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Anapanasati And Saccaka Suttas 2018 Spring Retreat Excerpts
The following is excerpted from the full articles for use during our 2018 Becoming Buddha Foundations of Mindfulness and Meditation spring retreat The complete articles are her:
Cula Saccaka Sutta
Introduction To The Anapanasati Sutta
The Importance of understanding the overarching context of the Buddha’s Dhamma
The Anapanasati Sutta is a discourse from the Buddha on the proper use of mindfulness during Shamatha-Vipassana meditation. The underlying and supportive theme for this sutta is a group of senior monks well-established in the “Heartwood Of The Dhamma” – the Eightfold Path – and their ability to teach a useful and effective Dhamma.
The Anapanasati Sutta is the Buddha’s instruction for Shamatha-Vipassana meditation. The purpose of meditation is to deepen concentration to provide the foundation necessary to understand the Three Marks Of Existence and end individual confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing stress and suffering – Dukkha. The Four Noble Truths are the Buddha’s teachings and the referential context for developing understanding and cessation of Dukkha and the two common conditions that give rise to Dukkha – Anicca, impermanence and Anatta, the Not-Self Characteristic. Anicca, Anatta, and Dukkha are the Three Marks Of Existence.
The Three Marks Of Existence describe the common human experience that results from a mind rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
The purpose of meditation is described in two suttas (among others): The Kimsuka Sutta and the Yuganaddha Sutta. Both suttas stress the importance of increasing concentration (Samadhi) by calming the mind (Shamatha) through mindfulness of the breath to support insight (Vipassana) into Three Marks Of Existence and full comprehension of Four Noble Truths.
Samadhi, a well-concentrated, non-distracted mind, and Jhanas, the four stages of meditative absorption, are described respectively in the Samadhi Sutta and the Sallekkha Sutta.
In order to understand the purpose and intent of any individual sutta, it is of primary importance to understand and to hold in mind the purpose and overall context of the Buddha’s Dhamma. After all, skillful mindfulness means to hold in mind or to recollect.
Often during the Buddha’s time, and continuing today, “Buddhist” teachers promoting dharmas lacking this context and a personal understanding of the Buddha’s direct teachings freely dismiss much of the Buddha’s teachings essential to context and developing understanding. Lacking understanding, one cannot teach understanding. Ignoring the Buddha’s teachings to promote individual or culturally influenced views is another contributing cause of stress and disappointment – Dukkha: Continuing ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
The Buddha consistently taught that the purpose of his teaching is to understand the arising and passing away of Dukkha. He consistently taught that Dukkha – stress and suffering – arises from self-identifying with craving after, and clinging to, impermanent objects, events, views, and ideas and is rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
The Buddha consistently taught that the recognition and abandonment of craving and clinging could be mindfully developed. He taught that it is the Eightfold Path that develops the recognition and abandonment, the cessation, of craving after, and clinging to, all views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths: “I teach the truth of stress (Dukkha) and the truth of the Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of stress. Nothing More.”
The Anapanasati Sutta is taught to emphasize mindfulness of the breath as a stabilizing focus in order to deepen concentration. It is a well-concentrated mind that is necessary to recognize and abandon craving after, and clinging to, wrong views of “self.”
The Anapanasati Sutta is another sutta that is misunderstood and misapplied due to ignoring the context of this sutta and the overall context of the Buddha’s Dhamma. Ignorance is continued by dissecting and over-emphasizing certain sections of this sutta that are only meant to describe discrete experiences that may arise during Shamatha-Vipassana meditation.
Over-emphasizing through gross analysis of the common and impermanent experiences that arise during meditation is a subtle form of conceit. Over-emphasizing common impermanent phenomena personalizes impermanent and impersonal phenomena. In this sense, personalization is clinging and only serves to maintain distraction.
Conceit is continued I-making rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths. Continued ignorance of Four Noble Truths only continues the ongoing distraction of Dukkha and brings no insight into the Three Marks Of Existence or Four Noble Truths.
It is in this gross analysis of the ordinary impermanent experiences that arise during meditation that furthers ignorance by creating further distraction. When seen in the overall context of the Buddha’s dhamma, and the specific context of this sutta, it is clear that the Buddha is describing these experiences solely to point out to be mindful of the impermanence of the arising phenomena, remain free of distraction, and return mindfulness to the breath. Seeking to generate the experiences described here, or exaggerating their importance through gross analysis, is a subtle but very common form of continuing ignorance through continued “I-Making.”
Notice in this sutta that the Buddha first emphasizes the establishment in these monks of the “Heartwood” of the Dhamma. Heartwood refers to the Four Noble Truths in general and the Eightfold Path specifically. He then presents an elaborate and thorough description of the result in those monks from having established the heartwood. It is only then that he describes the process of remaining free of distraction by always abandoning the distraction of whatever is arising, and returning mindfulness to the breath.
