Mahārāhulovāda Sutta and Ānāpānasati

Mahārāhulovāda Sutta provides Buddha’s instructions to Ven. Rahula for setting the background before starting the practice of Ānāpānasati and his instructions on Ānāpānasati. It also explains the correct kasina mediation.

October 28, 2022

Buddha advises Ven Rahula to Contemplate Any Rupa Cannot be “Mine”

1. I will translate selected chronological verses from the “Mahārāhulovāda Sutta (MN 62).” I will provide the meaning of verses and not word-by-word translations. If you read it carefully, you can grasp the more profound and actual meaning of Ānāpānasati.

yaṁ kiñci, rāhula, rūpaṁ—atītānāgatapaccuppannaṁ ajjhattaṁ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṁ vā sukhumaṁ vā hīnaṁ vā paṇītaṁ vā yaṁ dūre santike vā—sabbaṁ rūpaṁ ‘netaṁ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṁ yathābhūtaṁ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabban”ti.

  • Translation: “Rāhula, any rupa whatsoever – past, future, or present; internal or external; obvious or subtle; inferior or superior; far or near – any rupa‘s fundamental nature (yathābhūta) needs to be seen with wisdom in this way: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not me (my essence).’”

Then Ven. Rahula asked: “Rūpameva nu kho, bhagavā, rūpameva nu kho, sugatā”ti?”

  • Translation: “Only contemplate on rupa, Blessed One?”

The Buddha replied: “Rūpampi, rāhula, vedanāpi, rāhula, saññāpi, rāhula, saṅkhārāpi, rāhula, viññāṇampi, rāhulā”ti.”

  • Translation: “Rāhula, rupa, and also vedanā, saññā, saṅkhārā, and viññāṇa.”
  • As we know, any sentient being can be described in terms of the five aggregates. First, one must understand that no “soul-like” permanent entity exists in any of those five. The Buddha was setting up the background for Ven. Rahla to cultivate Ānāpānasati by getting rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi.
Advice of Ven. Sariputta

2. Later in the day, Ven. Rahula was meditating on the true nature (yathābhūta) of the five aggregates; Venerable Sāriputta approached and advised as follows: “ānāpānassatiṁ, rāhula, bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi. Ānāpānassati, rāhula, bhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā mahapphalā hoti mahānisaṁsā”ti.”

Translation: “Rāhula, practice ānāpānassati. Rāhula, when ānāpānassati is practiced and cultivated, it will bring enormous benefits.”

  • Then in the evening, Ven. Rāhula approached the Blessed One, paid respects to him, and asked, Bhante, how should I practice ānāpānasati that is of great benefit?”
  • The Buddha first advised how to set up the background to cultivate ānāpānasati. That is related to his instructions earlier in the day in #1 above. Both are about getting rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi.
Buddha’s Description of Ānāpānasati – The Basis

3. I will skip the Pāli verses starting at the 8.1 mark: “Mahārāhulovāda Sutta (MN 62)” and also only provide the essence of those verses to keep the post to a reasonable length. The following is Buddha’s advice to Ven. Rahula for first setting up the background to practice ānāpānassati.

  • “Rāhula, think about the “hard components” that make up your physical body – hair, nails, teeth, skin, muscle, etc. – Rāhula, those are made of the earth element (pathavī dhātu).’ It is the same earth element in your body as in any other external object. One should think about pathavī dhātu as follows: This is not mine, I am not this, this is not me (my essence).’ When one has accurately seen that with wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the earth element (and the body), and the mind becomes dispassionate towards the earth element (and the body).
  • “Rāhula, there are “liquid components” that make up your physical body – such as bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, etc. –  are made of āpo dhātu.  Whether āpo dhātu is internal or external, it is the same āpo dhātu. It should be correctly seen with wisdom in this way: This is not mine, I am not this, this is not me (my essence).When one has accurately seen that with wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the āpo dhātu (and the body), and the mind becomes dispassionate towards āpo dhātu (and the body).
  • “Rāhula, what is the “heat element” (tejo dhātu)? It may be internal or external. Rāhula, the internal “heat element” is that which keeps your body warm, that which leads to aging of the body, that which heats you when feverish, that which properly digests food and drink – Whether tejo dhātu is internal or external, it is the same tejo dhātu. One should think about tejo dhātu as follows: This is not mine, I am not this, this is not me (my essence). When one has accurately seen that with wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with tejo dhātu (and the body), and the mind becomes dispassionate towards tejo dhātu (and the body).
  • “Rāhula, what is the “air element” (vāyo dhātu)? Like the others, it may be internal or external. What is internal vāyo dhātu? Whatever internal personal component is experienced as air – such as upward air and downward air (through the body), the air in the abdomen, air moving along the limbs, inhalation, exhalation, etc. – Rāhula, this is internal vāyo dhātu.  Whether vāyo dhātu is internal or external, it is the same vāyo dhātu. One should think about vāyo dhātu as follows: This is not mine, I am not this, this is not me (my essence). When one has accurately seen that with wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with vāyo dhātu (and the body), and the mind becomes dispassionate towards vāyo dhātu (and the body).
  • “Rāhula, what is ākāsa dhātu (space element)? It can be internal or external. What is the internal ākāsa dhātu? There is space within your body – such as the ear cavity, the nose-cavity, the mouth, the gullet, the stomach, the rectum, or any other internal personal component that is experienced as space or spacious – this is internal ākāsa dhātu.  Whether ākāsa dhātu is internal or external, it is the same ākāsa dhātu. One should think about ākāsa dhātu as follows: This is not mine, I am not this, this is not me (my essence). When one has accurately seen that with wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with ākāsa dhātu (and the body), and the mind becomes dispassionate towards ākāsa dhātu (and the body).

4. The point is that our physical body is made of the same “basic elements” as any other person, tree, or stone. In the terminology of modern science, everything in this world is made of the same set of atoms and shares the same space. 

  • The only thing we don’t share with anything else in the world is the (temporary) manomaya kāya (gandhabba.) Even then, the suddhāṭṭhaka are the same. The uniqueness is in the kammic energy that sustains the hadaya vatthu and the pasāda rupa. 
  • That manomaya kāya arises with kammic energy that WE create in OUR javana citta! Of course, any manomaya kāya has a finite lifetime. When it dies (loses its embedded kammic energy), our minds grasp one of many seeds for another manomaya kāya. 
  • That process will stop ONLY WHEN a mind loses its tendency (anusaya/āsava/gati) to be attached to things in this world!
  • That happens only when one understands that no “soul/ātman” moves from life to life. That we, ourselves, create root causes and conditions via Akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda
Buddha’s Prerequisites for Ānāpānasati 

5.  What we discussed above has critical implications for the next steps that the Buddha recommended to Ven. Rahula. There are two steps for cleansing a mind before start cultivating ānāpānasati.

  1. Follow a set of precepts (like the five or eight precepts), avoid immoral deeds and engage in moral deeds. People try to live with such “moral codes” because they want to avoid bad outcomes, such as “bad rebirths,” and have good outcomes, such as “good rebirths.”
  2. The second step is understanding why precepts are for one’s benefit but are NOT ENOUGH to avoid future suffering. That means understanding that “working on getting good rebirths” WILL NOT stop future suffering. One must comprehend the Four Noble Truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana and realize that the only way to eliminate future suffering is to stop the rebirth process altogether.
  • But that is a scary proposition for those who have not comprehended the Noble Truths about suffering. That is why the Buddha emphasized Ven. Rahula that there is no “soul/ātman” like entity that can be designed as “me.” However, that DOES NOT mean that we don’t exist. We do exist, but no permanent entity goes from life to life. We suffer mightily in the rebirth process (especially when born in the apāyās) because of that ignorance about the fundamental nature of this world. 
  • That is why getting rid of sakkāya diṭṭhi (the wrong view about a permanent “soul type” entity) MUST BE eliminated BEFORE PRACTICING ānāpānassati. Future lives (jāti) arise due to acting with avijjā, i.e., via the Paṭicca Samuppāda process starting with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” 
Buddha’s Description of Ānāpānasati – Way to Cleanse the Mind

6. After explaining that all our desires and false expectations arise from the wrong view of an “everlasting soul-like entity,” the Buddha explained several procedures for cleansing the mind of accumulated defilements and not accumulating more. That starts at the 13.1 mark.

  • First, the Buddha described the correct version of “kasina meditation.” The version in Visuddhimagga — using clay balls, water bowls, fires, etc. — is not in the Tipiṭaka. Here the point is that the “four great elements” (pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo) are inert and are not “bothered” by external influences. The mind starts generating defilements when attached to sensory inputs from worldly things made of those inert things.

“Rāhula, live as the earth does. When people put clean things or unclean things like excrement, urine, saliva, pus, or blood on the earth, the earth is not bothered, humiliated, or disgusted. Then sensations that arise – whether pleasing or displeasing – will not dominate your mind.”

“Rāhula, live as the water does. When people dispense clean things or unclean things like excrement, urine, saliva, pus, or blood in the water, the water is not bothered, humiliated, or disgusted. In the same way, Rāhula, when you are not bothered by praises or insults that others throw at you, your mind will not be perturbed.”

“Rāhula, live like a fire. Rāhula, people throw clean and unclean things, like feces, urine, and spit, into fires.  But the fire is not bothered, humiliated, or disgusted. It burns them all. In the same way, Rāhula, when you learn to live with equanimity, pleasant and unpleasant contacts will not occupy your mind.”

