Meditation and other Rituals – Chapter 37: The Direct Path to Enlightenment

Buddhist meditation classically is divided into two forms, which might be referred to as stabilizing meditation and analytical meditation. The former involves the development of deepening levels of mental concentration, while the latter involves the development of insight into the nature of reality. The precise relation of these two forms of meditation, and the value of one without the other has been the subject of extended debate throughout the history of Buddhism (see Chapter 39). In the Theravada tradition, there is an extensive literature on the forty objects that one might choose to develop deep states of concentration, states which, if developed in this life, may result in rebirth in the heavens of the Form Realm or the Formless Realm in the next life. There are also extensive discussions of the nature of reality, often explained in terms of the three marks of existence: impermanence, suffering and no-self. And there is also a technique in which concentration and insight are developed together. This is set forth in one of the most famous texts in the Theravada canon, the Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutta), an excerpt from which appears here. This is one of the most widely commented upon texts in the Pali canon and is one which continues to hold a central place in the modern vipassana (vipasyana) movement. Only the briefest of comments can be provided here.

In the text, the Buddha sets forth what he calls the ekayana magga, translated here as ‘direct path’, but which might also be rendered as the *only path’ or the ‘one way’. The Buddha describes four objects of mindfulness. The first is the mindfulness of the body. The second is the mindfulness of feelings, which here refers to physical and mental experiences of pleasure, pain and neutrality. The third is the mindfulness of the mind, in which one observes the mind when influenced by different positive and negative emotions. The fourth is the mindfulness of dharmas, translated here as *mind-objects’which involves the contemplation of several key categories, including the five aggregates (skandhas) and the four truths.

The first of the four objects of mindfulness, the mindfulness of the body (translated in its entirety here), in fact involves fourteen exercises, beginning with the mindfulness of the inhalation and exhalation of the breath. Mindfulness (sati, a term that also means ‘memory’) is an undistracted watchfulness and attentiveness. Mindfulness of the breath is followed by mindfulness of the four physical postures of walking, standing, sitting and lying down. This is then extended to a full awareness of all activities. Thus, mindfulness is something that is meant to accompany all activities in the course of the day, and is not restricted to formal sessions of meditation. This is followed by mindfulness of the various components of the body, a rather unsavoury list that includes finger-nails, bile, spittle and urine. Next is the mindfulness of the body as composed of the four elements of earth (the solid), water (the liquid), fire (the warm) and air (the empty). This is followed by what are known as the *charnel ground contemplations’, mindfulness of the body in nine successive stages of decomposition.

The practice of the mindfulness of the body is designed to induce the understanding that the body is a collection of impure elements that arise and cease in rapid succession, utterly lacking any kind of permanent self. This insight into the three marks of existence: impermanence, suffering and no-self, in turn leads to nirvana; and as the Buddha states at the end of the sutta, the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness can lead to nirvana very quickly.

Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living in the Kuru country at a town of the Kurus named Kammasadhamma. There he addressed the bhikkhus thus: ‘Bhikkhus.’ ‘Venerable sir,’ they replied. The Blessed One said this:

‘Bhikkhus, this is the direct path for the purification of being, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the realization of nibbana – namely, the four foundations of mindfulness.

‘What are the four? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, fully aware and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent, fully aware and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind as mind, ardent, fully aware and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind-objects as mind-objects, ardent, fully aware and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world.

‘And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu abide contemplating the body as a body? Here a bhikkhu, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect and established in mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. Breathing in long, he understands: “I breathe in long”; or breathing out long, he understands: “I breathe out long”. Breathing in short, he understands: “I breathe in short”; or breathing out short, he understands: “I breathe out short”. He trains thus: “I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body [of breath]”; he trains thus: “I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body [of breath]”. He trains thus: “I shall breathe in tranquillizing the bodily formation”; he trains thus: “I shall breathe out tranquillizing the bodily formation”. Just as a skilled turner or his apprentice, when making a long turn, understands: “I make a long turn”; or, when making a short turn, understands: “I make a short turn”; so too, breathing in long, a bhikkhu understands: “I breathe in long”… he trains thus: “I shall breathe out tranquillizing the bodily formation.”

‘In this way he abides contemplating the body as a body internally, or he abides contemplating the body as a body externally, or he abides contemplating the body as a body both internally and externally. Or else he abides contemplating in the body its arising factors, or he abides contemplating in the body its vanishing factors, or he abides contemplating in the body both its arising and vanishing factors. Or else mindfulness that “there is a body” is simply established in him to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and mindfulness. And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. That is how a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body.

‘Again, bhikkhus, when walking, a bhikkhu understands: “I am walking”; when standing, he understands: “I am standing”; when sitting, he understands: “I am sitting”; when lying down, he understands: “I am lying down”; or he understands accordingly however his body is disposed.

‘In this way he abides contemplating the body as a body internally, externally, and both internally and externally… And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. That too is how a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body.

