04 September 2015

The Trackless One?

In two well known verses from the Buddhavaggo of the Dhammapada, the Buddha is referred to as apada. Many translations read apada "the trackless one". The great philologist of Middle-Indic, K. R. Norman, translates "leaving no track, by what track will you lead him?" The translation of these verse has long puzzled me. Why would one who "leaves no track" be difficult (or impossible) to lead somewhere? And isn't the image messed up? A track can lead somewhere, but do we lead someone by a track? What about the translation "trackless". What could this possible mean? So when someone wrote to me recently with a question about these verses, I spent some time working on the verses and I think I came to a better understanding of apada. The two verses in Pāḷi read:
yassa jitaṃ nāvajīyati jitaṃ yassa no yāti koci loke
taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ kena padena nessatha? |179|
yassa jālinī visattikā taṇhā n'atthi kuhiñci netave
taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ kena padena nessatha? |180|
The key word is pada. It is a tricky word with many meanings. It literally means "foot" and comes from the Proto-Indo-European *ped- "foot". Some cognates, all meaning "foot" include Greek pod; Latin ped; Proto-Germanic *fot; and English foot. In Pāli, living creatures are characterised as sattā apadā vā dvipadā vā catuppadā vā bahuppadā  "beings with no feet, with two feet, with four feet or with many feet" or "footless, bipeds, quadrupeds, and creepy-crawlies" (SN v.41, AN ii.34).

In Sanskrit and Pāḷi pada can, by association, also mean "foot print". For example, in the Cūḷahatthipadopama Sutta (MN 27) an elephant's foot print (hatthipada) is used a metaphor for the experience of the stages of liberation - a tathāgatapada "a footprint of the Tathāgata" or a sign by which one can know the Tathāgata. The other types of sign that elephants leave help to fill out the image: uccā nisevita "a high-up scratching place" and dantehi ārañjitāni "furrows made by tusks". In the simile of the text one must see the foot that made the footprints, in order to fully comprehend the elephant.

Abstractly the image of the footprint as a sign of the passing animal can become "a sign" more generally. This led to the sense of pada as a "word" (a linguistic sign). Sometimes pada can mean "a track" as in a series of footprints left behind by an animal's feet or the track created by many passing feet. Metaphorically, a verse has "feet" of a fixed number of syllables: siloka meter has four feet of eight syllables for example. So when we see this word pada in a text, we always have to pause to carefully consider what sense is intended. Ironically, one of the more difficult words to translate is dhammapada. Partly because pada here is singular and the text is an anthology of verses. Does pada here mean, 'foot', 'sign', 'word', or 'track'? 

The majority of translators have opted to translate pada/apada in these Dhammapada verses with some variation on "track" and "trackless". One leaves a track as one goes. One follows a track; one follows where the track leads. The verb in these verse is √nī 'lead'. We have the English idiom of a track "leading somewhere". So "track/trackless" may fit the context. However, why would one who leaves no track be difficult to lead? What is the logic of this image? By taking the two verses together I first argue that pada must mean something like "sign" here, because it is strongly implied by the verses. However, as I dig deeper into the word apada and how it is used, I uncover another more fundamental metaphor which seems to inform the passage. 


yassa jitaṃ nāvajīyati |179a|
What he has won cannot be lost
Jita is the past tense of jayati 'he wins, he conquers' < √. It can mean that which was conquered (yad jitaṃ), or "it was conquered by him" (tena jitaṃ), the "one who has conquered" (jito), or simply "a victory". It's combined here with avajīyati the passive of ava√jī 'diminished, lost, undone.' So the sense of the sentence is that what has been won by him, cannot be lost. His transformation cannot be undone. His victory cannot be diminished

