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The Visuddhimagga (Pali; English The Path of Purification), is the 'great treatise' on Theravada Buddhist doctrine written by Buddhaghosa approximately in 430 CE in Sri Lanka. It is a comprehensive manual condensing and systematizing the theoretical and practical teachings of the Buddha as they were understood by the elders of the Mahavihara Monastery in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is described as "the hub of a complete and coherent method of exegesis of the Tipitaka, using the ‘Abhidhamma method' as it is called. And it sets out detailed practical instructions for developing purification of mind." (Bhikkhu Nyanamoli 2011 p. xxvii.) It is considered the most important Theravada text outside of the Tipitaka canon of scriptures.
The Visuddhimagga′s structure is based on the Ratha-vinita Sutta ("Relay Chariots Discourse," MN 24), which describes the progression from the purity of discipline to the final destination of nibbana in seven steps.
- The first section (part 1) explains the rules of discipline, and the method for finding a correct temple to practice, or how to meet a good teacher.
- The second section (part 2) describes samatha's practice, object by object (see Kammatthana for the list of the forty traditional objects). It mentions different stages of concentration.
- The third section (part 3-7) is a description of the five skandhas (aggregates), ayatanas, the Four Noble Truths, dependent origination (Pratitya-samutpada), and the practice of vipassana through the development of wisdom. It emphasizes different forms of knowledge emerging because of the practice. This part shows a great analytical effort specific to Buddhist philosophy.
Seven Stages of Purification
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):
- 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)
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.
Kalupahana notes that the Visuddhimagga contains "some metaphysical speculations, such as those of the Sarvastivadins, the Sautrantikas, and even the Yogacarins". Kalupahana comments:
Buddhaghosa was careful in introducing any new ideas into the Mahavihara tradition in a way that was too obvious. There seems to be no doubt that the Visuddhimagga and the commentaries are a testimony to the abilities of a great harmonizer who blended old and new ideas without arousing suspicion in the minds of those who were scrutinizing his work.
- See, for instance, Kheminda Thera, in Ehara et al. 1995 p. xliii: "The Visuddhimagga is a household word in all Theravāda lands. No scholar of Buddhism whether of Theravāda or of Mahāyāna is unacquainted with it."
- See Thanissaro (1999) for a translation of the Ratha-vinita Sutta. See the various Visuddhimagga printings listed below to see the manner in which this sutta is explicitly integrated into the work.
- Gunaratana 1994, p. 143-174.
- Kalupahana 1994, p. 206.
- Kalupahana 1994, p. 207-208.
Printed Pali editions
- Hewavitarne Bequest edition, Colombo, Sri Lanka (Sinhalese script)
- Hanthawaddy Press edition, Rangoon, Myanmar (Burmese script)
- Royal Siamese edition, Bangkok, Thailand (Thai script)
- Pali Text Society edition, London, England (Latin script)
- Harvard University Press edition, Harvard Oriental Studies, Vol. 41, Cambridge, Mass., 1950 (Latin script)
- The Path of Purity, Pe Maung (trans.), Pali Text Society, London, 3 vols., 1922–31
- Bhikkhu Nyanamoli (trans.), The Path of Purification, Visuddhimagga, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy 2011, ISBN 955-24-0023-6. BPS-Pariyatti Editions, Onalaska 1999, ISBN 1-928706-01-0. Available as free PDF: The Path of Purification complete and The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga) translated by Bhikkhu Nyanamoli
- Buddhist Meditation, Edward Conze (trans.), NB: Partial translation, 2002, ISBN 81-215-0781-2
- Der Weg zur Reinheit, Nyanatiloka & Verlag Christiani (trans.), Konstanz, 1952 (German)
- Sinhala Visuddhimargaya, Pandita Matara Sri Dharmavamsa Sthavira, Matara, Sri Lanka, 1953 (Sinhalese)
- Le chemin de la pureté, Christian Maës, Fayard 2002 (Français), ISBN 978-2213607658
- Il sentiero della purificazione, Antonella Serena Comba, Lulu.com 2010, seconda edizione (Italiano)
- Gunaratana, Henepola (1994), The Path of Serenity and Insight, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited
- Kalupahana, David J. (1994), A history of Buddhist philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1999). Ratha-vinita Sutta: Relay Chariots (MN 24).
- N.R.M. Ehara (trans.), Soma Thera (trans.) and Kheminda Thera (trans.) (1995). The Path of Freedom (Vimuttimagga) by the Arahant Upatissa. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 955-24-0054-6. Online: http://archive.org/details/ArahantUpatossa-Vimuttimagga-PathOfFreedom.pdf
- Mahasi Sayadaw, The Progress of Insight (Visuddhiñana-katha)
- Ve. Matara Sri Nanarama, The Seven Stages of Purification & The Insight Knowledges
- The entire Visuddhimagga: The Path of Purification by Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa tr. by Ñānamoli Thera.
- The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga) by Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa