The ten imperfections of insight (vipassanā-upakkilesa)

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Central to Buddhist philosophy are the ideas of impermanence, suffering and not-self. In the following I will look at these ideas as they are expressed as the insight and subject of ‘right-view’. However, there is something of a subtle warning in the textual tradition. This warning takes the form of describing the ‘ten imperfections of insight’ (vipassanā upakkilesa) These imperfections are illumination, knowledge, rapturous happiness, tranquillity, bliss, resolution, exertion, assurance, equanimity and attachment. All of these factors can erase and obscure the truths revealed by embarking on the Buddhist path. They point to the danger of any position succumbing to attachment. The idea however goes further than this and, as is sometimes the case in Buddhist meditational theory, reflects the notion that what are otherwise positive qualities being prone to to destroying Buddhist practice.

The first example is taken from the khandavagga of the Saṃyutta-nikāya. The Paṭhamanandikkhaya-sutta (S III 51) subjects each of the five ‘aggregates’ (khandhas) to right-view:

‘Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu sees form as impermanent, which is actually impermanent: that is his right-view. Seeing rightly, he experiences indifference.[1] With the destruction of delight comes the destruction of lust; with the destruction of lust comes the destruction of delight. With the destruction of delight and lust the mind is liberated and is said to be well-liberated.’[2]

The other four khandhas are treated in the same way. Seeing any of the five as impermanent is right-view. It should be noted that seeing in a certain way, apprehending the ‘aggregates’ (khandhas) as impermanent, causes a specific form of behaviour: the experience of indifference (nibbidā). This, in turn, causes the liberation of the mind. The role of right-view is twofold: it sees things as they are and this is transformative. A similar theme is found in the Saḷāyatanavagga of the Saṃyuttanikāya. This time, seeing the six senses as impermanent is right-view.[3] Similarly, in the following sutta, seeing the six external sense bases, the objects of the senses (rūpa, sadda, gandha, rasa, phoṭṭhabba and dhamma) as impermanent is right-view. [4] In three further suttas from the Saḷāyatanavagga of the Saṃyuttanikāya the same teachings are found. These are the Micchādiṭṭhippahānasutta (S IV 147), the Sakkāyadiṭṭhippahānasutta (S IV 147-8) and the Attānudiṭṭhippahānasutta (S IV 148). In the first sutta, it is asked how one should know and see for ‘wrong-view’ (micchā-diṭṭhi) to be abandoned, in the second for ‘personality-view’ (sakkāya-diṭṭhi) to be abandoned and in the third for ‘views about self’ (attānudiṭṭhi) to be abandoned.[5] The answer given for ‘wrong-view’ (micchā-diṭṭhi) is that one should see each of the senses, their objects, contact with the objects, and the type of consciousness that they produce and any feelings (whether painful, pleasurable or neither) as impermanent. This is how wrong-view is abandoned. For sakkāya-diṭṭhi to be abandoned one should view the same things as unsatisfactory, and for attānudiṭṭhi to be abandoned one should see them as not-self.

Right-view as seeing: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’

In the Alagaddūpama-sutta (M I 136) is found the six ‘bases for views’ (diṭṭhi-ṭṭhāna). By ‘bases’ (ṭṭhāna) the text may be implying that they are the object which views take as their standpoint, their position. The ‘noble disciple’ (ariya-sāvaka) should regard the ‘aggreagates’ (khandhas) as: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’ instead of: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self’ which are wrong-views.[6] The ariya-sāvaka is to regard what is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, encountered, sought, mentally pondered, as: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’. Finally, the basis for views, ‘This is self, this the world; after death I shall be permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change; I shall endure and last as long as eternity’, this too he should regard as: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’. The suggestion is that of a detached and therefore wholesome way of seeing the world. Right-view proposes the notions of ‘not mine’, ‘not I’, and ‘not-self’. It proposes the cessation of craving and attachment.

