Cultivate, Develop, Train And Progress Discernment

The description for this June 4th Insight Timer live event:

We all need discernment, but how? Let’s look at some ways to cultivate, develop, train and progress discernment. While there’s much to discernment, one key: “. . . one listening well gains discernment” ~from Āṭavaka’s Questions

What is your intent and motivation to address discernment itself? I ask again at end to see if these have changed any. I feel mine are mostly in-line with what the Buddha recommends and also in order to see and address manipulation

I read the entire Āḷavaka Sutta (SN 10:12) then focus mainly on this one question and answer from it:

How does one gain discernment?
Convinced of the arhats’ Dharma for attaining unbinding,—heedful, observant—one listening well gains discernment

from the Āḷavaka Sutta  (SN 10:12)

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Āḷavī in the haunt of the Āḷavaka yakkha. Then the Āḷavaka yakkha went to the Blessed One and on arrival said to him: “Get out, contemplative!”

(Saying,) “All right, my friend,” the Blessed One went out.

“Come in, contemplative!”

(Saying,) “All right, my friend,” the Blessed One went in.

A second time… A third time, the Āḷavaka yakkha said to the Blessed One, “Get out, contemplative!”

(Saying,) “All right, my friend,” the Blessed One went out.

“Come in, contemplative!”

(Saying,) “All right, my friend,” the Blessed One went in.

Then a fourth time, the Āḷavaka yakkha said to the Blessed One, “Get out, contemplative!”

“I won’t go out, my friend. Do what you have to do.”

“I will ask you a question, contemplative. If you can’t answer me, I will possess your mind or rip open your heart or, grabbing you by the feet, hurl you across the Ganges.”

“My friend, I see no one in the cosmos with its devas, Māras & Brahmās, its contemplatives & brahmans, its royalty & commonfolk, who could possess my mind or rip open my heart or, grabbing me by the feet, hurl me across the Ganges. But nevertheless, ask me what you wish.”


“What is a person’s highest wealth?

What, when well-practiced, brings bliss?

What is the highest of savors?

Living in what way is one’s life called the best?”

The Buddha:

“Conviction is a person’s highest wealth.

Dhamma, when well-practiced, brings bliss.

Truth is the highest of savors.1

Living with discernment, one’s life is called best.”


“How does one cross over the flood?

How [does one] cross over the sea?

How does one overcome suffering & stress?

How is a person purified?”

The Buddha:

“Through conviction one crosses over the flood.

Through heedfulness, the sea.

Through persistence one overcomes suffering & stress.

Through discernment a person is purified.”


“How does one gain discernment?

How does one find wealth?

How does one attain honor?

How bind friends to oneself?

Passing from this world to the next world, how does one not grieve?”

The Buddha:

“Convinced of the arahants’ Dhamma for attaining unbinding, —heedful, observant— one listening well gains discernment. Doing what’s fitting, enduring burdens, one with initiative finds wealth. Through truth one attains honor. Giving binds friends to oneself. Endowed with these four qualities, — truth, self-control, stamina, relinquishment — a householder of conviction, on passing away, doesn’t grieve.

Now, go ask others, common brahmans & contemplatives, if anything better than truth, self-control, stamina, & relinquishment here can be found.”


“How could I go ask

common brahmans & contemplatives?—

now that today I understand

what benefits

the next life.

It was truly for my well-being

that the Awakened One came

to stay in Āḷavī.

Today I understand

where what is given

bears great fruit.

I’ll wander from village to village,

town to town,

paying homage to the Self-awakened One

& the true rightness of the Dhamma.”


1. This is apparently a reference to the concept of “savor” (rasa) in Indian aesthetic theory. For more on this topic, see the Introduction to Dhammapada: A Translation.

See also: AN 3:48; AN 4:62AN 8:54Dhp 354

To the Āḷavaka Yakkha
Āḷavaka Sutta  (SN 10:12)

While this Sutta tailors the following three discernment teachings — amongst other things — to a demon, there is much within it to take heed of for all of us:

  1. Best way to live
  2. Purification
  3. How to gain discernment

Again, I primarily address listening based on the following Sutta selection:

Convinced of the arhats’ Dharma for attaining unbinding,—heedful, observant—one listening well gains discernment

I discuss stuff around and in addition these notes:

  • Seeing/looking
  • Hearing/listening
  • Our state of listening, listening habits and abilities
  • What do you, and can you really pay attention to now by only listening?
  • What do you want to and don’t want to listen to?
  • How can these be bridged and connected?
  • What hasn’t been listened to in a long time, like types or categories of material, or specific things?
  • How can you hear/listen to something new? How likely are you to go out of you way to? Or re-listening to something?
  • How about loud sounds?
  • Phenomena of mistaking sounds / incorrect identification of sounds
  • Temporarily putting aside belief, disbelief, opinions, analysis in order to listen
  • Where is what is, or what could be listened to on the spectrum from comfort zone to toxicity?
  • How can note taking (or not) — during the first listen, and/or subsequent listens — enhance or detract from better listening? What about if no recording is allowed or available?
  • What role does repetition play? Reinforcing? Annoying? [My rose gold iPhone example]
  • Listen how you want to be heard / seen
  • full body listening
  • relaxation’s role
  • closed eyes to possibly increase available hearing bandwidth (especially when listening alone)
  • Human voice:
    • data needed with tv vs. landline
    • shortwave radio and tin can
    • more bandwidth for music
  • How does listening translate to discernment?
  • How do we put aside discernment for raw, undifferentiated observation, witnessing, knowing (of knowing), being with more of a sense of unity instead of differentiation, and beyond all this?
  • memory [and challenges of past life memory discernment]
  • evaluation vs judgement(alism)
  • application of reference points (creating new ones, identifying helpful ones, and clinging to ones)
  • decisiveness vs (bogged down in) research process
  • using:
    • gut
    • heart
    • logic/mind
    • reflection
    • contemplation
    • meditation
    • intuition
  • alignment, opposition, and polarity with(/of) (what’s attempting to be) discern(ed/ment)
  • doubt, lack of doubt
  • conclusions
  • conviction
  • openness
  • correcting
  • admission of “right” and “wrong”
  • What is, and how is the intent and motivation now for (cultivating) discernment?

Heedfulness: the path to the Deathless. Heedlessness: the path to death. The heedful do not die. The heedless are as if already dead.

Appamadavagga: Heedfulness
Audio: Cultivate, Develop, Train and Progress Discernment

Listen to the full unedited version of this talk:

Published by josh dippold

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