In the context of gaining insight into the Three Marks Of Existence, it is the experiences that arise during meditation that are to be mindful. This application of mindfulness is mot for distraction by over-analysis. This proper use of mindfulness is to bring insight into the impermanent nature of all phenomena.
Using mindfulness in this manner is to deepen concentration by avoiding ignorance of what is arising without over-emphasizing what is arising. The modern “mindfulness” movement misunderstands and misapplies the Buddha’s application of mindfulness that often encourages personalizing and clinging to ordinary impermanent phenomena.
It is the attempt to identify with impermanent phenomena that confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointing and unsatisfactory experiences arise. This includes unsatisfactory and confusing “meditation” and “mindfulness” practices.
Anatta is the word the Buddha used to describe the views established to describe a self that is rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths. These views are wrong views. Anatta describes these views as “Not-Self.” As these are views rooted in ignorance, understanding the Buddha’s meaning of Annata then develops the (Right) Intention to recognize and abandon all wrong views.
A “self” – Anatta – rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths is driven by a mind continually distracted by impermanent phenomena. This “self” continues to establish itself by clinging to every thought, word, and idea that arise. This is a self-referential ego-personality that continually personalizes impersonal phenomena – impermanent objects, events, views, and ideas.
Exaggerated analysis – wrong or unskillful mindfulness – of ordinary mental, verbal, and physical fabrications avoids, through continued ignorance, the profound insight gained by abandoning clinging to phenomena and returning mindfulness to the breath-in-the-body.
This singular intentional act of mindfulness brings useful and effective insight into the relationship between anatta – ignorant views of self, and anicca – the impermanence of all phenomena. The proper act of mindfulness directly interrupts the continuing of ignorance by attempting to further establish wrong views of self in every thought, word, and idea that occurs.
It is through recognizing and abandoning distracting but otherwise impermanent and ordinary occurrences during Shamatha-Vipassana meditation that the proper application of breath-mindfulness is established. This is how the proper establishment of breath-mindfulness interrupts the ongoing distraction of self-referential conditioned thinking and how profound concentration develops.
This is the proper use of Shamatha-Vipassana as taught by an awakened human being.
Notice in this sutta the initial emphasis is on the senior monks who have actually developed the Eightfold Path and are teaching others. The qualities of mind described here are often confused as instruction rather than descriptions of qualities of mind resulting from proper mindfulness of the Heartwood of the Dhamma practice and qualifying these monks to teach the Dhamma.
The Buddha’s emphasis and enthusiasm, and the theme of this sutta, is to emphasize the importance of developing the “heartwood,” not on continuing distraction by exaggerating and personalizing ordinary impermanent phenomena or teaching others to exaggerate and personalize, ordinary impermanent phenomena.
An overall understanding of the Heartwood of the Dhamma and being mindful of the situational context of the Anapanasati Sutta is paramount to using this, or any other sutta, in a skillful manner. Lacking this understanding one can only further ignorance. Developing understanding in this manner develops awakened Right View – a penetrating and profound understanding of Anicca, Anatta, and Dukkha, and a mind no longer grasping at objects, events, views, and ideas – a mind resting in equanimity.
In keeping with the overarching context of the Dhamma I have made contextual edits the Anapanasati Sutta to minimize repetition and to modernize phraseology. Within the sutta my commentary is italicized.
My comments below are in italics
Anapanasati Sutta: Mindfulness of Breathing
Majjhima Nikaya 118
I have heard that on one occasion the Buddha was staying at Savatthi in the Eastern Monastery. This was during the Uposatha day of the full moon. Many of the elder disciples were with him: Ven. Sariputta, Ven. Maha Moggallana, Ven. Maha Kassapa, Ven. Maha Kaccana, Ven. Maha Kotthita, Ven. Maha Kappina, Ven. Maha Cunda, Ven. Revata, Ven. Ananda, and others.
During this time the elder monks were teaching the Dhamma. They were each teaching novice monks with groups ranging in size from ten to as large as forty. The new monks were learning quickly and correctly.
The Buddha arrived and was seated in the open air surrounded by the community of monks. Surveying the silent community, he addressed them:
“Monks, I am pleased with what is taking place here and the dedication to develop the Dhamma and the realization of Nibbana. As such, I will remain here at Savatthi for another month through the fourth month of the rains.”
The monks in the surrounding countryside heard this and left for Savatthi to join the Buddha and the sangha.
A short time later the Buddha addressed the large but quiet community:
“Monks, this community of monks is free from idle chatter and is established on pure heartwood.
“Established on pure heartwood” refers to developing the refined mindfulness of the Eightfold Path and gaining release from wrong views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths. This is the overarching theme and context of this sutta.
“This community is worthy of gifts and worthy of hospitality. This community is worthy of offerings and worthy of respect. This community will bring much good for the world.
“Due to their establishment in the heartwood (of the Dhamma), when a small gift is given to this community it becomes great and a great gift even greater.
“This community of monks is rare to see in the world. This community of monks is such that it would be worth traveling for leagues, taking along provisions, in order to learn from.
As in the Buddha’s time, a sangha well-focused on Heartwood is “rare to see in the world.”
“In this community of monks there are monks who are arahants. Arahants are awakened human beings who have fully developed the Eightfold Path and whose mental effluents are ended. These arahants have completed the task and have laid down the burden (of continued I-making, maintaining Anatta). They have attained the true goal and abandoned the fetter of becoming (further ignorant). They are released through Right Understanding. Such is this community of monks.
“In this community of monks there are monks who, abandoning the five lower fetters, are totally unbound (from clinging to ignorant views), their minds (continually) resting in equanimity. Such are the monks in this community of monks.
Five Lower Fetters
- Self-Referential Views (Anatta, I-Making)
- Grasping at rituals and practices (that only continued self-referential views)
- Uncertainty (lack of conviction)
- Craving for sensory stimulation
- Ill-will towards oneself and others
“In this community of monks there are monks who, abandoning the first three fetters, and with the diminishing of passion, aversion, and deluded thinking, have established the Heartwood and will make an ending to stress. They are in the stream (of the Dhamma), resolute, developing the cessation of suffering, (their minds) inclined towards awakening. Such are the monks in this community of monks.
“In this community of monks there are monks who remain devoted to the development of the four frames of reference, the four right exertions, the four bases of power, the five faculties, the five strengths, the seven factors for awakening, the noble eightfold path. Such are the monks in this community of monks.
Four Frames Of Reference – Four Foundations Of Mindfulness
- Mindful of the breath-in-the-body.
- Mindful of feelings arising and passing away.
- Mindful of thoughts arising and passing away.
- Mindful of the present but impermanent quality of mind
Here the Buddha is placing the Anapanasati Sutta in the Context of the more extensive Satipatthana Sutta. The Dhamma can only be understood and practically applied within the overall context of Dependent Origination , Four Noble Truths, and Four Foundations Of Mindfulness
Four Right Efforts – Right Effort
Right Effort is:
- Avoiding inappropriate thoughts, words and deeds that have yet arisen.
- Abandoning inappropriate thoughts, words and deeds that have arisen.
- Developing appropriate thoughts, words and deeds that have yet arisen.
- Maintaining appropriate thoughts, words and deeds for continual development of non-confusion and skillful qualities that have arisen.
Four Bases Of Power
- Calm rooted in concentration.
- Persistence rooted in concentration.
- Right Intention rooted in concentration.
- Wisdom rooted in concentration.
- Conviction (Relates to Right Effort).
- Enthusiastic Engagement (Relates to Right View and Right Intention).
- Right Mindfulness.
- Conviction (in the Buddha and his Dhamma).
- Conscience (regret at misconduct in thought, word, and deed).
- Concern (for the suffering that arises from misconduct).
- Persistence (for integrating the Eightfold Path as the framework for
- mindfulness and for one’s life).
- Wisdom/Discernment (Penetrative understanding for the arising and passing away of suffering and all phenomena. Discernment is the ability to see things appropriately within the appropriate context. Discernment is a quality of Right View).
Seven Factors Of Awakening
- Penetrating investigation of the dhamma.
- Rapture (joyful engagement with the Dhamma).
Noble Eightfold Path
- Right View, Right Understanding.
- Right Intention, Right Resolve.
- Right Speech.
- Right Action.
- Right Livelihood.
- Right Effort.
- Right Mindfulness (Ongoing mindfulness of the Eightfold Path as taught in the Satipatthana Sutta requires a well-concentrated quality of mind),
- Right Meditation (Shamatha-Vipassana Meditation develops profound concentration).
The Eightfold Path is the path the Buddha taught to overcome ignorance of Four Noble Truths. Shamatha-Vipassana is meditation method he taught.
The Buddha is consistently and brilliantly specific about his Dhamma. Notice That there is no instruction here, or anywhere in the suttas, to over-emphasize or over-analyze any individual impermanent phenomena. For example:
“In this community of monks there are monks who remain devoted to the development of goodwill and compassion, to concern and equanimity. They understand the relentless decay of the body and the impermanence (arising and passing away) of all conditioned things. Such are the monks in this community of monks.
