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 [Dhamma Talk]


AN 7.38

Seven skills in the management of serenity which result in one having control over the bent of the heart rather than being controlled by the bent of the heart.

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Recommended translation: Controlling the Bent of Ones Heart, Olds translation
Index to available translations: AN 7.39

Controlling the Bent of Ones Heart

Following upon the attainment of seven
one controls the bent of his heart,
is not controlled by the bent of his heart.

What are the seven?

Here one has skill in serenity:
  he has skill in attaining serenity;
  he has skill in maintaining serenity;
  he has skill in rousing up serenity;
  he has skill in managing serenity;
  he has skill in the pastures of serenity;
  he has skill in abandoning serenity.

This translation departs from the conventional rendering of the factors said to be involved in the management of samādhi.

The term 'samādhi' itself is most frequently translated 'concentration. Here it is rendered 'serenity';
the term 'vuṭṭhānakusalo' always rendered 'skill in emergence', is here rendered 'skill in rousing up';
the term 'kallitakusalo', Bhk. Bodhi: 'fitness'; Hare: 'well-being', is here rendered 'skill in managing';
and the term 'abhinīhārakusalo' Bhk. Bodhi: 'skilled in resolution regarding' Hare: 'skilled in applying', is here rendered 'sill in abandoning'

I justify these radical departures from convention as follows:

The first consideration is the construction of the sutta. Both Hare and Bhk. Bodhi set the list up as seven different factors for controlling the heart. I have set the list up in the form of Summary: Six Factors. This, of course, creates problems as to why this should be included among the Sevens, but where one can justify 'Summary:Factors' as being composed of seven items; one has difficulty justifying what is in the first item a summary as a discrete factor among six others.
This construction is supported by the syntax of the follow-up repetition describing Sariputta's skills in this area.

Why is it that 'samādhi' should not be rendered 'concentration'? It comes down to the fact that concentration is too limited in scope for what is covered by the idea of 'samādhi'. 'Samādhi' encompasses the entire practice of Buddhism from Generosity on up to the point of attaining 'upekkha' (detachment). 'Samādhi,' where the aspect of it applies to the cultivation of such a high degree of calm oversight that the jhānas are attained, contains the idea of concentration, but there only as one of a number of factors that must be cultivated. Further, 'samādhi' etymologically means 'even-over' an even-minded over-seeing, not a bearing down on a single thing to the exclusion of all else: the very description of the factors within the jhānas, for example, excludes the idea of a focus on a single thing. Finally, experience will show the meditator that concentration, made the exclusive practice rather than a tool is impossible to manage. The idea, where it is useful, is rather 'focus' than 'concentration'. Attempting to concentrate on the point where the breath enters and emerges from the nose, for example is the attempt to pin down a thing that is continuously changing and trying to keep it from changing in order to practice according to this method will lead to going way off track in ways that are impossible to describe as anything but a very unhappy state of madness and that liberation, when it is actually experienced in practice is precisely an even-minded over-seeing of whatever its subject may be. This is a state frequently attained and described by artests, musicians, writers and properly oriented meditators.

The next consideration is to ask why anyone would wish to emerge from serenity (we will deal with letting it go below). Here the idea of 'samādhi', because it is being translated as 'concentration' and concentration is being conflated with jhāna practice, translators have relied for what they do not experience on the exposition of the commentator. The translation I have used is both supported by the PED and by common sense.

'Kallitakusalo'. Bhk. Bodhi does not explain what he means by 'fitness for concentration', that is whether he is speaking of the fitness of the meditator or the fitness of his subject of meditation or the fitness of something else. Hare wants it to be the pleasantness of the concentration. This factor must be within the control of the meditator. This is a sutta which is describing factors to be managed by the meditator so as to render his heart controllable. He must be able to influence the situation. "Management". Again this meaning is supported by PED.

'Abhinīhārakusalo.' Here Hare apologizes in a footnote for a rendering in a previous translation of this term as 'resolve' where his understanding was the use of a mental command such as 'let this session last one hour,' or 'let no damage by earth, water, fire, or wind occur to my abode during this session'. He then, following commentary, adopts the term 'skill in applying', meaning 'skill in attaining the jhānas ' Bhk. Bodhi, not mentioning what he follows, renders the term "skilled in resolution." It is tempting to break ones serenity by ridicule here, but I will manage my serenity, not emerging from my serenity, and simply ask the reader to understand that serenity is not the final goal in this system. It is a stepping-stone to detachment (upekkha) which is itself a stepping stone to freedom and knowledge of freedom in freedom, and therefore must be let go of, pleasant abiding though it may be.

For a sutta to be a lesson in True Dhamma, it should always point in the direction of the final goal. Such is the intent of this translation.

—From the Introduction to the Olds translation of AN 7.38.

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