Levels after the first nine meditation levels

Q&A: What happens after the nine stages of meditation?

Master Culadasa describes the levels of development after the meditation stages that lead to śamatha. Specifically he describes the 7 stages (seven purifications) that start at śamatha and end with awakening. The last seven purifications are further divided into 16 knowledges. Finally, he demonstrates the correlation between the five path system with the stages of purification system. (He goes into more detail regarding insight in a subsequent question.)

Student: Last weekend I asked you if you could tell me how many levels existed after the nine levels that they give to you to start on the path.  And you said 16, you telling me a little bit more of a, okay,

Culadasa: I'll just briefly summarize, and the practice traditions, they come from different sources. Okay.

Now there's the śamatha and the vipassana component. And so, it's been recognized that there's different stages that a person goes through. So first of all, in the śamatha practice tradition, the Buddha basically described śamatha in terms of 12 verses and the Ānāpānasati sutta. And then about a millennium later Kamalaśīla refined those descriptively, although they were distilled into nine very short compact stages, but they actually were delineated more clearly in terms of the stages of development.

Okay. And then when a person has developed a sufficient degree of concentration, they could take out the jhanas (or dhyanas) from the suttas. Of which, there are in most of the suttas there's described as being eight, which are for jhanas with form.  And then there are four, there they're really four further refinements of the fourth jhana, but they're sometimes referred to as the four formless jhanas.  So that makes it a total of eight.

But in some places, the jhanas are described in terms of a sequence of nine states. And the ninth state is the stage of cessation of perception and feeling, vedanā, meaning affect and quality and perception, meaning the process by which the mind conceptually identifies what it is observing.  And this last one, cessation (nirodha samapatti) is in the commentarial tradition said to be identical to the Nirvana/parinibbāna that sort of experience when an enlightened being's body dies. So these are all the numbers that go along with the śamatha tradition.

Now. In the sutras in terms of the path that includes the śamatha tradition and concludes with awakening, the Buddha described this as being seven stages of purification that he compared to a chariot relay, as a matter of fact the suttas call it the chariot relay sutra. And these seven are Purifications of virtue. And then there's purification of a mind or consciousness, which essentially includes (as it has been interpreted) all of the stages of śamatha and the stages of the jhana.  And then it commences to describe in detail the stages the next five purifications, purification of virtue and purification of consciousness were the first two of those seven. So the next five are usually interpreted as specifically referring to the insights that lead to awakening. And so those are purification of view, followed by terrific patient by overcoming doubt.  The next one is called the purification by knowledge of what is and is not the path. And then this is followed by purification by knowledge and vision of the way. Then the final stage is called the purification by knowledge and vision, where the actual awakening occurs and like positive reflection on the recognition of the fetters that have been overcome, and the ability to at-will enter into the state of fruition consciousness, called [??? 00:05:17] , which is the experience of emptiness or Nirvana, depending on how you like to describe it. Same thing.

So from the sutras we have the seven purifications, which encompass the the nine stages of śamatha and the nine jhanas.  And in the latter stages, these are divided up starting with the purification of view. These were likewise about a millennium later, not quite, maybe about 800 years later, there was a Theravāda commentarialist named Buddhaghosa. As a matter of fact, most of the modern Theravāda is based on his commentaries. And he  subdivided these last five knowledges, the last five purifications, into a series of knowledges, which depending on how you read them is roughly about 16 and in the modern tradition Mahasi Sayadaw has very clearly defined the 16 knowledges that make up the sequence from purification of view through the Fruition samāpatti and the reflection on the experience of the fetters.

So that's how the whole thing fits together. Did I make a clear picture, did it make sense to you?  Okay.

I could go through the knowledges one at a time and I'd be happy to if you'd like, but let me just transpose those and see if we can do some cross correlation with the later Mahayana descriptions.  There are two basic Mahayana descriptions that don't really fit together very well, but often get, they get squished together as if they fit.  And one is the five paths, which I'm sure you're familiar with.  And the other is the Bodhisattva bhumis, which depending on which source you go to there's different numbers of, 8 or 10 and 12, or 16 and so forth. 10 is the most commonly observed breakdown of those bhumis.  So anyway, in terms of the five paths, there is there is the [??? 00:08:10] You can help me with the five path descriptions if you'd like, you probably are more familiar with them even than I am anyways. 

But anyway, where we find the development of vipassana is in the second of the five paths, and this is where the person would be doing analytical investigation of emptiness.  And either at the same time or before or after, they would be following the nine stages that were described by Kamalaśīla for the development of śamatha.  So it is the second path that eventually culminates in the union of śamatha and vipassana.  And if we go back to the to the sutra system, in the according to the original sutras and the way they've been interpreted, the union of śamatha and vipassana occurs in the purification of knowledge and vision of the way.  So the practitioner already has śamatha at this stage, has had profound insight into impermanence, emptiness and suffering.  And so it's actually in both the second path of the five paths, and in the final stage of the purification by knowledge and vision of the way.  Both are exactly the same, that there comes about a union of śamatha and vipassana which leads to the Awakening.  Now which in the seven purifications would be the initiation of purification by knowledge and vision, and in the five path system corresponds to the path of seeing.  Now in the seven purification systems this last purification repeats a number of times, typically four, by which a person advances through four different stages or degrees of awakening: the stream-enterer, once-returner, non-returner, and arhat or Buddha. 

And in the five path  system, exactly the same process is taking place in what's the [??? 00:11:05] path of habituation.  So what happens with a person who is continuing their advancement through greater and greater degrees of enlightenment.  Buddhahood or arhatship corresponds in the five path system to the fifth path, which is called no more learning. So that's how these together.

The bodhisattva bhumis are a little bit harder, depending on whose system to follow, to integrate into those, but in some systems they would say that the first bodhisattva bhumi corresponds to the path of seeing, which would correspond to the beginning of the purification by knowledge and vision of the way, and the moment of consciousness [??? 00:12:03] depending on how you're following Pali and Sanskrit tradition.  But I'll just say that there's some unclarity about how the bhodisattva bhumi system is applied because in some views, the first stage of awakening steam entry occurs at the third bhodisattva bhumi, and the first two bhodisattva bhumis correspond to [??? 00:12:48] that in the seven purifications that are called purification by knowledge and vision of the way.  The seventh is purification by knowledge and vision of the way.

And this is where insights have been attained, but they have not yet matured into full awakening.  So there is understanding even at a more profound  intuitive level of impermanence, emptiness, and suffering, but this has not led to the direct experience of Nirvana or emptiness.

So these are the different systems that— as a matter of fact, there's more than that, especially in the Mahayana because each different school in each different country Patreon and each different period of time has made their own version of it.  But that's more or less how all of these things fit together.


Added at Sept. 26, 2020
Audio length 13 minutes
Original file name higherlevels18oct09.mp3

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