Attempts at Standardization

Department of Psychiatry, Cooper University Hospital, and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Camden, NJ, USA


without meditation there is no wisdom, & without wisdom there is no meditation. But for the practitioner who puts meditation and wisdom together, the whole ocean of samsara (cycle of birth & death) can be dried up…. (Nagarjuna, second century CE Buddhist philosopher)

5.1 Standardization of Yoga and Meditation in Ancient India: Primacy of Buddha’s Abhidhamma Pitaka and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

Yoga is an ancient system of experiential science that has survived thousands of years. Despite the long and rich history of Yoga, for various reasons already mentioned in Chap. 1, Yoga has been used (and abused) in quite heterogeneous and non-standardized ways. Use of Yoga and meditation in piecemeal rather than in its entirety is analogous to the fragmented knowledge of the five blind men about an elephant in the popular five blind men and the elephant metaphor. Thus, in general, it is difficult to determine definitive effects of Yoga in healthcare as the quality of research has design limitations and lack of methodological rigor. So there is a long-standing need for standardization of techniques of Yoga and meditation, both in clinical practice and in research.

Taking a look at the classics like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (fourth century BC) and the great Abhidhammic texts including the Visuddhimagga ([Pali] Path of Purification; Buddhaghosha, circa 430 CE), one can realize the comprehensive attempts by Buddha and Patanjali to standardize the heterogeneous systems of meditation and Yoga, respectively, in ancient India about 2,500 years back. There are several schools or paths of Yoga involving some basic physical training and various mental disciplines designed for people of different types and at different spiritual levels. Among all these different schools, the Yoga Sutric Eightlimbed Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga/Raja Yoga) and the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path are the best documented and most elaborate methods. Patanjali’s standardization in the Ashtanga involves the entire aspects of Yoga (all the eight limbs) spanning from lifestyle and body and culminating in mediation on the mind. Buddha’s standardization involves more so on the psychology of Yoga and elaborates operationalization of the system of meditations and, above all, how they can be applied in psychological formats (psychotherapy) to one’s daily life. Stilling of the fluctuations in the mind, one of the key goals of Yoga, according to both Buddha and Patanjali, is achieved by persistent practice (sadhana) using the guidance of the Noble Eightfold Path or EightLimbed Method, respectively.

5.2 Buddha and His System of Standardization

Buddha grew up in the middle of both Shramanic (Buddhist and Jain religions) and Brahminic (Hindu Vedic and Upanishadic) traditions. As mentioned earlier, the two early teachers of Buddha were Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, meditators from the Indus Valley (Brahminic) traditions. Based on this learning, Buddha further expanded upon the Yogic and meditative ideas of the Indus Valley civilization and further improvised to present it in a form of more personally usable wisdom rather than as metaphysical philosophies. He did especially so in the realm of meditation as a formal contemplative discipline to examine the human mind, its problems and the various ways or techniques to handle these problems. Because of its focus on the human mind, Buddha’s meditative method is popularly called as the mindfulness meditation. To know more about the standardization of meditation in Buddhism, one needs to have some ideas about the original Buddhist scriptures (The Theravada canon or Tripitaka [Pali Three baskets of knowledge]). The Tripitaka, recorded in Pali, was first compiled by the monastic community (Pali sangha) in the middle of the first century BC long after Buddha passed away (circa 483 BC), whereas the earliest Mahayana Sutras (like the Lotus Sutra) were written no later than the first century CE (Santina 1997, p. 157). In the Pali cannons of Theravada Buddhism, the three divisions of Tripitaka are Vinaya Pitaka (basket of discipline/rules of Sangha), Sutta Pitaka (the basket of discourses/sermons of Buddha and his close disciples), and Abhidhamma Pitaka. Literally Abhidhamma Pitaka means basket of higher doctrine (Pali Abhi = sense of preponderance and distinction and dhamma = teachings, phenomena, doctrine; Pitaka = basket). Abhidhamma Pitaka is a detailed psycho-philosophical analysis of the dhamma or mental phenomena (Sans. dharma) and is quite distinct from the other two divisions because it presents the appearance of an abstract and highly technical systemization of the doctrine (dhamma) in seven terse books and no wonder held in the highest esteem in the Theravada tradition. Abhidhamma Pitaka is distinct not only by its analytical precision but also by its immaculately articulate and comprehensive description of the human experiences in terms of the various levels of realities or Truths. Comparing the two classic books, one can see that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describes all aspects of Yoga including meditation, whereas Visuddhimagga is primarily an encyclopedic guide to meditation and provides us with detailed elaborations of the standardization of meditation by the Buddha himself. Like the Yoga Sutras, the Visuddhimagga is a compilation rather than an original composition (Bodhi 1993) which concisely surveys all the methods of meditation and the accompanying mental states as the practitioner traverses through the various levels in the meditative experience. As one can find in the descriptions of meditation in the Visuddhimagga, all the theoretical analysis of the mind and matter finally converges upon the practice of meditation, and the practice culminates in the attainment of the liberation (nibbana) of the mind, the supreme goal of Buddhism. Buddha’s standardization is evident not only in his phenomenological and analytical approach in studying the human mind but also in his categorization of the complex philosophies into clear and pragmatic ways in the form of symbolism of disease and cure. For more elaborate descriptions of the standardization involved in the Abhidhamma Pitaka, interested readers can refer to many wonderful and scholarly books (classics as well as modern) (including but not limited to Buddhaghosha, 430 CE (trans. Nyanamoli, 1976); Nyanaponika 1965, p. 85–107; Eliade 1969, p. 162–199; Bodhi 1993, 2000; Santina 1997, p. 333–339, 341–347; Goleman 1988, p. 1–38).

Broadly, Buddhist standardization can be categorized in the following six areas:


Standardization of the process and techniques of meditation (this aspect is already described in Chap. 4)



Standardization of mental processes/phenomena



Standardization involved in the analysis of the various human experiences as creations of the mind



Standardization involved in the categorization of human consciousness



Standardization in the analysis of conditionality of the human existence



Standardization involved in the philosophy of life (the Four Noble Truths of Life) and the required path to obtain liberation (the Noble Eightfold Path)


5.2.1 Elaboration on Buddha’s Standardization of Mental Processes/Phenomena

Buddha literally means The Awakened. All the teachings of Buddha are compiled in the form of texts which are collectively called as Abhidhamma Pitaka. The texts of Abhidhamma are the most sacred and distinct teachings of Buddha himself, and just a glance at these canonical texts is enough to recognize the standardizations of the various mental processes inherent in these descriptions. This phenomenological psychology which carries the sacred knowledge of the Buddha himself is precise definitions as well as elaborate concepts and systematizations about the nature of the human mind and human experience and thus is unique in the history of human thought. Abhidhammic materials have standardized the human experiences in terms of aggregate or factors and have five distinct characteristics (Santina 1997, p. 312):


Definition of mental factors/aggregates (Pali dhamma or phenomena)



Relation of mental factors to other factors



Analysis of factors



Classification of factors



Arrangement in numerical order


An important point to understand is that classification of the factors in Abhidhamma is functional rather than ontological, i.e., the same factor has been used in different categories, but this is not repetition; rather this is due to differential functioning of the factor (with the same name) in each category. Abhidhammic standardization is very clear and comprehensive as one can see below (Santina 1997): it categorizes the matter and the material experience into 28 elements and 24 modes of conditionality of the mind. Out of the 28 elements, four are primary elements (earth, water, fire, and air) and five are the sense organs. The 24 modes of conditionality include (a) the four roads to power (also termed predominant conditions [Pali adhipati]), i.e., wish or desire, energy, thought, and reasoning, and (b) the five controlling faculties (also termed as sense organs [Pali indriya]), i.e., faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. In Abhidhammic scheme, the five powers and the five controlling faculties are considered as two aspects of the same thing. The 24 modes of conditionality of the mind mentioned above function in relation to the 12 components of interdependent origination out of which ignorance is the first component. There are three unwholesome (means what tends toward undesirable results or perpetuation of suffering) states of the mind: greed, hatred, and delusion. In addition, the eight worldly conditions (which are like two sides of the same coin) are happiness and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, and fame and infamy.

In Abhidhamma, one also can see elaborate standardizations of enlightenment too which consist of 37 factors/primary means to gain enlightenment and for obvious reasons deserve special mention. These 37 factors which form a fundamental part of the foundation of the Abhidhamma teaching are classified under seven groups (Santina 1997): (1) the four stations of mindfulness (satipatthana), (2) the four right efforts (samma padana), (3) the four roads to power (iddhipada), (4) the five controlling faculties, (5) the five powers (bala), (6) the seven limbs of enlightenment (bojjhanga), and (7) the Noble Eightfold Path (atthangika magga). The four principal stations of mindfulness are already elaborated in Chap. 4. The seven limbs of enlightenment are (1) mindfulness, (2) investigation, (3) energy, (4) interest/happiness (different from joy/rapture), (5) tranquility of the mind (results from eliminating the afflictions of ignorance, ill will, and attachment), (6) concentration, and (7) equanimity (even-mindedness toward all sentient beings—the absence of both attachment and aversion because both are part of clinging). Similarly, standardization does exist in terms of the right efforts which are fourfold: (1) effort to prevent unwholesome thoughts from arising, (2) effort to reject unwholesome thoughts once they have arisen, (3) effort to cultivate wholesome thoughts, and (4) effort to maintain wholesome thoughts that have arisen. This fourth one is particularly important because it is the most crucial effort to maintain the enlightenment once it has been achieved. The objective in these four aspects of right effort is to replace the unwholesome thoughts with the wholesome thoughts in our daily life in a natural and ongoing manner, i.e., the whole life is a meditation.

5.2.2 Buddha’s Standardization in the Phenomenological Analysis of the Human Experience: The Five Aggregates

As mentioned in Chap. 2, phenomenology is the description of things as they are experienced by the individual: the study of things as they appear to an observer from descriptive and experiential perspectives. Buddha can be called as one of the earliest phenomenologist because he was interested more in the descriptive phenomena of the mind and rejected the metaphysical and ontological aspects of the Vedas and the Vedantas (as described in Chap. 1) because in his realizations, unlike the analytical phenomenology, the absolute categories of metaphysics did not apply to things as they really are. Buddha in his method of analytical psychology analyzed all the experiences of the human condition with the goal of getting insight into these mental phenomena.

In this Abhidhammic scheme, the data of human experience are divided into two components: (i) the objective component (the things we perceive around us) and (ii) the subjective component (we ourselves, the subjective perceivers). Buddha analyzed the facts of experience into five components or factors, both physical and mental, which are called the five aggregates of experience or the five factors/contents of the mind (Santina 1997, p. 141–147). These aggregates (Sans. skandha; Pali khanda, means a bundle or pile of things) are the most basic parameters of a personalized human experience. In this scheme, the mere awareness of an object cannot be called as a personalized experience. Our personal experience about the various objects is rather elaborately produced through the functioning of the five major aggregates or factors which are (1) aggregates of form or perception [Sans., Pali rupa] or physical world (internal and external), (2) aggregates of consciousness/awareness/conception (includes thoughts/cognition [Sans. samjna]), (3) aggregates of feelings or emotions [Pali vedana], (4) aggregates of sensations/perception (sensing or perceiving an object), and (5) aggregates of volition (impulses), mental formation, and memory [Sans. samskara]. These five aggregates function to turn our mere awareness of the object into a profound personal experience. The five aggregates are further viewed in terms of the eighteen elements, and there is also an even more elaborate analysis in terms of the 72 factors which speak volumes about the standardization involved in Abhidhamma. Aggregates of the form are self-explanatory, based on the form/physical appearance of the object; this is the only objective aggregate; the other four are subjective aggregates (i.e., based on one’s mind). Aggregates of feelings or emotions are of 3 types: pleasant, unpleasant, and indifferent/neutral. Aggregate of perception/sensation involves the various sensations and perceptions invoked in us by the objects in our experiences and the associated formulations like ideas or judgments about them. Aggregates of consciousness are the mere awareness of, or mere sensitivity to, an object. For example, when we see an object, first the eyes and the visible object come into contact, then the consciousness (part of mind) joins with the material factors of experience, and after which visual consciousness arises. In this process, the ordinary consciousness (like visual consciousness in this case, consisting of the form and consciousness/mere awareness) becomes transformed to a profound personal experience through the functioning of the other three major mental factors of experience, i.e., the aggregates of feeling, perception, and volition and mental formation/memory. Of note, the mental formation (memory) and volition (will or impulse) are conceptualized as the conditioned response of our mind to the object of experience based upon the quality/grade of the mind. This aggregate has two components: (1) the mental formation component which represents one half that comes from the past (similar to the Upanishadic concept of samskara and smriti which are related to concepts of memory) and (2) the volition component which represents the other half that functions in the present, here and now, and propels us for carrying out the various actions. Mental formation and volition work together to determine our responses to the objects of experience, and these responses have moral consequences in the form of wholesome (means what tends toward desirable results or cure of suffering), unwholesome (opposite of wholesome), and neutral effects. Volition has a moral dimension, just as perception has a conceptual dimension and feeling has an emotive dimension. Memory [Sans. samskara, smriti], a key component in this five-component model of the mind, adds colors to our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions so that the experience is meaningfully constructed. Will/volition is the fifth component which gives rise to motivation and action in an experience. One can argue that in the absence of these five contents of the mind, we can’t experience the mind.

