The highest level of concentration -- fixed penetration --
follows on threshold concentration. If mindfulness and self-awareness
arise while you are in threshold concentration, they turn it into
//Jhana// means focusing the mind, making it absorbed in a single
object, such as the internal sense of the form of the body. If you
want //jhana// to arise and not deteriorate, you have to practice
until you are skilled. Here's how it's done: Think of a single object,
such as the breath. Don't think of anything else. Practice focusing on
your single object. Now add the other factors: //Vitakka// -- think
about the object; and //vicara// -- evaluate it until you arrive at an
understanding of it, e.g. seeing the body as unclean or as composed of
impersonal properties. The mind then becomes light; the body becomes
light; both body and mind feel satisfied and refreshed: This is
//piti//, rapture. The body has no feelings of pain, and the mind
experiences no pain: This is //sukha//, pleasure and ease. This is the
first level of //rupa jhana//, which has five factors appearing in
this order; singleness of object (//ekaggata//), thought, evaluation,
rapture, and pleasure.
When you practice, start out by focusing on a single object, such
as the breath. Then think about it, adjusting and expanding it until
it becomes dominant and clear. As for rapture and pleasure, you don't
have to fashion them. They arise on their own. Singleness of object,
thought, and evaluation are the causes; rapture and pleasure, the
results. Together they form the first level of //jhana//.
As you become more skilled, your powers of focusing become
stronger. The activities of thought and evaluation fade away, because
you've already gained a certain level of understanding. As you focus
in on the object, there appears only rapture -- refreshment of body
and mind; and pleasure -- ease of body and mind. Continue focusing in
on the object so that you're skilled at it. Don't withdraw. Keep
focusing until the mind is firm and well-established. Once the mind is
firm, this is the second level of //rupa jhana//, in which only
rapture, pleasure, and singleness of object remain.
Now focus on the sense of rapture associated with the grosser
physical body. As the mind becomes more and more firm, it will gain
release from the symptoms of rapture, leaving just pleasure and
singleness of object. This is the third level of //rupa jhana//.
Then continue focusing in on your original object. Don't retreat
from it. Keep focused on it until the mind attains //appana jhana//,
absolutely fixed absorption, resolute and unwavering. At this point,
your sense of awareness becomes brighter and clearer, causing you to
disregard the grosser sense of the form of the body and to focus
instead on the subtler sense of the body that remains. This leaves
only singleness of object, the mind being unconcerned and unaffected
by any external objects or preoccupations. This is the fourth level of
//rupa jhana//, composed of singleness of object and equanimity.
When you become skilled and resolute at this stage, your
concentration gains the strength that can give rise to the skill of
liberating insight, which in turn is capable of attaining the noble
paths and fruitions. So keep your mind in this stage as long as
possible. Otherwise it will go on into the levels of //arupa jhana//,
absorption in formless objects.
If you want to enter //arupa jhana//, though, here is how it's
done: Disregard the sense of the form of the body, paying no more
attention to it, so that you are left with just a comfortable sense of
space or emptiness, free from any sensation of constriction or
interference. Focus on that sense of space. To be focused in this way
is the first level of //arupa jhana//, called //akasanancayatana
jhana//, absorption in the sense of unbounded space. Your senses --
sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and ideation -- feel spacious and
clear, with no physical image acting as the focal point of your
concentration. If your powers of discernment are weak, you may mistake
this for //nibbana//, but actually it's only a level of //arupa
Once you know and see this, go on to the next level. Let go of
the sense of space and emptiness, and pay attention to whatever
preoccupation is left -- but attention on this level is neither good
and discerning, nor bad and unwise. It's simply focused on awareness
free from activities. This level is called //vinnananancayatana
jhana//, absorption in the sense of unbounded cognizance. If you
aren't discerning, you may mistake this for //nibbana//, but it's
actually only a level of //arupa jhana//.
Once you know this, make your focus more refined until you come
to the sense that there is nothing at all to the mind: It's simply
empty and blank, with nothing occurring in it at all. Fix your
attention on this preoccupation with "Nothing is happening," until you
are skilled at it. This is the third level of //arupa jhana//, which
has a very subtle sense of pleasure. Still, it's not yet //nibbana//.
Instead, it's called //akincannayatana jhana//, absorption in the
sense of nothingness.
Now focus on the subtle notion that says that there's nothing at
all, until it changes. If you don't withdraw, but keep focused right
there, only awareness will be left -- but as for awareness on this
level, you can't really say that it's awareness and you can't say that
it isn't. You can't say that it's labeling anything and you can't say
that it's not. You can't yet decide one way or another about your
preoccupation. The mind's powers of focused investigation at this
point are weakened, because an extremely refined sense of pleasure has
arisen. You haven't searched for its causes and, when you're in this
state, you can't. So you fall into the fourth level of //arupa
jhana//: //neva-sanna-nasannayatana jhana//, absorption in the sense
of neither perception nor non-perception, a state in which you can't
say that there's any act of labeling left, and you can't say that
So when the mind changes from one of these stages of awareness or
points of view to another, keep close track of it. Be fully aware of
what it's doing and where it's focused, without letting yourself get
caught up with the refined sense of pleasure that appears. If you can
do this, you'll be able to let go of all //sankhara dhamma//: all
things fashioned and conditioned.
The four levels of //arupa jhana// are nothing other than the
mind dwelling on the four types of mental phenomena (//nama//). In
other words, the mind starts out by getting caught up with a sense of
pleasure and well-being that isn't focused on any object or image, but
is simply an empty, spacious feeling (//vedana//). This is the first
level of //arupa jhana//. On the second level, the mind is caught up
with the act of cognizance (//vinnana//). It's focused on an empty
sense of awareness as its object -- simply the act of cognizance
happening over and over continuously, without end. This is called
absorption in the sense of unbounded cognizance, i.e., being stuck on
the act of cognizance. On the third level of //arupa jhana//, the mind
is caught up with the act of mental fashioning (//sankhara//), which
merely arises and passes away. Nothing, nothing at all appears as an
image, and the mind simply thinks about this over and over again. This
is called absorption in the sense of nothingness, i.e., being stuck on
mental fashioning. On the fourth level of //arupa jhana//, the mind is
caught up with the act of labeling (//sanna//), seeing that it can't
say that there is a label for what it has just experienced or is now
experiencing, and it can't say that there isn't. Thus it falls into
absorption in the sense of neither perception nor non-perception.
All four levels of //arupa jhana// have a sense of pleasure and
well-being as their common basis. Beginning with the first level,
there is an extremely fine and subtle sense of pleasure, but your
understanding of it isn't true. What this means is that you can't yet
let go of your understanding of it. You simply remain focused and
absorbed in it, without trying to find out its causes. The mind at
this point doesn't feel inclined to reason or investigate, because the
sense of pleasure is relaxed and exquisite beyond measure.
