THE SUNLUN WAY
SUNLUN SHIN VINAYA
SUNLUN BUDDHIST MEDITATION CENTRE
7TH MILE, PYAY ROAD,THALAWADDY ROAD,
OFF U LUN MAUNG STREET
YANGON (RANGOON), MYANMAR (BURMA)
Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw – The Founding Father of the Sunlun way of Buddhist Vipassana Meditation (Picture taken in the year 1947)
Sunlun Shin Vinaya – The Presiding Abbot of Kaba-Aye Sunlun Monastery, Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma) (Picture taken on 26 October 1993 at Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon)
1. The Yogi and Vipassana (translated sermon) by Sunlun Shin Vinaya
2. Criteria for the selection of a right method of meditation by U Win Pe
3. The Sunlun Way of Mindfulness by U Win Pe
4. Explanatory Notes for Beginners and those proceeding along the Sunlun Way of Vipassana by Dr. Ba Le
5. Samatha and Vipassana (translated sermon) by Sunlun Shin Vinaya
Glossary of Pali Terms
The contents of this work may be reproduced or translated with the prior permission of Kaba-Aye Sunlun Monastery, Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma).
Gotama Buddha pointed out and cleared the way of liberation from the rounds of birth. He taught the techniques of mental development to attain that liberation. Samatha, a practice of mind concentration, eliminates distractedness, establishes one-pointed and concentrated mind, and leads to tranquility. Vipassana, a meditative practice aiming for the highest form of mental development, offers insight into the true characteristics of phenomena and the attainment of liberating knowledge (magga-nana).
In Burma, many meditation centres offer various methods of mental development employing the techniques set forth in the Maha-Satipatthana Sutta, a discourse by the Buddha on these subjects. On account of its proven efficacy and appropriateness to modern man, there is now growing interest in a technique which had been practised by the late Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw, the Abbot of the Cave Monastery of Sunlun. This technique was wrought by the Abbot in actual struggle to win the final fruits of vipassana practice. It was found to be in conformity with the principles which are at the core of Buddhist vipassana practice.
Two characteristics of Sunlun are its employment of sensation as the object of meditation, and the intensity of practice. The adoption of sensation was never the result of a deliberate intellectual choice. It arose naturally as an organic part of the actual practice. But now it is possible to understand why sensation contributes towards the efficiency of the method. Sensation lies at the intersection of mind and matter. As such, it is the best object of meditation to help the yogi, the meditator, in establishing mindfulness of the body, of sensation, and of consciousness, namely kaya-nupassana, vedana-nupassana, and citta-nupassana. It does so because it is at the root of all these stations. It is the non-mnemonic element in perception and does not depend upon habit, memory and past experience. Therefore, it is closest to the requirement of vipassana which avoids the concepts which are the basis of habit, memory and mnemonic perception.
Sunlun calls for intensity of practice. It asks the meditator to generate the necessary zeal, ardour, energy and effort to break the bonds of attachment to the illusive sense of an “I”. It should be clearly understood that the four foundations of mindfulness cannot be established in a leisurely manner. This age, perhaps more than any other, demands unflinching effort on the part of the yogi who would wish to make significant progress in the practice of vipassana.
This book contains five pieces on the fundamental aspects of the Sunlun way of mindfulness. The first and last constitutes a translated sermon delivered in Rangoon (Yangon) by Sunlun Shin Vinaya, the presiding Abbot of Kaba-Aye Sunlun Monastery in Rangoon, Burma. The next two are by U Win Pe, and followed by the one by Dr. Ba Le. The book was last edited in 2000 by Dr. Thynn Thynn. All are disciples of Sunlun Shin Vinaya and the pieces were written and edited under his guidance.
THE YOGI AND VIPASSANA
[Translated Sermon by Sunlun Shin Vinaya]
This famous hall has heard many learned speakers present the subject of vipassana in many ways. It has heard the doctrinal approach to the subject. Vipassana is insight, the intuitive knowledge which realizes the truth of the impermanence (anicca), misery (dukkha) and impersonality (anatta) of all physical and mental phenomena of existence; that is of all living beings. The way to this intuitive knowledge is the way of the seven stages of purity (visuddhi)*:-
This hall has also heard a psychological approach to the subject. There have been references to consciousness, mind-functionings, depth psychology, space-time and other such concepts. It has even heard, I believe, a mathematical presentation of vipassana employing the techniques of modern algebra and topology. Since I am no doctrinalist and still less of a trained psychologist or mathematician, but only a practician of the vipassanamethod of Lord Buddha, it would be improper of me to overstep the bounds into those fields. I believe that my best contribution to the subject can be only in the field of practice.
Thus, I propose to take a practical approach to the subject before you this evening. I shall consider the matter from the point of view of the yogi, his propensities and inclinations, his encounters with the problems and difficulties of execution, his small concerns and clingings, and his subtle self-deceptions. While doing this, I shall attempt to weave in the teachings of the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw on the practice of vipassana to illustrate my points.
The first essential equipment of the yogi is a concentrated mind. For only a concentrated mind is a cleansed mind. And only the mind which is cleansed of the five hindrances (nivarana), namely the 1) sense-desire, 2) ill-will, 3) torpor, 4) restlessness and 5) doubts, can function properly to realize vipassana insight.
For the initiation of the cleansing process, the normal, everyday mind requires an object to grasp. These objects can be of two types: external to the body-mind system of the yogi or belonging to it. Those objects which are external to the yogi belong to the environment, such as kasina discs, corpses, or the food which he eats daily. Those objects which belong to the body-mind organization of the yogi are his body and his thoughts. Any of these can be taken as an object of meditation to establish concentration.
Let us take an exercise, the in-breathing and out-breathing, (anapana). It is said to be a suitable exercise for all types of personalities. If a man practises mindfulness of respiration, he attains to a peaceful life. He causes evil and demeritorious states to be overcome. His body and mind do not tremble. He fulfils the four foundations of mindfulness (satipathana), the seven enlightenment factors (bojjhanga), and realizes wisdom (panna) and liberation (vimutti). Anapana has been practised by the Blessed One, Lord Buddha. Furthermore, anapana is said to be unadulterated, not requiring addition to make it complete. This anapana exercise may be practised in the samatha way (details in the last chapter) or performed so as to realize vipassana. Let us first use this in-breathing and out-breathing exercise to obtain vipassana (insight).
Breathe in and out. As the breath goes in and out, it will touch the nose tip or upper lip or some other place within that region. Fix the mind on the point of touch of breath. Be aware of the touch. Do not count, do not know the degree of length, do not follow the breath in and out. The method where the touch alone is taken in its bareness performs the vipassana practice.
Yet even this practice can be adulterated with samatha. If instead of being aware of the touch in its bare actuality, if instead of guarding this awareness with mindfulness the yogi makes a mental note of it; then for that moment, he has slipped into the old habit of forming a concept or an idea and therefore he practises samatha instead of the intended vipassana.
Mental noting tends to take place at a much slower pace than the actual processes of phenomena. Thus, instead of being able to take these processes as they are, it tends to keep slipping into a past where the processes are reconstructed by an intervening reasoning mind. To be able to keep up with the natural processes, the yogi only needs to be mindful. This is not difficult to perform. The initial requirement is awareness. Be aware of the touch or sensation or mental phenomenon. Then, ward and watch this awareness with mindfulness (sati). When the awareness is guarded with mindfulness, thoughts are locked out; they cannot intrude. No opportunity is offered for the formation of concepts, images or ideas. Thereby, the processes are got at directly in the very moment of occurrence, as they are in themselves, without the distortion of thought. This is true practice.
Thoughts always tend to intrude. Ideas and images stand just beyond the threshold, ready to enter at the least weakening of mindfulness. The only way to keep up with the processes, to be mindful of them, is to exercise vigilance through a rigour of effort. That is why in a motto, the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw said: “Be rigorously mindful of the awareness of touch.”
May I introduce here a brief biography of the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw.
The Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw was so named because he came from the cave monasteries of Sunlun Village near Myingyan in middle Burma. He was born in 1878 and was named Maung Kyaw Din. He was sent to a monastery school but he did not learn much there. It is said that he did not even get to the last verse of the Maha Mangala Sutta, a discourse by the Buddha on the nature of Auspiciousness, which was taught in the lowest form at school. At the age of 15, he entered employment as an office boy in the district commissioner’s office at Myingyan. He married Ma Shwe Yi of the same village. At the age of 30, he resigned from his post and returned to his native village to become a farmer.
There, at his village, he found that his fields prospered while other fields failed. In 1919, there was an epidemic. U Kyaw Din’s fields were still prospering. There is a belief among Burmese village people that if one’s worldly possessions rose rapidly, then one would die soon. Anxious because of his rising prosperity, U Kyaw Din consulted an astrologer. He was told that a two-legged being would soon leave his house. This was tantamount to saying that he would die.
In great fear U Kyaw Din decided to accomplish one great act of charity. He erected a pavilion in front of his house and invited people to meals for three days. On the third day, a mill clerk named U Ba San turned up uninvited at the feast. He began to converse about the practice of vipassana. On hearing these words, U Kyaw Din became greatly affected. He could not sleep that night. He felt that he wanted to undertake the practice, but was afraid to mention his wish because of his lack of knowledge of scriptural texts
The next day, he asked U Ba San whether a man ignorant of the texts could undertake the practice. U Ba San replied that the practice of vipassana did not require doctrinal knowledge but only deep interest and assiduity. He told U Kyaw Din to practise in-breathing and out-breathing. So from that day, whenever he could find the time, U Kyaw Din would breathe in and breathe out. One day he met a friend, U Shwe Loke, who told him that breathing in and out alone was not sufficient; he also had to be aware of the touch of breath on nostril tip.
U Kyaw Din practised awareness of the touch of breath. Then as his practice became more intense, he tried to be aware not only of the touch of breath, but also of the touch of his hand on the handle of the knife as he chopped corn cobs, the touch of rope on the hand as he drew water, the touch of his feet on the ground as he walked. He tried to be aware of touch in everything he did.
As he tended his cattle, he would sit under a tree and practise mindfulness of breathing. During the practice, he began to see coloured lights and geometrical patterns. He did not know what they were, but felt that they were the fruits of practice. This greatly encouraged him and he began to practise more assiduously. With more intensive practice, sensations were sometimes intensely unpleasant. But they did not deter him. He believed that they were the fruits of the practice and that if he desired to win greater fruit, he would have to overcome and get beyond them. Therefore, he generated more energy and developed a more rigorous mindfulness until he overcame the unpleasant sensations and passed beyond to the higher stages of the practice.
Endeavouring in this zealous manner, U Kyaw Din attained the stage of sotapanna in mid-1920. The next month, he won the second stage, the sakadagami. In the third month, he won the third stage, the anagami, the Non-Returner. Weary of motley wear, he asked permission from his wife to let him become a monk. After much resistance, the wife agreed. But even then, she asked him to sow a final crop of peas before he left. U Kyaw Din set out for the fields. But even as he was broadcasting the seeds, he felt the great urge to renounce the world. So setting his cattle free, he put the yoke up against a tree and going to the village monastery, he begged the monk there to accept him as a novice in the Order. He next betook himself to the caves nearby and practised diligently until in October, 1920, he attained the final stage, the arahat.
His achievement became known among the monks and many came to test him. Though he was a barely literate man, his answers satisfied even the most learned monks. Very often they disagreed with his replies, but when his answers were checked against the books, they found many important passages in the Canon support his statements. Many learned monks from various parts of the country went to practise mindfulness under him, and one very learned monk, the Nyaunglun Sayadaw, also became an arahat after intense practice.
When Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw’s achievement became known, many distinguished persons visited and worshipped him. The Venerable U Lokanatha, the renowned Italian monk, visited him and later declared: “I have visited Myingyan in Middle Burma and worshipped the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw. His teachings and his replies to my many questions, his disposition and deportment leave me with no doubt that he is truly what he is known to be, that is, an arahat.”
Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw performed the act of paranibbana in 1952. His remains did not decompose but remained intact and exuded a most pleasant odour. To this day, they may be seen and worshipped in Myingyan Town.
Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw was an intrinsically honest man, laconic and precise in speech, and possessed of great strength and determination. Photographs show him to be a sturdily built man. They reveal his steady gaze, clear eyes and firmly set jaws. Above all, one can see in these photographs that he possessed great daring, a quality which is a concomitant attribute of the true arahat.
“Be rigorously mindful,” Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw said. He emphasized rigorousness as an essential element because he understood the yogi. The yogi is much inclined to sit loosely and to meditate in a relaxed, leisurely way. He tends to be reflective and considerate. Reflective is in the sense of reflecting and thinking about the task to be done rather than doing it. Considerate is in the sense of sympathizing with himself, taking great care to see that he is neither exerted nor hurt. The yogi has a great love for himself and therefore prefers to let his thoughts run away with him, to drift rather than to pull himself together. To pull himself together needs exertion and that is anathema to the yogi. That is why when he is told to breathe harder, he is ready to quote chapter and verse to prove that he does not need to exert himself. Perhaps he takes a few lines from the Vimutti-magga, a discourse on the ‘Path to liberation’, and says: “The yogi should not essay too strenuously. If he attempts too strenuously, he will become restless.”
This statement is true. The yogi who strives too strenuously will become restless. But why does he become restless? It is because instead of being mindful of touch or sensation, the yogi has his mind on the effort he is making. The effort should not be allowed to draw the attention away from the object of meditation.
To keep the attention on the object and yet to generate effort, the yogi should first make sure that the attention is fixed on the object. When the object has been grasped with full awareness, and this awareness guarded with mindfulness, the yogi should step up the effort. When he proceeds in this manner, he will find that the generated effort serves to fix the attention more on the object instead of distracting it away onto the effort itself. Furthermore, a greater intentness of the mind has been developed by the increased effort.
The full text of the above quotation from the Vimutti-magga in fact reads thus: “He, the yogi, should be mindful and should not let the mind be distracted. He should not essay too strenuously nor too laxly. If he essays too laxly, he will fall into rigidity and torpor. If he essays too strenuously, he will become restless.” This means then, that the effort should be just enough for the purpose of mindfulness and knowledge. But how much is enough? I think it was William Blake who said this: “One never knows what is enough until one knows what is more than enough.”
A measure of what is enough may perhaps be supplied by the words of Lord Buddha when he spoke on how a monk should endeavour. “Monks, if his turban or hair were on fire, he would make an intense desire, effort, endeavour, exertion, struggle, mindfulness and attentiveness to extinguish the fire. So also, an intense desire, effort, endeavour, exertion, struggle, mindfulness and attentiveness is to be made by him so as to give up every evil and wrong state.”
Because he knew how much effort was required, because he was familiar with the propensity to slackness on the part of the yogi, the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw instructed: “Be rigorously mindful.” To be mindful rigorously is to mobilize all of one’s resources and to grasp the processes as they are, without thinking or reflecting. Rigourousness calls forth the element of viriya, effort. It is samma vayamo, right effort, which is one component of the Noble Eightfold Path.
Another inclination of the yogi is to fidget. He likes to scratch, to shift, or if he is breathing he likes to stop, then start and stop again. These are signs of distraction. These indicate that mindfulness has not been thoroughly established. To remind the yogi that the distraction is to be avoided and the agitation stilled, Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw instructed: “Do not scratch when itched, nor shift when cramped, nor pause when tired.” He required the yogi who feels the itch, cramp or tiredness to breathe harder if he is breathing, or to plunge the mind deeper into the sensation if he is watching the sensation, and thereby, with increased attention to the performance of the task, to develop intense mindfulness.
Visuddhi-magga, a discourse on the ‘Path of Purification’, says that by getting up and so disturbing the posture, the meditation has to be started anew. The yogi who sits down to meditate, then an hour later gets up to walk away the sensations of sitting, then another hour later sits down to think away the sensations of walking, keeps disturbing the posture. Whatever sensation that arises in the sitting posture has to be watched in the sitting posture until it has phased itself out. Whatever sensation that arises in the standing posture has to be watched in the standing posture until it has phased itself out.
Remaining still with attention riveted to the awareness to touch or sensation calls forth the element of sati, mindfulness. It is samma sati, right mindfulness, another component of the Noble Eightfold Path.
There is a third behaviour characteristic of the yogi. After the lower hindrances (nivarana) have been removed, lights, colours and geometrical patterns appear to the yogi. On the one hand, there is the fascination of the yogi for these things which have never appeared to him like this before. On the other hand, these lights, colours and patterns are attractive. Because of these two forces, the yogi begins to turn his attention to the lights and patterns, he gazes on them, he dwells in them. And with this turning away from the object of meditation, he abandons his original purpose.
In like manner, after a period of practice, when the yogi has cleansed his mind somewhat, he will begin to experience a measure of calm and tranquility. Since he has never before experienced such peace of mind, he thinks that this is the best fruit of the practice. Because of this appreciation of the experience, and because the calm and tranquility attained is attractive in itself, the yogi begins to dwell in it, to savour the calmness to the full. He likes to sink in the sense of peace and hates to put forth the necessary effort to get back again onto the right path.
Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw illustrated this with a local simile. Myingyan river beach is a stretch of sand a mile wide. A traveller to the river finds the sand exceedingly hot beneath his feet under the raging noonday sun. On the way, he comes to a tree. He decides to rest in its shade for a moment. But when that moment has passed, he finds that he cannot urge himself to get up to move out of that cool shade into the heat which rages above and beneath him. So he continues to dwell in the shade. But will this ever help him to reach the riverside? The destination can be reached only if he steps out again into the heat and urges his body forward. That is why the meditation masters warn the vipassana yogi not to let himself be drawn by the minor calm and tranquility he finds along the way. There was once a yogi who habitually drifted into this area of tranquility and would not budge out of it. The Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw said of him: “This man keeps lifting up the tail and patting the behind of the little iguana he has caught.” I hope the distinguished yogis will not be satisfied with a mere iguana.
With a further increase in the clarity and purity of the mind, the yogi sometimes becomes more perceptive to extra-sensual things. It is not the true divine sight and divine hearing that he attains, but it is a power somewhat similar to these. Because of this power, the yogi can see what others cannot see, he can hear what others cannot hear. People come to consult him and his predictions come true. He becomes a sort of a shaman. Thus he has degenerated from a vipassana yogi to a shaman. But after some time, as the distractions of the new vocation grow more varied and the practice of meditation becomes less intense, the answers turn out to be less and less accurate, and gradually the clients go away, never to return. The yogi is left with an interrupted practice.
Many are the occasions in which the yogi indulges in self-deception. Though he should practise intensively, he deceives himself that the goal of liberation can be won in a leisurely manner. Though he should sit still, he deceives himself that a slight shift or movement can do no harm. Perhaps he is right for the initial crude moments of the practice, but for the peak in each phase of practice, the smallest wavering of mindfulness can bring down the structure of meditation, and the edifice will need to be set up again. Since he can deceive himself in these matters of the body, how much more can he do it in the subtle mental matters?
A strong inclination for the yogi is to take the first signs of progress on the path to be signs indicating the higher stages. For instance, unpleasant sensation can snap abruptly. For one moment, there is the intense unpleasantness of the sensation; the next moment, it has gone, snuffed out, and in its place there is a deep sense of calm and quiet. The yogi often likes to believe that this is magga-phala, the post-mental functioning of the enlightenment knowledge. And he notches for himself one stage of the four ariya stages.
This wrong assignment of the phases of practice can be made also because the meditation master himself is not thoroughly versed in such matters, or because his instructions and the teachings in the books are not understood well. However it is, the yogi likes to classify himself as having attained at least one or two of the ariya stages. And with this thought in mind, he goes about seeking confirmation of his belief. And woe be the meditation master who, however gently and indirectly, makes his failings known to him. Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw would never pass judgement on anyone, whether or not that yogi had really attained the said phase or stage. His only remark would be: “If it is so, it is so.” In any case, a true attainment would need no confirmation from another source. The yogi would know it himself. Likewise, a wrong sense of attainment would not need debunking; the yogi would realize it for himself.
The main danger of this form of self-deception is the wrong sense of achievement that it would give to the yogi. Satisfied with what he thinks has been his progress, he might lay off the practice and thus be stranded on the path without having gained any progress of real value.
There is one pet hate of the yogi, and that is unpleasant sensation. Let him face slight feelings of cramp, heat or muscular tension, and he will try to be mindful of it for some time. But give him the pain within the marrow of the bone, the burning sensation, the sharp excruciating pain along the limbs, and he will abandon them in a few minutes. As usual, he is ready with his excuses and the quotation of chapter and verse. Who says one must employ unpleasant sensation as an object of meditation, he wants to know. Cannot a yogi attain whatever is to be attained by working on pleasant sensation? Who says one should suffer so much? Is this not self-mortification?
The answer is that if a yogi is so well blessed with parami, which is the inherent quality of perfection of virtues developed and nurtured in one’s past lives (past perfection), to be a sukha-patipada, one who treads the pleasant path, one who can gain ariya knowledge without undergoing pain, then he can work on pleasant sensation. But for the overwhelming majority of us, as may be observed, there is no choice but to tread the path of unpleasant sensation, for we are dukkha-patipada.
Actually there should be no cause for regret. Unpleasant sensation is an efficacious object of meditation which takes the yogi steadily up the path to the attainment of the final goal. The very fact that the yogi does not normally like unpleasant sensation can be employed by him to establish a deeper and more intense mindfulness. Made to work with an object he does not like, he will remember to arouse the necessary zeal to overcome the unpleasant sensation. It is different with pleasant sensation. Because he likes it, he will tend to sink in it, to suffuse himself with its pleasantness without trying to be mindful of it. When he does that, the greed and lust that is latent in pleasant sensation will overwhelm him. The yogi will not be able to hold on to sensation as sensation, but sensation will carry him forward to originate the next link of desire, tanha, in the chain leading to further births.
It is as though a swimmer in a strong current were asked to grasp the bunch of flowers at the winning post. If he is swimming with the current and stretches out his hand to grasp the flowers and he misses, he will be carried beyond the point by the force of the current. If he is swimming against the current and misses when stretching out his hand to grasp the flowers, he will still be below them and will thus have an opportunity to try again consciously and deliberately. The swimmer with the current is like the yogi who employs pleasant sensation. If he is unable to be mindful of pleasant sensation, he will be carried beyond it into lobha, desire. The swimmer against the current is like the yogi who employs unpleasant sensation. If he is unable to be mindful of unpleasant sensation as it is in itself, he will still be conscious of it and will be able to summon up the energy and mindfulness to accomplish his mission.
Pleasant sensation is like a hidden enemy; it catches the yogi unaware. Unpleasant sensation is like a conspicuous foe; the yogi can recognize it and take corrective action so that anger, which is latent in unpleasant sensation, does not get an opportunity to rise. Between natural dislike of unpleasant sensation and a zealous effort to establish mindfulness, the yogi will neither immerse himself in it nor flinch from it. He will be able to detach himself completely from the unpleasant sensation, dwelling within the sensation, watching the sensation, without thinking any thought connected with the sensation. Unpleasant sensation serves as a firm hitch-post for the mind which inclines to wander. An unpleasant sensation will never deceive the yogi about the true nature of phenomena – unpleasantness (dukkha).
Also, there should be no cause for fear of unpleasant sensation. There are techniques to arouse a sufficient depth and intensity of mindfulness to overcome the infliction and hurt of unpleasant sensation. This sense of infliction is due to the identification of the yogi with the area of pain and the effect of unpleasant sensation. But when mindfulness has been established sufficiently to penetrate and be deeply engrossed in the sensation and be able to eliminate the identification with the notion of a personality, an “I”, which can be hurt, then unpleasant sensation becomes only an unpleasant sensation and no more a source of pain.
The ultimate purpose of vipassana meditation is to eliminate the illusive notion of “I”. A yogi has to chip at the notion of “I” again and again in these struggles with unpleasant sensation.
Let us say the unpleasant sensation rises. The yogi keeps mindful of it until the unpleasant sensation is consumed. Thereby, the cause is killed in the effect. It means, the causative karmic force (born out of past physical, verbal, mental deeds which are bad or unwholesome) manifests itself as unpleasant sensation. When this unpleasant sensation has been mindfully observed, followed and consumed till the end with intense concentration, the effect, the resultant of that unwholesome karmic deed has been eliminated. He does it again and again until with perfect proficiency, he finally manages to kill the cause in the cause, to end the cause in the cause. That means, he is able to put a stop on the causative unwholesome karmic deeds even before they rear their heads, even before they appear. This is anuppada-nirodha. Because of being able to end the cause in the cause, it can never again give rise to an effect (result of a karmic deed) which will only turn out to be another cause in the endless chain. This killing of the cause in the cause is magga, the Right Path. And it is because of this quality of efficacy in eliminating the false notion of “I”, Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw stated: “The uncomfortable truly is the norm; the comfortable will set you all adrift on the currents of samsara.” Unpleasant sensation is the yogi’s internal enemy. Once the internal enemy can be overcome, the external sources of suffering (dukkha) cannot touch him any more.
After a period of ardent practice, there comes a moment when the true liberating knowledge is offered to the yogi. These moments come only to the very few. To arrive to this moment, the yogi must have completely perfected the establishment of mindfulness of the body, kaya-nupassana. He must have completely perfected the establishment of the foundation of mindfulness of the sensations, vedana-nupassana. This means that he must have perfectly overcome the unpleasant sensation. The unpleasant sensations are the greatest obstacles confronting the yogi in this progress along the path. This is where he keeps falling back. To overcome them, he needs to possess unflinching energy, resolve and intentness as well as the right technique. But unpleasant sensations can be both a road-block as well as a stepping-stone; they can be a trap-pit as well as a gold mine. They can equip the yogi with sufficient powers of concentration and mindfulness to deal with the subtle processes of the next phase, the establishment of mindfulness of consciousness, citta-nupassana.
When mindfulness of consciousness has been completed perfectly, he will be offered the task of establishing the foundations of mindfulness of mental objects and fundamental principle, dhamma-nupassana. Here comes that awful moment of truth. If the yogi has not perfectly established the mindfulness of the principles, then when liberating knowledge is offered to him, he will shy away from it, he will fail to grasp it. But if he has fully perfected the establishment of the four foundations of mindfulness (satipatthana), and he has fully acquired the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga), then in that very moment of perfecting and acquiring these seven, there will arise in him, the true liberating knowledge, magga-nana.
The above behaviour characteristics are typical of the yogi. He is disinclined to endeavour ardently, is quick to fidget, eager to follow after lights and colours, prone to rest in areas of calm, ready to exaggerate minor successes, willing to misuse subsidiary power, liable to give himself the benefit of the doubt, afraid of unpleasant sensation, and terrified and clumsy when the real moment of truth is offered. We do not need to search for this yogi elsewhere, we are the prototype. It is we who would like to reap the benefits of meditation but are unwilling to sow the good seed; it is we who wish to gather the returns but do not wish to lay down the investment. We wish to talk ourselves to a goal which can only be reached by high endeavour; we wish to deceive ourselves into a situation which will permit the entry of only the perfectly truthful.
Does this mean then that the goal will forever be beyond our reach? That is not so. Where Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw has trodden, we too can tread. We need only to follow his instructions faithfully. Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw instructed us :
“Be rigorously mindful of the awareness of touch.”
We should be rigorously, ardently, intensively mindful.
“Do not rest when tired,
scratch when itched,
nor shift when cramped.”
We should keep our bodies and minds absolutely still and strive till the end.
“The uncomfortable truly is the norm; the comfortable will set us all adrift on the currents of samsara.”
We should endeavour to study unpleasant sensation in depth; only he who has tackled and overcome sensation fully well will see processes as they are.
We should generate a willing suspension of disbelief, exert that extra ounce of effort, and be rigorously mindful.
Have faith (saddha), perseverance (viriya) and mindfulness (sati) to purify ourselves, to overcome pain and grief, to reach the right path, to win Nibbana.
The seven stages of purity (visuddhi) are:
- Purity of morality(sila-visuddhi)
- Purity of mind (citta-visuddhi)
- Purity of view, belief(ditthi-visuddhi)
- Purity by overcoming all doubts(kankha-vitarana- visuddhi)
- Purity of knowledge and insight(magga-magga-nana-daassana-visuddhi) by discriminating what is the right Path and what is not
- Purity of knowledge and insight(patipada-nana-dassana-visuddhi) that discerns the Path progress. It means the disciple clearly understands and follow the right Path, which is meant the nine levels of knowledge leading to the attainment of Noble Path (ariya magga). That is, from the final stage of the 4th level of knowledge (udaya-baya-nana) up to the 13th level of knowledge (anuloma-nana).
- Purity of knowledge and insight(nana-dassana-visuddhi) into the four supramundane Noble (ariya) Truths and Fruition
Five hindrances (nivarana):
They are obstacles to any kind of mental development.
- Sense-desire (kama chanda)
- Ill-will (bya-pada)
- Sloth and torpor(thina-middha)
- Restlessness and worry(uddhacca kukkusa)
- Doubts(vici kiccha)
CRITERIA FOR THE SELECTION OF A RIGHT METHOD OF MEDITATION
“This is the only way for the purification of beings, for the over-coming of sorrow and misery, for the destruction of pain and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nibbana.” Gotama Buddha was referring in the Maha Satipatthana Sutta, a discourse on the way to mindfulness – mindfulness of body, sensation, consciousness, and mental elements. Mindfulness is the high road but access to it is claimed by many by-ways. Various methods are offered as means to the successful establishment of mindfulness. The Maha Satipatthana Sutta itself contains many methods and exercises.
For the establishment of mindfulness of body, there are exercises in mindfulness of breathing (anapana), the postures of the body (ariyaput), the material elements (dhatu), and cemetery contemplations (sivathika).
For mindfulness of sensation, there are pleasant sensation, unpleasant sensation and neither-pleasant-nor-unpleasant sensation.
For mindfulness of consciousness (citta-nupassana), there are enumerated sixteen types of consciousness (citta).
The five hindrances (nivarana), the five aggregates of clinging (khandhas), the six internal and six external sense-bases (ayatana), the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga) and the four noble truths (ariya-sacca) are the mental elements on which mindfulness can be developed.
Presently in this country, Sunlun, Thathanayeiktha, Hanthawaddy, Mingun, Mohnyin, Nyanasagi, and other schools of meditation offer many modes of practice.
Mindfulness is to be established through rigorous awareness of touch and sensation, or by mental noting of the movement of the abdomen on respiration, or movement of the limbs and body in various postures, or watching whatever phenomenon arises within the body, or seeing in the seen only what is seen, and by various other means.
There arises this question: how can the prospective meditator, faced with this bewildering choice of methods, select the right one? ‘Right’ is used here to mean the undoubted power, proved in practice, which enables the meditator to attain here and now, the results set out in the preamble to the Maha Satipatthana Sutta. This article will propose a set of criteria to help the meditator select that right method.
In general, the criteria are only two: the method should be appropriate to the age and time, and should also be suitable to the man living now.
This age is not comparable to that which flowered two thousand and five hundred years ago. That was an age which bloomed but once in a myriad years. Gotama Buddha was alive then, and many a man was rewarded with the opportunity to meet in person with Gotama Buddha or one of the chief disciples. And as a result of such encounters, those men could easily and quickly gain knowledge and insight leading to Nibbana. That was an age of high endeavour and immediate liberation. That was an age of such men and women as Shin Sariputra, Maha Moggalana, Maha Kassapa, Bahiya Daruciriya, Santati and Dhammadinna – great persons who possessed quick understanding. That was an age when a man could pass unhindered through a wall or mountain, could plunge into the earth and shoot up again, could walk upon the water without parting it, or could travel through the air like bird upon the wing.
A technique suitable to that age may not be suitable to this age; a method suitable to those men may not be appropriate to the men of these times. Thus, the criteria for the method should be that it ought to be appropriate to this age and to man living now. This set of criteria is too general however, and for it to be operationally useful, it should be more specific. To arrive at the specific, consideration should first be given to the requirements which they should meet. This will entail a study of the characteristics of the age and man.
This is an age of symbols, concepts and forms, of abstraction and intellectualization. Every age is one of symbols and forms; this is because the mundane world is lived amidst symbols and forms. Symbols, verbal and non-verbal, are used for communication; forms are all around in the shape and pattern of things and in their images which are retained in men’s minds. But the exigencies of this age require a more deliberate and deeper use of these symbols. The necessity of bringing together an expanding world, the need to understand each other more, and the increasing facilities provided for communication have made symbols impress themselves deeper in men’s minds. Growing art forms, and techniques and apparatus of mass media have placed forms and shapes more and more before men today.
There is the increasing volume of exercises in conceptualization, abstraction and intellectualization brought about by the growth of both the physical and social sciences, increased literacy, and a taste for sophistication in intellectual matters. The need for regulating and administering a complex society has also increased the call on abstraction and the workings of the intellect. The peasant and worker too have grown fond of the exercise of intellectualization. Previous ages too have had their share of abstraction and intellectualization, but never before has this habit spread so far and deep into all sections of society.
This age is against any repression of physical urges or mental impulses. It is for their full use and expression because it fears that any control of these might lead to traumas and other psychological imbalances. It goes further even to the extent of stimulating these drives through advertising and hidden persuasion. And it claims that it can provide the material objects and the wherewithal for the gratification of any sense desires that it may have stimulated.
This is a sensual age which delights in its sensuality and its pride is its ability to satisfy, in an increasing degree, the demands of the senses. All this is called good living with a peculiar connotation attributed to the word ‘good’. This heightened sensuality is more extensive than at any other time in history.
The pace of living is fast and man is under pressure to run increasingly faster even if only to keep from falling behind the times. He is subjected to great strain and kept under heavy stress whether at work or at play, in the office or at home. Physical wear and tear is excessive. The load on the mind is sometimes unbearable, leading to mental disturbances. This is the age of the psychopath and the neurotic.
The noise is appalling. The sound of engines for transport or manufacture, instruments for shaping and fashioning, apparatus for amplifying the voice or music, penetrate into almost every nook, and the urge to use these noisy instruments seems to have spread to all hours of the day and night. It is probably very difficult now to get any distance away from the maddening crowd. And the most disturbing of all these noises is the sound of man’s own mental chatter, the commotion created in the mind of man by his agitated thoughts, unsatisfied desires, unappeased anger and unresolved doubts.
The man of this age wishes to escape from these artifacts of his making and from these aspects of himself. But the escape he seeks is not true liberation. He is too much attached to his things and to himself to really want that. He desires escape only into a cocoon from which he can emerge again to enjoy, although always unsatisfactorily, the material or intellectual objects of his fashioning and the idea and image of himself.
But he is lazy too. He does not wish to exert himself. He wants the objects of his desire to arrive before him by the push of a button. He demands facility and speed. All his endeavours are directed towards this end -to get what he wants in a capsule. This is a pills-swallowing world. And since he is lazy, he dislikes mental discipline. As Edward Conze has pointed out, modern individualism, the pretences of democracy, and the current methods of education have combined to produce a deep-rooted dislike of mental discipline. This shows in itself an aversion to memorize the salient points of theory which are required by various meditations, not to mention the numerical lists which often are the very backbone of some of the training.
Modern man does not care too much for the total retirement of a monastic life in which the meditative exercises can be pursued regularly without intermission. He has many worldly duties to perform, and thus would prefer a method which would enable him to carry it out in conjunction with those other duties. Also, the call of those duties does not leave him with much time for the practice of meditation. He has too much to do and is unable to get away often for long spells of leave from his profession. Each day he can provide perhaps only an hour at the most. Modern man is chronically short of time.
His chief characteristic is his lack of a quick intuition. Shin Sariputra and Bahiya Daruciriya were men of quick intuition who attained insight on hearing the utterance of a verse of dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha. Modern man, on the other hand, has to cultivate his mental powers again and again, many many times, before he can reach that stage when he is ready for the flash of insight. Modern man is of sluggish intuition.
These are the characteristics of the age and the man. Any method of meditation should be able to accommodate these characteristics if it is to be appropriate to the age and to lead modern man to mindfulness and insight. It should enable him to overcome his weaknesses, strengthen his purposes, sublimate his wrong urges, and develop and mobilize his inherent resources for the winning of magga-nana (Path knowledge for enlightenment). Only such a method may be called right, for only such a method will put man on the right path and finally convey him to complete liberation. Since this is so, what should be the specific characteristics of this right method?
Insight (vipassana) is the elimination of concepts (pannati) to penetrate to the real, the absolute truth (paramattha) for the winning of knowledge (panna). Therefore, the characteristic of the right chief method should be its power to gain immediate and direct access to the truth in the highest ultimate sense, as contrasted with the conventional truth. Without this power of immediate penetration to the real, a man might end up wandering about the surface realm of form, piling concept upon concept, while ostensibly pointing to the real.
For instance, when touch occurs, he should be able to grasp the bare fact of touch without any need for formulating the concept, “touch, touch”. He should be aware of the precise moment of the occurrence of touch-sensation, and his mindfulness should be contemporaneous with it. These three events should happen simultaneously – touch, awareness, mindfulness.
Reality is to be grasped in the actual moment of occurrence. If mindfulness cannot be awakened to take place simultaneously with the moment of occurrence because of any interference whatsoever, then, reality would have died away, subsided in the interim, and any consciousness of that past event would be only the result of a glancing back at it, an after-thought.
If the bare fact of touch is not grasped mindfully in the precise moment of happening, because the concept – “touch, touch” has to be formed, however swiftly, then during that moment of conceptualization, the touch-event would have occurred and ended. Whatever else that is grasped later can be only a memory, a mentally created image of the touch, a replica of the real. The first required characteristic of the method then, would be its power to grasp bare reality as it is, in the precise present moment, without disturbing it, without conceptualizing it.
The method should be able to overcome wholly, the attraction of the sensual objects and the force of the urge for sense gratification. This is necessary if it is to draw the attention of the meditator completely away from the sensual objects and fix it on the object of mindfulness; this is also to cleanse the mind thoroughly of any lingering sensuality.
Any division of the direction of attention between a sensual object and the object of mindfulness would result in the creation of a disturbance, an interruption, the passing of the present moment, and consequent loss of power to get to the real. A mind with even the least tinge of sensuality would find that the sensuality keeps coming in between it and the real, like a glove between the hand and a rose petal. The real can never be grasped unless there is a full commitment to it. Since the force of attraction and the power of the sensual urge are great, the method calls for a powerful thrust. This may be compared to the thrust of a booster engine which carries a rocket beyond the point of escape from the gravitational pull of the earth. In other words, it should be an intense method.
It should not impose a nervous strain upon the meditator. During the course of practice, psychological turbulences may occur. The method should be able to quieten, curb, eliminate them, or if they are to be worked out and consumed, the working out should take place during the period of meditation without undue adverse effect upon the process, and without any bodily or mental harm to the meditator.
It should be a method which does not disqualify the sick, the feeble and the maimed. It should enable them to practise it as completely and perfectly as it is practised by the well, the strong and the able-bodied. The right method should lead to mental and physical health, not neurosis and illness; it should lead to clear knowledge, not imbalance. It should be able to accomplish this because of the perfect establishment of curative mindfulness and complete understanding to the health-giving real.
The method should be able to raise high the threshold which noise must pass over to distract the meditator. It should enable him to practise in the normal noise of the home, or even while a sound truck goes blaring down the street. He effects this not by the practice of a method which creates a sound noisier than the original distractive sound. True, it is possible for a method which requires strong, hard respiration to protect him in an envelope of sound of his own breathing, but its efficacy could be limited by sounds which are louder than the noise of breathing. Moreover, this protection by a wall of sound should not be the purpose though it might well be an incidental effect. Strong respiration should be called forth, primarily to awaken energetic and intensive application of mindfulness. The object of meditation should be capable of fully absorbing the attention of the meditator so that no noise can distract him, and the method should quickly develop the concentrative power of the mind. Only in this manner can noise be overcome.
To overcome the laziness of modern man, a right method of meditation should be self-energizing. The very practice should generate earnestness in whoever begins to undertake it, so that ardour is developed continually and increasingly till the moment comes when original laziness is eliminated. It should produce rapid and definite progress so that his interest is aroused and he feels a keen desire to persevere in the practice. It should be so absorbing and generative of zeal that the taking of the first few steps will create the momentum to carry him through to the end.
An appropriate method for modern man need not require the prior memorizing of a series of formulae or a numerical list of items or the mastery of an elaborate theory. It need not call for book learning and academic qualification. Discursive knowledge of scriptural texts and philosophies may well aid the meditator after the event of meditation, when he wishes to conceptualize the knowledge of the real he has won in the course of meditation. But coming before the event, such theoretical studies tend to get in the way of the meditator who has to throw aside concepts and discursive conventional knowledge to get through to the real. He need not be required to perform intellectual calisthenics. If modern man were asked to meet these theological and academic qualifications, few, except scholastics and theoreticians, would be qualified to meditate. Modern man is educated in his profession but not in these subjects.
Between a method which is intensive and productive of quick results, and another which is relaxed and slow to bear fruit, the former would be more suited to modern man who has not much time to spare for meditation. A man may be able to spare a week or a month perhaps, away from his profession. If ardour is not stirred up quickly, nor mindfulness developed, and the real not seen, he might well find at the end of his given period, that irrevocable progress has not been made and the momentum produced by him would be lost while he attends to his worldly duties. The next time he can spare another week or month, he might have to generate the required powers afresh, with these to be lost again without real transformation of the man. But if he strives earnestly because the method is intensive, then he can win within that period, that which he has set out to win, or can, at a minimum, establish a way of approach so that in the next period, his progress is facilitated and the transformation takes place.
