The copyright for this publication belongs to the Sayagyi U Ba Khin
Memorial Trust Eastern Australia. This file can be distributed freely but
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Published by The International Meditation Centres
In the Tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin
Dhammadana Series 13
1992 -- The International Meditation Centre E.A.
THE IMPORTANCE OF
TRUE BUDDHIST MEDITATION TODAY
Saya U Chit Tin
We prepared the answers to the questions in this booklet in August
1986. Since then, we have revised the text so it can be printed and
distributed to our students around the world -- especially new students
who are just getting interested in the Buddha Dhamma (the Doctrine taught
by the Buddha). They are interested in both the theory and the practice of
the Buddha-Dhamma and want to know the most effective approach.
We do not want to mislead people, and we do not want to misrepresent
the Buddha-Dhamma, because that would be very harmful both to us and to
them. We are true Buddhists. We teach the true Buddha-Dhamma and no other
Dhamma (doctrine). We want this to be clear to all prospective students.
If they decide not to come because of this -- even if no one comes -- we
will be happy. We are happy, of course, if people do come, for, as our
teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin said, we are givers. Students who work under our
guidance are taught the true Buddha-Dhamma. They benefit from these
Teachings, and we are able to accumulate good (kusala) actions.
We have never been interested in trying to attract large numbers of
students. We follow Sayagyi's example in never distorting the Buddha's
Teachings and in never catering to what the students would like to do or
like to hear. Seeking popularity and fame are against the principles we
follow. It may be that some of the answers we give here do not fully
satisfy some people. We have made very effort to keep what we say in line
with the Buddha's Teachings as preserved in the Pali texts (the canon,
commentaries, and sub-commentaries). As we work to keep the Buddha-Dhamma
alive in all its pristine purity, we have never knowingly compromised the
Buddha's Teachings in order to appeal to the latest fad or the most up-to-
date trend in modern thought. To be precise, our motto is, "We preach what
We approached Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, the editor of the Buddhist
Publication Society, Sri Lanka, for his advice, and we are very grateful
to him for pointing out certain passages that were perhaps not in line
with the spirit and the letter of the Pali texts. We have rephrased those
passages. We thank him for his wise and instructive suggestions. We, of
course, are entirely responsible for the final version published here.
We only have limited time available for writing Dhamma talks, Dhamma
essays, etc., for we have travelled extensively around the world, teaching
Buddhist meditation courses and setting up Buddhist meditation centres. We
are still travelling today. As in the past, we often find some time even
while teaching to work on talks and publications. These answers to
questions raised by Mr Flavio Pelliconi were first written at a course-
site in the Netherlands (August 26, 1986, Kastel "De Wijchert," Oude
Kleefsebaan 119, 6572 AK: Berg en Dal). An Italian translation of that
first version was published in Paramita: (Quaderni di buddhismo).
Revisions were made exactly five years later on another course in the
Netherlands (August 29, 1991, t Zonnehuis, Beekbergerweg 23-25, 7371 EV:
Our aim is to share the true Buddha-Dhamma with others. We know from
experience that it will bring real benefits and instil true objective
values in people's hearts and minds (see our answer to question 6). We do
not go around the world trying to convert people of other religions,
cultures, etc., to Buddhism. We have something to offer that can help
bring the peace and prosperity that the world so desperately needs. We
want to share this with everyone who is open to receive it.
Greed or lust (lobha), ill will or anger (dosa), and delusion or
ignorance (moha) are more prevalent in the world today than ever before.
If they can be reduced somewhat through the practice of the Buddha-Dhamma
-- even if only by a tiny fraction -- then we will be happy. We will feel
our efforts have been worthwhile and amply rewarded.
Last but not least, we thank Dr William Pruitt for the untiring
assistance he has given us throughout all these years in all our efforts
of preparing this and other publications in the Dhammadana series and the
Dhamma Text series of the International Meditation Centres in the
Tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin.
May Peace Prevail in the World!
May the Pure Buddha-Dhamma Long Endure!
Truth Will Prevail!
Saya U Chit Tin
Loenen, the Netherlands
August 29, 1991
1. What kind of meditation do you teach?
We teach Theravada Buddhist Meditation. I say "we" because my wife,
who is popularly known as "Mother Sayamagyi" among the students, also
teaches with me.
2. Who was your teacher?
Our teacher was a layman named Sayagyi U Ba Khin. He was the first
Accountant General of independent Myanmar (Burma) when the country
regained independence from the British in January 1948. He was able to
fulfil his responsibilities with distinction as well as discharge his
duties towards his family and teach meditation. At one time, he was able
to work simultaneously at four full-time posts as head of four
departments. Few people will ever be able to live up to such an example,
but meditators do find that, thanks to their practice, they are able to
function to the best of their ability.
