Bojjha’nga – Seven Factors of Enlightenment

This is one of my favourite themes in the suttas. The Bojjha’nga show a progression of dependence in various wholesome states arising from attending to bhikkhus who are accomplished in virtue, concentration, wisdom, liberation, knowledge and vision of liberation.  I believe it is also possible to do this in our imaginations in a virtual way. We can study the Dhamma and imagine visiting an accomplished bhikkhu.  We can record ourselves or others reading profound suttas and then later prepare a sacred moment to listen respectfully, with wise attention.  Of course if your do have convenient access to a an accomplished bhikkhu-monk or bhikkhuni-nun, then you are very fortunate…  
Sa.myuttanikaaya  translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi 
S46.1  The Himalayas 

At Saavattii. “Bhikkhus, based upon the Himalayas, the king of mountains, the naagas [dragons] nurture their bodies and acquire strength.  When they have matured their bodies and acquired strength, they then enter the pools. From the pools they enter the lakes, then the streams, then the rivers, and finally they enter the ocean. There they achieve greatness and expansiveness of body.   So too bhikkhus, based on virtue, established upon virtue, a bhikkhu develops and cultivates the seven factors of enlightenment, and thereby he achieves greatness and expansiveness in [wholesome] states…
S46.3  Virtue

“Bhikkhus, those bhikkhus who are
   accomplished in virtue, 
   accomplished in concentration, 
   accomplished in wisdom, 
   accomplished in liberation, 

   accomplished in knowledge and vision of liberation: 

  
   even the sight of those bhikkhus is helpful, I say; 
   even listening to them … 
   even approaching them … 
   even going forth after them is helpful, I say. 
For what reason?  Because when one has heard the Dhamma from such bhikkhus one dwells withdrawn by way of two kinds of withdrawal – withdrawal of the body and withdrawal of the mind.
[1] “Dwelling thus withdrawn, 
               one recollects that Dhamma and thinks it over
Whenever, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwelling thus withdrawn recollects that Dhamma and thinks it over, 
   on that occasion the enlightenment factor of mindfulness is aroused by the bhikkhu; 
   on that occasion the bhikkhu develops the enlightenment factor of mindfulness; 
   on that occasion the enlightenment factor of mindfulness comes to fulfilment by development in the bhikkhu.
[2] “Dwelling thus mindfully, 
                he discriminates that Dhamma with wisdom, 
                examines it, 
                makes an investigation of it.   
Whenever, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwelling thus mindfully, 
                discriminates that Dhamma with wisdom,  
                examines it, 
                makes an investigation of it,
   on that occasion the enlightenment factor of discrimination of states is aroused by the bhikkhu; 
   on that occasion, the bhikkhu develops the enlightenment factor of discrimination of states  [dhammavicaya]
   on that occasion the enlightenment factor of discrimination of states comes to fulfilment by development in the bhikkhu.

[3] While he thus 
              discriminates that Dhamma with wisdom, 
              examines it, 
              makes an investigation of it, 
his energy is aroused without slackening.  
Whenever, bhikkhus, 
     a bhikkhu’s energy is aroused without slackening as he
               discriminates that Dhamma with wisdom, 
               examines it,
               makes an investigation of it, 
  on that occasion the enlightenment factor of energy is aroused by the bhikkhu;
  on that occasion the bhikkhu develops the enlightenment factor of energy [viriya]
  on that occasion the enlightenment factor of energy comes to fulfilment by development in the bhikkhu.

[4] When his energy is thus aroused,

    there arises in him spiritual rapture.
Whenever, bhikkhus, spiritual rapture arises in a bhikkhu whose energy is aroused,
  on that occasion, the enlightenment factor of rapture is aroused by the bhikkhu;
  on that occasion the bhikkhu develops the enlightenment factor of rapture [piiti];
  on that occasion the enlightenment factor of rapture comes to fulfilment by development in the bhikkhu. 
[5] For one whose mind is uplifted by rapture

   the body becomes tranquil and the mind becomes tranquil.
Whenever, bhikkhus, the body becomes tranquil and the mind becomes tranquil in a bhikkhu whose mind is uplifted by rapture,
   on that occasion, the enlightenment factor of tranquility [passadhi] is aroused by the bhikkhu;
   on that occasion the bhikkhu develops the enlightenment factor of tranquility;
   on that occasion the enlightenment factor of tranquility comes to fulfilment by development in the bhikkhu.

[6] For one whose body is tranquil and who is happy

   the mind becomes concentrated. 
Whenever, bhikkhus, the mind becomes concentrated in a bhikkhu whose body is tranquil and who is happy,
   on that occasion, the enlightenment factor of concentration [samaadhi] is aroused by the bhikkhu;
   on that occasion the bhikkhu develops the enlightenment factor of concentration;
   on that occasion the enlightenment factor of concentration comes to fulfilment by development in 
   the bhikkhu. 
[7] He closely looks on with equanimity at the mind thus concentrated.

