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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First Jhaana – the Path to Englightenment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Temptation

Majjhima Nikaya MN.106. Aane~njasappaya Sutta: The Way to the Imperturbable (อาเนญชสัปปายสูตร)

2. “Bhikkhus, sensual pleasures are impermanent, hollow, false, deceptive; they are illusory, the prattle of fools. Sensual pleasures here and now and sensual pleasures in lives to come, sensual perceptions here and now and sensual perceptions in lives to come–both alike are Maara‘s realm, Maara’s domain, Maara’s bait, Maara’s hunting ground. On account of them, these evil unwholesome mental states such as covetousness, ill will and presumption arise, and they constitute an obstruction to a noble disciple here.

Maara is the personification of sensual desires. Invariably given a male gender, he is sometimes characterised as a senior prince deity or even a king deity in Paranimmitavasavatti, the highest level of the sensual celestial realms-kaamaloka. The texts refer to an army of deities who help Maara to tempt us in daily life and annoy meditators. His natural role is to retain beings in the sensual realms. His purpose is much like a natural force similar to gravity keeping us on Earth only Maara’s force is keeping us in the sensual realms.

Different beings take on Maara’s role and perform his duties impersonally. In Maaratajjaniya Sutta (The Rebuke to Maara) from the Majjhimanikaaya Ven. Mahamoggallaana relates the story of one of his own past lives when he took on the role of Maara and disturbed an eminent monk, Venerable Sa~njiva during the dispensation of a previous Sammaasambuddha Kakusandha.

By successfully practising absorption meditation-jhaana, beings can temporarily “hide” from Maara in the higher fine-material celestial realms-ruupaloka, or non-material celestial realms-aruupaloka. However, after leaving these deep absorptions, or passing away from the ruupaloka realms, the human or deva will be susceptible to Maara’s influence once again. Lord Buddha encouraged followers to practice absorption meditation because of the many benefits for yogis.

The sequence at the end of the Ariyapariyesanaa Sutta (MN26.41-42) describing the four fine material jhaana and the four formless attainments are presented as though the next and highest attainment is the cessation of perception and feeling – an attainment that follows after the fourth formless attainment – the base of neither-perception-nor-non perception.

Majjhima Nikaya MN 026. Ariyapariyesanaa Sutta: The Noble Search (ปาสราสิสูตร)

41. “Again, by completely surmounting the base of nothingness, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. This bhikkhu is said to to have blindfolded Maara, to have become invisible to the Evil One by depriving Maara’s eye of its opportunity.

42. “Again, by completely surmounting the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the cessation of perception and feeling. This bhikkhu is said to to have blindfolded Maara, to have become invisible to the Evil One by depriving Maara’s eye of its opportunity, and to have crossed beyond attachment to the world. He walks confidently. Why is that? Because he is out of the Evil One’s range.”

The above two suttas state that one who attains these high formless attainments will be out of Maara’s range and that Maara will be blind to them, while they are abiding in these attainments. This is because Maara the deva resides at a much lower level than beings who have reached the formless realms. In much the same way that ordinary human beings are usually unable to see deva or brahma beings, so Maara is unable to see beings who abide in formless attainments. Maara’s realm is in the sensual realm.

Even though the meditative absorptions-jhaana offer a most sublime happiness and contentment, they remain unsatisfactory due to their impermanent nature. Yogis avoid becoming attached to each successively refined jhaana attainment by noticing each jhaana’s particular unsatisfactory nature. Ultimately Lord Buddha exhorted followers to escape the round of becoming by overcoming clinging to any object, no matter how refined or apparently pleasurable it may be. Noting the unsatisfactory, impermanent and impersonal nature of all phenomena, a yogi understands the Four Noble Truths, gains insight into realities both gross and subtle, and attains the non-temporary refuge of Nibbaana.

The sequence at the end of Kandaraka Sutta (MN51.26-27) explains how a yogi uses the exalted mind resulting from jhaana practice to understand suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the path leading to the cessation of suffering.

Majjhima Nikaya MN 051. Kandaraka Sutta: To Kandaraka (กันทรกสูตร)

26. “When his concentrated mind is thus purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs it to knowledge of the destruction of the taints. He understands as it actually is: ‘This is suffering’; he understands as it actually is: ‘This is the origin of suffering’; he understands as it actually is: ‘This is the cessation of suffering’; he understands as it actually is: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’ He understands as it actually is: ‘These are the taints’; he understands as it actually is: ‘This is the origin of the taints’; he understands as it actually is: ‘This is the cessation of the taints’; he understands as it actually is: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of the taints.’

