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The original Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta is divided into four parts. The first part deals with the teaching that "the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness tend to afflict and, being unmanageable, are therefore not self or inner essence."

The second part deals with the questions, "Are the five aggregates permanent or impermanent? Are they suffering or happiness"' and explains that it is not fitting to regard that which is not permanent, suffering, and subject to change as "mine," "me," "my self."

In the third part, the five aggregates are classified and enumerated under eleven headings and it is taught to contemplate them as "not mine, not me, not my self" (impermanent, suffering, not self).

In the fourth part, which we will deal with now, the Blessed One taught how the meditator develops the knowledge of insight step by step, and how nibbidā ñāṇa, knowledge of disenchantment, is developed, leading to the attainment of the knowledge of the Path and Fruition and final liberation as an Arahat.


Evaṁ passaṁ bhikkhave, sutvā ariyasāvako rūpa-smiṁpi nibbindati vedanāyapi nibbindati saññāyapi nibbindati saṅkhāresupi nibbindati viññāṇasmiṁpi nibbindati.

"Monks, the instructed noble disciple, seeing thus, grows wearied of form, wearied of feeling, wearied of perception, wearied of volitional formation, wearied of consciousness".

In this way, the Blessed One taught how nibbidā ñāṇa is developed. "Seeing thus" in the above passage means seeing impermanence, suffering and not self. He becomes the instructed disciple, fully equipped with knowledge from both hearing and from personal experience.

He has learned from hearing that in order to perceive the nature of impermanence, suffering and not-self in the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness he has to take note of every act of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking. He has also heard that one must contemplate the five groups of grasping as just mental and physical properties and that the knowing is (a function of) mind (mentality, nāma). He has also heard about cause and effect, about the nature of incessant arising and vanishing, impermanence and insubstantiality. All of this constitutes knowledge acquired from hearsay or learning. Meditators are accomplished in this form of knowledge even before they start meditation.

Then while taking note of rising, falling, bending, stretching, moving, extending, pressing, feeling touch that is hard, coarse, soft, smooth, hot, cold, and seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching, the meditator realizes that the objects he is taking note of are corporeality and the knowing of these objects is mentality, and that there are only these two: corporeality and mentality. When he takes note of eye consciousness, ear consciousness, touch consciousness and mental consciousness, he knows that consciousness is mentality and the location of this consciousness is corporeality; that there are only these two. This is knowledge acquired through personal experience.

Further, when there is desire to bend, he bends; when there is desire to stretch, he stretches; when there is desire to walk, he walks. Noting all these, he comes to realize that he bends because there is desire, he stretches or walks because there is desire to do so; there is no living entity making him bend, stretch or walk, there are only respective causes for each result produced. This is also knowledge from personal experience.

If the meditator fails to take note of phenomena he cannot see them as they really are. He develops liking for them. From liking comes craving. Because he craves for them, he has to make efforts to obtain them, thereby producing wholesome and unwholesome kamma, in consequence of which there are new becomings. In this way he comes to understand the Law of Dependent Origination concerning the cause and effect of phenomena.

Again, both the objects of form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness and the knowing mind keep on arising afresh and perishing. Thus he knows rightly, as the Blessed One instructed, that they are impermanent, suffering and not-self.

As stated above, various kinds of knowledge, beginning with that of differentiation between corporeality and mentality, right up to knowledge of their nature as impermanent, suffering and not-self, are all gained by personal experience, not from hearing or learning. We dare say that among the present audience there are many members who are equipped with such personal knowledge. Thus we say that the person who can perceive the true nature of impermanence, suffering and not-self through personal experience is one who is well instructed, equipped with both the knowledge of learning and the knowledge of personal experience.

It goes without saying that the Group of Five, being Stream Enterers, were fully equipped with both types of knowledge and were therefore fully instructed.

The disciple of the Blessed One who is thus fully instructed can perceive, with his own knowledge, the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness as they manifest at every moment of seeing, hearing, touching, and knowing, as impermanent, suffering and not-self. The meditator who can perceive in this way soon reaches the stage of udayabbaya ñāṇa, in which the rapid arising and dissolution of corporeality and mentality are discerned. According to the Visuddhimagga, when that stage is reached, the meditator witnesses strange lights and aura, and experiences unprecedented happiness, intense joy (pīti) and quietude. He also experiences lightness in body and mind, softness and gentleness, vigor and energy. He thus feels indescribably pleasant in body and mind. His mindfulness is so perfect that it may be said that there is nothing he is not mindful of, his intellect so keen and sharp that it seems there is nothing he cannot comprehend. His religious fervor increases and his faith and devotion in the Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha grow unprecedentedly clear and bright.

But all these strange developments have to be noted and rejected.

