The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha


How much do I want to read more? 7/10

That's dense. It looks like this book contains much of Buddha's teaching. What he considered important as foundations to attain liberation from suffering.
There are a lot of methodology, principles, rules, things to take care of, way of life, practices…
I just started to read the summary of all the sutra, which is really handy to grasp the whole picture. I guess each sutra take each point in depth, with lots of repitition.
I'm eager to read at least one sutra to see how it is teached, most specifically the important ones like number 10: meditation for insights.


Preface

generally considered our most reliable source for the original teachings of the historical Buddha Gotama.
The present work contains finished translations of all 152 suttas.
More elementary information on the Pali Canon and on Pali Buddhism in general will be found in Maurice Walshe’s introduction to his recent translation of the complete Dīgha Nikāya, Thus Have I Heard, which the present publication is intended to parallel.

-- BHIKKHU BODHI

Introduction

THE MAJJHIMA NIKĀYA AS A COLLECTION

THE MAJJHIMA NIKĀYA is the second collection of the Buddha’s discourses found in the Sutta Piṭaka of the Pali Canon.
it is so called because the suttas it contains are generally of middle length, compared with the longer suttas of the Dīgha Nikāya, which precedes it, and the shorter suttas making up the two major collections that follow it, the Saṁyutta Nikāya and the Anguttara Nikāya.

The Majjhima Nikāya consists of 152 suttas. These are divided into three parts called Sets of Fifty (paṇṇāsa)

THE BUDDHA IN THE MAJJHIMA NIKĀYA

the Majjhima does give us the fullest canonical account of the Master’s early life as a Bodhisatta, a seeker of enlightenment.

In his youth, having seen through the sensual delights to which his princely status entitled him (MN 75.10), the Bodhisatta decided that it was futile to pursue things subject like himself to ageing and death and thus, with his parents weeping, he left the home life and went in search of the ageless and deathless, Nibbāna.

MN 26 tells of his discipleship under two accomplished meditation teachers of the day, his mastery of their systems, and his consequent disillusionment.
MN 12 and MN 36 describe his ascetic practices during his six hard years of striving, a path he pursued almost to the point of death.
MN 26 and MN 36 both relate in lean and unembellished terms his attainment of enlightenment.

THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS

The Buddha’s teaching is called the Dhamma.
The Dhamma is not a body of immutable dogmas or a system of speculative thought. It is essentially a means, a raft for crossing over from the “near shore” of ignorance, craving, and suffering to the “far shore ” of transcendental peace and freedom (MN 22.13).

Because his aim in setting forth his teaching is a pragmatic one—deliverance from suffering—the Buddha can dismiss the whole gamut of metaphysical speculation as a futile endeavour. Those committed to it he compares to a man struck by a poisoned arrow who refuses the surgeon’s help until he knows the details about his assailant and his weaponry (MN 63.5). Being struck by the arrow of craving, afflicted by ageing and death, humanity is in urgent need of help. The remedy the Buddha brings as the surgeon for the world (MN 105.27) is the Dhamma, which discloses both the truth of our existential plight and the means by which we can heal our wounds.

The Dhamma that the Buddha discovered and taught consists at its core in Four Noble Truths:

It is these four truths that the Buddha awakened to on the night of his enlightenment (MN 4.31, MN 36.42)
In the Majjhima Nikāya the Four Noble Truths are expounded concisely at MN 9.14–18 and in detail in MN 141.

The pivotal notion around which the truths revolve is that of dukkha, translated here as “suffering.”
This unsatisfactoriness of the conditioned is due to its impermanence, its vulnerability to pain, and its inability to provide complete and lasting satisfaction.

The notion of impermanence (aniccatā) forms the bedrock for the Buddha’s teaching.
ranging in scale from the cosmic to the microscopic.
all the constituents of our being, bodily and mental, are in constant process, arising and passing away in rapid succession from moment to moment without any persistent underlying substance. In the very act of observation they are undergoing “destruction, vanishing, fading away, and ceasing” (MN 74.11).

