Visuddhimagga (the pah of purification)

by Ñāṇamoli Bhikkhu | 1956 | 420,758 words | ISBN-10: 9552400236 | ISBN-13: 9789552400236

This page describes Insight (2): Knowledge of Dissolution of the section Purification by Knowledge and Vision of the Way of Part 3 Understanding (Paññā) of the English translation of the Visuddhimagga (‘the path of purification’) which represents a detailled Buddhist meditation manual, covering all the essential teachings of Buddha as taught in the Pali Tipitaka. It was compiled Buddhaghosa around the 5th Century.

[Full title: Insight: The Eight Knowledges (2): Knowledge of Dissolution]

10. When he repeatedly observes in this way, and examines and investigates material and immaterial states, [to see] that they are impermanent, painful, and not-self, then if his knowledge works keenly, formations quickly become apparent.[1] Once his knowledge works keenly and formations quickly become apparent, he no longer extends his mindfulness to their arising or presence or occurrence or sign, but brings it to bear only on their cessation as destruction, fall and breakup.[2] [641]

11. When insight knowledge has arisen in him in this way so that he sees how the field of formations, having arisen thus, ceases thus, it is called contemplation of dissolution at that stage,[3] with reference to which it is said:

“Understanding of contemplation of dissolution, after reflecting on an object—how is this knowledge of insight?

“Consciousness with materiality as its object arises and dissolves. Having reflected on that object, he contemplates the dissolution of that consciousness.

“‘He contemplates’: how does he contemplate? He contemplates as impermanent, not as permanent; he contemplates as painful, not as pleasant; he contemplates as not-self, not as self; he becomes dispassionate, he does not delight; he causes fading away of greed, he does not inflame it; he causes cessation, not origination; he relinquishes, he does not grasp. Contemplating as impermanent, he abandons the perception of permanence. Contemplating as painful, he abandons the perception of pleasure. Contemplating as not-self, he abandons the perception of self. Becoming dispassionate, he abandons delight. Causing fading away, he abandons greed. Causing cessation, he abandons originating. Relinquishing, he abandons grasping.

“Consciousness with feeling as its object … Consciousness with perception as its object … with formations as its object … with consciousness as its object … with eye as its object … (etc.—see XX.9) … with ageing-and-death as its object … Relinquishing, he abandons grasping.

“The substitution of the object,
The transference of understanding,
The power of adverting—these
Are insight following reflection.

“Defining both to be alike
By inference from that same object,
Intentness on cessation—these
Are insight in the mark of fall.

“Having reflected on the object
Dissolution he contemplates,
Appearance then as empty—this
Is insight of higher understanding.

“Skilled in the three contemplations,
And in the fourfold insight too,
Skilled in the three appearances,
The various views will shake him not.

“Knowledge is in the sense of that being known and understanding in the sense of the act of understanding that. Hence it was said: ‘Understanding of contemplating dissolution, after reflecting on an object, is knowledge of insight’” (Paṭis I 57f).

12. Herein, after reflecting on an object is having reflected on, having known, any object; the meaning is, having seen it as liable to destruction and fall. Understanding of the contemplation of dissolution: any understanding of the contemplation of the dissolution of the knowledge arisen after reflecting on the object as liable to destruction and fall is called knowledge of insight. [642] How has the meaning of a question showing desire to expound.

13. Next, in order to show how that comes about, consciousness with materiality as its object, etc., is said. Herein, consciousness with materiality as its object arises and dissolves: rūpārammaṇaṃ cittaṃ uppajjitvā bhijjati [is the equivalent of] rūpārammaṇaṃ cittaṃ uppajjitvā bhijjati; or the meaning is rūpārammaṇabhāve cittaṃ uppajjitvā bhijjati [alternative grammatical substitution]. Having reflected on that object: having reflected on, having known, that object consisting of materiality; the meaning is, having seen it as liable to destruction and fall. He contemplates the dissolution of that consciousness: by means of a subsequent consciousness he contemplates the dissolution of that consciousness with which that object consisting of materiality was seen as liable to destruction and fall. Hence the Ancients said: “He sees with insight both the known and the knowledge.”

