Ati Marga header
Books Online
Reading List
Senge Bio
Contact Us

An Overview
The Practice of Virtue
The Development of Insight

In review we find that numbers 1 - 8 are the development of sila, or morality. They deal with the eight unprofitable courses of action.

Numbers 9 - 23 have to do with the development of samadhi or concentration and it begins with the abandoning of the seven illnesses by adopting their antidotes.

Numbers 16 - 23 are the eight attainments of concentration and what is abandoned by each. The last four of these are the formless absorptions.

Numbers 24 - 41 deal with panna or understanding. These are the eighteen principle insights, which begin with the seven contemplations.

Numbers 24 - 26 are the three principle insights.

Numbers 27 - 30 are the subtle residual clingings.

Numbers 31 - 41 are the removal of the eleven clingings to the external world.

Numbers 42 - 45 are the four stages of Path and what is abandoned by each.

When reviewing numbers 1 through 8, we find that numbers 1 through 3 deal with bodily actions, number 4 is the training of speech and numbers 5 through 8 are the training of the mind. We see that it flows from the most obvious and gross levels of bodily action to the more subtle levels of speech, finally focusing on the training of the mind. Even within each category we go from gross to finer states. With each one we have to be more and more honest with ourselves, we need to use more evaluation and greater introspection.

When we review numbers 9 through 15, what is dealt with are the seven illnesses, which are abandoned by means of applying their antidotes. The first illness, lust (number 9) is cured through dispassion and coolness of mind. The second illness, ill will (number 10) is cured through the development of loving-kindness. Dullness (number 11) is cured through the meditation on light. Agitation (number 12) is cured through cultivating concentration. Uncertainty (number 13) is cured through investigation of the Law. Ignorance (number 14) is cured by knowledge. Boredom (number 15) is cured through the cultivation of interest.

Then in dealing with the five hindrances we find the mind cannot enter into a state of concentration if we are caught in a state of lust, ill will or anger towards someone else. These are direct hindrances. Unless the hindrances are completely purified and eradicated from our being, each time we go into retreat they will be encountered. We will not be able to develop concentration until they have been either temporarily suppressed or completely eradicated.

When we deal with the gross hindrances to the cultivation of concentration we then must face the next obstacle which is stiffness and lethargy. We combat this by focusing on light. Stiffness and lethargy is a darkness inside of us, so meditating on light brings more light into the body. Focusing on the outer manifestation of light will gradually illuminate the inner state.

When we have lightened up the physical and mental state the next obstacle we must overcome is distractions. At this stage we have energy but we don't know what to do with it. So now we begin to focus the mind in a given direction bringing it back again and again to the meditation subject.

Having focused the mind we will then encounter the next obstacle to be overcome which is agitation. It takes a certain type of will to be free of this. We solve the problem of agitation through question and investigation to become sure of the meditation subject. We use the intellect to become confident about what we are doing and in this way the agitation subsides. Doubt and worry produce agitation and they feed each other, more agitation more doubt and worry, more doubt and worry more agitation. This is only dispelled by becoming sure and confident about the practice. From this sense of sureness arising from investigation comes certainty.

The next obstacle to our development is our ignorance of higher states of consciousness. Because of this obstacle we do not know what is possible to us. In other words we are unaware of what we should aspire towards. If we had experienced higher states of consciousness we would know our direction and purpose. This dilemma can be resolved if we have a teacher who can demonstrate these states to us. If we are not so fortunate, we must use the Dharma to help us become convinced that in truth there are higher states of consciousness to unfold. In this way we remove ignorance and become confident.

Our next obstacle is boredom. The most simple and direct way to become free of this is to cultivate a sense of humor. Joy dispels boredom and learning to laugh at ourselves is the most effective way of cultivating joy.

When we review numbers 16 through 23 we see these are the basis of understanding in the sense that they show us the development of concentration and how the mind functions in various realms. These are classically called the eight absorptions. Jhana generally speaking has to do with the development of positive states.

Number 16 illustrates that when the hindrances are present, concentration cannot be attained. When the first jhana is attained, there is a realization that the hindrances are not present. Through the first jhana applied thought and sustained thought are developed. The ability to stay focused on the object of investigation and the ability to investigate the object without a wandering mind are developed.

Number 17 deals with the second jhana. We let go of applied and sustained thought and it develops into states of bliss and happiness. At this stage we are in a peaceful state without internal thinking and just focusing on an object in a calm clear way, without the distraction of applied and sustained thought.

