- The Progress of Insight (Visuddhiñana-katha)
- A Modern Treatise on Buddhist Satipatthana Meditation
- The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw
- Translated from the Pali with Notes by
- Nyanaponika Thera
- Copyright © 1994 Buddhist Publication Society
To present to the reading public a treatise on Buddhist meditation needs no word of
apology today. In wide circles of the West, Buddhist meditation is no longer regarded as a
matter of purely academic or exotic interest. Under the stress and complexity of modern
life the need for mental and spiritual regeneration is now widely felt, and in the field
of the mind's methodical development the value of Buddhist meditation has been recognized
and tested by many.
It is, in particular, the Buddha's Way of Mindfulness (satipatthana) that has
been found invaluable because it is adaptable to, and beneficial in, widely different
conditions of life. The present treatise is based on this method of cultivating
mindfulness and awareness, which ultimately aims at the mind's final liberation from
greed, hatred, and delusion.
The author of this treatise, the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw (U Sobhana Mahathera), is a
Buddhist monk of contemporary Burma and an eminent meditation master. A brief sketch of
his life is included in this volume. The path of meditation described in these pages was,
and still is, taught by him in his meditation centre called Thathana Yeiktha, in Rangoon,
and is also set forth in his lectures and books in the Burmese language.
The framework of the treatise is provided by the classical "seven stages of
purification" (satta-visuddhi), just as in Acariya Buddhaghosa's famous Visuddhimagga.
On gradually reaching these stages, various phases of insight knowledge (ñana) are
developed, leading on to the stages of ultimate liberation. The approach followed is that
of "bare insight" (sukkha-vipassana) where, by direct observation, one's
own bodily and mental processes are seen with increasing clarity as being impermanent,
liable to suffering, and without a self or soul. The meditational practice begins with a
few selected subjects of body-contemplation, which are retained up to the very end of the
road. With the gradually increasing strength of mindfulness and concentration the range
widens and the vision deepens until the insight knowledges unfold themselves in due order,
as a natural outcome of the practice. This approach to the ultimate goal of Buddhist
meditation is called bare insight because insight into the three characteristics of
existence is made use of exclusively here, dispensing with the prior development of full
concentrative absorption (jhana). Nevertheless, and it hardly needs mention, here
too a high degree of mental concentration is required for perseverance in the practice,
for attaining to insight knowledge, and for reaping its fruits.
As stated in the treatise itself (p.5), it is not the author's purpose to give a
detailed introduction to the practice for the use of beginners. The foremost concern in
this work is with a stage where, after diligent preliminary practice, the insight
knowledges have begun to emerge, leading up to the highest crest of spiritual achievement,
Arahantship. Of the basic exercises, the treatise gives only a brief indication, at the
beginning of Chapter I. Detailed instruction about these may be gathered by the student
from the author's Practical Insight Meditation or the translator's book The
Heart of Buddhist Meditation. Also a knowledge of the Buddha's original
"Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness" (Satipatthana Sutta) will be
This treatise was first written in the Burmese language and later, in 1950, a Pali
version of it was composed by the author. As the treatise deals chiefly with the advanced
stages of the practice, it was originally not intended for publication. Handwritten or
typed copies of the Burmese or Pali version were given only to those who, with some
measure of success, had concluded a strict course of practice at the meditation centre.
For the use of meditators from foreign countries, only a few cyclostyled sheets in
English, briefly describing the phases of insight knowledge, were issued instead of the
treatise itself. This was done to enable the meditator to identify his personal experience
with one or other of the stages described, so that he might direct his further progress
accordingly, without being diverted or misled by any secondary phenomena that may have
appeared during his practice.
In 1954 the Venerable Author agreed to a printed edition of the Pali version in Burmese
script, and after this first publication he also permitted, at the translator's request,
the issue of an English version. He had the great kindness to go carefully through the
draft translation and the Notes, with the linguistic help of an experienced Burmese lay
meditator, U Pe Thin, who for many years had ably served as an interpreter for meditators
from foreign countries. The translator's gratitude is due to both his Venerable Meditation
Master, the author, and to U Pe Thin.
On the Full-moon Day of June (Poson) 1965.
Homage to the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Fully Enlightened One
Homage to Him, the Great Omniscient Sage, Who spread the net of rays of His Good Law!
These rays of His Good Law -- His very message true -- Long may they shed their radiance
o'er the world!
This treatise explains the progress of insight, together
with the corresponding stages of purification. It has been
written in brief for the benefit of meditators who have obtained distinctive results in
their practice, so that they may more easily understand their experience. It is meant for
those who, in their practice of insight, have taken up as their main subject either the
tactile bodily process of motion, evident in the rising and
falling movement of the abdomen, or the tactile bodily
process based on three of the primary elements of matter
evident in the sensation of touch (bodily impact). It is meant for those who, by attending
to these exercises, have gained progressive insight as well into the whole body-and-mind
process arising at the six sense doors, and have finally
come to see the Dhamma, to attain to the Dhamma, to understand the Dhamma, to penetrate
the Dhamma, who have passed beyond doubt, freed themselves from uncertainty, obtained
assurance, and achieved independence of others in the Master's dispensation.
I. Purification of Conduct
Purification of conduct means here, in the case of male and female devotees (upasakas
and upasikas), the acceptance of the precepts, and the proper guarding and
protecting of their observance -- whether it be the Five Precepts, the Eight Uposatha
Precepts, or the Ten Precepts.
In the case of bhikkhus, purification of conduct is the well-kept purity of the
fourfold conduct incumbent upon monks, beginning with restraint according to the
disciplinary rules of bhikkhus, called the Patimokkha. Of that fourfold conduct, the
restraint according to the Patimokkha rules is of first importance, because only when that
restraint is pure will one be able to accomplish the development of meditation.
The Method of Insight in Brief
There are two kinds of meditation development, tranquillity (samatha) and
insight (vipassana). A person who, of these two, has first developed tranquillity,
and after having established himself in either access concentration or full
concentration, subsequently contemplates the five groups
of grasping, is called a samatha-yanika, "one
who has tranquillity as his vehicle."
As to his method of attaining insight, the Papañcasudani, commenting on the
Dhammadayada Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya, says: "Herein, a certain person first
produces access concentration or full concentration; this is tranquillity. He then applies
insight to that concentration and to the mental states associated with it, seeing them as
impermanent, etc.; this is insight." In the Visuddhimagga, too, it is said:
"He whose vehicle is tranquillity should first emerge from any fine-material or
immaterial jhana, except the base consisting of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, and
he should then discern, according to characteristic, function, etc., the jhana factors
consisting of applied thought, etc., and the mental states associated with them" (Path
of Purification, XVIII,3).
He, however, who has neither produced access concentration nor full concentration, but
from the very start applies insight to the five groups of grasping, is called suddha-vipassana-yanika, "one who has pure insight as his vehicle." As to
his method of attaining insight it is said in the same Commentary to the Dhammadayada
Sutta: "There is another person, who even without having produced the aforesaid
tranquillity, applies insight to the five groups of grasping, seeing them as impermanent,
etc." In the Visuddhimagga, too, it is said thus: "One who has pure
insight as his vehicle _ contemplates the four elements."
In the Susima-paribbajaka Sutta of the Nidanavagga Samyutta, too, it is said by the
Buddha: "First arises the knowledge comprehending the actual happening of things (dhammatthiti-ñana)
and afterwards arises the knowledge realizing Nibbana (nibbane ñana)."
When purification of conduct has been established, the meditator who has chosen pure
insight as his vehicle should endeavour to contemplate the body-and-mind (nama-rupa).
In doing so, he should contemplate, according to their characteristics, the five groups of grasping, that is, the bodily and mental processes
that become evident to him in his own life-continuity (at his own six sense doors).
Insight must, in fact, be developed by noticing,
according to their specific and general characteristics,
the bodily and mental processes that become evident at the six sense doors. At the
beginning, however, it is difficult to follow and to notice clearly all bodily and mental
processes that incessantly appear at the six sense doors. Therefore the meditator who is a
beginner should first notice the perfectly distinct process of touch, perceived through
the door of bodily sensitivity; because the Visuddhimagga says that in insight
meditation one should take up what is distinct. When sitting, there occurs the bodily
process of touch by way of the sitting posture and through touch sensitivity in the body.
These processes of tactile sensitivity should be noticed as "Sitting _ touching
_," and so forth, in due succession. Further, at the seated meditator's abdomen, the
tactile process of bodily motion (that is, the wind, or vibratory, element) which has
breathing as its condition, is perceptible continuously as the rise (expansion) and fall
(contraction) of the abdomen. That too should be noticed as "rising, falling,"
and so forth. While the meditator is thus engaged in noticing the element of motion which
impinges continuously on the door of bodily sensitivity in the abdomen, it becomes evident
to him in its aspects of stiffening, of vibrating, and of pushing and pulling. Here, the
aspect of stiffening shows the motion element's characteristic nature of
supporting; the aspect of vibrating shows its essential function of movement; and
the aspect of pushing and pulling shows its manifestation of impelling.
