This discourse delivered by us beginning on the New Moon of Tawthalin with the introduction, which had taken most of our time. We could deal only with the opening lines of the Sutta. Today, we will pick up the thread from there.
“Dve me Bhikkhave antă pabbajitena na sevitabbă.”
“Bhikkhus, one who has gone forth from the worldly life should not indulge in these two extreme parts (things, practices)” – which will be presently explained.
And why shouldn’t he indulge in these? Because the main purpose of one who has gone forth from the worldly life is to rid himself of such defilements as lust and anger. This objective could not be achieved by indulging in the two extreme things, for they will only tend to promote further accumulations of lust and anger.
What are the two extreme things (parts, practices)? Delighting in desirable sense-objects, pursuing and enjoying sensuous pleasures constitute one extreme practice. This practice is low, vulgar, being the habit of village and town folks, indulged in by ordinary common worldlings, not pursued by the Noble Ones, ignoble, unclean, not tending to the true interests one is seeking after. Such pursuit after sensuous pleasures is an extreme (part) practice which should be avoided.
There are five kinds of desirable sense-objects, namely: pleasurable sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. In brief, all the material objects, animate or inanimate, enjoyed by people in the world.
Delighting in a seemingly pleasurable sight and enjoying it constitute practice and pursuit of sensuality. Here the sense object of sight means not merely a source of light or colour that comes into contact with the seeing eye, but the man or woman or the whole of the object that forms the source or origin of that sight. Similarly, all sources of sound, smell, and touch-whether man, woman or instrumental objects-constitute sensuous objects. As regards taste, not only the various foods, fruits and delicacies, but also men, women and people who prepare and serve them are classified as objects of taste. Listening to a pleasant sound, smelling a sweet fragrant smell are as sensuous as enjoyment of good, delicious food, the luxury or a comfortable bed or physical contact with the opposite sex.
SENSUOUS GRATIFICATION IS BASE AND VULGAR
Delighting in sensuous pleasures and relishing them is to be regarded as a vulgar practice because such enjoyments lead to formation of base desires, which are clinging and lustful. It tends to promote self-conceit, with the thought that no one else is in a position to enjoy such pleasures. At the same time, one becomes oppressed with thoughts of avarice, not wishing to share the good fortune with others or overcome by thoughts of jealousy, envy, anxious to deny similar pleasures to others.
It arouses ill-will towards those who are thought to be opposed to onself. Flushed with success and affluence, one becomes shameless and unscrupulous, bold and reckless in one’s behaviour, no longer afraid to do evil. One begins to deceive oneself with false impression (moha) of well-being and prosperity. The new informed worldling (puthujana) may also come to hold the wrong view of living soul or atta to entertain disbelief in the resultant effects of one’s own actions, Kamma. Such being the outcome of delighting in and relishing of sensuous pleasures, they are to be regarded as low and base.
Furthermore, indulgence in sensual pleasures is the habitual practice of lower forms of creatures such as animals, petas, etc. The Bhikkhus and Samanas, belonging to the higher stages of existences should not stoop low to vie with the lower forms of life in the vulgar practice of base sensuality.
Pursuit after sensuous pleasures does not lie within the province of one who has gone forth from the worldly life. It is the concern of the town and village folks who regard sensual pleasures as the highest attributes of bliss; the greater the pleasures, the greater the happiness. In ancient times, rulers and rich people engaged themselves in the pursuit of sensual pleasurers. Wars were waged, and violent conquests made, all for the gratification of sense-desire.
In modern times too, similar conquests are still being made in some areas for the same objectives. But it is not only the rulers and the rich who seek sensual pleasures, the poor are also arduous in the pursuit of worldly goods and pleasures. As a matter of fact, as soon as adolescence is reached, the instinct for mating and sexual gratification makes itself felt. For the worldly householder veiled from the Buddha Dhamma, gratification of sense desires appears to be indeed the acme of happiness and bliss.
DITTHADHAMMA NIBBÂNA VÂDA
Even before the time of the Buddha, there were people who held the belief that heavenly bliss could be enjoyed in this very life (Ditthadhamma Nibbăna Văda). According to them, sensual pleasure was indeed blissful; there was nothing to surpass it. And that pleasure was to be enjoyed in this very life. It would be foolish to let precious moments for enjoyment pass, waiting for bliss in a future life, which does not exist. The time for full gratification of sensual pleasure is now, this very life. Such is the Ditthadhamma Nibbăna Vada – Heavenly bliss in this very life. This is one of the 62 wrong views (Micchăditthi) expounded by the Buddha in the Brahmajăla Sutta of Silakkhanda in the Digha Nikăya.
Thus, enjoyment of sensual pleasure is the preoccupation of town and village people, not the concern of the recluses and Bhikkhus. For them, to go after sense desires would mean reverting to the worldly life which they have denounced. People show great reverence to them, believing they are leading a holy life, undisturbed by worldly distractions or allurements of the opposite sex. People make the best offer of food and clothing to the recluses, denying these to themselves, often at the sacrifice of the needs of their dear ones and their family. While living on the charity of the people, it would be most improper for Bhikkhus to seek worldly pleasures just like the householders.
In addition, Bhikkhus renounce the world with a vow to work for release from the sufferings inherent in the rounds of rebirth and for the realization of Nibbăna. It is obvious that these noble ideals cannot be attained by the Bhikkhus if they go after sensual pleasures in the manner of householders. Thus, one who has gone forth from the worldly life should not indulge in delightful sensuous pleasures.
A LOW, COMMON PRACTICE
The majority of people in the world are ordinary common folks engaged only in seeking the means of living and enjoying sensuous pleasures. There are only a few, who can rise above the common crowd, who can see the Dhamma and live a holy life. It is not for them to indulge in coarse, worldly pleasures, which is the main concern of the lower class of beings.
