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  Because when one has heard the Dhamma from such bhikkhus one dwells withdrawn by way of two kinds of withdrawal – withdrawal of the body and withdrawal of the mind.
[1] “Dwelling thus withdrawn, 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Whenever, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwelling thus withdrawn recollects that Dhamma and thinks it over, 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

three kinds of conduct (bodily, verbal and mental)

the four establishments of mindfulness

the seven factors of enlightenment

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.

Upgrading Your Uposatha Observance: five then eight and beyond

The Dhamma is internally consistent and truthful. It is amazingly complete and flawless.  It is possible to take almost any aspect of the Dhamma and see relations with most other aspects of the Dhamma.
Some people misunderstand precepts and think that more is better. Thus someone practicing ten precepts might be considered more virtuous than an eight preceptor and even more superior than a five preceptor. According to this incorrect understanding, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis would be inherently more virtuous than lay people because they are obliged to practice over 200 or over 300 rules respectively.  Think about it though: are bhikkhunis more virtuous than bhikkhus because they have more rules?  The first five bhikkhus (pancasaavakaa) and maybe even the first few hundred thousand bhikkhus did not have any rules. Vinaaya rules were created over time to guide worldling-putthujana monastics. Many of these lacked mindfulness and may have been motivated to join the Sangha for because the Buddhasangha was popular, well supported by lay benefactors and rapidly growing in size and influence.  So the number of precepts or rules is not a measure of virtue. 

Virtue-siila, concentration-samaadhi and wisdom-pa~n~naa are all related and integrated parts of the eightfold noble path.   Virtue and other aspects of the path are qualities rather than quantities.  Greater virtue necessarily implies deeper concentration and profounder wisdom. The three go together simultaneously developed and improved as qualities. 

We need to focus on the practice and the results, the cause and effect of actions – kamma.  Wholesome/skilful – kusala actions such as observing Uposatha precepts will lead to pleasant results and visa-versa.   The precepts are guides to daily life that help us reduce the chances of unwholesome/unskilful akusala actions that lead to harmful results.   Monastics who are supposed to be free from the usual distractions of sensuality, earning a living and supporting families are able to use the observance of so many rules to develop deep concentration – samaadhi and with that concentration are able to gain insight into the Dhamma and find liberation from suffering.  Lay people can do this as well. The principles are the same though the lifestyle may be different.    

First five precepts. By not taking life, we are compassionate and loving toward all beings that fear death and prefer to live. We also give the gift of life. By not taking what is not given, we reduce the fear that other beings have for losing their belongings.  We also give material things to others. By refraining from sexual misconduct or indeed any sexual conduct, we reduce opportunities for our minds and the minds of our lovers to be flooded with extreme emotions which reduce mindfulness and create conditions for suffering.  We also give social harmony to our communities.  By refraining from lies, abusive speech other wrong speech acts, we avoid harming other’s reputations, we avoid inflaming their anger and confusing them with ignorance.  By refraining from intoxicating drinks and other substances, we keep our minds relatively clear and sharp so we can remember the Dhamma and act wisely in all situations.   Intoxicated people are more likely to break the other precepts due to their degraded senses. 

The perpetrators and victims of acts of violence, theft, molestation, slander and so on are at least temporarily mentally disturbed and restless. Without a perspective of the Dhamma and some degree of Right View (sammaadi.t.thi) the victims may seek revenge and due to their confusion, harm others.  By doing so, they perpetuate the cycle of suffering and rebirth.  Only by love is hate quenched. Only by renunciation is lust abated. Only by wisdom is ignorance destroyed.  

Other beings will feel less fear in our presence due to our practice of virtue-siila.  This wholesome behaviour will immediately increase environmental peace and safety.  Our good example may inspire others to practice .  Imagine how peaceful our lives would be if we did not have to worry about murder, theft, molestation of self and family, verbal abuse and so forth. Thus with quieter and safer environmental conditions, people will be better able to see clearly what is happening in mind and body. There will naturally be more opportunities for developing the higher mind and possibly achieving a breakthrough in the Dhamma

The last three Uposatha precepts. Most lay people temporarily observe the last three Uposatha precepts either on meditation retreats or on Uposatha days.  Not observing these last three precepts doesn’t obviously lead to harm for ourselves and others so why observe them?  We observe the other three precepts in order to simplify our lives and avoid indulgence in sensual pleasure.  Sensual pleasure is the practice of the lay person in daily life, not the practice of a someone intensifying their progress on the eightfold noble path.  In itself, sensual pleasure is not wrong so don’t get all guilty about having fun.  However, sensual pleasure is distracting, reduces concentration and reduces the opportunities for wisdom to arise.  In other words sensual pleasures slow you down your progress on the spiritual path.  The suttas have many references to sensual pleasures being inherently disappointing and unsatisfactory with only the most fleeting sense of gratification.  Thus by observing the eight Uposatha precepts we can create more conditions for environmental peace and concentration (samaadhi). 

