MN68 reference by Ajahn Brahm


Yet this isn’t from an ‘insight perspective’ as Vimocayaṃ cittaṃ refers to a mind release and not a wisdom release. There no progression of repulsion, dispassion and cessation.

These are stages of Samatha development!


I question two of Ajahn Brahm’s statements. Does suppression have a place in the Noble Eightfold Path, as he indicates? And how can a meditator be in jhāna without the hindrances still lurking at least at a subconscious level? If the hindrances were not there at all, one would be not in jhāna but rather in nibbāna. Suppression is not eradication but a pushing downward, into a hidden place, presumably subconscious.


Morality: suppresses the impulses to kill, steal, cheat, etc. Yet the defilements behind these impulses remain.
Concentration: Brahmanas had jhana, divine vision etc but doesn’t make it to nibbana. Unification or samadhi suppresses (or doesn’t allow to arise), the five hindrances.
Insight: a glimpse of nibbana at entering the stream but with seven fetters, including ignorance, intact. So I think we can’t go all the way enlightenment in one go.


Isn’t it more like a temporary suspension of the hindrances? A more refined example of wholesome mental states displacing unwholesome states, at least for a while?


Thank you for your thoughtful answer. I am not sure I would consider even observing the precepts as a case of suppression. The urge to steal, to have illicit sex, etc. is allowed to arise, but not indulged in. Suppression would involve not allowing these urges to arise at a conscious level, whereas clear awareness/sampajañña involves allowing such impulses to arise and dealing with them in a skillful way. I agree with your observation about the brahmanas such as Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta. I would consider the evidence in Ariyapariyesanā Sutta and in Mahāsaccaka Sutta to suggest that in his search previous to his awakening, Gotama had tried the ultimately fruitless methods of first suppressing the mind, and then the body. It seems that his teachers of jhāna in the forest were teaching a kind of yogic trance, which is the method of attaining the jhānas through suppressing the hindrances and distractions, by not allowing them to arise. This produces a state of wonderful bliss and peace, but such state is only a fabrication, as the peace and bliss prove to be unstable when the requisite conditions of suppression through intense application of concentration are removed. When Gotama sat down under the bodhi tree, he did not pick up where his forest teachers had left him, at the higher jhānas. Instead, looking for proper direction, he went back to his memory of a more easeful and balanced method which was his experience as a boy under the rose apple tree. Starting from there, he proceeded at Bodhgaya with a fresh and different approach. In light of the above, I am continuing to question this rather widespread idea that jhāna as taught by the Buddha is a method of suppression of the hindrances.


If hindrances arise again after a lapse then it has temporarily stopped it from arising. This isn’t any different.


Sampajanna is usually combined as sati-sampajanna or as “ardent, alert (sampajanna) and mindful” in the Satipatthana definition. “Ardent” means that right effort is invoked, and the first endeavor the effort to avoid, involves sense restraint, not allowing unwholesome thoughts to arise. Despite new age ideas to the contrary, suppression is a basic Theravada strategy. Those unwholesome thoughts must be eradicated, and the idea of starvation is used to describe the method. The path of insight is being referred to here, not jhana.


Any different from what?


I absolutely agree that ardent, alert, and mindful is an excellent description of our endeavor as followers of the Buddha. Yes, unwholesome thoughts must be eradicated, and starvation is an excellent method, which in my practice means allowing the unwholesome to arise, but not feeding it with attention or in any other way. Sense restraint does not necessarily involve suppression. There are other strategies, and I do not see the evidence that the Buddha recommended suppression as the means to guard the senses. If suppression is a basic Theravadin strategy, I would suggest we look to the Visuddhimagga as the source of that strategy, as evidence for repression as a method is scant in the suttas. Buddhaghosa’s work came some 900 years after the passing of the Buddha. He split samatha and vipassana into two distinct practices, to be practiced sequentially or skipping one of them on behalf of the other. This is an innovation on the part of Buddhaghosa regarding the practice of meditation. In the suttas, samatha and vipassana are practiced together. I am puzzled about your reference to New Age teachings. Can you clarify that? Wishing you well. Thank you for your comments.


“The basic difference between mindfulness of breathing as a samatha or as a vipassanã practice depends on what angle is taken when observing the breath, since emphasis on just mentally knowing the presence of the breath is capable of leading to deep levels of concentration, while emphasis on various phenomena related to the process of breathing does not lead to a unitary type of experience but stays in the realm of variety and of sensory experience, and thus is more geared towards the development of insight.”—“ Satipatthana”, Analayo.

