Sign in to follow this  

Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization

Recommended Posts

He has a follow up book coming out in April:

Excerpts from Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization by Bhikkhu Analayo -


The continuous presence o f well-established sati is a requirement for absorption (jhana). Without the support of sati, as the Visuddhimagga points out, concentration cannot reach the level of absorption. Even on emerging from an experience of deep concentration sati is required when one reviews the constituent factors of one's experience. Thus sati is relevant for attaining, for remaining in, and for emerging from deep concentration.
Sati becomes particularly prominent when the third level of absorption (jhana) is reached. With the attainment of the fourth absorption, when the mind has reached such a degree of proficiency that it can be directed towards the development of supernormal powers, sati also reaches a high degree of purity, because of its association with deep equanimity.
Several discourses testify to the important role of satipatthana as a basis for the development of absorption and for the subsequent attainment of supernormal powers. The role of satipatthana in supporting the development of concentration is also reflected in the standard exposition of the gradual path, where the preliminary steps that lead up to the attainment of absorption include mindfulness and clear knowledge (satisampajanna) in relation to bodily activities, and the task of recognizing the hindrances and supervising their removal, an aspect of the fourth satipatthana, contemplation of dhammas.
On the other hand, however, to consider satipatthana purely as a concentration exercise goes too far and misses the important difference between what can become a basis for the development of concentration and what belongs to the realm of calmness meditation proper. In fact the characteristic function of sati and concentration (samadhi) are quite distinct....The difference between these two become evident from the vocabulary employed in a passage from the Satipatthana Samyutta. In this passage the Buddha recommended that, if one is being distracted or sluggish while practicing satipatthana , one should temporarily change one's practice and develop a calm (samatha) object of meditation, in order to cultivate internal joy and serenity.
This he termed a "directed" form of meditation (panidhaya bhavana). Once, however, the mind has been calmed, one can return to an "undirected" mode of meditation (appayidhaya bhavana), namely the practice of satipatthana. The distinction drawn in this discourse between "directed" and "undirected" forms of meditation suggests that, considered on their own, these two modes of meditation are clearly different. At the same time, however, the whole discourse is concerned with their skillful interrelation, clearly demonstrating that whatever the degree of their difference, the two can be interrelated and support each other....
The noun samadhi is related to the verb samadahati, "to put together" or "to collect", such as when one collects wood to kindle a fire. Samadhi thus stands for "collecting" oneself, in the sense of composure or unification o f the mind.
The discourses use the term "concentration" (samadhi) in a surpris­ingly broad manner, relating it to walking meditation, for example, or to observing the arising and passing away of feelings and cognitions, or to contemplating the arising and passing away of the five aggregates. In a passage from the Anguttara Nikaya, even the four satipatthanas are treated as a form of concentration. These oc­currences demonstrate that, as used in the discourses the term "concentration" (samadhi) is not restricted to the development of calm (samatha) only, but can also refer to the realm of insight medita­tion (vipassana). Turning to "right concentration" (samma samadhi), here one finds time and again that the discourses equate right concentration with the four absorptions (jhanas)...
....Interestingly, in the Mahacattarisika Sutta and several other dis­courses another definition of right concentration can be found that does not mention the absorptions at all. The importance of the Mahacattarisika Sutta to the present discussion is further highlighted in the preamble to this discourse, which states the topic to be a teaching on right concentration. The definition of right concentra­tion given here speaks of unification of the mind (cittassekaggata) in interdependence with the other seven path factors. That is, in order for unification of the mind to become "right" concentration, it needs to be contextualized within the noble eightfold path scheme. Definitions of right concentration that do not mention absorption attainment can also be found in the Abhidhamma and the commentaries.
Thus the decisive factor that qualifies concentration as "right" is not just a question of the depth of concentration achieved, but is concerned with the purpose for which concentration is employed. In particular, the presence of the path factor right view is indispensable. By way of contrast, the Buddha's, former teachers, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, despite their deep concentration attainments, were not endowed with "right" concentration because of the absence of right view. This goes to show that the ability to attain absorption in itself does not yet constitute the fulfillment of the path factor of right concentration.
A similar nuance underlies the qualification samma "right", which literally means "togetherness", or "to be connected in one". Thus to speak of the four absorptions or of unification of the mind as "right" concentration does not simply mean that all else is "wrong", but points to the need to incorporate the development of concentration into the noble eightfold path.
The task of this "refrain" is to direct attention to those aspects that are essential for the proper practice of each exercise. Thus an understanding of the implications of the "refrain" forms a necessary background to the meditation techniques de­scribed in the Satipafthdna Sutta....
....With the "refrain", the practice of satipatthana turns towards the general characteristics of the contemplated phenomena. At this stage of practice, awareness [i.e. attention] of the specific content of experience gives way to an understanding of the general nature and character of the satipatthana under contemplation. This shift of awareness [i.e. attention] from the individual content of a particular experience to its general features is of central importance for the development of insight. Here the task of sati is to penetrate beyond the surface appearance o f the object under observation and to lay bare the characteristics it shares with all conditioned phenomena. This move of sati towards the more general characteristics of experi­ence brings about insight into the impermanent, unsatisfactory, and selfless nature of reality. Such a more panoramic kind of awareness [i.e. attention] emerges at an advanced stage of satipatthana, once the meditator is able to maintain awareness [i.e. attention] effortlessly. At this stage, when sati has become well-established, whatever occurs at any sense door auto­matically becomes part of the contemplation.
It is noteworthy that two of the most popular contemporary vipassana schools of the Theravada tradition both recognize the importance of developing such bare awareness [i.e. attention] of whatever arises at any sense door as an advanced stage of insight meditation. To judge from writings of Mahasi Sayadaw and U Ba Khin, their particular meditation techniques are apparently mainly expedient means for beginners, who are not yet able to practice such bare awareness [i.e. attention] at all sense doors.
