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Dhamma Articles

Buddhist Meditation or Bhavana


“Sududdasam sunipunam - yaatthakamanipatinam
Cittam rakkhetha medhavi - cittam guttam sukhavaham”

(The mind is very hard to perceive, is extremely subtle, flits wherever it listed. Let the wise person guard it; a guarded mind is conducive to happiness.) - (Dph)

In the teachings of the Buddha, Bhavana is the way leading towards the complete liberation. In most other religions, too, there are various meditation systems. However, there aims and goals are not for the purpose of reaching complete liberation.

When the word Bhavana is used in the Buddhist scriptures, it indicates the practice of or cultivation of the mind. In “Majjhima Nikaya” Mahasakuludayi Sutta, the word Bhavana is used to denote producing and increasing. That means mind culture. Dr.P.Vajiranana has mentioned this in the following words. ‘It can be seen that the word Bhavana has a meaning that is stronger than that of the English word meditation’.

I quote Prof. Rahula’s words here. ‘He therefore discovered the other form of meditation known as Vipassana (Skt. vipasyana or vidarsana), Insight into the nature of things, leading to the complete liberation of mind, to the realization of the Ultimate Truth, Nirvana. This is essentially the Buddhist meditation, Buddhist mental culture. It is an analytical method based on mindfulness, awareness, vigilance, observation’.

Both ‘Vimuktimagga’ (The Path of Emancipation) and ‘Visuddhimagga’ (Path of Purification) are two guidance books for Bavana (meditation manuals). The Vimuktimagga author has taken following stanza as the theme for his work.

“Silam Samadhi pannaca – vimuttica anuttara
Anubuddha eme dhamma – Gotamena yasassino”

The Visuddhimagga autor has taken following stanza as the theme for his work
“Sile patitthaya naro sapanno – cittam pannanca bhavayam
Atapi nipako bhikkhu – so iman vijataye jatan”

(A Comparative study of both works has been done by P.V.Bapath. See, Vimuktimagga and Visuddhimagga, introduction, Bapath, P.V., Poona, 1937) There is no doubt that those traditions have equally accepted Bhavana, as developing the mind or mind culture.

‘Vimuktimagga’ is of the Mahayana tradition and ‘Vsuddhiimagga’ is of the Theravadi tradition. For easy understanding we use here the popular usage of ‘Meditation’ to speak about Bhavana.

Samatha is a meditational technique which makes a mind calm until it comes to a state of tranquility and supreme concentration equivalent to dhyana. Most expect super natural abilities through this meditation. All the mystic conditions are mind made states. Such conditioned (sankhatha) states have nothing to do with the reality or Truth.

Samatha Bhavana or tranquillity meditation is twofold, namely Upacara Bhavana and Appana Bhavana. (Upacara or Jhana of access is the preliminary stage in the process of development in the system of Samadhi meditation.) Dr.P.Vajiranana’s book (p.109) explains Upacara samadhi and Appana Samadhi with an illustration, according to their psychological strength.

Vipassana Bhavana or insight meditation is mainly on mindfulness, for example, the Satipatthana method (retention of mind). Satipatthanas are of four kinds, i.e. observing the body, (Kayanupassana), observing the mind, (Cittanupassana), observing feelings, (Vedananupassana) and observing mind sense, (Dhammanupassana).

The relationship between Samatha and Vipassana is described as Samadhi and wisdom. Even the way to liberation is described as ten-fold. Ariya attangika magga is only a trainee (sekha) period. According to the Mahachattarisaka sutta in Majjhima Nikaya, to become an Arahanta there have to be two other steps namely samma gnana and samma vimukti. Without those no true liberation is achieved.

‘Concentration (samatha) means focusing one’s mind in one place without any distractions, and insight (vipassana) means seeing all things as they are, penetrating to the ultimate reality of all phenomena’ (See, ‘Seeker’s Glossary of Buddhism’ p.530) I further quote from the same book here. ‘The relationship between Samadhi and wisdom (or between samatha and vipasyana) is a crucial point in Buddhism.

In the Theravada tradition, the differences between them are emphasized; Samadhi and wisdom are considered separate facets of cultivation, to be achieved one after another’. A verse in the ‘Dhammapada’ (282) goes to say ‘Through Yoga wisdom arises; without Yoga wisdom is lost’ (Yoga ve jayati bhuri, Ayoga bhuri sankhayo) Actually this does not refer to Hindu Yogas. The Dhammapada commentary clearly depicted here is that the Yoga means the thirty-eight subjects of meditation. (Kammatthana)

In Theravadi texts we find two other systems of meditation also. They are Yuganaddhaya (practicing both samatha and vipassana together) and Dhammuddacca viggahita manasa (just as the knowledge of rise and fall arises, concentrate directly in the insight stream, attained in the advanced stages of mental training). (Nauyane Ariyadhamma thera’s introduction to ‘Anapanasati Samatha Bhavanava’).

The popular breathing meditation system is directly a samatha Bahavana. It can be developed towards vipassana. That means any courageous person who meditate also can cultivate his mind towards true liberation.

Meditation subjects mentioned in ’Dhammasangani’ is forty in number. They are as follows. Tenfold Kasinas, (ten devices, namely, Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Blue, yellow, Red, White, Space, and Consciousness), Twenty Sannas or perceptions (Ten external and ten concepts).

Six recollections (Anussatis) (literary meaning, constant mindfulness) and Four mindfulness (Satis), These are described in ‘Buddhist Meditation in Theory and Practice’ (by Dr. Paravahera Vajiranana Maha Thera). Here perceptions or Sannas are seen in the Buddhist texts, especially ‘Anguttara Nikaya’ in various ways.