The last three precepts are like an upgrade on the first five. The reduced indulgence in sensuality will help us to maintain a clear peaceful mind in which samaadhi and the other controlling faculties (panc’indriya) can develop.   The difference between an enlightened being and an ordinary worldling is the development of the controlling faculties.

The benefits arising from observing the last three Uposatha precepts is highly dependent on successfully observing the first five precepts. The first five precepts are the basic foundation and the last three are the more advanced practice with more profound results.   

Upgrading Uposatha.  
Some Buddhists may not have convenient living conditions to formally observe Uposatha precepts in all respects. For example, they may feel obliged to wear cosmetics and jewellery to work and may have to eat an evening meal with non-Buddhist family.  Perhaps a non-Buddhist lover may seduce us or demand services on Uposatha day.

Some Buddhists may observe Uposatha precepts regularly but feel they are not making much progress or struggle to see how it is beneficial.  It is inconvenient and maybe they feel dissatisfied.  So how do we upgrade or revive our spiritual life in these two sets of circumstances?   

I suggest below a few ways to give some focus to your observance of Uposatha whether you can practice eight precepts or not. This should give you some ideas which you can adapt for your particular lifestyle and background.

Loving-kindness/friendliness – mettaa and compassion – karunaa. It is helpful to deliberately observe five precepts and Uposatha precepts with mettaa and karunaa in mind. Restraining ourselves from harming others is loving and compassionate. We wish other beings were happy and well. We wish other beings were free from harm and suffering.  It would be odd to attempt mettaa and karunaa practice while not keeping at least the first five precepts because in breaking any of these precepts, we would be directly harming others or intoxicating the mind so that it is unable to concentrate. Beware the near-enemies of mettaa and karunaa.  Beginners in the practice or those who are intoxicated may confuse mettaa with lust or karunaa with pity. 
Observing the five precepts or the Uposatha precepts is practicing love and compassion towards ourselves because we don’t create unwholesome/unskilful kamma that will result in our suffering.  Lord Buddha said that sincerely observing the five precepts will result in a heavenly rebirth, how much more beneficial would be the results of observing Uposatha precepts.  Note that aiming for a heavenly rebirth would be a ‘wrong aim’.  It is better to aim for liberation from the cycle of rebirths altogether.

Sympathetic joy – muditaa. When we go onto Facebook or attend the temple, we may come to know about other Buddhists who practice the five precepts or the eight Uposatha precepts. We can deliberately practice muditaa for these fellow Buddhists, recollecting that they are excellent, practicing in the good way, the true way, the straight way and the proper way.  By recollecting that these fellow Buddhists will be happier and will benefit greatly from this practice we also share in their merits. We say “saadhu, saadhu, saadhu…” congratulations, well done!  Beware the near enemy of muditaa is pride in the achievements of others. Pride in the achievements of others includes attachment.  Muditaa is similar to mettaa and karunaa because it has no aspect of attachment.

Equanimity – upekkhaa. In daily life we will meet many people who do not consciously practice the Uposatha precepts or any precepts. As a result these people wander about in ignorance and suffering. It is not easy for anyone to lead another person to follow the right path. There may be small chances here and there to influence others. Usually, we wait until others ask questions. So we practice equanimity for the sufferings of others.  Remembering that everyone will get the results of their actions. Note that equanimity is not the same as indifference which is allied with ignorance. Equanimity is allied with wisdom and insight.  Equanimity is an underlying component in the other three divine abodes and present in all wholesome mental states. 
It is possible to develop mental aborptions – jhaana with any of the four divine abodes above though traditionally mettaa, karunaa and muditaa can be used for 1st-3rd jhaana while upekkhaa can be used only for 4th jhaana. This is a technical topic for another post. You can read more in the Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga and other meditation manuals. However, there is a lot of benefit from just reflecting on the four divine abodes during the day. As we refrain from taking life, or stealing etc. we can say to our selves “may all beings be happy and well, may all beings be free from harm and suffering…” I find this useful on the bus crowded with noisy people when commuting to work.  When I find a cockroach or spider in the home I capture it and recite “may all beings be happy and well….” as I gently take the insect outside. 
It is also useful to just recite “may all beings be happy and well” at free times during the day. It is relaxing and wholesome. This practice helps keep unwholesome objects from taking over.  
Dhamma study. Choose one Dhamma topic, read a bit, write some brief notes and then reflect on it throughout the day. For example, read about the one of the seven sets in the 37 seven aids to enlightenment – Bodhipakkhiyadhamma. Maybe start with the seven factors for enlightenment – Bojjhanga. Try to remember the Paali words for the factors and memorise the correct sequence of factors. On another day, read about what the commentaries say for ways to cultivate and improve the seven enlightenment factors.  On another day read some more suttas that might refer to the seven factors and may refer to some of the benefits (such as improving health and length of life) in recollecting the seven factors.