So if you want to escape beyond all suffering and stress, you
should practice focusing from one level of //arupa jhana// to another,
in and out, back and forth, over and over, until you are skilled at
it. Then investigate, searching for the causes and underlying factors
until you can know that, "Here the mind is stuck on the act of
labeling -- here it is stuck on the act of mental fashioning -- here
it is stuck on the act of cognizance."
Cognizance is the underlying factor for name and form, or
physical and mental phenomena. Physical and mental phenomena, by their
nature, contain each other within themselves. Once you understand
this, focus on the internal sense of the form of the body. Consider it
through and through so that it becomes more and more refined until the
mind is absolutely firm, absorbed in a single preoccupation, either on
the sensual level (a sensory image of the body) or on the formless
level. Keep the mind fixed, and then examine that particular
preoccupation until you see how it arises and passes away -- but don't
go assuming yourself to be what arises and passes away. Keep the mind
neutral and unaffected, and in this way you will be able to know the
The way in which the four levels of //rupa jhana// and the four
levels of //arupa jhana// are fashioned can be put briefly as follows:
Focus on any one of the four properties making up the sense of the
form of the body (earth, water, fire, and wind). This is //rupa
jhana//. The one object you focus on can take you all the way to the
fourth level, with the various levels differing only in the nature of
the act of focusing. As for //arupa jhana//, it comes from //rupa
jhana//. In other words, you take the sense of physical pleasure
coming from //rupa jhana// as your starting point and then focus
exclusively on that pleasure as your object. This can also take you
all the way to the fourth level -- absorption in the sense of neither
perception nor non-perception -- with the various levels differing
only in their point of view. Or, to put it in plain English, you focus
(1) on the body and (2) on the mind.
//Rupa jhana// is like a mango; //arupa jhana//, like the mango's
taste. A mango has a shape, but no one can see the shape of its taste,
because it's something subtle and refined. This is why people who
don't practice in line with the levels of concentration go astray in
the way they understand things. Some people even believe that death is
annihilation. This sort of view comes from the fact that they are so
blind that they can't find themselves. And since they can't find
themselves, they decide that death is annihilation. This is like the
fool who believes that when a fire goes out, fire has been
annihilated. Those who have looked into the matter, though, say that
fire hasn't been annihilated, and they can even start it up again
without having to use glowing embers the way ordinary people do.
In the same way, a person's mind and body are not annihilated at
death. Take a blatant example: When a man dies and is cremated,
people say that his body no longer exists. But actually its elements
are still there. The earth is still earth just as it always was; the
water is still water; the fire is still fire; and the wind, still
wind. Only their particular manifestations -- hair, nails, teeth,
skin, flesh, etc. -- have disappeared. What we supposed them to be has
vanished, but the nature of the primal elements hasn't. It's there as
it always was. People who have fallen for their supposings are sure to
be shocked at death; those who have seen the truth, see death as
nothing strange. It's simply a change in the manifestations of the
Our fear of death is based on our assumption that the body is
ours. When it dies, and we feel that it's been annihilated, this only
increases our fears, all because we don't know the truth of the body.
And if we don't know the truth even of this crude body, we're ripe for
all sorts of wrong views, such as the view that death is annihilation.
If death is annihilation, then there are no heavens, no hells, no
Brahma worlds and no //nibbana//. And if this true, then the Buddha
was even stupider than we are, because pleasure in the present life is
something everyone knows enough to search for -- even common animals
know enough to look for food. So why would the Buddha have to exert
himself to the point of sacrificing his life and mind for the sake of
teaching other people?
People who believe that death is annihilation, who from birth
have been led by necessity to search for a living from their
environment, are like a person blind from birth who -- when he gets
older and his parents or friends take him by the hand and lead him
into a cave -- won't know whether he's in the cave or outside of the
cave, because he can't see. And since he can't see, he'll think that
everywhere is probably dark without exception. Even if they tell him
that in-the-cave is dark and outside-of-the-cave is bright, he won't
believe them, all because of his own darkness. In the same way, people
believe that the body and mind are annihilated at death and that there
are no heavens, hells, Brahma worlds, or //nibbana//, all because of
their own darkness. Their knowledge hasn't penetrated into the real
nature of birth and death. They see others speaking of the practice of
virtue, concentration, //jhana//, and discernment for the sake of
ending death and rebirth, and they smile to themselves. "What a bunch
of fools." they say. But actually they're the fools.
Those who have seen that death has to be followed by rebirth have
seen that if defilement, craving, and unawareness still entwine the
heart, rebirth will be endless. People who can't see this are bound to
believe that everything is annihilated at death.
Our Lord Buddha was a sage, a man of wisdom endowed with virtue,
concentration, and discernment. He was able to see that there is no
annihilation -- just like the expert surveyor who can look at a
mountain spring and know that there's gold in the mountain.
"Look," he tells some farmers. "There's gold in the spring."
They go and look, but they don't see any signs of gold. All they
see is water gushing out of the mountain. "That guy is lying," they
think. "He must be out of his mind. He looks at spring water and sees
But what's really wrong is that they don't know his craft. Those
who see that death has to be followed by rebirth as long as there is
unawareness (//avijja//) in the heart are like the expert surveyor.
Those who believe that death is annihilation are like the farmers who
know nothing of the craft of searching for gold.
Those who want to see clearly into the nature of birth and death
will first have to learn the craft of the heart. Thought, evaluation,
rapture, pleasure, and singleness of object: These form the first
skill in the Buddha's craft. To focus in until only rapture, pleasure,
and singleness of object are left is the second skill. To focus in
until only pleasure and singleness of object are left is the third
skill. To focus in until only equanimity and singleness of object are
left is the fourth. When you've reached this point, you've mastered
all the skills offered in that particular school, i.e., you've
mastered the body; you've seen that it's just a matter of physical
properties, unclean and repulsive, inconstant, stressful, and
not-self. Some people, on reaching this point, don't continue their
studies, but set themselves up in dubious professions, claiming to
have special powers, to be fortune tellers or to know magical
incantations, using their skills to make a living under the sway of
Those, however, who have the necessary funds -- namely,
conviction in the paths and fruitions leading to //nibbana// -- will
go on to study in another school, //arupa jhana//, focusing directly
in on the mind. For example: Right now, what are you thinking? Good
thoughts or bad? When you have the presence of mind to know what a
thought is bad, stare it down until it disappears, leaving only good
thoughts. When a good thought arises, there's a sense of ease and
well-being. Focus in on that sense of well-being. Don't withdraw. If
you're going to think, think only of that sense of well-being. Keep
focusing until you are skilled at staying with that sense of
well-being, to the point where, when you withdraw, you can focus right
back in on it. This very sense of well-being is the basis for all four
levels of //arupa jhana//. They differ only in their viewpoints on it.