jitaṃ yassa no yāti koci loke |179b|
What he has won does not go anywhere in the world
Metrically jitaṃ seems to belong with 179a, but semantically it is part of this sentence (179b). Word order is much less important in Pāḷi, especially in verse, so yassa jitaṃ or jitaṃ yassa both mean the same thing: "his victory, what he has won". And it "does not go (no yāti) anywhere (koci) in the world (loke)." This sentence is a bit esoteric. But consider it in the light of the Rohitassa Sutta (S 2.26, PTS S i.61; also A 4.45, PTS A ii.47), in which the eponymous young deva asks the Buddha:
yatha nu kho bhante na jāyati na jīyati na mīyati na cavati na upapajjati, sakkā nu kho so, bhante, gamanena lokassa anto ñātuṃ vā daṭṭhum vā pāpuṇituṃ vā ti?
Is there a way to know, or see, or to reach, the end of the world – where there is no birth, no ageing, no death; no dying and being reborn – by travelling?
The answer is that one cannot reach the goal by physically travelling. He also says:
na kho panāhaṃ, āvuso, appatvā lokassa antaṃ dukkhassa antakiriyaṃ vadāmi. Api ca khvāhaṃ, āvuso, imasmiṃyeva byāmamatte kaḷevare sasaññimhi samanake lokañca paññapemi lokasamudayañca lokanirodhañca lokanirodhagāminiñca paṭipadanti. (S i.62)
However, friend, I say there is no making an end of disappointment, without reaching the end of the world. And, friend, it is right here in this arm-span measure of body endowed with perception and cognition that I declare the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world, and the way leading to the cessation of the world.
These passages help to define what we mean by 'the world'. As Bodhi says, 
"The world with which the Buddha’s teaching is principally concerned is ‘the world of experience,’ and even the objective world is of interest only to the extent that it serves as that necessary external condition for experience" (Bodhi 2000: 394, n.182).
So "the world" referred to in the verse is most likely the world of experience, the world contained in the body endowed with mental faculties, the end of which can be reached without travelling. And perhaps this is why the tathāgata's victory does not go anywhere in the world?

taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ |179c|
Awakened, with limitless perception, signless
Anantagocaram is also a compound meaning one whose sphere or field of sense perception (gocara - literally 'pasture' or the 'range of a cow') is without ends (an-anta). Compare Dhp 22 where the ones who enjoy sobriety with respect to the senses (appamāde pamodanti) are ariyānaṃ gocare ratā "those who delight in the range of the nobles (i.e. the enlightened)." 
We've already introduced the words pada and apada, and until we have translated 180 we just need to say that apadaṃ is something predicated of the Buddha. Metrically apadam is part of 179d, but syntactically goes with buddhaṃ.

kena padena nessatha? |179d|
By what sign will you lead him?
The verb is neti 'to lead', from √. The form nessatha is the second person plural future tense, "you (plural) will lead". The future can also be used to convey a hypothetical proposition. However, while 'lead' is the primary meaning and goes well with pada as "track", we need to consider that √has a range of other meanings. It can also mean 'takes, takes away, especially to take away in marriage, carries off.' In Sanskrit the verb can also mean 'to bring to subjection, subdue.' So we must consider that the sentence could read: "By what pada could you take him away?" or "By what pada could you subdue him?" And in each case "you" plural. 
We'll take 180a and b together, and 180cd is the same as 179cd.

yassa jālinī visattikā taṇhā n'atthi kuhiñci netave |180ab|
He has no lust, clinging, or craving to lead [him] anywhere.
Now the verb here is also from √., here a rare form of the infinitive 'to lead'. Although the sentence is phrased in the negative (n'atthi "there is not") let's first consider it in the positive. If we ignore the negative particle na for a minute the sentence would say that he is led by desire for sense experience, i.e. lust (jālinī), clinging (visattikā) or craving (taṇhā). Such a person would be padaṃ, which must mean they are characterised by a sign. And that sign is craving itself. By contrast, the Buddha is apadaṃ and thus he has no craving to lead him anywhere. Padaṃ and craving play the same role in the sentence. Ergo what this verse means by padaṃ is craving. It's a little odd, but not as odd as the standard translations. 

Our finished translation is:
What he has won cannot be lost,
What he has won does not go anywhere in the world.
That awakened one, with limitless perception, who is himself signless,
By what sign will you lead him? (179) 
He has no lust, clinging, or craving,
To lead him anywhere.
That awakened one, with limitless perception, who is himself signless,
By what sign will you lead him? (180)


