Basic Principles of Insight Practice

Basic Principles of Insight Practice

The con­tem­pla­tion of con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na giv­ing rise to clear under­stand­ing and to see­ing things as they tru­ly are is an essen­tial ingre­di­ent to real­iz­ing path and fruit. Every­one who prac­tis­es for the goal of Bud­dhism, whether they use tran­quil­li­ty or insight as a vehi­cle, and regard­less of which of the four modes of prac­tice (tran­quil­li­ty pre­ced­ed by insight, etc.) they fol­low, must pass this stage of insight (vipas­sanā) med­i­ta­tion. Some­one who uses insight as a vehi­cle will prac­tise in this way from the begin­ning, where­as some­one using tran­quil­li­ty as a vehi­cle will apply this med­i­ta­tion in the final stages.

Draw­ing upon the pre­vi­ous sec­tion on tran­quil­li­ty med­i­ta­tion, this con­tem­pla­tion is an exten­sion of the ear­li­er cit­ed pas­sage: By see­ing with wis­dom the taints are com­plete­ly destroyed. In oth­er words, it refers to ‘lib­er­a­tion by wis­dom’ (paññā-vimut­ti). There are many stan­dard def­i­n­i­tions in the Pali Canon to describe this path of insight. Before look­ing at these def­i­n­i­tions, let us exam­ine some pas­sages describ­ing the Buddha’s enlight­en­ment (which are also out­lines of insight). This will reveal how a sin­gle event can be explained in many dif­fer­ent ways:

When my knowl­edge and vision of these Four Noble Truths as they real­ly are in their three phas­es and twelve aspects was thor­ough­ly puri­fied in this way, then I claimed to have awak­ened to the unsur­passed per­fect enlight­en­ment in this world…. The knowl­edge and vision arose in me: ‘Unshak­able is the lib­er­a­tion of my mind. This is my last birth. Now there is no more renewed exis­tence.’1

When I direct­ly knew as they real­ly are the grat­i­fi­ca­tion (assā­da), the dan­ger (ādī­na­va) and the escape (nis­saraṇa) in the case of these five aggre­gates sub­ject to cling­ing, then I claimed to have awak­ened to the unsur­passed per­fect enlight­en­ment in this world…. ‘Now there is no more renewed exis­tence.’2

When I direct­ly knew as they real­ly are the grat­i­fi­ca­tion, the dan­ger and the escape in the case of these six inter­nal sense bases, then I claimed to have awak­ened to the unsur­passed per­fect enlight­en­ment in this world…. ‘Now there is no more renewed exis­tence.’3

When I direct­ly knew as they real­ly are the ori­gin and the pass­ing away, the grat­i­fi­ca­tion, the dan­ger and the escape in the case of these five spir­i­tu­al fac­ul­ties (faith, ener­gy, mind­ful­ness, con­cen­tra­tion and wis­dom), then I claimed to have awak­ened to the unsur­passed per­fect enlight­en­ment in this world…. ‘Now there is no more renewed exis­tence.’4

When I direct­ly knew as they real­ly are the ori­gin and the pass­ing away, the grat­i­fi­ca­tion, the dan­ger and the escape in the case of these six sense fac­ul­ties (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind), then I claimed to have awak­ened to the unsur­passed per­fect enlight­en­ment in this world…. ‘Now there is no more renewed exis­tence.’5

Monks, con­cen­tra­tion by mind­ful­ness of breath­ing, when devel­oped and cul­ti­vat­ed, is of great fruit and ben­e­fit…. I too, monks, before my enlight­en­ment, while I was still a bod­hisat­ta, not yet ful­ly enlight­ened, fre­quent­ly dwelt in this abid­ing. 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.6

Feel­ing (vedanā) is this way.’ Thus, monks, in regard to things unheard before, there arose in me vision, knowl­edge, wis­dom, true knowl­edge, and light…. ‘This is the ori­gin of feel­ing’…. ‘This is the way lead­ing to the orig­i­na­tion of feel­ing’…. ‘This is the ces­sa­tion of feel­ing’…. ‘This is the way lead­ing to the ces­sa­tion of feel­ing’…. ‘This is the grat­i­fi­ca­tion in feel­ing’…. ‘This is the dan­ger in feel­ing’…. ‘This is the escape from feel­ing’: thus monks … there arose in me vision, knowl­edge, wis­dom, true knowl­edge, and light.7

