CHAPTER 6: ONE WAY OUT

Chapter 6: One Way Out

As the Buddha stated in his first sermon, the knowledge that led to his Awakening was a special kind of knowledge and vision—yathā-bhūta-ñāṇa-dassana—into the four noble truths. Because the bhūta in this compound can mean “truth,” the compound as a whole is usually translated as “knowledge and vision into things as they truly are.” However, bhūta is also the past participle of bhavati, in which case it means “having become” or “come to be.” Now, the Buddha taught that the way to avoid the dual trap of craving for becoming and craving for non-becoming was to view things as they have come to be. Thus the knowledge leading to Awakening would better be described as “knowledge and vision of things as they have come to be.”

“Overcome by two viewpoints, some human & divine beings adhere, other human & divine beings slip right past, while those with vision see.

“And how do some adhere? Human & divine beings delight in becoming, enjoy becoming, are satisfied with becoming. When the Dhamma is being taught for the sake of the cessation of becoming, their minds do not take to it, are not calmed by it, do not settle on it, or become resolved on it. This is how some adhere.

“And how do some slip right past? Some, feeling horrified, humiliated, & disgusted with that very becoming, delight in non-becoming: ‘When this self, at the break-up of the body, after death, perishes & is destroyed, and does not exist after death, that is peaceful, that is exquisite, that is sufficiency!’ This is how some slip right past.

“And how do those with vision see? There is the case where a monk sees what’s come to be as what’s come to be. Seeing this, he practices for disenchantment with what’s come to be, dispassion for what’s come to be, and the cessation of what’s come to be. This is how those with vision see….

Those, having seen

what’s come to be

as what’s come to be,

and what’s gone beyond

what’s come to be,

are released in line

with what’s come to be,

through the exhaustion of craving for becoming.

If they’ve comprehended what’s come to be—

and are free from craving

for becoming & not-,

with the non-becoming

of what’s come to be—

monks come to no renewed becoming.— Iti 49

The first of the three alternatives listed in the prose part of this passage—adhering to becoming—is nothing more than the continued desire to engage in the process of becoming, unwilling to heed the Buddha’s warnings of its drawbacks. The second alternative, delighting in non-becoming, is here given its clearest definition in the discourses. It consists of delight in the idea that what is currently becoming will pass away.

The third alternative—seeing things as they have come to be—is best understood by reviewing the approach the mind takes in giving rise to becoming. Delight in becoming focuses on the ground and nutriment for becoming in anticipation of converting them into a sense of self and the world. Delight in non-becoming focuses on the ground and nutriment in anticipation of their passing. In both cases, the mind inhabits a location in the focal point of delight. To see things as they have come to be, however, means looking at them without the interference of delight of any sort, simply to watch them as, having arisen, they pass away.

Because the ground for becoming is composed of old kamma as experienced through new kamma, this means, ideally, trying to experience the old kamma directly with no new kammic input. This, however, requires a great deal of skill, which is developed by trying first to see old and new kamma simply as events per se, so that one can ferret out the subtle levels of delight that can turn these events into becoming. When seeing these types of kamma simply as events—rather than as raw material for delight—one is struck by how inconstant and evanescent they are, totally dependent on causes and conditions that are also inconstant and evanescent. This gives rise to a sense of disenchantment for them, thus making it easier to abandon progressively subtler levels of passion and delight for new kamma and the process of becoming, until ultimately the moisture for becoming is all gone.

“One sees with right discernment that ‘this has come to be.’ Seeing with right discernment that ‘this has come to be,’ one practices for disenchantment with, for dispassion toward, for the cessation of what has come to be. One sees with right discernment that ‘it has come to be from this nutriment.’ Seeing with right discernment that ‘it has come to be from this nutriment,’ one practices for disenchantment with, for dispassion toward, for the cessation of the nutriment by which it has come to be. One sees with right discernment that ‘from the cessation of this nutriment, what has come to be is subject to cessation.’ Seeing with right discernment that ‘from the cessation of this nutriment, what has come to be is subject to cessation,’ one practices for disenchantment with, for dispassion toward, for the cessation of what is subject to cessation. This is how one is a learner.

“And how is one a person who has fathomed the Dhamma?

“One sees with right discernment that ‘this has come to be.’ Seeing with right discernment that ‘this has come to be,’ one is—through disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, through lack of clinging/sustenance—released from what has come to be. One sees with right discernment that ‘it has come to be from this nutriment.’ Seeing with right discernment that ‘it has come to be from this nutriment,’ one is—through disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, through lack of clinging/sustenance—released from the nutriment by which it has come to be. One sees with right discernment that ‘from the cessation of this nutriment, what has come to be is subject to cessation.’ Seeing with right discernment that ‘from the cessation of this nutriment, what has come to be is subject to cessation,’ one is—through disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, through lack of clinging/sustenance—released from what is subject to cessation. This is how one is a person who has fathomed the Dhamma.”— SN 12:31

“Monks, when one sees with right discernment as it has come to be that ‘This has come to be,’ is uncertainty abandoned?”

“Yes, lord.”

“And when one sees with right discernment as it has come to be that, ‘Its coming-into-being is with that as nutriment,’ is uncertainty abandoned?”

“Yes, lord.”

“And when one sees with right discernment as it has come to be that, ‘From the cessation of that nutriment, what has come to be is subject to cessation,’ is uncertainty abandoned?”

“Yes, lord.”

“Monks, are you thus free from uncertainty here that ‘This has come to be’?”

“Yes, lord.”

“And are you thus free from uncertainty that ‘It has come into being from that nutriment’?”

“Yes, lord.”

“And are you thus free from uncertainty that ‘From the cessation of that nutriment, what has come to be is subject to cessation’?”

“Yes, lord.”

“Monks, is it well-seen with right discernment as it has come to be that ‘This has come to be’?”

“Yes, lord.”

“Is it well-seen with right discernment as it has come to be that ‘It has come into being from that nutriment’?”

“Yes, lord.”

“Is it well-seen with right discernment as it has come to be that ‘From the cessation of that nutriment, what has come to be is subject to cessation’?”

“Yes, lord.”

“If you were to latch on to, to cherish, to treasure, to be possessive of this view—so pure, so bright—would you understand the Dhamma as taught similar to a raft for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of holding onto?”

“No, lord.”

“If you were not to latch on to, to cherish, to treasure, or to be possessive of this view—so pure, so bright—would you understand the Dhamma as taught by me to be similar to a raft for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of holding onto?”

“Yes, lord.”— MN 38

Thus the Buddha did not intend his third alternative to be clung to as a view. Instead, it is used as a tool—like the raft for crossing the river—to achieve a particular effect on the mind. Once that effect has struck home with sufficient force to rid the mind of its delight for either becoming or non-becoming, the tool can be put aside.

Now because the mind, in taking up this approach, is necessarily in a state of becoming, this raises a strategic necessity: There must be a particular state of becoming that is conducive for looking at things in this way. And, as the Buddha points out, that state does exist—when the mind is in a state of jhāna, or right concentration.

“Develop concentration, monks. A concentrated monk discerns things as they have come to be. And what does he discern as it has come to be? The origination & disappearance of form. The origination & disappearance of feeling… perception… fabrications. The origination & disappearance of consciousness.

“And what is the origination of form… feeling… perception… fabrications? What is the origination of consciousness?

“There is the case where one enjoys, welcomes, & remains fastened. And what does one enjoy & welcome, to what does one remain fastened? One enjoys, welcomes, & remains fastened to form. As one enjoys, welcomes, & remains fastened to form, there arises delight. Any delight in form is clinging. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

[Similarly with feeling, perception, fabrications, and consciousness.]

“And what is the disappearance of form… feeling… perception… fabrications? What is the disappearance of consciousness?

