Insight through Mindfulness
The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw
The Wheel Publication No. 370/371
Copyright 1990 by Buddhist Publication Society
BUDDHIST PUBLICATION SOCIETY
KANDY SRI LANKA
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DharmaNet Edition 1995
Transcription: Philip L. Jones
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
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On the personal request of the Honorable U Nu, Prime Minister, and
Thado Thiri Thudhamma Sir U Thwin, President of the Buddha
Sasananuggaha Association, the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, Bhadanta
Sobhana Mahathera, came down from Shwebo to Rangoon on 10th November
1949. The Meditation Centre at the Thathana Yeiktha, Hermitage Road,
Rangoon, was formally opened on 4th December 1949, when the Mahasi
Sayadaw began to give to fifteen devotees a methodical training in the
right system of Satipatthana Vipassana.
From the first day of the opening of the Centre a discourse on the
exposition of Satipatthana Vipassana, its purpose, the method of
practice, the benefits derived therefrom, etc., has been given daily
to each batch of devotees arriving at the Centre almost everyday to
undertake the intensive course of training. The discourse lasts
usually for one hour and thirty minutes, and the task of talking
almost daily in this manner inevitably caused a strain. Fortunately,
the Buddha Sasananuggaha Association came forward to relieve the
situation with an offer of the donation of a tape-recorder, and the
discourse given on 27th July 1951 to a group of fifteen devotees
undertaking the training was taped. Thereafter this taped discourse
has been in constant daily use preceded by a few preliminary remarks
spoken by the Mahasi Sayadaw.
Then, owing to the great demand of many branch meditation centers of
the Mahasi Satipatthana Vipassana, as well as of the public, this
discourse was published in book form in 1954. The book has now run
into its sixth edition. As there is also a keen interest and eager
demand among many devotees of other nationalities who are unacquainted
with Burmese, the discourse is now translated into English.
U Pe Thin (translator)
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//Honor to the Fully Enlightened One//
On coming across the Teaching of the Buddha, it is most important for
everyone to cultivate the virtues of moral conduct (//sila//),
concentration (//samadhi//), and wisdom (//panna//). One should
undoubtedly possess these three virtues.
For laypeople the minimal measure of moral conduct is the observance
of the Five Precepts. For bhikkhus it is the observance of the
Patimokkha, the code of monastic discipline. Anyone who is
well-disciplined in moral conduct will be reborn in a happy realm of
existence as a human being or a //deva// (god).
However, this ordinary form of mundane morality (//lokiya-sila//) will
not be a safeguard against relapse into the lower states of miserable
existence, such as hell, the animal realm, or the realm of petas
(ghosts). It is therefore desirable to cultivate the higher form of
supramundane morality (//lokuttara-sila//). When one has fully
acquired the virtue of this morality, one will be secure from relapse
into the lower states and will always lead a happy life by being
reborn as a human being or a deva. Everyone should therefore make it
his duty to work for supramundane morality.
There is every hope of success for anyone who strives sincerely and in
real earnestness. It would indeed be a pity if anyone were to fail to
take advantage of this fine opportunity of being endowed with higher
qualities, for such a person will undoubtedly be a victim sooner or
later of his own bad karma, which will pull him down to the lower
states of miserable existence in hell, the animal realm, or the sphere
of petas, where the span of life lasts for many hundreds, thousands or
millions of years. It is therefore emphasized here that coming across
the Teaching of the Buddha is the unique opportunity to work for path
morality (//magga-sila//) and fruition morality (//phala-sila//).
It is not, however, advisable to work for moral conduct alone. It is
also necessary to practice //samadhi// or concentration. Samadhi is
the fixed or tranquil state of mind. The ordinary or undisciplined
mind is in the habit of wandering to other places. It cannot be kept
under control, but follows any idea, thought or imagination, etc. In
order to prevent this wandering, the mind should be made to attend
repeatedly to a selected object of concentration. On gaining practice,
the mind gradually abandons its distractions and remains fixed on the
object to which it is directed. This is samadhi.
There are two kinds of concentration: mundane concentration
(//lokiya-samadhi//) and supramundane concentration
(//lokuttara-samadhi//). Of these two, the former consists in the
mundane absorptions, such as the four //rupa-jhanas// -- the
absorptions pertaining to the world of form -- and the four
//arupa-jhanas// -- the absorptions pertaining to the formless world.
These can be attained by the practice of tranquility meditation
(//samatha-bhavana//) with such methods as mindfulness of breathing,
loving-kindness (//metta//), kasina meditation, etc. By virtue of
these attainments one will be reborn in the plane of the brahmas. The
life-span of a brahma is very long and lasts for one world cycle, two,
four, or eight world cycles, up to a limit of 84,000 world cycles, as
the case may be. But at the end of his lifespan, a brahma will die and
be reborn as a human being or a deva.
If one leads a virtuous life all the time, one may lead a happy life
in a higher existence, but as one is not free from the defilements of
attachment, aversion and delusion, one may commit demeritorious deeds
on many occasions. One will then be a victim of his bad karma and be
reborn in hell or in other lower states of miserable existence. Thus
mundane concentration also is not a definite security. It is desirable
to work for supramundane concentration, the concentration of the path
(//magga//) and the fruit (//phala//). To acquire this concentration
it is essential to cultivate wisdom (//panna//).
There are two forms of wisdom: mundane and supramundane. Nowadays,
knowledge of literature, art, science, or other worldly affairs is
usually regarded as a kind of wisdom, but this form of wisdom has
nothing to do with any kind of mental development (//bhavana//). Nor
can it be regarded as of real merit, because many weapons of
destruction are invented through these kinds of knowledge, which are
always under the influence of attachment, aversion, and other evil
motives. The real spirit of mundane wisdom, on the other hand, has
only merits and no demerits of any kind. True mundane wisdom includes
the knowledge used in welfare and relief work, which causes no harm;
learning to acquire the knowledge of the true meaning or sense of the
scriptures; and the three classes of knowledge of development for
insight (//vipassana-bhavana//), such as knowledge born of learning
(//sutamaya-panna//), knowledge born of reflection
(//cintamaya-panna//), and wisdom born of meditative development
(//bhavanamaya-panna//). The virtue of possessing mundane wisdom will
lead to a happy life in higher states of existence, but it still
cannot prevent the risk of being reborn in hell or in other states of
miserable existence. Only the development of supramundane wisdom
(//lokuttara-panna//) can decidedly remove this risk.
Supramundane wisdom is the wisdom of the path and fruit. To develop
this wisdom it is necessary to carry on the practice of insight
meditation (//vipassana-bhavana//) out of the three disciplines of
morality, concentration, and wisdom. When the virtue of wisdom is duly
developed, the necessary qualities of morality and concentration will
also be acquired.
//The Development of Wisdom//
The method of developing this wisdom is to observe materiality
(//rupa//) and mentality (//nama//) -- the two sole elements existing
in a living being -- with a view to knowing them in their true nature.
At present, experiments in the analytical observation of materiality
are usually carried out in laboratories with the aid of various kinds
of instruments, yet these methods cannot deal with the mind. The
method of the Buddha does not require any kind of instruments or
outside aid. It can successfully deal with both materiality and
mentality. It makes use of one's own mind for analytical purposes by
fixing bare attention on the activities of materiality and mentality
as they occur within oneself. By continually repeating this form of
exercise, the necessary concentration can be gained, and when
concentration is keen enough, the ceaseless course of arising and
passing away of materiality and mentality will be vividly perceptible.
The living being consists solely of the two distinct groups of
materiality and mentality. The solid substance of body as it is now
found belongs to the group of materiality. According to the usual
enumeration of material phenomena, there are altogether twenty-eight
kinds in this group, but in short it may be noted that body is a mass
of materiality. For example, it is the same as a doll made of clay or
wheat, which is nothing but a collection of particles of clay or
flour. Materiality changes its form (//ruppati//) under physical
conditions of heat, cold, etc., and because of this changeableness
under contrary physical conditions, it is called //rupa// in Pali. It
does not possess any faculty of knowing an object.
In the Abhidhamma, the elements of mentality and materiality are
classified as "states with object" (//sarammana-dhamma//) and "states
without object" (//anarammana-dhamma//), respectively. The element of
mentality has an object, holds an object, knows an object, while that
of materiality does not have an object, does not hold an object, and
does not know an object. It will thus be seen that the Abhidhamma has
directly stated that materiality has no faculty of knowing an object.
