Explanation of SN 54.6, the Arittha Sutta

In the Arittha sutta the Buddha asks if anyone develops mindfulness of breathing to which Ven Arittha responds yes! When asked how he practices mindfulness of breathing Arittha states: “Having abandoned sensual desire for past sensual pleasures, lord, having done away with sensual desire for future sensual pleasures, and having thoroughly subdued perceptions of irritation with regard to internal & external events, I breathe in mindfully and breathe out mindfully.”
To which the Buddha replies is not complete. The Buddha then proceeds to explain the mindfulness of breathing to its completion of the 16 steps…

I started meditating following Ajahn Brahm a couple years ago and was wondering if what was Arittha missing since it seems like he started the meditation correctly? He seems to just be missing experiencing and calming the body formations to cover the first section of anapansati. Ajahn Brahm teaches us to establish mindfulness first and let the breath almost invite itself to the forefront of the meditation when the mind is ready. However it seems like Arittha was practicing that method when the Buddha told him it wasnt complete.
Can someone help me see what i’m missing with this? Maybe one of the venerables @Brahmali or @sujato can help?
Or am i just confusing myself for no reason?

Much thanks

Maha metta


The Buddha doesn’t seem to be saying that it’s wrong, just that it’s just not complete.

Compare SN 54.6 SuttaCentral to SN 54.1 SuttaCentral. Essentially Arittha is covering the first paragraph, and not getting to the tetrads.


I can only second @mikenz66: it does not seem Ariṭṭha is doing anything wrong, just that his method is incomplete. He has abandoned the coarser manifestations of the two first hindrances and as such his mindfulness is likely to be reasonably well established. You will notice, however, that the Buddha’s instruction is quite a bit more detailed, even at this preliminary level:

Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu, having gone to the forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty hut, sits down. Having folded his legs crosswise, straightened his body, and set up mindfulness in front of him, just mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.

Here the Buddha emphasises seclusion, the ideal bodily posture, and the establishing of mindfulness in the right way. This is the ideal way of practising, something one should aspire for as a monastic, and if possible as a lay Buddhist.


May I add Sir that concentration by mindfulness of breathing (anapanasatisamadhi), is what fulfils four establishments of mindfulness - SN 54.13.

Before beginning process of concentration, there must come mindfulness itself.
Mindfulness is cleaning desire of pleasure (restraining indriyas), and not having fuss and quarrel with what is not, and does not belong to us (external, and even internal).

One must be aware of that, before one can do (and be aware of,) breathing to still ongoing agression from external and internal.

Sankhara (sam-khara,) is coaction. Somewhat coaction between external and internal, when one sees self in khandhas. Stilling can happen only when one discerns this.
Lord Buddha says “when Bhikkhu looks at khandhas as self, it is sankhara” (SN 22.81).

Ariṭṭha is doing all this above well. But he has to go further, says Lord Buddha.

He must still kaya sankhara. Then mental sankhara [note that it is stilling feeling in SA 830 - SA parallel - not stilling mental sankhara - which sounds more proper, when reading SN 54.13 - but again it could be both].
Then Ariṭṭha must satisfy,… etc, Citta. Then contemplate impermanence,… etc, of dhamma.

Ariṭṭha is doing indeed good things. He is doing good mindfulness. But poor mindfulness of breathing, to reach good anapanasatisamadhi.


Yeah i get it… thanks Mike… i dont why i confused myself…lol.

Thank you bhante… i dont know why i confused myself on that. I guess i thought one would naturally calm the body formations if one were mindful of breathing… i wonder if i can ask another question on the topic? When one is practicng the mindfulness of breathing, do the tretrads happened through more cause and effect or is there some conscious effort? In other words is one trying to go “do” each tetrad or is one "allowing " each one to happen on its own?


Thank you kind sir for elaborating so nicely… much appreciated!

The less you do the better; it should happen as naturally as possible. A great sutta that emphasises the naturalness of meditation is the following (Ven. Bodhi’s translation):

AN 10.2 - Volition

(1)–(2) “Bhikkhus, for a virtuous person, one whose behavior is virtuous, no volition need be exerted: ‘Let non-regret arise in me.’ It is natural that non-regret arises in a virtuous person, one whose behavior is virtuous.

(3) “For one without regret no volition need be exerted: ‘Let joy arise in me.’ It is natural that joy arises in one without regret.

(4) “For one who is joyful no volition need be exerted: ‘Let rapture arise in me.’ It is natural that rapture arises in one who is joyful.

(5) “For one with a rapturous mind no volition need be exerted: ‘Let my body be tranquil.’ It is natural that the body of one with a rapturous mind is tranquil.

(6) “For one tranquil in body no volition need be exerted: ‘Let me feel pleasure.’ It is natural that one tranquil in body feels pleasure.

(7) “For one feeling pleasure no volition need be exerted: ‘Let my mind be concentrated.’ It is natural that the mind of one feeling pleasure is concentrated.

(8) “For one who is concentrated no volition need be exerted: ‘Let me know and see things as they really are.’ It is natural that one who is concentrated knows and sees things as they really are.

