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Developing mental virtue according to the EBTs?

Dear Discuss & Discover community,

I was wondering what the EBTs state about developing mental virtue, because it seems to me that cultivating wholesome mental states is one of the main tasks for a practitioner.

“(…) success in meditation, depends on the purity of one’s conduct, especially one’s mental purity.” quoted from Ajahn @brahmali’s wonderful work about the Dependent Liberation.

Virtuous conduct by body and speech seem to be quite practically (even though not always easy - like the one on iddle chatter :smile: ) but when it comes to mental virtue things start to get a bit unclear for me.

Mindfulness and as a consequence ones meditation is influenced by virtue, but somehow I’m still unclear what the Buddha teached about developing mental virtue systematically to enhance ones mindfulness.
Are there clear instructions stated in the EBTs how to develop mental virtue in one’s day to day experience? Or is it the case, that the Buddha points one to develop virtue using one’s own discerment and reflections - while some guidelines are given (e.g. the Precepts)?
And is mental virtue similar to right thought/intention (sammā saṅkappa)?

All the best from Switzerland
Flavio

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Ajahn Brahmali explains quite a bit on this topic in a retreat he gave in Germany in 2017, also with the respective Suttas. You’ll find a link to the handouts on the page.

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You are on the right track mentioning right intention. The sila group which follows it in the noble eightfold path are a physical expression of thoughts of renunciation, non ill- will and non-cruelty, so mental sila is right intention.
The Buddha-to-be discovered the opposite effects of right thought and wrong prior to enlightenment when he formulated right intention while meditating in the forest:

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality (ill-will, harmfulness) arose in me. I discerned that ‘Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.’

"As I noticed that it leads to my own affliction, it subsided. As I noticed that it leads to the affliction of others… to the affliction of both… it obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding, it subsided. Whenever thinking imbued with sensuality had arisen, I simply abandoned it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence.”
[…]
"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with renunciation (non ill-will, harmlessness) arose in me. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with renunciation has arisen in me; and that leads neither to my own affliction, nor to the affliction of others, nor to the affliction of both. It fosters discernment, promotes lack of vexation, & leads to Unbinding.”—-MN 19

The practitioner should pursue their own investigation of the effects of right and wrong thought, and see how right thought and action leads to a tranquil mind. Action is an important determinant of either transgression or benefit.

'Thinking imbued with renunciation has arisen in me; and that leads neither to my own affliction, nor to the affliction of others, nor to the affliction of both. It fosters discernment, promotes lack of vexation, & leads to Unbinding.”

On personal investigation, sila is found to be the basis and cause for samadhi. The first effect of sila to be noticed is increased mental seclusion, they are not so affected by, or attached to external events.

But sila is not always straightforward, often an investigation is required to discern whether a path is right or wrong. This is set out in the seven factors of awakening, where two groups of three are governed by mindfulness, that is investigation, energy, joy on the one hand, and tranquillity, concentration, equanimity on the other. Mindfulness is always an independent factor and can manage both the active group and the passive depending on the mental state at the time. Right mindfulness is itself a wholesome factor. Sila does not establish mindfulness, that has to be done as an activity by the practitioner. The four establishings of mindfulness are described within the Anapanasati sutta:

“On that occasion the monk remains focused on the body in & of itself — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world.”—MN 118

“Putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world” is a reference to the suppresssion of the hindrances.

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Someone made me aware that this link is broken. I hope it can be restored on the website, I have contacted the relevant person. But in the meantime I am uploading the file here:

suttas en.pdf (122.2 KB)

The audio links seem to be working fine.


One Sutta that I found very helpful—next to AN 10.61 which is simply one of my top favorites—is what is said in AN 2.12:

AN2.12:1.1:
“There are, mendicants, these two powers. What two? The power of reflection and the power of development.

And what, mendicants, is the power of reflection?

It’s when someone reflects: ‘Bad conduct of body, speech, or mind has a bad, painful result in both this life and the next.’ Reflecting like this, they give up bad conduct by way of body, speech, and mind, and develop good conduct by way of body, speech, and mind, keeping themselves pure.

This is called the power of reflection.

And what, mendicants, is the power of development?

It’s when a mendicant develops the awakening factors of mindfulness,
investigation of principles, energy, rapture, tranquility, immersion, and equanimity, which rely on seclusion, fading away, and cessation, and ripen as letting go.

This is called the power of development.

These are the two powers.”

In a way this summarizes what @paul1 has explained above.

There are more interesting texts that have been looked at in this retreat.