3. How did you come to teach meditation?
My wife and I were privileged to be closely associated with Sayagyi
U Ba Khin at the International Meditation Centre in Yangon, Myanmar
(Rangoon, Burma). I worked under him in the Accountant General's Office as
an accountant, and he started teaching Vipassana in his office in 1951. I
was fortunate to learn this practice under his guidance. Many others
meditated under him also and in that same year he formed the Vipassana
Association. I was one of the ten founding members of this Association,
which still functions today. In 1952, the Association founded the
International Meditation Centre, Yangon, and began holding ten-day
meditation courses each month at the Centre.
My wife and I helped Sayagyi during the ten-day courses --
especially my wife, who, unlike the rest of us, was free without official
duties. She was able to assist Sayagyi by taking charge when he went to
work at his office. The Burmese students were so appreciative of her
teachings that they called her Mother teacher ("Sayamagyi" in Burmese),
and Western students have continued to use this name for her.
After Sayagyi's demise in January 1971, we continued to teach at the
Centre in Yangon together with the other members of the Vipassana Research
Association. The Association is responsible for the Centre as well as for
4. Why have you come to the West?
When our teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin was teaching at the Centre, many
people from around the world came to do meditation courses under his
instruction. After his death in January 1971, many foreigners continued to
come to IMC-Yangon to work under our guidance. They were mostly Westerners
and of the younger generation rather than more mature people, as had been
the case during our teacher's time. Each year they would visit the Centre
three to six times, staying seven days in Yangon and travelling back and
forth to Bangkok, Thailand. This was because they could only get seven-day
tourist visas at that time. They seemed to be competing with each other to
see who could meditate the most, and they would spend everything that they
managed to save each year in coming to the Centre. Finally, they requested
that Mother Sayamagyi and I come out of Burma to teach abroad. "We could
easily support you," they said, "and take care of your living expenses and
any expenses involved in teaching courses. In this way, we will be able to
save some of our earnings and meditate more as well." They were very eager
to put forth as much effort as possible in their practice of meditation.
In October 1978, having taught for eight years at IMC-Yangon after
Sayagyi's death, we came to the West. When we came out, I was properly
accommodated with an appropriate job for my right livelihood. Today, we
are based at the International Meditation Centre in the United Kingdom,
and we travel to many countries to give courses. [Since this article was
written, other bases have been established at the International Meditation
Centre in Western Australia, and the International Meditation Center-
U.S.A. in Maryland. International Meditation Centres are also being set up
in Eastern Australia and Austria.] We have dedicated our lives to passing
on the Teachings of the Buddha (the Buddha-Dhamma), and it is very
satisfying to see how many people all over the world are benefiting from
these Teachings. Sayagyi U Ba Khin saw how important the Buddha-Dhamma is
in the world today, and he was anxious that the technique he taught and
which proved to be of so much use to lay people, be available to all who
were sincere students.
5. How was the International Meditation Centre, U.K., set up?
When we came out of Myanmar in 1978, we conducted ten-day meditation
courses, which were organized by the students, at places like the Buddhist
Centre in Oxford. Although this site was very good, some of the other
places that served for various summer courses were not ideal for our use.
So in 1979, the International Meditation Centre, U.K., was founded when
the Sayagyi U Ba Khin Memorial Trust (registered in Britain under the
Charities Act of 1960) acquired a piece of land with an eighteenth-century
country house known as Splatts House. This is located on the edge of a
quiet Wiltshire village. It has become a centre for people from all over
the world who are seeking enlightenment, awakening, that is to say,
"Nibbanic Peace Within."
The purpose of the Centre is to promote the practice of true
Buddhist meditation according to the Teachings of the Lord Buddha. The
Centre operates under our guidance with the assistance of a number of our
regional teachers who were trained at the Centre under us.
There are many volunteer students who come from various countries of
the world to meditate and serve by helping with the various types of work
at the Centre. They do everything from cooking, gardening, painting, etc.,
to managing and secretarial jobs. We are both resident teachers, and we
conduct ten-day residential courses which run from Friday evening through
Monday morning and which begin on the first and third Friday of each
The students and Regional Teachers are from all walks of life,
professions, religious backgrounds, races, countries, and cultures. When
we are away, teaching courses abroad, one of the volunteer regional
teachers will lead the ten-day course. In this way, the Centre can give
two ten-day courses each month. There is no fee for the teaching, but
students are asked to contribute towards food and accommodation for the
ten days. Wholesome and tasty vegetarian food in ample quantity is
provided, and those who follow a diet for medical reasons will be
accommodated as far as possible. IMC-UK is a direct off-spring of IMC-
6. What benefits can be derived from this practice?
I will answer this question is two parts: (A) what Theravada
Meditation is about, and (B) the benefits to be derived from this
(A) Theravada Buddhist Meditation has as its goal gaining insight
into the true nature of existence. It should be preceded by a readiness to
place trust in the Buddha's formulated teachings on the true nature of
existence in terms of the Four Noble Truths, Dependent Origination, and
the three characteristics of existence (impermanence, suffering, non-
self).(1) It means practising the Noble Eightfold Path as it was taught
by Buddha Gotama over twenty-five centuries ago in his very first sermon,
the Dhamma-cakka-pavattana-sutta: "Setting in Motion of the Wheel of the
Dhamma." This Eightfold Path can be divided into three parts: (1) the
higher training in Morality (sila), (2) the higher training in
Concentration (samadhi), and (3) the higher training in Wisdom (panna).
