Texts in English Only Home Page
Analysis of the Ways of Attending to Mindfulness
(Satipaṭṭhānavibhaṅgo, Vibh. 7)
An English translation of one section of the Vibhaṅga dealing with the central teaching on mindfulness meditation (with an embedded reading of the text).
edited & translated by
(new edition, March 2014)
click to show flip-book
takes a few seconds to load
Html Table of Contents
The Book of Analysis, by Ven. U Thiṭṭila, translation of the Vibhaṅga, Pali Text Society, reprinted, Oxford, 1988.
Buddhist Psychological Ethics, by Mrs C.A.F. Rhys Davids, translation and study of Dhammasaṅgaṇī, Pali Text Society, 1900, 3rd ed. reprinted Oxford, 1993.
The Dhammasaṅganī, Enumeration of Ultimate Realities, by U Kyaw Khine, DPPS, Yangon, C.E. 1996 = B.E. 2539.
The Satipaṭṭhānavibhaṅga is an important Abhidhamma text concerning the practice of mindfulness coming down to us from the early Buddhist tradition. The text lies hidden away as the seventh analysis in the Vibhaṅga, the second book of the Pāḷi Abhidhammapiṭaka. This has left it rather buried in the midst of an extremely dense work.
More significantly both the text and the translation have been greatly obscured by ellipses. About 50% of the text is missing through ellipses.01 The omitted portions can only be reconstructed by a reader if he is fully conversant not only with earlier parts of the same text, but also with the book that precedes it, the Dhammasaṅgaṇī.
In the translation by the great Burmese Sayadaw U Tiṭṭhila, for instance, we find no fewer than forty-eight peyyāla or repetition passages marked, some of which are extensive, and a number of which do not occur in the book in hand. For which the translator refers the reader to the translation of Dhammasaṅgaṇī.02 No wonder then that its importance has been largely missed.
There is one scholar, however, who did see its seminal importance, and that is Bhante Sujāto, who, in his A History of Mindfulness, Bhante Sujato: A History of Mindfulness, How insight worsted tranquility in the Satipatthana Sutta, Taipei (2005).03 examined this portion of the Vibhaṅga, and showed through comparative study how the text embodies a more primitive formulation of the Attending to Mindfulness practice than we receive in the discourses.
If we examine the first section, the section based on the discourses (Suttantabhājanīya), we find far fewer subjects there than in the discourse, containing only five subject headings as opposed to twenty-three in the discourse. Contemplation of Feelings and Contemplation of the Mind contain the same material, but Contemplation of the Body has only the Applying the Mind to Repulsiveness (Paṭikkūlamanasikāra) section; and Contemplation of (the Nature of) Things has only the Hindrances (Nīvaraṇa) and Factors of Awakening (Bojjhaṅga).
The primitive structure of the material, which is much more straightforward than what we find in the discourse itself as it comes down to us now, therefore appears to have been this:
Contemplation of the Body: Applying the Mind to Repulsiveness
Contemplation of Feelings
Contemplation of the Mind
Contemplation of (the Nature of) Things: The Hindrances & The Factors of Awakening
In my text and translation of the Mahāsatipaṭṭhānasutta I have, for the most part, shown where the additional material now found in that discourse has come from. Most of it has been drawn in almost verbatim from two other discourses in the Majjhimanikāya, and a further elaboration of a section of that material has come from a discourse found in the Nidānasaṁyutta (SN 12.66).
While the more primitive contents of this Analysis can help us identify the original structure of the practice, a number of other doctrinal matters help us understand better what the practice entailed.
The Analysis is divided into three main sections. The first, the Section Derived from the Discourses (Suttantabhājanīya), which is based on the method found in the discourses, elaborates on what is meant by doing the practice ajjhatta and bahiddhā. Some take this as meaning inside and on the surface of the body. It is certain though, as even a brief reading of the present material will show, that the Abhidhammikas took it as meaning in regard to oneself and to another.
The second, the Section Derived from the Abstract Teaching (Abhidhammabhājanīya) examines the subject at the time of the attainment of path and fruit (maggaphala), and shows which mental factors are present at that time.
The third, the Questionnaire (Pañhāpucchaka) consists of a standard questionnaire, that is asked many times during the early books of the Abhidhamma, which classifies the states of mind that may, or must, be present during the supermundane ways of attending to mindfulness (lokuttara satipaṭṭhāna).
Despite a recognition these days of the importance of returning to the early texts, we still tend to accept the discourses in their current form. We view them through the wrong end of the telescope, as it were, and it is hard not to do that, as they have been commented on and elaborated by successive generations of teachers for thousands of years, and it is through that perspective that most of us were first introduced to the teachings.
