SuttaCentral

Developing Right Concentration = Developing Renunciation? (AN 9:41)

The Tapussa Sutta (On Renunciation - AN 9:41) has some rather profound things to say about concentration training and gaining awakening. Being rather inexperienced in the practice (i.e. I practice alone), I am interested in gaining some insight from you all concerning the Sutta’s meaning.

In the Sutta, the Buddha describes how he achieved the four Jhānas and five higher attainments in rather simple terms. Interestingly, the Sutta suggests that renunciation is the first step in each of these attainments… almost like a “master key” to the development of Right Concentration. The Sutta’s instructions for advancing to the next stage of concentration began with this pattern:

“If, having seen the drawback of [the renounced object], I were to pursue that theme; and if, having understood the reward of being without [the renounced object], I were to familiarize myself with it, there’s the possibility that my heart would leap up at being without [the renounced object], grow confident, steadfast, & firm, seeing it as peace.”

Now my approach to meditation has been somewhat opposite to this. Once focused on the breath, I watch my mind and try to drop any thoughts which distract me from the breath. However, I often I find myself noticing / labeling the thoughts that arise as being associated with either skillful or unskillful thought patterns… (e.g. being associated with something negative like the three defilements and/or three characteristics of existence or being something positive… like an association with a wholesome state of Mettā). Although I try to not label excessively, I somewhat tolerate this inner-dialog as part of the training… it feels vaguely like what I would expect vipassanā (i.e. insight) to be like… If you agree or disagree on that issue and approach, I’d like to hear why.

Anyways, in the Sutta the Buddha seems to suggest that I should first renounce certain mind states / attachments in order to experience “the reward of being without”. Once I have done that, the skillful perceptions from that insight will take care of themselves. In a way, it seems like he’s saying do Samatha mediation (i.e. complete tranquility) while being especially mindful to renounce a specific craving within your mind (that craving being line with where you currently are in the practice). After observing the mind in that state, you’ll then be inclined to gain a new stage of understanding on what to renounce next. It almost sounds like he is saying to do Samatha mediation with a specific intention and it will naturally give one a new and improved stage of vipassanā? If so, it seems that he’s giving us “a staircase” with clear, predicable, and repetitious steps to climb all the way to enlightenment.

Is my interpretation way off base here or am I onto something? Thoughts anybody?

2 Likes

AN 9.41 is a great sutta to discuss IMO :slight_smile: the following is just my personal reflections.

The way I read the sutta, is that renunciation is the counterpart of the ordinary sensuality of householders; food, movies, relationships, computer games, and so on. This is what we usually take pleasure in.

How can the mind get its pleasure from giving up these things instead of indulging in them? You can’t force your mind to do it, but it will happen automatically if the mind

  1. sees the drawbacks of relying on food, movies, relationships, computer games, and so on, for happiness
  2. understands the rewards of not relying on food, movies, relationships, … for happiness

I mean, it’s not so easy to see how one can become happy from giving things up. How does one make the mind feel that moving away from the five senses is the absolute best thing to do?

This is the biggest step IMO, in the sense of the step that changes the direction of the mind. It seems to me that the steps after this go in the same direction, giving up more and more until there’s nothing left.

What you’re saying makes sense to me, but I don’t think we do the renunciation, rather the renunciation comes automatically from developing the perceptions of drawbacks in sensuality and rewards of renouncing sensuality.

My two cents anyhow :anjal:

2 Likes

The threefold division of the path is sila (renunciation), samadhi and panna, and the three are linked by dynamic relationships which produce vipassana. Renunciation is the basis of the path because it is the nutriment for successful samadhi, and samadhi is necessary for insight.
“A disciple aspiring to the jhanas first has to lay a solid foundation of moral discipline. Moral purity is indispensable to meditative progress for several deeply psychological reasons. It is needed first, in order to safeguard against the danger of remorse, the nagging sense of guilt that arises when the basic principles of morality are ignored or deliberately violated.”—-“The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation,” Gunaratana.