Notice how the statement “understanding the arising and passing away” leads to the next instruction. In the context of this entire sutta and specifically in this preceding statement it is clear that the Buddha is not teaching to generate distraction by exaggerating one’s mindfulness on any particular breath or to further distraction by manufacturing the duration of breaths or a breath’s eventual “location” in the body.
The Buddha is teaching not to be distracted by whatever arises during meditation and to remain “devoted to mindfulness of in-and-out breathing.” Mindfulness of in-and-out breathing in this context is being mindful of the in-breath – the arising – and the out-breath – the passing away of the breath. In this way breath-mindfulness – anapanasati – avoids distraction and directly develops concentration and insight into the arising and passing away of the breath and then to all phenomena. This last is lost by the distraction of exaggerated or manufactured focus or “mindfulness” of ordinary impermanent phenomena.
“In this community of monks there are monks who remain devoted to mindfulness of the in- breath and the out-breath. (Devoted to Shamatha-Vipassana meditation)
“Mindfulness of the in- breath and the out-breath, when appropriately developed, is of great benefit. Mindfulness of the in- breath and the out-breath, when appropriately developed, (supports the concentration necessary that) brings the Four Foundations Of Mindfulness to their culmination.
Notice the Buddha’s emphasis here on “appropriately developing mindfulness” of the in-breath and out-breath.
The Buddha concludes the Satipatthana Sutta with the following words that emphasize the proper context and required framework for meditation and mindfulness as he taught meditation and mindfulness:
“Friends, this is the direct path for the purification of all beings, for the cessation of sorrow and regret, for the disappearance of pain and distress, for establishing the right method of practice, and for complete unbinding – in other words, these Four Foundations of Mindfulness.”
“The Four Foundations Of Mindfulness when appropriately developed, bring the Seven Factors For Awakening to their culmination. The Seven Factors For Awakening, when appropriately developed, brings clear knowing (Right Understanding, Right View) and release (from clinging to wrong/ignorant views) to their culmination.
Mindfulness of In-and-Out Breathing
“Now, how is mindfulness of in-and-out breathing appropriately developed so as to be of great benefit?
“A monk, having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building, sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect, and setting mindfulness to the fore.
In the context of the Buddha’s Dhamma, mindfulness means to hold in mind or to recollect specific and appropriate aspects of the Dhamma. “Setting mindfulness to the fore” means to set mindfulness on what follows – the breath, to hold in mind the breath-in-the-body, the First Foundation Of Mindfulness.
As the sole purpose of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is to develop profound concentration the reference to “training” is to train the mind towards increasing concentration.
Notice the following sequence of instructions. It is from ignoring the overall context of this sutta that significant misunderstandings and misapplications of these instructions occur. In this context, the Buddha describes a Shamatha-Vipassana meditation session beginning with being mindful of the breath-in-the-body. This First Foundation of Mindfulness is the foundation – mindfulness of the breath – that the following instructions are supported. If the meditator finds that they are taking long breaths they are to be dispassionately mindful of the (long) breath. If the mediator notices that they are exhaling a “long” breath they are to simply notice that the exhalation is “long” and remain sensitive to the breath in relation to the experience in-the-body.
“Always mindful, (of the breath) he breathes in. Always mindful (of the breath) he breathes out.
“(When) Breathing in long, he notices, ‘I am breathing in long.’
“(When) Breathing out long, he notices, ‘I am breathing out long.’
“Or, (when ) breathing in short, he notices, ‘I am breathing in short.
“Or, (when) breathing out short, he notices, ‘I am breathing out short.’
While dispassionately and mindfully noticing the breath:
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.’
“Sensitive to the entire body” often is taken as instruction to change one’s focus from the breath to now beginning to incorporate bodily sensations as ever-changing points of focus. This can only further a distracted mind and contradicts the next instruction to “calm bodily fabrications” and contradicts the context of this sutta – breath-awareness. This would also contradict the instructions found in the Satipatthana Sutta  to use meditation to deepen concentration to support refined mindfulness. The previous instruction to “set mindfulness to the fore” – on the breath-in-the-body – reinforces the singular importance to remain mindful of the breath no matter what occurs during meditation.
“Training one’s self-sensitive to the entire body” in this context is instruction to have a gentle awareness – sensitivity – for what is arising within one’s body without reaction and distraction. This grounds mindfulness to what is arising and passing away within one’s frame of reference and develops mindfulness as a non-distracted (samadhi) ongoing point of reference on the breath-in-the-body.
A distracted mind is detached from the body as a point of reference to what is occurring. When personalizing internal phenomena the objectification then creates a separate “object” distracting from the intended purpose of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation – deepening concentration. Shamatha-Vipassana meditation supports the proper application of mindfulness that unifies the mind in the body establishing moment-by-moment mindfulness – mindfulness of life as life occurs.
