Introduction to Buddhist Meditation
by Ajahn Buddhadasa
Mindfulness, Mental Training and Development
Why should we train our mind? Because we want to free it from
all kinds of mental distortions such as greed, hatred, anger,
stresses, strains, and despair. When our mind is free from all kinds
of these mental distortions we can live blissfully and peacefully.
That's why we have to train our mind, by means of Insight, by the
Nature Method, and Vipassana (insight (or mindfulness) meditation.
Shortly, we shall see how concentration may come about naturally on the one hand, and as a result of organized practice on the other. The end result is identical in the two cases: the mind is concentrated and fit to be used for carrying out close introspection. One thing must be noticed, however: the intensity of concentration that comes about naturally is usually sufficient and appropriate for introspection and insight, whereas the concentration resulting from organized training is usually excessive, more than can be made use of. Furthermore, misguided satisfaction with that highly developed concentration may result. While the mind is fully concentrated, it is likely to be experiencing such a satisfying kind of bliss and well- being that the meditator may become attached to it, or imagine it to be the Fruit of the Path. Naturally occurring concentration, which is sufficient and suitable for use in introspection, is harmless, having none of the disadvantages inherent in concentration developed by means of intensive training.
In the Tipitaka, there are numerous references to people attaining naturally all states of Path and Fruit. This generally came about in the presence of the Buddha himself but also happened later with other teachers. These people did not go into the forest and sit, assiduously practicing concentration on certain objects in the way described in later manuals.
Clearly no organized effort was involved when arahantship was attained by the first five disciples of the Buddha on hearing the Discourse on Non - selfhood, or by the one thousand hermits on hearing the Fire Sermon. In these cases, keen, penetrating insight came about quite naturally. These examples clearly show that natural concentration is liable to develop of its own accord while one is attempting to understand clearly some question, and that the resulting insight, as long as it is firmly established must be quite intense and stable. It happens naturally, automatically in just the same way as the mind becomes concentrated the moment we set about doing arithmetic. Likewise in firing a gun, when we take aim, the mind automatically becomes concentrated and steady. This is how naturally occurring concentration comes about. We normally overlook it completely because it does not appear the least bit magical, miraculous, or awe inspiring. But through the power of just this naturally occurring concentration, most of us could actually attain liberation. We could attain the Fruit of the Path, Nirvana, arahantship, just by means of natural concentration.
So don't overlook this naturally occurring concentration. It is something most of us either already have, or can readily develop. We have to do everything we can to cultivate and develop it, to make it function perfectly and yield the appropriate results, just as did most of the people who succeeded in becoming arahants, none of whom knew anything of modern concentration techniques.
Now let us have a look at the nature of the states of inner awareness leading up to full insight into "the world," that is, into the five aggregates. The first stage is joy (piti), mental happiness or spiritual well being. Doing good in some way, even giving alms, considered the most basic form of merit-making, can be a source of joy. Higher up, at the level of morality, completely blameless conduct by way of word and action brings an increase in joy. Then in the case of concentration, we discover that there is a definite kind of delight associated with the lower stages of concentration.
This rapture has in itself the power to induce tranquillity. Normally the mind is quite unrestrained, continually falling slave to all sorts of thoughts and feelings associated with enticing things outside. It is normally restless, not calm. But as spiritual joy becomes established, calm and steadiness are bound to increase in proportion. When steadiness has been perfected, the result is full concentration. The mind becomes tranquil, steady, flexible, manageable, light and at ease, ready to be used for any desired purpose, in particular for the elimination of the defilements.
It is not a case of the mind's being rendered silent, hard and rocklike. Nothing like that happens at all. The body feels normal, but the mind is especially calm and suitable for use in thinking and introspection. It is perfectly clear, perfectly cool, perfectly still and restrained. In other words, it is fit for work, ready to know. This is the degree of concentration to be aimed for, not the very deep concentration where one sits rigidly like a stone image, quite devoid of awareness. Sitting in deep concentration like that, one is in no position to investigate anything. A deeply concentrated mind cannot practice introspection at all. It is in a state of unawareness and is of no use for insight. DEEP CONCENTRATION IS A MAJOR OBSTACLE TO INSIGHT PRACTICE. To practice introspection one must first return to the shallower levels of concentration; then one can make use of the power the mind has acquired. Highly developed concentration is just a tool. In this developing of insight by the nature method, we don't have to attain deep concentration and sit with the body rigid. Rather, we aim at a calm, steady mind, one so fit for work that when it is applied to insight practice, it gains right understanding with regard to the entire world. Insight so developed is natural insight, the same sort as was gained by some individuals while sitting listening to the Buddha expounding Dhamma. It is conducive to thought and introspection of the right kind, the kind that brings understanding. And it involves neither ceremonial procedures nor miracles.
This doesn't mean, however, that insight will arise instantaneously. One can't be an arahant straight off. The first step in knowledge may come about at any time, depending once again on the intensity of the concentration. It may happen that what arises is not true insight, because one has been practicing wrongly or has been surrounded by too many false views. But however it turns out, the insight that does arise is bound to be something quite special, for instance extraordinarily clear and profound. If the knowledge gained is right knowledge, corresponding with reality, corresponding with Dhamma, then it will progress, developing ultimately into right and true knowledge of all phenomena. If insight develops in only small measure, it may convert a person into an Aryian at the lowest stage; or if it is not sufficient to do that, it will just make him a high- minded individual, an ordinary person of good qualities. If the environment is suitable and good qualities have been properly and adequately established, it is possible to become an arahant. It all depends on the circumstances. But however far things go, as long as the mind has natural concentration, this factor called insight is bound to arise and to correspond more or less closely with reality. Because we, being Buddhists, have heard about, thought about and studied the world, the five aggregates and phenomena, in the hope of coming to under stand their true nature, it follows that the knowledge we acquire while in a calm and concentrated state will not be in any way misleading. It is bound to be always beneficial.
The expression "insight into the true nature of things" refers to seeing transience, unsatisfactoriness and non-selfhood, seeing that nothing is worth getting, nothing is worth being, seeing that no object whatsoever should be grasped at and clung to as being a self or as belonging to a self, as being good or bad, attractive or repulsive. Liking or disliking anything, even if it is only an idea or a memory, is clinging. To say that nothing is worth getting or being is the same as to say that nothing is worth clinging to. "Getting" refers to setting one's heart on property, position, wealth, or any pleasing object. "Being" refers to the awareness of one's status as husband, wife, rich man, poor man, winner, loser, or human being, or even the awareness of being oneself. If we really look deeply at it, even being oneself is no fun, is wearisome, because it is a source of suffering. If one can completely give up clinging to the idea of being oneself, then being oneself will no longer be suffering. This is what it is to see the worthlessness of being anything, and is the gist of the statement that being anything, no matter what, is bound to be suffering in a way appropriate to that particular state of being.
Any state of being, if it is to continue as such, has to be made to last, to endure. At the very least, it must endure in one's mind in the form of a belief in that particular state of being. When there exists "oneself," there are bound to exist things which are other than that self and belong to it. Thus one has one's children, one's wife, one's this, that and the other. Then one has one's duty as husband or wife, master or servant, and so on. All this points to the truth of the statement that there is no state of being such that to maintain it will not involve struggle. The trouble and struggle necessary to maintain one's state of being are simply the result of blind infatuation with things, of clinging to things. If we were to give up trying to get or to be anything, how could we continue to exist? This is bound to be a major source of skepticism for anyone who has not given much thought to the matter. The words "getting" and "being" as used here refer to getting and being based on mental defilements, on craving, on the idea of "worth getting, worth being," so that the mind does get and be in real earnest. This is bound to lead to depression, anxiety, distress and upset, or at least a heavy burden on the mind, right from beginning to end. Knowing this truth, we shall be constantly on the alert, keeping watch over the mind to see that it doesn't fall slave to getting and being through the influence of grasping and clinging. Aware that in reality things are just not worth getting or being, we shall be smart enough to stay aloof from them.
If, however, we are not yet in a position to withdraw completely from having and being, we must be mindful and wide awake, so that when we do get or become something, we do so without emotional upset. We must not be like those people who, turning a blind eye and a deaf ear, go ahead brainlessly and inexpertly getting or becoming, with the result that they fall right into the pit of their own stupidity and attachment, and end up having to commit suicide.
The world and all things have the property of impermanence, of worthlessness and of not belonging to anyone. Any individual who grasps at and clings to anything will be hurt by it, in the very beginning when he first desires to get it or to be it, later while he is in the process of getting it and being it, and then again after he has got it or been it. All the time, before, during and after, when anyone grasps and clings with deaf ear and blind eye, he will receive his full measure of suffering, just as can be seen happening to all deluded worldlings. It is the same even with goodness, which everyone values highly. If anyone becomes involved with goodness in the wrong way and clings to it too much, he will derive just as much suffering from goodness as he would from evil. In becoming involved with goodness, we have to bear in mind that it possesses this property.
A skeptic may ask: "If nothing at all is worth getting or being, does it follow that nobody ought to do any work or build up wealth, position and property?" Anyone who comprehends this subject can see that a person equipped with right knowledge and understanding is actually in a far better position to carry out any task than one who is subject to strong desires, foolish, and lacking in understanding. Very briefly, in becoming involved in things, we must do so mindfully; our actions must not be motivated by craving. The result will follow accordingly.
The Buddha and all the other arahants were completely free of desire, yet succeeded in doing many things far more useful than what any of us are capable of. If we look at accounts of how the Buddha spent his day, we find that he slept for only four hours and spent all the rest of the time working. We spend more than four hours a day just amusing ourselves. If the defilements responsible for the desire to be and get things had been completely eliminated, what was the force that motivated the Buddha and all Arahants to do all this? They were motivated by discrimination coupled with goodwill (metta). Even actions based on natural bodily wants such as receiving and eating alms food were motivated by discrimination They were free of defilements, free of all desire to keep on living in order to be this or to get that, but they did have the ability to discriminate between what was worthwhile and what was not as the motivating force that sent their bodies out to find food. If they found food, well and good; if not, never mind. When they were suffering with fever, they knew how to treat it and did so as well as possible on the basis of this knowledge. If the fever was quite overpowering and they were not strong, they recalled that to die is natural. Whether they lived or died was of no significance to them; they were of equal value in their eyes
If one is to be completely free of suffering, this is the very best attitude to have. There need not be any self as master of the body. Discrimination alone enables the body to carry on by its natural power. The example of the Buddha shows that the power of pure discrimination and pure goodwill alone is sufficient to keep an arahant living in the world, and, what is more, doing far more good for others than people still subject to craving. Defiled people are likely to do only what benefits themselves since they act out of selfishness. By contrast, the deeds of arahants are entirely selfless and so are perfectly pure. In desiring to get and be, one is acting quite inappropriately, one is mistaking evil for good, not knowing what is what. Let us all, then, go about things intelligently, always bearing in mind that, in reality, nothing is worth getting or being, nothing is worth becoming infatuated with, nothing is worth clinging to. Let us act in a manner in keeping with the knowledge that things are by their very nature not worth getting or being. If we do have to become involved in things, then let us go about it the right way, acting appropriately. This is the way to keep the mind always pure, unobscured, tranquil and cool. It allows us to become involved in the world, in things, without doing ourselves any harm in the process.
