and in the title of this treatise, the Pali term ñana has
been rendered by "insight," as at the outset the word "knowledge,"
the normal rendering of ñana, might not be taken by the reader
with the full weight and significance which it will receive in the
context of the present treatise. In all the following occurrences,
however, this Pali term has been translated by "knowledge," while
the word "insight" has been reserved for the Pali term vipassana.
When referring to the several types and stages of knowledge, the
plural "knowledges" has been used, in conformity with the Pali
the canonical Buddhist scriptures, the seven stages of purification
(visuddhi) are mentioned in the Discourse on the Stage Coaches
(Majjhima Nikaya No. 24). They are also the framework of the Venerable
Buddhaghosa's Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga),
where they are explained in full. (Translation by Ñanamoli Thera,
publ. by BPS.)
(vayo, lit. wind, air) refers to the last of the four material
elements (dhatu), or primary qualities of matter. The other
three are: earth (solidity, hardness), water (adhesion), and fire
(caloricity). These four elements, in varying proportional strength,
are present in all forms of matter. The so-called "inner wind element"
which applies in this context is active in the body as motion, vibration,
and pressure manifesting itself in the passage of air through the
body (e.g., in breathing), in the movement and pressure of limbs
and organs, and so on. It becomes perceptible as a tactile process,
or object of touch (photthabbarammana), through the pressure
caused by it.
attention directed to the movement of the abdomen was introduced
into the methodical practice of insight-meditation by the author
of this treatise, the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, and forms here the
basic object of meditative practice. For details see The Heart
of Buddhist Meditation by Nyanaponika Thera (London: Rider &
Co., 1962; BPS, 1992), pp. 94f., 106. If preferred, the breath itself
may instead be taken as the basic object of meditative attention,
according to the traditional method of "mindfulness of breathing"
(anapanasati); see Heart of Buddhist Meditation, pp.108ff.
Mindfulness of Breathing by Ñanamoli Thera (BPS, 1982).
to the Buddhist Abhidhamma teachings, only the three elements of
earth, fire, and wind constitute the tactile substance in matter.
The element of water is not held to be an object of touch even in
cases where it predominates, as in liquids. What is tactile in any
given liquid is the contribution of the other three elements to
its composite nature.
is a figurative expression for the sense organs (which, including
the mind, are sixfold), because they provide, as it were, the access
to the world of objects.
preceding sequence of terms is frequently used in the Discourses
(Suttas) of the Buddha to refer to those individuals who have attained
to the first supramundane stage on the road to arahantship, i.e.,
stream-entry (sotapatti), or the following ones. See Note
33. The term Dhamma refers here to Nibbana.
The Five Precepts binding on all Buddhist laymen, are: abstention
from (1) killing, (2) stealing, (3) unlawful sexual intercourse,
(4) lying, (5) intoxicants.
II. The Eight Uposatha Precepts are: abstention from
(1) killing, (2) stealing, (3) all sexual intercourse, (4) lying,
(5) intoxicants, (6) partaking of solid food and certain liquids
after noon, (7) abstention from (a) dance, song, music, shows (attendance
and performance), (b) from perfumes, ornaments, etc., (8) luxurious
beds. This set of eight precepts is observed by devout Buddhist
lay followers on full-moon days and on other occasions.
III. The Ten Precepts: (1)-(6) = II, 1-6; (7) = II,
7 (a); (8) = II, 7 (b); (9) = II, 8; (10) abstention from acceptance
of gold and silver, money, etc.
other three items of the monk's fourfold pure conduct are control
of the senses, purity of livelihood, and pure conduct concerning
the monk's requisites.
Access (or "neighbourhood") concentration (upacara-samadhi)
is that degree of mental concentration that approaches, but not
yet attains, the full concentration (appana-samadhi) of the
first absorption (jhana). It still belongs to the sensuous
plane (kamavacara) of consciousness, while the jhanas belong
to the fine-material plane (rupavacara).
Pañcupadanakkhandha. These five groups, which are the objects
of grasping, are: (1) corporeality, (2) feeling, (3) perception,
(4) mental formations, (5) consciousness.
Also called sukkhavipassana-yanika.
Literally: "according to their true nature and function."
