Presentation of the differents steps wich lead to the liberation path; the virute, the establishment of the attention, etc.
The main element in the path to liberation is the satipaṭṭhāna. satipaṭṭhāna is a Pali term that is translated by: "application of the attention". This training, that only Buddha discovered and which is still taught nowadays by the monks of the theravāda, is the only one enable us to reach nibbāna, the cessation of all kinds of sufferings.
In his first sermon, Buddha expounds to us the four Noble Truths: the Noble Truth of dukkha; that is to say that all things are subject to dissatisfaction. The Noble Truth of the cause of dukkha; that is to say mental impurities: desire, anger, jealousy, greediness, fear, pride, etc.
The Noble Truth of the cessation of dukkha; that is to say nibbāna, the cessation of mental impurities. The Noble Truth of the path that leads to the cessation of dukkha; that is to say dāna, sīla and bhāvanā.
It is indispensable to develop these three elements so as to be freed from dukkha. The persons who are capable to practice sīla and bhāvanā at a deep level are beings who have necessarily practised dāna during former rebirths.
Whoever is easily capable to practice dāna, which is the real foundation of any training on the path to detachment.
In Pali, dāna means gift, donation, generosity. The purpose of this practice is to become detached, on one hand from possessions, from our dependence from material things, and on the other from unrefined mental impurities, such as desire, greediness, greed and jealousy. What is stressed here is not so much giving for giving, or giving for pleasing or making ourselves pleased. It is rather about getting detached, training not to depend any more on, developing beneficial actions by materially supporting the monks who work to realise and make known this teaching (gift of robes, food, medicines, lodging). It does also involve giving to those who are needy so as to minimize their suffering. One can give objects, food, care, but one can also give services, devout some of his or her time, pay some attention by listening, cultivating compassion or through a presence. Generally speaking, training into performing donations, dāna, aims at granting less interest to one's small material comfort to be more opened to his/her environment and better observing and understanding the world surrounding us.
From the viewpoint of kamma, everything revolves around our mental disposition. It is therefore the quality of a state of mind impelling us in donating that will determine the kind of kamma being developed. That is why it is essential to practice dāna with mindfulness, without meanness, by marking carefully our gesture, and also while facing situations when it is difficult to do it. The outcome of gift (donation) being not to possess anything, thus, dedicating oneself to the path of detachment and helping others to also reach it. Supreme gift being the gift (donation) of the dhamma, is termed in Pali language as dhammadāna.
Here is therefore the first element leading to the liberation from dukkha.
The second, sīla, is behaviour, morality, virtue. What is meant here is to develop a proper behaviour, to train to acquire and to maintain a clean way to dress oneself, to remain honest while facing all kinds of situations. This is very essential so as to develop wisdom. Right conduct is the very foundation of the path leading to liberation. We can't expect to go one step further on this path if sīla is being neglected. The one who is only preoccupied to observe a virtuous behaviour will naturally develop a certain concentration, a certain attention and a certain serenity. The day when he will begin a training into the satipaṭṭhāna, he won't have to overcome major hindrances and will very quickly tune with the right spirit.
We are very lucky, as to easily observe a right conduct, aiming at developing a good sīla, Buddha drew us tracks that we just have to follow.
Some of these tracks are faster than others, but they all serve the purpose of liberation. The basic track, those are the five precepts. It is about refraining from killing, stealing, having illegal sexual practices, lying and consuming intoxicants. It can seem little, but those who succeed in keeping these five precepts benefit with exceedingly precious benefactions.
Among others, they are assured (insured) not to be reborn in lower spheres of existence during the next rebirth, they are protected from big dangers and have already covered up half of the path on to liberation from dukkha! By following these rules, the positive factors being developed from the viewpoint of kamma are tremendous, and the beneficial influence being exercised on the circle of acquaintances pertains to the same range of intensity. Let us imagine a country where the whole population would respect the life of other beings, would not steal, remain faithfully committed to their relations, would not tell lies and would not consume drugs or alcohol either. Needless to make comments.
