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A Swift Pair of Messengers
WINGS TO ENLIGHTENMENT
These seven groups, totalling thirty-seven ‘wings to enlightenment’, occur frequently in the suttas, were given unique importance by the Buddha, and became a standard doctrinal framework for all schools of Buddhism. As the most important and comprehensive of these groups, we will discuss the noble eightfold path first.
1. The Noble Eightfold Path
In the Buddha’s first sermon, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, he warned against pursuing two extremes: devotion to sensuality and devotion to self-torment. He then defined the famous ‘middle way’ of Buddhism which does not go anywhere near the two extremes but leads to peace, direct knowledge, enlightenment, Nibbana. This is precisely the noble eightfold path: right view; right intention; right speech; right action; right livelihood; right effort; right mindfulness; right samadhi. The middleness of the middle way has nothing to do with compromise; it is not the ‘mediocre’ way. It is rather the way that avoids seeking for a solution to life’s problems in externals, in the pleasures and pains of the body, but instead turns inwards to the peace of the mind.
‘Bhante, the Blessed One is not devoted to the pursuit of pleasure in sensuality, which is low, vulgar, common, ignoble, and pointless; nor is he devoted to self-torment, which is painful, ignoble, and pointless. The Blessed One is one who gains the four jhanas which constitute the higher mind, and are a blissful abiding here and now at will, without trouble or difficulty.’
Not only here do the suttas, emphasizing that ‘samadhi is the path’, stand jhanas in the place of the path as a whole. Even the redactors of the canon gave up trying up to enumerate all of the ways jhana was praised by the Buddha, merely commenting: ‘The collection of connected discourses on jhana should be elaborated just as the collection of connected discourses on the path.’ Jhana is not an adornment or embellishment of the ‘holy vehicle’, the noble eightfold path, but is the axle ‑ the stable pivot around which revolves the wheel. The detailed exposition of the path is as follows.
‘And what, monks, is right view? Knowledge of suffering, of the origin of suffering, of the cessation of suffering, and of the way of practice leading to the cessation of suffering. This is right view.
‘And what, monks, is right intention? The intention of renunciation, of non-ill will, and of non-cruelty. This is right intention.
‘And what, monks, is right speech? Refraining from lying, slander, harsh speech, and frivolous gossip. This is right speech.
‘And what, monks, is right action? Refraining from killing living beings, from stealing, and from sexual misconduct. This is right action.
‘And what, monks, is right livelihood? Here, monks, a noble disciple, having abandoned wrong livelihood, makes his living by right livelihood. This is right livelihood.
‘And what, monks, is right effort? Here, monks, a monk generates enthusiasm, tries, stirs up energy, takes hold of the mind, and strives for the non-arising of un-arisen evil, unbeneficial qualities ... for the abandoning of arisen evil, unbeneficial qualities .... for the arousing of un-arisen beneficial qualities .... for the stability, non-decline, increase, maturity, and fulfilment of arisen beneficial qualities. This, monks, is right effort.
‘And what, monks, is right mindfulness? Here, monks, a monk abides contemplating a body in the body .... a feeling in the feelings .... a mind in the mind .... a dhamma in the dhammas ‑ ardent, clearly comprehending, and mindful, having removed desire and aversion for the world.
‘And what, monks, is right samadhi? Here, monks, a monk, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unbeneficial qualities, enters and abides in the first jhana, which has initial and sustained application of mind, and rapture and bliss born of seclusion. With the stilling of initial and sustained application of mind, he enters and abides in the second jhana, where there is inner clarity and unification, without initial and sustained application, but with rapture and bliss born of samadhi. With the fading away of rapture he abides in equanimity, mindful and clearly comprehending, personally experiencing the bliss of which the noble ones say: “Equanimous and mindful, one abides in bliss”, he enters and abides in the third jhana. With the abandoning of bodily pleasure and pain, and the previous ending of mental bliss and suffering, he enters and abides in the fourth jhana, which is without pleasure and pain, but has mindfulness fully purified by equanimity. This, monks, is right samadhi.’
The first factor, right view, includes the knowledge of the path itself. This, to start with, is wisdom in its preliminary role of providing a theoretical understanding of the path as a necessary prerequisite for setting out on the journey. A distorted understanding of the path will surely act as an effective block to successfully arriving at the destination. Indeed, there are many meditators who, starting practice with wrong views, interpret their meditation experiences so as to confirm and reinforce their misconceptions.
But this intellectual understanding is not enough. It must be accompanied by some feeling for the meaning of suffering, an emotional response to the dilemmas of existence if it is to provide an effective motivation for action. Hence, the second path factor is right intention, the emotional counterpart of right view, which enables understanding to mature into wisdom rather than lapse into cunning. Endowed with these two, one can rightly undertake the virtues.
Right practice of virtue also requires two complementary qualities. Firstly, an understanding of what is right and wrong together with skill in acting appropriately; secondly, a feeling of compassion and fear of wrongdoing as motivation. These two qualities will work together in meditation as samatha and vipassana until they culminate in the universal compassion and transcendental wisdom of the arahant.
A key benefit of ethical conduct is that it ‘leads to samadhi’. Of the basic moral precepts, those against killing and harsh speech counter the hindrance of ill will, those against stealing and adultery counter sensual desire, and those against lying and intoxicants counter delusion. Diligence in executing ones duties and responsibilities ‑ an important aspect of virtue ‑ combats sloth and torpor, while sense restraint and contentment further reduce sensual desire. Each facet of virtue eliminates stress, conflict, and suffering, giving rise to a quiet ease and confidence of heart. This curbing of gross defilements lays the groundwork for the more subtle task of samadhi. So it is that the Buddha declared that purity of virtue and correct view are the ‘starting point of beneficial qualities’ to be established before undertaking meditation.
The last three factors of the path constitute the ‘aggregate of samadhi’. Right effort, the ‘requisite of samadhi’, eradicates the hindrance of sloth and torpor. The most interesting of the four right efforts is the last. It points to the importance of non-complacency with whatever good has been achieved. The first task of the meditator who has reached a certain degree of calm is not to rush ahead to insight, but to consolidate samadhi. It may also be born in mind that ‘effort’ is not a synonym for ‘self-torture’.
‘A lazy person abides in suffering, overwhelmed by evil, unbeneficial qualities, and destroys a great deal of their own good. One with roused up energy abides in bliss, secluded from evil, unbeneficial qualities, and fulfils a great deal of their own good. It is not by the inferior that the topmost is attained; it is by the topmost that the topmost is attained. This holy life, monks, is the cream, and the Teacher is right in front of you [Remembering that the Dhamma-vinaya is to be the Teacher when the Buddha has gone]. Therefore you should rouse up energy for the attaining of the unattained, for the achieving of the unachieved, for the witnessing of the unwitnessed.’
Right mindfulness, the ‘basis of samadhi’, is the gatekeeper who lets both samatha and vipassana enter with their message in accordance with reality. Here, nimitta, rendered as ‘basis’, may also mean ‘sign’, since samadhi is certainly characterized by unobstructed mindfulness; but the intended contextual meaning seems to be that satipatthana is a crucial support for samadhi. We can further conclude that since pre-Buddhist yogis practiced samadhi, they must also have practiced mindfulness. In keeping with the theme of this essay, of the mutual harmony between all aspects of the path, it may be worth looking more closely at the relationship between mindfulness and samadhi.
Mindfulness may be characterized as the quality of mind which recollects and focuses awareness within an appropriate frame of reference, bearing in mind the what, why, and how of the task at hand. Mindfulness as a mental quality plays a crucial role in recollecting the teachings and applying them to the present moment, thus supporting right view. By reminding one of what is right and wrong, it supports the sense of conscience which is vital for virtue. Satipatthana, the ‘establishing’s of mindfulness’, refers to a specific and detailed set of contemplative exercises in which mindfulness plays a prominent role. The ‘development of satipatthana’ refers to the advanced employment of the basic exercises for the contemplation of impermanence. The ‘way of practice leading to the development of satipatthana’ is the noble eightfold path. In this analysis, ‘satipatthana’ seems to have the function of supporting samadhi, the ‘development of satipatthana’ that of supporting insight, while both of these in the overall context of the path lead to liberation. The idiom ‘a body in the body’ is elucidated as: ‘the in-and-out breaths are a certain body [among the bodies]. It therefore implies focussing on a specific aspect of the overall framework. The explanation that the phrase means ‘contemplating the body as a body (and not as a self or soul)’ does not quite ring true since the phrase pertains as much to samadhi as to insight.
Satipatthana and the Hindrances
Each of the contemplations in satipatthana is qualified by a set of four terms. The first term, ‘ardent’ refers to energy; the second, ‘clearly comprehending’ to understanding; the third is mindfulness itself. The fourth term indicates the abandoning of desire and aversion, which are the chief of the five hindrances. The phrase is not further defined here, but the following verses may be relevant. Bearing in mind that sequence in such verses is often quite loose, we may note that these verses follow teachings chiefly on virtue, including sense restraint, but jhana and samadhi have also been mentioned.
then there are these five stains in the world
A series of four ‘steps of the Dhamma’ lists freedom from desire, freedom from ill will, right mindfulness, and right samadhi. It seems that the preliminary subduing of these hindrances through sense restraint, etc., prepares the mind for mindfulness practice, which is the foundation for the complete eradication of hindrances by right samadhi.
should abide without desire
Contemplation of the hindrances present in the mind is part of the preliminary development of satipatthana. But during the course of practice they must be fully abandoned if one is to realize any ‘truly noble distinctions of knowledge and vision beyond human principles’, which include jhana, psychic powers, the stages of enlightenment, and satipatthana itself as a factor of the noble path.
‘Monks, these five hindrances choke the mind, robbing understanding of its strength. What five?
‘Sensual desire; ill will; sloth and torpor; restlessness and remorse; and doubt are obstructions and hindrances.
‘Certainly, monks, that any monk with understanding thus feeble and robbed of strength, not having abandoned these five hindrances which choke the mind, robbing understanding of its strength, would know his own welfare, another’s welfare, or the welfare of both, or witness any truly noble distinction of knowledge and vision beyond human principles: that is not possible.
‘But certainly, monks, that any monk with powerful understanding, having abandoned these five hindrances which choke the mind, robbing understanding of its strength, would know his own welfare, another's welfare, or the welfare of both, or witness any truly noble distinction of knowledge and vision beyond human principles: that is possible.’
