Visuddhimagga (the pah of purification)

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

This page describes The Attainment of Cessation of the section The Benefits in Developing Understanding 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.

16. And not only the experience of the taste of the noble fruit but also the ability to attain the attainment of cessation should be understood as a benefit of the development of understanding.

17. Now, in order to explain the attainment of cessation there is this set of questions:

  1. What is the attainment of cessation?
  2. Who attains it?
  3. Who do not attain it?
  4. Where do they attain it?
  5. Why do they attain it?
  6. How does its attainment come about?
  7. How is it made to last?
  8. How does the emergence from it come about?
  9. Towards what does the mind of one who has emerged tend?
  10. What is the difference between one who has attained it and one who is dead?
  11. Is the attainment of cessation formed or unformed, mundane or supramundane, produced or unproduced?

18. Herein, (i) What is the attainment of cessation? It is the non-occurrence of consciousness and its concomitants owing to their progressive cessation.

(ii) Who attains it? (iii) Who do not attain it? No ordinary men, no streamenterers or once-returners, and no non-returners and Arahants who are bareinsight workers attain it. But both non-returners and those with cankers destroyed (Arahants) who are obtainers of the eight attainments attain it. For it is said: “Understanding that is mastery, owing to possession of two powers, to the tranquilization of three formations, to sixteen kinds of exercise of knowledge, and to nine kinds of exercise of concentration, is knowledge of the attainment of cessation” (Paṭis I 97). And these qualifications are not to be found together in any persons other than non-returners and those whose cankers are destroyed, who are obtainers of the eight attainments. That is why only they and no others attain it.

19. But which are the two powers? And the [three formations] … and mastery? Here there is no need for us to say anything; for it has all been said in the description of the summary [quoted above], according as it is said:

20. “Of the two powers: of the two powers, the serenity power and the insight power. [703]

“What is serenity as a power? The unification of the mind and non-distraction due to renunciation are serenity as a power. The unification of the mind and non-distraction due to non-ill will are serenity as a power. The unification of the mind and non-distraction due to perception of light … [to non-distraction … to defining of states (dhamma) … to knowledge … to gladness … to the eight attainments, the ten kasiṇas, the ten recollections, the nine charnel-ground contemplations, and the thirty-two modes of mindfulness of breathing][1] … the unification of the mind and non-distraction due to breathing out in one who is contemplating relinquishment[2] is serenity as a power.

21. “In what sense is serenity a power? Owing to the first jhāna it does not waver on account of the hindrances, thus serenity is a power. Owing to the second jhāna it does not waver on account of applied and sustained thought, thus serenity is a power … (etc.) … Owing to the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception it does not waver on account of the perception of the base consisting of nothingness, thus serenity is a power. It does not waver and vacillate and hesitate on account of agitation and on account of the defilements and the aggregates that accompany agitation, thus serenity is a power. This is the serenity power.

22. “What is insight as a power? Contemplation of impermanence is insight as a power. Contemplation of pain … Contemplation of not-self … Contemplation of dispassion … Contemplation of fading away … Contemplation of cessation … Contemplation of relinquishment is insight as a power. Contemplation of impermanence in materiality … (etc.) … Contemplation of relinquishment in materiality is insight as a power. Contemplation of impermanence in feeling … in perception … in formations … in consciousness is insight as a power … Contemplation of relinquishment in consciousness is insight as a power. Contemplation of impermanence in the eye … (etc., see XX.9) … Contemplation of impermanence in ageing-and-death … (etc.) … Contemplation of relinquishment in ageing-and-death is insight as a power.

23. “In what sense is insight a power? Owing to the contemplation of impermanence it does not waver on account of perception of permanence, thus insight is a power. Owing to the contemplation of pain it does not waver on account of perception of pleasure … Owing to the contemplation of not-self it does not waver on account of the perception of self … Owing to the contemplation of dispassion it does not waver on account of delight … Owing to the contemplation of fading away it does not waver on account of greed … Owing to the contemplation of cessation it does not waver on account of arising … Owing to the contemplation of relinquishment it does not waver on account of grasping, thus insight is a power. It does not waver and vacillate and hesitate on account of ignorance and on account of the defilements and the aggregates that accompany ignorance, thus insight is a power.