A yogi also perceives in like manner that "materiality has no faculty
Logs and pillars, bricks and stones and lumps of earth are a mass of
materiality. They do not possess any faculty of knowing. It is the
same with the materiality which makes up a living body -- it has no
faculty of knowing. The materiality in a dead body is the same as that
of a living body -- it does not possess any faculty of knowing.
People, however, have a common idea that the materiality of a living
body possesses the faculty of knowing an object and that it loses this
faculty only at death. This is not really so. In actual fact,
materiality does not possess the faculty of knowing an object in
either a dead or a living body.
What is it then that knows objects now? It is mentality, which comes
into being depending on materiality. It is called //nama// in Pali
because it inclines (//namati//) towards an object. Mentality is also
spoken of as thought or consciousness. Mentality arises depending on
materiality: depending on the eye, eye-consciousness (seeing) arises;
depending on the ear, ear-consciousness (hearing) arises; depending on
the nose, nose-consciousness (smelling) arises; depending on the
tongue, tongue-consciousness (tasting) arises; depending on the body,
body-consciousness (sense of touch) arises. There are many kinds of
sense of touch, either good or bad.
While touch has a wide field of action in running throughout the whole
length of the body, inside and outside, the sense of seeing, hearing,
smelling and tasting come into being in their own particular spheres
-- the eye, ear, nose and tongue -- each of which occupies a very
small and limited area of the body. These senses of touch, sight,
etc., are nothing but the elements of mind. There also comes into
being mind-consciousness -- thoughts, ideas, imaginings, etc. --
depending on the mind-base. All of these are elements of mind. Mind
knows an object, while materiality does not know an object.
People generally believe that in the case of seeing, it is the eye
which actually sees. They think that seeing and the eye are one and
the same thing. They also think: "Seeing is I," "I see things," "The
eye, seeing, and I are one and the same person." In reality this is
not so. The eye is one thing and seeing is another, and there is no
separate entity such as "I" or "ego." There is only the reality of
seeing coming into being depending on the eye.
To give an example, it is like the case of a person who sits in a
house. The house and the person are two separate things: the house is
not the person, nor is the person the house. Similarly, it is so at
the time of seeing. The eye and seeing are two separate things: the
eye is not seeing, nor is seeing the eye.
To give another example, it is just like the case of a person in a
room who sees many things when he opens the window and looks through
it. If it is asked, "Who is it that sees? Is it the window or the
person that actually sees?" the answer is, "The window does not
possess the ability to see; it is only the person who sees." If it is
again asked, "Will the person be able to see things on the outside
without the window?" the answer will be, "It is not possible to see
things through the wall without the window. One can only see through
the window." Similarly, in the case of seeing, there are two separate
realities of the eye and seeing. The eye is not seeing, nor is seeing
the eye, yet there cannot be an act of seeing without the eye. In
reality, seeing comes into being depending on the eye.
It is now evident that in the body there are only two distinct
elements of materiality (eye) and mentality (seeing) at every moment
of seeing. In addition, there is also a third element of materiality
-- the visual object. At times the visual object is noticeable in the
body and at times it is noticeable outside the body. With the addition
of the visual object there will then be three elements, two of which
(the eye and the visual object) are materiality and the third of which
(seeing) is mentality. The eye and the visual object, being
materiality, do not possess the ability to know an object, while
seeing, being mentality, can know the visual object and what it looks
like. Now it is clear that there exist only the two separate elements
of materiality and mentality at the moment of seeing, and the arising
of this pair of separate elements is known as seeing.
People who are without the training in and knowledge of insight
meditation hold the view that seeing belongs to or is "self," "ego,"
"living entity," or "person." They believe that "seeing is I," or "I
am seeing," or "I am knowing." This kind of view or belief is called
//sakkaya-ditthi// in Pali. //Sakkaya// means the group of materiality
(//rupa//) and mentality (//nama//) as they exist distinctively.
//Ditthi// means a wrong view or belief. The compound word
//sakkaya-ditthi// means a wrong view or belief in self with regard to
//nama// and //rupa//, which exist in reality.
For greater clarity, we will explain further the manner of holding the
wrong view or belief. At the moment of seeing, the things which
actually exist are the eye, the visual object (both materiality), and
seeing (mentality). //Nama// and //rupa// are reality, yet people hold
the view that this group of elements is self, or ego, or a living
entity. They consider that "seeing is I," or "that which is seen is
I," or "I see my own body." Thus this mistaken view is taking the
simple act of seeing to be self, which is //sakkaya-ditthi//, the
wrong view of self.
As long as one is not free from the wrong view of self, one cannot
expect to escape from the risk of falling into the miserable realms of
the hells, the animals or the petas. Though one may be leading a happy
life in the human or deva world by virtue of one's merits, yet one is
liable to fall back into the miserable states of existence at any
time, when one's demerits operate. For this reason, the Buddha pointed
out that it is essential to work for the total removal of the wrong
view of self:
"Let a monk go forth mindfully to abandon view of self"
(//sakkaya-ditthippahanaya sato bhikkhu paribbaje//).
To explain: though it is the wish of everyone to avoid old age,
disease and death, no one can prevent their inevitable arrival. After
death, rebirth follows. Rebirth in any state of existence does not
depend on one's own wish. It is not possible to avoid rebirth in the
hell realm, the animal realm or the realm of the petas by merely
wishing for an escape. Rebirth takes place in any state of existence
as the consequence of one's own deeds: there is no choice at all. For
these reasons, the round of birth and death, //samsara//, is very
dreadful. Every effort should therefore be made to acquaint oneself
with the miserable conditions of samsara, and then to work for an
escape from samsara, for the attainment of Nibbana.
If an escape from samsara as a whole is not possible for the present,
an attempt should be made for an escape at least from the round of
rebirth in the hell realms, the animal realm and the peta realm. In
this case it is necessary to work for the total removal within oneself
of //sakkaya-ditthi//, which is the root cause of rebirth in the
miserable states of existence. //Sakkaya-ditthi// can only be
destroyed completely by the noble path and fruit: the three
supramundane virtues of morality, concentration and wisdom. It is
therefore imperative to work for the development of these virtues. How
should one do the work? By means of noting or observing one must go
out from the jurisdiction of defilements (//kilesa//). One should
practice by constantly noting or observing every act of seeing,
hearing, etc., which are the constituent physical and mental
processes, till one is freed from //sakkaya-ditthi//, the wrong view
For these reasons advice is always given here to take up the practice
of vipassana meditation. Now yogis have come here for the purpose of
practicing vipassana meditation who may be able to complete the course
of training and attain the noble path in no long time. The view of
self will then be totally removed and security will be finally gained
against the danger of rebirth in the realms of the hells, animals and
In this respect, the exercise is simply to note or observe the
existing elements in every act of seeing. It should be noted as
"seeing, seeing" on every occasion of seeing. By the terms "note" or
"observe" or "contemplate" is meant the act of keeping the mind
fixedly on the object with a view to knowing it clearly.
When this is done, and the act of seeing is noted as "seeing, seeing,"
at times the visual object is noticed, at times consciousness of
seeing is noticed, at times the eye-base, the place from which one
sees, is noticed. It will serve the purpose if one can notice
distinctly any one of the three. If not, based on this act of seeing
there will arise //sakkaya-ditthi//, which will view it in the form of
a person or as belonging to a person, and as being permanent,
pleasurable, and self. This will arouse the defilements of craving and
attachment, which will in turn prompt deeds, and the deeds will bring
forth rebirth in a new existence. Thus the process of dependent
origination operates and the vicious circle of samsara revolves
incessantly. In order to prevent the revolving of samsara from this
source of seeing, it is necessary to note "seeing, seeing" on every
occasion of seeing.
Similarly, in the case of hearing, there are only two distinct
elements, materiality and mentality. The sense of hearing arises
depending on the ear. While the ear and sound are two elements of
materiality, the sense of hearing is the element of mentality. In
order to know clearly any one of these two kinds of materiality and
mentality, every occasion of hearing should be noted as "hearing,
hearing." So also, "smelling, smelling" should be noted on every
occasion of smelling, and "tasting, tasting" on every occasion of
The sensation of touch in the body should be noted in the very same
way. There is a kind of material element known as bodily sensitivity
throughout the body, which receives every impression of touch. Every
kind of touch, either agreeable or disagreeable, usually comes in
contact with bodily sensitivity, and from this there arises
body-consciousness, which feels or knows the touch on each occasion.