When the ordinary worldly man hears that nothing is worth getting or being, he is not convinced, he doesn't believe it. But anyone who understands the real meaning of this statement becomes emboldened and cheered by it. His mind becomes master of things and independent of them. He becomes capable of going after things sure in the knowledge that he will not become enslaved by them. His actions are not motivated by desire and he is not so blind with passion that he comes to be a slave to things. In getting anything or being anything, let us always be aware that we are getting or being something which, in terms of absolute truth, we cannot get or be at all, because there is nothing that we can really get or be as we might wish. All things are transient and unsatisfactory and can never belong to us; and yet we go foolishly ahead, grasping at them and craving for them. In other words, we act inappropriately, or in a way which does not accord with the true nature of things, simply because we become involved in them while ignorant of their true nature. The result is bound to be all manner of suffering and trouble. The reason a person is incapable of doing his job perfectly, faultlessly, is that he is always far too concerned with getting something and being something, always motivated entirely by his own desires. As a result, he is not master of himself and cannot be consistently good, honest and fair. In every case of failure and ruin, the root cause is slavery to desire. To come to know the true nature of things is the true objective of every Buddhist. It is the means by which we can liberate ourselves. Regardless of whether we are hoping for worldly benefits, such as wealth, position and fame; or for benefits in the next world, such as heaven; or for the supra-mundane benefit, the Fruit of the Path, Nirvana--whatever we are hoping for, the only way to achieve it is by means of this right knowledge and insight. We thrive on insight. In the Texts it is said that we may become purified through insight and not by any other means. Our path to freedom lies in having the insight, the clear vision, that in all things there neither is nor has ever been anything at all that is worth grasping at or clinging to, worth getting or being, worth risking life and limb for. We have things and are things only in terms of worldly, relative truth. In worldly language, we say we are this or that, just because in any society it is expedient to recognize by names and occupations. But we mustn't go believing that we really are this or that, as is assumed at the level of relative truth. To do so is to behave like the crickets, which, when their faces become covered with dirt, become disoriented and muddled, and proceed to bite each other until they die. We humans, when our faces become covered in dirt, when we are subject to all sorts of delusions, become so bewildered and disoriented that we do things no human being could ever do under ordinary circumstances--killing for instance. So let us not go blindly clinging to relative truths; rather let us be aware that they are just relative truths, essential in a society but nothing more. We have to be aware of what this body and mind really is, what its true nature is. In particular, we have to be aware of its impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and non-selfhood, and make sure we always remain independent of it.
As for the wealth, position and so on, which we can't do without, let us regard these too as relative truths so that we can break free from the existing custom of saying, for instance: "This belongs to So - and - so. That belongs to Such and - such." The law watches over ownership rights for us; there is no need for us to cling to the idea of "mine." We ought to possess things purely and simply for the sake of convenience and ease, and not so that they can be master over our minds. When we have this clear knowledge, things will become our servants and slaves and we shall remain on top of them. If our thoughts go the way of craving and attachment, so that we become conscious of having such - and - such and being so - and - so, clinging firmly to these ideas, things will get on top of us, and we shall be the servants and slaves, under their control instead. The tables can quite easily be turned in this way, so we have to be careful. We have to arrange things in such a way that we are sure of staying independent and on top of things. If we don't, we may find ourselves in a most pitiable position and feel very sorry for ourselves indeed. When we have really come to perceive clearly that nothing is worth getting or being, disenchantment (nibbida) develops in proportion to the intensity of the insight. It is a sign that the clinging has become less firm and is starting to give way. It is a sign that we have been slaves for so long that the idea of trying to escape has at last occurred to us. This is the onset of disenchantment and disillusionment, when one becomes fed up with one's own stupidity in grasping at and clinging to things, believing things to be worth having and being. As soon as disenchantment has set in, there is bound to come about a natural, automatic process of disentanglement (vimutti), as if a rope with which one had been tightly bound were being untied; or a rinsing out, as when the dye that had been firmly fixed in a piece of cloth is washed out by soaking it in the appropriate substances. This process whereby clinging gives way to a breaking free from, or a dissolving out from the world, or from the objects of that clinging, was called by the Buddha, emancipation (vimutti). This state is most important. Though not the final stage, it is a most important step towards complete liberation. When one has broken free to this extent, complete liberation from suffering is assured.
Once broken free from slavery, one need never again be a slave to the world. One becomes pure and uncontaminated whereas previously one was defiled in every way. To be enslaved to things is to be defiled in body, speech and thought. To break free from slavery to the delightful tastes of the world is to achieve the pure condition and never be defiled again. This real purity (Visuddhi), once it has been attained, will give rise to a genuine calm and coolness free from all turbulence, strife and torment. This state of freedom from oppression and turbulence was called by the Buddha simply peace (Santi), that is, stillness, coolness in all situations, which is virtually the same thing as Nirvana.
"Nirvana" has been translated as "absence of any instrument of torture." Taken another way, it means "extinction without remainder." So the word "Nirvana" has two very important meanings; firstly, absence of any source of torment and burning, freedom from all forms of bondage and constraint and secondly, extinction, with no fuel for the further arising of suffering. The combination of these meanings indicates a condition of complete freedom from suffering. There are several other useful meanings for the word "Nirvana." It can be taken to mean the extinction of suffering, or the complete elimination of defilements, or the state, realm, or condition that is the cessation of all suffering, all defilements and all karmic activity. Though the word "Nirvana" is used by numerous different sects, the sense in which they use it is often not the same at all. For instance, one group takes it to mean simply calm and coolness, because they identify Nirvana with deep concentration. Other groups even consider total absorption in sensuality as Nirvana.