This is the con­tem­pla­tion of the body in the body (kāye kāyānu­pas­sanā).’ Thus, monks, in regard to things unheard before, there arose in me vision, knowl­edge, wis­dom, true knowl­edge, and light…. ‘That con­tem­pla­tion of the body in the body is to be devel­oped’…. ‘That con­tem­pla­tion of the body in the body has been devel­oped’…. ‘This is the con­tem­pla­tion of feel­ings in feel­ings’…. ‘This is the con­tem­pla­tion of mind in mind’…. ‘This is the con­tem­pla­tion of phe­nom­e­na (dham­ma) in phe­nom­e­na’… .‘That con­tem­pla­tion of phe­nom­e­na in phe­nom­e­na has been devel­oped’: thus monks … light.8

This is the basis for spir­i­tu­al pow­er (iddhi-pāda) of enthu­si­asm.’ Thus, monks, in regard to things unheard before, there arose in me vision, knowl­edge, wis­dom, true knowl­edge, and light…. ‘That basis for spir­i­tu­al pow­er of enthu­si­asm is to be devel­oped’…. ‘That basis for spir­i­tu­al pow­er of enthu­si­asm has been devel­oped’…. ‘This is the basis for spir­i­tu­al pow­er of ener­gy’…. ‘This is the basis for spir­i­tu­al pow­er of ded­i­cat­ed appli­ca­tion of mind (cit­ta)’…. ‘This is the basis for spir­i­tu­al pow­er of inves­ti­ga­tion’…. There arose in me vision, knowl­edge, wis­dom, true knowl­edge, and light.9

Monks, before my enlight­en­ment, while I was still a bod­hisat­ta, not yet ful­ly enlight­ened, it occurred to me: ‘Alas, this world has fall­en into trou­ble, in that it is born, ages, and dies, it pass­es away and is reborn, yet it does not under­stand the escape from this suf­fer­ing [head­ed by] aging-and-death. When now will an escape be dis­cerned from this suf­fer­ing [head­ed by] aging-and-death?’

Then, monks, it occurred to me: ‘When what exists does aging-and-death come to be? By what is aging-and-death con­di­tioned?’ Then, monks, through care­ful atten­tion, there took place in me a break­through by wis­dom: ‘When there is birth, aging-and-death comes to be; aging-and-death has birth as its con­di­tion….’

When what exists does birth come to be? … does becom­ing come to be? … does cling­ing come to be? … does crav­ing come to be? … does feel­ing come to be? … does con­tact come to be? … do the six sense bases come to be? … does name-and-form come to be? … Then, monks, the ques­tion occurred to me: ‘When what exists does con­scious­ness come to be? By what is con­scious­ness con­di­tioned?’ Then monks, through care­ful atten­tion, there took place in me a break­through by wis­dom: ‘When there is name-and-form, con­scious­ness comes to be; con­scious­ness has name-and-form as its con­di­tion.’

Then, monks, it occurred to me: ‘This con­scious­ness turns back; it does not go fur­ther than name-and-form. It is to this extent that one may be born and age and die, pass away and be reborn, that is, when there is con­scious­ness with name-and-form as its con­di­tion and name-and-form with con­scious­ness as its con­di­tion. With name-and-form as con­di­tion, the six sense bases; with the six sense bases as con­di­tion, con­tact…. Such is the ori­gin of this whole mass of suf­fer­ing.’

Orig­i­na­tion, origination’—thus, monks, in regard to things unheard before there arose in me vision, knowl­edge, wis­dom, true knowl­edge, and light.

Then, monks, it occurred to me: ‘When what does not exist does aging-and-death not come to be? With the ces­sa­tion of what does the ces­sa­tion of aging-and-death come about?’ Then, monks, through care­ful atten­tion, there took place in me a break­through by wis­dom: ‘When there is no birth, aging-and-death does not come to be; with the ces­sa­tion of birth comes ces­sa­tion of aging-and-death….’

When what does not exist does birth not come to be? … does becom­ing not come to be? … does cling­ing not come to be? … does crav­ing not come to be? … does feel­ing not come to be? … does con­tact not come to be? … do the six sense bases not come to be? … does name-and-form not come to be? … Then, monks, it occurred to me: ‘When what exists does con­scious­ness not come to be? With the ces­sa­tion of what does the ces­sa­tion of con­scious­ness come about?’ Then monks, through care­ful atten­tion, there took place in me a break­through by wis­dom: ‘When there is no name-and-form, con­scious­ness does not come to be; with the ces­sa­tion of name-and-form comes ces­sa­tion of con­scious­ness.’

Then, monks, it occurred to me: ‘I have dis­cov­ered this path to enlight­en­ment, that is, with the ces­sa­tion of name-and-form comes ces­sa­tion of con­scious­ness; with the ces­sa­tion of con­scious­ness comes ces­sa­tion of name-and-form; with the ces­sa­tion of name-and-form, ces­sa­tion of the six sense bases; with the ces­sa­tion of the six sense bases, ces­sa­tion of con­tact…. Such is the ces­sa­tion of this whole mass of suf­fer­ing.

Ces­sa­tion, cessation’—thus, monks, in regard to things unheard before there arose in me vision, knowl­edge, wis­dom, true knowl­edge, and light.

So too, monks, I saw the ancient path, the ancient road trav­elled by the Per­fect­ly Enlight­ened Ones of the past…. It is just this Noble Eight­fold Path; that is, right view, right inten­tion … right con­cen­tra­tion. I fol­lowed that path and by doing so I have direct­ly known aging-and-death, its ori­gin, its ces­sa­tion, and the way lead­ing to its ces­sa­tion. I have direct­ly known birth … becom­ing … cling­ing … crav­ing … feel­ing … con­tact … the six sense bases … name-and-form … con­scious­ness … voli­tion­al for­ma­tions, their ori­gin, their ces­sa­tion, and the way lead­ing to their ces­sa­tion. Hav­ing direct­ly known them, I have explained them to the bhikkhus, the bhikkhunīs, the male lay fol­low­ers, and the female lay fol­low­ers. This holy life, monks, has become suc­cess­ful and pros­per­ous, pop­u­lar, wide­spread, firm­ly estab­lished, well-pro­claimed among devas and humans.10

There are many stan­dard def­i­n­i­tions for the real­iza­tion of ara­hantship through insight by the Buddha’s dis­ci­ples. Some are sim­i­lar to the pas­sages pre­sent­ed above of the Buddha’s enlight­en­ment while oth­ers vary, but essen­tial­ly they are the same: phe­nom­e­na (most often the five aggre­gates or the twelve sense spheres) are divid­ed into dif­fer­ent parts and their true nature is exam­ined accord­ing to the three char­ac­ter­is­tics: imper­ma­nence, dukkha and not-self. Many pas­sages focus on the belief in self and empha­size the char­ac­ter­is­tic of not-self. Some pas­sages trace the rela­tion­ship between con­di­tions in the con­text of Depen­dent Orig­i­na­tion. From the angle of Dham­ma prac­tice, these pas­sages all refer to one or more of the groups found in the thir­ty-sev­en fac­tors of enlight­en­ment (bod­hipakkhiya-dham­mā).11 The out­lines explain­ing par­tic­u­lar ways of con­tem­pla­tion can be extreme­ly help­ful for insight prac­tice if one can cap­ture their mean­ing and not get con­fused by the tech­ni­cal lan­guage. Below are some exam­ples of these out­lines; the com­men­taries say the Bud­dha gave these teach­ings on dif­fer­ent occa­sions depend­ing on the dis­po­si­tion of the listener.12

1. Contemplations of the Five Aggregates

Monks, form is imper­ma­nent, feel­ing is imper­ma­nent, per­cep­tion is imper­ma­nent, voli­tion­al for­ma­tions are imper­ma­nent, con­scious­ness is imper­ma­nent. See­ing thus, monks, the instruct­ed noble dis­ci­ple expe­ri­ences dis­en­chant­ment towards form … feel­ing … per­cep­tion … voli­tion­al for­ma­tions … con­scious­ness. Expe­ri­enc­ing dis­en­chant­ment, he becomes dis­pas­sion­ate. Through dis­pas­sion [his mind] is lib­er­at­ed. When it is lib­er­at­ed there comes the knowl­edge: ‘It is lib­er­at­ed.’ He under­stands: ‘Destroyed is birth, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more for this state of being.’

Monks, form is sub­ject to pres­sure (dukkha)…. Feel­ing…. Per­cep­tion…. Voli­tion­al for­ma­tions…. Con­scious­ness is sub­ject to pres­sure…. See­ing thus, the instruct­ed noble dis­ci­ple expe­ri­ences dis­en­chant­ment….

Monks, form is not-self (anat­tā)…. Feel­ing…. Per­cep­tion…. Voli­tion­al for­ma­tions…. Con­scious­ness is not-self…. See­ing thus, the instruct­ed noble dis­ci­ple expe­ri­ences dis­en­chant­ment.13

The con­tem­pla­tion in this pas­sage on the three char­ac­ter­is­tics is some­times changed to sim­i­lar con­tem­pla­tions, for exam­ple: ‘Form is Māra,’ ‘feel­ings are hot embers,’ ‘form is sub­ject to aris­ing and ces­sa­tion,’ etc.14

Monks, form … feel­ing … per­cep­tion … voli­tion­al for­ma­tions … con­scious­ness is imper­ma­nent. What is imper­ma­nent is sub­ject to pres­sure (dukkha). What is sub­ject to pres­sure is not-self. What is not-self should be seen as it real­ly is with cor­rect wis­dom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ See­ing thus the instruct­ed noble dis­ci­ple expe­ri­ences dis­en­chant­ment.15

Monks, the body is not-self. If the body were self it would not lead to afflic­tion, and it would be pos­si­ble to have it of the body: ‘May my body be this way; may it not be that way.’ But because the body is not-self, the body leads to afflic­tion, and it is not pos­si­ble to have it of the body: ‘May my body be this way; may it not be that way.’

Feel­ing is not-self … Per­cep­tion is not-self … Voli­tion­al for­ma­tions are not-self … Con­scious­ness is not-self. For if con­scious­ness were self it would not lead to afflic­tion, and it would be pos­si­ble to have it of con­scious­ness: ‘May my con­scious­ness be this way; may it not be that way.’ But because con­scious­ness is not-self, con­scious­ness leads to afflic­tion, and it is not pos­si­ble to have it of con­scious­ness: ‘May my con­scious­ness be this way; may it not be that way.’

What do you think, monks, is the body per­ma­nent or imper­ma­nent?’

Imper­ma­nent, ven­er­a­ble sir.’

Is that which is imper­ma­nent oppres­sive (dukkha) or ease­ful (sukha)?’

Oppres­sive, ven­er­a­ble sir.’

Is what is imper­ma­nent, oppres­sive and of the nature to change fit to be regard­ed thus:“This is mine, this is I, this is my self?”’

No, ven­er­a­ble sir.’

What do you think, monks, are feel­ings per­ma­nent or imper­ma­nent?’ … ‘is per­cep­tion per­ma­nent or imper­ma­nent?’ … ‘are voli­tion­al for­ma­tions per­ma­nent or imper­ma­nent?’ … ‘is con­scious­ness per­ma­nent or imper­ma­nent?’

Imper­ma­nent, ven­er­a­ble sir….’

Is what is imper­ma­nent, oppres­sive and of the nature to change fit to be regard­ed thus: “This is mine, this is I, this is my self?”’

No, ven­er­a­ble sir.’

There­fore, monks, you should see any kind of phys­i­cal form … feel­ing … per­cep­tion … voli­tion­al for­ma­tion … con­scious­ness what­so­ev­er, whether past, future, or present, inter­nal or exter­nal, coarse or sub­tle, infe­ri­or or supe­ri­or, far or near, as it actu­al­ly is with prop­er wis­dom thus: “This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.” See­ing thus the instruct­ed noble dis­ci­ple expe­ri­ences dis­en­chant­ment.’16

What­ev­er kind of form … feel­ing … per­cep­tion … voli­tion­al for­ma­tion … con­scious­ness there is, whether past, future, or present, inter­nal or exter­nal, coarse or sub­tle, infe­ri­or or supe­ri­or, far or near: a bhikkhu inspects it, pon­ders it, and care­ful­ly inves­ti­gates it, and it would appear to him to be void, hol­low, insub­stan­tial. For what sub­stan­tial­i­ty could there be in form … feel­ing … per­cep­tion … voli­tion­al for­ma­tion … con­scious­ness?17

Monks, a monk sees as imper­ma­nent form … feel­ing … per­cep­tion … voli­tion­al for­ma­tions … con­scious­ness which is actu­al­ly imper­ma­nent: that is his right view. See­ing right­ly, he expe­ri­ences dis­pas­sion. With the destruc­tion of delight comes the destruc­tion of lust; with the destruc­tion of lust comes the destruc­tion of delight. With the destruc­tion of delight and lust the mind is lib­er­at­ed and is said to be well lib­er­at­ed.18

Monks, attend care­ful­ly to form. Rec­og­nize the imper­ma­nence of form as it real­ly is. When a monk attends care­ful­ly to form and rec­og­nizes the imper­ma­nence of form as it real­ly is, he expe­ri­ences dis­pas­sion towards form. With the destruc­tion of delight comes the destruc­tion of lust; with the destruc­tion of lust comes the destruc­tion of delight … the mind is lib­er­at­ed and is said to be well lib­er­at­ed.