The method would be preferable if it could ordinarily be practised in conjunction with the performance of other duties. But this should be made clear. In a sense, no method of meditation leading to insight is compatible with the worldly life. The purpose of the practice is to seek liberation from the rounds of rebirth and to loosen the hold upon life. Any act which strengthens that grasp is detrimental to the practice. If a man seeks to continue to perform his worldly duties as well as to be liberated, there will be conflict of purposes and the acts directed towards the realization of one goal will stultify those acts directed towards the winning of the other goal. But this does not mean that a man should not, could not, or would not continue to perform those worldly duties, and perform them well, until he is liberated.
He is a worldling trying to enter the ‘stream’: he will continue to be in the lay world, living the life of a worldling until he becomes a ‘stream-winner’ upon reaching the first stage. Even the life and practice leading to sakadagami, the second stage, are compatible with the performance of worldly duties. It is only when he has attained the third stage, the anagami, does he abandon the common world.
Thus, a method which employs the sense of touch could be practised along with other duties. At no moment of the day or night will a man’s body not be in touch with an object. If he is sitting, his body will touch the chair. If he is lying, his head will touch the pillow. If he is working, his hands will touch the tools. If he can be mindful of touch of body against chair, of head against pillow, or of tool against hand, he will be guarding his mind and developing somewhat his power of concentration (samadhi) to find out the real. This relaxed practice however, can only be a supplement to the more intensive primary practice which he undertakes in order to break through the bonds of rebirth.
Modern man with his sluggish intuition requires initially a crude object of meditation. Of the four objects, body, sensation, consciousness, and mental elements, the former two – body and sensation – are crude, while the latter two are refined and subtle. A man with sluggish intuition should attempt to develop his concentrative power and mindfulness on those two crude objects. Later, and consequentially as his mind becomes cleansed, firm and serviceable, he will be able to grasp consciousness and mental elements as they arise in accord with their own nature during the course of meditation. Still, every time he wishes to practise mindfulness of consciousness and mental elements, he will have to pass through the stations of touch and sensation till his mind is thoroughly cleansed, made firm and serviceable. Only as an anagami perhaps, he may not need to do this.
A right method of meditation should not be in confusion between means and ends, or between cause and effect. The means here are ‘mindfulness’, and the ends is to attain ‘insight’. The cause and effect are the karmicdeeds and their resultant outcome (consequences). For instance, in order to see in the seen only what is seen, a man should not be asked just to gaze upon the object and force or persuade himself to see in it only the seen; this is the way of auto-suggestion. He should be asked to perform that causative act – the ‘mindfulness’ which will give effect to ‘seeing in the seen only what is seen’; that is ‘taking it as it is’ without reacting to what he has seen. He should be made to work from cause to effect, here meaning – to work on mindfulness to produce insight. If he should work upon the undesirable effect – like working on his reactions or emotions of desire, anger or delusion, the result will be a shifting away from the intended aim, the insight, to that of another effect which will in turn become a cause, a force, (by perpetuating successive emotions) for rounds of rebirth, samsara. This is slipping away from the present to an unwanted, unprofitable future and the further turning of the wheel of rebirth.
Finally, a right method of meditation should lead to true liberation and not just escape. There are many ways of gaining psychological escape, ways which may be therapeutic or neurotic; these take place on the mundane level of living without any development of the mind. There are also ways of escape offered by methods which result in tranquility; these are the ways of jhana, the various states of mental absorption through meditation. The dross of sensuality is removed, anger is pacified, agitation is stilled, the mind quietened, and joy and bliss realized. There is development of the mind, but the results are temporal and temporary. They take place within the thirty-one worlds* and the reward is consumed when the force of the original causative act is spent. True liberation is won only through knowledge of the real, attained in the moment of supramundane enlightenment (magga nana). Only true liberation is both transcendental and permanent.
Summing up, the following characteristics should be looked for in choosing a right method of meditation:
– Penetrating immediately and directly to the real;
– Overcoming the urge for sense gratification;
– Promoting bodily and mental health;
– Raising the threshold for noise;
– Not requiring extensive discursive knowledge;
– Productive of quick results;
– Capable of being practised in conjunction with other duties;
– Suitable for the sluggish intuition;
– Distinguishing between means and ends; and
– Leading to true liberation.
THE SUNLUN WAY OF MINDFULNESS
In this age, the objects of desire and aversion impinge upon the senses with increasing force and growing variety. There is a greater urge and opportunity for the gratification of the senses. The accelerating pace of living and the increasing pressure create stresses leading to anxiety and neurosis. City life is becoming noisier, and noise is a thorn in the flesh of jhana, the mental absorptions through meditation. At the same time, people do not have enough leisure for a long and sustained practice of any way of mindfulness. The result is an increasing diversion of the attention and diffusion of mental powers, with less and less time even for minimum corrective action. To cap it all, people who are born in these latter days of the Buddha dispensation (sasana) are of sluggish intuition rather than of quick intuition. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a way of mindfulness which takes into account the growing urges and commodities for sense-gratification, increasing noise and distraction, lack of time and the meditator’s own sluggish intuition.
Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw’s way of mindfulness provides a technique to quickly overcome sloth and desires of the senses. It raises the threshold, over which noise and distraction must pass to divert the attention of the meditator. For the man of sluggish intuition, it provides an amazingly sure and rapid method for the complete and perfect establishment of the four foundations of mindfulness. It is not a method fashioned out of the elements available in the books. It is a method forged in the struggle against self-love and ignorance. Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw was a barely literate man and was thus blessed by not being sicklied with the pale cast of thought. With earnestness, courage and perseverance, he became an arahat in 1920. Sunlun Shin Vinaya has made the technique available to the city man who is without the overwhelming courage and perseverance of the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw. What follows is a very brief sketch of the method.
Assume a meditative posture which can be maintained for some time without change. Do not lie in bed nor recline in a chair. The posture should be one which will permit the gathering together and assumption of all of one’s resources. The posture should be one designed for hard work and not relaxation. A suitable posture is to sit with legs crossed. The back should be straight. The arms should be held close against the side of the body. The right fist should be held in the left hand. This is to facilitate the clenching of the fist as the meditator summons his strength to combat unpleasant sensation which may arise later. Do not mesh the fingers of the hands nor hold them lightly with each thumb against the other. Let the head be slightly bowed. Do not sit loosely. Assume a tight posture where the body provides a firm base, its circuit is closed and the meditator is alert.
Select a spot where the meditation session can be concluded without disturbance. It is better to select a quiet place out of the wind but that is not essential. Meditation may be done individually or in a group. No elaborate preparation of the place is required nor should it be made a ritual.
There are no set periods for meditation. Time should be arranged to suit the meditator’s convenience. But he should take care that the meditation hour or two is not sacrificed to some other purpose. Western books suggest that the beginner should start with a session of two or three minutes a day, the period to be gradually extended. Sunlun’s experience is that an intensive initial session of an hour or so produces more beneficial results. A normal session should not be less than an hour or two. Those practising intensively sit through the whole day or night.
After the posture has been selected and assumed, it should not be changed or altered in any way. It will have to be kept up till the end of the session. Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw has said:
“If cramped, don’t move;
if itchy, don’t scratch;
if fatigued, don’t rest.”
Commence by inhaling. It will be noticed that the breath touches the nostril tip or upper lip. Be keenly mindful of the touch of breath. With mindfulness vigilantly maintained, breathe strongly, firmly and rapidly. Strong, hard, and rapid breathing wards off external noises, helps to control the mind, quickly removes the hindrances, rapidly establishes concentration and enables the meditator to cope with the unpleasant sensation which may arise later.
Strong, hard and rapid breathing will cause inhaled and exhaled breath to touch with increased friction against the tips of the nostril holes, the upper lip or some other part of the body in that region. Be mindful of that touch of breath.
“When the breath touches the nostril tip or upper lip, you will be aware of it. Be mindful of that awareness,” said the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw. Let not a single touch pass without awareness. Be aware of every single touch.
“Be rigorously mindful of touch and awareness of touch,” said the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw. Mindfulness should be rigorous. It should not be relaxed. This means that there should be putting forth of energy, that the meditator should be ardent and zealous.
Do not let the awareness be of the breath-body. Do not follow it in and out of the body. Do not count its entrances and exits. Do not take note of the area of touch of breath whether it be the nostril tip or upper lip. Let awareness be only of the sensation of touch of breath. Be mindful only of the sensation of touch.
Breathe in air attentively and fully as though water was being drawn into a syringe. Exhale sharply. Full and hard drawing in of breath helps to establish concentration rapidly. It helps the sensations to arise. It provides strength in the coming struggle with unpleasant sensation. Since most people have stronger exhalation, it is necessary to pay greater attention to inhalation to realize a balance between inhalation and exhalation. When these two are balanced, then the touch will be continuous like the touch of saw against wood which simile is mentioned in the Pali Texts. When they are balanced, the meditator will have reached the stage of smooth, effortless, self-compelled rhythmic breathing.
Breathe without shaking the head and body. This will obtain concentration quickly. If the meditator practises this exercise not so much for its vipassana rewards but for health, then he may breathe with a shaking motion of the head and body.
Fatigue may set in at the early stages of strong, hard, rapid breathing, but he should neither stop nor reduce the strength and rapidity of breathing. “Don’t rest when fatigued,” said the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw. The fatigue is probably due to either insufficient strength of inhalation or to excessive blowing on exhalation. The remedy is to increase the strength of inhalation. When inhalation and exhalation strengths are balanced at a high level, the fatigue will disappear. He will then have broken out of the zone of difficult breathing into the zone of smooth, effortless, self-compelled rhythmic breathing. Attention can then be addressed wholly to mindfulness of touch of breath.
There are three levels of breathing — high (very strong, hard, rapid, breathing); medium (strong, hard, rapid); low (weak, soft, slow breathing; the common way of breathing). Since man is not a machine, he will flag and falter some time. It is necessary to reach the high level early so that later, when the pace falls, the meditator will reach the balanced medium level of respiration and be able to maintain it.
Do not alter the posture when tired, nor scratch an itch. The remedy here again is stronger, firmer, more rapid inhalation and balanced exhalation.
Be mindful of touch of breath upon nostril tip or upper lip. Do not follow the breath-body, nor keep the mind on the top of the head, the tip of the nose, the movement of the abdomen or the solar plexus (the pit of the stomach).
Do not pre-set the time for breathing. On firm, rapid breathing, unpleasant sensations will rise within oneself. These unpleasant sensations may assume the forms of pain, cramp, ache, numbness, heat or cold or some other sensation. Continue the breathing until there is a sufficient magnitude of unpleasant sensation for the next stage of the practice of mindfulness. It sometimes happens that about a third of the unpleasant sensation subsides when the breathing is stopped. This should be taken into account. When the meditator feels that sufficient sensation has arisen, he may stop the strong respiration. Here, sensation is the clock to time the period of respiration. Alternatively, he may pre-set the time for breathing, say three-quarters of an hour or an hour and have an arrangement for notification of the completion of that period. But this is not as proper as the first method.
When it is about time to stop strong respiration, fifty or a hundred strokes of breath should be made, this time with all the strength at his command. Meanwhile, mindfulness of touch of breath should be relentless. Then, respiration should be stopped suddenly on the inhaled breath and collecting one’s self together, the whole body should be watched internally.
Respiration should be stopped completely and suddenly on inhaled breath. The body should be stilled, gathered together and watched rigourously. Sensations of pain, cramp, ache, numbness, heat or cold would have arisen in the body. Be mindful of the most pronounced sensation. Do not let it go. Do not switch the attention to the navel, the solar plexus (pit of the stomach) nor any other region. It is natural for the most pronounced sensation to demand one’s attention. Turning to the other regions which do not have the most pronounced sensation is liable to make one lose grasp of the immediate present.
“If the sensation is weak, stay mindful of the fact of its weakness. If the sensation is strong, stay mindful of the fact of its strength,” said the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw. Stay mindful and know neither less nor more. Know it only as it is. Know whatever arises, in the bare fact of its arising. Be mindful of just this. Let no thoughts of “me” and “mine” interfere. Do not think that this is one’s foot or one’s body or one’s hand. Do not reflect that this is rupa (body) and this nama (mind). Do not consider that this is anicca (impermanence), this dukkha (unpleasantness) and this anatta (self-lessness). All thinking, reflection and consideration are conceptual; they are not vipassana.
Sunlun makes direct, immediate contact with reality. It cannot afford the time and effort required to build a conceptual bridge first before approaching reality. Confronted with the elephant of its search, it does not follow the footprints backwards and then retrace them again to the elephant. When there arises an ache, it immediately catches hold of that fact of the ache; it does not formulate the concept “aching, aching” and then return to the fact of the ache. Therefore, it tells the meditator to avoid name-calling; do not conceptualize reality.
Neither reach towards the sensation nor reach after it. Be mindful of the sensation in the immediacy of its arising or vanishing which is in the present time — the now. In the struggle with unpleasant sensation, which may rage with extreme force and virulence, the meditator takes care that he does not reach beyond the sensation. This is to say that the effort exerted should not exceed that which is necessary to maintain firm attention. When there is an excess of energy, it were as though the meditator had placed his effort before the unpleasant sensation, with the result that the attention slips from the unpleasant sensation and there remains in the consciousness of the meditator, only the violence of his effort. This violence is none other than patigha, anger. And anger is one of the forces which turn the wheel of samsara (rounds of rebirth).
On the other hand, the meditator takes care that he does not fall short of the sensation. This is to say that the effort exerted should not fall short of that which is necessary to maintain firm attention. When the effort is inadequate, the meditator slips back into torpor and sloth, or is overwhelmed by the unpleasant sensation if the sensation is intense. Severe unpleasant sensation which is not held with mindfulness gives rise to fear, frustration, anxiety, anger which are all aspects of patigha and constitute a force which turns the wheel of samsara. Torpor and sloth are the basis of ignorance (moha), yet another force which conditions birth in samsara.