Whenever, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu closely looks on with equanimity at the mind thus concentrated,
  on that occasion, the enlightenment factor of equanimity [upekkhaa] is aroused by the bhikkhu; 
  on that occasion the bhikkhu develops the enlightenment factor of equanimity;  
  on that occasion the enlightenment factor of equanimity comes to fulfilment by development in the bhikkhu. 

Bhikkhus, when these seven factors of enlightenment have been developed and cultivated in this way, 
seven fruits and benefits may be expected. What are the seven fruits and benefits?

[1]  One attains final knowledge early in this very life [full-enlightenment – Arahat].

[2]   If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life, 

          then one attains final knowledge at the time of death
[3]  If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life or at the time of death, 

          then with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters one becomes 
          an attainer of Nibbaana in the interval.
[4]   If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life … or become an attainer of Nibbaana in 

             the interval, 
          then with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters one becomes 
          an attainer of Nibbaana upon landing.
[5]   If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life … or become an attainer of Nibbaana

             upon landing,
          then with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters one becomes
          an attainer of Nibbaana without exertion.
[6]   If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life … or become an attainer of Nibbaana

             without exertion,
          then with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters one becomes
          an attainer of Nibbaana with exertion.

[7]   If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life … or become an attainer of Nibbaana 
             with exertion, 
          then with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters one becomes 
          one bound upstream, heading towards the Akani.t.tha realm 
          [the exclusive heavenly realm for Non-returners-Anaagaami].
When, bhikkhus, the seven factors of enlightenment have been developed and cultivated in this way, these seven fruits and benefits may be expected. 

Note The first six of these seven benefits are the achievement of Arahat – full enlightenment, the fourth and final type of ariyapuggala-noble person. These six benefits are varied by time taken to attain Arahat. The series begins with the fastest and ends with the slowest in terms of time taken to attain full enlightenment. The seventh benefit is the attainment of anaagaami – non-returning, which is the second highest type of ariyapuggala and destined to attain full-enlightenment after a possibly very long life span as a Brahma being (diety, celestial being…).

Readers should note that a prerequisite to either Arahat or Anaagaami is very well developed indriya-controlling faculties and particularly well developed controlling faculty of concentration – samaadhi, also known as the enlightenment factor of concentration. The lower two ariyapuggala, the stream enterer – sotapanna, and the once-returner – sakadaagaami, have less well developed concentration. Even so, those lower two have well developed virtue – siila and unshakable confidence – saddhaa in the three refuges. Although the bojjhan’ga appear to be advanced training for sotapanna and sakadaagami seeking the higher paths and fruits, don’t be put off.  The bojjhan’ga are still open for faithful worldlings – putthujana to study and practice and reap great benefits.

S46.6 Ku.n.daliya Sutta
I  have summarised this sutta and provided a dependent sequence of fulfilment.  This is an important set of relations and well worth contemplating.

restraint of the sense faculties
   fulfils

three kinds of conduct (bodily, verbal and mental)
   fulfils

the four establishments of mindfulness
   fulfils

the seven factors of enlightenment
    fulfils

true knowledge and liberation [enlightenment].

There is a shorter version of this series in the Aanaapaanasa.myutta S54.13.

You can read more details about the three kinds of conduct (bodily, verbal and mental) in many sutta including M114 and M78.

For readers who are interested in academic study of the Bojjha’nga I recommend “The Buddhist Path to Awakening” by R.M. L. Gethin, published by Oneworld Publications in 2001.  This book covers the 37 Bodhipakkhiyadhamma; Chapter V Factors of Awakening specifically covers the Bojjha’nga. However, this book maybe too theoretical for Buddhists seeking practical advice on the path.  Even so, I transcribed and paraphrased below the bare headings of practices that assist in the arising of each of the seven Bojjha’nga.    These tips are very useful practical advice.

Mindfulness – Sati

  • mindfulness and clear comprehension (sati-samaja~n~na)
  • avoidance of people of lost mindfulness 
  • association with people of established mindfulness
  • commitment to the above

Discrimination of the Dhamma – Dhamma-vicaaya

  • asking questions
  • keeping the body and belongings clean
  • balancing the five controlling faculties
  • avoiding unwise people
  • associating with wise people
  • reflection on practice with deep knowledge
  • commitment to the above

Strength/Energy – Viriya

  • reflection on the dangers of decline to unfortunate existences such as hell, ghost, poor unhealthy human and so on.
  • seeing the benefits of rising to fortunate existences such as sensual heavens, brahma realms and wealthy healthy human worlds etc.
  • reflection on the course of the journey
  • honouring alms received
  • reflection on the greatness inheriting the Buddha’s dispensation
  • reflection on the greatness of the Buddha
  • reflection on the greatness of one’s birth
  • reflection on the greatness of the other practitioners
  • avoidance of idle people
  • association with strong energetic people
  • commitment to the above

Joy/rapture – Piiti

  • recollection of the Buddha
  • recollection of the Dhamma
  • recollection of the Sangha
  • recollection of virtue
  • recollection of generosity
  • recollection of devas
  • recollection of peace
  • avoidance of rough people
  • association with affectionate people
  • reflection on satisfying discourses
  • commitment to the above