Once you've focused on this same sense of well-being firmly enough and
long enough to go through the first, second, third, and fourth levels
of //arupa jhana//, you should then go back and review all the skills
you've mastered from the very beginning, back and forth, until they
become //appana jhana//, fixed absorption, firm and fully mastered.
//Rupa jhana//, once mastered is like being a government official
who works and earns a salary. //Arupa jhana//, once mastered, is like
being a retired official receiving a pension from the government. Some
people, when they've finished government service, simply curl up and
live off their pensions without using their skills to provide
themselves with any further benefits. This is like people who master
//rupa jhana// and //arupa jhana// and then don't use their skills to
gain the further benefits of the transcendent.
If you do want to gain those benefits, though, here's how it's
done: Focus your powers of investigation back on your primal sense of
the body and mind until liberating insight arises. The insight that
acts as a stairway to the transcendent level is based on //jhana// at
the level of fixed penetration, focusing the mind resolutely to reach
the first level of //rupa jhana//. Those people who have a good deal
of discernment will -- once the mind has attained concentration for
only a short while -- focus directly in on mental phenomena. I.e.,
they'll focus on the mind and investigate its preoccupation until they
clearly see the true nature of physical and mental phenomena. The
state of mind that clings to physical and mental phenomena will
vanish, and while it is vanishing the "state of mind changing lineage
(//gotarabhu citta//)" is said to arise. When the mind can know what
mundane mental states are like and what transcendent mental states are
like, that's called //gotarabhu nana//, change-of-lineage knowledge,
i.e., comprehension of //nibbana//.
Here we're talking about people who are inclined to focus
primarily on the mind, who tend to develop insight meditation more
than tranquillity meditation. Their Awakening is termed release
through discernment (//panna-vimutti//). Although they don't develop
all of the mundane skills that come along with concentration -- i.e.,
they don't master all of the three skills, the eight skills, or the
four forms of acumen -- they still master the one crucial skill, the
knowledge that does away with the effluents of defilement
Those who tend more towards tranquillity meditation, though, are
in no great hurry. They develop all the levels of //jhana//, going
back and forth, again and again, until they're expert in both //rupa
jhana// and //arupa jhana//. Then they return to the fourth level of
//rupa jhana// and focus strongly on it, taking the inner sense of the
form of the body as their object -- their //uggaha nimitta// -- and
then manipulating it back and forth (//patibhaga nimitta//) to the
point where their powers of mindfulness and self-awareness are firm.
They focus until their minds are neutral and still, steady with a
single object, uninvolved with any outside preoccupations. They then
will be able to identify exactly how //rupa jhana// and //arupa
jhana// differ -- and will realize that the fourth level of //rupa
jhana// is the crucial one, giving the mind strength in a variety of
When you reach this point, focus on the fourth level of //rupa
jhana//. Keep the mind neutral and still, constantly focused on a
single object. Focus on one spot as your frame of reference
(//satipatthana//), i.e., on the subtle sense of the body at this
level, in and of itself. When you are strongly focused, a sense of
brightness will develop, and a variety of amazing skills -- either
mundane or transcendent, depending in part on the power of your
//jhana// -- will arise in the mind.
The knowledge and skills arising from //jhana// can free you from
all suffering and stress. But most of us, by and large, don't think of
looking for these skills. We're interested only in those skills and
forms of knowledge that will keep us bound to suffering and stress on
and on through time. So those who aim for well-being that is clear and
clean should train their minds to give rise to //jhana//, which is one
of the treasures of the Noble Ones.
The four levels of //rupa jhana// and the four levels of //arupa
jhana//, taken together, are called the eight attainments
(//samapatti//), all of which come down to two sorts: mundane and
transcendent. In mundane //jhana//, the person who has attained
//jhana// assumes that, `This is my self,' or `I am that,' and holds
fast to these assumptions, not giving rise to the knowledge that can
let go of those things in line with their true nature. This is classed
as //sakkaya-ditthi//, the viewpoint that leads us to
self-identification, the feeling that, `This is me,' or `This is
mine.' This in turn leads to //silabbata-paramasa//, attachment to our
accustomed practices, i.e., seeing //jhana// as something of magical
potency, that whatever we set our minds on attaining will have to come
true. As for our doubts (//vicikiccha//) about the Buddha, Dhamma and
Sangha, these haven't been cleared up, because we've been deflected at
this level and haven't gotten any further.
Thus whoever attains //jhana// without abandoning the three
fetters (//sanyojana//) is practicing mundane //jhana//. Mundane
//jhana//, unless you're really expert at it, is the easiest thing in
the world to lose. It's always ready to deteriorate at the slightest
disturbance from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations,
and ideas. Sometimes you may be sitting in //jhana// and then, when
you get up and walk away, it's gone.
As for transcendent //jhana//: When you've attained //rupa
jhana//, you go back to examine the various levels until you are
expert at them and then develop insight meditation so as to see
mundane //jhana// for what it really is. In other words, you see that
the preoccupations of both //rupa jhana// and //arupa jhana// are
inconstant, stressful, and not-self. Once this knowledge arises, you
are able to let go of the various preoccupations of //jhana//; and
once the mind is set loose from //rupa jhana// and //arupa jhana//, it
enters the transcendent level; the stream to //nibbana//. It cuts the
three fetters -- self-identification, grasping at practices and
habits, and uncertainty -- and is headed straight for //nibbana//.
When you have cut the three fetters, your //jhana// is transcendent
//jhana//; your virtue, concentration, and discernment are all
Once you have mastered these two modes of //jhana//, they will
give rise to the various abilities, mundane or transcendent, taught by
Buddhism that differ from worldly skills in that they can arise only
after the attainment of //jhana//. Among these skills are the three
skills (//vijja//), the eight skills, and the four forms of acumen
* * *
THE THREE SKILLS
1. //Pubbenivasanussati-nana//: the ability to remember past
2. //Cutupapata-nana//: the ability to know where living beings
are reborn after death.
3. //Asavakkhaya-nana//: the ability to do away entirely with the
effluents of defilement.
1. The ability to remember past lives: First you have to be
proficient in all four frames of reference (//satipatthana//). Once
your powers of reference are strong, you will know the truth of the
body in the present. That is, you keep focusing on the body as it
appears in the present until there appears the subtle image of the
body that is constantly arising and falling away. You will then be
able to know not only the present, but also the past and future of the
body. With regard to the past, you will know back to the day it was
conceived in your mother's womb. What it was like after the first day,
the seventh day, one month, three months, seven months, nine ... what
it looked like, how it lived, what sort of food it consumed; and then
as it grew one year, two, three, four, five all the way to the
present: You'll be able to know the truth of the body. As for the
future, you'll know how the body will change if you live to the age of
thirty, forty, eighty, all the way to the day you die. If your
knowledge on this level and your powers of reference are truly strong,
you will be able to remember back one lifetime, ten lifetimes, one
hundred, one thousand... depending on the power of your mind. As for
the mental phenomena you experienced in past lives, you will be able
to know them as well, just as you can know the body.
