Contemplation in the Dhamma

[28] By Soma Thera*[353/416]* Nibbāna the goal of contemplation in the Buddha’s teaching is reached with the attainment of knowledge (aññārādhanā), through gradual training, gradual work, and gradual practice (anupubbasikkhā, anupubbakiriyā, anupubbapaṭipadā). Says the Master, ‘Truly, the penetration of knowledge occurs not abruptly’ (na āyataken’ eva aññāpaṭivedho). Step by step, and not in the manner of a jumping frog, does a person progress on the Noble Path. Having fulfilled virtue first, then concentration, and after that wisdom, does one attain full sanctitude in the Buddha’s doctrine. [29] The order and method of development of the Path is shown in the Ratha- vinīta Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya. There are seven purifications taught there. They are: purification of virtue, purification of mind, purification of view, purification of transcending doubt, purification of knowledge and vision of what is and is not the Path, purification of knowledge and vision of practice, purification of knowledge and vision.These seven have to be developed one by one, in the order given in the sutta mentioned above, because of the dependence of concentration on virtue, and of wisdom on concentration. The purifications have been set forth with an illustration of seven carriages arranged for Pasenadi, the king of Kosala, from Sāvatthi to Sāketa. No carriage takes the king beyond the one next to it on the road to Sāketa, and the last carries him to his destination. The carriages arranged for the yogi going to Nibbāna are the seven purifications. No purification takes the yogi beyond the one next to it on the road to Nibbāna, and it is by the last that he reaches his bourne.Virtue is fulfilled by the first purification, concentration, by the second, and wisdom that precedes the Supramundane Path by the next four purifications. The last purification is attained in the Supramundane Path-moment when all the factors of the Noble Path occur together. The purifications [354/417] cannot function out of place. Each of the purifications has to work in its proper place, and do what it should to aid the others in fulfilling the yogi’s aim. None of these can be ignored as they are all vital parts of single system. [30] The gradualness of the Path of the Buddha is also taught in the following passage: ‘The attainment of knowledge at once, bhikkhus, I do not make known; still the attainment of knowledge occurs by gradual training, gradual work, and gradual practice. How bhikkhus, does the attainment of knowledge occur, by gradual training, work, and practice? Here, a man imbued with faith draws near; drawing near, he sits down near by; sitting down near by, he pays attention; paying attention, he hears the doctrine; having heard the doctrine, he remembers it; of what he remembers, he examines the meaning; while he examines the meaning, the teachings become intelligible to him; when to him the teachings become intelligible, ardour is born in him; when he is with ardour, he becomes energetic; having become energetic, he investigates the nature, of things; having investigated the nature of things, he strives to reach the Path; while striving to reach the Path, he realises truly by his mental body the highest truth and sees it, having penetrated it with wisdom’. [31] [355/418] Further the Buddha says in this connection that if that man had no faith, he would not have drawn near, sat down near by, and while paying attention, heard the doctrine and realised the truth.Conscientiousness and the fear of doing evil are called the world-protecting qualities. [32] These must be strong in one who, by faith in the Jewels, wishes to purify his virtue. [33] These world-protecting qualities make for the refinement of mind essential for the purification of virtue, the first stage in the orderly progress of the Buddhist yogi.One who observes the precepts carefully is never callous in regard to others’ good. He acts in a way that does not harm, injure, or distress others. The yogi bent on reaching the first stage of purity wants to be entirely free from any sense of guilt or remorse, [34] as they are not helpful to tranquillity, which he wants to acquire, and which has to be supported by strong virtue. Until a man has penetrated the meaning of virtue and appreciated fully its importance for the attainment of jhāna, which has been described by the Buddha as a state that is separate from sense-desires and other mental conditions that hinder the development of insight, [35] he does not produce the sensitiveness necessary for the purification of the first stage of progress on the Path.One who is established in the purity of virtue has to guard his senses so that he may not be overwhelmed, by evil thoughts. This is done by making the mind see things in the way leading to right understanding. Such a one trains himself in the practice of detachment, neutrality, or indifference, to all that he contacts.As earth, water, fire, and air, are