Bojjha’nga – Seven Factors of Enlightenment

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

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

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

   accomplished in knowledge and vision of liberation: 

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  Because when one has heard the Dhamma from such bhikkhus one dwells withdrawn by way of two kinds of withdrawal – withdrawal of the body and withdrawal of the mind.
[1] “Dwelling thus withdrawn, 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Whenever, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwelling thus withdrawn recollects that Dhamma and thinks it over, 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

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

[4] When his energy is thus aroused,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

restraint of the sense faculties

three kinds of conduct (bodily, verbal and mental)

the four establishments of mindfulness

the seven factors of enlightenment

true knowledge and liberation [enlightenment].

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

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

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

Mindfulness – Sati

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

Discrimination of the Dhamma – Dhamma-vicaaya

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

Strength/Energy – Viriya

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

Joy/rapture – Piiti

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

Tranquility – Passadhi

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

Concentration – Sammaadhi

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

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

Equinamity – upekkhaa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Upgrading Your Uposatha Observance: five then eight and beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits from regular observance of eight precepts

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

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

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

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

Michael’s comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moral Conduct as the Basis for Spiritual Development

Buddhist suttas-discourses are translated into English in various ways. Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu translates satipa.t.thaana as “the four frames of reference.” Others translate it as the four establishments of mindfulness or the four foundations of mindfulness. I prefer “the four establishments of mindfulness” or to just leave it in the Paali as satipa.t.thaana. This is the basis for samaadhi-concentration and developing panna-wisdom, both of which are the basis for spiritual development.

Sikkha-dubbalya Sutta: Things That Weaken the Training
translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

“Monks, these five are things that weaken the training. Which five? The taking of life, stealing, sexual misconduct, the telling of lies, and distilled and; fermented beverages that are a cause for heedlessness. These five are things that weaken the training.

“To abandon these five things that weaken the training, one should develop the four frames of reference. Which four? There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in and; of itself — ardent, alert, and; mindful — putting aside greed and; distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in and; of themselves… mind in and; of itself… mental qualities in and; of themselves — ardent, alert, and; mindful — putting aside greed and; distress with reference to the world. To abandon the five things that weaken the training, one should develop these four frames of reference.”

Vientiane Visa Run

I’m at Vientiane. I am very comfortable and well.

Thai Visa
I was doing a vipassana meditation retreat at Section 5, Wat Mahadhatu and the date for my Thai visa came up (after 30 days). I didn’t plan much beforehand so on Thursday, 3 Sept, I did some research by Internet and took a taxi to the Thai Dept. Immigration. The tourist visa extension for me is for a maximum of 7 days and would cost 1,900 baht (A$70) which is too expensive for such a short time. I had a 30 day visa granted on arrival. If I had a tourist visa granted at a Thai Embassy outside Thailand I could have extended for 30 days in Bangkok. Because I want to meditate longer than 7 days and don’t want to overstay my visa, I had to leave Thailand and re-enter. The non-immigrant visa option required letters from two different organisations and was too complicated to organise in the short time left before my visa expired.

I worked out that I needed to take a tour bus or train (second class sleeper) from Bangkok to Nong Khai on Mekong River which is the border between Thailand and Laos. Then I needed to cross by taxi, bus, bicycle, boat or whatever I find convenient. I had some help from Thai friends at Wat Mahadhatu but no-one seemed to know the best thing to do or details of how to do it – there was no one with experience. This surprised me since I can’t be the first foreign meditator at Wat Mahadhatu to face this problem. Never mind, I went with the flow and accepted the help and good will that was offered. Pi Yai (my meditation teacher) went with me to Dept. Immigration and later Pi Deng (a 58 yo, Thai man who previously worked with Thai International Air, and is now doing voluntary work at Wat Mahadhatu) went with me to the train station. Pi Deng indicated he was interested in going to Laos so I spontaneously invited him, he demurred and then 20 minutes later accepted even though this meant he had no spare clothes, documents, etc.).

