December 5, 2015
1. There are two ways to look at the effectiveness of recitations. First, one could gain some benefit when LISTENING TO recitations (such as recorded chanting of sutta), even without understanding what is said in the suttā. However, that benefit will increase if one understood the content.
- The effectiveness of recitations in MEDITATION SESSIONS is somewhat similar. There are many people who have been practicing various types of recitations (kammattana) for 10, 20, 30, or more years without significant results (i.e., magga phala), even though they are likely to feel some calming effect.
- Reciting phrases (in any language) can be quite beneficial if the meanings of those phrases are understood in either of the above cases. Recitation in Pāli can be a bit more effective, since Pāli words tend to condense a lot of meaning. If one starts off with at least some understanding, recitation on a regular basis will help understand the concept at a deeper level.
- For example, the concept of anicca is understood gradually — with a glimpse of it grasped on the way to the Sotāpanna stage, getting a firm foothold at the Sotāpanna stage, strengthening at the Sakadāgāmi and Anāgāmi stages — and is fully comprehended at the Arahant stage.
- A systematic procedure to get to samma samadhi to be able to comprehend anicaa, dukkha, anatta, is described in the “Living Dhamma“ section. It can also help one figure out where one in the Path, and to clarify many fundamental issues. It is not possible to comprehend Tilakkhana until one’s mind is purified to some extent. Then one’s mind can easily grasp concepts rather than just memorizing them.
2. A mundane example is learning the multiplication table. Some get it easier than others. But with practice anyone can master it. All one needs is to spend some time reciting and memorizing the table, even though only memorization may not be helpful in the final objective, i.e., solving a bit more complex problems.
- We know that this “learning process” can be speeded up by using what one learned in solving some problems. Rather than just memorizing the multiplication table, if one applied it to solve some multiplication problems, the learning time can be drastically reduced and also it is easier to keep in the memory for longer time.
- This is what the Buddha meant by “bhavanaya bahuleekathaya…..”. Bhavana (or meditation) is what one uses frequently: one needs to be thinking about it and examine it in many different situations as much as possible. Then the concept starts to “sink in”. Formal recitations can be part of this process.
- Reciting a phrase repeatedly while contemplating on it (kammattana) is an excellent way to retain and comprehend a given a concept, once the concept is at least vaguely understood.
3. Another important benefit of a good recitation session is in subsiding the five hindrances (pancanivarana) that makes the mind agitated and not receptive; see, “Key to Calming the Mind – The Five Hindrances“. When one is focusing on Dhamma — even by just reciting verses– those greedy, hateful, and irrelevant thoughts are at least temporarily subsided and the mind will not be lethargic or agitated.
- In this respect, just listening to Pāli suttā could be beneficial too. In many Buddhist countries, many people start off the day with chanting of suttā (pirith) in the background. When I was little, I used to wake up to the chanting of pirith on the radio (my mother used to do turn it on the first thing in the morning).
- If the suttā are recited the right way, just listening to them can make the mind calm. I have posted audio files of several suttā by my teacher Thero including a 75 minute session in the post: “Sutta Chanting (with Pāli Text)“.
4. Yet another critical benefit is to make the conditions conducive to attract previous “good kamma“, and make the mind “tune into” receiving such merits. Each of us has done innumerable good and bad kamma in our previous lives, and they are waiting for “right conditions” to bring their results (vipāka).
- For example, there may be a good TV (or radio) program being broadcast. But if the television (or the radio) is not “tuned in” to the right station, one would not be able to watch (or listen to) the program.
- “Making the conditions right” can bring about both good and bad kamma vipāka too. If one associates with bad friends, that is making conditions for bad kamma vipāka to bring fruits. On the other hand associating with good friends and listening/reading Dhamma can make one’s life better. This is discussed in detail in the posts, “Annantara and Samanantara Paccaya” and “Transfer of Merits (Pattidana) – How Does it Happen?“.
- I have mentioned in many posts that the effectiveness of absorbing material at this website can be much improved by reading them at a quiet time. In the same way, a meditation session can be made more effective by calming the mind by doing some well-planned recitations. That itself can be a meditation session. What I do is, in the middle of recitations contemplate about relevant Dhamma concepts or my own daily experiences, i.e., do insight meditation in the middle of the recitation itself.
