The Buddha’s Approach of Mentor

by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The Dhamma, the fact taught by the Buddha, unfolds slowly. The Buddha made clear many times that Awakening does not occur like a bolt out of the blue to the inexperienced and unprepared mind. Rather, it culminates a long journey of lots of phases:1

Just as the ocean has a steady shelf, a gradual slope, a steady inclination, with an abrupt drop-off only after a long stretch, in the exact same method this Teaching and Discipline (dhamma-vinaya) has a progressive training, a gradual performance, a steady development, with a penetration to gnosis only after a long stretch.– Ud V. 5

Monks, I do not say that the achievement of gnosis is simultaneously. Rather, the attainment of gnosis is after gradual training, steady action, steady practice. And how exists the attainment of gnosis after steady training, progressive action, steady practice? There holds true where, when conviction has actually emerged, one gos to [a teacher] Having actually checked out, one grows close. Having actually grown close, one provides ear. Having actually lent ear, one hears the Dhamma. Having actually heard the Dhamma, one remembers it. Keeping in mind, one penetrates the meaning of the teachings. Penetrating the meaning, one pertains to an arrangement through contemplating the teachings. There being an agreement through contemplating the mentors, desire arises. When desire has occurred, one wants. When one wants, one contemplates. Having pondered, one makes an exertion. Having actually made an effort, one recognizes with the body the supreme fact and, having penetrated it with discernment, sees it.– MN 70

In more practical terms, the Buddha taught this “progressive training” (anupubbi-katha) as a procedure that unfolds in 6 phases, assisting newbies from very first principles through gradually more advanced teachings, all the way to the satisfaction of the 4 Noble Truths and the complete awareness of nibbana:

Then the Blessed One, having encompassed the awareness of the entire assembly with his awareness, asked himself, “Now who here can comprehending the Dhamma?” He saw Suppabuddha the leper being in the assembly, and on seeing him the idea struck him, “This individual here is capable of understanding the Dhamma.” So, focusing on Suppabuddha the leper, he gave a step-by-step talk, i.e., a talk on offering, a talk on virtue, a talk on paradise; he declared the disadvantages, degradation, & corruption of sensuous passions, and the rewards of renunciation.

Then when he saw that Suppabuddha the leper’s mind was all set, malleable, devoid of obstacles, elated, & brilliant, he then offered the Dhamma-talk peculiar to Awakened Ones, i.e., stress, origination, cessation, & course. And just as a tidy fabric, free of spots, would correctly absorb a color, in the exact same way, as Suppabuddha the leper was being in that extremely seat, the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye occurred within him, “Whatever undergoes origination is all subject to cessation.” – Ud v. 3

At each phase of the training the specialist discovers a new and important dimension of the law of cause-and-effect– kamma, the foundation of Right View. It is hence a very helpful organizing structure with which to see the whole of the Buddha’s mentors.

The progressive training begins with the practice of kindness, which helps begin the long process of deteriorating the unawakened professional’s habitual propensities to cling– to views, to sensuality, and to unskillful modes of idea and behavior. This is followed by the advancement of virtue, the standard level of sense-restraint that assists the practitioner develop a healthy and trustworthy sense of self. The comfort born from this level of self-respect offers the structure for all additional progress along the path.

The professional now comprehends that some type of joy are deeper and more reputable than anything that sense-gratification can ever supply; the joy born of generosity and virtue can even result in rebirth in heaven– either actual or metaphorical. But ultimately the specialist begins to recognize the intrinsic downsides of even this kind of joy: as great as renewal in wholesome states might be, the joy it brings is not a true and lasting one, for it counts on conditions over which she or he ultimately has no control.

This marks a crucial pivotal moment in the training, when the practitioner starts to comprehend that real happiness will never ever be found in the world of the physical and sensuous world. The only possible path to an unconditioned joy lies in renunciation, in turning far from the sensual realm, by trading the familiar, lower forms of joy for something much more satisfying and noble. Now, at last, the practitioner is ripe to receive the teachings on the Four Noble Facts, which define the course of psychological training needed to recognize the greatest joy: nibbana.

Numerous Westerners initially encounter the Buddha’s mentors on meditation retreats, which generally start with instructions in how to establish the proficient qualities of right mindfulness and ideal concentration. It is worth noting that, as crucial as these qualities are, the Buddha put them towards the very end of his steady course of training. The meaning is clear: to reap the most take advantage of meditation practice, to give full maturity all the qualities required for Awakening, the essential groundwork must not be overlooked. There is no short-cutting this procedure.

Here is the Buddha’s six-stage steady training in more information:

I. Kindness (dana)

II. Virtue (sila)

1. The 5 Precepts

2. The 8 Precepts

3. The 10 Precepts

4. Uposatha observance days (including this year’s calendar of Uposatha days)

III. Heaven (sagga)

1. The Thirty-one Airplanes of Existence

IV. Downsides (adinava)

V. Renunciation (nekkhamma)

VI. The Four Noble Truths (cattari ariya saccani)

1. The Noble Fact of Dukkha (dukkha ariya sacca)

i. Dukkha

ii. The round of rebirth (samsara)

2. The Noble Fact of the Reason For Dukkha (dukkha samudayo ariya sacca)

i. Yearning (tanha)

ii. Lack of knowledge (avijja)

3. The Noble Reality of the Cessation of Dukkha (dukkha nirodho ariya sacca)

i. Nibbana

4. The Noble Fact of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Dukkha (dukkha nirodha gamini patipada ariya sacca)– The Noble Eightfold Course:


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