I’m guessing most ppl contribute to this forum because they have some appreciation for the ebts. Indeed, it seems like a new form of Buddhism is developing, a sorta “EBT”-centric Buddhism (or “suttayana” buddhism, or whatever you want to call it). However, I’m curious if people are discovering certain limitations to the EBTs and/or this sutta-centric approach . Like, certain topics and/or facets of practice that they find the EBTs just don’t go into enough depth in (or aren’t mentioned at all).
I’ll start with myself as an example: I love reading and studying the EBTs because I find them useful in cultivating right view in particular.
However, I have found that I am increasingly frustrated by how little detail there is about meditation technique in the EBTs. For example, there are a lot of suttas that tell ppl to abandon a hindrance and/or develop an awakening factor without giving advice on how to do so. Even the Anapanasati Sutta, which contains perhaps the most detailed instructions in the nikayas, is pretty vague — For example, it mentions breathing in/out to “sensitive to rapture,” but doesn’t really explain how to actually draw rapture to begin with.
I must confess that, despite my inclinations towards suttayana Buddhism, most the the most helpful meditation advice has come, not from the nikayas, but from material written by modern practitioners (usually lay) who are writing based on their own experiences (rather than the canon).
Another thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve been unable to find any mention of a mediation technique that takes ppl to stream entry. Stuff like satipatthana, jhanas, and brahmaviharas are said to bring ppl to the 3rd and/or 4th stage of awakening. Ppl often assume that these methods can bring one towards stream entry as well, though I don’t recall any examples in the nikayas of ppl actually practicing these techniques and becoming stream enterers as a result.
A really interesting question. As you point out, the Suttas themselves provide a level of instruction or guidance, but not in a detailed sense. The Buddha, in one passage, instructs the monks to find an empty hut or a forest and jhahayati, or, do jhanas. So, it seems to me that this practice, which includes the approaches to stream entry, is somewhat experimental, experiential, and intuitive. We understand the basics, and approach, and then we practice in order to experience for ourselves these absorptions and the unique and individual fruits of these absorptions.
I liken this approach to other experiences that perhaps we can relate to. With music, it seems to me that great musicians develop a feel for their instruments and cultivate music that is very individualistic and expressive. There’s just no manual or guide that can instruct a musician on how to cultivate great and beautiful music. The same might be true for other pursuits, such as a romantic relationship. Maybe we all can relate to the “music” that can be achieved in lay life with a beloved partner, and that alchemy that is created with these energies? Again, this is something that can’t be taught from an instruction manual.
These examples (maybe not good or appropriate ones…sorry) suggest to me that the path toward stream entry is very organic, and perhaps unique in some ways to each individual.
It may be that at the time of the Buddha, the monks and nuns came to him to discuss their meditations, Perhaps he gave counsel or instructions to each monk or nun, but the private nature of these meetings would not be the stuff that was passed on to the Sangha and the reciters.
So, the best we might have is our monks and nuns that have developed their own strong meditative paths, and are willing to share these instructions in more specific ways. Two examples I can think of that demonstrate this ability are Ajahn Brahm and Ayya Khema, from which many have received very specific instructions and guidance on meditative approaches. The Suttas give us the foundation, our teachers the advice and counsel, but then it’s up to us to find that empty hut or base of the tree and sit, and see what we can cultivate over time.
I wonder if it’s partly a problem of having to rely on written instructions, when what you really need is for somebody to just show you.
As a trivial example, I did a power-boat course earlier this year. I did some preparatory reading and got quite confused, things became much clearer when the instructor demonstrated the various manoeuvres.
We got to do high-speed turns in a RIB, all very James Bond.
There is no indication that the Buddha ever stipulated privacy when giving instructions, he said he was not a closed fist teacher, and the Christian practice of private instruction is alien to the Theravada ethos. There are some suttas dealing with instructions on individual practice, but the Buddha generally spoke in terms of dhamma principles because it was not possible to address individual differences in temperament and the manifestation of phenomena. Because of the necessity of efficiency for memorization, the suttas are minimal, and were intended to be complemented by practical experience. The Visuddhimagga, a meditation manual, and the writings of individual teachers such as Ajahn Cha provide another level of practical information closer to experience than the suttas.
Imo there is no new form of Buddhism as far as i can tell, although it may seem like it.
There are people rejecting commentarial notions but that is not really something new and the commentaries are from the Counterfeit Dhamma period so they are to be scrutinized on that account. This is very hard to do because to scrutinize commentary one needs a grasp on the Sutta and then see how commentary developed to discern what is what.
There are people rejecting Abhidhamma but many people have not even studied Sutta extensively so they are not really imo qualified to try aligning the Abhidhamma with the Sutta.
Who is there who can claim mastery of the Four Nikayas, able to without contradicting himself answer and substantiate any question on essentials, able to cross reference and substantiate his views without appealing to some authority other than the Four Nikayas? Do you know anybody like this?
On the other hand there is the extreme of people studying by means of mere repetition and drilling Abhidhamma and the Commentaries without actually analyzing and comprehending neither the Sutta nor the later texts. They might pass their exams if you quiz them on what they have memorized but as soon as you ask something they haven’t drilled they are angry and lost for words.
They might understand the basic teachings but they don’t grasp what is deep and hard to understand, rather they are commited to the endless study and learning about what is orthodoxy and traditional.
Another type of Buddhists i see is those who mix various traditions and views, like 33+% mahayana, 33+% theravada and 33+% other schools, who knows what these exemplars actually believe.
Furthermore some “early Buddhists” reject even some Sutta in favor of their own theories.
Last group that comes to mind are people who just listen to famous monks and join their cults, it is easy to see that some famous monks rarely if ever quote or teach the Sutta let alone Abhidhamma and it is easy to tell why… their teachings even tho agreeable to many are imo merely soothing to the listener but are not going to illuminate the teachings of the Buddha.
It looks to me that In case of most of these people of which i talk; they never answer questions about what they really believe, let alone answering the follow-up questions, thus opening themselves up for scrutiny.
However it seems like more or less half of these think themselves stream-enterers and the other half think themselves to be Faith & Dhamma-Followers, with the occasional claims of Arahantship.
What use is claiming that consciousness is not self when they don’t know what consciousness is?
I think among Buddhists it is a rarity to find one who thinks he is a putthujhanna, they are all sages. I am exaggerating but it is not that far from the truth as far as i can tell.
There is no easy way to go about it, the Dhamma is hard to see and is not accessible to every person.
The instructions are there, they are sufficient but it takes time, motivation, effort and willingness to experiment when it comes to methods and practice.
It does seem to me that in the case of meditation techniques the suttas are an overview, and that the practical details were, as is common today, communicated via small-group instruction.
You can see this in MN118:
Now at that time the senior mendicants were advising and instructing the junior mendicants. Some senior mendicants instructed ten mendicants, while some instructed twenty, thirty, or forty. Being instructed by the senior mendicants, the junior mendicants realized a higher distinction than they had before. SuttaCentral
This group instruction goes on for months, and the Buddha even extends the retreat by a month…
I am satisfied, mendicants, with this practice. My heart is satisfied with this practice. So you should rouse up even more energy for attaining the unattained, achieving the unachieved, and realizing the unrealized. I will wait here in Sāvatthī for the Komudi full moon of the fourth month.” SuttaCentral
It is only then that the Buddha delivers the Ānāpānassati instructions. Given the context, it’s hard to interpret those instructions “An introduction to Mindfulness of Breathing”. It seems more a wrapup summary at the end of a long meeting.
One way to look at all this was explained, I felt, quite well in one of Patrick Kearney’s retreat talks: Audio | Dharma Salon
Unfortunately, I’m not sure exactly where…
Summarising my interpretation of his interpretation:
The suttas are quite specific about outcomes. What has to be abandoned in the awakening process, and so on. This is, after all, the key information to test the outcome of the practice.
Technique is almost totally absent. Patrick speculates that this may have been deliberate. It gives teachers and practitioners a lot of freedom to figure out what actually works for them and their students. The vagueness makes it hard to claim “You’re not sitting/breathing/walking how the Buddha taught!”, because that information simply isn’t there!
So, in summary, the suttas talk about outcomes. Those are the Dhamma. Matters of technique, are, in my opinion, not Dhamma, they are matters of technique. How exactly an individual works with the breath may, of course, make a large difference to how deeply that individual can develop their concentration and mindfulness, but different practitioners appear to achieve the same ends using quite different technique.
Given the above, I feel that it is pointless to criticise techniques as if they were Dhamma, using arguments along the lines: “The Buddha didn’t explicitly teach technique X, therefore X is not an authentic EBT practice.” To me, the sensible test for technique is compatability with the EBTs.
I think the biggest problem is that if you come to the EBTs from a purely text and meditation point of view, you miss out on the feeling of what it s like in a Buddhist community. While I am by no means an apologist for the practices that prevail in the Buddhist traditions, there is something in a lived connection that you just can’t get anywhere else. I’m not talking about a supposed mystical transmission of lineage or anything like that. I’m talking about the soft edges, the grimy corners, the habits evolved over so many years that you forget it could be another way.
Jung talked about this. There is something in how the symbols and rituals in a religion have been handled by so many thousands of people over the centuries that they have lost their rough edges and individual features, and instead are worn smooth, shaped not by the ideas of those who used them, but by their hands.
Reformist movements tend to reject this stuff, wash it all clean. But give them a generation or two, or even less, and you’ll find that they creep back in, but in forms that are much more clumsy and naive. Reformist Buddhism is a lot like a rebellious teenager, thinking they’ve worked out all the answers. Only over time will they gradually come to realize that maybe their parents weren’t as clueless as they thought.
Excellent point, Bhante. You’re right to point out that it’s easy to underestimate the importance of community to one’s development.
Personally, I’ve found community to be very important. The sticking points for many seems to be: (1) finding a community; and (2) if they do find a community, they are put off by its imperfections. However, in my experience, there is much that one can learn from imperfect communities and teachers that is almost impossible to learn alone.
The more I study the suttas, however, the more convinced I am that all the important instructions are actually there. Take the abandoning of the hindrances. To appreciate how this is done it is useful to look at the gradual training, e.g. at MN 27. You will notice that the hindrances are abandoned only immediately before entry into the jhānas. You will also notice that much of the defilements are abandoned before you get to section on hindrances. This must mean that the five hindrances - at least in this context, but probably much more broadly - refer only to refined defilements, many of which most people would not even recognise. This is an important point. I will come back to this below.
The position in the gradual training of the abandoning of the hindrances is also suggestive of how they are to be overcome. Everywhere in the suttas, immediately prior to the jhānas or sammāsamādhi you find satipaṭṭhāna. This suggests that the hindrances are abandoned by satipaṭṭhāna practice. Satipaṭṭhāna in turn is fulfilled by ānāpānasati, which means that mindfulness of breathing, when practices fully, is sufficient for this purpose.
In the gradual training you will also see that sense restraint (indriya-samvara) and full awareness (sampajañña) come immediately before the abandoning of the hindrances. Both of these are aspects of right effort. Right effort, in turn, is the factor that almost everywhere precedes satipaṭṭhāna or sammāsati, for instance in the noble eightfold path. I am just pointing this out to show the close connection between the gradual training and the broad frameworks of the path given elsewhere. In other words, there are very good reasons to think that the abandoning of the hindrances does indeed refer to satipaṭṭhana practice.
The other important point with right effort coming before the abandoning of the hindrances is that so much of the process of mental purification happens before satipaṭṭhāna/ānāpānasati. This is important to realise, because meditation will not work if the defilements are too strong. In fact, if the defilements are too powerful, meditation can be counterproductive, with the unwholesome qualities being repressed rather than abandoned. Take this too far and it will result in serious mental instability.
Your other point about how to give rise to joy is also covered in the suttas. Much of the time it happens automatically. If you look at the Cetanā-sutta, AN 10.2, you will see that the process of meditation is said to evolve naturally. If the process does not happen, you need to go back to the root of the sequence, which is sīla. The purer your sīla, the more automatic the process. If joy does not arise, ask yourself how your sīla can be improved. And remember that sīla is very broad, including even mental content. It also includes positive sīla, that is, doing good. If your sīla is really pure - and especially if it has been practised over a long period of time - the process of meditation, including the experience of joy, will evolve without any effort on your part, except watching the breath.
