Vapassana Meditation Workshop
by Chanmyay Sayadaw
Awareness of Daily Activities
Today, I’ll continue that chapter of clear comprehension and discourse on the Maha-Satipatthana Sutra. But I`ll summarise it because there are some aspects of Dhamma which should be dealt with for your progress in your meditation. The Buddha said, ”When you bend your arms and legs you must be aware of it as it is. ‘When you stretch out the arms and legs you must be aware of it as it is. When you dress you must all be aware of it. When you take off clothes you must be aware of it; when you put on clothes you must be aware of it’. That’s what the Buddha instructed us about daily activities. Then, when you hold the plate, you note it. When you hold the cup in the saucer you note it, holding. When you touch it, touching. When you decide to keep inside and so on. Whatever you are doing, in holding, drinking tea or coffee, you note it. The Buddha said when you answer the call of nature these activities you must be aware of as they are. When you go to the toilet you should be aware of all the activities involved. Then, every day, the Buddha said when you eat food then note all the activities in the act of having the food. When you drink water or when you drink anything you must be aware of all the activities involved in these actions. When you chew something you must note chewing. When you lick something you must note the licking. We have a Burmese medicine for clearing of the throat, called yessa. That means a lickable salt. There we have to lick it. We mustn’t take it.
When you walk you must be aware of all the movements of the foot, slowing down your stepping. When you sit you should note the upright posture of the sitting. Not the form of the body, but the upright position of your body must be noted as sitting. When you focus your mind on your sitting you know that you are sitting. Then you note sitting.
In Burma some meditators when they are instructed to note the sitting posture find out the form of the body, the shoulder, the leg, the eyes, the nose, the head. Because they are looking for the form of the body they couldn’t note it. But the Buddha doesn’t instruct us to note these forms of the body. What the Buddha instructs is to note the upright posture of the body as sitting, because he would like us to realise the supporting nature of vayo-dhatu, the wind element. When you sit there’s an air inside the body, and also air outside the body. The two airs support the body so it is sitting in an upright position. So to realise the nature of the supporting wind element the Buddha teaches us to note sitting. So you should focus your mind on the upright posture of the body and note it as sitting. In the same way the upright position of standing must be noted: standing standing standing, sitting sitting sitting and so on. Sometimes some yogis misunderstand this instruction so when they are instructed to note the sitting posture what they notice is the contact between the body and the floor or the seat. It’s wrong. That’s contact or touching, not sitting.
The commentary to the text explains that sitting means the bending posture of the lower and the upright posture of the upper body. I instructed you to be aware of the upright posture of sitting, the upper body, because if you go down and be aware of the bending posture of the lower body your mind tends to go to the contact.
So in sitting meditation if you are able to note the rising and fall of the abdomen very well and the concentration is somewhat good, then the mind tends to go out and wander because it can easily note the two movements of the abdomen. Then you need some more objects to note so as to make the mind too busy to have any time to go out. So when you are able to note the rise and fall of the abdomen very well you should note the sitting posture and the touching sensation too, either of the two or one of the two. Say rising falling and sitting, or rising falling, touching – any point of the touching sensation which is more distinct than the other points. So, rising falling sitting touching, rising falling sitting touching. You must be aware of four objects successively and continuously, not separately.
Some meditators misunderstand so they note two objects separately. Sometimes they note rising and falling, rising and falling; sometimes sitting, touching, sitting, touching. When you are able to note these four objects constitutively and successively you must do four, not two separately. But sometimes you may be not able to note all the four constitutively. Then you should note their rise and fall separately, then sitting touching. If the abdominal movement is good for you to note you should stay with it. Unless it’s good for some reason you can note the sitting and touching sensations alternately: sitting touching, sitting touching.
Sometimes some meditators very easily feel their heartbeat when concentrating on the movement of the abdomen, because when they note the rise and fall of the abdomen they make too much mental effort breathing. That effort makes the heart beat and sometimes they confuse the movement of the abdomen with the heartbeat. For such meditators the sitting posture and touching sensation are good at the beginning of the practise. Later on you will be able to note all these four objects very well, systematically and methodically.
So if a meditator has no problem with the heartbeat he should continue to note the rise and fall of the abdomen. But if he thinks he needs more objects then note the sitting posture and touching sensation too. So rising falling, sitting touching; rising falling, sitting touching. You have to note the sitting posture and touching sensation before the rising movement starts again. In other words between the falling movement and the rising movement you should insert the two objects, sitting and touching, so that your mind doesn’t have any time to go out. The point is to make the mind quite occupied with the object.
