Bojjha’nga – Seven Factors of Enlightenment

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

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

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

   accomplished in knowledge and vision of liberation: 

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  Because when one has heard the Dhamma from such bhikkhus one dwells withdrawn by way of two kinds of withdrawal – withdrawal of the body and withdrawal of the mind.
[1] “Dwelling thus withdrawn, 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Whenever, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwelling thus withdrawn recollects that Dhamma and thinks it over, 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

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

[4] When his energy is thus aroused,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

restraint of the sense faculties
   fulfils

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

the four establishments of mindfulness
   fulfils

the seven factors of enlightenment
    fulfils

true knowledge and liberation [enlightenment].

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

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

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

Mindfulness – Sati

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

Discrimination of the Dhamma – Dhamma-vicaaya

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

Strength/Energy – Viriya

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

Joy/rapture – Piiti

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

Tranquility – Passadhi

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

Concentration – Sammaadhi

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

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

Equinamity – upekkhaa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gain, Honour and Praise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Striving for the Breakthrough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

M2 Sabbaasava Sutta – All the Taints

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six principles of cordiality and a seven-point test for stream-entry

I paraphrased this sutta using Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ven. Nanamoli’s English translation.

Six principles of cordiality that create love and respect and conduce to cohesion, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity.
1.  Maintain bodily acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
2.  Maintain verbal acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
3.  Maintain mental acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
4. Use things in common with virtuous companions in the holy life, without making reservations, sharing any gains which accord with the Dhamma and that has been obtained in a way that accords with the Dhamma, including (for monastics) the contents of one’s bowl [one is generous-caaga, not stingy or miserly].
5. Possess in common with virtuous companions those virtues (siila) that are unbroken, untorn, unblemished, liberating, commended by the wise, not misapprehended and conducive to concentration [five precepts are the basic precepts].
6. Possess in common with companions the view that is noble and liberating and leads one who practices in accord with it to the complete destruction of suffering [sammaaditthi right view].
Of these… the chief, the most cohesive, the most unifying, is (6) the view that is noble and liberating…  And how does one know whether this view is held?
Seven-point test for stream-entry-sotapanna
1.  Ask yourself:  Is my mind obsessed with sensual lust, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, [five hindrances] speculation about this world and the other world [life after death or annihilation etc.], taken to quarrelling and brawling and deep in disputes, stabbing others with verbal daggers. Obsessed in this way one’s mind is not well disposed for awakening to truths.
If there are no such obsessions, this is the first knowledge that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people. [Sotapanna and sakadagaami people occasionally experience sensual lust, ill-will and so forth. However, they are less bothered by these hindrances and can easily concentrate their minds if they wish to. Anaagaamii have destroyed lust and ill-will and have very highly developed samaadhi-concentration. Arahats have destroyed all the aasava-taints and are not disturbed by these hindrances at any time. Some puthujjana-worldlings who have not attained any stage of awakening, but have skill in attaining deep concentration states such as the four jhaana-mental absorptions and the four formless bases may rarely be bothered by these hindrances.  However, most puthujjana who have never trained their minds or studied the Buddha Dhamma are obsessed in this way.]
2. Ask yourself: when I pursue, develop and cultivate this view (that is noble and liberating), do I obtain internal serenity, do I obtain stillness? – If yes then this is the second knowledge… [this refers to the ability to calm the mind through samatha meditation. For those sotapanna who have not attained jhaana-absorption, they are still able to obtain internal serenity by practicing the six recollections such as Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, Siila, Caaga and Deva. They can also practice recollection of peace and use other meditation objects to obtain internal serenity with relative ease. ].
3. Ask yourself: is there any other recluse or teacher outside (the Buddha’s dispensation) possessed of a view such as I possess? If no, then this is the third knowledge… [this means that one believes that right view is only possible within the Buddha’s dispensation and one doesn’t believe that anyone outside Buddhism can attain a stage of awakening such as stream entry-sotapanna].
4. Ask yourself: do I possess the (first) characteristic of a person with right view?  Such a person immediately confesses any offence for which a means of rehabilitation has been laid down. Just as a baby at once draws back when he puts his hand or his foot on a live coal…  If yes this is the fourth knowledge … [This refers to moral shame and fear of wrong doing – hiri and ottappa.]
5. Ask yourself: do I possess the (second) characteristic of a person with right view? Although such a person may be active in various matters for his companions in the holy life, yet he has regard for training in the higher virtue, higher mind and higher wisdom.  Just as a cow with a new calf, while she grazes, watches her calf. If yes this is the fifth knowledge… (heedfulness – apamaada) [A sotapanna may sometimes neglect training but not for long. Because they wish to help fellow monastics or fellow lay Buddhists, or even non-Buddhists, they usually find contentment and satisfaction in the training. Heedfulness is closely related to mindfulness and other skilful qualities that sotapanna have in abundance].
6. Ask yourself: do I possess the (first) strength of a person with right  view? When the Dhamma and Discipline (Dhamma-vinaaya) proclaimed by the Tathaagata is being taught, one heeds it, gives it attention, engages it with all one’s mind, hears the Dhamma with eagerness.  If yes, this is the sixth knowledge… [in this way one would suppress the nivaarana-hindrances to samaadhi-concentration and one’s mind would be pliable, bright and in the best possible state for understanding the Dhamma].
7.  Ask yourself: do I possess the (second) strength of a person with right view?  When the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathaagata is being taught, one gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. If yes, this is the seventh knowledge… [this is not something that a sotapanna would have to consciously cultivate – it would be natural and automatic].
A noble disciple possessed of these seven factors is well on the way toward the realisation of the fruit of stream entry [this is someone who possesses the path of stream entry – sotapanna magga]. A noble disciple who possesses these seven factors, possesses the fruit of stream entry [sotapanna phala].  

