Vapassana Meditation Workshop
by Chanmyay Sayadaw
The Two Levels of Understanding
I will review my talk on the two levels of understanding so that you can remember it. The first level is understanding the specific characteristics of mental and physical phenomena. The second is understanding the general or common characteristics of mental and physical phenomena. Each mental process or physical process has its specific characteristics. Those characteristics are not concerned or connected with other mental processes.
The three main roots of evil, called mula priyaya in Pali, are anger, greed, and delusion or ignorance (I prefer ignorance): lobha, dosa, moha in Pali. You should have these terms because they are not very difficult to remember. Lobha is greed, desire, craving, attachment. All the senses of these words are covered by lobha. So when you say lobha, it means desire; when you say lobha it means greed; when you say lobha it means craving; when you say lobha it means lust; when you say lobha it means attachment. To cover the senses of all these words we use the word attachment. So, lobha or attachment or desire, greed is one of the main roots of evil, evil things, evil deeds, evil speech, evil mind. When the mind becomes evil it’s due to one of these three roots. Either lobha or dosa or moha.
Dosa means anger, hatred, ill will, aversion. Dosa is anger, hatred, ill-will, aversion. Moha is ignorance. Occasionally it is translated delusion. I do not like this word delusion. I preferred `ignorance,` because when you say illusion sometimes you get confused with wrong view: sakaya-ditthi, atta-ditthi. Say when you stretch out your legs towards the Buddha statue, does it mean respect or disrespect to the Buddha? When you stretch out your arms towards the Buddha statue then do you mean it as respect or disrespect to the Buddha? Respect, when you stretch out your arms. When you stretch out your legs towards the Buddha statue what do you mean? Disrespect. Yes. But sometimes you did it out of mere ignorance because you did not know it was disrespectful. You happened to stretch out your legs towards the Buddha. That behaviour is regarded as something with no volition or motive. Without disrespect you happened to do it. So if you feel disrespect towards the Buddha when you stretch out this leg then you must withdraw it. But if you do not withdraw it and keep stretching out then it’s disrespect. It’s done out of ignorance. There’s a Burmese story but it may be everywhere in the world. There were two carpenters working together. One was the father, the other his son. The son was very foolish. The father was chopping a log when a deadly fly, one that is very harmful, that bites and sucks the blood of human beings, came to the father’s forehead. The father was occupied over this work. He couldn’t do anything with the fly. Then the son saw it. Out of compassion for his father he took an axe and he killed the deadly fly. The dead fly has gone. And father is very happy. He lie down and sleep for good. Now that killing was done out of ignorance, moha. This evil thing was done out of moha, ignorance.
So to eradicate this ignorance is the most important thing, in your daily life as well as your meditative life too. What should you do? Ignorance must be replaced by right understanding. Moha must be replaced by wisdom, or insight knowledge or enlightenment. To attain this what should you do? Yes, be mindful of your body-mind processes as they really are. You can learn scriptures so that you have a theoretical knowledge of the teaching of the Buddha, but theoretical knowledge has nothing to do with insight knowledge or enlightenment. While you are being mindful of any mental or physical process, if any theoretical knowledge comes to your mind and you use it for analysing any experience or technique then that theoretical knowledge is a hindrance to your concentration. It can’t eradicate the ignorance. Ignorance must be replaced by right understanding through personal experience of Dhamma, body-mind processes.
Any evil deed or evil speech, evil mind, arises dependent on any of these three roots of evil, on lohba or on dosa or on moha. So these three roots of evil are completely destroyed. There won’t arise any evil deed, evil speech or evil mind, and you have a wholesome speech and mind which result in happiness and peace. For example lobha: greed, desire, craving, lust, attachment. Lobha has as its characteristic the nature of clinging to the object. So clinging or being attached is the specific characteristic of lobha. The specific characteristic of dosa is rudeness. Dosa is translated `aversion.` It cannot have any characteristic of clinging because aversion is the opposite of clinging. Every mental state or emotional state, mental process, has its own specific characteristics.
So in the course of your meditational practise when the mind becomes deeper and deeper and more and more concentrated you come to realise mental or physical processes which are observed in their true nature. In the beginning of this realisation of mental and bodily processes you rightly understand their specific characteristics which are observed. So when you note attachment: attachment attachment attachment attachment, the attachment doesn’t go away. It passes there in you mind and you continue to note attachment attachment attachment attachment attachment. The more mindful of attachment the more concentrated your mind is on it. When the mind is well concentrated on the attachment you come to realise attachment has the clinging nature to the object. You come to realise this. That is insight knowledge you have attained through your experience of mental processes. That is the first level of understanding of the specific characteristic of lobha, attachment.
Then when you observe the rising and falling movements of the abdomen very attentively and energetically, when concentration becomes deeper you come to realise the rising and falling movements without being conscious of the form of the body or the form of the abdomen. The form of the abdomen has disappeared in your mind; you are not aware of it. What you are realising is just the rising movement and falling movement and the mind that notes it. When your realisation becomes more and more clear and sharp what you are realising is just motion, movement, outward movement and inward movement. These are two processes of movements rising and passing away alternately. And also you know the mind that notes it is also rising and passing away. When you are realising the motion without being aware of yourself and your bodily form and the abdomen it means you are rightly understanding the specific characteristic of the wind element vayo-dhatu.
Why can you say this understanding of the process of dual movement is right? It may be wrong, because we have an abdomen and that abdomen rises and then falls back. If we are not conscious of the form of the abdomen and the form of the body and note just movements then it may be wrong. We can say definitely it’s right because this right understanding has destroyed the false idea of a self, a soul, a person, a being. When you rightly understand just the outward movement and inward movement only you do not identify any movement of rising and falling with yourself, with your person, with your being. Then that idea or concept of a person a being an I or a you has been destroyed. When you don’t have any idea of an I or you, a person or being, there won’t arise any mental defilements such as lust greed hatred ignorance and so on. When mental defilements are destroyed there won’t arise any suffering at all. Then you have attained the state of the cessation of all kinds of suffering. This cessation of suffering is attained through right understanding of the specific characteristic of the wind element which is constantly observed.
It leads you to the cessation of suffering because you follow any teaching of any religion to destroy dukkha, suffering and live happily and peacefully. That’s your aim of following any doctrine, is it not so? That aim can be fulfilled by right understanding of mental and physical processes, especially here, rightly understanding the specific characteristic of the wind element, vayo-dhatu. Is the doctrine which instructs you to be mindful of any mental or physical process so you can rightly understand it in its true nature right or wrong? Right, why? It leads you to the cessation of suffering which is undesirable for you. So out of two levels of right understanding, as soon as your concentration is good enough, deep enough, you come to realise the first understanding, the specific characteristic of mental and physical phenomena. Then when you proceed with your practise mindfulness becomes clear and sharp and concentration becomes deeper.
When concentration becomes deeper you come to realise the second aspect of mental and physical processes. That’s the second level of understanding, that is, impermanence, suffering, and the impersonal nature of the process or no soul, no person. In Pali these are called anicca, dukkha, anatta. Anicca, impermanence; dukkha, suffering; anatta, impersonal nature or no soul no self. These three characteristics are concerned with all mental and physical processes. They are called common characteristics of mental and physical processes because they are in common with all mental and physical processes. So when you have lobha, attachment to have tea at this time, then does that lobha, attachment last very long? No. Then how long does it last? Yes. It lasts until you note it. When you note it you no longer have attachment to having tea. Then could we say attachment lasts very long or attachment is permanent? Because it rises and then passes away, it’s impermanent. In other words lobha has the characteristic of impermanence, and the same with dosa and moha and the other mental and emotional states.
Some meditators are very sensitive to the arising of anger. So if you feel anger then is that anger everlasting or transient? Transient, yes. When you note it very attentively it goes away, it disappears. It arises and then vanishes, so it’s impermanent. There, dosa has also the characteristic of impermanence. In the same way, the rising and fall of the abdomen has the characteristic of impermanence. The bending movement and stretching movement of the arms has the characteristic of impermanence. Lifting, pushing, putting movements of the foot have the characteristic of impermanence. So it’s the nature of impermanency to be in common with every mental and physical phenomenon. So they are called common or general characteristics.
Not only impermanence but also suffering, dukkha. Also the impersonal nature of mental and physical processes, anatta, no self-nature. So these three are called the common or general characteristics of body-mind processes. But at the third stage of insight knowledge you can more clearly realise these three characteristics of mental and physical processes. In the first stage of insight knowledge you realise the specific characteristics of mental and physical processes. Then it goes on the second stage and the third stage too. So when you proceed with your practise strenuously and intensively, concentration becomes deeper and deeper. Then you come to realise the movement of the foot and, say, the second level of right understanding. That’s the general characteristic of the wind element vaya-dhatu.
When you note lifting what you are aware of is the lifting movement of the foot. When you note pushing what you are aware of is the pushing movement of the foot. When you note dropping what you are aware of is the dropping movement. When you note touching what you are aware of is the touching sensation. When you note pressing you note pressure. There, when you are aware of the lifting movement with deep concentration you do not realise it as permanent, a single process of movement. You realise it as a series of broken movements rising and passing away, from the very beginning of the lifting of the foot. There are many many movements which are rising and passing away.
Then sometimes meditators report their experience like this. `When I note the lifting movement – lifting lifting lifting – there are many many movements I experience, from the very beginning of lifting many tiny movements.` Then sometimes they said, `When I note lifting I find it as a folded Chinese fan.` This is folded, then it’s stretched out it. The yogi knows it. He realises there are a series of many tiny movements arising and passing away one after another and he thinks, `Oh this is like a Chinese fan.` That means he realises the impermanence of each movement. One movement arises and then passes away, then another movement arises and passes away. In this way he sees a series of many gentle and soft tiny movements arising and passing away one after another. Then he realises impermanence. When he experiences the state of impermanence he is sure to realise the other mental and physical processes too as impermanent. So when he bends the arm he aware of bending bending bending, slowly slowly. Then because his concentration is good enough, deep enough, he comes to realise this bending movement is a series of many bending movements arising and passing away one after another. That is the realisation of the impermanence of mental and physical processes. Also he realises the mind that notes it is impermanent. This realisation is the second level of right understanding upon the general characteristic of the wind or air element, vayo-dhatu. When you are realising this impermanence of phenomena you come to realise they are rising and passing away, never lasting even a minute or second, ever changing, always appearing and disappearing. So they are not good or bad.
Then he comes to dukkha, suffering, because when he sees any mental or physical process ever changing, constantly rising and passing away every instant, the so-called mind is oppressed by that constant appearance and disappearance of phenomena. That is dukkha. Then when he discovers nothing is permanent, everything is transient and ever changing, appearing and disappearing, then does he take this mental process of ever changing as a person or a being, an I or a you? No. The idea of a person, a being arises dependent on the idea of a permanent body-mind process.
When you take this body of mine as permanent then you take it as a person, a being, an I or a you. When you realise this body-mind process is ever changing and transient and impermanent, it doesn’t last even a millionth of a second, you don’t take it to be a person, a being, an I or a you. Then you don’t have the idea of atta. When you don’t have the idea of atta it’s called anatta. Anatta means non-self, non person, no person, or the impersonal nature of mental and physical processes. So in this way you come to realise the general or common characteristics of physical processes and at the same time the mind notes it.
When your right understanding or insight knowledge of mental and physical processes as impermanent becomes clearer, you come to realise the mind that notes it is also impermanent. Then you don’t take any of the dual processes of mentality and physicality to be a person a being an I or a you. What you are realising at that moment is the incessant and continuous and constant changing of mental and physical processes which are arising and passing away one after another. When you take a set of phenomena which are forever changing you don’t take them to be a person or a being. That false idea of a person a being, a self or a soul has been destroyed by right understanding of mental and physical processes.
So when you have rightly understood these body-mind processes in their true nature in these two aspects ignorance has been replaced by right understanding, insight knowledge we call it: vipassana nana. Vipassa nana. In other words, right understanding, vipassana nana, insight knowledge or experiential knowledge, has destroyed ignorance. Yesterday I told you ignorance has the characteristic of covering the truth. When ignorance has been destroyed, you uncover the truth. You can realise this truth: impermanence, suffering, no soul, no self nature of mental and physical phenomena. But because they are ever changing and constantly appearing and disappearing you come to realise it’s dukkha. Then, do you want that to occur? If that occurs it’s not wanted, not desired. Then you have to be mindful of whatever arises in your body and mind so that you can rightly understand mental and physical processes in their two aspects, their specific and general or common aspects: specific aspects of materiality and mentality, and general characteristics of materiality and mentality. Specific characteristics are where any mental or emotional state has its own characteristics, which are nothing to do with the other mentalities and physicalities.
There are only three common and general characteristics. Anicca, dukkha, anatta. Anicca means impermanence, transience, transitoriness, and flux. Dukkha, suffering, dissatisfaction, discomfort, and so on. Then anatta, no-self, no soul, no person, non-ego. These are the three characteristics of the whole of existence. If you rightly understand, if you can penetrate into these three aspects of body-mind processes, mental and physical phenomena, you are sure to be able to destroy attachment to any living being or non-living thing. When attachment, the cause of suffering has been destroyed there won’t arise any suffering, dukkha at all. Without suffering, dukkha, you live in peace and happiness, when the cessation of suffering you have attained.
I think now you have rightly understood the aim of your mindfulness about all daily activities. So do not be reluctant, do not feel lazy. Be aware of all daily activities in more detail so you can have continuous mindfulness and deep concentration and a penetrating insight which realises the specific and general characteristics of mental and physical phenomena.
May all of you practise your meditation very intensively and continuously without any laziness, reluctance and tiredness and anger.