Four non-perversions of view (na diṭṭhi-vipallāsā)

In the idea of the four perversions and non-perversions of view, similar notions are found. In a sense, the doctrinal content of views cannot be separated from the effect of views: the ideas of ‘is’ and ‘ought’. In the Vipallāsa-sutta (A II 52) we are told that there are four perversions of apperception (cattāro saññā-vipallāsā), four perversions of mind (cattāro citta-vipallāsā) and four perversions of view (cattāro diṭṭhi-vipallāsā). The vipallāsa is an inversion and distortion of reality. The Vipallāsa-sutta states that to hold that in the impermanent there is the permanent, is a perversion of apperception, mind and view,[7] to hold that in suffering there is happiness, is a perversion of apperception, mind and view,[8] to hold that in the not-self there is a self, is a perversion of apperception, mind and view,[9] and to hold that in the ugly there is the beautiful is a perversion of apperception, mind and view.[10] In the verses that follows the prose, this is described as ‘going to wrong-view’ (micchā-diṭṭhi-gatā).

To see the opposite, that which is impermanent as impermanent, that which is suffering as suffering, that which is not-self as not-self, and that which is ugly as ugly, are the non-perversions of apperception, mind and view.[11] It is these four ways of seeing which, in verse, are described as ‘undertaking right-view’ (sammā-diṭṭhi-samādānā), and by this undertaking of view all suffering is overcome (sammā-diṭṭhi-samādānā sabbaṃ dukkhaṃ upaccagun ti, A II 52).

In the Visuddhimagga, the vipallāsas are explained in the following terms:

‘There are three perversions, namely, the perversion of apperception, of consciousness and view, which occur apprehending objects that are impermanent, suffering, not-self and ugly, as permanent, pleasant, self, and beautiful.’[12]

The Nettippakaraṇa (Nett 83-84) states that to contemplate the body as the body abandons the perversion that there is beauty in the ugly (asubhe subhan ti vipallāsaṃ pajahati), and this abandons the attachment to sensual desire. To contemplate feeling as feeling abandons the perversion that there is pleasure in the painful (dukkhe sukhan ti vipallāsaṃ pajahati), and this abandons the attachment to existence (bhavupādāna, this term is unusual in this context). To contemplate the mind as mind (citta) abandons the perversion that there is permanence in the impermanent (anicce niccan ti vipallāsaṃ pajahati), and this abandons the attachment to views. To contemplate dhammas as dhammas, one abandons the perversion that there is self in the not-self (anattaniye attā ti vipallāsaṃ pajahati), and this abandons the attachment to the doctrine of self. There is possibly a connection between the abandoning of these perversions and the cultivation of the four foundations of mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna).[13] I will return to this in chapter three and my discussion of the abandoning of the āsavas, and in chapter five and the discussion of the three gateways to liberation.

The ten imperfections of insight (vipassanā-upakkilesa)

The central idea in the passages I have been considering is one of misapprehending and grasping. Buddhaghosa explains that ‘clinging’ (parāmāsa) is a term for micchā-diṭṭhi, because it misses the individual essence of dhammas, by apprehending (āmasana) elsewhere an unreal individual essence’.[14] Or that those who do not have the correct attitude to the dhamma, who understand what is impermanent as permanent, have adherence to views (As 49). Buddhaghosa also states that ‘there comes to be the removal of ‘views’ (diṭṭhi) in one who sees volitional formations as not-self’.[15] It is in this way that they, micchā-diṭṭhi, are abandoned. It is, in fact, not only micchā-diṭṭhi but all diṭṭhi that are abandoned in this way. Attachment is not a predicate of right-view, of sammā-diṭṭhi. This is expressed by the idea of the ‘ten imperfections of insight’ (vipassanā upakkilesa) found in the Visuddhimagga. These imperfections are illumination, knowledge, rapturous happiness, tranquillity, bliss, resolution, exertion, assurance, equanimity and attachment.[16] It is due to these that the bhikkhu does not see impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self. Attachment is explained in the following terms:

‘Attachment is attachment due to insight. For when his insight is adorned with illumination, etc., attachment arises in him, which is subtle and peaceful in aspect, and it relies on (clings to) that insight; and he is not able to discern that that attachment is a defilement.’[17]

Attachment is then an imperfection of insight. Knowledge of what is of most importance, the eradication of dukkha, must not give way to craving for that knowledge. As right-view is explained as a type of wisdom (insight), so attachment and grasping are not part of its nature. If Buddhist doctrine becomes an object of attachment it is, in an important sense, incorrect doctrine. The content of Buddhist doctrine induces a cessation of craving and attachment.