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Yes. There are two stages of mindfulness, first its establishment, then its development. In the description of mindfulness in the Anapanasati sutta, only the establishing is described, since that is a beginner’s version. It is important not to jump ahead too quickly, and to keep practice aligned with theory.
In the Anapanasati beginner’s description, the subject is the body (feelings, mind) in and of themselves. This is in conjunction with reflection on impermanence which is the subject of the fourth foundation in the Anapanasati version, and is applied to the preceding three. This exercise, awareness of the body (feelings, mind) combined with reflection on impermanence, is all a beginner needs (or anyone really) to counteract “greed and distress with reference to the world,” because it builds strength of non-attachment, as then ideally every event, feeling, or mental state will contain within it the seed of knowledge of impermanence which has been sown through previous meditation on those three foundations.

It is acknowledged the Seven Factors of Awakening constitute the third section of the Anapanasati sutta, and that anticipates the next stage in mindfulness development.

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A very big thank you to both of you for your answers and reference to the EBTs and also the link to Ajahn Brahmali’s Retreat you provided!

Is investigation of principles the same as establishment?

Or where did you get this from in the EBTs @paul1?

Ah, I see it’s mentioned in the Anapanasati sutta.

Is development pointing to the development of wisdom, that’s why establishment is first, as development of wisdoim prequires firm mindfulness?

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“Investigation of principles” is Bhante Sujato’s translation for the second awakening factor, dhammavicaya in Pali. By the time of the retreat these translations have not yet been published, therefore the handout has something different.

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This is how it is termed in the in Satipatthana sutta itself (MN 10, DN 22):

The Blessed One said: “This is the direct path1 for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of pain & distress, for the attainment of the right method, & for the realization of unbinding—in other words, the four establishings of mindfulness. Which four?

The sutta then goes on to describe three stages of mindfulness, its establishment and development.

“In this way he remains focused internally on the body in & of itself, or externally on the body in & of itself, or both internally & externally on the body in & of itself. (establishment as also described in the Anapanasati sutta).

Or he remains focused on the phenomenon of origination with regard to the body, on the phenomenon of passing away with regard to the body, or on the phenomenon of origination & passing away with regard to the body. (development).

Or his mindfulness that ‘There is a body’ is maintained to the extent of knowledge & remembrance. And he remains independent, unsustained by [not clinging to] anything in the world. (for arahants, not of relevance here).

The development stage is consolidated in SN 47.40:

"And what is the development of the frames of reference? There is the case where a monk remains focused on the phenomenon of origination with regard to the body, remains focused on the phenomenon of passing away with regard to the body, remains focused on the phenomenon of origination & passing away with regard to the body — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world.”

I will answer your other question in due course.

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“Establishment” means knowing and implementing the path structures and individual factors in their linear form. “Development” means activating them as a unified operation. That’s the reason there is no reference to “subduing greed and distress with reference to the world” in the first section on mindfulness of breathing in the Anapanasati sutta.

Wisdom (discernment) is the province of right view and from that, right resolve. Right view is a developing factor, and the noble eightfold path a dynamic structure. Right view is the result of the interaction of the other factors of the path, operating in a circular spiral manner.

“One makes an effort for the abandoning of wrong view & for entering into right view: This is one’s right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one’s right mindfulness.[2] Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right view.”—MN 117

As breakthroughs in insight are made, right view progressively develops. Insight is the result of a process involving right mindfulness directing right effort and concentration. Of these, right effort achieves the overcoming of the hindrances. The seven factors of awakening are divided into two groups, one related to right effort, the other to right concentration, and mindfulness is the governing factor (SN 46.53). The awakening factors expressing right effort are the active qualities of investigation of phenomena, energy, and joy.

“And are the three aggregates [of virtue, concentration, & discernment] included under the noble eightfold path, lady, or is the noble eightfold path included under the three aggregates?”

"The three aggregates are not included under the noble eightfold path, friend Visakha, but the noble eightfold path is included under the three aggregates. Right speech, right action, & right livelihood come under the aggregate of virtue. Right effort, right mindfulness, & right concentration come under the aggregate of concentration. Right view & right resolve come under the aggregate of discernment.”—-MN 44

“Though right concentration claims the last place among the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, concentration itself does not mark the path’s culmination. The attainment of concentration makes the mind still and steady, unifies its concomitants, opens vast vistas of bliss, serenity, and power. But by itself it does not suffice to reach the highest accomplishment, release from the bonds of suffering. To reach the end of suffering demands that the Eightfold Path be turned into an instrument of discovery, that it be used to generate the insights unveiling the ultimate truth of things. This requires the combined contributions of all eight factors, and thus a new mobilization of right view and right intention. Up to the present point these first two path factors have performed only a preliminary function. Now they have to be taken up again and raised to a higher level. Right view is to become a direct seeing into the real nature of phenomena, previously grasped only conceptually; right intention, to become a true renunciation of defilements born out of deep understanding.”—-Bikkhu Bodhi

“A direct seeing into the real nature of phenomena” means knowledge of impermanence.

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Hi @paul1 ! Where is this quote from? It hits the mark spot on and I’d like to follow up on it, if you could point me in the direction of the citation.

Thanks! :pray: :slightly_smiling_face: :pray:

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The link has been restored now.

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