NOT THE PRACTICE OF THE NOBLE ONES
Enjoyment of worldly pleasures is not the practice of the Noble Ones (Ariyas). One may ask here why the Ariyas like Visăkhă, Anăthapindika and Sakka, the king of celestial beings, who had already reached the first stage of the Noble Life (sotăpanna) engaged themselves in pursuit of sensuous pleasures. In Sotăpannas, lust and passions are not yet overcome; there still lingers in them the incipient perception of agreeableness of carnal pleasures (sukha sańńă). This point is illustrated in Aďguttara by the example of a person who is fastidious in the habits of cleanliness, seeking shelter in a filthy place filled with excrement to avoid attack by an elephant in must.
This defiling, coarse habit being ignoble and unclean should be avoided by recluses and Bhikkhus.
NOT TENDING TO ONE’S WELFARE (ANATTA SAMHITO)
This practice does not tend to one’s own welfare or well-being. In the common popular view, making money and accumulating wealth, establishing a family life with retinues and a circle of friends, in short, striving for success and prosperity in this world, appears indeed to be working for one’s own welfare.
Actually, however, such worldly success and prosperity do not amount to one’s own well-being. One’s true interest lies in seeking ways of overcoming old age, disease, and death and attaining release from all forms of suffering. The only way to escape from all forms of suffering is through development of morality (sila), mental concentration (samădhi) and Insight, wisdom (pańńă). Only these, namely, sila, samădhi, pańńă are to be sought in the true interest of oneself.
Pursuit of sensual pleasures cannot lead to the conquest of old age, disease, death or all forms of suffering. It only tends to breach morality codes, such as non-commitment of illegal sexual conduct. Seeking worldly amenities through killing, theft or deceit also amounts to violation of moral precepts. Not to speak of physical actions, the mere thought of enjoyment of sensual pleasures prohibits development of mental concentration and wisdom and thus forms a hindrance to the realization of Nibbăna, cessation of all sufferings.
Failure to observe moral precepts is a sure step to the four nether worlds of intense suffering. It is to be noted, however, that maintenance of moral character alone without simultaneous development of samădhi and pańńă will not lead to Nibbăna. It only encourages rebirth repeatedly in happier existences, where, however, manifold sufferings such as old age, disease and death are still encountered again and again.
Recluses and Bhikkhus, having renounced the world, with the avowed purpose of achieving Nibbăna, where all sufferings cease, should have nothing to do with pursuits of sensuous pleasures that only obstruct development of sila, samădhi and pańńă.
To recapitulate, enjoyment of sensuous pleasures is low and vulgar, being the pre-occupation of common people of low intelligence, unclean, ignoble; and is not practised by the Noble Ones. It is detrimental to progress in sila, samădhi and pańńă and thus works against the true interest of those intent on achievement of the unaged, undeceased, the deathless – Nibbăna.
CAN HOUSEHOLDERS INDULGE IN SENSUOUS PLEASURES?
The text only says that ‘one who has gone forth from the worldly life should not indulge in sensuous pleasures’. The question, therefore, arises whether ordinary householders who remain amidst the worldly surroundings could freely pursue sensuous pleasures without any restraint. Since the gratification of sense desires is the pre-occupation of common people, it would be pointless to enjoin than from doing so. But the householder intent on practising the Noble Dhamma, should advisedly avoid these pleasures to the extent necessary for the practice. Observance of the five precepts requires abstaining from commitment of sins of the flesh. Likewise, possession of worldly goods should not be sought through killing, theft or deceit.
FOUR KINDS OF INDULGENCE IN WORLDLY ENJOYMENTS
In Păsădika Sutta of Pathika Vagga, Digha Nikăya, the Buddha had stated four kinds of indulgence in worldly enjoyment.
“Sunda, in this world there are some foolish, ignorant people who promote their own enrichment by the slaughter of animals – cattle, pigs, chicken, fish. This practice constitutes the first form of indulgence in worldly enjoyment.
Theft, dacoity and robbery constitute the second form of indulgence in worldly enjoyment while deceitful means of earning one’s livelihood constitute the third. The fourth form of indulgence embraces other means besides these three, by which worldly wealth is gained.”
The Sutta stated that Buddha’s disciples, Bhikkhus, were free from these indulgences. Lay people, in observing the eight precepts and ten precepts have to maintain chastity and abstain from partaking of food after midday, dancing and singing, all these being forms of sensuous pleasure.
When one is engaged in meditation practices, one has to forego all kinds of sensuous enjoyment just like the Bhikkhus who have gone forth from the worldly life because they tend to hinder the development of sila, samădhi and pańńă. A meditator, even if he is a layman, must not, therefore, indulge in worldly enjoyment. This should suffice regarding one form of extreme practice, namely, indulgence in worldly enjoyment.
PRACTICE OF SELF-MORTIFICATION
The practice of self-mortification, which forms the other extreme practice results only in self-torture and suffering. It is not the practice of the Noble Ones, hence ignoble, unclean and does not tend to one’s own welfare and interest. This extreme practice should also be avoided.
Self-mortification which leads only to suffering was practised by those who held the belief that luxurious living would cause attachment to sensual pleasures, and that only austerity practices such as denying oneself sense-objects such as food and clothing would remove the sense desires. Then only the eternal peace, the state of the unaged, undiseased, the deathless could be achieved. Such was the belief of those who practicised self-mortification.
METHODS OF SELF-MORTIFICATION
Good Bhikkhus cover themselves with robes and clothings for decency and to shield themselves from heat and cold, from insects, flies and mosquitoes. But self-mortifiers go about without any clothing – when the weather is cold, they immerse themselves under water; when hot, they expose themselves to the sun, standing amidst four fire-places, thus subjecting themselves to heat from five directions. This is known as five-fold penances by heat.
They have no use for regular beds, lying on the naked ground for resting. Some of them resort to lying on prickly thorns covered only by a sheet of clothing. There are some who remain in a sitting posture for days while others keep standing only, neither lying nor sitting down. A form of self-infliction is to lie hanging down, suspended from a tree branch by two legs; to stand straight on one’s head in a topsy-turvy posture is yet another.
Whereas it is the normal habit of good Bhikkhus to assuage hunger by partaking of food, some self-tormentors completely cut off food and water. There are some who eat on alternate days only while others eat once in two days, three days, etc. Some practitioners abstain from food for 4 days, 5 days, 6 days, 7 days; some even for 15 days on end. Some reduce their meal to just one handful of food while others live on nothing but green vegetables and grass or on cow excrement.