Tranquility – Passadhi

  • consuming fine food
  • living in a pleasant climate
  • keeping a comfortable posture
  • maintaining balance
  • avoidance of violent people
  • association with tranquil people
  • commitment to the above

Concentration – Sammaadhi

  • keeping one’s person and belongings clean
  • balancing the five controlling faculties
  • skill regarding the sign-nimitta
  • appropriate application
  • appropriate easing off
  • appropriate encouragement
  • appropriate overseeing
  • avoidance of unconcentrated people
  • association with concentrated people
  • reflection on the jhaanas and liberations
  • commitment to the above

[some of these refer to jhaana techniques and for people unfamiliar with jhaana practice, I recommend you read meditation manuals such as the Vissudhimagga and Vimmuttimagga.]

Equinamity – upekkhaa

  • balanced regard for all beings
  • balanced regard for all mental forces
  • avoiding people with a bias regarding beings or a bias regarding mental forces
  • commitment to all that
Michael’s comments
Note the fundamental significance of virtue-siila [S46.1 quoted above].   “…based on virtue, established upon virtue, a bhikkhu develops and cultivates the seven factors of enlightenment, and thereby he achieves greatness and expansiveness in [wholesome] states…”

The seven Bojjha’nga are developed and the five hindrances are suppressed (see S46.38 & S46.40].  

The seven Bojjha’nga need to be balanced. Bojjha’nga 2, 3 & 4 are stimulating and Bojjha’nga 5, 6 & 7 are  tranquilising. If the stimulating group dominate, one may become overexcited whilst if the tranqulising group dominate, one may become sleepy. Either way, the Dhamma will not be clear and progress will be slow. The first Bojjha’nga, mindfulness-sati, is the most important factor because it helps one to know and see clearly when the other factors are undeveloped or out of balance. See S46.53 for more details and some explanatory similes about the stimulating and tranquillising groups in the bojjha.nga.

I have transcribed S46.3 above in such a way to enable the reader to see the structure of clauses.  This makes the sutta easier to read as well as highlight the differences between the stimulating group and the tranquillising group.  Maybe you can see that as soon as rapture arises, the discriminating, examining and investigating stops.  This is a very important point.  To progress, one must allow the rapture, tranquility and concentration to proceed without analysing. This is subtle and may take a while to get right.  I for one am quite prone to analysing.  There needs to be a balance though.  Analysis and rationality are useful but limited.  Profound wisdom may arise when the mind is tranquil and concentrated.

Note the final factor of upekkhaa-equinamity. “He closely looks on with equanimity at the mind thus concentrated.”  I understand this to be conciousness-vi~n~naana being aware of the feelings-vedanaa, perceptions-sa~n~naa and intentional volitions-sankhaara (form/body-ruupa is not part of mind-naama) that occur in the “mind thus concentrated”. This would be a relatively peaceful mind but still subject to the three general characteristics-tilakkhana (unsatisfactoriness-dukkha, impermanence-annicca and not-self-annattaa). A person with a concentrated mind may not have well developed upekkhaa and due to craving and attachment to rapture-piiti and tranquility-passadhi (M138.12), may not initially have profound insight leading to a breakthrough. As soon as  upekkhaa is mature enough and there has previously been well developed right view, then a breakthrough in the Dhamma will occur – enlightenment. It is natural.

Note the similarities with the noble eightfold path which begins with right view – sammaadi.t.thi and ends with right concentration – sammaasamaadhi. There are differences in emphasis only. The Dhamma may be likened to a multifaceted jewel. One facet may look like seven factors another facet may look like four establishments (of mindfulness), another facet may look like an eightfold path and so on.

May the seven factors of enlightenment be developed and cultivated, may the seven fruits be realised.

Lower Fetter – Adherence to Rules and Observances (Sa.myojana Siilabattapaaramaasa)

There are ten sa.myojana – fetters binding beings to sa.msaara – the round of rebirths. The first stage of bodhi-enlightenment is sotapanna-stream entry. This stage is marked by the elimination of the first three fetters with one of these being siilabattapaaramaasa – the fetter of clinging to rules and observances. The other two lower fetters are sakkaaya di.t.thi-identity view and vicikicchaa-doubt (about the Dhamma). I can cover these two in another blog article, though I will state here that these three fetters have in common the theme of establishing sammaadi.tthi-right view.  Right view is essential for liberation.

Many people misunderstand Sa.myojana Siilabattapaaramaasa – the fetter of clinging to rules and observences. Some might quickly read the phrase in English without thinking more deeply and discussing it with others and then think they understand what it means. I encountered people who claimed this fetter  means that the Blessed One allows ‘advanced followers’ to not hold the five precepts or to break the laws of various countries whenever it suits them.  Others interpret this to mean that we shouldn’t bow to pagodas, offer incense and flowers etc. to Buddha images and so on. These ‘clever people’ claim that these are rituals that can be abandoned before we want to attain Nibbaana. They cite the simile of the raft to support their view.  

