Path Factors of Concentration


The Buddha classified the eight Path factors (the Noble Eightfold Path) into three groups or ’aggregates’ (khandha), namely: the morality group (sīla-khandha), the concentration group (samādhi-khandha),1 and the wisdom group (paññā-khandha), or simply: virtuous conduct (sīla), concentration (samādhi), and wisdom (paññā). Here, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration are included in the concentration group.

As a group, these three factors are also referred to as ’training in higher mind’ (adhicitta-sikkhā), which can be defined as: training the mind, cultivating spiritual qualities, generating happiness, developing the state of one’s mind, and gaining proficiency at concentration. The essence of training in higher mind is to develop and enhance the quality and potential of the mind, which supports living a virtuous life and is conducive to applying wisdom in the optimal way.

On the highest level, ’higher mind’ (adhicitta) or concentration refers to methods of developing tranquillity (samatha) and to various methods of tranquillity meditation. But in a general, comprehensive sense, higher mind or concentration encompasses all the methods and means to induce calm in people’s minds, to make people be steadfast in virtue, to rouse enthusiasm, and to generate perseverance in developing goodness.

Right Effort

Right effort (sammā-vāyāma) is the sixth factor of the Eightfold Path. The suttas define right effort as follows:

Monks, what is right effort? Here, a monk in this Dhamma and Discipline:

  1. Generates wholesome enthusiasm, exerts effort, rouses energy, strives, and determines to prevent unarisen evil, unwholesome qualities from arising.

  2. Generates wholesome enthusiasm, exerts effort, rouses energy, strives, and determines to abandon arisen evil, unwholesome qualities.

  3. Generates wholesome enthusiasm, exerts effort, rouses energy, strives, and determines to foster unarisen wholesome qualities to come into being.

  4. Generates wholesome enthusiasm, exerts effort, rouses energy, strives, and determines for the continuance, non-disappearance, increase, completion, thriving, and fulfilment of arisen wholesome qualities.

D. II. 311; M. I. 62; M. III. 251-2; Vbh. 105, 235.

The Abhidhamma offers an additional definition:

What is right effort? The rousing of energy (viriyārambha) in the mind; progress, perseverance, determination, effort, exertion, persistence, steadfastness, constancy; steady progress, not forsaking enthusiasm, not neglecting work, shouldering responsibility; energy, the faculty of energy, the power of energy, balanced effort; the enlightenment factor of energy, which is a factor of the Path, connected to the Path. This is called right effort.

Vbh. 107, 237.

In these definitions note the importance of wholesome enthusiasm (chanda; ’wholesome desire’), which is the forerunner of right effort and is the essence of all forms of honourable perseverance. {755}

The definition in the suttas above, in which right effort is divided into four factors, is also called ’right endeavour’ (sammappadhāna)2 or the four endeavours (padhāna),3 and each of these four endeavours has a specific name, as follows:

  1. Saṁvara-padhāna: the endeavour to prevent or to be on guard against (unarisen unwholesome qualities).

  2. Pahāna-padhāna: the endeavour to abandon or to eliminate (arisen unwholesome qualities).

  3. Bhāvanā-padhāna: the endeavour to cultivate or to develop (unarisen wholesome qualities).

  4. Anurakkhanā-padhāna: the endeavour to protect, safeguard, or increase (arisen wholesome qualities).

These four efforts are sometimes explained by presenting examples:4

  1. Saṁvara-padhāna: when a monk sees a material form with the eye, he does not grasp at its signs and features (he is not captivated by its dominant and minor attributes). He practises in order to restrain the sense faculties, which when unrestrained are the cause for the unwholesome mind states of covetousness and aversion to overwhelm the mind. He protects the eye faculty, he is restrained in regard to the eye faculty (the same for hearing sounds, smelling odours, savouring tastes, contacting tactile objects by way of the body, and cognizing mental objects by way of the mind).

  2. Pahāna-padhāna: a monk does not permit thoughts of sensuality, thoughts of ill-will, thoughts of cruelty, and evil, unwholesome states that have arisen to be sustained; he abandons them, decreases them, brings them to destruction, makes them without remainder.

  3. Bhāvanā-padhāna: a monk develops the seven factors of enlightenment, which rely on seclusion, dispassion, and cessation, and incline towards liberation.

  4. Anurakkhanā-padhāna: a monk nurtures the ’concentrative signs’ (samādhi-nimitta), that is, the six ’perceptions’ (saññā).5

Effort is a vital quality in Buddhism, which is evident from the fact that right effort is one of three factors (along with right view and right mindfulness) which is required as a constant support for the other factors of the Eightfold Path.6 In almost every group of spiritual factors found in the scriptures effort is included, represented by different Pali terms.7 The following passages by the Buddha confirm the importance of effort:

This Dhamma is for the energetic, not for the indolent.

A. IV. 233.

Monks, I know clearly the value of two things:

  1. To not be content with wholesome states of mind so far achieved.

  2. To be unremitting in putting forth effort.

Therefore, you should practise accordingly: ’May I put forth unremitting effort. Let only my skin, sinews and bones remain; let the flesh in my body dry up; yet there shall be no ceasing of energy till I have attained whatever can be won by manly strength, manly energy, manly effort.’ Thus should you train yourselves. {756}

A. I. 50.

Among other reasons, the repeated emphasis on effort stems from the primary Buddhist principle that the truth is an aspect of nature or exists as laws of nature. The role of the Buddha (the ’Teacher’ – satthā) is to discover this truth and then reveal it to others. The fruits of spiritual practice occur in an impartial way according to natural causes and conditions; they are not generated by the Teacher. Therefore, people must make effort and produce results by their own strength and energy; they should not expect or appeal for desired results without putting forth effort, as is confirmed by this verse in the Dhammapada:

The Awakened Ones can but point the way;
You must make the effort yourselves.

Tumhehi kiccaṁ ātappaṁ akkhātāro tathāgatā.

Dh. verse 276.

Putting forth effort is similar to developing other spiritual qualities; all these qualities must be cultivated in an integrated manner, not in isolation. When effort has been properly prepared and integrated in the mind, one is then ready to express it as concrete actions in the external world. It is not a matter of simply generating a wish to make effort and then wilfully applying physical force in one’s exertions, which may lead to excessive straining and have very harmful consequences.

The making of effort must thus be in harmony with other spiritual qualities, most notably mindfulness and clear comprehension. One acts with understanding and awareness. One makes a balanced effort, by being neither too tight nor too slack, as is described in this story from the suttas:

At one time Ven. Soṇa was residing in the Sītavana grove near Rājagaha. He put forth extreme effort in his practice, doing walking meditation (caṅkamana) until the soles of both his feet were blistered and bleeding, but without success. He thus had this thought:

I am one of the most energetic disciples of the Blessed One, yet my mind has not attained liberation from the taints nor is it free from clinging. Now my family is wealthy, and I can utilize my wealth and do meritorious deeds. Let me then give up the training, and utilize my wealth and do meritorious deeds.

The Buddha knew what Soṇa was thinking and came to speak with him:

’Soṇa, weren’t you just now thinking of giving up the training…?’

’Yes, Lord.’

’Tell me, Soṇa, when in earlier days you were a layman, were you not skilled in playing the lute?’ – ’Yes, Lord.’

’And, Soṇa, when the strings of your lute were too taut, was your lute well tuned and easy to play?’ – ’No, Lord.’

’And when the strings of your lute were too loose, was your lute well tuned and easy to play?’ – ’No, Lord.’ {757}

’But, Soṇa, when the strings of your lute were neither too taut nor too loose, but adjusted to an even pitch, was your lute then well tuned and easy to play?’ – ’Yes, Lord.’

’Similarly, Soṇa, if energy is applied too forcefully it will lead to restlessness, and if energy is too lax it will lead to inertia. Therefore, Soṇa, keep your energy in balance, understand a balance of the spiritual faculties,8 and hold a mental sign (nimitta) of this balance.’

Vin. I. 181-2; A. III. 374-5.

Although right effort as one of the Path factors is an internal quality, for it to be effective and to be developed, it must rely on an interaction with the outside world. This includes how one responds to various sense impressions, and generally how one behaves, lives one’s life, and engages in various activities. It also includes how one’s environment affects one’s effort and the cultivation of related spiritual factors, in both favourable and adverse ways.

The effort (referred to as padhāna – ’endeavour’) made in Dhamma practice, which manifests as external action and is given systematic form, is connected to and dependent on particular environmental factors like the physical body, natural surroundings, and society. The Buddhist teachings thus emphasize the importance of external environmental factors for fostering a virtuous life and realizing the highest goal of Buddhism:

Monks, there are these five attributes of one who puts forth effort (padhāniyaṅga). What five? Here:

  1. A monk has faith, he has confidence in the Tathāgata’s awakening thus: ’For these reasons, the Blessed One is accomplished, fully enlightened … is one who elucidates and disseminates the Dhamma.’

  2. He is not encumbered by illness and affliction; he possesses a balanced metabolism for digesting food that is neither too cool nor too warm, but medium and suitable for striving.

  3. He is not boastful or deceptive; he shows himself as he actually is to the Teacher and to his discreet companions in the holy life.

  4. He is energetic in abandoning unwholesome states and in fulfilling wholesome states, steadfast, persevering, constant, not neglectful in cultivating wholesome states.

  5. He is wise; he possesses wisdom regarding rise and dissolution that is noble and penetrative and leads to the complete destruction of suffering. {758}

D. III. 277; M. II. 95; A. III. 65; A. V. 15.

Monks, there are these five unfavourable occasions for striving. What five? Here:

  1. A monk is old, overcome by old age.

  2. A monk is ill, overcome by illness.

  3. There is a famine, crops are bad, food is hard to come by and it is not easy to keep oneself going by receiving almsfood.

  4. Danger is prevalent, there is turmoil with bandits from the forests pillaging the land, and the countryfolk mount their carts and flee.

  5. There is a schism in the sangha; when the sangha is divided there is mutual condemnation, accusation, denigration, and rejection; then those who are without faith do not develop faith and some of the faithful become otherwise.

Monks, there are these five favourable occasions for striving. What five?:

  1. A monk is young, youthful, black-haired and endowed with the good fortune of youth, the prime of life.

  2. He is not encumbered by illness and affliction….

  3. A time when food is plentiful, crops are good, food is readily available and it is easy to keep oneself going by receiving almsfood.

  4. A time when people dwell in harmony, as milk and water, cherish one another, do not quarrel, but look upon one another with friendly eye.

  5. A time when the sangha dwells at ease – harmoniously, with mutual appreciation, without disputes, with a single recitation; when the sangha dwells in harmony, there is no mutual condemnation, accusation, denigration, and rejection; then those who are without faith develop faith and the faithful grow in faith.

A. III. 66.

3. Right Mindfulness


Right mindfulness (sammā-sati) is the second factor in the group classified as samādhi or as ’training in higher mind’ (adhicitta-sikkhā).9 The suttas define right mindfulness as follows:

Monks, what is right mindfulness? This is called right mindfulness: a monk in this Dhamma and Discipline:

  1. Discerns the body in the body, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, free from covetousness and grief for the world.

  2. Discerns feelings in feelings, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, free from covetousness and grief for the world.

  3. Discerns the mind in mind, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, free from covetousness and grief for the world.

  4. Discerns mind objects in mind objects, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, free from covetousness and grief for the world.10 {759}

The Abhidhamma provides another definition:

What is right mindfulness? Mindfulness is constant recollection and reflection; [or] mindfulness is the state of recollection, remembering, non-fading, non-forgetting. Mindfulness is the faculty of mindfulness, the power of mindfulness, balanced awareness, the enlightenment factor of mindfulness, which is a factor of the Path, connected to the Path. This is called right mindfulness.

Vbh. 107, 237.

The sutta definition of right mindfulness above is part of the teaching on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. Each of the four factors in this teaching has an abbreviated name:

  1. Kāyānupassanā (contemplation of the body; observing the nature of the body).

  2. Vedanānupassanā (contemplation of feelings; observing the nature of feelings).

  3. Cittānupassanā (contemplation of mind; observing the nature of mind).

  4. Dhammānupassanā (contemplation of mind objects; observing the nature of mind objects). (See Note Meaning of Dhammānupassanā)

Meaning of Dhammānupassanā

Trans.: there appears to be a fair deal of confusion among Buddhists as to the meaning of dhammānupassanā. (Translations of this term range from: ’contemplation of mind objects’, ’contemplation of the nature of things’, ’contemplation of phenomena’, ’contemplation of true nature’, and ’contemplation of psychological qualities’.) I therefore went to visit the venerable author to try and clarify some doubts over this matter. Ven. Phra Payutto’s response in a nutshell was as follows:

Basically, the term dhammānupassanā does refer to ’mind objects’ – to thoughts and reflections. The reason why the Buddha chose examples of the formal teachings (e.g. the seven factors of enlightenment, the five hindrances, etc.) is because these particular kinds of reflections are conducive to awakening. The fourth satipaṭṭhāna is linked with the third: for example, one may have insight into the fact that the mind is subject to greed (cittānupassanā) and then contemplate the nature of greed, say as a manifestation of one of the hindrances.

The reason why the four mental aggregates (khandha) do not comprise one of the foundations of mindfulness is because these aggregates are in a sense more abstract: they are more difficult to ’capture’ in awareness. The four satipaṭṭhāna are more practical – they are more easily observable and deal with everyday phenomena.

Before examining right mindfulness within the context of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, it is important to gain a basic understanding of this term sati (’mindfulness’).

Mindfulness as Heedfulness

(English translations for sati include: mindfulness, attentiveness, and detached watching. Translations for appamāda include: heedfulness, watchfulness, earnestness, diligence, zeal, carefulness, non-neglect of mindfulness, and non-negligence.)

Sati is most simply rendered as ’recollection’, but such a translation may convey the idea that it is simply an aspect of memory. While memory is certainly a valid element of sati’s function, it does not do full justice to the essential meaning of the term. As a negation, apart from its meaning of ’non-forgetting’, sati also refers to ’non-carelessness’, ’non-negligence’, ’non-distraction’, and ’non-confusion’. The mind is neither disorientated nor inattentive; rather it is focused and alert. These negations point to the positive qualities of circumspection, discernment of one’s responsibilities, attentiveness to one’s actions, and a readiness to receive things combined with an awareness of how to engage with them, giving rise to vigilance and care.

The function of mindfulness is often compared to that of a gatekeeper, who pays constant attention to those people who enter and leave a city gate, permitting those suitable persons to enter and leave, while forbidding those who are unsuitable. Mindfulness is thus of major importance in the field of ethics. It regulates people’s actions, and it helps to protect and restrain, by keeping people from indulging in bad actions and by preventing unwholesomeness from infiltrating the mind. Put in simple terms, mindfulness reminds us to do good and to give no ground to the bad.

The Buddhist teachings give great importance to mindfulness at every level of ethical conduct. Conducting one’s life or one’s Dhamma practice constantly governed by mindfulness is called appamāda, or heedfulness. Heedfulness is of central importance to progress in a system of ethics, and is usually defined as ’living with uninterrupted awareness’. {760} This may be expanded on as implying: constant care and circumspection, not allowing oneself to stumble into harmful ways; not missing any opportunity for betterment; a clear awareness of what things need to be done and what left undone; non-negligence; and performing one’s daily tasks with sincerity and with unbending effort towards improvement. It may be said that appamāda is the Buddhist sense of responsibility.

Heedfulness is classified as an ’internal factor’, as is wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra). Both of these factors may form a pair with an identical external counterpart: association with good and noble friends (kalyāṇamittatā). The Buddha’s words describing heedfulness sometimes overlap his descriptions of wise reflection, for these two qualities are of equal importance, though they differ in application.

Wise reflection is a wisdom factor and is a tool for practical application. Heedfulness, on the other hand, is a concentration factor; it is that which governs the use of wise reflection, urges its employment, and constantly inspires one to further progress.

The importance and scope of heedfulness at various levels of ethical conduct may be seen from the Buddha’s own words in the following examples:

Monks, just as the footprints of all land animals fit into the footprint of the elephant, and the elephant’s footprint is declared to be the chief among them, that is, with respect to size, so too whatever wholesome states there are, they are all rooted in diligence, converge upon diligence, and diligence is declared to be the chief among them.

S. V. 43; A. V. 21-22.

No other thing do I see which is so responsible for causing unarisen wholesome states to arise and arisen unwholesome states to wane as diligence. In one who is diligent, wholesome states not yet arisen will arise and unwholesome states that have arisen will wane.

A. I. 11.

No other thing do I see which is so helpful for great benefit as diligence….

A. I. 16.

No other thing do I see which is so helpful for the stability, the non-vanishing, the non-disappearance of the True Dhamma as diligence.

A. I. 16-17.

As to internal factors, I do not see any other factor that is so helpful for great benefit as diligence.

A. I. 17-18.

Just as the dawn is the forerunner and precursor of the rising of the sun, so too, accomplishment in diligence is the forerunner and precursor for the arising of the Noble Eightfold Path for a bhikkhu…. {761} The chief quality for greatly assisting the arising of the Noble Eightfold Path is accomplishment in diligence…. I see no other thing by means of which the unarisen Noble Eightfold Path arises and the arisen Noble Eightfold Path prospers and is fulfilled as the accomplishment of diligence…. When a bhikkhu is diligent it is to be expected that he will develop and cultivate this Noble Eightfold Path.

S. V. 30, 32-3, 35-7, 41-45.

In regard to four matters, O monks, should diligence be cultivated. What four?

  1. You should abandon immoral physical conduct, cultivate virtuous physical conduct, and not be negligent in this.

  2. You should abandon immoral verbal conduct, cultivate virtuous verbal conduct, and not be negligent in this.

  3. You should abandon immoral mental conduct, cultivate virtuous mental conduct, and not be negligent in this.

  4. You should abandon wrong view, cultivate right view, and not be negligent in this.

If a monk has abandoned immoral physical conduct, cultivated virtuous physical conduct … abandoned wrong view, and cultivated right view, he does not fear advancing death.

A. II. 119-20.

In four ways, O monks, should a monk cultivate diligence by himself, guarding the mind with mindfulness:

  1. ’May my mind not harbour lust for anything inducing lust….’

  2. ’May my mind not harbour anger for anything inducing anger….’

  3. ’May my mind not be deluded by anything inducing delusion….’

  4. ’May my mind not be infatuated by anything inducing infatuation….’

When a monk’s mind does not harbour lust for lust-inducing objects, because he is free from lust, when his mind does not harbour anger … when he is not deluded … when he is not infatuated, then he will not waver, shake, recoil, or tremble with fear, and he will not [need to] believe anyone, not even the words of ascetics.

A. II. 120.

King Pasenadi: Is there, venerable sir, one thing which secures both kinds of good, the good pertaining to the present (or the visible good) and that pertaining to the future (or the spiritual, inconspicuous good)?

Buddha: There is.

King Pasenadi: And what is that one thing?

Buddha: Diligence, great king.

S. I. 86; A. III. 364.

So it is, great king! The Dhamma which has been well expounded by me is for one with good friends, good companions, good comrades, not for one with bad friends, bad companions, bad comrades…. Indeed, good friendship is equal to the whole of the holy life.

Therefore, great king, you should train yourself thus: ’I will have good friends, good companions, good comrades to associate with.’ When, great king, you have good friends, good companions, good comrades, you should dwell with one thing for support: diligence in wholesome states. {762}

When, great king, you are dwelling diligently, with diligence for support, your ladies of the court … retinue of nobles … soldiers … subjects in town and countryside will think thus: ’The king dwells diligently, with diligence for support. Come now, let us also dwell diligently, with diligence for support.’

When, great king, you are dwelling diligently, with diligence for support, you yourself will be guarded and protected, your retinue of royal ladies will be guarded and protected, [even] your treasury and storehouses will be guarded and protected.

S. I. 87-9.

Even the Buddha’s last words which he uttered before his final passing away (parinibbāna) pertain to heedfulness:

All conditioned things are of a nature to decay; strive to attain the goal by diligence.

D. II. 155-6.

Social Value of Mindfulness

In the following quotation from the Sedaka Sutta, the Buddha’s words describing the benefits of mindfulness (sati) reveal the closeness, in practical terms, of its meaning to that of heedfulness (appamāda). Besides clarifying the meaning of these two qualities, this sutta also reveals the Buddhist attitude towards a person’s relationship to society. The Buddhist teachings view the internal life of an individual as intimately connected to the external world – to society. These two aspects of a person’s life are inseparable:

Monks, once in the past an acrobat set up his bamboo pole and addressed his apprentice thus: ’Come, climb the bamboo pole and stand on my shoulders.’ Having consented to this request, the apprentice climbed up the bamboo pole and stood on the teacher’s shoulders.

Then the acrobat said to the apprentice: ’You protect me and I’ll protect you. Thus guarded by one another, protected by one another, we’ll display our skills, collect our fee, and get down safely from the bamboo pole.’

When this was said, the apprentice replied: ’That’s not the way to do it, sir. You protect yourself, teacher, and I’ll protect myself. Thus, each self-guarded and self-protected, we’ll display our skills, collect our fee, and get down safely from the bamboo pole.’

That is the correct method in that case. It is just as the apprentice said to the teacher. When thinking, ’I will protect myself’, one must apply the foundations of mindfulness; [so too], when thinking, ’I will protect others’, one must apply the foundations of mindfulness. Protecting oneself, monks, one protects others; protecting others, one protects oneself.

And how is it that by protecting oneself one protects others? By persistent practice, by cultivation, and by enhancement. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

And how is it that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, lovingkindness, and compassion. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

When thinking, ’I will protect myself’, one applies the foundations of mindfulness; when thinking, ’I will protect others’, one applies the foundations of mindfulness. Protecting oneself, monks, one protects others; protecting others, one protects oneself. {763}

S. V. 168-9.

Mindfulness for Wisdom Development and the Removal of Mental Impurity

Heedfulness (appamāda) refers to seamless mindful awareness, to living one’s life with constant mindfulness. Heedfulness makes one careful and prudent; it prevents one from falling into bad or harmful ways. It leads to self-restraint, warning one against infatuation and indulgence. It urges one to not be complacent; it induces striving and encourages one to continually develop in spiritual practice. It makes one constantly aware of one’s responsibilities, by reminding one of what needs to be done and what does not, of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done. And it helps one to perform one’s various tasks with circumspection and precision. Thus, as stated earlier, heedfulness is of major significance in a system of ethics.

Heedfulness as an expression of mindfulness has a wide-ranging significance in relation to one’s general conduct in life. Broadly speaking, it is applicable from the stage of moral conduct (sīla) up to the stage of concentration (samādhi). At these stages, mindfulness is associated with a large number of other spiritual qualities, particularly effort (vāyāma), with which it is combined at all times.

Looked at solely in terms of the mind during the process of wisdom development (the use of wisdom to purify the mind), however, heedfulness (appamāda) is not directly involved, but rather gives devoted support and encouragement from without. At this stage, attention is confined to the workings of the mind, finely discriminating between the various phenomena present, in a moment-by-moment analysis. It is at this stage that mindfulness is fully engaged and plays a prominent role, and is referred to by its specific name: sati.11

An understanding of the essential, unique meaning of sati may be gained by contemplating its function on those occasions when its role is clearly distinguishable from that of other spiritual factors, most notably in the practice called the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna). On such occasions the function of mindfulness can be summarized as follows:

The primary function of mindfulness is that it prevents the mind from distraction; it does not allow sense impressions to pass by unheeded. It guards against absent-mindedness. It is attentive, as if keeping its eyes on each impression that passes into consciousness and then bearing down on it. When one wishes to concentrate on a particular object, mindfulness maintains one’s attention fixedly upon it, not allowing the object to slip away or disappear. By means of sati, one constantly recollects the object and bears it in mind.12

One metaphor for mindfulness is a pillar, because it is firmly embedded in its object of attention. Another metaphor is a gatekeeper, because it watches over the various sense doors through which sense data pass, inspecting all that enters. The ’proximate cause’ (padaṭṭhāna) for the arising of sati is firm and clear perception (saññā) of an object. Alternatively, the proximate cause is any one of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna), which are discussed below.

Looking at it from the point of view of ethics, one can discern both negating and positive aspects of mindfulness. As a negating factor, mindfulness guards the mind; it defends against mental distraction, protects one from making mistakes, and prevents one from falling into undesirable mental states or situations. It allows no opportunity for unwholesomeness to enter the mind and it prevents the misuse of thought.

On the positive side, mindfulness guides the stream of conscious experience, the flow of thought, and indeed all of one’s actions, so that they follow a desired course. It keeps the mind harnessed to its chosen object. It is thus the tool for laying hold of an object of attention, as if placing it in front of the mind for consideration. {764}

In the Buddhist path of practice, there is great emphasis on the importance of mindfulness. Indeed, the Buddha said that it is required in every situation. Mindfulness is compared to salt, which must be used in every curry, and to a prime minister, who is involved in every branch of government. Mindfulness may either restrain or support the mind, depending on the needs of the situation.13

Considering the attributes of mindfulness mentioned above, one sees the benefits of developing mindfulness as follows:

  • An ability to maintain and safeguard desired states of mind, by monitoring the cognitive process and the stream of thought; one accepts only that which is favourable to the mind and bars all that which is not. Moreover, by regulating and stilling the thinking process, one facilitates the attainment of concentration (samādhi).

  • Freedom, both physical and mental, and ’self-sufficiency’; the body and the mind are intrinsically at ease and relaxed, ready to encounter various situations, and able to effectively deal with things in the world.

  • An ability, in states of concentration, to guide the cognitive process and the stream of thought, and to expand their range of activity.

  • Investigation by the wisdom faculty proceeds with optimum clarity. By taking hold of a meditation object and, as it were, placing it in front of the mind for subsequent investigation, mindfulness acts as a basis on which wisdom can be developed and brought to perfection.

  • The purification of all volitional actions of body, speech and mind; a freedom from the tainted influence by craving and clinging. Accompanied by clear comprehension (sampajañña), mindfulness ensures that one’s actions are guided by wisdom – by pure, reasoned discernment.

The last two benefits listed above are the goals of an advanced stage of spiritual development, and are obtained through a prescribed method of practice referred to as the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna).

Right Mindfulness in the Context of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness

Satipaṭṭhāna may be translated as the ’foundations of mindfulness’ or the ’establishing of mindfulness’ (i.e. the supervision or guidance by mindfulness). Technically, this term refers to methods of applying mindfulness that produce optimal results, as indicated by the Buddha’s words in the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta:

Bhikkhus, this is the chief path for the purification of beings, for passing beyond sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the sublime way, for the realization of Nibbāna – namely, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.14

D. II. 290; M. I. 55-6.

The cultivation of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness is a very popular and revered method of Dhamma practice. It is considered to incorporate both tranquillity meditation (samatha) and insight meditation (vipassanā). A practitioner may develop tranquillity until the attainment of jhāna (see the following section on concentration) before developing insight based on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and reaching the final goal. Alternatively, he or she may develop insight (again, based on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness) as the principal form of meditation, relying on only a basic level of concentration, just as much as is necessary for the task, and then reach the final goal. {765}

Insight meditation (vipassanā) is a vital principle of Buddhist practice, which, though widely discussed, is also widely misunderstood. The following examination of the Foundations of Mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna), however brief, will shed some light on the meaning of vipassanā, including its essential attributes, its range of application, and its versatility, as well as the possibilities and benefits of practising insight meditation in everyday life.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness are outlined as follows:

1. Kāyānupassanā: contemplation of the body; mindfulness of the body:

  1. Mindfulness of breathing (ānāpānasati): going to a secluded place, sitting in a suitable posture for meditation, establishing mindfulness, and focusing on various aspects of the in- and out-breathing.

  2. Mindfulness of posture (iriyāpatha): clearly perceiving the present ’mode’ or posture of the body, say of standing, walking, sitting, or lying down.

  3. Clear comprehension (sampajañña): maintaining clear comprehension in every activity, e.g.: moving forward, looking around, stretching out the arms, dressing, drinking, eating, chewing, urinating, defecating, waking up, going to sleep, speaking, and remaining silent.

  4. Meditation on the repulsive (paṭikkūla-manasikāra): contemplating the body, from the top of the head to the soles of the feet, as a repository of various unattractive constituents.

  5. Meditation on the elements (dhātu-manasikāra): contemplating the body by considering it separated into its four constituent elements.

  6. Nine cemetery contemplations (nava-sīvathikā): looking at corpses in nine different stages of decay, from one newly dead to one reduced to crumbling bones. In each case, one reflects that one’s own body must meet a similar fate.

2. Vedanānupassanā: mindfulness of feeling (vedanā; sensation): when a feeling of pleasure or pain or a neutral feeling arises, whether dependent on material things (sāmisa) or independent of material things (nirāmisa), one perceives it clearly, as it actually exists in that moment of occurrence.

3. Cittānupassanā: mindfulness of the nature of the mind; insight into the state of the mind in any given moment. For example, one perceives clearly whether the mind is lustful or free from lust, angry or free from anger, deluded or free from delusion, agitated or concentrated, liberated or fettered, etc.

4. Dhammānupassanā: mindfulness of mind-objects:

  1. Hindrances (nīvaraṇa):15 clearly perceiving, in each moment, whether any of the five hindrances are present in the mind or not; clearly perceiving how as-yet unarisen hindrances arise, how hindrances already arisen may be abandoned, and how abandoned hindrances may be prevented from arising again.

  2. Aggregates (khandha): clearly understanding the five aggregates; knowing the nature of each aggregate; knowing how each aggregate arises and how it ceases. {766}

  3. Sense spheres (āyatana): clearly understanding each of the six internal sense bases and the six external sense objects; understanding the mental fetters (saṁyojana) which arise dependent on the sense spheres; knowing how unarisen fetters arise, how arisen fetters may be abandoned, and how abandoned fetters may be prevented from arising again.

  4. Enlightenment factors (bojjhaṅga):16 clearly understanding, in each moment, whether any of the seven factors of enlightenment are present in the mind or not; knowing how unarisen enlightenment factors arise, and knowing how arisen factors can be brought to completion.

  5. Noble truths (ariya-sacca): clearly perceiving the nature of the Four Noble Truths.

In the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta, at the end of every one of the above clauses, there is an identical refrain:

A monk abides contemplating the body in the body internally (i.e. his own body), or he abides contemplating the body in the body externally (i.e. someone else’s body), or he abides contemplating the body in the body both internally and externally. Or else he abides contemplating the truth of origination in the body, or he abides contemplating the truth of cessation in the body, or he abides contemplating the truth of both origination and cessation in the body. Indeed, he establishes mindfulness in front of him that ’there is a body’ to the extent necessary for knowledge and recollection. And he abides independently, not clinging to anything in the world.17

Gist of the Foundations of Mindfulness

One may see from the description above that the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna; this includes the practice of vipassanā) does not require a withdrawal from society into seclusion or a fixed time schedule. The Buddhist teachings therefore encourage its practice and integration into daily life.

In essence, the teaching on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness describes four areas in our lives which require the guidance and supervision by mindfulness (sati), namely: (1) the body and physical behaviour; (2) various sensations of pleasure and pain; (3) various states of mind; and (4) thoughts and reflections. Sustaining mindfulness at these four points helps to ensure a life free from danger and suffering, and such a practice culminates in the realization of the ultimate truth.

It is evident from the outline of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness above that, in practice, mindfulness is never applied on its own, but always in conjunction with other spiritual factors. One such factor, which is not specifically mentioned in the standard sutta definition of sati (above), is concentration (samādhi), which must be present, at least in a weak form, sufficient for the task at hand.18 The factors which are specifically and regularly mentioned include:

  • Ātāpī: ’ardour’, ’effort’; this refers to right effort (sammā-vāyāma), the sixth factor of the Eightfold Path, which entails guarding against and abandoning what is unwholesome, and cultivating and protecting what is wholesome.

  • Sampajāno: ’clear comprehension’, ’full awareness’ (= sampajañña); this refers to wisdom (paññā).

  • Satimā: the possession of sati; this refers to the very factor of mindfulness.

In the scriptures the term sampajañña usually appears coupled with the term sati. As the term sampajañña refers to wisdom, training in mindfulness is thus one part of wisdom development. {767} Clear comprehension is the clear and penetrative understanding of those things or activities focused on by mindfulness: one understands their nature and their purpose; one knows how to relate to them, free from delusion and misunderstanding.

The subsequent phrase ’free from covetousness and grief for the world’ (see above, under the definition of right mindfulness) demonstrates the attitude resulting from having mindfulness and clear comprehension. A person is equanimous and independent, unbound by defilements, neither swayed by attachment nor by aversion.

In the ending refrain, the clause: ’he contemplates origination and cessation’ points to an understanding of things in light of the Three Characteristics, giving rise to a perception and experience of things as they actually exist. The phrase: ’He establishes mindfulness in front of him that “there is a body”,’ for example, refers to an awareness of the body in its actuality, without clothing it in assumptions and cherished beliefs, without labelling it as a ’person’, as a ’self’, as ’him’, ’her’, ’me’, or ’mine’. This attitude is one of freedom and independence, in that it is not reliant on external conditions, and it is free from attachment by way of craving (taṇhā) and grasping (upādāna).