“There is the case where one doesn’t enjoy, welcome, or remain fastened. And what does one not enjoy or welcome, to what does one not remain fastened? One doesn’t enjoy, welcome, or remain fastened to form. As one doesn’t enjoy, welcome, or remain fastened to form, any delight in form ceases. From the cessation of delight comes the cessation of clinging. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance, the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming, the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

[Similarly with feeling, perception, fabrications, and consciousness.]— SN 22:5

“Develop concentration, monks. A concentrated monk discerns things as they have come to be. And what does he discern as it has come to be?

“‘This is stress,’ he discerns as it has come to be. ‘This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress,’ he discerns as it has come to be.”— SN 56:1

Stress, its origination, its cessation, and the path to its cessation are the four noble truths. Thus concentration is what makes the knowledge of Awakening possible. To see these things as they have come to be means two things: viewing events under the framework of the four truths as a whole, and focusing on the content of each truth within that framework.

As a whole, the four noble truths constitute a way of viewing experience that avoids dealing in the essential terms of becoming: self and the world. Instead, it focuses simply on the issue of cause and effect, and the way the connections between cause and effect can be manipulated unskillfully, leading to suffering, or skillfully, to its end. The imperatives that grow from this framework are different from those growing from the sense of self and the world. Instead of being enjoined to use the world to satisfy the craving around which the sense of self is built, one is enjoined simply to comprehend stress, abandon its cause, realize its cessation, and develop the path to its cessation.

Although a sense of self and the world will inevitably accompany the initial stages in adopting this point of view—as “I” decide to adopt it and master it—that sense of self is ultimately not essential to the framework. In fact, the framework allows one to view the creation of a sense of self and the world as an activity falling under the principle of cause and effect—an activity that can be judged as skillful or unskillful, to be developed where skillful and abandoned where not. Thus this framework is ideal for undercutting clinging to any sense of self or the world that would lead to becoming.

As for the content of the truths: Stress, the content of the first noble truth, is summarized as the five clinging-aggregates—in other words, the ground and nutriment of becoming as moistened with clinging and craving. The origination of stress is the clinging and craving that acts as the moisture itself. The cessation of stress is dispassion for and cessation of that moisture. And the path leading to the cessation of stress consists of right concentration together with the seven “requisites” that make it noble (MN 117). These requisites are nothing other than the seven other factors that make up the noble path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, and right mindfulness.

What is striking here is that the first two truths focus directly on the factors that give rise to becoming, whereas the last truth focuses on itself. In other words, it focuses on the particular state of becoming—induced through discernment, virtue, and the practice of jhāna—that can be used to put an end to becoming. In practical terms, this means that once the path has been used to bring about dispassion for all other types of becoming, it can be turned on itself in a way that induces dispassion for the factors comprising the path. Thus the path contains the seeds for its own disbanding. In this way, it covers all possible types of becoming and so can put an end to becoming in all its forms.

Of course, jhāna on its own does not automatically function in this way, for as we have seen it is a prime example of becoming on the form and formless levels. To become a factor in the path to the end of becoming, it needs the insight provided by right view—seeing phenomena in terms of the four noble truths—together with the other factors that lead from right view to right concentration. Only then can it function in this new way. Nevertheless, it provides an absolutely essential vantage point from which right view can do its work. Unlike many later teachers in the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha did not regard right concentration—the four jhānas—as a dispensable factor of the path.

“I tell you, the ending of the effluents depends on the first jhāna… the second jhāna… the third… the fourth… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness. I tell you, the ending of the effluents depends on the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.”— AN 9:36

“Knowledge of the ending of the effluents, as it is has come to be, occurs to one who is concentrated, I tell you, and not to one who is not concentrated. So concentration is the path, monks. Non-concentration is no path at all.”— AN 6:64

After all, jhāna was the first factor of the path that occurred to the Buddha when, as a young Bodhisatta, he realized that the path of austerities was not the true way to Awakening.

“I thought: ‘Whatever contemplatives or brahmans in the past have felt painful, racking, piercing feelings due to their striving, this is the utmost. None have been greater than this. Whatever contemplatives or brahmans in the future will feel painful, racking, piercing feelings due to their striving, this is the utmost. None will be greater than this. Whatever contemplatives or brahmans in the present are feeling painful, racking, piercing feelings due to their striving, this is the utmost. None is greater than this. But with this racking practice of austerities I haven’t attained any superior human state, any distinction in knowledge or vision worthy of the noble ones. Could there be another path to Awakening?’

“I thought: ‘I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then—quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities—I entered & remained in the first jhāna: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. Could that be the path to Awakening?’ Then following on that memory came the realization: ‘That is the path to Awakening.’ I thought: ‘So why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities?’ I thought: ‘I am no longer afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities.”— MN 36

This last fact—that jhāna provides a pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality—is the first reason why jhāna is such an essential factor of the path. Without the pleasure of jhāna as a higher, more stable alternative, one is sure to remain attached to sensuality, even if one has right view about sensuality’s drawbacks.

“The uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person… when touched with a feeling of pain, delights in sensuality. Why is that? Because the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person does not discern any escape from painful feeling aside from sensuality. As he is delighting in sensuality, any passion-obsession with regard to that feeling of pleasure obsesses him….

“Now, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones, when touched with a feeling of pain… does not delight in sensuality. Why is that? Because the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones discerns an escape from painful feeling aside from sensuality.”— SN 36:6

“Even though a disciple of the noble ones has clearly seen with right discernment as it has come to be that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, still—if he has not attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that—he can be tempted by sensuality. But when he has clearly seen with right discernment as it has come to be that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, and he has attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, he cannot be tempted by sensuality.”— MN 14

“When elephants & cow-elephants & calf-elephants & baby elephants go ahead of a wilderness tusker foraging for food and break off the tips of the grasses, the wilderness tusker feels irritated, upset, & disgusted. When elephants & cow-elephants & calf-elephants & baby elephants devour the wilderness tusker’s bunches of branches, he feels irritated, upset, & disgusted. When elephants & cow-elephants & calf-elephants & baby elephants go ahead of the wilderness tusker on his way down to his bath and stir up the mud in the water with their trunks, he feels irritated, upset, & disgusted. When cow-elephants go along as the wilderness tusker is bathing and bang up against his body, he feels irritated, upset, & disgusted.

“Then the thought occurs to the wilderness tusker, ‘ …. What if I were to live alone, apart from the crowd?’

“So at a later time he lives alone, apart from the crowd. He feeds off grass with unbroken tips. His bunches of branches are undevoured. He drinks unmuddied water. When he bathes, cow-elephants don’t go along and bang up against his body. The thought occurs to him, ‘Before, I lived hemmed in by elephants & cow-elephants & calf-elephants & baby elephants. I fed off grass with broken-off tips. My bunches of branches were devoured. I drank muddied water. Even when I bathed, cow-elephants would go along and bang up against my body. But now I live alone, apart from the crowd. I feed off grass with unbroken tips. My bunches of branches are undevoured. I drink unmuddied water. When I bathe, cow-elephants don’t go along and bang up against my body.’ Breaking off a branch with his trunk and scratching his body with it, gratified, he allays his itch.

In the same way, when a monk lives hemmed in with monks, nuns, male & female lay followers, kings, royal ministers, sectarians, & their disciples, the thought occurs to him, ‘…. What if I were to live alone, apart from the crowd?’

“So he seeks out a secluded dwelling: a wilderness, the shade of a tree, a mountain, a glen, a hillside cave, a charnel ground, a forest grove, the open air, a heap of straw. After his meal, returning from his alms round, he sits down, crosses his legs, holds his body erect, and brings mindfulness to the fore.

