The Buddha and His Teachings

by Narada Thera | 1988 | 145,972 words

This book is an attempt to present the life and teachings of the Buddha , made by a member of the Order of the Sangha. The first part of the book deals with the Life of the Buddha, the second with the Dhamma, the Pāli term for His Doctrine. Used as reference are: Pāli Texts, commentaries, and traditions prevailing in Buddhist countries, especiall...

Chapter XXXVI - The Way to Nibbāna (II)

Meditation

One way is to acquire gain,
Quite another is that which leads to Nibbāna.

— Dhp 75

Concentration (samādhi)

Securing a firm footing on the ground of morality, the aspirant then embarks upon the higher practice of samādhi, the control and culture of the mind, the second stage of the path of purity.

Samādhi is one-pointedness of the mind. It is concentration of the mind on one object to the entire exclusion of all else.

According to Buddhism there are forty subjects of meditation (kammahāna) which differ according to the temperaments of individuals:

  1. The ten kasiṇas (devices), [1] namely:

    1. earth kasiṇa,
    2. water kasiṇa,
    3. fire kasiṇa,
    4. air kasiṇa,
    5. blue kasiṇa,
    6. yellow kasiṇa,
    7. red kasiṇa,
    8. white kasiṇa,
    9. light kasiṇa and
    10. space kasiṇa.
  2. The ten impurities (asubha), [2] that is, ten corpses that are:

    1. bloated (uddhumātaka),
    2. discoloured (vinīlaka),
    3. festering (vipubbaka),
    4. dissected (vicchiddaka),
    5. gnawed-to-pieces (vikkhāyitaka),
    6. scattered-in-pieces (vikkhittaka),
    7. mutilated and scattered-in-pieces (hata-vikkhittaka),
    8. bloody (lohitaka),
    9. worm-infested (pulapaka), and
    10. skeleton (ahika).
  3. The ten reflections (anussati), [3] on these topics:

    1. The Buddha (buddhānussati),
    2. the doctrine (dhammānussati),
    3. the Sangha (saṇghānussati),
    4. virtue (sīlānussati),
    5. liberality (cāgānussati),
    6. devas (devatānussati),
    7. peace (upasamānussati),
    8. death (maraṇānussati), respectively, together with
    9. mindfulness regarding the body (kāyagatāsati), and
    10. mindfulness regarding respiration (ānāpānasati).
  4. The four illimitables or the four modes of sublime conduct (brahmavihāra), namely:

    1. loving kindness (mettā),
    2. compassion (karuṇā),
    3. appreciative joy (muditā), and
    4. equanimity (upekkhā).
  5. The one perception—i.e., the perception of the loathsomeness of material food (āhāre paikkūla-saññā). [4]
  6. The one analysis—i.e., of the four elements (catudhātuvavatthāna). [5]
  7. The four arūpa jhānas—namely:

    1. the realm of the infinity of space (ākāsānañcāyatana)
    2. the realm of the infinity of consciousness (viññāṇañcāyatana),
    3. the realm of nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatana), and
    4. the realm of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññānāsaññāyatana).

Suitability of Subjects for Different Temperaments

According to the texts the ten impurities and the mindfulness regarding the body—such as the contemplation of the thirty-two parts of the body—are suitable for those of a lustful temperament because they tend to create a disgust for the body which fascinates the senses.

The four illimitables and the four coloured kasiṇas are suitable for those of a hateful temperament.

The reflections on the Buddha and so forth are suitable for those of a devout temperament. The reflections on death and peace, perception on the loathsomeness of material food, and analysis of the four elements are suitable for those of an intellectual temperament. The remaining objects, chiefly reflection on the Buddha, meditation on loving kindness, mindfulness regarding the body, and reflection on death are suitable for all, irrespective of temperament.

There are six kinds of temperaments (carita):

  1. Lustful temperament (rāgacarita),
  2. Hateful temperament (dosacarita),
  3. Ignorant temperament (mohacarita),
  4. Devout temperament (saddhācarita),
  5. Intellectual temperament (buddhicarita), and
  6. Discursive temperament (vitakkacarita).

