MN 20. Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Sutta

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MN 20. Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Sutta

Postby jcsuperstar » Tue Jun 16, 2009 2:13 pm

MN 20
Vitakkasanthana Sutta
The Removal of Distracting Thoughts
Translated from the Pali by
Soma Thera

Thus have I heard. At one time the Blessed One was staying at Savatthi, in Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's Pleasance. The Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying, "Bhikkhus," and they replied to him saying, "Reverend Sir." The Blessed One spoke as follows:

"Five things should be reflected on from time to time, by the bhikkhu who is intent on the higher consciousness. What five?

When evil unskillful thoughts connected with desire, hate, and delusion arise in a bhikkhu through reflection on an adventitious object, he should, (in order to get rid of that), reflect on a different object which is connected with skill. Then the evil unskillful thoughts are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination, the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation).

Like an experienced carpenter or carpenter's apprentice, striking hard at, pushing out, and getting rid of a coarse peg with a fine one, should the bhikkhu in order to get rid of the adventitious object, reflect on a different object which is connected with skill. Then the evil unskillful thoughts connected with desire, hate and delusion are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation).

If the evil unskillful thoughts continue to arise in a bhikkhu, who in order to get rid of an adventitious object reflects on a different object which is connected with skill, he should ponder on the disadvantages of unskillful thoughts thus: Truly these thoughts of mine are unskillful, blameworthy, and productive of misery. Then the evil unskillful thoughts are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination, the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation).

Like a well-dressed young man or woman who feels horrified, humiliated and disgusted because of the carcass of a snake, dog, or human that is hung round his or her neck, should the bhikkhu in whom unskillful thoughts continue to arise in spite of his reflection on the object which is connected with skill, ponder on the disadvantages of unskillful thoughts thus: Truly, these thoughts of mine are unskillful, blameworthy, and productive of misery. Then the evil, unskillful thoughts are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination, the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation).

If evil, unskillful thoughts continue to arise in a bhikkhu who ponders on their disadvantageousness, he should in regard to them, endeavor to be without attention and reflection. Then the evil unskillful thoughts are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination, the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation).

Like a keen-eyed man shutting his eyes and looking away from some direction in order to avoid seeing visible objects come within sight, should the bhikkhu in whom evil, unskillful thoughts continue to arise in spite of his pondering on their disadvantageousness, endeavor to be without attention and reflection as regards them. Then the evil, unskillful thoughts are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination, the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation).

If evil, unskillful thoughts continue to arise in a bhikkhu in spite of his endeavor to be without attention and reflection as regards evil, unskillful thoughts, he should reflect on the removal of the (thought) source of those unskillful thoughts. Then the evil, unskillful thoughts are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination, the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation).

Just as a man finding no reason for walking fast, walks slowly; finding no reason for walking slowly, stands; finding no reason for sitting down, lies down, and thus getting rid of a posture rather uncalm resorts to a restful posture, just so should the bhikkhu in whom evil, unskillful thoughts arise, in spite of his endeavor to be without attention and reflection regarding them, reflect on the removal of the (thought) source of those unskillful thoughts. Then the evil, unskillful thoughts are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination, the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation).

If evil, unskillful thoughts continue to arise in a bhikkhu in spite of his reflection on the removal of a source of unskillful thoughts, he should with clenched teeth and the tongue pressing on the palate, restrain, subdue and beat down the (evil) mind by the (good) mind. Then the evil, unskillful thoughts connected with desire, hate and delusion are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination, the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation).

Like a strong man holding a weaker man by the head or shoulders and restraining, subduing and beating him down, should the bhikkhu in whom evil, unskillful thoughts continue to arise in spite of his reflection on the source of unskillful thoughts, restrain, subdue and beat down the (evil) mind by the (good) mind, with clenched teeth and the tongue pressing on the palate. Then the evil, unskillful thoughts connected with desire, hate and delusion are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination, the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation).