Train Ride from Bangkok to Nong Khai
We had a bumpy ride in second class sleeper overnight, leaving Bangkok around 8:30 pm, Thursday and arriving in Nong Khai around 11 am, Friday – 3 hours late! This was inconvenient since I was hoping to be able to get to the Thai embassy in Vientiane before noon since they only accept visa applications in the morning and do not work on weekends. It was doubly inconvenient since I am still maintaining 8 precepts which means I should eat my main meal before noon. With these two competing priorities, I chose to miss lunch (and dinner while on 8 precepts) and try to get to the Thai embassy across the border. Unfortunately, in the rush to leave Bangkok, Pi Deng didn’t have time to pack a small traveling bag with his passport etc, so as a Thai citizen, he had to first go to the Nong Khai local government office to apply for a temporary boarding pass (possible for Thai citizens entering Laos for a few days without a passport but using bat prachachon – Thai national ID card).

It was noon by the time Pi Deng obtained the pass and 12:30 pm by the time we got to the border crossing entering Laos. Upon arriving, I had to fill out 3 separate forms with almost the same details of name, passport number etc. and wait in a queue. As soon as I came to the head of the queue, they shut the office for 30 minutes lunch break and I had to stand waiting in the heat. Luckily it was shady, and I had the remains of a bottle of water in my day-pack.

Meanwhile Pi Deng, who is only maintaining 5 precepts and with border pass in his pocket was able to find some expensive som tham (unripe papaya salad) for lunch. Expensive because people doing business at the border have little competition and can charge what they like with poor service and low quality products. Eventually, I got through and we hired a Lao tour guide couple (husband and wife – Boonkham and Noy) with a van to drive us into Vientiane and the Thai embassy.

The Thai embassy officials said I would have to return on Monday morning to submit the visa application and then pick up the visa on Tuesday afternoon. By this time, it was 2:30 pm, I was low on energy, very hot, a little hungry and thirsty. I was fortunate in that I’d eaten a large breakfast on the train – pork rice porridge, coffee and some sweet buns, so I was not too hungry. We found somewhere to drink Lao ice coffee and then went around looking for a place to sleep.

Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane is not very large even though it is a capital city. It is not well developed but I find it clean and very comfortable. I like the Laos people very much. Lao language is similar to Thai and most Lao people understand spoken Thai even if they don’t speak it themselves. It is a bit like London English compared with Northern Scottish English. It is a similar but different culture to Thailand. The Laos people are quite relaxed. This is a generalisation though. I like it here and will probably return again in the future sometime. I recommend it to everyone.

If I stayed here for a couple of months, I’d pick up spoken Lao and probably be able to read it as well. Many of the Lao language letters are similar to Thai but there are differences too. Their money is called kip and exchanges 250 kip for 1 baht or 1000 kip for 40 baht. The Australian dollar exchanges for about 7,100 kip and the US dollar exchanges for about 8,500 kip. I’m almost expert at making the calculations in my head now.

Temples in Vientiane
Yesterday, Saturday, we went touring Buddhist temples. I was not impressed with most places. The only place that touched me was Wat Si Saket near the centre of Vientiane which is apparently nearly 200 years old and the oldest standing temple in Vientiane. It has some old areas preserved as a museum like many of the other places we visited. However, one area of Wat Si Saket seemed “alive” compared with other temples. I had a “deja vu” experience and remembered an image that appeared during meditation in Myanmar where I saw a similar temple except that it was surrounded by trees – maybe in a forest/jungle hundreds of years ago, maybe a past life experience… Anyway, soon after entering this particular compound at Wat Si Saket, I felt something special as though there were devada (celestial beings) present – not like the other places. It felt sacred and the hairs on my arms rose up – kon luk. It maybe ordinary to others but felt special to me. Other places may seem special to other people but not to me… Over all I have a strong sense of having been in Laos before – must be previous lives. It seems to welcome me back… Maybe I have to spend more time here, not sure yet…

We went to a “Buddha Park” which I didn’t like. There were many larger-than-life kitchy, tacky statues of various scenes from the Jataka (previous lives of the Bodhisatta) and scenes from Brahmanism all set up in a garden next to the Mekong River. Closer to the river, I felt an evil presence and sensed there were probably many asura (demons) and peta (pret) in the area. I speculate that many people were treated badly and murdered at this place in the past (hundreds and thousands of years). We left soon after.