Carita signifies the intrinsic nature of a person which is revealed when one is in normal state without being preoccupied with anything. The temperaments of people differ owing to the diversity of their actions or kamma. Habitual actions tend to form particular temperaments.

Rāga or lust is predominant in some while dosa or anger, hatred, ill will in others. Most people belong to these two categories. There are a few others who lack intelligence and are more or less ignorant (mohacarita). Akin to ignorant are those whose minds oscillate unable to focus their attention deliberately on one thing (vitakka-carita). By nature some are exceptionally devout (saddhācarita) while others are exceptionally intelligent (buddhicarita).

Combining these six with one another, we get sixty-three types. With the inclusion of speculative temperament (diṭṭhicarita) there are sixty-four types.

The subjects of meditation are variously adapted to these different temperaments and types of people.

Preparation

Before practising samādhi, the qualified aspirant should give a careful consideration to the subject of meditation. In ancient days it was customary for pupils to seek the guidance of a competent teacher to choose a suitable subject according to their temperaments. But today, if no competent teacher is available, the aspirant must exercise his own judgement and choose one he thinks most suited to his character.

When the subject has been chosen, he should withdraw to a quiet place where there are the fewest distractions. The forest, a cave, or any lonely place is most desirable, for there one is least liable to interruption during the practice.

It should be understood that solitude is within us all. If our minds are not settled, even a quiet forest would not be a congenial place. But if our minds are settled, even the heart of a busy town may be congenial. The atmosphere in which we live acts as an indirect aid to tranquillizing our minds.

Next to be decided by the aspirant is the most convenient time when he himself and his surroundings are in the best possible condition for the practice.

Early in the morning when the mind is fresh and active, or before bedtime, if one is not overtired, is generally the most appropriate time for meditation. But whatever the time selected, it is advisable daily to keep to that particular hour, for our minds then become conditioned to the practice.

The meditating posture, too, serves as a powerful aid to concentration.

Easterners generally sit cross-legged, with the body erect. They sit placing the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh. This is the full position. If this posture is difficult, as it certainly is to many, the half position may be adopted, that is, simply placing the right foot on the left thigh or the left foot on the right thigh.

When this triangular position is assumed, the whole body is well balanced. The right hand should be placed on the left hand, the neck straightened so that the nose is in a perpendicular line with the navel. The tongue should rest on the upper palate. The belt should be loosened, and clothes neatly adjusted. Some prefer closed eyes so as to shut out all unnecessary light and external sights.

Although there are certain advantages in closing the eyes, it is not always recommended as it tends to drowsiness. Then the mind gets out of control and wanders aimlessly, vagrant thoughts arise, the body loses its erectness, quite unconsciously the mouth opens itself, saliva drivels, and the head nods.

The Buddhas usually sit with half closed eyes looking through the tip of the nose not more than a distance of four feet away.

Those who find the cross-legged posture too difficult may sit comfortably in a chair or any other support, sufficiently high to rest the feet on the ground.

It is of no great importance what posture one adopts provided it is easy and relaxed.

The aspirant who is striving to gain one-pointedness of the mind should endeavour to control any unwholesome thoughts at their very inception. As mentioned in the Padhāna Sutta (Sn iii.2) he may be attacked by the ten armies of the Evil One. They are: i.) sensual desires (kāma), ii.) discouragement (arati), iii.) hunger and thirst (khuppipāsā), iv.) craving (taṇhā), v.) sloth and torpor (thīnamiddha), vi.) fear (bhaya), vii.) doubt (vicikicchā), viii.) detraction and stubbornness (makkha, thambha), ix.) gain, praise, honour and ill-gotten fame (lābha, siloka, sakkāra, micchāyasa), and x.) self-praise and contempt for others (attukkaṃsana paravambhana).

On such occasions the following practical suggestions given by the Buddha will be beneficial to all.