27. “When he knows and sees thus, his mind is liberated from the taint of sensual desire, from the taint of being, and from the taint of ignorance. When it is liberated there comes the knowledge: ‘It is liberated.’ He understands: ‘Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.’

Sensual Pleasure

It is not easy for most people in the world to see the danger in sensual pleasures. Even fewer would believe that there could possibly be pleasures that are non-sensual. So much is the notion of pleasure tied with sensuality in our daily lives. Lord Buddha taught followers that the sensual pleasures are gross compared with non-sensual pleasures. Absorption-jhaana meditation is a practice that leads to non-sensual pleasures. According to Buddhist discourses and commentaries the pleasures of jhaana meditation are far beyond anything available to the five senses.

Even though I haven’t practised jhaana meditation, I notice the disadvantages of sensual desire and the unsatisfactory nature of sensual pleasure. If there is mindfulness enough to note desire to indulge in sensual pleasure there usually soon follows a sense of embarrassment.

In order to indulge in sensual pleasure, such as eating a delicious cake, the mind becomes flooded with craving. For the untrained mind, this flood of craving smothers the existing weak mindfulness. The weak mind overcome by craving is then easily persuaded to look at the cake, smell the cake, taste the cake, feel the texture inside the mouth and so on. The intention to indulge is justified, ratified and allowed. Having been overcome once, this tendency is reinforced each time we indulge our craving in this way. Restraint has been overcome this way countless times. The tendency to indulge craving as sensual desire is extremely strong in the untrained mind. Without some degree of restraint, a mind overcome by craving to gratify sensual pleasure can act in many harmful ways. These harmful actions have unpleasant results and create suffering. The ignorance and craving continues and the cycle of becoming does not end. So sensual pleasures are not rewarding. They are a lot like a con-job or false advertising.

For someone in training, someone who with craving (to eat the cake), they have confidence in the way taught by Lord Buddha that restraint will lead to either more profound happiness or, even better, the cessation of craving. What gives them this confidence? I can speak from my own experience, and say that as a meditator, I’ve seen part of this process of craving and indulging in craving taking place in the mind. I’ve seen the way that indulging in craving floods mindfulness and creates a course, clumsy, crude mind. I’ve seen that restraint keeps the mind relatively clear, relatively refined and relatively sharp. This proves the principle. For someone in training, who (sometimes) practices restraint, craving is not eradicated but it is not allowed to run rampant. Lord Buddha taught that this practice creates a tendency that strengthens mindfulness and the other factors that will eventually eliminate craving once and for all.

Lord Buddha encouraged jhaana practice because it suppresses craving and develops a powerful mind that is more wieldly and empowered for the work of destroying craving. Jhaana practice is a delightful abiding for the mind. There is profound non-sensual pleasure for a yogi abiding in jhaana. Lord Buddha taught the jhaanas as a stepping stone between sensual pleasures and Nibbaana. Though abiding in the pleasures of jhaana may be pleasant, they are not the goal of Buddhism.

The following extracts of discourses show some of the similes Lord Buddha used to explain the unsatisfactoriness of sensual pleasure.

Majjhima Nikaaya MN.54. Potaliya Sutta: To Potaliya (โปตลิยสูตร)

[simile of the skeleton]
15. “Householder, suppose a dog, overcome by hunger and weakness, was waiting by a butcher’s shop. Then a skilled butcher or his apprentice would toss the dog a well hacked clean hacked skeleton of meatless bones smeared with blood. What do you think, householder? Would that dog get rid of his hunger and weakness by gnawing such a well hacked, clean hacked skeleton of meatless bones smeared with blood?”

“No, venerable sir. Why is that? Because that was a skeleton of well hacked, clean hacked skeleton of meatless ones smeared with blood. Even that dog would reap weariness disappointment.”

“So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a skeleton by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, he avoids the equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity, and develops the equanimity that is unified, based on unity, where clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

[simile of the piece of meat]
16. Householder, suppose a vulture, a heron, or a hawk seized a piece of meat and flew away, then vultures, herons, and hawks pursued it and pecked and clawed it. What do you think, householder? If that vulture, heron, or hawk does not quickly let go of that piece of meat, wouldn’t it incur death or deadly suffering because of that?”

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a piece of meat by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, he avoids the equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity, and develops the equanimity that is unified, based on unity, where clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

[simile of grass torch]
17. “Householder, suppose a man took a blazing grass torch and went against the wind. What do you think, householder? If that man does not quickly let go of that blazing grass torch, wouldn’t that blazing grass torch burn his hand or his arm or some other part of his body, so that he might incur death or deadly suffering because of that?”

