- The Noble Eightfold Path
- The Way to the End of Suffering
- Bhikkhu Bodhi
- Copyright ę 1994 Buddhist Publication Society
The essence of the Buddha's teaching can be summed up in two principles: the Four Noble
Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The first covers the side of doctrine, and the
primary response it elicits is understanding; the second covers the side of discipline, in
the broadest sense of that word, and the primary response it calls for is practice. In the
structure of the teaching these two principles lock together into an indivisible unity
called the dhamma-vinaya, the doctrine-and-discipline, or, in brief, the Dhamma.
The internal unity of the Dhamma is guaranteed by the fact that the last of the Four Noble
Truths, the truth of the way, is the Noble Eightfold Path, while the first factor of the
Noble Eightfold Path, right view, is the understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Thus the
two principles penetrate and include one another, the formula of the Four Noble Truths
containing the Eightfold Path and the Noble Eightfold Path containing the Four Truths.
Given this integral unity, it would be pointless to pose the question which of the two
aspects of the Dhamma has greater value, the doctrine or the path. But if we did risk the
pointless by asking that question, the answer would have to be the path. The path claims
primacy because it is precisely this that brings the teaching to life. The path translates
the Dhamma from a collection of abstract formulas into a continually unfolding disclosure
of truth. It gives an outlet from the problem of suffering with which the teaching starts.
And it makes the teaching's goal, liberation from suffering, accessible to us in our own
experience, where alone it takes on authentic meaning.
To follow the Noble Eightfold Path is a matter of practice rather than intellectual
knowledge, but to apply the path correctly it has to be properly understood. In fact,
right understanding of the path is itself a part of the practice. It is a facet of right
view, the first path factor, the forerunner and guide for the rest of the path. Thus,
though initial enthusiasm might suggest that the task of intellectual comprehension may be
shelved as a bothersome distraction, mature consideration reveals it to be quite essential
to ultimate success in the practice.
The present book aims at contributing towards a proper understanding of the Noble
Eightfold Path by investigating its eight factors and their components to determine
exactly what they involve. I have attempted to be concise, using as the framework for
exposition the Buddha's own words in explanation of the path factors, as found in the
Sutta Pit@aka of the Pali Canon. To assist the reader with limited access to primary
sources even in translation, I have tried to confine my selection of quotations as much as
possible (but not completely) to those found in Venerable Nyanatiloka's classic anthology,
The Word of the Buddha. In some cases passages taken from that work have been
slightly modified, to accord with my own preferred renderings. For further amplification
of meaning I have sometimes drawn upon the commentaries; especially in my accounts of
concentration and wisdom (Chapters VII and VIII) I have relied heavily on the Visuddhimagga
(The Path of Purification), a vast encyclopedic work which systematizes the
practice of the path in a detailed and comprehensive manner. Limitations of space prevent
an exhaustive treatment of each factor. To compensate for this deficiency I have included
a list of recommended readings at the end, which the reader may consult for more detailed
explanations of individual path factors. For full commitment to the practice of the path,
however, especially in its advanced stages of concentration and insight, it will be
extremely helpful to have contact with a properly qualified teacher.
Textual references have been abbreviated as follows:
DN ..... Digha Nikaya (number of sutta)
MN ..... Majjhima Nikaya (number of sutta)
SN ..... Samyutta Nikaya (chapter and number of sutta)
AN ..... Anguttara Nikaya (numerical collection and number of sutta)
Dhp ..... Dhammapada (verse)
Vism ..... Visuddhimagga
References to Vism. are to the chapter and section number of the translation by Bhikkhu
Đanamoli, The Path of Purification (BPS ed. 1975, 1991)
The Way to the End of Suffering
The search for a spiritual path is born out of suffering. It does not start with lights
and ecstasy, but with the hard tacks of pain, disappointment, and confusion. However, for
suffering to give birth to a genuine spiritual search, it must amount to more than
something passively received from without. It has to trigger an inner realization, a
perception which pierces through the facile complacency of our usual encounter with the
world to glimpse the insecurity perpetually gaping underfoot. When this insight dawns,
even if only momentarily, it can precipitate a profound personal crisis. It overturns
accustomed goals and values, mocks our routine preoccupations, leaves old enjoyments
At first such changes generally are not welcome. We try to deny our vision and to
smother our doubts; we struggle to drive away the discontent with new pursuits. But the
flame of inquiry, once lit, continues to burn, and if we do not let ourselves be swept
away by superficial readjustments or slouch back into a patched up version of our natural
optimism, eventually the original glimmering of insight will again flare up, again
confront us with our essential plight. It is precisely at that point, with all escape
routes blocked, that we are ready to seek a way to bring our disquietude to an end. No
longer can we continue to drift complacently through life, driven blindly by our hunger
for sense pleasures and by the pressure of prevailing social norms. A deeper reality
beckons us; we have heard the call of a more stable, more authentic happiness, and until
we arrive at our destination we cannot rest content.
But it is just then that we find ourselves facing a new difficulty. Once we come to
recognize the need for a spiritual path we discover that spiritual teachings are by no
means homogeneous and mutually compatible. When we browse through the shelves of
humanity's spiritual heritage, both ancient and contemporary, we do not find a single tidy
volume but a veritable bazaar of spiritual systems and disciplines each offering
themselves to us as the highest, the fastest, the most powerful, or the most profound
solution to our quest for the Ultimate. Confronted with this melange, we fall into
confusion trying to size them up -- to decide which is truly liberative, a real solution
to our needs, and which is a sidetrack beset with hidden flaws.
One approach to resolving this problem that is popular today is the eclectic one: to
pick and choose from the various traditions whatever seems amenable to our needs, welding
together different practices and techniques into a synthetic whole that is personally
satisfying. Thus one may combine Buddhist mindfulness meditation with sessions of Hindu
mantra recitation, Christian prayer with Sufi dancing, Jewish Kabbala with Tibetan
visualization exercises. Eclecticism, however, though sometimes helpful in making a
transition from a predominantly worldly and materialistic way of life to one that takes on
a spiritual hue, eventually wears thin. While it makes a comfortable halfway house, it is
not comfortable as a final vehicle.
There are two interrelated flaws in eclecticism that account for its ultimate
inadequacy. One is that eclecticism compromises the very traditions it draws upon. The
great spiritual traditions themselves do not propose their disciplines as independent
techniques that may be excised from their setting and freely recombined to enhance the
felt quality of our lives. They present them, rather, as parts of an integral whole, of a
coherent vision regarding the fundamental nature of reality and the final goal of the
spiritual quest. A spiritual tradition is not a shallow stream in which one can wet one's
feet and then beat a quick retreat to the shore. It is a mighty, tumultuous river which
would rush through the entire landscape of one's life, and if one truly wishes to travel
on it, one must be courageous enough to launch one's boat and head out for the depths.
The second defect in eclecticism follows from the first. As spiritual practices are
built upon visions regarding the nature of reality and the final good, these visions are
not mutually compatible. When we honestly examine the teachings of these traditions, we
will find that major differences in perspective reveal themselves to our sight,
differences which cannot be easily dismissed as alternative ways of saying the same thing.
Rather, they point to very different experiences constituting the supreme goal and the
path that must be trodden to reach that goal.
Hence, because of the differences in perspectives and practices that the different
spiritual traditions propose, once we decide that we have outgrown eclecticism and feel
that we are ready to make a serious commitment to one particular path, we find ourselves
confronted with the challenge of choosing a path that will lead us to true enlightenment
and liberation. One cue to resolving this dilemma is to clarify to ourselves our
fundamental aim, to determine what we seek in a genuinely liberative path. If we reflect
carefully, it will become clear that the prime requirement is a way to the end of
suffering. All problems ultimately can be reduced to the problem of suffering; thus what
we need is a way that will end this problem finally and completely. Both these qualifying
words are important. The path has to lead to a complete end of suffering, to an end
of suffering in all its forms, and to a final end of suffering, to bring suffering
to an irreversible stop.
But here we run up against another question. How are we to find such a path -- a path
which has the capacity to lead us to the full and final end of suffering? Until we
actually follow a path to its goal we cannot know with certainty where it leads, and in
order to follow a path to its goal we must place complete trust in the efficacy of the
path. The pursuit of a spiritual path is not like selecting a new suit of clothes. To
select a new suit one need only try on a number of suits, inspect oneself in the mirror,
and select the suit in which one appears most attractive. The choice of a spiritual path
is closer to marriage: one wants a partner for life, one whose companionship will prove as
trustworthy and durable as the pole star in the night sky.
Faced with this new dilemma, we may think that we have reached a dead end and conclude
that we have nothing to guide us but personal inclination, if not a flip of the coin.
However, our selection need not be as blind and uninformed as we imagine, for we do have a
guideline to help us. Since spiritual paths are generally presented in the framework of a
total teaching, we can evaluate the effectiveness of any particular path by investigating
the teaching which expounds it.
In making this investigation we can look to three criteria as standards for evaluation:
(1) First, the teaching has to give a full and accurate picture of the range of
suffering. If the picture of suffering it gives is incomplete or defective, then the path
it sets forth will most likely be flawed, unable to yield a satisfactory solution. Just as
an ailing patient needs a doctor who can make a full and correct diagnosis of his illness,
so in seeking release from suffering we need a teaching that presents a reliable account
of our condition.
(2) The second criterion calls for a correct analysis of the causes giving rise
to suffering. The teaching cannot stop with a survey of the outward symptoms. It has to
penetrate beneath the symptoms to the level of causes, and to describe those causes
accurately. If a teaching makes a faulty causal analysis, there is little likelihood that
its treatment will succeed.
(3) The third criterion pertains directly to the path itself. It stipulates that
the path which the teaching offers has to remove suffering at its source. This means it
must provide a method to cut off suffering by eradicating its causes. If it fails to bring
about this root-level solution, its value is ultimately nil. The path it prescribes might
help to remove symptoms and make us feel that all is well; but one afflicted with a fatal
disease cannot afford to settle for cosmetic surgery when below the surface the cause of
his malady continues to thrive.
To sum up, we find three requirements for a teaching proposing to offer a true path to
the end of suffering: first, it has to set forth a full and accurate picture of the range
of suffering; second, it must present a correct analysis of the causes of suffering; and
third, it must give us the means to eradicate the causes of suffering.
This is not the place to evaluate the various spiritual disciplines in terms of these
criteria. Our concern is only with the Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha, and with the
solution this teaching offers to the problem of suffering. That the teaching should be
relevant to this problem is evident from its very nature; for it is formulated, not as a
set of doctrines about the origin and end of things commanding belief, but as a message of
deliverance from suffering claiming to be verifiable in our own experience. Along with
that message there comes a method of practice, a way leading to the end of suffering. This
way is the Noble Eightfold Path (ariya atthangika magga). The Eightfold Path stands
at the very heart of the Buddha's teaching. It was the discovery of the path that gave the
Buddha's own enlightenment a universal significance and elevated him from the status of a
wise and benevolent sage to that of a world teacher. To his own disciples he was
pre-eminently "the arouser of the path unarisen before, the producer of the path not
produced before, the declarer of the path not declared before, the knower of the path, the
seer of the path, the guide along the path" (MN 108). And he himself invites the
seeker with the promise and challenge: "You yourselves must strive. The Buddhas are
only teachers. The meditative ones who practise the path are released from the bonds of
evil" (Dhp. v. 276).
To see the Noble Eightfold Path as a viable vehicle to liberation, we have to check it
out against our three criteria: to look at the Buddha's account of the range of suffering,
his analysis of its causes, and the programme he offers as a remedy.
The Range of Suffering
The Buddha does not merely touch the problem of suffering tangentially; he makes it,
rather, the very cornerstone of his teaching. He starts the Four Noble Truths that sum up
his message with the announcement that life is inseparably tied to something he calls dukkha.
The Pali word is often translated as suffering, but it means something deeper than pain
and misery. It refers to a basic unsatisfactoriness running through our lives, the lives
of all but the enlightened. Sometimes this unsatisfactoriness erupts into the open as
sorrow, grief, disappointment, or despair; but usually it hovers at the edge of our
awareness as a vague unlocalized sense that things are never quite perfect, never fully
adequate to our expectations of what they should be. This fact of dukkha, the
Buddha says, is the only real spiritual problem. The other problems -- the theological and
metaphysical questions that have taunted religious thinkers through the centuries -- he
gently waves aside as "matters not tending to liberation." What he teaches, he
says, is just suffering and the ending of suffering, dukkha and its cessation.
The Buddha does not stop with generalities. He goes on to expose the different forms
that dukkha takes, both the evident and the subtle. He starts with what is close at
hand, with the suffering inherent in the physical process of life itself. Here dukkha
shows up in the events of birth, aging, and death, in our susceptibility to sickness,
accidents, and injuries, even in hunger and thirst. It appears again in our inner
reactions to disagreeable situations and events: in the sorrow, anger, frustration, and
fear aroused by painful separations, by unpleasant encounters, by the failure to get what
we want. Even our pleasures, the Buddha says, are not immune from dukkha. They give
us happiness while they last, but they do not last forever; eventually they must pass
away, and when they go the loss leaves us feeling deprived. Our lives, for the most part,
are strung out between the thirst for pleasure and the fear of pain. We pass our days
running after the one and running away from the other, seldom enjoying the peace of
contentment; real satisfaction seems somehow always out of reach, just beyond the next
horizon. Then in the end we have to die: to give up the identity we spent our whole life
building, to leave behind everything and everyone we love.
But even death, the Buddha teaches, does not bring us to the end of dukkha, for
the life process does not stop with death. When life ends in one place, with one body, the
"mental continuum," the individual stream of consciousness, springs up again
elsewhere with a new body as its physical support. Thus the cycle goes on over and over --
birth, aging, and death -- driven by the thirst for more existence. The Buddha declares
that this round of rebirths -- called samsara, "the wandering" -- has
been turning through beginningless time. It is without a first point, without temporal
origin. No matter how far back in time we go we always find living beings -- ourselves in
previous lives -- wandering from one state of existence to another. The Buddha describes
various realms where rebirth can take place: realms of torment, the animal realm, the
human realm, realms of celestial bliss. But none of these realms can offer a final refuge.
Life in any plane must come to an end. It is impermanent and thus marked with that
insecurity which is the deepest meaning of dukkha. For this reason one aspiring to
the complete end of dukkha cannot rest content with any mundane achievement, with
any status, but must win emancipation from the entire unstable whirl.
The Causes of Suffering
A teaching proposing to lead to the end of suffering must, as we said, give a reliable
account of its causal origination. For if we want to put a stop to suffering, we have to
stop it where it begins, with its causes. To stop the causes requires a thorough knowledge
of what they are and how they work; thus the Buddha devotes a sizeable section of his
teaching to laying bare "the truth of the origin of dukkha." The origin
he locates within ourselves, in a fundamental malady that permeates our being, causing
disorder in our own minds and vitiating our relationships with others and with the world.
The sign of this malady can be seen in our proclivity to certain unwholesome mental states
called in Pali kilesas, usually translated "defilements." The most basic
defilements are the triad of greed, aversion, and delusion. Greed (lobha) is
self-centered desire: the desire for pleasure and possessions, the drive for survival, the
urge to bolster the sense of ego with power, status, and prestige. Aversion (dosa)
signifies the response of negation, expressed as rejection, irritation, condemnation,
hatred, enmity, anger, and violence. Delusion (moha) means mental darkness: the
thick coat of insensitivity which blocks out clear understanding.
From these three roots emerge the various other defilements -- conceit, jealousy,
ambition, lethargy, arrogance, and the rest -- and from all these defilements together,
the roots and the branches, comes dukkha in its diverse forms: as pain and sorrow,
as fear and discontent, as the aimless drifting through the round of birth and death. To
gain freedom from suffering, therefore, we have to eliminate the defilements. But the work
of removing the defilements has to proceed in a methodical way. It cannot be accomplished
simply by an act of will, by wanting them to go away. The work must be guided by
investigation. We have to find out what the defilements depend upon and then see how it
lies within our power to remove their support.
The Buddha teaches that there is one defilement which gives rise to all the others, one
root which holds them all in place. This root is ignorance (avijja). Ignorance is not mere absence of knowledge, a lack of knowing particular
pieces of information. Ignorance can co-exist with a vast accumulation of itemized
knowledge, and in its own way it can be tremendously shrewd and resourceful. As the basic
root of dukkha, ignorance is a fundamental darkness shrouding the mind. Sometimes
this ignorance operates in a passive manner, merely obscuring correct understanding. At
other times it takes on an active role: it becomes the great deceiver, conjuring up a mass
of distorted perceptions and conceptions which the mind grasps as attributes of the world,
unaware that they are its own deluded constructs.
In these erroneous perceptions and ideas we find the soil that nurtures the
defilements. The mind catches sight of some possibility of pleasure, accepts it at face
value, and the result is greed. Our hunger for gratification is thwarted, obstacles
appear, and up spring anger and aversion. Or we struggle over ambiguities, our sight
clouds, and we become lost in delusion. With this we discover the breeding ground of dukkha:
ignorance issuing in the defilements, the defilements issuing in suffering. As long as
this causal matrix stands we are not yet beyond danger. We might still find pleasure and
enjoyment -- sense pleasures, social pleasures, pleasures of the mind and heart. But no
matter how much pleasure we might experience, no matter how successful we might be at
dodging pain, the basic problem remains at the core of our being and we continue to move
within the bounds of dukkha.
Cutting Off the Causes of Suffering
To free ourselves from suffering fully and finally we have to eliminate it by the root,
and that means to eliminate ignorance. But how does one go about eliminating ignorance?
The answer follows clearly from the nature of the adversary. Since ignorance is a state of
not knowing things as they really are, what is needed is knowledge of things as they
really are. Not merely conceptual knowledge, knowledge as idea, but perceptual knowledge,
a knowing which is also a seeing. This kind of knowing is called wisdom (pa˝˝a).
Wisdom helps to correct the distorting work of ignorance. It enables us to grasp things as
they are in actuality, directly and immediately, free from the screen of ideas, views, and
assumptions our minds ordinarily set up between themselves and the real.
To eliminate ignorance we need wisdom, but how is wisdom to be acquired? As indubitable
knowledge of the ultimate nature of things, wisdom cannot be gained by mere learning, by
gathering and accumulating a battery of facts. However, the Buddha says, wisdom can be
cultivated. It comes into being through a set of conditions, conditions which we have the
power to develop. These conditions are actually mental factors, components of
consciousness, which fit together into a systematic structure that can be called a path in
the word's essential meaning: a courseway for movement leading to a goal. The goal here is
the end of suffering, and the path leading to it is the Noble Eightfold Path with its
eight factors: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood,
right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
The Buddha calls this path the middle way (majjhima patipada). It is the middle
way because it steers clear of two extremes, two misguided attempts to gain release from
suffering. One is the extreme of indulgence in sense pleasures, the attempt to extinguish
dissatisfaction by gratifying desire. This approach gives pleasure, but the enjoyment won
is gross, transitory, and devoid of deep contentment. The Buddha recognized that sensual
desire can exercise a tight grip over the minds of human beings, and he was keenly aware
of how ardently attached people become to the pleasures of the senses. But he also knew
that this pleasure is far inferior to the happiness that arises from renunciation, and
therefore he repeatedly taught that the way to the Ultimate eventually requires the
relinquishment of sensual desire. Thus the Buddha describes the indulgence in sense
pleasures as "low, common, worldly, ignoble, not leading to the goal."
The other extreme is the practice of self-mortification, the attempt to gain liberation
by afflicting the body. This approach may stem from a genuine aspiration for deliverance,
but it works within the compass of a wrong assumption that renders the energy expended
barren of results. The error is taking the body to be the cause of bondage, when the real
source of trouble lies in the mind -- the mind obsessed by greed, aversion, and delusion.
To rid the mind of these defilements the affliction of the body is not only useless but
self-defeating, for it is the impairment of a necessary instrument. Thus the Buddha
describes this second extreme as "painful, ignoble, not leading to the goal."
Aloof from these two extreme approaches is the Noble Eightfold Path, called the middle
way, not in the sense that it effects a compromise between the extremes, but in the sense
that it transcends them both by avoiding the errors that each involves. The path avoids
the extreme of sense indulgence by its recognition of the futility of desire and its
stress on renunciation. Desire and sensuality, far from being means to happiness, are
springs of suffering to be abandoned as the requisite of deliverance. But the practice of
renunciation does not entail the tormenting of the body. It consists in mental training,
and for this the body must be fit, a sturdy support for the inward work. Thus the body is
to be looked after well, kept in good health, while the mental faculties are trained to
generate the liberating wisdom. That is the middle way, the Noble Eightfold Path, which
"gives rise to vision, gives rise to knowledge, and leads to peace, to direct
knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana."
The eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path are not steps to be followed in sequence,
one after another. They can be more aptly described as components rather than as steps,
comparable to the intertwining strands of a single cable that requires the contributions
of all the strands for maximum strength. With a certain degree of progress all eight
factors can be present simultaneously, each supporting the others. However, until that
point is reached, some sequence in the unfolding of the path is inevitable. Considered
from the standpoint of practical training, the eight path factors divide into three
groups: (i) the moral discipline group (silakkhandha), made up of right speech,
right action, and right livelihood; (ii) the concentration group (samadhikkhandha),
made up of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration; and (iii) the wisdom
group (pa˝˝akkhandha), made up of right view and right intention. These three
groups represent three stages of training: the training in the higher moral discipline,
the training in the higher consciousness, and the training in the higher wisdom.