(In Lomahaősa Sutta, Ekanipăta Commentary, it is stated that the Bodhisatta himself followed these practices in one of his existences, 91 world-cycles, ago. He realized his mistakes when he saw signs of future miserable life as death approached. By abandoning the wrong practices, he managed to attain the deva world.)
All such self-imposed penances constitute self-mortification (attakilamathănuyoga). These practices were followed by Niganda Nătaputta sects long before the time of the Buddha.
The present day Jains are the descendants of the Niganda Nătaputta. Their practice of self-mortification was commonly acclaimed and well-thought of by the multitude in those days. Hence, when the Bodhisatta gave up austerity practices and resumed partaking of normal meals, his intimate colleagues, the group of five Bhikkhus forsook him, misjudging that the Bodhisatta had given up the right practice, right exertion (padhănavibbhanta) and that he would not attain Enlightenment.
THE NIGANDA SCRIPTURE
According to the scriptures of the Niganda, emancipation from the sufferings of samsăra (rounds of rebirth) is achieved by two means:
1. Restraint (samvara) – This method consists restraining sense-objects such as sight, sound, smell, taste, touch from entering their body as it is their belief that they will conjoin with the atman (atta) to produce fresh kamma, which will in turn form new life (existence).
2. Annihilation of results of past kamma through torturous penance (nijjara) – Their belief is that results of past misdeeds (akusala kamma) are expiated and redemption obtained by submitting oneself to self-mortification.
The Buddha asked of the naked ascetics who were practising self-mortification, “You state that you go through physical sufferings to exhaust the results of akusala kamma of past existences, but do you know for certain that you had indeed committed unvirtuous acts in previous existences?” Their reply was in the negative. The Buddha further questioned them whether they knew how much akusala kamma they had done previously; how much of it they had expiated through self-mortification, and how much of it remained. The replies were all in the negative – they did not know.
Then the Buddha explained to them that in order to give them the seed of intellectual advancement, it was fruitless to practise torturous penance, not knowing if there were any past misdeeds orknow how much they had expiated.
The Buddha stated further that those who were trying to absolve themselves from their past misdeeds through self-torture may truly have committed large amounts of akusala deeds.
The Bodhisatta previously adopted extreme measures of practice not with a view to expiate his past misdeeds, if any, but thinking that they would lead to higher knowledge. However, after five years of strenuous efforts, as stated above, and realizing that extreme practice would not lead to knowledge or insight and wondering whether there was another way that would lead to his cherished goal, he abandoned the practice of self-mortification.
Practice of self-torture results only in physical suffering, but it was regarded by naked ascetics as being holy. In order to spare their sensibilities, as explained in the Commentary to the Patisambhidă (2nd vol., p.215), the Buddha did not denounce the practice as being low or base, nor was it described as vulgar, not being practised by ordinary village folk, nor as common because ordinary common people did not indulge in them.
The Buddha described the method simply as painful, unclean and ignoble, not being followed by the Noble Persons.
Practice of extreme torture also does not pertain to the true interests one is seeking. Not only that, it is not concerned with higher ideals of sila, samădhi and pańńă. It does not contribute anything to mundane advancements. Being a profitless effort, resulting only in physical suffering, the austerity practices may even prove fatal to the over-zealous practitioner. It is utterly profitless.
Before the appearance of the supremely Enlightened Buddha, it was widely held throughout India, the Middle Country, that self-mortification was a noble, holy practice (training) which truly led to liberation (from evil effects of bad kamma). The group of five Bhikkhus also held that view.
However, the Buddha said that the extreme practice, being unclean and ignoble, produced only suffering and was not indulged in by Noble Persons. It did not pertain to the interests one was seeking. The Buddha, therefore, clearly advised those who had gone forth from the worldly life to avoid them (not to indulge in them).
A definite pronouncement regarding unworthiness of extreme practice was necessary at that stage because not only was it universally held that ‘only self-mortification would lead to higher knowledge’, the group of five Bhikkhus also accepted this belief. As long as they held fast to this view, they would not be receptive to the doctrine of the Noble Eightfold Path. Hence, the open denunciation by the Buddha that self-mortification was profitless leading only to physical suffering.
The first extreme portion (practice) gives free rein to mind and body and is, therefore, to be regarded as too lax or yielding. A (free) mind not controlled by meditation (concentration or insight) is liable to sink low into pursuits of sensuous pleasures. It is learnt that some teachers are teaching the practice of relaxing the mind, giving it a free rein, but the mind is such that it requires constant guard over it. Even when constantly controlled by meditations, the mind wanders forth to objects of sensual pleasures. It is, therefore, obvious that left by itself, unguarded by meditation, the mind will surely engage itself in thoughts of sensual pleasures.
The second extreme portion or practice inflicts suffering on oneself through denial of normal requirements of food and clothing. It is too rigid, unbending, depriving oneself of ordinary comfort and is thus to be avoided too.
WRONG INTERPRETATION OF SELF-MORTIFICATION
A wrong interpretation as to what constitutes self-mortification is being made by some teachers in contradiction to the teaching of the Buddha. According to them, earnest, tireless effort required for meditation amounts to self-mortification. This view is diametrically opposed to the exhortation of the Buddha who advised strenuous, unrelenting exertion (labour) even at the sacrifice of life and limb to attain concentration and insight.
‘Let only skin, sinew and bone remain. Let the flesh and blood dry up. I will exert incessantly until I achieve the Path and Fruition I work for.’ “Such must be the resolute firmness of determination with which the goal is to be pursued”, the Buddha counselled.
Thus, strenuous, relentless efforts in meditation practices for achievement of concentration and Insight should not be misconstrued as a form of self-torture. Leaving aside meditation practices, even keeping of precepts which entails some physical discomfort is not to be regarded as a practice of self-mortification. Young people and young novices suffer from pangs of hunger in the evenings while keeping the eight precepts, but as fasting is done in fulfilment of the precepts, it does not amount to self-mortification.
