Tapussa Sutta (AN 9.41)– Akuppā Cētōvimutti

February 28, 2019; #21 added March 1, 2019

1. Most suttas have been translated word by word, without paying attention to the context or to the underlying teachings. I hope this sutta translation will convey what I mean by that statement.

  • This sutta basically explains why it is necessary to reduce cravings for sense pleasures and to stay away from dasa akusala — and eventually to get rid of them — if one wants to cultivate Ariya jhāna.
  • Just suppressing  sense cravings (kāma rāga) induces jhāna too; see,Jhānic Experience in Detail – Sāmañ­ña­phala Sutta (DN 2)“.
  • However, to attain Nibbāna (akuppā cetovimutti), one needs remove those cravings at each jhānic state; see, “Ascendance to Nibbāna via Jhāna (Dhyāna)“. In this post, we discuss the step-by-step process.
  • Still, getting rid of sense cravings (kāma rāga), is not an easy task. It needs to be done by contemplating on the drawbacks (and dangers) of them — called ādīnava (pronounced “aadeenava”) — and also the benefits (ānisamsa) of giving up such cravings (renunciation); see, “Mundane versus Supramundane Jhāna“.

2. One could follow the Pāli version while reading: “Tapussa Sutta (AN 9.41)” and the “English Translation” and “Sinhala Translation” at that same website. It is a useful website, but translations are not correct for some key Pāli words, and suttas are translated word-by-word without paying attention to the embedded teachings. That is actually the case for basically all current English translations.

  • Suttas are designed to be extremely repetitive, and that enabled faithful oral transmission over the first 500 years. But, in the written form, it is not necessary to translate the whole sutta word-by-word to understand its message. In fact, that could be very boring reading.
  • So, I will start off with lengthy translation at first, and cut it short as I proceed to the end in order to make it readable, yet (hopefully) provide the key ideas.
  • We also need to keep in mind that the Bodhisatta before becoming the Buddha, had learned how to get to all the jhānās from other yogis.  One can attain cetovimutti (highest jhāna) by such anāriya techniques like breath meditation, but those jhānās are not stable. As described below, the Buddha figured out to cultivate unbreakable (stable) jhāna and attained the Buddhahood with akuppā cetovimutti.
  • That is the process described in this sutta, which we discuss now.

3. Thus I have heard. On one occasion, the Blessed One was staying in Malla near a Mallan town named Uruvelakappa. Then early in the morning the Blessed One, having put on his robes and carrying his bowl and outer robe, went to Uruvelakappa for alms. Having gone into Uruvelakappa for alms, after his meal, on his return from his alms round, he said to Ven. Ananda, “Stay here, Ananda, while I go to the forest for resting.”

  • “As you say, lord,” Ven. Ananda replied.
  • Then the Blessed One went to the forest and sat down at the root of a tree for resting.

4. Then Tapussa the householder went to Ven. Ananda and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to Ven. Ananda: “Venerable Ananda, we are householders who indulge in sensuality, delight in sensual pleasures, enjoy sensual pleasures, rejoice in sensual pleasures. For us, staying away from sensual pleasures — or renunciation — seems like jumping off of a cliff (it is hard to contemplate). Yet I’ve heard that in this Buddha Sāsana there are young bhikkhus (monks) who have given up sense pleasures and have attained peace of mind and ultimate release from suffering. How are those bhikkhus different from most people like us?”

  • “This is true, householder. Let’s go ask the Blessed One to explain this”.

5. Then Ven. Ananda, together with Tapussa the householder, went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. Then Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One: “Bhante, Tapussa the householder, here, has said to me, ‘we are householders who indulge in sensuality, delight in sensual pleasures, enjoy sensual pleasures, rejoice in sensual pleasures. For us, staying away from sensual pleasures — or renunciation — seems like unappealing as jumping off of a cliff. Yet I’ve heard that in this Buddha Sāsana there are young monks who have given up sense pleasures and have attained peace of mind and ultimate release from suffering. How are these monks different from most people like us?”

6. “So it is, Ananda. So it is. Even I myself, before attaining the Buddhahood, when I was still an unawakened Bodhisatta, I thought: ‘abstaining from sensual pleasures (nekkhamma) is good, peace of mind (viveka) is good’. But such thoughts free of sense cravings (nekkhamme cittam) would not sink in (na pakkhandati), would not purify (na pasidati), would not calm down (na santitthati) my mind, and it would not become liberated (na vimuccati)”.

