Important Principles on the Realization of Nibbāna

Important Principles on the Realization of Nibbāna

The fol­low­ing ques­tions are often debat­ed among Bud­dhist schol­ars and prac­ti­tion­ers:

  • Can some­one who only prac­tis­es insight med­i­ta­tion (vipas­sanā) attain ara­hantship, with­out prac­tis­ing tran­quil­li­ty med­i­ta­tion (samatha)?
  • Is it nec­es­sary to attain jhā­na before attain­ing Nib­bā­na?
  • To achieve the six kinds of ‘high­er psy­chic attain­ments’ (abhiññā), is it suf­fi­cient to have attained the fourth jhā­na or must one have also attained the form­less jhā­nas (i.e., the eight samā­pat­ti)?
  • To attain the knowl­edge of the destruc­tion of the taints (āsavakkhaya-ñāṇa) and real­ize Nib­bā­na, must one have pre­vi­ous­ly attained the rem­i­nis­cence of past lives (pub­benivāsānus­sati-ñāṇa) and the knowl­edge of the decease and rebirth of beings (cutū­pa­pā­ta-ñāṇa)?
  • While in jhā­na can one prac­tise insight and con­tem­plate con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na or must one first emerge from jhā­na?
  • Is it pos­si­ble to devel­op samatha fur­ther and achieve con­cen­tra­tive attain­ments (jhā­na-samā­pat­ti) after attain­ing path and fruit (mag­ga-pha­la)?

Some of these ques­tions involve key aspects of real­iz­ing Nib­bā­na, some are only tan­gen­tial­ly relat­ed, and some have already been dis­cussed at length, espe­cial­ly the ques­tion on whether a per­son can attain Nib­bā­na by sole­ly prac­tis­ing insight med­i­ta­tion. This sec­tion will focus on those ques­tions which are direct­ly relat­ed to real­iza­tion, draw­ing upon evi­dence from the scrip­tures.

General Aspects of Realization

I declare, O monks, that the destruc­tion of the taints occurs in depen­dence on the first jhā­na, or the sec­ond jhā­na, or the third jhā­na, or the fourth jhā­na; in depen­dence on the base of the infin­i­ty of space, or the base of the infin­i­ty of con­scious­ness, or the base of noth­ing­ness, or the base of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion, (or in depen­dence on the ces­sa­tion of per­cep­tion and feel­ing).1

This sut­ta and three oth­er suttas2 describe the way to use each stage of con­cen­tra­tive attain­ment for reflec­tion and to gain insight into the true nature of con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na. The above sut­ta con­tin­ues:

When it is said, ‘I declare, O monks, that the destruc­tion of the taints occurs in depen­dence on the first jhā­na,’ for what rea­son is this said? Here … a monk enters and dwells in the first jhā­na…. What­ev­er states are includ­ed there com­prised by form, feel­ing, per­cep­tion, voli­tion­al for­ma­tions or con­scious­ness: he views those states as imper­ma­nent, as sub­ject to pres­sure … as emp­ty, as non-self.3 Hav­ing viewed them thus, his mind then turns away from those states and focus­es upon the death­less ele­ment: ‘This is peace­ful, this is sub­lime: that is … Nib­bā­na.’ If he sus­tains [the first jhāna],4 he attains the destruc­tion of the taints; but if he does not attain the destruc­tion of the taints because of delight in the Dham­ma, then … he is due to be spon­ta­neous­ly reborn (in the celes­tial realm Sud­dhāvāsa) and there attain final Nib­bā­na, with­out ever return­ing from that world.5

From here the sut­ta describes a sim­i­lar process of cul­ti­vat­ing insight to reach the destruc­tion of the taints for each of the con­cen­tra­tive lev­els all the way up to the sphere of nothingness.6

The Mahāmāluṅkya Sut­ta has less detail but describes the con­tem­pla­tion of the three char­ac­ter­is­tics in ref­er­ence to the five aggre­gates, in each of the jhā­nas up to the sphere of noth­ing­ness, result­ing in the destruc­tion of the taints. The Aṭṭhakanā­gara and Dasama sut­tas have a slight vari­a­tion:

A monk enters and abides in the first jhā­na…. He con­sid­ers this and under­stands it thus: ‘This first jhā­na is con­di­tioned and voli­tion­al­ly pro­duced. But what­ev­er is con­di­tioned and voli­tion­al­ly pro­duced is imper­ma­nent, sub­ject to ces­sa­tion.’ Sus­tain­ing that [first jhā­na], he attains the destruc­tion of the taints.

These four sut­tas con­tain essen­tial­ly the same infor­ma­tion; they dif­fer only in minor details. They describe the devel­op­ment of insight in jhā­na, from the first jhā­na to the sphere of noth­ing­ness, end­ing in the destruc­tion of the taints. The Jhā­na Sut­ta, how­ev­er, adds a sum­ma­ry:

Thus, monks, there is pen­e­tra­tion to final knowl­edge (aññā-paṭived­ha) as far as med­i­ta­tive attain­ments accom­pa­nied by per­cep­tion (saññā-samā­pat­ti) reach.7

This means that in jhā­na, from the sphere of noth­ing­ness and below, there is per­cep­tion (along with oth­er accom­pa­ny­ing aggre­gates), which can be applied for con­tem­pla­tion and sup­ports insight for the real­iza­tion of the destruc­tion of the taints. In the sphere of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion (nevasaññā-nāsaññāy­atana), per­cep­tion is too refined and can­not be applied for con­tem­pla­tion. This holds even more true in the extinc­tion of per­cep­tion and feel­ing (saññāve­dayi­ta-nirod­ha). There­fore these two attain­ments are not ‘attain­ments accom­pa­nied by per­cep­tion’ (saññā-samā­pat­ti).