It is very important to keep the five precepts.  Siila (good moral conduct) is the foundation for developing Samaadhi (concentration) and Pa~n~na (wisdom). Making offerings and paying respect to pagodas and Buddha images helps us to develop kusala (wholesome/skilful) mental states. We can develop the indriya (controlling faculties) of saddhaa (faith/confidence) and samaadhi (concentration) by paying respects mindfully and with clear comprehension (sati sampaja~n~na).  Keeping precepts, making offerings and paying respects to pagodas etc. need to be done with the right attitude and keeping samaa di.t.thi (right view) in mind. If we keep precepts and make offerings with wrong view then there is very little benefit and probably some harm as a result.

I selected some quotes from the suttas that might help us to deepen our understanding of this fetter and eventually to utterly destroy it.


Note that the quotations from the Majjhimanikaaya below are all from Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation, though I’ve pasted the links to the ATI website, translated by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, or Metta.lk translated by Sister Upalavanna, for your convenience in obtaining an on-line English translation.  I’ve interspersed some interpretive notes in black font between the quotes. Maybe readers might read the quotes in purple font as a series several times before reading my interpretive notes which can be treated a bit like footnotes or endnotes in a text book. 

Sa.myuttanikaaya translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
S45.178 Lower Fetters
“Bhikkhus, there are these five lower fetters. What five? Identity view, doubt, the distorted grasp of rules and vows, sensual desire, ill will. These are the five lower fetters. This Noble Eightfold Path is to be developed for direct knowledge of these five lower fetters, for the full understanding of them, for their utter destruction, for their abandoning.”


——————————————
[Forgive this diversion. – In relation to the last part of the sutta above please refer also to the Majjhimanikaaya, M43 Mahaavedalla Sutta, Ven. Saariputta tells Ven. Kohita (both were arahats at the time of the conversation) …
M43.12 … the purpose of wisdom is direct knowledge, its purpose is full understanding, its purpose is abandoning…
That is to say, direct knowledge, full understanding and abandoning are three aspects of paññaa-wisdom. Direct knowledge (abhiññaa) is direct experience, here and now. It is not theoretical knowledge.  Fully understanding (pariññaa) is understanding phenomena with the three characteristics of dukkha, annicaa and anattaa (sufffering, impermanence and not-self), again this is not theroetical, it is to be experienced directly, here and now.  Abandoning (pahaana) is not a volitional action, it does not create kamma. It is what happens when wisdom is mature. There is nothing worth clinging to. All phenomena arising and passing are abandoned automatically. When this happens, it is not a choice or a preference of an individual.

Mundane right view is theoretical and supramundane right view is direct experience. Supramundane right view is associated with right knowledge (sammaa ñaana) and right liberation (sammaa vimutti).

M43.13 … there are two conditions for the arising of right view. The voice of another and wise attention.
M43.14 … right view is assisted by five factors when it has deliverance of mind for its fruit and benefit… Right view is assisted by … (i) virtue, (ii) learning, (iii) discussion, (iv) serenity, and (v) insight… 

I urge you to develop these five factors in daily life. When there is mature right view there will be the attainment of sotapanna – stream entry and no more unfortunate rebirths.]
——————————————-

M2 Sabbaasava Sutta – All the Taints

M2.11  “He attends wisely: ‘This is suffering’; he attends wisely: ‘This is the origin of suffering’; he attends wisely: ‘This is the cessation of suffering’; he attends wisely: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’  When he attends wisely in this way, three fetters [sa.myojana] are abandoned in him: personality view, doubt, and adherence to rules and observances. These are called the taints that should be abandoned by seeing.


[Readers will probably recognise the Four Noble Truths in the above passage and again in the following passage.  The last sentence refers to “taints to be abandoned by seeing”. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi noted that “seeing” here is a code for the path of sotapanna-stream entry. You can figure it out for yourself when you realise that the three “taints” in that passage are exactly the same as the three fetters that are destroyed by the attainment of sotapanna. The verb “seeing” is also referring to the direct experience of right view as it shifts from mundane to supramundane.]

M9 Sammaadi.t.thi Sutta – Right View
M9.34  And what is clinging, what is the origin of clinging, what is the cessation of clinging, what is the way leading to the cessation of clinging? There are these four kinds of clinging: clinging to sensual pleasures, clinging to views, clinging to rules and observances, and clinging to a doctrine of self. With the arising of craving there is the arising of clinging. With the cessation of craving there is the cessation of clinging. The way leading to the cessation of clinging is just this Noble Eightfold Path; that is right view … right concentration.