This method of meditation aims at "knowledge by direct experience"
(paccakkha-ñana), resulting from mindfulness directed towards
one's own bodily and mental processes. It is for that reason that
here express mention is made of "one's own life continuity." Having
gathered the decisive direct experience from the contemplation of
his own body and mind, the meditator will later extend the contemplation
to the life-processes of others, by way of inference (anumana).
See, in the Satipatthana Sutta, the recurrent passage: "contemplating
the body, etc., externally."
"Noticing" (sallakkhana) is a key term in this treatise.
The corresponding verb in the Pali language is sallakkheti
(sam + lakh), which can be translated adequately as
well as literally by "to mark clearly." Though the use of "to mark"
in the sense of "to observe" or "to notice" is quite legitimate
in English, it is somewhat unusual and unwieldy in its derivations.
Hence the rendering by "noticing" was chosen. "Noticing" is identical
with "bare attention," the term used in the translator's book
The Heart of Buddhist Meditation.
The Sub-commentary to the Brahmajala Sutta explains as follows:
"Things in their true nature (paramatthadhamma) have two
characteristics or marks: specific characteristics and general characteristics.
The understanding of the specific characteristics is knowledge by
experience (paccakkha-ñana), while the understanding of the
general characteristics is knowledge by inference (anumana-ñana)."
The specific characteristic, for instance, of the element of motion
(vayo-dhatu) is its nature of supporting, its function of
moving; its general characteristics are impermanence, etc.
The three terms printed in italics are standard categories of definition
used in the Pali Commentaries and the Visuddhimagga. In the
case of mental phenomena, a fourth category, "proximate condition"
(padatthana) is added. The definition of the element of motion
(or of wind) occurs, for instance, in the Visuddhimagga (XI,
93) and is shown in this treatise to be a fact of direct experience.
"Purification of mind" refers to mental concentration of either
of two degrees of intensity: full concentration or access concentration
(see Note 10). In both types of concentration, the mind is temporarily
purified from the five mental hindrances (see Note 20), which defile
the mind and obstruct concentration.
The "other" objects may also belong to the same series of events,
for instance, the recurrent rise and fall of the abdomen.
The five mental hindrances (nivarana) which obstruct concentration,
are: (1) sense-desire, (2) ill-will, (3) sloth and torpor, (4) agitation
and remorse, (5) sceptical doubt. For details, see The Five Mental
Hindrances and their Conquest, by Nyanaponika Thera (BPS Wheel
Insight reaches its culmination on attaining to the perfection of
the "purification by knowledge and vision of the course of practice."
See Note 41 and the Visuddhimagga, XXI,1.
This passage is translated in The Way of Mindfulness by Soma
Thera (3rd ed., BPS, 1967), p. 104, where, for our term "access
concentration," the rendering "partial absorption" is used.
When occurring during the practice of tranquillity meditation.
This is the fully absorbed concentration (jhana) achieved
at the attainment of the noble paths and fruitions.
In the Commentary to the Majjhima Nikaya No.111, the Anupada Sutta.
The Visuddhimagga says that both terms, "knowledge by inductive
insight" and "comprehension by groups," are names for the same type
of insight. According to the Paramattha-manjusa, its Commentary,
the former term was used in Ceylon, the latter in India.
The ten corruptions of insight (vipassanupakkilesa) are first
mentioned in the Patisambhidamagga (PTS, Vol. II, pp.100f.)
and are explained in the Visuddhimagga (XX,105ff.). The names
and the sequence of the terms as given in this treatise differ slightly
from those found in the above two sources.
The five grades of rapture (piti), dealt with in the Visuddhimagga
(IV,94) are: (1) minor, (2) momentarily recurring, (3) flooding,
(4) elevating, (5) suffusing.
This passage refers to the six pairs of qualitative factors of mental
activity, which, according to the Abhidhamma, are present in all
moral consciousness though in different degrees of development.
The first pair is tranquillity (a) of consciousness, and (b) of
its concomitant mental factors. The other pairs are agility, pliancy,
wieldiness, proficiency, and uprightness, all of which have the
same twofold division as stated before. These six pairs represent
the formal, or structural, side of moral consciousness. For details
see Abhidhamma Studies, by Nyanaponika Thera (2nd ed. BPS,
These six obstructions of mind are countered by the six pairs of
mental factors mentioned in Note 29 and in the following sentence
of the text.