It is a common idiom in Pali that the same thing can be spoken of in positive or negative terms, as an attainment or an abandoning. For example, the process of enlightenment can be described either as the successive abandoning of the defilements of self-view, doubt, etc., or as the attaining of the stages of stream-entry, once-return, non-return, and arahant. What then is the positive counterpart of the abandoning of the hindrances?
‘The first jhana, friend, abandons five factors and possesses five factors. Here, friend, when a monk has entered upon the first jhana, sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, and doubt are abandoned. Initial and sustained application of mind, rapture, bliss, and one-pointedness of mind are occurring.’
The opposition between jhana and the five hindrances is not a one-off or occasional teaching, but is a central doctrine, frequently reiterated. It is even enshrined in the basic cosmology of Buddhism, which sees the worlds of rebirth as corresponding to the level of development of mind. One still bound by sensual desire will be reborn in the sensual realm (kmaloka), while one who attains jhana will be reborn in the Brahma realm. There is no ‘access’ realm.
‘What should be done, Anuruddha, by a clansman who has gone forth thus? While he still does not achieve the rapture and bliss that are secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unbeneficial qualities, or to something more peaceful than that, desire invades his mind and remains, ill will ... sloth and torpor ... restlessness and remorse ... doubt ... cynicism ... listlessness invades his mind and remains. When he achieves that rapture and bliss ... or something more peaceful than that, desire does not invade his mind and remain, ill will ... sloth and torpor ... restlessness and remorse ... doubt ... cynicism ... listlessness does not invade his mind and remain.’
The following statement by Venerable Ananda clarifies the standard the Buddha took for what he considered praiseworthy meditation, able to go beyond the hindrances.
‘What kind of jhana did the Blessed One not praise? Here, someone abides with a heart dominated by and prey to lust for sensual pleasures ... ill will ... sloth and torpor ... restlessness and remorse ... doubt. Harbouring these qualities within, and not understanding the escape from these qualities in accordance with reality, they do jhana, re-do jhana, out-do jhana, and miss-do jhana. The Blessed One did not praise this kind of jhana.
‘But what kind of jhana did the Blessed One praise? Here, a monk... enters and abides in the first jhana... second jhana... third jhana... fourth jhana. The Blessed One praised this kind of jhana.’
Even the transcendental wisdom of the noble ones is unable to suppress the hindrances without the support of jhana.
‘Even though a noble disciple has seen clearly with right understanding in accordance with reality how sensual pleasures provide little gratification, much suffering, much despair, with great danger, as long as he does not attain the rapture and bliss that are apart from sensual pleasures, apart from unbeneficial qualities, he is not uninvolved in sensual pleasures.... But when he does attain that rapture and bliss ... he is uninvolved in sensual pleasures.’
The Buddha compared jhana to gold. As long as the impurities have not been completely removed, gold is not soft, workable, or radiant.
‘So too, there are these five taints of the mind, tainted by which the mind is not soft, nor workable, nor radiant, but is brittle, and does not have right samadhi for the evaporation of the poisons. What five? Sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, and doubt.... But when the mind is released from these five taints, that mind is soft, workable, radiant, not brittle, it has right samadhi for the evaporation of the poisons.’
The phrase ‘having removed desire and aversion for the world’ may be replaced by ‘samadhi’.
‘Monks, those monks who are new, not long gone forth, recently come to this Dhamma and vinaya should be spurred on, encouraged, and established by you in the development of the four establishing’s of mindfulness. What four? “Come friends, abide contemplating a body in the body ... a feeling in the feelings ... a mind in the mind ... a dhamma in the dhammas ‑ ardent, clearly comprehending, unified, with clarity of mind, concentrated in samadhi, with mind one-pointed for the knowledge of the body ... feelings ... mind ... dhammas in accordance with reality.”
‘Those monks who are trainees, not yet attained to their heart’s goal, who abide longing for the unexcelled security from bondage, they too abide contemplating a body in the body ... a feeling in the feelings ... a mind in the mind ... a dhamma in the dhammas [in the same way] for the full knowledge of these things.
‘Those monks who are arahants, they too abide contemplating a body in the body ... a feeling in the feelings... a mind in the mind ... a dhamma in the dhammas [in the same way] but detached from these things.’
Note that the above passage, as is typical, distinguishes between individuals at various stages of development in terms of the goal, not the mode, of practice. The investigative aspect of satipatthana must be balanced with the emotional qualities of joy and serenity if obstacles are to be overcome and insight is to be deepened. This process can proceed in various modes.
‘Therefore, monk, you should train yourself thus: “My mind will be still and steady within myself, and arisen evil, unbeneficial qualities will not invade my mind and remain.”
‘When this is accomplished, you should train yourself thus: “I will develop the heart’s release through loving-kindness ... compassion ... admiration ... equanimity.”
‘When this samadhi is thus developed and made much of, then you should develop this samadhi with initial and sustained application of mind; without initial but with sustained application of mind; with neither initial nor sustained application of mind; with rapture; without rapture; with enjoyment; with equanimity....
‘When this samadhi is thus developed, well developed, then you should train yourself thus: “I will abide contemplating a body in the body ‑ ardent, clearly comprehending, and mindful, having removed desire and aversion for the world.”
‘When this samadhi is thus developed and made much of, then you should develop this samadhi with initial and sustained application of mind; without initial but with sustained application of mind; with neither initial nor sustained application of mind; with rapture; without rapture; with enjoyment; with equanimity... [And so on for feelings, mind, and dhammas].
Here, satipatthana is treated simply as jhana. This probably refers to jhana developed using one of the exercises included in the four satipatthanas. If one’s original mode of satipatthana fails to lead to samadhi, the meditator should find some way to uplift the mind.
‘Thus dwelling contemplating a body in the body [feelings ... mind ... dhammas ... ], bodily disturbance arises based on the body [feelings ... mind ... dhammas ... ], or the heart is lazy, or the mind is distracted externally. That monk should direct his mind to some inspiring basis. Doing so, gladness is born in him. In one who is glad, rapture is born. In one with rapturous mind, the body becomes tranquil. One with tranquil body feels bliss. In one who is blissful, the mind enters samadhi. He considers thus: “I have accomplished that purpose for which I directed my mind; now let me withdraw.” He withdraws, and neither initiates nor sustains application of mind. He understands: “I am without initial and sustained application of' mind, I am mindful and blissful within myself.” ’
But the simplest expression of the meaning of the phrase ‘having removed desire and aversion for the world’ is this:
‘He understands: “As I abide contemplating a body in the body ... a feeling in the feelings ... a mind in the mind ... a dhamma in the dhammas - ardent, clearly comprehending, and mindful, I am blissful.” ’
THE FOUR FOCUSES
The contemplation of the body begins with mindfulness of breathing. This is therefore the most fundamental satipatthana practice. If this is borne in mind, the intimacy between satipatthana and samadhi as evidenced in the above passages becomes easily understood.
‘When mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated, it fulfils the four establishing’s of mindfulness. When the four establishing’s of mindfulness are developed and cultivated, they fulfil the seven enlightenment factors. When the seven enlightenment factors are developed and cultivated, they fulfil realization and release.
Body contemplation then continues with development of awareness of the body postures, parts of the body, elements, and corpses. One who develops the contemplation on parts of the body and corpses is said to ‘not neglect jhana’. Contemplation of body postures throughout daily activities seems insufficient to induce jhana; but as the words ‘again and beyond’ at the start of each section of the Satipatthana. Sutta indicate, each exercise contributes a part of the overall meditative development. Continuity of mindfulness through the day is crucial to both samatha and vipassana. Of each of these contemplations it is said:
‘As he abides thus diligent, ardent, and resolute, his memories and intentions based on the household life are abandoned. With their abandoning, his mind becomes steadied within himself, settled, unified, and concentrated in samadhi. That is how a monk develops mindfulness of the body.’
The basic purpose of these final three contemplations is to rise above sensuality. If one believes that sensuality is an intrinsic quality of human nature, this objective will seem perverse, an unnatural repression leading inevitably to neurosis. Lust can indeed lead to neurosis if it is unacknowledged and denied. But seeing sensual desire, not as a permanent property, but as a conditioned phenomenon, one is free to investigate its effect on the happiness of the mind. Sensual lust is fuelled by the perception of the attractiveness of the body. By going against the stream of habit, focussing attention on the unattractive aspect of the body, sensual lust can be seen in sharp relief. It is in no way repressed; but deprived of its fuel it simply ceases to operate, and the bliss beyond sensuality can be experienced. Then one knows that the real repression, the real perversion, the real neurosis is the addiction to sensual gratification, locked in place by denying the futility of sense pleasures. But these contemplations do not only bestow the emotional maturity, dignity, and independence that come with freedom from addiction. Being based on inquiry into reality, they also serve to deepen wisdom. The most suggestive description of the contemplation of the parts of the body treats this as a stepping-stone to understanding the consciousness that does not die with the body.
‘There are, Bhante, these four attainments of vision. Here, a certain contemplative or brahman by means of ardour, striving, devotion, heedfulness, and right attention contacts such a form of heart-samadhi that when his mind is in samadhi he reviews this very body, up from the soles of the feet and down from the tips of the hair, surrounded by skin and full of many kinds of impurities thus: “In this body there are head hairs, body hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, large intestines, small intestines, contents of the stomach, faeces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil of the joints, and urine.” This is the first attainment of vision.
‘Again, having done this and gone beyond it, he reviews a person’s skin, flesh, blood, and bones. This is the second attainment of vision.
‘Again, having done this and gone beyond it, he understands a person's stream of consciousness unbroken on both sides, fixated in this world and in the world beyond. This is the third attainment of vision.
‘Again, having done this and gone beyond it, he understands a person’s stream of consciousness, unbroken on both sides, fixated neither in this world nor in the world beyond. This is the fourth attainment of vision.’
The opening phrase is unusual, but occurs again later in the same sutta and also in the Brahmajala Sutta; in both places ‘heart-samadhi’ definitely means Jhana. The third attainment is the realization of the passing on of consciousness according to dependent origination, and may therefore pertain to stream-entry. The fourth attainment concerns the arahant. In the following passage, the contemplation of the four elements forms a part of the practice directed towards the ‘imperturbable’.
‘Again, monks, a noble disciple reflects thus: “There are sensual pleasures here and now and sensual pleasures in lives to come. Whatever physical form there is, is the four great elements and physical form derived from the four great elements.” Practicing in this way and frequently abiding thus, his mind becomes clear about this base. When there is full clarity he attains to the imperturbable now or he decides upon understanding. With the breaking up of the body, after death, it is possible that his on-flowing consciousness will pass on to the imperturbable.’
Notice the order of the teaching: sensuality; body contemplation; jhana; understanding rebirth. We will return again and again to the intimate connection between the mind in jhana set free from the body and the understanding of the process of rebirth.
Normally in Buddhism, ‘feeling' (vedana) simply refers to the hedonic or affective tone of experience. The Satipatthana Sutta describes the contemplation of feelings as the understanding of pleasant, painful, and neutral feelings, both carnal and spiritual. However, the equivalent section of the Anapanasati Sutta brings in rapture ‑ the emotional response to pleasant feeling ‑ and mental activities (cittasankhara), which are defined in the context of mindfulness of breathing as feeling and perception. This seems to broaden the scope of feelings here as far as ‘emotions’, ‘moods’.
‘What, monks is carnal rapture? Rapture which arises dependent on the five cords of sensual pleasures. What is spiritual rapture? Here, a monk enters and abides in the first jhana... second jhana. What is even more spiritual rapture? Rapture which arises when a monk whose poisons are evaporated reviews his mind released from lust, anger, and delusion.’
Pleasant and neutral feelings are described in similar terms, except pleasant spiritual feelings apply to the first three jhanas, while neutral spiritual feelings only exist in the fourth jhana. Notice that the arahant's reviewing knowledge is, as normal, specifically distinguished from the four jhanas. These ‘even more spiritual feelings’ seem to be similar to the ‘feelings based on renunciation’ mentioned elsewhere, which however, since they follow on ‘seeing with right understanding in accordance with reality’, seem broader, pertaining to stream-entry and beyond. Occasionally, ‘spiritual rapture’ is used prior to jhana.
‘Mind’ (citta), in Pali as in English, can convey a wide variety of connotations. Here, as will be clarified below, it means specifically ‘cognition’, that is, the faculty of awareness itself, as distinct from associated factors such as feeling, emotion, thought, volition, etc. This inner sense of knowing receives the information conveyed through the senses, supplemented and processed by these associated factors. As the ‘lord of the city seated at the crossroads’ it is the core of experience; but like any ruler it can maintain its position only with the help of its auxiliaries. The quality of the information received is the critical determinant of the quality of awareness. Also like any ruler, it often seems that the auxiliaries impede rather than facilitate the flow of information. The more we try to see the ‘boss’, the more we are sidetracked with some underling.
The preliminary stages of this section involve contemplating the mind as colored by the presence or absence of greed, anger, and delusion. These accompanying factors are crude and domineering, and the contemplation necessarily coarse and incomplete. In the later stages the mind is contemplated in its pure form, as ‘exalted’, ‘unexcelled’, ‘concentrated’, ‘released’ ‑ all terms for jhana. Just as the contemplation of feelings culminates with the supreme equanimity of the fourth jhana, here too the term ‘unexcelled’ implies the ‘unexcelled purity of mindfulness and equanimity’ of the fourth jhana.
This contemplation of mind, with its implicit distinction between the mind and the defilements which soil it, is reminiscent of the famous ‑ and famously misquoted ‑ statement about the radiant mind. The words ‘original mind’ or ‘naturally radiant’ do not occur here or elsewhere in the suttas. The ‘radiant mind’ is a term for jhana. Here, ‘development of the mind’ seems to be a synonym for ‘noble right samadhi’. The significance of the radiant mind is simply this ‑ when the lights are on, a clear-sighted person can see what is there.
‘Monks, this mind is radiant, but tainted by transient taints. An unlearned ordinary person does not understand this in accordance with reality. That is why I say there is no development of the mind for the unlearned ordinary person.
'Monks, this mind is radiant, and freed from transient taints. A learned noble disciple understands this in accordance with reality. That is why I say there is development of the mind for the learned noble disciple.’
What does ‘dhammas’ mean here? The practices detailed below indicate a broader scope than ‘mental phenomena’. ‘Dhammas’ in this context appears in its catchall role, encompassing what is experienced (phenomena), how experience operates (principles), and the meaningful description of experience (teachings).
The contemplation of mental phenomena, not found in the Satipatthana Sutta as such, is the realization of feelings, perceptions, and thoughts as they rise, remain, and end. This ‘development of samadhi’ is taught between jhana and contemplation of the five aggregates, fruiting in mindfulness and clear comprehension, but falling yet short of release. Mental phenomena are the known, not the knowing; insight frees only when the radical impermanence of consciousness itself is brought within its fold.
The contemplation of dhammas begins with contemplation of the five hindrances present and absent. The diversity of these hindrances demands a diversity of approaches for their elimination. Sensual desire colors the mind like water dyed vivid blue or crimson, making it attractive but opaque. The most important counter measures are sense restraint and the meditation on ugliness. The relation between this hindrance and jhana is further discussed below. Ill will is a fire which heats the mind until it is boiling, bubbling, and steaming. It is overcome by loving-kindness.
‘It is always good for the mindful
Sloth and torpor is like a mossy, slimy weed overgrowing the clear waters of the mind. It is overcome by initiative, by putting forth effort, by sustained exertion, by non-complacency; the recommended meditation subject is the perception of light. Restlessness and remorse are like strong winds which lash and stir up the mind into ripples and waves. Restlessness manifests as the inability to stay with one object for a long time.
‘Samantha should be developed to abandon restlessness.’
‘Mindfulness of breathing should be developed to abandon scatteredness of heart.’
Remorse (literally ‘bad-done-ness’) is chiefly worry over breaches of virtue. Restlessness runs on to the future; remorse dredges up the past. Their antidote, keeping in mind content in the here and now, is bliss: the pervasive drenching of the whole field of awareness with serene, sublime, sustained ecstasy. Doubt makes the mind turbid, muddy, and dark. It is overcome by ‘paying attention to the root’. The root or basis of meditation is just the meditation object itself. Unwavering continuity of application defines the object, dispelling doubt. It is worth noting that mindfulness is nowhere singled out as a mental factor capable of effecting the abandonment of any hindrance. Only when working together with the other factors of jhana can this occur.
‘Having thus abandoned these five hindrances, taints of the mind which rob understanding of its strength, he abides contemplating a body in the body… a feeling in the feelings… a mind in the mind… a dhamma in the dhammas…
“Then the Tathagata leads him further on: “Come monk, abide contemplating a body in the body… a feeling in the feelings… a mind in the mind… a dhamma in the dhammas… but do not apply the mind to these things.” With the stilling of initial and sustained application of mind, he enters and abides in the second jhana….’
The next section deals with the classic vipassana exercise of observing the rise and fall of the five aggregates.
'Monks, develop samadhi. A monk with samadhi under-stands in accordance with reality. What does he understand in accordance with reality? The origin and ending of physical form, feeling, perception, conceptual activities, and consciousness. What is the origin of physical form?... For one who relishes, welcomes, and remains attached to physical form, relishing arises. Relishing for physical form is grasping. Due to grasping as condition there is [ongoing] existence. Due to existence as condition, there is birth. Due to birth as condition, aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, bodily pain, mental suffering, and despair come to be. Thus there is the origin of this entire mass of suffering. [And so on for the other four aggregates.]
‘And what is the ending of physical form?... For one who does not relish, welcome, and remain attached to physical form, relishing for physical form ceases. Due to the cessation of relishing, grasping ceases. Due to the cessation of grasping, [ongoing] existence ceases. Due to the cessation of existence, birth ceases. Due to the cessation of birth, aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, bodily pain, mental suffering, and despair cease. Thus there is the cessation of this entire mass of suffering. [And so on for the other four aggregates.]’
The following, closely related, practice is the observation of the six internal and external sense bases, and the fetters that bind these together.
‘Monks, develop samadhi. A monk with samadhi under-stands in accordance with reality. What does he understand in accordance with reality? He understands: “The eye is impermanent. Visible forms are impermanent. Eye-consciousness is impermanent. Eye contact is impermanent. Feeling arisen due to eye contact ... is impermanent. [And so on for the ear, etc.]’
The above passage stops short of connecting impermanence with the fetters of defilement. The following passage makes the connection explicit.
‘What, monks, is the origin of suffering? Dependent on the eye and visible forms arises eye-consciousness. The working together of the three is contact. Due to contact as condition, there is feeling. Due to feeling as condition, there is craving. Due to craving as condition, there is grasping. Due to grasping as condition, there is [ongoing] existence. Due to existence as condition, there is birth. Due to birth as condition, aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, bodily pain, mental suffering, and despair come to be. Thus there is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. This monks, is the origin of suffering. [And so on for the ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.]
‘What, monks, is the end of suffering? Dependent on the eye and visible forms arises eye consciousness. The working together of the three is contact. Due to contact as condition, there is feeling. Due to feeling as condition, there is craving. But due to the remainderless fading away and cessation of that very same craving, there is the cessation of grasping. Due to the cessation of grasping, [ongoing] existence ceases. Due to the cessation of existence, birth ceases. Due to the cessation of birth, aging, and death, sorrow, lamentation, bodily pain, mental suffering, and despair cease. Thus there is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering. This, monks, is the end of suffering. [And so on for the ear, etc.] 
The contemplation of dhammas also includes the contemplation of the seven enlightenment factors ‑ mindfulness, investigation of dhammas, energy, rapture, tranquility, samadhi, and equanimity, discussed in more detail below ‑ and their ‘fulfillment by development.’
The final section is the contemplation of the four noble truths.
'These four noble truths are the Dhamma taught by me which is un-refuted, undefiled, blameless, not criticized by intelligent contemplatives and brahmans.... For what reason was this said? Dependent on the six elements [earth, water, fire, air, space, consciousness] there is the reincarnation of the embryo. When there is this reincarnation, there is mentality and physical form. Due to mentality and physical form as condition there are the six sense bases. Due to the six sense bases as condition, there is contact. Due to contact as condition, there is feeling. It is for one who feels that I declare: “This is suffering; this is the origin of suffering; this is the cessation of suffering; this is the way of practice leading to the cessation of suffering.” ’
The four noble truths are described in detail in the Maha Satipatthana Sutta. The first noble truth is the various kinds of suffering headed by birth, aging, and death; the second is ‘that craving which generates repeated existence’; while the third is the ending of that very same craving. The fourth noble truth, the way of practice, is the noble eightfold path as detailed above, including the four jhanas as right samadhi.
1. Internal and external
Each exercise included in the four establishings of mindfulness concludes with a passage describing three aspects of insight development. First, one contemplates ‘within oneself’ and ‘externally.’
