Sīla, Samādhi, Paññā to Paññā, Sīla, Samādhi

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Sīla, Samādhi, Paññā to Paññā, Sīla, Samādhi

September 2, 2017; revised September 14, 2019; May 5, 2022; July 4, 2022; September 10, 2022

1. These days, it is customary to state that the Noble Eightfold Path consists of three steps: sīla (moral conduct), samādhi (Concentration), and paññā (wisdom). However, that sequence holds only for the mundane Eightfold Path. It does not lead to Nibbāna but only sets up the conditions to get into the Noble Eightfold Path.

In this initial stage, one cultivates sīla by living a moral life by making a determined effort not to violate the five precepts; see “2. The Basics in Meditation.”

Samādhi is much more than concentration; see, “What is samādhi? – Three Kinds of Mindfulness.” When one lives a moral life, one’s mindset will gradually change to a calm state (“sama” + “adhi”), as explained in that post.

With this calm mindset, one will be able to get rid of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi (“Micchā Diṭṭhi, Gandhabba, and Sotāpanna Stage.” Then one reaches mundane Sammā Diṭṭhi or the first level of wisdom.

2. One must follow the mundane Path before understanding anicca, dukkha, and anatta, and get into the Noble Path; see “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart” and “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?.” Thus, there are three necessary steps to Nibbāna:

Follow the mundane Eightfold Path by living a moral life (sīla) to remove the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi. Those include not believing in kamma vipāka, rebirth, etc. Then one can get to mundane samādhi and gain the first level of wisdom (paññā): sīla, samādhi, paññā.

Then start removing a DEEPER layer of micchā diṭṭhi (that this world can offer lasting happiness) by learning the CORRECT versions of anicca, dukkha, and anatta (Tilakkhaṇa).

Once one grasps the basics of Tilakkhaṇa, one becomes a Sotāpanna Anugāmi. One then starts living with an unbreakable sīla to attain Sammā samādhi and the four stages of Nibbāna by following paññā, sīla, samādhi.

3. The first level of wisdom, achieved in the mundane path, is called kammassakata Sammā diṭṭhi: understanding that one’s actions, speech, and thoughts (kāya, vacī, and mano saṅkhāra) — one’s kamma — WILL have consequences in the future, both in this life and in future lives.

With kammassakata sammā diṭṭhi, one understands and accepts the fact that what we experience (kamma vipāka, good and bad) is due to our past kamma.

One understands that to encounter good kamma vipāka in the future (including future lives), one needs to cultivate GOOD kamma (i.e., good mano, vacī, and kāya saṅkhāra).

Even more importantly, one starts avoiding strong BAD kamma. Thus one starts getting rid of the coarse levels of lobha, dosa, and moha, which is the same as preventing dasa akusala.

When one follows this “sīla step,” one will start experiencing the early stages of Nibbāna of “cooling down”; see “Nirāmisa Sukha” and “How to Taste Nibbāna.”

4. Some people think that if one kills animals without knowing that will have consequences, that will lead to kamma vipāka. That is not correct. “Intention to kill” must be there to bring kamma vipāka.

There is no superhuman being that keeps track of what one is doing. But when one intentionally kills an animal, one’s mind knows that, and one’s viññāṇa will adjust accordingly. See “Viññāṇa – What It Really Means.”

The more one kills animals that viññāṇa capable of killing will only grow. That will lead to a corresponding bhava in the niraya realm (hell), where similar suffering exists.

Therefore, being ignorant of nature’s laws is not an excuse. Not knowing it was unlawful will not be an excuse when one gets caught doing an illegal act.

There is another type of action where one kills animals unintentionally. For example, we kill many insects every time we take a walk. That does not lead to any kamma vipāka.

So, only those saṅkhāra (or more correctly abhisaṅkhāra) done with intention lead to viññāṇa (via “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa”), and subsequently lead to births in different realms via “viññāṇa paccayā nāmarūpa,” etc. to …“bhava paccayā jāti.”

5. Most people also think that kamma vipāka arises only due to bodily actions (via kāya saṅkhāra.) But physical movements, speech, and thoughts all contribute to kamma. It is the cetanā (intention) involved in thoughts, speech, and actions (i.e., mano , vacī, and kāya saṅkhāra) that is kamma. That is explained in the subsection, “Living Dhamma – Fundamentals.

When one starts comprehending the laws of kamma (that causes lead to similar effects IF suitable conditions are present), one will gradually get to mundane sammā samādhi. Then one’s ability to grasp more profound Dhamma concepts (paññā) will grow; see “Mundane Sammā Samādhi.

One can stop future suffering only by eliminating the corresponding abhisaṅkhāra, i.e., “saṅkhāra nirodho bhava (and jāti) nirodho.”

But saṅkhāra can only be stopped by the corresponding abhisaṅkhāra, i.e., “saṅkhāra nirodho bhava (and jāti) nirodho.”

