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BUDDHIST MEDITATION An anthology of texts from the Pali canon

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This introductory anthology intends to give a representative sample of the various kinds of meditations described in the Pali canon and a broad introduction to their traditional context and practice. It is intended for two sorts of readers, though some may fit into both categories. A number of people who practise Theravada meditation in the West are surprised to find very little to read on the subject. Apart from occasional,

often privately published books on specific practices there is almost nothing of a more general kind that places meditation in the context of other teachings within the Pali canon. As a result of this, many practising meditators find the apparent complexity and inaccessibility of the Pali literature off-putting and so never read some of the basic texts of their own tradition. There is also no general guide to texts on the [[subject of

meditation]] in the Pali canon for those whose interest is primarily academic. This anthology is intended to supply explanation, context and doctrinal background to the subject of meditation. Meditative practice lies at the heart of the Buddhist tradition and it is hoped that this book will encourage more people to appreciate the distinctive merits of the various kinds of teachings in the Pali canon.

The main themes of the book are the diversity and flexibility of the way that the Buddha taught meditation from the evidence of the canon. Over the forty-five years during which he taught he showed practicality, pertinence and compassion in his dealings with those to whom he offered guidance. This sense of applicability is sometimes overlooked in studies that, necessarily, extract key ideas in isolation for philosophical and intellectual discussion. Buddhist suttas, often richly human and humorous in tone, place a given teaching in a context where meditative practice is geared to the practitioner and to other aspects of the eightfold path. They display a great inventiveness of

imagery, technique and method and often show signs of being carefully tailored to the audience or person addressed. Buddhaghosa, the chief commentator on the Pali canon, outlined forty different meditation subjects, which are commonly taught in the East today. Although the list has no exact counterpart within the canon, it is of ancient origins and is used as a classification to order the material used in the anthology. The suttas themselves are reassuringly resistant to easy categorization. The Buddha exhibited a great love of lists as a teaching method but seems to have avoided the


provision of a uniform system to delineate the range of meditative methods. By using the forty meditation objects as a basis, I hoped to highlight the principal features of bhavana and to show ways in which the canon sometimes differs in approach from early manuals. This book tries to cover fundamental features of Buddhist practice that people often ask about: posture and the incidence of lay meditation, for instance. So the introductions to each meditation give quotes and comment both from the principal early commentators on Buddhist practice, Upatissa and Buddhaghosa, and from reputable modern meditation teachers in a number of Theravada traditions. As an

anthology, it is not intended to give specific teaching – as the texts emphasize, this is the job of the teacher, or the ‘good friend’ in meditation. I hoped, however, to provide a background to each of the different objects in its ancient and modern setting – and to communicate some sense of the continued health and diversity of meditative practice today. Preconceptions about Buddhist practice soon become challenged by looking at a variety of texts from different collections. It becomes clear for instance that from the evidence of the texts the line between samatha, calm meditation and vipassana, insight, was much more fluid in ancient times than

is commonly supposed and that the canon constantly encourages a flexibly practical approach. This can be seen both in the assignation of meditation objects to practitioners and in the way help is sometimes given to practitioners to counteract imbalances and difficulties encountered. There is a large section on the recollections. These practices, usually given to the laity for use in daily life, are found in texts that are often overlooked now.

But as well as providing a general guide to meditation practice from the texts, the anthology aims to introduce the reader to the great and diverse excellences of the Pali canon itself. As a body of texts they show every sign of being composed with the intention of being accessible and interesting to the lay public of the time: it seems time to start appreciating the distinctive merits of each collection once more.

When this project was first suggested to me, by Richard Gombrich and Sally Cutler Mellick, our idea was to use pre-existing translations. We soon realized this would not work as translators’ use of technical language is so varied. So, aiming for some sort of consistency, I have made new translations on the basis of the PTS texts. For anyone who would like to read other texts, however, PTS translations of all the ones used here are available and cited in the bibliography.


There are a number of people to whom I owe particular thanks. Professor Richard Gombrich who taught me Pali, has been endlessly helpful and generous in teaching me for many years and kindly read sections of the book while it was being written. L.S. Cousins has taught me for even longer and I have had many conversations with him about the subject. No amount of footnotes can fully acknowledge my debt to either of them. This is also the case for my husband, Charles, who has being diligently practising khanti, with great good humour. Dr Sally Cutler Mellick suggested the subject to me and helped me greatly when I started the book.

