The Discourse to Girimānanda

(Girimānandasutta, Aṅg 10:60)

Translated by Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
(version 2.1, October 2008)

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Thus I heard:

at one time the Gracious One was dwelling near Sāvatthī at Anāthapiṇḍika's grounds in Jeta's Wood. Then at that time venerable Girimānanda was afflicted, suffering, and very sick.

Then venerable Ānanda approached the Gracious One, and after approaching and worshipping the Gracious One, he sat down on one side. While sitting on one side venerable Ānanda said this to the Gracious One:

“Reverend Sir, venerable Girimānanda is afflicted, suffering, and very sick. Please, reverend Sir, may the Gracious One approach venerable Girimānanda, taking pity on him.”

“If you, Ānanda, having approached the monk Girimānanda, were to recite ten perceptions, then it is possible that having heard the ten perceptions, the monk Girimānanda's affliction would immediately abate.

What are the ten?

The perception of impermanence,
the perception of non-self,
the perception of the unattractive,
the perception of danger,
the perception of giving up,
the perception of dispassion,
the perception of cessation,
the perception of non-delight in the whole world,
the perception of impermanence in all processes,
mindfulness while breathing.

 

* * *

 

Now what, Ānanda, is the perception of impermanence?

Here, Ānanda, a monk who has gone to the wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty place, considers thus: A wilderness is considered to be anywhere away from a village or an inhabited area; the root of a tree may be inside or outside of a village (or monastery); an empty place is said to be a mountain, a cleft, a hill cave, a cemetery, a jungle, an open space, or a heap of straw. Commentary: Thus he points out a dwelling place suitable for the 3 seasons (the hot, the wet, & the cold), for disposition, and one favourable to meditation.01

form is impermanent
feelings are impermanent
perceptions are impermanent
(mental) processes are impermanent
consciousness is impermanent. At Saṁ 22. 95 form is likened to a great ball of foam on the river Ganges; feelings to bubbles in a puddle in the Autumn rains; perception to a mirage trembling in the midday sun; (mental) processes to the lack of heartwood in a banana tree; and consciousness to a magician's illusion...one who sees them, meditates on them, and examines their source, realises that they are empty, void, and without essence...so should the constituent groups (of mind and body) be looked upon...by one who aspires to the deathless state (nibbāna).02

Thus in regard to these five constituent groups (of mind and body) he dwells contemplating impermanence. This, Ānanda, is called the perception of impermanence. Commentary: Because of not applying the mind to rise and fall, the mark of impermanence, being concealed by continuity, is not apparent; but by grasping rise and fall continuity is destroyed, and the mark of impermanence becomes apparent according to its true nature. Translator's note: Impermanance is one of the marks (lakkhaṇa) of existence, and the perception of impermanence meditatively may be called the root insight which leads to seeing the other two, namely, suffering (dukkha), and non-self (anattā), as can be seen from the following exchange in Anattalakkhaṇasuttaṁ (Saṁ 22. 59), where, in regard to the five constituent groups of mind and body (the pañcakkhandha) the Buddha asks the monks: “Is form (etc) permanent or impermanent?” “Impermanent, reverend Sir.” “And that which is impermanent, is that suffering or pleasureable?” “Suffering, reverend Sir.” “Now that which is an impermanent, suffering, and changeable thing, is it proper to look upon that as: This is mine, this I am, this is my self?” “Surely not, reverend Sir.” Accordingly the commentary remarks that the perception of suffering is also implied in this opening contemplation (for the mark of non-self see the next perception).03

 

Now what, Ānanda, is the perception of non-self?

Here, Ānanda, a monk who has gone to the wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty place, considers thus:

the eye is not self - forms are not self
the ear is not self - sounds are not self
the nose is not self - smells are not self
the tongue is not self - tastes are not self
the body is not self - tangibles are not self
the mind is not self - thoughts are not self. Commentary: Because of not applying the mind to the classification of the various elements, the mark of non-self, being concealed by density, is not apparent; but by classifying the various elements thus: The earth element is one, the water element is another, and so on...the mark of non-self becomes apparent according to its true nature. Translator's note: This meditation is worked out in detail in MahāRāhulovādasuttaṁ, also translated in this series. The translation of anatta by non-self is rather unsatisfactory, but also hard to avoid, as there is a constant punning on the use of the word in the Pāḷi. Originally atta is a reflexive pronoun meaning oneself, yourself, herself or himself, according to context. But it also came to be used to signify what in English we may call the soul or spirit, envisaged as a permanent, pleasureable, unchanging thing (cf. note 2 above). If it wasn't for the punning on these usages it might be better to render it as ‘the perception of insubstantiality’ (and ‘the eye is insubstantial’ etc.), as in whatever way we look at phenomena we find all is in a state of flux, and there is nothing abiding or substantial anywhere.04

Thus in regard to these six internal and external sense spheres he dwells contemplating non-self. This, Ānanda, is called the perception of non-self.