(1 ) Morality is the common denominator of all religions. At the
Centre, everyone observes the five precepts which all meditation students
must follow during ten-day courses. These five precepts are the basic
morality for all sincere Buddhists. They include refraining from the five
major sorts of wrong actions. We refrain from killing, from stealing, from
sexual misconduct (at the Centre and on courses, complete celibacy), from
lying, and from the use of drugs or intoxicants. By diligently observing
this morality, we develop purity of physical and verbal actions. This is
the base and without it there cannot be good concentration. A person who
lives a moral life will find that he is not distracted by feelings of
guilt or worries that his misdeeds will be discovered. A moral person will
be able to work effectively at gaining control over his mind.
(2) Concentration: After beginning with this base of morality,
training in concentration is taught. The method used is Anapana
Meditation-mindfulness of breathing. Through learning to calm and control
the mind during the first four days, the student quickly appreciates the
advantages of a steady and balanced mind. If your concentration is not
good, you can never obtain insight or wisdom (panna).
(3) Wisdom, Insight: The third part of the training is acquiring
wisdom or insight through Vipassana Meditation, and this is practised
throughout the remainder of the ten days. Once the mind is concentrated,
the meditator can use his mind to develop wisdom. Vipassana is a process
which enables the student to develop concentration and awareness, and,
through personal experience, to gain an understanding of the truths of
impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha), and non-self (anatta).
Practised with diligence, the gradual process of material and mental
purification will lead to the end of suffering and to full awakening or
Nibbana. This is, in brief, what Buddhist Meditation is about.
The emphasis is on experiencing directly the truth for oneself by
practising the technique. Noble Silence (no unnecessary talk) provides an
atmosphere conducive to working correctly, and discourses given in the
early morning and evening by the teachers help to clarify the practice.
There are also daily interviews with the teachers for more instructions
and explanations to clarify the technique.
(B) The benefits to be derived from this meditation: My wife and I
have been in this tradition for over thirty years and our many years of
experience in teaching meditation, both in Myanmar and abroad, have shown
us that true Buddhist meditation can bring innumerable benefits to one and
all. In order to explain the benefits or the fruits of meditation, I can
best do so by quoting from our teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin. In his text, The
Real Values of True Buddhist Meditation,(2) he says:
"The fruits of meditation are innumerable. They are embodied in the
discourse on the advantages of a Samanera's life, the Samannaphala Sutta.
The very object of becoming a Samanera or monk is to follow strictly and
diligently the Noble Eightfold Path and enjoy not only the Fruition
(phala) of Sotapatti (the first fruition stage), Sakadagami (second
fruition stage), Anagami (third fruition stage) and Arahatta (fourth
fruition stage), but also to develop many kinds of faculties. A layman who
takes to meditation to gain insight into the Ultimate Truth also has to
work in the same way, and if his potentials are good, he may also enjoy a
share of those fruits and faculties.... With the development of the purity
and power of the mind, backed by insight into the Ultimate Truth of
nature, one might be able to do a lot of things in the right direction for
the benefit of mankind. There are, therefore, definitely many advantages
that accrue to a person who undergoes a successful course of training in
meditation, whether he be a religious man, an administrator, a politician,
a businessman or a student."
My own case may be cited as an example. If I have to say something
here about myself, it is with a sincere desire to illustrate just what
practical benefits can accrue to a person practising Buddhist meditation,
and with no other motive whatsoever. The events are factual and, of
course, one cannot deny the facts. I took up Buddhist meditation seriously
in January 1937. My life sketch in "Who Is Who" of the Guardian Magazine
[Myanmar], December 1961, gives an account of the duties and
responsibilities of government which I have been discharging from time to
time. I retired from the service of the government on March 26, 1953, on
attaining the age of 55, but was re-employed from that date till now(3)
in various capacities, most of the time holding two or more separate
sanctioned appointments of the status of Head of Department for nearly
three years, and on another occasion, four such sanctioned posts
simultaneously for about a year.
In addition, there were also a good number of special assignments
either as a member of Standing Committees in the Department of the Prime
Minister and National Planning or as chairman or member of ad hoc
committees. [Then Sayagyi gives a statement showing all the posts held by
him. Also appended are the statements showing the facts and figures of his
success in various undertakings. He continues:] The results of these
undertakings will surely illustrate what "a reservoir of calm and energy"
one can create with Buddhist meditation to be used for the building of a
7. Can Buddhist meditation be practised without having Nibbana as the
Sayagyi U Ba Khin taught meditation to people of many different religions.