The names of the external objects are as follows. Contemplation of impurity (Asubha sanna), light (Aloka sanna), loathsomeness of nutriment (Ahare Patikkula sanna), detachment from the whole world (Sabbaloke anabhirata Sanna), transitory-ness (Anicca Sanna), painfulness of that which is transitory (Anicce dukkha Sanna), soullessness of that which is painful (Dukkhe Anatta Sanna), avoidance (Pahana Sanna), non-attachment (Viraga Sanna), cessation(Nirodha Sanna).

Names of concepts given as meditation subjects are as follows. Contemplation of impermanence (Anicca Sanna), non-ego (Anatta Sanna), death (Marana Sanna), loathsomeness of nutrition (Ahare patikkula Sanna), detachment from the whole world (Sabbaloke anabhirata Sanna), meditation upon a skeleton (Atthika Sanna), worm-infested corpse (Pulavaka Sanna), discoloured corpse (Vinilaka Sanna), fissured corpse (Vicchiddaka Sanna), swollen corpse (Uddhumataka Sanna). Six recollections (Anussatis) and four mindfulness (Satis) are as follows.

Recollection of the Buddha (Buddhanussati), the Dhamma (Dhammanussati), the Sangha (Sanghanussati), Morality (Silanussati), Liberality (Caganussati),and the Gods (Devatanussati), Mindfulness of Breathing (Anapanasati), Death (Maranasati), the Body (Kayagatasati), and Tranquillity (Upasamanussati).

Methods of (Vipassana ) insight meditation as mentioned in Rathavinita sutta has seven steps, namely, sila-visuddhi (Purity of Morality), Citta-visuddhi (Purity of Mind, Ditthi-visuddhi (Purity of views), Kankhavitarana-visuddhi (Purity of overcoming doubts), Maggamagga-nanadassana-visuddhi (Purity of Knowledge in right and wrong paths), Patipada-nanadassana-visuddhi (Purity of knowledge about progress), Nanadassana-visuddhi (Purity of Knowledge and insight into the Noble Path)

According to the subjects and methods stated in ‘Dhammasangani’ is as follows. The eight Kasinas , Abhibhayatana (The eight Objects of Mastery), Vimokkhas (The first three stages of Release), The four Brhmaviharas (Devine qualities), The ten Asubhas, namely, Uddhumataka (a swollen corpse, Vinilaka (a discoloured corpse), Vipubbaka (a festering corpse), Vicchiddaka (a fissured corpse), Vikkhayitaka (a mangled corpse), Vikkhittaka (a dismembered corpse), Hatavikkhittaka (a cut and dismembered corpse), Lohitaka (a blood-stained corpse), Pulavaka (a worm-infested corpse), Atthika (a skeleton). The four Arupa Jhanas, corresponding to the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh Vimokkha.

In ‘Visuddhimagga’, Vipassana is explained under the name of Panna Bhavana. Buddhaghosa has explained nine fold knowledge of insight. They are as follows, .Udayavayanupassana nana, (knowledge which reflects on the rise fall of composite things), Bhanganupassana nana, (knowledge which reflects on the breaking up or perishable nature of composite things), Bhayatupatthana nana, (knowledge of the presence of fear of composite things), Adinavanupassana nana, (knowledge of which reflects on feeling the dangers of composite things), Nibbhidhanupassana nana, (knowledge which reflects on feeling of disgust aroused by composite things), Muncitukamyata nana, (knowledge of the desire for release from composite things which arouse feelings of disgust) Patisankhanupassdana nana, (knowledge which reflects on the analysis of composite things in order to be released therefrom), Sankharupekkha nana (knowledge of indifference towards composite things), Anuloma nana. (Adaptive knowledge which rises in connection with the four Noble Truths).

In this short article I have discussed only a few things. Meditation is not the accurate translation of the word Bhavana. But for the sake of easy understanding and to respect the popular usage, I too have to use the word meditation as equivalent to the word Bhavana.

Every religion talks about meditation, but, Buddhist meditation is not restricted to the Tranquillity (Samatha) and It goes beyond that and teaches Insight (vipassana) meditation, which leads to realization of the Ultimate Truth or Nibbana. ‘Vimuktimagga’ and ‘Visuddhimagga’ are meditation manuals of Mahayana and Theravada traditions.

Though few dissimilarities are seen, many similarities show both works have similar roots. The usage of the word Yoga or Yogavacara has no connection with the Hindu Yoga practice. Buddha before his enlightenment, practiced all Yogic practices under different teachers of the day, but he has explained the dissatisfaction of those teachings, telling nothing more than, (ditthadhammasukhavihara) happy living in this existence and (santavihara) peaceful living.

All such mystic things are only mind-produced, mind-created and conditioned things. Ordinary people expect miracles done by the people who meditate. Actually it is only a misunderstanding. A person who practices meditation should not reveal to others that he is a Yogavacara, because it would build up pride.

Samatha meditation or Yoga practice is popular among ordinary people, because they can give rise to mystic states or by means of yoga can perform miracles. Various methods prescribed in texts, leading up to the Sphere of Nothingness etc.

Before the Buddha’s time, people expected miracles from saints. When the general public rushed toward the Buddha as followers, followers of other religions accused the Buddha of performing miraculous charms.

Due to lack of space I curtail my further discussion here.
I have great pleasure conveying my felicitation on the occasion of the 01st Anniversary of “Mettavalokanaya” Buddhist Magazine in Sri Lanka, which I firmly believe will immensely contribute to the spiritual Development of Buddhist.

Most Venerable Galayaye Piyadassi Thero, MBE
Chief Sangha Nayake of United Kingdom,
Managing Trustee - World Buddhist Foundation,
Head - Sri Sadddhatissa International Buddhist Centre, Aggamaha Pandita

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