Hence the meditator, noticing the tactile bodily process of rise and fall of the
abdomen, accomplishes the observation of the bodily process (rupa), by
getting to know the characteristic nature, etc., of the element of motion. Later when he
has accomplished the observation of mind (nama) and the observation of both body
and mind (nama-rupa), he will also come to know the general
characteristics of the processes concerned -- their impermanence, liability to suffering,
and their being void of a self.
But while he is engaged in just noticing the rising and falling of the abdomen and
other tactile processes, there will appear thoughts of desire, etc., feelings of pleasure,
etc., or acts such as adjusting various parts of the body. At that time, these activities
(of mind and body) must be noticed, too. After noticing them, he should turn again to the
continuous noticing of the tactile process of the rising and falling of the abdomen, which
is the basic object of mindfulness in this practice.
This is a brief sketch of the methodical practice of insight. It is not the place here
to treat it in detail, because this is a brief essay on the progress of insight through
the stages of purification; it is not a treatise explaining in detail the methodical
practice of insight.
II. The Purification of Mind
During the early part of the methodical practice, as long as the meditator's mind is
not yet fully purified, wandering thoughts arisen by his thinking of objects of sense
desire, etc., will also appear intermittently between thoughts of noticing (the objects of
meditation). Sometimes the beginning meditator will perceive occurrence (of these
interruptions) and sometimes he will not. But even if he perceives them, it will be only
after a short time has elapsed after their appearance. For then the momentary
concentration of his mind is still very tender and weak. So these wandering thoughts
continue to hinder his mind while it is occupied in developing the practice of noticing.
Hence, these wandering thoughts are called "hindering thoughts."
When, however, the momentary concentration of his mind has become strong, the thought
process of noticing becomes well concentrated. Hence, when attending to the objects to be
noticed -- the abdominal movement, sitting, touching, bending, stretching, seeing,
hearing, etc. -- his noticing thoughts now appear as if falling upon these objects, as if
striking at them, as if confronting them again and again. Then, as a rule, his mind will
no longer go elsewhere. Only occasionally, and in a slight degree, will this happen, and
even in those cases he will be able to notice any such stray thought at its very arising,
as expressed in common speech; or, to be exact, he will notice the stray thought
immediately after its actual arising. Then that stray thought will subside as soon as it
is noticed and will not arise again. Immediately afterwards he will also be able to resume
continuous noticing of any object as it becomes evident to him. That is why his mind at
that time is called "unhindered."
While the meditator is thus practising the exercise of noticing with unhindered mind,
the noticing mind will close in upon and fix on whatever object is being noticed, and the
act of noticing will proceed without break. At that time there arises in him in
uninterrupted succession "the concentration of mind lasting for a moment,"
directed to each object noticed. This is called purification of mind.
Though that concentration has only momentary duration, its power of resistance to being
overwhelmed by opposition corresponds to that of access concentration.
In the Commentary to the Visuddhimagga, in the explanation of the chapter
relating to mindfulness of breathing, it is said thus: " 'Momentary unification of
mind' means the concentration of mind lasting only for a moment. For that (type of
concentration), too, when it occurs uninterruptedly with its respective object in a single
mode and is not overcome by opposition, fixes the mind immovably, as if in
"It occurs uninterruptedly with its respective object" refers to the
uninterrupted continuity of the thoughts engaged in noticing; after noticing one object,
one attends, in the same manner, to another that follows immediately; again, having noticed that object, one turns to the next one, and so on.
"In a single mode" means: though the objects to be noticed, as they present
themselves, are numerous and varied, yet the force of concentration of the mind
uninterruptedly engaged in noticing remains virtually on the same level. For what is meant
here is: just as the first object was noticed with a certain degree of concentration, so
the second, third, and other subsequent objects are noticed in each case with the same
degree of concentration.
"Is not overcome by opposition": this means that the momentary concentration
in its uninterrupted flow is not overwhelmed by the mental hindrances.
"As if in absorption": this means that the strength of the momentary
concentration is similar to that of concentration which has reached full mental
absorption. However, such similarity of momentary concentration with fully absorbed
concentration will become evident (only) when the methodical practice of insight reaches
But is it not said in the Commentaries that the term "purification of mind"
applies only to access concentration and fully absorbed concentration? That is true; but
one has to take this statement in the sense that momentary concentration is included in
access concentration. For in the Commentary to the Satipatthana Sutta it is said:
"The remaining twelve exercises are subjects of meditation leading only to Access
Concentration." Now, in the case of the subjects
dealt with in the sections of the Satipatthana Sutta on postures, clear comprehension and
elements, the concentration of one who devotes himself to these exercises will be
definitely only momentary concentration. But as the latter is able to suppress the
hindrances just as access concentration does, and since
it is the neighbourhood of the noble-path attainment concentration, therefore that same momentary concentration is spoken of by the name of
"access" (or "neighbourhood") and also the meditation subjects that
produce that momentary concentration are called "meditation subjects leading to
access concentration." Hence it should be understood that momentary concentration,
having the capacity to suppress the hindrances, has also the right to the name
"access" and "purification of mind." Otherwise purification of mind
could not come about in one who has made bare insight his vehicle by employing only
insight, without having produced either access concentration or fully absorbed
III. Purification of View
1. Analytical Knowledge of Body and Mind
Endowed with purification of mind and continuing the practice of noticing, the
meditator now comes to know body-and-mind analytically as follows: "The rising
(upward movement) of the abdomen is one process; the falling (downward movement) is
another; sitting is another; touching is another," etc. In this way he comes to know
how to distinguish each bodily process that he notices. Further he realizes: "The
knowing of the rising movement is one process; the knowing of the falling movement is
another." In that way he comes to know each mental act of noticing. Further he
realizes: "The rising movement is one process; the knowing of it is another. The
falling movement is one process; the knowing of it is another," and so on. In that
way he comes to know how to distinguish each bodily and mental process. All that knowledge
comes from simply noticing, not from reasoning; that is to say, it is knowledge by direct
experience arrived at by the mere act of noticing, and not knowledge derived from
Thus, when seeing a visual object with the eye, the meditator knows how to distinguish
each single factor involved: "The eye is one; the visual object is another; seeing is
another, and knowing it is another." The same manner applies in the case of the other
For at the time, in each act of noticing, the meditator comes to know analytically the
mental processes of noticing, and those of thinking and reflecting, knowing them for
himself through direct knowledge by his experience thus: "They have the nature of
going towards an object, inclining towards an object, cognizing an object." On the
other hand, he knows analytically the material processes going on in the whole body --
which are here described as "the rising and falling movements of the abdomen,"
"sitting," etc., knowing them thus: "These have not the nature of
going or inclining towards an object, or of cognizing an object." Such knowing is
called "knowing matter (or the body) by its manifestation of non-determining."
For it is said in the Mula-Tika, the "Principal Sub-commentary" to the
Abhidhamma Vibhanga: "In other words, 'non-determining' (as in the passage
quoted) should be understood as having no faculty of cognizing an object."
Such knowledge as this, which analyses in each act of noticing both the bodily process
noticed and the mental process engaged in noticing, according to their true essential
nature, is called "analytical knowledge of body and mind."
When that knowledge has come to maturity, the meditator understands thus: "At the
moment of breathing in, there is just the rising movement of the abdomen and the knowing
of the movement, but there is no self besides; at the moment of breathing out, there is
just the falling movement of the abdomen and the knowing of the movement, but there is no
self besides." Understanding it thus in these and other instances, he knows and sees
for himself by noticing thus: "There is here only that pair: a material process as
object, and a mental process of knowing it; and it is to that pair alone that the terms of
conventional usage 'being,' 'person' or 'soul,' 'I' or 'another,' 'man' or 'woman' refer.
But apart from that dual process there is no separate person or being, I or another, man
This is called purification of view.
IV. Purification by Overcoming Doubt
2. Knowledge by Discerning Conditionality
When purification of view has come to maturity, the conditions necessary for the bodily
and mental processes observed will also become evident. Firstly, the consciousness that is
the condition of the (respective) bodily process will be evident. How? For instance, when
bending the arms or legs, the consciousness intending to bend these limbs is evident. So
the meditator first notices that consciousness, and next he notices the act of bending,
and so on. Then he understands by direct experience: "When there is consciousness
intending to bend a limb, the bodily process of bending arises; when there is
consciousness intending to stretch a limb, the bodily process of stretching arises."
And in the same way he understands other instances too by direct experience.