(9) “For one who knows and sees things as they really are no volition need be exerted: ‘Let me be disenchanted and dispassionate.’ It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate.

(10) “For one who is disenchanted and dispassionate no volition need be exerted: ‘Let me realize the knowledge and vision of liberation.’ It is natural that one who is disenchanted and dispassionate realizes the knowledge and vision of liberation.

You will notice that the steps mentioned in this sutta are closely related to the steps of the Ānāpānasati Sutta.

The Pali for “no volition need be exerted” is na cetanāya karaṇiya. This really means “not to be done by volition/will,” the “need” inserted by Ven. Bodhi is misleading, in my opinion. In other words, the process is “natural,” dhammatā. If a process is natural, then using the will can only hinder it. It’s a bit like pulling on a small plant to make it grow faster!


Thank you bhante. Sadhu sadhu sadhu

Bhante, if you could elaborate here on your interpretation of what this means.

Dear Bhante,
would it be a possible interpretation, to say, that AN10.2 speaks of a person that has more or less perfected all these virtues/skills? As an example: learning something new, one has to exert volition to do the things right or to recognize and eliminate errors. After familiarizing and knowing everything well (by heart), it is much easier to “let it flow”, so to say.


May I say, Sir that you are right. AN 10.2 is not that categorical.
Lord Buddha ends MA 43 parallel saying: “Thus, Ānanda, one state is beneficial for another, one state is the means for another” (Bingenheimer).

One should discern between citta and mano.

In beginning of SN 54.13, Lord Buddha uses word “fulfil” with causative (paripurenti). Each process is cause to help fulfil next one in natural process. No need to wonder which next step is going to happen.This is what Lord Buddha means. He is giving us clue on process.

Cetanā is state of ceto in action.
Ceto is “subconcious mind”.
Adhiṭṭhana, abhinivesa and anusaya (decision, indulgence and disposition) are attributed to ceto. (see MN 112).
There is no need to determine (adhiṭṭhahati,) and wonder on what comes next.

Cittena … ñassati, “understand” with citta)
(Citta, as the vehicle (medium) for understanding)
AN 1.46
No need to understand. Natural process is explained by Lord Buddha.
But that does not mean that one should not exert.

In SN 54.13, one should train (sikkhati) to reach each level.
Siksati is inflected form of sak, which is desiderative verb. It has meaning of “desiring to be able to”.
Sikkhati is about training with desire to be able to (reach something). And there is mano to put into that.
Lord Buddha tells us what are the next things in process.
No need to put cetana onto that. Exerting through mano will bring out natural process, on which to focus (manasi karoti).

Note also Sir, that in SA 810 (parallel SN 54.13,) there is no pajanati (discerning,) in first step. It starts right with sikkhati.

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Bhante, by “not to be done by…” do you mean “should not be done by…” or “cannot be done by…” ?

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Problem resides in way to translate cetanāya.
In this context, cetanāya is determination - as in identifying what next level is (as stated in previous post).
As in determining properties of next level through inquiry.

No need for that, because Lord Buddha gives clue.
Apply mano on each nimitta, as in AN 3.102 (good explanation on mano vs. citta).

Therefore, “should” should/can be used with proper translation; if that is relevant.

The commentarial interpretation of parimukha (translated above as “in front”) is that it refers to the tip of the nose or perhaps the upper lip. The problem is there is not much Canonical support for this. Some meditation movements have a wider interpretation, such as the Mahāsi tradition where they focus on the abdomen.

Both Bhante Sujato (see “History of Mindfulness”, pp. 109-110) and Ven. Analayo (“Satipaṭṭhāna”, pp.108-109) dispute that parimukha can be pinned down in such a narrow way. I think they are probably right. To me the idea of “establishing mindfulness in front” is clear enough. In the context of ānāpānasati it probably just means being aware of the breath in the present moment, and not relating it to any specific physical location. As your meditation deepens, if you attend to it, you may very well notice that you are in fact aware of the breath at the tip of the nose. (And it may be that this is where the commentarial interpretation comes from.) But usually there is no particular reason why you would focus on this. Ānāpānasati is, after all, breath meditation, not body meditation.

Establishing mindfulness in the right way requires presence of mind and sufficient clarity. You are then ready to focus on the breath.

Yes, you need a high level of sīla for the sequence in AN 10.2 to be automatic. But as always it is a gradual thing. The better your sīla, the further up the sequence you will tend to go. This tells you something the importance of sīla for meditation practice.

It is important to bear in mind that sīla in Buddhism is much wider than what we normally mean by “morality”. I sometimes like to regard it as character development. In other words, it is not just about how we act and speak, but also about how we think and even how we perceive the world. When all of this is developed according to Dhamma - less anger and desire, more kindness and compassion - then the meditation develops accordingly.

The exertion of volition occurs mostly in regard to sīla. This may include the early stages of meditation, because you may need to exert a bit of will to avoid the hindrances arising in the mind. But this is a very minor exertion of the will. If you have prepared the mind well, it is almost automatic.