Still, there is another and slightly faster track, in the shape of eight precepts: To respect life, not to steal, to avoid sexual pleasure, not to lie, not to consume any intoxicants, not to eat after noon, not to allow oneself to go after entertainment, not to use perfumes, not to adorn oneself with jewels, not to enjoy anything with in mind the pleasure given by the aesthetics and luxurious or comfortable furniture. Whether we deal with five or eight precepts, it is extremely fine to undertake a training in them, even if it is done sometimes only. One can also undertake such a training step by step, by observing only some of them for example, for later on possibly integrating the others one by one, at the right moment. It is in all cases inadvisable to painfully force oneself to follow one or the other of these rules, it could thus not be of any benefits. To a bigger extent, one should never force someone else to follow one or the other of these precepts. However, it is always positive to show up the advantages of such a step, but as to the observance of these rules or its absence, every person should do according to his own wishes.
Naturally, each is free then, to improve the sīla by working on the numerous points that are not included in the precepts which are likely to complete them. It will take place by watching one's behaviour, by refraining from pointless things, or by avoiding actions likely to promote greediness or desire.
For the other tracks, we find the behaviour of the nuns, which come into the shape of the observance of eight rules, to which are added a dozen additional points. Then, there is the one of the novices (sāmaneras) who observe ten precepts, (we in fact deal with eight precepts, among which the seventh splits into two, which amount to nine, to which we add a tenth:
not to touch or to possess money. Beside these ten rules, the novices are supposed to respect more than a hundred disciplinary points, seventy-five of them taking also part into the code of discipline of the monks. Finally, we deal with monks' (bhikkhus) behaviour.
Precisely, the perfection of the sīla is completely codified in the vinaya, which all the monks have to respect, except 13 ascetic practices, which, although optional, are largely suitable to the cultivation of detachment.
What we call pātimokkha is the set of the 227 main rules of the vinaya, which naturally comprises ten rules. A layman could very well cope with the pātimokkha, but if he succeeds in adopting such a behaviour, it will mean that he already became a monk. In that case, it would be completely absurd on his side not to be ordained, because as each of us knows, it is above all the behaviour that makes the monk and not otherwise. We could also say that what makes the monk is the understanding of reality, wisdom and the realisations. Always, the main point lies in that without sīla, it is vain to expect to develop any of these elements.
At the time of Buddha, the first monks who joined the saṃgha had a blameless behaviour, their sīla was pure. The pātimokkha did not exist, its observance was unneeded. But as soon as less virtuous individuals entered the saṃgha and started to perform less praiseworthy actions, did Buddha establish such rules as a consequence. So, the points of the pātimokkha deal with the carelessness/heedlessness that lead us astray from the right path, the one of liberation.
Once dāna and sīla have been firmly established, there is nothing else that ought to be done save training in bhāvanā, until the end. bhāvanā means " development of the concentration ". There are two types of concentrations:
The samatha samādhi and the khaṇika samādhi (samādhi meaning " Transparency of the mind caused by a deep concentration ")
The samatha samādhi is the result of a continuous concentration focused on a single object. It is a difficult exercise that requires a powerful determination and a complete silence. This consideration can cause ecstatic sensations and a few casual experiences that could be described as sensations of luminosity, thoughtlessness and remarkable serenity. When it bears its beneficial fruits, it can cause the yogī to experience one or several jhānas, which are mental realisations of pure concentration, where physical phenomena do no longer appear, according to the degree of refinement of such realisations. In the highest stage, psychic powers can develop but it seems that, in today's world, there are no more beings able to reach them.
For all these reasons, these practices do world wide enjoy a popularity among large numbers of followers, via variegated religious schools. Nevertheless, not only jhānas are lost as soon as the training and absorption into them is interrupted, but moreover, they do not enable us to develop wisdom and do not lead us at all to the definitive cessation of the suffering.
On the contrary, the khaṇika samādhi allows to acquire the right knowledge of reality. Thus, it does beget, as a consequence, the development of wisdom. This kind of concentration becomes established by a focusing of the attention on the physical and mental phenomena that are being perceived, whatever they are. It is about a concentration with rehearsal, which deepens owing to the uninterrupted succession of the moments of sustenance of the attention on phenomena.
