Citta

Posted: December 10, 2016 by pathpress in Dhamma Article

by Ven. Ariyavaṃsa

1. citta — the mind

The Pali word “samādhi” is usually translated as “concentration”. This is well and good—for as long as one knows what one is designating by this word “concentration”. The trouble is that the word “concentration” usually implies a kind of focusing or narrowing of attention on to a fixed object. This is not what samādhi is. The word “samādhi” comes from saŋ (meaning “together”) + dhā or dahati (meaning “to put; to place”). This is because samādhi means something like putting together, unifying, bringing together as one. The English word “composure” captures this meaning rather effectively since it resembles the Pali by being constituted by the Latin prefix com (meaning “together”) and the verb ponere (meaning “to put; to place”), whose past participle is positus. Samādhi involves composing the mind, bringing the mind together into one place such that one discerns the mind as one thing, as a phenomenon.

Samādhi is about discernment. It is about discerning the phenomenon of mind. Mind is there but, proximally and for the most part, people are not able to recognise it for what it is. Particular things arise (e.g. the sight of a cloud, the sound of a bird), but these things would not be possible without there also being that much more general, much more ephemeral phenomenon of mind. The sound of a bird is not simply some acoustic sensations, some brute matter, some meaningless sense-impressions, or some Husserlian hyletic data, onto which we then add some kind of meaning. It is understood to be the sound of something. It is always already significant. Everything we encounter we find as already having some sort of significance—which means that whenever we encounter a particular thing (such as this sound), we also find various other phenomena also there (such as memories and images of birds) in the background. Even the most meaningless thing I can possibly think of has a meaning. Imagine, for example, that you are in a modern art gallery, faced with a canvas with all sorts of meaningless lines and squiggles. “It doesn’t mean anything to me,” you say. But in making this judgement you have designated this painting as “meaningless”. This thing is given as “a meaningless painting”—this is its meaning.

All experience involves the presence of these two domains: the domain of this particular phenomenon which I attend to, and the domain of the various background phenomena which are also there, in a different way, and which ensure that this particular thing is significant. Another way of saying this is that citta, the mind, has the nature of providing a space, an opening, a clearing around the things that arise such that other things (which determine the significance of the thing) can be discerned peripherally in this surrounding space. And part of a thing’s significance is how it feels. Things are experienced as being either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. The suttas tell us that citta is determined by perception and feeling—that is, when there is citta, there is both perception and feeling; when there is perception and feeling, there is citta; if there is no perception and no feeling, there can be no citta; if there is no citta, there can be no perception and no feeling.

“saññā ca vedanā ca cetasikā ete dhammā cittappaṭibaddhā, tasmā saññā ca vedanā ca cittasaṅkhāro”ti.

Perception and feeling—these are mental phenomena, bound up with mind. Therefore, perception and feeling are mind-determinations.

MN 44

Since the things which one attends to always show up against the background of citta, the quality of citta will determine the way in which these things are understood. One finds that the significance of phenomena that one encounters are affected by one’s mood. If I am in a good mood things-in-the-world show up in a completely different way from when I am in a bad mood. When I am in a good mood, the idea of being in a bad mood is simply inconceivable—and vice versa. Also, I find that at times I am more influenced by certain tendencies, such as ill-will or greed. If I am feeling lustful, then the sight of a woman shows up in a very different way from when there is no lust present. Also, I find that I might be feeling dull and tired, or I might feel excited and agitated. All of these background phenomena provide a kind of climate within which things are encountered. Every thing is encountered within a context—a clearing, you might say, in which it is situated. That field of the background phenomena, together with the feelings, the moods, the underlying tendencies to be drawn in certain directions—all of this is what we designate with the word “mind”. And this background has certain qualities that can be discerned. However, this is not straightforward, since whenever I think about what the mind as such is, I find some concept or other, some thought, together with various images and feelings. All of this can only be there because mind is already there, given beforehand. The mind is that phenomenon because of which phenomena can be encountered and it is not to be conceived—it is to be understood.

This is not easy to see in experience. One must learn how to recognise this phenomenon—in the vague, background, indeterminate way that it has manifested. If one wishes to develop right view, then it is absolutely essential that one develops the capacity to discern those attributes, those features, those characteristics which determine this phenomenon of mind.

“‘so vata, bhikkhave, bhikkhu saṅgaṇikārāmo saṅgaṇikarato saṅgaṇikārāmataṃ anuyutto, gaṇārāmo gaṇarato gaṇārāmataṃ anuyutto, eko paviveke abhiramissatī’ti netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati. ‘eko paviveke anabhiramanto cittassa nimittaṃ gahessatī’ti netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati. ‘cittassa nimittaṃ agaṇhanto sammādiṭṭhiṃ paripūressatī’ti netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati. ‘sammādiṭṭhiṃ aparipūretvā sammāsamādhiṃ paripūressatī’ti netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati. ‘sammāsamādhiṃ aparipūretvā saṃyojanāni pajahissatī’ti netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati. ‘saṃyojanāni appahāya nibbānaṃ sacchikarissatī’ti netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjati.

“‘so vata, bhikkhave, bhikkhu na saṅgaṇikārāmo na saṅgaṇikarato na saṅgaṇikārāmataṃ anuyutto, na gaṇārāmo na gaṇarato na gaṇārāmataṃ anuyutto, eko paviveke abhiramissatī’ti ṭhānametaṃ vijjati. ‘eko paviveke abhiramanto cittassa nimittaṃ gahessatī’ti ṭhānametaṃ vijjati. ‘cittassa nimittaṃ gaṇhanto sammādiṭṭhiṃ paripūressatī’ti ṭhānametaṃ vijjati. ‘sammādiṭṭhiṃ paripūretvā sammāsamādhiṃ paripūressatī’ti ṭhānametaṃ vijjati. ‘sammāsamādhiṃ paripūretvā saṃyojanāni pajahissatī’ti ṭhānametaṃ vijjati. ‘saṃyojanāni pahāya nibbānaṃ sacchikarissatī’ti ṭhānametaṃ vijjatī”ti

Bhikkhus, for a bhikkhu who delights in company, who takes pleasure in company, who engages in the delight in company, who delights in a crowd, who takes pleasure in a crowd, who engages in the delight in a crowd; that he should enjoy being alone and secluded is not a possibility. Not enjoying being alone and secluded; that he should pick up the sign of mind is not a possibility. Not picking up the sign of mind; that he should fulfil right view is not a possibility. Not having fulfilled right view; that he should fulfil right composure is not a possibility. Not having fulfilled right composure; that he should abandon the fetters is not a possibility. Not having abandoned the fetters; that he should realize Nibbāna is not a possibility.

Bhikkhus, for a bhikkhu who does not delight in company, who does not take pleasure in company, who does not engage in the delight in company, who does not delight in a crowd, who does not take pleasure in a crowd, who does not engage in the delight in a crowd; that he should enjoy being alone and secluded is a possibility. Enjoying being alone and secluded; that he should pick up the sign of mind is a possibility. Picking up the sign of mind; that he should fulfil right view is a possibility. Having fulfilled right view; that he should fulfil right composure is a possibility. Having fulfilled right composure; that he should abandon the fetters is a possibility. Having abandoned the fetters; that he should realize Nibbāna is a possibility.

AN 6:68

2. cittassa nimitta — the sign of the mind

How, then, does one discern this sign of mind? First, let us clear something up. The standard view of what is meant by the word nimitta, elaborated in considerable detail in many of the commentaries on the Buddha’s teaching, applies it to the various techniques of meditation that have developed over the years, such that its meaning has become highly specialised. It is usually used to refer to some sort of light or vision that arises when one keeps one’s awareness on “the meditation object.”1

However, if we try to understand how the word is used in the suttas, we find that its meaning is not in the slightest bit esoteric and much more straightforward. For example, in MN 82 we are told the story of the bhikkhu Raṭṭhapāla who, after attaining arahantship, returns home to visit his parents. On seeing his son in robes, his father fails to recognise him but as the household servant pours some porridge into his bowl, she becomes aware who this bhikkhu is.

hatthānañca pādānañca sarassa ca nimittaṃ aggahesi.

… she recognised the characteristic features of his hands, his feet and his voice.

MN 82

She recognised the nimitta of his hands, feet and voice, the characteristic features of these things that allowed her to recognise her master’s son. In the same way, before one can develop samādhi, one must first be able to recognise the characteristic features of the mind and see it for what it is.

In the Theragāthā, Venerable Sunāgo describes samādhi as involving becoming adept at picking up the nimitta of mind:

“cittanimittassa kovido, pavivekarasaṃ vijāniya.
jhāyaṃ nipako patissato, adhigaccheyya sukhaṃ nirāmisan”ti.

“Well-versed in the sign of the mind, recognising the taste of seclusion,
Intelligent in meditation, mindful, you’d attain a pleasure not of the flesh.”

Thag 1: 85

We also find the sign of the mind being described in terms of the four satipaṭṭhānā—the four ways to set up mindfulness.

“seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, bālo abyatto akusalo sūdo rājānaṃ vā rājamahāmattaṃ vā nānaccayehi sūpehi paccupaṭṭhito assa — ambilaggehipi, tittakaggehipi, kaṭukaggehipi, madhuraggehipi, khārikehipi, akhārikehipi, loṇikehipi, aloṇikehipi.

“sa kho so, bhikkhave, bālo abyatto akusalo sūdo sakassa bhattu nimittaṃ na uggaṇhāti — ‘idaṃ vā me ajja bhattu sūpeyyaṃ ruccati, imassa vā abhiharati, imassa vā bahuṃ gaṇhāti, imassa vā vaṇṇaṃ bhāsati. ambilaggaṃ vā me ajja bhattu sūpeyyaṃ ruccati, ambilaggassa vā abhiharati, ambilaggassa vā bahuṃ gaṇhāti, ambilaggassa vā vaṇṇaṃ bhāsati. tittakaggaṃ vā me ajja… kaṭukaggaṃ vā me ajja… madhuraggaṃ vā me ajja… khārikaṃ vā me ajja… akhārikaṃ vā me ajja… loṇikaṃ vā me ajja… aloṇikaṃ vā me ajja bhattu sūpeyyaṃ ruccati, aloṇikassa vā abhiharati, aloṇikassa vā bahuṃ gaṇhāti, aloṇikassa vā vaṇṇaṃ bhāsatī’”ti.

“sa kho so, bhikkhave, bālo abyatto akusalo sūdo na ceva lābhī hoti acchādanassa, na lābhī vetanassa, na lābhī abhihārānaṃ. taṃ kissa hetu? tathā hi so, bhikkhave, bālo abyatto akusalo sūdo sakassa bhattu nimittaṃ na uggaṇhāti. evameva kho, bhikkhave, idhekacco bālo abyatto akusalo bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ. tassa kāye kāyānupassino viharato cittaṃ na samādhiyati, upakkilesā na pahīyanti. so taṃ nimittaṃ na uggaṇhāti. vedanāsu vedanānupassī viharati … pe … citte cittānupassī viharati … pe … dhammesu dhammānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ. tassa dhammesu dhammānupassino viharato cittaṃ na samādhiyati, upakkilesā na pahīyanti. so taṃ nimittaṃ na uggaṇhāti.

“sa kho so, bhikkhave, bālo abyatto akusalo bhikkhu na ceva lābhī hoti diṭṭheva dhamme sukhavihārānaṃ, na lābhī satisampajaññassa. taṃ kissa hetu? tathā hi so, bhikkhave, bālo abyatto akusalo bhikkhu sakassa cittassa nimittaṃ na uggaṇhāti.

“seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, paṇḍito byatto kusalo sūdo rājānaṃ vā rājamahāmattaṃ vā nānaccayehi sūpehi paccupaṭṭhito assa — ambilaggehipi, tittakaggehipi, kaṭukaggehipi, madhuraggehipi, khārikehipi, akhārikehipi, loṇikehipi, aloṇikehipi.

“sa kho so, bhikkhave, paṇḍito byatto kusalo sūdo sakassa bhattu nimittaṃ uggaṇhāti — ‘idaṃ vā me ajja bhattu sūpeyyaṃ ruccati, imassa vā abhiharati, imassa vā bahuṃ gaṇhāti, imassa vā vaṇṇaṃ bhāsati. ambilaggaṃ vā me ajja bhattu sūpeyyaṃ ruccati, ambilaggassa vā abhiharati, ambilaggassa vā bahuṃ gaṇhāti, ambilaggassa vā vaṇṇaṃ bhāsati. tittakaggaṃ vā me ajja… kaṭukaggaṃ vā me ajja… madhuraggaṃ vā me ajja… khārikaṃ vā me ajja… akhārikaṃ vā me ajja… loṇikaṃ vā me ajja… aloṇikaṃ vā me ajja bhattu sūpeyyaṃ ruccati, aloṇikassa vā abhiharati, aloṇikassa vā bahuṃ gaṇhāti, aloṇikassa vā vaṇṇaṃ bhāsatī’”ti.

“sa kho so, bhikkhave, paṇḍito byatto kusalo sūdo lābhī ceva hoti acchādanassa, lābhī vetanassa, lābhī abhihārānaṃ. taṃ kissa hetu? tathā hi so, bhikkhave, paṇḍito byatto kusalo sūdo sakassa bhattu nimittaṃ uggaṇhāti.

evameva kho, bhikkhave, idhekacco paṇḍito byatto kusalo bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ. tassa kāye kāyānupassino viharato cittaṃ samādhiyati, upakkilesā pahīyanti. so taṃ nimittaṃ uggaṇhāti. vedanāsu vedanānupassī viharati … pe … citte cittānupassī viharati … pe … dhammesu dhammānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ. tassa dhammesu dhammānupassino viharato cittaṃ samādhiyati, upakkilesā pahīyanti. so taṃ nimittaṃ uggaṇhāti.

“sa kho so, bhikkhave, paṇḍito byatto kusalo bhikkhu lābhī ceva hoti diṭṭheva dhamme sukhavihārānaṃ, lābhī hoti satisampajaññassa. taṃ kissa hetu? tathā hi so, bhikkhave, paṇḍito byatto kusalo bhikkhu sakassa cittassa nimittaṃ uggaṇhātī”ti.

“Bhikkhus, suppose a foolish, inexperienced, unskillful cook were to present a king or a royal minister with various portions of curries: sour, bitter, pungent, sweet, alkaline, mild, salty, bland.

“That foolish, inexperienced, unskillful cook does not pick up the sign of his own master’s preference: ‘Today this curry pleased my master, or he reached for this one, or he took a lot of this one, or he spoke in praise of this one; or the sour curry pleased my master today, or he reached for the sour one, or he took a lot of the sour one, or he spoke in praise of the sour one; or the bitter curry … or the pungent curry … or the sweet curry … or the alkaline curry … or the mild curry … or the salty curry … or the bland curry pleased my master … or he spoke in praise of the bland one.’

“That foolish, inexperienced, unskillful cook does not gain clothing, wages, or gifts. For what reason? Because in this way, this foolish, inexperienced, unskillful cook does not pick up the sign of his own master’s preference. So too, bhikkhus, here some foolish, inexperienced, unskillful bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, aware, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he dwells contemplating the body in the body, his mind does not become composed, his defilements are not abandoned, he does not pick up that sign. He dwells contemplating feelings in feelings … mind in mind … phenomena in phenomena, ardent, aware, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he dwells contemplating phenomena in phenomena, his mind does not become composed, his defilements are not abandoned, he does not pick up that sign.

“That foolish, inexperienced, unskillful bhikkhu does not gain pleasant dwellings in this very life, nor does he gain mindfulness-and-awareness. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, that foolish, inexperienced, unskillful bhikkhu does not pick up the sign of his own mind.

“Suppose, bhikkhus, a wise, experienced, skilful cook were to present a king or a royal minister with various kinds of curries: sour, bitter, pungent, sweet, alkaline, mild, salty, bland.

“That wise, experienced, skillful cook picks up the sign of his own master’s preference: ‘Today this curry pleased my master, or he reached for this one, or he took a lot of this one, or he spoke in praise of this one; or the sour curry pleased my master today, or he reached for the sour one, or he took a lot of the sour one, or he spoke in praise of the sour one; or the bitter curry … or the pungent curry … or the sweet curry … or the alkaline curry … or the mild curry … or the salty curry … or the bland curry pleased my master … or he spoke in praise of the bland one.’ … or he spoke in praise of the bland one.’

“That wise, experienced, skillful cook gains gifts of clothing, wages, and bonuses. For what reason? Because that wise, experienced, skillful cook picks up the sign of his own master’s preference.

“So too, bhikkhus, here some wise, experienced, skillful bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, aware, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he dwells contemplating the body in the body, his mind becomes composed, his defilements are abandoned, he picks up that sign. He dwells contemplating feelings in feelings … mind in mind … phenomena in phenomena, ardent, aware, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he dwells contemplating phenomena in phenomena, his mind becomes composed, his defilements are abandoned, he picks up that sign.

“That wise, experienced, skillful bhikkhu gains pleasant dwellings in this very life, and he gains mindfulness-and-awareness. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, that wise, competent, skillful bhikkhu picks up the sign of his own mind.”