The key statement in AN 9:41 is:
“So at a later time, having seen the drawback of sensual pleasures”
because the relationship between renunciation and samadhi must be an experience of direct knowledge of the practitioner. On that factor rests progress as described in the sutta.

As the first step in the process, renunciation must be an effort of will.

2 Likes

That is a good point, renunciation is closely related Sila (i.e. aspects of virtue like right speech, livelihood, and action?). The entire Noble Eightfold Path is of course necessary. Reflecting on that, I regret comparing renunciation to the idea of a “master key” to enlightenment. Still, the Sutta does seem to suggest that renunciation is an essential step / “mile marker” that comes up over and over again as one develops greater levels of concentration. Very interesting…

1 Like

Hi @RedneckBuddhist ,

Is jhana really “absorption”, as in intense mental meditation?
It is often related to dhyāna. But is it right ?

Buddhism is definitely not Patanjali yoga; but in Patanjali yoga, citta-prasādanam, clarity of citta, can be attained through different methods, (like “through a citta that has ceased all attachment to things” [vītarāga viṣayam vā cittam], etc.
And dhyāna is also one of these methods.

Yathā-abhimata-dhyānād-vā
Or by meditation on how our attractions (wishes) are.
यथाभिमतध्यानाद्वा
Pada1- #39

I hardly see a profound absorption into that.
Contemporary yoga seems to have given it this new meaning of absorption (eyes closed and all the tralala).


Again, in the Chandogya Upanishad, the term dhyāna comes as follows:

  • He who worships contemplation (dhyāna,) as Brahman becomes free to act as he wishes in the sphere within the reach of contemplation, he who worships contemplation as Brahman’.
    ‘Revered sir, is there anything greater than contemplation?’ ‘Surely, there is something greater than contemplation’. ‘Revered sir, communicate it to me’.
    .
  • Understanding (vijñāna, ) surely is greater than contemplation.
    Chup 7.6.2 & 7.7.2

Once more, I can’t see a profound meditation, or absorption into that.


This is why one should stick with the good old lexical meaning of jhana as coming from jhāyati - Sanskrit: kṣāyati, from √ क्षि kṣi - to make an end of (RV. AV. MBh.).

It goes much more in accord with the successive cessations of sankharas in SN 36.11 (SA 474).
As in:
“For one who has attained the first jhana, speech has ceased (and subsided and have been tranquillized).”

Samadhi is an absorptive state. Jhana is a renunciative one, I suppose.

Metta

It seems natural to me that we have to recognize (or at least strongly suspect) the benefits of renunciation, so that we can then experiment with it and witness its benefits directly.

Yesterday, I made the mistake of watching a very exciting baseball game. When I sat to meditate last might, my mind was filled with vibrant images and left-over emotions from the experience of watching the game, and it took me a long time to settle my mind. I thought, “I really have to avoid doing that.”

But once you have given renunciation a try, and have success in achieving deeply peaceful and blissful mental states, the motivation to renounce even more worldly stress, excitement and entanglement naturally increases.

A question arises how we come to anticipate the benefits of renunciation in the first place, before we have tried it. But everyone has some experience of peace, seclusion, retirement, withdrawal or solitude, and probably remembers times when they were really relaxed and happy, without the electric, emotional toxicity of the wired up world driving us nuts.

5 Likes

Thanks for the reference to this sutta - it reminds us that renunciation is the cornerstone of the path. I realized a while ago that the mind will settle down in a state of inner equipoise and peace only if there is nothing in the world to come back to. All worldly tasks, activities, attachments, possessions will simply become a heavy burden once the calmness of non-attachment is seen clearly as liberating. And I think the same goes for defilements in the mind too - renouncing and laying down the burden of vanity and sensual excess will be a relief when the fever of identity-obsession recedes.

3 Likes