  • Then a thought occurred to me: “What is the reason that such thoughts free of sense cravings (nekkhamme cittam) would not sink in (na pakkhandati), would not purify (na pasidati), calm down, would not calm down (na santitthati) my mind so that it would not become liberated (na vimuccati)?”.
  • Then this thought occurred to me: “I have not seen the dangers/drawbacks (ādinava) of sensual pleasures; I have not contemplated the dangers/drawbacks of sensual pleasures at depth (abahulikato). I have not understood the rewards of renunciation (nekkhamme ānisamsa). I have not contemplated at depth (anāsēvita) the rewards of renunciation. That’s why my mind would not become liberated (na vimuccati)“.
  • Then this thought occurred to me: “If, I see the dangers of sensual pleasures and the benefits of renunciation of sense pleasures, such thoughts free of sense cravings (nekkhamme cittam) will sink in (pakkhandati), will purify (pasidati), will calm down ( santitthati) my mind so that it will become liberated ( vimuccati)”.

My comment: One needs to pay attention here to the Buddha describing to Tapussa how he had thought about the above thought process. But, he figured out exactly how to do that only on the night of attaining the Buddhahood:

7. “At a later time —aparena samyena — (the night of attaining the Buddhahood), having seen the drawback of sensual pleasures, I pursued that theme; I contemplated on the drawbacks of sense pleasures, and understood the rewards of renunciation, and understood the solution of getting rid of cravings (āsāvās). Then my mind firmly held such a mindset, calmed down, and was released from such sensual thoughts.

  • Above paragraph describes what happened on the night of the Enlightenment, when he finally realized āsavakkhaya ñāna, how to remove āsāvās by contemplating on Tilakkhana; see, “The Way to Nibbana – Removal of Asavas“.
  • As we know, he went through six years of various types of suffering to discover āsavakkhaya ñāna.
  • Now we get back to the difficulties faced by the Bodhisatta in the intervening six years in trying to make the first jhāna unbreakable or stable.

8. “Withdrawn from sensuality (vivicca kāmehi), withdrawn from immoral (vivicca akusala dhammehi), I entered and remained in the vicinity of the first jhāna with rapture and pleasure born from that restfulness (vivekajam), accompanied by savitakka/savicara (nekkhamma/avihimsa thoughts)“.

  • “However, I was still beset with recurring perceptions of sensuality (kāmasahagatā sañ­ñāmana­sikārā samudācaranti). That was a suffering for me. Just as pain arises as an affliction for a healthy person, even so those recurring sensual thoughts was an affliction for me”.

(Note that the Bodhisatta experienced this problem early, when he learned how to get to jhānās by his early anāriya teachers: Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. He developed the pathway during those intervening six years, but successfully implemented it only on the night of Enlightenment via āsavakkhaya ñāna).

9. At a later time (the night of attaining the Buddhahood), having seen the drawback of vitakka, I pursued that theme; I contemplated on the drawbacks of vitakka, and understood the rewards of avitakka, when I understood the benefits of getting rid of cravings (āsāvās). Then my mind firmly held such a mindset, calmed down, and was released from such sensual thoughts.

  • Now we get back to the difficulties faced by the Bodhisatta with the second jhāna, before the night of the Enlightenment.

10. “Then I thought: ‘I should get to the samādhi-generated (samādhijam) second jhāna that  is free of these thoughts burdened with (vitakka/vicāra)'”. Here it is important to realize that vitakka means to have the mind set on a defiled thought object and vicāra means to keep it there.

  • “However, in the second jhāna, such thoughts free of vitakka (i.e., avitakka) would not sink in, would not purify, calm down, would not calm down my mind so that it would not become liberated (avitakke cittaṃ na pakkhandati nappasīdati na santiṭṭhati na vimuccati)”.
  • Then this thought occurred to me: “I have not seen the dangers/drawbacks (ādinava) of vitakka; I have not contemplated the dangers/drawbacks of vitakka at depth (abahulikato). I have not understood the rewards of avitakka (avitakke ānisamsa). I have not contemplated at depth (anāsēvita) the rewards of avitakka. That’s why my mind would not become liberated (na vimuccati)”.
  • Then I was able to enter and stay in the vicinity of the second jhāna that was supposed to be devoid of such defiled thoughts (vitakka) and with piti and sukha.

11. This is a recurring theme for the rest of the sutta. The difficulty encountered at each jhāna level starting from the next verse, and the solution found on the night of Enlightenment.

  • I am going to skip a few repeating steps here, for the third and fourth jhāna.

12. I was able to enter and stay in the vicinity of the third jhāna that was devoid of piti but with sukha.

  • However, even then perception of piti kept arising in me (pitisahagata sannamanasikara samudacaranti). That was an affliction for me. Just as pain arises as an affliction for a healthy person, even so those recurring piti was an affliction for me.
  • “At a later time (the night of attaining the Buddhahood), verse is skipped here.

13. I was able to enter and stay in the vicinity of the fourth jhāna that was devoid of sukha but with upekkha.

  • However, even then perception of upekkha sukha kept arising in me (upekkhasukhasahagata sannamanasikara samudacaranti). That was an affliction for me. Just as pain arises as an affliction for a healthy person, even so those recurring upekkha sukha was an affliction for me.
  • “At a later time (the night of attaining the Buddhahood), verse is skipped here.
  • Now we get to the arupavacara jhāna, and the steps are basically the same.

14.  I was able to enter and stay in the vicinity of ākāsānañ­cāyatana by thinking, “Infinite space,” and transcending of perceptions of rupa , with the disappearance of perceptions of patigha, and not heeding various arammana (‘yannūnāhaṃ sabbaso rūpasaññānaṃ samatikkamā paṭi­gha­saññā­naṃ atthaṅgamā nānat­ta­saññā­naṃ amanasikārā “).

  • However, even in the vicinity of ākāsānañ­cāyatana, perceptions of rupa kept arising in me, and that was an affliction for me (..iminā vihārena viharato rūpasahagatā sañ­ñāmana­sikārā samudācaranti. Svassa me hoti ābādho).

15. “At a later time (the night of attaining the Buddhahood), having seen the drawback of forms (rupa), I pursued that theme; I contemplated on the drawbacks of rupa, and understood the rewards of ākāsānañ­cāyatana, when I understood the benefits of getting rid of cravings (āsāvās). Then my mind firmly held such a mindset, calmed down, and was released from such sensual thoughts.

16. I was able to enter what I thought was viñ­ñā­ṇañ­cāyatana, the infinitude of consciousness.

  • “As I remained there, I was beset with attention to perceptions dealing with the dimension of the infinitude of space (ākāsānañ­cāyata­na­saha­gatā sañ­ñāmana­sikārā samudācaranti). That was an affliction for me. Just as pain arises as an affliction for a healthy person, even so the attention to perceptions dealing with the dimension of the infinitude of space that beset me was an affliction for me.

17. So at a later time, having seen the drawback of the dimension of the infinitude of space (ākāsānañ­cāyatana), I pursued that theme; having understood the reward of the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness (viñ­ñā­ṇañ­cāyatana), I familiarized myself with it. My heart leaped up at the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, grew confident, steadfast, and firm, seeing it as peace. With the complete transcending of the dimension of the infinitude of space, [perceiving,] ‘Infinite consciousness,’ I entered and remained in the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness.

  • The sutta goes through the rest of the arupavacara jhāna. At each stage, the Buddha on the night of Enlightenment was able to REMOVE each jhāna factor, not just bypass it as in anariya jhāna.
  • This was done by contemplating on the anicca, dukkha, anatta nature of each jhānic state.

18. “So at a later time, having seen the drawback of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception (neva­saññā­nā­sañ­ñāyata­na), I pursued that theme; … With the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, I entered and remained in the cessation of perception and feeling (saññā­ve­dayi­ta­nirodha). And as I saw with discernment, the mental fermentations (āsavā ) were totally eliminated.

  • It is important to note that saññā­ve­dayi­ta ­nirodha cannot be attained via anāriya jhāna. This is Nibbāna experienced by a living Arahant.

19. “Ananda, as long as I had not attained and emerged from these nine step-by-step dwelling-attainments in forward and backward order in this way, I did not claim to have attained the Buddhahood that is supreme in the cosmos with its Devās, Mārās, and Brahmas, with its contemplatives and brāhmans, with its royalty and common people.

  • But as soon as I had attained and emerged from these nine step-by-step dwelling-attainments in forward and backward order in this way, then I did claim to have directly awakened to the right self-awakening supreme state in the cosmos with its Devās, Mārās, and Brahmas, with its contemplatives and brāhmans, its royalty and common people. Knowledge and vision arose in me: ‘My release is unshakable (akuppā me cetovimutti), This is the last birth and there is now no rebirths  (ayamantimā jāti, natthi dāni punabbhavo’”ti).

20. That is the step-by-step process of getting to the “total detachment” from the 31 realms of this world via successive Ariya jhānic states. That ultimate release of the mind attained this way is called akuppā cetovimutti.

  • Of course, one can get to the same ultimate state (Arahanthood), without going through jhāna, and that is called paññāvimutti; see, “Pannāvimutti – Arahanthood without Jhāna“.
  • It is also clear that a paññāvimutti Arahant cannot get to the saññā­ve­dayi­ta ­nirodha state during his/her lifetime.

21. The efforts by the Bodhisatta to figure out how to remove āsavā (including kāma rāga)  — – mainly by inflicting many bodily sufferings — for six years, are described in detail in the following two suttas: “Bodhi­rāja­kumāra Sutta (MN 85)” and “Mahāsacca­ka Sutta (MN 36)“.