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.
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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.”


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[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.]
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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.

Ten Bases for Meritorious Deeds

The following list of ten bases for meritorious deeds (pu~n~nakiriyavathu) shows ten ways to develop wholesome kamma for the sense sphere (kammavacarakuala.m).

I strongly recommend everyone memorise this list and make strenuous efforts to put the list into practice. This will be for your benefit now and for a long time into the future.

  1. Daana – giving generously and freely to worthy recipients such as virtuous monastics
  2. Siila – ethical conduct; keeping at least five precepts every day and regularly observing
    8 precepts on Uposatha days (about once a week)
  3. Bhavanaa – mental development through meditation either vipassana-insight meditation or samatha-concentration meditation
  4. Apacaayana – reverence and respect for elders, parents, teachers, monastics, officials and so forth; recognising the importance of their senior or guiding role
  5. Veyaavacca – service for promoting the Dhamma, assisting others to do meritorious deeds
  6. Patidaana – sharing merit with others while undertaking meritorious deeds oneself
  7. Pattaanumodana – rejoicing in others’ meritorious deeds; congratulating them and being happy with them during their meritorious conduct
  8. Dhammasavana – hearing the Dhamma or reading the Dhamma
  9. Dhammadesanaa – teaching the Dhamma either by speech or writing
  10. Ditthijukamavasena – straightening out one’s views, studying Dhamma to be sure that one understands the Dhamma correctly (also sometimes spelled: ditth’uju-kamma)

Death as Process

By Anuruddha, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Bodhi, Nārada, Revatadhamma, U Sīlānanda
Published by Buddhist Publication Society, 1999
First BPS Pariyatti Edition, 2000

ISBN : 1928706029
EAN : 9781928706021
Cover : Paperback
Pages : 432
Size : 214 x 214mm

The advent of death is fourfold, namely: (i) through the expiration of the life-span; (ii) through the expiration of the (productive) kammic force; (iii) through the (simultaneous) expiration of both; and (iv) through (the intervention of) a destructive kamma.

Now in the case of those who are about to die, at the time of death one of the following presents itself, according to circumstances, through any of six (sense) doors by way of the power of kamma:
(i) a kamma that is to produce rebirth-linking in the next existence; or
(ii) a sign of kamma, that is, a form, etc., that had been apprehended previously at the time of performing the kamma or something that was instrumental in performing the kamma; or
(iii) a sign of destiny, that is, (a symbol of the state) to be obtained and experienced in the immediately following existence.

Thereafter, attending to that object thus presented, the stream of consciousness–in accordance with the kamma that is to be matured, whether pure or corrupted, and in conformity with the state into which one is to be reborn–continually flows, inclining mostly towards that state. Or that rebirth-producing kamma presents itself to a sense door in the way of renewing.

To one who is on the verge of death, either at the end of a cognitive process or at the dissolution of the life-continuum, the death consciousness, the consummation of the present life, arises and ceases in the way of death.

Immediately after that (death consciousness) has ceased, a rebirth-linking consciousness arises and is established in the subsequent existence, apprehending the object thus obtained, either supported by the heart-base or baseless, as is appropriate; it is generated by a volitional formation that is enveloped by latent ignorance and rooted in latent craving. That rebirth-linking consciousness, so called because it links together the two consecutive existences, is conjoined with its mental adjuncts, and acts as the forerunner to the nascent states as their locus (or foundation).


So, for those who have thus taken rebirth, from the moment immediately following the cessation of the rebirth-liking (consciousness), that same type of consciousness apprehending that same object flows on uninterruptedly like the stream of a river, and it does so until the arising of the death consciousness, so long as there is no occurrence of a cognitive process. Being an essential factor of existence (or life), this consciousness is called the life-continuum. At the end of life, having become the death consciousness on the occasion of passing away, it then ceases. Thereafter, the rebirth-linking consciousness and the others continue to occur, revolving in due sequence like the wheel of a cart.

Just as here, so again in the next existence, there arise rebirth-linking consciousness, life-continuum, cognitive processes, and death consciousness. Again, with rebirth and life-continuum, this stream of consciousness turns around.

