A Modern Treatise on Buddhist Satipatthana Meditation

The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw


Translator's Foreword
I. Purification of Conduct (//sila-visuddhi//)
The Method of Insight in Brief

II. Purification of Mind (//citta-visuddhi//)

III. Purification of View (//ditthi-visuddhi//)
1. Analytical Knowledge of Body and Mind

IV. Purification by Overcoming Doubt (//kankha-vitarana-visuddhi//)
2. Knowledge by Discerning Conditionality (//paccaya-pariggaha-nana//)
3. Knowledge by Comprehension (//sammasana-nana//)
4. Knowledge of Arising and Passing Away (//udayabbaya-nana//) in
its weak stage, involving the Ten Corruptions of Insight

V. Purification by Knowledge and Vision of What Is Path and Not Path

VI. Purification by Knowledge and Vision of the Course of Practice
(//patipada-nanadassana-visuddhi//) (including mature Knowledge
of Arising and Passing Away)
5. Knowledge of Dissolution (//bhanga-nana//)
6. Awareness of Fearfulness (//bhayatupatthana-nana//)
7. Knowledge of Misery (//adinava-nana//)
8. Knowledge of Disgust (//nibbida-nana//)
9. Knowledge of Desire for Deliverance (//muncitu-kamyata-nana//)
10. Knowledge of Re-observation (//patisankhanupassana-nana//)
11. Knowledge of Equanimity about Formations
12. Insight Leading to emergence (//vutthanagamini-vipassana-nana//)
13. Knowledge of Adaptation (//anuloma-nana//)
14. Maturity Knowledge (//gotrabhu-nana//)

VII. Purification by Knowledge and Vision (//nanadassana-visuddhi//)
15. Path Knowledge (//magga-nana//)
16. Fruition Knowledge (//phala-nana//)
17. Knowledge of Reviewing (//paccavekkhana-nana//)
18. Attainment of Fruition (//phalasamapatti//)
19. The Higher Paths and Fruitions

The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw

* * * * * * * *


To present to the reading public a treatise on Buddhist meditation
needs no word of apology today. In wide circles of the West, Buddhist
meditation is no longer regarded as a matter of purely academic or
exotic interest. Under the stress and complexity of modern life the
need for mental and spiritual regeneration is now widely felt, and in
the field of the mind's methodical development the value of Buddhist
meditation has been recognized and tested by many.

It is, in particular, the Buddha's Way of Mindfulness
(//satipatthana//) that has been found invaluable because it is
adaptable to, and beneficial in, widely different conditions of life.
The present treatise is based on this method of cultivating
mindfulness and awareness, which ultimately aims at the mind's final
liberation from greed, hatred, and delusion.

The author of this treatise, the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw (U Sobhana
Mahathera), is a Buddhist monk of contemporary Burma and an eminent
meditation master. A brief sketch of his life is included in this
volume. The path of meditation described in these pages was, and still
is, taught by him in his meditation centre called Thathana Yeiktha, in
Rangoon, and is also set forth in his lectures and books in the
Burmese language.

The framework of the treatise is provided by the classical "seven
stages of purification" (//satta-visuddhi//), just as in Acariya
Buddhaghosa's famous //Visuddhimagga//. On gradually reaching these
stages, various phases of insight knowledge (//nana//) are developed,
leading on to the stages of ultimate liberation. The approach followed
is that of "bare insight" (//sukkha-vipassana//) where, by direct
observation, one's own bodily and mental processes are seen with
increasing clarity as being impermanent, liable to suffering, and
without a self or soul. The meditational practice begins with a few
selected subjects of body-contemplation, which are retained up to the
very end of the road. With the gradually increasing strength of
mindfulness and concentration the range widens and the vision deepens
until the insight knowledges unfold themselves in due order, as a
natural outcome of the practice. This approach to the ultimate goal of
Buddhist meditation is called //bare insight// because insight into
the three characteristics of existence is made use of exclusively
here, dispensing with the prior development of full concentrative
absorption (//jhana//). Nevertheless, and it hardly needs mention,
here too a high degree of mental concentration is required for
perseverance in the practice, for attaining to insight knowledge, and
for reaping its fruits.