2. The ability to know where living beings are reborn after
death: First you have to be proficient in knowing the movements of
your own mind in the present. Sometimes it takes on the
characteristics of a mind in the realms of deprivation, sometimes the
characteristics of a human mind, a heavenly mind or a Brahma mind.
Once you know your own crude and subtle mental states in the present
-- and if your knowledge is truly strong -- you will be able to know,
via the inner eye, exactly how well or badly different living beings
fare when they die.
3. The knowledge that does away with the effluents of defilement:
This means clear knowledge of the four Noble Truths -- the ability to
diagnose stress (//dukkha//) as arising from craving (//tanha//); the
ability to pinpoint what will put an end to craving, i.e., identifying
the path //(magga//), and then following the path until the disbanding
of stress (//nirodha//) occurs. You will have clear vision of all four
truths, doing away with defilement, craving, views, and conceits
through the power of your discernment. The knowledge that does away
with mental effluents forms the essence of liberating insight
* * *
THE EIGHT SKILLS
1. //Vipassana-nana//: clear insight into the elements
(//dhatu//), the aggregates (//khandha//), and the sense media
2. //Manomayiddhi//: the ability to project mind-made images.
3. //Iddhividhi//: supernormal powers.
4. //Dibba-sota//: clairaudience.
5. //Cetopariya-nana//: knowledge of the thoughts and minds of
6. //Dibba-cakkhu//: clairvoyance.
7. //Pubbenivasanussati-nana//: knowledge of past lives.
8. //Asavakkhaya-nana//: knowledge which does away with mental
1. //Vipassana-nana//: This refers to clear insight into the six
elements -- the properties of earth, water, fire, wind, space, and
cognizance -- perceiving their true nature, e.g., seeing them as equal
in terms of their three inherent characteristics -- inconstancy,
stress and lack of self; seeing them merely as conditioned formations;
knowing them with regard to all three time periods -- past, present
and future: what they have been, what they will be, and what they are
at the moment. Only when your insight into these matters is absolutely
clear does it qualify as //vipassana-nana//.
The aggregates refer to the same range of phenomena as the
elements, but simply classify them in a different way: body, feelings,
mental labels, mental fashionings, and cognizance. These aggregates
can be reduced to two -- physical and mental phenomena -- and these in
turn can be redivided into six: the senses (sight, hearing, smell,
taste, touch, ideation) and their corresponding objects. These are
termed sense media (//ayatana//).
2. //Manomayiddhi//: This refers to the ability to make images of
yourself or of others appear to other people. These images can appear
in whatever manner you want them to, without your having to make a
move. This skill depends on being able to manipulate the four physical
properties, focusing on them with the power of //jhana// to create
whatever image you have in mind.
3. //Iddhividhi//: Examples of supernormal powers are the ability
to make a crowd of people to be only a few people, or a few people to
be a crowd; the ability to walk through fire, on water, or through the
dark if walking in bright light; the ability to make the body appear
small, tall, short, dark, fair, old, young, etc.; the ability to
affect the weather, causing rain, wind, fire, earthquakes, etc. All of
this can be accomplished through the power of //jhana//.
4. //Dibba-sota//: the ability to hear sounds no matter how near
or far -- the voices of human beings, the voices of heavenly beings,
or whatever other sound you may focus on hearing.
5. //Cetopariya-nana//: the ability to know the thoughts of
others -- good or bad, crude or refined, hateful or well-meaning.
Whatever another person may be thinking will appear clearly to you.
6. //Dibba-cakkhu//: the ability to see anything, no matter what,
near or far, without having to open your eyes.
7. //Pubbenivasanussati-nana//: the ability to remember previous
8. //Asavakkhaya-nana//: the knowledge that drives such
defilements as passion, aversion ,and delusion out of the heart.
(These last two skills are explained under the three skills above.)
* * *
THE FOUR FORMS OF ACUMEN
1. //Attha-patisambhida//: acumen with regard to meaning.
2. //Dhamma-patisambhida//: acumen with regard to mental
3. //Nirutti-patisambhida//: acumen with regard to linguistic
4. //Patibhana-patisambhida//: acumen with regard to expression.
1. Acumen with regard to meaning means knowing how to
explain the Buddha's shorter teachings in detail and how to draw out
the gist of a detailed teaching so that listeners will have a correct
understanding in line with the Buddha's aims. Even if you have a lot
to say, you get to the point; even if you have only a little to say,
you don't leave out anything important. Wrong words you can turn into
right ones, and explanations that are correct but crude you can make
more subtle without leaving anything out.
2. Acumen with regard to mental qualities means knowing how to
distinguish the wise qualities from unwise ones, establishing the
first as good, which ought to be followed, and the second as evil,
which ought to be avoided. You know how to explain their various
levels, classifying the unwise as common, intermediate, and subtle,
and then know which wise qualities are suitable for countering each
sort: Virtue does away with common defilements; concentration does
away with intermediate defilements; and discernment, subtle
defilements. This is knowledge //about// mental qualities. The next
step is to develop virtue to do away with the more common forms of
greed, hatred, and delusion; to develop concentration to do away with
the hindrances; and discernment to do away with the fetters
Acumen with regard to mental qualities thus means to
distinguished the various types of qualities and then to put the wise
qualities into practice until the supreme quality -- //nibbana// -- is
realized. Simply knowing about the wise qualities, but not developing
them, runs counter to the Buddha's reasons for teaching about them in
the first place.
3. Acumen with regard to linguistic conventions refers to the
ability to know the individual with whom you are speaking
(//puggalannuta//), and how to speak with different types of people so
as to be in keeping with their knowledge and background
(//parisannuta//). You know that you have to speak this way with that
lay person, and that way with this; that this group of monks and
novices has to be addressed in such and such a way, in line with their
various backgrounds. You know how to make people understand in their
own language -- how to speak with farmers, merchants, and kings,
varying your language so as to fit the person you are speaking to.
This form of acumen, contrary to what people normally believe, doesn't
refer to the ability to speak the external language of birds or mice
or what-have-you. Even if we could speak their language, what good
would it do? If anyone can actually speak these languages, good for
them. The Buddha's main interest, though, was probably in having us
know how to speak with people in such a way that our words will meet
their needs. Only those who have this ability qualify as having
acquired this form of acumen.