14. He contemplates (anupassati): he sees always accordingly (anu anu passati); the meaning is, he sees again and again in various modes. Hence it is said: “He contemplates”: how does he contemplate? He contemplates as impermanent, and so on.

15. Herein, dissolution is the culminating point of impermanence, and so the meditator contemplating dissolution contemplates the whole field of formations as impermanent, not as permanent.[4] Then, because of the painfulness of what is impermanent and because of the non-existence of self in what is painful, he contemplates that same whole field of formations as painful, not as pleasant, he contemplates it as not-self, not as self.

16. But what is impermanent, painful, not-self, is not something to delight in; and what is not something to delight in is not something to arouse greed for; consequently, when that field of formations is seen as impermanent, painful, not-self, in accordance with the contemplation of dissolution, then he becomes dispassionate, he does not delight; he causes fading away of greed, he does not inflame it. When he does not inflame greed thus, he causes cessation of greed, not its origination, which happens firstly by means of mundane knowledge;[5] the meaning is, he does not cause origination.

17. Or alternatively, having thus caused the fading away of greed, and caused the cessation of the seen field of formations, he causes the cessation of the unseen too by means of inferential knowledge, he does not originate it. He gives attention only to its cessation, he sees only its cessation, not its origin, is the meaning.

18. Progressing in this way, he relinquishes, he does not grasp. What is meant? [What is meant is that] this contemplation of impermanence, etc., is also called both “relinquishment as giving up” and “relinquishment as entering into” (see Paṭis I 194) because, by substitution of opposite qualities, it gives up defilements along with aggregate producing kamma-formations, and because, by seeing the unsatisfactoriness of what is formed, [643] it also enters into, by inclining towards, Nibbāna, which is the opposite of the formed. Therefore the bhikkhu who possesses that [contemplation] gives up defilements and enters into Nibbāna in the way stated, he does not grasp (cling to) defilements by causing rebirth, nor does he grasp (cling to) a formed object through failing to see its unsatisfactoriness. Hence it was said: he relinquishes, he does not grasp.

19. Now, in order to show which states are abandoned by these three kinds of knowledge, contemplating as impermanent, he abandons the perception of permanence, etc., is said. Herein, delight is craving accompanied by happiness. The rest is as already stated.

20. As to the stanzas: the substitution of the object [means that] after seeing the dissolution of materiality, there is the substitution of another object for that first object by seeing the dissolution of the consciousness by which the dissolution [of materiality] was seen. Transference of understanding is the abandoning of rise and the specializing in fall. The power of adverting is the ability, after seeing the dissolution of materiality, to advert immediately for the purpose of seeing the dissolution of the consciousness that had that dissolution as its object. Are insight following reflection: this is called contemplation of dissolution after reflecting on an object.

21. Defining both to be alike by inference from that same object: the meaning is that by inference, by induction, from the object seen by actual experience he defines both [the seen and the unseen] to have a single individual essence thus, “The field of formations dissolved in the past, and will break up in the future, just as it does [in the present].” And this is said by the Ancients:

“With vision of those present purified
He infers those past and future to be alike;
He infers that all formations disappear,
Like dew-drops when the morning sun comes up.”

22. Intentness on cessation: after thus giving to both a single definition based on their dissolution, he thus becomes intent on cessation, in other words, on that same dissolution. The meaning is that he attaches importance to it, inclines, tends, leans towards it. Are insight in the mark of fall: what is meant is that this is called insight into the characteristic of fall.

23. Having reflected on the object: having first known the object consisting of materiality, and so on. Dissolution he contemplates: having seen the dissolution of that object, he contemplates the dissolution of the consciousness that had that as its object. [644]

24. Appearance then as empty: while he is contemplating dissolution in this way, he succeeds in making [formations] appear as void thus, “Only formations breakup; their breakup is death; there is nothing else at all[6].” Hence the Ancients said:

“Aggregates cease and nothing else exists;
Breakup of aggregates is known as death.
He watches their destruction steadfastly,
As one who with a diamond drills a gem.”[7]

25. Is insight of higher understanding: what is meant is that the reflection on the object, the contemplation of dissolution, and the appearance as void are called insight of higher understanding.

