By Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw
Practice of Vipassana or Insight Meditation is the effort made by the meditation to understand correctly the nature of the psycho-physical phenomena taking place in his own body. Physical phenomena are the things or objects which one clearly perceives around one. The whole of one’s body that one clearly perceives constitutes a group of material qualities [rupa]. Psychical or mental phenomena are acts of consciousness or awareness [nama]. These [nama-rupas] are clearly perceived to be happening whenever they are seen, heard smelt, tasted, touched, or thought of. We must make ourselves aware of them by observing, hearing, hearing, “smelling, smelling, tasting, tasting” touching, touching, ‘or thinking, thinking’.
Every time one sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches, or thinks, one should make a note of the fact. But in the beginning of one’s practice one cannot make a note of every one of these happenings. One should, therefore, begin with noting those happening which are conspicuous and easily perceivable.
With every act of breathing, the abdomen rise and fall, which is always evident. This is the material quality known as vayodhatu [the element of motion]. One should begin by noting this movements, which may be done by intently observing the abdomen in mind. You will find the abdomen rising when you breathe in, and falling when you breathe out. The rising should be noted mentally as rising, and the falling as falling. If the movement is not evident by just nothing it mentally, touch the abdomen with the palm of your hand. Do not alter the manner of your breathing, Neither slow it down, nor make it faster. Do not breathing too vigorously, either. You will tire if you change the manner of your breathing, Breathe steadily as usual and note the rising and falling of the abdomen as they occur, Note it mentally, not verbally.
In Vipassana meditation, what’s your name or say doesn’t matter. What really matters is to know or perceive. While noting the rising of the abdomen, do so from the beginning to the end of the movement just as if you are seeing it with your eyes. Do the same with the falling movement. Note the rising movement in such a way that your awareness of it is concurrent with the movement itself. The movement and the mental awareness of it should coincide in the same way as a stone thrown hitting the same goes for the target. The falling movement.
Your mind may wander else where while you are noting the abdominal movements. This must also be noted by mentally saying wandering, wandering. When this has been noted once or twice, the mind stops wandering, in which case you go back to noting the rising and falling of
the abdomen, if the mind reaches somewhere, note it as ‘reaching, reaching’. Then go back to the rising and falling of the abdomen. If you imagine meeting somebody, note it as meeting, meeting’. Then back to the sing and falling. If you imagine meeting and talking to somebody, note it as ‘talking, talking’.
In short, whatever thought or reflection occurs should be noted. If you imagine, note it as ‘imagine. If you think, ‘thinking’. if you plan, ‘planning’. If you perceive, ‘perceiving’. If you reflect, ‘reflecting’. If you feel happy, ‘happy’. If you feel bored, bored’. If you feel glad, ‘glad’. If you feel disheartened, ‘disheartened’. Noting all these acts off consciousness is called Cittanupassana. Because we fail to note these acts of consciousness, we tend to identify whit a person or individual. We tend to think that it is “”I” who is imagining, thinking, planning, knowing (or perceiving). We think that there is a person who from childhood onwards has been living and thinking. Actually, no such person exists. There are instead only these continuing and successive acts of consciousness. That is why we have to note these acts of consciousness and know them for what they are. That is why we have to note each and every act of consciousness as it arises. When so noted, they tends to disappear. We then go back to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen.
