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The Two Pilgrims

From the “Arahant stories” collection:

Once, it is said,  two Brahmins sat together in the north Indian city of Patna in a hall and listened to the praise of the virtues of Nāga the elder, a monk from Kālavallimaṇḍapa*.

When they had heard the stories of Venerable Mahānāga**, they thought, “Surely such a monk deserves a visit”. So they left their people and set off on the long journey through India to Sri Lanka.

The first of those two Brahmins died on the way through the desert. The other one finally arrived on the Southern coast of India and mounting a ship in a large port city sailed to Sri Lanka. Arriving on the island, he traveled to the royal city of Anuradhapura. There, he asked how he could get to the village of Kalavallimandapa.

He was told that that particular village was found in the southeast of the country in a Kingdom named Rohana. So he continued his journey through mountains and jungles towards the Southern part of Sri Lanka. When arriving at Kalavallimandapa, he took residence in the neighboring village of Nakulanagara and preparing food and drink he asked for the whereabouts  of Venerable Nāga. Then he went close to that monk’s quarters and just waited there with the meal he had prepared as an offering.

From a distance he saw the arriving Mahānāga and admiring him already from a distance he ran towards him, bowed down before him and again and again seized the monk elder’s feet shouting: “So high are you, venerable Sir, so high are you.” -

“Not too high, not too small, just moderate in size” replied the humble monk.

Then the Brahmin said again: “Not are you, sir, very tall in bodily nature, but your virtues, Lord, are extremely high. Now that I had heard of you at Patna’s city gate, I crossed the entire Indian continent and the sparkling sea, only to meet you! ”

Then he offered to the monk his donation, provided him with three new robes and finally ordained under him. After he had heard of the venerable’s exhortation, he achieved, within a few days, holiness himself.

Source: “Manorathapūraṇī” – The Commentary on the Anguttara-Nikāya.


*Kālavallimandapa.-A vihāra in Ceylon, the residence of the Elder Mahānāga (DA.i.190, 191; SnA.i.56; VbhA.352, 353; J.iv.490; MT.606). It was near the village Nakulanagara (DhsA.339) and was situated in Rohana (AA.i.384).

**Mahānāga Thera. Resident of Kālavallimaṇḍapa. He was among those who accepted the meal given by Sāliya in his previous birth (MT. 606). He was one of the last to attain arahantship among those who left the world with the Bodhisatta in various births (J.iv.490). He did not sleep for seven years, after which he practised continual meditation for sixteen years, becoming an arahant at the end of that time. SNA.i.56; MA.i.209; SA.iii.155.
His fame was great, and there is a story of a brahmin who came all the way from Pátaliputta to Kálavallimandapa in Rohana to visit him. The brahmin entered the Order under him and became an arahant (AA.i.384). Once, while Mahánága was begging alms at Nakulanagara, he saw a nun and offered her a meal. As she had no bowl, he gave her his, with the food ready in it. After she had eaten and washed the bowl, she gave it back to him saying, “Henceforth there will be no fatigue for you when begging for alms.” Thereafter the Elder was never given alms worth less than a kahápana. The nun was an arahant. DhSA.399.

Recently, in our local Dhamma study group, we had a look at Kāma Sutta (it’s the older Buddhist version of the Kāma Sutra and besides being much shorter its content is diametrically opposed to the more famous worldy Hindu version which it shares the same name with):

If the (desire) of him who wishes for sensuous pleasure is gratified,
the man obtaining what he likes, becomes certainly glad-minded.
If the pleasures of that being who wishes for anything, (and) in whom desire has arisen, fail,
he is oppressed like one who is pierced with darts.
If any one avoids the pleasures of the senses as (one would) avoid the head of a snake with the foot,
that wise man overcomes the dart (of sorrow) in the world.
If any man desires different objects of sense,
such as fields, gardens, gold, oxen, houses, servants, relations ;
Passions overpower him, dangers tread on him;
hence misery follows him, even as water (pours into) a broken ship.
Therefore (a man) becoming possessed of presence of mind at all times,
should abandon the longing for objects of sense.
Having forsaken them, he should cross the stream,
even as one baling out a ship is in the habit of reaching the furthest shore.

The Kāma Sutta is the first Sutta in the famous Atthaka Vagga – a collection of poems so early and essential to the young Buddhist Sangha that not just monks but also lay people during the time of the Buddha seemed to had memorized and based their practice on this text. (The story of Haliddakani and Sona come to mind).

The basic message of the Kama Sutta is quite simple: Lovely, desirable sense impressions, i.e. kāma, are better to be avoided.*

And while this is not the message a predominantly Western lay Buddhism wants to hear, this ancient Sutta does definitely not care about our contemporary sentiments :-)

At the end of this little text, the Buddha employs a beautiful simile which is the reason for this post. Here he compares our travel in Samsara once again to the journey of someone trying to cross from one shore to the other, far side – Nibbana. This topic is quite frequent in the Pali Canon**. However, what makes this particular simile so fascinating is the comparison of embracing the pleasures of our five external senses (important: enjoyment of jhanic bliss is not included here, and is considered something actually to be striven for***) to a boat with a leak.

If you dwell on this simile and picture how this fits into the overall scheme of the Buddha’s path of awakening, we can make the following assumption:

Some of us have small, frail boats with which we try to cross the samsaric ocean, some of us have yachts or even tankers. Besides the size of our samsaric boat which could stand for the amount of accrued merit as well as intensity of practice in the Dhamma we also have different “travelling speeds” in trying to cross over: some of us have a swift understanding of the Dhamma, quickly gain insights or quickly pick up the jhanas, others have to struggle for years to make the same kind of progress – so even a large yacht (lots of practice) can be equipped with a small lacking motor (slow penetration of the teachings) and vice versa.

Now, having set the stage, what does the Buddha say about the five sense pleasures? They are the leak in your boat :-)

If you have ever been on a boat, you know that most boats someway or the other leak:

Taking on water is inevitable — large waves often break over the sides, and tiny leaks are common. This water will usually find its way to the lowest point of a boat — the bilge area. For this reason, boats are equipped with bilge pumps to usher the water back out once it’s reached a certain level.[link]

The same is true for us, in our samsaric journey – there is no live without sense pleasures. It is therefore just a question of relationship with regard to your own boat of Dhamma practice and the speed you intend on crossing over how big of a leak is “good for you” (i.e. whether your journey to Nirvana survives).

If you are on a swift boat, the same sized leak will still allow you to get further along in your practice, than lets say if you are sitting on a frail small and slow boat.

That is why the whole idea of leaving the household life (i.e. the five sense pleasures!!) will definitely make a difference to each persons progress in their samsaric journey – it is like closing a leak or breach in your boat’s hull. And this also makes it clear, that a monastic life which equally embraces the sense pleasures as a normal lay person would do, in fact, is not making so much of a difference (You could say: it is of no point at all, if the sense pleasures are not given up – but then there are other factors like improved sila or practice of concentration). At least you can understand why giving up possession and money kind of make the demarcation line between traveling with a large leak or a small one.

As with many other character qualities the Buddha asked us not to judge other people but rather focus on our own practice, and this simile teaches us, that we cannot see the speed and size of another person’s Dhamma boat so we really cannot know much another persons involvement with worldly desires is impacting his or her practice. All we learn from the Buddha is that it does have an impact and should rather be taken into consideration.

In this simile we can see that besides investing into a cleaner lifestyle (sila), more moments of calm bliss (samatha) and longer stretches of microscopic disenchantment (vipassana) we can also speed up our samsaric travel by lighten our boat, close the leak as far as we are able to and avoid sense pleasure which drain our energy, make our boat heavier thus simply let go of what the rest of mankind is striving for :-)

The beautify of this is that there is no rule or regulation per se as to how much – and based on the aforesaid it is hard to tell, it depends on your personal experience. For some that particular desire and pleasure poses a big problem, a trouble maker, a drainer of energy – for the other person it is nothing.

Wishing you a swift and light travel!

This heavy vessel you should bail:
When emptied it will swiftly sail.
Discard all anger, Shed all greed,
Thence to Nibbana you’ll proceed.

Dhammapada 369 [en by Ven. Bodhesako]


* A very good introduction of why this is important to the path of Nibbana can be found in Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta 75 called “Magandiya”

** For instance: Tiṇṇo pāraṅgato thale tiṭṭhati brāhmaṇoti. Brāhmaṇoti kho, bhikkhave, arahato etaṃ adhivacanaṃ.

*** Time and again, the Buddha actually mentions the jhanas as a way to avoid the five sensual pleasures by means of stepping away from them, “transcending” them, literally :-) This is also the suggestion in the Commentaries to this sutta where a twofold “avoidance” is being discussed – the plain worldly renunciation or a more refined spiritual method by diving into the jhanas (cp. Kamasuttaniddesa) – to stick to our simile, entering and abiding in the jhanas would be similar to cranking up your engine and driving your boat so fast, that it is literally lifted out of the water, barely touching it (mainly mind objects only) Here is where vipassana comes into play, because even at such high speeds, if you drive in a circle and are not heading in the direction of the other shore, all is in vain. Besides these temporary measures, of course, once the boat is on the other shore (i.e having accomplished Vipassana) the boat is on dry land and saved from sinking :-)

Here is how it works: Our mind is an empty wrapper. It can encapsulate any of our five senses and replay them. It is like an echo chamber. That’s why thoughts are in essence sense-less. They can contain (better: reflect) visual content or sounds which, as it happens, is  in most cases our own sound – words. So why is it, that most of our mental objects are thoughts (vitakka) which reflect our own mentally recorded voice?

As we humans are mainly driven by sights and sounds these two therefore reflect most of our thoughts – visual memories or discursive thoughts which are merely an expression of the minds basic ability to pop up whatever was put into it and endlessly recombine it. But whereas our visual sense always perceives something which is outside of us (“alien”, “the other”, “bahiddha”) it is the hearing which perceives others but for a much larger part of the day it follows our own voice our own sounds. This sound coming from “within” (in our perception) makes it range so much closer to what we perceive as “ourselves”. Sounds then, especially their mental representation of our own sound, our voice, is the perfect narrative to comment on the impulses which we perceive as “our own ideas”. That is why most of us have lots of mental chatter go on – propping up the self-perception.

A funny side effect of all of this is of course the fact that this mental reproduction of sense objects is a completely recursive procedure – A picture can be seen by the eye, then mentally encapsulated as a mind object then that mind object itself can again be encapsulated by another mind object which triggers another sound (voiced) thought etc etc. You can picture this process as a chain of events, but you can also imagine it simply as a ida-paccayata “this is based on that” (so rather a chain, visualize a pyramid where one object rests on the shoulders of the other).

In any event you can now understand why the Buddha never called the objects of the mind “thought” (or vitakka) but rather “dhammas” (things). Because, looking at their essence, “vitakka” has more to do with language as being a “voiced or sounded thought object” and is just one of the many “objects” (dhammas) the mind can echo (including but not limited to form which is visual, or taste or a memory of a smell).

