Selected Suttas for Mind Cultivation

Selected Suttas for Mind Cultivation

Mind cultivation is the core of the Buddha’s teachings.

Mind cultivation, according to the Noble Eightfold Path, begins with proper conduct (sila). Proper conduct is required for peace of mind, which is conducive for the development of concentration (samadhi). Without proper conduct, the mind is often restless or remorseful. Such a state of mind has difficulty settling down and getting concentrated. On the other hand, with a mind that is at peace with itself, the mind can settle down easily, can be easily concentrated and therefore build up enough concentration to overcome the five mental hindrances (sensual desires, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worries, and skeptical doubt about the dhamma).


What is considered proper conduct? For lay Buddhists, this includes the five precepts of abstinence from killing, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, lying and taking intoxicating drinks. Right speech, apart from avoiding lying, also includes avoiding slanders, harsh speech and idle gossips. Proper conduct also includes right livelihood. The five areas of livelihood to avoid are those involving the trading of humans, weapons, poisons, intoxicants and meat. In addition, we should also include moderation in eating and the guarding of the sense doors.

Guarding of the sense doors can be considered as part of mental cultivation. It can be incorporated into our daily practice, from moment-to-moment, whenever we are mindful. How do we guard our sense doors? When we see an object, we remind ourselves that the object is impermanent. What is impermanent is suffering (dukkha). What is impermanent, suffering and subject to change is not fit to be considered thus – “This is mine. This I am. This is myself.” In this way, we can gradually lessen the delusional grip of self identity. Another way to guard the sense doors is to note the arising of attachment or aversion whenever we see an object. It is not the object or the eye organ that leads to sufferings. Rather, it is the arising of craving that leads to sufferings. Thus, it is the cessation of craving that leads to the end of sufferings. The same is true with the other sense doors.

Proper conduct alone is inadequate cultivation. We should, therefore, not stop at just cultivating proper conduct. We need to go further and cultivate our mind through meditation to achieve deep concentration (samadhi). It is the achievement of the jhanas that uproots the five hindrances. It is also the jhanas that lead to the clarity and one-pointedness of mind that is necessary for the acquiring of knowledge and vision (wisdom).


Meditation involves the seclusion of both body and mind. Seclusion of body is easily achieved simply by removing ourselves from people and distractions, such as a retreat or a quiet room. It is the seclusion of the mind that is challenging. For this, the practice of breathing meditation is proper and the most common. Focusing on a single object, which is the breath, we bring our attention inward until the five physical sense doors are subdued. With directed thought and continuous attention on the object of meditation, we gradually concentrated the mind.

With thought directed (vitaka) and sustained (vicara), we can attain the first jhana, which includes rapture (piti) and bliss (sukha). With the falling away of directed thought and sustained thought, we move into the second jhana, which has rapture, bliss and one-pointedness of mind (ekagatta). With the falling away of rapture, there is the remaining two factors of the third jhana. Finally, with the falling away of even bliss, only one-pointedness remains.


Some people believe that the jhanas are not necessary for the attainment of wisdom. However, the suttas tend to suggest that one needs the fourth jhana to have the clarity and sharpness of mind to see things as they really are – a requirement necessary for seeing and fully understanding impermanence (anicca), sufferings (dukkha) and non-self view (anatta) in the 5 aggregates (khandhas). It is also needed for the understanding of dependent origination, and of cause and effect (kamma). So, the jhanas are necessary seeing things as they really are, for disenchantment of life, for the development of dispassion and for the attainment of full knowledge and vision (wisdom).

Selected Suttas

Here is a list of suttas from the Sutta-pitaka that I have selected for my own mind cultivation. I do hope you will find them useful for your own cultivation.

  1. The 4 Noble Truths
  2. Noble Eightfold Path
  3. The 3 Characteristics of Life
  4. The 5 Aggregates
  5. Dependent Origination
  6. Kamma


Listed here are important suttas pertaining to meditation:

  1. Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118) – Discourse on Breathing In and Out meditation. The Buddha described the practice of breathing meditation and explained how the practice of breathing meditation can lead to the culmination of the Four Foundation of Mindfulness, which leads to the culmination of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, which leads to Knowledge and Vision, and final liberation.
  2. Kayagatasati Sutta (MN 119) – Discourse on Mindfulness Immersed in the Body. The Buddha described the practice of mindfulness of the body and its culmination through the four jhanas and the six higher knowledges ending with liberation. He ends with a list of ten benefits of this practice.

For a list of Dhamma Talks, click here.