The Buddhist Calendar

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Vipassana - The Essence Of The Teachings

Vipassana is an ancient pali word meaning the right way to SEE / the correct way to see / the special way to see / observation / total, holistic observation / meditation / observation of the reality ‘as it is’ / observing ‘what is’ / insight. Vipassana is the experiential aspect of the teachings of all Buddhas. Needless to say such an observation, such an enquiry into the truth is universal, non-sectarian, non-ritualistic, non-dogmatic and liberating. It is an art of living.

Vipassana is not a technique or a ritual to be followed mechanically. Vipassana is a process of observation – observing the truth from moment-to-moment – observing the truth as it is.

Looking Within-Living And Dying
From Moment To Moment

Understand what Vipassana is and how it helps us in our day-to-day lives; how it helps us to come out of our misery, the misery of life and death. Everyone wants to come out of misery, to live a life of peace and harmony. We simply do not know how to do this. It was Siddhartha Gotama’s enlightenment that made him realize the truth: where misery lies, how it starts, and how it can be eradicated. But we have to realise the truth ourselves.

There were many techniques of meditation prevailing in those days, as there are today. The Bodhisatta Gotama tried them all, but he was not satisfied because he found that he was not liberated from misery. Then he started to do his own research. Through his personal experience he discovered Vipassana, which eradicated misery from his life and made him a fully enlightened person.

There are many techniques that give temporary relief. When you become miserable you divert your attention to something else. Then you feel that you have come out of your misery, but you are not totally relieved. If something undesirable has happened in life, you become agitated. You cannot bear this misery and want to run away from it. You may go to a cinema or a theatre, or you may indulge in other sensual entertainment. You may go out drinking, and so on. All this is running away from misery.

Escape is no solution to the problem, indeed the misery is multiplying.

In Buddha’s enlightenment he realized that one must face reality. Instead of running away from the problem, one must face it. He found that all the types of meditation existing in his day consisted of merely diverting the mind from the prevailing misery to another object. He found that practicing this, actually only a small part of the mind gets diverted. Deep inside one keeps reacting, one keeps generating sankharas (reaction or conditioning) of craving, aversion or delusion, and one keeps suffering at a deep level of the mind. The object of meditation should not be an imaginary object, it should be reality-reality as it is. One has to work with whatever reality has manifested itself now, whatever one experiences within one’s own body-mind.

In the practice of Vipassana one has to explore the reality within oneself – the material structure and the mental structure, the combination of which one keeps calling “I, me, mine.” One generates a tremendous amount of attachment to this material and mental structure, and as a result becomes miserable. To practise Buddha’s path we must observe the truth of mind and matter. Their basic characteristics should be directly experienced by the meditator. This results in wisdom.

Wisdom can be of three types: wisdom gained by listening to others, that which is gained by intellectual analysis, and wisdom developed from direct, personal experience Buddha found that one may play any number of intellectual or devotional games, but unless he experiences the truth himself, and develops wisdom from his personal experience, he will not be liberated. Vipassana is personally experienced wisdom. One may listen to discourses or read scriptures. Or one may use the intellect and try to understand: “Yes, Buddha’s teaching is wonderful! This wisdom is wonderful!” But that is not direct experience of wisdom.

The entire field of mind and matter-the six senses and their respective objects – have the basic characteristics of anicca (impermanence), dukkha (suffering) and anatta (egolessness). Buddha wanted us to experience this reality within ourselves. To explore the truth within – we have to explore the reality of mind-matter. Matter is the material structure, the corporeal structure, the physical structure. The other is the mental structure-the mind. The mind has 4 factors: consciousness (vinnana), perception (sanna) the part of the mind that feels sensation (Vedana or Samvedna in hindi) and the part of the mind that reacts – the conditioning (Sankhara).

Mind and matter are deeply interrelated-deeply interrelated. To ‘completely’, ‘totally’, explore the reality within-to observe – we observe the body, the sensations on the body, the mind and the contents of the mind. Observing the truth-the reality from moment to moment ‘as it is’ in the field of mind-matter, mindfulness is established (Satipatthana). Mind-matter are deeply interrelated.

Anything that arises in the mind turns into matter, into a sensation in the material field. This was the Buddha’s discovery. People forgot this truth, which can only be understood through proper observation. The Buddha said, “Sabbe Dhamma vedana samosarana”, anything that arises in the mind starts flowing as a sensation on the body. See from your personal experience how this mind and matter are related to each other. To believe that one understands mind and matter, without having directly experienced it, is delusion. It is only direct experience that will make us understand the reality about mind and matter. This is where Vipassana starts helping us. There are sensations throughout the body, from head to feet. One feels those sensations, and is asked not to react to them. Just observe; observe objectively, without identifying yourself with the sensations. You observe this structure that initially appears to be so solid, the entire physical structure at the level of sensation. Observing, observing you will reach the stage when you experience that the entire physical structure is nothing but subatomic particles: throughout the body, nothing but kalapas (subatomic particles). And even these tiniest subatomic particles are not solid. They are mere vibration, just wavelets. The Buddha’s words become clear by experience: Sabbo pajjalito loko, sabbo loko pakampito. The entire universe is nothing but combustion and vibration. As you experience it yourself you experience that the entire material world is nothing but vibration. We have to experience the ocean of infinite waves surging within, the river of inner sensations flowing within, the eternal dance of the countless vibrations within every atom of the body. We have to witness our continuously changing nature. All of this is happening at an extremely subtle level. These kalapas (subatomic particles) according to the Buddha, are in a state of perpetual change or flux. They are nothing but a stream of energies, just like the light of a candle or an electric bulb. The body (as we call it), is not an entity as it seems to be, but is a continuum of matter and life-force coexisting.

You become sensitive to the ongoing processes of his own organism, which in other words are atomic reactions ever taking place in all living beings. When you becomes engrossed with such, sensations, which are the products of nature, you come to the realization, physically and mentally, of the truth that his whole physical being is after all a changing mass. This is the fundamental concept of anicca – the nature of change that is ever taking place in everything, whether animate or inanimate, that exists in this universe. The corollary is the concept of dukkha- the innate nature of suffering or ill-which becomes identified with life. This is true because of the fact that the whole structure of a being is made up of atoms (kalapas) all in a state of perpetual combustion.

The last concept is that of anatta. You call a “substance” what appears to you to be a substance. In reality there is no substance as such. As the course of meditation progresses, the student comes to the realization that there is no substantiality in his so-called self, and there is no such thing as the core of a being. Eventually he breaks away the egocentrism in him-both in respect to mind and body He then emerges out of meditation with a new outlook-ego-less and self-less-alive to the fact that whatever happens in this universe is subject to the fundamental law of cause and effect. He knows with his inward eye the illusory nature of the separate self.

Buddha’s teaching is to move from the gross, apparent truth to the subtlest, ultimate truth (from olarika to sukhuma) The apparent truth always creates illusion and confusion in the mind. By dividing and dissecting apparent reality, you will come to the ultimate reality. As you experience the reality of matter to be vibration, you also start experiencing the reality of the mind: vinnana (consciousness), sanna (perception), vedana (sensation) and sankhara (reaction). If you experience them properly with Vipassana, it will become clear how they work.

Suppose you have reached the stage where you are experiencing that the entire physical structure is just vibration. If a sound has come in contact with the ears you will notice that this sound is nothing but vibration. The first part of the mind, consciousness, has done its job: ear consciousness has recognized that something has happened at the ear sense door. Like a gong which, having been struck at one point, begins vibrating throughout its structure, so a contact with any of the senses begins a vibration which spreads throughout the body. At first this is merely a neutral vibration, neither pleasant nor unpleasant. The perception recognizes and evaluates the sound, “It is a word-what word? Praise! Oh, wonderful, very good!” The resulting sensation, the vibration, will become very pleasant. In the same way, if the words are words of abuse the vibration will become very unpleasant. The vibration changes according to the evaluation given by the perception part of the mind. Next the third part of the mind starts feeling the sensation: pleasant or unpleasant.

Then the fourth part of the mind will start working. This is reaction; its job is to react. If a pleasant sensation arises, it will react with craving. If an unpleasant sensation arises, it will react with aversion. Pleasant sensation: “I like it. Very good! I want more, I want more!” Similarly, unpleasant sensation: “1 dislike it. I don’t want it.” Generating craving and aversion is the part played by the fourth factor of the mind-reaction.

Understand that this process is going on constantly at one sense door or another. Every moment something or the other is happening at one of the sense doors. Every moment the respective consciousness cognizes; the perception recognizes; the feeling part of the mind feels; and the reacting part of the mind reacts, with either craving or aversion. This happens continuously in one’s life.

At the apparent, surface level, it seems that I am reacting with either craving or aversion to the external stimulus. Actually this is not so. Buddha found that we are reacting to our sensations. This discovery was the enlightenment of Buddha. He said:

Salayatana-paccaya phasso
phassa-paccaya vedana
vedana-paccaya tanha.

With the base of the six senses-contact arises,
with the base of contact-sensation arises,
with the base of sensation-craving arises.

It became so clear to him: the six sense organs come in contact with objects outside. Because of the contact, a sensation starts in the body that, most of the time, is either pleasant or unpleasant. Then after a pleasant or unpleasant sensation arises, craving or aversion start – not before that. This realization was possible because Buddha went deep inside and experienced it Himself. He went to the root of the problem and discovered how to eradicate the cause of suffering at the root level.
Working at the intellectual level of the mind, we try to suppress craving and aversion, but deep inside, craving and aversion continue. We are constantly rolling in craving or aversion. We are not coming out of misery through suppression.
Buddha discovered the way: whenever you experience any sensation, due to any reason, you simply observe it:

Samudaya dhammanupassi va kayasmim viharati
vaya dhammanupassi va kayasmim viharati
samudaya-vaya-dhammanupassi va kayasmim viharati.

He dwells observing the phenomenon of arising in the body.
He dwells observing the phenomenon of passing away in the body.
He dwells observing the phenomenon of simultaneous arising and passing away in the body.

Every sensation arises and passes away. Nothing is eternal. When you practice Vipassana you start experiencing this. However unpleasant a sensation may be – look, it arises only to pass away. However pleasant a sensation may be, it is just a vibration-arising and passing. Pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, the characteristic of impermanence remains the same. You are now experiencing the reality of anicca. You are not believing it because Buddha said so, or some scripture or tradition says so, or even because your intellect says so. You accept the truth of anicca because you directly experience it. This is how your received wisdom and intellectual understanding turn into personally experienced wisdom.

Only this experience of anicca will change the habit pattern of the mind. Feeling sensation in the body and understanding that everything is impermanent, you don’t react with craving or aversion; you are equanimous. Practising this continually changes the habit of reacting at the deepest level. When you don’t generate any new conditioning of craving and aversion, old conditioning comes on the surface and passes away. By observing reality as it is, you become free from all your conditioning of craving and aversion.

To a casual observer a piece of iron is motionless. Thc scientist knows that it is composed of electrons all in a state of perpetual change or flux. If this is so with a piece of iron, what will be the case with a living organism, say a human being? The changes taking place inside a human body must be more violent. Does man feel the rocking vibrations within himself? Does the scientist who knows that all the electrons are in a perpetual state of change or flux ever feel that his own body is but energy and vibration? What will be the repercussion on the mental attitude of the man who introspectively sees that his own body is mere energy and vibration?

To quench thirst one may easily just drink a glass of water from a village well. Supposing his eyes are as powerful as microscopes, he would surely hesitate to drink the very same water in which he must see the magnified microbes. Similarly, when one comes to the realization of perpetual change within himself (anicca-impermanence), he must come to the understanding, as a sequel thereto, of the truth of suffering as a consequence of the sharp sense of feeling the radiation, vibration and friction of the atomic units within. Indeed life is suffering, both within and without, to all appearances and in ultimate reality.