The Buddha defined Nirvana as simply that condition of freedom from bondage, torment and suffering which results from seeing the true nature of the worldly condition and all things, and so being able to give up all clinging to them. It is essential, then, that we recognize the very great value of insight into the true nature of things and endeavor to cultivate this insight by one means or another. Using one method, we simply encourage it to come about of its own accord, naturally, by developing, day and night, the joy that results from mental purity, until the qualities we have described gradually come about. The other method consists in developing mental power by following an organized system of concentration and insight practice. This latter technique is appropriate for people with a certain kind of disposition, who may make rapid progress with it if conditions are right. But we can practice the development of insight by the nature method in all circumstances and at all times just by making our own way of daily living so pure and honest that there arise in succession spiritual joy (piti and pamoda), calm (passaddhi), insight into the true nature of things (yathabhutananadassana), disenchantment (nibbida), withdrawal (viraga), escape (vimutti), purification from defilements (visuddhi), and coolness (santi), so that we come to get a taste of freedom from suffering (nibbana)- steadily, naturally, day by day, month by month, year by year, gradually approaching closer and closer to Nirvana.
Summing up, natural concentration and insight, which enable a
person to attain the Path and the Fruit, consist in verifying all day
and every day the truth of the statement that nothing is worth getting
or being. Anyone who wishes to get this result must strive to purify
himself and to develop exemplary personal qualities, so that he can
find perpetual spiritual joy in work and leisure. That very joy
induces clarity and freshness, mental calm and stillness, and serves,
naturally and automatically, to give the mind ability to think and
introspect. With the insight that nothing is worth getting or being
constantly present, the mind loses all desire for the things it once
used to grasp at and cling to. It is able to break free from the
things it used to regard as "me and mine," and all blind craving for
things ceases. Suffering, which no longer has anywhere to lodge,
dwindles right away, and the job of eliminating suffering is done.
This is the reward, and it can be gained by anyone of us.
Samatha and Vipassana Meditation
There are two types of meditation in Buddhism. One is Samatha meditation (mindfulness of breathing); the other is Vipassana meditation. Samatha here means concentration. Vipassana here means insight or experiential knowledge of bodily and mental phenomena. Of these two types of mental training Samatha meditation is practised to attain higher concentration of the mind, peaceful and blissful living and the cessation of suffering. Vipassana meditation is practised to attain not only deep concentration of the mind but also liberation from all kinds of mental and physical dukkha or suffering, through realisation of our body-mind processes and their true nature. Samatha meditation is practised to attain higher concentration of the mind. So when you practise Samatha meditation, the first type of mental training or mental culture, you have to concentrate your mind on a single object of meditation. You want to concentrate your mind on a single object very deeply. That object may be a concept or observed reality, but most Samatha meditative objects are concepts. There are also a few objects which are observed reality as the object of meditation in the first type of training and Samatha meditation. But whatever the object may be the aim of Samatha meditation is to obtain deep concentration of the mind, or the higher concentration of the mind. So you have to take a single object and focus your mind on it. When you focus your mind on this object gradually the mind will be concentrated on it very deeply. But in the beginning of the practise your mind may go out or wander. Your mind doesn't stay with the object always. Sometimes it just goes out and thinks about something else. It wanders and goes astray. Then you have to bring the mind to the object and focus it on that object again and again. Whenever the mind goes out you bring it back and focus it on the object of meditation. In this way your mind gradually becomes concentrated well on the object of meditation. After you have practised it for some days or months the concentration becomes better and better, deeper and deeper. Finally the mind is absolutely concentrated on the object of meditation as its absorbed into the object of meditation. Such a state of mind which is absorbed into the object of meditation is called jhana, or apana in Pali. Jhana means 'fixed as', or absorption. When the mind is totally fixed to the object of meditation it's called jhana, fixed mind. And also it is called absorption, apana.
Jhana has five stages, in accordance with the teaching of the Buddha. So, the second stage of jhana concentration becomes better than the first. Then the third stage, the concentration better than the second. So with the fourth. As long as the mind is deeply concentrated on the object of meditation its free from all mental impurities such as desire, greed, lust, hatred, anger, ignorance, and jealousy. Because there are no impurities in the mind which is absorbed into the object of meditation you feel happy and peaceful, and calm and tranquil. Tranquillity, serenity and calmness is the result of Samatha meditation. But in ancient times there were some devotees who practised Samatha meditation with a view to obtaining supernormal powers such as clairvoyance and clairaudience. These supernormal powers can be attained based on all the four jhanas, of the four stages. When a meditator is skilled in entering any stage of jhana he can then proceed with his meditation in order to attain psychical or supernormal powers. But though he may be able to attain them through the four stages of jhana, concentration, he is not able to rightly understand the intrinsic nature of mental and physical phenomena. He is not able to destroy any mental defilement because the purpose of Samatha meditation is to obtain deep higher concentration of the mind and psychical or supernormal powers. Because he is not able to uproot any of the mental defilements such as anger, hatred, desire, and craving, he cannot get free from all kinds of suffering, mental or physical, because these mental defilements are the causes of the suffering, dukkha. As long as one can uproot or exterminate these mental defilements, mental impurities, he is subject to suffering, dukkha. The aim of Vipassana meditation is to free oneself from all kinds of dukkha, mental suffering and physical suffering, through realisation of the body-mind processes and their true nature. So if you are able to realise mental and physical phenomena as they really are you can do away with all kinds of mental impurities or mental defilements which arise dependent on misunderstanding or ignorance of mental and physical phenomena and their true nature. That's why we have to practise Satipatthana Vipassana meditation, insight meditation. But you may practise Samatha meditation with a view to gaining some deep concentration on which your insight knowledge is built. Such a kind of Samatha meditation is more beneficial than that which I explained to you for the purpose of higher concentration and supernormal powers. So in ancient times, in the time of the Buddha some meditators developed Samatha meditation further, first of all so they could gain some degree of concentration such as access concentration, and if was possible jhana concentration or absorption concentration. When they had attained absorption concentration or jhana concentration they made this the basis for Vipassana meditation or Insight Meditation. Here access concentration means that neighbouring concentration to jhana concentration. When you have attained access or neighbouring concentration you are sure to attain jhana concentration, absorption concentration, in a short time. If the purpose of a meditator is to practise Vipassana meditation based on excessive concentration he or she can attain this by means of Samatha meditation. Such kind of Vipassana meditation is known as Vipassana meditation or insight meditation preceded by Samatha meditation.