The "refrain" instructs the meditator to contemplate "the nature of arising", "the nature of passing away", and "the nature of both aris­ing and passing away". Paralleling the instruction on internal and external contemplation, the three parts of this instruction represent a temporal progression which leads from observing the arising aspect of phenomena to focusing on their disappearance, and culmi­nates in a comprehensive vision of impermanence as such. According to the discourses, not seeing the arising and passing away of phenomena is simply ignorance, while to regard all phe­nomena as impermanent leads to knowledge and understanding. Insight into the impermanence of the five aggregates or of the six sense-spheres is "right view ", and thereby leads directly onto real­ization. Thus the direct experience of impermanence represents in­deed the "power" aspect of meditative wisdom. These passages clearly show the central importance of developing a direct experi­ence of the impermanent nature of all phenomena, as envisaged in this part of the satipatthana "refrain". The same is reflected in the commentarial scheme of the insight knowledges, which details key experiences to be encountered during the path to realization, where the stage of apprehending the arising and passing away of phenomena is of central importance.
The other two characteristics of conditioned existence - dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) and anatta (absence of a self) - become evident as a consequence of a direct experience and thereby realistic appre­ciation of the truth of impermanence. The discourses frequently point to this relationship between the three characteristics by pre­senting a progressive pattern that leads from awareness of impermanence (aniccasanna) via acknowledging the unsatisfactory nature of what is impermanent (anicce dukkhasanna) to appreciating the selfless nature of what is unsatisfactory (dukkheanattasanna)....
....The importance of developing insight into the arising and passing away of phenomena is highlighted in the Vibhanga Sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya, according to which this insight marks the distinc­tion between mere establishment of satipatthana and its complete and full "development" (bhavana). This passage underlines the im­portance of the "refrain" for a proper development of satipatthana. Mere awareness of the various objects listed under the four satipatthanas might not suffice for the task of developing penetrative insight. What is additionally required is to move on to a comprehen­sive and equanimous vision of impermanence.
Direct experience of the fact that everything changes, if applied to all aspects of one's personality, can powerfully alter the habit patterns of one's mind. This may well be why awareness of impermanence assumes a particularly prominent role in regard to the contempla­tion of the five aggregates where, in addition to being mentioned in the "refrain", it has become part of the main instruction.
Continuity in developing awareness of impermanence is essential if it is really to affect one's mental condition. Sustained contempla­tion of impermanence leads to a shift in one's normal way of experi­encing reality, which hitherto tacitly assumed the temporal stability of the perceiver and the perceived objects. Once both are experi­enced as changing processes, all notions of stable existence and sub­stantiality vanish, thereby radically reshaping one's paradigm of experience.
Contemplation of impermanence has to be comprehensive, for if any aspect of experience is still taken to be permanent, awakening will be impossible. Comprehensive realization of impermanence is a distinctive feature of stream-entry. This is the case to such an ex­tent that a stream-enterer is incapable of believing any phenomenon to be permanent. Understanding of impermanence reaches perfection with the realization of full awakening. For arahants, awareness of the impermanent nature of all sensory input is a natu­ral feature of their experience.
Apart from encouraging awareness of impermanence, this part of the "refrain" can also, according to the commentarial view, be taken to refer to the factors (dhammas) that condition the arising and the disappearance of the observed phenomena. These factors are treated in the Samudaya Sutta, which relates the "arising" and "disappearing" of each satipatthana to its respective condition; these being nutriment in the case of body, contact for feelings, name-and-form for mind, and attention for dhammas. Within the framework of early Buddhist philosophy, both impermanence and conditionality are of outstanding importance. In the course of the Buddha's own approach to awakening, recollection of his past lives and the sight of other beings passing away and being reborn vividly brought home to him the truths of impermanence
and conditionality on a personal and universal scale. The same two aspects contributed to the realization of the previous Buddha, Vipassi, when after a detailed examination of dependent co-arising (paticca samuppdda), satipatthana contemplation of the impermanent nature of the five aggregates led to his awakening.
....This distinction between the principle and the twelve links as one of its applications is of considerable practical relevance since a full understanding of causality is to be gained with stream-entry. The distinction between principle and application suggests that such an understanding of causality need not necessarily require a personal
experience of the twelve links. That is, even without developing the ability to recollect past lives and thereby directly experiencing those factors of the twelve links that supposedly pertain to a past life, one can still personally realize the principle of dependent co-arising.
Compared to the entire set of twelve links, the basic principle of dependent co-arising is more easily amenable to direct contemplation. A discourse in the Nidana Samyutta, for example, applies "dependent co-arising" to the conditioned relation between contact and feeling. Such direct application of the principle to subjective experience occurs also in the Vibhanga, which relates dependent co-arising to single mind-moments.
Another example of a direct application of the principle of condi­tionality can be found in the Indriyabhavana Sutta, which qualifies pleasure and displeasure arising at any of the six sense doors as de­pendently arisen (paticca samuppanna), a usage that is not related to past or future lives. The same holds true for the Madhupindika Sutta's detailed analysis of the perceptual process. This discourse depicts the "arising" (uppada) of consciousness "in dependence" (paticca) on sense organ and sense object with contact being the coming "together" (sam) of the three. This passage reveals a deeper significance of each part of the term paticca sam-uppada, "dependent" "co-" "arising", without any need for different lifetimes or for the whole set of twelve links. Thus realization of dependent co-arising can take place simply by witnessing the operation of conditionality in the present moment, within one's own subjective experience.
To speak of dependent co-arising is to speak of specific conditions related to specific events- Such "specific conditionality" (idappaccayata) can be illustrated in the following manner: When A is B comes to be. With the arising of A B arises. When A is not ‚ÄĒ¬Ľ B does not come to be. With the cessation of A ‚ÄĒ¬Ľ B ceases. The operation of dependent co-arising is not confined to a strictly linear sequence of events in time. Rather, dependent co-arising stands for the conditional interrelation of phenomena, constituting a web of interwoven events, where each event is related to other events by way of both cause and effect 73. Each conditioning factor is at the same time itself conditioned, which thereby excludes the pos¬≠sibility of a transcendent, independent cause.