In the relatively well-known eightfold classification of noble ones (ariyapuggala) there are two pairs of four and eight individuals. Two sotapanna, two sakadagaamii, two anaagaamii and two arahata. In each pair, the inferior one is on the path (magga) while the superior one has attained the fruit (phala).  Here is a list of eight ariyapuggala in descending order of superiority:

Arahata phala
Arahata magga
Anaagaamii phala
Anaagaamii magga
Sakadagaamii phala
Sakadagaami magga
Sotapanna phala

Sotapanna magga
The sotapanna phala person is not equivalent to a sakadagaamii magga person. Though they both have already attained sotapanna phala, the sakadagaamii magga person is superior because they are on the path to the higher attainment whereas the sotapanna phala person is for the time being stable and not making significant efforts to reach a higher state. This principle applies to other stages in the table above until finally the arahata phala person has no more work to do since they are fully awakened. 

The exegetical Paali Commentaries to the Abhidhamma Pitaka prepared by Ven. Buddhaghosa (about 1500 years ago) and the tradition of later abhidhammika scholars divert from the teachings in the Sutta Pitaka (basket of discourses). 

In the Introduction to the Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma: The Philosophical Psychology of Buddhism, Abhidhammaattha Sangaha, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi writes:
… a few of the Abhidhamma conceptions that are characteristic of the Commentaries but either unknown or recessive in the Abhidhamma Pitaka itself. One is the detailed account of the cognitive process (cittaviithi).  While this conception seems to be tacitly recognised in the canonical books [of the abhidhamma pitaka], it now comes to be drawn out for use as an explanatory tool in its own right. The functions of the cittas come to be designated by way of their functions. The term khana, “moment,” replaces the canonical samaya “occasion,” as the basic unit for delimiting the occurrence of events, and the duration of a material phenomenon is determined to be seventeen moments of mental phenomenon. The division of a moment into three sub-moments–arising, presence, and dissolution–also seems to be new to the Commentaries…

In relation to awakening, proponents of the Commentary theory of cognitive process claim that during awakening there is a single very brief moment of sotapanna magga citta immediately followed by a similarly very brief moment of sotapanna phala citta with no other citta (moment of cognitive process) in between magga and phala. However, this theory is not supported by the suttas. There are many suttas where noble ones who are path attainers (magga) are walking around without yet having attained the fruit (phala). We should always prefer the suttas to later teachings elaborated in exegetical literature.