“Abandoning covetousness with regard to the world, he dwells with an awareness devoid of covetousness. He cleanses his mind of covetousness. Abandoning ill will and anger, he dwells with an awareness devoid of ill will, sympathetic with the welfare of all living beings. He cleanses his mind of ill will and anger. Abandoning sloth and drowsiness, he dwells with an awareness devoid of sloth and drowsiness, mindful, alert, percipient of light. He cleanses his mind of sloth and drowsiness. Abandoning restlessness and anxiety, he dwells undisturbed, his mind inwardly stilled. He cleanses his mind of restlessness and anxiety. Abandoning uncertainty, he dwells having crossed over uncertainty, with no perplexity with regard to skillful mental qualities. He cleanses his mind of uncertainty.

“Having abandoned these five hindrances, corruptions of awareness that weaken discernment… he enters & remains in the first jhāna… Gratified, he allays his itch.

“ … He enters & remains in the second jhāna… the third jhāna… the fourth jhāna… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness… the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. Gratified, he allays his itch.”— AN 9:40

Thus jhāna, on its own, can provide a superior escape from pain and suffering, a gratifying sense of pleasure, ease, and equanimity with none of the dangers posed by sensual passion. When accompanied by right view, jhāna can enable the mind to abandon the fetter of sensual passion once and for all. This is why the point in the practice where this fetter is abandoned—non-return—is also the point where the practice of concentration has been brought to the fullness of its development (AN 3:88). At that point, once the mind is no longer distracted by sensuality, it can focus without interference on the issue of becoming in and of itself.

This helps to explain the practical corollary to the paradox of becoming: To truly see becoming in a way that puts an end to becoming, one must bring jhāna—a state of becoming—into being. In fact, the Pāli term for meditation—bhāvanā—literally means “developing” or “bringing into being.” It, along with the other elements of the path, is something that should be developed (bhāvetabba).

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress is to be developed.”— SN 56:11

In developing the path, all the elements of becoming are brought into play. The path itself is a type of kamma, consciousness has to be focused on the task, and even desire—craving—plays an essential role.

“And what, monks, is right effort? There is the case where a monk generates desire, endeavors, activates persistence, upholds & exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen… for the sake of the abandoning of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen… for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen… for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen.”— SN 45:8 (emphasis added)

I have heard that on one occasion Ven. Ānanda was staying in Kosambī, at Ghosita’s Park. Then the brahman Uṇṇābha went to Ven. Ānanda…. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to Ven. Ānanda: “Master Ānanda, what is the aim of this holy life lived under the contemplative Gotama?”

“Brahman, the holy life is lived under the Blessed One with the aim of abandoning desire.”

“Is there a path, is there a practice, for the abandoning of that desire?”

“Yes, there is a path, there is a practice, for the abandoning of that desire.”

“What is the path, the practice, for the abandoning of that desire?”

“Brahman, there is the case where a monk develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on desire & the fabrications of exertion. He develops the base of power endowed with concentration founded on persistence… concentration founded on intent… concentration founded on discrimination & the fabrications of exertion. This, brahman, is the path, this is the practice for the abandoning of that desire.”

“If that’s so, Master Ānanda, then it’s an endless path, and not one with an end, for it’s impossible that one could abandon desire by means of desire.”

“In that case, brahman, let me question you on this matter. Answer as you see fit. What do you think: Didn’t you first have desire, thinking, ‘I’ll go to the park,’ and then when you reached the park, wasn’t that particular desire allayed?”

“Yes, sir”….

“So it is with an arahant whose effluents are ended, who has reached fulfillment, done the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, totally destroyed the fetter of becoming, and who is released through right gnosis. Whatever desire he first had for the attainment of arahantship, on attaining arahantship that particular desire is allayed…. So what do you think, brahman? Is this an endless path, or one with an end?”

“You’re right, Master Ānanda. This is a path with an end, and not an endless one.”— SN 51:15

Ven. Ānanda: “‘This body comes into being through craving. And yet it is by relying on craving that craving is to be abandoned.’ Thus it was said. And in reference to what was it said? There is the case, sister, where a monk hears, ‘The monk named such-and-such, they say, through the ending of the effluents, has entered & remains in the effluent-free awareness-release & discernment-release, having known & realized them for himself in the here & now.’ The thought occurs to him, ‘I hope that I, too, will—through the ending of the effluents—enter & remain in the effluent-free awareness-release & discernment-release, having directly known & realized them for myself right in the here & now.’ Then, at a later time, he abandons craving, having relied on craving.”— AN 4:159

Notice that two kinds of desire are encouraged here. First, as an overall orientation, one is advised to foster desire for the goal of the path, which is to put an end to renewed becoming. Second, as a means to that end, one is advised to generate desire for the abandoning of unskillful qualities thwarting that goal, and for the development of skillful qualities leading to it. This means that, as an overall strategy, one is encouraged to aim at the end of becoming, while as a tactical maneuver one is encouraged to aspire to certain types of becoming as means to that end. In this way, one tames both the desire for non-becoming and the desire for becoming, and puts them to use in a way that actually leads to the end of becoming.

These desires are tamed because the mind understands the process of cause and effect thoroughly enough to realize that the simple desire to end becoming is not enough to attain the goal. It sees, in line with the four noble truths, that the problem of becoming is to be solved not by abandoning the problem, but by comprehending the problem and abandoning its causes.

Because jhāna—the means to this end—is a state of becoming, even clinging—the prerequisite for becoming—has to be converted into a factor in the development of the path to provide the moisture needed to nurture the development of jhāna. Of the four types of clinging, only clinging to sensuality is excluded from this role for—as we have seen—sensuality-clinging is a direct obstacle to the arising of jhāna. However, as the Buddha noted when he first realized that jhāna was the path, jhāna cannot be attained when the body is weakened through lack of food. Thus a modicum of sensual pleasure—a result of skillful sensual kamma—is required for jhāna, even though sensual passion has to be put aside. Because sensual passion can easily assume the guise of what is “reasonably necessary” for comfort, the Buddha formulated a standard for judging the enjoyment of pleasure to test whether it is actually sensual passion in disguise.

“The monk, when not loaded down, does not load himself down with pain, nor does he reject pleasure that accords with the Dhamma, although he is not infatuated with that pleasure…. (But) he notices this: ‘When I live according to my pleasure, unskillful mental qualities increase in me & skillful qualities decline. When I exert myself with stress & pain, though, unskillful qualities decline in me & skillful qualities increase. Why don’t I exert myself with stress & pain?‘ So he exerts himself with stress & pain, and while he is exerting himself with stress & pain, unskillful qualities decline in him, & skillful qualities increase. Then at a later time he would no longer exert himself with stress & pain. Why is that? Because he has attained the goal for which he was exerting himself with stress & pain.”— MN 101

In this way, sensual pleasure is allowed on the path, but not to the point of developing into sensuality-clinging. However, the other three types of clinging are given clear roles in the path. View is converted to right view; habits are converted to right speech, right action, and right livelihood; and practices are converted to right concentration and the factors that support it: right resolve, right effort, and right mindfulness.

Even a skillful sense of self plays a role, although it is never fully developed into an explicit self-doctrine. Instead, mundane right view—acceptance of the teaching on kamma—induces an implicit sense of self, starting with a sense of responsibility and self-reliance.

“‘I am the owner of kamma, heir to kamma, born of kamma, related through kamma, and have kamma as (my) arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir’: This is the fifth fact one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained.”— AN 5:57

Your own self is

your own mainstay,

for who else could your mainstay be?

With you yourself well-trained

you obtain the mainstay

hard to obtain.— Dhp 160

Make an island for yourself!

Work quickly! Be wise!

With impurities all blown away,

unblemished,

you’ll reach the divine realm

of the noble ones.— Dhp 235

Excellent are tamed mules,

tamed thoroughbreds,

tamed horses from Sindh.

Excellent, tamed tuskers,

great elephants.

But even more excellent

are those self-tamed.