Number 18 outlines the third jhana and deals with pleasure and pain. We must let go of pleasure because we see that pleasure is part of pain. By not clinging to pleasure we don't experience the suffering of its loss. This is developing equanimity.

Number 19 describes the fourth jhana. Equanimity is fully developed with the removal of all pleasure and pain.

Number 20 deals with the fifth jhana and is now opening to the formless absorptions. All of the previous four jhanas can be attained through meditation on form, earth, water, fire, air, etc. In the fifth Jhana it is the formless or boundless space that is cultivated. This is the first of the formless meditations. In the development of this meditation we give up the perception of form. In other words, we give up the bliss of form because all form has pleasure and pain in it. Because it is subject to change there is pain. The development of boundless space frees us from the struggle or contention that is present in form. The formless jhanas are extremely beautiful when experienced for the first time because they liberate us from all formations. If we haven't been freed from the experience of form, we have no idea how much suffering is present in this experience.

With number 21 we are considering the development of boundless consciousness. There is greater freedom in boundless consciousness than there is in boundless space. Consciousness is all-pervasive - that is why it is boundless. If materiality were separate from consciousness, consciousness would have a boundary and could not be one of the boundless meditations. No form is separate from consciousness. That is why the Awakened One can know directly the sun and moon. Boundless consciousness means that we can't find any edges to it. If we can experience an object directly, then form and consciousness are not separate. When we can't directly experience an object or another being, then we are under the illusion there are boundaries to consciousness.

In number 22 we recognize the limitation of boundless consciousness in the sense that we are still limited by perception. Generating a mind that has the intention to go beyond all limitations we enter into the experience of emptiness. In this state there is no subject and no object. In boundless consciousness all objects are experienced as effervescent or illusory, like the mind itself. In the realization of emptiness both the subject and the object is eliminated. This state is only recognized after having emerged from the absorption.

With number 23 there is the attainment of neither perception nor non-perception in the sense that they are occurring so quickly that one cannot affirm existence nor non-existence. Each moment is an arising in consciousness and known as such. The absence of consciousness occurring in between the momentary arisings is also recognized.

Numbers 24 through 41 are the development of insight.

With number 24, because we have experienced neither perception nor non-perception in the absorptions, we can see directly into the nature of impermanence and change. It is now that we use this experience to contemplate the significance of impermanence. Because this is the development of insight we use discursive thinking or the first jhana as a means of probing the significance of full absorptions in the jhanic process. We do this by contemplating impermanence wherever we have a perception of permanence.

In number 25 because we have contemplated impermanence, suffering is apparent so that we now contemplate suffering as a formal practice. We do this to free ourselves from clinging to pleasure. So when we experience pleasure we should reflect on its impermanent and illusory nature.

In number 26 we contemplate the empty nature of all arisings in the sense that they exist without a self. Clinging to habitual patterns, clinging to pleasure is the basis of our perception of a self, so we practice the contemplation of not-self whenever clinging is present in our being.

With number 27 we contemplate dispassion when we would ordinarily take delight in sense experience. We do this in order to free ourselves from habitual tendencies of clinging.

In number 28 here we contemplate fading away wherever a state of desire or greed arises. We use this contemplation to overcome the greed for, and grasping at, becoming. The reason for this is that we have realized that any form of becoming based on a limited view or desire, is an imprisonment.

In number 29 we contemplate cessation. We do this whenever we perceive something arising. This contemplation helps us break free of attachment to the beginning or first impulse of an arising, whether it is the first spring flowers, the birth of a child or the arising of moments of consciousness. Whenever there is the perception of origination we contemplate cessation.

In number 30 we contemplate letting go or relinquishing. We do this whenever there arises within us an instinctive grasping. All formations exist through clinging and grasping. What we are dealing with here is on a very instinctive level, however, the volitional mind must be freed from this process of instinctual grasping.

In number 31 we contemplate the destruction of formations whenever they are perceived as solid and compact. Our experience of our body as having solidity, resistant to change and not permeable is the illusion that we overcome with the contemplation of destruction.

In number 32 we contemplate the flux of karma in relationship to supportive and non-supportive circumstances. We realize the danger of thinking we can accumulate good karma. It is critical that we let go of this view.

In number 33 whenever a moment arises in consciousness where we perceive something as existing or enduring, we contemplate its changing nature. In all of these contemplations we are dealing with the sign or characteristic that needs to be abandoned through the specific antidote or contemplation.