One meditator here reported in his interview that he didn’t note the intention before lifting. He noted only six objects of movements of the foot. I asked why he didn’t note anything. He said because he was too busy to note this and this before lifting. A bit of time, even a millionth of a second, and the mind goes out. So the mind must be occupied with objects. You should note intending, lifting, pushing, dropping, touching, pressing, and so on.
The same with sitting. When you think you have a little bit of time between the falling movement and the rising movement of the abdomen, you must fill up that gap with the two objects or one of the two, the sitting posture and the touching sensation. So after you have noted the falling movement you note sitting, touching before you start to note the rising movement. Sometimes you may find it difficult to note two objects before rising again. Then you should note one object, the sitting or touching sensation, so that you have better and deeper concentration.
So when you sit you must be aware of the sitting posture. When you stand you must be aware of the standing posture. When you lie down you must be aware of the lying posture: lying lying lying. In Burma one of the old monks about ninety years could walk twenty-four hours; he could sit twenty-four hours; lie down twenty-four hours by being aware of it without sleeping. Two years back he passed away at the age of ninety-two I think. He had been meditating since forty years of age. I think you should imitate him. He could sit for twenty-four hours without changing position. He walked twenty-four hours. He lay down twenty-four hours. If you lie down two minutes then you fall asleep.
In lying down you see the abdomen movement is very distinct. When lying down note, rising falling lying, rising falling lying, rising falling lying. This is good medicine for insomnia. When you wake up the first thing of which you are conscious most be noted. During any meditation of ten days you are not able to do that even though you try it. As the Buddha said, as soon as you are awake you should note the consciousness about wakening: wakening wakening wakening wakening. After that you want to open your eyes: wanting wanting, or wishing wishing. And then when you open the eyes, opening opening. And so on.
These are the examples you should take for awareness for daily activity. The Buddha teaches us these examples. The point is to have continuous and constant mindfulness for the whole day. There is not a mental state, emotional state or physical process of which you should not be mindful as it is so that you can have a continuity of mindfulness which is the cause of deep concentration on which insight knowledge is built up. When that insight knowledge is realised, or the specific characteristics or general characteristics of mental and physical processes, then you go through all thirteen stages of insight knowledge one after another, and higher and higher. After you have completed all the thirteen stages of insight knowledge you become enlightened. That means you attain the first stage of enlightenment. It’s called Magga, The Path. When you have attained the first stage of enlightenment you totally uproot the most important defilement, sakaya-ditthi, the false view of a person a being an I or a you, and also doubt about the triple gems. These two mental defilements are uprooted, including their potentiality. Then you feel happy, you live in peace and happiness.
There are some who have gone through about four or five stages. There may be someone who has gone through about eight or seven. There may be some who have gone through ten or eleven. I would like all of you to complete all thirteen stages of insight knowledge. Ten days meditation is just training, just the learning stage. But you have some deep concentration occasionally and also some insight which penetrates into reality of the body- mind processes.
Seven Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
So, now I would like to explain to you the benefits of this mindfulness meditation known as the seven benefits of mindfulness or vipassana meditation:
Saddana vissudi means this mindfulness meditation must be practised for purification of beings. This is the first benefit. If you are mindful of any mental or physical process, if your concentration is good enough, at the moment of deep concentration on this mental or physical process your mind is purified. It’s free from all kinds of mental defilements, all kinds of hindrances. To purify one’s mind one has to practise mindfulness meditation. Translated literally, the meaning is that to purify your mind and body you must practise mindfulness meditation.
2. Overcoming sorrow
Then the second benefit is overcoming worry, sorrow and lamentation. The second benefit is sorrow and worry. You overcome sorrow and worry even though you failed in your business. You don’t worry about it; you don’t feel sorry.
3. Overcoming lamentation
The third benefit is overcoming lamentation. When you have completely realised the mental and physical processes and their true nature by means of mindfulness meditation, even though your relative dies, or even though your sons or parents die you won’t cry over it. You have exterminated this lamentation for the dead. When you practise this mindfulness meditation to attain higher stages of insight knowledge, at least eleven stages should be attained through this mindfulness meditation, then you don’t feel sorry or worry and you don’t have lamentation.
In Burma some of the female meditators practise this meditation in the first retreat say about ten or fifteen days, then the second two months or two and a half months then later on she may continue every day at home. Then when her husband dies she won’t feel sorry. She won’t lament. Is it good or bad? Good. Why doesn’t she feel sorrow and find that she laments? Attachment. Attachment is destroyed to a certain extent. She can have less attachment to her husband by means of mindfulness meditation because she has realised the specific and general characteristics of body-mind processes to a large extent. So her attachment to her husband becomes less and less, because the less attachment doesn’t make her weep or cry or lament. That’s why I would like you to do it at least two or three months intensively and strenuously. In Burma many meditators take two or three months. Some meditators practise six months continuously.
4. Overcoming grief
Then, the fourth benefit is the overcoming of grief. In the full retreat you can do away with grief, when your mindfulness meditation is fully practised. Here grief means mental suffering. Mental suffering is exterminated, done away with, by this mindfulness meditation.
5. Overcoming physical suffering And also pain here means physical suffering. All kinds of physical suffering are destroyed through mindfulness meditation. In Burma there are some who cured illness by means of mindfulness meditation. The fifth benefit is overcoming physical suffering, dukkha. Mental suffering is known as domanassa in Pali. Physical suffering is known as dukkha. Domanassa is mental suffering, mental dukkha. Physical suffering is dukkha itself. These two aspects of suffering are removed by means of mindfulness meditation.
Then the sixth benefit is attainment of path knowledge. That’s one of enlightenment. In Buddhism there are four stages of enlightenment a meditator has to attain through his mindfulness meditation, after he has completed all thirteen stages of insight knowledge. The first stage is known as sotapanna-magga . The second stage is known as sakadagami-magga. Third stage is known anagami-magga. The fourth stage is known as arahatta-magga. All these four stages of enlightenment can be attained when you have thoroughly realised anicca, dukkha and anatta of bodily and mental processes. When impermanence, suffering, the impersonal nature of body-mind processes are thoroughly realised then you can attain all these four stages of enlightenment.
It’s easy to explain about this attainment of four stages of enlightenment but practically it’s very difficult. But difficulties must be overcome by perseverance. Patience and perseverance are needed to overcome difficulties in any work. Then the attainment of these four stages of enlightenment, path knowledge is the sixth benefit. Path knowledge here means the four stages of enlightenment.
Then finally you attain to Nibbana by mindfulness meditation. What do you mean by Nibbana? Where do you see Nibbana, on earth or underground or in heaven or in the sky? Nowhere. Ah, but the Buddha said Nibbana is in you. The place where you attain to Nibbana is yours, your body and mind. Unless you have realised your body-mind processes you cannot attain Nibbana. Only when you have fully realised your body-mind processes and two levels of understanding, then you are sure to attain Nibbana. So Nibbana is with you, not very far, very close.
Nibbana means the cessation of all kinds of suffering. When mental suffering as well as physical suffering ceases to exist that state is known as Nibbana. Where do you have mental and physical suffering? Mind and body. These two kinds of suffering exist in the mind and body. Where do these two aspects of suffering stop or cease? Our mind and body. Because they arise in my mind and body, so they must stop at my mind and body. The cessation of all kinds of suffering, mental and physical suffering, ceases to exist when you have eradicated all mental and physical defilements by means of mindfulness meditation. So the attainment of the cessation of suffering is the seventh benefit of mindfulness meditation. You should remember these benefits theoretically and you should experience them practically.
The Five Mental Faculties
So to gain these seven benefits what you need first is faith or belief in the triple gems, especially in the technique of your meditation: faith or belief or confidence through understanding. Blind faith is not needed here. Faith through understanding is called saddha. That saddha is the first mental faculty. Here mental faculties we call indriya in Pali. There are five indriyas, five mental faculties a yogi must be endowed with. The first is faith, blind faith or faith with understanding. You have to understand the Buddha Dhamma or the technique to a certain extent so that you can have faith in it. Without understanding it you can’t have any faith or confidence or belief in it Faith with understanding is the basic requirement of a meditator for success in his meditation. The second need is energy. If you do not put enough energy into your practise you can’t realise any mental or physical phenomena. It’s called viriya in Pali.
