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founded by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin






Samisa and Niramisa in Meditation

-By Vipassana Research Institute

Samisa in Pali means raw meat or flesh, or delicious food. Metaphorically, however, it connotes a defiled state of mind which will only lead to rebirth in this world or another. It refers to a mind subject to react to sensations (vedana), thereby creating raga (lust or passion for pleasurable sensations), dosa (aversion for unpleasant ones) and moha (ignorance about the neutral ones). In contrast to this, the type of mind which remains dispassionate, unattached to the sensations, understanding them as anicca (impermanent), dukkha (suffering) and anatta (substanceless) is called niramisa.

The mental activity of an ordinary person always remains samisa (defiled, impure), whereas a meditator develops the ability to keep his mind niramisa (pure, undefiled). He does so by making every effort to truly comprehend the anicca (transitory) nature of vedana (sensations).

Samisa and niramisa are often used metaphorically by the Buddha, as opposites and in association with various other terms. Presented here are examples of his figurative explanations of meditation practice. We are not concerned here with the popular modern meaning as vegetarian (niramisa) and non-vegetarian (samisa), as they have sometimes been interpreted.

In the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, in the section on Vedananupassana, the terms samisa and niramisa occur in reference to the three types of vedana-sukha (pleasant), dukkha (unpleasant) and adukkhamasukha (neutral)-which a meditator is instructed to comprehend thoroughly as anicca (impermanent). Again, in the Anguttara Nikaya,1 it is said that sukha vedana (pleasant sensation) may be samisa (defiled) or niramisa (undefiled). It emphasizes that the latter is superior to the former. Elsewhere the term samisa (sometimes spelled amisa) is used as an opposite to Dhamma. For example, Dhamma dana (the gift of Dhamma) is said to be superior to amisadana (ordinary donation). In the same way, Dhammayoga (joined with Dhamma), Dhammacaga (Dhamma generosity) and Dhammabhoga (Dhamma wealth) are designated as superior to the respective terms associated with amisa.2

In the Patisambhidamagga,3 the terms amisa and niramisa are connected with a number of words-uppada (arising), pavatta (conduct), nimitta (image), ayuhana (relinquishing life), patisandhi (conception), gati (going), nibbatti (rebirth), upapatti (rebirth), jati (birth), jara (aging), byadhi (illness), maranam (death), soka (sorrow), parideva (lamentation) and upayasa (despair). All these terms should be understood in their context, but in each case niramisa is opposed to and superior to amisa.

When any vedana (sensation) arises because of contact at any of the six sense doors, an ordinary person will naturally start reacting to the vedana. Sukha vedana (pleasant sensation) elicits lust, dukkha vedana (unpleasant sensation) elicits aversion and adukkhamasukha vedana (neutral sensation) elicits the reaction of ignorance. Being ignorant of the real nature of the sensation, aniccata (impermanence), one remains attached and continues to flow in the stream of rebirth. As a result, all the kamasukha (worldly objects) are characterized as samisa, just as all the vedana which lead to bhavacakka (the cycle of birth and death) are samisa (defiled).4

In the Niramisa Suttaniramisa sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya,5 samisa and niramisa are connected to the terms piti (joy), sukha (delight), upekkha (equanimity) and vimokkha (deliverance) as they are experienced in different stages of jhana (absorptions). It says that an ordinary person can only experience the qualities of piti, sukha and upekkha through the kamaguna (five sense doors). As such, they are always samisa (defiled), leading to misery in this world, and certainly not to liberation.

In contrast, whatever piti (joy), sukha (delight) and upekkha (equanimity) a meditator encounters as he advances through the first four jhana, it is niramisa (undefiled) because it is increasingly detached from sense pleasures and mental pain or pleasure. They are characterized as niramisa piti, niramisa sukha and niramisa upekkha and are said to be far superior to that experienced by an ordinary person.6

By practicing jhana, a meditator escapes the kamaloka (sensual world) by attainment of the first four, but he is still attached to the rupa-loka (world of form). The vimokkha (deliverance) of the first four jhana is described as samisa-vimokkha in comparison to the deliverance which a meditator attains by transcending each level from the fifth to the eighth jhana respectively. As these stages of samadhi (concentration) are more subtle and superior to the previous four jhana, the associated vimokkha (deliverance) is described as niramisa-vimokkha by comparison.

At the stage of the eighth jhana, however, the meditator is still attached to the arupaloka (formless worlds) and so his vimokkha (deliverance) is still partial in comparison to the final stage of nibbana. Buddha says that the piti (joy), sukha (delight), upekkha (equanimity) or vimokkha (deliverance) that an emancipated person experiences cannot be compared with that experienced in any of the jhanas. It is a stage of purity beyond all others, hence it is described as niramisatara, purest of the pure, the stage par excellence, where all the asavas (cankers) are destroyed, the heart is free from lust, hatred and illusion and the meditator is firmly established in vimutti (liberation)-

Yo kho, bhikkhave, khinasavassa bhikkhuno ragacittam vimutto paccavekkhato uppajjati piti... sukham... upekkha... vimokkho. Ayam vuccati niramisa niramisataro vimokkho.7

-Of the meditator who has attained this prime state of mind in meditation, the Buddha says-

Santakayo santavaco, santava susamahito; Vantalokamiso bhikkhu, upasantoti vuccati.8

-Calm of body, calm of speech, well concentrated, the monk who has left behind worldly desires is called 'supremely calm'.

Notes: (All references VRI edition)

1. Anguttara Nikaya 1.2.65-77, Sukhavagga
2. Ibid. 2.8.37, Danavagga
3. Patisambhidamagga 1.213
4. Ibid.2.4.279
5. Op. cit. 2.4.279
6. Also cf, Mahasatipatthana Sutta, op. cit.; Pancattaya Sutta; Majjhima NikayaAnapana Sutta; 3.21
7. Samyutta Nikaya 2.4.279
8. Dhammapada, Bhikkhuvagga 378s