The '7 stages of
purification' (satta-visuddhi) form the substructure of Upatissa's
Vimutti-Magga (The Path To Freedom), preserved only in Chinese, as well as of
Buddhaghosa's monumental work, Visuddhi-Magga (The Path of Purification),
based on the former work.
The only place in the Canon where these 7 kinds of
purification are mentioned is M.24, "The Simile of the Stage-coach"
(s. 'Path', §64), wherein their purpose and goal are illustrated. There it is
said that the real and ultimate goal does not consist in purification of
morality, or of mind, or of view, etc., but in total deliverance and extinction.
Now, just as one mounts the first coach and travels to the second coach, then
mounts the second coach and travels with it to the third coach, etc., in exactly
the same way the goal of
- (I) the purification of morality (sila-visuddhi)
- (II) the purification of mind (citta-visuddhi); its goal:
- (III) the
purification of view (ditthi-visuddhi); its goal:
- (IV) the purification
by overcoming doubt (kankhāvitarana-visuddhi); its goal:
- (V) the
purification by knowledge and vision of what is path and not-path (maggāmagga-ñānadassana-visuddhi);
- (VI) the purification by knowledge and vision of the path-progress (patipadā-ñānadassana-visuddhi);
- (VII) the purification of knowledge and vision (ñānadassana-visuddhi);
but the goal of this purification is deliverance freed from all clinging.
(I) "Purification of morality (sīla-visuddhi)
consists of the 4-fold purity of morality (catu-pārisuddhi-sīla),
namely: restraint with regard to the Disciplinary Code (pātimokkhasamvara-sīla),
sense-restraint (indriysamvara-sīla), purity of livelihood (ājīvapārisuddhi-sīla),
morality with regard to the 4 requisites (paccaya-sannissita-sīla)" (Vis.M.
XVIII). On these 4 terms, s. sīla. - In the case of a layman, it entails
the observance of whatever moral rules (5 or more) he has taken upon himself.
(II) "Purification of mind (citta-visuddhi) is a
name for the 8 attainments (= absorptions: jhāna, q.v.), as well as for
neighbourhood-concentration (upacāra-samādhi; s. samādhi)."
(III) "By purification of view (ditthi-visuddhi) is
meant the understanding, according to reality, of mind and materiality (nāmarūpa,
q.v.)... which is founded on undeludedness (wisdom) as base, and which in
manifold ways determines mind and materiality after overcoming all belief in a
persollality (attā: self, ego.)." (ib.).
(IV) "By purification by overcoming doubt (kankhā-vitarana-visuddhi)
is meant the understanding which, by clinging the conditions of this mind and
materiality, has escaped from all doubt with regard to the 3 times (past,
present, future)." (ib. XIX)
(V) "By purification by knowledge and vision of what is
path and not-path (maggāmagga-ñānadassana-visuddhi) is meant that
understanding which knows the right path from the wrong path: 'This is the right
path, that the wrong path.' " (ib. XX)
In order to attain this 5th stage of purification, one at
first should develop methodical insight (naya-vipassanā), i.e. through
contemplation of the 5 groups of existence (khandha, q.v.). For whosoever
does not yet possess a perfectly developed insight, to him such phenomena as
effulgence of light, etc. (see below), arising during insight, may become
impediments in the 3 kinds of full understanding here considered (s. pariññā).
'As soon as the manifold ways and characteristics of the 4
Truths (sacca) and the dependent origination (paticcasamuppāda)
have become clear to the meditating disciple, he says to himself: Thus do these
things never before arisen arise, and having arisen they disappear again. Thus
do the constructions of existence ever and again arise as something quite new. But
not only are they something new, they are moreover also of limited duration,
like a dew-drop at sunrise, like a bubble, like a line drawn with a stick in the
water, like a mustard seed placed on the point of an arrow, or like a flash of
lightning. Also as something unsubstantial and empty do they appear, as
jugglery, as a mirage .... Merely something subject to vanishing arises, and
having arisen disappears again.' "
During such insight practice, however, may arise the 10
imperfections (or defilements) of insight (vipassanūpakkilesa):
effulgence of light (obhāsa), knowledge (ñāna), rapture (pīti),
tranquillity (passaddhi), happiness (sukha), determination (adhimokkha),
energy (paggaha), awareness (upatthāna), delight (nikanti).
- See Vis.M. XX, 105f. (App.).
Excepting the last one, 'delight', they are not imperfections
or defilements in themselves, but may become a basis for them through the
arising of pride or delight or by a wrong conclusion that one of the holy paths
has been attained. He, however, who is watchful and experienced in insight
practice, will know that these states of mind do not indicate attainment of the
true path, but are only symptoms or concomitants of insight meditation.