Within these interwoven patterns, the centrally important specific condition, from the view point of subjective experience, is volition. It is the mental volition of the present moment that decisively influ­ences future activities and events. Volition itself is under the influence o f other conditions such as one's habits, character traits,
and past experiences, which influence the way one experiences a particular situation. Nevertheless, in as much as each volition in­volves a decision between alternatives, one's volitional decision in the present moment is to a considerable degree amenable to per­sonal intervention and control. Each decision in turn shapes the habits, character traits, experiences, and perceptual mechanisms that form the context of future decisions. It is precisely for this rea­son that systematic training of the mind is imperative.
In the Satipatthana Sutta, a more specific application of condition­ality to the practice of meditation becomes apparent during most of the contemplations of dhammas. Here one finds that the meditator's task in relation to the five hindrances is to observe the conditions for their arising and removal. Regarding the six sense-spheres, con­templation should disclose how the process of perception can cause the arising of mental fetters at the sense doors. In the case of the awakening factors, the task is to recognize the conditions for their arising and further development. Coming to the four noble truths, this last contemplation of dhammas is in itself a statement of condi­tionality, namely of the conditions for dukkha and its eradication. In this way, the principle of dependent co-arising underlies a range of applications in the fourth satipatthana.....
73: The complexity of the conditional interrelation of phenomena is illustrated in the Patthana of the Pali Abhidhamma from a variety of angles with altogether twenty-four types of conditions. Thus, for example, the conditioning influence exercised by A on
B [A --> B] could, from a temporal perspective, take place not only with A arising ear­lier than B (purejatapaccaya), but also if both arise simultaneously (sahajatapaccaya), or even when A arises later than B (pacchajatapaccaya). It could be the presence of A
(atthipaccaya), but also its absence (natthipaccaya), that conditions B. Moreover A could be the active cause (kammapaccaya), or it could exert its conditioning influence while being itself a resultant effect (vipakapaccaya), or else A could be both cause and effect, when A and B are related to each other by way of mutuality condition (annamannapaccaya).
The Pali term for "feeling" is vedana, derived from the verb vedeti, which means both "to feel" and "to know ". In its usage in the dis­courses, vedana comprises both bodily and mental feelings. Vedana does not include "emotion" in its range of meaning. Although emotions arise depending on the initial input provided by feeling, they are more complex mental phenomena than bare feeling itself and are therefore rather the domain of the next satipatthana, contempla­tion of states of mind....
....The first part of the above instructions distinguishes between three basic kinds of feelings: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. According to the discourses, developing understanding and detachment in re­gard to these three feelings has the potential to lead to freedom from dukkha? Since such understanding can be gained through the prac­
tice of satipatthana/ contemplation of feelings is a meditation prac­tice of considerable potential. This potential is based on the simple but ingenious method of directing awareness to the very first stages of the arising of likes and dislikes, by clearly noting whether the pres­ent moment's experience is felt as "pleasant", or "unpleasant", or
neither.Thus to contemplate feelings means quite literally to know how one feels, and this with such immediacy that the light of awareness is present before the onset of reactions, projections, or justifications in regard to how one feels. Undertaken in this w ay, contemplation of feelings will reveal the surprising degree to which one's attitudes
and reactions are based on this initial affective input provided by feelings....
....The distinction between worldly (samisa) and unworldly
(niramisa) feelings is concerned with the difference between feelings
related to the "flesh" (amisa) and feelings related to renunciation. This additional dimension revolves around an evaluation of feeling that is based not on its affective nature, but on the ethical context of its arising. The basic point introduced here is awareness of whether a particular feeling is related to progress or regress on the path.
Unlike his ascetic contemporaries, the Buddha did not categori­cally reject all pleasant feelings, nor did he categorically recommend unpleasant experiences for their supposedly purifying effect. In­stead, he placed emphasis on the mental and ethical consequences of all types of feeling. With the help of the above sixfold classifica­tion, this ethical dimension becomes apparent, uncovering in partic­ular the relation of feelings to the activation of a latent mental tendency (anusaya) towards lu s t irritation, or ignorance. As the Culavedalla Sutta points out, the arising of these underlying tenden­cies is mainly related to the three worldly types of feelings, whereas unworldly pleasant or neutral feelings arising during deep concen­tration, or unworldly unpleasant feelings arising owing to dissatis­faction with one's spiritual imperfection, do not stimulate these underlying tendencies.
The conditional relation between feelings and such mental ten­dencies is of central importance, since by activating these latent ten­dencies, feelings can lead to the arising of unwholesome mental reactions. The same principle underlies the corresponding section of the twelve links of dependent co-arising (paticca samuppada), where feelings form the condition that can lead to the arising of craving (tanha).
This crucially important conditional dependence of craving and mental reactions on feeling probably constitutes the central reason why feelings have become one of the four satipatthanas. In addition, the arising of pleasant or unpleasant feelings is fairly easy to notice, which makes feelings convenient objects of meditation.
A prominent characteristic of feelings is their ephemeral nature. Sustained contemplation of this ephemeral and impermanent na­ture of feelings can then become a powerful tool for developing dis­enchantment with them. A detached attitude towards feelings, owing to awareness of their impermanent nature, is characteristic of the experiences of an arahant.
Another aspect inviting contemplation is the fact that the affective tone of any feeling depends on the type of contact that has caused its arising. Once this conditioned nature of feelings is fully appre­hended, detachment arises naturally and one's identification with feelings starts to dissolve.
The cultivation of a detached attitude towards feelings is the intro­ductory theme of the Brahmajala Sutta. At the outset of this dis­course, the Buddha instructed his monks to be neither elated by praise nor displeased b y blame, since either reaction w ould only u p­set their mental com posure. Next, he comprehensively surveyed the epistemological grounds underlying the different views prevalent among ancient Indian philosophers and ascetics. By way of conclu­sion to this survey he pointed out that, having fully understood feel­ings, he had gone beyond all these views.
