The top 10 posts in this section describe the fundamentals of Buddhist meditation. The rest of the posts in this section discuss meditation subjects. They clarify unresolved questions and help gain samādhi. The first 11 posts should be followed in that order, at least initially.
Revised August 5, 2017; revised April 24, 2020; May 15, 2023
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 bojjhaṅga 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 inappropriate comes to my mind, I become aware of it. As I keep saying, cultivating good habits (gati) is the key to progress.
Ānāpānasati Bhāvanā Comes First
2. 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. Satta 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 Bhāvanā (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.
What Are Bojjhaṅga?
3. The word Bojjhaṅga comes from “Bōdhi” + “aṅga“.) Of course, “Bōdhi” means “bhava uddha” or “Enlightenment,” and “aṅga” means “part.”
- Thus, the seven factors in the Satta Bojjhaṅga are seven factors (satta means seven) conducive to attaining Nibbāna.
4. 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 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 dhamma concepts naturally got established as cultivating dhamma vicaya in Satta Bojjhaṅga Bhāvanā once I met my teacher Thero.
The necessity to Comprehend Tilakkhana
5. I was able to make real progress only after learning the true meanings of anicca, dukkha, and anatta; see “10. Attaining the Sōtapanna Stage via Removing Ditthasava“.
- Waharaka Thero has explained how to cultivate the seven Bojjhaṅga dhamma systematically. That involves establishing sati (moral mindfulness) based on those correct interpretations of anicca, dukkha, and anatta. See “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta” and the follow-up posts.
- Of course, one must remove the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi before comprehending Tilakkhana. See, “Micchā Diṭṭhi, Gandhabba, and Sōtapanna Stage.”
The Seven Bojjhaṅga
6. 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 post it later, but I have discussed most of these terms in other posts.
- It is essential to clarify what sati is. Many 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 understanding anicca, dukkha, and anatta: One has contemplated 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 enjoy life 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.
Sati Comes First
7. 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 session and then contemplate 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 must determine which is more suitable.
- One can compare the concept with one’s own life experience and 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 the rebirth process and see whether it makes sense; one can contemplate 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) sabbojjhaṅga. 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 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 sabbojjhaṅga.
First Phase – Learning and Contemplation
8. Thus, dhamma vicaya, piti, and viriya sabbojjhaṅga 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 terrible about this.
- When this happens, one is making progress; the body feels the effective meditation. Our minds and bodies have been contaminated too, and the nervous systems have been distorted with respect to that in the manomaya kāya. Some of the “pressures” 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 leads to a buildup of contaminants in the body 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” accumulating in the body due to 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 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) 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 sabbojjhaṅga, i.e., start on the contemplation process of dhamma vicaya.
Second Phase – Relaxation
9. Thus one should go back and forth between the two routines with three sabbojjhaṅga each. The sati sabbojjhaṅga must be there all the time. This is called the two-step cultivation of Bojjhaṅga dhamma.
- The Buddha compared 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 must soak it in clean water and remove the released dirt. After that, if the cloth is still dirty, one applies soap again and then again wash it. This process must 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. The time takes to get to magga phala depends on the individual. Ariya jhānās can be attained only after getting to the Anāgāmi stage; see, “
Continuing With Ānāpānasati Bhāvanā
10. The bojjhaṅga Bhāvanā is formal meditation. As we have seen, one must sit comfortably in a quiet place and contemplate.
- However, bojjhaṅga Bhāvanā cannot be done in isolation. One needs to do the Ānāpānasati Bhāvanā at all times to get rid of bad habits and cultivate good habits and live a moral life.
- Once one gains some traction and sees some benefits, one will become motivated.
Alternating Between the Two Phases
11. Initially, one should focus on anicca, dukkha, or anatta as the dhamma vicaya subject. Then once some understanding is gained, one’s mind attains a certain level of cleanliness. After that, like using different chemicals to get rid of coffee or tar stains, one must choose different topics (or even meditation techniques) to broaden the understanding/remove a particular obstacle. Buddha Dhamma is all about cleansing the mind via wisdom and understanding this world’s true nature.
- Also, it helps to do the metta Bhāvanā as a part of the daily routine. The Buddha stated that If appropriately done (i.e., with an understanding of anicca, dukkha, anatta), the Metta Bhāvanā can lead to the Anāgāmi stage; see, “5. Ariya Metta Bhāvanā (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 essential to focus on anicca, dukkha, and 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 of where small pieces may fit in. Anicca, dukkha, and anatta are the most significant pieces.
- Thus contemplating anicca, dukkha, and anatta is a crucial topic for dhamma vicaya. I still do it every day, at least for a short time. For details, see “Vipallāsa (Diṭṭhi, Saññā, Citta) Affect Saṅkhāra.”
Attainment of the Phala Moment
12. The Sōtapanna stage (magga/phala) is attained in two consecutive citta. However, 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 little remaining time in this life on making spiritual progress and enhancing the “cooling down.”
- In trying to attain the first Ariya jhāna, one could start with the Satta Bojjhaṅga Bhāvanā with the frame of mind of the unfruitfulness of anything in this world in the long run (anicca, dukkha, anatta). 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” in the “Samādhi Sutta (AN 10.6)“. 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 the volume control on your computer):
Download (short version): “etaṃ santaṃ etaṃ paṇītaṃ – short version.“
Download (long version): “etaṃ santaṃ etaṃ paṇītaṃ – long version.“
- 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.
Attainment of Jhāna Is a Possibility
13. One could attain anariya jhāna before or after the Sōtapanna stage. However, even the first Ariya jhāna is possible by removing kāma rāga anusaya at the Anāgāmi stage.
- Jhāna are mental states corresponding to rupāvacara Brahma realms, which are realms in this world. They can be attained by SUPPRESSING or REMOVING kāma rāga, corresponding to anariya and Ariya jhāna. Either way, one will get to a similar jhānic state. However, subtle differences exist due to anusaya being present in anariya jhāna. See #8, #10, etc. in “Tapussa Sutta (AN 9.41)– Akuppā Cētōvimutti.”
- 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 sensory 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.”
14. November 11, 2016: I get many questions on this topic, i.e., how to verify one is progressing towards the Sōtapanna stage. The new section, “Living Dhamma, “provides a systematic way to achieve that goal and provides guidelines on checking one’s progress.
- April 24, 2020: I recently finished a long discussion at a deeper level in the new “Origin of Life” section. This is a bit more advanced section.
- These are just different ways of trying to understand the Buddha Dhamma. It is a vast subject.