24. “Owing to the tranquilization of three formations: owing to the tranquilization of what three formations? In one who has attained the second jhāna the verbal formations consisting in applied and sustained thought are quite tranquilized. In one who has attained the fourth jhāna the bodily formations consisting in in-breaths and outbreaths are quite tranquilized. In one who has attained cessation of perception and feeling the mental formations consisting in feeling and perception are quite tranquilized. It is owing to the tranquilization of these three formations.

25. “Owing to sixteen kinds of exercise of knowledge: owing to what sixteen kinds of exercise of knowledge? Contemplation of impermanence is a kind of exercise of knowledge. Contemplation of pain … Contemplation of not-self … Contemplation of dispassion … Contemplation of fading away … Contemplation of cessation … Contemplation of relinquishment … Contemplation of turning away is a kind of exercise of knowledge. [704] The stream-entry path is a kind of exercise of knowledge. The attainment of the fruition of stream-entry … The once-return path … The attainment of the fruition of once-return … The nonreturn path … The attainment of the fruition of non-return … The Arahant path … The attainment of the fruition of Arahantship is a kind of exercise of knowledge. It is owing to these sixteen kinds of exercise of knowledge.

26. “Owing to nine kinds of exercise of concentration: owing to what nine kinds of exercise of concentration? The first jhāna is a kind of exercise of concentration. The second jhāna … [The third jhāna … The fourth jhāna … Th

e attainment of the base consisting of boundless space … The attainment of the base consisting of boundless consciousness … The attainment of the base consisting of nothingness … ]. The attainment of the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception is a kind of exercise of concentration. And the applied thought and sustained thought and happiness and bliss and unification of mind that have the purpose of attaining the first jhāna … (etc.) … And the applied thought and sustained thought and happiness and bliss and unification of mind that have the purpose of attaining the attainment of the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception. It is owing to these nine kinds of exercise of concentration.[3]

27. “Mastery: there are five kinds of mastery. There is mastery in adverting, in attaining, in resolving, in emerging, in reviewing. He adverts to the first jhāna where, when, and for as long as he wishes, he has no difficulty in adverting, thus it is mastery in adverting. He attains the first jhāna where, when, and for as long as he wishes, he has no difficulty in attaining, thus it is mastery in attaining. He resolves upon [the duration of] the first jhāna where, … thus it is mastery in resolving. He emerges from the first jhāna, … thus it is mastery in emerging. He reviews the first jhāna where, when, and for as long as he wishes, he has no difficulty in reviewing, thus it is mastery in reviewing. He adverts to the second jhāna … (etc.) … He reviews the attainment of the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception where, when, and for as long as he wishes, he has no difficulty in reviewing, thus it is mastery in reviewing. These are the five kinds of mastery” (Paṭis I 97–100).

28. And here the words: “Owing to sixteen kinds of exercise of knowledge” state the maximum. But in a non-returner the mastery is owing to fourteen kinds of exercise of knowledge. If that is so, then does it not come about also in the once-returner owing to twelve? And in the stream-enterer owing to ten?—It does not. Because the greed based on the cords of sense desire, which is an obstacle to concentration, is unabandoned in them. It is because that is not abandoned in them that the serenity power is not perfected. Since it is not perfected they are not, owing to want of power, able to attain the attainment of cessation, which has to be attained by the two powers. But it is abandoned in the non-returner and so his power is perfected. Since his power is perfected he is able to attain it.

Hence the Blessed One said: “Profitable [consciousness] of the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception in one emerging from cessation is a condition, as proximity condition, for the attainment of fruition” (Paṭṭh I 159). For this is said in the Great Book of the Paṭṭhāna[4] with reference only to nonreturners’ emerging from cessation. [705]

29. (iv) Where do they attain it? In the five-constituent becoming. Why? Because of the necessity for the succession of [all] the attainments (cf. S IV 217). But in the four-constituent becoming there is no arising of the first jhāna, etc., and so it is not possible to attain it there. But some say that is because of the lack of a physical basis [for the mind there].[5]

30. (v) Why do they attain it? Being wearied by the occurrence and dissolution of formations, they attain it thinking, “Let us dwell in bliss by being without consciousness here and now and reaching the cessation that is Nibbāna.”[6]

31. (vi) How does its attainment come about? It comes about in one who performs the preparatory tasks by striving with serenity and insight and causes the cessation of [consciousness belonging to] the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception. One who strives with serenity alone reaches the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception and remains there, while one who strives with insight alone reaches the attainment of fruition and remains there. But it is one who strives with both, and after performing the preparatory tasks, causes the cessation of [consciousness belonging to] the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception, who attains it. This is in brief.

32. But the detail is this. When a bhikkhu who desires to attain cessation has finished all that has to do with his meal and has washed his hands and feet well, he sits down on a well-prepared seat in a secluded place. Having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, established mindfulness in front of him, he attains the first jhāna, and on emerging he sees the formations in it with insight as impermanent, painful, not-self.

33. This insight is threefold as insight that discerns formations, insight for the attainment of fruition, and insight for the attainment of cessation. Herein, insight that discerns formations, whether sluggish or keen, is the proximate cause only for a path. Insight for the attainment of fruition, which is only valid when keen, is similar to that for the development of a path. Insight for the attainment of cessation is only valid when it is not over-sluggish and not over-keen. Therefore he sees those formations with insight that is not over-sluggish and not over-keen.

34. After that, he attains the second jhāna, and on emerging he sees formations with insight in like manner. After that, he attains the third jhāna … (etc.) … After that, he attains the base consisting of boundless consciousness, and on emerging he sees the formations in it in like manner. Likewise he attains the base consisting of nothingness. On emerging from that he does the fourfold preparatory task, that is to say, about (a) non-damage to others’ property, (b) the Community’s waiting, (c) the Master’s summons, and (d) the limit of the duration. [706]

35. (a) Herein, non-damage to others’ property refers to what the bhikkhu has about him that is not his personal property: a robe and bowl, or a bed and chair, or a living room, or any other kind of requisite kept by him but the property of various others. It should be resolved[7] that such property will not be damaged, will not be destroyed by fire, water, wind, thieves, rats, and so on. Here is the form of the resolve: “During these seven days let this and this not be burnt by fire; let it not be swept off by water; let it not be spoilt by wind; let it not be stolen by thieves; let it not be devoured by rats, and so on.” When he has resolved in this way, they are not in danger during the seven days.

36. If he does not resolve in this way, they may be destroyed by fire, etc., as in the case of the Elder Mahā Nāga. The elder, it seems, went for alms into the village where his mother, a lay follower, lived. She gave him rice gruel and seated him in the sitting hall. The elder sat down and attained cessation. While he was sitting there the hall caught fire. The other bhikkhus each picked up their seats and fled. The villagers gathered together, and seeing the elder, they said, “What a lazy monk! What a lazy monk!” The fire burned the grass thatch, the bamboos, and timbers, and it encircled the elder. People brought water and put it out. They removed the ashes, did repairs,[8] scattered flowers, and then stood respectfully waiting. The elder emerged at the time he had determined. Seeing them, he said, “I am discovered!,” and he rose up into the air and went to Piyaṅgu Island. This is “non-damage to others’ property.”

37. There is no special resolving to be done for what is his own personal property such as the inner and outer robes or the seat he is sitting on. He protects all that by means of the attainment itself, like those of the venerable Sañjīva. And this is said: “There was success by intervention of concentration in the venerable Sañjīva. There was success by intervention of concentration in the venerable Sāriputta” (Paṭis I 212—see XII.30).

38. (b) The Community’s waiting is the Community’s expecting. The meaning is: till this bhikkhu comes there is no carrying out of acts of the Community. And here it is not the actual Community’s waiting that is the preparatory task, but the adverting to the waiting. So it should be adverted to in this way: “While I am sitting for seven days in the attainment of cessation, if the Community wants to enact a resolution, etc., I shall emerge before any bhikkhu comes to summon me.” [707] One who attains it after doing this emerges at exactly that time.

39. But if he does not do so, then perhaps the Community assembles, and not seeing him, it is asked, “Where is the bhikkhu so and so?” They reply, “He has attained cessation.” The Community dispatches a bhikkhu, telling him, “Go and summon him in the name of the Community.” Then as soon as the bhikkhu stands within his hearing and merely says, “The Community is waiting for you, friend,” he emerges. Such is the importance of the Community’s order. So he should attain in such-wise that, by adverting to it beforehand, he emerges by himself.

