(Mr. S. N. Goenka delivered the following public discourse at Hyderabad, India in1993)
Friends: We have assembled here again this evening to further discuss the subject of Dharma. Yesterday we discussed Dharma and sectarianism. Unfortunately in India today, these two words have become synonymous, which is totally wrong. The two are poles apart. Dharma is its own entity. Dharma is universal. It is all-powerful. Dharma is the law of nature, the universal law of nature which governs the entire universe. All animate and inanimate beings are governed by the law of Dharma.
The Dharma of the negativities of the mind is to make one miserable. This law existed in the past, this law exists today and this law will still exist in the future. It is eternal. The Dharma of the purity of the mind has the qualities of love, compassion and goodwill. It gives peace and harmony. This was so in the past, it is so today and it will be so in future. This is the reason why Dharma is sanātana—eternal. Unfortunately today, even this Hindi word sanātana has become sectarian. Sanātana Dharma means a particular Dharma of a particular sect. It is a great misfortune thatIndia has lost the real meaning of Dharma. Because of this, it has become very difficult for people to practise Dharma.
Dharma and sectarianism are totally different. When the country became independent, some very wise, experienced, patriotic people framed the Constitution and declared: “Our government will be a secular government.” This was a good thing: a good government is always a secular government. But in Hindi, the word is used in a very wrong way. We say: “Our government is Dharma nirapekśha.” How can it be Dharma nirapekśha? Nirapekśha means indifferent or unconcerned. The idea is to be sampradāya nirapekśha— not favouring any sect. How can a Dharma nirapekśha government administer a country? A government has to be Dharma sāpekśha: secular, non-sectarian. A government has to have Dharma, otherwise what kind of government will it be? Dharma has to be there.
A state administration has to be an administration of Dharma. By saying that the state, or the administration, or the government is Dharma nirapekśha, we have lost the meaning of the word Dharma. For us, Dharma has become a sect. That is why we say “Hindu-dharma, Buddhist-dharma, Jain-dharma” and “Muslim-dharma.” Actually we should be saying “Hindu sect, Buddhist sect, Jain sect” and “Muslim sect.” Dharma is totally different from these sects, totally different. Sects are limited. Dharma is universal, boundless, infinite and limitless. Dharma is for all, for everyone. This must be very clear. The sooner our country starts understanding the difference between Dharma and sect, the easier it will become for people to practise Dharma. Otherwise they will remain under the illusion that they are Dharmic people when actually they are not. This is a great self-deception. When people do not follow Dharma, they do not get the benefit of Dharma.
The first basic prerequisite of Dharma is to live a moral life. Morality is the base of Dharma. Someone calling oneself a staunch Hindu, or Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or Jain, may not live the life of morality, yet still calls himself a staunch Hindu (etc.) because he performs the rites and rituals of that particular sect, that particular tradition. Morality is missing. Someone who calls himself a Dharmic person must be living a moral life. Without the base of morality, one can never be a Dharmic person, a Dharmist person.
What is morality? Consider our country’s penal code: If you kill someone, you are penalized. If you steal something which does not belong to you, you are penalized. If you commit rape or adultery, you are penalized. If you speak lies and deceive somebody, you are penalized. If you become intoxicated and harm others, you are penalized. All these are a part of Dharma, a life of morality. Morality is the essential prerequisite of Dharma. In the ancient language, it was called sīla. Sīla means “morality.” In the past, what explanation did the enlightened ones, the liberated ones, the wise ones, give for this word? They said that one should not perform any action, physical or vocal, which disturbs the peace and harmony of others. One should not perform any action, physical or vocal, which harms other beings, which hurts other beings. This is sīla. This is morality.
If we start understanding this, then we may keep calling ourselves Hindu. There is nothing wrong with this. Just as one might call oneself Goenka, Rao, Smith or Jones, we may call ourselves Muslim, Jain, Christian or Buddhist. These are just names. But Dharma is different. If I am a Dharmic person, I must try my best to live a life of morality. As much morality as I have in my life, that much I am a Dharmic person. This name or that name makes no difference. We must abstain from all those physical and vocal actions which go against the interest of other beings. This means we must abstain from killing, from stealing, from sexual misconduct, and from speaking lies. Long ago, in ancientIndia, these were the four important moral bases. People followed four moral precepts in their lives. Later on, people discovered some intoxicants, like alcohol and marijuana, and started using them. Wise people said: “Once you take any kind of intoxicant, even though you want to live a moral life, it becomes very difficult because you have become the slave of that intoxicant.” Therefore, the fifth moral precept was added: abstention from taking any kind of intoxicant. The four precepts became five precepts—five sīlas.