He did not insist that anyone renounce his own creed. The Buddha also
taught people according to their capabilities and understanding, and he
always suited his discourse to his listeners.
Some of our students come to their first course with rather exotic
ideas about meditation -- expecting some mystic visions or unusual
emotional experiences. They find that the technique is very down-to-earth
and simple. If they have unusual experiences, with the help of the
teachers, they soon discover that these are distractions rather than the
Sayagyi U Ba Khin pointed out that Hindus, Muslims, and Christians
work to see the Divine Light through developing their concentration
(samadhi). In Buddhism, this is known as a mental sign of a concentrated
mind. Most people consider this to be very difficult. Sayagyi wrote, "Our
experiments, however, show that under the proper guide, the inner peace
and purity of mind with light can be secured by one and all, irrespective
of their religion or creed. All that is needed is sincerity and a
willingness to follow the instructions of the teacher during the period of
Here, I wish to quote from the letters of two non-Buddhist students
of Sayagyi: (1) Mr A.N. David, Deputy Accountant General, Burma, a leader
of the Christian community, wrote in his letter to Sayagyi, dated Sept.
"The Peace which the world now seeks can be realized to a great
extent if each man, woman, and child would seek and achieve peace of mind
within themselves. This will contribute to the general peace of mankind.
Your supreme desire to teach us the method of attaining purity of mind and
to secure inward peace through your system of meditation, which does not
affect my religious beliefs, enabled me (i) to realize also the Truth of
ever-changing existence; (ii) to constantly secure inward peace through
meditation when contaminated in my daily life by the evil forces of this
world. For all these invaluable benefits, more precious than gold, I am
deeply indebted to you, and also for the guidance you have given me."
(2) Mr A. Muthia, Deputy Accountant General, Burma, a leader of the Hindu
community, wrote in his letter to Sayagyi, dated May 30, 1949:
"I pen you these few lines with grateful thanks for your guidance in
the matter of spiritual life by showing me the 'Divine Light.' I must
confess at the outset that despite all the knowledge (of course not very
vast) I may claim to possess in the spiritual field, I was never aware
that one could see the light before one's very eyes as I did under your
spiritual powers. I was always aware of one fact, viz., that when the
spiritual knowledge is translated into practice, mankind can see before
the mind's eye the 'Divine Light.' This, I would say, was always
theoretical and no one has yet told me that light was seen and that the
same could be shown to others.
"Wherever I went, right from Hardwar (near the Himalayas which I
visited in October 1942) to Cape Comorin (which I visited in January 1949,
while on pilgrimage), I have heard only harangues on philosophy, divinity
and metaphysics, but never a word about showing the 'Divine Light.'
"Before approaching you for enlightenment [i.e., to see the light],
I questioned myself so many times, whether I was really worthy of it and
whether I would succeed. But I was emboldened when I learnt from you that
you have succeeded for your disciples, men even of lesser attainments than
myself. I therefore took courage to apply to you and I was shown the
"Let me conclude by saying that you are doing very useful service
for humanity at large -- a contrast with the rest of the human race which
is after materialism and self-aggrandizement."
8. What kind of people are your students?
Our students at IMC-Yangon, IMC-UK, IMC-Perth, IMC-USA, and on
courses all around the world come from all races, creeds, and many
different walks of life. In Yangon, the students ranged from the president
of the country to an ordinary office boy, and they were all treated
equally and given equal attention in the training. Just as a high-ranking
official who has the potential to reach the highest stage in spiritual
attainments will reach that state, so too, an office boy with the same
potential will reach that stage. In fact, one of Sayagyi's outstanding
students was an office boy.
We follow in the footsteps of our teacher, who adhered to the
principles discovered by the Buddha, followed by him, and taught by him.
Our Western students range from senior citizens to school children, and
they are from all walks of life: professors, lecturers, doctors, nurses,
teachers, students, businessmen, politicians, administrators, and
religious men, etc. As I mentioned already, they are from various
religions, races, countries, and cultures. They all come with an open mind
and the necessary sincerity and willingness to follow the instructions of
the teacher during the period of training. As a result, they all respond
9. Do you teach to Eastern and Western people in the same way?
Our ten-day training course is the same everywhere, for the Path to
Happiness is the same today as in the time of the Buddha. As I said
earlier, students on our courses come from all races, creeds, and many
different walks of life. The Buddha taught over 2500 years ago, but his
detailed analysis of Ultimate Reality and how to attain it are very
modern. We can see from the Buddhist texts in the Pali language that human
nature is still the same. People then and now, people from East or West
are caught up in the net of suffering because of their ignorance, desires,
and aversions. They are looking for happiness. And the Path to Happiness
is the same today as in the days of old.