In this context, let us examine the meaning of some important Pali terms:

Kāye kāyānupassī: ’contemplating the body in the body’. This is the standard, literal translation, which can easily give rise to misunderstanding. One can sympathize with the translators here, because it is sometimes extremely difficult to convey a clear and concise meaning of some Pali terms and phrases. This phrase refers to accurately discerning at all times the body simply as a body, as nothing more than a collection or assembly of various organs and component parts. One does not see the body as being ’him’, ’her’, ’me’, ’John’, or ’Susan’, etc., nor does one see it as belonging to anyone, as say ’mine’ or ’his’; when looking at the hair or the face, one sees these for what they are, not as a ’man’ or a ’woman’.

In other words, one sees directly in line with the truth, corresponding with the actual state of the body; what one sees corresponds to what one is looking at, that is, one looks at a body and sees a body, rather than looking at a body and seeing ’Mr. Smith’ or someone loathsome or someone attractive. This is consistent with the saying of the old masters: ’One looks but does not see. One’s vision is distorted and one sees otherwise. Not seeing, one is deluded. Deluded, one cannot escape.’ (See Note Contemplating the Body in the Body)

Contemplating the Body in the Body

DA. III. 756; MA. I. 241; VbhA. 217. The commentaries offer four or five different explanations for this expression ’body in the body’, most of which point to a person’s focus of attention.

For example: not to perceive things in a confused manner – to see the body as the body; and not to see feelings, mind states, or mind objects as the body.

Another interpretation is to see subsidiary physical parts within the body as a whole; this is a way of dissecting or analyzing the body until one discerns that there is nothing more to the body than a collection of subsidiary parts; there is no ’Mr. Addison’ or ’Mrs. Bartlett’. It is an analysis of a collective unit or an unraveling of a clustered mass, like peeling back the leaves and leaf sheathes from a banana tree until one sees there is in truth no tree as such. (The same should be understood for ’feelings in feelings’, ’mind in mind’, and ’mind objects in mind objects’.)

Ātāpī sampajāno satimā: ’ardent, fully aware, and mindful’. This refers to right effort (sammā-vāyāma), right view (sammā-diṭṭhi), and right mindfulness (sammā-sati), the three constant factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, which must always be applied in conjunction with the development of every aspect of the Path:19

  1. Effort energizes the mind; it prevents the mind from becoming discouraged or depressed, from wavering, flagging, or retreating, and it gives no opportunity for unwholesome mind states to arise. It is a force urging the mind to press on, and it fosters the growth of wholesome qualities. {768}

  2. Clear comprehension is equivalent to wisdom, which penetrates the true nature of those objects focused upon by mindfulness, and it prevents delusion from arising in regard to them.

  3. Mindfulness is the fixing and holding of attention on an object in each moment, preventing forgetfulness and confusion.

Vineyya loke abhijjhā-domanassaṁ: ’free from covetousness and grief in the world’. This phrase refers to a freedom from desire and aversion, likes and dislikes. By practising in this way, the mind is spacious and bright; neither attachment nor aversion can overwhelm the mind.

Atthi kāyoti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya: ’He establishes mindfulness in front of him that “there is a body”, to the extent necessary for knowledge and recollection.’ A mindful person knows clearly and accurately that the body is merely the body; one does not mistake it for a being, a person, a man, or a woman, as a ’self’, as ’mine’ or ’yours’. The purpose of this reflection is for the sake of knowledge and recollection, for the development of mindfulness, clear comprehension, and wisdom, and to ward against fanciful proliferations. The same reflection applies to feelings, the mind, and mind objects.

Anissito ca viharati: ’He dwells independently.’ This refers to a mind that is free, not tied to any condition; one need not entrust oneself to anything or anyone else. Technically speaking, one does not take refuge in or rely on craving (taṇhā) and views (diṭṭhi). When cognizing something one experiences it directly, according to how it actually exists. One does not resort to craving and views in order to colour and embellish the experience, to lull oneself into forgetfulness, or to dictate one’s thoughts, reflections, and general wellbeing.

Na ca kiñci loke upādiyati: ’He does not cling to anything in the world.’ One does not grasp at or attach to anything at all, whether form, feeling, perception, volitional formations, or consciousness as being self or belonging to self (attaniya).

Ajjhattaṁ vā… bahiddhā vā….: ’either internally or externally’. Scholars have differed in their explanations of this phrase, but the consensus of the commentators is that ’internal’ refers to oneself and ’external’ refers to others.20 Such an interpretation corresponds with the Abhidhamma texts, which elucidate the meaning of these terms, for example: ’And how does a monk see the mind in the mind externally? Here, when another person’s mind is lustful, he clearly perceives that that is so.’21

Some people may question whether it is appropriate to intrude and probe into someone else’s mind, and whether this is even possible. A brief answer to this question is that the Buddha encouraged us to apply mindfulness to all things that we encounter, and to simply see these things as they are. {769} In daily life we must interact with other people, and we should do so mindfully. We should be aware of people as they are, as they clearly manifest to us in our direct, personal experience. (If one possesses the ability to read another person’s mind, one knows directly according to this ability; if one does not have this power then one need not be inquisitive.) This way one will not obsess over other people and give rise to such unwholesome qualities as lust and aversion. There is no obligation to monitor or pry into the affairs of others. If, however, while say speaking to someone else who shows signs of anger, one is unaware of his or her emotional state, how can one claim to be practising the Foundations of Mindfulness and applying them in daily life?

To summarize, the development of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness entails living with mindfulness (sati) and clear comprehension (sampajañña), which prevents any fixed perceptions of self generated by ignorance to interfere with one’s thoughts and to cause problems.

Some Western scholars have compared the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness with contemporary methods of psychotherapy, and have come to the conclusion that the former provides better results and greater benefits, because everyone is able to apply this practice by him- or herself, and can do so in everyday circumstances in order to maintain a healthy state of mind.22

Here, let us return to a summary of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, yet this time by using a contemporary mode of analysis.

Four Foundations of Mindfulness: Way of Practice

The constituent factors in the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are twofold: the passive (that which is focused on, observed, discerned), and the active (the act of observing, paying attention, insight).

  • The passive constituents are those ordinary, mundane things common to all of us: the body and its movements, thoughts, feelings, etc., which exist or manifest in the present moment of awareness.

  • The active constituents are mindfulness (sati) and clear comprehension (sampajañña), which are the principal factors in the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. These two agents focus on and observe those things present in the mind, unfalteringly and free from distraction.

Mindfulness (sati) is that which keeps hold of the chosen object; clear comprehension (sampajañña) is the wisdom faculty, which clearly discerns the nature and purpose of the object under investigation. For example, while walking one is mindful of and fully present with the movements of the body, and simultaneously one knows clearly the reason for walking, the intended destination, and the factors related to walking. Moreover, clear comprehension understands the object or the action as it is, without coating it with preferences and aversions.

There is a matter of linguistics here that needs to be addressed. Some people misconstrue the common definition of sati as ’recollection’ and the definition of sampajañña as ’self-awareness’, leading to misguided practice. They establish mind-fulness on the sense of self and then have the impression that they are the agents for various actions, thinking, ’I am doing this’, ’I am doing that’; as a result they create or reinforce the concept of self. They become preoccupied with this self-image and develop a rigidity of mind. At the very least, their minds are not truly focused on the activity and their efforts thus do not come to fruition. {770}

Someone prone to such misunderstanding should recall the definition of sati as ’bearing in mind’, ’sustaining attention on the object or task at hand’, and ’sustaining attention on the flow of events’. Similarly, one should recall the definition of sampajañña as ’clear comprehension of an object of attention’ or ’clear comprehension of one’s current activity’. In other words, it is not a matter of focusing on the sense of self (’I am doing this’). Rather than focusing on the ’performer’ of the task, one focuses on the task itself. One’s attention is so present and focused that eventually there is no opportunity for a sense of self to interfere in the process.

The essential feature of mindfulness is an accurate, undistorted perception of things. One sees and understands what the object of awareness is, how it manifests, and what effects it has in each moment. This entails a constant acknowledging, observing, contemplating, and understanding. One does not react to the object, evaluate it, criticize it, or judge it as being good or bad, right or wrong, etc. One does not paste one’s emotions, biases, or attachments onto the object, say as being agreeable or disagreeable, satisfactory or unacceptable. One merely discerns how that object, condition, or quality actually is, without supplementing one’s perception with such thoughts as ’mine’, ’his’, ’us’, ’them’, ’Mr. Crabtree’, ’Mrs. Simpkins’, etc.

Take the example of mindfulness of feelings (vedanā): in this very moment, one knows, for instance, that mental discomfort exists; one knows that it has arisen, one knows the way in which it came about, and one knows how it is gradually dissipating. Similarly, one is mindful of ’mind objects’ (dhammārammaṇa): if worry or anxiety arises, one observes such emotions and contemplates how they have come about and how they unfold. If anger arises, the very awareness of this anger leads to its dissipation. One then reflects on that past anger, contemplating its advantages, its ill-effects, its causes, and its ending. Eventually, it can become enjoyable to study, reflect on, and investigate one’s own suffering!

When it is pure, unadulterated suffering arising and passing away, and there is no trace of ’my suffering’ or ’I am suffering’, then that suffering is robbed of all its power to harm the one who contemplates it. Whatever form of virtue or vice exists externally or is present in the mind, one faces up to it, without any evasion or avoidance. One pays close attention to it, from the moment of its arising until it reaches its natural end. It is similar to watching actors perform a play or to being a bystander at some event. It is an attitude comparable to that of a doctor performing an autopsy or that of a scientist analyzing a subject of research, rather than that of a judge settling a case between plaintiff and defendant. It is an objective rather than a subjective approach.

The constant application of mindfulness and clear comprehension implies living in the present moment. One is aware in each moment of what is arising, what is happening, or what one is doing; attention does not slip. One does not attach to or linger over past events, and one does not drift off into the future in search of things that do not yet exist. If some unresolved matter from the past or some future obligation should be considered, mindfulness lays hold of the relevant details and the wisdom faculty reflects on them in a purposeful way, so that these matters become the present object of awareness. One does not get caught up in aimless thought, nostalgic reminiscence, or fantasies of the future. By dwelling in the present moment, one is not enslaved, seduced, or driven by craving. One lives wisely, freed from various forms of suffering, such as grief, regret, worry, and depression. This way of life leads to an awareness accompanied by spaciousness, clarity and ease. {771}

Fruits of Mindfulness Practice

  • Purity: when mindfulness is focused on a chosen object and when clear comprehension understands that thing in its true light, then the stream of cognition and thought is purified, for there will be no room for mental defilements to arise. When one discerns phenomena simply as they are, without colouring the experience by emotions or reacting from personal prejudices and preferences, there is no clinging. This is a way to eliminate existing mental taints (āsava) and to prevent newly-founded taints from arising.

  • Liberation: when the mind is purified as described above it is also liberated; it is not shaken or disturbed by sense impressions, because they are used as food for contemplation in a purely objective way. When these things are not misinterpreted by subjective mental taints they have no power over people, and one’s behaviour is freed from the controlling influence of unconscious drives and motivations. This is what is referred to by the passage: ’One abides independently, not clinging to anything in the world.’23

  • Wisdom: when the mind is thus purified and liberated, wisdom functions most effectively, because the mind is not ’coated over’ or detracted by emotions, prejudices, and biases. One then sees things as they are, according to the truth.

  • Freedom from suffering: when this state of vigilance and true understanding of things is sustained, prejudicial responses, either in a negative or a positive sense, which do not accord with pure reasoned discernment, cannot arise. There are no feelings of covetousness (abhijjhā) or resentment (domanassa), and there is a liberation from all forms of anxiety. This is called freedom from suffering, which is marked by unbounded clarity, ease, peace, and contentment.

Indeed, these four fruits of practice are interrelated, or they are aspects of the same thing. From the perspective of the teachings on Dependent Origination (paṭiccasamuppāda) and on the Three Characteristics (tilakkhaṇa), one can conclude the following: at first, most people are ignorant of the fact that the so-called ’self’ they cling to is ultimately non-existent. People exist merely as a continuum of myriad interrelated and interdependent physical and mental phenomena, which continually arise, transform, and disperse.

When one is unaware of this truth, one repeatedly clings to emotions, thoughts, desires, habits, opinions, beliefs, perceptions, etc. and one identifies with these. Although the resulting sense of self undergoes a constant transformation, one thinks: ’I was that; now, I am this’, ’I felt that way; now, I feel this way.’

To engage in such self-identification is to be deceived by such things as thoughts and feelings, which are merely subsidiary mental factors (nāma-dhamma) active in that particular moment. This deception is the source of wrong thinking. As a consequence, one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are motivated and driven by the exigencies of whatever is being clung to as self at the moment.

When one practises in line with the Foundations of Mindfulness, one sees each material and mental component within a specific process as arising and ceasing according to its own nature. By analyzing and distinguishing each factor of this moment-to-moment continuum, one is not deceived into grasping onto things and identifying with them as ’self’. These things thus lose their power of coercion. {772}

If this insight attains an optimum profundity and clarity, one realizes liberation. The mind is established in a new mode of being, which is pure, spacious, free from mental bias and attachment. Even one’s personality is altered.

This is a state of perfect mental health. It is comparable to a body which is in perfect health, when, in the absence of disease, all of its organs function smoothly and normally. Indeed, the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness is a method of cleansing the mind of mental illness, of completely eliminating those things that restrict, obstruct, and impede the mind. A person is then prepared to face and deal with all things in the world resolutely and with joy.

This matter can be summarized with the following teachings by the Buddha:

Monks, there are two kinds of illness: physical illness and mental illness. There are to be seen beings who can assert to be without illness of the body for an entire year. There are to be seen beings who can assert to be without illness of the body for two years… three years… four years… five years… ten years… twenty years… thirty years… forty years… fifty years… a hundred years. But beings who can assert to be without illness of the mind, even for an instant, are difficult to find in the world, with the exception of those who are free from the taints.

A. II. 143.

Ven. Sāriputta: ’Householder, your faculties are bright, your facial complexion is pure and radiant. Did you get to hear a Dhamma talk today in the presence of the Blessed One?’

Nakulapitā: ’Why not, venerable sir? Just now I was anointed by the Blessed One with the ambrosia of a Dhamma talk.’

Ven. Sāriputta: ’In what manner did the Blessed One anoint you with the ambrosia of a Dhamma talk?’

Nakulapitā: ’Here, venerable sir, I approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, sat down to one side, and said to him: “I am old, venerable sir, aged, burdened with years, advanced in life, afflicted in body, often ill. I rarely get to see the Blessed One and the bhikkhus who are a cause for delight. Let the Blessed One exhort me, venerable sir, let him instruct me, since that would lead to my welfare and happiness for a long time.”

[The Buddha replied]: “So it is, householder, so it is! This body is afflicted, like an egg which is covered by a shell. If anyone carrying around this body were to claim to be without illness even for a moment, what would this be other than foolishness? Therefore, householder, you should train yourself thus: ’Even though I am afflicted in body, my mind will be unafflicted.’ “

’It was with the ambrosia of such a Dhamma talk, venerable sir, that the Blessed One anointed me.’ {773}

S. III. 2.

Momentary Awareness Is Essential for Insight Meditation

People’s most ordinary, mundane activity, one that is going on constantly in their daily lives, is the cognition of sense impressions through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Cognition is always accompanied by a feeling – either of pleasure, pain, or a neutral feeling. In response to feelings, the mind reacts: if the object is pleasant there arises desire and delight; if the object is unpleasant or painful, there arises annoyance and aversion.

When there is liking of something, one wishes to experience more of it, to repeat the enjoyment, to obtain or possess the object. When there is dislike of something, one wishes to escape from it, to rid oneself of it or destroy it. This process is continuing all the time, both on subtle levels which tend to remain unobserved, and, on occasion, with an intensity which is plainly recognizable and which inflicts clearly discernible and lasting effects on the mind. These powerful or unsettling experiences tend to generate long and involved mental proliferations, and if they are not resolved they intrude into the whole range of one’s speech and actions.

People’s lives, their roles in society, and their interactions with others, issue primarily from this incessant contact with sense impressions which is present in every moment of human existence.

Heedlessly abandoning the mind to the process of delighting in pleasure and comfort and resisting pain and discomfort impedes the development of wisdom. One will be prevented from discerning the true nature of things. A lack of restraint in this matter creates the following obstacles:

  • The mind falls under the sway of liking and disliking and it gets stuck at these points of reaction. One’s vision is thus obscured and one sees things from a biased perspective, not according to how they truly are.

  • The mind falls into the past or drifts into the future. When one experiences a sense impression and either delight or aversion arises, the mind gets stuck at the point or feature of that object that is considered agreeable or disagreeable. One then makes a mental image of these agreeable or disagreeable features, nourishes it, and proliferates over it. Dwelling on particular agreeable or disagreeable aspects of something, and clinging to concepts or images of it, is equivalent to slipping into the past. The ensuing mental proliferations over these images entail drifting off into the future. A person’s understanding of the object – the mind-created images based on likes and dislikes, or the embellished ideas about it – is in fact not a true understanding of the object as it truly exists in the present moment.

  • The mind is subject to proliferated thinking, which interprets the meaning of what is sensed or experienced in the light of one’s personal history or ingrained habits, e.g. according to one’s cherished views, values, and opinions. The mind is at the mercy of these proliferations; it is unable to see things objectively and purely as they are.

  • The mind adds embellished mental images of new experiences to one’s preexisting mental biases and habits, thus compounding one’s habitual patterns of reaction.

The negative characteristics of mind mentioned above do not pertain only to the coarse and shallow matters of one’s daily life and general affairs. The Buddhist teachings emphasize their manifestation at the subtle and profound level of the mental continuum. It is through their presence that ordinary, unawakened beings are led to see things as stable and substantially real, to perceive inherent beauty or ugliness in them, to attach to conventional truths, and to to overlook the all-encompassing law of causality. {774}

People accumulate habits and conditioned tendencies of misperceiving existence almost from the day they are born, and go twenty or thirty years, forty or fifty years, even longer than that, without ever training themselves to break the cycle of wrong thinking. Dealing with and rectifying this situation is thus not easy. At the very moment that one becomes conscious of an object, before one has had time to steady oneself to check the process, the mind has already switched into an habitual response.

The remedy in this case is not simply a matter of cutting a cycle of reactivity and abrogating a conditioned process, but also necessitates curbing the habitual tendencies and dispositions of the mind that flow strongly along fixed channels.

Mindfulness is an essential factor here for clearing the way and for marshalling other spiritual factors. The practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness has the following objectives: through mindfully keeping pace with experience and seeing things in their bare actuality, one breaks the circuit of deluded thought, destroys unwholesome mental dynamics, modifies old conditioning, and cultivates new dispositions in the mind.

A mind possessing such moment-to-moment awareness is endowed with characteristics which are the complete antithesis of those shown by a mind caught up in the flow of unwholesome conditioning:

  • Attachment and aversion have no opportunity to arise in the mind, because their presence is dependent on the mind seizing on and lingering over a particular point or aspect of an object, and thus being caught up in the past.

  • Attachment and aversion exist when there is a falling away from the present moment. A consequence of a free, unentangled mind, which observes things as they arise from moment to moment, is that it does not slip into the past or drift off into the future.

  • The mind is not subject to mental proliferations based on past conditioning, which lead to a biased, distorted, and coloured experience of phenomena; the mind is prepared to see things as they truly are.

  • The mind does not compound or intensify bad habits.

  • When one pays attention to phenomena as they arise in each moment, one perceives certain character traits in oneself which are unwelcome or unacknowledged. With mindfulness, one can face up to these qualities as they are, without seeking to avoid them and without any self-deception. One is thus able to cleanse such impurities from the mind and to solve personal difficulties.

  • The mind endowed with constant mindfulness is unconstricted and untarnished; it is pure, radiant, spacious, joyous, and free.

All things exist and proceed according to their own nature. Figuratively speaking, the truth is revealing itself at all times, yet people tend to shut themselves off from it; alternatively they see things in a distorted manner or deceive themselves as to the nature of truth altogether. The cause for this concealment, distortion, and deception is the immersion in the conditioned stream of heedless abandon to pleasure and discomfort detailed above. The factors for distortion and delusion are strong in themselves; add to these the compulsive and misleading power of habit, and the chance to really know the truth is almost non-existent.

Because personal habits and dispositions have been accumulated steadily over an extremely long period of time, the practice to remedy them and to create a new mode of relating to the world is also likely to require a long time. {775}

Whenever mindfulness is consistent and proficient – when one does not evade the truth, does not distort the things one sees, and escapes the power of old conditioning – one is prepared to see things as they are and to understand the truth. At this point, if other spiritual faculties, especially wisdom, are well-developed, they will join forces with mindfulness by relying on it to operate in the most effective way, giving rise to ’knowledge and vision’ (ñāṇa-dassana), which is the goal of insight meditation. To gain mastery in wisdom (and in other spiritual faculties), however, depends on gradual training and on basic study. Study and reasoned analysis therefore are supportive for the realization of truth.

The Foundations of Mindfulness Nourish the Enlightenment Factors

Mindfulness (sati) is not the same as insight (vipassanā); indeed, it is wisdom or the application of wisdom that is equivalent to insight. Wisdom, however, operates in a reliable, fully proficient way when supported and guided by mindfulness, as described above. The development of mindfulness is thus of great importance for insight meditation. In other words, mindfulness is developed simultaneously with wisdom, or the practice of mindfulness is performed in order to gain proficiency in wisdom. In the terminology of spiritual practice, the mention of mindfulness usually includes the joint factor of ’clear comprehension’ (sampajañña), which is equivalent to wisdom, and the strength and fluency of mindfulness depends on the participation by wisdom.24

The wisdom that accompanies mindfulness in everyday activities is generally referred to as ’clear comprehension’ (sampajañña). At this stage wisdom is only a supporting factor in practice, cooperating and collaborating with mindfulness. Here, mindfulness is viewed as the principal or prominent factor. When it comes to more subtle levels of investigation, however, prominence shifts to wisdom, and mindfulness is relegated to a role of serving wisdom. An example of wisdom functioning on this level is ’investigation of Dhamma’ (dhamma-vicaya) contained in the Seven Factors of Enlightenment.

It seems appropriate here to review the teaching mentioned at the beginning of the chapter introducing the Middle Way, which describes how the Four Foundations of Mindfulness nourish and support the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhaṅga), which in turn nourish and support true knowledge (vijjā) and liberation (vimutti), as confirmed by this passage:

Monks, liberation and supreme knowledge have their nutriment, I declare; they are not without a nutriment. And what is the nutriment of liberation and supreme knowledge? ’The seven factors of enlightenment’ should be the answer. The seven factors of enlightenment, too, have their nutriment; they are not without a nutriment. And what is the nutriment of the seven factors of enlightenment? ’The Four Foundations of Mindfulness’ should be the answer….

When the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are fulfilled, they bring about the fulfilment of the seven factors of enlightenment. When the seven factors of enlightenment are fulfilled, they bring about the fulfilment of liberation and supreme knowledge. Such is the nourishment and fulfilment of liberation and supreme knowledge.25

A. V. 114.

From this passage it is clear that the seven factors of enlightenment generate true knowledge and liberation; they enable the realization of Path and Fruit. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness help by nourishing the seven factors of enlightenment. {776}

This passage elucidates the process of insight meditation. In the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, mindfulness (sati) is the constant, basic factor, while wisdom, under the name of clear comprehension (sampajañña), operates in tandem, by understanding everything that mindfulness observes or engages with. Mindfulness focuses on things in order for clear comprehension to understand them, just as one may grasp an object in one’s hand in order to look at it closely with one’s eyes.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness act as a basis for the seven factors of enlightenment. Mindfulness focuses on an object and submits it to wisdom, which here is called ’investigation of truth’ (dhamma-vicaya). At this stage wisdom is the predominant factor, investigating the object just as one uses one’s eyes to thoroughly inspect something. This is the process of wisdom as an enlightenment factor.

In any case, whether wisdom is referred to as ’clear comprehension’, ’investigation of truth’, or by any other designation, if it leads to a realization of things as they truly are and to the deliverance of the heart, then it is encompassed in the meaning of the term vipassanā (’insight’).26

Mindfulness plays an important role in both tranquillity meditation (samatha) and in insight meditation (vipassanā). An examination of the role of mindfulness in these two forms of meditation sheds light on the subject described above.

In tranquillity meditation, mindfulness keeps attention focused on a single object, or it holds an object in awareness, in order to achieve one-pointed concentration. The mind then becomes peaceful and still; it is free from distraction and agitation. When the mind has reached this one-pointed, unwavering, and steady concentration, tranquillity meditation is accomplished.

In insight meditation, mindfulness similarly holds an object in awareness or directs attention to an object, but it uses the mind as the platform on which an object is placed for inspection by wisdom. Here, one takes hold of the object in order to let wisdom investigate and analyze it, using the firm and stable mind as one’s laboratory.27

The practice of tranquillity meditation is like tying a wild young bull to a post with a rope. All it can do is circle around the post to which it is bound, until, eventually, when its stubbornness has abated, it lies down meekly at the foot of the post. Here, the mind is compared to the wild young bull, the meditation object to the post, and mindfulness to the rope.

The practice of insight meditation is like fixing a specimen onto a flat surface to allow a subsequent examination to proceed smoothly and with precision. Here, the means used to pin down the specimen is compared to mindfulness, the specimen to the meditation object, the surface to a concentrated mind, and the examination to wisdom.

So far, the primary principles of these two forms of meditation have been discussed. In this context, there are a few additional observations and distinctions to make:

The objective of tranquillity meditation is to make the mind calm. In this context, when mindfulness directs attention to an object, it fastens onto it with the sole aim of producing a firm and unswerving concentration on the object, preventing even the slightest deviation of awareness, until the mind dwells unwaveringly on a ’mental image’ (nimitta; ’sign’) of the meditation object. Tranquillity meditation thus involves fixing attention on an object that is merely a perception created in the mind by the meditator.

In insight meditation, on the other hand, the aim is towards knowledge and understanding of the way things are. Here, mindfulness focuses only on truly existent phenomena, in order for wisdom to fully and clearly comprehend the nature of their existence. It focuses on things from the moment of their arising through their gradual decline and eventual disintegration, enabling wisdom to gain a thorough understanding of them.

Insight meditation demands an awareness of every kind of sense impression which impinges on consciousness so that wisdom can comprehend each one in its actuality. Thus the object in focus is not a fixed one, and to ensure an accurate and authentic comprehension, one must be mindful of the changing nature of phenomena in every moment, to prevent one’s attention from lingering on any one object or aspect of an object. {777}

In tranquillity meditation, mindfulness focuses on an object that is either stationary or moves within a repetitive and fixed pattern. In insight meditation, mindfulness focuses on an object in whatever state of movement or change it may exist, without restriction.

In tranquillity meditation one selects a certain defined object that is considered conducive for calm and concentration. In insight meditation, one may focus on any object without exception; whatever manifests in the mind and lends itself to investigation; whatever permits a glimpse of the truth is valid. In the context of insight meditation, these objects may be summarized as mental objects (nāma-dhammā) and physical objects (rūpa-dhammā), or as body, feelings, mind, and mind objects – the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

Another crucial factor for spiritual practice, an examination of which helps to clarify the unique qualities distinguishing insight meditation from tranquillity meditation, is analytical reflection (yoniso-manasikāra; ’wise reflection’). Analytical reflection gives rise to wisdom and is thus essential to insight meditation.

In tranquillity meditation, although analytical reflection may be supportive in many circumstances, it is of lesser significance. In some cases it need not be applied at all, or else ordinary contemplation (manasikāra) is sufficient. In this context, mindfulness is used to direct attention to an object until the mind becomes one-pointed. Here, if all goes smoothly and results are duly experienced, there is no need to make use of analytical reflection.

In some situations, however, when the mind does not sustain an interest in the meditation object, when attention wavers and becomes distracted, or else with those meditation themes, e.g. lovingkindness (mettā), which require a certain measure of reflective thought, one may need a skilful means to guide the mind. In such a case, one needs to apply wise and systematic reflection, to manage the thought-process, and to lead the mind in a correct direction. An example is knowing how to reflect so as to reduce anger and replace it with lovingkindness.

In any case, in tranquillity meditation the kind of wise reflection that may be required is limited to that used for rousing wholesome qualities.28 It is not necessary to apply the kind of wise reflection used for promoting realization of the truth.

In insight meditation, on the other hand, the application of analytical reflection is a singularly important step on the path to wisdom and is thus an essential factor. Analytical reflection paves the way for wisdom and is conducive to its further development. (See Note Wisdom, Faith and Reflection) Its function and characteristics are so similar to wisdom that these two Pali terms – yoniso-manasikāra and paññā – are often used interchangeably, which often causes students of Buddhism to have difficulty in distinguishing between them. {778}

Analytical reflection acts as a link between mindfulness and wisdom. It is the vanguard of wisdom; it facilitates a form of thinking that promotes the effective functioning of wisdom. In other words, analytical reflection provides wisdom with a mode of operation; it is a method of applying wisdom in the most effective way.

The reason why some people are confused by these terms is that, in general parlance, yoniso-manasikāra refers both to the methods of contemplation, which comprise the very factor of yoniso-manasikāra, and to the subsequent application of wisdom in line with these methods. This ambiguity may also occur when discussing the practical expressions of wisdom. For instance, when using the term ’investigation of truth’ (dhamma-vicaya), there is a tacit understanding that in this context the wisdom faculty investigates by relying on one of the methods provided by analytical reflection. In general, the meaning of the term yoniso-manasikāra implies both reflection and wisdom – reflection accompanied by wisdom – i.e. ’wise reflection’.

As a sequence of events, this process unfolds in this way: when mindfulness (sati) lays an object down in full view of the mind, analytical reflection (yoniso-manasikāra) holds this object in attention and turns it over so that wisdom (paññā) can investigate it. Wisdom attends to the object according to the manner and direction determined by analytical reflection. If analytical reflection lays the foundation and sets the direction correctly, then wisdom bears fruit. Mindfulness is present at every stage of this process; it does not disappear or slip away. Whenever analytical reflection is functioning, mindfulness is present. These two factors are mutually supportive in insight meditation.

A comparison may be made to a person in a rowboat out on a fast-flowing, choppy river, collecting flowers or greens along the shore. First, that person ties up the boat or anchors it in such a way that it will remain stationary at the spot where the plants grow. Then, with one hand he grasps hold of the stems, gathering them together and exposing them as conveniently as possible for harvesting. With the other hand, using the tool he has prepared for the job, he cuts them off.

Wisdom, Faith and Reflection

In relation to wisdom, faith (saddhā) and analytical reflection (yoniso-manasikāra) lead to different results.

The establishment of some kinds of faith is like digging a fixed channel through which thought processes move. Analytical reflection, on the other hand, paves a way for wisdom to function effectively in each new situation.

The Buddhist teachings promote a faith that is linked to wisdom: a faith that provides an opportunity for wise reflection. An example of faith as a fixed channel is the belief that all things are predestined; a person does not contemplate any further than this. An example of faith leading to wise reflection is that of someone, who, although he has not yet fully realized the truth, has faith in the Buddha’s teaching that all things exist according to causes and conditions. This faith leads the person to apply wise reflection in different circumstances, to inquire into the relevant causes and conditions.

Here, mindfulness (sati) is compared to the rope or anchor which stabilizes the boat, enabling the person to remain within reach of the plants. The boat (or person in the boat), held steady at a given spot, is compared to the mind. The hand which grasps the plant stems and holds them in a convenient way is like analytical reflection (yoniso-manasikāra). The other hand, using a sharp tool to cut off the stems, is like wisdom (paññā).29 {779}

Right Concentration (sammā-samādhi)

Right concentration is the final factor in the Eightfold Path. Because concentration is connected to the cultivation of the mind in its entirety, there is a great deal of material for study in relation to this factor. Concentration involves refined states of mind and its development is highly detailed and complex. One may say that concentration marks the point where all eight factors of the Path converge and engage in unison.

Definition of Samādhi

The term samādhi refers to ’mental concentration’ or ’one-pointed attention’. A common definition for samādhi is cittassekaggatā, or simply ekaggatā, which literally means ’the state of focused attention on one object’. The mind is firmly established on one object; attention is not distracted and does not waver.

The commentaries define samādhi as a wholesome mind attentive on one object, balanced and well-steadied, or simply as a steadfast mind.30 They describe the essence of concentration as non-distraction and non-wavering. Concentration helps to gather together accompanying spiritual factors, just as water helps to bind flour together and prevent it from being dispersed. Concentration manifests as tranquillity and it possesses happiness as its unique proximate cause. A concentrated mind is steadfast and still, like a candle flame in a location free of wind. The candle burns in a steady, even way; it is not immobile, but it is tranquil.

In the suttas ’right concentration’ is defined in terms of the four jhānas:

Monks, what is right concentration? Here, a monk in this Dhamma and Discipline:

  1. Secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, he enters upon and abides in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, (vitakka and vicāra; ’initial and sustained attention’), with rapture (pīti) and pleasure (sukha) born of seclusion.

  2. He enters upon and abides in the second jhāna, which has clarity of mind and one-pointedness (ekaggatā), without applied and sustained thought, which have been stilled, with rapture and pleasure born of concentration.

  3. With the fading away of rapture, he abides in equanimity, mindful and fully aware, still feeling pleasure with the body,31 he enters upon and abides in the third jhāna, on account of which the noble ones announce: ’He has a pleasant abiding, equanimous and mindful.’

  4. With the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous disappearance of joy and grief, he enters upon and abides in the fourth jhāna, which has neither pleasure nor pain and purity of mindfulness due to equanimity (upekkhā).

E.g.: D. II. 312-13; M. I. 62; M. III. 252; Vbh. 105.

