Buddhadasa vs Hillside interpretation

(Accidentally hit the create topic button earlier before I could finish so had to delete the thread and recreate it)

As a fan of both groups, I’ve been thinking of what makes them different. Feel free to share your thoughts as well.

In general, Buddhadasa is more about interrupting paticcasamuppada from unfolding whereas Hillside is more about understanding the dependency of things, idappaccayatā, which results in viewing experiential phenomena properly (in the proper context).

Buddhadasa is about catching intentions (and by extension actions) arise at the moment of contact, and this is considered mindfulness and seeing paticcasamuppada and no-self. Acting and reacting automatically without seeing causation is a product of attavada view and habit and is heedlessness.

Buddhadasa uses MN 38 often to support his interpretation

When they know a thought with their mind, if it’s pleasant they desire it, but if it’s unpleasant they dislike it. They live with mindfulness of the body unestablished and their heart restricted.

No mindfulness = feeling > hindrance instant reaction

Mindfulness stops instant reaction, which breaks the cycle of paticcasamuppada

When they see a sight with their eyes, if it’s pleasant they don’t desire it, and if it’s unpleasant they don’t dislike it. They live with mindfulness of the body established and a limitless heart. And they truly understand the freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom where those arisen bad, unskillful qualities cease without anything left over.

Having given up favoring and opposing, when they experience any kind of feeling—pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral—they don’t approve, welcome, or keep clinging to it. As a result, relishing of feelings ceases. When their relishing ceases, grasping ceases

In contrast Hillside’s interpretation has nothing to do with interrupting paticcasamuppada but about understanding dependency (idappaccayatā) via peripheral attention (yoniso manasikara). Seeing actions in the context of body/mind is peripheral attention (yoniso manasikara) and seeing how things depend on other things and that the things that are caused/the result have no say or control on what caused them. If A caused B, then B has no say over A, thus it is Improper attention and ritualistic thinking to try control A by controlling B. i.e. Thinking your attitude/view can change things as they are (like pain arising in the body) is akin to the tail trying to wag the dog. Seeing that the “body comes first” and not “views” uproots attavada.

Two suttas that support this interpretation is

  1. Anathapindika correcting outsiders in AN 10.93

When this had been said, Anathapindika the householder said to the wanderers, “As for the venerable one who says, ‘The cosmos is eternal. Only this is true; anything otherwise is worthless. This is the sort of view I have,’ his view arises from his own inappropriate attention or in dependence on the words of another. Now this view has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently originated. Whatever has been brought into being, is fabricated, willed, dependently originated, that is inconstant. Whatever is inconstant is stress. This venerable one thus adheres to that very stress, submits himself to that very stress.” (Similarly for the other positions.)

i.e. This view is not known directly thus it is born of improper attention. Proper Attention would be to know the body directly and seeing that anything that arises, like views, depends on the body. The body comes first, not views.

  1. The simile of the 6 animals SN 35.247

Suppose, bhikkhus, a man would catch six animals—with different domains and different feeding grounds—and tie them by a strong rope. He would catch a snake, a crocodile, a bird, a dog, a jackal, and a monkey, and tie each by a strong rope. Having done so, he would tie the ropes together with a knot in the middle and release them. Then those six animals with different domains and different feeding grounds would each pull in the direction of its own feeding ground and domain. The snake would pull one way, thinking, ‘Let me enter an anthill.’ The crocodile would pull another way, thinking, ‘Let me enter the water.’ The bird would pull another way, thinking, ‘Let me fly up into the sky.’ The dog would pull another way, thinking, ‘Let me enter a village.’ The jackal would pull another way, thinking, ‘Let me enter a charnel ground.’ The monkey would pull another way, thinking, ‘Let me enter a forest.’

“Now when these six animals become worn out and fatigued, they would be dominated by the one among them that was strongest; they would submit to it and come under its control. So too, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu has not developed and cultivated mindfulness directed to the body, the eye pulls in the direction of agreeable forms and disagreeable forms are repulsive

i.e. when one doesn’t have “peripheral attention” (yoniso manasikara), they’re unaware (unmindful) of the sense organs pulling one towards sense objects, thus they are strapped to the rollercoaster ride that they mistake for themselves (attavada) and suffering must ensue because in reality they are not the sense organs and thus there will be a conflict between “things as they really are” and their attitude. Dukkha is a result of this conflict because one craves what one has no say over and cannot control and thus the only result is suffering.