10. Do you think that this technique is apt for the Western mind?
As I said, the technique is the same for Eastern and Western minds.
No modifications are needed to adapt the technique to the Western mind.
The fundamentals of human nature are the same for people all over the
world. The Buddha pointed out that some people could live anywhere from
one year to a hundred years free of physical illness. But the person who
is free of mental illness even for a moment is rare indeed. It is only
through learning to control the mind and then using that control to
discover the true nature of our own existence that we can come out of our
11. What kind of difficulties do Westerners usually encounter during the
Taking refuge in the Triple Gem is an essential preliminary to
practising the Buddha's Teachings. This is the aspect that can be the most
difficult one to accept by Western students. As Sayagyi said to a
Westerner who wished to come meditate under his guidance:(4) taking
refuge is "a prelude to the goal of meditation. It is here that the
setback comes for not a few. A strong determination is therefore necessary
to discard the religious elements which are rooted in him, if he means to
go the whole way in Buddhist Meditation, and you should be prepared for
this." Many students are willing to give Buddhist meditation a fair trail,
and they repeat the words for taking refuge when they are asked to do so
at the beginning of a ten-day course, but this does not mean that they are
fully committed and have placed complete trust in the Triple Gem. Many of
them, however, go on to do several courses. Gradually, their attitude
changes and they become true Buddhists. We can see the change, for
example, when they give their religion as Buddhist on their registration
forms. A number of the men among our students have also ordained in Yangon
and in the West as Bhikkhus (monks) for short periods, as is the custom
for Buddhist men in Yangon.
I have said that the practice is the training in Morality,
Concentration and Insight or Wisdom. To get good concentration, morality
has to be perfect, since concentration is built upon morality. For good
insight, through appreciating the changing nature in the body and the
mind, concentration must be good. If concentration is excellent, awareness
of the changing nature (anicca) of all conditioned phenomena will also be
excellent. That is how our teacher Sayagyi explains the practice in one of
From this, we can see how morality plays an important role, as it
lays the foundation for building up good concentration. The background of
many of the Western students is weak in morality. They do not know the
importance of observing the five precepts. Just as it is impossible to
construct a huge building without a proper strong foundation -- for
without the proper foundation, the building will not stand -- so too
concentration cannot be developed without strong morality. The first part
of the training is working on mindfulness of breathing (anapana-bhavana),
and for this the students find they have difficulties.
To begin with, they have problems with the sitting posture. They
cannot sit cross-legged. We provide them with cushions to sit on, and if
they are sick or elderly, we allow them to sit on a chair at the back of
the room to avoid disturbing the other students. But after a few days'
training, they are able to overcome these difficulties.
Secondly, people in the West find it difficult to refrain from
communicating with each other through conversations. So when they are told
to observe Noble Silence, some are against it. At one time, we were
teaching in a country like Italy and the students came to us and said,
"How can we live without talking! It is impossible; we can't observe this
rule." After saying this, they tried talking quietly behind our backs, and
we pretended not to see them. And that worked, though they found their
meditation was not good. They complained at our checking time that their
minds were always wandering and that there was a lot of chattering in
their minds all the time. When you talk too much and think too much, your
talk and thoughts will come back when you meditate. The students
understood through their own experience and stopped talking and thinking
and thus got good concentration after much struggle.
During Vipassana meditation, most students find it easy to work,
unlike Anapana, because the technique used in this tradition is to
concentrate on each part of the body in a systematic fashion and to note
whatever sensation, if any, is occurring in that part of the body. At the
same time, you must be aware that the sensation is impermanent (anicca).
We move the attention through the body, being aware of the sensations from
head to foot.
Under the guidance of a qualified teacher, it is possible that the
student will learn the technique quickly and feel the sensations
throughout the whole body together with the appreciation of their inherent
changing nature (anicca). For the average, normal person, the technique
works very well, and there will be no difficulty. But those who have
previously followed other practices, spiritual or otherwise-especially
those concerning pseudo-sciences, low arts, wearing or adorning themselves
with special amulets such as beads and strings, etc. -- can find the
technique difficult. If they can give up their previous practices and
surrender or leave at home any special amulets, then they can enjoy the
fruits of the practice. These instructions, like all our instructions,
apply for the period of training when the students put themselves under
our guidance. After that, it is up to each individual to decide how much
of what they have learned they will put into practice in their day-to-day
lives. All we ask is that the students come with an open mind and give a
fair trial to the technique. This means having a certain amount of
confidence and working without entertaining doubts; otherwise, the
students will not benefit from the training.
