Buddha’s path

This post is based on some of the observations made in this post. It might help to understand this article.

One day the Buddha mentioned to his students that his own meditation object with which he realized Nibbana was the mindfulness or “remembering of in-and-out-breathing” meditation, short for  “Ana-pana-sati” 🙂

‘‘Ahampi sudaṃ, bhikkhave, pubbeva sambodhā anabhisambuddho bodhisattova samāno iminā vihārena bahulaṃ viharāmi. Tassa mayhaṃ, bhikkhave, iminā vihārena bahulaṃ viharato neva kāyo kilamati na cakkhūni; anupādāya ca me āsavehi cittaṃ vimucci. [SN, Mahavagga, Anapanasatisamyutta]

I too, o monks, before my awakening as a yet not fully awakened one as someone looking for awakening [i.e. bodhisatto – so all Buddhists below stream enterers are de facto bodhisattos :-). Theravada is full of them!] used to dwell quite often in this abiding. And through dwelling very often in this abiding o monks, neither did my body get tired nor my eyes; and I was released from the influxes of the mind [āsavehi cittaṃ vimucci = an expression for the attainment of nibbana. It is rather indirect and expresses one of the benefits of nibbana].

We know from many sutta passages that the Buddha entered the 4 jhanas before his insights into the 4 noble truths led to his final insights into the impermanent, unsatisfiable and ego-less nature of the world. We also know that he remembered his former lives and saw the working of the principle of karma based on that strong concentration he gained during the first part of the night.

Is there any chance to pin down what happened when he directed his mind to the “discovery” of the 4 noble truths? Is there any other account on what he was practicing during that night? In fact we have a second account. And that is the sutta on Anapanasati. Here the Buddha talks about how to properly practice and develop meditation using breath as one’s primary object for meditation.

It is quite fascinating to see how the Buddha details this exercise which encompasses elements of jhanic meditation, vipassana, the 4 satipatthana and the 7 factors of enlightenment.

We can see how his whole system of meditation could have originated from this one exercise. Many of you probably know how one deep insight/experience allows you to talk about it in various ways. In order to share your experiential insight you can use examples, stories or come up with classifications. In a certain way that is what the Buddha did. Born from this one night in Uruvela he organized, exemplified, classified and taught the long lost path to the “inner city”.

It is important to remember: The teaching of the Buddha is only a means for a very specific final goal – the experience of Nibbana. There are many benefits on the path to Nibbana, but none of which include clinging to views and fighting for words.

Viññātasārāni subhāsitāni, sutañca viññātasamādhisāraṃ;

Na tassa paññā ca sutañca vaḍḍhati, yo sāhaso hoti naro pamatto. [Suttanipata, Kiṃsīlasuttaṃ]

Well spoken words have understanding as their essence

And what you heard and understood – it all has concentration as its essence.

But neither knowing nor learning grow,

For that man who is superficial and negligent. [Simply beautiful!]

Therefore, it appears paramount to see beyond any particular method described in this instruction and derive the key elements of practice. Once we isolate them and understand their significance we can see that although there seem to be so many pathways and descriptions on how to practice that essentially there is only one way to go.

All instructions are nothing more than variations on the same theme – which is a combination of samatha and vipassana (or a gradual training in sila/samadhi/panya or the noble eightfold path or….) – the entire body of the Buddha – Dhamma (Buddhadharma, for you Mahayana friends out there :-).

añño esa, āvuso, gatakassa maggo nāmāti āha [See story for details]

Remember what we said about people trying to get to the peak of a mountain: From below the peak seems so far away, and there seems to be a multitude of ways to go up there of which you have no clue which are the safest, the shortest, the longest, the steepest…no idea. You can only find out by a.) taking the hand of a trusted tour guide and/or b.) start walking. Once of course you get to the peak like the Buddha, in whatever direction you look you see a path to where you are right now. The birds eye and the knowledge of your experience allows you to guide anyone interested in climbing to the peak.

And thus while Anapanasati is still a core exercise today for both practices – jhana and vipassana meditation – , you could essentially take any other meditation object to induce concentration (like the 4 brahmavihara, kasina, etc) after some prior training in moral restraint (the most basic form of concentration training) and enter into a form of deep continuous watching, vipassana.