The training lying in developing the khaṇika samādhi is called the satipaṭṭhāna. In the satipaṭṭhāna, we are in direct and permanent contact with reality. While during the training into samatha, we turn our mental concentration to a unique object of focusing, to the far extent that it is a mere mental fabrication. To know reality, there is nothing else that ought to be done except observing it.
It is as simple as that! It is so simple, so basic, so stupid, that nobody had thought of it before Buddha. This latter teaches us that not only that satipaṭṭhāna is much less difficult to develop that samatha, but that it is the only one that can lead us to nibbāna, the cessation of all sufferings. Furthermore, it is not absolutely necessary to develop samatha so as to begin this training into satipaṭṭhāna, or even to experience nibbāna. On the contrary, in most of cases, an experience of samatha turns out to be a big obstacle in the satipaṭṭhāna.
Training into satipaṭṭhāna, consists as its name defined it, in turning one's attention, to physical and mental phenomena; that is to say on the taste, olfactory, mental, tactile, auditory, visual sensations that we do perceive. As soon as attention is turned to the object of one of these sensations, a direct knowledge of reality does take place, this latter is simply known for the way it really is. At this stage, we could call it " internal vision "or "insight", which is termed vipassanā.in Pali language.
As to the one who did not yet train a lot in satipaṭṭhāna or who just begins, this training can seem boring, painful, even difficult. It is worth knowing that, indeed, whatever the level of development might be, satipaṭṭhāna is always easy. The only thing that is difficult, these are the numerous pointless efforts that one tends to do when one is a novice in that practice. Even though the mind cannot refrain from considering all the discomforts undergone during this training as taking parts in vipassanā, it is necessary indeed to well understand that it is not vipassanā at all. vipassanā is the consequence of turning in a vivid manner the attention on an object (physical or mental). Only the slightest effort must be supplied that is to say, right effort, so that this application of the attention can be made. There is no smaller effort to be done, when we are mindful. All the difficulty lies in minimizing these pointless and plaguing efforts that the mind is so much used to produce. These pointless efforts simply lie in that our habit is not to let naturally flow all this stream of thoughts and mental wanderings, which fuse in excitement, or being mindful of what does occur within our mind. This way, called satipaṭṭhāna, is a real rehabilitation of the mind.
To reach nibbāna, the final experience of this training, it is advisable to patiently train into satipaṭṭhāna, by abandoning, for all the time being required, all other activities. It is aimed at allowing a more and more frequent rehearsal and moving closer to the moments of vipassanā. Due to the progressive development of concentration (khaṇika samādhi), these moments of internal vision will become numerous and deep, so that will be experienced a feeling of continuous concentration. From this step onward, satipaṭṭhāna will become much steadier and will continue almost naturally, useless efforts having been considerably reduced. Any person who trains for it seriously, by respecting the instructions that are given to him (according to the dhamma teachings) and by dropping all other physical or mental activities, ended in some weeks (at the most) in such a stage of concentration.
This being clearly expressed, it is always necessary to pay attention to possible comfortable sensations met during certain stages of satipaṭṭhāna, because we easily tend to mistake them with permanent objects of the training, whereas they are mere consequences of concentration. They do not have anything to do with knowledge, either by means of eradication of impurities, or with wisdom, even though they often lead to very deep philosophical reflections. As soon as one becomes attached to them, he does make no further progress.
That which we call the noble eight fold path is the set of the eight elements that establish a kind of perfection at all levels. One can say that it defines the mental act of noticing, the mere substantial small act to turn our attention to an object. Since there is a mental act of noticing, these eight elements are automatically set in motion, and as soon as these eight elements are completed, there is consequently a mental act of noticing.
The ariyas, Pali term designating the noble persons, are beings who follow this path, because it is the right path, the only one that leads to the definitive cessation of all kinds of dissatisfactions. Here are summed up the eight factors that compose the noble eight fold path:
The 1st step: right view.
To develop a correct view of the four noble truths, the three characteristics of the universe, which we term as anicca: the impermanent character of things, dukkha: the unsatisfactory character of things, and anatta: the aspect of absence of self-inherent existence, essential characteristics or substantiality in things.
