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VITTHĀRA PATIPADĀ SUTTA: DISCOURSE ON MODES OF PRACTICE IN DETAIL

The collection of numerical discourses (anguttara nikāya) contains the discourses in eleven groups (nipātas), grouped numerically from one to eleven, based on the number of facts discussed by the Buddha in each discourse. Vitthāra patipadā sutta is included in the Patipadā vagga of the fourth group of the discourses in the Anguttara Nikāya. (1)

Content of Vitthāra Patipadā sutta

[There is no back ground story to this discourse to indicate where the Buddha delivered this discourse to the monks or the circumstances that led the Buddha to deliver it.]

“Monks, there are these four modes of practice.”

“ What are the four?

1. Painful practice with slow direct knowledge

2. Painful practice with quick direct knowledge

3. Pleasant practice with slow direct knowledge

4. Pleasant practice with quick direct knowledge”

[In the Pali language, in which the discourse is recorded, the above four modes of practice are recorded as follows:

1. Dukkhā patipadā dandhābhiññā

2. Dukkhā patipadā khippābhiññā

3. Sukhā patipadā dandhābhiññā

4. Sukhā patipadā khippābhiññā]

“And what, monks, is the painful practice with slow direct knowledge? Here, monks, a certain person is normally of strong passion and constantly experiences pain and distress born of passion. Or he is normally of strong hatred and constantly experiences pain and distress born of hatred. Or he is normally of strong delusion and constantly experiences pain and distress born of delusion. These five faculties: the faculty of faith, the faculty of effort, the faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of concentration and the faculty of wisdom appear weak in him. Because these five faculties appear weak in him, he attains the immediacy that leads to the destruction of the cankers only slowly. This, monks, is the painful practice with slow direct knowledge.”

[Passion (lobha), hatred (dosa) and delusion (moha) are the three unwholesome roots (akusala mūla). These three unwholesome roots are the basis for the development of all the other mental defilements that cause suffering and keep sentient beings in the cycle of birth and death. The three roots are deeply embedded in the mind of unenlightened beings acting as the driving force to make them perform unwholesome deeds resulting in suffering to themselves. The degree of the intensity of these roots may vary from mild to intense resulting in varying degrees of unpleasant results. (2)

The five faculties refer to the five spiritual faculties also known as controlling faculties (pancha indriya). They are five positive qualities of the mind that one is expected to develop up to their maturity during one’s spiritual journey towards the final enlightenment.

Five spiritual faculties:

1.Faith or conviction (saddhā)

2.Energy or effort (viriya)

3.Mindfulness (sati)

4.Concentration (samādhi)

5.Wisdom (paññā)] (3)

“And what, monks, is the painful practice with quick direct knowledge? Here, monks, a certain person is normally of strong passion and constantly experiences pain and distress born of passion. Or he is normally of strong hatred and constantly experiences pain and distress born of hatred. Or he is normally of strong delusion and constantly experiences pain and distress born of delusion. These five faculties: the faculty of faith, the faculty of effort, the faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of concentration and the faculty of wisdom appear strong in him. Because these five faculties appear strong in him, he attains the immediacy that leads to the destruction of the cankers quickly. This, monks, is the painful practice with quick direct knowledge.”

“And what, monks, is the pleasant practice with slow direct knowledge? Here, monks, a certain person does not normally have strong passion and does not constantly experience pain and distress born of passion. Or he does not normally have strong hatred and does not constantly experience pain and distress born of hatred. Or he does not normally have strong delusion and does not constantly experience pain and distress born of delusion. These five faculties: the faculty of faith, the faculty of effort, the faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of concentration and the faculty of wisdom appear weak in him. Because these five faculties appear weak in him, he attains the immediacy that leads to the destruction of the cankers only slowly. This, monks, is the pleasant practice with slow direct knowledge.”

“And what, monks, is the pleasant practice with quick direct knowledge? Here, monks, a certain person does not normally have strong passion and does not constantly experience pain and distress born of passion. Or he does not normally have strong hatred and does not constantly experience pain and distress born of hatred. Or he does not normally have strong delusion and does not constantly experience pain and distress born of delusion. These five faculties: the faculty of faith, the faculty of effort, the faculty of mindfulness, the faculty of concentration and the faculty of wisdom appear strong in him. Because these five faculties appear strong in him, he attains the immediacy that leads to the destruction of the cankers quickly. This, monks, is the pleasant practice with quick direct knowledge.”

“These, monks, are the four modes of practice.”

In the Vitthāra patipadā sutta, the Buddha has described four modes of spiritual practice of those disciples who cultivate the Buddhist path of liberation from suffering. The four modes are based on two sets of negative and positive factors. The negative factors are the three unwholesome roots of passion (lobha), hatred (dosa) and delusion (moha), while the positive factors are the five spiritual faculties of faith or conviction (saddhā), energy or effort (viriya), mindfulness (sati), concentration (samādhi) and wisdom (paññā). The strength and weakness of the three unwholesome roots that lead to constant pain and distress will determine whether the progress is painful or pleasant. The strength or weakness of the five spiritual faculties will determine whether the progress is quick or slow.

If I understand correctly these situations can apply to both ariyas and puthujunas. There are puthujunas who become ariyas very quickly. Some even become arahants on the first try. Arahant Santati and Arahant Bahiya are examples. The panchas indriyas in these beings were extremely powerful. They needed a helping hand from Lord Buddha to help them. They are among those who do not constantly experience problems and who have very low moha dosa and lobha. Obviously, it would be necessary to have previously developed the 10 paramis over many, many lifetimes.However, most puthujunas fall into the first category.

Among the ariyas, we can see this especially with the sotāpanna stage. A sotāpanna will be free in a maximum of 7 bhava. A human bhava can contain thousands of births (jati). The most careless sotāpanna will attain nibbāna on the 7th bhava.

The monk Pandita, a 7-year-old samanera (novice bhikkhu) and student of Venerable Sariputta, became anagami and arahant in the same day. Venerable Arahant Sariputta became sotāpanna by listening to a single verse. It took him a few weeks to become an arahant. He dodged the other two stages of the magga phala. Venerable Arahant Ananda had been a sotāpanna for over 25 years. It was only after the parinibbãna of Lord Buddha that he became an arahant.

Sakadagamin become arahant in a deva world, most of the time. Otherwise, they move on to the anagami stage and are reborn in a pure land. There are 5 pure land and the higher you go, the longer the lifespan are. Life in the highest pure abode (suddhavasa akanittha) lasts 16,000 kappas!!! These beings see different Lord Buddha. Brahma Sahampatti had become anagami during the time of Lord Kassapa Buddha. It’s Brahma Sahampatti who came to encourage Lord Gautama to taught the Dhamma, during his awakening.

However, it is not necessary for us to wait for these immeasurable periods before becoming an arahant.Each of us has different levels of pānna, depending on our paramis. It is possible to go through all 4 stages in a single lifetime. One just have to make the effort to develop what needs to be developed.

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