‘‘Assāsapassāsā kho, āvuso visākha, kāyikā ete dhammā kāyappaṭibaddhā, tasmā assāsapassāsā kāyasaṅkhāro. Pubbe kho, āvuso visākha, vitakketvā vicāretvā pacchā vācaṃ bhindati, tasmā vitakkavicārā vacīsaṅkhāro. Saññā ca vedanā ca cetasikā ete dhammā cittappaṭibaddhā, tasmā saññā ca vedanā ca cittasaṅkhāro’’ti. Cūlavedalla Sutta, MN.

Inbreath and outbreath, brother Visākha, are bodily things, depend on the body, therefore in- and outbreathing is a body-activity. Because first, brother Visākha, one thinks and dwells and then bursts into speech, therefore thought-and-mental-dwelling are activities of speech (voice, vācā). Perception and feeling are mental things, depend on the mind, therefore perception and feeling are activities of the mind.” (Here explained in a discourse given by Arahant nun Dhammadinna)

All the while these three (sense-base + object + consciousness thereof) together form one experiential moment after the other they each trigger a feeling (or sensation) like a shower or cannonade of little pebbles thrown into a pool. All these feelings triggered by each sense impression (including the perception of a mind object) cause circles of waves. Most of these feelings are extremely transitory, but the waves they help to build eventually build up and come back to haunt us:

Whatever you think about over and over again thereto the mind is bent (yannadeva bhikkhu bahulam anuvitakketi anuvicareti, tatha tatha nati hoti cetaso).

A swell of negative feelings creates a steep inclination. The same is true for a positive set of feelings, of course. Please don’t mistake consciousness with what we call mind in this case. See, the fact is that you are conscious or experience or recognize each individual moment as such – at least in theory, but of course for most of us its most of the time a blur regarding the speed of events or rather the underdeveloped state of our concentration.

Now the consciousness in each sense impression also applies to the mind. There can be awareness or experience of the moment where the mind-(sense)-base meets/aligns with an object (dhamma) – a representation. So even here, not just in the moment your eye meets the smile of a pretty girl, but also when a mental voice / image is recognized in consciousness – also in such a case a feeling arises.

When I see a ball, I am conscious of the ball. In the next moment I hear a child’s voice, so I am conscious of a sound. Then, in the next moment I might experience a mental reflection (as an image or taste but most likely a sound – my own voice, thinking: ‘be careful’). So when my mind experiences that mental object, I am conscious of a mental object. This is why the Buddha carefully distinguishes between eye (sight) – visual object – visual consciousness….hearing facility, sound object, hearing consciousness….and mind object, mind and mind-consciousness.

Highly recommended reading:

Samyutta-Nikaya, Vedanasamyutta, Sutta No. 6 “The dart” (Sallasutta)

So ekaṃ vedanaṃ vedayati – kāyikaṃ, na cetasikaṃ.

And so he feels only one feeling – a bodily not mental.

One of the most essential terms used by the Buddha in reference to developing wisdom and pointing out the path to Nibbana is the Pali verb “manasi karoti” especially in the phrase yoniso manasi karoti.

It is so essential to the attainment of Nibbana that the Buddha time and again points out that if we practice manasi karoti in a certain manner, which he calls yoniso, that we will then progress and develop insight to see for ourselves what he himself experienced in that particular night, 536 B.C. now commonly known as “the Awakening”, the Buddha’s bodhi:

The riddle:

‘‘Cakkhuṃ, bhikkhave, yoniso manasi karotha; cakkhāniccatañca yathābhūtaṃ samanupassatha. Cakkhuṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhu yoniso manasikaronto, cakkhāniccatañca yathābhūtaṃ samanupassanto cakkhusmimpi nibbindati. Nandikkhayā rāgakkhayo; rāgakkhayā nandikkhayo. Nandirāgakkhayā cittaṃ suvimuttanti vuccati.

Practice yoniso manasi karotha with the eye-sight, o monks; See the impermanence of the eye-sight as it manifests. When a monk, o monks, sees the impermanence of eye-sight as it manifests doing yoniso manasikara, he will not find anything (fascinating) with regard to the eye-sight. From the eradication of delight comes the eradication of fascination. From the destruction of fascination comes the destruction of delight. ‘When delight (nandi) and fascination/desire (rāga) are destroyed the mind is fully liberated’ – thus I say.

SN Salayatanasamyutta, Ajjhattaaniccanandikkhayasuttaṃ. (Solution to this ‘riddle’ at the end of this article)

Now, what is manasi karoti in English? What does it mean? I would like to invite you to a little journey trying to “unlock” the meaning of this term and find out what implications this may have on our process of insight meditation as reflected in the earliest forms of Buddhist meditation.

Let’s start with the first part, i.e. manas. Manas is an old Vedic word meaning “mind” (it is actually linguistially related to our “mind”) and is used very much in the same colloquial sense as the English “mind”. Manasi is the locative case of manas and therefore indicates that we would have to translate it literally as “in the mind”.

Now, as any Indo-European language Pāli too makes use of a simple trick to express (new) meaning by using existing words. One such “trick” is grammatically known as “compound verbs” [link]. Here is a definition from Wikipedia:

N+V compounds: A compound with Noun+verb, converting the noun into a verbal structure; the arguments and the semantics are determined by the N and the tense markers / inflections are carried by the V. This would include English stretched verb examples like take a walk or commit suicide… The N+V compound appears in almost all languages, especially … as “do”, “make” etc., …

Compound verbs are very common in Indo-Aryan languages, such as Hindi-Urdu and Panjabi, where as many as 20% of the verb forms in running text may be compounds.

For example, Hindi निकल गया nikal gayā, lit. “exit went”, means ‘went out’, while निकल पड़ा nikal paRā, lit. “exit fell”, means ‘departed‘ or ‘was blurted out‘.

As you will see, in this particular instance the Buddha uses a very similar Pali construction himself. The second part of manasi karoti is the verb “karoti“, very frequent in Pāli as it simply means “to do, to make”.

Now, if we were to translate “manasi karoti” too literal (“to make into the mind”) that would not make much sense. If you understand that this construction is simply a compound verb, as explained above, however, the meaning becomes quite clear and we do not have to translate it too free or vague either. In fact we can now go about translating this compound verb pretty straightforward. It just says: “keep in mind”. Yes, that simple. Here the literal “to do, to make” in the form of karoti is simply used to establish a compounded meaning. Therefore to literally “make in the mind” becomes “to keep in mind“. This, obviously, makes sense. Okay, now let’s see if that translation survives our test of applying it to various contexts:

Let’s take a very obvious one first. As you know might know, very often when the Buddha started one of his sermons he would address the monks and the monks would return his address saying “Venerable Sir!” Then the Buddha would continue saying:

Tatra kho bhagavā bhikkhū āmantesi – ‘‘bhikkhavo’’ti. ‘‘Bhadante’’ti te bhikkhū bhagavato paccassosuṃ. Bhagavā etadavoca – ‘‘sabbadhammamūlapariyāyaṃ vo, bhikkhave, desessāmi. Taṃ suṇātha, sādhukaṃ manasi karotha, bhāsissāmī’’ti. ‘‘Evaṃ, bhante’’ti kho te bhikkhū bhagavato paccassosuṃ. Bhagavā etadavoca –

…I will teach you. Listen to that, keep in mind well (sādhukaṃ manasi karotha), I will talk.

Majjhima Nikaya, 1. Sutta, many others, very freq.

So here you can see how it is used. Very straight forward, very simple to understand. But wait! This still can give us a headache. Because here in this moment, you could tend to interpret the connotation of “keep well in mind” to imply a form of learning by heart, couldn’t you? Yes, but as you will see in a moment, that that idea (which is usually expressed by another Pali term called pariyāpuṇāti or uggaheti) is not meant here, when the Buddha wants his monks to “keep it well in mind”.

Let’s have a look at the second example, slowly coming closer to the meditative implications this particular expression carries and you will quickly undertand why a correct understanding of this term can make many a Buddhist (Pali) text suddenly more profound than you would have expected.

In a remote corner of the Pali canon ( :-) ) we find this passage:

Idh’āvuso, bhikkhunā kammaṃ kātabbaṃ hoti. Tassa evaṃ hoti – ‘kammaṃ kho me kātabbaṃ bhavissati, kammaṃ kho pana me karontena na sukaraṃ buddhānaṃ sāsanaṃ manasi kātuṃ, hand’āhaṃ vīriyaṃ ārabhāmi appattassa pattiyā anadhigatassa adhigamāya, asacchikatassa sacchikiriyāyā’ti!

Here, o friend, the Bhikkhu has some duty to attend to (kammaṃ kātabbaṃ – work to do). So this occurs to him: “I will do some work. While doing a work it is not easy (sukaraṃ) to keep the Buddhas’ teaching in mind. What if I were to arouse my energies to attain to what I have not attained to yet, to achieve what I have not yet achieved, to realize what I yet have not realized!”.

from the DighaNikāya, Saṅgītisutta.

Now, as you can see, he does not mean in this case that it is difficult to learn the Buddhas teaching. This very comprehensible passage gives us a great leverage in grasping the connotation of meaning when we hear the Buddha talk about “manasi karoti” – to keep in mind, summarizing all said before, in the Buddha’s sense, means the following:

to keep ones attention fixed on it, to keep it present in mind, to focus on it, to not let it slip.

Yes, of course that is ([a form of] concentration) meditation!

In a certain sense this may not be such new news to some, but IMHO it is very illuminating to see what the Buddha asked his monks to do before getting ready to talk about the Dhamma. Long suspected by many, listening to a sermon of the Buddha was unlike attending a public talk at a political convention. It did not resemble a modern day audience which just gets “hooked” and “carried away” on words/thoughts. The purpose was not alone to merely listen or memorize: At least some Dhamma talks, especially in a monastic environment were more like training sesssions.  Rather than simply creating a substitute for craving (sounds) or thoughts we here see the Buddha trying to encourage his monks to turn the activity of listening to him into a meditation session: to turn their attention to the content of his teachings and put them right away into a mode of practice of applying his very words – yes, almost like what we would call a “guided meditation”. Now, this also puts the repetitions into an entirely different light, doesn’t it :-)

Once we understand that the term manasi karoti or “manasikāra” (which is its form when used as a noun) means keeping attentively in mind, observing, focusing on, to bring to mind (and keep it there), “(ver)gegenwaertigen” (German), “se représenter qc., attirer l’attention” (French) then such passages as the following appear in a much more pragmatic light:

‘‘Katamā cāvuso, samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā ñāṇadassanapaṭilābhāya saṃvattati? Idhāvuso, bhikkhu ālokasaññaṃ manasi karoti, divāsaññaṃ adhiṭṭhāti yathā divā tathā rattiṃ, yathā rattiṃ tathā divā. Iti vivaṭena cetasā apariyonaddhena sappabhāsaṃ cittaṃ bhāveti. Ayaṃ, āvuso samādhibhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā ñāṇadassanapaṭilābhāya saṃvattati. (DN, Saṅgītisuttaṃ)

araññasaññaṃ paṭicca manasi karoti ekattaṃ. (MN, Cūḷasuññatasuttaṃ)

‘‘Accharāsaṅghātamattampi ce, bhikkhave, bhikkhu mettācittaṃ manasi karoti; ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave – ‘bhikkhu arittajjhāno viharati satthusāsanakaro ovādapatikaro amoghaṃ raṭṭhapiṇḍaṃ bhuñjati’. Ko pana vādo ye naṃ bahulīkarontī’’ti! (AN, I.)