For example the second tetrad, “I will breathe sensitive to rapture”, can mean the development of rapture as a prelude to attaining concentration, or alternatively rapture can be developed as a feeling to replace sensual feelings of the flesh as a means of their elimination on the path of insight. This latter course leads to the interrelationship of the second tetrad of the Anapanasati sutta with the second foundation of the Satipatthana sutta.


This practice, of being aware when unwholesome thoughts arise, leads to those thoughts being tamed but not removed- they may not function as a ‘hindrance’ would but act as an asava/underlying tendency. Any defilement that persists, can grow to it’s former capacity, once the recognition is lifted, as it’s root of ignorance (avijja) hasn’t had any resolution. Gold is great! We can see the delusion of sukha connected a certain yellowy colour and a certain glimmering shine. All colours in any distribution are the same five aggregates, and one doesn’t have a particular value. Aggregates are all the same.

Any different from suppressing kilesa. Starving and feeding is exactly what the other religious gurus did at the time - all that physical starvation performed by naked ascetics, if so, would have had the same effect.


If anything has arisen, attention has already been employed, and consistent wise attention is the factor which can eliminate the unwholesome roots:
“manasikāra lies at the origin of all experienced phenomena (AN IV 339); since phenomena arise with the arising of attention (SN V 184)”—Analayo

"The Blessed One said, “Monks, if you are asked by wanderers of other sects, 'Friends, there are these three qualities. Which three? Passion, aversion, & delusion.”
‘But what, friends, is the reason, what the cause, why unarisen passion does not arise, or arisen passion is abandoned?’ ‘The theme of the unattractive’ it should be said. ‘For one who attends appropriately to the theme of the unattractive, unarisen passion does not arise and arisen passion is abandoned…’—AN 3.68

The division between serenity and insight was not invented by Buddhaghosa and is often referred to in the suttas, for example:

"There is the case of the individual who has attained internal tranquillity of awareness, but not insight into phenomena through heightened discernment. Then there is the case of the individual who has attained insight into phenomena through heightened discernment, but not internal tranquillity of awareness. —AN 4.94

Wisdom and concentration are two of the five spiritual faculties as defined in SN 48.10 and are fundamental dynamics of the path.


Well expressed. Thank you. I differ with your perception due to my experience. When unwholesome thoughts arise (due to being allowed to arise rather than being suppressed by force of concentration on the object of meditation or by any other means), if they not fed with attention and self-identification (‘this thought or feeling is myself’, ‘I am having this thought’) and any accompanying tension and tightness in the body and mind is relaxed (as per instructions in Ānāpānasati Sutta), then the unwholesome saṅkhāras related to the unwholesome thoughts or feelings are diminished. With practice they cease to re-appear at all. Due to the fact they have been allowed to arise but skillfully dealt with rather than suppressed, this means they are eradicated. Deep habitual conditioned patterns take persistent practice and may require application of dhamma-vicara/inquiry/investigation. What follows this process of allowing, letting go, and relaxing is a very clear space. This practice, in my experience and opinion, strikes at the root of avijja. With metta.


Very thoughtfully expressed. thank you. I wholeheartedly agree with you and Ven. Analayo concerning the crucial role of manasikāra/wise attention. Yes, once we are well established in not being attracted to sensory phenomena (believing that ‘I’ will find happiness through gaining the pleasant and avoiding the unpleasant, i.e., living life through the lens of gain and loss), then the power of our conditioned patterns is greatly diminished. As for Buddhaghosa, he did not invent the difference between serenity and insight, but he invented the division between the two. Buddhist meditation went into a different trajectory once the Visuddhimagga became the meditation manual for Theravada. the passage you quote at AN 4.94 shows the importance of developing both serenity and insight together, rather than apart. the long passage ends with: “The person who gains both serenity of mind and higher wisdom of insight into phenomena should base himself on those same wholesome qualities and make a further effort for the destruction of the taints.” Yes, they are two separate aspects of meditation, not the same thing, but are skillfully employed together for best results. They have a synergistic effect. Some level of insight produces serenity, which creates the best conditions for further insight, which then deepens serenity, and so on. Due to this reciprocal effect, satipaṭṭhāna is best carried out within jhāna. There are instances in the suttas of people awakening through mere hearing of the dhamma, but they are likely to have already achieved a high level of serenity. Thanks again for your comments. Wishing you all the best.


I agree. Sometimes we fail at guarding the sense doors and have to evict the feelings and cravings that catch us unguarded. Here are some sutta references:

The four efforts recommended by the Buddha are:

Four efforts. The efforts to restrain, to give up, to develop, and to preserve. –AN4.67

However, in certain overwhelming circumstances, I also have had to drastically suppress according to:

Now, suppose that mendicant is focusing on stopping the formation of thoughts, but bad, unskillful thoughts connected with desire, hate, and delusion keep coming up. With teeth clenched and tongue pressed against the roof of the mouth, they should squeeze, squash, and torture mind with mind. As they do so, those bad thoughts are given up and come to an end.–MN20


What is the practice of insight!? Is it something different from serenity.

"The individual who has attained internal tranquillity of awareness, but not insight into phenomena through heightened discernment, should approach an individual who has attained insight into phenomena through heightened discernment and ask him:

[a]'How should fabrications be regarded?
saṅkhārā daṭṭhabbā?

[b]How should they be investigated?
saṅkhārā sammasitabbā

[c]How should they be seen with insight?’
saṅkhārā vipassitabbā’ti

I would call this suppressing defilements, in the truest sense of the word. I often find, when someone realises that something is bad for their mental state they proceed to suppress it - I know of people suffering from extreme anger. They avoid leaving the house. It’s a good thing because it is a first step they do to engage in harm minimisation. It’s later when they have more mindfulness that they can manage their moods and even later, thoughts that ignite, anger.

So suppression in the Noble eightfold path : not in the English meaning of the term; hardly ever, if at all, but in a refined way all effort is suppressing defilements, until the mind of arahanthood is laid bare!


Suppression is the use of force to not allow something to arise. If you mean something different from this definition of the word, please inform me. I think that is a good definition whether in English or in Buddhism. As for samatha and vipassana, I would consider them to be different aspects of the same practice, not apart. So I believe we are in agreement there. I am aware of the passage in Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Sutta , MN 20 concerning the clenching of teeth to forcibly remove an unwholesome thought. It is the sole instance in the suttas that I have found in which the Buddha seemed to recommend forceful suppression as a method. Curiously, it is exactly the same wording as in MN 36.20, Mahāsaccaka Sutta, in which the Buddha recounts the futility of such an approach. So we may have a bit of misplaced copy and paste by the reciters of the Majjhima. But that is speculation on my part, although not without some evidence. Certainly, many people try the suppression method to attain a peaceful calm abiding, and many seem to make progress in their meditation and in their life as a result. My main point is not to invalidate anyone’s method of meditation, but rather to point out that suppression as an approach to Buddhist meditation is not supported by the bulk of teachings in the suttas, and rather seems to stem from a later age. There are alternatives to suppression, and they can work very well. I wish you wonderful practice, whatever the method you pursue.


I checked Bhante Sujatos 4000 translated suttas and found that tongue pressed occurs in four suttas, only one of which has a positive outcome in MN20 as you say.

Using suppression is like using a fire extinguisher–effective but not as useful as prevention.


Right. I would be interested to know of the other two refernces, as I am only familiar with the phrase as used in MN 20 and 36. I have heard that in the Prakrits, such expressions as pressing the tongue, clenching the teeth, and crushing mind with mind are used as idioms to mean making a supreme effort. I do not know if this is the case. idioms are difficult to know with certainty in classical languages, and I think the evidence comes from modern versions such as Hindi, but we need a fluent Hindi speaker to inform us of that. If this is the case, it does not literally mean to put a lot of tension into the tongue and teeth! As you point out, even if we take it literally as a recommendation of extreme measures to suppress distractions, it is not a thorough solution. I have personally tried suppression, and found it not effective over the long term. In fact, the suppressed material not only returns but comes back more strongly, as suppression is a kind of nutriment. And it always finds a way to come back. As the old Beatles song says, “She came in through the bathroom window.” (on Abbey Road). with metta


This is the well-known fear and rationale of populist psychology towards suppression. Any method of keeping the hindrances at bay amounts to suppression, until the three unwholesome roots are eradicated. As the practice progresses and the disciple inevitably comes into closer combat with the unwholesome roots, they are experienced more strongly, as illustrated in the Buddha’s victory over Mara. It is also shown in the more intense terminology used for the UR, greed and hatred rather than desire and anger.

Populist psychology is the agent of samsara, which has the conditioned momentum of the cycle of birth and death, so it produces assertions which support it, drawing the gullible into its ambit. These wrong assertions center around a denial of the defilements, including the methods to escape from them. To break away from the gravitation of samsara, the practitioner must use conditioned phenomena skillfully as set out in the doctrine.