MN24 Rathavinīta: The stages of spiritual purification and liberation, by Piya Tan

28.3-Rathavinita-S-m24-piya.pdf (574.6 KB)

statements with some implications worth of quotation

The question now is: Why did Buddhaghosa adopt the model of the seven purifications for his work on the progress of insight, the Visuddhimagga? It would have clearly been better for him to use the complete nine-purification model of the Dasuttara Sutta and its Dīrgha Āgama parallel, where the ninth and final stage, “the purification of liberation” (vimuttivisuddhi).

Analayo points out that while Upatissa’s Vimuttimagga bases itself on the format of the traditional formula of the four noble truths, Buddhaghosa bases his Visuddhimagga on the mundane model of the seven purifications. It is likely that the Ratha,vinīta Sutta was composed at a time when a growing number of monastics were turning away the wandering forest tradition for as more settled community. In the growing luxury and comfort of an urbanized monastery, with greater social engagement, the monastics paid less attention to meditation, and placed more emphasis on scriptural learning and rituals.

In such a monastic environment, monastic rules, instead of preparing and maintaining a conducive environment for meditation training, reincarnated into a ritualistic corpus that defined a monastic before the laity. In such a situation, the externality of monkhood (such as emphasis on the ascetic practices) took precedence over its spirituality. Analayo, in his article, comparing Upatissa’s Vimuttimagga and Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga, observes:

With the passage of time, however, such an introspective attitude [of mindfulness and meditation] can easily get lost and become replaced by an emphasis on externals of behaviour, whose
adopting is assumed to automatically ensure that wholesomeness increases. Such an attitude can then find its expression in a concern with precise enacting of minute aspects of behavioural codes according to the prescriptions given in the Vinaya and its commentaries, thereby running the danger of losing the purpose of such prescriptions out of sight.

Buddhaghosa’s treatment of the nature of wholesomeness probably makes explicit what would have been a gradually growing tendency in the Theravāda tradition, where certain modes of conduct or behaviour, such as for example undertaking ascetic practices, are believed to be necessarily of a wholesome nature.

In the case of the progress of insight, the scheme of the seven purifications adopted by Buddhaghosa has become a paradigm within which Theravāda vipassanā meditation operates. Even
though this scheme is rather marginal in the discourses, and the set of seven stages is moreover also incomplete, modern day Theravāda meditation traditions that differ considerably from each other on how the path of insight should be developed, or what degree of concentration is required in order to progress to awakening, unanimously adopt this scheme of purifications as the basic framework for practice.