A metaphor is a prisoner on death row demanding that the prison guards do as he say. Just because they comply doesn’t mean that the prisoner is in control, only that circumstances are favourable, but once the guards receive the order from the judge to execute the prisoner, then it doesn’t matter how much the prisoner yells. Likewise when disease and death overtakes the body, it doesn’t matter how much the attavada yells at the body, the body is the master and always has been.

So what are your thoughts? To me it seems like the Buddhadasa interpretation is more empowering and a bit oversimplified, and the Hillside interpretation is rather frightening and waking up to a harsh reality that people refuse to accept. To me the Hillside interpretation seems to align more with the notion that the dhamma is subtle and hard to see, and “goes against the grain of existence”. However the Buddhadasa interpretation does align more with the “treatment” metaphor described in the suttas, so all one has to do is apply the treatment at the right moment and they can thwart off suffering, whereas the Hillside interpretation requires one to be dragged through Hell enough times to build the mental fortitude to turn away from the aggregates.

Maybe Buddhadasa’s interpretation is more suitable for lay people, and Hillside’s for hardcore practioners.


Sorry, what is “Hillside”?


Probably this Hillside Hermitage.


Ahh okay, thanks. I keep reading it as “Hillsong” and then going, no that can’t be right!



Peripheral attention is the thing you see stuff out of the corner of your eye with?

I am a little lost.



Ven N. Nanamoli has written two essays regarding the term, one simple and the other more complicated, both originating from Ven. Nanavira

First article intro:

Mindfulness done correctly is when the mind is anchored in something. That something must be a thing that is not directly attended to, but instead, has to be a reference point to the attended thing (hence we call it “anchor”). If a thing is not directly attended to but there, we call that thing to be a “background”. It’s a background to a thing we attend (which makes that thing a “foreground”). This is the basic principle of mindfulness, on which we can expand here below.

It is interesting to me how the Ajahn seems to manufacture these new concepts. The above is not comprehensible to me therefore I will add:

Thus, something one attends to directly is what a foreground is at the time.

For example, my computer screen.

It can be anything that is the current object of one’s attention.

For example, my computer screen.

That thing has manifested, and it is enduring as such.

Eye meets form + consciousness

That’s the basic structural property of one’s experience, there is no problem with this.


However, if one wants to develop mindfulness, a step further is necessary.

Mindfulness means remembering to govern experience with Dhamma.

That step is developing the peripheral “vision” in regard to that very same foreground object, but without making that peripheral vision the new object by directly attending to it.

If I am comprehending the above accurately, I think i disagree with it. To me, mindfulness does not mean attending to the computer screen but means keeping the mind undefiled while experiencing the computer screen. Here, observing the mind is the primary/foreground object and the computer screen is the background/secondary object.

For me, the same applies in Satipatthana. Keeping the mind undefiled is the foreground object and the breathing, feelings, mental states & realities are the “background” objects.

The Buddha referred to this as “yoniso manasikara ”, which is often translated as “proper attention”.

I cannot recall the Buddha referring to yoniso manasikara apart from as a preliminary practice prior to Satipatthana

Yoniso manasikara is the correct way of attending to the peripheral.


Manasikara means “attention”. Yoni means “womb”. So when a thing is present in the front, in the foreground, its peripheral background is that very “womb” the thing has “came from”, so to speak. Yoniso manasikara is womb-attention, or less literally: a peripheral attention.

I’m totally lost now… :face_with_diagonal_mouth: The above seems to solipsismically say objects are born from attention yet this does not seem to distinguish between ayoniso and yoniso.

Let’s continue:

The catch is in persistent effort of repetition of learning how to attend to things peripherally, without having to “directly” look at them.

Consciousness is always aware of the most coarse object. For example, to listen to a sound, all I need to do is keep the mind silent. I do not need to direct my ear at the sound.

Therefore, attending to keeping the mind silent is the primary/foreground object and the sound to be listened to is the background object.

For a mind affected with avijja, the “direct look”, the “ayoniso manasikara” always involves appropriation and the Self-view.

OK. It involves craving; like craving for samadhi or craving to watch the breathing.

And “learning to attend” things peripherally can be done on many different “bases” or “domains” that are structurally present as the background of our attended experience. These domains are the domain of feelings, thoughts, and even one’s intentions (bodily, verbal and mental).

So is the “background” above the feelings, thoughts & intentions? :saluting_face: I doubt intention can be the “background”. Dhp1 says mano is the forerunner. In other words, it seems the establishment of mindfulness first requires an underlying intention to be mindful.

For example, being aware of the general feeling present, without trying to perceive it as “sensation” (i.e. “in” the body), is another way of establishing the proper mindfulness.