This definition for concentration should be considered as a way to describe the fulfilment of concentration. This is because the suttas sometimes define the faculty of concentration simply as ’one-pointedness of mind’ (cittassekaggatā), for example: {780}

Monks, what is the faculty of concentration? Here, the noble disciple gains concentration, gains one-pointedness of mind, having made relinquishment the object of attention. The is called the faculty of concentration.32

S. V. 198, 200.

The commentaries offer this definition for right concentration:

What is right concentration? The establishment of the mind, the steadfastness of the mind, the stability of the mind, the non-wavering, non-distraction of the mind, the non-swaying of the mind, tranquillity (samatha), the faculty of concentration, the power of concentration, balanced concentration, the enlightenment factor of concentration, which is a factor of the Path, connected to the Path. This is called right concentration.

Vbh. 107, 238.

In sum, right concentration is applied for the goal of liberation and developed to support wisdom, which understands things as they truly are.33 It is not used to satisfy worldly desires, for example by becoming an accomplished meditator in order to boast about one’s psychic abilities. There are teachings in the scriptures confirming that Dhamma practitioners can develop insight by using only a basic level of concentration (referred to as ’insight concentration’ – vipassanā-samādhi): a concentration accompanied by wisdom or a concentration applied for developing penetrative insight, which lies between ’momentary concentration’ (khaṇika-samādhi) and ’access concentration’ (upacāra-samādhi).34

Levels of Concentration

The commentaries divide concentration into three stages:35

  1. Khaṇika-samādhi: momentary concentration. This is an elementary stage of concentration, which people can apply and benefit from in everyday work and activities. It is also the starting point for the development of insight.

  2. Upacāra-samādhi: ’access’ or ’neighbourhood’ concentration. This level of concentration suppresses the five hindrances, and occurs before the mind accesses a state of jhāna; it is the initial stage of ’attainment concentration’.

  3. Appanā-samādhi: ’attainment’ concentration; established concentration. This is the highest stage, the fulfilment of concentration, which is present at all levels of jhāna.

The second and third kinds of concentration are mentioned frequently in the scriptural explanations of formal meditation techniques (kammaṭṭhāna), and they are defined in a clear fashion. Access concentration occurs when the mind relinquishes the five hindrances. When a person is focusing on an object of meditation, access concentration occurs with the arising of a ’counterpart sign’ (paṭibhāga-nimitta; a mental image of the object of meditation. This image is more refined and profound than an ordinary mental impression; it arises from pure perception and is free from both colour and blemish; a person is able to enlarge or minimize it at will).36 Access concentration is on the verge of complete concentration; the mind is just about to reach jhāna. {781} Skill and proficiency in access concentration results in a settled state of mind, which develops into attainment concentration. (See Note Access Concentration) From this point the jhāna factors are fully present.

Access Concentration

In access concentration the five hindrances are abandoned and the jhāna factors begin to arise, similar to attainment concentration. The difference is that here the jhāna factors are not strong enough: a person obtains a mental sign (nimitta) for a short period of time but then the mind drops into subliminal consciousness (bhavaṅga) – attention rises and drops, rises and drops.

It is like training an infant to stand – he props himself up and then falls again. In attainment concentration on the other hand the jhāna factors have adequate power; the mind is removed from the stream of subliminal consciousness for a stretch of time; it can be established in this state continuously. This is like a strong adult person, who gets up from a seat and is able to work all day (see: Vism. 126-7, 146-7).

The scriptures, however, do not seem to provide a clear definition for the first level of concentration. To help here, an outline of momentary concentration, describing its essential features, may be formed from the following sources:

The Paramatthamañjusā37 claims that momentary concentration (khaṇika-samādhi) is comprised of mūla-samādhi (’basic concentration’, ’initial concentration’) and parikamma-samādhi (’preparatory concentration’, ’initial application concentration’), which are mentioned in the Visuddhimagga.38

The commentaries give examples from the Pali Canon describing how ’basic concentration’ (mūla-samādhi) is equivalent to momentary concentration:

Monk, you should train yourself thus: ’Inwardly, my mind shall become firmly established and well-composed; and evil, unwholesome states shall find no footing in the mind.’ Thus should you train yourself.

When inwardly your mind is firmly established and well-composed, and evil, unwholesome states find no footing in the mind, then you should train yourself thus: ’I will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by lovingkindness, make it my vehicle, make it my basis, stabilize it, become proficient in it, and fully perfect it.’ Thus should you train yourself.

When this concentration has been developed and cultivated by you, then you should develop the concentration which has both applied and sustained thought, or which is without applied thought and has only sustained thought, or which is without both applied and sustained thought, or which has rapture, or which is without rapture, or which is accompanied by great happiness, or which is accompanied by equanimity….39

A. IV. 299-300.

The commentaries explain that the state described in the first passage above, in which the mind is firmly established and well-composed, and evil, unwholesome states cannot overwhelm the mind, is ’basic concentration’. The mind sustains attention on a single object and is independent. The second passage describes the cultivation and strengthening of this basic concentration, through the practice of lovingkindness meditation.

The commentaries compare basic concentration to a fire that has been ignited by rubbing two sticks together or by using a flint; and they compare the cultivation of this basic concentration, say by developing lovingkindness, to adding fuel or kindling to this fire so that it blazes further. The third passage describes the increased cultivation of basic or momentary concentration so that it becomes ’attainment concentration’ (passing over access concentration) at the level of jhāna, by focusing on another meditation object, for example one of the ten kasiṇa objects.

Another example is the Buddha’s description of his own efforts in meditation: {782}

As I abided thus, diligent, ardent, and resolute, a thought of renunciation arose in me… a thought of non-ill-will arose in me… a thought of non-cruelty arose in me. I understood thus: ’This thought of renunciation… this thought of non-ill-will… this thought of non-cruelty has arisen in me. This kind of thought does not lead to my own affliction, or to others’ affliction, or to the affliction of both; it aids wisdom, does not cause difficulties, and leads to Nibbāna. If I think and contemplate upon this thought even for a night, even for a day, even for a night and a day, I see no danger that may result from it. But with excessive thinking and contemplation the body will become tired, and when the body is tired, the mind is disturbed, and when the mind is disturbed, it is far from concentration.’ So I steadied my mind internally, quietened it, brought it to one-pointedness, and concentrated it. Why is that? So that my mind should not be disturbed….

Tireless energy was aroused in me and unremitting mindfulness was established, my body was relaxed and untroubled, my mind concentrated and unified.

Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna….40

M. I. 115-17.

The commentaries explain that the phrase, ’to steady the mind internally, quieten it, bring it to one-pointedness, and concentrate it’, and the phrase, ’the mind concentrated and unified’, both refer to ’basic concentration’ (i.e. to ’momentary concentration’), which exists prior to the arising of attainment concentration in jhāna, as described by the final line of this passage.

The commentaries also offer examples for ’preparatory concentration’ (parikamma-samādhi), such as a person who develops the ’divine ear’ (dibba-sota): when this person exits from jhāna, he focuses attention on various sounds, beginning with loud, distant sounds, like the roar of a tiger, the rumbling of a wagon, or the blare of a horn. He then gradually focuses on less conspicuous sounds, say of a drum, a gong, the sound of music, the sound of chanting, the sound of two people conversing, the sound of birds chirping, the sound of the wind, or the sound of rustling leaves. Ordinary people can hear these sounds, but someone with ’preparatory’ or ’momentary’ concentration will hear these sounds much more clearly and distinctly. Momentary concentration should be understood according to these explanations.

Some texts add ’insight concentration’ (vipassanā-samādhi) to the list, inserting it between momentary concentration and access concentration.41 Insight concentration is momentary concentration which has been applied in the development of insight and which is refined through this form of meditation. {783}

Adversaries to Concentration

The following qualities stand in opposition to concentration. They must be eliminated in order for concentration to arise, or one can say that they must be eliminated by concentration.

These factors have the special Pali name nīvaraṇa, which is translated as ’hindrance’ or ’obstacle’. Technically speaking, they are things which hinder the functioning of the mind, obstruct the goodness of the mind, and sap the strength from wisdom. They are negative, unwholesome qualities that prevent the development of virtue and sully the mind.

The Buddha described the five hindrances in the following ways:

These five qualities, monks, are obstructions [to wholesome states], hindrances [to spiritual growth]; they constrict the mind and weaken wisdom.

S. V. 96.

[These five hindrances] are impurities of the mind, weakeners of wisdom.42

S. V. 94.

These five qualities are hindrances, makers of blindness, causing lack of vision, causing lack of knowledge, detrimental to wisdom, increasing distress, not conducive to Nibbāna.43

S. V. 97.

It is important to recognize these hindrances when they arise and not to confuse them with tranquillity (samatha) or with concentration (samādhi). The five hindrances are as follows:44

  1. Kāma-chanda: the desire to obtain; the desire to acquire; literally, ’delight in sense pleasures’; covetousness (abhijjhā); a desire for the five objects of sensual enjoyment (kāma-guṇa): sights, sounds, odours, tastes, and tangible objects, which are pleasurable, delightful, alluring. Kāma-chanda is a defilement related to greed. When the mind is captivated by sense objects, caught up in desires and attachments, easily distracted and preoccupied by sense impressions, it will not become firmly established, composed, and concentrated.

  2. Byāpāda: anger and resentment; indignation, hatred, ill-will, spite, and malevolence; seeing others as adversaries; irritation, peevishness, aversion, and displeasure. When the mind is continually in conflict and disturbed, unbalanced and lacking fluency, it will not become concentrated.

  3. Thīna-middha: despondency and drowsiness; sloth and torpor; boredom and apathy. This hindrance is separated into two sub-factors: thīna – despondency, dejection, discouragement, dispiritedness, and listlessness, which are symptoms of the mind; and middha – drowsiness, inertia, sleepiness, doziness, sluggishness, and dullness, which are symptoms of the body.45 The mind overcome by these mental and physical symptoms is weak, constricted, and not suited for application; it thus will not become concentrated. {784}

  4. Uddhacca-kukkucca: restlessness and worry. This hindrance too is separated into two sub-factors: uddhacca – mental restlessness, agitation, vacillation, confusion, and turbulence; and kukkucca – mental anxiety, distress, disturbance, turmoil, and worry. The mind overcome by these factors is restless and drifts aimlessly; it is not peaceful and does not become concentrated.

  5. Vicikicchā: doubt: uncertainty and scepticism about the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, or about the spiritual training; doubt and scepticism about wholesome qualities; an inability to determine whether a specific quality (or a specific kind of meditation, etc.) is valuable, worthy of practice, or effective. There is equivocation, hesitation, and indecision. The mind, obstructed, disturbed, and confused by such doubts, is unable to become concentrated.

Attributes of a Concentrated Mind

As mentioned earlier, the purpose of training in higher mind (adhicitta-sikkhā) is to generate and increase the quality and capability of the mind. Concentration (samādhi), which is the aim of such training, refers to a state of mind with an optimal capability and efficiency. A concentrated mind has the following crucial attributes:

  1. It is strong and powerful. This quality is compared to a strong current of water which is guided through a single channel; it will have far greater pressure than if left to disperse in all directions.

  2. It is profoundly tranquil and peaceful. The mind is like a still lake; no wind rustles its surface and nothing churns the water.

  3. It is clear and pristine; things in the mind can be seen clearly. This is like a still body of water, not streaked by waves, in which any remaining dust has settled to the bottom.

  4. It is malleable, adept, and well-suited for the work of insight, because it is free from stress, rigidity, disturbance, confusion, agitation, and anxiety.

As mentioned above, one synonym for samādhi is ekaggatā, which is sometimes translated as a ’focus on a single object’. But if we look at the literal meaning of this word – as eka + agga + – we see an attribute of the mind that is similar to that described in item #1 above (of mental strength). Although the commentators translate the term agga here as ’object of awareness’ (ārammaṇa), the original meaning of this term is ’point’, ’tip’, or ’summit’. According to this meaning, a concentrated mind is sharp and ’one-pointed’; it can easily pierce and penetrate things and can easily become absorbed in something.

The commentaries say that complete concentration, especially the concentration of jhāna, is fully endowed with eight qualities (aṭṭhaṅgasamannāgata-citta), which they derive from various teachings by the Buddha. These eight qualities are:

  1. Steadfastness.

  2. Purity.

  3. Brightness.

  4. Clarity.

  5. Freedom from defilement.

  6. Malleability.

  7. Dexterity.

  8. Freedom from distraction and vacillation.

The commentaries add that a mind endowed with these qualities is best suited for spiritual practice, whether it be the practice of applying wisdom in order to gain clear insight and understanding, or the practice of developing mental power in order to gain higher psychic attainments.46 {785}

The most outstanding attribute of a concentrated mind, which is connected to the true objective of developing concentration, is dexterity – a readiness and suitability for work and for application. According to the Buddhist teachings the most legitimate or appropriate work is in the area of wisdom. One applies this state of mental readiness and dexterity to create a suitable arena of practice, in order to contemplate reality and to give rise to true realization. And here it should be stressed that right concentration is not a state free from feeling and awareness – a vanishing into some altered state of consciousness – but rather it is a state of mental brightness, spaciousness, independence, wakefulness, and joy – a freedom from obscuring, oppressive, and obstructive qualities, and a readiness to apply wisdom.

Consider the following teachings by the Buddha:

Monks, these five things are obstructions and hindrances; they overwhelm the mind and weaken wisdom. These five things are sensual desire … ill-will … sloth and torpor … restlessness and worry … and doubt. When a monk has not abandoned these five obstacles, hindrances that overwhelm the mind and weaken wisdom, when his wisdom is weak and ineffective, for him to understand what is for his own benefit, to understand what is for the benefit of others, to understand what is for the benefit of both, or to realize a superhuman distinction in knowledge and vision conducive to being a noble one: that is impossible.

Suppose there were a river flowing down from the mountains – winding far, its current swift, carrying everything with it – and a man would open channels leading away from it on both sides, so that the current in the middle of the river would be dispersed, diffused, and dissipated; it would not travel far, its current would not be swift, and it would not carry everything with it.47

A. III. 63-4.

The Brahmin Saṅgārava approached the Blessed One and said to him: ’Master Gotama, what is the cause and reason why sometimes even those sacred hymns that have been recited over a long period do not become clear to the mind, let alone those that have not been recited? What is the cause and reason why sometimes those hymns that have not been recited over a long period become clear to the mind, let alone those that have been recited?’

The Buddha replied: ’Brahmin, when one dwells with a mind besieged by sensual lust, overwhelmed by sensual lust, and one does not understand as it really is the escape from arisen sensual lust, on that occasion one neither knows nor sees as it really is one’s own good, or the good of others, or the good of both. Then even those hymns that have been recited over a long period do not become clear to the mind, let alone those that have not been recited.’

(This is the same for one who is besieged by ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt.) The Buddha goes on to mention five similes for the mind overwhelmed by the five hindrances: {786}

  1. The mind overwhelmed by sensual lust is like a bowl of water mixed with lac, turmeric, green dye, or red dye. If a man with good sight were to examine his own reflection in it, he would neither know nor see it as it really is.

  2. The mind overwhelmed by ill-will is like a bowl of water heated over a fire, bubbling and steaming. If a man with good sight were to examine his own reflection in it, he would neither know nor see it as it really is.

  3. The mind overwhelmed by sloth and torpor is like a bowl of water covered over by water plants and algae. If a man with good sight were to examine his own reflection in it, he would neither know nor see it as it really is.

  4. The mind overwhelmed by restlessness and worry is like a bowl of water stirred by the wind, quivering, rippling, churned into wavelets. If a man with good sight were to examine his own reflection in it, he would neither know nor see it as it really is.

  5. The mind overwhelmed by doubt is like a bowl of water that is turbid, unsettled, muddy, placed in the dark. If a man with good sight were to examine his own reflection in it, he would neither know nor see it as it really is.

’When one dwells with a mind that is not besieged by sensual lust … and one understands as it really is the escape from arisen sensual lust, on that occasion one knows and sees as it really is one’s own good, and the good of others, and the good of both. Then even those hymns that have not been recited over a long period become clear to the mind, let alone those that have been recited.’48

S. V. 121-6; A. III. 230.

Monks, there are these five corruptions of gold, corrupted by which gold is neither malleable nor wieldy nor radiant, but brittle and not properly fit for work. What five? Iron, copper, tin, lead, and silver…. But when gold is free of these five corruptions, it is pliable, wieldy, radiant, not brittle, and properly fit for work. Whichever ornament a goldsmith desires to make, whether it be a ring, an earring, a necklace, or a gold chain, it can be successfully used for that.

So too, there are these five corruptions of the mind, corrupted by which the mind is neither malleable nor wieldy nor radiant, but weak and not rightly concentrated for the destruction of the taints. What five? Sensual desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt…. But when the mind is free of these five corruptions, it is pliable, wieldy, radiant, not fragile, and rightly concentrated for the destruction of the taints. Furthermore, when you incline your mind towards the realization of whichever things there are to be realized through direct knowledge, you attain the ability to witness these things, there being a suitable basis. {787}

A. III. 16-17; cf.: S. V. 92.

If a monk is free from the five hindrances and makes tireless effort, possesses unremitting mindfulness, with body calm and at ease, his mind concentrated and unified, irrespective of whether he is walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, he is called energetic and endowed with a fear of wrongdoing (ottappa). He makes resolute and consistent effort, and devotes himself in a determined manner.49

A. II. 14-15; It. 118-19.

As mentioned earlier, the commentaries offer these interesting analogies: concentration causes the mind to be established on an object in a steady, consistent way, and brings about an integration of associated spiritual factors – they are not dispersed and dissipated – like water which binds flour into a single mass of dough. Similarly, concentration causes the mental processes to be composed and steadfast, like a candle flame in a still room: the flame is unswerving, constant, and uniformly bright.50

General Objectives and Benefits of Concentration

As has been emphasized above, the aim of correct or ’right’ (sammā) concentration is to prepare the mind for the successful application of wisdom. Put simply, the purpose of concentration is to assist wisdom, as explained in the following sutta passages:

Concentration is for the goal of knowing and seeing the truth.51

Vin. V. 164.

The objective and reward of concentration is knowledge and vision of things as they really are.

A. V. 1-2.

Purification of mind is for the sake of reaching purification of view. (The development of concentration to purify the mind is for the sake of purification of knowledge and discernment.)

M. I. 149.

Concentration, when imbued with morality, has great rewards and blessings. Wisdom, when imbued with concentration, has great rewards and blessings. The mind imbued with wisdom becomes completely free from the taints, that is from the taint of sense desire, the taint of becoming, and the taint of ignorance.

D. II. 84.

Apart from these objectives mentioned above, the practice of concentration has further benefits. Some of these benefits are by-products resulting from developing concentration in order to reach the goal of wisdom. Others are exceptional benefits which require special forms of training. And still others assist those individuals who have already attained the final goal of concentration. {788}

The benefits of concentration can be classified as follows:

  1. The final goal or ideal: in Buddhism the true goal of concentration – with concentration being an essential factor of realizing this goal – is freedom from all suffering and mental impurity.

    • The precise benefit here of concentration is to prepare the mind for wisdom, in order to reflect on and gain insight into the true nature of reality; concentration acts as a foundation for wisdom. In other words, concentration leads to ’knowledge and vision of things as they really are’ (yathābhūta-ñāṇadassana), which in turn leads to true knowledge (vijjā) and liberation (vimutti).

    • Although not considered the true goal of concentration practice, a subsidiary benefit is the attainment of temporary states of liberation, that is, ’revocable’ deliverance of mind (cetovimutti). This is a liberation from mental defilement through the power of the mind, especially through the power of jhāna. The defilements are suppressed or checked by the strength of concentration for the duration of these concentrated states. Technically, this liberation is referred to as ’liberation by suppression’ (vikkhambhana-vimutti).

  2. The development of exceptional psychic abilities: the benefits of higher psychic attainments (abhiññā); the use of concentrative attainments (jhāna-samāpatti) to generate psychic powers and other mundane psychic attainments, like the ’divine ear’, clairvoyance, telepathy, and recollection of past lives, which are sometimes referred to as extrasensory perception (ESP).

  3. Benefits to mental health and to a healthy personality: concentration has positive effects on a person’s mind and disposition; it induces such qualities as inner strength, decisiveness, vigour, resilience, tranquillity, cool-headedness, joy, lovingkindness, compassion, and wise discernment. This is in contrast to a people overcome by the hindrances, who tend to be thinskinned, rude, irascible, aggressive, agitated, easily infatuated, hasty, intrusive, suspicious, lethargic, depressed, and indecisive.

    Concentration prepares the mind for the development of other spiritual qualities and for the cultivation of good habits. A person with concentration knows how to calm the mind and to both control and ease any mental suffering. One is able to keep one’s emotions in check and one has a strong mental immune system. These advantages increase when one applies concentration as a basis for the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, by mindfully paying attention to one’s words and deeds, and to one’s emotions and thoughts. One determines to use this knowledge only for beneficial purposes and to prevent any danger or harm to arise.

  4. Benefits to everyday life:

    • Concentration brings about mental relaxation, inner peace, and happiness; it reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, and it also relaxes the body. One can practise mindfulness of breathing, say while waiting for the next activity to begin, while stuck in traffic, or as a break from taxing mental work. {789} This benefit in its complete form refers to the concentrative attainment used by the Buddha and the arahants for resting the mind and body, to be at ease during periods free from other activities. This form of concentration is given the special term ’abiding at ease in the present’ (diṭṭhadhamma-sukhavihāra).

    • Concentration enhances a person’s capability in work, study, and all forms of activity. A concentrated mind one-pointed on an activity – not disturbed, distracted, or forgetful – leads to successful work, study, and contemplation. A person works with circumspection and is careful to prevent mishaps. This is because concentration is usually combined with the guiding factor of mindfulness; the mind is dextrous (kammanīya) – it is ready and suitable for work. If combined with the benefits mentioned in #1 above (of mental relaxation, etc.), the success of one’s activities will be even more greatly enhanced.

    • Concentration promotes physical health and aids in curing illness. The mind and body are interdependent and have a bearing on one another. When ordinary people have a physical illness, their mind too tends to become weak and depressed; and when a person is discouraged, the illness often gets worse. Even when the body is healthy, if people encounter an intensely upsetting situation they may fall ill. On the other hand, when those individuals whose minds are strong (especially those persons who are liberated) have a physical illness, only the body is unwell; the mind remains at ease. Moreover, such persons can use this strong and contented mind to alleviate the symptoms, reduce the severity of the illness, and facilitate the healing process. They can also use the power of concentration to reduce physical pain.52

      When the mind is bright and joyous, the body tends to be at ease and healthy; a joyful mind boosts the immune system. This relationship also has a bearing on the body’s physical needs and metabolism. When the mind is happy and at ease, less food is required for the body to be healthy. For example, a person who is delighted by something often feels no hunger, or a monk who has a realization of truth is nourished by bliss (pīti); although he eats only one meal a day his complexion is bright, because he does not hanker after the past or fantasize over the future.53 The converse is also true: many physical illnesses are psychosomatic and are caused by mental imbalance. Anger and anxiety, for example, can be a source of headaches and stomach ulcers. Developing wholesome mind states helps in curing these illnesses. This benefit of enhancing physical health is brought to perfection when wisdom is also engaged.54 {790}

Aims and Benefits of Different Kinds of Concentrative Meditation

The Pali Canon contains this summary of the aims of concentration:

Monks, there are these four developments of concentration:

  1. The development of concentration, cultivated and deepened, that is conducive to dwelling happily in the present (diṭṭhadhamma-sukhavihāra).

  2. The development of concentration, cultivated and deepened, that is conducive to knowledge and vision.

  3. The development of concentration, cultivated and deepened, that is conducive to mindfulness and clear comprehension.

  4. The development of concentration, cultivated and deepened, that is conducive to the end of all mental taints.

A. II. 44-5; D. III. 222-3.

Development #1: the Pali Canon explains this as the four jhānas. This refers to developing the jhānas as one way of experiencing happiness, corresponding to the teaching on the ten levels of happiness.55 From coarse to refined, these levels are: sensual pleasure, bliss in the four stages of fine-material jhāna, bliss in the four stages of immaterial jhāna, and bliss in the ’attainment of cessation’ (nirodha-samāpatti). The Buddha and the arahants develop the jhānas when they are not engaged in other activities, for ease and relaxation (’abiding at ease in the present’ – diṭṭhadhamma-sukhavihāra).

Development #2: the Pali Canon explains this as the meditation on the perception of light (āloka-saññā), by establishing the perception ’it is day’ (divā-saññā), irrespective of whether it is day or night, with a bright, spacious mind, unencumbered by the hindrances. The commentaries say that ’knowledge and vision’ (ñāṇa-dassana) here refers to the divine eye, which they claim is the apex of the five mundane higher psychic attainments.56 In some places the commentaries claim that the single word ñāṇa-dassana refers to all of the five mundane higher psychic attainments. This benefit thus refers to the application of concentration in order to generate special psychic attainments and powers.

Development #3: paying attention to and thoroughly knowing thoughts and feelings which arise and pass away in one’s daily life; the Pali Canon explains this as knowing clearly the sensations (vedanā), perceptions (saññā), and thoughts (vitakka), which arise, are established, and pass away.

Development #4: the Pali Canon explains this as the possession of wisdom, of constantly discerning the rising and ceasing of the ’five aggregates of clinging’; to reflect in the following ways: the body is this way, the arising of the body is this way, the decline of the body is this way (similarly with feeling, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness). Generally speaking, this refers to applying concentration to assist wisdom, to act as a support or a foundation for the development of insight, in order to realize the supreme goal: knowledge of the destruction of the taints – knowledge of liberation.57

According to the commentaries the first and second developments pertain to tranquillity (samatha), while the third and fourth developments pertain to insight (vipassanā). {791} Although not specifically mentioned in this canonical passage, the other benefits of concentration mentioned earlier are obtained while developing these four ways of concentration.

The commentaries provide a similar summary of the benefits of developing concentration. The Visuddhimagga outlines five such benefits:58

  1. A means of resting at ease in the present (diṭṭhadhamma-sukhavihāra): this is a benefit of ’attainment concentration’ (appanā, i.e. of jhāna) experienced by arahants, who have completed all necessary tasks for liberation and who do not need to use jhāna for achieving specific states of realization. Here, the commentaries cite the Buddha’s words: These jhānas are called ’pleasant abidings here and now’ in the noble ones’ discipline.59

  2. A basis or proximate cause (padaṭṭhāna) for insight: this is a benefit of attainment concentration, or even of ’access concentration’, but this degree of concentration is not exceptionally bright or spacious; it is experienced both by a ’person in training’ (sekha)60 and by ordinary people. Here, the commentaries cite the Buddha’s teaching: Bhikkhus, develop concentration. A bhikkhu who is concentrated understands things as they really are.61

  3. A basis or proximate cause for higher psychic attainments (abhiññā): this is a benefit of attainment concentration experienced by a person who has obtained the eight ’concentrative attainments’ (samāpatti); such a person can generate the higher psychic attainments as desired. Here, the commentaries cite the Buddha’s teaching: The mind is pliable, wieldy … when he inclines his mind towards the realization of whichever things there are to be realized through direct knowledge, he attains the ability to witness these things, there being a suitable basis.62

  4. An ability to reach exceptional planes of existence; a person is born in fortunate and lofty realms of existence. This is a benefit of attainment concentration experienced by an unawakened person who has attained and not fallen away from jhāna; such a person is reborn in the Brahma realm. Here, the commentaries cite the teaching: Having developed the first jhāna to a limited degree (paritta-kusala), where is a person reborn? He joins the divine company of Brahma’s retinue.63 Even access concentration can lead to the higher realms of the six sense-sphere heavens.

  5. An ability to enter the ’attainment of cessation’ (nirodha-samāpatti): this is a merit of attainment concentration experienced by an arahant or a non-returner who has reached the eight ’concentrative attainments’; such a person can experience bliss in a state free from perception and feeling for up to seven days. Here, the commentaries cite the teaching in the Paṭisambhidāmagga on knowledge connected to the attainment of cessation.64 {792}

Preventing Misunderstandings about the Aims and Benefits of Concentration

An understanding of the benefits and objectives of concentration helps to prevent and dispel misunderstandings about the proper role of concentration in Buddhism and about the life of the monastic community. Such misunderstandings include the belief that meditation is a matter of retreat from the world and a disregard for social affairs, or the idea that the life of a monk is one of total isolation and a disregard for social responsibility. The following considerations may help to prevent such misunderstandings:

Concentration is simply a means to an end; it is not the goal of Buddhist spiritual practice. Beginning practitioners may separate themselves from society in order to engage in a form of training for a special, limited period of time, but later they return to take an active role in society suitable to their circumstances. Moreover, the development of concentration generally does not require sitting immobile all day and night; there are many meditation techniques available to choose from.

The Buddha’s teaching on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness reveals how some people are able to realize arahantship after practising these factors for only seven days. After this realization these awakened individuals generally apply concentration for the benefit of dwelling at ease in the present. They can dedicate the large remainder of their time to live according to the Buddha’s original exhortation: ’Bhikkhus, wander forth for the welfare and happiness of the manyfolk, for the compassionate assistance of the world’ (caratha bhikkhave cārikaṁ bahujanahitāya bahujanasukhāya lokānukampāya).

The way of practice for an individual monk depends on suitability, aptitude, personality traits, and interests. Some monks wish to live alone in the forest and this is suitable for them; for others it is inappropriate for them to live in the forest, even if they desire to do so. There are examples in which the Buddha did not give his permission for particular monks to practise on their own in the forest.65 Even if a monk lives in the forest, the monastic discipline forbids a monk from cutting himself off entirely from social responsibilities in the manner of a rishi or a hermit.66

In Buddha-Dhamma the desired benefit of concentration and of jhāna is a state of mind that is ’pliable and wieldy’, which is conducive to the application of wisdom, as mentioned earlier. The other benefits obtained from concentration and from jhāna are considered supplementary or special, and they are sometimes even undesirable, in which case the Buddha did not condone these. For example, a person who cultivates concentration with the desire for psychic powers is deemed as establishing wrong intention. Psychic powers can generate many ill effects, are subject to decline, and are unable to lead to the realization of the goal of Buddha-Dhamma.67 {793} Having said this, someone who practises for the purpose of wisdom, and who obtains psychic powers through the development of concentration, is considered to possess exceptional abilities.

In any case, even if a person develops concentration with the proper objective, as long as he or she has not yet realized the true goal, the acquisition of psychic powers will always be a danger.68 This is because these powers may cause infatuation and attachment, both for the person who has these powers and for others, and because they can lead to an increase of mental defilement and thus impede spiritual progress. Although the Buddha possessed numerous psychic powers, he did not encourage the use of such powers, because they are not the path of wisdom and deliverance. From the Buddha’s life story we see that he used psychic powers in certain situations in order to subdue psychic powers or to subdue an attachment to such powers.69

Those individuals who have progressed on the Path or who have reached the goal tend to use concentration on the level of jhāna as a means for abiding at ease in times free from activity. Although the Buddha travelled around teaching many people, interacting with people at all levels of society, and looked after the large monastic community, he possessed the attributes of jhāyī and jhāna-sīlī: he was devoted to jhāna; he was content to abide in jhāna instead of resting during his spare time.70 This is similarly the case for many of the Buddha’s disciples: they used jhāna to dwell at ease in the present moment (diṭṭhadhamma-sukhavihāra). On one occasion the Buddha sought a place of solitude for three months in order to abide in a state of concentration.71

The ability to find jhānic happiness to any degree is a form of individual freedom. However, if the interest in jhāna leads to a neglect for communal responsibilities, such conduct is blameworthy, even if the fascination is to a refined level of consciousness. According to the fundamental principles contained in the monastic discipline, the way of life for the monks emphasizes the importance of communal responsibility. The prosperity or the decline of the monastic sangha hinges on this essential principle of communal responsibility. For the Buddha and for those who practise correctly, concentration on the whole assists in those activities aiming for the welfare of all beings. {794}

The Highest Fruit of Concentration and the Spiritual Accomplishment Transcending Concentration

Important Results and Limitations of Concentration

The development of concentration becomes increasingly refined. The state of mind of a person who has reached attainment concentration (appanā-samādhi) is referred to as jhāna (’absorption’), of which there are many levels. The higher is the level of jhāna the fewer are the remaining mental factors or attributes determining each level (jhānaṅga). States of jhāna are generally classified into two main groups, and each group is further divided into four subgroups, resulting in eight levels. These are referred to as the eight jhānas or the eight concentrative attainments (samāpatti):

  1. Four fine-material jhānas (rūpa-jhāna):

    1. First jhāna (paṭhama-jhāna): containing five factors: initial application of thought (vitakka), sustained application of thought (vicāra), bliss (pīti), joy (sukha), and one-pointedness (ekaggatā).

    2. Second jhāna (dutiya-jhāna): containing three factors: bliss (pīti), joy (sukha), and one-pointedness (ekaggatā).

    3. Third jhāna (tatiya-jhāna): containing two factors: joy (sukha) and one-pointedness (ekaggatā).

    4. Fourth jhāna (catuttha-jhāna): containing two factors: equanimity (upekkhā) and one-pointedness (ekaggatā).

  2. Four formless jhānas (arūpa-jhāna):

    1. Awareness of infinite space (ākāsānañcāyatana).

    2. Awareness of infinite consciousness (viññāṇañcāyatana).

    3. Awareness of the sphere of nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatana).

    4. To enter the state of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññānāsaññāyatana), in which one ceases to focus on anything at all.

