BEGINNING INSIGHT MEDITATION
and Other Essays
Bodhi Leaves No. B 85
Copyright 1980 Buddhist Publication Society
First published 1980
BUDDHIST PUBLICATION SOCIETY
KANDY SRI LANKA
* * *
DharmaNet Edition 1995
Transcription: Myra I. Fox
Proofreading & formatting: John Bullitt
This electronic edition is offered for free distribution
via DharmaNet by arrangement with the publisher.
P.O. Box 4951, Berkeley CA 94704-4951
* * * * * * * *
For inspiration to write this little booklet I wish to thank my good
friend and teacher, Anagarika Tibbotuwawa. I also wish to thank my
husband for his kindly suggestions and excellent editing.
May all beings be well and happy!
* * *
BEGINNING INSIGHT MEDITATION
For the beginning meditator I believe it would be helpful to establish
an order in the various steps taken in meditation. First, then, it
would be wise to establish a place of quiet to which one may retire
daily and not be interrupted in his endeavors. Then wash carefully
face, hands and feet. Better yet, if time permits, take a cleansing
shower and put on loose, comfortable clothes. It is wise to meditate at
the same time daily to establish a habit. I do it at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
when the birds begin to retire in the evening. Then when you begin to
meditate consider your posture. With spine erect and a spirit of
awareness be mindful of sitting without strain but with complete
alertness. Now you are ready to begin. But, first, some introductory
As Sujata states in his little book //Beginning to See//, "Meditation
is the best thing you can do for yourself." However, it is far from
the simple thing it may seem to beginners. It takes a strong urge to
peer deeply within oneself and beyond it. It takes discipline and
willingness to go farther than merely trying to escape or sidestep
personal problems one may have.
Why meditate? There are many reasons. But those that stand out
most strongly are learning to think clearly, and to dispel ignorance,
illusion, greed, hatred and craving. This is the road to Nirvana or
Nibbana through which one must lose all clinging to "self." The
feeling of having a self is highly resistant to extinguishing. It is
persistent and devious. Often one may feel it has vanished only to
have it crop up again. Only by diligence and persistence -- and the
road for many may be long -- can victory over it be achieved.
You are seated now, cross-legged on the floor, in a quiet chamber. In
lotus position, if you can, or in half-lotus, or even on a chair if
disability precludes otherwise. Keep your head erect and balanced
lightly on your shoulders. Still, do not strain; be comfortable,
relaxed and attentive.
The first stages of meditation should be simply observation of
breath. Concentrate on the nostrils where the breath flows in ... out
... in ... out. Be aware of the touch of air as it strikes the passage
through the nostrils. In fact be aware of everything and nothing. This
sounds contradictory. Yet it is really not. For this is no time to
daydream, to entertain vagrant and migratory thoughts. You are aware of
your physical posture. Then you forget that also. You are aware that
the past is dead, that it is gone. Yet specific consciousness of your
whole preceding life is absent. The future does not yet exist. All
you have is "right now" ... the in ... out ... in ... out rhythm of the
breath of life.
The idea is to "empty the mind," to get rid of all "garbage," all
fleeting and intruding thoughts. Simply to breathe -- in out -- in
out, never forcing the breath. You are not even the breather, but the
breathing breathing you, the you, which as time goes on, will grow more
and more vague as it begins to dissipate, disappear.
Just allow the mind to feel the "touch" of breath as it flows in and
flows out. In your first sessions think of nothing more. You will
find the breath thinning out as it becomes more subtle and finer until
in time you begin to feel you are not breathing at all. This is the
calming of the breath flow. It becomes very pleasant and satisfying.
I keep a candle burning in the meditation chamber. It serves two
purposes, maybe three. At first, if the mind wanders, it serves as a
point of focus. The eyes, at first observing the candle, soon close,
lightly, easily, by themselves. But even through closed lids one feels
the presence of the light. One can see it in one's mind's eye. It
restores the mind's wandering back to the present. The second purpose
is symbolic: to me it signifies the //Light of the Dhamma//, the
doctrine on which the meditation is based. And finally, it makes for a
pleasant, lovely atmosphere. Incense, flowers, Buddha sculpture are
nice but really not necessary. One can, in truth, meditate
//anywhere//, any quiet place where there can be no interruption.