The intriguing feature of the Buddha's approach is that his analy¬≠sis focused mainly on the psychological underpinnings of view s, rather than on their content. Because of this approach, he was able to trace the arising of view s to craving (tanha), which in turn arises dependent on feeling.‚ÄĚ Conversely, by fully understanding the role of feeling as a link betw een contact and craving, the view -form ing process itself can be transcended. The Pasadika Sutta explicitly pres¬≠ents such transcendence of view s as an aim of satipatthana contem ¬≠plation. Thus the second satipatthana, contemplation of feelings, has an intriguing potential to generate insight into the genesis of views and opinions.
Sustained contemplation will reveal the fact that feelings deci­sively influence and colour subsequent though ts and reactions. In view of this conditioning role of feeling, the supposed supremacy of rational though t over feelings and emotions turns out to be an illusion. Logic and thought often serve merely to rationalize already existing likes and dislikes, which in turn are conditioned by the arising of either pleasant or unpleasant feelings. The initial stages of the perceptual process, when the first traces of liking and disliking appear, are usually not fully conscious, and their decisive influence on subsequent evaluations often passes undetected....
....In ancient India, the Buddha's analytical approach to views formed a striking contrast to the prevalent philosophical speculations. He dealt with views by examining their affective underpinnings. For the Buddha, the crucial issue was to uncover the psychological atti­tude underlying the holding of any view, since he clearly saw that
holding a particular view is often a manifestation of desire and attachment.
An important aspect of the early Buddhist conception of right view is therefore to have the "right" attitude towards one's beliefs and views. The crucial question here is whether one has developed attachment and clinging to one's own views, which often manifests in heated arguments and disputation. The more right view can be kept free from attachment and clinging, the better it can unfold its full potential as a pragmatic tool for progress on the path. That is, right view as such is never to be given up; in fact, it constitutes the culmination of the path. What is to be given up is any attachment or
clinging in regard to it.
In the context of actual meditation practice, the presence of right view finds its expression in a growing degree of detachment and disenchantment with conditioned phenomena, owing to a deepen­ing realization of the truth of dukkha, its cause, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation. Such detachment is also reflected in the absence of "desires and discontent", stipulated in the satipatthana "definition", and in the instruction to avoid "clinging to anything in the world", mentioned in the satipatthana "refrain".
....After his awakening, the Buddha declared himself to be one who lived in happiness. This statement clearly shows that, unlike some of his ascetic contemporaries, the Buddha w as no longer afraid of pleasant feelings. As he pointed out, it was precisely the successful eradication of all mental unwholesomeness that caused his happi­ness and delight. In a similar vein, the verses com posed by awak­ened monks and nuns often extol the happiness of freedom gained through the successful practice of the path. The presence of delight and non-sensual joy among the awakened disciples of the Buddha often found its expression in poetic descriptions of natural beauty....
....The skillful development of non-sensual joy and happiness was an outcome of the Buddha's first-hand realization, which had shown him the need to differentiate between wholesome and unwhole­some types of pleasure. The satipatthana instructions for contem­plating feelings reflect this wisdom by distinguishing between worldly and unworldly types of pleasant feelings.
The ingenuity of the Buddha's approach w as not only his ability to discriminate between forms of happiness and pleasure which are to be pursued and those which are to be avoided, but also his skillful harnessing of non-sensual pleasure for the progress along the path to realization* Numerous discourses describe the conditional de­pendence of wisdom and realization on the presence of non-sensual joy and happiness. According to these descriptions, based on the presence of delight (pamojja), joy (piti) and happiness (sukha) arise and lead in a causal sequence to concentration and realization. One discourse com pares the dynamics of this causal sequence to the nat­ural course of rain falling on a hilltop, gradually filling the streams and rivers, and finally flowing down to the sea. Once non-sensual joy and happiness have arisen, their presence w ill lead naturally to concentration and realization. Conversely, without gladdening the mind when it needs to be gladdened, realization will not be possible....
During the later part of the previous satipatthana, contemplation of feeling, awareness was concerned with the ethical distinction between wordly and unworldly feelings. The same distinction occurs at the start o f the next satipatthana, which directs awareness [i.e. attention] to the ethical quality of the mind, namely to the presence or absence of lust (raga), anger (dosa), and delusion (moha)....
....Underlying this satipatthdna is an implicit shift in emphasis from the ordinary way of experiencing mind as an individual entity to considering mental events as mere objects, analysed in terms of their qualitative characteristics. Contemplation of the mind also in­cludes, in accordance with the satipatthdna "refrain", awareness of the arising and passing away of the states of mind being contemplated, thereby revealing the momentary character of all mental events. In addition, sustained contemplation of the mind will also expose the degree to which what one takes to be one's own mind is in fact influenced by external conditions. In this way, realizing the impermanent and conditioned nature of the mind accords with the general thrust of satipatthana towards detachment and non-­identification.
....The theme underlying the contemplation of these four higher states of mind is the ability to monitor the more advanced stages of one's meditative development. In this way, within the scope of con­templation of the mind, sati can range from recognition of the pres­ence of lust or anger to awareness of the most lofty and sublime types of mental experience, each time with the same basic task of calmly noticing what is taking place.
The emphasis given in this satipatthana to mindful contemplation of deep levels of concentration is noteworthy. Among the Buddha's contemporaries, experiences of absorption often gave rise to speculative views.34 The Buddha's distinctive departure from these speculations was his thoroughly analytical treatment of the medita­tive absorptions, aimed at understanding their composite and con­ditioned nature. This analytical treatment is exemplified in the Atthakanagara Sutta, which states that one should regard the experi­ence of absorption as merely a product of the mind, a conditioned
and volitionally produced experience. Such understanding then leads to the conclusion that whatever is a product of conditions is also impermanent and subject to cessation. Insight into the imper­manent nature of deep levels of concentration also forms part of
satipatthana practice, when the instruction in the "refrain" to con­template the nature of arising and passing away is applied to the higher states of mind listed for contemplation. Undertaken in this way, satipatthana in regard to higher states of mind becomes a practi­cal expression of the Buddha's analytical attitude towards the entire range of mental experience.
