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Normal sequence leading to samādhi

One thing I have been looking at recently is a certain progression toward samādhi that is found throughout the āgamas and nikāyas.

Especially in the SA and SN, the main meditation framework seems to be (despite its name) the Seven Factors of Bodhi. The basic starting point is mindfulness, and it leads to samādhi, and then equanimity. The Seven Factors tend to presume the Four Bases of Mindfulness, though, and a very concrete path from beginning to end.

However, there are also variants of the sequence that are simpler and found throughout the āgamas and nikāyas. They typically have some sequence like (1) some purity or lofty state of mind, (2) delight in that purity, (3) joy born of separation, (4) pliancy, (5) bliss, and (6) samādhi. The sequence varies a bit throughout the collections, but the last four items listed here are basically universal.

For example, in SA 615, we are given an alternative to the normal practice of the Four Bases of Mindfulness:

Giving rise to a mind of pure faith, recollecting this manifestation of purity, his mind becomes gladdened. Gladdened, there is the arising of joy. The mind being joyful, the body becomes pliant and calm. The body being pliant and calm, the body feels bliss. The body feeling bliss, the mind becomes concentrated.

Because it appears in the Seven Factors and also in many simpler variants, this progression must be quite fundamental to early Buddhism. Still, though, I rarely ever see mention of it. In fact, it seems like the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path seem to get all the attention!

Everyone seems to be interested in meditation, but few people seem to pay attention to the Seven Factors, which are a detailed sequence going from mindfulness to samādhi (plus one stage after).

I think maybe the huge emphasis on the Satipaṭṭānasutta has caused people to believe that mindfulness can possibly not lead to samādhi, or may have some other goal of dry analysis leading to liberation. In the SA and SN, however, mindfulness is very clearly put squarely within the Seven Factors of Bodhi, with no way to skip past samādhi.

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Although I tentatively numbered the steps as 6 in that previous post, after looking at numerous instances of this formula in Chinese and Pali, there are clearly 5 steps that are repeated most often:

  1. … Gladness (pāmojja, 隨喜)
  2. Joy (pīti, 歡喜).
  3. Pliancy (passaddhi, 猗)
  4. Bliss (sukha, 樂)
  5. Concentration (samādhi, 定)

Does anyone know if this sequence has a special name?

Usually when a text features this sequence, the meditation or state is first given in a sentence that ends with something about “gladness.” Then from there, each state leads to the next. The first step is probably the most interesting because there is the most variance. Usually the first step begins with some type of mindfulness, purity, separation from hindrances, etc.

The fifth stage of “samādhi” is basically universal, but sometimes there are other stages added after samādhi, as though to say that samādhi is not the end of the Path. These extra stages vary a lot, though, and are inconsistent, at least in phrasing.

One interesting thing about this sequence is that it is not just repeated in a formulaic way. It is often connected with practices that lead to it, as well as stages after it. For example, the SA even includes a type of Mindfulness of the Buddha, although it is called Mindfulness of the Tathāgata (SA 931). Instead of contemplating the 32 marks, the meditator contemplates the 10 epithets of the Tathāgata, and by doing so purges his mind of craving, hatred, and delusion, and reaches the state of “gladness,” and the sequence continues from there. Then upon reaching “samādhi,” he enters into the stream of the Dharma, and attains Nirvāṇa.

Because it appears so widely throughout the canon, this 5-step sequence must have been widely known, but it was never accepted in the 37 dharmas. Instead the 7 factors seem to be in the place where the 5 steps would be. Of the two formulas, the 5 steps are simpler and more general, not tied to the Four Bases of Mindfulness, which leads me to suspect that the 5 steps may be somewhat older.

There also seems to be nothing specifically “Buddhist” about the 5 steps, so maybe they constituted a common early refrain about entering samādhi? When it came time to codify everything, maybe the 5 steps were adapted and expanded into the 7 factors?

Interestingly, the Noble Eightfold Path goes… (7) mindfulness → (8) samādhi. But the Seven Factors of Bodhi go from (1) mindfulness… → (6) samādhi → (7) equanimity. The five steps above generally go up to (5) samādhi, but sometimes the texts go beyond that with one or two other stages. The Five Powers go from… (3) mindfulness → (4) samādhi → (5) prajñā.

All of these appear to be progressively developed from beginning to end, like yoga aṅgas, but there appear to be somewhat different ideas about where the path ends, or at least no clear consensus that the ultimate stage may simply be represented by “samādhi.”

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this practice has parallel descriptions in Pali only not in the context of dependent origination of nibbana

“There is the case where you recollect the Tathagata: ‘Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy and rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine & human beings, awakened, blessed.’ At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the Tathagata, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the Tathagata. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.
AN 11.11

the underscored portion seems to be a parallel motif of


There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones recollects the Tathagata, thus: ‘Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy and rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine & human beings, awakened, blessed.’ As he is recollecting the Tathagata, his mind is calmed, and joy arises; the defilements of his mind are abandoned, just as when the head is cleansed through the proper technique. And how is the head cleansed through the proper technique? Through the use of cosmetic paste & clay & the appropriate human effort. This is how the head is cleansed through the proper technique. In the same way, the defiled mind is cleansed through the proper technique. And how is the defiled mind cleansed through the proper technique? There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones recollects the Tathagata… As he is recollecting the Tathagata, his mind is cleansed, and joy arises; the defilements of his mind are abandoned.

AN 3.70

both are then followed by descriptions of recollection of the Dhamma, the Sangha, own virtues, own generosity, devas, and AN 3.70 - of arahants

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Great examples. One of the interesting things about this sequence is how the descriptions differ a bit, particularly for the first step. Sometimes gladness comes from something abandoned (negative), or something cultivated (positive), or both.

One of the most interesting things to me is how all these different descriptions help form a model of “separation.” Usually if we just speak about separation from desires, or from evil and unwholesome dharmas, it’s difficult to know from that exactly what state of mind the author intended us to understand the meditator to have.

From so many descriptions, though, it is clear that when separating from desires, from impurity, from evil and unwholesome dharmas, etc., the resulting state of mind must be purity. So separation implies mental purity, and gladness comes not just from separation from the negative aspects, but gladness in the resulting purity.

Sometimes I wonder whether Buddhists were too uncomfortable speaking in positive terms about purity and other such matters, and instead stuck mostly to negative terminology.

Also, one interesting thing that I have been finding is that this 5-step formula does not appear in a way that is quite uniform across collections such as the SA. Instead, it appears more often towards the back of the collection (e.g. SA 109, SA 482, SA 615, SA 848, SA 849, SA 850, SA 855, SA 857, SA 916, SA 931, SA-2 156, etc.). It must have been widely known, but apparently had no name.

There are also some differences in the wording of the stages in the five steps, and the wording for the same steps in the Seven Factors. In general, the five steps have “gladness,” “mental joy,” “physical pliancy,” “feelings of bliss,” and the “mind becomes concentrated.” The Seven Factors have “mental joy,” “mental and physical pliancy,” “bliss,” and the “mind becomes concentrated.” There are some variants too, and the Pali texts are generally more consistent in their wording than the Chinese texts.

The five steps are usually something like:

  1. … pāmojjaṃ jāyati.
  2. Pamuditassa pīti jāyati.
  3. Pītimanassa kāyo passambhati.
  4. Passaddhakāyo sukhaṃ vedayati.
  5. Sukhino cittaṃ samādhiyati.

… or in Chinese…

  1. 於____已生隨喜
  2. 心隨喜已心歡悅
  3. 心歡悅已身猗息
  4. 身猗息已覺受樂
  5. 覺受樂已則心定

… or in English…

  1. … , gladness arises.
  2. Gladdened, the mind becomes joyful.
  3. With the mind joyful, the body becomes pliant.
  4. With the body pliant, there are feelings of bliss.
  5. With feelings of bliss, the mind becomes concentrated.

In his essay on the Upanisa Sutta, Bhikkhu Bodhi says that the commentaries have a specific name for this sequence:

(…) Recognizing this broader range of the principle, the Nettipakarana, a Pali exegetical treatise, has called the second application “transcendental dependent arising” (lokuttara-paticcasamuppada).

Source: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel277.html

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this is how Ven Brahmali refers to it as well

it’s also called Dependent Liberation
my variant is Dependent Origination of nibbana :slight_smile:

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