STEPS ALONG THE PATH
Phra Ajaan Thate Desaransi
Translated from the Thai
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Copyright 1994 The Abbot, Metta Forest Monastery
This work may be copied or reprinted //for free distribution//
without permission from the copyright holder.
Otherwise, all rights reserved.
* * *
DharmaNet Edition 1994
Transcribed for DharmaNet by Eileen Santer
This electronic edition is offered for free distribution
via DharmaNet by arrangement with the translator.
P.O. Box 4951, Berkeley CA 94704-4951
* * * * * * * *
The little book you are now holding in your hand grew from the faith
and conviction of a Westerner of Jewish extraction, named Dr. Philip,
who came to study Buddhism in Thailand in 1963, when I was staying on
Phuket Island. He studied meditation with me for a full six months,
and seemed to develop not only peace of mind but also a great
appreciation for Buddhism's worth. Before returning to Hawaii, he
asked me to write down a few short and simple points for him to take
and continue practicing, so I wrote down ten points. Afterwards, I
learned that he had had them printed abroad in a periodical whose name
slips my mind at the moment.
The thought has occurred to me that this little book might be of use to
those who are interested in practicing meditation, as it is small, easy
to carry and read through quickly without taxing the brain. So I have
edited it, polishing the style and adding more points -- in particular,
point 11 and onwards (i.e., how to deal with visions and signs in
meditation) -- in order to make the book more complete, fit to be a
guide to the practice of meditation: showing the worth of meditation,
the way to meditate, which ways of meditation are right, which are
wrong, and in detail how to correct those things which should be
corrected in the practice. I hope that this little book will be of use
to those who are interested.
If anything written here deviates from the truth, I ask for all the
responsibility to be placed on me alone, since I still lack experience
in terms of education, practice, writing skills and knowledge of many
fields. If knowledgeable people should come across this book, I would
be very grateful if they would correct and enlighten me.
* * *
A basic tenet of the Buddha's teachings is that the mind and body work
together, but that the body lies under the control of the mind. The
mind is what orders the body to do this or that activity, but when the
body wears down, the mind is of necessity put to some hardship as well.
It doesn't lie under the control of the nervous system, although the
brain can be regarded as a central office. When the body dies,
disintegrating in line with the nature of its various elements, the
mind -- if the necessary conditions of unawareness, craving, attachment
and kamma are still present -- will have to reappear in this or that
plane of existence and to continue experiencing suffering and stress.
In order to do away with unawareness, craving, attachment and kamma --
which are the chief instigators -- we must first of all practice
abandoning the elementary evils of word and deed by observing the
principles of morality that correspond to our station in life. In
other words, laypeople should observe the five precepts and,
periodically, the eight precepts; novices should observe the ten or the
twenty precepts; and monks, all 227 precepts of the basic monastic
code, together with the principles of pure livelihood, restraint of the
senses and proper use of the requisites of life as formulated by the
As long as your precepts aren't being kept pure, your mind isn't yet
ready for training. Even if it is trained, its training won't lead to
progress and development in the Dhamma, for its foundations aren't yet
firm enough to advance along the Noble Path -- and we can say that it
hasn't yet reached the refuge of the Triple Gem (//ti-ratana//). A
true Buddhist must before all else be firmly based in the Triple Gem
and the principles of morality.
The Noble Eightfold Path and the three teachings at the heart of
Buddhism -- the avoidance of all evil, the perfection of goodness and
the purification the heart -- have to be established first on the
principles of morality. This is why, for the Buddha's teachings,
morality is the beginning of the religious life.
The next step is to train the mind to develop concentration (//samadhi//)
and absorption (//jhana//) through the practice of tranquility meditation.
Once the mind is adept at maintaining a steady focus, we can then
develop clear insight (//vipassana//) based on an understanding of the
Three Characteristics of inconstancy, stress and not-self. This will
lead us to pure knowledge and vision of things as they actually are,
and thus to release from all things detrimental and defiling.
