Are There Procedures for Attaining Magga Phala, Jhāna and Abhiññā?

April 23, 2017; revised July 15, 2020

1. Learning Dhamma (or following the Path) is very different from learning mundane subjects like history, economics, or even science and mathematics.

  • Ariya jhāna and subsequent abhiññā powers are realized as “by-products” after one attains the Sōtapanna stage. Of course, only some of those can cultivate jhāna and subsequent abhiññā powers.
  • Even attaining magga phala does not have set procedures, other than following the Eightfold Path. However, kammaṭṭhāna based on one’s personality can be helpful.
  • The most important thing is to cleanse one’s mind. Things just become clear with a purified mind.

2. There is an excellent example described in the Tipiṭaka. There were two bhikkhus at the time of the Buddha called Mahāpanthaka and Cūḷapanthaka. They were brothers and Ven. Mahāpanthaka was the elder. Ven. Mahāpanthaka had been trying to teach a certain verse (gāthā) to Ven. Cūḷapanthaka for six months, but Ven. Cūḷapanthaka was unable to memorize it.

  • Ven. Mahapantaka got frustrated and asked Ven. Cūḷapanthaka to disrobe and he left crying. The Buddha saw this incident and realized that Ven. Cūḷapanthaka had very unique hidden capabilities.
  • He gave proper instructions to Ven. Cūḷapanthaka, and Ven. Cūḷapanthaka was able to attain not only the Arahantship but also attain vast super-normal (abhiññā) powers within the same day. The trick for Ven. Cūḷapanthaka was to go beyond a certain sticking point that had been blocking his mind.
  • He recited not one but 500 gāthā that day. There are many reports of his abhiññā powers. One time he made 999 copies of himself and they were all engaged in various activities at the temple.
  • The point is that none of that was gained via “book knowledge”. Once the breakthrough came with the instructions from the Buddha, the rest of it came gushing through immediately.
  • No one taught him how to memorize all those 500 verses or how to cultivate abhiññā powers. A decent version of this story can be found at Dhammapada Verse 25 – Cūḷapanthaka Vatthu.

3. Another example is how Ven. Ananda attained the Arahanthood and many abhiññā powers overnight. Three months after the Parinibbāna of the Buddha, the first Buddhist Council (Sangāyana) was set to take place, and the day before that Ven. Ananda had not attained the Arahantship. He had been a Sōtapanna while the Buddha was alive.

  • Since only “sivpilisimbiyaArahants (those with paṭisambhidā ñāna) were allowed to attend the Sangāyanā, Ven. Ananda was under pressure to attain the Arahanthood. Despite his efforts, he had not attained the Arahantood the night before, and he decided to lie down to take a rest. As he was getting into bed while thinking about a Dhamma concept, he attained the Arahantship while not in any of the four postures (was not on the bed yet, but was off the ground).
  • Simultaneous with that he acquired many abhiññā powers too. The next day, when he went to the Sangāyanā hall, everyone was inside. He stood by the door and announced that he had attained the Arahantship and requested the door to be opened. One of the Arahant asked Ven. Ananda to remove doubts of everyone present about his attainment.
  • So, Ven. Ananda went inside through the closed door, traveled through air and took his seat. Then it was clear to everyone that he had not only attained the Arahantship, but also had cultivated abhiññā powers overnight; see, “Ananda -The Guardian of the Dhamma“.

4. Waharaka Thēro has given the following simile to understand what happens when one attains the Sōtapanna stage, and WHY it takes only a fraction of second.

  • Suppose person X is running back and forth past a sign that has written on it some information in small letters. It is not possible to read the sign while running, no matter how many times you run past it.
  • But suppose X stops for a few seconds to read the sign, then resumes running back and forth again. Now that he has read the message that is on the post, he KNOWS what is written on the post, even though he again cannot read it while running.
  • In the same way, it takes only a fraction of a second to the mind to grasp the true nature of this world (anicca, dukkha, anatta) when the mind is calm AND if one has learned enough background material (in the simile, he must know the language the sign was written in).
  • While one is gathering this supporting material one is a Sōtapanna Anugāmi. Then the Sōtapanna phala moment can come at any time. It comes and goes even without one realizing it. Only weeks or months later, one will start realizing the permanent change in oneself.

5. This is why I said in #1 above, that there are no set procedures for making progress on the Path or developing abhiññā powers (of course anariya techniques are different). As one makes progress, one will AUTOMATICALLY receive the results based on one’s progress.

  • One will automatically attain magga phala.
  • One may also attain Ariya jhānic states subsequently, if one had cultivated them in recent previous lives. For others, it may take some time to cultivate  Ariya jhāna. As I described in a previous post, jhāna are very different from magga phala and it may not be easy to verify whether one has attained Ariya or anariya jhāna; see, “Difference Between Jhāna and Stages of Nibbāna“.
  • While certain meditation techniques COULD be helpful, the two main factors are kusala sīla (moral living) and comprehending the real nature of this world, i.e., Tilakkhana.

6. Our goal should be to eliminate future suffering by cultivating wisdom (paññā), and thereby getting rid of micchā diṭṭhi.

