Sīla, samadhi, paññā - not a practice?

I did a search on SuttaCentral for the occurence of all three sila, samadhi, panna and it comes out with the following list of suttas entries (I’m not looking at the non sutta entries):

  • AN.3.73 a talk by Ananda. The three words are in separate paragraphs. But the sutta seems to imply that this is the practice. Funny he says that the monk is “restrained by the Patimokha” which confirms my opinion that the Vinaya is seen (hopefully not by every monastic) as a straightjacket that will prevent you from misbehaving, but it will not « dry up the remains of your past » (Sn V.11).

  • AN3.26 the three words are together and they describe the end-result not a practice.

  • All the other suttas have the three words in separate paragraphs and again as a end-result not as a practice. They are: AN4.1, AN4.2, AN4.242, AN7.66, DN10, DN16, DN33, DN34

For me, sila is to keep you from doing new bad karma and samadhi and panna are the results of the practice of abandoning sensual desires, aversions and delusions so they are not a practice in themselves.

So the more I consider this triad the more I conclude that it has been misused by generations of practitioners believing that it is just what need practicing and nothing else, while in fact it is the end-result of some other practices.

The fundamental bit missing is : Transformation Process to remove one by one (impossible to happen in one go) our sensual desires, aversions and delusions.
I have not found an explanation of this transformative process in the Buddha’s teaching, yet!


How about a sutta like this one, Alain ?

Here the Buddha explains how, from virtue as the starting point, meditation - samadhi - is developed and finally leads up to wisdom - “knowing and seeing things as they actually are”. And from there it goes on until “knowledge & vision of liberation”.

And I can’t imagine this whole path - which is called the Gradual Training in the suttas and is repeated again and again and again - being better explained than the way Ajahn @Brahmali did in his recent retreat in Germany :heart_eyes:

And - who knows - maybe this can also be an answer to the question you asked in another thread:

At least I am convinced that with the suttas or sutta passages in the handout to this retreat - and I would recommend together with Ajahn Brahmali’s wonderful explanations - you can go a long way on the path :meditation:


The transcendental dependent origination found in suttas like AN10.2 , AN11.2 and SN12.23 is in my view all about sila making room in one’s heart to samadhi, and in turn samadhi to pañña, all culminating or leading to vimutti (liberation).

It is also worth checking occurrences of threefold training/practice of adhisīla-sikkha, addhicitta-sikkha and adhipaññā-sikkha - as far as I am concerned they’re as well equivalent to the sila-samadhi-pañña combo.

Apparently, this threefold set represents or defines what sikkhā (study, training, discipline) is all about. Key occurrences are: AN3.90, AN5.79, AN10.34, AN10.36, Ud4.6

From these I highlight what we find in AN3.90:

“There are these three trainings. Which three?
The training in heightened virtue,
the training in heightened mind,
the training in heightened discernment.

adhisīla-sikkha = sīla

“And what is the training in heightened virtue?
There is the case where a monk is virtuous.
He dwells restrained in accordance with the Patimokkha, consummate in his behavior & sphere of activity.
He trains himself, having undertaken the training rules, seeing danger in the slightest fault.
This is called the training in heightened virtue.

addhicitta-sikkha = samadhi / jhanas

“And what is the training in heightened mind?
There is the case where a monk—quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful [mental] qualities—enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation.
With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation—internal assurance.
With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’
With the abandoning of pleasure & pain—as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress—he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain.
This is called the training in heightened mind.

adhipaññā-sikkha = paññā

“And what is the training in heightened discernment?
There is the case where a monk, through the ending of the mental fermentations, enters & remains in the fermentation-free awareness-release & discernment-release, having known & made them manifest for himself right in the here & now.
This is called the training in heightened discernment.



Nobody has addressed my points yet.

My view on this is that the purpose of sila is to reduce the level of agitation such that the mind more easily enters concentration. Wisdom is the result of concentration that is sufficiently developed. Samadhi is a result but it is also something that is systematically developed - a process.