For not by these mounts could you go

to the land unreached,

as the tamed one goes

by taming, well-taming, himself.— Dhp 322-323

A healthy sense of self also includes confidence in one’s own abilities to succeed at the path.

“‘This body comes into being through conceit. And yet it is by relying on conceit that conceit is to be abandoned.’ Thus it was said. And in reference to what was it said? There is the case, sister, where a monk hears, ‘The monk named such-and-such, they say, through the ending of the effluents, has entered & remains in the effluent-free awareness-release & discernment-release, having directly known & realized them for himself right in the here & now.’ The thought occurs to him, ‘The monk named such-&-such, they say, through the ending of the effluents, has entered & remains in the effluent-free awareness-release & discernment-release, having directly known & realized them for himself right in the here & now. Then why not me?’ Then, at a later time, he abandons conceit, having relied on conceit. ‘This body comes into being through conceit. And yet it is by relying on conceit that conceit is to be abandoned.’ Thus it was said, and in reference to this was it said.”— AN 4:159

Self-reliance and self-esteem, when healthy, are not selfish. Compassionate behavior is taught as a natural consequence of genuine self-love, for if one’s happiness depends on the suffering of others, they will do whatever they can to bring that happiness to an end.

Searching all directions

with your awareness,

you find no one dearer

than yourself.

In the same way, others

are thickly dear to themselves.

So you shouldn’t hurt others

if you love yourself.— Ud 5:1

Even the practice of right mindfulness—the theme of right concentration (MN 44)—makes skillful use of a sense of “me.”

“There is the case where, there being sensual desire present within, a monk discerns that ‘There is sensual desire present within me.’ Or, there being no sensual desire present within, he discerns that ‘There is no sensual desire present within me.’ He discerns how there is the arising of unarisen sensual desire. And he discerns how there is the abandoning of sensual desire once it has arisen. And he discerns how there is no future arising of sensual desire that has been abandoned. [The same formula is repeated for the remaining hindrances: ill will, sloth & drowsiness, restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty.]”— DN 22 (emphasis added)

In this way, a sense of self based on a competent mastery of cause and effect is an essential part of the path. And because this competence is defined in terms of cause and effect—the underlying principles of the four noble truths—it can continue to function even after the sense of self used to develop it has been abandoned.

These, then, are the ways in which jhāna is mastered by using views, habits and practices, and one’s sense of self in a skillful way. Views, habits, and practices are converted to factors of the noble path—i.e., noble right concentration and its requisites—and one’s sense of self is implicitly defined in terms of the self-reliance, self-esteem, and compassionate self-confidence required to bring those factors alive.

*      *      *

Once mastered, jhāna provides not only a refuge of happiness beyond the need for sensuality, but also a vantage point for viewing becoming as it has come to be. Because jhāna, in building on right mindfulness (MN 44), is a consciously developed state of mindfulness and alertness, it is an ideal place to observe the processes of becoming in action. In this way it can also provide insight into how the conditions underlying becoming might best be allowed to lapse.

To begin with, an essential feature of jhāna is a consistent one-pointedness. This one-pointedness can function in two ways. First, it provides a point of reference from which one can observe the inconstant nature of less refined and more unstable states of becoming. In the course of developing jhāna, the meditator must learn how to deconstruct distracting thought worlds as they interfere with concentration. This skill, as it is mastered, provides insight into the component factors of becoming—past and present kamma, craving and clinging, and consciousness—in action. When jhāna is mastered, the mind is in a position where it can intentionally bring other thought worlds into the range of its concentration, and examine their movements in even greater detail. This examination is especially effective in observing the instability of states of becoming based on sensuality. In this way, the mastery of jhāna helps loosen attachment to the sensual level of kamma.

Second, mastery of jhāna provides long periods of mental stillness that enable one to observe how passion and delight can form a location of becoming around the focal point at the heart of jhāna itself. To observe this focal point—rather than simply being absorbed in it—one must step back a bit from one’s full absorption without yet destroying the jhāna. The ability to do this relies on two things: the fact that consciousness can serve as food for consciousness, and that jhāna provides an expanded, whole-body awareness. One observes a state of jhāna consciousness as one’s food, while inhabiting another locus of consciousness within the expanded field of awareness provided by that jhāna consciousness. This, however, is a special skill, developed above and beyond the four jhānas themselves.

The Blessed One said: “Now what, monks, is five-factored noble right concentration? There is the case where a monk… enters and remains in the first jhāna… the second jhāna… the third jhāna… the fourth jhāna….

“And furthermore, the monk has his theme of reflection well in hand, well attended to, well-considered, well-tuned/well-penetrated by means of discernment.

“Just as if one person were to reflect on another, or a standing person were to reflect on a sitting person, or a sitting person were to reflect on a person lying down; even so, monks, the monk has his theme of reflection well in hand, well attended to, well-pondered, well-tuned/well-penetrated by means of discernment. This is the fifth development of the five-factored noble right concentration.”— AN 5:28

In this fifth factor, one can observe each jhāna while still in the expanded range it provides. One can watch not only the focal point of awareness, but also all the other mental factors that go into making the jhāna.

“There was the case where Sāriputta—quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities—entered & remained in the first jhāna…. Whatever qualities there are in the first jhāna—directed thought, evaluation, rapture, pleasure, singleness of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness [or, in a variant reading, “intent”], desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity, & attention—he ferreted them out one after another. Known to him they arose, known to him they remained, known to him they subsided. He discerned, ‘So this is how these qualities, not having been, come into play. Having been, they vanish.’”— MN 111

As MN 111 explicitly notes, one can observe these phenomena as they arise within any of the levels of right concentration while in them, with the exception of two: the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception and the cessation of feeling and perception. For these two levels, one can observe the state only after having left it.

“Furthermore, with the complete transcending of the dimension of nothingness, Sariputta entered & remained in the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. He emerged mindfully from that attainment. On emerging mindfully from that attainment, he regarded the past qualities that had ceased & changed: ‘So this is how these qualities, not having been, come into play. Having been, they vanish.’ [Similarly with the cessation of feeling and perception.]”— MN 111

In addition to providing a spot where one can observe the mind in action, the practice of jhāna also provides the mind with direct, hands-on experience in manipulating the five aggregates, thus familiarizing it with the categories of thought needed to understand the kammic ground of becoming.

The “hands-on” aspect of this process can be seen most clearly in the description of the first jhāna which—among the four jhānas—is the only one whose standard simile includes a consciously active agent.

“He enters & remains in the first jhāna: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He permeates & pervades, suffuses & fills this very body with the rapture & pleasure born of seclusion. Just as if a skilled bathman or bathman’s apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again & again with water, so that his ball of bath powder—saturated, moisture-laden, permeated within & without—would nevertheless not drip; even so, the monk permeates… this very body with the rapture & pleasure born of seclusion. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture & pleasure born of seclusion.”— DN 2

Kneading the sense of rapture and pleasure throughout the body is the work of directed thought and evaluation. This work requires skill in dealing not only with the aggregate of feeling, but also with the remaining four aggregates as well. For instance, if the meditator is using the breath—an aspect of the aggregate of form—as the focal point of the jhāna, this means growing familiar not only with the rhythm and texture of breathing that will create the rapture and pleasure to begin with, but also with the different breath forces that suffuse the body (MN 28), so that they can assist in spreading those feelings and not interfere with them. At the same time, the initial focus of the mind requires maintaining a constant perception of the breath. In fact, perception is so central to the practice of jhāna that AN 9:36 terms all the jhānas up through the dimension of nothingness as “perception-attainments.” Fabrication also plays a role in the development of the first jhāna in the form of directed thought and evaluation, which are classed as verbal fabrications (MN 44). And of course the aggregate of consciousness is involved in being aware of all of these processes as objects of the mind. In this way the first jhāna familiarizes the meditator with all five aggregates by providing an opportunity to master them as actions in fabricating the jhāna. Thus it paves the way for viewing the entire ground of kamma in those terms.