26. Skilled in the three contemplations: a bhikkhu who is competent in the three beginning with contemplation of impermanence. And in the fourfold insight too: in the four kinds of insight beginning with dispassion. Skilled in the three appearances: and owing to skill in this threefold appearance, namely, as liable to destruction and fall, as terror, and as void.[8] The various views will shake him not: he does not vacillate on account of the various kinds of views such as the eternity view.

27. When he no longer vacillates and so constantly bears in mind that the unceased will also cease, the undissolved will also dissolve, then he disregards the arising, presence, occurrence and sign of all formations, which keep on breaking up, like fragile pottery being smashed, like fine dust being dispersed, like sesame seeds being roasted, and he sees only their breakup. Just as a man with eyes standing on the bank of a pond or on the bank of a river during heavy rain would see large bubbles appearing on the surface of the water and breaking up as soon as they appeared, so too he sees how formations break up all the time. The Blessed One said of such a meditator:

“And he who looks upon the world
As one who looks upon a bubble,
As one who looks upon a mirage,
Is out of sight of Death the King” (Dhp 170).

28. When he constantly sees that all formations thus break up all the time, then contemplation of dissolution grows strong in him, bringing eight advantages, which are these: abandoning of [false] view of becoming, giving up attachment to life, constant application, a purified livelihood, no more anxiety, absence of fear, acquisition of patience and gentleness, and conquest of aversion (boredom) and sensual delight. [645] Hence the Ancients said:

“On seeing these eight perfect qualities
He comprehends formations constantly,
Seeing breakup in order to attain
The Deathless, like the sage with burning turban.” (see S V 440)

Knowledge of contemplation of dissolution is ended.

Footnotes and references:


“The keenness of knowledge comes about owing to familiarity with development. And when it is familiar, development occurs as though it were absorbed in the object owing to the absence of distraction” (Vism-mhṭ 825).


“‘Arising’ is the alteration consisting in generation. ‘Presence’ is the arrival at presence: ageing is what is meant. ‘Occurrence’ is the occurrence of what is clung to. ‘The sign’ is the sign of formations; the appearance of formations like graspable entities, which is due to compactness of mass, etc., and to individualization of function, is the sign of formations” (Vism-mhṭ 826). See also n.12.

“It is momentary cessation that is in other words ‘cessation as destruction, fall and breakup’” (Vism-mhṭ 826).


Etasmiṃ khaṇe (or etasmiṃ ṭhāne) seems a better reading here than ekasmiṃ khaṇe’; cf. parallel phrases at the end of §29, 30, 31.


“‘He contemplates as impermanent’ here not by inferential knowledge thus, “Impermanent in the sense of dissolution”, like one who is comprehending formations by groups (XX.13–14), nor by seeing fall preceded by apprehension of rise, like a beginner of insight (XX.93ff.); but rather it is after rise and fall have become apparent as actual experience through the influence of knowledge of rise and fall that he then leaves rise aside in the way stated and contemplates formations as impermanent by seeing only their dissolution. But when he sees them thus, there is no trace in him of any apprehension of them as permanent” (Vism-mhṭ 827).


“‘Causes cessation’: he causes greed to reach the cessation of suppression; he suppresses it, is the meaning. That is why he said ‘by means of mundane knowledge.’ And since there is suppression, how can there be arousing? Therefore he said ‘not its origination’” (Vism-mhṭ 828).


“Here in this world there is no self that is something other than and apart from the aggregates” (Vism-mhṭ 830). Cf. also: “When any ascetics or brahmans whatever see self in its various forms, they all of them see the five aggregates, or one of them” (S IV 46).


“As a skilled man drilling a gem with a tool watches and keeps in mind only the hole he is drilling, not the gem’s colour, etc., so too the meditator wisely keeps in mind only the ceaseless dissolution of formations, not the formations” (Vism-mhṭ 830).


The Harvard text reads “khayato vayato suññato ti—as destruction, as fall, as void.” But Vism-mhṭ says: “‘The three appearances’: in the threefold appearance as impermanent and so on. For appearance as destruction and fall is appearance as impermanent, appearance as terror is appearance as pain, and appearance as void is appearance as not-self (Vism-mhṭ 830).

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