Anussati and Anupassanā – Being Mindful and Removing Defilements

April 16, 2018; revised August 10, 2022

Anussati and Anupassanā

1. Anussati and anupassanā are two Pāli words with related but different meanings. It helps to understand the difference because many people today incorrectly use various types of anussati as kammaṭṭhāna (meditation subjects).

  • If one understands Anapāna and Satipaṭṭhāna, they are other ways of saying the same thing. They are all different angles of looking at the goal (Nibbāna) and how to get there, i.e., how to cultivate the Path.
  • It is ALWAYS good to remember that Nibbāna is attained via getting rid of greed, hate, and ignorance (lobha, dosa, moha) from one’s mind.  The only thing to remember is that without comprehending Tilakkhana, that process cannot be completed. Everything else is just more details on how to get there.
  •  “Anu” can have two different meanings. One is “according to” or “via this process.” The other is “food” for bad viññāna, which are essential “keles” or “kilesa” or “defilements.” But here, it is the first meaning that is mainly relevant.
  • Now, we can see the origins of those two words (pada nirukti).
Buddhānussati, Mettānussati, Asubhānussati, Maranānussati

2. First, let us discuss anussati, which comes from “anu” + “sati.” Of course, sati is a mindset (with the Tilakkhana in the background); therefore, anussati means the mindset focused on attaining Nibbāna.

  • There are several types of anussati, but four are lumped together as caturārakkhā” or “Four Protections” that one should try to keep with oneself all the time, which will help one to stay out of trouble.
  • This is expressed in the following verse (I have not found the source in the Tipiṭaka):

Buddhānussati metta ca, asubham maranānussati; iti ima caturārakkhā, Bhikkhu bhaveyya silava

Translated:Buddhānussati, mettānussati, asubhānussati, maranānussati; these are the Four Protections for a Bhikkhu cultivating sila (moral behavior).”

  • These are four things that one should ALWAYS remember to protect one’s mind from getting defiled.

3. We already know that “Buddha” comes from “bhava” + “uddha,” or uprooting bhava, i.e., stopping the rebirth process to stop future suffering. So, Buddhānussati means keeping that key message in mind.

  • Asubha means “unfruitful” and even “harmful.” Getting attached to sense pleasures is harmful in the long run, just like a fish biting on a tasty worm on a hook will be subjected to suffering. So, asubhānussati means always to be mindful of the bad consequences of material things that are appealing at first sight.
  • Mettānussati is to keep in mind always that all living beings are in the same boat, suffering in the long run, and thus to have compassionate thoughts about all of them. Of course, that can be implemented at various levels depending on one’s progress (mundane mettā to Ariya mettā).
  • Especially when one becomes aware of the true meanings of Tilakkhana, one realizes not only the fruitlessness of seeking happiness in this world, but one becomes AFRAID of possible future suffering. When that realization comes, one’s efforts will be automatically accelerated. 

4. Therefore, these four types of anussati are the four types of “mindfulness” that one should always keep in mind. Not only when meditating but, even more importantly, when interacting with society.

  • These Four Protections, with practice, will help enormously in maintaining Satipaṭṭhāna or Anapāna while interacting with others.
  • For example, suppose someone says something nasty. Instead of getting mad and retaliating, one should immediately recall that one’s goal is “bhava uddha,” which requires seeing the asubha nature and cultivating mettā. That one may not have much time left to get this done (maranānussati).

5. As is the case in many cases, those Four Protections have mundane meanings too. These could also be helpful. Following are the mundane meanings.

  • Buddhānussati is to contemplate the nine supreme qualities of the Buddha. This is, of course, a good thing to do.
  • Asubhānussati is contemplating the “foulness for the body.” That is a misinterpretation. One could do asubha bhāvana to contemplate the real nature of the body. A given male or female body can be enticing when the body is young, but they will both degrade with time.
  • Mettānussati is to keep in mind/to recite, ” May all beings be happy and healthy.” Again, not a bad thing to do.
  • Maranānussati as reciting “jīvitaṁ aniyataṁ, maranaṁ niyataṁ” or “this life is impermanent, death is a certainty.” While the statement is true, recitation alone cannot do much to remove defilements and purify the mind.
Aniccānupassanā, Dukkhānupassanā, Anattānupassanā,  Asubhānupassanā

