Brahmavihara Dhamma

Part VII by Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw

(112) Contemplating and noting, and how consciousness arises at the moment of contact

The expression: “At the moment of contact” (tactile) covers a very wide scope. What is seen can be prevented from being seen by closing the eyes. As regards “hearing”, hearing can be prevented by going to a place where the sound cannot be heard. Consciousness that arises in smelling and eating may, of course, occur only at times. However, in regard to “contact” and the sense of touch (tactile), by bringing one’s mind to be aware of the whole physical body, the feeling of contact is obvious when contact is made with any part of the body, or in other words, when the sensation of contact pervades the entire body in any space whatsoever. Without bringing the mind into the heart, or rather, without being conscious, there are things which become automatically obvious of contact or touch. While sitting, the feeling of touch in the lower portion of the body is conspicuous. The contact of the body or any part thereof with clothes is also clearly perceived by the senses. One feels and knows clearly the contact that is taking place between the teeth and the tongue in the mouth. Flesh and blood, etc., are also found to be always in touch with each other. When walking or changing the posture, sense of touch in the bodily limbs involved in manoeuvring is obvious. Every time breathing is done, the movement of the air element, the propelling force of the movements and touch are obvious in the nose and in the belly or abdomen. Also obvious are the contacts which are caused by the conditions of heat and cold. In connection with all such contacts and touch, the ordinary worldlings think of themselves as their own “Self” They wrongly conceive that consciousness of contacts is taking place always. When good and nice contacts or touch are felt, they think of these as being delectable and good. These are erroneous concepts viewing anicca, dukkha and anatta as being nicca, sukha and atta. As such, these indicate ‘ignorance’ of the truth. Based upon this avijja – ignorance, miserable conditions of sankhara-vinnana, etc., occur.

A Yogi should contemplate and note such occurrences as “touching”, “touching”, or “contacting”. In particular, when walking, it must be continually contemplated and noted as: “walking”, “walking”, or “stepping with the tight foot”, or “stepping with the left foot, or “lifting”, or “stepping forward, or “dropping” and so on. This is the way of contemplating with awareness or mindfulness in accordance with the guidelines given in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta as:”Gacchanto va – when walking, nay, while walking, gacchamiti pajanati – one knows as walking, etc.” In this regard, the manner in which consciousness or awareness arises by contemplating as “knows as walking” – the three words as stated, needs special attention. It should be known and understood as rupa-matter or form. No instructions have been given to contemplate and to be aware of it as “vayodhatu” conveying the sense of absolute truth or reality (paramattha). Nevertheless, while even contemplating and noting as “walking”, etc., expressed in three words as earlier stated, a Yogi will know and become aware of the pressure of stiffness and the pushing force which signify the nature of movement or of the changing posture. Also, when standing and so on, while contemplating and noting as “standing”, “sitting”, “lying down”, “bending”, “stretching”, “shaking”, “changing”, etc., the true nature of vayodhatu, the element of motion or air element will be truly known and realised.

Next, when contemplating and noting as “rising” and “falling”, in line with the three expressive words of instruction, at every moment of the arising and failing movements of the abdomen, the true characteristics of the vayodhatu that propel and – cause stiffness and motion will be vividly known. There is one peculiar feature while contemplating the “rising and falling”, that is, at the end of the process of the rising movement of the abdomen, “failing” begins to take place. In the same manner, when “falling” comes to an end, it begins to. rise again. There is no interval or break in this process of rising and falling as in the case of “sitting” or “contacting”. Contemplating and noting should be carried on as “falling” the moment “rising” has ended, and vice versa. As continuous contemplation and noting are made as such, mindfulness that occurs before and after the continuing process, and concentration (samadhi) which occurs before and after, being conjoined or closely knitted, and inasmuch as samadhi is gained, Vipassana-nana – Insight-Knowledge will occur. This is the peculiar feature in contemplating the natural phenomena of “rising” and “falling” movements of the abdomen. However, it is not that only “rising and falling” should be contemplated and noted. While contemplation and noting is being carried on as “rising” and “falling”, imagination that occurs should also be noted as “imagining”. “stiffness”, “hotness”, “pain”, if manifested, should also be contemplated and noted as and when they occur. Any change in posture, if done, should not escape notice by contemplation. “Hearing” and “seeing” which occur at the moment need also be contemplated and noted. In the absence of anything in particular which is to be contemplated and noted, it should be reverted to the contemplation and noting of “rising” and “falling”.

The propelling force, stiffness and other physical movements that take place during contemplation and noting are the nature of vayodhatu. Consciousness or awareness of the contact or touch that occurs is kaya-vinnana. Where the sense of contact resides is Myapasida – organs of sense or the internal properties of the body. At every time of contemplating and noting as “rising” and “falling”, stiffness or distention, or contraction, or propelling, or motion, or sense of touch, or the objects of sense that are inherent in the body, are clearly perceived. When the knowledge of concentration (samadhi) becomes strong and stabilised, the form of rising, awareness through contemplation, form of falling, and consciousness that arises, are distinguishably known as being different from one another.

Hence, at the moment of the arising consciousness of contact, it is distinguishably known that what is in contact with the body is rupa whereas the sensation of contact and knowing through contemplation are nama. Similarly, at the moment of walking and taking a step, the bodily movement is rupa, and mere awareness of contact and the consciousness that arises by contemplation is nama. These are also known distinguishably. While bending or stretching, the material body, the stiffness in the body and its movements are rupa. Awareness and consciousness that occur are nama. These are distinguishably known. In a brief moment of noting as “rising and falling”, the body itself, stiffness and movements which take place are rupa. Awareness and consciousness of what is taking place is nama. That is also distinguishably known. When the knowledge of concentration (samadhi-nana) becomes highly developed, what is known and the knowing mind have ceased and vanished altogether immediately after the occurrence. Hence, these are truly known as the nature of “impermanence”, “suffering” and “Non-self” (anatta). This is the real spiritual knowledge of insight (Vipassana-nana) which realises the truth of the characteristics of anicca, etc. The following may be recited.

“At the moment of awareness of the contact, what is contacted with the body and known is rupa which, in fact, does not know the sensation. Consciousness of the contact is nama. Awareness through contemplation is nama. Because of the cessation and disappearance of the mental phenomena immediately following the arising consciousness of contact and awareness through contemplation, these are clearly perceived as the characteristics of “impermanence”, “suffering” and “Non-self” (anatta). “

“At the moment of walking, the movement of the body is rupa which does not know the sensation. Contacting, knowing and awareness through contemplation is nama. Since these cease to exist and vanish immediately after contacting, knowing and becoming aware of it through contemplation, these are merely the nature of “impermanence”, “suffering” and “Non-self” (anatta).

“At the moment of “rising and falling”, the bodily movement is rupa which does not know the sensation. Contacting, knowing and awareness through contemplation is nama. Since all these cease to exist and vanish immediately after contacting, knowing and becoming aware of it through contemplation, these are merely the nature of “impermanence”, “suffering” and “Non-self” (anatta).”