‘‘Idha pana, bhikkhave, bhikkhu aññataraṃ santaṃ cetovimuttiṃ upasampajja viharati. So avijjāppabhedaṃ manasi karoti. Tassa avijjāppabhedaṃ manasi karoto avijjāppabhede cittaṃ pakkhandati pasīdati santiṭṭhati adhimuccati. Tassa kho evaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno avijjāppabhedo pāṭikaṅkho. (AN, 3.Jambālīsuttaṃ)

dūrepi saddānaṃ saddanimittaṃ manasi karoti, santikepi saddānaṃ saddanimittaṃ manasi karoti, (Patisambhidhamagga)

Tattha yaṃ sasatthārammaṇaṃ cittaṃ pavattaṃ ayaṃ buddhānussati. Yampi bhagavato guṇe manasi karoti, ayamassa dhammānussati. (Petakopadesa, just beautiful. You need to read that full passage.)

Vedanāsu vedanāññatarāhaṃ, bhikkhave, evaṃ vadāmi yadidaṃ – assāsapassāsānaṃ sādhukaṃ manasikāraṃ. (SN, Vedanāsamyutta)

Manasikārasamudayā dhammānaṃ samudayo; manasikāranirodhā dhammānaṃ atthaṅgamo’’ti. (SN, Mahavagga, Samudayasuttaṃ)

‘‘Kāmarāgaṭṭhāniyānaṃ,  bhikkhave, dhammānaṃ manasikārabahulīkārā anuppanno ceva kāmacchando uppajjati, uppanno ca kāmacchando bhiyyobhāvāya vepullāya saṃvattati. (SN, Mahavagga as well, Ṭhāniyasuttaṃ)

That was probably convincing enough. But, we are not done yet. On purpose we were looking only at places were the manasikāra appears without the “yoniso“, and adverb which the Buddha especially employed whenever he wanted to stress the insight-meditation character of using “attention” or “bringing it to mind”, manasikāra.

So, what does yoniso mean? It is an adverb (yoni + so) from the noun yoni, which literally means womb.

It’s basic meaning can be derived by reading a simple and straightfoward passage once again:

Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu paṭisaṅkhā yoniso cīvaraṃ paṭisevati – ‘yāvadeva sītassa paṭighātāya, uṇhassa paṭighātāya, ḍaṃsamakasavātātapasarīṃsapa- samphassānaṃ paṭighātāya, yāvadeva hirikopīnappaṭicchādanatthaṃ’.

In this Teaching, monks, a thoroughly reflecting monk, uses a robe simply for warding of the cold, for warding off the heat, for warding of the touch of gadfly, mosquito, wind and sun, creeping things, simply for the sake of covering his nakedness.”

As you can see, here the yoniso just means “thoroughly”. In the sense that you try to be comprehensive and thorough with your reflection. Let’s quote a few more individual instances before we see how the Buddha uses these two words in explaining insight meditation:

Tatrapi sudaṃ soṇadaṇḍo brāhmaṇo etadeva bahulamanuvitakkento nisinno hoti – ‘‘ahañceva kho pana samaṇaṃ gotamaṃ pañhaṃ puccheyyaṃ; tatra ce maṃ samaṇo gotamo evaṃ vadeyya – ‘na kho esa, brāhmaṇa, pañho evaṃ pucchitabbo, evaṃ nāmesa, brāhmaṇa, pañho pucchitabbo’ti, tena maṃ ayaṃ parisā paribhaveyya – ‘bālo soṇadaṇḍo brāhmaṇo abyatto, nāsakkhi samaṇaṃ gotamaṃ yoniso pañhaṃ pucchitun‘ti. Mamañceva kho pana samaṇo gotamo pañhaṃ puccheyya, tassa cāhaṃ pañhassa veyyākaraṇena cittaṃ na ārādheyyaṃ; tatra ce maṃ samaṇo gotamo evaṃ vadeyya – ‘na kho esa, brāhmaṇa, pañho evaṃ byākātabbo, evaṃ nāmesa, brāhmaṇa, pañho byākātabbo’ti, tena maṃ ayaṃ parisā paribhaveyya – ‘bālo soṇadaṇḍo brāhmaṇo abyatto, nāsakkhi samaṇassa gotamassa pañhassa veyyākaraṇena cittaṃ ārādhetun’ti. (DN, Soṇadaṇḍasutta)

Now the following hesitation arose in Sonadanda’s mind as he passed through the wood: ‘Were I to ask the Samana Gotama a question, if he were to say: “The question ought not to be asked so, thus ought the question to be framed;” the company might thereupon speak of me with disrespect, saying: “Foolish is this Sonadanda the Brahman, and inexpert. He is not even able to ask a question rightly.” But if they did so my reputation would decrease; and with my reputation my incomings would grow less, for what we have to enjoy, that depends on our reputation. But if the Samana Gotama were to put a question to me, I might not be able to gain his approval{1} by my explanation of the problem. And if they were then to say to me: “The question ought not to be answered so; thus ought the problem to be explained;” the company might thereupon speak of me with disrespect, saying: “Foolish is this Sonadanda the Brahman, and inexpert. He is not even able to satisfy the Samana Gotama by his explanation of the problem put.”

Saṃvego ca saṃvejanīyesu ṭhānesu saṃviggassa ca yoniso padhānaṃ. (DN, Saṅgītisutta)

Urgency and the proper fight of the one filled with urgency regarding occasions which cause urgency.

Ṭhānañca kho etaṃ vijjati yaṃ bhagavā evaṃ byākareyya – āsañcepi karitvā ayoniso brahmacariyaṃ caranti, abhabbā phalassa adhigamāya; anāsañcepi karitvā ayoniso brahmacariyaṃ caranti, abhabbā phalassa adhigamāya; ..Āsañcepi karitvā yoniso brahmacariyaṃ caranti, bhabbā phalassa adhigamāya; anāsañcepi karitvā yoniso brahmacariyaṃ caranti, bhabbā phalassa adhigamāya;…Taṃ kissa hetu? Ayoni hesā, bhūmija, phalassa adhigamāya. ‘‘Seyyathāpi, bhūmija, puriso telatthiko telagavesī telapariyesanaṃ caramāno vālikaṃ doṇiyā ākiritvā udakena paripphosakaṃ paripphosakaṃ pīḷeyya. Āsañcepi karitvā vālikaṃ doṇiyā ākiritvā udakena paripphosakaṃ paripphosakaṃ pīḷeyya, abhabbo telassa adhigamāya; anāsañcepi karitvā vālikaṃ doṇiyā ākiritvā udakena paripphosakaṃ paripphosakaṃ pīḷeyya, abhabbo telassa adhigamāya; āsañca anāsañcepi karitvā vālikaṃ doṇiyā ākiritvā udakena paripphosakaṃ paripphosakaṃ pīḷeyya, abhabbo telassa adhigamāya; nevāsaṃ nānāsañcepi karitvā vālikaṃ doṇiyā ākiritvā udakena paripphosakaṃ paripphosakaṃ pīḷeyya, abhabbo telassa adhigamāya. Taṃ kissa hetu? Ayoni h’esā, bhūmija, telassa adhigamāya. (MN Suññatavaggo, Bhūmijasutta)

Bhumija, whoever recluses and brahmins with wrong, view, thoughts, speech, actions, livelihood, endeavour, mindfulness and concentration were to lead the holy life with attachment, it is not possible to attain some distinction. Were to lead the holy life without attachment, it is not possible to attain some distinction. Were to lead the holy life with and without attachment, it is not possible to attain some distinction. Were to lead the holy life neither with nor without attachment it is not possible to attain some distinction. What is the reason? Because it is not the right method to attain a result.

Bhumija, it is like a man in search of oil, was to put some sand in a trough and while sprinkling it with water was to press it for oil. Even if he was to press it with attachment, without attachment, with and without attachment, neither with nor without attachment, he would not obtain oil. What is the reason? Bhåmija it is not the right method to obtain oil.

dhammadīpānaṃ dhammasaraṇānaṃ anaññasaraṇānaṃ yoni upaparikkhitabbā. (SN, Khandhasamyutta, 5.1)

Monks, the monk who abides becoming a light and refuge to his self, not searching another refuge, considering the Teaching as his light and refuge, not searching another Teaching, should investigate wisely. (This itself is from such a beautiful Sutta: [link])

‘‘Tīhi, bhikkhave, dhammehi samannāgato bhikkhu diṭṭheva dhamme sukhasomanassabahulo viharati, yoni cassa āraddhā hoti āsavānaṃ khayāya. Katamehi tīhi? Indriyesu guttadvāro hoti, bhojane mattaññū, jāgariyaṃ anuyutto.

With three, o monks, things equipped, a monk will often dwell happy and at peace here and now and his effort to eradicate the influxes will be properly/thoroughly aroused: With which three things? He is guarding the doors of his senses, he keeps restraint regarding food and he stays awake a lot.

‘‘Sādhu sādhu, hatthaka! Yoni kho tyāyaṃ, hatthaka, mahatiṃ parisaṃ saṅgahetuṃ. (AN, 8. Hatthakasutta)

“Hatthaka, it is good! You have wisely got together this huge gathering”

All of the above show, that yoniso has actually not really that much to do with thoroughly, even if we might embrace such a meaning just looking from an etymological standpoint. But that does not help us much, as we have to see the contextual meaning in which the word was used during the life time of the Buddha. The above situations show quite clearly that the contemporary idea of ayoni(so) or yoni(so) was one of “right/smart/correct/proper(ly)” vs. “false, wrong, stupid, improper(ly)“.

Now let’s look at some passages where both appear together:

Asubhanimittaṃ, bhikkhave, yoniso manasi karoto anuppanno ceva kāmacchando nuppajjati uppanno ca kāmacchando pahīyatī’’ti.

An ugly object, o monks, properly keeping (it) in mind, the un-arisen sensual desire will not arise and the arisen sensual desire will disappear.

