Devotional Practice in Early Buddhism

Here’s a basic sutta which defines each of the steps of the Noble Eightfold path:

SN45.8. Recollection of the Buddha doesn’t fall under Right mindfulness or Right concentration.


Are you saying because it’s not mentioned in that particular sutta, that recollection of the Buddha doesn’t fall under right mindfulness and right concentration in the Eightfold Path? Are you suggesting that only seated, silent meditation is included under the Eightfold Path?

The word Buddhanussati means “mindfulness of the Buddha,” if I’m not mistaken. It is a way of attaining “great faith, great mindfulness, great wisdom and great merit.”

1.2 THE BUDDHA RECOLLECTION IN PRACTICE. In the Pali Suttas, buddhânussati is rarely occurs
by itself, but usually in a set of three, four, five, six8
or ten recollections (anussati).9
It is a simple practice
that can be done in two ways:
(1) as a mindful recitation or ―simple recollection‖ of the Buddha‘s “nine virtues beginning with
araha‖ (navârah’ādi,gua),10 or (2) as a ―mindful recollection‖ of each of the nine virtues in turn, or any of them, in some detail.
Such a practice, in effect, is also a ―confession of faith‖ in the Buddha, a more detailed version of the going
for refuge to the Buddha.
11 Amongst those who are faith inclined, such a recitation or recollection is
an expressly psychotropic (psychologically effective) or apotropaic (magically efficacious) undertaking.12
Practitioners of early Buddhist meditation invariably would use the buddhânussati as a consciousness-altering
means that, by inspiring some level of joy, would displace a distraction or any of the five
mental hindrances.13…

67 [BENEFITS.] When a monk is devoted to this recollection of the Buddha, he is respectful and
deferential to the Buddha. He attains great faith, great mindfulness, great wisdom and great merit. He has much zest and gladness. He conquers fear and dread. He is able to withstand pain. He comes to feel that he is living in the presence of the Buddha.

I like Buddhanusatti - it does make you feel joyful and relaxed in my experience, and might help with the hindrance of skeptical doubt as well

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Which Sutta was it, again?

Using the SC search function you find Buddhanussati listed in 3 suttas in AN and 2 in DN
AN6.141 no english online.
Bhikkhu Bodhi has '… for direct knowledge of lust these 6 things are to be developed. What 6?
Recollection of:

AN1.296 no English here BB has:
'Bhikkhus there is 1 thing when cultivated, made much of, leads exclusively to disenchantment, to didpassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibanna. What is that? Recollection of the Buddha. ’

It then repeats for AN297-305 goes on to repeat wth the other 5 things to frequently recollect

AN6.9 no English on SC. basically there are the 6 subjects for recollection…as above
AN6.10 then continues to elaborate how a stream entered often dwells. This includes recollection of iti pi so bhagava…
This refrain appears often through the suttas and might be worth surveying. I have a sutta specifically in mind the Aj. Brahmali talks about but I can’t recall it now

There are also mentions of buddhanusati in DN33 and DN34

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I’m trying to make the point, that you have to be specific. The Noble Eightfold Path is the Buddha’s re-discovery of the path to Nibbana. I’m not saying there’s nothing outside this, that are valid teachings, but the N8FP is like a clockwork mechanism- you can’t just throw stuff into it hope it will run smoothly, IMHO.

with metta

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I think this is via the N8FP, not directly. We need to consider the entire teaching, to put this sutta into context.

Stream entrants are able to easily give rise to joy when recollecting the qualities as in this sutta because they have seen for themselves that 1) either they are true in themselves in terms of the sangha or the dhamma 2) or having seen the dhamma he taught was true, has faith in the Buddha. Therefore they are more capable of using it as a ‘dwelling’ to be in.

True, it might help doubt as a hindrance, but not doubt as a fetter - not directly anyway, unless it leads to practice and then via the N8FP, leads to seeing phenomena (dhamma) where doubt is one of the three fetters abandoned at stream entry.

with metta

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If mindfulness of the Buddha didn’t fit under right mindfulness, why would the Buddha teach and encourage the practice?

-anussati mean recollection. Mindfulness requires the object of meditation to be in the present moment, whereas you can recollect something from the past, or something conceptual (like qualities of the devas, unless you had the ability of the divine eye -dibba cakku) or something based on faith (dajagga sutta).