  • Of course, learning correct Dhamma is a joyful experience which can motivate one to learn further and thereby help comprehending the true message of the Buddha.
  • The key is to not confuse “learning” with just “memorization”. One needs to get the key idea or saññā of a given concept. When one gets the saññā of a concept, one will never lose it: “What is Saññā (Perception)?“.

7. This website with hundreds of posts could discourage people, thinking that one needs to memorize all these different things to learn Dhamma.

  • It is not necessary to MEMORIZE ANYTHING. Most of the material on the website is for REFERENCE. If one forgets some details about a concept it is easy to use the menu system, “Search” button on the top right, or the Pure Dhamma – Sitemap to locate relevant posts.
  • However, listening to dēsana or reading Dhamma (and then grasping concepts, not memorizing) is an essential part of learning (grasping concepts).
  • Getting into jhānā or attaining magga phala do not have set procedures. They will AUTOMATICALLY be realized as one follows the Path and one’s wisdom grows.
  • The key is to stay away from dasa akusala, live a moral life, and comprehend the key message embedded in anicca, dukkha, anatta by learning Dhamma and contemplating.
  • By the way, there is a connection between dasa akusala and anatta as we discussed last week; see, “Dasa Akusala and Anatta – The Critical Link“. So, anicca, dukkha, anatta are related to dasa akusala.

8. Memory and wisdom are two different things, even though somewhat related. In order to comprehend the message of the Buddha, one should cultivate wisdom (paññā) instead of memorizing verses. Let us take a simple example to explain this.

  • A child can learn addition by just memorizing. Then he/she would be able to give the right answer to the addition of two numbers that has been memorized, but will not be able to add two randomly chosen numbers.
  • However, if the child is taught HOW TO add two numbers, using a technique like using the fingers in the hand to represent numbers. it will be possible to “see” WHY two plus three equal to five. Then the child will be able to add any two numbers.
  • Once that is grasped, it would easy for the child to then learn subtraction, multiplication, and division.
  • However, it will be an impossible task to MEMORIZE the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of ANY two numbers.

9. There is a basic difference between “real learning” (grasping concepts) and memorization (just blindly following rules/instructions).

  • This is a concept that is hard to grasp for many these days because we are so much used to “book learning”. There are many people who can repeat certain tasks mechanically without even bothering to think through. And then when the situation changes somewhat they do not know how to handle the “new situation”.

10. The message of the Buddha is unique. It goes far beyond moral living. Some people think that by living a moral life one would be able to get an afterlife in heaven forever.

  • On the other end of the spectrum, another set of people believe that killing those who are unfaithful to their God can also lead to a heavenly life, which should be beyond belief for any reasonable person.
  • However, if a mind is contaminated from an early age, such dangerous ideas sink into the mind and are very hard to change.
  • Both extremes are faith-based.
  • Hopefully, one would be able to see that there is a key element of reasoning, not faith, involved in Buddha Dhamma. It can be grasped by a reasonably moral person. It can be followed to a very deep level if desired. 

11. Buddha Dhamma cannot be learned by books or with this website. But they can help by providing (correct) information; if it is incorrect information, then it would be just a waste of time.

  • Since Buddha Dhamma is really different from any other religion or philosophy, one first needs to get that basic information from someone who really knows the fundamentals (kamma/vipāka, dasa akusala, Paṭicca samuppāda, etc) and then the deeper aspects like anicca, dukkha, anatta once the basics are absorbed.
  • It is not possible to even absorb the fundamentals unless one is already living a moral life. It may sound hard to believe, but a defiled mind CANNOT absorb Buddha Dhamma.
  • A defiled mind is like a dirty cloth, which cannot be made colorful by soaking in a dye. The cloth needs to be cleaned in order to absorb the dye and to become bright.
  • Therefore, the first step is to stay away from the worst of the dasa akusala, which are also called “panca dushcharitha” or “five immoral qualities”: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and alcoholism/drug use.

12. What is discussed in the Kalama Sutta is this very first step: Understanding that what one does not like to be done to oneself, another wouldn’t like either. No one likes to be hurt and to put to misery. Any normal human should be able to comprehend that simple concept.

  • That step needs to happen before one starts on the five precepts or moral conduct (panca sīla) which are deeper; see “The Five Precepts – What the Buddha Meant by Them“.
  • Only then one can start comprehending the deeper concepts like anicca, dukkha, anatta, the Four Noble Truths, and start on the Noble Eightfold Path; see, What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?“.
  • The ability to understand deeper concepts gets easier as one purifies one’s mind.

13. Even though this website will be a useful resource, one should not start memorizing key concepts. First of all, it is not possible to do that. There is so much material that it is impossible to remember everything. But it is essential to read various aspects and try to “fill in gaps” in the “big picture”.

  • Of course, I myself do not remember all the details. But I do know where to refer to get any needed information. It is all in the Tipiṭaka, and the late Waharaka Thēro has clarified the key terms for us so that we can find our own way gradually.
  • It becomes easier to analyze a given concept as one progresses. The more one grasps about a concept (not merely memorize the wording), the meanings (and how to use them in other situations) start to come flowing through.
  • At some point, when one starts comprehending key concepts, one will be able to see connections among different aspects and start seeing the big picture or to make that big picture even more clear. That is when a Sōtapanna Anugāmi becomes a Sōtapanna.

More information with references to suttās at: “Samādhi, Jhāna (Dhyāna), Magga Phala“.

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