It will now be seen that at every moment of touching there are two
elements of materiality -- the bodily sensitivity and the tangible
object -- and one element of mentality -- knowing of touch.
In order to know these things distinctly at every moment of touching,
the practice of noting as "touching, touching" has to be carried out.
This merely refers to the common form of sensation of touch. There are
special forms which accompany painful or disagreeable sensations, such
as feeling stiffness or tiredness in the body or limbs, feeling hot,
pain, numb, aches, etc. Because feeling (//vedana//) predominates in
these cases, it should be noted as "feeling hot," "feeling tired,"
"feeling painful," etc., as the case may be.
It may also be mentioned that there occur many sensations of touch in
the hands, the legs, and so on, on each occasion of bending,
stretching, or moving. Because of mentality wanting to move, stretch
or bend, the material activities of moving, stretching or bending,
etc., occur in series. (It may not be possible to notice these
incidents at the outset. They can only be noticed after some time, on
gaining experience by practice. It is mentioned here for the sake of
general information.) All activities in movements and in changing,
etc., are done by mentality. When mentality wills to bend, there
arises a series of inward movements of hand or the leg. When mentality
wills to stretch or move, there arises a series of outward movements
or movements to and fro. They fall away soon after they occur and at
the very point of occurrence, as one will notice later.
In every case of bending, stretching, or other activities, there
arises first a series of intentions, moments of mentality, inducing or
causing in the hands and legs a series of material activities, such as
stiffening, bending, stretching, or moving to and fro. These
activities come up against other material elements, the bodily
sensitivity, and on every occasion of contact between material
activities and sensitive qualities, there arises body-consciousness,
which feels or knows the sensation of touch. It is therefore clear
that material activities are predominating factors in these cases. It
is necessary to notice the predominating factors. If not, there will
surely arise the wrong view which regards these activities as the
doings of an "I" -- "I am bending," "I am stretching," "my hands," or
"my legs." This practice of noting as "bending," "stretching,"
"moving," is carried out for the purpose of removing such wrong views.
Depending on the mind-base there arises a series of mental activities,
such as thinking, imagining, etc., or generally speaking, a series of
mental activities arises depending on the body. In reality, each case
is a composition of mentality and materiality, mind-base being
materiality, and thinking, imagining, and so forth being mentality. In
order to be able to notice materiality and mentality clearly,
"thinking," "imagining," and so forth should be noted in each case.
After having carried out the practice in the manner indicated above
for some time, there may be an improvement in concentration. One will
notice that the mind no longer wanders about but remains fixed on the
object to which it is directed. At the same time, the power of
noticing has considerably developed. On every occasion of noting, one
notices only two processes of materiality and mentality: a dual set of
object (materiality) and mental state (mentality), which makes note of
the object, arising together.
Again, on proceeding further with the practice of contemplation, after
some time one notices that nothing remains permanent, but that
everything is in a state of flux. New things arise each time. Each of
them is noted as it arises. Whatever arises then passes away
immediately and immediately another arises, which is again noted and
which then passes away. Thus the process of arising and passing away
goes on, which clearly shows that nothing is permanent. One therefore
realizes that "things are not permanent" because one sees that they
arise and pass away immediately. This is insight into impermanence
Then one also realizes that "arising and passing are not desirable."
This is insight into suffering (//dukkhanupassana-nana//). Besides,
one usually experiences many painful sensations in the body, such as
tiredness, heat, aching, and at the time of noting these sensations,
one generally feels that this body is a collection of sufferings. This
is also insight into suffering.
Then at every time of noting it is found that elements of materiality
and mentality occur according to their respective nature and
conditioning, and not according to one's wishes. One therefore
realizes that "they are elements; they are not governable; they are
not a person or living entity." This is insight into non-self
On having fully acquired these insights into impermanence, suffering,
and non-self, the maturity of knowledge of the path (//magga-nana//)
and knowledge of fruition (//phala-nana//) takes place and realization
of Nibbana is won. By winning the realization of Nibbana in the first
stage, one is freed from the round of rebirth in the realms of
miserable existence. Everyone should therefore endeavor to reach the
first stage, the path and fruit of stream-entry, as a minimum measure
of protection against an unfortunate rebirth.
//The Beginner's Exercise//
It has already been explained that the actual method of practice in
vipassana meditation is to note, or to observe, or to contemplate, the
successive occurrences of seeing, hearing, and so on, at the six sense
doors. However, it will not be possible for a beginner to follow these
on all successive incidents as they occur because his mindfulness
(//sati//), concentration (//samadhi//), and knowledge (//nana//) are
still very weak. The moments of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting,
touching, and thinking occur very swiftly. It seems that seeing occurs
at the same time as hearing, that hearing occurs at the same time as
seeing, that seeing and hearing occur simultaneously, that seeing,
hearing, thinking and imagining always occur simultaneously. Because
they occur so swiftly, it is not possible to distinguish which occurs
first and which second.
In reality, seeing does not occur at the same time as hearing, nor
does hearing occur at the same time as seeing. Such incidents can
occur only one at a time. A yogi who has just begun the practice and
who has not sufficiently developed his mindfulness, concentration and
knowledge will not, however, be in a position to observe all these
moments singly as they occur in serial order. A beginner need not,
therefore, follow up on many things. He needs to begin with only a few
Seeing or hearing occurs only when due attention is given to their
objects. If one does not pay heed to any sight or sound, one may pass
the time without any moments of seeing or hearing taking place.
Smelling rarely occurs. The experience of tasting can only occur while
one is eating. In the case of seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting,
the yogi can note them when they occur. Body impressions, however, are
ever present. They usually exist distinctly all the time. During the
time that one is sitting, the body impression of stiffness or the
sensation of hardness in this position is distinctly felt. Attention
should therefore be fixed on the sitting posture and a note made as
"sitting, sitting, sitting."
Sitting is an erect posture of the body consisting of a series of
physical activities, induced by consciousness consisting of a series
of mental activities. It is just like the case of an inflated rubber
ball which maintains its round shape through the resistance of the air
inside it. The posture of sitting is similar in that the body is kept
in an erect posture through the continuous process of physical
activities. A good deal of energy is required to pull up and keep in
an erect position such a heavy load as this body. People generally
assume that the body is lifted and kept in an upright position by
means of sinews. This assumption is correct in a sense because sinews,
blood, flesh and bones are nothing but materiality. The element of
stiffening which keeps the body in an erect posture belongs to the
group of materiality and arises in the sinews, flesh, blood, etc.,
throughout the body, like the air in a rubber ball.
The element of stiffening is the air element, known as //vayo-dhatu//.
The body is kept in an erect position by the air element in the form
of stiffening, which is continually coming into existence. At the time
of sleepiness or drowsiness, one may drop flat because the supply of
new materials in the form of stiffening is cut off. The state of mind
in heavy drowsiness or sleep is //bhavanga//, the "life-continuum" or
passive subconscious flow. During the course of bhavanga, mental
activities are absent, and for this reason, the body lies flat during
sleep or heavy drowsiness.
During waking hours, strong and alert mental activities are
continually arising, and because of these the air element arises
serially in the form of stiffening. In order to know these facts, it
is essential to note the bodily posture attentively as "sitting,
sitting, sitting." This does not necessarily mean that the body
impression of stiffening should particularly be searched for and
noted. Attention need only be fixed on the whole form of the sitting
posture, that is, the lower portion of the body in a bent circular
form and the upper portion held erect.
It may be found that the exercise of observing the mere sitting
posture is too easy and does not require much effort. In these
circumstances, energy (//viriya//) is less and concentration
(//samadhi//) is in excess. One will generally feel lazy and will not
want to carry on the noting as "sitting, sitting, sitting" repeatedly
for a considerable length of time. Laziness generally occurs when
there is an excess of concentration and not enough energy. It is
nothing but a state of sloth and torpor (//thina-middha//).
More energy should be developed, and for this purpose, the number of
objects for noting should be increased. After noting as "sitting," the
attention should be directed to a spot in the body where the sense of
touch is felt and a note made as "touching." Any spot in the leg or
hand or hip where a sense of touch is distinctly felt will serve the
purpose. For example, after noting the sitting posture of the body as
"sitting," the spot where the sense of touch is felt should be noted
as "touching." The noting should thus be repeated using these two
objects of //the sitting posture// and //the place of touching//
alternately, as "sitting, touching, sitting, touching, sitting,
The terms "noting," "observing" and "contemplating" are used here to
indicate the fixing of attention on an object. The exercise is simply
to note or observe or contemplate as "sitting, touching." Those who
already have experience in the practice of meditation may find this
exercise easy to begin with, but those without any previous experience
may at first find it rather difficult.