The practice of jhāna provides the opportunity to view the aggregates not only within each level of jhāna, but also while moving from one level to another. Because the differences among the levels are measured in terms of aggregates—and in particular, the aggregates of perception and fabrication—this reinforces the mind’s ability to view mental and physical events in those terms.

“Then again, monk, I have also taught the step-by-step stilling of fabrications. When one has attained the first jhāna, speech has been stilled. When one has attained the second jhāna, directed thoughts & evaluations [verbal fabrications] have been stilled. When one has attained the third jhāna, rapture has been stilled. When one has attained the fourth jhāna, in-and-out breaths [bodily fabrications] have been stilled. When one has attained the dimension of the infinitude of space, the perception of forms has been stilled. When one has attained the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of space has been stilled. When one has attained the dimension of nothingness, the perception of the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness has been stilled. When one has attained the dimension of neither-perception nor non-perception, the perception of the dimension of nothingness has been stilled. When one has attained the cessation of perception & feeling, perceptions & feelings [mental fabrications] have been stilled.”— SN 36:11

By developing skill in the use of perceptions, the practice of jhāna provides a two-fold support for the work of right view in seeing things as they have come to be. This is because the work of right view is done largely with perception. The delight that provides a locus for becoming builds on the perception that anticipates a happiness worth the effort involved in producing it. Thus right view must provide alternative perceptions to counteract that wrong view. Here is where the two-fold support provided by jhāna comes in. Because jhāna gives practice in consciously choosing and holding to a single perception for long periods of time, it provides the mental skill needed to stick with these alternative perceptions. At the same time, jhāna provides a solid sense of stability and well-being that enables the mind to maintain these alternative perceptions without succumbing to depression or disorientation—for the perceptions needed to reverse the mind’s addiction to delight have to be strongly distasteful if they are going to have any success in thwarting the mind’s ingrained habit of anticipating that delight. In a mind without a readily available source of pleasure, this process can seem like hell. Only a mind with a solid foundation can maintain it in a happy, healthy, and balanced way.

Examples of these distasteful perceptions are not hard to find in the discourses. We have already seen, in Chapter Two, how the Buddha recommended viewing the four forms of nutriment so as to induce a feeling of dispassion for them. Physical food was to be regarded as the flesh of one’s own child; contact, as creatures feeding on a flayed cow; intellectual intention, as a pit of glowing embers; and consciousness, as the experience of being stabbed by three hundred spears a day.

To undercut delight for the ground of becoming in the form of the five aggregates and six sense media, the Buddha recommended the following perceptions:

“What is the perception of inconstancy? There is the case where a monk—having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building—reflects thus: ‘Form is inconstant, feeling is inconstant, perception is inconstant, fabrications are inconstant, consciousness is inconstant.’ Thus he remains focused on inconstancy with regard to the five aggregates. This, Ānanda, is called the perception of inconstancy.

“And what is the perception of not-self? There is the case where a monk—having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building—reflects thus: ‘The eye is not-self; forms are not-self. The ear is not-self; sounds are not-self. The nose is not-self; aromas are not-self. The tongue is not-self; flavors are not-self. The body is not-self; tactile sensations are not-self. The intellect is not-self; ideas are not-self.’ Thus he remains focused on not-selfness with regard to the six inner & outer sense media. This is called the perception of not-self.

“And what is the perception of unattractiveness? There is the case where a monk ponders this very body—from the soles of the feet on up, from the crown of the head on down, surrounded by skin, filled with all sorts of unclean things: ‘There is in this body: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, muscle, tendons, bones, bone marrow, spleen, heart, liver, membranes, kidneys, lungs, large intestines, small intestines, gorge, feces, gall, phlegm, lymph, blood, sweat, fat, tears, oil, saliva, mucus, oil in the joints, urine.’ Thus he remains focused on unattractiveness with regard to this very body. This is called the perception of unattractiveness.

“And what is the perception of drawbacks? There is the case where a monk—having gone to the wilderness, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty dwelling—reflects thus: ‘This body has many pains, many drawbacks. In this body many kinds of disease arise, such as: seeing-diseases, hearing-diseases, nose-diseases, tongue-diseases, body-diseases, head-diseases, ear-diseases, mouth-diseases, teeth-diseases, cough, asthma, catarrh, fever, aging, stomach-ache, fainting, dysentery, grippe, cholera, leprosy, boils, ringworm, tuberculosis, epilepsy, skin-diseases, itch, scab, psoriasis, scabies, jaundice, diabetes, hemorrhoids, fistulas, ulcers; diseases arising from bile, from phlegm, from the wind-property, from combinations of bodily humors, from changes in the weather, from uneven care of the body, from attacks, from the result of kamma; cold, heat, hunger, thirst, defecation, urination.’ Thus he remains focused on drawbacks with regard to this body. This is called the perception of drawbacks.

“And what is the perception of abandoning? There is the case where a monk does not tolerate an arisen thought of sensuality. He abandons it, destroys it, dispels it, & wipes it out of existence. He does not tolerate an arisen thought of ill-will. He abandons it, destroys it, dispels it, & wipes it out of existence. He does not tolerate an arisen thought of harmfulness. He abandons it, destroys it, dispels it, & wipes it out of existence. He does not tolerate arisen evil, unskillful mental qualities. He abandons them, destroys them, dispels them, & wipes them out of existence. This is called the perception of abandoning….

“And what is the perception of distaste for every world? There is the case where a monk abandoning any attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions with regard to any world, refrains from them and does not get involved. This is called the perception of distaste for every world.

“And what is the perception of the undesirability of all fabrications? There is the case where a monk feels horrified, humiliated, & disgusted with all fabrications. This is called the perception of the undesirability of all fabrications.”— AN 10:60

“Thus an instructed disciple of the noble ones reflects in this way: ‘I am now being chewed up by form. But in the past I was also chewed up by form in the same way I am now being chewed up by present form. And if I delight in future form, then in the future I will be chewed up by form in the same way I am now being chewed up by present form.’ Having reflected in this way, he becomes indifferent to past form, does not delight in future form, and is practicing for the sake of disenchantment, dispassion, and cessation with regard to present form. [Similarly with feeling, perception, fabrications, and consciousness.]”— SN 22:79

These antidote perceptions function in two ways to enable the mind to see things as they have come to be. Some of them focus on developing a sense of distaste for any world of becoming that might be developed out of the ground or nutriment for becoming. Others focus on looking directly at the ground or nutriment, not in terms of what might be made of them, but simply as events in and of themselves, as they have come to be. The purpose in this second case is to show that the raw materials for creating becoming are too stressful and unstable to provide an adequate foundation for a reliable state of happiness.

The most frequently taught perceptions among this second sort are the perceptions of inconstancy (anicca), stress (dukkha), and not-self (anattā). The commentaries term these perceptions the Three Characteristics, and teach them as the common marks of all experience. Many people have reacted negatively to this teaching, saying that these three characteristics cannot possibly cover all of experience, for a great deal of pleasure can be found in experience as well. And because the sense of self entails control, the not-self teaching would seem to imply total lack of control, contradicting the teaching on kamma which indicates that we have a certain level of control over our actions, and thus our lives.

There are two possible ways of responding to these objections. One would be to brand the objections as an instance of “adhering” as described in Iti 49. A more fruitful response, however, is to note that the Buddha himself never used the term Three Characteristics, and never referred to these three perceptions as characteristics at all. The discourses nowhere compound the terms, anicca, dukkha, or anattā with the term for characteristic (lakkhaṇa). Instead, they compound them only with the terms for perception (saññā) and contemplation (anupassanā). This means that these terms are employed less for the purpose of providing a comprehensive description of experience than for the purpose of supplying mental tools and exercises that will produce a certain result—dispassion—in the mind.