I believe the key is the development of concentration until one reaches stream entry. Essentially, the stillness of the mind is entered into ever more deeply until it simply lets go. At this point what is known (wisdom) - deeply changes our understanding - this is where all the magic happens.

IMO these things cannot be removed one by one. It would be like trying to eliminate the mosquitoes of Thailand one by one - they multiply faster than you can eliminate them. What is done is to change the underlying environment (mind) and then they cease on their own.

I agree if sila encompasses much more than just maintaining the precepts (or the Vinaya for the monastic) that are only good for not producing new bad kamma. What’s needed is to “dry up the remains of the past”. The negative emotional components of our past (particularly the 1st 17 years of our life) affects so much how we think, speak, act the way we do today.

If you make a list of your personal fears and aversions/ill-will (again associated with your upbringing) you may found may be 20 items that you need to deal with.

The word sīla in Pali has a much broader meaning than words like ethics, morality or the like in Western languages. First it includes not only what one is supposed not to do, but also what one is supposed to do, namely to develop the good qualities that oppose those bad qualities one tries to avoid. For example with not killing there goes also the care for the life and welfare of beings.

Second, sīla also includes the mental level. That means that one should gradually purify one’s mind from unwholesome qualities and develop wholesome ones instead. For example reduce one’s anger and develop more kindness instead. This probably relates to what you called “dry up the remains of the past”, for the way our mind reacts automatically as a response to a certain situation is very much conditioned by past experiences, programmings and so on. And the more some of our experiences were traumatic the more deeply these things are ingrained (I’m just talking here of ways of conditioning happening in this life, not in former lives).

This is of course not an easy thing to remove, and it cannot be done just by willpower. But the Buddha does give some advice how to deal with it, for example in AN 5.162 “Removing resentment”, or in MN 19 “Two kinds of thoughts”. In order to achieve what is described there it is not willpower that will work, but wisdom. And this wisdom has to be developed over time by contemplating the drawbacks of unwholesome thoughts etc. Basically, a new programming or conditioning has to be done. When doing this kind of contemplation often, on a regular basis, this really leads to a powerful “tool” that can easily be applied in a situation when let’s say anger arises. As Ajahn Brahmali puts it, it is like taking this tool from the shelf, and it will do it’s work without you having much to do about it.

After some time, when doing this kind of practise regularly, when one is going to sit down to meditate the mind will naturally incline to kindness and contentment instead of wanting this and not wanting that etc. So, meditation will naturally develop and lead into deeper states which finally will give rise to the very deep and transforming insights leading ultimately to liberation.

In this way, sīla, samadhi and paññā are stregthening each other mutually, sīla being the foundation for samadhi which in turn is the foundation for wisdom - but also feeding back to each other the other way around.

Alain, I still would like to refer to Ajahn Brahmali’s talks I already added the link to in my previous reply. He is explaining these things in much more detail, in very practical terms and based on nothing but the suttas.

I was writing my first reply as well as this one with a feeling of care and wanting to help as I consider you as a friend, and I am very grateful for all the support you gave me in 2016 while I was staying in Australia! If you still feel that what I am saying (and others here as well) does not address the point you are looking for it would probably be good to explain that in a bit more detail, because then obviously I didn’t understand what you are out for.


Dear Maria
First congratulations for becoming an anagarika; I’m so pleased for you that you are progressing on the path that you were aiming for.

Second, thank you so much for your reply. This is 1st time someone is saying that sila is a bit more than just the precepts.
Thanks also for the reference to the two suttas.

Meanwhile I don’t think the suttas go far enough to address this issue that most (all?) human beings face, may be more in our time than at the time of the Buddha - not sure, which is the negative love syndrome we have received when growing up. Until we have undone this syndrome then we will continue thinking, speaking, acting mostly as result of it.
Once we have done the preliminary phase of eradicating the negative love syndrome received from our family of origin then the dhamma as preserved in the suttas become really useful.
The Buddha may have taught how to make peace within and eradicate the negative love syndrome but this has not been preserved in the suttas.

