Account on the 13 ascetic practices (dhutanga):
Their origin; how, why, and for who Buddha established them, the reasons wich spur the adoption of one or many of them, the conditions wich have to be respected by the yogī, the procedure of adoption, about the accomplished beings in this practices...
Long before Buddha appeared into this world, there did exist ascetic practices designed for oppressing the body in as variegated as numerous ways. Those who adopted them believed that they would enable them to get liberated from the sorrow any living being. On the other hand, others were convinced that the ultimate goal of existence lied in knowing how to enjoy it to the full and focused all their efforts on best enjoying sensuous pleasures.
From his very first teaching, Buddha categorically rejected these two paths that he qualified of « extreme paths ». In this teaching, he explains us that only the moderate path, the « middle path », can lead us to the development of wisdom and right knowledge of reality. The two extreme paths develop, on their behalf, attachments and false views, contrary to the moderate path, which enables the lessening of attachments and the development of right view.
The conduct laid down by the Blessed one for monks and nuns (the pātimokkha), for novices (the 10 precepts) and for the laity (the 5 or 8 precepts) is sufficient guidance to anyone who conveniently trains into satipaṭṭhāna. To those who wish to much more rapidly or easily reach nibbāna, he also taught a set of ascetic practices which are non-compulsory (the 13 dhutaṅgas that are not included into the vinaya), which enables to reduce one's needs to the least, thus sparing, the one who adopts these practices, from pride, greed, and aversion, which constitute the main poisons on the path to liberation (only by practising certain dhutaṅgas in daily life can we really understand this fact; results are impressing).
dhutaṅgas are not designed for superior beings, neither for inferior beings. They are beneficial for all those who are able to put them into practice. A dhutaṅga is not an extreme practice; it is a mere practice that enables the mind to be rapidly and easily purified, absolute prerequisite to the development of attention and concentration. It reduces useless impediments, such as excessive food, numerous clothes to look after, the agitation of inhabited areas, very various attachments. Provided it is conveniently adopted, no dhutaṅga does cause to arise any kind of tiredness or oppression of the body or the mind. If a dhutaṅga involves a great difficulty or a difficult effort to an individual, he shouldn't practice it, as it would become a practice extreme for himself.
Everyone is free, according to his capacities and wishes, to adopt one or several dhutaṅgas, which each comprises three levels of restriction. The aim of these practices lies in providing an environment as auspicious as possible for renunciation.
Thus, the 13 dhutaṅgas, which mean " renunciation " [to abandon (dhuta); state of mind (aṅga)], are a set of practices designed for considerably reducing our attachments, in order to reach nibbāna at the soonest, like a bird that crosses the cloudless sky on a straight line.
There do exist thirteen ascetic practices: two for the robes, five for the food, five for the spot of residence, and one for the posture (known to be the dhutaṅga of effort). To get access to the detailed definition of a dhutaṅga, click on its definition in the below displayed board:
For the practice of dhutaṅgas, there do exist several kinds of motivations. A few can adopt one of them out of a bad purpose, in the aim of stirring up admiration around themselves, whereas others adopt one of these practices out of a genuine purpose, in order to cure themselves from kilesās, with the same state of mind into which one takes a medicine. Here are the five kinds of motivation that we can distinguish among those who adopt one or more dhutaṅgas:
1) Out of complete ignorance, without even knowing their advantages: after having merely heard the practitioners of the dhutaṅgas are of good renown, for being able to say " me, I practice the dhutaṅgas", etc.
2) For benefitting with the advantages feeding up greed, such as: for receiving a lot of gifts, for being well considered by others, for causing a great veneration to arise from others, for attracting disciples to oneself, etc.
3) Out of madness, out of complete ignorance, without being in quest for anything whatsoever.
4) Because Buddha and ariyās praise such practices.
5) For benefitting with healthy advantages, such as: the capacity to be contented with very little, weakness inherent to greed, easiness to obtain what is needed, tranquillity, detachment, etc.
Buddha disapproved the first three motivations, he only approved the last two. An individual may then adopt one or several dhutaṅgas only if he is motivated according to the fourth or fifth among these five kinds of motivations. However, a dhutaṅga is of much higher benefit if it is adopted according to the fifth motivation instead of the fourth.
A practitioner of the dhutaṅgas who is in the position of doing such practices (he undergoes a good state of health, etc.), who is honest and who has nibbāna as goal, is worthy to be worshipped by the brahmās, devas and humans.
Here are the five factors which each practitioner of the dhutaṅgas should develop:
The first factors are against greed. They contribute in eliminating sensory desires. The might whose the last of these factors is object can be cultivated by means of wisdom.
Through alobha we eliminate pratices that are meant for developing sensory desires (kāmasukhallikā nuyoga), and through amoha, we eradicate all practices that oppress the body (attakilamathā nuyoga).
Buddha congratulates those who adopt the dhutaṅgas by fully developing the above mentioned five factors.
According to another commentary, the factors needed to the practice of dhutaṅgas are:
A serious practitioner of the dhutaṅgas has to be conveniently rooted into one of these ten factors. The one who knows how to stick to it is in the position to reach nibbāna.
