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The Applicability of the Sevenfold Purity in Insight Meditation for the Alleviation and Curing of Problematic Behavior and Mentality by Dr. R. M. Rathnasiri

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The Applicability of the Sevenfold Purity in Insight Meditation for the Alleviation and Curing of Problematic Behavior and Mentality
Dr. R. M. Rathnasiri, Sri Lanka

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According to Roga Sutta[1] and Salleka Sutta[2], every individual except Arahant suffers from mental problems. According to commentaries, all worldlings are deranged (Sabbe puthujjanā ummattakā)[3].

Individual’s mind is overwhelmed by The Noxious Trio - greed-hatred-delusion (lobha-dosa-moha) (Mūla Sutta)[4]. According to Loka Sutta[5], this Triple root, when arising, causes harm, stress and discomfort. Mind is deluded with ignorance (avijjā), the primary root that causes vipallāsa (perversions - saññā-vipallāsa, citta-vipallāsa and diṭṭhi-vipallāsa) [6] leading to form four perversions which take what is impermanent (anicca) as permanent; what is painful (dukkha) as pleasant; what is without a self (anattā) as a self and what is impure (asubha) as pure[7]. The three levels of perversions which are fundamental to the Buddhist notion of ignorance or delusion are cyclical, and so the perceptions are formed in the context of one’s views, which are strengthened by his thoughts, and all the three work together to build the cognitive systems which make up his personality. Vipallāsa caused by ignorance due to the Noxious Trio veils individual’s mental eyes and prevents the knowledge of the Four Truths, and this is conducive to diverse problematic mentality and behaviors.

Hence, the prime objective of this research paper is to expose the applicability of Buddhist Sevenfold Purity in Insight Meditation to prevent, alleviate and heal problematic behavior and problematic mentality of individual.

According to many Suttas, the meaning of bhāvanā, as a whole, can be rendered as development of spiritual qualities or development of wholesome doctrines “Bhāveti kusaladhamme vaḍḍhetīti bhāvanā.” The two types of meditation designated in Buddhism are Samatha and Vipassanā (Concentration Meditation and Insight Meditation).

Samādhi-bhāvanā (Tranquility or Calm meditation) that cultivates concentration (citta-ekaggatā) suppresses mental defilements. The development of Calm or Tranquility meditation creates concentration for making the mind peaceful, strong, and happy, as well as freeing it from all mental hindrances. Samatha, a pre-requisite for meditation lays the foundation for practising Insight meditation which is the direct way to eradicate all the mental problems.

Vipassanā-bhāvanā that develops insight in the context of the Three Universal Characteristics helps one to eradicate the defilements by dispelling ignorance and uprooting causes of miseries. Insight meditation helps one to develop true wisdom and to see all things as they really are, until one can get rid of the defilements and attachments to everything.

Sāmaññaphala Sutta[8] introduces the Threefold training with Sīla as the preliminary phase, the practice of Samādhi as the second and Paññā as the means of attaining ultimate release from Āsavās ( mental taints). Paññā is developed by Insight. Sabbāsava Sutta[9] deals with seven ways of eradicating defilements that cause mental and physical problems. Among them, the first method is dassanāunderstanding and the last method is ‘bhāvanā’. The highest stage of understanding is wisdom which is the realization of all the mental and physical phenomena. Hence, meditation is the means of transmuting the ordinary consciousness to the higher state.

The Sevenfold Purity Expounded in Insight Meditation

The Rathavinīta Sutta[10] expounds sevenfold puritysatta visuddhi (elaborated in the Visuddhimagga and in Abhidhammṭṭha-saṅgaha) as the seven successive methods of purification in Insight meditation

Purity of Morality - Sīla-visuddhi
Purity of Mind - Citta-visuddhi
Purity of Views - Diṭṭhi-visuddhi
Purity of overcoming Doubts - Kaṇkhāvitaraṇa-visuddhi
Purity of Knowledge and Vision of what is Path and Not-Path - Maggāmagga-ñāṇadassana-visuddhi
Purity of Knowledge and Vision of the Way or Progress - Paṭipadā-ñāṇadassana-visuddhi
Purity of Knowledge and Insight - Ñāṇadassana-visuddhi

Each of them purifies body, mind and thoughts in a gradual process. The Dasuttara Sutta[11] of Dīghanikāya explains the Sevenfold Purifications among nine factors of endeavor leading to purification (pārisuddhi-padhāniyaṅga), out of which the last two are purification of wisdom and purification of emancipation. In the context of the seven successive methods of purification, purity in a nutshell means the elimination of unwholesome factors repugnant to purification.