As you know with your professional experience, psychology can be of great help for this preliminary personal development phase.

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Thank you, Alain, for your kind words!

All I am saying here I learned from Ajahn Brahmali, or in other words, from the Buddha himself, as Ajahn is always referring to the suttas.

Sure, there are cases where an intensive spiritual practice cannot be applied without also seeking professional help - I think this is the same with mental illnesses as with physical illnesses: You have to address them with the appropriate means. I knew a person one time who thought reciting mantras would cure their diabetes… it didn’t work.

But still, considering the way I am discovering the suttas with Ajahn Brahmali’s (and others’) help, I think there is much more to discover there than we think at first sight!

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Looking forward to your discoveries as I believe the process of transforming oneself by removing the DADs (unskilful Desires, Aversions, Delusions) is the path and all three are mainly the result of our upbringing with mum and dad.

Alaber, I like your acronym! It resonates well with issues arising from childhood days.

I think the Four right exertions, are a good way to work on the DADs.

With metta

Let me explain it like this:

When sitting in meditation your mind becomes clearer to a certain degree, and it becomes easier to see negative mind states arising, like anger for example. What comes into play now is what is called samma sankappa, right intention or motivation, the right mental attitude, the second factor of the noble eightfold path, translated by Ajahn Brahm a bit sloppily as “make peace, be kind, be gentle”. You watch this anger which has arisen in your mind with mindfulness and metta, not developing any aversion towards it, and after a while it will dissolve and vanish all by itself. It’s in this way that you “dry up the remains of your past”.

What is important when doing this is not to attend to the outer circumstances that prompted the anger to arise but only to the anger itself, how it feels like emotionally and physically; for any emotion is always linked to a bodily feeling somewhere, like heat or tension or whatever. Sometimes, if this is the way of your mind to work, this can also be associated with a mental image, like in the case of anger that of a volcano for example. Attend only to this inner experience, in whichever way you can feel your anger internally. Attend to it with mindfulness and kindness, very gently, not using force or willpower in order to get rid of it. This is just your reality in this moment, there is no other reality for you right now. Trying to get rid of it by force only perpetuates the old habit of ill will. Just watch it, open your heart towards it, and it will disappear all by itself after a while. Because that’s the way things are: changing, arising and passing away.

You can also use the simile of the “anger-eating demon” as given by the Buddha in SN 11.22 and interpreted by Ajahn Brahm a bit more colourfully indeed :rofl:: “Welcome anger, welcome, dear volcano, thank you for visiting me. Make yourself comfortable on the throne of my heart. Can I offer you something to drink, to eat… ?” With every kind word the anger-eating demon, called “anger” in this case, will diminish and shrink until it disappears for good. I’ve worked with this image many times, and it proved very helpful to me. It not only works in everyday life but also in meditation!

Unfortunately our upbringing, however difficult it may have been, is not the only source for negative mind states to arise in the present. But they are also conditioned by so many past lives, so many habits established since beginningless time… many upbringings, many habits, deep roots!

Whatever the reason is for this specific state of anger which has arisen right now, the recipe is always the same: Make peace, be kind, be gentle. Be patient with yourself, don’t expect you to be already perfect. You are OK the way you are right now, with this weak body, with this troubled mind. Patience is very important! Train your mental attitude in the sense of samma sankappa until this becomes more and more natural. Train it by applying it to your own mind in meditation, to any wholesome or unwholesome mind state which is there right now. This is how you gradually “dry up the remains of your past”, and I can’t see how this should be something outside the noble eightfold path.

I fully agree with that, and this is what the noble eightfold path is all about.

But this is just my opinion, a way of applying the Buddha’s teaching that I find helpful. If you (or anybody else) can find any benefit in it I’d be very glad. :blossom:


Could you please explain why it is important not attend to the outer circumstances?

This is a theory and I think believing this theory is crippling us believing we cannot address the source of our problems. The result of past lives kammas is the conditions in which we found ourselves in this present life (Ajahn Brahmali). So there is not much to worry about past lives. Instead we have to learn to “dry up the remain of the past” of this present life. This is a job to be done outside the cushion not on the cushion. What you describe is a way of temporarily suppressing the DADs (Desires, Aversions/fears/il-will,Delusion/ignorance) in meditation but they come back when out of meditation. So your method does not eradicate them which is what needs to be done.

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Does the first half of mn44 address what you’re after? It talks about abandoning DADs and includes what Bhikkhu Bodhisattva translates as the 3 aggregates (sila, samadhi, panna). (Stanza 11).
Paragraph/stanza 4 illustrates what I think Sister @sabbamitta is talking about.
Apologies that I can’t direct quote, I’m on a handheld device and it’s not so simple.

In my personal practice I can relate to what Sister SM is saying. By seeing my habits of mind in a meditation situation I can see how they arise and cease and that they are not permrnantly ‘me’ gradually through being kind, compassionate and gentle with these thoughts I am able to let go of them. This is the 3 right attitudes/intentions the Buddha discusses.
Once we are familiar with our habits of mind they don’t snare us. As far as I can see there is no benefit in ‘blaming’ old bosses, parents etc.

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I’m not talking about blaming others. I’m talking about transforming our negative emotions through a process that starts with discovering our emotions and feelings then developing a complete view (1st component of the 8FP) (at least three aspects - negative, positive, dukkha) for each challenging situations we faced when growing up. Then use the other 1st 5 components of the 8fp to progressively eradicate the negative love syndromes we received during the 1st 17 years of our life. Of course this work is done outside the cushion.

Our memory of the past is just a perception and it’s been conditioned by everything that has happened since.

The present moment is real, the present emotion is real and through right intention ( habits which we train) we skilfully address the emotion rather than delighting or having aversion to it and thus proliferating on it (mn18). By doing this we create new mental habits and reactions to our mind objects. We train to let go. The benefits of doing some of this on the cushion is we have little distraction. We can see the thought process more clearly anc practice these habit in a less sensory diverse environment.

Sīla as virtuous habits allows us not to be creating no new regrets and a glad mind. A glad and non-remorseful mind is quieter and more mindful of emotions as they arise. It is therefor more able to great them with compassion and see them as no longer ‘me’. AN11.2

We can see the first noble truth easily enough. There is no need to look at every unsatisfactory moment of our youth. We can see that our craving for this moment to different is the cause. So if we must regard the past in anyway, it should be with acceptance and gratitude.

The past is past. Which means we don’t have to carry it around. What a relief! The only place you can make good kamma and self-acceptance is in the present moment on and off the cushion. By forgiveness, kindness and letting go: samma-sankappa. By right action, by right speech, by right livelihood. These are all done now. So if one greets the moment with the right intention ‘make peace, be kind, be gentle’ in body speech and mind this is the foundation of the path. There is dukkha, the cause of dukkha is wanting (the present to be different), the ending of dukkha is possible (in this moment on a big or small scale). So we cultivate this via the path.

Maybe I’m missing the point or misunderstanding you. Apologies if that’s the case.


Please no need to apologize. Everything you and Maria are pointing is straightforward Buddhism which is good for not creating new bad kamma but for me this is not enough for eliminating the DADs. We need to uproot them at the source, asking ourselves: when did I feel this negative emotion 1st time, under what circumstances; what resulting trait (that became an automatic response to similar situations today) did I inherit? etc.

What you said is beneficial , however ,
Sorry to say , that is not necessary , the trainings of the path here and now are sufficient to uproot those dads !

The way of the world is going against the way of the right path . The world encourage us to have more wants ,
Whereas, the path reduce it to as less as possible .


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Let me give you an example from my own experience:

I had bought a new laptop without an operating system and installed a Linux OS myself (with good advise from a friend), and I was very proud having successfully accomplished this! I am not a professional in this area.

Unfortunately there was a problem with the charging of the computer, and I had to send it to the repair service. When I called there to ask how far the repair has gone and when I can have my computer back I was told that the repair was finished, the hard disk had been exchanged.