As stated in the treatise itself (p.5), it is not the author's
purpose to give a detailed introduction to the practice for the use of
beginners. The foremost concern in this work is with a stage where,
after diligent preliminary practice, the insight knowledges have begun
to emerge, leading up to the highest crest of spiritual achievement,
Arahantship. Of the basic exercises, the treatise gives only a brief
indication, at the beginning of Chapter I. Detailed instruction about
these may be gathered by the student from the author's //Practical
Insight Meditation// or the translator's book //The Heart of Buddhist
Meditation//. Also a knowledge of the Buddha's original "Discourse on
the Foundations of Mindfulness" (Satipatthana Sutta) will be

This treatise was first written in the Burmese language and later,
in 1950, a Pali version of it was composed by the author. As the
treatise deals chiefly with the advanced stages of the practice, it
was originally not intended for publication. Handwritten or typed
copies of the Burmese or Pali version were given only to those who,
with some measure of success, had concluded a strict course of
practice at the meditation centre. For the use of meditators from
foreign countries, only a few cyclostyled sheets in English, briefly
describing the phases of insight knowledge, were issued instead of the
treatise itself. This was done to enable the meditator to identify his
personal experience with one or other of the stages described, so that
he might direct his further progress accordingly, without being
diverted or misled by any secondary phenomena that may have appeared
during his practice.

In 1954 the Venerable Author agreed to a printed edition of the
Pali version in Burmese script, and after this first publication he
also permitted, at the translator's request, the issue of an English
version. He had the great kindness to go carefully through the draft
translation and the Notes, with the linguistic help of an experienced
Burmese lay meditator, U Pe Thin, who for many years had ably served
as an interpreter for meditators from foreign countries. The
translator's gratitude is due to both his Venerable Meditation Master,
the author, and to U Pe Thin.

Nyanaponika Thera

Forest Hermitage
Kandy, Ceylon,
On the Full-moon Day of June (Poson) 1965.

* * * * * * * *

//Homage to the Blessed One,
the Worthy One,
the Fully Enlightened One//



Homage to Him, the Great Omniscient Sage,
Who spread the net of rays of His Good Law!
These rays of His Good Law -- His very message true --
Long may they shed their radiance o'er the world!

This treatise explains the progress of insight,[1] together with the
corresponding stages of purification.[2] It has been written in brief
for the benefit of meditators who have obtained distinctive results in
their practice, so that they may more easily understand their
experience. It is meant for those who, in their practice of insight,
have taken up as their main subject either the tactile bodily process
of motion,[3] evident in the rising and falling movement of the
abdomen,[4] or the tactile bodily process based on three of the
primary elements of matter[5] evident in the sensation of touch
(bodily impact). It is meant for those who, by attending to these
exercises, have gained progressive insight as well into the whole
body-and-mind process arising at the six sense doors,[6] and have
finally come to see the Dhamma, to attain to the Dhamma, to understand
the Dhamma, to penetrate the Dhamma, who have passed beyond doubt,
freed themselves from uncertainty, obtained assurance, and achieved
independence of others in the Master's dispensation.[7]

* * *


Purification of conduct means here, in the case of male and female
devotees (//upasakas// and //upasikas//), the acceptance of the
precepts, and the proper guarding and protecting of their observance
-- whether it be the Five Precepts, the Eight Uposatha Precepts, or
the Ten Precepts.[8]

In the case of bhikkhus, purification of conduct is the well-kept
purity of the fourfold conduct incumbent upon monks, beginning with
restraint according to the disciplinary rules of bhikkhus, called the
Patimokkha. Of that fourfold conduct, the restraint according to the
Patimokkha rules is of first importance, because only when that
restraint is pure will one be able to accomplish the development of

The Method of Insight in Brief

There are two kinds of meditation development, tranquillity
(//samatha//) and insight (//vipassana//). A person who, of these two,
has first developed tranquillity, and after having established himself
in either access concentration or full concentration,[10] subsequently
contemplates the five groups of grasping,[11] is called a
//samatha-yanika//, "one who has tranquillity as his vehicle."