4. Acumen with regard to expression refers to being quick-witted
in discussing the Dhamma and its meaning, knowing how to put things in
apt way so as to keep ahead of your listeners. This doesn't mean being
devious, though. It simply means using strategy so as to be of
benefit: putting common matters in subtle terms, and subtle matters in
common terms; speaking of matters close at hand as if they were far
away, of far away matters as if they were close at hand, explaining a
base statement in high terms or a high statement in base terms, making
difficult matters easy, and obscure matters plain. You know the right
word to cut off a long winded opponent, and how to put things --
without saying anything false or dubious -- so that no one can catch
you. To be gifted in expression in this way means not to be talkative,
but to be expert at talking. Talkative people soon run themselves out:
people expert at talking never run out no matter how much they have to
say. They can clear up any doubts in the minds of their listeners, and
can find the one well-chosen word that is worth more than a hundred
The skills classed as the four forms of acumen refer only to the
skills of this sort that come from the practice of tranquillity and
The three skills, the eight skills, and the four forms of acumen
arise only in the wake of //jhana//. When classed according to level,
they are two: //sekha-bhumi//, i.e., any of these skills as mastered
by a Stream-enterer, a Once-returner, a Non-returner, or by a person
who has yet to attain any of the transcendent levels; and
//asekha-bhumi//, any of these skills as mastered by an Arahant.
The only one of these skills that's really important is
//asavakkhaya-nana//, the knowledge that does away with the mental
effluents. As for the others, whether or not they are attained isn't
really important. And it's not the case that all Noble Ones will
attain all of these skills. Not to mention ordinary people, even some
Arahants don't attain any of them with the single exception of the
knowledge that does away with mental effluents.
To master these skills, you have to have studied meditation under
a Buddha in a previous lifetime.
This ends the discussion of //jhana//.
* * *
At this point I would like to return to the themes of insight
meditation, because some people are bound not to be expert in the
practice of //jhana//. Even though they may attain //jhana// to some
extent, it's only for short periods of time. Some people, for example,
tend to be more at home investigating and figuring out the workings --
the logic of cause and effect -- of physical and mental phenomena,
developing insight into the three inherent characteristics of
inconstancy, stress, and "not-selfness," practicing only a moderate
amount of //jhana// before heading on to the development of liberating
Liberating insight can be developed in either of two ways: For
those experts in //jhana//, insight will arise dependent on the fourth
level of //rupa jhana//; for those not expert in //jhana//, insight
will arise dependent on the first level of //jhana//, following the
practice of threshold concentration. Some people, when they reach this
point, start immediately investigating it as a theme of insight
meditation, leading to complete and clear understanding of physical
and mental phenomena or, in terms of the aggregates, seeing clearly
that the body, feelings, mental labels, mental fashionings, and
cognizance are inherently inconstant, stressful, and not-self, and
then making this insight strong.
If this sort of discernment becomes powerful at the same time
that your powers of mindfulness and presence of mind are weak and
slow-acting, though, any one of ten kinds of misapprehension can
occur. These are called //vipassanupak-kilesa//, the corruptions of
insight. Actually, they are nothing more than by-products of the
practice of insight, but if you fall for them and latch onto them,
they become defilements. They can make you assume wrongly that you
have reached the paths, fruitions, and //nibbana//, because they are
defilements of a very subtle sort. They are also termed the enemies of
insight. If your powers of reference aren't equal to your powers of
discernment, you can get attached and be led astray without your
realizing it, believing that you have no more defilements, that there
is nothing more for you to do. These ten defilements are extremely
subtle and fine. If you fall for them, you're not likely to believe
anyone who tells you that you've gone wrong. Thus you should know
about them beforehand so that you can keep yourself detached when they
arise. But before discussing them, we should first discuss the
exercises for insight meditation, because the corruptions of insight
appear following on the practice of the exercises.
* * *
EXERCISES FOR INSIGHT MEDITATION
These are techniques for giving rise to knowledge and insight,
via the mind, into the natural workings of physical and mental
phenomena, as expressed in terms of the five aggregates, seeing them
as naturally occurring conditions -- inherently inconstant, stressful,
and not-self -- these three characteristics being the focal point of
If we've come to the topic of insight, why are we referring again
to the five aggregates, inconstancy, stress, not-selfness, etc.?
Weren't these already covered under tranquillity meditation?
The answer is that although insight meditation deals with the
same raw material as tranquillity meditation -- i.e., form and
formless objects, or in other words, physical and mental phenomena --
it gives rise to a more refined level of knowledge and understanding.
The treatment of the five aggregates and the three characteristics on
the level of tranquillity meditation is very crude, simply enough to
make the mind settle down to the point where it is ready for the
practice of insight meditation. Once we reach the level of insight,
though, our understanding and perception into the five aggregates and
the characteristics of inconstancy, stress, and not-selfness become
clearer and more distinct. We can make the following comparison: The
understanding gained on the level of tranquillity meditation is like
cutting down the trees in a forest but not yet setting them on fire.
The understanding gained on the level of insight meditation is like
taking the trees and burning them up. The forest in the second case is
much more open and clear -- even though it's the same forest. This is
how the levels of knowledge gained in tranquillity and insight
To develop insight, you first have to distinguish the five
aggregates: physical phenomena, feelings, mental labels, mental
fashionings, and cognizance. Once you have them distinguished, start
out by focusing on and considering all physical phenomena, whether
past -- those that have occurred beginning with your conception as an
embryo in your mother's womb; present; or future -- those that will
continue to occur until the day you die; internal -- the phenomena of
the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body, together with the visions that
appear through the power of the mind; or external -- sights, sounds,
smells, tastes, and tactile sensations: //All// of these are
inherently inconstant, stressful and not-self. They arise momentarily
and then pass away, never satisfying the desires of those who want
them, never offering anything of any substance or worth. This holds
true equally for any and all things composed of the physical
This is the exercise dealing with physical phenomena.
As for feelings, start out by distinguishing two sorts: external
and internal. External feelings arise when the eye comes into contact
with a visible object, the ear comes into contact with a sound, the
nose comes into contact with an aroma, the tongue comes into contact
with a flavor, or when tactile sensations -- heat, cold, etc. -- come
into contact with the body. All five of these categories are classed
as external feelings. if the mind is displeased, a bad mood is
experienced; if the mind is neither pleased nor displeased, a mood of
indifference is experiences: For the mind to experience any of these
moods is classed as internal feeling. Both internal and external
feelings -- past, present, or future -- should be focused on at a
single point: the fact that they are all inconstant, stressful, and
not-self. By nature they arise only to pass away.
This is the second exercise.
As for mental labels, there are two sorts, external and internal.
External labeling refers to the act of identifying visual objects,
sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and ideas when they come
into the range of the senses. Internal labeling refers to the act of
identifying moods of pleasure, pain, and indifference as they are felt
by the heart. Once you can make this distinction, focus on all acts of
labeling -- past, present, or future, internal or external -- at a
single point: the fact that they are all inconstant, stressful and
not-self. By nature they arise only to pass away.