So Vipassana meditation is of two types. The first, Vipassana
meditation, insight meditation is preceded by Samatha meditation. The
second is the pure Vipassana meditation or insight meditation not
preceded by Samatha meditation. The first type of Vipassana meditation
or Insight Meditation is practised by those who have ample time to
devote to their meditation. They have to spend maybe three or four
months on Samatha meditation. And when they are satisfied with their
attainment of jhana concentration they proceed with Vipassana
meditation. Pure Vipassana meditation is practised by those who
haven't enough time to devote to their meditation like yourselves,
because you do not have three or four months or six months or a year
for your meditation. So you can spend about ten days on your
meditation. For such meditators pure Vipassana meditation is suitable.
That's why we have to conduct a ten days Vipassana meditation retreat.
Actually ten days meditation is not enough. The period is too short a
time for a meditator to succeed in any noticeable experience in his
meditation. But there are some who have some experience in Vipassana
meditation who when their meditation experience becomes major can
attain the higher stages of insight knowledge of the body-mind
processes of their true nature. Although you can spend just ten days
on your meditation, if you strive to attain the deep concentration
with a strenuous effort without much interval or break in the course
of your meditation for the whole day, then you are able to have some
new experience of meditation. So the point is to practise intensively
and strenuously as much as you can.
Before you practise insight meditation there are some preparatory
stages you should go through. The first the Pali scriptures mention is
when one has spoken contemptuously or in jest or malice to or about a
noble one - a puggala in Pali - who has attained some state of
sanctity or enlightenment in accordance with the teaching of the
Buddha. Then he should apologise to the Buddha. He should apologise
that noble one, a puggala. If he is not available here, if he is
deceased, he should make apology through his meditation teacher. I
think you need not do this because you may not have spoken ill of any
noble one, a puggala, because you may not met such a person in
Australia. The second stage is that you should entrust yourself to the
Lord Buddha who teaches the technique of Vipassana meditation, by
interesting yourself in the Buddha you can go through your course
happily and peacefully. Though you may have unwholesome or dreadful
visions in your meditation you won't fear them because you have
entrusted yourself to the Buddha. Also you have to place yourself
under the guidance of your meditation teacher so he can frankly
instruct you without any hesitancy. If you do not place yourself under
the guidance of your teacher he may not be reluctant to instruct you
even though you have some defects in your practise.
Four Protective Meditations
When you have done this you should develop the four protective
meditations for some minutes. These four are (1) recollection of the
Buddha's attributes; (2) development of love and kindness or metta
towards all living beings; (3) reflection upon the loathsome nature of
our body; (4) reflection on the nature of death. When you recollect
the attributes of the Buddha you can select one of nine attributes.
Out of these nine attributes of the Buddha you can choose the first or
the second or any of the nine as the object of your meditation and
reflect on it. Here Arahat is the first attribute. Arahat means the
Buddha who is worthy of honour because he has completely destroyed all
mental activities and attained to the cessation of all kinds of
dukkha. You have to recollect this achievement of the Buddha, thinking
about its meaning. That's the worthiness of honour through his
attainment of the cessation of all kinds of suffering by destroying
all mental defilements so he lived in peace and bliss and happiness.
When you recollect these attributes you feel happy and brave to face
any kind of dukkha or suffering in the course of your meditation as
well as in your daily life. This must be done about two minutes. Then
you have to develop your metta, loving-kindness, the feeling of
loving-kindness towards all living beings, wishing all living beings
peace and happiness, and free from all kinds of mental and physical
suffering, dukkha. This feeling of detached love is developed in
yourself. Then you feel happy and tranquil, your mind easily
concentrated on any object of meditation. This must be done about five
minutes. After that you have to reflect upon the loathsome nature of
the body, thinking about its repulsiveness such as blood, pus, phlegm,
intestines, and so on. This body is full of these impurities and
repulsiveness. The result is you are detached from this body to a
certain extent because you find it loathsome or repulsive. This also
must be done about two minutes. Then after that you should reflect
upon the nature of death. Life is uncertain, death is certain. Life is
precarious and death is sure. Everyone who is born is subject to
death. So all men are mortal. In this way you have to think about the
surety of death for every living being. You can arouse strenuous
effort in your practise by thinking, 'I'll have to practise this
meditation strenuously before I die, or before I am dead. This is what
the Buddhist meditational texts mention as a preliminary stage for
both the Samatha meditator and Vipassana meditator. They are not
compulsory, not indispensable. But the texts mention they should be
done. These four protective meditations, recollection of the Buddha's
attributes and development of loving-kindness, metta, towards all
living beings is the most important thing for a meditator to pacify
his distracted mind and also to practise meditation happily and
peacefully. So you should do that.