And there is more. There are a number suttas that speak of how to deliberately give rise to joy, such at AN 6.10, which is useful if your sīla is not yet fully purified (which is the case for most people who are not fully awakened!). These suttas are about the recollection of one’s generosity, virtue, and the triple gem. An important point is that this can be done in conjunction with the breath meditation, by very briefly recalling a wholesome experience from the past. It should be no more than a gentle nudge of the mind, otherwise the whole meditation may collapse. In fact, part of the reason why joy arises automatically when you do breath meditation is precisely because there is an automatic recollection of something joyful, most prominently your virtue. You know deep down that you are living well. And you don’t even need to actively think about it.
All of this is right there in the suttas. It just takes a lot of training to see it. This is where Bhante @Sujato’s comment fits in nicely:
I think this is a very good point. If you are in the right kind of community, then the proper interpretation of the suttas, in the manner I have suggested above, happens almost automatically.
Having said all this, I do agree to some extent that the suttas lack detail. But I suspect this is by design rather than omission. The job of the Buddha is to give general information that is relevant to everyone. The more detailed a teaching is, the less likely it is to be universally valid. Moreover, it seems to me that the scope for misinterpretation increases with the amount of detail. Straightforward, direct teachings, with only the necessary amount of detail, are most likely, I think, to survive intact and be understood correctly.
In my opinion, these are two of the most detailed instructions in the suttas:
Furthermore, a mendicant examines their own body…
‘In this body there is head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, undigested food, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, snot, synovial fluid, urine.’
Furthermore, suppose a mendicant were to see a corpse discarded in a charnel ground. And it had been dead for one, two, or three days, bloated, livid, and festering.
They’d compare it with their own body:
‘This body is also of that same nature, that same kind, and cannot go beyond that.’
I wonder why it is said that there are not “meditation techniques” in the suttas.
In my opinion the suttas have all the information you need. The only issue is that information is scattered, so you have to treat it like a jigsaw puzzle. A lot of caveats can be found in Anguttara Nikaya, like for example remembering to keep your attention on one object and not taking it off.
Also the suttas say that rapture arises from gladness. If you have proper attention and keep your attention on your body instead of your thoughts, that puts an end to mental chatter, which is a relief, and relief leads to gladness.
a mendicant meditates spreading a heart full of love to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of love to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.
You should meditate observing the impermanence of all conditions, perceiving suffering in impermanence, perceiving not-self in suffering, perceiving giving up, perceiving fading away, and perceiving cessation.
or, most importantly, throughout the day:
a bhikkhu is one who acts with clear comprehension when going forward and returning; when looking ahead and looking aside; when drawing in and extending the limbs; when wearing his robes and carrying his outer robe and bowl; when eating, drinking, chewing his food, and tasting; when defecating and urinating; when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, speaking, and keeping silent. It is in such a way that a bhikkhu exercises clear comprehension.
If the few texts are very early, then it’s possible they came from a time when he was teaching/interacting with other advanced spiritual practitioners. So that could explain why the select few “earlier than the rest” texts have that advanced, only talking about abandoning or seeing craving first hand, quality. Maybe the scholars here could correct me but, i could imagine that first he taught other advanced meditators that would have also been practicing in the wild around him, spiritual seekers. And not until he started making a wave, and building a reputation among those, would the less experienced (lay or beginners) start to go to the Buddha and as a result the more articulated/gradual teaching were given. I imagine if a musician was teaching another musician advanced concepts, he wouldn’t be mentioning how build a major scale, how chords are made, what intervals are, the mechanics behind a progression, he’d just start talking about specific advanced concepts and the other professional musician would understand, there would be no reason to articulate steps how to get to what he’s talking about. The practioners has teaching in the early texts probably already live and exist staying in jhana.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the concepts the Buddha talked about already existed, so they would know about them. The difference is the Buddha figured out the rubics cube solution, on how all those concepts work together and how to find a way to (hard to write without being wrong about a view here) out, or a permanent peace, where you don’t fall back into states of becoming. For example, when his teacher teaches him the furthest possible fruit of jhana, he said after time you’d fall back down to other states of existence.
I agree with others, that once you put time and effort in your own practice and start to get the hang of staying with your breath, you notice they do indeed talk about it in the texts and these states can arise as matter of fact like the bliss/pleasure is written about.
