The top 11 posts in this section describe the fundamentals of Buddhist meditation. The rest of the posts in this section are on possible meditation subjects and can be used to clarify unresolved questions, and to gain samādhi. The first 11 posts should be followed in that order, at least initially.
Revised August 5, 2017; September 19, 2018 (added #10 and updated links to more recent posts).
1. There are many ways to get to magga phala. What I have followed is Bojjhaṅga bhāvanā and metta bhāvanā. As explained in the previous post, I first did a crude version of the Bojjhaṅga bhāvanā for a few years without even realizing that it was effectively a Bojjhaṅga bhāvanā.
- Now I practice bojjanga bhāvanā/Ariya metta bhāvanā in sitting meditation and ānāpānasati (and satipatthāna) during other times, i.e., suppressing any thoughts/speech/actions that should be discarded and cultivating the opposite. Nowadays, It has become a habit and the moment something not appropriate comes to the mind, I become aware of it. As I keep saying, cultivating good habits (gati) is key to progress.
- Ānāpānasati (and Satipaṭṭhāna) helps one to get rid of bad habits/cultivate good habits, and thus change one’s gati and āsavā; see, “Key to Ānāpānasati – How to Change Habits and Character (Gati)“, and “Is Ānāpānasati Breath Meditation?“.
- Bojjhaṅga bhāvanā helps the mind to get to samādhi while also cultivating the Bojjhaṅga dhamma. Saptha Bojjhaṅga (Seven Factors of Enlightenment) are listed in the “37 Factors of Enlightenment”; a brief description is given below.
- The other part of my sitting meditation is Ariya metta bhāvanā; see, “Ariya Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness Meditation)“. This routine works well for me.
- Of course, there are many paths to Nibbāna (and to the Sōtapanna stage), and this is the one I took (almost inadvertently). Still, it is critical to realize that attaining the Sōtapanna stage ONLY REQUIRES removing wrong world views or diṭṭhi, i.e., getting rid of ditthāsava. But this may not be an easy step, because one needs to realize the anicca nature of this world.
2. The key here is that during the Bojjhaṅga bhāvanā, one only does “āna” or “taking in good things”; see, “What is Änapāna?“. However, “pāna” or “removing the bad” happens automatically via wisdom gained, i.e., via enhanced vision or sammā diṭṭhi. One’s mind is automatically focused on thinking about a Dhamma concept, and once one gets some traction, the mind will get “latched on to it”.
- In the early days, when I started contemplating on a Dhamma concept I automatically got to samādhi (not jhāna), i.e., the mind became concentrated on that and the body and the mind both became lighter. I also experimented with breath meditation) at that time.
- This habit of contemplating on dhamma concepts naturally got established as cultivating dhamma vicaya in Saptha Bojjhaṅga bhāvanā once I met my teacher Thero.
3. I was able to make real progress only after learning the true meanings of anicca, dukkha, anatta; see, “10. Attaining the Sōtapanna Stage via Removing Ditthasava“.
- Waharaka Thero has explained how to systematically cultivate the seven Bojjhaṅga dhamma: it involves first establishing sati (moral mindfulness) based on those correct interpretations of anicca, dukkha, anatta; see, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta“, and the follow-up posts.
4. The seven Bojjhaṅga Dhamma are sati (mindfulness), dhamma vicaya (investigation of dhamma concepts; pronounced “dhamma vichaya”), viriya (effort), piti (joy), passaddhi (tranquility), samādhi (one-pointedness), and upekkha (equanimity). I will have a post on this later, but I have discussed most of these terms in other posts.
- It is important to again clarify what sati is. Many people think sati is “concentration” or just “paying attention”. It is much more than that. It is “paying attention” WITH a frame of mind based on some understanding of anicca, dukkha, anatta: One has contemplated on the “big picture” of the Buddha with 31 realms and a rebirth process that has led to much suffering in the long run.
- Even though one may be enjoying life right now, one knows that it will be of negligible duration compared to the saṃsāric (or samsāric) time scale. This is the theme of this website, and there are many posts that one can read.
5. During the whole time of the Bojjhaṅga bhāvanā, sati must be there; that frame of mind must be there. Dhamma vicaya is a critical evaluation of a given dhamma concept. One can choose a topic or two for a given session and then contemplate on it. One could do this not only in a formal way, but also just while reading a web post or a book on the subject. Each individual is different, so one needs to figure out which is more suitable.
