A Vipassana Meditation Course
with Chanmyay Sayadaw
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 his 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
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 can.
Rising and Falling Movement of the Abdomen
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 labeling or mental noting 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 your mind.
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 starts meditation in the sitting position then after ten minutes of 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.
As I told you this 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.
Clear Comprehension is part of the 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. Labeling 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 labeling 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 labeling 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 labeling or making a mental note, then you should try without labeling 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 with the explanation of 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.