When they are noted and rejected thus, this stage of knowledge is passed and the next stage is reached with the appearance of bhaṅga ñāṇa. At that time, the object of meditation and the meditating mind are perceived to be disintegrating, vanishing pair by pair. For instance, when the rising is noted, it vanishes together with the noting mind. Each act of rising is discerned to be vanishing in successive separate disappearances. This is discerned at every moment of noting. It even appears that the object of meditation ceases first, and the noting of it comes later. This is of course what actually happens. When arising of thought is contemplated, the noting mind arises only after that thought has disappeared. The same thing happens while noting other objects: the noting takes place only after the object to be noted has disappeared. But when knowledge is not yet fully developed, the object to be noted seems to disappear simultaneously with the knowing mind. This is in accord with the Sutta teaching that only the present moment is contemplated. Perceiving the continuous and rapid process of dissolution, one comes to know that death may occur at any time, which is a terrifying thing to realize. This is knowledge of danger or terror, bhaya ñāṇa. When things are seen as dangerous, the understanding arises that they are baneful and full of danger. This is ādinava ñāṇa. The meditator no longer finds delight in these baneful aggregates of corporeality and mentality. He finds them detestable, wearisome, and this is nibbidā ñāṇa. The Blessed One was referring to this state of mind when he said, rūpasmiṁpi nibbindati: "He grows wearied of form ..."

Before the development of nibbidā ñāṇa, one may be quite satisfied and happy with one's present physical form, and satisfied and happy with the expectation of human or celestial physical form in a future existence. One craves for and looks forward to the happiness of human or celestial existence, and a beautiful, healthy body. With the arising of this knowledge, one no longer feels happy, no longer lives with joyful expectation. The so-called happi-ness of human life is made up of incessantly arising and ceasing corporeality and mentality. The meditator also visualizes that the so-called happiness in a celestial being is similarly constituted of fleeting corporeality and mentality, for which he has developed detestation and weariness. It is just like the fisherman holding a dangerous snake, thinking it to be an eel: once he realizes that he has a dangerous snake in his hand, not an eel, he wants to throw it away as quickly as possible. This illustration was described fully in my discourse on the Sīlavanta Sutta.

Furthermore, before the advent of nibbidā ñāṇa, he takes delight in all the feelings he is enjoying, and he yearns for pleasurable feelings of the human or celestial worlds in future existences. He takes delight in the good perceptions (saññā) he is blessed with now; he longs for and is happy with the thought of having good perceptions in future existences. He takes delight in thoughts and actions of the present life and thoughts and actions in future existences. Some people even pray for what they would like to do when reborn. Some indulge and rejoice in daydreaming and ideation now and look forward to doing similarly in coming existences. But when nibbidā ñāṇa is developed, one sees the ever arising and ceasing of feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness as they truly are and feels a distaste for them. Just as they are quickly passing away right now, whether one is reborn as a human or a celestial being, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness will always be disintegrating. Considering thus, he feels dispassionate towards all these formations (aggregates), and is dissatisfied with them.

It is essential that the meditator becomes genuinely dissatisfied and wearied with conditions. Only when genuine distaste is developed towards them does the wish to escape from them, to discard them, arise, and the subsequent striving to get rid of them. It is then that saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa will appear, and when that ñāṇa is fully developed, Nibbāna can be realized through attainment of the knowledge of the Noble Path and Fruition, becoming a Stream Enterer, a Once Returner, a Non-Returner or an Arahat. Thus it is essential to strive hard for the development of genuine nibbidā ñāṇa. It is for this reason that the Blessed One taught:

Sabbe saṅkhārā aniccāti
yadā paññāya passati
atha nibbindati dukkhe
esa maggo visuddhiyā.

"All compounded things, conditioned by kamrna, mind, seasonal variations and nutriment, are transient. When one comprehends this truth by vipassanā ñāṇa, one grows dissatisfied and wearied with all this suffering (all compounded corporeality and mentality). This dis-satisfaction and antipathy is the true and right Path to purity, to Nibbāna, free from all defilements and suffering."

The meditator who takes note of every act of seeing, hearing, touching and knowing as it arises perceives only phenomena rapidly arising and vanishing. He knows, therefore, things as they truly are -- all transient. With this knowledge of impermanence comes the realization that there is nothing delightful and pleasant in the present mind and body; future states of mind and body, having the same nature of impermanence, will also be undelightful and unpleasant. He therefore develops distaste for all mentality and corporeality, and he wants to be free from them. He strives for liberation by continuing with his meditation. Thereby saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa appears and Nibbāna is realized through the Noble Path. Therefore the Blessed One taught that the insight which sees only dissatisfaction and repugnance is the true path to Nibbāna.


Sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhāti
yadā paññāya passati
atha nibbindati dukkhe
esa maggo visuddhiyā

"All compounded things, conditioned by kamma, mind, seasonal variations and nutriment, are suffering. When one comprehends this truth ... "

A certain teacher has interpreted the word "saṅkhārā" in this verse to mean the cetanā (volition) which produces wholesome and unwholesome actions. Thus, according to him: "Wholesome acts such as charitable deeds and keeping precepts are all saṅkhārā, and hence suffering. Likewise, practicing concentration and insight meditation are saṅkhāra. All types of action are thus productive of suffering. In order to attain the peace of Nibbāna, engage in no activity. "Keep the mind as it is." Thus he misrepresents the teaching to suit his purpose, and his disciples, who accept his views, spread his wrong teaching. As a matter of fact, the word "saṅkhārā" of this verse is not intended to mean wholesome and unwholesome volitional actions (kusala, akusala saṅkhārā) which arise out of ignorance. Here, saṅkhārā means simply the mentality and corporeality which arise as conditioned by kamma, mind, seasonal variations and nutriment. Again, mentality and corporeality do not include the supramundane path and fruition consciousness, or mental concomitants which form the object of vipassanā meditation. Only the mundane forms of mentality and corporeality, which occur in the three spheres (sense sphere, form sphere and formless sphere) are meant here, the same as the saṅkhārā of the previous verse. Thus, all mentality and corporeality which manifest at every moment of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking are incessantly arising and vanishing, they are transient. Because of their imperma-nence, they are suffering. This is what is meant here.

