone just had to fit these words in here. Also in and out breath of course do play a role in that they cease to exist (nirodha) subjectively (!) to the meditator in the fourth jhana. Strange that all of this gets listed but put in such a different interpretation.

[33] And here we go. The four brahmaviharas, of course, famous for the way Buddha encouraged his monks to practice them to subdue the five hindrances and enter the jhanas. Also interesting how the Tipitaka sometimes aligns them with the progression in the four jhanas (which deserves its own blog post).

[34 & 35] Woa! Now someone is adding Anapanasati to the list of meditation techniques, the most favorite Buddhist meditation topic besides the brahmaviharas, which, what a coincidence was mentioned in the passage before. Here he almost “quotes” the benefit of Anapanasati from the Pali suttas, as given by the Buddha in SN Mahavagga, Anapanasatisamyutta, where the Buddha says that the biggest benefit of Anapanasati is its ability to still the mind. Very interesting!

[36] See Pali quote above and next, somehow copycat alarm : "iminā vihārena bahulaṃ viharato neva kāyo kilamati na cakkhūni; And through dwelling very often in this abiding o monks, neither did my body get tired nor my eyes; ” [see more here] What shows the experienced meditator though is right away the explanation how that radiant and desireless free mind will stay away from the senses – that realization is important and shows that the author did know what he was talking about – in pragmatic terms. If there is one thing which is most important in inducing samadhi (i.e. jhanas) it is the settling of the mind, the balancing act, against the onslaught of the senses.

[42] in the Pali Canon lingo we would say “savitakka-jhana".

[43] sati-parisuddham is of course the Buddha’s name for the fourth jhana. It seems the author tries to show us the range of the four jhanas by pointing out the criteria of the first and then contrasting it with the characteristics of the fourth jhana using again Pali Sutta terminology.

[44] strange little acknowledgement. One is inclined to ask: explained by whom

[51] I cannot help myself, but this last line sounds more like a reporter, who, after having been invited to a very important meeting, is eager to share what he has heard from those important sources. Here we are given a definition, in effect, of the Buddha’s definition of “phalasamāpatti” – a jhānic state, which can only come about after someone has had an attainment of that particular nirvanic insight, which allows him to enter such a samādhi that is without “seeds” (nibbīja). This entire concept does not fit very well into a theistic line of argument, and no attempt is being made, here, at the very end of defining samādhi, to explain it. Did the Buddhist talk about this in such terms that in “mainstream” philosophical circles this was automatically understood to mean “the highest you can achieve” and was the argument so powerful that even though it would not fit into your own school of thought, it was considered to be undisputable? Hard to tell. It just sounds more in place here: “Khīṇaṃ purāṇaṃ navam natthi sambhavaṃ, virattacittāyatike bhavasmiṃ; Te khīṇabījā avirūḷhichandā, nibbanti dhīrā yathāyaṃ padīpo;” Snip. v. 238 (Ratanasutta). We would call that Nirvana Or more specifically, something you would target for when you try “saññā-vedayita-nirodha”, the cessation of perception and feeling, an attainment the Buddha describes as possible for Arahants and Anagamis, after they enter the 8 jhanas sequentially and then finally leave even the most subtle activity (sankhāra) behind.


It would be interesting to take this Pali translation and compare it against the corpus of Pali texts (CST4) to see which phase in Pali development this text (with its particular style and vocabulary) would have best matched with. An exercise maybe for another day

Just remember:

Bahu pi ce sahitam bhasamano… Dhp 19!