When you have sat meditating for long, sensations of stiffness and heat will arise in your body. These are to be noted carefully too. Similarly with sensations of pain and tiredness. All of these sensations are dukkhavedana (feeling of unsatisfactoriness) and noting them is vedananupassana. Failure or omission to note these sensations makes you think, “I am stiff, I am feeling hot, I am in pain. I was all right a moment ago. Now I am uneasy with these unpleasant sensations.” The identification of these sensations with the ego is mistaken. There is really no “I” involved, only a succession of one new unpleasant Sensation after another. It is just like a continuous succession of new electrical impulses that light up electric lamps. Every time unpleasant contacts are encountered in the body, unpleasant sensations arise one after another. These sensations should be carefully and intently noted, whether they are sensations, of heat or of pain. In the beginning of the yogis meditational practice, these sensation may tend to increase and lead to a desire to change his posture. This desire should be noted, after which the yogi should go back to noting the sensations of stiffness, heat, etc. patience leads to Nibbana,’ as the saying goes. This saying is most relevant in meditation effort. One must be patient in meditation. If one shifts or changes one’s posture too often because one cannot be patient with the sensation of stiffness or heat that arises, samadhi [good concentration] cannot develop. if samadhi cannot develop, Insight cannot result and there can be no attainment of
magga [the path that leads to Nibbana], phala [the fruit of that part] and Nibbana. That is why patience is needed in meditation. It is mostly patience with unpleasant sensations in the body like stiffness, sensations of heat and pain, and other sensations that are hard to bear. One should not immediately give up one’s meditation on the appearance of such sensations and change one’s meditational posture. One should go on patiently, just noting them as stiffness, stiffness’ or ‘hot, hot’. Moderate sensations of these kinds will disappear if one goes on nothing them patiently. When concentration is good and strong, even intense sensations tend to disappear. One then reverts to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen.
One will of course have to change one’s posture if the sensations do not disappear even
After one has noted them for a long time, and if on the other have they become unbearable. One should then begin noting them as ‘wishing to change, wishing to change’. If the arm rises, note it as ‘rising, rising’. If it moves, note it as ‘moving, moving.’ This change should be made gently and noted as ‘rising, rising,’ ‘moving, moving’ and ‘touching’. If the body sways, ‘swaying, swaying’. If the foot rises, ‘rising, rising’. If it moves, ‘moving, moving’ If it drops, ‘dropping, dropping’. If there is no change, but only static rest, go back to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen. There must be no intermission in between, only continuity between a preceding act of noting and a succeeding one, between a preceding samasdhi [state of concentration] and a succeeding one, between a preceding act of intelligence and a succeeding one. Only then will there be successive and ascending stages of maturity in the yogi’s state of intelligence. Megga and mala nana [knowledge of the path and its fruition] are attained only when there is this kind of gathering momentum. The meditative process is like that of producing fire by energetically and unremittingly rubbing two sticks of wood together so as to attain the necessary intensity of heat [and the flame arises].
In the same way, the noting in Vipassana meditation should be continual and unremitting, without any resting interval between acts of noting whatever phenomena may arise, for instance, if a sensation of itchiness intervenes and the yogi desires to scratch because it is hard to bear, both the sensation and the desire to get rid of it should be noted, without immediately getting rid of the sensation by scratching.
If one goes on perservingly noting thus, the itchiness generally disappears, in which case one reverts to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen. If the itchiness does not in fact disappear, one has to ofcourse eliminate it by scratching. But first, the desire to do so should be noted. All the movements involved in the process of eliminating this sensation should be noted, especially the touching, pulling and pushing,and scratching movements, with and eventual reversion to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen.
Every time you make a change of posture, you begin with noting your intention or desire to make the change, and go onto noting every movement closely, such as rising from the sitting posture, raising the arm moving and stretching it, you should make the change at the same time as noting the movements involved. As your body sways forward, note it. As you rise, the body become light and rises, concentrating your mind on this you should gently note it as ‘rising, rising’. The yogi should behave as if he were a weak invalid. People of normal health rise easily and quickly or abruptly, not so with feeble invalids, who do so slowly and gently. The same is the case with people suffering from ‘back-ache’ who rise gently so their back hurts less ( lest the back hurt and cause pain.)
So also with meditating yogis. They have to make their changes of posture gradually and gently; only then will mindfulness, concentration and insight be good. Begin therefore with gentle and gradual movements. When rising, the yoga must do so gently like an invalid, at the same time noting it as rising, rising. Not only this; though the eye sees, the yogi must act as if he does not see. Similarly when the ear hears. While meditating, the yogi’s concern is only to note. What he sees and hears are or his concern. So whatever strange or striking things he may see or hear. He must behave as if he does not see or hear them, merely noting carefully.
