In Buddha’s Words: “He who is possessed by constant virtue…” Path of Purification #inBuddhasWords

In the third of our quotable quotes  (#inBuddhasWords) — verified quotes with citations to Sutra — we draw from the Vissuddhi-magga, Path of Purification (S I 53):


He who is possessed of constant virtue,

Who has understanding, and is concentrated,

Who is strenuous and diligent as well,

Will cross the flood so difficult to cross.”

— Buddha, The Blessed One

Visuddhi-magga (S I 53)

Here, the translation is by Bhikkhu Nanamoli, translated from the original Pali, as published by the Buddhist Publication Society. This Sutta is a lengthy one, and is published in a book 853 pages long in English by the Buddhist Publication Society.

Virtue  or Sila

This quote is from part 1, on the topic of Sila, which usually translates as Virtue, and more specifically, the last of the four points in Buddha’s answer to disciple, covering “virtue.”

As always with Sutta teachings, a disciple or follower asks a question. In this case, the question was:

“The inner tangle and the outer tangle—
This generation is entangled in a tangle.
And so I ask of Gotama this question:
Who succeeds in disentangling this tangle?”

(S I 13)

Buddha Weekly In Buddhas Words 3 with hashtag Purification Buddhism

“He who is possessed of constant virtue,
Who has understanding, and is concentrated,
Who is strenuous and diligent as well,
Will cross the flood so difficult to cross.”
Buddha, The Blessed One from Visuddhi-maga (S I 53).

 

Buddha Answers

However, when questioned thus, the Blessed One, whose knowledge of all things is unimpeded, deity of deities, excelling Sakka (Ruler of Gods), excelling Brahmá, fearless in the possession of the four kinds of perfect confidence, wielder of the ten powers, all-seer with unobstructed knowledge, uttered this stanza in reply to explain the meaning:

“When a wise man, established well in virtue, Develops consciousness and understanding,

Then as a bhikkhu ardent and sagacious

He succeeds in disentangling this tangle.”

My task is now to set out the true sense,

Divided into virtue and the rest,

Of this same verse composed by the Great Sage.

There are here in the Victor’s Dispensation

Seekers gone forth from home to homelessness,

And who although desiring purity

Have no right knowledge of the sure straight way

Comprising virtue and the other two,

Right hard to find, that leads to purity—

Who, though they strive, here gain no purity.

To them I shall expound the comforting Path Of Purification, pure in expositions,

Relying on the teaching of the dwellers

In the Great Monastery; let all those

Good men who do desire purity Listen intently to my exposition.”

Buddha then described the instances, which included “insight”, Jhana or “understanding”, Karma or “deeds” and Virtues (Editor: Please read the full sutra text for more context.)

Insight

“In some instances this path of purification is taught by insight alone,3 according as it is said:

“Formations are all impermanent:

When he sees thus with understanding

And turns away from what is ill,

That is the path to purity”

(Dhp 277).

Understanding

“And in some instances by jhána and understanding, according as it is said:

“He is near unto Nibbána

In whom are jhána and understanding”

(Dhp 372).

Kamma (Karma) or Deeds

“And in some instances by deeds (kamma), etc., according as it is said:

“By deeds, vision and righteousness,

By virtue, the sublimest life—

By these are mortals purified,

And not by lineage and wealth”

(M III 262).

Virtue

And in some instances by virtue, etc., according as it is said:

“He who is possessed of constant virtue,
Who has understanding, and is concentrated, Who is strenuous and diligent as well,
Will cross the flood so difficult to cross” (S I 53).

Excerpt of Chapter 1 of the Sutta

CHAPTER I

DESCRIPTION OF VIRTUE (Sìla-niddesa)

This was said. But why was it said? While the Blessed One was living at Sávatthì, it seems, a certain deity came to him in the night, and in order to do away with his doubts, he asked this question:

“The inner tangle and the outer tangle—
This generation is entangled in a tangle.
And so I ask of Gotama this question:
Who succeeds in disentangling this tangle?” (S I 13).

2. Here is the meaning in brief. Tangle is a term for the network of craving. For that is a tangle in the sense of lacing together, like the tangle called network of branches in bamboo thickets, etc., because it goes on arising again and again up and down1 among the objects [of consciousness] beginning with what is visible. But it is called the inner tangle and the outer tangle because it arises [as craving] for one’s own requisites and another’s, for one’s own person and another’s, and for the internal and external bases [for consciousness]. Since it arises in this way, this generation is entangled in a tangle. As the bamboos, etc., are entangled by the bamboo tangle, etc., so too this generation, in other words, this order of living beings, is all entangled by the tangle of craving—the meaning is that it is intertwined, interlaced by it.  And because it is entangled like this, so I ask of Gotama this question, that is why I ask this. He addressed the Blessed One by his clan name as Gotama. Who succeeds in disentangling this tangle: who may disentangle this tangle that keeps the three kinds of existence entangled in this way?—What he asks is, who is capable of disentangling it?