In the Abhidhamma, especially in the post-canonical sub-commentaries to the Abhidhamma, the fine material jhānas are usually divided into five levels.72 These five are derived from the original group of four jhānas: a new second jhāna is inserted between the original first and second jhānas. This new jhāna contains four factors: sustained application (vicāra), bliss (pīti), joy (sukha), and one-pointedness (ekaggatā); in other words, it is a jhāna which has sustained application of thought but no initial application. The original second jhāna is shifted to the position of third jhāna, the original third is shifted to fourth, and the fourth is shifted to fifth jhāna, respectively. Students of Buddhism should therefore not be confused or surprised when they encounter the terms jhāna-pañcakanaya, pañcakajjhāna, and pañcama-jhāna. They should realize that this group of five stems from the original group of four.

The scriptures refer to any method of determined effort for developing concentration in order to generate these aforementioned attainments as tranquillity meditation (samatha). The efforts by unawakened persons to develop concentration can lead no further than to the eight concentrative attainments mentioned above. The highest attainment possible by way of tranquillity meditation is thus the state of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. {822}

Those individuals who have realized the fruits of both tranquillity and insight meditation (samatha and vipassanā) – who are either non-returners or arahants – are able to reach a ninth, supremely refined state called ’cessation of perception and feeling’ (saññāvedayita-nirodha) or the ’attainment of cessation’ (nirodha-samāpatti).73

However vital concentration is for spiritual practice and for reaching liberation, which is the final goal of Buddhism, its importance is limited, as can be explained as follows:

The importance of concentration for the practice of liberation is determined by the relationship between concentration and wisdom (that is, to make the mind fit for work). Moreover, the concentration required for the optimal functioning of wisdom does not need to be of the most refined level. Although concentration may be developed to the highest level of jhāna, if it is not integrated into the development of wisdom there is absolutely no way for concentration alone to lead to the highest goal of Buddhism.

Although the eight levels of jhāna are extremely refined states of mind, if they are solely the results of tranquillity meditation they are still mundane phenomena and should not be confused with the goal of Buddhism.

In states of jhāna resulting from tranquillity meditation, mental defilements (kilesa) are allayed, and therefore these states are also referred to as a form of liberation. This liberation, however, is only temporary, existing for as long as a person remains in that state of concentration. It is uncertain and subject to regression. The scriptures thus refer to this form of liberation as ’mundane liberation’ (lokiya-vimokkha), ’unstable liberation’ (kuppa-vimokkha),74 and ’liberation through suppression’ (vikkhambhana-vimokkha; defilements are allayed through suppression by concentration, similar to placing a stone on grass – when the stone is removed the grass can sprout again).75

From the preceding observations we can see that in Buddhist practice, the crucial and decisive factor is wisdom. The wisdom used at this final stage of practice is referred to specifically as ’insight’ (vipassanā). Therefore, for spiritual practice to be truly effective it must reach the stage of insight.

Concentration is a vital factor for making the mind fit for work, yet there is some flexibility regarding this factor: one can apply different levels of concentration, beginning with initial levels like ’insight-concentration’ (vipassanā-samādhi; existing at the same level as ’momentary concentration’ – khaṇika-samādhi) or access concentration (upacāra-samādhi).

Although one’s spiritual practice must be endowed with all eight factors of the Eightfold Path in order to reach the highest goal of Buddhism, it is possible to divide the specific methods of concentration applied in this context into two main ways of practice:

  1. The method of ’one who uses insight as a vehicle’ (vipassanā-yānika): this method emphasizes mindfulness and was referred to earlier in the section on right mindfulness. Here, only an initial level of concentration is applied, just enough as is necessary as an aide for practice. Mindfulness is the principal factor, used for holding or binding the object of attention and as a preparation for wisdom to then investigate it. Such a person is sometimes referred to more specifically as ’one who practises pure insight as a vehicle’ (suddhavipassanā-yānika). Tranquillity (samatha) plays a role here as well, but it is not emphasized. {823}

  2. The method of ’one who uses tranquillity as a vehicle’ (samatha-yānika): this method emphasizes concentration, which plays the pivotal role. One develops concentration until the mind is calm and unified, leading to states of absorption (jhāna) or to concentrative attainments (samāpatti). The mind becomes absorbed in and firmly established on the object of attention, to the point that the mind is automatically primed to engage in activity: the mind is malleable, ready, and optimally suited for a chosen task. In such a state of mind the mental defilements and taints, which normally disturb and afflict the mind, are temporarily stilled. This is similar to silt which settles at the bottom of a pond when the water is still; in such a case a person can see through the water clearly. This state of mind is excellently suited for advancing to the stage of applying wisdom, in which mental ’sediment’ can be eliminated completely. Methods of practice bringing about such unification of mind are referred to as ’tranquillity meditation’ (samatha).

If one does not stop at the second method, one advances to the stage of wisdom (of insight – vipassanā) in which mental defilements and mental taints are completely removed. This is similar to method #1, above, but technically the task is now easier, because the mind is prepared. This method is thus complete, containing both calm (samatha) and insight (vipassanā).

In reference to persons who are awakened through these two methods of practice, a person who is awakened by following the first method is called a paññā-vimutta: ’one liberated (solely) through wisdom’. Strictly speaking, such a person is called a ’dry-insight practitioner’ (sukkha-vipassaka), whose concentration reaches the level of jhāna at the moment of attaining the Path (magga). (Within the classification of paññā-vimutta, a dry-insight practitioner is considered the lowest or the last of such individuals.)

Someone awakened by the second method is called an ubhatobhāga-vimutta: ’one liberated both ways’ (i.e. liberated by way of concentrative attainments and liberated by way of the noble path – ariya-magga).76

The second method, which utilizes the complete system of tranquillity meditation before developing insight, and which leads to being liberated ’both ways’, contains other important attributes:

A person who practises this method often obtains exceptional abilities springing from concentrative attainments, especially the abilities referred to as the six higher psychic attainments (abhiññā):77

  1. Iddhividhā: psychic powers.

  2. Dibbasota: ’divine ear’; clairaudience.

  3. Cetopariyañāṇa: telepathy; mind-reading.

  4. Dibbacakkhu (or cutūpapāta-ñāṇa): ’divine eye’; clairvoyance; knowledge of the passing away and rebirth of beings according to their kamma.

  5. Pubbenivāsānussati: recollection of past lives.

  6. Āsavakkhaya-ñāṇa: knowledge of the destruction of the taints (āsava).

A person who is awakened by way of the first method only obtains the knowledge of the destruction of the taints, not the other higher psychic attainments.

A person who practises the second method must complete both stages of development. Although the practice of tranquillity leads to absorption and higher concentrative attainments, if it does not advance to the stage of insight, or is not combined with insight practice, it is impossible for it to lead to the final goal of Buddhism. {824}

Supporting Factors for Concentration

Many factors are involved in the development of concentration. Some act as a foundation for concentration to arise, while others act both as a support for generating concentration and as an aid for bringing it to completion and achieving higher goals, like the development of insight.

Some of these factors are found in numerous contexts, making them seem redundant. Effort (viriya), for example, is a road to success (iddhi-pāda), a spiritual power (bala), a spiritual faculty (indriya), and an enlightenment factor (bojjhaṅga). One should understand that these factors are classified in different groups according to their properties and functions. For instance, effort is a road to success in circumstances when it is the main thrust behind accomplishing a particular deed. It is a spiritual power when it acts as a protective force, preventing opposing qualities from overwhelming and endangering the mind. It is a spiritual faculty when it ’governs’ proceedings, acting to eliminate antagonistic, unwholesome qualities, like laziness, discouragement, and indifference, and to generate a readiness for action. It is an enlightenment factor when, in association with other factors and in an interconnected process, it leads to realization of the truth.

The Basis, Proximate Cause, and Goal of Concentration

Virtuous conduct (sīla) is the basis for concentration. As the first step in the threefold training, it supports the arising of concentration in the same way that it supports the whole of spiritual practice. This is confirmed by the Buddha’s teaching which Ven. Buddhaghosa uses as an opening quote to explain the gist of the Visuddhimagga in its entirety:

A learned monk, well-established in virtue, developing the mind and wisdom, one who is ardent and sagacious: he can disentangle this tangle.

Vism. 1; original quote at: S. I. 13.

The Buddha said that a person well-established in moral conduct (sīla) will succeed in spiritual practice, regardless of whether one labels this practice as the Eightfold Path, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, or the Four Right Efforts. This is similar to how people rely on the earth as a foundation on which to work, or to how all creatures depend on the earth for support while standing, walking, sitting, and lying down.78

Generally speaking, moral conduct refers to virtuous behaviour and to refraining from causing harm or distress to anyone. Immoral conduct creates affliction and turmoil for the doer, along with a lack of self-confidence. It is a thorn which pierces the heart and prevents a person from being completely peaceful. As for additional levels of moral conduct, these depend on moral codes adopted by individuals to help guide their lives. Bhikkhus, for example, practise according to the principles of restraint contained in the Vinaya. Beyond moral conduct, the prominent supporting forces in spiritual practice which the Buddha mentioned frequently are heedfulness (appamāda), the presence of a virtuous friend (kalyāṇamitta), and wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra).79

Moral conduct acts as a foundation for concentration, but it bears fruit indirectly or from a distance.80 The commentators claim that the true, immediate condition giving rise to concentration is happiness (sukha), and they thus state that ’happiness is the proximate cause for concentration’.81 To prevent misunderstandings, note that states of mind warranting the title of samādhi, must, at least at initial stages, be accompanied by happiness.

As stated earlier, the objective of concentration is knowledge and vision according to reality (yathābhūta-ñāṇadassana).82 As the Buddha said: ’A person with a concentrated mind knows and sees according to the truth (samāhito … yathābhūtaṁ pajānāti).83 This means that concentration is the ’domain of practice’ for wisdom; it promotes the development and fulfilment of wisdom. In any case, in regard to the interconnectedness between factors of the Path, wisdom – ’right view’ – is the compass needle or the provider of light, allowing the other Path factors to progress in the right direction. Wisdom development thus supports the development of concentration. For instance, the clearer is one’s discernment of things, the greater is one’s confidence and the more powerful one’s concentration. These two vital factors – concentration and wisdom – are thus mutually supportive and interdependent:

A person lacking in wisdom has no concentrative absorption.
A person lacking in concentrative absorption has no wisdom.
Indeed, a person possessing both concentrative absorption
and wisdom abides close to Nibbāna.

Natthi jhānaṁ apaññassa; natthi paññā ajhāniyo; yamhi jhānañca paññañca sa ve nibbānasantike.84

Dh. verse 372.

When describing a particular spiritual quality, the commentaries generally explain it by examining various aspects, for example: attribute (lakkhaṇa), function (rasa), appearance (paccupaṭṭhāna; visible effects), and proximate cause (padaṭṭhāna). In this context the commentators state that the attribute of concentration is non-distraction, its function is the elimination of mental distraction or the gathering together of accompanying factors (sahajāta-dhamma), its visible effects are non-wavering, tranquillity, and knowledge (ñāṇa) of the truth, and its proximate cause is happiness.85

Accompanying Factors of Concentration

As mentioned above, firmly established concentration is called attainment concentration (appanā-samādhi). When the mind attains this level of concentration, it enters what is called ’concentrative absorption’ (jhāna). In jhāna, concentration (also referred to as ’one-pointedness’ – ekaggatā) is always accompanied by a certain number of accompanying factors. {826}

There are several levels of jhāna: four levels according to the original suttas of the Pali Canon, or five levels according to the interpretation of the Abhidhamma. The higher the level of jhāna the more refined it is. As mentioned in an earlier section, the higher the level of refinement the fewer are the accompanying factors. The regular accompanying factors of jhāna, including the factor of concentration (samādhi or ekaggatā), are called ’jhāna factors’ (jhānaṅga). In total there are six: initial mental application (vitakka), sustained mental application (vicāra), rapture (pīti), happiness (sukha), equanimity (upekkhā), and one-pointedness (ekaggatā). (See Note Jhāna Factors). A summary of these six factors is as follows:86

Jhāna Factors

The early texts of the Abhidhamma refer to the total combined jhāna factors as ’mental absorption’ (jhāna). They also describe a detailed number of jhāna factors for each level of jhāna mentioned in the Sutta Piṭaka, as follows:

  1. First jhāna: vitakka, vicāra, pīti, sukha, and cittassa ekaggatā (one-pointedness of mind).

  2. Second jhāna: sampasāda (’confidence’ – saddhā), pīti, sukha, and cittassa ekaggatā.

  3. Third jhāna: upekkhā, sati (mindfulness), sampajañña (clear comprehension), sukha, and cittassa ekaggatā.

  4. Fourth jhāna: upekkhā, sati, and cittassa ekaggatā. (Vbh. 257-8, 260-61.)

Moreover, access concentration (upacāra-samādhi) also dispels the five hindrances and contains the same five accompanying factors as the first jhāna, but it has less power than attainment concentration (Vism. 146-7). In some cases, access concentration contains equanimity instead of mindfulness and bliss; in such cases access concentration contains four factors: vitakka, vicāra, upekkhā, and ekaggatā (Vism. 85-6).

  • 1. Initial mental application (vitakka): ’thinking’; to fix one’s mind on an object; to set one’s attention to an object. This factor is present in the first jhāna.

  • 2. Sustained mental application (vicāra): ’reflection’; to embrace, sustain, and be immersed in an object of attention. This factor is present in the first jhāna (and in the second jhāna according to the five jhānas of the Abhidhamma).

These two factors, of fixing and sustaining attention, are linked. This is similar to a person who polishes a tarnished bronze vessel: vitakka is like the hand which grasps the vessel, vicāra is like the hand holding a brush and polishing the vessel. Another simile is to a potter: vitakka is like the hand which presses down on the clay, vicāra is like the hand which moulds the pot.

  • 3. Bliss (pīti): delight; rapture; contentment. Here, this term refers specifically to bliss permeating the entire body; it is also called all-pervasive rapture (pharaṇā-pīti).87 Bliss is present in the first and second jhānas (and in jhānas one, two, and three of the group of five jhānas).

  • 4. Happiness (sukha): joy; refreshment; ease; an absence of all mental distress and agitation. This factor is present in the first three levels of jhāna (or the first four levels in the group of five).

The distinction between bliss and happiness can cause confusion for some people. Pīti here refers to the delight in acquiring a desired sense object. Sukha, on the other hand, refers to the pleasure of experiencing this sense object. {827} Take for example a person wandering in a desert, hot, thirsty, and exhausted. He discovers an oasis surrounded by shady trees, or he meets someone who tells him that such an oasis lies nearby. He then goes to this oasis, drinks, and rests to his heart’s content. The delight in seeing or hearing of the oasis is called pīti, while the satisfaction of drinking and finding relief is sukha.

  • 5. Equanimity (upekkhā): detachment; looking on with dispassion; to observe phenomena peacefully; to observe arising phenomena without falling into partisanship. In the case of jhāna, this means to not be attached even to the exceptional pleasure of jhāna. On a higher level, upekkhā refers to an equanimity when everything falls into place or reaches completion. One no longer busily searches for results. Especially in the case of the fourth jhāna, which is completely free of harmful mental qualities, one needs not make the effort to eliminate these qualities. This factor is specific to the fourth jhāna (the fifth jhāna in the group of five).

Equanimity, in fact, exists at all stages of jhāna, but it is not pronounced in the early stages. It is still suppressed by unfavourable factors like initial mental application, sustained application, and feelings of pleasure. This is similar to the moon during the daytime: it is not clear and bright because of the dominant light of the sun. In the fourth jhāna the unfavourable factors are stilled and one enters ’night-time’: one is supported by neutral feelings (upekkhā-vedanā, or adukkhamasukha-vedanā). (See Note Two Forms of Upekkhā) Equanimity is pure, clear and bright, and it purifies and brightens accompanying factors like mindfulness.

  • 6. One-pointedness (ekaggatā): one-pointed attention; this is precisely the factor of concentration (samādhi). It is present at all levels of jhāna.

One thing that needs to be reiterated is that although the so-called jhāna factors are constant to specific levels of jhāna and help to distinguish which level of jhāna has been reached, this does not mean that these are the only factors present in jhāna. Although they are not used to distinguish various levels of jhāna, many other accompanying factors (sampayutta-dhamma) exist, like perception (saññā), intention (cetanā), enthusiasm (chanda), effort (viriya), mindfulness (sati), and reflection (manasikāra).88 Some of these factors always accompany states of jhāna while some are occasionally in attendance.

The descriptions in the Sutta Piṭaka of different stages of jhāna often emphasize distinctive factors. For example, in the context of the third jhāna, mindfulness and clear comprehension are emphasized; although these factors are present in the first two jhānas, their role is more pronounced in the third jhāna. And in the fourth jhāna an emphasis is made on the clarity and purity of mindfulness, which is supported by pure equanimity; accompanying factors likewise are sharpened by equanimity.89 This material here helps to prevent the misunderstanding that jhāna is a state of non-awareness, a form of trance, a fading away or absorption into some other reality. {828}

The Visuddhimagga cites the Peṭakopadesa, which states that the five jhāna factors arising along with attainment concentration and the realization of the first jhāna are adversaries to the five hindrances, resulting in five pairs of opposing qualities: initial mental application is the foe of sloth and torpor; sustained mental application is the foe of doubt; bliss is the foe of ill-will; happiness is the foe of restlessness and worry; and concentration or one-pointedness is the foe of sensual desire.90 When these jhāna factors arise they dispel the five hindrances, and when they are present they prevent the hindrances from resurfacing. On the contrary, if the five hindrances exercise influence over the mind the jhāna factors cannot function. In any case, according to the Buddha, the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhaṅga) are the direct adversaries to the five hindrances, a subject which will be discussed below.

Two Forms of Upekkhā

To prevent confusion, note the difference between:

  • upekkhā as a jhāna factor, which is translated as ’equanimity’ and is a wholesome quality classified within the aggregate of volitional formations (saṅkhāra-khandha), and

  • upekkhā as a feeling (vedanā), which is a neutral feeling or a feeling of neither-pleasure-nor-pain (adukkhamasukha-vedanā), and is neither wholesome nor unwholesome.

In the fourth jhāna equanimity as a jhāna factor is accompanied by neutral sensations – both of these kinds of upekkhā are present.

Criteria for Preparedness

The five spiritual faculties (indriya) are the criteria for determining a person’s spiritual readiness and for indicating the rate of a person’s spiritual development, namely: faith (saddhā), effort (viriya), mindfulness (sati), concentration (samādhi), and wisdom (paññā). These criteria are used for the whole of spiritual practice, not just in the context of meditation.

The term indriya refers to the governing factor or principal agent in a specific activity. In this context it refers to the governing factor in the elimination of unwholesome, opposing qualities. Effort, for example, eliminates laziness and leads to a preparedness for spiritual engagement. The scriptural definitions for the five faculties can be summarized as follows:91

  1. Faculty of faith (saddhā; saddhindriya): as seen in the teaching on the four factors of stream-entry (sotāpattiyaṅga), this faculty essentially refers to faith in the Buddha’s awakening (tathāgatabodhi-saddhā).92 The function of faith is intent devotion and determination (adhimokkha). A common definition for the faculty of faith is ’rational belief and a confidence in the truth and goodness of something one honours and practises’.

  2. Faculty of effort (or ’energy’; viriya; viriyindriya): this faculty is described in the teaching on the four right efforts (sammappadhāna). In some places it is defined as the effort derived from engaging in the four right efforts, or as equivalent to the four right efforts. In other places it is defined as the effort to abandon unwholesome qualities and to bring wholesome qualities to completion, as diligence, courage and perseverance, and as not neglecting wholesome actions. The function of effort is to support and ’lift up’ (paggaha) the mind. A common definition for the faculty of effort is ’determination, vitality, and non-discouragement’.

  3. Faculty of mindfulness (sati; satindriya): this faculty is described in the teaching on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna). In some places it is defined as the mindfulness derived from engaging in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, or as equivalent to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. In other places it is defined as ’to be attentive, to be possessed of great mindfulness, and to be able to recall what one has previously done or said, even from a long time in the past’. The function of mindfulness is to attend to or oversee (upaṭṭhāna) the mind. A common definition for the faculty of mindfulness is ’to recollect, to guide the mind in its activities, and to remember that which one has recently done or been engaged in’. {829}

  4. Faculty of concentration (samādhi; samādhindriya): this faculty is described in the teaching on the four jhānas. In some places it is defined as equivalent to the four jhānas, while in other places it is defined as making relinquishment the object of attention, resulting in concentration and one-pointedness. The function of concentration is to make the mind unwavering and non-distracted (avikkhepa). A common definition for the faculty of concentration is ’to have firmly established awareness, to be concentrated on an activity and on an object of attention’.

  5. Faculty of wisdom (paññā; paññindriya): this faculty is described in the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. It is defined as a direct knowledge of the Four Noble Truths: to be endowed with noble wisdom which penetrates the truth of arising and ceasing, which eradicates mental defilement and leads to the complete ending of suffering. The function of wisdom is discernment (dassana) of the truth. A common definition for the faculty of wisdom is ’to know according to the truth, to know thoroughly, to know accurately what one is doing, to have insight into the nature of reality’.

The Buddha confirmed the words of Ven. Sāriputta stating that the five spiritual faculties are interconnected. Faith gives rise to effort. Effort reinforces mindfulness. Stable mindfulness leads to concentration. Firm concentration results in wisdom: a profound discernment of the perils of ignorance and craving, which are the cause of the round of rebirth (saṁsāra-vaṭṭa). There arises an appreciation for Nibbāna, a state free from the darkness of ignorance and agitation of craving, a supreme peace. When a person gains clear insight into the truth, he or she develops great faith or transcends faith. A person’s practice thus circles back to the faculty of faith (saddhindriya), as explained in the Buddha’s ending passage:

Sāriputta, a noble disciple puts forth effort in such a way. When he has put forth effort, he recollects in such a way. When he has recollected, his mind is concentrated in such a way. When his mind is concentrated he understands clearly in such a way. When he has understood clearly, he goes beyond faith (abhisaddhā) thus: ’As to these things that previously I had only heard about, they are truly so, as I have now contacted them myself, and realized and penetrated them with wisdom.’

S. V. 225-7.

The Buddha gave a teaching on the four different paths of spiritual practice: some people practise with difficulty and gain insight slowly; some practise with difficulty but gain insight quickly; some practise with ease but gain insight slowly; while some practise with ease and gain insight quickly. Here, the Buddha explains that the determining factors for the rate of spiritual development are the five faculties: if the faculties are weak, insight will come slowly; if they are keen, insight will come quickly.93 The five faculties even determine the different kinds of non-returners.94

Generally speaking, the potency or deficiency of the five faculties is the criterion for measuring the stage of a person’s awakening. When these faculties are thoroughly complete, the person is an arahant. If the faculties are less strong than this, the person is a non-returner, a once-returner, a ’truth-devotee’ (dhammānusārī) stream-enterer, or a ’faith-devotee’ (saddhānusārī) stream-enterer, respectively. If someone is completely devoid of these faculties, he is classified as an unawakened person ’outside’ (of the Dhammavinaya). {830} To sum up, a difference in the spiritual faculties leads to a difference in spiritual results; a difference in results leads to a difference in kinds of persons.95

The Paṭisambhidāmagga describes the five unwholesome qualities which are eliminated by the five faculties:96

  1. Faith is in charge of devotion or resolve, and eliminates a lack of trust.

  2. Effort is in charge of supporting or raising up the mind, and eliminates laziness.

  3. Mindfulness is in charge of guarding or protecting the mind, and eliminates heedlessness.

  4. Concentration is in charge of stabilizing the mind, and eliminates restlessness.

  5. Wisdom is in charge of discerning the truth, and eliminates ignorance.

The Visuddhimagga mentions the importance of bringing the faculties into balance with one another. It stresses that if one of the faculties is overly strong while the others are weak, these other faculties are not capable of fulfilling their functions. For example, if faith is overly ardent, effort is unable to uplift the mind, mindfulness is unable to protect the mind, concentration is unable to firmly establish the mind, and wisdom is unable to discern the truth. It is then necessary to reduce faith by using wisdom to contemplate the nature of reality or to reflect in a way that does not further intensify faith.

In general, the commentaries recommend balancing the faculties in pairs, by matching faith with wisdom, and concentration with effort. If faith is strong and wisdom weak, a person may gain faith in something that is not worthy of faith. If wisdom is strong but faith weak, a person will incline towards arrogance and will be difficult to train, similar to an illness which is caused by taking medicine. If concentration is strong and effort weak, indolence will take hold of the mind, because samādhi shares attributes with indolence (kosajja). If effort is strong and concentration weak, however, a person will become restless, because viriya shares attributes with restlessness (uddhacca). When these two pairs of faculties are well-balanced, Dhamma practice progresses and bears fruit, a principle which is also applied to meditation.

The commentaries mention some special circumstances: when one solely practises tranquillity meditation, even if one’s faith is extremely ardent, one may reach attainment concentration and concentrative absorption. Strong faith is suitable to the development of concentration. Similarly, in insight meditation there is no problem if wisdom is overly developed as this will lead to more comprehensive knowledge. These are special cases, however. If one applies the general principle of balancing the two pairs of faculties, one’s practice will bear fruit, for example by reaching attainment concentration.

Mindfulness is an exception to the above principle. The texts state that the more powerful mindfulness is, the better. Increased mindfulness aids other spiritual factors and prevents the mind from falling into either restlessness or indolence. Both uplifting and restraining the mind requires mindfulness. The commentaries cite the Buddha’s teachings that for mindfulness to be effective it must be applied at all times and in all circumstances,97 and that mindfulness is the shelter and refuge for the mind.98 {831}

Generally speaking, when some of the faculties are overly developed while others are weak, this situation must be rectified by cultivating the corresponding enlightenment factors (bojjhaṅga). If there is too much effort, for example, one can reduce this faculty by cultivating the factor of tranquillity (passaddhi).99

According to the aforementioned teachings a person must train in and develop all five of the spiritual faculties in order to progress in spiritual practice. But as confirmed by the Buddha, there are exceptions to this rule in situations where one develops only the essential faculties. This is especially the case in the practice for complete realization of the truth, which is the highest goal of Buddhism. In this case, only four faculties need to be developed, by omitting the cultivation of faith:

Monks, because he has developed and cultivated four faculties, a bhikkhu who has destroyed the taints declares the fruit of arahantship…. What four? The faculty of energy, the faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of concentration, the faculty of wisdom.

S. V. 223.

The next faculty which can be omitted is effort:

Monks, because he has developed and cultivated three faculties, Venerable Piṇḍola Bhāradvāja has declared the fruit of arahantship…. What three? The faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of concentration, and the faculty of wisdom.

S. V. 224.

If necessary, the next faculty which can be omitted is mindfulness:

Monks, because he has developed and cultivated two faculties, a bhikkhu who has destroyed the taints declares the fruit of arahantship…. What two? Noble wisdom and noble liberation. For his noble wisdom is his faculty of wisdom; his noble liberation is his faculty of concentration.

S. V. 222-3.

The faculty which is indispensable and which with adequate power (even without an advanced development of concentration) can lead on its own to the final realization of Buddha-Dhamma is wisdom:

Monks, because he has developed and cultivated one faculty, a bhikkhu who has destroyed the taints declares the fruit of arahantship…. What is that one faculty? The faculty of wisdom.

S. V. 222.

The passages describing the practice of only four, three, two, or a single faculty do not imply that the omitted faculties are absent. Although they are inconspicuous they are all still present to a necessary degree. They are developed in conjunction with the chief factors, but need not be given special prominence, as is seen in this teaching on wisdom: {832}

For a noble disciple who possesses wisdom, the faith that follows from it becomes stabilized, the energy … mindfulness … concentration that follows from it becomes stabilized.


These exceptional cases apply to specific individuals who are endowed with exceptional abilities. For ordinary people the aforementioned practice of cultivating all five of the faculties evenly is appropriate.

The following passages on the importance of the spiritual faculties highlight the role of wisdom in Buddhism:

Monks, just as among all animals the lion, the king of beasts, is declared to be their chief, that is, with respect to strength, speed, and courage, so too, among the states conducive to enlightenment (bodhipakkhiya-dhamma) the faculty of wisdom is declared to be their chief, that is, for the attainment of enlightenment (bodha).100

S. V. 227.

Monks, just as in a house with a peaked roof: so long as the roof peak has not been set in place, there is as yet no stability of the rafters, there is as yet no steadiness of the rafters; but when the roof peak has been set in place, then there is stability of the rafters, then there is steadiness of the rafters. So too, so long as noble knowledge has not arisen in the noble disciple, there is as yet no stability of the [other] four faculties, no steadiness of the [other] four faculties. But when noble knowledge has arisen in the noble disciple, then there is stability of the [other] four faculties, then there is steadiness of the [other] four faculties. What four? The faculty of faith, the faculty of energy, the faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of concentration. In the case of a noble disciple who possesses wisdom, the faith that follows from it becomes stabilized, the energy … mindfulness … concentration that follows from it becomes stabilized.

S. V. 228-9.

Wisdom’s Task Force

This heading, Wisdom’s Task Force, as well as the expression the ’arena of practice for wisdom’, refers to the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhaṅga). The enlightenment factors are both a support for developing concentration and a way to apply concentration for achieving higher ends, up to and including the highest goal of true knowledge (vijjā) and liberation (vimutti). The seven factors are: mindfulness, investigation of truth, effort, bliss, tranquillity, concentration, and equanimity.

The Buddha gave a short definition for the enlightenment factors: ’They are called enlightenment factors because they are conducive to awakening.’101 Based on a literal analysis of the term bojjhaṅga, the commentaries translate it as either ’attributes of an awakened person’, ’attributes of one about to be awakened’, or ’factors of awakening’.102 {833}

In principle the enlightenment factors are adversaries to the five hindrances (nīvaraṇa). Most of the time the Buddha mentioned these factors in combination with the hindrances, in the capacity of opposing forces.103 The attributes of the enlightenment factors are opposite to the attributes of the hindrances:

Monks, these seven factors of enlightenment are not obstructions, are not hindrances, are not corruptions of the mind; when developed and cultivated they lead to the realization of the fruit of true knowledge and liberation.104

S. V. 93.

Monks, these seven factors of enlightenment are makers of vision, makers of knowledge, promoting the growth of wisdom, free from distress, leading towards Nibbāna.

S. V. 97-8.

As mentioned earlier the hindrances destroy the quality of the mind. The hindrances can be used to measure the level of deterioration of a person’s mental health. The enlightenment factors on the other hand enhance the quality of the mind and promote mental health. They can be used as a yardstick to evaluate mental health.105

Definitions for the seven factors of enlightenment are as follows:

  1. Mindfulness (sati): recollection; to recall, reflect, or to hold attention on something with which one is engaged or on a required activity. In the context of the enlightenment factors, sati encompasses both the vigilant role of mindfulness – in which attention rests on a specific object of consideration106 – and the recollection of Dhamma teachings and of necessary activities in order to submit them for inspection by wisdom.107

  2. Investigation of truth (dhamma-vicaya): search for truth; to apply wisdom in order to investigate the object focused on by sati or the Dhamma teaching submitted by sati. For example: to contemplate the essential meaning and value of the object under consideration; to examine and select those things that are beneficial to one’s life or are most suitable to the present circumstances; to discern how the object arises, is sustained, and passes away; to understand the object in the context of the Three Characteristics; and to realize the Four Noble Truths.108

  3. Effort (viriya): energy; fearlessness; persistence; ardent enthusiasm for that under investigation by wisdom; courage to perform good deeds; strength of heart; fighting spirit; perseverance; a hastening to improve; an ability to uplift the mind; an ability to prevent despondency and discouragement.

  4. Bliss (pīti): delight; joy; contentment; deep pleasure; rapture; exhilaration.

  5. Tranquillity (passaddhi): mental and physical ease, relaxation, serenity, calm; an absence of stress and agitation.

  6. Concentration (samādhi): one-pointed focus on an object of attention; steady and consistent attention to an activity; an absence of distraction, vacillation, and mental disturbance.

  7. Equanimity (upekkhā): objectivity; impartiality; to observe equanimously and calmly when the mind is focused on an activity and when things progress according to plan or according to how they ought to be, or when it is not yet time to strive or be busily engaged; an absence of interference and intrusion. {834}

The Buddha mentioned the nourishment (āhāra) and the ’denourishment’ (anāhāra) of the hindrances and the enlightenment factors. The nourishment which spawns, invigorates, and increases the hindrances is a lack of wise reflection (ayoniso-manasikāra); the denourishment, which does not feed or support the hindrances, is wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra). Likewise, the nourishment which generates, promotes, and perfects the enlightenment factors is wise reflection; the denourishment is a lack of wise reflection.109

  1. Nourishment and Denourishment of the Five Hindrances:

    1. Sensual desire: a lack of wise reflection regarding images of beauty (subha-nimitta) is the nourishment;110 a wise reflection on images of impurity (asubha-nimitta) is the denourishment.

    2. Ill-will: a lack of wise reflection regarding repulsive images (paṭigha-nimitta) is the nourishment;111 a wise reflection on the deliverance of mind (cetovimutti) is the denourishment.112

    3. Sloth and torpor: a lack of wise reflection regarding sluggishness stemming from overeating, boredom, drowsiness, or despondency is the nourishment; a wise reflection on resourcefulness, improvement, and perseverance is the denourishment.

    4. Restlessness and worry: a lack of wise reflection regarding the state or circumstances of mental agitation is the nourishment; a wise reflection on the state of a peaceful mind is the denourishment. {835}

    5. Doubt: a lack of wise reflection regarding issues giving rise to doubt is the nourishment; a wise reflection on wholesome and unwholesome qualities, beneficial and harmful qualities, is the denourishment.

  2. Nourishment and Denourishment of the Seven Enlightenment Factors:

    1. The nourishment for mindfulness is wise reflection on those things acting as a basis for mindfulness.

    2. The nourishment for investigation of truth is wise reflection on wholesome and unwholesome qualities, beneficial and harmful qualities.

    3. The nourishment for effort is wise reflection on resourcefulness, improvement, and perseverance.

    4. The nourishment for bliss is wise reflection on those things acting as a basis for bliss.

    5. The nourishment for tranquillity is wise reflection on physical and mental tranquillity.

    6. The nourishment for concentration is wise reflection on ’concentrative signs’ (samādhi-nimitta) and those things that do not make the mind confused.

    7. The nourishment for equanimity is wise reflection on those things acting as a basis for equanimity.

Conversely, the denourishment of the enlightenment factors is a lack of wise reflection on those things giving rise to each of these factors (the specific nourishment, mentioned above).

The things acting as a basis for mindfulness are the objects focused upon by mindfulness. One commentarial passage describes these as the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment (bodhipakkhiya-dhamma) and the nine supramundane states (lokuttara-dhamma).113 From a wider perspective, however, this refers to the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. The Visuddhimagga and the Sammohavinodanī describe four more qualities giving rise to mindfulness:114 mindfulness and clear comprehension (sati-sampajañña), avoidance of people with muddled awareness, association with people well-guarded by mindfulness, and devotion to the enlightenment factor of mindfulness.

The commentaries outline seven qualities that give rise to investigation: (1) to be an inquirer; (2) to make things clean and bright;115 (3) to balance the spiritual faculties; (4) to avoid the company of fools; (5) to associate with the wise; (6) to contemplate matters requiring deep insight; (7) to devote oneself to the investigation of truth.

The commentaries list eleven qualities that give rise to effort: (1) to reflect on various dangers, e.g. the danger of wickedness (to rouse oneself by recognizing that if one makes no effort one will encounter such dangers); (2) to discern the blessings of making effort, which leads to exceptional mundane and supramundane results; (3) to consider that this path of practice was traversed by exceptional people, including the Buddha and his great disciples; if we are lazy and slack in our efforts we will never achieve the goal; (4) to honour almsfood by aspiring to generate blessings for the donor; (5) to consider the greatness of the Buddha and to remember that he praised effort; to consider that we should honour his compassion and kindness through devoted effort; (6) to consider that one should act in a way that is worthy of inheriting the magnificent legacy of the true Dhamma; (7) to reduce sloth and torpor through various means, like switching postures and developing the perception of light (āloka-saññā); (8) to avoid indolent people; (9) to associate with industrious people; (10) to reflect on the four right efforts (sammappadhāna); (11) to devote oneself to making effort.

The commentaries describe eleven qualities that give rise to bliss: (1-3) to recollect the virtues of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha; (4) to recollect one’s own virtuous behaviour (sīla); (5) to recollect one’s generosity and acts of renunciation; (6) to reflect on divine beings and on the qualities leading to divinity (deva-dhamma) inherent in oneself; (7) to reflect on the state of peace (i.e. Nibbāna); (8) to avoid gloomy, depressed people; (9) to associate with cheerful people; (10) to reflect on suttas inspiring devotion; (11) to incline the mind towards bliss. {836}

The commentaries describe seven qualities that give rise to tranquillity: (1) to consume fine food; (2) to reside in a comfortable environment; (3) to abide in a comfortable posture; (4) to exert effort in a balanced, measured way; (5) to avoid nervous, stressful people; (6) to associate with calm, relaxed people; (7) to incline oneself towards tranquillity.

The commentaries describe eleven qualities that give rise to concentration: (1) to make things clean and bright; (2) to be discerning in regard to mental images (nimitta); (3) to balance the spiritual faculties; (4) to restrain the mind when appropriate; (5) to uplift the mind when appropriate; (6) when the mind is unhappy, to gladden it through faith and a sense of awe (saṁvega);116 (7) when the mind is functioning well, to practise equanimity; (8) to avoid people who lack concentration; (9) to associate with people who are endowed with concentration; (10) to reflect on mental liberation (vimokkha); (11) to be devoted to concentration.

The commentaries describe five qualities that give rise to equanimity: (1) to be non-discriminatory towards all living beings (both monks and laypeople); (2) to be objective about conditioned phenomena (both one’s internal physical organs and one’s personal belongings); (3) to avoid people who are anxious about and jealously guard things (including other people and personal possessions); (4) to associate with people who are unbiased towards living beings and conditioned phenomena; (5) to incline the mind towards equanimity.

The seven factors of enlightenment are mutually connected, as confirmed by the following teaching by the Buddha.117 In sum, a monk who has studied with and listened to the Dhamma from a wise, virtuous person, who dwells in both physical and mental solitude, has an excellent opportunity for realization:

  1. When someone reviews, recollects, and verifies that Dhamma that he has heard or studied … he develops the enlightenment factor of mindfulness.

  2. When he bears this Dhamma in mind, he selects it, analyzes it, examines it, and investigates it …. He develops the enlightenment factor of investigation.

  3. When he analyzes, examines, and investigates he exerts effort. The more he analyzes, discerns, clearly understands, and grasps the essential meaning, the greater is his energy and will-power, the more he strives and perseveres, undaunted…. He develops the enlightenment factor of energy.

  4. When he rouses energy, is diligent and increasingly enthusiastic, there arises bliss independent of sensual desires…. He develops the enlightenment factor of bliss.

  5. When the mind is blissful, both the mind and body are relaxed and calmed, and there arise mental and physical tranquillity…. He develops the enlightenment factor of tranquillity.

  6. When the body is relaxed and at ease, the mind becomes firmly established and concentrated…. He develops the enlightenment factor of concentration.

  7. When the mind is concentrated on an activity and functions well, it becomes steady and composed; a person simply observes at ease and with equanimity…. He develops the enlightenment factor of equanimity.

As mentioned earlier, the Buddha taught how the Four Foundations of Mindfulness nourish the seven factors of enlightenment. When developed and cultivated, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness bring the seven factors of enlightenment to completion; and when the enlightenment factors are developed and cultivated, they in turn bring true knowledge and liberation to completion.118 The development of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness thus acts as a basis, enabling the group of enlightenment factors to enter the arena of practice. {837}

When developing contemplation of the body, feelings, the mind, or mind objects, one is endowed with unremitting mindfulness. When one is attentive in this way, one applies wisdom to examine, inquire, and analyze according to the principle of Dhamma investigation. From this point the gradual development of the other enlightenment factors proceeds as described above, eventually leading to true knowledge and liberation.

Likewise, when one is listening to the Dhamma, if one firmly establishes the mind, reflects, devotes oneself with all one’s heart, and listens carefully, at that time the hindrances will be absent and the seven factors of enlightenment may reach completion.119

The seven factors of enlightenment can be developed along with other spiritual qualities. For example, they can be developed along with the meditation on breathing, along with the four unbounded states of mind (appamaññā), or along with recollections, e.g. the perception of impermanence, the perception of foulness, the contemplation on dispassion, and the contemplation on cessation. The enlightenment factors assist these other qualities to be of supreme benefit, to be conducive to true safety, conducive to a sense of urgency and an ardent striving towards wholesomeness, and conducive to dwelling in peace.120

The Buddha encouraged the application of the enlightenment factors in meditation practice. These factors help to support the mind when a person is beginning to meditate and they strengthen concentration:121

’On an occasion, monks, when the mind is despondent, it is untimely to develop the enlightenment factor of tranquillity, the enlightenment factor of concentration, and the enlightenment factor of equanimity. For what reason? Because the mind is despondent and it is difficult to rouse it with those things. Suppose a man wants to make a small fire flare up. If he throws wet grass, wet cowdung, and wet timber into it, sprays it with water, and scatters dust over it, would he be able to make that small fire flare up?’

’No, venerable sir.’

’So too, on an occasion when the mind is despondent….’

’On an occasion when the mind is despondent, it is timely to develop the enlightenment factor of investigation, the enlightenment factor of energy, and the enlightenment factor of bliss. For what reason? Because the mind is despondent and it is easy to rouse it with those things. Suppose a man wants to make a small fire flare up. If he throws dry grass, dry cowdung, and dry timber into it, blows on it, and does not scatter dust over it, would he be able to make that small fire flare up?’

’Yes, venerable sir.’

’So too, on an occasion when the mind is despondent….’

’On an occasion when the mind is restless, it is untimely to develop the enlightenment factor of investigation, the enlightenment factor of energy, and the enlightenment factor of bliss. For what reason? Because the mind is restless and it is difficult to calm it down with those things. Suppose a man wants to extinguish a large bonfire. If he throws dry grass, dry cowdung, and dry timber into it, blows on it, and does not scatter dust over it, would he be able to extinguish that large bonfire?’

’No, venerable sir.’

’So too, on an occasion when the mind is restless….’

’On an occasion when the mind is restless, it is timely to develop the enlightenment factor of tranquillity, the enlightenment factor of concentration, and the enlightenment factor of equanimity. For what reason? Because the mind is restless and it is easy to calm it down with those things. Suppose a man wants to extinguish a large bonfire. If he throws wet grass, wet cowdung, and wet timber into it, sprays it with water, and scatters dust over it, would he be able to extinguish that large bonfire?’

’Yes, venerable sir.’

’So too, on an occasion when the mind is restless….’ {836}

’But mindfulness I say is always useful.’

S. V. 112-15.

In the Pali Canon the seven factors of enlightenment are described in several ways: as the ’effort to cultivate (wholesome states)’ – bhāvanā-padhāna;122 as the pinnacle of all forms of effort;123 as the ’strength of spiritual development’ (bhāvanā-bala);124 as the means to eliminate the taints by way of spiritual development;125 as kamma that is neither ’black’ nor ’white’, leading to the end of kamma;126 as ’conditions of prosperity’ (aparihāniya-dhamma), leading solely to growth and not to decline;127 and as the path leading to the Unconditioned – Nibbāna – similar to the other qualities contributing to enlightenment (bodhipakkhiya-dhamma).

Unity and Harmony of the Path Factors

As mentioned above, the objective of ’right concentration’ (sammā-samādhi) is to act as the domain of practice for wisdom – to make the mind the most suitable environment for spiritual qualities to work in unison in order to realize the truth, to eliminate mental impurity, and to reach the state that is completely free from suffering. It was described earlier how the eight factors of the Path act in harmony and are mutually supportive, with right view acting as the leader. Here, we can conclude that the first seven path factors help to generate, support, and reinforce concentration, giving rise to ’right concentration’, which can be applied effectively according to one’s needs. Concentration yields results and furthers one’s practice, leading at the final stage to two more factors: right knowledge (sammā-ñāṇa) and right liberation (sammā-vimutti).

The Buddha refers to these first seven path factors as requisites of concentration (samādhi-parikkhāra): they are the elements, the accompanying conditions, the supports, and the determinants of concentration. Concentration possessed of these requisites is referred to as ’noble right concentration’ (ariya-sammāsamādhi), which leads to the final goal:

The Blessed One who knows and sees, accomplished and fully enlightened, has well proclaimed the seven requisites of concentration, for the cultivation and the perfection of right concentration. What are these seven? They are right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness. That one-pointedness of mind surrounded by these seven factors is called the noble right concentration with its bases (upanissaya; support, foundation) and requisites.

When there is right view, right thought is suitable for action; when there is right thought, right speech is suitable for action; when there is right speech, right action is suitable for action; when there is right action, right livelihood is suitable for action; when there is right livelihood, right effort is suitable for action; when there is right effort, right mindfulness is suitable for action; when there is right mindfulness, right concentration is suitable for action; when there is right concentration, right knowledge is suitable for action; when there is right knowledge, right liberation is suitable for action.128 {839}

D. II. 216-7.

When the Eightfold Path (aṭṭhaṅgika-magga) has been developed to the point of completion, an instant occurs in which all of the path factors function in unison, giving rise to profound knowledge and a realization of truth, and eliminating the defilements which overlay and oppress the mind. This occurrence in which the path factors function concurrently is specifically called the ’Path’ (magga), because in this instant all the path factors are truly integrated. When the Path operates in this way, there are resulting fruits (phala), namely, knowledge of the truth, release from mental defilement, and a freedom from suffering.

If everything proceeds in order, there are four occasions or stages in which the Path operates in a potent or conclusive fashion, referred to as the four ’paths’. In the same way, there are four ’fruits’. Collectively, they are called the four noble paths (ariya-magga) and the four noble fruits (ariya-phala), i.e.: the path of stream-entry, the fruit of stream-entry, the path of once-returning, the fruit of once-returning, the path of non-returning, the fruit of non-returning, the path of arahantship, and the fruit of arahantship. In reference to its eight factors, this culmination of the Path is called the Eightfold Path; in reference to practical application or to active functionality, which has four stages, it is called the ’four paths’ (catumagga).129

The joint operation of spiritual factors in a single mind-moment, bringing desired results to completion, is referred to in the scriptures as ’harmony of spiritual qualities’ (dhamma-sāmaggī).130 This harmony of spiritual qualities is equivalent to awakening (bodhi).131 It is not only the eight Path factors which act in unison during this single moment of the ’path’, but the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment (bodhipakkhiya-dhamma) do so as well.132 In any case, the thirty-seven enlightenment factors can all be distilled into the eight factors of the Path.133 For this reason, when the term ’Path’ is used, this necessarily incorporates related spiritual qualities.

One may raise the question of how it is that several Path factors can operate in a single instance. Especially, one may ask how the factors related to moral conduct, like right speech and right action, are involved in such a situation. {840} To answer these questions let us look at the comparable example of someone who is able to fire a rifle or shoot an arrow with great accuracy. On the occasion of an archery competition we see this individual gain victory by hitting the bull’s eye, and she accomplishes this deed in a single instant.

A superficial glance may lead to the conclusion that this person simply has a steady hand and one will leave it at that. But a deeper inspection of the causes and conditions for the steady hand and the accuracy of the shot in that instant may reveal a long period of training before this event. This person has trained in developing correct posture, by focusing on the position of the entire body, the feet, the legs, the arms, and the shoulders; she has trained in how to properly grasp the weapon, taking aim, estimating distance, and finding the right balance of strength. She has sharpened her wits, developed resourcefulness and resolve, and strengthened concentration, until there arose skill and proficiency, an ability to shoot instantly, and a feeling that the action happens automatically and effortlessly.

We must take into consideration all of these factors which have reached completion when we witness this person display such accuracy: it is the sum total of physical equipoise and competence, self-assurance, concentration, and mental dexterity. In other words, all the factors of physical fitness, mental preparedness and maturity, understanding, and sound judgement function together when shooting the arrow in that single moment. In retrospect, the physical capability, mental capability, and wisdom capability in that moment are the fruits of a lengthy training. The ability to shoot the arrow accurately is the result of months and years of practice.

This matter is related to the differences between individual practitioners, especially in regard to the level of proficiency or potency of the spiritual faculties. Some people attain results easily with only a little amount of training. Others train for a long time before attaining results, but their practice proceeds with ease. Others, meanwhile, must train for both a long time and with great difficulty before reaching success. And finally, some people, no matter how much they train, are incapable of attaining success. Besides the inherent differences between people, spiritual attainments and the speed of such attainments depend on other factors, in particular: the correctness of a specific spiritual practice, the presence of a good guide or teacher (referred to as a ’virtuous friend’ – kalyāṇamitta), a person’s physical state of health, and a person’s physical environment. The Buddha classified four different ways of practice (paṭipadā) leading to spiritual accomplishment:134 {841}

  1. A person practises with difficulty and gains higher knowledge (abhiññā) slowly (dukkhā paṭipadā dandhābhiññā).

  2. A person practises with difficulty but gains higher knowledge quickly (dukkhā paṭipadā khippābhiññā).

  3. A person practises with ease but gains higher knowledge slowly (sukhā paṭipadā dandhābhiññā).

  4. A person practises with ease and gains higher knowledge quickly (sukhā paṭipadā khippābhiññā).

Concentration too is a factor determining the level of difficulty in practice and the speed with which a person attains knowledge. It was mentioned earlier how a Dhamma practitioner may develop insight at once, by relying on only a rudimentary level of concentration, and this person may even realize the final goal of knowledge of the destruction of the taints (āsavakkhaya-ñāṇa). Someone who first develops concentration and attains concentrative absorption (jhāna), however, is able to build a firm foundation for the development of insight. This is made more clear in the context of the four ways of practice mentioned above. A person who has attained the four jhānas is described as practising with ease (sukhā paṭipadā). As for someone who practises the meditation on foulness, the perception on the loathsomeness of food, or the recollection on death – which only lead to the first jhāna or to access concentration – his practice will be arduous and less cheerful (dukkhā paṭipadā).

The following teachings by the Buddha describe ways of practice in which the thirty-seven factors of enlightenment are linked to the eight factors of the Path. From a superficial perspective these practices may appear easy. It is true that for someone who is prepared, they are easy. But for someone who is unprepared, they are difficult, and such a person may have to engage in many other practices before he or she is ready:

Bhikkhus, when one knows and sees the eye as it actually is, when one knows and sees forms … eye-consciousness … eye-contact … the feeling of pleasure, or pain, or neither-pain-nor-pleasure that arises with eye-contact as condition, then one is not infatuated by the eye [… forms, etc.].

When one abides uninfatuated, unfettered, unbeguiled, discerning danger, then the five aggregates of clinging reach a state of no further growth; and one’s craving – which leads to renewed existence, is accompanied by delight and lust (nandi-rāga), and pursues various sense impressions – is abandoned. One’s bodily and mental troubles, one’s bodily and mental torments, one’s bodily and mental passions are abandoned, and one experiences bodily and mental pleasure.

The view of a person such as this is right view; his intention is right intention, his effort is right effort, his mindfulness is right mindfulness, his concentration is right concentration. And his bodily action, his verbal action, and his livelihood have already been well purified from the start. In this way the Noble Eightfold Path comes to fulfilment and completion for him.

When he develops this Noble Eightfold Path, the four foundations of mindfulness also come to fulfilment and completion; the four right efforts … the four paths to success … the five spiritual faculties … the five spiritual powers … the seven factors of enlightenment also come to fulfilment and completion. {842}

These two things – serenity and insight – occur in him joined evenly together. He fully understands by direct knowledge (See Note Higher Wisdom) those things that should be fully understood by direct knowledge. He abandons by direct knowledge those things that should be abandoned by direct knowledge. He develops by direct knowledge those things that should be developed by direct knowledge. He realizes by direct knowledge those things that should be realized by direct knowledge.

And what things should be fully understood by direct knowledge? The answer to that is: the five aggregates of clinging: the material form aggregate affected by clinging, the feeling aggregate affected by clinging, the perception aggregate affected by clinging, the volitional formations aggregate affected by clinging, the consciousness aggregate affected by clinging….

And what things should be abandoned by direct knowledge?: ignorance and craving for existence….

And what things should be developed by direct knowledge?: serenity and insight.

And what things should be realized by direct knowledge?: true knowledge and deliverance.135

M. III. 289-90.

In relation to some of the qualities described in this chapter, the following teaching by the Buddha presents a summary of all things:

Monks, being questioned by those wandering ascetics of another persuasion, you should reply as follows: ’Friends:

  1. All things are rooted in desire (chanda-mūlakā).

  2. All things have attention as their source for existence (manasikāra-sambhavā).

  3. All things originate from contact (phassa-samudayā).

  4. All things converge on feelings (vedanā-samosaraṇā).

  5. All things have concentration as leader (samādhi-pamukhā).

  6. All things have mindfulness as governing principle (satādhipateyyā).

  7. All things have wisdom as pinnacle (paññuttarā).

  8. All things have liberation as essence (vimutti-sārā).

  9. All things merge into the deathless (amatogadhā).

  10. All things culminate in Nibbāna (nibbāna-pariyosānā).136 {843}

A. V. 106-107.

Higher Wisdom

The term abhiññā is a very important word in the Buddhist teachings. It means ’higher wisdom’ or ’supreme knowledge’, equated with uttama-paññā at AA. II. 95, and with adhika-ñāṇa at: VinA. I. 125; DA. I. 175; PsA. I. 136.

Literally, it can be translated as ’direct knowledge’, ’penetrative knowledge’, ’precise knowledge’, or ’transcendent knowledge’ (this last expression may be interpreted as ’knowledge surpassing what is discernible by way of the five senses’).

The Aṭṭhasālinī and the Visuddhimagga explain abhiññā as knowledge present from the stage of access concentration to the stage of attainment concentration (DhsA. 182; Vism. 86-7). The Paramatthamañjusā defines it specifically as knowledge arising in the state of attainment concentration (appanā-paññā; VismṬ.: Kammaṭṭhānaggahaṇaniddesavaṇṇanā, Samādhicatukkavaṇṇanā). At times it resembles the knowledge of intuition (more research should be done examining the mental state of intuition).

A similar passage states:

Monks, a monk lives the holy life (brahmacariya) with the training as its blessing, with wisdom as pinnacle, with liberation as essence, with mindfulness as governing principle.

And how does the holy life have the training as its blessing? Here, I have laid down the training in virtuous conduct for disciples in this Dhamma and Discipline for the sake of instilling faith in those who do not have faith and of increasing faith in the faithful. In whatever way I have laid down the training in virtuous conduct, those disciples practise and train in the training rules so, observing them fully, not in a defective, patchy, or tainted way. Moreover, I have laid down the training in the principles of the holy life for disciples for the sake of the complete and utter end of suffering. In whatever way I have laid down the training in the principles of the holy life, those disciples practise and train in the training rules so, observing them fully, not in a defective, patchy, or tainted way. In this manner the holy life has the training as its blessing.

And how does the holy life have wisdom as its pinnacle? I have taught the Dhamma to disciples for the sake of the complete and utter end of suffering. In whatever way I have taught the Dhamma, just so, the disciples discern these teachings completely with wisdom. In this manner the holy life has wisdom as its pinnacle.

And how does the holy life have liberation as its essence? I have taught the Dhamma to disciples for the sake of the complete and utter end of suffering. In whatever way I have taught the Dhamma, just so, the disciples contact these teachings by way of liberation. In this manner the holy life has liberation as its essence.

And how does the holy life have mindfulness as its governing principle? Here, disciples are well attentive and inwardly vigilant thus: ’I will cultivate and fulfil the training in virtuous conduct which is yet incomplete, or else by way of wisdom in these respects I will sustain the training in virtuous conduct which is complete…. I will cultivate and fulfil the training in the principles of the holy life which is incomplete, or else by way of wisdom in these respects I will sustain the training in the principles of the holy life which is complete…. I will completely examine and discern by way of wisdom in these respects those things that I have not yet completely discerned, or else by way of wisdom in these respects I will sustain the complete discernment of things…. I will contact by way of liberation those things not yet contacted, or else by way of wisdom in these respects I will sustain the contact with such things. In this manner the holy life has mindfulness as its governing principle. {844}

Ways of Developing Concentration

As mentioned earlier, a Dhamma practitioner may use only a basic level of concentration (called ’momentary concentration’ – khaṇika-samādhi) as a beginning point for applying wisdom in order to investigate reality in line with the teachings on insight, and this concentration develops alongside the development of insight. Although the concentration developed in such a practice will eventually be powerful enough to enable the person to reach the goal of insight meditation – the freedom from suffering, the end of all mental impurity, and the realization of Nibbāna – it will not be strong enough to obtain exceptional psychic attainments: the various mundane psychic powers.

Furthermore, to begin spiritual practice with weak concentration is similar to setting off on a journey in a state of physical weakness: the fitness for travelling is diminished. Even if the person hopes to gradually grow stronger as the journey progresses, he is no match for someone who is fit from the beginning, strong and confident. And if wisdom is not sharp, the path is even more arduous. Conversely, an over-emphasis of wisdom can lead to restlessness.137 There is thus a traditional emphasis in Buddhism to train in and develop concentration from the beginning, at least to some degree. Although the aim is not to obtain extraordinary psychic powers, there is a wish to develop a stable foundation of mental composure, adequate for the further development of wisdom.

This matter is made clearer by looking at examples from everyday life. Some people are unable to perform actions requiring deliberation – not to mention applying wisdom and reflecting on things deeply – if there is even a small disturbance of noise or if other people are moving about around them. There are others, however, whose minds are more concentrated and stable. Even though they are surrounded by disturbing sounds or crowds of people, they are able to perform actions requiring mindfulness and wisdom without difficulty.

Some people have great mental strength; although they are in alarming or frightening situations, they are unperturbed and are able to use wisdom to look at and analyze the situation. It is said that the French emperor Napoleon the First had great mental power; he was able to recall any matter at any time he wished, and was able to block out any unwanted thoughts. His mind was like a chest of drawers in which information was stored and well-ordered; he was able to pull out relevant data as he wished. Although he was in the tumult of the battlefield among the noise of guns and loud explosives, the sound of fighting men and neighing horses, he maintained a calm demeanour and was able to think astutely, as if nothing unusual was happening. If he wished to rest he was able to fall asleep immediately.

This is different from most ordinary people who have not trained themselves. When they fall into such situations, not only can they not reflect on what is happening, they often cannot keep their minds still; they tend to be frightened, bewildered, and confused. Although I do not have substantiating evidence for this story, most of us can recognize the difference between those people whose minds are strong and those whose minds are weak.

This account of Emperor Napoleon is not so remarkable if we compare it with stories from the scriptures. There is the story, for example, of Āḷāra Kālāma, who while travelling on a long journey was sitting under the shade of a tree.138 A caravan of about five hundred wagons passed close by to him, but he neither saw nor heard them. The Buddha himself was once staying in the town of Ātumā when a resounding thunderstorm broke out. Two farmers and four cows were struck and killed by lightning close to where the Buddha sat, but the Buddha was dwelling in a tranquil abiding and heard nothing.139 {795} The Buddha once gave a teaching saying that there are only four beings who are not startled by lightning: an arahant, a well-trained elephant, a thoroughbred horse, and a lion.140

Among ordinary people there is a great discrepancy when it comes to the power of the mind, the power of wisdom, and the stability of the mind. For most people the stability and power of the mind is not great and their wisdom is not sharp. Many contemporary teachers therefore say that if a person has not prepared the mind properly as the arena in which wisdom can operate, the opportunity to realize the truth by way of transcendent wisdom (lokuttara-paññā) is extremely slim. They emphasize the training of the mind through formal meditation (’the cultivation of concentration’ – samādhi-bhāvanā) as a solid foundation on which an earnest cultivation of wisdom can be established.

Although the essence of the training in concentration can be encapsulated in just a few words, the actual practice of concentration is highly detailed. The subject of concentration becomes even more broad and detailed if one includes the application of a unified mind as the domain of practice for wisdom in order to realize the supreme goal of Buddhism. The entire practice of concentration can be referred to as tranquillity (samatha) and insight (vipassanā), which could easily be the subject of another book. Here, however, I will only present an outline of the key principles regarding concentration.

Natural Development of Concentration

This heading refers to a spiritual practice conforming to a natural process within which concentration arises automatically – or without requiring a deliberate intention – a process which the Buddha spoke about on many occasions. The essence of this process is for a person to perform virtuous deeds, which are a source of joy. Joy is then followed respectively by delight, relaxation, happiness, and finally concentration. This is illustrated in the following way:

Pāmojja (joy) →
pīti (delight; satisfaction) →
passaddhi (physical ease and relaxation) →
sukha (mental ease and happiness) →
samādhi (concentration).

Generally speaking, this process is only possible when virtuous conduct acts as a support. Virtuous conduct here refers to refraining from oppressing or violating others, actions which cause distress, mistrust, fear of retribution, guilt, and remorse. Instead, a person acts in an upright manner, which leads to a sense of inner contentment and self-confidence. There are many actions which give rise to joy and delight, for example: one may recall one’s own virtuous acts and meritorious deeds; one may recollect the Triple Gem and other excellent qualities; or one may reflect on a particular teaching and gain insight into it.141 {796}

The basis or the most closely related factor for the arising of concentration is happiness, as is confirmed by the Buddha’s standard teaching: ’For one who is happy the mind becomes concentrated’ (sukhino cittaṁ samādhiyati). The passage in full is as follows:

[When he understands the essence and the principle of the Dhamma] gladness arises. When he is gladdened delight arises; when the mind is delighted the body becomes calm; one calm in body feels happy; for one who is happy the mind becomes concentrated.142

D. III. 241-2; A. III. 21.

The natural development of concentration mentioned here is in fact the essence of all forms of concentrative meditation up to the stage of attaining jhāna. The details of such meditation are described below.

Development of Concentration in Line with the Paths to Success

The term iddhipāda can be translated as ’factors leading to spiritual power’, ’factors leading to success’, or ’paths to success’. There are four such factors: chanda (’enthusiasm’, ’love’), viriya (’energy’, ’perseverance’), citta (’focused attention’), and vimaṁsā (’investigation’, ’wise reflection’).

The Buddha spoke about the paths to success in relation to concentration, because the paths to success give rise to concentration and lead to results which are the goal of concentration. The concentration arising from each of the four paths to success is named after each such factor, as follows:143

  1. Chanda-samādhi: concentration arising from enthusiasm; concentration with enthusiasm as the prominent factor.

  2. Viriya-samādhi: concentration arising from energy; concentration with energy as the prominent factor.

  3. Citta-samādhi: concentration arising from focused attention; concentration with focused attention as the prominent factor.

  4. Vimaṁsā-samādhi: concentration arising from investigation; concentration with investigation as the prominent factor.

Moreover, these forms of concentration arise in connection with diligent effort (padhāna-saṅkhāra). Padhāna-saṅkhāra can also be translated as the ’volitional formation of effort’, ’effort as a determining factor’, ’effort as a creative force’, or ’supportive effort’. This refers to the four kinds of effort (padhāna), which perform the functions of prevention, relinquishment, cultivation, and protection.

Concentration arises from the four factors leading to success in the following ways:

Enthusiasm (chanda)

An enthusiasm for the activity that one is engaged in; a keen interest in the objective of such an activity; a wish to bring this activity to fulfilment and completion; a love for one’s work and for the goal of one’s work. On a deeper level, it is a love and desire for a wholesome, complete state, which is the goal of one’s actions or is accessible through one’s actions; a desire for something to arrive at or be established in the greatest degree of goodness, excellence, precision, and perfection; a desire for this wholesome, complete state to truly manifest; a desire to find success conforming to such goodness. {797}

This desire is different from a desire to consume or to possess something, which is referred to as ’craving’ (taṇhā). The desire of enthusiasm generates happiness and delight when a person witnesses that object or that activity reach completion and fulfilment; indeed, a person already experiences delight when that object or activity moves in the direction of fulfilment. When the object or activity reaches its goal, a person experiences deep satisfaction and unbounded joy. The desire of craving on the other hand gives rise to pleasure when a person obtains an object of enjoyment or obtains something that increases a sense of self-importance. This form of pleasure taints or corrupts a person, is a hindrance and constriction, and tends to leave covetousness, anxiety, grief, regret, and fear in its wake.144

Take for example a young child who when alone draws a picture in a loving, painstaking way, determined to have this picture be as pretty and perfect as possible, or a child who carefully puts together a model boat or airplane, aiming for precision. Such a child is happy when this act of painting or building proceeds well and gradually reaches completion. He or she will rejoice even more – perhaps even jump with joy – when the work is completed. This child performs the activity with a steadfast and concentrated mind, zeroing in on the goal. He or she finds happiness through the activity and the completion of the activity. This happiness does not arise from an external object of enjoyment; it is free from material enticements and does not require the praise from other people: it does not rely on any form of reward, either sensual (kāma) or connected to the process of becoming (bhava).

When the task is completed the child may want to show others the finished product so that they can admire the refinement and skill. In such a case, if an adult who views the finished object expresses admiration for the accomplishment, expresses a suitable appreciation for the quality of the object, or encourages the child to improve his or her skills, this is an appropriate and adequate response. An excessive amount of admiration, however, in which an appreciation for the child’s efforts becomes a form of indulging the child, is inappropriate, for this will transform the child’s enthusiasm into craving – will transform a wholesome tendency into an unwholesome tendency. This response may even spoil the child and create bad habits. Whenever wholesome enthusiasm arises, craving will then arise too; enthusiasm becomes a fuel for craving. Training children in this way is common. If a society supports this form of training the number of people who find happiness through wholesome enthusiasm will decrease, while the number of people who find pleasure through the gratification of craving will increase; and the overall state of the society will become more troubled.145

Children do not only wish to have other people admire the things that they themselves have created; they also want people to admire other things that they encounter, regardless of whether these things are manmade or objects in nature. They wish to share the inherent goodness and perfection that they witness even in such things as rocks and pebbles, leaves, and insects. {798} In fact this is a universal experience: when people witness and recognize the beauty of nature or an outstanding human achievement, they often want to encourage others to share this wholesome feeling. By encouraging others they do not seek personal reward nor do they seek gratification by way of the senses. A person who sees the true value of the Dhamma has a similar experience; this appreciation provides the Dhamma with the characteristic of ehipassiko: inviting one to come and see.