'Here, good man, a monk abides contemplating a body in the body within himself ‑ ardent, clearly comprehending, and mindful, having removed desire and aversion for the world. As he abides thus he becomes concentrated therein with right samadhi, with right clarity. Rightly concentrated and clear therein, he gives rise to knowledge and vision of the bodies of others externally. [And so on for feelings, mind, and dhammas.]’
The second aspect of insight development is the contemplation of the principles of origination and dissolution. In the second noble truth and dependent origination, origin refers to how, fueled by desire for the phenomena of experience, one creates kamma, which propels consciousness into ‘appearance in repeated existence in a womb in the future’, that is, rebirth. Cessation refers to cutting off the supply of fuel for the generation of new suffering in the future. ‘Ending’ (atthagama) or ‘cessation’ (nirodha) mean ‘altogether completely in every way entirely non‑existing whatever and wherever.’ This is carefully distinguished from mere change of state.
‘There are these three characteristics of conditioned phenomena: arising is found; falling is found; change while persisting is found.’
Despite the best attempts of the commentarial theorists, this statement remains incompatible with any explanation of impermanence in terms of momentariness. An ‘ultimate’ unit of time is a conditioned phenomenon. It therefore begins, changes in the middle, and ends. But the ‘sub-moments’ are also conditioned, so they too must have a beginning, middle, and end, and so on ad infinitum. Moreover, if the beginning has a beginning, middle, and end; and the middle and the end also have a beginning, middle, and end, the distinction between these events is not evident ‑ the theory lacks explanatory power.
Similar considerations apply not only in the ‘horizontal’ dimension of impermanence, but in the ‘vertical’ dimension of not-self as well. According to the commentaries, the so-called ‘person’ can be fully analyzed at the ultimate level into a finite set of mental and physical constituents called ‘dhammas’, with no further analysis possible. This is compared with breaking a vehicle down into its parts. But this example reveals the flaw in attempting to pin down ontological primacy to any particular level of reality. The vehicle considered in one way is a whole, but considered in another way is a part of a greater whole – ‘traffic’, for example. And the parts of the vehicle considered in one way are parts, but considered in another way are wholes ‑ a whole wheel, for example ‑ made up of their constituents. Any mental or physical event – ‘dhamma’ ‑ is a conditioned (‘compounded’) phenomenon. It can therefore be analyzed into its constituents. But the constituents, too, are conditioned and therefore analyzable ‑ again we disappear into infinity. Just as any ‘ultimate’ moment of time turns out to be a complex, evolving process, any ‘ultimate’ constituent of being turns out to be a complex, conditioned conglomerate.
Impermanence and not-self no more imply ultimate units of time or being than conditionality implies an ultimate first cause. No such theories are found in or derivable from the suttas. ‘Dhamma’ as used in the suttas does not refer to discrete entities existing in their own right, but to aspects of lived experience. The trend towards treating ‘dhammas’ in terms of an immutable, definitive set of highly specialized doctrinal categories may have had the effect of ‘objectifying’ the domain of insight, distracting attention from the essence of awareness. Venerable Nanamoli, the translator of the Visuddhimagga, once commented that by reversing the invariable sutta presentation of the five aggregates, the Visuddhimagga when describing consciousness in fact mostly deals with the other aggregates. This trend might be interpreted as the theoretical counterpart of the diminution of the role of the pure consciousness of samadhi in the development of insight. The following passage gives a more typical example of the suttas’ pragmatic approach to impermanence.
‘Long ago, monks, there was a teacher called Araka, a ford-crosser, free from lust for sensual pleasures, with many hundreds of disciples. Araka the teacher taught Dhamma to his disciples thus: “Short is the life of humans, limited and trifling, with much suffering, much despair. Wake up by using your mind! Do good! Live the holy life! There is none born who does not die! Just as a drop of dew on the tip of a blade of grass when the sun rises.... Just as a bubble in the water appears when it rains.... Just as a line drawn on water with a stick.... Just as a mountain stream, traveling far, fast flowing, sweeping all before it, never pausing for a moment, a second, an instant, but ever going on, rolling on, surging on.... Just as a man might form a gob of spit on the tip of his tongue and spit it out easily.... Just like a lump of meat thrown on an iron griddle which has been heated all day.... Just like a cow being led to the slaughter, with each step she is closer to being killed, closer to death; in the same way the life of humans is like a cow to be slaughtered, limited and trifling, with much suffering, much despair. Wake up by using your mind! Do good! Live the holy life! There is none born who does not die!”
‘Now at that time, monks, the life span of humans was sixty thousand years, and girls were marriageable at five hundred years. Humans had only six afflictions: cold, heat, hunger, thirst, excrement, and urine. And yet even though humans were of such long life, duration, and little affliction, still Araka the teacher taught Dhamma in that way.... But now who lives long lives but a hundred years or a little more.... I have done for you what should be done by a teacher seeking the welfare of his disciples out of compassion. Here, monks, are roots of trees, here are empty huts. Practice jhana, monks! Do not be negligent! Do not regret it later! This is our instruction to you.’
The distinction between the Buddha's teaching and Araka's would seem to be not in the conception of impermanence as such, but in its consistent application to worlds other than the human, including the Brahma realms to which Araka no doubt aspired. The impermanence of the body and the mind are contrasted thus:
‘An ordinary unlearned person could experience repulsion, fading away, and release from this body made up of the four great elements. For what reason? Because the increase, decrease, taking up, and laying down of this body is seen....
‘An ordinary unlearned person is not able to experience repulsion, fading away, and release from that which is called “mind” (citta), or “cognition” (mano), or “consciousness” (vinnana). For what reason? For a long time this has been clung to, appropriated, and misapprehended: “This is mine, I am this, this is my self”....
‘It would be better for an ordinary unlearned person to regard this body made up of the four great elements as self, rather than the mind. For what reason? This body is seen to last for ... up to a hundred years or more. But that which is called “mind”, or “cognition”, or “consciousness”; by day and by night it rises as one thing and ceases as another, just as a monkey journeying through the forest grabs a branch, and having released it, grabs another....
‘Therein a learned noble disciple carefully attends just to dependent origination....’
The ordinary person’s release from the body would be jhana. They can then see the mind, but without understanding dependent origination they cannot see past it. ‘Repulsion’ towards the mind is the exclusive province of the noble ones, and therefore pertains only to the noble paths. This is in line with such stock phrases as: ‘Seeing thus, the learned noble disciple becomes repulsed toward physical form [etc.].’ Rise and fall in satipatthana are similarly described in terms of dependent origination, as a careful examination of the following clauses will show.
‘The body originates due to the origination of nutriment; the body ends due to the cessation of nutriment. Feelings originate due to the origination of contact; feelings end due to the cessation of contact. The mind originates due to the origination of mentality and physical form; the mind ends due to the cessation of mentality and physical form. Dhammas originate due to the origination of attention; dhammas end due to the cessation of attention.’
2.1 Impermanence of the Body
‘Nutriment’ here is material food.
‘Just as if a painter or an artist with paint or resin of turmeric, blue, or crimson were to create an image of a man or a woman on a well-polished board or a canvas; in just the same way, if there is lust, relishing, and craving for material food, consciousness becomes fixated there and grows. Where consciousness is fixated and growing, there is the reincarnation of mentality and physical form ... the growth of conceptual activities ... appearance in repeated existence in the future ... birth, aging, and death in the future ... that is sorrowful, depressing, and full of despair, I say.’
2.2 Impermanence of Feelings
‘Contact’ is the normal condition for feeling in dependent origination (and is also the condition for perception and conceptual activities).
[When contemplation of the five material elements is completed:] ‘Further, monk, there remains only consciousness, purified and bright. And what does one cognize with that consciousness? One cognizes: “pleasure” – “pain” – “neither pain nor pleasure.”
Dependent on a contact to be felt as pleasant arises pleasant feeling. Feeling that pleasant feeling, one understands: “I feel a pleasant feeling”. One understands: “Due to the cessation of just that contact to be felt as pleasant, the corresponding pleasant feeling ... ceases and stills”. [And so on for painful and neutral feelings.]
‘Just as from the contact and friction of two sticks, heat is born, fire appears, and due to the separation and laying down of those same two sticks that corresponding heat ceases and stills....
‘And further there remains only equanimity, purified and bright, soft, workable, and radiant. Suppose a skilled goldsmith or goldsmith’s apprentice were to prepare a furnace and heat the crucible, take some gold in a pair of tongs and place it in the crucible. Then from time to time he would blow air, from time to time he would sprinkle water, and from time to time he would watch over with equanimity. The gold would become refined, well refined, thoroughly refined, cleansed, rid of dross, soft, workable, and radiant, and could be used for whatever kind of adornment be desired, whether bracelets, earrings, necklaces, or golden garlands. So too, there remains only equanimity, purified and bright, soft, workable, and radiant.
‘He understands thus: “If I were to apply this equanimity so pure and bright to the base of infinite space ... the base of infinite consciousness ... the base of nothingness ... the base of neither perception nor non-perception, and develop my mind accordingly, this equanimity of mine, dependent on that, grasping that as its fuel, would endure for a long time [Rebirth in these realms is measured in tens of thousands of aeons.] ....” He understands thus: “That is conditioned [by conceptual activities]”
‘He does not form any volition or act of will for existence or non-existence.... He does not grasp at anything in the world. Not grasping, he is not anxious. Not being anxious, he personally attains final Nibbana. He understands: “Birth is destroyed; the holy life has been lived; what was to be done has been done; there is no returning to this state of existence.”
‘If he feels a pleasant ... painful ... neither painful nor pleasant feeling he understands: “That is impermanent...” “That is not adhered to...” “That is not relished...” He feels it as one detached. Feeling a feeling of the ending of the body he understands: “I am feeling a feeling of the ending of the body.” Feeling a feeling of the ending of life he understands: “I am feeling a feeling of the ending of life.” He understands: “With the breaking up of the body, at the end of life, all that is felt, not being relished, will become cool right here.”
‘Just as a lamp burning dependent on oil and wick, with the finishing of that oil and wick, without any other fuel, would be quenched with no fuel ....’
2.3 Impermanence of the Mind
'Mentality' is feeling, perception, volition, contact, and attention. ‘Physical form’ is the elements of earth, water, fire, and air, as well as derived physical form. These correspond with the first four of the five aggregates (physical form, feeling, perception, conceptual activities), the ‘stations for conscious-ness’. They support consciousness (vinnana, here equivalent to ‘mind’, citta) in a number of ways. Physical form directly supports consciousness as the external objects of the senses, as well as in the subtle ‘forms’ ‑ images, etc. ‑ which, though appearing in mind-consciousness, retain certain physical qualities, such as color and shape. In addition, physical form makes up the body, which provides a roost for consciousness. The components of mentality can support consciousness directly as object, or indirectly by performing essential cognitive functions. These factors weld the diverse elements of experience into the elaborate superstructures of language and concepts, an aspect prominent in the Pali word for mentality ‑ nama, literally ‘name’. Nama in the suttas excludes consciousness, and so is not a blanket term for the four mental aggregates. All this is external, or objective, to consciousness, defining, determining, and delimiting subjective experience. This interdependent dualism forms the invariable structure of experience from the time of conception throughout life and beyond.
