Excluded from the path?

I have a question relating to the Dhamma section of the Sattipatthana Sutta, specifically the 6 sense bases, further described in the 12 link chain and the Honey-ball Sutta.
In Bhante Vimalaramsi’s 2018 Easter retreat #5 day 5 talk on the Honeyball Sutta he mentions that- if a sense sphere is dysfunctional right mental contact cannot be obtained- This excludes the participant from the path. (words to this effect)
Further in an introduction to Buddhism by Damien Keown he mentions something similar in relation to ‘mental dysfunction’ (mind sphere), which also excludes a participant from the path.
I am asking this question in relation to potential participants of the path, initially in a mindfulness setting, that have suffered a traumatic brain injury. Sensory processing issues, autonomic nervous system dysfunction and cognitive problems are universal with these people.
Can anyone advise a suitable Sutta that specifically addresses the issue.
Oh and Hi, this is my first post.


Welcome to the Forum Rich.
I’m sure that you will receive some well-considered answers to your question. It seems to be rather an important one.


I have heard similar statements from the Tibetan teachers I first learned the Dhamma from. It is even stated in a rather famous text we were studying, by Gampopa, the title of which I can’t recall right now.

This passage always made me feel uncomfortable, and nobody could really answer in a satisfactory way what exactly it is supposed to mean.

At that point I didn’t know anything of the Suttas, and studying them now, I can’t remember having encountered a passage that says a person with a sensory disability is excluded from the path.

I have a friend who is blind, and although she doesn’t explicitly refer to herself as a Buddhist she has a deep wisdom. I feel she is much wiser than many people I know who call themselves Buddhists; and I wouldn’t exclude myself here too. She is really an exceptional person.

And she came to the point where she is now precisely because of her blindness. This condition always put hindrances into her way which she was able to take as occasions to grow from.

This is a very difficult point, and I don’t find it easy to tell what exactly a person experiences after a traumatic brain injury or with a reduced cerebral functionality because of other reasons.

What we can do is perhaps look at those who have been in such a condition and recovered from it, so that they are now able to talk about it. I am thinking of people who had a near-death-experience. And what they report is truly amazing! Without a working brain, their senses were not less able to perceive what is there, but their sense perception was rather enhanced, to a degree we can’t even imagine in our “normal” state.

So to summarize, I haven’t found a conclusive hint that a person with a sensory disability (including mind sense) should be excluded form the path, neither in the Suttas nor in the world around me.


Hi Gillian
Thanks for the welcome.

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Hi @RichSW

One of my teachers came to the Path after having a tumour removed from his brain, which caused various issues, with some similarities to a stroke. His teacher took him from Los Angles to Thailand, where he ordained, and was a monk for over 20 years. Sadly, he died as a result of a car crash a few years ago.
I wrote a little about him here (Edited a little for clarity):


Ah, I know that one too and found it very inspiring!

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Thanks for the response. Very interesting.
Jill Bolte Taylor. My experience is very similar and very fantastical and euphoric in nature. (Commonly known as ‘the right kind’ of brain injury, if you were to have one.) All I should say is that conscious awareness is intact throughout the whole process. The experience over a few months is from the absolute awareness of eternal, timeless nothingness (non conceptual experience, JBT likened this to nirvana) to the gradual formation of concept via dots of light that form evermore intricate geometrical patterns. Then the mythological beings ‘turn up’ (Devi worlds) and so on until the human form builds itself conceptually)
Like your friend Dennis having all ‘the wheels knocked off the wagon’ is a great advantage. It allows the ultimate conscious awareness to be experienced and that everything else is meerly an add on. The message I got from it is that nothing actually exists only consciousness and ever changing energy.
You may be interested in the book ‘The Master and His Emissary’ by Iain McGilchrist. It discusses the divided brain, the conceptual hemisphere and experiential hemisphere. It puts another angle on Satti.


Thanks for replying. I am such a person that has recovered from a TBI. Oddly I used mindfulness/vipassana/vedanta techniques to help recover. Due to this ‘astonishing’ (as the neuropsychologist put it) recovery, I had been diagnosed as being ‘unrecoverable’ 2 years post injury and for some reason I beat the odds, I am researching mindfulness based techniques as a masters degree. Due to this I need to ‘prove’ my theory via the Buddhist psychology model.
The Buddha does mention blindness somewhere, saying that it is not an issue to finding enlightenment, that it may be an advantage, but warned people not to make themselves blind deliberately in order to achieve enlightenment.
The issue with TBI is that people can still see but what they see is distorted. This means, from what I understand so far, that the subject and the mental object in the mind (memory of an object) is different. An instance would be the visual processing condition ‘pattern glare’ whereby certain shapes, ie lines, corners or edges cannot be formed in the processing region. This is pre-cognitive. Then when the image is received in the cognitive (mind sphere) it is incomplete and the objects from memory try to fill the gaps resulting in a ever changing series of patterns.
This gets even more confusing because the feeling tone of the sensory information (rupa) is also precognitive and elicits a reaction via the neuroendocrine system (which in TBI is often also damaged or dysfunctional) creating the ‘second arrow’ effect and elicits a further thought/emotion response that affects the neuroendocrine system further, the cascade effect and so on until the person blacks out.
I can see the way through it but it does not fit the current ‘mindfulness model’ in the clinical sense. I am in fact challenging this model which seems to be fixed to a particular kind of thinking. It does not have the feel of ‘searching’ from any angle of the eightfold path as the Buddha encourages. ‘Don’t listen to the teachers, go and try the path and see for yourself.’


Could you please give me the reference to this?


May I take the role of Devil’s Advocate for a moment and ask, “How can one be certain that this is real, and hallucination?”