Monks, attend care­ful­ly to feel­ing … per­cep­tion … voli­tion­al for­ma­tions … con­scious­ness.19

2. Contemplations of the Sense Spheres

Monks, the eye … ear … nose … tongue … body … mind is imper­ma­nent. See­ing thus, the instruct­ed noble dis­ci­ple expe­ri­ences dis­pas­sion…. The eye … ear … nose … tongue … body … mind is sub­ject to pres­sure…. The eye … ear … nose … tongue … body … mind is not-self…. Forms … sounds … odours … tastes … tac­tile objects … men­tal phe­nom­e­na are imper­ma­nent … sub­ject to pres­sure … not-self. See­ing thus, the instruct­ed noble dis­ci­ple expe­ri­ences dis­en­chant­ment.20

The con­tem­pla­tion in this pas­sage on the three char­ac­ter­is­tics is some­times changed to sim­i­lar con­tem­pla­tions, for exam­ple: ‘The eye is obscured,’ ‘the eye is burn­ing,’ and ‘the eye is sub­ject to destruction.’21

Monks, the eye … ear … nose … tongue … body … mind is imper­ma­nent. What is imper­ma­nent is sub­ject to pres­sure. What is sub­ject to pres­sure is not-self. What is not-self should be seen as it real­ly is with cor­rect wis­dom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ See­ing thus the instruct­ed noble dis­ci­ple expe­ri­ences dis­en­chant­ment….

Monks, forms … sounds … odours … tastes … tan­gi­bles … men­tal phe­nom­e­na are imper­ma­nent. What is imper­ma­nent is sub­ject to pres­sure. What is sub­ject to pres­sure is not-self. What is not-self should be seen as it real­ly is with cor­rect wis­dom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ See­ing thus the instruct­ed noble dis­ci­ple expe­ri­ences dis­en­chant­ment.22

What do you think, monks, is the body per­ma­nent or imper­ma­nent?’

Imper­ma­nent, ven­er­a­ble sir.’

Is that which is imper­ma­nent oppres­sive or ease­ful?’

Oppres­sive, ven­er­a­ble sir.’

Is what is imper­ma­nent, oppres­sive and of the nature to change fit to be regard­ed thus: “This is mine, this is I, this is my self?”’

No, ven­er­a­ble sir.’

What do you think, monks, is the ear … nose … tongue … body … mind … eye-con­scious­ness … ear con­scious­ness … mind con­scious­ness … eye-con­tact … mind-con­tact … what­ev­er feel­ing aris­es with eye-con­tact as con­di­tion … what­ev­er feel­ing aris­es with mind-con­tact as condition—whether pleas­ant or painful or nei­ther-painful-nor-pleas­ant23—per­ma­nent or imper­ma­nent?’

Imper­ma­nent, ven­er­a­ble sir’….

Is what is imper­ma­nent, oppres­sive and of the nature to change fit to be regard­ed thus: “This is mine, this is I, this is my self?”’

No, ven­er­a­ble sir’….

See­ing thus the instruct­ed noble dis­ci­ple expe­ri­ences dis­en­chant­ment.’24

Monks, the eye is imper­ma­nent. The cause and con­di­tion for the aris­ing of the eye is also imper­ma­nent. As the eye has orig­i­nat­ed from what is imper­ma­nent, how could it be per­ma­nent?….

The eye is sub­ject to stress. The cause and con­di­tion for the aris­ing of the eye is also stress­ful. As the eye has orig­i­nat­ed from what is stress­ful, how could it be ease­ful?….

The eye is not-self. The cause and con­di­tion for the aris­ing of the eye is also not-self. As the eye has orig­i­nat­ed from what is not-self, how could it be self?

See­ing thus the instruct­ed noble dis­ci­ple expe­ri­ences dis­en­chant­ment.25 (The same for the remain­ing five sense bases and the six sense objects.)

Monks, a monk sees as imper­ma­nent the eye … ear … nose … mind … sights … sounds … men­tal phe­nom­e­na which are actu­al­ly imper­ma­nent: that is his right view. See­ing right­ly, he expe­ri­ences dis­pas­sion. With the destruc­tion of delight comes the destruc­tion of lust … the mind is lib­er­at­ed and is said to be well lib­er­at­ed.26

Monks, attend care­ful­ly to the eye. Rec­og­nize the imper­ma­nence of the eye as it real­ly is. When a monk attends care­ful­ly to the eye and rec­og­nizes the imper­ma­nence of the eye as it real­ly is, he expe­ri­ences dis­pas­sion towards the eye. With the destruc­tion of delight comes the destruc­tion of lust … the mind is lib­er­at­ed and is said to be well lib­er­at­ed.

Monks, attend care­ful­ly to the ear … nose … mind … sights … sounds … men­tal phe­nom­e­na.27

A cer­tain bhikkhu approached the Blessed One … and said to him: ‘Ven­er­a­ble Sir, is there one thing through the aban­don­ing of which igno­rance is aban­doned by a bhikkhu and true knowl­edge aris­es?’