[Only the later three of these four kinds of clinging are destroyed by the attainment of sotapanna. The first of them: clinging to sensual pleasures, is only eliminated by anaagaamimagga – the path of the non-returner. This is the third of four stages of enlightenment. In addition to eliminating the clinging to sensual pleasures, anaagaamimagga also destroys anger. The second stage of enlightenment – Sakadagaamimagga  – the path of the once returner, does not eliminate anything. It merely attenuates (weakens) lust and anger.  ]

M11 Cuu.lasihandaada Sutta – The Shorter Discourse on the Lion’s Roar
M11.10 “Though certain recluses and brahmins claim to propound the full understanding of all kinds of clinging, they do not completely describe the full understanding of all kinds of clinging. They describe the full understanding of clinging to sensual pleasures without describing the full understanding of clinging to views, clinging to rules and observances, and clinging to a doctrine of self. Why is that? Those good recluses and brahmins do not understand these three instances of clinging as they actually are …
M11.13 “Bhikkhus, in such a Dhamma and Discipline as that [propounded by those certain recluses and brahmins], it is plain that confidence in the teacher [again, this refers to those faulty teachers, rather than the Blessed One] is not rightly directed, that confidence in the

Dhamma is not rightly directed, that fulfilment of the precepts is not rightly directed, and that the affection among [non Buddhist] companions in the Dhamma is not rightly directed. Why is that? Because that is how it is when the Dhamma and Discipline is badly proclaimed and badly expounded, unemancipating, unconducive to peace, expounded by one who is not fully enlightened.
M11.14 “Bhikkhus, when a Tathagata, accomplished and fully enlightened, claims to propound the full understanding of clinging, he completely describes the full understanding of clinging to sensual pleasures, clinging to views, clinging to rules and observances, and clinging to a doctrine of self… 

[please open the link for M11 and read the whole sutta, especially from M11.9 to the end M11.17. It is very good.]

M64 Mahaamaalunkya Sutta –  The Greater Discourse to Maalunkyaaputta
M64.3 Maalunkhyaaputta, to whom do you remember me my having taught these five lower fetters [of the sensual world] in that way? Would not the wanderers of other sects confute you with the simile of the infant? For a young tender infant lying prone does not even have the notion ‘identity,’ so how could identity view arise in him? Yet the underlying tendency [anusaya] to identity view lies within him. A young tender infant lying prone does not even have the notion ‘teachings,’ so how could doubt about the teachings arise in him? Yet the underlying tendency to doubt lies within him. A young tender infant lying prone does not even have the notion ‘rules,’ so how could adherence to rules and observances arise in him? Yet the underlying tendency to adhere to rules and observances lies within him. A young tender infant lying prone does not even have the notion ‘sensual pleasures,’ so how could sensual desire arise in him? Yet the underlying tendency to sensual lust lies within him. A young tender infant lying prone does not even have the notion ‘beings,’ so how could ill will towards beings arise in him? Yet the underlying tendency to ill will lies within him. Would not the wanderers of other sects confute you with this simile of the infant?” … 

There are more references to ‘adherence to rules and observances’ in other paragraphs of this sutta. Please read the whole sutta. It will be for your benefit and well-being for a very long time.

The Blessed One may have identified adherence to rules and observances as a fetter as part of his critique of the prevailing Brahmin culture in his day. Brahmins taught rules and observances as a way to higher states and even to union with the Brahma deity.  For example, some ancient Brahmin teachers advocated bathing in rivers as a way to eliminate the consequences of evil deeds while other Brahmin teachers preferred to teach the worship of fire or to tend fires to win the favour of one or more deities and thereby gain a fortunate rebirth.  This is a fetter or hindrance in Buddhism because it is micchaadi.t.thi – wrong view, not least because such views misunderstand the law of kamma and place faith in deities that do not have such powers as those Brahmins believe.

The Blessed One taught the way to union with the great Brahma deity and the way to fortunate rebirth among deities is possible by good moral conduct, donations to worthy people and meditation. For example, the way to be with the great Brahma deity is to practice loving kindness (metta) meditation and attain mental absorption – jhaana. By maintaining the capability to attain jhaana until the end of this life, a person would likely attain a fortunate rebirth in the retinue of the great Brahma deity.  But the Blessed One warned this is inferior because it is not permanent and at the end of a long life as a brahma deity, a being may be reborn in an unfortunate realm and suffer for many life times due to the ripening of older kamma.  Attachment to any form of becoming and rebirth is inherently suffering. The wish to be reborn in any existence is inevitably tainted (with craving) and this is the second noble truth – the cause of suffering.

The Blessed One taught the way to liberation from this round of rebirths. Overcoming the fetter of adherence to rules and observances is one of three important fetters to be permanently eliminated before attaining sotapanna – stream entry which is the first stage of enlightenment. Once attained to this stage it is guaranteed there will be no further unfortunate rebirths and there will be at most seven more life times before attaining full enlightenment – arahat.

May you dear reader develop the Noble Eightfold Path, realise the Four Noble Truths and attain Nibbaana.

Benefits from regular observance of eight precepts

A10.47 Sakya Sutta (The Sakyans and the Eight Precepts) paraphrased from The Book of the Gradual Sayings (Anguttara Nikaaya) vol. 2, translated by F.L. Woodward by MK.  

[Thanissaro Bhikkhus translation] [Sister Upalavanna’s translation] [สักกสูตร]

The Blessed One asks some Sakyans at Kapilavatthu whether they practice the eight precepts every Uposatha Day. [The Sakyans are a clan of people whose capital city is Kapilavatthu. The Buddha was from the Sakyan clan.  Uposatha Day occurs about every two weeks and follows the lunar calendar.]   The Sakyans reply that sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.  The Blessed One explains that it is no gain to them in a life fearing suffering and death. He then gives a simile of a man who works in some business to earn money and others praise that man for being clever and energetic. And so on increasing wealth until he was quite wealthy. The Blessed One then asked the Sakyans if this rich fellow would abide in utter happiness for even as little as half a day simply because of his accumulated wealth. The Sakyans reply that this fellow would not enjoy his wealth because sensual pleasures are impermanent, insubstantial and deceptive; of a deceptive nature.

The Blessed One then told the Sakyans: suppose here a follower of mine, living seriously, ardent, resolved, were to strive as I have advised for ten years, he would spend … a hundred thousand years enjoying utter happiness.  And he would be an anaagaami (non returner – third level of enlightenment), or a sakadagaami (once returner – second level of enlightenment), or at least a sotapanna (stream enterer – first level of enlightenment).  Let alone ten years… for a single year… for 24 hours, he would spend … a hundred thousand years enjoying utter happiness.  And he would be an anaagaami, or a sakadagaami, or at least a sotapanna.  The Sakyans respond that they will observe the eight precepts from that day forth.

Michael’s comments

The eight precepts are a more intense version of the five training precepts.  If you don’t know what these are you can find out more by following this link to Access to Insight. Following training precepts is a form of ethical behaviour (siila) that helps one to live mindfully, simply and harmlessly.

Most Theravada Buddhists who go on short or long meditation retreats will practice the eight training precepts.  This practice strongly supports their meditation practices and mental development.

A casual observance of eight training precepts for one period of 24 hours may not be enough to attain any level of enlightenment though still accumulates merit.  In some places, devotees may practice the training precepts for the 24 hours of the Uposatha Day and do voluntary work at a temple or do devotional practice such as offering flowers, candles and incense and chanting in Paali. This is a sincere form of merit making (not casual) but still may not be sufficient to gain any stage of enlightenment. [I’ll write more on this another day.]

Whilst following the training precepts one is usually motivated to restrain the six senses and cultivate wholesome states of mind. It is this mental development (bhavanaa) that enables one to know and see phenomena as they really are. This penetrative insight leads to enlightenment.

I recommend readers also read the Muluposatha Sutta [Sister Upalavanna translation] [อุโปสถสูตร] to understand the various ways of observing the Uposatha.  Indeed the Blessed One emphasises the practice of six recollections (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, caaga-generousity, siila-morality, deva-deities) on the Uposatha. One can practice these recollections at any time not only on Uposatha Days.

In the Mahaanaama Sutta, [มหานามสูตรที่ ๒] the Blessed One also encourages Mahaanaama to practice the six recollections “while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children.”  While recollecting in this way, the mind is temporarily free from unwholesome mental states. Once the mind is made clear and bright in this way, it may be possible to attend to the true nature of phenomena arising and passing and thus gain deep insight that leads to enlightenment. It is in this way that the results mentioned above in the Sakya Sutta will be realised.

[Mahaanaama was a Sakyan leader, cousin of the Buddha and elder brother to Ven. Anuruddha and Ven. Aananda. The commentary says he attained sakadaagaami – second level of enlightenment.]

Also note that in the Mahaanaama Sutta, the Blessed One qualifies practitioners of the six recollections in the following five ways: “One who is motivated to practice is one of conviction, not without conviction. One motivated to practice is one who is persistent, not lazy. One motivated to practice is one of established mindfulness, not muddled mindfulness. One motivated to practice is centered in concentration, not uncentered. One motivated to practice is wise, not ignorant.” [MK modified a portion of Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s translation] Someone who is motivated in these five ways is very like someone who is confidently and sincerely practicing the eight precepts on Uposatha Day.

Some materialist hedonists may doubt the simile above where the wealthy man is supposed to be unable to enjoy utter happiness even for a short time simply on account of his amassed wealth. That is because of their limited notion of what utter happiness may be.  Readers should note that happiness from sensual pleasures is paltry compared with happiness from mental development in accord with the Buddhadhamma. Also happiness from sensual pleasures is flickering and insubstantial whereas happiness from mental development is incomparably deeper and long lasting. I say this from personal experience, not merely out of faith or hearsay.  Materialist hedonists may not agree because they do not have confidence in the Buddhadhamma and have never experienced true spiritual happiness.

[I’ve written this on 28 March 2010 but scheduled it to appear on the blog on 20 April 2010. I’m still on retreat until late June 2010.]

If you pentetratively study the Dhamma but die confused….