A simpler and easier form of the exercise for a beginner is this: With
every breath there occurs in the abdomen a rising-falling movement. A
beginner should start with the exercise of noting this movement. This
rising-falling movement is easy to observe because it is coarse and
therefore more suitable for the beginner. As in schools where simple
lessons are easy to learn, so also is the practice of vipassana
meditation. A beginner will find it easier to develop concentration
and knowledge with a simple and easy exercise.
Again, the purport of vipassana meditation is to begin the exercise by
contemplating prominent factors in the body. Of the two factors of
mentality and materiality, the former is subtle and less prominent,
while the latter is coarse and more prominent. At the outset,
therefore, the usual procedure for an insight meditator is to begin
the exercise by contemplating the material elements.
With regard to materiality, it may be mentioned here that derived
materiality (//upada-rupa//) is subtle and less prominent, while the
four primary physical elements (//maha-bhuta-rupa//) -- earth, water,
fire and air -- are coarse and more prominent. The latter should
therefore have priority in the order of objects for contemplation. In
the case of rising-falling, the outstanding factor is the air element,
or //vayo-dhatu//. The process of stiffening and the movements of the
abdomen noticed during the contemplation are nothing but the functions
of the air element. Thus it will be seen that the air element is
perceptible at the beginning.
According to the instructions of the Satipatthana Sutta, one should be
mindful of the activities of walking while walking, of those of
standing, sitting and lying down while standing, sitting and lying
down, respectively. One should also be mindful of other bodily
activities as each of them occurs. In this connection, it is stated in
the commentaries that one should be mindful primarily of the air
element, in preference to the other three elements. As a matter of
fact, all four primary elements are dominant in every action of the
body, and it is essential to perceive any one of them. At the time of
sitting, either of the two movements of rising and falling occurs
conspicuously with every breath, and a beginning should be made by
noting these movements.
Some fundamental features in the system of vipassana meditation have
been explained for general information. The general outline of basic
exercises will now be dealt with.
//Outline of Basic Exercises//
When contemplating rising and falling, the disciple should keep his
mind on the abdomen. He will then come to know the upward movement or
expansion of the abdomen on breathing in, and the downward movement or
contraction on breathing out. A mental note should be made as "rising"
for the upward movement and "falling" for the downward movement. If
these movements are not clearly noticed by simply fixing the mind on
them, one or both hands should be placed on the abdomen.
The disciple should not try to change the manner of his natural
breathing. He should neither attempt slow breathing by the retention
of his breath, nor quick breathing or deep breathing. If he does
change the natural flow of his breathing, he will soon tire himself.
He must therefore keep to the natural rate of his breathing and
proceed with the contemplation of rising and falling.
On the occurrence of the upward movement of the abdomen, the mental
note of "rising" should be made, and on the downward movement of the
abdomen, the mental note of "falling" should be made. The mental
notation of these terms should not be vocalized. In vipassana
meditation, it is more important to know the object than to know it by
a term or name. It is therefore necessary for the disciple to make
every effort to be mindful of the movement of rising from its
beginning to its end and that of falling from its beginning to its
end, as if these movements are actually seen with the eyes. As soon as
rising occurs, there should be the knowing mind close to the movement,
as in the case of a stone hitting a wall. The movement of rising as it
occurs and the mind knowing it must come together on every occasion.
Similarly, the movement of falling as it occurs and the mind knowing
it must come together on every occasion.
When there is no other conspicuous object, the disciple should carry
on the exercise of noting these two movements as "rising, falling,
rising, falling, rising, falling." While thus being occupied with this
exercise, there may be occasions when the mind wanders about. When
concentration is weak, it is very difficult to control the mind.
Though it is directed to the movements of rising and falling, the mind
will not stay with them but will wander to other places. This
wandering mind should not be let alone. It should be noted as
"wandering, wandering, wandering" as soon as it is noticed that it is
wandering. On noting once or twice the mind usually stops wandering,
then the exercise of noting "rising, falling" should be continued.
When it is again found that the mind has reached a place, it should be
noted as "reaching, reaching, reaching." Then the exercise of noting
"rising, falling" should be reverted to as soon as these movements are
On meeting with a person in the imagination, it should be noted as
"meeting, meeting," after which the usual exercise should be reverted
to. Sometimes the fact that it is mere imagination is discovered when
one speaks with that imaginary person, and it should then be noted as
"speaking,speaking." The real purport is to note every mental activity
as it occurs. For instance, it should be noted as "thinking" at the
moment of thinking, and as "reflecting," "planning," "knowing,"
"attending," rejoicing," "feeling lazy," "feeling happy," "disgusted,"
etc., as the case may be, on the occurrence of each activity. The
contemplation of mental activities and noticing them is called
//cittanupassana//, contemplation of mind.
Because people have no practical knowledge in vipassana meditation,
they are generally not in a position to know the real state of the
mind. This naturally leads them to the wrong view of holding mind to
be "person," "self," "living entity." They usually believe that
"imagination is I," "I am thinking, " "I am planning," "I am knowing,"
and so forth. They hold that there exists a living entity or self
which grows up from childhood to adulthood. In reality, such a living
entity does not exist, but there does exist a continuous process of
elements of mind which occur singly, one at a time, in succession. The
practice of contemplation is therefore being carried out with the aim
of discovering the true nature of this mind-body complex.
As regards the mind and the manner of its arising, the Buddha stated
in the Dhammapada (v.37):
ye cittam sannamessanti
Faring far, wandering alone,
Formless and lying in a cave.
Those who do restrain the mind
Are sure released from Mara's bonds.
//Faring far//. Mind usually wanders far and wide. While the yogi is
trying to carry on with the practice of contemplation in his
meditation room, he often finds that his mind has wandered to many
far-off places, towns, etc. He also finds that his mind can wander to
any of the far-off places which he has previously known at the very
moment of thinking or imagining. This fact is discovered with the help
//Alone//. Mind occurs singly, moment to moment in succession. Those
who do not perceive the reality of this believe that one mind exists
in the course of life or existence. They do not know that new minds
are always arising at every moment. They think that the seeing,
hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking of the past and of
the present belong to one and the same mind, and that three or four
acts of seeing, hearing, touching, knowing usually occur
These are wrong views. In reality, single moments of mind arise and
pass away continuously, one after another. This can be perceived on
gaining considerable practice. The cases of imagination and planning
are clearly perceptible. Imagination passes away as soon as it is
noted as "imagining, imagining," and planning also passes away as soon
as it is noted as "planning, planning." These instances of arising,
noting and passing away appear like a string of beads. The preceding
mind is not the following mind. Each is separate. These
characteristics of reality are personally perceptible, and for this
purpose one must proceed with the practice of contemplation.
//Formless//. Mind has no substance, no form. It is not easy to
distinguish as is the case with materiality. In the case of
materiality, the body, head, hands and legs are very prominent and are
easily noticed. If it is asked what matter is, matter can be handled
and shown. Mind, however, is not easy to describe because it has no
substance or form. For this reason, it is not possible to carry out
analytical laboratory experiments on the mind.
One can, however, fully understand the mind if it is explained as
//that which knows an object//. To understand the mind, it is
necessary to contemplate the mind at every moment of its occurrence.
When contemplation is fairly advanced, the mind's approach to its
object is clearly comprehended. It appears as if each moment of mind
is making a direct leap towards it object. In order to know the true
nature of the mind, contemplation is thus prescribed.
//Lying in a cave//. Because the mind comes into being depending on
the mind-base and the other sense doors situated in the body, it is
said that it rests in a cave.
//Those who do restrain the mind are sure released from Mara's
bonds//. It is said that the mind should be contemplated at each
moment of its occurrence. The mind can thus be controlled by means of
contemplation. On his successful controlling of the mind, the yogi
will win freedom from the bondage of Mara, the King of Death. It will
now be seen that it is important to note the mind at every moment of
its occurrence. As soon as it is noted, the mind passes away. For
instance, by noting once or twice as "intending, intending," it is
found that intention passes away at once. Then the usual exercise of
noting as "rising, falling, rising, falling" should be reverted to.