The Bud­dha replied: ‘When a bhikkhu knows and sees the eye … forms … the ear … sounds … the mind … men­tal objects … mind con­scious­ness … mind-con­tact … what­ev­er feel­ing aris­es with mind-con­tact as condition—whether pleas­ant or painful or neutral—as imper­ma­nent, igno­rance is aban­doned by him and true knowl­edge aris­es.’28

A cer­tain bhikkhu approached the Blessed One … The Bud­dha replied: ‘Here, bhikkhu, a bhikkhu has heard,29 “Noth­ing is worth adher­ing to.”30 The con­cept “noth­ing is worth adher­ing to” is [mere­ly] his acquired knowl­edge. He stud­ies (abhiññā—‘direct­ly knows’; ‘pays atten­tion to’) every­thing; hav­ing stud­ied every­thing, he ful­ly under­stands (par­iññā) every­thing . Hav­ing ful­ly under­stood every­thing, he sees all signs dif­fer­ent­ly.31 He sees the eye dif­fer­ent­ly, he sees forms dif­fer­ent­ly … what­ev­er feel­ing aris­es with eye-con­tact as con­di­tion … that too he sees dif­fer­ent­ly. When a bhikkhu knows and sees thus, igno­rance is aban­doned by him and true knowl­edge aris­es.’ (Same for the remain­ing sense spheres, the six kinds of con­scious­ness, the six con­tacts, and the three kinds of feeling.)32

3. General Inquiry

Bhikkhus, when what exists, by cling­ing to what, do plea­sure and pain arise inter­nal­ly?…. When there is form, bhikkhus, by cling­ing to form, plea­sure and pain arise inter­nal­ly. When there is feel­ing … per­cep­tion … voli­tion­al for­ma­tions … con­scious­ness, by cling­ing to con­scious­ness, plea­sure and pain arise inter­nal­ly.

What do you think, monks, is form (feel­ing, etc.) per­ma­nent or imper­ma­nent?’

Imper­ma­nent, ven­er­a­ble sir’….

Is that which is imper­ma­nent oppres­sive or ease­ful?’

Oppres­sive, ven­er­a­ble sir.’

But with­out cling­ing to what is imper­ma­nent, oppres­sive, and sub­ject to change, could plea­sure and pain arise inter­nal­ly?’

No, ven­er­a­ble sir.’

See­ing thus, the instruct­ed noble dis­ci­ple expe­ri­ences dis­en­chant­ment.’33

There are many vari­a­tions to this pas­sage above, indi­cat­ing that self-iden­ti­ty, per­son­al­i­ty view (sakkāya-diṭṭhi), and oth­er wrong views (mic­chā-diṭṭhi) stem from attach­ing to and mis­un­der­stand­ing the five aggregates.34

Bhikkhus, this Dham­ma has been taught by me dis­crim­i­nate­ly. The Four Foun­da­tions of Mind­ful­ness have been taught by me dis­crim­i­nate­ly. The Four Right Efforts … the Four Bases for Suc­cess … the Five Spir­i­tu­al Fac­ul­ties … the Five Pow­ers … the Sev­en Fac­tors of Enlight­en­ment … the Noble Eight­fold Path has been taught by me dis­crim­i­nate­ly. Bhikkhus, in regard to the Dham­ma that has been thus taught by me dis­crim­i­nate­ly, a reflec­tion arose in the mind of a cer­tain bhikkhu thus: ‘How should one know, how should one see, for the imme­di­ate destruc­tion of the taints to occur?’….

Here, bhikkhus, the unin­struct­ed worldling … regards form (feel­ing, per­cep­tion, etc.) as self. That regard­ing, bhikkhus, is a for­ma­tion. That formation—what is its source, what is its ori­gin, from what is it born and pro­duced? When the unin­struct­ed worldling is con­tact­ed by a feel­ing born of igno­rance-con­tact, crav­ing aris­es: thence that for­ma­tion is born.