SN 47:8

Whether one sets up mindfulness by attending to the presence of body, feeling, mind or thoughts, this can only be done correctly by picking up the nimitta of mind, by discerning those attributes, those features, those distinguishing characteristics that make it possible to recognise that mind is there. The mind is the background that makes it possible to discern these four phenomena (body, feeling, mind and thoughts). In other words, mindfulness requires a sensitivity to both figure and ground. Despite what the tradition tells us, one is not mindful by keeping one’s awareness fixed on this or that particular object (such as the breath, the nostrils, the abdomen, or any other so-called “meditation object”). Rather, mindfulness involves the capacity to see whatever particular phenomenon that one is attending to (such as the four suggested in the satipaṭṭhāna formula) while at the same time being aware of the simultaneous presence of the background that makes this phenomenon possible—namely, mind. Setting up mindfulness is done in order to develop samādhi, to develop the mind, insofar as the mind becomes manifest in one’s experience as a phenomenon.

nāhaṃ, bhikkhave, aññaṃ ekadhammampi samanupassāmi yaṃ evaṃ abhāvitaṃ apātubhūtaṃ mahato anatthāya saṃvattati yathayidaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ. cittaṃ, bhikkhave, abhāvitaṃ apātubhūtaṃ mahato anatthāya saṃvattatī.

Bhikkhus, I do not see even one thing that, when developed and manifested, leads to such great good as the mind. The mind, when developed and manifested, leads to great good.

AN 1:26

3. cittānupassanā — contemplating the mind

The main explanation we have from the Buddha of how to discern the phenomenon of mind is found in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (MN 10; DN 22).

kathañca pana, bhikkhave, bhikkhu citte cittānupassī viharati? idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sarāgaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘sarāgaṃ citta’nti pajānāti, vītarāgaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘vītarāgaṃ citta’nti pajānāti; sadosaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘sadosaṃ citta’nti pajānāti, vītadosaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘vītadosaṃ citta’nti pajānāti; samohaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘samohaṃ citta’nti pajānāti, vītamohaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘vītamohaṃ citta’nti pajānāti; saṃkhittaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘saṃkhittaṃ citta’nti pajānāti, vikkhittaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘vikkhittaṃ citta’nti pajānāti; mahaggataṃ vā cittaṃ ‘mahaggataṃ citta’nti pajānāti, amahaggataṃ vā cittaṃ ‘amahaggataṃ citta’nti pajānāti; sauttaraṃ vā cittaṃ ‘sauttaraṃ citta’nti pajānāti, anuttaraṃ vā cittaṃ ‘anuttaraṃ citta’nti pajānāti; samāhitaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘samāhitaṃ citta’nti pajānāti, asamāhitaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘asamāhitaṃ citta’nti pajānāti; vimuttaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘vimuttaṃ citta’nti pajānāti, avimuttaṃ vā cittaṃ ‘avimuttaṃ citta’nti pajānāti. iti ajjhattaṃ vā citte cittānupassī viharati, bahiddhā vā citte cittānupassī viharati, ajjhattabahiddhā vā citte cittānupassī viharati; samudayadhammānupassī vā cittasmiṃ viharati, vayadhammānupassī vā cittasmiṃ viharati, samudayavayadhammānupassī vā cittasmiṃ viharati. ‘atthi citta’nti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti. yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya anissito ca viharati, na ca kiñci loke upādiyati. evampi kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu citte cittānupassī viharati.

And which, bhikkhus, is a bhikkhu who dwells as one who contemplates mind within mind? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu knows a mind with passion as mind with passion; he knows a mind without passion as a mind without passion; he knows a mind with ill-will as a mind without ill-will; he knows a mind without ill-will as a mind without ill-will; he knows a mind with delusion as a mind with delusion; he knows a mind without delusion as a mind without delusion; he knows a stuck together mind as a stuck together mind; he knows a scattered mind as a scattered mind; he knows an enlarged mind as an enlarged mind; he knows an unenlarged mind as an unenlarged mind; he knows a mind with something superior as a mind with something superior; he knows a mind without anything superior as a mind without anything superior; he knows a composed mind as a composed mind; he knows an uncomposed mind as an uncomposed mind; he knows a liberated mind as a liberated mind; he knows an unliberated mind as an unliberated mind. Thus he dwells as one who contemplates mind within mind internally, or he dwells as one who contemplates mind within mind externally, or he dwells as one who contemplates mind within mind internally-&-externally; or he dwells as one who contemplates the nature of arising in the mind, or he dwells as one who contemplates the nature of vanishing in the mind, or he dwells as one who contemplates the nature of arising-&-vanishing in the mind. Or else the mindfulness that “There is mind” is present. He dwells with enough knowledge and reflexion, independent, and not assuming anything in the world. In this way, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells as one who contemplates mind within mind.

MN 10; DN 22

In order to be able to discern the mind as such, one must first be able to recognise the quality of the mind which is present. The Buddha describes these qualities that mind can have as follows: one can know that there is a mind with or without passion, a mind with or without ill-will, a mind with or without delusion, a stuck together or a scattered mind; an enlarged or an unenlarged mind, a mind with or without something superior, a composed or an uncomposed mind and a liberated or an unliberated mind. We will now consider each of these in turn.

(i)    Passion, ill-will, delusion

The arahat is described in many ways. One way to describe him is to say that he is free from greed, hatred and delusion. In MN 9 we are told that the root of the unwholesome (akusalamūla) is lust or greed (lobha), hatred or ill-will (dosa) and bewilderment or delusion (moha). Not knowing these, not being able to recognise them, not seeing them as unwholesome, it is these qualities of mind which characterise the puthujjana. He allows them to remain and to infect the whole of his experience. These roots of unwholesomeness can be compared to the underlying tendencies (anusaya) of the mind, a kind of background weather of the mind which constitutes the most likely directions that one is likely to be drawn towards by the various phenomena that one encounters. A mind that is infected by an underlying tendency to ill-will is likely to see the unpleasant in things and be repelled by them. On the other hand, a mind that is filled with the underlying tendency to passion is more likely to attend to the pleasant attributes and to be drawn to the idea of the gratification of sensual pleasures. Not seeing these latent tendencies of the mind, the puthujjana is at their mercy, blown this way and that by the stormy winds of the mind. The ariyasāvaka, on the other hand, is able to discern the unwholesome and the root of the unwholesome. He can see the mind’s underlying tendencies and knows that he should make the effort to abandon them. He knows the escape from them and knows that although these winds may be strong, he can overpower them, rather than let them overpower him.

evaṃvihārī cāvuso, bhikkhu rūpe adhibhosi, na rūpā bhikkhuṃ adhibhaṃsu; sadde bhikkhu adhibhosi, na saddā bhikkhuṃ adhibhaṃsu; gandhe bhikkhu adhibhosi, na gandhā bhikkhuṃ adhibhaṃsu; rase bhikkhu adhibhosi, na rasā bhikkhuṃ adhibhaṃsu; phoṭṭhabbe bhikkhu adhibhosi, na phoṭṭhabbā bhikkhuṃ adhibhaṃsu; dhamme bhikkhu adhibhosi, na dhammā bhikkhuṃ adhibhaṃsu. ayaṃ vuccatāvuso, bhikkhu rūpādhibhū, saddādhibhū, gandhādhibhū, rasādhibhū, phoṭṭhabbādhibhū, dhammādhibhū, adhibhū, anadhibhūto, adhibhosi te pāpake akusale dhamme saṃkilesike ponobbhavike sadare dukkhavipāke āyatiṃ jātijarāmaraṇiye.

And dwelling in this way, friend, a bhikkhu overpowers sights, sights do not overpower him; a bhikkhu overpowers sounds, sounds do not overpower him; a bhikkhu overpowers smells, smells do not overpower him; a bhikkhu overpowers tastes, tastes do not overpower him; a bhikkhu overpowers touches, touches do not overpower him; a bhikkhu overpowers mental images, mental images do not overpower him. This, friend, is called a bhikkhu who overpowers sights, who overpowers sounds, who overpowers smells, who overpowers tastes, who overpowers touches, who overpowers mental images; one who overpowers, and who is not overpowered. He overpowers those evil unwholesome phenomena that defile, that lead to further being, that bring trouble, that result in suffering and that lead to future birth-ageing-&-death.

SN 35:243

In SN 45:175 we are told that there are seven underlying tendencies: the underlying tendencies to sensual passion (kāmarāgānusaya2), repulsion (paṭighānusaya3), view (diṭṭhānusaya), doubt (vicikicchānusaya), conceit (mānānusaya), passion for being (bhavarāgānusaya), and ignorance (avijjānusaya4). Given this, and given the fact that the roots of the unwholesome can be thought of as essentially being the same as these underlying tendencies, then it seems natural to ask why it is that passion, ill-will and delusion in particular are described as the root. Why are these considered to be more fundamental than the other four? The answer to this can be found in MN 44.

“sukhāya kho, āvuso visākha, vedanāya rāgānusayo anuseti, dukkhāya vedanāya paṭighānusayo anuseti, adukkhamasukhāya vedanāya avijjānusayo anusetī”ti.

Friend Visākha, the underlying tendency to passion in regard to pleasant feeling lies dormant, the underlying tendency to repulsion in regard to painful feeling lies dormant, the underlying tendency to ignorance in regard to neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling lies dormant.

MN 44

There are three different feelings: pleasant, painful, and neither-painful-nor-pleasant. All experience is given with one of these feelings. For a mind that has not been purified, there will always be an underlying tendency towards each of these kinds of feeling, a latent sort of disposition that affects how one responds to them. When there is rāgānusaya, whenever a pleasant feeling arises, one will be automatically pulled towards that feeling, one will remain holding to it, one will try to prolong it, one’s thoughts will be affected by it, and take a course influenced by the underlying preference that this pleasant feeling should remain. The presence of paṭighānusaya will influence one’s response to painful feeling and, likewise, avijjānusaya to neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. The three most fundamental underlying tendencies are simply those tendencies that influence our response to the three kinds of feeling that arise. A mind with passion will be drawn towards pleasant feeling, a mind with ill-will will be pressed back by painful feeling, and a mind with delusion will fail to discern neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. However, a mind without passion will not be stirred by pleasant feeling, a mind without ill-will will not be disturbed by painful feeling, and a mind without delusion will not be deceived by neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling.

(ii)    A stuck together mind vs. A scattered mind

In MN 44 there is an interesting but often overlooked passage that tells us a lot about samādhi.

“yā kho, āvuso visākha, cittassa ekaggatā ayaṃ samādhi; cattāro satipaṭṭhānā samādhinimittā; cattāro sammappadhānā samādhiparikkhārā. yā tesaṃyeva dhammānaṃ āsevanā bhāvanā bahulīkammaṃ, ayaṃ ettha samādhibhāvanā”ti.

Whenever, friend Visākha, there is the unification of mind, this is composure; the four ways to set up mindfulness are the sign of composure; the four right strivings are the requirements for composure. Whenever there is the following, the development, the making much of these very phenomena, this here is the development of composure.

MN 44

The first two of these assertions—i.e. that samādhi is the unification of mind and that it is achieved by setting up mindfulness in regards to the four satipaṭṭhānā—have already been discussed, but if we are to try to understand what is meant by “a stuck together mind” and “a scattered mind”, we will need to examine the third issue. And what are the four sammappadhānā (right strivings)?

cattārome, bhikkhave, sammappadhānā. katame cattāro? idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu anuppannānaṃ pāpakānaṃ akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ anuppādāya chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati. uppannānaṃ pāpakānaṃ akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ pahānāya chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati. anuppannānaṃ kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ uppādāya chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati. uppannānaṃ kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ ṭhitiyā asammosāya bhiyyobhāvāya vepullāya bhāvanāya pāripūriyā chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati. ime kho, bhikkhave, cattāro sammappadhānāti.

Bhikkhus, there are these four right strivings. Which four? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu generates desire, endeavours, makes an effort, applies the mind and strives for the non-arising of unarisen evil unwholesome phenomena. He generates desire, endeavours, makes an effort, applies the mind and strives for the abandoning of arisen evil unwholesome phenomena. He generates desire, endeavours, makes an effort, applies the mind and strives for the arising of unarisen wholesome phenomena. He generates desire, endeavours, makes an effort, applies the mind and strives for the persistence, the non-forgetting, the making more, the growing, the development, the fulfilment of wholesome phenomena. These, bhikkhus, are the four right strivings.

SN 49:1

Some people might find its strange to talk about samādhi (which is often translated as “calm” or “tranquility”) in terms of effort. However, samādhi, which is defined as jhāna, involves being secluded from unwholesome phenomena5 and it is not possible to find this seclusion without making an effort. The way in which this effort should be made is outlined by this framework of the four sammappadhānā. These four ways in which one makes an effort to purify the mind are the means by which one develops the recognition of the phenomenon of mind (i.e. samādhi).

This framework is in some ways similar to the four iddhipādā (foundations of potency), which refer to the four different foundations that a bhikkhu uses in an effort to strive to develop samādhi. While the sammappadhānā are requirements for samādhi, there are three other phenomena which must also be discerned in order for samādhi to be established. As well as the need to make the right kind of effort, one cannot generate samādhi without a desire for samādhi, without discerning the sign of mind or without investigating the phenomena. Each of these elements (desire, effort, mind, and investigation) must serve as a foundation and it is by developing each one of these that one’s samādhi can become “potent”. The word iddhi can be used to refer to “magical” or “supernatural powers”, but this is only one particular usage of this word. A more general meaning, which is the one intended in the word iddhipādā, does not really have an obvious English counterpart, but we can draw on a few examples from the suttas for illustration. First, in MN 129, the Buddha describes the iddhī of a king as being good looks, long life, good health, and being liked by his people. Then, in AN 3:39, the Buddha describes his former life as a delicately nurtured rich young noble. He says that he was endowed with all the following iddhī appropriate for such a person: beautiful ponds, the finest sandalwood and clothing, a canopy to protect him from the weather, three mansions for the different seasons and the finest food. Finally, Dhp 175 describes the iddhi of a swan as its capacity to fly.

haṃsādiccapathe yanti, ākāse yanti iddhiyā.
nīyanti dhīrā lokamhā, jetvā māraṃ savāhiniṃ.

Swans fly in the path of the sun, they fly in the sky by potency (iddhi).
The wise are carried from the world, having conquered Māra and his army.

Dhp 175

One’s iddhi, then, is one’s characteristic skill or skills, what defines one’s strength in a particular area—one’s potency. The iddhipādā are the four foundations that mark the potency of a samaṇa who has become adept in samādhi. They are the requirements for that samādhi. That is to say, in order to develop samādhi, in order to compose the mind, one must discern the presence of these four things: desire, effort, mind and investigation. There must be desire for samādhi—it cannot simply manifest by accident. One must make the appropriate effort. One must have discerned the nimitta of mind. And finally, there must be an investigation, an attempt to understand the phenomena that are present. All of this may come as a surprise to many people who claim to know what samādhi is but who think of it as some kind of effortless state of non-thinking and non-desire. This view of what samādhi is, although extremely commonplace, is simply not supported by the suttas. For example, here is a description that the Buddha gave of Sāriputta’s experience of samādhi, which clearly involved an investigation of the phenomena which constituted his experience:

“idha, bhikkhave, sāriputto vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. ye ca paṭhamajjhāne dhammā vitakko ca vicāro ca pīti ca sukhañca cittekaggatā ca, phasso vedanā saññā cetanā cittaṃ chando adhimokkho vīriyaṃ sati upekkhā manasikāro — tyāssa dhammā anupadavavatthitā honti. tyāssa dhammā viditā uppajjanti, viditā upaṭṭhahanti, viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti. so evaṃ pajānāti — ‘evaṃ kirame dhammā ahutvā sambhonti, hutvā paṭiventī’ti. so tesu dhammesu anupāyo anapāyo anissito appaṭibandho vippamutto visaṃyutto vimariyādīkatena cetasā viharati. so ‘atthi uttari nissaraṇa’nti pajānāti. tabbahulīkārā atthitvevassa atthitevassa hoti.

Here, bhikkhus, Sāriputta, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome phenomena, entered upon and dwelled in the first jhāna, with thinking and with pondering, and joy-&-pleasure born of seclusion. And whatever phenomena there are in the first jhāna: thinking and pondering and joy and pleasure and unification of mind and contact, feeling, perception, intention, mind, desire, resolve, effort, mindfulness, equanimity and attention—he discerned those phenomena one-by-one. It was known by him that those phenomena arise, it was known that they are present, it was known that they go away. He knew thus: “In this way it is clear to me that having not been, these phenomena come into being; having been, they are made known”. He dwelled with those phenomena without approaching, without falling away, independent, not bound to them, free from them, detached from them, with a mind free from barriers. He knew: “There is an escape beyond”.  With the cultivation of this, he confirmed that there is.

MN 111

The Buddha continues to describe all of Sāriputta’s subsequent attainments, up to the domain of neither-perception-nor-non-perception and then the destruction of the taints. All the way up to the domain of nothingness, we are told, samādhi involves discerning the presence of the unification of mind, contact, feeling, perception, volition, mind, desire, resolve, effort, mindfulness, equanimity and attention. It is most certainly not some kind of trance-like state in which all one’s faculties stop working and one becomes unaware of what is going on.

At SN 51:13 we are provided with more detail about the iddhipādā. One can distinguish between the samādhi that has been developed on the basis of one of the foundations, and the effort one makes to purify one’s mind. This latter is fourfold and these four kinds of effort, which the Buddha called “determinations-of-striving”, are defined in precisely the same way as the sammappadhānā. The foundation, the samādhi that has manifested due to this foundation, and the determinations-of-strivings—all of these together are referred to as “being endowed with the samādhi due to a particular foundation (i.e. desire, effort, mind or investigation) and determinations-of-strivings”. All of this describes the structure of the foundation of potency—the requirements for the cultivation of samādhi.