The elements that ought to be avoide:
If a bhikkhu practises the dhutaṅgas according to one or several of these eight points, he will certainly be subject to criticism and contempt on others' behalf. He even risks to experience some disabilities during his next existence, such as ugliness, malformation, a severed limb, if it is not the realm of hells. That's why one should strive for developing the needed factors, and to avoid those who are detrimental.
In order to adopt the dhutaṅgas that one wishes to practice, the ideal prospect lies in doing it before Buddha's presence.
If Buddha is far away or no more, it is beneficial to adopt the dhutaṅgas before the presence of an aggasāvaka (appellation given to Buddha's two most nobles disciples).
If the aggasāvakas are far away or no more, we can do it before the presence of a mahāsāvaka (appellation given to the 80 greatest disciples of a Buddha).
If the mahāsāvakas are far away or no more, we can do it before the presence of an rarahanta.
If we can't seize the opportunity doing it before the presence of an arahanta, we can do it before the presence of an anāgāmi.
If we can't seize the opportunity doing it before the presence of an anāgāmi, we can do it before the presence of a sakadāgāmi.
If we can't seize the opportunity doing it before the presence of a sakadāgāmi, we can do it before the presence of a sotāpana.
If we can't seize the opportunity doing it before the presence of a sotāpana, we can do it before the presence of someone who perfectly knows the three parts of the tipiṭaka.
If we can't seize the opportunity doing it before the presence of someone who perfectly knows the three parts of the tipiṭaka, we can it before the presence of someone who perfectly knows two of the three parts of the tipiṭaka.
If we can't seize the opportunity doing it before the presence of someone who perfectly knows two of the three parts of the tipiṭaka, we can it before the presence of someone who perfectly knows one of the three parts of the tipiṭaka.
If we can't seize the opportunity doing it before the presence of someone who perfectly knows one of the three parts of the tipiṭaka, we can it before the presence of someone who perfectly knows one of the chapters of one of the three parts of the tipiṭaka.
If we can't seize the opportunity doing it before the presence of someone who perfectly knows one of the chapters of one of the three parts of the tipiṭaka, we can it before the presence of someone who is well versed into the aṭṭhakathās (commentaries).
If we can't seize the opportunity doing it before the presence of someone is well versed into the aṭṭhakathās (commentaries), we can do it before the presence of someone who practises the dhutaṅgas.
If no one be present, we can do it before a cetiya.
It is better to adopt one or several dhutaṅgas before the presence of a being endowed with a pure sīla. This incites us to better take care of our practice of the dhutaṅgas and to avoid breaking them. However, should one wish to adopt a few dhutaṅgas beyond anybody's acknowledgement, it is possible to do it all alone. A few monks besides take determination not to let anyone know about their practice, thus solidly establishing within himself the certainty not to practice them owing to an unhealthy motivation.
In olden days, a bhikkhu practised the dhutaṅga that consists in eating only once a day (ekāsanika) since forty years, with no one ever coming to know about it. One day, someone saw him finishing up his meal, standing up and proceeding to instal himself at another spot. At this specific moment, he proposed him a piece of cake. As the Venerable politely refused it, the donor guessed for which reason, telling loudly: " You practise the dhutaṅga ekāsanika! " In order not to tell lies and not to disclose his practice, the bhikkhu preferred not to break it by accepting and by eating this piece of cake. As soon as he had ingested the cake, he again adopted this dhutaṅga.
Alone, a bhikkhu can practise the 13 dhutaṅgas. bhikkhunīs can only practise 8 of them, sāmaṇeras can only practise 12, sāmaṇerīs can only practise 7 and the laity can only practise 2, even 9, as their status or discipline doesn't enable them to adopt the others.
A bhikkhu can adopt any of the 13 dhutaṅgas. If he wishes so, a bhikkhu can practise the whole 13 dhutaṅgas at once. To that sake, the best would be to exclusively dwell by a charnel that possesses at the same time the characteristics of a forest spot – remote from inhabited areas – and from those of a spot devoid of shelter and vegetation. However, he can also dwell in a forest during the first third of the night, on a spot devoid of shelter and vegetation during the second third of the night, and in a charnel devoid of the characteristics specific to the forest spots and devoid of shelter during the last third of the night.
We may wonder how to practise at the same time the dhutaṅga that consists in dwelling beneath a tree (rukkhamūla) and the one that consists in dwelling on a spot devoid of shelter and vegetation (abbhokāsika). Even though being the translation of the term " dwellling beneath a tree ", the main idea of the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga is not that much to adopt a tree, but to renounce to material comfort instead – likely to cause laziness to arise – and to all maintenance duties involved by residing in a building compound. Thus, the abbhokāsika dhutaṅga includes the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga. In the same day, the dhutaṅga that consists in renouncing to the residence in a building compound (rukkhamūla) and the one that consists in renouncing to spots provided with vegetation and shelter (abbhokāsika) do no prevent one from practising the one lying in dwelling " in a forest " (āraññika), as this later consists in not adopting a monastery situated into the deep forest. His only idea lies indeed in living remote from inhabited aeras, the residence on a recluse, isolated spot. On the contrary, it is possible to practise the abbhokāsika dhutaṅga or the rukkhamūla dhutaṅga without practising the āraññika dhutaṅga, for example, by dwelling beneath a tree situated in inhabited areas.
The 8 dhutaṅga the bhikkhunīs are able to practice are: paṃsukūla, tecīvarika, piṇḍapāta, sapadānacāri, ekāsanika, pattapiṇḍika, yathāsantatika and nesajjika.
The khalupacchābhattika dhutaṅga is obsolete to bhikkhunīs, as their vinaya forbids them to refuse food that is being served to them, even after having started to eat (according to the pavārito, see the pācittiya 35). They cannot practise the āraññika dhutaṅga as their vinaya forbids them to dwell in an isolated spot, without a bhikkhu monastery located close by (according to the ohīyana rule). Regarding the rukkhamūla, abbhokāsika and susānika dhutaṅga, Buddha does not authorize them to adopt them, as being women, these practices are too difficult and too dangerous. Moreover, a bhikkhunīs cannot proceed alone outside of the monastic complex. Supposing that it would be permitted to a bhikkhunīs to dwell on a spot remote from bhikkhu monasteries, accompanied with another bhikkhunīs, she would have it difficult finding another bhikkhunīs who agrees to practise the same dhutaṅga along with her, without referring to the fact that the main interest of the dhutaṅgas lies to practise them alone.
sāmaṇeras are able to practise the 12 dhutaṅgas; all to the exclusion of the practice that lies in confining oneself to three robes (tecīvarika), as, on the contrary of bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs, they have no double robe at disposal. Admittedly, nothing does prevent sāmaṇeras from training into utilising a very limited number of robes, shawls or blankets. However, this will not be the object of the tecīvarika dhutaṅga.
The 7 dhutaṅgas that sikkhamānas and sāmaṇerīs are able to practise are: paṃsukūla, piṇḍapāta, sapadānacāri, ekāsanika, pattapiṇḍika, yathāsantatika and nesajjika.
They cannot practise the khalupacchābhattika, āraññika, rukkhamūla, abbhokāsika, and susānika dhutaṅga, and for the same reasons as bhikkhunīs can't and, regarding the tecīvarika dhutaṅga, for the same reasons as sāmaṇeras can't.
The 2 dhutaṅgas that the laity – nuns included – are able to practise are: ekāsanika (a single meal per day) and pattapiṇḍika (taking one's meal by means of a single recipient). However, a laity strongly enclined to the practice of renunciation, purity of the mind, and to a great confidence into the dhamma, can, following the example of bhikkhus, adopt two above mentioned extra dhutaṅgas, the khalupacchābhattika, āraññika, rukkhamūla, abbhokāsika, susānika, yathāsantatika and nesajjika dhutaṅga, which raise the total number of dhutaṅgas to 9.
However, the laity cannot practise the first four dhutaṅgas, as they do not wear any monastic robe and do not obtain their food by means of a bowl.
ariyās are beings who have inevitably practised the dhutaṅgas in this life or in a former rebirth. To have one's pāramīs sufficiently matured for the realisation of the dhamma, the practise of the dhutaṅgas is therefore inevitable. For this reason, we can say that " the practice of the dhutaṅgas is the path of ariyās ". The dhutaṅgas even constitute a training particularly auspicious to the realisation of nibbāna, given the fact that they offer the best conditions for the training into the 8 maggaṅgas – the basis of satipaṭṭhāna (the path that leads to nibbāna) – on one hand, and for the detachment from all obstacles to this training on the other.
There do exist numerous bhikkhus who are renown for their practice of the dhutaṅgas. Among others, in Buddha's time, regarding the practice of the āraññika and paṃsukūla dhutaṅgas, Venerable Mahā Kassapa was particularly renown (besided recognised by Buddha as being the best practitioner of the 13 dhutaṅgas of his sāsana); then were particularly renown for the observance of the āraññika dhutaṅga: Venerable Revata (in the forest of Khariravaniya), Venerable Tissa and Venerable Nāgita; was particularly renown for the observance of the dhutaṅga linked with the obtention and consumption of food: Venerable Mitta; were particularly renown for the observance of the nesajjika dhutaṅga: Venerable Sāriputtarā, Venerable Mahā Moggalāna, Venerable Cakkhupāla, etc.
These arahantas – such as all arahantas who practise the dhutaṅgas – haven't gone through the difficulties of these practices for their own benefit, as they no longer have anything to obtain for themselves (an arahanta has, by definition, no more ambition, neither motivation). They have practised the dhutaṅgas with the only aim of favorably making an example, inciting to the observance of this noble practice other bhikkhus who see them or would come to hear about them.
All Buddhas have also practised the dhutaṅgas in a remarkable manner, at one or several moments of their last existence. Thus, wise people, imitating Bouddha, put into practice one or several of these dhutaṅgas.
Origin: Book in Burmese language
Author: Monk Devinda
Translator: Monk Dhamma Sāmi
Date of translation: 2004, January
Update: 2007, August the 28th