Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Buddha's "Path of Freedom"

Crystal Quintero, Amber Larson, Seth Auberon (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly, Wikipedia edit
The Path of Freedom (Vimuttimagga) is a Buddhist practice manual attributed to the enlightened Buddhist monk Ven. Upatissa, circa 1st or 2nd century (Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga: A Comparative Study by P.V. Bapat, 1937).

It was translated into Chinese by Ven. Sanghapala in the sixth century as the Jietuo dao lun (解脫道論). The original text (possibly in Pali or a Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit) is no longer extant. But the Chinese version of the book has survived.

It was probably written in India and then later brought to Buddhist Sri Lanka. According to Ven. Analayo, some doctrines of The Path of Freedom seem to be associated with those attributed to the Abhayagiri Monastery by Dhammapāla, according to Ven. Analayo in The Treatise on the Path to Liberation (解脫道論) and The Path of Purification.

Gal Viharaya 02.jpg
The path of freedom is self-purification.
The Path of Freedom recommends various meditation practices such as mindfulness of in-and-out breathing, disc meditation, and recollection of the virtues of the Buddha. Its chapters are (based on the translation by Ehara, Soma Thera, and Kheminda):
  1. Introductory Discourse (referencing the three trainings and ultimate freedom)*
  2. On Distinguishing Virtue
  3. On Austerities
  4. On Distinguishing Concentration
  5. On Approaching a Good Friend
  6. The Distinguishing of Behavior
  7. The Distinguishing of the Subjects of Meditation
  8. Entrance into the Subject of Meditation
  9. The Five Forms of Higher Knowledge
  10. On Distinguishing Wisdom
  11. The Five Methods (aggregates, sense organs, elements, conditioned arising, Truth)
  12. On Discerning Truth(s)
  • *The first chapter's introductory stanza in Pali is: Sīlaṃ samādhi paññā ca, vimutti ca anuttarā; Anubuddhā ime dhammā, gotamena yasassinā. This verse can be found in both the Greater Final Passing into Nirvana Sutra (DN 16) and the Anubuddha Sutra (AN 4.1). Sister Vajira and Francis Story (1998) translate this verse as: "Virtue, concentration, wisdom, and emancipation unsurpassed -- These are the principles realized by [the Buddha] Gotama the renowned."
English translation: The Path Of Freedom (Vimuttimagga) of Arahant Upatissa translated from the Chinese by Rev. N. R. M. Ehara, Soma Thera, Kheminda Thera (Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Ceylon). More
One book or two books?
The Path of Freedom (Vimuttimagga), which serves as a meditation manual, is broadly considered a great and important work.
It is similar to Buddhaghosa's The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga), but it is less analytical and more practical in its treatment of the traditional Buddhist meditation objects.
  • [Both books are believed to have been written by Buddhaghosa, with Freedom being an earlier draft of the more compendious final product Purification.]
Both are commentaries, not from the Pali canon, but very relevant to it, particularly to the section of the Pali canon called the "Higher Teachings" (Abhidhamma), which contains the higher or ultimate teachings and more abstract philosophical treatises of the Buddha.
There is considerable variance between traditions as to who is given credit for this great work, although it is widely held that it was written centuries after the time of the Buddha.

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