Clearly recognizing and understanding the five aggregates is of considerable importance, since without fully understanding them and developing detachment from them, it will not be possible to gain complete freedom from dukkha. Indeed, detachment and dispassion regarding these five aspects of subjective personality leads directly to realization. The discourses, and the verses composed by awakened monks and nuns, record numerous cases where a penetrative understanding of the true nature of the five aggre­gates culminated in full awakening. These instances highlighted the outstanding potential of this particular satipatthana contemplation.
These five aggregates are often referred to in the discourses as the "five aggregates of clinging" (pancupadanakkhanda). In this context "aggregate" (khandha) is an umbrella term for all possible instances of each category, whether past, present, or future, internal or exter­nal, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, near or far. The qualifica­tion "clinging" (upadana) refers to desire and attachment in regard to these aggregates. Such desire and attachment in relation to the aggregates is the root cause for the arising of dukkha.
The sequence of these five aggregates leads from the gross physi­cal body to increasingly subtle mental aspects. The first of the aggregates, material form (rupa), is usually defined in the discourses in terms of the four elementary qualities of matter. A discourse in the Khandha Samyutta explains that material form (rupa) refers to whatever is affected (ruppati) by external conditions such as cold and heat, hunger and thirst, mosquitoes and snakes, emphasizing the subective experience of rupa as a central aspect of this aggregate. Next in the sequence of the aggregates come feeling (vedana) and cognition (sanna), which represent the affective and the cognitive aspects of experience. In the context of the process of perception, cognition (sanna) is closely related to the arising of feelin g, both depending on stimulation through the six senses by way of contact (phassa). The standard presentations in the discourses relate feeling to the sense organ, but cognition to the respective sense object. This indicates that feelings are predominantly related to the subjective repercussions of an experience, while cognitions are more con­cerned with the features of the respective external object. That is, feelings provide the "how" and cognitions the "what" of experience.
To speak of a "cognition" of an object refers to the act of identifying raw sensory data with the help of concepts or labels, such as when on e sees a coloured object and "re-cognizes" it as yellow, red, or white, etc. Cognition to some extent involves the faculty of memory, which furnishes the conceptual labels used for recognition.
The fourth aggregate comprises volitions (sankhara), representing the conative aspect of the mind. These volitions or intentions corre­spond to the reactive or purposive aspect of the mind, that which re­acts to things or their potentiality. The aggregate of volitions and intentions interacts with each of the aggregates and has a condition­ing effect upon them. In the subsequent developments of Buddhist philosophy, the meaning of this term expanded until it came to in­clude a wide range of mental factors.
The fifth aggregate is consciousness (vinnana). Although at times the discourses use "consciousness" to represent mind in general in the context of the aggregate classification it refers to being conscious of something. This act of being conscious is most prominently re­sponsible for providing a sense of subjective cohesiveness, for the notion of a substantial "I" behind experience. Consciousness depends on the various features of experie ce supplied by name-and-form (namarupa), just as name-and-form in turn depend on consciousness as their point of reference.24 This conditional in terre­lationship creates the world of experience, with consciousness being aware of phenomena that are being modified an d presented to it by way of name-and-form.25
To provide a practical illustration of the five aggregates: during the present act of reading, for example, consciousness is aware of each word through the physical sense door of the eye. Cognition understands the meaning of each word , while feelings are responsible for the affective mood: whether one feels positive, negative, or neutral about this particular piece of information. Because of volition one either reads on, or stops to consider a passage in more depth, or even refers to a footnote.
The discourses describe the characteristic features of these five aggregates with a set of similes. These compare material form to the insubstantial nature of a lump of foam carried a way by a river; feel­ings to the impermanent bubbles that form on the surface of water during rain; cognition to the illusory nature of a mirage; volitions to the essenceless nature of a plantain tree (because it has no heartwood); and consciousness to the deceptive performance of a magician.
This set of si iles points to central characteristics that need to be understood with regard to each aggregate. In the case of material form, contemplating its unattractive and insubstantial nature cor­rects mistaken notions of substantiality and beauty. Concerning feelings, awareness of their impermanent nature counteracts the tendency to search for pleasure through feelings. With regard to cognition, awareness of its deluding activity uncovers the tendency to project one's own value judgements onto external phenomena as if these were qualities of the outside objects. With volitions, insight into their selfless nature corrects the mistaken notion that willpower is the expression of a substantial self. Regarding consciousness, un­derstanding its deceptive performance counterbalances the sense of cohesiveness and substantiality it tends to give to what in reality is a patchwork of impermanent and conditioned phenomena.
Owing to the influence of ignorance, these five aggregates are ex­perienced as embodiments of the notion "I am". From the unawakened point of view , the material body is "Where I am", feel­ings are "How I am", cognitions are "What I am" (perceiving), voli­tions are "Why I am" (acting), and consciousness is "Whereby I am" (experiencing). In this way, each aggregate offers its own contribu­tion to enacting the reassuring illusion that "I am".
By laying bare these five facets of the notion "I am", this analysis of subjective personality into aggregates singles out the component parts of the misleading assumption that an independent and un­changing agent inheres in human existence,thereby making possi­ble the arising of insight into the ultimately selfless (anatta) nature of all aspects of experience....
24 The importance of this conditional interrelation is highlighted at D II 34 and S II 105,
where Buddha Vipassi and Buddha Gotama respectively (both still at the bodhisatta
stage at this point), on investigating dependent co-arising up to this reciprocal rela­tionship between consciousness and name-and-form, concluded: "I have found the
path of insight leading to awakening."
25 D II 56: "Consciousness conditions name-and-form ... name-and-form conditions
consciousness." ("Name", according to M 1 53, comprises feeling, cognition, volition,
contact and attention.)