"All compounded things which arise as conditioned by kamma, mind, seasonal variations and nutriment are suffering. When one comprehends this truth by knowledge of bhaṅga ñāṇa, one becomes dissatisfied and wearied with all this suffering. This dissatisfaction and weariness is the true and right path to purity, to Nibbāna, free from all defilements and suffering."

The meditator perceives that all the mentality and corporeality which appear at the moment of sensory awareness are undergoing instant dissolution and are therefore transient. Because they are impermanent and liable to disintegrate at any moment, the meditator perceives them as fearful and a source of suffering. For some meditators, unpleasant sensations such as stiffness, heat, pain and itchiness are constantly arising in various parts of the body. At every manifestation, these sensations are noted, thereby enabling the meditator to perceive the whole body as a mass of suffering. This is in accordance with the teaching dukkha maddhakkhi sallato: vipassanā ñāṇa perceives the body as a mass of suffering caused by piercing thorns or spikes.

It may be asked, "What difference is there between the pain experienced by an ordinary person and that experienced by the meditator?" The difference lies in the fact that the ordinary person sees pain as, "my feeling, I am suffering," but the meditator knows unpleasant feeling without any self clinging, he perceives it as just a phenomenon, arising and immediately perishing. It is vipassanā ñāṇa, an object of insight knowledge, without any self clinging.

Whether perceived as suffering because of impermanence or as a mass of unbearable suffering, there is no delight in compounded things, only repugnance. There is dissatisfaction and weariness with regard to present and future mentality and corporeality, a total distaste for all mentality and corporeality. This is develop-ment of nibbidā ñāṇa. When this ñāṇa is developed, there follows the wish to discard mentality and corporeality, to be free of them. The meditator continues with the work of meditation in order to achieve freedom. In time, striving on, saṅkharupekkhā ñāṇa arises and Nibbāna is realized by means of the knowledge of the Noble Path. Therefore the Blessed One described the insight knowledge which considers all saṅkhārā as suffering and as objects of disgust as the Path to Nibbāna. In a similar manner, the Blessed One taught how they are perceived as non-self and thus regarded with disgust and dislike.


Sabbe dhammā anattāti
yadā paññāya passati
atha nibbindati dukkhe
esa maggo visuddhiyā

Dhamma in this verse has the same purpose as saṅkhārā of the previous two verses, meaning mundane mentality and corporeality as perceived by insight knowledge. Anattā is dhamma and dhamma, phenomena, thus means anattā. In order to bring out more clearly the meaning of saṅkhārā as nonself, the word dhamma is employed here.

This is the explanation given in the Commentary and we believe it is quite appropriate and acceptable. But there are other views which hold that the word dhamma is purposely used here to include the supramundane Path, Fruition and the unconditioned Nibbāna as well. We believe this interpretation is not quite tenable. The ordinary person perceives saṅkhārā, such as acts of seeing and hearing, as permanent and pleasant, whereas the meditator sees them as transient and suffering. Likewise, what the ordinary person regards as self, namely mundane mentality and corporeality, the meditator sees as not-self, anattā. The meditator need not and cannot note supramundane things. They cannot be objects of contemplation and he could thus have no attachments for them. Thus it must be taken that dhamma here means just mundane saṅkhārā, mentality and corporeality, which can form the objects of vipassanā contemplation.

"All mundane mentality and corporeality, such as acts of seeing and hearing, are not self, not living entities. When one comprehends this truth through vipassanā contemplation at the stage of bhaṅga ñāṇa, one grows dissatisfied and wearied with all this suffering. Distaste is the true and right path to purity, to Nibbāna, free from all defilements and sufferings."

Because ordinary people take mentality and corporeality to be self, living entity, they delight in them and feel happy about them. But the meditator sees them only as incessantly arising and perishing phenomena, and realizes, therefore, that they are not self. As explained in this Sutta, because they tend to afflict they are seen to be not self and not subject to one's will. Thus the meditator takes no more delight or pleasure in mentality and corporeality. There arises the wish to discard them, to get free of them. He continues with the meditation in order to achieve freedom. In time, saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa arises and Nibbāna is realized by means of the knowledge of the Noble Path.

Therefore, the Blessed One described the insight knowledge which considers all mental and corporeal conditions as not-self and leads to disgust with them as the Path to Nibbāna.

These three stanzas should be carefully noted. Unless the saṅkhārā represented by mentality and corporeality are seen in one's own experience as incessantly arising and disintegrating, true insight knowledge of them as impermanent, suffering and not-self is not developed. And without the development of genuine knowledge of impermanence, suffering and not-self, nibbidā ñāṇa, the distaste for the sufferings of mental and corporeal formations, will not arise. And in the absence of nibbidā ñāṇa it is impossible to realize Nibbāna. Only with the absence of personal knowledge of the impermanent, suffering and not-self nature of saṅkhārā will weariness develop and nibbidā ñāṇa appear. And it is only after the appearance of this nibbidā ñāṇa that the knowledge of the Path and Fruition, followed by the realization of Nibbāna, will come. It is for this reason that the Blessed One stated in this Sutta: Evaṁ passaṁ bhikkhave, sutvā ariyasāvako, rūpasmiṁpi nibbindati ... :

"Monks, the instructed Noble Disciple, seeing thus (seeing form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness as ‘not mine, not I, not my self') grows wearied of form, wearied of feeling, wearied of perception, wearied of volitional formations, wearied of consciousness".


