The Four Levels in Practice (Dhamma Talks by Sayadaw U Ukkaṭṭha)


(in 1964)

I have traveled to many places to teach Dhamma, such places as Rangoon, Mandalay, Shwe-bo, Hehzada, Moulamein, etc. even to the southernmost part of Burma-Kau-thaung. Most of them were in Rangoon. More women than men come to my teaching. It’s also more women than men in heavens. Dakarmas (Burmese word for upāsikās) have strong faith (saddhā). Dakarmas come for sitting meditation. Dakars (i.e., upāsakas) drank wine and mingled with women in hotels; just enjoying pleasure in the senses. Also, at the meditation center, if there are 200 dakas, then there are 1,000 dakamas. Therefore, there are more Dakarmas in heavens. Also, there are more women than men in realization of Dhamma. Where the men were gone? (i.e., after death).

(With my experience in Thailand, in every uposatha day there were more women than men coming to our place for the whole day and night practice).

It’s very rare to know anyone who wants Nibbāna. Why is that? There is no mind and body in Nibbāna. There are no pork, chicken and beef curies to eat and no ice cream there. Furthermore, there are no diamond earrings to wear, no diamond necklace and no bracelet to wear, etc. Therefore, they have no desire for Nibbāna. They also heard about that there is no mind and body and no impermanence. They do not know about feeling (vedanā), so they are happy with vedanā. Nibbāna is quite a happiness, only someone arrives there know about it. It’s very rare to see someone who desires for Nibbāna. Humans, deities (devata) and Brahma gods also don’t want it. Brahma gods are taking pleasure in absorption (Jhāna) direct knowledge (abhiññā) and with desire of form (rūpa-taṇhā). Devatas are on the beauty of physical form, and humans are taking pleasure in sensual objects of defilement and clinging to them. Nuns and monks are also not wanting it (i.e., Nibbāna). Because all of them don’t know dukkha (sufferings). They take enjoyment in the feelings of pleasant and unpleasant (sukha, dukkha vedanā). They don’t know about vedanā (feeling). With the six senses of doors, they enjoy the five cords of sensual pleasure. These are the objects (ārammaṇas) will send them to painful existences (apāyas). Why can they enjoy these things? They don’t know about sukha and dukkha vedanās and don’t know cause and effect dhammas. If they know about it, they will be afraid. If they know with the enjoyment will fall into "painful existence", they will become afraid. ??) Mind and body will stop by knowing cause and effect.

The result of mind and body will stop by destroying the cause (i.e., by discerning of anicca).

(Sayadaw explained it by using each one of the senses of doors—see the 12 links of paṭiccasamuppāda)—you’ll know Nibbāna is happiness if knowing cause and effect (i.e., the D. A process and dukkha sacca).

Would you be happy owning $10 million and living in a multi-story building? Will you perish first or will your property perish first? Can you be happy riding in a car worth $30,000 or $40,000? Do you perish first, or the car or burnt down with fire? The Buddha said that it was the truth of dukkha if mind and body arose. Not knowing of these things that we desire for the happiness of humans and deities. You only get dukkha and the round of existence if attaining of them.

Don't you worry about living and family members (wife and children)? You’ll encounter many dangers, dukkhas and the results of them if mind and body arise. With the becoming old age, sickness and death follow. These are the results of not knowing impermanence. Don’t desire for the mind and body and finish with it in one life (just like him). We get the inconstant (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and not-self (anatta) phenomena (dhamma) which we have no control on them. The world (loka which is mind and body) only has impermanence (rise and fall). These are arising in turn. You have to establish samādhi and practice to know the four noble truths. Only by conquering of the internal worldly dhammas (loka dhamma) you’ll conquer the external worldly dhammas. Only seeing the internal impermanence (one’s own) will see the external. If you see this way, and you’ll attain happiness (i.e., the mind inclining toward Nibbāna). As the becoming of the mind/body, there will have seeing, hearing… and knowing if these experiences are good or bad. (Sayadaw explained it with the six senses of doors and six sense objects.) With getting of khandha will encounter dangers and dukkhas. When the Buddha passed away, only half of his disciples—the easily accessible to instruction (veneyya) disciples—were liberated (the half leaving behind will be liberated by their teachers). If we practice it now, we still can realize it. Paññā will arise with samādhi. If you practice it really and must get it. You can be free from the round of existence (saṃsāra) by having wisdom. If you don’t have it, you will sink in the flood of saṃsāra (ogha). Therefore, someone who practices hard in the Buddha Sāsana will get it. People are happy with greed, anger and delusion (lobha, dosa, moha), happy with cinema, happy with alcohols and happy with sensual pleasure of the five senses. People with practice can become stream enterer, once returner, non-returner and arahant. If no practice, one will sink in the woeful planes (apāya). If die with the mind of greed, then one becomes the ghost, with anger falling into hell; and with delusion, one will become dog, pig, chicken, etc. At the time of death, these greedy, angry, and delusional minds will arise due to the ripening of reserve (kaṭattā) kamma. Bad habitual actions (āciṇṇa kammas) will arise. Lobha kamma, dosa kamma and moha kamma from the six senses of doors are the actions to painful existence (apāyas). You have to check your mind. It is the last night here. Listen carefully!

I don’t know about books (i.e., piṭaka texts) and can’t read them. I’ll talk about my own knowledge. These are the knowledge from stream enterer (sotāpanna) to the noble one (arahant). The Buddha taught that knowing (i.e., paññā or wisdom) was the noblest dhamma. Who could know the mind of a stream enterer to a noble one? Some say that the arahant has hooked jointed bones and the Buddha with chained jointed bones. (Mogok Sayadaw had hooked jointed bones.) These are according to book. In fact, the Buddha's and Arahant's minds abandoned the five kinds of abandonment, so their minds were as such unmoving.

(There are five kinds of abandonment: 1. tadaṅgappahānaṃ—abandoning in a particular respect; 2. vikkhambhanappahānaṃ—abandoning by suppression; 3. samucchedappahānaṃ—abandoning by eradication; 4. paṭippassaddhippahānaṃ—abandoning by subsiding; 5. nissaraṇappahānaṃ —abandoning by escape.)

It becomes natural minds and changing into hooked jointed bones (i.e., arahant). Sotāpanna’s six senses of doors are completed with sīla, samādhi and paññā. However, he is seeing and knowing completed with it. He penetrates the five khandhas as anicca, dukkha and anatta with knowledge (vijjā). Regarding to the four great elements he discerns the impermanence of internal five khandhas. In regard to external things the path knowledge (magga ñāṇa) abandoned the unwholesome dhammas which arose from the six senses of doors (i.e., eye, ear, …mind). It increases the wholesome dhammas. He knows the impermanence of the five khandhas arising from the six senses of doors by six sense objects. Sotāpanna knows the nature of the elements. With the five khandhas he sees the three characteries of anicca, dukkha and anatta, and seeing the natural phenomena. Whatever he is seeing the path factors exterminate them. Could it be possible if seeing as a woman? Only seeing it true nature or real nature that it’s concept. Therefore, not seeing the five khandhas and giving the concept of woman so that mental formation (saṅkhāra) arises and takes it as beautiful and pretty (conditioning by saṅkhāra). And then knowing the five khandhas with ignorance in seeing, hearing, etc., and it becomes beautiful, pretty, fat, the voice is pleasant, etc. defilement arise and lead to apāya (painful existence). It becomes mind and body which fall into apāya. This kind of knowing is the bad knowing of ignorance and the bad habitual kamma (āciṇṇa kamma). The way of path factors killing the phenomena arising from the sense doors and objects is not giving the concepts (saññā) to it and stopping at feelings (see the 12 links of paṭiccasamuppāda). This is killing the cause, and the result dies. The yogi only knows that the five khandhas arise and cease. Whatever five khandhas arise from the eye, ear, etc., do not give concept and kill it with the path factors. Whatever is arising, mindfulness, effort, and samādhi know it; and paññā discerns it. (i.e., sati and paññā). Therefore, from the eye, ear, nose, …etc. the yogi has sīla, samādhi and paññā and not giving concepts it stops at feeling (vedanā). Vedanā comes to an end is Nibbāna. Stopping at vedanā is insight knowledge (vipassanā ñāṇa). Discern the arising and passing away of the internal four great elements with momentary concentration (khaṇika samādhi). Also knowing the external phenomena of seeing, hearing, etc. and their passing away. Knowing momentary arising and momentary passing away rightly. These are the perishing of the minds. Contemplate on feeling which arise from the changing of form—rūpa. (This way is Sayadaw’s way of practice.) The form (rūpa) do not arise because of killing the impermanence of the five khandhas or mind/body. It’s with the cause that killing the result. The yogi knows the element as according to its own nature, eye, ear, nose, etc. …are also according to its own nature. Sotāpanna’s view knows the momentary arising and passing away of the internal and external five khandhas. This is body contemplation (Kāyānupassanā satipaṭṭhāna). (This bases on four elements). Sotāpanna abandoned wrong view and doubt. Before was “I see, I hear, etc. …”, now is seeing the five khandhas and its vanishing wrong view falls away that there is no doubt in him and knowing the four truths.

The view of once-returner (sakadāgāmī) will follow. Sotāpanna needs two pounds of samādhi and sakadāgāmī needs four pounds (Sayadaw used the Burmese wt.). You’ll not see it without samādhi. Sotāpanna abandons dukkha vedanā which arises from the changing of four elements. He still has sukha with it. Mind and body (nāma and rūpa) can’t separate. You can do it with insight knowledge. Sotāpanna uses the four pounds of samādhi power light, and he sees the nature of form (rūpa) with just like open eyes.

Even though sotāpanna has abandoned dukkha because of sukha that the mind inclined to the physical body shape as beautiful, pretty, etc. Now with the samādhi power he sees the physical form becomes deformed. Seeing in loathsomeness (asubha) as the body becomes bloated decomposed and putrid with popping eyes, etc. He also sees it as like a boiling, foamy water. Once-returner mind inclines toward the deformed body. I don’t know how the textbook describes it. He doesn’t see himself/herself as beautiful, pretty and abandons sukha on the body. Therefore, once-returner’s mind is saṅkhāra-upekkhā mind (I don’t know where Sayadaw got this pāḷi words. It can be from his own wisdom. In one of his talks, he said that some lay supporters offered him piṭakas, but he couldn’t read and leave it there. His view is once-returner abandons dukkha and sukha. As Sotāpanna overcomes dukkha and sakadāgāmī on sukha. He described once-returner as at the time of realization with the saṅkhāra-upekkhā ñāṇa.)

Sotāpanna has seen the change of the four elements, that is the knowledge of appearance. (The Burmese words for this usage are athim-nyan; athim = appearance, nyan = ñāṇa.) Sakadāgāmī has seen the body becomes bloated and putrid, that is knowledge of seeing. (The Burmese words for this usage are amyin-nyan; amyin = seeing or view, nyan = ñāṇa). With this knowledge he is seeing body swollen, decomposed, putrid; and boiling like a foamy water, burning with fire, etc. Seeing the intrinsic natural phenomena of the four elements is amyin-nyan (knowledge of seeing). If he looks at other bodies, he is also seeing in this way as the body is eating by worms, as bones, etc. All these seeing is strong insight (balavā vipassanā, balya vipassanā). If he looks at other physical objects also seeing as bloated, decomposed and putrid—such as Buddha images, cetiyas, earth, sky, etc. The whole world for him becomes strong insight. Insight has to be seen as perishing or vanishing. With one self’s bodily form and other bodily forms are not perishing that we have affection, craving and clinging to these things. Some thought that if seeing loathsome (asubha), bones, etc., it was concept. I have to say this is not true. This is seeing its natural arising or process that it’s an ultimate phenomenon (paramattha dhamma).

(Here Sayadaw’s view was this is not making it by happening and not reflecting on it. It appears through the power of samādhi and natural process.)

Athim-nyan means with the changing of the four elements and its impermanence appear in the knowledge (ñāṇa). Amyin-nyan means seeing the nature of loathsomeness of the body, etc. Like with one’s eye is seeing knowledge.

(Sayadaw compared it with the example came from the first discourse—the wheel of Dhamma—cakkhuṁ udapādi = it means vision (seeing) arose.))

Some teachers told their students that if you see loathsome (asubha) it’s concept, don’t contemplate and abandon it. That is, they don’t know rightly what the concept (paññatti) and ultimate reality (paramattha) is.

[Note on concept and reality: It seems to me the Buddha did not make any distinction about it in the suttas. It comes from Abhidhamma. These two views could be arisen from atta and anatta doctrines or related to them. In Burmese meditation traditions, all accept these two views and using them in their systems. Even illiterate monks like Soon Loon Sayadaw, Thae Inn Gu Sayadaw and Sayadaw U Candima accepted them in their teachings and practices. The most accepted view on paramattha dhamma is it doesn’t have any form and shape, so can’t see with the eye. Therefore, when they heard about Sayadaw’s practice and rejected this as mentioned by Sayadaw.]

Once-returner is from sukha he sees dukkha again—of the whole world. He couldn’t sleep because of it with the closed eyes or with the opened eyes. Because of dukkha he doesn’t want his khandha and other people’s khandhas. The body not deformed that people are craving and clinging to it. With the right seeing and knowing about the deformed khandha and from the eye, dukkha vedanā arises. Contemplation of feeling (vedanānupassanā) is the knowing of once—returner. He gets the right knowledge (i.e., vijjā ñāṇa). Because of seeing loathsomeness (asubha) it reduces lust (kāmarāga) but it doesn’t purify from concept yet. He still has the concept of solidity (ghaṇa paññatti, ghaṇa saññā) with it. The lower two path knowledges (i.e., sotāpatti-magga and sakadāgāmī magga) are still remaining in insight knowledge.

(Here we may think Sayadaw misinterprets it. The process of practice will come to an end only by becoming an arahant. So it means still in insight knowledge. It’s different from the traditional interpretation.)

He doesn’t make any distinction as man and woman by seeing the perishing of loathsome body (asubha). Dukkha vedanā arise from the eye that he doesn’t want to enjoy it and disgust with it. He becomes afraid of seeing at it. (If he observes the nature, it happens the same way e.g., sky, mountains, earth, etc.) With it, wrong thinking and wrong perception are disappeared. Perception (saññā) deceives us that we can’t see it as mind made form (citta-ja-rūpa). From sukha he is seeing dukkha that it’s vedanānupassanā (contemplation on feeling). This is once-returner insight.

[It seems to me Sayadaw’s practice from Sotāpanna to arahant—the four levels relate to the four stages of satipaṭṭhāna bhāvanā—i.e., kāya to dhamma—In Mahāsi system to become a sotāpanna with the four satipaṭṭhāna stages, from coarser object (rūpa) to refined objects (dhammas)]

Whatever experience from the six senses of doors becomes feeling (vedanā), because seeing of asubha dukkha vedanā (loathsome unpleasant feeling). In terms of loathsomeness, here's how it becomes disgusting; if I had to make an analogy, it would be as follows—Someone catching fish in a muddy stream, he spreads a net in the muddy water and waiting for some time there. When he sees something inside the net is struggling and trying to escape. So, he slowly pulls the net toward him and slowly put his hand inside and grasps the thing inside the net. He thought it as a fish and pull the fish out from the net. It’s a poisonous snake. So, he was using both hands to grab the snake's neck hard and squeeze it to death. He is not fearful of the disappearance of the mind, but of the dissolution of the form (rūpa or body). (Here we can see the differences between sotāpanna and sakadāgāmin) When seeing the deformed body, he wants to run away from the fearful phenomena. Man and woman have affection to each other because theirs are not deformed. (When someone dies no-one want to keep the body, if you throw it away quicker and better. Even before death, our bodies stink so badly and disgustingly that only flies rush to us, not bees.)

Sotāpanna sees the impermanence of the five khandhas. Sakadāgāmin sees the perishing of rūpa (body form) and then knowing each of the khandha separately. Sotāpanna’s knowing knowledge is one kind and Sakadāgāmin’s is another; he is seeing asubha with the eye and contemplating them. Perception deceiving him as loathsome (asubha) such as bones, putrid, burning with fire, eaten by worms, etc. After he knows the deception by concept (saññā) and abandons it. He does not give the perception of putrid and bloated and stops at vedanā. With this the concept of solidity (ghana) falls away and not see the putrid body, bones, etc. What does he see? He sees the whole world of the physical form (rūpa) vanishing as like particles. He doesn’t see the khandha form (rūpa) only the particles of form (rūpa). This is the concept (paññatti) of a non-returner (anāgāmi). It’s fit into the Buddha’s teaching of mind and body arising and passing away in a hundred thousand billion times and five thousand billion times per seeing respectively. (It is in accordance with the Buddha's teaching that the body and mind arise and pass away ten trillion times and five trillion times respectively in each vision.) Whatever he is looking at it not seeing its solidity and form only the particles. His mind (anāgāmin) is inclining toward sabhāva concept (i.e., particles). If he looks at the whole world, only seeing the particles. Therefore, the non-returner abandons the defilement of lust (kāma-kilesa).

[The differences between once-returner and non-returner are seeing deformed body and particles-reduce lust and abandon lust. It is not surprising that humans are crazy about lust. Even once-returner seeing deformed body (disgusting) only reduce lust. Sometime human’s stupidity is no limit someone can end up in suicide out of love or lust.]

If seeing rūpa and nāma (mind) vanishing, you still can’t abandon it yet. I don’t know how what the textbook says. I tell you what I have seen naturally in the khandha (not book knowledge but direct experience). Non-returner has rūpa-kilesa—defilement on material form (i.e., particles or material jhānas or rūpa-jhānas). His mind is sticking in the refined particles. If he dies, he will have the five khandhas in ariya brahma world (noble material jhānic god). Regarding with the five khandhas, non-returner sees the past, present and future births (jāti) and seeing its coming and going paths. U Zin (a monk refers to himself) in past lives had been a monk and after death fallen into hell as animals (e.g., bird) and hungry shades etc. I also see the future births by viewing the object (ārammaṇa = arom) and see the suddhāvāsabhūmi of anāgāmi—the highest plane of ariya brahma god. Some people are asking the questions of “Is there any hell or brahma worlds?” You can’t see it because of without even one ounce of samādhi you don’t have it. According to the Buddha’s teaching of āloka udapādi—light arose (from the first discourse), with this light he could see from this universe to other universes. Some said that there were no hells. If they die with this wrong view, they will suffer in hells and not free from it. There are also those who accept the view that human become human after death and not otherwise.

(This view was accepted by some Burmese Buddhists, such as Shin/U Ukkaṭṭha, who wrote a booklet—“Men Die Become men” - around 1960 or 1970. According to some sources, the monk was fluent in six languages. He had some young lay followers who were communists and well-educated. A scholarly monk is prone to hold wrong views, just like some modern educated Chinese who look down on the teachings of the Chinese sages as outdated and conservative. But they don’t know it that truth will never change, only wrong view will change all the times.)

These people have to go and suffer between universes. (According to science there can be the black hole between them. Here are some hells between universes.) Therefore, you should practice to know where you’ll born e.g., heavenly realm, brahma world, Nibbāna, etc. If you die with kilesa—gati defiled destinations, you’ll go to painful existence (apāya).

People are enjoying their lives with heedlessness. They are in pleasure with family members (wife, children), with dollars, with gold, etc. At near death if they die with greedy mind have to suffer for 5000 billion times—hundred thousand billion timesper second in accordance with the mind/body process. Non-returners possess the knowledge of knowing births (jātissara ñāṇa). The Buddha taught his Dhamma as akālika (non-temporal). If you really do it and will get it for sure. You don’t see it because you don’t do it. Anāgāmin’s mind has rūpa-kilesa (defilement of refined form), that is mind/body particles. He contemplates the five khandhas—e.g., with the contact of physical form and eye door, and the five khandhas arise. He contemplates their cause and effect. Furthermore, he discerns the five khandhas from the eye door and their rises and falls (i.e., mind and form) at the rate of hundred thousand billion times and 5,000 billion times/sec. If dies with the defiled mind (kilesa-citta), you will get birth. It was a woeful birth, and he became afraid. He has to suffer a hundred billion and 5000 billion times according to the mind process. He sees its births of hundred thousand billion and 5000 billion times in a wink of the eye.

Sotāpanna sees the impermanence of the five khandhas/mind and body. Sakadāgāmin sees the impermanence of form. They penetrate the four truths, respectively. The Buddha could count the rises and falls of mind and form in a wink of the eye with the rate of hundred thousand billion and 5000 billion times (this is not the counting of a mathematician). We only know its great numbers. From seeing, hearing etc. (six senses of doors) the 11 kinds of fire are burning with defilements (kilesa) and he becomes in fear of it. (It reminds us about the Fire Discourse the Buddha taught to Uruvela Kassapa brothers). We don’t know these things that we’re not fear.