Thus, bhikkhus, that for­ma­tion is imper­ma­nent, con­di­tioned, depen­dent­ly arisen; that crav­ing … feel­ing … con­tact … that igno­rance is imper­ma­nent, con­di­tioned, depen­dent­ly arisen. When one knows and see thus, bhikkhus, the imme­di­ate destruc­tion of the taints occurs.35

Bhikkhus, while a bhikkhu dwells mind­ful and clear­ly com­pre­hend­ing,36 dili­gent, ardent, and res­olute, if there aris­es in him a pleas­ant feel­ing, he under­stands thus: ‘There has arisen in me a pleas­ant feel­ing. Now that is depen­dent, not inde­pen­dent. Depen­dent on what? Depen­dent on this very body. But this body is imper­ma­nent, con­di­tioned, depen­dent­ly arisen. So when the pleas­ant feel­ing has arisen in depen­dence on a body that is imper­ma­nent, con­di­tioned, depen­dent­ly arisen, how could it be per­ma­nent?’ He dwells con­tem­plat­ing imper­ma­nence in the body and in pleas­ant feel­ing, he dwells con­tem­plat­ing van­ish­ing, con­tem­plat­ing fad­ing away, con­tem­plat­ing ces­sa­tion, con­tem­plat­ing relin­quish­ment. As he dwells thus, the under­ly­ing ten­den­cy to lust in regard to the body and in regard to pleas­ant feel­ing is aban­doned by him….

While a bhikkhu dwells mind­ful … if there aris­es in him a painful feel­ing, he under­stands…. The under­ly­ing ten­den­cy to aver­sion in regard to the body and in regard to painful feel­ing is aban­doned by him.

While a bhikkhu dwells mind­ful … if there aris­es in him a nei­ther-painful-nor-pleas­ant feel­ing, he under­stands…. The under­ly­ing ten­den­cy to igno­rance in regard to the body and in regard to nei­ther-painful-nor-pleas­ant feel­ing is aban­doned by him.37

4. All-Encompassing Contemplations

The Ven­er­a­ble Mahākoṭṭhi­ta approached the Ven­er­a­ble Sāriput­ta and said to him: ‘Friend Sāriput­ta, what are the things that a vir­tu­ous bhikkhu should care­ful­ly attend to?’

Friend Koṭṭhi­ta, a vir­tu­ous bhikkhu should care­ful­ly attend to the five aggre­gates sub­ject to cling­ing as imper­ma­nent, as sub­ject to pres­sure, as a dis­ease, as a tumour, as a dart, as mis­ery, as an afflic­tion, as alien, as dis­in­te­grat­ing, as emp­ty, as not-self…. When, friend, a vir­tu­ous bhikkhu care­ful­ly attends to these five aggre­gates sub­ject to cling­ing, it is pos­si­ble that he may real­ize the fruit of stream-entry.’

But, friend Sāriput­ta, what are the things that a bhikkhu who is a stream-enter­er should care­ful­ly attend to?’

Friend Koṭṭhi­ta, a bhikkhu who is a stream-enter­er should care­ful­ly attend to these five aggre­gates sub­ject to cling­ing as imper­ma­nent … as not-self. When, friend, a bhikkhu who is a stream-enter­er care­ful­ly attends thus to these five aggre­gates sub­ject to cling­ing, it is pos­si­ble that he may real­ize the fruit of once-return­ing.’

But, friend Sāriput­ta, what are the things that a bhikkhu who is a once-return­er should care­ful­ly attend to?’

Friend Koṭṭhi­ta, a bhikkhu who is a once return­er should care­ful­ly attend to these five aggre­gates sub­ject to cling­ing as imper­ma­nent … as not-self. When, friend, a bhikkhu who is a once-return­er care­ful­ly attends thus to these five aggre­gates sub­ject to cling­ing, it is pos­si­ble that he may real­ize the fruit of non-return­ing.’

But, friend Sāriput­ta, what are the things that a bhikkhu who is a non-return­er should care­ful­ly attend to?’

Friend Koṭṭhi­ta, a bhikkhu who is a non-return­er should care­ful­ly attend to these five aggre­gates sub­ject to cling­ing as imper­ma­nent … as not-self. When, friend, a bhikkhu who is a non-return­er care­ful­ly attends thus to these five aggre­gates sub­ject to cling­ing, it is pos­si­ble that he may real­ize the fruit of ara­hantship.’

But, friend Sāriput­ta, what are the things that a bhikkhu who is an ara­hant should care­ful­ly attend to?’

Friend Koṭṭhi­ta, a bhikkhu who is an ara­hant should care­ful­ly attend to these five aggre­gates sub­ject to cling­ing as imper­ma­nent … as not-self. For the ara­hant, friend, there is noth­ing fur­ther that has to be done and no rep­e­ti­tion of what he has already done. How­ev­er, when these things are devel­oped and cul­ti­vat­ed, they lead to a pleas­ant dwelling in this very life and to mind­ful­ness and clear com­pre­hen­sion.’38

***

1 Vin. I. 11; S. V. 422–3.

2 S. III. 28.

3 S. IV. 7–8.

4 S. V. 204.

5 S. V. 206.

6 S. V. 316–7.

7 S. IV. 233–4.

8 S. V. 178–9; these are the Four Foun­da­tions of Mind­ful­ness.

9 S. V. 258; each sen­tence in this pas­sage con­tains the phrase ‘voli­tion­al for­ma­tions of striv­ing’ in con­junc­tion with each spir­i­tu­al basis in ques­tion, e.g.: ‘This is the basis for spir­i­tu­al pow­er that pos­sess­es con­cen­tra­tion due to desire and voli­tion­al for­ma­tions of striv­ing.’