3. However, when questioned thus, the Blessed One, whose knowledge of all things is unimpeded, deity of deities, excelling Sakka (Ruler of Gods), excelling Brahmá, fearless in the possession of the four kinds of perfect confidence, wielder of the ten powers, all-seer with unobstructed knowledge, uttered this stanza in reply to explain the meaning:

“When a wise man, established well in virtue, Develops consciousness and understanding, Then as a bhikkhu ardent and sagacious
He succeeds in disentangling this tangle.”

  1. My task is now to set out the true sense, Divided into virtue and the rest,

    Of this same verse composed by the Great Sage. There are here in the Victor’s Dispensation Seekers gone forth from home to homelessness, And who although desiring purity

    Have no right knowledge of the sure straight way Comprising virtue and the other two,
    Right hard to find, that leads to purity—
    Who, though they strive, here gain no purity.

    To them I shall expound the comforting Path Of Purification, pure in expositions,
    Relying on the teaching of the dwellers
    In the Great Monastery;2 let all those

    Good men who do desire purity Listen intently to my exposition.

  2. Herein, purification should be understood as Nibbána, which being devoid of all stains, is utterly pure. The path of purification is the path to that purification; it is the means of approach that is called the path. The meaning is, I shall expound that path of purification.

6. In some instances this path of purification is taught by insight alone, according as it is said:

“Formations are all impermanent: When he sees thus with understanding And turns away from what is ill,
That is the path to purity” (Dhp 277). [3]

And in some instances by jhána and understanding, according as it is said:

“He is near unto Nibbána
In whom are jhána and understanding” (Dhp 372).

And in some instances by deeds (kamma), etc., according as it is said:

“By deeds, vision and righteousness,
By virtue, the sublimest life—
By these are mortals purified,
And not by lineage and wealth” (M III 262).

And in some instances by virtue, etc., according as it is said:

“He who is possessed of constant virtue,
Who has understanding, and is concentrated, Who is strenuous and diligent as well,
Will cross the flood so difficult to cross” (S I 53).

And in some instances by the foundations of mindfulness, etc., according as it is said: “Bhikkhus, this path is the only way for the purification of beings … for the realization of Nibbána, that is to say, the four foundations of mindfulness” (D II 290); and similarly in the case of the right efforts, and so on. But in the answer to this question it is taught by virtue and the other two.

7. Here is a brief commentary [on the stanza]. Established well in virtue: standing on virtue. It is only one actually fulfilling virtue who is here said to “stand on virtue.” So the meaning here is this: being established well in virtue by fulfilling virtue. A man: a living being. Wise: possessing the kind of understanding that is born of kamma by means of a rebirth-linking with triple root-cause. Develops consciousness and understanding: develops both concentration and insight. For it is concentration that is described here under the heading of “consciousness,” and insight under that of “understanding.” Ardent (átápin): possessing energy. For it is energy that is called “ardour” (átápa) in the sense of burning up and consuming (átápana-paritápana) defilements. He has that, thus he is ardent. Sagacious: it is understanding that is called “sagacity”; possessing that, is the meaning. This word shows protective understanding. For understanding is mentioned three times in the reply to the question. Herein, the first is naïve understanding, the second is understanding consisting in insight, while the third is the protective understanding that guides all affairs. He sees fear (bhayaí ikkhati) in the round of rebirths, thus he is a bhikkhu. He succeeds in disentangling this tangle: [4] Just as a man standing on the ground and taking up a well-sharpened knife might disentangle a great tangle of bamboos, so too, he—this bhikkhu who possesses the six things, namely, this virtue, and this concentration described under the heading of consciousness, and this threefold understanding, and this ardour—standing on the ground of virtue and taking up with the hand of protective-understanding exerted by the power of energy the knife of insight-understanding well-sharpened on the stone of concentration, might disentangle, cut away and demolish all the tangle of craving that had overgrown his own life’s continuity. But it is at the moment of the path that he is said to be disentangling that tangle; at the moment of fruition he has disentangled the tangle and is worthy of the highest offerings in the world with its deities. That is why the Blessed One said:

“When a wise man, established well in virtue, Develops consciousness and understanding, Then as a bhikkhu ardent and sagacious
He succeeds in disentangling this tangle.”

8. Herein there is nothing for him to do about the [naïve] understanding on account of which he is called wise; for that has been established in him simply by the influence of previous kamma. But the words ardent and sagacious mean that by persevering with energy of the kind here described and by acting in full awareness with understanding he should, having become well established in virtue, develop the serenity and insight that are described as concentration and understanding. This is how the Blessed One shows the path of purification under the headings of virtue, concentration, and understanding there.

9. What has been shown so far is the three trainings, the dispensation that is good in three ways, the necessary condition for the threefold clear-vision, etc., the avoidance of the two extremes and the cultivation of the middle way, the means to surmounting the states of loss, etc., the abandoning of defilements in three aspects, prevention of transgression etc., purification from the three kinds of defilements, and the reason for the states of stream-entry and so on. How?