Success depends on these four qualities: (1) Concentration of
Intention (chanda-samadhi), (2) Concentration of Energy (viriya-samadhi),
(3) Concentration of Consciousness (citta-samadhi), and (4) Concentration
of Investigation (vimamsa-samadhi). We need strong intention, zeal, to
reach the goal. It takes a great deal of energy, good concentration, and
we must use our concentration to discover the truth for ourselves.
For progress in meditation, the following are the essential
requirements: (1 ) Confidence in the teacher, (2) Strict adherence to the
instructions and the rules of discipline at the meditation camp, (3) The
ability to work hard in a balanced way, and (4) The capacity to appreciate
and understand the Teachings in practice. When these qualities are present
there will be no difficulty and you will obtain the benefits of the
12. Do Eastern students encounter similar difficulties?
In answer to question number ten I told you that the fundamentals of
human nature are the same for people all over the world -- so most of the
difficulties are the same. People in the East are used to getting up early
in the morning, so they will find it easy to get up at 4 A.M. each day on
the course. Westerners may have a little difficulty with this at the
beginning, but they soon adapt to the training. A Westerner may find it a
little difficult to sit cross-legged on the floor at the start, but we
have found that for this too adjustment is quick. Sometimes vegetarian
food can be a problem for students with stomach troubles, but this problem
is common to both those in the East and in the West. Adjustments in the
diet to accommodate the students can be made. So you can see that the
differences are very few -- not enough to say that they are of any real
13. There is a certain tendency to separate the practice of meditation
from the practice of morality. What do you think about this?
What we are practising is the Noble Eightfold Path, which I have
already pointed out is divided into three parts: Morality, Concentration,
and Wisdom or Insight. Sayagyi U Ba Khin wrote, "Sila or virtuous living
is the base for samadhi, control of the mind to one-pointedness. It is
only when Samadhi is good that one can develop panna. So, sila and samadhi
are the prerequisites for panna ..." Now, how could this Noble Path be
The Buddha taught the Middle Path. This Middle Path is clearly laid
out in his first sermon. If we are to walk along the Middle Path, which
leads to true happiness, we must find the correct path. The Buddha taught
that the Middle Path avoids two extremes that must be given up by anyone
who has gone forth in search of Awakening or Enlightenment: (1) There is
the extreme that is connected with sensual desire, including sensual
pleasures such as taking intoxicants, sexual misconduct, etc. (2) The
other extreme is subjecting oneself to rigorous austerities. So we can see
that the Middle Path does not mean we can indulge in unwholesome actions
in moderation -- only drinking intoxicants from time to time, for
example. Nor should we fall into the trap of thinking that the more
difficult and painful our practices are the better they are. We must
correctly identify the two extremes and find the balanced approach in the
If a person tries to separate the practice of meditation from the
practice of morality, that person is distorting the Teachings and
misrepresenting the Buddha. This is very serious indeed. Such a person
will earn great demerit and will come to ruin.
The Buddha said:
"There are some foolish men who study the teachings but do not examine the
purpose of the teachings wisely. In such cases, these teachings will not
give insight. Such people study the teachings only to use them for
criticizing or for refuting others in disputation. They do not experience
the true purpose for which they ought to study the teachings. For those
who wrongly grasp the teachings there will be harm and suffering for a
And then the Buddha taught the Snake Simile:
"Suppose a man who wants a snake goes in search of a snake. And then when
he sees a big snake he grasps it by its body or by the tail. The snake
will turn back on him and bite him. Because of that, he will suffer death
or deadly pain. All because he grasped the snake incorrectly. In the same
manner those who wrongly grasp the teachings will suffer for a long time
due to their wrong understanding of the teachings.
"But there are those of good families who study the teaching and having
studied it, they examine wisely the purpose of the teachings. To them the
teachings will bring insight. To them the teachings will bring welfare and
happiness for a long time because they grasp them correctly."
The Buddha goes on with the example of the man who catches the snake
correctly by the neck. It may coil around his arm or hand, but he will not
suffer death or deadly pain -- all because he grasps the snake correctly.
Those who grasp the Teachings correctly are like that man. Then the Buddha
concluded this example by saying, "Therefore, monks, if you understand
what I have said, you should keep it in mind. But if you do not
understand, you should ask me about it or ask those monks who are wise."
So, this is a very good question, and we should let ourselves be guided by
the words of the Buddha.
14. Can one practise Vipassana Meditation and maintain one's own creed?
In your seventh question you asked whether it is possible to
practise Buddhist Meditation without having Nibbana as the goal. As you
know, Nibbana is the goal of every Buddhist, so those who do not have
Nibbana as their goal are not Buddhists, of course, and they can maintain
their own creed. The answer given to question seven is relevant to this
question. As you can see from the two letters that two of Sayagyi's
disciples sent him, they clearly stated that they benefited through this
practice (especially Anapana meditation), even though they still
maintained their own creeds. As the Christian leader said, he was able to
practice Buddhist meditation as taught by Sayagyi, working for purity of
mind and inward peace without it affecting his religious beliefs. He was
able to obtain a certain degree of appreciation of the truth of "ever-
changing existence" and "to secure inward peace, constantly (meditating)
when contaminated in (his) daily life by the evil forces of this world."
This positive statement is a good testimony to the confidence a member of
another religion can have in Buddhist Meditation, and it shows it is
possible to practise it without giving up one's own creed.
A person from another religion will especially be able to practise
in order to attain good concentration (samadhi). When a person begins to
develop an appreciation of the true nature of conditioned existence
through insight (vipassana), progress will be limited by any beliefs they
may hold that go against what they are experiencing. Sayagyi's approach,
which is in accord with the way the Buddha taught, was to explain to
students of meditation that they would only be able to make limited
progress if they did not take unconditional refuge in the Triple Gem.
Some of Sayagyi's students from other religions were happy with
limited success. But some students gained good insight into the three
characteristics of conditioned existence. Such people understood for
themselves that they needed to take refuge only in the Triple Gem. When
you see for yourself why taking refuge is essential, you will do so. Only
then will a person be able to realize his or her full potential. We saw
such cases ourselves at IMC-Yangon working under Sayagyi's guidance.
15. What is your advice to Italian readers?
In answer to your question, let me quote from an article which I
contributed to the Guardian, a Burmese magazine, in the issue dated
January 19, 1972, the first anniversary of the demise day of our teacher
Sayagyi U Ba Khin. The title of the article was "Can Buddhism Provide the
In my article, I said that everyone in the world is looking for ways
and means to be happy -- they are in quest of happiness. I said that
affluence and the attainment of success in life are not the real answer,
nor can drugs and alcohol provide a panacea for aching hearts.
Young minds in the Western world are now probing for a satisfactory
answer. Disillusioned with war, tired of the hypocrisy of politicians,
dissatisfied with the weakness of the conventional forms of worshipping,
some young people have experimented with Zen, some have toyed with Yoga,
some simply turned into angry young men, and others just fell by the
wayside, hugging their pot and pep pills. Quite a few turned into hippies,
yippies, pseudo-philosophers, barefooted nomads-unshaved, unbathed, and
sometimes unclothed. And they have picked up hashish, which only the down-
and-out coolies (manual labourers) used to smoke in pre-war days in Burma,
and imagined themselves to be "groovy people doing their own thing."
Burma does not need pot and pep pills to face the vicissitudes of
life. For centuries we have had our religion -- Theravada Buddhism -- to
give us equilibrium, equanimity, and endurance in life .... So, isn't it
about time that our country should give to those unhappy people in the
West some of our tranquillity and the peace which our religion has
bestowed upon us?
This reminds us of the efforts of champions among the Burmese Sangha
and laymen who were pioneers in spreading the light of the Dhamma to other
countries. Among these "missionaries," the late Sayagyi U Ba Khin, founder
of IMC-Rangoon, who died on Jan. 19, 1971, really blazed the trail when he
trained a chosen handful of Westerners and Easterners in Vipassana and
sent them out to disseminate Buddhist Meditation.
One of Sayagyi's disciples, who was a professor of philosophy and
religion at Grinnell College in the U.S.A., and who took a meditation
course under Sayagyi in 1958, put it in a nutshell when he described U Ba
Khin thus: "He was thoroughly Burmese and truly Buddhist. As to his
Burmeseness -- he loved Burma and felt at home there. In his love of Burma
there was no disparagement or disdain for other countries, peoples, or
cultures, only a joyful and willing acceptance of his own karmic destiny-
he was thankful to have been born in a country where one could encounter
the Buddha Dhamma."
I concluded my article by saying that most Burmese people think as
Sayagyi U Ba Khin did. Like him, once they have enjoyed the experience of
Vipassana, as Burmese Buddhists, they would dearly love to share that
experience with those in other parts of the world who are seeking true
The best advice I can give to Italian readers is from a text written
by Sayagyi U Ba Khin himself. In his booklet, The Real Values of True
Buddhist Meditation, Sayagyi wrote about the by-products of meditation:
"What I am going to state here concerns the very minor by-products
of meditation relating to physical and mental ills. This is not the age
for showing miracles, such as rising into the air and walking on the
surface of the water which would be of no direct benefit to people in
general. But if the physical and mental ills of men could be removed
through meditation, it should be something for one to ponder."
He goes on to explain that according to the Teachings of the Buddha,
each action -- by thought, word, or deed -- leaves behind a force of
action that goes to one's credit or debit account, depending on whether
the actions are good or bad. Through Buddhist Meditation, we can develop
the "sparkling illumination of Nibbana Dhatu" which is a power that
dispels all impurities or poisons.
