Progress on the path is gradual – The Tathagata just shows the way


‘Just as, Bhikkhus, the mighty ocean deepens and slopes gradually down, hollow after hollow, not plunging by a sudden precipice, even so, Bhikkhus, in this Dhamma-Vinaya the training is gradual, progress is gradual, it goes step by step, there is no sudden penetration to insight.

Now since this is so, Bhikkhus, this is the first marvel and wonder of this Dhamma-Vinaya, seeing which again and again Bhikkhus take delight therein.”


“Thus have I heard.  Once the Exalted One was staying at Savatthi, in East Park, at the storeyed house of Migara’s mother.

Then the brahmin Mogallana, the accountant, came to the Exalted One and gave Him friendly greeting, and after the exchange of courtesies sat down at one side.  So seated, the brahmin Mogallana, the accountant, said this to the Exalted One:

‘Just as, master Gautama, one gets a gradual view of this storeyed house, a progress, a graduated path, and so on right up to the last step of the stairs … just as in a course of archery, the training of archers is a progressive one … is it possible, master Gautama, for this Dhamma-Vinaya of yours to point to a similar progressive training?’

“It is so, brahmin. Take the case of a clever horse-trainer.  He takes a thoroughbred in hand, gives him his first lesson with bit and bridle, and then proceeds to the further course.  Just so, the Tathagata takes in hand a man who is to be trained and gives him his first lesson, thus:  ‘Come thou, Bhikkhu!  Be virtuous.  Abide constrained by the restraint of the obligation.  Become versed in the practice of right behaviour; seeing danger in trifling faults, do you undertake the training and be a pupil in the moralities.’

As soon as he has mastered all that, the Tathagata gives him his second lesson, thus:  ‘Come thou, Bhikkhu! Seeing an object with the eye, be not charmed by its general appearance or its details.  Persist in the restraint of that dejection that comes from craving, caused by remaining with the sense of sight uncontrolled, those ill states which would overwhelm one like a flood.  Guard the sense of sight, win control over the sense of sight.  And so do with the other organs of sense.  When you hear a sound with the ear, or smell a scent with the nose, taste a taste with the tongue, or with the body touch things tangible, and when with mind you are conscious of a thing, be not charmed with its general appearance or its details.’

As soon as he has mastered all that, the Tathagata gives him a further lesson, thus:  ‘Come thou, Bhikkhu! Be moderate in eating; earnest and heedful do you take your food, not for sport, not for indulgence, not for adding personal charm or comeliness to body, but do it for body’s stablishing, for its support, for protection from harm, and for keeping up the practice of the rigfhteous life, with this thought: ‘I check my former feeling. To no new feeling will I give rise, that maintenance and comfort may be mine.’

Then, when he has won restrain in food, the Tathagata gives him a further lesson, thus;  ‘Come thou, Bhikkhu! Abide given to watchfulness. By day, when walking or sitting, cleanse your heart from things that may hinder you.  By night spend the first watch walking up and down or sitting, and do likewise.  By night in the second watch, lie down on the right side in the posture of a lion, and placing one foot upon the other, mindful and self-possessed, set your thougts on the idea of exertion.  Then, in the third watch of the night, rise up and walking up and down, or sitting, cleanse the heart of things that may hinder.’

Then, when the Bhikkhu is devoted to watchfulness, the Tathagata gives him a further lesson, thus:  ‘Come thou, Bhikkhu!  Be possessed of mindfulness and self-control.  In going forth or going back, have yourself under control.  In looking forward or looking back, in bending or relaxing, in wearing robes or carrying robe and bowl, in eating, chewing, tasting, in easing yourself, in going, standing, sitting, lying, sleeping or waking, in speaking or keeping silence, have yourself under control.’

Then, when he is possessed of self-control, the Tathagata gives him a further lesson, thus:  ‘Come thou, Bhikkhu!  Seek out a secluded lodging, a forest or root of a tree, a mountain or cave or mountain-grotto, a charnel field, a forest retreat, the open air, a heap of straw.’  And he does so.  And when he has eaten his food he sits down crosslegged, and keeping his body straight up (as described before) he proceeds to practise the Four Trances…

Now, for all Bhikkhus who are pupils, who have not yet attained mastery of mind, who abide aspiring for the security unsurpassed (which is Nirvana)… such is the manner of my training.

But as to those Bhikkhus who are Arhats, who have destroyed the asavas, who have lived the life, done their task, laid down the burden, won their own salvation, utterly destroyed the fetters of becoming, and are released by the perfect insight, for such as those these things are conducive to ease in the present life and to mindful self-control as well.’


M.N., iii chap.107


(“Some Sayings of the Buddha According to the Pali Canon”, translated from the Pali by F.L.Woodward, Oxford University Press, London, 1925).