We also found a temple that teaches samatha meditation in the traditional ‘Bud-dho’ style of Isarn (NE Thailand). Foreign tourists were going there to learn to meditate.

Next Three Days
Today, I am resting, doing Internet and meditating. I ate a lot of fruit and muesli for breakfast and had a large crusty salad and chicken bread roll for lunch in the French-Lao style. Food in Laos is excellent. I ate very well yesterday .

Tomorrow, Monday, after submitting the visa application at the Thai embassy, we will go to a Buddhist meditation temple that is out of town a bit. I want to talk with monks and meditators about Laos as a place for Buddhist meditation. Laos is not famous for meditation, but this place teaches vipassana in the Mahasi Saydaw style. I think Thai monks have been there to teach and maybe are still there.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, we will pick up the passport/visa and head back to Thailand, catch a train or tour bus and possibly arrive in Bangkok by 6-7am on Wednesday morning. I aim to apply for a six month visa multiple re-entry for Thailand. They may only give me 3 months or maybe even 1 month. It is not certain yet. Anyway, whatever they give me, I can extend this new visa from in Bangkok for at least another 30 days so I could have a minimum total of 60 days. I expect longer. I really don’t know how long I will stay in Thailand before going on to India/Sri Lanka/Nepal.

Guest House
I am paying 350 baht (about $12) per night for an en suite air con room. It is very clean and comfortable. Pi Deng has a similar room at the same guest house. It is owned by Vietnamese with a mix of Vietnamese and Lao workers. There are plenty of guest houses and hotels here and many restaurants. It is all quite relaxed and comfortable. Anyone could arrive without any bookings and easily find a good place to stay that suits their budget and tastes.

My concentration and mindfulness are still relatively strong even though I’ve not been meditating much since Thursday. I hope that I can continue full-time meditating again at Wat Mahadhatu from Wednesday. I have some hope that meditation will proceed smoothly. I have strong faith in Pi Yai (my current teacher) and am quite determined. My confidence in my own ability to do vipassana meditation has increased a lot too. Pi Yai has taught me to sit for longer periods to increase my upekkha, aditaana and sacca paramis (perfections for equanimity, resolution/determinations and truth). It has worked quite well so far. I sat for 2.5 hours on three sessions already. I aim to sit for 3 hours at lest and maybe make this a regular practice. I’ll see how it goes. It is painful but good for building paramis. Longer sitting sessions are normal in samatha meditation too. It is easier to sit longer with samatha meditation because once in jhaana, there is no sensation of pain in the body. I’ll see how it goes doing vipassana with Pi Yai for another month or so and then maybe look around for a place to do samatha if I don’t go to India/Sri Lanka first.

I’ve been talking with people we meet and helping them understand the Dhamma. Besides donating to monks, I also help lay people in various ways. I am quite happy and content each day. Meditation, keeping 8 precepts and donating has helped me a lot.

Mobile Phone Sim Cards
My Thai mobile phone sim only gives my mobile a signal when I’m standing on the bank of the Mekong River close to Nong Khai (on the other bank) and that is not convenient for a quick call. I’d need a car/taxi or motorcycle to get there. This afternoon I bought a Laos sim card with ETL (local company) which will enable me to make calls from most places in Laos. I can recharge it (prepaid mode) locally. I’ll probably collect more sim cards for other Asian countries that I visit later including India and Sri Lanka. It seems most sims expire after 12 months if they are not used. This will give me some small incentive to travel once a year to various countries. It is also inexpensive to just buy another sim card. For example the Laos ETL sim cost 50,000 kip which is the same as 200 baht.

Mirror of the Dhamma – Four things Posssessed by Sotapannas

This list is from the Sa.myutta Nikaaya, Mahavagga, SN.V.55.8.

  1. confirmed confidence in the Buddha
  2. confirmed confidence in the Dhamma
  3. confirmed confidence in the Sangha of Ariyapuggala (noble ones – enlightened beings)
  4. possess the virtues (Siila) dear to the noble ones, unbroken, untorn, unblemished, unmottled, freeing, praised by the wise, ungrasped, leading to concentration.

Ten Bases for Meritorious Deeds

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

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

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