In later blogs I intend to write some short articles on the less well-known sevenfold classification of ariyapuggala and on the first stage of awakening – sotapanna magga based on reading suttas. 

Advantages of hearing the Dhamma or thinking on the Dhamma even when suffering great pain

A6.56 Phagguna Sutta [Piya Tan’s translation as a PDF] paraphrased by MK from The Book of the Gradual Sayings (Anguttara Nikaaya) vol. 4, translated by F.L. Woodward [translation by Sister Upalavanna] [ผัคคุณสูตร]


Ven. Phagguna is very sick and is visited by the Blessed One and Ven. Aananda. The sutta says that Ven. Phagguna was already a stream enterer (sotapanna) or once returner (sakadagaami) and while the Blessed One talks with him, he attains anaagaami.  On dying he attains arahat.  It is significant that Ven. Phagguna who is in great physical pain throughout the conversation with the Blessed One and yet is able to focus on the Dhamma talk and attain anaagaami.  The sutta also doesn’t mention whether Ven. Phagguna had previously attained any jhaana (mental absorption). In the sutta he graphically describes his pains thus:

Violent winds are cutting through my head like a strong man cleaving it open with a sharp sword. I cannot bear it, venerable sir;
Violent pains are crushing my head as if a strong man were tightening a strong leather strap around my head as a headband. I cannot bear it, venerable sir;
Violent winds are rending my belly as if a skilled butcher or his apprentice were to carve up a cow’s belly with a sharp butcher’s knife. I cannot bear it, venerable sir;
Violent pains are burning up my body as if two strong men were to seize a weaker man by both arms, and burn and roast him over a pit of burning coal. I cannot bear it, venerable sir; 

I am unable to keep going, and my pains are not subsiding, but rising; their rising is evident, not their subsiding. 

These phrases are familiar and used in other suttas where sick people are describing their pains. I slightly modified Piya Tan’s translation in the above excerpt. We don’t know the precise nature of Ven. Phagguna’s illness, only that it is grave and shortly leads to his death.  Perhaps, if a person were in a modern hospital in Australia suffering in such a manner they would be given strong anesthesia such as morphine and perhaps encouraged to sleep until passing away (assuming the case was untreatable).

The sutta does not record precisely what the Blessed One said to Ven. Phagguna only that he taught him and then left.  Piya Tan’s excellent notes to his translation explain this well, I encourage you to read his entire translation and notes.

All this is background and provides an interesting context for the main teaching which are six general principles for timely hearing or thinking on the Dhamma that go way beyond Ven. Phagguna’s particular case. Four principles cover timely hearing of the Dhamma and two principles cover timely thinking on the Dhamma.

I have summarised these principles as follows:
A. sakadagaami attains anaagaami by:
1. hearing the Dhamma from the Tathaagata
2. hearing the Dhamma from a disciple of the Tathaagata
3. continues to reflect in mind on Dhamma s heard, as learned, ponders and investigates it.

B. anaagaami attains arahat by the same three methods.

These principles show that it is possible for Noble Disciples hearing the Dhamma to attain higher paths and fruitions (magga and phala) even when in great pain (as in Ven. Phagguna’s case) without necessarily requiring jhaana. If jhaana were a requirement, then it would be mentioned.

If Ven. Phaguna were able to enter jhaana while in pain, he may be able to experience exclusively mental pleasure or exclusively equanimity and not feel physical pain. Either he is incapable of entering jhaana or he prefers to investigate the dhammas arising and passing as they are. In other words he may prefer to use his last moments to do vipassana meditation.  Or, following the cases in the sutta itself, he prefers to listen to the Dhamma expounded by the Blessed One (so fortunate to have this opportunity) and then think over, ponder over and turn over in his mind the Dhamma as he has heard it…, thus attaining either another level of enlightenment or final Nibbaana.

