A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of sila and samadhi: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the seventh part in the series called the “buddhist philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 7 - Sīla and Samādhi

We are intertwined all through outside and inside by the tangles of desire (taṇhā jatā), and the only way by which these may be loosened is by the practice of right discipline (sīla), concentration (samādhi) and wisdom (paññā). Sīla briefly means the desisting from committing all sinful deeds (sabbapāpassa akaranam). With sīla therefore the first start has to be made, for by it one ceases to do all actions prompted by bad desires and thereby removes the inrush of dangers and disturbances. This serves to remove the kilesas, and therefore the proper performance of the sīla would lead one to the first two successive stages of sainthood, viz. the sotāpannabhāva (the stage in which one is put in the right current) and the sakadāgāmibhāva (the stage when one has only one more birth to undergo). Samādhi is a more advanced effort, for by it all the old roots of the old kilesas are destroyed and the taṇhā or desire is removed and by it one is led to the more advanced states of a saint. It directly brings in paññā (true wisdom) and by paññā the saint achieves final emancipation and becomes what is called an arhat[1]. Wisdom (paññā) is right knowledge about the four āriya saccas, viz. sorrow, its cause, its destruction and its cause of destruction.

Sīla means those particular volitions and mental states, etc. by which a man who desists from committing sinful actions maintains himself on the right path.

Sīla thus means

  1. right volition (cetanā),
  2. the associated mental states (cetasika),
  3. mental control (saṃvara) and
  4. the actual non-transgression (in body and speech) of the course of conduct already in the mind by the preceding three sīlas called avītikkama.

Saṃvara is spoken of as being of five kinds.

  1. Pātimokkhasaṃvara (the control which saves him who abides by it),
  2. Satisaṃvara (the control of mindfulness),
  3. Nānasaṃvara (the control of knowledge),
  4. Khantisaṃvara (the control of patience),
  5. Viriya-saṃvara (the control of active self-restraint).

Pātimokkhasaṃvara means all self-control in general. Satisaṃvara means the mindfulness by which one can bring in the right and good associations when using one’s cognitive senses. Even when looking at any tempting object he will by virtue of his mindfulness (sad) control himself from being tempted by avoiding to think of its tempting side and by thinking on such aspects of it as may lead in the right direction. Khantisaṃvara is that by which one can remain unperturbed in heat and cold. By the proper adherence to sīla all our bodily, mental and vocal activities (kavima) are duly systematized, organized, stabilized (samādhānam, upadhāraṇaṃ, patiṭṭhā)[2].

The sage who adopts the full course should also follow a number of healthy monastic rules with reference to dress, sitting, dining, etc., which are called the dhūtañgas or pure disciplinary parts[3]. The practice of sīla and the dhūtaṅgas help the sage to adopt the course of samādhi. Samādhi as we have seen means the concentration of the mind bent on right endeavours (kusala-cittekaggatā samādhih) together with its states upon one particular object (ekārammana) so that they may completely cease to shift and change (sammā ca avikkhipamānā)[4].

The man who has practised sīla must train his mind first in particular ways, so that it may be possible for him to acquire the chief concentration of meditation called jhāna (fixed and steady meditation). These preliminary endeavours of the mind for the acquirement of jhānasamādhi eventually lead to it and are called upacāra samādhi (preliminary samādhi) as distinguished from the jhānasamādhi called the appanāsamādhi (achieved samādhi)[5]. Thus as a preparatory measure, firstly he has to train his mind continually to view with disgust the appetitive desires for eating and drinking (āhāre patikkūlasañua) by emphasizing in the mind the various troubles that are associated in seeking food and drink and their ultimate loathsome transformations as various nauseating bodily elements. When a man continually habituates himself to emphasize the disgusting associations of food and drink, he ceases to have any attachment to them and simply takes them as an unavoidable evil, only awaiting the day when the final dissolution of all sorrows will come[6].

Secondly he has to habituate his mind to the idea that all the parts of our body are made up of the four elements,

  1. kṣiti (earth),
  2. ap (water),
  3. tejas (fire)
  4. and wind (air),

like the carcase of a cow at the butcher’s shop. This is technically called catu-dhātuvavatthānabhāvanā (the meditation of the body as being made up of the four elements)[7]. Thirdly he has to habituate his mind to think again and again (anussati) about the virtues or greatness of the Buddha, the sañgha (the monks following the Buddha), the gods and the law (dhamma) of the Buddha, about the good effects of sīla, and the making of gifts (cāgāīiussati), about the nature of death (maranānussati) and about the deep nature and qualities of the final extinction of all phenomena (upasamānussati)[8].

