Insight Meditation

        The object of insight practice is to note all psycho-physical phenomena that arise from contact with sense-objects. It involves the effort to observe empirically all phenomena as they really are, together with their characteristics such as impermanence, etc. At first the meditator cannot focus on every mental and physical process and so he should begin with a few obvious events. When he walks he should note ‘walking’ and so on. By watching every bodily action he usually becomes aware of the element of motion and other primary elements. This accords with the teaching of the Satipatthâna Sutta: "When walking he [the meditator] knows, ‘I am walking’ (Gacchanto vâ gacchâmi ’ti pajânâti)."

        The meditator tends to be slack if he focuses on just one posture, for example, sitting. So, to keep him alert, we instruct him to focus on the rising and falling of the abdomen. With the development of concentration, he becomes aware of the element of motion (vâyo) whenever he focuses on the rising and falling. Later on the distinction between the rising and consciousness; between the falling and consciousness; between the lifting of the foot and consciousness and so forth, becomes clear to him. This discriminative insight into mind and matter is called nâmarûpaparicchedañâna.

        With the further development of concentration, the meditator knows that he bends his hand because of the desire to bend it, that he sees because he has eyes and there is an object to be seen, that he knows because of an object to be known; that he does not know because of his unmindfulness; that he likes a thing because of his ignorance; that he seeks to fulfil his desire because of his attachment; that good or bad results follow from his actions and so on. This is paccayapariggahañâna or insight into the primacy of the law of cause and effect.

        This is followed by sammasanañâna, which means insight into the impermanent, unsatisfactory and impersonal characteristics of all phenomena—an insight born of reflection on their arising and passing away.

        Then the meditator knows that everything arises and vanishes rapidly. His perception is so keen that nothing escapes his attention. He tends to see lights and to be overly ecstatic and joyful. This pleasant feeling arises together with the extraordinary insight into the flux of mind and matter (udayabbayañâna). It surpasses all other kinds of joy and is described as a mental state that we should welcome. The Dhammapada speaks of the surpassing joy and ecstasy arising in the meditator who contemplates the Dhamma rightly, i.e. the impermanence of mind and matter. This state of consciousness is called the Deathless (amata) because it is the forerunner of nibbâna, which the meditator will surely attain if he strives for it with faith, will and diligence.

        Rapture and joy are called pamojja and pîti in Pâli. Pamojja is the rapture that occurs with the emergence of insight into the impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self characteristics of all phenomena (sammasanañâna). Pîti means the extreme joy that accompanies udayabbayañâna - the perception of the rapid arising and dissolution of phenomena. It develops while the meditator is mindful of the rising and falling of the abdomen, or of the sensations in the body, or while his attention is focused on his bodily movements. He rarely suffers unbearable pain. If pain does occur sometimes, it vanishes instantly as soon as he notes it. Then he feels extremely elated and this elation continues to be intense as long as he is mindful of the rapidity with which each phenomenon arises and passes away.

        As with the first three jhânas, the meditator feels very happy when he attains udayabbayañâna. At this stage he describes his happiness as an ineffable experience that surpasses all similar states of consciousness. In the Sakkapañha Sutta it is called sevitabbasomanassa, that is, the pleasant feeling that we should seek.

Unpleasant Feelings to be Sought or Avoided

        The discourse mentions two kinds of unpleasant feeling: the unpleasant feeling that leads to unwholesome kamma (acts, words or thoughts) and the unpleasant feeling that leads to wholesome kamma. The former is to be avoided whilst the latter is to be welcomed. Unpleasant feelings that result in wholesome kamma are commendable, being conducive to the practice of jhâna, the holy path and its fruition, but they should not be deliberately sought.

        The Salâyatanavibhanga Sutta tells us what kind of sorrow we should welcome and what kind of sorrow we should avoid. We usually grieve over the lack of pleasant, desirable sense-objects in the present or over our failure to have acquired these objects in the past. We are unhappy when we have to face dangers and unpleasant objects, when we worry over the possibility of future suffering and danger, or when we think of our past suffering. Such unpleasant feelings do us no good and produce only pain and unwholesome thoughts.

        Those who harbour unpleasant feelings cannot contemplate the Buddha image with zeal and concentration because they are so distracted. A calm mind is essential if contemplation of the Buddha is to be worthwhile. Without it there will be only unwholesome thoughts. These feelings are also a hindrance to good deeds so we should try to overcome them. Yet some people seem to welcome suffering and may not like you if, for example, you tell them not to grieve over the loss of their loved ones. On the contrary, they may thank you when you say something to justify their grief.

        We should keep in mind the law of kamma - the Buddha’s teaching that everything happens according to one’s actions - and bear our misfortunes calmly. The best remedy in a crisis is the practice of tranquillity or insight meditation. If sorrow, grief or depression afflicts us during our meditation, such unwholesome states of consciousness must be noted and removed. The Buddha describes the Satipatthâna method as the only way to get over grief and to end all suffering. So long as we remain mindful, as explained in the Satipatthâna teaching, we need never feel depressed, and if depression arises, it passes away as soon as we focus our attention on it.

        There are many things in life that make us unhappy: frustrated desires, lack of success, loss of property and so forth. Brooding over our misfortunes leads to depression but we should overcome it through mindfulness. Our method is to watch constantly the abdominal rising and falling, the fact of sitting, etc.

        The practice of mindfulness was crucial to Sakka, for in the face of his imminent death, which would surely bring about the loss of heavenly bliss and sensual pleasure, he was very depressed. So the Buddha’s teaching was realistic and very opportune.

        I will now give a translation of the Pâli text in the Salâyatanavibhanga Sutta about the unpleasant feeling that we should welcome.

"After having observed and realised the impermanence of visual forms, their dissolution and passing away, the meditator gains a true insight into the nature of things as they are, that is, into their impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and impersonality. As a result, the desire for the goal of the noble path, the noble and peerless freedom, arises in him. He looks forward to the day when he will attain the abode of Ariyas who have won such freedom. This longing for Ariyan liberation causes pain and sorrow, and this unpleasant feeling is called nekkhamassita-domanassa, that is pain or sorrow (domanassa) due to the desire for renunciation."

        Those who observe the psycho-physical phenomena as they arise from the six senses realise their impermanence, etc., and with only a theoretical understanding of the Ariyan dhamma, they may keep on meditating in the hope of attaining the goal. However if their hope does not materialise in due course they will get dejected. This mental pain is caused by the desire for renunciation.

        This needs some explanation. The meditator who lacks experience in tranquillity, absorption or concentration begins with contemplating mind and matter arising from the six sense-organs. However, it is not easy for a beginner to follow this process thoroughly. He would be well advised to begin with the four primary elements as suggested in the Visuddhimagga or with the element of motion in the rising and falling of the abdomen, a method that we teach at our meditation centre.

        While he is mindful of the rising and falling, he should note any thought (intention, desire, etc.) sensation (heat, pain, etc.) or contact with sense-objects (seeing, hearing, etc.) that occurs. However, when concentration is weak, the true nature of mind and matter is not apparent. With the development of concentration the mind becomes calm, pure and free from hindrances. Every thought or feeling is noted and removed. The meditator has then reached the stage known as purification of mind (cittavisuddhi). Later on he grasps the distinction between mind, which knows, and matter, which is known. This is the discriminating insight into mind and matter (nâmarûpaparicchedañâna) and purification of view (ditthivisuddhi). The meditator gains the further insight that distinguishes between cause and effect (paccayapariggahañâna) leaving him free from all doubts (kankhâvitaranavisuddhi).