“chandaṃ ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhu nissāya labhati samādhiṃ, labhati cittassa ekaggataṃ — ayaṃ vuccati chandasamādhi. so anuppannānaṃ pāpakānaṃ akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ anuppādāya chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati. uppannānaṃ pāpakānaṃ akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ pahānāya chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati. anuppannānaṃ kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ uppādāya chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati. uppannānaṃ kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ ṭhitiyā asammosāya bhiyyobhāvāya vepullāya bhāvanāya pāripūriyā chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati. ime vuccanti ‘padhānasaṅkhārā’ti. iti ayañca chando, ayañca chandasamādhi, ime ca padhānasaṅkhārā — ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, ‘chandasamādhippadhānasaṅkhārasamannāgato iddhipādo’”.

“vīriyaṃ ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhu nissāya labhati samādhiṃ, labhati cittassa ekaggataṃ — ayaṃ vuccati ‘vīriyasamādhi’. so anuppannānaṃ…pe…. uppannānaṃ kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ ṭhitiyā asammosāya bhiyyobhāvāya vepullāya bhāvanāya pāripūriyā chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati. ime vuccanti ‘padhānasaṅkhārā’ti. iti idañca vīriyaṃ, ayañca vīriyasamādhi, ime ca padhānasaṅkhārā — ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, ‘vīriyasamādhippadhānasaṅkhārasamannāgato iddhipādo’”.

“cittaṃ ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhu nissāya labhati samādhiṃ, labhati cittassa ekaggataṃ — ayaṃ vuccati ‘cittasamādhi’. so anuppannānaṃ pāpakānaṃ…pe…. uppannānaṃ kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ ṭhitiyā asammosāya bhiyyobhāvāya vepullāya bhāvanāya pāripūriyā chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati. ime vuccanti ‘padhānasaṅkhārā’ti. iti idañca cittaṃ, ayañca cittasamādhi, ime ca padhānasaṅkhārā — ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, ‘cittasamādhippadhānasaṅkhārasamannāgato iddhipādo’”.

“vīmaṃsaṃ ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhu nissāya labhati samādhiṃ, labhati cittassa ekaggataṃ — ayaṃ vuccati ‘vīmaṃsāsamādhi’. so anuppannānaṃ pāpakānaṃ akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ anuppādāya chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati…pe…. uppannānaṃ kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ ṭhitiyā asammosāya bhiyyobhāvāya vepullāya bhāvanāya pāripūriyā chandaṃ janeti vāyamati vīriyaṃ ārabhati cittaṃ paggaṇhāti padahati. ime vuccanti ‘padhānasaṅkhārā’ti . iti ayañca vīmaṃsā, ayañca vīmaṃsāsamādhi, ime ca padhānasaṅkhārā — ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, vīmaṃsāsamādhippadhānasaṅkhārasamannāgato iddhipādo’”ti.

Bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu obtains composure dependent on desire, obtains unification of mind—this is called composure-due-to-desire. He generates the desire, he endeavours, he undertakes the effort, he exerts the mind, he strives for the non-arising of unarisen evil unwholesome phenomena. He generates the desire, he endeavours, he undertakes the effort, he exerts the mind, he strives for the abandoning of arisen evil unwholesome phenomena. He generates the desire, he endeavours, he undertakes the effort, he exerts the mind, he strives for the arising of unarisen wholesome phenomena. He generates the desire, he endeavours, he undertakes the effort, he exerts the mind, he strives for the enduring, the non-confusion, the becoming more, the increase, the development, the fulfilment of arisen wholesome phenomena. These are called “determinations-of-striving”. This desire, and this composure-due-to-desire, and these determinations-of-striving—this, bhikkhus, is called “endowed with composure-due-to-desire and determinations-of-striving, the foundation of potency.”

Bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu obtains composure dependent on effort, obtains unification of mind—this is called composure-due-to-effort. He generates the desire, he endeavours, he undertakes the effort, he exerts the mind, he strives for the non-arising of unarisen evil unwholesome phenomena… he strives for the enduring, the non-confusion, the becoming more, the increase, the development, the fulfilment of arisen wholesome phenomena. These are called “determinations-of-striving”. This effort, and this composure-due-to-effort, and these determinations-of-striving—this, bhikkhus, is called “being endowed with composure-due-to-effort and determinations-of-striving, the foundation of potency”.

Bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu obtains composure dependent on mind, obtains unification of mind—this is called composure-due-to-mind. He generates the desire, he endeavours, he undertakes the effort, he exerts the mind, he strives for the non-arising of unarisen evil unwholesome phenomena… he strives for the enduring, the non-confusion, the becoming more, the increase, the development, the fulfilment of arisen wholesome phenomena. These are called “determinations-of-striving”. This mind, and this composure-due-to-mind, and these determinations-of-striving—this, bhikkhus, is called “being endowed with composure-due-to-mind and determinations-of-striving, the foundation of potency”.

Bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu obtains composure dependent on investigation, obtains unification of mind—this is called composure-due-to-investigation. He generates the desire, he endeavours, he undertakes the effort, he exerts the mind, he strives for the non-arising of unarisen evil unwholesome phenomena… he strives for the enduring, the non-confusion, the becoming more, the increase, the development, the fulfilment of arisen wholesome phenomena. These are called “determinations-of-striving”. This investigation, and this composure-due-to-investigation, and these determinations-of-striving—this, bhikkhus, is called “being endowed with composure-due-to-investigation and determinations-of-striving, the foundation of potency”.

SN 51:13

With this in mind, we can now make sense of SN 51:20, which tells us how we can cultivate, develop, make much of these foundations of potency.

“cattārome, bhikkhave, iddhipādā bhāvitā bahulīkatā mahapphalā honti mahānisaṃsā”.

“kathaṃ bhāvitā ca, bhikkhave, cattāro iddhipādā kathaṃ bahulīkatā mahapphalā honti mahānisaṃsā? idha, bhikkhave , bhikkhu chandasamādhippadhānasaṅkhārasamannāgataṃ iddhipādaṃ bhāveti — ‘iti me chando na ca atilīno bhavissati, na ca atippaggahito bhavissati, na ca ajjhattaṃ saṃkhitto bhavissati, na ca bahiddhā vikkhitto bhavissati’. pacchāpuresaññī ca viharati — ‘yathā pure tathā pacchā, yathā pacchā tathā pure; yathā adho tathā uddhaṃ, yathā uddhaṃ tathā adho; yathā divā tathā rattiṃ yathā rattiṃ tathā divā’. iti vivaṭena cetasā apariyonaddhena sappabhāsaṃ cittaṃ bhāveti. vīriyasamādhi…pe…. cittasamādhi…pe…. vīmaṃsāsamādhippadhānasaṅkhārasamannāgataṃ iddhipādaṃ bhāveti — ‘iti me vīmaṃsā na ca atilīnā bhavissati, na ca atippaggahitā bhavissati, na ca ajjhattaṃ saṃkhittā bhavissati, na ca bahiddhā vikkhittā bhavissati’. pacchāpuresaññī ca viharati — ‘yathā pure tathā pacchā, yathā pacchā tathā pure; yathā adho tathā uddhaṃ, yathā uddhaṃ tathā adho; yathā divā tathā rattiṃ, yathā rattiṃ tathā divā’. iti vivaṭena cetasā apariyonaddhena sappabhāsaṃ cittaṃ bhāveti.

Bhikkhus, there are these four foundations of potency which, when developed and made much of, are of great fruit, great benefit.

And how, bhikkhus, are the four foundations of potency developed, how are they made much of, so that they are of great fruit, great benefit? Here, bhikkhus, endowed with composure-due-to-desire and  determinations-of-striving he develops the foundation of potency: “Thus my desire will not be overly sluggish, it will not be overly strained, it will not be stuck together internally, and it will not be scattered externally.” And he dwells as one who perceives after-&-before: “As before, so after; as after, so before. As above, so below; as below, so above. As by day, so by night; as by night, so by day.” Thus with a mind unveiled, uncovered, he develops the illuminated mind. Endowed with composure-due-to-effort… Endowed with composure-due-to-mind… Endowed with composure-due-to-investigation and  determinations-of-striving he develops the foundation of potency: “Thus my desire will not be overly sluggish, it will not be overly strained, it will not be stuck together internally, and it will not be scattered externally.” And he dwells as one who perceives after-&-before: “As before, so after; as after, so before. As above, so below; as below, so above. As by day, so by night; as by night, so by day.” Thus with a mind unveiled, uncovered, he develops the illuminated mind.

SN 51:20

Here we see that the development of the iddhipādā requires the capacity to distinguish between foundations that are stuck together internally (ajjhattaṃ saṃkhittā)6 and scattered externally (bahiddhā vikkhittā). For more detail, we can turn to SN 51:20, where these terms are defined for each of the four iddhipādā. Since here we are particularly concerned with discerning the mind, we only need consider the section on citt’iddhipāda.

“katamañca, bhikkhave, atilīnaṃ cittaṃ? yaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ kosajjasahagataṃ kosajjasampayuttaṃ — idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, atilīnaṃ cittaṃ.

“katamañca, bhikkhave, atippaggahitaṃ cittaṃ? yaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ uddhaccasahagataṃ uddhaccasampayuttaṃ — idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, atippaggahitaṃ cittaṃ.

“katamañca, bhikkhave, ajjhattaṃ saṃkhittaṃ cittaṃ? yaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ thinamiddhasahagataṃ thinamiddhasampayuttaṃ — idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, ajjhattaṃ saṃkhittaṃ cittaṃ.

“katamañca , bhikkhave, bahiddhā vikkhittaṃ cittaṃ? yaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ bahiddhā pañca kāmaguṇe ārabbha anuvikkhittaṃ anuvisaṭaṃ — idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, bahiddhā vikkhittaṃ cittaṃ.

And which, bhikkhus, is a mind that is overly sluggish? Bhikkhus, whatever mind is endowed with laziness, connected with laziness—this, bhikkhus, is called a mind that is overly sluggish.

And which, bhikkhus, is a mind that is overly strained. Bhikkhus, whatever mind is endowed with over-excitement, connected with over-excitement—this, bhikkhus, is called a mind that is overly strained.

And which, bhikkhus, is a mind that is stuck together internally? Bhikkhus, whatever mind is endowed with rigidity-&-sluggishness, connected with rigidity-&-sluggishness—that, bhikkhus, is called a mind that is stuck together internally.

And which, bhikkhus, is a mind that is scattered externally? Bhikkhus, whatever mind is externally scattered out, spread out and concerned with the five cords of sensual pleasures—this, bhikkhus, is called a mind that is scattered externally.

SN 51:20

Here we find that the words atilīna (overly sluggish or sticky)7, kosajja (laziness, idleness, indolence, sloth) and thinamiddha (rigidity-&-sluggishness) are connected with the notion of ajjhatta saṃkhitta citta (a mind that is stuck together internally). The term thinamiddha is usually translated as “sloth-&-torpor”, and this is taken to mean something like the associated notions of tiredness, drowsiness, sleepiness, sloth, dullness, etc. But these terms, although not wrong, somewhat fail to accurately describe the phenomenon here, in the way that the Buddha is describing it. When one is tired, the mind becomes sticky, sluggish, rigid. It sticks to some sort of internal phenomenon or phenomena and fails to engage with the external sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches and ideas. But surely—one might think—there is a danger here of using the terms ‘internal’ and ‘external’ to bring us back to the idea of subject/object or self/world. How are we to avoid this? The Buddha certainly used the words ‘internal’ and ‘external’ without resorting to self view. So what is this ‘internal’ thing which the mind becomes stuck to when there is thinamiddha? The answer to this question can be found at MN 138.

“kathañcāvuso, ajjhattaṃ cittaṃ saṇṭhitanti vuccati? idhāvuso, bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. tassa vivekajapītisukhānusāri viññāṇaṃ hoti vivekajapītisukhassādagadhitaṃ vivekajapītisukhassādavinibandhaṃ vivekajapītisukhassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ ajjhattaṃ cittaṃ saṇṭhitanti vuccati.

“puna caparaṃ, āvuso, bhikkhu vitakkavicārānaṃ vūpasamā ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ cetaso ekodibhāvaṃ avitakkaṃ avicāraṃ samādhijaṃ pītisukhaṃ dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. tassa samādhijapītisukhānusāri viññāṇaṃ hoti samādhijapītisukhassādagadhitaṃ samādhijapītisukhassādavinibandhaṃ samādhijapītisukhassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ ajjhattaṃ cittaṃ saṇṭhitanti vuccati.

“puna caparaṃ, āvuso, bhikkhu pītiyā ca virāgā upekkhako ca viharati sato ca sampajāno sukhañca kāyena paṭisaṃvedeti, yaṃ taṃ ariyā ācikkhanti — ‘upekkhako satimā sukhavihārī’ti tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. tassa upekkhānusāri viññāṇaṃ hoti upekkhāsukhassādagadhitaṃ upekkhāsukhassādavinibandhaṃ upekkhāsukhassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ ajjhattaṃ cittaṃ saṇṭhitanti vuccati.

“puna caparaṃ, āvuso, bhikkhu sukhassa ca pahānā dukkhassa ca pahānā pubbeva somanassadomanassānaṃ atthaṅgamā adukkhamasukhaṃ upekkhāsatipārisuddhiṃ catutthaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. tassa adukkhamasukhānusāri viññāṇaṃ hoti adukkhamasukhassādagadhitaṃ adukkhamasukhassādavinibandhaṃ adukkhamasukhassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ ajjhattaṃ cittaṃ saṇṭhitanti vuccati. evaṃ kho, āvuso, ajjhattaṃ cittaṃ saṇṭhitanti vuccati.

“kathañcāvuso , ajjhattaṃ cittaṃ asaṇṭhitanti vuccati? idhāvuso, bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi…pe…. paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. tassa na vivekajapītisukhānusāri viññāṇaṃ hoti na vivekajapītisukhassādagadhitaṃ na vivekajapītisukhassādavinibandhaṃ na vivekajapītisukhassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ ajjhattaṃ cittaṃ asaṇṭhitanti vuccati.

“puna caparaṃ, āvuso, bhikkhu vitakkavicārānaṃ vūpasamā…pe…. dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. tassa na samādhijapītisukhānusāri viññāṇaṃ hoti na samādhijapītisukhassādagadhitaṃ na samādhijapītisukhassādavinibandhaṃ na samādhijapītisukhassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ ajjhattaṃ cittaṃ asaṇṭhitanti vuccati .

“puna caparaṃ, āvuso, bhikkhu pītiyā ca virāgā…pe…. tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. tassa na upekkhānusāri viññāṇaṃ hoti na upekkhāsukhassādagadhitaṃ na upekkhāsukhassādavinibandhaṃ na upekkhāsukhassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ ajjhattaṃ cittaṃ asaṇṭhitanti vuccati.

“puna caparaṃ, āvuso, bhikkhu sukhassa ca pahānā dukkhassa ca pahānā pubbeva somanassadomanassānaṃ atthaṅgamā adukkhamasukhaṃ upekkhāsatipārisuddhiṃ catutthaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. tassa na adukkhamasukhānusāri viññāṇaṃ hoti na adukkhamasukhassādagadhitaṃ na adukkhamasukhassādavinibandhaṃ na adukkhamasukhassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ ajjhattaṃ cittaṃ asaṇṭhitanti vuccati. evaṃ kho, āvuso, ajjhattaṃ cittaṃ asaṇṭhitanti vuccati.

And which, friend, is called the mind which is stuck internally? Here, friend, a bhikkhu, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, quite secluded from unwholesome phenomena, enters upon and dwells in the first jhāna, with thinking and with pondering, with joy-&-pleasure born of seclusion. The consciousness of his which is one that follows after the joy-&-pleasure born of seclusion, which is bound by gratification in the joy-&-pleasure born of seclusion, which is connected to the fetter of gratification in the joy-&-pleasure born of seclusion—that is called the mind which is stuck internally.

Moreover, friend, a bhikkhu, with the stilling of thinking-&-pondering, with a mind that is clear and unified, he enters upon and dwells in the second jhāna, without thinking, without pondering, with joy-&-pleasure born of composure. The consciousness of his which is one that follows after the joy-&-pleasure born of composure, which is bound by gratification in the joy-&-pleasure born of composure, which is connected to the fetter of gratification in the joy-&-pleasure born of composure—that is called the mind which is stuck internally.

Moreover, friend, a bhikkhu, dispassionate towards the joy, enters upon and dwells in the third jhāna; he dwells indifferent, mindful and aware, and experiences happiness with the body, so that the noble ones describe him thus: “He is one who dwells happily, indifferent and mindful”. The consciousness of his which is one that follows after the indifference, which is bound by gratification in the happiness-of-indifference, which is connected to the fetter of gratification in the happiness-of-indifference—that is called the mind which is stuck internally.

Moreover, friend, a bhikkhu, with the abandoning of pleasure and the abandoning of pain, with the disappearance of any former happiness-&-grief, enters upon and dwells in the fourth jhāna, with neither-pleasure-&-pain, purified by indifference-&-mindfulness. The consciousness of his which is one that follows after the neither-pleasure-nor-pain, which is bound by gratification in the neither-pleasure-nor-pain, which is connected to the fetter of gratification in the neither-pleasure-nor-pain—that is called the mind which is stuck internally.

