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Atthakanagara Sutta – The Single Quality For Awakening
This introduction is common to the following suttas on Jhana: Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta, Anupada Sutta, Rahogata Sutta, Jhana Sutta, Jambālī Sutta, and the Samādhaṅga Sutta. They are all linked here: Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhana
Jhana means meditative absorption. The Buddha teaches, in a general way, four levels of meditative absorption, or deepening concentration. As can be seen here, these four levels are not in a practical sense strictly defined. The development of concentration can and should be mindfully observed as concentration increases.
The four levels of Jhana are impermanent and are developed from engaging in Shamatha-Vipassana meditation as taught by the Buddha and so should not be viewed as meditative achievement. Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is not another opportunity for fabricating experience through continued confusion or continued desire encouraged by misguided instruction. 
Free of grasping after, these levels of meditative absorption are simply the recognition that Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is actually developing concentration while avoiding creating further distraction. This aspect of Right View then remains free of conceit – I-making – that would otherwise create frustration and distraction within Shamatha-Vipassana meditation practice.
The sequencing of the additional descriptions of non-physical meditative experience that follows the descriptions of four levels of Jhana should not be seen as “advanced” levels of meditation as is commonly presented, and certainly not as levels of meditative achievement. These fabricated non-physical meditation experiences were part of the doctrines of Siddartha Gotama’s early teachers Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. [2,3]
Having mastered them, he immediately dismissed them as they “do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, or to unbinding. This (method) only seeks to establish a reappearance in the dimension of nothingness” (or in the dimensions of neither perception nor non-perception, or infinite space, or infinite consciousness, or any other fabricated non-physical self-reference.)
This is a realization Siddartha developed prior to his awakening. As such, it could have been taught to simply avoid any fabricated non-physical self-reference. One of the break-throughs of understanding Siddartha had was insight into the powerful but very subtle strategies that a mind rooted in ignorance will develop and cling to in order to continue ignorance. 
With profound wisdom, the Buddha realized the attraction of continuing self-establishment in fabricated non-physical realms. He understood that the most effective method of understanding the foolishness of these doctrines that encouraged continued I-making would be to explain these common experiences in the context of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation. In this way, these non-physical fabrications, when seen in the proper context, are simply ordinary fabrications to be recognized and abandoned.
The Buddha typically told his followers to “Go find the root of a tree or an empty hut and do Jhana.” This is instruction on establishing seclusion as the proper environment for Shamatha-Vipassana meditation leading to the development of ever-deepening levels of meditative absorption. The singular meditation method the Buddha taught for deepening concentration is through Shamatha-Vipassana meditation. The Shamatha-Vipassana meditation method is established in the Satipatthana Sutta, the primary sutta on Four Foundations Of Mindfulness. 
It is the initial section of the Satipatthana Sutta that is instruction for calming the mind by becoming mindful of the breath in the body. This is the first foundation of mindfulness that begins the process of Jhana – of developing concentration. The second and third foundations of mindfulness continue the establishment of concentration by ending distractions arising from reacting to, or clinging to feelings and thoughts as they arise and pass away, always returning mindfulness to the breath. This instruction relates directly to the levels of Jhana. Avoiding the distraction that would arise by reacting to feelings and thoughts, the joy of seclusion and deepening concentration is recognized.
As concentration increases, directed thought and evaluation is abandoned and a pleasant abiding is established which relates to the fourth foundation of mindfulness – being at peace with the present quality of mind.
(The remaining sections of the Satipatthana Sutta then shows how to apply ever-deepening levels of meditative absorption to other significant themes of the Dhamma. The entire Satipatthana Sutta is not meant as meditation instruction which becomes obvious when seen in the proper context of the Buddha’s Dhamma)
The Buddha’s Dhamma reunites the mind and body and overcomes the self-identification seeking to establish a “self” in fabricated magical, mystical, and imaginary planes of physical non-existence.
(I use the term physical non-existence as it accurately depicts the grasping present in ascetic practices that hope to free the mind from the body using extreme self-denial. These were practices Siddartha Gotama mastered and abandoned as ‘painful distracting, ignoble, and not leading to knowledge, wisdom, or release.’) 
As with all of the Buddha’s teachings, this sutta must be seen within the over-arching context of Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths to be useful and practically applicable. The Buddha awakened to the profound understanding that ignorance of Four Noble Truths is the initiating condition that results in fabricating views of ordinary experience resulting in all manner of distraction, confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointing and unsatisfactory experiences. [6,7]
When seen in the over-arching context of the Buddha’s Dhamma and in the context of engaging in Shamatha-Vipassana meditation solely for deepening concentration, grasping after self-establishment in imaginary and fabricated mind-states is seen clearly as intentional distraction used to continue to ignore ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
Often modern meditation practices such as generalized “insight” or “mindfulness” meditation are taught as merely noticing thoughts and feelings calling “noticing” in this manner “mindfulness.” Intentionally “noticing” is holding in mind internal phenomena during meditation. This is a subtle but powerful reinforcement of distracting phenomena and the most common strategy used in modern meditation practices. This form of meditation will distract a confused mind further and continue to ignore ignorance of Four Noble Truths. Impermanent and ever-changing phenomena now becomes the sole focus of “Insight” or “Mindfulness” while avoiding the singular purpose of meditation – to increase concentration. As concentration increases refined mindfulness is established supporting the integration of the Eightfold Path as the framework for developing a profound understanding and useful insight of Three Marks Of existence. [8,9]
In the Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta, the householder Dasama inquires of Ananda if there is a single quality taught by the Buddha that would result in release from all views ignorant of Four Noble Truths. Ananda explains that it is a well-concentrated mind developed through Right Meditation that results in abandoning the defilements of greed, aversion, and delusion bring to cessation all fabricated (wrong) views.