For some people, the precept of abstaining from taking life is a sacrifice on their part; they suffer certain disadvantages as a consequence. But as it constitutes the good deed of keeping the precept, it is not to be viewed as a form of self-mortification. In the Mahădhamma Samădăna Sutta of Mula Pannăsă, the Buddha explained that such acts of sacrifice at the present time is bound to produce beneficial results in the future. The Buddha said: “In this world, some people abstain from taking life, causing some physical and mental sufferings to themselves. They take up the right view (of not killing) for which they have to suffer physically and mentally. These people thus voluntarily go through suffering to keep the precepts at the present time. After passing away, they will attain the higher abodes of the devas. These ten meritorious deeds are known as good practices which produce beneficial results in after life through suffering in the present.
Thus, any practice which promotes sila, samădhi and pańńă is not profitless, not self-mortification which is to be indulged in, but beneficial and is in line with the Middle Path which should certainly be followed. It should be definitely noted that a practice which does not develop sila, samădhi and pańńă but results merely in physical suffering constitutes self-mortification.
MISCONCEPTION REGARDING CONTEMPLATION ON FEELING
There are some who hold the view that contemplation on pleasant feeling constitutes indulgence in sensuous pleasure (first extreme) while contemplation on painful feeling (suffering) constitutes self-mortification (second extreme). Thus, they believe that one should avoid both of them and engage only in contemplating equanimity. This is certainly an irrational misconception, not supported by any textual authority.
The Buddha had definitely stated in the Mahă Satiptthăna Sutta that pleasant feeling, painful feeling as well as equanimity are all objects for contemplation. The same statement was repeated in many other Suttas. Thus, it should be definitely noted that any object which falls under the category of Five Groups of Grasping is a legitimate object for meditational contemplation.
THE VIEW OF A TEACHER
A lay meditation teacher is reported to have stated , “While engaged in the practice of meditation, if after taking up any posture, one begins to feel tired, painful or benumbed, hot or unpleasant in the limbs, one should at once change the posture. If one persists in practice of mindfulness in spite of the unpleasant sensations or tiredness, one is actually engaged in self-torture.”
This statement is made apparently taking into consideration the welfare of the meditator. Nevertheless, it must be said that it is unsound and ill-advised. In the practice of concentration or Insight Meditation, patience or self-control (khanti samvara) plays an important role – it is an important factor for the successful practice of concentration or Insight Meditation. One-pointedness of mind can be achieved only through patiently bearing some bodily discomforts. It is within the experience of anyone who has practised meditation in earnest that continual changing of posture is not conducive to development of concentration. Therefore, unpleasant physical discomfort has to be borne with patience. The self-control practised thus is not self-mortification inasmuch as the goal being not mere suffering, but for promotion of sila, samădhi and pańńă in accordance with the wishes of the Buddha.
The Blessed One desired, if possible, an even more relentless effort to achieve the Noblest Fruit of Arahatship by one continuous sitting, uninterrupted by change of posture. In the Mahă Gosinga Sutta of Mula Pannăsa, the Blessed One stated: “A Bhikkhu meditates after making a firm resolution ‘Unclinging, I will remain seated, without changing the crossed-legged position until the ăsavas (taints) have been removed’. Such a Bhikkhu is an adornment to the Gosinga monastery in the forest of Ingyin trees, a valuable asset to the forest abode.”
Thus, to state that patient contemplation of painful feelings is a form of self-torture is to denounce those yogis who are following the instruction of the Buddha. It also amounts to rejection of the Buddha’s words and discourages the effort of yogis who could achieve concentration and insight only through patient bearing of pain brought about by shiftless posture.
Note: Bhikkhus, in this teaching, a Bhikkhu after well consideration, patiently puts up with cold, heat, hunger, thirst, attack by insects and reptiles, effects of wind and sun, accusation and abuses, painful discomfort which arises, painful suffering which is violent, sharp, unbearable, unpleasant, hateful, fearful, (which may endanger his life even). Beneficial result of such patient toleration of heat, cold, hunger, thirst, attacks of insects, insults, physical discomfort, is non-appearance of taints, impurities, suffering and burning which would surely make their appearance if not borne with patience.
It should be noted seriously that the Blessed One advised in this Sabbhasava Sutta to bear with pain or suffering which is severe enough to cost even one’s life. In the Commentary to the Sutta, it is mentioned that the Elder Lomasa Naga persisted in his meditation practice even when enveloped by snowflakes while sitting in the open, round about the full moon of January/February. He overcame the cold surrounding him, without giving up his meditation posture simply by contemplation of the intense cold of the Lokantarika region of the Purgatories. Such example of forbearance while engaged in meditation are abound in numerous stories mentioned in the Suttas.
Thus, comparatively mild forms of pain such as stiffness of limbs, heat sensation, etc. should be borne with patience, without changing the original meditation posture. If possible, persistence should be maintained even at the risk of one’s life as it will promote self-control (khanti samvara), concentration and insight.
If, however, discomforting pains and sensations reach unbearable magnitude, the body position may be changed, but very slowly and gently so as not to disturb mindfulness, concentration and insight.
Thus, practices which are not concerned with promotion of sila, samădhi and pańńă, but are taken only for mere suffering are definite forms of self-torture. On the other hand, arduous efforts, however painful and distressing, if made for the development of sila, samădhi and pańńă, do not constitute self-mortification. It must be definitely taken as the Middle Path or the Noble Eightfold Path put forward by the Blessed One.
The Blessed One himself, after avoiding the two extreme practices, namely, the indulgence in sensual pleasures, which is too lax and self-mortification, which is too rigid, had by following the Middle Path reached Buddhahood and gained Enlightenment.
The Middle Path – the practice and the benefit:
Ete Kho, Bhikkhave, ubho ante anupagamma majjhimă patipadă. Tathăgatena abhisambuddhă – Cakkhukarani, Nănakarani, upasamăya, abhińńăya, Sambodhăya, Nibbănăya Samvattati.