With number 34 we contemplate the signless whenever a sign arises. The sign here refers to a moment of consciousness in which a perception of any lasting quality is held in the mind.

In number 35 we contemplate the letting go of desire whenever it arises. We contemplate the desireless state of being.

In number 36 we contemplate the void nature of various views so that we do not cling to or insist upon a specific interpretation of Dharma.

In number 37 we initiate insight so that we give up misinterpreting Dharma through not understanding the higher states of consciousness.

In number 38 we contemplate correct knowledge and vision through the higher attainments to eliminate confusion.

In number 39 we see the danger of accumulating karma. We let go of clinging to and misinterpreting the signs as having a lasting nature.

In number 40 we cultivate awareness through reflecting upon moments of unawareness.

In number 41 we contemplate turning away from all bondage due to an insistent misinterpreting of the nature of formations. Bondage is present because of our clinging to formations and signs. These arise due to repetition and conditioning. Abstention is virtue in all of these instances; using our effort to abandon clinging is virtue; using our patience we focus on the moments of misinterpretation; we resist letting the mind repeat the pattern unconsciously; we focus with clear mindfulness on freeing the mind from these patterns. When the volitional mind is fully certain and applies the discipline of mindful restraint, the wisdom of non-transgression is the result.

Each of the previous contemplations can be analyzed and interpreted from the point of view of abstention is virtue, effort is virtue, patience is virtue, mindfulness is virtue and wisdom is virtue.

Numbers 42 through 45 delineate the four Paths and what is abandoned by each. The four Paths yield eight types of individuals, those residing in the attainment of the Path and those residing in fruition of the attainment.

When we review numbers 22 and 23 we see that they are first the realization of absolute emptiness and second the inseparability of form and emptiness. In the first experience there is a negation of form because emptiness is the object of absorption. In the next development of our meditation on emptiness we explore the realm where we cannot absolutely affirm perceptions or emptiness. In this stage of meditation emptiness is seen to be inseparable from form. If we cling to the first experience of emptiness we will be caught in nihilism.

When we review numbers 24 through 36 we see that the contemplations focus on developing insight by replacing our habitual perceptions with contemplations that are in accordance with reality. For instance, when we perceive permanence we contemplate the truth of impermanence. As we go through each of these contemplations we are training our mind to be free of ignorance caused by our habitual and blind grasping at automatic responses to sensory stimuli. For instance, when we are walking on the earth our inward perception and experience is that it is solid, enduring and permanent. For the average person it is only when we experience an earthquake that this illusion is dispelled. These contemplations help bring our internal intuitive experience which has been conditioned by karma into accordance with reality and the truth of existence. It is because of this that we refer to them as the contemplations leading to insight.

In number 24 we contemplate impermanence when we perceive permanence. In number 25 we contemplate pain when we experience pleasure and in number 26 we contemplate not-self when there is a perception of a self. In number 27 we contemplate dispassion when we delight in existence. In number 28 we contemplate fading away when we experience greed for a particular type of becoming. In number 29 we contemplate cessation when we perceive the beginning or the origination of something and in number 30 we contemplate relinquishment when our minds are grasping at a particular form of becoming. In number 31 we contemplate destruction whenever we perceive compactness and the enduring quality of materiality. In number 32 we contemplate the disillusionment of karmic formations whenever we are inclined to accumulate wholesome karma. In number 33 we contemplate the rapid change of materiality from moment to moment whenever we have the perception that material is lasting and endures. In number 34 we contemplate the signless whenever we experience a sign arising in consciousness. A sign is the perception of the apparent or intrinsic quality of an object. In number 35 we contemplate the state of being without desire whenever desire arises. This is called the contemplation of the desireless. In number 36 we contemplate voidness whenever we cling to a point of view that is partial or incomplete.

Numbers 37 through 41 are the eradication of clinging to a point of view because of tenacious proclivities of the mind.

Numbers 42 through 45 are the Path attainments. This concludes the study of Virtue as the Path.
{ back to top }
Terms of use: You may copy, reformat, reprint, republish, and redistribute this work in any medium whatsoever, provided that: (1) you only make such copies, etc. available free of charge; (2) you clearly indicate that any derivatives of this work (including translations) are derived from this source document; and (3) you include the full text of this license in any copies or derivatives of this work. Otherwise, all rights reserved.