Let me try to walk you through “Buddha’s meditation”. This posting is NOT supposed to be an instruction for meditation but rather an illustration of how samatha and vipassana co-operate:

148. ‘‘Kathaṃ bhāvitā ca, bhikkhave, ānāpānassati kathaṃ bahulīkatā mahapphalā hoti mahānisaṃsā? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu araññagato vā rukkhamūlagato vā suññāgāragato vā nisīdati pallaṅkaṃ ābhujitvā ujuṃ kāyaṃ paṇidhāya parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā. So satova assasati satova [sato (sī. syā. kaṃ. pī.)]passasati.

And how, o monks, the remembering of in-breath-out-breath, how often done will have great fruits and great benefits? Here, o monks, a monk, gone to the forest or gone to the foot of a tree or gone to an empty building and sits down with crossed legs having straightened body having set up around the nose  remembering.

This first passage is pretty straightforward. The only remarkable thing is probably the expression “parimukham satim upatthapetva”. In general it is clear from the context what this has to mean: “to direct ones attention towards that part of the face where one can feel the breath”. Still, it is interesting to see how and what words are used. Especially in the light of recent ideas i discussed on this blog about taking a more literal look at sati, i.e. as “remembering” and then to see where that might take one. So here it says that, after finding a suitable spot for meditation and putting our body into a comfortable position for a meditation, have to set up (lit. upa-thapeti up-placing, erecting, setting up) sati. Yes, we could go with the general translation of sati as mindfulness and say to establish mindfulness around the face. In fact this implies that we need to remember, focus on the breath. Stressing the “memory” connotation of sati emphasizes that it is not just one moment of awareness which is necessary, but rather a continuous activity which we need to be actively pursued. We need to “keep the breath in mind”.  Next we will see how the Buddha helps us to get from here into the jhanas:

‘‘Dīghaṃ vā assasanto ‘dīghaṃ assasāmī’ti pajānāti, dīghaṃ vā passasanto ‘dīghaṃ passasāmī’ti pajānāti; rassaṃ vā assasanto ‘rassaṃ assasāmī’ti pajānāti, rassaṃ vā passasanto ‘rassaṃ passasāmī’ti pajānāti; ‘sabbakāyapaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘sabbakāyapaṭisaṃvedī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘passambhayaṃ kāyasaṅkhāraṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘passambhayaṃ kāyasaṅkhāraṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati.

[1] Breathing in long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in long’; or breathing out long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out long.’ [2] Or breathing in short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in short’; or breathing out short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out short.’ [3] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in feeling the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out feeling the entire body.’ [4] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming my bodily activity.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming bodily activity.’

This second part is split into two approaches. The first (and only in this whole meditation instruction) talks about getting to know our breath. Getting to know it as long/short or “coarse and refined”. This is the inital “getting in touch with our breathing” phase. It allows us to settle and get in touch with the point of concentration, our breathing.

Secondly the “real” training part (“sikkhati” – he trains, exercises) starts the process of inducing the jhanas. After we mentally lock the breathing with a feeling/conscious perception of our entire body the next step starts to work like a self-hypnosis: We “tell” our body to calm done even further. The breathing becomes refined – but not as a singular activity, but rather a body-encompassing ‘whole’ experience. Now we are going into the jhanas 1 and 2:

‘‘‘Pītipaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘pītipaṭisaṃvedī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘sukhapaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘sukhapaṭisaṃvedī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘cittasaṅkhārapaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘cittasaṅkhārapaṭisaṃvedī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘passambhayaṃ cittasaṅkhāraṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘passambhayaṃ cittasaṅkhāraṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati.

[5] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in feeling rapture/elation.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out feeling rapture/elation.’ [6] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in feeling  happiness.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out feeling happiness.’ [7] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in feeling mental activity.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out feeling mental activity.’ [8] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming mental activity.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming mental activity.’

It is quite obvious that the Buddha is talking about a jhanic experience here. Sorry, i need to correct. He is not talking about the experience of a jhana, he is pointing out how to archieve one. Each of these little instructions can be read like a mental determination by the meditator: “I will breath in, feeling elation”, “I will breathe out, feeling elation”.  If he already “had” gained piti and is only acknowleding the fact, we would read something like

“pītipaṭisaṃvedī assasāmī’ti pajānāti

But that is not what the text says. We have a future form in each sentence … something expressing a wish, a “may I”. And then there is the verb “sikkhati” – the training. It almost sounds like “autogenous training”.  So after calming down the body and breathing he trains himself “may i feel piti”, “may i feel sukha”. It sounds strange that these things get spelled out, but its not that strange if you are familiar with Leigh’s or Ayya Khemas accounts of the 4 jhanas (search ‘smile’) you know that they do something very similar … for instance the famous “looking for the smile”. In fact, especially with metta meditation it is so easy to enter the jhanas because the smile of loving kindness comes with the start of the excercise, free of charge.

So here, this person is looking for the piti AFTER he connected with his whole body and started to calm it down. Then, when he IS experiencing piti and sukha he continues to the second jhana. Now it is fascinating to see, that we entered the first jhana by first “connecting with the whole body” and then by “calming it down”. The same is done here at this point once again: “Cittasaṅkhāra” might stand for the piti and sukha just experienced (or still a form of vitakka, or both). In order to go beyond those “coarse” qualities of the first jhana (i.e. into jhana no. 2-3) we need to get a mental “generalization” of them. By summarizing them as a “mental activity” or “mind representation” we transcend the piti and sukha – we move above them, away from their mesmerizing (in-drawing-grip) by simply reckognizing that they are, indeed, “just mental activity themselves” which keep us from entering even deeper states of concentration. They have fullfilled their purpose. Finally for the 2nd jhana to be established, the Buddha asks us to now calm down that “mental feeling chatter”.

From here our journey takes us to the third and 4th jhana:

‘‘‘Cittapaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘cittapaṭisaṃvedī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘abhippamodayaṃ cittaṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘abhippamodayaṃ cittaṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati ; ‘samādahaṃ cittaṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘samādahaṃ cittaṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘vimocayaṃ cittaṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘vimocayaṃ cittaṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati.

[9] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in feeling/being aware of the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out feeling/being aware of the mind.’ [10] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in deeply gladening the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out deeply gladening the mind.’ [11] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in unifying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out unifying the mind.’ [12] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in releasing the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out releasing the mind.’

Again, after having calmed down the content of our mind which brought us to such a refined state of concentration the next step is to get in touch with an even subtler “concept” a subtler “representation” of what is going on. We determine to “simply feel the mind”. This part of the exercise might sound most familiar to our Western way of talking about “become one”, “experience the stillness of your mind” etc. etc. So, what then does the “abhippamodayaṃ” stand for? Haven’t we already gone beyond piti and sukha? It is very easy to see that these two lines are hinting at the 3rd jhana if you look at the definition for the third jhana real quick:

With the fading away of rapture dwelling equanimous,

sato ca sampajàno, sukhan ca kàyena patisamvedeti,
mindful (staying on his object/remembering it), clearly knowing it, experiencing happiness through the body,

yan-tam ariya acikkhanti. “Upekkhako satimà sukhavihàro”ti,
about which the Noble Ones declare: “He lives pleasantly, mindful, and equanimous”

tatiyam jhànam upasampajja viharanto. 
dwelling (thus) having attained the third absorption.

In turn samadaham and vimocayam would denote our intention of transcending jhana 3 and moving into an even further concentrated and equanimious state of mind, the 4th jhana. The only “strange” term here might be “vimocayam” to “free” our mind. But again, with a look at the general description of the 4 jhanas it is this quality of having gone beyond all former mental states of happiness and unhappiness (a form of freedom) that we now dwell in the 4th jhana.

pubbeva somanassadomanassànam atthangamà,
and with[case: ablativ; due to/from ] the previous disappearence of mental well-being and sorrow,

adukkhaü, asukhaü, upekkhà-satipàrisuddhiü, 
without pain, without pleasure, and with purity of equanimity-remembering [now equanimity is at the center of focus, it is pure in as much as the mind does not leave it – the constant memory (aka mindfulness) of equanimity is purified],

catuttham jhànam upasampajja viharanto.
dwelling having attained the fourth absorption. [link]

Certainly, the next step looks like the beginning of something new: Vipassana. With the “perfection” in samma samadhi comes power to examine the reality fabric of life, the 5 groups of grasping. Look at how similar this terminology is when compared to many of the short suttas on insight which we discussed in the post on “the process of awakening“. This fact actually was the main intent of going into this sutta in the first place. Let’s have a closer look how we can utilize the gained power in concentration and what the Buddha wants us to apply it to. Because, the simple “directing his mind to the 4 noble truth” is in fact (as we can see here) the major task to accomplish. Getting jhanic concentration is nothing, compared to the following work:

‘‘‘Aniccānupassī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘aniccānupassī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘virāgānupassī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘virāgānupassī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘nirodhānupassī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘nirodhānupassī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘paṭinissaggānupassī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘paṭinissaggānupassī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati. Evaṃ bhāvitā kho, bhikkhave, ānāpānassati evaṃ bahulīkatā mahapphalā hoti mahānisaṃsā.