Rathavinīta Sutta (The Discourse on the Relay of Chariots) shows the causal relations of each stage of purity. [12] Purity in terms of virtue is for the sake of purity in terms of mind. Purity in terms of mind is for the sake of purity in terms of view. Purity in terms of view is for the sake of purity in terms of the overcoming of doubts (perplexity). Purity in terms of the overcoming of doubts (perplexity) is for the sake of purity in terms of knowledge and vision of what is path and what is not the path. Purity in terms of knowledge and vision of what is path and what is not the path is for the sake of purity in terms of knowledge and vision of the way. Purity in terms of knowledge and vision of the way is for the sake of purity in terms of knowledge and vision. Purity in terms of knowledge and vision is for the sake of total Unbinding through lack of clinging. And it is for the sake of total Unbinding through lack of clinging that the holy life is lived. Each stage of purity is to be accomplished for the sake of the other stage of purity.

Thus, the sevenfold purity is the true knowledge of phenomenal existence, and it is linked with the Four Noble Paths that lead directly to ultimate realization

The Sevenfold Purity and Its Cognitive, Behavioral and Psychotherapeutic Aspects

1. Purity of Morality (Sīla-visuddhi) is the purification attained through refraining from bodily and verbal misconduct as well as from unwholesome livelihood. It is the non-transgression through body or speech of the basic precepts regulating the moral life, developing into the habitual conformation to the principles of righteous conduct. It is not the mere outward behavioral control. The moral purity which is of deeper and more psychological significance is the inner purification of character. Thus, the two- dimensional aspect of moral purity is the purification of conduct and the purification of character of individual.

Morality (Sīla) which is the conscious and intentional restraint from unwholesome deeds is volition (cetanā) manifested in speech and bodily action, and it is the foundation of entire Buddhist practice. Moral purity is one of the three constituents of the Noble Eightfold Path (sīla, samādhi and paññā). They are Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. The development of moral purity - the basic morality of Five Precepts (pañcasīla) for laity, the basic morality of Eight Precepts (aṭṭha -sīla) for laity, The Ten Precepts (dasa-sīla) for novice monks and nuns, and 227 moral rules for fully ordained monks (bhikkhu pātimokkha) and 311 moral rules for fully ordained nuns (bhikkhunī-pātimokkha) is the overall ethical behavior. The Virtue of the Fourfold Purification (Catupārisuddhi-sīla)[13] designated for monks is known as Sīla Visuddhi.

Moral intention is Cetanā Sīla, mental concomitants are Cetasika Sīla, moral restraint is Saṃvara Sīla, and non-violation of any precepts is Avitik-kama Sīla. Moral intention (Cetanā) is one’s intention not to commit evil conduct in act and in speech, but to follow the seven wholesome courses of action (abstention from killing, stealing, adultery and improper speech such as lying, backbiting, divisive speech and gossip).

Moral abstinence (Virati) is refraining from all unwholesome courses of action and speech along with other immoral behavior. Virati also includes mental actions or thoughts which are refraining from covetousness, ill will and wrong view. As the Buddha preached, “Monks, he who eliminates covetousness will have moral mentality.” This is Cetasika Sīla.

2. Purity of Mind (Citta-visuddhi) signifies the purification attained through cleansing the mind from attachment, aversion, torpor, restlessness and conflict. It is of eight attainments -Four rūpa Jhānās and Four arūpa Jhānas (asta samāpati) with access-concentration (upacārasamādhi) which has the capacity to suppress the Five Hindrances (pañcanīvaraṇa) [14].

3. Purity of Views (Diṭṭhi-visuddhi) implies the understanding the combination of mind and matter (nāma-rūpa) or the Five Aggregates (pañcaskhandha) dispelling erroneous conceptions or perversions (vipallāsa) of individuality and attainment of real vision of mind and body and their relation to phenomenal existence through the comprehension of mind-and-matter (nāma-rūpa) by the analysis of the Four Elements (bhūta) or by contemplation of the thirty two constituent parts of the body (kuṇupa) or by Eighteen Elements (dhātu), the six senses, the six sense-objects and the six kinds of consciousness corresponding to them or Twelve Sense-Bases (āyatana): the six sense-organs and the six sense-objects and the entire mental process attached to it with all their characteristic trancience.