And which, friend, is called the mind which is not stuck internally? Here, friend, a bhikkhu, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, quite secluded from unwholesome phenomena, enters upon and dwells in the first jhāna … The consciousness of his which is not one that follows after the joy-&-pleasure born of seclusion, which is not bound by gratification in the joy-&-pleasure born of seclusion, which is not connected to the fetter of gratification in the joy-&-pleasure born of seclusion—that is called the mind which is not stuck internally.

Moreover, friend, a bhikkhu, with the stilling of thinking-&-pondering … he enters upon and dwells in the second jhāna. The consciousness of his which is not one that follows after the joy-&-pleasure born of composure, which is not bound by gratification in the joy-&-pleasure born of composure, which is not connected to the fetter of gratification in the joy-&-pleasure born of composure—that is called the mind which is not stuck internally.

Moreover, friend, a bhikkhu, dispassionate towards the joy, enters upon and dwells in the third jhāna… The consciousness of his which is not one that follows after the indifference, which is not bound by gratification in the happiness-of-indifference, which is not connected to the fetter of gratification in the happiness-of-indifference—that is called the mind which is not stuck internally.

Moreover, friend, a bhikkhu, with the abandoning of pleasure and the abandoning of pain, with the disappearance of any former happiness-&-grief, enters upon and dwells in the fourth jhāna, with neither-pleasure-&-pain, purified by indifference-&-mindfulness. The consciousness of his which is not one that follows after the neither-pleasure-nor-pain, which is not bound by gratification in the neither-pleasure-nor-pain, which is not connected to the fetter of gratification in the neither-pleasure-nor-pain—that is called the mind which is not stuck internally.

MN 138

A mind which is stuck internally is stuck to, bound by, fettered to the joy-&-pleasure born of seclusion, or the joy-&-pleasure born of composure, or the happiness-of-indifference, or neither-pleasure-nor-pain. Or, to describe this at a more general level, a mind which is stuck internally becomes stuck to feeling. And although this sutta only speaks about these more refined and subtle kinds of feelings that arise when the mind is composed in jhāna, the mind can also become stuck internally when there is no samādhi whatsoever, when there is a mind assailed by sensual pleasures and other unwholesome phenomena. A mind that is filled with passion can become stuck internally by sticking to this passion, adhering to the pleasure that comes from the gratification of this passion. A mind that is sleepy, drowsy, dull, rigid, unwieldy, sluggish is a mind which sticks to feelings.

And while the nīvaraṇa (hindrance) of thīnamiddha (rigidity-&-sluggishness) is associated with a mind which is stuck together internally, we also find that uddhaccakukkucca (over-excitement-&-misconduct)8 can be understood as a mind which is scattered and spread about externally. These two are, in a sense, opposites of each other. MN 138 provides an explicit description of this phenomenon.

“kathañcāvuso, bahiddhā viññāṇaṃ vikkhittaṃ visaṭanti vuccati? idhāvuso, bhikkhuno cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā rūpanimittānusāri viññāṇaṃ hoti rūpanimittassādagathitaṃ rūpanimittassādavinibandhaṃ rūpanimittassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ bahiddhā viññāṇaṃ vikkhittaṃ visaṭanti vuccati. sotena saddaṃ sutvā…pe…. ghānena gandhaṃ ghāyitvā… jivhāya rasaṃ sāyitvā… kāyena phoṭṭhabbaṃ phusitvā… manasā dhammaṃ viññāya dhammanimittānusārī viññāṇaṃ hoti; dhammanimittassādagadhitaṃ dhammanimittassādavinibandhaṃ dhammanimittassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ bahiddhā viññāṇaṃ vikkhittaṃ visaṭanti vuccati. evaṃ kho āvuso, bahiddhā viññāṇaṃ vikkhittaṃ visaṭanti vuccati.

“kathañcāvuso, bahiddhā viññāṇaṃ avikkhittaṃ avisaṭanti vuccati ? idhāvuso, bhikkhuno cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā na rūpanimittānusāri viññāṇaṃ hoti rūpanimittassādagadhitaṃ na rūpanimittassādavinibandhaṃ na rūpanimittassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ bahiddhā viññāṇaṃ avikkhittaṃ avisaṭanti vuccati . sotena saddaṃ sutvā…pe…. ghānena gandhaṃ ghāyitvā… jivhāya rasaṃ sāyitvā… kāyena phoṭṭhabbaṃ phusitvā… manasā dhammaṃ viññāya na dhammanimittānusārī viññāṇaṃ hoti na dhammanimittassādagadhitaṃ na dhammanimittassādavinibandhaṃ na dhammanimittassādasaṃyojanasaṃyuttaṃ bahiddhā viññāṇaṃ avikkhittaṃ avisaṭanti vuccati. evaṃ kho, āvuso, bahiddhā viññāṇaṃ avikkhittaṃ avisaṭanti vuccati.

And which, friend, is called the consciousness which is scattered and spread out externally? Here, friend, when a bhikkhu has seen a sight with the eye, the consciousness which is one that follows after the sign of the sight, which is greedy for gratification in the sign of the sight, which is bound by gratification to the sign of the sight, which is connected to the fetter of gratification in the sign of the sight—that is called the consciousness which is scattered and spread out externally. When a bhikkhu has heard a sound with the ear… smelled a smell with the nose… tasted a taste with the tongue… touched a touch with the body… cognized a mental image with the mind, the consciousness which is one that follows after the sign of the mental image, which is greedy for gratification in the sign of the mental image, which is bound by gratification in the sign of the mental image, which is connected to the fetter of gratification in the sign of the mental image—that is called the consciousness which is scattered and spread out externally.

And which, friend, is called the consciousness which is not scattered and not spread out externally? Here, friend, when a bhikkhu has seen a sight with the eye, the consciousness which is not one that follows after the sign of the sight, which is not greedy for gratification in the sign of the sight, which is not bound by gratification to the sign of the sight, which is not connected to the fetter of gratification in the sign of the sight—that is called the consciousness which is not scattered and not spread out externally. When a bhikkhu has heard a sound with the ear… smelled a smell with the nose… tasted a taste with the tongue… touched a touch with the body… cognized a mental image with the mind, the consciousness which is not one that follows after the sign of the mental image, which is not greedy for gratification in the sign of the mental image, which is not bound by gratification in the sign of the mental image, which is not connected to the fetter of gratification in the sign of the mental image—that is called the consciousness which is not scattered and not spread out externally.

MN 138

A mind which is over-excited, agitated, overly strained is pulled out by the five cords of sensuality—the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches and ideas that are pleasing, attractive, enticing and which offer a promise of sensual pleasure. Whether one thinks about kukkucca as meaning “misconduct” (which is its more literal translation) or, as is more usual, as “remorse”, “scruple” or “worry”, a mind that is uddhacca (over-excited) and scattered is steeped in the pleasures of sensuality. This means that it comes with at least the possibility of misconduct. And when there is misconduct, there will be remorse. This is why uddhacca and kukkucca come hand-in-hand.

(iii)    An enlarged mind vs. An unenlarged mind

The term mahaggata is generally used to refer to a mind that has somehow grown, expanded, become larger, but what this actually means is far from self-evident. One place that we often meet the term is in the stock expression that describes the cultivation of the brahmavihārā, such as here in MN 7.

so mettāsahagatena cetasā ekaṃ disaṃ pharitvā viharati, tathā dutiyaṃ, tathā tatiyaṃ, tathā catutthaṃ. iti uddhamadho tiriyaṃ sabbadhi sabbattatāya sabbāvantaṃ lokaṃ mettāsahagatena cetasā vipulena mahaggatena appamāṇena averena abyāpajjena pharitvā viharati; karuṇāsahagatena cetasā…pe…. muditāsahagatena cetasā…pe…. upekkhāsahagatena cetasā ekaṃ disaṃ pharitvā viharati, tathā dutiyaṃ, tathā tatiyaṃ, tathā catutthaṃ. iti uddhamadho tiriyaṃ sabbadhi sabbattatāya sabbāvantaṃ lokaṃ upekkhāsahagatena cetasā vipulena mahaggatena appamāṇena averena abyāpajjena pharitvā viharati.

He dwells having pervaded one direction with a mind endowed with loving-kindness; likewise the second; likewise the third; likewise the fourth. Thus he dwells having pervaded up-&-down, horizontally, spread out over the entire world with a mind that is endowed with loving-kindness, large, enlarged, unbounded, immeasurable, without anger, without ill-will. He dwells having pervaded one direction with a mind endowed with compassion … sympathetic joy … equanimity; likewise the second; likewise the third; likewise the fourth. Thus he dwells having pervaded up-&-down, horizontally, spread out over the entire world with a mind that is endowed with equanimity, large, enlarged, unbounded, immeasurable, without anger, without ill-will.

MN 7

Cultivating mettā means pervading the mind with the intention of good-will for all beings. The phenomenon of ‘person’ (which arises for the puthujjana, and includes ‘this-person-who-I-am’) and the  phenomenon of ‘individual’9 are simply phenomena which arise. They arise against a background which is the mind, and this will have certain underlying or latent tendencies (unless one is an arahat) which pull the experience in certain directions. For instance, as we have seen, a mind infected with paṭighānusaya (the underlying tendency to ill-will) will be affected by the arisen phenomena and will tend towards an aversive response. One is more likely to perceive the unpleasant and to be repelled. One who cultivates mettā works at changing the underlying tendencies. By pervading the background (i.e. the mind) with a sense of acceptance, benevolence, amity, whenever the phenomenon of other people (or the phenomenon of this person) arises, this will be manifested on a background of mettā. The tendency will be to respond to people on the basis of this quality of mettā.

The Buddha encouraged his disciples to develop a mind endowed with loving-kindness (mettāsahagata citta), but it is important to understand that one cannot do this without first knowing what the mind is. It is only once one has discerned what citta is, once one has grasped the nimitta of citta, that it becomes possible to endow it with certain qualities such as loving-kindness, compassion, or simply to brighten or gladden it. How could it be possible for one to gladden the mind without knowing what the mind is? It is perhaps worth noting here that this also applies to ānāpānassati. Before one can develop mindfulness of in-&-out breathing, one first needs to have discerned the phenomenon of mind.

‘cittapaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘cittapaṭisaṃvedī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘abhippamodayaṃ cittaṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘abhippamodayaṃ cittaṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘samādahaṃ cittaṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘samādahaṃ cittaṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati; ‘vimocayaṃ cittaṃ assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘vimocayaṃ cittaṃ passasissāmī’ti sikkhati.

One trains thus: “I will breathe in as one who experiences the mind”. One trains thus: “I will breathe out as one who experiences the mind”. One trains thus: “I will breathe in having gladdened the mind”. One trains thus: “I will breathe out having gladdened the mind”. One trains thus: “I will breathe in having composed the mind”. One trains thus: “I will breathe out having composed the mind”. One trains thus: “I will breathe in having liberated the mind”. One trains thus: “I will breathe out having liberated the mind”.

MN 118

When the quality of mettā is fully established one knows that any being that one might encounter—any being at all—can only be encountered within this field of mettā. One now knows that it is not possible to experience any being (whether, in the case of the puthujjana, my self or others, or whether, in the case of the arahat, this individual set of the five aggregates or five aggregates externally) without them being there within this context of good-will. The mettā is now all-pervasive, unbounded, infinite. It is in this way that the mind can be reckoned in terms of its size and can be described as vipula (large, extensive, abundant), mahaggata (enlarged, expanded, become great) or even appamāṇa (immeasurable, unbounded, unlimited, infinite). When one has discerned the mind, and knows that the mind is always the larger background within which more particular phenomena arise, then one knows that whatever particular thing I attend to, the mind is always bigger than that. In this sense, the infinity of the mind can be known. That is why the arahat, one who has fully understood the mind, can be described as one with an immeasurable mind.

kathañcāvuso, anavassuto hoti? idhāvuso, bhikkhu cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā piyarūpe rūpe nādhimuccati, appiyarūpe rūpe na byāpajjati, upaṭṭhitakāyassati ca viharati appamāṇacetaso , tañca cetovimuttiṃ paññāvimuttiṃ yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti yatthassa te uppannā pāpakā akusalā dhammā aparisesā nirujjhanti…pe…. jivhāya rasaṃ sāyitvā…pe…. manasā dhammaṃ viññāya piyarūpe dhamme nādhimuccati, appiyarūpe dhamme na byāpajjati, upaṭṭhitakāyassati ca viharati appamāṇacetaso, tañca cetovimuttiṃ paññāvimuttiṃ yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti yatthassa te uppannā pāpakā akusalā dhammā aparisesā nirujjhanti.

And which, friend, is one who does not leak? Here, friend, a bhikkhu, having seen a sight with the eye, does not incline towards pleasing sights, he is not troubled by displeasing sights, and he dwells with mindfulness of body set up and with an immeasurable mind, and he knows as it really is that liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, whereby those arisen evil unwholesome phenomena cease without remainder… having heard a sound with the ear… having smelled a smell with the nose… having tasted a taste with the nose… having touched a touch with the body… having known a mental image with the mind, a bhikkhu does not incline towards pleasing mental images, he is not troubled by displeasing mental images, and he dwells with mindfulness of body set up and with an immeasurable mind, and he knows as it really is that liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, whereby those arisen evil unwholesome phenomena cease without remainder.

SN 35:243

In another sutta, we are told that liberation can be found by the immeasurable mind but that this is different from the liberation of an enlarged mind. The former is described as the liberation that comes with one who has developed the brahmavihārā as in MN 7 above. The latter is described as follows:

katamā ca, gahapati, mahaggatā cetovimutti? idha, gahapati, bhikkhu yāvatā ekaṃ rukkhamūlaṃ mahaggatanti pharitvā adhimuccitvā viharati. ayaṃ vuccati, gahapati, mahaggatā cetovimutti. idha pana, gahapati, bhikkhu yāvatā dve vā tīṇi vā rukkhamūlāni mahaggatanti pharitvā adhimuccitvā viharati. ayampi vuccati, gahapati, mahaggatā cetovimutti. idha pana, gahapati, bhikkhu yāvatā ekaṃ gāmakkhettaṃ mahaggatanti pharitvā adhimuccitvā viharati. ayampi vuccati, gahapati, mahaggatā cetovimutti. idha pana, gahapati , bhikkhu yāvatā dve vā tīṇi vā gāmakkhettāni mahaggatanti pharitvā adhimuccitvā viharati. ayampi vuccati, gahapati, mahaggatā cetovimutti. idha pana, gahapati, bhikkhu yāvatā ekaṃ mahārajjaṃ mahaggatanti pharitvā adhimuccitvā viharati. ayampi vuccati, gahapati, mahaggatā cetovimutti. idha pana, gahapati, bhikkhu yāvatā dve vā tīṇi vā mahārajjāni mahaggatanti pharitvā adhimuccitvā viharati. ayampi vuccati, gahapati, mahaggatā cetovimutti. idha pana, gahapati, bhikkhu yāvatā samuddapariyantaṃ pathaviṃ mahaggatanti pharitvā adhimuccitvā viharati. ayampi vuccati, gahapati, mahaggatā cetovimutti. iminā kho etaṃ, gahapati, pariyāyena veditabbaṃ yathā ime dhammā nānatthā ceva nānābyañjanā ca.

And which, householder, is the enlarged liberation of mind? Here, householder, a bhikkhu dwells having resolved upon and spread to the extent of the root of one tree thus: “enlarged”. This, householder, is called the enlarged liberation of mind. And here, householder, he dwells having resolved upon and spread to the extent of the root of two or three trees thus: “enlarged”. This also, householder, is called the enlarged liberation of mind. And here, householder, a bhikkhu dwells having resolved upon and spread to the extent of the plot of a village thus: “enlarged”. This also, householder, is called the enlarged liberation of mind. And here, householder, a bhikkhu dwells having resolved upon and spread to the extent of two or three plots of villages thus: “enlarged”. This also, householder, is called the enlarged liberation of mind. And here, householder, a bhikkhu dwells having resolved upon and spread to the extent of one great kingdom thus: “enlarged”. This also, householder, is called the enlarged liberation of mind. And here, householder, a bhikkhu dwells having resolved upon and spread to the extent of two or three great kingdoms thus: “enlarged”. This also, householder, is called the enlarged liberation of mind. And here, householder, a bhikkhu dwells having resolved upon and spread to the extent of the earth surrounded by the ocean thus: “enlarged”. This also, householder, is called the enlarged liberation of mind.

MN 127

When one discerns the presence of a thing, one is sensitive to the fact that this thing is significant. That means that although this thing is right there in the centre of attention, its presence implies other things which are also there, but which have arisen as part of a more indeterminate background. There is a background, a ground, a clearing, a space, which provides the wider context within which this particular thing is situated. Noticing this wider context, one sees that this now has become a thing which is being attended to. It is now a figure resting on a ground, a phenomenon which has arisen within some kind of larger space within which this phenomenon is taken to be significant. Whatever thing is attended to can only be discerned as being situated in some larger field. And this field is nothing other than the mind. The mind is that larger clearing within which any thing can be discovered. Therefore, it is possible to develop the understanding that the nature of the mind is to be this enlargening, and to do this is to recognise what the mind is, to cultivate the nimitta of mind, to free the mind from that which is not-mind—i.e. to liberate the mind (as a phenomenon). One cannot experience any thing without a mind, and it is this mind which provides the enlarged situation that allows for this thing to be related to other things—that provides the possibility for this thing to be significant.10

When one notices a phenomenon, this comes with a certain sense of space. When one discerns the mind which is that which has made possible the arising of this phenomenon, one notices a larger space. One notices that the phenomenon which is being focused on lies within something bigger. Just as when one focuses on the space around a tree and then suddenly notices the space around two or three trees. One notices that what one was attending to (i.e. one tree) is now only a part of some larger phenomenon. The one tree is still there, but it is now a phenomenon contained within the larger phenomenon of two or three trees. When one notices the larger field within which the more particular phenomenon can be found, one has a sense of “this is bigger, this is enlarged, this is mahaggata”. So too, as one establishes the sign of mind and comes to recognise the nature of mind, one will experience this same sense of “this is bigger, this is enlarged, this is mahaggata”. But when one does not pick up on the mahaggata aspect of mind, and yet knows that mind must be there, for without mind this experience of this particular thing would not be conceivable, then the mind is still discerned, but as amahaggata (i.e. without the recognition of that quality of enlargedness).