Time passed, and slowly people realized that intoxication is not merely the intoxication of alcohol, marijuana, or bhāng, and so on; there is also the intoxication of gambling. Therefore the moral precept to abstain from gambling was added. More time passed, and people realized that a bigger intoxication is that of wealth, power and status. Once one accumulates wealth, he becomes quite mad, performing actions which are harmful to himself, and harmful to others. The accumulation of wealth can also be an intoxicant. As a householder one has to work hard to earn money. There is nothing wrong with that. A householder should not be a beggar; therefore one must earn one’s living honestly by hard work. This is Dharma. But once you start working hard and earning money, there is a danger that you may get intoxicated with that money. You may get trapped in the rat race of accumulating more and more money. A dangerous situation.
The householder faces a dilemma. On the one hand, a householder needs to earn money to support himself or herself, the members of one’s family, and the other members of society. Yet on the other hand, there is the danger of becoming intoxicated by this. So, the rule of samvibhāga was made. Samvibhāga is a word from the ancient Indian language, most of which we have lost today. It has gone to neighbouring countries and is preserved there. In those days the word dāna—donation—was not used. When you give dāna, your ego becomes strong: “I am giving dāna.” So instead of dāna, they used samvibhāga, which means the money that comes to you from society. The money that you accumulated came from society—now distribute it to society. Samvibhāga: share it with other people. Share it with those who need it. Samvibhāga was a part of the five precepts.
The five precepts were essential. They are still essential. They are the basic prerequisites of Dharma, and they will remain essential in future also as the basic prerequisites of Dharma. One yardstick to measure whether one is a Dharmic person or not is whether one is living the life of the five precepts. Why observe these five precepts? The enlightened ones explained why sīla is necessary. They explained it in different ways to different people, according to the mental calibre of the people to whom they were speaking. In a society, there are people of different mental calibres. Some are like children, some like adolescents, some like youths and some like adults. Explanations were given to different people in different ways.
To some it was explained: “If you observe all these moral precepts very scrupulously, do you know what you will gain? When you die, you will get reborn in heaven.” And a description of heaven was given: “A wonderful heaven, with celestial drinks and celestial women…” and so on. Hearing that, a person feels elated: “If I can attain that, certainly I must observe morality. I must observe sīla.”
Similarly, one might say to one’s child: “If you study well in school and do your homework properly, you will get Cadbury’s sweets.” So the child works hard.
Or it was explained: “If you don’t observe these moral precepts, do you know what will happen? After death, you will go to hell.” A description of hell was given, so horrible. One gets frightened: “Oh no, I don’t want to go to hell!”
The stick and the carrot. There were people who could understand only this kind of language, so they were given these explanations. Whether a person understands by this or that language, if he or she abstains from performing unwholesome actions, it is good for them.
There were other people who were intellectuals. They didn’t believe in the next birth, in this heaven or that hell. They believed that this life now is more important. People of that type gave all importance to the present life. For such people, the explanation was given in a different way: “If somebody tried to kill you, would you like it? Would you feel happy about it? Or would you feel unhappy?”
“Oh, I would feel very unhappy if somebody tried to kill me.” “Similarly, if you tried to kill somebody, would that person feel unhappy?” “That person would feel unhappy.”
“If someone stole something belonging to you, something very dear to you, wouldn’t you feel unhappy?” “Certainly I would feel unhappy. That is true.”
“If you stole something belonging to somebody else, which was very dear to that person, wouldn’t that person feel unhappy?” “Yes, that person would feel unhappy.”
“If somebody committed adultery or sexual misconduct with a member of your family, wouldn’t you feel unhappy?” “I certainly would feel unhappy.”
“Similarly, if you committed sexual misconduct with someone, wouldn’t the members of their family feel unhappy?” “They would feel unhappy.”