4. Purity of overcoming Doubts (Kaṇkhāvitaraṇa-visuddhi) is the conquest of all doubts regarding the phenomenal existence through the comprehension of the causal relation of mind and body (nāma-rūpa) understanding their causes and conditions in the context of saṁsāric existence. The knowledge of discerning conditionality sees only a conditioning body-and-mind process and a conditioned body-and-mind process. In other words, it is the knowledge that comprehends the law of kamma and its result in the context of mind and body and the comprehension established by dispelling doubts about the three phases of time - past, present and future by discerning the conditions of mentality-materiality.

5. Purity of Knowledge and Vision of what is Path and Not-Path (Maggāmagga-ñāṇadassana-visuddhi) denotes the attainment of knowledge or insight into the Right path and Wrong path. That means it is the understanding that distinguishes the difference between the direct path and the misleading path. The practical method is known as comprehension by groups (kalāpa-sammasana) which is the contemplation on body and mind in their Three Universal Characteristics (anicca, dukkha and anattā). Here, the knowledge of Arising and Passing away of mental and material phenomena (udaya-vaya) occurs in two phases: undeveloped phase and mature phase. In the undeveloped phase, the Ten Imperfections of Insight [15] (dasa vipassanā-upakkilesa) occur. These Ten Defilements of Insight, forming the Not-Path, which mislead insight, impede the progress in meditation. The realization of these imperfections is the purification by knowledge and vision of Right Path, and the avoidance of the imperfections leads to the attainment of true insight. Besides this, three kinds of mundane full-understanding[16] are attained and a part of the Eighteen Principal Insights[17] is attained by means of full-understanding as abandoning.

6. Purity of Knowledge and Vision of the Way or Progress (Paṭipadā-ñāṇadassana-visuddhi). At this stage, with the absence of the inimical influences of the Ten Imperfections of Insight, insight reaches its culmination through a gradual and steady progress (known as paṭipadā) which consists of the Eight Knowledges[18] with Knowledge in Conformity with Truth (saccānulomika-ñāṇa), as the ninth. This is the knowledge adapted to the Four Noble Truths.

The knowledge of contemplation of dissolution (bhaṅgānupassanā-ñāṇa), one of the Eight Knowledges is conducive to eight advantages:

1. Elimination of wrong views regarding becoming
2. Abandoning the craving for life
3. Constant application in what is suitable
4. Purity of livelihood
5. Elimination of anxiety
6. Expulsion of fear
7. Possession of patience and self-control
8. Overcoming of dissatisfaction
9. Purity of Knowledge and Insight (Ñāṇadassana-visuddhi)

This is the complete purity gained through the knowledge of the Four Noble Paths – the path of Stream-entry, the path of Once-return, the path of Non-return and the path of Perfect Holiness.[19] The knowledge of these Four Supra mundane Paths that lead to the total eradication of all defilements is the purity of Knowledge and Insight.

Cognitive, Behavioral and Psychotherapeutic Aspects as reflected in Insight Meditation

The first step of Satta Visuddhi, Sīla visuddhi (Purity of morality) illustrates the behavioral therapy which is the preparation for the foundation of Insight, and the other steps of Satta Visuddhi depict the cognitive and psychotherapeutic aspects in Insight meditation.

1. Purity of Morality

Behavioral and Psychotherapeutic Aspects of Morality

Morality or Sīla is the foundation of all meritorious actions. Sīla helps create a state of the mind that is not overwhelmed by fear, anxiety, remorse and confusion. Sīla strengthens our courage and ability. It lays the foundation for meditation practice and provides psychological strength. It is this foundation that is absolutely necessary to gain concentration. In a way, morality prepares the ground for planting the seeds of mental cultivation which gives rise to the tree of wisdom.

Morality enables a person to feel the basic level of safety and security that is a requisite for the practice of mental cultivation and wisdom. Sīla-visuddhi (Purity of morality) leads to purity of mind. Purity of mind (Citta-visuddhi) which is the basic foundation for penetrating the Four Noble Truths as well as all conditioned phenomena and the unconditioned which is Nirvāna.

The Therapeutic Rewards and Blessing of Morality

Freedom from remorse, acquisition of Joy, Rapture, Tranquility, Happiness, Concentration, Vision and knowledge according to reality, Turning away and detachment, The vision and knowledge with regard to Deliverance.

