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January 18, 2011 / sujato

A Brief History of Mindfulness

I’ve been revising my second book, A History of Mindfulness, and I’m kinda amazed that anyone actually read it. It’s hard going. For those with better things to do than wade through oceans of textual references, here’s the sankhittena version. (For non-Pali geeks, that means the short version!)

The word sati, which we translate ‘mindfulness’, means ‘memory’, and was originally used by Brahmans in the sense of memorized Vedic scriptures. To effectively recall large bodies of text, you get into a zone of clarity and presence, free of distractions. This was one of the influences in developing what we today call ‘meditation’.

The Buddha adopted this Brahmanical usage, and used sati to for both ‘memory’ (of texts) and ‘presence of mind’ in meditation.

Modern teachings on mindfulness are almost exclusively derived from a peculiar 20th century interpretation of one text, the Pali
Satipatthana Sutta. This doctrine, the vipassanavada, says that satipatthana is a practice of ‘dry insight’, where the meditator, without previous practice of tranquility meditation, is ‘mindful’ of the changing phenomena of experience. This alone is sufficient to realize enlightenment.

When we carefully consider the range of teachings found in early Buddhist texts on mindfulness, it becomes clear that this doctrine does not hold up.

There are seven versions of the Satipatthana Sutta material, as well as hundreds of other texts on mindfulness. Relying on all these, not just one, we come to the following picture of mindfulness in early Buddhism.

While sati is used in many contexts, the most important is the four satipatthanas, or ‘establishments of mindfulness’. These are ‘right mindfulness’, the seventh factor of the eightfold path. The purpose of satipatthana is to gain the eighth factor, right samadhi or the four jhanas.

The word satipatthana is a compound of sati and upatthana, meaning to ‘set up’ or ‘establish’. It is the focussing and presence of awareness on an object; in other words, it basically means ‘meditation’.

Satipatthana is the ‘contemplation’ (anupassana) of body, feelings, mind, and principles (dhammas). ‘Anupassana’ means ‘sustained watching’. It is an awareness that stays on one thing and doesn’t jump from object to object. For this reason satipatthana is said to be the ‘way to convergence’, ekayana magga.

The main practice of satipatthana is breath meditation, anapanasati. One focusses on the breath, keeping awareness there, continually ‘remembering’ the breath. As the physical breath becomes tranquil, one moves from body contemplation to the awareness of the subtle feelings of bliss and rapture that arise in the breath. The mind becomes purified. Finally one reflects on how the whole process is impermanent and conditioned; this is contemplation of dhammas (‘principles’).

There are many other types of meditation that can be classified as satipatthana, but all of them follow a similar course.

The Pali Satipatthana Sutta includes a number of sections that are not shared with other texts on satipatthana, and which are later additions.

One of the additions is the inclusion of the awareness of postures and daily activities among its meditation exercizes. The awareness of postures is, in every other text, part of the preparation for meditation, not a kind of meditation itself.

Another late addition to the Pali Satipatthana Sutta is a ‘refrain’ following each meditation, which says one practices contemplating ‘rise and fall’. This is a vipassana practice, which originally belonged to only the final of the four satipatthanas, contemplation of dhammas.

The contemplation of dhammas has also undergone large scale expansion. The original text included just the five hindrances and the seven awakening factors. The five aggregates, six sense media, and four noble truths were added later.

Each version of the Satipatthana Sutta is based on a shared ancestor, which has been expanded in different ways by the schools. This process continued for several centuries following the Buddha’s death. Of the texts we have today, the closest to the ancestral version is that contained in the Pali Abhidhamma Vibhanga, if we leave aside the Abhidhammic elaborations.

Tracing the development of texts on satipatthana in later Buddhism, there is a gradual tendency to emphasize the vipassana aspect at the expense of the samatha side. This happened across various schools, although there is some variation from text to text, and perhaps some differences in sectarian emphasis. This led to various contradictions and problems in interpretation.

Nevertheless, in all schools and periods we also find presentations of satipatthana that hark back to the original meaning. For example, the great Yogacara teacher Asanga defined mindfulness as ‘the sustained awareness of the previously experienced object’.

By considering mindfulness in its historical conext, by including all relevant texts, and by understanding the historical evolution of the schools, we arrive at a richer, more nuanced, and more realistic understanding of mindfulness. This not only helps us appreciate our tradition better, it gives a more useful, balanced, and authentic framework for practice.

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61 Comments

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  1. linda / Jan 19 2011 4:15 am

    Dear Bhante,

    Thanks for this succinct summary. I loved your first version of A History of Mindfulness. What are you revising? I hope you aren’t taking out too much!

    • sujato / Jan 19 2011 7:39 am

      Not too much, just trimming a little fat…

  2. Kevin Knox / Jan 19 2011 4:22 am

    Thank you so much Bhante. The book may be slow going but is very much worth it; this distillation of the essence is equally valuable. Your work stands alone in clarifying the abundant confusion about what mindfulness actually is an the path of meditation the Buddha actually taught.

    • sujato / Jan 19 2011 7:40 am

      And thank you, Kevin, i hope it was useful for meditation as well as theory.

      • Wtp / Jan 19 2011 8:46 am

        I’ve read it twice! Found the school names and their various associated texts hard to keep track of. An appendix summarising these would be great. Much easier to understand after listening to the associated sutta talk (listened to that 4 or 5 times).

        The key things I got out of it was that the Abidhamma version of the suttta is probably the oldest and closest to the original, and that a lot of extra teachings have been added to the sutta particularly the expansion of the dhammas section to include the noble trutths and the addition of the reflection on impermanence to each section – which has created an emphasis on panna in a text that was originally about meditative practice. And that samma sati is a sitting down meditative (samatha) practice that leads on to jhana.

        I still am a little uncertain about

      • Wtp / Jan 19 2011 8:59 am

        ….still a little uncertain as to the relationship between sati in the context of daily life (such as the four postures, coming and going, eating etc) and satipatthana.

      • Kanchana / Jan 19 2011 12:51 pm

        Yes, I wouldn’t mind a bit more infor on this aspect…

        Bhante, can your book be accessed electronically?

      • iMeditation / Jan 21 2011 4:50 am

        Dear wtp,

        The Kayagata-sati Sutta ( MN 119) The Discourse about mindfulness related to the body, the Buddha also mentioned both Mindfulness at all time while moving in daily life and Mindfulness In Sitting Meditation ( Mindfulness settles into Concentration/ Jhana ), Higher Knowledges, and the ten benefits of this practice:

        “Bhikkhus, and how is mindfulness related to the body developed, how is it pursued, so as to be of great fruit & brings great benefit?

        -Mindfulness At All Time While Moving in Daily Life

        “Furthermore, when walking, the bhikkhu knows, ‘I am walking.’ When standing, he knows, ‘I am standing.’ When sitting, he knows, ‘I am sitting.’ When lying down, he knows, ‘I am lying down.’ Or however his body is disposed, that is how he knows it. For the one who is living heedful, ardent, and resolute in this way ,whatever rushing thoughts related to the household life are given up, and with their abandoning the mind gathers and settles down, becomes one-pointed, and concentrated. Like this, monks, does a monk develop mindfulness related to the body.
        “Furthermore, when going forward & returning, he makes himself fully alert; when looking toward & looking away… when bending & stretching… when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe & his bowl… when eating, drinking, chewing, & savoring… when urinating & defecating… when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, & remaining silent, he makes himself fully alert. For the one who is living heedful, ardent, and resolute in this way ,whatever rushing thoughts related to the household life are given up, and with their abandoning the mind gathers and settles down, becomes one-pointed, and concentrated. Like this, monks, does a monk develop mindfulness related to the body.