The order of the three trainings is determined by the overall aim and direction of the
path. Since the final goal to which the path leads, liberation from suffering, depends
ultimately on uprooting ignorance, the climax of the path must be the training directly
opposed to ignorance. This is the training in wisdom, designed to awaken the faculty of
penetrative understanding which sees things "as they really are." Wisdom unfolds
by degrees, but even the faintest flashes of insight presuppose as their basis a mind that
has been concentrated, cleared of disturbance and distraction. Concentration is achieved
through the training in the higher consciousness, the second division of the path, which
brings the calm and collectedness needed to develop wisdom. But in order for the mind to
be unified in concentration, a check must be placed on the unwholesome dispositions which
ordinarily dominate its workings, since these dispositions disperse the beam of attention
and scatter it among a multitude of concerns. The unwholesome dispositions continue to
rule as long as they are permitted to gain expression through the channels of body and
speech as bodily and verbal deeds. Therefore, at the very outset of training, it is
necessary to restrain the faculties of action, to prevent them from becoming tools of the
defilements. This task is accomplished by the first division of the path, the training in
moral discipline. Thus the path evolves through its three stages, with moral discipline as
the foundation for concentration, concentration the foundation for wisdom, and wisdom the
direct instrument for reaching liberation.
Perplexity sometimes arises over an apparent inconsistency in the arrangement of the
path factors and the threefold training. Wisdom -- which includes right view and right
intention -- is the last stage in the threefold training, yet its factors are placed at
the beginning of the path rather than at its end, as might be expected according to the
canon of strict consistency. The sequence of the path factors, however, is not the result
of a careless slip, but is determined by an important logistical consideration, namely,
that right view and right intention of a preliminary type are called for at the outset as
the spur for entering the threefold training. Right view provides the perspective for
practice, right intention the sense of direction. But the two do not expire in this
preparatory role. For when the mind has been refined by the training in moral discipline
and concentration, it arrives at a superior right view and right intention, which now form
the proper training in the higher wisdom.
Right view is the forerunner of the entire path, the guide for all the other factors.
It enables us to understand our starting point, our destination, and the successive
landmarks to pass as practice advances. To attempt to engage in the practice without a
foundation of right view is to risk getting lost in the futility of undirected movement.
Doing so might be compared to wanting to drive someplace without consulting a roadmap or
listening to the suggestions of an experienced driver. One might get into the car and
start to drive, but rather than approaching closer to one's destination, one is more
likely to move farther away from it. To arrive at the desired place one has to have some
idea of its general direction and of the roads leading to it. Analogous considerations
apply to the practice of the path, which takes place in a framework of understanding
established by right view.
The importance of right view can be gauged from the fact that our perspectives on the
crucial issues of reality and value have a bearing that goes beyond mere theoretical
convictions. They govern our attitudes, our actions, our whole orientation to existence.
Our views might not be clearly formulated in our mind; we might have only a hazy
conceptual grasp of our beliefs. But whether formulated or not, expressed or maintained in
silence, these views have a far-reaching influence. They structure our perceptions, order
our values, crystallize into the ideational framework through which we interpret to
ourselves the meaning of our being in the world.
These views then condition action. They lie behind our choices and goals, and our
efforts to turn these goals from ideals into actuality. The actions themselves might
determine consequences, but the actions along with their consequences hinge on the views
from which they spring. Since views imply an "ontological commitment," a
decision on the question of what is real and true, it follows that views divide into two
classes, right views and wrong views. The former correspond to what is real, the latter
deviate from the real and confirm the false in its place. These two different kinds of
views, the Buddha teaches, lead to radically disparate lines of action, and thence to
opposite results. If we hold a wrong view, even if that view is vague, it will lead us
towards courses of action that eventuate in suffering. On the other hand, if we adopt a
right view, that view will steer us towards right action, and thereby towards freedom from
suffering. Though our conceptual orientation towards the world might seem innocuous and
inconsequential, when looked at closely it reveals itself to be the decisive determinant
of our whole course of future development. The Buddha himself says that he sees no single
factor so responsible for the arising of unwholesome states of mind as wrong view, and no
factor so helpful for the arising of wholesome states of mind as right view. Again, he
says that there is no single factor so responsible for the suffering of living beings as
wrong view, and no factor so potent in promoting the good of living beings as right view
In its fullest measure right view involves a correct understanding of the entire Dhamma
or teaching of the Buddha, and thus its scope is equal to the range of the Dhamma itself.
But for practical purposes two kinds of right view stand out as primary. One is mundane
right view, right view which operates within the confines of the world. The other is
supramundane right view, the superior right view which leads to liberation from the world.
The first is concerned with the laws governing material and spiritual progress within the
round of becoming, with the principles that lead to higher and lower states of existence,
to mundane happiness and suffering. The second is concerned with the principles essential
to liberation. It does not aim merely at spiritual progress from life to life, but at
emancipation from the cycle of recurring lives and deaths.
Mundane Right View
Mundane right view involves a correct grasp of the law of kamma, the moral efficacy of
action. Its literal name is "right view of the ownership of action" (kammassakata
sammaditthi), and it finds its standard formulation in the statement: "Beings are
the owners of their actions, the heirs of their actions; they spring from their actions,
are bound to their actions, and are supported by their actions. Whatever deeds they do,
good or bad, of those they shall be heirs." More
specific formulations have also come down in the texts. One stock passage, for example,
affirms that virtuous actions such as giving and offering alms have moral significance,
that good and bad deeds produce corresponding fruits, that one has a duty to serve mother
and father, that there is rebirth and a world beyond the visible one, and that religious
teachers of high attainment can be found who expound the truth about the world on the
basis of their own superior realization.
To understand the implications of this form of right view we first have to examine the
meaning of its key term, kamma. The word kamma means action. For Buddhism
the relevant kind of action is volitional action, deeds expressive of morally determinate
volition, since it is volition that gives the action ethical significance. Thus the Buddha
expressly identifies action with volition. In a discourse on the analysis of kamma he
says: "Monks, it is volition that I call action (kamma). Having willed, one
performs an action through body, speech, or mind." The
identification of kamma with volition makes kamma essentially a mental event, a factor
originating in the mind which seeks to actualize the mind's drives, dispositions, and
purposes. Volition comes into being through any of three channels -- body, speech, or mind
-- called the three doors of action (kammadvara). A volition expressed through the
body is a bodily action; a volition expressed through speech is a verbal action; and a
volition that issues in thoughts, plans, ideas, and other mental states without gaining
outer expression is a mental action. Thus the one factor of volition differentiates into
three types of kamma according to the channel through which it becomes manifest.
Right view requires more than a simple knowledge of the general meaning of kamma. It is
also necessary to understand: (i) the ethical distinction of kamma into the unwholesome
and the wholesome; (ii) the principal cases of each type; and (iii) the roots from which
these actions spring. As expressed in a sutta: "When a noble disciple understands
what is kammically unwholesome, and the root of unwholesome kamma, what is kammically
wholesome, and the root of wholesome kamma, then he has right view."
(i) Taking these points in order, we find that kamma is first distinguished as
unwholesome (akusala) and wholesome (kusala). Unwholesome kamma is action
that is morally blameworthy, detrimental to spiritual development, and conducive to
suffering for oneself and others. Wholesome kamma, on the other hand, is action that is
morally commendable, helpful to spiritual growth, and productive of benefits for oneself
(ii) Innumerable instances of unwholesome and wholesome kamma can be cited, but the
Buddha selects ten of each as primary. These he calls the ten courses of unwholesome and
wholesome action. Among the ten in the two sets, three are bodily, four are verbal, and
three are mental. The ten courses of unwholesome kamma may be listed as follows, divided
by way of their doors of expression:
1. Destroying life
2. Taking what is not given
3. Wrong conduct in regard to sense pleasures
4. False speech
5. Slanderous speech
6. Harsh speech (vacikamma)
7. Idle chatter
9. Ill will
10. Wrong view
The ten courses of wholesome kamma are the opposites of these: abstaining from the
first seven courses of unwholesome kamma, being free from covetousness and ill will, and
holding right view. Though the seven cases of abstinence are exercised entirely by the
mind and do not necessarily entail overt action, they are still designated wholesome
bodily and verbal action because they centre on the control of the faculties of body and
(iii) Actions are distinguished as wholesome and unwholesome on the basis of their
underlying motives, called "roots" (mula), which impart their moral
quality to the volitions concomitant with themselves. Thus kamma is wholesome or
unwholesome according to whether its roots are wholesome or unwholesome. The roots are
threefold for each set. The unwholesome roots are the three defilements we already
mentioned -- greed, aversion, and delusion. Any action originating from these is an
unwholesome kamma. The three wholesome roots are their opposites, expressed negatively in
the old Indian fashion as non-greed (alobha), non-aversion (adosa), and
non-delusion (amoha). Though these are negatively designated, they signify not
merely the absence of defilements but the corresponding virtues. Non-greed implies
renunciation, detachment, and generosity; non-aversion implies loving-kindness, sympathy,
and gentleness; and non-delusion implies wisdom. Any action originating from these roots
is a wholesome kamma.
The most important feature of kamma is its capacity to produce results corresponding to
the ethical quality of the action. An immanent universal law holds sway over volitional
actions, bringing it about that these actions issue in retributive consequences, called vipaka,
"ripenings," or phala, "fruits." The law connecting actions
with their fruits works on the simple principle that unwholesome actions ripen in
suffering, wholesome actions in happiness. The ripening need not come right away; it need
not come in the present life at all. Kamma can operate across the succession of lifetimes;
it can even remain dormant for aeons into the future. But whenever we perform a volitional
action, the volition leaves its imprint on the mental continuum, where it remains as a
stored up potency. When the stored up kamma meets with conditions favourable to its
maturation, it awakens from its dormant state and triggers off some effect that brings due
compensation for the original action. The ripening may take place in the present life, in
the next life, or in some life subsequent to the next. A kamma may ripen by producing
rebirth into the next existence, thus determining the basic form of life; or it may ripen
in the course of a lifetime, issuing in our varied experiences of happiness and pain,
success and failure, progress and decline. But whenever it ripens and in whatever way, the
same principle invariably holds: wholesome actions yield favourable results, unwholesome
actions yield unfavourable results.
To recognize this principle is to hold right view of the mundane kind. This view at
once excludes the multiple forms of wrong view with which it is incompatible. As it
affirms that our actions have an influence on our destiny continuing into future lives, it
opposes the nihilistic view which regards this life as our only existence and holds that
consciousness terminates with death. As it grounds the distinction between good and evil,
right and wrong, in an objective universal principle, it opposes the ethical subjectivism
which asserts that good and evil are only postulations of personal opinion or means to
social control. As it affirms that people can choose their actions freely, within limits
set by their conditions, it opposes the "hard deterministic" line that our
choices are always made subject to necessitation, and hence that free volition is unreal
and moral responsibility untenable.
Some of the implications of the Buddha's teaching on the right view of kamma and its
fruits run counter to popular trends in present-day thought, and it is helpful to make
these differences explicit. The teaching on right view makes it known that good and bad,
right and wrong, transcend conventional opinions about what is good and bad, what is right
and wrong. An entire society may be predicated upon a confusion of correct moral values,
and even though everyone within that society may applaud one particular kind of action as
right and condemn another kind as wrong, this does not make them validly right and wrong.
For the Buddha moral standards are objective and invariable. While the moral character of
deeds is doubtlessly conditioned by the circumstances under which they are performed,
there are objective criteria of morality against which any action, or any comprehensive
moral code, can be evaluated. This objective standard of morality is integral to the
Dhamma, the cosmic law of truth and righteousness. Its transpersonal ground of validation
is the fact that deeds, as expressions of the volitions that engender them, produce
consequences for the agent, and that the correlations between deeds and their consequences
are intrinsic to the volitions themselves. There is no divine judge standing above the
cosmic process who assigns rewards and punishments. Nevertheless, the deeds themselves,
through their inherent moral or immoral nature, generate the appropriate results.
For most people, the vast majority, the right view of kamma and its results is held out
of confidence, accepted on faith from an eminent spiritual teacher who proclaims the moral
efficacy of action. But even when the principle of kamma is not personally seen, it still
remains a facet of right view. It is part and parcel of right view because right
view is concerned with understanding -- with understanding our place in the total scheme
of things -- and one who accepts the principle that our volitional actions possess a moral
potency has, to that extent, grasped an important fact pertaining to the nature of our
existence. However, the right view of the kammic efficacy of action need not remain
exclusively an article of belief screened behind an impenetrable barrier. It can become a
matter of direct seeing. Through the attainment of certain states of deep concentration it
is possible to develop a special faculty called the "divine eye" (dibbacakkhu),
a super-sensory power of vision that reveals things hidden from the eyes of flesh. When
this faculty is developed, it can be directed out upon the world of living beings to
investigate the workings of the kammic law. With the special vision it confers one can
then see for oneself, with immediate perception, how beings pass away and re-arise
according to their kamma, how they meet happiness and suffering through the maturation of
their good and evil deeds.
Superior Right View
The right view of kamma and its fruits provides a rationale for engaging in wholesome
actions and attaining high status within the round of rebirths, but by itself it does not
lead to liberation. It is possible for someone to accept the law of kamma yet still limit
his aims to mundane achievements. One's motive for performing noble deeds might be the
accumulation of meritorious kamma leading to prosperity and success here and now, a
fortunate rebirth as a human being, or the enjoyment of celestial bliss in the heavenly
worlds. There is nothing within the logic of kammic causality to impel the urge to
transcend the cycle of kamma and its fruit. The impulse to deliverance from the entire
round of becoming depends upon the acquisition of a different and deeper perspective, one
which yields insight into the inherent defectiveness of all forms of samsaric existence,
even the most exalted.
This superior right view leading to liberation is the understanding of the Four Noble
Truths. It is this right view that figures as the first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path
in the proper sense: as the noble right view. Thus the Buddha defines the path
factor of right view expressly in terms of the four truths: "What now is right view?
It is understanding of suffering (dukkha), understanding of the origin of
suffering, understanding of the cessation of suffering, understanding of the way leading
to the cessation to suffering." The Eightfold Path
starts with a conceptual understanding of the Four Noble Truths apprehended only obscurely
through the media of thought and reflection. It reaches its climax in a direct intuition
of those same truths, penetrated with a clarity tantamount to enlightenment. Thus it can
be said that the right view of the Four Noble Truths forms both the beginning and the
culmination of the way to the end of suffering.
The first noble truth is the truth of suffering (dukkha), the inherent
unsatisfactoriness of existence, revealed in the impermanence, pain, and perpetual
incompleteness intrinsic to all forms of life.
This is the noble truth of suffering. Birth is suffering; aging is suffering; sickness
is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are
suffering; association with the unpleasant is suffering; separation from the pleasant is
suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates of
clinging are suffering.
The last statement makes a comprehensive claim that calls for some attention. The five
aggregates of clinging (pa˝cupadanakkandha) are a classificatory scheme for
understanding the nature of our being. What we are, the Buddha teaches, is a set of five
aggregates -- material form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness
-- all connected with clinging. We are the five and the five are us. Whatever we identify
with, whatever we hold to as our self, falls within the set of five aggregates. Together
these five aggregates generate the whole array of thoughts, emotions, ideas, and
dispositions in which we dwell, "our world." Thus the Buddha's declaration that
the five aggregates are dukkha in effect brings all experience, our entire
existence, into the range of dukkha.
But here the question arises: Why should the Buddha say that the five aggregates are dukkha?
The reason he says that the five aggregates are dukkha is that they are
impermanent. They change from moment to moment, arise and fall away, without anything
substantial behind them persisting through the change. Since the constituent factors of
our being are always changing, utterly devoid of a permanent core, there is nothing we can
cling to in them as a basis for security. There is only a constantly disintegrating flux
which, when clung to in the desire for permanence, brings a plunge into suffering.
The second noble truth points out the cause of dukkha. From the set of
defilements which eventuate in suffering, the Buddha singles out craving (tanha) as
the dominant and most pervasive cause, "the origin of suffering."
This is the noble truth of the origin of suffering. It is this craving which produces
repeated existence, is bound up with delight and lust, and seeks pleasure here and there,
namely, craving for sense pleasures, craving for existence, and craving for
The third noble truth simply reverses this relationship of origination. If craving is
the cause of dukkha, then to be free from dukkha we have to eliminate
craving. Thus the Buddha says:
This is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering. It is the complete fading away
and cessation of this craving, its forsaking and abandonment, liberation and detachment
The state of perfect peace that comes when craving is eliminated is Nibbana (nirvana),
the unconditioned state experienced while alive with the extinguishing of the flames of
greed, aversion, and delusion. The fourth noble truth shows the way to reach the end of dukkha,
the way to the realization of Nibbana. That way is the Noble Eightfold Path itself.
The right view of the Four Noble Truths develops in two stages. The first is called the
right view that accords with the truths (saccanulomika samma ditthi); the second,
the right view that penetrates the truths (saccapativedha samma ditthi). To acquire
the right view that accords with the truths requires a clear understanding of their
meaning and significance in our lives. Such an understanding arises first by learning the
truths and studying them. Subsequently it is deepened by reflecting upon them in the light
of experience until one gains a strong conviction as to their veracity.
But even at this point the truths have not been penetrated, and thus the understanding
achieved is still defective, a matter of concept rather than perception. To arrive at the
experiential realization of the truths it is necessary to take up the practice of
meditation -- first to strengthen the capacity for sustained concentration, then to
develop insight. Insight arises by contemplating the five aggregates, the factors of
existence, in order to discern their real characteristics. At the climax of such
contemplation the mental eye turns away from the conditioned phenomena comprised in the
aggregates and shifts its focus to the unconditioned state, Nibbana, which becomes
accessible through the deepened faculty of insight. With this shift, when the mind's eye
sees Nibbana, there takes place a simultaneous penetration of all Four Noble Truths. By
seeing Nibbana, the state beyond dukkha, one gains a perspective from which to view
the five aggregates and see that they are dukkha simply because they are
conditioned, subject to ceaseless change. At the same moment Nibbana is realized, craving
stops; the understanding then dawns that craving is the true origin of dukkha. When
Nibbana is seen, it is realized to be the state of peace, free from the turmoil of
becoming. And because this experience has been reached by practising the Noble Eightfold
Path, one knows for oneself that the Noble Eightfold Path is truly the way to the end of dukkha.
This right view that penetrates the Four Noble Truths comes at the end of the path, not
at the beginning. We have to start with the right view conforming to the truths, acquired
through learning and fortified through reflection. This view inspires us to take up the
practice, to embark on the threefold training in moral discipline, concentration, and
wisdom. When the training matures, the eye of wisdom opens by itself, penetrating the
truths and freeing the mind from bondage.
The second factor of the path is called in Pali samma sankappa, which we will
translate as "right intention." The term is sometimes translated as "right
thought," a rendering that can be accepted if we add the proviso that in the present
context the word "thought" refers specifically to the purposive or conative
aspect of mental activity, the cognitive aspect being covered by the first factor, right
view. It would be artificial, however, to insist too strongly on the division between
these two functions. From the Buddhist perspective, the cognitive and purposive sides of
the mind do not remain isolated in separate compartments but intertwine and interact in
close correlation. Emotional predilections influence views, and views determine
predilections. Thus a penetrating view of the nature of existence, gained through deep
reflection and validated through investigation, brings with it a restructuring of values
which sets the mind moving towards goals commensurate with the new vision. The application
of mind needed to achieve those goals is what is meant by right intention.
The Buddha explains right intention as threefold: the intention of renunciation, the
intention of good will, and the intention of harmlessness.
The three are opposed to three parallel kinds of wrong intention: intention governed by
desire, intention governed by ill will, and intention governed by harmfulness. Each kind of right intention counters the corresponding kind
of wrong intention. The intention of renunciation counters the intention of desire, the
intention of good will counters the intention of ill will, and the intention of
harmlessness counters the intention of harmfulness.
The Buddha discovered this twofold division of thought in the period prior to his
Enlightenment (see MN 19). While he was striving for deliverance, meditating in the
forest, he found that his thoughts could be distributed into two different classes. In one
he put thoughts of desire, ill will, and harmfulness, in the other thoughts of
renunciation, good will, and harmlessness. Whenever he noticed thoughts of the first kind
arise in him, he understood that those thoughts lead to harm for oneself and others,
obstruct wisdom, and lead away from Nibbana. Reflecting in this way he expelled such
thoughts from his mind and brought them to an end. But whenever thoughts of the second
kind arose, he understood those thoughts to be beneficial, conducive to the growth of
wisdom, aids to the attainment of Nibbana. Thus he strengthened those thoughts and brought
them to completion.
Right intention claims the second place in the path, between right view and the triad
of moral factors that begins with right speech, because the mind's intentional function
forms the crucial link connecting our cognitive perspective with our modes of active
engagement in the world. On the one side actions always point back to the thoughts from
which they spring. Thought is the forerunner of action, directing body and speech,
stirring them into activity, using them as its instruments for expressing its aims and
ideals. These aims and ideals, our intentions, in turn point back a further step to the
prevailing views. When wrong views prevail, the outcome is wrong intention giving rise to
unwholesome actions. Thus one who denies the moral efficacy of action and measures
achievement in terms of gain and status will aspire to nothing but gain and status, using
whatever means he can to acquire them. When such pursuits become widespread, the result is
suffering, the tremendous suffering of individuals, social groups, and nations out to gain
wealth, position, and power without regard for consequences. The cause for the endless
competition, conflict, injustice, and oppression does not lie outside the mind. These are
all just manifestations of intentions, outcroppings of thoughts driven by greed, by
hatred, by delusion.
But when the intentions are right, the actions will be right, and for the intentions to
be right the surest guarantee is right views. One who recognizes the law of kamma, that
actions bring retributive consequences, will frame his pursuits to accord with this law;
thus his actions, expressive of his intentions, will conform to the canons of right
conduct. The Buddha succinctly sums up the matter when he says that for a person who holds
a wrong view, his deeds, words, plans, and purposes grounded in that view will lead to
suffering, while for a person who holds right view, his deeds, words, plans, and purposes
grounded in that view will lead to happiness.