Much of the material that has come down in the commentaries is, in fact, of very great value, and we would often be left guessing if we didn’t have that material to guide us. But we should always remember that it is remote from the original teaching, and sometimes strikingly different in its interpretation.
The Vibhaṅga itself is, of course, also remote, I do not accept the tradition that it was preached by the Buddha in his seventh Rains Retreat spent in Heaven, but believe it arose in the early period of the Sāsana, as did the Abhidharmas of the other schools.04 but not quite so far removed, and in this particular case it seems to answer questions that may have been asked time and time again over the generations.
This is particularly so in our own times, when the practice of mindfulness has become so widespread, but without practitioners getting very satisfactory answers to their questions.
As the arrangement of the material appears, on very strong grounds, to be early on the one hand, and as its answers to these questions seem so pertinent on the other, a close study of the Analysis can be recommended. It will at the very least help us to understand what a section of the early Buddhist Saṅgha thought the practice to be, and it will also, I believe, give us a fresh view on the material contained in the discourse itself.
I have prepared extensive notes on the text which act as a running commentary, showing, as best I can, the reasons why a particular translation has been adopted after examining the grammatical, linguistic, idiomatic and technical meanings in the language and doctrine; and they also take into account the Canonical and commentarial materials that are relevant to its study.
Where I have been unable to follow standard translations, and where I differ from the commentary, I have clearly stated my reasons, and given an explanation in the notes. I have also, wherever I felt necessary, directly quoted the texts, before giving a translation, which is in line with my practice throughout of trying to help students better understand what is in the texts themselves, so that they are able to make their own judgement on the correctness of the interpretation offered, and also to see what connotations the words may have that the translation simply isn’t able to include.
The text of the Satipaṭṭhānavibhaṅga presented here has been established through a comparison of the three main editions of the text. As an editor the main work involved in re-presenting the text is to fill in the heavy ellipsis that is seen in all the editions, and which has greatly obscured the text.
I should mention here that, although ellipsis is prevalent throughout the work, and indeed the Abhidhamma works in general, there are occasions when an expected ellipsis is not found. There are four main occasions in this text:
1. Difficulty in practice and slow deepening of knowledge is mentioned (dukkhapaṭipada dandhābhiñña), the other three types of progress are not. The other three are: difficulty in practice and quick deepening of knowledge; ease in practice and slow deepening of knowledge; and ease in practice and quick deepening of knowledge.05
2. Contemplation of the Body (kayānupassanā) is mentioned, the other three are not.
3. First Absorption (paṭhama jhāna) is mentioned, the other three are not. We might say the other three and the other four are not, as the Abhidhamma normally runs through both the fourfold sequence and the fivefold one too. The fivefold sequence is an innovation in the Abhidhamma which produces five absorptions, instead of the four normally found in the discourses, by dividing the first absorption into two.06
4. Emptiness (suññatā) is mentioned, desirelessness (apaṇihita) and signlessness (animitta) are not.
In all four cases, though, the Commentary states that they are to be understood. If all the above permutations had indeed been indicated by ellipsis and we needed to fill out the text, it would have been at least doubled the size of the text.
It may be tempting to avoid these repetitions, of course, as we have been trained from childhood to look for the essence of the message and discard the rest. However, I would advise trying to read it through as presented, as the repetitions are there for a good reason: they help the message sink into the heart, and the architectural structure of the text cannot be understood without them.
In the third section (Pañhāpucchaka), in the original text, first a block of one hundred and twenty-two questions are asked, with the answers following at the end. This obviously makes the line of reasoning difficult to follow. I have therefore taken the liberty of rearranging the material in this section so that the answers follow the questions they refer to in the hope that this will further clarify the meaning of the text.
I am greatly indebted to Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi for answering numerous questions I had while preparing the text and translation, which helped eliminate mistakes and misapprehensions, though any that remain are, of course, mine and arise because I didn’t seek sufficient clarification.
I am also very grateful to Ayya Sudhammā, who read the whole work through meticulously, and made many corrections and suggestions for improvement that have been incorporated here, which has gone a long way to improve the presentation.
Having completed the text and translation of the Paṭiccasamuppādavibhaṅga I decided to update this document to bring it into line with the practices adopted there. The principle change is in showing what has been elided in the printed text, by marking it in green here.
Other changes include adding in paragraph number from the widely accessible Burmese edition (though my text differs occasionally) and making a clearer formatting of the text so that definitions can be identified more easily.
last updated: March 2014