“Rāhula, learn to live like the wind. If the wind were to blow on clean things or unclean things like feces, urine, spit, etc., the wind would not be excited, horrified, repelled, and disgusted. It will get rid of all those in due time.  In the same way, Rāhula, don’t let external sensory contacts perturb the mind.” 

“Rāhula, learn to live like space (ākāsa dhātu). Just as space is not established anywhere, don’t let sensory contacts take root in your mind.”

7. Of course, those steps can be followed correctly only after comprehending the unfruitful/dangerous nature of ALL realms in this world, not only the apāyās. This is why the Buddha said (in the “Ānāpānassati Sutta (MN 118)”) that he recommends ānāpānasati to only those with lokuttara Sammā Sati.

Nāhaṁ, bhikkhave, muṭṭhassatissa asampajānassa ānāpānassatiṁ vadāmi.”

  • Translation: “I do not teach this Ānāpānasati (Bhāvanā) to those who do not have (sammāsati.”
  • The meaning of “muṭṭha” is quite evident in verse “‘Rūpaṁ disvā sati muṭṭhā” or “‘When you see a sight (and attaches to it), mindfulness is lost” in “Mālukyaputta Sutta (SN 35.95)“. 
  • Anyone who has not understood the Four Noble Truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana would not have Sammā Sati.
  • See “Ānāpānasati – Overview.”
Rest of the Background Required for Ānāpānasati

8. I have now discussed the above critical points up to marker 18.1: “Mahārāhulovāda Sutta (MN 62).”

  • The Buddha then advised Venerable Rahula to contemplate that all sentient beings are trapped in this suffering-filled world. That would help cultivate mettā, karunā, muditā, and upekkhā.
  • Then he again emphasized the need to contemplate the asubha and anicca nature of “this world” of 31 realms” (at marker 22.1.)
  • Thus, up to marker 24.1, the Buddha described the background mindset required for cultivating ānāpānasati.
  • In the remaining part of the Mahārāhulovāda Sutta, the Buddha repeated the critical steps in ānāpānasatiThat is the last step in a three-step process to Arahanthood, as summarized next.
Rest of the Mahārāhulovāda Sutta Repeats Key Steps in Ānāpānasati

9. As we have discussed repeatedly on this website, the way to Nibbāna has three critical steps.

  1. Cultivate the mundane path and remove the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi. It would be impossible to cleanse a mind without getting rid of the first layer of wrong views.
  2. The second layer of wrong views is the mindset that future suffering can be eliminated by seeking births in Deva or Brahma realms. The uniqueness of Buddha’s teachings is the following. Suffering is present at various levels in all the realms of this world, and until escaping (or transcending) this world, it will not be possible to stop the worst suffering in the apāyās in the future. Those wrong views (mainly sakkāya diṭṭhi) are removed at the Sotapanna stage with lokuttara Sammā diṭṭhi (comprehension of Four Noble Truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana. This is only a change of mindset, but it requires a dedicated effort.
  3. The third layer is to follow the vision (Noble Path) gained by cultivating the correct versions of Ānāpānasati (same as Satipaṭṭhāna.) That leads to Arahathood. But these days, people start with Ānāpānasati, incorrectly assuming that it is “breath mediation.” One MUST attain the Sotapanna stage BEFORE starting on the correct Ānāpānasati.

10. Up to marker 24.1, the “Mahārāhulovāda Sutta (MN 62)” discussed completing the first two steps of #9 above. In the rest of the sutta, the Buddha outlined the critical steps in ānāpānasati, the same as inĀnāpānassati Sutta (MN 118)and “Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (MN 10).”

  • At marker 24.1, the description of ānāpānasati starts with the verse: “Ānāpānassatiṁ, rāhula, bhāvanaṁ bhāvehi” meaning “Rāhula, cultivate ānāpānasati.”
  • That is followed by the standard verses in Ānāpānasati/Satipaṭṭhāna, starting with the verse, “Ānāpānassati hi te, rāhula, bhāvitā bahulīkatā mahapphalā hoti mahānisaṁsā” or When ānāpānasati is developed and cultivated, it will be of great benefit” followed by “Idha, rāhula, bhikkhu araññagato vā rukkhamūlagato vā suññāgāragato vā nisīdati pallaṅkaṁ ābhujitvā ujuṁ kāyaṁ paṇidhāya parimukhaṁ satiṁ upaṭṭhapetvā.” 
  • Now you should realize that the next verse, “So satova assasati satova passasati,” is NOT about breathing in and out. For details, see “Elephant in the Room 3 – Ānāpānasati.”
  • There “assasati” is “assa sati” and “passasati” is “passa sati.” It is true that “assāsa” and “passāsa” can mean “in breath” and “out breath.” But here, the keyword “sati” means Sammā Sati on the Noble Path attained at the Sotapanna stage.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email