As already mentioned, apada is used in it's most obvious sense of "without a foot" in many places. Snakes are the most obvious example of apada. The form apadaṃ only occurs in a very few suttas. For example in the Nivāpa Sutta (MN 25) we find out that a bhikkhu in the state of first jhāna cannot be followed by Māra or his retinue. I'm going to give Ñānamoḷi & Bodhi's (Ñ&B) translation to begin with.
Ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, bhikkhu andhamakāsi māraṃ, apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhuṃ adassanaṃ gato pāpimato. (MN i.159)
This bhikkhu is said to have blindfold Māra, to have become invisible to the Evil One by depriving Māra's eye of its opportunity. (Ñ&B 2001: 250-1)
The passage is repeated at AN iv.434. Now on face value this translation is incomprehensible, because there is no word that means "opportunity". "To have become invisible to the Evil One" must translate adassanaṃ gato pāpimato.  So "by depriving Māra's eye of it's opportunity" therefore translates apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhuṃ. Mara's eye is māracakkhuṃ; vadhitvā is a gerund meaning 'having stuck, having killed' which must therefore correspond to Ñ&B's "depriving" (translating gerunds as English present participles is fine). So here apadaṃ must correspond to "of its opportunity", though it's not clear how this could work.

In these cases we usually suspect that the translators have bowed to Buddhaghosa, so the next step in following this thread is to look at the commentary. The corresponding passage in the Papañcasūdani is:
"Apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhun" ti teneva pariyāyena yathā mārassa cakkhu apadaṃ hoti nippadaṃ, appatiṭṭhaṃ, nirārammaṇaṃ, evaṃ vadhitvāti attho.  (MA 2.163)
Apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhun is a way of saying (pariyāya) that the eye of Māra is without a sign, signless, unsupported, without any basis, this is what "destroying" means.
Having pondered this for a time, I don't think it makes any more sense that the sutta passage it is commenting on. The commentary on AN iv.434 (AA 4.201) is shorter but similar:
"Apadaṃ vadhitvā"ti nippadaṃ niravasesaṃ vadhitvā.
Apadaṃ vadhitvā [means] having destroyed [Māra's eyes] completely, signlessly.  (Bodhi 2012: 1832, n.1940)
In his comparative study of the Majjhima Nikāya and Madhyamāgama, Anālayo (2011) notes another similar passage in AN 9.39. Here a monk who has attained the 8 vimokkhas (the four rūpa jhānas and four arupa āyatanas) is:
antamakāsi māraṃ, apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhuṃ, adassanaṃ  gato pāpimato
One who has blinded Māra, put out Māra's eyes without a trace, and gone beyond the sight of the Evil One. (Bodhi 2012: 1306)
Where antamakasi is almost certainly meant to be andhamakāsi "blinded" and is translated accordingly (cf. Bodhi 2012: 1831, n.1939). So in fact the Ñ&B translation is not based on the commentary this time, and Bodhi has opted for a completely different translation in his solo work (which is quite unusual). Here Bodhi translates apadaṃ as "without a trace" which implies completeness. I'm not convinced that this is a possible connotation of apada however. It seems more likely that having destroyed Māra's eye, he becomes apada he cannot see a sign.

It's quite unusual for the patient of the gerund to come after the gerund in prose. The two phrases apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhuṃ and adassanaṃ gato pāpimato both have 10 syllables so may have originally come from verse, though I cannot locate this verse. 

This is a very difficult idiom to understand. The idea that it is explained by "tracks" or "leaving  tracks" seems a bit far-fetched. There are three apparently unrelated uses:

  1. When as animal has no feet, it is apada
  2. When the Buddha is without craving he is apada
  3. When Māra is without sight, blinded, he is also apada

I think all three are in fact connected by an obscure metaphor which relies not on the "track" sense of pada, but on "foot". The arising of craving is what propels people towards the object of desire. If craving is the "foot" that propels people around, then the Buddha is "footless". Remember also that in Dhp 179b jitaṃ yassa no yāti koci loke "What he has won does not go anywhere in the world." It does not go anywhere (no yāti koci) because it cannot go, because the Buddha's victory (jita) has deprived it of propulsion, in this metaphor it is now apada or footless. MN 25 asks Kathañca, bhikkhave, agati mārassa ca māraparisāya ca? "Where is it that Māra and his retinue are unable to go?" Māra cannot go where he cannot see. By blinding him we render him "footless", and cannot go anywhere.

With this in mind, we can also reconsider the translation of 179c in which the Buddha is described as anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ. I followed the herd here in translating anantagocara as 'limitless perception', but I noted that gocara literally means  'range of a cow' from cara 'walking' and go 'cow'. But what's interesting here is the juxtaposition of the 'range of a cow' being limitless and a being who is footless. When Māra is footless he cannot go anywhere. When the Buddha is footless he can go anywhere. Māra represents the world "out there", the Buddha represents the world "in here", in this arm-span length of body. Being footless in the physical world is crippling. Being footless in the sense of without craving to propel us into motion opens up the "inner" world completely. Mental "feet" like craving and hatred tend to propel us away from present experience, to lead us outwards towards the object of desire, or away from the object of aversion. Cut off those feet and we stay immersed in experience.

