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Manual of Insight

1. Purification of Conduct

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Purification of Conduct

THE PURIFICATION OF CONDUCT FOR MONKS

According to the Visuddhimagga,9 purification of conduct (sīlavisuddhi) refers to the four kinds of morality (sīla) that are completely purified.

Moral purity is indeed completely cleansed

through observing the monastic rules

beginning with the fourfold morality.10

Purification of conduct refers to the purification of four kinds of morality that I will fully explain in this section: the morality of observing the monastic precepts ( pāṭimokkhasaṃvara), the morality of pursuing a pure livelihood (ajīvapārisuddhi), the morality of wisely using requisites ( paccayasannissita), and carefully restraining the senses (indriyasaṃvara).

There are two categories of morality, one for monks and one for laypeople. Since the morality of monks is quite extensive, I will explain it only in summary. As a monk, one should fully purify the four types of morality.

Observing the monastic precepts

Observing the monastic precepts that were established by the Buddha to restrain one’s actions of body and speech from transgression is called “the morality of observing the monastic precepts.” This kind of morality protects one from numerous kinds of danger and suffering. The guideline given to fully purify this morality is:

. . . seeing danger in the slightest faults, observing the commitments he has taken on . . .11

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A monk should take great care not to break any one of his precepts. He should consider even minor offenses to be dangerous, since they can interfere with his prospect of attaining the path and fruition and lead him to a rebirth in the lower realms.

If a monk happens to break a precept, he should correct it as soon as possible, just as a child would immediately drop a red-hot charcoal that he had accidentally picked up. A monk expiates his offense by observing the probation ( parivatta) and penance (mānatta) of ostracism, or by relinquishing any money or materials according to the procedure given in scripture. Once an offense is restored in accord with the rules for monks (vinaya),12 the monk should determine not to commit such an offense again. In this way he fully purifies observation of the monastic precepts.

Pursuing a pure livelihood

Seeking or receiving the four requisites13 in accord with the rules for monks is called “the morality of pursuing a pure livelihood.” The most important aspect of this kind of morality is making the effort to obtain the four requisites in ways that are in accord with the rules for monks. There are many ways of obtaining requisites that are not in accord with the rules for monks. A comprehensive list of these can be found in the Visuddhimagga.

If a monk obtains any of the four requisites by violating the rules for monks, the offenses are called “offenses meriting expulsion” ( pārājika),14 “offenses requiring a convening of the saṅgha” (saṅghādisesa), “serious infractions” (thullaccaya), or “improper conduct” (dukkata), depending on what kind of action he has committed. Improper conduct is the most common offense. The use of requisites that one has improperly acquired is also improper conduct. The observation of monastic precepts is also broken when one commits these offenses. This can damage the monk’s prospects of celestial rebirth, path knowledge, and fruition knowledge. When these offenses are restored by way of the aforementioned procedures, the observation of monastic precepts can again be purified and one escapes from these dangers. So a monk must thoroughly purify this type of morality, too.

Wisely using requisites

The morality of wisely using requisites refers to keeping in mind the purpose for using the four requisites. To keep this morality purely, every time9 a monk uses any of the four requisites, he should consider its proper purpose. For example, when a monk wears or changes his robe, he should consider that the purpose of the robe is simply to protect him from the elements, not to make his body beautiful or attractive. When he eats he should consider the purpose of the food, one morsel after another. If he cannot do so at the moment of eating, he can do it some time before the next dawn. If he fails to do so until the dawn breaks, it implies that he uses the requisites “on loan” (iṇaparibhoga) as explained by the commentaries.

