Abandon Dis-ease – Ten Understandings – The Girimananda Sutta

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Introduction

For a complete understanding of this sutta within the context intended by an awakened human being, please read the suttas linked at the end of this article. ([x])

Everything the Buddha taught was taught in the context of Dependent Origination and the ongoing stress, suffering and distraction that results from ignorance of Four Noble Truths.  [1]

His first teaching was taught to describe the results of this common ignorance and the singular path the Buddha taught to recognize and abandon ignorance. [2,3]

The Girimananda Sutta is a profound and complete teaching on Three Marks Of Existence. With an initial focus on impermanence, the Buddha then relates underlying conditions that arise from self-identification with ordinary and impermanent phenomena and the stress, distractions, and ongoing disappointment that follows from mis-understanding these Three Marks.

Notice that “understanding” is not passive or only an intellectual exercise. Understanding the Buddha’s Dhamma is the profound and penetrative wisdom developed through the  direct experience of the Dhamma. This understanding requires a well-concentrated mind and the refined mindfulness of a well-integrated Eightfold Path that supports interpreting experience through developed Right View. [3]

My comments below are in italics.

 

Girimananda Sutta – Ten Understandings

Anguttara Nikaya 10.6

On one occasion the Buddha was staying in Savatthi, in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monestary.

Venerable Girimananda was sick and distressed. Ananda went to the Buddha and asked if he would visit Girimananda out of sympathy for him.

“Ananda, if you would go to Girimananda and tell him of the Ten Understandings it is possible that upon hearing your words his distress will be relieved.

The Buddha’s instruction to Ananda reinforces the importance of a well-informed and well-focused sangha for both Girimananda and Ananda, and for all Dhamma practitioners. [4]

“These are the Ten Understandings you should teach Girimananda:

(1) The understanding of impermanence. This Dhamma practitioner, well-secluded while establishing jhana, knows that the Five Clinging-Aggregates – form, feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications, and ongoing thinking rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths – are all impermanent. This is called “understanding impermanence.”

The Buddha here is describing the interrelated nature of the Three Marks Of Existence. The Five Clinging-Aggregates is the Buddha’s description of the ongoing personal experience of stress arising from ignorance of Four Noble Troops. Understanding stress is understanding the personalization of ordinary and impermanent phenomena via self-identification. [5]

(2) The understanding of not-self. This Dhamma practitioner, well-secluded while establishing jhana, does not self-identify with what is seen, or what is heard, or what is smelled, or what is touched, or what is tasted, or what is thought. They have developed restraint at the six-sense-base. This is called “understanding not-self.”  [6]

Understanding Anicca – Impermanence, Anatta – the Not-Self Characteristic, and Dukkha – Stress, is developed through practicing wise restraint at the point of contact with ordinary phenomena and the six-sense-base. [7]

(3) The understanding of unattractiveness. This Dhamma practitioner, well-secluded while establishing jhana, knows the entire body surrounded by skin and filled with decay and unclean things. They know ‘there is this body of hair, nails, teeth, skin, muscle, tendons, bone, marrow, organs, feces, urine, phlegm, sweat, tears. Understanding thus, they are always mindful of the unattractiveness of the body. This is understanding unattractiveness.

Realistically understanding the body is the most effective direct experience of all Three Marks Of existence. Rather than continuing ignorance of the inherent unattractiveness of the human body, the Eightfold Path provides the framework and guidance to remain dispassionately mindful while having a direct experience of the stress caused by ignorance of Four Noble Truths. Direct recognition of the practical unattractiveness of the body begins to unite the mind in the body. The body is precisely where the results of ignorance are arising: within a mind confused by its own wrong views manifesting in an ever-changing environment. The ongoing stress and distraction of constantly attempting to establish a satisfied, personal, and permanent “self” is abandoned when the futility of attempting to do so becomes mindfully apparent. This is the purpose of the Buddha’s Dhamma.

(4) The understanding of drawbacks. This Dhamma practitioner, well-secluded while establishing jhana, reflects on the drawbacks of the body. They understand the various pains of the body, such as disease of the senses, disease of the organs, disease of the mind, disease of the body, dis- ease from changing weather. (External worldly events) This is understanding drawbacks.

The understanding gained through mindfulness of the unattractiveness of the physical composition of the human body begins to unite the mind and its body. By overcoming the aversion – to one’s self –  that develops from intentionally ignoring the realities of the body, the wise Dhamma practitioner is then able to remain mindfully present with the realities of living in the body while experiencing worldly conditions as they arise and pass away.

(5) The understanding of abandoning. This Dhamma practitioner, well-secluded while establishing jhana, abandons all thoughts of sensuality, all thoughts of ill-will, all thoughts of harmfulness, all unskillful mental qualities. This is understanding abandoning.

Through a well-concentrated mind developed from Right Meditation, the wise Dhamma practitioner mindfully abandons all self-defining attachments to objects, events, views, and ideas – all impermanent phenomena. [8]

(6) The understanding of dispassion. This Dhamma practitioner, well-secluded while establishing jhana, understands ‘this is peace, this is the exquisite stilling of fabrications, this is the relinquishment of all clinging, this is the cessation of craving, this is the full development of dispassion, this is complete unbinding. This is understanding dispassion.