5. One should tailor the recitation session to match one’s own personality and needs. For example, if one has a temper, one should spend more time doing metta bhavana; if one has excessive greed (for sense pleasures) one could spend more time doing asubha bhavana (unfruitful nature of things), which is basically to contemplate on the fact that ANY object that is providing sense pleasure is going to decay and destruct at the end.
6. I have thought a lot about how to present a “kammattana program”. But it is difficult to decide what kammattana to discuss because each individual is different, and has own preferences and needs. I may still do that in pieces in the future, and I have discussed basic features of some in other posts.
- Here, I think it is better to just provide an audio of recitation session that I go through each day. This is just to give an example of how it can be done, and I know that it helps me in calming my mind and making it more receptive and alert.
- This is somewhat modified compared to what I actually do, because I do some parts in Sinhala which most of you will not understand, and I have also tailored this for those who are seeking the Sotāpanna stage of Nibbāna.
7. It is best to do these recitations in a quiet room, sitting comfortably — but not too comfortably — so that one would not fall asleep initially. Once one gets used to it, one will never fall asleep. Also, it may be better to actually say the words initially to avoid the mind to wander around; one could just recite in the mind later on.
October 13, 2016: I have removed the audio file temporarily until I make a better one. After I started the “Living Dhamma” section, I realized a way to present material in a better way.
But I leave the pdf of the text file:
1. I am assuming that anyone who is interested in these kammattana (i.e., those who have the desire to strive for the Sotāpanna stage) have already read the relevant key posts at Sotāpanna Stage of Nibbāna. Now, let us discuss different sections of the Kammattana Example.
- Also, the Search button on the top right is very useful for finding relevant posts for any given keyword or a phrase that is not clear.
2. In reciting precepts, instead of the “Pänätipätä Véramani Sikkähäpadam Samädiyämi”, which says “I promise not take another life of a living being”, it is more truthful to say, “I promise not to take another life with any liking for it” (Pänätipätä pativiratö höti), unless one is dedicating a day to strictly observe the precepts.
- For example, if one needs to apply a medication to a wound, that will kill many microscopic living beings; yet, one has to do that in order to heal the wound; thus in day-to-day life, we may have to take actions like that we would not like to; this is what is meant by “pativiratö höti”, i.e., one would not do it unless necessary. But if one is observing precepts, one could avoid applying the medication on that day.
- Same for the other four precepts.
3. Note the break in between “itipi so bhagava…”. Many people recite it as “itipiso bhagava…”, which has a very different and inappropriate meaning.
- I really need to discuss the meanings of these three phrases, and hope to get it done in the “Buddhist Chanting” section in the future.
4. The phrase, “Natti me sanaran annan Buddho me saranan varan” means, “I have no other refuge than that of the Buddha”.
- “éténa sacca vajjena sotti me hotu sabbada” means something to the effect of “may the truth in my refuge in Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha lead to my well being and success in my efforts”.
- “etena sacca vajjena sotti te hotu sabbada” means something to the effect of “may this truth lead to the well being and success in others’ efforts”.
5. The next phrase (in Sinhala, I am unable to come up with a suitable English or Pāli phrase) means, “I will be truthful to myself, see things as they are, be pure in mind, and endeavor to generate only pure thoughts (prabhasvara or pabasara citta). I plan to write separate posts discussing some of these kammattana. Even a single phrase is so condensed that one could write many posts on each.
- For example, “avanka” comes from “vanka” or “bent” or “not straightforward”. If someone is not truthful, then that is “vanka“; “avanka” is the opposite of “vanka“.
6. The next three phrases are also very important. I recite it every day. The phrase, “Kayena vaca cittena pamadena maya katan, accayam khama me Bhante bhuripanna Tathagata”, means: “If I have done any wrong inadvertently (or due to ignorance) by thoughts, speech, or mind to the Buddha, may I be forgiven for that”.
- And then the same phrase directed to Dhamma and Saṅgha. For example, I always worry about inadvertently explaining some concept in a way which may not be quite right. Also, when dealing with people, we don’t know whether we inadvertently hurt their feelings or do something that they see as inappropriate (and it is possible that such a person may be a Noble person).
7. The next set of phrases are for cultivating anicca sanna and related other factors. The phrase, “Aniccanupassi viharati, nicca sanna pajahati” means “I will live my life cultivating the anicca sanna and reject that things in this world can be kept to my satisfaction (i.e., reject the nicca sanna)”. Similar meaning can be deduced for the following three phrases.