If this is so, how is it pos­si­ble to attain the destruc­tion of the taints while in the sphere of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion and in the extinc­tion of per­cep­tion and feel­ing? The answer is that one must first exit these high­est lev­els of con­cen­tra­tive attain­ment and then apply wis­dom to con­tem­plate con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na and reach the destruc­tion of the taints. The Anu­pa­da Sut­ta con­tains a pas­sage con­cern­ing the sphere of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion:

Again, monks, by com­plete­ly sur­mount­ing the base of noth­ing­ness, Sāriput­ta entered upon and abid­ed in the base of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion. He emerged mind­ful from that attain­ment. Hav­ing done so, he con­tem­plat­ed the past states, which had ceased and changed, thus: ‘So indeed, these states, not hav­ing been, come into being; hav­ing been, they van­ish.’8

Sim­i­lar expla­na­tions are giv­en in ref­er­ence to the extinc­tion of per­cep­tion and feel­ing (saññāve­dayi­ta-nirod­ha): hav­ing emerged from this attain­ment, a per­son con­tem­plates the fine-mate­r­i­al qual­i­ties of this state, con­tem­plates the qual­i­ties in the pre­ced­ing state of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion, or con­tem­plates all con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na, to under­stand the truth and reach the destruc­tion of the taints.9

In a sim­i­lar fash­ion, one can con­tem­plate con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na or the men­tal con­stituents of jhā­na after emerg­ing from each of the jhā­nas, from the sphere of noth­ing­ness down to the first jhāna.10 The pas­sages above are pro­vid­ed, how­ev­er, to prove that it is also pos­si­ble to devel­op insight while abid­ing in these states of jhā­na, with­out first emerg­ing from them. Only with the two high­est con­cen­tra­tive attainments—of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion and the extinc­tion of per­cep­tion and feeling—must one first exit in order to devel­op insight.11

The com­men­taries refer to one who prac­tis­es in this way as ‘one who uses tran­quil­li­ty as a vehi­cle’ (samatha-yāni­ka): such a prac­ti­tion­er prac­tis­es tran­quil­li­ty until reach­ing jhā­na, at which point he or she devel­ops insight. This is the first way of prac­tice in a group of four, which is men­tioned in the scrip­tures:

  • The prac­tice of insight pre­ced­ed by tran­quil­li­ty (samatha-pub­baṅga­ma-vipas­sanā-bhā­vanā).
  • The prac­tice of tran­quil­li­ty pre­ced­ed by insight (vipas­sanā-pub­baṅga­ma-samatha-bhā­vanā).
  • The prac­tice of tran­quil­li­ty and insight in asso­ci­a­tion (yuganad­dha-samatha-vipas­sanā-bhā­vanā).
  • The way of prac­tice when the mind is dis­tort­ed or mis­led by an excite­ment or agi­ta­tion in regard to the Dham­ma (dham­mud­dhac­ca-vig­gahi­ta-mānasa). Here one has the mis­ap­pre­hen­sion that the inter­me­di­ate results of one’s prac­tice con­sti­tute path, fruit, and Nibbāna.12

These four ways of prac­tice are a sum­ma­ry of the four path­ways (mag­ga) described by Ven­er­a­ble Ānan­da:

Friends, what­ev­er bhikkhu or bhikkhunī has declared the attain­ment of ara­hantship in my pres­ence has done so by these four paths or by a cer­tain one among them. What four?

Here, friends, a monk devel­ops insight pre­ced­ed by tran­quil­li­ty. While he devel­ops insight pre­ced­ed by tran­quil­li­ty, the path aris­es in him. He now pur­sues, devel­ops and cul­ti­vates that path, and while he is doing so the fet­ters are aban­doned and the under­ly­ing ten­den­cies are uproot­ed.

Again, friends, a monk devel­ops tran­quil­li­ty pre­ced­ed by insight. While he devel­ops tran­quil­li­ty pre­ced­ed by insight, the path aris­es in him. He now pur­sues, devel­ops and cul­ti­vates that path … and the under­ly­ing ten­den­cies are uproot­ed.

Again, friends, a monk devel­ops tran­quil­li­ty and insight in tan­dem. While he thus devel­ops tran­quil­li­ty and insight in tan­dem, the path aris­es in him. He now pur­sues, devel­ops and cul­ti­vates that path … and the under­ly­ing ten­den­cies are uproot­ed.

Or again, friends, a monk’s mind is seized by agi­ta­tion caused by high­er states of mind. But there comes a time when his mind becomes inter­nal­ly steady, com­posed, uni­fied, and con­cen­trat­ed. Then the path aris­es in him. He now pur­sues, devel­ops and cul­ti­vates that path … and the under­ly­ing ten­den­cies are uproot­ed.13