[Sotaanugata sutta paraphrased from The from The Book of the Gradual Sayings (Anguttara Nikaaya) vol. 2 (Anguttara Nikaaya) vol. 2, translated by F.L. Woodward.  This is an old translation. I am looking forward to the forthcoming new translation by Bhikkhu Bodhi of the entire Anguttara Nikaaya. So many good suttas in the Anguttara Nikaaya!  The currently available English translations of this sutta are inadequate]  [Thai language version of this sutta – มหาวรรคที่ ๕] [alternative English translation by Sister Upalavanna]

A4.191 – Heard with the ear

There are four advantages from frequent verbal practice of teachings heard with the ear, from considering them in mind, from thoroughly penetrating them by view. Then when the body breaks up (dies) with confused mindfulness (not enlightened yet…) reappears in a certain group of devas.  [This English translation of the sutta appears to assume the hypothetical case of a human male who has recited and studied the Dhamma to a great extent and yet not realised Nibbaana before dying.  Women are similarly capable of progress and attainment (magga and phala)].

Four cases follow :

1. There the devas recite to him Dhamma verses. His memory is slow to arise, but that being very quickly realises excellence (attains Nibbaana).

2. There the devas do not recite the Dhamma verses but a human monastic who has supernormal powers, one who has attained Nibbaana travels to the deva realm (heaven) is teaching Dhamma to a group of devas.  Then it occurs to that recently appeared being: “Hey, this is the Dhamma-vinaaya according to which I formally practiced the holy life.” His memory may be slow to arise, but that being very quickly reaches excellence (realises Nibbaana)…

3.  There the devas do not recite Dhamma verses to him, nor does a human monastic with supernormal powers teach devas; but maybe a certain deva (probably a sotapanna or sakadagaami – beings at the first or second levels of enlightenment) is teaching Dhamma to a group of devas.  Then it occurs to him: “Hey, this is the Dhamma-vinaaya according to which I formally practiced the holy life.” His memory may be slow to arise, but that being very quickly reaches excellence (realises Nibbaana)…

4.  There the [previous 3 cases don’t arise]… but maybe some being appearing there with a mind-made body (a deva probably from a brahma realm) is reviving the memory of another similar being.  “Do you remember good sir, how we formerly used to practice the holy life?”  Then other says: “I do indeed remember, good sir!…”   His memory may be slow to arise, but that being very quickly reaches excellence (realises Nibbaana)…

Then there is a simile of two old friends who meet and recollect times they spent together as youths.  “Say old man, do you remember the time when we recited, studied and practiced the Dhamma-vinaaya?”…

Michael’s comments

This sutta gives encouragement and motivation to those Buddhists who frequently listen to, read, study, deeply ponder the Dhamma.  It is important to straighten out one’s understanding of the Dhamma either by studying books, listening to discourses or conversing with wise people and most importantly through meditation – bhavanaa. This activity in itself is a high form of merit and in Paali is known as ditthijukamavasena.

It seems quite likely that if after death those who do make efforts to straighten out their understanding of the Dhamma and yet have not attained arahat will, after death and the break up of this body, appear in certain heaven realms, we can remember the Dhamma we have learned in this human life and continue our practice as Buddhists and realise Nibbaana.

Some say that heaven realms are very pleasant and distracting, full of sensual pleasures that take one away from Dhamma practice and further progress. This may be true for some beings. However, I would say that those humans who are not so obsessed by sensual pleasures in human life are likely to continue sense restraint in the heaven realms while those humans who are not so well disciplined as humans may be similarly lax in the heaven realms. There may also be many beings in the middle ground between these examples. It is a natural consequence of kamma (law of intentional actions and results).

So it is imperative that we remain diligent and strive ardently as humans so that we accumulate the momentum of kamma that will continue in the next existence, either as some kind of deity or as a human again. 

I’m sure that many devas are Buddhists and will teach other devas who are ready to accept the Dhamma or who have been Buddhists in previous lives either as humans or devas.  There will be many devas who are sotapanna and sakadagaami in the six sensual heaven realms and even in the brahma realms. Of course the fine material (brahma deity) pure abodes (suddhavasa) are where many anaagaami (third level of enlightenment) and some arahat (forth and final level of enlightenment) reside. Arahats in the pure abodes would have firstly appeared there as anaagaami and then later realised the higher attainment of arahat within the lifespan of their brahma body.  I write this from the perspective of someone who has no clear memories of talking with any devas or brahma deities. I write this after reading the suttas and drawing reasonable inferences.

To learn more about how to practice in accord with the Dhamma, please read the Saleyyaka Sutta. It describes ten kinds of conduct: 3 kinds of bodily conduct, 4 kinds of verbal conduct and 3 kinds of mental conduct.  Of all these forms of conduct, by far the most important is one kind of mental conduct: Sammaaditthi – Right View.  This leads the Eightfold Noble Path and is most beneficial in leading one to develop wholesome mental states and on to Nibbaana.



[I’ve written this on 27 March 2010 but scheduled it to appear on the blog on 10 April 2010.  I’m still on retreat until late June 2010.]

First Jhaana – the Path to Englightenment

The first sutta extract below is a story told by Lord Buddha about a time when he was a 7 year old prince (a bodhisatta) attending a brahmin style royal ploughing ceremony performed by his father, King Suddhodana. He was left alone briefly while most people were engrossed in the spectacle.