  1. Harbouring a good thought opposite to the encroaching one, e.g., loving kindness in case of hatred.
  2. Reflecting upon possible evil consequences, e.g., anger sometimes results in murder.
  3. Simple neglect or becoming wholly inattentive to them.
  4. Tracing the cause which led to the arising of the unwholesome thoughts and thus forgetting them in the retrospective process.
  5. Direct physical force.

Just as a strong man overpowers a weak person, so one should overcome evil thoughts by bodily strength. "With teeth clenched and tongue pressed to the palate," advises the Buddha, "the monk by main force must constrain and coerce his mind; and thus with clenched teeth and taut tongue, constraining and coercing his mind, those evil and unsalutary thoughts will disappear and go to decay; and with their disappearing, the mind will become settled, subdued, unified, and concentrated (Vitakka Santhāna Sutta, MN 20).

Having attended to all these necessary preliminaries, the qualified aspirant retires to a solitary place, and summoning up confidence as to the certainty of achieving his goal, he makes a persistent effort to develop concentration.

Kasiṇa

A physical object like a kasiṇa circle only aids concentration. But a virtue like loving kindness has the specific advantage of building up that particular virtue in the character of the person.

While meditating one may intelligently repeat the words of any special formula, since they serve as an aid to evoke the ideas they represent.

However intent the aspirant may be on the object of his meditation he will not be exempt from the initial difficulties that inevitably confront a beginner. "The mind wanders, alien thoughts dance before him, impatience overcomes him owing to the slowness of progress, and his efforts slacken in consequence." The determined aspirant only welcomes these obstacles, the difficulties he cuts through and looks straight to his goal, never for a moment turning away his eyes from it.

Suppose, for instance, an aspirant takes an earth-kasiṇa for his object (kammahāna). [6]

The surface of a circle of about one foot in diameter is covered with clay and smoothed well. This concentrative circle is known as the preliminary object (parikamma nimitta). He sets it down some four feet away and concentrates on it, saying, paṭhavī, paṭhavī (earth, earth), until he becomes so wholly absorbed in it that all adventitious thoughts get automatically excluded from the mind. When he does this for some time—perhaps weeks or months or years—he would be able to visualise the object with closed eyes. On this visualised image (uggaha nimitta), which is a mental replica of the object, he concentrates until it develops into a conceptualised image (paibhāga nimitta).

According to the Visuddhimagga the difference between the first visualised image and the second conceptualised image is that "in the former a fault of the kasiṇa object appears while the latter is like the disc of a mirror taken out of a bag, or a well-burnished conch-shell, or the round moon issuing from the clouds."

The conceptualised image neither possesses colour nor form. It is just a mode of appearance and is born of perception.

As he continually concentrates on this abstract concept he is said to be in possession of "proximate concentration" (upacāra samādhi) and the innate five hindrances to spiritual progress (nīvaraṇa)—namely, sensual desires (kāmacchanda), hatred (vyāpāda), sloth and torpor (thīnamiddha), restlessness and worry (uddhaccakukkucca), and indecision (vicikicchā), are temporarily inhibited by means of one-pointedness (ekaggatā), zest (pīti), initial application, (vitakka), happiness (sukha), and sustained application (vicāra) respectively.

Eventually he gains "ecstatic concentration" (appanā samādhi) and becomes absorbed in jhāna, enjoying the calmness and serenity of a one-pointed mind.

This one-pointedness of the mind, achieved by inhibiting the hindrances, is termed 'purity of mind' (cittavisuddhi), the second stage on the path of purity.

For the water-kasiṇa one may take a vessel full of colourless water, preferably rainwater, and concentrate on it, saying, "āpo, āpo," ("water, water")—until he gains one-pointedness of the mind.

To develop the fire-kasiṇa one may kindle a fire before him and concentrate on it through a hole, a span and four fingers wide, in a rush-mat, a piece of leather, or a piece of cloth.

