Mapping the Insight Knowledges to the EBTs

So Daniel Ingram got a teardown today, so I thought I would share the one question I had about his book: he took a stab at mapping the Visuddhimagga Insight Knowledges back into the world of the Early Texts.

Now you can reject “insight jhanas” if you like, but for me the question remains:

How do the Visuddhimagga Insight Knowledges map back onto the framework of Early Buddhism?

In my mind there are a few options and none of them are very palatable:

  1. They’re a real and useful description of insight but aren’t in the EBTs because the Buddha never taught the details of how people actually change between the ordinary and enlightened state. The Buddha left it up to subsequent generations of monks to fill in this important detail.

  2. They’re not real or useful. Some monks just made up how they thought it should work (based on the Abhidhamma), Buddhagosa expanded their fabrication, and the meditators and teachers since then who’ve found them useful are all delusional and we’d be better off chucking them – the Visuddhimagga and its followers.

  3. They do map onto the Jhanas. But exactly how is unclear and the Visuddhimagga didn’t mention this because…?

  4. They map onto the EBT framework some other way. Perhaps as Right Knowledge of the Noble Tenfold Path? (Making “Right Liberation,” what exactly?) Or maybe as Dependant Liberation (again how?)

What do people think? Is there something I’ve missed? It seems a pretty thorny issue from what I can see :confused:


IMHO Bhante, ‘mapping’ the steps of the process of enlightenment is akin to mapping the steps of any semi-complex skilled craft… whether that be surgery, woodworking or just laying bricks.
Human beings have this deep seated visceral need for more… more details, more complexity, more information. This characteristic when combined with the anxiety of the trainee seeking to do things just right and the difficulty in explaining the art of the craft on the part of a successful practitioner results in a burgeoning of literature, maps, views… you get the drift!
The growth in any kind of art/craft type of training proceeds from the naivety of the beginner through the extreme complexity of the trainee back to the simplicity of the expert.
So, the maps are correct… within limitations. They are not necessarily the best, nor do they accurately describe every person’s experience. Undue emphasis on a rigid map based way of doing things over a more relaxed experimental approach is the hallmark of the dogmatic. The true Expert knows instinctively that there are many paths to success… and also that these different paths often come together at certain convergent way stations which can be used to assess progress.
Just my two cents! :pray: :smiley: :pray:


Regarding option 4, a couple of articles by Ven. Anālayo touch on this.

This first one is free to download:

From the concluding paragraphs:

In sum, then, it seems that in spite of considerable variety found among modern-day insight meditation techniques – as exemplified in the approaches to insight taught by Mahāsi Sayādaw, S.N. Goenka and Pa Auk Sayādaw – a common reference point for Theravāda insight meditation can be found in the scheme of insight knowledges. This, in turn, can be understood as a detailed elaboration of a basic dynamics of insight already found in the early discourses.

This one was published last year in the journal Mindfulness and isn’t free:

Relevant portion:

The Progress of Insight in Early Buddhism

Leaving aside the starting and culmination points, the basic dynamics of the insight knowledges can be related to a recurrent description of a progression of insight found in the early discourses (Anālayo 2012a). This concerns the three characteristics of impermanence (anicca/anitya/無常/mi rtag pa), unsatisfactoriness (dukkha/duḥkha/苦/sdug bsngal), and not self (anattā/anātman/無我/bdag med pa).

The insight knowledges of rise and fall and of dissolution reflect insight into impermanence. The
ensuing knowledges of fear, disadvantage, disenchantment, and wishing for deliverance can be subsumed under the header of insight into dukkha. The remaining knowledges leading up to the breakthrough to stream-entry can then be seen as actualizing insight into not self.

A sequential relationship between the three characteristics finds expression in a recurrent description in the early discourses. Although this sequential presentation is not the sole avenue for liberating insight, it does reflect a prominent model of progress to liberation. Instances of this presentation can be found in Pāli discourses and in each of the four Chinese Āgamas. In this way, the same basic idea is found in all of the five main discourses transmission lineages to which we still have access nowadays:

DN 33: aniccasaññā, anicce dukkhasaññā, dukkhe anattasaññā.
DĀ 9: 無常想, 無常苦想, 苦無我想.
MĀ 86: 無常想, 無常苦想, 苦無我想.
SĀ 1034: 無常想, 無常苦想, 苦無我想.
EĀ 37.10: 無常, 無常者即是苦, 苦者即是無我.

The formulation in these five texts is so similar that the first four could be translated with a single
English phrase as follows: “perception of impermanence, perception of dukkha in what is impermanent, perception of not self in what is dukkha.” The last one (EĀ 37.10) only differs in so far as it does not explicitly mention “perception,” hence it could be translated as “impermanent, what is impermanent is dukkha, what is dukkha is not self.” The basic import of all five passages is the same.

The cultivation of insight into impermanence lays the foundation. Based on awareness of
impermanence, a practitioner comes to realize the ultimately unsatisfactory nature of what is of a changing nature. Such a realization of dukkha in turn leads to a diminishing of the tendency to appropriate things as “mine” and identify with them with a sense of conceit, corresponding to growing insight into not self.


When we philosophize, we are training in morality. –Daniel Ingram

MN8:12.9: ‘Others will talk nonsense, but here we will not talk nonsense.’ –The Buddha

There would appear to be a rather large gulf here.

I understood this to mean that how we view and think about the world informs how we act in it. Poorly worded, sure, but “nonsense”?

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Thanks so much @Christopher! This is a great help.

I’ll also add (for the casual reader) that my friend highlighted MN 24 as providing the basic outline used by the Visuddhimagga.