 

Now what, Ānanda, is the perception of the unattractive?

Here, Ānanda, a monk (in regard to) this body - from the sole of the feet upwards, from the hair of the head down, bounded by the skin, and filled with manifold impurities - reflects (thus):

   There are in this body:
head hairs, body hairs, nails, teeth, skin,
flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys,
heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs,
intestines, mesentery, undigested food, excrement,
bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat,
tears, grease, spit, mucus, synovial fluid, urine. Elsewhere this meditation is called ‘applying the mind to repulsiveness’ (Majjh 10); ‘the thirty-two fold nature’ (Khp 4); or ‘mindfulness relating to the body’ (Visuddhimagga). Under whatever name, the meditation is still traditionally given as the ‘first place for (meditational) action (kammaṭṭhāna) to those who are ordaining as novice monks in Buddhism, at the time they are having their hair shorn off. For those wishing to develop this meditation a method in general use is to recite the first line forwards, then backwards, then forwards again before going on to the second line, thus:

   Kesā, lomā, nakhā, dantā, taco,
   taco, dantā, nakhā, lomā, kesā,
   kesā, lomā, nakhā, dantā, taco,
   maṁsaṁ, nahārū, aṭṭhi, aṭṭhimiñjā, vakkaṁ,
   vakkaṁ, aṭṭhimiñjā and so on.

At the end of the 4th line matthaluṅgaṁ, the brain, is normally added in after karīsaṁ, excement, thus:

   antaṁ, antaguṇaṁ, udariyaṁ, karīsaṁ, matthaluṅgaṁ,
   matthaluṅgaṁ, karīsaṁ...etc.

A different development of the same meditation is given in Visuddhimagga under kāyagatāsati, where it is also stated that the recitation should be done verbally at first ‘even by one who can recite the Tipiṭaka by heart’.
05

Thus in regard to this body he dwells contemplating what is unattractive. This, Ānanda, is called the perception of the unattractive.

 

Now what, Ānanda, is the perception of danger?

Here, Ānanda, a monk who has gone to the wilderness, or to the root of a tree,
or to an empty place, considers thus:

This body has many sufferings, many dangers, thus, in connection with this body, various afflictions arise, like this:

eye-disease, ear-disease, nose-disease, tongue-disease, body-disease
(i.e diseases affecting the sense spheres),
head-disease, ear-disease, mouth-disease, tooth-disease,
cough, asthma, catarrh, pyrexia, fever,
stomach-ache, fainting, diarrhoea, gripes, cholera,
leprosy, boils, eczema, consumption, epilepsy,
ringworm, itch, scab, chickenpox, scabies,
haemorrhage, diabetes, piles, cancer, ulcers,
afflictions arising from excess bile, afflictions arising from excess phlegm,
afflictions arising from excess wind, afflictions arising from a conflict of humours,
afflictions born of a change of season, afflictions born of not being careful,
afflictions from being attacked, afflictions born as a result of (previous unwholesome) actions,
cold, heat, hunger, thirst, stool, urine.

Thus, in regard to this body, he dwells contemplating danger. This, Ānanda, is called the perception of danger. Some of the names of these diseases are still in use in Indian medical science, so that we can be fairly sure of their connotation, while others are unsure, or rather vague in meaning e.g. sīsaroga, literally ‘head-disease’ (here rendered by ‘headache’). The first five in the list are diseases affecting the sense-spheres, then follow various diseases, which I've tried to divide into some sort of order. These are followed by afflictions arising from an excess of one (or two) of the three humours into which Indian aetiology is divided, and ends with a fairly miscellaneous group.

It should be noted that this, and the previous meditation are not intended to be comprehensive, rather they are merely indicative. Similarly, it is not, of course, the exact nature of any of the diseases named here that is important, but the fact that the body is susceptible to diseases and afflictions of various kinds, and is therefore subject to many dangers.
06

 

Now what, Ānanda, is the perception of giving up?