not affected, and not worried, repelled, or vexed, by what is cast on them, so the yogi must be possessed of unshakable serenity and calm, in all circumstances. Then the things that flow into his mind through the senses will not be able to inflame him. [36] Control of the sense-faculties, abandoning of thoughts of sense-desires, bringing into being the factors of enlightenment, and protecting the sign of [356/419] concentration, are aspects of right effort to which the yogi has to pay attention. The practice of contemplation however, is born with the effort to control the sense-faculties. It may be rightly said that the long journey to peace and immunity from mental ill through the Path does not really begin until the restraint of sense-faculties, which stops the arising of thoughts useless for release from ill, become habitual to the yogi. When control of the sense-faculties becomes strong and a habit, it makes for the maturing of the qualities necessary for intuition of highest freedom. The value of constant practice of restraint of the sense-faculties is brought out in the story given below of the Elder Mahātissa who dwelt on Cetiya Hill (Mihintale).The Elder was once going for alms to Anurādhapura. A woman who had quarrelled with her husband having thought, ‘Remaining alone in the house is better than this unpleasant marriage5, got on to the road early in the morning, fully trimmed up and decked out like a divine nymph, to go towards Mihintale. And she who was going to the house of her relatives saw on the way the worshipful Elder of calm demeanour and broke out into wanton laughter with low intent of making him look at her. The Elder, who was walking with attention on his basic contemplation subject, wondering ‘What is it?’ looked up. And because of his seeing the row of bones of her teeth, his own contemplation subject of bones became clear to his mind. Developing insight then and there, he attained the Fruit of Arahatship. So it is said:

Having beheld the bones that were her teeth,
And called back to mind his first perception,
The elder, who was standing in that place,
Indeed, arrived at the consummate state.

The husband, who was going in search of her, saw the Elder and asked him, ‘Venerable sir, did you see a woman going?’. The Elder replied:

I know not whether what passed
Through this place was a man or woman,
But I know that on this highway
There is going a frame of bones. [37]

One who is devoted to control of the senses should keep all evil thoughts out of his mind and be unremitting in his effort to be on the alert remembering the teaching of the Buddha on diligence (appamāda), and also keep his thoughts directed on grasping the meaning of the Dhamma, by study of, and reflection on, it. In that way the ardent disciple makes use of all his contacts to help [357/420] the ripening of his wisdom. For bringing about that state of wisdom the yogi has to give attention to the practice of mindfulness and full awareness. Mindfulness is required in all effective contemplation. Through full awareness one learns to do everything with deliberation and not on the spur of the moment. Mindfulness belongs to the aggregate of concentration of the Noble Path ; it has to be highly developed before success in jhāna, meditation, that is aloof from sense-desires, and other evil states of mind, can be achieved. When contemplatives are weak in remembering what should be remembered at the proper time their mindfulness is ineffective and full awareness of what is fit to be done, is not present. Then they also lack wise consideration, which is necessary for overcoming adventitious defilements, and are assailed by passion. [38] The story of the Elder Tissabhūti, given in the commentary to the Sabbāsava Sutta, illustrates what happens, when through lack of mindfulness and full awareness, one considers an object unwisely. It is said that this Elder was overcome by passion for an object of the opposite sex, while he was collecting alms in a village, but by means of immediate reflection on the danger of such a mental state, he abandoned the defilement by suppression, and returned to his monastery. The object, however, came up to him in a dream. Seeing danger in it, he was strongly moved to rid himself of the disturbing thought. He visited a teacher of contemplation. Having got from him a contemplation subject connected with the foulness of the body and opposed to lust, he practised contemplation in a jungle, and attained the third Path of Sanctitude after destroying lust. [39] Mindfulness may also be likened to the driver of the yogi’s car, [40] which travels to Nibbāna, because it is mindfulness that keeps the mind to the right path, does not let the mind fall into any state of excess or deficiency, and makes for the smooth working of all other mental qualities. In this sense mindfulness may also be called a protector and a refuge of the mind. Mindfulness prevents the arising of mental discord; who practises mindfulness applies himself to every action in the right way and is circumspective, planful, scrutinising, and bright of mind.All kinds of contemplation for the production of serenity (samatha) and of insight (vipassanā) are in a sense forms of mindfulness. Mindfulness is [358/421] the central factor in the development of amity (mettā), which is a contemplation subject of serenity and in pondering on things (dhammānupassanā), which is a contemplation subject of pure insight (suddhavipassanā); so mindfulness is wanted in all wholesome activities of the yogi, and has been compared to a salt-tempering required for all curries. [41] Mindfulness is above all the quality chiefly instrumental in organising mental activity generally, making it useful and coherent, producing mental catharsis (cittavodāna). [42] and perfecting sense-faculty restraint. In connection with control of the sense-faculties it has been compared to a rope that restrains a rebellious elephant. [43] Pure intellectual activity cannot come to be unless the mind is freed of the dirt of false imaginings, judgment and views, through mindfulness, which produces right understanding through its ability to discriminate, choose what is good, and eliminate what is ill.The development of mind (cittabhāvanā) takes place through serenity (samatha), which eliminates obstructions to clear thinking. Without such elimination clear vision due to analysis that is to say, insight (vipassanā) can never arise. Serenity has been described thus, ‘What extinguishes, destroys, the hostile things beginning with sense-desire is serenity; it is a name for concentration’. Insight has been explained thus, ‘What sees things in different ways, according to impermanence and the like, is insight; it is a name for wisdom’. These two, serenity and insight, are essential, factors of the Supramundane Path. But they are also necessary to the antecedent part of the Path leading to the highest. In the antecedent part of the Path these two are mundane factors. Thus they have first to be developed as mundane qualities before they can become supramundane. [44] Of the great suttas in which both serenity (samatha) and insight (vipassanā) have been combined, the most popular are the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya, and the Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta of the Dīgha Nikāya. Now both these discourses on the foundations of mindfulness lay more stress on the development of insight, but the aim of these suttas is to lead the yogi to the realisation of the highest according to the inevitable method of attainment [359/422] taught in the Noble Eightfold Path, that is, by following the order of the seven purifications.The yogi who wishes to train himself in contemplation, that is, in the higher training of the mind (adhicittasikkhā), and of wisdom (adhipaññāsikkhā), should be one who, having perfected his purity of virtue and exercised himself in the control of the sense-faculties (indriya saṁvara), has well established himself in mindfulness and full awareness (satisampajañña). Concentrating on a contemplation subject of serenity (samatha kammaṭṭhāna) at first, he should labour to suppress the hindrances and stop distraction. [45] In the Paṭisambhidā Magga (I, 27), it is said that the abandoning of the hindrances by suppression occurs in him who develops the First Jhāna (vikkhambhanappahānañ ca nīvaraṇānaṁ paṭhamajjhānaṁ bhāvayato). [46] Of no state before the First Jhāna has it been said by the Blessed One that it is separate from sense-desires and separate from other evil states, that is to say, aloof from the hindrances that obstruct clear vision, by being far from the plane of the sensuous (kāmāvacara bhūmi). [47] The whole teaching of the two main Satipaṭṭhāna Suttas on inner development belongs to the antecedent (mundane) part of the way (pubbabhāgamagga) or the antecedent (mundane) part of progress (pubbabhāgapaṭipadā). [48] The teaching of these two suttas comprises the preparatory training in contemplation, the development of mundane concentration and insight. It has already been [360/423] said that the teaching of the discourses on the foundations of mindfulness, the Satipaṭṭhāna Suttas, is a combination of serenity and insight and that it lays stress on insight. But the practice of serenity in these suttas on mindfulness is not something that can be ignored. The Satipaṭṭhāna Suttas do not permit of restriction only to the development of insight. In short the practice of serenity (samatha) in these suttas is not optional. It is necessary for the cultivator of mindfulness to bring into being both serenity and insight, because the first leads to the second, and the practice of the first, that is, serenity is unavoidable for the beginner in the practice of the Foundations of Mindfulness, according to the pattern of the standard suttas on the subject. The insight taught in these suttas can be developed only by those who have the purity of virtue (sīlavisuddhi) and the purity of mind (cittavisuddhi), which