Meditation for Buddha's Enlightenment - Liberation

What constitutes Buddha's liberation and enlightenment? Is this only for Buddha and his senior monks? What are the satipatthana meditations that focus on nibbana (nirvana) and cultivate it? What do Buddhist scriptures say? I write for those who might deepen their interest in Buddhism.
The Fourth Satipatthana
Satipatthana practice is an important part of Buddha's meditation, and in my previous three articles I elaborated on satipatthana 1; sensing not thinking, and satipatthanas 2 & 3; dealing with destructive thoughts and emotions. I also examined the shortcomings, purpose and likely origin of traditional scripture, and explored more suitable practice for an enlightenment that is attainable for the committed.

But we also need to direct our attention to our Goal; spiritual liberation and enlightenment. The fourth and last satipatthana is dhamma anupassana. What is a helpful, useful and relevant interpretation?

Traditional Doctrine

The Mahasatipatthana Sutta, DN 22 says : "the historical Buddha taught that a monk practices dhammanupassana by focusing on the following Buddhist doctrines -
  • The five hindrances to meditation: desire, ill will, agitation, restlessness and doubt
  • The five "aggregates" : the body and its sense doors, emotions, perceptions, thoughts and opinions, and consciousness
  • The seven factors of spiritual enlightenment : mindfulness, examining doctrine, persistence, joy, serenity, meditative concentration and equanimity.
  • The four noble truths of suffering, its causes, liberation and the way to be liberated.
  • The noble eightfold path : right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration."
HindrancesWe need to overcome the many hindrances to daily meditation practice for Buddha's enlightenment. Many will not be on this traditional list. One problem might be a limited repertoire of meditation techniques. You need techniques you can do in routine tasks, in rest and in recreation. I briefly examine these in my article on "Sensing not Thinking", and direct you to Eric Harrison's meditation manuals.

"Aggregates" I have discussed the importance of focusing on the senses as meditation objects, how to deal with disturbing thoughts and emotions, and the limitation of the relevant doctrines in my articles on meditation for Buddha's enlightenment. I discuss the importance of being the detached Observer of your disturbing thoughts and emotions, instead of being the person who is upset, in my article on Impermanence and Not-self.

Factors of Enlightenment I discuss these below.

Suffering and Liberation I exposed how questionable are traditional doctrines on these issues, and how such questions can reveal important material for spiritual practice, in my articles on Philosophy versus Buddhist Scripture.

Eightfold Path The last 3 factors of this list relate to Buddha's Meditation. The other 5 also need attention to realize Buddha's enlightenment. We also need to attend to suitable theory and philosophy, our attitudes, values, opinions, intentions, and how we interact with others and engage with the outside world.

Beyond these traditional doctrines, we also need to direct our attention to the Way of Being Free in daily life. But how does Buddhist tradition view spiritual liberation and enlightenment?

Buddha's Enlightenment - the Tradition

Buddha's enlightenment, called Nibbana in Pali and Nirvana in Sanscrit, involves turning the attention away from worldly pursuits and towards the beauty of Buddha's meditation, and in my articles I encourage you to take on this training.

But Buddhist tradition goes another step. Buddhist tradition holds that Buddha's enlightenment requires turning away from worldly pursuits in daily life, and not just in meditation. Only a Buddhist monk can do this effectively. Instead of following normal work and recreational pursuits, they follow Buddhist monks' rules. Instead of going out for work and recreation, they stay in their monastery to meditate, study Buddhist scriptures and doctrines, learn the chants, and receive visits from lay Buddhists. In my experience, observing all the monk's minor rules all the time for many years seems to be some kind of eligibility requirement for Nibbana in the tradition.

Buddhist tradition also holds that Nibbana means extinction of desire and craving (tanha) (the Third Noble Truth of Buddhism, in DN 22).

It also holds that Nibbana means the extinction of ignorance (avijja) of Buddhist doctrine. In the doctrine of twelve-point dependent origination or co-arising, this ignorance is the first point, which is supposed to cause a chain of events leading to the eighth point; craving (tanha). The chain of doctrinal events continues to the last point : decay and death (jara-marana), and thus suffering. (SN 12. 2)

Buddhist tradition also talks about Nibbana as if it was a permanent attainment. In my experience of the tradition, anything temporary is discounted and not given credit.

I discuss these issues in my other article on Liberation.

Consequently, tradition even puts Nibbana out of reach of many of the Buddhist directors. So they have defined several preliminary stages before "full enlightenment"; which are stream winner (sotapanna), once returner (sakadagami) and non returner (anagami), and senior monks can aspire to these.

They also talk about Nibbana in vague and confusing terms, as if they were not familiar with the experience. The Christian missionary Mildred Cable, who worked for decades in China, was struck by this. She made friends wherever she went, even among the clergy, and took great interest in the culture. One old Buddhist monk described to her what sounds like Buddha's enlightenment. "So you have pursued this Goal all your life, and taught it to many, but you have not yet reached it yourself?" she asks him. ("The Gobi Desert," 1942.)

All this creates an elitist version of Buddha's enlightenment. If the senior monk has difficulty getting there, what chance do the "lay people" have? Tradition directs their efforts to supporting the senior monk, and giving him the best chance of "attaining Nibbana," so he can teach them from this position.

The lay supporter earns extra "merit" if the monk "attains Nibbana", according to the currency of Buddhism. This can "buy" a better rebirth as a man, strong and fit, who will ordain as a monk when young, so he will have opportunity of several decades practice in a prestigious meditating monastery. Hopefully he will "become enlightened" by the time he is Abbott. Such is the tradition.