When, indeed, bhikkhus, evil unskillful thoughts due to reflection on an adventitious object are eliminated, when they disappear, and the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated just within (his subject of meditation), through his reflection on an object connected with skill, through his pondering on the disadvantages of unskillful thoughts, his endeavoring to be without attentiveness and reflection as regards those thoughts or through his restraining, subduing, and beating down of the evil mind by the good mind with clenched teeth and tongue pressing on the palate, that bhikkhu is called a master of the paths along which thoughts travel. The thought he wants to think, that, he thinks; the thought he does not want to think, that, he does not think. He has cut down craving, removed the fetter, rightly mastered pride, and made an end of suffering."

The Blessed One said this, and the bhikkhus glad at heart, approved of his words.



and from the study guide

20 Vitakkasanthāna Sutta The Removal of Distracting Thoughts v
SUMMARY
Here the Buddha suggests five methods to work with unwholesome thoughts in
the mind. If unwholesome states are not arising, then one needs only to be
mindful so they do not arise unnoticed. Doing this, one is “a master of the
courses of thought.”
NOT ES
[37]
There are five suggested methods to work with unwholesome states in
the mind (desire, hatred and delusion) when the thoughts are persistent. They
should be applied in the following sequence:
1. Replacing—giving attention instead to that which is wholesome
a) Desire: if toward a being, the remedy is to meditate on foulness; if
toward a thing, the remedy is to meditate on impermanence.
b) Ill will: if toward a being, the remedy is to meditate on mettā; if toward a
thing, the remedy is to meditate on the elements.
Pressing Out Pure Ho ney 35
c) Delusion: the remedy is to live with a teacher; study the Dharma; inquire
into its meaning; listen to the Dharma, inquire into its causes. (These
examples are from Note 240.)
2. Reflecting on the danger of those thoughts (as in MN19.3)
3. Forgetting and not giving them attention—looking away, [Ed: Skillful
distraction—for example, this can mean letting the thoughts chatter away
as they like in the background of our mind while we stay focused on the
breath. It can also mean if I am in a lot of pain, physical or emotional, it
might be better to take the attention off the pain to something more
uplifting, like making a phone call to a friend or going out for a walk.]
4. Stilling the thoughtformation,
or inquiring into the cause of the thought.
[Ed: There are a few interpretations of this: 1. Inquiry into the cause of the
thought enables one to move from grosser to a more subtle thought or
mind state, and the thought may cease altogether. 2. It may also mean
that thought processes entail some physical tension. When the tension is
relaxed, the thoughts go away.]
5. Clenching one’s teeth and crushing mind with mind. (Note 243: crushing
the unwholesome with the wholesome.)
There are many useful SIMILES throughout this section, although some are
very harsh.
An interesting point here for our practice is in [8]: When one works with one’s
thoughts in this way so that one’s mind becomes steadied internally, quieted,
brought to singleness, and concentrated, one is called “a master of the courses
of thought.” QUOTE: “He will think whatever thought he wishes to think and he
will not think any thought that he does not wish to think.”
Again we see that the problem is with the suffering, with the unwholesome
mind states, not with thinking per se. When the mind is wholesome, we need
only to be mindful so that the unwholesome does not take hold.
PRACT ICE
The training here is very specific. Practice the five ways to work with distracting
thoughts as needed.
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: MN 20. Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Sutta

Postby Jechbi » Tue Jun 16, 2009 3:28 pm

Very cool.

I think it's worth noting that his passage has been the source of some discussion and disagreement:
jcsuperstar wrote:If evil, unskillful thoughts continue to arise in a bhikkhu in spite of his reflection on the removal of a source of unskillful thoughts, he should with clenched teeth and the tongue pressing on the palate, restrain, subdue and beat down the (evil) mind by the (good) mind.

For example, from a thread here over at the E (for those who are members there) (edited quote):
Ozen,Mar 18 2008, 05:01 PM wrote:In one of Thich Nhat Hanh's book ("The heart of Buddha's Teaching" in "Understanding the Buddha's Teaching" section) ... he writes

"I thought: 'Suppose that I, clenching my teeth and pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth, were to beat down, constrain, & crush my mind with my awareness.' So, clenching my teeth and pressing my tongue against the roof of my mouth, I beat down, constrained, & crushed my mind with my awareness. Just as a strong man, seizing a weaker man by the head or the throat or the shoulders, would beat him down, constrain, & crush him, in the same way I beat down, constrained, & crushed my mind with my awareness. As I did so, sweat poured from my armpits. And although tireless persistence was aroused in me, and unmuddled mindfulness established, my body was aroused & uncalm because of the painful exertion. But the painful feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.