For Buddhism, the true aim in developing concentration and absorption
is to gather one's mental energies and make them steady and strong in a
single point. This then forms the basis for the knowledge and
discernment capable of gaining true insight into all conditions of
nature and eliminating all that is detrimental and defiling from the
heart. Thus, stillness of mind is developed not simply for other,
external purposes, such as the various fields of science. Instead, it
is meant specifically for use in cleansing the heart of such
defilements as the five Hindrances (//nivarana//). But when you have
practiced to the point of proficiency, you can use your stillness of
mind in any way you like, as long as that use isn't detrimental to
yourself or to others.
In training the mind -- which is a mental phenomenon -- material
objects such as chains and leashes are of no use. The mind has to be
trained by tutoring it, first by listening to the explanation of those
who are already skilled and then by being determined to practice in
line with those explanations, basing your initial efforts on a sense of
trust and conviction if your own independent explorations into cause
and effect don't succeed.
By and large, people who start out by exploring cause and effect on
their own don't reach their desired goal because they lack the proper
approach. They miss the true path, tending instead to be biased in
favor of their own ideas. To develop first a sense of trust and faith
in the individual giving the training and in the practices in which one
is being trained until the mind if firm and unwavering, and //then// to
begin exploring and figuring things out, in line with the way they
really are: This is what will give satisfactory results.
This is because to begin by exploring cause and effect is usually a
matter of looking at things from the outside, following external
influences -- i.e., "This person says that...That person says this."
But to investigate and explore cause and effect exclusively within the
bounds of the body -- i.e., "What is this body of mine made of? How
does it come about so that its parts are complete and able to perform
their duties well? What is it to be used for? What keeps it going? Is
its fate to develop or to deteriorate? Is it really mine?" -- and
then, going on to mental phenomena -- "Do greed, anger, delusion, love,
hatred and so forth, arise at the body or at the mind? What do they
come from? When they arise, are they pleasant or stressful?" -- to
reason and explore things strictly internally in this way is, in and of
itself, training the mind.
But if your stillness of mind isn't yet strong enough, don't go
reasoning in line with books you may have read or the things you may
have heard other people say, because even though you may think things
through, it won't lead you to the truth. In other words, it won't lead
you to a sense of dispassion and detachment. So instead, explore and
investigate things in line with the causes and effects that actually
arise from the mind in the present.
The mind which is investigating and figuring things out in line with
its own personal reasonings in this way will tend to focus exclusively
on examining a single spot in a single object. This is called
one-pointed concentration. This is a gathering of the mind's energies
so that they have great strength, able to uproot attachments --
mistaken presuppositions -- and to cleanse the mind so that it is, for
the moment, bright and clear. At the very least, you will experience
peace -- an extreme sense of well-being in body and mind -- and perhaps
knowledge of one sort or another: knowledge of a strange and striking
sort, since it arises, not from mental imaginings, but from the causes
and effects of the truth acting in the present, in a way that has never
happened before. Even if it is knowledge of something you may have
suspected all along, only now is it your own, making your mind bright,
driving away all doubt and uncertainty about matters that may have been
occupying your thoughts.
You will say to yourself with a sense of deep satisfaction and relief,
"So that's how it is!"
Those whose sensitivities are dull, though, won't be convinced and
delighted with their knowledge until someone else confirms it or they
see teachings of the Buddha in books bearing witness to what they have
learned. This is in line with the fact that the Buddha's followers are
of various sorts.
This type of knowledge -- no matter how much or how wide-ranging it is
-- won't weigh on your nerves. On the contrary, it is a form of calm
and true well-being which will greatly brighten and refresh your
nerves. At the same time, it will refine your mind and manners in a
way that will be very inspiring to others. Whatever you say or do, you
will do mindfully, with hardly any careless lapses. Once this happens
to you, you should then try to maintain all these traits, and not grow
careless or complacent.