Mettaṃ, bhikkhave, cetovimuttiṃ yoniso manasi karoto anuppanno ceva byāpādo nuppajjati uppanno ca byāpādo pahīyatī’’ti.

avikkhittacitto dhammaṃ suṇāti, ekaggacitto yoniso ca manasi karoti.

Therefore, if we combine our two pieces of information we get quite a rich new meaning. Especially when we apply it back to those passages where yoniso manasikāra is mentioned. Now, we hear the Buddha talk about the “correct application of attention”. It is all about keeping the right or correct things in mind. We see how this meaning is applied in many instructions clearly dealing with instructions for meditation. This is no different in the passage we quoted at the beginning of this post.

Rather than focusing on thoughts which lead to nowhere, the Buddha encourages us to attend to those thoughts itself so that  we see how they really have sprung into existance (yathābhūta ñāṇadassana – which is althogether another story for another day :-)

Finally, the riddle’s solution:

‘‘Cakkhuṃ, bhikkhave, yoniso manasi karotha; cakkhāniccatañca yathābhūtaṃ samanupassatha. Cakkhuṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhu yoniso manasikaronto, cakkhāniccatañca yathābhūtaṃ samanupassanto cakkhusmimpi nibbindati. Nandikkhayā rāgakkhayo; rāgakkhayā nandikkhayo. Nandirāgakkhayā cittaṃ suvimuttanti vuccati.

Properly keep the eye-sight in mind, o monks; See the impermanence of the eye-sight as it manifests. When a monk, o monks, sees the impermanence of eye-sight as it manifests properly keeping it in mind, he will not find anything (fascinating) with regard to the eye-sight. From the eradication of delight comes the eradication of fascination. From the destruction of fascination comes the destruction of delight. ‘When delight (nandi) and fascination/desire (rāga) are destroyed the mind is fully liberated’ – thus I say.

So, give it a try. Right here, right now. Move your attention from the content of these lines towards the process of seeing itself. Try too keep that in your mind, holding your observation right there. See how the seeing disappears, replaced by moments of thoughts, replaced by moments of hearing…Keep doing this as often as you can for as long as you can (nibbidabahulo) and you are on the right track to Awakening!

Thank you for your attention :-)

Comparing Buddhist techniques of observing (vipassana) we can distinguish three approaches:

The first one defines itself as merely “observing what is” in a supposedly neutral fashion. Various traditions define this to be simple a “looking at what is happening” without interference. Lets disregard for a moment the level of concentration which may or may not have occurred or practiced up to that point, this particular school of thought traditionally believes that it suffices to “mindfully observe”. For them thirst is usually equivalent with craving, desire or aversion in emotions.

The second approach inherits everything aforesaid, however they would postulate, that the first mode of observation is overlooking a subtle but important point: If we agree, that our object of observation is name-and-form as well as consciousness and that they are held together by some form of deep rooted thirst for being, than that implies that every moment where we consciously experience a moment of “here am I observing” and “there is the object I observed” we are already grasping. We are already agreeing (maññati) in one form or the other that the observed is ours or belongs to us – which means putting us into a relationship with it. Thus they challenge that if we were to “just let ourselves observe” we actually are grabbing the snake not at its head but in most moments of meditational experience we grab it somewhere at its body or tail. Thus the meditation would in turn consist most of the time of continuous grasping at thoughts, feelings, perceptions, etc. and not qualify at what the Buddha indicated as “yoniso manasikara” or an “attention going to the source/origin/womb” of experience. Buddhist schools who propagate this insight then usually introduce a technique of noting to stop the mind right after any experience given. The idea is reflected in the Buddha’s explanation (see SN, Salayatanavagga etc.) that the meditator has to see whatever arises as
“impermanent”, “painful”, “empty” etc. These labels which are used as short descriptions are a form of using name itself in its most basic form of attention (see MN 9) to stop short the proliferating process of the mind which sets in after each sense impression gets registered. Here then, the meditator tries to grab the snake of unfolding sense-experience as close to the head as he can get. In the beginning this practice will very much look like the former method described, but eventually lead beyond it, much closer to the range of an experiential event-horizon where in each moment the world of name-form and consciousness is born. Such an approach creates an ultimate tool of “wisdom which sees the rising and falling” of the world (six senses) without compromise. A compromise would mean letting the mind unfold into a relationship with the object at which end a person would perceive itself observing – caught up in outright duality.

The third approach in turn inherits everything aforesaid, but it does not allow for any “excuse” to not note. In other words, while the second approach or school of meditators may still cave in and justify an intentional change in their meditation observation this third approach would argue that once we enter this sharp mode of observation that now anything must be observed equally outright. For example: While some insight meditation teachers in the second school of thought legitimize that a student may “change his meditation object if a secondary object becomes prevalent” this third method of observation would argue that there is no such thing. If we attend to anything observed trying to just see what happens at its core, than even a desire/intent to switch objects can only be noted. To take it up and willingly change the meditation object would resemble a shallower approach, would in fact mean to take up and grasp at the observed! In this line of argument nothing remains not to be noted once we start our meditation sessions, including the noting itself should it become an object of consciousness! It would actually be hard to ever stop this meditation again, but as we all know, desire and samsara will eventually end even this meditator’s meditation session when painful identification with his body becomes overwhelming and lets him take it up and self-identify again.

However, as it can be seen just from a mere theoretical perspective – these three approaches all try to help the meditator loose his deep-rooted love with seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting…thinking. Just as the Buddha encourages anyone who wants to replicate his Nirvanic experiment, as we can glean from many suttas at the core of all Buddhist schools. Here two quick samples:

SN, Salayatanavagga. Pahānasutta. [pi]

‘Sabbappahānāya vo, bhikkhave, dhammaṃ desessāmi. Taṃ suṇātha. Katamo ca, bhikkhave, sabbappahānāya dhammo? Cakkhuṃ, bhikkhave, pahātabbaṃ, rūpā pahātabbā, cakkhuviññāṇaṃ pahātabbaṃ, cakkhusamphasso pahātabbo , yampidaṃ cakkhusamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi pahātabbaṃ…pe… yampidaṃ sotasamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi pahātabbaṃ… yampidaṃ ghānasamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi pahātabbaṃ. Jivhā pahātabbā, rasā pahātabbā, jivhāviññāṇaṃ pahātabbaṃ, jivhāsamphasso pahātabbo, yampidaṃ jivhāsamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi pahātabbaṃ. Kāyo pahātabbo… mano pahātabbo, dhammā pahātabbā, manoviññāṇaṃ pahātabbaṃ, manosamphasso pahātabbo, yampidaṃ manosamphassapaccayā uppajjati vedayitaṃ sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā tampi pahātabbaṃ. Ayaṃ kho, bhikkhave, sabbappahānāya dhammo’’ti.

“Monks, I will teach you the All as a phenomenon to be abandoned (pajahati = to leave, abandon, lose; give up, renounce, forsake). Listen and pay close attention. I will speak.” “As you say, lord,” the monks responded.
The Blessed One said, “And which All is a phenomenon to be abandoned? The eye is to be abandoned. Forms are to be abandoned. Consciousness at the eye is to be abandoned. Contact at the eye is to be abandoned. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the eye — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too is to be abandoned. “The ear is to be abandoned. Sounds are to be abandoned…
“The nose is to be abandoned. Aromas are to be abandoned… “The tongue is to be abandoned. Flavors are to be abandoned…  ”The body is to be abandoned. Tactile sensations are to be abandoned… “The mind is to be abandoned. Mental objects are to be abandoned. Consciousness at the mind is to be abandoned. Contact at the mind is to be abandoned. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the mind — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too is to be abandoned. “This is called the All as a phenomenon to be abandoned.”

“Monks, I will teach you the All as a phenomenon to be abandoned (pajahati = to leave, abandon, lose; give up, renounce, forsake). Listen and pay close attention. I will speak.” “As you say, lord,” the monks responded. The Blessed One said, “And which All is a phenomenon to be abandoned? The eye is to be abandoned. Forms are to be abandoned. Consciousness at the eye is to be abandoned. Contact at the eye is to be abandoned. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the eye — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too is to be abandoned. “The ear is to be abandoned. Sounds are to be abandoned… ”The nose is to be abandoned. Aromas are to be abandoned… “The tongue is to be abandoned. Flavors are to be abandoned…  ”The body is to be abandoned. Tactile sensations are to be abandoned… “The mind is to be abandoned. Mental objects are to be abandoned. Consciousness at the mind is to be abandoned. Contact at the mind is to be abandoned. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on contact at the mind — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too is to be abandoned. “This is called the All as a phenomenon to be abandoned.”

While the above one describes the general idea, the following sutta would give us detailed instructions. Please note the fact that anything (without exception) has to be noted, and secondly how a short label seems to be applied here to stop the mind short as quick as possible to just observe without “getting into” or becoming “part of” the story:

SN, Khandasamyutta, Sonasutta: [pi]

‘‘Tasmātiha, soṇa, yaṃ kiñci rūpaṃ atītānāgatapaccuppannaṃ ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā yaṃ dūre santike vā, sabbaṃ rūpaṃ ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ.

‘‘Yā kāci vedanā… yā kāci saññā… ye keci saṅkhārā… yaṃ kiñci viññāṇaṃ atītānāgatapaccuppannaṃ ajjhattaṃ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṃ vā sukhumaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā paṇītaṃ vā yaṃ dūre santike vā, sabbaṃ viññāṇaṃ ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ.

‘‘Evaṃ passaṃ, soṇa, sutavā ariyasāvako rūpasmimpi nibbindati, vedanāyapi nibbindati, saññāyapi nibbindati, saṅkhāresupi nibbindati, viññāṇasmimpi nibbindati. Nibbindaṃ virajjati; virāgā vimuccati. Vimuttasmiṃ vimuttamiti ñāṇaṃ hoti. ‘Khīṇā jāti, vusitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ, kataṃ karaṇīyaṃ, nāparaṃ itthattāyā’ti pajānātī’’ti.

Therefore Soṇa, whatever form in the past, future, or at present, internal or external, rough or fine, unexalted or exalted, far or near, all that has to be seen, as it became with fully knowing: “it is not mine, this am I not, it is not my self”.

20.-23. Whatever feelings and whatever perceptions and whatever intentions in the past, future, or at present, internal or external, rough or fine, unexalted or exalted, far or near, all that has to be seen, as it became with fully knowing: “it is not mine, this am I not, it is not my self”.

24. Soṇa, the learned noble disciple seeing it thus turns from form, turns from feelings, turns from perceptions, turns from intentions and turns from consciousness. Turning looses interest. Loosing interest is released and knowledge arises I am released. He knows, `Birth is destroyed, the holy life is lived to the end, duties are done, and there is nothing more to wish.’