"I thought: 'Suppose I were to become absorbed in the trance of non-breathing.' So I stopped the in-breaths & out-breaths in my nose & mouth. As I did so, there was a loud roaring of winds coming out my earholes, just like the loud roar of winds coming out of a smith's bellows... So I stopped the in-breaths & out-breaths in my nose & mouth & ears. As I did so, extreme forces sliced through my head, just as if a strong man were slicing my head open with a sharp sword... Extreme pains arose in my head, just as if a strong man were tightening a turban made of tough leather straps around my head... Extreme forces carved up my stomach cavity, just as if a butcher or his apprentice were to carve up the stomach cavity of an ox... There was an extreme burning in my body, just as if two strong men, grabbing a weaker man by the arms, were to roast & broil him over a pit of hot embers. And although tireless persistence was aroused in me, and unmuddled mindfulness established, my body was aroused & uncalm because of the painful exertion. But the painful feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain." (Mah-saccaka Sutta MN 36)

He claims this passage contradicts with:

"If evil, unskillful thoughts continue to arise in a bhikkhu in spite of his reflection on the removal of a source of unskillful thoughts, he should with clenched teeth and the tongue pressing on the palate, restrain, subdue and beat down the (evil) mind by the (good) mind. Then the evil, unskillful thoughts connected with desire, hate and delusion are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination, the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation).

Like a strong man holding a weaker man by the head or shoulders and restraining, subduing and beating him down, should the bhikkhu in whom evil, unskillful thoughts continue to arise in spite of his reflection on the source of unskillful thoughts, restrain, subdue and beat down the (evil) mind by the (good) mind, with clenched teeth and the tongue pressing on the palate. Then the evil, unskillful thoughts connected with desire, hate and delusion are eliminated; they disappear. By their elimination, the mind stands firm, settles down, becomes unified and concentrated, just within (his subject of meditation)." (Vitakka-Santhana Sutta MN 20)

To which Ven. Huifeng responded (edited quote):
Huifeng,Mar 18 2008, 06:18 PM wrote:Okay, this [the first example] is in the context of the bodhisatta pre-buddha-hood, as he practiced both forms of meditation and self-mortification. This context is important. The point is, that at this time, he thought that these were sufficient in and of themselves, to become liberated.

Here, he practices with the aim to experience such painful feelings.

Later in that [second] sutta, he rejects this method. However, what method did he use instead? He still relied on forms of jhana / samatha leading to panna / vipassana.

This second sutta is in the context of the eight-fold path, in particular, Right Intention and Right Concentration. Overcoming wrong thoughts is Right Intention, and it is partially accomplished by Right Concentration. Finally, the removal of wrong thoughts, in particular the Five Hindrances, leads to Right Concentration.

Here, he practices with the aim to remove wrong thoughts, the painful feelings are not the aim.

From that, one then goes on to develop insight / wisdom.

-snip-

... the point of the first is that the Buddha wishes to indicate that having painful feelings as a goal is incorrect. What is correct? As per the second verse, to remove wrong thoughts. In the second sutta, experiencing pain is not the aim, but if it happens along the way to remove negative thoughts, then that is not an issue.

-snip-

In many teachings given by both the Buddha, and others, one should vigorously attack anger with loving kindness, etc.

One thing that strikes me is that by the time the bikkhu gets to the stage where clenching teeth etc. is necessary, it's almost comical. What is it with these unwholesome thoughts that keep on coming? It seems like any one of the earlier methods mentioned in the sutta ought to be enough for the bikkhu to settle the mind, but no.