The Blessed One continued: “Bhikkhus, avoiding these two extreme practices, the Tathăgata (the Master) has gained the penetrative knowledge of the Middle Path which produces vision and foremost knowledge and tends to calm, to higher knowledge, penetrative insight and realization of Nibbăna.”
With these words, the Blessed One let the group of Five Bhikkhus know that after giving up the two extreme practices, he had found the Middle Path by means of which he had personally gained vision, knowledge, tranquillity, etc.
For a full thirteen years from the age of sixteen to the age of twenty-nine, he had indulged in sensuous pleasures, the path of extreme laxity. At the age of twenty-nine, he had given up the lax way of living by going forth from the worldly life. Then for six years he had practised extreme austerity through self-mortification. After six years of rigorous training, he had not gained any higher knowledge; he had not benefited in any way from the training and he realized that he had pursued the wrong path.
Accordingly, he gave up the austerity practices and resumed partaking of normal meals in order to fortify his physical strength to work for jhănic attainments through breathing exercises. The resumption of meals was a well-considered action taken purposely to enable him to engage in meditation exercise on breathing, which is part of the Middle Path. As the food was taken in moderation in a mindful manner, it should not be regarded as enjoyment of sensory pleasure. Nor was it self-mortification, there being no suffering through denial of food. Thus, it was definitely the Middle Way, unrelated to the two extreme practices.
On regaining physical strength through partaking of normal meals, the Blessed One worked for and won the four jhănic attainments. These jhănic concentrations are precursories to the Path of the Ariyas (pubba bhăga magga), or foundation for Insight Meditation and thus constitute Right Concentration, one of the steps of the Middle Path or the Noble Eightfold Path. Based on this foundation of Right Concentration, the Blessed One, with his fully concentrated mind, developed Insight and Right Understanding. In this way, he found out personally the four Noble Magga or the Noble Eightfold Path – not through rigorous abstention from material food not through enjoyment of sensual pleasures (kămasukhallika), but by following the Middle Course. Therefore, he stated: “Bhikkhus, avoiding these two extreme practices (portions), the Tathăgata had gained the penetrating knowledge of the Middle Path.” By this he meant that he had gained the knowledge of the Middle Path, which is neither too lax nor too rigorous, by abandoning the two wrong practices, namely, kămasukhallika, which is too lax and attakilamatha, which is too austere.
To extreme paths are wrong,
They are to be avoided.
The Middle is the Right Path.
HOW TO AVOID THE TWO EXTREMES
Of the five sense objects, namely, sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, those objects which would not violate observance of Precepts or which would be helpful to the practice of Dhamma may be enjoyed. Eating food which should be normally eaten, wearing clothes which should be normally worn, contribute to easeful practice of Dhamma, thus avoiding the extreme austerity of self-mortification.
Necessary material goods such as food, clothing, medicine and shelter (dwelling place) should be used, accompanied either by reflective contemplation or practice of concentration or insight meditation. Everytime contact is made with five sense objects, they should be noted as objects of insight meditation. By adopting a reflective mood or noting these sense objects as objects of insight meditation, partaking of necessary food, clothes, etc. does not develop into enjoying them with delight or pleasure, thereby avoiding the other extreme of indulgence in sensuous pleasures. Therefore, the Blessed One declared: “Having avoided these two extreme practices (parts), I have come to understand the Middle Path.”
ANTIDOTE FOR THE INDIGESTIBLE FOOD
Adopting reflective contemplation or practising Insight Meditation amounts to development of mindfulness, concentration, Insight, which are steps in the Noble Eightfold Path. It is like taking antidotes after taking unsuitable, indigestible food. A convalescent, after a serious illness, has to be careful with his diet. He has to avoid the wrong kind of food which might be harmful. If he could not resist the temptation to take unsuitable, indigestible food, he has to take digestive medicine to counteract the harmful effects of the food he has taken. In this way, he could satisfy his desire to eat what he wants and, at the same time, avoid getting the bad effects of it.
Similarly, by contemplating on the material goods we have utilized or noting them as objects of meditation, we have prevented the partaking of them from developing into sensuous enjoyment of them.
For the yogi who notes everything he sees, hears, contacts, cognizes, and understands the nature of impermanence, suffering and insubstantiality in every phenomenon that arises and vanishes, greed (lobha) and hatred (dosa) concerning objects he sees, hears, etc. cannot develop in him. Every time he partakes of the four essential material goods, namely, food, clothing, medicines and shelter, and if he keeps on noting his feelings, no defilements can develop in connection with these material objects.
Thus, he can make use of essential material goods for comfortable living, and at the same time avoid the development of delight and pleasure in them through the practice of reflective contemplation and Insight Meditation. In this manner, the two extremes are avoided. Practising reflective contemplation and insight meditation at the time of partaking of food, etc., amounts to the practice of the Middle Path.
With this practice of the Middle Path, which keeps noting every object that appears at the six sense doors, thereby knowing their true nature, vision will arise, the eye of wisdom will open up, leading to the realization of Nibbăna. Such are the benefits that accrue from following the Middle Path. The Buddha continued to explain: “The Middle Path, understood penetratingly by the Tathăgata, produces vision, produces knowledge.”
HOW VISION AND KNOWLEDGE ARE DEVELOPED
Whoever practises the Middle Path, the Noble Eightfold Path, in him vision is produced, knowledge is produced. Here, vision and knowledge connote the same meaning. Dhamma is seen so clearly as if by eyesight, hence vision.
Vision and knowledge cannot arise through indulgence in sensuous pleasure nor through self-torture. They appear only by following the Eightfold Path. Development of vision and knowledge is very important. In the teaching of the Buddha, meditation is practised for the purpose of developing the Eightfold Path.
When the Eightfold Path is developed, the true nature of matter and mind is clearly discerned as if seen by the eyes. The arising and vanishing of matter and mind is also discerned truly as they occur. The impermanent, suffering and insubstantial nature of all material and mental phenomena also becomes very clear, not through reading nor listening to the teacher, but intuitively by self-experiencing it. Finally, the nature of Nibbăna, namely, quiescence of all physical and mental formations, cessation of suffering in the rounds of existence will be clearly seen and fully realized as one’s own experience. It is important to scrutinize whether such personal realization has been attained.
