A Survey of Paramattha Dhammas

by Sujin Boriharnwanaket | 129,875 words

A Survey of Paramattha Dhammas is a guide to the development of the Buddha's path of wisdom, covering all aspects of human life and human behaviour, good and bad. This study explains that right understanding is indispensable for mental development, the development of calm as well as the development of insight The author describes in detail all ment...

Chapter 4 - The Three Kinds Of Full Understanding

The development of satipaṭṭhāna is the development of paññā leading to the realization of the noble Truths. In the course of the development of insight three degrees of full understanding, pariññā, can be discerned: full understanding of the known, ñāta pariññā [1], full understanding as investigation, tīraṇa pariññā [2], and full understanding as abandoning, pahāna pariññā [3].

Full understanding of the known, ñāta pariññā, is paññā realizing the characteristics of nāma and rūpa that appear as non-self. Insight of the first stage, which clearly discerns the difference between the characteristics of nāma and of rūpa, nāma-rūpa-pariccheda-ñāṇa, is a basis for the further development of paññā. Full understanding of the known is paññā that applies the knowledge gained at the moment of this stage of insight and it begins at this stage. Paññā should continue to investigate over and over again the characteristics of other kinds of nāma and rūpa, in addition to those realized at the moment the first stage of insight knowledge arose. Only thus nāma and rūpa can be clearly understood as they are. Full understanding as investigation, tīraṇa pariññā, is paññā that thoroughly investigates nāma and rūpa, without preference for any particular nāma or rūpa, without selection of them. Paññā realizes the characteristics of realities as they appear through all six doors and thus it can see them as only dhammas. When paññā clearly realizes that all nāma and rūpa are equal, in this respect that they are only dhammas, it becomes more accomplished. Thus it can realize the fourth stage of insight, knowledge of the arising and falling away of nāma and rūpa. [4] Full understanding of investigation begins at this stage.

The third kind of full understanding is full understanding of abandoning, pahāna pariññā. When paññā investigates the dissolution of nāma and rūpa and it can clearly realize this, the stage of insight can be reached which is knowledge of dissolution, bhanga ñāṇa. From then on paññā begins to become more detached from nāma and rūpa. Paññā becomes detached because it sees more clearly the disadvantage and danger of nāma and rūpa. Full understanding as abandoning begins at the stage of knowledge of dissolution and continues up to path knowledge, magga ñāṇa, when enlightenment is attained.

In our daily life there are more conditions for akusala dhammas than for awareness and understanding of the characteristics of the dhammas that naturally appear. Akusala dhammas arise very often and therefore it is necessary to cultivate the thirty-seven factors leading to enlightenment, bodhipakkhiya-dhammas. These factors which lead to the realization of the four noble Truths are, as we have seen, the four satipaṭṭhānas, the four right efforts (sammāppadhānas), the four bases of success (iddhi-pādas), the five spiritual faculties (indriyas), the five powers (balas), the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhangas) and the eight factors of the noble eightfold Path. These factors that lead to enlightenment should be developed over and over again for a long time, they can only be gradually accumulated. Nobody can cause the arising of paññā just by a particular way of behaviour or by particular activities. Paññā can be developed naturally, in one’s daily life, by awareness of the characteristics of realities, which are non-self, which arise because of their appropriate conditions and then fall away very rapidly. There can be awareness of what appears at this very moment through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body sense or the mind-door. Does one know at this moment what satipaṭṭhāna exactly is? Does one know that what appears now through the senses or the mind-door is a paramattha dhamma, non-self? If this is not known, paññā of the level of intellectual understanding should first be developed. It is necessary to listen to the Dhamma the Buddha taught so that people would have right understanding of the characteristics of realities that appear. The Buddha taught the Dhamma so that people would have right understanding in conformity with the truth he had realized when he attained Buddhahood. One should have correct understanding of the practice, which is the development of paññā. Only the right cause can bring the right result, that is, paññā that sees realities as they are, as impermanent, dukkha and anattā. Paññā should realize that realities that arise and fall away are dukkha, unsatisfactory, not leading to happiness, and paññā should penetrate the nature of anattā of the realities appearing at this moment. There is no other way to know realities as they are but satipaṭṭhāna, which time and again is aware, studies and investigates the characteristics of the dhammas appearing right now. In this way the wholesome qualities, sobhana cetasikas, are accumulated and can thus be a condition for paññā to become more accomplished so that the different stages of insight can be reached.