"Thus far the meditating disciple has determined 3 of
the truths, namely while determining the corporeal and mental phenomena he has,
through purification of view (ditthi-visuddhi), determined the 'truth of
suffering'. While clinging the conditions he has, through purification by
overcoming doubt (kankhā-vitarana-visuddhi), determined the 'truth of
the origin of suffering'. While determining the right path, he has, through
purification by knowledge and vision of what is path and not-path (maggāmagga-ñānadassana-visuddhi),
determined the 'truth of the path' (leading to the extinction of
(VI) Purification by knowledge and vision of the
path-progress (patipadā-ñānadassana-visuddhi) is the insight perfected
in 8 kinds of knowledge, together with the 9th knowledge, the 'knowledge
adapting itself to truth'.
By the 8 kinds of knowledge are here meant the following,
which are freed from defilements, follow the right process, and are considered
as insight, namely:
- 1. knowledge consisting in contemplation of rise and fall (udayabbayānupassanā-ñāna),
- 2. in contemplation of dissolution (bhangānupassanā-ñāna),
- 3. in awareness of terror (or the fearful) (bhayatūpatthānā-ñāna),
- 4. in experience of Danger (ādīnavānupassanā-ñāna),
- 5. in contemplation of aversion (nibbidānupassanā-ñāna),
- 6. in the desire for deliverance (muccitu-kamyatā-ñāna),
- 7. in reflecting contemplation (patisankhānupassanā-ñāna),
- 8. in equanimity regarding all constructions of existence (sankhārupekkhā-ñāna)
- which is followed by
- 9. in adaptation to truth (saccānulomika-ñāna).
(1) consists in the meditative observation of the 3
characteristics of existence (impermanence, suffering, no self) in one's own
bodily and mental processes. As long as the mind is still disturbed by the 10
imperfections (s. V), the 3 characteristics will not become fully clear in their
true nature. Only when the mind is free from these imperfections can the
characteristics be observed clearly.
(2) When through such repeated practice, knowledge and
mindfulness have grown keen and the bodily and mental constructions become apparent
quickly, at that stage the phase of dissolution of these constructions will become
"Consciousness with (e.g.) materiality as its object
arises and dissolves. Having reflected on that object, he contemplates the
dissolution of (reflecting) consciousness." (Pts.M. I, 57, quoted in Vis.M.
The 8 blessings of this knowledge are: abandoning the belief
in eternal existence (bhava-ditthi), giving up attachment to life,
constant right application (of mind to meditative endeavour), a purified
livelihood, overcoming of anxiety, absence of fear, acquisition of forbearance
and gentleness, conquest of discontent and sensual delight (Vis.M. XXI, 28).
(3) Knowledge consisting in awareness of terror (or
fearfulness) is the seeing of terror in the conditions as well as the continuity
of existence. For whoso considers the constructions as impermanent, to him the
conditions of existence (i.e. the karma-constructions producing ever new existence)
appear as terror, as driving towards death. Whoso considers the constructions as
misery, to him the continuity of existence appears as terror, as something
oppressive. Whoso considers the constructions as impersonal, to him the
karmaconstructions, as well as the continuity of existence, appear as terror, as an
empty village, as a mirage, etc.
(4) experience of Danger (or danger) is another aspect of
the awareness of terror: "The origin (of existence) is terror ...
continuance of existence is terror ... arising is suffering', such understanding
in the awareness of terror is the knowledge of misery. 'Non-arising is bliss',
this is knowledge of the peaceful state (Pts.M. I, 59); that is, the
no-more-arising is safety, is happiness, is Nibbāna.
(5) Contemplation of aversion means: aversion for all
constructions as terror, therefore its name 'awareness of terror' has come into
use. Because it has made known the misery of all these constructions, therefore it
has received the name of 'experience of Danger' (ādīnavānupassanā).
Because it has arisen through aversion for those constructions, therefore it is
known as 'contemplation of aversion' (nibbidānupassanā).
(6) Knowledge consisting in the desire for deliverance means:
the desire for freedom and escape from all constructions of existence.. For feeling
aversion for all constructions, becoming weary of them, finding no more delight in
them, the mind does not cling to a single one of all these constructions.
(7) Reflecting contemplation is the repeated meditative
discernment of the constructions of existence, attributing to them the 3
characteristics of existence, with the desire to find deliverance from all forms
(8) Equanimity regarding all constructions: "When the
meditator (through reflecting contemplation) has discerned the constructions by
applying the 3 characteristics to them and sees them as void, he abandons both
terror and delight, and becomes indifferent and equanimous with regard to all
constructions; he neither takes them as I nor as 'mine'; he is like a man who has
divorced his wife" (Vis.M. XXI, 61).