Wherever you meditate, if it is at home and you have a telephone, it is
wise to remove the receiver to avoid incoming calls.
Bear in mind that the place of meditation is not of key importance,
but it is wise to return to the same place at the same time daily so
that the habit of meditating becomes established. The Buddha meditated
under a Bodhi tree where he achieved enlightenment. An advanced
meditator can choose almost any place and it will serve his purpose --
a crowded market place, a burial ground, a cave, a park or a refuse
dump. In his inward turning he becomes totally oblivious of his
surroundings; or, contrariwise, makes the very surroundings, as he
advances deeper and deeper into meditating, the subject of his
thoughts. The important thing to remember is that these thoughts must
be schooled and channeled. They must be kept "on center."
But you, now, are still in your beginning stages. Untoward thoughts
will persist in entering your mind. This is only natural. You will
be amazed at how many and how trivial these intrusions can be. You
must learn, however, to treat these intruders with courtesy. Do not
shove them away in anger. Be gentle, kindly. Label each one -- past
-- present -- future? Worthy? Unworthy? Animosity? Vanity? Desire?
Egotism? Your very act of branding them will assist in their
cessation. As they begin to disappear, your mind will gently return to
your nostrils, your breathing. It will grow quieter and quieter.
Other hindrances will obtrude themselves. Noises will penetrate
your consciousness -- children playing and shouting, buses or airplanes
passing. Label them as you do other passing thoughts. Keep centering
on the breathing, the slowing inflow, outflow. In time the noises,
too, will vanish. Whenever you find yourself "out there," bring
yourself gently back to "here" and to "right now." When you have been
able to accomplish this "no thought" for at least a half hour, your
breathing will have slowed to a point of almost indistinguishable
rhythm, to "it" breathing "you" and not the other way around.
I find it helps in all of this to keep a semi-smile on my face such
as that of the Buddha. It aids in brightening the mind, makes it
At this point in your beginning meditation, if you have been at it a
half hour or longer, you may terminate it if you wish or continue as
before. Or you can go on to extend //metta// or loving-kindness. This
meditation subject is good because it //eliminates// hatred, envy,
anger and self-pity. It accomplishes love for all, destruction of
self, sympathetic joy, and a good feeling for every being or non-being
that lives or has left this life. Your extension of loving-kindness
should reach out to encompass the earth, the universe. You will find
it difficult in time, to snuff out the life of even the smallest
In extending loving-kindness it is of great importance that you
first love //yourself//. In the right way, of course. You accomplish
this by ridding your thoughts of all "impurities." Think to yourself
"I will rid my mind of every defilement: anger, hatred, ignorance,
fear, greed, craving. I will make my mind clear, fresh and pure. Like
a transparent window is my mind. Then with my stain-free mind, I pour
out thoughts of loving-kindness, of love and of kindness."
Try to get a mental image of each one you are extending this
loving-kindness to. Get //into// that person. Feel his or her
personality enter //your own// being and direct your feeling straight
into the mind and heart of that individual. You will find in time,
that there is a sort of mental telepathy emerging. You will feel the
warmth of response. Do not dwell on this. Go on to the next person
and the next and next. Bring forth all the warmth and kindness of your
spirit and instill this into the being or non-being it is directed
toward. If you do this once or twice daily, your horizon will widen.
You will find yourself directing these vibrations to //all// beings and
non-beings who have entered your consciousness, without exceptions.
This will include brand-new acquaintances you hardly know. People you
do not even know but see pass by regularly or irregularly down the
street. All who live. All who have died. Known and unknown. All
animals, insects, trees. Everything organic and inorganic. And in
this outflowing there will ride your //self//, vanishing into the
When you have completed this meditation //sitting//, later try a
//walking// meditation, and, in this, think of the Four Noble Truths of
the Buddha; that all beings are born to suffer, etc. Then go on to
find the "way out"; the way out and the "end" of suffering. Find this
secure path and incorporate it into your daily life, and, this
accomplished, find Nibbana right here on earth!