My impression is an “ideal” has been created above, where a general feeling MUST BE attended to. Personally, my view is establishing proper mindfulness has no relationship whatsoever to awareness of feelings. For me, mindfulness (maintaining an undefiled mind) is simply established as the primary/foreground object. If feelings pop into that undefiled mind, OK. But if they don’t, it does not matter.

It seems the Ajahn has made body, feelings & mental states into sacred holy objects. :banana:

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That’s really not what “peripheral” means. The periphery of vision is the things on the outside of the central focus, which are most definitely not the things that caused the central focus.

The whole argument seems to be a real stretch, I’ve never heard these ideas before but I’m wondering whether there’s a translation problem.


Hello again. I always found Buddhadasa’s explanation of mindfulness (‘recollection’) to accord with my own. However I have noticed many Western Buddhists, including Buddhadasa’s own translator, who regard mindfulness to mean ‘observing objects’. Buddhadasa’s view of mindfulness is summed up briefly in the following:

We also will get what I like to call the “Four Comrade Dhammas.” I came up with this name myself in order to discuss them more easily. The four comrade dhammas are sati, panna, sampajanna and samadhi. You will recall from the first lecture that while we live within this world the four comrade dhammas will enable us to subdue all threats. With them we can get rid of dukkha . Whether inside or outside the monastery, we must use these four comrades to live. First, we have sati (reflective awareness mindfulness). When a sense object makes contact, sati is there and brings panna (wisdom) to the experience. Once it arrives, panna transforms into sampajanna (wisdom-in-action), the specific application of wisdom required by the situation. Then, samadhi’s power and strength are added to sampajanna. With them we are able to conquer every kind of object that comes in through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. The four comrade dhammas are unsurpassed guardians.

Bhikkhu Buddhadasa - Anapanasati Mindfulness with Breathing

In more detail here:


Sati (mindfulness, reflective awareness, recollection) is the quick awareness and recall of the things which must be recalled. It must be as quick as an arrow. We also can describe sati as a vehicle or transport mechanism of the fastest kind. This most rapid transport doesn’t carry material things, it carries wisdom and knowledge. Sati delivers paññä (wisdom) in time to meet our needs. Through the practice of mindfulness with breathing, sati is trained fully.

Bhikkhu Buddhadasa - Natural Cure for Spiritual Disease

At I have always found the above type of explanation easy to understand. Where as the Hillside interpretation took me a long time to liguistically comprehend because it seems Hillside is caught up in dual different interpretations of mindfulness. But, as already said, the convoluting of terms such as mindfulness (sati) & attention/observing (anupassi) is so common in Buddhism. :slightly_smiling_face:


Hi Bhante,

A very simple example:

Amid such splendor and a delicate life, it occurred to me: ‘An uninstructed worldling, though himself subject to old age, not exempt from old age, feels repelled, humiliated, and disgusted when he sees another who is old, overlooking his own situation. Now I too am subject to old age and am not exempt from old age. Such being the case, if I were to feel repelled, humiliated, and disgusted when seeing another who is old, that would not be proper for me.’ When I reflected thus, my intoxication with youth was completely abandoned. -AN 3.39

The insight of being subject to old age came “amid splendor”. That is what Ajahn Nyanamoli would describe as being peripheral. This principle applies to much of what is uprooted and discerned as right throughout development in Dhamma.

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Hello. The Pali above is “paṭisañcikkhato”, which seems to refer to thinking rather than observing.

But is not Nyanamoli referring to "peripheral vision” as some type of state of mind? If so, the “amid splendor” in that sutta seems to be referring to various material & sensual luxuries. :saluting_face:

It has nothing to do with “vision”. The insight is described as a “divine messenger” in other suttas. We are subject to old age, sickness and death, but that has to be thoroughly understood in order for it to be impactful. The point of AN 3.39, as you said, is that this can be known if it properly attended to. Why does it require such effort? Because, as the suttta says, the intoxication is more prominent, i.e. sensuality is the forefront, while the truth is in the background. It has to be drawn out through effort in reflection.


AN 3.39 seems to say the puthujjana with self-view is subject to old age, sickness and death. :banana:

Seeing the danger in grasping,
Upādāne bhayaṁ disvā,
the origin of birth and death,
the unattached are freed
Anupādā vimuccanti
with the ending of birth and death.

MN 130

I said AN 3.39 refers to reflective thought (paṭisañcikkhato); where as Hillside seem to be referring to observation (anupassana), despite Hillside using the term ‘yoniso manasikara’.