[13] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in observing impermanence.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing observing impermanence.’ [14] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in observing dispassion [literally, fading].’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe observing dispassion.’ [15] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in observing cessation.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out observing cessation.’ [16] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in observing relinquishment.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out observing relinquishment.’

So here he trains himself to see impermanence. Remember, before the text was saying that one had to feel / experience something. Happiness, concentration etc. Now, we turn towards an activity of observation – based on the breath (and many modern vipassana systems take the breath as their anchor point for observation – so does the Ledi-UBaKhin-Goenka group as well as the Nyanarama-Nyanananda-(AyyaKhema-Amatagavesi etc etc.) group of people).

If you read this sutta isolated though, you would definitely have a lot of questions. For one, the whole walk-through of samatha meditation is so clear when you know that this text refers to the jhanas – and how it does that. You can vividly imagine how each of these determinations or steps is a push into the direction of experiencing of the jhanic concentration states.

The last paragraph includes (and triggered!!) the whole gamut of what the commentarial literature generally known as “vipassana nyana” or insight stages. Let us try and hint at some of the discussions going on regarding this paragraph.

However, before you continue, here are 3 other posts which on which some of the following remarks are based:

  1. The method of noting in pali texts
  2. Additional meaning behind the term “sati”
  3. The insight passages in the Samyutta Nikaya
  4. Nirodha and Nibbana

Aniccanupassana is pretty straightforward and we it is clear as to what this term implies. Many suttas talk about the fact that we need to see the impermanence of any incoming of the five groups of grasping – in whatever form or facette they present themselves to us. Here is an explanation on Aniccanupassana in the context of the breathing meditation as explained in the Patisambhidamagga:

180. Kathaṃ ‘‘aniccānupassī assasissāmī’’ti sikkhati, ‘‘aniccānupassī passasissāmī’’ti sikkhati? Aniccanti kiṃ aniccaṃ? Pañcakkhandhā aniccā. Kenaṭṭhena aniccā? Uppādavayaṭṭhena aniccā…

‘‘Rūpe aniccānupassī assasissāmī’’ti sikkhati, ‘‘rūpe aniccānupassī passasissāmī’’ti sikkhati.

‘‘Vedanāya…pe… saññāya… saṅkhāresu… viññāṇe… cakkhusmiṃ…pe… jarāmaraṇe aniccānupassī assasissāmī’’ti sikkhati, ‘‘jarāmaraṇe aniccānupassī passasissāmī’’ti sikkhati. Aniccānupassī assāsapassāsavasena dhammā upaṭṭhānaṃ sati anupassanā ñāṇaṃ. Dhammā upaṭṭhānaṃ, no sati; sati upaṭṭhānañceva sati ca. Tāya satiyā tena ñāṇena te dhamme anupassati. Tena vuccati – ‘‘dhammesu dhammānupassanāsatipaṭṭhānabhāvanā’’ti. –

How is “He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in observing impermanence.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing observing impermanence.'” to be understood? “Impermanent” – what is impermanent? The five groups are impermanent. What is the meaning of impermanent? The meaning of impermanence is the rising and disappearing…

He trains himself: “I will see the impermence with regard to the form breathing in”. He trains himself: “I will see impermanence with regard to form while breathing out.”…feeling, perception,…Through this keeping-in-mind (sati as memory)/ through this knowing he observes these things. For this reason it was said: He develops satipatthana observing the dhamma with regard to the dhammas.

