Anussati – Sinking away from the wet in a stream of life

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:
  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 (
  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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