In the above Pāli passage, "Seeing thus" is a summarized statement of the development of vipassanā up to the state of bhaṅga ñāṇa. And with the words "wearied of ... " development of vipassanā ñāṇa from bhaṅga, ādinava, and nibbidā, right up to vuṭṭhānagāminī, is very concisely described. Thus in the cornmentary to the Mūlapaṇṇāsa, we find this exposition:

Nibbindatīti ukkanthati. Ettha ca nibbindāti vuṭṭhānagāminī vipassanā adhippeta.

"Nibbindati ... to feel weariness, means feeling bored, feeling displeased, unhappy. To explain further, the words ‘Nibbindati ...' should be taken to mean the vipassanā which attains to the Noble Path, known as vuṭṭhāna."

In the Paṭisambhidāmagga and Visuddhimagga, nibbinda ñāṇa is enumerated in seven successive stages of development: bhaṅga, ādīnava, nibbidā, muñcitukamyatā, paṭisaṅkhāra, saṅkhārupekkhā and vuṭṭhānagāminī vipassanā ñāṇa. We have so far explained up to the stage of nibbidā. Now I shall continue with the rest.


Finding only rapid dissolution and disintegration at every instance of contemplation, the meditator becomes wearied of and disenchanted with the aggregates of mentality and corporeality manifested in the acts of seeing, hearing and so on. He does not wish to hold onto them, he wants to abandon them. He realizes that only in the absence of these incessantly arising and perishing mental and corporeal phenomena will there be peace. This is the arising of the wish for true, genuine Nibbāna. Formerly, imagining Nibbāna to be something like a great metropolis, one's wish to get there arose with a hope for permanent enjoyment of all that the heart desires. This is not a desire for genuine Nibbāna, but only the mundane type of happiness. Those who have not really seen the dangers and faults of mentality and corporeality wish for enjoyment of mundane types of bliss. They cannot entertain the idea of complete cessation of all mentality and corporeality, including every form of enjoyment.

At one time, a certain young monk by the name of Lāludāyi heard the Venerable Sārīputta murmuring, "Nibbāna is blissful; Nibbāna is blissful." He asked him "Venerable Sārīputta, there is no sensation in Nibbāna, so there is nothing to experience, is there not? Then what is blissful in Nibbāna, where there is no sensation?" He raised this point having learned that Nibbāna is void of all mentality and corporeality, and thus void of sensation, but, having no personal experience of Nibbāna, he could not see what was blissful about it. The Venerable Sārīputta's reply to this question was, "The fact that there is no sensation to experience is itself blissful."

True it is that peace and tranquility is more blissful than any pleasant or delightful sensation. This is true bliss. A sensation is thought of as blissful or delightful because of fondness and craving for it. Without fondness, no sensation can be regarded as delightful. A moment's consideration will prove this point. A tasty food seems delightful and delicious while there is liking or craving for it, but when one is not feeling well, or when one has eaten and is already full, the same tasty food will no longer look appealing. If one were forced to eat it, one would not find it at all enjoyable; it would not be regarded as delicious, but rather as a source of suffering. Take another example: how long can you keep on looking at a beautiful sight, or listening to a pleasant sound? How many hours, days, months, or years? One cannot maintain interest in them continuously even 24 hours before distaste and dislike for them arise. To have to continue looking at that sight or listening to that sound would become a terrible experience. It is clear, therefore, that to be without any liking or craving, to be without sensation (feeling), is to be blissful. A detailed account on this subject has been given in our book entitled Concerning Nibbāna [Published as Nibbānapaṭisaṁyutta Kathā: On the Nature of Nibbāna; Yangon, Myanmar, May, 1995, by the Buddha Sasana Nuggaha Foundation].


The meditator who is developing nibbinda ñāṇa truly perceives the baneful aspects of mentality and corporeality and has become weary with them. He knows that in Nibbāna, where there is no mentality and corporeality, no sensation, lies real peace, and so he longs for it. This is like scanning the distance from a lookout post. It is looking forward to Nibbāna by means of muñcitukamyatā ñāṇa, knowledge of desire for liberation. As the will to attain real Nibbāna and desire to be liberated from the ills of mentality and corporeality develop, the meditator increases his efforts. With this doubling of effort, he gains paṭisaṅkhā ñāṇa, (reflection on what has been contemplated), in which comprehension of the nature of impermanence, suffering and not-self is deeper than previously. Particularly more pronounced and distinct is the understanding of the nature of suffering. When paṭisaṅkha ñāṇa gains strength and maturity, the meditator attains saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa, knowledge of equanimity towards all conditioned things, all mentality and corporeality. This is a general description of how, starting from sammasana ñāṇa, the series of vipassanā ṇāṇa gradually develops step by step in a trainable (neyya) individual. With noble people, such as a Stream Enterer, within a few moments after the start of meditation, the stage of saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa may be reached. There is no doubt that the five monks listening to the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta reached this stage instantly.