One who develops the air-kasiṇa concentrates on the wind that enters through window-space or a hole in the wall, saying, "vāyo, vāyo" ("air, air").

To develop the colour kasiṇas one may make a disc (maṇḍala) of the prescribed size and colour it blue, yellow, red, or white and concentrate on it repeating the name of the colour as in the case of the earth-kasiṇa.

He may even concentrate on blue, yellow, red, and white flowers.

Light-kasiṇa may be developed by concentrating on the moon or an unflickering lamplight or on a circle of light made on the ground or the wall by sunlight or moonlight entering through a wall-crevice or holes, saying, "āloka, āloka" ("light, light").

The space-kasiṇa could be developed by concentrating on a hole; a span and four fingers wide, in either a well-covered pavilion or a piece of leather or a mat, saying, "okāsa, okāsa" ("space, space").

Asubha

The ten kinds of corpses were found in ancient Indian cemeteries where dead bodies were not buried or cremated and where flesh-eating animals frequent. In modern days finding them is more difficult.

Anussati

Buddhānussati is the reflection on the virtues of the Buddha, as follows:

"Such indeed is that Exalted One—worthy, fully enlightened, endowed with wisdom and conduct, well-farer, knower of the worlds, an incomparable charioteer for the training of individuals, teacher of gods and men, omniscient, and holy."

Dhammānussati is the reflection on the characteristics of the Doctrine as follows:

"Well-expounded is the doctrine by the Blessed One, to be realised by oneself, of immediate fruit, inviting investigation (ehi-passiko: inviting to come and see), leading to Nibbāna, to be understood by the wise, each one for himself."

Saṇghānussati is the reflection on the virtues of the pure members of the holy celibate order as follows:

"Of good conduct is the order of the disciples of the Blessed one; of upright conduct is the order of the disciples of the Blessed One; of wise conduct is the order of the disciples of the Blessed One; of dutiful conduct is the order of the disciples of the Blessed One. These four pairs of persons constitute eight individuals. This order of the disciples of the Blessed One is worthy of offerings, is worthy of hospitality, is worthy of gifts, is worthy of reverential salutation, is an incomparable field of merit to the world."

Sīlānussati is the reflection on the perfection of one's own virtuous conduct.

Cāganussati is the reflection on one's own charitable nature.

Devatānussati: "Deities are born in such exalted states on account of their faith and other virtues, I too possess them." Thus when one reflects again and again on one's own faith and other virtues, placing deities as witnesses, it is called devatānussati.

Upasamānussati is the reflection on the attributes of Nibbāna such as the cessation of suffering and the like.

Maraṇānussati is the reflection on the termination of psycho-physical life.

Contemplation on death enables one to comprehend the fleeting nature of life. When one understands that death is certain and life is uncertain, one endeavours to make the best use of one's life by working for self-development and for the development of others instead of wholly indulging in sensual pleasures. Constant meditation on death does not make one pessimistic and lethargic, but, on the contrary, it makes one more active and energetic. Besides, one can face death, with serenity.

While contemplating death one may think that life is like a flame, or that all so-called beings are the outward temporary manifestations of the invisible kammic energy just as an electric light is the outward manifestation of the invisible electric energy. Using various similes as one likes, one may meditate on the uncertainty of life and on the certainty of death.

Kāyagatāsati is the reflection on the thirty-two impure parts of the body such as "hair, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, bowels, mesentery, stomach, faeces, brain, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, lymph, tears, grease, saliva, nasal mucus, articular fluid, and urine."

This meditation on the loathsomeness of the body leads to dispassion. Many bhikkhus in the time of the Buddha attained arahantship by meditating on these impurities. If one is not conversant with all the thirty-two parts, one may meditate on one part such as bones, flesh, or skin. Inside this body is found a skeleton. It is filled with flesh which is covered with a skin. Beauty is nothing but skin deep. When one reflects on the impure parts of the body in this manner, passionate attachment to this body gradually disappears.

