Vapassana Meditation Workshop
by Chanmyay Sayadaw
The Six Doors of the Senses
We’ll continue our discourse on the chapter of clear comprehension in the Maha-Satipatthana Sutra. Before I go to this chapter I would like to continue to explain the six sense bases and the six objects, and the six consciousnesses, because yesterday I dealt with contemplating on the consciousness of seeing with several objects.
In the chapter of Dhammanusati, Contemplation of dhamma, the Buddha said, “Whatever you see you must be mindful of as it really is. Whatever you hear you must be aware of as it occurs. Whatever you smell you must be aware of as it really occurs. Whatever you taste you must be aware of as it really occurs. Whatever you touch you must be aware of as it really occurs. Whatever you think or think about you must be aware of as it really occurs.” The Buddha teaches us to be aware of all six sense bases and all six objects and the six final kinds of consciousness.
When we see a visible object the consciousness of seeing arises dependent on the eye – one of the six bases – and the visible object. When your eye has contact with a visible object then there arises a consciousness of seeing. So consciousness of seeing arises dependent on the eye and the visible object. The eye is one of six sense bases. The visible object is one of six objects.
So when you see something you must be aware of it as seeing, seeing, seeing. As long as you see it you must be aware of it, you must note it. When you note the consciousness of seeing, it means you note the eye and visible object too, because when there is no eye and when there is no visible object the consciousness for seeing doesn’t arise. Consciousness of seeing arises dependent on both eye and visible object.
So if you observe the consciousness of seeing then it means you observe eyes and visible object too. So whenever you see something you must not watch the thing which is seen. You must not watch the thing with which you see. What you need to observe is seeing, the consciousness for seeing – because when you observe the visible object which is seen then you have to note seeing, seeing, not object, object. When you note seeing, seeing, seeing it’s the consciousness for seeing, not the visible object.
Only when you note the consciousness for seeing, the noting mind disturbs the process of seeing. So the process of seeing becomes weak and it doesn’t see the object very well. It cannot judge about the object, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, bad or good. Then you won’t have any defilement arising dependent on the consciousness for seeing or the visible object.
So whatever you see you must be aware of by making the mental note seeing, seeing, seeing. Whatever you hear you must be aware of by making the mental note hearing, hearing. Whatever you smell you must observe the consciousness of smelling, making the mental note smelling, smelling. Whatever you taste you must be aware of it, make a mental note tasting, tasting. Whatever you touch you must observe it as touching, touching, touching. Whatever you think about you must be aware of it, make a mental note of it as thinking, thinking, and so on.
When you hear some sound or voice, that is an audible object, that consciousness of hearing arises dependent on the ear and audible objects. When you note smelling, smelling then consciousness for smelling arises dependent on nose and sense odour. When you note tasting, tasting the consciousness for taste arises dependent on the tongue and the food. When you note touching, touching the consciousness for touching arises dependent on the body and a tangible object. When you note thinking, thinking that thought arises dependent on the mind and the dhamma, that is what it to be thought about.
These six sense bases are also called ‘sense doors’. The term door is used for these three sense bases. Literally it is translated into door. Eye is a sense door, ear is a sense door, nose is a sense door, tongue is a sense door, body is a sense door, and mind is a sense door. The sense door eye is called cakkha-dvara. That means the eye door. cakkhu means the eye, dvara means door. Cakkha-dvara means the eye door. In the same way the ear door, the nose door, the tongue door, the body door, the mind door, and so on.
Why these six sense bases are called doors is because the consciousness comes to your mind through the eye. Sometimes these mental states come to the mind through the ear, sometimes through the nose, sometimes through the tongue, sometimes through the body, sometimes through the mind. So they are called the doors. Here the Lord Buddha said, `Your six sense doors must be closed so that you don’t have any mental defilements.` Then do you know how to close the door? By noting of six things, six consciousness of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking about.
This is the point, what the Buddha said. When you see, say, a very beautiful rose you realise the rose is very beautiful. Its scent is very sweet. When you judge like that there arises a pleasant feeling about the rose. When you feel a pleasant feeling what will arise? Attachment, to what? To the rose. To the feeling or to the rose? To the rose. And pleasant feeling, attachment, arises dependent on that feeling. This attachment is to the rose. Then if the flower is not beautiful, is ugly and produces a bad smell, when you see it how do you feel, pleasant or unpleasant? Unpleasant. You’ll judge the flower is very ugly, `I don’t want to see it.` Then what mental state arises? Aversion. Anger.