6. Now, let us discuss anupassanā. In contrast to anussati, anupassanā is more relevant to formal meditation.

  • Passa” means to “get rid of,” as we mentioned while interpreting “assa passa” in discussing anapāna bhāvana; see #3 of “7. What is Ānāpāna?“.
  • Therefore, anupassanā means removing defilements according to the prefix used in front.
  • While there are four types of anupassanā, three are associated directly with Tilakkhana: aniccānupassanā, dukkhānupassanā, anattānupassanā, and fourth is asubhānupassanā.
  • Normal humans take this world to be of nicca, sukha, atta, and subha nature. The key to Nibbāna is to realize the true nature: anicca, dukkha, anatta, and asubha.

7. Thus, aniccānupassanā means getting rid of defilements by contemplating anicca nature.

  • Similarly, dukkhānupassanā and anattānupassanā mean getting rid of defilements by contemplating dukkha and anatta nature.
  • We have not discussed asubhānupassanā up to this point. This becomes more important for a Sotāpanna to get to the Sakadāgāmi/Anāgāmi stages by contemplating the bad consequences of sense pleasures that appear so enticing.

8. Therefore, for one trying to get to the Sotāpanna stage, the first three anupassanā are more important. However, asubhānupassanā cannot hurt (and even could be beneficial) because that helps calm the mind.

Understanding Dhamma: A Step-by-Step Process

9. We also need to keep in mind that one cannot just start doing formal meditations on these anupassanā. It is a step-by-step process. One needs to understand Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta): “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta.”

  • Even before that, one needs to eliminate the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi  by cultivating the mundane eightfold path: “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart.”

The reason for that was discussed in the recent post, “Buddha Dhamma for an Inquiring Mind – Part I.” If one has either of the following two views, then it is NOT possible to comprehend Tilakkhana:

  • The next life is going to be forever, in heaven or hell.
  • This life is all one has. When one dies, it is over. No rebirth or hell or heaven.

10. There are many reasons why those two views will block the path to Nibbāna. Following are a few key reasons:

  • Neither of the above views can accommodate the laws of kamma: That one’s actions WILL have consequences, which are much more complex than just leading to hell or heaven (and then getting stuck there forever).
  • It is impossible to have a consistent picture (world view) without getting rid of wrong views like there is no rebirth process or the gandhabba concept is wrong; see “Micca Diṭṭhi, Gandhabba, and Sotāpanna Stage.”
  • If one has the above views, one cannot comprehend the dukkha nature. The fact that most future suffering is in the apāyās and that one needs to stay away from dasa akusala done with powerful and immoral javana citta that “power-up” such births in the apāyās.

11. I know that I keep repeating some things. But many people skip essentials because they desire to get there quickly. I admire their enthusiasm but do not want people to have false hopes. On the other hand, “just learning concepts” is not enough either, so one MUST put all this to practice, i.e., stay away from dasa akusala (and keep in mind that micchā diṭṭhi is the worst of them; see the post mentioned in #10 above).

  • The bottom line is, if one can truly see the anicca nature, one will have the anicca saññā and will avoid dasa akusala with a high degree of fear of the apāyās: “dukkham bhayaṭṭena.”
  • Thus, one will automatically have Buddhānussati, the desire to reach Nibbāna.
  • Furthermore, it will sink into the mind that those enticing things in the world are, in fact, of asubha nature (asubhānussati). One will also realize that all living beings are in the same boat and thus will have mettānussati.

12. Finally, one will also have maranānussati established in one’s mind: that one needs to make haste and cultivate the path before death comes, the timing of which is unknown.

  • If one reads “Paṭhamamaraṇassati Sutta (AN 6.19), ” it is clear that the Buddha advised bhikkhus to be keenly aware that death can come at any time and thus to CULTIVATE THE PATH without delay and that maranānussati was not a specific kammaṭṭhāna.
  • Another English translation of the sutta is: “Mindfulness of Death.”

Discussion of this post at “Anussati and Anupassanā – Being Mindful and Removing Defilements.”

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