As to his method of attaining insight, the //Papancasudani//,
commenting on the Dhammadayada Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya, says:
"Herein, a certain person first produces access concentration or full
concentration; this is tranquillity. He then applies insight to that
concentration and to the mental states associated with it, seeing them
as impermanent, etc.; this is insight." In the //Visuddhimagga//, too,
it is said: "He whose vehicle is tranquillity should first emerge from
any fine-material or immaterial jhana, except the base consisting of
neither-perception-nor-non-perception, and he should then discern,
according to characteristic, function, etc., the jhana factors
consisting of applied thought, etc., and the mental states associated
with them" (//Path of Purification//, XVIII,3).

He, however, who has neither produced access concentration nor full
concentration, but from the very start applies insight to the five
groups of grasping, is called //suddha-vipassana-yanika//,[12] "one
who has pure insight as his vehicle." As to his method of attaining
insight it is said in the same Commentary to the Dhammadayada Sutta:
"There is another person, who even without having produced the
aforesaid tranquillity, applies insight to the five groups of
grasping, seeing them as impermanent, etc." In the //Visuddhimagga//,
too, it is said thus: "One who has pure insight as his vehicle _
contemplates the four elements."

In the Susima-paribbajaka Sutta of the Nidanavagga Samyutta, too,
it is said by the Buddha: "First arises the knowledge comprehending
the actual happening of things (//dhammatthiti-nana//) and afterwards
arises the knowledge realizing Nibbana (//nibbane nana//)."

When purification of conduct has been established, the meditator
who has chosen pure insight as his vehicle should endeavour to
contemplate the //body-and-mind// (//nama-rupa//). In doing so, he
should contemplate, according to their characteristics,[13] the five
groups of grasping, that is, the bodily and mental processes that
become evident to him in his own life-continuity (at his own six sense

Insight must, in fact, be developed by noticing,[15] according to
their specific and general characteristics,[16] the bodily and mental
processes that become evident at the six sense doors. At the
beginning, however, it is difficult to follow and to notice clearly
all bodily and mental processes that incessantly appear at the six
sense doors. Therefore the meditator who is a beginner should first
notice the perfectly distinct process of touch, perceived through the
door of bodily sensitivity; because the //Visuddhimagga// says that in
insight meditation one should take up what is distinct. When sitting,
there occurs the bodily process of touch by way of the sitting posture
and through touch sensitivity in the body. These processes of tactile
sensitivity should be noticed as "Sitting _ touching _," and so forth,
in due succession. Further, at the seated meditator's abdomen, the
tactile process of bodily motion (that is, the wind, or vibratory,
element) which has breathing as its condition, is perceptible
continuously as the rise (expansion) and fall (contraction) of the
abdomen. That too should be noticed as "rising, falling," and so
forth. While the meditator is thus engaged in noticing the element of
motion which impinges continuously on the door of bodily sensitivity
in the abdomen, it becomes evident to him in its aspects of
stiffening, of vibrating, and of pushing and pulling. Here, the aspect
of stiffening shows the motion element's //characteristic nature// of
supporting; the aspect of vibrating shows its //essential function//
of movement; and the aspect of pushing and pulling shows its
//manifestation// of impelling.[17]

Hence the meditator, noticing the tactile bodily process of rise
and fall of the abdomen, accomplishes the observation of the //bodily
process// (//rupa//), by getting to know the characteristic nature,
etc., of the element of motion. Later when he has accomplished the
observation of mind (//nama//) and the observation of both //body and
mind// (//nama-rupa//), he will also come to know the //general//
characteristics of the processes concerned -- their impermanence,
liability to suffering, and their being void of a self.

But while he is engaged in just noticing the rising and falling of
the abdomen and other tactile processes, there will appear thoughts of
desire, etc., feelings of pleasure, etc., or acts such as adjusting
various parts of the body. At that time, these activities (of mind and
body) must be noticed, too. After noticing them, he should turn again
to the continuous noticing of the tactile process of the rising and
falling of the abdomen, which is the basic object of mindfulness in
this practice.

This is a brief sketch of the methodical practice of insight. It is
not the place here to treat it in detail, because this is a brief
essay on the progress of insight through the stages of purification;
it is not a treatise explaining in detail the methodical practice of

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