If one is able to rouse ardent enthusiasm and to generate a deep love for the goodness of an object or the fulfilment of a goal, one will devote one’s life to this thing. If one’s love is true one will surrender oneself completely, perhaps even sacrificing one’s life for that thing. During the Buddha’s time many princes, wealthy merchants, influential brahmins, and young men and women relinquished their palaces, wealth, and considerable worldly possessions to go forth and be ordained, because they developed a love for Dhamma after hearing the teachings of the Buddha. People who love their work are similar; they wish to perform and accomplish their work in the best possible way. They are not distracted by other alluring things or concerned about some form of reward; their mind is focused, concentrated, and stable, and they proceed in a steady, consistent way. Concentration arising from enthusiasm (chanda-samādhi) thus arises, accompanied by supportive effort (padhāna-saṅkhāra).

Energy (viriya)

Courage, bravery, effort, perseverance, pressing forward, fighting spirit; not getting discouraged or intimidated by obstacles and difficulties. When one recognizes something as valuable and worthy of attainment, if energy has been roused, even if one hears that this thing can only be achieved with extreme difficulty, the path to its fulfilment is fraught with obstacles, or it will require months or years to realize, one is not disheartened; rather, one sees victory and success in this task as a challenge.

There are many stories in the scriptures of renunciants at the Buddha’s time who belonged to other sects and who asked for ordination as a bhikkhu after gaining faith in the Buddha’s teachings. When they discovered that a candidate who has previously been ordained in another religious tradition must undergo a form of initiation or test (to live under ’probation’ – titthiya-parivāsa) for four months, they were not discouraged. On the contrary, some of them valiantly submitted themselves to this examination for four years146

People lacking energy may also want to achieve success, but when they hear that such success may take years to achieve, they are already exhausted and retreat; it is difficult for their spiritual practice to bear fruit and they tend to be restless and agitated. Energetic people possess a special force; whether they are working or engaged in Dhamma practice, their mind is unified and stable, intent upon the goal. There is concentration arising from energy (viriya-samādhi), accompanied by supportive effort.

Focused attention (citta)

The mind is absorbed in and focused on an object or an activity; it does not release the object of attention or become distracted. If one’s mind is intensely focused on something, one will pay no attention to anything else. If someone else mentions another subject one will take no interest in this discussion, but if one’s favoured subject is brought up one will immediately take a special interest. Occasionally one will be so immersed in an activity that one pays no attention to one’s physical needs and attire, loses track of time, and forgets to eat and sleep. Things may happen in one’s surrounding environment of which one is completely unaware. {799} This focused attention gives rise to concentration, which is called concentration arising from focused attention (citta-samādhi). The mind is established on an activity, possesses power to engage with it, and is accompanied by supportive effort.

Investigation (vimaṁsā)

The application of wisdom; contemplation, reasoning, and reflection; an examination of the imbalances, shortcomings, or defects of one’s actions; an ability to experiment and to search for ways to adjust and improve oneself. Here, wisdom guides concentration. Inquisitive people like to analyze and try things out. Their examinations are of this nature: ’What is the cause for this result?’ ’Why have things happened in this way?’ ’This factor has produced this result; if we remove this factor the result will differ; if we add this other factor instead things should unfold in this way; if they don’t happen as planned why is this so? – how can we adjust this?’

In Dhamma practice they reflect in the following manner: ’What is the meaning and purpose of this spiritual quality? On which occasions should it be applied? How is it connected to other qualities?’ ’My spiritual practice is not progressing; which spiritual faculties are too weak and which in excess?’ ’People in today’s age live under these conditions. Which spiritual qualities are they lacking? How can I instil these qualities in them? What aspects of these qualities should I emphasize?’

Such analysis and examination helps to compose the mind, which constantly keeps close track of the matter at hand. This leads to concentration, which is called concentration arising from investigation (vimaṁsā-samādhi). The mind is absorbed in that activity; it is strong; it does not wander or waver. This concentration is accompanied by supportive effort, similar to the other factors leading to success.

These four paths to success are mutually supportive and tend to arise in unison. For example, one may be very enthusiastic about something and be very energized; with such energy the mind is focused and one pays close attention; there is then the opportunity for wisdom to be used for investigation. The separation of these four factors aims to highlight in different situations which factor is prominent, acting as a catalyst for the others.

For example, several people may be listening to a Dhamma talk. One person likes to study the Dhamma and listens with delight in the truth; she wants to deepen her understanding of the Dhamma (or perhaps simply takes pleasure in that particular talk or she likes the speaker) and listens with one-pointed attention. Chanda is thus the predominant factor and induces concentration along with other virtues. Another person has a disposition, or simply has a conviction in that moment, that when facing a necessary task, one must fight and gain victory – one must confront the task and bring it to completion. He thus sees the subject matter of the talk as a challenge, as something that must be understood. In this case viriya is the prevailing factor. Another person has the disposition of being attentive and responsible; whatever she engages with she responds and pays attention to. She is thus determined to follow the presentation of the talk; in this case citta is the predominant factor. Finally, a fourth person wishes to examine whether the Dhamma being propounded is true or not, wholesome or not, or he looks at the logic of the presentation. While listening he investigates and his mind is one-pointed on the subject of the talk. In this case vimaṁsā is chief.

There are passages that refer to the four paths to success as the four governors (adhipati) or the four kinds of sovereignty (adhipateyya), and they describe the prominent or leading factor in specific circumstances.147 {800}

The gist of developing concentration in line with the four paths to success is to take one’s work, activity, or desired goal as the object of attention, and then to muster enthusiasm, energy, focused attention, or investigation as a primary support. This will give rise to strong concentration, which leads to both joy and success.

In Dhamma practice, in the act of studying, or while performing any other activity, when one wishes for concentration in order to accomplish the task, one should generate one of the four paths to success as a leading spiritual factor. Concentration, contentment, and success in one’s work can then be expected to arise naturally. Moreover, part of a person’s meditation and spiritual practice will take place in the classroom, at home, in the fields, at the office, and indeed everywhere.

For example, when a teacher teaches a subject of study, she makes herself a ’virtuous friend’ (kalyāṇamitta), by helping the pupils see the value of this branch of knowledge and by revealing how this knowledge may be beneficial to their lives, say as an aid to finding work in the future, as a way to move ahead in life, or as profitable in some other way (here she uses ambition as a means for generating enthusiasm). Or better than that, she points out the benefits for everyone, say as a way of helping all human beings (this is ’pure’ enthusiasm), until the pupils develop a love for learning because they want to gain this knowledge. This is a way of rousing chanda.

Alternatively, she may speak of this knowledge as something which tests a person’s awareness, discernment, and capability, stimulating an ardour for learning, or she discusses the accomplishments of others, producing a fighting spirit in the pupils. This is a way of rousing viriya.

She may stimulate a sense of responsibility in the pupils, so that they see the connection and importance of this knowledge to their lives and to society as a whole, say by pointing out issues of danger and safety. This way, although the students may not be particularly passionate about the subject of study, they will take an interest and give their undivided attention. This is a way of rousing citta.

She may teach using methods of inquiry, experimentation, or reasoning, say by posing questions or conundrums, which requires the pupils to apply investigation. Thus the pupils will study in a concentrated way. This is a method of applying vimaṁsā.

It is even better if the teacher is able to recognize the disposition of individual students and rouses the specific factor leading to success which is compatible with his or her disposition; or she may rouse several factors simultaneously. At the same time, students (or anyone else engaged in work) who are clever may apply wise reflection (yoniso-manasikāra) to rouse the paths to success by themselves.

On this subject of success, consider the following passages from the Pali Canon defining the term iddhi:

Iddhi as ’success’:

’Iddhi’ means success, fulfilment, special accomplishment, gain, to succeed, to succeed well, to accomplish, to attain, to realize, to bring a specific quality to completion. {801}

Vbh. 217.

Iddhi as ’spiritual power’ (’psychic power’; often as iddhi-pāṭihāriya):

Monks, what is spiritual power? Here, a monk in this Dhamma and Discipline performs various kinds of supernormal power: having been one, he becomes many; having been many, he becomes one; he appears and vanishes; he goes unhindered through a wall, through a rampart, through a mountain as if through space; he dives in and out of the earth as if it were water; he walks on water without sinking as if it were earth; he flies through the air like a bird; with his hand he touches and strokes the sun and the moon, so powerful and mighty; he exercises mastery with his body even as far as the Brahma world. This is called spiritual power.148

S. V. 276.

And what is the path to spiritual power (iddhipāda)? Whatever way, whatever practice, leads to gaining spiritual power, to realizing spiritual power, this way and practice is called the path to spiritual power.

And what is the development of the path to spiritual power? Here, a bhikkhu develops the path to spiritual power that consists of concentration due to desire and volitional formations of striving. He develops the path to spiritual power that consists of concentration due to energy … consists of concentration due to focused attention … consists of concentration due to investigation and volitional formations of striving. This is called the development of the path to spiritual power.

S. V. 276.

Monks, if a monk gains concentration, gains one-pointedness of mind based on enthusiasm, this is called concentration due to enthusiasm. He generates enthusiasm, makes an effort, arouses energy, sustains attention, and establishes the mind for the nonarising of unarisen evil unwholesome states. He generates enthusiasm … for the abandoning of arisen evil unwholesome states. He generates enthusiasm … for the arising of unarisen wholesome states. He generates enthusiasm … for the maintenance of arisen wholesome states, for their non-decay, increase, expansion, and fulfilment by development. These are called volitional formations of striving (padhāna-saṅkhāra). This enthusiasm, and this concentration due to enthusiasm, and these volitional formations of striving together are referred to as ’the path to success endowed with concentration due to enthusiasm combined with supportive effort.’

If a monk gains concentration, gains one-pointedness of mind based on energy, this is called concentration due to energy…. This energy, and this concentration due to energy, and these volitional formations of striving together are referred to as ’the path to success endowed with concentration due to energy combined with supportive effort.’

If a monk gains concentration, gains one-pointedness of mind based on focused attention, this is called concentration due to focused attention…. This focused attention, and this concentration due to focused attention, and these volitional formations of striving together are referred to as ’the path to success endowed with concentration due to focused attention combined with supportive effort.’

If a monk gains concentration, gains one-pointedness of mind based on investigation, this is called concentration due to investigation…. This investigation, and this concentration due to investigation, and these volitional formations of striving together are referred to as ’the path to success endowed with concentration due to investigation combined with supportive effort.’149 {802}

S. V. 268-9.

And what is the way leading to the development of the path to spiritual power? It is this Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view … right concentration. This is called the way leading to the development of the path to spiritual power.

S. V. 276.

Monks, these four paths to spiritual power, when developed and cultivated, lead to going beyond what is not the shore (i.e. what is not the goal) to what is the shore.

S. V. 254.

Standard Development of Concentration: Meditation Guided by Mindfulness

In many situations, say in formal study or while working, it is possible to develop concentration by applying the four factors leading to success (iddhipāda). Progress or accomplishment in such work or study is set as the goal of these four factors. Irrespective of whether one applies the factor of protection, removal, development, or preservation, one generates an accompanying ’power of striving’ (padhāna-saṅkhāra), which propels one towards this goal and supports the establishment of concentration.

But in everyday life, in which we experience passing sense impressions and engage with things that are either impassive or existing independently on their own, it is nearly impossible to establish the four factors leading to success, or for these factors to operate. In such situations, the basic quality of the mind required to prepare for or induce the arising of concentration is mindfulness (sati), because mindfulness draws and holds attention to sense impressions, those things a person engages with and those activities which must be performed. Mindfulness is the mind’s refuge. Once mindfulness has been established to a suitable degree, wholesome enthusiasm follows automatically.

There are two main methods for developing concentration that rely primarily on mindfulness:

  1. To train mindfulness for wisdom practice; to aim for the benefits ensuing from wisdom practice; to use mindfulness as the vanguard for wisdom; to coordinate mindfulness with wisdom, by having mindfulness seize specific sense impressions and submit them to wisdom for contemplation and understanding. In this method of practice, concentration is not emphasized, but is automatically developed as a by-product. Moreover, this concentration makes the application of wisdom more fruitful. This method comprises the main part of the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, which was described earlier in the section on right mindfulness, and it can be referred to as an everyday or universal meditation.

  2. To train mindfulness in order to generate pure concentration; to give an exclusive emphasis on deep concentration; to hold onto a sense object with mindfulness, so that attention on that object is steady and undeviating; to fix attention on an object continuously. This method of practice gives direct emphasis to concentration. Although wisdom may sometimes be used it is an accessory to the process, for example one may simply know that which is being observed, but one does not intend to penetrate the truth of that object. This method is the essence of the systematic development of concentration, discussed below. {803}

Systematic Development of Concentration

The systematic development of concentration here refers to meditation techniques that have been handed down in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, as recorded and explained in various commentarial texts, especially in the Visuddhimagga.150 These techniques are practised by Dhamma practitioners with earnestness and devotion, by aiming exclusively at ’pure’ concentration, within the confines of mundane levels of concentrative attainments.151 They are set down and classified as a gradual system of practice, beginning with preliminary preparations, followed by specific techniques of meditation (kammaṭṭhāna), progressive stages of training, and finally specific results of practice, including the concentrative attainments (jhāna-samāpatti) and the mundane higher psychic attainments (lokiya-abhiññā).

This systematic development of concentration presented in the commentaries begins with pure or faultless moral conduct. From here, the main stages of this system can be outlined as follows:

  1. To remove the ten obstructions or causes for anxiety (palibodha).

  2. To seek out a ’virtuous friend’, a teacher, who possesses the suitable attributes for bestowing a meditation technique.

  3. To take up one of the forty meditation techniques, suitable to one’s disposition.

    1. To go and stay in a monastery, quiet dwelling, or place of practice suitable for meditation.

    2. To completely eliminate trifling worries and concerns.

  4. The development of concentration (samādhi-bhāvanā): to practise in accord with this meditation technique.

When presenting the details of these five main stages, the commentators had monks in mind who make a serious, determined effort to practise meditation, perhaps for months or years. Laypeople or those who only intend to practise for a short period should select those aspects relevant to their circumstances.

Eliminating the Ten Impediments

The term palibodha refers to mental attachments or impediments, which cause anxiety and worry. This anxiety obstructs spiritual progress and makes it difficult for concentration to arise; therefore it should be dispelled. The scriptures mention ten kinds of palibodha:

  1. Dwelling or monastery (āvāsa): one has accumulated many personal belongings or one has unfinished business, which are a cause for worry. If one is not overly attached to these things, there is no problem.

  2. Family (kula): one’s family of intimate relatives or one’s ’family’ of supporters; if one is separated from these people one is concerned about them. One should come to terms with such separation and dispel the worry.

  3. Gain; acquisitions (lābha): one is worried, for example, about one’s many devoted and generous followers, and thus neglects to pursue one’s Dhamma practice. In such a case one should separate oneself from these people and seek solitude.

  4. Group (gaṇa): one is, for example, responsible for a group of disciples; one is preoccupied by teaching them and dispelling their doubts. In this case one should attend to any unfinished responsibilities or find someone to act as a replacement and go off on one’s own.

  5. Work (kamma), especially building work (navakamma). One should complete these projects oneself or appoint someone else to do so.

  6. Travelling (addhāna): to travel long distances for business matters, say in order to ordain monks and novices. One should complete these affairs so as to be free from worry. {804}

  7. Relatives (ñāti), both blood relatives and ’relatives’ in the monastery (e.g. one’s preceptor, teachers, and disciples). If these individuals are ill one ought to nurse them and try to restore them to good health, so that one is relieved of worry.

  8. Illness (ābādha): one is ill oneself; one should hasten to find a cure and regain good health. If the illness appears to be incurable one should muster an inner strength, by thinking: ’I am not willing to be a slave to this illness; I am determined to maintain my spiritual practice!’

  9. Scriptures (gantha): formal study (pariyatti); scholarly subjects. Such study is an obstacle for those who are anxious about securing knowledge, for example through frequent recitation. If there is no anxiety, such study is not a problem.

  10. Psychic powers (iddhi), which are a burden for an unawakened person to protect. They are an obstacle for someone who is developing insight, not for someone who is developing concentration and for whom such powers have not yet manifested.

Seeking a Virtuous Friend

When one has removed these obstacles and there are no lingering concerns in the mind, one should seek out a competent meditation teacher, who is endowed with virtuous qualities and devoted to helping others. Such a person is called a ’virtuous friend’ (kalyāṇamitta). He or she possesses the seven qualities of a virtuous friend:

  1. Endearing.

  2. Venerable.

  3. Inspiring.

  4. A skilful speaker.

  5. A patient listener.

  6. Able to describe profound subjects.

  7. Does not lead others to useless ends.152

Ideally, this virtuous friend should be the Buddha; if this is not possible, then he or she should be an arahant, an awakened being of a subordinate level, someone who has attained jhāna, one who has memorized the Tipiṭaka, or someone who is of great learning (bahussuta), respectively.

The commentaries claim that occasionally an unawakened person of great learning is able to teach more effectively than an arahant who is not of great learning. This is because such arahants are only skilled at the way of practice that they themselves have passed through and can only describe their own unique path. Moreover, some arahants are not skilled at teaching. Those people of great learning have done much research and have questioned many teachers; they are able to offer a comprehensive view of practice, are familiar with alternative methods of practice, and can make suggestions suitable to different individuals. Of course the optimum is to have an arahant of great learning. When one has found a ’virtuous friend’, one should approach him or her, perform the appropriate duties in relation to this person, and then ask for the opportunity to learn meditation.

Receiving a Meditation Technique Suitable to One’s Disposition

To begin with let us take a look at the meanings of the Pali terms kammaṭṭhāna (’meditation technique’) and cariya (’disposition’):

Kammaṭṭhāna literally means ’foundation for mental activity’ or ’that which facilitates mental activity’. Technically it means ’something used as an object for developing meditation’, ’means of training the mind’, or ’method for inducing concentration’. Simply speaking, it is a focus for the mind (i.e. a focus for mindfulness – sati). When the mind has such a focus it is seriously engaged but also tranquil; it does not run off out of control; it is not distracted or disturbed. The term kammaṭṭhāna refers to an object of attention inducing concentration, or to anything that is the focus of the mind and helps to establish one-pointedness in the quickest and most stable way.

The commentaries describe forty kinds of meditation techniques:

  1. Kasiṇa meditations: ’meditation objects inducing concentration’. This is a way of using external objects for unifying the mind. There are ten such objects:

    1. Four great elements (bhūta-kasiṇa): earth (paṭhavī), water (āpo), fire (tejo), and air (vāyo). {805}

    2. Four colours (vaṇṇa-kasiṇa): green (nīla), yellow (pīta), red (lohita), and white (odāta).

    3. Meditation on light (āloka) and meditation on space (ākāsa; paricchinnākāsa).153

    With these ten meditation objects it is possible to use either objects found naturally in nature or objects designed specifically for such an exercise; the latter is more common.

  2. Ten meditations on foulness (asubha): to contemplate a corpse in ten stages of decay, beginning with a bloated corpse and ending with a bare skeleton. (See Note Asubha Meditations)

  3. Ten recollections (anussati): virtuous objects of attention which should be frequently called to mind:154

    1. Recollection of the Buddha and the Buddha’s virtues (buddhānussati).

    2. Recollection of the Dhamma and the Dhamma’s virtues (dhammānussati).

    3. Recollection of the Sangha and the Sangha’s virtues (saṅghānussati).

    4. Recollection of virtuous conduct (sīlānussati): to reflect on one’s own pure moral conduct.

    5. Recollection of generosity (cāgānussati): to reflect on the gifts one has donated and to recognize one’s own virtuous qualities of generosity and renunciation.

    6. Recollection of divinity (devānussati): to reflect on divine beings (devatā) which one has encountered or about which one has heard, and to discern one’s own inherent virtues which lead to a celestial rebirth.

    7. Recollection on death (maraṇassati): to reflect on one’s own inescapable mortality; such reflection gives rise to heedfulness.

    8. Recollection of the body (kāyagatā-sati); mindfulness of the body: to reflect on the body and to see that it is comprised of various organs, notably the thirty-two parts, which are unclean, unattractive, and loathsome. This recollection leads to a knowledge of the true nature of the body and prevents infatuation with it.

    9. Mindfulness of in- and out-breathing (ānāpānasati).

    10. Recollection on peace (upasamānussati): recollection on Nibbāna; to reflect on the attributes of Nibbāna, as a state free from agitation, defilement, and suffering. {806}

  4. Four unbounded states of mind (appamaññā): the qualities to be radiated outwards towards all beings without exception, in an unlimited, immeasurable way. Most often these states are known as the four ’divine abidings’ (brahmavihāra; ’excellent abidings’, ’pure abidings’, ’qualities of person with an expansive, noble mind’):155

    1. Lovingkindness (mettā): well-wishing, friendliness, the desire for all beings to experience happiness.

    2. Compassion (karuṇā): the desire to help others be free from suffering.

    3. Sympathetic joy (muditā): a matching joy and delight when another person is well and happy, prosperous and successful.

    4. Equanimity (upekkhā): to make one’s mind steady, calm, and unbiased, like a set of scales; to discern how all people receive good and bad results according to relevant causes and conditions; to not be prejudiced by likes and dislikes.

  5. Perception of the loathsomeness of food (āhārepaṭikūla-saññā).156

  6. Analysis of the four elements (catudhātu-vavaṭṭhāna): to discern one’s own body as consisting solely of the four main elements: earth, water, fire, and air.157

  7. Four absorptions of the formless sphere (arūpa; āruppa): to take one of the formless states as one’s object of attention. This meditation is only possible for someone who practises one of the first nine kasiṇa meditations and who has achieved the fourth jhāna:158

    1. To focus on infinite space (ākāsānañcāyatana), which is achieved by withdrawing attention from the kasiṇa object.

    2. To focus on infinite consciousness (viññāṇañcāyatana); to stop paying attention to space and instead to pay attention to consciousness, which pervades space.

    3. To focus on the sphere of nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatana), by setting aside consciousness as the object of attention.

    4. To enter the state of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññānāsaññāyatana), by ceasing to focus even on the sphere of nothingness.

Occasionally, the aforementioned meditation techniques are classified into two groups:159

  1. Meditations applicable to all situations (sabbatthaka-kammaṭṭhāna; ’beneficial to all situations’): meditations which all people should practise regularly: that is, lovingkindness (mettā) and recollection on death (maraṇassati). Occasionally, the contemplation on foulness (asubha-saññā) is also included.

  2. Meditations requiring supervision (pārihāriya-kammaṭṭhāna): meditations suitable to an individual’s unique disposition; when one undertakes such a meditation technique, one needs to continually safeguard it so that it acts as the foundation for higher levels of spiritual practice. {807}

Asubha Meditations

In today’s day and age it is obviously difficult for people to practise these ten contemplations. In full, they are as follows:

  1. uddhumātaka (a bloated corpse);

  2. vinīlaka (a bluish, discoloured corpse);

  3. vipubbaka (a festering corpse);

  4. vicchiddaka (a corpse split into two);

  5. vikkhāyitaka (a corpse gnawed by animals);

  6. vikkhittaka (a severed and scattered corpse);

  7. hatavikkhittaka (a hacked and mangled corpse);

  8. lohitaka (a blood-stained corpse);

  9. puḷuvaka (a worm-infested corpse); and

  10. aṭṭhika (a skeleton).

In the Pali Canon these contemplations are classified as ’perceptions’ (saññā): Ps. I. 95; Dhs. 55.

In the Sutta Piṭaka only five (combined with other factors, e.g.: S. V. 131; A. I. 41-42; A. V. 106-107) or six (e.g.: D. III. 226; A. II. 16-17) of these contemplations are mentioned; the closest resemblance to these ten contemplations are the nine cemetery contemplations (nava-sīvathikā) in the teaching on the Foundations of Mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna) or in the teaching on mindfulness of the body (kāyagatā-sati) – e.g.: D. II. 295-6; M. I. 58; M. III. 91; A. III. 324.

The commentaries state that these forty meditation techniques are distinguished by how suitable they are for different individuals. People should select a technique appropriate to their character and inclination, referred to here as dis-position (cariya). If one chooses an appropriate technique, meditation practice will be swift and successful; if one chooses an inappropriate technique, practice may be slow and ineffective.

Cariya literally means ’ordinary behaviour’. It refers to a person’s normal temperament, underlying character, and proclivities. The term carita (’character’, ’demeanour’) is used in reference to a person who possesses such behaviour and temperament. A person whose behaviour is dictated by greed, for example, is labelled as having a ’greedy character’ (rāga-carita). There are six major character types:160

  1. Rāga-carita: people whose normal behaviour is governed by greed, whose temperament is predominantly greedy, who incline towards beauty and elegance. Such people should use the counter meditation on foulness – asubha – as well as recollection of the body – kāyagatā-sati.

  2. Dosa-carita: people whose normal behaviour is governed by anger, whose temperament is predominantly angry, who are acutely hot-headed and irritable. The appropriate meditation technique for such people is lovingkindness – mettā (and including the other three pure abidings – brahmavihāra). Also apt are the kasiṇa meditations, especially those using colours – vaṇṇa-kasiṇa.

  3. Moha-carita: people whose normal behaviour is governed by delusion, whose temperament is predominantly deluded, who are primarily influenced by ignorance, listlessness, confusion, and credulity. Such people believe whatever they are told by others. This tendency should be rectified through study, inquiry, listening to Dhamma, Dhamma discussion, or living with a teacher. A supportive meditation is mindfulness of breathing.

  4. Saddhā-carita: people whose normal behaviour is governed by faith, whose temperament is predominantly devout, who are primarily influenced by inspiration, delight, and devotion. Such people should be directed towards truly noble things and towards meaningful reflections, for example a recollection on the virtue of the Triple Gem and on their own moral rectitude. Also suitable are the first six of the ten recollections – anussati – see above.

  5. Buddhi-carita (or ñāṇa-carita): people whose normal behaviour is governed by knowledge, who are predominantly inclined towards contemplation and discernment of the truth. These people should be encouraged to engage in reflections on nature or on virtue which increase wisdom, for example to reflect on the Three Characteristics. Appropriate meditation techniques include recollection on death, recollection on peace, analysis of the four elements, and perception on the loathsomeness of food.

  6. Vitakka-carita: people whose normal behaviour is governed by thinking, who are predominantly inclined towards convoluted thinking and incoherent reasoning. This should be rectified by using methods, e.g. mindfulness of breathing (or the kasiṇa meditations), which restrain this tendency.

The behaviour of these different character types differs:

  • When those of a greedy character (rāga-carita) encounter something, their mind seizes onto its good or admirable qualities; they are impressed by these qualities and overlook any faults.

  • The mind of angry character types (dosa-carita), on the other hand, collides with any minor fault or deficiency, even if the object at hand possesses many good qualities; they get caught up in aversion before considering the merits of the object. {808}

  • Those whose character is governed by contemplation (buddhi-carita) are similar to angry character types in so far as they tend not to become infatuated with anything. Contemplative types look for faults that exist but are able to dismiss them; angry character types, however, look for faults or discredit an object, even if these faults are nonexistent, and turn away from the object with aversion.

  • Those of deluded character (moha-carita) see things with a lack of clarity and tend towards apathy; instead of understanding things for themselves, they follow the opinions of others.

  • Those governed by thinking (vitakka-carita) reflect in a desultory way: they first think of the merits of something, then think of the faults, but are confused and indecisive, not knowing which way to go.

  • Those with a devout character (saddhā-carita) are similar to greedy characters in so far as they tend to see the merits of an object, but having recognized these merits they rejoice in them rather than become infatuated like a greedy person.

In any case, people tend to possess a mixture of these character types, for example greed mixed with excessive thinking, or anger mixed with a contemplative streak. Besides choosing a meditation object that is appropriate to one’s character and disposition, the scriptures also encourage people to choose suitable and supportive conditions (sappāya) in regards to other things, like dwelling, climate, food, personal belongings, and resort.

Besides the factor of suitability in relation to various character types, the forty meditation techniques also differ in regard to results: they lead to different levels of concentration (see the diagram below).

In regard to taking up a meditation practice the commentaries suggest following a formal procedure. After the student approaches a teacher or ’virtuous friend’:

  • The student should make a declaration dedicating himself to the Buddha, in such a manner: ’Blessed One, I relinquish myself to you.’161 Or he surrenders himself to a teacher: ’Venerable teacher, I relinquish myself to you.’162 This self-surrender is a way of generating a sense of sincerity and determination in practice. It dispels anxiety, creates a feeling of warmth between teacher and pupil, and allows the teacher to assist in the best way possible. The student should establish the qualities of non-greed, non-hatred, non-delusion, renunciation, desire for solitude, and desire for liberation in the mind, as well as aspiring to concentration and to Nibbāna. At this point he should ask for a meditation technique.

  • If the teacher possesses the ability to read minds, he should use this power to determine the student’s disposition. If he does not have this ability he should make inquiries, for example: ’What sort of character are you?’ ’What are your predominant traits, emotions, and thought patterns?’ ’What sort of contemplations make you feel at ease?’ ’What meditation techniques do you incline towards?’ The teacher then selects a meditation technique suitable to the student’s disposition, explains how to begin meditating, how to sustain the focus, and how to develop the meditation, explains the nature of mental ’signs’ (nimitta), the various stages of concentration, and the way to protect and to empower concentration. (See Note Five Links of Meditation) {809}

Five Links of Meditation

In the section on the development of mindfulness of breathing, the commentaries mention five ’links’ (sandhi) of meditation: five factors or divisions of meditation that should be studied:

  1. uggaha: to study the systematic or scriptural principles of meditation;

  2. paripucchā: to make comprehensive inquiries about the purpose of meditation and to clear any unresolved doubts;

  3. upaṭṭhāna: to study how mental signs appear in meditation;

  4. appanā: to study how meditation leads to the unification of mind as found in states of jhāna;

  5. lakkhaṇa: to discern the nature of meditation, i.e. to know the attributes of a specific kind of meditation and to know how it is brought to completion.

Vism. 277-8; VismṬ.: Anussatikammaṭṭhānaniddesavaṇṇanā, Ānāpānassatikathāvaṇṇanā

Table Meditation Techniques and Character Types illustrates the relationship between these meditation techniques and character types, as well as showing the levels of concentration attainable by these techniques.163

Meditation Techniques and Character Types image

The commentaries offer many additional observations on these forty meditation techniques. Readers who are interested in these subtleties of practice should refer to the commentarial sources. {810}

Finding a Fixed Abode

To live in a monastery suitable for meditation practice. Ideally, one should live in the same monastery as one’s teacher, but if this is inconvenient one should find a residence that is suitable and supportive to meditation.

The commentaries mention eighteen unfavourable monasteries or dwellings, with the following features: it is large (a monastery in which monks have divergent interests and opinions, in which there are many troubles, and which is not peaceful); it is new (a monastery in which one gets caught up in building projects); it is dilapidated (it requires a lot of upkeep); it is next to a road (where there are many visitors); it has a stone-lined pond (where many people congregate); it contains plants with edible leaves; it contains flowering bushes; it contains fruit trees (in the case of these last three factors, people will likely be a disturbance, by say cutting flowers or asking for fruit); it is famous (e.g. people believe there is an exceptional monk residing here and will gather in large numbers); it is near a city; it is situated among timber trees; it is near arable fields (i.e. it is near where people work); the monastery contains incompatible, troublesome people; it is near a pier or transport station; it is in a remote area (where people have no faith in Buddhism); it is on the frontier (between two powerful nations; it may be dangerous); it has unsuitable features (it contains disturbances); it is absent of virtuous companions.

An appropriate monastery or dwelling contains five attributes: (1) it is neither too close nor too far; it is convenient to come and go; (2) during the day it is not crowded; during the night it is not noisy; (3) it is free of biting insects, intrusive creatures, and extreme weather conditions; (4) it is a place where one does not lack the four requisites; (5) there is an elder residing there who is well-versed in the Dhamma and is able to offer guidance.164

To dispel minor worries and concerns regarding one’s body and one’s everyday personal belongings; to not allow these things to disturb the mind. For example, one gives attention to shaving, clipping one’s nails, sewing and dying one’s robes, and keeping one’s lodging clean. {811}

General Practice of Meditation

In regard to practising a specific meditation technique, each technique has unique details and methods of practice. It is possible, however, to give a general outline for the development of concentration. One such outline found in the scriptures is the classification into three stages of training or development: initial development (parikamma-bhāvanā), access concentration development (upacāra-bhāvanā), and attainment concentration development (appanā-bhāvanā).165

Before describing these three stages of development, it is important to explain the Pali term nimitta. A nimitta is a mental sign used for concentration, or it is a mental image representing the object used in meditation. There are three such signs, classified in order of level of achievement (see the diagram above):

  1. Parikamma-nimitta: preparatory or initial sign. Any object that is used as the focus of meditation, for example: to gaze at a kasiṇa disc, to focus on the breath, or to reflect on the Buddha’s virtues and to recognize that some of these virtues exist in one’s own mind.166

  2. Uggaha-nimitta: a ’learning sign’; a sign taken up by the mind or impressed on the mind. This refers to the preparatory sign (parikamma-nimitta) – the meditation object – which has been focused or reflected on to the point of precise discernment, where a person develops a vivid mental impression of the object. For example, one focuses on a kasiṇa disc until this impression is imprinted in the mind and visible even with the eyes shut.

  3. Paṭibhāga-nimitta: a virtual, counterpart, or approximate sign. This image is similar to the ’learning sign’, but is more deeply impressed on the mind, to the point where it arises out of the perception (saññā) of the person in a state of concentration. It is pure (for example, free from any colour) and stainless, and the person is able to expand or contract any aspect of this image at will.

The first two kinds of nimitta are accessible through all meditation techniques, but the third kind (paṭibhāga-nimitta) is only accessible through the twenty-two techniques which have a material object as a focus, that is: the ten kasiṇa meditations, the ten meditations on foulness, recollection on the body, and mindfulness of breathing.

The term bhāvanā, meaning ’cultivation’, refers to practising a meditation technique or to developing concentration. The three stages of concentration development are as follows:

  1. Initial stage of development (parikamma-bhāvanā): to focus on and obtain a preliminary image of a meditation object; for example, one gazes at a kasiṇa disc, focuses on the in- and out-breathing at the tip of the nose, or reflects on the Buddha’s virtues inherent in oneself. Simply speaking, one focuses on the preparatory sign (parikamma-nimitta) – on the meditation object. When one sustains this focus to the point of gaining an accurate mental impression of the object, a ’learning sign’ (uggaha-nimitta) arises. The mind attains an initial stage of concentration, which is called ’preparatory concentration’ (parikamma-samādhi) or ’momentary concentration’ (khaṇika-samādhi).

  2. Access development (upacāra-bhāvanā): one relies on preparatory concentration to sustain one’s focus on the learning sign, until this sign becomes firmly established in the mind and there arises a counterpart sign (paṭibhāga-nimitta). The mental hindrances (nīvaraṇa) subside (with meditation techniques not focusing on a material object, there is no counterpart sign; one simply reflects on the meditation object and concentrates on it until the hindrances subside). The mind is established in access concentration (upacāra-samādhi). This is the highest stage of ’sense sphere concentration’ (kāmāvacara-samādhi).

  3. Attainment development (appanā-bhāvanā): one continually cultivates the counterpart sign while in access concentration, protecting it so that it does not fade or disappear, by avoiding unsuitable places, people, and food, and by associating with suitable things. (See Note Seven Supporting Conditions) One knows which methods help to generate attainment concentration, for example by sustaining one’s focus in an optimal way.167 In the end a person reaches attainment concentration (appanā-samādhi) and enters the first jhāna, which is the initial stage of ’fine-material concentration’ (rūpāvacara-samādhi). {812}

Seven Supporting Conditions

There are seven sappāya (suitable, favourable, and supportive conditions):

  1. dwelling (āvāsa);

  2. resort for finding food (gocara);

  3. speech (bhassa);

  4. person (puggala);

  5. food (bhojana);

  6. climate, environment (utu);

  7. and posture (iriyāpatha).

Asappāya are the (same) seven factors which are unsuitable and unfavourable (Vism. 127-8; VinA. II. 429; MA. IV. 161).

With many meditation techniques the object of meditation is extremely subtle. There is no material object to focus on or to contact physically and thus the image of this object does not become clear enough: the mind is unable to be concentrated and absorbed for long. Such techniques do not give rise to a counterpart sign and only lead to the level of access concentration. With techniques using a coarse meditation object, which can be seen clearly and physically contacted, on the other hand, the mind can be concentrated for a long period of time. These techniques give rise to a counterpart sign and lead to attainment concentration. An exception to this is the meditation on the four unbounded states of mind (appamaññā) – the divine abidings (brahmavihāra). This meditation does not use a distinct material object as a focus for attention, and thus does not give rise to a counterpart sign, but because sentient beings are the focus of attention, this meditation provides a clear enough image to lead to attainment concentration.168

With the attainment of the first jhāna, the next step is to develop proficiency in regard to the first jhāna,169 and to make effort in order to attain the other jhānas in turn, within the limits of attainment possible by each specific meditation technique. In this way a person realizes the appropriate fruits of tranquillity meditation (samatha).

Mindfulness of Breathing As an Example of Meditation Practice

Having described general principles of meditation practice, it seems appropriate now to give an example of how to develop a specific technique. Of the forty meditation techniques, the one chosen here is the meditation on in- and out-breathing (ānāpānasati).

Special Attributes of Mindfulness of Breathing

There are many reasons for choosing the meditation on breathing:

  • It is a very convenient method for developing concentration as it uses the breathing, which is a natural part of every person’s life. This meditation can be practised at any time and in any place; it is not necessary to prepare any meditation tools as is the case for kasiṇa meditation. It uses a material object (the breath) as its object of attention, which is adequately clear for the mind’s focus; the breath is not as subtle as those immaterial phenomena used in other meditation techniques which must be brought to mind by way of perception (saññā). This practice is also very simple and does not require an analysis of phenomena as is the case with say a meditation on the elements; all a person needs to do is be mindful and focus on the breath. Those people whose minds are tired from thinking a lot can practise mindfulness of breathing without difficulty.

  • A person derives benefits from this practice from the very start; one needs not wait until one achieves specific levels of concentration. The body becomes relaxed and rested, and the mind experiences progressively deeper levels of peace. Unskilful mental states are eliminated and skilful states are enhanced. {813}

  • This meditation is not detrimental to physical health, as confirmed by the Buddha’s own experience: When I dwelled frequently in this abiding [of concentration by mindfulness of breathing] my body was not fatigued, my eyes were not tired.170 This is unlike other meditation techniques which entail standing, walking, or gazing at a meditation object. On the contrary, meditation on breathing improves a person’s physical health, by providing the body with an opportunity to rest, and by balancing, regulating, and refining the entire system of breathing.

    Think of someone who is running or climbing a hill, or someone who is frightened or angry – his breathing will be more rapid than normal. Sometimes breathing through the nose is not enough and the person needs to breathe through the mouth as well. On the other hand, the breathing of someone whose body is relaxed and whose mind is at ease is more subtle and fine.

    Mindfulness of breathing calms the body and mind and gradually refines the breath, to the point were the breath becomes almost imperceptible. The body then is in a state of wellbeing and relies on a minimal amount of energy consumption. The body is refreshed, the aging process is slowed down, and a person is able to work more while at the same time requiring less rest.

  • It is one of only twelve types of meditation which result in the highest level of concentration – the fourth jhāna – and lead to the formless jhānas, up to the attainment of cessation (nirodha-samāpatti). Mindfulness of breathing is considered a cardinal and complete form of meditation; one does not need to worry about finding another technique to alternate or combine with it. This is confirmed by the Buddha:

Therefore, if a monk wishes: ’May I enter and dwell in the fourth jhāna’ … he should closely attend to this same concentration by mindfulness of breathing. If a monk wishes: ’May I completely transcend the base of nothingness, and enter and dwell in the base of neither-perception-nor-nonperception’…. ’May I completely transcend the base of neither-perception-nor-nonperception and enter and dwell in the cessation of perception and feeling’, he should closely attend to this same concentration by mindfulness of breathing.171

S. V. 318-19.

  • It can be used for both tranquillity meditation (samatha) and for insight meditation (vipassanā). One can practise mindfulness of breathing with the sole wish of reaching concentrative attainments, or one can use it as a basis for developing all four foundations of mindfulness. It fully enables a concentrated mind to be the ’field of practice’ for wisdom.172

  • It is a way of developing concentration highly praised by the Buddha, who often encouraged the monks to practise mindfulness of breathing. The Buddha himself often applied this practice as a mental abiding (vihāra-dhamma), both before and after his awakening:

Monks, this concentration by mindfulness of breathing when developed and cultivated, is peaceful and sublime, a refreshing, pleasant abiding, and it dispels and quells right on the spot evil unwholesome states whenever they arise. Just as in the last month of the hot season, when a mass of dust and dirt has swirled up, a great rain cloud out of season disperses it and quells it on the spot, so too concentration by mindfulness of breathing … dispels and quells on the spot evil unwholesome states whenever they arise. {814}

Vin. III. 70; S. V. 321-2.

Monks, speaking rightly, one should say that concentration by mindfulness of breathing is a noble abiding (ariya-vihāra), a divine abiding (brahma-vihāra), the Tathāgata’s abiding (tathāgata-vihāra). Those monks who are trainees, who have not attained the fruit of arahantship, who aspire to unsurpassed security and wellbeing (yogakkhema): for them concentration by mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated, leads to the destruction of the taints. Those monks who are arahants, whose taints are destroyed …: for them concentration by mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated, leads to a pleasant abiding in the present moment and to mindfulness and clear comprehension.173

S. V. 326.

Monks, it so happened that before my awakening, while I was still a bodhisatta, not yet fully enlightened, I frequently dwelled in this abiding [of concentration by mindfulness of breathing]. While I frequently dwelt in this abiding, neither my body nor my eyes became fatigued and my mind, by not clinging, was liberated from the taints. Therefore, monks, if a monk wishes: ’May neither my body nor my eyes become fatigued and may my mind, by not clinging, be liberated from the taints’, this same concentration by mindfulness of breathing should be closely attended to.174

S. V. 317.

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling in the Icchānaṅgala Wood near the town of Icchānaṅgala. There the Blessed One addressed the monks thus: ’Monks, I wish to go into seclusion for three months. I should not be approached by anyone except for the monk who brings me almsfood….’ Then, when those three months had passed, the Blessed One emerged from seclusion and addressed the monks thus: ’Monks, if wanderers of other sects ask you: ’In what abiding did the ascetic Gotama primarily dwell during the rains residence?’ – being asked thus, you should answer those wanderers thus: ’During the rains residence, friends, the Blessed One dwelt primarily in the concentration by mindfulness of breathing.’

S. V. 328.

Concentration by mindfulness of breathing, Ānanda, is key; when developed and cultivated, it fulfils the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, when developed and cultivated, fulfil the seven factors of enlightenment. The seven factors of enlightenment, when developed and cultivated, fulfil true knowledge and liberation. {815}

S. V. 329; M. III. 82.

Rāhula, when mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated in this way, even the final in-breaths and out-breaths are known as they cease, not unknown.175

M. I. 425-6.

Buddha’s Words Describing Mindfulness of Breathing

To begin with, here is the method of practising mindfulness of breathing as taught by the Buddha:

And how, bhikkhus, is mindfulness of breathing developed and cultivated so that it is of great fruit and benefit?

Here, a monk in this Dhamma and Discipline:

  • (a) Goes to the forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty hut.176

  • (b) Sits with legs folded crosswise, straightens his body, and establishes mindfulness in front of him. [That is, he makes effort in meditation and focuses on the breath.]

  • (c) Mindfully he breathes out, mindfully he breathes in.177

The first group of four factors can be used for developing the foundation of mindfulness regarding contemplation of the body (kāyānupassanā-satipaṭṭhāna):

  • 1. Breathing out long, he knows: ’I breathe out long.’
    Breathing in long, he knows: ’I breathe in long.’

  • 2. Breathing out short, he knows: ’I breathe out short.’
    Breathing in short, he knows: ’I breathe in short.’

  • 3. He trains thus:
    ’Being aware of the whole body, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Being aware of the whole body, I will breathe in.’

  • 4. He trains thus:
    ’Calming the bodily formation, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Calming the bodily formation, I will breathe in.’

The second group of four factors can be used for developing the foundation of mindfulness regarding contemplation of feelings (vedanānupassanā-satipaṭṭhāna):

  • 5. He trains thus:
    ’Clearly knowing delight, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Clearly knowing delight, I will breathe in.’

  • 6. He trains thus:
    ’Clearly knowing happiness, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Clearly knowing happiness, I will breathe in.’

  • 7. He trains thus:
    ’Clearly knowing the mental formation, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Clearly knowing the mental formation, I will breathe in.’

  • 8. He trains thus:
    ’Calming the mental formation, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Calming the mental formation, I will breathe in.’ {816}

The third group of four factors can be used for developing the foundation of mindfulness regarding contemplation of the mind (cittānupassanā-satipaṭṭhāna):

  • 9. He trains thus:
    ’Clearly knowing the mind, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Clearly knowing the mind, I will breathe in.’

  • 10. He trains thus:
    ’Gladdening the mind, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Gladdening the mind, I will breathe in.’

  • 11. He trains thus:
    ’Concentrating the mind, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Concentrating the mind, I will breathe in.’

  • 12. He trains thus:
    ’Liberating the mind, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Liberating the mind, I will breathe in.’

The fourth group of four factors can be used for developing the foundation of mindfulness regarding contemplation of mind objects (dhammānupassanā-satipaṭṭhāna):

  • 13. He trains thus:
    ’Contemplating impermanence, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Contemplating impermanence, I will breathe in.’

  • 14. He trains thus:
    ’Contemplating detachment, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Contemplating detachment, I will breathe in.’

  • 15. He trains thus:
    ’Contemplating cessation, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Contemplating cessation, I will breathe in.’

  • 16. He trains thus:
    ’Contemplating relinquishment, I will breathe out.’
    He trains thus:
    ’Contemplating relinquishment, I will breathe in.’ (See Note Further on Mindfulness of Breathing)

M. III. 82-3; S. V. 311-12.

Further on Mindfulness of Breathing

For passages explaining how to use mindfulness of breathing to further develop the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, see e.g.: M. III. 83-4; S. V. 323-5. The commentaries refer to this complete sequence of ānāpānasati as ’mindfulness of breathing meditation with sixteen factors’ (soḷasavatthuka-ānāpānasati-kammaṭṭhāna), dividing it into four tetrads, as seen above. See: Vism. 266-7.

Some scholars point out the difference between ānāpānasati and ways of training the breath as found in other doctrines, for example the yogic control of the breath called pranayama (prāṇayāma), showing that these are completely distinct.

In particular, ānāpānasati is a way of cultivating mindfulness, not a way of training the breath; the breath is merely an instrument for cultivating mindfulness. Some of the methods of controlling the breath fall under the practice of extreme asceticism, which the Buddha performed before his awakening and later renounced.

See: P. Vajirañāṇa Mahāthera, Buddhist Meditation in Theory and Practice (Colombo: M.D. Gunasena and Co., Ltd., 1962), p. 235-6; and Nyanaponika Thera, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation (London: Rider and Co., Ltd., 1962), p. 61.

Here, I will explain the practice in brief, limited to the development of tranquillity (samatha) within the first tetrad – the first group of four factors.178 {817}

Method of Practice in the Context of Tranquillity Meditation (Samatha)


  • Location: if one wishes to practise meditation in earnest one should first seek out a quiet and secluded place, which is free from loud noises and other disturbing sense impressions. (See Note Difficulty of Ānāpānasati) Finding such a supportive environment for practice is especially important for beginners of meditation. This is similar to someone who is learning how to swim – one will begin by using flotation devices and swim in still, non-turbulent water. If one faces unavoidable disturbances, however, or if one is engaged in a specific activity requiring a certain level of disruption, then one should do one’s best under the circumstances.

  • Sitting posture: the main principle here is to find a sitting posture affording the greatest degree of physical relaxation and ease. One should choose whichever posture leads to a minimum level of fatigue, even when sitting for long periods of time, and which allows the breathing to be smooth and comfortable. The sitting posture which countless meditation masters have verified to be the best is the lotus posture. This posture is very stable and balanced: the upper body is held erect and the ends of the eighteen vertebrae are aligned. Body tissues and tendons are not twisted and breathing is smooth. The body of a person skilled at this posture feels light and unburdened; he or she can remain in this position for exceptionally long periods without feeling discomfort. This is conducive to concentration; a person’s meditation does not falter but rather progresses steadily.

    The traditional way of explaining this posture is to place one’s ankles up against the lower abdomen. One can either overlap both legs (full lotus) or lift one’s right leg on top of one’s left leg (half lotus). One places one’s hands by one’s lower abdomen, with the right hand on top of the left, either touching the tips of one’s two thumbs together or touching one’s right index finger to the tip of one’s left thumb. Many of these details depend on the physical balance of individual people. It is to the advantage of beginners if they can train in this posture, but if it is too uncomfortable they can sit upright in a chair or choose another suitable posture. The teachings reiterate that if one is sitting with chronic tension and physical stress, then something is wrong, and one should rectify the situation before proceeding. In regards to meditating with one’s eyes open or closed, it depends on what gives a sense of ease and does not lead to distraction. If one keeps one’s eyes open, then one can look down at the ground or perhaps at the tip of one’s nose, depending on what feels comfortable. (See Note Posture for Ānāpānasati) {818}

When one is sitting at ease, before starting to meditate, many teachers recommend breathing in deeply and slowly, filling one’s lungs two or three times and generating a sense of inner spaciousness and clarity. Then one is ready to focus on the breath.

Difficulty of Ānāpānasati

The commentators consider ānāpānasati to be a hard and difficult practice. They add that ānāpānasati is the apex of meditation techniques, the exclusive meditative domain of Buddhas, Silent Buddhas, and ’sons of the Buddha’ (buddha-putta; bhikkhus or arahants) who are considered ’great men’ (mahāpurisa). It is not a trifling matter nor can inferior people develop it. If one does not leave noisy places it is very difficult to practise ānāpānasati because load noise is the adversary to jhāna. Moreover, formidable mindfulness and wisdom is required for advanced stages of this meditation. The commentators cite the Buddha’s words at M. III. 83-4 for corroboration: Bhikkhus, I do not recommend the meditation on breathing for those with addled mindfulness and a lack of clear comprehension (see: Vism. 268-9, 284). The commentators’ remarks on the distinction and difficulty of ānāpānasati, however, raise the question of why they also recommend this meditation for people possessing a delusion character (moha-carita).

Posture for Ānāpānasati

Ānāpānasati is the only meditation technique of all the different techniques mentioned in the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta in which there is a specific instruction on posture – on how to sit (see also: Kāyagatāsati Sutta – M. III. 88-99; Girimānanda Sutta – A. V. 108-12).

In relation to the other meditation techniques, the posture is determined suitable for the circumstances. If sitting is recommended, then this is because sitting is suitable for that activity, and when the specific posture of sitting cross-legged is deemed optimal for that practice then this posture becomes the accepted norm. This is the case say for kasiṇa meditation and lengthy reflections on mind objects.

It is similar to the activity of writing a book – generally speaking, sitting is more suited to this activity than standing or lying down. One should avoid the misunderstanding that sitting is somehow equivalent to developing concentration. In other words, the lotus posture is the best posture for maintaining good health and for engaging in meditation. When one needs to sit in order to perform an activity the Buddha recommended the lotus posture (this is also true for sitting in order to contemplate, rest, converse with others, or develop self-restraint; see, e.g.: M. II. 139-40; M. III. 238; A. II. 38; Ud. 21). Similarly, the Buddha recommended to lie down in the ’lion posture’, to lie down on the right side, or, when one is alone, to do walking meditation (caṅkamana: walking up and down).

Commencing Meditation on the Breath

The commentators present some additional meditation methods to supplement the Buddha’s instructions described above:

A. Counting (gaṇanā): when beginning to pay attention to the long and short in- and out-breaths, the commentators recommend counting the breaths as well, for this will help keep the mind focused. Counting is separated into two stages:

In the first stage one counts slowly and in a relaxed way. The recommended tactic or strategy here is to count to not less than five and to not more than ten, and to count the numbers in order. (If one counts to less than five the mind is agitated by the short interval of time; if one counts to more than ten the mind is anxious about counting rather than staying with the breath; and if one counts in a disconnected manner the mind gets confused.) One counts the in- and out-breaths in pairs: out-breath 1, in-breath 1, out-breath 2, in-breath 2, until one reaches 5-5. Then one begins again: 1-1, until one reaches 6-6, and begins again. One keeps adding another pair until one reaches 10-10, and then one returns to the original five pairs, in a repeated cycle:179

1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5

1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6

1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7

1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7, 8-8

1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, 9-9

1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, 10-10

1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5

etc. {819}

In the second stage one counts in quicker succession: when the in- and out-breaths are clearly evident (when attention rests with the breathing and does not get dispersed outwards) one ceases to count using the same number twice as described above and one begins to count single numbers. Here, one does not need to pay attention to the entire process of breathing – one focuses only on the breath as it reaches the tip of the nostrils. First, one counts from one to five, then from one to six, adding another number in each sequence until one reaches ten; then one returns to counting from one to five. Counting in this way, one’s meditation will be more connected, as if it has no gaps. One keeps one’s attention solely on the spot where the breath makes contact, either at the tip of the nostrils or at the upper lip (wherever there is a clear sensation).180 The counting can be illustrated thus:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

1, 2, 3, 4, 5


One counts in this way until one reaches a point where, although one has ceased counting, mindfulness is still firmly established on the breath. (Firmly established mindfulness is the objective of counting – to sever the stream of restless, incoherent thoughts.)

B. Taking note (anubandhanā): when attention is established on the breath, one stops counting and mindfully takes note of the breath in an uninterrupted stream. ’Taking note’ here does not mean following the breath with attention through its various stages of beginning, middle, and end: as it passes through the nose, travels through the upper chest, and reaches the navel, and then returns from the belly area to the chest and finally out through the nose. If one does this the body and mind will become agitated and the practice will be ineffective. The correct way to take note is to mindfully observe the breath at the point of contact (at the tip of the nostrils or at the upper lip).

It is similar to cutting a log with a long saw: one keeps attention fixed on the point where the teeth of the saw meet the wood and one thus witnesses the coming and going of the saw. One does not glance from one end of the saw to the other as it moves. Although one keeps attention only at the point of contact, one is fully aware of the complete motion of the saw and by these means one succeeds in the task. This is the same for a meditator: when one establishes attention at the point of breath’s contact, and refrains from following the complete circuit of the breath, one is fully aware of the cycle of breathing and one’s practice bears fruit. {820}

At this stage, some people will soon have a mental image (nimitta) arise and they will quickly reach attainment concentration. For others the process will be more gradual: from the time of counting the breath, the breath will become increasingly refined, the body will become exceptionally relaxed, and both the mind and body will feel light, as if one is floating in space. When a coarse level of breathing ceases, the person will retain a mental image of the refined breath as an object of attention. And even when this mental image fades away, new mental images of successively more refined levels of breath remain in the mind. This is similar to when a person strikes a bell or a gong with a rod and produces a loud noise: a long-lasting, reverberating sound remains as a mental impression or ’mental sign’ (nimitta). At first this ’sign’ is coarse, and then becomes gradually more faint.

At this point, however, a difficulty arises specific to the meditation on breath: unlike with other meditation techniques, in which the more one focuses the clearer the meditation object becomes, here, the more one develops this meditation the more refined the breath becomes, until the sensation of breathing completely disappears. There is thus no longer an object on which to focus. When this phenomenon occurs the commentaries advise against getting worried and breaking off the meditation, but rather to retrieve the breath. Retrieving the breath is not difficult. One need not go off in search of it; simply establishing mindfulness at the usual point of contact is enough. One reflects: ’The breath makes contact with the body here; soon it will reappear.’ By continuing this focus in an uninterrupted way a mental image will soon appear. (See Note Stages of Attention)

Mental images or signs (nimitta) appear differently for different people. Some people experience it as similar to cotton wool or kapok, others like a slightly rough cotton cloth or notched wood. Some say it is like a gentle breeze. For others it appears as a star, a jewel, a pearl, a necklace, a garland, smoke, a spiderweb, a cloud, a lotus, a disk, or even like the moon and sun. These differences exist because a nimitta arises from a person’s perception (saññā), which is different for each individual.

When a nimitta arises the meditator should first go and inform the teacher (as a way to verify the experience and to avoid misunderstanding), and then steadily establish attention on that image. With the arising of this counterpart sign (paṭibhāga-nimitta) the hindrances are quelled, mindfulness is strong, and the mind reaches access concentration. Here the meditator should try and protect this image (i.e. to protect the state of concentration), by avoiding the seven unsuitable conditions and engaging in the seven suitable conditions. (See Note Seven Supporting Conditions) He or she should meditate diligently in order to develop the image, by following the practices leading to attainment concentration (the ’ten skills for attainment’ – appanā-kosalla), for example by making consistent effort, until eventually attainment concentration is reached and the person achieves the first jhāna. (See Note Ten Skills for Absorption) {821}

Stages of Attention

According to the commentaries, this interval between taking note (anubandhanā) and the appearance of a nimitta contains two additional stages:

  1. phusanā (a focus on the point of breath’s contact at the tip of the nostrils by a meditator who is establishing the mind in attainment concentration); and

  2. ṭhapanā (a fixed attention on an object until the mind reaches attainment concentration).

’Pure’ ṭhapanā is specifically the subsequent stage of establishing attention on the nimitta, protecting the nimitta, and sustaining attention until one reaches attainment concentration. After attaining jhāna, if one then uses this meditation in order to develop insight, this is called the stage of sallakkhaṇā (reflection, specifically on the three characteristics). Eventually one reaches path (magga), which is referred to as ’turning away’ (vivaṭṭanā), and fruit (phala), which is referred to as ’purity’ (pārisuddhi, i.e. freedom from defilement). The final stage is ’review’ (paṭipassanā): to reflect upon the path and fruit that one has realized (this is the same as ’reflection’ – paccavekkhaṇa). Altogether there are eight stages of attention (beginning with gaṇanā and ending with paṭipassanā).

Ten Skills for Absorption

Trans.: the ten skills for meditative absorption are:

  1. cleanliness of body and utensils;

  2. harmonizing the five spiritual faculties (indriya);

  3. proficiency in the object of attention;

  4. controlling the exuberant mind;

  5. uplifting the depressed mind;

  6. making the ’dry’ mind pleasant;

  7. composure towards the balanced mind;

  8. avoiding persons who do not possess concentration;

  9. associating with persons who possess concentration; and

  10. having a mind that is always bent towards meditative absorption.

See the section General Practice of Meditation, above.

Appendix 1: Developing the Four Foundations of Mindfulness: a Life Free from Suffering

From one perspective, the life of a human being can be described as a struggle for survival, stability, and safety. From another perspective, however, each person searches for happiness and satisfaction. It is not only prosperous people who seek happiness; those people who struggle with all their might for survival do so as well. No matter if one looks at a long period of time, say of developing a career and engaging in various activities, or if one looks at brief intervals of time, say of momentary movements and actions, the search for happiness is always an inherent part of life. This is true even if one is occasionally faced by challenging matters of conscience or ethics.

In truth, the search for happiness over a long period of time extends from the search for happiness in each moment. In one’s own daily life, one must take an interest in finding a way to experience happiness in every moment; one’s search for happiness will thus be successful. If one is unable to experience happiness in every moment, the possibility of happiness in the long run will remain a vague hope. But if one is able to experience happiness in each moment one’s wish will immediately become fulfilled. And when external, surrounding conditions are favourable, one’s happiness will only increase.

The ordinary human process of seeking happiness, which is evident even in short-term or momentary periods of time, is such: desire arises (or is made to arise) and the person then acts in various ways to satisfy that desire. When there is gratification, the desire abates and the person experiences happiness. The more the desire is stimulated, the more intense is the gratification and pleasure. Happiness is thus the gratification of desire.

We can then ask the question: ’What is desire?’ This question need not be answered directly. What is clear is that when desire arises, there are two significant manifestations: first, is a sense of lack and deficiency, an absence of a desired object, either a true lack or one that is created in the mind. Second, is a feeling of agitation or suffering because one is hindered or one is pulled away from how things exist in that moment. One is unable to be at peace, and one must struggle to find a way to still the agitation.

Only when desire is gratified does one feel back to normal and does the agitation abate or stop. During this period of time one experiences happiness. But if the desire is not gratified one experiences a sense of loss, agitation, oppression, and affliction.

Suffering in fact begins with the onset of desire, because desire is accompanied by agitation. Thus, the ordinary search for happiness is equivalent to inducing suffering and then looking for a way to momentarily alleviate it: here, happiness is equivalent to the quenching of suffering. The more one induces the suffering, the greater the happiness when this suffering abates.

Generally speaking, the time that elapses during the onset of desire, the subsequent lack and agitation, and the period of unfulfilled gratification is long, whereas the time of gratification and alleviation is fleeting. The life of human beings, which is a mixture of pleasure and pain, is thus full of suffering and nourished by hope. {845} What is of graver concern is that there are many desires which remain unfulfilled and for which there is no hope of fulfilment. There is thus a chronic and deepening suffering. When people grow impatient or when they feel hopeless, many of them will struggle in every way possible. If their suffering is not alleviated, they often vent this suffering outwards, creating greater problems for themselves and others.

The matter does not end here. When people desire and act in order to fulfil this desire, they encounter obstacles, and in relation to others who have similar desires they face competition. A life of desire necessarily includes irritation, anger, resentment, persecution, oppression, and distress, and is beset by problems stemming from such anger and oppression. The greater and more frequently one desires, the greater and more frequent is one’s irritation and affliction. (Please note here that ’desire’ here refers to the desire of craving. If one possesses wholesome desire – chanda, obstacles may even turn out to be fun.)

Worse than this, when one habitually entrusts one’s happiness to desire and its gratification, later on, when one sees nothing worthy of desire or desirable objects lose their appeal, and one is not actively searching for gratification, one is left feeling bored, apathetic, and disillusioned. Life becomes insufferable and meaningless. This is another form of suffering, but one which is insipid and wearisome; it may even be more discomforting than the suffering of waiting for sensual gratification. When people take refuge in desire and in pleasurable objects, entrust their happiness to gratification of desires, and create elaborate ways to fulfil desire, their suffering thus becomes more refined and complex. Such is a course of life based on suffering.

There is an alternative way of life which is completely free from these problems mentioned above. Here, a person truly lives in the present moment. One is aware of and fully awake to the things presently experienced. One knows and understands those things which must be engaged with in the present moment, and one deals with them accordingly. This is a way of living with mindfulness and clear comprehension (sati-sampajañña), or with mindfulness and wisdom (sati-paññā), in line with the teaching on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness described earlier. Here, mindfulness keeps pace with the present moment; one lives in the present. A person who follows this way of life is truly alive. (Many people are not truly alive, because they either live in the past or in the future.)

When one lives fully in the moment, there is no sense of lack or deprivation and there is an absence of stress from the constrictions and strains of desire. One experiences sense impressions in a full and complete way, and thus there is satisfaction in each moment. One does not rely on the happiness resulting from temporary gratification of desire and the alleviation of suffering. No suffering arises which must be brought to an end; it is a life free from suffering – an inherent happiness existing at all times. From a life based on suffering, one lives a life based on an absence of suffering – a life based on happiness.

When one’s life is based on an absence of suffering, if one wishes to experience a form of happiness that is within the limits of one’s ability, one can enjoy this happiness to the fullest. Even if one occasionally seeks pleasure through the fulfilment of desire, this is not a problem, despite at that time there being a lack of gratification, because the latter happiness of non-suffering prevails and acts as a surety. Moreover, due to the absence of conditions giving rise to suffering and hindering the mind, such persons are ready to effectively solve problems externally, either those of an individual or of society, to the utmost of their ability.

Technically speaking, the material in the preceding paragraph is a definition for ’cessation (of suffering)’ – nirodha. A correct definition for this term is ’to bring about the state in which there is no suffering that must be extinguished’, that is, ’to bring about a freedom from suffering’. This term does not merely refer to eliminating already arisen suffering. This corresponds to the appendix in chapter 4, discussing the difficulties of translating this term. The meaning of nirodha in the early texts is the non-arising of suffering, not a cessation of already arisen suffering. {846}

Appendix 2: The Five Hindrances and the Seven Factors of Enlightenment

Each one of the hindrances and enlightenment factors are subdivided into two subsidiary factors, resulting in ten hindrances and fourteen enlightenment factors:181

Ten Hindrances

  1. Internal sensual desire (in reference to one’s own body).

  2. External sensual desire (in reference to someone else’s body).

  3. Internal ill-will (directed at oneself).

  4. External ill-will (directed at others).

  5. Despondency (thīna).

  6. Sluggishness (middha).

  7. Restlessness (uddhacca).

  8. Anxiety (kukkucca).

  9. Doubt concerning internal phenomena.

  10. Doubt concerning external phenomena.

Fourteen Enlightenment Factors

  1. Mindfulness of internal phenomena.

  2. Mindfulness of external phenomena.

  3. Investigation of internal phenomena.

  4. Investigation of external phenomena.

  5. Physical effort.

  6. Mental effort.

  7. Bliss accompanied by initial and sustained thought.

  8. Bliss unaccompanied by initial and sustained thought.

  9. Physical relaxation.

  10. Mental relaxation.

  11. Concentration accompanied by initial and sustained thought.

  12. Concentration unaccompanied by initial and sustained thought.

  13. Equanimity in relation to internal phenomena.

  14. Equanimity in relation to external phenomena.


Trans.: note that the term samādhi here is both a classifying term for this group of three factors – vāyāma, sati, and samādhi – as well as one of the factors contained in the group. It is thus important in this context to understand that samādhi as the classifying term has a much broader definition than ’concentration’ or ’formal meditation’, as it is normally understood. Here, the term encompasses the entire range of mental training, of mental balance, composure, awareness (including ’emotional awareness’), heedfulness, and one-pointed attention.


A. II. 15; also translated as ’right effort’, ’proper effort’, or ’perfect effort’.


A. II. 74.


See: A. II. 16.


Trans.: the six perceptions: perception of a skeleton, perception of a worm-eaten corpse, perception of a blue-black corpse, perception of a fissured corpse, and perception of a bloated corpse.


See: M. III. 72-5.


Trans.: note that one of the most common Pali terms denoting effort is viriya, which is a synonym for vāyāma and is often translated as ’energy’. For this reason I have used the terms ’energy’ and ’effort’ interchangeably, as suits the circumstances.


The five spiritual faculties: faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom.


Trans.: right mindfulness (sammā-sati) is the seventh factor of the Eightfold Path.