“If somebody spoke lies and deceived you, wouldn’t you feel unhappy?” “I would feel unhappy.”
Similarly, if you tried to deceive others by speaking lies, wouldn’t they feel unhappy?” “Yes, they would.”
“If somebody got intoxicated, and disturbed your peace and harmony, wouldn’t you feel unhappy?” “Yes.” “Similarly, if you got intoxicated, and disturbed the peace and harmony of others, wouldn’t they feel unhappy?” “Yes, certainly they would.”
In this way, one can understand logically, rationally. Many people started understanding Dharma in that way.
Another explanation was given, a different explanation to people of different mental calibres, all for the same good purpose: “A human being is a social being. One has to live in society. One cannot run away from society. A householder has to live with the members of one’s household and with the members of society. Even if somebody has renounced the world and become a monk or a nun, one still has to keep in contact with society. A human being is a social being.
“If the peace and harmony of society gets disturbed by any action of yours, do you think you will experience peace and harmony? If you are burning with fire all around you, can you experience peace within yourself? You have to maintain the peace and harmony of society. Any action of yours, physical or vocal, which disturbs the peace and harmony of others, disturbs your peace and harmony also, because you are a member of society. You cannot keep aloof from society.” This explanation was logical, rational and understandable.
Then there were many mature people in society, to whom Dharma was explained in a very mature way: “At the apparent level it seems that if you observe sīla, the moral precepts—if you don’t harm others, if you don’t hurt others by any action, vocal or physical, then you are obliging others and you are obliging society, because you are helping them to live peacefully. But this is only the apparent truth, not the actual truth, not the truth at the deeper level of Dharma. At the deeper level of Dharma, you are not obliging anybody by practicing sīla, morality. You are obliging yourself. It is in your own self-interest.”
To such people, it was explained in this way: “Suppose you kill somebody. How it is possible to kill? You can’t kill anybody unless you generate a tremendous amount of anger, hatred, ill will and animosity. You can’t kill while smiling or laughing. You have to generate negativity in your mind; and as soon as you generate negativity, nature starts punishing you. You may kill that person later on, but you will be the first victim. You have started harming yourself because you have started generating impurity, negativity in the mind. You can’t kill somebody unless you generate negativity.”
Similarly, you can’t steal unless you generate a tremendous amount of greed in your mind. You can’t perform sexual misconduct unless you generate a tremendous amount of lust and passion in your mind. You can’t speak a lie unless you generate a tremendous amount of ego, craving or aversion. Only then can you deceive others. When you break any sīla at the physical level or the vocal level, you have to generate some impurity or the other in your mind. You have started harming yourself.
When you are this ignorant, you know nothing about Dharma. The law of Dharma says that as soon as you generate any negativity, any impurity in the mind, Dharma will punish you. If you have broken the law of Dharma, you will be punished. And you will be punished here and now, not just after death. The punishment that comes after death will come. That is a separate issue; don’t give it much importance. A wise person must give importance to the reality of this moment. What is happening at this moment? The punishment is given here and now.
If a person breaks the law of the country, he or she has to suffer. They receive punishment because they have broken the law. But the determination of the punishment takes time. Investigations go on; the case goes from this court to that court, to another court. It may take years to resolve. And even then, one may not be given any punishment. Those who are responsible to determine proper punishment may start seeing the other side of the case, and the accused person may go free.
But in Dharma, this can never happen. In Dharma, the punishment is immediate and simultaneous. As soon as a negativity arises in the mind, simultaneously misery starts arising in the mind. There is no time gap. It is not that you generate negativity now and after a few moments you will become miserable. You become miserable at that very moment. Nature has started punishing you. You can’t avoid this punishment. You have to face it.
Because people have forgotten the meaning of Dharma, it is not understood as the law of nature. Dharma is understood as Hindu-dharma, Buddhist-dharma or Jain-dharma; this rite or that rite, this religion or that religion; this recitation or that recitation, this ceremony or that ceremony—all of which have nothing to do with Dharma. The law of nature is the law of nature, the universal law of nature. If this becomes clear to society and to the country, a big change will start coming and everybody will give importance to the law of nature.
