The Seven Stages of Purification

1. Purification of virtue (sīla-visuddhi): Cleanse your virtues—in thought, word, and deed—in line with your station in life, so that they are pure and spotless, free from all five ways of creating animosity, such as taking life, stealing, etc.

2. Purification of consciousness (citta-visuddhi): Make the mind still and resolute, either in momentary concentration or threshold concentration, enough to form a basis for the arising of insight.

3. Purification of view (diṭṭhi-visuddhi): Examine physical and mental phenomena, analyzing them into their various parts, seeing them in terms of the three characteristics—as inconstant, stressful, and not-self.

4. Purification by overcoming doubt (kaṅkhā-vitaraṇa-visuddhi): Focus on the causes and conditions for physical and mental phenomena, seeing what causes them to arise when it arises, and what causes them to disappear when it disappears. Examine both these sides of the question until all your doubts concerning physical and mental phenomena—past, present and future—vanish together in an instant. The mind that can see through the preoccupation with which it is involved in the present is much more subtle, resolute, and firm than it has ever been before, and at this point any one of the ten corruptions of insight—which we referred to above as enemies of insight—will arise. If your powers of mindfulness, concentration, and discernment aren’t equally fast, they can lead you to jump to false conclusions, causing you to latch on to these defilements as something meaningful and thus going astray, falling away from the highest levels of truth. The enemies of insight are:

a. Splendor (obhāsa): an amazingly bright light, blotting out your surroundings—e.g., if you’re sitting in a forest or patch of thorns, they won’t exist for you—bright to the point where you get carried away, losing all sense of your body and mind, wrapped up in the brightness.

b. Knowledge (ñāṇa): intuition of an amazing sort, which you then latch on to—either to the knowledge itself or to the object known—as beyond refutation. Perhaps you may decide that you’ve already reached the goal, that there’s nothing more for you to do. Your knowledge on this level is true, but you aren’t able to let it go in line with its true nature.

c. Rapture (pīti): an exceedingly strong sense of rapture and contentment, arising from a sense of seclusion for which you have been aiming all along. Once it arises, you are pleased and overjoyed to the point where you latch on to this mood and lose sense of your body and mind.

d. Serenity (passaddhi): an extreme sense of mental stillness, in which the mind stays motionless, overwhelmed and addicted to the stillness.

e. Bliss (sukha): a subtle, exquisite sense of pleasure, arising from a sense of mental solitude that you have just met for the first time and that the mind relishes—the pleasure at this point being exceedingly subtle and relaxed—to the point where it becomes addicted.

f. Enthusiasm (adhimokkha): a strong sense of conviction in your knowledge, believing that, ‘This must be the paths, fruitions, and nibbāna’.

g. Exertion (paggaha): strong and unwavering persistence that comes from enjoying the object with which the mind is preoccupied.

h. Obsession (upaṭṭhāna): Your train of thought becomes fixed strongly on a single object and runs wild, your powers of mindfulness being strong, but your powers of discernment too weak to pry the mind away from its object.

i. Equanimity (upekkhā): The mind is still and unmoving, focused in a very subtle mental notion of equanimity. Not knowing the true nature of its state, the mind relishes and clings to it.

j. Satisfaction (nikanti): contentment with the object of your knowledge, leading to assumptions of one sort or another.

These ten phenomena, if you know them for what they are, can form a way along which the mind can stride to the paths and fruitions leading to nibbāna. If you fasten on to them, though, they turn into a form of clinging and thus become the enemies of liberating insight. All ten of these corruptions of insight are forms of truth on one level, but if you can’t let go of the truth so that it can follow its own nature, you will never meet the ultimate truth of disbanding (nirodha). For the mind to let go, it must use discerning insight to contemplate these phenomena until it sees that they are clearly inconstant, stressful, and not-self. When it sees clearly with no clinging to any of these phenomena, knowledge will arise within the mind that these things are not the path to the goal. Once this awareness arises, the mind enters the next level of purification:

5. Purification through knowledge and vision of what is and is not the path (maggāmagga-ñāṇadassana-visuddhi): Now that this realization has arisen, look after that knowing mind to keep it securely in the mental series leading to insight. The discernment of insight will arise in the very next mental moment, forming a stairway to the great benefits of the transcendent, the reward coming from having abandoned the ten corruptions of insight. Liberating insight will arise in the following stages: