Book of Analysis, the path (Vb 11): translator's introduction

By Waltham St. Lawrence

(11) Analysis Of The Path Constituents (Maggaṅgavibhaṅga)

From what has been said in the four preceding vibhaṅgas it might be thought that the student's progress in development occurs in a series of sudden jerks, each of which is described as a distinct, fixed and sharply identifiable stage. Such, it should be understood, is not the case, for as in all processes of development progress is gradual, and is only marked by particular names and titles because by the wise and penetrating instructor [xlix] there can be recognized at some particular juncture a characteristic quality in the progress of the student which indicates either the presence of some new state, or that some aspect not hitherto dealt with should now be pointed out. Both these attitudes apply not only in the case of these preceding four vibhaṅgas, but also in this the eleventh vibhaṅga which deals with the Path (magga).

It will be remembered that when dealing with the early vibhaṅgas of the first major division of this work, it was shown that although the descriptions of Aggregates, Bases, Elements and Controlling Faculties showed them each to be quite distinct units, or 'things in themselves', yet their relationship with each other was so close that they operated in virtually inseparable union. So close a union indeed that their individual and distinct attributes could be analysed out only by that incomparable, that most careful observation and reasoning of the Buddha himself. That a similar analogy should be used in the case of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Four Right Strivings, the Four Bases of Accomplishment, the Enlightenment Factors and The Path, is quite clearly shown when examination is made of each by way of Analysis According to Abhidhamma. This is where the Abhidhamma method with its use of absolute classifications is so valuable, for it enables the student to see clearly the "whys and wherefores" of every stage and section of his practice, and to realize the essential continuity and inter-connectedness of what he is doing.

In this present vibhaṅga are presented the constituents of the Path. Here, Path means: The Noble Eight Constituent Path (Ariya Aṭṭhaṅgika Magga), and the eight constituents are: Right View (sammādiṭṭhi), Right Thought (sammāsaṅkappa), Right Speech (sammāvācā), Right Action (sammākammanta), Right Livelihood (sammā-ājīva), Right Effort (sammāvāyāma), Right Mindfulness (sammāsati), Right Concentration (sammāsamādhi).

It may be asked at this point why it is that this chapter dealing with the Noble Eight Constituent Path has been placed in a position between the vibhaṅga on Enlightenment Factors and what might have seemed to be their logical sequel, the Analysis of Jhāna. The reason is that the understanding of the direct outcome and connections of the process of being mindful of the way leading to the cessation of suffering should first be comprehended and Consolidated in the direct terms of that primary [l] teaching of the Buddha, the Noble Eight Constituent Path. When this and its implications are fully understood then is the time for the description, the analysis and the details of practice of that quite distinct and particular form of mental training, the development of jhāna, a practice intended for the inhibiting of the five hindrances.

Here another short digression on word equivalents in translation would seem to be necessary. It will have been noticed that the form ' Noble Eight Constituent Path' has been used instead of the more customary 'Noble Eightfold Path'. The reason for so doing is that in translation the word 'eightfold' is usually reserved for the Pāḷi term 'aṭṭhavidha'. This, if applied to the Path, can easily give the impression of there being a path of eight branches, any particular one of which could be followed to the exclusion of the others. If, therefore, the form 'Eight Constituent' is adopted for the translation of the actual Pāḷi word used, i.e., Aṭṭhaṅgika, the analysis of its meaning: aṭṭha = eight + aṅga = constituent + nika — possessed of or going by means of—the meaning besides being grammatically closer to the original does indicate that the Path, the one Path, is a unified thing, the attributes of which are to be described under eight headings and practised in conjunction with each other.

To examine what has happened in these last four chapters, and to show their connection and identity with this present vibhaṅga, illustrates that although the chapters describe groupings and states which are each to be considered as ' things in themselves', units of development, yet when these same states are viewed in terms of the actual underlying mental factors involved, a picture can be formed of the true nature of their structure and how it is an aspect of progress rather than a difference of stage which is to be understood. Certainly there is development from one point to another, but the naming of stages refers more to the dominance at that time of a particular aspect than that one stage has been dropped and another adopted. The process is additive rather than substitutional. In the way of an experiment to illustrate this, individual factors should be selected from one stage to see how they are represented at other levels. Thus for example, in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness the Buddha is particularizing on Mindfulness (sati). In the Four Right Strivings, where practice is in action, not only must that same Mindfulness quite obviously [li] be present, but also, as the text tells us, Effort, Energy and Striving occur. These last three are explained by Abhidhamma analysis all to be aspects of Energy (vīriya), therefore it is that both Mindfulness and Energy are present. In the Four Bases of Accomplishment this Mindfulness and Energy is seen still to be present but enhanced and strengthened by appropriately dominant factors of Concentration (samādhi) and Reason (vīmaṃsa), therefore Mindfulness, Energy, Concentration and Reason are present, When dealing with the Enlightenment Factors these same four acquire the special significance of being classed as Mindful-ness-Enlightenment-Factor, Truth Investigation-Enlightenment-Factor, Energy-Enlightenment-Factor and Concentration-Enlightenment-Factor. Now in this present vibhaṅga it is shown that in the terms of basic Path Constituents they represent respectively Right Mindfulness, Right View, Right Effort and Right Concentration. With a little thought it can be seen that if the student's effort in the Four Right Strivings has been for the attaining and maintaining of good states, then in the terms of the Path, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood will also be present.

Therefore it is in following the Buddha's injunction to be mindful, that from the very first, and for every succeeding moment where practice is genuine right up to the highest levels of mundane attainment, the eight constituents of that Path which alone can be called Noble are present, but to an ever increasing degree of dominance.

This Path, therefore, which in this vibhaṅga is analysed in the three ways of Suttanta, Abhidhamma and Interrogation, is the One Path, that same Way which in the fourth vibhaṅga on the Analysis of the Truths is dealt with thus:

"Therein what is the Noble Truth of the Way leading to the Cessation of Suffering? Only this Noble Eight Constituent Path, namely: Right View … . Right Concentration".

It is, therefore, to impress once again the fact that practice is of the very essence of the Teaching of the Buddha; to emphasize the essential unity of these last five" vibhaṅgas, and to show why Analysis of the Path is placed before Analysis of Jhāna that repetition is made of the quotation from the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta thus: "This Path, Bhikkhus, is the only course for the purification [lii] of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the termination of physical and mental pain, for the right method of attainment, for the experiencing of Nibbāna; that is, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness".