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The Four Sublime States
Doctrine and Practice in Buddhism
Thich Vien Ly


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Section IV:  Freedom of Mind / Freedom from Suffering

Let us look at the Divine Abode and its four inclusive brahma-vihara in the position this abode takes in the Three Encompassing Abodes, which we addressed earlier in the text. According to Sangiti-Suttanta (in Digha-Nikaya, 33) these are:

  1. The Heavenly Abode (dibba-vihara)
  2. The Divine Abode (brahma-vihara)
  3. The Noble Abode (ariya-vihara)

The Divine Abode is placed in a central position ontologically and “mystically” lower than the Noble Abode (ariya vihara) and higher than the Heavenly Abode (dibba-vihara) (pp. 88-89). The Heavenly Abode (dibba-vihara) is formed of four meditations, the Five jhana in the realm of pure form (rupa-jjhana); the Noble Abode (ariya-vihara) consists of three liberations, or deliverances (vimokkha) which are also called “The Triple Gateway to Liberation” (vimokkha-mukha).” They are:

  1. Emptiness (sunnata)
  2. Signlessness (animitta)
  3. Desirelessness (apanihita)

In Mahayana Buddhism, the Triple Gateway to Liberation (or “Three Doors of Liberation”) is interpreted in a completely transcendental way. When the triple Gateway to Liberation is open, wisdom, or understanding (panna) will shine forth in all its great radiance.

The Buddha rejected all authority except experience. Each person should gain experience for him/herself, experiment to see that the teaching is true, and not accept it because the Buddha says so. The universe is subject to natural laws only; study and practice give one the freedom from suffering. The most important laws are those of “causation”. Transmigration is acknowledged in that “consciousness” continues from life to life according to moral laws, and innumerable other causes and conditions. Our aim is to end this cycle of transmigration and attain final peace. The Buddha claims here that the objective for all living beings is the attainment of happiness. His teachings deal with ways of achieving this goal, culminating finally in liberation and freedom.

According to the Pali tradition there are two types of freedom (vimutti):

  1. freedom of mind (ceto-vimutti)
  2. freedom through wisdom or understanding (panna-vimutti)

“Freedom of mind” means freedom from desire through the practice of “absorption” or “calm abiding’ (Samadhi). “Freedom through wisdom” (panna-vimutti) means freedom from ignorance through the practice of “insight” (vipassana) into the three characteristics of existence: (1) impermanence (anicca), (2) suffering (dukkha) and (3) not-self (anatta), and also into the triple Gateway to Liberation, as we read in the previous section.

R.E.A Johnasson, prominent psychologist and lecturer, has also summed up two types of freedom:

  1. Freedom of Mind (ceto-vimutti)
    1. calm is cultivated (samatho bhavito)
    2. the mind is developed (cittam bhaviyati)
    3. desire is expelled (rago pahiyati)
    4. step leading to “freedom of mind” (ceto-vimutti)

  2. Freedom by Understanding (panna-vimutti):
    1. introspection, or insight, is cultivated (vipassana bhavita)
    2. understanding, or wisdom, is developed (panna bhaviyati)
    3. ignorance is expelled (avijja pahiyati)
    4. the first three steps leading to “freedom through understanding” (panna-vimutti)

From what is said in Tevijja Sutta (Digha Nikaya, XIII), the Four Abodes of the brahma-vihara lead to “freedom of mind” or “freeing of mind” (ceto-vimutti)

The position of the Four Sublime States of the Divine Abodes (brahma-vihara) is made explicit by the following synopsis:

  1. The Three Abodes:
    1. The Heavenly Abode (dibba-vihara) consists of Four Meditations in the Realm of Pure Form;
    2. The Divine Abode (brahma-vihara) consists of Four Immeasurables: lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity;
    3. The Noble Abode (ariya-vihara) consists of the Triple Gateway to Liberation: emptiness, signlessness, and desirelessness.

  2. The Four Divine Abodes belong to “Freedom of Mind” (ceto-vimutti)


  3. The Noble Abode (the triple Gateway to Liberation) belongs to Freedom through Insight or Understanding.


  4. The Four Divine Abodes are placed after the Four Meditations in the Realm of Pure Form and before the Four Meditations in the Realm of Non-Form (arupavacara).


  5. The Four Divine Abodes belong to samatha (tranquility, calm abiding) or samadhi (absorption), and the Noble Abode is identical with vipassana (insight) or panna (wisdom).

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