Since the most important formulation of right view is the understanding of the Four
Noble Truths, it follows that this view should be in some way determinative of the content
of right intention. This we find to be in fact the case. Understanding the four truths in
relation to one's own life gives rise to the intention of renunciation; understanding them
in relation to other beings gives rise to the other two right intentions. When we see how
our own lives are pervaded by dukkha, and how this dukkha derives from
craving, the mind inclines to renunciation -- to abandoning craving and the objects to
which it binds us. Then, when we apply the truths in an analogous way to other living
beings, the contemplation nurtures the growth of good will and harmlessness. We see that,
like ourselves, all other living beings want to be happy, and again that like ourselves
they are subject to suffering. The consideration that all beings seek happiness causes
thoughts of good will to arise -- the loving wish that they be well, happy, and peaceful.
The consideration that beings are exposed to suffering causes thoughts of harmlessness to
arise -- the compassionate wish that they be free from suffering.
The moment the cultivation of the Noble Eightfold Path begins, the factors of right
view and right intention together start to counteract the three unwholesome roots.
Delusion, the primary cognitive defilement, is opposed by right view, the nascent seed of
wisdom. The complete eradication of delusion will only take place when right view is
developed to the stage of full realization, but every flickering of correct understanding
contributes to its eventual destruction. The other two roots, being emotive defilements,
require opposition through the redirecting of intention, and thus meet their antidotes in
thoughts of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness.
Since greed and aversion are deeply grounded, they do not yield easily; however, the
work of overcoming them is not impossible if an effective strategy is employed. The path
devised by the Buddha makes use of an indirect approach: it proceeds by tackling the
thoughts to which these defilements give rise. Greed and aversion surface in the form of
thoughts, and thus can be eroded by a process of "thought substitution," by
replacing them with the thoughts opposed to them. The intention of renunciation provides
the remedy to greed. Greed comes to manifestation in thoughts of desire -- as sensual,
acquisitive, and possessive thoughts. Thoughts of renunciation spring from the wholesome
root of non-greed, which they activate whenever they are cultivated. Since contrary
thoughts cannot coexist, when thoughts of renunciation are roused, they dislodge thoughts
of desire, thus causing non-greed to replace greed. Similarly, the intentions of good will
and harmlessness offer the antidote to aversion. Aversion comes to manifestation either in
thoughts of ill will -- as angry, hostile, or resentful thoughts; or in thoughts of
harming -- as the impulses to cruelty, aggression, and destruction. Thoughts of good will
counter the former outflow of aversion, thoughts of harmlessness the latter outflow, in
this way excising the unwholesome root of aversion itself.
The Intention of Renunciation
The Buddha describes his teaching as running contrary to the way of the world. The way
of the world is the way of desire, and the unenlightened who follow this way flow with the
current of desire, seeking happiness by pursuing the objects in which they imagine they
will find fulfilment. The Buddha's message of renunciation states exactly the opposite:
the pull of desire is to be resisted and eventually abandoned. Desire is to be abandoned
not because it is morally evil but because it is a root of suffering. Thus renunciation, turning away from craving and its drive for
gratification, becomes the key to happiness, to freedom from the hold of attachment.
The Buddha does not demand that everyone leave the household life for the monastery or
ask his followers to discard all sense enjoyments on the spot. The degree to which a
person renounces depends on his or her disposition and situation. But what remains as a
guiding principle is this: that the attainment of deliverance requires the complete
eradication of craving, and progress along the path is accelerated to the extent that one
overcomes craving. Breaking free from domination by desire may not be easy, but the
difficulty does not abrogate the necessity. Since craving is the origin of dukkha, putting
an end to dukkha depends on eliminating craving, and that involves directing the mind to
But it is just at this point, when one tries to let go of attachment, that one
encounters a powerful inner resistance. The mind does not want to relinquish its hold on
the objects to which it has become attached. For such a long time it has been accustomed
to gaining, grasping, and holding, that it seems impossible to break these habits by an
act of will. One might agree to the need for renunciation, might want to leave attachment
behind, but when the call is actually sounded the mind recoils and continues to move in
the grip of its desires.
So the problem arises of how to break the shackles of desire. The Buddha does not offer
as a solution the method of repression -- the attempt to drive desire away with a mind
full of fear and loathing. This approach does not resolve the problem but only pushes it
below the surface, where it continues to thrive. The tool the Buddha holds out to free the
mind from desire is understanding. Real renunciation is not a matter of compelling
ourselves to give up things still inwardly cherished, but of changing our perspective on
them so that they no longer bind us. When we understand the nature of desire, when we
investigate it closely with keen attention, desire falls away by itself, without need for
To understand desire in such a way that we can loosen its hold, we need to see that
desire is invariably bound up with dukkha. The whole phenomenon of desire, with its
cycle of wanting and gratification, hangs on our way of seeing things. We remain in
bondage to desire because we see it as our means to happiness. If we can look at desire
from a different angle, its force will be abated, resulting in the move towards
renunciation. What is needed to alter perception is something called "wise
consideration" (yoniso manasikara). Just as perception influences thought, so
thought can influence perception. Our usual perceptions are tinged with "unwise
consideration" (ayoniso manasikara). We ordinarily look only at the surfaces
of things, scan them in terms of our immediate interests and wants; only rarely do we dig
into the roots of our involvements or explore their long-range consequences. To set this
straight calls for wise consideration: looking into the hidden undertones to our actions,
exploring their results, evaluating the worthiness of our goals. In this investigation our
concern must not be with what is pleasant but with what is true. We have to be prepared
and willing to discover what is true even at the cost of our comfort. For real security
always lies on the side of truth, not on the side of comfort.
When desire is scrutinized closely, we find that it is constantly shadowed by dukkha.
Sometimes dukkha appears as pain or irritation; often it lies low as a constant
strain of discontent. But the two -- desire and dukkha -- are inseparable
concomitants. We can confirm this for ourselves by considering the whole cycle of desire.
At the moment desire springs up it creates in us a sense of lack, the pain of want. To end
this pain we struggle to fulfil the desire. If our effort fails, we experience
frustration, disappointment, sometimes despair. But even the pleasure of success is not
unqualified. We worry that we might lose the ground we have gained. We feel driven to
secure our position, to safeguard our territory, to gain more, to rise higher, to
establish tighter controls. The demands of desire seem endless, and each desire demands
the eternal: it wants the things we get to last forever. But all the objects of desire are
impermanent. Whether it be wealth, power, position, or other persons, separation is
inevitable, and the pain that accompanies separation is proportional to the force of
attachment: strong attachment brings much suffering; little attachment brings little
suffering; no attachment brings no suffering.
Contemplating the dukkha inherent in desire is one way to incline the mind to
renunciation. Another way is to contemplate directly the benefits flowing from
renunciation. To move from desire to renunciation is not, as might be imagined, to move
from happiness to grief, from abundance to destitution. It is to pass from gross,
entangling pleasures to an exalted happiness and peace, from a condition of servitude to
one of self-mastery. Desire ultimately breeds fear and sorrow, but renunciation gives
fearlessness and joy. It promotes the accomplishment of all three stages of the threefold
training: it purifies conduct, aids concentration, and nourishes the seed of wisdom. The
entire course of practice from start to finish can in fact be seen as an evolving process
of renunciation culminating in Nibbana as the ultimate stage of relinquishment, "the
relinquishing of all foundations of existence" (sabb'upadhipatinissagga).
When we methodically contemplate the dangers of desire and the benefits of
renunciation, gradually we steer our mind away from the domination of desire. Attachments
are shed like the leaves of a tree, naturally and spontaneously. The changes do not come
suddenly, but when there is persistent practice, there is no doubt that they will come.
Through repeated contemplation one thought knocks away another, the intention of
renunciation dislodges the intention of desire.
The Intention of Good Will
The intention of good will opposes the intention of ill will, thoughts governed by
anger and aversion. As in the case of desire, there are two ineffective ways of handling
ill will. One is to yield to it, to express the aversion by bodily or verbal action. This
approach releases the tension, helps drive the anger "out of one's system," but
it also poses certain dangers. It breeds resentment, provokes retaliation, creates
enemies, poisons relationships, and generates unwholesome kamma; in the end, the ill will
does not leave the "system" after all, but instead is driven down to a deeper
level where it continues to vitiate one's thoughts and conduct. The other approach,
repression, also fails to dispel the destructive force of ill will. It merely turns that
force around and pushes it inward, where it becomes transmogrified into self-contempt,
chronic depression, or a tendency to irrational outbursts of violence.
The remedy the Buddha recommends to counteract ill will, especially when the object is
another person, is a quality called in Pali metta. This word derives from another
word meaning "friend," but metta signifies much more than ordinary
friendliness. I prefer to translate it by the compound "lovingkindness," which
best captures the intended sense: an intense feeling of selfless love for other beings
radiating outwards as a heartfelt concern for their well-being and happiness. Metta
is not just sentimental good will, nor is it a conscientious response to a moral
imperative or divine command. It must become a deep inner feeling, characterized by
spontaneous warmth rather than by a sense of obligation. At its peak metta rises to
the heights of a brahmavihara, a "divine dwelling," a total way of being
centred on the radiant wish for the welfare of all living beings.
The kind of love implied by metta should be distinguished from sensual love as
well as from the love involved in personal affection. The first is a form of craving,
necessarily self-directed, while the second still includes a degree of attachment: we love
a person because that person gives us pleasure, belongs to our family or group, or
reinforces our own self-image. Only rarely does the feeling of affection transcend all
traces of ego-reference, and even then its scope is limited. It applies only to a certain
person or group of people while excluding others.
The love involved in metta, in contrast, does not hinge on particular relations
to particular persons. Here the reference point of self is utterly omitted. We are
concerned only with suffusing others with a mind of lovingkindness, which ideally is to be
developed into a universal state, extended to all living beings without discriminations or
reservations. The way to impart to metta this universal scope is to cultivate it as
an exercise in meditation. Spontaneous feelings of good will occur too sporadically and
are too limited in range to be relied on as the remedy for aversion. The idea of
deliberately developing love has been criticized as contrived, mechanical, and calculated.
Love, it is said, can only be genuine when it is spontaneous, arisen without inner
prompting or effort. But it is a Buddhist thesis that the mind cannot be commanded to love
spontaneously; it can only be shown the means to develop love and enjoined to practise
accordingly. At first the means has to be employed with some deliberation, but through
practice the feeling of love becomes ingrained, grafted onto the mind as a natural and
The method of development is metta-bhavana, the meditation on lovingkindness,
one of the most important kinds of Buddhist meditation. The meditation begins with the
development of lovingkindness towards oneself. It is
suggested that one take oneself as the first object of metta because true
lovingkindness for others only becomes possible when one is able to feel genuine
lovingkindness for oneself. Probably most of the anger and hostility we direct to others
springs from negative attitudes we hold towards ourselves. When metta is directed
inwards towards oneself, it helps to melt down the hardened crust created by these
negative attitudes, permitting a fluid diffusion of kindness and sympathy outwards.
Once one has learned to kindle the feeling of metta towards oneself, the next
step is to extend it to others. The extension of metta hinges on a shift in the
sense of identity, on expanding the sense of identity beyond its ordinary confines and
learning to identify with others. The shift is purely psychological in method, entirely
free from theological and metaphysical postulates, such as that of a universal self
immanent in all beings. Instead, it proceeds from a simple, straightforward course of
reflection which enables us to share the subjectivity of others and experience the world
(at least imaginatively) from the standpoint of their own inwardness. The procedure starts
with oneself. If we look into our own mind, we find that the basic urge of our being is
the wish to be happy and free from suffering. Now, as soon as we see this in ourselves, we
can immediately understand that all living beings share the same basic wish. All want to
be well, happy, and secure. To develop metta towards others, what is to be done is
to imaginatively share their own innate wish for happiness. We use our own desire for
happiness as the key, experience this desire as the basic urge of others, then come back
to our own position and extend to them the wish that they may achieve their ultimate
objective, that they may be well and happy.
The methodical radiation of metta is practised first by directing metta
to individuals representing certain groups. These groups are set in an order of
progressive remoteness from oneself. The radiation begins with a dear person, such as a
parent or teacher, then moves on to a friend, then to a neutral person, then finally to a
hostile person. Though the types are defined by their relation to oneself, the love to be
developed is not based on that relation but on each person's common aspiration for
happiness. With each individual one has to bring his (or her) image into focus and radiate
the thought: "May he (she) be well! May he (she) be happy! May he (she) be
peaceful!" Only when one succeeds in generating a
warm feeling of good will and kindness towards that person should one turn to the next.
Once one gains some success with individuals, one can then work with larger units. One can
try developing metta towards all friends, all neutral persons, all hostile persons.
Then metta can be widened by directional suffusion, proceeding in the various
directions -- east, south, west, north, above, below -- then it can be extended to all
beings without distinction. In the end one suffuses the entire world with a mind of
lovingkindness "vast, sublime, and immeasurable, without enmity, without
The Intention of Harmlessness
The intention of harmlessness is thought guided by compassion (karuna), aroused
in opposition to cruel, aggressive, and violent thoughts. Compassion supplies the
complement to lovingkindness. Whereas lovingkindness has the characteristic of wishing for
the happiness and welfare of others, compassion has the characteristic of wishing that
others be free from suffering, a wish to be extended without limits to all living beings.
Like metta, compassion arises by entering into the subjectivity of others, by
sharing their interiority in a deep and total way. It springs up by considering that all
beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering, yet despite their wishes continue
to be harassed by pain, fear, sorrow, and other forms of dukkha.
To develop compassion as a meditative exercise, it is most effective to start with
somebody who is actually undergoing suffering, since this provides the natural object for
compassion. One contemplates this person's suffering, either directly or imaginatively,
then reflects that like oneself, he (she) also wants to be free from suffering. The
thought should be repeated, and contemplation continually exercised, until a strong
feeling of compassion swells up in the heart. Then, using that feeling as a standard, one
turns to different individuals, considers how they are each exposed to suffering, and
radiates the gentle feeling of compassion out to them. To increase the breadth and
intensity of compassion it is helpful to contemplate the various sufferings to which
living beings are susceptible. A useful guideline to this extension is provided by the
first noble truth, with its enumeration of the different aspects of dukkha. One
contemplates beings as subject to old age, then as subject to sickness, then to death,
then to sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair, and so forth.
When a high level of success has been achieved in generating compassion by the
contemplation of beings who are directly afflicted by suffering, one can then move on to
consider people who are presently enjoying happiness which they have acquired by immoral
means. One might reflect that such people, despite their superficial fortune, are
doubtlessly troubled deep within by the pangs of conscience. Even if they display no
outward signs of inner distress, one knows that they will eventually reap the bitter
fruits of their evil deeds, which will bring them intense suffering. Finally, one can
widen the scope of one's contemplation to include all living beings. One should
contemplate all beings as subject to the universal suffering of samsara, driven by
their greed, aversion, and delusion through the round of repeated birth and death. If
compassion is initially difficult to arouse towards beings who are total strangers, one
can strengthen it by reflecting on the Buddha's dictum that in this beginningless cycle of
rebirths, it is hard to find even a single being who has not at some time been one's own
mother or father, sister or brother, son or daughter.
To sum up, we see that the three kinds of right intention -- of renunciation, good
will, and harmlessness -- counteract the three wrong intentions of desire, ill will, and
harmfulness. The importance of putting into practice the contemplations leading to the
arising of these thoughts cannot be overemphasized. The contemplations have been taught as
methods for cultivation, not mere theoretical excursions. To develop the intention of
renunciation we have to contemplate the suffering tied up with the quest for worldly
enjoyment; to develop the intention of good will we have to consider how all beings desire
happiness; to develop the intention of harmlessness we have to consider how all beings
wish to be free from suffering. The unwholesome thought is like a rotten peg lodged in the
mind; the wholesome thought is like a new peg suitable to replace it. The actual
contemplation functions as the hammer used to drive out the old peg with the new one. The
work of driving in the new peg is practice -- practising again and again, as often as is
necessary to reach success. The Buddha gives us his assurance that the victory can be
achieved. He says that whatever one reflects upon frequently becomes the inclination of
the mind. If one frequently thinks sensual, hostile, or harmful thoughts, desire, ill
will, and harmfulness become the inclination of the mind. If one frequently thinks in the
opposite way, renunciation, good will, and harmlessness become the inclination of the mind
(MN 19). The direction we take always comes back to ourselves, to the intentions we
generate moment by moment in the course of our lives.
Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood
(Samma Vaca, Samma Kammanta, Samma Ajiva)
The next three path factors -- right speech, right action, and right livelihood -- may
be treated together, as collectively they make up the first of the three divisions of the
path, the division of moral discipline (silakkhandha). Though the principles laid
down in this section restrain immoral actions and promote good conduct, their ultimate
purpose is not so much ethical as spiritual. They are not prescribed merely as guides to
action, but primarily as aids to mental purification. As a necessary measure for human
well-being, ethics has its own justification in the Buddha's teaching and its importance
cannot be underrated. But in the special context of the Noble Eightfold Path ethical
principles are subordinate to the path's governing goal, final deliverance from suffering.
Thus for the moral training to become a proper part of the path, it has to be taken up
under the tutelage of the first two factors, right view and right intention, and to lead
beyond to the trainings in concentration and wisdom.
Though the training in moral discipline is listed first among the three groups of
practices, it should not be regarded lightly. It is the foundation for the entire path,
essential for the success of the other trainings. The Buddha himself frequently urged his
disciples to adhere to the rules of discipline, "seeing danger in the slightest
fault." One time, when a monk approached the Buddha and asked for the training in
brief, the Buddha told him: "First establish yourself in the starting point of
wholesome states, that is, in purified moral discipline and in right view. Then, when your
moral discipline is purified and your view straight, you should practise the four
foundations of mindfulness" (SN 47:3).
The Pali word we have been translating as "moral discipline," sila,
appears in the texts with several overlapping meanings all connected with right conduct.
In some contexts it means action conforming to moral principles, in others the principles
themselves, in still others the virtuous qualities of character that result from the
observance of moral principles. Sila in the sense of precepts or principles
represents the formalistic side of the ethical training, sila as virtue the
animating spirit, and sila as right conduct the expression of virtue in real-life
situations. Often sila is formally defined as abstinence from unwholesome bodily
and verbal action. This definition, with its stress on outer action, appears superficial.
Other explanations, however, make up for the deficiency and reveal that there is more to sila
than is evident at first glance. The Abhidhamma, for example, equates sila with the
mental factors of abstinence (viratiyo) -- right speech, right action, and right
livelihood -- an equation which makes it clear that what is really being cultivated
through the observance of moral precepts is the mind. Thus while the training in sila
brings the "public" benefit of inhibiting socially detrimental actions, it
entails the personal benefit of mental purification, preventing the defilements from
dictating to us what lines of conduct we should follow.
The English word "morality" and its derivatives suggest a sense of obligation
and constraint quite foreign to the Buddhist conception of sila; this connotation
probably enters from the theistic background to Western ethics. Buddhism, with its
non-theistic framework, grounds its ethics, not on the notion of obedience, but on that of
harmony. In fact, the commentaries explain the word sila by another word, samadhana,
meaning "harmony" or "coordination."
The observance of sila leads to harmony at several levels -- social,
psychological, kammic, and contemplative. At the social level the principles of sila
help to establish harmonious interpersonal relations, welding the mass of differently
constituted members of society with their own private interests and goals into a cohesive
social order in which conflict, if not utterly eliminated, is at least reduced. At the
psychological level sila brings harmony to the mind, protection from the inner
split caused by guilt and remorse over moral transgressions. At the kammic level the
observance of sila ensures harmony with the cosmic law of kamma, hence favourable
results in the course of future movement through the round of repeated birth and death.
And at the fourth level, the contemplative, sila helps establish the preliminary
purification of mind to be completed, in a deeper and more thorough way, by the methodical
development of serenity and insight.
When briefly defined, the factors of moral training are usually worded negatively, in
terms of abstinence. But there is more to sila than refraining from what is wrong.
Each principle embedded in the precepts, as we will see, actually has two aspects, both
essential to the training as a whole. One is abstinence from the unwholesome, the other
commitment to the wholesome; the former is called "avoidance" (varitta)
and the latter "performance" (caritta). At the outset of training the
Buddha stresses the aspect of avoidance. He does so, not because abstinence from the
unwholesome is sufficient in itself, but to establish the steps of practice in proper
sequence. The steps are set out in their natural order (more logical than temporal) in the
famous dictum of the Dhammapada: "To abstain from all evil, to cultivate the good,
and to purify one's mind -- this is the teaching of the Buddhas" (v. 183). The other
two steps -- cultivating the good and purifying the mind -- also receive their due, but to
ensure their success, a resolve to avoid the unwholesome is a necessity. Without such a
resolve the attempt to develop wholesome qualities is bound to issue in a warped and
stunted pattern of growth.
The training in moral discipline governs the two principal channels of outer action,
speech and body, as well as another area of vital concern -- one's way of earning a
living. Thus the training contains three factors: right speech, right action, and right
livelihood. These we will now examine individually, following the order in which they are
set forth in the usual exposition of the path.
Right Speech (samma vaca)
The Buddha divides right speech into four components: abstaining from false speech,
abstaining from slanderous speech, abstaining from harsh speech, and abstaining from idle
chatter. Because the effects of speech are not as immediately evident as those of bodily
action, its importance and potential is easily overlooked. But a little reflection will
show that speech and its offshoot, the written word, can have enormous consequences for
good or for harm. In fact, whereas for beings such as animals who live at the preverbal
level physical action is of dominant concern, for humans immersed in verbal communication
speech gains the ascendency. Speech can break lives, create enemies, and start wars, or it
can give wisdom, heal divisions, and create peace. This has always been so, yet in the
modern age the positive and negative potentials of speech have been vastly multiplied by
the tremendous increase in the means, speed, and range of communications. The capacity for
verbal expression, oral and written, has often been regarded as the distinguishing mark of
the human species. From this we can appreciate the need to make this capacity the means to
human excellence rather than, as too often has been the case, the sign of human
(1) Abstaining from false speech (musavada veramani)
Herein someone avoids false speech and abstains from it. He speaks the truth, is
devoted to truth, reliable, worthy of confidence, not a deceiver of people. Being at a
meeting, or amongst people, or in the midst of his relatives, or in a society, or in the
king's court, and called upon and asked as witness to tell what he knows, he answers, if
he knows nothing: "I know nothing," and if he knows, he answers: "I
know"; if he has seen nothing, he answers: "I have seen nothing," and if he
has seen, he answers: "I have seen." Thus he never knowingly speaks a lie,
either for the sake of his own advantage, or for the sake of another person's advantage,
or for the sake of any advantage whatsoever.
This statement of the Buddha discloses both the negative and the positive sides to the
precept. The negative side is abstaining from lying, the positive side speaking the truth.
The determinative factor behind the transgression is the intention to deceive. If one
speaks something false believing it to be true, there is no breach of the precept as the
intention to deceive is absent. Though the deceptive intention is common to all cases of
false speech, lies can appear in different guises depending on the motivating root,
whether greed, hatred, or delusion. Greed as the chief motive results in the lie aimed at
gaining some personal advantage for oneself or for those close to oneself -- material
wealth, position, respect, or admiration. With hatred as the motive, false speech takes
the form of the malicious lie, the lie intended to hurt and damage others. When delusion
is the principal motive, the result is a less pernicious type of falsehood: the irrational
lie, the compulsive lie, the interesting exaggeration, lying for the sake of a joke.
The Buddha's stricture against lying rests upon several reasons. For one thing, lying
is disruptive to social cohesion. People can live together in society only in an
atmosphere of mutual trust, where they have reason to believe that others will speak the
truth; by destroying the grounds for trust and inducing mass suspicion, widespread lying
becomes the harbinger signalling the fall from social solidarity to chaos. But lying has
other consequences of a deeply personal nature at least equally disastrous. By their very
nature lies tend to proliferate. Lying once and finding our word suspect, we feel
compelled to lie again to defend our credibility, to paint a consistent picture of events.
So the process repeats itself: the lies stretch, multiply, and connect until they lock us
into a cage of falsehoods from which it is difficult to escape. The lie is thus a
miniature paradigm for the whole process of subjective illusion. In each case the
self-assured creator, sucked in by his own deceptions, eventually winds up their victim.
Such considerations probably lie behind the words of counsel the Buddha spoke to his
son, the young novice Rahula, soon after the boy was ordained. One day the Buddha came to
Rahula, pointed to a bowl with a little bit of water in it, and asked: "Rahula, do
you see this bit of water left in the bowl?" Rahula answered: "Yes, sir."
"So little, Rahula, is the spiritual achievement (sama˝˝a, lit.
'recluseship') of one who is not afraid to speak a deliberate lie." Then the Buddha
threw the water away, put the bowl down, and said: "Do you see, Rahula, how that
water has been discarded? In the same way one who tells a deliberate lie discards whatever
spiritual achievement he has made." Again he asked: "Do you see how this bowl is
now empty? In the same way one who has no shame in speaking lies is empty of spiritual
achievement." Then the Buddha turned the bowl upside down and said: "Do you see,
Rahula, how this bowl has been turned upside down? In the same way one who tells a
deliberate lie turns his spiritual achievements upside down and becomes incapable of
progress." Therefore, the Buddha concluded, one should not speak a deliberate lie
even in jest.
It is said that in the course of his long training for enlightenment over many lives, a
bodhisatta can break all the moral precepts except the pledge to speak the truth. The
reason for this is very profound, and reveals that the commitment to truth has a
significance transcending the domain of ethics and even mental purification, taking us to
the domains of knowledge and being. Truthful speech provides, in the sphere of
interpersonal communication, a parallel to wisdom in the sphere of private understanding.
The two are respectively the outward and inward modalities of the same commitment to what
is real. Wisdom consists in the realization of truth, and truth (sacca) is not just
a verbal proposition but the nature of things as they are. To realize truth our whole
being has to be brought into accord with actuality, with things as they are, which
requires that in communications with others we respect things as they are by speaking the
truth. Truthful speech establishes a correspondence between our own inner being and the
real nature of phenomena, allowing wisdom to rise up and fathom their real nature. Thus,
much more than an ethical principle, devotion to truthful speech is a matter of taking our
stand on reality rather than illusion, on the truth grasped by wisdom rather than the
fantasies woven by desire.
(2) Abstaining from slanderous speech (pisunaya vacaya veramani)
He avoids slanderous speech and abstains from it. What he has heard here he does not
repeat there, so as to cause dissension there; and what he has heard there he does not
repeat here, so as to cause dissension here. Thus he unites those that are divided; and
those that are united he encourages. Concord gladdens him, he delights and rejoices in
concord; and it is concord that he spreads by his words.
Slanderous speech is speech intended to create enmity and division, to alienate one
person or group from another. The motive behind such speech is generally aversion,
resentment of a rival's success or virtues, the intention to tear down others by verbal
denigrations. Other motives may enter the picture as well: the cruel intention of causing
hurt to others, the evil desire to win affection for oneself, the perverse delight in
seeing friends divided.
Slanderous speech is one of the most serious moral transgressions. The root of hate
makes the unwholesome kamma already heavy enough, but since the action usually occurs
after deliberation, the negative force becomes even stronger because premeditation adds to
its gravity. When the slanderous statement is false, the two wrongs of falsehood and
slander combine to produce an extremely powerful unwholesome kamma. The canonical texts
record several cases in which the calumny ofan innocent party led to an immediate rebirth
in the plane of misery.
The opposite of slander, as the Buddha indicates, is speech that promotes friendship
and harmony. Such speech originates from a mind of lovingkindness and sympathy. It wins
the trust and affection of others, who feel they can confide in one without fear that
their disclosures will be used against them. Beyond the obvious benefits that such speech
brings in this present life, it is said that abstaining from slander has as its kammic
result the gain of a retinue of friends who can never be turned against one by the
slanderous words of others.
(3) Abstaining from harsh speech (pharusaya vacaya veramani).
He avoids harsh language and abstains from it. He speaks such words as are gentle,
soothing to the ear, loving, such words as go to the heart, and are courteous, friendly,
and agreeable to many.
Harsh speech is speech uttered in anger, intended to cause the hearer pain. Such speech
can assume different forms, of which we might mention three. One is abusive speech:
scolding, reviling, or reproving another angrily with bitter words. A second is insult:
hurting another by ascribing to him some offensive quality which detracts from his
dignity. A third is sarcasm: speaking to someone in a way which ostensibly lauds
him, but with such a tone or twist of phrasing that the ironic intent becomes clear and
The main root of harsh speech is aversion, assuming the form of anger. Since the
defilement in this case tends to work impulsively, without deliberation, the transgression
is less serious than slander and the kammic consequence generally less severe. Still,
harsh speech is an unwholesome action with disagreeable results for oneself and others,
both now and in the future, so it has to be restrained. The ideal antidote is patience --
learning to tolerate blame and criticism from others, to sympathize with their
shortcomings, to respect differences in viewpoint, to endure abuse without feeling
compelled to retaliate. The Buddha calls for patience even under the most trying
Even if, monks, robbers and murderers saw through your limbs and joints, whosoever
should give way to anger thereat would not be following my advice. For thus ought you to
train yourselves: "Undisturbed shall our mind remain, with heart full of love, and
free from any hidden malice; and that person shall we penetrate with loving thoughts,
wide, deep, boundless, freed from anger and hatred."
(4) Abstaining from idle chatter (samphappalapa veramani).
He avoids idle chatter and abstains from it. He speaks at the right time, in accordance
with facts, speaks what is useful, speaks of the Dhamma and the discipline; his speech is
like a treasure, uttered at the right moment, accompanied by reason, moderate and full of
Idle chatter is pointless talk, speech that lacks purpose or depth. Such speech
communicates nothing of value, but only stirs up the defilements in one's own mind and in
others. The Buddha advises that idle talk should be curbed and speech restricted as much
as possible to matters of genuine importance. In the case of a monk, the typical subject
of the passage just quoted, his words should be selective and concerned primarily with the
Dhamma. Lay persons will have more need for affectionate small talk with friends and
family, polite conversation with acquaintances, and talk in connection with their line of
work. But even then they should be mindful not to let the conversation stray into pastures
where the restless mind, always eager for something sweet or spicy to feed on, might find
the chance to indulge its defiling propensities.
The traditional exegesis of abstaining from idle chatter refers only to avoiding
engagement in such talk oneself. But today it might be of value to give this factor a
different slant, made imperative by certain developments peculiar to our own time, unknown
in the days of the Buddha and the ancient commentators. This is avoiding exposure to the
idle chatter constantly bombarding us through the new media of communication created by
modern technology. An incredible array of devices -- television, radio, newspapers, pulp
journals, the cinema -- turns out a continuous stream of needless information and
distracting entertainment the net effect of which is to leave the mind passive, vacant,
and sterile. All these developments, naively accepted as "progress," threaten to
blunt our aesthetic and spiritual sensitivities and deafen us to the higher call of the
contemplative life. Serious aspirants on the path to liberation have to be extremely
discerning in what they allow themselves to be exposed to. They would greatly serve their
aspirations by including these sources of amusement and needless information in the
category of idle chatter and making an effort to avoid them.
Right Action (samma kammanta)
Right action means refraining from unwholesome deeds that occur with the body as their
natural means of expression. The pivotal element in this path factor is the mental factor
of abstinence, but because this abstinence applies to actions performed through the body,
it is called "right action." The Buddha mentions three components of right
action: abstaining from taking life, abstaining from taking what is not given, and
abstaining from sexual misconduct. These we will briefly discuss in order.
(1) Abstaining from the taking of life (panatipata veramani)
Herein someone avoids the taking of life and abstains from it. Without stick or sword,
conscientious, full of sympathy, he is desirous of the welfare of all sentient beings.
"Abstaining from taking life" has a wider application than simply refraining
from killing other human beings. The precept enjoins abstaining from killing any sentient
being. A "sentient being" (pani, satta) is a living being endowed with
mind or consciousness; for practical purposes, this means human beings, animals, and
insects. Plants are not considered to be sentient beings; though they exhibit some degree
of sensitivity, they lack full-fledged consciousness, the defining attribute of a sentient
The "taking of life" that is to be avoided is intentional killing, the
deliberate destruction of life of a being endowed with consciousness. The principle is
grounded in the consideration that all beings love life and fear death, that all seek
happiness and are averse to pain. The essential determinant of transgression is the
volition to kill, issuing in an action that deprives a being of life. Suicide is also
generally regarded as a violation, but not accidental killing as the intention to destroy
life is absent. The abstinence may be taken to apply to two kinds of action, the primary
and the secondary. The primary is the actual destruction of life; the secondary is
deliberately harming or torturing another being without killing it.
While the Buddha's statement on non-injury is quite simple and straightforward, later
commentaries give a detailed analysis of the principle. A treatise from Thailand, written
by an erudite Thai patriarch, collates a mass of earlier material into an especially
thorough treatment, which we shall briefly summarize here.
The treatise points out that the taking of life may have varying degrees of moral weight
entailing different consequences. The three primary variables governing moral weight are
the object, the motive, and the effort. With regard to the object there is a difference in
seriousness between killing a human being and killing an animal, the former being
kammically heavier since man has a more highly developed moral sense and greater spiritual
potential than animals. Among human beings, the degree of kammic weight depends on the
qualities of the person killed and his relation to the killer; thus killing a person of
superior spiritual qualities or a personal benefactor, such as a parent or a teacher, is
an especially grave act.
The motive for killing also influences moral weight. Acts of killing can be driven by
greed, hatred, or delusion. Of the three, killing motivated by hatred is the most serious,
and the weight increases to the degree that the killing is premeditated. The force of
effort involved also contributes, the unwholesome kamma being proportional to the force
and the strength of the defilements.
The positive counterpart to abstaining from taking life, as the Buddha indicates, is
the development of kindness and compassion for other beings. The disciple not only avoids
destroying life; he dwells with a heart full of sympathy, desiring the welfare of all
beings. The commitment to non-injury and concern for the welfare of others represent the
practical application of the second path factor, right intention, in the form of good will
(2) Abstaining from taking what is not given (adinnadana veramani)
He avoids taking what is not given and abstains from it; what another person possesses
of goods and chattel in the village or in the wood, that he does not take away with
"Taking what is not given" means appropriating the rightful belongings of
others with thievish intent. If one takes something that has no owner, such as unclaimed
stones, wood, or even gems extracted from the earth, the act does not count as a violation
even though these objects have not been given. But also implied as a transgression, though
not expressly stated, is withholding from others what should rightfully be given to them.
Commentaries mention a number of ways in which "taking what is not given" can
be committed. Some of the most common may be enumerated:
(1) stealing: taking the belongings of others secretly, as in housebreaking,
(2) robbery: taking what belongs to others openly by force or threats;
(3) snatching: suddenly pulling away another's possession before he has time to
(4) fraudulence: gaining possession of another's belongings by falsely claiming
them as one's own;
(5) deceitfulness: using false weights and measures to cheat customers.
The degree of moral weight that attaches to the action is determined by three factors:
the value of the object taken; the qualities of the victim of the theft; and the
subjective state of the thief. Regarding the first, moral weight is directly proportional
to the value of the object. Regarding the second, the weight varies according to the moral
qualities of the deprived individual. Regarding the third, acts of theft may be motivated
either by greed or hatred. While greed is the most common cause, hatred may also be
responsible as when one person deprives another of his belongings not so much because he
wants them for himself as because he wants to harm the latter. Between the two, acts
motivated by hatred are kammically heavier than acts motivated by sheer greed.
The positive counterpart to abstaining from stealing is honesty, which implies respect
for the belongings of others and for their right to use their belongings as they wish.
Another related virtue is contentment, being satisfied with what one has without being
inclined to increase one's wealth by unscrupulous means. The most eminent opposite virtue
is generosity, giving away one's own wealth and possessions in order to benefit others.
(3) Abstaining from sexual misconduct (kamesu miccha-cara veramani)
He avoids sexual misconduct and abstains from it. He has no intercourse with such
persons as are still under the protection of father, mother, brother, sister or relatives,
nor with married women, nor with female convicts, nor lastly, with betrothed girls.
The guiding purposes of this precept, from the ethical standpoint, are to protect
marital relations from outside disruption and to promote trust and fidelity within the
marital union. From the spiritual standpoint it helps curb the expansive tendency of
sexual desire and thus is a step in the direction of renunciation, which reaches its
consummation in the observance of celibacy (brahmacariya) binding on monks and
nuns. But for laypeople the precept enjoins abstaining from sexual relations with an
illicit partner. The primary transgression is entering into full sexual union, but all
other sexual involvements of a less complete kind may be considered secondary
The main question raised by the precept concerns who is to count as an illicit partner.
The Buddha's statement defines the illicit partner from the perspective of the man, but
later treatises elaborate the matter for both sexes.
For a man, three kinds of women are considered illicit partners:
(1) A woman who is married to another man. This includes, besides a woman already
married to a man, a woman who is not his legal wife but is generally recognized as his
consort, who lives with him or is kept by him or is in some way acknowledged as his
partner. All these women are illicit partners for men other than their own husbands. This
class would also include a woman engaged to another man. But a widow or divorced woman is
not out of bounds, provided she is not excluded for other reasons.
(2) A woman still under protection. This is a girl or woman who is under the protection
of her mother, father, relatives, or others rightfully entitled to be her guardians. This
provision rules out elopements or secret marriages contrary to the wishes of the
(3) A woman prohibited by convention. This includes close female relatives forbidden as
partners by social tradition, nuns and other women under a vow of celibacy, and those
prohibited as partners by the law of the land.
From the standpoint of a woman, two kinds of men are considered illicit partners:
(1) For a married woman any man other than her husband is out of bounds. Thus a married
woman violates the precept if she breaks her vow of fidelity to her husband. But a widow
or divorcee is free to remarry.
(2) For any woman any man forbidden by convention, such as close relatives and those
under a vow of celibacy, is an illicit partner.
Besides these, any case of forced, violent, or coercive sexual union constitutes a
transgression. But in such a case the violation falls only on the offender, not on the one
compelled to submit.
The positive virtue corresponding to the abstinence is, for laypeople, marital
fidelity. Husband and wife should each be faithful and devoted to the other, content with
the relationship, and should not risk a breakup to the union by seeking outside partners.
The principle does not, however, confine sexual relations to the marital union. It is
flexible enough to allow for variations depending on social convention. The essential
purpose, as was said, is to prevent sexual relations which are hurtful to others. When
mature independent people, though unmarried, enter into a sexual relationship through free
consent, so long as no other person is intentionally harmed, no breach of the training
factor is involved.
Ordained monks and nuns, including men and women who have undertaken the eight or ten
precepts, are obliged to observe celibacy. They must abstain not only from sexual
misconduct, but from all sexual involvements, at least during the period of their vows.
The holy life at its highest aims at complete purity in thought, word, and deed, and this
requires turning back the tide of sexual desire.
Right Livelihood (samma ajiva)
Right livelihood is concerned with ensuring that one earns one's living in a righteous
way. For a lay disciple the Buddha teaches that wealth should be gained in accordance with
certain standards. One should acquire it only by legal means, not illegally; one should
acquire it peacefully, without coercion or violence; one should acquire it honestly, not
by trickery or deceit; and one should acquire it in ways which do not entail harm and
suffering for others. The Buddha mentions five specific
kinds of livelihood which bring harm to others and are therefore to be avoided: dealing in
weapons, in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade
and prostitution), in meat production and butchery, in poisons, and in intoxicants (AN
5:177). He further names several dishonest means of gaining wealth which fall under wrong
livelihood: practising deceit, treachery, soothsaying, trickery, and usury (MN 117).
Obviously any occupation that requires violation of right speech and right action is a
wrong form of livelihood, but other occupations, such as selling weapons or intoxicants,
may not violate those factors and yet be wrong because of their consequences for others.
The Thai treatise discusses the positive aspects of right livelihood under the three
convenient headings of rightness regarding actions, rightness regarding persons, and
rightness regarding objects. "Rightness regarding
actions" means that workers should fulfil their duties diligently and
conscientiously, not idling away time, claiming to have worked longer hours than they did,
or pocketing the company's goods. "Rightness regarding persons" means that due
respect and consideration should be shown to employers, employees, colleagues, and
customers. An employer, for example, should assign his workers chores according to their
ability, pay them adequately, promote them when they deserve a promotion and give them
occasional vacations and bonuses. Colleagues should try to cooperate rather than compete,
while merchants should be equitable in their dealings with customers. "Rightness
regarding objects" means that in business transactions and sales the articles to be
sold should be presented truthfully. There should be no deceptive advertising,
misrepresentations of quality or quantity, or dishonest manoeuvers.
The purification of conduct established by the prior three factors serves as the basis
for the next division of the path, the division of concentration (samadhikkhandha).
This present phase of practice, which advances from moral restraint to direct mental
training, comprises the three factors of right effort, right mindfulness, and right
concentration. It gains its name from the goal to which it aspires, the power of sustained
concentration, itself required as the support for insight-wisdom. Wisdom is the primary
tool for deliverance, but the penetrating vision it yields can only open up when the mind
has been composed and collected. Right concentration brings the requisite stillness to the
mind by unifying it with undistracted focus on a suitable object. To do so, however, the
factor of concentration needs the aid of effort and mindfulness. Right effort provides the
energy demanded by the task, right mindfulness the steadying points for awareness.
The commentators illustrate the interdependence of the three factors within the
concentration group with a simple simile. Three boys go to a park to play. While walking
along they see a tree with flowering tops and decide they want to gather the flowers. But
the flowers are beyond the reach even of the tallest boy. Then one friend bends down and
offers his back. The tall boy climbs up, but still hesitates to reach for the flowers from
fear of falling. So the third boy comes over and offers his shoulder for support. The
first boy, standing on the back of the second boy, then leans on the shoulder of the third
boy, reaches up, and gathers the flowers.
In this simile the tall boy who picks the flowers represents concentration with its
function of unifying the mind. But to unify the mind concentration needs support: the
energy provided by right effort, which is like the boy who offers his back. It also
requires the stabilizing awareness provided by mindfulness, which is like the boy who
offers his shoulder. When right concentration receives this support, then empowered by
right effort and balanced by right mindfulness it can draw in the scattered strands of
thought and fix the mind firmly on its object.
Energy (viriya), the mental factor behind right effort, can appear in either
wholesome or unwholesome forms. The same factor fuels desire, aggression, violence, and
ambition on the one hand, and generosity, self-discipline, kindness, concentration, and
understanding on the other. The exertion involved in right effort is a wholesome form of
energy, but it is something more specific, namely, the energy in wholesome states of
consciousness directed to liberation from suffering. This last qualifying phrase is
especially important. For wholesome energy to become a contributor to the path it has to
be guided by right view and right intention, and to work in association with the other
path factors. Otherwise, as the energy in ordinary wholesome states of mind, it merely
engenders an accumulation of merit that ripens within the round of birth and death; it
does not issue in liberation from the round.
Time and again the Buddha has stressed the need for effort, for diligence, exertion,
and unflagging perseverance. The reason why effort is so crucial is that each person has
to work out his or her own deliverance. The Buddha does what he can by pointing out the
path to liberation; the rest involves putting the path into practice, a task that demands
energy. This energy is to be applied to the cultivation of the mind, which forms the focus
of the entire path. The starting point is the defiled mind, afflicted and deluded; the
goal is the liberated mind, purified and illuminated by wisdom. What comes in between is
the unremitting effort to transform the defiled mind into the liberated mind. The work of
self-cultivation is not easy -- there is no one who can do it for us but ourselves -- but
it is not impossible. The Buddha himself and his accomplished disciples provide the living
proof that the task is not beyond our reach. They assure us, too, that anyone who follows
the path can accomplish the same goal. But what is needed is effort, the work of practice
taken up with the determination: "I shall not give up my efforts until I have
attained whatever is attainable by manly perseverance, energy, and endeavour."
The nature of the mental process effects a division of right effort into four
(1) to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states;
(2) to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen;
(3) to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen;
(4) to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.