As you contemplate the Dhamma in this way you will be practicing dhammanusati which is one of the six recollections recommended by the Blessed One for purifying the mind.  This works because the mind is focussed on a wholesome/skilful object and not distracted with lust, anger or delusion. 

Siilanusati – recollection of virtue.  As someone who is keeping precepts you may be feel confident enough to reflect on your accumulating virtue.  If you have been able to keep five precepts and eight precepts then you have good grounds for reflecting on the merits of your practice. Without necessarily getting  big-headed about it, you objectively realise that this practice is beneficial, it is purifying, creating conditions for happiness and leading you to more wholesome mental states.  Someone who is able to keep precepts is also someone who has enough mindfulness and Right View to control impulsive cravings and has learned to live peacefully to some extent. This is the foundation of training for higher mental development.  On occasions when there are breaks in the precepts (hopefully minor) then one immediately determines to sincerely refrain from breaking the precepts again. It is possible to recover a mind free from remorse, a mind settled and peaceful once again.  Do not underestimate the power of keeping precepts even for a short time such as one minute.  If one is sincere, there are great benefits here and now including greater self-esteem, courage and confidence.

Caaganusati – recollection of generosity. In being generous, by giving and sharing, you have been reducing attachment and clinging.  This wholesome conduct will benefit others and oneself and lead to more wholesome states. This is faultless behaviour. 

32 parts of the body. For those of us who are living a celibate life, I recommend memorising the 32 parts of the body in forward and reverse order as outlined in the Visuddhimagga.  I found this practice is very effective in temporarily overcoming lustful states of mind.  Remembering this famous list is a useful way to concentrate the mind and give it temporary relief from worry and strife. Note there are intensive ways of practicing the 32 parts of the body which can lead to first mental absorption – jhaana though that need not be the goal of the practice.  There are many benefits without necessarily attaining jhaana. Again I refer keen readers to the various meditation manuals for more details.  
Devanusati.  On Uposatha day and other days deliberately recollect that the devas attained their fortunate rebirth and powers on account of previously virtuous conduct such as practising the five precepts and the eight Uposatha precepts. Now you and other sincere Buddhists are practicing in this same way and likely to attain a fortunate rebirth in a heavenly realm. As you practice in this way, you may sometimes  recite “may the devas be happy and well…”.  Remember that many devas are Buddhists and have attained various paths and fruits in the Buddha’s dispensation.  You may recollect these noble devas as part of the ariyasangha
In times when you feel afraid that someone maybe going to hurt you, recollect the devas and maybe you can overcome your fears. But don’t just rely on the devas to protect you. Use common sense and find safety.  Note that overcoming fears in this way is possible with other wholesome objects such as recollecting any or all of the three refuges (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha)
Death – maranaanusati. On Uposatha day and other days, deliberately recollect the certain fact that you will die and so will all the people you know. Recollecting death is a way to put our lives in perspective and determine what is really important.  In Australian culture, recollecting death is considered a negative and gloomy occupation. Actually it is a wholesome and sensible activity.  Some people may find it difficult at first to overcome previous preconceptions and biases. If you persevere you may develop some equanimity and a completely different set of priorities will emerge. I found that recollecting the inevitable nature of death gave me a greater sense of spiritual urgency – sa.mvega. This really motivates and intensifies the practice.  You may find it much easier to practice the five precepts and eight Uposatha precepts after you have deepened your maranaanutsati.
Summary. By simplifying our lives and deepening our practice of the 4 divine abodes and other methods outlined above we will definitely be upgrading our Uposatha observance.   The basic peace in life created by the first five precepts can be deepened by the 8 Uposatha precepts. This results in greater peace and concentration – samaadhi. The deliberate practice of the 4 divine abodes and other methods is further deepening of the practice that will bring enormous benefits to ourselves and all others in the environment.
May you dear reader feel inspired to go deeper into the Dhamma. May you be free from harm and suffering.