This meditation may not appeal to those who are not sensual. They may meditate on the innate creative possibilities of this complex machinery of man.

Ánāpānasati is mindfulness on respiration. Ána means inhalation and apāna, exhalation.

In some books these two terms are explained in the reverse order.

Concentration on the breathing process leads to one-pointedness of the mind and ultimately to insight which leads to arahantship.

This is one of the best subjects of meditation which appeals equally to all. The Buddha also practised this ānāpānasati before his enlightenment.

A detailed exposition of this meditation is found in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta [7] and in the Visuddhimagga.

Practical hints

A few practical hints are given here for the benefit of the average reader.

Adopt a convenient posture, breathe out and close the mouth. Then breathe through the nostrils naturally and not forcefully. Inhale first and mentally count one. Exhale and count two, concentrating on the breathing process. In this manner one may count up to ten constantly focussing one's attention on respiration. It is possible for the mind to wander before one counts up to ten. But one need not be discouraged. Let one try till one succeeds. Gradually one may increase the number of series—say five series of ten. Later one may concentrate on respiration without counting. Some prefer counting as it aids concentration, while some others prefer not to count.

What is essential is concentration and not counting which is secondary. When one does this concentration, one feels light in body and mind and very peaceful too. One might perhaps feel as if one were floating in the air. When this concentration is practised for a certain period, a day will come when one will realise that this so-called body is supported by mere breath and that body perishes when breathing ceases.

One instantly realises Impermanence. Where there is change there cannot be a permanent entity or an immortal soul. Insight could then be developed to gain arahantship.

It is now clear that the object of this concentration on respiration is not merely to gain one pointedness but also to cultivate insight in order to obtain deliverance.

This simple method may be pursued by all without any harm. For more details readers are referred to the Visuddhimagga.

Ánāpānasatiis described as follows in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta:

"Mindfully he inhales, mindfully he exhales.

  1. "When making a long inhalation, he knows: 'I make a long inhalation;' when making a long exhalation, he knows: 'I make a long exhalation.'
  2. "When making a short inhalation he knows: 'I make a short inhalation;' when making a short exhalation, he knows: 'I make a short exhalation.'
  3. "Clearly perceiving the entire breathing process (i.e., the beginning, middle and end), 'I will inhale,' thus he trains himself; clearly perceiving the entire breathing process, 'l will exhale,' thus he trains himself.
  4. "Calming the respirations, 'I will inhale,' thus he trains himself; calming the respirations, 'I will exhale,' thus he trains himself." [8]

Brahmavihāra

Here brahma means sublime or noble as in brahmacariya (sublime life); vihāra means mode or state of conduct, or state of living.

They are also termed appamaññā (limitless, boundless), because these thoughts are radiated towards all beings without limit or obstruction.

Mettā (Skt. maitri)—loving kindness, benevolence, goodwill—is defined as that which softens one's heart. It is not carnal love or personal affection. The direct enemy of mettā is hatred, ill will or aversion (kodha), its indirect enemy is personal affection (pema).

Mettā embraces all beings without exception. The culmination of mettā is the identification of oneself with all beings (sabbattatā). It is the wish for the good and happiness of all. Benevolent attitude is its chief characteristic. It discards ill will.

Karuṇā (compassion) is defined as that which makes the hearts of the good quiver when others are subject to suffering, or that which dissipates the sufferings of others. Its chief characteristic is the wish to remove the sufferings of others. Its direct enemy is wickedness (hiṃsā) and its indirect enemy is passionate grief (domanassa).Compassion embraces sorrow-stricken beings and it eliminates cruelty.

Muditā is not mere sympathy but sympathetic or appreciative joy. Its direct enemy is jealousy (issā) and its indirect enemy is exhilaration (pahāsa).Its chief characteristic is happy acquiescence in others' prosperity and success (anumodanā). Muditāembraces all prosperous beings. It eliminates dislike (arati) and is the congratulatory attitude of a person.