When making bodily movements, the yoga should do so gradually as if he were a weak invalid, gently moving his arms and legs, bending or stretching them, bending down the head and bringing it up. All these movements should be made gently. When rising from the sitting posture, he should do so gradually, noting it as “rising, rising” When straightening up and standing, noting it as “standing, standing”. When looking here and there, noting as “looking, seeing”. When walking noting the steps, whether they are taken with the right or the left foot. You must be aware of all the successive movements involved, from the raising of the foot to the dropping of it. Note each step taken, whether with the right foot or the left foot. This is the manner of noting when one walks fast.
If will be enough if you note thus when walking fast and walking some distance. When walk slowly or doing the cankama walk [waling up and down], three movements should be noted in each step; when the foot is raised, when it is pushed forward, and when it is dropped. Begin with noting the raising and dropping movements. One must be properly aware of the raising of the foot, similarly, when the foot is dropped, one should be properly aware of the ‘heavy’ falling of the foot.
One must walk, noting it as raising, dropping’ with each step. This noting will become easier after above, as ‘raising, pushing forward, dropping,. In the beginning, it will suffice to note one or two movements only, thus’right step, left step’ when walking fast and ‘raising, dropping’when walking slowly. If when walking thus, you want to sit down, note as wanting to sit down, wanting to sit down’. When actually sitting down, concentratedly note the heavy’ falling of your body. When you are seated, note the movements involved in arranging your legs and arms. When there are no such movements, but just a stillness (staticrest) of the body, note the rising and falling of the abdomen. While noting thus and if stiffness of your limbs and sensations of heat in any part of your body arise, go on to note them. Then back to “rising, falling”. While noting thus and if a desire to lie down arises, note it and the movements of your legs and arms as you lie down. The raising of the arm., the moving of it, the resting of the elbow on the floor, the swaying of the body, the stretching of legs, the listing of the body as one slowly prepares to lie down, all these movements should be noted.
the path and its fruition). When samadhi (concentration) and nana (insight) are strong, the distinctive knowledge can come at any moment. It can come in a single “bend” of the arm or in a single “stretch of the arm. Thus it was that the Venerable Ananda became an arahat.
The Ven.Ananda was trying strenuously to attain Arahatship over night on the eve
Of the first Buddhist council.He was practising the whole night a form of Vipassana meditation
Known as kayagatasati, noting his steps,right and left,raising,pyshing forward and dropping of the feet;noting,happening by happening by happening,the mental desire to walk and the physical movement involved in walking. Although this went on till it was nearly dawn,he had mot yet succeeded in attaining Arahatship. Realizing that he has practiced the walking meditation to excess and that, in order to balance samadhi(concentration)and viriya (effort), He should practice meditation in the lying posture for a while, he entered his chamber. He sat on the couch and then lay himself down. While doing so and noting ‘lying, lying’ he attained Arahatship in an instant.
The Ven.Ananda was only a sotapanna (that is ,a stream winner or one who has attained the first stage on the path to Nibbana)before he thus lay homself down. From sotapannahood, he continued to meditate and reached sakadagamihood(that is, the condition of the once-retuner or one who has attained the third stage on the path)and arahatship (that is the condition of the noble one who has attained the last stage on the path.) Reaching these three successive stages of the higher path took only a little while. just think of this example of the Ven.ananda’s attainment of arahatship. Such attainment can come at any moment and need not take long. That is why the yogi should note with diligenceall the time. He should not relax in his noting, thinking “this little lapse should not matter much.” All movements involved in lying down and arranging the arms and legs should be carefully and unremittingly noted. If there is no movement, but only stillness(of the body),go back to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen. Even when it is getting late and time to sleep, the yoga should not go to sleep yet, dropping his noting. A really serious and energetic yogi should practise mindfulness as if he were forgoing his sleep altogether. He should go on meditating till he falls asleep. If the meditation is good and has the upper hand, drowsiness has the upper hand he will not fall asleep. If, on the other hand, he will fall asleep. When he feels sleepy, he should note it as ‘sleepy, sleepy’. If his eyelids drop, ‘dropping’ if they become heavy or leaden ‘heavy’, if the eyes become smarting, ‘smarting’ Nothing thus, the drowsiness may pass and the eyes become clear again.
