Vipassanā-ñāṇa, stages of insight

Vipassanā-ñāṇas are presented as the various stages that a practitioner of Buddhist Vipassanā meditation is said to pass through on the way to nibbana.

This “progress of insight” (Visuddhiñana-katha) is outlined in various traditional Theravada Buddhist commentary texts such as the Patisambhidamagga, the Vimuttimagga and the Visuddhimagga.

The stages of insight outlined by the Vimuttimagga are:

  • Comprehension (廣觀)
  • Rise and fall (起滅)
  • Dissolution (滅)
  • Fear & disadvantage & disenchantment (畏 & 過患 & 厭離)
  • Delight in deliverance & equanimity (樂解脫 & 捨)
  • Conformity (相似)

A similar presentation of these stages can be found in the Patisambhidamagga, with the exception that there are only 5 stages are presented. The first three stages are the same and the last two are “fear & disadvantage” (bhaya & ādīnava) and “wish for deliverance & equanimity towards formations” (muñcitukamyatā & saṅkhārupekkhā).

The Visuddhimagga divides the insight knowledges further into sixteen stages:

  • Namarupa pariccheda ñana - Knowledge of mental and physical states, analytical knowledge of body and mind.
  • Paccaya pariggaha ñana - Discerning Conditionality, knowledge of cause and effect between mental and physical states.
  • Sammasana ñana - Knowledge of the three characteristics of mental and physical processes.
  • Udayabbaya ñana - Knowledge of arising and passing away. Accompanied by possible mental images/lights, rapture, happiness, tranquility and strong mindfulness so that “there is no body-and-mind process in which mindfulness fails to engage.”
  • Bhanga ñana - Knowledge of the dissolution of formations, only the “vanishing,” or “passing away” is discernible.
  • Bhaya ñana - Knowledge of the fearful nature of mental and physical states. The meditator’s mind “is gripped by fear and seems helpless.”
  • Adinava ñana - Knowledge of mental and physical states as dukkha. “So he sees, at that time, only suffering, only unsatisfactoriness, only misery.”
  • Nibbida ñana - Knowledge of disenchantment/disgust with conditioned states.
  • Muncitukamayata ñana - Knowledge of Desire for Deliverance, the desire to abandon the worldly state (for nibbana) arises.
  • Patisankha ñana - Knowledge of re-investigation of the path. This instills a decision to practice further.
  • Sankharupekha ñana - Knowledge which regards mental and physical states with equanimity.
  • Anuloma ñana - Knowledge in conformity with the Four Noble Truths.
  • Gotrabhu ñana- Knowledge which is void of conditioned formations, “maturity Knowledge”.
  • Magga ñana - Knowledge by which defilements are abandoned and are overcome by destruction.
  • Phala ñana - Knowledge which realizes the fruit of the path (nibbana).
  • Paccavekkhana ñana - Knowledge which reviews the defilements still remaining.

A contemporary work on the Visuddhimagga’s stages is the Ven Mahasi Sayadaw’s book The Progress of Insight: (Visuddhiñana-katha).

Additionally, the Abhidharma-kosa of Vasubandhu lists the knowledges attained on the path of liberation according to the Sarvastivadin abhidharma:

  • Saṃvṛti-jñāna (世俗智): worldly, conventional knowledge (‘bears on all’)
  • Dharma-jñāna (法智): a knowledge of dharmas (“has for its object, the suffering etc. of Kamadhatu”)
  • Anvaya-jñāna (類智): inferential knowledge (“bears on suffering, etc. of the higher spheres”)
  • Duḥkha-jñāna (苦智): the knowledge of Suffering (1st Noble Truth)
  • Samudaya-jñāna (集智): the knowledge of Origin (2nd Noble Truth)
  • Nirodha-jñāna (滅智): the knowledge of Cessation or Extinction (3rd Noble Truth)
  • Mārga-jñāna (道智): the knowledge of the Path (4th Noble Truth)
  • Para-mano-jñāna (or para-citta- jñāna) (他心智): the knowledge of the mind of another (has for its sphere an independent object" one mental factor of another‘s mind)
  • kṣaya-jñāna (盡智): the Knowledge of Destruction (“with regard to the truths, the certitude that they are known, abandoned, etc.”)
  • Anutpāda-jñāna (無生智): the Knowledge of Non-Arising (“is the certitude that they [the truths] are no longer to be known, to be abandoned, etc.”)

We must acknowledge that the concept of staging progress in the path in such manner finds paralel in the Mahayana traditions’ idea of Bodhisattva Bhūmi. But this may not be something​ we would discuss here in a forum focused on EBTs.

I would like then to start this topic with the aim of investigating to what extent the stages proposed and listed above can be supported by what we find in EBTs, or more specifically the earliest strata of the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas.


I would say not. You might find the Pāli words used here and there, but vipassanā itself is not an early Buddhist concept.


[quote=“gnlaera, post:1, topic:4867”]
I would like then to start this topic with the aim of investigating to what extent the stages proposed and listed above can be supported by what we find in EBTs, or more specifically the earliest strata of the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas.
[/quote]I would suggest looking at the usage of 觀住 in SA 176. You will need to find something who knows Chinese, however, because these two characters are not included in “literal translation” in the translation that is posted at SuttaCentral.

Vipassanā is 觀 in Chinese, however don’t get too excited if you find it, because, contextually, you might also be dealing with diṭṭhi, sati, or simply the verb “to look”.

There is definitely “insight” in the EBTs. The question is what methodology for cultivating that, and what exactly is that? I don’t know much about Burmese vipanassā (I know it is associated with Burma, but it could be Thai technically for all my ignorance on the subject), but it is commonly criticized in EBT crowds for being a nineteenth century innovation, that I have read many times.

Its like Dhamma-theory, namely, the question is which dhamma-theory. There is a dhamma-theory expounded in the Buddhavacana, there is a Dhamma-theory expounded in the Abhidhammā, which does one go with?

The question of “EBT vipassanā” is one of those tricky catagories, says the man who self-admittedly knows little about the contemporary practice, because it is like “Dhamma-theory”. What 90% of the world refers to as “Dhamma-theory” is largely absent from EBTs, however, there is a theory of dhamma expounded in the EBTs, it is simply not 100% the same (in some places very different even!). The same is probably true of vipassanā.

We’ll see if someone comes and tells me I’m wrong. :wink:


Yes, this is correct. SN 22.59 shows this sutta in more depth and detail.

With metta


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These two qualities have a share in clear knowing. Which two? Tranquillity (samatha) & insight (vipassana).

…"When insight is developed, what purpose does it serve? Discernment is developed. And when discernment is developed, what purpose does it serve? Ignorance is abandoned. AN 2.30

It is defined in the manner above in EBTs.

With metta


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The outline in the Visuddhimagga comes, of course from MN 24 (Rathavinīta Sutta: Relay Chariots).

The mapping of some of the steps from SN 12.23, Upanisa Sutta: Proximate Cause, discussed here:


"Monks, these four types of individuals are to be found existing in the world. Which four?

"There is the case of the individual who has attained internal tranquillity of awareness (cetosamathassa), but not insight into phenomena through heightened discernment (adhipaññādhammavipassanāya). AN 4.94

It is clearly possible to be developed in samatha without being developed in Vipassana, therefore when someone says Samatha and Vipassana are ‘two sides of the same coin’ they are leaving out an important distinction found in the EBTs, - that Samatha can be developed (like all the meditators before the time of the Buddha) but it doesn’t mean Vipassana will follow inadvertently.

Having said that in the post-Buddha era it is virtually impossible to avoid hearing about aggregates, tilakkhana, etc. Therefore most (Buddhist) meditators will therefore develop both.

With metta


Hi @Mat and everyone
Just a reminder on what the objective of the topic is:

To investigate to what extent the stages of Vipassana listed above can be supported by what we find in EBTs, or more specifically the earliest strata of the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas.

I thank you all for keeping things tidy here and not divert this topic by changing it midstream.


I am not seeing any convincing answers to the OP’s question. Single words in common between Suttas and Visuddhimagga are inconclusive. Where is the argument showing a precursor relationship?

Some, aren’t even aware that Vipassana exists as a defined and core practice of the EBTs. I thought it best to clarify that before enumerating it’s constituents from the EBTs.

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Well, I gave a link to a discussion of SN 12.23 above.

It begins with discussing the destruction of the taints

“Bhikkhus, I say that the destruction of the taints is for one who knows and sees, not for one who does not know and does not see. For one who knows what, for one who sees what, does the destruction of the taints come about? ‘Such is form, such its origin, such its passing away; such is feeling … such is perception … such are volitional formations … such is consciousness, such its origin, such its passing away’: it is for one who knows thus, for one who sees thus, that the destruction of the taints comes about.

There are a list of proximate causes that trace backwards. Reordering into forward order we have:

concentration (second section of the Visuddhimagga…)
knowledge and vision of things as they really are
knowledge of destruction

This does not map exactly on the list of the OP:

Comprehension (廣觀)
Rise and fall (起滅)
Dissolution (滅)
Fear & disadvantage & disenchantment (畏 & 過患 & 厭離)
Delight in deliverance & equanimity (樂解脫 & 捨)

However, there is the general arc of investigation leading to revulsion (perhaps not the best translation of nibbidā), then dispassion.

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s summary of the Commentary:

Knowledge and vision of things as they really are (yathābhūtañāṇadassana) is weak insight, namely, the knowledges of the discernment of formations, of the overcoming of doubt, of exploration, and of what is and what is not the path (see Visuddhimagga chaps. 18-20). Revulsion (nibbidā ) is strong insight, namely, knowledge of appearance as fearful, of contemplation of danger, of reflection, and of equanimity about formations (Visuddhimagga XXI:29-66). Dispassion (virāga) is the path, which arises expunging defilements.

To me, it is an interesting question how this detailed mapping out occurred, presumably on the basis of both not only suttas, but also the experience of adepts over the centuries . I don’t find it particularly credible that the detailed instructions in the Visuddhimagga were simply an academic exercise, so trying to find the origins from a completely analytical analysis may not be particularly fruitful.


this paper by Ven Anālayo and also this one may be relevant to this discussion.


Excellent! Thanks for sharing and linking this here @Linda :anjal:


Thank you for putting these lists together. The Visuddhimagga account seems to be an expansion of the list that we find in the Paṭisambhidamagga. I think, in Theravāda tradition, this text is the earliest witness for the detailed description of the development of the path. L. Cousins has written a paper on the topic. Unfortunately, he is not focusing much on exploring the origins of the theory in the Nikāyas. He says

If then the period of the development of the abhidhamma schools is the time when the elaborated versions of the path of insight begin to take form, the question arises as to the source material for these enlarged versions. In fact, the Nikāyas contain a large quantity of such material—too large to examine here.

But he does spare few paragraphs to the topic. He is also drawing some parallels with Sarvastivāda tradition. You might find the paper interesting.