Piya Tan’s translation of the A.3 case above he writes: “On account of his thinking over, pondering over, turning over in his mind, the Dhamma as he has heard it, as he has learned it, his mind is freed through the supreme destruction of acquisitions.”  It seems that not only by listening to the Dhamma can there be a breakthrough, but also by “thinking it over, pondering over, turning over in his mind…” This is significant because most meditation teachers these days discourage thinking.  I refer here to teachers of vipassana (insight) and samatha (calm) meditation and claim that only by meditation can there be enlightenment. I quite agree with those meditation teachers that vipassana and samatha meditation are beneficial and strongly encouraged by the Blessed One and that they both can lead to enlightenment. I also want to open readers minds to the possibility that “thinking it over, pondering over, turning over in his mind…”is also a valid way for attaining Nibbaana.

However, this sutta is a teaching for Noble Disciples (ariyasaavaka) and may not be so effective for those disciples who have not yet attained at least the path of stream-entry (sotapanna).  A stream-enterer is one who has “opened the Dhamma eye”, has right view, has confirmed confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, has unbroken ethical conduct and so on.The stream-enterer has also eliminated the three gross fetters (sa.myojana) that bind one to sa.msaara (the round of existence) for more than seven further existences or to a future unfortunate existence in hell, as a peta (ghost) or animal. These three fetters are (1) identity view, (2) doubt about the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, the laws of kamma or the efficacy of the Four Noble Truths, and (3) attachment to rites and rituals as a way to attain enlightenment. If you haven’t heard of these fetters, I recommend you study them.

Even so, there are two famous cases of Ven. Saariputta and Ven. Mahaamoggallana who both attained Sotapanna by hearing a short verse. Neither appears to have been in jhaana before realising this attainment. Later Ven. Saariputta attained arahat phala while listening to the Dighanaka Sutta. Ven. Mahaamoggallana seems to have attained arahat phala through meditation.  There are many other cases in the suttas where lay people and monastics attained sotapanna or sakadaagaami simply by listening attentively to a Dhamma discourse given by the Buddha or a disciple.

There are also instances in the Tipitaka where members of the audience hearing a Dhamma talk may not be able to realise path and fruitions.  A famous case in point is in the Sama~n~naphala Sutta [สามัญญผลสูตร] where King Ajatasattu, a paricide (killed his father), is unable to make a breakthrough to stream-entry on account of his previous crime. Killing either of one’s parents will form an insurmountable barrier to noble attainment in the existence in which the crime is committed though in future existences noble attainment becomes possible once again. This was despite King Ajatasattu having all other perfections ready for noble attainment. 
Here is a quote from the second last paragraph in Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s translation of the Sama~n~naphala Sutta. 

So King Ajatasattu, delighting and rejoicing in the Blessed One’s words, rose from his seat, bowed down to him, and — after circumambulating him — left. Not long after King Ajatasattu had left, the Blessed One addressed the monks: “The king is wounded, monks. The king is incapacitated. Had he not killed his father — that righteous man, that righteous king — the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye would have arisen to him as he sat in this very seat.” 

The “stainless Dhamma eye” is another way of saying “sotapanna”.   So what ever you do, take good care of your parents!

Theravada tradition holds that after spending a long time in the hell realm, Ajatasattu will return to the human realm and then attain Nibbaana as a Pacekkhabuddha.