The following instruction to “calm bodily fabrications” reinforces this point – to dispassionately remain mindful of whatever fabricated sensations arise, i.e.: fabricated by craving and clinging rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths, and return mindfulness “to the fore” – to the breath.
Train the mind to remain focused on the breath with a gentle and detached awareness of whatever is arising.
While dispassionately engaged in breath-mindfulness:
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.’
It is by following the instructions for breath-mindfulness during Shamatha-Vipassana meditation that mindfulness of the breath allows for any fabrications – body, verbal, or mental – that arise, to calm and not be further distraction. In doing so concentration increases.
The following continues in this manner. There is no significance to the actual thought, feeling, or assumptive fabrication arising individually. As Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is practice for deepening concentration the Buddha is emphasizing the singular importance to return mindfulness to the sensation of breathing in the body no matter what impermanent quality is arising.
This is further reinforced near the conclusion of this section through the instruction “He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in focusing on inconstancy.” Mindfulness of inconstancy, impermanence, then gives rise to dispassion, then to cessation and finally to the mindful awareness that relinquishment of clinging to all self-referential views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths has been developed. This is another reference to the Heartwood Of The Dhamma.
The Buddha closes this section with instruction to remain mindful of the breath in the body while gently holding in mind the qualities developed through meditation when practiced within the proper framework of dispassion arising as a quality of mind. Dispassion is a quality of non-self-reference that supports the cessation of craving for establishment of a self rooted in wrong views and clinging to those views. Through dispassion, clinging comes to cessation. Finally, relinquishing or abandoning all views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths occurs.
In this manner it can be clearly seen that the Anapanasati Sutta is consistent with the Satipatthana Sutta and consistent with becoming empty of ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in sensitive to rapture.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out sensitive to rapture.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in sensitive to pleasure.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out sensitive to pleasure.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in sensitive to mental fabrication.’
“He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to mental fabrication.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in calming mental fabrication.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out calming mental fabrication.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the mind.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the mind.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in calming the mind.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out calming the mind.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in steadying the mind.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out steadying the mind.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in releasing the mind.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out releasing the mind.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in focusing on inconstancy.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out focusing on inconstancy.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in focusing on dispassion.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out focusing on dispassion.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in focusing on cessation.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out focusing on cessation.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in focusing on relinquishment.’
“He trains himself: ‘I will breathe out focusing on relinquishment.’
“This is how mindfulness of in-and-out breathing is developed and pursued so as to be of great benefit.
The Four Frames of Reference
The Four Foundations Of Mindfulness
Here the Buddha is explaining further refining breath-mindfulness during Shamatha-Vipassana meditation. Whenever – on whatever occasion – the meditator remains “mindful of the breath-in-the-body, ardent, alert, and mindful while putting aside craving and distress with reference to the world,” the application of mindfulness of in-and-out breathing is appropriately developed so as to bring the Four Frames of Reference to their culmination.
“Now, how is mindfulness of the in-breath and the out-breath appropriately developed so as to bring the Four Frames Of Reference, the Four Foundations Of Mindfulness, to their culmination?
“On whatever occasion a monk breathing in long is mindful of breathing in long, or breathing out long is mindful of breathing out long, or breathing in short is mindful of breathing in short, or breathing out short is mindful of breathing out short they (continue to) train their mind:
“I will breathe in and breathe out sensitive to the body (bringing mindfulness “to the fore” – to what is occurring and uniting the mind within the frame of reference of the breath-in-the-body).
He trains himself: ‘I will breathe in and breathe out calming bodily fabrication.’ On this occasion (when this occurs) the monk remains focused on the breath-in-the-body in and of itself (free of distraction) – ardent, alert, and mindful while putting aside craving and distress with reference to the world.
Most translations use the phrase “in and of itself” which is somewhat ambiguous and easily taken out of the intended context. I will use the phrase “free of distraction” for contextual authenticity. “Free of distraction” directly relates to “ardent, alert, and mindful while putting aside craving and distress with reference to the world” – free of the distraction of the external focus of “craving and distress with reference to the world” which would result from the personalization and over-emphasis of the arising and passing away of ordinary phenomena.
“With reference to the world” refers to a mind clinging to the ‘world’ through wrong views – views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths – as a means of continual self-establishment or I-making. This self-referential view is from a mind disconnected from the body as a frame of reference for what is occurring. Uniting the mind and body through the refined mindfulness taught here ends the defilements of craving, aversion, and ongoing deluded thinking and brings the Four Frames Of Reference – the Four Foundations Of Mindfulness – to culmination.
“I tell you, monks, the in-and-out breath is unsurpassed as a body among bodies. On the occasion that one remains focused on the body free of distraction – ardent, alert, and mindful, they are putting aside craving and distress with reference to the world.