When hearing this I was very disappointed because this meant that all the work of installing the OS, adapting all the settings etc. had to be done another time. This would just take a lot of time which I didn’t have… !

I had been at my work place when doing the phone call, and after that I sat in my car to drive home. And suddenly I realised that there was not only disappointment present in me, but also quite a strong amount of anger! When I realised this I thought “What to do?” When in such a state it is not easy to think a clear thought. But what came to mind was an advice I remembered from a Dhamma talk I had recently listened to: “Turn your attention inwards”, and I tried to do that. I saw that so far I had vividly imagined this technician who had done the repair, and how he was annoyed about having to deal with my computer, like "these non-professionals, think they can install their own OS, now they can see that they have their limitations, I’ll just exchange the hard disk and they’ll have to do it all again… " - and each such thought added more fuel to my anger. I could observe this as if I was sitting in front of a TV!

And as soon as I turned my attention to the anger itself I could feel how unpleasant it actually was. And I tried the anger-eating monster technique: "Welcome, thank you for visiting me… " - and guess what happened: I suddenly realised that at the left and right of the highway where I was driving there were trees, there was a landscape which I hadn’t seen before! It hadn’t been there before, and now it was there! Then again this volcano inside took all the space :fire:, and then again the landscape appeared :deciduous_tree:, and this went a few times back and forth, and by the time I arrived at home I had pretty much calmed down :rainbow:. Great! I felt really happy with this experience, so much so that I was even grateful to the technician for what he did! (In fact this repair service had not solved the problem, and didn’t even in a second attempt, but my friend did later on; and it was not the fault of the OS :wink:)

So far to this experience. What happens when we attend to the outer circumstances is that we just add more fuel to the anger, or whichever emotion is there. And when attending to the anger itself, trying to fill our heart with something positive, like a positive attitude towards our poor angry mind, at some point the positive quality just takes all the space, and there is no more room left for the negativity.

We can also summarise the answer to your question in the Buddha’s words: Attending to the outer circumstances would be equivalent with unwise attention, and attending to the anger itself with wise attention, according to the following definition given in MN 2:

“Bhikkhus, I say that the destruction of the taints is for one who knows and sees, not for one who does not know and see. Who knows and sees what? Wise attention and unwise attention. When one attends unwisely, unarisen taints arise and arisen taints increase. When one attends wisely, unarisen taints do not arise and arisen taints are abandoned."

I hope this is clear enough.

This theory - the theory that there is more than one life - is the basis of the Buddha’s teaching, and without this broader perspective most of the points he is making don’t make much sense.

To illustrate this a little bit: In the standard description of suffering as it appears for example in the definition of the four noble truths it says: “Birth is suffering”. This is pretty obvious as we all know, being enclosed in the mother’s womb for 9 months is already quite uncomfortable, the birth process itself is painful, and as soon as we come out of the womb we have to struggle for oxygen… sure this is suffering. But if he only wants to refer to the birth into this life, then why would the Buddha have to worry about it? He is already born, that has already happened, it cannot be turned back, it is past. Why should someone like the Buddha worry about something that’s past? He who would not even lose his mental balance while experiencing the most severe pains possible when doing his ascetic practices, as he explained once to an interlocutor? This definition of suffering doesn’t make sense unless the word birth in this case refers to rebirth! Then of course there is something to worry about! Being born again and again and again, this is something to worry about! Having bad parents and a difficult upbringing is of course unpleasant, but the real problem is to have that again and again and again, innumerable times!

From this background it also makes much sense that after his awakening the Buddha utters, like in a sigh of relief: “Birth has ended!” Birth has ended? That was already the case before his awakening, his birth was already past. What causes the sigh of relief is the realisation that rebirth has ended, once and for all!

And what I wanted to express here is not that there is no chance for us to address the source of our problems because part of them lie in former lives. What I wanted to say is that even if we manage to “dry up the remains of the past” of this life this will not eradicate the very roots of the problem. What we have to address is (ultimately - this doesn’t say anything against working with the difficult experiences of this life if necessary) the DAD themselves. The DAD are already there when we are born, stronger in some of us, less strong in others. Human beings are not born as a blank piece of paper on which education is making the only inscriptions. We are born different, which means that there is already something there when we are born.