The unwholesome states (akusala dhamma) are the defilements, and the thoughts,
emotions, and intentions derived from them, whether breaking forth into action or
remaining confined within. The wholesome states (kusala dhamma) are states of mind
untainted by defilements, especially those conducing to deliverance. Each of the two kinds
of mental states imposes a double task. The unwholesome side requires that the defilements
lying dormant be prevented from erupting and that the active defilements already present
be expelled. The wholesome side requires that the undeveloped liberating factors first be
brought into being, then persistently developed to the point of full maturity. Now we will
examine each of these four divisions of right effort, giving special attention to their
most fertile field of application, the cultivation of the mind through meditation.
(1) To prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states
Herein the disciple rouses his will to avoid the arising of evil, unwholesome states
that have not yet arisen; and he makes effort, stirs up his energy, exerts his mind and
The first side of right effort aims at overcoming unwholesome states, states of mind
tainted by defilements. Insofar as they impede concentration the defilements are usually
presented in a fivefold set called the "five hindrances" (pa˝canivarana):
sensual desire, ill will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and worry, and doubt. They receive the name "hindrances" because they
block the path to liberation; they grow up and over the mind preventing calm and insight,
the primary instruments for progress. The first two hindrances, sensual desire and ill
will, are the strongest of the set, the most formidable barriers to meditative growth,
representing, respectively, the unwholesome roots of greed and aversion. The other three
hindrances, less toxic but still obstructive, are offshoots of delusion, usually in
association with other defilements.
Sensual desire is interpreted in two ways. Sometimes it is understood in a
narrow sense as lust for the "five strands of sense pleasure," i.e. agreeable
sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches; sometimes a broader interpretation is given,
by which the term becomes inclusive of craving in all its modes, whether for sense
pleasures, wealth, power, position, fame, or anything else it can settle upon. The second
hindrance, ill will, is a synonym for aversion. It comprises hatred, anger,
resentment, repulsion of every shade, whether directed towards other people, towards
oneself, towards objects, or towards situations. The third hindrance, dullness and
drowsiness, is a compound of two factors linked together by their common feature of
mental unwieldiness. One is dullness (thina), manifest as mental inertia; the other
is drowsiness (middha), seen in mental sinking, heaviness of mind, or excessive
inclination to sleep. At the opposite extreme is the fourth hindrance, restlessness and
worry. This too is a compound with its two members linked by their common feature of
disquietude. Restlessness (uddhacca) is agitation or excitement, which drives the
mind from thought to thought with speed and frenzy; worry (kukkucca) is remorse
over past mistakes and anxiety about their possible undesired consequences. The fifth
hindrance, doubt, signifies a chronic indecisiveness and lack of resolution: not
the probing of critical intelligence, an attitude encouraged by the Buddha, but a
persistent inability to commit oneself to the course of spiritual training due to
lingering doubts concerning the Buddha, his doctrine, and his path.
The first effort to be made regarding the hindrances is the effort to prevent the
unarisen hindrances from arising; this is also called the endeavour to restrain (samvarappadhana).
The effort to hold the hindrances in check is imperative both at the start of meditative
training and throughout the course of its development. For when the hindrances arise, they
disperse attention and darken the quality of awareness, to the detriment of calm and
clarity. The hindrances do not come from outside the mind but from within. They appear
through the activation of certain tendencies constantly lying dormant in the deep recesses
of the mental continuum, awaiting the opportunity to surface.
Generally what sparks the hindrances into activity is the input afforded by sense
experience. The physical organism is equipped with five sense faculties each receptive to
its own specific kind of data -- the eye to forms, the ear to sounds, the nose to smells,
the tongue to tastes, the body to tangibles. Sense objects continuously impinge on the
senses, which relay the information they receive to the mind, where it is processed,
evaluated, and accorded an appropriate response. But the mind can deal with the
impressions it receives in different ways, governed in the first place by the manner in
which it attends to them. When the mind adverts to the incoming data carelessly, with
unwise consideration (ayoniso manasikara), the sense objects tend to stir up
unwholesome states. They do this either directly, through their immediate impact, or else
indirectly by depositing memory traces which later may swell up as the objects of defiled
thoughts, images, and fantasies. As a general rule the defilement that is activated
corresponds to the object: attractive objects provoke desire, disagreeable objects provoke
ill will, and indeterminate objects provoke the defilements connected with delusion.
Since an uncontrolled response to the sensory input stimulates the latent defilements,
what is evidently needed to prevent them from arising is control over the senses. Thus the
Buddha teaches, as the discipline for keeping the hindrances in check, an exercise called
the restraint of the sense faculties (indriya-samvara):
When he perceives a form with the eye, a sound with the ear, an odour with the nose, a
taste with the tongue, an impression with the body, or an object with the mind, he
apprehends neither the sign nor the particulars. And he strives to ward off that through
which evil and unwholesome states, greed and sorrow, would arise, if he remained with
unguarded senses; and he watches over his senses, restrains his senses.
Restraint of the senses does not mean denial of the senses, retreating into a total
withdrawal from the sensory world. This is impossible, and even if it could be achieved,
the real problem would still not be solved; for the defilements lie in the mind, not in
the sense organs or objects. The key to sense control is indicated by the phrase "not
apprehending the sign or the particulars." The "sign" (nimitta) is
the object's general appearance insofar as this appearance is grasped as the basis for
defiled thoughts; the "particulars" (anubyanjana) are its less
conspicuous features. If sense control is lacking, the mind roams recklessly over the
sense fields. First it grasps the sign, which sets the defilements into motion, then it
explores the particulars, which permits them to multiply and thrive.
To restrain the senses requires that mindfulness and clear understanding be applied to
the encounter with the sense fields. Sense consciousness occurs in a series, as a sequence
of momentary cognitive acts each having its own special task. The initial stages in the
series occur as automatic functions: first the mind adverts to the object, then apprehends
it, then admits the percept, examines it, and identifies it. Immediately following the
identification a space opens up in which there occurs a free evaluation of the object
leading to the choice of a response. When mindfulness is absent the latent defilements,
pushing for an opportunity to emerge, will motivate a wrong consideration. One will grasp
the sign of the object, explore its details, and thereby give the defilements their
opportunity: on account of greed one will become fascinated by an agreeable object, on
account of aversion one will be repelled by a disagreeable object. But when one applies
mindfulness to the sensory encounter, one nips the cognitive process in the bud before it
can evolve into the stages that stimulate the dormant taints. Mindfulness holds the
hindrances in check by keeping the mind at the level of what is sensed. It rivets
awareness on the given, preventing the mind from embellishing the datum with ideas born of
greed, aversion, and delusion. Then, with this lucent awareness as a guide, the mind can
proceed to comprehend the object as it is, without being led astray.
(2) To abandon the arisen unwholesome states
Herein the disciple rouses his will to overcome the evil, unwholesome states that have
already arisen and he makes effort, stirs up his energy, exerts his mind and strives.
Despite the effort at sense control the defilements may still surface. They swell up
from the depths of the mental continuum, from the buried strata of past accumulations, to
congeal into unwholesome thoughts and emotions. When this happens a new kind of effort
becomes necessary, the effort to abandon arisen unwholesome states, called for short the
endeavour to abandon (pahanappadhana):
He does not retain any thought of sensual lust, ill will, or harmfulness, or any other
evil and unwholesome states that may have arisen; he abandons them, dispels them, destroys
them, causes them to disappear.
Just as a skilled physician has different medicines for different ailments, so the
Buddha has different antidotes for the different hindrances, some equally applicable to
all, some geared to a particular hindrance. In an important discourse the Buddha explains
five techniques for expelling distracting thoughts. The
first is to expel the defiled thought with a wholesome thought which is its exact
opposite, analogous to the way a carpenter might use a new peg to drive out an old one.
For each of the five hindrances there is a specific remedy, a line of meditation designed
expressly to deflate it and destroy it. This remedy can be applied intermittently, when a
hindrance springs up and disrupts meditation on the primary subject; or it can be taken as
a primary subject itself, used to counter a defilement repeatedly seen to be a persistent
obstacle to one's practice. But for the antidote to become effective in the first role, as
a temporary expedient required by the upsurge of a hindrance, it is best to gain some
familiarity with it by making it a primary object, at least for short periods.
For desire a remedy of general application is the meditation on impermanence, which
knocks away the underlying prop of clinging, the implicit assumption that the objects
clung to are stable and durable. For desire in the specific form of sensual lust the most
potent antidote is the contemplation of the unattractive nature of the body, to be dealt
with at greater length in the next chapter. Ill will meets its proper remedy in the
meditation on lovingkindness (metta), which banishes all traces of hatred and anger
through the methodical radiation of the altruistic wish that all beings be well and happy.
The dispelling of dullness and drowsiness calls for a special effort to arouse energy, for
which several methods are suggested: the visualization of a brilliant ball of light,
getting up and doing a period of brisk walking meditation, reflection on death, or simply
making a firm determination to continue striving. Restlessness and worry are most
effectively countered by turning the mind to a simple object that tends to calm it down;
the method usually recommended is mindfulness of breathing, attention to the in-and-out
flow of the breath. In the case of doubt the special remedy is investigation: to make
inquiries, ask questions, and study the teachings until the obscure points become clear.
Whereas this first of the five methods for expelling the hindrances involves a
one-to-one alignment between a hindrance and its remedy, the other four utilize general
approaches. The second marshals the forces of shame (hiri) and moral dread (ottappa)
to abandon the unwanted thought: one reflects on the thought as vile and ignoble or
considers its undesirable consequences until an inner revulsion sets in which drives the
thought away. The third method involves a deliberate diversion of attention. When an
unwholesome thought arises and clamours to be noticed, instead of indulging it one simply
shuts it out by redirecting one's attention elsewhere, as if closing one's eyes or looking
away to avoid an unpleasant sight. The fourth method uses the opposite approach. Instead
of turning away from the unwanted thought, one confronts it directly as an object,
scrutinizes its features, and investigates its source. When this is done the thought
quiets down and eventually disappears. For an unwholesome thought is like a thief: it only
creates trouble when its operation is concealed, but put under observation it becomes
tame. The fifth method, to be used only as a last resort, is suppression -- vigorously
restraining the unwholesome thought with the power of the will in the way a strong man
might throw a weaker man to the ground and keep him pinned there with his weight.
By applying these five methods with skill and discretion, the Buddha says, one becomes
a master of all the pathways of thought. One is no longer the subject of the mind but its
master. Whatever thought one wants to think, that one will think. Whatever thought one
does not want to think, that one will not think. Even if unwholesome thoughts occasionally
arise, one can dispel them immediately, just as quickly as a red-hot pan will turn to
steam a few chance drops of water.
(3) To arouse unarisen wholesome states
Herein the disciple rouses his will to arouse wholesome states that have not yet
arisen; and he makes effort, stirs up his energy, exerts his mind and strives.
Simultaneously with the removal of defilements, right effort also imposes the task of
cultivating wholesome states of mind. This involves two divisions: the arousing of
wholesome states not yet arisen and the maturation of wholesome states already arisen.
The first of the two divisions is also known as the endeavour to develop (bhavanappadhana).
Though the wholesome states to be developed can be grouped in various ways -- serenity and
insight, the four foundations of mindfulness, the eight factors of the path, etc. -- the
Buddha lays special stress on a set called the seven factors of enlightenment (satta
bojjhanga): mindfulness, investigation of phenomena, energy, rapture, tranquillity,
concentration, and equanimity.
Thus he develops the factors of enlightenment, based on solitude, on detachment, on
cessation, and ending in deliverance, namely: the enlightenment factors of mindfulness,
investigation of phenomena, energy, rapture, tranquillity, concentration, and equanimity.
The seven states are grouped together as "enlightenment factors" both because
they lead to enlightenment and because they constitute enlightenment. In the preliminary
stages of the path they prepare the way for the great realization; in the end they remain
as its components. The experience of enlightenment, perfect and complete understanding, is
just these seven components working in unison to break all shackles and bring final
release from sorrow.
The way to enlightenment starts with mindfulness. Mindfulness clears the ground
for insight into the nature of things by bringing to light phenomena in the now, the
present moment, stripped of all subjective commentary, interpretations, and projections.
Then, when mindfulness has brought the bare phenomena into focus, the factor of investigation
steps in to search out their characteristics, conditions, and consequences. Whereas
mindfulness is basically receptive, investigation is an active factor which unflinchingly
probes, analyzes, and dissects phenomena to uncover their fundamental structures.
The work of investigation requires energy, the third factor of enlightenment,
which mounts in three stages. The first, inceptive energy, shakes off lethargy and arouses
initial enthusiasm. As the work of contemplation advances, energy gathers momentum and
enters the second stage, perseverance, wherein it propels the practice without slackening.
Finally, at the peak, energy reaches the third stage, invincibility, where it drives
contemplation forward leaving the hindrances powerless to stop it.
As energy increases, the fourth factor of enlightenment is quickened. This is rapture,
a pleasurable interest in the object. Rapture gradually builds up, ascending to ecstatic
heights: waves of bliss run through the body, the mind glows with joy, fervour and
confidence intensify. But these experiences, as encouraging as they are, still contain a
flaw: they create an excitation verging on restlessness. With further practice, however,
rapture subsides and a tone of quietness sets in signalling the rise of the fifth factor, tranquillity.
Rapture remains present, but it is now subdued, and the work of contemplation proceeds
with self-possessed serenity.
Tranquillity brings to ripeness concentration, the sixth factor, one-pointed
unification of mind. Then, with the deepening of concentration, the last enlightenment
factor comes into dominance. This is equanimity, inward poise and balance free from
the two defects of excitement and inertia. When inertia prevails, energy must be aroused;
when excitement prevails, it is necessary to exercise restraint. But when both defects
have been vanquished the practice can unfold evenly without need for concern. The mind of
equanimity is compared to the driver of a chariot when the horses are moving at a steady
pace: he neither has to urge them forward nor to hold them back, but can just sit
comfortably and watch the scenery go by. Equanimity has the same "on-looking"
quality. When the other factors are balanced the mind remains poised watching the play of
(4) To maintain arisen wholesome states
Herein the disciple rouses his will to maintain the wholesome things that have already
arisen, and not to allow them to disappear, but to bring them to growth, to maturity, and
to the full perfection of development; and he makes effort, stirs up his energy, exerts
his mind and strives.
This last of the four right efforts aims at maintaining the arisen wholesome factors
and bringing them to maturity. Called the "endeavour to maintain" (anurakkhanappadhana),
it is explained as the effort to "keep firmly in the mind a favourable object of
concentration that has arisen." The work of guarding
the object causes the seven enlightenment factors to gain stability and gradually increase
in strength until they issue in the liberating realization. This marks the culmination of
right effort, the goal in which the countless individual acts of exertion finally reach
The Buddha says that the Dhamma, the ultimate truth of things, is directly visible,
timeless, calling out to be approached and seen. He says further that it is always
available to us, and that the place where it is to be realized is within oneself. The ultimate truth, the Dhamma, is not something mysterious
and remote, but the truth of our own experience. It can be reached only by understanding
our experience, by penetrating it right through to its foundations. This truth, in order
to become liberating truth, has to be known directly. It is not enough merely to accept it
on faith, to believe it on the authority of books or a teacher, or to think it out through
deductions and inferences. It has to be known by insight, grasped and absorbed by a kind
of knowing which is also an immediate seeing.
What brings the field of experience into focus and makes it accessible to insight is a
mental faculty called in Pali sati, usually translated as "mindfulness."
Mindfulness is presence of mind, attentiveness or awareness. Yet the kind of awareness
involved in mindfulness differs profoundly from the kind of awareness at work in our usual
mode of consciousness. All consciousness involves awareness in the sense of a knowing or
experiencing of an object. But with the practice of mindfulness awareness is applied at a
special pitch. The mind is deliberately kept at the level of bare attention, a
detached observation of what is happening within us and around us in the present moment.
In the practice of right mindfulness the mind is trained to remain in the present, open,
quiet, and alert, contemplating the present event. All judgements and interpretations have
to be suspended, or if they occur, just registered and dropped. The task is simply to note
whatever comes up just as it is occurring, riding the changes of events in the way a
surfer rides the waves on the sea. The whole process is a way of coming back into the
present, of standing in the here and now without slipping away, without getting swept away
by the tides of distracting thoughts.
It might be assumed that we are always aware of the present, but this is a mirage. Only
seldom do we become aware of the present in the precise way required by the practice of
mindfulness. In ordinary consciousness the mind begins a cognitive process with some
impression given in the present, but it does not stay with it. Instead it uses the
immediate impression as a springboard for building blocks of mental constructs which
remove it from the sheer facticity of the datum. The cognitive process is generally
interpretative. The mind perceives its object free from conceptualization only briefly.
Then, immediately after grasping the initial impression, it launches on a course of
ideation by which it seeks to interpret the object to itself, to make it intelligible in
terms of its own categories and assumptions. To bring this about the mind posits concepts,
joins the concepts into constructs -- sets of mutually corroborative concepts -- then
weaves the constructs together into complex interpretative schemes. In the end the
original direct experience has been overrun by ideation and the presented object appears
only dimly through dense layers of ideas and views, like the moon through a layer of
The Buddha calls this process of mental construction papa˝ca,
"elaboration," "embellishment," or "conceptual
proliferation." The elaborations block out the presentational immediacy of phenomena;
they let us know the object only "at a distance," not as it really is. But the
elaborations do not only screen cognition; they also serve as a basis for projections. The
deluded mind, cloaked in ignorance, projects its own internal constructs outwardly,
ascribing them to the object as if they really belonged to it. As a result, what we know
as the final object of cognition, what we use as the basis for our values, plans, and
actions, is a patchwork product, not the original article. To be sure, the product is not
wholly illusion, not sheer fantasy. It takes whatis given in immediate experience as its
groundwork and raw material, but along with this it includes something else: the
embellishments fabricated by the mind.
The springs for this process of fabrication, hidden from view, are the latent
defilements. The defilements create the embellishments, project them outwardly, and use
them as hooks for coming to the surface, where they cause further distortion. To correct
the erroneous notions is the task of wisdom, but for wisdom to discharge its work
effectively, it needs direct access to the object as it is in itself, uncluttered by the
conceptual elaborations. The task of right mindfulness is to clear up the cognitive field.
Mindfulness brings to light experience in its pure immediacy. It reveals the object as it
is before it has been plastered over with conceptual paint, overlaid with interpretations.
To practice mindfulness is thus a matter not so much of doing but of undoing: not
thinking, not judging, not associating, not planning, not imagining, not wishing. All
these "doings" of ours are modes of interference, ways the mind manipulates
experience and tries to establish its dominance. Mindfulness undoes the knots and tangles
of these "doings" by simply noting. It does nothing but note, watching each
occasion of experience as it arises, stands, and passes away. In the watching there is no
room for clinging, no compulsion to saddle things with our desires. There is only a
sustained contemplation of experience in its bare immediacy, carefully and precisely and
Mindfulness exercises a powerful grounding function. It anchors the mind securely in
the present, so it does not float away into the past and future with their memories,
regrets, fears, and hopes. The mind without mindfulness is sometimes compared to a
pumpkin, the mind established in mindfulness to a stone.
A pumpkin placed on the surface of a pond soon floats away and always remains on the
water's surface. But a stone does not float away; it stays where it is put and at once
sinks into the water until it reaches bottom. Similarly, when mindfulness is strong, the
mind stays with its object and penetrates its characteristics deeply. It does not wander
and merely skim the surface as the mind destitute of mindfulness does.
Mindfulness facilitates the achievement of both serenity and insight. It can lead to
either deep concentration or wisdom, depending on the mode in which it is applied. Merely
a slight shift in the mode of application can spell the difference between the course the
contemplative process takes, whether it descends to deeper levels of inner calm
culminating in the stages of absorption, the jhanas, or whether instead it strips
away the veils of delusion to arrive at penetrating insight. To lead to the stages of
serenity the primary chore of mindfulness is to keep the mind on the object, free from
straying. Mindfulness serves as the guard charged with the responsibility of making sure
that the mind does not slip away from the object to lose itself in random undirected
thoughts. It also keeps watch over the factors stirring in the mind, catching the
hindrances beneath their camouflages and expelling them before they can cause harm. To
lead to insight and the realizations of wisdom, mindfulness is exercised in a more
differentiated manner. Its task, in this phase of practice, is to observe, to note, to
discern phenomena with utmost precision until their fundamental characteristics are
brought to light.
Right mindfulness is cultivated through a practice called "the four foundations of
mindfulness" (cattaro satipatthana), the mindful contemplation of four
objective spheres: the body, feelings, states of mind, and phenomena. As the Buddha explains:
And what, monks, is right mindfulness? Herein, a monk dwells contemplating the body in
the body, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having put away covetousness and
grief concerning the world. He dwells contemplating feelings in feelings ... states of
mind in states of mind ... phenomena in phenomena, ardent, clearly comprehending and
mindful, having put away covetousness and grief concerning the world.
The Buddha says that the four foundations of mindfulness form "the only way that
leads to the attainment of purity, to the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, to the end
of pain and grief, to the entering upon the right path and the realization of
Nibbana." They are called "the only way" (ekayano
maggo), not for the purpose of setting forth a narrow dogmatism, but to indicate that
the attainment of liberation can only issue from the penetrating contemplation of the
field of experience undertaken in the practice of right mindfulness.
Of the four applications of mindfulness, the contemplation of the body is concerned
with the material side of existence; the other three are concerned principally (though not
solely) with the mental side. The completion of the practice requires all four
contemplations. Though no fixed order is laid down in which they are to be taken up, the
body is generally taken first as the basic sphere of contemplation; the others come into
view later, when mindfulness has gained in strength and clarity. Limitations of space do
not allow for a complete explanation of all four foundations. Here we have to settle for a
(1) Contemplation of the Body (kayanupassana)
The Buddha begins his exposition of the body with contemplation of the mindfulness of
breathing (anapanasati). Though not required as a starting point for meditation, in
actual practice mindfulness of breathing usually serves as the "root meditation
subject" (mulakammatthana), the foundation for the entire course of
contemplation. It would be a mistake, however, to consider this subject merely an exercise
for neophytes. By itself mindfulness of breathing can lead to all the stages of the path
culminating in full awakening. In fact it was this meditation subject that the Buddha used
on the night of his own enlightenment. He also reverted to it throughout the years during
his solitary retreats, and constantly recommended it to the monks, praising it as
"peaceful and sublime, an unadulterated blissful abiding, which banishes at once and
stills evil unwholesome thoughts as soon as they arise" (MN 118).