[1] I follow Sue Hamilton in translating nibbidā as ‘indifference’, instead of using translations such as ‘revulsion’, which are misleading. The idea is that, with the achievement of right-view, there is detachment; see Hamilton, Identity and Experience, p. 184.

[2] aniccaññeva bhikkhave, bhikkhu rūpaṃ aniccan ti passati. sāssa hoti sammā-diṭṭhi, sammā-passaṃ nibbindati. nandikkhayā rāgakkhayo, rāgakkhayā nandikkhayo. nandirāgakkhayā cittaṃ vimuttaṃ suvimuttan ti vuccati, S III 51.

[3] aniccaṃ yeva bhikkhave bhikkhu cakkhuṃ [sotaṃ, ghānaṃ, jivham, kāyaṃ and manaṃ] aniccan ti passati. sāssa hoti sammā-diṭṭhi, sammā passaṃ nibbindati, nandikkhayā rāgakkhayo rāgakkhayā nandikkhayo nandirāgakkhayā cittaṃ suvimuttan ti vuccati, S IV 142.

[4] anicceyeva bhikkhave bhikkhu rūpe [sadde, gandhe, rase, phoṭṭhabbe and dhamma] aniccāti passati. sāssa hoti sammā-diṭṭhi, sammā passaṃ nibbindati, nandikkhayā rāgakkhayo rāgakkhayā nandikkhayo nandirāgakkhayā cittaṃ suvimuttan ti vuccati, S IV 142.

[5] kathan nu kho bhante jānato kathaṃ passato micchā-diṭṭhi [sakkāya-diṭṭhi […] attānudiṭṭhi] pahīyatī ti, S IV 147-8.

[6] To regard things as: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self’ is described as the ‘perfect view’ (sampanna-diṭṭhi) in other parts of the canon (Paṭis I 160).

[7] anicce […] niccan ti saññā-vipallāso citta-vipallāso diṭṭhi-vipallāso, A II 52.

[8] dukkhe […] sukhan ti saññā-vipallāso citta-vipallāso diṭṭhi-vipallāso, A II 52.

[9] anattani […] attā ti saññā-vipallāso citta-vipallāso diṭṭhi-vipallāso, A II 52.

[10] asubhe […] bhikkhave subhan ti saññā-vipallāso citta-vipallāso diṭṭhi-vipallāso, A II 52.

[11] anicce […] aniccan ti […] dukkhe […] dukkhan ti […] anattani […] anattā ti […] asubhe […] asubhan ti na saññā-vipallāso na citta-vipallāso na diṭṭhi-vipallāso, A II 52.

[12] vipallāsā ti anicca-dukkha-anatta-asubhesu yeva vatthusu niccaṃ sukhaṃ attā subhan ti evaṃ pavatto saññāvipallāso cittavipallāso diṭṭhivipallāso ti, Vism XXII 53.

[13] These are to contemplate body as body, feelings as feelings, mind as mind, and dhammas as dhammas (M I 56).

[14] parāmāso ti tassa tassa dhammassa sabhāvaṃ atikkamma parato abhūtaṃ sabhāvaṃ āmasanākārena pavattanato micchā-diṭṭhiyā etaṃ adhivacanaṃ, Vism XXII 57.

[15] evaṃ saṃkhāre anattato passantassa diṭṭhisamugghāṭanaṃ nāma hoti, Vism XX 87.

[16] obhāsa, ñāṇa, pīti, passaddhi, sukha, adhimokkha, paggaha, upaṭṭhāna, upekkhā, nikanti, Vism XX 105. I am following Ñāṇamoli in translating nikanti as ‘attachment’ a term often used to translate upādāna; see Ñāṇamoli, The Path of Purification (Colombo, 1956), p 739.

[17] nikantī ti vipassanānikanti; evaṃ obhāsādi-patimaṇḍitāya hissa vipassanāya ālayaṃ kurumānā sukhumā santākārā nikanti uppajjati, yā nikanti kileso ti pariggahetum pi na sakkā hoti, Vism XX 122.

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