Here again, the Buddha is emphasizing the importance to follow the guidance of the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path provides the framework for the direct experience of mindfully abandoning all clinging to ignorant views. Through recognizing and abandoning all ignorant views, a calm mind free of passion, distraction, and Dukkha that otherwise follows from a constantly grasping mind.

(7) The understanding of cessation. This Dhamma practitioner, well-secluded while establishing jhana, understands ‘this is peace, this is the exquisite stilling of fabrications, this is the relinquishment of all clinging, this is the cessation of craving, this is the full development of dispassion, this is complete unbinding.

A mind rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths continuously self-identifies with to impermanent objects, events, views, and ideas. From the direct experience of understanding the nature of stress, the wise Dhamma practitioner develops the exquisite experience of complete release from all ignorant views. [9]

(8) The understanding of distaste for every world. This Dhamma practitioner, well-secluded while establishing jhana, refrains from all worldly entanglements, attachments, compulsions, and conditioned thinking. This is understanding distaste for every world.

The “world” is metaphor for any fabricated mental construct that provides a repository for ignorant views. “Distaste for every world” means that one has realized the foolishness of attempting to establish a self in any “fabricated realm.“ A fabricated realm is any imaginary non-physical repository for ignorant views of self including in another future life, a mystical realm, a “Buddhist heaven,” or any other imagined establishment of self. [9,11]

(9) The understanding of the undesirability of all fabrications. This Dhamma practitioner, well-secluded while establishing jhana, is horrified, humbled, and repulsed with fabrications. This is understanding fabrications.

As true understanding is developed the results of ignorance are realized. Here again, the importance of the Eightfold Path to provide continued guidance is apparent in overcoming the clinging to self-identification that arises. By integrating the Eightfold Path, one develops the concentration necessary to remain mindful while being gentle and patient with one’s self. The Eightfold Path develops profound and penetrating insight into the three forms of stress and suffering. [10] The following section describes the Buddha’s instructions on Right meditation and the appropriate use of refined mindfulness as taught in the Satipatthana Sutta, the Anapanasati Sutta, and many others.  [8]

(10) The understanding of mindfulness of in-&-out breathing. This Dhamma practitioner, well-secluded, sits comfortably, legs folded, their body erect, settings mindfulness to the fore:

  • Remaining mindful of the breath-in-the-body, they breathe in.
  • Remaining mindful of the breath-in-the-body, they breathe out.

“While breathing with long breaths they know they are breathing with long breaths. While breathing with short breaths they know they are breathing with short breaths.

“This Dhamma practitioner trains themselves: ‘I will breathe in and breathe out sensitive to the body. (While) breathing in, bodily fabrications calm. (While) breathing out, bodily fabrications calm.

“This Dhamma practitioner trains themselves to breathe in and breathe out sensitive to joy, sensitive to pleasure, and sensitive to mental processes.

“This Dhamma practitioner trains themselves to breathe in and breathe out sensitive to the calming of mental processes.

“This Dhamma practitioner trains themselves to breathe in and breathe out sensitive to thoughts arising and passing away. This Dhamma practitioner trains themselves to breathe in and breathe out sensitive to satisfying the mind.

“This Dhamma practitioner trains themselves breathe in and breathe out sensitive releasing the mind.

“This Dhamma practitioner trains themselves to:

  • Breathe in and breathe out sensitive to impermanence.
  • Breathe in and breathe out sensitive to dispassion.
  • Breathe in and breathe out sensitive to cessation.
  • Breathe in and breathe out sensitive to relinquishment.

“This is called mindfulness of in-and-out-breathing.

“Ananda, go to the ill Girimananda and tell him of these Ten Understandings. If Girimananda develops these understandings his dis-ease may be relieved.

Becoming “sensitive to the body” is developed through Right Meditation. Rather than treat meditation as an exploration (continued distraction) and detailed analysis of ordinary thoughts and sensations arising and passing away, the wise Dhamma practitioner, understanding Right Meditation, remains dispassionately mindful of the breath-in-the-body. Following the Buddha’s instruction on Right Meditation avoids the pervasive modern Buddhist practice of using meditation for a breath-manipulation practice, imaginary self-establishment in nonphysical realms, pain therapy, visualizations, “walking ,meditation,” or any other “meditation” practice that, when seen with understanding, can only further I-making, confusion, deluded thinking, and stress, through continued self-induced distraction.

Ananda, having learned these ten understandings from the Buddha, went to Girimananda. Girimananda, hearing Ananda, was relieved. His dis-ease abandoned.

End Of Sutta

 

  1. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
  2. Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
  3. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  4. An Admirable Sangha – Upaddha Sutta
  5. Five Clinging-Aggregates
  6. Mindfulness Of Bahiya
  7. Wisdom Of Restraint
  8. Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas
  9. Fabrications
  10. The Personal Experience Of Ignorance – Dukkha Sutta
  11. The Noble Search For The Noble Path

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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

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