This is the third exercise.
As for fashionings, these should first be divided into two sorts:
//upadinnaka-sankhara//, those that are dependent on the power of the
mind for their sustenance; and //anupadinnaka-sankhara//, those that
are not. Mountains, trees, and other inanimate objects fashioned by
nature are examples of the second category; people and common animals
are examples of the first.
Fashionings dependent on the power of the mind for their
sustenance are two sorts: external and internal. `External' refers to
the compound of the four physical properties fashioned into a body
through the power of //kamma//. `Internal' refers to the fashioning of
thoughts -- -either good (//punnabhisankhara//), bad
(//apunnabhisankhara//), or neither good nor bad
(//anenjabhisankhara//) -- in the mind.
All fashionings -- past, present, or future, internal or external
-- should be focused on and considered at a single point, the fact of
their three inherent characteristics, as follows:
//anicca vata sankhara uppada-vaya-dhammino
`How inconstant (and stressful) are fashioned things. Their nature is
to arise and decay. Arising, they disband ...' They are all bound to
be inconstant, stressful, and not-self.
This is the fourth exercise.
As for cognizance, this should first be divided into two sorts:
internal and external. Internal cognizance refers to the act of being
clearly aware that, `This is a feeling of pleasure -- this is a
feeling of pain -- this is a feeling indifference,' as such feelings
are experienced in the heart. External cognizance refers to being
clearly aware by means of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body
whenever visual objects, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile
sensations come into range and the mind reacts with notions of liking,
disliking, or being indifferent. All acts of cognizance should be
focused on and considered in terms of their three inherent
characteristics: Whether past (beginning with the `connecting
cognizance (//patisandhi vinnana//)' that gives rise to birth),
present, or future, internal or external, all are inconstant,
stressful, and not-self. There is nothing permanent or lasting to them
When you consider these themes until you see them clearly in any
of these ways, you are developing the insight that forms the way to
the paths and fruitions leading to //nibbana//.
Thus the exercises of tranquillity and insight meditation give
rise to different levels of knowledge and understanding, even though
they deal with the very same raw material. If you truly desire to gain
release from suffering and stress, you should begin studying you own
aggregates so as to give rise to tranquillity and insight. You may
assume that you already know them, yet if you can't let them go, then
you don't really know them at all. What you know, you say you don't
know; what you don't know, you say you do. The mind switches back and
forth on itself, and so always has itself deceived.
Knowledge on the level of information -- labels and concepts -- is
inconstant. It can always change into something else. Even people
outside of the religion can know the aggregates on that level -- all
they have to do is read a few books and they'll know. So those who
really want to know should start right in, probing down into the
aggregates until they perceive clearly and truly enough to let go.
Only then will they be genuine experts in the religion.
* * *
Now we will discuss the stages of liberating insight, dealing
first with the seven stages of purification, since these form their
* * *
THE SEVEN STATES OF PURIFICATION
1. Purification of virtue (//sila-visuddhi//): Cleanse your
virtues -- in thought, word, and deed -- in line with your station in
life, so that they are pure and spotless, free from all five ways of
creating enmity, such as taking life, stealing, etc.
2. Purification of consciousness (//citta-visuddhi//): Make the
mind still and resolute, either in momentary concentration or
threshold concentration, enough to form a basis for the arising of
3. Purification of view (//ditthi-visuddhi//): Examine physical
and mental phenomena, analyzing them into their various parts, seeing
them in terms of their three inherent characteristics -- as
inconstant, stressful, and not-self.
4. Purification by overcoming doubt
(//kankha-vitarana-visuddhi//): Focus on the causes and conditions for
physical and mental phenomena, seeing what it is that causes them to
arise when it arises, and what causes them to disappear when it
disappears. Examine both these sides of the question until all your
doubts concerning physical and mental phenomena -- past, present and
future -- vanish together in an instant. The mind that can see through
the preoccupation with which it is involved in the present is much
more subtle, resolute, and firm than it has ever been before, and at
this point any one of the ten corruptions of insight -- which we
referred to above as enemies of insight -- will arise. If your powers
of reference, concentration, and discernment aren't equal to one
another, they can lead you to jump to false conclusions, causing you
to latch onto these defilements as something meaningful and thus going
astray, falling away from the highest levels of truth. The enemies of
a. Splendor (//obhasa//): an amazingly bright light, blotting out
your surroundings -- e.g., if you're sitting in a forest or patch of
thorns, they won't exist for you -- bright to the point where you get
carried away, losing all sense of your body and mind, wrapped up in
b. Knowledge (//nana//): intuition of an uncanny sort, which you
then latch onto -- either to the knowledge itself or to the object
known -- as beyond refutation. Perhaps you may decide that you've
already reached the goal, that there's nothing more for you to do.
Your knowledge on this level is true, but you aren't able to let it go
in line with its true nature.
c. Rapture (//piti//): an exceedingly strong sense of rapture and
contentment, arising from a sense of solitude and lack of disturbance
for which you have been aiming all along. Once it arises, you are
overcome with rapture to the point where you latch onto it and lose
sense of your body and mind.
d. Serenity (//passaddhi//): an extreme sense of mental
stillness, in which the mind stays motionless, overwhelmed and
addicted to the stillness.
e. Bliss (//sukha//): a subtle, exquisite sense of pleasure,
arising from a sense of mental solitude that you have just met for the
first time and that the mind relishes -- the pleasure at this point
being exceedingly subtle and relaxed -- to the point where it becomes
f. Enthusiasm (//adhimokkha//): a strong sense of conviction in
your knowledge, believing that, `This must be //nibbana//'.
g. Exertion (//paggaha//): strong and unwavering persistence that
comes from enjoying the object with which the mind is preoccupied.
h. Obsession (//upatthana//): Your train of thought becomes fixed
strongly on a single object and runs wild, your powers of mindfulness
being strong, but your powers of discernment too weak to pry the mind
away from its object.
i. Equanimity (//upekkha//): The mind is still and unmoving,
focused in a very subtle mental notion of equanimity. Not knowing the
true nature of its state, it relishes and clings to its sense of
indifference and imperturbability.
j. Satisfaction (//nikanti//): contentment with the object of
your knowledge, leading to assumptions of one sort or another.