When you judge the flower is beautiful and pleasant then you have attachment or desire for it or to it. When you judge the flower is ugly and produces a bad odour then you have aversion or anger depending on the unpleasant feeling. Here you could not close your eye doors so these mental defilements come into the mind. One of the mental defilements comes to your mind through the eye doors. Then when you have defilements is it good or bad? Bad. Yes. Mental defilement is dukkha, suffering, and also the cause of dukkha, suffering.
Then what’s the thing with which you have to close these six doors? Noting, yes, mindfulness. Mindfulness is called sati, in Pali. So you must close all these six doors with mindfulness. And do you know how to close them with mindfulness? Yes, noting, being mindful of. That’s why the Buddha said, `Whatever you see must be noted or mindful of, as it is. Whatever you hear must be mindful of or noted. Whatever you smell must be observed. Whatever you taste you must be aware of. Whatever you touch must be noted. Whatever you think about must be watched, as it is.`
This is how to close the six doors so that any of the mental defilements cannot come into the mind. If you open the door then these mental defilements are waiting there outside the door to come into the mind. When the mental defilements come into the mind you are lucky or unlucky? Unlucky. Sorrow, worry, anxiety, strain, stress and depression, agony, anguish – a lot of suffering coming into your mind through these six sense doors. So it’s very important.
This technique which closes these six doors is called indriya-samatta in Pali. Here indriya means six doors, samatta means their closing or closed. So indriya-samatta is the most important factor in the teaching of the Buddha which enables a person to get free from all kinds of suffering.
Sometimes you practise walking meditation say, and here the place for walking is very narrow, very small. So sometimes when you pass each other you can’t help to look askance. Then you feel pleasant or unpleasant, at least disturbed. Your concentration is disturbed by the consciousness for looking or seeing. Then concentration is gone. Then sometimes through that contact of the eye and the visible object, if any desire attachment comes into the mind then you suffer. Or any aversion or anger comes into the mind through those eye doors then you suffer. Why? Because you do not close your doors.
Here let me ask you a question. Which of these six doors is the worst thing, which makes man suffer? The mind. How do you know it? Through your experience? Yes. Though you are meditating sitting here, and noting rising, falling, rising, falling, sitting, touching, rising, falling, sitting, touching. At the beginning of sitting the mind is concentrated to a certain extent on the rise and fall of the abdomen. But gradually when your mental effort becomes less, concentration becomes weak. Then the mind goes to your son? Yes, and if the son is very good you feel pleasant about him. If the son is bad you feel unpleasant about him. Then that pleasantness causes attachment or desire or love to arise. Aversion causes anger or hatred or disgust to arise. These are mental defilements. Then you suffer. But you are sitting here in the hall. You suffer a lot. Why? Because you could not close your mind doors. So to close these six doors is very important to live happily and peacefully.
That’s why I also ask you could you note every thought in our interview. I want to remind you to note almost every thought as much as possible. Do not fail to note the thoughts because these thoughts make you suffer a lot. Their rise depends on mind and the thinkable object, dhamma. We call it dhamma, that object.
So, yesterday I explained to you when you look straight you must be aware of it; when you look aside you must be aware of it. But the Buddha proceeded with his chapter of clear comprehension like this, `When you bend your arms or legs you must be aware of it. When you stretch out you must be aware of it, as it is.` So when you bend the arms, observe, bending, bending, bending, bending, slowly. Not quickly. Slowly. Why do you need to slow down your activities? If you bend fast could you catch each movement of the arm? You can’t. So to catch and to observe each movement of the arm you have to slow it down.
And why do you need to observe each movement of the arm very closely and precisely? Yes, here as you know there are three aspects of existence, mental or physical phenomena. Normally we do not realise or experience these three aspects of body-mind processes, or mental and physical phenomena. These processes of existence are called general characteristics of mental and physical phenomena or common characteristics of mental and physical phenomena.
Yesterday I told you about two levels of understanding of mental and physical phenomena. The first level is understanding of specific characteristics of mental and physical phenomena. I explained that the mind has its characteristics, cognising or perceiving the object. Then desire or lobha, attachment, has the specific characteristic of clinging to the object. Then dosa had the specific characteristic of rudeness. When you become angry you become rude. So dosa, anger, aversion has the specific characteristic of rudeness. And moha is ignorance. Sometimes it is translated into `delusion,` but `ignorance` is better I think. Ignorance, moha has the specific characteristic of covering the truth. When moha covers the truth you can’t rightly understand it. You can’t realise it because the truth is covered by moha, ignorance. Ignorance has the specific characteristic of covering the truth.
These are the three main roots of evil, the Buddha said: lobha, desire, attachment, craving, and dosa, anger, hatred, aversion, and moha, ignorance of the truth. These three mental factors are the main roots of evil, the Buddha said, because they make human beings suffer a lot.
I should continue to explain to you the specific characteristics of the other physical, material elements. This body, or physical process, is composed mainly of four material elements as you know. What are the four material elements which constitute the so- called body? Pathavi-dhatu, apo-dhatu, tejo-dhatu, vayo-dhatu.
Here pathavi means earth; dhatu means the element. Pathavi-datu means the earth element. Apo means water; dhatu means the element. Apo-datu, water element. Tejo means the fire; dhatu means the element. Tejo-dhatu means the fire element. Vayo is wind or air; dhatu is element. Vayo-dhatu, wind element or air element.
These are the four primary material elements which constitute the so-called body of a man or a woman. There are twenty-four other minor material elements, twenty-eight all together. The primary material elements are four, then the secondary elements are twenty-four. But the twenty-four secondary elements arise dependent on the four primary material elements, so the secondary elements are not so much important as the primary ones. That’s why we have to watch the four primary elements.
Here when the say pathavi-dhatu, earth element, actually it is not earth because we have not the proper term for this nature, physical characteristic. We have to name it as pathavi-dhatu or earth element. Hardness and softness are the specific characteristics of the earth element. This hardness and softness is called pathavi-dhatu or earth element.
Did you observe it while you were meditating? It may be difficult for a meditator who sits on the cushion to find this element. It’s better for you to sit on the floor without a cushion, then you’ll find this element very distinctly. When you sit even on the cushion and your legs touch the floor, there you find hardness. When you sit on the cushion you find softness. When you feel soft or hard on any part of the body you must be aware of it, you must watch it: hard, hard, soft, soft. Why should you watch it? To close the door. If you do not observe soft, soft, soft, soft, soft, then you feel it pleasant. That pleasant feeling gives rise to attachment, desire for your cushion. Because you do not observe soft, soft, soft you are enjoying softness of the cushion and a pleasant feeling as well. That pleasant feeling causes attachment and desire to arise. So wherever you go you have to take this cushion to sit on. Please be careful whenever you observe your physical processes. Any of these specific characteristics of these primary four elements are distinct, so you should observe them. You can analyse or investigate them. Here analyse means not theoretically analysing, but when you know the softness or hardness through your experience by means of mindfulness of it. Then you don’t take that softness as pleasant or unpleasant; you don’t identify the feeling of softness with yourself.
The feeling of softness and the pleasant sensation is away from you. The feeling, the sensation of softness and pleasantness is here. Then you note it: pleasant, pleasant, soft, soft, soft. This pleasantness and the feeling of softness is not a person, not a being, not I, not you. You know that through your experience. Because you observe it you are mindful of it, you are aware of it. When you don’t feel this pleasant or unpleasant sensation of soft as a person a being, an I or a you, then there won’t arise any attachment or anger or aversion depending on that softness. Then you shut up your bodily sense doors and mental defilement cannot come to your mind through these doors. That’s why the Buddha said, `When you feel soft or hard you must be aware of it.` That is the specific characteristic of the hard element.
The water element actually is not water. Its characteristics are fluidity and coalition. Fluidity and coalition are the specific characteristics of the water element and your body. Did you find fluidity and coalition in your mind when you were meditating? Yes, you experience them when you sit and note arising, falling, sitting, touching, arising, falling, sitting, touching. Sometimes you have a tearing, and also sometimes you have a sweating. These are the specific characteristics of the water element. Sometimes you feel some fluidity on your face or on your back. Then you have to note fluidity, fluidity and so on. Then when you open your eye and see, there’s nothing because the fluidity is internal not external. Your internal bodily process, material process, had fluidity as its characteristic.
