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The Forty Subjects of Meditation

V: I've read on several occasions about there being "40 objects of meditation" according to the Pāḷi. By any chance would you happen to know what these are or where I could find the list?



I believe most who reference to "40 subjects of meditation" are thinking of Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purity — in my Pāḷi Text Society Edition, pp 129 ff.)

These are mentioned in The Ones beginning with sutta 455, and, of course, everywhere as this just about covers everything the Buddha taught, and, as I look, I see the one subject not mentioned in Buddhaghosa's list is the "Dhamma Device", or the "Consciousness Device" or using the Dhamma as one's means to concentrate and get high which is, essentially the method being taught here.

In the Visuddhimagga the list is:

[1] Earth, [2] water, [3] fire, [4] wind.
For these see:
The Four Great Elements.

[5] Blue-green, [6] yellow, [7] red, [8] white, [9] light, [10] space.

[11] A swollen corpse, [12] discolored corpse, [13] a festering corpse, [14] a fissured corpse, [15] a mangled corpse, [16] a dismembered corpse, [17] a cut and dismembered corpse, [18] a bloody corpse, [19] a worm-filled corpse, [20] a skeleton.
For these see:
The Charnel Field where the corpses described are somewhat different, but the method to be used is the same.

[21] Recollecting the Buddha, [22] recollecting the Dhamma, [23] recollecting the Order.

[24] Recollecting Ethical Culture.
For this see:
Ethical Culture.

[25] Recollecting Giving.
For this see:

[26] Recollecting the Gods.
For this see:
The Ninth Lesson.

[27] Recollecting Death.
For this see:
Meditation on Death (discussion, not too helpful, but something.)

[28] Recollecting the Body.
For this see
The end of The Ones, and
Satisfaction with Body.
[29] Recollecting the Breathing, [30] Recollecting Calm.
For both of these same as above, and
The Anapana-sati Sutta.

[31] Friendly Vibrations, [32] Sympathetic Vibrations, [33] Empathetic Vibrations, [34] Objective Detachment.
For this see: The Four Godly Thoughts.

[35] The Realm of Space,
[36] The Realm of Consciousness,
[37] The Realm of No Things to be Had There,
[38] The Realm of Neither-Perception-Nor-Non-Perception.
For these see:

[39] The Perception of the Foulness of Food.
For this, ya gotta nose ya stuff!

And one called the [40] Specification of the Four Elements.



On this also see two pages from Warren: Buddhism in Translations, translations from the Visudhi-Magga:

The 40 Subjects of Meditation


The Earth Kasina.

Note an oddity about this list: #s 35-38 are not of the nature as to be easily used by beginners. They are already advanced states of samādhi practice and are 'jhānas' in their own right. As devices for samādhi they must be thought of as giving direction to advanced practitioners, possibly from other schools.



This is an excerpt from the Olds translation of [DN 33] Dīgha Nikāya III.33: The Compilation

Complete Spheres

One recognizes the earth device above, below, across, as non-dual,[1] unbounded.

One recognizes the water device above, below, across, non-dual, unbounded.

One recognizes the fire device above, below, across, non-dual, unbounded.

One recognizes the wind device above, below, across, non-dual, unbounded.

One recognizes the deep-blue device above, below, across, non-dual, unbounded.

One recognizes the golden-colored device above, below, across, non-dual, unbounded.

One recognizes the blood-read device above, below, across, non-dual, unbounded.

One recognizes the white device above, below, across, non-dual, unbounded.

One recognizes the space device above, below, across, non-dual, unbounded.

One recognizes the consciousness device above, below, across, non-dual, unbounded.



Dasa kasiṇāyatanāni Rhys Davids notes the commentary here (and I agree) "Kasina in the sense of entire." I think this is word-play between the title and the subheadings: The 10 Whole-Spheres (ayatana: atmo-sphere) ... the earth-device is whole when perceived as one ...; in other words this is not a description of ten devices, it is a description of when these ten devices are perceived correctly and completely. Sariputta:

"Do you see, friends, that large tree-trunk there?
"We do, friend."
If he so wished, friends, a beggar who was a Master of Power, one with mental control, could determine that tree-trunk as earth ... water ... fire ... wind.

— [AN 6 41] Anguttara Nikāya, 6s, #41: The Tree trunk, Olds, trans.

PED: Kasiṇa:1 entire, whole J IV.111, 112.

Kasiṇa2 (deriv. uncertain) one of the aids to kamma-ṭ-ṭhāna the practice by means of which mystic meditation may be attained. They are fully described at A V.46 sq., 60; usually enumerated as ten (that is, earth, water, fire, air; blue, yellow, red, white; space, intellection (or perhaps consciousness) ) - For the last two ākāsa- and viññāṇa-) we find in later sources āloka- and ākāsa-. - Eight = (the above omitting the last two). There are 14 manners of practicing the kasiṇas Vism 374. Nine qualities or properties of (paṭhavi-) kasiṇa are enumd at Vism 117. - Each k. is fivefold, according to uddhaṃ, adho, tiriyaṃ, advayaṃ, appamāṇaṃ; M II.15. - kasiṇaṃ oloketi to fix one's gaze on the particular kasiṇa chosen; -ṃ samannāharati to concentrate one's mind on the k.
-āyatana the base or object of a kasiṇa exercise;
-kamma the k. practice.
-jhāna the k. meditation.
-dosa fault of the k. object Vism 117, 123 (the 4 faults of paṭhavī-kasiṇa being confusion of the 4 colors).
-parikamma the preliminary, preparatory rites to the exercise of a kasiṇa meditation, such as preparing the frame, repeating the necessary formulas, etc.;
-ṃ katheti to give instructions in these preparations;
-ṃ karoti to perform the k-preparations;
-maṇḍala a board or stone or piece of ground divided by depressions to be used as a mechanical aid to jhāna exercise. In each division of the maṇḍala a sample of a kasiṇa was put. Several of these stone maṇḍalas have been found in the ruins at Anurādhapura.
-samāpatti attainment in respect of the k. exercise.

Walshe notes some confusion concerning the "consciousness" device. This is explained in one sutta that I recollect (cite ?) where he describes this device as the study of the Dhamma. I say that the practice being used here on BuddhaDust is the practice of the Consciousness Device — using Dhamma Vicaya not simply to learn and understand the Dhamma, but as a thing on which to focus the mind so as to bring about results consistent with the Dhamma.

See also DN 33: 8s #10


[1] advayaṃ: (not ekatta; a = not, dva = dvi = 2, divided) non-dual or undivided.


BD: Exercises: Make an Earth Kasina

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