While one is proceeding with the usual exercise, one may feel that one
wants to swallow saliva. It should be noted as "wanting," and on
gathering saliva as "gathering," and on swallowing as "swallowing," in
the serial order of occurrence. The reason for contemplation in this
case is because there may be a persisting personal view as "wanting to
swallow is I," "swallowing is also I." In reality, "wanting to
swallow" is mentality and not "I," and "swallowing" is materiality and
not "I." There exist only mentality and materiality at that moment. By
means of contemplating in this manner, one will understand clearly the
process of reality. So too, in the case of spitting, it should be
noted as "wanting" when one wants to spit, as "bending" on bending the
neck (which should be done slowly), as "looking, seeing" on looking
and as "spitting" on spitting. Afterwards, the usual exercise of
noting "rising, falling" should be continued.
Because of sitting for a long time, there will arise in the body
unpleasant feeling of being stiff, being hot and so forth. These
sensations should be noted as they occur. The mind should be fixed on
that spot and a note made as "stiff, stiff" on feeling stiff, as "hot,
hot" on feeling hot, as "painful, painful" on feeling painful, as
"prickly, prickly" on feeling prickly sensations, and as "tired,
tired" on feeling tired. These unpleasant feelings are
//dukkha-vedana// and the contemplation of these feeling is
//vedananupassana//, contemplation of feeling.
Owing to the absence of knowledge in respect of these feelings, there
persists the wrong view of holding them as one's own personality or
self, that is to say, "I am feeling stiff," "I am feeling painful," "I
was feeling well formerly but I now feel uncomfortable," in the manner
of a single self. In reality, unpleasant feelings arise owing to
disagreeable impressions in the body. Like the light of an electric
bulb which can continue to burn on a continuous supply of energy, so
it is in the case of feelings, which arise anew on every occasion of
coming in contact with disagreeable impressions.
It is essential to understand these feelings clearly. At the beginning
of noting as "stiff, stiff," "hot, hot," "painful, painful," one may
feel that such disagreeable feelings grow stronger, and then one will
notice that a mind wanting to change the posture arises. This mind
should be noted as "wanting, wanting." Then a return should be made to
the feeling and it should be noted as "stiff, stiff" or "hot, hot,"
and so forth. If one proceeds in this manner of contemplation with
great patience, unpleasant feelings will pass away.
There is a saying that patience leads to Nibbana. Evidently this
saying is more applicable in the case of contemplation than in any
other. Plenty of patience is needed in contemplation. If a yogi cannot
bear unpleasant feelings with patience, but frequently changes his
posture during contemplation, he cannot expect to gain concentration.
Without concentration there is no chance of acquiring insight
knowledge (//vipassana-nana//) and without insight knowledge the
attainment of the path, fruition and Nibbana cannot be won.
Patience is of great importance in contemplation. Patience is needed
mostly to bear unpleasant bodily feelings. There is hardly any case of
outside disturbances where it is necessary to exercise patience. This
means the observance of //khantisamvara//, restraint by patience. The
posture should not be immediately changed when unpleasant sensations
arise, but contemplation should be continued by noting them as "stiff,
stiff," "hot, hot," and so on. Such painful sensations are normal and
will pass away. In the case of strong concentration, it will be found
that great pains will pass away when they are noted with patience. On
the fading away of suffering or pain, the usual exercise of noting
"rising, falling" should be continued.
On the other hand, it may be found that pains or unpleasant feelings
do not immediately pass away even when one notes them with great
patience. In such a case, one has no alternative but to change
posture. One must, of course, submit to superior forces. When
concentration is not strong enough, strong pains will not pass away
quickly. In these circumstances there will often arise a mind wanting
to change posture, and this mind should be noted as "wanting,
wanting." After this, one should note "lifting, lifting" on moving it
These bodily actions should be carried out slowly, and these slow
movements should be followed up and noted as "lifting, lifting,"
"moving, moving," "touching, touching," in the successive order of the
process. Again, on moving one should note "moving, moving," and on
putting down, note "putting, putting." If, when this process of
changing posture has been completed, there is nothing more to be
noted, the usual exercise of noting "rising, falling" should be
There should be no stop or break in between. The preceding act of
noting and the one which follows should be contiguous. Similarly, the
preceding concentration and the one which follows should be
contiguous, and the preceding act of knowing and the one which follows
should be contiguous. In this way, the gradual development by stages
of mindfulness, concentration and knowledge takes place, and depending
on their full development, the final stage of path-knowledge is
In the practice of vipassana meditation, it is important to follow the
example of a person who tries to make fire. To make a fire in the days
before matches, a person had to constantly rub two sticks together
without the slightest break in motion. As the sticks became hotter and
hotter, more effort was needed, and the rubbing had to be carried out
incessantly. Only when the fire had been produced was the person at
liberty to take a rest. Similarly, a yogi should work hard so that
there is no break between the preceding noting and the one which
follows, and the preceding concentration and the one which follows. He
should revert to his usual exercise of noting "rising, falling" after
he has noted painful sensations.
While being thus occupied with his usual exercise, he may again feel
itching sensations somewhere in the body. He should then fix his mind
on the spot and make a note as "itching, itching." Itching is an
unpleasant sensation. As soon as it is felt, there arises a mind which
wants to rub or scratch. This mind should be noted as "wanting,
wanting," after which no rubbing or scratching must be done as yet,
but a return should be made to the itching and a note made as
"itching, itching." While one is occupied with contemplation in this
manner, itching in most cases passes away and the usual exercise of
noting "rising, falling" should then be reverted to.
If, on the other hand, it is found that itching does not pass away,
but that it is necessary to rub or scratch, the contemplation of the
successive stages should be carried out by noting the mind as
"wanting, wanting." It should then be continued by noting "raising,
raising" on raising the hand, "touching, touching" when the hand
touches the spot, "rubbing, rubbing" or "scratching, scratching" when
the hand rubs or scratches, "withdrawing, withdrawing" on withdrawing
the hand, "touching, touching" when the hand touches the body, and
then the usual contemplation of "rising, falling" should be continued.
In every case of changing postures, contemplation of the successive
stages should be carried out similarly and carefully.
While thus carefully proceeding with the contemplation, one may find
that painful feelings or unpleasant sensations arise in the body of
their own accord. Ordinarily, people change their posture as soon as
they feel even the slightest unpleasant sensation of tiredness or heat
without taking heed of these incidents. The change of posture is
carried out quite heedlessly just while the seed of pain is beginning
to grow. Thus painful feelings fail to take place in a distinctive
manner. For this reason it is said that, as a rule, the postures hide
painful feelings from view. People generally think that they are
feeling well for days and nights on end. They think that painful
feelings occur only at the time of an attack of a dangerous disease.
Reality is just the opposite of what people think. Let anyone try to
see how long he can keep himself in a sitting posture without moving
or changing it. One will find it uncomfortable after a short while,
say five or ten minutes, and then one will begin to find it unbearable
after fifteen or twenty minutes. One will then be compelled to move or
change one's posture by either raising or lowering the head, moving
the hands or legs, or by swaying the body either forward or backward.
Many movements usually take place during a short time, and the number
would be very large if they were to be counted for the length of just
one day. However, no one appears to be aware of this fact because no
one takes any heed.
Such is the order in every case, while in the case of a yogi who is
always mindful of his actions and who is proceeding with
contemplation, body impressions in their own respective nature are
therefore distinctly noticed. They cannot help but reveal themselves
fully in their own nature because he is watching until they come to
Though a painful sensation arises, he keeps on noting it. He does not
ordinarily attempt to change his posture or move. Then on the arising
of mind wanting to change, he at once makes a note of it as "wanting,
wanting," and afterwards he returns again to the painful sensation and
continues his noting of it. He changes his posture or moves only when
he finds the painful feeling unbearable. In this case he also begins
by noting the wanting mind and proceeds with noting carefully each
stage in the process of moving. This is why the postures can no longer
hide painful sensations. Often a yogi finds painful sensations
creeping from here and there or he may feel hot sensations, aching
sensations, itching, or the whole body as a mass of painful
sensations. That is how painful sensations are found to be predominant
because the postures cannot cover them.
If he intends to change his posture from sitting to standing, he
should first make a note of the intending mind as "intending,
intending," and proceed with the arranging of the hands and legs in
the successive stages by noting as "raising," "moving," "stretching,"
"touching," "pressing," and so forth. When the body sways forward, it
should be noted as "swaying, swaying." While in the course of standing
up, there occurs in the body a feeling of lightness as well as the act
of rising. Attention should be fixed on these factors and a note made
as "rising, rising." The act of rising should be carried out slowly.