        -Mindfulness In Sitting Meditation :

        Mindfulness Settles into Concentration
        Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu having gone into the forest, or to the foot of a tree, or to an empty place, sits legs crossed, holding the body straight, securely maintaining mindfulness. Ever mindful, that bhikkhu breathes in; ever mindful, he breathes out.”
        1. “Breathing in long, knows, ‘I breathe in long’; or breathing out long, knows, ‘I breathe out long’.
        2. “Breathing in short, knows, ‘I breathe in short’;  or breathing out short, knows, ‘I breathe out short’.
        3. Trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body’( Sabba kaya) ; trains thus, ‘I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body ( Sabba kaya)’;
        4. “trains thus, ‘I shall breathe in calming the bodily-formation ( kaya sankhara ) ;’ trains thus, ‘I shall breathe out calming the bodily formations’
        When he abides heedful, ardent, & resolute in this way, any rushing thoughts related to the household life fade, and with their abandoning the mind gathers & settles down, becomes one-pointed, and concentrated. Like this, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu develop mindfulness related to the body.

        -The Four Jhanas

        - Opening to the Higher Knowledges

        - Benefits of practicing mindfulness related to the body in this way.

  3. Mark / Jan 19 2011 12:26 pm

    I’ve read it twice…It clarified my views on meditation and my understanding of the Dhamma,a wonderful book, the latest edition of A Swift Pair of Messengers is too…read that on the Xmas holidays in bed with the flu…please keep writing Bhante.

  4. Chromatics / Jan 20 2011 1:33 pm

    Hi Bhante – thanks for your summary!

    I have read various parts of History of Mindfulness but haven’t read it cover to cover – but what I was interested in here is what the implications of this are for practice, particularly for a non-monastic who doesn’t have a regular one-on-one with a teacher. At The Good Life you once said that if you only did 20 minutes of meditation a day then saying ‘coca cola, coca cola, coca cola’ to yourself would be a fine meditation technique :) but what if, say, you were practising for three or for six hours a day, as some of us sometimes can? Would it be better to divide this between, say, samatha concentration (say on the breath), vipassana investigation, and metta? In what proportions? Or would it be better to develop one technique before using another?

    I know that there aren’t really one-size-fits-all answers to these types of questions, and that the desire for a nice end-of-questions program is in itself somewhat problematic & probably a result of a desire for shortcuts and greed for ‘progress,’ but nonetheless, as meditators we inevitably use advice from ‘the professionals’ as a guide to what we actually do – and particularly for those of us who try to work from the original texts and from excellent and insightful scholarship on them such as your own! (and particularly also, of course, when conclusions are controversial and stand in contrast to a lot of received wisdom).

    Thanks again!

    Rowan (Chromatics)

    • sujato / Jan 21 2011 7:18 am

      Hi Rowan,

      Well, I would suggest for most people to concentrate mainly on samatha practices such as breath or metta, and do as much vipassana as supports the samatha. But as you gain experience, learn to trust your intuition as to what is the best way to practice right now.

  5. iMeditation / Jan 20 2011 3:24 pm

    Brahmanical usage of ” sati” is to mean ‘memory’ . It is similar sarati , “to remember” ( one of its meaning). It doesn’t refer to being aware while moving, reclining, standing, etc…the way teachers of mindfulness generally use the term ” sati” . When speaking of mindfulness , Buddhist teachers usually refer to being aware while moving,standing, reclining,sitting..It is not uncommon for the Buddha to use common terms and gives it an uncommon / new meaning. Later on , that new meaning takes root and become the commonly known meaning for that term. Although Brahmanical usage of the term ‘ sati’ is to mean ‘memory’ that doesn’t mean that we can only use that term to mean memory only.

    For example, the term nirvana was commonly used to mean “the going out of a lamp or fire in Vedic period. Since the Buddha uses fire as a metaphor for the three root defilement: the fire of passion/ raga, the fire of aversion/dosa, the fire of delusion/moha, nirvana is the term he used to refer to enlightenment. The dying out in the heart of the threefold fire (rāga, dosa & moha) is a Buddhist meaning for the term nirvana.

    Ajahn Sujato wrote: “The Pali Satipatthana Sutta includes a number of sections that are not shared with other texts on satipatthana, and which are later additions. One of the additions is the inclusion of the awareness of postures and daily activities among its meditation exercizes. ”

    I would say that awareness/ mindfulness of standing, reclining,walking, sitting should be applied throughout the day. When it comes to sitting meditation, a person can start with mindfulness but doesn’t have to stop there. It should settle into concentration when awareness is not jumping from one object to another, or one thought to another. This is a difference between mindfulness in daily life and concentration.

  6. iMeditation / Jan 21 2011 4:40 am

    A little bit off topic about word usage:
    The Buddha suggested that his disciples use the same language that people of a certain location use to teach them dhamma instead of using terms or language that they are not familiar with. For this reason, many terms he used to explain the concepts in dhamma are the terms that people are familiar with in their every day living, except that he uses these terms as a simile to explain a concept that people are not familiar with.
    Those who assert that the Buddha is part of Brahminism often say that the word ‘nirvana ‘ already exist, or that the term ‘karma’ already exist. But does that mean that the Buddha derived the concept of karma or nirvana from there instead of through direct knowledge . Closer examination would show that people in the time of the Buddha uses oil lamp for lighting, ‘ nirvana ‘ simply mean points to the going out of the lamp or fire . It was not used in connection with enlightenment. The Buddha used this word as a simile for enlightenment because points to the fact that one has to put out the fire of passion, aversion, and delusion ( the three root defilements: raga, dose, and mho) in enlightenment. Now both disciples of the Buddha and other traditions thinks about enlightenment when hearing the word ‘nirvana’. Before the Buddha’s use of this word as a simile, it was just putting out the fire of a lamp and nothing more. The association of the word ‘nirvana’ with enlightenment came from the Buddha. The concept of ‘nirvana’ did not exist before that.
    The word ‘karma’ was used to refer to actions perform during a ritual in pre-existing culture rather than cause and effects of words, thoughts, and action in daily life. The concept of karma as he taught it came during the night of enlightenment. However, this new meaning of the term karma takes root among disciples of the Buddha and other traditions. After a while, people don’t know where it came from, some claim that the concept of karma came from Brahminism simply because the word existed before the Buddha. In fact, the common meaning as we understand ‘karma’ today ( cause and effect of words , thought, and action) came from the Buddha. When the Buddha uses a common word to explain a concept that people are not familiar with or using it as a simile to associate it with a certain concept, it doesn’t mean that he derived his concept from there.

    • Peter Durham / Jan 21 2011 5:38 am

      So it is your opinion that there was no concept of cause and effect or enlightenment before the time of the Buddha?

    • sujato / Jan 21 2011 7:32 am

      Hi iMeditation,

      I agree with you about word usage in general, but not quite in specifics. Karma is used in many ways, not just for ritual – although this is indeed a crucially imporatnt meaning – and is used in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, before the Buddha, in its familiar Buddhist sense. As for Nirvana, it is used in Jainism, and I wouldn’t be confident that the Buddha was the first to use it in a spiritual sense – although, of course, this does not mean that he used it in the same spiritual sense as others.

      It’s an interesting topic, so I’ll continue it in a new post.