Advancing further from the preliminary meditations or preparations called the upacāra samādhi vve come to those other sources of concentration and meditation called the appanāsamādhi which directly lead to the achievement of the highest samādhi. The processes of purification and strengthening of the mind continue in this stage also, but these represent the last attempts which lead the mind to its final goal Nibbāna. In the first part of this stage the sage has to go to the cremation grounds and notice the diverse horrifying changes of the human carcases and think how nauseating, loathsome, unsightly and impure they are, and from this he will turn his mind to the living human bodies and convince himself that they being in essence the same as the dead carcases are as loathsome as they[9]. This is called asubhakam-matthāna or the endeavour to perceive the impurity of our bodies. He should think of the anatomical parts and constituents of the body as well as their processes, and this will help him to enter into the first jhāna by leading his mind away from his body. This is called the kāyagatāsati or the continual mindfulness about the nature of the body[10]. As an aid to concentration the sage should sit in a quiet place and fix his mind on the inhaling (passāsa) and the exhaling    of his breath, so that instead

of breathing in a more or less unconscious manner he may be aware whether he is breathing quickly or slowly; he ought to mark it definitely by counting numbers, so that by fixing his mind on the numbers counted he may fix his mind on the whole process of inhalation and exhalation in all stages of its course. This is called the ānapānasati or the mindfulness of inhalation and exhalation[11].

Next to this we come to Brahmavihāra, the fourfold meditation of mettā (universal friendship), karuṇā (universal pity), muditā (happiness in the prosperity and happiness of all) and upekkhā (indifference to any kind of preferment of oneself, his friend, enemy or a third party). In order to habituate oneself to the meditation on universal friendship,one should start with thinking how he should himself like to root out all misery and become happy, how he should himself like to avoid death and live cheerfully, and then pass over to the idea that other beings would also have the same desires. He should thus habituate himself to think that his friends, his enemies, and all those with whom he is not connected might all live and become happy. He should fix himself to such an extent in this meditation that he would not find any difference between the happiness or safety of himself and of others.

He should never become angry with any person. Should he at any time feel himself offended on account of the injuries inflicted on him by his enemies, he should think of the futility of doubling his sadness by becoming sorry or vexed on that account. He should think that if he should allow himself to be affected by anger, he would spoil all his sīla which he was so carefully practising. If anyone has done a vile action by inflicting injury, should he himself also do the same by being angry at it ? If he were finding fault with others for being angry, could he himself indulge in anger? Moreover he should think that all the dhammas are momentary (khanikattā); that there no longer existed the khandhas which had inflicted the injury, and moreover the infliction of any injury being only a joint product, the man who was injured was himself an indispensable element in the production of the infliction as much as the man who inflicted the injury, and there could not thus be any special reason for making him responsible and of being angry with him.

If even after thinking in this way the anger does not subside, he should think that by indulging in anger he could only bring mischief on himself through his bad deeds, and he should further think that the other man by being angry was only producing mischief to himself but not to him. By thinking in these ways the sage would be able to free his mind from anger against his enemies and establish himself in an attitude of universal friendship[12]. This is called the mettā-bhāvanā. In the meditation of universal pity (karunā) also one should sympathize with the sorrows of his friends and foes alike. The sage being more keen-sighted will feel pity for those who are apparently leading a happy life, but are neither acquiring merits nor endeavouring to proceed on the way to Nibbāna, for they are to suffer innumerable lives of sorrow[13].

We next come to the jhānas with the help of material things as objects of concentration called the Kasinam. These objects of concentration may either be earth, water, fire, wind, blue colour, yellow colour, red colour, white colour, light or limited space (paricchinnākāsā). Thus the sage may take a brown ball of earth and concentrate his mind upon it as an earth ball, sometimes with eyes open and sometimes with eyes shut. When he finds that even in shutting his eyes he can visualize the object in his mind, he may leave off the object and retire to another place to concentrate upon the image of the earth ball in his mind.

In the first stages of the first meditation (pathamam jhānavi) the mind is concentrated on the object in the way of understanding it with its form and name and of comprehending it with its diverse relations. This state of concentration is called vitakka (discursive meditation). The next stage of the first meditation is that in which the mind does not move in the object in relational terms but becomes fixed and settled in it and penetrates into it without any quivering. This state is called vicāra (steadily moving). The first stage vitakka has been compared in Buddhaghoṣa’s Visuddhimagga to the flying of a kite with its wings flapping, whereas the second stage is compared to its flying in a sweep without the least quiver of its wings. These two stages are associated with a buoyant exaltation (pīti) and a steady inward bliss called sukha[14] instilling the mind.

The formation of this first jhāna roots out five ties of avijjā,

  1. kāmacchando (dallying with desires),
  2. vyāpādo (hatred),
  3. thīnamiddham (sloth and torpor),
  4. uddhaccakukkuccam (pride and restlessness),
  5. and vicikicchā (doubt).

The five elements of which this jhāna is constituted are

  1. vitakka,
  2. vicāra,
  3. pīti,
  4. sukham
  5. and ekaggatā (one pointedness).

When the sage masters the first jhāna he finds it defective and wants to enter into the second meditation (dutiyam jhānam), where there is neither any vitakka nor vicāra of the first jhāna, but the mind is in one unruffled state (ekodibhāvam). It is a much steadier state and does not possess the movement which characterized the vitakka and the vicāra stages of the first jhāna and is therefore a very placid state (vitakka-vicārakkhobha-viraheṇa ativiya acalatā suppasannatā ca). It is however associated with pīti, sukha and ekaggatā as the first jhāna was.

When the second jhāna is mastered the sage becomes disinclined towards the enjoyment of the pīti of that stage and becomes indifferent to them (upekkhako). A sage in this stage sees the objects but is neither pleased nor displeased. At this stage all the āsavas of the sage become loosened (khīṇāsava). The enjoyment of sukha however still remains in the stage and the mind if not properly and carefully watched would like sometimes to turn back to the enjoyment of pīti again. The two characteristics of this jhāna are sukha and ekaggatā. It should however be noted that though there is the feeling of highest sukha here, the mind is not only not attached to it but is indifferent to it (atimadhurasukhe snkhapāramippatte pi tatiyajjhāne upekkhako, na tattha sukhābkisangena ākaḍḍhiyati)[15]. The earth ball (paṭhavī) is however still the object of the jhāna.

In the fourth or the last jhāna both the sukha (happiness) and the dukkha (misery) vanish away and all the roots of attachment and antipathies are destroyed. This state is characterized by supreme and absolute indifference (npckkhā) which was slowly growing in all the various stages of the jhānas. The characteristics of this jhāna are therefore upekkhā and ekaggatā. With the mastery of this jhāna comes final perfection and total extinction of the citta called cetovimutti, and the sage becomes thereby an arhat[16]. There is no further production of the khandhas, no rebirth, and there is the absolute cessation of all sorrows and sufferings— Nibbāna.

Footnotes and references:


Visuddhimagga Nidānādikathā.


Visttddhimagga-sīlaniddeso, pp. 7 and 8.


Visuddhimagga, II.


Visuddhimagga, pp. 84-85.


As it is not possible for me to enter into details, I follow what appears to me to be the main line of division showing the interconnection of jhāna (Skr. dkvāna) with its accessory stages called parikammas (Visuddhimagga, pp. 85 f.).


Visuddhimagga, pp. 341-347; mark the intense pessimistic attitude,

Imañ ca pana āhāre paṭikulasaññāṃ annyuttassa bhikkhuṇo rasataṇhāya cittam paṭilīyati, paṭikuṭṭati, paṭivaṭṭati; so, kantāranittharaṇaṭṭhiko viya puttamaṃsaṃ vigatamado āhāraṃ āhāreti yāvad eva dukkhassa niṭṭharaṇatthāya,


The mind of him who inspires himself with this supreme disgust to all food, becomes free from all desires for palatable tastes, and turns its back to them and flies off from them. As a means of getting rid of all sorrow he takes his food without any attachment as one would eat the flesh of his own son to sustain himself in crossing a forest.


Visuddhimagga, pp. 347-370.


Visuddhimagga, pp. 197-294.


Visuddhimagga, VI.


Ibid. pp. 239-266.


Ibid. pp. 266-292.


Visuddhimagga, pp. 295-314.


Ibid. pp. 314-315.


Where there is pīti there is sukha, but where there is sukha there may not necessarily be pīti. Visuddhimagga , p. 145.


Visuddhimagga , p. 163.


Majjhitna Nikāya, I. p. 296, and Visuddhimagga, pp. 167-168.