Buddhava.msa – 25 Samaasambuddha

While I was staying at Na Uyana Aranya in Sri Lanka in the first half of 2010, I read the English translation of the Buddhava.msa by …. and published by the Pali Text Society.  This book really needs a lot of editing and possibly a completely new translation. Despite imperfections in the book, I am grateful for the efforts of the translator and the PTS for making this attempt.  The Buddhava.msa is a relatively small book in the Khuddakanikaaya – “The Minor Anthologies”.  The Buddhava.msa and most of the other books in the Khuddakanikaaya is commonly believed to have been written long after the Parinibbaana of the Blessed One so I don’t have as much confidence in it as I do in the four main collections (Majjhima, Sa.myutta, Digha, Anguttara).  Even so the books in the Kuddhakanikaaya such as the Buddhava.msa, the Petavatthu and Vimaanavatthu and their associated commentaries enrich Buddhist culture and provide entertainment value at least.
I dare to provide the analogy of a block-buster movie such as Star Wars which inspired many subsequent graphic novels, paperback novels, animated serials and computer games all based in the “Star Wars universe”.  If you are into Star Wars, you will know what I mean. Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and many other examples exist.  Origin stories are typical in contemporary popular culture for comic book heros.  It seems plausible that there is a ready audience for apocryphal stories based on Buddhism.   I’ve seen how readily faithful Buddhist audiences listen to monks retelling these stories by way of illustrating a principle in the Dhamma.  In conversations with others, we often refer to various stories as support for the point we are trying to make whilst disregarding for the moment their historical accuracy. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if the stories are historically accurate. It would be impossible to test or prove accuracy anyway. The value in the stories is also greater than entertainment.  They are morality tales exemplifying the best possible way to live. When we consume the news of the world we mostly hear the worst of possibilities – depravity, fear and hopelessness.
Unlike popular fiction these Buddhist stories are not fantasies. They are true in principle.  They inspire the best in us.  Unlike Star Wars, these Buddhist stories are mostly consistent with the Dhamma in the other parts of the Tipitaka.  The motivations, intentions and views of the buddhas, the bodhisattas and various noble ones (ariyasaavaka) in these stories are the Dhamma. The historical details are not the issue.
While reading the PTS translation of the Buddhava.msa, I made notes and did some calculations. Here I present the results with the disclaimer that I have doubts about the accuracy of the PTS translation (which I don’t have at hand while writing this blog). I am not skilful enough in Paali to be able to do a better translation and don’t currently have time to try.
The following table shows the list of buddhas as appear in the Buddhava.msa and Cariyaapi.taka of the Khudakkanikaaya. Note that the suttas in the other four sutta pitaka (Majjhima, Digha, Sa.myutta, Anguttara) only mention 7 previous buddhas – those numbered 1-7 in the table below.  For example, refer to Nidaanasa.myutta S12.4-10 and Mahaapadaana Sutta in the Dighanikaaya (D14).
Table of Samaasambuddhas from the Buddhava.msa

Height (ratana,
Height (metres)

Height adjusted
(years, months, days)
Kappa (aeon)
The Buddhava.msa does not provide statistics on these three buddhas who are believed to have appeared before Diipankara Buddha
4 innumerables
3 innumerables
2 innumerables
1 innumerable
on foot
100,000 kappa
30,000 kappa
1800 kappa
94 kappa
92 kappa
31 kappa
Present kappa
A bodhisatta in the Tusita  deva realm waiting for the right time to take birth as a human and be the next sammasambuddha in this world system
I highlighted a few parts of the above table to give readers a sense of the range and make a few points:
Sumana Buddha was the tallest Buddha in this group at 10m in height while Kassapa Buddha was the shortest Buddha at 1.3m in height. This variation can be explained in many ways though all are speculative.  I note that G.P. Malalasekera’s Dictionary of Pali Proper Names translates both hattha and ratana as “cubits”. So his where the biographical notes for the buddhas refers to height, it would correspond to the 4th column above rather than the adjusted height column. As you can see, if that were so, then Gotama Buddha would have been over 11m tall.  If he had been so tall, there would have been more references to this in the suttas. However, noting the difference between ratana and hattha and doing some calculations with the assumption that Gotama Buddha was no more than 2m tall then we may adjust the speculated heights of the other buddhas accordingly. Even adjusted, many buddhas remain extremely tall.

Perhaps those taller Buddhas existed during periods when the gravity of the “Earth” was weaker than we have now. Perhaps they lived on planets other than Earth or rings/orbitals?  Maybe the planetary gravity for Buddha Kassapa’s dispensation was stronger and made everyone shorter. Heights are relative and beings existing in periods of previous Buddhas would not know they were relatively high or relatively short compared with humans on Earth right now (or 2,500 years ago).  So this kind of speculation is really not important as far as the Dhamma goes. Height is not an impediment to realising the Dhamma.

Of course there are other explanations such as: it is all fiction; it is all fact but some of the details got muddled; and the other buddhas existed in parallel universes somewhere in the multiverse

Calculating height
The Paali terms for measuring length and weights are not precise or commonly agreed.  I have based my notes and calculations on A Pali-English Glossary of Buddhist Technical Terms compiled by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi, published by the Buddhist Publication Society and footnotes from the Bhikkhu Bodhi translations of suttas.   I don’t know why the compilers of the Buddhava.msa chose to record the heights of past buddhas with two different measuring units – hattha (h) and ratana (r). I would like to carefully read the Paali text of the Buddhava.msa to see if the PTS translators were accurate with these details.

The Paali word hattha means “hand” but does not correspond to the size of the average human hand.  The reference books say that a hattha is a cubit and measures from the elbow to the extended little finger.

[ needs more work here]
1 yojana = 2.8 kilometres = 1.8 miles
1 yojana = 4 gaavuta; 1 gaavuta = 80 usabha; 1 usabha = 20 yatthi; 1 yatthi = 4 hattha  & 1 yatthi = 7 ratana; 1 ratana = 4/7 hattha = 0.57 hatta
18 hattha = 2 metres; 1 hattha = 200/18 cm = 11.1 cm
1 yojana = 4*80*20*4 = 25,600 hattha = 2.84 kilometres

The 3rd column in the table indicates the height as specified in either ratana or hattha.
The 4th column shows the heights as converted directly into metres.  I am not sure that the conversion rate for  ratana to metres or hattha to metres is correct. I (or someone) needs to study this matter further.  Readers will notice straight away that Gotama Buddha is supposed to be 18 hattha or 11.2 metres tall.  This is not possible.  So I made an assumption that Gotama Buddha was 2 metres tall. I based this assumption on references in the Suttas [need to find the references] that he was from the khattiya caste (warrior noble), a prince with a privileged upbringing as well as references to his above average height [need to find the references].
The 5th column shows my effort at adjusting the heights to a more “realistic” height. Assuming for the moment that the hattha and ratana to metre conversion rates are correct I maintained the relative difference in heights among the buddhas but adjusted them all downwards in the same proportion as adjusting Gotama Buddha’s apparent 11.2 metre height down to 2 metres. This calculation leads to the figures in the 6th column.  Even so, I am still doubtful about the height figures over all. 

Nine Buddhas had the longest life-span of 100,000 years. Eight Buddhas had the second longest life span of 90,000 years.  Gotama Buddha has the shortest lifespan of 100 years. The next shortest lifespan is 20,000 years for Kassapa Buddha.  This lifespan is really quite short compared with other Buddhas in this table.   A longer life-span would mean a longer period to teach the Dhamma and I suppose that many more beings would have the chance to make merit and or realise the Dhamma.  It is amazing that the Buddha Dhamma has lasted even 2,500 years and people today can still benefit from these teachings. Even if we have relatively short life-spans, we are very fortunate to have been able to study and practice the Dhamma.  This is a rare opportunity.  In the suttas there are cases where people didn’t seem to study or practice much and yet had profound realisations. Time is not the issue; lifespan is not the issue;  Dhamma is akaaliko – timeless or beyond time.
Period of austerities (dhutanga)
All Buddhas in this table except Gotama Buddha attained enlightenment in 10 months or less after leaving home (the period of dhutanga). Gotama Buddha spent 6 years in austerities before attaining enlightenment.  This period is more than six times as long as any other Buddha in this table. I don’t have the reference, but I do recall reading that Gotama Buddha had to spend longer in austerities because of his bad speech as a bodhisatta named Jotipaala during the dispensation of Kassapa Buddha.  I encourage you read M81 Gha.tikaara Sutta from the Majjhimanikaaya for the complete version of this excellent story.  Even though the Jotipaala was impudent at the beginning, there is a happy ending when he ordains as a bhikkhu in the Sangha of Kassapa Buddha (great merit).  Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of the Majjhimanikaaya has a footnote comment from the commentary to this sutta “MA states that bodhisattas go forth under the Buddhas to purify their virtue, learn the Buddha’s teachings, practice the meditative life, and develop insight up to conformity knowledge (  [the last stage of vipassana insight just prior to realization of Nibbaana]). But they do not make effort to attain the paths and fruits (which would terminate their bodhisatta career).”   
Bhikkhu Bodhi does not refer to the link between the bodhisatta Jotipaala’s bad speech and the long period of austerities endured by Bodhisatta Gotama prior to attaining Nibbaana.  The link seems plausible and speculative at the same time. If true, it indicates the severity of kamma one accumulates by verbally abusing the Sangha. Note that Gotama (was Jotipaala) Bodhisatta had previously and subsequently accumulated a vast (incalculable) store of good kamma and this would have mitigated most of the bad results of his unwholesome speech. This may be compared with someone convicted of a crime avoiding imprisonment because of their previous outstanding record so they only have to report regularly to a parole officer and do a long period of community service.