This characteristic of impermanence that marks everything conditioned leads directly to the recognition of the universality of dukkha or suffering.
five aggregates affected by clinging:

The Buddha’s statement that the five aggregates are dukkha thus reveals that the very things we identify with and hold to as the basis for happiness, rightly seen, are the basis for the suffering that we dread. Even when we feel ourselves comfortable and secure, the instability of the aggregates is itself a source of oppression and keeps us perpetually exposed to suffering in its more blatant forms.

All beings in whom ignorance and craving remain present wander on in the cycle of repeated existence, saṁsāra, in which each turn brings them the suffering of new birth, ageing, illness, and death. All states of existence within saṁsāra, being necessarily transitory and subject to change, are incapable of providing lasting security. Life in any world is unstable, it is swept away, it has no shelter and protector, nothing of its own (MN 82.36).

THE TEACHING OF NON-SELF

tied up with impermanence and suffering is a third principle intrinsic to all phenomena of existence: non-self (anattā).
the three together are called the three marks or characteristics (tilakkhaṇa).

The Buddha teaches, contrary to our most cherished beliefs, that our individual being—the five aggregates—cannot be identified as self, as an enduring and substantial ground of personal identity. The notion of self has only a conventional validity, as a convenient shorthand device for denoting a composite insubstantial situation. It does not signify any ultimate immutable entity subsisting at the core of our being.

The bodily and mental factors are transitory, constantly arising and passing away, creating the appearance of selfhood.
The notion of selfhood, he regards as a product of ignorance. attempts by identifying it with some aspect of the personality he describes as “clinging to a doctrine of self.”

what is impermanent is pain or suffering, and what is subject to change cannot be regarded as mine, I, or self (MN 22.26, MN 35.20, etc.)

THE ORIGIN AND CESSATION OF SUFFERING

The second of the Four Noble Truths makes known the origin or cause of suffering, which the Buddha identifies as craving (taṇhā) in its three aspects: craving for sensual pleasures; craving for being, that is, for continued existence; and craving for non-being, that is, for personal annihilation.
The third truth states the converse of the second truth, that with the elimination of craving the suffering that originates from it will cease without remainder.

The Buddha’s discovery of the causal link between craving and suffering accounts for the apparent “pessimistic” streak that emerges in several suttas of the Majjhima Nikāya: in MN 13 with its disquisition on the dangers in sensual pleasures, form, and feeling; in MN 10 and MN 119 with their cemetery meditations; in MN 22, MN 54, and MN 75 with their shocking similes for sensual pleasures. Such teachings are part of the Buddha’s tactical approach to guiding his disciples to liberation.

By its own inherent nature craving springs up and thrives wherever it finds something that appears pleasant and delightful. It proliferates through mistaken perception—the perception of sense objects as enjoyable—and thus to break the grip of craving on the mind, exhortation is often not enough. The Buddha must make people see that the things they yearn for and frantically pursue are really suffering, and he does this by exposing the dangers concealed beneath their sweet and charming exteriors.

When craving intensifies it gives rise to clinging (upādāna), through which one again engages in volitional actions pregnant with a renewal of existence (bhava). The new existence begins with birth (jāti), which inevitably leads to ageing and death (jarāmaraṇa).

With the arising of true knowledge, full penetration of the Four Noble Truths, ignorance is eradicated. Consequently the mind no longer indulges in craving and clinging, action loses its potential to generate rebirth, and deprived thus of its fuel, the round comes to an end. This marks the goal of the teaching signalled by the third noble truth, the cessation of suffering.

NIBBĀNA

The state that supervenes when ignorance and craving have been uprooted is called Nibbāna (Sanskrit, Nirvāṇa).
Nibbāna is described precisely as “profound, hard to see and hard to understand,…unattainable by mere reasoning” (MN 26.19). Yet in this same passage the Buddha also says that Nibbāna is to be experienced by the wise and in the suttas he gives enough indications of its nature to convey some idea of its desirability.