These are all individual matters, and won't occur in every case. But
at any rate, when you have trained the mind as explained above, even if
you don't receive results in full measure, you will still experience a
striking sense of peace and well-being in proportion to the extent of
your own individual practice. You should then try to maintain this
mental state. Don't let feelings of greed or desire, disappointment or
dejection arise. Keep the mind neutral and continue practicing as I
have explained from the beginning with a sense of trust and conviction.
Be mindful, careful and observant at every stage of your practice, and
you will then meet with the results you hope for.
If training the mind in line with points 4 and 5 doesn't produce
results, then gather your awareness and focus it firmly with a single
object or mental image as its target. For example, focus on an aspect
of the body -- the bones or one of its internal organs -- so as to see
its objectionable nature. Or you may simply focus the mind on bare
awareness itself -- for the mind is something which can't be seen with
the physical eyes. If it isn't focused on a single spot, you won't
know whether or not it's present. The mind is like the wind: If the
wind doesn't come into contact with anything, you won't know whether or
not it's there.
So it is with the mind. If a new trainee doesn't have a target for the
mind, he or she won't really be able to catch hold of the mind. But
please don't choose anything outside of the body as your target. Make
your target -- i.e., the object of the mind -- an aspect of the body,
as already mentioned. And when you take aim, focus on a single object
which seems right for you. Don't be greedy, first taking some of this
and then a little of that.
In focusing, examine the object in line with the principals of the
foundation of mindfulness (//satipatthana//). In other words, sort out
the body's various aspects until you can see, "This isn't me. This
The sort of focused examination which gives rise to this realization
you can do in two ways:
a) When focused exclusively on the target, don't give any thought to
what the target is or who is focusing. Let there simply be
awareness and the act of focusing. Don't let there be any naming or
labeling of anything at all. There will simply be the single
sensation which makes you feel that you are sticking with the
target, but don't think about what the target is.
b) When focused exclusively on the target, at the same time keep
yourself aware that, "This is the target of the mind. This is the
mind examining. This is mindfulness, i.e., the act of remembering
to keep the target in mind. This is discernment, which sees into
the truth of the object under consideration."
Both methods work, although method (a) is suited for beginners and
those whose sensitivities are not yet developed, while method (b) is
suited for those who are sensitive and experienced. Both methods,
though, if you practice them diligently, give rise to the same
results, namely concentration and discernment.
In training the mind as explained above, no matter which method you
choose, please don't let yourself wonder about whether or not you're
going to attain concentration and discernment. And put aside all
desires based on the various rumors and reports that get passed around
by word of mouth. Just follow correctly the method mentioned in point
6, and you'll be doing fine.
At the same time, observe the approach you've been practicing to see
how you brought the mind to the object, how you maintained mindfulness,
and what happened to the mind as a result. If acting in that
particular manner made the mind open and bright, keep at it until you're
adept and able to do it all the time. But if the results weren't like
that, i.e., just the opposite, then without delay use your powers of
observation, in the way already mentioned, to make adjustments and
In observing how the mind behaves under training, some people will be
able to observe their state of mind while the mind is still in that
state; others, only after the mind has withdrawn from that state and
stopped still for a moment. Both ways work. They are simply a matter
of individual temperament. But if you don't use your powers of
observation at all, progress in mental training will be hard to achieve
and -- even if you do achieve it -- hard to maintain.
While you are training the mind, one thing -- strange and striking --
may occur without your intending it. That is, the mind will withdraw
from its external objects and gather into a single whole, letting go of
all labels and attachments dealing with past or future. There will be
just bare awareness paired with its preoccupation in the present. This
is something with no sense of inside or outside -- a condition whose
features are peculiar to the mind itself. It is as if everything has
undergone a revolution.
This is the mind coming to its own level, the //bhavanga//.
In this moment, everything has reference only to the mind. Even though
life may still be going on, the mind when it reaches this level lets go
of all attachments to the body, and goes inward to experience nothing
but its own object, all by itself. This is termed //bhava-citta//, the
mind on its own level. The mind on its own level still has a refined
version of the five //khandha// complete within it, and so can still
experience birth and states of becoming, and give rise to continued
births in the future.