Mindfulness of breathing can function so effectively as a subject of meditation because
it works with a process that is always available to us, the process of respiration. What
it does to turn this process into a basis for meditation is simply to bring it into the
range of awareness by making the breath an object of observation. The meditation requires
no special intellectual sophistication, only awareness of the breath. One merely breathes
naturally through the nostrils keeping the breath in mind at the contact point around the
nostrils or upper lip, where the sensation of breath can be felt as the air moves in and
out. There should be no attempt to control the breath or to force it into predetermined
rhythms, only a mindful contemplation of the natural process of breathing in and out. The
awareness of breath cuts through the complexities of discursive thinking, rescues us from
pointless wandering in the labyrinth of vain imaginings, and grounds us solidly in the
present. For whenever we become aware of breathing, really aware of it, we can be aware of
it only in the present, never in the past or the future.
The Buddha's exposition of mindfulness of breathing involves four basic steps. The
first two (which are not necessarily sequential) require that a long inhalation or
exhalation be noted as it occurs, and that a short inhalation or exhalation be noted as it
occurs. One simply observes the breath moving in and out, observing it as closely as
possible, noting whether the breath is long or short. As mindfulness grows sharper, the
breath can be followed through the entire course of its movement, from the beginning of an
inhalation through its intermediary stages to its end, then from the beginning of an
exhalation through its intermediary stages to its end. This third step is called
"clearly perceiving the entire (breath) body." The fourth step, "calming
the bodily function," involves a progressive quieting down of the breath and its
associated bodily functions until they become extremely fine and subtle. Beyond these four
basic steps lie more advanced practices which direct mindfulness of breathing towards deep
concentration and insight.
Another practice in the contemplation of the body, which extends meditation outwards
from the confines of a single fixed position, is mindfulness of the postures. The body can
assume four basic postures -- walking, standing, sitting, and lying down -- and a variety
of other positions marking the change from one posture to another. Mindfulness of the
postures focuses full attention on the body in whatever position it assumes: when walking
one is aware of walking, when standing one is aware of standing, when sitting one is aware
of sitting, when lying down one is aware of lying down, when changing postures one is
aware of changing postures. The contemplation of the postures illuminates the impersonal
nature of the body. It reveals that the body is not a self or the belonging of a self, but
merely a configuration of living matter subject to the directing influence of volition.
The next exercise carries the extension of mindfulness a step further. This exercise,
called "mindfulness and clear comprehension" (satisampaja˝˝a), adds to
the bare awareness an element of understanding. When performing any action, one performs
it with full awareness or clear comprehension. Going and coming, looking ahead and looking
aside, bending and stretching, dressing, eating, drinking, urinating, defecating, falling
asleep, waking up, speaking, remaining silent -- all become occasions for the progress of
meditation when done with clear comprehension. In the commentaries clear comprehension is
explained as fourfold: (1) understanding the purpose of the action, i.e. recognizing its
aim and determining whether that aim accords with the Dhamma; (2) understanding
suitability, i.e. knowing the most efficient means to achieve one's aim; (3) understanding
the range of meditation, i.e. keeping the mind constantly in a meditative frame even when
engaged in action; and (4) understanding without delusion, i.e. seeing the action as an
impersonal process devoid of a controlling ego-entity.
This last aspect will be explored more thoroughly in the last chapter, on the development
The next two sections on mindfulness of the body present analytical contemplations
intended to expose the body's real nature. One of these is the meditation on the body's
unattractiveness, already touched on in connection with right effort; the other, the
analysis of the body into the four primary elements. The first, the meditation on
unattractiveness, is designed to counter infatuation with
the body, especially in its form of sexual desire. The Buddha teaches that the sexual
drive is a manifestation of craving, thus a cause of dukkha that has to be reduced
and extricated as a precondition for bringing dukkha to an end. The meditation aims
at weakening sexual desire by depriving the sexual urge of its cognitive underpinning, the
perception of the body as sensually alluring. Sensual desire rises and falls together with
this perception. It springs up because we view the body as attractive; it declines when
this perception of beauty is removed. The perception of bodily attractiveness in turn
lasts only so long as the body is looked at superficially, grasped in terms of selected
impressions. To counter that perception we have to refuse to stop with these impressions
but proceed to inspect the body at a deeper level, with a probing scrutiny grounded in
Precisely this is what is undertaken in the meditation on unattractiveness, which turns
back the tide of sensuality by pulling away its perceptual prop. The meditation takes
one's own body as object, since for a neophyte to start off with the body of another,
especially a member of the opposite sex, might fail to accomplish the desired result.
Using visualization as an aid, one mentally dissects the body into its components and
investigates them one by one, bringing their repulsive nature to light. The texts mention
thirty-two parts: head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones,
marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, large intestines, small
intestines, stomach contents, excrement, brain, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat,
tears, grease, snot, spittle, sinovial fluid, and urine. The repulsiveness of the parts
implies the same for the whole: the body seen closeup is truly unattractive, its beautiful
appearance a mirage. But the aim of this meditation must not be misapprehended. The aim is
not to produce aversion and disgust but detachment, to extinguish the fire of lust by
removing its fuel.
The other analytical contemplation deals with the body in a different way. This
meditation, called the analysis into elements (dhatuvavatthana), sets out to
counter our innate tendency to identify with the body by exposing the body's essentially
impersonal nature. The means it employs, as its name indicates, is the mental dissection
of the body into the four primary elements, referred to by the archaic names earth, water,
fire, and air, but actually signifying the four principal behavioural modes of matter:
solidity, fluidity, heat, and oscillation. The solid element is seen most clearly in the
body's solid parts -- the organs, tissues, and bones; the fluid element, in the bodily
fluids; the heat element, in the body's temperature; the oscillation element, in the
respiratory process. The break with the identification of the body as "I" or
"my self" is effected by a widening of perspective after the elements have come
into view. Having analyzed the body into the elements, one then considers that all four
elements, the chief aspects of bodily existence, are essentially identical with the chief
aspects of external matter, with which the body is in constant interchange. When one
vividly realizes this through prolonged meditation, one ceases to identify with the body,
ceases to cling to it. One sees that the body is nothing more than a particular
configuration of changing material processes which support a stream of changing mental
processes. There is nothing here that can be considered a truly existent self, nothing
that can provide a substantial basis for the sense of personal identity.
The last exercise in mindfulness of the body is a series of "cemetery
meditations," contemplations of the body's disintegration after death, which may be
performed either imaginatively, with the aid of pictures, or through direct confrontation
with a corpse. By any of these means one obtains a clear mental image of a decomposing
body, then applies the process to one's own body, considering: "This body, now so
full of life, has the same nature and is subject to the same fate. It cannot escape death,
cannot escape disintegration, but must eventually die and decompose." Again, the
purpose of this meditation should not be misunderstood. The aim is not to indulge in a
morbid fascination with death and corpses, but to sunder our egoistic clinging to
existence with a contemplation sufficiently powerful to break its hold. The clinging to
existence subsists through the implicit assumption of permanence. In the sight of a corpse
we meet the teacher who proclaims unambiguously: "Everything formed is
(2) Contemplation of Feeling (vedananupassana)
The next foundation of mindfulness is feeling (vedana). The word
"feeling" is used here, not in the sense of emotion (a complex phenomenon best
subsumed under the third and fourth foundations of mindfulness), but in the narrower sense
of the affective tone or "hedonic quality" of experience. This may be of three
kinds, yielding three principal types of feeling: pleasant feeling, painful feeling, and
neutral feeling. The Buddha teaches that feeling is an inseparable concomitant of
consciousness, since every act of knowing is coloured by some affective tone. Thus feeling
is present at every moment of experience; it may be strong or weak, clear or indistinct,
but some feeling must accompany the cognition.
Feeling arises in dependence on a mental event called "contact" (phassa).
Contact marks the "coming together" of consciousness with the object via a sense
faculty; it is the factor by virtue of which consciousness "touches" the object
presenting itself to the mind through the sense organ. Thus there are six kinds of contact
distinguished by the six sense faculties -- eye-contact, ear-contact, nose-contact,
tongue-contact, body-contact, and mind-contact -- and six kinds of feeling distinguished
by the contact from which they spring.
Feeling acquires special importance as an object of contemplation because it is feeling
that usually triggers the latent defilements into activity. The feelings may not be
clearly registered, but in subtle ways they nourish and sustain the dispositions to
unwholesome states. Thus when a pleasant feeling arises, we fall under the influence of
the defilement greed and cling to it. When a painful feeling occurs, we respond with
displeasure, hate, and fear, which are aspects of aversion. And when a neutral feeling
occurs, we generally do not notice it, or let it lull us into a false sense of security --
states of mind governed by delusion. From this it can be seen that each of the root
defilements is conditioned by a particular kind of feeling: greed by pleasant feeling,
aversion by painful feeling, delusion by neutral feeling.
But the link between feelings and the defilements is not a necessary one. Pleasure does
not always have to lead to greed, pain to aversion, neutral feeling to delusion. The tie
between them can be snapped, and one essential means for snapping it is mindfulness.
Feeling will stir up a defilement only when it is not noticed, when it is indulged rather
than observed. By turning it into an object of observation, mindfulness defuses the
feeling so that it cannot provoke an unwholesome response. Then, instead of relating to
the feeling by way of habit through attachment, repulsion, or apathy, we relate by way of
contemplation, using the feeling as a springboard for understanding the nature of
In the early stages the contemplation of feeling involves attending to the arisen
feelings, noting their distinctive qualities: pleasant, painful, neutral. The feeling is
noted without identifying with it, without taking it to be "I" or
"mine" or something happening "to me." Awareness is kept at the level
of bare attention: one watches each feeling that arises, seeing it as merely a feeling, a
bare mental event shorn of all subjective references, all pointers to an ego. The task is
simply to note the feeling's quality, its tone of pleasure, pain, or neutrality.
But as practice advances, as one goes on noting each feeling, letting it go and noting
the next, the focus of attention shifts from the qualities of feelings to the process of
feeling itself. The process reveals a ceaseless flux of feelings arising and dissolving,
succeeding one another without a halt. Within the process there is nothing lasting.
Feeling itself is only a stream of events, occasions of feeling flashing into being moment
by moment, dissolving as soon as they arise. Thus begins the insight into impermanence,
which, as it evolves, overturns the three unwholesome roots. There is no greed for
pleasant feelings, no aversion for painful feelings, no delusion over neutral feelings.
All are seen as merely fleeting and substanceless events devoid of any true enjoyment or
basis for involvement.
(3) Contemplation of the State of Mind (cittanupassana)
With this foundation of mindfulness we turn from a particular mental factor, feeling,
to the general state of mind to which that factor belongs. To understand what is entailed
by this contemplation it is helpful to look at the Buddhist conception of the mind.
Usually we think of the mind as an enduring faculty remaining identical with itself
through the succession of experiences. Though experience changes, the mind which undergoes
the changing experience seems to remain the same, perhaps modified in certain ways but
still retaining its identity. However, in the Buddha's teaching the notion of a permanent
mental organ is rejected. The mind is regarded, not as a lasting subject of thought,
feeling, and volition, but as a sequence of momentary mental acts, each distinct and
discrete, their connections with one another causal rather than substantial.
A single act of consciousness is called a citta, which we shall render "a
state of mind." Each citta consists of many components, the chief of which is
consciousness itself, the basic experiencing of the object; consciousness is also called citta,
the name for the whole being given to its principal part. Along with consciousness every
citta contains a set of concomitants called cetasikas, mental factors. These
include feeling, perception, volition, the emotions, etc.; in short, all the mental
functions except the primary knowing of the object, which is citta or consciousness.
Since consciousness in itself is just a bare experiencing of an object, it cannot be
differentiated through its own nature but only by way of its associated factors, the
cetasikas. The cetasikas colour the citta and give it its distinctive character; thus when
we want to pinpoint the citta as an object of contemplation, we have to do so by using the
cetasikas as indicators. In his exposition of the contemplation of the state of mind, the
Buddha mentions, by reference to cetasikas, sixteen kinds of citta to be noted: the mind
with lust, the mind without lust, the mind with aversion, the mind without aversion, the
mind with delusion, the mind without delusion, the cramped mind, the scattered mind, the
developed mind, the undeveloped mind, the surpassable mind, the unsurpassable mind, the
concentrated mind, the unconcentrated mind, the freed mind, the unfreed mind. For
practical purposes it is sufficient at the start to focus solely on the first six states,
noting whether the mind is associated with any of the unwholesome roots or free from them.
When a particular citta is present, it is contemplated merely as a citta, a state of mind.
It is not identified with as "I" or "mine," not taken as a self or as
something belonging to a self. Whether it is a pure state of mind or a defiled state, a
lofty state or a low one, there should be no elation or dejection, only a clear
recognition of the state. The state is simply noted, then allowed to pass without clinging
to the desired ones or resenting the undesired ones.
As contemplation deepens, the contents of the mind become increasingly rarefied.
Irrelevant flights of thought, imagination, and emotion subside, mindfulness becomes
clearer, the mind remains intently aware, watching its own process of becoming. At times
there might appear to be a persisting observer behind the process, but with continued
practice even this apparent observer disappears. The mind itself -- the seemingly solid,
stable mind -- dissolves into a stream of cittas flashing in and out of being moment by
moment, coming from nowhere and going nowhere, yet continuing in sequence without pause.
(4) Contemplation of Phenomena (dhammanupassana)
In the context of the fourth foundation of mindfulness, the multivalent word dhamma
(here intended in the plural) has two interconnected meanings, as the account in the sutta
shows. One meaning is cetasikas, the mental factors, which are now attended to in
their own right apart from their role as colouring the state of mind, as was done in the
previous contemplation. The other meaning is the elements of actuality, the ultimate
constituents of experience as structured in the Buddha's teaching.To convey both senses we
render dhamma as "phenomena," for lack of a better alternative. But when
we do so this should not be taken to imply the existence of some noumenon or
substance behind the phenomena.The point of the Buddha's teaching of anatta,
egolessness, is that the basic constituents of actuality are bare phenomena (suddha-dhamma)
occurring without any noumenal support.
The sutta section on the contemplation of phenomena is divided into five sub-sections,
each devoted to a different set of phenomena: the five hindrances, the five aggregates,
the six inner and outer sense bases, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the Four
Noble Truths. Among these, the five hindrances and the seven enlightenment factors are dhamma
in the narrower sense of mental factors, the others are dhamma in the broader sense
of constituents of actuality. (In the third section, however, on the sense bases, there is
a reference to the fetters that arise through the senses; these can also be included among
the mental factors.) In the present chapter we shall deal briefly only with the two groups
that may be regarded as dhamma in the sense of mental factors. We already touched
on both of these in relation to right effort (Chapter V); now we shall consider them in
specific connection with the practice of right mindfulness. We shall discuss the other
types of dhamma -- the five aggregates and the six senses -- in the final chapter,
in relation to the development of wisdom.
The five hindrances and seven factors of enlightenment require special attention
because they are the principal impediments and aids to liberation. The hindrances --
sensual desire, ill will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and worry, and doubt --
generally become manifest in an early stage of practice, soon after the initial
expectations and gross disturbances subside and the subtle tendencies find the opportunity
to surface. Whenever one of the hindrances crops up, its presence should be noted; then,
when it fades away, a note should be made of its disappearance. To ensure that the
hindrances are kept under control an element of comprehension is needed: we have to
understand how the hindrances arise, how they can be removed, and how they can be
prevented from arising in the future.
A similar mode of contemplation is to be applied to the seven factors of enlightenment:
mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquillity, concentration, and equanimity.
When any one of these factors arises, its presence should be noted. Then, after noting its
presence, one has to investigate to discover how it arises and how it can be matured. When they first spring up, the enlightenment factors are
weak, but with consistent cultivation they accumulate strength. Mindfulness initiates the
contemplative process. When it becomes well-established, it arouses investigation, the
probing quality of intelligence. Investigation in turn calls forth energy, energy gives
rise to rapture, rapture leads to tranquillity, tranquillity to one-pointed concentration,
and concentration to equanimity. Thus the whole evolving course of practice leading to
enlightenment begins with mindfulness, which remains throughout as the regulating power
ensuring that the mind is clear, cognizant, and balanced.
The eighth factor of the path is right concentration, in Pali samma samadhi.
Concentration represents an intensification of a mental factor present in every state of
consciousness. This factor, one-pointedness of mind (citt'ekaggata), has the
function of unifying the other mental factors in the task of cognition. It is the factor
responsible for the individuating aspect of consciousness, ensuring that every citta or
act of mind remains centred on its object. At any given moment the mind must be cognizant
of something -- a sight, a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch, or a mental object. The
factor of one-pointedness unifies the mind and its other concomitants in the task of
cognizing the object, while it simultaneously exercises the function of centring all the
constituents of the cognitive act on the object. One-pointedness of mind explains the fact
that in any act of consciousness there is a central point of focus, towards which the
entire objective datum points from its outer peripheries to its inner nucleus.
However, samadhi is only a particular kind of one-pointedness; it is not
equivalent to one-pointedness in its entirety. A gourmet sitting down to a meal, an
assassin about to slay his victim, a soldier on the battlefield -- these all act with a
concentrated mind, but their concentration cannot be characterized as samadhi. Samadhi
is exclusively wholesome one-pointedness, the concentration in a wholesome state of mind.
Even then its range is still narrower: it does not signify every form of wholesome
concentration, but only the intensified concentration that results from a deliberate
attempt to raise the mind to a higher, more purified level of awareness.
The commentaries define samadhi as the centring of the mind and mental factors
rightly and evenly on an object. Samadhi, as wholesome concentration, collects
together the ordinarily dispersed and dissipated stream of mental states to induce an
inner unification. The two salient features of a concentrated mind are unbroken
attentiveness to an object and the consequent tranquillity of the mental functions,
qualities which distinguish it from the unconcentrated mind. The mind untrained in
concentration moves in a scattered manner which the Buddha compares to the flapping about
of a fish taken from the water and thrown onto dry land. It cannot stay fixed but rushes
from idea to idea, from thought to thought, without inner control. Such a distracted mind
is also a deluded mind. Overwhelmed by worries and concerns, a constant prey to the
defilements, it sees things only in fragments, distorted by the ripples of random
thoughts. But the mind that has been trained in concentration, in contrast, can remain
focused on its object without distraction. This freedom from distraction further induces a
softness and serenity which make the mind an effective instrument for penetration. Like a
lake unruffled by any breeze, the concentrated mind is a faithful reflector that mirrors
whatever is placed before it exactly as it is.
The Development of Concentration
Concentration can be developed through either of two methods -- either as the goal of a
system of practice directed expressly towards the attainment of deep concentration at the
level of absorption or as the incidental accompaniment of the path intended to generate
insight. The former method is called the development of serenity (samatha-bhavana),
the second the development of insight (vipassana-bhavana). Both paths share certain
preliminary requirements. For both, moral discipline must be purified, the various
impediments must be severed, the meditator must seek out suitable instruction (preferrably
from a personal teacher), and must resort to a dwelling conducive to practice. Once these
preliminaries have been dispensed with, the meditator on the path of serenity has to
obtain an object of meditation, something to be used as a focal point for developing
If the meditator has a qualified teacher, the teacher will probably assign him an
object judged to be appropriate for his temperament. If he doesn't have a teacher, he will
have to select an object himself, perhaps after some experimentation. The meditation
manuals collect the subjects of serenity meditation into a set of forty, called
"places of work" (kammatthana) since they are the places where the
meditator does the work of practice. The forty may be listed as follows:
ten unattractive objects (dasa asubha)
ten recollections (dasa anussatiyo)
four sublime states (cattaro brahmavihara)
four immaterial states (cattaro aruppa)
one perception (eka sa˝˝a)
one analysis (eka vavatthana).
The kasinas are devices representing certain primordial qualities. Four represent the
primary elements -- the earth, water, fire, and air kasinas; four represent colours -- the
blue, yellow, red, and white kasinas; the other two are the light and the space kasinas.
Each kasina is a concrete object representative of the universal quality it signifies.
Thus an earth kasina would be a circular disk filled with clay. To develop concentration
on the earth kasina the meditator sets the disk in front of him, fixes his gaze on it, and
contemplates "earth, earth." A similar method is used for the other kasinas,
with appropriate changes to fit the case.
The ten "unattractive objects" are corpses in different stages of
decomposition. This subject appears similar to the contemplation of bodily decay in the
mindfulness of the body, and in fact in olden times the cremation ground was recommended
as the most appropriate place for both. But the two meditations differ in emphasis. In the
mindfulness exercise stress falls on the application of reflective thought, the sight of
the decaying corpse serving as a stimulus for consideration of one's own eventual death
and disintegration. In this exercise the use of reflective thought is discouraged. The
stress instead falls on one-pointed mental fixation on the object, the less thought the
The ten recollections form a miscellaneous collection. The first three are devotional
meditations on the qualities of the Triple Gem -- the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha;
they use as their basis standard formulas that have come down in the Suttas. The next
three recollections also rely on ancient formulas: the meditations on morality,
generosity, and the potential for divine-like qualities in oneself. Then come mindfulness
of death, the contemplation of the unattractive nature of the body, mindfulness of
breathing, and lastly, the recollection of peace, a discursive meditation on Nibbana.
The four sublime states or "divine abodes" are the outwardly directed social
attitudes -- lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity -- developed into
universal radiations which are gradually extended in range until they encompass all living
beings. The four immaterial states are the objective bases for certain deep levels of
absorption: the base of infinite space, the base of infinite consciousness, the base of
nothingness, and the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. These become
accessible as objects only to those who are already adept in concentration. The "one
perception" is the perception of the repulsiveness of food, a discursive topic
intended to reduce attachment to the pleasures of the palate. The "one analysis"
is the contemplation of the body in terms of the four primary elements, already discussed
in the chapter on right mindfulness.
When such a variety of meditation subjects is presented, the aspiring meditator without
a teacher might be perplexed as to which to choose. The manuals divide the forty subjects
according to their suitability for different personality types. Thus the unattractive
objects and the contemplation of the parts of the body are judged to be most suitable for
a lustful type, the meditation on lovingkindness to be best for a hating type, the
meditation on the qualities of the Triple Gem to be most effective for a devotional type,
etc. But for practical purposes the beginner in meditation can generally be advised to
start with a simple subject that helps reduce discursive thinking. Mental distraction
caused by restlessness and scattered thoughts is a common problem faced by persons of all
different character types; thus a meditator of any temperament can benefit from a subject
which promotes a slowing down and stilling of the thought process. The subject generally
recommended for its effectiveness in clearing the mind of stray thoughts is mindfulness of
breathing, which can therefore be suggested as the subject most suitable for beginners as
well as veterans seeking a direct approach to deep concentration. Once the mind settles
down and one's thought patterns become easier to notice, one might then make use of other
subjects to deal with special problems that arise: the meditation on lovingkindness may be
used to counteract anger and ill will, mindfulness of the bodily parts to weaken sensual
lust, the recollection of the Buddha to inspire faith and devotion, the meditation on
death to arouse a sense of urgency. The ability to select the subject appropriate to the
situation requires skill, but this skill evolves through practice, often through simple
The Stages of Concentration
Concentration is not attained all at once but develops in stages. To enable our
exposition to cover all the stages of concentration, we will consider the case of a
meditator who follows the entire path of serenity meditation from start to finish, and who
will make much faster progress than the typical meditator is likely to make.
After receiving his meditation subject from a teacher, or selecting it on his own, the
meditator retires to a quiet place. There he assumes the correct meditation posture -- the
legs crossed comfortably, the upper part of the body held straight and erect, hands placed
one above the other on the lap, the head kept steady, the mouth and eyes closed (unless a
kasina or other visual object is used), the breath flowing naturally and regularly through
the nostrils. He then focuses his mind on the object and tries to keep it there, fixed and
alert. If the mind strays, he notices this quickly, catches it, and brings it back gently
but firmly to the object, doing this over and over as often as is necessary. This initial
stage is called preliminary concentration (parikkamma-samadhi) and the object the
preliminary sign (parikkamma-nimitta).
Once the initial excitement subsides and the mind begins to settle into the practice,
the five hindrances are likely to arise, bubbling up from the depths. Sometimes they
appear as thoughts, sometimes as images, sometimes as obsessive emotions: surges of
desire, anger and resentment, heaviness of mind, agitation, doubts. The hindrances pose a
formidable barrier, but with patience and sustained effort they can be overcome. To
conquer them the meditator will have to be adroit. At times, when a particular hindrance
becomes strong, he may have to lay aside his primary subject of meditation and take up
another subject expressly opposed to the hindrance. At other times he will have to persist
with his primary subject despite the bumps along the road, bringing his mind back to it
again and again.
As he goes on striving along the path of concentration, his exertion activates five
mental factors which come to his aid. These factors are intermittently present in ordinary
undirected consciousness, but there they lack a unifying bond and thus do not play any
special role. However, when activated by the work of meditation, these five factors pick
up power, link up with one another, and steer the mind towards samadhi, which they
will govern as the "jhana factors," the factors of absorption (jhananga).
Stated in their usual order the five are: initial application of mind (vitakka),
sustained application of mind (vicara), rapture (piti), happiness (sukha),
and one-pointedness (ekaggata).
Initial application of mind does the work of directing the mind to the object.
It takes the mind, lifts it up, and drives it into the object the way one drives a nail
through a block of wood. This done, sustained application of mind anchors the mind
on the object, keeping it there through its function of examination. To clarify the
difference between these two factors, initial application is compared to the striking of a
bell, sustained application to the bell's reverberations. Rapture, the third
factor, is the delight and joy that accompany a favourable interest in the object, while happiness,
the fourth factor, is the pleasant feeling that accompanies successful concentration.
Since rapture and happiness share similar qualities they tend to be confused with each
other, but the two are not identical. The difference between them is illustrated by
comparing rapture to the joy of a weary desert-farer who sees an oasis in the distance,
happiness to his pleasure when drinking from the pond and resting in the shade. The fifth
and final factor of absorption is one-pointedness, which has the pivotal function
of unifying the mind on the object.
When concentration is developed, these five factors spring up and counteract the five
hindrances. Each absorption factor opposes a particular hindrance. Initial application of
mind, through its work of lifting the mind up to the object, counters dullness and
drowsiness. Sustained application, by anchoring the mind on the object, drives away doubt.
Rapture shuts out ill will, happiness excludes restlessness and worry, and one-pointedness
counters sensual desire, the most alluring inducement to distraction. Thus, with the
strengthening of the absorption factors, the hindrances fade out and subside. They are not
yet eradicated -- eradication can only be effected by wisdom, the third division of the
path -- but they have been reduced to a state of quiescence where they cannot disrupt the
forward movement of concentration.
At the same time that the hindrances are being overpowered by the jhana factors
inwardly, on the side of the object too certain changes are taking place. The original
object of concentration, the preliminary sign, is a gross physical object; in the case of
a kasina, it is a disk representing the chosen element or colour, in the case of
mindfulness of breathing the touch sensation of the breath, etc. But with the
strengthening of concentration the original object gives rise to another object called the
"learning sign" (uggaha-nimitta). For a kasina this will be a mental
image of the disk seen as clearly in the mind as the original object was with the eyes;
for the breath it will be a reflex image arisen from the touch sensation of the air
currents moving around the nostrils.
When the learning sign appears, the meditator leaves off the preliminary sign and fixes
his attention on the new object. In due time still another object will emerge out of the
learning sign. This object, called the "counterpart sign" (patibhaga-nimitta),
is a purified mental image many times brighter and clearer than the learning sign. The
learning sign is compared to the moon seen behind a cloud, the counterpart sign to the
moon freed from the cloud. Simultaneously with the appearance of the counterpart sign, the
five absorption factors suppress the five hindrances, and the mind enters the stage of
concentration called upacara-samadhi, "access concentration." Here, in
access concentration, the mind is drawing close to absorption. It has entered the
"neighbourhood" (a possible meaning of upacara) of absorption, but more
work is still needed for it to become fully immersed in the object, the defining mark of
With further practice the factors of concentration gain in strength and bring the mind
to absorption (appana-samadhi). Like access concentration, absorption takes the
counterpart sign as object. The two stages of concentration are differentiated neither by
the absence of the hindrances nor by the counterpart sign as object; these are common to
both. What differentiates them is the strength of the jhana factors. In access
concentration the jhana factors are present, but they lack strength and steadiness. Thus
the mind in this stage is compared to a child who has just learned to walk: he takes a few
steps, falls down, gets up, walks some more, and again falls down. But the mind in
absorption is like a man who wants to walk: he just gets up and walks straight ahead
Concentration in the stage of absorption is divided into eight levels, each marked by
greater depth, purity, and subtlety than its predecessor. The first four form a set called
the four jhanas, a word best left untranslated for lack of a suitable equivalent,
though it can be loosely rendered "meditative absorption." The second four also form a set, the four immaterial states (aruppa).
The eight have to be attained in progressive order, the achievement of any later level
being dependent on the mastery of the immediately preceding level.
The four jhanas make up the usual textual definition of right concentration. Thus the
And what, monks, is right concentration? Herein, secluded from sense pleasures,
secluded from unwholesome states, a monk enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is
accompanied by initial and sustained application of mind and filled with rapture and
happiness born of seclusion.
Then, with the subsiding of initial and sustained application of mind, by gaining inner
confidence and mental unification, he enters and dwells in the second jhana, which is free
from initial and sustained application but is filled with rapture and happiness born of
With the fading out of rapture, he dwells in equanimity, mindful and clearly
comprehending; and he experiences in his own person that bliss of which the noble ones
say: "Happily lives he who is equanimous and mindful" -- thus he enters and
dwells in the third jhana.
With the abandoning of pleasure and pain and with the previous disappearance of joy and
grief, he enters and dwells in the fourth jhana, which has neither-pleasure-nor-pain and
purity of mindfulness due to equanimity.
This, monks, is right concentration.
The jhanas are distinguished by way of their component factors. The first jhana is
constituted by the original set of five absorption factors: initial application, sustained
application, rapture, happiness, and one-pointedness. After attaining the first jhana the
meditator is advised to master it. On the one hand he should not fall into complacency
over his achievement and neglect sustained practice; on the other, he should not become
over-confident and rush ahead to attain the next jhana. To master the jhana he should
enter it repeatedly and perfect his skill in it, until he can attain it, remain in it,
emerge from it, and review it without any trouble or difficulty.
After mastering the first jhana, the meditator then considers that his attainment has
certain defects. Though the jhana is certainly far superior to ordinary sense
consciousness, more peaceful and blissful, it still stands close to sense consciousness
and is not far removed from the hindrances. Moreover, two of its factors, initial
application and sustained application, appear in time to be rather coarse, not as refined
as the other factors. Then the meditator renews his practice of concentration intent on
overcoming initial and sustained application. When his faculties mature, these two factors
subside and he enters the second jhana. This jhana contains only three component factors:
rapture, happiness, and one-pointedness. It also contains a multiplicity of other
constituents, the most prominent of which is confidence of mind.
In the second jhana the mind becomes more tranquil and more thoroughly unified, but
when mastered even this state seems gross, as it includes rapture, an exhilarating factor
that inclines to excitation. So the meditator sets out again on his course of training,
this time resolved on overcoming rapture. When rapture fades out, he enters the third
jhana. Here there are only two absorption factors, happiness and one-pointedness, while
some other auxiliary states come into ascendency, most notably mindfulness, clear
comprehension, and equanimity. But still, the meditator sees, this attainment is defective
in that it contains the feeling of happiness, which is gross compared to neutral feeling,
feeling that is neither pleasant not painful. Thus he strives to get beyond even the
sublime happiness of the third jhana. When he succeeds, he enters the fourth jhana, which
is defined by two factors -- one-pointedness and neutral feeling -- and has a special
purity of mindfulness due to the high level of equanimity.
Beyond the four jhanas lie the four immaterial states, levels of absorption in which
the mind transcends even the subtlest perception of visualized images still sometimes
persisting in the jhanas. The immaterial states are attained, not by refining mental
factors as are the jhanas, but by refining objects, by replacing a relatively gross object
with a subtler one. The four attainments are named after their respective objects: the
base of infinite space, the base of infinite consciousness, the base of nothingness, and
the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. These
states represent levels of concentration so subtle and remote as to elude clear verbal
explanation. The last of the four stands at the apex of mental concentration; it is the
absolute, maximum degree of unification possible for consciousness. But even so, these
absorptions reached by the path of serenity meditation, as exalted as they are, still lack
the wisdom of insight, and so are not yet sufficient for gaining deliverance.
The kinds of concentration discussed so far arise by fixing the mind upon a single
object to the exclusion of other objects. But apart from these there is another kind of
concentration which does not depend upon restricting the range of awareness. This is
called "momentary concentration" (khanika-samadhi). To develop momentary
concentration the meditator does not deliberately attempt to exclude the multiplicity of
phenomena from his field of attention. Instead, he simply directs mindfulness to the
changing states of mind and body, noting any phenomenon that presents itself; the task is
to maintain a continuous awareness of whatever enters the range of perception, clinging to
nothing. As he goes on with his noting, concentration becomes stronger moment after moment
until it becomes established one-pointedly on the constantly changing stream of events.
Despite the change in the object, the mental unification remains steady, and in time
acquires a force capable of suppressing the hindrances to a degree equal to that of access
concentration. This fluid, mobile concentration is developed by the practice of the four
foundations of mindfulness, taken up along the path of insight; when sufficiently strong
it issues in the breakthrough to the last stage of the path, the arising of wisdom.
The Development of Wisdom
Though right concentration claims the last place among the factors of the Noble
Eightfold Path, concentration itself does not mark the path's culmination. The attainment
of concentration makes the mind still and steady, unifies its concomitants, opens vast
vistas of bliss, serenity, and power. But by itself it does not suffice to reach the
highest accomplishment, release from the bonds of suffering. To reach the end of suffering
demands that the Eightfold Path be turned into an instrument of discovery, that it be used
to generate the insights unveiling the ultimate truth of things. This requires the
combined contributions of all eight factors, and thus a new mobilization of right view and
right intention. Up to the present point these first two path factors have performed only
a preliminary function. Now they have to be taken up again and raised to a higher level.
Right view is to become a direct seeing into the real nature of phenomena, previously
grasped only conceptually; right intention, to become a true renunciation of defilements
born out of deep understanding.
Before we turn to the development of wisdom, it will be helpful to inquire why
concentration is not adequate to the attainment of liberation. Concentration does not
suffice to bring liberation because it fails to touch the defilements at their fundamental
level. The Buddha teaches that the defilements are stratified into three layers: the stage
of latent tendency, the stage of manifestation, and the stage of transgression. The most
deeply grounded is the level of latent tendency (anusaya), where a defilement
merely lies dormant without displaying any activity. The second level is the stage of
manifestation (pariyutthana), where a defilement, through the impact of some
stimulus, surges up in the form of unwholesome thoughts, emotions, and volitions. Then, at
the third level, the defilement passes beyond a purely mental manifestation to motivate
some unwholesome action of body or speech. Hence this level is called the stage of
The three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path provide the check against this
threefold layering of the defilements. The first, the training in moral discipline,
restrains unwholesome bodily and verbal activity and thus prevents defilements from
reaching the stage of transgression. The training in concentration provides the safeguard
against the stage of manifestation. It removes already manifest defilements and protects
the mind from their continued influx. But even though concentration may be pursued to the
depths of full absorption, it cannot touch the basic source of affliction -- the latent
tendencies lying dormant in the mental continuum. Against these concentration is
powerless, since to root them out calls for more than mental calm. What it calls for,
beyond the composure and serenity of the unified mind, is wisdom (pa˝˝a), a
penetrating vision of phenomena in their fundamental mode of being.
Wisdom alone can cut off the latent tendencies at their root because the most
fundamental member of the set, the one which nurtures the others and holds them in place,
is ignorance (avijja), and wisdom is the remedy for ignorance. Though verbally a
negative, "unknowing," ignorance is not a factual negative, a mere privation of
right knowledge. It is, rather, an insidious and volatile mental factor incessantly at
work inserting itself into every compartment of our inner life. It distorts cognition,
dominates volition, and determines the entire tone of our existence. As the Buddha says:
"The element of ignorance is indeed a powerful element" (SN 14:13).
At the cognitive level, which is its most basic sphere of operation, ignorance
infiltrates our perceptions, thoughts, and views, so that we come to misconstrue our
experience, overlaying it with multiple strata of delusions. The most important of these
delusions are three: the delusions of seeing permanence in the impermanent, of seing
satisfaction in the unsatisfactory, and of seeing a self in the selfless. Thus we take ourselves and our world to be solid, stable, enduring
entities, despite the ubiquitous reminders that everything is subject to change and
destruction. We assume we have an innate right to pleasure, and direct our efforts to
increasing and intensifying our enjoyment with an anticipatory fervour undaunted by
repeated encounters with pain, disappointment, and frustration. And we perceive ourselves
as self-contained egos, clinging to the various ideas and images we form of ourselves as
the irrefragable truth of our identity.
Whereas ignorance obscures the true nature of things, wisdom removes the veils of
distortion, enabling us to see phenomena in their fundamental mode of being with the
vivacity of direct perception. The training in wisdom centres on the development of
insight (vipassana-bhavana), a deep and comprehensive seeing into the nature of
existence which fathoms the truth of our being in the only sphere where it is directly
accessible to us, namely, in our own experience. Normally we are immersed in our
experience, identified with it so completely that we do not comprehend it. We live it but
fail to understand its nature. Due to this blindness experience comes to be misconstrued,
worked upon by the delusions of permanence, pleasure, and self. Of these cognitive
distortions, the most deeply grounded and resistant is the delusion of self, the idea that
at the core of our being there exists a truly established "I" with which we are
essentially identified. This notion of self, the Buddha teaches, is an error, a mere
presupposition lacking a real referent. Yet, though a mere presupposition, the idea of
self is not inconsequential. To the contrary, it entails consequences that can be
calamitous. Because we make the view of self the lookout point from which we survey the
world, our minds divide everything up into the dualities of "I" and "not
I," what is "mine" and what is "not mine." Then, trapped in these
dichotomies, we fall victim to the defilements they breed, the urges to grasp and destroy,
and finally to the suffering that inevitably follows.
To free ourselves from all defilements and suffering, the illusion of selfhood that
sustains them has to be dispelled, exploded by the realization of selflessness. Precisely
this is the task set for the development of wisdom. The first step along the path of
development is an analytical one. In order to uproot the view of self, the field of
experience has to be laid out in certain sets of factors, which are then methodically
investigated to ascertain that none of them singly or in combination can be taken as a
self. This analytical treatment of experience, so characteristic of the higher reaches of
Buddhist philosophical psychology, is not intended to suggest that experience, like a
watch or car, can be reduced to an accidental conglomeration of separable parts.
Experience does have an irreducible unity, but this unity is functional rather than
substantial; it does not require the postulate of a unifying self separate from the
factors, retaining its identity as a constant amidst the ceaseless flux.
The method of analysis applied most often is that of the five aggregates of clinging (panc'upadanakkhandha):
material form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. Material form constitutes the material side of existence: the bodily
organism with its sense faculties and the outer objects of cognition. The other four
aggregates constitute the mental side. Feeling provides the affective tone, perception the
factor of noting and identifying, the mental formations the volitional and emotive
elements, and consciousness the basic awareness essential to the whole occasion of
experience. The analysis by way of the five aggregates paves the way for an attempt to see
experience solely in terms of its constituting factors, without slipping in implicit
references to an unfindable self. To gain this perspective requires the development of
intensive mindfulness, now applied to the fourth foundation, the contemplation of the
factors of existence (dhammanupassana). The disciple will dwell contemplating the
five aggregates, their arising and passing:
The disciple dwells in contemplation of phenomena, namely, of the five aggregates of
clinging. He knows what material form is, how it arises, how it passes away; knows what
feeling is, how it arises, how it passes away; knows what perception is, how it arises,
how it passes away; knows what mental formations are, how they arise, how they pass away;
knows what consciousness is, how it arises, how it passes away.
Or the disciple may instead base his contemplation on the six internal and external
spheres of sense experience, that is, the six sense faculties and their corresponding
objects, also taking note of the "fetters" or defilements that arise from such
The disciple dwells in contemplation of phenomena, namely, of the six internal and
external sense bases. He knows the eye and forms, the ear and sounds, the nose and odours,
the tongue and tastes, the body and tangibles, the mind and mental objects; and he knows
as well the fetter that arises in dependence on them. He understands how the unarisen
fetter arises, how the arisen fetter is abandoned, and how the abandoned fetter does not
arise again in the future.
The view of self is further attenuated by examining the factors of existence, not
analytically, but in terms of their relational structure. Inspection reveals that the
aggregates exist solely in dependence on conditions. Nothing in the set enjoys the
absolute self-sufficiency of being attributed to the assumed "I." Whatever
factors in the body-mind complex be looked at, they are found to be dependently arisen,
tied to the vast net of events extending beyond themselves temporally and spatially. The
body, for example, has arisen through the union of sperm and egg and subsists in
dependence on food, water, and air. Feeling, perception, and mental formations occur in
dependence on the body with its sense faculties. They require an object, the corresponding
consciousness, and the contact of the object with the consciousness through the media of
the sense faculties. Consciousness in its turn depends on the sentient organism and the
entire assemblage of co-arisen mental factors. This whole process of becoming, moreover,
has arisen from the previous lives in this particular chain of existences and inherit all
the accumulated kamma of the earlier existences. Thus nothing possesses a self-sufficient
mode of being. All conditioned phenomena exist relationally, contingent and dependent on
The above two steps -- the factorial analysis and the discernment of relations -- help
cut away the intellectual adherence to the idea of self, but they lack sufficient power to
destroy the ingrained clinging to the ego sustained by erroneous perception. To uproot
this subtle form of ego-clinging requires a counteractive perception: direct insight into
the empty, coreless nature of phenomena. Such an insight is generated by contemplating the
factors of existence in terms of their three universal marks -- impermanence (aniccata),
unsatisfactoriness (dukkhata), and selflessness (anattata). Generally, the
first of the three marks to be discerned is impermanence, which at the level of insight
does not mean merely that everything eventually comes to an end. At this level it means
something deeper and more pervasive, namely, that conditioned phenomena are in constant
process, happenings which break up and perish almost as soon as they arise. The stable
objects appearing to the senses reveal themselves to be strings of momentary formations (sankhara);
the person posited by common sense dissolves into a current made up of two intertwining
streams -- a stream of material events, the aggregate of material form, and a stream of
mental events, the other four aggregates.
When impermanence is seen, insight into the other two marks closely follows. Since the
aggregates are constantly breaking up, we cannot pin our hopes on them for any lasting
satisfaction. Whatever expectations we lay on them are bound to be dashed to pieces by
their inevitable change. Thus when seen with insight they are dukkha, suffering, in
the deepest sense. Then, as the aggregates are impermanent and unsatisfactory, they cannot
be taken as self. If they were self, or the belongings of a self, we would be able to
control them and bend them to our will, to make them everlasting sources of bliss. But far
from being able to exercise such mastery, we find them to be grounds of pain and
disappointment. Since they cannot be subjected to control, these very factors of our being
are anatta: not a self, not the belongings of a self, just empty, ownerless
phenomena occurring in dependence on conditions.
