|New Year festival, monk light votive candles to the Buddha on Dec. 31, 2013, Phan Tao Temple, Chiang Mai, Thailand (ArztSamui/flickr.com).|
|Deva (Kevin Borland/flickr)|
There was the point when, realizing the futility of self-torture, he surmised that blissful, suprasensual absorption might be part of the path to enlightenment, to awakening to the truth. There was also the point when he realized the limited extent to which absorption could actually lead to the wisdom (knowing and seeing) that resulted in full enlightenment. (For details on both of these points, see MN 35).
In the second verse, the Buddha expands on Pañcalacanda's understanding of the practice of the absorptions by pointing out that it has to be accompanied by mindfulness to be genuinely "right" concentration. [Concentration is the foundation of the fourfold setting up of mindfulness, but mindfulness is also one of the constituents of concentration.]
This point is related to the fact that the various lists of practices constituting the path -- such as the Five Faculties, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, and the Noble Eightfold Path -- always place "right mindfulness" before "right concentration." [But, of course, the list is not sequential; it is interdependent in that every factor aids and supports every other factor like spokes support a wheel.] It is also related to the statement in MN 44 that the Four Foundations of Mindfulness form the "sign" (nimitta) of right concentration.
AN 9.42 contains an explanation of the first verse here: Ven. Ananda identifies the first absorption as the opening offering an escape from the "confining place" of sensual pleasures. And each successive level of absorption (eight levels in all) are the openings offering an escape from the "confining place" of the preceding absorption. Finally, Ananda says, the "cessation of perception and feeling" (a higher level of concentration only available to enlightened individuals) acts as the ultimate opening offering escape from all forms of confinement.