Upekkhā literally means to view impartially, that is, with neitherattachment nor aversion. It is not hedonic indifference but perfect equanimity or well-balanced mind. It is the balanced state of mind amidst all vicissitudes of life, such as praise and blame, pain and happiness, gain and loss, repute and disrepute. Its direct enemy is attachment (rāga) and its indirect enemy is callousness. Upekkhā discards clinging and aversion. Impartial attitude is its chief characteristic. Here upekkhā does not mean mere neutral feeling, but implies a sterling virtue. Equanimity, mental equilibrium are its closest equivalents. Upekkhā embraces the good and the bad, the loved and the unloved, the pleasant and the unpleasant.

The Visuddhimagga describes in detail the method to cultivate the brahmavihāras in order to develop the jhānas.

Supernormal powers

When once the aspirant succeeds in cultivating the jhānas he can, without difficulty, develop the five supernormal powers (abhiññā)—namely, divine eye (dibbacakkhu), divine ear (dibbasota), reminiscence of past births (pubbe nivāsānussatiñāṇa), thought-reading (paracittavijāñāṇa), and various psychic powers (iddhi-vidha).

Samādhi and these supernormal powers, it may be mentioned, are not essential for the attainment of arahantship, though they would undoubtedly be an asset to the possessor. There are, for instance, dry-visioned arahants (sukkhavipassaka) who, without the aid of the jhānas, attain arahantship straightaway by merely cultivating insight. Many men and women attained arahantship in the time of the Buddha himself without developing the jhānas.

It is only one who has gained the fifth jhāna that could develop the five kinds of abhiññā.

Dibbacakkhu is the celestial or divine eye, also called clairvoyance, which enables one to see heavenly or earthly things, far or near, that are imperceptible to the physical eye.

Cutūpapātañāṇa, knowledge with regard to the dying and reappearing of beings, is identical with this celestial eye. Anāgataṃsañāṇa, knowledge with regard to the future and yathākammūpagatañāṇa, knowledge with regard to the faring of beings according to their own good and bad actions, are two other kinds of knowledge belonging to the same category.

Dibbasota is the celestial ear, also called clairaudience, which enables one to hear subtle or coarse sounds far or near.

Pubbe nivāsānussatiñāṇa is the power to remember the past lives of oneself and others. With regard to this knowledge the Buddha's power is limitless, while in the case of others it is limited.

Paracittavijāñāṇa is the power to discern the thoughts of others.

Iddhividha is the power to fly through the air, walk on water, dive into the earth, create new forms etc.

Chaptend_35

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

Kasiṇa here means whole, all, complete. It is so called because the projected light issuing from the conceptualised image of the kasiṇa object could be extended everywhere without limitation.

[2]:

These ten kinds of corpses were found in ancient cemeteries and charnel places where dead bodies were not buried or cremated and where flesh-eating beasts and birds frequent. Nowadays, these bodies can be viewed in mortuaries. In some Thai monasteries there are burial grounds where decaying bodies can be viewed. Photographs with dead bodies in various stages of decay, etc, are also available in monasteries.

[3]:

Anussati lit., means constant mindfulness.

[4]:

Āhāre paikkūlasaññā, i.e., the feeling of loathsomeness of food in its search, eating, etc.

[5]:

Catudhātuvavatthāna—i.e., the investigation of the four primary elements of extension (paṭhavī), cohesion (āpo), heat (tejo), and motion (vāyo), with regard to their special characteristics.

[6]:

In the case of earth kasiṇa one makes a circle of about one span and four fingers in diameter and, covering it with dawn-coloured clay, smoothes it well. If there be not enough clay of the dawn colour, he may introduce some other kind of clay beneath. This concentrative circle is known as kasiṇa-maṇḍala.

The remaining kasiṇas should be similarly understood. Details are given in the Visuddhimagga . It may be mentioned that light and space kasiṇas are not found in the text. When they are excluded there are thirty-eight subjects.

[7]:

Included below, See Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.

[8]:

For the complete text, see See Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.

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