(1) Equanimity

Saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa is distinguished by six characteristics. The first is maintenance of equanimity, being unmoved by fear or unpleasantness, as stated in the Visuddhimagga: Bhayañca nandiñca vippahāya sabba saṅkhāresu udāsino. How has this equanimity come about? At the stage of bhaya ñāṇa, he has contemplated fearsomeness and the knowledge thereby developed is characterized by abhorrence. At the stage of saṅkhār-upekkhā ñāṇa, all signs of fear have disappeared. At the stage of ādinava, he regards all things as baneful; at the stage of nibbidā, all things are distasteful and loathsome. At the muñcitukamyatā stage he develops a desire to discard all the aggregates, to escape from them. When he reaches the stage of saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa, all these characteristics of the lower stages of insight (ñāṇas), namely, seeing banefulness, feeling distaste and disgust, desire to escape, and putting in extraordinary effort, have disappeared. The quotation bhayañca vippahāya -- "abandoning fear" -- from the Visuddhimagga refers to this progress in knowledge. In accordance with this, it must be taken that with the disappearance of fear, the other characteristics, namely seeing banefulness, feeling disgust, desire to escape and extraordinary efforts, have also disappeared.

Furthermore, at the stage of udayabbaya ñāṇa the meditator develops intense rapture and exultation, he is highly exultant. Saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa is a superior development to udayabbaya ñāṇa; nevertheless, at this stage all this rapture and exultation are absent. Thus it is said in the Visuddhimagga, nandiñca vippahāya -- "abandoning delight." He has abandoned exultation, delight and pleasure; he dwells contemplating all saṅkhārā manifested in seeing, hearing and so on with complete equanimity. There is no longer great exuberance, gladness, happiness, or delight such as occurs at the stage of udayabbaya ñāṇa.

This is absence of fear or delight with respect to the practice of Dhamma. With regard to mundane affairs too, it becomes plain how a meditator becomes free from fear and delight. When a meditator who has attained the saṅkhārupekkhā stage of development hears worrying news of worldly affairs or his personal life, he remains unperturbed, unmoved by worry, anxiety or fear. He remains unperturbed, too, when he meets with gladdening events, little moved by exultation, rejoicing or delight. This is freedom from fear and delight in worldly matters.

(2) Balance

The second characteristic is balanced attitude of mind, feeling neither glad over pleasant things nor sad and depressed by distressing states of affairs. One can view things, both pleasant and unpleasant, impartially and with equanimity. The Pali text quoted here is;

Cakkhunā rūpaṁ disvā neva sumano hoti na dummano, upekkhako viharati, sato sampajāno

"Having seen a visible form with the eye, the meditator remains unaffected by it, neither glad nor unhappy. However beautiful or attractive the sight is, the meditator does not feel excited and jubilant over it; however ugly or repulsive the sight is, he remains unperturbed. He maintains an equanimous attitude, mindful and clearly comprehending."

Taking note of everything seen, pleasant or unpleasant, and knowing its real impermanent, suffering and not-self nature, and developing neither liking nor aversion for it, the meditator views phenomena with impartiality. He observes with detachment in order to know the phenomenon of seeing, which is perishing every moment. The meditator who has attained the stage of saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa understands through personal experi-ence how this observation may take place. This is how the phenomenon of seeing is observed with an equanimous attitude of mind.

The same thing holds true for all acts of hearing, smelling, knowing, touching, and thinking, where observation is made with equanimity just to know the respective phenomena. This ability to watch the events at the six sense doors with unperturbed equanimity is known as chalaṅgupekkhā, a virtue of the Arahats. But the ordinary worldling who has attained to the stage of saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa can also become accomplished in this way. According to the Commentary to the Aṅguttara Nikāya, the meditator who has advanced to the stage of udayabbaya ñāṇa can be endowed with this Arahat-like virtue, but at this stage the accomplishment is not very prominent. It becomes more distinct at the bhaṅga stage and becomes well pronounced at the saṅkhārupekkhā stage. Thus the meditator who has reached this stage of develop-ment, sharing some of the virtues of an Arahat, deserves high esteem and respect. Even if unknown to others, the meditator himself, knowing personally his own virtue, may be well pleased and gratified with his own progress and development.

(3) Effortlessness

The third characteristic is effortlessness in contemplation.

Saṅkhāra vicinane majjhattaṁ hutvā says the Visuddhimagga:

"Taking a neutral attitude with regard to the practice of contemplation."

This is explained in the Sub-Commentary, which states that "just as mental equilibrium is maintained in the matter of saṅkhārā as objects of contemplation, so also a neutral, balanced attitude should be taken with regard to the practice of contemplation on them." At the lower stages of development, the meditator has to make great efforts for the appearance of the objects for contemplation and similar efforts are needed to bring about contemplation on them. At the stage of saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa, no special effort is needed for the appearance of objects for contemplation. They appear of their own accord, one by one, followed by effortless contemplation. The act of contemplation has become a smooth, easy process.

These are the three characteristics concerning equanimity and balance. We shall go next to the three special characteristics of the saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa.