About the nature of the five aggregates, it is important to realize that each of them is impermanent and in a state of constant change, which concurs with the views of the modern science, i.e., experiences change in an ongoing manner.

5.2.3 Buddha’s Standardization Involved in the Categorization of Human Consciousness

Abhidhamma classifies human consciousness into four classes (Santina 1997, p. 333–334):


The sense sphere consciousness [Pali kamavachara]: consciousness directed toward the world of sense desires



Form sphere consciousness [Pali rupavachara]: consciousness directed toward the world of forms/external shapes



Formless sphere consciousness [Pali arupavachara]: consciousness directed toward beyond the form



Consciousness directed toward nibbana [this consciousness is called lokuttara]


As mentioned in Chap. 3, meditation is nothing but refinement or purification of one’s consciousness. In meditative process, as one progresses from consciousness type (a) to type (d), there is a progressive unification and homogenization of the meditation object, i.e., the object at the sphere of sense desire is the most concrete, proliferated, and differentiated (there are 54 types of object consciousness in this category, Santina 1997, p. 337), whereas those of the form and formless types of consciousness are increasingly less proliferated until the complete disappearance of these in the fourth type of consciousness which is directed toward a transcendental type of object (totally formless and abstract). Of note, the first three classes of consciousness (“a” to “c”) are worldly/mundane consciousness [Pali lokiya chitta] and are concerned with the world of conditioned things, whereas the fourth class, also known as supramundane consciousness [Pali lokiya chitta], refers to the transcendental type of consciousness [Pali lokuttara]. As mentioned in Chap. 4, the five factors [Pali jhananga] of meditative absorption [Pali jhana], i.e., initial application of the mind, sustained application of the mind, interest, happiness, and one-pointedness, through intensification of one-pointedness [Pali ekaggata], lead one’s consciousness from the mundane types of super knowledge [Pali siddhis or accomplishments, e.g., to read the thoughts of others and to recollect one’s former lives] toward the supramundane knowledge which eventually leads one to the supramundane sphere of consciousness [lokuttara and nibbana].

5.2.4 Buddha’s Standardization in the Analysis of Conditionality of the Human Existence

The analysis of conditionality of the mind and existence in the Abhidhammic tradition is dealt under two headings: (a) the analysis of the 24 conditions/modes of conditionality and (b) the analysis of 12 factors of interdependent origination. These 24 modes of conditionality are not mutually exclusive with each other, and they function in relation to the 12 components of interdependent origination. The 24 conditions are not mutually exclusive. In the cause and effect scheme of Abhidhamma, these 12 components are interpreted in 2 ways: (1) active (or causal) and (2) reactive (or resultant). This is the causeeffect analysis of conditionality that exists in the formula of interdependent origination. The Four Noble Truths, as one can see later in this chapter, also reflects this cause–effect analysis. Honoring the format of this book, it is not possible to elaborate the 12 factors or 24 conditions, but in this cause–effect scheme, the 12 factors of interdependent origination are analyzed in the light of the 24 modes of conditionality. It is important to note that in all 12 factors, there is no self, but only processes conditioned by other processes—processes that are, in their actual nature, empty of self and substance. This is essentially the doctrine of the emptiness (Pali sunyata) or doctrine of nonself (Pali anatta; Sans. anatma) or illusion of self, which the monk translates into the daily life through the philosophy of nonclinging (neither getting attached to nor be repulsed by objects in one’s life) and the lifestyle of the Middle Way (Pali Mula Madhyamaka; Kalupahana 2006; Siderits and Katsura 2013). This understanding of the emptiness of self and substance is achieved through a thorough analysis and understanding of the conditionality and how they originate in an interdependent manner. The irony of this situation is that without this understanding, we rather misunderstand the reality of these (in this particular context, Buddhist philosophy sounds like that of Vedanta which is not surprising considering the fact that both philosophies have originated from the wisdom of the Upanishad as already described in Chap. 1); we (mis)identify with them as part of self, whereas in reality there is no self; in actuality these are empty or void. In a conditioned manner, as the creations of the mind (with its 5 aggregates as described before), they just arise in our field of awareness as mental phenomena (Pali dhamma); they rise to the peak and eventually dissipate like a string of bubbles. In this process of conditioned arising, neither there is a persistent, permanent, and identical self nor is there an annihilation of the continuity of the process of cause and effect. All phenomena are just part of a continuous stream of consciousness, and meditation is the way to realize the continuity of these phenomena (mental events) to understand them in more complete/real way, as they are likened to the analogy of a movie rather than snapshots.
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