Introduction to 3.8.6 Manasikārakosallaṃ - Proficiency in Maintaining proper Attention in a skillful Way
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Introduction to 3.8.6 - Manasikārakosallaṃ
Proficiency in Maintaining proper Attention in a skillful Way
Jīvitaṃ byādhi kālo ca, dehanikkhepanaṃ1 gati;
Pañcete jīvalokasmiṃ, animittā na nāyare2.
Whatever one’s life’s span, sickness and when one’s own time has come,
Wherever the body will be discarded, one’s own destiny,
These five in the world of living,
Foretells no sign, unknown they remain.3
The previous lesson highlighted the multifold benefits for a meditator who develops the ability to maintain unattached and neutral observation and awareness directed to whatever appears on and in the body—kāyagatāsati. The Ānāpānassatisutta4 as well as the Ekadhammasutta5 designate such ability as: ‘sabbakāyappaṭisaṃvedī’ — a necessary base for all described further stages of deeper meditation. The Ānāpānassatisutta defines such process of training to develop ensuing stages along with the observation of inhalation and exhalation.
The tradition of Vipassana6 fosters and enforces the process of developing the ability of feeling and experiencing the whole body ‘sabbakāyappaṭisaṃvedī’ and in this way to calm its activities ‘passambhayaṃ kāyasaṅkhāraṃ’. The meditator is trained from a certain point of deeper concentration onwards7 to move one’s attention deliberately within a systematic order over and later within the body. For this a neutral and detached observation of sensations needs to be established: ‘vedanāsu vedanānupassī’! These sensations manifest themselves due to biological and chemical reactions but are likewise caused by mental conditioning and can be experienced from gross to subtle, from unrefined to refined, from painful to soft and gentle8.
A meditator who has determined to keep up the regular practice individually and to integrate it in his or her day-to-day-life usually encounters certain hindrances9 and thus needs to overcome hurdles that seem to be in the way for progress. Especially weariness, monotony in one’s observation, boredom, being caught in one’s thoughts or daydreams, misty surveillance and many more seem to present themselves as some of the biggest obstacles to be overcome.
Therefore, this lesson presents some similes which should help to remind the practitioner of supportive advice. These similes refer to:
• nātisīghato: to avoid proceeding too rapidly
• nātisaṇikato: to avoid proceeding too slowly
• vikkhepapaṭibāhanato: to ward off confusion and distraction10
These similes are found in the section of ‘kāyagatāsati’ of the Visuddhimagga11 and related to the training of paṭikūlamanasikārapabbaṃ — reflections on repulsiveness12 Even so - if they are reconsidered, repeatedly reflected upon and intentionally fostered by every meditator they should be an appropriate tool to overcome the above hindrances and to refresh one’s practice. A serious and ardent meditator will notice that once the first three advises are followed precisely, distractions and disturbances that should be warded off according to the fourth guidance will encroach less likely into one’s thought patterns. The meditator will also notice that once distractions intrude into the mental arena they will persist obstinately and are difficult to get rid of.13
It is the continuity of practice that will enable any meditator to develop the ability to maintain regular ‘contact’ of what is happening in one’s body at least to some extent. He or she may thus be more aware of the kind of rejoinders that may brew up in one’s mind and could result in unwholesome, uncontrolled reactions. Rather than being overwhelmed with unrestrained, ‘blind’ reaction it may help him or her, whenever needed, to press the breaks so some potential unwholesome outbreak on the vocal or physical level can be avoided and enable one to act in a more positive way.
And after continuity of practice, it may also help to keep such close connection within, up to the last moment. That is why ‘Vipassana’ is also called the ‘Art of Living’ but can be compared with the ‘Art of Dying’ as well.
While the introduction to the previous sutta14 concluded by pointing out that someone who will practice kāyagatāsati will enjoy the deathless:
Amataṃ te, bhikkhave, paribhuñjanti ye kāyagatāsatiṃ paribhuñjantī”ti
The Buddha likewise points out another advantage in regards to consciously passing away as a result of one’s meditation. In the Mahārāhulovādasuttaṃ15, he gave such advice to his son Rāhula, who as a boy of seven had followed the Buddha and - out of mother’s reach - received ordination as his ‘inheritance’16. Rāhula was declared by the Buddha as foremost among those eager for getting trained17.
