I am reading Practical Insight Meditation: Basic and progressive stages by Mahasi Sayadaw. In the book he elaborates on the 16 stages of insight meditation as a kind of road map of what to expect. I was wondering if these stages are part of the Theravada tradition or an integral part of the Dharma canon.

5 Answers 5


The Seven Stages of Purification are summarised in the Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification), a 5th century Theravada text (about 800 years after the Buddha lived).

the seven visuddhis come from the Ratha-vinita Sutta (MN 24), and the sixteen stages of knowledge are found in the Patisambhidamagga. – yuttadhammo

This comparison between practice and "seven relay chariots" points at the goal. Each purity is needed to attain the next. They are often referred to as the "Seven Stages of Purification" (satta-visuddhi):[3]

Purification of Conduct (sīla-visuddhi)
Purification of Mind (citta-visuddhi)
Purification of View (ditthi-visuddhi)
Purification by Overcoming Doubt (kankha-vitarana-visuddhi)
Purification by Knowledge and Vision of What Is Path and Not Path (maggamagga-ñanadassana-visuddhi)
Purification by Knowledge and Vision of the Course of Practice (patipada-ñanadassana-visuddhi)
    Knowledge of contemplation of rise and fall (udayabbayanupassana-nana)
    Knowledge of contemplation of dissolution (bhanganupassana-nana)
    Knowledge of appearance as terror (bhayatupatthana-nana)
    Knowledge of contemplation of danger (adinavanupassana-nana)
    Knowledge of contemplation of dispassion (nibbidanupassana-nana)
    Knowledge of desire for deliverance (muncitukamyata-nana)
    Knowledge of contemplation of reflection (patisankhanupassana-nana)
    Knowledge of equanimity about formations (sankharupekka-nana)
    Conformity knowledge (anuloma-nana)
Purification by Knowledge and Vision (ñanadassana-visuddhi)
    Change of lineage
    The first path and fruit
    The second path and fruit
    The third path and fruit
    The fourth path and fruit

The "Purification by Knowledge and Vision" is the culmination of the practice, in four stages leading to liberation and Nirvana.

The emphasis in this system is on understanding the three marks of existence, dukkha, anatta, anicca. This emphasis is recognizable in the value that is given to vipassana over samatha, especially in the contemporary vipassana movement.

  • @Devindra - see note 2 Mahasi Sayadaw;The progress of insight
    – Samadhi
    Jun 5, 2015 at 14:14
  • Are you stating that the Visuddhimagga is an early text? AFAIK, it is a later addition to the canon, though it is now very popular, it is not without a lot of controversy.
    – Buddho
    Jul 14, 2015 at 15:15

The earliest source for the enumeration of sixteen stages of knowledge that I know of is the Paṭisambhidāmagga, a treatise ascribed to Sāriputta, included in the Myanmar version of the Khuddaka Nikāya. So yeah, pretty standard Theravada.

Discussion of the knowledges is found throughout the commentaries and makes up most of the section on wisdom in the Visuddhimagga. They are also enumerated in the Abhidhammattha-Sangaha, a famous summary of the Abhidhamma.

Reference to each of the knowledges can be found in the Buddha's words, for example:


yo ca vassasataṃ jīve, apassaṃ udayabbayaṃ.
ekāhaṃ jīvitaṃ seyyo, passato udayabbayaṃ.

"And better than a hundred years lived without seeing arising & passing away, is one day lived seeing arising & passing away."

-- Dhp. 113


“katamā cānanda, ādīnavasaññā? idhānanda, bhikkhu araññagato vā rukkhamūlagato vā suññāgāragato vā iti paṭisañcikkhati — ‘bahudukkho kho ayaṃ kāyo bahuādīnavo? iti imasmiṃ kāye vividhā ābādhā uppajjanti, seyyathidaṃ — cakkhurogo sotarogo ghānarogo jivhārogo kāyarogo sīsarogo kaṇṇarogo mukharogo dantarogo oṭṭharogo kāso sāso pināso ḍāho jaro kucchirogo mucchā pakkhandikā sūlā visūcikā kuṭṭhaṃ gaṇḍo kilāso soso apamāro daddu kaṇḍu kacchu nakhasā vitacchikā lohitaṃ pittaṃ madhumeho aṃsā piḷakā bhagandalā pittasamuṭṭhānā ābādhā semhasamuṭṭhānā ābādhā vātasamuṭṭhānā ābādhā sannipātikā ābādhā utupariṇāmajā ābādhā visamaparihārajā ābādhā opakkamikā ābādhā kammavipākajā ābādhā sītaṃ uṇhaṃ jighacchā pipāsā uccāro passāvo’ti. iti imasmiṃ kāye ādīnavānupassī viharati. ayaṃ vuccatānanda, ādīnavasaññā.

