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Sorry, I've just read Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10) and feel a bit overwhelmed.

As far as I understand, this is some sort of instruction on how to attain enlightenment. It teaches, that one has to develop the perfect mindfulness of the body, feelings and mind; to observe all the hindrances and be sure that they won't arise anymore; to develop the ending of the aggregates; to abandon the fetter of the senses; to develop all the awakening factors; to contemplate all the arising dharmas considering their relationships with the Four Noble Truths.

Beats me, even if one devotes all their life to the perfection of all of these things, can they really perfect these? Attaining Nirvana seems to be really complicated, and there are many conflicting points (both within and between major schools) on what are more important objects of meditation & techniques out there.

  • Interestingly, the central theme of Christianity has to do with the direct equivalent to your question, with regard to gaining entry into heaven. If you're interested in researching how Christianity approaches its own equivalent to your question, New Testament books like Hebrews and Galatians can be good places to start. – Panzercrisis May 19 at 16:56
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Beats me, even if one devotes all their life to the perfection of all of these things, can they really perfect these? Attaining Nirvana seems to be really complicated, and there are many conflicting points (both within and between major schools) on what are more important objects of meditation & techniques out there.

There sure are many conflicting points within and between schools, but more important meditation objects isn't one of them, for there's no such thing as the best meditation object. The best meditation object is one that is the most suitable to solve a problem due to the personality, shortcomings, and orientation of the practitioner. Full of lust? then meditate on the foulness of the body thru its 32 body parts; full of hatred or anger? meditate on loving kindness and joy; full of drowsiness or torpor? meditate on light or various kasinas, etc.

Regarding the possibility of Nibbana, there's no doubt it's no trivial pursuit. But one can see it in a more positive light, if the road to Nibbana is like a marathon which would take millions of steps forward, as long as one puts in the time and effort slowly and consistently, any step s/he puts forward would mean it's one step closer toward the finish line. But if s/he doesn't put their foot forward, s/he won't go anywhere.

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  • "There sure are many conflicting points within and between schools, but more important meditation objects isn't one of them" - well, for example, Bhikkhu Bodhi argued, that kasina meditation was not taught by the Buddha, as kasinas do not appear in the most ancient scriptures, therefore should not be practised, according to Bhikkhu Bodhi – Damocle Damoclev May 20 at 11:56
  • I think this answer is quite good because it captures the essentials of developing sati and removal of obsessive thoughts & hindrances by any means. Btw in regards to schools op might not know that Theravada has like factions, they don't split even tho conflicting views, if u made a q about this id tell what i know but school delineation is a ballpark reference to what texts people consider to be true rather than their interpretations. – tatarça May 21 at 23:05
  • B.Bodhi, Analayo, Brahm and Sujato are the monks who have an angle on parts of canon being inauthentic but they have no proof afaik. I suspect this has to do with the female ordination drama, feminism, disagreeing with some partriarchal sutta and perhaps seeing legitimate flaws (i don't fwiw). These are most "reformist" monks there are and most visibly politically engaged. – tatarça May 21 at 23:17
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Indeed, attaining Nirvana is the Ultimate Challenge. There is nothing higher, so I'm surprised you are surprised that it's difficult. Did you expect it to be easier than e.g. becoming an Olympic Champion or becoming a billionaire businessman? If it were easier it would not be The Most Valuable Attainment in the Universe.

As any serious pursuit this must be your topmost priority for you to even have a chance to succeed. You can't achieve it "by the way" among other things. If you speak with any serious Buddhist teacher, they will tell you that they put their entire life, every second of every minute of every hour, to the service of enlightenment. Only this level of commitment makes the goal of Nirvana achievable.

Of course, if you want to move in the right direction, you need to know clearly where you are going and what you have to do to get there. Are you clear now? Do you know many people who are clear? If not, there's zero chance, ZERO, that you will be able to do the right thing at the tremendously high level of effort, consistently for a long time. You can't become an Olympic champion by trying random exercises from different sport books, can you?

So you need a system, one with clear goal, clear principles, and clear practices that use the principles to move towards the goal. You need to have a clear understanding of the goal, the principles, the negative actions that move you away, the positive actions that move you closer, and irrelevant actions that you can ignore. It must be very clear, so you can implement it very precisely, with no gaps, every second of every minute of every hour, improving your practice, until it becomes perfect. I'm telling you how it is. If it's sounds hard, that's because it is. These are mandatory requirements.

Once you are clear about the what and the how, you must keep yourself motivated and focused, to stay on the practice without distraction, without losing hope, for years and years, maybe even decades. Perhaps only a few years, if you are extremely talented and strong, but most likely decades if you are an average person. Unfortunately there's no shortcut.

So if you are scared of all this, then this Challenge is not for you. But if you want to be on par with Spider Man and Bill Gates - and are willing to sacrifice your life for it, then your foremost concern must be understanding of the principles. The more you understand the principles, the better you can apply them in practice -- the better you practice, the clearer things get -- the clearer things get, the better you understand the principles. It starts and ends with the principles, the principles are the key.

And what are the principles?

  1. It's all in your head. Our mind creates the virtual reality we know as "our world". Our problems, successes, sufferings, joys, meanings, pursuits - are mind constructs. Therefore the solution lies in understanding how mind works and not falling victim to its mechanisms.

  2. Karma is the fabric our lives made of. Every choice we make shapes our life. Our future is literally made of our past. Therefore, every little step we make builds the house of our future, rock by rock. Therefore, we must get very clear what we should and should not do.

  3. There are two basic states: harmony and conflict. They apply to all situations in life, large and small. Harmony feels good, conflict feels bad. The goal of Buddhism is perfect Harmony. (You can call it nirvana or whatever you want.)

  4. Now, the master key. What you sow is what you reap. If you sow conflict, you reap conflict. If you sow harmony you reap harmony. On micro and macro levels. In your person life and in social life, it works the same way. Conflict between two thoughts is still a conflict.

  5. If you want to achieve nirvana, you must practice creating nothing but harmony, and your practice must get perfectly watertight. Which means you will start coarse and keep improving. At some point you will start questioning what's what and splitting hair. This is expected as you get to the microscopic level. To achieve nirvana you need to get clear about harmony on all levels - from cosmic to nanoscopic level of your subtlests thoughts. Conflict between two thoughts is still a conflict.

  6. All practices - ethics, mindfulness, meditation - serve this single purpose: don't create conflict and create harmony, outer and inner. Now you know what to do.

  7. At some point your pursuit of inner harmony should get soooooo refined that you will come back to principle #1 above and make a breakthrough. At which point your beliefs will fall, your head will explode, and all those other cool things described in texts will happen. But anyhow, the way to get there is to avoid creating conflict and only create harmony, which gets harder and harder as you begin scrutinizing these two notions as they apply to your immediate first-hand experience.

Even when you're clear about all of the above, (and I suspect that most people are not) - it's still a very tough game to master. Like I said, you must be crazy to think you can win. But if you have spirit of Spider Man and patience of Bill Gates, then maybe you have one chance in a million. Worth giving a shot?

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  • Sounds more like motivational speech than an answer to my question. My question is, what one must stick to in this mountain of scriptures to fulfil their goal? Since, indeed, "you can't become an Olympic champion by trying random exercises from different sports books". And this sutra really seems like "random exercises from different sports books", and I just see no way how one can master all these. I stuck to Anapanasati sutta before, but this one really complicates the Path. – Damocle Damoclev May 19 at 10:47
  • Principles, principles, principles. See above for principles. Principles above. – Andrei Volkov May 19 at 11:00
  • The key principle is to create inner and outer harmony, I get it. But Buddha would never call the goal of Nirvana as a Challenge and compare it to the training for the Olympics or becoming a billionaire. Such comparisons feed the ego and are counterproductive. – Damocle Damoclev May 19 at 11:33
  • Not at all. Didn't you read the sutta where he says that wanting to be better than other monks and jealousy of their attainments leads to Nirvana? Go ahead and ask a new question about that. – Andrei Volkov May 19 at 12:43
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Well the Satipatthana sutta answers it doesn't it?