‘If, Ananda, consciousness were not reincarnated in the mother’s womb, would mentality and physical form take shape in the mother’s womb?’
‘If, Ananda, consciousness having been reincarnated in the mother’s womb were to be miscarried, would mentality and physical form appear into this state of existence?’
‘If, Ananda, the consciousness of a young boy or girl were to be cut off, would mentality and physical form attain to growth, increase, and maturity?’
‘If, Ananda, consciousness were not fixated in mentality and physical form, would the production of birth, aging, death, and the origin of suffering in the future be found?’
It is simply the nature of the mind to pass away, but it is not content to leave no trace; instead, the inner world of the mind becomes amplified through the force of kamma into the worlds of rebirth, also called ‘stations for consciousness’. This is a characteristically Buddhist expression of one of the universal spiritual insights: microcosm and macrocosm. The mind is the conceiver, the mother of the ‘self’. Like any good mother she dotes on her offspring, the bewitching phantasmagoria on the mind’s inner screen, forgetting that all those fancyings, imaginings, and schemings are nothing more than the projections of her own delusion. She is like beautiful, pitiful Narcissus, stung by Cupid’s arrow and hopelessly enchanted by his own image in the water that, when he bends to embrace it, vanishes into ripples. The concept of self in turn services his mother like a loving son, fertilizing the mind’s seeds to ensure an abundant crop of suffering in times to come. It is this idea of self which sticks a label saying ‘I, me, mine’ on the diverse items of baggage in experience, which one then feels obliged to claim and lug around. Moment to moment, year to year, life to life, the baggage changes but the message on the labels stays the same. Thus the incestuous fascination of the mind with its makings is the thread which weaves the fabric of time.
'Thus far, Ananda, could one be born, age, die, pass away, and be reborn; thus far is the range of designation; thus far is the range of language; thus far is the range of concepts; thus far is the domain of understanding; thus far whirls the round for describing this state [of existence], that is: mentality and physical form together with consciousness.’
Some of the most refined concepts postulate a transcendent reunion of the self and the mind, conceived as some kind of ‘cosmic awareness’, ‘ground of being’, or ‘original mind’. Yet even this essentially Oedipal union is seen through by the stream-enterer who, disowning the illegitimate progeny of ‘self’, has embarked on the journey beyond the end of the world: the ultimate cessation of consciousness with all its conceptual baggage.
‘Just as when ghee or oil is burnt, neither ashes nor soot are to be found, so too when Dabba Mallaputta rose into the air and, seated cross legged in the sky, attained final Nibbana after attaining to and withdrawing from the fire element, his body burnt up and neither ashes nor soot were to be found.’
And the Blessed One, realizing the meaning of that, was then inspired to utter:
‘The body broke up, perception ceased
2.4 Impermanence of Dhammas
‘All dhammas are produced by attention.’ Attention as basis for dhammas here emphasizes the pre-eminent role of wisdom in the final satipatthana, as also in the equivalent final four steps of mindfulness of breathing. Nor should it be ignored that the Buddha regularly prefaced his Dhamma teaching with: ‘Pay attention!’ Attention has the fundamental role of directing the mind skillfully or unskillfully in any situation.
‘Due to not paying attention to dhammas unfit for attention and to paying attention to dhammas fit for attention, un-arisen poisons do not arise and arisen poisons are abandoned. He pays attention to the root: “This is suffering”.... “This is the origin of suffering”.... “This is the cessation of suffering”.... “This is the way of practice leading to the cessation of suffering”. Paying attention in this way, three fetters are abandoned in him: identity view, doubt, and misapprehension of virtue and vows.’
It is of no little significance that just the consistent application of common sense to spiritual problems lies at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching. Before the Buddha appeared on the scene, the prevailing religious observance lay at the furthest possible remove from common sense ‑ the sacrifice. The intimacy between birth and death is obvious, since all living things subsist on the corpses of other living things: Mother Nature is fertilized with the blood of her own children. The unquestioned addiction to creation of more life demands the creation of ever more death, and so anything from grains to ghee, from goats to elephants, from virgins to kings was enthusiastically offered up. The solace of this symbolic identification with the cycle of life and death was so meaningful that many of the human victims were volunteers. There is a logic at work here, a logic of correlation not causation, of perception not knowledge; the appalling, inescapable logic of the world, perfectly embodied in the sacrifice: death is the condition for birth. It is therefore the most seemingly mundane and obvious of the Buddha’s insights, which is in fact the most radical and revolutionary.
'And then when Vipassi Bodhisatta had entered his dwelling, living privately on retreat, the reflection occurred to him: “Alas, the world has fallen into misery, in that it is born, ages, dies, passes away, and re-arises, and does not understand the escape from this suffering, from aging and death. Might there be found an escape from this suffering, from aging and death?” Then it occurred to Vipassi Bodhisatta: “When what exists is there aging and death? What is the condition for aging and death?” Then Vipassi Bodhisatta had the penetration by understanding due to paying attention to the root: “When birth exists there is aging and death. Birth is the condition for aging and death.” ’
All the factors (dhammas) of dependent origination are likewise penetrated by paying attention to the root. By pointing out the suffering inherent in birth, the Buddha sets the tone for all Buddhist theory and practice, seeing the calming, stilling, ending of creation as true happiness.
‘What nine dhammas are very helpful? The nine dhammas rooted in paying attention to the root. In one paying attention to the root, gladness is born. In one who is glad, rapture is born. In one with rapturous mind, the body becomes tranquil. One with tranquil body feels bliss. In one who is blissful, the mind enters samadhi. With mind in samadhi, one knows and sees in accordance with reality. Knowing and seeing in accordance with reality, one is repulsed. Being repulsed, lust fades away. Due to fading away, one is released. These are the nine dhammas that are very helpful.’
This passage suggests the meaning of ‘paying attention to the root’: a systematic, thoroughgoing inquiry, not distracted by superficial issues, which focuses awareness precisely where it counts, staying at that point until it opens up to wisdom, and the mind moves not onwards, but inwards; not from one leaf to another to another, but from a leaf to a branch to the trunk and all the way down to the roots.
The third aspect of insight development involves the establishing of mindfulness only for a measure of knowledge and mindfulness. Venerable Anuruddha details the kinds of knowledge obtainable by satipatthana. These knowledges are said to be ‘for one with samadhi, not for one without samadhi.’
‘It is from the development and making much of these four establishings of mindfulness that I have attained such great direct knowledge.... I directly know a thousand worlds....’ ‘I recollect a thousand aeons....’ ‘I wield the various kinds of psychic powers....’ ‘I have the purified divine ear, which surpasses the human....’ ‘I understand the minds of other beings....’ ‘I understand in accordance with reality the possible as possible, and the impossible as impossible....’ ‘I understand in accordance with reality the fruits of undertaking actions past, future, and present....’ ‘….the goals of all paths of practice....’ ….’the many and various elements....’ ‘….the various dispositions of beings....’ ‘...the spiritual faculties of other beings....’ ‘….the defilement, cleansing, and emergence of jhanas, liberations, samadhi, and attainments....’ ‘I recollect various past lives....’ ….’I understand with the divine eye how beings pass on according to their actions....’ ‘….I enter and abide, due to the evaporation of the poisons, in the poison-free release of heart, release by understanding, having witnessed it here and now with my own direct knowledge.’
The insight section of the Satipatthana Sutta concludes with the following statement:
‘One abides independent, not grasping at anything in the world.’
For advanced practitioners this is taught as the comprehensive detachment from any aspect of existence. But another aspect of ‘independence’ is particularly relevant to stream-entry.
‘The four satipatthanas are taught and described by me for the abandoning and surmounting of these dependencies on views connected with former times and dependencies on views connected with times to come.’
These passages may perhaps be illustrated in the light of the famous Kaccayana Sutta. This sutta links the same terms ‑ dependence, grasping, world ‑ with the contemplation of impermanence to explain the knowledge of stream-entry as a radical paradigm shift, overturning philosophical assumptions so fundamental that they are rarely even acknowledged, still less questioned.
‘ “Right view, right view” is said. Now what, Bhante, does “right view” refer to?’
KaccŒyana, this world is for the most part dependent on the dualism of existingness and non-existingness. One who sees the origin of the world with right understanding in accordance with reality has no notion of “non-existingness” regarding the world. One who sees the cessation of the world with right understanding in accordance with reality has no notion of “existingness” regarding the world.
‘This world is for the most part shackled by approaching, grasping, and insistence. But for that approaching, grasping, standpoint of the heart, insistence, and inherent compulsion one does not approach, grasp, or take a stand on the idea “my self”. What arises is just suffering arising; what ceases is just suffering ceasing. One is not uncertain and does not doubt; one has knowledge regarding this which is not reliant on another. This is what “right view” refers to.’
‘ “All exists”: this is one extreme. “All does not exist”: this is the second extreme. Avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata teaches Dhamma by the middle method. [That is, by dependent origination.]’
The extremes of ‘existingness’ and ‘non-existingness’ refer not to the simple idea that things do or don’t exist, but to that attitude which assumes these concepts to interpret the world. ‘Existingness’ is the idea that things exist independently, in and of themselves. ‘Non-existence’ does not seem to imply total absence, but is a regular synonym for ‘cessation’; here however implying that such self-existing entities disappear without trace, with no continuity of cause and effect. The Buddha's position regarding existence is quite clear. While he denies that there are any eternally existing phenomena, or that entities vanish without trace, he asserts that the five aggregates exist as impermanent processes driven by conditions.
These theories, far from being abstruse abstractions of the intellectual dilettantes, are right at home here in the world of beings. In Buddhism, the ‘world’, or the ‘all’, also means ‘that in the world by which one is a perceiver and conceiver of the world’, that is, the six internal sense bases. These internal sense bases only operate when stimulated by the six kinds of external sense objects, with mind objects as sixth. The world of experience therefore depends on the duality of inner and outer. The inner world is the nucleus around which orbits the outside world as reported by the external sense objects. So most beings conceive themselves at the center of the world. While relying on six-sense experience it is impossible to go beyond the world; wherever we go we take our world with us. Further: how we relate to or conceive the world of phenomenological experience is tangled up with how we conceive ourselves. If the phenomena of experience exist in their own right, not relying on conditions, and hence not subject to cessation with the cessation of conditions, our own self, the hub of the world, must likewise exist externally. But if the phenomena of experience just vanish leaving no trace, our self too must be cut off and annihilated. At this point philosophical musings assume a stark urgency. The fear of death ‑ the basic motivation for spiritual practice ‑ arises from the conception of a self (i.e. grasping, upadana) existing in time (i.e. existence, bhava). It depends on the ability to infer beyond the immediate sphere of experience, to imagine that one may or may not be able to have more of this pleasure ‑ or more of this pain ‑ in the future. The views of eternalism and annihilationism thus interpret lived experience in relation to the destiny of the individual. The eternalist longs for birth without death, an unnatural impossibility, while the annihilationist, intent on gratification here and now, has destroyed any possibility of transcendence through spiritual practice.
We may postulate an approximate correlation between the two dualities, that of existence and non-existence, and that of inner and outer. One who emphasizes the inner world, a ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ person, an ‘introvert’, is likely to hold an eternalist view, such as of an eternally existing soul. One who emphasizes the outer world, an ‘objective’ or ‘scientific’ person, an ‘extrovert’, is likely to lean towards such opinions as that the mind is merely an emergent property of matter or behavior and will disappear at death. But since these views only allow part of experience, they fail to account for the manifoldness of the world. The theory of a creator God, for example, is notoriously unable to explain the fact of suffering. Any such eternalist view encounters similar dilemmas. Placing the highest spiritual good, conceived as god, soul, mind, or whatever, in any kind of relation with anything in the world soils what should be free of suffering with what must be bound up with suffering. Falling back on non-existence solves nothing. The social and environmental devastation accompanying the growth of a sophisticated technological science with little ethical or spiritual dimension is a cogent reminder that external development fails to meaningfully address the problem of suffering. Such inadequacies generate tension between theory and reality, undermining the solace afforded by these views.
Interestingly, the sutta does not say that the world usually depends on one or other of the extremes, but on the dualism of both. This suggests that the fact of dualism itself, inherent in the structure of experience, is even more fundamental than its expression as particular views. Dualism implies a division, a marking-off, a boundary. Language delineates this boundary, making a measurement. ‘This’ implies ‘not that’; ‘now’ implies ‘not then; I implies ‘not you’. This dualistic paradigm, embedded in the building blocks of language, is reflected in successively more sophisticated linguistic structures, finally emerging as full-blown conceptual theorems. The views tend to be framed in terms of one or other of the extremes; but it is difficult to deny one necessary half of experience. One of the blessings of stream-entry is the relief from such tensions, as one’s whole psychic structure is attuned to one coherent worldview. This occurs when the duality of the inner and outer sense bases is seen as neither existing intrinsically nor vanishing without trace but as coming to be dependent on conditions.
'All these contemplatives and brahmans who hold settled views about the past and the future, and assert on sixty‑two grounds various conceptual theorems referring to the past and the future, experience these feelings only by repeated contacts through the six bases of contact. Due to feeling as condition, there arises in them craving. Due to craving as condition, there is grasping. Due to grasping as condition, there is [ongoing] existence. Due to existence as condition, there is birth. Due to birth as condition, aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, bodily pain, mental suffering, and despair come to be. When a monk understands in accordance with reality the origin, ending, gratification, danger, and escape regarding the six bases of contact, then he understands what lies beyond all these views.’
The various views about the world do not arise all at once as full-blown theories, but emerge gradually. The initial encounter with the world seems innocuous enough, but the gratification sets up a desire, then an expectation, then a demand, and finally an unquestioned and absolute identification of a ‘self’ with that experience. But it is right at that point that the most radical tenet of the Dhamma turns the world on its head. That very ‘self’ in which one invests such hopes, from which one derives such solace, is nothing but suffering through and through. But suffering is itself a conditioned phenomenon, so it too must pass away. The contemplation of impermanence, by examining the world from the inside, building up a view from experience rather than imposing it from preconceptions, rejects all simplistic abstractions. It has nothing to fear from any kind of experience.
The origin of the world is the origin of suffering, which is ‘that craving which generates repeated existence’. Understanding this, one could never commit the fallacy of annihilationism. The cessation of the world is the cessation of suffering, which is the realization of Nibbana as the ending of craving. Understanding this, one could never commit the fallacy of eternalism.
The contemplation of impermanence by way of dependent origination not only avoids the extremes of theory, but also the extremes of practice. By placing the conditioned, fickle, yet tamable mind at the center of the world, dependent origination avoids the complacency of indulgence and the despair of self-torment. The twofold extremes of ‘existingness’ and ‘non-existingness’ call for a twofold meditative response: samatha and vipassana. Samatha is a joyous plunge into the inner waters of the mind, and together with the dissolution of the five external senses dissolves the cynical reductionism which insists that only externals are real. Vipassana in its turn discloses the radical discontinuity of consciousness, dispelling the smugly naive belief in an eternal soul. Since it is only suffering that ceases, the gradual stilling of activities is experienced as exquisite bliss by the meditator. One can at last be truly independent, as one experiences for oneself the fading away of suffering. Faith in this process of peace enables the meditator to loosen, then untie the shackles binding the mind to the world, free of the fear that there could be any kind of existing ‘self’ to be destroyed. This is the right view of the stream-enterer.
‘Activities are impermanent
Conclusion: Satipatthana and Insight
Contemplation of rise and fall refers not to an objective, pseudo-scientific scrutiny of phenomena ‘out there’, independent of the observer, but to seeing the way the mind entangles itself in the world, altering what is known by the very act of knowing. This implies that it is the understanding of the mind itself, the faculty of knowing, which is the crucial element in the delicate process of disentanglement. Mind consciousness is the resort of the five senses, the functional center coordinating experience, and the subjective sense of individual identity linking life to life. While samadhi plays an important role in all aspects of insight, its ‘home base’ is the contemplation of mind. So samadhi is the straight road from virtue to wisdom, focusing attention right at the heart of the matter and providing a perspective for the other aspects of insight.
‘On the occasion when a noble disciple intends to go forth from the home life into homelessness, he is like the celestial coral tree of the Tavatimsa deities when the leaves turn brown.
‘On the occasion when the noble disciple shaves off hair and beard, puts on the dyed robe and goes forth from the home life into homelessness, he is like the celestial coral tree ... when the leaves fall.
‘On the occasion when the noble disciple ... enters and abides in the first jhana, he is like the celestial coral tree ... when it is budding.
‘On the occasion when the noble disciple ... enters and abides in the second jhana, he is like the celestial coral tree ... when the shoots appear.
‘On the occasion when the noble disciple ... enters and abides in the third jhana, he is like the celestial coral tree ... when the blossoms form.
‘On the occasion when the noble disciple ... enters and abides in the fourth jhana, he is like the celestial coral tree ... when the flowers are like the red lotus.
‘On the occasion when the noble disciple, due to the evaporation of the poisons, enters and abides in the poison-free release of heart, release by wisdom, having witnessed it with his own direct knowledge, he is like the celestial coral tree of the Tavatimsa deities when it is in full bloom.
‘On that occasion the earth deities proclaim the news: “The venerable one of such and such a name, the student of such and such a venerable one, who went forth from such and such a village or town, has witnessed ... the evaporation of the poisons!”... And right at that moment, that instant, the news soars up [through the various orders of deities] as far as the Brahma realm. Such is the majesty of one who has evaporated the poisons.’
Right samadhi brings together the other seven path factors, issuing in right knowledge and release.
‘How well described by the Blessed One who knows and sees, the arahant, the fully enlightened Buddha are the seven requisites of samadhi for the development and fulfillment of right samadhi. What seven? Right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, and right mindfulness. One-pointedness of mind with these seven factors as requisites is called noble right samadhi with its vital conditions and with its requisites.’
I take ‘one-pointedness of mind’ in the context of jhana to imply singleness both of consciousness and of object. That is, jhana occurs based on mind-consciousness only, without the diversity of sense consciousness; and this mind-consciousness knows just one thing. ‘Point’ (or ‘acme’) has superlative connotations difficult to capture in translation. It should not be taken to imply that jhanas are a cramped, narrow state of mind; rather, they are regularly described as ‘vast, exalted, measureless’.
Doubt sometimes arises as to whether or not all activity of the five external senses must cease in jhana. From the evidence of the suttas, this certainly seems to be the case. The jhana formula begins with ‘quite secluded from sensual pleasures’. Kama can, in a typical Pali idiom, refer to either the inner attraction to the senses, or to the sense objects themselves. Here, the following phrase ‘secluded from unbeneficial qualities’ obviously includes sensual desire, so ‘secluded from sensual pleasures’ should refer to, or at least include, the sense objects. The suttas regularly contrast the plurality of sense experience with the unity of jhana, and so the Buddha said that: ‘Noise is a thorn to the first jhana’. The meaning of this statement can be understood in the light of the statements which follow: ‘Initial and sustained application of mind are a thorn to the second jhana. Rapture is a thorn to the third jhana’, and so on. Initial and sustained application of mind are incompatible with the second jhana, cannot exist in it, and if they arise they signify that one has fallen away from second jhana. So too, sound ‑ and by extension the other sense objects ‑ are incompatible with the first jhana, cannot exist in it, and if they arise they signify that one has fallen away from first jhana. The following passage bears on this question.
And then Venerable Maha Moggallana addressed the monks: ‘Here, friends, when I had attained imperturbable samadhi on the bank of the Sappinika River, I heard the sound of elephants plunging in, crossing over, and trumpeting.’ [On which the Buddha commented:] ‘The meaning is that that samadhi was not fully purified. Moggallana spoke truthfully.’
This episode presumably refers to Venerable Maha Moggallana’s brief but troubled period of striving for enlightenment. ‘Imperturbable’ usually means at least fourth jhana. If hearing sounds in samadhi were normal, no explanation would be required.
The four jhanas may be regarded as the ultimate manifestation of the psychology of bliss. The first jhana occurs with the ending of the five external senses and the five hindrances. Relieved of these burdens, the mind is buoyant and at ease, solely preoccupied with one object, the subtle reflection of the mind derived from the basic meditation subject. Because of the nearness of sense activity and defilement, however, the mind must still actively apply itself to that object, first placing then pressing. This pressing causes the object to recede slightly, so the mind must be re-placed, and so on in an automatic process which causes a slight ripple or wavering in awareness. As the mind gains more inner confidence it no longer needs to apply itself, but can simply be at one with the object. The pulsing effect fades away, leaving the clear stillness characteristic of the second jhana. The third jhana is marked by a maturing of the emotional response to blissful feeling. The refined thrill of rapture deepens into the impartial watchfulness of equanimity. Mindfulness and clear comprehension, though like equanimity present from the first jhana, come to the fore as one is fully immersed in bliss without being elated by it. But even that purified bliss exerts the softest of pulls and must be let go as the mind settles down into the fourth jhana ‑ pure bright awareness. Equanimity is now present as both affective tone and emotional attitude, allowing mindfulness to reach its maximum clarity and power.
The relative stability of the four jhanas can be gauged from the duration of the rebirth they generate. First jhana ‑ one aeon; second jhana ‑ two aeons; third jhana ‑ four aeons; fourth jhana ‑ five hundred aeons. The inconceivable duration of these rebirths is a powerful affirmation of the supremacy of good over evil ‑ it seems that the maximum period of rebirth in hell is ‘only’ one aeon.
Right samadhi is further described as having five factors: ‘suffusion with rapture, suffusion with bliss, suffusion with heart, suffusion with light, it is the basis of reviewing’. The ‘basis of reviewing’ is samadhi as a basis for the investigative reviewing knowledge developed upon emerging from jhana.
‘Just as if, monks, one should review another, or one standing should review one sitting, or one sitting should review one lying down, in the same way a monk has the basis of reviewing well apprehended, well attended, well borne in mind, well penetrated with understanding.’
According to the brahman student Subha:
'I do not see such a fulfilled noble aggregate of samadhi outside of Buddhism amongst other contemplatives and brahmans.’
It is associated with five knowledges:
‘Monks, develop samadhi that is measureless, masterly, and mindful. When samadhi is developed that is measureless, masterly, and mindful, five personal knowledges arise. What five? The personal knowledge arises: “This samadhi is blissful now and results in bliss in the future.” ... “This samadhi is noble and spiritual.” ...”This samadhi is not cultivated by bad men.” ... “This samadhi is peaceful and refined, tranquil, unified, not actively controlled or constrained.” … “I enter and emerge mindfully from this samadhi”.’
These descriptions neither imply nor are congruent with the concepts of ‘momentary samadhi’ or transcendental ‘path-moment’ samadhi. They simply refer to the practice of jhana by one developing the noble path.
The conception of the path as support for noble right samadhi might be described in this way. The course of meditation for one on the noble path has been smoothed by the right view that has eliminated or lessened certain defilements, such as doubt or sensual desire, according to the stage of progress. Furthermore, at the actual time of developing samadhi, the previously developed right view manifests as a clear awareness of what is beneficial and what is unbeneficial, as well as an understanding of the causal relationships between mental factors leading to peace of mind. The path factor of right intention manifests as undistracted application to the meditation object, while the previously purified virtue gives rise to the gladness of non-remorse. Together with energy and mindfulness, these factors lead to jhana. These jhanas as noble right samadhi itself are similar in their basic functions and natures to jhana practiced outside the eightfold path. However, due to the exceptional purity of the factors instrumental in their attaining, they are singularly pellucid and tranquil, yielding an intuitive flowering of wisdom. Upon emerging mindfully, the noble one will review the jhana with wisdom. They will see that the bliss in that jhana arose from letting go, and that continuing that process of letting go will culminate in the ultimate bliss of Nibbana.
Noble right samadhi closes the circle: although the last factor of the path, its fruit is the perfection of the first factor, the right view of the stream-enterer. The path includes the truths, the truths include the path. The Dhamma is like a hologram image: when it is broken, each fragment contains not a part, but the whole of the original image.
‘Monks, develop samadhi. A monk who has samadhi understands in accordance with reality. What does he understand in accordance with reality? He understands: This is suffering; this is the origin of suffering; this is the cessation of suffering; this is the way of practice leading to the cessation of suffering.’
2. The Bases For Psychic Power
These are: enthusiasm, energy, mind, and inquiry.
‘Dependent on enthusiasm [ ... energy ... mind ... inquiry], one gains samadhi, one gains one-pointedness of mind; when endowed with active striving, this is the base of psychic power consisting of enthusiasm [ ... energy ... mind ... inquiry].’
Thus these are various mental qualities which predominate in gaining samadhi. ‘Enthusiasm’ is a wholesome mode of desire; not the worldly desire to ‘be’ or ‘have’, but especially in this context of samadhi, the desire to know. Both enthusiasm and energy are compassed within the path factor of right effort in its role as ‘requisite of samadhi’. ‘Inquiry’ is wisdom in its mode of investigation into the reasons for progress or decline in meditation. ‘Mind’ here denotes samadhi itself. The word ‘mind’ (citta) is a common synonym for samadhi. It is not defined further here, but as it is a basis for psychic power, there is no doubt as to the meaning.
‘That a monk without refined, peaceful, tranquil, and unified samadhi could wield the various kinds of psychic power ... or witness the evaporation of the poisons: that is not possible.’
An interesting analysis details the manner of developing all four of these factors.
‘Here, monks, a monk develops the basis of psychic power consisting of samadhi due to enthusiasm [ ... energy ... mind ... inquiry] and active striving, thinking: “Thus my enthusiasm will be neither too slack nor too tense, and it will neither constricted within [due to sloth and torpor] nor distracted externally [due to sense pleasures].” He abides perceiving before and after: “As before, so after; as after, so before; as below, so above; as above, so below; as by day, so by night; as by night, so by day”. Thus with heart open and un-enveloped, he develops a mind imbued with luminosity.’
‘As below, so above’ is explained in the sutta with reference to the meditation on the parts of the body ‘upwards from the soles of the feet, and downwards from the tips of the hairs’. ‘As before, so after’ probably refers to evenness in attending to the meditation subject throughout the session. The phrase ‘well apprehended, well attended, well borne in mind, well penetrated with understanding’ is used here just as with the ‘basis for reviewing’, implying that reviewing and inquiring into causes is a key to developing this evenness.
Given the importance of this inquiry into causes, we might postulate a causal relationship between the bases of psychic power themselves, in line with similar relationships described elsewhere. Enthusiasm is the wish, the motivation to do the work of purifying the mind. Effort is the actual exerting of energy to do the work. The purified mind is the result of that work. And in the clarity of the purified mind, the causes and conditions for that purity can be discerned through inquiry. The manner in which these qualities work together may be compared to an electric light. Enthusiasm is like the voltage in the circuits. Energy is like the current of electricity which flows when the switch is turned on. The mind is like the globe lighting up. And when the room is lit, it is easy to see what is there. Anyone who has ever had to search for something in a dark room would know that the quickest way, if one must grope in the dark, is to grope first of all for the light switch.
3. The Spiritual Faculties and Powers
The spiritual faculties and powers are simply different aspects of the same set of principles, which are: faith, energy, mindfulness, samadhi, and understanding.
‘Bhante, a noble disciple who is absolutely dedicated to the Tathagata, with full confidence would not doubt or be uncertain about the Tathagata or the Tathagata’s dispensation. It is to be expected, Bhante, of a faithful noble disciple that he will abide with energy aroused for the abandoning of unbeneficial qualities and the undertaking of beneficial qualities, that he will be strong, firm in exertion, not shirking his responsibility regarding beneficial qualities. His energy is his spiritual faculty of energy.
‘It is to be expected, Bhante, of a faithful noble disciple whose energy is aroused that he will be mindful, endowed with supreme mindfulness and mastery [over the senses], able to remember and recall what was said and done long ago. His mindfulness is his spiritual faculty of mindfulness.
‘It is to be expected, Bhante, of a faithful noble disciple whose energy is aroused and whose mindfulness is established that, having made relinquishment the support, he will gain samadhi, he will gain one-pointedness of mind. His samadhi is his spiritual faculty of samadhi.
‘It is to be expected, Bhante, of a faithful noble disciple whose energy is aroused, whose mindfulness is established and whose mind is concentrated in samadhi that he will understand: “Inconceivable is samsara’s beginning. For beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving, a starting point of roaming on and faring on is not found. But the remainderless fading away and cessation of that dark mass of ignorance ‑ that state is peaceful, that state is sublime, that is, the samatha of all activities, the relinquishment of all belongings, the evaporation of craving, fading away, cessation, Nibbana.” His understanding is his spiritual faculty of understanding.
‘That faithful noble disciple, having thus repeatedly practiced striving, remembering, samadhi, and understanding has full confidence thus: “These principles which I had previously only heard about I now abide having personally contacted, and see having penetrated with understanding.” ’
These principles are conveniently elaborated in groups of four, bringing them in line with the corresponding path-factors: faith should be seen in the four factors of stream-entry (faith in the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, and perfect virtue), energy in the four right efforts, mindfulness in the four satipatthanas, samadhi in the four jhanas, and understanding in the four noble truths. The description of understanding in the above passage may be seen as an expansion of the usual definition as ‘the noble and penetrative understanding of arising and ending which leads to the complete evaporation of suffering’. The phrase ‘having made relinquishment the support, one gains samadhi’ is sometimes followed by the full jhana formula. The spiritual powers are defined similarly, the sole difference being the absence of the phrase ‘having made relinquishment the support.’ Since the spiritual faculties and powers are identical, it may be inferred that that phrase does not add anything crucial to the definition, or justify extending the scope of the spiritual faculty of samadhi beyond the four jhanas. Each of the spiritual faculties and powers are further described as being developed together with each of the four jhanas. One practicing in this way, even for the duration of a finger snap, ‘does the Teacher's bidding, responds to instruction, and does not waste the nation’s alms food.’
Strikingly, the texts set the spiritual faculties apart from the other sets comprised within the wings to awakening by treating them under all four of the noble truths, not just the fourth. This treatment foreshadows the terminological development, already nascent in the suttas, of ‘faculty’ as a general phenomenological classification parallel to the aggregates, sense bases, and elements. The spiritual faculties themselves are conditioned; considered in this way it becomes meaningful to speak of the ‘origin, ending, gratification, danger, and escape’ in the case of mindfulness, samadhi, understanding, etc. ‘Origin and ending’ refers to the conditioned nature of the spiritual faculties, to be understood by way of dependent origination. This is the task of the spiritual faculty of understanding itself, defined precisely as understanding rise and fall. So to possess the faculties, one must understand the faculties; and to understand the faculties, one must understand dependent origination. The faculties should be seen as arising dependent on each other, and this interdependence serves as a paradigm for understanding phenomenal actuality in general. This ‘understanding in accordance with reality’ is repeatedly identified with the stream-enterer. Hence, although as mental qualities they are to be developed by the ordinary person, only with the entrance to the noble path do they gain control, becoming the predominating dispositions in their own field, thus meriting the title ‘spiritual faculties’. (Although the term ‘spiritual faculties’ may be used in a more general sense, this is not identified with the group of five.) Not only does the presence or absence of the spiritual faculties serve to distinguish between the ordinary person and the noble ones, the relative strength of the faculties is a key criterion for classifying the noble ones in terms of spiritual potential, level of attainment, and mode of practice.