Therefore, the meditator takes great care not to reach beyond nor fall short of the sensation. He exerts that forceful and vigilant attention necessary for knowledge and mindfulness. The arising of the attention is made to take place simultaneously with the arising of the sensation. If the attention arises before the sensation, it reaches beyond the sensation. If it arises after the sensation, it falls short of the sensation. When the attention arises before sensation, there is no sensation to be aware of. When the attention arises after the sensation, it is too late for mindful awareness. The reality has slipped away. However immediate may be the reaction of the attention to the arising of the sensation, it is belated because it is a reaction whereas it ought to be an independent action. The time relation of attention to sensation should not be one of future or past but of the simple immediate present. And this is realized when, instead of being passively attentive to the arising of the sensation and to its disintegrating future, the meditator tends actively to perceive the very birth of the sensation.
It is important to collect the sensations together. If sensations arise simultaneously in the head, the arms, the body and the legs, and the meditator’s mind should run helter-skelter after them, there will be no mindfulness of them right here and now. Vipassana will not be practised and the only result will be personal distress and suffering. To avoid this, there should be mindfulness of the most pronounced sensation. Vigorous awareness of it should be aroused and this awareness vigilantly watched by mindfulness. To realize its nature, the meditator should be able to hook on, sink in, adhere, or penetrate into the sensation. Effort is required to do this. One analogy is of a nail being driven into wood. The wood is sensation, the nail is the mind, the finger which holds the nail straight is mindfulness and the hammer is effort.
When the mind has become totally merged with the sensation, the meditator will no longer feel the form of his foot, or arm or body; he will no longer feel that “I” am suffering. These conceptual notions will be replaced by a simple, clear awareness of sensation alone. And because the idea of an “I” which suffers has been removed, the meditator will not feel the discomfort of the unpleasant sensation. The sensation, which a few moments ago was felt as pain or burning, will now be felt by the meditator only as an intense sensation, without the element of infliction.
Of the three sensations, unpleasant, pleasant and neutral, the last is most subtle and not normally suitable for ordinary people as an initial object for the establishment of mindfulness. When it arises in the succeeding stages of development, the meditator will have to be mindful of it as it arises and when it arises. But by then, the meditator should have developed the power to grasp subtle neutral sensation.
In pleasant sensation, there lies latent desire (lobha). When the meditator comes up against pleasant sensation, he likes it since he has always liked it throughout samsara. Because of this, he is unable to keep his awareness of pleasant sensation as it is in the here and now. Latent lobha, desire, rears its head and then overwhelms him. He is unable to hold on to sensation as sensation; sensation moves forward to originate the thirst of desire (tanha).
In unpleasant sensation there lies latent anger (dosa). When the meditator comes up against unpleasant sensation, he does not like it since he has never liked unpleasant sensation throughout samsara. However, since the object of the practice is to endeavour to be mindful of the sensation, the meditator can summon up zeal and try to be mindful of unpleasant sensation as it arises in the here and now.
It is as though a swimmer in a strong current were asked to grasp a bunch of flowers at the winning post. If he is swimming with the current, stretches out his hand to grasp the flowers and misses, he will be carried beyond the point by the force of the current. If he is swimming against the current and misses when stretching out to grasp the flowers, he will still be below them and will thus have an opportunity to try again. The swimmer with the current is like the meditator who employs pleasant sensation as an object of meditation. If he is unable to be mindful of pleasant sensation as it is, he will be carried beyond it into desire (lobha). The swimmer against the current is like the meditator who employs unpleasant sensation as an object; if he is unable to be mindful of unpleasant sensation as it is, he will still be able to summon up energy and mindfulness to accomplish his mission.
Pleasant sensation is like a hidden enemy; it catches the meditator unawares. Unpleasant sensation is like a conspicuous foe; the meditator can recognize it for what it is and take corrective action should latent anger rear its head. There will be no danger of the meditator immersing himself in unpleasant sensation as he might, should he attempt to be aware of pleasant sensation. Between natural dislike of unpleasant sensation and a zealous effort to be mindful of it, the meditator will neither immerse himself in it nor flinch from it. He will be able to detach himself completely from the unpleasant sensation, dwelling within the sensation, watching the sensation, without thinking any thoughts connected with the sensation. Unpleasant sensation serves as a firm hitch-post for the mind which inclines to wander. Unpleasant sensation will never deceive the meditator about the true nature of reality — its unpleasantness, dukkha.
This may not apply to people with quick intuition, but for most people who are born in these latter days of the Buddha dispensation (sasana) and possess a sluggish intuition, the encounter with unpleasant sensation is inevitable. And if, when the meditator comes up against unpleasant sensation and he is unable to overcome it, he will soon develop into a meditator with his vipassana back broken, or he will be tossed and rolled by it like a plum in a wicker tray. Unpleasant sensation is the greatest obstacle on the road of vipassana. Only when the meditator is able to overcome that obstacle can he forge forward to attain the rewards beyond unpleasant sensation.
And it is possible to overcome unpleasant sensation. Since unpleasant sensation, too, is subject to the law of impermanence, it must come to an end some time. This end can occur in various ways. Its intensity can subside; but this would not be a true ending. Some measure of unpleasant sensation would remain. The real overcoming of unpleasant sensation takes place when the meditator dwells in the sensation, watching the sensation without thinking any thoughts connected with the sensation, and it is consumed, it ends, it snaps, it is shed, or extinguished. It is said to be consumed when it gradually subsides till there is no remainder. It ends when the meditator follows it till there is no more of it, like a road followed to the end, like a length of string felt along the whole length till no more is felt. It snaps when it breaks off suddenly, as when a taut rope is snapped. It is shed like the skin of a snake. It is extinguished like a light which has used up its oil and wick.
Pain is unpleasant, ache is unpleasant, heat is unpleasant, cold is unpleasant. Within the unpleasantness of all these, there is an element of discomfort. It is this element of discomfort (dukkha) which is the basis of all living things. The meditator who feels fatigue in his limbs and wishes to alter his position, or whose mind, being confined to the narrow point of touch, wishes to be let loose among sensual objects, desires escape from the discomfort of his posture and confined mind. But how can one attain magga-nana (enlightenment) and escape from samsara (rounds of rebirth) by going after the delights and comforts of the senses? “The uncomfortable truly is the norm; the comfortable will set you all adrift on the current of samsara,” said the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw. He was referring to the efficacy of unpleasantness (dukkha) to overcome unpleasantness (dukkha).
How should one be mindful of unpleasant sensation in order to consume it, end it, snap it, shed it, extinguish it? The only answer is that the meditator should be rigorously mindful of unpleasant sensation as it arises, when it arises, in the here and now. But how does one hold the mind steadfast which flinches from unpleasant sensation? How does one catch unpleasant sensation in the very moment of its arising, in the very manner of its arising? How can one successfully accomplish mindfulness of unpleasant sensation in the here and now? The meditator knows what is to be done but how does he accomplish it in the face of uncomfortable, unliked unpleasant sensation? These are important questions, and success or failure in meditation depends upon the answers.
Usually, the meditator is told what he should be but not how he should become. He is usually given a picture of what he should be at the end state of his development. He is not told what he should do to initiate that development and how to carry it forward till the goal is reached. For instance, he is told to eliminate the notion of “I” and be detached, but how that notion is to be eliminated or how he is to become detached is not enunciated. To make it more tragic, the end and means are often confused. It is not realized that a statement of ends is in itself insufficient and that the means to attain those ends should also be provided. It is most encouraging for the common meditator that Sunlun offers a practical solution to the problem, that it offers precise methods and a modus operandi.
In being mindful of unpleasant sensation, collect the body and mind together and keep both perfectly still. Watch the unpleasant sensation with bated breath. Hold the breath as long as the meditator can normally hold it. This is not an exercise in breath retention. It is just the normal practice effected in carrying out the common duties of life. Whenever something is done with great attention, the breath is naturally held back. For example, in putting a thread through a needle hole, the operator normally holds his breath till the task is accomplished. In like manner, the meditator should watch unpleasant sensation with bated breath. This will enable him to exercise greater awareness and more rigorous mindfulness.
If the unpleasant sensation is too intense for proper attention with bated breath, the meditator should stiffen himself against it. He tenses his whole body against the sensation to support the work of the mind. He holds his arms tighter against the sides of his body, he closes his fists, he stiffens his neck, and clenches his teeth. He puts forth energy as he would in a physical struggle against a strong opponent. All the time he keeps rigorously mindful of the sensation.
If the unpleasant sensation is excruciating and cannot be overcome by endeavour with bated breath and tensed body, the meditator should brace his mind against it. Just as in breathing he had respired strongly and firmly, so also in applying his mind to unpleasant sensation, he should do it strongly and firmly.
If with all these the meditator is unable to be rigorously mindful of unpleasant sensation to its final consumption, its end, its snapping, its shedding and its extinguishing, then he should pit the resources of his breath, his body and his mind against the sensation. With bated breath, tensed body and fortified mind, he should exert pressure against the pressure of the sensation until he is able to penetrate it, to hook on to it, to merge with it, to dwell in it, watching it, without thinking any thoughts connected with it, till finally the sensation is completely consumed or ended.
It will be noticed that the important element in the technique is intentness. The meditator should put forth unflinching energy; he should be ardent, zealous, earnest, and energetic. He should be all that the Buddha required of his disciples. Escape from samsara is not achieved through reflective, considerate, relaxed effort. It is achieved only through the most powerful and sustained thrust of all the physical and mental capabilities at the meditator’s command. Sunlun calls for just this.
It will not be necessary to stir up physical force in being mindful of cetasika-vedana (emotional feeling). However, it will still be necessary to stir up zeal and earnestness for unremitting mindfulness. For the meditator whose training with unpleasant sensation has helped him to develop those qualities, the practice of mindfulness of cetasika-vedana (emotional feeling) should not be difficult. Moreover, since cetasika-vedana is usually accompanied by unpleasant physical sensations, the meditator may turn his attention to those physical sensations and thus overcome cetasika-vedana through the conquest of unpleasant physical sensation.
When the meditator perfectly dwells in sensation, watching and following the sensation without thinking any thoughts connected with the sensation, and the sensation snaps or is completely extinguished, the meditator’s mind becomes cleansed, purged, firm and serviceable. He becomes full of loving-kindness (metta) for all living things. He is able to suffuse them with true loving-kindness (metta), which is not mere repetition of words, which is without craving and self-identification, and which is without differentiation between a person whom the meditator hates, one whom he likes and one to whom he is indifferent.
With cleansed, purged, firm and serviceable mind, he contemplates consciousness in consciousness (citta-nupassana). He knows consciousness (mind) with lust as with lust; he knows consciousness (mind) without lust as without lust; he knows consciousness with hate as with hate; he knows consciousness without hate as without hate. He knows when lust or hate have arisen and keeps mindful of them so that they may not be the cause to further originate lust or hate and thus give another turn to the wheel of samsara. This is killing the causative force in the effect (i.e., stopping the emotion that has arisen so as not to perpetuate successive emotions). When he comes into contact with an object which could arouse lust or hate, he keeps rigorously mindful of it so that lust or hate cannot arise. This is killing the cause in and as cause (i.e., stopping the emotion even before it arises).
With this last act of mindfulness, he perfectly practises what the Pali Texts instruct:
“In what is seen, there should be only the seen;
in what is heard, only the heard;
in what is sensed, only the sensed;
in what is thought, only the thought.”
He is able to do this because he has cleansed his mind and made it firm and serviceable through ardent mindfulness of unpleasant sensation. For the common meditator with sluggish intuition, trying “to see only the seen in what is seen” is extremely difficult, if practised as the initial exercise in mindfulness. This is because consciousness is a subtle object of contemplation and not readily grasped or held with the impure, weak and unmanageable mind. But when the mind of the meditator has been strengthened through mindfulness of unpleasant sensation, he is able to hold the seen as the seen, the heard as the heard, the thought as the thought, with no further reactionary feelings towards them.
It has been suggested that if distractions should arise during the practice of mindfulness, the mind should follow after them to take note of them. Theoretically, it should be possible to follow each distraction to grasp it mindfully. However, in practice, it is extremely difficult for the distracted mind to be mindful of whatever had distracted it. If it had been powerfully concentrated, it would not at all have been distracted away from its originally selected object of meditation. Moreover, in taking note of the distraction, the meditator often runs the risk of believing that he is being mindful of the distraction, whereas he is being drawn along by it. Therefore, the safest and most effective method is to generate additional zeal to be more mindful of the initial object of meditation, say touch or sensation.
With respect to the contemplation on mental elements (dhamma-nupassana), these are yet subtler than consciousness. The meditator of elements cannot obtain direct access to them. Contemplation on mental elements may be said to be a practice consequential to the ardent mindfulness of sensation. During the period of energetic mindfulness of sensation, the five hindrances (nivarana) — sensual desire, ill will, sloth, restlessness and doubt — will arise and then disappear. When sensation has been consumed or ended, the factor of enlightenment may appear. The meditator will have to be mindful of these elements as and when they arise and disappear. If the hindrance of anger arises, the meditator does not make a mental note that it is “anger”; he merely keeps vigilantly aware of the fact of anger. If the detachment factor of enlightenment arises, the meditator keeps vigilantly aware of the fact of detachment. Here again, the meditator will be able to accomplish this mission well because he has developed a powerful concentration and a clear and firm mind from the practice of mindfulness of sensation.
In fact, the four stations of mindfulness (satipatthana) — body, sensation, consciousness and mental elements — do not arise independently of each other. They arise together in association. When the meditator is being mindful of the awareness of touch, there is in it the station of the body, the station of sensation, the station of consciousness and the station of the mental constituents. Being mindful of one, the meditator is mindful of all the others. It is as in a glass of sherbet, the four elements of water, lemon, sugar and salt are present together in association. And when one element is dominant, the sherbet is called respectively watery, sour, sweet or salty. When sensation is dominant, it is called vedana-nupassana (sensation-led Insight); when consciousness is dominant, it is called citta-nupassana (consciousness-led Insight) and so on.
When mindfulness of the four stations is completed and perfected, the meditator acquires the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga). When the seven factors of enlightenment are completely and perfectly acquired, the meditator attains the supramundane enlightenment (magga-nana). However, this is an effect-result. Further consideration to this matter need not be given in this brief sketch of the Sunlun way of mindfulness. If a mango seed is sown, a mango tree will sprout. A man should give all his attention to sowing well the best mango seed he can obtain. The result will take care of itself.