D. II. 312-3; M. I. 62; M. III. 251-2; Vbh. 105, 236.


Trans.: when the author was asked to elaborate on the difference between heedfulness (appamāda) and mindfulness (sati), especially in relation to concentration (samādhi) and wisdom (paññā), he stated the following: (1) heedfulness is technically a factor of concentration; (2) mindfulness lies at the heart of heedfulness; and (3) heedfulness supports the establishment of wisdom.


The meaning of sati is not the same as ’memory’, yet ’recollection’ or ’remembrance’, which is an expression of memory, is one aspect or one definition of sati used frequently in the scriptures, for example in the term buddhānussati (’recollection of the Buddha’). The true meaning of sati, however, is as defined above and is fairly adequately translated into English as ’mindfulness’.


See: Vism. 130, 162-3, 464; VbhA. 311; DA. III. 787 = MA. I. 291.


See also: Vbh. 193-207.


The five mental hindrances include: sensual desire (kāma-chanda); ill-will (byāpāda); low-spiritedness and drowsiness (thīna-middha; often translated as ’sloth and torpor’); restlessness and worry (uddhacca-kukkucca); and doubt (vicikicchā). For more information see the following section on right concentration.


Seven enlightenment factors: mindfulness (sati), investigation of truth (dhamma-vicaya), energy (viriya), bliss (pīti), tranquillity (passaddhi), concentration (samādhi), and equanimity (upekkhā).


The term ’body’ is changed to ’feelings’, ’mind’, and ’mind objects’, accordingly.


This is called ’insight concentration’ (vipassanā-samādhi), which is at a stage between ’momentary concentration’ (khaṇika-samādhi) and ’access concentration’ (upacāra-samādhi).


This corresponds to the teaching in the Mahācattārīsaka Sutta (M. III. 72-5). For passages equating ātāpī with sammā-vāyāma, see, e.g.: Vbh. 194-5.


E.g.: DA. III. 776; MA. I. 280; VbhA. 217, 268.


E.g.: Vbh. 197-8. There are passages in the Pali Canon describing knowledge of another person’s mind by way of telepathy (cetopariya-ñāṇa) which correspond to the teachings in the Foundations of Mindfulness (e.g.: D. I. 79-80).


See, e.g.: N. P. Jacobson, ’Buddhism: the Religion of Analysis’ (Carbondale, Illinois; Southern Illinois University Press, 1970; pp. 93-123).


One is not enslaved by craving (taṇhā) and wrong view (diṭṭhi).


Mindfulness arises together with wisdom and thus has strength; without wisdom mindfulness is weak (MA. III. 30; VbhA. 312). Wisdom without mindfulness does not exist (VismṬ.: Asubhakammaṭṭhānaniddesavaṇṇanā, Vinicchayakathāvaṇṇanā). A person without mindfulness is not able to use recollection (anupassanā; e.g.: DA. III. 758; SA. III. 180). The mention of sati always refers as well to paññā (e.g.: AA. III. 360, which is an explanation of A. III. 324-5; see the common explanation of the term satokārī, e.g.: Ps. I. 176-7; and see the reference at Vism. 271).


See also: S. V. 329; M. III. 82.


See, e.g.: Vbh. 250.


Sati is used to direct attention; paññā is used for reflection, analysis, and investigation (see: VismṬ.: Asubhakammaṭṭhānaniddesavaṇṇanā, Vinicchayakathāvaṇṇanā).


See chapter 15 on yoniso-manasikāra.


Compare this analogy with the passages at Miln.: Manasikāralakkhaṇapañho aṭṭhamo.


The commentarial analysis here states that the mind (citta) and mental concomitants (cetasika) are established on one object. For commentarial explanations of samādhi, see: Vism. 84-5; NdA. II. 388; PsA. I. 17. It is possible for samādhi, or one-pointedness (ekaggatā), to arise in an unwholesome mind (akusala-citta). For example, the teachings at Dhs. 75-87 describe how one-pointedness – the faculty of samādhi (samādhindriya) – and ’wrong concentration’ (micchā-samādhi) exist together in an unwholesome mind. The commentaries give examples for this, including: a person whose attention is one-pointed at the moment of cutting an animal’s throat, of stealing, and of seducing someone else’s wife. In any case, the one-pointedness of an unwholesome mind is weaker than that of a wholesome mind. It is like sprinkling water on a dry and dusty ground; the dust will disappear temporarily but before long it will return as before (see: DhsA. 144, 248, 251).


Here the body refers to the ’mind body’ (nāma-kāya).


The commentaries claim that here ’relinquishment’ refers to Nibbāna, i.e. one makes Nibbāna one’s object of awareness (SA. III. 234).


Note the alternative definitions in the commentaries for right concentration: yāthāva-samādhi – ’true concentration’ or ’concentration corresponding to truth’; niyyānika-samādhi – ’concentration leading out of the round (of saṁsāra)’, i.e. leading to liberation, to a freedom from suffering; and kusala-samādhi – ’wholesome concentration’. See, e.g.: DhsA. 144.


PsA. I. 125. Note that there are teachings in which the term samādhi is used to refer directly to vipassanā, especially in the teaching of the three kinds of concentration: ’emptiness concentration’ (suññata-samādhi), ’signless concentration’ (animitta-samādhi), and ’desireless concentration (appaṇihita-samādhi); see: D. III. 219-20; A. I. 299; Ps. I. 48-9; AA. II. 386; PsA. I. 102. This use of the term samādhi, however, should be considered as exceptional.


NdA. I. 129; PsA. I. 183; DhsA. 117; Vism. 144.


Vism. 86, 126-7, 137-8, 146-7; VinA. II. 428.


VismṬ.: Brahmavihāraniddesavaṇṇanā, Pakiṇṇakakathāvaṇṇanā and Abhiññāniddesavaṇṇanā, Dibbasotadhātukathāvaṇṇanā.


Vism. 323, 404.


Presumably, this sutta is one of the sources for the classification of the five jhānas as described in the Abhidhamma.


The second and third paragraphs of this sutta passage occur elsewhere, e.g.: M. I. 21-22. The word samādahati (’to firmly establish’ or ’to concentrate’ the mind) can also mean to ’compose the mind’, ’collect the mind’, or ’put the mind in order’. This definition gives the impression of movement or activity, as if translating the word as: ’functioning in a composed, steady, and consistent way’, like a concentrated person who balances on a tightrope. The word asāraddho (’untroubled’) can also be translated as ’free from stress’.


E.g.: PsA. I. 125.


Upakkilesa: mental impurity, corruption, or defilement.


’Causing lack of knowledge’ = ’causing ignorance’.


The description of the five hindrances with abhijjhā as the first factor tends to occur in passages immediately followed by a description of the attainment of jhāna, e.g.: D. I. 71, 207; D. III. 48-9; M. I. 181; M. III. 134; A. II. 210-11; A. III. 92-3; A. V. 206-7; Vbh. 244-5. Teachings on the five hindrances with kāma-chanda as the first factor tend to be on their own, and list the five factors by name without describing their attributes, e.g.: D. I. 246; D. III. 234, 278; M. I. 144; S. V. 60, 97; A. III. 64; Vbh. 378. See the explanation of the six hindrances (with the addition of ignorance – avijjā), e.g.: Dhs. 204-205; Vism. 146. Abhijjhā = kāma-chanda, at e.g.: PsA. I. 176. Abhijjhā = lobha, at e.g.: Dhs. 190.


The commentaries interpret body (kāya) here as the ’mental body’, i.e. the collection of mental concomitants (cetasika); see: DhsA. 377.


These eight factors in Pali are: 1. samāhita; 2. parisuddha; 3. pariyodāta; 4. anaṅgaṇa; 5. vigatūpakkilesa; 6. mudubhūta; 7. kammanīya; 8. ṭhita āneñjappatta. There are many sources for these terms, including: D. I. 76-7; M. I. 22; A. I. 164-5. For the commentarial enumeration of these qualities, see: Nd. II. 357; Vism. 376-8; VismṬ.: Iddhividhaniddesavaṇṇanā, Abhiññākathāvaṇṇanā; see also: A. IV. 421.


Trans.: it appears that this is a reverse analogy, that is, the fast, flowing river is compared to a mind of wisdom, and the opening of channels dispersing the current is compared to the five hindrances.


Here, there are five similes that are opposite to those mentioned above. ’Does not become clear to the mind’ means a person forgets or is unable to remember. There is another sutta passage (A. I. 9) comparing a mind that is not cloudy and unsettled with a clear reservoir, in which one can see the pebbles and stones, the shells and the fish, and comparing a mind that is cloudy to a murky reservoir.


The effort to cleanse the mind of the hindrances is one of the objectives of the practice of wakefulness (jāgariyānuyoga); see: A. I. 113-14; VismṬ.: Āruppaniddesavaṇṇanā, Nevasaññānāsaññāyatanakathāvaṇṇanā, referring to: M. I. 346-7.


See: DhsA. 118; Vism. 464; VismṬ.: Kammaṭṭhānaggahaṇaniddesavaṇṇanā and VismṬ.: Khandhaniddesavaṇṇanā, Saṅkhārakkhandhakathāvaṇṇanā.


Goal = attha; knowledge and vision of the truth = yathābhūta-ñāṇadassana.


E.g.: D. II. 98-9; S. I. 27-9; S. V. 152-3.


S. I. 5.


The relationship between the mind and the body can be divided into three stages, corresponding to spiritual development: on a rudimentary level there is both physical and mental suffering; physical symptoms impinge on the mind – when the body is unwell the mind also becomes unwell, increasing the sense of ’dis-ease’. On an intermediate level physical suffering remains confined to the body; a person is able to limit the impact physical illness has on the mind – one recognizes and accepts the level of discomfort, without allowing the suffering to intensify. On a higher level, the mind at ease helps to allay physical suffering; when the body is unwell, apart from not creating mental suffering, a person is able to use the strength and goodness of the mind to assist in healing the body.


M. I. 398; S. IV. 225.


The remaining four are: psychic powers (iddhividhā), ’divine ear’ (dibbasota), telepathy (cetopariyañāṇa), and recollection of past lives (pubbenivāsānussati).


See the commentarial explanations at: DA. III. 1006; AA. III. 84; MA. II. 232; see also: A. I. 43; A. III. 323.


Vism. 371-72.


M. I. 40-41. The ’noble ones’ discipline’ (vinaya) = the method or mode of the awakened ones.


Trans.: sekha: a person ’in training’; a person who has reached one of the first three stages of awakening: stream-entry, once-returning, or non-returning.


S. III. 13.


A. I. 258.


Vbh. 424. Brahma’s retinue: Brahmapārisajjā.


Ps. I. 99-100.


See: A. V. 202; M. I. 104-107; M. III. 59.


Consider, for example, the disciplinary rules dealing with the relationship between the bhikkhus and the laypeople in regards to earning one’s living, and the rules obliging all monks to participate in formal acts of the sangha concerning community administration and activities.


Consider the story of Ven. Devadatta and the accounts of the ascetics before the Buddha’s time.


Psychic powers are an obstacle (palibodha) of insight: Vism. 97.


Trans.: for more on this subject see chapter 9 on the supernatural and the divine.


E.g.: M. I. 34; M. III. 13-14. Note the stories in later texts of hermits and ascetics before the Buddha’s time who were exceptionally skilled at jhāna and who used jhāna as a form of enjoyment (kīḷā). The term jhāna-kīḷā is used in this context, meaning jhāna as a form of play or as a source of enjoyment during the free time of an ascetic (e.g.: Ap. 18; AA. I. 304; DhA. IV. 55; JA. II. 55, 139, 272, 379, [4/282]). There are occasional references to Pacceka Buddhas (SA. II. 190; AA. I. 173) and to Buddhist disciples who have not yet realized arahantship engaging in jhāna-kīḷā (DhA. III. 427; SnA. I. 15), but I have never encountered a reference to the Buddha or to the arahants engaging in jhāna-kīḷā. This observation can be used to distinguish what is the desirable way of life in Buddhism, and to distinguish the suitable ways of practice for people at different stages of spiritual development.


See: S. V. 325-6.


These are referred to as jhāna-pañcakanaya, as opposed to the original group of four, which is referred to as jhāna-catukkanaya. The original reference to these five is found at Dhs. 42-3, 236; in the context of later texts, see the classification of four or five jhānas at: Vism. 89; Comp.: Cittaparicchedo, Rūpāvacaracittaṁ.


Trans.: the author uses the English translation: ’cessation of ideation and feeling’.


I.e. it is volatile, changeable, and perishable: Ps. II 40-41.


This term is used frequently in the commentaries, e.g.: DA. II. 426; MA. IV. 167; SA. III. 209; Vism. 410. Compare the term vikkhambhana-nirodha used in the Tipiṭaka (Ps. II. 220).


See the section in chapter 8 titled ’Liberation of Mind and Liberation by Wisdom’.


See: Vism. 373-435.


See: S. V. 45, 63, 78, 143, 246.


E.g.: S. V. 91, 101. (These references are only in relation to the enlightenment factors – bojjhaṅga; for other contexts, see earlier references.)


E.g.: sīla → absence of remorse (avippaṭisāra) → joy (pāmojja) → delight (pīti) → tranquillity (passaddhi) → happiness (sukha) → concentration (samādhi); see: A. V. 1-3.


Vism. 85. There are many passages in the Pali Canon acting as a source for this claim. See the passage cited in the preceding footnote on developing concentration according to a natural process.


E.g.: A. V. 1-3.


S. V. 414.


The term ’jhāna’ here can refer to a focus on any object of attention (ārammaṇūpanijjhāna) or to a meditation on the three characteristics (lakkhaṇūpanijjhāna).


Vism. 85; NdA. II. 388; PsA. I. 17; DhsA. 118. The Paṭisambhidāmagga states that avikkhepa (non-distraction; non-disturbance) is the purpose (attha) of concentration and right concentration (e.g.: Ps. I. 21, 30, 73-4).


See: Vism. 141-69; VinA. I. 144-56; PsA. I. 181-93; DhsA. 114-18. In the Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha – Comp.: Samuccayaparicchedo, Missakasaṅgaho – seven jhāna factors are mentioned, by substituting sukha with the two factors of mental happiness (somanassa) and mental displeasure (domanassa).


The commentaries define five kinds of pīti: (1) minor bliss (khuddakā-pīti): enough to make one’s hair stand on end and for one to shed tears; (2) momentary bliss (khaṇikā-pīti): one experiences momentary flashes of rapture, like flashes of lightning; (3) periodic or surging bliss (okkantikā-pīti): one feels pulses of rapture in the body, like waves washing against the shore; (4) transportive bliss (ubbeṅgā-pīti): one feels a strong sense of exhilaration, causing one to behave or act in spontaneous ways, say by uttering verses, or to feel as if one is floating; (5) all-pervasive bliss (pharaṇā-pīti): to experience rapture and exhilaration throughout one’s whole body (Vism. 143-4).


See: M. III. 25-8.


Vism. 162-3, 167-8.


Vism. 141. For the original source of the Abhidhamma explanation of the four jhānas, the five jhānas, and the various jhāna factors, see: Vbh. 263-8.


See: S. V. 196-201. There are no direct teachings by the Buddha on the specific functions of the five faculties; such direct teachings are found at Vism. 129-30, which are a synopsis of the canonical passages at e.g.: Ps. I. 16, 180; Ps. II. 21-2.


Trans.: on the four factors of stream-entry see chapter 7 on awakened beings.


See: A. II. 149-52.


A. II. 155-6.


See: S. V. 200-205. See also Ps. II. 48-57 on the subject of ’paths to deliverance’ (vimokkha-mukha) and on how the faculties determine the level of awakened beings.


See: Ps. II. 2, 21-2.


This teaching is given in connection to the enlightenment factors (bojjhaṅga): S. V. 114-5.


S. V. 218.


This subject of balancing the spiritual faculties is discussed at: Vism. 129-30. I suspect that this material is based on the Buddha’s exhortation to be aware of the evenness of the faculties at: Vin. I. 182-3 and A. III. 375.


The term bodhipakkhiya-dhamma here refers to the five spiritual faculties. There are many other similar analogies, for example the footprint of an elephant is greater than that of any other land animal, red sandalwood is the greatest of all fragrant heartwoods, the Jambolan tree is the greatest of all trees in India, the pārichattaka tree is the greatest of all trees in Tāvatiṁsa heaven, the trumpet-flower tree is the greatest of all trees among the asuras, and the koṭasimbalī tree is chief among the supaṇṇas (see: S. V. 231-2, 237-9). The Maṅgalatthadīpanī offers this eloquent description of wisdom’s importance: Indeed, of all factors conducive to the realization of Nibbāna, wisdom is supreme. All remaining factors comprise wisdom’s retinue [Mang. 1/152].


S. V. 72, 83.


See: Vism. 678; SA. III. 138.


See: S. V. 91-128; Vbh. 199-201.


At S. V. 97 the clause ’are not corruptions of the mind’ is changed to ’do not overwhelm the mind’.


Trans.: for more information on the five hindrances and the seven factors of enlightenment, see Appendix 2.


I.e. mindfulness as found in the general practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (see: M. III. 85; S. V. 331).


S. V. 67-8.


MA. IV. 142 and SA. III. 274 provide a broad definition, stating that dhamma-vicaya is profound knowledge (ñāṇa) which accompanies mindfulness.


S. V. 102-107.


Subha-nimitta = those things one considers to be beautiful. When one encounters something, the mind seizes upon pleasing signs and features; one creates a pleasant perception or mental image of this object.


Paṭigha-nimitta = those things one considers to be annoying and offensive. When one encounters something, the mind seizes upon displeasing signs and features; one creates a negative perception or mental image of this object.


Cetovimutti = things that liberate the mind, making the mind spacious and free from distress. Usually in the context of ill-will this refers to lovingkindness (mettā), but one can effectively apply any of the other unbounded states of mind (appamaññā).


SA. III. 154.


The following material is derived from: Vism. 133-5 and VbhA. 275-88.


To make things clean and bright: to keep one’s hair and nails trim, to wash one’s body, to wash one’s clothes so that they are clean and free from odour, to keep one’s dwelling tidy, etc.


The word saṁvega here means a cause for reconsideration or a catalyst for bringing about a sense of urgency in regard to performing virtuous deeds. This corresponds to the term samuttejana, which means ’rousing a sense of valour’, opposite to apathy (see: Vism. 657-8).


S. V. 67-9. The commentaries claim that the seven factors of enlightenment here exist in a single mind moment (VbhA. 313).


He normally said this after describing the meditation on in- and out-breathing (see: M. III. 82; S. V. 329, 334).


S. V. 95-6.


S. V. 130-34.


See: Vism. 133-4.


D. III. 226; A. II. 16-17.


D. III. 106.


A. I. 52-3.


M. I. 11.


A. II. 237.


D. II. 78-9; A. IV. 23.


Similar passages are found at M. III. 72 and A. IV. 40. A specific reference to the requisites of concentration is found at D. III. 252. At M. I. 301 there is a reference to the most immediate requisite of concentration, i.e. right effort. The Nettipakaraṇa classifies a relaxed and easeful body, or non-agitation, as a requisite for concentration [Nett. 125]. The expression ’suitable for action’ comes from the Pali pahoti, which can also be translated as ’is thus correct’.


This collective term catumagga, specifying the number of stages, is first used in the commentaries and it usually appears as a compound with other terms. See: SA. I. 206; SA. II. 384; SnA. I. 6; PsA. I. 171; Vism. 688-9. It is paired with the term catuphala – the ’four fruits’.


As far as I can discern this term is only used once in this context in the Pali Canon, at Nd. I. 132. It is used more often in the commentaries, e.g.: NdA. I. 66; VbhA. 310. Occasionally, the term dhamma-sāmaggī is confused with the term magga-samaṅgī, which means someone who is fully endowed with one of the four stages of the noble path (see, e.g.: Pug. 72). At M. III. 9 the term dhamma-sāmaggī is used, but with another meaning.


MA. I. 83; KhA. 84.


For the first explanation of the Path factors and other spiritual qualities arising simultaneously in the instant of the Path and in a single mind moment, see: Ps. II. 82-5; and see commentarial explanations at: Vism. 509-10, 680-81; VbhA. 121, 320.


The thirty-seven enlightenment factors: the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four roads to success, the five spiritual faculties, the five spiritual powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, and the eightfold path. For the classification of these factors into the Path, see: Vism. 511-12; VbhA. 88.


A. II. 149-52, 154-5; D. III. 106, 229; A. V. 63; Vbh. 331-2. In the Aṅguttara Nikāya it states that Ven. Sāriputta followed the way of sukhā paṭipadā khippābhiññā, while Ven. Mahā Moggallāna followed the way of dukkhā paṭipadā khippābhiññā. Note that the Visuddhimagga (Vism. 688) describes Mahā Moggallāna’s practice in a way that is inconsistent with the explanation in the Pali Canon.


There are identical passages dealing with the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, the mind, and associated factors. The final passages concerning those things that should be fully understood, abandoned, etc., by direct knowledge also occur at: S. V. 51-53; A. II. 247.


Similar passages are found at A. IV. 338-9, 385-6; the latter passage begins with the conditioning basis for intentions and thoughts, which is described as mind and matter (nāma-rūpa). On the term chanda-mūlakā, cf.: M. III. 16; S. III. 100-101.


See: Vism. 130 (in reference to: Vin. I. 182-3; A. III. 375).


Trans.: Āḷāra Kālāma: one of the teachers under which Siddhattha Gotama trained after his great renunciation.


D. II. 130-131.


A. I. 77.


The recollection of goodness or of one’s virtuous deeds, e.g.: Vin. I. 293-4; M. I. 37-8; A. III. 284-5; A. V. 328-9. Reflection on a specific teaching and subsequent insight, e.g.: D. III. 241-2, 288; A. III. 21; Ps. I. 86. Recognition of one’s moral impeccability, e.g.: D. I. 73-4, 249-50; M. I. 283. Concentration as a fruit of virtuous conduct, e.g.: S. IV. 78-9, 353; A. V. 312-13; as a fruit of heedfulness: S. V. 398; as part of the practice conforming to the seven factors of enlightenment, e.g.: M. III. 85; S. V. 67-9; Vbh. 227; resulting from an inspiring mental image (nimitta), e.g.: S. V. 156.


The section in parentheses reveals the source of gladness in this circumstance; in other circumstances other sources are mentioned. The section outside of the parentheses is the standard passage.


E.g.: S. V. 268; referred to at: Vism. 88-9.


See Chapter 10 on desire.


Although I have no solid scientific evidence for this, I have made an observation that people from Southeast Asia are rather lax when it comes to chanda. Westerners on the contrary appear to have a great deal of chanda, but it is regretful that they use this enthusiasm and resolve as a fuel for craving; Westerners thus tend to achieve greater success in many areas, but they also tend to create more serious problems.


See the stories of: Acelakassapa (D. I. 176-7; S. II. 21); Subhadda-paribbājaka (D. II. 152-3); Acelaseniya (M. I. 391-2); Vacchagotta-paribbājaka (M. I. 493-4); and Māgaṇḍiya-paribbājaka (M. I. 512-3). The origin story to this rule is found at: V. I. 69.


Dhs. 56-7; Vbh. 288.


The Paṭisambhidāmagga mentions ten types of spiritual power. The spiritual power mentioned here by the Buddha comprises the first of these ten. The tenth type in this list refers to success resulting from a proper engagement with a particular activity, and the final example of this tenth type of power is the utter abandonment of mental defilement through the path of arahantship (Ps. II. 205-214). The Visuddhimagga explains iddhi especially in terms of psychic powers (Vism. 385-406), but it also offers some alternative definitions, for example: the success resulting from a specific trade or profession, even from ploughing and sowing, is an example of the tenth type of iddhi mentioned above (Vism. 383-4). We can thus conclude that the paths to success can be applied in the context of all human activities. [Trans.: for more on the subject of psychic powers see chapter 9 on the supernatural and the divine.]


The Abhidhamma presents a slightly different definition for chanda-samādhi, e.g.: A monk makes enthusiasm predominant; thus his mind is concentrated and one-pointed. This is called concentration due to enthusiasm (see: Vbh. 216-26).


Vism. 84-435; some of these techniques are referred to at, e.g.: VinA. II. 414.


Transcendent concentration is concentration linked to the ’noble path’ and is referred to as ’Path concentration’ (magga-samādhi). The development of transcendent concentration is part of wisdom development; when a person develops wisdom, Path concentration is developed simultaneously; therefore, it need not be distinguished as a separate factor (Vism. 89).


See Chapter 13 on virtuous friendship.


These ten kasiṇa meditations are mentioned in the Visuddhimagga. Note that in the Pali Canon there is no mention of āloka-kasiṇa; instead, as the tenth factor there is a meditation on consciousness (viññāṇa-kasiṇa), and ākāsa-kasiṇa is mentioned as the ninth factor (e.g.: D. III. 268, 290; M. II. 14-15; A. I. 41-42; A. V. 46, 60-61; Ps. I. 95).


These ten recollections are found as a group in the Pali Canon at: A. I. 30, 41-2; Nd. I. 6-7, 9-10, 491-92; Ps. I. 95; individually, they can be found in many other locations. The two factors which often occur individually or as a part of another group in the Pali Canon are kāyagatā-sati and most notably ānāpānasati, which is the most prominent of the ten.


The four appamaññā occur very frequently in the Pali Canon, e.g.: D. I. 250-51; D. III. 223-4. These qualities are referred to as the four brahmavihāra at, e.g.: D. II. 195-6; M. II. 82.


In the Sutta Piṭaka this reflection accompanies the five meditations on foulness (asubha) contained in the group of ten perceptions (saññā): e.g.: A. I. 41-42.


This reflection is sometimes abbreviated to ’analysis of the elements’ (dhātu-vavaṭṭhāna), ’reflection on the elements’ (dhātu-manasikāra), or ’meditation on the elements’ (dhātu-kammaṭṭhāna); it occurs at D. II. 294; M. I. 57-8 (i.e. it occurs in the context of the foundation of mindfulness in regard to the body – kāyānupassanā-satipaṭṭhāna).


In the Pali Canon, see, e.g.: D. III. 224; S. IV. 266. The Visuddhimagga explains that in regard to nevasaññānāsaññāyatana, a person in fact focuses on ākiñcaññāyatana as the object of attention; he does so not in order to enter the state of ākiñcaññāyatana, but rather to pass it over (see: Vism. 335, 337-8).


Vism. 97; VinA. II. 416; SnA. I. 53. The Visuddhimagga states that some groups of teachers also classify the perception of foulness (asubha-saññā) as sabbatthaka-kammaṭṭhāna.


The original sources from the Pali Canon exist at: Nd. I. 359-60, 453; Nd. II. 42. The original order in the Pali Canon is as follows: rāga-carita, dosa-carita, moha-carita, vitakka-carita, saddhā-carita, and ñāṇa-carita. The passages in parentheses are added material from the commentaries. For more detail, see: Vism. 101-110.


Imāhaṁ bhagavā attabhāvaṁ tumhākaṁ pariccajāmi. This can also be translated as: ’I offer my life….’


Imāhaṁ bhante attabhāvaṁ tumhākaṁ pariccajāmi. This can also be translated as: ’I offer my life….’


In reference to kasiṇa meditation, the commentaries say that using a small kasiṇa disc is suitable for a thinking character, while a large disc (of unrestricted size) is suitable for a delusion character. They also warn that one should not be rigid about these matching techniques for various character types; generally speaking, every one of these meditation techniques is useful for restraining unwholesome qualities and supporting virtuous qualities (see: Vism. 114-15).


See: A. V. 15-16. The Pali Canon describes the attributes of a Dhamma practitioner who is able to realize liberation of mind in a short period of time as possessing the following five qualities: (1) faith in the Tathāgata’s wisdom and awakening; (2) good health; few illnesses; a good metabolism (balanced fire element); (3) he is candid with the Teacher (the Buddha) and with his companions in the holy life; he is not deceptive; (4) earnest perseverance; and (5) wisdom which penetrates the nature of the defilements.


On the three stages of development and on the three kinds of mental images (nimitta), see: Comp.: Kammaṭṭhānaparicchedo, Gocarabhedo.


Trans.: the Buddha’s virtues (buddha-guṇa) here refer to: wisdom (paññā), purity (visuddhi), and compassion (karuṇā).


These methods are referred to as the ten skills in absorption (appanā-kosalla); Vism. 128-37.


The commentaries explain that although the meditation on the four unbounded states of mind does not generate a counterpart sign, as occurs for example in the case of kasiṇa meditation, it has ’breaking down of barriers’ (sīma-sambheda; the way in which unconditional lovingkindness, for example, is utterly free of discrimination and spreads love towards all living creatures) as its mental image (nimitta), which is developed to the stage of attainment concentration (see: Vism. 307).


In this context, there are five kinds of proficiency (vasī): (1) proficiency in reflecting on the state of jhāna one has exited from (āvajjana-vasī); (2) proficiency in entering a state of jhāna immediately – anytime, anywhere – at will (samāpajjana-vasī); (3) proficiency in determination (adhiṭṭhāna-vasī): to be able to establish the mind and stay in jhāna for as long as one wishes, preventing the mind of jhāna (jhāna-citta) from falling into a state of subliminal consciousness (bhavaṅga); (4) proficiency in exiting jhāna (vuṭṭhāna-vasī): to be able to exit jhāna at a predetermined time or whenever one wishes; (5) proficiency in reviewing jhāna (paccavekkhaṇa-vasī): this is the same as āvajjana-vasī, applied on subsequent occasions. See: Ps. I. 99-100. Cited and explained at: Vism. 154; PsA. I. 316; CompṬ.: Manodvāravīthi, Javananiyamavaṇṇanā and Kammaṭṭhānaparicchedavaṇṇanā, Gocarabhedavaṇṇanā. The commentators state that one should gain full proficiency in regard to a specific level of jhāna before developing subsequent states of jhāna; otherwise, one may fall away from both states of jhāna already attained and those yet to be attained. On this subject of proficiency the commentators refer to A. IV. 418.


S. V. 317.


Trans.: the cessation of perception and feeling (saññāvedayita-nirodha) = nirodha-samāpatti. See the diagram illustrating the limits of concentrative accomplishments, above. Note that according to the commentators, ānāpānasati is not able to lead to the formless jhānas, for they claim that the formless jhānas are dependent on kasiṇa meditation (e.g.: Vism. 324-5).


Ānāpānasati as one aspect of kāyānupassanā-satipaṭṭhāna: D. II. 291; M. I. 56. A description in the Ānāpānasati Sutta of a way of practice incorporating all four foundations of mindfulness: M. III. 83-4; S. V. 323-40. Other descriptions of the core of practising the sixteen stages of ānāpānasati: Vin. III. 70; M. I. 425; S. V. 311-23; A. V. 111-12. A detailed explanation exists at Ps. I. 162-96. Ānāpānasati also occurs frequently in lists of recollections (anussati) and elsewhere.


Note that the term ’divine abiding’ (brahma-vihāra) does not always refer to lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity (the exclusive term for that group of virtues is appamaññā).


According to the scriptures, when Prince Siddhattha as a young boy attained the first jhāna while sitting under the Jambolan tree during the king’s ploughing ceremony, this concentrative attainment resulted from his focusing on the breath (see: M. I. 246; MA. II. 290; JA. I. 58).


The Visuddhimagga explains that at the time of dying a person is able to know the final in- and out-breath, from beginning to end, along with the passing away (cuti) of the citta. It also says that only some monks who attain arahantship by developing other forms of meditation are able to determine the length of their lifespan, while those who attain arahantship by developing the complete sequence of ānāpānasati are able to determine their lifespan (they are able to determine how much longer they will live and to determine their time of death); see: Vism. 292.


’Empty hut’ is translated from suññāgāra. The Visuddhimagga interprets this term as ’empty place’ (a place void of any buildings), i.e. the seven kinds of dwellings apart from a forest and the foot of a tree (see: Vism. 270).


The Vinaya commentaries translate assāsa as ’exhalation’ and passāsa as ’inhalation’. The Sutta commentaries, however, translate these terms in an opposite way: assāsa as ’inhalation’ and passāsa as ’exhalation’ (see: Vism. 271). Here, the preferred translation in Thailand is presented, in accord with the Vinaya commentaries. Those who prefer the Sutta commentary interpretation should make the switch themselves.


The opinion of the commentaries is that beginners of meditation should only practise the first tetrad – the four factors of the first group; the subsequent tetrads can be practised when one has attained jhāna. Furthermore, the first three tetrads can be used for both tranquillity and insight meditations; the fourth tetrad, however, can only be used for insight meditation. See: Vism. 275-6, 290.


The passage explaining this method of counting in the Visuddhimagga is too brief, which has led to divergent interpretations. The explanations in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and the West tend to vary. For simplicity sake I have illustrated the way that is taught in Thailand. (It does not matter whether one begins with the in- or the out-breath – whichever one is more clear is acceptable.) In order to show the original system, I have described the way of practice as found in the Visuddhimagga. Practitioners can modify this system as they wish, similar to how modern meditation centres teach the mantra buddho or use other methods besides counting to keep attention on the breath (the essential factor is to find a skilful means for keeping the mind focused).


The commentators say that for those people with long noses the breath is more evident at the tip of the nostrils; for those with short noses it is more evident at the upper lip. They also say that if one follows the breath as it enters the body one will experience a stifled feeling in the chest, while if one follows the breath outwards one will get distracted by various other sense impressions.


S. V. 110-11.