"O bhikkhus, should any person maintain the Four Arousings of Mindfulness in this manner for seven years, then by him one of two fruitions is proper to be expected: Knowledge (arahantship) here and now; or, if some form of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning (the Third Stage of Supramundane Fulfillment).

"O bhikkhus, let alone seven years. Should a person maintain these Four Arousings of Mindfulness, in this manner, for six years... for five years... four years... three years... two years... one year, then by him one of two fruitions is proper to be expected: knowledge here and now; or, if some form of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.

"O bhikkhus, let alone a year. Should any person maintain these Four Arousings of Mindfulness, in the manner, for seven months, then by him one of two fruitions is proper to be expected: Knowledge here and now; or, if some form of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.

"O bhikkhus, let alone seven months. Should any person maintain these Four Arousings of Mindfulness in this manner for six months... five months... four months... three months... two months... one month... half-a-month, then, by him one of two fruitions is proper to be expected: Knowledge here and now; or, if some form of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.

"O bhikkhus, let alone half-a-month. Should any person maintain these Four Arousings of Mindfulness in this manner for a week, then by him one of two fruitions is proper to be expected: Knowledge here and now; or, if some form of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.

"Because of this was it said: 'This is the only way, O bhikkhus, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nibbana, namely, the Four Arousings of Mindfulness."

Thus spoke the Blessed One.

There are ways given by the Buddha for finding correct people to whom one lends ear, that by observing them as in canki sutta, there are also ways of examining texts given in the four great references.

Learning of texts & doctines one is overwhelmed with the amount schools and volume.

If one starts with the oldest texts of Pitaka one will have a good reference to texts known to be true so one can then move on to examining the later up to contemporary texts.

To me this seems to be the meta because starting from the late texts doesn't make any sense. I assume we want to know what Buddha said more so than what other people say about it not the other way.

Having learnef the basic pali texts one will keep track the development of interpretations as time went on.

It does take a long time to learn the thousands of discourses but this kind of study of schools isn't necessary for the attainments as in beginning there were much fewer discourses and more attainments. One does need to learn but that just enough not to hold pernicious wrong views and to rouse effort for the development.

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If you are serious about reaching enlightenment, you will reach it. What I have to say goes against some Buddhist teachings and will most likely be frowned upon by most who read this, but my hope is that something I say resonates with you and sparks the drive to continue on the path and not get discouraged. Reaching enlightenment is no small task, but it is certainly not as difficult as the Sutta you read makes it out to be.

Before I start with opinions, I need to share the hardest pill to swallow. I consider myself an Arahant, and have been living without suffering for the past two years. I also know many people personally who have also reached enlightenment, it is not as uncommon as you may first suspect it to be. Once you have awakened, it becomes fairly easy to identify who has also completed the path. There are specific ways that people speak about the unspeakable that are easy tells.

Now when I tell someone this though, their automatic response tends to be disbelief. I personally think this is because of exactly the situation you find yourself in now. You read a Sutta and you are so overwhelmed with rules and guidelines you think it must be impossible. I personally believe many Suttas, through translations and permutations over thousands of years, have accumulated unnecessary fluff. I think many of those who have translated the texts have not been enlightened themselves, and therefore have added verbiage that no longer retains the accuracy it once had. I also believe permutations have occurred that tended to add extravagance to the idea of enlightenment, setting unrealistic expectations that further alienates the reader from believing they have a chance at true freedom.

Everything I am going to say after this depends on you believing that my attainment is true. It will carry no weight otherwise. Just know that I write this post, exposing my experience and potentially bringing the wrath of others upon myself, for the tiny sliver of a chance that you may one day experience the same peace that is granted to those who's lives are truly blessed. I pray for nothing more than your liberation, for it is without a doubt the most beautiful and amazing thing that has ever happened to me.

First I plan to answer your question. Then, I will talk about my experience with enlightenment to see if my experience is something you desire. Finally, I will give my recommendations of how to proceed, so you can hopefully avoid many of the pitfalls I found myself in.

Now to finally answer your question, no, you do not need to "perfect" anything in order to reach enlightenment. Every moment you are aware is a moment that enlightenment is possible. Nirvana has no requirements to be seen. The main impediment we face that stops us from instantly becoming enlightened is the insane number of beliefs we hold without question. The linchpin belief being our belief in a separate self, the human being you presently believe yourself to be. Once it is seen in your own experience that the self does not exist, a domino effect occurs and enlightenment becomes inevitable.

Now here is the part where I try to set realistic expectations about enlightenment, but I expect those who have never experienced enlightenment to lash out at my crushing their dreams of what they hope and pray it to be. I only include this so that you can make an informed decision. It's easy to desire to walk the path if you are told you will be in a constant state of bliss and all your problems will go away. Unfortunately, that is not what enlightenment is.

Enlightenment is experienced from the human perspective as an end to all beliefs, a perceived balance in effort, and an unending peace. Enlightenment is experienced from the non-human perspective as complete unity and emptiness.

Our entire lives we exert so much unconscious effort propping up our belief systems. Samsara, or, the world we believe ourselves to live in, only exists because of these beliefs. Creating the universe takes a lot of effort, and its an effort we are so used to constantly exerting, we don't even notice its presence until its gone. Once all beliefs end for the first time, Nirvana is seen, and from there on out, there is an unending tranquility that you now will have access to, in all experience. This peace underlying all things will allow you to endure anything.

When all your beliefs end, so does the belief that you are a human being. Your experience becomes one of complete unity, seeing the universe as yourself. You will experience what you truly are, the totality of reality uninterpreted by beliefs. It is the holiest of experiences, and one I am eternally grateful to have been able to experience.

Just because the belief that you are a human being has ended does not mean your human experience stops. Your experience continues as it once did, but now with an added non-human component. Both logically at odds with one another, but coexisting perfectly. You will still experience things like sadness, frustration, and anger, but in a completely new light. Suffering is not a feeling or experience. Suffering is nothing more than energy exerted to satisfy aversion. When you are an Arahant, you will become sad and cry, but you will not be uncomfortable. You will get angry and yell, but be at peace. True freedom comes from the acceptance of all experience. As long as you want these experiences and not those, you will never be free. Any enlightenment description that highlights you being able to control anything is misguided. True freedom is in the complete relinquishing of control of everything. True freedom is in the full acceptance of anything that occurs. You do not need to change who you are to be free. You simply need to observe, without exerting the effort of interpretation.

Without getting into my life story, I can tell you it took me 6 years of searching to become an Arahant. I personally believe most of that time was wasted, wandering from teaching to teaching, trying to piece together what would help me, and what was just dogmatic beliefs. I think, if I had the correct resources from the beginning, I could have done it a lot faster. Enlightenment is possible for all who seek it. The hardest part of the path is discarding all the beliefs that hold us from seeing the Truth.

Now for my advice to you for how to move forward on the path. It's so easy to get stagnant. I have seen many spin their wheels for years making no progress, and I pray all who have read this far do not make the same mistakes that I did.

If you desire to be free, my highest recommendation is to find a teacher who has already walked the entire path. I have seen many waste so much time, learning from teachers who also believe the end goal to be an impossible task. An Arahant hillbilly would be more useful to you than a monk who has spent the last 60 years memorizing the Suttras.

If you can't find a teacher, I highly suggest you read this book:

https://www.amazon.com/Mastering-Core-Teachings-Buddha-Unusually/dp/1904658407

It was written by an Arahant, for people confused or lost in the Suttas. It boils down what you need to most basic component. I fully attribute the final stages of my progress to reading this book. I couldn't recommend it more.