The phrase ‘having made relinquishment the support’ is probably best explained in the light of such passages as the following, describing how the noble ones meditate. In this passage, ‘taints of the mind’ does not refer, as elsewhere, to the five hindrances, but to the manifestations of greed, anger, and delusion abandoned by the stages of the noble path.
‘When he has given up, expelled, released, abandoned, and relinquished [the taints of the mind] in part, he thinks: I am endowed with confirmed confidence in the Buddha. [ ... Dhamma ... Sangha.] “He gains inspiration in the meaning, inspiration in the Dhamma, gladness connected with the Dhamma. In one who is glad, rapture is born. In one whose mind is rapturous, the body becomes tranquil. One with tranquil body feels bliss. The mind of one who is blissful enters samadhi.” ’
‘Confirmed confidence’ is the clarity from having undergone the experience of forever relinquishing defilements, thereby walking in the Buddha's footsteps, seeing the Dhamma, and becoming one of the noble Sangha. Here, the spiritual faculty of faith is predominant in the meditation subject; energy is implied in the undertaking of meditation; while mindfulness is the act of recollecting. Samadhi here is obviously ‘noble right samadhi’, equivalent to the spiritual faculty of samadhi. The word for ‘relinquishment’ (patinissagga) is a slightly different form than in the spiritual faculty of samadhi (vossagga), but the meaning here seems substantially identical. We may understand that the unique occurrence of the phrase ‘having made relinquishment the support’ before the jhana formula in the definition of the spiritual faculty of samadhi is linked to the restriction of the spiritual faculties to the noble individuals. Only they have their course of meditation smoothed by the root-level eradication of defilements. In the above sutta, the monk next develops the divine abidings, and then wisdom is indicated:
‘He understands thus: “There is this, there is the inferior, there is the superior, and beyond there is an escape from this whole field of perception.” ’
The phrase ‘field of perception’ invites comparison with such passages as the Potthapada Sutta. This would then refer to the divine abidings; ‘the inferior’ to the sensual realm; ‘the superior’ to the formless liberations; while ‘the escape’ is Nibbana. So the spiritual faculties, relying on the partial relinquishment of defilements by the trainees, mature into the total relinquishment of defilements by the arahant.
4. The Enlightenment Factors
‘They lead to enlightenment, therefore they are called enlightenment factors.’
The seven enlightenment factors enjoy a prestige second only to the eightfold path itself. They are: mindfulness, investigation of dhammas, energy, rapture, tranquility, samadhi, and equanimity. Generally, they may be regarded as an articulation of the meditative component of the path complementary to the bases for psychic powers and the spiritual faculties. The very first sutta of the collection on the enlightenment factors, however, emphasizes the indispensability of virtuous ethical conduct as their foundation.
‘Mindfulness’ and ‘investigation of dhammas, though including the recollection and investigation of teachings, primarily refer to the discriminative contemplation of presently arisen mental phenomena. ‘Energy’ and ‘tranquility’ include both physical and mental aspects. ‘Rapture’ and ‘samadhi’ occur either with initial and sustained application of mind (in the first jhana) or without (in the higher jhanas). ‘Equanimity’ is the crowning quality of samatha, reaching perfection in the fourth jhana and the fourth divine abiding.
An outstanding feature is the opposition between the enlightenment factors and the five hindrances. This is presented both as a general qualitative appraisal of the two sets as leading to or obstructing enlightenment, and as a specific analysis, especially in terms of the distinctive ‘nutriment’ for each factor. The gradual assimilation of the nutriments through repeated attention nurtures the growth of either good or bad qualities. Sometimes a specific enlightenment factor opposes a specific hindrance. The nutriment for ‘investigation of dhammas’ ‑ discriminating between good and bad ‑ is what starves the hindrance of doubt. The nutriments of energy ‑ the elements of arousal, of exertion, of persistence ‑ starve the hindrance of sloth and torpor. Tranquility opposes restlessness and remorse. Samadhi is nurtured by ‘the basis of samatha, the basis of not-many-pointedness’. The suttas do not directly oppose samadhi and rapture to particular hindrances, but elsewhere the commentaries set them against sensual desire and ill will respectively. Equanimity, along with tranquility and samadhi, serves to pacify the excited mind, whereas investigation, energy, and rapture rouse up the sluggish mind. Mindfulness is always useful. Mindfulness, rapture, and equanimity are not allocated specific nutriments; perhaps the Buddha is throwing us back on our own ‘investigation of dhammas’ to discern these.
Each of the enlightenment factors may be developed in conjunction with various meditation subjects: a skeleton; a decaying corpse; the divine abidings; mindfulness of breathing; and the perceptions of ugliness, death, the repulsiveness of food, boredom with the whole world, impermanence, suffering, not-self, abandonment, fading away, and cessation. Developed in this way, these meditations are of great fruit and benefit, lead to arahantship or non-returning, to great good, security from bondage, a sense of urgency, and a comfortable abiding.
One passage describes the successive emergence of the enlightenment factors induced by recollecting the Dhamma of the noble ones. Here, ‘spiritual rapture’ seems to encompass rapture arisen prior to jhana, but as prelude, not surrogate.
‘On an occasion when a monk abiding withdrawn remembers and thinks over that Dhamma, the enlightenment factor of mindfulness is aroused, developed, and fulfilled. Abiding thus mindfully, he investigates, explores, and inquires into that Dhamma with understanding.... His energy is roused up and persistent.... Spiritual rapture arises.... In one who is rapturous, the body and mind become tranquil.... In one whose body is tranquil, there is bliss. The mind of one whose body is tranquil and who is blissful enters samadhi.... One watches closely with equanimity the mind thus concentrated in samadhi.' [Thus all the factors of enlightenment are roused, developed, and fulfilled.]
Samatha and vipassana are intimately interlaced through all these teachings. It is noteworthy, though, that most of these factors pertain to samatha, while only investigation of dhammas pertains specifically to vipassana, and even this is chiefly treated in its mode of supporting samadhi. Indeed, these seven dhammas sometimes simply substitute for samadhi in the grouping: virtue, dhamma, understanding. The emphasis throughout is simply on the development of the mind. Many terms used with these principles ‑ 'seclusion', 'fading away', 'cessation', 'relinquishment', t abandoning', 'ending', 'stilling', and others ‑ are also used of the four jhanas, vipassana, and even Nibbana itself, underlining the essential kinship of these facets of the path and the goal.
Examining these thirty-seven wings to enlightenment, consistent patterns emerge. The sequences start with more basic qualities: faith, or enthusiasm, or energy. The placing of investigation of dhammas near the start of the enlightenment factors is reminiscent of the placing of right view at the start of the eightfold path. With energy and mindfulness in operation, the mind develops the joy that leads to samadhi, ripening in liberating wisdom. Fundamental principles of the nature of the mind are embodied in these formulations. At each stage the emotional and intellectual qualities are balanced and support each other, while the variations warn against taking an overly rigid approach to development. In the next chapter we will examine in more detail the relationships between these qualities.
'Thus, Ananda, beneficial virtues gradually flow on to the topmost.’
 D16.6.1, M103.3
 D28.19 Note: this paragraph in mistakenly numbered as 20 in the PTS Pali.
 see S45.4
 D22.21, M141.23-31, S45.8
 e.g. A4.52
 M44.12. See Appendix 1
 M118; bracketed phrase omitted a S54.10, 13, 16
 Domanassa = ill will at SN1106 = A3.32
 Sn974, 975
 A4.29 cp. A4.30
 Vin Pj4.4
 M14.4 cp. M68.6
 A1:20. Although I refer to this chapter a few times, it is a highly schematic passage, probably assembled quite late, and in part incongruous. For example, one who develops right speech is said to ‘not neglect jhana’, which does not make much sense even if we interpret jhana here as broadly as ‘meditation’.
 S36.31 cp. Thag 85
 M137.11, 15
 e.g. S46.3 quoted pg 72
 M54.22-24, M53.20-22
 S46.33, A5.23
 A1: 6.1, 2
 D33.11 etc.
 These similes at A3.193
 S1.813, 814
 M125.22-25 condensed
 S35.99 cp. S35.160
 S12.43 cp. S12.44, 45
 Vin Mv6.31
 contra AA pg. 732
 S22.56, S22.82, etc.
 S22.55 etc
 M2.10, 11
 D14.2.18. Incidentally, in the phrase appearing below at D14.2.21 ‘the vipassana path to enlightenment’, the word ‘vipassana’ was inserted into the PTS Pali from the commentary despite lacking any manuscript support.
 S52.6, 11-24
 M10.5ff, D22.2ff
 see S44.10
 See S1.2.26 and Bhikkhu Bodhi’s note in CDB
 D16.6.10 etc
 D18.27 cp. S45.28, A7.42, M117.3
 Vin Pj 4
 A4.123. An aeon is probably the period from one Big Bang to the next.
 D4.123 cp. A5.28, D2.81
 D10.2 cp. S45.14
 D34: 1.6, A5.27
 S51.13 condensed
 A7.4, A5.14, A5.15
 e.g. S48.2, 3, see too S22.109, M2.11, etc.
 D9.10 ff quoted pg 107. See too Iti 72.73
 This grouping occurs several times in the suttas, usually glossed by the commentary as ‘dhammas pertaining to samadhi’, but as far as I know only explained in the suttas at Iti 3.97 as ‘the seven dhammas that are wings to enlightenment’. Which is often translated as ‘the seven sets of dhammas that are wings to enlightenment’. Now it is well known that the thirty-seven are not called ‘wings of enlightenment’ in the suttas. The term is used of the spiritual faculties however, and as there are many descriptive terms common to both the spiritual faculties and the enlightenment factors, I feel it would be easier for an epithet to transfer from one set to another than from one set to the whole group of sets. Moreover, ‘dhamma’ is more idiomatically used of the members of the set rather than the set as a whole.
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last updated: 06-09-2004