Now, these perceptions are not useful fictions. They are truths.

“Whether or not there is the arising of Tathāgatas, this property stands—this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All fabrications are inconstant…. All fabrications are stressful…. All phenomena are not-self.”— AN 3:137

However, early Buddhists also noted that the pleasures offered by phenomena are also a truth. In fact, pleasure and pain are inextricably intertwined.

Sister Dhammadinnā: “Pleasant feeling is pleasant in remaining, & painful in changing, friend Visākha. Painful feeling is painful in remaining & pleasant in changing. Neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling is pleasant in occurring together with knowledge, and painful in occurring without knowledge.”— MN 44

And if we did not assume that phenomena lie to at least some extent under our control, the idea of a path of practice would be futile.

Thus pain and pleasure are both truths, as are the facts of control and lack of control. However, in MN 58 the Buddha notes that a statement had to be more than a truth if he was going to state it. It also had to be beneficial and timely. Thus the question arises, when is it beneficial and timely to focus on issues of pleasure and control, and when is it beneficial and timely to focus on their opposites?

As a general principle, the Buddha noted that the mind’s choice of which aspect of phenomena to focus on makes a great difference in what happens to it.

“Mahāli, if form were exclusively stressful—followed by stress, infused with stress and not infused with pleasure—beings would not be infatuated with form. But because form is also pleasurable—followed by pleasure, infused with pleasure and not infused with stress—beings are infatuated with form. Through infatuation, they are captivated. Through captivation, they are defiled. This is the cause, this the requisite condition, for the defilement of beings. And this is how beings are defiled with cause, with requisite condition.

“If feeling were exclusively stressful….

“If perception were exclusively stressful….

“If fabrications were exclusively stressful….

“If consciousness were exclusively stressful—followed by stress, infused with stress and not infused with pleasure—beings would not be infatuated with consciousness. But because consciousness is also pleasurable—followed by pleasure, infused with pleasure and not infused with stress—beings are infatuated with consciousness. Through infatuation, they are captivated. Through captivation, they are defiled. This is the cause, this the requisite condition, for the defilement of beings. And this is how beings are defiled with cause, with requisite condition.”

“And what, lord, is the cause, what the requisite condition, for the purification of beings? How are beings purified with cause, with requisite condition?”

“Mahāli, if form were exclusively pleasurable—followed by pleasure, infused with pleasure and not infused with stress—beings would not be disenchanted with form. But because form is also stressful—followed by stress, infused with stress and not infused with pleasure—beings are disenchanted with form. Through disenchantment, they grow dispassionate. Through dispassion, they are purified. This is the cause, this the requisite condition, for the purification of beings. And this is how beings are purified with cause, with requisite condition.

“If feeling were exclusively pleasurable….

“If perception were exclusively pleasurable….

“If fabrications were exclusively pleasurable….

“If consciousness were exclusively pleasurable—followed by pleasure, infused with pleasure and not infused with stress—beings would not be disenchanted with consciousness. But because consciousness is also stressful—followed by stress, infused with stress and not infused with pleasure—beings are disenchanted with consciousness. Through disenchantment, they grow dispassionate. Through dispassion, they are purified. This is the cause, this the requisite condition, for the purification of beings. And this is how beings are purified with cause, with requisite condition.”— SN 22:60

Because infatuation leads to defilement, and dispassion to purity, the Buddha found it generally more beneficial to focus on the stressful, inconstant nature of the aggregates rather than on their pleasurable side. Of course, when advocating the development of jhāna and its prerequisites on the path, he found it beneficial and timely to focus on the pleasure that comes from exerting control over one’s thoughts, words, and deeds. Perceptions of inconstancy, stress, and lack of control at that stage of the practice would best be reserved for phenomena that would pull one off the path. But once jhāna had been firmly developed, and the defilements that would undermine jhāna removed, the Buddha would advocate applying the three perceptions of inconstancy, stress, and not-self to all manifestations of the aggregates, even within the experience of jhāna, so as to induce knowledge and vision of all phenomena as they have come to be. In enabling the mind to see things in this way, these perceptions also enable it to develop disenchantment and dispassion for things as they have come to be. In so doing, they help to free it from renewed becoming.

“In seeing six rewards, it’s enough for a monk to establish the perception of inconstancy with regard to all fabrications without exception. Which six? ‘All fabrications will appear as unstable. My mind will not delight in any world. My mind will rise above every world. My heart will be inclined to Unbinding. My fetters will go to their abandoning. I’ll be endowed with the foremost qualities of the contemplative life.’”— AN 6:102

“In seeing six rewards, it’s enough for a monk to establish the perception of stress with regard to all fabrications without exception. Which six? ‘The perception of disenchantment will be established within me with regard to all fabrications, like a murderer with a drawn sword. My mind will rise above every world. I’ll become one who sees peace in Unbinding. My obsessions will go to their destruction. I’ll be one who has completed his task. The Teacher will have been served with good will.’”— AN 6:103

“In seeing six rewards, it’s enough for a monk to establish the perception of not-self with regard to all phenomena without exception. Which six? ‘I won’t be fashioned in connection with any world. My I-making will be stopped. My my-making will be stopped. I’ll be endowed with uncommon knowledge. I’ll become one who rightly sees cause, along with causally-originated phenomena.’”— AN 6:104

Of these three perceptions, the perception of inconstancy provides the preliminary attack on the clinging that “waters” becoming. To focus on the inconstancy of the ground and nutriment of becoming underscores the fact that the ground is constantly shifting underfoot. A phrase frequently repeated in the discourses calls attention to how quickly this can happen: “By whatever means they construe it, it becomes otherwise from that (MN 111Ud 3:10).” In other words, whatever the condition of the ground when one begins using it to construe a becoming, it has already changed by the time the becoming has taken shape. Thus the ground of becoming is so unstable that any state of becoming has to be continually shored up if it’s going to last for any time at all. This means that even the most pleasant becoming is inherently stressful.

The perception of stress focuses on this point, and raises the question as to whether the continual maintenance of becoming is worth all the effort involved. This prepares the mind for the possibility that it might be better off not identifying with becoming or with the craving and clinging that allow it to grow.

In considering this possibility, the mind is ready for the perception of not-self, which clearly attacks any self-doctrine-clinging. However, this perception can also be used to counteract clinging to habits and practices and to views in general—even to the skillful habits of right speech and right action, to the skillful practices of right mindfulness and right concentration, and to the skillful views of right view. This expanded application of the not-self perception is necessary to avoid the pitfall that we noted in Chapter Five. There we saw that if the perception of “not-self” is applied without attention to what it is creating in the present, it does not totally loosen clinging to all habits, practices, or views acting in the present. It simply leads to a formless state of becoming. However, the discourses show how the perception of not-self can also be used to focus on present action, leading to non-fashioning in the present, and in this way becoming a tool for true Unbinding.

As AN 6:104 points out, one of the rewards of the perception of not-self is that “I won’t be fashioned in connection with any world.” The discourses use the theme of non-fashioning (atammayatā) as an important element in their description of how clinging to habits and practices and to views is overcome.

The drawback of even the best habits is that conceit can form around them and become an object of clinging. The cure for this tendency is not to drop the good habits, but to stop making them a part of one’s self-definition.

“Now where do skillful habits cease without trace? … There is the case where a monk is virtuous but not fashioned of virtue. He discerns, as it has come to be, the awareness-release & discernment-release where these skillful habits cease without trace.”— MN 78

The discourses discuss how this can be done in the context of the practice of jhāna. As we noted in Chapter Five, it is possible for a person bent on non-becoming to delight in equanimity and thus to continue clinging to a state of becoming. To remedy this possibility, the discourses recommend viewing equanimity as a fabricated phenomenon. This helps draw the mind’s attention to the fact that equanimity relies on intention—kamma—and is thus a potential ground for becoming, something that should be viewed as it has come to be. This allows one to dis-identify with it and stop fashioning a self around it.

