Bhikkhu Nanamoli states:
- [The Visuddhimagga] systematically summarizes and interprets the teaching of the Buddha contained in the Pali Tipitaka... As the principal non-canonical authority of the Theravada, it forms the hub of a complete and coherent method of exegesis of the Tipitaka, using the “Abhidhamma method” as it is called. And it sets out detailed practical instructions for developing purification of mind.
The Visuddhimagga presents the path in terms of the three trainings. The three trainings themselves are presented within the framework of the seven stages of purification which first appeared in the Rathavinīta Sutta.
Contemporary scholars have also noted similarities between the Visuddhimagga and the *Vimuttimagga, an Abhidharma text from the Chinese Canon that is believed to be of Indian origin. Scholars posit that Buddhagosa was likely influenced by the *Vimuttimagga in his composition of the Visuddhimagga.
The Visuddhimagga is considered the most important Theravada text outside of the Pali canon. In terms of it's encyclopedia breadth and importance, the Visuddhimagga has been compared to two key Abhidharma texts of the Sanskrit tradition: the Mahāvibhāṣā and the Abhidharmakośa.
The Visuddhimagga is organized into three sections, corresponding to the three trainings. These are:
- 1) Sīla
- The section on sīla (discipline, virtue, etc.) explains the rules of discipline, and the method for finding a correct temple to practice, how to meet a good teacher, etc.
- 2) Samādhi
- The section on samādhi (meditative concentration) explains samatha practice, including the use of objects of meditation (kammatthana).
- 3) Pañña
- The section on pañña (wisdom, understanding, etc.) explains the aggregates (skandha), the sense bases (ayatana), the four noble truths, dependent origination (pratitya-samutpada), etc.
- This section presents the practice of vipassana in the context of the seven stages of purification.
Seven stages of purification
In this text, the three trainings are presented within the framework of the seven stages of purification. These are:
- Purification of Conduct (sīla-visuddhi)
- Purification of Mind (citta-visuddhi)
- Purification of View (ditthi-visuddhi)
- Purification by Overcoming Doubt (kankha-vitarana-visuddhi)
- Purification by Knowledge and Vision of What Is Path and Not Path (maggamagga-ñanadassana-visuddhi)
- Purification by Knowledge and Vision of the Course of Practice (patipada-ñanadassana-visuddhi)
- Purification by Knowledge and Vision (ñanadassana-visuddhi)
The "Purification by Knowledge and Vision" is the culmination of the practice, which is sub-divided into the four stages of the supramundane path.
Kalupahana notes that the Visuddhimagga contains "some metaphysical speculations, such as those of the Sarvastivadins, the Sautrantikas, and even the Yogacarins". Kalupahana comments:
Buddhaghosa was careful in introducing any new ideas into the Mahavihara tradition in a way that was too obvious. There seems to be no doubt that the Visuddhimagga and the commentaries are a testimony to the abilities of a great harmonizer who blended old and new ideas without arousing suspicion in the minds of those who were scrutinizing his work.
Text and translations
Printed Pali editions
- Caroline A. F. Rhys Davids, Visuddhimagga Pali Text Society, London, 1920 & 1921. (Latin script)
- Warren, H. C. & Kosambi, D. D. Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosâcariya, Harvard Oriental Series, Vol. 41, 1950.(Latin script)
- Hewavitarne Bequest edition, Colombo, Sri Lanka (Sinhalese script)
- Hanthawaddy Press edition, Rangoon, Myanmar (Burmese script)
- Royal Siamese edition, Bangkok, Thailand (Thai script)
- The Path of Purity, Pe Maung (trans.), Pali Text Society, London, 3 vols., 1922–31 Part 1: Of Virtue, Part 2: Of Concentration & Part 3: Of Understanding
- Bhikkhu Nyanamoli (trans.), The Path of Purification, Visuddhimagga, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy 2011, ISBN 955-24-0023-6.
- Buddhist Meditation, Edward Conze (trans.), NB: Partial translation, 2002, ISBN 81-215-0781-2
- Der Weg zur Reinheit, Nyanatiloka & Verlag Christiani (trans.), Konstanz, 1952 (German)
- Sinhala Visuddhimargaya, Pandita Matara Sri Dharmavamsa Sthavira, Matara, Sri Lanka, 1953 (Sinhalese)
- Le chemin de la pureté, Christian Maës, Fayard 2002 (Français), ISBN 978-2213607658
- Il sentiero della purificazione, Antonella Serena Comba, Lulu.com 2010, seconda edizione (Italiano)
- คัมภีร์วิสุทธิมรรค (Khamphi Wisutthimak), Somdej Phra Buddhacarya (Ard Asabhamahathera), sixth edition. Bangkok: Mahachulalongkornrajvidyalaya University, B.E. 2548 (2005). ISBN 974-91641-5-6
- Bhikkhu Nyanamoli (20011), Introduction
- Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Visuddhimagga.
- Matara Sri Nanarama 1993, p. 13.
- Bhikkhu Analayo 2009.
- Bapat 1937, p. lvii.
- See, for instance, Kheminda Thera, in Ehara et al. 1995 p. xliii: "The Visuddhimagga is a household word in all Theravāda lands. No scholar of Buddhism whether of Theravāda or of Mahāyāna is unacquainted with it."
- Chim Jampaiyang 2019, p. 3.
- Gethin 1998, s.v. Chapter 2.
- Goodman 2020, Introduction.
- Kalupahana 1994, p. 206.
- Kalupahana 1994, p. 207-208.
- Stede, W. (October 1951). "The Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosācariya by Henry Clarke Warren; Dharmananda Kosambi". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (3/4): 210–211. JSTOR 25222520.
- Stede, D. A. L. (1953). "Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosācariya by Henry Clarke Warren; Dharmananda Kosambi". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. 15 (2): 415. doi:10.1017/s0041977x00111346. JSTOR 608574.
- Edgerton, Franklin (January 1952). "Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosācariya by Henry Clarke Warren; Dharmananda Kosambi". Philosophy East and West. 1 (4): 84–85. doi:10.2307/1397003. JSTOR 1397003.
- Bapat, P.V. (1937), Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga - A Comparative Study
- Bhikkhu Analayo (2009), "The Treatise on the Path to Liberation (解脫道論) and the Visuddhimagga" (PDF), Fuyan Buddhist Studies (4), ISSN 2070-0512
- Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. (2014), The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton University
- Chim Jampaiyang (2019), Jinpa, Thupten, ed., Ornament of Abhidharma: A Commentary on Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakosa, translated by Coghlan, Ian James (Apple Books ed.), Library of Tibetan Classics
- Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism (Kindle ed.), Oxford University Press
- Goodman, Steven D. (2020), The Buddhist Psychology of Awakening: An In-Depth Guide to the Abhidharma (Apple Books ed.), Shambhala Publications
- Gunaratana, Henepola (1994), The Path of Serenity and Insight, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited
- Kalupahana, David J. (1994), A history of Buddhist philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited
- Matara Sri Nanarama (1993), The Seven Stages of Purification and The Insight Knowledge (PDF), Buddhist Publication Society
- N.R.M. Ehara (trans.), Soma Thera (trans.) and Kheminda Thera (trans.) (1995). The Path of Freedom (Vimuttimagga) by the Arahant Upatissa. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 955-24-0054-6. Online: https://archive.org/details/ArahantUpatossa-Vimuttimagga-PathOfFreedom.pdf
- Mahasi Sayadaw, The Progress of Insight (Visuddhiñana-katha)
- Ven. Matara Sri Nanarama, The Seven Stages of Purification & The Insight Knowledges
- Visuddhimagga: The Path of Purification by Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa, tr. by Ñānamoli Thera.
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