Five Advantages through the Practice of Morality

The Buddha preached the following five benefits gained through the observance of the precepts. Great increase of wealth and prosperity through diligence, Noble reputation, Confident deportment without timidity in every society, Serene Death after a full life-span, Re-birth in a happy state or in a heavenly world. [20]

The Wholesome Results gained by keeping the Five Precepts

The First Precept – no physical disabilities, no dry and wilted look, no weakness and sluggishness, no fear of dangers, no fear of being killed by others and committing suicide, no lots of diseases, no loss of friends and no short life.
The Second Precept – no poverty, no loss of your belongings to the Five Enemies (water or flood, fire or conflagrations, thieves, tyrants or bad leaders and unloved heirs like bad sons and daughters).
The Third Precept – not hated by many , no lots of enemies , peace , happy family, no shame and embarrassment, no physical deformities, no much worries, no separation from your loved ones.
The Fourth Precept – no unclear speech, no crooked teeth, no foul mouth, no dull senses, no lack of honor, no roughness in speech, no lack of calm.
The Fifth Precept – no loss of judgment, not being lazy, not being forgetful, not being insane, sense of gratitude, moral shame and moral fear.

Behavioral, Cognitive and Psychotherapeutic Process of Sīla

By abstaining from immoral speech, actions and livelihood, the quality of blamelessness with non-remorse as the benefit can be achieved. One who observes the precepts is dear and loved by his companions holding him in high esteem. Non –remorse leads to joy (pīti) and bliss (sukha), followed by tranquility (passadhi), the proximate cause of concentration (samādhi). With concentrated mind, one is able to penetrate into the true nature of things (yathābhūta-ñāṇa) through Insight (vipassānā) and attain the Path and Fruition Knowledge (magga-phala ñāṇa). Thus, Sīla is of many therapeutic aspects beginning with non-remorse and ending with the realization of Nibbāna. The Moral Purity purges the mind of its inferior, mean and inimical propensities and paves the way for inward purification.

2. Purity of Mind

The following mental disorders suffered by the Deluded-natured (moha-carita) are brought into diminution by Purity of Mind.

thīna-middha - sloth and torpor (3rd of the Five Hindrances),

uddhacca - restlessness (one mental hindrance and also one of the Ten Fetters) [21],

kukkucca - wrongly-performed-ness like scruples, remorse, uneasiness of conscience, worry

vicikicchā - skeptical doubts (one of the three fetters)

3. Purity of Views

Due to Diṭṭhi Visuddhi, one attains the view of reality or seeing things as they are (yathābhūta-dassana) that avoids falling into extremes and forming perversions or distortions of views (diṭṭḥi-vipallāsa). The misconception that causes one to think as “I-ness” or “I am-conceit” (ego-conceit, asmi-māna) is eliminated. Seeing the transience of the Five Aggregates and their relation to phenomenal existence, he is not worried by the vicissitude of the world. A potentiality to face and overcome sorrow and lamentation is developed, and mindfulness to understand the truth that everything is impermanent including our own lives is developed. A wakefulness that everything is changing all of the time is created. By seeing this truth of impermanence of all worldly vicissitudes, our mind is trained to maintain equanimity leading to balance of our mind.

The Eight Factors of the Noble Eightfold Path which purifies mental and behavioral problems.

1. Right Understanding - the knowledge of the true nature of existence in the context of the three universal characteristics
2. Right Thought - thought free from sensuality, ill-will and cruelty
3. Right Speech - speech without falsity, gossip, harshness, and idle babble
4. Right action - the avoidance of killing, stealing and adultery
5. Right livelihood - an occupation that harms no conscious living being
6. Right effort - the effort to destroy the defilements of the mind and to cultivate wholesome qualities
7. Right mindfulness - the perfection of the normal faculty of attention
8. Right concentration - the cultivation of a collected, focused mind through meditation

Now you will see that in this Noble Eightfold Path there is nothing of an essentially religious nature; it is more a sort of moral psychology.

The Overall Therapeutic Results of the Sevenfold Purity

The behavioral problems caused by the adverse actions and evil speeches (detrimental bodily activities and malevolent verbal expressions) which are inimical to individual and society can be overcome through the Moral Purity, and this can be taken as an aspect of Vikkhambhana-pahāna[22]overcoming by suspension or repression a temporary suppression of taints or cankers which lead to mental problems.

The adverse ideas and erroneous views are overcome through the Eighteen Insights, and this way of overcoming (the idea of permanence by impermanence, the idea of pleasure by suffering, self by Not-self etc.) is known as The Overcoming by the Opposites – Tadāṅga-pahāna[23]

The mental problems caused due to attachment, aversion, torpor, restlessness and conflict are overcome by the Purity of Mind (Citta-visuddhi) through eight attainments -four rūpa Jhānās and four arūpa Jhānas (asta samāpati) with access-concentration (upacārasamādhi) which has the potentiality to suppress the Five Hindrances (pañcanīvaraṇa). The overcoming by tranquilization is Paṭipassaddhi-pahāna.