These ten phenomena, if you know them for what they are, can form
a way along which the mind can stride to the paths and fruitions
leading to //nibbana//. If you fasten onto them, though, they turn
into a form of attachment and thus become the enemies of liberating
insight. All ten of these corruptions of insight are forms of truth on
one level, but if you can't let go of the truth so that it can follow
its own nature, you will never meet the ultimate truth of disbanding
(//nirodha//). For the mind to let go, it must use discerning insight
to contemplate these phenomena until it sees that they are clearly
inconstant, stressful and not-self. When it sees clearly and is no
longer attached to any of these phenomena, knowledge will arise within
the mind as to what is and what isn't the path leading to the
transcendent. Once this awareness arises, the mind enters the next
level of purification:
5. Purification through knowledge and vision of what is and is
not the path (//maggamagga-nanadassana-visuddhi//): Now that this
realization has arisen, look after that knowing mind to keep it
securely in the mental series leading to insight. Insight will arise
in the very next mental moment, forming a stairway to the great
benefits of the transcendent, the reward coming from having abandoned
the ten corruptions of insight. Liberating insight will arise in the
* * *
THE NINE STAGES OF LIBERATING INSIGHT
a. Contemplation of arising and passing away
(//udayabbayanu-passana-nana//): seeing the arising of physical and
mental phenomena together with their falling away.
b. Contemplation of dissolution (//bhanganupassana-nana//):
seeing the falling away of physical and mental phenomena.
c. The appearance of dread (//bhayatupatthana-nana//): seeing all
fashionings (i.e., all physical and mental phenomena) as something to
be dreaded, just as when a man sees a deadly cobra lying in his path
or an executioner about to behead a criminal who has broken the law.
d. Contemplation of misery (//adinavanupassana-nana//): seeing
all fashionings as a mass of pain and stress, arising only to age,
sicken, disband, and die.
e. Contemplation of disgust (//nibbidanupassana-nana//): viewing
all fashionings with a sense of weariness and disenchantment with
regard to the cycle of birth, aging, illness, and death through the
various way-stations in the round of existence; seeing the pain and
harm, feeling disdain and estrangement, with no longing to be involved
with any fashionings at all. Just as a golden King Swan -- who
ordinarily delights only in the foothills of Citta Peak and the great
Himalayan lakes -- would feel nothing but disgust at the idea of
bathing in a cesspool at the gate of an outcaste village, in the same
way the arising of insight causes a sense of disgust for all
fashionings to appear.
f. The desire for freedom (//muncitukamyata-nana//): sensing a
desire to escape from all fashionings that appear, just as when a man
goes down to bathe in a pool and -- meeting a poisonous snake or a
crocodile -- will aim at nothing but escape.
g. Reflective contemplation (//patisankhanupassana-nana//):
trying to figure out a way to escape from all fashionings that appear,
in the same way that a caged quail keeps looking for a way to escape
from its cage.
h. Equanimity with regard to fashionings
(//sankharupekkha-nana//): viewing all fashionings with a sense of
indifference, just as a husband and wife might feel indifferent to
each other's activities after they have gained a divorce.
i. Knowledge in accordance with the truth
(//saccanulomika-nana//): seeing all fashionings -- all five
aggregates -- in terms of the
four Noble truths.
* * *
All of these stages of insight are nothing other than the sixth
level of purification:
6. Purification through knowledge and vision of the way
(//patipada-nandassana-visuddhi//): At this point, our way is cleared.
Just as a man who has cut all the tree stumps in his path level to the
ground can then walk with ease, so it is with knowledge on this level:
We have gotten past the corruptions of insight, but he roots --
//avijja//, or unawareness -- are still in the ground.
The next step is to develop the mind higher and higher along the
lines of liberating insight until you reach the highest plane of the
mundane level leading to the noble paths, beginning with the path
opening onto the stream to //nibbana//. This level is termed:
7. Purification of knowledge and vision
(//nanadassana-visuddhi//): At this point, devote yourself to
reviewing the stages of liberating insight through which you have
passed, back and forth, so that each stage leads on to the next, from
the very beginning all the way to knowledge in accordance with the
truth and back, so that your perception in terms of the four Noble
Truths is absolutely clear. If your powers of discernment are
relatively weak, you will have to review the series three times in
immediate succession before change-of-lineage knowledge
(//gotarabhu-nana//, knowledge of //nibbana//) will arise as the
result. If your powers of discernment are moderate, change-of- lineage
knowledge will arise after you have reviewed the series twice in
succession. If your powers of discernment are tempered and strong, it
will arise after you have reviewed the series once. Thus the sages of
the past divided those who reach the first noble path and fruition
into three sorts: Those with relatively weak powers of discernment
will have to be reborn another seven times; those with moderate powers
of discernment will have to be reborn another three or four times;
those with quick powers of discernment will have to be reborn only
The different speeds at which individuals realize the first path
and its fruition are determined by their temperaments and
propensities. The slowest class are those who have developed two parts
tranquillity to one part insight. The intermediate class are those who
have developed one part tranquillity to one part insight. Those with
the quickest and strongest insight are those who have developed one
part tranquillity to two parts insight. Having developed the
beginning parts of the path in different ways -- here we are referring
only to those parts of the path consisting of tranquillity and insight
-- they see clearly into the four Noble Truths at different mental
In the end, it all comes down to seeing the five aggregates
clearly and unmistakably in terms of the four Noble Truths. What does
it mean to see clearly and unmistakably? And what are the terms of the
four Noble Truths? This can be explained as follows: Start out by
fixing your attention on a result and then trace back to its causes.
Focus, for instance, on physical and mental phenomena as they arise
and pass away in the present. This is the truth of stress
(//dukkha-sacca//), as in the Pali phrase,
//nama-rupam aniccam, nama-rupam dukkham,
`All physical and mental phenomena are equally inconstant, stressful,
and not-self.' Fix your attention on their arising and changing,
seeing that birth is stressful, ageing is stressful, illness and death
are stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair are
stressful; in short, the five aggregates are stressful. What is the
cause? When you trace back to the cause for stress, you'll find that
craving for sensual objects -- sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile
sensations and ideas -- is one cause, termed sensual craving
(//kama-tanha//). Then focus in on the mind so as to see the
intermediate-level cause and you'll see that `At this moment the mind
is straying, wishing that physical and mental phenomena -- form,
feelings, labels, fashionings, and cognizance -- would be in line with
its wants.' This wish is termed craving for becoming
(//bhava-tanha//). Focus in again on the mind so as to see the subtle
cause and you'll see that, `At this moment the mind is flinching,
wishing that physical and mental phenomena wouldn't change, that they
would stay under its control.' This wish is termed craving for no
becoming (//vibhava-tanha//), i.e., craving for things to stay
constant in line with one's wishes.
These three forms of craving arise when the mind is deluded.
Focus in and investigate that deluded mental state until you can see
that it's inconstant, stressful, and not-self. Tap Craving on his
shoulder and call him by name until, embarrassed and ashamed, he wanes
from the heart, in line with the teaching: `The lack of involvement
with that very craving, the release from it, the relinquishing of it,
the abandonment of it, the disbanding of it through the lack of any
remaining affection: This is the disbanding of stress.'