* * *
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
When I first came to Sri Lanka from America, I had just about given up
all hope of living. The doctors in America had provided me with maybe
twenty-five different drugs for a very bad heart condition and other
ailments. We fled America, my husband and I, to live out our lives
among peaceful surroundings -- in the heart of Buddha-land. Shortly
after arrival, what with the long trip and thoughts of death, I truly
//was// dying. I had a myocardial infarction and was taken to the
hospital. I found the hospital conditions so deplorable, I felt it
would be better to die in bed at home. Consequently, I left the
hospital. My husband had found a lovely home for us and there I waited
to die. After much pain and emotional upheaval my husband found an
//anagarika//, a Buddhist lay brother, who came to our home and
performed a miracle, or to state it better, pointed out to me the
"path" that I shall follow for the rest of my days here on earth. This
monk-like follower of the Buddha, the Anagarika Tibbotuwawa, instructed
me in meditation.
We went through four stages and in time I threw out all drugs, and
the life "here and now" became clear and meaningful. Many strange
things began to occur in the course of meditation. First I began to
feel that I was on another plane of consciousness. I no longer had a
self, sick or otherwise. I was at one with all, all of us in a new
world, with all non-beings too. I found that the "ego" that nearly
wrecked my life was now gone. I felt reborn, and extended my
meditation to vibrations of loving-kindness. Thought messages I call
them. Then one morning a friend called from America. On the phone he
said that he had received my message. He was elated beyond belief,
thanked me and promised to come here in the near future. The strangest
of all was a telegram from my sister. She asked if we could
accommodate her at our home in three weeks. I nearly had a heart
attack! My sister is seventy-eight years old. I had heard no word
from her for fifteen years. Yet I had been sending her "thought
messages" of loving-kindness, and her image was growing clearer and
clearer -- even before arrival. She was "with me" even before arrival.
At age seventy-eight she had traveled half-way around the world to see
me. When she arrived she said she had had a compelling urge to see me.
We were both delighted and, to my amazement, she meditated each evening
with me and said she had never known such "peace and love" as she found
in our home.
She could not remain with us, as I had hoped, but had
responsibilities at home that she felt better able to cope with now.
She left, adding, "I have promises to keep -- and many miles to go
before I sleep."
These few experiences have been so uplifting that now, even though I
//never proselytize//, many young people come to me for instruction in
meditation. Recently a young man from Switzerland came to our home. He
felt he was dying of rabies ("rabbits" he called it in broken English).
I was so sure he did not have this disease that I suggested that he
meditate with me and Anagarika that day, and he seemed pleased with the
experience. Well, this young man came not only each evening, but also
every morning at 5:30 a.m. bringing fresh flowers for the Buddha. He
left, after three weeks of intensive meditation and instruction and
reading of the Dhamma, well and happy and full of ideas to help
There are, of course, many ideas I have omitted which are advanced
procedures in insight meditation, the three stages which usually follow
the concentration on breathing. These are body, feelings, perceptions
and consciousness, ultimately expressing themselves in "the mind
experiencing pure mind." I feel, however, that the reader can find
these steps in many publications that have been released on this
subject. If this booklet helps the beginner with just a little insight
into the "way" and the "why" of meditation, this will be my happiness.
* * *
IS BUDDHISM A RELIGION?
This is a question which is often asked. It really depends upon how
one defines religion. If it is thought of as a belief in a supreme
being to whom one prays for redemption, security, favors or relief from
suffering, then, //no//, Buddhism is not a religion.
The Buddha himself never claimed divinity -- only clear-sightedness
and purity of apprehension of truth through deepest intuition, leading
to equanimity and enlightenment. He was a great and rare individual
but not a god. If some simple and mistaken few have elevated him to
godship and worship him with requests for favors and special
dispensations, this does not alter the situation one bit.
It seems that in these troubled times, as, indeed, since time
immemorial, man has felt the need to have a faith in a supreme being,
one who could redeem him from "sin" and relieve his suffering. This is
a great fallacy. If indeed there were such a being, why should he be
asked to give redemption? Isn't it more important for man to redeem
himself? This is what the Buddha believed. Man, he said, is born to
suffering. Life //is// suffering. That is the first of the Four Noble
Truths he enunciates -- that there //is// suffering. In the Second
Truth he points out that all suffering has its origins which we must
learn to understand, because this is the only way we can arrive at the
Third Truth, which is that cessation of this suffering //can// be
achieved. His Fourth Truth clarifies the way out from suffering via
the Eightfold Path which we will discuss later.
Therefore we ask, if Buddhism is not a religion, what then is it?
Our reply is: Buddhism is a way of life, a philosophy, a psychology,
a way of thinking, through which we may ourselves take on the
responsibility of determining how our life-bearing kamma (karma) will
work out for us. Meditation is one of the procedures of mental
discipline and purification through which we may begin to learn such
Many young people have come to me saying, "How can I embrace
Buddhism without destroying my own beliefs and culture?" I tell the
Christians among them to think about the precepts of Christ. Are they
so totally opposed to, and different from, those of the Buddha? Thou
shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal or commit adultery. The ethical
injunctions among the Ten Commandments -- are they not almost exactly
the same as the precepts of the moral life laid down by the Buddha (the
I tell them that the Dhamma, the sacred texts of Buddhism, are much
more voluminous and explicit than those of the Old and New Testaments
and commentaries. The Buddhist texts are, in fact, elevenfold as
extensive and contain an enormous range of wise teachings, none of them
derogatory to the faiths of other creeds. He did not deny the
existence of deities, but he did reserve scepticism as to the infinity
of their duration, their omnipotency, their powers to help mankind in
every kind of urgency. Have these gods and messiahs, which we of
Western faiths have been prone to believe in, been sublimely successful
in the mitigation of human suffering, hunger, sorrow and affliction?
The answer //is// open to doubt.
So to these young Christians I can say, "Believe in Christ if you
wish, but remember, Jesus never claimed divinity either." Yes, believe
in a unitary God, too, if you wish, but cease your imploring, pleading
for personal dispensations, health, wealth, relief from suffering.
Study the Eightfold Path. Seek the insights and enlightenment that
come through meditative learnings. And find out how to achieve for
yourself what prayer and solicitation of forces beyond you are unable
There are many young people who believe that God answers their
prayers. Does he? Is prayer-answering the purpose of a supreme being?
A young man recently came to us asking for food and shelter. He was
young, able-bodied, and, yes, intelligent. We received him, fed him
and gave him a room for several days. When it became apparent that
this fellow had no intention of ever leaving, we felt he should go off
on his own. He was highly indignant! When he left we asked him if he
intended to work and earn enough to take care of his own needs. He
answered, "No, God will provide. If I follow his light, that is
enough. He will take care of me!"
If there is a God, why should he take care of able-bodied young men
simply because they have unreserved and total faith in him, when there
are so many really unfortunate, desolate people who really need help?
Did God provide for the millions of Jews in concentration camps who
were slowly gassed to death //en-masse//, their agonies of asphyxiation
often lasting a full half-hour, before they were incinerated in German
ovens? Is he there offering respite each day to the millions who are
dying of cancer and other agonizing diseases all over the universe?
Does he provide for all the masses of people, victims of floods,
disasters and earthquakes, who are homeless and starving daily
throughout the world?
Yes, believe in a God, if you will, I tell them, but don't ask, ask
and ask. Don't beg. Provide, as best you are able, for yourself
first. Then fill your heart and mind with love, with metta, and help,
to the fullest possible extent, in the relief of suffering among
others. This is the answer I give them. But cease your petitioning,
your constant solicitation for private preference.
A Jewish girl from Israel came to meditate. She felt happy and calm
in meditation, but she was worried. She said, "I do not want to forget
my heritage. I was born in Jerusalem and am steeped in Jewish
tradition." I answered her: "No problem. When you finish meditating,
say the 'Shmah'!" This is the ancient prayer of the Jews to be said
each morning of their lives and on their deathbeds. It consists of the
words, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." This, to
those of the Jewish faith, may be a solacing thought, one that may
yield them comfort, I told her. There is nothing in Buddhism, as a
matter of fact, denying the right to believe in God if you so wish. Yet
it must be pointed out that Buddhism places deityship on quite a
different plane than monotheistic and polytheistic religions do. Still,
with all your beliefs intact, you can benefit from much that Buddhism
teaches, for instance from Buddhist meditation. We are all
inter-related in common suffering. Even the word //religion//, derived
from Latin, means joined or linked. Just as the word //yoga// also
means the same, //united//. Whether this is expressed through a belief
in a deity or not is of less importance than the fact that we recognize
and accept the wonder of our common interrelationship. Certainly, I
told her, there is nothing in the practice of Judaism that denies man's
common relationship. The young lady was satisfied. As far as I know
she sill meditates daily and recites the "Shmah."