All the behavioral and mental problems are completely overcome by the complete purity gained through the knowledge of the Noble Paths with the final attainment - arihatta-magga leading to the total eradication of all defilements through the Purity of Knowledge and Insight. This is known as the Samuccheda- pahānaovercoming by destruction.


  1. Aṅguttara Nikāya, PTS, IV.157.
  2. Majjhima Nikāya. 8, PTS: M i 40.
  3. Vibhaṅga Aṭṭhakathā, PTS /Visuddhimagga Vol. II, Page. 208. Line 13, 6th Syn. Edition.
  4. Aṅguttara Nikāya. 3.69, PTS: A i 201.
  5. Saṃyutta Nikāya. 3.23, PTS: S i 98, CDB i 189.
  6. Aṅguttara Nikāya. 4.49, PTS: A ii 52.
  7. Manual of Insight by Ledi Sayadaw-WHEEL, 31/32, P. 5.
  8. Dīghanikāya 2 PTS: D i 47
  9. Majjhimanikāya, 2 PTS: M i 6
  10. Majjhimanikāya 24, PTS: M i 145
  11. The Long Discourses of the Buddha, Tr. by Maurice Walshe, 34, P. 511.
  12. Majjhimanikāya 24. PTS: M i 145
  13. Visuddhimagga, Chapter I, 42, PP. 16-17
    Virtue of Restraint of monks' Disciplinary Code (Pātimokkha saṃvara sīla), Virtue of Restraint of the sense faculties (Indriya saṃvara sīla), Virtue of Purification of livelihood (Ājīva pārisuddhi sīla), Virtue of concerning Requisites (Paccaya sannissita sīla).
  14. Dīghanikāya Poṭṭhapāda Sutta 9 PTS: D i 178 / Aṅguttaranikāya 9.64 PTS: A iv 457 - Sensual Desire (kāmacchanda), Ill-will (vyāpāda), Sloth and Torpor (thīna-middha), Restlessness and Worry (uddhacca- kukkucca) and Skeptical Doubt (vicikicchā).
  15. Visuddhimagga.xx,105, P.739- illumination (obhāsa), knowledge (ñāṇa), zest (pīti), serenity (passaddhi), bliss (sukha), resolve (adhimokkha), exaltation (paggaha), mindfulness (upaṭṭhāna), equanimity (upekkhā) and attachment (nikanti).
  16. Ibid, xx 3, P.704 - Ñātapariññā-full understanding as the known, Tiraṇa-pariññā- full understanding as scrutiny, and full understanding as abandoning.
  17. Ibid, Chapter xx, 89. P.732.
  18. Ibid, Chapter xx (I) 93, P. 734, Chapter XXI (II)3, P. 746 - Knowledge of contemplation of rise and fall (udayavayānupassanā-ñāṇa), Knowledge of contemplation of dissolution (bhaṅgānupassanā-ñāṇa), Knowledge of appearance as terror (bhayatūpaṭṭhāna-ñāṇa), Knowledge of contemplation of danger (ādīnavānupassanā-ñāṇa), Knowledge of contemplation of detachment (nibbidānupassanā-ñāṇa), Knowledge of desire for deliverance (muñcitukamyatā-ñāṇa), Knowledge of contemplation of reflection (paṭisaṅkhānupassanā-ñāṇa), Knowledge of equanimity about formations (saṅkhārupekkhā-ñāṇa).
  19. Visuddhimagga. Chapter XXII, 1, 2, P.785. sotāpatti-magga, sakadāgāmi-magga, anāgāmi-magga and arihatta-magga
  20. Visuddhimagga Chapter I, (IV), 23, P.9.
  21. AN 10.13 PTS: A v 17 Saṃyojana Sutta ,(sakkāya-diṭṭhi, vicikicchā, sīlabbata-parāmāsa, kāma-rāga, vyāpāda, rūpa-rāga, arūpa-rāga, māna, uddhacca and avijjā.
  22. Buddhist Dictionary-Manual of Buddhist Terms & Doctrines by Nyanatiloka, P. 353.
  23. Ibid, P.365.


Dr. R. M. Rathnasiri, Sri Lanka
The third International Conference Buddhism & Australia 2014