The Sunlun way of mindfulness is practised by an ardent monk or layman throughout the day and night. For the less ardent meditator, the centres offer three sessions a day, each session lasting from one to two hours. The man who is too busy with affairs of work or business should be able to practise it twice a day.
Meanwhile, the mind should not be left unguarded in the hours between sessions. The meditator should endeavour to be continually mindful. He accomplishes this by being mindful of the sense of touch. At no moment of the day will his body not be in contact with an object. If he is sitting, his body will be in touch with the chair. If he is lying, his head will be in touch with the pillow. If he is walking, his feet will touch the ground on each step. If he is handling a tool or an object, his fingers will touch them. The meditator should be mindful of touch of body against chair, of head against pillow, of feet against the ground, of fingers against the tool or object. He should, if possible, be mindful of touch of visual object against the eye, of sound against ear, of taste against tongue, of smell against nose. “Be rigorously mindful of the awareness of touch,” said the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw.
Sunlun is a simple system; it is as simple as drawing a line or writing an O. Even the child’s first attempts with paper and pencil are drawing lines or circles. But to draw a perfectly straight line and a perfectly round circle are extremely difficult. Yet, when one practises it with sufficient earnestness and zeal, quick results can be obtained. Most other methods are difficult to describe, easy to perform but results come slow. Sunlun is easy to describe. Literature on Sunlun is almost non-existent. There are in Burmese, just a pamphlet describing the method and a small book on the life of the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw. Since it is easy to describe, and there is very little theorizing, there has not been much use for books. Sunlun is difficult to perform. By this, it is not meant that the sequences of operations are complex; they are simple. This means only that it is not a relaxed comfortable method. It calls for courage to face the discomfort of strong breathing and unpleasant sensation, zeal to pass beyond them, and unremitting mindfulness to accomplish the purpose. But when this is done well, and it can be done well, the results are rapidly gained because Sunlun makes immediate and direct contact with reality and also stirs up the meditator’s zeal to help him move forward at an intense pace.
For the lazy man of today who has little time to spare for anything whatsoever, who with his conceptualization, logicalism and rationalism, is moving further away from the root source of reality and knowledge. Sunlun offers so much. It makes him throw away his thought-systems to grasp directly and immediately, the actuality of things. It pulls out, mobilizes and uses his great physical and mental reserves. It gives him the means and strength to withstand the vicissitudes of life. It strikes at the heart of that deceptive, self-loving illusive notion of “I” (atta) which is the cause of all the misery and unsatisfactoriness.
Sunlun is an intense, resolute, zealous method to establish the four foundations of mindfulness for “the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and misery, for the destruction of pain and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nibbana.”
“Be vigorously mindful of the awareness of touch.”
“The uncomfortable truly is the norm.”
EXPLANATORY NOTES FOR BEGINNERS AND THOSE PROCEEDING ALONG THE SUNLUN WAY OF VIPASSANA
If you are one of those who are interested in steadfastly practising the Sunlun way of meditation, the following questions are some which will occur along the way. If you are not fortunate enough to have someone to guide you and answer your questions, these explanatory notes may be of some relevance to you. However, at the outset, it should be made quite clear that the karma of each person is different from that of any other person; even those of identical twins are different and karma definitely can be changed by means of meditation.
Therefore, if you are a beginner or one who has not yet started vipassana (insight meditation), do not be alarmed by some of the questions which seem to indicate that the Sunlun way is full of pain. It is not the Sunlun method that causes the pain, but the bad and unwholesome past deeds of the meditator which causes pain to arise in him. There are broadly two classes of meditators – firstly, those who have the kind of good karma which leads to sukha padipada (easy Path) and secondly, those who have the kind of bad karma that leads to dukkha padipada (difficult or painful Path). But the majority belongs to the second class.
Both classes of meditators can surely and successfully reach the stage of sottapanna in a ‘short’ time, though what is meant by ‘short’ in turn depends upon his karma. Some have been successful within a period of just ten days of full-time meditation, but we must remember that they were studious enough to have performed ninety percent or more of the necessary vipassana practice in their previous lives. Those who have not yet fulfilled the required vipassana (insight) in order to attain sottapanna and later stages up to Nibbana will, of course, have to meditate longer.
Irrespective of whether a person takes a long time or a short time to reach Nibbana, there is also the difference in how easy or how painful the path will be, as pointed out above, depending on that person’s previous good and bad deeds. For example, persons who have caused great pain and many deaths to other creatures or beings (including human beings and animals) in this and previous lives will normally have to tread the painful path (dukkha padipada). It does not matter what system of meditation they follow, they will have to suffer, according to the universal law of cause and effect, the same pain that they caused to others. Until these karmic wrong doings have been eliminated, they cannot pass over to the stage of sottapanna (the other side of the stream). Once a person has become a sottapan, that person will no longer be born in the Four Woeful States (apaya) — those of animals, ghosts, demons and hell. For this to happen, the pre-requisite is that the karmic unwholesome deeds which would normally send one to these Four Woeful States have to be all eliminated through vipassana practice.
The Sunlun way seems to be more painful than the others, only because of its remarkably speedier development of mental concentration (samadhi) and its highly effective direct approach of mind over matter (observing sensations). Sensations (pain) arise more quickly and intensively, providing the chance of cleansing off the effects of bad deeds more expeditiously.
One of the questions which may arise in a meditator’s mind as he practises vipassana (not while actually meditating because he is not supposed to be ‘thinking about extraneous things’ at that time, but during the off-hours) is, ‘what are the important factors that are responsible for reducing and finally eliminating the bad karma due to past misdeeds?’.
Khanti (Forbearance, patience, bearing the onslaught of painful sensations that arise upon prolonged maintenance of the same sitting posture during the many continuous hours of proper meditation) is the factor most responsible, particularly if carried out with true equanimity. That is why, in Burma it is said that “Khanti leads to Nibbana”.
Here another question may arise. What is meant by true equanimity? Especially for Westerners, the word equanimity may be unfamiliar and certainly the practice of equanimity will be strange.
Equanimity, in this context, means that as the meditator experiences painful or extremely painful (excruciating) sensations emanating from various parts of the body, he should bear them without any thoughts of anger or frustration. He should try to remain calm and detached. If the pain becomes overpowering so that he is unable to remain unaffected, then he should concentrate the mind on the painful sensation, as already described in the text. The amount of effort to do this should match the amount of pain so that the pain no longer overpowers the mind, at the same time taking care also that the effort does not completely overpower the pain. The appropriate method is for the effort to be a little more powerful than the pain, without the pain disappearing altogether. In this way, the mind will be able to concentrate very effectively, and gradually he will only be aware of the dukkha sacca (suffering) aspect of his body without thinking of which part of the body the painful sensations are coming from.
The reason why he should avoid thinking of the sensations as coming from say, his ankle or his knee or his shinbone, etc., is that there is the risk of the illusion of atta (I-self) arising, whereas in reality, through meditation, one should be arriving at the realization of anatta (no-self), which is the true characteristic of the body, of the world and of life.
Equanimity, in the context of pleasurable sensations, means that as the person experiences pleasant or enjoyable sensations, then he should not delight in them, he should not hanker after them; otherwise he would get ensnared in tanha or yaga (attachment, desire or lust) which belong to the area of loba (greed). As you may know, loba, dosa and moha (greed, hatred and delusion) are the three basic roots of all bad deeds. Thus equanimity, in short, prevents all bad deeds from arising.
The ultimate goal of vipassana meditation is to attain Nibbana. Exactly what is Nibbana like? This is a question which may assail a meditator, sooner or later on the path. To be truthful, an exact answer cannot be given except to say that Nibbana is not fully describable in mere words. Only by experience can one know Nibbana and that experience will come only upon achieving the stage of sottapanna. So if one really wants to know about Nibbana, one should steadfastly strive to reach the stage of sottapanna.
Do not be misled by the pain, which usually accompanies true meditation for those of us not blessed with the good karma of sukha padipada (easy Path), that Nibbana will also be painful. We have the word of the Buddha and of the arahats to assure us that Nibbana is bliss and peace.
An analogy may help in this instance. Suppose that a man is travelling on foot through a hot and sandy desert. He will be subject to great pain and thirst due to the torrid heat. But he knows that at the end of the day he will arrive at a cool and shady oasis. Though the heat and rigors of the desert are real and immediate to him, he would understand that the oasis at the end of his path will be cool and pleasant. In the same way, the yogi will have to understand that though the path to sottapanna has to pass through painful experiences associated with the elimination of one’s past bad karma, the oasis of sottapanna will, however, not be like the desert.
Some yogis may feel aching sensations at the back of the neck very soon after sitting for vipassana and commencing strenuous breathing. This may be due to incorrect sitting posture. If so, the aching pain may be relieved by sitting more upright, trying to keep the back as straight as possible and inclining the head either up or down so as to lessen the pain.
At the Sunlun Monastery in Rangoon, the meditation sessions are preceded by the following Prayer/Parigan:
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa
(Repeat three times)
(Its meaning is: Homage to the Buddha who is revered by devas and mankind and who has achieved Supreme Enlightenment.)
If I have committed any evil physical deeds (large or small), any evil verbal deeds (large or small), any evil mental deeds (large or small), against the Lord Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, my parents, teachers and all sentient beings, from the beginning of Samsara up to the present moment, then I bow down and pray for forgiveness for having done every evil deed against any living being.
Exalted Buddha, during the duration of this meditation session, I donate my five khandhas for the purpose of attaining Nibbana.
Venerable Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw, during the duration of this meditation session, I donate my five khandhas for the purpose of attaining Nibbana.
May all beings who are subject to rebirth in the 31 States of samsara be happy.
I share this merit with all the beings in the 31 States. Please share in my merit by calling sadhu.
I wish to share in all the meritorious deeds done by good beings — Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu!
The practical purpose of reciting this prayer/parigan is to try to settle one’s mind (which normally has been distracted with mundane things throughout the day) before the meditation. It is like sweeping dust before you sit down at a place; a preparation before the actual task.
A yogi may ask — is it an absolute necessity to recite this prayer before each and every meditation?
It is not an absolute necessity. One may very well start the meditation without saying it. But it helps, spiritually, to ask for forgiveness to whoever you may have done wrong. And it is hoped that a yogi who recites the above prayer/parigan will be at peace with all beings and be able to meditate without any disturbances, especially from extraneous evil influence.
A question may arise such as ‘How much time should one devote to vipassana meditation per day if a person is really interested in achieving some significant results?’
The answer to this question depends upon the questioner. If he can find the time, the ideal would be to spend all of his waking hours to vipassana. During the Buddha’s time, some arahats even did seven or eight days and nights of continuous vipassana in order to reach their goal. But nowadays that would be unbelievable.
For someone who has to work for a living, finding even one or two hours everyday for vipassana according to the Sunlun method may be quite difficult and would necessitate good planning and a sincere desire to make progress.
An analogy may be useful in this case. Suppose that a man wished to fill up a tank having a capacity of 100 gallons with a precious and volatile liquid whose rate of evaporation, we will assume (for argument’s sake), is half a gallon per 24 hours. Now if he could collect and put in only a quarter of a gallon of this liquid per day, then the tank would never be filled because the quarter gallon would all have evaporated (during the past 24 hours) when he put in the next quarter gallon.
On the other hand, if he were able to collect and put into the tank, say, ten gallons per day of the liquid, then the next day there would still be 9½ gallons left in the tank (allowing for half a gallon of evaporation loss). Thus in about eleven consecutive days, the man could fill up the tank to its hundred gallon capacity.
Now, if he could not quite afford to collect that much liquid per day but could collect, say, one gallon per day, then everyday a net input of half a gallon per day would remain in the tank and after two hundred days or so, the tank would become filled.
So also, if a person were to devote ten hours per day for vipassana meditation, then in a short time, he would achieve significant results. Whereas if that person were to devote only half an hour per day, he may not achieve anything even after a fairly long period. The reason is that like in the above analogy where the volatile liquid evaporates away during the day, the samadhi (power of mental concentration) attained during the intensive meditation period ‘evaporates away’ (or in other words, partially lost) during the rest of the day due to extraneous distractions, thoughts and lack of true mindfulness.
Suppose that someone has practised vipassana according to his own interpretation of the Sunlun way for an hour per day regularly for one hundred consecutive days, i.e., a little over three months and he feels that he has not achieved any significant results. At this time or later, he begins to feel doubts about the efficacy of his meditation and doubts may also creep in as to whether it is of any use continuing to do this meditation everyday.
There are various aspects to the situation described above. The first concerns the term “significant results”. For Mr. A (who belongs to the category of “dukkha padipada” – the painful Path), the only result that he could hope for with only just one hour per day of meditation will be to get the first level of samadhi (the initial level of samadhi). That is, as he concentrated his mind on the sensation of touch of the breath, as he practises anapana (mindfulness of breathing) with his eyes closed, he may ‘see’ bright or coloured lights and geometrical pattern moving about. [If he focuses his attention on them, they may gradually become still.]
However, by focusing his attention on these lights or pattern, he is actually diverting his path from vipassana (development of insight) to samatha (development of power of mind). As only vipassana can take one to Nibbana, he should not focus on samatha. It is like a traveller who wants to go to New York by plane from Hong Kong. This traveller should get on the New York bound plane at the Hong Kong airport and not get on the one bound for say London or Paris if he wishes to reach New York.
For another aspect, let us say, he has followed the Sunlun way correctly, putting in enough effort to be mindful of the touch of breath and later on the bodily sensations. But the sensations may be very little as to become oblivious for him to be mindful. In such a situation, he should not feel disheartened. He should realize that with just about an hour’s vipassana with true mindfulness, (compared to the remaining 23 hours of time when he is unmindful) that would be about all the significant results that could be expected. If he feels discontented with only this much of results, then he should strive to devote more hours per day to mindfulness of touch while carrying out other tasks. Better results would be achieved of course, if more hours of vipassana meditation itself is carried out everyday strictly in accordance with the Sunlun way.
With an hour’s meditation a day, he may not progress much with the development of wisdom (insight) but he is accumulating essential merits (paramis) everyday, laying the groundwork for the way to Nibbana. His health may improve, his afflictions may gradually disappear and if his motivation is good, his luck may improve as well, because what is called as good luck in the English language is nothing but the result of good karmic deeds.
What better karmic deeds can one do than true vipassana meditation? It has been said that keeping sila (abstaining from all evil deeds by keeping the moral Precepts) is better than dana (charity), but in turn, bhavana(meditation) is better than sila. Out of all the meditations, vipassana is the highest form of bhavana. That is why vipassana can give immediate results.
For another scenario, let us say a person has tried to practise the Sunlun method for over three months meditating daily for an hour a day. But he thinks he has not achieved any significant results, not even the first level of samadhi. In that case, firstly, he should try to put in longer time of meditation with more rigorous mindfulness. If that could not be achieved as well for whatever reason, the best solution would be for him to go to Kaba Aye Sunlun Monastery in Burma for the purpose of getting proper personal guidance by the Sayadaw (Abbot) of the Monastery.
It could be that he is taking the wrong approach of the Sunlun method or might have made mistaken interpretations of the method. Or that, he might be the victim of some particular bad karma which is seriously hindering his progress on the path to Nibbana. If such is the case, no amount of effort solely by the yogi can improve his results. Only a powerful intervention and intense supervision at the above Sunlun Monastery would have a good chance of success.
There could be another scenario for a practising yogi. He may find that he suffers boredom whenever he sits in meditation. He may be a person who has actually received instruction at the Sunlun Monastery, so in his case, the boredom or lack of results is not due to his not knowing the correct method. His fault is probably that after three months of practice, the novelty has worn off, he has become lax and/or lazy. He thus has a deficiency of what is called in Pali as sadha, which is usually but inadequately translated as faith.
Sadha actually means much more than Faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma (His Teachings) and the Sangha (the Order of His Monks). It is also a profound realization of the law of karma – the law of cause and effect in the universe. It is even more: it is an enthusiasm to do good deeds just for the sake of doing good.
The remedy here is – he must generate sufficient enthusiasm, zeal and effort, to continue to practise vipassana with ardour or in other words “to be rigorously mindful of the awareness of touch”. It means that, instead of just breathing in and out mechanically and laxly, he should breathe in and out strictly as described in the foregoing text on the Sunlun way of Mindfulness. The reason that he feels bored while sitting cross-legged for an hour or more in meditation is that he has come to regard this meditation session as a task to be done as one of his routines. Naturally, his attitude degenerates into that of say, a schoolboy who is required to sit one hour everyday at his desk to do his lessons. The schoolboy is only interested to finish his chore and then want to run away and play.
So also the yogi’s mind, which all through the millions of years of samsara, has taken delight in wandering from pleasure to pleasure, feels bored at having to stay still at the tip of his nostril or fixed at the sensation of touch. His mind finds the minutes and seconds during meditation seem to be as long as days and hours due to his lack of interest.
What should this yogi do then – who has taken meditation for granted? He should seriously consider his own case. Is he really still interested to get to Nibbana? Is he still striving to get to the sottapanna stage? If he analyzes himself candidly, he will probably find that either he is not so interested as when he started out in Vipassana or that due to distractions, he has simply lost his ardent resolve to put forth unflinching energy to achieve sottapanna.
If that is the verdict, then the solution is to revive the ardour he has lost. He should think back to the day when he decided to start meditating in earnest for magga-nana, the knowledge of the path to Nibbana. Probably at that time he acknowledged that living in seeming bliss, a purely mundane life without vipassana was leading him nowhere but to any one of the four woeful states (apaya) – those of hell, animal, ghosts (peta) and demons (asurake), after his death. Even if he were lucky in the next life to escape being reborn in one of these Four Woeful Abodes, nevertheless, he would still be ensnared in the never-ending round of rebirths called samsara. The prospect of Nibbana and of sottapanna as a first step towards Nibbana, then must have appeared very essential to him as an escape from the dreadfulness of samsara with its ever-attendant three characteristics of anicca, dukkha and anatta.
In addition, at that time he must have acknowledged that the probability of his becoming a human being in this universe was only about one in ten million (there are tens of millions of devas, animals, petas and other beings to every single human being in samsara) and furthermore, that only a human being with good karma could practise vipassana (because beings in the Four Woeful Abodes do not have the necessary intelligence; and brahmas and devas do not possess the kind of material body to carry out strenuous breathing and awareness of painful sensations). He then must have made his ardent resolve to practise vipassana steadfastly for at least an hour everyday. So also, now, months later after his initial resolve, when he finds himself bored with doing the daily session of vipassana, he should revive his ardour to the same peak by considering all the alternatives and realizing what a glorious opportunity he is losing every time he does not carry out vipassana earnestly.
After his ardour has been revived in this way, he would say his Prayer/Parigan and start out the vipassana session by breathing as strenuously as possible, frequently reminding himself of the glorious opportunity he now has, to do strenuous breathing, because no other beings except he and a few other lucky human beings can do this kind of vipassana. He will thus find his enthusiasm returning with each breath and will also find his samadhi improving due to the enhancement of his sadha (faith) plus the fact that viriya (perseverance) and other paramis (past perfections)will arise as a result of his vigorous efforts. And at the end of the hour, he would also have found he is not bored at all.
There is another possibility for this yogi. He may find that after about three months of vipassana meditation, with at least an hour devoted to each daily session, no further progress is being made compared to the almost weekly improvement in his samadhi during the earlier days. In this kind of situation, he should try a week or ten days of intensive meditation.
What would be an ideal programme of intensive meditation? The best would be for him to take leave from his work and go to the Sunlun Monastery for intense meditation. If that is not possible, he should go to some quiet place where he can be free to pursue his meditation exercises as he pleases. If his own home offers such a possibility, he may do his intensive meditation at home, provided that he will have no distractions.
Then every morning, he should get up as early as is convenient, say at sunrise, and after his toilet and morning breakfast, he may take an hour’s walk. While walking at his normal pace, he should strive to be mindful of his feet touching the ground and not let his mind wander around.
After walking, he goes to his place of meditation and sits down for the morning session of vipassana, lasting at least one and a half hours. It is, of course, better to carry out vipassana for a longer period preferably until all the unpleasant sensations have ceased.
Then he could take some exercise, have a bath and his mid-day meal. After some rest, he should carry out his second vipassana session, with the same minimum period of one and a half hours. He may find it more convenient to have a longer period for this second session. Then he could take some more walking exercise, striving all the time to be mindful of the sensation of touch. Lastly, after his evening meal, he should carry out the third vipassana session, this time at night, lasting one and a half hours or longer.
With this programme of intensive meditation, combined with mindfulness of touch while walking, bathing, eating, etc., carried out for a week or longer, he will soon notice a great improvement in his samadhi and may even find his ways of life changing. For instance, persons who had habitually slept the whole night through till morning will find themselves sleeping only for a few hours at a time, thus needing two or three or more naps before getting up in the morning. Vice versa, persons who had slept two or more naps per night may find themselves sleeping the whole night through. Other more wonderful things or changes may also become manifest to him as he pursues this programme of intensive meditation.
There is, however, one other eventuality which is pointedly different from the situations already mentioned. Different in that there is no lack of significant results, and no boredom or stagnation on the part of the meditator.
It may arise in a yogi who has been doing vipassana diligently for many months or even a much shorter period. He has already acquired the first significant results of strong samadhi and may be even other results. But then, he begins to feel weary, he has no desire for tasty foods or fancy clothes or other things he used to enjoy. His outlook on life changes to that of detachment, or he sheds everything as anicca, dukkha or anatta(Impermanence, Unpleasantness, Self-lessness). He may also pass through a phase during which he becomes extremely afraid of future lives or of human existence.
To the uninitiated, these may appear as negative results or as being contradictory to what they expect as achievements on the way to sottapanna. But actually he should be very happy because these are positive signs that he has achieved significant results from his daily vipassana sessions and he should, in fact, re-double his efforts in vipassana because he is nearing the stage of sottapanna, just as a runner in a competition, put in an extra burst of speed on nearing the winning post!
One word of caution, though. Because he is being encouraged to do more meditation and to increase his mindfulness in the periods between the meditation sessions so that he may soon reach the sottapanna stage, he should not become too obsessed or too desirous of making this achievement. No doubt it is a very worthy idea to become a sottapan but nevertheless one should not become too desirous for it, otherwise this desire (a kind of loba), being a faulty root, akuthala hetu, will act as a hindrance and achievement of the sottapanna stage will not be possible. Therefore, he should strive hard but do his meditation as a kind of duty and not with the attitude of desire (loba).
A question may now be asked, “What are the signs of having achieved sottapanna?” Unlike the previous questions to which full or brief answers are given, this is a question which should not be answered to one who is not yet a sottapan, for fear of arousing what could be termed as ‘auto-suggestion’.
Then a person may ask, “How then will I know whether or not I have reached the stage of sottapanna or when I become a sottapan?” The answer to this question is that (according to all those who have achieved this result), one will surely know by oneself when one becomes a sottapan. This is because the stage of sottapanna is such a landmark stage in this universe, and the process of vipassana is so capable of giving intuitive liberating knowledge, that you will know by yourself that you are a sottapan. So do not have any fear on this account.
As an example of the capability of vipassana to give intuitive knowledge, it will become apparent to anyone practising vipassana correctly that he will automatically know the answer to the question “What precepts should a yogi keep while striving for sottapanna?”
The answer to this question will be revealed in one of the vipassana sessions to the yogi by his own mind. The revelation will be as follows: every yogi who really aspires to tread the path to sottapanna must faithfully keep the Five Precepts as laid down by the Buddha. These Five Moral Precepts should become so important to the yogi that he will intuitively understand that if a choice does arise as to whether one should sacrifice one’s life or to break one or more of the Precepts, the answer is that one should not break the Precepts.
What are these Five Precepts? They are:
(1) Panatipata Veramani Sikkhapadam Sammadhiyami
I vow to abstain from killing any living beings.
(2) Adeinnadana Veramani Sikkhapadam Sammadhiyami
I vow to abstain from stealing or taking anything which belongs to another without his/her consent.
(3) Kame sumiccha cara Veramani Sikkhapadam Sammadhiyami
I vow to abstain from all wrongful sexual conduct.
(4) Musavada Veramani Sikkhapadam Sammadhiyami
I vow to abstain from telling falsehood.
(5) Suramayraya Mizzapamadhatana Veramani Sikkhapadam Sammadhiyami
I vow to abstain from all kinds of intoxicants and drugs which affect the mind.
Finally, these notes will be concluded by asking one of the questions which distinguishes the Sunlun method from most other methods.
This question will arise, sometime or the other, to a yogi who is practising vipassana all by himself because even those yogi who do meditation under the personal guidance of the Venerable U Vinaya, Abbot of the Kaba Aye Sunlun Monastery, have to be reminded not to “think” while meditating in accordance with the Sunlun method.
The question may be phrased along the following lines: “Why should I not think while doing strenuous breathing or while I am being mindful of the sensations which arise during vipassana? For instance, while contemplating the painful sensations, I may start to think about how these pains are the confirmations of the three characteristics of anicca, dukkha and anatta (Impermanence, Unpleasantness and Self-lessness) within my own body. And then I may go on to think how true are the words of the Buddha who said that by realizing dukkha (Unpleasantness) within one’s body, one is able to find the way to Nibbana. Now these thoughts are good thoughts; they are not evil, so why should I not think such kinds of thoughts?
To answer the above questions, it is best to reply in the words of the Venerable Shin Vinaya when he gave a lecture on “The Yogi and Vipassana” many years ago because these words are still as true today as at that time.
“The first essential equipment of the yogi is a concentrated mind. For only a concentrated mind is a cleansed mind. And only the mind which is cleansed of nivarana – the five elements of sensual lust, ill will, torpor, agitation and doubt can function properly to realize vipassana insight. Therefore while doing strenuous breathing or while being aware of the sensations, the yogi should not “think”, otherwise thoughts of the above five elements will enter.”
“Let us take an exercise, in-breathing and out-breathing called in Pali as anapana……This exercise may be practised in the samatha way or performed so as to realize vipassana. For the vipassana way, breathe in and out. Fix the mind on the point of touch of breath. Be aware only of the touch. Do not count, do not try to know the degree of length of breath, and do not follow the breath into the body or out into the beyond. For the Sunlun way, do this breathing in and out as strenuously as possible. Be aware of the sensation at the point of touch of breath. Then ward and watch this awareness with mindfulness. Do not make a mental note of it. When the awareness is guarded with mindfulness, thoughts are locked out, they cannot intrude. Thus no opportunity is offered for the formation of concepts, images or ideas.”
“Our minds are ever so prone to create images and ideas that, can we possibly get at processes as they are in themselves? The answer is that it is possible to do so through vipassana and the winning of intuitive liberating knowledge by the Sunlun method.”
“The yogi tends to be reflective, i.e., to think about the task to be done rather than doing it. Concepts, images and ideas belong to the universe outside as we made them up through name-calling, conceptualization and therefore are concerned with samatha. Only the vipassana method, when the touch alone is taken in its bare awareness and this awareness guarded with mindfulness, is free from ideas and images. Thereby, the processes are got at directly in the very moment of occurrence, as they are in themselves without the distortion of thought.”
“Thoughts always tend to intrude. The only way to keep up with the processes, to be mindful of them, is to exercise vigilance through a rigour of effort. That is why in a motto, the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw U Kawi said that
“We must be rigorously mindful of the awareness of touch.”
Every yogi who aspires to Nibbana should bear this motto in mind.
May all beings be happy.
SAMATHA AND VIPASSANA
[Excerpt from the sermon on ‘The Yogi and Vipassana’ by Sunlun Shin Vinaya.]
Meditation (bhavana) is of two kinds: meditation for tranquility, samatha bhavana, and meditation for development of insight, vipassana bhavana.