Non-action, non-activity or non-busyness, refers to the receptive,
but keenly watchful, attitude of noticing (or bare attention).
Advertence is the first stage of the perceptual process,
as analyzed in the Abhidhamma. It is the first "turning-towards"
the object of perception; in other words, initial attention.
The supramundane paths and fruitions are: stream-entry, once-returning,
nonreturning, and arahantship. By attaining to the first path and
fruition, that of stream-entry, final deliverance is assured at
the latest after seven more rebirths.
"Conceptual objects of shapes" (santhana-paññatti). The other
two types of concepts intended here are: the concepts of individual
identity derived from the continuity of serial phenomena
(santati-paññatti), and collective concepts derived from
the agglomeration of phenomena (samuha-paññatti).
"The idea of formations with their specific features": this phrase
elaborates the meaning applicable here of the Pali term nimitta,
which literally means "mark," "sign," "feature," i.e., the idea
or image conceived of an object perceived.
"With its particular structure" (sa-viggaha): the distinctive
(vi) graspable (gaha) form of an object.
Bhay'upatthana. The word bhaya has the subjective
aspect of fear and the objective aspect of fearfulness, danger.
Both are included in the significance of the term in this context.
This refers to the knowledges described in the following (Nos. 7-11).
Niroja. Lit. "without nutritive essence."
According to the Visuddhimagga, the "insight leading to emergence"
is the culmination of insight, and is identical with the following
three knowledges: equanimity about formations, desire for deliverance,
and knowledge of re-observation. It is called "leading to emergence"
because it emerges from the contemplation of formations (conditioned
phenomena) to the supramundane path that has Nibbana as its object.
The Visuddhimagga says (XXI,130): "The knowledge of adaptation
derives its name from the fact that it adapts itself to the earlier
and the later states of mind. It adapts itself to the preceding
eight insight knowledges with their individual functions, and to
the thirty-seven states partaking of enlightenment that follow."
Gotrabhu-ñana (maturity knowledge) is, literally, the "knowledge
of one who has become one of the lineage (gotra)." By attaining
to that knowledge, one has left behind the designation and stage
of an unliberated worldling and is entering the lineage and rank
of the noble ones, i.e., the stream-enterer, etc. Insight has now
come to full maturity, maturing into the knowledge of the supramundane
paths and fruitions. Maturity knowledge occurs only as a single
moment of consciousness; it does not recur, since it is immediately
followed by the path consciousness of stream-entry or once-returning,
"Path knowledge" is the knowledge connected with the four supramundane
paths of stream-entry, etc. Here, in this passage, only the path
of stream-entry is meant. Path knowledge, like maturity knowledge,
lasts only for one moment of consciousness, being followed by the
fruition knowledge resulting from it, which may repeat itself many
times and may also be deliberately entered into by way of the "attainment
of fruition" (see No. 17).
That means that Nibbana has now become an object of direct experience,
and is no longer a mental construct of conceptual thinking.
The knowledge of reviewing defilements still remaining, does not
obtain at the stage of arahantship where all defilements have been
eliminated. It may occur, but not necessarily so, at the lower three
stages of stream-entry, etc.
See Note 43.
The five spiritual faculties (indriya) are: faith, energy,
mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. For details see The Way
of Wisdom by Edward Conze (BPS Wheel No.65/66).
The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw
Mahasi Sayadaw, the Venerable U Sobhana Mahathera,
was the son of U Kan Htaw and Daw Shwe Ok of Seikkhun village, which
is about seven miles to the west of Shwebo Town, a one-time capital
of the founder of the last Burmese dynasty. He was born on the third
waning of the month of second Waso in the year 1266 of the Burmese
Era (29 July 1904). At the age of six, he began his studies at a
monastic school in the same village, and at the age of twelve he
was ordained a samanera (novice). On reaching the age of twenty,
he was ordained a bhikkhu on the fifth waning of the month of Tazaungmon
in the year 1285 of the Burmese Era (23 November 1923). He then
passed the Government Pali examinations in all the three classes
of Pathamange, Pathamalat and Pathamagyi in the following three
In the fourth year after his bhikkhu ordination,
he proceeded to Mandalay — a former capital of Burma — where he
continued his further studies in the Khinmagan Kyaung Taik under
various monks of high scholastic fame. In the fifth year he went
to Moulmein where he took up the work of teaching the Buddhist scriptures
at a monastery known as Taung Waing Galay Taik Kyaung.
In the eighth year after his ordination, he and
another monk left Moulmein equipped with the bare necessities of
a bhikkhu (i.e., almsbowl, a set of three robes, etc.) and went
in search of a clear and effective method in the practice of meditation.
At Thaton he met the well-known meditation instructor, the Venerable
U Narada, who is also known as "Mingun Jetawun Sayadaw the First."
He then placed himself under the guidance of the Sayadaw and at
once proceeded with an intensive course of meditation.
After this practical course of meditation he returned
to Moulmein and continued with his original work of teaching Buddhist
scriptures. He sat for the Pali Lecturership Examination held by
the Government of Burma in June 1941 and succeeded in passing completely
at the first attempt. He was awarded the title of Sasanadhaja Siri
In the year 1303 of the Burmese Era (1941) and in the eighteenth
year of his bhikkhu ordination he returned to his native village
(Seikkhun) and resided at a monastery known as "Maha-Si Kyaung"
because a drum (Burmese: si) of unusually big (maha)
size is housed there. He then introduced the systematic practical
course of Satipatthana meditation. Many people, bhikkhus as well
as laymen, gathered round him and took up the strict practical course,
and were greatly benefited by his careful instructions. They were
happy because they began to understand the salient features of Satipatthana
and had also learned the proper method of continuing the practice
In the year 1311 B.E. (1949) the then Prime Minister
of Burma, U Nu, and Sir U Thwin, executive members of the Buddha
Sasananuggha Association, requested the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw
to come to Rangoon and give training in meditative practice. In
his twenty-sixth year of bhikkhu ordination, he therefore went to
Rangoon and resided at the Thathana Yeiktha, the headquarters of
the Association, where since then intensive training courses have
been held up to the present day.
Over 15,000 persons have since been trained in that
center alone and altogether over 200,000 persons have been trained
throughout Burma, where there are more than 100 branches for the
training in the same method. This method has also spread widely
in Thailand and in Sri Lanka.
Mahasi Sayadaw was awarded the title of Agga-Maha-Pandita
in the year 1952.
He carried out the duties of the Questioner (pucchaka)
at the Sixth Buddhist Council (Chattha Sangayana) held at Rangoon
for two years, culminating in the year 2500 of the Buddhist Era
(1956). To appreciate fully the importance of this role it may be
mentioned that the Venerable Maha-Kassapa, as Questioner, put questions
at the First Council held three months after the passing away of
the Buddha. Then the Venerable Upali and the Venerable Ananda answered
the questions. At the Sixth Council, it was Tipitakadhara Dhammabhandagarika
Ashin Vicittasarabhivamsa who answered the questions put by the
Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw. The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw was also
a member of the committee that was responsible, as the final authority,
for the codification of all the texts passed at the Sixth Council.
He has written several books on meditation and the
following notable works may be mentioned.
(1) Guide to the Practice of Vipassana Meditation
(in Burmese) — 2 volumes.
(2) Burmese translation of the
Maha-satipatthana Sutta, with notes.
(in Burmese and Pali).
(4) Burmese translation of the
Visuddhimagga, with notes.
(5) Burmese translation of
the Visuddhimagga Maha-Tika, with notes — 4 volumes.
(6) Paticca-Samuppada (Dependent Origination) — 2 volumes.
A large number of his discourses, based on the Pali
Suttas, have been translated into English and published by the Buddha
Sasananuggha Association (16 Hermitage Road, Kokkine, Rangoon, Myanmar
Mahasi Sayadaw passed away on 14 August 1982 following
a brief illness.
Suggested Further Reading
Source: Copyright © 1994 Buddhist Publication
Society. Reproduced and reformatted from Access to Insight
edition © 1994 For free distribution. This work may be republished,
reformatted, reprinted, and redistributed in any medium.
It is the author's wish, however, that any such republication
and redistribution be made available to the public on a
free and unrestricted basis and that translations and other
derivative works be clearly marked as such.