“There is equanimity coming from multiplicity, dependent on multiplicity; and there is equanimity coming from singleness, dependent on singleness.

“And what is equanimity coming from multiplicity, dependent on multiplicity? There is equanimity with regard to forms, equanimity with regard to sounds… smells… tastes… tactile sensations [& ideas: this word appears in one of the recensions]. This is equanimity coming from multiplicity, dependent on multiplicity.

“And what is equanimity coming from singleness, dependent on singleness? There is equanimity dependent on the dimension of the infinitude of space, equanimity dependent on the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness… the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. This is equanimity coming from singleness, dependent on singleness.

“By depending & relying on equanimity coming from singleness, dependent on singleness, abandon & transcend equanimity coming from multiplicity, dependent on multiplicity. Such is its abandoning, such its transcending.

“By depending & relying on non-fashioning, abandon & transcend the equanimity coming from singleness, dependent on singleness. Such is its abandoning, such its transcending.”— MN 137

“A person of no integrity… enters & remains in the first jhāna. He notices, ‘I have gained the attainment of the first jhāna, but these other monks have not gained the attainment of the first jhāna.’ He exalts himself for the attainment of the first jhāna and disparages others. This is the quality of a person of no integrity.

“A person of integrity notices, ‘The Blessed One has spoken of non-fashioning even with regard to the attainment of the first jhāna, for by whatever means they construe it, it becomes otherwise from that.’ So, making non-fashioning his focal point, he neither exalts himself for the attainment of the first jhāna nor disparages others. This is the quality of a person of integrity.

[Similarly with the other levels of jhāna up through the dimension of nothingness.]

“A person of no integrity… enters & remains in the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception. He notices, ‘I have gained the attainment of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, but these other monks have not gained the attainment of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.’ He exalts himself for the attainment of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception and disparages others. This is the quality of a person of no integrity.

“A person of integrity notices, ‘The Blessed One has spoken of non-fashioning even with regard to the attainment of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, for by whatever means they construe it, it becomes otherwise from that.’ So, making non-fashioning his focal point, he neither exalts himself for the attainment of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception nor disparages others. This is the quality of a person of integrity.

“A person of integrity, completely transcending the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters & remains in the cessation of feeling & perception. When he sees with discernment, his effluents are ended. This is a monk who does not construe anything, does not construe anywhere, does not construe in any way.”— MN 113

“One discerns that ‘If I were to direct equanimity as pure & bright as this toward the dimension of the infinitude of space and to develop the mind along those lines, that would be fabricated. One discerns that ‘If I were to direct equanimity as pure and bright as this toward the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness… the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception and to develop the mind along those lines, that would be fabricated.’ One neither fabricates nor concocts for the sake of becoming or un-becoming. This being the case, one doesn’t cling to/isn’t sustained by anything in the world. Without clinging/sustenance, one isn’t agitated. Unagitated, one is totally unbound right within. One discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’”— MN 140

The theme of non-fashioning also appears in discussions of how one abandons clinging to views.

An attainer-of-wisdom isn’t measured

made proud

by views or what’s thought,

for he isn’t fashioned of them.— Sn 4:9

As with habits and practices, the danger of views is that one can easily fashion a sense of self around them. However, right view contains the tools to help dismantle both the sense of self and the concepts of existence and non-existence, thus undercutting any question of whether a self exists. Thus it is the only form of view that can be used ultimately to undercut all types of clinging and the types of becoming that might form around it.

It’s useful to examine in detail how this happens. In its purest form, right view forces the mind to view the aggregates and sense media simply as events arising and passing away—as they have come to be. As the mind stays in this mode of perception, it abandons the most basic assumptions that underlie becoming and non-becoming—the idea of “my self,” as well as the ideas of the existence and non-existence of the world. This leaves the mind free to focus exclusively on events simply as they have come to be, thus avoiding issues of becoming and non-becoming altogether.

The mind arrives at this point not through the force of logic or sheer will power, but through the simple fact that these assumptions don’t even occur to the mind as it stays in this mode. With these assumptions abandoned, one cannot fashion any views around the existence or non-existence of a self in any world at all. Thus there is no place in the content of views for clinging to land.

“By & large, Kaccāyana, this world is supported by/takes as its object a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world [the six sense media] with right discernment as it has come to be, ‘non-existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world with right discernment as it has come to be, ‘existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one.

“By & large, Kaccāyana, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings/sustenances, & biases. But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on ‘my self.’ He has no uncertainty or doubt that mere stress, when arising, is arising; stress, when passing away, is passing away. In this, his knowledge is independent of others. It’s to this extent, Kaccāyana, that there is right view.”— SN 12:15

With the basic content of views called into question, they begin to lose their fascination. Thus they can be regarded simply as instances of stress arising and passing away in a causal sequence that can be traced back to ignorance.

“Or… he may have a view such as this: ‘This self is the same as the cosmos. This I will be after death, constant, lasting, eternal, not subject to change.’ This eternalist view is a fabrication…. Or… he may have a view such as this: ‘I would not be, neither would there be what is mine. I will not be, neither will there be what is mine.’ This annihilationist view is a fabrication…. Or… he may be doubtful & uncertain, having come to no conclusion with regard to the true Dhamma. That doubt, uncertainty, & coming-to-no-conclusion is a fabrication.

“What is the cause… of that fabrication? To an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person, touched by what is felt born of contact with ignorance, craving arises. That fabrication is born of that (feeling and craving). And that fabrication is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen. That craving… That feeling… That contact… That ignorance is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen. It is by knowing & seeing in this way that one without delay puts an end to the effluents.”— SN 22:81

Right view even regards itself as an instance of stress arising and passing away. This is why—when it has completed its work—it contains the seeds for its own transcendence.

When this had been said, the wanderers said to Anāthapiṇḍika the householder, “We have each & every one expounded to you in line with our own positions. Now tell us what views you have.”

“Whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently co-arisen: That is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stress. Whatever is stress is not mine, is not what I am, is not my self. This is the sort of view I have.”

“So, householder, whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently co-arisen: That is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stress. You thus adhere to that very stress, submit yourself to that very stress.”

“Venerable sirs, whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently co-arisen: That is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stress. Whatever is stress is not mine, is not what I am, is not my self. Having seen this well with right discernment as it has come to be, I also discern the higher escape from it as it has come to be.”

When this had been said, the wanderers fell silent, abashed, sitting with their shoulders drooping, their heads down, brooding, at a loss for words. Anāthapiṇḍika the householder, perceiving that the wanderers were silent, abashed… at a loss for words, got up from his seat & left.— AN 10:93

Thus the perception of not-self, in undercutting any sense of self that might be exalted or weighed down by a view or practice, helps to undercut any and all forms of clinging. In fact, it is so useful that it can even undercut a sense of clinging to the deathless.

Now, some passages in the discourses—such as SN 22:59 and AN 10:60—apply the perception of not-self only to fabricated phenomena. However, other passages extend its range further than that.

When you see with discernment,

‘All fabrications are inconstant’ ….

‘All fabrications are stressful’ ….

‘All phenomena are not-self’—

you grow disenchanted with stress.