Reaching this state is somewhat like dozing off and dreaming. The
difference depends on how much self-awareness there is. Those who are
collected and perceptive will -- when the event first occurs -- be
aware of what is happening and what they are experiencing, and so won't
get excited or upset. Those who are gullible and not very mindful,
though, will be just like a person who dozes off and dreams. When they
come to, they will tend to be startled or get misled by the visions
they may happen to see. But when they have trained themselves until
they are skilled at giving rise to this state often, their sense of
mindfulness will improve and their various visions will go away.
Gradually they will gain insight until they see into natural conditions
as they actually are.
The phenomenon discussed in point 8 -- even though it doesn't give rise
to discernment capable of exploring into the logic of cause and effect
in a wide-ranging way -- is still a preliminary stage in training the
mind. It can suppress the five Hindrances and at the same time give
rise to a sense of peace and well-being in the present. If it is
properly developed so that it doesn't deteriorate, it will lead to a
good rebirth in a future stage, in line with one's karmic background.
Incidentally, when visions and signs of various sorts appear, it's
usually in the mental moment we are discussing here. But this doesn't
mean that when the mind reaches this stage there will have to be
visions of signs in every case. With some people and at some times,
they will occur. With others and at other times, they won't. This is
another matter of individual temperament -- and of other factors as
To be perfectly truthful, when it comes to the question of visions and
signs that arise in the course of meditation, you can say that they're
good only in the case of meditators who are quick-witted and astute
enough to see through them; who -- when they see visions -- don't fall
for them or latch onto them as being the self or as really belonging to
themselves. They see the visions simply as visions, enough to use them
as tools or a temporary dwelling place for the mind, and then let go.
As for people who aren't especially mindful or alert -- and who are
gullible to boot -- when a vision arises they will get extremely
excited and may even become so deluded as to lose touch with reality
because they believe the visions to be something real and true. (How
to deal with visions and signs will be discussed in point 11, below.)
In addition, people who have trained their minds to this stage are
usually stubborn and bull-headed in their opinions, due to their
strength of mind. When they think about something, they tend to see it
from one side only.
They won't easily give any heed to the opinions of others, because they
believe that their own opinions are perfectly reasonable and
trust-worthy -- even though their opinions are self-serving and very
much lacking in reason, and so easily pervert the way they see things.
But at any rate, whether or not visions and signs arise, they're not
really what you want here, because aside from being defilements,
clouding your discernment, they are also obstacles to the development
of clear insight. The aim of training the mind is to let go of the
five Hindrances and then to examine the //khandha// so that they become
clear, to see them as they actually are to the point where you grow
disenchanted with them, loosen your passion and fascination with them,
and let them go, never to enter into and take hold of them again.
When you have trained the mind to be firmly established in absorption
and concentration to the point where it is able to suppress the five
Hindrances, then you should work at developing clear insight. Actually,
clear insight may arise at the same time that you are working on
tranquility. In other words, discernment may brighten so as to know
and see clearly the truth that all conditioned things (//sankhara//)
which arise are bound to disintegrate and pass away. They can't last.
They aren't me or myself, but are simply natural conditions acting on
When this sort of knowledge arises, it will make the mind become
disenchanted and dispassionate with regard to all conditioned things.
The mind will dwell entirely in a state of matured and chastened
dispassion, no matter what it sees or hears, and no matter where. This
is called clear insight occurring together with tranquility.
If, however, insight doesn't arise in this way, then when you have
practiced tranquility meditation until the mind is firmly established,
then you can select either a part of the body -- such as the bones or
the intestines -- or else a topic which is occupying your thoughts at
the moment, and examine it so as to see that all the things which the
mind fastens onto as stable and real, as leading to true happiness,
actually fall under the sway of the Three Characteristics. The way we
assume things, saying, "This is this, and that is that," in line with our
imaginings, is not in any way true. All conditioned things simply
arise from their causes: unawareness, craving, attachment and kamma.