[This among many other passages shows that the Patisambhidamagga encapsulates much more pragmatic meditation-related information than it’s semi-commentarial status would make u]

Some have argued that viragananupassi and nirodhanupassi stand for the contemplation of anicca, dukkha, anatta (So an idea in Ledi Sayadaw’s book vipassanadipani). It seems unlikely at least in our case, because we find suttas where for each contemplation (on dukkha and anatta) the Buddha closes with the words that they lead to viraga and nirodho. (In fact, the sequence anicca/dukkha/anatta – seeing will lead to viraga-nirodha-vimutti is extremely frequent in all parts of the suttas. More here)

Secondly, if anicca-anupassana stands for the observation of seeing the rising and falling (=both of which are factors of impermanence) then it is equally unlikely that nirodhanupassana is again a focus on the falling/vanishing aspect of our experience. Except if we understand these 4 steps to correlate to the vipassana nyana in which case:

  • aniccanupassana –  observation of impermanence
  • viraganupassana – we start looking at it disenchanted. turning away from the middle part of a rising/persisting/falling object we get disillusioned, so much so that we start to see the ending in every moment which leads to
  • nirodhanupassana – we start to see the vanishing / dissappearing aspect more (which correlates to the bhanganyana in the commentaries). this in turn leads to
  • patinissaganupassana – the mode of letting go and thus stands for the vipassana nyanas of adinava and muncitukamyata maybe even sankharupekkha.

An alternative interpretation for the last step in this series would look like this

  • aniccanupassana – our mode of observation (could also equally be “dukkhanupassana or anatta-anupassana”)
  • viraganupassana – a process of disenchantment starts
  • nirodhanupassana – we experience a nirodha moment
  • patinissaganupassana – we are now experiencing the phala (attainment) which made us “give up” or “let go”  or literally “throw back” all 5 groups of grasping in a very profound manner.

So while in the first “sequence” patinissaggo is part of the process of turning a moment of nirodha into a nibbana, the second interpretation seems more like the experience of the state of phala-samapatti. One could argue that both interpretations are equally valid. After all, even modern vipassana meditation masters acknowledge that the way to enter the phalasamapatti state is to simply do a determination before noting according to ones technique. This would eventually result in a nirodho where one would “jump” or “let go” and thus re-attain nibbana or dwell in an adjacent state of mind (samapatti).

Here again the Patisambhidamagga comes to the rescue and has a similar two-fold outlook on patinissaggo. Hard to tell if that subtlety is really what is meant though:

“Rūpaṃ pariccajatīti – pariccāgapaṭinissaggo. Rūpanirodhe [see also ‘Ye ca kho keci, soṇa, samaṇā vā brāhmaṇā vā rūpaṃ pajānanti, rūpasamudayaṃ pajānanti, rūpanirodhaṃ pajānanti, rūpanirodhagāminiṃ paṭipadaṃ pajānanti’ here rupanirodho is simply the vanishing of rupa, the disappearing of the sense impression] nibbāne cittaṃ pakkhandatīti – pakkhandanapaṭinissaggo” –

There are two “relinquishments…he gives up the form this is called the rejecting-relinquishment. In the destruction of form this nibbana his mind rejoices in – this is called the rejoicing-relinquishment.

Patisambhidamagga,  paragraph 180

(With regard to nirodha it is important to understand that nirodha means what it says: “cessation“. Sometimes it gets translated as “quenching” by translators in order to avoid the proximity to “destruction” but this is v e r y far stretched. If the original text does not fit our understanding maybe something is wrong with our understanding of the text. The following will make this clear.)

There has been said much more and much better on this topic of “nibbida-viraga-nirodha”. For example from the most venerable Nyanananda.  It is going to be a lengthy quote, but quite an important one. This is from his 16th sermon on Nibbana:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is whay at this point you most likely remember the one book on this important part of Buddhist meditation by the most Venerable Ñāṇārāma Mahāthera: The seven contemplations.

If you are really really interested in a full study on the last 4 steps of insight meditation this book is highly recommended.

It is even more readable and informative than the famous “The seven stages of purification and the insight knowledges”. However, unlike the latter there seems to be no online version available (at least not in English – could someone ask the BPS to release the material?).

If you happen to own this book, open chapter 8 and read the summary. It will give you a very profound explanation on the sequence of nibbida, viraga, nirodha and patinissaggo.

Below are some other instances in the suttas where this formula appears. As always we can approxmiate to the meaning of pali texts best by simply looking at our passage in various contexts.

Below a collection of some such passages where these 4 stages of insight meditation or “modes of observation” occur:

 Idha devānaminda bhikkhuno sutaṃ hoti: sabbe dhammā nālaṃ abhinivesāyāti. Evañca taṃ devānaminda bhikkhuno sutaṃ hoti: sabbe dhammā nālaṃ abhinivesāyāti, so sabbaṃ dhammaṃ abhijānāti. Sabbaṃ dhammaṃ abhiññāya sabbaṃ dhammaṃ parijānāti. Sabbaṃ dhammaṃ pariññāya yaṃ kiñci vedanaṃ vedeti sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā, so tāsu vedanāsu aniccānupassī viharati, virāgānupassī viharati, nirodhānupassī viharati, paṭinissaggānupassī viharati. So tāsu vedanāsu aniccānupassī viharanto, virāgānupassī viharanto, nirodhānupassī viharanto, paṭinissaggānupassī viharanto na ca kiñci 1 loke upādiyati. Anupādiyaṃ na paritassati. Aparitassaṃ paccattaññeva parinibbāyati. Cūḷataṇhāsaṅkhayasutta, MN

Here, king of gods, the bhikkhu becomes learned, that anything is not suitable to settle in. Becomes learned, learning all things thoroughly and accurately recognising all things Feels all feelings pleasant, unpleasant or neither unpleasant nor pleasant. In those feelings he sees impermanence, detaches the mind from them, and sees their cessation, and gives them up. Abiding seeing impermanence, detachment, cessation and giving up of those feelings, does not seize anything in the world. Not seizing does not worry. Not worried is internally extinguished. [MN 37]

or this one:

‘‘Sato, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajāno kālaṃ āgameyya. Ayaṃ vo amhākaṃ anusāsanī. Kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sato hoti? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ; vedanāsu vedanānupassī viharati…pe… citte cittānupassī viharati…pe… dhammesu dhammānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ. Evaṃ kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sato hoti.

Note: When you think about this…it almost seems as if the Buddha thought: Okay, what is the best way i can get my monks to see the true nature of the 5 groups of grasping. They are so subtle….Hm….That’s it! Why don’t i spell out an excercise which sounds more tangible but when they follow it in due course will get to a much more refined vision of the rising and vanishing of these 5 groups. So, there is body (= rupa) and feeling (= vedana) and lets call the rest  simply “the mind” and its objects “mind objects” (= sanna, sankhara, vinnana). And thus the 4 satipatthana were born, another king’s path to seeing the 5 groups of grasping (1. noble truth), seeing their arising (2. noble truth) due to tanha and upadana, seeing their destruction (3. noble truth) and establishing a practice to the realization thereof (4. noble truth).

‘‘Kathañca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajāno hoti? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu abhikkante paṭikkante …bhāsite tuṇhībhāve sampajānakārī hoti. Evaṃ kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajānakārī hoti. Sato, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajāno kālaṃ āgameyya. Ayaṃ vo amhākaṃ anusāsanī.

[..so far so good..this is exactly as in the Satipatthana sutta. But look how this text continues here. This sutta reads like a comment on the satipatthana (esp. vedana part) itself. This is very good for all sorts of cross-reference:]

‘‘Tassa ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno evaṃ satassa sampajānassa appamattassa ātāpino pahitattassa viharato uppajjati sukhā vedanā, so evaṃ pajānāti – ‘uppannā kho myāyaṃ sukhā vedanā. Sā ca kho paṭicca, no appaṭicca. Kiṃ paṭicca? Imameva kāyaṃ paṭicca. Ayaṃ kho pana kāyo anicco saṅkhato paṭiccasamuppanno. Aniccaṃ kho pana saṅkhataṃ paṭiccasamuppannaṃ kāyaṃ paṭicca uppannā sukhā vedanā kuto niccā bhavissatī’ti! So kāye ca sukhāya ca vedanāya aniccānupassī viharati, vayānupassī viharati, virāgānupassī viharati, nirodhānupassī viharati, paṭinissaggānupassī viharati. Tassa kāye ca sukhāya ca vedanāya aniccānupassino viharato, vayānupassino viharato, virāgānupassino viharato, nirodhānupassino viharato, paṭinissaggānupassino viharato, yo kāye ca sukhāya ca vedanāya rāgānusayo, so pahīyati.


If  in that remembering and aware monk, o monks…an agreable sensation arises, he thus knows: “Arisen is an agreable sensation. This is was caused by something not without cause. Based on what? Based on this very body. But this body is impermanent, fabricated, dependently originated. How could this sensation therefore be permanent?! He dwells seeing impermanence of agreable feelings with regard to the body…dwells seeing the fading…dwells seeing the cessation….dwells seeing the giving up. Whatever there was of a tendency of craving towards body or feeling that will vanish in him.