Beginning Vipassana Meditation
When you have done these preliminary stages then you have to focus
your mind on your bodily and mental processes, be aware of any mental
and physical processes as they really are. That is the beginning of
Vipassana meditation. The principle of Vipassana meditation is to be
aware of whatever arises in your body and mind as it really occurs. In
other words, any activity of the body and mind must be very
attentively observed as it really is. This is the principle of
Vipassana meditation. So any mental process or physical process is the
object of Vipassana meditation. When you find any mental process or
physical process on any part of your body and mind distinctively
rising, then you must note it, you must observe it, you must be aware
of it as it really is. Any mental or physical phenomenon can be the
object of insight meditation, Vipassana meditation. You have a variety
of meditational objects in Vipassana meditation, not like Samatha
meditation. In Samatha meditation you have to take only a single
object to focus your mind. But in Vipassana meditation there are many
varieties of mental or physical processes as the object of meditation.
The mentality or physicality which is more pronounced than the other
should be observed, you should be mindful of as it is. But the
beginner may get confused what object to observe or to be mindful of.
To avoid this confusion the most Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw taught this
technique of meditation to his disciples in accordance with the four
foundations of mindfulness, instructing them to begin with the
movement of the abdomen. When you focus your mind on the abdomen you
find a rising movement and falling movement. When you breath in the
abdomen rises; when you breathe out the abdomen falls. So rising
movement and falling movement is the primary object of this insight
meditation to begin with. But though the abdomen rises through the
pressure of the air you breathe, this meditation is not a breathing
meditation, not a respiratory meditation. Though the abdomen falls
through the pressure of the breath which is going out, this is not a
breathing meditation because there the Omniscient Buddha classified
the wind or the air in six groups.
The Wind or Air Element
One group of the air or wind is vayo-dhatu. That means the wind
which exists in the abdomen. This also must be focussed, must be
realised by a meditator and not identified with his self, his person
or bis being. The other aspect of wind or air is breathing,
respiration. Though the respiration is connected with the rise and
fall of the abdomen, the rising movement/falling movement is not
breathing, not respiration. It's the wind or the air which expands and
contracts in the abdomen. So contemplation of the abdomen's movement
is not breathing meditation, not respiration meditation. When you
practise respiration meditation your mind has to focus at the nostrils
or the top of the upper lips. You focus the mind there and note it and
breathe in. When you breathe out you focus your mind on the nostrils
or on the top of the upper lips, and note outward breathing and so on.
So, when you focus your mind on the abdominal movement and concentrate
on it then this contemplation is not contemplation breathing
meditation. Then what is it? This is the meditation of elements.
Element here means the physical elements: wind or air. We have to
focus our mind not only on the wind or air elements but also upon the
other mental or physical elements too. Whatever is predominant, mental
phenomena or physical phenomena must be observed as they are. So you
have to focus your mind on the abdominal movement and notice or
observe it: rising-falling, making mental note as rising- falling.
When you sit in the wrong position you can't feel the pressure
of the rising movement or falling movement very well, so you have to
sit comfortably in the right position. You should not sit in the cross
legged position because if you cross one leg against another in a
short time you feel pressure, a painful sensation of aching or
numbness. You need not sit in a cross legged position. Your legs must
be evenly placed side by side, the right leg inside and the left leg
outside. Then you don't feel any pressure because the two legs are
evenly placed side by side. Then your body must be kept in an erect
position. Your body must be straight. The neck and head also must be
in a straight line with the body. But you must not stretch out your
body. You must keep it straight erect, then close your eyes. The right
hand must be put on the left one with the palm upward. But you may put
both hands on both knees with the palms upward. Now relax yourself. Do
not feel tense both physically and mentally. Relieve all your
tensions, mental or physical tensions, and sit as comfortably as you
Then focus the mind on the abdominal movement and observe the
outward movement and inward movement of the body, making a mental
note: rising, falling. When the abdomen rises you note rising; when
the abdomen falls you notice falling. You must not pay any attention
to the form of the abdomen. What you should perceive is the pressure
of the rising movement and the falling movement. Whenever the rising
movement is distinct you should note it rising. When the falling is
pronounced you note it falling. In the beginning of the practise you
need to label such as rising, falling, sitting, touching and so on.
You have to make a mental note. Because for the beginner labelling or
mental note helps him to focus the mind on the object very precisely
and closely. So in the beginning of the practise you need to label or
make a mental note such as rising, falling, rising, falling. During
your contemplation of the rise and fall of the abdomen your mind may
go out. Then when the mind goes out you must now bring it back to the
primary object, that's the rise and fall of the abdomen. As soon as
you are aware that your mind is wandering you follow it and note it.
Observe it as it is. Say, 'wandering, wandering,' or 'thinking,
thinking,' or imagining, imagining,' and so on until that wandering
mind has disappeared. Only after the wandering mind has disappeared do
you return to the primary object, the rise and fall of the abdomen.