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a grass torch by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, he avoids the equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity, and develops the equanimity that is unified, based on unity, where clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

[simile of a charcoal pit]
18. “Householder, suppose there were a charcoal pit deeper than a man’s height full of glowing coals without flame or smoke. Then a man came who wanted to live and not to die, who wanted pleasure and recoiled from pain, and two strong men seized him by both arms and dragged him towards the charcoal pit. What do you think, householder? Would that man twist his body this way and that?”

“Yes, venerable sir. Why is that? Because that man knows that if he falls into that charcoal pit, he will incur death or deadly suffering because of that.

“So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a charcoal pit by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, he avoids the equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity, and develops the equanimity that is unified, based on unity, where clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

[simile of a dream]
19. Householder, suppose a man dreamt about lovely parks, lovely groves, lovely meadows, and lovely lakes, and on waking he saw nothing of it. So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a dream by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, he avoids the equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity, and develops the equanimity that is unified, based on unity, where clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

[simile of borrowed goods]
20. Householder, suppose a man borrowed goods on loan–a fancy carriage and fine-jewelled earrings–and preceded and surrounded by those borrowed goods he went to the market place. Then people, seeing him, would say: ‘Sirs, that is a rich man! That is how the rich enjoy their wealth!’ Then the owners whenever they saw him, would take back their things. What do you think, householder? Would that be enough for that man to become dejected?

“Yes, venerable sir.” Why is that? Because the owners too back their things.”

“So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a borrowed goods by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, he avoids the equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity, and develops the equanimity that is unified, based on unity, where clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

[simile of fruits on a tree]
21. “Householder, suppose there were a dense grove not far from some village or town, within which there was a tree laden with fruit but none of its fruit had fallen to the ground. Then a man came needing fruit, seeking fruit, wandering in search of fruit, and he entered the grove and saw the tree laden with fruit. Thereupon he thought: ‘This tree is laden with fruit but none has fallen to the ground. I known how to climb a tree, so let me climb this tree, eat as much fruit as I want, and fill my bag.’ And he did so. Then a second man came needing fruit, seeking fruit, wandering in search of fruit, and taking a sharp axe, he too entered the grove and saw that tree laden with fruit. Thereupon he thought: ‘This tree is laden with fruit but none of this fruit has fallen to the ground. I do not know how to climb a tree, so let me cut this tree down at is root, eat as much fruit as I want, and fill my bag.’ And he did so. What do you think, householder? If that first man who had climbed the tree doesn’t come down quickly, when the tree falls, wouldn’t he break his hand or foot or some other part of his body, so that he might incur death or deadly suffering because of that?”

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to fruits on a tree by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, he avoids the equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity, and develops the equanimity that is unified, based on unity, where clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

Majjhima Nikaya MN.22. Alagadduupama Sutta: The Simile of the Snake (อลคัททูปมสูตร)

8 …”Good bhikkhus. It is good that you understand the Dhamma taught by me thus. For in many ways I have stated how obstructive things are obstructions, and how they are able to obstruct one who engages in them. I have stated that sensual pleasures provide little gratification, much suffering and despair, and that the danger in them is still more. With the simile of the skeleton…with the simile of the snake’s head, I have stated … that the danger in them is still more. …
9. “Bhikkhus, that one can engage in sensual pleasures without sensual desires, without perceptions of sensual desire, without thought of sensual desire–that is impossible.

Majjhima Nikaya MN.66. La.tukikopama Sutta: The Simile of the Quail (ลฑุกิโกปมสูตร)

18. “There are, Udaayin, five cords of sensual pleasure. What are the five? Forms cognizable by the eye that are wished for, desired, agreeable, and likeable, connected with sensual desire and provocative of lust. Sounds cognizable by the ear…Odours cognizable by the nose…Flavours cognizable by the tongue…Tangibles cognizable by the body that are wished for, desired, agreeable, and likeable, connected with sensual desire and provocative of lust. These are the five cords of sensual pleasure.

19. “Now, Udaayin, the pleasure and joy that arise dependent on these five cords of sensual pleasure are called sensual pleasure–a filthy pleasure, a course pleasure, an ignoble pleasure. I should say of this kind of pleasure that it should not be pursued, that it should not be developed, that it should not be cultivated, that it should be feared.