is always taught in the books as the product of serenity, mental purity, which must be in existence before one begins to purify one’s views. [49] So the Buddha begins his instruction in the two standard Satipaṭṭhāna Suttas by setting forth the way of producing serenity through mindfulness on breathing (ānāpānasati), for purification of mind through the meditation, jhāna, by which he himself attained full enlightenment, sambodhi, and of which he said, ‘This truly is the way to enlightenment (eso va maggo bodhāya). [50] The placing of the first tetrad of the Ānāpānasati Sutta at the very beginning of the two main Satipaṭṭhāna Suttas is clear indication of the necessity of at least the First Jhāna, the first meditation of the plane of form, for getting rid of the hindrances and coming to the proper ground for the development of insight, the ground that is aloof from sense-desires and other evil states. It is certain that, from the structure of the Satipaṭṭhāna Suttas, the testimony of other suttas, and the whole architecture of the Noble Eightfold Path seen from different angles, there is no getting away from the fact that the development of insight is impossible to one who has not brought into being the antecedent part of the Path, at least, the First Jhāna. This is because it is admitted on all hands that the lowest jhāna needed in the Supramundane Path is the First Jhāna. [361/424] It should be clear to those who know the Texts that there is no way of avoiding the practice of serenity and the development of at least the First Jhāna, in the antecedent part of the Noble Path according to the facts mentioned below. The Buddha placed the first tetrad of the Ānāpānosati Sutta, an exercise in serenity, at the very beginning of the two main Satipaṭṭhāna Suttas; the Paṭisambhidā passage cited above attributes the abandoning of the hindrances by suppression to one who develops nothing less than the First Jhāna; the Buddha does not apply the words, ‘having separated himself from sense-desires, having separated himself from evil states’, namely, from the hindrances, to a winner of a lower state than the First Jhāna; and the Buddha has defined Right Concentration, Sammāsamādhi, as the four jhānas, and not anything lower than them. [51] No progress in contemplation leading towards the Supramundane Path is possible without at least getting the First Jhāna. The practice of insight is unfruitful, ineffective, and obstructed when it is attempted without going away from thought-proximity to the sensual plane, kāmabhūmi. In one who has attained the First Jhāna a proper environment is created internally for the intuition of the highest as well as for progress in the antecedent part of the Path that is connected with insight-development.Of the First Jhāna, from the time of coming to which a yogi undergoes the first great transformation of consciousness, it is said that it is the escape from sensuality. That escape is due to the factor of unification in the jhāna brought about by concentration on what is not connected with sense-desire. With the escape into the consciousness of the First Jhāna the sensuous realm is not in being for the yogi, since attainment of this jhāna is only possible with abandoning the sensuous realm. As the light of a lamp is not in being when there is full darkness, so jhāna is not in being when sense-desires, which are contrary to it, are present. As by leaving the hither bank the reaching of the thither bank takes place, so by giving up sense-desires the First Jhāna is reached. The First Jhāna, owing to its transcension of the element of the sensuous (kāmadhātu samatikkapnanato) and its being opposed to sensuous lust (kāmārāga paṭipakkhabhāvato), is truly free from sense-desires. In the sense of escape from sense-desires this jhāna is renunciation according to the Venerable Sāriputta Thera’s words. This is the escape from sense-desires, namely, renunciation. [52] [362/425] In the Dantabhūmi Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya, the Blessed one says that it is not possible for one who is given to a life of pleasure, who indulges himself in sensual delights, who is devoured by sensual thoughts, who is consumed with the fever of sensual enjoyment, and who is eager in the pursuit of the sensually pleasant, to experience, see, or realise, what has to be experienced, seen, and realised by renunciation of sense-desires. [53] Now sense-desires and the other hindrances to the First Jhāna are not conducive to the penetration of things and seeing them as they are. So, for the development of insight (vipassanā), the bringing into being of the First Jhāna is indispensable according to the Buddha’s teaching, that is to say, the words of the Buddha in the Pali Texts. [54] There is no doubt that according to the Bodhisatta’s words repeated by the Buddha in conformation, the First Jhāna is truly the way to enlightenment, and so this jhāna has a specially important place in the Buddha’s scheme of salvation.*[363/426]*