I’m grateful for the elders to have compiled the rest of the Canon. Even if it turns out to not be the actual speech of the Buddha, but rather their explanations based off things the Buddha said and taught. They are extremely helpful.
My conclusions from the texts is that large parts were composed/transmitted by ‘professional’ scholars and memorizers, people who engaged more in text work and had little meditation experiences themselves - let alone arahantship.
As I interpret it, at the time when the suttas were consolidated forest dwelling (and thus hardcore meditation) was already an ideal of the past. I can imagine how with time education centers developed close to villages and cities and how the teachers there became famous and knowledgeable, explaining the Dhamma with many beautiful and enticing concepts.
In comparison forest dwellers - who had mostly practical experience - would have been less attractive teachers, focused more on meditation than on words. And thus some division would have occurred between ‘academic’ village dwellers and meditative forest dwellers. The latter would have had the competence to enrich the texts with practical material but were probably not much involved in the process of collecting, writing, transmitting, etc. which would have been more an endeavor of urban-based specialists.
There are many suttas to make such a case of division, but the details are tedious to recount here. I recommend looking up forest-dwelling and its status to see that the actual forest-dwellers were mostly an ‘other’ for the texts, a group of a different kind. Just, if they were the most experienced meditators we simply wouldn’t have their voice represented in that suttas.
You may want to listen to talks by Luangpor Dhammavuddho to explore more. He asserts that stream-entry is not necessarily by meditation, but instead through listening to the Dhamma. He does this basing on Sutta and Vinaya.
SN55.40 - There are two types of Sotapanna, i.e. diligent Sotapanna and negligent Sotapanna. Diligent Sotapanna is one that makes further effort to attain jhana after becoming Sotapanna. Negligent Sotapanna doesn’t. Also here, someone who lacks the four factors of stream-entry is an external sect follower.
SN55.55 Conditions for Stream Entry: (1) Association with true men; (2) Listening to the true Dhamma; (3) Focused attention; (4) Practice in line with the teaching
MN43 - There are two main conditions to attain Stream Entry: (1) the voice of another (teaching you the Dhamma) and (2) thorough/focused attention (yonisomanasikara)
SN55.24 - On Sarakani whom the Buddha declared to be stream-enterer. He used to drink alcohol. The Buddha gave explanation, which I think it’s better that you read directly in the Sutta. Plus, Luangpor Dhammavuddho points that the Buddha also said “if these great sal trees could understand what was well said and poorly said, I’d declare them to be stream-enterers.” Luangpor said if the way to be stream-enterers was by meditation, then the Buddha would have said if these trees could meditate.
In the Vinaya book on Devadatta, who had psychic powers (through meditation) but in the end went to hell (showing he’s not a Sotapanna even though attained in meditation). Devadatta schemed to kill the Buddha by sending people to kill the Buddha. Those people, after meeting the Buddha, were given Dhamma talk by the Buddha and they became Sotapanna. Luangpor says if those people could become Sotapanna, we should also have chance to become Sotapanna. (for his exact words, you may want to listen to his Dhamma talk)
Some argue that people in the past could attain stream-entry just by listening to the Dhamma was because the preacher was the Buddha who had great psychic powers. To this, Luangpor points to the case where Venerable Sariputta got attainment through talk not from the Buddha, but an arhant. Venerable Moggallana got attainment also not from the Buddha, but a stream-enterer. (For Luangpor’s exact words, please go to his talk titled “How to Develop the 7 Bojjhanga 2 of 3” - link, in (1a), at the bottom of this post)
MN117 - Entering the Eightfold Noble Path through Right View first. Some people start from the last factor which is meditation and just do meditation only, but this Sutta points that to enter the Path we start with Right View. How can we get Right View? In his talks on Right View, Luangpor:
“MN43 - Two conditions for Right View: voice of another and yonisomanasikara. In other words, somebody teaching you the Dhamma. Just meditation alone you cannot get Right View. The Buddha taught for 45 years. If meditation is the only way, the Buddha would not have spoken so many Suttas. Yonisomanasikara = proper attention. When you listen to the Dhamma, don’t think about the stock exchange. So, this word yonisomanasikara. Yoni = womb / birth place / origin. Mana = mind, kara = work, and so manasikara = work of the mind. Work of the mind that brings you to the origin / the birth of the problem. In other words, thorough consideration. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi translates it as careful attention.”