The wise, disciplining themselves long, understand the impermanence (of life), realize the deathless state, and completely cutting off the fetters of attachment, attain peace.

Living with Imperfection

People live in imperfect situations. Albert Otto Hirschman wrote about the daily choice of exit, voice and loyalty. We can leave, act to improve or find the advantage in staying. None of these options is better or worse than another. People with partial views may prefer one or other options and make claims for the virtue of one or other option.

I have written about the virtue of leaving. Many leaders have left their communities for a while to spend time in “the wilderness”, the university or outside their usual comfort zone and cultural context where they may gain wisdom and skills. If they return to their communities, they can use their new perspectives to help others or at least to live more gracefully with imperfection. Leaving can also be about safety. Sometimes staying in an imperfect situation can lead to greater harm than staying. Sometimes a strong person leaving the situation means the weaker ones are left vulnerable.

Acting to improve a situation, is about assuming responsibility. We can negotiate, mediate, passively resist and suggest appropriate alternatives. This can be an unpopular path and usually quite political. Socially engaged Buddhists have taken this path. Greenpeace, Amnesty International and others also choose the ‘voice’ option. This path requires a lot of strength and determination. The effectiveness of this option depends on right view, knowing how to apply effort in the right place. The middle path avoids extremes and travels deep beneath appearances. Some ill informed interventions can be harmful and make situations worse rather than better.

Finding the advantage in staying is about having a positive perspective. In a Buddhist context, this means practicing the four Brahmavihaara – divine abodes of metta-loving-kindness, karunaa-compassion, muditaa-sympathetic joy and upekkhaa-equanimity. Sometimes staying in a challenging situation can provide an opportunity for development. It depends on what we want to learn. All situations are subject to change.

Starting with right view all three options are viable. With right view a person will know what to do and when to act.

Aasava – Taints are like a Seeping Abscess

There have been moments when the mind is relatively clear and concentrated, peaceful and calm. Then an object that activates lust or anger arises and with that a subtle sensation in the chest area and at the back of the throat reminiscent of sickness also arises. Then sati-mindfulness and samaadhi-concentration declines and awareness becomes cloudy as the mind follows the train of thought prompted by the lust or anger object. Swamped by delusion, the now weaker sati-mindfulness and samaadhi-concentration is less able to restrain the senses and the tendency to indulge in sensual pleasure or self-righteous anger proliferates. The weakened sati-mindfulness plaintively reminds “this is not right – there will be more suffering…” but the empowered lust/anger now belligerently pursues gratification.

Later while reflecting on the sensation in the chest I was reminded of a wet cloth or like a sponge seeping dirty fluid. It rose up the throat like bile though not bitter or sharp. The sensation was momentary partly because sati-mindfulness diminished simultaneously. As the noting mind declined the papanca-proliferating mind dominated.

Another time reflecting on this I visualised the sick feeling in the chest as a large abscess full of pus that had been latent until the contact with the lust/anger inspiring object squeezed polluting pus from the pregnant abscess. There was some relief from pressure from the build up of pus (kilesa-defilements) but this was unsatisfying as the pus spread seeping outwards and dulled the mind. I’ve been told I have a vivid imagination.

Based on my reading of suttas and Dhamma books and listening to Dhamma talks by venerable monks, I speculate that with stronger sati-mindfulness and samaadhi-concentration, the mind would have sufficient equanimity to note this and not lose the momentum of noting. The aasava-taint would not have the same effect and a yogi could avoid the dispersal of kilesa-defilements or if the aasava-taints were already eliminated.

Note that the intention to persist in noting and not allow the mind to be flooded by the defilements is skilful and to be cultivated. Conversely the intention to allow the mind to be flooded with defilements, or simply being unaware that there is a choice, is unskilful and to be avoided. In popular discourse these intentions are good karma and bad karma respectively.

