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[ Sitting Practice ]

On the First Burning

In Savatthi in the Jeta Grove in Anathapindika's Monastery[1]. The Venerable Kotthita the Great is speaking to the Venerable Sariputta:

"And what, your reverence, is the first meditation?"

"As to this, your reverence, a monk, aloof from pleasures of the senses, aloof from unskilled states of mind, enters on and abides in the first meditation which is accompanied by initial thought and discursive thought, is born of aloofness, and is rapturous and joyful. This, your reverence, is called the first meditation."

"Of how many factors, your reverence, is the first meditation?"

"Your reverence, the first meditation is five-factored: if a monk has entered on the first meditation there is initial thought and discursive thought and rapture and joy and one-pointedness of mind. Thus, your reverence, is the first meditation five-factored."

"Your reverence, in regard to the first meditation, how many factors are abandoned, how many factors are possessed?"

"Your reverence, in regard to the first meditation, five factors are abandoned, five are possessed: if a monk has entered on the first meditation, desire for sense-pleasure is abandoned, malevolence is abandoned, sloth and torpor are abandoned, restlessness and worry are abandoned, doubt is abandoned, but there is initial thought and discursive thought, rapture and joy and one-pointedness of mind. Thus, your reverence, in regard to the first meditation, five factors are abandoned, five factors are possessed."


And from Bhk. Thanissaro:

...the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation — Wings to Awakening


The Pali for the First Burning[2]

(with apologies to the purists for the spellings, this is for reading by beginning meditators).

Katamam pan'avuso pathamam jhanau - ti.
Idh'avuso bhikkhu vivicc'eva kamedhi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkam savicaram vivekajam pitisukham pathamam jhanam upasampajja viharati, idam vuccat'avuso pathamam jhanan -ti..

So what have we got here?

Idh'avuso bhikkhu (here friend bhikkhu)

Vivicca = to separate oneself, to depart from to be alone, to separate.

Kaamedhi = > kaama desire for pleasure, sense pleasures

Akusalehi dhammehi = unskillful things

Sa vitakkam = With [whatever you define vitakka to be, there are a great number of varying conjectures[3]] I say the Inner Dialogue vi=2 takka=talk

Sa vicaaram = With [whatever you define vicara to be, also a great number of conjectures as to the meaning of this term] I say something like daydreaming, the word means to wander around + re-

Vivekajam = [same root as Vivicca]; PED: detachment, loneliness, separation, seclusion, "singleness" (of heart), discrimination (of thought)

Piitisukham = Piti + Sukham; SUKHAM is the Opposite of DUKKHAM and should remind all English speakers of the word "sugar" (and there are similar sounding and meaning words in numerous other languages); Piti = PED: Emotion of joy, delight, zest, exuberance. (and see Buddha Dust, Lesson 7). My trans: peace and calm is probably a little loose for some. I used that because of it's close resemblance to our expression "I want to get some peace and quiet." Often used when one is about to enter a state of solitude.

Pathamam jhanam upasampajja = "enters on . . . the first jhana"

Viharati = abides, lives, habituates, re-visits

Most helpful for acquiring technique, however, is the simile[4].

Imagine the process the Bath Attendant (that's the Buddha) goes through in making a soap ball. He has a copper pot, soap flakes (that's you), and some water (the dhamma).

And he rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls

That old soap ball

Round and round and round and round

To form the soap ball he concentrates the soap flakes by binding them to each other with just sufficient moisture to keep them together without oozing moisture.[5]

The idea is "formation", "practice", putting it all together such that it completely takes over. The various terms for this (soaks, permeates, suffuses and saturates) indicating a progression towards saturation.

If you examine the matter, you can see that in attempting to attain the First Burning, you can throw out altogether any perplexity as to the meaning of vitakka and vicara. They are present; whatever they are you do not need to identify them here; and one might guess that sufficiently far into the First Burning what, exactly, these two phenomena are, will become more clear, not less clear: after all, to attain the Second Burning these two are to be got rid of and since the second burning is born of love of meditation, it should be clear when one wishes to go deeper into meditation what it is that is preventing that. (They "disturb"; they "Down-bind"; they are connected to the world.) So forget them for the time being.

You know what the desire to indulge in the pleasures of the senses is all about: oozing moisture.

You know what unskillful conditions are all about: trying to figure out how to get and to justify to yourself why it's ok to indulge in the pleasures of the senses.

Just for the moment, just as a matter of experimentation, just as a matter of engaging the mind for a couple of seconds, spare the time to dump those two.

What are you left with? The Preliminary preparations, concentration, and enjoying the result.

And then,

Inhabit this empty habit;
empty of empty habits,
not an empty habitat[6]


[1] [MN 43] PTS, Horner trans., The Middle Length Sayings, Volume I, The Miscellany (Greater), pp 354.

[2] [MN 43] PTS, Trenckner ed., The Majjhima-Nikaya, Vol. I, Mahavedallasuttam.

[3] See: DhammaTalk: Re-Thinking Vitakka

[4] The same is the case for the other Burnings. See: The Pali Line: High Get'n High

[5] Now this may not be as familiar a phenomena to some as to others, but I would say that most of us up passed puberty have confronted the complications to life that oozing moisture brings. Of course you can also look at it recollecting the simile of the raft, incorporating just enough of the Dhamma so as to do the job but not cause one to run around pushing the Dhamma on folks.

[6] See: A Little Spell of Emptiness




DhammaTalk: Outlining the Mahavidalla

DhammaTalk: Entering the Second Burning

DhammaTalk: On Nibbana without Jhana

The Pali Line: High Getting High

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