Sometimes it is said that the Buddhists worship idols. Why all the
incense, oil lamps, flowers set before Buddha-images? You must
understand, I tell these young people, that the Buddhists are merely
expressing their reverence for a great man of overwhelming vision and
insight, one of the wisest teachers that ever lived, a man who laid out
a whole way of life an a means of alleviating sorrow, strife and
suffering. When they bow to him with hands clasped before them they do
so in reverence and worship. But the meaning they attach to "worship"
is not that of Western religionists. They ask nothing for their
separate selves, no intercession of gods, no personal favors. Why is
that? Because the Buddhist, neither in his life practice nor his
philosophy, believes himself to be a separate being, a singular self,
apart from others. Therefore, lacking separate personhood, there is no
//one// for whom preference is sought. For the Buddhist "worship,"
then mean praise, reverence, a desire to imitate and be like the
Buddha, to follow his ways and show appreciation for his teachings. He
offers them no dispensations or favors, only a body of wisdom
contained in the Dhamma which, if they but apply it to themselves,
amounts to self-dispensation. In essence this means dispensing with
all vanity, clinging, attachments, greed and ignorance, which may yet
hamper them from being like the Buddha and aspiring to the perfection
of being, which he in his life attained when reaching Nibbana here and
The great American statesman Thomas Paine said, "My mind is my
church." In this statement he reiterates the belief of the Buddha.
Buddhists do not believe it is necessary to have a middleman intercede
between them and the perfection of the Master they chose to emulate and
be like. In Buddhism there is no need for priests, ministers and
preachers to pray for them in churches or temples. The Buddhist monk
teaches, not preaches. He teaches man to find his way. He teaches
purity of mind, and compassion, and love for all beings. He does not
perform marriage service, but devotes his life only to teaching and
scholarship and study, and to continuing self-purification through
meditation, so that he can be an example to others.
Who may become a Buddha? And how does one become one? These are
questions frequently asked me. The answers are that one has to enroll
or join nothing, sign no document, be initiated by no baptism, nor
disavow any other belief. All he has to do is to begin to live as
Buddhists live, to find inspiration in the Buddha, to like and
reverence his teachings, to begin to try to follow his Eightfold Path
and, through meditation, to seek to gain merit and purity. To aspire,
in fact, to become a Buddha himself! For Buddhahood is not a limited
society. It is open to all. Many have attained it. Even the Buddha
himself, in previous lives (so goes one of the legends built around
him) chose to deny himself release through Nibbana and chose rebirth so
that he might stay on and teach others.
Now let us examine the Buddha's remedy for the ending of suffering.
A friend of mine once said, with respect to this, "It is all very
simple: practice //right thought//, //right speech// and //right
action//! Very good and very important. However, not so fast, my
friend! All of the Eightfold Path is necessary, not just the small
part of it you mention. It is all beautifully interrelated. There
//must be right understanding with right speech//. There //must be
right action//. There //must be right effort//. And //with// the right
effort must follow //right livelihood//. And for all of these steps to
work, think of them //as steps//. You don't get very far just moving
up one step and remaining there. You have to combine them, join them,
link them, and finally, climax them with still one more step to reach
the top. And //that// step is //right mindfulness//.
How beautifully all these hang together like pearls on a necklace.
But now think for a moment about what is meant by "right": that is to
say, the rightness of speech, thought, action. Few pause to think what
"right" means within this context. Does it mean right as opposed to
wrong? Perhaps it does. And then, again, perhaps it doesn't. How
many of us are able to discriminate at every juncture of our lives what
is right and what is wrong? Does right, then, mean appropriate?
Appropriate action, appropriate speech, etc.? Appropriate means
suitable, suitable for the occasion. Is //that// always so easy to
determine? What, then, does the Buddha's use of the word //right//
come down to? Does it not come down to the fact that he is pointing
out that there is choice, and that //we// have choice, that we can go
this way or go that way, and that it is up to us and not him, and no
god or supreme being, to determine our way? Is he not saying that this
choice or volition amounts to our own kamma? And that while a lot of
it is predetermined through our past lives or genetically, however you
want to think of it, we can still alter, correct, change, refine re-aim
this kamma, change its course? We and nobody else! And does not all
of this point back to such //qualities// of action, speech, and
thought, as are characterized as greedy, selfish, hateful, hostile,
hurtful? As //opposed// to such qualities as generousness,
selflessness, lovingness, kindliness, helpfulness? Do you not see that
the Buddha is telling us to look behind words and not to accept them
for their face value but for their internal, shall we say nuclear,
So we return again to the question as to whether Buddhism is a
religion. In the sense that it offers us a moral code helping to
conjoin us in the living together of a better life, yes, it //is// a
religion. For that is the inner or nuclear meaning of religion --
//relinking, rejoining//. But if Buddhism is taken to imply belief in
a supreme being who rules the universe and can be bribed to alter his
decisions by our prayers and solicitations for personal preference, it
is not a religion. And this Buddhism does not do. Well, then, the
Christian may argue, man without God, without conscience, without a
ruler of the universe, will revert to bestiality. Is this not like
saying a being can't exist without a taskmaster? Are we then children?
So weak that we can't exist without being "told" what we can and cannot
do? How can we justify this?
The answers should be obvious. Man //can// rely on himself. Man
//can// train his mind to right thinking, not because thereby he will
be saved by a righteous God, but because right thinking will lead him
on to the path of final liberation from suffering, which consists of
right moral conduct, right meditation and right wisdom.
Now look at Buddhism. Does it not look //up// to you rather than
down to you, treat you as an adult rather than a child, not demand and
command, but patiently teach and instruct what practically amounts to
the same thing? The Buddha states that we are heirs to our kamma, that
we make it, form it, and that what we do in this existence does affect
our lives in the next one. However, in Buddhism, there is no need of
beating our breasts and heeding authoritarian demands that we repent.
We can rise up out of our sloth and torpor, out of evil and ugliness,
by "following the path." If it were true that without a vengeful God
man would be less than human, how do we justify the existence for
thousands of years of Buddhists living in peace and love with each
Christ and Buddha were alike in many ways. It is not my intention
to disparage anyone's belief in Christ. Christ said, "Love thy neighbor
as thyself." Buddha said, "Show compassion and loving-kindness to all
beings." God said to the Jews, "Do not unto others that which you
would not do unto yourself." This is what Christ later said in
reverse, positively, but with the same meaning. It was Moses who
interpreted the words of God to his people, but for that reason they
did not clothe him in divinity, nor did he do so himself. Where the
Buddhists and Christians part company is the Christ's followers
accorded him divinity, whereas Buddha's disciples accord him reverence
as a great being.
* * *
WHY IS THERE SUFFERING IN THE WORLD
Buddha had taught (and I refer to //The// Buddha, for there have been
many and you, yourself, may have the aspiration to one day be one),
that it is man's clinging to the idea of separate selfness which is the
cause of his suffering. Implicit in separate selfhood is egotism and
craving. This is illusion, the basic illusion. The man who "prays to
God" expresses craving. He is a clinger. He wishes something for
//self//, is egotistic. Even the idea of a God expresses the thought
of an extension of his egotism into a future life -- in heaven or
wherever. The prayer craves for a beautiful painfree future or
continuation of the present. In return he promises his God to be of
Buddha teaches that beauty is fleeting, life is impermanent and
transitory, that pain and sorrow are an outcome of the craving
egotistic self. //That craving is our suffering.// Craving implies
cravenness. To be craven is to fear. Fearfulness is suffering. Life
There is suffering in the world because the fearful, fearing self
continues in its illusion of lonely separateness. The separate self
clings to its fears, its self-seeking, its pleading, hoping, craving.
"Give me," it implores its God, "help me." What is the Buddha's answer
to this? Does he not say, "Cleanse yourself of the self-idea, of its
greed, hatred, ignorance"? And what is this ignorance? Is it not our
ignoring, our refusal to see the basic illusion of selfhood?
We finally return to meditation again, to why we meditate.