Western psychologists refer to the “conscious mind” Buddha called this part of the mind the paritta citta (a very small part of the mind). There is a big barrier between the paritta citta and the rest of the mind at deeper levels. The conscious mind does not know what is happening in the unconscious or half-conscious. Vipassana breaks this barrier, taking you from the surface level of the mind to the deepest level of the mind. This exposes the anusaya kilesa (latent mental defilements) that are lying at the deepest level of the mind.

The so-called ”unconscious” mind is not unconscious. It is always conscious of body sensations, and it keeps reacting to them. If they are unpleasant, it reacts with aversion. If they are pleasant, it reacts with craving. This is the habit pattern, the behaviour pattern, of the so-called unconscious at the depth of the mind.

Here is an example to explain how the so-called unconscious mind is reacting with craving and aversion. You are in deep sleep. A mosquito bites you and there is an unpleasant sensation. Your conscious mind does not know what has happened. The unconscious knows immediately that there is an unpleasant sensation, and it reacts with aversion. It drives away or kills the mosquito. But still there is an unpleasant sensation, so you scratch, though your conscious mind is in deep sleep. When you wake up, if somebody asks you how many mosquito bites you got during the night, you won’t know. Your conscious mind was unaware but the unconscious knew, and it reacted.

Another example: Sitting for about half an hour, some pressure starts somewhere and the unconscious mind reacts: “There is a pressure. I don’t like it!” You change your position. The unconscious mind is always in contact with the body sensations. You make a little movement, and then after some time you move again. Just watch somebody sitting for fifteen to twenty minutes. You will find that this person is fidgeting, shifting a little here, a little there. Of course, consciously he does not know what he is doing. This is because he is not aware of the sensations. He does not know that he is reacting with aversion to these sensations. This barrier is ignorance.

Vipassana breaks this ignorance. Then one starts understanding how sensations arise and how they give rise to craving or aversion. When there is a pleasant sensation, there is craving. When there is an unpleasant sensation, there is aversion, and whenever there is craving or aversion, there is misery.

If one does not break this behaviour pattern, there will be continual craving or aversion. At the surface level you may say that you are practicing what Buddha taught, but in fact, you are not practicing what Buddha taught! You are practicing what the other teachers at the time of Buddha taught. Buddha taught how to go to the deepest level where suffering arises. Suffering arises because of one’s reaction of craving or aversion. The source of craving and aversion must be found, and one must change one’s behaviour pattern at that level.

Buddha taught us to observe suffering and the arising of suffering. Without observing these two we can never know the cessation of misery. Suffering arises with the sensations. If we react to sensations, then suffering arises. If we do not react we do not suffer from them. However unpleasant a sensation may be, if you don’t react with aversion, you can smile with equanimity. You understand that this is all anicca, impermanence. The whole habit pattern of the mind changes at the deepest level.

Make use of the teaching of Buddha at the deepest level. Don’t just remain at the surface level of the teaching of Buddha. Go to the deepest level where your craving arises:

Vedana paccaya tanha;
vedana-nirodha tanha-nirodho;
tanha-nirodha dukkha-nirodho.

Sensations give rise to craving.
If sensations cease, craving ceases.
When craving ceases, suffering ceases.

When one experiences the truth of nibbana-a stage beyond the entire sensorium-all the six sense organs stop working. There can’t be any contact with objects outside, so sensation ceases. At this stage there is freedom from all suffering. When one comes out of such a nibbanic experience-he is a changed person-his life becomes different. First you must reach the stage where you can feel sensations. Only then can you change the habit pattern of your mind. If you work on the surface level of the mind you are only changing the conscious part of the mind, your intellect. You are not going to the root cause, the most unconscious level of the mind; you are not removing the anusaya kilesa – (deep-rooted defilements of craving and aversion). They are like sleeping volcanoes that may erupt at any time. You continue to roll from birth to death; you are not coming out of misery.

Moden science has given us, for what it is worth, the atomic bomb, the most wonderful and yet at the same time the most dreadful product of man’s intelligence. Is man using his intelligence in the right direction?

Why not use intelligence to look within? Know ourselves? This will give us the “peace within” and enable us to share it with all others. We will then radiate such powerful and purified mental forces as will successfully counteract the evil forces which are all around us. Just as the light of a single candle has the power to dispel darkness in a room, so also the light developed in one man can help dispel the darkness in several others.

To imagine that good can be done by the means of evil is an illusion, a nightmare. For all the loss of lives, bloodshed and war, are we nearer to, or further away, from peace? These are the lessons which we have learnt. Change of mankind’s mental attitude alone is the solution. What is necessary at the moment is mastery over the mind and not only mastery over matter. In Dhamma we differentiate between loka dhatu and Dhamma dhatu. By dhatu is meant the nature- elements or forces. Loka dhatu is therefore matter (with its nature-elements) within the range of the physical plane. Dhamma dhatu, however, comprises mind, mental properties and some aspects of nature-elements which are not in the physical but in the mental plane. Modem science deals with what we call loka dhatu. It is just a base for Dhamma dhatu in the mental plane. A step further and we come to the mental plane; not with the knowledge of modem science, but with the knowledge of Buddha-Dhamma in practice.
At least Mr. H. Overstreet, author of The Mature Mind (W.W Norton & Co., Inc., New York) is optimistic about what is in store for mature Minds. He writes:

The characteristic knowledge of our century is psychological. Even the most dramatic advances in physics and chemistry are chiefly applications of known methods of research. But the attitude toward human nature and human experience that has come in our time is new. This attitude could not have come earlier. Before it came, there had to be long preparation. Physiology had to be a developed science; for the psychological person is also physiological. His makeup, among other things, is a matter of brain tissue, of nerves, of glands, of organs of touch, smell and sight. It was not until about seventy years ago that physiology was sufficiently developed to make psycho-physical research possible, as in the laboratories of the distinguished German psychologist, William Wundt. But before physiology there had to be a developed science of biology. Since brain, nerves, glands and the rest depend upon all processes, the science of the living cell had to have its maturing before a competent physiology could emerge.

But before biology, there had to be chemistry; and before chemistry, physics; and before physics, mathematics. So the long preparation goes back into the centuries.

There is, in short, a time clock of science. Each science has to wait until its hour strikes. Today, at least, the time clock of science strikes the hours of psychology, and a new enlightenment begins.

To be sure, the interests explored by this latest of the sciences are themselves old; but the accuracy of research is new. There is, in brief, a kind of iron logic that is in control. Each science has to wait for its peculiar accuracy until its predecessor has supplied the data and tools out of which its accuracy can be made.

The time clock of science has struck a new hour: a new insight begins to be at our service.
May 1 say that it is the Buddha Dhamma which should be studied by one and all for a new insight into the realities of human nature. In Dhamma we have the cure for all the mental ills that affect mankind. It is the evil forces of the mind, past and present, that are responsible for the present state of affairs all over the world.

Nowadays, there is dissatisfaction almost everywhere. Dissatisfaction creates ill feeling. Ill feeling creates hatred. Hatred creates enmity. Enmity creates war. War creates enemies. Enemies create war. War creates enemies, and so on. It is now getting into a vicious cycle. Why? Certainly because there is lack of proper control over the mind.
What is man? Man is after all mental forces personified. What is matter? Matter is nothing but mental forces materialized, a result of the reaction of the moral (positive) and immoral (negative) forces.

Buddha said: Cittena niyate loko (the world is mind-made). Mind therefore predominates everything. Let us then study the mind and it’s peculiar characteristics and solve the problem that is now facing the world. Vipassana helps you to come out of your misery, come out of the bondages and enjoy real peace, real harmony, real happiness.

May all of you enjoy real peace, real harmony, real happiness.
-Sayagyi U Ba Khin
-Shri S N Goenka

(Sourced from ”Buddha’s path is to experience reality” by S N Goenka OCT 95 Vipassana english news letter, ”Samma Samadhi” April 95 hindi Vipassana patrika, discourses of Sayagyi U Ba Khin-Sayagyi U Ba Khin Journal-VRI Igatpuri)