Insight pre­ced­ed by tran­quil­li­ty: the Paṭisamb­hidā­mag­ga defines this thus: ini­tial­ly, the mind is one-point­ed, steady and concentrated.14 This con­cen­tra­tion can arise from any of these caus­es: the pow­er of renun­ci­a­tion (nekkham­ma); the pow­er of a free­dom from ill-will (abyāpā­da); the per­cep­tion of light (ālo­ka-saññā), which com­bats drowsi­ness; an absence of rest­less­ness (avikkhepa); reflec­tion on aspects of Dham­ma (dham­ma-vavatthā­na), which dis­pels doubt; knowl­edge (ñāṇa); joy (pāmo­j­ja);15 the first jhā­na; the sec­ond jhā­na; the third jhā­na; the fourth jhā­na; the sphere of infin­i­ty of space (ākāsā­nañcāy­atana); the sphere of infin­i­ty of con­scious­ness (viññāṇañcāy­atana); the sphere of noth­ing­ness; the sphere of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion; the ten kasiṇa med­i­ta­tions; med­i­ta­tion on the ten reflec­tions (anus­sati); med­i­ta­tion on the ten stages of decay (asub­ha); and med­i­ta­tion on the thir­ty-two aspects of mind­ful­ness of breathing.16 Con­cen­tra­tion is fol­lowed by wis­dom, which dis­cerns all the attrib­ut­es of the dif­fer­ent stages of con­cen­tra­tion as imper­ma­nent, sub­ject to pres­sure (dukkha),17 and non­self.

The com­men­taries present a sim­pler expla­na­tion for this first way of prac­tice: a per­son first devel­ops con­cen­tra­tion (either access con­cen­tra­tion or attain­ment con­cen­tra­tion). He then reflects on that lev­el of con­cen­tra­tion, along with accom­pa­ny­ing men­tal fac­tors, as imper­ma­nent, etc., until there is noble path-attain­ment (ariya-mag­ga).18

Tran­quil­li­ty pre­ced­ed by insight: the Paṭisamb­hidā­mag­ga explains:19 ini­tial­ly, a per­son uses insight to see things as imper­ma­nent, sub­ject to pres­sure, and non­self. Then, he ‘lets go’ of all the qual­i­ties man­i­fest dur­ing insight med­i­ta­tion, and this ‘let­ting go’ becomes the new object of med­i­ta­tion. The mind then becomes one-point­ed and con­cen­trat­ed.

The com­men­taries elab­o­rate: a per­son has not yet gen­er­at­ed tran­quil­li­ty, but he or she dis­cerns the uni­ver­sal char­ac­ter­is­tics (imper­ma­nence, etc.) in the five aggre­gates of cling­ing (upādā­na-khand­ha). When insight (vipas­sanā) is com­plete, ‘let­ting go’ of all fac­tors of insight becomes the object of med­i­ta­tion and the mind becomes one-point­ed and con­cen­trat­ed. This leads to path attainment.20

The com­men­taries say that whichev­er of these two ways of prac­tice a per­son fol­lows (tran­quil­li­ty pre­ced­ed by insight or insight pre­ced­ed by tran­quil­li­ty), tran­quil­li­ty and insight must always arise side by side at the moment of noble path attainment.21 This is so because samatha and vipas­sanā are essen­tial­ly equiv­a­lent to the eight fac­tors of the Noble Path: vipas­sanā equals right view (sam­mā-diṭṭhi) and right inten­tion (sam­mā-saṅkap­pa), and samatha com­pris­es all the remain­ing six fac­tors. These eight fac­tors arise nat­u­ral­ly togeth­er at the moment of attain­ing the ‘noble realm’ (ariya-bhū­mi).22

Tran­quil­li­ty and insight in tan­dem: the Paṭisamb­hidā­mag­ga explains:23 a per­son devel­ops tran­quil­li­ty and insight in tan­dem, in six­teen ways. One of these ways is that the prac­tice of samatha and the prac­tice of vipas­sanā lead to an iden­ti­cal object of med­i­ta­tion (āram­maṇa). For exam­ple, when one aban­dons rest­less­ness (uddhac­ca), the mind becomes con­cen­trat­ed and ‘ces­sa­tion’ (nirod­ha) becomes the object of aware­ness. (At the same time), by aban­don­ing igno­rance, insight aris­es and ‘ces­sa­tion’ becomes the object of aware­ness. In this way, tran­quil­li­ty and insight work togeth­er on an equal basis.

Some com­men­tar­i­al pas­sages claim that although there is coop­er­a­tion between tran­quil­li­ty and insight, this does not mean that samatha and vipas­sanā arise simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, since it is not pos­si­ble to con­tem­plate con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na while the mind is one-point­ed in jhāna.24 These pas­sages state that these two ways of med­i­ta­tion act as a pair in so far that insight fol­lows on from a person’s lev­el of con­cen­tra­tive attain­ment, and equal­ly the next lev­el of con­cen­tra­tive attain­ment relies on one’s pre­vi­ous lev­el of insight. A per­son enters first jhā­na, exits first jhā­na, con­tem­plates the con­di­tioned nature of first jhā­na, enters sec­ond jhā­na, exits sec­ond jhā­na, con­tem­plates the con­di­tioned nature of sec­ond jhā­na, enters third jhā­na, etc., until he exits from and con­tem­plates the con­di­tioned nature of the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception.25 An impor­tant exam­ple of this expla­na­tion is the account of Ven­er­a­ble Sāriput­ta, who devel­oped tran­quil­li­ty and insight in tan­dem, from the first jhā­na to the attain­ment of path and fruit (of arahantship).26

The way of prac­tice when the mind is mis­led by high­er states of mind: the Paṭisamb­hidā­mag­ga explains:27 when a per­son reflects on the three char­ac­ter­is­tics in ref­er­ence to the five aggre­gates, the fol­low­ing mind states may arise: radi­ance (obhāsa), knowl­edge (ñāṇa), bliss (pīti), seren­i­ty (pas­sad­dhi), joy (sukha), deter­mi­na­tion (adhimokkha), bal­anced effort (pag­gāha), care­ful atten­tion (upaṭṭhā­na), equa­nim­i­ty (upekkhā), and devo­tion (nikan­ti). The prac­ti­tion­er here believes that the radi­ance, for exam­ple, is a high­er state of mind: he believes he has attained path, fruit, or Nib­bā­na. Think­ing in this way caus­es rest­less­ness and these ten states of mind are not seen as they real­ly are, as imper­ma­nent, sub­ject to pres­sure, and not-self. Wise dis­cern­ment of these ten mind states caus­ing the mind to waver leads to a set­tled, clear and con­cen­trat­ed mind. With this wis­dom, one is not car­ried away by these mind states. The heart is pure and still and one’s med­i­ta­tion will nei­ther be mis­guid­ed nor impaired. The path can sub­se­quent­ly arise.

The com­men­taries refer to these high­er states of mind as the ten ‘impu­ri­ties of insight’ (vipas­sanū­pakkile­sa),28 which arise in peo­ple whose insight prac­tice is still weak (taruṇa-vipas­sanā). Because these qual­i­ties are excel­lent and have not been expe­ri­enced before, prac­ti­tion­ers are like­ly to believe they have attained path and fruit. This mis­un­der­stand­ing leads them to devi­ate from the way of insight; they aban­don their med­i­ta­tion prac­tice while delight­ing in these states of mind. The cor­rect way of prac­tice is to rec­og­nize the true nature of these men­tal states when they arise: that they are imper­ma­nent, con­di­tioned, depen­dent­ly arisen (paṭic­ca-samup­pan­na), and sub­ject to decline. They do not belong to us; they are not who we are (‘I am not this; this is not mine’). By not being over­ly excit­ed by these men­tal states, attach­ment to them wanes. A per­son is then able to prac­tise cor­rect­ly until reach­ing path and fruit.29

Accord­ing to the com­men­taries, there are two prin­ci­pal ways of prac­tice: insight pre­ced­ed by tran­quil­li­ty and tran­quil­li­ty pre­ced­ed by insight. The remain­ing two ways of prac­tice are sim­ply exten­sions of these for­mer two. The third way of prac­tise, of tran­quil­li­ty and insight in tan­dem, is a sub­di­vi­sion of the first way of prac­tice. The fourth way of prac­tice is applied in spe­cial cir­cum­stances, when spe­cif­ic prob­lems arise by prac­tis­ing the first three ways. It is a strat­e­gy for solv­ing these prob­lems aris­ing in prac­tice.

These two prin­ci­pal ways of prac­tice are prob­a­bly the ori­gin of the two med­i­ta­tion tech­niques enu­mer­at­ed in the com­men­taries: the ‘vehi­cle of tran­quil­li­ty’ (samatha-yāna) of the samatha-yāni­ka (‘one who uses tran­quil­li­ty as a vehi­cle’) and the ‘vehi­cle of insight’ (vipas­sanā-yāna) of the vipas­sanā-yāni­ka (‘one who uses insight as a vehi­cle’). The samatha-yāni­ka prac­tis­es tran­quil­li­ty first and insight lat­er. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, this tran­quil­li­ty can sim­ply be ‘access con­cen­tra­tion’ (upacāra-samād­hi) or it can refer to ‘attain­ment con­cen­tra­tion’ (appanā-samād­hi) of the jhānas.30 The com­men­taries pre­fer the more restrict­ed mean­ing, for some­one who has attained the jhānas.31 They claim that the way of prac­tice described by the Bud­dha, quot­ed at the begin­ning of this sec­tion (i.e., that the destruc­tion of the taints occurs in depen­dence on the first jhā­na, etc.), belongs to the samatha-yāni­ka.

A vipas­sanā-yāni­ka is also called a sud­dha-vipas­sanā-yāni­ka—‘one who prac­tis­es pure insight as a vehi­cle.’ This refers to those who devel­op insight with­out hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly devel­oped con­cen­tra­tion. When they have cor­rect­ly con­tem­plat­ed the true nature of things, the mind becomes peace­ful and con­cen­tra­tion aris­es auto­mat­i­cal­ly. At first, the con­cen­tra­tion may be ‘tem­po­rary’ (khaṇi­ka-samād­hi), which is the low­est lev­el of con­cen­tra­tion required for sub­se­quent insight prac­tice, as con­firmed by this pas­sage:

With­out tem­po­rary con­cen­tra­tion, insight can­not func­tion.32

Some­one who begins with tem­po­rary con­cen­tra­tion and then prac­tis­es insight is also clas­si­fied as a vipas­sanā-yāni­ka, because most every­one expe­ri­ences tem­po­rary con­cen­tra­tion when the mind is set­tled in an activ­i­ty or due to a con­ducive envi­ron­ment. As con­cen­tra­tion becomes nat­u­ral­ly stronger through insight prac­tice, it may devel­op into ‘access con­cen­tra­tion’ (upacāra-samād­hi): con­cen­tra­tion on the verge of jhāna.33 Final­ly, at the moment of real­iz­ing path and fruit, con­cen­tra­tion is well-estab­lished as ‘attain­ment concentration,’34 and one reach­es at least the first jhāna.35 This accords with the prin­ci­ple men­tioned ear­li­er, that a per­son real­iz­ing the ‘noble realm’ must be accom­plished in both tran­quil­li­ty and insight.

When those who use tran­quil­li­ty as a vehi­cle attain ara­hantship, they are divid­ed into two kinds: those lib­er­at­ed by wis­dom (paññā-vimut­ta) and those lib­er­at­ed both ways (ubha­tob­hā­ga-vimut­ta). The for­mer are those who have attained jhā­na not high­er than the fourth jhā­na. The lat­ter are those who have attained a form­less jhā­na or high­er, up to the extinc­tion of per­cep­tion and feel­ing. Those who use insight as a vehi­cle and who attain ara­hantship are all clas­si­fied as paññā-vimut­ta, and the com­men­taries assign a spe­cial name for them: sukkha-vipas­sa­ka (‘dry insight practitioners’).36 The com­men­taries divide the ara­hants into ten kinds, list­ed from the high­est to the lowest:37

A. Those Lib­er­at­ed Both Ways (bha­tob­hā­ga-vimut­ta):38

1. Lib­er­at­ed in both ways and accom­plished in the extinc­tion of per­cep­tion and feel­ing.

2. Lib­er­at­ed in both ways and accom­plished in the sphere of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion.

3. Lib­er­at­ed in both ways and accom­plished in the sphere of noth­ing­ness.

4. Lib­er­at­ed in both ways and accom­plished in the sphere of infi­nite con­scious­ness.

5. Lib­er­at­ed in both ways and accom­plished in the sphere of infi­nite space.

B. Those Lib­er­at­ed by Wis­dom (paññā-vimut­ta):

6. Lib­er­at­ed through wis­dom and accom­plished in the fourth jhā­na.

7. Lib­er­at­ed through wis­dom and accom­plished in the third jhā­na.

8. Lib­er­at­ed through wis­dom and accom­plished in the sec­ond jhā­na.

9. Lib­er­at­ed through wis­dom and accom­plished in the first jhā­na.

10. Lib­er­at­ed through wis­dom as a ‘dry insight prac­ti­tion­er.’

The first nine kinds of ara­hants use tran­quil­li­ty as a vehi­cle; their con­cen­tra­tive accom­plish­ments occur before prac­tis­ing insight. The tenth kind of ara­hant uses insight as a vehi­cle.


1 Jhā­na Sut­ta at A. IV. 422–3; the pas­sage in paren­the­ses is not found in the Siam Raṭṭha edi­tion in Thai, but is found in oth­er edi­tions, for exam­ple the Burmese edi­tion.

2 Mahāmāluṅkya Sut­ta (M. I. 432–37), Aṭṭhakanā­gara Sut­ta (M. I. 349–53), and Dasama Sut­ta (A. V. 343–4); the lat­ter two sut­tas are iden­ti­cal but with dif­fer­ent names and ori­gins.

3 For the form­less jhā­nas the word ‘form’ is removed since in these jhā­nas there is no con­tem­pla­tion of form; there is only con­tem­pla­tion of the four nāma-khand­ha: vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra and viññāṇa.

4 ‘If he sus­tains (the first jhā­na)’ is trans­lat­ed from the Pali: so tattha ṭhi­to. AA. IV. 196 explains this as: ‘If he sus­tains the first jhā­na (or each of the suc­ces­sive jhā­nas), he devel­ops strong insight and real­izes ara­hantship.’ Anoth­er def­i­n­i­tion is: ‘He sus­tains insight with the three char­ac­ter­is­tics (tilakkhaṇa) as the objects of med­i­ta­tion’ (MA. III. 188). MA. III. 14 and AA. V. 85 explain this as: ‘He sus­tains samatha and vipas­sanā.’

5 I.e., he or she is a non-return­er (anāgāmī).

6 Thus includ­ing the four fine-mate­r­i­al jhā­nas and the first three imma­te­r­i­al jhā­nas.

7 A. IV. 426.

8 M. III. 28; com­pare this with the descrip­tion of con­tem­plat­ing con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na while in the sphere of noth­ing­ness (and while in low­er jhā­nas), in which there is no men­tion of exit­ing the absorp­tion. E.g., in the above sut­ta it says: Again, bhikkhus, by com­plete­ly sur­mount­ing the base of infi­nite con­scious­ness, aware that ‘there is noth­ing,’ Sāriput­ta entered upon and abid­ed in the base of noth­ing­ness. And the states in the base of nothingness—the per­cep­tion of the base of noth­ing­ness and the uni­fi­ca­tion of mind; the con­tact, feel­ing, per­cep­tion, voli­tion, and con­scious­ness; the zeal, deter­mi­na­tion, ener­gy, mind­ful­ness, equa­nim­i­ty, and attention—these states were known to him one by one as they occurred; known to him those states arose, known they were present, known they dis­ap­peared. He under­stood thus: ‘So indeed, these states, not hav­ing been, come into being; hav­ing been, they van­ish.’ The Cūḷanid­de­sa, a sec­ondary text, explains the con­tem­pla­tion of the sphere of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion in a sim­i­lar way to the Majjhi­ma-Nikāya above: He entered upon and abid­ed in the base of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion. Hav­ing emerged from that attain­ment, he regard­ed, exam­ined, reflect­ed on, and inves­ti­gat­ed the mind and the men­tal con­stituents aris­ing in that attain­ment as imper­ma­nent … sub­ject to pres­sure … not-self … not free (Nd. II. 23). An exam­i­na­tion of the orig­i­nal text (Sn. 205–6), how­ev­er, reveals that the phrase ‘base of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion’ here is an error. It should read ‘sphere of noth­ing­ness,’ as con­firmed by the com­men­taries (NdA. 30; SnA. II. 593). The sec­ondary and lat­er texts ordi­nar­i­ly describe the con­tem­pla­tion of con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na and the devel­op­ment of insight after emerg­ing from con­cen­tra­tive attain­ments, irre­spec­tive of how high or low these attain­ments are.