"What, Ananda, is contemplation of disadvantage (danger)? Herein, Ananda, a monk having gone to the forest, or to the foot of a tree, or to a lonely place, contemplates thus: 'Many are the sufferings, many are the disadvantages (dangers) of this body since diverse diseases are engendered in this body, such as the following: Eye-disease, ear-disease, nose-disease, tongue-disease, body-disease, headache, mumps, mouth-disease, tooth-ache, cough, asthma, catarrh, heart-burn, fever, stomach ailment, fainting, dysentry, swelling, gripes, leprosy, boils, scrofula, consumption, epilepsy, ringworm, itch, eruption, tetter, pustule, plethora, diabetes, piles, cancer, fistula, and diseases originating from bile, from phlegm, from wind, from conflict of the humors, from changes of weather, from adverse condition (faulty deportment), from devices (practiced by others), from kamma-vipaka (results of kamma); and cold, heat, hunger, thirst, excrement, and urine.' Thus he dwells contemplating disadvantage (danger) in this body. This Ananda, is called contemplation of disadvantage (danger).

-- AN 10.60 (Piyadassi, trans.)


“sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā””ti, yadā paññāya passati.
atha nibbindati dukkhe, esa maggo visuddhiyā.

"'All formations are impermanent' — When one sees thus with wisdom, one becomes disenchanted in regards to dukkha. This is the path to purity."

-- Dhp 277

  • Translations would be most welcome! Apr 29, 2020 at 13:55
  • Epilepsy, diabetes and cancer?
    – user11699
    May 4, 2020 at 13:08
  • "So yeah"... maybe giving five, next time meeting...
    – user11235
    May 4, 2020 at 15:30

I believe they are later addition. I have never come across any sutta or Buddha-Wajana about the 16 stages of insight. Let me know if you saw one.


I believe in Dasuttara Sutta in Dīghanikāya, while discussing Nines, Buddha lists 9 Visuddhis, not just 7, as are explained in Vusiddhimaggo. The nine are: 1. Sīlavisuddhi 2. Cittavisuddhi 3. Ditthīvisuddhi 4. Kankhavitarana Visuddhi 5. Maggāmagga Ñanadassana Visuddhi 6. Patipadā Ñanadassana Visuddhi 7. Ñanadassana Visuddhi 8. Pañña Visuddhi 9. Vimutti Visuddhi

I hope that makes it clear that Visuddhis are not later additions then.


  • 'Visuddhi' means 'purification'. DN 34 refers to 9 purifications rather than 9 insights. "The nine factors in wrestling for utter purity, to wit, the purification of morals, of the mind, of views, the purification of escaping from doubt, that of intuition and insight into what is the [genuine] path, and what is not, that of intuition and insight into progress, the purification which is intuition and insight, that which is understanding, that which is emancipation." Regards Apr 14, 2017 at 2:45
  • Katame nava dhammā bhāvetabbā? Nava pāri­suddhi­pa­dhāni­yaṅgāni—sīlavisuddhi pāri­suddhi­pa­dhāni­yaṅgaṃpārisuddhi, cittavisuddhi pāri­suddhi­pa­dhāni­yaṅgaṃ, diṭṭhivisuddhi pāri­suddhi­pa­dhāni­yaṅgaṃ, kaṅ­khā­vitara­ṇa­vi­sud­dhi pāri­suddhi­pa­dhāni­yaṅgaṃ, maggā­magga­ñāṇadas­sana­vi­sud­dhi pāri­suddhi­pa­dhāni­yaṅgaṃ, paṭi­padā­ñāṇadas­sana­vi­sud­dhi pāri­suddhi­pa­dhāni­yaṅgaṃ, ­ñāṇadas­sana­vi­sud­dhi pāri­suddhi­pa­dhāni­yaṅgaṃ, paññāvisuddhi pāri­suddhi­pa­dhāni­yaṅgaṃ, vimutti­vi­sud­dhi pāri­suddhi­pa­dhāni­yaṅgaṃ. Ime nava dhammā bhāvetabbā. Apr 14, 2017 at 2:48

There are lists of knowledges in several texts; patisambhidamagga, sarvastivadin abhidhamma, vimuttimagga, visuddhimagga, abhidhamma commentary.

Of these only the patisambhidamagga is theravadin canon.

However these lists are generally not the same as to the number of items and the knowledges themselves. Only the sarvastivadin abhidhamma and vimuttimagga have the same list iirc.

Afaik the commentaries do not attempt to show how these are inferred from the teachings known as true.

This is one of the various problems with the manual of insight when compared to the Sutta.

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