The first mode of practice is currently widespread esp. in Western circles of meditation, usually under a Mahayana influence where the knowledge of the Sutta Pitaka with its psychological emphasis of the five groups of graspings or six sense spheres was replaced by a more philosophical interpretation. This makes it harder to see how applicable but also more profound their application to meditation would be. Usually Zen-affiliated or purely jhana teaching groups, which are more likely to be sceptical of  the techniques of noting, fall into this category.

The second mode of practice is typical for Mahāsi but also Goenka systems of which there are many variations these days. It is characterized by (at some point) interfering with the process of noting for the benefit of “the technique” which, funny enough, seems to limit its thoroughness right at that moment.

The third application of all-around exception-less noting is taught also in a few Mahāsi derived vipassanā groups.

The beautiful thing though is that texts like the above to snippets quoted from the Samyutta Nikaya have survived in almost all Buddhist traditions (usually at their core – where hardly anyone reads them :-( ) which has in the past and probably will in the future rekindle new and creative ways when someone turns the Buddha’s blueprint into a meditation – first for himself and then successfully instructing others. Thanks for your attention and good luck with your application of thorough (yoniso) attention.

2500 years lie between us and Buddha Gotama, but even though the historical and cultural gap seems so unbridgeable to our intellect, it is moments like the following that remind us of the eternal presence of the Dhamma – not as a religious doctrine – but a simple yet profound description of reality:

‘‘Atha kho, bhikkhave, tassa purisassa evamassa – ‘ahaṃ kho amussā itthiyā sāratto paṭibaddhacitto tibbacchando tibbāpekkho. Tassa me amuṃ itthiṃ disvā aññena purisena saddhiṃ santiṭṭhantiṃ sallapantiṃ sañjagghantiṃ saṃhasantiṃ uppajjanti sokaparidevadukkhadomanassūpāyāsā. Yaṃnūnāhaṃ yo me amussā itthiyā chandarāgo taṃ pajaheyyan’ti.

So yo amussā itthiyā chandarāgo taṃ pajaheyya. So taṃ itthiṃ passeyya aparena samayena aññena purisena saddhiṃ santiṭṭhantiṃ sallapantiṃ sañjagghantiṃ saṃhasantiṃ. Taṃ kiṃ maññatha, bhikkhave, api nu tassa purisassa amuṃ itthiṃ disvā aññena purisena saddhiṃ santiṭṭhantiṃ sallapantiṃ sañjagghantiṃ saṃhasantiṃ uppajjeyyuṃ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassūpāyāsā’’ti?

‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’. ‘‘Taṃ kissa hetu’’? ‘‘Amu hi, bhante, puriso amussā itthiyā virāgo. Tasmā taṃ itthiṃ disvā aññena purisena saddhiṃ santiṭṭhantiṃ sallapantiṃ sañjagghantiṃ saṃhasantiṃ na uppajjeyyuṃ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassūpāyāsā’’ti.

Suppose that a man is in love with a woman, his mind ensnared with fierce desire, fierce passion. He sees her standing with another man, chatting, joking, & laughing. What do you think, monks: As he sees her standing with another man, chatting, joking, & laughing, would sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair arise in him?”

“Yes, lord. Why is that? Because he is in love with her, his mind ensnared with fierce desire, fierce passion…”

“Now suppose the thought were to occur to him, ‘I am in love with this woman, my mind ensnared with fierce desire, fierce passion. When I see her standing with another man, chatting, joking, & laughing, then sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair arise within me. Why don’t I abandon my desire & passion for that woman?’ So he abandons his desire & passion for that woman, and afterwards sees her standing with another man, chatting, joking, & laughing. What do you think, monks: As he sees her standing with another man, chatting, joking, & laughing, would sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair arise in him?”

“No, lord. Why is that? He is dispassionate toward that woman…”

MN [en] [pi]

Many, many years ago, when I read through the Majjhima Nikaya the first time (in this life  :-) ) I remember that I was struck by the simplicity yet profound implications of this particular passage. Obviously, there is probably no one on this planet who cannot relate to the context or simile which the Buddha turns into a tool for insight.

The simile of the “love lost” tries to explain that something very very similar is at the heart of all our suffering – at the very heart of the mystery of life.

For one it is very easy to translate this passage into any contemporary language. The situation is so universal that it is quite easy to transfer it into our own modern world – or any future. At the same time there are at least three fundamental terms which the Buddha uses in this simile, concepts which the Buddha also applies to much more profound parts of his teaching. So in a certain sense, we are looking at (one) Rosetta stone of the Buddha’s Dhamma – allowing us to breath the same air (so to speak) as Indian people 2500 years ago sitting in front of the Buddha. This in itself is remarkable. We know possess a “can opener” to unravel some of the deeper implications of his Dhamma by embracing the spirit of this simile and applying it to other passages where we see the Buddha use the exact same vocabulary to describe phenomena which usually escape us or – which we cannot experientally understand and therefore tend to view as philosophical expression or metaphysical descriptions.

So, let’s have a closer look at this. What happens in us / with us, when we are successful in loosing interest in a girl/man of the opposite sex? What do we have to do in order to achieve such a dispassion about that person? What takes place when we do see the other person and now react in a different way?

This is an invitation, obviously, for deep introspection…

For this simile to have any effect on you, you have to visualize the process the Buddha is talking about. Put yourself in the place of that person. First, when overcome with affection, later when he decided to not care anymore, how does his mind-set changes when he sees her again?

I recommend you do this a couple of times and then, from one moment to the other, now you look at the six senses in exactly the same way…try to apply the simile and see what you feel or what happens…

If we can unravel this, then, and this is the crucial point, then why not apply the same to something which until now we have embraced with even stronger ties of love: all forms, all feelings, all perceptions, all mental activities, all (re)cognition. To all sights, sounds, smell, taste, touch and thoughts?

At this point, I would like to move your attention to a second very powerful and by no means new simile with which the Buddha used to express a very similar thought/reflection. Maybe we can connect the dots…

‘‘Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, yaṃ imasmiṃ jetavane tiṇakaṭṭhasākhāpalāsaṃ taṃ jano hareyya vā ḍaheyya vā yathāpaccayaṃ vā kareyya.

Api nu tumhākaṃ evamassa – ‘amhe jano harati vā ḍahati vā yathāpaccayaṃ vā karotī’’’ti?

‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’. ‘‘Taṃ kissa hetu’’? ‘‘Na hi no etaṃ, bhante, attā vā attaniyaṃ vā’’ti. ‘‘Evameva kho, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ na tumhākaṃ, taṃ pajahatha.

Taṃ vo pahīnaṃ hitāya sukhāya bhavissati.

were to gather or burn or do as he likes with the grass, twigs, branches, & leaves here in ’s Grove. Would the thought occur to you, ‘It’s us that this person is gathering, burning, or doing with as he likes’?”

“No, lord. Why is that? Because those things are not our self nor are they like our self.”

“In the same way, monks, the forms are not yours: let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness & benefit… The sounds… The smell… The taste… The touch… The thoughts are not yours: let go of them. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness & benefit…

SN. 35. 101. [en]

Please do not just read over this simile. I would suggest that you visualize this particular scenario. Just give it a few minutes and think it through. Make yourself believe to be the firewood, being carried away, without control over yourself. How silly that thought might be. Just picture it. Someone comes and picks you up. They break you in half, they take you to a fire, they throw you into the fire, there is nothing you can do.

Oh, yes, we forgot: Of course we would never identify ourselves with branches and twigs lying around in the forest. Especially not if we see someone else take them up and carry around. But yet, that is exactly what we do (or rather: what is taking place) with regard to forms, feelings, perceptions, mental activities and cognition. One six-sense-impression moment after the other.

Now, at least theoretically knowing what needs to be done, we “only” have to turn this advise of the Buddha into reality. Luckily, the Buddha does have quite a lot to say about how this can be done – practically –  and in many instances using similarly powerful similes thus mapping out the entire path for us. What a beautiful simple yet clear path through the forest of experiences. Let’s go :-)

That plan of yours which you carry within you, those goals and ideals, dreams and motives: You have had them before. If you accept rebirth then logic dictates, that maybe at a different time and different place you may have well moved in similar tracks. In other words:

If it is beneficial to you and others? We know, you can do it! Don’t give up! If it is unwholesome to you, others and both? Than resist the tendency to repeat it. Slow done or reverse the slippery slope of old pathways!

Moving in similar tracks: If people really understood how their minds operate, would they continue to consume sense impressions (movies, TV, places, situations and other) in the way they normally do?

All those impressions although evaporating into thin air once watched or heard or experienced are nevertheless very likely to turn into triggers and conditions. They will set in motion chains of events. They pull on former tracks, they deepen them, they set the stage, drop by drop, for new tracks. Can you see how these tracks grow, after viewing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, pondering? First just the flashes of feeling, then the fire of thoughts and at a later stage followed by an impetus to act?

When the senses register and the cloud of feeling, of sensation sourrounds us, thoughts are born. Have enough thoughts go in one direction and a decision is made. What is a decision? Thought tracks deep enough that the simple registration of a sense gives rise to enough self=identification so that we move or talk. The impetus towards identification (i.e. moha) becomes so overwhelming, that we become the tracks, melting into one, “becoming” what is. That is why, with the cessation of ignorance of exactly this process, we find release, nissaranainstantaneously.

Awakening – the arrival at a stage where we effortlessly know and see all that is going on. The strongest tracks of all, however, the asavas, which feel like we become overpowered and almost instantly married and possessed by a train of thoughts – are those tracks really gone?

We cannot stop the “wispering” of the sense-wind but we can eliminate its programming. Even though accumulation and habits may have formed in the past, the activity of this machinery happens anew in each moment. That is where the Awakened One’s Awakening truly transforms his mind, speech and body. This is where his freedom from ignorance replaced by knowing works wonders. Could such a state be called utter freedom? At the very least it could be called “seeing and knowing”, janato passato.

“‘‘Yathāvādī kho, āvuso, sadevake loke samārake sabrahmake sassamaṇabrāhmaṇiyā pajāya sadevamanussāya na kenaci loke viggayha tiṭṭhati, yathā ca pana kāmehi visaṃyuttaṃ viharantaṃ taṃ brāhmaṇaṃ akathaṃkathiṃ chinnakukkuccaṃ bhavābhave vītataṇhaṃ saññā nānusenti – evaṃvādī kho ahaṃ, āvuso, evamakkhāyī’’ti.”

According to whatever doctrine, friend, one does not quarrel with anyone in this world with its divine and evil beings, with its highest gods and groups of ascetics and brahmins, simply because he dwells disconnected from the senses, for such a holy one, who is past a state of looking for answers, who cut through incertitude, who has no thirst left neither for being nor for not-being, whom perceptions do not haunt- such is my teaching, friend, such do I proclaim.


Feeling is like rain, a continuous stream of drops. Sometimes it is lovely warm like mild summer rain, at other times cold chilly and piercingly painful as a heavy shower of rain in the midst of autumn.