What am I doing at this moment? Am I generating any negativity in my mind? If so, nature has started punishing me. If I keep myself free from negativity, I don’t generate negativity. If I don’t perform any action, physical or vocal, which disturbs others, I don’t generate negativity in my mind. If I don’t generate negativity, my mind becomes pure and nature starts rewarding me here and now. The moment a pure mind starts generating love, compassion and goodwill, simultaneously one starts experiencing peace, harmony and happiness. You won’t have to wait. It’s not that you will get something after death. You will get it now—here and now.
This is the law of nature. This is Dharma. The more people start understanding this, the more they will try to live a life of morality, not to oblige others, but to oblige themselves. If I live a life of morality, I am obliging myself. I am helping myself. And if I help myself, I have certainly started helping others also. When I harm others, I have started harming myself. So in my own self-interest, I have to live a life of morality, I have to live a life of Dharma.
Not Hindu-dharma, Buddhist-dharma, Jain-dharma or Muslim-dharma; they have nothing to do with Dharma. Somebody who calls himself a good Hindu-dharmist, may be a Dharmist or may not be a Dharmist. These are two different things altogether. Dharma is Dharma. If we take Dharma out of this mire of sectarianism, then it will become very pure. People will start understanding Dharma as Dharma, nothing to do with Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim or Christian. People will start following Dharma, people will start observing Dharma. But how to observe it?
As a mature person, one has understood: “In my own interest, I must live the life of morality. Of course, I must also live the life of morality in the interest of society. I should not kill. I should not steal. I should not perform sexual misconduct. I should not speak lies. I should not get intoxicated.”
A drunkard knows very well: “Drinking is no good for me.” He wants to come out of it. A gambler understands: “Gambling is no good for me.” He wants to come out of it. One who performs sexual misconduct understands: “This is no good for me.” He wants to come out of it. Yet when the time comes, still one performs all those actions which one knows are not good.
There is a story in the Mahābhārata featuring an important character named Duryodhan. Duryodhan says:
Jānāmi dharmaṃ na ca me pravrittī, jānāmi adharmaṃ na ca me nivrittī.
-“I know very well what Dharma is, but my mind does not want to follow it. I know very well what adharma is, and yet I cannot come out of it.”
Isn’t everyone like Duryodhan? Everyone understands at the intellectual level: “I should not perform any bad actions. I should only perform actions which are good.” And yet one keeps performing wrong actions, and does not perform good actions. Everyone is like Duryodhan, because one has no control over the mind.
Therefore the second important prerequisite of Dharma is to develop mastery over the mind. You understand very well: “A moral life is good for me and good for others.” You want to live a moral life, and yet you can’t, because you have no mastery over your mind. Dharma is not complete without mastery of the mind.
The wise people, the enlightened people, the rishis, the mūnis, the buddhas, the arahants, the sthitaprajñas, they didn’t just give sermons: “Oh, people of the world, you should not kill. You should not steal. You should not do this. You should not do that.” If Dharma was only sermons then, as happens today, the words would enter one ear and go out the other ear. The spiritual leaders of India’s past didn’t give mere sermons. They gave us a way to practice what those sermons taught, and to observe morality by developing mastery over the mind. That is very important. One has to develop mastery over one’s mind.
Many methods were used. India is a vast country, a very ancient country. Different techniques were developed and different techniques were practiced. One technique is good for some people; another technique is good for others. Different techniques evolved to develop mastery over the mind, to control the mind. How to control the mind? One very popular technique was to keep reciting a word. This practice continues today. As you keep reciting the same word, you will find that the mind gets calmed down and starts getting concentrated. You can use any word—for example, “watch.” You keep reciting: “Watch, watch, watch, watch, watch, watch, watch.” The mind gets calmed down, concentrated. This is the law of nature. It is like singing a lullaby to a child: “Oh sleep, my child. Oh sleep, my child. Oh sleep, my child.” The child calms down and goes to sleep, because you repeated the same words over and over. Similarly, when you repeat: “Watch, watch, watch, watch, watch, watch”: the mind calms down and gets concentrated.
It is difficult to repeat a word like: “Watch, watch, watch.” What is interesting about repeating this word? So intelligent people advised: “Start repeating the name of any saintly person, any being, any god or goddess in whom you have confidence and devotion. If you have devotion, it becomes easy for you to repeat that word. Keep repeating it.” Then a suggestion was given: “This name is so powerful. If you practice repeating it, after death you will get heaven; after death you will get liberated.”