It is the essence of Dhamma Practice to abandon self-referential views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths by integrating the Heartwood of the Dhamma – the Eightfold Path – and to “put aside craving and distress with reference to the world.”
“Unsurpassed as a body among bodies” refers to a mind unified with the body and free of the distraction of clinging to external phenomena i.e: “bodies.” This is the essence of self-referential views and establishing a self rooted in wrong or ignorant views. A self rooted in ignorance constantly seeks to “reference” itself in every thought word and idea that occurs – other “bodies” and continue to distract a mind separated from the body.
It can clearly be seen here that remaining mindful of the Four Frames Of Reference – the breath-in-the-body, feelings and thoughts arising and passing away, and a stream of unconditioned thinking free of wrong views, establishes a well-concentrated mind supporting the refined mindfulness of Four Noble Truths.
The following describes the results of remaining mindful of the breath while the temporary states described arise and pass away:
“On any occasion a monk trains himself:
“I will breathe in and breathe out sensitive to rapture.
“I will breathe in and breathe out sensitive to pleasure,
“I will breathe in and breathe out sensitive to mental fabrication,
“I will breathe in and breathe out calming mental fabrication.
“On this occasion the monk remains focused on feelings free of distraction – ardent, alert, and mindful while putting aside craving and distress with reference to the world
“I tell you, monks, that mindfulness of in-breaths and out-breaths can be seen as a (singular) feeling among feelings which is why the monk on this occasion remains focused on feelings free of distraction – ardent, alert, and mindful while putting aside craving and distress with reference to the world.
A “feeling among feelings” is reference to a calm and well-concentrated mind not distracted by analyzing the constant flow of ever-changing, impermanent mind-states or “feelings” for example the common jargon referring to qualities of mind such as “I’m feeling angry, or happy, or frustrated, etc.”.
Notice the progression of these last two statements. By following these simple and direct instructions, remaining mindful of the in-breath and out-breath no matter what occurs in the mind or body, one develops the concentration and mindfulness in the manner intended free of the distractive need that the experience of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation be any different than increasing concentration through mindfulness of the breath.
“Whenever a monk trains himself: ‘I will breathe in and breathe out sensitive to the mind, they remain focused on the mind free of distraction – ardent, aware and mindful while putting aside craving and distress with reference to the world.
Nearing the conclusion of this sutta, the Buddha is now bringing his description of the overall experience of whatever may occur during breath-mindfulness meditation back to the primary importance of mindfulness of the in-breath and the out-breath.
Remaining mindful of the arising and passing away of the breath with “gentle awareness of the mind” avoids becoming distracted by feelings and thoughts arising and passing away. Just as one whose mind is united with their body would not be distracted by ordinary functions of the body such as the flow of blood or the processing of nutrients, during Shamatha-Vipassana meditation – breath-mindfulness meditation – one remains free of the distraction of the ordinary function of the mind – to process thoughts. This also shows that the Buddha does not teach to manipulate mindfulness seeking a trance-like state of mind through blocking sensitivity – blocking gentle awareness – of thoughts. This is another misapplication of meditation common during the Buddha’s time that continues today. Seeking a mental state of (nothingness) will produce nothing as a result.
When breath-mindfulness is seen in the proper context it is clear that the purpose of meditation is simply to be free of the distraction of clinging one thought immediately to the next thought.
This quality of a mind clinging one thought immediately to the next thought is a conditioned mind clinging to views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths and clinging one self-referential thought with the next self-referential thought. This is the primary strategy employed by a mind rooted in ignorance that continues distraction in order to continue to ignore its own ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
Anatta, a self-referential ego-self must establish itself – cling itself – to every thought, word, and idea that occurs. In the Paticca-Samuppada-Vibhanga Sutta , the primary sutta on Dependent Origination, the ninth link in the 12-link chain of dependencies states that following craving it is “clinging and maintaining” that one becomes further ignorant of Four Noble Truths.
It is the purpose and function of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation to increase concentration and not be distracted by the ordinary functions of the mind.
“Whenever a monk trains himself:
‘I will breathe in and breathe out satisfying the mind,
‘I will breathe in and breathe out steadying the mind,
‘I will breathe in and breathe out releasing the mind,
“they remain focused on the mind free of distraction – ardent, aware and mindful while putting aside craving and distress with reference to the world.
“When this occurs the monk remains mindful of the in-breath and the out-breath free of distraction – ardent, alert, and mindful while putting aside craving and distress with reference to the world.
“I do not say that there is the development of mindfulness of breathing for one who is forgetful (of these instructions) or who is not fully aware (of these instructions.)
The Cula-Saccaka Sutta
In the Cula-Saccaka Sutta the Buddha is confronted by Saccaka, a follower of Nigantha Nataputta, the local leader of a Jain sect. Saccaka is accompanied by a group of approximately five hundred Licchavis. The Licchavis were a society ruled by a religious oligarchy. Saccaka was a well respected Jain teacher known for using intense philosophical rhetoric and debate to show his superior knowledge.
Saccaka tells the Licchavis in attendance “There is no contemplative, or leader, or one who claims to be an arahant, a rightly self-awakened one, who would not quiver and break out in sweat when engaged with me in debate.”
One morning Venerable Assaji, one of the monks of the Buddha’s sangha, was in Vesali on his alms round. Saccaka noticed Assaji and recognized him as a follower of Gotama the Contemplative. (The Buddha)
“Master Assaji how does Gotama the Contemplative generally instruct his disciples?”
“Aggivessana, Gotama the Rightly Self-awakened one instructs his disciples, in a general way, as follows: ‘Form is impermanent, feeling is impermanent, perception is impermanent, mental fabrications are impermanent, consciousness is impermanent. Being impermanent, form is not-self, feelings are not-self, perceptions are not-self, mental fabrications are not-self, and consciousness is not-self. All impermanent phenomena is not-self. In short, the Five Clinging-Aggregates are impermanent and so not-self.’ Aggivessana, this is the general way that Gotama the Rightly Self-awakened one instructs his disciples.” (Aggivessana is the name of Saccaka’s clan)
“What an awful thing to hear, Master Assaji, that Gotama the Contemplative teaches this sort of thing. Perhaps someday we could meet with Gotama the Contemplative and change his evil view.”
A short while later a group of Licchavis, about five hundred in total, were gathered at a meeting hall. Saccaka addressed the group: “Come with me to debate Gotama the contemplative. If he takes the same position with me that he does with his followers I will thrash him about statement by statement. I will amuse myself with Gotama.”
The Licchavis, knowing both teacher’s, were mixed as to what to expect. Some thought Saccaka would prevail, some felt the Buddha would prevail. They followed Saccaka to seek out the Buddha.
They found the Buddha in the Great Forest. After exchanging courteous greetings, Saccaka sat to one side. Some of the Licchavis were respectful to the Buddha, clasping their hands in front of them, some remained silent.
Saccaka addressed the Buddha: “I would like to question Master Gotama on a certain point, if you would grant me the favor of an answer.”
“Ask, Aggivessana, as you see fit.”
“In general, what is your instruction to your disciples?”
“I instruct my disciples in this general way: ‘Form is impermanent, feelings are impermanent, perceptions are impermanent, mental fabrications are impermanent, consciousness is impermanent. As such, form is not-self, feelings are not-self, perceptions are not-self, mental fabrications are not-self, and consciousness is not-self. All impermanent phenomena are not-self. This, in general, is how I instruct my disciples.”
“A simile occurs to me, Master Gotama. Any seed that grows and spreads is dependent on the earth. In the same way any individual with form, in connection with form, taking sustenance from form, produces merit or demerit. Any individual with feelings, taking sustenance from feelings, produces merit or demerit. Any individual with perceptions, with mental fabrications, with consciousness, taking sustenance from perceptions, from fabrications, from consciousness, produces merit or demerit.”
“Aggivessana, are you saying, ‘Form is my self, feeling is my self, perception is my self, fabrications are my self, consciousness is my self’?”
“Yes, Master Gotama, I’m saying that ‘Form is my self, feeling is my self, perception is my self, fabrications are my self, consciousness is my self, as do all those that came with me.” (Saccaka includes the Licchavis here to gain their support in his debate with the Buddha)
“Very well, I will cross-question you on your statements. What do you think, Aggivessana? Would a noble King wield power in their domain to execute those that deserve execution, or to banish those that deserve banishment, or to tax or fine those that deserve to be taxed or fined? Is such a noble King in control of his domain?”
“Yes Master Gotama, a noble King would be able to control his domain in this manner.”
“Well, Aggivessana, when you say that from is self, do you have power over that from. Can you have your form be any different than it is?”
Saccaka could not answer and remained silent.
Again the Buddha asks Saccaka “Well, Aggivessana, when you say that form is self, do you have power over that form. Can you have your form be any different than it is?”
Again Saccaka could not answer and remained silent.
“Aggivessana, you have engaged me in this debate. It will be to your detriment to not answer. I will ask one more time: When you say that form is self, do you have power over that form. Can you have your form be any different than it is?”
“No Master Gotama.”
“Listen closely to what I am saying, Aggivessana, and answer only after you have paid attention! Your answer is inconsistent with your statements. You also said that feelings are self, that perceptions are self, that metal fabrications are self, and that consciousness is self. Can your feelings be different than as they occur? Can your perceptions, or you fabrications, or your consciousness be any different than they occur?”