      • iMeditation / Jan 21 2011 9:49 am

        Dear Ajahn Sujato,

        Ajahn Sujato wrote :” Karma is used in many ways, not just for ritual – although this is indeed a crucially imporatnt meaning – and is used in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

        We can’t say for sure that this is a pre-buddhist text. It is also possible that it is was written after the Buddha and is a result of Buddhist influence as well. Edward Crangle found that none of the Vedas before the time of the Buddha give any indication of the doctrine of karma. Richard Gombrich also indicated that Buddhist teachings carry a different meaning than pre-Buddhist conception of karma. If the Brahmins believed that karma is a result taken in daily life, then we should see more emphasis on observing purity in conduct . Why is mass slaughtering of animals offered in sacrifice encouraged on a regular basis. According to Sir Charles Eliot there is little emphasis on moral conduct in its conception. It doesn’t fit in with the whole picture when claiming that this concept already existed in Brahminism before that. Either way, the direct experience of cause and effects of words, thoughts,and actions was realized during the Buddha’s night of enlightenment. It is rather unsubstantial to simply say that the word ‘karma’ existed, therefore the Buddha’s concept of karma is the same and that’s where he got it from. I don’ t think it is a good idea to rely on whether a word existed or not. What I am usually hearing is ‘ That word existed’. And no further elaboration or explanation, as if that would automatically means the concept existed or that the only place the person can derive that concept come from is from that word and nowhere else, therefore that person belong to that tradition.

        Ajahn Sujato wrote : “As for Nirvana, it is used in Jainism, and I wouldn’t be confident that the Buddha was the first to use it in a spiritual sense ”

        Can we say for sure that Nigantha Nataputta was the first one to use it? Also, in “The Impact of Early Buddhism on Hindu Thought”” K.N. Uppadhava says he believes the use of the term in the Bhagavad Gita to be a sign of early Buddhist influence upon Hindu thought. The word nirvana was first used in its technical sense in Buddhism, and cannot be found in any of the pre-Buddhist Upanishads.

        Nibbāna (nt.). — I. Etymology. Although nir+vā “to blow”. (cp. BSk. nirvāṇa) is already in use in the Vedic period (see nibbāpeti), we do not find its distinctive application till later and more commonly in popular use, where vā is fused with vṛ; in this sense, viz. in application to the extinguishing of fire, which is the prevailing Buddhist conception of the term.
        Only in the older texts do we find references to a simile of the wind and the flame; but by far the most common metaphor and that which governs the whole idea of nibbāna finds expression in the putting out of fire by other means of extinction than by blowing, which latter process rather tends to incite the fire than to extinguish it. The going out of the fire may be due to covering it up, or to depriving it of further fuel, by not feeding it, or by withdrawing the cause of its production. Thus to the Pali etymologist the main reference is to the root vṛ; (to cover), and not to vā (to blow). This is still more clearly evident in the case of nibbuta (q. v. for further discussion). In verbal compn. nis+vā (see vāyati) refers only to the (non — emittance of an odour, which could never be used for a meaning of “being exhausted”; moreover, one has to bear in mind that native commentators themselves never thought of explaining nibbāna by anything like blowing (vāta), but always by nis+vana (see nibbana)

        The various uses of nibbana are:

        1. the going out of a lamp or fire (popular meaning).
        2. health, the sense of bodily well — being (probably, at first, the passing away of feverishness, restlessness).
        3. The dying out in the heart of the threefold fire of rāga, dosa & moha; passion, aversion & delusion (Buddhistic meaning).
        4. the sense of spiritual well — being, of security, emancipation victory and peace

        The state of nirvana described is somewhat different in Jainism than the Buddha.

        The Buddha’s concept of nibbana is the removal of raga, dose, and moha. Regardless of whether the word existed or not existed, it doesn’t mean that he learned his concept from there or that there is no other possible way for him to realize his concept of enlightenment. The existence of a term is a weak support for whether the Buddha is part of Brahmanism or not.
        It is just a method of teaching adopted by the Buddha , wherein the Buddha uses words and terms that are familiar to the audience instead of introducing new and complex technical jargon.

      • iMeditation / Jan 21 2011 10:00 am

        BTW, Ajahn Sujato, do you think mindfulness in daily life was was a later addition to the Satipatthana sutta ?

      • sujato / Jan 22 2011 11:44 am

        Yes.

        In the vast majority of cases, ‘mindfulness in daily life’ (= sampajañña) is taught as one of the practices leading up to the monk sitting cross-legged and ‘establishing mindfulness’ (satiṁ upaṭṭhapetvā…), which signals the start of meditation proper. ‘Establishing mindfulness’ is just the verbal form of the compound ‘satipaṭṭhāna’, so it is clear, at any rate, that sampajañña normally precedes satipaṭṭhāna.

        It is, of course, possible that the sequence is simply varied a little in this one text. But my comparative study has convinced me that this is not the case: sampajañña really is before satipaṭṭhāna, and was added to the Satipatthana Sutta as one of the many editorial embellishments.

      • Sylvester / Jan 22 2011 12:00 pm

        Hi Bhante

        Might you be referring to the Samannaphala Sutta model of the gradual training, where the sequence goes as follows-

        - first sense restraint
        - then sati and sampajanna
        - then contentment
        - then abandonment of the Hindrances
        - then the Jhanas
        - then insight
        - and finally the abhinnas?

      • sujato / Jan 22 2011 12:18 pm

        That’s right, although the sequence is found countless times in the Suttas (and vinaya and Abhidhamma), not just the samannaphala Sutta. This of course contrasts with the Satipatthana Sutta sequence, found just there and the kayagatasati Sutta.

      • Sylvester / Jan 22 2011 5:06 pm

        Thanks Bhante.

        I just wonder what could have prompted the Digha and Majjhima redactors to elaborate on the 2 main Satipatthana Suttas in such a manner?

        It’s quite unlike the Anapanasati Sutta MN 118, which looks like an amalgamation of various suttas on anapanasati from the Anapanasamyutta of the SN. At least all of the contents on MN 118 can be traced to several suttas in SN 54.

        But when it comes to the 2 Satipatthana Suttas in the DN and MN, I cannot trace any of the elaborate exercises in SN 47. For 104 suttas in the Satipatthanasamyutta not to contain the elaborations found in MN 10 seems a rather glaring oversight on the part of the Samyutta redactors…

      • sujato / Jan 23 2011 7:32 am

        If you look at all the books on Buddhism today, the vast majority of them deal with “mindfulness”, especially the basics of how to get going in meditation – what do you actually do to meditate? and that is precisely the stage of the path that is satipatthana. i think the assembly of the satipatthana suttas came from the need for a “manual” or reference that would assemble the various meditation objects in one convenient form.

      • iMeditation / Jan 22 2011 11:14 pm

        Mindfulness in daily life ( while walking,reclining, standing, sitting, etc..) is found in many suttas. It is an important part of the training formula . Are my right in thinking that you mean it doesn’t belong in that particular location (sutta) , but it belong in process of training/ practice in general?

        A few example of the emphasis on mindfulness while walking, reclining, sitting, standing are:

        Kayagatasati

        Ganaka Moggallana Sutta

        - Mindfulness / Full Awareness In Daily Activities

        
”As soon, brahman, as a bhikkhu is intent on wakefulness, the Tathagata disciplines him further, saying: ‘Come , bhikkhus, be possessed of mindfulness and clear awareness, acting with clear awareness whether you are approaching or departing, acting with clear awareness whether you are looking ahead or looking round, acting with clear awareness whether you are bending in or stretching out [the arms], acting with clear awareness whether you are carrying the outer cloak, the bowl or robe, acting with clear awareness whether you are eating, drinking, munching, savoring, acting with clear awareness whether you are obeying the calls of nature, acting with clear awareness whether you are walking, standing, sitting, asleep, awake, talking or being silent.’ 
 