‘Again, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu is one who acts in full awareness when going forward and returning; who acts in full awareness when looking ahead and looking away; who acts in full awareness when flexing and extending his limbs; who acts in full awareness when wearing his robes and carrying his outer robe and bowl; who acts in full awareness when eating, drinking, consuming food and tasting; who acts in full awareness when defecating and urinating; who acts in full awareness when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking and keeping silent.

‘In this way he abides contemplating the body as a body internally, externally, both internally and externally… And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. That too is how a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body.

‘Again, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu reviews this same body up from the soles of the feet and down from the top of the hair, bounded by skin, as full of many kinds of impurity thus: “In this body there are head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, large intestines, small intestines, contents of the stomach, faeces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil of the joints and urine.” Just as though there were a bag with an opening at both ends full of many sorts of grain, such as hill rice, red rice, beans, peas, millet and white rice, and a man with good eyes were to open it and review it thus: “This is hill rice, this is red rice, these are beans, this is millet, this is white rice”; so too, a bhikkhu reviews this same body. as full of many kinds of impurity thus: “In this body there are head-hairs. and urine.”

‘In this way he contemplates the body as a body internally, externally, and both internally and externally… And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. That too is how a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body.

‘Again, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu reviews this same body, however it is placed, however disposed, as consisting of elements thus: “In this body there are the earth element, the water element, the fire element and the air element.” Just as though a skilled butcher or his apprentice had killed a cow and was seated at the crossroads with it cut up into pieces; so too, a bhikkhu reviews this same body. as consisting of elements thus: “In this body there are the earth element, the water element, the fire element and the air element.”

‘In this way he abides contemplating the body as a body internally, externally, and both internally and externally. And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. That too is how a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body.

‘Again, bhikkhus, as though he were to see a corpse thrown aside in a charnel ground, one, two, or three days dead, bloated, livid and oozing matter, a bhikkhu compares this same body with it thus: “This body too is of the same nature, it will be like that, it is not exempt from that fate.”

‘In this way he abides contemplating the body as a body internally, externally, and both internally and externally… And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. That too is how a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body.

‘Again, as though he were to see a corpse thrown aside in a charnel ground, being devoured by crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, jackals, or various kinds of worms, a bhikkhu compares this same body with it thus: “This body too is of the same nature, it will be like that, it is not exempt from that fate.”

‘… That too is how a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body.

‘Again, as though he were to see a corpse thrown aside in a charnel ground, a skeleton with flesh and blood, held together with sinews. a fleshless skeleton smeared with blood held together with sinews. a skeleton without flesh and blood, held together with sinews. disconnected bones scattered in all directions – here a hand-bone, there a foot-bone, here a shin-bone, there a thigh­bone, here a hip-bone, there a back-bone, here a rib-bone, there a breast-bone, here an arm-bone, there a shoulder-bone, here a neck- bone, there a jaw-bone, here a tooth, there the skull – a bhikkhu compares this same body with it thus: “This body too is of the same nature, it will be like that, it is not exempt from that fate.”

‘. That too is how a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body.

‘Again, as though he were to see a corpse thrown aside in a charnel ground, bones bleached white, the colour of shells… bones heaped up, more than a year old… bones rotted and crumbled to dust, a bhikkhu compares this same body with it thus: “This body too is of the same nature, it will be like that, it is not exempt from that fate.”

‘In this way he abides contemplating the body as a body internally, or he abides contemplating the body as a body externally, or he abides contemplating the body as a body both internally and externally. Or else he abides contemplating in the body its arising factors, or he abides contemplating in the body its vanishing factors, or he abides contemplating in the body both its arising and vanishing factors. Or else mindfulness that “there is a body” is simply established in him to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and mindfulness. And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. That is how a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body.’ [Instructions on the other three foundations of mindfulness – feelings, mind and mind-objects – follow.]

‘Bhikkhus, if anyone should develop these four foundations of mindfulness in such a way for seven years, one of two fruits could be expected for him: either final knowledge here and now, or, if there is a trace of clinging left, non-return.

‘Let alone seven years, bhikkhus. If anyone should develop these four foundations of mindfulness in such a way for six years… for five years… for three years… for two years… for one year, one of two fruits could be expected for him: either final knowledge here and now, or, if there is a trace of clinging left, non-return.

‘Let alone one year, bhikkhus. If anyone should develop these four foundations of mindfulness in such a way for seven months. for six months. for five months. for four months. for three months. for two months. for one month. for half a month, one of two fruits could be expected for him: either final knowledge here and now, or, if there is a trace of clinging left, non-return.

‘Let alone half a month, bhikkhus. If anyone should develop these four foundations of mindfulness in such a way for seven days, one of two fruits could be expected for him: either final knowledge here and now, or, if there is a trace of clinging left, non-return.

‘So it was with reference to this that it was said: “Bhikkhus, there is a direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the realization of nibbana – namely the four foundations of mindfulness.”’

From The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, trans. Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995), pp. 145-9, 155.

Source: Lopez Donald S. (2004), Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics; First Edition.

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