Then note as usual rising, falling, rising, falling. In the beginning
of the practise your mind is still with the rise and fall of the
abdomen, the primary object, about say five or ten seconds. And then
it goes out. Whenever you know that the mind is going out you should
be aware of it going out and make a mental note, 'we are going out,'
or 'thinking, thinking,' 'imagining, imagining.' If you see any mental
image then you note, seeing, seeing, seeing until that mental image
has disappeared. Only after it has disappeared do you return to the
primary object and note as usual, rising falling, rising falling. In
the beginning of the practise the rise and fall of the abdomen is not
so pronounced, not so predominant to the beginner's mind. Then the
meditator is not satisfied with the movement of the abdomen so he
makes it vigorous, rapid or quick. You mustn't do that. You mustn't
breathe quickly or vigorously or deeply so that you can feel it very
distinctly. Because if you do that you get fatigued. You feel fatigue
in a short time, then you can't concentrate on it. So breathing must
be normal. When you put some mental effort in your noting of the rise
and fall of the abdomen you can feel it to a certain extent and note
rising falling, rising falling. As you have meditated say about four
or five days then the rise and fall of the abdominal movement will
become clearer and clearer, more and more distinct to your mind. So in
the beginning of this practise, not satisfied with your noting of the
abdominal movement, you must not breathe in deeply or vigorously or
quickly. Breathing must be normal. Note as much as it is distinct to
Distractions During your contemplation of the rising movement and falling movement of the abdomen you may hear any sound, a voice, a noise. And you should observe it, make a mental note, hearing hearing hearing hearing, about four or five times. After that you come to the primary object, the rise and fall of the abdomen, and note as usual. Sometimes you may smell any scent or odour while you are contemplating on the abdominal movement. Then you leave the abdominal movement alone and note: smelling smelling smelling. Only after that you come to return to the primary object and note as usual. Sometimes you may feel hot or cold while you are engaged in the rising and fall of the abdomen. Then you leave the abdomen alone and focus your mind on the feeling of cold or the sensation of the hot, and observe it as it really is. Make a mental note: hot, hot or cold, cold. When the feeling of cold or hot subsides you return to the primary object, the rising and fall of the abdomen and note as usual rising falling, rising, falling. When you have sat say about fifteen or twenty minutes you may feel pain or stiffening or itching on any part of your body. Then you must observe that painful or itching sensation as it really occurs. Make a mental note: pain pain pain pain pain. When you note the pain your noting should be energetic, precise. When the pain is noted superficially and lightly then you can't overcome it. Actually the pain doesn't become severe, but with the power of deep concentration the mind becomes so sensitive to the pain that it perceives it very well, so you think the pain becomes severe. So you have to continue to contemplate the pain as much as possible with utmost patience. That patience is the best quality of a meditator, to bear the pain and to overcome it. However severe the pain may be you must not give it up. You should concentrate on it as much as possible with the utmost patience. So not only for the pain itself but also in other aspects of this meditation patience is the best quality of a yogi. You have to be patient with your mind; you have to be patience with your physical discomfort; you have to be patient with the disturbances coming from outside. When you are not patient with these things your concentration very often is broken, goes away. So you have to have the best quality of a meditator, that's patience. There is a Burmese saying: Ten yi khan neg ban yau . The meaning is: Patience leads to Nibbana, or the cessation of all kinds of suffering. So patience is the best quality of a yogi who will be successful in this meditational practise. Sometimes you can't bear the severity of the pain. Then you want to change your position so that you can relieve it. You must not change your position in a sitting, but there is an exception when a meditator can sit say an hour without changing position. After an hour's meditation if he wants to change his position he must not do that. He should get up and practise walking meditation because the changing of the position in a sitting makes your concentration break. So it's not good.
When you change your position very often this becomes habitual so that when your meditational experience is even at an advanced stage you want to change your position though you don't have any unbearable pain. Sometimes unconsciously you have changed your position. Only after you have changed position do you know, 'Ah, I have changed my position.' Then concentration breaks. So those who can sit without changing position an hour should not change this position in a sitting even once. But for beginners if they are not able to sit when thirty minutes, half an hour, is up without changing position they can change once in a sitting, not twice. Suppose the beginner meditates in sitting then after ten minutes' meditation feels a painful sensation and wants to change his position. Then he can change it because he cannot sit even an hour. So he should change his position, but this must be done mindfully. When you want to change you must note, wanting wanting. That's a mental process which must be observed: wanting wanting, or wishing wishing, intending intending. Then you change your position, you stretch out your legs, and stretching, stretching, stretching. Then again you shift your body, then shifting shifting, moving moving. When you settle it on again, then touching touching, sitting sitting. When you bend your legs, bending bending, and so on. All actions and movements involved in changing the position you must be mindful of as they really are. After you have changed position then you return to the primary object, the rise and fall of the abdomen, and note as well rising falling, rising falling. But after five or ten minutes' meditation you may feel pain unbearable, then you may feel you want to change your position. You mustn't do that. Patiently observe the pain as much as possible as long as you can. When you feel it unbearable then get up and practise walking meditation. You may sit say about twenty minutes or thirty minutes, it doesn't matter. You may sit as long as you can with a change of position once - only once, not twice. After that you practise walking meditation.
Vipassana meditation, insight meditation, is to put an end to all
kinds of suffering through realisation of our body-mind processes and
their true relation. That's why we have to observe whatever mental
states, emotional states or physical activities become prominent to
our mind. That's why we have to be mindful of our painful sensation.
Make a mental note, pain pain. The same with the stiffening, itching
or any physical discomfort or mental or emotional states which are
arising very prominently. Sometimes you may have two or more objects
of meditation, that's two or more objects of physical mental processes
which are arising at the same moment. Then you may get puzzled which
object should be noted. You should not get puzzled about it. It is the
most prominent object of physical or mental processes that you must be
aware of. Suppose when you observe the rise and fall of the abdomen
you feel numbness on your leg. And also you feel an itching sensation
in the back. And your mind is also thinking about something, about
your walk or your travel. Then you have four objects of meditation.