At the time of the Buddha, a variety of differing views about the na­ture of the self existed. The Ajivika teachings, for example, proposed a soul having a particular colour and considerable size as the true self. The Jains posited a finite soul, similarly possessed of size and weight. According to them, the soul survived physical death, and in its pure state it possessed infinite knowledge. The Upanishads proposed an eternal self (atman), unaffected by the vicissitudes of change. Upanisadic conceptions about such an eternal self ranged from a physical self the size of a thumb abiding in the heart area and leaving the body during sleep, to an unobservable and unknowable self, immaterial, free from death and sorrow , beyond any worldly distinction between subject and object. In the Upanishadic analysis of subjective experience, this eternal self, autonomous, permanent, and blissful, was taken to be the agent behind all the senses and activities.
The materialist schools, on the other hand , rejected all immaterial conceptions o f a self or soul. In order to account for causality, they proposed a theory based on the inherent nature (svabhava) of material phenomena. According to them , a human individual was just an automaton functioning according to the dictates of matter. From their perspective, human effort was of no avail and there was no such thing as ethical responsibility.
In this con text, the Buddha's position cuts a middle path between the belief in an eternal soul and the denial of anything beyond mere matter. By affirming karmic consequences and ethical responsibil­ity, the Buddha clearly opposed the teachings of the materialists. At the same time, he was able to explain the operation o f karmic retribution over several lifetimes with the help of dependent co-arising
(paticca samuppada) and thereby without bringing in a substantial unchanging essence. He pointed out that the five aggregates, which together account for subjective experience, on closer investigation turn out to be impermanent and not amenable to complete personal control. Therefore a permanent and self-sufficient self can ­not be found within or apart from the five aggregates. In this way, the Buddha's teaching of anatta denied a permanent and inherently independent self, and at the same time affirmed empirical continu­ity and ethical responsibility.
Not only does the Buddha's penetrating analysis of self provide a philosophical refutation of theories proposing a substantial and un­changing self, it also has an intriguing psychological relevance. "Self", as an independent and permanent entity, is related to notions of mastery and control. Such notions of mastery, permanence, and
inherent satisfactoriness to some degree parallel the concepts of "narcissism" and the "ideal ego" in modern psychology.
These concepts do not refer to articulate philosophical beliefs or ideas, but to unconscious assumptions implicit in one's way of per­ceiving and reacting to experience. Such assumptions are based on an inflated sense of self-importance, on a sense of self that continu­ously demands to be gratified and protected against external threats to its omnipotence. Contemplating anatta helps to expose these assumptions as mere projections.
The anatta perspective can show up a broad range of manifesta­tions of such a sense of self. According to the standard instructions for contemplating anatta, each of the five aggregates should be con­sidered devoid of "mine", "I am", and "myself".This analytical ap­proach covers not only the last-mentioned view of a self, but also the mode of craving and attachment underlying the attribution of "mine" to phenomena and the sense of "I am" as a manifestation of conceit and grasping. A clear understanding of the range of each aggregate forms the necessary basis for this investigation. Such a clear understanding can be gained through satipatfhana contempla­tion. In this way, contemplation of the five aggregates commends itself for uncovering various patterns of identification and attach­ment to a sense of self.
A practical approach to this is to keep inquiring into the notion "I am" or "mine", that lurks behind experience and activity. Once this notion of an agent or owner behind experience has been clearly recognized, the above non-identification strategy can be implemented by considering each aggregate as "not mine, not I, not my self".
In this way, contemplation of the five aggregates as a practical application of the anatta strategy can uncover the representational aspects of one's sense of self, those aspects responsible for the for­mation of a self image, Practically applied in this way, contempla­tion of anatta can expose the various types of self-image responsible for identifying with and clinging to one's social position, profes­sional occupation, or personal possessions. Moreover, anatta can be employed to reveal erroneous superimpositions on experience, par­ticularly the sense of an autonomous and independent subject reaching out to acquire or reject discrete substantial objects.
According to the Buddha's penetrative analysis, patterns of identi­fication and attachment to a sense of self can take altogether twenty different forms, by taking any of the five aggregates to be self, self to be in possession of the aggregate, the aggregate to be inside self, or self to be inside the aggregate. The teaching on anatta aims to com pletely remove all these identifications with, and the corresponding attachments to, a sense of self. Such removal proceeds in stages: with the realization of stream-entry any notion of a permanent self (sakkdyaditthi) is eradicated, whilst the subtlest traces of attachment to oneself are removed only with full awakening....
....A well-known simile of relevance in this context is that of a chariot which does not exist as a substantial thing apart from, or in addition to, its various parts. Just as the term " chariot" is simply a conven­tion, so the superimposition of 'T -dentifications on experience are nothing but conventions. On the other hand, to reject the existence of an independent substantial chariot does not mean that it is im­possible to ride in the conditioned and impermanent functional as­semblage of parts to which the concept "chariot" refers. Similarly, to deny the existence of a self does not imply a denial of the condi­tioned and impermanent interaction of the five aggregates....
According to the Satipatthdna Sutta, to contemplate the five aggre­gates requires a clear recognition of each, followed by directing awareness to their arising (samudaya) and their passing away (atthagama). This second stage of practice reveals the impermanent char­acter of the aggregates, and to some extent thereby also points to their conditioned nature....
....In practical terms, contemplating the arising and passing away of each aggregate can be undertaken by observing change taking place in every aspect of one's personal experience, be these, for example, the cycle of breaths or circulation of the blood, the change of feelings from pleasant to unpleasant, the variety of cognitions and volitional reactions arising in the mind, or the changing nature of conscious­ness, arising at this or that sense door. Such practice can then build up to contemplating the arising and passing away of all five aggre­gates together, when one comprehensively surveys the five aggregate-components of any experience and at the same time witnesses the impermanent nature of this experience.
Contemplating the arising and passing away of the five aggre­gates also highlights their conditioned nature. The interrelatedness of impermanence and conditionality with regard to the five aggre­gates is practically depicted in a discourse from the Khandha Sam­yutta, in which realization of the impermanent nature of the five aggregates takes place based on understanding of their conditioned nature. Since the conditions for the arising of each aggregate are impermanent, this passages points out, how could the conditionally arisen aggregate be permanent?...
