Prerequisites for the Satipatthāna Bhāvanā

As you may have noticed, I am not going to follow the sutta in the formal order. I would like to present it in a way that is conducive to the present day. However, at the end it will become clear that everything in the sutta has been discussed.

1. From the previous two posts it is clear that this meditation is not just to be practiced in a formal session, even though formal sessions can and should be done. In particular,  Dhammānupassana needs to be done in formal sessions, which we will discuss shortly. With that in mind let us look at how the sutta begins (after the uddēsa or the “brief description” section, to which we will get back later):

Kathaṃ ca pana, bhikkhavē, bhikkhu kāyē kāyanupassi viharati?

  • Here and many other other places, “ca” is pronounced “cha”.
  • Here “viharati” means “to live”. Thus what it says is, “Bhikkhus, what is meant by living with kāyānupassanā of the body (kāyē kāyānupassanā)?”.
  • This should make it very clear that the bhāvānā is not just to be practiced in a formal session; one has to “live it”.

2. Now let us look at the next phrase that describes how to prepare for the bhāvānā:

“Idha, bhikkhavē, bhikkhu aranna gatō vā rukkhamūla gatō vā sunnāgāra gatō vā nisidati pallankaṃ ābhujitvā, ujuṃ kāyaṃ paṇidhāya, parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā”.

  • The conventional translation is something like, “Here a monk, having gone into the forest, or to the foot of a tree, or to an empty room, sits down cross-legged, keeps his body upright and fixes his awareness in the area around the mouth”.
  • Of course, this is a good thing to do if one is going to do a formal session, except that one should focus the awareness not “around the mouth” but on the object of contemplation as we will discuss later.

3. I pointed out in the introduction how the sutta (like most other suttā) was apparently designed to convey the above “conventional” meaning while keeping the deeper meaning hidden; see, “Sutta – Introduction”. This is a good example of how this was accomplished. Let us describe the above sentence in detail. However, I may not be able to go into such details for the rest of the sutta, because it will take up too much space.

Continuing with the interpretation of the phrase in #2,  “gatō vā” means “get in to” or in the deeper sense, “get into the mindset”.

  • Aranna is a forest (or forest monastery). But the hidden meaning comes from “rana” which means “battle” and thus “aranna” means staying away from battles. Thus, “aranna gatō vā” means “get into a calm mindset leaving behind the everyday battles”.  In the conventional interpretation is says, “having gone into the forest”.
  • rukkha” is “tree” and “mūla” is the “root”; even though the top of a tree sways back and forth with the wind, the tree trunk close to the root is very stable. Thus “rukkhamūla gatō vā” means getting to a stable mindset. In the conventional interpretation is says, “having gone to the foot of a tree”.

4. Next, “sunnāgāra” is an empty building or room. The deeper meaning is that the mind should be empty of greed, hate, and ignorance. One should dispel any such thoughts that comes to the mind.

  • Now comes, “nisidati pallaṅkaṃ ābhujitvā”, which is translated as, “sits down cross-legged”. The key word here is, “anka” or literally “number”; in Pāli or Sinhala, “reduce the number” or “palla+anka” means not giving importance. Thus “nisidati pallankaṃ ābhujitvā” means, “being modest” and getting rid of any sense of “superiority”.
  • And, “ujuṃ kāyaṃ paṇidhāya” is translated, “keeps his body upright”. In the deeper meaning, it is about being “straightforward” or forthright and honest.
  • The post, “kāyānupassanā – Section on Postures (Iriyapathapabba)“, describes how one needs to conduct satipattāna in all four postures (sitting, standing, walking, lying down), AND in numerous sub-postures; Therefore, the idea of “keeping the physical body upright” during satipattāna is a falsehood.

5. Finally, “parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā” is the KEY to Satipatthana: It is translated literally as “fixes his awareness in the area around the mouth”. What is actually meant is to keep the mind on the main object (called “mukkha nimitta”), i.e., “Nibbāna” or “cooling down”. “Pari” here means “complete” or “full”.

  • Therefore, “parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā” means maintaining one’s focus on the main goal or Nibbāna.
  • Thus what is described in that sentence is the required mindset for the meditator, whether he/she is going to be “meditating” in any one of the four postures described in the previous post, not just in a sitting down formal meditation session.

6. Thus the “preparation instructions” in that opening phrase can now be stated something like, “get into a calm and stable mindset that is devoid of greed, hate, and ignorance; keep a modest attitude without any sense of superiority; be forthright and honest, and keep the mind on the main object of cooling down”.

  • Such a state of mind needs to be cultivated for all times. That is the key to cooling down on a long-term basis.
  • Of course the conventional interpretation can also be used for sitting down, formal, sessions without “fixing awareness in the area around the mouth”. One ALWAYS focuses on cooling down, and becoming an “ātāpi sampajannō“; see, “Satipatthana Sutta – Structure“, and “kāyānupassanā – The Section on Habits (Sampajanapabba)“.
  • Thus the idea is for one to become a “firefighter” (“ātāpi sampajannō“), who is always on the lookout not for actual fires, but for those mental events that CAN LEAD TO mental fires in the future. These are basically any immoral acts, speech, or thoughts.

7. There are five sections or “pabba” in the kāyānupassanā. The reason that I described the Iriyāpathapabba (“section on postures”) and the Sampajānapabba (“section on habits”) in the previous posts was to emphasize the point that this bhāvānā cannot be restricted to a formal session. One could say, “How can I be meditating the whole day?”. This question arises only because of the misconceptions we have on what meditation or “bhāvānā” is.

  • The Buddha said, “bhāvānāya bahuleekathaya”, or “bhāvānā is what one does all the time”. It is about getting into the habit of developing good habits and getting rid of bad habits.
  • One can just make it a “formal session” in order to get into deeper levels of samādhi or jhānas.

8. Buddha Dhamma is not a religion in the sense of providing “salvation” by following certain rules or procedures. The Buddha said the only way to achieve long-lasting happiness is to purify the mind. It starts with avoiding the worst immoral acts of killing, stealing, etc. When one sees the benefits of that one can go a step further and include gossiping, slandering, etc. and so on.

  • The more one purifies one’s mind, the true nature of this world will become increasingly clear. One cannot read about it in one essay or even many essays. One has to put it into action. Even though it is good to read about anicca, dukkha, anatta, it is not possible to “get it” until one purifies one’s mind to a certain extent AND experiences the “cooling down” that results from a purified mind; this will be discussed in the Dhammānupassanā.

9. Satipatthāna sutta describes a very methodical way of following the Path prescribed by the Buddha. Initially, one does not even have to worry about whether rebirth is vālid or whether there are 31 realms of existence. One just focuses on realizing that there are “internal fires” (ātāpi) that we are not even aware of; see “Satipātthana Sutta – Structure“.

  • As one purifies the mind, one can clearly see and FEEL these fires and how they start. When one clears up the “big fires” one is able to see and feel smaller ones; one becomes more “sensitized”. And then one tackles those smaller fires. It is a gradual, step-by-step process. That is why it is called the Path. The higher one climbs on the Path, the more one can “see” and get rid of, and more happier one becomes.

 Next, “What is “Kaya” in kāyānupassanā?“, …………

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