So the bikkhu goes through all these trainings, cultivating wholesome thoughts, examining his mental posture, and so on, and still the thoughts keep coming. It's almost ridiculous, to the point where an outside observer might start laughing. The sutta almost seems to say: enough. Clench your teeth, press your tongue to your palate. If you can't calm the mind like you'd expect a bikkhu to be able to do, then go straight back to the drawing board. It's like a scolding, a reminder not to get too hung up on the ego, a tap on the shoulder so that we don't forget, these thoughts are not self, silly. That's my personal reaction to this part of the sutta.

Metta
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: MN 20. Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Sutta

Postby Sher » Thu Jun 18, 2009 6:25 pm

One thing that strikes me is that by the time the bikkhu gets to the stage where clenching teeth etc. is necessary, it's almost comical. What is it with these unwholesome thoughts that keep on coming? It seems like any one of the earlier methods mentioned in the sutta ought to be enough for the bikkhu to settle the mind, but no.

So the bikkhu goes through all these trainings, cultivating wholesome thoughts, examining his mental posture, and so on, and still the thoughts keep coming. It's almost ridiculous, to the point where an outside observer might start laughing. The sutta almost seems to say: enough. Clench your teeth, press your tongue to your palate. If you can't calm the mind like you'd expect a bikkhu to be able to do, then go straight back to the drawing board. It's like a scolding, a reminder not to get too hung up on the ego, a tap on the shoulder so that we don't forget, these thoughts are not self, silly. That's my personal reaction to this part of the sutta.


This part of the sutta stood out for me also, and I read the sutta before I read your comments . My response was a questioning... How can one stomp out unwholesome thoughts with will power? Does will power work, is it effective? I do find it effective to stop and ask oneself why does this thought cause suffering? But I must actually notice what I am thinking and stop the flow of those thoughts by considering how they cause suffering. Replacing unwholesome thoughts with lovingkindness really can help too, again because doing this breaks the hold of the unwholesome bent. It seems though one must strive to do this again and again until the hindrances are rooted totally out, then the unwholesome thoughts do not even arise. That's my interpretation at this point. Sher
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Re: MN 20. Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Sutta

Postby Sher » Thu Jun 18, 2009 6:35 pm

5. Clenching one’s teeth and crushing mind with mind. (Note 243: crushing
the unwholesome with the wholesome.)
There are many useful SIMILES throughout this section, although some are
very harsh.

Above from study guide.

I guess the positive wholesome aspect of willing or crushing unwholesome thoughts is that by crush one means replace. To replace unwholesome with wholesome is to switch from one view to another. The wholesome view does not cause suffering and allows one to keep moving along the path; whereas , the unwholesome view makes one stick along the path. Sher
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Re: MN 20. Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Sutta

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jun 19, 2009 4:02 am

Greetings Sher,

Sher wrote:It seems though one must strive to do this again and again until the hindrances are rooted totally out, then the unwholesome thoughts do not even arise. That's my interpretation at this point.


That's mine too.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: MN 20. Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Sutta

Postby rowyourboat » Sat Jun 20, 2009 10:14 am

if you have an uncontrollable anger and literally want to murder someone you could do lot worse than clench your teeth to let the wise side of you get back in control and to stop the defilement from taking over

there are cultural predispositions here as to what amount of effort is considered 'suitable' for a meditative practice. In the dhamma there are no strict rules, only principles- do whatever that works to get where you want to go ( which is the cessation of craving, aversion and delusions ie the cessation of suffering)
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Re: MN 20. Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Sutta

Postby Jechbi » Sat Jun 20, 2009 8:08 pm

rowyourboat wrote:there are cultural predispositions here as to what amount of effort is considered 'suitable' for a meditative practice.

I don't think so. Samma-vayama is indispensible, and adhitthana is one of the perfections.
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: MN 20. Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Sutta

Postby rowyourboat » Sat Jun 20, 2009 8:36 pm

it is an important point to note -these practices are done by someone who is intent on 'a higher consciousness' (adhi citta) ie- it is samatha. The end result is a unified mind as the sutta mentions. What the sutta doesnt mention is that vipassana will have to be done to achieve enlightenment in this way (there is no insight gained by removing defilments this way- hence they are likely to arise again)
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