HOW VISION AND KNOWLEDGE APPEAR STEP BY STEP
To the yogis engaged in Vipassană Meditation, which takes note of rupa and năma at the time of each arising and vanishing, appearance of vision and knowledge is very clear and vivid. At the beginning of meditation, although the yogi takes note of the rising and falling of the abdomen, sitting, touching, seeing, hearing, every time each phenomenon occurs, no extraordinary knowledge is gained as his power of concentration is not established yet.
After the lapse of a few days, the mind becomes tranquilized and his power of concentration grows. The mind practically stops wandering forth to other sensual objects. It remains rivetted on the chosen object of meditation, namely rupa and năma, as they arise. At that time, the distinction between rupa (the object of awareness) and năma (the mental quality that takes note of it) becomes very pronounced.
At the start of the meditation exercise, the yogi can hardly distinguish between the physical phenomenon of rising and falling of abdomen and the mental act of noting the phenomenon. He remains under the impression that these separate phenomena are one and the same. As the power of concentration increases, rupa (the object of awareness) becomes automatically differentiated with every note-taking from năma that takes note of it. They appear separately, unmixed.
The knowledge arises then that this body is made up of only the rupa and năma. There is no live entity in it, only the two elements of material object and the knowing mind existing together. This knowledge appears not through imagination, but as if it is presented on the palm of the hand; hence, it is described also as vision, i.e. as if seen by the eyes.
As samădhi (the power of concentration) increases, understanding arises – there is seeing because there is eye and sight (object) to be seen; there is hearing because there is ear and sound; bending because of the desire to bend; stretching because of the desire to stretch; movement because of the desire to move; there is liking because of ignorance about the reality (not knowing what reality is); there is craving, attachment because of liking; and craving motivates action which in turn gives rise to beneficial or baneful results.
Then, as samădhi continues to grow, it is vividly seen that the object of awareness and the act of noting it arise and vanish, arise and vanish as if under one’s own eyes. Thus, the yogi will come to know very clearly himself that nothing is permanent, everything is unsatisfactory, suffering, and that there is only ungovernable, uncontrollable phenomena without any individual or ego entity.
When he has fully developed this anicca, dukkha, anatta năma, knowledge about impermanent, suffering, insubstantial nature of things, he will realize Nibbăna, the cessation of all sankhăras of rupa and năma, all suffering, through the knowledge of the Ariyăpatha – the ariya magga ńăna, which constitutes the higher vision, higher knowledge.
Thus, the yogi who keeps note constantly of the rupa and năma as they arise in accordance with the Satipatthăna Sutta, becomes personally convinced that the Eightfold Path produces vision and knowledge as stated in the discourse.
It is clear that such direct personal experience of truth (about anicca, dukkha, anatta) which constitutes higher knowledge, cannot be gained just by learning the Abhidhamma texts and pondering over its contents. No higher knowledge will arise by mere reflection on the text. In time, when reflective contemplation is neglected, even the texts will go out of memory because it is only superficial knowledge gained through exercise of intellect, not through personal realization.
KNOWLEDGE DEEPENS THROUGH PRACTICE
If the Path is practised to gain direct personal experience, it is usual that knowledge deepens as time goes on. Once Venerable Ŕnandă paid a visit to the monastery of the Bhikkhunis, who recounted to him that the Bhikkhunis of the monastery dwelt practising the four Satipatthănas and that their knowledge of Dhamma deepened with the passing of time. Ŕnandă agreed and said, “It is usually so.”
When later Ŕnandă reported this account to the Blessed One, the Blessed One said, “Truly so, Ŕnandă, if any Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni dwelt in the practice of the four Satipatthăna, it could be definitely believed that they would come to know more deeply and more of the Noble Truths than they had before.
THE COMMENTARY EXPLANATION
The Commentary explained that the knowledge gained at first was concerned with the discernment of the four Great ‘Elements of Matter, whereas the later enchanced knowledge arose out of discernment of the derived elements (upăda rupa).
Similarly, knowledge about all the material elements (rupa) is followed by the contemplation and discernment of Mental Elements (năma). Likewise, knowledge about rupa and năma is followed by discernment about their cause.
Knowledge about the cause, which gives rise to rupa and năma is followed by discernment of the three characteristics of their impermanence, suffering and insubstantiality.
Thus, the knowledge which arises first leads on to the Noble super-knowledge later on. In the practice of kăyănupassană, according to the Sotăpanna Sutta, one begins with noting material forms while in the process of going, standing, sitting, lying, bending, stretching, moving, etc. This amounts to taking note of the characteristics of the wind element (văyo) – namely, its quality of pushing, stretching and moving, etc.
Only after thoroughly understanding the nature of the great elements, can one discern the workings of the derived elements such as eyes, sight, ear, sound, by noting seeing, hearing, etc. Having mastered the nature of all the material forms, attention is next given to the arising of mind and mental formations. In this way, superior knowledge appears step by step in consequential order.
STARTING FROM ANY STEP ACCORDING
TO THE DEFINITIONS OF THE TEXTS
Having learnt the definition and description of rupa, năma, etc., from the Abhidhamma texts, one can start from the derived elements (upăda) instead of from the great fundamental elements. It is possible too to begin with năma before investigating rupa. Putting aside rupa and năma, one can start considering Causes and Effects according to the Law of Dependent Origination or Contemplating the phenomena of arising and vanishing; or the three characteristics of impermanence, suffering and insubstantiality.
Some say that it is a slow process to begin with the knowledge of differentiation between năma and rupa (năma-rupa pariccheda ńăna). It would be much quicker to begin with the awareness of constant arising and vanishing of năma and rupa (udayabbhaya ńăna) and bhanga năna. They even say they prefer the quicker method.
But studying năma and rupa and their definitions and descriptions from the texts and beginning to contemplate on them, starting from wherever one desires, will not give rise to true vipassană Insight. Consequently, the arising of a later knowledge superior to the precedent one in accordance with the Teaching cannot be experienced this way. Just as a student increases the retentive power of the text he has learnt by rote by repetitive recitation, so also such practice will help only to remember the definitions and descriptions of năma and rupa. No extraordinary insight will result from such practice.
It has come to our knowledge that at a well-known meditation centre, attempts were made to go through the whole series of various stages of knowledge development just by following the stages step by step as they have learnt from the texts. After reaching the stage of sankharupekkha-ńăna (knowledge acquired by reflecting upon the formations of existence) difficulty was encountered when they come to anuloma and gotrabhu magga phăla-ńăna stages. So they had to go back right to the beginning. This is an instance to show that vipassană Insight cannot be realized through short cuts.
By practising meditation in accordance with the Satipatthăna Sutta and developing the Middle Path or Eightfold Path, one is bound to experience deeper superior knowledge after each precedent knowledge as stated in the Dhammacakka sutta: Vision arose, knowledge arose.
THE KILESÂS ARE CALMED
The Middle Path also leads to calm, the tranquilization of kilesăs. In a person who develops the Eightfold Path, the kilesăs remain tranquilized. Vipassană magga produces momentary calmness while the ariya magga brings about a complete annihilation of kilesăs.
Indulgence in sensuous pleasures does not at all lead to the cessation of kilesăs. Rather, it helps to develop more and more of them. Once it is given in to the temptation for enjoyment of sensuous pleasures, craving for repeated gratification results. Coming into possession of one sense-object leads to desire to possess more and more. One craving develops more and more craving. There is no end to it.
You have only to take the example of the rich people of the developed countries. They have everything they need. Yet they are never satisfied. There is no end to their desires. It is quite obvious, therefore, that practice of sensuous indulgence does not promote cessation of kilesăs. It only causes their multiplication.
Self-mortification practices also do not tend to terminate kilesăs. The practitioners of this method may hold the belief that exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat and strict fasting tend to remove the kilesăs. In fact, it is one’s lowered vitality, as a result of extreme practices, that keeps the kilesăs in check temporarily. During serious illness or suffering from painful diseases, when the physical strength is at a low ebb, kilesăs remain dormant. But after the illness, once normal health and strength is regained, desires for sensual gratification make their appearance as usual.
Thus, after coming out of the practice of self-mortification, or stopping the practice for some time, when vitality returns, kilesăs also return as before. Even while self-mortification is being practised, although gross kilesăs remain suppressed, fine, subtle kilesăs continue to arise. There will arise desires for comfortable living, free from discomfort and pain of the practice. There is bound to arise too kilesăs of the wrong view of self – ‘I am doing the practice’, the wrong view of conceit – ‘No one can do such practice’ and the wrong belief in practice – ‘that it will lead to liberation’.
WRONG BELIEF IN THE PRACTICE – SILABBATAPARÂMASA DITTHI
Holding a wrong practice as a right practice is called Silabbataparămăsa, wrong belief in the practice. According to the teaching of the Buddha, apart from the Noble Eightfold Path, which leads to the development of sila, samădhi and pańńă, all other practices are wrong practices and taking them as right practices amount to wrong belief in the practice.
Not seeing the Truth,
Keeping aside the Path,
Hoping for lasting happiness,
T’is wrong belief in practice.
Everything that appears at the six doors of senses constitute the five Group of Grasping, namely, rupa and năma, the Truth of Suffering. Meditating on rupa and năma is practising the Path by which the Four Noble Truths will be understood. Believing in and practising any other method which keeps aside the magga Path and which does not lead to understanding the Four Noble Truths, is wrong belief in the practice (silabbata parămăsa ditthi).
There are people who are preaching that “It is not necessary to practise meditation nor to observe the precepts (sila). It is sufficient to listen to sermons and learn by heart the nature of rupa and năma.” It will be necessary to consider whether such views amount to silabbata parămăsa. In our opinion, such preachments amount to teaching wrong view in practice as this method excludes the three disciplines of sila, samădhi and vipassană insight.
A sotăpanna, being well-established in the knowledge of the right vipassană practice, is not liable to hold the wrong view of silabbata parămăsas. In future existences, there is no danger for him to fall into this wrong belief. This is calming the kilesă by virtue of the Noble Path.
TEMPORARY PUTTING AWAY
When a sense object under contemplation is noted as impermanent, suffering, insubstantial, the defilements of mind (kilesăs) which would accrue by wrongly holding them as permanent, pleasant, and substantial, would have no chance to arise. This amounts to temporary putting away of kilesă, just as light dispels darkness by virtue of mutually opposing nature, as explained in Visuddhi Magga.
This is how kilesă, lying dormant in the sense object (ărammanănusaya) which would have risen if not noted, is removed by means of a fraction of vipassană insight. Wise people should ponder well over this illustration given in the Visuddhi Magga.
If, as some people hold, contemplating the knowledge acquired by mere learning (suta-maya-ńăna) leads to vipassană, the question arises which kilesă lying dormant in which sense objects is eradicated by that vipassană insight. It would be difficult to answer that question in the absence of a definite object of awareness.
For the yogi who, following the Satipatthăna method, observes the rupa and năma in the process of their formation, there are definite objects of awareness to take note of. At the same time, there are also objects of awareness that escape his notice. Thus, he can eradicate the kilesăs lying dormant in the objects he has noted, while those lying dormant in the objects he has failed to note remains uneradicated. The answer is very simple for him.
After eradicating temporarily the kilesăs lying dormant in the objects noted by him, there remain in the yogi latent kilesăs which are removed only by the ariyă magga. Thus the first stream-winner (sotăpanna) has reached the stage where he has eradicated personality-belief (sakkăya ditthi), perplexity (vicikicchă) and wrong view in practice (silabbata) and all defilements which are liable to cause rebirth in regions of purgatory. In the sagadagămi, all the coarse forms of lust and ill-will are eradicated. The anagami becomes free from finer forms of lust and ill-will while the arahat is fully liberated from all forms of defilements.