20. “Here, Udaayin, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhaana…With the stilling of applied and sustained thought, he enters upon and abides in the second jhaana…With the fading away as well of rapture…he enters upon and abides in the third jhaana…With the abandoning of pleasure and pain…he enters upon and abides in the fourth jhaana…

21. “This is called the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should be pursued, that it should be developed, that it should be cultivated, that it should not be feared.

Resilience

Yogis on retreats sometimes note pleasant feelings or painful feelings. Early in the retreat, the yogi may have relatively weak controlling faculties indriya [1. confidence saddha 2. wisdom/discernment panna 3. mindfulness sati 4. concentration samaadhi and 5. energy viriya] and not be very well developed or resilient. The yogi may be distracted by the various feelings and feel compelled to move the body or to speak. Some yogis even give up the retreat.

For those yogis who persevere, the controlling faculties will gradually strengthen and stay in balance with each other. The yogi will be able to note feelings without allowing them to weaken the factors for enlightenment bojjha.nga and other wholesome mental conditions [1. mindfulness sati 2. investigation dhammavicaya 3. energy viriya 4. joy/rapture piiti 5. tranquillity passadhi 6. concentration samaadhi and 7. equanimity upekkhaa]. The body also becomes more resilient though not in a tense way. The body becomes suffused with delight and tranquil.

Majjhima Nikaya MN.36.9. Mahaasaccaka Sutta: The Greater Discourse to Saccaka. (มหาสัจจกสูตร)

“And how, Aggivessana, is one developed in body and developed in mind?

Here, Aggivessana, pleasant feeling arises in a well-taught noble disciple. Touched by that pleasant feeling, he does not lust after pleasure or continue to lust after pleasure. That pleasant feeling of his ceases. With the cessation of the pleasant feeling, painful feeling arises. Touched by that painful feeling, he does not sorrow, grieve, and lament, he does not weep beating his breast and become distraught. When that pleasant feeling has arisen in him, it does not invade his mind and remain because body is developed. And when that painful feeling has arisen in him, it does not invade his mind and remain because mind is developed.

Anyone in whom, in this double manner, arisen pleasant feeling does not invade his mind and remain because body is developed, and arisen painful feeling does not invade his mind and remain because mind is developed, is thus developed in body and developed in mind.

Majjhima Nikaya MN.37. Cuu.lata.nhaasankhaya Sutta: The Shorter Discourse on the Destruction of Craving (จูฬตัณหาสังขยสูตร)

2. Then Sakka, ruler of gods, went to the Blessed One, and after paying homage to him, he stood at one side and asked: “Venerable sir, how in brief is a bhikkhu liberated in the destruction of craving, one who has reached the ultimate holy life, the ultimate goal, one who is foremost among gods and humans?”

3. “Here, ruler of gods, a bhikkhu has heard that nothing is worth adhering to, he directly knows everything having directly known everything, he fully understands everything; having fully understood everything, whatever feeling he feels, whether pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant, he abides contemplating impermanence in those feelings, contemplating fading away, contemplating cessation, contemplating relinquishment. Contemplating thus, he does not cling to anything in the world. When he does not cling, he is not agitated. When he is not agitated, he personally attains Nibbaana.

He understands: ‘Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.’ Briefly, it is in this way, ruler of gods, that a bhikkhu is liberated in the destruction of craving, one who has reached the ultimate end, the ultimate security from bondage, the ultimate holy life, the ultimate goal, one who is foremost among gods and humans.”

Restraint of the Six Sense Bases

The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya ; Translated from the Pāli by Bhikkhu Bodhi

Selected discourses from the Salaayatanasamyutta – Connected Discourses on the Six Sense Bases

SN.35.96 (3) Decline Sutta, p.1178

“And how, bhikkhus, is one subject to decline? Here, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu has seen a form with the eye, there arise in him evil unwholesome states, memories and intentions connected with the fetters. If the bhikkhu tolerates them and does not abandon them, dispel them, put an end to them, and obliterate them, he should understand this thus: ‘I am declining away from wholesome states. For this has been called decline by the Blessed One.’ “Further bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu has heard a sound with the ear … cognized a mental phenomenon with the mind, there arise in him evil unwholesome states, memories and intentions connected with the fetters. If the bhikkhu tolerates them and does not abandon them… he should understand this thus: ‘I am declining away from wholesome states.