Its pre-eminent reality is affirmed by the Buddha when he calls Nibbāna the supreme foundation of truth, whose nature is undeceptive and which ranks as the supreme noble truth (MN 140.26).
Nibbāna cannot be perceived by those who live in lust and hate, but it can be seen with the arising of spiritual vision, and by fixing the mind upon it in the depths of meditation, the disciple can attain the destruction of the taints (MN 26.19, MN 75.24, MN 64.9).

To show Nibbāna as desirable, as the aim of striving, he describes it as the highest bliss, as the supreme state of sublime peace, as the ageless, deathless, and sorrowless, as the supreme security from bondage.
To show what must be done to attain Nibbāna, to indicate that the goal implies a definite task, he describes it as the stilling of all formations, the relinquishing of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, dispassion (MN 26.19).
Above all, Nibbāna is the cessation of suffering, and for those who seek an end to suffering such a designation is enough to beckon them towards the path.

THE WAY TO THE CESSATION OF SUFFERING

to eliminate craving and thereby bring an end to suffering. This truth teaches the “Middle Way” discovered by the Buddha, the Noble Eightfold Path:

  1. right view (sammā diṭṭhi)
  2. right intention (sammā sankappa)
  3. right speech (sammā vācā)
  4. right action (sammā kammanta)
  5. right livelihood (sammā ājīva)
  6. right effort (sammā vāyāma)
  7. right mindfulness (sammā sati)
  8. right concentration (sammā samādhi)

Mentioned countless times throughout the Majjhima Nikāya, the Noble Eightfold Path is explained in detail in two full suttas. MN 141, 117.
MN 9 provides an in-depth exposition of right view, MN 10 of right mindfulness, MN 19 of right intention. MN 44.11 explains that the eight factors can be incorporated into three “aggregates” of training.
Right speech, right action, and right livelihood make up the aggregate of virtue or moral discipline (sīla);
right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration make up the aggregate of concentration (samādhi);
right view and right intention make up the aggregate of understanding or wisdom (paññā)

Towards the end of his life he stressed to the Sangha that the long duration of his teaching in the world depends upon the accurate preservation of these factors and their being practised by his followers in harmony, free from contention:

the central importance of four factors among them—energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom.

THE GRADUAL TRAINING

the Buddha often expounds the practice of the path as a gradual training (anupubbasikkhā), which unfolds in stages from the first step to the final goal.
the gradual training is shown to start with the going forth into homelessness and the adoption of the lifestyle of a bhikkhu, a Buddhist monk. This immediately calls attention to the importance of the monastic life in the Buddha’s Dispensation.
In principle the entire practice of the Noble Eightfold Path is open to people from any mode of life, monastic or lay, and the Buddha confirms that many among his lay followers were accomplished in the Dhamma and had attained the first three of the four stages.

However, the fact remains that the household life inevitably tends to impede the single-hearted quest for deliverance by fostering a multitude of worldly concerns and personal attachments. Hence the Buddha himself went forth into homelessness as the preliminary step in his own noble quest, and after his enlightenment he established the Sangha, the order of bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs, as the resort for those who wish to devote themselves fully to the practice of his teaching undeflected by the cares of household life.

two additional steps here, moderation in eating and devotion to wakefulness.

The five hindrances—sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, and doubt—are the primary obstacles to meditative development and their removal is therefore essential for the mind to be brought to a state of calm and unification.

The next stage in the sequence describes the attainment of the jhānas, profound states of concentration in which the mind becomes fully absorbed in its object.
products of the extraordinarily powerful degree of mental concentration achieved in the fourth jhāna: the supernormal powers:

APPROACHES TO MEDITATION

The methods of meditation taught by the Buddha in the Pali Canon fall into two broad systems.
One is the development of serenity (samatha), which aims at concentration (samādhi);
the other is the development of insight (vipassanā), which aims at understanding or wisdom (paññā).

insight is the crucial instrument needed to uproot the ignorance at the bottom of saṁsāric bondage.
The attainments possible through serenity meditation were known to Indian contemplatives long before the advent of the Buddha. The Buddha himself mastered the two highest stages under his early teachers but found that, on their own, they only led to higher planes of rebirth, not to genuine enlightenment (MN 26.15–16).