The mind that switches back and forth between knowing and being
deluded is all one and the same mind. Craving lands on it, not
allowing it to develop the path and gain true knowledge, just as
flocks of birds landing on a tall, unsteady, tapering tree can cause
it to shudder and sway and come crashing down. Thus the Noble
Disciples have focused on craving and discarded it, leaving only
nirodha, disbanding. The act of disbanding can be divided into two --
the disbanding of physical and mental phenomena; or into three -- the
disbanding of sensual craving, craving for becoming, and craving for
no becoming; or into four -- the disbanding of feelings, labels,
fashionings, and cognizance of various things. Add the disbanding of
physical phenomena to the last list and you have five. We could keep
going on and on: If you can let go, everything disbands. What this
means simply is that the heart no longer clings to these things, no
longer gives them sustenance.
Letting go, however, has two levels: mundane and transcendent.
Mundane letting go is only momentary, not once-and-for-all, and so the
disbanding that results is only mundane. It's not yet constant. As for
the path of practice, it's not yet constant either. It's the noble
eightfold path, all right, but on the mundane level. For example:
1. Mundane right view: You see into stress, its causes, its
disbanding, and the path to its disbanding, but your insight isn't yet
constant -- for although your views are correct, you can't yet let
them go. This is thus classed as mundane right view.
2. Mundane right attitude: Your attitude is to renounce sensual
pleasures, not to feel ill will, and not to cause harm. These three
attitudes are correct, but you haven't yet freed yourself in line with
them. This is thus classed as mundane right attitude.
3. Mundane right speech: right speech is of four types --
refraining from lies, from divisive tale-bearing, from coarse and
abusive speech, and from idle, aimless chatter. You know that these
forms of speech are to be avoided, but you still engage in them out of
absent-mindedness. This is thus classed as mundane right speech.
4. Mundane right action: Your undertakings aren't yet constantly
right. Sometimes you act uprightly, sometimes not. This is classed as
mundane right action.
5. Mundane right livelihood: Your maintenance of your livelihood
by way of thought, word, and deed isn't yet constant. In other words,
it's not yet absolutely pure -- in some ways it is, and in some it
isn't. Thus it is termed mundane right livelihood.
6. Mundane right effort: Right effort is of four types -- the
effort to abandon evil that has already arisen, to avoid evil that
hasn't, to give rise to the good that hasn't yet arisen, and to
maintain the good that has. Your efforts in these four directions
aren't yet really consistent. Sometimes you make the effort and
sometimes you don't. This is thus termed mundane right effort.
7. Mundane right reference: Right reference is of four types --
reference of the body, to feelings, to the mind, and to mental
qualities. When you aren't consistent in staying with these frames of
reference -- sometimes keeping them in mind, sometimes not -- your
practice is classed as inconstant. This is thus termed mundane right
8. Mundane right concentration: Right concentration is of three
sorts -- momentary concentration, threshold concentration, and fixed
penetration. If these can suppress unwise mental qualities for only
certain periods of time, they're classed as inconstant: sometimes you
have them and sometimes you don't. This is thus termed mundane right
These eight factors can be reduced to three: virtue,
concentration, and discernment -- i.e., inconstant virtue, inconstant
concentration, inconstant discernment -- sometimes pure, sometimes
blemished. These in turn reduce ultimately to our own thoughts, words,
and deeds. We're inconstant in thought, word, and deed, sometimes
doing good, sometimes doing evil, sometimes speaking what is good,
sometimes speaking what is evil, sometimes thinking what is good,
sometimes thinking what is evil.
When we want to make the path transcendent, we have to bring the
principles of virtue, concentration, and discernment to bear on our
thoughts, words, and deed, and then focus on cleansing those thoughts,
words, and deeds so that they're in line with the principles of
virtue, concentration, and discernment to the point where we attain a
purity that is radiant and lasting. Only then can the path become
The results of each path, whether mundane or transcendent, follow
immediately on the practice of the path, just as your shadow follows
immediately upon you.
To return to the discussion of the mundane path: Although the
mundane path is said to have eight factors, this eightfold path -- as
it's put into practice by people in general -- forks into two: eight
right factors and eight wrong, making a sixteen-fold path. This is why
regress is possible. What this comes down to is the fact that virtue,
concentration, and discernment aren't in harmony. For example, our
virtue may be right and our concentration wrong, or our discernment
right and our virtue and concentration wrong. In other words, our
words and deeds may be virtuous, but our thoughts -- overpowered by
the hindrances -- may not reach singleness; or the mind may reach
stillness, but without being able to let go of its preoccupations with
the elements, aggregates, or sense media. Sometimes our discernment
and insight may be right, but we haven't abandoned unvirtuous actions.
We know they're harmful and we're able to abstain for a while, but we
still can't help reverting to them even though we know better. This is
why we say the mundane path has sixteen factors, eight right and eight
wrong, sometimes turning this way and sometimes that.
If, however, you really decide to train yourself and then watch
over mundane right view so as to keep it right without letting the
wrong path interfere -- so that your virtue, concentration, and
discernment are right and in harmony -- then this very same mundane
path, once it is made constant and consistent, will become
transcendent, leading to the stream to //nibbana//. Once you reach the
transcendent level, the path has only eight factors: Your virtue,
concentration, and discernment are all entirely right. In this way
they transcend the mundane level. The mundane level is inconstant:
inconsistent, undependable, dishonest with itself. One moment you do
good; the next evil. Then after you've regressed, you progress again.
If you were to classify people of the mundane level, there are four
1. Some people have done evil in the past, are doing evil in the
present, and will continue doing evil in the future.
2. Some people have done evil in the past, but are doing good in
the present, and aren't willing to abandon their goodness in the
3. Some people have done good in the past, are doing good in the
present, but will give it up in the future.
4. Some people have done only good in the past, are keeping it up
in the present in all their actions -- i.e. virtue, concentration, and
discernment are constantly with them -- and they plan to keep on doing
good into the future.
So there's nothing constant about people on the mundane level.
They're greedy, they're rich. They do both good and evil. Two hands
aren't enough for them; they have to carry their goods on a pole over
the shoulder, with one load on the front end and another on the back.
Sometimes the back load -- the past -- is good, but the front load --
the future -- is evil. Sometimes the front and back loads are both
evil, but the person in the middle is good. Sometimes all three are
good. When we're loaded up like this, we're not balanced. One load is
heavy and the other one light. Sometimes we tip over backwards, and
sometimes fall flat on our face -- back and forth like this, from one
level of being to the next. This is how it is with virtue,
concentration, and discernment on the mundane level. There's no
telling where they'll lead you next. so once you've come to your
senses, you should start right in keeping watch over the mundane path
so that you can bring mundane virtue, concentration, and discernment
into line with the transcendent.
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