I didn’t gain the impression of any great effort in AN 3.39. My recollection of AN 3.39 is Gotama quickly lost intoxication with his youth. AN 3.39 says:

Reflecting like this, I entirely gave up the vanity of youth.
Tassa mayhaṁ, bhikkhave, iti paṭisañcikkhato yo yobbane yobbanamado so sabbaso pahīyi.

Why would I listen to papanca of convoluting various Pali terms & concepts?

I have no idea. You do seem have expressed great interest in Ajahn NN over the years, so perhaps you want to know just enough so you can perform in threads such as this.

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My great interest is to help people avoid Ajahn NN. Its bedtime here. :pray: :speak_no_evil: :hear_no_evil: :see_no_evil: :banana: :surfing_man:

I’m sure the forum(s) are eternally grateful for your efforts…

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Another sutta that illustrates an inverted order that must be “untwisted” is AN 4.49:

“Bhikkhus, there are these four inversions of perception, inversions of mind, and inversions of view. What four? (1) The inversion of perception, mind, and view that takes the impermanent to be permanent; (2) the inversion of perception, mind, and view that takes what is suffering to be pleasurable; (3) the inversion of perception, mind, and view that takes what is non-self to be self; (4) the inversion of perception, mind, and view that takes what is unattractive to be attractive. These are the four inversions of perception, mind, and view.

“There are, bhikkhus, these four non-inversions of perception, non-inversions of mind, and non-inversions of view. What four? (1) The non-inversion of perception, mind, and view that takes the impermanent to be impermanent; (2) the non-inversion of perception, mind, and view that takes what is suffering to be suffering (3) the non-inversion of perception, mind, and view that takes what is non-self to be non-self; (4) the non-inversion of perception, mind, and view that takes what is unattractive to be unattractive. These are the four non-inversions of perception, mind, and view.”

Perceiving permanence in the impermanent,
perceiving pleasure in what is suffering,
perceiving a self in what is non-self,
and perceiving attractiveness in what is unattractive,
beings resort to wrong views,
their minds deranged, their perception twisted.

Such people are bound by the yoke of Māra,
and do not reach security from bondage.
Beings continue in saṃsāra,
going to birth and death.

But when the Buddhas arise in the world,
sending forth a brilliant light,
they reveal this Dhamma that leads
to the stilling of suffering.

Having heard it, wise people
have regained their sanity.
They have seen the impermanent as impermanent
and what is suffering as suffering.

They have seen what is non-self
as non-self and the unattractive as unattractive.
By the acquisition of right view,
they have overcome all suffering. ”

With perception, mind and view inverted/perverted, the wrong things are most prominent. So, it is not to say that permanence, pleasure, self and attractive are simply “not there”, as much as they are not more fundamental than impermanence, suffering, not-self and unattractive. (See AN 7.49)

Drawing out the more fundamental (more true) counterpoint is the only way to set it rightly. For one immersed in sensuality/wrong view, those truths are being ignored. They are not as influential as those that twist the mind. Drawing them out not only requires virtue and restraint, but also requires consistent remembering that they endure there. The mind must become “accustomed” (Bodhi) to these rightly ordered perceptions. Again, it seems the phrase “peripheral awareness” was one of convenience to describe this principle.


Yes, in one of their recent videos they speak about balancing the scales. For a long time I thought they meant that the background becomes the “truth” but then understood what they said when then you’re just making the old background the new foreground.

So instead it’s about balancing the scales, that way you don’t reject the gratification and instead see the whole picture by including the drawbacks, in a balanced perception, which should be enough to get the ball of dispassion rolling at the same moment craving for sensuality is present and right in front of you.

As I understand it, Improper attention ignores the drawbacks and favours gratification, thus creating a distorted perverted perception.

I believe this is the video where they talk about balancing the scales, I thought it was pretty insightful Abandoning the All - YouTube

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Yes, it is a balance to set up the right order amid the inversion as far as I understand it. Though there is no use denying the wrong order to do so. It is established and it needs to be worn away. It is one thing to accept the possibility of the right order, but it is a further step to go about setting it rightly. I think “beauty” is one of the easier examples to contemplate, and AN 7.49 is a real good description of this. It isn’t that beauty doesn’t exist, it is just that ugly is more significant and practically useful in terms of development. It is the aspect that can undermine lust and lead to that necessary dispassion.

Again, this knowledge is not a priority for one without virtue and sense restraint - without the goal of Dhamma practice - and is not easily taken seriously. Obviously everyone knows they are going to die, but not everyone is impacted as deeply. AN 5.48 is another good one on the subject. The point is that this knowledge is off to the side, or more accurately, sitting within, when the inversion is in place and perceptions are not developed.