9 See: MA. IV. 91. For more infor­ma­tion, see Appen­dix 2.

10 ‘Emerg­ing from the jhā­nas’ here cor­re­sponds with the com­men­tar­i­al expla­na­tion of exit­ing the states of mind empow­ered by that spe­cif­ic attain­ment, i.e., one does not use jhā­na as a foun­da­tion.

11 On whether one can devel­op insight in the sphere of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion, see: Appen­dix 3.

12 The com­men­taries clas­si­fy dham­mud­dhac­ca as ‘impu­ri­ties of insight’ (vipas­sanū­pakkile­sa): AA. III. 143; Vism. 634. The term vig­gahi­ta is here trans­lat­ed as ‘excit­ed and agi­tat­ed’ in line with Vis­mṬ.: Mag­gā­mag­gañāṇadas­sanav­i­sud­dhinid­de­savaṇṇanā, Vipas­sanu­pakkile­sakathā­vaṇṇanā.

13 A. II. 157–8; Ps. II. 92; referred to at Vis­mṬ.: Mag­gā­mag­gañāṇadas­sanav­i­sud­dhinid­de­savaṇṇanā, Vipas­sanu­pakkile­sakathā­vaṇṇanā.

14 Ps. II. 93–6; cf.: Ps. I. 95, 175–6.

15 The Paṭisamb­hidā­mag­ga describes how these sev­en qual­i­ties, from renun­ci­a­tion to joy, are involved in the aris­ing of access con­cen­tra­tion (upacāra-samād­hi) for pure insight prac­ti­tion­ers (sukkha-vipas­sa­ka): PsA. I. 310; cf. PsA. I. 68, 103.

16 It would be enough to sim­ply men­tion the sphere of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion, since this is the high­est jhā­na. This long list is pre­sent­ed to show the dis­tinc­tion between states of mind that are attained (from the first jhā­na to the sphere of nei­ther-per­cep­tion-nor-non-per­cep­tion) and ways of prac­tice to reach these attain­ments (cf. PsA. I. 312).

17 [For more on the three uni­ver­sal char­ac­ter­is­tics (tilakkhaṇa), see: ‘The Three Signs’; trans­lat­ed by Robin Moore ©2007. There is no sin­gle Eng­lish word that encom­pass­es the full mean­ing of the Pali term dukkha. Accord­ing to the pri­ma­ry Thai trans­la­tion of this term (gahn tuke beep kan—การถูกบีบคั้น) by the author, itself based on the chief com­men­tar­i­al expla­na­tions, in the con­text of the three char­ac­ter­is­tics I use the Eng­lish trans­la­tion ‘sub­ject to pres­sure.’ The more com­mon Eng­lish trans­la­tion ‘unsat­is­fac­to­ry’ is also valid.]

18 See: MA. I. 108; NdA. II. 313.

19 Ps. II. 96.

20 See: MA. I. 108; NdA. II. 313; AA. III. 143; ItA. I. 54. A. II. 92–4 men­tions those who have tran­quil­li­ty but no insight and those who have insight but no tran­quil­li­ty. These attain­ments are called ceto-samatha and adhipaññā-dham­ma-vipas­sanā, respec­tive­ly. AA. III. 116 explains these as attain­ment con­cen­tra­tion (appanā-samād­hi) and insight con­tem­plat­ing con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na. This pas­sage from the Aṅgut­tara Nikāya reveals that gain­ing insight does not inevitably give rise to tran­quil­li­ty, or as the com­men­taries say: although one gains insight, one may not reach the desired lev­el of con­cen­tra­tion, i.e., jhā­na. One is encour­aged in this case to make more effort prac­tis­ing samatha. This pas­sage also reveals the encour­age­ment to prac­tise tran­quil­li­ty and insight as a pair, in order to elim­i­nate the taints at a lat­er stage. Cf.: A. V. 99; A. IV. 360–1; the iden­ti­cal pas­sage occurs at: Pug. 7–8, 61–2. The Abhid­ham­ma gives a lofty def­i­n­i­tion of these terms, explain­ing ceto-samatha as the fine-mate­r­i­al and imma­te­r­i­al attain­ments, and adhipaññā-dham­ma-vipas­sanā as path and fruit (Pañ­cA. 244). From this expla­na­tion, one who attains tran­quil­li­ty but not insight is an unen­light­ened per­son who has attained the eight jhā­nas, while some­one who attains insight but not tran­quil­li­ty is a noble dis­ci­ple who is a pure-insight prac­ti­tion­er. Some­one who has attained nei­ther is an ordi­nary, unawak­ened per­son.

21 MA. I. 108; Vism. 682. PsA. I. 281 states that tran­quil­li­ty and insight are mutu­al­ly sup­port­ive both at the time of aspir­ing to the Noble Path and at the moment of attain­ing the path. AA. II. 184 states that tran­quil­li­ty and insight act as a pair at path attain­ment and at fruition attain­ment. Cf.: Ps. I. 70; PsA. I. 287; UdA. 397; ItA. II. 29.

22 Samatha, vipas­sanā and the fac­tors of the Path, see: PsA. I. 195; VbhA. 120; Vis­mṬ.: Indriyasac­canid­de­savaṇṇanā, Ekavid­hā­di­vinic­cha­yakathā­vaṇṇanā. The eight fac­tors of the Path aris­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly at the moment of ‘path-knowl­edge’ (mag­ga-ñāṇa), see: PsA. I. 195; VbhA. 120; Vism. 680; MA. II. 363. In fact, the thir­ty-sev­en fac­tors of enlight­en­ment (bod­hipakkhiya-dham­mā) arise simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in the mind at the moment of ‘path-knowl­edge.’ Note that this inter­pre­ta­tion of the fac­tors of the path or of enlight­en­ment aris­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly comes from the Abhid­ham­ma, which states that the thir­ty-sev­en fac­tors are men­tal con­stituents (cetasi­ka) aris­ing in a sin­gle mind moment. The num­ber of path fac­tors or enlight­en­ment fac­tors present at the moment of ‘path-knowl­edge’ can also be reduced, depend­ing on the kind of knowl­edge accom­pa­ny­ing that par­tic­u­lar stage of the path (see: PsA. I. 193; DhsA. 228; Vism. 666–7; DA. III. 804; Com­pṬ.: Cit­ta­paricche­davaṇṇanā, Vit­thāra­gaṇanavaṇṇanā).

23 Ps. II. 97–100.

24 [For more on this sub­ject see Appen­dix 2.]

25 AA. III. 143.

26 MA. IV. 90; in ref­er­ence to: M. III. 25–9.

27 Ps. II. 101–2.

28 The ten ‘impu­ri­ties of insight’: 1. obhāsa: a beau­ti­ful radi­ance pre­vi­ous­ly unknown; 2. ñāṇa: a pen­e­trat­ing knowl­edge; a feel­ing that one can con­tem­plate every­thing with­out obstruc­tion; 3. pīti: bliss; thor­ough con­tent­ment; 4. pas­sad­dhi: seren­i­ty; the mind and body feel exceed­ing­ly tran­quil, light, agile and bright; an absence of agi­ta­tion, heav­i­ness and dis­com­fort; 5. sukha: an excep­tion­al, refined hap­pi­ness per­vades the body and mind; 6. adhimokkha: a tremen­dous faith that accom­pa­nies insight and fills the mind with joy; 7. pag­gāha: bal­anced effort; a state of being nei­ther too strict nor to lax; 8. upaṭṭhā­na: clear, well-estab­lished mind­ful­ness; an abil­i­ty to rec­ol­lect with dex­ter­i­ty and flu­en­cy; 9. upekkhā: equa­nim­i­ty in rela­tion to all con­di­tioned phe­nom­e­na; 10. nikan­ti: a pro­found and peace­ful sat­is­fac­tion, which cre­ates an attach­ment to insight; this is a sub­tle form of crav­ing (taṇhā), which the prac­ti­tion­er is unable to dis­cern. See: Vism. 633–7; Vis­mṬ.: Mag­gā­mag­gañāṇadas­sanav­i­sud­dhinid­de­savaṇṇanā, Vipas­sanu­pakkile­sakathā­vaṇṇanā.

29 For more detail, see: Vism. 633–8; AA. III. 143; NdA. 106; VinṬ.: Tatiyapārājikaṃ, Ānāpā­nas­sati­samād­hikathā­vaṇṇanā; Vis­mṬ.: Mag­gā­mag­gañāṇadas­sanav­i­sud­dhinid­de­savaṇṇanā, Vipas­sanu­pakkile­sakathā­vaṇṇanā; see also the sec­ond part of the Paṭisamb­hidā­mag­ga Aṭṭhakathā, on the sec­tion includ­ing the yuganad­dha-gathā (Burmese or Roman alpha­bet editions—Thai edi­tion has not yet been pub­lished).

30 E.g.: Vis­mṬ.: Diṭṭhivi­sud­dhinid­de­savaṇṇanā, Nāmarū­pa­parig­ga­hakathā­vaṇṇanā.

31 E.g.: Vism. 588.

32 Vis­mṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhā­go, Nidānā­di-kathā-vaṇṇanā; cf.: VinA. II. 433; Vism. 289; Vis­mṬ.: Anus­satikam­maṭṭhā­nanid­de­savaṇṇanā, Ānāpā­nas­satikathā­vaṇṇanā.

33 Vis­mṬ. (Paṭi­padāñāṇadas­sanav­i­sud­dhinid­de­savaṇṇanā, Saṅkhāru­pekkhāñāṇa-kathā-vaṇṇanā) describes those sud­dha-vipas­sanā-yāni­ka with­out jhā­na, which means they achieve tem­po­rary or access con­cen­tra­tion. Samatha-yāni­ka and vipas­sanā-yāni­ka can be matched with the appanā-kam­maṭṭhā­na and upacāra-kam­maṭṭhā­na in the cul­ti­va­tion of the four foun­da­tions of mind­ful­ness (sati­paṭṭhā­na): DA. III. 754 = MA. I. 239 = VibA. 215 cor­re­spond with DA. III. 805 = MA. I. 301. See also: AA. III. 230; ItA. I. 169; SnA. II. 504; Vism. 371, 587; Vis­mṬ.: Diṭṭhivi­sud­dhi-nid­de­sa-vaṇṇanā, Nāmarū­pa­parig­ga­ha-kathā-vaṇṇanā; Vis­mṬ.: Paṭi­padāñāṇadas­sanav­i­sud­dhi-nid­de­sa-vaṇṇanā, Saṅkhāru­pekkhāñāṇa-kathā-vaṇṇanā. As evi­dence that it is pos­si­ble to prac­tise insight with­out hav­ing first attained jhā­na, see the Buddha’s def­i­n­i­tion of the fac­ul­ty of con­cen­tra­tion (samād­hin­driya): S. V. 200 (cf. S. V. 198–9).