(4) Lastingness

At the lower stages, it is not easy to keep the mind fixed on one object, even for half an hour or an hour. At the saṅkhārupekkhā level, the concentration may remain constant and steady for one, two or three hours. This is within the experience of many of our meditators. It is because of this characteristic that saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa is defined by the Paṭisambhidāmagga as the ñāṇa that lasts well. And the Sub-Commentary to the Visuddhimagga explains that it means "one long, continuous process of development." Only when it lasts long it can be said to last well.

(5) Progressive growth in subtlety

The fifth characteristic is that of getting gradually finer and subtler, just like sifting flour on the edge of a tray, as stated in the Visuddhimagga. From the moment of its arising, saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa is subtle, but as time passes it becomes still finer and more subtle, and this phenomenon is within the experience of many of our meditators.

(6) Non-dispersion

The last characteristic is that of non-dispersion. At the lower levels, concentration is not strong, the mind is dispersed over many objects, but at the level of saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa, the mind is almost completely free of scattering or diffusion. Let alone extraneous objects, the mind refuses to take in even those objects appropriate for contemplation.

On the bhaṅga ñāṇa level, the mind is directed over the various parts of the body, and thus sensation of touch is felt in the whole body. At this stage, however, dispersing the mind becomes difficult; it remains fixed only on the few objects usually contemplated on. Thus, from observing the whole body, the mind retracts and converges only on four objects -- just knowing in sequence, rising, falling, sitting and touching. Of these four objects, the sitting body may disappear, leaving only three objects to be noted. Then the rising mind falling may fade away, leaving only the touching. This cognition of touching may disappear altogether, leaving just the knowing mind, which is noted as "knowing, knowing." At such time, it will be found that whenever reflection is made on objects in which one is specially interested, the mind does not stay on them for long, it reverts back to the usual objects of contemplation. Thus it is said to be void of dispersion. The Visuddhimagga description is patiliyati patikutati na sampasāriyati: "It retreats, retracts, and recoils; it does not spread out." These are three signs or characteristics of saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa which should be experienced personally by the meditator. If these characteristic signs are not experienced, it means that one has not yet developed this ñāṇa.


When saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa with these six characteristics has become fully perfected, there appears a special kind of knowledge which seems to occur very rapidly. This special kind of cognition is known as vuṭṭhānagāmiṇī vipassanā. Vuṭṭhāna means rising, getting up. Vipassanā ñāṇa is that knowledge which dwells on the continual process of arising and ceasing formations (mentality and corporeality). With each act of observation, the attention falls on this continuous process of mentality and corporeality. However, when insight into the Noble Path (ariyamagga ñāṇa) is developed, the object of attention becomes the cessation of mental and corporeal phenomena. This means that the mind rises, or "gets up" from the continuous stream of mentality and corporeality and its object becomes Nibbāna. For this reason ("getting up", turning away from the continuous stream of mentality and corporeality) the Noble Path is known as vuṭṭhāna. When this rapid vipassanā comes to an end, Nibbāna is realized.

Thus, in this special insight knowledge, the mind has gone over to the Noble Path, having risen up from the safe which it previously attended to; hence its name vuṭṭhānagāminī.

This vuṭṭhānagāminī vipassanā arises while taking note of one of the six consciousness, such as mind consciousness or touch consciousness, which become manifest at that particular moment. While the meditator contemplates the rapidly perishing phenomena, he perceives the nature of impermanence, or he perceives the nature of unsatisfactoriness, or the nature of non-self. This vuṭṭhānagāminī rises at least two or three times; sometimes it may repeat four, five or even ten times. As described in the texts, at the last moment of vuṭṭhānagāminī, three thought moments -- parikamma (preparation), upacāra (approximation) and anuloma (adaptation) -- of functional javana (impulsion) appear, followed by one special moment of kāmāvacara moral javana, which takes Nibbāna, where mental and corporeal conditions cease, as its object. After that javana the Noble Path arises, and the mind plunges into the object of Nibbāna, void of mentality and corporeality, the cessation of all saṅkhārā. Immediately after magga javana the ariyaphala (Noble Fruit) javana arises two or three times. Its object is the same as that of the Noble Path. With the occurrence of the Noble magga and phala javanas, the ordinary common worldling attains the status of a Stream Enterer; a Stream Enterer that of a Once Returner; a Once Returner that of a Non-Returner; and a Non-Returner finally becomes an Arahat.

The wholesome impulsion (kāmāvacara kusala javana) which takes Nibbāna as its object is known as gotrabhū, the impulsion consciousness which overcomes the lineage of the ordinary worldling. The Paṭisambhidāmagga defines gotrabhū as follows:

"Rising from its objects of conditioned phenomena, which have the characteristic of becoming, the mind has the tendency to plunge headlong towards the object of Nibbāna, which is free from becoming, and it is therefore called gotrabhū." Or, "Arising from its object of the continuous process of arising of mentality and corporeality, the mind plunges headlong towards the object of Nibbāna, free from the continuous process of becoming."

The Milindapañhā states: "The mind of the meditator who is contemplating and taking note of one phenomenon after another, step by step, overcomes the continuous stream of mentality and corporeality, and plunges into the state where the stream of mentality and corporeality comes to cessation."