After stream entry, practices that clears up defilements and places the mind on wholesome state of mind is helpful. It would be possible to recollect the qualities of the Buddha easily after stream entry and that would make you want to practice further according to his teachings as well. It would also be impossible to do any other devotional practice as seeing the truth pretty much excludes any other teaching as the cessation suffering. Unshakable faith (avecca pasada) in the triple gem is 3 of the 4 qualities of a stream entrant as per EBTs.

with metta

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My goal with posting the above suttas was to do a quick survey. Not to prove or disprove any point. I offer the commentary below in a similar vein.

The … was just trimming the word Bhikkhus. That was the entire sutta.

The footnote on AN1.297 says
Recollection of the Buddha (buddhānussati) is the first of the six recollections described more fully at 6:10 and elaborated at Vism 197–213, Ppn 7.1–67. Here is Mp (abridged): “Recollection of the Buddha serves two purposes: giving joy to the mind and promoting insight (cittasampahaṃsanatthañ c’eva vipassanatthañca). How? When a bhikkhu develops a meditation subject like unattractiveness [of the body], his mind may be disturbed, dissatisfied, and joyless. It does not remain on track but roams around like a wild bull. On that occasion, he should put aside his basic meditation subject and recollect the excellent qualities of the Tathāgata. As he recollects the Buddha, his mind becomes placid and free from hindrances. He can then return to his basic meditation object, develop insight, and reach the plane of the noble ones. Thus recollection of the Buddha gives joy to the mind. But one can also use this meditation subject directly for the purpose of developing insight. After recollecting the Buddha, one dissects the act of recollection into the five aggregates and defines them thus: ‘These five aggregates are, in brief, the truth of suffering. The craving that produced them is the truth of the origin. The cessation efined the four truths in the preliminary portion [the stage of insight] and one step by step reaches the stage of the noble ones.”


When a stream entrant sees the five aggregates he realises that the Buddha is also only the five aggregates- just a process. Hence, there is nothing there to have faith in. Yet he has unshaken faith due to that insight!

I believe that the term asaddhaka may refer to (or could be translated as) faithless, as applied to arahanths. Yet they are also said to have supreme faith, in terms of the faculty (idriya)and power (bala) of faith!

Faith itself is just the five aggregates, arising and passing away.

With metta

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As suggested in the Vakkali Sutta, devotional practice is to the enlightened qualities of the Buddha, rather than his gross physical form. This is why devotional practice to the Buddha can help to cultivate within oneself the qualities of enlightenment.

What if one uses the Buddha or his enlightened qualities as the object of one’s practice of samatha meditation?

Some meditation practices such as contemplation of a kasina object favor the development of samatha, others such as contemplation of the aggregates are conducive to the development of vipassana, while others such as mindfulness of breathing are classically used for developing both mental qualities.[6]
In the Theravada tradition there are forty objects of meditation. Mindfulness (sati) of breathing (ānāpāna: ānāpānasati; S. ānāpānasmṛti[7]) is the most common samatha practice. Samatha can include other samādhi practices as well.

However much this may be the case, yet I’d say that these ‘anussatis’ at least can have far deeper effects than just make-glad the mind! :slight_smile:

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With all due respect to the view of ven. Thanissaro (as represented in the article), and even if it was true that devotional practice eventually delivered one to nibbana (which I don’t believe), then at this point, in my humble view, it would no longer make the slightest difference whether one is practicing devotion as a Buddhist or as something else! For it is more or less the same experience across all religions!

In fact what the ven. Thanissaro is saying seems to contradict, or at least compromise, the teaching that stream entry is the least thing that guarantees awakening. And why is that? Because I believe that devotional practice, in most cases, represents a hindrance (saņyojana) to the attainment of stream entry!


How can you be certain of this?

I’m not certain, that’s why I said “I believe”!

But the text says that one of the fetters preventing stream entry is thinking that rituals by themselves have a purifying effect, and that therefore one becomes clung to those rituals. And judging from observing others, “I believe” that that’s precisely how most people practice devotion and that this is the reason it is so popular. After all, honest people told me outright that: “yes! It is purifying! And it is prescribed by god/lord/the powers that be/etc. And it does lead to rebirth in heaven!”

So let me say I’m not certain, but I firmly believe what I said is true! :slight_smile:

There are different kinds of devotional practice:

I’m not against devotional practice, I never said I was!! All I said is that it is often mistaken for what suffices for deliverance, and that, when done with ignorance (which is most of the cases), it becomes a hindrance rather than a support. And this is all only my beliefs by the way, other devotional ritualistic practitioners will hesitate not for a moment to declare that it is me who is ignorant!

So one of the most evident things you’ll notice about those qualities of Buddha is precisely the absence of ritualism, superstition, and devotion to traditional age-long stuff!