Five of the 25 buddhas in the table endured austerities for as little as 7 days.  They also lived during periods of human existence when the average maximum life-span was much greater than today – 20,000 to 100,000 years.  Relative to their life-span a period of seven days doing austerities would seem quite rapid.  Perhaps these buddhas had accumulated greater merit and were extremely mature.

The vehicles used by bodhisattas for leaving home vary a lot. The surprising vehicle is a palace. In the PTS translation this is written as a floating palace. I think the Paali for this term is probably “vimaana”.  Vimaana are usually the palaces of deva and according to sutta and commentary traditions can be extremely large – even larger than modern cities while other vimana may be as large as a car or carriage. Vimana are the houses and vehicles of deva.  According to tradition mature bodhisattas spend time in the Tusita heavenly realm as deva being waiting for the right conditions to take human birth and attain Nibbaana.  Buddhas are always human and never deva.
For some bodhisatta to leave home in a vimaana seems to me to imply some kind of high tech antigravity device.  Maybe technology of human civilization during those periods when bodhisatta (as human beings) are leaving home is very advanced (more advanced than we have now) and floating palaces (vimaana) with crew/servants are common for wealthy princes.  This point is not very important though. Whatever technology is in existence is irrelevant to the realisation of the Dhamma. Leaving home on foot or in a flying palace is essentially still renunciation.

A palanquin is a type of human-powered transport, usually a covered box with a cushioned platform or seat for a passenger with two long poles poking from either end.  Some palanquins have yokes attached to the poles so the weight is carried more directly on the carrier’s shoulders.  Two or more carriers lift and carry the box by holding on to the poles.  

Kappa (aeon)
The conception of cosmological time periods in the Buddhist tradition is very difficult to hold in one’s mind.  The terms are not precise though given the lengths of time being discussed and the state of science at the time these details were being written, it is not surprising that there may be some margins for error.  However, I personally find these details fascinating and helpful to put in perspective the vastness of sa.msaara (the round of becoming, birth and death).   Studying these details can inspire some people to put more effort into Dhamma study and practice without having to believe these details are literally true in the way that most people hold scientific facts to be literally true.  
Some readers may be interested in reading more about Buddhist cosmology. The suttas don’t have much detail and that is just as well.  The most details come from the Abhidhamma and the A.t.thakataa commentaries.  I offer some cautions to guide you.  Most of this field is speculative and it would be best to study it with an open mind.  There is no way for us to prove with any certainty any of this stuff. Ultimately proof of this cosmology is not required for realisation of Nibbaana. Remember what the Blessed One taught in the Rohitassa Sutta in the Devaputta Sa.myuttanikaaya (S2.26) “As to the end of the world, friend, where one is not born, does not age, does not die, does not pass away, and is not reborn- I say that is cannot be known, seen, or reached by travelling… However, friend, I say that without having reached the end of the world there is no marking an end to suffering. It is, friend in just this fathom-high carcass endowed with perception and mind that I make known the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world, and the way leading to the cessation of the world.’   This last sentence is extremely valuable. Keep it in mind when you go exploring speculative theories. 
The following distinctions between types of aeons is derived from Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma which is a guide to the ancient classic Abhidhammattha Sangaha (a summary of the essential points in the abhidhamma commentaries that has been used as an ancient abhidhamma text book). 
Interim aeon – antarakappa is the time required for the life span of humans to rise from 10 years to a maximum of many thousands of years (100,000) and then fall back to 10 years.  It seems the cycle is currently in the declining phase, though it may appear to be rising during the past 100 years.   Human life spans may increase  to 10,000 years or more prior to the next human birth of Metteya Bodhisatta so he may attain Nibbaana and become the next samasambuddha.
Incalculable aeon – asa.nkheyyakappa is the time required for 64 interim aeons to pass.

Great aeon – mahaakappa is the time required for 4 incalculable aeons to pass which is the same as 256 interim aeons.
Innumerable number of aeons is an unknown but very large number of great aeons.  It is not infinite because it is impossible to have a bunch of infinities. Infinity is not quantifiable at all, it is a concept of endlessness. An innumerable number of aeons is quantifiable by buddhas but not by ordinary humans or any deities including even those brahma deities with the longest life spans.  Maybe buddhas know it but are unable to explain it to anyone else in everyday language?  So four innumberables in the past is a very long time ago. It is really just a concept that has is beyond my everyday reality.
When contemplating these vast periods of time, don’t assume that human existence is a constant. It seems there may be vast periods of time when there are no humans, only brahma deities whose life spans are also very very long indeed. I shall write about that in another post about heavenly realms, deva and knowing previous existences.
Perhaps an interim kappa is the same length as the period between big bang events. The universe is currently 13.7×109 (13.7 billion) years old.  According to speculative theories by some physicists the eventual heat death of the universe may occur in about 10100 years (1 with 100 zeros after it).  So maybe a kappa is 10100 years. 
In the table above, there are buddhas who appeared 4 innumerables ago, 3 innumerables ago, 2…, 1…, and then 100,000 kappa, 30,000 kappa and down until in our present fortunate kappa there have been 4 buddhas already with one more to arise before the end of this kappa. Given the vast periods of time here, it is truly auspicious for us to be born as humans who know Buddhism during a kappa with 5 buddhas. Buddhas are rare events. Incredibly rare.  After Metteya Buddha’s dispensation there may not be another Buddha for many kappa – who knows. This thought can inspire us to put more energy into study and practice while we have this rare opportunity.  By comparison we might wonder if it is really important to watch TV or play a game.   
[Pedantic note: Another caution is the common English use of the word incalculable for referring to large bunch of aeons (not just one incalculable aeon – an unknown large number of aeons. This leads to confusion and may have resulted from an early PTS editing error. I would like everyone to commit to using “innumerable” aeons for referring to an unknown large number of aeons so we can reserve the word “incalculable” for referring to a single aeon of indeterminately long period. ]