The term “use of requisites on loan” does not mean that a monk is accountable to repay his supporters for their donation in a future rebirth. It is given this name because the way that the monk utilizes the requisites resembles the way that someone procures something on loan. This is explained as follows: By donating requisites to a monk of pure morality, lay supporters fulfill one of the factors of perfect donation (dakkhiṇāvisuddhi). Thus they receive the greatest benefits possible from their generosity. If a monk fails to consider the proper purpose in using the requisites, his keeping in mind the purpose for using the four requisites is not pure, and the donors cannot enjoy the full benefits of their donations. For this reason, donors are then compared to someone who has sold something on loan or on credit. They have not received the full value for their donation. The recipient monk is similarly compared to someone who purchases on loan or on credit without giving the full value.

The Mahāṭīkā15 says: “Iṇaparibhoga means ‘use of something on loan.’ A donation is compared to the use of something on loan since the recipient of it is not qualified for the factor of perfect donation.”16 But the Mahāṭīkā also says, “Just as a debtor cannot go where he wishes, so also the monk who uses things on loan cannot go out of the world.”17 So what is the point of this passage then? The point is that if a monk uses requisites without considering the purpose for doing so, his attachment to them is not cut. That attachment will lead him to the lower world after his demise. The story of a monk named Tissa illustrates this:

A bhikkhu by the name of Tissa died with feelings of attachment to his brand new robe and was reborn as a louse on that very robe. When the robe was about to be shared among the other bhikkhus according to the rules for bhikkhus regarding a dead bhikkhu’s possessions, the louse cried and accused the bhikkhus of robbing him of the robe. Through his psychic power, the10 Buddha heard the louse crying and asked the bhikkhus to postpone sharing the robe lest the louse should be reborn in a hell realm.18 A week later the louse died and was reborn in the Tusitā celestial realm. Only then did the Buddha allow the robe to be shared among the bhikkhus as explained in the commentary of the Dhammapada.

This is a frightening thing! In view of his rebirth in the Tusitā celestial realm right after his louse’s death, it is clear that if he had not been attached to his robe, he would have been reborn in that celestial realm immediately after his monk’s death. Moreover if the Buddha had not postponed the sharing of his robe, he might even have been reborn in hell. Attachment is a serious misdeed and a frightening thing! The Buddha delivered the following verse regarding this event:

As rust corrupts

The very iron that formed it,

So transgressions lead

Their doer to states of woe.19

Some people assume that due to the use of materials on loan, a monk cannot attain path and fruition, as he is accountable to repay his loan. However, such an assumption is not in accord with the texts at all.

Some say that the use of materials on loan is a more serious offense than both enjoying the status of a monk on false pretenses and the four offenses meriting expulsion. This is so because when someone has become a layperson or a novice after committing an offense meriting expulsion or the offense of enjoying the status of a monk on false pretenses, that person can attain path and fruition.

For the Pāḷi reference, there is this passage from the Aṅguttara Nikāya commentary:

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After listening to this discourse,20 sixty bhikkhus who had committed grave offenses were seized by spiritual urgency (saṃvega) and relinquished their bhikkhuhood. They then lived as novices (sāmaṇera), fulfilling the ten novice precepts. Later, cultivating good mental attitudes, some of them became stream enterers (sotāpannā),21 some once returners (sakadāgāmī),22 some nonreturners (anāgāmī),23 and some were reborn in the celestial realms. Thus even bhikkhus who commit offenses meriting expulsion could be rewarded.24

The commentary explains that the Buddha had seen those sixty monks committing offenses meriting expulsion. So he made his journey with the purpose of delivering this discourse to them on the way. It is clear from this explanation that they had led their lives as monks on false pretenses for some time after committing grave offense. Even so, their grave offense and offense of enjoying the status of a monk on false pretenses did not destroy their prospects for path knowledge and fruition knowledge.

So how is it possible that using the requisites on loan, a minor offense, could destroy the prospects for enlightenment of a monk regardless of his otherwise good observation of monastic precepts? That is not reasonable, at all.

The monastic code and wisely using requisites

The instruction to consider the purpose for using the four requisites is not from the rules for monks but from the discourses. So a failure to consider the purpose for using the four requisites does not mean that a monk violates any monastic rule laid down by the Buddha. So it cannot cause any damage to the monk’s prospect of path knowledge and fruition knowledge. Thus we should not say that use of requisites on loan is even as serious as the offense of improper conduct, which is the least serious offense of the monastic rules, aside from improper conversation (dubbhāsita).

One may ask here, “The commentary says that taking medicine without considering the purpose for doing so constitutes a breach of the monastic rules. So is it not reasonable to assume that not keeping the purpose for using the requisites in mind is also a breach of the monastic rules?” But this reasoning is not correct. A monk is allowed to take medicine only for medicinal purposes. If he takes that same medicine for a nutritional purpose, then it is an improper act according to the following monastic rule:

If a bhikkhu eats for nutritional purpose the food allowed after noon ( yāmakālika), the food allowed for a week (sattāhakālika), and the food allowed for life (yāvajīvika), it is an improper act every time he swallows it.25

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So it is clear that this offense is due to the violation of the monastic precept, but it is not a violation of keeping in mind the purpose for using the medicine. For this reason, the subcommentary says that it is possible to purify a failure to keep in mind the purpose for using the four requisites by considering the purpose of the requisites used during the day some time before the next dawn.

Venerable Tipiṭaka Cūḷānāga Thera26 was a highly respected senior monk. He was senior even to Venerable Buddhaghosa, the author of the commentaries. He was well versed in the Tipiṭaka, the three baskets of the Buddhist scriptures,27 and was highly respected by the authors of the commentaries. So his views should be taken seriously. The notion that failing to consider the purpose for the four requisites is a breach of the monastic rules is contradictory to Venerable Tipiṭaka Cūḷānāga Thera’s view. According to him, only the observation of the monastic precepts is morality. The other three classes of morality are not described as morality in any Pāḷi texts. Contrary to some other teachers, he explained that restraining the senses is simply restraint of the six senses, pursuing a pure livelihood is simply obtaining the four requisites in a fair and honest manner, and wisely using requisites is simply reflecting on the purpose of using the four requisites obtained fairly.28

Only observing the monastic precepts constitutes authentic morality. If a monk breaks this morality, he can be compared to a man whose head has been cut off. It is useless for him to consider lesser injuries to his limbs (the other three classes of morality). If a monk keeps this morality robust, he is compared to a man with a healthy head, who can therefore protect his life and limbs.

So according to this senior monk, as long as a monk’s observation of the monastic rules is in good condition the other three moralities can be restored, however damaged they may be. Of course there is no doubt that a perfectly restored and purified morality helps a monk to realize path and fruition. According to other teachers, path and fruition cannot be attained when one uses requisites on loan, and a one-time failure to keep in mind the purpose for using requisites cannot be purified. These opinions contradict the above-mentioned Theravāda doctrine.

The method for reflecting on the purpose of the requisites is explained in the definition of moderation in eating (bhojanemattaññū) found in the Abhidhamma and in the Buddha’s discourses, such as the Sabbāsava Sutta29 and the Āsava Sutta.30 However it is never directly referred to as13 “keeping in mind the purpose for using the four requisites.” Instead it is called “moderation in eating,” or “abandoning taints by using” ( paṭisevanāpahātabbāsavā). For this reason Venerable Tipiṭaka Cūḷānāga Thera said that it is not described as morality in any Pāḷi texts.

Meditation and consideration

Reflecting on the purpose for using the requisites is, in an ultimate sense, wise reflection or reviewing ( paccavekkhaṇa), and it more properly belongs to the field of training in wisdom ( paññāsikkhā) than to the field of training in morality (sīlasikkhā). Reflecting on the purpose for using the requisites is not intended as a way to legitimize requisites according to the monastic rules, as are the practices of resolve (adhiṭṭhāna) and assignment (vikappanā), nor should such reflection simply be recited as a mantra. Reflection is instead meant to protect a monk from the mental defilements associated with the four requisites. So a monk should use the four requisites with proper consideration of their purpose.

Furthermore, an insight meditator automatically fulfills the practice of keeping in mind the purpose for using the four requisites, as demonstrated by the following passage:

If a bhikkhu contemplates the requisites in terms of elements or loathsomeness when he obtains or uses them, then there is no offense for using or keeping overdue or extra robes and so on.31

This will be explained in detail later in the section on a layperson’s morality. Thus, keeping in mind the purpose for using the four requisites can be completely purified in two ways: either by means of considering the purpose for using the requisites or through meditation on any object.

Carefully restraining the senses

Restraining the senses means to carefully restrain the senses in order to prevent the arising of defilements when one of the six types of sense objects enters one of the six sense doors and arouses one of the six sense consciousnesses. I will only give a detailed explanation of how to restrain oneself in order to have this kind of pure morality with regard to the eye-sense door. One can understand the other sense doors in a similar manner.

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On seeing a form with the eye, he does not grasp at its signs and features . . .32

When seeing a form with the eye, a monk should not recognize a person by his or her male or female form or by physical gestures and facial expressions. As the commentary says, “Let seeing be just seeing.” The subcommentary explains that one should not allow one’s mind to wander beyond the mere fact of seeing by paying attention to how beautiful or ugly a person is, and so forth.

The mental defilements of craving and so on often result from paying close attention to the face and limbs of the opposite sex. So one should not take an active interest in the body parts of a person of the opposite sex: the face, eyes, eyebrows, nose, lips, breasts, chest, arms, legs, and so on. Similarly one should not take an active interest in his or her gestures: the way he or she smiles, laughs, talks, pouts, casts a side glance, and so on. As the commentaries say, “He only apprehends what is really there.”33

According to this quote one should pay attention only to what really exists in the person who is seen. What really exists in that person is hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews or tendons, bones, and so on. Alternately one should observe the four primary material elements and the secondary derived material elements in the person.34 I will now explain how restraint arises in accordance with the commentary.

When a visible form stimulates the eye-door, a sequence of mind moments occur as follows: one attends to the object (āvajjana), eye-consciousness (cakkhuviññāṇa) sees the object, receives the object (sampaṭicchana), investigates the object (santīraṇa), determines the object (votthapana), and fully perceives the object or moves toward it ( javana). Restraint may arise at the moment of full perception by means of morality (sīla), mindfulness (sati), knowledge (ñāṇa), forbearance (khanti), or effort (vīriya). If any one of these forms of restraint arises, the morality of restraining the senses is fulfilled. Alternately, self-indulgence may arise due to immorality, mindlessness, ignorance, impatience, or idleness.35

Restraint by means of morality

Restraint by means of morality is called sīlasaṃvara in Pāḷi. According to the commentaries, it refers to the observation of monastic precepts. A violation of this kind of restraint is called “self-indulgence through immoral conduct” (dussīlya-asaṃvara). Breaking the monastic precepts either15 verbally or bodily is a breach of the monastic code. With regard to self-indulgence via immorality, the subcommentaries36 say that a transgression does not happen at the five sense doors with the arising of a transgressive defilement (vītikkamakilesa)37 alone; the transgression only happens at the mind door. Transgressions via the remaining four self-indulgent behaviors arise at all six sense doors.

Restraint by means of mindfulness

Restraint by means of mindfulness is called satisaṃvara in Pāḷi. Restraint by means of mindfulness refers to restraint of the senses: restraint of the eye (cakkhusaṃvara), and so on. This is true restraint of the senses. In an ultimate sense, it is mindfulness that restrains the six sense doors in order to prevent the arising of defilements. On the other hand, forgetting to be mindful will lead to self-indulgence (muṭṭhasacca-asaṃvara) that manifests as covetousness (abhijjhā) and aversion, as described by the following Pāḷi passage:

. . . greed and sorrow, evil unskilled states, would overwhelm him if he dwelt leaving this eye-faculty unguarded . . .38