Then tejo-dhatu, its called the fire element. Except that’s actually not fire. It’s temperature. Tejo-dhatu has as its characteristics heat and cold. Heat and cold are the specific characteristics of tejo-dhatu the Fire element or temperature element. Then do you experience that tejo-dhatu when you sit for meditation? A lot! Sometimes you feel as if you are sitting on the fire. Sometimes you are sitting on a block of ice. Cold and hot. Then you have to watch it, cold, cold, hot, hot. If you do not observe it then you’ll identify that feeling of cold with yourself: `Oh I am cold, I am cold. I need some sweater or some blanket to cover on me,` because you identify the cold with yourself.
Actually cold is not yourself. Theoretically you know cold is not a person, not a being, not a man or not a woman, but you perceive it to be a person because, `I cold.` I am the man who feels cold. I am the woman who feels hot. Then cold and hot are identified with yourself and your person. Why? Because you do not close your door. Then what should you do? You should close your door, and note cold, cold, hot, hot, hot.
When your mindfulness becomes powerful and concentration deeper then you realise cold separate from your body or away from your body. The feeling of cold or hot is there. You are here, you are realising and noting it. Sometimes when concentration becomes deeper then there’s no you or no person who notes the cold. But there’s the mind that notes it. Then you come to realise the dual process of mentality and physicality and sensation too. At that moment your bodily form has disappeared from your mind. You are not aware of it; you are not conscious of it. Then you feel there’s no person, no being, no I or no you, no self. What is really existing is a dual process of feeling of cold and the mind that notes it, that’s all. Then there won’t arise any mental defilement because these mental defilements arise dependent on the idea or the concept of a person, a being, an I or a you, a self. If you have destroyed that idea of a personal being then there won’t arise any mental defilements because it has no seeds to grow out of it. Then here you have closed your doors.
After that there’s the fourth one, vayo-dhatu, the Wind element or air element. It’s also not actually wind or air. The wind element has movement as its specific characteristic: movement, motion, vibrating, supporting. Did you experience these specific characteristics when you sat in meditation? Rising falling, yes. Rising and falling, then sitting down and rising from the seat, you have the wind element. When you rise from the seat you have to rise gradually. Then that movement is the wind or air element. Both. So when you note rising, rising, rising, rising, or getting up, getting up, getting up, then what you should realise is the process of the rising movement from this your seat until you stand still.
There you realise the specific characteristic of the wind element, a series of many movements arising and passing away. The same way when you sit down, you have to be aware of sitting, sitting, sitting, sitting, sitting, sitting, sitting. Here what you are aware of is this sitting movement, all the movements which are involved in the act of sitting. Then you know the wind or air element. Then when your concentration is good enough and you come to realise when you sit down you don’t find any man or human being or any body. What you find is a series of many movements going on.
You don’t identify those movements with yourself. In other words you don’t regard them as a person, a being, an I or a you. What is it? That’s a natural process of physical phenomena. When you know that there won’t arise any concept of a being a person an I or a you depending on that movement. You close your door. There won’t arise any mental defilement, desire or attachment, anger or aversion. Then you live happy.
So, these are the specific characteristics of the primary material elements. I explained you the three specific characteristics of three groups of evil, lobha, dosa and moha, and also the specific characteristics of consciousness, mind. You have to realise them in the first level of understanding. Then when you proceed with your practise intensively and strenuously, when mindfulness is continuous and concentration deep, then you come to realise the general characteristics of mental and physical phenomena.
Those three aspects of existence, anicca, dukkha and anatta, Impermanence, suffering and impersonal nature, these are three characteristics of the existing mental and physical phenomena. Or these are known as general characteristics of mental and physical phenomena. After you have well realised the specific characteristics of mental and physical phenomena you are able to realise these three general characteristic of existing physical phenomena: impermanence, suffering, and impersonal nature or no-soul, no self, non-ego nature, of mental and physical phenomena.
What’s impermanent? When a mental process arises and then passes away, that’s impermanence. Having, raising, and then passing away very instantly. So when your concentration is good enough to note rising, falling, rising, falling, then you have to realise a series of many rising movements one after another; a series of many falling movements. A series of many movements means one movement arises and then passes away, then another movement arises and passes away, then another movement arises and passes away. Then we come to realise these elements are impermanent because they arises and then very instantly pass away. You have to go to that stage.
May all of you be able to realise both specific characteristics and general characteristics of body-mind process and achieve your goal.