It is beneficial (skilful "kusala") thought free from jealousy, ill will, and cruelty.
To refrain from uttering lies, from malicious gossip, from a coarse language and vain talks.
Not to kill, to not hurt, not steal, to not indulge in sexual misconduct.
To earn one's living in a meritorious way by remaining totally honest and by avoiding the trade of weapons, human beings or flesh, as well as the sale of poison, drugs or liquors.
The effort to overcome that which is unfavourable, the effort to avoid that which is unfavourable, the effort to develop that which is favourable, and the effort to maintain that which is favourable.
The awareness or full presence of mind of phenomena pertaining to the body, feelings, spirit, and phenomena.
It is the fixation of the mind on a single object.
So, there is no act that is more upright, more honourable and more beneficial than the act of mental noticing.
The advantages of the satipaṭṭhāna are as inestimable as numerous.
The one who listened to the teachings on satipaṭṭhāna given by the saṃgha, who relied on these teachings and who trains in them, regularly and naturally develops a good sīla. During the satipaṭṭhāna, even though we do not pay attention to it, we forcibly develop it. The one who trains this way is much less inclined to do things that are unhealthy or unprofitable. He is rather serene, mentally appeased, quiet. He is less inclined to be swayed apart by violent sentiments, he is more tolerant.
When anger, jealousy or pride do appear, he is very soon aware of them. So, he has a more correct perception of reality. He masters a faster, easier and subtler understanding of dhamma, of whose validity he can ascertain a daily and concrete confirmation. He often has an awareness that, even though they sometimes can remain unnoticed (kilesās, such as anger, hatred, etc.), is very deep. They are precious in helping us to reflect upon dhamma teachings.
He understood by himself that all that which can be experienced by consciousness inherently begets dissatisfaction, even the most pleasant sensations. He concretely sees that everything has a beginning, a duration and an end. Knowing this experimental viewpoint according to which everything comes to an end one day, one moment or the other, he becomes much less attached to things. He becomes less and less identified with things. He already knows that this is not me, I myself as such, when he hears singing a bird, he knows that it is not "he" who listens and that it is not a "bird" that sings, but that it is simply about a sound that manifests, nothing more than this. He knows it not because he reads it, but because his observation of phenomena allowed him (her) to directly perceive the characteristic of absence of self-inherent nature or existence in things.
A person who regularly trains into satipaṭṭhāna, is better concentrated on his/her work, on his/her actions generally, he/she is then more competent, he/she has a better memory. He/she is more skilful in helping others, he/she positively influences his/her surrounding. So, he/she will be forcibly more respected, more appreciated. He/she will much more easily communicate with others. By having such a practice, such a person naturally less stirs at things. He/she is then less affected by daily concerns and so meets much less problems of any kinds. His/her health becomes better.
He/she no longer faces boredom of any kind, because the intermediate moments of "stand by" become good opportunities to note phenomena. Especially, he/she knows that boredom is something else than a feeling of impatience or fear while experiencing moments devoid of distractions or entertainment. He/she knows, in all cases, that boredom is an aversion towards a group of physical and mental phenomena, as whatever these latter will be, it is just sufficient to observe them so as to no longer be affected by the inconvenience. Everything becomes easier. Little by little, he/she gets much less involved into the world's business.
Naturally, he/she becomes more and more free and gradually benefits from more and more auspicious conditions to continue the practice.
All the ones who do integrate this practice in their daily life, will enjoy only such advantages at their disposal. The more regular their practice will be, the more benefits will bloom, and the more motivation will prevail to do this training better and better. So, they will get all the chances to be reborn under favourable conditions. It will enable them to pursue their training on the path to liberation, also called the path of the happy medium, in a way getting easier and easier.
I very sincerely wish that each can follow this training under the best possible conditions and reach nibbāna, the definitive cessation of all shapes of dissatisfaction, in the shortest delays.
sādhu! sādhu! sādhu!
Origin: Teaching given in France
Author: Monk Dhamma Sāmi
Date: 2001, November
Translator: Thierry Lambrou
Date of translation: 2002
Update: 2005, June the 14th