(the Thai translation of this section below is from http://www.84000.org//) 

[๑๔๐] เมื่อพระผู้มีพระภาคตรัสอย่างนี้แล้ว ท้าวเธอได้กราบทูลลาว่า ข้าแต่พระองค์
ผู้เจริญ ถ้าเช่นนั้นหม่อมฉันขอทูลลาไปในบัดนี้ หม่อมฉันมีกิจมาก มีกรณียะมาก พระผู้มีพระภาค
ตรัสว่า ขอมหาบพิตรทรงสำคัญเวลา ณ บัดนี้เถิด. ครั้งนั้นแล พระเจ้าแผ่นดินมคธพระนามว่า
อชาตศัตรู เวเทหีบุตร ทรงเพลิดเพลินยินดีภาษิตของพระผู้มีพระภาคแล้ว เสด็จลุกจากอาสนะ
ถวายบังคมพระผู้มีพระภาค ทรงกระทำประทักษิณแล้วเสด็จไป. เมื่อท้าวเธอเสด็จไปไม่นาน
พระผู้มีพระภาคตรัสกะภิกษุทั้งหลายว่า ดูกรภิกษุทั้งหลาย พระราชาพระองค์นี้ถูกขุดเสียแล้ว
พระราชาพระองค์นี้ถูกขจัดเสียแล้ว หากท้าวเธอจักไม่ปลงพระชนมชีพพระบิดาผู้ดำรงธรรม เป็น
พระราชาโดยธรรมไซร้ ธรรมจักษุ ปราศจากธุลี ปราศจากมลทิน จักเกิดขึ้นแก่ท้าวเธอ ณ ที่
ประทับนี้ทีเดียว. พระผู้มีพระภาคได้ตรัสคำเป็นไวยากรณ์นี้แล้ว. ภิกษุเหล่านั้นชื่นชมยินดีภาษิต
ของพระผู้มีพระภาคแล้วแล.
[สามัญญผลสูตร]

Listening to the Dhamma can suppress the hindrances


Sa.myuttanikaaya S46.38 Without Hindrances (อาวรณานีวรณสูตร นิวรณ์ ๕ เป็นอุปกิเลสของจิต)

When bhikkhus, a noble disciple listens to the Dhamma with eager ears, attending to it as a matter of vital concern, directing the whole mind to it, on that occasion the five hindrances are not present in him; on that occasion the seven factors of enlightenment go to fulfillment by development …

Michael’s comments
This sutta shows that it is possible for noble disciples (ariyasaavaka) to suppress the hindrances by listening attentively to the Dhamma. Note that noble disciples are those who have at least attained the path to stream entry (sotapannamagga). Ariyasaavaka are either deities or humans who have above average capability to develop superior mental states including concentration and insight.

The noble disciple has confirmed confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and therefore no doubts about the efficacy of the teaching. The noble disciple considers the Dhamma to be the most precious and important thing. It is therefore totally natural for a noble disciple to listen with eager ears, attending to the Dhamma as a matter of vital concern, directing the whole mind to it…

Suppressing the hindrances is a vital precondition for high attainments such as jhaana (deep mental absorption or phala (supra-mundane fruition=a further stage of enlightenment up to arahat).  Hindrances (nivaranaa) arise due to unwise attention (ayoniso manasikaara) which is in turn conditioned by ignorance. The arahat has totally eliminated ignorance and always attends wisely (yoniso manasikaara), therefore the arahat has no need to actively suppress the hindrances since they no longer arise.  The five hindrances are: (1) sensual desire, (2) ill-will, (3) sloth and torpor, (4) restless and remorse, and (5) doubt/uncertainty in the Dhamma.  However, below the arahat, the sotapanna, sakadagaami and anaagaami (to a negligible extent) continue to occasionally suffer from hindrances.  This is another reason why noble disciples are keen to listen to the Dhamma so attentively and suppress hindrances since during those occasions, they are somewhat relieved of suffering.

In the suttas there are many instances of non-noble disciples attaining stream entry path and fruition (sotapanna magga phala) and other higher paths and fruitions by listening to the Blessed One giving a Dhamma talk. In some of the blog articles to follow, I may refer to some of these suttas that describe higher attainments through listening to the Dhamma.