- One can compare the concept with one’s own life experience, and also others’ that one can see. For example, when contemplating on anicca, there are several video clips on various posts giving visuals on the inability of anyone to maintain anything, including one’s own body, to one’s satisfaction in the long run. Also, one can contemplate on the rebirth process and see whether it makes sense, one can contemplate on different applications of Paṭicca samuppāda, etc.
- When one comprehends a given concept, that leads to the cultivation of the piti (pronounced “peethi” or “preethi” in Sinhala) sabbojjanga. This is part of nirāmisa sukha that I have talked about; one starts feeling happiness or a “lightness” making the mind serene. I am sure at least some of you have experienced this while reading posts. This gives one confidence that one is on the right path, and thus one will be motivated to make more effort, i.e., it cultivates the viriya sabbojjanga.
6. Thus dhamma vicaya, piti, and viriya sabbojjanga are cultivated together (of course sati must be there too). At some point though, the mind and especially the body (head) may get tired. If one is making a lot of progress, one may start to experience some pressures in the head or body; not headaches, but just pressure. Some feel like “ants crawling in the head”; the brain and the body (including the nervous system) are adjusting and there is nothing bad about this.
- When this happens one is making progress; the body feeling the effective meditation. Not only our minds but our bodies have been contaminated too, and the nervous systems have been distorted with respect to that in the manomaya kāya. Some of the “pressures” that one feels are due to the “twisting back” of the nervous system to the proper place. These effects may be minimal for some people; this is what I experienced.
- And this burning of defilements lead to generation of contaminants that need to be expelled and cleansed, via proper breathing (this is not “ānāpāna”). We should not focus on the breath like in the mundane “breath meditation”. We are just getting rid of certain “utuja rupa” that had been in the body due to defilements of greed, hate, and ignorance.
- At this point one should stop the contemplation process and start breathing in and out to cleanse the body; sometimes the body itself automatically gets rid of those things via a long out breath. This will lead to passaddhi (tranquility) of both the body and the mind, and one gets to samādhi gradually. One needs to think about the lightness of the body and the mind (passaddhi) and the nirāmisa sukha (from samādhi) that results. One also should think about upekkha (equanimity) too.
- When the body and the mind calm down enough and when one feels relaxed, one should go back to cultivating the previous three sabbojjanga, i.e., start on the contemplation process of dhamma vicaya.
7. Thus one should go back and forth between the two routines with three sabbojjanga each. The sati sabbojjanga must be there all the time. This is called the two-step cultivation of Bojjhaṅga dhamma.
- The Buddha compared to this process to the washing of dirty cloth by hand. One needs to apply soap and wring the cloth to release the contaminants. But then one needs to soak it in clean water and remove the dirt that came out. After that, if the cloth is still dirty, one applies soap again, and then again wash it. This process needs to be repeated until all the dirt is gone and the cloth becomes clean. And one needs to do it with mindfulness: if there is a stubborn stain left in one place, one may need to use a different chemical to get rid of that spot (i.e., use the appropriate bhāvanā: asubha bhāvanā to get rid of sense cravings, metta bhāvanā to get rid of hateful thoughts, dhamma concepts to get rid of micchā diṭṭhi, etc ) and wash in clean water again. Thus one needs to be mindful (sati) during the whole process.
- In the same way, one goes back and forth between the two routines with sati. Time taken to get to magga phala depends on the individual. Ariya jhānās can be attained only after getting to the Anāgāmi stage; see, “
- Also, this bojjanga bhāvanā cannot be done in isolation. One needs to do anapana at all times to get rid of bad habits and to cultivate good habits; cultivating this process itself is a good habit too. Once one gains some traction and sees some benefits, one will become motivated.
8. Initially one should focus on anicca, dukkha, anatta as the dhamma vicaya subject. Then once some understanding is gained, one’s mind attains certain overall cleanliness. After that, like using different kinds of chemicals to get rid of coffee stains or a tar stain, one needs to choose different types of topics (or even meditation techniques) to broaden the understanding/to remove a certain obstacle. Buddha Dhamma is all about cleansing the mind via wisdom, via understanding the true nature of this world.
- Also, it really helps to do the metta bhāvanā as a part of daily routine. The Buddha stated that If done properly (i.e., with understanding of anicca, dukkha, anatta), the metta bhāvanā can lead to the Anāgāmi stage; see, “5. Ariya Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness Meditation)“.
- If one has too many cravings, one could use the “asubha anussati”; if one tends to procrastinate, one could cultivate the “maranānussati”. We will talk about these in the future.
- But first, it is important to focus on anicca, dukkha, anatta. At the same time, it may be a good idea to get some idea of the “big picture”, i.e., the rebirth process, the 31 realms, etc and then some idea about kamma, saṅkhāra, Paṭicca samuppāda, etc. All these are pieces of a puzzle; even though it may look daunting at the beginning when the big pieces are in place, one starts to get a better idea as for where small pieces may fit in. Anicca, dukkha, anatta are the biggest pieces.
- Thus contemplating on anicca, dukkha, anatta is a key topic for dhamma vicaya. I still do it every day, at least for a short time. It is said that one really understands anicca nature of this world only at the Arahant stage.
9. The Sōtapanna stage (magga/phala) is attained in two consecutive citta, and it is not noticeable at that time. One realizes that with time, mainly by realizing that one’s outlook on life has changed. In particular, the tendency to socialize is likely to be reduced, but there may be exceptions; one realizes how important it is to spend the remaining little time in this life on making spiritual progress and to enhance the “cooling down”.
- In trying to attain the first Ariya jhāna, one could start with the Saptha Bojjhaṅga bhāvanā with the frame of mind of the unfruitfulness of anything in this world in the long run (anicca, dukkha, anatta); then all mundane thought objects (based on greed and hate) are suspended from the mind. Then one can think about the peacefulness of Nibbāna (the partial effect one experiences upon attaining the Sōtapanna stage), i.e., the change in one’s state of mind.
- I use the phrase, “etaṃ santaṃ etaṃ paṇītaṃ yadidaṃ sabbasaṅkhārasamatho sabbūpadhipaṭinissaggo taṇhākkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānan’ti. (Mahāmālukya Sutta (MN 64). I emphasize that I have not yet attained the first Ariya jhāna yet, as of August 5, 2017. It is not possible to attain the first Ariya jhāna until one completely removes kāma rāga, as I have realized recently; see, “Dasa Samyōjana – Bonds in Rebirth Process“. Whatever jhāna that I had must be anariya jhāna.
- Here is a recording of the Pāli verse by the Venerable Thero (you need to set volume control at your computer):
- One could say in English, “It is peaceful, it is serene, the expelling of all saṅkhāra, breaking of bonds, removing greed and hate; Nibbāna”, OR “This is peaceful, this is excellent, that is achieved by calming all saṅkhāra, breaking all bonds leading to rebirth, ceasing of all attachments, stopping of the samsaric journey, cessation of all causes, which is Nibbāna”.
- What matters in not the actual words, but the understanding one has in one’s mind. It is best to recite the Pāli verse and recall the meaning while chanting.
10. It is important to realize that one could attain anariya jhāna while working towards the Sōtapanna stage (or even higher stages of Nibbāna) by contemplating on the true version of anicca, dukkha, anatta.
- Jhāna are mental states corresponding to rupavacara brahma realms, which are realms in this world. They can be attained by either SUPPRESSING or REMOVING kāma rāga, which correspond to anariya and Ariya jhāna. Either way, one will get to the SAME jhānic state.
- Since even to get to the first Ariya jhāna by REMOVING kāma rāga, one would have to be an Anāgāmi to attain the first Ariya jhāna. That is easy to verify for oneself, since one would lose the craving for any sense pleasures, including sex.
- These and other aspects of Ariya and anariya jhāna are discussed in the section: “Samādhi, Jhāna (Dhyāna), Magga Phala“.
- It is also important to realize that even an Arahant will not lose the sense of taste; one increasingly will lose CRAVINGS for them; see, “Kāma Guna, Kāma, Kāma Rāga, Kāmaccanda“.
11. November 11, 2016: I get many questions on this topic, i.e., how to verify one is making progress towards the Sōtapanna 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.