        -
 Overcoming of the five hindrances
        
 cleanses his mind of doubt. 
 
        
- Jhana

        * Samanaphala Sutta

        -Mindfulness/ Full Awareness In Daily Activities

        “And how is a monk possessed of mindfulness and alertness? When going forward and returning, he acts with alertness. When looking toward and looking away… when bending and extending his limbs… when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe, and his bowl… when eating, drinking, chewing, and tasting… when urinating and defecating… when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and remaining silent, he acts with alertness. This is how a monk is possessed of mindfulness and alertness.”

        -Experiencing the Four Jhanas (Samma Samadhi)
        -The Mind-made Body
        - Supranormal Powers
        - Clairaudience
        -Mind Reading
        - Recollection of Past Lives
        - The Passing Away & Re-appearance of Beings
        - The Ending of Mental Defilements

      • sujato / Jan 23 2011 7:33 am

        Are my right in thinking that you mean it doesn’t belong in that particular location (sutta) , but it belong in process of training/ practice in general?

        That’s correct.

      • Sylvester / Jan 23 2011 2:31 pm

        Thanks yet again, Bhante.

        Does this elaboration of the 2 main Satipatthana Suttas from bits of the Satipatthanasamyutta and bits from the “Samannaphalla model” suggest that the Satipatthanasamyutta probably “closed” at an earlier date compared to MN10 and DN22?

        I suppose that could be a reason why the Pali Satipatthanasamyutta shares much more in common with the Agama parallels, than do MN10 and DN22…

      • sujato / Jan 24 2011 10:20 am

        Yes, I would think so.

      • iMeditation / Jan 24 2011 10:08 pm

        Dear Ajahn Sujato,

        I would also say that mindfulness in daily life ( while walking, reclining, standing, sitting, etc..) is an important aspect of the Buddha’s teaching and is part of his stock formula for training people. One of the reason is if a person only waits until sitting meditation to establish full awareness of various objects in this moment, it would be more difficult for the person to progress further from mindfulness ( aware of various things in the present) to concentration ( awareness of one object, unification, one-pointedness) . When mindfulness is not developed, the mind would constantly moves out of the present with thoughts about past, future, and inner chatter in sitting meditation. It would be difficult to stay fully aware of whatever that is in this moment, much less staying fully aware of one object in sitting meditation. In being fully aware every moment if our daily lives, one trains the mind to not get lost into past, future, or inner chatter. Although in mindfulness one is aware of numerous things that are present , but it serves as a springboard for being able to remain in the present at the beginning of the sitting meditation , and being fully aware of one thing ( unification) during sitting meditation. Developing strong mindfulness in daily life serves as a foundation for being fully aware and settling on one object during sitting meditation for jhana to occur. I believe for this reason when speaking about mindfulness, the Buddha refers to both in Daily life and in Sitting meditation. Mindfulness supports concentration.

        -Mindfulness while moving, reclining, standing, etc.. in daily life is related to mindfulness of the body. In the Kayagata-sati Sutta, he Buddha gives more complete details on mindfulness of the body. There, we can see that the Buddha mentioned both being fully aware in daily life and being fully aware in sitting meditation. And that “When he abides ….in this way, any rushing thoughts related to the household life is abandoned, and with their abandoning the mind gathers & settles down, becomes one-pointed, and concentrated.”

        -Next, we also see the mentioning of entering the four Jhana

        - After that is the mention of Opening to the Higher Knowledges:
        “When anyone has developed & pursued mindfulness of the body, then whichever of the six higher knowledges pertaining to things that can be realized he turns his mind to know & realize, right there he attains a realization of it, while there is an opening.

        - As well as the other 10 benefits

      • Ayya Dharma / Jan 21 2011 5:55 pm

        Dear I-meditation,
        In Buddhist text, especially in Vinaya, the term kamma also used as ‘ritual performance’, e.g., sanghakamma (ritual or specific function of the Sangha). In some of the Digha Nikaya texts, the term kamma is used interchangeable with dhamma which carry the meaning of social duties/responsibilities (e.g., D. 9, Potthappada sutta).
        I agree with you that some of the Upanisads are very much influenced by Buddhist ideas, and they probably had been compiled or edified after the Buddha’s time. However, we can’t just trust that the Buddhist texts always represent the philosophical trends of other sects accurately. In order to understand the thoughts & philosophy in other sects, we have to read their texts or scriptures directly, not just some fragmentary reports found in Buddhist texts. This would take a long time of careful studies and master at least some Indian ancient languages, not the works of amateurs like us.
        Again, Upanisads are not all authorized Brahmanical texts, but they are the inspirations of Contemplatives (Samanas) and the Buddha was one of this category. There is an indication in Tevijja sutta (M.71, 14/ I. 483) that there was an Ajivika who held the doctrine of moral efficacy long before the Buddha.
        Cheer, good topic to discuss.

      • iMeditation / Jan 22 2011 4:15 am

        Dear Ayya Dharma,

        Ayya Dharma wrote: ” In some of the Digha Nikaya texts, the term kamma is used interchangeable with dhamma which carry the meaning of social duties/responsibilities (e.g., D. 9, Potthappada sutta).”

        In the pre-Buddhist literature the word karma was used mainly in the sense of either religious rituals or the social functions and duties of human. In the latter sense the Īṣa Upaniṣad says: “Let a man aspire to live a hundred years, performing his social duties” (kurvanneveḥa karmaṇi jijīviṣecchataṃ samāḥ) .This sense has survived and can be seen in the Buddhist texts, where the word karma is used in the plural to refer to the different occupations of people in society rather than in the usual buddhist sense. For example, “anavajjāni kammāniī” was used to refer to morally blameless ” occupations”.

        Ayya Dharma wrote: “There is an indication in Tevijja sutta (M.71, 14/ I. 483) that there was an Ajivika who held the doctrine of moral efficacy long before the Buddha.”

        Prominent scholars stated that the Buddhist doctrine is often confused with and assumed to be the same as the Brahmanical doctrine of karma. People tend to speak of the doctrine of karma as though there was only one such doctrine common to different religions such as Hinduism, Jainism and Ājīvikism despite the fact that they profess different teachings about the nature, operations and attitude to the alleged phenomenon of karma.

        The Buddhist theory has also to be distinguished from an Ājīvika theory which asserted that all present actions and experiences are strictly determined by previous karma. Karma, according to Buddhism, while being non-deterministic was only one among many factors which conditioned the nature of the individual’s experiences of pleasure and pain. Among them were the physiological state of the body, which was partly a product of heredity or the biological laws (bīja-niyāma) recognized in Buddhism. The other factors were changes in the physical environment (utu-pariṇāma), in social vicissitudes (visama-parihāra), the intentional activity of the individual (opakkamika) and lastly karma. Karma, it would appear, could operate separately in a psychosomatic manner or in co-operation with the other factors.
        Since a number of factors operated in conditioning man’s experience, it was wrong to say that pleasure and pain were due entirely to one’s own actions (sayaṃ kataṃ sukhadukkhaṃ). Nor was it due to the action of an external agent like God (paraṃkataṃ), nor to a combination of both (sayaṃ kataṃ ca paraṃ kataṃ ca), nor was it accidental (adhicca-samuppanna). Pleasure and pain were causally conditioned (paṭicca-samuppanna) and man by his knowledge of himself and nature could understand, control and master them.

  7. iMeditation / Jan 26 2011 12:47 am

    Ajahn Sujato wrote: “The contemplation of dhammas has also undergone large scale expansion. The original text included just the five hindrances and the seven awakening factors. The five aggregates, six sense media, and four noble truths were added later.”