I am rereading all my books and have made a note to find the reference for you.

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The ultimate question. There is no way this experience can be put into words. The experience of nothing is exactly that, nothing, but ‘you’ are aware of it. Nothing cannot be an illusion or an hallucination because there is nothing. The hallucination is the conceptual idea of it. Experience is real, in and of itself, the nature of what is experienced is always subjective and dictated by the conceptual idea of the experience. Everything of relative material essence is hallucination but as far as consciousness is concerned there are no answers. Does that mean that consciousness is the nothing I wonder?


Thanks so much for relating your experience, @RichSW.

And thanks for that too. :pray:


Ideally one would direct the question at those making such claims, but I understand that’s not always possible.

From the suttas I know the story of the blind bhikkhu Cakkhupāla Thera, but it seems he became blind and attained arahantship at the same time.

Persons with various disabilities are not permitted to ordain. I’m not sure how the commentaries explain this, but one might reason it was simply to lessen the potential burden on the monastic sangha. Still, as far as I know, becoming blind (for instance) after ordination isn’t a cause for disrobing. One might think it would be if it truly were a barrier to walking the path.


Thanks Leon
Blindness does not seem to be the issue. I think what the people are saying is that if you are not of ‘right mind’, determined by faulty sensory processing ie vision and cognition then there is an impediment to following the path. However there is a story in one of the Buddhist introduction books that talks of a cleaner in a house. This person asked a monk to teach him the path but the cleaner had a 'learning disability and could not grasp the ‘concepts’ of the path. No matter how much the monk tried to explain the cleaner got more and more confused. A more senior monk came one day and the matter was discussed, the senior monk had the solution and replied to the cleaner to ‘sweep and keep sweeping’, that is the path to enlightenment.
I think it all comes down to practice at the end of the day and practice for one is a different practice for another. Not to get wrapped up in teaching and ideas but just to practice and experience. As I read also we are all enlightened beings, it’s just that thoughts feeling and emotions cloud that state of being.


Ah, thanks for clarifying; it seems I misunderstood what was being suggested.

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This sounds very much like the story of Cūḷapanthaka who was a monk, but had in fact some sort of learning disability. The other monks, including his brother, just told him he can’t do the practice and wanted to send him back home, away from the monastery. But the Buddha saw that differently.

Here are his verses from the Theragatha:

Verses of the Senior Monks
The Book of the Tens
Chapter One
10.4. Cūḷapanthaka

My progress was slow,
I was despised in the past.
Even my brother turned me away,
saying, “Go home now.”

Turned away at the gate
of the Saṅgha’s monastery,
I stood there sadly,
longing for the dispensation.

Then the Buddha came
and touched my head.
Taking me by the arm,
he brought me into the Saṅgha’s monastery.

The Teacher, out of compassion,
gave me a foot-wiping cloth, saying:
“Focus your awareness
exclusively on this clean cloth.”

After hearing his words,
I happily did his bidding.
I practiced meditative immersion
for the attainment of the highest goal.

I know my past lives,
my clairvoyance is clarified;
I’ve attained the three knowledges,
and fulfilled the Buddha’s instructions.

I, Panthaka, created a thousand
images of myself,
and sat in the delightful mango grove
until the time for the meal offering was announced.

Then the teacher sent to me
a messenger to announce the time.
When the time was announced,
I flew to him through the air.

I paid homage at the teacher’s feet,
and sat to one side.
When he knew I was seated,
the teacher received the offering.

Recipient of gifts from the whole world,
receiver of sacrifices,
field of merit for humanity,
he received the religious donation.


Welcome Rich! Amazing that you used mindfulness to recover from your TBI. Have you reached out to any scientists who might be interested in studying your recovery?

My gut is that having “accurate” sensory perception whether that’s from the sense organ itself or the mental interpretation of the input (sense consciousness) would not matter for the path. that seems like it would even exclude those with red green colorblindness. What is "true"After out in the world does not seem important. After all, ultimately we are learning to de-identify with sankharas as non-self, to see things as they really are. This recognition seems to be non-intellectual. You might like Ajahn Sumedho of the Ajahn Chah lineage–he has some beautiful youtube videos.

Another similar Sutta to the cleaner is one about 2 brothers, 1 became an Arahant and the other was too stupid to learn even a simple phrase. The Arahant brother gave up on him. Hearing of this, the Buddha came to the stupid brother and told him to simply rub a piece of cloth. As the brother did this the cloth became soiled with the dirt of his hands and his tears… He saw his past lives and he became enlightened… Hopefully I’ve described this enough that someone else can find it, I tried searching and can’t find the Sutta

That said, I do wonder if one was unconscious in a coma if this level of incapacity would prevent progress because one is no longer able to make conscious choice to create merit, meditate, etc. Consciousness seems a prerequisite. But then there’s the story of Ajahn Chah in a coma and still able to meditate or to intervene with unruly monks in his room. But he had already completed the path before becoming incapacitated.


Yes that’s exactly the story of Culapanthaka whose Thag verses I quoted above. Not sure where we can find more of his story.

Rubbing his “clean” cloth, the cloth turned dirty, and he realized how conditioned and impermanent things are. When the monks tried to explain this theoretically to him, he couldn’t grasp it. After his awakening he became a master of psychic powers and a beloved teacher to the nuns, if I remember correctly. (I think he was teaching them while sitting in the air, which they quite liked! :laughing:)


Exactly my point about color blindness. It becomes a slippery slope to such a point very few would be"eligible" which does not seem to be the Buddha’s message.

My apologies for missing that! I skimmed as I assumed you had cited the sweeping Sutta.

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