The attainments reached by the practice of serenity meditation are, as mentioned in the preceding section, the eight absorptions—the four jhānas and the four immaterial states—each of which serves as the basis for the next.

Mindfulness of breathing, to which the Buddha devotes an entire sutta (MN 118), provides an ever accessible meditation subject that can be pursued through all four jhānas and also used to develop insight.
Another method for attaining the jhānas mentioned in the suttas is the four divine abodes (brahmavihāra)—boundless loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy (i.e., gladness at others’ success), and equanimity (MN 7, MN 40, etc.).

The Buddha teaches that the craving and clinging that hold us in bondage are sustained by a network of “conceivings” (maññita)—deluded views, conceits, and suppositions that the mind fabricates by an internal process of mental commentary or “proliferation” (papañca) and then projects out upon the world, taking them to possess objective validity.
The task of insight meditation is to sever our attachments by enabling us to pierce through this net of conceptual projections in order to see things as they really are.

To see things as they really are means to see them in terms of the three characteristics—as impermanent, as painful or suffering, and as not self.
Since the three characteristics are closely interlinked, any one of them can be made the main portal for entering the domain of insight, but the Buddha’s usual approach is to show all three together—impermanence implying suffering and the two in conjunction implying the absence of self.
When the noble disciple sees all the factors of being as stamped with these three marks, he no longer identifies with them, no longer appropriates them by taking them to be mine, I, or self. Seeing thus, he becomes disenchanted with all formations. When he becomes disenchanted, his lust and attachment fade away and his mind is liberated from the taints.

The single most important lesson on the practice conducing to insight is the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (MN 10)
designed to train the mind to see with microscopic precision the true nature of the body, feelings, states of mind, and mental objects.

MN 118 shows how the practice of mindfulness of breathing fulfils all four foundations of mindfulness.

THE FOUR PLANES OF LIBERATION

The practice of the Buddhist path evolves in two distinct stages,

The mundane path is developed when the disciple undertakes the gradual training in virtue, concentration, and wisdom. This reaches its peak in the practice of insight meditation.
When the practitioner’s faculties have arrived at an adequate degree of maturity, the mundane path gives birth to the supramundane path, so called because it leads directly and infallibly out of (uttara) the world (loka) comprising the three realms of existence to the attainment of “the deathless element,” Nibbāna.

Progress along the supramundane path is marked by four major breakthroughs, each of which ushers the disciple through two subordinate phases called the path (magga) and its fruit (phala).
When the work of the path has been completed, the disciple realises its corresponding fruit.

When the disciple realises the fruit of this path he becomes a stream-enterer (sotāpanna), who has entered the “stream” of the Noble Eightfold Path that will carry him irreversibly to Nibbāna. The stream-enterer is bound to reach final liberation in a maximum of seven more births, which all occur either in the human world or in the heavenly realms.

The second supramundane path attenuates to a still greater degree the root defilements of lust, hatred, and delusion, though without yet eradicating them. On realising the fruit of this path the disciple becomes a once-returner (sakadāgāmin), who is due to return to this world.
The third path eradicates the next two fetters, sensual desire and ill will;
The fourth and last supramundane path is the path of arahantship. This path eradicates the five higher fetters: desire for rebirth in the fine-material realm and in the immaterial realm, conceit, restlessness, and ignorance.

THE ARAHANT

The ideal figure of the Majjhima Nikāya, as of the Pali Canon as a whole, is the arahant. The word “arahant” itself derives from a root meaning “to be worthy.” Ven. Ñāṇamoli renders it “accomplished” and “Accomplished One”.
to designate the individual who has reached the final fruit of the path.

he is “one with taints destroyed, who has lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached his own goal, destroyed the fetters of being, and is completely liberated through final knowledge” (MN 1.51, etc.)
the arahant’s abandoning of ignorance, craving, and conceit, his eradication of fetters, and his freedom from the round of births (MN 22.30–35).