- In the phrase, “Nibbidanupassi viharati, abhinandana pajahati”, nibbida means “stay away from valuing sense pleasures” and viharati means “live accordingly”. Abhinandana means “valuing sense pleasures”, and pajahati means “avoid”.
- “Nirodhanupassi viharati, samudayaṃ pajahati”, means stop the wheeling process and reject generating more “san” (“san” + “udaya” combines to give “samudaya“); see, “What is ‘San’?“.
- “Patinissagganupassi viharati, sambhavan pajahati” means “I will endeavor to break all bonds to this world, and stop making new bhava“.
- The last three recitals in this section with “Anissitoca viharati, na ca kinci loke upadiyati” confirm one’s conviction that “it is unfruitful to stay in this world of 31 realms, there is nothing in this world that worth craving for (upādāna)”.
8. The set of three phrases that come next also help cultivate anicca sanna, and one could review or do insight meditation on anicca, dukkha, anatta right after that.
9. The next section is on metta bhavana. I normally recite this in Sinhala, but these English phrases give almost the same meaning. This is also discussed in the post, “5. Ariya Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness Meditation)“.
- The relevance to different types of akusala citta is discussed in the post, “Akusala Citta – How a Sotāpanna Avoids Apayagami Citta“. The 12 types of akusala citta are discussed in, “Akusala Citta and Akusala Vipaka Citta“.
10. The next phrase is the standard phrase to use when cultivating jhāna: see, “11. Magga Phala and Ariya Jhanas via Cultivation of Saptha Bojjhaṅga“. Even though it is supposed to be fully effective only after attaining the Sotāpanna stage, it can be used by anyone who has been exposed to the true meanings of anicca, dukkha, anatta, and is pursuing the Sotāpanna stage.
- One could get into at least some kind of samadhi by this time, and do some insight meditation here. Actually, at any of the above kammattana sections, one could do insight meditation related to that section. I normally do this and my sessions sometimes last for much longer times.
11. In the subsequent sections, we start giving merits to all living beings. The phrase, “ldam me nati nan hotu Sukhita hontu natayo”, means “May all my relatives (which does include all living beings in the through saṃsāra) attain peace and happiness due to these merits”.
- The next phrase, “ldam vo nati nan hotu Sukhita hontu natayo”, can have multiple meanings. If one is doing a group session, it could mean “relatives of others in the group”. If one is by oneself, it could mean “distant relatives”, who may even be in worlds far away from the Earth.
- Thus when one recites both phrases, it does include all living beings.
12. The next section gives merits to devas (which include Brahmā as well), bhuta, and preta, and then to all beings (sabbe satta). It is another way of giving merits as in #11.
- Then the next phrase in English is straightforward. I specifically included this so that anyone can use this with full understanding. If one had (even inadvertently) done a bad deed to someone that day, one could be thinking about that person and ask for forgiveness. This is a very effective way to calm the mind and reduce tensions, and I hope to write a post on this. If done sincerely, one should be able to see the effects in real life. You may notice that the tensions with that person automatically reduced.
- What happens is that those strong javana citta that you generate can produce cittaja rupa that can affect that person even over long distances. It is again related to what we discussed in #4 of the main section (above the current “Notes” section).
13. Then we end the session with the phrase “Idam mé puññan asavakkhaya vahan hotu, sabba dukkha nirujjāti” that is recited three times. It means, “May the merits that I have acquired help remove my asava (cravings), and lead to the end of all suffering”.
- It is to be noted here that “asavakkhaya vahan hotu” is really, “asavakkhaya aham hotu” or “may (these merits) be hetu for cleansing of my asava“. It just rhymes as, “asavakkhaya vahan hotu”.
14. Of course the above is an example of what one could do. One could use all the kammattana (and add more), or use only the ones that one likes. I don’t use them all in a given session, but do use some of them all the time. I just start the session with the first few and select phrases as I proceed. Sometimes, I get into insight meditation (contemplating relevant ideas, connecting with other concepts, etc) following a given phrase and just do that for the whole session.
15. November 11, 2016: I get many questions on this topic, i.e., how to verify one is making progress towards the Sotāpanna stage. The new section, “Living Dhamma“, provides a systematic way to achieve that goal, in addition to providing guidelines on how to check one’s progress.