Among those who have taken courses of meditation at the Centre [in
Yangon], there were some who were suffering from complaints such as
hypertension, T.B., migraine, thrombosis, etc. They became relieved of
these even in the initial course of ten days. If they maintain the
awareness of Anicca [impermanence] and take longer courses of meditation
at this Centre, there is every likelihood of the diseases being rooted out
in the course of time.
And Sayagyi says that Nibbana Dhatu removes the root cause of suffering.
Thus, he made no distinction between this or that disease.
Mankind today is facing the danger of radioactive poisons. If such
poisons absorbed by a man exceed the maximum permissible concentration
(m.p.c.), he enters the danger zone. I have a firm belief that the Nibbana
Dhatu which a person in true Buddhist Meditation develops is Power that
will be strong enough to eradicate the radioactive poison, if any, in him.
In conclusion, I may state here that the ultimate goal of our
practice is Nibbana. The Teaching is a gradual practice, a gradual
training, a gradual doing, step by step, or, a gradual Path (anupubbi
patipada) that is progressive in nature (opanayiko). As you walk along the
Path, you will come to enjoy the fruits of Liberation. It is to be
experienced and not to be taken for granted. And it is this dynamic aspect
of the Teaching that invites one to come and see (ehi-passiko) its
immediate results (akaliko). My Dhamma partner and I are privileged to be
able to help people all over the world to work to overcome their
suffering, and thus we carry on the mission of our teacher Sayagyi U Ba
We join him in the following wish:
May All Beings Be Happy!
May Peace Prevail in the World!
Truth Will Prevail!
See also the following files in this library:
IMCINF.TXT Information about the International Meditation Centres and
the course structure there.
WEBUS.ZIP Selected Discourses of Webu Sayadaw, 17 discourses of a
highly respected Burmese Bhikkhu.
WHBUIS.TXT What Buddhism is, a talk outlining Buddhism and it's
concept by Sayagyi U Ba Khin, given in 1951 in a Methodist church in
and there are more publications to come from the International Meditation
Worldwide Contact Addresses in the Tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin
AUSTRIA: International Meditation Centre, A-9064 St. Michael/Gurk 6,
Austria; Tel: +43 4224 2820, Fax: +43 4224 28204
EASTERN AUSTRALIA: International Meditation Centre, Lot 2 Cessnock
Road, Sunshine NSW 2264, Australia;Tel: +61 49 705 433, Fax: +61 49 705
UNITED KINGDOM: International Meditation Centre, Splatts House,
Heddington, Calne, Wiltshire SN11 OPE, England;Tel: +44 380 850 238, Fax:
+44 380 850 833, Email: CIS, IMC-UK, 100330,3304
USA: International Meditation Centre, 446 Bankard Road, Westminster MD
21158, USA;Tel: +1 410 346 7889, Fax: +1 410 346 7282 Email: CIS, IMC-
Contact address California: Linda H. Kemp-Combes, 1331 33rd Avenue, San
Francisco, California 94122, USA.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA: International Meditation Centre, Lot 78 Jacoby
Street, Mahogany Creek WA 6072, Australia; Tel: +61 9 295 2644, Fax: +61 9
GERMANY: Sayagyi U Ba Khin Gesellschaft, Christaweg 16, 79114 Freiburg,
Germany, Tel: +49 761 465 42, Fax: +49 761 465 92
THE NETHERLANDS: Sayagyi U Ba Khin Stichting, Oudegracht 124, 3511 AW
Utrecht, The Netherlands, Tel: +31 30 311 445, Fax: +31 30 340 612
SINGAPORE: Sayagyi U Ba Khin Memorial Association, 10 Anson Road #24-
04A, International Plaza, Singapore 0207,Tel: +65 281 3381, Fax: +65 225
SWITZERLAND: Sayagyi U Ba Khin Gesellschaft, Greyerzstrasse 35, 3013
Bern, Switzerland;Tel: +41 31 415 233, Fax: +41 61 691 8049
BELGIUM: Address as for the Netherlands, Tel: +32 2414 1756
DENMARK: Contact Address: Mr. Peter Drost-Nissen, Strandboulevarden
117, 3th, 2100 Kopenhagen, Denmark. Tel: 031 425 636
JAPAN: Contact address: Mrs. Mindy Martin-Feng, 14-17-201, Aoki-cho,
Akedia 21, Nishinomiya-Shi, Hyogo - 662, Japan. Tel: 0798-74-4769
ITALY: Contact address: Mr. Renzo Fedele, Via Euganea 94, 35033 Bresseo
PD, Italy. Tel: +39 55 603 333
(1)These remarks are adapted from a letter by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi.
(2)Sayagyi U Ba Khin Memorial Trust, U.K., Dhamma Text Series 1.
(3)This paper was read on Dec. 12, 1961 -- he finally resigned in August
1967, due to old age and poor health.
(4)Dhamma Texts, p. xv.
Saya U Chit Tin
The Importance of True Buddhist Meditation Today