During the course of practice it is most appropriate if a yogi acts
feebly and slowly in all activities just like a weak, sick person.
Perhaps the case of a person suffering from lumbago would be a more
fitting example here. The patient must always be cautious and move
slowly just to avoid pains. In the same manner a yogi should always
try to keep to slow movements in all actions. Slow motion is necessary
to enable mindfulness, concentration and knowledge to catch up. One
has lived all the time in a careless manner and one just begins
seriously to train oneself in keeping the mind within the body. It is
only the beginning, and one's mindfulness, concentration and knowledge
have not yet been properly geared up while the physical and mental
processes are moving at top speed. It is thus imperative to bring the
top-level speed of these processes to the lowest gear so as to make it
possible for mindfulness and knowledge to keep pace with them. It is
therefore desirable that slow motion exercises be carried out at all
Further, it is advisable for a yogi to behave like a blind person
throughout the course of training. A person without any restraint will
not look dignified because he usually looks at things and persons
wantonly. He also cannot obtain a steady and calm state of mind. The
blind person, on the other hand, behaves in a composed manner by
sitting sedately with downcast eyes. He never turns in any direction
to look at things or persons because he is blind and cannot see them.
Even if a person comes near him and speaks to him, he never turns
around and looks at that person. This composed manner is worthy of
imitation. A yogi should act in the same manner while carrying out the
practice of contemplation. He should not look anywhere. His mind
should be solely intent on the object of contemplation. While in the
sitting posture he must be intently noting "rising, falling." Even if
strange things occur nearby, he should not look at them. He must
simply make a note as "seeing, seeing" and then continue with the
usual exercise of noting "rising, falling." A yogi should have a high
regard for this exercise and carry it out with due respect, so much so
as to be mistaken for a blind person.
In this respect certain girl-yogis were found to be in perfect form.
They carefully carried out the exercise with all due respect in
accordance with the instructions. Their manner was very composed and
they were always intent on their objects of contemplation. They never
looked round. When they walked, they were always intent on the steps.
Their steps were light, smooth and slow. Every yogi should follow
It is necessary for a yogi to behave like a deaf person also.
Ordinarily, as soon as a person hears a sound, he turns around and
looks in the direction from which the sound came, or he turns towards
the person who spoke to him and makes a reply. He does not behave in a
sedate manner. A deaf person, on the other hand, behaves in a composed
manner. He does not take heed of any sound or talk because he never
hears them. Similarly, a yogi should conduct himself in like manner
without taking heed of any unimportant talk, nor should he
deliberately listen to any talk or speech. If he happens to hear any
sound or speech, he should at once make a note as "hearing, hearing,"
and then return to the usual practice of noting "rising, falling." He
should proceed with his contemplation intently, so much so as to be
mistaken for a deaf person.
It should be remembered that the //only// concern of a yogi is the
carrying out intently of contemplation. Other things seen or heard are
not his concern. Even though they may appear to be strange or
interesting, he should not take heed of them. When he sees any sights,
he must ignore them as if he does not see. So too, he must ignore
voices or sounds as if he does not hear. In the case of bodily
actions, he must act slowly and feebly as if he were sick and very
It is therefore to be emphasized that the act of pulling up the body
to the standing posture should be carried out slowly. On coming to an
erect position, a note should be made as "standing, standing." If one
happens to look around, a note should be made as "looking, seeing,"
and on walking each step should be noted as "right step, left step" or
"walking, walking." At each step, attention should be fixed on the
sole of the foot as it moves from the point of lifting the leg to the
point of placing it down.
While walking in quick steps or taking a long walk, a note on one
section of each step as "right step, left step" or "walking, walking"
will do. In the case of walking slowly, each step may be divided into
three sections -- lifting, moving forward and placing down. In the
beginning of the exercise, a note should be made of the two parts of
each step: as "lifting" by fixing the attention on the upward movement
of the foot from the beginning to the end, and as "placing" by fixing
on the downward movement from the beginning to the end. Thus the
exercise which starts with the first step by noting as "lifting,
placing" now ends.
Normally, when the foot is put down and is being noted as "placing,"
the other leg begins lifting to begin the next step. This should not
be allowed to happen. The next step should begin only after the first
step has been completed, such as "lifting, placing" for the first step
and "lifting, placing" for the second step. After two or three days
this exercise will be easy, and then the yogi should carry out the
exercise of noting each step in three sections as "lifting, moving,
placing." For the present a yogi should start the exercise by noting
as "right step, left step," or "walking, walking" while walking
quickly, and by noting as "lifting, placing" while walking slowly.
While one is walking, one may feel the desire to sit down. One should
then make a note as "wanting." If one then happens to look up, note it
as "looking, seeing, looking, seeing"; on going to the seat as
"lifting, placing"; on stopping as "stopping, stopping"; on turning as
"turning, turning." When one feels a desire to sit, note it as
"wanting, wanting." In the act of sitting there occur in the body
heaviness and also a downward pull. Attention should be fixed on these
factors and a note made as "sitting, sitting, sitting." After having
sat down there will be movements of bringing the hands and legs into
position. They should be noted as "moving," "bending," "stretching,"
and so forth. If there is nothing to do and if one is sitting quietly,
one should then revert to the usual exercise of noting as "rising,
If in the course of contemplation one feels painful or tired or hot,
one should make a note of these and then revert to the usual exercise
of noting "rising, falling." If one feels sleepy, one should make a
note of it as "sleepy, sleepy" and proceed with the noting of all acts
in preparation to lie down: note the bringing into position of the
hands and legs as "raising," "pressing," "moving," "supporting"; when
the body sways as "swaying, swaying"; when the legs stretch as
"stretching, stretching"; and when the body drops and lies flat as
"lying, lying, lying."
These trifling acts in lying down are also important and they should
not be neglected. There is every possibility of attaining
enlightenment during this short time. On the full development of
concentration and knowledge, enlightenment is attainable during the
present moment of bending or stretching. In this way the Venerable
Ananda attained Arahatship at the very moment of lying down.
About the beginning of the fourth month after the Buddha's complete
passing away, arrangements were made to hold the first council of
bhikkhus to collectively classify, examine, confirm and recite all the
teachings of the Buddha. At that time five hundred bhikkhus were
chosen for this work. Of these bhikkhus, four hundred and ninety-nine
were Arahats, while the Venerable Ananda was a //sotapanna//, a
In order to attend the council as an Arahat on the same level with the
others, he made his utmost effort to carry on with his meditation on
the day prior to the opening of the council. That was on the fourth of
the waning moon of the month of Savana (August). He proceeded with
mindfulness of the body and continued his walking meditation
throughout the night. It might have been in the same manner as noting
"right step, left step" or "walking, walking." He was thus occupied
with intense contemplation of the processes of mentality and
materiality in each step until dawn of the following day, but he still
had not yet attained to Arahatship.
Then the Venerable Ananda thought: "I have done my utmost. Lord Buddha
has said: 'Ananda, you possess full perfections (//paramis//). Do
proceed with the practice of meditation. You will surely attain
Arahatship one day.' I have tried my best, so much so that I can be
counted as one of those who have done their best in meditation. What
maybe the reason for my failure?"
Then he remembered: "Ah! I have been overzealous in keeping solely to
the practice of walking throughout the night. There is an excess of
energy and not enough concentration, which indeed is responsible for
this state of restlessness. It is now necessary to stop walking
practice so as to bring energy in balance with concentration and to
proceed with the contemplation in a lying position." The Venerable
Ananda then entered his room, sat down on his bed, and began to lie
down. It is said that he attained Arahatship at the very moment of
lying down, or rather at the moment of contemplating as "lying,
This manner of attaining Arahatship has been recorded as a strange
event in the Commentaries, because it is outside the four regular
postures of standing, sitting, lying and walking. At the moment of his
enlightenment, the Venerable Ananda could not be regarded as strictly
in a standing posture because his feet were off the floor, nor could
he be regarded as sitting because his body was already at an angle,
being quite close to the pillow, nor could he be regarded as lying
down since his head had not yet touched the pillow and his body was
not yet flat.