But saṅkhāra can be only stopped by removing avijjā since saṅkhāra are unavoidable as long as avijjā is there. “Avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā.” That is why Sammā Diṭṭhi (understanding Tilakkhaṇa) is so important.

One will have a good idea of how births in different realms are associated with different types of suffering. Furthermore, one would see how one’s actions (saṅkhāra) lead to such births. I have summarized them in the table below.


Level of Suffering


Generation/Stopping of Saṅkhāra

Niraya (Hell)

Incessant suffering

Dosa: Killing (especially humans), torture, rapes, etc


Peta (Hungry Ghosts)


Lobha or Excess greed (may I get all, not others)


Vinipatha Asura [demons’, titans, evil ghosts]

Spend time aimlessly; mostly heavy bodies not movable

Moha : Tina middha, vicikicchā (lazy, lacking wisdom).


Animal (Tirisan: “tiri” + “saŋ” or with all 3 causes)

Combinations of above three types

Combinations of lobha, dosa, moha


Human (Manussa: “mana” + “ussa” or with advanced mind)

In between lower and higher realms

In between lower and higher realms

Almost all saṅkhāra responsible births in all realms occur here.

Deva (similar to human bodies, but much less dense)

Mostly no physical suffering and abundant sense pleasures (kāma). But there is mental stress.

Good kamma vipāka (done with alobha, adosa, amoha). Mental stress arises due to kāma rāga.


Rūpāvacara Brahma (only manomaya kāya; cannot be even seen with a microscope)

Mental stress is much reduced. Mainly jhānic pleasures. Vipariṇāma dukha when close death.

Suppression of kāma rāga and cultivation of rūpāvacara jhāna (while in the human realm)


Arūpāvacara Brahma (only hadaya vatthu and mind)

Only arūpāvacara jhānic pleasures. Vipariṇāma dukha when close death.

Cultivation of arūpāvacara jhāna (while in the human realm)



Permanent release from all suffering.

Elimination of all causes for existence, i.e., rāgakkhaya, dosakkhaya, mohakkhaya.

Mostly attained in the human realm, but possible in higher realms, especially after the Sotāpanna stage.

6. Now, it is clear how future suffering arises via one’s actions, speech, and thoughts (saṅkhāra). It is also clear that suffering decreases, and “nirāmisa sukha” grows at successively higher realms.

When one lives a sinful life and engages in dasa akusala like killing, raping, etc., one is likely to be reborn in the lowest four realms (apāyā) and face much suffering. Such actions involve kāya, vacī, and mano saṅkhāra with lobha, dosa, moha.

One is likely to be born in rūpa or arūpa Brahma loka when one cultivates jhānā by even abandoning kāma rāga (at least temporarily).

When one has reduced lobha, dosa, moha to rāga, paṭigha, avijjā (see, “Lobha, Dosa, Moha versus Rāga, Paṭigha, Avijjā”) by following the mundane eightfold path, one is likely to be reborn in the human or deva realms. In these realms ,suffering is much less, and most remaining suffering is mental,  especially in the deva realms.

7. However, there is much suffering that we tend to ignore. Saṅkhāra dukha and vipariṇāma dukha belong to that category; see “Introduction – What is Suffering?” and the follow-up post.

That suffering arises due to kāma rāga, i.e., craving (upādāna) for sense pleasures. Thus even if one is not engaged in dasa akusala, one would not be released from kāma loka as long as one has kāma rāga.

At the next higher level in the rūpa and arūpa realms, kāma rāga is absent, and thus one enjoys jhānic pleasures.

Unlike sense pleasures, jhānic pleasures can be sustained for longer times and are much-refined. However, that is still not permanent as the Nibbānic bliss arrived by eliminating all suffering.

8. As humans, we can overcome suffering in the kāma loka during this life itself, by cultivating jhānā. That means being able to “temporarily live” in rūpāvacara or arūpāvacara realms.

One gets to rūpāvacara and arūpāvacara jhāna via either REMOVAL or SUPPRESSION of kāma rāga and paṭigha. Of course, that is not possible if one engages in dasa akusala.

There are Buddhist and non-Buddhist meditation techniques to achieve this. See, “Elephant in the Room 2 – Jhāna and Kasiṇa.”

If one develops jhānā, one will be born in rūpa or arūpa realms in the next birth. However, as we can see from the above table, any future births in those rūpa and arūpa realms are temporary. One could later be reborn in the apāyā.

The only permanent solution to end all future suffering is to attain Nibbāna, as shown in the above table.

9. When one gets into mundane sammā samādhi by cultivating sīla, one can see the truth of the overall picture shown in the table above. At this stage – with this broader world picture — one can take the second important step towards Nibbāna by comprehending the Tilakkhaṇa. However, one needs to know the correct versions of Tilakkhaṇa; see “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta.”

That is the paññā (wisdom) associated with the first path factor (Sammā Diṭṭhi) in the Noble Eightfold Path.

