The Imperfections of Insight

Now when the meditator is a beginner of insight, ten imperfections of insight arise in him. For imperfections of insight do not arise either in someone who has reached Nibbana or in persons with weak morality, neglectful of their meditation subject and idlers. They arise only in a meditator who keeps to the right course, devotes himself continuously to his meditation subject and is a beginner of insight.

But what are these ten imperfections? They are: (1) illumination, (2) knowledge, (3) rapturous happiness, (4) tranquility, (5) bliss (pleasure), (6) resolution, (7) faith, (8) mindfulness, (9) equanimity, and (10) attachment.

‘When a meditator is contemplating impermanence, anicca, he experiences illumination. As he gives attention to the illumination, he becomes exited and he considers this illumination to be a noble state of meditation.  He does not view it correctly as impermanent, unsatisfactory and not self.

‘Likewise when he is contemplating impermanence, anicca, he experiences knowledge … he experiences happiness …… he experiences tranquility …… he experiences bliss …… he experiences resolution …… he experiences faith …… he experiences mindfulness …… he experiences equanimity … … he experiences attachment …,. As he gives attention to these imperfections, he becomes exited and he considers the imperfections to be noble states of meditation.  He does not view them correctly as impermanent, unsatisfactory and not self.

And when this illumination comes the meditator thinks that he has reached Nibbana.  In this way he takes what is not Nibbana to be Nibbana, and sits just enjoying the illumination.  Because the defilements are suppressed by the illumination and do not manifest themselves he thinks ‘I am an arahat, I am fully awakened’.

Here is one story as an illustration. The Elder Dhammadinna was the teacher of many bhikkhus. One day, as he was sitting in his own daytime quarters, he wondered, ‘Has my teacher, the Elder Mahā-Nāga attained to Nibbana?’. He saw that Mahā-Nāga was still an ordinary man, and he knew that if he did not go to Mahā-Nāga,  Mahā-Nāga would die an ordinary man. He rose up into the air with supernormal power and alighted near the Elder Mahā-Nāga.  He paid respects to him, and sat down at one side. To the question ‘Why have you come unexpectedly, friend Dhammadinna?” he replied, ‘I have come to ask a question, venerable sir’. Mahā-Nāga replied: ‘Ask friend. If I know, I will reply’, and Dhammadinna asked a thousand questions.

The Elder Mahā-Nāga replied without hesitation to each question. Dhammadinna said to Mahā-Nāga ‘Your knowledge is very keen, venerable sir; when did you attain this high state?’ Mahā-Nāga replied, ‘Sixty years ago, friend’.  Dhammadinna then asked his teacher to create an elephant with his supernormal powers that he had attained through the practice of samadhi.‘ The Elder Mahā-Nāga made an elephant all white. Then Dhammadinna said: ‘Now, venerable sir, make that elephant come straight at you with his ears outstretched, his tail extended, putting his trunk in his mouth and making a horrible trumpeting.’ The Elder Mahā-Nāga did so. Seeing the frightful aspect of the rapidly approaching elephant Mahā-Nāga sprang up and tried to run away. Then the Elder Dhammadinna put out his hand and catching him by his robe, he said ‘Venerable Sir, is there any fear in one who has attained Nibbana?

Then Elder Maha Naga recognized that he was still an ordinary man. He knelt at Dhammadinna’s feet and said ‘Help me, friend, Dhammadinna’.  – ‘Venerable sir, I will help you; that is why I came. Do not worry.’ Then he taught him a meditation subject. The Elder Mahā-Nāga took the meditation subject and went up on to the walk, and with the third footstep he reached Arahatship. 

The second imperfection is knowledge due to insight. In meditation perhaps very keen and sharp knowledge arises, like a lightening flash.

The third imperfection is happiness due to insight. Perhaps happiness arises in the meditator filling his whole body.

The fourth imperfection is tranquility due to insight. As the meditator is sitting, at that time perhaps there is no tiredness or heaviness or rigidity in his body and his mind, but rather his body and mind are tranquillized, light, quite sharp and straight. With his body and mind aided by this tranquility, he experiences at that time superhuman delight.

The fifth imperfection is bliss due to insight. At that time perhaps there arises in the meditator exceedingly refined bliss (pleasure) flooding his whole body.

The sixth imperfection is faith. For strong faith arises in him in association with insight in the form of extreme confidence. 

The seventh imperfection is energy. For well-exerted energy, neither too lax nor too strained, arises in the meditator in association with insight.

The eighth imperfection is mindfulness. For well-established well-founded mindfulness, which is dug in and immovable arises in the meditator in association with insight. His mindfulness enters into any subject he gives attention to and descends into it. 

The ninth imperfection is equanimity about insight and equanimity in giving attention. Equanimity in insight, which is neutrality about formation, arises strongly in the meditator at that time. For whatever the subject he pays attention to, his attention works as incisively and sharply as a lightning flash. 

The tenth imperfection is attachment due to insight. For when the meditator’s insight is adorned with illumination, and the other imperfections attachment rises in him, which is subtle and peaceful in aspect, and it relies on and clings to that insight; and he is not able to discern that attachment as a defilement.

These imperfection appear to be good mental states and can be good mental states, like knowledge, equanimity, mindfulness and so forth.  They are imperfections because the meditator enjoys them and falls into the delusion that he has attained awakening. He takes what is a means to the end as being the end. He stops contemplating his experiences as impermanent, anicca, unsatisfactory, dukkha and no-self, anatta and just sits there enjoying these states wrongly taking them for Nibbana. 

But when (1) illumination, (2) knowledge, (3) rapturous happiness, (4) tranquility, (5) bliss (pleasure), (6) resolution, (7) faith, (8) mindfulness, (9) equanimity, and (10) attachment arise, in a skillful meditator who is intelligent, he defines and examines it with understanding. He thinks ‘This illumination is impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self.  He sees (1) illumination, (2) knowledge, (3) rapturous happiness, (4) tranquility, (5) bliss (pleasure), (6) resolution, (7) faith, (8) mindfulness, (9) equanimity, and (10) attachment as ‘This is impermanent, unsatisfactory and not myself.  Seeing in this way, he does not waver or become unsure about illumination and the other imperfections.

Mark Hediger