SN.35.134 (1) At Devadaha Sutta, p.1206

“…There are, bhikkhus, forms cognizable by the eye that are agreeable and those that are disagreeable. [One should train so that] these do not persist obsessing one’s mind even when they are repeatedly experienced. When the mind is not obsessed, tireless energy is aroused, unmuddled mindfulness is set up, the body becomes tranquil and untroubled, the mind becomes concentrated and one-pointed. Seeing this fruit of diligence, bhikkhus, I say that those bhikkhus still have work to do with diligence in regard to the six bases for contact. …

SN.35.244 (7) States That Entail Suffering Sutta, p.1248

“Bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu understands as they really are the origin and passing away of all states whatsoever that entail suffering, then sensual pleasures have been seen by him in such a way that as he looks at them sensual desire, sensual affection, sensual infatuation, and sensual passion do not lie latent within him in regard to sensual pleasures; then he has comprehended a mode of conduct and manner of dwelling in such a way that as he conducts himself thus and as he dwells thus, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and displeasure do not flow in upon him.

“And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu understand as they really are the origin and the passing away of all states whatsoever that entail suffering? ‘ Such is form, such its origin, such its passing away; such is feeling … such is perception … such are volitional formations … such is consciousness, such its origin, such its passing away’: it is in such a way that a bhikkhu understands as they really are the origin and the passing away of all states whatsoever that entail suffering.

“And how, bhikkhus, are sensual pleasures seen by a bhikkhu in such a way that as he looks at them, sensual desire, sensual affection, sensual infatuation, and sensual passion do not lie latent within him in regard to sensual pleasures? Suppose there is a charcoal pit deeper than a man’s height, filled with glowing coals without flame or smoke. A man would come along wanting to live, not wanting to die, desiring happiness and averse to suffering. Then two strong men would grab him by both arms and drag him towards the charcoal pit. The man would wriggle his body this way and that. For what reason? Because he knows ‘I will fall into this charcoal pit and I will thereby meet death or deadly suffering.’ So too, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu has seen sensual pleasures as similar to a charcoal pit, sensual desire, sensual affection, sensual infatuation, and sensual passion do not lie latent within him in regard to sensual pleasures.

“And how, bhikkhus, has a bhikkhu comprehended a mode of conduct and a manner of dwelling in such a way that as he conducts himself thus and as he dwells thus, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and displeasure do not flow upon him? Suppose a man would enter a thorny forest. There would be thorns in front of him, thorns behind him, thorns to his left, thorns to his right, thorns below him, thorns above him. He would go forward mindfully, he would go back mindfully, thinking, ‘May no thorn prick me!’ So too, bhikkhus, what ever in the world has a pleasing and agreeable nature is called a thorn in the Noble One’s Discipline. Having understood this thus as ‘a thorn,’ one should understand restraint and nonrestraint.

“And how, bhikkhus, is there nonrestraint? Here, having seen a form with the eye, a bhikkhu is intent upon a pleasing form and repelled by a displeasing form. He dwells without having set up mindfulness of the body, with a limited mind, and he does not understand as it really is that liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, where in those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. Having heard a sound with the ear … having cognized a mental phenomenon with the mind, he is intent upon a pleasing mental phenomenon and repelled by a displeasing mental phenomenon. He dwells without having set up mindfulness of the body, with a limited mind, and he does not understand as it really is that liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, wherein those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. It is in such a way that there is nonrestraint.

“And how, bhikkhus, is there restraint? Here, having seen a form with the eye, a bhikkhu is not intent upon a pleasing form and not repelled by a displeasing form. He dwells having set up mindfulness of the body, with a measureless mind, and he understands as it really is that liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, where in those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. Having heard a sound with the ear … Having cognized mental phenomenon with the mind, he is not intent upon a pleasing mental phenomenon. He dwells having set up mindfulness of the body, with a measureless mind, and he understands as it really is that liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, wherein those evil unwholesome states cease without remainder. It is in such a way that there is restraint.

“When, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu is conducting himself and dwelling in such a way, if occasionally, due to a lapse of mindfulness, evil unwholesome memories and intentions connected with fetters arise in him, slow might be the arising of his mindfulness, but then he quickly abandons them, dispels them, puts an end to them, obliterates them. Suppose a man let two or three drops of water fall onto an iron plate heated for a whole day. Slow might be the falling of the water drops, but then they would quickly vapourize and vanish. So too, when a bhikkhus conducting himself and dwelling in such a way … slow might be the arising of his mindfulness, but then he quickly abandons them, dispels them, puts and end to them, obliterates them.

“Thus a bhikkhu has comprehended a mode of conduct and manner of dwelling in such a way that as he conducts himself and as he dwells thus, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and displeasure do not flow in upon him…