One will then be able to comprehend the First Noble Truth about the suffering in this world, the Dukkha Sacca.

10. The Buddha’s key message is that one cannot find permanent happiness anywhere among the 31 realms in this world. Any such temporary happiness would be minuscule compared to suffering in the apāyā and kāma loka. That is very hard to comprehend (no matter how well-educated one may be).

This fundamental fact of nature is called anicca nature. It means that NOTHING in this world can bring a permanent state of happiness (and WILL only bring suffering). The only permanent state of happiness is Nibbāna.

When one has the opposite perception of nicca and focuses on seeking long-term happiness in this world, one WILL face suffering (dukha) in the long run.

Thus, eventually, one will become helpless in this rebirth process, which is the anatta nature.

Those are the Three Characteristics of nature. See, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta.” Therefore, the crucial second step toward Nibbāna (permanent happiness) is to learn these critical characteristics of Nature from a true disciple of the Buddha.

11. When one starts comprehending the Tilakkhaṇa to some extent, one becomes a Sotāpanna Anugāmi and enters the Noble Path; see, “Sotāpanna Anugāmi and a Sotāpanna.”

In this third and last step towards Nibbāna, one starts with a NEW mindset about this world’s real nature. One can see that unimaginable suffering in the future if one does immoral things to get sensual pleasure.

Thus one starts to understand the First Noble Truth or the Dukkha Sacca: There is unimaginable suffering in this world of 31 realms. At this initial stage, it is hard to see the dangers/suffering in the human and deva realms. But if one has comprehended the fact that apāyā (four lower realms) must exist for the laws of kamma to work, then one can see the unimaginable suffering in the apāyā.

The Buddha said one would simultaneously understand the other three Noble Truths when one understands the First Noble Truth. One will see that lobha, dosa, and moha are the origins of that suffering (Samudaya Sacca). That one needs to remove those causes (Nirodha Sacca). And, the way to accomplish that is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path (Magga Sacca).

12. This understanding becomes permanent forever (through future lives) when one attains the Sotāpanna stage. From that point onward, one will NOT be CAPABLE of doing a kamma that could make one eligible for rebirth in the apāyā. Thus, one will be free from the worst suffering in the future.

The post, “Akusala Citta – How a Sotāpanna Avoids Apāyagāmī Citta,” explains how Nature enforces laws of kamma.

Ones mind will automatically reject any apāyagāmī action, even on an sudden impulse.

13. Understanding Paṭicca Samuppāda is critical. It explains how future bhava (existences) arise due to how one thinks, speaks, and acts (with vacī and kāya saṅkhāra). See “Saṅkhāra – What It Really Means” and “Correct Meaning of Vacī Saṅkhāra.”

If one can hurt and kill others, one is making conditions to face similar situations in the niraya.

If one has excessive greed and is willing to hurt others for pleasure, one could be born a peta (hungry ghost).

Those who are lazy and depend on others cultivate asura saṅkhāra. That leads to asura viññāṇa and thus gives rise to an asura existence.

If one can think, speak, and act like an animal, one is cultivating animal saṅkhāra. Thus one could be born into an animal existence.

14. At this stage, one starts living by the ariyakanta sīla. This sīla is different from the sīla in the first step. [ariyakanta :[adj.] agreeable to the Ariyas. kanta : [adj.] pleasant; lovely; agreeable. (m.), the beloved one; husband. (pp. of kamati), gone; entered into.]

In the first type of sīla, one forcefully avoided doing pāpa kamma or immoral acts. But there could have been occasions where one “could not help breaking the sīla because the temptations were too strong.

However, this new ariyakanta sīla is unbreakable, no matter how intense the temptation is. One’s mind has grasped that it is NOT WORTH to commit apāyagāmī actions. That is regardless of how much wealth or pleasures they could bring. [apāyagāmī : [adj.] going or conveying to the state of misery.]

For example, it is not worthwhile to make a lot of money by killing animals or fish, selling drugs that can harm others, lying, bribing, etc.

At this stage, one could still have cravings for sensual pleasures. Thus one could live everyday married life, i.e., “moral living.”

15. It is unnecessary to attain any jhāna to get to the Sotāpanna stage. These days there is too much emphasis on jhāna.

One must realize that rūpāvacara and arūpāvacara jhāna are sensory experiences in the rūpa and arūpa realms. Therefore, such experiences belong to “this world” of 31 realms.

The Buddha stated that any of his lay disciples with the Sotāpanna stage is million times well-off than a yogi who had attained all jhānā and all abhiññā powers.

While those jhānā and abhiññā powers last only during this life, a Sotāpanna is freed from the apāyā FOREVER.

However, understanding jhānā is important since it confirms the Buddha’s broader worldview in the above table. There are many in the world today who can experience jhānā.

But some people mistakenly believe that jhānā are necessary to attain magga phala. But as the above table shows, jhānā are still part of “this world” and can be achieved even by following “non-Buddhist meditations.” More details in “Elephants in the Room.”