I found this footnote interesting! :nerd_face:

Ven. Sariputta and Ven. Punna speak of this list of seven purities — purity in terms of virtue, mind, view, the overcoming of perplexity, knowledge & vision of what is & is not the path, knowledge & vision of the way, and knowledge & vision — as if it were a teaching familiar to both of them, and yet nowhere else is it mentioned as a Buddhist teaching in the discourses. The Atthaka Vagga (Sn 4), however, mentions various non-Buddhist sectarians who spoke of purity as the goal of their teaching and who variously defined that purity in terms of virtue, view, knowledge, & practice. Perhaps the seven types of purity listed in this discourse were originally non-Buddhist teachings that were adopted by the early Buddhist community and adapted to their own purpose for showing that these seven forms of purity functioned not as a goal of practice but as stages along the path to that goal. At any rate, this list of the seven purities formed the framework for Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purity), the cornerstone of his Pali commentaries, in which the seven purities cover all three parts of the threefold training in virtue, concentration, & discernment.


Unfortunately, yes. It is a statement that flies in direct contradiction with DN1, which specifically and lengthily warns against this exact thing:

DN1:3.72.4: In the same way, all of these ascetics and brahmins who theorize about the past or the future are trapped in the net of these sixty-two grounds, so that wherever they emerge they are caught and trapped in this very net.

Daniel Ingram is teaching that we should theorize. Given the wordiness of “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha”, the placement of this peculiar turn of words in an introductory exposition of the Teachings of the Buddha is quite suspect, smacking as it does of a delight in theorizing. These words are a bit too close too author self-justification, revealing as they do a potential delight which can only lead to suffering.

There is definitely quite a lot of truth in his writings, but the danger of ingesting these misleading phrases as a matter of course is also quite high. I advise strong caution in reading these books.


Ah! I see your reading now. You’re taking it to mean that sophistry is a moral good, which indeed is a dangerous connotation to flirt with.

Indeed! Or even to just avoid Mastering altogether. Sorry if this post seemed to be encouraging people to seek it out. That was definitely not my intention, so let me be clear: the only original part of the book is his treatment of the insight knowledges, and there his contribution is a severe distortion of the dhamma.

You’ll note I never included the book in my own list of works which I do recommend. #shamelessPlug :joy:


Seeing that discussion is continuing past the answer of the basic question I’m about to shift this thread to the Discussion category.

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It just struck me that the suttas go on and on, describing literally every aspect of the 8 fold path. Yet they are strangely reticent when it comes to a description of the final Right Knowledge which has been attained by the Arahant.
Why? Surely it could not have been difficult for the Buddha/ editors of the suttas to come up with a short list saying “This is what is finally understood.”
IMHO, this reticence points to an important aspect of the teaching… the Path is conditioned, an active construct of our mind. Hence it needs to be described. Nibbana on the other hand is unconditioned. Any description of its nature would lead us to construct it in our mind (as perhaps what might have happened in Daniel’s case), leading us further away from ever realizing it.
Perhaps having a map may be more of an impediment than a support. Hence the EBTs have wisely avoided the topic.
:thinking: :thinking: :thinking:


Yeah it’s a good point, but the suttas do say a bit about nibbāna (and, of course a lot about the path) so it’s quite interesting that not so much is said about the transition between the two. Perhaps Bhikkhu Analayo’s paper is quite wise to point out (and you quite perceptive to pick up) that too-strong expectations can create false experiences and thus are best (largely) avoided. Thanks for pointing that out :slight_smile:


Are you familiar with a document called Freed Freedom (pdf)? It is a series of letters exchanged between a lay practitioner and her teacher (I believe this fellow but could be wrong) as she passes through the various stages of insight.
An example:
translated your letter dated 11/11/ 85 to theVenerable Nayaka Thero. He explains your latest experience in meditation as the arising of the knowledge of Dissolution ( bhanga -nana )-one of the Insight Knowledges leading to the Fruit of stream -winning (Sotapatti Phala ) . What you described as ’ vibrations ’ and ‘electrical charges in swift movement’ are characteristics of that insight - Letter No 34

What you feel internally ( strong itching sensation , electric waves etc. ) are the result of that insight 'turned on ’ towards one’s own body. The dissolution of one’s own body is the ‘net result.’ The breakup of the plot of grass, sun’s rays, faces, blocks of houses etc. into vibratory particles is the manifestation of that insight switched on externally – Letter #40

In this series of letters she gives many examples of the kinds of experiences she is having along with the assessments of her teacher. It’s quite interesting. It also shows how the insight practice is done within the context of jhana - which is quite different from what Ingram teaches as I understand it.

The most common ‘map’ that I can think of in the EBT’s would be the numerous forms of the following (this from AN 11.1):

skillful virtues have freedom from remorse as their purpose, freedom from remorse as their reward. Freedom from remorse has joy as its purpose, …Joy has rapture as its purpose,… Rapture has calm as its purpose,… Calm has pleasure as its purpose, …Pleasure has concentration as its purpose, … Concentration has knowledge & vision of things as they have come to be as its purpose, …Knowledge & vision of things as they have come to be has disenchantment as its purpose,…Disenchantment has dispassion as its purpose,… Dispassion has knowledge & vision of release as its purpose, knowledge & vision of release as its reward.


Thanks for those letters. I had not yet come across them. Quite a joy to read. Especially interesting to note the time scales involved. I’m glad they retained the dates.

I do wonder why this Venerable was so keen to encourage her to develop the recollection of past lives in letter 98, even after she had repeatedly expressed disinterest. :thinking:

Also a bit sad that this stupid myth about laypeople being unable to finish the path (combined with the lack of Bhikkhuni ordination) led to her being discouraged from even attempting to finish what she started. :confused: Of course we need not feel too sad for her, as she is surely now comfortably relaxing in the pure abodes whilst we’re still struggling down here on Earth! :joy:

Thanks again for the forward! Always helpful to have another “case study.” :slight_smile: