'wake of the night' and gradual training

In the suttas we have a standard description of how to spend the night. 1/3 meditating - 1/3 sleeping - 1/3 meditating. What does it mean in terms of hours? Having a similar latitude as northern Africa or Mexico, the nights in northern India are between 10-14 hours long. I guess the “third” is not literal, but how then was it practically practiced?

As a further question, in the gradual training monks were supposed to practice wakefulness - at a stage where they don’t know neither sati-practice nor samadhi. What were monks supposed to do then? And could they get by with around 4 hours of sleep a day?

And here’s the standard paragraph for the practice of wakefulness, e.g. in AN 3.16 : In the first watch of the night, while walking back and forth and sitting, he purifies his mind of obstructive qualities. In the middle watch of the night he lies down on the right side in the lion’s posture, with one foot overlapping the other, mindful and clearly comprehending, after noting in his mind the idea of rising. After rising, in the last watch of the night, while walking back and forth and sitting, he purifies his mind of obstructive qualities.


just a guess and provided the Gradual training progression is linear, they could do the various kinds of recollections, like death, Triple Gem, own virtues (wakefulness practice is posterior to the cultivation of virtue)

I think it’s a tricky question if we really take the gradual training strictly linear. I mean, people must have heard enough of the dhamma to gain trust in the Buddha and to become monks so they probably knew of key concepts to reflect on. But as we know from practice it would make much more sense to have sati-sampajanna first - at least one could do body awareness contemplation while walking back and forth.

Other possibilities for what they could have done is to memorize teachings and let them sink in or learn the patimokkha. Yet, this is all speculation. Fact is that wakefulness is described in the gradual path as I quoted above without (?) variation. So if we take it literally fresh monks were made to go with little sleep just for the sake of it :slight_smile:

also in the framework of the Gradual training laid out either more or less in full or abbreviated, according to Leigh Brasington’s chart devotion to wakefulness only appears in 4 suttas among 33

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It actually appears much more often, but not in the whole gradual training, but in the triplet, e.g. SN 35.120:
sense restraint - wakefulness/vigilance - moderation in food

In this example we also get a hint that it’s not about _wake_fulness but rather _watch_fulness. So maybe we have a mis(leading)translation here. jāgariyaṃ can mean wake- or watchful or vigilant. Also if we understand it not as step-by-step but rather as an aspects of a bigger complex:
sense restraint - watchfulness - moderation in eating --> sati-sampajanna
they would belong to a group rather than gradual limbs

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On the topic of wakefulness it is worth considering that in ancient India, without all the distractions of modern life and of course the luxury of electricity, it is very likely that normal people would have a much more laid back routine, possibly sleeping from early evening to the first light.

Also, provided that one is not a slave or servant I also guess the norm would be to observe a practice of siesta!

Hence, this element of the training maybe results from the Buddha suggesting those who have given up the householder lifestyle to abandon too generous sleeping habits likely typical of his times.

Now this causes me to wonder what would actually be the approach of the Blessed One if he were to teach us modern human beings. I guess he would have to take us on a modernity detox detour before getting to the topic of wakefulness and overnight meditation sessions.

First thing I guess would be to abandon not only habitual use of smartphones, TV and loudspeakers but as well considering letting go of all the ahamkara and papanca we end up with by participating in forums like this one! :stuck_out_tongue:

Wait, it’s a gradual path - save ahamkara (and sacrificing this forum) for last :relieved:

What the bhikkhu does is "āvaraṇīyehi dhammehi cittaṃ parisodheti"
Ven. Bodhi translates as "he purifies his mind of obstructive qualities"
I literally translate as "he cleans his citta from holding-back dhammas"
and for dhammas I prefer ‘concepts’ or ‘teachings’ which makes more sense to me for someone who has just gone forth and has to relate to the Buddha-dhamma which conflicts in so many ways to the akusala worldly dhammas s/he grew up into.

Btw buddha-vacana.org counts 50 occurrences for ‘he practices wakefulness’

Sila (S) - Sense Restraint (SR) - Wakefulness (W) - Moderation in Eating (ME)

Mostly we have the triplet SR - W - ME (Sometimes the variant SR-ME-W)
A few times we have Sila in the beginning, and then the triplet (e.g. AN 4.37)
Sometimes we have the description of “He is a person of only a little sloth, committed to wakefulness." which highlights the little-sleep aspect.

AN 5.56 has "you should train yourselves thus: We will be guarded in the doors of the sense faculties, moderate in eating, and intent on wakefulness; we will have insight into kusala dhamma and will dwell intent on the endeavor to develop the aids to enlightenment in the earlier and later phases of the night.

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