The third need is sati. It’s translated as mindfulness, awareness, the third faculty a yogi must be endowed with. It means when you have faith with understanding of the technique or the Dhamma, you put enough energy or viriya in your practise, then you are able to be mindful of any mental or physical process as it really is. Then when mindfulness becomes continuous and constant your mind becomes concentrated on the object of meditation very well. So the fourth one is concentration, samadhi, concentration of mind. When the mind is deeply concentrated on any mental or physical phenomenon there arises insight knowledge or penetrating knowledge or experiential knowledge which penetrates into the intrinsic nature of mental and physical phenomena, specific individual characteristics of the body-mind processes. This is the intrinsic or true nature of mental and physical phenomena.
So when you realise any specific characteristic of mental or physical phenomena you have insight. Or when you realise the passing away of any mental or physical processes, or their coming and going, then you come to realise the general characteristic of anicca, impermanence, the general characteristic of mental and physical phenomena. That realisation, right understanding or insight or experiential knowledge is known as pannya in Pali. Pannya is sometimes translated as wisdom. Here insight or enlightenment is the fifth faculty with which a yogi must be endowed.
You should have five mental faculties: faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and insight and enlightenment. Faith means saddha. Energy means viriya. Mindfulness means sati. Concentration means samadhi. Insight, enlightenment, panna. So, saddha, viriya, sati, samadhi, panna, these are the five mental faculties a yogi must be endowed with.
And here these five mental faculties must be strong enough, powerful and sharp. The Vissudimagga, a meditation text, mentions when these five mental faculties become sharp you are sure to realise either the specific or general characteristics of body-mind processes. So you should try to make them sharp and keep balance. Here also the text said of the five mental faculties, saddha and panna, faith and understanding or insight must be kept balanced. So viriya and samadhi, concentration and energy or effort must be kept in balance. When saddha is strong and viriya is weak, when faith is strong and energy or effort is weak, then the yogi may become credulous. The yogi tends to have gullibility, easily deceived.
And saddha, faith or confidence must be balanced with wisdom or panna, insight knowledge. When you have some insight knowledge into the physical and mental processes then you know the only way which can lead you to the cessation of suffering or to the realisation of body-mind processes is mindfulness meditation. You can judge through your experience, then nobody can deceive you about the method or technique of the meditation. So you don’t believe in any other technique or any other way because by way of mindfulness you have experienced some realisation or understanding of mental and physical phenomena. You yourself know it’s the right way so you don’t believe in any other way, you don’t become credulous.
But if wisdom is strong and faith is weak, then he can be a fool in his meditation because his concentration is weak. His concentration is weak because he has a lot of preconceived ideas through theoretical knowledge of Buddhism and other philosophies. So whenever he has experienced, or before he has any experience, he analyses the technique or the experience. He thinks about it. He uses preconceived ideas to analyse this technique or the experience. Then he has a lot of thoughts which distract him. How can he concentrate his mind on the object?
That’s why we ask our yogis to keep aside all thought, all analytical knowledge, preconceived ideas, philosophical thinking, logical reasoning while they are engaged in meditation, so that there won’t be hindrances to their progress. If he has a great deal of knowledge about Dhamma or any other philosophy, he attempts to analyse or reason, he attempts to criticise the Dhamma or the experience or the technique. Then it’s a hindrance. So wisdom or knowledge must be balanced with saddha. Because I have faith, confidence in this technique I come here and practise. So these must be kept aside as long as I’m engaged in this mindfulness meditation.
Then concentration and energy must be in balance. When concentration is strong and energy, effort is weak you have the close friend of a yogi, sloth and torpor. So when you can concentrate very well on the abdominal movement and concentration becomes deeper and deeper, the noting mind notes the object of its own accord without any effort. Then the effort or energy becomes gradually less and less, decreasing. Concentration becomes weaker and weaker and gets into sloth and torpor. So when concentration’s strong and effort is weak you are sure to get into sloth and torpor. To correct it you must make some more effort in your noting. Be careful, note energetically and precisely.
Then when viriya, energy is strong and concentration is weak you can’t concentrate too well, because when you are greedy to experience more and more Dhamma you put too much effort into your noting. You note very energetically when the mind is not concentrated you are not satisfied with your practise. Then you get restless and have distraction distraction distraction, and depression. No concentration at all. So energy or effort must be kept by concentration, and balance. Your effort must be reduced. You must reduce your effort, then again you note feeling calmness and tranquillity. Be calm and tranquil and note steadily. Do not be greedy, do not hesitate. Then your mind will concentrate gradually. So these two twins mental faculties must be in balance. Then you are sure to attain the four stages of enlightenment.
Please try to make steady effort, and have much faith and confidence in your practise.