Another note: It is interesting how Goenka always relates vedana to the body…and it is strange in a way. This text in particular might move the body in the foreground (the body, in fact, is a synonym for “form” as all our physical objects we perceive are “routed” through this antenna. From a deeper perspective however, speaking of the “six sense spheres” is more precise. So, of course, vedana can also be triggered by thoughts…(or any of the six sense objects) but then, that has always been a problem, to “note” in vipassana even the most refined mental concepts and the thoughts springing up from dhamma-related content…[Like this one, 🙂 ]

When it comes to the benefits this meditation on breathing is able to generate (i.e. Nibbana, no by-products implied here) we find a couple of suttas in the Samyutta Nikaya which describe the resulting state of mind of a master of this meditation. After the attainment of nibbana this is how an Anapanasati concentration would look like:

‘‘Evaṃ bhāvite kho, bhikkhave, ānāpānassatisamādhimhi evaṃ bahulīkate, sukhaṃ ce vedanaṃ vedayati, sā ‘aniccā’ti pajānāti, ‘anajjhositā’ti pajānāti, ‘anabhinanditā’ti pajānāti; dukkhaṃ ce vedanaṃ vedayati, ‘sā aniccā’ti pajānāti, ‘anajjhositā’ti pajānāti, ‘anabhinanditā’ti pajānāti; adukkhamasukhaṃ ce vedanaṃ vedayati, ‘sā aniccā’ti pajānāti, ‘anajjhositā’ti pajānāti, ‘anabhinanditā’ti pajānāti’’.

Having thus developed, o monks, the concentration of breathing in and out, having does practiced it often, whenever he feels a feeling he knows “impermanent”…”un-identified”…”undelighted”…[the same for painful or neutral feelings]

It is important to understand that this last paragraph reflects on the state of a Stream-enterer … Arahant – and not someone who just started out with this meditation. While “newcomers” will have to exert (sikkhati) themselves to look at any feeling etc. in a fashion of pure and total observation – this mode of observation comes naturally to the enlightened being.

We have to make sure that our training encompasses everything that arises while we are bent on observing impermanence. Even thoughts about the Dharma are thoughts. A thought like “Just let it go” is an object, with a mind-consciousness and a mind-feeling and a mind-perception entailed. Don’t get fooled by this subtle grasping but rather:

Sukhaṃ vā yadi vā dukkhaṃ, adukkhamasukhaṃ saha;
ajjhattaṃ ca bahiddhā ca, yaṃ kiñci atthi veditaṃ.
Etaṃ dukkhaṃ ti ñatvāna mosadhammaṃ palokinaṃ;
phussa phussa vayaṃ passaṃ, evaṃ tattha virajjati;
Vedanānaṃ khayā bhikkhu, nicchāto parinibbuto’ti.

If it is a agreeable or unagreeable or neutral feeling

within or without, WHATEVER it is you feel

“This is suffering” having it known {noted} as such

of deceiving nature destined to decay

Whenever whenever you are hit with a sense impression

See it disappearing

So will it there fade away

The monk from the cessation of feelings

Is wishless and completely extinguished.

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  1. sudarsha

    Well, I am really new here.

    This long post does not seem to be signed, but it is very helpful. However, parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā – and this is an opinion and not intended as a controversy or any such thing – means to bring (something) into the sati, awareness, remembrance process, whatever is to be the object of awareness.

    One brings the object into the “front” – here mukhaṃ means “front”, as the mouth is in the front. Whatever we look at is in front of the face, we put food into the front of the face, we breathe in through the front of the face, we see and detect scent through the front of the face, we hear by turning the face towards the source of sound.

    For me, this gives profound meaning to the Buddha’s deceptively simple expression parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā.

    I hope this is helpful.


    • theravadin

      Hi Su-darsha (nice name, btw). All posts/ articles/ translation on this blog are (if not stated otherwise) “mine”. But then again, of course, they are not, due to fact that I owe what I learned about the Dhamma from so many “influences” esp. Ven. K. Nyanananda & Ven. Nyanarama et al.

      Regarding “parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā” … Generally, I guess, everyone agrees that it simply implies the start of a meditation session…but yes, as you state, the way these words are used they reflect a certain attitude towards the practice (sati – upa-tthapeti) which in itself is quite interesting…

      Enjoy your stay on the Theravadin blog.


      a theravadin 😉

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