....According to the discourses, to develop understanding and detach­ment in regard to these six internal and external sense-spheres is of central importance for the progress towards awakening. An impor­tant aspect of such understanding is to undermine the misleading sense of a substantial "I" as the independent experiencer of sense objects. Awareness directed to each of these sense-spheres will re­veal that subjective experience is not a compact unit, but rather a compound made up of six distinct "spheres" each of which is de­pendently arisen.
Each of these sense-spheres includes both the sense organ and the sense object Besides the five physical senses (eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body) and their respective objects (sight, sound, smell, flavour, and touch), the mind (mano) is included as the sixth sense, together with its mental objects {dhamma). In the present context, "mind (mano) represents mainly the activity of thought {mannati). While the five physical senses do not share each other's respective field of activity, all of them relate to the mind as the sixth sense. That is, all perceptual processes rely to some extent on the interpretative role of the mind, since it is the mind which "makes sense" out of the other senses. This shows that the early Buddhist scheme of six sense-spheres does not set pure sense perception against the conceptual activity of the mind, but considers both as interrelated processes, which together bring forth the subjective experience of the world....
....Often these six senses and their objects occur in descriptions of the conditioned arising of consciousness (viniiatia).7 An intriguing as­pect of this conditional situation is the rote that subjective influence plays in the perceptual process * Experience, represented by the six types of consciousness, is the outcome of two determinant influ­ences: the "objective" aspect on the one hand, that is, the in-com ing sensory impressions; and the "subjective" aspect on the other hand, namely, the w ay in which these sense impressions are received and cognized. Supposedly objective perceptual appraisal is in reality conditioned by the subject as much as by the object. One's experience of the world is the product of an interaction between the "sub­jective" influence exercised by how one perceives the world, and the "objective" influence exercised by the various phenomena of the ex­ternal world....
....Although a fetter arises in dependence on sense and object, the binding force of such a fetter should not be attributed to the senses or objects per se. The discourses illustrate this with the example of two bulls, bound together by a yoke. Just as their bondage is not caused by either of the bulls, but by the yoke, so too the fetter should
not be imputed to either its inner or its outer conditions (for example eye and forms), but to the binding force of desire...
....The activities of seeing, hearing, sensing, and knowing mentioned in the Bahiya instruction occur also in the Mulapariyaya Sutta. This discourse contrasts the arahant's direct comprehension of phenomena with the ordinary way of perception through misconceiving the cognized data in various ways. The Chabbisodhana Sutta relates the elaborations absent from what is seen, heard, sensed, and known by an arahant to freedom from attraction and rejection. Other pas­sages discuss the same set of activities w ith an additional emphasis on avoiding any form of identification. This injunction is particu­larly pertinent, since according to the Alagaddupama Sutta the activi­ties of seeing, hearing, sensing, and know ing can lead to wrongly developing a sense of self. Passages in the Upanisads indeed take these activities as evidence for the perceiving activity of a self.
According to the Bahiya instruction, by maintaining bare sati at all sense doors one will not be "by that", which suggests not being car­ried away by the conditioned sequence of the perceptual process, thereby not modifying experience through subjective biases and distorted cognitions. Not being carried away, one is not "therein" by way of subjective participation and identification. Such absence of being "therein" draws attention to a key aspect of the instruction to Bahiya, to the realization of anatta as the absence of a perceiving self.
Neither being "by that" nor "therein" also constitutes a compara­tively advanced stage of satipatthana practice, when the meditator has become able to continuously maintain bare awareness [i.e. attention] at all sense doors, thereby not being "by that" by remaining free from "clinging to anything in the world ", nor being "therein" by continu­ing to "abide independently", as stipulated in the satipatthana "refrain". According to the final part of the Bahiya instruction, by maintain­ing awareness [i.e. attention] in the above manner one will not be established "here" or "there" or "inbetween". Away of understanding "here" and "there" is to take them as representing the subject (senses) and the respective objects, with "inbetween" standing for the condi­tioned arising of consciousness. According to a discourse from the Anguttara Nikaya, it is the "seamstress" craving (tanha) which "stitches" consciousness ("the middle") to the senses and their obj­ects (the two opposite ends). Applying this imagery to the Bahiya instruction, in the absence of craving these three conditions for per­ceptual contact do not get sufficiently "tied " together, so to speak, for further proliferations to occur. Such absence of unnecessary pro­liferation is characteristic of the cognitions of arahants, who are no longer influenced by subjective biases and who cognize phenomena without seif-reference. Free from craving and proliferations, they are not identified with either "here" (senses), or "there" (objects), or "in between" (consciousness), resulting in freedom from any type of becoming, whether it be "here", or "there", or "inbetween".
In the conditional sequence of the awakening factors, "investigation-of-dhammas" (dhammavicaya) develops out of well-established mindfulness. Such investigation-of-dhammas seems to combine two aspects: on the one hand an inquiry into the nature of experience (by taking "dhammas" to stand for "phenomena"), and on the other a correlation of this experience with the teachings of the Buddha (the "Dhamma"). This twofold character also underlies the word "inves­tigation" (vicaya), derived from the verb vicinati, whose range of meaning includes both "investigating" and "discriminating". Thus "investigation-of-dhammas" can be understood as an investigation of subjective experience based on the discrimination gained through familiarity with the Dhamma. Such discrimination refers in particular to the ability to distinguish between what is wholesome or skillful for progress on the path, and what is unwholesome or un­skillful. This directly contrasts investigation-of-dhammas with the hindrance doubt (vicikiccha), which arises owing to lack of clarity about what is wholesome and what is unwholesome.