    Because some other versions doesn’t include the Five Aggregates , Four Noble Truths, Six Sense Bases, it doesn’t mean the Pali version had extra information. It could also mean that the Pali version is more complete. It was mentioned that the Four Focuses of Mindfulness should be applied after a person developed Jhanas to give rise to Insight. The Satipatthana sutta lists the various subjects ( towards the bottom) for a person to direct his /her attention upon so that a breakthrough in wisdom or insight would occur.

    The Five Aggregates are the ones in which the first five bhikkhus became enlightened through. They became free from attachment to the world, and were liberated from the Asavas. At that time there were six Arahats in the world ( Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic) The subject of Six Sense Bases are the ones in which the Buddha’s son ( Rahula) used to developed liberating insight with the help of the Buddha in the Cula-Rahulovada Sutta . The our Noble Truths are the ones the Buddha himself reflected upon during the night of enlightenment arrive at liberating insight.

    In MN2 the Buddha suggests that a person directs his/ her attention toward knowing the origin/ source of dukkha or tracing dukkha down to it’s source ( complete with the solution , and the way to proceed) to help remove the taints. In SN 12.10 the Buddha direct his attention to trace arisen phenomena down to their origin / source as well as dissolution .He called this Yoniso Manasikara.

    As we know , jhana is a springboard for developing Right View required for Stream Entry and higher levels of Enlightenment by directing the purified mind towards the right Subject. The Sammaditthi Sutta ( Discourse on Right View), gave a list of topics to penetrate that lead to Right View includes Six Sense Bases and Four Noble Truths among the subjects to contemplate / penetrate:

    “‘One of right view, one of right view’ is said, friends. In what way is a noble disciple one of right view….. and has arrived at this true Dhamma?”

    “But, friend, might there be another way in which a noble disciple is one of right view… and has arrived at this true Dhamma?” — “There might be, friends.

    “But, friend, might there be another way in which a noble disciple is one of right view… and has arrived at this true Dhamma?” — “There might be, friends.

    “When, friends, a noble disciple understands the sixfold base, the origin of the Six Sense Bases, the cessation of the Six Sense Bases, and the way leading to the cessation of the Six Sense Bases, he is one of right view… and has arrived at this true Dhamma.”

    Ajahn Sujato wrote: “Tracing the development of texts on satipatthana in later Buddhism, there is a gradual tendency to emphasize the vipassana aspect at the expense of the samatha side. ”

    This is true, I would say that it is due to the fact that the Mindfulness of the Body was not included in full in the Sathipatthana Sutta. If we look at the sutta that deals exclusively on Mindfulness of the Body, we can see that mindfulness of the Body also includes the development of Jhanas. But that part of mindfulness of the Body was not included in the Satipatthana in full. When reading the Satipatthana Sutta by itself, naturally would lead people to misunderstand that they don’t need to develop jhana in this technique when jhana is indeed part of Mindfulness of the Body. Mindfulness of the Body was explained in full in the Kayagata-sati Sutta.

    Mindfulness of the Breath is another subject of anussati out of 10 anussati, other than Mindfulness of the Body. Anapanassati sutta expands on how to practice using the breath as a meditation object . This sutta too instructed a person to enter jhana before developing liberating insights. Mindfulness of Breathing perfects the Satipatthana, which includes various subject to contemplates so that liberating insights would occur.

    Ajahn Sujato wrote: “One of the additions is the inclusion of the awareness of postures and daily activities among its meditation exercizes. The awareness of postures is, in every other text, part of the preparation for meditation, not a kind of meditation itself.”

    We can see how leaving out the part on jhana from Mindfulness of the Body in the Satipatthana Sutta lead some to think that since jhana is not mentioned here in the Satipatthana Sutta , therefore it is not necessary to practice it before developing insights. Now if we leave out the part on mindfulness in daily life from Mindfulness of the Body in the Satipatthana Sutta as well, it might lead some to think that it is not necessary to practice mindfulness in daily life as well as jhana before developing insights. Now, that is the case with jhana only. The Kayagata-sati Sutta expands on Mindfulness of the Body in full, and it includes both mindfulness in daily life and Jhana.

    Ajahn Sujato wrote: “Another late addition to the Pali Satipatthana Sutta is a ‘refrain’ following each meditation, which says one practices contemplating ‘rise and fall’. This is a vipassana practice, which originally belonged to only the final of the four satipatthanas, contemplation of dhammas.”

    I would say that the top part on Mindfulness of the Body is where a person develops mindfulness and jhana as can be found in the complete version of Mindfulness of the Body ( Kayagata-sati Sutta) . The bottom part (Contemplation of the Dhamma) has to do with developing insights, where a person apply Yoniso Manasikara by directing his/ her purified attention on a certain subject to trace down their origin / source as well as dissolution . For example Four Noble Truths, Dependent Origination, Five Aggregates, etc….

    • sujato / Jan 26 2011 7:30 am

      Hi imeditation,

      You say

      Because some other versions doesn’t include the Five Aggregates , Four Noble Truths, Six Sense Bases, it doesn’t mean the Pali version had extra information. It could also mean that the Pali version is more complete.

      My argument is based on much more than that. This is a very broad-based and strong finding, but you’ll have to read A History of Mindfulness for all the arguments on this point.

      It was mentioned that the Four Focuses of Mindfulness should be applied after a person developed Jhanas to give rise to Insight.

      Where? Not in the Suttas – they say that satipatthana is what you do before getting into jhanas. The link between satipatthana and vipassana is an illusion created by the late editing of the Pali Satipatthana Sutta. Satipatthana is not found anywhere in the great suttas and collections that deal with insight (Khandha samyutta, etc.)

      • iMeditation / Jan 26 2011 8:25 am

        Dear Ajahn Sujato,

        Ajahn Sujato wrote: “Where? Not in the Suttas – they say that satipatthana is what you do before getting into jhanas. The link between satipatthana and vipassana is an illusion created by the late editing of the Pali Satipatthana Sutta. Satipatthana is not found anywhere in the great suttas and collections that deal with insight (Khandha samyutta, etc.)”

        I should have add that the ((bottom part) of the Four Focus of Mindfulness should be applied after a person developed Jhanas to give rise to insight. Not the whole of the Satipatthana Sutta. (there is no edit button) .The beginning part of the Satipatthana is similar to the Kayagata-sati Sutta, where there are instructions for Mindfulness in daily life ( walking, reclining ,etc..) , Mindfulness while sitting in Meditation, and finally Entering Jhanas. On the bottom , there are various subject for contemplation that give rise to liberating insight. This sutta would be pretty complete if the part on Mindfulness of the Body is included in full. However, for that we can just refer to the Kayagata-sati sutta to see a more complete picture of Mindfulness of the Body which also mentioned Jhana.

        When it comes to developing liberating insights, the Kayagata-sati Sutta only mentioned after the instructions on Jhanas that :”When anyone has developed & pursued mindfulness of the body, then whichever of the six higher knowledges pertaining to things that can be realized he turns his mind to know & realize, right there he attains a realization of it, while there is an opening.”

        The Satipatthana sutta expanded on the various subjects for a person to direct the mind toward to develop insight after having purified with mind with Jhana. For example, the Four Noble Truth, Five Aggregates, Six Sense Bases, etc..

        Ajahn Sujato wrote: “My argument is based on much more than that.”

        I was only referring to the line in the article above where it saids : “The Pali Satipatthana Sutta includes a number of sections that are not shared with other texts on satipatthana, and which are later additions.”

        If there are other reasons for the various subjects of contemplations being later additions then please feel free to share. I have given a few examples showing that the Five Clinging-Aggregates, Sixfold  Sense Bases, and the Four Noble Truths are indeed subjects in which the Buddha and his disciples used to arrived at liberating insights, and reached Arahantship.