Meditation is a way, the Buddha's way of self-cleansing,
self-elimination, of freeing the mind of its attachments to the
impermananent and illusory. Through meditation we learn to detach the
self from its assumptions, to realize that ego is substance-less, to
free our mind from its defilements and illusions; to approach, through
wisdom and compassion, the ultimate cessation of suffering which comes
with Nibbana, the utter abandonment of our selfhood. In this no
eternity is sought, no endless continuity. And no annihilation. For,
since there is no //one//, what is there to annihilate? Or to
In a way of thinking, is not this a kind of sublime mysticism? A
creed or belief that yields unseeking equanimity, quietude and the end
of suffering? Since all being, in the end, //is// mystery; since
trembling , transitory being is but an illusory drop of water in a
depthless ocean, why not accept it as so?
Those who crave for and pray to gods often achieve thereby a kind of
mental purification. Even the prayers of sceptics often achieve the
same result. If prayer brings relief and quietude, remission of
suffering, it cannot be bad. But what if the relief is unlasting?
Apart from the notion that prayer implies a dependency on external or
supernatural authority, which I have no reason to bring into question,
it definitely is based on the idea of a self as opposed to an other,
and of bringing the two together in a sort of bargaining process. But
what if we can accept the idea that there is no self to begin with and
therefore no one to do the bargaining? I am reminded, in conclusion,
of a little story:
A Christian missionary found a Chinese priest chanting in a temple.
When the Chinese had finished, the missionary asked him: "To whom were
"To no one," replied the Chinese priest.
"Well, what were you praying //for//?" the missionary insisted.
"Nothing," said the Chinese,
The missionary turned away, baffled. As the was leaving the temple
the Chinese added, kindly: "And there was no one praying, you know!"
I have learned that through meditation one comes to appreciate
vistas of truth in no other way attainable; and that if one does not
come to understand totally and unquestionably the fullest depths of
meaning possible as to the causes of suffering, one does at least
arrive by painful experience and mindfulness to comprehension of its
imponderability and immensity. I see it in a personal way, in my
seventh decade, in severe and frequent anginas, in arthritic pains
which make sittings so difficult that I must frequently change
positions during meditation, or do standing meditation. I see it in my
deafened and daily worsening hearing, the dimming of my eyes and in the
realization that in the course of minding my breath and giving
consideration to the dissolution of every component of my body,
//anicca//, impermanence, is the source out of which this suffering or
//dukkha// flows. Out of this impermanence, too, I sense the vastness
of the illusion that we possess anything life abiding, continuous and
distinguishable selfhood and that the epitome of suffering arises from
this basic illusion -- that there is a "one," a "self" which is
suffering or sufferable.
The facts of suffering, its truth, and the facts of impermanence as
well, are widely recognized by most religions. All accept the basic
tragical quality of life. Where Buddhism goes forward from the rest is
in the maintenance and espousal of the theme of no-self. Life, death,
impermanence and suffering then become but a process in which, in an
ultimate and fundamental sense, there is no personal participation.
From this notion comes release, emancipation and enlightenment. As
phenomena we may continue to go on until the ultimate collapse of our
bodies and death overtakes us. But since no self is any longer engaged
in the process, it becomes depersonalized. We are no longer subjects
or even objects of calamity, despair, disease. Disturbance, dejection,
worry, dread, anguish, decay, enfeeblement, senility, no longer concern
us. Serenity and equanimity come with a new wisdom reflecting our
detachment not alone from these negative emotions but also from the
positive ones such as longing, craving, hoping, desiring, wishing,
clinging. Because, whether we realize and attain the positive results
or goals sought through these emotions, or do not, there is continued
suffering. We suffer if we fail to attain them and there is
disappointment. If we do attain them, they are impermanent, suffer
their own kind of decay, and out of this loss we suffer as well.
The goal, in the end, becomes the even-minded depersonalized middle
course wherein irritation, aversion, uncertainty vanish. Hate and
animosity become impossible. One is neither submissive nor rebellious.
We transcend the need for personal love or hate. Quietude comes to us.
Release. These are the goals of insight or vipassana meditation, whose
aim is release from suffering. How close we come to realizing them
will depend on the quality of those we seek out to teach us and on our
own assiduity in the mindfulness with which we seek, through our
meditation, to arrive at the other shore.
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TITLE OF WORK: Beginning Insight Meditation (Bodhi Leaves No. B85)
AUTHOR: Dorothy Figen
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DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1980
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