        The meditator now clearly comprehends that every phenomenon is subject to impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self (sammasanañâna), and he quickly perceives the instant dissolution of everything that arises (udayabbayañâna). At this stage the desire to be liberated arises and he longs to attain a certain stage on the holy path within a limited period of time. If his hope is not fulfilled he is sad and disappointed, a prey to doubt and despair, but since this feeling may serve as an incentive to further effort, it is a blessing in disguise - though it should not be sought deliberately.

        Of course the best thing for the meditator to do is to make uninterrupted progress from the outset, so that his insights and experiences will bring him great pleasure. So the discourse places the emphasis on the joy rather than the sorrow to be derived from renunciation. Nevertheless, for the meditator who fails to achieve success within the desired time, depression is inevitable.

        At our meditation centre we explain the successive stages of insight to a few qualified meditators to help them evaluate their experiences. We confine the teaching to a select few because it serves no purpose in the case of those who have no experience in meditation. It is beneficial only to experienced meditators insofar as it serves as a spur to further effort. Those who hope to hear our teachings without having gained sufficient insights become dejected when their wish is unfulfilled. This dejection will do them good since it encourages them to exert more effort and so leads them to experiences in accordance with our teachings, which they can then joyfully evaluate.

        Some meditators are disheartened because of their weak concentration at the outset, but as a result they redouble their efforts and attain unusual insights. So the meditator may benefit from his despair at this stage. According to the commentary, we should welcome despair that arises out of our frustrated desires for renunciation, meditation, reflection (anussati) and jhâna. We should turn to good account the despair or sorrow over our inability to become a bhikkhu, to practise meditation, to hear the Dhamma, or even to visit a pagoda. As an example of this wholesome sorrow, there is the story of a Buddhist woman in Sri Lanka.

        The woman’s parents went to a pagoda, leaving their daughter at home because she was expecting a baby. As the pagoda was not far away she saw it illuminated and heard the Dhamma recited by the monks. Her heart sank at the thought of the bad kamma that prevented her from going with her parents, but then she rejoiced over the good kamma of the pilgrims there. Her rejoicing turned into ecstasy (ubbega-pîti), and suddenly she rose into the air and found herself on the platform of the pagoda. Thus the woman’s wholesome sorrow helped to bring about miraculously the fulfilment of her wholesome desire.

        The commentary on the Sakkapañha Sutta cites the story of Venerable Mahâsiva as an illustration of wholesome sorrow that leads to Arahantship.

        Venerable Mahâsiva was a great teacher who had many disciples, and those who practised insight meditation under his guidance became Arahants. Seeing that his teacher had not yet attained the supreme goal, one of these Arahants once asked him for a lesson in the Dhamma. Venerable Mahâsiva replied that he had no time to teach the lesson, being engaged the whole day in answering the questions of his disciples, removing their doubts and so forth.

        Then the bhikkhu said, "Venerable sir, you should at least have the time to contemplate the Dhamma in the mornings. As matters stand, you will not even have the time to die. You are the mainstay for other people yet you have no support yourself. So, I do not want your lesson." Saying this, he rose into the air and went.

        This made Venerable Mahâsiva realise that the bhikkhu had not come to learn the Dhamma but to warn him against complacency. Disillusioned, he left the monastery and retired to a secluded place, where he practised insight meditation strenuously. However, despite his persistent and painstaking efforts, he failed to gain any unusual insights, and even after many years was still far from his goal. At last, when he had become extremely depressed and began shedding tears, a goddess appeared and started crying too. The elder asked her why she was crying and she replied that she expected to attain insights by crying.

        This brought the elder to his senses. Pulling himself together, he practised mindfulness, and having passed through the successive stages of illumination on the holy path, he finally attained Arahantship. After all, under favourable circumstances, a meditator can attain insight in a short time. The elder’s initial failure, despite his strenuous efforts, might have been due to discursive thinking stemming from his extensive learning.

        Thus the disillusionment that prompted Venerable Mahâsiva to make further effort on the path is the kind of wholesome sorrow that we should welcome. The Sakkapañha Sutta mentions two kinds of wholesome sorrow: one with discursive thinking and the other without it, but in reality every sorrow is bound up with thinking, and we speak only metaphorically of the sorrow that is without thinking.

        In short, sorrow is unwholesome if it originates in sensual desire or worldly affairs, and so we should avoid the kind of thoughts that lead to it. If sorrow arises spontaneously, we must not harbour it, but should fix the mind on other objects, and it will vanish of its own accord. On the other hand, sorrow is wholesome when it arises from our frustrated efforts to promote our spiritual life, such as our attempt to join the Holy Order, to attain insights and so forth. We should welcome such sorrow for it may spur us on to greater effort and lead to progress on the holy path. It should not, however, be sought deliberately. The best thing is to experience wholesome joy in the search for enlightenment.

Wholesome and Unwholesome Indifference

        Upekkhâ means indifferent feeling, which is neither joy nor sorrow. It arises more often than the other feelings, joy and sorrow being occasional states of consciousness, but it is apparent only when concentration is powerful. Again, indifference is of two kinds: wholesome indifference that leads to good deeds and unwholesome indifference that leads to bad deeds. The Salâyatanavibhanga Sutta mentions six types of indifference that arise from the six senses.

        The unwholesome indifference that arises from the senses in ignorant and confused persons, is called gehasita-upekkhâ. We feel joy at the sight of a pleasant object and sorrow at the sight of an unpleasant object, but we have indifferent feelings, which are neither good nor bad, when we see very familiar people or objects. For example, we feel neither pleasure nor displeasure when we see a tree or a stone.

        Unwholesome indifference is found among common people (puthujjana), unlike Ariyas or even refined people (kalyâna puthujjana), who are aware of impermanence, etc. This state of consciousness arises in ignorant commoners, and here we mean those ignorant people who do not know the real nature of sense-objects, because of their lack of mindfulness. As a result they remain unaware of impermanence and are wedded to the illusion that all phenomena are permanent and good.

        The commentary gives further details about the ignorant person who is subject to unwholesome indifference. He is not an Ariya at the stream-winner stage (sotâpanna), which marks the conquest of the defilements that lead to the lower worlds; or at the once-returner stage (sakadâgâmi), which ensures freedom from gross sensual desire and ill-will; or at the non-returner stage (anâgâmi), which means the total elimination of these two defilements. Not having done away with any one of the defilements, the commoner who suffers from unwholesome indifference is not one of these three types of Ariya.

        He is also not a person who has neutralised the effect of kamma. It is only the Arahant who can overcome kammic effects such as rebirth-consciousness, etc. These two negative attributes, namely, being still prone to defilements and being still subject to the law of kamma, show that unwholesome indifference arises only in non-ariyan puthujjana. By puthujjana the commentary means the ordinary person who is devoid of insight and knowledge.

        He is described as a person who does not see the evils of delusion (moha). Owing to his lack of mindfulness he does not understand the truth, believing instead in the illusion of a permanent ego. This illusion leads him to pleasurable desire, to attachment and to the effort for self-fulfilment. This effort in turn gives rise to good or bad kamma, resulting in rebirth, which brings old age, sickness, death and all other sufferings.

        The ordinary person does not see these evils of illusion nor does he have knowledge. Knowledge is of two kinds: knowledge of the Buddha’s teaching through hearing discourses, etc., and empirical knowledge gained through meditation and insight on the path. Both kinds of knowledge are foreign to him, so he has the indifference that is born out of illusion. The sense-objects cause neither joy nor pain in him but he nevertheless remains steeped in the world of the senses. Hence the term gehasita-upekkhâ is used where geha means the house of the senses. In other words, the ordinary person does not outgrow the phenomenal or the sensual world, and so remains blind to its real nature: its impermanence and other characteristics.

        The commentary on the Sakkapañha Sutta explains wholesome indifference at length on the basis of what is said in the Salâyatanavibhanga Sutta. Wholesome indifference, or renunciation-oriented indifference, is called nekkhammasita-upekkhâ and is of six kinds, depending on the six senses. The meditator who is mindful of the passing away of all sense-objects realises that every phenomenon is subject to impermanence, suffering and dissolution. This insight into the reality of the universe leads him to a feeling of equanimity, which helps him to outgrow the sensual world and to free himself from attachments. He is then indifferent to both pleasant and unpleasant sense-objects.

        For the meditator who is mindful and has developed concentration, everything arises only to pass away instantly. The discourses usually stress this fact with reference to visual objects in the first place, but in practice it is initially apparent with regard to the objects of contact and thought. If any thought arises while being attentive to the rising and falling of the abdomen, it vanishes the instant the mind is fixed on it. With the development of concentration the meditator becomes aware of the rising and of the falling separately, and later on his awareness extends to the repeated disappearance of each of them. At this stage of insight into dissolution (bhangañâna) he sees the abdomen, hands, etc., not as solid things but as phenomena that vanish ceaselessly and instantaneously.

        The ceaseless dissolution of phenomena becomes more apparent with the development of bhangañâna so that the meditator finally realises the law of impermanence. Knowing thus the nature of mind and matter as it really is, he feels neither joy nor sorrow, but simply remains aware of the sense-objects. This fleeting awareness leads to a feeling of indifference, which is more predominant when knowledge of dissolution and knowledge of equanimity with regard to formations (sankhârupekkhañâna) flash across the mind.

        At these stages on the path the meditator is neither pleased nor displeased with the sight of pleasant or unpleasant objects. He is above attachments with regard to sights, sounds, etc., and his indifference is beyond the sensual world. In fact this is the goal of insight meditation practice, which is freedom.

        The meditator should seek this wholesome, insight-oriented equanimity. It is first experienced at the advanced stage of rising and passing away, and is most pronounced at the stage of equanimity with regard to formations (sankhârupekkhâñâna). According to the discourse, it is of two kinds, namely equanimity with discursive thinking and equanimity without such thinking. In reality all equanimity that occurs during contemplation involves discursive thinking. However, the equanimity that arises while watching the sensual and first jhânic consciousness is called equanimity with discursive thinking, whilst that which occurs while absorbed in the second jhânic state is called equanimity without discursive thinking. Of the two kinds of equanimity, the one without discursive thinking is superior.

The Rebirth of Sakka

        In fact the main objective of insight meditation practice is to seek and cultivate the equanimity that is associated with the knowledge of equanimity with regard to formations. To this end we should avoid sensuous joy, and should seek wholesome joy in good deeds and in contemplation. Likewise we should welcome wholesome sorrow arising from our frustrated efforts on the holy path, and we should avoid unwholesome sorrow. In the same way we should avoid the unwholesome equanimity of the sensual world and seek the wholesome equanimity of the holy path.

        Here the emphasis is on the positive aspect of the practice. In other words, we should concentrate on wholesome joy, wholesome sorrow and wholesome equanimity, because the cultivation of these wholesome states of consciousness means the elimination of their negative, i.e. unwholesome, counterparts.

        We should also eliminate wholesome sorrow through wholesome joy. This means that if we are depressed because of our failure to make much progress on the holy path, we must overcome this depression by exerting more effort to attain insight. Likewise, wholesome joy must be rejected through wholesome equanimity, as this wholesome equanimity through insight is the pinnacle of the holy life. However, the joy attained in insight meditation is not to be wholly rejected because this joy forms the basis for the first three jhânic paths and their fruitions. Moreover, the meditator who does not attain jhâna cannot attain the fourth jhânic path, which is the path with equanimity. He can attain only the first three jhânas with joy. He usually attains the path and its fruition through the stage of adaptation knowledge (anulomañâna) with joy. Hence the Buddha’s emphasis on vipassanâ upekkhâ as the highest state of consciousness.

        Thus sankhârupekkhâ insight with joy or with equanimity is only one step removed from the holy path and its fruition. If the meditator does not become complacent with this insight, he usually attains the path in four or five days. So equanimity with renunciation-joy should be sought since it is conducive to the holy life at the level of the path of insight.

        The meditator should subordinate wholesome sorrow to wholesome joy, and even wholesome joy to wholesome equanimity, until he attains the knowledge of equanimity with regard to formations. This means the attainment of the four stages of the holy path, and the extinction of desire, conceit and wrong-view. Summarising this, the Buddha said to Sakka, "O King of devas! The bhikkhu who avoids unwholesome dhammas and seeks wholesome dhammas is committed to the middle way of the good life that leads to nibbâna, the extinction of all defilements."

        While following the Buddha’s discourse, Sakka contemplated his states of consciousness, cultivated wholesome joy and wholesome equanimity, developed insight knowledge and became a sotâpanna. This was followed by his demise and rebirth as a new Sakka. He attained only the first stage of the holy path as his spiritual potential was limited.

        The rebirth of Sakka shows that a dying deva can benefit by hearing the Dhamma. Through mindfulness of wholesome emotions the meditator can make good progress on the holy path, and the most common of these emotions is wholesome joy. In Sri Lanka, Venerable Phussadeva became an Arahant after contemplating the joy that arose in him at the sight of the Buddha image. The queen of King Asoka also attained the stream-winner stage after contemplating the joy that welled up in her when she heard a bird, whose singing sounded like the voice of the Buddha. According to the commentaries, the meditator may even attain Arahantship while contemplating wholesome joy, or he may attain the holy path and its fruition through the contemplation of generosity or morality, and the impermanence of the wholesome joy that results from his recollection of them.

        Having attained the first stage, Sakka became wholly free from doubt and the illusion of an ego-entity. The freedom that he now enjoyed was superior to any that he had experienced in the past, in that it was the freedom of a stream-winner, whereas formerly his freedom had been based on knowledge and thinking.

The Virtue of Monastic Restraint

        Sakka asked the Buddha about the relationship between morality and the holy life. "Lord, what is the moral practice that protects one from the lower worlds or from unwholesome deeds, words or thoughts?"

        The Buddha said that there are two kinds of deeds: wholesome deeds and unwholesome deeds. He classified speech and livelihood in the same way. Any action, speech or means of livelihood that contributes to good kamma is wholesome, and any that contributes to bad kamma is unwholesome. Unwholesome actions are killing, stealing and indulging in sexual misconduct. Abstinence from these actions constitutes wholesome action. These are the precepts for lay disciples, but there are many more precepts that the bhikkhus have to observe in accordance with the teachings of the Vinaya Pitaka.

        Lies, slander, abuse, and idle, frivolous talk are unwholesome verbal actions, whereas abstaining from such unwholesome speech is wholesome verbal action. To make one’s living through unwholesome actions or unwholesome speech is likewise unwholesome livelihood. Conversely, wholesome livelihood is that which has nothing to do with such action or speech. It follows that, for the layman, the observance of the five precepts ensures moral purity.

        Some people may say that the precepts refer only to lying and do not explicitly enjoin abstinence from the other kinds of wrong speech and wrong livelihood. However, abstinence from lying implies abstinence from the other kinds of unwholesome speech since all of these evils involve false assertions. Likewise, we avoid wrong livelihood if we avoid killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and selling intoxicants, since keeping the five precepts entails avoiding these immoral actions, whether it is to earn one’s living or for any other reason. So the five precepts constitute the basic moral restraint for the laity.

The Virtue of Sense-faculty Restraint

        Then Sakka asked the Buddha how a bhikkhu should practise sense-restraint (indriyasamvarasîla). Indriya means to govern or control, and here it refers to the six governing sense-organs, namely the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind. These six govern seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and consciousness respectively. Sakka asked the Buddha how one should guard these senses.

        The Buddha made a distinction between two kinds of sense-objects: those that should be accepted and those that should be rejected. One should accept the sense-objects that discourage bad kamma and encourage good kamma; and one should ignore those that discourage good kamma and encourage bad kamma. We should avoid looking at objects that cause pleasure, anger, etc. If they are unavoidable, we ought to stop thinking and practise some kind of contemplation; or we should make a note of seeing, and stop short of letting the mind wander beyond bare awareness. This is the way to reject unwholesome sense-objects.

        Similarly, we should not pay attention to unwholesome kamma. On the other hand we should listen to the recitation of the Dhamma, as it is obviously the mainspring of good kamma. Whatever the sound may be, if we focus on hearing and note its qualities of impermanence, etc., this will contribute to the development of insight.

        The enjoyment of the sense of smell usually causes bad kamma. On rare occasions it induces good kamma as, for instance, when we note the fragrance of flowers offered at the shrine, with reference to the three characteristics. The same may be said of tastes, but since we cannot live without food, we can avoid bad kamma only by eating mindfully. It is also good for us if we can avoid very delicious food, and of course, we should always avoid any food or drink that is intoxicating. Although we may eat good food, we can avoid defilement if we do not crave for or care about its delicacy. This degree of restraint is impossible for unmindful persons.

        Bodily contact also usually leads to unwholesome kamma. It is not possible to avoid all touching, but we should avoid, as far as possible, sexual contact, which causes pleasure and attachment. We should restrain the senses so that we can detach ourselves, and thus disregard delightful or painful sensations. The best way to gain total restraint is, as mentioned before, to note the impermanence, etc., of all tactile sensations. Good kamma arises through mindfulness of all tactile impressions in accordance with the Satipatthâna Sutta. Discriminative and discursive thinking about men, women, enemies, and so on, is to be avoided since it leads to passion, ill-will and the other defilements. Should such thoughts occur, they must be replaced with meditation on the Buddha, one’s morality, etc., and their arising and passing away should be noted.

        There are many other discourses that contain the Buddha’s teaching about the restraint of the senses. Typical of these teachings is the following advice:–

"When you see a man or a woman you should not think of his or her physical features. You should avoid noticing the eyes, eyebrows and other particular features of the body as this will surely give rise to defilements."

        Men should not think of a woman’s physical features as a whole, or the particular features such as hair, mouth, bosom and so forth, and likewise, women should avoid thinking of those of a man, for such thinking fuels the passions. The meditator must give bare attention to seeing and avoid thinking about the physical form as a whole or about the different parts of the body.

        The Buddha pointed out the evils arising from lack of sense-restraint: "One who does not guard his eyes is forever beset with craving and ill-will", but this restraint must be exercised in the proper way. The meditator must avoid looking at familiar objects (pleasant or unpleasant) that arouse unwholesome thoughts. If he sees them by chance he should pay no attention to their form, colour, etc., and should retain no impression of them. He simply keeps himself aware of what he is seeing and bears in mind its impermanence, etc.

        The same may be said of the other senses: hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking. With the development of concentration, the meditator can focus on all psycho-physical phenomena and realise their characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self, thereby leaving little room for the emergence of defilements. This is the best way to restrain the senses, and through such sense-restraint the meditator can attain the holy path and its fruition, after passing through the successive stages of insight. The attainment of Arahantship in this way is mentioned in the following story of Mahâtissa thera from the Visuddhimagga.

The Story of Mahâtissa Thera

        While Mahâtissa thera was on the way to Anurâdhapura to collect alms, he met a woman. Having quarrelled with her husband, she had set out for her parents’ home. She was well dressed and at the sight of the elder she laughed seductively. Formerly the elder had often reflected on the impurity of the human body, and so, on looking at the woman, he had a vision of a loathsome skeleton. Consequently he attained the first jhâna, and through insight meditation, became an Arahant. The husband, having followed the woman, met the elder and asked him whether he had seen a woman. The elder replied that he had seen only a skeleton that had gone along the road.

        The elder must have practised contemplation on the impurity of the body for a long time. His experience is a lesson for meditators who are disheartened by their lack of progress, for they will attain insight in due course if they keep on trying.

The Story of Cittagutta Thera

        The restraint of the senses as practised by another elder is also cited in the Visuddhimagga.

        Cittagutta thera dwelt in a cave in Sri Lanka, high up on the walls of which were frescoes of the Buddha’s birth stories (Jâtakas). Since he practised constant sense-restraint, the elder never looked up, and so he remained quite unaware of these frescoes.

        One day some young monks came to the cave. They were fascinated by the pictures and remarked on their beauty to the elder, but he replied that he had never noticed them, although he had lived in the cave for over sixty years. His response was an indirect rebuke to the visitors for their lack of mindfulness with respect to their eyes.

        There was also a Gangaw tree near the entrance of the cave. The elder had never looked up at it and so he knew that the flowers were in full bloom only when he saw the petals lying on the ground. Hearing about the elder’s holiness, the king invited him to the palace, but, in spite of repeated invitations, the elder refused to visit the king. As a consequence, the king forbade the suckling of infants by their mothers in the village where the elder went about to collect alms in the morning. So, out of compassion for the babies, the elder finally went to the palace. The king and the queen paid respects to the elder and he blessed them one after another saying, "May the king be happy!" When the young monks asked him why he always said "May the king be happy!", whether he addressed the king or the queen, the elder replied that he did not notice whether it was the king or the queen. This is a lesson for those who practise sense-restraint.

        The most important thing is to avoid those sights that give rise to defilements, and if they are unavoidable, to contemplate their impurities or to make a note simply of seeing. Here we should bear in mind the Buddha’s reply to Venerable Ânanda, on the eve of his parinibbâna, when he asked how a bhikkhu should behave regarding women. The Buddha said that a bhikkhu should avoid seeing women, and if he cannot avoid seeing them, he should not speak to them. If he cannot avoid speaking to them, then he should be mindful, and regard the woman either as his mother, sister or daughter, according to her age.

        This is the first practice suggested in the Bhâradvâja Sutta of the Samyuttanikâya5 for overcoming sensual desire. The second practice mentioned is the reflection on the impurity of the human body. The third practice is the restraint of the senses.

        The Buddha’s teaching applies to other sense-objects as well. We should avoid listening to sounds such as songs, etc., which arouse the defilements. If we cannot avoid them, we must make a note simply of hearing. The need for such mindfulness is obvious in the case of monks and meditators, but the Buddha’s teaching was addressed to Sakka and to the other devas. Devas are usually engrossed in sensual pleasures and so it is necessary for them to restrain their senses as far as possible. The same may be said of lay disciples when they observe the Sabbath or practise meditation.

        The scents of flowers, perfumes, etc., that cause defilements to arise should be treated in the same way. So should the food that the meditator eats only after due reflection (that he eats not for pleasure but to preserve his health). Sensations of taste and touch that lead to defilements are also to be avoided, and if unavoidable, they should be dealt with in the same way. Making a note of walking, sitting, etc., constitutes mindfulness of tactile sensations.

        According to the commentary, the practice of Nissajji dhutanga is a wholesome pursuit in relation to the sensation of touch. Nissajji dhutanga is the ascetic practice of never lying down but remaining always in the sitting position, even when asleep, which some meditators do. Venerable Sâriputta, Venerable Mahâkassapa and other prominent disciples of the Buddha practised it for long periods, ranging from 12 years in the case of Venerable Râhula to 120 years in the case of Venerable Mahâkassapa. Since they were Arahants their object was not to acquire merit but to serve as examples for posterity.

        The meditator should patiently make a note of wholesome sensations of touch while practising insight meditation, keeping himself mindful of wholesome sense-objects. When he feels unpleasant sensations in the body he should not fidget, but should exercise patience as far as possible, and keep on contemplating those sensations in accordance with the teachings of the Sakkapañha Sutta.

        Moreover, the meditator should not think of anything that can give rise to craving or ill-will; he must refrain from doing so, not only with respect to the mental-objects or thoughts that occur to him at present, but also with regard to those belonging to the past and the future as well. They should be noted and rejected.

The Self Restraint of the Three Theras

        The commentary mentions the story of three elders whom we should emulate in our efforts to remove unwholesome thoughts and to practise mindfulness. On the first day of their rains-retreat, they admonished one another and pledged that they would have no sensual or aggressive thoughts during the three months. On the Pavâranâ day, which marks the end of the rains-retreat, the eldest bhikkhu asked the youngest how he had controlled his mind during this time. Pavâranâ is a ceremony in which one bhikkhu invites another to point out his faults or any breaches of the monastic rules that he has unwittingly committed during the retreat. The young monk said that he had not allowed his mind to leave the monastery but had kept it confined within the building.

        By this he meant that if his mind went astray during his meditation, he restricted it to the monastery, so that he never thought of anything outside it. His accomplishment was indeed laudable in view of the fact that, by and large, meditators do not have a firm hold over their minds before they develop concentration. They cannot prevent their minds from wandering when asked to practise mindfulness.

        When the eldest asked the second monk the same question, the latter said that he did not allow his mind even to leave his room. So his powers of concentration were better developed than those of the younger monk.

        Then the two younger monks asked the eldest how much control he had had over his mind. The elder replied that he had not allowed his mind to leave his own body and mind. This shows that he confined his attention simply to the psycho-physical phenomena that arise at the six senses with every moment of seeing, hearing, etc. The elder’s ability to concentrate is most impressive - perhaps he was an Arahant. This degree of mind-control, which the three elders had attained, is indeed an inspiration for those who practise mindfulness.

        The commentary commends the contemplation of mind-objects together with loving-kindness (mettâ) etc., so we should cultivate mettâ saying, "May all beings be free from danger" and so forth. Moreover, since the commentary says "mettâ, etc.," it is to be assumed that all mind-objects should be contemplated for insight knowledge. To summarise, vipassanâ contemplation of any kind is commendable because it means the accumulation of wholesome kamma.

Satipatthâna: A Big Heap of Good Kamma

        Of the many kinds of contemplation, the Buddha described the four foundations of mindfulness as the sum total of all wholesome dhammas or kammas. Giving alms frequently or leading a very good moral life may mean a big accumulation of wholesome kammas. However, the donor, though a morally good person, may occasionally be harassed by irrelevant thoughts, and, of course, it is impossible to perform charity or to practise strict morality all day and all night. So it is not really true to call charity or morality a big heap of wholesome dhammas.

        On the other hand, the practice of Satipatthâna vipassanâ requires constant mindfulness of all bodily behaviour, feelings, thoughts, moments of seeing, hearing, etc. Except during sleep, the meditator has to be mindful at every moment. If one makes a note of his feelings, etc., at least once in a second this means one acquires one wholesome dhamma in that brief period. One gains 3,600 wholesome dhammas in an hour, so, if we exclude four sleeping hours, one gains merit to the tune of 72,000 wholesome dhammas in a day. Merit accrues at every moment of noting ‘sitting’, etc. One can acquire it even while urinating, so Satipatthâna is no doubt a big heap of wholesome dhammas that should be cultivated.

Diversity of Views

        Sakka was very gratified by the Buddha’s discourse. Before he came to see the Buddha, he had met several self-styled sages and had made enquiries about their teachings, but had found that they held different views. Now that he had attained the first stage of the holy path after hearing the words of the Buddha, he knew the true Dhamma, and hence he knew also the true Buddha and the true Sangha. He was now free from all doubts. He did not tell the Buddha explicitly about this but he implied it in his next question.

"Lord, do all those who call themselves samana-brâhmanas hold the same views? Do they all lead the same moral life? Do they all have the same desire or the same goal?"

        Of course, Sakka knew the answers to these questions but he asked only as a prelude to his question about their differences. The Buddha answered his second question as follows.

"O Sakka! In this world people do not have the same kind of temperament. Their temperaments are different. Reflecting wrongly, they firmly and obsessively cling to the views that best suit their temperaments. They insist that only their view is right and that all other views are wrong. It is because of their bigotry that all self-styled sages and holy men hold different views. They are committed to different systems of moral values; they have different desires and different goals in life."

        Owing to their different temperaments, people differ from one another in their inclinations and preferences with regard to colour, sound, clothes and so forth. Likewise they talk about the beliefs that they have accepted on the basis of their attachments and speculations. Some cherish the belief in the immortality of the soul. They say that the soul (atta) exists for ever and that it is not subject to destruction like the gross physical body. This is the eternity belief (sassataditthi). It has wide appeal, not differing fundamentally from the religions that teach that man is created by God, and that after death those who have pleased Him achieve salvation in heaven, while those who have displeased Him are condemned to eternal damnation. Then there is the annihilation belief (ucchedaditthi), which denies a future life and insists on the complete extinction of the individual after death. These are the doctrines of those religions that claim a monopoly on the truth and that reject all other teachings as false. Such bigotry is the cause of differences in the beliefs, moral principles, aspirations and objectives of life.

Eternity Belief and Buddhism

        According to Buddhism, when a man dies he is reborn, the new existence being conditioned by his kamma. This raises the question as to whether the Buddhist theory of rebirth is the same as the eternity belief, but the Buddha’s teaching is very far removed from the idea of a permanent ego. Buddhism denies the existence of an ego-entity and recognises only the process that involves the ceaseless arising and passing away of all psycho-physical phenomena. When rebirth-consciousness ceases, the life-continuum consciousness (bhavanga-citta) arises, which also passes away incessantly. With the life-continuum always in this state of flux, the consciousness that reflects on visual form, sound, etc., arises, and this reflecting consciousness is followed by eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness and so forth. When this ceases, life-continuum takes its place. Thus the two streams of bhavanga-citta and ordinary consciousness flow alternately. At the moment of death, the decease-consciousness (cuti-citta), the last moment of life-continuum, passes away. The cessation of cuti-citta is termed death because the process of mind and matter ceases, without the arising of any new consciousness.

        Immediately after the cessation of decease-consciousness, the rebirth-consciousness arises, conditioned by one’s kamma. This rebirth-consciousness marks the beginning of a new existence. So it follows that rebirth has nothing to do with any ego-entity or the transfer of mind and matter from the previous life. With the cessation of this new consciousness, the continuous flow of life-continuum, etc. arises, as in the previous existence. We regard this process of mind and matter as a particular person but it does not embody any soul or ego-entity. This fact can be realised by those who practise insight meditation.