  1. Here the original version in Sanskrit plus a very nice translation (and you can see for yourself how their otherwise very nice translation) is at a disadvantage from not being acquainted with the Pali predecessor of this text): click here
  2. which puts it right in the vicinity of the Milindapanha, Patisambhiddamagga and similar texts
  3. Not being that familiar with any of this subject matter other than amateurish curiosity, here another link of someone actually pointing out the lack of actual comparisions being undertaken to study these links between early Sanskrit (Hindu) texts and the Pali Canon, which, after all, developed in the time of the Upanishads: http://www.springerlink.com/content/g180174820p0j815/
  4. which is why once in a while we see two more items being added to the noble eightfold path. After “samma samadhi” comes “samma panya” and then samma vimutti”. Not many people know that, but it makes sense if you see how the samadhi part was the growing field for the Buddha to let righ-view become supermundane which, in nowadays terminology, we would understand as using samadhi + wisdom, i.e. vipassana.
  5. Yā sati anussati paṭissati sati saraṇatā dhāraṇatā apilāpanatā asammussanatā sati satindriyaṃ satibalaṃ sammāsati satisambojjhaṅgo ekāyanamaggo, ayaṃ vuccati sati. Imāya satiyā upeto hoti samupeto upagato samupagato upapanno samupapanno samannāgato, so vuccati sato. MahaNiddesa, for example, PTS 1.10
  6. Yamo is defined asAhiṁsāsatyāsteyabrahmacaryāparigrahā yamāḥ” – that is actually 4 of the 5 sila, namely: Not harming living beings (ahimsa), not lying (sacca), not stealing (asteya), chastity (brahmacariya). In the next line the yoga sutra states, how they should be practiced, mentioning “achinnam” unbroken, a qualifier used in the Pali suttas when explaining how to keep the sila. Here, in the yoga sutra, we get to know what that means: apply them in any circumstance possible. YS: II, 31. In II, 33 it is recommended to practice the opposite if (in thoughts) we want to break the silas. Interesting detail (which may have been inspired by contemporary Buddhist practices/teachings).
  7. Dharana defined in YS III, 1: “Concentration (dhāraṇā) is the mind’s (cittasya) fixation (bandháḥ) on one area (deśá)”. Or in Pāli: cittassa desabandhanā dhāraṇā. – beautiful description of sati, isn’t it !
  8. You might also like to look at Johannes Bronkhorst’s 2007 work Greater Magadha where he discusses the so-called influence of the Upanishads on the Buddha’s teachings and concludes that it was probably the other way around – that the teachings of religions in what he calls Greater Magadha – Buddhism, Jainism and the Aajiavikas (with respect to karmic retribution, reincarnation and the universal I) were incorporated into Vedic thought. (pages 112-35). He also questions the traditional date of the Upanisads as pre-Buddhist (page 175f)” [Quoted from palistudy%40yahoogroups.com] [link]
  9. In the PED "dharana" is defined as "Dhāraṇa (nt.) [cp. Sk. dhāraṇa, to dhāreti] 1. wearing, in mālā˚ (etc.) D i.5=A ii.210=Pug 58; KhA 37; cīvara˚ A ii.104=Pug 45. — 2. maintaining, sustaining, keeping up Miln 320 (āyu˚ bhojana). — 3. bearing in mind, remembrance Vin iv.305; M ii.175 (dhamma˚)." which makes it a perfect synonym to sati yet expresses the concentrative aspect of sati, which consists in the power of memory to hold something in the focus of our attention, more clearly. Note the Milindapanha reference here and cf. (1).

Recomended translations and readings:

  • from another Buddhist perspective: The Essential Yoga Sutra.

  • and another Buddhist peak focusing less on the Tipitaka but general Buddhist/Yoga: Samādhi: the numinous and cessative in Indo-Tibetan yoga By Stuart Ray Sarbacker

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


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

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

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

The Pali Text


‘‘Yāni sotāni lokasmiṃ, Sati tesaṃ nivāraṇaṃ;

Sotānaṃ saṃvaraṃ brūmi,paññāyete pidhiyyare’’.

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

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

The paraphrasing early commentary explains:

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

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

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

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

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

[CullaNiddesa – Parayanavagga, pi]

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

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

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

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

In other words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lets close with some voices from the Commentaries…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where the journey starts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So far so good. Now comes another important paragraph:

Tayidaṃ sabbampi ayaṃ yogāvacaro upakkilesavimuttena vīthipaṭipannavipassanāsaṅkhātena udayabbayānupassanāñāṇena yāthāvasarasato sallakkheti.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So cool 🙂 It sounds like a ZEN koan:

ñātañca ñāṇañca ubhopi vipassatī

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

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


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

**yāthāvasarasato – a very interesting term.

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

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

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

399Sammappaññāya sudiṭṭhanti hetunā kāraṇena vipassanāpaññāya yāthāvasarasato diṭṭhaṃ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, in a passage like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘‘Aniccaṃ, bhante’’.

It is impermanent, Sir.

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

But what is impermanent, is that satisfying or unsatisfactory?

‘‘Dukkhaṃ, bhante’’.

It is unsatisfactory, Sir.

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

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

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

‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’.

No, really not, Sir.

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

‘‘Tasmātiha, bhikkhave,

Therefore, o monks,

yaṃ kiñci rūpaṃ

w h a t e v e r   form

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

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

sabbaṃ rūpaṃ

all form

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

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

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

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

Evaṃ passaṃ, bhikkhave,

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

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

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

gets weary of forms, feelings….consciousness

nibbindaṃ virajjati,

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

virāgā vimuccati.

from the fading away he is detached (released).

Vimuttasmiṃ vimuttamiti ñāṇaṃ hoti.

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

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

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

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

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

This was said by the Lord…

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

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

[Itivuttaka, I. 24]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ox lost, man remaining

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


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

(2) Other references: Herding the Ox

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

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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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