....The need for careful translation of the term can be demonstrated with the help of a passage from the Nidana Samyutta, where the Buddha stated that whatever is felt is included within dukkha. To understand dukkha here as an affective quality and to take it as implying that all feelings are "suffering " conflicts with the Buddha's analysis of feelings into three mutually exclusive types, which are, in addition to unpleasant feeling, pleasant and neutral feelings. On another occasion the Buddha explained his earlier statement that "whatever is felt is included within dukkha" to refer to the imperma­nent nature of all conditioned phenomena. The changing nature of feelings, however, need not necessarily be experienced as "suffer­ing", since in the case of a painful experience, for example, change may be experienced as pleasant. Thus all feelings are not "suffer­ing", nor is their impermanence "suffering", but all feelings are "un­satisfactory", since none of them can provide lasting satisfaction. That is, dukkha as a qualification of all conditioned phenomena is not necessarily experienced as "suffering", since suffering requires
someone sufficiently attached in order to suffer.
Each of the four noble truths makes its own demand on the practi­tioner: dukkha has to be "understood", its origination has to be "abandoned", its cessation has to be "realized", and the practical path to this realization has to be "developed". In particular, the five aggregates are to be understood, ignorance and craving for exis­tence are to be abandoned, know ledge and freedom are to be real­ized, and calm (samatha) and insight (vipassana) are to be developed....
In order further to clarify the distinctive character of the Buddha's conception of Nibbana, in the remainder of this chapter I will set it off against the realization of all-embracing unity (as envisaged by the "non-dual" religious traditions), and also against annihilationism. While early Buddhism does not deny the distinction between sub­ject and object, it does not treat this distinction as particularly im­portant. Both are insubstantial, the subject being nothing other than a complex of interactions with the world (object), while to speak of a "world" is to speak of what is being perceived by the subject. Unity, in terms of subjective experience, entails a merging of the subject with the object. Experiences of this kind are often the out­come of deep levels of concentration. Nibbana, on the other hand, entails a complete giving up of both subject and object, not a merger of the two 58. Such an experience constitutes an "escape" from the en­tire field of cognition 59. Although Nibbana partakes of non-duality in so far as it has no counterpart 60, its implications nevertheless go far beyond experiences of oneness or unity.61
58 e.g. S IV 100 speaks of a cessation of all six sense-spheres, an expression which the commentary explains to refer to Nibbana (Spk II 391). Another relevant reference
could be the standard description of stream-entry (e.g. at S V 423), which speaks of the insight into the fact that whatever arises will also cease, an expression that may well
hint at the subjective experience of Nibbana, whence all conditionally arisen phenom­ena cease. Similarly the declarations of realization at M III 265 and SIV 58 point to a cessation experience. Realization as a cessation experience is also reflected in the writ­ings of modern meditation teachers and scholars, cf e.g. Brown 1986b: p.205; Goenka 1994a: p.113, and 1999: p.34; Goleman 1977b: p.31; Griffith 1981: p,6io; Kornfield 1993: p.291; Mahasi 1981: p.286; and Nanarama 1997: p,8o. Cf. also footnote 30, page 257 above. 59 M 138; this "escape" from the whole field of cognition is identified by the commentary with Nibbana (Ps 1176). Similarly Thi 6 refers to Nibbana as the stilling of all cognitions*60 The question "what is the counterpart of NibbanaT' (at M1304) was a question which, according to the arahant nun Dharamadinna, cannot be answered. The commentary Ps II 369 explains that Nibbana has no counterpart.61 This much can be deduced from a statement made by the Buddha (M II 229-33) that with the direct experience of Nibbana all views and standpoints related to an experi­ence of unity are left behind and transcended. Cf. also S II 77, where the Buddha re­jected the view "all is one" as one of the extremes to be avoided. Furthermore, according to A IV 40 and A IV 401, in different celestial realms either unitary or diversi­fied experiences prevail, so that a categorical statement like "all is one" would not accord with the early Buddhist description of cosmic reality. Cf. also Lingi967: p.167
Experiences of oneness were actually not unknown to the early Buddhist community, but even their most refined forms, experi­enced with the immaterial attainments, were not considered to be the final goal. Just as the Buddha him self did not feel satisfied with what he had experienced based on the indications received from his first teachers so he admonished his disciples to go beyond and transcend such "transcendental" experiences. Some of his disciples had achieved various non-dual experiences, while others had real­ized full awakening without experiencing any of the immaterial attainments. The latter were the living proof that such attainments, far from being identifiable with Nibbana, are not even necessary for its realization.
In order properly to assess the early Buddhist concept of Nibbana, it needs not only to be distinguished from views based on experi­ences of unity, but also has to be differentiated from the theories of annihilation held among the deterministic and materialistic schools of ancient India. On several occasions the Buddha was in fact wrongly accused of being an annihilationist. His humorous reply to such allegations was that he could rightly be called so if this meant the annihilation of unwholesome states of mind....
....In fact, according to the Buddha's penetrating analysis the at­tempt to annihilate self still revolves around a sense of selfhood, though being motivated by disgust with this self. In this way annihilationism is still in bondage to a sense of self, comparable to a dog moving in circles around a post to which it is bound. Such crav­ing for non-existence (vibhavatanha) forms indeed an obstacle to the realization of Nibbana. As the Dhatuvibhanga Sutta explains, to think in terms of: "I shall not be" is a form of conceiving as much as the thought: "I shall be". Both are to be left behind in order to proceed to awakening.
To maintain that an arahant will be annihilated at death is a misun­derstanding, since such a proposition argues the annihilation of something that cannot be found in a substantial sense even while one is still alive. Therefore any statement concerning the existence or annihilation of an arahant after death turns out to be meaning­less. What Nibbana does imply is that the ignorant belief in a sub­stantial self is annihilated, an "annihilation" which has already taken place with stream-entry. With full awakening, then, even the subtlest traces of grasping at a sense of self are forever "annihilated", which is but a negative way of expressing the freedom gained through realization. Fully awakened to the reality of selflessness, the arahant is free indeed, like a bird in the sky, leaving no tracks.
Edited by Simple_Jack
  • Like 3

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this