When the course of insight practice is entered, the eight path factors become charged
with an intensity previously unknown. They gain in force and fuse together into the unity
of a single cohesive path heading towards the goal. In the practice of insight all eight
factors and three trainings co-exist; each is there supporting all the others; each makes
its own unique contribution to the work. The factors of moral discipline hold the
tendencies to transgression in check with such care that even the thought of unethical
conduct does not arise. The factors of the concentration group keep the mind firmly fixed
upon the stream of phenomena, contemplating whatever arises with impeccable precision,
free from forgetfulness and distraction. Right view, as the wisdom of insight, grows
continually sharper and deeper; right intention shows itself in a detachment and
steadiness of purpose bringing an unruffled poise to the entire process of contemplation.
Insight meditation takes as its objective sphere the "conditioned formations"
(sankhara) comprised in the five aggregates. Its task is to uncover their essential
characteristics: the three marks of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness.
Because it still deals with the world of conditioned events, the Eightfold Path in the
stage of insight is called the mundane path (lokiyamagga). This designation in no
way implies that the path of insight is concerned with mundane goals, with achievements
falling in the range of samsara. It aspires to transcendence, it leads to liberation, but
its objective domain of contemplation still lies within the conditioned world. However,
this mundane contemplation of the conditioned serves as the vehicle for reaching the
unconditioned, for attaining the supramundane. When insight meditation reaches its climax,
when it fully comprehends the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness of
everything formed, the mind breaks through the conditioned and realizes the unconditioned,
Nibbana. It sees Nibbana with direct vision, makes it an object of immediate realization.
The breakthrough to the unconditioned is achieved by a type of consciousness or mental
event called the supramundane path (lokuttaramagga). The supramundane path occurs
in four stages, four "supramundane paths," each marking a deeper level of
realization and issuing in a fuller degree of liberation, the fourth and last in complete
liberation. The four paths can be achieved in close proximity to one another -- for those
with extraordinarily sharp faculties even in the same sitting -- or (as is more typically
the case) they can be spread out over time, even over several lifetimes. The supramundane paths share in common the penetration of the Four Noble
Truths. They understand them, not conceptually, but intuitively. They grasp them through
vision, seeing them with self-validating certainty to be the invariable truths of
existence. The vision of the truths which they present is complete at one moment. The four
truths are not understood sequentially, as in the stage of reflection when thought is the
instrument of understanding. They are seen simultaneously: to see one truth with the path
is to see them all.
As the path penetrates the four truths, the mind exercises four simultaneous functions,
one regarding each truth. It fully comprehends the truth of suffering, seeing all
conditioned existence as stamped with the mark of unsatisfactoriness. At the same time it
abandons craving, cuts through the mass of egotism and desire that repeatedly gives birth
to suffering. Again, the mind realizes cessation, the deathless element Nibbana, now
directly present to the inner eye. And fourthly, the mind develops the Noble Eightfold
Path, whose eight factors spring up endowed with tremendous power, attained to
supramundane stature: right view as the direct seeing of Nibbana, right intention as the
mind's application to Nibbana , the triad of ethical factors as the checks on moral
transgression, right effort as the energy in the path-consciousness, right mindfulness as
the factor of awareness, and right concentration as the mind's one-pointed focus. This
ability of the mind to perform four functions at the same moment is compared to a candle's
ability to simultaneously burn the wick, consume the wax, dispel darkness, and give
The supramundane paths have the special task of eradicating the defilements. Prior to
the attainment of the paths, in the stages of concentration and even insight meditation,
the defilements were not cut off but were only debilitated, checked and suppressed by the
training of the higher mental faculties. Beneath the surface they continued to linger in
the form of latent tendencies. But when the supramundane paths are reached, the work of
Insofar as they bind us to the round of becoming, the defilements are classified into a
set of ten "fetters" (samyojana) as follows: (1) personality view, (2)
doubt, (3) clinging to rules and rituals, (4) sensual desire, (5) aversion, (6) desire for
fine-material existence, (7) desire for immaterial existence, (8) conceit, (9)
restlessness, and (10) ignorance. The four supramundane paths each eliminate a certain
layer of defilements. The first, the path of stream-entry (sotapatti-magga), cuts
off the first three fetters, the coarsest of the set, eliminates them so they can never
arise again. "Personality view" (sakkaya-ditthi), the view of a truly
existent self in the five aggregates, is cut off since one sees the selfless nature of all
phenomena. Doubt is eliminated because one has grasped the truth proclaimed by the Buddha,
seen it for oneself, and so can never again hang back due to uncertainty. And clinging to
rules and rites is removed since one knows that deliverance can be won only through the
practice of the Eightfold Path, not through rigid moralism or ceremonial observances.
The path is followed immediately by another state of supramundane consciousness known
as the fruit (phala), which results from the path's work of cutting off
defilements. Each path is followed by its own fruit, wherein for a few moments the mind
enjoys the blissful peace of Nibbana before descending again to the level of mundane
consciousness. The first fruit is the fruit of stream-entry, and a person who has gone
through the experience of this fruit becomes a "stream-enterer" (sotapanna).
He has entered the stream of the Dhamma carrying him to final deliverance. He is bound for
liberation and can no longer fall back into the ways of an unenlightened worldling. He
still has certain defilements remaining in his mental makeup, and it may take him as long
as seven more lives to arrive at the final goal, but he has acquired the essential
realization needed to reach it, and there is no way he can fall away.
An enthusiastic practitioner with sharp faculties, after reaching stream-entry, does
not relax his striving but puts forth energy to complete the entire path as swiftly as
possible. He resumes his practice of insight contemplation, passes through the ascending
stages of insight-knowledge, and in time reaches the second path, the path of the
once-returner (sakadagami-magga). This supramundane path does not totally eradicate
any of the fetters, but it attenuates the roots of greed, aversion, and delusion.
Following the path the meditator experiences its fruit, then emerges as a
"once-returner" who will return to this world at most only one more time before
attaining full liberation.
But our practitioner again takes up the task of contemplation. At the next stage of
supramundane realization he attains the third path, the path of the non-returner (anagami-magga),
with which he cuts off the two fetters of sensual desire and ill will. From that point on
he can never again fall into the grip of any desire for sense pleasure, and can never be
aroused to anger, aversion, or discontent. As a non-returner he will not return to the
human state of existence in any future life. If he does not reach the last path in this
very life, then after death he will be reborn in a higher sphere in the fine-material
world (rupaloka) and there reach deliverance.
But our meditator again puts forth effort, develops insight, and at its climax enters
the fourth path, the path of arahatship (arahatta-magga). With this path he cuts
off the five remaining fetters -- desire for fine-material existence and desire for
immaterial existence, conceit, restlessness, and ignorance. The first is the desire for
rebirth into the celestial planes made accessible by the four jhanas, the planes commonly
subsumed under the name "the Brahma-world." The second is the desire for rebirth
into the four immaterial planes made accessible by the achievement of the four immaterial
attainments. Conceit (mana) is not the coarse type of pride to which we become
disposed through an over-estimation of our virtues and talents, but the subtle residue of
the notion of an ego which subsists even after conceptually explicit views of self have
been eradicated. The texts refer to this type of conceit as the conceit "I am" (asmimana).
Restlessness (uddhacca) is the subtle excitement which persists in any mind not yet
completely enlightened, and ignorance (avijja) is the fundamental cognitive
obscuration which prevents full understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Although the
grosser grades of ignorance have been scoured from the mind by the wisdom faculty in the
first three paths, a thin veil of ignorance overlays the truths even in the non-returner.
The path of arahatship strips away this last veil of ignorance and, with it, all the
residual mental defilements. This path issues in perfect comprehension of the Four Noble
Truths. It fully fathoms the truth of suffering; eradicates the craving from which
suffering springs; realizes with complete clarity the unconditioned element, Nibbana, as
the cessation of suffering; and consummates the development of the eight factors of the
Noble Eightfold Path.
With the attainment of the fourth path and fruit the disciple emerges as an arahat, one
who in this very life has been liberated from all bonds. The arahat has walked the Noble
Eightfold Path to its end and lives in the assurance stated so often in the formula from
the Pali Canon: "Destroyed is birth; the holy life has been lived; what had to be
done has been done; there is no coming back to any state of being." The arahat is no
longer a practitioner of the path but its living embodiment. Having developed the eight
factors of the path to their consummation, the Liberated One lives in the enjoyment of
their fruits, enlightenment and final deliverance.
This completes our survey of the Noble Eightfold Path, the way to deliverance from
suffering taught by the Buddha. The higher reaches of the path may seem remote from us in
our present position, the demands of practice may appear difficult to fulfil. But even if
the heights of realization are now distant, all that we need to reach them lies just
beneath our feet. The eight factors of the path are always accessible to us; they are
mental components which can be established in the mind simply through determination and
effort. We have to begin by straightening out our views and clarifying our intentions.
Then we have to purify our conduct -- our speech, action, and livelihood. Taking these
measures as our foundation, we have to apply ourselves with energy and mindfulness to the
cultivation of concentration and insight. The rest is a matter of gradual practice and
gradual progress, without expecting quick results. For some progress may be rapid, for
others it may be slow, but the rate at which progress occurs should not cause elation or
discouragement. Liberation is the inevitable fruit of the path and is bound to blossom
forth when there is steady and persistent practice. The only requirements for reaching the
final goal are two: to start and to continue. If these requirements are met there is no
doubt the goal will be attained. This is the Dhamma, the undeviating law.
A Factorial Analysis of the Noble Eightfold Path
(Pali and English)
I. Samma ditthi ..... Right view
dukkhe ˝ana ..... understanding suffering
dukkhasamudaye ˝ana ..... understanding its origin
dukkhanirodhe ˝ana ..... understanding its cessation
dukkhanirodhagaminipatipadaya ˝ana ..... understanding the way leading to its
II. Samma sankappa ..... Right intention
nekkhamma-sankappa ..... intention of renunciation
abyapada-sankappa ..... intention of good will
avihimsa-sankappa ..... intention of harmlessness
III. Samma vaca ..... Right speech
musavada veramani ..... abstaining from false speech
pisunaya vacaya veramani ..... abstaining from slanderous speech
pharusaya vacaya veramani ..... abstaining from harsh speech
samphappalapa veramani ..... abstaining from idle chatter
IV. Samma kammanta ..... Right action
panatipata veramani ..... abstaining from taking life
adinnadana veramani ..... abstaining from stealing
kamesu micchacara veramani ..... abstaining from sexual misconduct
V. Samma ajiva ..... Right livelihood
miccha ajivam pahaya ..... giving up wrong livelihood,
samma ajivena jivitam kappeti ..... one earns one's living by a right form of
VI. Samma vayama ..... Right effort
samvarappadhana ..... the effort to restrain defilements
pahanappadhana ..... the effort to abandon defilements
bhavanappadhana ..... the effort to develop wholesome states
anurakkhanappadhana ..... the effort to maintain wholesome states
VII. Samma sati ..... Right mindfulness
kayanupassana ..... mindful contemplation of the body
vedananupassana ..... mindful contemplation of feelings
cittanupassana ..... mindful contemplation of the mind
dhammanupassana ..... mindful contemplation of phenomena
VIII. Samma samadhi ..... Right concentration
pathamajjhana ..... the first jhana
dutiyajjhana ..... the second jhana
tatiyajjhana ..... the third jhana
catutthajjhana ..... the fourth jhana
I. General treatments of the Noble Eightfold Path:
Ledi Sayadaw. The Noble Eightfold Path and Its Factors Explained. (Wheel
Nyanatiloka Thera. The Word of the Buddha. (BPS 14th ed., 1968).
Piyadassi Thera. The Buddha's Ancient Path. (BPS 3rd ed., 1979).
II. Right View:
Đanamoli, Bhikkhu. The Discourse on Right View. (Wheel 377/379).
Nyanatiloka Thera. Karma and Rebirth. (Wheel 9).
Story, Francis. The Four Noble Truths. (Wheel 34/35).
Wijesekera, O.H. de A. The Three Signata. (Wheel 20).
III. Right Intentions:
Đanamoli Thera. The Practice of Lovingkindness. (Wheel 7).
Nyanaponika Thera. The Four Sublime States. (Wheel 6).
Prince, T. Renunciation. (Bodhi Leaf B 36).
IV. Right Speech, Right Action, & Right Livelihood:
Bodhi, Bhikkhu. Going for Refuge and Taking the Precepts. (Wheel 282/284).
Narada Thera. Everyman's Ethics. (Wheel 14).
Vajira˝anavarorasa. The Five Precepts and the Five Ennoblers. (Bangkok:
V. Right Effort:
Nyanaponika Thera. The Five Mental Hindrances and Their Conquest. (Wheel 26).
Piyadassi Thera. The Seven Factors of Enlightenment. (Wheel 1).
Soma Thera. The Removal of Distracting Thoughts.(Wheel 21).
VI. Right Mindfulness:
Nyanaponika Thera. The Heart of Buddhist Meditation.(London: Rider, 1962; BPS,
Nyanaponika Thera. The Power of Mindfulness. (Wheel 121/122).
Nyanasatta Thera. The Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutta). (Wheel
Soma Thera. The Way of Mindfulness. (BPS, 3rd ed., 1967).
VII. Right Concentration & The Development of Wisdom:
Buddhaghosa, Bhadantacariya. The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga).
Translated by Bhikkhu Đanamoli, 4th ed. (BPS, 1979).
Khantipalo, Bhikkhu. Calm and Insight. (London: Curzon, 1980).
Ledi Sayadaw. A Manual of Insight. (Wheel 31/32).
Nyanatiloka Thera. The Buddha's Path to Deliverance. (BPS, 1982).
Sole-Leris, Amadeo. Tranquillity and Insight. (London: Rider, 1986; BPS 1992).
Vajira˝ana, Paravahera. Buddhist Meditation in Theory and Practice. 2nd ed.
(Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Buddhist Missionary Society, 1975).
All Wheel publications and Bodhi Leaves referred to above are published by the Buddhist
About the Author
Bhikkhu Bodhi is a Buddhist monk of American nationality, born in New York City in
1944. After completing a doctorate in philosophy at the Claremont Graduate School, he came
to Sri Lanka for the purpose of entering the Sangha. He received novice ordination in 1972
and higher ordination in 1973, both under the eminent scholar-monk, Ven. Balangoda Ananda
Maitreya, with whom he studied Pali and Dhamma. He is the author of several works on
Theravada Buddhism, including four translations of major Pali suttas along with their
commentaries. Since 1984 he has been the Editor for the Buddhist Publication Society, and
since 1988 its President.
1. Ignorance is actually identical in nature with the
unwholesome root "delusion" (moha). When the Buddha speaks in a
psychological context about mental factors, he generally uses the word
"delusion"; when he speaks about the causal basis of samsara, he uses the
word "ignorance" (avijja). [Go back]
2. SN 56:11; Word of the Buddha, p. 26 [Go
3. Ibid. [Go back]
4. Adhisilasikkha, adhicittasikkha, adhipa˝˝asikkha. [Go back]
5. AN 3:33; Word of the Buddha, p. 19. [Go
6. MN 117; Word of the Buddha, p. 36. [Go
7. AN 6:63; Word of the Buddha, p. 19. [Go
8. MN 9; Word of the Buddha, p. 29. [Go
9. See DN 2, MN 27, etc. For details, see Vism. XIII,
72-101. [Go back]
10. DN 22; Word of the Buddha, p. 29. [Go
11. DN 22, SN 56:11; Word of the Buddha, p. 3 [Go back]
12. Ibid. Word of the Buddha, p. 16. [Go
13. Ibid. Word of the Buddha, p. 22. [Go
14. Nekkhammasankappa, abyapada sankappa, avihimsasankappa.
15. Kamasankappa, byapadasankappa, avihimsasankappa.
Though kama usually means sensual desire, the context seems to allow a wider
interpretation, as self-seeking desire in all its forms. [Go back]
16. AN 1:16.2. [Go back]
17. Strictly speaking, greed or desire (raga) becomes
immoral only when it impels actions violating the basic principles of ethics, such as
killing, stealing, adultery, etc. When it remains merely as a mental factor or issues in
actions not inherently immoral -- e.g. the enjoyment of good food, the desire for
recognition, sexual relations that do not hurt others -- it is not immoral but is still a
form of craving causing bondage to suffering. [Go back]
18. For a full account of the dukkha tied up with sensual
desire, see MN 13. [Go back]
19. This might appear to contradict what we said earlier, that
metta is free from self-reference. The contradiction is only apparent, however, for
in developing metta towards oneself one regards oneself objectively, as a third
person. Further, the kind of love developed is not self-cherishing but a detached
altruistic wish for one's own well-being. [Go back]
20. Any other formula found to be effective may be used in
place of the formula given here. For a full treatment, see Đanamoli Thera, The
Practice of Lovingkindness, Wheel No. 7. [Go back]
21. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, p. 50. [Go back]
22. MN 61. [Go back]
23. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, p. 50. [Go back]
24. Subcommentary to Digha Nikaya. [Go back]
25. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, pp. 50-51. [Go back]
26. MN 21; Word of the Buddha, p. 51. [Go
27. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, p. 51 [Go
28. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, p. 53. [Go back]
29. HRH Prince Vajira˝anavarorasa, The Five Precepts and
the Five Ennoblers (Bangkok, 1975), pp. 1-9. [Go back]
30. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, p. 53. [Go back]
31. The Five Precepts and the Five Ennoblers gives a
fuller list, pp. 10-13. [Go back]
32. AN 10:176; Word of the Buddha, p. 53. [Go back]
33. The following is summarized from The Five Precepts and
the Five Ennoblers, pp. 16-18. [Go back]
34. See AN 4:62; AN 5:41; AN 8:54. [Go back]
35. The Five Precepts and the Five Ennoblers, pp.
45-47. [Go back]
36. Papa˝casudani (Commentary to Majjhima Nikaya). [Go back]
37. MN 70; Word of the Buddha, pp. 59-60. [Go back]
38. AN 4:13; Word of the Buddha, p. 57. [Go
39. Kamacchanda, byapada, thina-middha, uddhacca-kukkucca,
vicikiccha. [Go back]
40. AN 4:14; Word of the Buddha, p. 57. [Go
41. AN 4:13; Word of the Buddha, p. 58. [Go
42. AN 4:14; Word of the Buddha, p. 58. [Go
43. MN 20; Word of the Buddha, p. 58. [Go
44. For a full treatment of the methods for dealing with the
hindrances individually, consult the commentary to the Satipatthana Sutta (DN 22, MN 10).
A translation of the relevant passages, with further extracts from the subcommentary, can
be found in Soma Thera, The Way of Mindfulness, pp. 116-26. [Go back]
45. AN 4:13; Word of the Buddha, pp. 58-59. [Go back]
46. AN 4:14; Word of the Buddha, p.59. The Pali names
for the seven are: satisambojjhanga, dhammavicayasambojjhanga, viriyasambojjhanga,
pitisambojjhanga, passaddhisambojjhanga, samadhisambojjhanga, upekkhasambojjhanga.
47. AN 4:13; Word of the Buddha, p. 59. [Go
48. AN 4:14; Word of the Buddha, p. 59. [Go
49. Dhammo sanditthiko akaliko ehipassiko opanayiko
paccattam veditabbo vi˝˝uhi. (M. 7, etc.) [Go back]
50. Commentary to Vism. See Vism. XIV, n. 64. [Go
51. Sometimes the word satipatthana is translated
"foundation of mindfulness," with emphasis on the objective side, sometimes
"application of mindfulness," with emphasis on the subjective side. Both
explanations are allowed by the texts and commentaries. [Go back]
52. DN 22; Word of the Buddha, p. 61. [Go
53. Ibid. Word of the Buddha, p. 61. [Go
54. For details, see Vism. VIII, 145-244. [Go
55. See Soma Thera, The Way of Mindfulness, pp. 58-97. [Go back]
56. Asubha-bhavana. The same subject is also called the
perception of repulsiveness (patikkulasa˝˝a) and mindfulness concerning the body (kayagata
sati). [Go back]
57. For details, see Vism. VIII, 42-144. [Go
58. For details, see Vism. XI, 27-117. [Go back]
59. For a full account, see Soma Thera, The Way of
Mindfulness, pp. 116-127. [Go back]
60. Ibid., pp. 131-146. [Go back]
61. In what follows I have to restrict myself to a brief
overview. For a full exposition, see Vism., Chapters III-XI. [Go back]
62. See Vism. IV, 88-109. [Go back]
63. Some common renderings such as "trance,"
"musing," etc., are altogether misleading and should be discarded. [Go back]
64. DN 22; Word of the Buddha, pp. 80-81. [Go back]
65. In Pali: akasana˝cayatana, vi˝˝ana˝cayatana,
aki˝ca˝˝ayatana, n'eva-sa˝˝a-nasa˝˝ayatana. [Go back]
66. Anicce niccavipallasa, dukkhe sukhavipallasa, anattani
atta-vipallasa. AN 4:49. [Go back]
67. In Pali: rupakkhandha, vedanakkhandha, sa˝˝akkhandha,
sankharakkhandha, vi˝˝anakkhandha. [Go back]
68. DN 22; Word of the Buddha, pp. 71-72. [Go back]
69. DN 22; Word of the Buddha, p. 73. [Go
70. In the first edition of this book I stated here that the
four paths have to be passed through sequentially, such that there is no attainment of a
higher path without first having reached the paths below it. This certainly seems to be
the position of the Commentaries. However, the Suttas sometimes show individuals
proceeding directly from the stage of worldling to the third or even the fourth path and
fruit. Though the commentator explains that they passed through each preceding path and
fruit in rapid succession, the canonical texts themselves give no indication that this has
transpired but suggest an immediate realization of the higher stages without the
intermediate attainment of the lower stages. [Go back]
71. See Vism. XXII, 92-103. [Go back]