The anāgāmi contemplates the five khandhas arise from the six senses of door one by one and discern anicca, dukkha and anatta and penetrate the four truths. Here again he is seeing the impermanence of the five khandhas and its three characteristics. How does he contemplate on form (rūpa)? At the eye it arises momentarily and passes momentarily. I have to see at mind and form, even I don’t want to see it and know it. All these things are great suffering (dukkha). It arises and passes away according to its nature, anicca, dukkha and anatta nature. Solidity of form disappears, that non-returner’s insight is contemplation of the mind—cittānupassanā. He contemplates on the arising of the mind, He contemplates on the arising from the internal bases (ajjhatta āyatanas) such as want to see, hear, etc.

Because the solidity of form (rūpa-ghana) disappears, and he has nothing to contemplate. He contemplates the minds which are not arising yet as to be arisen (e.g., want to see, hear, smell, etc.). He is checking his own mind such as “Is there any wanting to see mind arises?”, etc. This is killing the latent tendency (anusaya). Contemplation of the mind is only non-returner can contemplate it. (This is Sayadaw’s view, which is different from others). Although he contemplates the three characteristics, he can’t find the way out. Sometime samādhi over paññā and sometime paññā over samādhi that can’t find the way out (not on the middle way and not become equanimity). He contemplates the desire of form (rūpa taṇhā), their refined particles with three characteristics. With over samādhi and paññā not arises and vice versa. I can give an example with a sea-bird. From the ship, the bird flies away to search the seashore. This is like contemplating anicca, dukkha and anatta. The bird can’t find the shore and return to the ship. With contemplation on the three characteristics, he ask to himself “What is anicca?” For (rūpa) is vanishing by itself, seeing nature also seeing by itself, visual form also by its visual form nature, knowing is also with knowing nature.

Therefore, anicca, dukkha and anatta are concept nature. Giving them with concepts and it becomes clinging. He understands that it’s deceiving by concepts. He is not freed from the mind which stuck with the three characteristics. So, he abandons the concepts of anicca, dukkha and anatta. He just stops at the seeing and knowing of form (rūpa) only. There is nothing left to do, and impermanence is over. From the eyes, ears, nose...... etc., they are only seeing, only hearing…, etc. Therefore, there is nothing that has to be done, so I'm telling you there is nothing to do. Now! The Buddha Sāsana is still existing. You all practice vipassanā and may you become sotāpanna to arahant.

(Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!)

Some reflection on this talk:

In this talk we can see from sotāpanna to arahant they overcome different stages of perceptions on concepts. This may be one of the reasons commentary postulate two kinds of concept—paññātti and paramat which could come from practice and experience; and based on the suttas—even though it was not mentioned it directly. I myself see the benefits of using them. In Burmese tradition very rare talking about insight on asubha mostly mention on insight knowledges. Sometimes we see asubha in some of Mogok Sayadaw’s talks—together with anicca, dukkha, anatta and asubha, sometime with dukkha sacca. Here we see asubha as important insight of a once–returner, and it also has connection with non-returner practice.

Thae Inn Gu tradition don’t talk much about insight knowledges only how the mind changes in the process. It seems to me more beneficial than insight knowledges. According to Sayadaw, contemplation on the mind is only non-returner can do it. In Mogok Sayadaw’s teaching mostly he preferred people contemplated the mind because they took the mind as self view was stronger than the other aggregates. According to U Ādiccaramsī (Sun Lwin), when he taught yogis on cittānupassanā, most of them difficult to do it. In his experience of teaching people, kāyānupassanā was easier for yogis.


revised on 2022-02-13


  • Content of "Two Sides of A Coin" (Dhamma Talks by Sayadaw U Ukkaṭṭha)
  • Content of Dhamma Talks by Sayadaw U Ukkaṭṭha and Sayadaw U Candima
  • Content of Publications of Bhikkhu Uttamo

According to the translator—Bhikkhu Uttamo's words, this is strictly for free distribution only, as a gift of Dhamma—Dhamma Dāna. You may re-format, reprint, translate, and redistribute this work in any medium.