To us the world hardly ever stops there. When a spell of rain turns in either direction – too attractive or too painful – it is the chain of thoughts with which we identify immediately, defining ourself. Justifications, longing, rejection, sorrow, lamentation…

But what if we get disconnected – continuously – at the level where we can watch the rain drop on our six sense spheres?

We would witness that if a certain amount of either pleasant or unpleasant feelings persist, that they then in turn will give rise to thoughts. They in turn make us “take up the matter”. First in thoughts, then in words and eventually bodily movements. It is not, that they “make us” take up the matter: If you happen to watch it, real close while it happens, you can see of course how the thoughts are “born”. They are literally being born – and, due to the condition they are born under they will carry a positive or negative spin.

Intention when unseen is the final acknowledgement that we completely identify with and embrace our feelings. At that low level of mental processing the external and internal is yet so close, it almost “appears” here as one. Like the world appears to us, when we just woke up from a very lively dream…it takes some time to “get back”, i.e get our mental machine going again which nests us into this world so cozily. Usually though, our event horizon is right on top of the products of our sensual and mental abstraction (the names) of the world, which surrounds us (the forms).

What if we just were to watch the rain?

…‘‘Yatonidānaṃ, bhikkhu, purisaṃ papañcasaññāsaṅkhā samudācaranti. Ettha ce n’atthi abhinanditabbaṃ abhivaditabbaṃ ajjhositabbaṃ. Es’ev’anto rāgānusayānaṃ, esevanto paṭighānusayānaṃ, esevanto diṭṭhānusayānaṃ, esevanto vicikicchānusayānaṃ, esevanto mānānusayānaṃ, esevanto bhavarāgānusayānaṃ, esevanto avijjānusayānaṃ, esevanto daṇḍādāna-satthādāna-kalaha-viggaha-vivāda-tuvaṃtuvaṃ-pesuñña-musāvādānaṃ. Etthete pāpakā akusalā dhammā aparisesā nirujjhantī’ti. Idamavoca bhagavā.

From whatever source, o monks, a man is confronted by those chains of proliferating perceptions – if HERE there is nothing for him to be delighted in, to go along with them, to enter into them – then that in itself is the end of following passion, this in itself is the end of following aversion, this in itself is the end of views, this in itself is the end of doubt, this in itself is the end of measuring ourself, this in itself is the end of passion for being, this in itself is the end of not-knowing, this in itself is the end of taking rods and weapons, quarrels, disputes, accusations, slander and false speech. Here then all these bad unwholesome things are completely dissolved. This said the Blessed One.


The Buddha says that it is possible to detach ourselves from what everyone believes to be “them”. In fact he makes a very convincing case for knowing and seeing samsaric nature not just out there, around us, but on exactly the same level, internally – it is all equally to be seen and right there left alone. Vision, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking are equal in their fundamental characteristics. How long or rather: how much would it take to awaken to that level of understanding and all-observation, as mentioned in the above paragraph? One thing is for certain: That level of observation, once reached – it in itself is the end of the noble eightfold path.

So h’āvuso, Bhagavā jānaṃ jānāti, passaṃ passati, cakkhubhūto ñāṇabhūto dhammabhūto brahmabhūto, vattā pavattā, atthassa ninnetā, amatassa dātā, dhammassāmī tathāgato.

He verily, friends, the Blessed One, knowing he knows, seeing he sees. He has become Vision, he has become Knowledge, he has become the Law, he has become brahmic – the Speaker, the Proclaimer, the Guide to Meaning, the Giver of Deathlessness, the Lord of the Law, is the One who arrived (at being) Thus.

James’ story: “One afternoon when I was sleepy but still awake I heard noises. Unable to move or speak up I was caught watching what happened. Vipassana set in and observed the events. Each time a sound would register it would trigger an unpleasant feeling. Just a drop. But as the noises kept coming those drops turned into a stronger and stronger shower of rain. As if they set the stage, thoughts started to arise. Out of nowhere. Like bubbles on the water, caused by the raindrops. Following the unpleasant sensations the thoughts themselves were negative, themselves triggering mental unpleasant feelings, helping the rain to grow even stronger. It would not need much more and I could see myself embrace/identify with and “become” those feelings, thoughts, intentions. Get out of my fragile mode of observation which I was balancing in, caught between a sleep and a wake state of mind.

I could see how this fire of sensations would flare up and burn me, turn me into a burning log. Burning by aversion or passion or just not seeing what is going on at other times. I could also see, that if I were to stay here, and have learnt such a level of detachment, it would just be the ocean of feelings that come and go, but nothing more. The thoughts, which would arise would not turn into chains of perceptions coming back to haunt me. They, just as all the other sensations would come and – not being taken up – disintegrate without the fire ever-growing strong enough to “take me over”.

‘‘Cakkhuñcāvuso, paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassapaccayā vedanā, yaṃ vedeti taṃ sañjānāti, yaṃ sañjānāti taṃ vitakketi, yaṃ vitakketi taṃ papañceti, yaṃ papañceti tatonidānaṃ purisaṃ papañcasaññāsaṅkhā samudācaranti atītānāgatapaccuppannesu cakkhuviññeyyesu rūpesu.

Dependent on the sight, o friends, and the forms arises sight-recognition. The alignment of those three is “contact”. Dependent on contact is feeling. What one feels that one perceives. What one perceives that one thinks about. What one thinks about that one proliferates. What one proliferates based on that a man is assailed by chains of proliferated perceptions, with regard to past, present and future forms recognisable through sight.

Venerable Mahakaccayana’s response is superb. Venerable Nyanananda in his “Nibbana Sermon, 11” discusses it indetail:

The formula begins on an impersonal note, cakkhunc’àvuso paticca rupe ca uppajjati cakkhu vinnànam. The word paticca is reminiscent of the law of dependent arising. Tinnam sangati phasso, “the concurrence of the three is contact”.  Phassa paccayà vedanà, “conditioned by contact is feeling”. From here onwards the formula takes a different turn. Yam vedeti tam sanjànàti, yam sanjànàti tam vitakketi, yam vitakketi tam papanceti, “what one feels, one perceives; what one perceives, one reasons about; what one reasons about, one turns into papanca“.

In this way, we can distinguish three phases in this description of the process of sense perception in Venerable Mahà Kaccàna’s exposition. It begins with an impersonal note, but at the point of feeling it takes on a personal ending, suggestive of de liberate activity. Yam vedeti tam sanjànàti, yam sanjànàti tam vitakketi, yam vitakketi tam papanceti, “what one feels, one perceives; what one perceives, one reasons about; what one rea sons about, one turns into papanca (mental proliferation)“.

There is a special purpose in using the active voice in this context. It is in order to explain how a man is overwhelmed by papancasannàsankhà – whatever it may be – that Venerable Mahà Kaccàna has introduced this sequence of events in three phases. In fact, he is trying to fill in the gap in the rather elliptical statement of the Bud dha, beginning with yatonidànam, bhikkhu, purisam papancasannàsankhà samudàcaranti, “monk, from whatever source papanca sannà sankhà beset a man”. The initial phase is impersonal, but then comes the phase of active participation.

From feeling onwards, the person behind it takes over. What one feels, one perceives; what one perceives, one reasons about; what one reasons about, one turns into papanca. The grossest phase is the third. Venerable MahàKaccànas formula shows how the process of sense-perception gradually assumes a gross form. This third phase is implicit in the words yam papanceti tatonidànam purisam papancasannà­sankhà samudàcaranti, “what one turns into papanca, owing to that papanca sannà sankhà beset that man”. The word purisam is in the accusative case here, implying that the person who directed sense-perception is now beset with, or overwhelmed by, papancasannàsankhà, as a result of which all the evil unskilful mental states come to be. This itself is an index to the importance of the term papanca.

The course of events suggested by these three phases may be illustrated with the legend of the three magicians.

While journeying through a forest, three men, skilled in magic, came upon a scattered heap of bones of a tiger. To display their skill, one of them converted the bones into a complete skeleton, the second gave it flesh and blood, and the third gave it life. The resurrected tiger devoured all three of them. It is such a predicament hinted at by the peculiar syntax of the formula in question.” Ven. Nyanananda in: Nibbana Sermon, 11.

Venerable Kaccayana, the “Elaborator of brief Dhamma statements “, whose profound Dhamma teachings we are looking at here, was a very talented teacher. Attributed to him is also the Petakopadesa, a very old canonical book which may have entered the canon of Buddhist scriptures during the first few hundred years after the Buddha’s Parinibbana. Still, the Petakopadesa shows signs that at least parts of it were conceived during a time where the message of the Buddha was still very lively – not just in theory, but especially in practice. Let’s have a look at the following passage:

“Sacittapariyodāpanaṃ, etaṃ buddhāna sāsanan”ti gāthā cetasikā dhammā vuttā, citte rūpaṃ vuttaṃ. Idaṃ nāmarūpaṃ dukkhaṃ ariyasaccaṃ. Tato sacittapariyodāpanā yaṃ yaṃ odapeti, taṃ dukkhaṃ. Yena odapeti, so maggo. Yato odapanā, so nirodho. Cakkhuṃ ca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tattha sahajātā vedanā saññā cetanā phasso manasikāro ete te dhammā ekalakkhaṇā uppādalakkhaṇena. Yo ca rūpe nibbindati, vedanāya so nibbindati, saññāsaṅkhāraviññāṇesupi so nibbindati.

“…And to clear ones mind, this is the teaching of the Buddhas” [Dhp. v. 183] this verse was said in regard to mental things and to form in the mind. This name-and-form is the Noble Truth of suffering. Therefore the cleansing of ones mind is the cleaning of that which is suffering. Through which one is able to clean, that is the path. As far as the cleaning is concerned, that is cessation. Dependent on sight and forms arises sight-recognition. There, born at the same time, is feeling, perception, intention, contact, attention – these things are all of one characteristic – of the characteristic of arising. And who gets disenchanted from forms, he (also) gets disenchanted from feelings, he (also) gets disenchanted from perception, mental activities and cognition (consciousness).”

Petakopadesa, 5. [pi]

Extracting such a deep meditative (insight) meaning from a “simple” Dhammapada verse – which is intrinsically in line with the word of the Buddha but still in a language unlike the suttas tells us a little bit about the living Dhamma in ancient India after the time of the Buddha. It is quite beautiful to be able to see over the shoulder of those ancient meditation teachers and to be able to investigate their thoughts and insights over the centuries. When was the last time that you have seen (in modern days) such a great in-depth (but short and to the point) explanation of this famous and well quoted Dhammapada verse?


Some more papanca on this topic:




…way too much papanca here:


When the actor Talaputta went to the Buddha, he had an important question on his mind. And it was one of the few times when the Buddha at first did not want to answer. Not, because he did not know, but because he knew:

SN.42.2 Tālaputo
Then Talaputta who danced on a stage to entertain approached the Blessed One, bowed before the Blessed One and sat on a side.
3. Sitting on a side Talaputta who danced on a stage to entertain said to the Blessed One: Venerable sir, I have heard, the early teachers of teachers who danced say, `they that danced, said lies as truth to entertain people, made laughter and amusement in front of a crowd, after death will be born with the gods of laughter.’ What does the Blessed One say about this?
Talaputta, enough of it, do not ask me!
4. For the second time…
5. For the third time, Talaputta who danced on a stage to entertain said to the Blessed One: Venerable sir, I have heard, the early teachers of teachers who danced say, `they that danced, said lies as truth to entertain people, made laughter and amusement in front of a crowd, after death will be born with the gods of laughter’ What does the Blessed One say about this?
Talaputta, you do not gain by it! Enough! Do not ask me! Yet you ask me I will explain.
6. Talaputta, when beings are greedy, bound by greed, they dance in the midst of crowds and exhibit passionate things to increase attachment, pleasure, and enjoyment. Talaputta, when beings are hateful, bound by hate, they dance in the midst of crowds and exhibit hateful things to increase hatred. Talaputta, when beings are deluded, bound by delusion, they dance in the midst of crowds and exhibit deluded things to increase delusion.
7. These intoxicated and negligent beings intoxicate and cause negligence in others and after death are born in a hell called laughter. If it happens, they cling to a view, `they that danced, said lies as truth to entertain people, made laughter and amusement in front of a crowd, after death will be born with the gods of laughter.’ They will be born with the gods of laughter. It is wrong view to him. Gamini, to a person who has wrong view, I declare two courses of action either hell or an animal womb.
8. Hearing this, Talaputta who danced on a stage to entertain cried loudly with tears streaming.
There! Talaputta, I told you it is useless! I told you do not ask me!
Venerable sir, I do not cry for what the Blessed One has told, yet I have been deceived, enticed and cheated by the early teachers of teachers who knew, saying, `they that danced, said lies as truth to entertain people, made laughter and amusement in front of a crowd, after death will be born with the gods of laughter.
9. Venerable sir, now I understand, it is like something overturned is put upright, something covered is made manifest, as though the way was shown when someone has lost his way, as though an oil lamp is lighted for the darkness, for those who have sight to see forms. In this manner the Blessed One has explained the Teaching in many ways. Now I take refuge in the Blessed One. May I gain the going forth and the higher ordination in the Blessed One’s dispensation.
10. Talaputta who danced on a stage to entertain, gained the going forth and the higher ordination in the presence of the Blessed One.
11. Soon after his higher ordination Talaputta who danced on a stage to entertain became a worthy one (arahant). *

If the recent “The Avatar” movie shows us anything (and I won’t go into its content, because that’s what all of us do anyway day in and day out)  it is the amazing fact of how our world is based on and shaped by our sense impressions – better still: how our cognition interprets the experience of sense-contact.

While we are on an accelerating path to a more and more realistic replication of sense stimuli tricking our mind into generating new worlds (think 3-D technology** and touch devices) we are traveling on the same path as the insight meditator – however in the opposite direction :-)

This has a fascinating consequence: Similar to the simile of the movie experience [here] this technological advance could be an eye-opener for many samsaric travelers about the nature of their mind and senses. But, more realistically they will probably fall for it, like the devas do: More enticing sense impressions leading to more craving instead of a deeper realization of the “magic show of the mind”.

So, there is or might be a point along that technological vs. insight journey were the insight meditator feels that the world he sees with his natural eyes appears exactly as shallow as the fata morgana presented to him through a screen (still a few centimeters away but coming closer and maybe one day behind the eye instead in front of it. Not really making any difference in the purpose, however :-) )

The question then remains, do we want to continue getting fooled by our six-sense-spheres, the names-and-forms and our own cognitive interpretation – or do we intend to disengage and wake up? That is exactly the question Talaputta was faced with, after listening to the Buddha’s answer. He decided to wake up:

Theragatha, v.1091-1145

1. When, O when shall I live all alone
in mountain caves, unmated with desire,
clear seeing as unstable all that comes to be?
This wish of mine, when indeed will it be?

2. When shall I, wearing the patchwork robes
of color dun, be sage, uncraving, never making mine,
with greed, aversion and delusion slain
and to the wild woods gone, in bliss abide?

3. When shall I, this body seeing clear —
unstable nest of dying and disease
oppressed by age and death, dwell free from fear
in the woods alone? When indeed will it be?

4. When indeed shall I dwell seizing the sharpened sword
of wisdom made? When cut the craving creeper —
breeder of fear, bringer of pain and woe,
and twining everywhere? When indeed will it be?

5. When lion-like in the victor’s stance
shall I draw quick the sage’s sword
of wisdom forged and fiery might
quick breaking Mara with his host? When indeed will it be?

6. When myself exerting, shall I be seen
in goodly company of those esteeming Dhamma?
Those with faculties subdued who see things as they are?
Those who are ‘Thus’? When indeed will it be?

7. When indeed will weariness not worry me —
hunger, thirst and wind, heat, bugs and creeping things,
while bent on my own good, the Goal,
in Giribbaja’s wilds? When indeed will it be?

8. When indeed shall I, self-mindful and composed
win to that wisdom known by Him,
the Greatest Sage, the Four Truths won within,
so very hard to see? When indeed will it be?

9. When shall I, possessed of meditation’s calm
with wisdom see the forms innumerable,
sounds, smells and tastes, touches and dhammas too,
as a raging blaze? When will this be for me?

10. When shall I indeed, when with abusive words
addressed, not be displeased because of that,
and then again when praised be neither pleased
because of that? When will this be for me?

11. When shall I indeed weigh as the same:
wood, grass and creepers with these craved-for groups,
both inner and external forms
the dhammas numberless? When will it be for me?

12. When in the season of the black raincloud
shall I follow the path within the wood
trodden by those that See; robes moistened
by new falling rain? When indeed will it be?

13. When in a mountain cave having heard the peacock’s cry,
that crested twice-born, bird down in the wood,
shall I arise and collect together mind
for attaining the undying? When indeed will it be?

14. When shall I, the Ganges and the Yamuna,
the Sarasvati and the awful ocean mouth
of the Balava-abyss, by psychic might
untouching go across? When indeed will it be?

15. When shall I, like charging elephant unbound,
break up desire for sensual happiness
and shunning all the marks of loveliness
strive in concentrated states? When indeed will it be?

16. When, as pauper by his debts distressed,
by creditors oppressed, a treasure finds,
shall I be pleased the Teaching to attain
of the Greatest Sage? When indeed will it be?

17. Long years have I been begged by you
‘Enough for you of this living in a house.’
by now I have gone forth to homelessness
what reason is there, mind, for you not to urge me on?

18. Was I not, O mind, assured by you indeed:
‘The brightly plumaged birds on Giribbaja’s peaks
greeting the thunder, the sound of great Indra,
will bring to you joy meditating in the wood?’

19. Dear ones and friends and kin within the family,
playing and loving, sensual pleasures of the world:
all have I given up and reached at last to this,
even now, O mind, you are not pleased with me.

20. Mine you are, mind, possessed by none but me;
why then lament when comes this time to arm?
Seeing all as unstable this is now renounced:
longing for, desirous of the Undying State.

21. Said He who speaks the best, Best among mankind,
man-taming trainer, Physician Great indeed:
‘Unsteady, likened to a monkey is the mind,
extremely hard to check by not rid of lust.’

22. For varied, sweet, delightful are desires of sense;
blind, foolish common men long have lain in them
seeking after birth again, ’tis they who wish for ill,
by mind they are led on to perish in hell.

23. ‘In the jungle you should dwell, resounding with the cries
of peacocks and herons, by pard and tiger hailed:
Abandon longing for the body — do not fail’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

24. ‘Grow in concentrations, the faculties and powers,
develop wisdom-factors by meditation deep
and then with Triple Knowledge touch the Buddha-sasana.’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

25. ‘Grow in the Eightfold Way for gaining the Undying
leading to Release and cleansing of all stains;
Plunge to the utter destruction of all Ill!’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

26. ‘Thoroughly examine the craved-for groups as Ill.
Abandon that from which arises ill.
Here and now make you an end of ill.’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

27. ‘Thoroughly see inward the impermanent as ill,
the void as without self, and misery as bane,
and so the mind restrain in its mental wanderings.’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

28. ‘Head-shaven and unsightly, go to be reviled,
among the people beg with skull-like bowl in hand.
To the Greatest Sage, the Teacher’s word devote yourself.’
So indeed my mind you used to urge at me on.

29. ‘Wander well-restrained among the streets and families
having a mind to sensual pleasures unattached,
as the full moon shining clear at night.’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

30. ‘You should be a forest-dweller, almsman too,
a graveyard-dweller and a rag-robe wearer too,
one never lying down, delighting in austerities.’
So indeed my mind you used to urge me on.

31. As he who having planted trees about to fruit
should wish to cut a tree down to the root:
that simile you made, mind, that do you desire
when on me urge the unstable and the frail.

32. Formless one, far-traveler, a wanderer alone,
no more shall I your bidding do, for sense desires
are ill, leading to bitter fruit, to brooding fear:
with mind Nibbana-turned I shall walk on.

33. Not from lack of luck did I go forth,
nor shamelessness, nor caused by mind’s inconstancy,
nor banishment nor caused by livelihood,
and therefore I agreed with you, O mind.

34. ‘Having few wishes, disparagement’s abandoning,
with the stilling of all ill is praised by goodly men’
so indeed, my mind, then you urged at me,
but now you go back to habits made of old.

35. Craving, unknowing, the liked and the disliked,
delighting in forms and pleasing feelings too,
dear pleasures of the senses — all have been vomited:
never to that vomit can I make myself return.

36. In every life, O mind, your word was done by me,
In many births I have not sought to anger you.
That which within oneself produced by you, ingrate,
long wandered on in ill create by you.

37. Indeed it is you, mind, makes us brahmanas,
you make us noble warriors, kings and seers as well,
sometimes it is merchant or workers become,
or led by you indeed we come to gods’ estate.

38. Indeed you are the cause of becoming titans too,
and you are the root for becoming in the hells;
sometimes there is going to birth as animals,
or led by you indeed be come to ghosts’ estate.

39. Not now will you injure me ever and again,
moment by moment as though showing me a play,
as with one gone mad you play with me —
but how, O mind, have you been failed by me?

40. Formerly this wandering mind, a wanderer,
went where it wished, wherever whim or pleasure led,
today I shall thoroughly restrain it
as a trainer’s hook the elephant in rut.

41. He, the Master made me see this world —
unstable, unsteady, lacking any essence;
now in the Conqueror’s Teaching, mind make me leap
cross me over the great floods so very hard to cross!