At first the meditator contemplates the ever-arising phenomena of mentality and corporeality as manifested in the acts of thinking, touching, hearing, seeing and so on. He perceives only a continuous and apparently endless stream of mental and corporeal phenomena. While he is thus contemplating on the endless phenomena of mentality and corporeality and reflecting on their impermanence, suffering and voidness of self, there comes a time, immediately after the last moment (parikamma, upacāra and anuloma) of reflection, when the consciousness suddenly inclines towards and descends into the state where all the objects of contemplation and the contemplating mind come to complete cessation. The inclining is towards gotrabhū consciousness whereas the descending is the realization of Nibbāna by means of Noble Path and Fruition. "Oh, great King, the meditator having practiced meditation in a correct manner, and plunging into where there is cessation of the phenomena of mentality, is said to have realized Nibbāna." This is the textual account of how vuṭṭhānagāminī vipassanā and the Path and Fruition, are realized. Meditators have found this account to be in conformity with what their personal experience.

How the texts and experience conform: The meditator generally begins by observing the consciousness of touch and thinking or acts of hearing, seeing and so on; in short, contemplating on the nature of the five groups of grasping.

As stated earlier, at the bhaṅga ñāṇa stage, the meditator constantly notes the rapid dissolution of mental and corporeal phenomena and finds them to be dreadful, fearsome. This leads him to regard them as baneful and disgusting.

Wishing to be free of them, he strives harder till he reaches the stage of saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa, when he views all things with equanimity. When this saṅkhār-upekkhā ñāṇa is fully perfected, there arise in him very fast moving and distinct vuṭṭhānagāmirinī and anuloma ñāṇas, and the meditator descends into a state that is completely void, where all objects and acts of contemplation cease. This is the realization of Nibbāna by means of the Noble Path and Fruition, elevating an ordinary worldling into the state of a Stream Enterer; a Stream Enterer into that of a Once Returner; a Once Returner into that of a Non-Returner and finally a Non-Returner into an Arahat. The Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta gives the following description of such transformations.


Nibbindaṁ virajjati virāgā vimuccati

"Being wearied, he becomes passion-free and the Noble Path is developed. In his freedom from passion, and the Noble Path being developed, he is emancipated from the outflows (āsava) and defilements (kilesa)."

The meditator develops from the stage of sammasana ñāṇa to that of bhaṅga ñāṇa by contemplating on the impermanent, suffering and not-self nature of phenomena. The Blessed One was referring to this development in the words Evaṁ passaṁ -- "Seeing thus" -- in the above text. The stage from bhaṅga to saṅkhār-upekkhā and anuloma was described as "nibbindati," feeling wearied or repulsed. Then comes nibbindaṁ virajjati, virāgā vimuccati: "when repulsed, he grows wearied; when wearied, he becomes free from passion; when free from passion, he becomes emancipated, to describe the develop-ment of the knowledge of the Path and Fruition. A very concise description, perfectly matching with the practical experience of meditators.


As saṅkhārupekkhā ñāṇa gets stronger-, extra-ordinary knowledge begins to rapidly appear. The meditator whose development of the feeling of disgust is not yet strong enough to abandon mentality and corporeality may be overtaken by anxiety: "What is going to happen? Am I about to die?" If anxiety appears the concentration gets weakened, but when the feeling of disenchantment is strong anxiety does not arise, and the meditator continues to contemplate effortlessly and smoothly. Soon he descends into the condition where there is freedom from passion and attachment and complete cessation of all mental and corporeal formations. This is emancipation from defilements and taints (āsava).

When descending without any attachment into where there is cessation, by means of the first Path (sotāpattimagga), the meditator becomes liberated from the defilements of false views (diṭṭhāsava), from ignorance which is associated with doubts and scepticism and from the grosser forms of sense-desire which may lead to the Nether regions. This is emancipation by virtue of Fruition of Stream Entry which is the resultant of the Stream Entry Path.

When descending to where there is cessation by means of the second Path, Once Returner, there is freedom from the gross types of sense desires. When descending to where there is cessation by means of the third Path, the Non-Returner, one becomes free from subtle types of sense-desires as well as from similarly fine types of ignorance. With the attainment of Arahatship (arahattamagga ñāṇa), there is the liberation from all kinds of defilements. This is in accordance with the statement virāgā vimuccati. When free from passions and descending to cessation, there arises emancipation by virtue of Fruition, which is the result of the Path. This emancipation is perceived vividly by a process of reflection.


The process of reflection in an Arahat is described in the concluding words of the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta:

Vimuttasmiṁ vimuttamīti ñāṇaṁ hoti "khīnā jāti vusitaṁ brahmacariyaṁ kataṁ karaṇīyaṁ nāparaṁ ittattāyā'ti pajāñātīti.

"When emancipated, the knowledge arises on reflection that freedom from defilements has been achieved, and he knows, ‘Birth is exhausted; lived is the Holy Life (of contemplation and meditation), what has to be done has been done, there is nothing more to be done.' He knows thus by reflection."

This is how an Arahat reflects back on his attainment. Here it may be asked, "How does he know that birth is exhausted?"