The Venerable Ananda was a stream-enterer and he thus had to develop
the three other higher stages -- the path and fruit of once-returning,
the path and fruit of non-returning, and the path and fruit of
Arahatship in his final attainment. This took only a moment. Extreme
care is therefore needed to carry on the practice of contemplation
without relaxation or omission.
In the act of lying down, contemplation should therefore be carried
out with due care. When a yogi feels sleepy and wants to lie down, a
note should be made as "sleepy, sleepy," "wanting, wanting"; on
raising the hand as "raising, raising"; on stretching as "stretching,
stretching"; on touching as "touching, touching"; on pressing as
"pressing, pressing"; after swaying the body and dropping it down as
"lying, lying." The act of lying down itself should be carried out
very slowly. On touching the pillow it should be noted as "touching,
touching." There are many places of touch all over the body but each
spot need be noted only one at a time.
In the lying posture there are also many movements of the body in
bringing one's arms and legs into position. These actions should be
noted carefully as "raising," "stretching," "bending," "moving," and
so forth. On turning the body a note should be made as "turning,
turning," and when there is nothing in particular to be noted, the
yogi should proceed with the usual practice of noting "rising,
falling." While one is lying on one's back or side, there is usually
nothing in particular to be noted and the usual exercise of "rising,
falling" should be carried out.
There may be many times when the mind wanders while one is in the
lying posture. This wandering mind should be noted as "going, going"
when it goes out, as "arriving, arriving" when it reaches a place, as
"planning," "reflecting," and so forth for each state in the same
manner as in the contemplation while in the sitting posture. Mental
states pass away on being noted once or twice. The usual exercise of
noting "rising, falling" should be continued. There may also be
instances of swallowing or spitting saliva, painful sensations, hot
sensations, itching sensations, etc., or of bodily actions in changing
positions or in moving the limbs. They should be contemplated as each
occurs. (When sufficient strength in concentration is gained, it will
be possible to carry on with the contemplation of each act of opening
and closing the eyelids and blinking.) Afterwards, one should then
return to the usual exercise when there is nothing else to be noted.
Though it is late at night and time for sleep, it is not advisable to
give up the contemplation and go to sleep. Anyone who has a keen
interest in contemplation must be prepared to face the risk of
spending many nights without sleep.
The scriptures are emphatic on the necessity of developing the
qualities of four-factored energy (//caturanga-viriya//) in the
practice of meditation: "In the hard struggle, one may be reduced to a
mere skeleton of skin, bones and sinews when one's flesh and blood
wither and dry up, but one should not give up one's efforts so long as
one has not attained whatever is attainable by manly perseverance,
energy and endeavor." These instructions should be followed with a
strong determination. It may be possible to keep awake if there is
strong enough concentration to beat off sleep, but one will fall
asleep if sleep gets the upper hand.
When one feels sleepy, one should make a note of it as "sleepy,
sleepy"; when the eyelids are heavy as "heavy, heavy"; when the eyes
are felt to be dazzled as "dazzled, dazzled." After contemplating in
the manner indicated, one may be able to shake off sleepiness and feel
fresh again. This feeling should be noted as "feeling fresh, feeling
fresh," after which the usual exercise of noting "rising, falling"
should be continued. However, in spite of this determination, one may
feel unable to keep awake if one is very sleepy. In a lying posture,
it is easier to fall asleep. A beginner should therefore try to keep
mostly to the postures of sitting and walking.
When the night is advanced, however, a yogi may be compelled to lie
down and proceed with the contemplation of rising and falling. In this
position he may perhaps fall asleep. While one is asleep, it is not
possible to carry on with the work of contemplation. It is an interval
for a yogi to relax. An hour's sleep will give him an hour's
relaxation, and if he continues to sleep for two, three or four hours,
he will be relaxed for that much longer, but it is not advisable for a
yogi to sleep for more than four hours, which is ample enough for a
A yogi should begin his contemplation from the moment of awakening. To
be fully occupied with intense contemplation throughout his waking
hours is the routine of a yogi who works hard with true aspiration for
the attainment of the path and fruit. If it is not possible to catch
the moment of awakening, he should begin with the usual exercise of
noting "rising, falling." If he first becomes aware of the fact of
reflecting, he should begin his contemplation by noting "reflecting,
reflecting" and then revert to the usual exercise of noting "rising,
falling." If he first becomes aware of hearing a voice or some other
sound, he should begin by noting "hearing, hearing" and then revert to
the usual exercise. On awakening there may be bodily movement in
turning to this side or that, moving the hands or legs and so forth.
These actions should be contemplated in successive order.
If he first becomes aware of the mental states leading to the various
actions of body, he should begin his contemplation by noting the mind.
If he first becomes aware of painful sensations, he should begin with
the noting of these painful sensations and then proceed with the
noting of bodily actions. If he remains quiet without moving, the
usual exercise of noting "rising, falling" should be continued. If he
intends to get up, he should note this as "intending, intending" and
then proceed with the noting of all actions in serial order in
bringing the hands and legs into position. One should note "raising,
raising" on raising the body, "sitting, sitting" when the body is
erect and in a sitting posture, and one should also note any other
actions of bringing the legs and hands into position. If there is then
nothing in particular to be noted, the usual exercise of noting
"rising,falling" should be reverted to.
Thus far we have mentioned things relating to the objects of
contemplation in connection with the four postures and changing from
one posture to another. This is merely a description of the general
outline of major objects of contemplation to be carried out in the
course of practice. Yet in the beginning of the practice, it is
difficult to follow up on all of them in the course of contemplation.
Many things will be omitted, but on gaining sufficient strength in
concentration, it is easy to follow up in the course of contemplation
not only those objects already enumerated, but may many more. With the
gradual development of mindfulness and concentration, the pace of
knowledge quickens, and thus many more objects can be perceived. It is
necessary to work up to this high level.
//Washing and Eating//
Contemplation should be carried out in washing the face in the morning
or when taking a bath. As it is necessary to act quickly in such
instances due to the nature of the action itself, contemplation should
be carried out as far as these circumstances will allow. On stretching
the hand to catch hold of the dipper, it should be noted as
"stretching, stretching"; on catching hold of the dipper as "holding,
holding"; on immersing the dipper as "dipping,dipping"; on bringing
the dipper towards the body as "bringing, bringing"; on pouring the
water over the body or on the face as "pouring, pouring"; on feeling
cold as "cold, cold"; on rubbing as "rubbing, rubbing," and so forth.
There are also many different bodily actions in changing or arranging
one's clothing, in arranging the bed or bed-sheets, in opening the
door, and so on. These actions should be contemplated in detail
serially as much as possible.
At the time of taking a meal, contemplation should begin from the
moment of looking at the table and noted as "looking, seeing, looking,
seeing"; when stretching the hand to the plate as "stretching,
stretching"; when the hand touches the food as "touching, hot, hot";
when gathering the food as "gathering, gathering"; when catching hold
of the food as "catching, catching"; after lifting when the hand is
being brought up as "bringing, bringing"; when the neck is being bent
down as "bending, bending"; when the food is being placed in the mouth
as "placing, placing"; when withdrawing the hand as "withdrawing,
withdrawing"; when the hand touches the plate as "touching, touching";
when the neck is being straightened as "straightening, straightening";
when chewing the food as "chewing, chewing"; while tasting the food as
"tasting, tasting," when one likes the taste as "liking, liking"; when
one finds it pleasant as "pleasant, pleasant"; when swallowing as
This is an illustration of the routine of contemplation on partaking
of each morsel of food till the meal is finished. In this case too it
is difficult to follow up on all actions at the beginning of the
practice. There will be many omissions. Yogis should not hesitate,
however, but must try to follow up as much as they can. With the
gradual advancement of the practice, it will be easier to note many
more objects than are mentioned here.
The instructions for the practical exercise of contemplation are now
almost complete. As they have been explained in detail and at some
length, it will not be easy to remember all of them. For the sake of
easy remembrance, a short summary of the important and essential
points will be given.
//Summary of Essential Points//
In walking, a yogi should contemplate the movements of each step.
While one is walking briskly, each step should be noted as "right
step, left step" respectively. The mind should be fixed intently on
the sole of the foot in the movements of each step. While one is in
the course of walking slowly, each step should be noted in two parts
as "lifting, placing." While one is in a sitting posture, the usual
exercise of contemplation should be carried out by noting the
movements of the abdomen as "rising, falling, rising, falling." The
same manner of contemplation by noting the movements as "rising,
falling, rising, falling" should be carried out while one is also in
the lying posture.