It is easy to repeat the name of a god, or a goddess, or a saintly person, enlightened person if you have devotion and faith in that person. As you keep repeating, repeating, repeating it, the mind gets more and more concentrated. It was a very good technique. It worked in the past and works even today.
Another technique was to use a shape or a form, any shape or form. There was a technique in India where a particular shape made from clay—for example, a disk the size of a chapati—was made. Someone would place it in front of oneself, and keep looking at it. One would close his eyes, then with open eyes look at it, then again close the eyes. This very ancient technique of India was called ‘nimītta’. One looked at the object, closed the eyes, opened the eyes, then closed the eyes. When someone practices this, a time comes when the shape of the clay disk will come in front of them, even with closed eyes. But to give so much importance to a clay disk becomes difficult.
So the instruction was given: Take the shape or form of a particular god or goddess in whom you have faith or devotion—an idol or a picture of this particular god or goddess. Look at it, close your eyes, look at it again, then close your eyes again. Keep practicing this. After a few days or a few months, or in some cases maybe a few years, as soon as you close your eyes, the picture will come before you. When the picture comes before you with closed eyes, the mind gets concentrated. It worked in those days; it works even now.
Another technique was to imagine something, to develop faith in that imaginary object, and start working with that. For example, “This is my spinal chord, and there are chakras on this spinal chord.” You imagine these chakras. Or you imagine one chakra as a lotus with so many petals, then another chakra as a different lotus with so many petals. You keep imagining this again and again, repeatedly, repeatedly. A time will come when you start observing those lotuses easily with closed eyes. As you continue the practice of imagining something, your mind gets concentrated.
The auto-suggestion of any philosophical belief was used. For example, you have a certain belief: “I am the immortal soul. Yes, I am the immortal soul. This immortal soul is very pure. It is very pure. There is no trace of impurity in it.” You keep giving yourself this suggestion: “I am immortal. I am the immortal soul.” Or: “I am God Almighty. I am God Almighty. I am all-powerful. I am complete purity.” You repeatedly give this suggestion. These thoughts will start projecting themselves, and the mind will get concentrated.
Like this, the people of India worked in different ways, with different techniques, to train the mind to get concentrated. That was the main aim: to get the mind concentrated. One person might follow one way, someone else another way, but the objective was the same: to get the mind concentrated.
But then there were also fully enlightened people in our country who realized that mere concentration of the mind is not enough. A concentrated mind is very powerful. When your mind gets concentrated by using this technique or that technique, it becomes a very powerful mind. This powerful mind can be misused: it can harm others. But a powerful mind with the base of purity cannot harm anybody. It will be helpful to everyone. So the base must be pure. If you concentrate your mind without a pure base, it will not give you the proper results of Dharma. Therefore purity is very important.
So other techniques were discovered where the base was purity, nothing but purity. The first condition was to remain with the reality that one experiences—the reality of the moment as it is—and to remain with that reality from moment to moment, from moment to moment; the reality that one realizes oneself, not the reality experienced by somebody else. The reality experienced by Gotama made Gotama a fully enlightened one, a buddha. It cannot make you a buddha unless you realize it yourself. The reality experienced by Jesus made Jesus the Christ, not you, not anybody else.
Each individual has to experience the truth, the reality. And this reality is the reality only when you experience it yourself. If you have read something in the scriptures—the scriptures say so, or your guru says so, or your tradition says so—and you simply believe it: this won’t help. You have to experience it yourself. Truth is the reality that you are experiencing from moment to moment. You can only experience the reality pertaining to yourself. The reality pertaining to others can only be understood at the intellectual level. You can understand an external truth only at the intellectual level: “This is so. It appears to be so. It is like this or like this.” You can only intellectualize the external truth.
If you want to experience the truth, then the truth must be within the framework of your body. The reality that you experience within the framework of your body is the reality for you. It is your reality; you are experiencing it. It is a reality not because your guru says so, or your scriptures say so, or your tradition says so, but because you are experiencing it. So start with the truth pertaining to yourself, as experienced by you, within yourself. Make use of concentration of mind. The training of mental concentration should start with the experience of the truth pertaining to yourself. This is the truth pertaining to the physical structure, the material structure, the corporeal structure, which one keeps understanding as, “I, I; mine, mine.” At the intellectual level, one understands very well: “This body is not ‘I,’ this body is not ‘mine,’ this body is not ‘my soul.’” One understands this very well at the intellectual level.
When you start practicing the observation of the truth within yourself, you will notice that, for all practical purposes, this material body has become “I” for you, has become “mine” for you: “It is ‘I,’ it is ‘mine’; it is ‘I,’ it is ‘mine.’” There is a tremendous amount of identification with this body and a tremendous amount of attachment towards this body. Because of this, there is a tremendous amount of misery and a tremendous amount of tension. The reality pertaining to the physical structure, and similarly, the reality pertaining to the mental structure have to be realized.
What is this mind to which I keep saying: “I, I; mine, mine”? What is this mind? At the intellectual level, I may keep on saying: “The mind is not ‘I,’ the mind is not ‘mine,’ the mind is not ‘my soul.’ “But at the actual level, the mind has become “I.” the mind has become “mine.” What is this mind? One has to explore for oneself the truth pertaining to the body, the truth pertaining to the mind, within oneself, at the experiential level.
For this, a technique was given. The first instructions are to sit comfortably in any posture that suits you. It is not necessary to sit in this particular posture, or that particular posture. Any posture that keeps you comfortable for longer periods at a stretch is a good posture for you. Try to keep your back and your neck straight.
Close your eyes, close your mouth, and then see what is happening within the framework of the body. Observe whatever you are experiencing at the experiential level, with no imagination, no speculation. At this moment, what are you experiencing? There is no vocal activity and no physical activity. What is happening?
The first reality that you will experience is the breath—the breath coming in and the breath going out. You are sitting quietly, and this is one activity which is going on continuously. Start observing the breath coming in and the breath going out. Just observe it. Do nothing. Don’t make it a breathing exercise, by trying to regulate your breath. Don’t make it prāṇāyāma. This exercise is totally opposite to prāṇāyāma. Inprāṇāyāma you regulate your breath. That practice has its own advantages. We are not here to condemn other techniques; they have their advantages. But as far as this technique is concerned, just observe the breath as it is. If it is deep, it is deep. If it is shallow, it is shallow. If it is passing through the left nostril, it is passing through the left nostril. If it is passing through the right nostril, it is passing through the right nostril. Just observe. Do nothing. Don’t interfere with the natural flow of respiration. As it naturally comes in, you are aware. As it naturally goes out, you are aware. This is the first step to train your mind to get concentrated.
Tomorrow we will discuss the difficulties that come in this technique, and how to overcome those difficulties. We will also discuss why we use this particular technique, how it helps to purify the mind and how it differs from other techniques—how it does not work merely at the surface level of the mind, but goes to the depth of the mind. We shall try to understand all that tomorrow.
May those who have come to today’s Dharma meeting get the time and the opportunity to take advantage of this wonderful ancient technique of India, and give it a trial. You will not be converted from one religion to another religion. Dharma is a pure technique of mind and matter, a science of mind and matter, the interaction of mind and matter.
How do the impurities arise, how do they multiply, and how do they overpower us? How can we stop that multiplication of the impurities? How can we eradicate them as they arise? This is what the technique will teach you. And you will not just accept it in blind faith, you will experience it yourself, step by step. It is a very scientific technique, a very rational technique, a technique which gives results here and now.
May all of you find time to take advantage of this ancient technique of our country. Come out of your misery. Enjoy real peace. Enjoy real harmony. Enjoy real happiness, real happiness.
Note: The Sanskrit word Dharma (which is spelled Dhamma in the Pāli language) originally meant “the law of nature” or “the truth.” In today’s India, unfortunately, the word has lost its original meaning, and is mistakenly used to refer to “sect” or “sectarianism.” Using this theme as an introduction, Goenkaji explains that Vipassana meditation teaches how to live a life of pure Dharma—a life full of peace, harmony and goodwill for others. This subject is particularly relevant in India today—and indeed the whole world—where sectarianism and communalism have divided large sections of society and caused acute suffering.