We can also point to another reading of 179cd/180cd
taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ kena padena nessatha? |179|
I suggested above that apadaṃ should be read as part of pada c. But in fact we could read it as part of pada d.
taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ kena padena nessatha? |179|
The range of that awakened one is limitless
By what footpath could you lead the footless?
I think this is a superior reading. It nicely exploits the ambiguity of pada in a play on words. We get something of the flavour of it by using "footpath" to juxtapose with "footless".


Having worked through the translation we are now in a position to deal with the question of what a "trackless one" is. He is, shall we say, a misunderstanding. However K. R. Norman is not easily mislead, so why does "trackless one" seem like a good translations here? Pada is a complex word and often difficult to translate. There isn't really a wholly satisfactory translation of "dhammapada."  When presented with an image using pada we tend to think of the figurative uses. We are so used to taking it abstractly or figuratively that we only translate pada as "foot" only when the situation demands it. I think the combination of the word pada and the verb √ are quite persuasive. We have a combination of tracks and leading, and the link between certain beings, the Buddha, and Māra all being apada is very obscure. 

On the other hand taking Dhp 179 and 180 together it's more obvious, though still fairly obscure, that apada refers to the Buddha's lack of craving, but we do not know why it does. One of K R Norman's observations about the philologer is that they don't simply say what a text means, they say why it means that. So the job is only half complete. The key insight emerges out of following the thread a little further and looking at the handful of other times that the word apada is used. It is only used to describe: an animal without feet; the Buddha without craving; and Māra without sight. What the last two have in common is that they do not "go" anywhere. The footless animal, i.e. a snake, ought not to go anywhere, but somehow does. So the link is locomotion. We can extend the comparison between the snake and the Buddha. Just as a snake is able to move about without any feet, the Buddha relates to other beings without any craving, and thus without creating any karma that must ripen. Māra on the other hand is crippled when made footless/blind.

Now one of the traps for translators is to slavishly translate a word with the same English word each time it occurs. As in all languages, Pāḷi words have denotations and connotations. And just as in English a Pāḷi may have multiple denotations and multiple connotations. People with very orderly minds like to think that language should restrict one word to one meaning so as to avoid ambiguity. But in practice such an ideal language has probably never existed. Language always involves ambiguity. And just as well since almost all comedy depends on it, and communal laughter is an important evolutionary adaptation to living in large groups; and a good deal of poetry also depends on it. And in the case of these verses, I think that "path" is probably the best translation of padaṃ in 179d and 180d. This suggests that the poet was aware of the all the ambiguity and was exploiting it for effect. And in fact if someone is footless (and in this imagery unable to physically go anywhere) then where could you lead them? Political correctness had no place in the worldview of the people who composed and preserved these verses.

My final translation, then is:
What he has won cannot be lost,
What he has won does not go anywhere in the world.
The range of that awakened one is limitless
By what footpath could you lead the footless? (179)
He has no lust, clinging, or craving,
To lead him anywhere.
The range of that awakened one is limitless
By what footpath could you lead the footless? (180)
Pāḷi texts are seldom purposefully esoteric. On the whole we can take the suttas on face value. Of course some of the metaphors have become reified or are obscure to us, but the feeling is that the author was not tying to misdirect us, they were trying to communicate in a fairly direct manner. Sometimes verses in the Dhammapada that use obscure metaphors can seem as though they are esoteric. Considering the huge popularity of the text, it is surprisingly difficult at times. It's a text to be quite wary of, especially in translation. Even the best translations sometimes fail to plumb the depths of the Dhammapada.



Anālayo (2011) A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya. Vol. 1 (Introduction, Studies of Discourses 1 to 90). Dharma Drum.

Bodhi (2012) The Numerical Discourses. Wisdom.

Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi. (2001) The Middle Length Discourses. Wisdom.

Norman, K. R. (2000) The Word of the Doctrine (Dhammapada). Pali Text Society.

28 August 2015

Having Seen a Form with the Eye...

If the Kaccānagotta Sutta (SN 12.15) represents the epitome of early Buddhist metaphysics, then what would its counterpart be in terms of practice? After all it is one thing to accurately define the terms of Buddhist practice, to make it clear that we are examining experience and that we are not speculating on the nature of reality, that the proper domain of application of Buddhist thought and training is the world of experience. Most people are familiar with the "meditation" suttas, especially the Ānāpānasati (MN 118) and the Satipaṭṭhāna (MN 10). But is there something between metaphysics and meditation? On one hand I've already explored the Spiral Path texts (Western Buddhist Review) which give a general outline of the Buddhist program in more practical terms, corresponding to the threefold way of sīla, samādhi and paññā. However, I've also noted that sīla or Buddhist ethics seems to defined in different ways at different times (Ethical Modes in Early Buddhism).

My Pali reading group is reading the Cūḷahatthipadopamasuttaṃ (MN 27) which seems to suggest layers of practice of exponentially increasing intensiveness. The broad basis is ethics. Following the precepts establishes the basis for Buddhist practice. Then one practices restraint of the senses to eliminate the hindrances, preparing the mind for meditation., which prepares the mind for insight. 

I can easily be seen how this relates to the Spiral Path teachings. But instead of sīla, samādhi, and paññā we have an extra layer: sīla, saṃvara, samādhi, and paññā. In fact, in the Spiral Path we can see that what I have previous labelled sīla is in fact typically more like saṃvara. This essay is mostly about the saṃvara aspect. However, the hatthipadopama also provides a context that allows us to see, what I previously mistook for two kinds of ethics, as distinct practices of differing intensity.

In the hatthipadopama the practice of saṃvara revolves around the phrase so cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā 'having seen form with the eye, he...'. By looking at what ideal practitioners do having seen a form, we get a sense of how the early Buddhists expected a skilled practitioner engages with the practice of saṃvara
so cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā na nimittaggāhī hoti nānubyañjanaggāhī. yatvādhikaraṇamenaṃ cakkhundriyaṃ asaṃvutaṃ viharantaṃ abhijjhādomanassā pāpakā akusalā dhammā anvāssaveyyuṃ tassa saṃvarāya paṭipajjati, rakkhati cakkhundriyaṃ, cakkhundriye saṃvaraṃ āpajjati.
Having seen form with the eye, [the ideal disciple] doesn't grasp at signs (nimitta) or at secondary characteristics (anubyañjana). Since dwelling with the eye-faculty unrestrained, mental events (dhammā) of covetousness and grief, evil, unwholesome stream into [their mind], for that reason they practice restraint (saṃvara), they protect the eye-faculty, they undertake restraint with respect to the eye-faculty.
The analysis is repeated for each sensory mode. This passage or a close parallel of it is found through out the four main Nikāyas, e.g.
  • DN i.70, i.270;
  • MN i.180, i.268, i.346, i.355, ii.162, ii.226, iii.2, iii.34, iii.134 (as iii.2, abbreviated),
  • SN iv.104, iv.111, iv.176, iv.178,
  • AN i.113, ii.16, ii.39, ii.152, ii.153, ii.210, iii.99, iii.163, v.206, v.348, v.351
So having seen form with the eye (cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā) the practitioner is not (more literally) "a grasper of signs" (nimitta-ggāhin). The etymology of nimitta is uncertain, though likely related to the verb √ 'to measure'. Generally it means 'a sign or omen'. The latter is an important connotation. However there are several other main senses and most likely here it refers to 'outward appearance, mark, characteristic, attribute, phenomenon.' From this point of view, the problem apparently is not that we grasp the form itself, but that we grasp the mental image of it. 

The early Buddhists were dismissive of fortune telling and omen reading.† Here the implication is that the experience of a form, the signs by which we know we are having an experience, are like the omens that foretell events. For anyone who is a skeptic the omens are meaningless, at best a coincidence at worse completely unrelated except in the imagination of the credulous. The unawakened treat the nimittas that arise from seeing forms as being like omens. The skilled practitioner sees them for what they are.
† Some years ago now the late Professor David Pingree noticed that the Brahmajāla Sutta contained a list of omens which monks are forbidden to use. See Persian Influences on Indian Buddhism.
This is a very important distinction. It suggests for example, that it's not the money we grasp, when we grasp at wealth, but the mental counterparts of it. In other words it's not the physical act of grasping that is problematic, but the mental concomitants of it: basically the desire for the pleasurable experiences we associate with the act.

The practitioner is also not a grasper of secondary characteristics (anubyañjana-ggāhin). The base word is byañjana or vyañjana, a word that is used for words and letters. Like nimitta, byañjana can refer to a sign or characteristic. With the prefix anu- it means 'accompanying characteristic, secondary attribute. Thus we can take this as relating to papañca (see my two essays on the word and the meaning). Nimitta is the experience of contacting a sense object, where anubyañjana is our internal reflection on, or reaction to, the experience, the experience of having had the sense experience. 

So the practitioner does not grasp at either of these types of experience. Things arise in our sensorium and they pass away. When we allow this process to take it's natural course without imposing our desires and aversions onto it, then we are free. But if we do impose them, then evil, unwholesome thoughts invade out minds, such as desire (abhijjhā) for more pleasure, despondency (domanassā) at the cessation of pleasure or the failure of pleasure to arise. So in order to be free of unwholesome thoughts we protect the sense faculties.

Sometimes this is referred to as indriyesu duttadvara or "guarding the gates of the senses". In turn, as I explored long ago in my essay on the Buddha's last words, appamāda (often translated as 'vigilance' or similar) is also found in this context and etymologically means 'not blind drunk' or in context 'not blind drunk on the objects of the senses'. Which here clearly refers to practising restrain as sense cognitions arise and pass away. Yes, we can also practice wise attention, and not seek out overt stimulation, but the key is what we do with sense experience that arises and passes away.


A similar passage is referred to as saṃvarapadhāna 'striving for restraint' (DN iii.225), and vaṇaṃ paṭicchādetā 'dressing a wound' (MN i.122, AN v.538) or uttariṃ karaṇīyaṃ 'the highest obligation' (MN i.273). Another minor variation (DN iii.269, 291, AN ii.198-9, iii.279, v.30, cf. DN iii.244) puts the above more simply:
Idhāvuso, bhikkhu cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā neva sumano hoti na dummano, upekkhako viharati sato sampajāno.
Here, friend, a bhikkhu, seeing form with his eye he is not elated or despondent, he dwells stoical, mindful and attentive.
An important variation for understanding the Buddhist account of suffering and liberation occurs at MN i.266:
So cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā piyarūpe rūpe sārajjati, appiyarūpe rūpe byāpajjati, anupaṭṭhitakāyasati ca viharati parittacetaso.
Seeing a form with the eye they are attracted to a pleasing type of form and averse to an unpleasing type of form, they dwell without establishing mindfulness of the body and with an unprotected mind (parittacetaso)
Unsurprisingly this failure to protect the mind sets off a chain reaction which is can be seen as a subset of the twelve nidāna (or the nidānas could be an expansion of this list). And thus they give rise to all the different kinds of disappointment, discontent and suffering (kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa samudayo). In some passages (SN iv.119, SN iv.184, iv.189, iv.198) the verb sārajjati is replaced by adhimuccati 'drawn to'. In these passages the contrast is between having guarded doors (guttadvāra) and unguarded (aguttadvāra).

At (MN iii.216, iii.239; AN i.176) the phrase is part of a very differently worded teaching, but still seems to aim at the same approach. The Saḷāyatana-vibhanga Sutta appears to be influenced by Abhidhamma categories of dhammas. It revolves around the idea of manopavicāra 'mental exploration' which Buddhaghosa relates to applied and sustained thought (vitakkavicārā MNA v.20). In the Theravāda Abhidhamma there are 18 kinds of manopavicāra which are based on the 18 dhātus.*
* the 18 dhātus are the six sense objects or external bases (cha bāhirāni āyatanāni); the six sense faculties (indriya) or internal bases (cha ajjhattikāni āyatanāni), and the classes of cognition (cha viññāṇakāyā).
The procedure is like this:
Cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā somanassaṭṭhānīyaṃ rūpaṃ upavicarati, domanassaṭṭhānīyaṃ rūpaṃ upavicarati, upekkhāṭṭhānīyaṃ rūpaṃ upavicarati.
Seeing a form with the eye they investigate (upavicarati) a form which is a source of misery, or investigate a form which is a source of elation, or investigate a form which is a source of equanimity.
This sutta makes some distinctions. For example there is a contrast at MN iii.219 which asks about the six kinds of equanimity associated with household life. Here a householder having seen form with the eye uppajjati upekkhā bālassa mūḷhassa puthujjanassa... "He gives rise to the equanimity of the foolish infatuated hoi polloi, etc.". This kind of equanimity is of a lesser kind, because it dhammaṃ sā nātivattati "It does not transcend the dhamma." Dhamma here probably means "mental-object", which is how Ñāṇamoḷi & Bodhi translate it. The sutta continues to outline a complex system of practice.