  8. Joop Romeijn / Jan 30 2011 9:31 pm

    Dear Bhante
    You wrote: “the four satipatthanas, or ‘establishments of mindfulness’. These are ‘right mindfulness’, the seventh factor of the eightfold path. The purpose of satipatthana is to gain the eighth factor, right samadhi or the four jhanas.”
    I underastood (or wished to understand) the Noble Eighfold Path as a cycle, or better as a SPIRAL. Each factor has to be practiced again and again, and the different practices are ‘helping’ each other.
    But your remarks suggest an order of succession, a linear process. Do you mean that the (only) purpose of the first factor is to gain the second; and that the (only) purpose of the second factor … etc.? And then finish?
    Are these two different ways of understand the Eightfold Path?

    Joop

    • sujato / Jan 31 2011 7:30 am

      Hi Joop,

      Here’s the first sutta from the Magga Saṁyutta.
      And yep, there’s a linear process going on here. The path is not a circle – otherwise we wouldn’t get anywhere on it! We start in one place and end up in another – or at least that’s the idea. However, it’s not just linear; there’s all kinds of feedback and mutual reinforcement going on. A spiral is a great metaphor – from one point of view it looks like a line, from another it looks like a circle. I was emphasizing the linear aspect because it shows clearly that the intended function of satipatthana in the path is to support samadhi. This is not an occasional or random teaching, but is embedded time and again in how the path is structured.

  9. SV / Sep 13 2011 7:20 pm

    Dear Bhante, thank you for your work, I’m reading it with interest.
    But it seems, there is a mistake in conclusion you’ve made about “ekayana magga”. Please take a look at MN 12 – http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.012.ntbb.html

    There is a simile, where “ekayana magga” is used:

    “Suppose there were a charcoal pit deeper than a man’s height full of glowing coals without flame or smoke; and then a man scorched and exhausted by hot weather, weary, parched and thirsty, came by a path going in one way only and directed to that same charcoal pit. Then a man with good sight on seeing him would say: ‘This person so behaves, so conducts himself, has taken such a path, that he will come to this same charcoal pit’; and then later on he sees that he has fallen into that charcoal pit and is experiencing extremely painful, racking, piercing feelings”.

    • sujato / Sep 14 2011 10:01 am

      Hi SV,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      Actually, I discuss this in detail in A History of Mindfulness – and hopefully you won’t have to wait too long for the finished version!

      The problem is this. In pali, you basically have two uses of the word ekayana: the famous use in satipatthana, and the ‘ordinary language’ use in the simile you quote, where it means ‘path leading one way only’. This is why the Pali translaters, from Nyanamoli, have, quite rightly, inferred from the ordinary-language context to the philosophical context as you suggest.

      However, in Sanskrit the situation is quite different. Ekayana is used in a number of ways in both ordinary language and philosophy. It is clear from the Sanskrit sources that we can’t just infer directly from the ordinary language use to the philosophical use. This is discussed in some detail in Rupert Gethin’s magnum opus The Buddhist Path to Awakening. However, I believe that Gethin does not sufficiently establish the most likely reading.

      There are a large number of indications that support the meaning of ‘convergence’ in the context of satipatthana. In particular, both the Buddhist and the Upanishadic sources show a very close relation between the Buddhist use of ekayana and that found prominently in one of the most famous of Upanishadic discourses, the conversation between Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi.

      In text critical studies, nothing is ever certain. However, we can meaningfully assess the relative firmness of different findings; and in this case, due to the large range of supporting factors, I think this reading of ekayana is solid. But you’ll have to wait a little longer until I get A History of Mindfulness re-published and you can see if you agree with me!

  10. SV / Sep 14 2011 8:45 pm

    Okey, I see the point.

    By the way, we have a discussion about the difficulty of attaining jhana. What is your opinion on this topic (based on both personal observation of your own and other people’ practice and canonical texts)?

  11. Asaf / Mar 31 2012 2:49 am

    I’m reading your book and enjoying it a lot. I haven’t reached the second part yet so thanks for the quick summary. But now I worry that the second version will contain all kind of new things that I am now missing – will you do something similar to what software developers do: a version upgrade update that bullet points the main differences to the old version?

    • sujato / Apr 3 2012 9:48 am

      Don’t worry, Asaf. There’s no substantial changes, just clarifications and style changes, that sort of thing. It’s still in progress, by the way. I keep trying to get all my books in good order, but there seems to be a never-ending list of obstacles… Mostly getting the time, of course, but also software frustrations and the like.

  12. Linn / Jul 19 2012 7:42 pm

    I want to thank you for your bringing forth simplicity. It opens for a larger group of people to understand and connect with the teachings. Are you not posting any more on this site ?
    <3

  13. Steve / Aug 3 2012 2:33 am

    Do you have any Vedic references for mindfulness that predate Buddhism? I see a number of sites mention it’s Hindu roots, but none give any references for the assertion. Thanks for a great article. Steve.

    • sujato / Oct 3 2012 10:27 am

      Hi Steve,

      I’m sorry, I don’t have any direct references, although I believe that there are some. I did a little research on the topic in A History of Mindfulness. It would be great to see more serious work in the field.

  14. T. Phelps / Dec 22 2012 1:00 am

    I profoundly disagree with your statement that ‘ The purpose of satipatthana is to gain the eighth factor, right samadhi or the four jhanas.’ The purpose of satipatthana is to gain panna, insight, into the real nature of the five skandhas, and to see that they are characterised by dukkha, anicca, and anatta, and though the jhanas may occur during this process, they are not its aim. The jhanas do not lead to insight. Moreover, I’ve yet to see, anywhere on the Net, the absolute necessity for sila during the practise of satipatthana, though without it you’ll either come seriously unstuck, or your practise will be held back. And mindfulness must be ‘set up’, too, which necessitates constant, unremitting effort throughout the entire waking state (and once it has been established, it becomes virtually impossible to stop, too). I spent two years practising the ‘Thirty-two Parts’ meditation under the great Pannavaddho I shall add, so I know what’s what here!

    • Bhikkhu Brahmali / Dec 22 2012 12:44 pm

      Dear T. Phelps,

      I am not sure what is the basis for your disagreement on this issue. The suttas of the four nikāyas are crystal clear on this issue.

      With metta.

    • sujato / Dec 22 2012 12:47 pm

      Well, if you know what’s what, then that’s that then!

      Far be it for me to contest your statement; but you might want to take it up with the proper authorities. There is one teacher who said that, ‘For one of right mindfulness, right samadhi comes to be‘; that a skilled practitioner of satipatthana gets the four jhanas, while an unskilled practitioner fails to do so; that the four satipatthanas are the basis for jhana; and that the correct practice of satipatthana leads to tranquility of body and the attaining of samadhi. Perhaps you could practice under him, as well.

      • terence phelps / Dec 22 2012 11:22 pm

        I need only refer you to the Satipatthana Sutta, where this practise is said to be the ONLY one which leade to Enlightenment. Practise of the jhanas does not.

        Date: Sat, 22 Dec 2012 01:47:35 +0000 To: taphelken@hotmail.com

      • sujato / Dec 23 2012 10:54 am

        I need only refer you to the book of which this article is a summary. All the ideas that you are espousing are simply the basic vipassana doctrine. I heard these things in my first meditation retreat nearly twenty years ago, and read them again in countless books. And, after many years of study and practice, I came to the conclusion that they are wrong. Hence the book, so perhaps you might give it a read, if you are interested.

      • T. Phelps / Dec 22 2012 11:44 pm

        I repeat, the jhanas do not lead to insight, which is what the Dhamma is all about. The Buddha didn’t leave home for the Quiet Life ; he left because he wanted to find the path which leads to the cessation of sorrow. Only vipassana leads to panna, insight, and it is a path of great – often shattering – adventure, not at all like the Divine Abodes. It’s the Only Way, remember. Try it.

    • Brc / Dec 23 2012 2:37 am

      My understanding is that sammā sati in a conventional sense is about seeing conditioned phenomena as being marked by dukkha, anicca, and anatta and in a supramundane sense is about experiencing nibbāna, while sammā samādhi in a conventional sense is about cultivating a steady and unified mind by removing layers of mental garbage and in a supramundane sense is about achieving a mind that only moves skillfully toward the experience of nibbāna.

      The Buddha did make distinctions, while also saying that they both had to be worked on in turns, at least that’s how I understand this:

      A monk intent on heightened mind should attend periodically to three themes: He should attend periodically to the theme of concentration; he should attend periodically to the theme of uplifted energy; he should attend periodically to the theme of equanimity. If the monk intent on heightened mind were to attend solely to the theme of concentration, it is possible that his mind would tend to laziness. If he were to attend solely to the theme of uplifted energy, it is possible that his mind would tend to restlessness. If he were to attend solely to the theme of equanimity, it is possible that his mind would not be rightly concentrated for the ending of the fermentations. But when he attends periodically to the theme of concentration, attends periodically to the theme of uplifted energy, attends periodically to the theme of equanimity, his mind is pliant, malleable, luminous, & not brittle. It is rightly centered for the stopping of the fermentations.

      The theme of uplifted energy seems to relate to sammā vāyāma, the theme of equanimity (in this context, useful “for the ending of the fermentations”) seems to relate to sammā sati, and the theme of concentration seems to relate to sammā samādhi.

      Here, while all three should be “attended periodically to” the goal of “the stopping of the fermentations (taints, “āsavānaṃ khayāya”).

      I have no idea how one could achieve any of these goals without sila.

      • Brc / Dec 23 2012 2:42 am

        Sorry, I didn’t finish one sentence:

        Here, while all three should be “attended periodically to” the goal of “the stopping of the fermentations (taints, “āsavānaṃ khayāya”) relates specifically to one of the three: the theme of equanimity (in this context, useful “for the ending of the fermentations”), which, again, seems to relate to sammā sati.

      • sujato / Dec 23 2012 11:14 am

        Hi Brc,

        Regarding sati as related to seeing the three characteristics: one of the things that I show in A History of Mindfulness is that sati is never closely associated with the contemplation of the three characteristics in the Suttas. the sole, partial, exception, is the satipatthana Sutta; but this is clearly a later development. Rather, sati is normally treated as the basis for samadhi. In other words, you do satipatthana to get into jhanas. This becomes easier to understand when we realize that the most fundamental satipatthana practice in the Suttas is mindfulness of breathing.

        Regarding the sutta passage you are quoting, I don’t think it has quite the implications that you suggest. Firstly, it is about how to attain the ‘higher mind’, i.e. samadhi or the four jhanas. What Thanissaro translates as ‘theme of concentration’ is samadhinimitta, which in this context, as normally in the suttas, means the ‘basis for samdhi’, i.e., what you do to still the mind. Elsewhere, the four satipatthanas are said to be the ‘samadhinimitta’. The point of the passage is that, when the mind is unbalanced, we can bring it back into balance, not by trying to make it balanced, but by paying attention to the causes for correcting the imbalance. By doing this at the right time, the mind goes into jhana. Thanissaro translates ‘the mind is rightly centered’, but the Pali is sammā samādhiyati “He has right samadhi”, i.e the four jhanas.

        So all of these factors, when taken together, lead to right samadhi. It’s interesting that in this passage, samadhi has two distinct nuances. in the first occurence, it has the more specific meaning of “stillness”. At the end, it also has the implication of “integration”: samadhi is when all the factors of the mind are in balance.

        And I also have no idea how you could achieve these without sila!

      • Brc / Dec 23 2012 1:36 pm

        Dear Bhante,

        So far, it seems as though you’re saying that sati is a present-moment awareness, specifically a present-moment awareness of body as body, of feelings as feelings, of mind as mind, and of dhammas as dhammas and saying that this present-moment awareness is the basis for samatha leading to the levels of higher consciousness of samadhi. In other words, you’re separating sati as found in the Suttas from what commonly passes for vipassana practices.

        But there is – beyond samadhi – yathabhuta-ñanadassana, which is followed by nibbida and virago, the practices leading to the experiences of which I would call vipassana. Regardless of a label like vipassana, these do appear to be highly advanced practices, as opposed to what commonly passes for vipassana practices today, and this would even suggest that those masters who argue that samadhi and jhana aren’t really necessary for cultivating insight should return to the sources.

        Is that what you’re arguing?

        If, as you say, sati is never closely associated with the contemplation of the three characteristics in the Suttas, what else can yathabhuta-ñanadassana be if not seeing all sankharas as marked by the three characteristics?

      • sujato / Dec 31 2012 11:52 am

        Hi Brc,

        Generally, that’s pretty close to what I’m getting at. More specifically, though, contemplation of Dhammas is where satipatthana turns to vipassana, in the sense of understanding causality as it applies to the meditation process itself.

        If, as you say, sati is never closely associated with the contemplation of the three characteristics in the Suttas, what else can yathabhuta-ñanadassana be if not seeing all sankharas as marked by the three characteristics?

        The point is that the Suttas, on the whole, do not make any special association between sati and yathabhutananadassana. For the suttas, sati or mindfulness is a quality that is present and part of the path at all stages, especially the initial development of meditation in order to realize deep peace of mind (samadhi). So yes, you can find a few passages that associate mindfulness with realization of deep wisdom, just as you can find (many more) passages that associate it with memory of texts, keeping precepts, and so on. Mindfulness, like salt, is useful everywhere! Yathabhutananadassana is, as you say, precisely the vision of the three characteristics (or the four noble truths, or dependent origination, or one of many other ways of saying the same thing). This emerges from practice of samadhi in the context of the path as a whole.

      • Brc / Dec 24 2012 1:37 pm

        Regarding the passage I quoted, you write:

        The point of the passage is that, when the mind is unbalanced, we can bring it back into balance, not by trying to make it balanced, but by paying attention to the causes for correcting the imbalance. By doing this at the right time, the mind goes into jhana.

        Honestly, I’m still not entirely seeing it that way. The text refers to samadhinimitta (‘basis for samadhi’), paggahanimitta (‘basis for uplifted energy,’ Thanissaro’s trans), and upekkhānimitta (‘basis for equaminity’), and states what the result is: 1) of attending solely to the basis for concentration, 2) of attending solely to the basis for uplifted energy, or 3) of attending solely to the basis for equanimity. In other words, the point of the passage does not appear to be “that, when the mind is unbalanced, we can bring it back into balance” so much as it seems to be about what happens when we do not balance our practices properly. If one “were to attend solely to the basis for concentration, it is possible that one’s mind would tend to laziness” (which I assume means that one might get overly pleased with a jhana state and just enjoy hanging out in it over and over again without moving on to liberation). The passage seems to support your argument about sati being a basis for samadhi: If one were to attend solely to the basis for equanimity, it is possible that one’s mind would not be rightly concentrated for the ending of the fermentations.” But the jhanas aren’t the point here so much as they enable us to cultivate important skills for more important work of ending the fermentations.