When their causes are exhausted, they disband of their own accord. No
one forces them to disband. Even the body we are living in is able to
survive only in dependence on causes, such as breath and food. When
these things are exhausted, the body has no meaning at all.
When you examine things in this way, using the power of a fully
concentrated mind, you will reach the goal of the mind's training. The
light of discernment will arise, complete with the insight into cause
and effect you have discovered totally on your own. This is something
which arises not from appropriating labels or theories remembered from
other people, but from realizing the causes and effects that are
entirely within your own heart. The mind will never again be deluded
into becoming attached, passionate, pleased or displeased with any
conditioned thing at all.
Incidentally, we can say that if the mind hasn't truly and clearly seen
into the object of its meditation, then it hasn't really yet gathered
itself together and settled down. But the reason why the training of
the mind isn't called insight meditation before this point is because
one's discernment is still weak in terms of cause and effect, and lacks
To summarize: The purification of one's words and deeds has to begin
with training in moral virtue. The purification of the mind has to
begin with training in tranquility -- concentration and absorption --
until the mind has enough strength to suppress the five Hindrances.
When the mind is adept at concentration and absorption, able to enter,
withdraw and stay in place at will, then discernment -- the light of
knowledge seeing into the truth of all natural conditions (//sabhava
dhamma//), together with the causes for their arising and passing away
-- will arise in a remarkable way.
This sort of knowledge may arise only to certain individuals in certain
circumstances. But in any case, those who have trained their minds to
this level should realize that a mind which has reached this point is
fit to be trained to give rise to clear insight. They should thus take
any aspect of the body or any mental phenomenon which occupies their
thoughts, and examine it from the standpoint of the Three
Characteristics, as explained above. Then they too will develop the
light of insight, seeing clearly into all conditioned things -- and be
able to uproot attachments to physical and mental phenomena of every
Even though the mind is intangible, it has influence over the body and
all things in the world. It is capable of bringing everything in the
world under its control. Still, it isn't so vicious or savage as to
lack all sense of good and evil. When a person of good intentions
trains the mind to enter correctly into the path of the Buddha's
teachings as explained above, it will be tractable and quick to learn,
developing the wisdom to bring the body, which may be behaving without
any principles, back into line. In addition, it can cleanse itself to
be bright and clean, free from defilements, able to realize by itself
truths that are subtle and profound, and to bring dazzling light into
this world which is dark with blindness.
This is because the true substance of the mind has been, from the very
beginning, something bright and clear. But because of the
preoccupations which have seeped into it and clouded it, the brightness
of the mind has been temporarily darkened, making the world dark as
well. If the mind were originally dark, there probably wouldn't be
anyone able to cleanse it to the point where it could give rise to the
light of discernment at all.
//So whether the world is to be dark or bright, whether it is to
experience well-being or suffering, depends on the mind of each
individual.// We as individuals should thus first train our own minds
well, and then train the minds of others. The world will then be free
The visions and signs that arise from the practice of meditation are a
strange and uncanny affair. They may delude a gullible person of weak
judgment into being so convinced of their truth as to lose touch with
reality. For this reason, those who practice meditation should be
cautious, examining and reflecting on them carefully, as I will now
The signs that arise from meditation are of two sorts: visions and
a. Visions: sometimes, when the mind gathers itself into its own
level while we are considering our own body to see its
unattractiveness, we will see the body as completely foul and
decomposing, or as nothing more than a skeleton or a pile of ashes,
etc. There are cases where this has caused people to become so
repelled that they commit suicide.
In other cases, visions of divine beings or of hell and hungry
shades may sometimes appear.
b. As for signs: When the mind gathers, as already mentioned, a
whispering voice may appear. It may be the voice of a person we
respect, telling us to examine a particular truth, or to beware of a
coming event; or else it may be the voice of an enemy who means to
harm us, appearing to us just before he/she will come to do us harm
-- which shows how the mental currents of different individuals
impinge on one another. On the other hand, the same sort of thing
may occur involving a person who means us well. Sometimes an
unidentified voice may come to tell a truth which is
thought-provoking and worthy of consideration, which meditators in
general call the teachings and warnings of the Dhamma, or
It's not the case that visions and signs will occur to all meditators.
With some people, no matter how refined a level their minds attain,
visions and signs won't appear. With others, the mind may gather in a
flash for a brief moment, and all sorts of visions and signs will
appear. (Be careful not to concoct too many, though.) This depends on
the individual's temperament. With people who are gullible and don't
give much thought to what is reasonable, visions and signs tend to
occur quickly and to grow all out of bounds, to the point where they
can lose their bearings. So treat them with caution.
Question: Are visions and signs true?
Answer: Sometimes yes, and sometimes no, because they arise
exclusively from //jhana//, and //jhana// is a mundane phenomenon --
and thus undependable. That is to say, they arise to a person
practicing meditation whose mind gathers into the bhavanga without
knowing what level it has reached or how it focused on, examined and
put down its object. Visions and signs, whether or not they arise
intentionally, are composed of a great deal of mental concocting and
attachment, and are therefore unreliable -- because the visions and
signs that arise when the mind is in the //bhavanga// are like the
dreams of a person who lies down to sleep or simply dozes off. By and
large, when they first occur, there tends to be some truth to them, but
Question: Is //jhana// mundane or transcendent?
Answer: //Jhana// has only twelve or thirteen component factors, and
they are entirely mundane. But if the person entering //jhana// is a
Noble One using it as a tool or a dwelling place for the mind, then he
or she will be able to use this mundane //jhana// at will, and
dependably as well -- like an expert sharpshooter as opposed to a
commoner, whose sword is just a sword.
Question: Are visions and signs a good thing?
Answer: Only for a person who knows how to make use of them in the
proper way, without being taken in by them or attached to them. They
aren't good for a person who doesn't know how to use them properly, who
gets taken in by them, believing them to be true. Once attachment
latches on, the act of mental concoction can make these visions and
signs proliferate to the point where a meditator may lose control over
his or her sense of reality. So they should be treated with caution
and care, as I will now explain.
Visions and signs arise from the power of mundane //jhana// and are
sustained by attachment and mental concocting. They thus fall under
the Three Characteristics: They are inconstant -- they can't last;
they are stressful; and they are not-self -- i.e., they aren't yours or
anyone else's. They are conditions which do nothing but constantly arise
and fall away in their own way at all times. Examine them so as to see
their true nature in this way, and then let them go. Don't be deluded
into latching onto visions and signs, which are the results. Instead,
work at the cause, //jhana//, so that you become more and more adept to
the point where you can attain it at will. The visions and signs will
then take care of themselves.
Also learn to see the drawbacks of visions and signs. Once they arise
and we get engrossed and deluded into latching onto them, they will
cause our //jhana// to deteriorate, just as sound waves are an obstacle
to a person trying to quiet the mind and explore phenomena which are
subtle and deep, or as waves in clear water prevent us from seeing our
reflection on the water's surface.
The visions and signs which appear to a meditator just beginning to
attain //jhana// tend to be extraordinary and amazing. The acts of
mental grasping and concocting will tend to fasten tightly to them, and
they will be indelibly impressed on one's inner eye. If the above
methods for curing and removing these visions and signs don't produce
results, then try not to have the mind enter //jhana//. In other
words, don't put your mind to it, don't let the mind be still, don't
take a liking to the visions or signs. Sleep and eat as much as you
like, perform heavy tasks until the body is very tired, think of
objects that will give rise to defilements, such as beautiful sights or
sounds that will give rise to desire -- and once the mind withdraws
from its absorption, the visions and signs will disappear of their own
If the student meditator can't solve the problem with these methods,
then the teacher should try to help by using the same sort of approach.