Majjhima Nikaya MN36.31 Mahaasaccaka Sutta: The Greater Discourse to Saccaka (มหาสัจจกสูตร)

“I considered: ‘I recall that when my father the Sakyan was occupied, while I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhaana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. Could that be the path to enlightenment?’ Then, following on that memory, came the realisation: ‘That is indeed the path to enlightenment.’

32. “I thought: ‘Why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states?’ I thought: ‘I am not afraid of that pleasure since it has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states.’

Majjhima Nikaya MN138. Uddesavibhanga Sutta: The Exposition of a Summary (อุทเทสวิภังคสูตร)

3. “Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu should examine things in such a way that while he is examining them, his consciousness is not distracted and scattered externally nor stuck internally, and by not clinging he does not become agitated. If his consciousness is not distracted and scattered externally nor stuck internally, and if by not clinging he does not become agitated, then for him these is no origination of suffering–of birth, ageing, and death in the future.”

11. [spoken by Ven. Mahaa Kaccaana] “And how friends, is consciousness called ‘not distracted and scattered externally? Here, when a bhikkhu has seen a form with the eye, if his consciousness does not follow after the sign of form, is not tied and shackled by gratification in the sign of form, then his consciousness is called ‘not distracted and scattered externally…’

12. “And how, friends, is the mind called ‘stuck internally’? Here, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhaana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. If his consciousness follows after the rapture and pleasure born of seclusion, is tied and shackled by gratification in the rapture and pleasure born of seclusion, then his mind is called ‘stuck internally.’

13. “Again, with the stilling of applied and sustained thought, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the second jhaana, which has self-confidence and singleness of mind without applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of concentration. If his consciousness follows after the rapture and pleasure born of concentration…then his mind is called ‘stuck internally.’

Passages 14 and 15 similarly cover the third and fourth jhaana. Passages 16-19 cover ‘not stuck internally.’ The way to not be stuck internally is when “if his consciousness does not follow after the rapture and pleasure…” I take this as meaning not hankering after the pleasure and gratification of jhaana.

Middle Way

The following discourse is addressed to ascetics who have dedicated their lives to the practice leading to liberation. Lord Buddha uses forthright language to encourage monks and nuns to put aside thoughts and behaviours associated with lay lives. Even so, non-ascetics, lay people, even married couples have successfully practiced restraint of the senses for short or long periods for training purposes. Lord Buddha encouraged all Buddhists to practice restraint of the senses and dedicated periods of intense practice.

The restraint of the senses and simplifying ones life even for short periods is enormously beneficial. These days many people are busy indulging their senses with music, colourful and enticing images, fragrant odours, and so on. They would consider restraint as a waste of time. Very few people now would go to the other extreme of self-mortification.

In terms of spiritual practice, that is behaviour directed at making progress in a spiritual sense, it is rare to find people who would advocate either extremes of hedonism or self-mortification. Usually present day hedonists are keen to enjoy themselves without consideration of spiritual life. There are some so-called new-age people who mix and match a range of beliefs and practices (such as various types of yoga, Sufism, tantra, Zen, voodoo, witchcraft, magic, Egyptian religion, UFOs, anamism, druidism, shamanism, crystals, tarot, reiki, psychodelic substances … ) to suit their moods and personal preferences without deep understanding or proper regard for the contexts and traditions they graze from.

These practices are based on a superficial understanding and wrong view. Lord Buddha outlined a wide range of common wrong views in the first discourse in the Dighanikaaya, the Brahmajaala Sutta.

Lord Buddha encourages us to avoid extemes of indulgance in sensual pleasure and self-mortification in order to take the Middle Way – the Eight-fold Noble Path. I’ll write more about that later.

Majjhima Nikaya MN.139. Ara.navibhanga Sutta: The Exposition of Non-Conflict (อรณวิภังคสูตร)

4. “‘One should not pursue sensual pleasure, which is low, vulgar, course, ignoble, and unbeneficial; and one should not pursue self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, and unbeneficial.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said?
“The pursuit of the enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desires –low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, and unbeneficial–is a state beset by suffering, vexation, despair and fever, and it is the wrong way. Disengagement from the pursuit of the enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desires–low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, and unbeneficial–is a state without suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and it is the right way.

“The pursuit of self-mortification painful, ignoble, and unbeneficial–is a state beset by suffering, vexation, despair and fever, and it is the wrong way. Disengagement from the pursuit of self-mortification–painful, ignoble, and unbeneficial–is a state without suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and it is the right way.

“So it was with reference to this that it was said: ‘One should not pursue sensual pleasure, which is low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, and unbeneficial; and one should not pursue self-mortification which is painful, ignoble, and unbeneficial.’

5. “‘The Middle Way discovered by the Tathaagata avoids both these extremes; giving vision, giving knowledge, it leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbaana.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said? It is just this Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. So it was with reference to this that it was said: ‘The Middle Way discovered by the Tathaagata avoids both these extremes…to Nibbaana.’

14. “Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We shall know the state with conflict and we shall know the state without conflict, and knowing these, we shall enter upon the way without conflict…’