(Disclaimer: Since this is my transcription, it’s probably not 100% word-by-word the same)
Buddha calls his disciples, including monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen, savakas which means hearers or listeners.
Luangpor also mentions not everybody who listens to the Dhamma will be Sotapanna. One reason is sila. In Digha Nikaya 2 There is someone named Ajātasattu who went to the Buddha. After he left the Buddha said his mind was ruined and if he hadn’t killed his father, he would have understood the spoken Dhamma at that seat (the very bottom of DN2).
My note: but it seems that if our mind isn’t that ruined and we can pay thorough attention (yonisomanasikara), it wouldn’t be impossible/too hard for us.
(1a) The audio talks, including Sutta Guides to Paths and Fruits, are in Google Drive, whose link is listed in Audio & Video Dhamma Talks
(1b) ‘Directory’ where you can see which track is in which album: https://bit.ly/2GjqZlZ
(2) There are many valuable readings here: English Articles
(3) Youtube: Vihara Buddha Gotama
Regarding sotapatti maybe we should go to the already existing topics. As nice as it is to investigate the suttas’ position on stream-entry my take-away from our discussions here is that none of it is experiential. No insight is definite proof that I’m a sotapanna - or, every experience I could have (in or outside of meditation) telling me that ‘wow, YESSSS! that’s it, I’m a sotapanna now!’ can be self-deceptive.
There is also no good support in the suttas that people knew by themselves that they became stream-enterers. The proclamation needed to be done by the Buddha (an exception is Sakka who self-declared, and some other deities, maybe a few others?). So in this respect it is definitely a practical limitation of the EBTs in the sense of the OP. We can speculate around real sotapatti, but it remains theoretical.
Yes, that was my point. That the details come from interaction with others, either formally or informally.
In answer to the question, that seems to be common:
Perhaps there is a difference in how some of us interpret terms such as “meditation techniques” and “detailed instructions”.
Consider contemplation of the elements. This is discussed in the Satipatthana Sutta (SuttaCentral), and other suttas, and the instruction is to observe the elements, in the body and externally, etc.
So, how to do that? Obviously one needs to make a few decisions. Should one dedicate whole meditation sessios to Elements, or work through all of the satipatthanas in one session?
Should one scan the body noting where there are earth, water, fire, air elements, scan the body looking for each of them them in turn? Just notice elements then they become particularly noticeable? And what about internal/external?
Bhikkhu Analayo has a whole book, and some excellent guided meditations, that discusses this, and other Satipatthana subjects, based on both his EBT research, and his own experience:
He has a nice logical sequence of doing a scan: down the body observing earth element, noting external earth element in the cushion when you get to the bottom. Scan up observing water element; Down observing fire, again noting external fire element in the cushion when you get to the bottom. Up observing wind element, and noting external wind element after you get past the head…
There is also advice about the “refrain” (SuttaCentral), which I won’t go into (I’m condensing a whole chapter of a book and a 20 minute guided meditation).
This is what I mean by “detailed instructions”. As Bhante @brahmali observes, in the right community there would be instruction and help to figure out a good approach for each individual. Clearly, Bhikkhu Analayo is not claiming that this is “The one true EBT approach to Elements”. It’s one of a multitude of possible “detailed instructions”.
Since the sort of detail that I’ve sketched above is not in the suttas, there is considerable freedom for teachers and students to improvise. This is probably a good thing, as different people have different requirements at different times.
I’d just to like to echo what @mikenz66 said earlier, that much of the description of “technique” in the suttas are more about outcome than “how to” guides. In other words, they are more like a map than an instruction manual — a map tells you where to expect a river, and what lies on the other bank, but it doesn’t tell you how to cross it. At least how I harmonize the nikayas with my own personal experience.
I agree that meditation needs to be customized for the individual. Some people do this in communities, but that’s not necessary for everyone. I’ve noticed that I’ve made the most progress technique-wise during times when I’m fairly withdrawn from community, actually.