This is the path

to purity.— Dhp 277-279

“Whether or not there is the arising of Tathāgatas, this property stands—this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All phenomena are not-self. The Tathāgata directly awakens to that, breaks through to that. Directly awakening & breaking through to that, he declares it, teaches it, describes it, sets it forth. He reveals it, explains it, makes it plain: All phenomena are not-self.”— AN 3:137

“Phenomena” (dhamma) here covers unfabricated as well as fabricated experiences, but there is considerable controversy over how the statement, “All phenomena are not-self,” should be handled. Some interpreters would like to convert it into a general statement about the nature of reality. Because the fabricated and unfabricated cover all possible realities, this would lead to the conclusion that there is no self. To say this, however, is to create a self-doctrine, which could provide ground for clinging. More in line with the Buddha’s overall strategy advanced in Iti 49 would be to look for the point in the practice where the statement, “All phenomena are not-self,” could be applied in a beneficial and timely way to see things as they have come to be, to eradicate clinging, and thus put an end to renewed becoming.

The first step in this line of inquiry is to note that the discourses are not consistent on the point of whether Unbinding counts as a phenomenon. Iti 90, among others, states clearly that it is. Sn 5:6, on the other hand, describes the attainment of the goal as the transcending of all phenomena. Sn 4:6 and Sn 4:10 state that the arahant has transcended dispassion, said to be the highest phenomenon.

Perhaps the passage most relevant to this question is this:

“‘All phenomena gain a footing in the deathless.

“‘All phenomena have Unbinding as their final end.’”— AN 10:58

The deathless, here, would seem to refer to the unfabricated as experienced in the levels of Awakening from stream-entry through non-return (MN 56; Mv.I.23.5). The image of “gaining a footing” clearly refers to the image, common throughout the Canon, which compares the practice to the act of crossing a river. When one reaches the deathless, one has gained a footing in the bed of the river, but has yet to arrive on shore. Only on reaching arahantship does one stand safely out of the river on firm ground (SN 35:238; Iti 69Sn 4:15). In the context of this image, the unfabricated—experienced first as the deathless and then as full Unbinding—would be apprehended in two different ways: as a phenomenon in the first case, and as the ending of phenomena in the second. As a phenomenon, it could be regarded as an object of delight. And several passages clearly show that the act of regarding the phenomenon of deathlessness with delight is precisely what separates the lower levels of Awakening from the highest.

“Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the first jhāna: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite—the pacification of all fabrications; the relinquishing of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

“Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the effluents. Or, if not, then—through this very Dhamma-passion, this Dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five fetters [self-identity views, grasping at habits & practices, uncertainty, sensual passion, and irritation]—he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world….

[Similarly with the second, third, and fourth jhāna.]

“…. Suppose that an archer or archer’s apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk… enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the pacification of all fabrications; the relinquishing of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.’

“Staying right there, he reaches the ending of the effluents. Or, if not, then—through this very Dhamma-passion, this very Dhamma-delight, and from the total wasting away of the first five fetters—he is due to be reborn [in the Pure Abodes], there to be totally unbound, never again to return from that world….

[Similarly with the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness and the dimension of nothingness.]”— AN 9:36 (emphasis added)

MN 1 makes a similar point about the distinction between the lower levels of Awakening and the highest, although it uses the word Unbinding to cover the experience of the unfabricated at all levels of Awakening.

“The monk in training [i.e., a streamwinner, once-returner, or non-returner]… directly knows Unbinding as Unbinding. Directly knowing Unbinding as Unbinding, let him not conceive about Unbinding, let him not conceive (things) in Unbinding, let him not conceive (things) coming out of Unbinding, let him not conceive Unbinding as ‘mine,’ let him not delight in Unbinding. Why is that? So that he may comprehend it, I tell you….

“The arahant… directly knows Unbinding as Unbinding. Directly knowing Unbinding as Unbinding, he does not conceive about Unbinding, does not conceive (things) in Unbinding, does not conceive (things) coming out of Unbinding, does not conceive Unbinding as ‘mine,’ does not delight in Unbinding. Why is that? Because, with the ending of delusion, he is devoid of delusion, I tell you.”— MN 1

Even though the dispassion of Unbinding is the highest of phenomena, full Awakening requires abandoning passion even for the phenomenon of dispassion.

“Among whatever phenomena there may be, fabricated or unfabricated, the phenomenon of dispassion—the subduing of intoxication, the elimination of thirst, the uprooting of attachment, the breaking of the round, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, the realization of Unbinding—is considered supreme.”— Iti 90

The brahman [the arahant]

gone beyond territories,

has nothing that

—on knowing or seeing—

he’s grasped.

Unimpassionate for passion,

not impassioned for dispassion,

he has nothing here

that he’s grasped as supreme.— Sn 4:4

Thus the statement, “All phenomena are not-self,” shows its timely utility in the case of the meditator in training, reminding him or her, when apprehending the unfabricated, not to identify with any delight or passion that might arise around it. Even though that delight may aim at the supreme good, it still forms a location, a landing spot for becoming and its inherent stress, thus preventing full Awakening.

“Just as even a small amount of excrement is foul smelling, in the same way I do not praise even a small amount of becoming, even for the extent of a finger-snap.”— AN 1:202

With this perception in mind as one continues with the practice of seeing things as they have come to be—whether fabricated or unfabricated—one reaches the point where no new intentions form around any of these things. When that happens, the sense of location that leads to renewed becoming—the moisture in the field analogies—is gone.

“Then, Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bāhiya, there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress.”— Ud 1:10

Not only is there no you there, there is no there.

“One who is dependent has wavering. One who is independent, no wavering. There being no wavering, there is calm. There being calm, there is no desire. There being no desire, there is no coming or going. There being no coming or going, there is no passing away or arising. There being no passing away or arising, there is neither a here nor a there nor a between-the-two. This, just this, is the end of stress.”— Ud 8:4

With no here or there or between the two, no activity of coming or going or staying can occur, for these activities require a sense of place. This fact explains the Buddha’s famous paradox about the last stage of the practice.

Then a certain devatā, in the far extreme of the night, her extreme radiance lighting up the entirety of Jeta’s Grove, went to the Blessed One. On arrival, having bowed down to him, she stood to one side. As she was standing there, she said to him, “Tell me, dear sir, how you crossed over the flood.”

“I crossed over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place.”

“But how, dear sir, did you cross over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place?”

“When I pushed forward, I was whirled about. When I stayed in place, I sank. And so I crossed over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place.”

The devatā:

“At long last I see

a brahman, totally unbound,

who

without pushing forward,

without staying in place,

has crossed       over

the entanglements

of the world.”— SN 1:1

With all entanglements transcended and the end of stress fully realized, the tasks surrounding the four noble truths are complete. And as the Buddha stated in summarizing his first discourse, that is how the knowledge and vision of things as they have come to be yields full Awakening.

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This is the noble truth of stress’ …. ‘This noble truth of stress is to be comprehended’ …. ‘This noble truth of stress has been comprehended.’

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This is the noble truth of the origination of stress’ …. ‘This noble truth of the origination of stress is to be abandoned’ …. ‘This noble truth of the origination of stress has been abandoned.’

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This is the noble truth of the cessation of stress’ …. ‘This noble truth of the cessation of stress is to be directly realized’ …. ‘This noble truth of the cessation of stress has been directly realized.’

“Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: ‘This is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress’ …. ‘This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress is to be developed’ …. ‘This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress has been developed.’

“And, monks, as long as this—my three-round, twelve-permutation knowledge & vision concerning these four noble truths as they have come to be—was not pure, I did not claim to have directly awakened to the right self-awakening unexcelled in the cosmos with its devas, Maras, & Brahmās, with its contemplatives & priests, its royalty & commonfolk. But as soon as this—my three-round, twelve-permutation knowledge & vision concerning these four noble truths as they have come to be—was truly pure, then I did claim to have directly awakened to the right self-awakening unexcelled in the cosmos with its devas, Maras, & Brahmās, with its contemplatives & priests, its royalty & commonfolk. Knowledge & vision arose in me: ‘Unprovoked is my release. This is the last birth. There is now no renewed becoming.’”— SN 56:11

In the words of Iti 49, “This is how those with vision see.”