Gain, Honour and Praise

S17.5 Laabhasakkaarasa.myutta, Connected discourses on Gains and Honour translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

At Saavatthii. “Bhikkhus, dreadful are gain, honour, and praise, bitter, vile, obstructive to achieving the unsurpassed security from bondage. Suppose there was a beetle, a dung-eater, stuffed with dung, full of dung, and in front of her was a large dunghill. Because of this she would despise the other beetles, thinking: ‘I am a dung-eater, stuffed with dung, full of dung, and in front of me there is a large dunghill.’  So too, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by gain, honour and praise dresses in the morning and taking bowl and robe, enters a village or town for alms. There he would  eat as much as he wants, he would be invited for the next day’s meal, and his almsfood would be plentiful. When he goes back to the monastery, he boasts before a group of bhikkhus: ‘I have eaten as much as I want, I have been invited for tomorrow’s meal, and my almsfood is plentiful.  I am one who gains robes, almsfood, lodgings, and medicinal requisites, but these other bhikkhus have little merit and influence, and they do not gain robes, almsfood, lodgings, and medicinal requisites.’ Thus, because his mind is overcome and obsessed by gain, honour and praise, he despises the other well-behaved bhikkhus. That will lead to the harm and suffering of this senseless person for a long time. So dreadful, bhikkhus, are gain, honour and praise, so bitter, vile, obstructive to achieving the unsurpassed security from bondage. Therefore, bhikkhus you should train yourselves thus: ‘”We will abandon the arisen gain, honour, and praise, and we will not let the arisen gain, honour and praise persist in obsessing our minds.’ Thus you should train yourselves.”

The simile of the dung beetle and the dung hill is interesting since it shows the true value of material requisites such as food, clothing, lodging and medicines. These are useful to provide the conditions for life but are not to be clung to or obsessed over. These items are simply a means to support life so that we may develop higher faculties and overcome suffering once and for all.

The hindrance here is the maana-conceit of comparing oneself with others.  Although the Blessed One has pointed out the case of someone who believes they are superior to others, there is also the harm caused by someone who thinks they are inferior to others. Both people are at fault for judging themselves and others and comparing criteria that are not important. This latter point indicates the source of the problem is a type of wrong view. For those who consider themselves superior or inferior by assessing material possessions are implying that material possessions are important and may even go as far as assuming a permanent self that is superior to others that also have a permanent self or soul. It is a short step to then construing a view that a deity may have blessed them with gain, honour and praise because of their inherent and enduring superiority or alternatively cursed them on account of their inherent inferiority.

For those obsessed with gain, honour and praise are more likely to kill, steal, lie, sexually misbehave and do other evil deeds in order to satisfy their desires. Being obsessed and overcome with gain, honour and praise is distracting and spoils concentration. With a mind easily distracted and concentration weakened, a person is unlikely to develop wisdom and find liberation from suffering.  In fact, with low concentration and being easily distracted, one is likely to find pain and suffering in this life.

The following sutta includes a reference to those who are obsessed by a lack of honour…

S17.10 Laabhasakkaarasa.myutta, Connected discourses on Gains and Honour translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

At Saavatthii. “Bhikkhus, dreadful are gain, honour, and praise…. Bhikkhus, I see some person here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by honour, with the breakup of the body, after death, reborn in a state of misery, in a bad desitnation, in the netherworld, in hell.  Then I see some person here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by lack of honour… reborn in a state of misery… Then I see some person here whose mind is overcome and obsessed by both honour and lack of honour, with the breakup of the body, after death, reborn in a state of misery, in a bad destination, in the netherworld, in hell. So dreadful, bhikkhus are gain, honour, and praise… Thus you should train yourselves.”
  This is what the Blessed One said. Having said this, the Fortunate One, the Teacher, further said this:
  “Whether he is showered with honour,
  Shown dishonour, or offered both,
  His concentration does not vacillate
  As he dwells in the measureless state.