        The closest thing I’ve been able to make of your view on what sati is comes from chapter 11 of your book. The part about sati at times meaning “recollection” is clear enough for the moment. Otherwise, the best I can make of your view of sati as it is used in other parts of the suttas so far is that it means being present-and-aware with an object. If so, it would seem that it’s important both for awareness of a chosen object and for the choiceless awareness of whatever object comes to one’s attention, which would mean that it’s important for both samatha and vipassana. Please clarify when you get a moment.

      • sujato / Dec 31 2012 12:15 pm

        Hi again Brc,

        Sorry to be stubborn; but the passage is clearly about someone who is trying to get jhanas (Adhicittamanuyuttena), not about someone who already has them. The word translated as “laziness”, kosajja is effectively a synonym for thina-middha, one of the hindrances abandoned on the entry to first jhana. So the text is not saying that you can get stuck in jhana. It’s saying that if you apply yourself exclusively to the “basis for tranquillity” (for example, by focussing solely on tranquilizing the breath, with also bringing in joy and rapture), then your can get sleepy and lazy. And it’s pretty obvious that that is what happens.

        Regarding the definition of mindfulness, the one that has always struck me as the best is that by Asanga in his Abhidharmasamuccaya: smṛti katamā? saṁsṛte vastuni cetasaḥ asaṁpramoṣo’vikṣepakarmikā. Walpola Rahula translates: “What is mindfulness? The non-forgetting by the mind with regard to the object experienced. Its function is non-distraction.”

        In other words, mindfulness is that quality that keeps attention on the meditation object, not forgetting about the meditation, not being confused about what one is doing, but calling to mind, constantly, the object of meditation, such as the breath. This is how it accomplishes its function, “non-distraction”.

  15. T. Phelps / Dec 23 2012 4:47 am

    I think we’d better define our terms here, otherwise “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”. The term ‘jhana’ i take to refer to the Four Divine Abodes, which do not lead to Insight-Wisdom (vipassana-panna) ‘which like lightning suddenly arises and penetrates to the true nature of all existence’, i.e. the anicca, dukkha, anatta of (see Nyanatiloka’s ‘Path to Deliverance’, p. 137). Only the Fourfold Application of Mindfulness to the five skandhas will achieve this, the real goal of all Buddhist striving. The jhanas are of use, as Pannavaddho remarked, only insofar as their practice leads to the calm and ‘one-pointedness’ of concentration which is necessary for this Fourfold Application of Mindfulness to be usefully applied : they are not essential to The Path itself.

    • Brc / Dec 23 2012 6:40 am

      T. Phelps,

      What you’re saying about anicca, dukkha, anatta only leads so far as yathabhuta-ñanadassana, as all three do not apply to the asankhata. In other words, there is a limit to the insights of vipassana.

      What you’re saying about the jhanas would only make sense if the Buddha had said, “with the first jhana achieved, stay there!” But he didn’t say that. There must be some movement of the mind within each of the jhanas and – particularly when moving from the first to the second, the second to the third, etc – some level of insight as the experience of first jhana, once experienced as subtle, becomes coarse to the mind that experiences second jhana, as the experience of second jhana, once experienced as subtle, becomes coarse to the mind that experiences third jhana, etc.

      But, like what you’re saying about vipassana-panna, the understanding achieved the jhanas only moves one in the direction of vimutti, without actually taking one all the way to the goal, to the experience of nibbana, and to the knowledge of the destruction of the taints.

      If you read my earlier comment with the selection regarding the benefits of periodically attending to the theme of concentration, periodically attending to the theme of uplifted energy, and periodically attending to the theme of equanimity – and how all three must be used in turns to achieve the best results – you’ll see that your either/or argument has limits.

      The selection comes from the Buddha, and it seems perfectly sensible to me.

      • T. Phelps / Dec 23 2012 9:13 am

        Let’s cut the technicalities, and get right down to basics on this, the crux of Buddhism.The basis for your existence lies with your identification with the five skandhas. The business of vipassana-insight is simply to watch those five bases for selfhood unremittingly, throughout the entire waking state. As you do so, you become more and more appallingly aware of their impermanence from one moment to the next, so that they are eventually seen simply as a series of impersonal events, with no reference to you as to whether they persist or not ; they are ‘given’, as it were. Only by realising this, quite clearly, can renunciation from them occur. That’s all really, and though it’s the hardest thing in all the world it’s also the most astounding : you’re really NOT what you think you are!

      • Brc / Dec 23 2012 9:25 am

        T. Phelps,

        It sounds like you are most confident in your understanding of which practice is best and where the path is leading. That’s not a bad thing! See how far it takes you. Best wishes for a fruitful practice.

    • Nibbida / Mar 3 2014 2:38 pm

      T. Phelps,

      What you’re saying is classic vipassana doctrine that has its origin in the 18th century. A lot of it does not stand up to scrutiny — the Pali suttas and commentaries disagree with you on many occasions.

      You claim that jhana is not essential. So how would you account for the following passages in the Pali canon?

      [i]
      “Over there are the roots of trees; over there, empty dwellings. Practice jhana, monks. Don’t be heedless. Don’t later fall into regret. This is our message to you.” (SN 35.145)
      [/i]

      And:

      [i]
      There’s no jhana for one with no discernment, no discernment for one with no jhana. But one with both jhana & discernment: he’s on the verge of Unbinding. (Dhp 372)[/i]

      And:
      [i]
      “I declare a person endowed with four qualities to be one of great discernment, a great man. Which four? There is the case, brahman, where… he attains — whenever he wants, without strain, without difficulty — the four jhanas that are heightened mental states, pleasant abidings in the here-&-now.” (AN 4.35)
      [/i]

      And of course, the Satipatthana Sutta, which you have sorely misunderstood:

      [i]
      What are the four [foundations of mindfulness]? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body… feelings as feelings… mind as mind… mind-objects as mind-objects… ardent, fully aware, and mindful, [b]having put away covetousness and grief for the world[/b]. (MN 20)
      [/i]

      What many lay meditators and even monks fail to understand is the bolded text, “covetousness and grief”. The Pali for this is “vineyya loke abhijjhadomanassam”. The compound “abhijjhadomanassam” is formed by literally stringing together the first two hindrances. Furthermore, the Pali commentaries, upon which your vipassana tradition is heavily reliant, also confirms that “coveteousness and grief” is a shorthand idiomatic expression that refers specifically to the five hindrances.

      Jhana meditation is what produces the five factors that counteract the five hindrances to satipatthana:

      Vitakka (initial application) counteracts thina-middha (sloth-torpor)
      Vicara (sustained application) counteracts vicikiccha (doubt)
      Piti (rapture) counteracts vyapada (ill-will)
      Sukha (peaceful bliss) counteracts uddhacca-kukkucca (restless-worry)
      Ekaggatta (one-pointedness) counteracts sensual desire (kama chanda)

      So when you claim that satipatthana is the only way, sure, but satipatthana is not what you think, and it is not synonymous with vipassana. The Satipatthana Sutta says that it is to be practiced while abandoning the five hindrances, and the commentaries go on to mention several times that jhana plays an important role in the practice of vipassana..

      And how would you account for the fact that throughout the suttas, there are over 30 instances of the term “jhana”, but only 3 instances of the term “vipassana”? Note that even when the term “vipassana” does occur in the suttas, it never refers to a meditation technique.

      It is tempting to be stuck in attachment to our teachers, but they are only human and we can never know whether they were attained or not. It is important for us to verify that what they teach can be traced back to the original teachings in the Tipitaka and the Pali canon.

      • Nibbida / Mar 3 2014 2:40 pm

        So much for my “bolded text”! I guess the comments do not support HTML markup.

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