In Practice.

At the end of the section on saṃvara the hatthipadopama says
so iminā ca ariyena sīlakkhandhena samannāgato, iminā ca ariyena indriyasaṃvarena samannāgato, iminā ca ariyena satisampajaññena samannāgato vivittaṃ senāsanaṃ bhajati araññaṃ rukkhamūlaṃ pabbataṃ kandaraṃ giriguhaṃ susānaṃ vanapatthaṃ abbhokāsaṃ palālapuñjaṃ. 
Endowed with this noble mass of virtue, and possessing this noble restraint of the senses, and possessing this noble mindfulness and attentiveness, he resorts to the wilderness, the foot of a tree, a mountain, a grotto, a mountain cave, a cremation ground, or a pile of straw in a clearing in the jungle. 
And here, of course, he or she sits down and deals with the five hindrances, and having abandoned them (pañca nīvaraṇe pahāya), enters the first jhāna, and so on. In the hatthipadopama, having purified, stabilised and made their mind malleable through jhāna, the practitioner then turns their mind to insight. In this case it is through contemplating the tevijja, i.e. the three mystic skills: the knowledge recollection of former births (pubbenivāsānussatiñāṇa); knowledge of the death and rebirth of beings (sattānaṃ cutūpapātañāṇa); and the knowledge of the destruction of the āsavas (āsavānaṃ khayañāṇa). It seems very likely that the early Buddhists saw this passage as literal: they believed in rebirth and they believed that knowledge of the way that beings were reborn was attainable. But the tevijja is not the only description of Buddhist insight practice and anyone of them could be substituted at this point.

Thus there is a sequence of increasingly intensive practices:

sīla - saṃvara - sati-sampajāna - nīvaraṇe pahāya - jhāna - vipassana

What we can take from this, is that simple ethics is not sufficient to sustain a meditation practice. It is certainly necessary, but in fact we must prepare through a far more rigorous approach to sense experience. This essay has focussed on saṃvara or restraint, but having established saṃvara, there is still some way to go before attempting meditation. One must be mindful, in the sense of paying close attention to ones movements and actions. Certainly hatthipadopama associations sati-samapajāna primarily with awareness of the body. And then one is ready to tackle the hindrances. And it's not simply that the layers follow on from each other in a linear way. Each seems to me to be an order of magnitude more demanding. It's not a simple step from sīla to samādhi. In fact samādhi is several orders of magnitude more intensive than even a quite rigorous practice of sīla.

This gives us the sense that meditation proper is actually quite an advanced practice. We sometimes talk about the necessity for basic ethics in relation to meditation, but we seldom seem to have the approach of exponentially increasing focus leading to concentration. There's a passage from the Upanisā Sutta on the Spiral Path which supplies an image for this kind of progressive approach:
Just as monks, when the gods pour down rain over the mountains and water flows down the mountainside filling up the branches of the crevices and gullies. Having filled the crevices and gullies small lakes are filled, and then the great lakes. The great lakes being filled, the small rivers fill up. The small rivers fill up the large rivers, and the large rivers fill up the great ocean.
The passage is much more common in the Chinese Spiral Path texts found in the Madhyamāgama (see my draft translations), it's attached to almost all of the Chinese Spiral Path texts, not just the counterpart of the Upanisā. This suggests that it struck a chord with early Buddhists in the North. It is trying to say that if one only fulfils (paripūreti) the first stage, then practice overflows into the next. Another Spiral Path text describes this process as natural (dhammatā). Though experience shows that progress still requires continuity of purpose.

To me, Buddhism begins and, more importantly, ends with experience. This kind of approach to increasingly intensive explorations of experience seems particularly significant. It's probably not enough to be generally ethical and to attempt some meditation techniques. The text and it's counterparts suggest that a far more systematic approach is required. And that each layer of practice is more demanding then the previous. When we skip layers we all too often find ourself floundering because we have not done the preparation. 

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