Buddhist meditation


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BUDDHIST MEDITATION
Meditative practice lies at the heart of the Buddhist tradition. This introductory
anthology gives a representative sample of the various kinds of meditations
described in the earliest body of Buddhist scripture, the Pali canon. It provides a
broad introduction to their traditional context and practice and supplies explanation,
context and doctrinal background to the subject of meditation. The main themes
of the book are the diversity and flexibility of the way that the Buddha teaches
meditation from the evidence of the canon. Covering fundamental features of
Buddhist practice such as posture, lay meditation and meditative technique it
provides comments both from the principal early commentators on Buddhist
practice, Upatissa and Buddhaghosa, as well as from reputable modern meditation
teachers in a number of Theravadin traditions. This is the first general book on
Pali Buddhism which introduces the reader to the wide range of meditative advice
in the canon. It demonstrates that the Buddha’s meditative tradition still offers a
path of practice as mysterious, awe-inspiring yet as freshly accessible as it was
centuries ago and should be of interest to students and scholars of Buddhism as
well as Buddhist practitioners.
Sarah Shaw read Greek and English at Manchester University, where she took a
doctorate in English. She studied Pali at Oxford and is on the steering committee
of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. She is a mother, teacher and writer.
She practises with the Samatha Association of Britain.

ROUTLEDGE CRITICAL STUDIES 
IN BUDDHISM
General Editors: Charles S. Prebish and 
Damien Keown
Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism is a comprehensive study of the Buddhist
tradition. The series explores this complex and extensive tradition from a variety
of perspectives, using a range of different methodologies.
The series is diverse in its focus, including historical studies, textual translations
and commentaries, sociological investigations, bibliographic studies, and consid-
erations of religious practice as an expression of Buddhism’s integral religiosity.
It also presents materials on modern intellectual historical studies, including the
role of Buddhist thought and scholarship in a contemporary, critical context and
in the light of current social issues. The series is expansive and imaginative in
scope, spanning more than two and a half millennia of Buddhist history. It is
receptive to all research works that inform and advance our knowledge and
understanding of the Buddhist tradition.
A SURVEY OF VINAYA
LITERATURE
Charles S. Prebish
THE REFLEXIVE NATURE
OF AWARENESS
Paul Williams
ALTRUISM AND  REALITY
Paul Williams
BUDDHISM AND  HUMAN
RIGHTS
Edited by Damien Keown, 
Charles S. Prebish and Wayne Husted
WOMEN IN THE FOOTSTEPS
OF THE  BUDDHA
Kathryn R. Blackstone
THE RESONANCE OF
EMPTINESS
Gay Watson
AMERICAN BUDDHISM
Edited by Duncan Ryuken
Williams and 
Christopher Queen
IMAGING WISDOM
Jacob N. Kinnard
PAIN AND  ITS 
ENDING
Carol S. Anderson
EMPTINESS APPRAISED
David F. Burton

THE SOUND OF LIBERATING
TRUTH
Edited by Sallie B. King and 
Paul O. Ingram
BUDDHIST THEOLOGY
Edited by Roger R. Jackson and
John J. Makransky
THE GLORIOUS DEEDS OF
PURNA
Joel Tatelman
EARLY BUDDHISM – A NEW
APPROACH
Sue Hamilton
CONTEMPORARY BUDDHIST
ETHICS
Edited by Damien Keown
INNOVATIVE BUDDHIST
WOMEN
Edited by Karma Lekshe Tsomo
TEACHING BUDDHISM IN
THE WEST
Edited by V.S. Hori, R.P. Hayes
and J.M. Shields
EMPTY VISION
David L. McMahan
SELF, REALITY AND
REASON IN TIBETAN
PHILOSOPHY
Thupten Jinpa
IN DEFENSE OF DHARMA
Tessa J. Bartholomeusz
BUDDHIST 
PHENOMENOLOGY
Dan Lusthaus
RELIGIOUS MOTIVATION
AND THE ORIGINS OF
BUDDHISM
Torkel Brekke
DEVELOPMENTS IN
AUSTRALIAN BUDDHISM
Michelle Spuler
ZEN WAR STORIES
Brian Victoria
THE BUDDHIST
UNCONSCIOUS
William S. Waldron
INDIAN BUDDHIST
THEORIES OF PERSONS
James Duerlinger
ACTION DHARMA
Edited by Christopher Queen,
Charles S. Prebish and 
Damien Keown
TIBETAN AND  ZEN
BUDDHISM IN BRITAIN
David N. Kay
THE CONCEPT OF THE
BUDDHA
Guang Xing
THE PHILOSOPHY OF DESIRE
IN THE BUDDHIST PALI 
CANON
David Webster
THE NOTION OF DITTHI IN
THERAVADA BUDDHISM
Paul Fuller
THE BUDDHIST THEORY OF 
SELF-COGNITION
Zhihua Yao

MORAL THEORY  IN
FANTIDEVA’S FIKSASAMUCCAYA
Barbra R. Clayton
BUDDHIST STUDIES FROM
INDIA TO AMERICA
Edited by Damien Keown
DISCOURSE AND  IDEOLOGY
IN MEDIEVAL JAPANESE
BUDDHISM
Edited by Richard K. Payne and
Taigen Dan Leighton
BUDDHIST THOUGHT AND
APPLIED PSYCHOLOGICAL
RESEARCH
Edited by D.K. Nauriyal, 
Michael S. Drummond and 
Y.B. Lal
BUDDHISM IN CANADA
Edited by Bruce Matthews
BUDDHISM, CONFLICT AND
VIOLENCE IN MODERN
SRI LANKA
Edited by Mahinda Deegalle
THERAVADA BUDDHISM
AND THE BRITISH
ENCOUNTER
Religious, missionary and
colonial experience in 
nineteenth century 
Sri Lanka
Elizabeth Harris
BEYOND ENLIGHTENMENT 
Buddhism, religion, modernity
Richard Cohen
The following titles are published in association with the Oxford Centre for
Buddhist Studies
The Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies conducts and promotes rigorous teaching
and research into all forms of the Buddhist tradition.
EARLY BUDDHIST METAPHYSICS
Noa Ronkin
MIPHAM’S DIALECTICS AND THE DEBATES 
ON EMPTINESS
Karma Phuntsho
HOW BUDDHISM BEGAN
The conditioned genesis of the early teachings
Richard F. Gombrich
BUDDHIST MEDITATION
An anthology of texts from the Pali canon
Sarah Shaw

BUDDHIST MEDITATION
An anthology of texts from the Pali canon
Sarah Shaw

First published 2006
by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada
by Routledge
270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group
© 2006 Sarah Shaw
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or 
reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, 
mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter 
invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any
information storage or retrieval system, without permission 
in writing from the publishers.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Tipiòtaka. English. Selections.
Buddhist meditation: an anthology of texts from the Pali Canon / 
[selected and translated by] Sarah Shaw.
p. cm. – (Routledge critical studies in Buddhism)
Includes translations from Pali.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Meditation – Buddhism. I. Shaw, Sarah, Dr. II. Title. III. Series.
BQ1172.E5S43 2005
294.3'4435–dc22
2005018530
ISBN10: 0–415–35918–X
ISBN13: 9–78–0–415–35918–4
This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2006.
“To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s
collection of thousands of eBooks please go to www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk.”

FOR CHARLES

CONTENTS
Preface
xii
Acknowledgements
xiv
Translator’s note
xv
List of abbreviations
xvi
1 Introduction
1
What is meditation? 1
The early manuals 4
The classification of meditation objects 6
Different temperaments 8
Finding a teacher or good friend 10
Laypeople and the practice of meditation 12
Sitting posture 15
Samatha and vipassana 18
2 Meditation: introductory texts
21
Enlightenment (1) 21
Enlightenment (2) 21
Enlightenment (3) 22
Seclusion 22
Meditation 23
Starting meditation 24
The good friend 28
The simile of the sun 29
Companionship 30
The mind 31
The skilful mind and body 33
Dispositions 35
Two elephant kings 36
ix

3 The five hindrances
39
Definition of each hindrance 40
The world of the senses 41
Dealing with the hindrances in practice 43
Vijitasena 44
Purification 45
Six hindrances 46
Abandoning the hindrances (nivarajappahana) 48
Asking for help 49
Assessing one’s own mind 51
Particular hindrances 53
4 Longer texts: I. Concentration and the fruits of 
recluseship – the S
amaññaphala-Sutta
59
The background story 59
The fruits of the recluse 61
The hindrances 61
The jhanas 62
5 Longer texts: II. The four foundations of 
mindfulness – the Satipa
tthana-Sutta
76
6 1–10. The ten kasi
ja practices 86
Instructions concerning the device 87
Elements 99
7 11–20. The ten foulness (asubha)
101
Ugliness 105
Kulla 106
An emergency 106
8 The recollections: the first six 
109
The recollections (Anussati): (21–26) The six recollections 109 
21–23. The Triple Gem 110
21. Recollection of the Buddha (Buddhanussati) 113
22. Recollection of the dhamma (dhammanussati) 119
23. Recollection of the sa
πgha (sakghanussati) 122
24. Recollection of virtue (silanussati) 123
C O N T E N T S
x

C O N T E N T S
xi
25. Recollection of generosity (caganussati) 125
26. Recollection of devas (devatanussati) 127
9 The recollections: the four mindfulnesses 
135
27. Mindfulness of death (marajasati) 135
28. Mindfulness of body (kayagatasati) 140
29. Breathing mindfulness (anapanasati) 146
30. Recollection of peace (upasamanussati) 158
10 31–34. The four divine abidings (brahmavih
ara)
163
Loving-kindness (metta163
Compassion 165
Sympathetic joy 165
Equanimity 165
11 35–38. Meditation on the formless (aru¯pasam
apatti)
173
Nirodha samapatti 176
Buddhaghosa and Upatissa: the sphere 
of infinite space 176
The sphere of infinite consciousness 177
The sphere of nothingness 177
The sphere of neither perception nor non-perception 178
The eight jhanas and the cessation of perception 
and feeling 179
12 The one perception and the one defining
183
39. The perception of loathsomeness in food
(ahare patikk˜ulasañña) 183
40. The defining of the four elements
(Catudhatuvavatthanam/ekaÇ vavatthanaÇ) 186
Conclusion
194
Glossary
199
Notes
203
Canonical references
222
Bibliography
225
Index
233

PREFACE
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
xii

P R E FAC E
xiii
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 princi-
pal 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 empha-
size, 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 collec-
tions. 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.

xiv
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
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, encourage-
ment 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.

xv
TRANSLATOR’S NOTE
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 transla-
tion 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 kammadhamma 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.

xvi
ABBREVIATIONS
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
Vibha
πga-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.

A B B R E V I AT I O N S
xvii


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