Restraint by means of wisdom

Restraint by means of wisdom is called ñāṇasaṃvara in Pāḷi. According to such texts as the Cūḷaniddesa and the Suttanipāta commentary, restraint by means of wisdom occurs with the attainment of the path knowledges:

The wisdom [of path knowledge] that restrains the current [of unwholesomeness such as craving, wrong view, defilements, misbehavior, ignorance, and so on.] is called “restraint by means of wisdom.”39

According to the Visuddhimagga, restraint by means of wisdom also arises with keeping in mind the purpose for using the four requisites: “Restraint by means of [wisdom] is this . . . and use of requisites is here combined with this.”40

Insight knowledge should also be included in restraint by means of wisdom. The practice of insight meditation that can abandon the defilements lying dormant in sense objects (ārammaṇānusaya) by means of partial removal (tadaṅgappahana) is even better than restraining defilements by means of reflection. The Niddesa states:

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Perceiving and seeing that all conditioned things are impermanent, one restrains the current of defilements through wisdom.41

Thus path knowledge, keeping in mind the purpose for using the four requisites, and insight knowledge are all considered part of restraint by means of wisdom. Nonrestraint is the opposite of these three kinds of wisdom, namely delusion (moha).

Restraint by means of forbearance

Restraint by means of forbearance is called khantisaṃvara in Pāḷi. This refers to exercising patience in dealing with cold, heat, severe pain, insults, very harsh words, and so on. It is, in an ultimate sense, nonaversion or nonhatred (adosa). Its opposite is self indulgence due to impatience (akkhanti-asaṃvara).

Restraint by means of effort

Restraint by means of effort is called vīriyasaṃvara in Pāḷi. “Effort” refers to exerting energy in order to abandon thoughts of sensual pleasure and so on. In an ultimate sense, it is the effort that is the right kind of striving (sammapaddhanavīriya), made according to the following Pāḷi passage:

Here a bhikkhu awakens zeal for the non-arising of unarisen evil unwholesome states, and he makes effort, arouses energy, exerts his mind, and strives.42

According to the Visuddhimagga, the morality of pursuing a pure livelihood is included as part of restraint by means of effort. The opposite of restraint by means of effort is self-indulgence through idleness or laziness (kosajja-asaṃvara).

Practicing restraint prior to the practice of meditation

Of these five kinds of restraint, two cannot be included in the preliminary practice of restraint of the senses. Restraint by means of morality falls within the domain of the morality of observing monastic precepts. Restraint by means of wisdom, however, depends on having first developed insight and path knowledges. So it cannot be observed before taking up meditation.

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In order to purify morality by means of carefully restraining the senses prior to the practice of meditation, one must cultivate three types of restraint: restraint by means of mindfulness, restraint by means of forbearance, and restraint by means of effort. The way in which to apply these restraints to purify this kind of morality is explained in the commentary called Aṭṭhasālinī:

One can arouse wholesomeness by means of self-control, by means of transforming one’s thoughts, by means of keeping busy doing good, and by means of steering one’s mind towards wholesomeness.43

Exerting self-control

One should exert self-control: think, talk, and act only in wholesome ways; let only wholesomeness come in through one’s six sense doors; take extra care to arouse only wholesomeness; bear patiently with whatever may happen; and make great effort not to entertain unwholesome thoughts. With this kind of self-control, one rarely thinks of anything unwholesome. When that happens, one does not allow unwholesomeness to be aroused within; one tries to think in a wholesome way.

For example, if a generous person obtains something precious and valuable, his first thought is to offer it to someone else rather than to use it for his own pleasure. In a similar way, self-control allows one to patiently bear anything unpleasant without reacting in an unwholesome way. This is a brief explanation of how to purify one’s morality by means of restraining the senses by exerting self-control.

Transforming thoughts

If unwholesome thoughts arise, they should be transformed into wholesome thoughts...

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