        Buddhism does not propound eternalism since it teaches that craving leads to rebirth. When the meditator attains Arahantship, he is wholly free from craving and the other defilements. The Arahant is not attached to any sense-object, even on the verge of death, so this rules out the arising of any new process of mind and matter. Nevertheless, it does not follow that Buddhism teaches annihilationism (ucchedavâda), for the annihilationist view presupposes an ego in a living being - an ego that is the subject of experiences, good or bad. Buddhism rejects the idea of the ego and recognises only that there is a process of mind and matter. At the death of the Arahant, it is not the ego but the process of mind and matter that becomes extinct. This extinction is brought about through the practice of insight meditation, which ensures the end of craving for the continuation of life.

Mahâyâna and Theravâda

        There are now four great religions of mankind. Their differences are due to the diverse temperaments and contrasting views among the followers of each religion. There are two schools of Buddhism: Theravâda and Mahâyâna, which have held different views for over 2,000 years. This is due to the different inclinations attributable to the adherents of the two schools.

        The basic teaching of Mahâyâna Buddhism is that all living beings achieve complete freedom from the suffering of samsâra only after attaining Buddhahood. Being an Arahant or a Paccekabuddha does not mean full liberation. After becoming a Buddha, the Mahâyânist does not enter the nibbânic state alone. He enjoys the peace of nibbâna only in the company of other beings, that is, only after all other beings have become Buddhas.

        This is an indirect repudiation of egoism but the view is quite untenable. For, if the Buddhas are to defer their parinibbâna and wait until all other living beings have attained Buddhahood, where and how are they to live for such a long time? Insects and other forms of lower life are innumerable. Are the Buddhas to wait and suffer old age, sickness and death until the liberation of the lowest living being? This view makes little sense and yet it is acceptable to some people because it suits their temperaments.

        It differs from the doctrine of the Theravâda, which is the true Dhamma based on the Buddha’s teaching in the Pâli Canon. According to this view, among meditators who reach the last stage of the holy path, there are those who aspire to be the close disciples of the Buddha. On the Arahant’s attainment of parinibbâna the process of mind and matter, which conditions rebirth, ceases, so there is an end to their suffering in samsâra. They need not wait for anybody nor is it possible for them to do so. This is also the destiny of Paccekabuddhas and Sammâsambuddhas. This view is quite reasonable.

        Mahâyâna Buddhists identify their nibbâna with the Sukhavati abode. They describe it as a paradise, and say that, as Buddhas, all living beings live happily there forever, being free from old age, sickness and death. Sukhavati does not differ essentially from the heaven that is glorified by those who believe in immortality. This belief is probably based on the writings of those who sought to spread the eternity view among Buddhists.

        Later on, many Mahâyâna sects arose, which was also due to the different temperaments of their followers.

        The commentaries tell us how the Theravâda split into eighteen sects. In Burma today there are also differences of opinion regarding the Buddha’s teaching. There is no doubt that the Buddha emphasised the four noble truths, and the noble eightfold path comprising morality, concentration and wisdom; but some say that it is not necessary to practise insight meditation, that they can follow their easy way to salvation. Some dismiss morality as irrelevant to the goal of Buddhism, a view that is shared by those who do not care for morality. They express such views because they do not accept the teaching in the Sakkapañha Sutta and other discourses.

        The Buddha’s teaching to the wandering ascetic, Subhadda, provides a criterion for deciding whether any doctrine is really the true Dhamma for conquering defilements. The gist of the teaching, which is found in the Mahâparinibbâna Sutta, is that no doctrine that is devoid of the noble eightfold path can lead to stream-winning and the other stages of the holy path. The eightfold path is found only in the Buddha-dhamma, and thus it is only this Dhamma that will make a man a stream-winner, and so forth. We can judge any doctrine by this criterion and so tell whether it accords with the Buddha’s teaching.

        Nevertheless, the fact is that most people accept only those teachings that accord with their inclinations. There are some Buddhists who believe that theirs is Ariyan morality if they regard what they practise as Ariyan morality. Others want to enjoy life only as human beings, devas, etc. They do not relish the prospect of the process of mind and matter ceasing. Some people do not wish to be reborn in the brahmâ worlds, which are devoid of sensual pleasure, because they prefer rebirth in the sensual world. Then there are some who crave for the renewal of both mind and matter, while others want only one of these renewed. However, wise men, who realise the evils of the endless cycle of samsâra, seek the extinction of both mind and matter.

        Some people believe in eternal happiness in heaven or annihilation after death as their destiny. For some, the supreme goal is the perceptionless Asaññâ world, which they believe is free from all suffering. Again, some regard the formless world (arûpaloka) as their ultimate objective, while others say that their goal is to make a clear distinction between the soul (atta) and the mind-body complex. These various goals depend on the different temperaments of the people who pursue them. Actually, the highest goal of life is the nibbâna of the Arahant, which means the complete cessation of the mind and matter continuum after death, as a result of the total extinction of defilements.

The Ultimate Goal

        Sakka was pleased with the Buddha’s answer and so asked another question: "Lord, do the so-called samana-brâhmanas really attain their ultimate goal? Is there any real end to their striving? Do they live the genuine noble life? Do they really have the ultimate Dhamma?"

        Here the ultimate goal, the real end to striving (iccantayogakkhemi) and the ultimate Dhamma (iccantapariyosana) refer to nibbâna. By the noble life he meant the practice of insight meditation and the noble path. In other words, with these four questions Sakka asked the Buddha whether the ascetics and the brâhmanas practise insight meditation and the eightfold path, and whether they have attained nibbâna.

        The Buddha answered in the negative. According to the Buddha, only those bhikkhus who are liberated through practice of the path leading to the extinction of craving achieve the supreme goal, put an end to striving, lead the noble life and attain the ultimate Dhamma.

        Here the bhikkhus referred to in the Buddha’s statement are the Buddhas, Paccekabuddhas and Arahants. The Arahant is one who has done away with the four biases (âsavas), which give rise to a new existence. In fact, he has uprooted the fetters (yogas)6 and so has attained the ultimate goal and the ultimate Dhamma; and his final victory is due to his practice of the noble path.

        Those who have not yet freed themselves from the fetters and biases through the eightfold path are far from nibbâna. They continue to be subject to rebirth and suffering. So, when Baka Brahmâ invited the Buddha to what he regarded as his eternal paradise, the Buddha told him to have no illusions about his mortality, and to have no craving for any kind of existence.

        The Buddha said, "Having seen the perils of all kinds of existence, whether it be that of a human being, a deva, a brahmâ or the denizens of the lower worlds ... I do not glorify any kind of existence, but deprecate it."

        Every kind of existence is subject to suffering. It is worst in the lower worlds, but human existence is also afflicted with the suffering of old age, sickness and death. Even the devas have to suffer because of their frustrated desires, and in the brahmâ world they are not free from the suffering attendant on thinking, planning and ceaseless change.

        The Buddha said, "I have seen the perils of every kind of existence; I have also seen the path of those who do not want existence and who therefore seek its extinction. So I deprecate all kinds of existence."

        Being aware of the evils of existence, some wise men became ascetics so that they could seek liberation, but they did not know nibbâna or the eightfold path leading to it. Some attained rûpajhâna and believed that they would enjoy immortality in the rûpavacarabrahmâ world, the goal of such jhâna. For some ascetics, eternal life was to be found in the Asaññâ (perceptionless) abode of the rûpavacarabrahmâ world, whilst for others it was to be enjoyed only in the arûpavacara world. So these ascetics were content with the rûpajhâna and the arûpajhâna that they had attained.

        Contrary to their expectations, these yogis were not immortal in the brahmâ worlds, and so after death they returned to the sensual world of devas and human beings. From there they passed on according to their kamma. As a result of some evil kamma they might have found themselves in the lower worlds. Thus, although they had sought the extinction of existence, they did not achieve their objective, and had to go on suffering. Hence the Buddha’s disdain for all kinds of existence.

        The renewal of existence is due to attachment to life. This attachment is the same as the sensuous bias (kâmayoga) and the bias for existence (bhavayoga). The Buddha repudiated and overcame this attachment.

        According to the commentary, there were altogether fourteen questions that Sakka put to the Buddha. Sakka was very pleased with the answers that he was given and, after expressing his deep appreciation, he stated his view about craving as follows:

"Lord, this virulent craving is a disease; it is like a boil, an arrow or a thorn in the flesh. It attracts living beings to existence and so they live miserably."
"Craving is virulent because it thirsts first for this and then for that. It attaches itself to pleasant objects and longs to consume them. Like a leaf rustling in the wind, it is always in a flurry, restless, hungry and greedy. Craving is a chronic disease that is incurable, but it is not so critical as to cause immediate death. It sets a man at ease when it is gratified, yet however much he pampers it with the sense-objects that it likes, it is insatiable; it longs for all sense-objects, which it seeks to enjoy repeatedly."
"Craving is loathsome and terrible like a boil. It is also like a thorn in the flesh." A thorn may be hidden in the flesh so that we cannot see any sign of it. As we cannot remove it, it will keep on causing pain. Likewise, it is hard to get rid of craving, which is always harassing us. We worry so much about the objects of our desire that we cannot sleep at night, and because of our attachment to life we have to wander from one existence to another, the nature of each existence depending on our kamma."

        After commenting thus on the Buddha’s teaching, Sakka declared himself free from all doubts, as a result of hearing the Buddha’s discourse. He had attained the first stage of the holy path, which obviously ruled out the possibility of his rebirth in the lower worlds after his death. He was assured of a good rebirth, which meant that he could now attain the higher stages of insight independently.

Moral Practice of a Candidate for Sakka’s Office

        The commentary mentions the seven duties of a man who aspires to be king of the gods. These are enumerated in the Sagâthâvagga Samyutta7 as follows:

  1. He supports and looks after his parents throughout his whole life.8
  2. He always reveres the old people among his relatives.
  3. He speaks gently and sweetly.
  4. He never speaks ill of another person.
  5. He manages his household with a mind free from the taint of meanness.
  6. He always speaks the truth.
  7. He sees to it that he is never angry. If he sometimes gets angry, he removes his anger instantly.

        As for Sakka, the king of the gods who had the dialogue with the Buddha in the Sakkapañha Sutta, the commentary on that discourse gives an account of his previous life as the youth Mâgha in Macala village in the kingdom of Mâgadha, long before the rise of Buddhism.

        Mâgha was the leader of thirty-three young men who repaired roads and bridges, built rest-houses and together did other good deeds for the welfare of the community. The headman of the village was corrupt and so he hated them. Formerly he had been used to getting money from them, when they were given to drinking and doing unlawful things, but now that they were devoting themselves entirely to serving the community, there was an end to this source of income. So he went to the king and presented false charges against them. Without making any enquiries, the king ordered them to be arrested and trampled to death by elephants.

        Then Mâgha said to his friends, "It is natural that misfortunes befall all beings who are immersed in the round of rebirths. The real refuge for people in this world is in speaking the truth. So we should declare solemnly, ‘If we are thieves or robbers, let the elephant trample us. If we are not, let it not trample us’."

        Mâgha’s friends acted on his advice, and so the elephant did not even approach them, but ran away trumpeting loudly. The king’s men goaded the animal in vain with their spears. So the young men were brought before the king. Questioned by him, Mâgha said that it was their invocation of the power of truth that had repelled the elephant. He also told the king what they had been doing before this, and how it was greed that had prompted the village headman to lay false charges against them.

        On hearing this, the king at once set them free, gave them gifts, and conferred on them permanent ownership of Macala village. The young men devoted themselves to community service more zealously and vigorously than ever. After death, Mâgha became Sakka and his thirty-three comrades became devas in his celestial abode.

        Such, in brief, is the account of Mâgha’s good deeds that led to his rebirth as Sakka. There is one thing that we should note in this story of Mâgha. The good deeds they did were not due to their thorough knowledge of the Buddha-dhamma. Perhaps they might have heard only that good deeds have good results, and it was this simple teaching that motivated Mâgha to do good. He did not hope to attain the holy path or nibbâna by doing this, but because of his good deeds he became the king of the gods, and after hearing the Buddha’s discourse, he attained the first stage of the holy path.

        This shows that a person may not have nibbâna in mind while he is doing good deeds, but if he believes in the law of kamma and does those good deeds sincerely, he will, as a result, pass on to the celestial or human worlds. There he will be reborn with three wholesome predispositions. 9 Thanks to such predispositions he can attain special insights, after hearing and practising the Dhamma. So when we do good deeds our actions should be based on belief in kamma. The best thing, of course, is to do good in the hope of attaining the path or nibbâna.

The Elation of Sakka

        When Sakka expressed his joy at attaining the first stage of the holy path, the Buddha asked him whether he had ever experienced such joy before. Sakka replied: "Lord, I was once overjoyed at my victory in battle against the Asuras, but that joy had its origin in the clash of weapons. It had nothing to do with disillusionment and it did not lead to special insight-knowledge or nibbâna. But now my joy at the attainment of the stream-winner stage is not rooted in the clash of weapons. It is bound up with disillusionment and detachment, and will also lead to illumination and nibbâna."

        Sakka went on to say that he was overjoyed because of the six benefits that would accrue to him.

        1. The first thing that made him joyful was his attainment of the stream-winner stage and the renewal of his existence as Sakka. For his good deeds in his previous life as Mâgha, he became king of the devas, and this first existence lasted 36 million years by human reckoning. Then seeing that his death was imminent, he came to hear the Buddha-dhamma. While listening to the Buddha’s discourse on wholesome indifference, he practised insight meditation and attained the first stage of the holy path. He was overjoyed at his permanent liberation from the lower worlds and at the prospect of enjoying heavenly bliss for another 36 million years.

        2. He will be reborn in the human family of his choice when his life in the deva world has run its course. It is said that the span of life among human beings is now decreasing by one year in every century. About 2,500 years have elapsed since the time of the Buddha and so we have to assume that the span of human life has decreased by 25 years. This assumption is plausible since today only a few people live beyond 75 years.

        Man’s life-span is likely to be reduced to only 10 years after the next 6,500 years. It is said that by that time delicacies such as butter, honey, etc., will have disappeared. Good varieties of rice will become a thing of the past, and poor quality grain will become the best staple food.

        People will no longer avoid killing, stealing and other misdeeds. Immoral acts will become rampant and nobody will have any sense of moral values. Those who do not respect their parents, older relatives or virtuous monks will be extolled and honoured by many people. Even now there is a trend in some places towards such disregard of traditional values. Moreover, there will be sexual perversions such as incest, and the moral life of mankind will degenerate to the level of animals.

        People will become extremely malicious, aggressive and murderous, even towards their own parents and children, and fratricidal strife will mark relationships among brothers and sisters. There will be armed conflicts, followed by a holocaust that will lead to mutual destruction, with men regarding one another as animals. It will then be easy to produce powerful weapons. The possibility of such a holocaust does not seem remote in view of the production of extraordinary weapons in modern times.

        Mutual destruction will eventually bring mankind to the verge of total extinction. Only those who do not want to kill or be killed, and who take refuge in forests, will escape death. It will be hard for these few survivors to meet one another, and they will do so only after travelling great distances. As a result they will love each other, and will abstain from killing and from other evil deeds. This will lead to a gradual increase in man’s life-span, and people will again do good, avoid evil and enjoy longevity. As Sakka’s rebirth in the human world will take place in that developing era, he will associate with good people.

        Sakka says that he will be conceived in his mother’s womb with full awareness. This shows what naturally happens to a stream-winner in his passage from one existence to another. Obviously a deva’s mind is clear and serene at the moment of death because he dies without suffering. Likewise he will not be confused when he is in the womb of his human mother. The human stream-winner, too, dies without delusion. He may be afflicted with physical pain but his consciousness is clear and normal. Although he is unable to speak, he usually dies with his mind free from delusion and obscurity. Sakka is happy because he will die peacefully and pass on to the human world to be reborn in the noble family of his choice.

        3. Sakka says that it will give him great pleasure to live by the teaching of the Buddha. If the span of human life is to decrease by one year in every century, it will be reduced to ten years at the end of ninety centuries. Suppose a great part of the human race were to be wiped out by a nuclear war, Sakka would be only nine thousand years old and would continue to live more than thirty-five million years. The average man’s life-span would then be hundreds of thousands of years.

        In view of the prediction that the Buddha’s teachings will persist for only five thousand years, and that there will be mass destruction at the time when mankind has a ten year life-span, it has to be assumed that Buddhism will have become extinct by the time of the global conflict. There will be nobody who has memorised the Buddha-dhamma, nor will there be Buddhist books and scriptures. Inscriptions from the Pitaka may still exist in Burma but there will be no one who can preach the Dhamma. However, since Sakka is a stream-winner, the Dhamma will remain fresh in his memory as it will for all other Ariyas. Therefore, although Buddhism will be unknown to the majority of people of that time, it will continue to be a living force for the man who is Sakka incarnate. He will observe the five precepts, understand impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self on the level of a stream-winner, and overcome some defilements. In other words, he will continue to be a dedicated disciple of the Buddha.

        A stream-winner in the immaterial world (arûpaloka) will not forget to practise mindfulness. He can contemplate the mental processes and attain Arahantship. He may be in the rûpavacara-brahmâ world during the lifetime of the next Buddha, but, as a disciple of the former Buddha, he will become an Arahant and attain nibbâna. These stream-winners do not become disciples of the succeeding Buddha, but practise insight meditation as disciples of the former Buddha. This is evident since some former disciples of the preceding six Buddhas identified themselves during the visit of Gotama Buddha to the Suddhavâsa realm. So it is pointless to pray for Arahantship under the guidance of another Buddha if one has already attained the stream-winner stage within the former Buddha’s dispensation.

        Sakka also says that while living by the Buddha-dhamma, he will always be mindful. He will continue to practise mindfulness just as he is practising now. This prospect affords him much pleasure because he is thus assured of the successive attainment of other insights.

        4. Sakka says, "Lord, if through the right practice of insight meditation I attain sambodhi, I will try and contemplate to attain higher insights. The sambodhi that I attain as a human being will mark the last of my human existences."

        Here sambodhi means the three higher stages of insight. But later he says that he will again become the king of the gods, that after attaining the non-returner stage in his present life he will pass on to the Suddhavâsa realm, and that finally he will attain Arahantship in the Akanittha realm. In view of these statements, the commentary holds that sambodhi refers to the insight of a once-returner.

        So Sakka will be at the once-returner stage when he passes on to the human world. It will be the last existence in which he is bound up with old age, sickness and the other sufferings of human life. This is the fourth reason why he is joyful.

        5. Sakka says that, after his death in the human world, he will again become the highest god (uttamo devo) in the celestial worlds.

        According to the commentary, he will become the chief deva of Tâvatimsa heaven. So, if he has to pass through a single life-time as a human being, the human life-span must be the same as that of the devas in Tâvatimsa. Sakka incarnate on earth must be as old as a deity who holds the office of the king of the gods, in other words, he must live for 36 million years.

        Alternatively, the stream-winner Sakka may pass through several lifetimes. In that case what are we to understand by the seven lifetimes of a stream-winner? Here Sakka’s rebirths in the human world should be understood in the same sense as that of a non-returner. The non-returner is said to be subject to a single rebirth. He may be reborn up to five times in the Suddhavâsa realm, but since this takes place only in the material world and has nothing to do with the sensual or immaterial (arûpa) worlds, we may say that he is reborn only once. Likewise, Sakka may be conceived many times in the human world, but as his rebirth is restricted to human existence, it may be regarded as a single lifetime on earth.

        Sakka was overjoyed at the prospect of attaining the once-returner stage as a human being, and at his rebirth as the king of the gods.

        6. Sakka says, "The Akanittha world is so called because there the devas are endowed with power, wealth, longevity and other qualities. They are the noblest devas. I will have my last existence in that superior world."

        Akanittha is the highest of the five Suddhavâsa worlds. Although its inhabitants are called devas, they are in fact brahmâs. Presumably there are many brahmâs since each is said to have many attendants. Sakka will be a once-returner on earth, and a non-returner in the deva world, where he will pass on to Aviha, which is the lowest of the Suddhavâsa worlds. Then after passing through other celestial worlds, he will reach the Akanittha world where he will attain nibbâna.

        According to the commentary, Sakka will be in the brahmâ world for 31,000 world-cycles. There are only two other individuals, Anâthapindika, the merchant, and Visâkhâ, the great female disciple of the Buddha, who will enjoy the same longevity in the brahmâ worlds. Thus Sakka, Anâthapindika and Visâkhâ have no equal, in respect of the high quality of their lives, among beings subject to rebirth.

        So the sixth cause of Sakka’s joy was the prospect of attaining nibbâna in the Akanittha Brahmâ world. Then Sakka concluded his statement to the Buddha as follows.

"Lord, today I pay my respects to you just as the devas are doing to Brahmâ. Lord, you are the only true Buddha (Sambuddha). You are the supreme teacher who can instruct the devas and human beings for their ultimate welfare. In the worlds of brahmâs, devas and human beings you have no equal."

        Then Sakka uttered three times: "Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammâ-sambuddhassa" and joyfully bowed before the Buddha. Here arahato means "worthy of honour" and Sammâsambuddho means "One who knows the four noble truths by himself."

        This is the end of the Sakkapañha Sutta. The discourse has enlightened many living beings, as it did Sakka and many other devas. Those who study and apply its teaching will certainly attain unusual insight knowledge on the Ariyan holy path.

        5 S.iv. pp.110-112.

        6 The Pâli word 'yoga' has two meanings. In one sense it means 'striving', 'undertaking' or 'duty'; in another sense it means 'union', 'bondage' or 'fetter'. (Editor's note).

        7 S.i. p.228.

        8 After his parents have died, his duty is not over. He must perform meritorious deeds, sharing the merit with them. (Editor's note).

         9Tihetupatisandhika:=being reborn with three noble root-conditions viz., non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion.

About the Association for Insight Meditation

        The Association was set up in September 1995 to promote the practice of vipassanâ meditation in the Mahâsî tradition. The Association also aims to publish selected books and booklets on satipatthâna vipassanâ meditation to promote understanding of the practice of mindfulness.

        The Spiritual Director of the Association, Bhikkhu Pesala, was ordained by the Venerable Mahâsî Sayâdaw in 1979, and has been to Burma four times for intensive meditation practice.

        If you would like information about the Association’s publications or retreats please contact Bhikkhu Pesala, at:

89 Elgin Road, Seven Kings, Essex IG3 8LW

        If you would like to sponsor future publications please make donations payable to ‘Association for Insight Meditation’ and send them to the treasurer, Terry Shine, at the address below:

Association for Insight Meditation
3, Clifton Way
Middlesex HA0 4PQ


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