The Sammā-sambuddha had accumulated the perfections for four incalculable periods and hundred thousand aeons. From the time the Buddha Dīpaṅkara proclaimed him to be a Sammā-sambuddha in the future, he developed all the perfections from life to life. He came to see and listened to twenty-four former Buddhas during his past lives before he attained Buddhahood. In his last life, while sitting under the Bodhi tree, he penetrated the four noble Truths and attained successively the stages of enlightenment of the sotāpanna, the sakadāgāmī, the anāgāmī and finally the stage of the arahat, and thereby became the Sammā-sambuddha with incomparable wisdom. He attained Buddhahood in the last vigil of the night of the full moon, in the month of Vesākha.

The Buddha’s chief disciples were the venerable Sāriputta who was pre-eminent in wisdom and the venerable Moggallāna who was pre-eminent in supernatural powers. They had developed paññā during one incalculable period of time and hundred thousand aeons. In his last life Sāriputta attained the stage of the sotāpanna after he had listened to the Dhamma, which Assaji explained to him. When Sāriputta explained to Moggallāna the Dhamma he had heard from Assaji, Moggallāna attained the stage of the sotāpanna. Later on they both became arahats. The disciples who were pre-eminent in different ways, such as Kassapa, Ānanda, Upāli and Ānuruddha, had cultivated paññā for hundred thousand aeons. In the Buddha’s time there were many people who had cultivated paññā to the degree that they could penetrate the four noble Truths and attain enlightenment. The time when the Buddha had not passed away yet was the most favorable time for the development of paññā. The period from his parinibbāna until the present time is not all that long, but still, the present time is less favorable for the realization of the noble Truths. For the realization of the noble Truths there have to be the right conditions, which are: study and understanding of the Dhamma and the right way of practice. Only the right cause, the development of paññā, can bring the right result.

Before the Buddha’s enlightenment people could develop samatha even to the degree of realizing supernatural powers. They could perform miracles but they could not eradicate defilements. When the Buddha attained supreme enlightenment and taught the Dhamma he had penetrated, many people could realize the noble Truths. People who had formerly developed samatha to the degree of jhāna could, if they also had developed satipaṭṭhāna, realize the noble Truths. Thus, two kinds of ariyans can be discerned: those who had developed only insight, who were “sukkha-vipassaka”[5] and those who were freed with “mind-deliverance”, who were “ceto-vimutta”. [6]

The ariyan with “mere insight”, who is sukkha vipassaka, attains enlightenment without jhānacitta as basis or proximate cause. Jhānacitta cannot serve as object of insight since he has not attained jhāna. It is true that the lokuttara citta which clearly realizes nibbāna is firmly established on it, with strong concentration, just like the citta which has reached attainment concentration, appanā samādhi, and which is firmly fixed on the object of the jhānacitta. However, the ariyan who is sukkha vipassaka does not have proficiency in jhāna. When cittas are counted as eighty-nine, only the lokuttara cittas of those who have mere insight, who are sukkha vipassaka, are taken into account, not lokuttara jhānacittas.

As regards the ariyan who is “mind-freed”, ceto-vimutta, he attains enlightenment with jhāna as basis or proximate cause. He must acquire “masteries”, vasīs, of jhāna. [7] Only in that case jhānacitta can be the basis for insight, and that means that mahā-kusala citta accompanied by paññā can investigate and realize the true nature of the jhānacitta that has just fallen away. When paññā has become accomplished to the degree that enlightenment can be attained, the magga-citta and the phala-citta that arise are accompanied by jhāna factors. The ariyan who has attained enlightenment with jhāna factors of the different stages of jhāna is “mind-freed”, cetovimutta. He is delivered from defilements by paññā and by calm associated with jhāna. When lokuttara jhānacittas of the ariyan who is ceto-vimutta are included, cittas can be counted as one hundred twenty-eight.

Footnotes and references:


Ñāta means what has been known and pariññā means full understanding.


Tīraṇa means judgement, investigation.


Pahāna means abandoning.


The first stage of maha-vipassanā ñāṇa.


sukkha vipassanā , mere insight, is also translated as "dry insight".


Ceto stands for citta, meaning here concentration. Vimutta means being freed, delivered.


Ceto stands for citta, meaning here concentration. Vimutta means being freed, delivered.


See the section on Samatha.

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