One is the rise and fall of the abdomen, the other is numbness, the
third is the itching sensation in the back, and the fourth is a
thought about your family. What should you do with these four objects
that you should be mindful of? You should note the most prominent
object. When numbness on the leg is more distinct than the other three
you should note, numb. You should observe it, make a mental note, numb
numb, or numbness numbness and so on until it has subsided. After it
has subsided you return to the primary object, the rise and fall of
the abdomen. But it may be the itching sensation which is more
distinct than the abdominal movement. Then you should go to the
itching sensation and note as usual, itching itching itching. Focus in
your mind on the itching sensation attentively and precisely. Of the
four objects of meditation, if the thought about your family is more
distinct than the other three then you should observe the thought,
observe this mental state which must be realised by the meditator.
Observing the thought, make a mental note, thinking thinking thinking
thinking. When you note the thought that noting must be energetic,
precise and somewhat quick, so that the mindfulness or the noting
becomes more and more powerful than the process of thinking. When the
noting mind becomes more powerful than the process of thinking, then
it overwhelms the process of thinking and that process of thinking
stops. After the thought has stopped or disappeared you return to the
primary object, the rise and fall of the abdomen, and note it as
usual. In this way when you have two or more objects of a mental or
physical process you must be aware of the most distinct or prominent
object of meditation, making mental note as it is. To summarise, be
mindful of mental states, emotional states, and physical processes in
sitting meditation. You have to begin with the rise and fall of the
abdomen as soon as you have settled yourself on the seat. But if there
are any other mental states, emotional states or physical processes
which are more distinct than the abdominal movement then you observe
the one which is the more pronounced. Note it as usual. After that
object has disappeared you return to the primary object, that's the
rise and fall of the abdomen, and note it as usual.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness
First of the four foundations of mindfulness, the meditator must
be aware of whatever arises within the body and mind as it really
occurs. So while you are walking also you must be aware of the
movement of the foot. When you walk, first of all you must stand still
at the starting point of the walk. Stand still and first make a mental
note, standing standing standing, about ten times, perceiving the
inner posture of standing. Not the form of the body but the erect
posture for standing. After that you walk, left step, right step. Then
you note, left right, left right, being aware of the movement of the
foot very precisely and attentively. Or you can note, stepping
stepping stepping. But your mind doesn't stay with the movement of the
foot very long. It may stay with the movement of the foot say about
one or two minutes, then the mind goes out, wanders about. But in the
beginning of the practise you are not aware of the wandering mind. You
think you are focussing your mind on the movement of the foot but
actually the mind is going out still asleep. As soon as you know that
the mind is wandering or thinking about something else then
unconsciously you bring it back to the foot. Then you have a chance to
note the wandering mind because the mind has already stayed with the
movement of the foot. Then you have to note left right, left right.
Labelling or seeing is not the important thing. What is important is
to note the movement of the foot, to perceive the movement of the
foot, to be aware of the movement of the foot, but without labelling
or mental note. Your mind may not at first be able to focus on the
movement of the foot very precisely. That's why we use labelling as an
instrument to help focus our mind on the movement of the foot. But
when you have practised walking meditation for say about half an hour,
you may be able to note that the mind is wandering when it goes out.
As soon as you know the mind is wandering you must stop walking and
make a mental note, wandering wandering, or thinking thinking,
imagining imagining, as the case may be. After that you return to the
movement of the foot and note, left right, left right. When you are
able to concentrate to a certain extent by being aware of the movement
of the foot, make a mental note left and right, you should note two
parts of the step: lifting parts and dropping parts. When you lift the
foot note it, lifting. When you put it down note it, putting. In this
way: lifting, putting, lifting, putting. Or lifting dropping, lifting
dropping. When you note two parts of a step you need not label left
and right. Left and right must be dropped when you make a mental note,
lifting dropping, lifting dropping. Slowly not quickly. Gradually you
must make your step slower and slower so that you can easily note the
movement of the foot very well. When you are well able to note lifting
dropping then you can increase to one more object. Three parts of a
step must be noted: lifting part, pushing part, dropping part. When
you lift the foot note lifting. When you push it forward note pushing.
When you drop it down you note dropping. In this way lifting, pushing,
dropping; lifting pushing dropping. If you find it difficult to
perceive the movement of the foot because of labelling or making a
mental note, then you should try without labelling or making a mental
note. Just be aware of the movement of the foot: lifting movement,
pushing forward movement, and dropping movement. When you reach the
other end of the walk you have to stand still and note your posture of
standing, the posture of your body, standing standing about ten times.
When you want to turn your body then note wanting wanting, then
intending intending, then turning turning, very slowly. The movement
of turning must be noted very slowly. Then again when you face the
direction you came, then you stand still and note the standing posture
ten times. Then walk again, lifting pushing dropping, and lifting
pushing dropping. And so on. If you are able to walk an hour it's
better, because in walking meditation the movement of the foot, the
object of meditation is very distinct, very clear to your mind so you
can easily observe it. You can easily be aware of it. But as the
principle of Vipassana meditation goes on, any mental states,
emotional states or physical activities must be observed as they are
so, except sitting and walking. There are many actions and movements
you have to do in your daily life. Those daily activities also must be
noted such as stretching of the arms and bending of the arms, raising
the hand, putting down the hand, and sitting down and rising from the
seat. All the actions and movements you are doing must be observed as
they really occur: while you are eating, while you are washing, while
you are showering, while you are preparing your beds. There are many
many activities involved in these actions. These activities must be
noted, you must be aware of them. To be able to note these activities
you have to deliberately slow down your actions and movements. In the
next talk I'll continue to explain to you the practical exercise on
this meditation. May all of you rightly understand the technique of
this meditation and practise intensively during this retreat and
achieve your goal.