The single quality of awakened Right View is the culmination of wholehearted engagement with the Eightfold Path.
The Buddha describes Awakened Right View as having a profound understanding of suffering:
- Knowledge with regard to stress
- Knowledge with regard to the origination of stress
- Knowledge with regard to the cessation of stress
- Knowledge with regard to the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress 
Rapture is a word often used in the Dhamma to describe a profoundly joyful engagement with the Dhamma.
Directed Thought has Right Intention as its motivating factor – to recognize and abandon craving and clinging.
Evaluation here refers to the value placed on an experience as being either pleasurable or painful.
Samsara is the continued state of ignorance prone to confused, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointment.
My Comments below are in italics.
Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta – The Single Quality For Awakening
Majjhima Nikaya 52
On one occasion Venerable Ananda was at Veḷuvagāmaka, near Vesali. At that same time a householder, Dasama from Aṭṭhakanāgara, was nearby in Pāṭaliputta on business. Completing his business, Dasama went to Kukkaṭa Monastery to ask a certain monk a question: “Where is Venerable Ananda staying? I would like to see him.”
The monk told him where Ananda was and Dasama left immediately for Veḷuvagāmaka. Upon meeting Ananda, Dasama bowed and sat to one side. He had a question for Ananda: “Venerable sir, is there a single quality taught by the Buddha to be developed so that the unreleased mind of a Dhamma Practitioner who is mindful, ardent, alert, and resolute in the Dhamma would attain release and security from the yoke of clinging to views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths?”
“Yes there is, friend Dasama. When a Dhamma Practitioner, secluded from sensuality and other unskillful qualities enters and remain in the first Jhana. This First Jhana is experienced as rapture born of that very seclusion. It is accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. Despite the pleasure of this first Jhana, they understand ‘This first Jhana is fabricated, impermanent, and subject to cessation.’
“As they continue meditation, they enter and remain in the Second Jhana. This Second Jhana is experienced as rapture and pleasure born of concentration. Free of directed thought and evaluation, the joy of concentration permeates their entire mind and body. Despite the pleasure of this second Jhana, they understand ‘This second Jhana is fabricated, impermanent, and subject to cessation.’
“Continuing meditation they enter and remain in the Third Jhana which is equanimous and mindful, a pleasant abiding. With the fading of rapture, this pleasant abiding permeates their entire mind and body. Despite the pleasure of this third Jhana, they understand ‘This third Jhana is fabricated, impermanent, and subject to cessation.’
“Continuing meditation they enter and remain in the Fourth Jhana which is pure equanimity and mindful. Being pure, neither pleasure nor pain is seen. They sit permeated in mind and body with pure, bright awareness. Despite the pleasure of this fourth Jhana, they understand ‘This fourth Jhana is fabricated, impermanent, and subject to cessation.’
“As concentration (Jhana) deepens their mind is unbound, spacious, free of the confining yoke of ignorance. They are imbued with unlimited goodwill., with compassion, with empathetic joy, his mind resting in equanimity.
“Even so, this Dhamma Practitioner understands that this release through goodwill, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. is fabricated, impermanent, and subject to cessation.
Ananda’s description of ever-deepening concentration is similar to the Buddha’s description of Sariputta’s mastery of Jhana in the Anupada Sutta. 
“Remaining well-concentrated they reach the end of the defilements. If they do not reach the ending of the defilements right then and there, through their continued Right Effort the five lower fetters will fall away:
- Grasping at rituals and practices
- Doubt and uncertainty
- Sensual craving
- Deluded thinking
“Furthermore, having abandoned self-identification with form, having abandoned aversion, having abandoned self-reference now here and now there, they enter and remain in the perception of the infinitude of space, then the dimension of infinite consciousness, then the dimension of infinite nothingness, and then too, the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.
“Even here they understand that any phenomena connected to Five Clinging-Aggregates – form, feelings, perceptions, fabrications, consciousness – is impermanent, stressful, a disease, painful, an affliction, and, as such, anatta – not-self.
Five Clinging-Aggregates describe the ongoing personal experience of suffering – Dukkha – rooted in continued ignorance of Four Noble Truths. 
They disregard these phenomena and incline their mind to the cessation of ignorance – nothing remains to provoke the becoming of further ignorance and the birth of continued suffering. 
“They will enter into pure, bright awareness, a pleasant abiding, totally unbound (from clinging to wrong views) never to lose their mind again.
“This, my friend, is the single quality taught by the Buddha to be developed so that the unreleased mind of a Dhamma Practitioner who is mindful, ardent, alert, and resolute in the Dhamma would attain release and security from the yoke of clinging to views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
Upon hearing these words, Dasama remarked “Venerable Ananda, it is as if a Dhamma Practitioner were seeking a single opening onto treasure and all at once realized eleven openings to treasure. In the same way, I was seeking a single doorway to the ending of all fabrications. All at once you taught me eleven doorways I can take, all leading to the single-point of cessation from fabricated views.
Eleven doorways are four levels of Jhana, four fabricated realms, Three Marks Of Existence.
“Venerable Ananda, all true teachers deserve a fee! I will pay homage to you!”
Dasama then gathered the Sangha’s from Vesali and Pataliputta and prepared a feast for them. He gave a pair of cloths to each Sangha member and a triple-robe to Ananda. He then built a dwelling for Venerable Ananda.
End Of Sutta
- Shamatha-Vipassana Meditation
- Mental And Bodily Fabrications
- The Noble Search For The Noble Path
- Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening
- Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness
- Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutt
- Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
- Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
- Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
- Anupada Sutta – EndingFabrications One After. Another
- Five Clinging-Aggregates
- Becoming Explained
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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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