Here, Ānanda, a monk does not consent to thoughts of sense desire that have arisen, (these) he gives up, dispels, brings to an end, and makes non-existent.

He does not consent to thoughts of ill-will that have arisen, (these) he gives up, dispels, brings to an end, and makes non-existent.

He does not consent to thoughts of violence that have arisen, (these) he gives up, dispels, brings to an end, and makes non-existent.

He does not consent to any bad, unwholesome, thoughts that have arisen, (these) he gives up, dispels, brings to an end, and makes non-existent.

This, Ānanda, is called the perception of giving up. This is the second of the four right efforts (sammappadhāna) or right endeavours (sammāvāyāma) that form the sixth part of the eightfold path. The first is to make an effort to restrain (saṁvara) bad and unwholesome things that have not yet arisen. The second, the effort to give up, is as outlined here. The third is the effort to develop (bhāvanā) wholesome things (like the seven factors of Awakening) that have not yet arisen. The fourth is to make the effort to protect (anurakkhāna) those wholesome things that have arisen. See Saccavibhaṅgasuttaṁ also translated in this series and also cf. Aṅg IV. 13-14.07

 

Now what, Ānanda, is the perception of dispassion?

Here, Ānanda, a monk who has gone to the wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty place, considers thus:

This is peaceful, this is excellent,
that is to say:
the calming of all processes,
the letting go of all bases for cleaving, Commentary: There are four bases for cleaving - either through cleaving to sense desires (kāma), the constituent groups (khandha), the corruptions (kilesa), or to processes which lead to rebirth (abhisaṅkhāra).08
the end of craving,
dispassion,
Nibbāna.

This, Ānanda, is called the perception of dispassion.

 

Now what, Ānanda, is the perception of cessation?

Here, Ānanda, a monk who has gone to the wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty place, considers thus:

This is peaceful, this is excellent,
that is to say:
the calming of all processes, Commentary: He said “This is peaceful, this is excellent” pointing to nibbāna, for nibbāna is peaceful owing to the pacification of the corruptions. Also nibbāna is peaceful because having reached the attainment of fruition (i.e realised nibbāna), even if one sits in meditation posture for the day, while sitting only the thought of peace arises. But besides nibbāna being peaceful, it is named as excellent in the sense of not tormenting, because having reached the attainment of fruition, even if one sits in meditation posture for the day, while sitting only the thought of excellence occurs, and so it is called excellent.09
the letting go of all bases for cleaving,
the end of craving,
cessation,
Nibbāna.

This, Ānanda, is called the perception of cessation. The perceptions of dispassion and cessation. These are two aspects of what is otherwise known as the recollection of peace (upasamānupassati), which is the last of the ten recollections as ordered in Aṅg 1. 16 1-10 (the other nine are, recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma, & Saṅgha; of virtue & liberality, and of the gods; mindfulness with breathing; mindfulness of death; and mindfulness relating to the body). The two may be said to be looking at the same perception - that of nibbāna - from different angles. The first in its subjective effect on the mind, bringing dispassion in its wake; the second seen objectively as the cessation of suffering.10

 

Now what, Ānanda, is the perception of non-delight in the whole world?

Here, Ānanda, a monk in regard to whatever in the world are selfish means and attachments, or mental determinations, settled beliefs, and tendencies, giving these up, not being attached, he abstains (from them). According to the commentary (selfish) means are craving (taṇhā) & views (diṭṭhi); attachments are sense desire (kāma), views (diṭṭhi), virtue and practices (silabbata), and the self-belief (attavāda); mental determinations are the mind's inclinations to the eternity or annihilation views (sassatadiṭṭhi & ucchedadiṭṭhi); settled beliefs are views about the self (attānudiṭṭhi); while tendencies are usually said to be seven: the passion for sense pleasures (kāmarāga), reaction (paṭigha), views (diṭṭhi), uncertainty (vicikicchā), conceit (māna), passion for existence or rebirth (bhavarāga), and ignorance (avijjā). As can be seen from the above, views figures in each of the definitions given, and the perception and understanding of views may be called the dominant theme in this meditation.11

This, Ānanda, is the perception of non-delight in the whole world.

 

Now what, Ānanda, is the perception of impermanence in all processes?

Here, Ānanda, a monk in regard to all processes is distressed, ashamed, and disgusted. Saṅkhāra is one of the most difficult terms to find a satisfactory translation for in English. Nor does the rendering by processes that has been adopted here claim to be much better than the many translations normally seen in the literature. It does have the advantage though that it gives a fairly comprehensible English sentence, and can be employed, with suitable bracketed modifications, in the various usages we come across in the Pāḷi. That range of applications can usefully be summarised here.

First there are the famous verses from the Dhammapada beginning: ‘Sabbe saṅkhāra aniccā’ - all processes are impermanent (Dhp 277ff.), where saṅkhāra evidently means everything within phenomenal existence. In the Conditional Arising (Paticcasamuppāda) formula, however, the meaning of the word is restricted and rather specific, there we read: ‘Avijjāpaccaya saṅkhārā, saṅkhārapaccaya viññānaṁ’ - because of ignorance there are (volitional) processes, because there are (volitional) processes there is (rebirth) consciousness (Saṁ 12. 1), where saṅkhāra is virtually equivalent to cetanā, volition.

Overlapping somewhat with this is the use of the term in the analysis of the constituent groups (of mind and body) (khandha) where saṅkhāra is, in the discourses, again made equivalent to cetanā (see e.g. Saṁ 22. 56). (Note that in the Abhidhamma it has been given a much broader definition to include the 50 mental processes not covered by the single factors of feeling, perception, and consciousness.) A further use of the word occurs in the following perception, mindfulness with breathing, which speaks of kāyasaṅkhāra & cittasaṅkhāra, the bodily process & the mental process. The former is said to be in and out-breathing, and the latter is defined as feeling and perception. The definition of saṅkhāra in this contemplation corresponds to the first of the definitions given above.
12

This, Ānanda, is the perception of impermanence in all processes.

 

Now what, Ānanda, is mindfulness while breathing?

Here, Ānanda, a monk who has gone to the wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty place, sits down. After folding his legs crosswise, setting his body straight, and establishing mindfulness at the front, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.

While breathing in long, he knows “I am breathing in long”,
while breathing out long, he knows “I am breathing out long”,
while breathing in short, he knows “I am breathing in short”,
while breathing out short, he knows “I am breathing out short”,
he trains like this: experiencing the whole body I will breathe in,
he trains like this: experiencing the whole body I will breathe out,
he trains like this: making the bodily process calm I will breathe in,
he trains like this: making the bodily process calm I will breathe out.

He trains like this: experiencing joy I will breathe in,
he trains like this: experiencing joy I will breathe out,
he trains like this: experiencing pleasure I will breathe in,
he trains like this: experiencing pleasure I will breathe out,
he trains like this: experiencing the mental process I will breathe in,
he trains like this: experiencing the mental process I will breathe out,
he trains like this: making the mental process calm I will breathe in,
he trains like this: making the mental process calm I will breathe out.

He trains like this: experiencing the mind I will breathe in,
he trains like this: experiencing the mind I will breathe out,
he trains like this: gladdening the mind I will breathe in,
he trains like this: gladdening the mind I will breathe out,
he trains like this: concentrating the mind I will breathe in,
he trains like this: concentrating the mind I will breathe out,
he trains like this: freeing the mind I will breathe in,
he trains like this: freeing the mind I will breathe out.

He trains like this: contemplating impermanence I will breathe in,
he trains like this: contemplating impermanence I will breathe out,
he trains like this: contemplating dispassion I will breathe in,
he trains like this: contemplating dispassion I will breathe out,
he trains like this: contemplating cessation I will breathe in,
he trains like this: contemplating cessation I will breathe out,
he trains like this: contemplating letting go I will breathe in,
he trains like this: contemplating letting go I will breathe out.

This, Ānanda, is mindfulness while breathing.

If you, Ānanda, having approached the monk Girimānanda, were to recite these ten percpetions, then it is possible that having heard the ten perceptions, the monk Girimānanda's affliction would immediately abate.”

Then venerable Ānanda, having learned these ten perceptions from the Gracious One, approached venerable Girimānanda, and after approaching he recited these ten perceptions to venerable Girimānanda. Then, having heard these ten percpetions, venerable Girimānanda's afliction immediately abated, and venerable Girimānanda arose from that affliction, and by that venerable Girimānanda's affliction was brought to an end.