34 This group of three kinds of con­cen­tra­tion (khaṇi­ka, upacāra and appanā) comes from the sub-com­men­taries (found as a com­plete set at: NdA. I. 129; PsA. I. 183; DhsA. 117; Vism. 144). Occa­sion­al­ly, they appear as a pair (upacāra and appanā): Vism. 85, 126, 371. Some­times they are referred to as upacāra-jhā­na and appanā-jhā­na (e.g.: SnA. II. 504; DhsA. 278; Vis­mṬ.: Kam­maṭṭhā­nag­ga­haṇa-nid­de­sa-vaṇṇanā, Samād­hi­catuk­ka-vaṇṇanā; Vis­mṬ.: Pathavīkasiṇa-nid­de­sa-vaṇṇanā, Bhā­vanāvid­hā­na-vaṇṇanā; Vis­mṬ.: Paññāb­hā­vanānisaṁsa-nid­de­sa-vaṇṇanā, Nirod­hasamā­pat­ti-kathā-vaṇṇanā). Although the word appanā appears in the Pali Canon, it is only used as a syn­onym for vitak­ka and sam­mā-saṅkap­pa (Dhs. 10, 12, 63; Vbh. 86, 237, 257). For a fur­ther analy­sis of these kinds of samād­hi see the sec­tion on right con­cen­tra­tion in chap­ter 16 of Bud­dhad­ham­ma.

35 PsA. I. 194; DhsA. 213, 228, 230; Vism. 666–7, 699–700. The com­men­taries claim this attain­ment of jhā­na remains for one mind moment. There­after, an enlight­ened per­son can reg­u­lar­ly enter pha­la-samā­pat­ti (in that par­tic­u­lar jhā­na) at will, and enjoy ‘noble, tran­scen­dent bliss’ (ariyalokut­tara-sukha), abid­ing at ease in the present (Vism. 700–701). The moment of real­iz­ing path and fruit: see Appen­dix 4.

36 The terms samatha-yāni­ka, vipas­sanā-yāni­ka, sud­dha-vipas­sanā-yāni­ka and sukkha-vipas­sa­ka (those whose real­iza­tion is ‘arid’ because they do not attain jhā­na before devel­op­ing insight) all come from the com­men­taries. Samatha-yāni­ka, vipas­sanā-yāni­ka and sud­dha-vipas­sanā-yāni­ka togeth­er at: DA. III. 754; MA. I. 239; NdA. 102; [VbhA. 280]; Vism. 587–9; Vis­mṬ.: Diṭṭhivi­sud­dhi-nid­de­sa-vaṇṇanā, Nāmarū­pa­parig­ga­ha-kathā-vaṇṇanā; samatha-yāni­ka and sukkha-vipas­sa­ka at AA. III. 142; KhA. 178, 183; SnA. I. 277, [2/448]; NdA. II. 313; samatha-yāni­ka on its own at: Vis­mṬ.: Paṭhamo Bhā­go, Nidānā­di-kathā-vaṇṇanā; sukkha-vipas­sa­ka on its own at: DA. III. 1032; PsA. I. 194; DhsA. 228; Vism. 666; Vis­mṬ.: Paṭi­padāñāṇadas­sanav­i­sud­dhi-nid­de­sa-vaṇṇanā, Saṅkhāru­pekkhāñāṇa-kathā-vaṇṇanā; Com­pṬ.: Cit­ta­paricche­da-vaṇṇanā, Vit­thāra­gaṇana-vaṇṇanā; Com­pṬ.: Man­od­vāravīthi, Appanā­ja­vanavāra-vaṇṇanā; Com­pṬ.: Vīthimut­ta­paricche­da-vaṇṇanā, Kam­macatuk­ka-vaṇṇanā.

37 DA. II. 512; DA. III. 889; MA. III. 188; Pañ­cA. 190.

38 See the ear­li­er sec­tion on the sev­en noble beings. The first of these ubha­tob­hā­ga-vimut­ta list­ed here, who have attained the extinc­tion of per­cep­tion and feel­ing, only reach this high­est con­cen­tra­tive attain­ment as non-return­ers. This is unlike the oth­er attain­ments, which are achiev­able at any stage of prac­tice. The oth­er eight attain­ments are exclu­sive­ly the fruit of samatha, while the extinc­tion of per­cep­tion and feel­ing is the fruit of samatha and vipas­sanā in asso­ci­a­tion. In par­tic­u­lar, the extinc­tion of per­cep­tion and feel­ing requires an opti­mum strength and puri­ty of con­cen­tra­tion, with no trace of sen­su­al desire (kāma-chan­da) remain­ing in the mind. Kāma-chan­da is syn­ony­mous with kāma-rāga (sen­su­al lust), a ‘fet­ter’ (saṁy­o­jana) which only non-return­ers and ara­hants have aban­doned. There­fore, only non-return­ers and ara­hants who have pre­vi­ous­ly attained the eight jhā­nas can enter the extinc­tion of per­cep­tion and feel­ing (e.g.: Vism. 702–5; PsA. I. 314).