Once Venerable - āyasmā - Sāriputto saw the young man then aged eighteen sitting with his body erect and cross-legged under a tree and advised him to practice ānāpānassati.18 When Rāhula asked the Buddha what it was that Venerable Sāriputto had advised him the Buddha first explained Rāhula in detail the characteristics of the four primary (great) elements–mahābhūta19. He initially focused on the mahābhūta as meditation subject so the young Rahula would come out of any attachment to the body20. Only then the Buddha advised to practice ānāpānassati to keep awareness within and concluded thus:
‘‘Evaṃ bhāvitāya, rāhula, ānāpānassatiyā, evaṃ bahulīkatāya yepi
te carimakā assāsā tepi viditāva nirujjhanti no aviditā’’ti.
“If, Rāhula, by developing ānāpānassati in this way and ānāpānassati
gets fully cultivated, then even the last breath will be known,
it will not unknown!”
Dying fully conscious of one’s last breaths and of the final moments with awareness within will be truly a worthwhile goal to aspire!
1. dehanikkhepanaṃ: deha + nikkhepanaṃ: body + putting down, depositing, discarding
2. na nāyare: they are not known
3. Maraṇassatikathā, Anussatikammaṭṭhānaniddeso, Visuddhimaggo
4. see 3.8.4 Ānāpānassatisuttaṃ cont. – How does the full Cultivation of Ānāpānassati nurture full Development of the four Satipaṭṭhāna?
5. 3.8.3 Ekadhammasuttaṃ - The Value of Ānāpānassati and the Fruits gained thereof
6. Vipassana in the tradition of Sayagy U Ba Khin as taught by S.N. Goenka, see: https://www.dhamma.org/en/about/vipassana
7. This is inaugurated on day four of a ten-day Vipassana-retreat
8. see 3.8.9 Paṭhamaākāsasuttaṃ & Agārasuttaṃ – Realizing Vedanā and Going Beyond: ‘Saṅkhyaṃ nopeti vedagū’ — where similes designate the vast field of sensations that a meditator may encounter.
9. 3.7.8 Nīvaraṇapabbaṃ – Mastering the Hindrances
10. For the respective vocabulary please refer to the lesson and vocabulary training
11. Kāyagatāsatikathā, Anussatikammaṭṭhānaniddeso, Visuddhimaggo
12. see previous lesson: 3.8.5 Kāyagatāsativaggo - The Many Benefits derived from the Awareness of the Body
13. Those similes quoted here present the first four of ten ‘skills of learning’ and are taken from the advice in regards to practice repulsiveness – ‘paṭikkūlamanasikāra’ – but are stirring for any practitioner of Vipassana.
14. see 3.8.5 Kāyagatāsativaggo - The Many Benefits derived from the Awareness of the Body
15. Mahārāhulovādasuttaṃ, Bhikkhuvaggo, Majjhimapaṇṇāsapāḷi, Majjhimanikāye
16. see also 3.3.6 Ambalaṭṭhikarāhulovādasuttaṃ part one and 3.3.7 Ambalaṭṭhikarāhulovādasuttaṃ part two: How to Train Oneself and to Confess Shortcomings to One`s Elders
17. Etadaggaṃ, bhikkhave, mama sāvakānaṃ bhikkhūnaṃ sikkhākāmānaṃ yadidaṃ rāhulo’’ Tatiyavaggo, Etadaggavaggo, Ekakanipātapāḷi, Aṅguttaranikāyo. It is said that Rāhulo every morning took a handful of sand and expressed the wish that he may receive as many words of council from his teacher as corns of sand in his hand.
18. Disvāna āyasmantaṃ rāhulaṃ āmantesi – ‘‘ānāpānassatiṃ, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi. Ānāpānassati, rāhula, bhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā mahapphalā hoti mahānisaṃsā’’ti
19. The four great ‘primary’ material elements: mahābhūta: Evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya disvā pathavīdhātuyā nibbindati, pathavīdhātuyā cittaṃ virājeti, … āpodhātuyā cittaṃ virājeti, … tejodhātuyā cittaṃ virājeti, … vāyodhātuyā cittaṃ virājeti.
The Buddha then also adds in the same way what is considered ‘space-element’, which is a derivative material element: Evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya disvā ākāsadhātuyā cittaṃ nibbindati, ākāsadhātuyā cittaṃ virājeti.
20. Tassa kira – ‘‘sabbaṃ rūpaṃ netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi na meso attā’’ti sutvā – ‘‘bhagavā sabbaṃ rūpaṃ vipassanāpaññāya evaṃ daṭṭhabbanti vadati, vedanādīsu nu kho kathaṃ paṭipajjitabba’’nti nayo udapādi. Tasmā tasmiṃ naye ṭhito pucchati.
Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.8.6
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