Now, while continuing to contemplate the 3 characteristics of
existence and perceiving the tranquil lot of Nibbāna as the peace, this
equanimity-knowledge becomes the triple gateway to liberation. As it is said (Pts.M.
II, p. 48):
"Three gateways to liberation (vimokkha-mukha; s.
vimokkha I) lead to escape from the world, namely: that the mind is
contemplating all constructions as limited, and is rushing forward to the
condition less element (animitta-dhātu); that the mind is stirred with
regard to all constructions of existence, and is rushing forward to the desire less
element (appanihita-dhātu); that the mind sees all things as something
foreign, and is rushing forward to the void element (suññatā-dhātu)."
At this stage, and through the triple gateway, the
diversification of path attainment takes place, according to the 7 kinds of
noble persons (ariya-puggala, q.v.); on this see Vis.M. XXI, 74ff.
The 6th, 7th and 8th knowledge, according to Vis.M. XXI,
form really only one single knowledge in its first, middle and final stages of
development. This knowledge is also known as the 'insight leading to path
ascent' (vutthāna-gāminī-vipassanā, q.v.).
(9) Adaptation to truth (or conformity with truth) is called
that knowledge which, while contemplating impermanency, etc. adapts itself to
the preceding 8 kinds of insight-knowledge, as well as to the immediately
following supermundane path and to the 37 elements pertaining to enlightenment (bodhipakkhiya-dhamma,
q.v.). It is identical with adaptation-knowledge (anulomañāna).
"Whosoever has cultivated, developed, and frequently
practised 'equanimity regarding all constructions' in him arises very strong faith
known as determination (adhimokkha-saddhā) and his energy is better
exerted, his mindfulness better established, his mind better concentrated, and a
still stronger 'equanimity regarding the constructions' arises. 'Now the path will
reveal itself', thus thinking, the meditator contemplates with his
equanimity-knowledge all constructions as impermanent, etc., and thereafter that
knowledge sinks into the subconscious stream of existence (s. bhavanga-sotā).
Immediately afterwards there arises advertence at the mind-door (s. viññāna-kicca).
And just like equanimity-knowledge, the adaptation-knowledge, too, takes as its
object the constructions, regarding them as something impermanent, miserable and
impersonal. Thereupon, while continuing the uninterrupted continuity of
consciousness (citta-santati), there arises the 1st impulsive moment (javana,
q.v.), called 'preparation' (parikamma), taking the same constructions as
object. Immediately thereafter, with the same constructions as object, there arises
the 2nd impulsive moment, known as 'access' (upacāra). And again
immediately after that, there arises the impulsive moment called 'adaptation' (anuloma)."
(VII) Purification of knowledge and vision (ñānadassana-visuddhi)
is the knowledge associated with any of the 4 kinds of supermundane
path-consciousness (s. ariyapuggala).
"Immediately upon this adaptation-knowledge there arises
the 'maturity-knowlege' (gotrabhū-ñāna; s. gotrabhū) taking as
object the Unconditioned, the standstill of existence, the absence of becoming,
cessation, Nibbāna, while at the same time transcending the rank (gotta = gotra:
lineage), designation and plane of the worldling (puthujjana, q.v.), and
entering the rank, designation and plane of the Noble Ones (ariya), being
the first turning towards Nibbāna as object, the first thinking of it, the
first concentration on it, and the condition for the path ... forming the
culmination of insight, and never as such coming back again.
''As the immediate continuation following upon that maturity
knowledge (gotrabhū-ñāna), there arises the first path-consciousness
(Stream-entrance) forever destroying the first 3 of the 10 fetters of existence (samyojana,
q.v.), and closing the entrance to the lower worlds. Immediately after this
path-knowledge, there arise, as its result, 2 or 3 path-produced states of
consciousness, the fruitional consciousness (phala-citta). Immediately
after the sinking of this consciousness into the subconscious stream of
existence, the retrospective knowledge (paccavekkhana-ñāna, q.v.)
arises, having the path-consciousness as its object" (Vis.M. XXI). For the
3 higher paths, s. ariya-puggala.
Each of the 4 kinds of path-consciousness performs at the one
and the same time 4 functions, namely: the function of full understanding (pariññā,
q.v.) of suffering, the function of overcoming (pahāna, q.v.) the origin
of suffering, the function of realizing (sacchikiriyā) the extinction of
suffering, the function of developing (bhāvanā, q.v.) the supermundane
Noble Eightfold Path (magga, q.v.).
See Path of Purification, by Buddhaghosa, tr. by ñyanamoli
(BPS); Path of Freedom, by Upatissa (BPS).