The yoga should then note that as “clear, clear” and go on to note the rising and falling of the abdomen. However perseveringly the yogi may go on meditating, if real drowsiness intervenes, he does fall asleep. It is not difficult to fall asleep; in fact. It is easy if you meditate in the lying posture, you gradually become drowsy and eventually fall asleep. That is why the beginner in meditation should not meditate too much in the lying posture. He should meditate much in the lying posture. He should meditate much more in the sitting posture and walking But as it grows late and becomes time to sleep, he should meditate in the lying position, noting the rising and falling movements of the abdomen He will then a naturally (automatically) fall asleep.
The time he is asleep is the resting time for the yogi. But for the really serious yogi, he should limit his sleeping time to about four hours. This is the midnight time permitted by the Buddha. Four hours sleep is quite enough. If the beginner in meditation thinks that four hours’sleep is not though for his health, he may extend it to five or six hours. Six hours’sleep is clearly enough for one’s health. When the yogi awakens, he should at once resume noting. The yoga who is really bent on attaining magga and phala nana, should rest from meditational effort only when he is asleep. At other times, in his waking moments, he should be noting contnuously and without rest, That is why, as soon as he awakens, he should note the awakining state of his mind as’awakening, awakening’. If he cannot yer make himself aware of this, he should begin noting the rising and galling of the abdomen. If he intends to get up from bed, he should note it as ‘intending to get up, intending to get up’. He should then go on to note the changing movements he makes as he arrages his arms and legs. When he raises his head and rises, noting it as ‘rising, rising’. When he is seated,noting as,sitting,sitting.
If he makes any changing movement as he arranges his arms and legs, all of these movements should also be noted.If there are no such changes, but only a sitting quietly, he should revert to noting the rising and falling movements of the abdomen.
One should also note when one washes one’s face and when one takes a bath. As the movements involved in these acts are rather quick, as many of them should be noted as possible. There are then acts of dressing, of tidying up the bed, of opening and closing the door; all these should also be noted as closely as possible. When the yoga has his meal and looks at the meal-table, he should note it as “looking, seeing.” When he extends his arm towards the food, touches it, collects and arranges it, handles it and brings it to his mouth, bends his head and puts the morsel of food into his mouth, drops his arm and raises his head again, all these movements should be duly noted. (This way of noting is in accordance with the Burmese way of taking a meal. Those who use fork and spoon or chopsticks should note the movements in an appropriate manner.)
When he chews the food. He should note it as ‘chewing, chewing.’ When he comes to know the taste of the food. He should note it as ‘knowing knowing.’ As he relishes the food and swallows it, as the food goes down his throat, he should note all these happenings. This is how the yogi should note as he takes one morsel after another of his food. As he takes his soup, all the movements involved such as extending of the arm, handling of the spoon and scooping with it and so on, all these should be noted. To note thus at meal-time is rather difficult as there are so many things to observe and note. The beginning yoga is likely to miss several things which he should note, but he should resolve to note all. He cannot of course help it if he overlooks and misses some, but as his samadhi (concentration) becomes strong, he will be able to not closely all these happenings. Well, I have mentioned so many things for the yogi to note. But to summarize, there are only a few things to note. When walking fast, note as ‘right step,’ left step.’ And as raising, dropping’ When walking slowly. When sitting quietly, just note the rising and falling of the abdomen. Note the same When you are lying , if there is nothing particular to note. While noting thus and if the mind wanders, note the acts of consciousness that arise. Then back to the rising and falling of the abdomen note also the sensations of stiffness pain and ache, and itchiness as they arise. Then back to the rising and falling of the abdomen. Note also, as they arise, the bending and stretching and moving of the limbs, bending and raising of the head, swaying and straightening of the body. Then back to the rising and falling of the abdomen. Beginner in meditation encounters the same difficulty, but as he becomes more practiced, he becomes aware of every act of mind-wandering till eventually the mind does not wander any more. The mind is then riveted on the ofject of its attention, the act of mindfulness becoming almost simulaneous with the object of its attention such as the rising and falling of the abdomen. (In other words the rising of the abdomen becomes concurrent with the act of nothing it, and similarly with the falling of the abdomen. (In other words the rising of the abdomen becomes concurrent with the act of noting it, and similarly with the falling of the abdomen.)