I hope this book of a post I have written you finds you well. To all who have made it this far, I have no doubt that you have the open-mindedness and ability to set aside your own beliefs that are infinitely helpful in reaching true freedom. I pray for nothing more than your liberation this lifetime.

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    Thank you, I appreciate your answer and agree with many of your points (Oh, beliefs and opinions again!). I certainly feel like the original teaching of Siddharta Gautama has been altered and overcomplicated since many years of oral transition. It can be even seen with how many "formulas" are there in the suttas. I highly doubt that the original teaching was so formalistic. Probably it's like that because it's easier to remember. "Abhidhamma Pitaka" was probably written by non-arahants. And, yes, probably "a monk who has spent the last 60 years memorizing the Suttras" isn't a great teacher. – Damocle Damoclev May 19 at 16:14
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    Also, unrealistic expectations could be set because over time the figure of Buddha has started to resemble god, omnipotent and omniscient. In reality, Buddha was a liberated being, but still a normal human being. It's even written in the suttas that in the old age Buddha has led less ascetic lifestyle and started to practise the naps. – Damocle Damoclev May 19 at 16:22
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    As for your claim for being an arahant, it probably can't be proven nor disproven, like all the other such claims. I can only say that in the 20th and 21st centuries there's been a lot of such claims, but people who claimed this often have held false opinions and were teaching harmful stuff, so obviously they weren't really enlightened. – Damocle Damoclev May 19 at 16:33
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    Finally, I can say that your answer certainly resonated with me and helped me to calm down. – Damocle Damoclev May 19 at 16:36
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    You are most welcome. Believing I am an Arahant would just be another belief acting as a barrier to your awakening, so hopefully you don’t believe a word. =] Im just happy you read my words to the end. You don’t need anyone to get where you are headed, but sometimes guides and friends can be good company along the way. – w33t May 19 at 16:39
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I am just a learner, not a knowledgeable monk or scholar but I will venture an answer as I have had the same questions and thoughts as you. These are the answers that have worked for me:

  1. Can this be done? Yes. Example: the Buddha and some others who followed.
  2. Can this be done in the current lifetime? Yes. Example: the Buddha.
  3. Should one expect to attain this in one or the current lifetime? No. Example: the many who try but failed; even the Buddha spoke of his past lifetimes. As others here have pointed out; it is incredibly difficult to attain.
  4. Should this put you off trying? No. As others have said, even if it is not been achieved, the trying will bring you that much closer so you can start ahead in your next existence.
  5. Which is the right path/teaching to follow to achieve it? Trick question. IMHO, the Buddha taught us the understandings & goals we need to achieve. He also gave us some helpful ideas on some practices which could be used to achieve those.

However, most important, he also taught us that we needed to look within ourselves to find our way to enlightenment. Buddhism does not have priests or rabbis or imams for a reason. Monks are teachers and advisors, not infallibles.

We are each different individuals, with different backgrounds, ways and capabilities. I believe that there is no one way or one set of practices that is the right one for all to follow to enlightenment. Each of these have been developed by individuals who looked within and found a certain set which helped them achieve. The mistake even great teachers make is to believe that the method that worked for them will work for all (one of the toughest lessons I had to learn as a teacher).

Each of us needs to survey these, look within ourselves and choose the best methods FOR US to attain the understandings and goals set out for us. Again, the answer is within each of us not down one defined "yellow brick road".

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The attain enlightenment, all one simply needs to learn is how to continuously observe the breathing, i.e., practice anapanasati.

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Nibbana is an experience (or a mental state), not something to be understood intellectually. The answers cannot be found by comparing techniques or schools. One has to apply the dharma pertaining to the body to the body, the dharma applying to sila (virtue) to one's life. It is a process of slowly changing the composition of one's mind and life over time. Please find a local monastery or meditation retreat that speaks to you. May you find peace! With metta

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OP: Is it even possible to attain Nirvana?

If you have to ask this question, then the answer is NO.


P.S. This is a zen-style answer.

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