They possess the four foundations—the foundations of wisdom, of truth, of relinquishment, and of peace (MN 140.11)
And by the eradication of lust, hate, and delusion all arahants have access to a unique meditative attainment called the fruition attainment of arahantship, described as the unshakeable deliverance of mind, the immeasurable deliverance of mind, the void deliverance of mind, the deliverance of mind through nothingness, and the signless deliverance of mind (MN 43.35–37).

KAMMA AND REBIRTH

According to the Buddha’s teaching, all beings except the arahants are subject to “renewal of being in the future” (punabbhava), that is, to rebirth.
Rebirth, in the Buddhist conception, is not the transmigration of a self or soul but the continuation of a process, a flux of becoming in which successive lives are linked together by causal transmission of influence rather than by substantial identity.

the fundamental dynamism that determines the states into which beings are reborn and the circumstances they encounter in the course of their lives. That dynamism is kamma, volitional action of body, speech, and mind.

Those beings who engage in bad actions—actions motivated by the three unwholesome roots of greed, hate, and delusion—generate unwholesome kamma that leads them to rebirth into lower states of existence and, if it ripens in the human world, brings them pain and misfortune.
Those beings who engage in good actions—actions motivated by the three wholesome roots of non-greed, non-hate, and non-delusion—generate wholesome kamma that leads them to higher states of existence and ripens in the human world as happiness and good fortune.

The sense-sphere realm, so called because sensual desire predominates there, consists of eleven planes divided into two groups, the bad destinations and the good destinations. The bad destinations or “states of deprivation” (apāya) are four in number: the hells, which are states of intense torment as described in MN 129 and MN 130; the animal kingdom; the sphere of ghosts (peta), beings afflicted with incessant hunger and thirst; and the sphere of titans (asura), beings involved in constant combat.
The courses of kamma leading to rebirth into these planes are classified into a set of ten—three of body, four of speech, and three of mind.

The good destinations in the sense-sphere realm are the human world and the heavenly planes. The latter are sixfold: the gods under the Four Great Kings; the gods of the Thirty-three (tāvatiṁsa), the Yāma gods; the gods of the Tusita heaven, the gods who delight in creating; and the gods who wield power over others’ creations.

In the fine-material realm the grosser types of matter are absent and the bliss, power, luminosity, and vitality of its denizens are far superior to those in the sense-sphere realm.
The fine-material realm consists of sixteen planes.
Attainment of the first jhāna leads to rebirth among Brahmā’s Assembly.
Attainment of the second jhāna in the same three degrees leads respectively to rebirth among the gods of Limited Radiance, of Immeasurable Radiance, and of Streaming Radiance;
the third jhāna to rebirth among the gods of Limited Glory;

THE BUDDHA AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES

The Middle Country of India in which the Buddha lived and taught in the fifth century B.C. teemed with a luxuriant variety of religious and philosophical beliefs propagated by teachers equally varied in their ways of life.
The main division was into the brahmins and the non-brahmanic ascetics, the samaṇas or “strivers.”
The brahmins were the hereditary priesthood of India.
The Pali Canon generally depicts them as living a comfortably settled life.

The samaṇas were usually celibate, lived a life of mendicancy, and acquired their status rather than by birth. They roamed the Indian countryside sometimes in company, sometimes as solitaries, preaching their doctrines to the populace.
The Buddha placed himself among the latter, as one who teaches a Dhamma that he has directly known for himself (MN 100.7).

Society was divided into four broad social classes: the brahmins, who performed the priestly functions; the khattiyas, the nobles, warriors, and administrators; the vessas, the merchants and agriculturalists; and the suddas, the menials and serfs.
Within the Sangha, however, all caste distinctions were abrogated from the moment of ordination. Thus people from any of the four castes who went forth under the Buddha renounced their class titles and prerogatives and instead became known simply as disciples.

The Pali Canon frequently mentions six teachers in particular as contemporaries of the Buddha.

The Jain doctrine, though sharing certain similarities with the Buddha’s teaching, was held to be sufficiently mistaken in basic assumptions as to call for refutation.

TECHNICAL NOTES

THE REPETITIONS

Readers of Pali suttas, particularly in the original language, will immediately be struck by the frequency and length of the repetitive passages.
to ensure that details would not be lost.
the Buddha’s own pedagogical method and served to drive home the points he wanted to convey. We can well imagine that such repetitions, delivered by a fully enlightened teacher to those earnestly striving for awakening, must have sunk down deep into the minds of those who heard them and in many cases triggered off a glimpse of the truth.

SANKHĀRA

The root idea suggested by the word sankhāra is “making together.”

BRAHMA

The word itself, going back to the Vedic period, originally meant holy power, the sacred power that sustains the cosmos and that was contacted through the prayers and rituals of the Vedas.

A Summary of the 152 Suttas

PART ONE: THE ROOT FIFTY DISCOURSES

1. Mūlapariyāya Sutta

The Root of All Things. The Buddha analyses the cognitive processes of four types of individuals:

This is one of the deepest and most difficult suttas in the Pali Canon, and it is therefore suggested that the earnest student read it only in a cursory manner on a first reading of the Majjhima Nikāya, returning to it for an in-depth study after completing the entire collection.

2. Sabbāsava Sutta

All the Taints. The Buddha teaches the bhikkhus seven methods for restraining and abandoning the taints, the fundamental defilements that maintain bondage to the round of birth and death.

3. Dhammadāyāda Sutta

The Buddha enjoins the bhikkhus to be heirs in Dhamma, not heirs in material things. The venerable Sāriputta then continues on the same theme by explaining how disciples should train themselves to become the Buddha’s heirs in Dhamma.

4. Bhayabherava Sutta

Fear and Dread. The Buddha describes to a brahmin the qualities required of a monk who wishes to live alone in the forest. He then relates an account of his own attempts to conquer fear when striving for enlightenment.

5. Anangaṇa Sutta

a discourse to the bhikkhus on the meaning of blemishes, explaining that a bhikkhu becomes blemished when he falls under the sway of evil wishes.

6. Ākankheyya Sutta

The Buddha begins by stressing the importance of virtue as the foundation for a bhikkhu’s training; he then goes on to enumerate the benefits that a bhikkhu can reap by properly fulfilling the training.

7. Vatthūpama Sutta: The Simile of the Cloth

With a simple simile the Buddha illustrates the difference between a defiled mind and a pure mind.

8. Sallekha Sutta

Effacement. The Buddha rejects the view that the mere attainment of the meditative absorptions is effacement and explains how effacement is properly practised in his teaching.

9. Sammādiṭṭhi Sutta

Right View. A long and important discourse by the venerable Sāriputta, with separate sections on the wholesome and the unwholesome, nutriment, the Four Noble Truths, the twelve factors of dependent origination, and the taints.

10. Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta: The Foundations of Mindfulness

This is one of the fullest and most important suttas by the Buddha dealing with meditation, with particular emphasis on the development of insight.
The Buddha begins by declaring the four foundations of mindfulness to be the direct path for the realisation of Nibbāna, then gives detailed instructions on the four foundations: the contemplation of the body, feelings, mind, and mind-objects.

11. Cūḷasīhanāda Sutta

The Shorter Discourse on the Lion’s Roar. The Buddha declares that only in his Dispensation can the four grades of noble individuals be found, explaining how his teaching can be distinguished from other creeds through its unique rejection of all doctrines of self.

12. Mahāsīhanāda Sutta

The Greater Discourse on the Lion’s Roar. The Buddha expounds the ten powers of a Tathāgata, his four kinds of intrepidity, and other superior qualities, which entitle him to “roar his lion’s roar in the assemblies.”