(iv)    A mind with something superior vs. A mind without anything superior

Again and again the Buddha praised the composed mind. He described the jhānā as pleasant abidings (sukhavihārā, e.g. MN 6), and as a pleasure that should not be feared.

idhudāyi, bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi … pe … paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati, vitakkavicārānaṃ vūpasamā… dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati, pītiyā ca virāgā… tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati, sukhassa ca pahānā… catutthaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. idaṃ vuccati nekkhammasukhaṃ pavivekasukhaṃ upasamasukhaṃ sambodhasukhaṃ, āsevitabbaṃ, bhāvetabbaṃ, bahulīkātabbaṃ; ‘na bhāyitabbaṃ etassa sukhassā’ti vadāmi.

Here, Udāyin, quite secluded from sensuality … he enters upon and dwells in the first jhāna, with the stilling of thinking-&-pondering… he enters upon and dwells in the second jhāna… with the fading of joy… he enters upon and dwells in the third jhāna… with the abandoning of happiness… he enters upon and dwells in the fourth jhāna. This is called the pleasure of renunciation, the pleasure of seclusion, the pleasure of calmness, the pleasure of awakening. It is to be pursued, it is to be developed, it is to be made much of. “One should not be afraid of this pleasure”, I say.

MN 66

A composed mind is clearly superior to an uncomposed mind. Nonetheless, we are very often reminded that composure of the mind is not the final goal of the Buddha’s teaching. Even if one is dwelling with a mind established in jhāna, unless one has attained arahattaphāla, then there is more to be done, further to go—there is something superior to this. But this is not always immediately obvious. When one is enjoying the gratification of sensual pleasures, the pleasure that comes with this masks the idea that this is actually a gross pleasure and that there is a pleasure that is more subtle, more refined, more pleasant than this. That which is superior to this can only be discerned by turning away from this—not an easy thing to do when one is delighting in it. This is why the Buddha so often urged, encouraged, inspired his disciples and spoke of the danger of complacency and of the need to settle for nothing less than Nibbāna. For example, in MN 59 the Buddha describes a pleasure, a happiness which is more excellent, more sublime than even the greatest pleasure one can obtain from the senses. This more sublime happiness is the happiness that comes with first jhāna.

yaṃ kho, ānanda, ime pañca kāmaguṇe paṭicca uppajjati sukhaṃ somanassaṃ idaṃ vuccati kāmasukhaṃ.

yo kho, ānanda, evaṃ vadeyya — ‘etaparamaṃ sattā sukhaṃ somanassaṃ paṭisaṃvedentī’ti, idamassa nānujānāmi. taṃ kissa hetu? atthānanda, etamhā sukhā aññaṃ sukhaṃ abhikkantatarañca paṇītatarañca. katamañcānanda, etamhā sukhā aññaṃ sukhaṃ abhikkantatarañca paṇītatarañca? idhānanda, bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati . idaṃ kho, ānanda, etamhā sukhā aññaṃ sukhaṃ abhikkantatarañca paṇītatarañca.

Whatever arises, Ānanda, dependent on these five cords of sensual pleasures, this is called the happiness of sensuality.

Whoever, Ānanda, might say thus: “Beings experience a pleasure, a happiness beyond this”—I grant this. For what reason? There is, Ānanda, another happiness, a happiness which is more excellent and more sublime. And which, Ānanda, is this happiness which is another happiness, a happiness which is more excellent and more sublime? Here, Ānanda, a bhikkhu, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome phenomena, enters upon and dwells in the first jhāna, with thinking, with pondering, and joy-&-pleasure born of seclusion. This, Ānanda, is this happiness which is another happiness, a happiness which is more excellent and more sublime.

MN 59

He then continues to describe each successive jhāna as being more sublime than the previous one. But even the happiness born of the immaterial establishments of mind are inferior to the complete ending of even the slightest possibility of any suffering. That is why he tells us to enquire into whether there is anything superior to whatever situation we find ourself in. If we do not acknowledge the possibility of anything superior to this, then we will not make the effort to find it. And without making this effort, there is no possibility for this to be realised. Therefore, for as long as there is something superior, we must understand that there is something superior. And it is by knowing that there is something superior, and by knowing that there is an escape from the inferior, that the mind is liberated from the inferior.

so ‘atthi idaṃ, atthi hīnaṃ, atthi paṇītaṃ, atthi imassa saññāgatassa uttariṃ nissaraṇa’nti pajānāti. tassa evaṃ jānato evaṃ passato kāmāsavāpi cittaṃ vimuccati, bhavāsavāpi cittaṃ vimuccati, avijjāsavāpi cittaṃ vimuccati.

He knows thus: “There is this, there is the inferior, there is the superior, there is an escape beyond this field of perception”. Knowing in this way, seeing in this way, the mind is released from the taint of sensuality, the mind is released the taint of being, and the mind is released from the taint of ignorance.

MN 7

(v)    A composed mind vs. An uncomposed mind

The word samāhita is the past participle of the verb samādahati, and so we can say that the noun samādhi (composure) is characterised by a samāhitacitta (a composed mind). And samādhi is quite explicitly defined by the Buddha in terms of jhāna.

“katamo ca, bhikkhave, sammāsamādhi? idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṃ savicāraṃ vivekajaṃ pītisukhaṃ paṭhamaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. vitakkavicārānaṃ vūpasamā ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ cetaso ekodibhāvaṃ avitakkaṃ avicāraṃ samādhijaṃ pītisukhaṃ dutiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. pītiyā ca virāgā upekkhako ca viharati sato ca sampajāno, sukhañca kāyena paṭisaṃvedeti, yaṃ taṃ ariyā ācikkhanti — ‘upekkhako satimā sukhavihārī’ti tatiyaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati. sukhassa ca pahānā dukkhassa ca pahānā pubbeva somanassadomanassānaṃ atthaṅgamā adukkhamasukhaṃ upekkhāsatipārisuddhiṃ catutthaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati — ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, sammāsamādhī”ti.

And which, bhikkhus, is right composure? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, quite secluded from unwholesome phenomena, enters upon and dwells in the first jhāna, with thinking, with pondering, with joy-&-happiness born of seclusion. With the stilling of thinking-&-pondering, with a mind that is clear and unified, he enters upon and dwells in the second jhāna, without thinking, without pondering, with joy-&-pleasure born of composure. Dispassionate towards the joy, he enters upon and dwells in the third jhāna; he dwells indifferent, mindful and aware, and experiences happiness with the body, so that the noble ones describe him thus: “He is one who dwells happily, indifferent and mindful”.  With the abandoning of pleasure and the abandoning of pain, with the disappearance of any former happiness-&-grief, he enters upon and dwells in the fourth jhāna, with neither-pleasure-&-pain, purified by indifference-&-mindfulness.

SN 45:8

We have already seen that in MN 111 the Buddha described in considerable detail how Venerable Sāriputta attained samādhi. The important thing to note is that not only did he enter upon and dwell in each successive jhāna, but he also discerned the distinctive phenomena which constitute each jhāna. Not only does Venerable Sāriputta enter the first jhāna—he also knows that he has entered the first jhāna. The phenomena which constitute the first jhāna were known to him one-by-one. It was known by him that those phenomena arise, it was known that they are present, it was known that they go away. This should not be understood in psychological terms, such that we are supposed to think that he witnessed each phenomenon as it arose, remained aware of it as it stayed for some time and then witnessed its passing away. What is actually being said here is that Venerable Sāriputta discerns each phenomenon and simultaneously discerns arising, vanishing and change while standing in regard to each phenomenon. For example, not only is there a recognition of the phenomenon of mind, he also understands that this mind has arisen—arising is discerned. And because it has arisen, it must pass away—vanishing is discerned. And while it is present, there is the recognition of change on a more particular level while, on a more general level, it remains what it is—change while standing is discerned. In other words, the determined nature of these phenomena are recognised.

“tīṇimāni, bhikkhave, saṅkhatassa saṅkhatalakkhaṇāni. katamāni tīṇi? uppādo paññāyati, vayo paññāyati, ṭhitassa aññathattaṃ paññāyati. imāni kho, bhikkhave, tīṇi saṅkhatassa saṅkhatalakkhaṇānī”ti.

Bhikkhus, there are these three determined-characteristics of the determined. Which three? Arising is discerned, vanishing is discerned, change while standing is discerned. These, bhikkhus, are the three determined-characteristics of the determined.

AN 3:47

What this means is that samādhi necessarily involves a samāhita citta that discerns this quality of samādhi—it involves the knowledge that the mind is composed and the extent to which it is composed—at least up to and including ākiñcaññāyatana (the domain of nothingness). In nevasaññānāsaññāyatana (the domain of neither-perception-nor-non-perception), which involves at least a partial surmounting of the whole field of perception, the perception of the phenomena which constitute nevasaññānāsaññāyatana is not possible, and so these can only be discerned after emerging, once perception is again available to perceive them. The highest, most excellent, most sublime jhāna is saññāvedayitanirodha (the cessation of perception-&-feeling). Since the citta is determined by saññā and vedanā, with the cessation of these comes the cessation of citta. The cessation of the mind is the the pinnacle of composure.

“puna caparaṃ, bhikkhave, asappuriso sabbaso ākiñcaññāyatanaṃ samatikkamma nevasaññānāsaññāyatanaṃ upasampajja viharati. so iti paṭisañcikkhati — ‘ahaṃ khomhi nevasaññānāsaññāyatanasamāpattiyā lābhī, ime panaññe bhikkhū nevasaññānāsaññāyatanasamāpattiyā na lābhino’ti. so tāya nevasaññānāsaññāyatanasamāpattiyā attānukkaṃseti , paraṃ vambheti. ayampi, bhikkhave, asappurisadhammo. sappuriso ca kho, bhikkhave , iti paṭisañcikkhati — ‘nevasaññānāsaññāyatanasamāpattiyāpi kho atammayatā vuttā bhagavatā. yena yena hi maññanti tato taṃ hoti aññathā’ti. so atammayataññeva antaraṃ karitvā tāya nevasaññānāsaññāyatanasamāpattiyā nevattānukkaṃseti, na paraṃ vambheti. ayampi, bhikkhave, sappurisadhammo.

“puna caparaṃ, bhikkhave, sappuriso sabbaso nevasaññānāsaññāyatanaṃ samatikkamma saññāvedayitanirodhaṃ upasampajja viharati. paññāya cassa disvā ekacce āsavā parikkhīṇā honti. ayaṃ kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu na kiñci maññati, na kuhiñci maññati, na kenaci maññatī”ti

Furthermore, bhikkhus, an unworthy man, having completely surmounted the domain of nothingness, enters upon and dwells in the domain of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. He reflects thus: “I am one who has gained the attainment of the domain of neither-perception-nor-non-perception; these other bhikkhus, however, are not ones who have gained the domain of neither-perception-nor-non-perception”. Because of this domain of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, he praises himself and has contempt for others. This also, bhikkhus, is an unworthy man. But, bhikkhus, a worthy man reflects thus: “It has been said by the Blessed One that the domain of neither-perception-nor-non-perception too is not-consisting-of-that-ness. In whatever way one conceives, it is a different way from that.” Having kept from this very not-consisting-of-that-ness, he neither praises himself, nor does he have contempt for others. This also, bhikkhus, is a worthy man.

Furthermore, bhikkhus, a true man, having completely surmounted the domain of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, enters upon and dwells in the cessation of perception-&-feeling. And having seen with wisdom, some taints are exhausted. Bhikkhus, this bhikkhu does not conceive anything, he does not anywhere, he does not conceive for any reason.

MN 113

It is interesting to note here that all kinds of jhāna are described as being accessible to both the unworthy man (i.e. the puthujjana) and the worthy man (i.e. the ariyasāvaka)—except saññāvedayitanirodha which is only described in reference to the latter. This is because one cannot compose the mind to the extent that perception and feeling cease without developing anattāsaññā—i.e. without seeing the Dhamma and ceasing to be a puthujjana—since saññāvedayitanirodha involves the cessation of the determinations of mind and, with the cessation of perception and feeling, the mind can no longer remain. Saññāvedayitanirodha involves the cessation of citta—the end of mind. One has composed the mind to the extent that it has been completely surmounted. And since the self can only be found dependent on the mind, the end of mind means the end of self. By entering upon and dwelling in saññāvedayitanirodha one has found an escape from attavāda and found the way leading to the end of all suffering.

(vi)    A liberated mind vs. An unliberated mind

In the suttas we hear of two kinds of liberation.

“dveme  bhikkhave, dhammā. katame dve? cetovimutti ca paññāvimutti ca. ime kho, bhikkhave, dve dhammā”ti.

Bhikkhus, there are these two things. Which two? Liberation of mind and liberation by wisdom. These, bhikkhus, are the two things.

AN 2:87

The word cetovimutti (liberation of mind) is used in the suttas in different ways. For example, in SN 4:23 we are told of how on six occasions Venerable Godhika attained temporary liberation of mind but then fell away from this.

atha kho āyasmā godhiko appamatto ātāpī pahitatto viharanto sāmayikaṃ cetovimuttiṃ phusi. atha kho āyasmā godhiko tamhā sāmayikāya cetovimuttiyā parihāyi.

Then Venerable Godhika, dwelling vigilantly, ardently, resolutely, reached a temporary liberation of mind. Then Venerable Godhika fell away from this temporary liberation of mind.

SN 4:23

But although it is theoretically possible for a puthujjana to attain a temporary liberation of mind, this is by no means the ultimate liberation. The final goal is an unshakeable liberation of mind that cannot be disturbed, such that there is now no possibility of any more suffering. It is not so much that for the arahat there is no suffering present—rather, the very possibility of suffering is now completely inaccessible to him. And this can only come about when the mind is completely abandoned. He understands not only that the mind was never his in the first place, but that the notion of “mine” can no longer possibly arise, even in regard to this mind.

MN 70 tells us that there are two types of arahat: the puggala ubhatobhāgavimutta (the individual liberated-both-ways) and the puggala paññāvimutta (the individual liberated by wisdom).

katamo ca, bhikkhave, puggalo ubhatobhāgavimutto? idha, bhikkhave, ekacco puggalo ye te santā vimokkhā atikkamma rūpe āruppā te kāyena phassitvā viharati paññāya cassa disvā āsavā parikkhīṇā honti. ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, puggalo ubhatobhāgavimutto. imassa kho ahaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno ‘na appamādena karaṇīya’nti vadāmi. taṃ kissa hetu? kataṃ tassa appamādena. abhabbo so pamajjituṃ.

katamo ca, bhikkhave, puggalo paññāvimutto? idha, bhikkhave, ekacco puggalo ye te santā vimokkhā atikkamma rūpe āruppā te na kāyena phusitvā viharati, paññāya cassa disvā āsavā parikkhīṇā honti. ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, puggalo paññāvimutto. imassapi kho ahaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno ‘na appamādena karaṇīya’nti vadāmi. taṃ kissa hetu? kataṃ tassa appamādena. abhabbo so pamajjituṃ.

And which, bhikkhus, is the individual liberated-both-ways? Here, bhikkhus, a certain individual dwells having reached with the body those peaceful liberations which have surmounted matter and are immaterial, and having seen with wisdom the taints are exhausted. This, bhikkhus, is called the individual liberated-both-ways. Bhikkhus, of this bhikkhu I say: “There is nothing to be done with vigilance”. For what reason? For him it has been done with vigilance. It is impossible for him to be negligent.

And which, bhikkhus, is the individual liberated by wisdom. Here, bhikkhu, a certain individual dwells not having reached with the body those peaceful liberations which have surmounted matter and are immaterial, but having seen with wisdom the taints are exhausted. This, bhikkhus, is called the individual liberated by wisdom. Bhikkhus, of this bhikkhu I say: “There is nothing to be done with vigilance”. For what reason? For him it has been done with vigilance. It is impossible for him to be negligent.

MN 70

This suggests that it is possible to attain the fruit of arahatta without establishing the mind in the immaterial attainments, which we find in the suttas as being described in various ways. For example, in MN 43 we are told about the liberation of mind that comes with the fourth jhāna.

kati panāvuso, paccayā adukkhamasukhāya cetovimuttiyā samāpattiyā”ti?

“cattāro kho, āvuso, paccayā adukkhamasukhāya cetovimuttiyā samāpattiyā. idhāvuso, bhikkhu sukhassa ca pahānā dukkhassa ca pahānā pubbeva somanassadomanassānaṃ atthaṅgamā adukkhamasukhaṃ upekkhāsatipārisuddhiṃ catutthaṃ jhānaṃ upasampajja viharati.

Friend, how many conditions are there for the attainment of neither-painful-nor-pleasant liberation of mind?

Friend, there are four conditions for the attainment of neither-painful-nor-pleasant liberation of mind. Here, friend, a bhikkhu, having abandoned pleasure and having abandoned pain, having set down any previous happiness-&-grief, enters upon and dwells in the fourth jhāna, with neither-pleasure-nor-pain, purified by indifference-&-mindfulness.

MN 43

Another description of the immaterial attainments, the liberations of mind, are found at MN 77.

puna caparaṃ, udāyi, akkhātā mayā sāvakānaṃ paṭipadā, yathāpaṭipannā me sāvakā aṭṭha vimokkhe bhāventi. rūpī rūpāni passati, ayaṃ paṭhamo vimokkho; ajjhattaṃ arūpasaññī bahiddhā rūpāni passati, ayaṃ dutiyo vimokkho; subhanteva adhimutto hoti, ayaṃ tatiyo vimokkho; sabbaso rūpasaññānaṃ samatikkamā paṭighasaññānaṃ atthaṅgamā nānattasaññānaṃ amanasikārā ‘ananto ākāso’ti ākāsānañcāyatanaṃ upasampajja viharati, ayaṃ catuttho vimokkho; sabbaso ākāsānañcāyatanaṃ samatikkamma ‘anantaṃ viññāṇa’nti viññāṇañcāyatanaṃ upasampajja viharati, ayaṃ pañcamo vimokkho; sabbaso viññāṇañcāyatanaṃ samatikkamma ‘natthi kiñcī’ti ākiñcaññāyatanaṃ upasampajja viharati, ayaṃ chaṭṭho vimokkho; sabbaso ākiñcaññāyatanaṃ samatikkamma nevasaññānāsaññāyatanaṃ upasampajja viharati, ayaṃ sattamo vimokkho; sabbaso nevasaññānāsaññāyatanaṃ samatikkamma saññāvedayitanirodhaṃ upasampajja viharati, ayaṃ aṭṭhamo vimokkho. tatra ca pana me sāvakā bahū abhiññāvosānapāramippattā viharanti.

Furthermore, Udāyin, the path of the disciples has been declared by me, insofar as my students develop the eight liberations. Being material, one sees matter: this is the first liberation. Being one who does not perceive matter internally, one perceives matter externally: this is the second liberation. One inclines towards only the beautiful: this is the third liberation. Having completely surmounted the perception of matter, with the disappearance of the perception of resistance, not attending to the perception of diversity, one enters upon and dwells in the domain of infinite space—“Infinite space”: this is the fourth liberation. Having completely surmounted the domain of infinite space, one enters upon and dwells in the domain of infinite consciousness—“Infinite consciousness”: this is the fifth liberation. Having completely surmounted the domain of infinite consciousness, one enters upon and dwells in the domain of nothingness—“There isn’t something”: this is the sixth liberation. Having completely surmounted the domain of nothingness, one enters upon and dwells in the domain of neither-perception-nor-non-perception: this is the seventh liberation. Having completely surmounted the domain of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, one enters upon and dwells in the cessation of perception-&-feeling: this is the eighth liberation. And there many of my disciples dwell, having reached perfection and completeness of direct knowledge.

MN 77

Whichever way one understands them, the immaterial attainments are called immaterial because they involve the capacity to surmount matter, to understand the nature of matter and to bracket it off so as to attend to another aspect of experience—such as space, consciousness, nothingness, perception and feeling. And this can only be done if the background of mind has been discerned. This is why these attainments are called liberations of mind—they involve liberating the mind from everything else so that it clearly stands out as a phenomenon. The puggala ubhatobhāgavimutta has mastered these attainments and has fully understood the nature of experience as a whole. The puggala paññāvimutta, however, has fully developed the perception of impermance, suffering and not-self, and attained complete wisdom without mastering these immaterial jhānas. But although the puggala paññāvimutta might not have dwelled much in jhāna, such that we might say that he is liberated by wisdom rather than liberated by mind—nevertheless, he has still found liberation of mind.

In a very similar conversation to the one between Venerable Mahākoṭṭhika and Venerable Sāriputta in MN 43, in SN 41:7 Citta the householder tells Venerable Godatta about various different liberations of mind.

“yā cāyaṃ, gahapati, appamāṇā cetovimutti, yā ca ākiñcaññā cetovimutti, yā ca suññatā cetovimutti, yā ca animittā cetovimutti, ime dhammā nānatthā nānābyañjanā udāhu ekatthā byañjanameva nāna”nti? “atthi, bhante, pariyāyo yaṃ pariyāyaṃ āgamma ime dhammā nānatthā ceva nānābyañjanā ca. atthi pana, bhante, pariyāyo yaṃ pariyāyaṃ āgamma ime dhammā ekatthā byañjanameva nāna”nti.

“katamo ca, bhante, pariyāyo yaṃ pariyāyaṃ āgamma ime dhammā nānatthā ceva nānābyañjanā ca? idha, bhante, bhikkhu mettāsahagatena cetasā ekaṃ disaṃ pharitvā viharati, tathā dutiyaṃ, tathā tatiyaṃ, tathā catutthaṃ iti uddhamadho tiriyaṃ sabbadhi sabbattatāya sabbāvantaṃ lokaṃ mettāsahagatena cetasā vipulena mahaggatena appamāṇena averena abyāpajjhena pharitvā viharati. karuṇāsahagatena cetasā…pe…. muditāsahagatena cetasā…pe…. upekkhāsahagatena cetasā ekaṃ disaṃ pharitvā viharati, tathā dutiyaṃ, tathā tatiyaṃ, tathā catutthaṃ. iti uddhamadho tiriyaṃ sabbadhi sabbattatāya sabbāvantaṃ lokaṃ upekkhāsahagatena cetasā vipulena mahaggatena appamāṇena averena abyāpajjena pharitvā viharati. ayaṃ vuccati, bhante, appamāṇā cetovimutti.

“katamā ca, bhante, ākiñcaññā cetovimutti? idha, bhante, bhikkhu sabbaso viññāṇañcāyatanaṃ samatikkamma, ‘natthi kiñcī’ti ākiñcaññāyatanaṃ upasampajja viharati. ayaṃ vuccati, bhante, ākiñcaññā cetovimutti.

“katamā ca, bhante, suññatā cetovimutti? idha, bhante, bhikkhu araññagato vā rukkhamūlagato vā suññāgāragato vā iti paṭisañcikkhati — ‘suññamidaṃ attena vā attaniyena vā’ti. ayaṃ vuccati, bhante, suññatā cetovimutti.

“katamā ca, bhante, animittā cetovimutti? idha, bhante, bhikkhu sabbanimittānaṃ amanasikārā animittaṃ cetosamādhiṃ upasampajja viharati. ayaṃ vuccati, bhante, animittā cetovimutti. ayaṃ kho, bhante, pariyāyo yaṃ pariyāyaṃ āgamma ime dhammā nānatthā ceva nānābyañjanā ca.

“katamo ca, bhante, pariyāyo yaṃ pariyāyaṃ āgamma ime dhammā ekatthā byañjanameva nānaṃ? rāgo, bhante, pamāṇakaraṇo, doso pamāṇakaraṇo, moho pamāṇakaraṇo. te khīṇāsavassa bhikkhuno pahīnā ucchinnamūlā tālāvatthukatā anabhāvaṅkatā āyatiṃ anuppādadhammā. yāvatā kho, bhante, appamāṇā cetovimuttiyo, akuppā tāsaṃ cetovimutti aggamakkhāyati. sā kho pana akuppā cetovimutti suññā rāgena, suññā dosena, suññā mohena. rāgo kho, bhante, kiñcanaṃ, doso kiñcanaṃ, moho kiñcanaṃ. te khīṇāsavassa bhikkhuno pahīnā ucchinnamūlā tālāvatthukatā anabhāvaṅkatā āyatiṃ anuppādadhammā. yāvatā kho , bhante, ākiñcaññā cetovimuttiyo, akuppā tāsaṃ cetovimutti aggamakkhāyati. sā kho pana akuppā cetovimutti suññā rāgena, suññā dosena, suññā mohena. rāgo kho, bhante, nimittakaraṇo, doso nimittakaraṇo, moho nimittakaraṇo. te khīṇāsavassa bhikkhuno pahīnā ucchinnamūlā tālāvatthukatā anabhāvaṅkatā āyatiṃ anuppādadhammā. yāvatā kho, bhante, animittā cetovimuttiyo, akuppā tāsaṃ cetovimutti aggamakkhāyati. sā kho pana akuppā cetovimutti suññā rāgena, suññā dosena, suññā mohena. ayaṃ kho, bhante, pariyāyo yaṃ pariyāyaṃ āgamma ime dhammā ekatthā byañjanameva nāna”nti.

“Householder, this measureless liberation of mind, the liberation of mind by nothingness, the liberation of mind by emptiness, and the signless liberation of mind—are these things different in meaning and different in name, or are they the same in meaning and only different in name?” “There is, Bhante, a method by which, having come to that method, these things are different in meaning and different in name. But there is also, Bhante, a method by which, having come to that method, these things are the same in meaning and only different in name”.

And which, Bhante, is the method by which, having come to that method, these things are different in meaning and different in name? Here, Bhante, a bhikkhu dwells having pervaded one direction with a mind endowed with loving-kindness; likewise the second; likewise the third; likewise the fourth. Thus he dwells having pervaded up-&-down, horizontally, spread out over the entire world with a mind that is endowed with loving-kindness, large, enlarged, unbounded, measureless, without anger, without ill-will. He dwells having pervaded one direction with a mind endowed with compassion … sympathetic joy … equanimity; likewise the second; likewise the third; likewise the fourth. Thus he dwells having pervaded up-&-down, horizontally, spread out over the entire world with a mind that is endowed with equanimity, large, enlarged, unbounded, measureless, without anger, without ill-will. This, Bhante, is called the measureless liberation of mind.

And which, Bhante, is the liberation of mind by nothingness? Here, Bhante, a bhikkhu, having completely surmounted the domain of infinite consciousness, enters upon and dwells in the domain of nothingness: “There isn’t something”. This, Bhante, is called the liberation of mind by nothingness.

And which, Bhante, is the liberation of mind by emptiness? Here, Bhante, a bhikkhu who has gone to a forest or gone to the root of a tree or gone to an empty dwelling reflects thus: “This is empty of self or of what belongs to self”. This, Bhante, is called the liberation of mind by emptiness.

And which, Bhante, is the signless liberation of mind. Here, Bhante, a bhikkhu, not attending to all signs enters upon and dwells in the signless composure of mind. This, Bhante, is called the signless liberation of mind. This, Bhante, is the method by which, having come to that method, these things are different in meaning and different in name.

And which, Bhante, is the method by which, having come to that method, these things are the same in meaning and only different in name. Passion, Bhante, is the making of a measure, ill-will is the making of a measure, delusion is the making of a measure. For a bhikkhu whose taints have been destroyed, these are abandoned, cut off at the root, rendered groundless, obliterated, having no possibility of arising in the future. Insofar as there are measureless liberations of mind, Bhante, the unshakeable liberation of mind is declared chief among them. But this unshakeable liberation of mind is empty of passion, empty of ill-will, empty of delusion. Passion is something, ill-will is something, delusion is something. For a bhikkhu whose taints have been destroyed, these are abandoned, cut off at the root, rendered groundless, obliterated, having no possibility of arising in the future. Insofar as there are liberations of mind by nothingness, the unshakeable liberation of mind is declared chief among them. Passion is the making of a sign, ill-will is the making of a sign, delusion is the making of a sign. For a bhikkhu whose taints have been destroyed, these are abandoned, cut off at the root, rendered groundless, obliterated, having no possibility of arising in the future. Insofar as there are signless liberations of mind, the unshakeable liberation of mind is declared chief among them.

SN 41:7

Liberation of mind simply involves liberating the mind from the phenomena that arise in dependence on the mind. In order to do this, the distinctive characteristics of the mind must be discerned such that mind is clearly distinguished from everything else. One must learn to recognise the background as such, to be able to see how it arises in a distinctive way and how it is clearly different from whatever figure which has presented itself upon it. Since there are different ways in which we can describe this background, there are different kinds of cetovimutti. One can focus on the fact that the mind cannot be measured (since it is always mahaggata and always implies more that whatever is being attended to). Or one can focus on the fact that, in a sense, the mind is not a thing (since it is that because of which things can be encountered). Or one can focus on the fact that the mind lacks, or is empty of the various phenomena which arise dependent on mind.11 Or one can focus on the fact that any sign, any designation that one might choose—that does not apply to mind, since the mind is that because of which signs and designations can be discerned. But, as Citta the householder says, although one may liberate the mind in different ways and to different extents, insofar as there are various kinds of measureless liberations of mind, various kinds of liberations of mind by nothingness, various kinds of signless liberations of mind, it is the unshakeable liberation of mind which is declared chief among them. It is this which is the final goal of the Buddha’s teaching.

“iti kho, brāhmaṇa, nayidaṃ brahmacariyaṃ lābhasakkārasilokānisaṃsaṃ, na sīlasampadānisaṃsaṃ, na samādhisampadānisaṃsaṃ, na ñāṇadassanānisaṃsaṃ. yā ca kho ayaṃ , brāhmaṇa, akuppā cetovimutti — etadatthamidaṃ, brāhmaṇa, brahmacariyaṃ, etaṃ sāraṃ etaṃ pariyosāna”nti.

Thus, brahmin, this holy life is not for the good result of gain-honour-&-fame, it is not for the good result of the attainment of virtue, it is not for the good result of the attainment of composure, it is not for the good result of knowing-&-seeing. But, brahmin, it is for this unshakeable liberation of mind—that is the goal of this holy life, that is its essence, that is its conclusion.

MN 30

4. cittasmiṃ nibbindeyya — one should turn away from the mind

Whether one knows that there is a mind with passion or without passion, a mind with ill-will or without ill-will, a mind with delusion or without delusion, a stuck together mind or a scattered mind, an enlarged mind or an unenlarged mind, a mind with or without something superior, a composed mind or an uncomposed mind, a liberated mind or an unliberated mind—whether one discerns that there is this or that kind of mind present, one knows this: “There is mind”. Regardless of the more particular attributes that the mind possesses, one recognises the more general fact that there is a mind present. One discerns mind as such.

‘atthi citta’nti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti. yāvadeva ñāṇamattāya paṭissatimattāya anissito ca viharati, na ca kiñci loke upādiyati.

Or else mindfulness that “There is mind” is present. He dwells with enough knowledge and reflexion, independent, and not assuming anything in the world.

MN 10, DN 22

It is by knowing the mind as such, understanding that “This is mind”, that the mind is unified. The mind is fully established as a recognizable phenomenon—as that unique phenomenon which manifests in the way that it manifests, and which makes it possible for all phenomena to manifest. And for one who has fully established the phenomenon of mind, the determined nature of mind is discerned, which implies that the arising of mind is discerned, the passing away of mind is discerned, and the presence of this mind which changes while it persists is discerned. But it is not easy to see that this mind is determined. The Buddha tells us that it is far easier for a puthujjana to develop dispassion for the body than it is for him to develop dispassion for the mind.

“assutavā, bhikkhave, puthujjano imasmiṃ cātummahābhūtikasmiṃ kāyasmiṃ nibbindeyyapi virajjeyyapi vimucceyyapi. taṃ kissa hetu? dissati hi, bhikkhave, imassa cātummahābhūtikassa kāyassa ācayopi apacayopi ādānampi nikkhepanampi. tasmā tatrāssutavā puthujjano nibbindeyyapi virajjeyyapi vimucceyyapi”.

“yañca kho etaṃ, bhikkhave, vuccati cittaṃ itipi, mano itipi, viññāṇaṃ itipi, tatrāssutavā puthujjano nālaṃ nibbindituṃ nālaṃ virajjituṃ nālaṃ vimuccituṃ. taṃ kissa hetu? dīgharattañhetaṃ, bhikkhave, assutavato puthujjanassa ajjhositaṃ mamāyitaṃ parāmaṭṭhaṃ — ‘etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’ti. tasmā tatrāssutavā puthujjano nālaṃ nibbindituṃ nālaṃ virajjituṃ nālaṃ vimuccituṃ.

“varaṃ , bhikkhave, assutavā puthujjano imaṃ cātumahābhūtikaṃ kāyaṃ attato upagaccheyya, na tveva cittaṃ. taṃ kissa hetu? dissatāyaṃ, bhikkhave, cātumahābhūtiko kāyo ekampi vassaṃ tiṭṭhamāno dvepi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno tīṇipi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno cattāripi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno pañcapi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno dasapi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno vīsatipi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno tiṃsampi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno cattārīsampi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno paññāsampi vassāni tiṭṭhamāno vassasatampi tiṭṭhamāno, bhiyyopi tiṭṭhamāno.

“yañca kho etaṃ, bhikkhave, vuccati cittaṃ itipi, mano itipi, viññāṇaṃ itipi, taṃ rattiyā ca divasassa ca aññadeva uppajjati aññaṃ nirujjhati. seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, makkaṭo araññe pavane caramāno sākhaṃ gaṇhati, taṃ muñcitvā aññaṃ gaṇhati, taṃ muñcitvā aññaṃ gaṇhati; evameva kho, bhikkhave, yamidaṃ vuccati cittaṃ itipi, mano itipi, viññāṇaṃ itipi, taṃ rattiyā ca divasassa ca aññadeva uppajjati aññaṃ nirujjhati.

Bhikkhus, an uninstructed ordinary man might turn away from, become dispassionate towards and be liberated from this body made of the four great elements. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, the heaping up and the unmaking, the taking up and the putting down of this body made of the four great elements is seen. Therefore, the uninstructed ordinary man might turn away, become dispassionate and be liberated.

But, bhikkhus, as to that which is called ‘mind’, ‘mental faculty’ or ‘consciousness’, an uninstructed ordinary man is incapable of turning away, becoming dispassionate or being liberated. For what reason? For a long time, bhikkhus, this has been held to by the uninstructed ordinary man, been appropriated, been taken up thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self’.

It would be better, bhikkhus, for an uninstructed ordinary man to take this body made of the four great elements as self, rather than this mind. For what reason?  Because, bhikkhus, this body made of the four great elements is seen persisting for one year, persisting for two years, persisting for thee years, persisting for four years, persisting for five years, persisting for ten years, persisting for twenty years, persisting for thirty years, persisting for forty years, persisting for fifty years, persisting for a hundred years, and persisting for even longer.

But, bhikkhus, as to that which is called ‘mind’, ‘mental faculty’ or ‘consciousness’, by day and by night one thing arises and another thing ceases. Just as a monkey, while roaming about in the forest, in the woods; takes hold of a branch, having let go of that he takes hold of another one; having let go of that he takes hold of another one; in just this way, bhikkhus, as to that which is called this ‘mind’, ‘mental faculty’, ‘consciousness’, by day and by night one thing arises and another thing ceases.

SN 12:61

Now this sutta is extremely revealing. The traditional understanding of aniccā involves the idea that things are constantly changing, transient, in a state of flux. But if this were true, then surely it would be easier to see the impermanent nature of mind than of body since the mind is changing so much more rapidly than the body. Why, then, does the Buddha say that it is easier to discern the impermanence of the body, such that one can develop dispassion towards it, than to discern the impermanence of the mind? First, let us be clear that the idea of constant change is a contradiction.12 If everything were constantly changing, then there would be no things. The structure of change only makes sense once we distinguish between the change that takes place on a more particular level against a background, a more general level which remains invariant. It is this invariant structure which constitutes a thing. While I notice that the tree outside my window changes throughout the year, it remains the same tree. Impermanence means that although these invariant structures remain constant with respect to the change discerned at a more particular level, even these will not last for ever but are themselves subject to change, since there is an even more general, even more invariant level with respect to which they must change.

More importantly, it should be understood that the notion that everything is constantly changing—that experience is a continuous flow of things coming and going, arising and passing—is a psychological notion, born of science, which allows the assumption of an eternal self to remain. If this experience as a whole could be seen to be in a state of flux, then this would imply that there is somewhere that this can be seen from, some place where I can stand and see the ever-changing flow of experience. It is based on the assumption that there is somewhere outside of this experience, which is not changing, not subject to rising and falling so that rising and falling can be witnessed. It is based on the assumption of an eternal entity that stands outside of time, completely separate from this experience. In other words, it is based on the assumption of a self. For as long as one allows the view that all things are transient, fleeting, ever-changing, one is reinforcing sakkāyadiṭṭhi.

So what is meant by SN 12:61? What the Buddha is saying here is that although it is possible for a puthujjana to discern the impermanence of the body, it is impossible for him to discern the impermanence of the mind. First of all, notice the fact that the puthujjana calls it “mind”, “mental faculty” or “consciousness” because he is unable to distinguish between these phenomena, having not directly seen them. These phenomena are distinguished by the ariyasāvaka and fully understood by the arahat who no longer has any trace of avijjā remaining. Nevertheless, the puthujjana, we are told, can develop the perception of impermanence in regards to the body because the phenomenon of body is more accessible to him. He sees that this body changes, but because it remains standing for so many years, for the whole of his life, there is some phenomenon which persists over time. But even this phenomenon of body is not obvious and requires a degree of phenomenological acuity. Whenever I perceive the body, whenever I see its arms and legs below, or hear its noises, smell its odours, or feel the various tactile sensations—these are not the body. Rather, they are perceptions (of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) that arise dependent on the fact that there is a body there which makes sight, sound, smell, taste and touch possible. That body which I assume is sitting here right now, which I imagine to look such and such a way—even though that image may be somewhat indeterminate—is another perception, an idea, which has arisen because there is a body with its mental faculty, its consciousness and the particular material substrate that constitutes the basis for this idea. The body is that which is always ontologically prior to any designation of the body, since it is that which makes designation possible. The body comes before any perception that I have of that body. This before is not meant to imply some kind of temporal sequence where the body arises and then, some time later, the perception of the body arises. This before is a purely structural a priori. The body is more primordial than any perception I can have of it because it is that because of which perception is made possible. Therefore, this body is inaccessible to perception.

cakkhuñcāvuso, paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ… pe… sotañcāvuso, paṭicca sadde ca uppajjati sotaviññāṇaṃ… pe…. ghānañcāvuso, paṭicca gandhe ca uppajjati ghānaviññāṇaṃ… pe…. jivhañcāvuso, paṭicca rase ca uppajjati jivhāviññāṇaṃ… pe…. kāyañcāvuso, paṭicca phoṭṭhabbe ca uppajjati kāyaviññāṇaṃ… pe…. manañcāvuso, paṭicca dhamme ca uppajjati manoviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassapaccayā vedanā, yaṃ vedeti taṃ sañjānāti.

Friends, dependent on the eye and sights, eye-consciousness arises… dependent on the ear and sounds ear-consciousness arises… dependent on the nose and smells, nose-consciousness arises… dependent on the tongue and tastes, tongue-consciousness arises… dependent on the body and touches, body-consciousness arises… dependent on the mind and mental images, mind-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition, feelings. What one feels, that one perceives.

MN 18

Whatever one attends to, one discovers that this manifests as a relatively determinate entity against a background of indeterminate possibilities. I say relatively determinate because nothing is ever fully determinate. For every thing which is encountered there is always some aspect of it that is there in the background, something more to learn about it, another side to examine, more details to bring into focus. This is what Husserl meant when he described phenomena as “transcendent”: always promising us more, calling us to follow their solicitations. The body is the capacity to respond to these solicitations, that which follows the solicitations, seeking to find a maximal grip on things.13 The mind, however, is rather more difficult to see since whatever is in the foreground now was previously part of the indeterminate background and will immediately return there as something else becomes central. The background at one moment is different from the background at the next moment. This background—which is the mind—is so fleeting that it is difficult to see that which is invariant amidst all this change. The mind takes hold of and lets go of things as quickly as the monkey who takes hold of and lets go of branches as he swings through the trees. This is why the puthujjana tends not to see the wood for the trees and finds it difficult to discern the phenomenon of mind.

Nonetheless, as MN 113 tells us, it is possible for an unworthy man, a puthujjana, to develop the phenomenon of mind. The problem is that once the mind is discerned, once he sees that background out of which all phenomena are made possible, he assumes this to be not of this world, permanent, eternal. So often the mind is spoken of by religious seekers as some kind of ultimate refuge, the True Self, Buddha Nature, God, and such like. What a puthujjana does not see—even a puthujjana who has established the mind in jhāna— is that even this general phenomenon of mind is impermanent. This is why the Buddha says that it would be better to take the body as self rather than the mind, since the impermanence of the body is much more self-evident than the impermanence of the mind. In order to see the impermanence of the mind, and not to fall into the view of an eternal citta, it will help to see that the mind has arisen entirely dependent upon something which is clearly seen as impermanent. This is why SN 12:61 continues with an exposition on paṭiccasamuppāda.

tatra, bhikkhave, sutavā ariyasāvako paṭiccasamuppādaṃyeva sādhukaṃ yoniso manasi karoti — ‘iti imasmiṃ sati idaṃ hoti, imassuppādā idaṃ uppajjati; imasmiṃ asati idaṃ na hoti, imassa nirodhā idaṃ nirujjhati.

Here, bhikkhus, an instructed noble disciple attends from the source only to this dependent origination: “When this is, this is; when this arises, this arises. When this is not, this is not; when this ceases, this ceases.

SN 12:61

The puthujjana does not see the contingency of mind. The ariyasāvaka, however, is able to see that that which determines mind, that without which mind would not be there, is impermanent. Therefore, it becomes clear that mind too must be impermanent. And what is it that this mind is determined by? What is it that arises with this mind, which allows us to recognise this mind as such, and which is utterly inconceivable without this mind? One way of answering this question is to say that the mind is determined by this body. Therefore, one sets up mindfulness of the body, recognising that “atthi kāyo”ti (“There is body”), maintaining an understanding that this body is there in the background making it possible for all these feelings, perceptions and intentions to be there. It is in doing this that one understands that for as long as I am alive, this body is always already there and its arising is something about which I have absolutely no control. Its arising is discerned, and any notion of mastery over this arising is inconceivable. One also understands that although this body is that because of which I can perceive and think about phenomena (and this includes the phenomenon of this very body), it is comprised of nothing but matter. Just as all of these material things around me are impermanent, just as they must at some point cease to exist, so too this body is impermanent. It arose of its own accord and in just the same way it is liable to being struck down at any moment. Any idea that I am in control, that I can choose when it will pass away, is unthinkable. I am not in control here. In the words of Peter Gabriel, back in the days when he was the lead singer of Genesis: “I’m hovering like a fly waiting for a windshield on the freeway”.

While remaining mindful of the body, keeping that peripheral sensitivity to the ground which makes possible this very experience, one starts to become mindful of the mind, discerning that this phenomenon of mind is there. Now it is with the help of this perception of impermanence in regard to the body that  one becomes able to see that the mind too is impermanent, since the notion of the mind remaining once the body has disappeared is inconceivable. The mind can only be there for as long as this body is here, and since that body is impermanent, prey to being snatched away at any time, so too this mind has no stability and cannot be relied upon. By developing dispassion for this body, and understanding that this body can only be there for as long as the mind is there, just as that mind can only remain for as long as that conscious body remains, one turns away from the mind. One understands that it is vipariṇāmadhamma (subject to change)14. One understands that it is aniccā (impermanent) and so dispassion arises. Being dispassionate, one is liberated.

5. cetovimutti — liberation of mind

When one knows that the mind is impermanent and that the self can only arise in dependence on the mind, it becomes clear that the self is impermanent. To see this one has to learn to see the phenomenon of self clearly as it has manifested. As I write these words right now I notice that I am attending to these particular ideas, to what I am going to write. However, having established the phenomenon of mind, I notice the space around these phenomena which are the central focus of my attention. I notice that these ideas have arisen within a larger field, a larger context, a larger situation. It becomes clear that part of the significance of these ideas are that they are given as being mine. There is a kind of subtle tension, fear, anxiety in the air since these ideas are not simply given in some kind of cold objective manner but are there in the form of some kind of representation of my understanding. There is a very slight and vague feeling of unease that these ideas may be wrong, that they will not be understood, that I am not expressing them well, etc. The puthujjana takes this particular significance, this mineness, at face value. He assumes that if these thoughts are mine, that means that they belong to me.15 This means, or so he assumes, that there is a me which is separate from this experience of thinking these thoughts. He assumes that there is a me outside of this experience. He holds to the notion that while these thoughts come and go, while all of these perceptions, feelings, intentions arise and pass away, there is something which is immune to all of this change, which lies outside of everything which is experienced, something which is extra-temporal, something which is permanent. This is his sakkāyadiṭṭhi and it is precisely this assumption which keeps him bound to the puthujjanabhūmi. And why is it that he holds such a view? Because he finds it pleasant. Amid the uncertainty of a world which forever promises the possibility of something unwanted, a world which may be removed at any moment no matter how well things are going, the idea of a stable centre offers some security. The self offers the promise of a refuge within a realm of nothing but unpredictability. This is felt as pleasant.

The ariyasāvaka also notices that the phenomena which appear do so with this particular significance of being mine or for me. However, he understands that this is based on a misunderstanding or, you might say, on a contradiction. The fact that phenomena continually present themselves as being mine does indeed suggest that there is a me somewhere for whom these things are a concern, but he recognises this particular suggestion as a phenomenon. He knows it has arisen. For example, these thoughts about how this paragraph will progress do imply a me who is thinking these thoughts, but this implication is given as the peripheral space around the thoughts which have arisen within this background of mind. The thoughts are there and arising is discerned. They have arisen dependent on mind. They have arisen dependent on this body. If and when these disappear, there is no possible way in which these thoughts could remain. Similarly, the sense that these thoughts are mine, the air around the thoughts that provide a subtle degree of concern about them, this has also arisen, completely dependent on the thoughts, dependent on the mind, dependent on the body. The idea that there is some kind of entity outside of all of this which is independent of the body, independent of the mind, independent of the thoughts—this is inconceivable. For an ariyasāvaka, the idea of a self which is outside of this experience simply is no longer there for him. All there is is this experience. Any notion of there being something outside this experience—this too is experienced. And this whole thing is impermanent, just as those things which can be discerned within it are also impermanent. If the body were taken away, or if the mind were taken away, how could anything else remain? And since both body and mind are seen to have arisen, so too must they pass away. The idea of a permanent entity simply makes no sense any more.

abhabbo diṭṭhisampanno puggalo kañci saṅkhāraṃ niccato upagantuṃ, abhabbo diṭṭhisampanno puggalo kañci saṅkhāraṃ sukhato upagantuṃ, abhabbo diṭṭhisampanno puggalo kañci dhammaṃ attato upagantuṃ

It is impossible for an individual accomplished in view to take any determination as permanent. It is impossible for an individual accomplished in view to take any determination as pleasant. It is impossible for an individual accomplished in view to take any determination as self.

AN 6:93

Therefore, by composing the mind and recognising the mind as a phenomenon, and by having already set up mindfulness of the body, it is possible to discern the fact that the mind is impermanent. And by doing this, it becomes clear that anything which manifests in dependence on that mind must also be impermanent.

“samādhiṃ, bhikkhave, bhāvetha. samāhitassa, bhikkhave , bhikkhuno yathābhūtaṃ okkhāyati. kiñca yathābhūtaṃ okkhāyati? cakkhuṃ aniccanti yathābhūtaṃ okkhāyati, rūpā aniccāti yathābhūtaṃ okkhāyati, cakkhuviññāṇaṃ aniccanti yathābhūtaṃ okkhāyati, cakkhusamphasso aniccoti yathābhūtaṃ okkhāyati, yampidaṃ cakkhusamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi aniccanti yathābhūtaṃ okkhāyati…pe…. jivhā aniccāti yathābhūtaṃ okkhāyati…pe…. mano aniccoti yathābhūtaṃ okkhāyati, dhammā aniccāti yathābhūtaṃ okkhāyati…pe…. yampidaṃ manosamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi aniccanti yathābhūtaṃ okkhāyati. samādhiṃ, bhikkhave, bhāvetha. samāhitassa, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno yathābhūtaṃ okkhāyatī”ti.

Develop composure, bhikkhus. Bhikkhus, for a composed bhikkhu, it manifests as it really is. And what manifests as it really is? “The eye is impermanent” manifests as it really is; “Sights are impermanent” manifests as it really is; “Eye-consciousness is impermanent” manifests as it really is; “Eye-contact is impermanent” manifests as it really is; “Whatever arises with eye-contact as condition, felt as pleasant, painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant—that also is impermanent” manifests as it really is; … “The tongue is impermanent” manifests as it really is; … “The mind is impermanent” manifests as it really is; … “Whatever arises with mind-contact as condition, felt as pleasant, painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant—that also is impermanent” manifests as it really is. Develop composure, bhikkhus. Bhikkhus, for a composed bhikkhu, it manifests as it really is.

SN 35:160

Entering the stream of Dhamma involves seeing that one had always been seeing things in the wrong order and it is by composing the mind that one can start to establish the correct order. As a puthujjana one had always taken the self, which was nothing other than some kind of eternal refuge separate from this experience, to be more fundamental than any experience which one might have. There is my self and this experience is now happening to it. With the arising of right view, it becomes clear that this is precisely the wrong order and it was by not understanding this that this misunderstanding had been allowed to remain. One now knows that it is not the self which is ontologically prior to this experience. Rather, one knows that one can only ever find this conscious body as always already being there and as that which makes possible this mind and all the perceptions, feelings and intentions that one finds. However, one also knows that it is only because that mind is there that one can possibly know that conscious body.

seyyathāpi, āvuso, dve naḷakalāpiyo aññamaññaṃ nissāya tiṭṭheyyuṃ. evameva kho, āvuso, nāmarūpapaccayā viññāṇaṃ; viññāṇapaccayā nāmarūpaṃ.

Just as, friend, two sheaves of reeds might stand leaning against each other, so to, with name-and-matter as condition, consciousness; with consciousness as condition, name-and-matter.

SN 12:67

Both body and mind are required for it be possible for there to be anything I can perceive, feel or do. And yet it is because of perceptions, feelings and intentions that one can recognise that there is a conscious body there which makes it possible to perceive, feel and intend. There is no one thing which determines all of this—there is simply the simultaneous presence of the pañcakkhandā. One now knows that the self is not the source of all of this, but an unnecessary structure which distorts the whole picture. It is a parasite which must be removed. The ariyasāvaka has found the way to uproot the self and fundamentally change the order of things. This is why in Ud 1.2 we find the Buddha describing the Dhamma as paṭiloma (against the hairs; against the grain) rather than anuloma (with the hairs; with the grain) and why, when the eye of the Dhamma arose in those who had listened to the Buddha, they so often exclaimed how previously things had been upside down and that they had now been turned the right way round.