In this way, vipassană magga and ariya magga are capable of either putting away kilesăs temporarily or uprooting them out permanently. The Blessed One was having this fact in mind when he said that the Middle Path leads to calm, tranquillity (upasamăya samvattati).
ARISING OF SUPER-KNOWLEDGE
The Middle Path also leads to super-knowledge (abhińńăna samvattati). Abhińńăna is akin to vision or knowledge but its effect is more pronounced; hence its mention separately. The Four Noble Truths become known by virtue of this super-knowledge in consequence of vipassană magga and ariyă magga. The vipassană magga developed beforehand enabled the vipassană ńăna, which is developed later, to know the Four Noble Truths. Actually, only the Truth of Suffering or the Group of Grasping (upădănakkhandă) which happens to be noted in the course of meditation is concerned here.
Năma and rupa or the truth of suffering is seen as impermanent, as suffering or non-self. Every time they are seen thus, there is no chance for craving and clinging to make their appearance. Thus, there is liberation from craving and clinging. It is called pahănabhisamăya, knowing samudăya by abandonment though not by realization.
Every time rupa and năma become subjected to his awareness, the meditator is free from ignorance, avijjă, that could lead him to the wrong path. Being thus free from avijjă, he is free from ills of sankhăra and vińńăna. This is temporary cessation of ills, tadanga nirodha saccă. This temporary cessation of ills is realized by vipassană at every instance of noting, but not as its object of contemplation.
Every act of awareness develops vipassană magga, headed by sammăditthi. This is called bhăvanabhisamaya, knowing vipassană magga sacca by developing it in oneself. This knowledge is achieved, though not by contemplating at the moment of noting, but having it developed in oneself, it could be clearly perceived through reflection. Knowing the Truth of Suffering through noting the phenomenon of năma and rupa leads simultaneously to the knowledge of the three remaining truths, also. This is knowing the four truths by means of special vipassană năma. Hence, the Middle Path is said to produce super knowledge of the truths, abhińńă.
Further more, it also causes arising of special ariya magga ńăna. As vipassană ńăna attains full maturity, Nibbăna is realized and ariya maggas developed. Then the four truths become known as they should be known by means of ariya magga ńăna. For this reason too, the Middle Path is said to give rise to abhińńă.
The Middle Path also leads to penetrative Insight (sambodhăya samvattati). Abhińńă means super-knowledge about Vipassană Insight and ariya magga ńăna, which was not previously developed. Sambodha refers to penetrative Insight. Things hidden behind big curtains or thick walls become visible when these barriers are shattered asunder or windows are opened out. Likewise the Four Noble Truths are kept hidden behind avijjă, which takes note of that which is wrong but covers up that which takes note of that which is wrong but covers up that which is right. By developing the Eightfold Path through meditation exercises, Truths which were not known before become apparent through Vipassana ńăna and ariya magga ńăna. Thus avijjă has been penetrated and Noble Truths become known by means of penetrative insight.
It is quite obvious that kămasukhallika and attakilamatha practices can never give rise to super-knowledge nor penetrative insight (abhińńă nor sambodha).
REALIZATION OF NIBBANA
Finally, the Middle Path, the Eightfold Noble Path, leads to the realization of Nibbăna (nibbăna samvattati). Penetrating to the Four Noble Truths by means of the arahatta magga ńăma amounts to realization of Nibbăna. But as Nibbăna is the final and the noblest goal of those who work for liberation from the rounds of suffering it was mentioned again as a separate attainment by the Blessed One.
By developing the Eightfold Noble Path, penetration of the Four Noble Truths will be attained by means of ariya magga; finally Nibbăna will be realized through the Arahattaphala. Having thus realized Nibbăna, the last conscious moment of Parinibbăna will not lead to new existence for new forms of mind and matter. It is the cessation of all suffering. In this way, the Eightfold Path leads to realization of Nibbăna, cessation of all sufferings.
To summarise the benefits that will be derived from practising the Middle Path:
1 Avoid sensual pleasures.
2 Avoid self-mortification.
3 Avoid both extremes being wrong paths.
4 The Middle Path is the right one.
5 Following the right path, Insight will be developed and Nibbăna realized.
Benefits that will accrue from following the Middle Path has been exhaustively expounded. They represent the highest goal aimed at by persons working for liberation from the sufferings of the rounds of existence. There is nothing more that they should need.
It now remains only to know what constitutes the Middle Path. In order to explain the Path, the Blessed One started with a question in accordance with the traditional usages of those times.
Katamă ca să, bhikkhavă, majjhima patipadă
Nănakarani, upasamăya, abhińńăya, Sambodhăya,
Nibbănă ya Samvattati?
What Middle way, Bhikkhus, understood by the Tathăgata, produces vision, produces knowledge and leads to calm, super-knowledge, penetrative insight, Nibbăna?
The answer was supplied by the Blessed One Himself:
Ayameva ariyo atthan.giko maggo – Seyya thidam;
Sammăditthi, Samôăsan.kappo, Sammăvăcă, Sammăkammanto,
Summăjivo, Sammăvăyama, Sammăsati, Sammăsamădhi.
Only this, the Noble Eightfold Path (the Blessed One pointed out the Path, as if by pointing a finger at visible objects or holding them in the palm of his hands) namely:
Sammă Ditthi – Right View
Sammă Sankappa – Right Thought
Sammă Văcă – Right Speech
Sammă Sammanta – Right Action
Sammă Ajiva – Right Livelihood
Sammă Văyama – Right Effort
Sammă Sati – Right Mindfulness
Sammă Samădhi – Right Concentration
These constitute the Eightfold Path, the Middle Path, which when fully understood by the Tathăgata produces visions, produces knowledge and leads to calm; super-knowledge, penetrative insight, Nibbăna.
The definition of the Middle Path has now been given. Elaborate exposition of this Eightfold Path will have to wait till next week.
By virtue of having given respectful attention to this great Discourse on the Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma, may you all good people present in this audience be able to avoid the wrong path, namely, the two extremes and follow the Noble Eightfold Middle Path, thereby gaining vision and higher knowledge which will lead to the realization of Nibbăna, the end of all suffering.