The quickest and most effective way is to find an issue that will
provoke the person attached to visions and signs to extreme anger. The
visions and signs will immediately disappear.
The basis for giving rise to knowledge into the Dhamma is threshold
concentration (//upacara samadhi//), which is of two sorts:
a) As a meditator is working with a particular object of
meditation, the mind will gradually withdraw from external
preoccupations and gather into one spot, right at the mind itself,
but without being completely cut off from all objects. It is still
sensing, thinking and considering, trying to withdraw from its very
refined object, but as yet unable to let go completely. This is
threshold concentration before reaching fixed penetration (//appana
b) The mind becomes more and more refined until it is able to let
go and withdraw from the object it is considering, so that the
object disappears. This is called fixed penetration. There is full
mindfulness and awareness of a sense of emptiness, not grasping
after or fastening onto anything at all, simply partaking of its own
exclusive object. When the mind comes out of this state and is
again considering the Dhamma -- objects, cause and effect -- this is
threshold concentration coming out of fixed penetration.
Both sorts of threshold concentration can form a good basis for insight
into particular truths and various events, which is different from the
knowledge which arises from the visions and signs mentioned above,
because visions and signs arise from mundane //jhana//, whereas the
knowledge we are discussing here, even though it arises from mundane
concentration, gives more dependable results. (Scientists use this
level in doing their research.) And if your concentration becomes
transcendent, it will do away, step by step, with all the effluents
(//asava//) of the mind.
In short, the knowledge which arises from visions and signs, and that
which arises from threshold concentration, differ in terms both of
origin and of quality.
An item which deserves a little more explanation here is the term fixed
penetration (//appana samadhi//). Fixed penetration is a superior human
attainment. By and large, people who reach fixed penetration tend to
focus on the in-and-out breath (//anapana//) as their object of
meditation. As they they focus on the breath and come to pay attention
to its arising and falling away, or just to its falling away, the mind
gradually becomes more and more refined until, step by step, it lets go
of all its preoccupations and gathers together to become fixed, as
explained above. The stilling of the in-and-out breath is what
indicates fixed penetration. In some instances it is called fixed
//jhana// because it comes from the act of becoming absorbed in the
breath. It is called fixed concentration because even though there is
no in-and-out breath when the mind reaches that point, mindfulness is
still absolutely full.
When you are in this state you can't examine anything, because the mind
is totally uninvolved with anything at all. Only when the mind comes
out of this state and enters threshold concentration can you begin
examining things again. You will then see clearly into all the truths
that the Buddha said are to be known, and into other matters as well.
There will be no visions and signs, as mentioned above, but the
knowledge here will be based on cause and effect, complete with
analogies and similes tat will utterly erase all doubt.
In some cases, meditators will be considering objects of meditation
other than the in-and-out breath, and yet will still be able to reach
fixed penetration in the same way that those who practice mindfulness
of breathing. When the mind gathers to a point where there is no more
in-and-out breathing, that's fixed penetration.
This, at any rate, is my opinion on the matter. Meditators shouldn't
take my opinion as their criterion, because the thoughts and opinions
of people in this world -- even when we see the same things under the
same conditions in the same place -- can formulate different names for,
and reach different understandings about, those same things, and thus
give rise to endless disputes and arguments. Simply let us all work
with our own objects of meditation so as to reach fixed penetration as
discussed above and then -- with a fair mind free from bias -- compare
what we experience with what has been formulated in the various texts.
Our knowledge will then be //paccatam// -- arising exclusively from
within ourselves. That is what I would like to see in this regard.
All transcendent phenomena are rooted in mundane phenomena. The 37
components conducive to Awakening (//bodhi-pakkhiya-dhamma//), which
are classified entirely as transcendent, have to begin first with
mental and physical phenomena, i.e., this mundane body and mind.
Visions, signs and the knowledge which results from //jhana// are
obstacles to the one-eyed -- those who are simply developing //jhana//
-- but can provoke insight for those with two eyes, i.e., those who are
developing discernment along with concentration.