“abhikkantaṃ, bho gotama, abhikkantaṃ, bho gotama! seyyathāpi, bho gotama, nikkujjitaṃ vā ukkujjeyya, paṭicchannaṃ vā vivareyya, mūḷhassa vā maggaṃ ācikkheyya, andhakāre vā telapajjotaṃ dhāreyya — cakkhumanto rūpāni dakkhantīti; evamevaṃ bhotā gotamena anekapariyāyena dhammo pakāsito.

“Excellent, Master Gotama! Excellent, Master Gotama! Just as one might turn upright what was turned upside-down, or one might reveal what was concealed, or one might tell the way to one who is lost, or one might hold an oil-lamp in the darkness—‘Those with eyes see sights’. In just this way, the Dhamma has been made known by Master Gotama by various methods.

MN 7

One now knows that the only thing that one can sensibly do is to make the effort to remove the parasite once and for all, to cast it aside and ensure that it can never appear again. And one has perfect clarity (aveccappasāda) about how to go about doing this.

yato kho, āvuso, ariyasāvako akusalañca pajānāti, akusalamūlañca pajānāti, kusalañca pajānāti, kusalamūlañca pajānāti — ettāvatāpi kho, āvuso, ariyasāvako sammādiṭṭhi hoti, ujugatāssa diṭṭhi, dhamme aveccappasādena samannāgato, āgato imaṃ saddhammaṃ.

When, friends, a noble disciple knows the unwholesome and the root of the unwholesome, the wholesome and the root of the wholesome—in this way, friends, he is a noble disciple, one with right view, whose view is straight, endowed with perfect clarity about the Dhamma, one who has arrived at this good Dhamma.

MN 9

Knowing what is unwholesome and what is wholesome, one knows what is to be abandoned and what is to be cultivated. And what is to be abandoned? Wrong view, wrong intention, wrong speech, wrong action, wrong livelihood, wrong effort, wrong mindfulness and wrong composure. And what is to be cultivated? Right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right composure. It is now clear that the only way to put an end to suffering is to develop this noble eightfold path.

References from Pali Canon

AN    Aṅguttara Nikāya
MN    Majjhima Nikāya
SN     Saṃyutta Nikāya
Ud    Udāna

Other References

Kierkegaard, S. (2009) Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Crumbs. (Trans.  A. Hannay) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Merleau-Ponty (2002) Phenomenology of Perception. (trans. C. Smith) Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Todes, S. (2001) Body and World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Footnotes

1 The notion of a “meditation object” is not to be found anywhere in the Pali suttas. The word “object” is unfortunate in that it usually implies a “subject”. Furthermore, for as long as one is trying to fix one’s attention onto an “object”, one is failing to acknowledge the presence of the background which makes this object discoverable.

2 I assume that rāga (which I translate as “passion”) and lobha (greed) can be treated as synonymous.

3 Similarly, dosa (anger, hatred or ill-will) can be thought of as a synonym for paṭigha (repulsion).

4 I also assume that moha (delusion) can be thought of as being equivalent to avijjānusaya (the underlying tendency to ignorance).

5 “quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome phenomena, one enters upon and dwells in the first jhāna, with thinking and with pondering, and joy-&-pleasure born of seclusion…”

6 saṃkhitta is the past participle of sankhipati (saṃ=together; khipati=to throw, to cast). It is used to describe something which has been heaped together, thrown together, contracted, constricted. It can also be used to describe something which is concise, brief, abridged.

7 atilīna comes from ati—a prefix which has the meaning of overly, beyond, in excess, further, etc.—and līna, the past participle of līyati: to stick, to adhere, to cling.

8 uddhacca, according to the PTS dictionary, comes from the prefix ud– (“up”) and the substantivized gerund of dharati, which means to hold, bear, carry, support, endure, last, continue. We might translate uddhacca as over-balancing, agitation, excitement, distraction, flurry. I like the translation “over-excitement”, since it includes the idea provided by the prefix. The word kukkucca appears to be formed by kud– (“wrong” or “bad”) and kicca, which means “that which ought to be done”, “that which is to be performed”, “duty”, “obligation”, “performance”. It appears, at least literally, to mean “bad doing”, “misconduct”. This is supported by MN 91, where the Buddha is described as follows: na hatthakukkuccaṃ āpajjati, na pādakukkuccaṃ āpajjati (he does not do any misconduct by hand, he does not do any misconduct by foot). However, the most common English translation for kukkucca is “remorse”, “scruple”, “worry”. Either way, it implies that misconduct is somewhere in the picture.

9 It is only the ariyasāvaka who can see this distinction between sakkāya (person) and puggala (individual).

10 It is interesting to note that perception and feeling are described as the determinations of citta (MN 44), and yet in another sense we can also say that perception and feeling determine cetanā (intention or significance), since when there is perception and feeling there is cetanā, and when there is cetanā there is perception and feeling. The idea of the one without the other is inconceivable. This helps to explain why the words cetanā and citta are so similar—both etymologically derived from the verb cinteti. While cetanā refers to the significance of the experience and the related notion of the intention which one chooses (either by body, speech or mind), the word citta highlights the way in which the phenomenon of the mental background affords the experience with its significance.

11 cf. MN 121

12 Constant change—this oxymoron does not come from the Buddha, despite what most Buddhists seem to believe. In fact it came from a contemporary of the Buddha: the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. However, as Kierkegaard (2009: 261) says “In so far as existence is motion there must be something holding it together, for otherwise there is no motion. Just as the fact that everything is true means that nothing is true, similarly that everything is in motion means that there is no motion… This was unquestionably what the disciple of Heraclitus meant when he said that one could not pass through the same river even once.” Heraclitus was not a Buddha and his account of the structure of experience should be treated with caution.

13 For a detailed phenomenological investigation of the body see Merleau-Ponty (2002) and Todes (2001).

14 And this does not mean that the mind is ‘constantly changing’. Rather, it means that right now this thing affords the promise that it will at some point change. One of this thing’s possibilities (which define this thing for what it is) is that it will, at some point, change.

15 … or that they were created by me, or exist in me, or are owned by me, etc. The precise nature of this relationship is irrelevant. The important point is that these thoughts imply the existence of a self

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Comments
  1. Simon says:

    Venerable One!

    Hopefully it is in order to ask a question related to section 4 of your comprehensive and elucidating essay. You pointed out the “structural a priori” of the body and cite MN 18 in relation to it:

    cakkhuñcāvuso, paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ… pe… tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassapaccayā vedanā, yaṃ vedeti taṃ sañjānāti.

    I have often wondered why there is no account given in the suttas, except the twelve linked formula of paṭiccasamuppāda (nāmarūpapaccayā saḷāyatanaṃ), of what conditions eye and forms, ear and sounds and so forth. Yet, to see these as impermanent is said to constitute right view (SN 35.139). But of things said to be anicca, it is also said that they are saṃkhata (e.g. SN 12.20). Is it perhaps possible for you to clarify this point? Is it because eye and forms etc. are always already there and their whence is inscrutable, abysmal, so to speak (In your words „[…] as long as I am alive, this body is always already there and its arising is something about which I have absolutely no control.), and yet, all of my experience stands upon them? How do I come to recognize the impermanence of the eye etc.? Is it the abyss that shows itself when their whence is inquired in a direct vertical view?

  2. ariyavamsa says:

    Dear Simon,

    Thank you for your question. You ask: “How do I come to recognize the impermanence of the eye etc.?” By discerning that impermanence which is already there, which is part of the nature of this eye. But to do this, one needs to know what the eye is right here, what the Buddha was designating when he talked of the eye. I think you already sense this, since you have already provided a very good answer to your question: “Is it the abyss that shows itself when their whence is inquired in a direct vertical view?”

    When you inquire into this eye, what shows up? Isn’t it nothing but some perception which can only have arisen because that eye is there, already given? If I ask myself where the eye is, all I find is some kind of mental image. If I touch those fleshy lumps in the front of my head, all I have is some perception of touch. If I look in the mirror, all I find is some visual perception. No matter how hard I try to access the eye, I cannot reach it. And yet I know it is there because I would not be able to have these perceptions of it if it were not there in the first place. As Ven. Ñāṇavīra said, rūpa is always below my feet. All I can really say of it is that it is already there, given beforehand. And since its already-being-there is something which I have absolutely no control over, so too, I can do nothing whatsoever to prevent it from being snatched away.

    You mention that the eye is saṅkhata. That is right. The eye can only gain a foothold in my experience as namarūpa, and this is only possible if vinnana is there. The eye, as you say, is one of the saḷāyatanā, one of the six ‘domains’ within which things can appear. But although the eye is that particular bit of matter which has the particular characteristic of making seeing possible, it is still just matter and shares the same nature as all other matter. Just as this chair that I’m sitting on is subject to change and destruction, so is the eye.

    “And why, bhikkhus, do you call it matter (rūpa)? ‘It is harmed (ruppati),’ bhikkhus, therefore it is called matter. Harmed by what? Harmed by cold, harmed by heat, harmed by hunger, harmed by thirst, harmed by contact with flies, mosquitoes, wind, burning, and creeping things.” (SN 22:79)

    Does this help?

    • Simon says:

      Dear Bhante, 



      Thank you for your answer, it is both kind and clear. There are still two doubts, which I hope to express is in order.

      The first is a ‚doctrinal‘ one: I think I have a sense of the eye etc. as that upon which seeing depends to be „below my feet“, inaccessible to any form of control or security, abysmal. Yet, I wonder if the equation of eye (cakkhu) = matter (rūpa, which makes seeing possible) is supported by the suttas and if it does not introduce the „illusion of the hinder-worlds“ (Nietzsche) or maybe even be an intrusion of the modern scientific worldview.

      The second is a ‚practical’ one: whenever I gain the ‚knowing‘ of this experience depending on the body which is beyond access, either when sitting or mindfully following activities, I do so only momentarily it seems and after that it is hard to re-establish.

      Is it perhaps possible for you to say something about this?

  3. ariyavamsa says:

    Dear Simon,

    You wrote: “I think I have a sense of the eye etc. as that upon which seeing depends to be „below my feet“, inaccessible to any form of control or security, abysmal. Yet, I wonder if the equation of eye (cakkhu) = matter (rūpa, which makes seeing possible) is supported by the suttas and if it does not introduce the „illusion of the hinder-worlds“ (Nietzsche) or maybe even be an intrusion of the modern scientific worldview.”

    Yes, you raise an important point here. I think it is easy to think of rūpa as some illusion of the hinder-worlds, some mystical something-or-other behind the scenes, or as some scientific notion of atoms with its protons, electrons, etc. So, the question is: how is one to understand rūpa. The best answer I can think of to this question is to say: one understands rūpa as it really is when one stops conceiving it – when one stops thinking of it as being something which one can think about. The Buddha tells us that the puthujjana conceives rūpa (MN 1) and the eye (SN 35:30,31); the arahat doesn’t. At SN 35:119, Ven. Ānanda says: cakkhunā kho, āvuso, lokasmiṃ lokasaññī hoti lokamānī. The eye is just another thing in the world, even though it is that particular thing which makes it possible for you to perceive and conceive this world. But when you say (or think) “eye”, what is it that you are designating? In thinking about this one must remain reflexive; one must adopt, as you say, “a direct vertical view”. Whether you are designating the ‘domain’ of the eye (cakkhāyatana), the eye-faculty (cakkhundriya), or the fleshy lumps in your face (maṃsacakkhu)—whatever you are designating, that right there is no more than a designation that can only be there because rūpa is there. That designation is determined by that matter, and that matter has gained a foothold in experience through that designation. Rather than ‘equate’ cakkhu with rūpa, perhaps it is enough to see that this thing “the eye” is ‘determined by’ rūpa and to develop the perception that all that I see (and, of course, likewise for all the other senses) requires something which is completely inaccessible to me.

    A much fuller discussion of this can be found in Ven. Ñāṇamoli’s excellent essay, “Resistance and Designation”… available here: https://pathpress.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/resistance-and-designation/

    By the way, I do like your use of the word “abysmal” to describe the senses. A quick online search for the definition of this word comes up with the following: deep, immeasurable, incalculable, unfathomable, bottomless; but also: very bad, dreadful, unsatisfactory.

    Then you wrote: “whenever I gain the ‚knowing‘ of this experience depending on the body which is beyond access, either when sitting or mindfully following activities, I do so only momentarily it seems and after that it is hard to re-establish. Is it perhaps possible for you to say something about this?”

    I don’t really know what to say here other than: keep going with your contemplation, despite any disappointment which arises in relation to the results of your efforts. Do not be discouraged by such feelings. It sounds like you are already making a very serious and concerted effort to understand the nature of experience and are making use of the Buddha’s teaching to guide your thinking. Just that is a very rare thing to find in the world and is worthy of respect. However, how long it will take for this to make any real difference is anyone’s guess. Unfortunately, there just aren’t any guarantees and I know from my own experience that it is very easy to become disheartened when things don’t seem to be going well. You say that you only have moments of insight and, yes, it may well take a long time before you manage to undo your habitual way of understanding things in terms of self and world. But if you persist, these insights may just take root. If you don’t, they most certainly won’t.

    I am reminded of the following passage from Ven. Ñāṇamoli’s book Meanings (p.61-2):

    “Thus, it is the repeated seeing of the things outlined above, repeated as many times as necessary for ignorance to disappear completely. This should make it fairly clear that the awakening does not ‘happen’ suddenly or instantly, as it is commonly (and conveniently) supposed. People, when undertaking practice of this Teaching, expect that if they are ‘lucky’, the pieces (the Teaching and one’s experience) will eventually fit in a ‘click’, so to speak, and on their own accord. So they set to try ‘fitting’ them properly, in a hope of that click happening, but it seems that it never does. Even if the ‘pieces’ are placed together ‘tightly’ they do not seem to stay like that, sooner or later they drift apart. However, if one is persistent in one’s efforts, one will continue those attempts of ‘fitting them’ regardless of the apparent lack of result. And if those attempts are repeated a sufficient number of times the pieces will drift apart slower and slower and also less frequently until eventually they will remain together. But even then, they will not ‘click’, and that is simply because such a thing is not possible, i.e. the earlier idea of them ‘clicking’ in some sort of a perfect match was a direct product of one’s unreduced amount of ignorance. So, needless to say, when one reaches the point of pieces not drifting apart so easily, one ceases to expect them to click, because by then it will be clearly seen that effort that goes into ‘fitting’ them is what matters and when this is fully developed the possibility of conceiving them apart will cease to exist.”

  4. Jonathan says:

    Terrific essay, Bhante!

  5. Simon says:

    Dear Bhante,

    Thank you for your answer and your words of encouragement, they help(ed) a lot!
    When I was contemplating the eye and the senses, especially the body in this manner the last days and while reading in Bhante Ñāṇamoli’s book „Meanings“, I came across the following passage (p. 165): 

„Thus your matter, feeling, perception, determinations, consciousness and others’ matter, feeling, perception, determinations, consciousness are just matter, feeling, perception, determinations, consciousness of the five-aggregates.“

    This struck me! Before, the term „five (holding)-aggregates“ appeared to me as synonymous with „being“ (satta) and „(my) experience“, and I thought that every being has its „own set“ of five (holding)-aggregates. But now the aggregates appear to me as far more encompassing, all-encompassing: 


    “kittāvatā nu kho, bhante, khandhānaṃ khandhādhivacanan”ti? “yaṃ kiñci, bhikkhu, rūpaṃ atītānāgatapaccuppannaṃ ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā yaṃ dūre santike vā, ayaṃ vuccati rūpakkhandho. yā kāci vedanā… yā kāci saññā … ye keci saṅkhārā… yaṃ kiñci viññāṇaṃ atītānāgatapaccuppannaṃ ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā yaṃ dūre santike vā, ayaṃ vuccati viññāṇakkhandho. ettāvatā kho, bhikkhu, khandhānaṃ khandhādhivacanan”ti. (SN 22.82)

    

It does not matter if consciousness arises depending on forms and the eye of this body (ajjhattaṃ), or the eye of another body (bahiddhā), (cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ. tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso. phassapaccayā vedanā. SN 35.43). In each case it is part of the consciousness aggregate as a whole.
    Part of this was the understanding that when rūpa is abysmal (inaccessible to any form of control or security), then so must be the other aggregates, since they are „on the same level“, so to speak, always arising together. I only assume that I have something to do with them, that they concern me, thus taking them up and making them „my problem“.

    Now the words of the Ven. Adhimuttathera (Thag 16.1, v. 716 f.) make more sense to me:

    

“suddhaṃ dhammasamuppādaṃ, suddhaṃ saṅkhārasantatiṃ.
    passantassa yathābhūtaṃ, na bhayaṃ hoti gāmaṇi.“
    “tiṇakaṭṭhasamaṃ lokaṃ, yadā paññāya passati.
    mamattaṃ so asaṃvindaṃ, ‘natthi me’ti na socati.“

    „There is no fear, chief, for one seeing as they come to be,
    simple arising of phenomena, simple continuation of relations.“
    „When one sees the world as equal to grass and wood,
    that one, not knowing any mineness, does not grieve, (knowing) „it is not mine“.

    If you have any thoughts on this, I would be grateful if you shared them.

  6. ariyavamsa says:

    Dear Simon,

    I’m glad to hear that things are making more sense. What I think you are describing here is yoniso manasikāra—”attention from the source [of a thing’s manifestation]”. Whether that thing is past, future or present, internal or external, etc., it can only ever be found within these five aggregates, determined by them. These five aggregates are, as you say, all-encompassing. By pressing that thought, and by cultivating this capacity to attend to the experience in this way, one undoes the habit of expecting to find something beyond them. And it is by fully understanding how inconceivable this is that one stops doing it.

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