Again, he also understands by direct experience the condition for the mental process,
in the following manner: "In the case of consciousness desirous of running off the
track, there arises first a corresponding consciousness giving initial attention (to the
distracting object). If that consciousness is not noticed (with mindfulness), then there
arises a consciousness that runs off the track. But if the consciousness of initial
attention to the distracting object is noticed and known, no stray thought will arise. It
is similar in the case of other (types of consciousness, for instance when taking delight
or being angry, greedy, etc.). When both the sense door of the eye and a visual object are
present, there arises visual consciousness; otherwise visual consciousness will not arise;
and so it is in the case of the other sense doors. If there is a noticeable or
recognizable object, then there arises consciousness engaged in noticing or thinking or
reasoning or understanding, as the case may be; otherwise no such consciousness arises.
Similarly he understands what occurs in every other instance (of mind-door cognition).
At that time, the meditator will generally experience many different painful feelings
arising in his body. Now, while one of these feelings is being noticed (but without
concern), another feeling will arise elsewhere; and while that is being noticed, again
another will appear elsewhere. Thus the meditator follows each feeling as it arises and
notices it. But though he is engaged in noticing these feelings as they arise, he will
only perceive their initial phase of "arising" and not their final phase of
Also many mental images of various shapes will then appear. The shape of a dagoba, a
monk, a man, a house, a tree, a park, a heavenly mansion, a cloud, and many other such
images will appear. Here, too, while the meditator is still engaged in noticing one of
these mental images, another will show itself; while still noticing that, yet another will
appear. Following thus the mental images as they arise, he goes on noticing them. But
though he is engaged in noticing them, he will perceive only their initial phase, not the
He now understands: "Consciousness arises in accordance with each object that
becomes evident. If there is an object, there arises consciousness; if there is no object,
no consciousness arises."
Between sequences of noticing he also, by considering inferentially, comes to know
thus: "It is due to the presence of such causes and conditions as ignorance, craving,
kamma, etc., that body-and-mind continue."
Such discernment through direct experience and through inference as described, when
noticing body-and-mind with their conditions, is called "knowledge of discerning
When that knowledge has come to maturity, the meditator perceives only body-and-mind
processes occurring in strict accordance with their particular and appropriate conditions
and he comes to the conclusion: "Here is only a conditioning body-and-mind process
and a conditioned body-and-mind process. Apart from these, there is no person who performs
the bending of the limbs, etc., or who experiences feelings of pain, etc."
This is called purification (of insight) by overcoming doubt.
3. Knowledge of Comprehension
When this "purification (of insight) by overcoming doubt" has reached
maturity, the meditator will discern distinctly the initial, middle, and final phases of
any object noticed by him. Then, in the case of various objects noticed, he will discern
distinctly that only after each earlier process has ceased, does there arise a subsequent
process. For instance, only when the rising movement of the abdomen has come to an end,
does there arise the falling movement; only when that has ended, is there again a rising
movement. So also in the case of walking: only when the lifting of the foot has come to an
end, does there arise the carrying forward of the foot; only when that has been completed,
does there follow the placing of the foot on the ground.
In the case of painful feelings, only after each single feeling occurring at its
particular place has ceased, will another new feeling arise at another place. On noticing
the respective painful feeling repeatedly, twice, thrice or more, the meditator will see
that it gradually grows less, and at last ceases entirely.
In the case of the variously shaped images that enter the mind's field, it is only
after each single image noticed has vanished, that another new object will come into the
mind's focus. On noticing them attentively twice, thrice or more, he will see well that
these mental objects which are being noticed move from one place to another, or they
become gradually smaller and less distinct, until at last they disappear entirely. The
meditator, however, does not perceive anything that is permanent and lasting, or free from
destruction and disappearance.
Seeing how each object, even while being noticed, comes to destruction and
disappearance, the meditator comprehends it as impermanent in the sense of
undergoing destruction. He further comprehends it as suffering (painful) in the
sense of breaking up after each arising. Having seen how various painful feelings arise in
continuous succession -- how if one painful feeling ceases, another arises, and when that
has ceased, again another arises -- having seen that, he comprehends the respective
objects as just a conglomeration of suffering. Further, he comprehends the object as
consisting of mere impersonal phenomena without a master, in the sense of not
arising of (or by) themselves, but arising subject to conditions and then breaking up.
This comprehension of an object noticed, as being impermanent, painful, and without a
self (impersonal), through knowing its nature of impermanency, etc., by means of simply
noticing, without reflecting and reasoning, is called "knowledge by comprehension
through direct experience."
Having thus seen the three characteristics once or several times by direct experience,
the meditator, by inference from the direct experience of those objects noticed,
comprehends all bodily and mental processes of the past, present, and future, and the
whole world, by coming to the conclusion: "They, too, are in the same way
impermanent, painful, and without a self." This is called "knowledge of
comprehension by inference."
Alluding to this very knowledge, it is said in the Patisambhidamagga:
"Whatever there is of materiality, past, present or future, internal or external,
coarse or fine, inferior or superior, far or near, all materiality he defines as
impermanent. That is one kind of comprehension," and so on.
Also in the Commentary to the Kathavatthu it is said: "Even if the
impermanence of only a single formation (conditioned phenomenon) is known, there may be
consideration of the rest by induction thus: 'All formations are impermanent.' "
The words "All formations are impermanent" refer to an understanding by
induction, and not to an understanding by perceiving a (co-present) object at the same
moment. (This passage is the authority for the usage of the term "inductive
Also in the Commentary to the Majjhima Nikaya it is
said: "Because in the case of the realm of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, the
insight into the sequence of mental factors belongs to the Buddhas alone and not to the
disciples, he (the Buddha) said thus thereby indicating the insight by groups._"
(This passage is the authority for the usage of the term "comprehension by
4. Knowledge of Arising and Passing Away:
The Ten Corruptions of Insight
When the meditator, in the exercise of noticing, is able to keep exclusively to the
present body-and-mind process, without looking back to past processes or ahead to future
ones, then, as a result of insight, (the mental vision of) a brilliant light will
appear to him. To one it will appear like the light of a lamp, to others like a flash of
lightning, or like the radiance of the moon or the sun, and so on. With one it may last
for just one moment, with others it may last longer.
There will also arise in him strong mindfulness pertaining to insight. As a
result, all the successive arisings of bodily and mental processes will present themselves
to the consciousness engaged in noticing, as if coming to it of themselves; and
mindfulness too seems as if alighting on the processes of itself. Therefore the meditator
then believes: "There is no body-and-mind process in which mindfulness fails to
His knowledge consisting in insight, here called "noticing," will be
likewise keen, strong, and lucid. Consequently, he will discern clearly and in separate
forms all the bodily and mental processes noticed, as if cutting to pieces a bamboo sprout
with a well-sharpened knife. Therefore the meditator then believes: "There is no
body-and-mind process that cannot be noticed." When examining the characteristics of
impermanence, etc., or other aspects of reality, he understands everything quite clearly
and at once, and he believes it to be the knowledge derived from direct experience.
Further, strong faith pertaining to insight arises in him. Under its influence,
the meditator's mind, when engaged in noticing or thinking, is serene and without any
disturbance; and when he is engaged in recollecting the virtues of the Buddha, the Dhamma,
and the Sangha, his mind quite easily gives itself over to them. There arise in him the
wish to proclaim the Buddha's Teaching, joyous confidence in the virtues of those engaged
in meditation, the desire to advise dear friends and relatives to practise meditation,
grateful remembrance of the help received from his meditation master, his spiritual
mentor, etc. These and many other similar mental processes will occur.
There arises also rapture in its five grades, beginning with minor rapture. When purification of mind is gained, that rapture begins to
appear by causing "goose-flesh," tremor in the limbs, etc.; and now it produces
a sublime feeling of happiness and exhilaration, filling the whole body with an
exceedingly sweet and subtle thrill. Under its influence, he feels as if the whole body
had risen up and remained in the air without touching the ground, or as if it were seated
on an air cushion, or as if it were floating up and down.
There arises tranquillity of mind with the characteristic of quietening the
disturbances of consciousness and its mental concomitants; and along with it appear mental
agility, etc. When walking, standing, sitting, or
reclining there is, under the influence of these mental qualities, no disturbance of
consciousness and its mental concomitants, nor heaviness, rigidity, unwieldiness,
sickness, or crookedness. Rather, his consciousness and
its mental concomitants are tranquil through having reached the supreme relief in
non-action. They are agile in always functioning swiftly;
they are pliant in being able to attend to any object desired; they are wieldy, in being
able to attend to an object for any length of time desired; they are quite lucid through
their proficiency, that is, through the ease with which insight penetrates the object;
they are also straight through being directed, inclined, and turned only towards wholesome
There also arises a very sublime feeling of happiness suffusing all his body.
Under its influence he becomes exceedingly joyous and he believes: "Now I am happy
all the time," or "Now, indeed, I have found happiness never felt before,"
and he wants to tell others of his extraordinary experience. With reference to that
rapture and happiness, which are aided by the factors of tranquillity, etc., it was said:
Superhuman is the bliss of a monk
Who, with mind at peace,
Having entered a secluded place,
Wins insight into Dhamma.
When he fully comprehends
The five groups' rise and fall,
He wins to rapture and to joy --
The Deathless this, for those who understand.
Dhammapada vv. 373-374
There arises in him energy that is neither too lax nor too tense but is vigorous
and acts evenly. For formerly his energy was sometimes lax, and so he was overpowered by
sloth and torpor; hence he could not notice keenly and continuously the objects as they
became evident, and his understanding, too, was not clear. And at other times his energy
was too tense, and so he was overpowered by agitation, with the same result of being
unable to notice keenly, etc. But now his energy is neither too lax nor too tense, but is
vigorous and acts evenly; and so, overcoming these shortcomings of sloth, torpor, and
agitation, he is able to notice the objects present keenly and continuously, and his
understanding is quite clear, too.
There also arises in him strong equanimity associated with insight, which is
neutral towards all formations. Under its influence he regards with neutrality even his
examination of the nature of these formations with respect to their being impermanent,
etc.; and he is able to notice keenly and continuously the bodily and mental processes
arising at the time. Then his activity of noticing is carried on without effort, and
proceeds, as it were, of itself. Also in adverting to the objects, there arises in him
strong equanimity, by virtue of which his mind enters, as it were, quickly into the
objects of advertence.
There arises further a subtle attachment of a calm nature that enjoys the
insight graced with the "brilliant light" and the other qualities here
described. The meditator, however, is not able to discern it as a corruption but believes
it to be just the very bliss of meditation. So meditators speak in praise of it thus:
"Only now do I find full delight in meditation!"
Having felt such rapture and happiness accompanied by the "brilliant light"
and enjoying the very act of perfect noticing, which is ably functioning with ease and
rapidity, the meditator now believes: "Surely I must have attained to the
supramundane path and fruition! Now I have finished the
task of meditation." This is mistaking what is not the path for the path, and it is a
corruption of insight which usually takes place in the manner just described. But even if
the meditator does not take the "brilliant light" and the other corruptions as
an indication of the path and fruition, still he feels delight in them. This is likewise a
corruption of insight. Therefore, the knowledge consisting in noticing, even if quick in
its functioning, is called "the early stage of (or 'weak') knowledge of arising and
passing away," if it is beset and corrupted by those corruptions. For the same reason
the meditator is at that time not in a position to discern quite distinctly the arising
and passing away of bodily and mental processes.
V. Purification by Knowledge and Vision
Of What is Path and Not-path
While engaged in noticing, the meditator either by himself or through instructions from
someone else, comes to this decision: "The brilliant light, and the other things
experienced by me, are not the path. Delight in them is merely a corruption of insight.
The practice of continuously noticing the object as it becomes evident -- that alone is
the way of insight. I must go on with just the work of noticing." This decision is
called purification by knowledge and vision of what is path and not-path.
VI. Purification by Knowledge and Vision of the Course of Practice
After noticing these manifestations of brilliant light and the others, or after leaving
them unheeded, he goes on continuously as before with the act of noticing the bodily and
mental processes as they become evident at the six sense doors. While thus engaged in
noticing, he gets over the corruptions relating to brilliant light, rapture, tranquillity,
happiness, attachment, etc., and his knowledge remains concerned exclusively with the
arising and passing away of the processes noticed. For then, at each act of noticing, he
sees: "The noticed object, having arisen, disappears instantly." It also becomes
clear to him that each object disappears just where it arises; it does not move on to
In that way he understands by direct experience how bodily and mental processes arise
and break up from moment to moment. It is such knowledge and understanding resulting from
the continuous noticing of bodily and mental processes as they arise and dissolve moment
after moment, and the discernment, in separate sections, of the arising and passing away
of each of them, while being free from the corruptions, that is called "final
knowledge of contemplation of arising and passing away." This is the beginning of
"purification by knowledge and vision of the course of practice," which starts
from this insight and extends to adaptation knowledge (No.13).
5. Knowledge of Dissolution
Noticing the bodily and mental processes as they arise, he sees them part by part, link
by link, piece by piece, fraction by fraction: "Just now it arises, just now it
dissolves." When that knowledge of arising and passing away becomes mature, keen and
strong, it will arise easily and proceed uninterruptedly as if borne onward of itself;
also the bodily and mental processes will be easily discernible. When keen knowledge thus
carries on and formations are easily discernible, then neither the arising of each bodily
and mental process, nor its middle phase called "presence," nor the continuity
of bodily and mental processes called "occurrence as unbroken flux" is apparent
to him; nor are the shape of the hand, the foot, the face, the body, and so on, apparent
to him. But what is apparent to him is only the ceasing of bodily and mental
processes, called "vanishing," or "passing away," or
For instance, while noticing the rising movement of the abdomen, neither its initial
nor middle phase is apparent, but only the ceasing or vanishing, which is called the final
phase, is apparent; and so it is also with the falling movement of the abdomen. Again, in
the case of bending an arm or leg, while noticing the act of bending, neither the initial
nor the middle phase of bending is apparent, nor is the form of the limb apparent, but
only the final phase of ceasing and vanishing is apparent. It is similar in the other
cases of stretching a limb, and so on.
For at that time each object that is being noticed seems to him to be entirely absent
or to have become non-existent. Consequently, at this stage of knowledge, it seems to him
as if he were engaged in noticing something which has already become absent or
non-existent by having vanished; and the consciousness engaged in noticing appears to have
lost contact with the object that is being noticed. It is for that reason that a meditator
may here think: "I have lost the insight"; but he should not think so.
For formerly his consciousness normally took delight in conceptual objects of shapes,
etc.; and even up to the knowledge of arising and passing
away, the idea of formations with their specific features
was always apparent to him. Hence his mind took delight in a plainly distinguishable
object consisting of formations, with its particular structure
and its particular feature-idea. But now that his knowledge has developed in the way
described, no such idea of the formations' features or structure appears to him, still
less any other, cruder concept. At such a stage, the arising of formations, that
is, the first phase of the process, is not apparent (as it is in the case of knowledge of
arising and passing away), but there is apparent only the dissolution, that is, the final
phase, having the nature of vanishing. Therefore the meditator's mind does not take
delight in it at first, but he may be sure that soon, after becoming familiar (with that
stage of the practice), his mind will delight in the cessation (of the phenomena) too,
which is called their dissolution. With this assurance he should again turn to the
practice of continuous noticing.
When thus engaged, he perceives that in each act of noticing there are always present
two factors, an objective factor and a subjective one -- the object noticed and the mental
state of knowing it -- which dissolve and vanish by pairs, one pair after the other. For
in each single instance of a rising movement of the abdomen, there are, in fact, numerous
physical processes constituting the rising movement, which are seen to dissolve serially.
It is like seeing the continuous successive vanishing of a summer mirage moment by moment;
or it is like the quick and continuous bursting of bubbles produced in a heavy shower by
thick rain drops falling on a water surface; or it is like the quick, successive
extinction of oil-lamps or candles, blown out by the wind, as these lights are being
offered at a shrine by devotees. Similar to that appears the dissolving and vanishing,
moment by moment, of the bodily processes noticed. And the dissolution of consciousness
noticing those bodily processes is apparent to him along with the dissolution of the
bodily processes. Also while he is noticing other bodily and mental processes, their
dissolution, too, will be apparent to him in the same manner. Consequently, the knowledge
will come to him that whatever part of the whole body is noticed, that object ceases
first, and after it the consciousness engaged in noticing that object follows in its wake.
From that the meditator will understand very clearly in the case of each successive pair
the dissolution of any object whatsoever and the dissolution of the consciousness noticing
that very object. (It should be borne in mind that this refers only to understanding
arrived at through direct experience by one engaged in noticing only; it is not an opinion
derived from mere reasoning.)
It is the perfectly clear understanding of the dissolution of the two things, pair by
pair -- that is, (1) of the visual or other object appearing at any of the six sense
doors, and (2) of the consciousness noticing that very object -- that is called
"knowledge of dissolution."
6. Awareness of Fearfulness
When that knowledge of dissolution is mature, there will gradually arise, just by
seeing the dissolution of all object-and-subject-formations, awareness of fearfulness and other (higher) knowledges, together with their
respective aspects of fear, and so on.
Having seen how the dissolution of two things -- that is, any object noticed and the
insight-thought engaged in noticing it -- takes place moment by moment, the meditator also
understands by inference that in the past, too, every conditioned thing (formation) has
broken up in the same way, that just so it will break up also in the future, and that at
the present it breaks up, too. And just at the time of noticing any formations that are
evident, these formations will appear to him in their aspect of fearfulness. Therefore,
during the very act of noticing, the meditator will also come to understand: "These
formations are indeed fearful."
Such understanding of their fearfulness is called "knowledge of the awareness of
fearfulness"; it has also the name "knowledge of fear." At that time, his
mind itself is gripped by fear and seems helpless.