40. (c) The Master’s summons: here too it is the adverting to the Master’s summons that is the preparatory task. So that also should be adverted to in this way: “While I am sitting for seven days in the attainment of cessation, if the Master, after examining a case, makes known a course of training, or teaches the Dhamma, the origin of which discourse is some need that has arisen,[9] I shall emerge before anyone comes to summon me.” For when he has seated himself after doing so, he emerges at exactly that time.

41. But if he does not do so, when the Community assembles, the Master, not seeing him, asks, “Where is the bhikkhu so and so?” They reply, “He has attained cessation.” Then he dispatches a bhikkhu, telling him, “Go and summon him in my name.” As soon as the bhikkhu stands within his hearing and merely says, “The Master calls the venerable one,” he emerges. Such is the importance of the Master’s summons. So he should attain in such wise that, by adverting to it beforehand, he emerges himself.

42. (d) The limit of duration is the limit of life’s duration. For this bhikkhu should be very careful to determine what the limit of his life’s duration is. He should attain only after adverting in this way: “Will my own vital formations go on occurring for seven days or will they not?” For if he attains it without adverting when the vital formations are due to cease within seven days, then since the attainment of cessation cannot ward off his death because there is no dying during cessation,[10] he consequently emerges from the attainment meanwhile. So he should attain only after adverting to that. For it is said that while it may be permissible to omit adverting to others, this must be adverted to.

43. Now, when he has thus attained the base consisting of nothingness and emerged and done this preparatory task, he then attains the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception. Then after one or two turns of consciousness have passed, he becomes without consciousness, he achieves cessation. But why do consciousnesses not go on occurring in him after the two consciousnesses? Because the effort is directed to cessation. For this bhikkhu’s mounting through the eight attainments, coupling together the states of serenity and insight, [708] is directed to successive cessation, not to attaining the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception. So it is because the effort is directed to cessation that no more than the two consciousnesses occur.

44. But if a bhikkhu emerges from the base consisting of nothingness without having done this preparatory task and then attains the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception, he is unable then to become without consciousness: he returns to the base consisting of nothingness and settles down there.

45. And here the simile of the man and the road not previously travelled may be told. A man who had not previously travelled a certain road came to a ravine cut by water, or after crossing a deep morass he came to a rock heated by a fierce sun. Then without arranging his inner and outer garments, he descended into the ravine but came up again for fear of wetting his belongings and remained on the bank, or he walked up on to the rock but on burning his feet he returned to the near side and waited there.

46. Herein, just as the man, as soon as he had descended into the ravine, or walked up on to the hot rock, turned back and remained on the near side because he had not seen to the arrangement of his inner and outer garments, so too as soon as the meditator has attained the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception, he turns back and remains in the base consisting of nothingness because the preparatory task has not been done.

47. Just as when a man who has travelled that road before comes to that place, he puts his inner garment on securely, and taking the other in his hand, crosses over the ravine, or so acts as to tread only lightly on the hot rock and accordingly gets to the other side, so too, when the bhikkhu does the preparatory task and then attains the base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception, then he achieves cessation, which is the other side, by becoming without consciousness.

48. (vii) How is it made to last? It lasts as long as the time predetermined for its duration, unless interrupted meanwhile by the exhaustion of the life span, by the waiting of the Community, or by the Master’s summons.

49. (viii) How does the emergence from it come about? The emergence comes about in two ways thus: by means of the fruition of non-return in the case of the nonreturner, or by means of the fruition of Arahantship in the case of the Arahant.

50. (ix) Towards what does the mind of one who has emerged tend? It tends towards Nibbāna. For this is said: “When a bhikkhu has emerged from the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling, friend Visākha, his consciousness inclines to seclusion, leans to seclusion, tends to seclusion” (M I 302). [709]

51. (x) What is the difference between one who has attained and one who is dead? This is also given in a sutta, according as it is said: “When a bhikkhu is dead, friend, has completed his term, his bodily formations have ceased and are quite still, his verbal formations have ceased and are quite still, his mental formations have ceased and are quite still, his life is exhausted, his heat has subsided, and his faculties are broken up. When a bhikkhu has entered upon the cessation of perception and feeling, his bodily formations have ceased and are quite still, his verbal formations have ceased and are quite still, his mental formations have ceased and are quite still, his life is unexhausted, his heat has not subsided, his faculties are quite whole” (M I 296).

52. (xi) As to the question is the attainment of cessation formed or unformed, etc.? It is not classifiable as formed or unformed, mundane or supramundane. Why? Because it has no individual essence. But since it comes to be attained by one who attains it, it is therefore permissible to say that it is produced, not unproduced.[11]

This too is an attainment which
A Noble One may cultivate;
The peace it gives is reckoned as
Nibbāna here and now.

A wise man by developing
The noble understanding can
With it himself endow;
So this ability is called
A boon of understanding, too,
The noble paths allow.

Footnotes and references:

[1]:

The list in brackets represents in summarized form the things listed at Paṭis I 94–95, repeated in this context in the Paṭisambhidā but left out in the Vism quotation.

[2]:

The serenity shown here is access concentration (see Vism-mhṭ 899).

[3]:

The nine are the four fine-material jhānas, the four immaterial jhānas, and the access concentration preceding each of the eight attainments, described in the last sentence and counted as one.

[4]:

“The word ‘profitable’ used in this Paṭṭhāna passage shows that it app1ies only to non-returners, otherwise ‘functional’ would have been said” (Vism-mhṭ 902).

[5]:

“They say so because of absence of heart-basis; but the meaning is because of absence of basis called physical body. For if anyone were to attain cessation in the immaterial worlds he would become indefinable (appaññattika) owing to the nonexistence of any consciousness or consciousness concomitant at all, and he would be as though attained to final Nibbāna without remainder of results of past clinging; for what remainder of results of past clinging could be predicated of him when he had entered into cessation? So it is because of the lack of the necessary factors that there is no attaining of the attainment of cessation in the immaterial worlds” (Vism-mhṭ 902).

[6]:

“‘Reaching the cessation that is Nibbāna’: as though reaching Nibbāna without remainder of result of past clinging. ‘In bliss’ means without suffering” (Vism-mhṭ 902).

[7]:

“‘It should be resolved’: the thought should be aroused. For here the resolve consists in arousing the thought. In the non-arising of consciousness-originated materiality, etc., and in the absence of support by a postnascence condition, etc., the physical body continues the same only for seven days; after that it suffers wastage. So he limits the duration to seven days when he attains cessation, they say” (Vism-mhṭ 903).

[8]:

Paribhaṇḍa—“repair work”: this meaning is not given in PED; cf. M-a IV 157 (patching of old robes), and M-a I 291.

[9]:

The word atthuppatti (“the origin being a need arisen”) is a technical commentarial term. “There are four kinds of origins (uppatti) or setting forth of suttas (suttanikkhepa): on account of the speaker’s own inclination (attajjhāsaya), on account of another’s inclination (parajjhāsaya), as the result of a question asked (pucchāvasika), and on account of a need arisen (atthuppattika)’ (M-a I 15, see also Ch. III.88).

[10]:

“‘Vital formations’ are the same as 1ife span; though some say that they are the life span, heat and consciousness. These are the object only of his normal consciousness. There is no death during cessation because dying takes place by means of the final life-continuum [consciousness]. He should attain only after adverting thus, ‘Let sudden death not occur.’ For in the case of sudden death he would not be able to declare final knowledge, advise the bhikkhus, and testify to the Dispensation’s power. And there would be no reaching the highest path in the case of a non-returner” (Vism-mhṭ 904).

[11]:

The subtleties of the word nipphanna are best cleared up by quoting a paragraph from the Sammohavinodanī (Vibh-a 29): “The five aggregates are positively-produced (parinipphanna) always, not un-positively-produced (aparinipphanna); they are always formed, not unformed. Besides, they are produced (nipphanna) as well. For among the dhammas that are individual essences (sabhāva-dhamma) it is only Nibbāna that is un-positively-produced and un-produced (anipphanna).” The Mūla Ṭīkā comments on this: “What is the difference between the positively-produced and the produced? A dhamma that is an individual essence with a beginning and an end in time, produced by conditions, and marked by the three characteristics, is positively produced. But besides this, what is produced [but not positively produced] is a dhamma with no individual essence (asabhāva-dhamma) when it is produced by the taking of a name or by attaining [the attainment of cessation]” (Vibh-a 23). Cf. also XIV.72 and 77.

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