But "Nibbana" just means "extinguished", in the way a camp fire is extinguished, because its fuel and/or heat has been removed from it. The fire has gone out; it has "nibbaned".

So in the experience of Nibbana, the fires of our suffering have gone out, and our consciousness is filled with the Qualities of Freedom, which I discuss below.

To achieve this, we repeatedly and consciously defuel all our defilements, over and over again in the diligent spiritual practice that I write about. This removes their heat, so they cannot burn so fiercely so often for so long in so many situations. Then our defilements will go dormant more often, in more situations, and for longer periods.

When the fires of suffering go out, then we drive all our attention to all that which is wholesome and positive in our life. This is satipatthana meditation in a nutshell.

According to SN 38.1, Nibbana is the extinction of greed, hate and delusion. Although there are many more defilements and negativities than just these three, this scripture points to a more useful understanding of Nibbana.

Nibbana is to be realized, according to SN 56. 11, it is not to be made the preserve of the elite. And the only time it can be realized is in the Here and Now, not in the future, according to the spiritual master Eckhart Tolle. (The Power of Now, 1997)

For we seek spiritual teachings for ordinary people living in this modern western world who seek spiritual liberation and enlightenment for themselves, and to realise this now, not next lifetime.

The accesstoinsight website has these suttas in full, with no Pali terms. "The Word of the Buddha", (1971) by Nyanatiloka, on the buddhasociety website, contains these quotes from these scriptures, with the key Pali terms included. Look in the chapters on end of suffering, and right understanding.

I include Pali terms because different translators use different English words to translate the same Pali word.

Satipatthana 4 : Focusing on the Goal

When negative thoughts and emotions are largely absent, this is the time to direct your attention to something higher; to the Goal of the spiritual path. Effective techniques include -

1. Appreciation of beauty, such as Nature; wild or cultivated, the Arts such as music by inspired performers, Nutrition such as tasty wholesome food prepared with love and shared,
2. Appreciate the essentials that are available, such as food, home, transport, water, communications,
3. Appreciate the good efforts of others trying to help, be diligent, honest, provide leadership, be tidy,
4. Reawaken to and remember your True Purpose : restoring the experience of Liberation in the Now,
5. Honor your parents and those who went before you or taught you
6. Respect yourself and your true needs, not your addictions.
7. Trust to your inner wisdom and intuition to make the right decision
8. Explore, be spontaneous and keep things simple
9. Allow the Quality of Freedom that is needed right now to arise, and put your attention on them.

The Qualities of Freedom

Buddhist tradition lists only 7; mindfulness, examining doctrine, persistence, joy, serenity, meditative concentration and equanimity. These are important for the dignity, dispassion and education of the religious director.

But there are in fact dozens of Qualities of Freedom. It is beneficial to group them to help identify and remember them. It is helpful to list them all, so that none are overlooked, to deteriorate in the dark.

1. Enjoyment, happiness, wonder, delight, inspiration, buoyancy, hope,
2. Laughter, humor, light-heartedness, release,
3. Friendliness, sharing, trust, forgiveness, tolerance, kindness, generosity, being considerate and courteous, good will, loyalty, being supportive,
4. Energy, strength, determination, diligence, effort, confidence, competence, courage, attentiveness,
5. Clarity, perception, diplomacy, wisdom, being practical and sensible,
6. Stillness, inner peace, silence, focused, patience, contentment,
7. Feeling safe, secure, at ease, untroubled, trust, justice,
8. Healing, health, purity, cleanliness, care, restoring, forgiveness, freedom,
9. Truth, honesty, justice, fairness, appropriate, compassion,
10. Balance, equanimity, suppleness, agility,
11. Remembering, restoring, renewing, recognizing, retrieving consciousness

Everyone knows what each of these Qualities of Freedom are, for they have ordinary words to define them. This means that everyone knows, from their own experience, what Freedom is. We just forget to practice it, and we have forgotten to practise too many times in the past.

The experience of Freedom is filled with these beautiful qualities, and enlivened by them. Devilements have just ended or nibbaned, with a "remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation and release" (DN 22)

Many of these Qualities can be both given and received. We can forgive and be forgiven, we can feel at ease and put others at their ease. This shows the principle "Give and you shall receive" i.e. that we receive the Qualities that we put out to others, provided we use wisdom.

For our Liberation, we need to recognize these Qualities, cultivate them, value them, speak well of them, encourage them, protect them, and remember to do these things. This is essential to the Way of Being Liberated in your daily life.


These are more specific than the old tradition of chanting mantras in religious languages like Sanscrit. Affirmations affirm something positive that you need to put attention to, cultivate, pursue, or are lacking. When they are well-chosen, they can restore the Quality that is lacking, but they do not ignore your present lack of this Quality.

For instance, to recite "I am forgiving ..." when lack of forgiveness is the prevailing defilement, is to deny reality. It is untruthful and therefore liable to backfire on you.

Whereas to recite "May I forgive ..." recognizes reality and therefore is truthful, and is a good prelude to "I forgive ..." when you feel ready to release the hurt.

So a good affirmation triggers a sense of release in the Here and Now, i.e., it helps to restore Presence.

You can tailor your affirmations to suit your current needs, and trust your own inner wisdom for your Guide.

You can devise affirmations for any of the Qualities of Freedom listed above, and others not listed. You can also choose from the list of how to gladden your heart and mind.

There is no need to limit affirmations to the traditional Buddhist format: "May I be well and happy, may others be well and happy."
Published: 5/3/2011
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