10 S. II. 104–7 (begin­ning sec­tion also found at S. II. 10); on the dif­fer­ence between the Bud­dha and paññā-vimut­ta see: S. III. 66.

11 The thir­ty-sev­en bod­hipakkhiya-dham­mā: four foun­da­tions of mind­ful­ness, four right efforts, four paths to suc­cess, four spir­i­tu­al fac­ul­ties, four spir­i­tu­al pow­ers, sev­en limbs of enlight­en­ment, and the Eight­fold Path.

12 See: SA. II. 262.

13 E.g.: S. III. 21; an alter­na­tive trans­la­tion for ‘dis­en­chant­ment’ (nib­bidā) is ‘dis­en­gage­ment’; an alter­na­tive trans­la­tion for ‘dis­pas­sion­ate’ (virā­ga) is ‘dis­en­tan­gled.’

14 See: S. III. 71, 177, 195–8.

15 E.g.: S. III. 22, 82–3.

16 S. III. 66–8.

17 S. III. 140–42.

18 S. III. 51.

19 S. III. 52.

20 S. IV. 155–6.

21 See: S. IV. 19–21, 26–9.

22 S. IV. 1–3. This pas­sage can be found with slight vari­a­tion in many loca­tions; see: S. IV. 151–5. At S. IV. 170 the con­tem­pla­tion is extend­ed to cov­er the six kinds of con­scious­ness (viññāṇa), the six con­tacts (phas­sa), and the three kinds of feel­ing (vedanā)—plea­sur­able, painful and neu­tral.

23 In the instruc­tion to Ven­er­a­ble Rāhu­la, the sec­tion: ‘What­ev­er feel­ing aris­es with eye-con­tact as con­di­tion … whether pleas­ant or painful or nei­ther-painful-nor-pleas­ant’ is changed to: ‘Any­thing includ­ed in feel­ing, per­cep­tion, voli­tion­al for­ma­tions, and con­scious­ness arisen with eye-con­tact as con­di­tion’ (S. IV. 106–7).

24 S. IV. 48; slight vari­a­tions of this pas­sage are found at: S. IV. 24–5, 34, 43, 44–5, 54–5, 63–4, 135.

25 S. IV. 129–32.

26 S. IV. 142.

27 S. IV. 142–3.

28 S. IV. 49–50; slight vari­a­tions are found at: S. IV. 30–32.

29 Suta: ‘heard,’ ‘stud­ied.’

30 Sabbe dham­mā nālaṁ abhinivesāya.

31 Nimit­ta: ‘signs’; dis­cernible fea­tures of things. He sees things dif­fer­ent­ly from when he was still sub­ject to attach­ment.

32 S. IV. 50; abhiññā: ‘spe­cif­ic’ knowl­edge; ‘per­son­al’ knowl­edge; knowl­edge through direct expe­ri­ence; par­iññā: com­pre­hen­sive knowl­edge; know­ing the true nature of some­thing; know­ing the qual­i­ties and fea­tures of some­thing.

33 S. III. 180–1.

34 S. III. 181–7.

35 S. III. 96–7; there are many vari­a­tions to the phrase: regards form (feel­ing, per­cep­tion, etc.) as self (see: S. III. 97–9).

36 One prac­tis­es the Four Foun­da­tions of Mind­ful­ness.

37 S. IV. 211–2.

38 S. III. 167–9; the fol­low­ing sut­ta (S. III. 169) is sim­i­lar but changes the term ‘vir­tu­ous bhikkhu’ to ‘well-instruct­ed bhikkhu.’ S. V. 298–9 states that both a trainee (sekha) and one beyond train­ing (asekha) should ‘enter and dwell in’ the Four Foun­da­tions of Mind­ful­ness. The four jhā­nas are usu­al­ly devel­oped by ‘trainees’ (and those low­er than trainees), but can also be used by ara­hants for a ‘pleas­ant dwelling in this life’ and for mind­ful­ness and clear com­pre­hen­sion (e.g.: M. III. 4; D. III. 222–3; A. II. 44–5; A. III. 323). Mind­ful­ness of the body is sim­i­lar­ly used for a ‘pleas­ant dwelling in this life’ (see: A. I. 43).