42. Now it’s not for you, mind, as it was before,
not likely am I to return to your control —
in the Greatest Sage’s Sasana I have gone forth
and those like me are not by ruin wrapped.

43. Mountains, seas, rivers, and this wealthy world,
four quarters, points between, the nadir and the heavens
all the Three Becomings unstable and oppressed.
Where, mind, having gone will you happily delight?

44. Firm, firm in my aim! What will you do, my mind?
No longer in your power, mind, nor your follower.
None would even handle a double-ended sack,
let be a thing filled full and flowing with nine streams.

45. Whether peak or slopes or fair open space
or forest besprinkled with fresh showers in the Rains,
where frequently are found boar and antelope,
there will you delight to a grotto-lodging gone.

46. Fair blue-throated and fair-crested, the peacock fair of tail,
wing-plumes of many hues, the passengers of air,
greeting the thunder with fair-sounding cries
will bring to you joy meditating in the wood.

47. When the sky-god rains on the four inch grass
and on full-flowering cloud-like woods,
within the mountains like a log I’ll lie
and soft that seat to me as cotton down.

48. Thus will I do even as a master should:
Let whatever is obtained be enough for me,
that indeed I’ll do to you as energetic man
by taming makes supple a catskin bag.

49. Thus will I do even as a master should;
Let whatever is obtained be enough for me,
by energy I’ll bring you in my power
as a skilled trainer the elephant in rut.

50. With you well-tamed, no longer turning round,
like to a trainer with a straight running horse,
I am able to practice the safe and blissful Path
ever frequented by them who guard the mind.

51. I’ll bind you by strength to the meditation-base
as elephant to post by a strong rope bound;
well-guarded by me, well-grown with mindfulness,
you shall, by all becomings, be without support.

52. With wisdom cutting off wending the wrong path,
by endeavor restrained, established in the Path,
having seen the origin of passing, rising too —
you will be an heir to the Speaker of the Best.

53. You dragged me, mind, as on an ox’s round,
in the power of the Four Perversions set;
come now, serve the Great Sage, Compassionate,
He the sure cutter of fetters and bonds.

54. As a deer roams in the very varied woods
and goes to the pleasant crest garlanded by clouds,
so there you will delight on that unentangled mount.
There is no doubt, mind, you’ll be established there.

55. Men and women enjoying any happiness
controlled by thy desires and delighting in life,
blind fools they are who comply with Mara’s power,
they driven on, O mind, servants are of thee.



*This text has been quoted frequently to show Buddha’s negative stance on entertainment. And that is true and makes sense once one is looking at the Buddha’s evaluation of sensual pleasure vs. devine happiness or any form of existence vs. Nibbana. In this context, however, the text itself shows that at the same time the only beneficial art form would be one were the artist strives to free himself from greed, hatred and delusion and tries to decrease greed, decrease hatred and decrease delusion in the audience. As we all know, this does not happen very often in the realm of entertainment but Venerable Talaputta, in this Theragatha (poem of the elders), gives a prime example how such an enlightening art work could look like :-)

** Real3D: (Wikipedia)

RealD 3D cinema technology uses circularly polarized light to produce stereoscopic image projection. Circular polarization technology has the advantage over linear polarization methods in that viewers are able to tilt their head and look about the theater naturally with no loss of 3D perception, whereas linear polarization projection requires viewers to keep their head orientation aligned within a narrow range of tilt for effective 3D perception; otherwise they may see double or darkened images.[6]

The projector alternately projects right-eye frames and left-eye frames 144 times per second. [6] It circularly polarizes these frames, clockwise for the right eye and counterclockwise for the left eye. A push-pull electro-optical liquid crystal modulator called a ZScreen is placed immediately in front of the projector lens to switch polarization. The audience wears spectacles with oppositely circularly polarized lenses to ensure each eye sees only its designated frame, even if the head is tilted. In RealD Cinema, each frame is projected three times to reduce flicker, a system called triple flash. The source video is usually produced at 24 frames per second per eye (total 48 frames/s), which may result in subtle ghosting and stuttering on horizontal camera movements. A silver screen is used to maintain the light polarization upon reflection and to reduce reflection loss to counter the inherent losses by the polarization filters. The result is a 3D picture that seems to extend behind and in front of the screen itself.[7]

The monk elder Tissa, the hillman, we are told, was born in the land Rohana* in a hunting family and grew up in the vicinity of the Abbey Gamendavala. After he had reached a certain age and started a family, he made his living as a hunter.

He dug countless traps, lay hidden snares and rammed piles into the underwood, always with the thought that he had to support his wife and children during which time he committed many terrible atrocities.

One day he took fire and a little salt, and went away from home in the woods. There a beautiful deer was caught in one of his snares. He killed the animal and satisfied himself on its flesh, which he previously cooked over the embers. After the meal he was overcome by a cruel thirst and entered the abbey Gamendavala on his way back home in search of water. At the Abbey’s well he drank ten buckets of water, and began to shout and accuse the monks because he was not able to quench his thirst which still tormented him:
“What are these people here good for, if they cannot provide a visitor who wants to quench his thirst, with something simple as enough water to drink.”
When the monk elder Culapindapatika heard his shouting and screaming he went to the well and saw the ten empty water buckets and he thought:
“This hunter became already in this very lifetime a thirsty languishing demon.”
And Culapindapatika told the hunter:
“Friend lay disciple, if you are thirsty, so drink!”
The elder took a pitcher and poured slowly into the other’s hands. This time the hunter had to drink the water sip by sip, and his fire was controlled until it gradually dried up completely.
When he had finished the whole vessel his thirst had disappeared. Then the elder said to him:
“Since your youth, friend lay disciple, you have already accumulated so much bad deeds that you are verily a living demon thirsting for water, what will the consequences and fruits of your actions yield in the future?”

The words of the monk met the hunter with deep emotion. He honored the monk elder, threw his weapon away and, in a hurry he got home. He then took care of his wife and children, broke all his other murder weapons, dismissed gazelles, deer and birds he had caught in the woods and returned to the monk, begging for admission into the Order.
“It is very hard,” said Culapindapatika, “our renunciation of the world, brother. Why do you want to renounce the world?” – “Venerable Sir, after witnessing such a clear indication of my future how can I not renounce the world?”

And so it happened that the elder turned Tissa the hunter’s attention to the fivefold contemplation on the impurities of the body and ordained him as a monk. After he had familiarized himself with the monastic duties, he began to learn the word of the Awakened One, the Buddha. Then, one day, he heard in the sermon of the messenger gods [Note: Devaduta, MN 130], “Then, o monks, the warders of Hell put him back to the Great Hell.” When he had listened that particular passage, he said, turning to his teacher: “If this being such, my dear teacher, that a being having already suffered so much was thrown right away back into the Great Hell, how terrible must that Great Hell be.”
“Yes, brother, it is terrible.” –  ”Is it possible, Venerable Sir, that one can see it?” – “Is not it possible to see it. But to show you something similar, I’ll give you a hint.” The teacher took Tissa the novice  with him and made him pile up a heap of stones** in several layers in between wet wood.  Then Culapindapatika produced by his spiritual power from his seat a lightening fire, which compared to the Great Hell was like a little spark and burned down that woodpile right next to where Tissa the novice stood. The pile was burned down in one moment and all that was left was a heap of ashes.

As he saw that, the novice asked his teacher: “Venerable Sir, what obligations are there in this teachings of the Buddha?” – “Brother, there is an obligation for learning from books (ganthadura) and there is also an the obligation of insight meditation (vipassanadura).” – “Venerable Sir, the books should be the burden of those capable, but my confidence grew because of suffering. I will fulfill the obligation of insight. Please give me a subject of exercise,” said the novice Tissa, revered his teacher and sat down.

Then the elder Culapindapatika thought: “This monk is diligent in the daily duties of a monk” and so he explained to Tissa the meditative practice of insight.

When he had received the training instruction he practiced the work of insight and performed his daily duties. One day he went to the Abbey of the Cittala mountain (Sithulpawwa)***, another day he practiced at Gamendavala and still another at Gocaragama.
Whenever tiredness or lethargy arose he would put some wet straw on his head and place his feet in cold water before he sat down again for meditation – out of fear that he might neglect his duties and fall asleep.

One day, when he had ardently practiced meditation already for two watches of the night in the great monastery of on the Cittala mountain and the early morning hours threatened to overwhelm him with sleep, he sat down again after he had covered his head with a bit of damp straw.
Suddenly Tissa heard a  novice who chanted the Arunavatiya-Sutta on the west side of the mountain and heard him reciting aloud:

“Arise, arise, bestir your hearts
And strive to know the Buddha’s word
As tuskers crush a shed of rushes
Deal Mara’s hordes the final blow
Since he that will in diligence
Live out this Law and discipline
Shall leave the roundabout of rebirths
And make an end of suffering” [Nyanamoli trsl. ]

At this point, he thought to himself: “The perfectly Awakened Buddha had spoken these words with respect to such monks who, like me, fulfill his doctrine with all their energy.”
Thinking thus a thought arose in him creating heavenly bliss in his heart. This bliss created a profound mental serenity and calmness. From this concentration he first obtained the fruit of the non-return (Anagami), and based on that gradually progressing further he attained full awakening, Nibbana. Together with all analytical knowledge Tissa, the hillman, the former hunter, had acquired the saintly status of an Arhant.

Later, at his death and before his own cessation, he looked back on that day and said these verses:

I took a heap of wetted straw,

And put it walking on my head all night;

Achieved since then the third stand is-

And now I’m free from all my doubts.
Source: Translated from the Manorathapurani, the Anguttara-Nikaya Commentary.

*Rohana (Sinhalese ’Ruhunu’) was the ancient name for Sri Lanka’s South. Mahagama, now called Magama, was the capital of Rohana.

** Reminds me a little bit of the story of Mapa making Milarepa realize and work out some of his bad karma before teaching him.

***Cittalapabbata was a monastery 20 kms east of Tissamaharama. It is frequently mentioned in the Visuddhimagga as an abode of arahats, and is the present-day historical site called Situlpava in the Yala National Park, 20 kms. east of Tissamaharama: “Sithulpawwa rock temple is historically significant and identified as one of the greatest 2nd century sites of Buddhist scholarship and meditation practice. With a history of over 2200 years, this is an ancient place of worship in the Hambantota district. The modern name Sithulpawwa is derived from the ancient ‘Cittalpabbata’, ‘The hill of the quiet mind’. It is said that in the 1st century AD as many as 12,000 Arahants lived here (monks that have achieved the highest mind level in Buddhism). Unlike the great monasteries in Anuradhapura and other towns, life at Sithulpawwa was hard and a monk or nun lived there only if they were interested in silence and solitude. Located opposite the Maha Sithulpawwa rock which is 400 feet (122M) in height is a cave temple. This cave temple, which is 67 feet high and 30 feet long, is part of the intricate cave-complex at Sithulpawwa.” [link]

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