So long as there is wrong view and illusion with regard to the mental and corporeal aggregates and attachment to them as permanent, satisfactory, and self, there will be renewal of becoming in the cycle of existence. When one becomes free of wrong views and illusions, one is also free of attachment. The Arahat knows on reflection that he is free of wrong view and illusion with regard to the aggregates and that he has no more attachments for them. Therefore he knows that birth is exhausted for him. This is reflecting on the defilements which have been discarded and exhausted.

Here, "Holy Life" means the practice of morality, concentration, and wisdom (sīla, samādhi, paññā). Keeping the precepts or developing concentration, however, will not in themselves achieve the highest goals. These are achieved only by taking note of mental and corporeal phenomena as they occur until attainment of the Path and Fruition. Therefore it must be taken that "the Holy Life is lived" means that meditation has been practiced to the attainment of the highest goal.

"What was to be done" means practicing meditation so as to fully comprehend the Four Noble Truths. This task is accomplished with the attainment of arahattamagga. Even after having personally seen the nature of cessation by means of the three lower Paths and having known the Truth of Suffering, which is the same as knowing the nature of impermanence, suffering and not-self, certain illusions, such as the illusions of perception and illusions of consciousness, still remain to be eradicated. Because of them, there is still delight, craving and belief in conditions as pleasurable and enjoyable. The origin of craving has not yet been abandoned. So, even for the Non-Returner there is still fresh becoming. At the stage of arahattamagga, the Truth of Suffering is fully and well comprehended. All illusions of perception and consciousness are eradicated. Since there are no more illusions, there are no misconceptions about delight and enjoyment, and no opportunity for the cause of craving to arise, as it is completely eradicated. The task of knowing the Four Noble Truths is fully accomplished. That is why he reflects that there is nothing more to be done.

In this account of the Arahat's reflection, there is no direct mention of reflection on the Path, Fruition, Nibbāna and the defilements, but it should be taken that they are reflected on first, followed by reflection on the other subjects. Thus it should be taken that the reflection "The Holy Life is lived out, what has to be done is done" followed on from reflection on the Path, Fruition and Nibbāna. "The mind is free, birth is exhausted" is reflected on only after the reflection on the defilements which have been eradicated. Accounts of reflection by the Stream Enterer, the Once Returner and the Non-Retumer are given in my discourse on the Sīlavanta Sutta.


"Being wearied, he becomes passion free and the Noble Path arises. Being freed from passion, and the Path arisen in him, he is emancipated from the bonds of defilements. With emancipation comes the reflection that the mind has become free, and he knows: ‘Birth is exhausted; the Holy Life is lived; what has to be done is done, there is no more of this becoming'."

The Venerable Theras who recited the Sutta at the Council recorded the following terminal passage:

Idamavoca Bhagavā attamanā pañcavaggiyā bhikkhū Bhagavato bhāsitaṁ abhinanduṁ. Imasmiñca pana veyyā karaṇasmiṁ bhaññamāne pañca-vaggiyānaṁ bhikkhūnaṁ anupādāya āsavehi cittāni vimucciṁsūti.

"Thus the Blessed One spoke. Pleased, the Group of Five monks were delighted with the exposition of the Blessed One. Moreover, as this exposition was being spoken (or just at the end of this discourse), the minds of the Group of Five were freed of attachments and became emancipated from defilements."

Amongst the Group of Five, the Venerable Koṇḍañña became a Stream Enterer on the first watch of the full moon of July while listening to the discourse on the Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma (Dhammacakkap-pavattana Sutta). He must have continued with the contemplation and meditation, but he did not attain Arahatship until he heard the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta. Venerable Vappa become a Stream Enterer on the first waning day of July, the Venerable Bhaddiya on the second, the Venerable Mahānāma on the third and the Venerable Assaji on the fourth waning day of July respectively. All five of them, Stream Enterers at the time of listening to this Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta, contemplated on the five aggregates as "This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self"; impermanent, suffering and not-self. They attained to the three higher stages of knowledge, step by step and became Arahats. According to the Commentary to the Paṭisambhidā, they gained Arahatship just at the end of the discourse by reflecting on the reaching.

It was in the year 103 of the great Era. Counting back from this year (1963) it was 2,552 years ago. That year, on the fifth waning day of July, at the completion of the discourse on the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta, there appeared six Arahats, including the Blessed One, in the human world. It is very inspiring to visualize this scene at the Deer Sanctuary near Vārānasī, with the Blessed One teaching the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta and the Group of Five monks, listening attentively and attaining to Arahatship, the cessation of all defilements. Let us try to visualize this scene.


Two thousand five hundred and fifty two years ago, on the fifth waning day of July, the Blessed One gave the discourse on the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta to the Group of Five monks. Listening to the discourse and contemplating on the teaching, all five monks became freed from defilements and attained to Arahatship.

We pay reverential homage with raised hands, palms together, to the All Enlightened One and the Group of Five, who were the first six Arahats, completely free from defilements, at the beginning of the Buddha's Dispensation.


May all readers, by virtue of your respectful attention to this discourse on the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta, contemplate as instructed on the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness, noting them at each moment of arising as "not mine, not me, not my self," and perceiving them rightly and well as incessantly arising and ceasing, as impermanent, suffering and not-self, and thereby quickly attain Nibbāna, the end of all sufferings, through the Path and Fruition.

Sādhu! Sādhu! Sādhu


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Source: Sakyamuni Meditation Center, California, U.S.A.

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updated: 01-06-2002