Every sword and ax is made with both a sharp and dull edge, each with
its own different uses, but a person who confuses those uses, aside
from getting nowhere with the sword or ax, may actually harm himself or
the work he is doing. Insight and the defilements of insight come from
one and the same basis. When people without discernment consider
things wrongly, they will give rise to the defilements of insight; but
when they consider things rightly, using the proper approach, the same
things will become true insight.
Mundane phenomena -- when we clearly see and know them and their causes
for what they are, and when seeing their drawbacks we grow disenchanted
with them, not being deluded into latching onto them -- then turn into
Dhamma. But when we get taken in by them and are unwilling to let them
go...It's not the cause that the world will stay the way it is forever.
The world of the Brahmas may degenerate into the world of the Devas;
the world of the Devas, into the human world; the human world, into the
lower realms. Just as liquids tend to seek out low-lying places, so it
is easy for the minds of living beings to seek out what's low --
Even though the practice of meditation is a self-revolution, you must
be willing to risk your life. At the very least, if you don't succeed,
you should threaten yourself with self-exile. Those who don't make
such a vow can look forward only to being a slave to others -- the
defilements -- through time.
* * *
Abhinna: Intuitive powers that come from the practice of
Asava: Mental effluent; defilement in its role of giving rise to the
flood of the cycle of rebirth. There are four sorts:
sensuality, becoming, views and unawareness.
Bhavanga: The mind's underlying preoccupation or resting state, which
determines its state of being and to which it reverts in
between its responses to stimuli.
Bodhi-pakkhiya-dhamma: Wings of Awakening; principles conducive to the
attainment of enlightenment. There are 37 in all, and they
constitute the Buddha's own summary of the essential points
of his teachings: four foundations of mindfulness, four
right exertions, four bases for achievement, five strengths,
five dominant factors, seven factors of awakening and the
Noble Eightfold Path.
Brahma: An inhabitant of the heavens of form and formlessness.
Deva: An inhabitant of the heavens of sensual bliss.
Dhamma: Phenomenon; event; things as they are in and of themselves;
the right natural order of things. By extension, Dhamma is
used also to refer to any doctrine which teaches such
Jhana: Meditative absorption in a single sensation or mental notion.
Kamma: Intentional acts which lead to states of being and birth.
Khandha: Heap, aggregate, group; the component factors of the
personality, and of sensory experience in general -- physical
phenomena, feelings, mental labels, thought-formations (see
//sankhara//) and cognizance.
Nivarana: Hindrance to concentration -- sensual desire, ill will,
torpor & lethargy, restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty.
Sabhava dhamma: Natural condition; phenomenon; qualities and events as
they are directly experienced in and of themselves.
Samadhi: Concentration; the act of centering the mind in a single
object or topic.
Sankhara: Conditioned phenomena; formation; fashioning. This term
covers all things, physical or mental, fashioned by causes or
conditions, as well as the forces which fashion them and the
processes by which they are fashioned.
Satipatthana: Foundation of mindfulness; frame of reference. The
contemplation of body, feelings, mind and mental events as
they are in and of themselves.
Ti-ratana: The triple Gem -- the Buddha, the Dhamma (his teachings,
their practice and the realization of liberation at which
they are aimed) and the Sangha (those of his followers who
have gained at least a glimpse of that liberation). To take
refuge in the Triple Gem means to take them as guide in one's
pursuit of happiness and to give rise to their qualities in
one's life and heart.
Vipassana: Clear insight into things as they actually are, seeing them
in terms of the characteristics of inconstancy, stress and
* * * * * * * *
TITLE OF WORK: Steps Along the Path
AUTHOR: Phra Ajahn Thate Desaransi (Thanissaro Bhikkhu, translator)
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: Wat Hin Mark Peng
Sri Chiang Mai
Nongkai, Thailand 43130
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COPYRIGHT HOLDER: The Abbot
Metta Forest Monastery
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DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1994
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