What Does Vipassanā Actually Mean? Part 2: The Buddha’s Enlightenment

This is the next post on my controversial view of Vipassanā. Here is the complete series:

As a child, the Buddha experienced first jhana sitting under the rose apple tree. But he was not enlightened. After his going forth, he studied with the two great spiritual teachers of his time. Under them he achieved the four jhanas and three and then four of the immaterial attainments (so-called 7th and 8th jhanas). He was still not enlightened. He then spent years doing austerities, also unsuccessful. Finally he set off on his own, determined to attain liberation. All these years of practice hadn’t worked. But the Bohdisatta had an idea what might work. Was it vipassanā? Insight practice? Carefully watching the mind? Nope. He thought that maybe if he went back to the practice he did under the rose apple tree, he might find liberation.

Now, from one point of view, this is very curious! If he had actually gone further in jhana practice after going forth, why would he want to go backward? Even more to the point, it’s extremely notable that he didn’t decide what was needed was vipassanā practice.

So what was right about going back to his experience under the rose apple tree that was enough when he was working with Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta (his teachers)? The wonderful Australian bhikkhu Bhante Sujato says that the answer is Right View. Under Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta the Bodhisatta fulfilled 7 of the 8 factors of the Eightfold path, but the missing ingredient was Right View. They taught self views that just weren’t good enough to achieve final liberation. Under the rose apple tree, he might not have had Right View, but at least his head wasn’t full of Wrong View. When he let go of the Wrong Views taught by his teachers, he was able to see Right View for himself, leading to liberation.

So this explains a mystery I mentioned yesterday, namely: why are the suttas filled with stories of spiritual seekers who achieve enlightenment just after the Buddha gives them a teaching. The answer is that they had already fulfilled 7 of the factors of the Eightfold Path. As soon as they get the eighth, bam, enlightenment.

Indeed, hearing or reflecting on the teachings. In the article I mentioned yesterday, Dhammavuddho points out that:

Anguttara Nikaya 5.26 gives the five occasions when liberation is attained:

Listening to the Dhamma,

Teaching the Dhamma,

Repeating the Dhamma,

Reflecting on the Dhamma, and

Some concentration sign is rightly reflected upon and understood.

Of these five occasions, only the last possibly refers to formal meditation. This shows that understanding the Dhamma is of paramount importance for liberation.

Now, all of this shows just how important both jhana practice and Right View are to liberation. They are the first and last factors of the eightfold path.

So is vipassanā just a waste of time? Tune in tomorrow to see evidence for perhaps why we should practice vipassanā.

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6 thoughts on “What Does Vipassanā Actually Mean? Part 2: The Buddha’s Enlightenment

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