Samatha is a state of mind characterized by concentration, one-pointedness and undistractedness. It is a practice of mental concentration leading to tranquility through ridding of mental defilements (desire, ill-will, etc.). It is one of the two branches of mental development (bhavana) and it ultimately leads to mind absorptions (jhana).
Samatha meditation employs concentration on objects, ideas, images – things that are external to the body, and so is concerned with the universe outside, made for us through name-calling, designation, conceptualization (concepts, pannatta).
Vipassana, on the other hand, is the penetrative understanding by direct meditative experience of the three basic characteristics (ti-lakkhana) of all phenomena of existence (that is of all living beings) … namely,
unpleasantness (dukkha); and
Vipassana meditation uses the power of concentration (samadhi) on sensations within the body and so is concerned with the universe within as it is in their essentiality beyond the realm of concept. It purifies the mind to enable it to gain insight (panna) leading to knowledge of the way (magga). It is the main branch of mental development (bhavana) to attain Nibbana.
Vipassana is the application of mind (nama) over matter (rupa) using the two legs of concentration (samadhi) and sensation (vedana), whereas samatha uses concentration as its main support.
The first essential equipment of the yogi is a concentrated mind. For only a concentrated mind is a cleansed mind. And only the mind which is cleansed of the five elements (nivarana) of sensual lust, ill-will, torpor, agitation and doubt can function properly to realize vipassana insight.
For the initiation of the cleansing process, the normal everyday mind requires an object to grasp. These objects can be of two types: external to the body-mind system of the yogi (that is outside of the yogi’s body) or belonging to it. Those objects which are external to the yogi belong to the environment, the universe, such as kasina discs, corpses, or the food which he eats daily. Those objects which belong to the body-mind organization of the yogi are his body and his thoughts. Any of these can be taken as an object of meditation to establish concentration.
Meditation on kasina discs
Kasina discs are purely external devices used to produce and develop concentration of mind to attain the four stages of mind absorption (jhana).
Kasina discs can be employed as objects of meditation. The yogi takes, let us say, a coloured disc or spot and places it at an appropriate distance, about the length of a plough-pole. He sits down with legs crossed under him, faces the disc and holding the body erect, he gazes on the disc with eyes opened neither too wide nor too narrow. He lets his mind dwell with earnestness on the disc in order to gain fixity of mind. He does this until at last, even with closed eyes he perceives a mental reflection of the disc. This is the acquired image, uggaha-nimitta. As he continues to direct attention to this image, there may arise the spotless counter-image, patibhaga-nimitta. This counter-image appears together with the mind. If he wills to see it far, he sees it far. If he wills to see it near, to the left, to the right, within, without, above and below, he sees it accordingly. After acquiring the counter-image, the yogi protects it with reverence through constant endeavour. Thereby he acquires facility in the practice, and after due practice he gains neighbourhood concentration, upacara samadhi. Fixed meditation, jhana, follows neighbourhood concentration. The kasina exercises produce the four stages of fixed meditation/absorption (jhana).
Likewise he can practise the earth kasina, the water kasina, the fire kasina and so on. One of the benefits acquired through the ardent practice of the earth kasina is that a man, acquiring supernormal power (abhinna), is able to walk on water just as on earth. If he gains supernormal power through the practice of the water kasina, he can bring down rain or cause water to gush from his body. If he gains supernormal power through the practice of the fire kasina, he is able to produce smoke and flame.
But somehow it is not easily possible to acquire these powers in our day. Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw once said that the times were no more opportune. One might be able to gain attainment concentration (appana-samadhi) through the practice of the kasina, but the supernormal benefits of the practice can hardly be acquired. Let us say that one practises the earth kasina exercise. He gains mastery of the signs, the nimitta. Let us say he goes to a pond and seating himself near it he arouses in himself the elements of the earth kasina. Then looking upon the water of the pond he endeavours to turn them into earth so that he may walk upon them. He will find at the most that the water thickens to a slushy earth which cannot uphold his feet when he attempts to walk upon it. Perhaps yogis in other countries have done better, but it may be taken as a general rule that the acquisition of the total benefits of the kasina exercise is difficult to achieve in our time.
Meditation on loathsomeness (asuba)
Another set of objects of meditation can be the loathsome ones, the corpses, or death, marana-nussati. These exercises are not without their risk as may be recounted in an anecdote of the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw and a monk. The monk was in the habit of crossing the creek which separated the monastery from the burial grounds to meditate on corpses. One morning, the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw met him as he was setting out to meditate for the day. The Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw smiled at him and said: “The anapana breathing exercise is free of dangers.” The monk did not act on the suggestion but continued in the practice of gazing on corpses. One evening, he returned to his cell. As he opened the door and looked inside, he gave a yell of terror. He had seen a corpse lying on the threshold. Actually that corpse was only the acquired image of his object of meditation. When the Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw heard the story, he smiled and said: “Anapana is free of dangers.”
Meditation on the four physical elements (dhatu) of nature: Earth, Water, Fire and Wind (pathavi, apo, tejo, and vayo)
(Elements of solidity, fluidity, heat and motion)
Meditation may be practised through the analysis of the four primary qualities of matter – the four inherent forces of nature each carrying its own characteristic mark.
All four are present in every material object, though in varying degree of strength. If, for instance, the Earth element predominates, the material object is called ‘solid’, if Water element predominates, it is called ‘fluid’, etc.
(1) Earth element (pathavi-dhatu) has the property of hardness, strength, thickness, immobility, security and supporting.
(2) Water element (apo-dhatu) has the property of oozing, humidity, fluidity, trickling, permeation and cohesion.
(3) Fire element (tejo-dhatu) has the property of heating, warmth, consuming and grasping.
(4) Air element (vayo-dhatu) has the property of motion, supporting, coldness, ingress and egress, easy movement and grasping.
The yogi grasps the elements briefly and in detail through consideration and reflection. But as will be noticed through a recounting of the essential natures of the four elements, they are difficult to distinguish within the body, they are hard to grasp directly; they have to be approached indirectly, through repetition by word of mouth of the essential characteristics and a forcing of understanding of their nature. This understanding normally takes place first in the realm of concepts. And a yogi who arrives at such an understanding is often led too much to believe for himself that this is the peak requirement of the practice. This is not true, of course. The understanding that is required is not of the elements as it is made and designated for us through naming them, but of the elements as they are in their essentiality, as they are in themselves. And this, their nature, is beyond the realm of concept and logical thought.
Here is a simile given by the Buddha to his monks:
“O monks, just as a skilled butcher or butcher’s apprentice, after having slaughtered a cow and divided it into separate portions, should sit down at the junction of four highroads: just so does the disciple contemplate this body with regard to the elements.
“To the butcher, who rears the cow, brings it to the slaughter-house, ties it, puts it there, slaughters it, or looks at the slaughtered and dead cow, the idea ‘cow’ does not disappear as long as he has not yet cut the body open and taken it to pieces. As soon, however, as he sits down, after having cut it open and taken to pieces, the idea ‘cow’ disappears to him, and the idea ‘meat’ arises. And he does not think: “A cow do I sell” or “A cow do they buy”.
“Just so, when the monk formerly was still an ignorant layman, the ideas ‘living being’ or ‘man’ or ‘individual’ had not yet disappeared as long as he had not taken this body, whatever position or direction it had, to pieces and analyzed it piece by piece. As soon, however, as he analyzed this body into its elements, the idea ‘living being’ disappeared to him, and his mind became established in the contemplation of the elements.”
Meditation on postures of the body (iriya-patha)
The postures of the body can be good subjects leading to the proper establishment of concentration. The yogi attempts to be mindful of walking, standing, sitting, lying, bending, stretching, eating, drinking, chewing, savouring, defecating and urinating. The postures are dynamic, the going-on of the process is unmistakable, and when the postures are really grasped for what they are, the mind can be considered to be pretty well cleansed. However, the yogi should consider whether the postures serve better as the primary object of meditation, or as a secondary one to be taken up in those moments of comparative relaxation when the primary object is being set aside for a while.
All of those mentioned are proper objects of meditation. They are all contained either in the list of forty subjects of kammathana or in the Maha Satipatthana Sutta, most of them in both. They all lead the yogi towards the establishment of concentration, some more, some less. The yogi may legitimately employ them to gain the concentration he needs. But perhaps it would be a wise approach for the yogi to seek to employ and practise that exercise which will lead him all the way to the final goal he seeks. That goal is liberating vipassana insight knowledge.
Now, there are two forms of the practice of mental culture, bhavana; samatha leads to calm and tranquility and vipassana leads to intuitive knowledge of the true nature of phenomena and consequent liberation. Samatha is concerned with the universe, the outside world, as it is there for us; vipassana is concerned with the universe within as it is in its true self.
Since the realm of samatha is the universe outside as it is for us by way of naming them, by means of conceptualization, the objects of meditation which lead to samatha are accordingly those objects which we have made and conceptualize for ourselves. The kasina disc is something we have made for ourselves. The thought of the loathsomeness is something we have brought up in ourselves. The stability of earth, the cohesion of water, the hotness of fire and the easy movement of air are qualities of the four elements of nature which have been conceptualized by us to help us in comprehending and understanding them. Even the thought of walking in the fact of walking, the thought of bending in the fact of bending, the thought of touching in the fact of touching are ideas which we have created in our minds so that we can better get at the actualities, the postures as they are, we hope.
But whatever the universe outside makes for us leads to samatha; whatever artifact we construct, whatever idea, image, thought or concept we create leads to samatha. There is nothing wrong in samatha in itself. The practice of samatha is legitimate; there are many reasons why it should even be recommended. Only, samatha is not vipassana.
Therefore, he who would gather the fruits of samatha may practise samatha, but he who wishes to gather the fruits of vipassana will have to practise vipassana. This he will have to do sooner or later, either after the practice of samatha or directly by selecting an exercise which sets him up at once on the high road to vipassana. Whether he wishes to practise samatha now, or to switch to vipassana later, or alternatively to take up the practice of vipassana immediately is a matter of personal choice. And I as a practician of vipassana would not be too eager to prompt him on that choice. Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw once said: “Man does what he likes to do, and the doing of what he likes does not bother him.
Questions arise: if we normally conceptualize the four elements of nature to grasp them, to understand them, if we commonly make thoughts about walking, bending and touching to help us get at them better, if our minds are ever so prone to create images and ideas, can we possibly attempt to get at processes as they are in themselves? Is it not necessary that we handle the processes with the gloves of concepts and ideas? This is the answer: if it were true that it is necessary to handle the processes with the gloves of concepts and thoughts, and that processes can never be got at directly, then there can be no path to freedom and no liberating knowledge. But because it is possible to get at processes directly as they are in themselves, there is vipassana and the winning of intuitive liberating knowledge.
Let us take an exercise, in-breathing and out-breathing, (anapana). It is said to be a suitable exercise for all types of personalities. If a man practises mindfulness of respiration he attains to a peaceful life. He causes evil and demeritorious states to be overcome. His body and mind do not tremble. He fulfils the four foundations of mindfulness (satipatthana), the seven enlightenment factors (bojjhanga) and realizes wisdom (magga) and freedom (vimokkha). Anapana had been practised and highly recommended by the Blessed One, Lord Buddha. Furthermore, anapana is said to be unadulterated, not requiring addition to make it complete.
This exercise may be practised in the samatha way or performed so as to realize vipassana straight away.
The samatha ways
– Counting the breath
Breathe in and out. As the breath goes in and out, it will touch the nostril tip or upper lip or some other place within that region. Fix the mind on that point of touch; count the in-going and out-going breaths. This is one method.
– Noting the breath (as either short or long)
Breathe in and out again. Fix the mind on the point of touch of breath. Thus fixing the mind, note a short breath to be short and a long breath to be long. This is the second method.
– Following the breath (as either in or out)
Breathe in and out again. Fixing the mind on the point of touch of breath, follow the breath in and out. In doing this, the breath should not be followed into the pit of the stomach or out into the beyond. The breath body should be experienced as either going in or out. This is the third method.
Notice that in all three methods the yogi looks for the in-breaths and out-breaths nowhere else than at the point of touch. This is true also for the fourth method.
The vipassana way
– Being aware (mindful) of the touch of breath
Breathe in and out. Fix the mind on the point of touch of breath. Be aware of the touch. Do not count, do not know the degree of length, and do not follow the breath in and out. Just be mindful of the touch sensation without forming any thoughts whatsoever.
Of these four methods of anapana, the first three are samatha type exercises while the fourth is a vipassana exercise.
– In the first method, there is counting. Numbers are concepts.
– In the second method, the form of the breath is noted. Form is an image.
– In the third method, the going in and out of the breath is noted. This is achieved through the creation of an idea. Concepts, images and ideas are things that we have created for us and therefore are concerned with samatha.
– Only the fourth method where the touch-sensation alone is taken in its bareness performs the vipassana practice as this is non-conceptual. Yet even this practice can be adulterated with samatha. If instead of being aware of the touch in its bare actuality, if instead of guarding this awareness with mindfulness, the yogi makes a mental note of it; then for that moment he has slipped into the old habit of forming a concept or an idea and therefore he practises samatha instead of the intended vipassana.
Mental noting tends to take place at a much slower pace than the actual processes of phenomena. Thus, instead of being able to take these processes as they are, it tends to keep slipping into a past where the processes are reconstructed by an intervening reasoning mind. To be able to keep up with the natural processes, the yogi needs only be mindful. This is not difficult to perform. The initial requirement is awareness. Be aware of the touch of sensation or mental phenomenon. Then ward and watch this awareness with mindfulness. When the awareness is guarded with mindfulness, thoughts are locked out; they cannot intrude. No opportunity is offered for the formation of concepts, images or ideas. Thereby the processes are got at directly in the very moment of occurrence, as they are in themselves without the distortion of thought. This is true practice.
Thoughts always tend to intrude. Ideas and images stand just beyond the threshold, ready to enter at the least weakening of mindfulness. The only way to keep up with the processes, to be mindful of them, is to exercise vigilance through a rigour of effort.
That is why the motto of Sunlun Gu-Kyaung Sayadaw had always been:
“Be rigorously mindful of the awareness of touch.”