If it is found that the mind wanders during the course of noting
"rising, falling," it should not be allowed to continue to wander but
should be noted immediately. On imagining, it should be noted as
"imagining, imagining"; on thinking as "thinking, thinking"; on the
mind going out as "going, going"; on the mind arriving at a place as
"arriving, arriving," and so forth at every occurrence, and then the
usual exercise of noting "rising, falling" should be continued.
When there occur feelings of tiredness in the hands, legs or other
limbs, or hot, prickly, aching or itching sensations, they should be
immediately followed up and noted as "tired," "hot," "prickly,"
"aching," "itching," and so on as the case may be. A return should
then be made to the usual exercise of noting "rising, falling."
When there are acts of bending or stretching the hands or legs, or
moving the neck or limbs or swaying the body to and fro, they should
be followed up and noted in serial order as they occur. The usual
exercise of noting as "rising, falling" should then be reverted to.
This is only a summary. Any other objects to be contemplated in the
course of training will be mentioned by the meditation teachers when
giving instructions during the daily interview with the disciples.
If one proceeds with the practice in the manner indicated, the number
of objects will gradually increase in the course of time. At first
there will be many omissions because the mind is used to wandering
without any restraint whatsoever. However, a yogi should not lose
heart on this account. This difficulty is usually encountered in the
beginning of practice. After some time, the mind can no longer play
truant because it is always found out every time it wanders. It
therefore remains fixed on the object to which it is directed.
As rising occurs the mind makes a note of it, and thus the object and
the mind coincide. As falling occurs the mind makes a note of it, and
thus the object and the mind coincide. There is always a pair, the
object and the mind which knows the object, at each time of noting.
These two elements of the material object and the knowing mind always
arise in pairs, and apart from these two there does not exist any
other thing in the form of a person or self. This reality will be
personally realized in due course.
The fact that materiality and mentality are two distinct, separate
things will be clearly perceived during the time of noting "rising,
falling." The two elements of materiality and mentality are linked up
in pairs and their arising coincides, that is, the process of
materiality in rising arises with the process of mentality which knows
it. The process of materiality in falling falls away together with the
process of mentality which knows it. It is the same for lifting,
moving and placing: these are processes of materiality arising and
falling away together with the processes of mentality which know them.
This knowledge in respect of matter and mind rising separately is
known as //nama-rupa-pariccheda-nana//, the discriminating knowledge
of mentality-materiality. It is the preliminary stage in the whole
course of insight knowledge. It is important to have this preliminary
stage developed in a proper manner.
On continuing the practice of contemplation for some time, there will
be considerable progress in mindfulness and concentration. At this
high level it will be perceptible that on every occasion of noting,
each process arises and passes away at that very moment. But, on the
other hand, uninstructed people generally consider that the body and
mind remain in a permanent state throughout life, that the same body
of childhood has grown up into adulthood, that the same young mind has
grown up into maturity, and that both body and mind are one and the
same person. In reality, this is not so. Nothing is permanent.
Everything comes into existence for a moment and then passes away.
Nothing can remain even for the blink of an eye. Changes are taking
place very swiftly and they will be perceived in due course.
While carrying on the contemplation by noting "rising, falling" and so
forth, one will perceive that these processes arise and pass away one
after another in quick succession. On perceiving that everything
passes away at the very point of noting, a yogi knows that nothing is
permanent. This knowledge regarding the impermanent nature of things
is //aniccanupassana-nana//, the contemplative knowledge of
A yogi then knows that this ever-changing state of things is
distressing and is not to be desired. This is
//dukkhanupassana-nana//, the contemplative knowledge of suffering. On
suffering many painful feelings, this body and mind complex is
regarded as a mere heap of suffering. This is also contemplative
knowledge of suffering.
It is then perceived that the elements of materiality and mentality
never follow one's wish, but arise according to their own nature and
conditioning. While being engaged in the act of noting these
processes, a yogi understands that these processes are not
controllable and that they are neither a person nor a living entity
nor self. This is //anattanupassana-nana//, the contemplative
knowledge of non-self.
When a yogi has fully developed the knowledge of impermanence,
suffering and non-self, he will realize Nibbana. From time immemorial,
Buddhas, Arahats and Ariyas (noble ones) have realized Nibbana by this
method of vipassana. It is the highway leading to Nibbana. Vipassana
consists of the four //satipatthana//, applications of mindfulness,
and it is //satipatthana// which is really the highway to Nibbana.
Yogis who take up this course of training should bear in mind that
they are on the highway which has been taken by Buddhas, Arahats and
Ariyas. This opportunity is afforded them apparently because of their
//parami//, that is, their previous endeavors in seeking and wishing
for it, and also because of their present mature conditions. They
should rejoice at heart for having this opportunity. They should also
feel assured that by walking on this highway without wavering they
will gain personal experience of highly developed concentration and
wisdom, as has already been known by Buddhas, Arahats and Ariyas. They
will develop such a pure state of concentration as has never been
known before in the course of their lives and thus enjoy many innocent
pleasures as a result of advanced concentration.
Impermanence, suffering and non-self will be realized through direct
personal experience, and with the full development of these
knowledges, Nibbana will be realized. It will not take long to achieve
the objective, possibly one month, or twenty days, or fifteen days,
or, on rare occasions, even in seven days for those select few with
Yogis should therefore proceed with the practice of contemplation in
great earnestness and with full confidence, trusting that it will
surely lead to the development of the noble path and fruit and to the
realization of Nibbana. They will then be free from the wrong view of
self and from spiritual doubt, and they will no longer be subject to
the round of rebirth in the miserable realms of the hells, the animal
world, and the sphere of petas.
May yogis meet with every success in their noble endeavor.
* * * * * * * *
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, U Sobhana Mahathera, was one of the most
eminent meditation masters of modern times and a leader in the
contemporary resurgence of Vipassana meditation. Born near Shwebo town
in Burma in 1904, he was ordained a novice monk at the age of twelve
and received full ordination as a bhikkhu at the age of twenty. He
quickly distinguished himself as a scholar of the Buddhist scriptures
and by his fifth year after full ordination was himself teaching the
scriptures at a monastery in Moulmein.
In the eighth year after ordination he left Moulmein seeking a clear
and effective method in the practice of meditation. At Thaton he met
the well-known meditation instructor, the Venerable U Narada, also
known as the Mingun Jetawun Sayadaw. He then placed himself under the
guidance of the Sayadaw and underwent intensive training in Vipassana
In 1941 he returned to his native village and introduced the
systematic practice of Vipassana meditation to the area. Many people,
monks as well as laymen, took up the practice and greatly benefited
by his careful instructions.
In 1949 the then Prime Minister of Burma, U Nu, and Sir U Thwin,
executive members of the Buddha Sasananuggaha Association, invited
Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw to come to Rangoon to give training in meditation
practice. He acceded to their request and took up residence at the
Thathana Yeiktha Meditation Centre, where he continued to conduct
intensive courses in Vipassana meditation until his death in 1982.
Under his guidance thousands of people have been trained at his Centre
and many more have benefited from his clear-cut approach to
meditation practice through his writings and the teachings of his
disciples. More than a hundred branch centers of the Thathana Yeiktha
Centre have been established in Burma and his method has spread widely
to other countries, East and West.
Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw also holds Burma's highest scholastic honor, the
title of Agga Mahapandita, awarded to him in 1952. During the Sixth
Buddhist Council, held in Rangoon from 1954 to 1956, he performed the
duties of Questioner (//pucchaka//), a role performed at the First
Buddhist Council by the Venerable Mahakassapa. Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw was
also a member of the executive committee that was responsible, as the
final authority, for the codification of all the texts edited at the
Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw is the author of numerous works on both meditation
and the Buddhist scriptures in his native Burmese. His discourses on
Buddhist suttas have been translated into English and are published by
the Buddha Sasananuggaha Association (16 Hermitage Road, Kokine,
* * * * * * * *
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TITLE OF WORK: Satipatthana Vipassana: Insight Through Mindfulness
(Wheel Publication No. 370/371)
AUTHOR: Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: N/A (d. 1982)
PUBLISHER'S ADDRESS: Buddhist Publication Society
P.O. Box 61
54, Sangharaja Mawatha
Kandy, Sri Lanka
COPYRIGHT HOLDER: Buddhist Publication Society
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1990
RIGHTS AND RESTRICTIONS: See paragraph below.
DATE OF DHARMANET DISTRIBUTION: October 1995
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