Probably both. I think willpower may take you some of the way, but eventually it will block you from going further. If you have made a habit of it, it may be difficult to give it up as your meditation deepens. Many meditators - good meditators - say they were not even aware they were using willpower. It tends to be very subtle. I think it is good to get out of the habit as soon as possible.

Anyway, I like the idea of it all being dhammatā, “natural”. It’s just so appealing. You live well and with kindness. But when you sit down to meditate, all you do is relax and enjoy yourself. This is part of what makes the path so worthwhile. You are not only allowed to enjoy yourself, you are encouraged to do so! Profound happiness is an indispensable aspect of the path.


This exchange is very helpful. Thank you Badscooter, Mike, & Venerable Brahmali.:pray:t3:


Pari+mukha means “in front”.
Mukha in Taittiriya-brahmana means: fore part , front , vanguard of an army.
Sati/smṛti (mindfulness - recollection of Teaching,) is put in front, like unit at head of army. Protecting internal. As in simile of city (SN 35.245).

Each memoryless ill that we have done, O Agni, all error in our conduct, Jātavedas! (by not recollecting Teaching).
yad asmṛti cakṛma kiṃ cid agna upārima caraṇe jātavedaḥ
AVŚ 7.106

Memory is somewhat proactive entity in Vedic literature:

“Expectation surely is greater than memory. Kindled by expectation, memory recites the hymns, performs rites, desires sons and cattle, desires this world and the next.”
āśā vāva smarādbhūyasyāśeddho vai smaro mantrānadhīte karmāṇi kurute putrāmśca paśūmścecchata imaṃ ca
lokamamuṃ cecchata āśāmupāssveti.
ChUPp. 7.14.1 (here memory = smara, from smṛti).

Which goes well with extract “Paṇidhāya parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā” - in which memory (mindfulness) is first “called” to stand by; and then somewhat “asked” to perform (“in front”), act of retrieving Teaching to guard internal (or something else in other cases).


Dear Bhante @Brahmali,
thank you for the explanation and for pointing out the importance of sīla for meditation, and the practice as a whole. This is also emphasized in SN47.15 (Bāhiya), but there is also the “straight view” or “correct view” one has to establish. These two together are needed for proper meditation, right? SuttaCentral
Without right view, the autopilot might steer to unwanted destinations.
But without sīla, there can’t be sammādiṭṭhi, right?
So, the more and better I practice sīla and try to get a grasp of sammādiṭṭhi (first in a more intellectual way) the deeper I might dive into ānāpānassati / satipaṭṭhāna and develop sammādiṭṭhi.


What a lovely thing…

Ajahn, I’m reminded of how Ajahn Brahm discussed the notion of “putting mindfulness in front”… that it was just to put it in the front of our mind’s attention, that is, to make it a priority, to make it important. Thus, I’m wondering if when you say:

…perhaps the “ideal bodily posture” is one that is essentially a sitting posture, and that the ‘crossing of the legs’ was perhaps optional? Because, to sit means, in and of itself, to implement a bit of restraint when it comes to sloth and torpor. Thus, again, one is making mindfulness a priority… So, I’m hoping, sitting in a chair with one’s legs dangling down, is okay too!

Many thanks :anjal:


I’m sure it is okay to sit on a chair. Also, note that the foot of a tree usually has a nice gradual slope which allows you to rest your back on it.

I understand that at first all you need is to sit down and bring yourself to the place and time you are at.

Once present you can just recollect the good things , principles that brought you exactly to the spot, that wholesome activity .

Joy and gladness should arise naturally , if not you’re probably missing a few of the many blessings we all have in our lives to count and acknowledge.

That should give rise to an inner sense of energy and purpose. At this stage you may wish to straighten further the back, or not.

The next thing to kick in should be a sense of ease and tranquility.

This sense usually comes as the sense of ease I have when it is Friday you are about to leave work and you know you did well what should and what could have been done that week. Yay!

From thereon things will just get simpler and clearer, stillness is a refreshing quality of a heart which has found peace and happiness …

Insight is a welcome and gradual outcome… but it only comes when things are really quiet, and in fact it builds up drop by drop, over the weeks, months, years…

SN27.101 has some beautiful similes that altogether present a nice big picture of the impersonal processes eating away suffering when the eightfold path ‘dooms’ us to liberation. I highlight the last two:

“When, bhikkhus, a carpenter or a carpenter’s apprentice looks at the handle of his adze, he sees the impressions of his fingers and his thumb, but he does not know: ‘So much of the adze handle has been worn away today, so much yesterday, so much earlier.’
But when it has worn away, the knowledge occurs to him that it has worn away.
“So too, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu dwells devoted to development, even though no such knowledge occurs to him: ‘So much of my taints has been worn away today, so much yesterday, so much earlier,’ yet when they are worn away, the knowledge occurs to him that they have been worn away.
“Suppose, bhikkhus, there was a seafaring ship bound with rigging that had been worn away in the water for six months. It would be hauled up on dry land during the cold season and its rigging would be further attacked by wind and sun. Inundated by rain from a rain cloud, the rigging would easily collapse and rot away.
So too, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu dwells devoted to development, his fetters easily collapse and rot away.”