“No, Master Gotama.”
“Listen closely to what I am saying, Aggivessana, and answer only after you have paid attention! Your answer is inconsistent with your statements. Is form impermanent or constant?”
“Impermanent, Master Gotama.”
“And is that which is impermanent easeful or stressful?”
“Stressful, Master Gotama.”
“Likewise, are feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications, or consciousness impermanent or constant?”
“Impermanent, Master Gotama.”
“And is that which is impermanent easeful or stressful?”
“Stressful, Master Gotama.”
“And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: ‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?”
“No, Master Gotama.”
“What do you think, Aggivessana? When one holds to stress, is attached to stress, and thinks of stress as ‘This is mine; this is my self; this is what I am,’ would he understand stress or be able to be free of stress?”
“No, Master Gotama.”
“Aggivessana, don’t you hold to stress, aren’t you attached to stress, and don’t you think of stress as ‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?
“Yes, Master Gotama. Please tell me how a disciple of Master Gotama develops this instruction, to end all doubt, to end all questions, to be fearless and independent of others and their teachings?”
“Aggivessana, when a disciple of mine develops Right View (through the Eightfold Path) they then see any form, past, present or future, internal or external, common or sublime, near or far, clearly as form has come to be: ‘this is not me, this is not mine, this not myself, this not what I am.”
“Through Right View my disciples know that any feeling, perception, mental fabrication, or consciousness, past, present or future, internal or external, common or sublime, near or far, clearly as form has come to be: ‘this is not me, this is not mine, this not myself, this not what I am.”
“Aggivessana, this is how my disciples carry my message and my instruction to end all doubt, to end all questions, to be fearless and independent of others and their teachings.”
“Master Gotama, how does one complete the path, to end all defilements, to lay down the burden and the fetter of becoming, become an arahant, released through Right Understanding?”
“Aggivessana, when anyone through Right View knows that form, feelings, perceptions, fabrications, or consciousness, whether past, present, future, internal or external, common or sublime that this is not me, this is not mine, this is not my self, this is not what I am, through lack of clinging (to ignorant views) as sustenance, they are released. Through their Right Effort they have ended the defilements, laid down the burden and the fetter of becoming, completed the path, and are released through Right Understanding.
“Released they are endowed with unsurpassed Right View, unsurpassed practice, and unsurpassed release. Released, they honor and respect the Tathagata in this manner: The Buddha teaches the dhamma for awakening (to Four Noble Truths), the Buddha teaches the Dhamma to develop restraint, the Buddha teaches the Dhamma for developing tranquility, the Buddha teaches the dhamma for ending samsara (ignorance). The Buddha teaches the Dhamma for total unbinding.”
Saccaka then said to the Buddha, “It is we, Master Gotama, who were insolent, we who were reckless, in that we construed that Master Gotama could be attacked statement by statement. May Master Gotama, together with the community of monks, acquiesce to my offer of tomorrow’s meal.”
The Buddha acknowledged Saccaka with his silence.
The next day a lavish meal was prepared by the Licchavis for the Buddha and his sangha. Saccaka himself served the Buddha and upon completion of the meal said “Master Gotama, may the merits of this gift be exclusively for the happiness of the donors.”
“Aggivessana, what has been given to you, not without passions, not without aversions, not without delusion, that will be for the donors. Whatever has come to me, without passion, without aversion, without delusion, free of ignorant views, that will be for you.”
End Of Sutta
The Buddha’s closing words reiterates that the greatest honor one can give to the Buddha, and the only useful “merit” to be gained, is to be authentic to his Dhamma and through whole-hearted engagement with the Dhamma, free oneself from all views rooted in ignorance of the Four Noble Truths.
This sutta gets to the heart of the Buddha’s teachings on The Four Noble Truths. What is impermanent – form, feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications, consciousness – cannot be realistically called a self as there is nothing within these Five Clinging-Aggregates that any individual can direct. As such, what is impermanent is stressful. It is only by ignorance (of The Four Noble Truths) that one “clings” to stress and stress causing objects, events, and ideas.
What is impermanent is stressful. What is stressful cannot constitute a self – it is anatta – not-self.
The Four Noble Truths
- Dukkha (stress) occurs
- Craving originates and clinging perpetuates Dukkha
- Cessation of this ongoing process is possible (“This is not me, this is not mine, this is not what I am”)
- The Eightfold Path is the path developing the cessation of the process rooted in ignorance.
My Dhamma articles are based primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali from Access To Insight. Also, Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies and the work of John Ireland and Maurine Walsh, among others. I have made contextual edits for further clarity, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination. and Four Noble Truths.