A good friend suggested the chest sensation might be a form of tejodhaatu-heat element that is relatively cool and clammy compared with a normal warm sensation when the mind is relatively clear and bright. The tejodhaatu-heat element sensation arises in the chest area near the heart which is the life force of the body. I didn’t have time to ask more detail on this point though the good friend did say it is good for yogis to think of the sensation as just tejodhaatu-heat element being active and not to be concerned about it as a problem. It is a natural element. Just keep noting the sensations and other phenomena arising and passing away. All these phenomena are not-self, impermanent and unsatisfactory.

When discussing it I hadn’t told him about the visualisation of the aasava-taint as an abscess. After talking with him I thought about it again and realised the visualisation is a speculative concept and not real. He suggested focusing on what is real: the heat element or the wind element etc. Noting the three characteristics of all phenomena as they arise and pass away. Nothing is worth clinging to. Strive for liberation.

Another yogi friend suggested the vision of an abscess may have some element of truth to it. Perhaps I have a latent illness. She, being an experience meditator, suggested I keep noting the sensation, look deeply into it the way we look into the pain arising in the knee after sitting for a while.

The vipassana technique for dealing with knee pains is to observe it very closely. If there is sufficient sati-mindfulness and samaadhi-concentration there may also be a moderate degree of upekkhaa-equanimity. The pain is there and the noting observes the pain but the mind is not disturbed. In a similar way, I will try observing the chest feeling with equanimity and sustained mindfulness and concentration and then see what happens. In theory the chest sensation will change either into another kind of sensation or disappear altogether.

Escape the Sinking Burning Ship

The following simile is one of my attempts to explain what motivates me to take the Dhamma journey, simplify life, meditate and so on. People see things in quite different ways, with different values, different assumptions and knowledge about reality. This leads people to adopt different behaviour and morality. Because of how we view reality we take diverse paths that tend toward further suffering or tend toward liberation.

Imagine that we are all on a ship that is on fire and sinking. Some passengers just party, party, party until the ship sinks. Other passengers become depressed and helpless and some in this camp even suicide. Some passengers panic and go crazy. Most passengers either don’t know or choose to ignore the fact that the ship is on fire and sinking. This is despite the ship listing and smelling of smoke. Of course some parts of the ship are worse than other parts.

However, a minority of passengers believe there is an escape, a way off the ship. Someone in the past found the way to get off. The believers study and practice the method of escape. Sometimes their practice attempts give them glimpses that it escape is really possible and this gives them confidence to keep trying. Some energetic passengers actually escape and then, from a safe external point, also help other believing passengers escape.

Even when the former passengers who escaped stand in that safe point to explain the method of escape, most passengers still don’t believe that escape is possible, or even if it were possible, they don’t believe it is a good thing to do. These passengers don’t like escaping because they have to leave behind all their friends and nice things on the comfortable parts of the burning sinking ship. They would lose their investments. They also don’t know or understand what they might be escaping to, escape seems risky. It is all too hard and so they prefer not to think about it.

Some passengers who don’t believe escape is possible and want to enjoy life on the sinking burning ship criticise the escaping passengers for being “selfish” for not wanting to be with passengers who are apparently enjoying life on the ship. These critics don’t see the virtue of escaping, and then from the safe place, helping other passengers to escape. Another group of ship passengers are delighted that there are sincere escaping people and fully support them in the hope that the once these people escape, they will be able to reach back from the safe point and also help them and other passengers on the sinking burning ship.

What happens when the burning sinking ship sinks and everyone goes down with it? They are all reborn on yet another sinking burning ship and most of them have to live in worse conditions than the conditions they were living on the previous ship. They also forget that there were on other burning sinking ships in previous lives. The reborn escape believers have more fortunate rebirths on the burning sinking ship and may soon escape themselves, even though most of them also forget their previous births. This is kamma.

The simile of a sinking burning ship refers to this life where we are all ageing, suffering sickness and face inevitable death. The burning sinking ship represents the unsatisfactory nature of life. I believe in the Buddha Dhamma that teaches a way to escape ageing, sickness and death. I have practiced and become confident in this path. I believe that escape is possible in this life. I believe that I may be able to help others to escape. This is a worthy goal.

There is a great potential reward for supporters who are happy to see escapees attempting to get off the burning sinking boat. The opposite is also true. Not many people are aware of this.