10. Here the training of higher virtue is shown by virtue; the training of higher consciousness, by concentration; and the training of higher understanding, by understanding.

The dispensation’s goodness in the beginning is shown by virtue. Because of the passage, “And what is the beginning of profitable things? Virtue that is quite purified” (S V 143), and because of the passage beginning, “The not doing of any evil” (Dhp 183), virtue is the beginning of the dispensation. And that is good because it brings about the special qualities of non-remorse,5 and so on. Its goodness in the

middle is shown by concentration. [5] Because of the passage beginning, “Entering upon the profitable” (Dhp 183), concentration is the middle of the dispensation. And that is good because it brings about the special qualities of supernormal power, and so on. Its goodness in the end is shown by understanding. Because of the passage, “The purifying of one’s own mind—this is the Buddhas’ dispensation” (Dhp 183), and because understanding is its culmination, understanding is the end of the dispensation. And that is good because it brings about equipoise with respect to the desired and the undesired. For this is said:

“Just as a solid massive rock
Remains unshaken by the wind,
So too, in face of blame and praise
The wise remain immovable” (Dhp 81).

11. Likewise the necessary condition for the triple clear-vision is shown by virtue. For with the support of perfected virtue one arrives at the three kinds of clear- vision, but nothing besides that. The necessary condition for the six kinds of direct- knowledge is shown by concentration. For with the support of perfected concentration one arrives at the six kinds of direct-knowledge, but nothing besides that. The necessary condition for the categories of discrimination is shown by understanding. For with the support of perfected understanding one arrives at the four kinds of discrimination, but not for any other reason.

And the avoidance of the extreme called devotion to indulgence of sense desires is shown by virtue. The avoidance of the extreme called devotion to mortification of self is shown by concentration. The cultivation of the middle way is shown by understanding.

12. Likewise the means for surmounting the states of loss is shown by virtue; the means for surmounting the element of sense desires, by concentration; and the means for surmounting all becoming, by understanding.

And the abandoning of defilements by substitution of opposites is shown by virtue; that by suppression is shown by concentration; and that by cutting off is shown by understanding.

13. Likewise prevention of defilements’ transgression is shown by virtue; prevention of obsession (by defilement) is shown by concentration; prevention of inherent tendencies is shown by understanding.

And purification from the defilement of misconduct is shown by virtue; purification from the defilement of craving, by concentration; and purification from the defilement of (false) views, by understanding.

14. Likewise the reason for the states of stream-entry and once-return is shown by virtue; that for the state of non-return, by concentration; that for Arahantship by understanding. For the stream-enterer is called “perfected in the kinds of virtue”; and likewise the once-returner. But the non-returner is called “perfected in con- centration.” And the Arahant is called “perfected in understanding” (see A I 233).

15. So thus far these nine and other like triads of special qualities have been shown, that is, the three trainings, the dispensation that is good in three ways, the necessary condition for the threefold clear-vision, the avoidance of the two extremes and the cultivation of the middle way, the means for surmounting the states of loss, etc., the abandoning of defilements in three aspects, prevention of transgression, etc., purification from the three kinds of defilements, and the reason for the states of stream-entry, and so on.

II. VIRTUE

16. However, even when this path of purification is shown in this way under the headings of virtue, concentration and understanding, each comprising various special qualities, it is still only shown extremely briefly. And so since that is insufficient to help all, there is, in order to show it in detail, the following set of questions dealing in the first place with virtue:

17.

  1. (i)  What is virtue?
  2. (ii)  In what sense is it virtue?
  3. (iii)  What are its characteristic, function, manifestation, and proximate cause?
  4. (iv)  What are the benefits of virtue?
  5. (v)  How many kinds of virtue are there?
  6. (vi)  What is the defiling of it?

(viii) What is the cleansing of it?

Here are the answers:

(i) WHAT IS VIRTUE? It is the states beginning with volition present in one who abstains from killing living things, etc., or in one who fulfils the practice of the duties. For this is said in the Paþisambhidá: “What is virtue? There is virtue as volition, virtue as consciousness-concomitant,7 virtue as restraint, [7] virtue as non- transgression” (Paþis I 44).

Herein, virtue as volition is the volition present in one who abstains from killing living things, etc., or in one who fulfils the practice of the duties. Virtue as consciousness- concomitant is the abstinence in one who abstains from killing living things, and so on. Furthermore, virtue as volition is the seven volitions [that accompany the first seven] of the [ten] courses of action (kamma) in one who abandons the killing of living things, and so on. Virtue as consciousness-concomitant is the [three remaining] states consisting of non-covetousness, non-ill will, and right view, stated in the way beginning, “Abandoning covetousness, he dwells with a mind free from covetousness” (D I 71).

Lee-Clark-buddha-weekly-5

Lee Kane

Author | Buddha Weekly

Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.

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