7. Knowledge of Misery
When he has realized the fearfulness (of the formations) through the knowledge of fear,
and keeps on noticing continuously, then the "knowledge of misery" will arise in
him before long. When it has arisen, all formations everywhere -- whether among the
objects noticed, or among the states of consciousness engaged in noticing, or in any kind
of life or existence that is brought to mind -- will appear insipid, without a vitalizing
factor, and unsatisfying. So he sees, at that time, only
suffering, only unsatisfactoriness, only misery. Therefore this state is called
"knowledge of misery."
8. Knowledge of Disgust
Seeing thus the misery in conditioned things (formations), his mind finds no delight in
those miserable things but is entirely disgusted with them. At times, his mind becomes, as
it were, discontented and listless. Even so he does not give up the practice of insight,
but spends his time continuously engaging in it. He therefore should know that this state
of mind is not dissatisfaction with meditation, but is precisely the "knowledge of
disgust" that has the aspect of being disgusted with the formations. Even if he
directs his thought to the happiest sort of life and existence, or to the most pleasant
and desirable objects, his mind will not take delight in them, will find no satisfaction
in them. On the contrary, his mind will incline and lean and tend only towards Nibbana.
Therefore the following thought will arise in him between moments of noticing: "The
ceasing of all formations that are dissolving from moment to moment -- that alone is
9. Knowledge of Desire for Deliverance
When through this knowledge (now acquired) he feels disgust with regard to every
formation noticed, there will arise in him a desire to forsake these formations or to
become delivered from them. The knowledge relating to that desire is called
"knowledge of desire for deliverance." At that time, usually various painful
feelings arise in his body, and also an unwillingness to remain long in one particular
bodily posture. Even if these states do not arise, the comfortless nature of the
formations will become more evident than ever. And due to that, between moments of
noticing, he feels a longing thus: "Oh, may I soon get free from that! Oh, may I
reach the state where these formations cease! Oh, may I be able to give up these
formations completely!" At this juncture, his consciousness engaged in noticing seems
to shrink from the object noticed at each moment of noticing, and wishes to escape from
10. Knowledge of Re-observation
Being thus desirous of escaping from the formations, the meditator makes stronger
effort and continues the practice of noticing these very formations with the single
purpose of forsaking them and escaping from them. For that reason, the knowledge arising
at that time is called "knowledge of re-observation." The term
"re-observation" has the same meaning as "re-noticing" or
"re-contemplation." Then the nature (or characteristics) of the formations --
their being impermanent, suffering, and without a self -- will be clearly evident to him;
and among these three, the aspect of suffering will be particularly distinct.
At this stage, too, there will usually arise in his body various kinds of pains which
are severe, sharp, and of growing intensity. Hence his whole bodily and mental system will
seem to him like an unbearable mass of sickness or a conglomeration of suffering. And a
state of restlessness will usually manifest itself, making him incapable of keeping to one
particular posture for any length of time. For then he will not be able to hold any one
position long, but will soon want to change it. This state, however, simply manifests the
unbearable nature of the formations. Though he wants to change his bodily posture, still
he should not give in easily to that wish, but should endeavour to remain motionless for a
longer period in the same posture and continue to carry on the practice of noticing. By
doing so he will be able to overcome his restlessness.
Now his insight knowledge is quite strong and lucid, and by virtue of it even his
painful feelings will at once cease as soon as they are firmly noticed. Even if a painful
feeling does not cease completely, he will perceive that it is dissolving, part by part,
from moment to moment. That is to say, the ceasing, vanishing, and disappearing of each
single moment of feeling will become apparent separately in each corresponding act of
noticing. In other words, now it will not be as it was at the time of the knowledge of
comprehension, when the constant flow or continuity of feelings of the same kind was
apparent as a single unit. But if, without abandoning the practice, that feeling of pain
is firmly and continuously noticed, it will entirely cease before long. When it ceases in
that way, it does so for good and will not arise again. Though in that way the insight
knowledge may have become strong and perfectly lucid, still he is not satisfied with that
much. He will even think: "My insight knowledge is not clear." He should,
however, dismiss such thoughts by applying the act of noticing to them, and he should go
on with his task of continuously noticing the bodily and mental formations as they occur.
If he perseveres thus, his noticing will become more and more clear as the time passes
in minutes, hours, and days. Then he will overcome the painful feelings and the
restlessness in being unable to remain long in one particular posture, and also the idea
that his insight knowledge is not yet clear enough. His noticing will then function
rapidly, and at every moment of noticing he will understand quite clearly any of the three
characteristics of impermanence, etc.
This understanding of any of the three characteristics of impermanence, etc., through
the act of noticing which functions with promptness in quick succession, is called
"strong knowledge of re-observation."
11. Knowledge of Equanimity about Formations
When this knowledge of re-observation is mature, there will arise knowledge perceiving
evident bodily and mental processes in continuous succession quite naturally, as if borne
onward of itself. This is called "knowledge of equanimity about formations."
Now, in the act of noticing, effort is no longer required to keep formations before the
mind or to understand them. After the completion of each single act of noticing, the
object to be noticed will then appear of itself, and insight knowledge, too, will of
itself notice and understand it. It is as if no further effort need be made by the
meditator. Formerly, owing to seeing the dissolution of formations, there arose, in
successive order, the aspect of fearfulness, the perception of misery, the aspect of
disgust, the desire for deliverance, and dissatisfaction with the knowledge so far
acquired. But now these mental states no longer arise even though, in the present state
too, the breaking up of formations which are dissolving more rapidly is closely perceived.
Even if a painful feeling arises in the body, no mental disturbance (grief) arises, and
there is no lack of fortitude in bearing it. Generally, however, at this stage, pains will
be entirely absent, that is, they do not arise at all. Even if the meditator thinks about
something fearful or sad, no mental disturbance will arise, be it in the form of fear or
of sorrow. This, firstly, is "the abandoning of fear" at the stage of
"equanimity about formations."
At the earlier stage, on attaining knowledge of arising and passing away, great joy had
arisen on account of the clarity of insight. But now this kind of joy does not arise, even
though there is present the exceedingly peaceful and sublime clarity of mind belonging to
"equanimity about formations." Though he actually sees desirable objects
conducive to joy, or though he thinks about various enjoyable things, no strong feeling of
joy will arise. This is "the abandoning of delight" at the stage of
"equanimity about formations."
He cherishes no desire nor hate with regard to any object, desirable or undesirable,
that comes into the range of his sense doors, but taking them as just the same in his act
of noticing, he understands them (that is to say, it is a pure act of understanding). This
is "equable vision" at the stage of "equanimity about formations."
Of these three qualities just mentioned, it is said in the Path of Purification:
"Having discarded fear and delight, he is impartial and neutral towards all
formations" (Visuddhimagga, xxi,62).
If he resumes the practice of noticing with the thought: "Now I will do it
vigorously again!" then, before long, the noticing will function efficiently as if
borne onward of itself. From now onwards there is no need for the meditator to make
further (deliberate) effort. Though he does not make a (deliberate) effort, his noticing
will proceed in a continuous and steady flow for a long time; it will go on even for two
or three hours without interruption. This is "the state of long-lasting
(practice)" of equanimity about formations. Referring to this it is said in the Patisambhidamagga:
" 'The wisdom lasting long' is the knowledge present in the mental states of
equanimity about formations." The Great Commentary to the Path of Purification
explains as follows: "This is said with reference to knowledge functioning in a
Now when noticing functions spontaneously as if borne onward of itself, the mind, even
if sent out towards a variety of objects, generally refuses to go; and even if it does go,
it will not stay long but will soon return to the usual object to be noticed, and will
resume continuous noticing. In this connection it was said: "He shrinks, recoils, and
retreats; he does not go forth to it."
12. Insight Leading to Emergence
So, through knowledge of equanimity about formations, which is endowed with many
virtues, blessings, and powers, he notices the formations as they occur. When this
knowledge is mature, having become keen, strong, and lucid, on reaching its culmination
point, it will understand any of the formations as being impermanent or painful or without
self, just by seeing their dissolution. Now that act of noticing any one characteristic
out of the three, which is still more lucid in its perfect understanding, manifests itself
two or three times or more in rapid succession. This is called "insight leading to
Thereupon, immediately after the last consciousness in the series of acts of noticing
belonging to this insight leading to emergence, the meditator's consciousness leaps forth
into Nibbana, which is the cessation of all formations, taking it as its object. Then
there appears to him the stilling (subsidence) of all formations called cessation.
This mode of realization of Nibbana has been mentioned in many discourses of the
Master, for example: "The vision of truth arose: whatsoever has the nature of arising
is bound to cease." Herein the words "bound to cease" indicate the aspect
of realizing the stilling and ceasing of all formations which have the nature of arising.