  When he meditates with perseverance, 
  An insight-seer of subtle view
  Delighting in the destruction of clinging,
  They call him truly are superior man.”

Perhaps a person obsessed by gain, honour and praise would seek to protect or increase existing levels by committing various crimes. Others who are obsessed by an apparent lack of gain, honour and praise may give up trying to increase their own gain, honour and praise, and instead through jealousy, work hard to reduce their rivals’ gain, honour and praise.  They may also commit various crimes in the process. Either way, anyone obsessed in this way will take the dark path and increase suffering for themselves.

Striving for the Breakthrough

S13.1 Abhisamayasa.mutta, Connected Discourses on the Breakthrough, translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
(ATI translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

Thus I have heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Saavatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anaathapi.n.dika’s Park. Then the Blessed One took up a little bit of soil in his fingernail and addressed the bhikkhus thus:
  “Bhikkhus, what do you think, which is more: the little bit of soil that I have taken up in my fingernail or this great earth?”
  “Venerable sir, the great earth is more. The little bit of soil that the Blessed One has taken up in his fingernail is trifling. It does not amount to a hundredth part, or a thousandth part, or a hundred thousandth part of the great earth.”
  “So too, bhikkhus, for a noble disciple, a person accomplished in view, who has made the breakthrough, the suffering that has been destroyed and eliminated is more, while that which remains is trifling. The latter does not amount to a hundredth of the former mass of suffering that has been destroyed and eliminated, as there is a maximum of seven more lives. Of such great benefit, bhikkhus, is the breakthrough to the Dhamma, of such great benefit is it to obtain the vision of the Dhamma.”

The “breakthrough to the Dhamma” and “to obtain the vision of the Dhamma” are metaphors for the attainment of stream entry – sotapanna. This is a very important stage of development.

Many lay followers obtained this breakthrough and vision during the lifetime of Gotama Buddha. Strive with diligence.

Kalaapa update

In an earlier post about jhaana – absorption, I mentioned kalaapa.

There is a reference to kalaapa in “Abhidhammatha Sangaha: A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma” by Ven. Aacariya Anuruddha and translated by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi with commentary by Ven. Sayadaw U Silananda and Ven Rewatadhamma.

You can also read about kalaapa here: and do a text search for “kalapa”.

  • “The real meaning of Anicca is that Impermanence or Decay is the inherent nature of everything that exists in the Universe — whether animate or inanimate. The Buddha taught His disciples that everything that exists at the material level is composed of “Kalapas.” Kalapas are material units very much smaller than atoms, which die out immediately after they come into being. Each kalapa is a mass formed of the eight basic constituents of matter, the solid, liquid, calorific and oscillatory, together with color, smell, taste, and nutriment. The first four are called primary qualities, and are predominant in a kalapa. The other four are subsidiaries, dependent upon and springing from the former. A kalapa is the minutest particle in the physical plane — still beyond the range of science today. It is only when the eight basic material constituents unite together that the kalapa is formed. In other words, the momentary collocation of these eight basic elements of behavior makes a man just for that moment, which in Buddhism is known as a kalapa. The life-span of a kalapa is termed a moment, and a trillion such moments are said to elapse during the wink of a man’s eye. These kalapas are all in a state of perpetual change or flux. To a developed student in Vipassana Meditation they can be felt as a stream of energy.”

The quote above is the view of some adbhidhamma scholars and the orthodox scholastic Theravada Buddhism. I personally don’t follow that line. I give preference to the suttas. It seems to me that the abhidhamma distorts the Buddha Dhamma in a number of ways. I may try to elaborate on this in future blogs. It may take a few years to write about though. I still have a lot to learn. It is even possible that as I study, I may develop different preferences than those I currently have. Ideally, we go beyond all preferences.

There is an alternative tradition that does not take the abhidhamma as the word of the Buddha. Abhidhamma was developed after the Blessed One’s parinibbaana and went through a period of development over 200-300 years until ancient Theravada Buddhists established the canonical texts. The abhidhamma doctrine was developed further in the commentaries which were not written down in the form that we have them now until about 1500 years ago by Ven. Buddhaghosa.  During the past 1500 years many sub-commentaries have been written about the abhidhamma.

These days meditation teachers take various stands regarding the abhidhamma intepretation of the Dhamma.  Some teachers ignore the abhidhamma and don’t comment on it. Some teachers openly say that the abhidhamma distorts the Buddhadhamma. And yet other teachers teach in conformity with the orthodox abhidhamma doctrine. Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw is in the later group.

    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 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.