Guy E. Dubois

Udayabbaya – the Experience of Arising and Decay

Udayabbaya – the Experience of Arising and Decay

In deep concentration we experience that the phenomena arise and decay so quickly that we cannot grasp them. That they completely escape our mind. That we can’t hold them. Finally, our mind lets go of the grip. In the suttas this phenomenon is called udayabbaya.

Udayabbaya[1] is a part of the seven purifications (satta visuddhi) – including the  sixteen levels or phases of insight (solasa ñāṇa) – as they are mentioned in the Rathavinita Sutta[2],  and centuries later were extensively described and explained by Buddhaghosa in his work  Visuddhimagga[3],[4]. These seven purifications and sixteen insights describe – as meticulously as a roadmap – the way that leads the spiritual practitioner to Nibbāna.

Let it be clear that the Visuddhimagga draws only one map of the spiritual journey to awakening. And that other schools and lineages follow different paths. But the path that Buddhaghosa portrays is based on the pattern the Buddha mapped out in the Rathavinita  Sutta.  

But even though interpretations are possible concerning the correct direction of the path to follow, it is clear that there are a number of crucial intersections that must be taken if the practitioner is to achieve the goal.

One of those unavoidable intersections is the junction of arising and decay. The reason for this is that at the stage of arising and decay, the practitioner’s mind has become so clear and concentrated, and his mindfulness so strong, that he effortlessly experiences the extremely rapidly changing nature of phenomena. He experiences transience (anicca) in its deepest essence.

Udayabbayānupassanā-ñāṇa is the 4th stage of understanding. It is the ‘purification through knowledge and understanding of what is the path and what is not’ (magga-magga-ñāṇadassana-visuddhi). Udayabbaya is the insight into the arising and decay of phenomena because the practitioner draws his constant, intensive attention to them.

The practitioner ‘sees’ (= insight) the phenomena as they really are, completely stripped of the stories and dramas that the habitual patterns of the sensory, relative, subjective world normally knit to them. He sees the phenomena in their absolute, ultimate,  ‘pure’  nakedness (paramattha dhamma), fulfilled as they are by the characteristics of anicca, dukkha and anattā (the tilakkhaṇa). He ‘sees’ the arising and decay of all phenomena. So he sees the nature of phenomena as they really are (yathā bhūta) at every moment of his practice.

Where the practitioner’s insight into the arising and decay of phenomena is initially still very fragile, his insight grows automatically and this becomes more pervasive and all-encompassing because the yogi draws his constant, intensive attention to it (udayabbayānupassanā-ñāṇa).

Udayabbayānupassanā-ñāṇa starts there where the initial phase ends, the practitioner experiences the arising and decay in his mature phase. In the mature phase of  udayabbayānupassanā-ñāṇa, it is as if his mindfulness is faster than the experiences he wants to contemplate: for as soon as he wants to draw his attention to any aspect of his experience (when he wants to ‘name’ them…) it disappears.

First of all, the meditator acquires the insight of the permanent arising and decay of the  components (khandhas) of which man is  composed. He objectively observes the   ‘disintegration’ of all the experiences of the so-called ‘solid’ body phenomenon (the ‘I’; the ego) in rapid energetic vibrations; he observes this continuous process of arising and decay. The dhammanuvatti feels himself ‘dissolving’.

This reinforces the practitioner’s earlier understanding that nāma-rūpa is not a stable entity. That his body is’only’ a continuous process – an aggregate of matter (rūpa) with a coexistence of consciousness (nāma). This ongoing process feels like an energy flow. An experienced practitioner, who practices samatha or vipassanā, feels this flow of energy very clearly.

These experiences provide the practitioner with a clear understanding of the ongoing state of change of his body/mind complex. As a result, he realizes anicca in himself.

After that, the practitioner focuses his mindfulness on all the experiences that present themselves to him. His attention is unlimited: from now on he observes attentively and  choiceless everything that occurs in his mind at every moment. And this from moment-to-moment. He experiences how all objects, on which he lets his attention fall, arise and decay. In this way, the practitioner gains the insight that this permanent arising and decay is an essential characteristic of all phenomena. The experience of arising and decay is a fantastic experience for the practitioner because he is perfectly equanimously present in the ‘purity’ (‘looking’ as looking; ‘hearing’ as hearing…) of the moment.

This is the 2nd vipassanā jhāna.

Specifically, as far as the practice is concerned, this 2nd vipassanā jhāna is thus characterized by the weakening of the conceptual mind (the duality between ‘pleasant’, ‘unpleasant’ and ‘neutral’ falls away) and the emergence of experiences of delight.

The practitioner who experiences this level of meditation for the first time experiences a deep joy. In the Visuddhimagga[5], these experiences are described as follows: bright  light, a reference to the nimitta(obhāsa); consciousness/insight (ñāṇa);ecstatic joy (piti);  calmness (passaddhi); bliss (sukha); faith (adhimokkha); energy (paggaha); understanding (upaṭṭhāna); equanimity (upekkhā) and longing for this experience (nikanti/taṇhā). 

But these ‘pleasant’ states of mind are not without danger: after all, they remain sensory experiences, so the urge to ‘desire’ these ecstatic states of mind can be great. There is even the danger that the practitioner will consider this condition as the ultimate goal. Which is wrong and corrupts his insight.

There is only one thing for the practitioner to do, namely, to stay on the path. I.e. ‘see what is the path and what is not the path’. He can do this in two ways: on the one hand by ‘noting’ that these experiences are ‘pleasant’ (and therefore impermanent); on the other hand, by taking the radical way back by returning to his ‘base-camp’ (the breath as his first meditation object) in order to build up his insight of transience from there.

The insight of udayabbaya lies in the fact that the practitioner sees and knows – experiences – that all physical and mental phenomena are subject to change, instability and decay. The yogi clearly oversees the whole process: the origin; the cause of the origin; the perishing and the cause of the perishing. From this realization of anicca progressively also follows the realization of dukkha and anattā.


[1] udayabbaya udaya+bbaya: udaya = the arising, the appearance; bbaya = the decay, the disappearance; udayabbayam = the arising and decay of things; its appearance and disappearance.

[2] Rathavinita Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 24

[3] Visuddhimagga visuddhi+magga: visuddhi = purification; magga = the path, the road. Visuddhimagga = The Path of Purification.

[4] For the extensive analysis of the seven purifications and sixteen insights I refer to my book ‘Satta-Visuddhi. De Zeven Zuiveringen’. You can download this book for free on the Ehipassiko website: https://tilorien.org/sattavisuddhi.pdf

[5] Visuddhimagga (XX, 105-125)


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About Guy E. Dubois

Guy E. Dubois (1947) has translated various parts of the early Buddhist texts into Dutch, provided them with commentary and makes them available for free on  SuttaCentral. He is also the author of several works on the teachings of the Buddha. These can be read online, for those who prefer to hold a real book in their hands, they can be ordered at bol.com.

The author himself wants to remain true to his initial objective: he does not wish to earn anything from Dhamma. Guy: "Whenever any 'profit' is generated it will go to dana." As a yogi, he is completely unbound with respect to any Buddhist tradition. Thus, he interprets the Dhamma in a free-spirited manner. As such, he is - in the literal sense of the word - a "homeless person," a bhikkhu, a mendicant, who gives his dhutanga (practice) substance in a very personal way. In his books he combines a virulently liberal attitude to life with a great affection for the deep insights of the Buddha.

You yourselves must strive, the Buddhas only point the way

Buddha, Dhp 276

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