Also in the Questions of King Milinda it is said: "His consciousness, while
carrying on the practice of bringing to mind (i.e. noticing), passes beyond the continuous
occurrence of phenomena and alights upon non-occurrence. One who, having practised in the
correct manner, has alighted upon non-occurrence, O king, is said to have realized
The meaning is this: the meditator who wishes to realize Nibbana should repeatedly
bring to mind, through the practice of noticing, every bodily and mental process that
appears at any of the six sense doors. When he brings them to mind thus, his consciousness
engaged in noticing -- here called "bringing to mind" -- will, until adaptation
knowledge is reached, fall at every moment upon the (conditioned) bodily and mental
formations called here "continuous occurrence," because they go on occurring
over and over again in an unbroken flow, like a river's current. But in the last phase,
instead of falling upon that continuous occurrence, consciousness passes beyond it and
alights upon "non-occurrence," which is the very opposite of the bodily and
mental formations called here "occurrence." In other words, it arrives at
non-occurrence, that is to say, it reaches, as if it "alights upon," cessation,
which is the stilling of the formations (or conditioned phenomena). When the meditator,
having already before practised correctly and without deviation by way of the knowledge of
arising and passing away and the other knowledges (or by way of the purification of
conduct, of mind, of view, etc.), has in this manner arrived at non-occurrence (by the
consciousness alighting upon it), he is said to have "realized Nibbana." He is
called one who has made Nibbana a direct experience and has actually seen it.
13. Knowledge of Adaptation
Here the knowledge by way of noticing that occurs last in the series constituting
insight leading to emergence, is called "knowledge of adaptation."
This is the end of the purification by knowledge and vision of the course of
14. Maturity Knowledge
Immediately afterwards, a type of knowledge manifests itself that, as it were, falls
for the first time into Nibbana, which is void of formations (conditioned phenomena) since
it is the cessation of them. This knowledge is called "maturity knowledge."
VII. Purification by Knowledge and Vision
15. Path Knowledge
It is followed immediately by knowledge that abides in that same Nibbana, which is void
of formations since it is the cessation of them. This is called "path
knowledge." It is also called "purification by
knowledge and vision."
16. Fruition Knowledge
That again is immediately followed by knowledge that belongs to the final stage and
continues in the course of its predecessor. It abides in that same Nibbana, which is void
of formations since it is the cessation of them. This is called "fruition
17. Knowledge of Reviewing
The duration of that threefold knowledge of maturity, path, and fruition is, however,
not long. It is very short, and lasts for just an instant, like the duration of a single
thought of noticing. Subsequently there arises "knowledge of reviewing." Through
that knowledge of reviewing the meditator discerns that the insight leading to emergence
came along with the very rapid function of noticing, and that immediately after the last
phase of noticing, the path consciousness entered into the cessation (of formations). This
is "knowledge reviewing the path."
He also discerns that the consciousness abided in that same state of cessation during
the intervening period between the path and reviewing. This is "knowledge reviewing
He further discerns that the object just experienced is void of all formations. This is
"knowledge reviewing Nibbana."
In this connection it is said in the Path of Purification: " 'By that path,
indeed, I have come'; thus he reviews the path. 'That blessing was obtained'; thus he
reviews the fruition. 'That state has been penetrated as an object by me'; thus he reviews the Deathless, Nibbana" (Visuddhimagga,
Some meditators, but not all, have "reviewing of defilements."
After having reviewed in this way, the meditator still continues the practice of
noticing bodily and mental processes as they become evident. But while he is thus engaged
in noticing, the bodily and mental processes appear to him quite coarse, not subtle as
before at the time of the knowledge of equanimity about formations. Why is this so? This
is so because the knowledge present now has the nature of the knowledge of arising and
passing away. For when the noble disciples (namely, stream-winners, etc.) resume the
practice of insight (by noticing), the knowledge of arising and passing away usually
arises at the beginning. This is the usual course of order in this respect.
However, when some meditators emerge from the attainment of path and fruition, great
faith, happiness, rapture, and tranquillity, produced by virtue of the attainment, arise
flooding the whole body. Owing to that, they are unable to carry out the practice of
noticing anything apparent at that time. Even if they make double effort and attempt to
proceed with the practice of insight, they fail to discern the phenomena clearly and
separately, at the moment of their occurrence. They continue to experience only rapture,
tranquillity, and happiness, which occur with great force. This state of mind, which is
extraordinarily serene through the strong faith prevailing, lasts for one hour, two hours,
or more, without break. Because of this, meditators feel as if they were in some such
place as a wide open space suffused with radiance and most delightful. The rapture and
happiness, of a serene character, that then arise are praised by meditators thus:
"Surely, I have never before felt and experienced such happiness!" After two or
three hours have passed, that faith, happiness, rapture, and tranquillity will fade. The
meditators can once again proceed with noticing the bodily and mental processes as they
occur, distinguishing them separately, and they will be able to discern them clearly. But
at that time, too, first the knowledge of arising and passing away will appear.
18. Attainment of Fruition
While he is thus engaged in noticing, his insight knowledge will gradually grow, and
soon will again reach the stage of equanimity about formations. If his power of
concentration is still short of perfection, only the equanimity about formations will go
on repeating itself. But if his concentration has reached perfection, then, in the case of
one who does the insight practice of noticing with a view of attaining only to the first
path and fruition, the fruition consciousness of the first path alone reaches cessation of
formations by way of the attainment of fruition.
This occurs in precisely the same way as the path and fruition consciousness that occurred
earlier in the consciousness-sequence belonging to the initial attainment of the first
path. The only difference here is the capacity of the fruition attainment to last long.
One should also set one's mind resolutely upon the further tasks: to be able to repeat
the achievement of fruition attainment, to achieve it rapidly, and, at the time of
achievement, to abide in it a long time, say for six, ten, fifteen or thirty minutes, or
for an hour or more.
In one who applies himself to achieving the attainment of fruition, knowledge of
arising and passing away will arise at the beginning. Advancing from there in the due
sequence, soon the knowledge of equanimity about formations is reached. But when skill in
the practice has been acquired, the knowledge of equanimity about formations will arise
quickly even after four or five acts of noticing. If the power of concentration has
reached perfection, the fruition consciousness will repeatedly become absorbed in
cessation by way of fruition attainment. The mind can thus reach absorption even while one
is walking up and down, or while taking a meal, and the fruition attainment can remain for
any length of time resolved upon. During the fruition attainment, the mind will abide only
in the cessation of formations and will not be aware of anything else.
19. The Higher Paths and Fruitions
When the meditator has thus become skilled in achieving the fruition attainment, he
should resolutely set his mind upon the task of attaining to the higher paths and
fruitions. What should now be done by one who has set himself that task? Just as before,
he should carry out the practice of noticing (anything occurring) at the six sense doors.
Hence, the meditator should notice any bodily and mental process that becomes evident
to him at the six sense doors. While he is thus engaged, he will see, at the stage of
knowledge of arising and passing away, that the first objects consisting of formations
appear to him rather coarse, and that his mind is not well concentrated. The development
of insight belonging to the higher paths is, in fact, not as easy as that of insight
belonging to the fruition attainment already achieved by the meditator. It is in fact
somewhat difficult, due to the fact that insight has to be developed anew. It is, however,
not so very difficult as it was at the first time when beginning the practice. In a single
day, or even in a single hour, he can gain the knowledge of equanimity about formations.
This statement is made here, basing it on the experience usually gained by persons of the
present day who had to be given guidance from the start and who did not possess
particularly strong intelligence. Here it is applied, by inference, to similar types of
persons in general.
But although equanimity about formations has been attained, if the spiritual faculties have not yet reached full maturity, it just goes on
repeating itself. Though he who has won (one of the lower) fruitions may be able to enter
into it several times within one hour, yet if his spiritual faculties are immature, he
cannot attain the next higher path within as much as one day, two, three, or more days. He
abides merely in equanimity about formations. If, however, he then directs his mind to
reach the fruition already attained, he will reach it perhaps in two or three minutes.
When, however, the spiritual faculties are mature, one who carries out the practice of
insight for attaining to a higher path will find that immediately after equanimity about
formations has reached its culmination, the higher path and fruition arise in the same way
as before (i.e. as at the time of the first path and fruition), that is to say, it is
preceded by the stages of adaptation and maturity. After the fruition, the stages of
reviewing, etc., that follow are also the same as before.
Anything else concerning the method of practice for insight and the progress of
knowledge right up to Arahantship can be understood in precisely the same way as
described. Hence there is no need to elaborate it any further.
Now, the present treatise on the "Progress of Insight through the Stages of
Purification" has been written in a concise form, so that meditators can easily
comprehend it. Hence complete details have not been given here. And since it was written
with a view to making it easily intelligible, in many passages of this treatise relevant
canonical references have not been quoted, and there are repetitions and other faults of
literary composition. But these shortcomings of presentation and the incompleteness of
canonical references may here be overlooked by the reader. Only the meaning and purpose
should be heeded well by the wise. It is to this that I would invite the reader's
Though in the beginning it was mentioned that this treatise has been written for those
who have already obtained distinctive results in their practice, others may perhaps read
it with advantage, too.
Now these are my concluding good wishes for the latter type of readers: Just as a very
delicious, appetizing, tasty and nutritious meal can be appreciated fully only by one who
has himself eaten it, and not without partaking of it, in the same way, the whole series
of knowledges described here can be understood fully only by one who has himself seen it
by direct experience, and not otherwise. So may all good people reach the stage of
indubitable understanding of this whole series of knowledges! May they also strive to
This treatise on the purities and insights,
For meditators who have seen things clear,
Although their store of learning may be small --
The Elder, Mahasi by name, in insight's method skilful,
Has written it in Burmese tongue and into Pali rendered it.
The Treatise on the Purities and Insights
composed on 22.5.1950
is here concluded.
1. Here, and in the title of this treatise, the Pali term ñana
has been rendered by "insight," as at the outset the word "knowledge,"
the normal rendering of ñana, might not be taken by the reader with the full
weight and significance which it will receive in the context of the present treatise. In
all the following occurrences, however, this Pali term has been translated by
"knowledge," while the word "insight" has been reserved for the Pali
term vipassana. When referring to the several types and stages of knowledge, the
plural "knowledges" has been used, in conformity with the Pali ñanani. [Go back]
2. In the canonical Buddhist scriptures, the seven stages of
purification (visuddhi) are mentioned in the Discourse on the Stage Coaches
(Majjhima Nikaya No. 24). They are also the framework of the Venerable Buddhaghosa's Path
of Purification (Visuddhimagga), where they are explained in full. (Translation
by Ñanamoli Thera, publ. by BPS.) [Go back]
3. "Motion" (vayo, lit. wind, air) refers to
the last of the four material elements (dhatu), or primary qualities of matter. The
other three are: earth (solidity, hardness), water (adhesion), and fire (caloricity).
These four elements, in varying proportional strength, are present in all forms of matter.
The so-called "inner wind element" which applies in this context is active in
the body as motion, vibration, and pressure manifesting itself in the passage of air
through the body (e.g. in breathing), in the movement and pressure of limbs and organs,
and so on. It becomes perceptible as a tactile process, or object of touch (photthabbarammana),
through the pressure caused by it. [Go back]
4. The attention directed to the movement of the abdomen was
introduced into the methodical practice of insight-meditation by the author of this
treatise, the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, and forms here the basic object of meditative
practice. For details see The Heart of Buddhist Meditation by Nyanaponika Thera
(London: Rider & Co., 1962; BPS, 1992), pp. 94f., 106. If preferred, the breath itself
may instead be taken as the basic object of meditative attention, according to the
traditional method of "mindfulness of breathing" (anapanasati); see Heart
of Buddhist Meditation, pp.108ff. Mindfulness of Breathing by Ñanamoli Thera
(BPS, 1982). [Go back]
5. According to the Buddhist Abhidhamma teachings, only the
three elements of earth, fire, and wind constitute the tactile substance in matter. The
element of water is not held to be an object of touch even in cases where it predominates,
as in liquids. What is tactile in any given liquid is the contribution of the other three
elements to its composite nature. [Go back]
6. "Door" is a figurative expression for the sense
organs (which, including the mind, are sixfold), because they provide, as it were, the
access to the world of objects. [Go back]
7. The preceding sequence of terms is frequently used in the
Discourses (Suttas) of the Buddha to refer to those individuals who have attained to the
first supramundane stage on the road to Arahantship, i.e. stream-entry (sotapatti),
or the following ones. See Note 33. The term Dhamma refers here to Nibbana. [Go back]
8. I. The Five Precepts binding on all Buddhist laymen, are:
abstention from (1) killing, (2) stealing, (3) unlawful sexual intercourse, (4) lying, (5)
II. The Eight Uposatha Precepts are: abstention from (1) killing, (2) stealing, (3) all
sexual intercourse, (4) lying, (5) intoxicants, (6) partaking of solid food and certain
liquids after noon, (7) abstention from (a) dance, song, music, shows (attendance and
performance), (b) from perfumes, ornaments, etc., (8) luxurious beds. This set of eight
precepts is observed by devout Buddhist lay followers on full-moon days and on other
III. The Ten Precepts: (1)-(6) = II, 1-6; (7) = II, 7 (a); (8) = II, 7 (b); (9) = II,
8; (10) abstention from acceptance of gold and silver, money, etc. [Go back]
9. The other three items of the monk's fourfold pure conduct
are control of the senses, purity of livelihood, and pure conduct concerning the monk's
requisites. [Go back]
10. Access (or "neighbourhood") concentration (upacara-samadhi)
is that degree of mental concentration that approaches, but not yet attains, the full
concentration (appana-samadhi) of the first absorption (jhana). It still
belongs to the sensuous plane (kamavacara) of consciousness, while the jhanas
belong to the fine-material plane (rupavacara). [Go back]
11. Pañcupadanakkhandha. These five groups, which are
the objects of grasping, are: (1) corporeality, (2) feeling, (3) perception, (4) mental
formations, (5) consciousness. [Go back]
12. Also called sukkhavipassana-yanika. [Go
13. Literally: "according to their true nature and
function." [Go back]
14. This method of meditation aims at "knowledge by
direct experience" (paccakkha-ñana), resulting from mindfulness directed
towards one's own bodily and mental processes. It is for that reason that here express
mention is made of "one's own life continuity." Having gathered the decisive
direct experience from the contemplation of his own body and mind, the meditator will
later extend the contemplation to the life-processes of others, by way of inference (anumana).
See, in the Satipatthana Sutta, the recurrent passage: "contemplating the body, etc.,
externally." [Go back]
15. "Noticing" (sallakkhana) is a key term in
this treatise. The corresponding verb in the Pali language is sallakkheti (sam
+ lakh), which can be translated adequately as well as literally by "to mark
clearly." Though the use of "to mark" in the sense of "to
observe" or "to notice" is quite legitimate in English, it is somewhat
unusual and unwieldy in its derivations. Hence the rendering by "noticing" was
chosen. "Noticing" is identical with "bare attention," the term used
in the translator's book The Heart of Buddhist Meditation. [Go back]
16. The Sub-commentary to the Brahmajala Sutta explains as
follows: "Things in their true nature (paramatthadhamma) have two
characteristics or marks: specific characteristics and general characteristics. The
understanding of the specific characteristics is knowledge by experience (paccakkha-ñana),
while the understanding of the general characteristics is knowledge by inference (anumana-ñana)."
The specific characteristic, for instance, of the element of motion (vayo-dhatu) is
its nature of supporting, its function of moving; its general characteristics are
impermanence, etc. [Go back]
17. The three terms printed in italics are standard categories
of definition used in the Pali Commentaries and the Visuddhimagga. In the case of
mental phenomena, a fourth category, "proximate condition" (padatthana)
is added. The definition of the element of motion (or of wind) occurs, for instance, in
the Visuddhimagga (XI, 93) and is shown in this treatise to be a fact of direct
experience. [Go back]
18. "Purification of mind" refers to mental
concentration of either of two degrees of intensity: full concentration or access
concentration (see Note 10). In both types of concentration, the mind is temporarily
purified from the five mental hindrances (see Note 20), which defile the mind and obstruct
concentration. [Go back]
19. The "other" objects may also belong to the same
series of events, for instance, the recurrent rise and fall of the abdomen. [Go
20. The five mental hindrances (nivarana) which
obstruct concentration, are: (1) sense-desire, (2) ill-will, (3) sloth and torpor, (4)
agitation and remorse, (5) sceptical doubt. For details, see The Five Mental Hindrances
and their Conquest, by Nyanaponika Thera (BPS Wheel No. 26). [Go back]
21. Insight reaches its culmination on attaining to the
perfection of the "purification by knowledge and vision of the course of
practice." See Note 41 and the Visuddhimagga, XXI,1. [Go back]
22. This passage is translated in The Way of Mindfulness
by Soma Thera (3rd ed., BPS, 1967), p. 104, where, for our term "access
concentration," the rendering "partial absorption" is used. [Go
23. When occurring during the practice of tranquillity
meditation. [Go back]
24. This is the fully absorbed concentration (jhana)
achieved at the attainment of the noble paths and fruitions. [Go back]
25. In the Commentary to the Majjhima Nikaya No.111, the
Anupada Sutta. [Go back]
26. The Visuddhimagga says that both terms,
"knowledge by inductive insight" and "comprehension by groups," are
names for the same type of insight. According to the Paramattha-manjusa, its
Commentary, the former term was used in Ceylon, the latter in India. [Go
27. The ten corruptions of insight (vipassanupakkilesa)
are first mentioned in the Patisambhidamagga (PTS, Vol. II, pp.100f.) and are
explained in the Visuddhimagga (XX,105ff.). The names and the sequence of the terms
as given in this treatise differ slightly from those found in the above two sources. [Go back]
28. The five grades of rapture (piti), dealt with in
the Visuddhimagga (IV,94) are: (1) minor, (2) momentarily recurring, (3) flooding,
(4) elevating, (5) suffusing. [Go back]
29. This passage refers to the six pairs of qualitative
factors of mental activity, which, according to the Abhidhamma, are present in all moral
consciousness though in different degrees of development. The first pair is tranquillity
(a) of consciousness, and (b) of its concomitant mental factors. The other pairs are
agility, pliancy, wieldiness, proficiency, and uprightness, all of which have the same
twofold division as stated before. These six pairs represent the formal, or structural,
side of moral consciousness. For details see Abhidhamma Studies, by Nyanaponika
Thera (2nd ed. BPS, 1985), pp.81f. [Go back]
30. These six obstructions of mind are countered by the six
pairs of mental factors mentioned in Note 29 and in the following sentence of the text. [Go back]
31. Non-action, non-activity or non-busyness, refers to
the receptive, but keenly watchful, attitude of noticing (or bare attention). [Go back]
32. Advertence is the first stage of the perceptual
process, as analysed in the Abhidhamma. It is the first "turning-towards" the
object of perception; in other words, initial attention. [Go back]
33. The supramundane paths and fruitions are: stream-entry,
once-returning, non-returning, and Arahantship. By attaining to the first path and
fruition, that of stream-entry, final deliverance is assured at the latest after seven
more rebirths. [Go back]
34. "Conceptual objects of shapes" (santhana-paññatti).
The other two types of concepts intended here are: the concepts of individual identity
derived from the continuity of serial phenomena (santati-paññatti), and
collective concepts derived from the agglomeration of phenomena (samuha-paññatti).
35. "The idea of formations with their specific
features": this phrase elaborates the meaning applicable here of the Pali term nimitta,
which literally means "mark," "sign," "feature," i.e. the
idea or image conceived of an object perceived. [Go back]
36. "With its particular structure" (sa-viggaha):
the distinctive (vi) graspable (gaha) form of an object. [Go
37. Bhay'upatthana. The word bhaya has the
subjective aspect of fear and the objective aspect of fearfulness, danger. Both are
included in the significance of the term in this context. [Go back]
38. This refers to the knowledges described in the following
(Nos. 7-11). [Go back]
39. Niroja. Lit. "without nutritive essence."
40. According to the Visuddhimagga, the "insight
leading to emergence" is the culmination of insight, and is identical with the
following three knowledges: equanimity about formations, desire for deliverance, and
knowledge of re-observation. It is called "leading to emergence" because it
emerges from the contemplation of formations (conditioned phenomena) to the supramundane
path that has Nibbana as its object. [Go back]
41. The Visuddhimagga says (XXI,130): "The
knowledge of adaptation derives its name from the fact that it adapts itself to the
earlier and the later states of mind. It adapts itself to the preceding eight insight
knowledges with their individual functions, and to the thirty-seven states partaking of
enlightenment that follow." [Go back]
42. Gotrabhu-ñana (maturity knowledge) is, literally,
the "knowledge of one who has become one of the lineage (gotra)." By
attaining to that knowledge, one has left behind the designation and stage of an
unliberated worldling and is entering the lineage and rank of the noble ones, i.e. the
stream-enterer, etc. Insight has now come to full maturity, maturing into the knowledge of
the supramundane paths and fruitions. Maturity knowledge occurs only as a single moment of
consciousness; it does not recur, since it is immediately followed by the path
consciousness of stream-entry or once-returning, etc. [Go back]
43. "Path knowledge" is the knowledge connected with
the four supramundane paths of stream-entry, etc. Here, in this passage, only the path of
stream-entry is meant. Path knowledge, like maturity knowledge, lasts only for one moment
of consciousness, being followed by the fruition knowledge resulting from it, which may
repeat itself many times and may also be deliberately entered into by way of the
"attainment of fruition" (see No. 17). [Go back]
44. That means that Nibbana has now become an object of direct
experience, and is no longer a mental construct of conceptual thinking. [Go
45. The knowledge of reviewing defilements still remaining,
does not obtain at the stage of Arahantship where all defilements have been eliminated. It
may occur, but not necessarily so, at the lower three stages of stream-entry, etc. [Go back]
46. See Note 43. [Go back]
47. The five spiritual faculties (indriya) are: faith,
energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. For details see The Way of Wisdom
by Edward Conze (BPS Wheel No.65/66). [Go back]
The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw
Mahasi Sayadaw, the Venerable U Sobhana Mahathera, was the son of U Kan Htaw and Daw
Shwe Ok of Seikkhun village, which is about seven miles to the west of Shwebo Town, a
one-time capital of the founder of the last Burmese dynasty. He was born on the third
waning of the month of second Waso in the year 1266 of the Burmese Era (29 July 1904). At
the age of six, he began his studies at a monastic school in the same village, and at the
age of twelve he was ordained a samanera (novice). On reaching the age of twenty, he was
ordained a bhikkhu on the fifth waning of the month of Tazaungmon in the year 1285 of the
Burmese Era (23 November 1923). He then passed the Government Pali examinations in all the
three classes of Pathamange, Pathamalat and Pathamagyi in the following three successive
In the fourth year after his bhikkhu ordination, he proceeded to Mandalay -- a former
capital of Burma -- where he continued his further studies in the Khinmagan Kyaung Taik
under various monks of high scholastic fame. In the fifth year he went to Moulmein where
he took up the work of teaching the Buddhist scriptures at a monastery known as Taung
Waing Galay Taik Kyaung.
In the eighth year after his ordination, he and another monk left Moulmein equipped
with the bare necessities of a bhikkhu (i.e. almsbowl, a set of three robes, etc.) and
went in search of a clear and effective method in the practice of meditation. At Thaton he
met the well-known meditation instructor, the Venerable U Narada, who is also known as
"Mingun Jetawun Sayadaw the First." He then placed himself under the guidance of
the Sayadaw and at once proceeded with an intensive course of meditation.
After this practical course of meditation he returned to Moulmein and continued with
his original work of teaching Buddhist scriptures. He sat for the Pali Lecturership
Examination held by the Government of Burma in June 1941 and succeeded in passing
completely at the first attempt. He was awarded the title of Sasanadhaja Siri Pavara
In the year 1303 of the Burmese Era (1941) and in the eighteenth year of his bhikkhu
ordination he returned to his native village (Seikkhun) and resided at a monastery known
as "Maha-Si Kyaung" because a drum (Burmese: si) of unusually big (maha)
size is housed there. He then introduced the systematic practical course of Satipatthana
meditation. Many people, bhikkhus as well as laymen, gathered round him and took up the
strict practical course, and were greatly benefited by his careful instructions. They were
happy because they began to understand the salient features of Satipatthana and had also
learned the proper method of continuing the practice by themselves.
In the year 1311 B.E. (1949) the then Prime Minister of Burma, U Nu, and Sir U Thwin,
executive members of the Buddha Sasananuggha Association, requested the Venerable Mahasi
Sayadaw to come to Rangoon and give training in meditative practice. In his twenty-sixth
year of bhikkhu ordination, he therefore went to Rangoon and resided at the Thathana
Yeiktha, the headquarters of the Association, where since then intensive training courses
have been held up to the present day.
Over 15,000 persons have since been trained in that centre alone and altogether over
200,000 persons have been trained throughout Burma, where there are more than 100 branches
for the training in the same method. This method has also spread widely in Thailand and in
Mahasi Sayadaw was awarded the title of Agga-Maha-Pandita in the year 1952.
He carried out the duties of the Questioner (pucchaka) at the Sixth Buddhist
Council (Chattha Sangayana) held at Rangoon for two years, culminating in the year 2500 of
the Buddhist Era (1956). To appreciate fully the importance of this role it may be
mentioned that the Venerable Maha-Kassapa, as Questioner, put questions at the First
Council held three months after the passing away of the Buddha. Then the Venerable Upali
and the Venerable Ananda answered the questions. At the Sixth Council, it was
Tipitakadhara Dhammabhandagarika Ashin Vicittasarabhivamsa who answered the questions put
by the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw. The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw was also a member of the
committee that was responsible, as the final authority, for the codification of all the
texts passed at the Sixth Council.
He has written several books on meditation and the following notable works may be
(1) Guide to the Practice of Vipassana Meditation (in Burmese) -- 2 volumes.
(2) Burmese translation of the Maha-Satipatthana Sutta, with notes.
(3) Visuddhiñana-katha (in Burmese and Pali).
(4) Burmese translation of the Visuddhimagga, with notes.
(5) Burmese translation of the Visuddhimagga Maha-Tika, with notes -- 4
(6) Paticca-Samuppada (Dependent Origination) -- 2 volumes.
A large number of his discourses, based on the Pali Suttas, have been translated into
English and published by the Buddha Sasananuggha Association (16 Hermitage Road, Kokkine,
Rangoon, Myanmar (Burma)).
Mahasi Sayadaw passed away on 14 August 1982 following a brief illness.