The physical object of attention and the mental act of noting are occurring as a pair. There is in this occurrence no person or individual involved, only this physical object of attention and the mental act of noting occurring as a pair. The yogi will in time actually and personally experience these and falling of the abdomen he will come to distinguish the rising of the abdomen as physical phenomenon and the mental act of noting it as psychological phenomenon; sumultaneous occurrence in pairs of these psycho-physical phenomena.
Thus, with every act of noting, the yogi will come to know for himself clearly that there are only the material quality which is the object of awareness or attention and the mental quality that makes a note of it. This discriminating knowledge is called namarupa-paricheda-nana. It is important to gain this knowledge corredtly. This will be succeeded, as the yogi goes on by the knowledge that distinguishes between the cause and its effect, which knowledge is called paccayapariggaha-nana. As the yogi goes on noting, he will see for himself that wat arises passes away after a short while. Ordinary people assume that both material and mental phenomena go on lasting throughtut life, that is, from youth to adulthood. In fact, that is not so. There is no phenomenon that lasts forever. All phenomena arise and pass away so rapidly that they do not even last the twinkling of an eye. The yogi will come to know this for himself as he goes on nothing. He will then become convinced of the impermanence of all such phenomena. Such conviction is called anicca nupassan-nana.
This knowledge will be succeed by dukkhanupassana-nana which realizes that all this impermanence is suffering. The yogi is also likely to encounter all kinds of hardship in his body, which is just an aggregate of sufferings. This is also dukkhanupassana-nana. Next, the yogi will be come convinced that all these psycho-physical phenomena are occurring on their own accord, following nobody’s will and nobody’s will and subject to nobody’s control. They constitute no individual or ego-entity. This realization is anatta nupassanna nana.
When, as he goes on meditating, the yogi comes to realize firmly that all these phenomena are anicca, dukkha and anatta, he will attain Nibbana. All the former Buddhas, Arahats and Aryas realized Nibbana follwing this very path. All meditating yogis should recognize thatthey themselves are now on this satipatthana path, in fulfilment of their wish for attainment of magga-nana (knowledge of the path), phala-nana (knowledge of the fruition of the path) and Nibbana-dhamma, and following the ripening of their parami perfection of virtue. The should feel glad at this and at the prospect of experiencing the noble kind of samadhi (tranquillity of mind brought abourt by concentration) and nana (supramundane knowledge or wisdom) experienced by the buddhas, Arahats and Aryas and which they themselves have never experience before.
It will bot be long before they will experience for themselves the magga-nana, Phata-nana and Nibbana dhamma experienced by the Buddhas, arahats and Aryas. As a matter of fact, these may be experienced in the space of a month or of twenty or fifteen days of their meditational practice Those whose parami is exceptional may experience these dhammas even within seven days. The yogi should therefore rest content in the faith that he will attain these dhammas in the time specified above, that he will be freed of askka ya-ditthi (ego-belief) and vicikiccha (doubt or uncertainty) and saved from the danger of rebirth in the nether worlds. He should go on with his meditational practice in this faith.
May you all be able to practice meditation well and quickly attain that nibbana wich the Buddhas, Arathats and arayas have experienced.