There are many other people I would like to thank for varied help, encouragement and information. They include Ven Dhammasami, Ven Kusalo, Ven Wan Doo Kim, Sarah Norman, Dr Rupert Gethin, Professor Peter Harvey, Dr Sanjukta Gombrich, Professor Paul Harrison, Dr Peter Skilling, Dr Jim Benson, Dr Alex Wynne, Dr Damien Keown, Dorothea Schaefter, my family, friends in the Samatha Association, frequenters of the Oxford Sanskritists’lunch and the kindly staff at the Indian Institute Library and the Oriental Institute, Oxford.


For translations of Buddhist texts, it is customary to maintain consistency in the use of technical terms. While I have not followed the guideline rigidly, a glossary of some key Pali words used is given at the end of the book. Where the translation itself requires considerable explanation, terms have been left untranslated. The word jhana, the meditative state that lies at the heart of samatha practice, has been left untranslated. A word that arouses great debate is kusala, variously translated as good, skilful or wholesome, with connotations of all of these. As the anthology is about meditation I felt it was, for the most part, much easier to see the mind as ‘skilful’ or ‘unskilful’rather than ‘good’or ‘bad’, with some exceptions (e.g. S V 149–52). The sense of ‘good’ should not be lost, however, and is often more suitable for texts on virtue (sila).

Some words, such as kamma, dhamma and nibbana, have now passed into common English usage in their Sanskrit form. The word dhamma is, however, particularly tricky. In some contexts it means the teaching of the Buddha. In others, it applies more generally to things as they are: in the fourth foundation of mindfulness, described in the Satipatthana-Sutta, a suitable translation would be ‘event’, ‘phenomenon’ or even ‘something that occurs’. The translation of ‘mental objects’ is not quite accurate as in this text the term is used to describe any event, mental or otherwise. The word sometimes describes ‘states’. It can just mean ‘thing’, and to leave it untranslated lends it an unjustified weight. It has, however, usually been left untranslated.


A Akguttaranikaya
AA Manorathapuraji (commentary on A)
Ap Apadana
Asl Atthasalini (commentary on Dhs)
D Dighanikaya
DA Sumakgalavilasini (commentary on D)
Dhp Dhammapada
DhpA Dhammapada-atthakatha (commentary on Dhp)
Dhs Dhammasakgaji
It Itivuttaka
Ja Jataka
M Majjhimanikaya
MA Papañcasudani (commentary on M)
Nidd 1 Mahaniddesa
Nidd 2 Cu¬aniddesa
Patis Patisambhidamagga
S SaÅyuttanikaya
Sn Suttanipata
ThA Theragatha
ThA Theragatha-atthakatha (commentary on Th)
Thi Therigatha
ThiA Therigatha-atthakatha (commentary on Thi)
Ud Udana
Vibh Vibhakga
VibhA Vibhaπga-atthakatha (commentary on Vibh)
Vin Vinayapi†aka
Vism Visuddhimagga

References to texts are to PTS edition, volume and page, which are denoted by a volume number (upper case Roman numeral) and page reference. For Sn, Dhp, Th and Thi references are to verse number.
Abbreviations of translations, other works and organizations

(see bibliography of translations)

BL Buddhist Legends (Burlingame)
BMTP Buddhist Meditation in Theory and Practice (Vajirañaja)
BPE Buddhist Psychological Ethics (Rhys Davids, C.A.F.)
BPS Buddhist Publication Society
CDB Connected Discourses of the Buddha (Bodhi)
DB Dialogues of the Buddha (Rhys Davids, T.W.)
DPPN Dictionary of Pali Proper Names (Malalasekera)
Exp Expositor (Tin)
GD Group of Discourses (Norman)
GS The Book of Gradual Sayings (Hare, Woodward)
J The Jatakas (Cowell)
JPTS Journal of the Pali Text Society
KS The Book of Kindred Sayings (Rhys Davids, C.A.F., Woodward)
MLDB Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (Ñajamoli)
MLS Middle Length Sayings (Horner)
PF The Path of Freedom (Vimuttimagga: Ehara et al.)
PP Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga: Ñajamoli)
PTS Pali Text Society
VRI Vipassana Research Institute CD-ROM
WD Word of the Doctrine (Norman)
Key to translations
Exp Asl
PD Patis
PP Vism
WD Dhp

Abbreviations of dictionaries

CPD Critical Pali Dictionary (Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters)
DP Dictionary of Pali (Cone, M) PTS


OED Oxford English Dictionary (Compact edition)

PED Pali English Dictionary PTS

SED Sanskrit–English Dictionary (Monier Williams) References are to Pali text and only to translations where specifically cited or quoted. The Dhammapada commentary is referred to throughout in its translation (BL). References to Visuddhimagga are to chapter and paragraph denoted by Ñajamoli in PP (see Ñajamoli).