There is this very moving story of a little girl growing up in a very violent and abusing family environment, and at the age of 3 or 4 she decides to leave her family and search for a better place to live. Hardly any child is able to do this at this early age, but she did! Her story is told in a book from, I think, the 1970ies, you might still get a copy of it somewhere. The title: “Hello Mister God, this is Anna”. She is a child with so amazing qualities, so much metta and wisdom, despite her terrible upbringing!

Just as an example to show that there is more to the way we react in the present than just our upbringing.

This is a job to be done both on the cushion and outside.

By the way, I never understood the noble eightfold path to be practised on the cushion only! It is a path that encompasses life as a whole, with many various aspects.

What Anagarika Pasanna describes here is exactly what I also see as the special benefit of the meditation situation in this context. We have the opportunity to watch our mind at work in a calmer and less distracted situation.

And of course it is true that after having dealt in this way with an emotion like anger it will return again on later occasions. But when doing this practise frequently and consistently we are creating new patterns and habits of reacting. I can say that after the above described experience with the computer technician my attitude towards anger has definitely changed. Not that I don’t get angry any more. But when it happens I am not so overwhelmed by it, I know it is conditioned, I know I can change the conditions by attending wisely to an appropriate object, not to an inappropriate one that makes it worse by adding more fuel to it. I know how this works - and that it definitely does work! -, and I can repeat the same result. And this experience also encourages me to try the same with other (more difficult) emotions too. This is how the noble eightfold path is coming to life, and it becomes more than just a dry enumeration of factors in a list.

In fact, the actual situation when I did this piece of “work” was not on the cushion, but outside. But it happened in the same way as I am usually addressing this kind of things in meditation, and without having done this many times on the cushion I think I would not have been able to do it here. And, the other way around, after this experience it is easier now to do the same thing when on the cushion.

Let me speak here from my professional experience, having worked as a psychotherapist for 20 years, mostly with severely traumatised people. From the point of view of a trauma therapist (which remains of course always within the scope of this life) it is not necessary to work through each and every negative experience of the past one by one. What is essential is to acknowledge traumatic experiences for what they are: things that happened to the person through other people or circumstances, and it was not the person’s fault. For this is a very common feature in traumatised people that they feel they are responsible for what happened to them because they are in some way not OK, something is wrong with them, they don’t deserve something better or the like. So here we have to have a look back into the past. And it also can be very beneficial to address some of the key events and work through them with appropriate traumatherapeutic techniques. But really not each single event that happened. The purpose of this is to help the person to become functional in their every day requirements of today, in their professional and family life etc. Not to become in some way “clean” from all negative past events, a state that would be not easy to achieve, nor even to define properly. And as one aspect of this functionality we can of course see the ability to practise the noble eightfold path.

The very idea of having to dry up all the remains of the past one by one is in fact not a Buddhist idea but rather a Jain concept. The Jains thought they have to “burn away” all their negative past kamma, preferably through experiencing physical pain. The Buddha had a conversation with one or some Jain practitioners (don’t ask me in which sutta, I don’t remember), and he asked them whether or not they can tell how much of their old kamma they have already burnt away, and how much is still left. As they could not answer to these questions he said that this is probably not a very wise way of practising.

The good news with the noble eightfold path as described by the Buddha is that we don’t have to go through each and every past experience. Anyway, if this were the case, we would have to stop at the borders of this life and leave all the other work undone which would really be very frustrating, as expressed in your statement quoted above. But the noble eightfold path gives us all the tools we need, or rather it gives the instructions how to create our own tools, and then apply them wisely. On the cushion and outside the cushion, through the practise of sīla (which, as I said earlier, is much more than just keeping precepts), samadhi and paññā! :dharmawheel:


Thank you for adding to this conversation. I appreciate very much your contribution.

And my very respect for doing this with a small handheld device! I know how difficult this is :sweat:

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