Practical Insight Meditation - Progressive Practice

Practical Insight Meditation: Progressive Practice #

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Progressive Practice #

When as mentioned above, by dint of diligent practice, mindfulness and concentration have improved, the meditator will notice the pairwise occurrence of an object and the knowing of it, such as the rising and awareness of it, the falling and awareness of it, sitting and awareness of it, bending and awareness of it, stretching and awareness of it, lifting and awareness of it, putting down and awareness of it. Through concentrated attention (mindfulness) he knows how to distinguish each bodily and mental process: “The rising movement is one process; the knowing of it is another.” He realizes that each act of knowing has the nature of “going towards an object.” Such a realization refers to the characteristic function of the mind as inclining towards an object, or cognizing an object. One should know that the more clearly a material object is noticed, the clearer becomes the mental process of knowing it. This fact is stated thus in the Visuddhi Magga:

“For in proportion as materiality becomes quite definite, disentangled and quite clear to him, so the immaterial states that have that materiality as their object become plain of themselves too” (The Path of Purification, translated by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli).

When the meditator comes to know the difference between a bodily process and a mental process, should he be a simple man, he would reflect from direct experience thus: “There is the rising and knowing it; the falling and knowing it, and so on and so forth. There is nothing else besides them. The words ‘man’ or ‘woman’ refer to the same process; there is no ‘person’ or ‘soul’.” Should he be a well-informed man, he would reflect from direct knowledge of the difference between a material process as object and a mental process of knowing it, thus: “It is true that there are only body and mind. Besides them there are none such entities as man or woman. While contemplating one notices a material process as object and a mental process of knowing it; and it is to that pair alone that the terms of conventional usage ‘being,’ ‘person’ or ‘soul,’ ‘man’ or ‘woman’ refer. But apart from that dual process there is no separate person or being, I or another, man or woman. When such reflections occur, the meditator must note “reflecting, reflecting” and go on observing the rising of the abdomen, and its falling.[6]

With further progress in meditation, the conscious state of an intention is evident before a bodily movement occurs. The meditator first notices that intention. Though also at the start of his practice, he does notice “intending, intending” (for instance, to bend an arm), yet he cannot notice that state of consciousness distinctly. Now, at this more advanced stage, he clearly notices the consciousness consisting of the intention to bend. So he notices first the conscious state of an intention to make a bodily movement; then he notices the particular bodily movement. At the beginning, because of omission to notice an intention, he thinks that bodily movement is quicker than the mind knowing it. Now, at this advanced stage, mind appears to be the forerunner. The meditator readily notices the intention of bending, stretching, sitting, standing, going, and so on. He also clearly notices the actual bending, stretching, etc. So he realizes the fact that mind knowing a bodily process is quicker than the material process. He experiences directly that a bodily process takes place after a preceding intention. Again he knows from direct experience that the intensity of heat or cold increases while he is noticing “hot, hot” or “cold,cold.” In contemplating regular and spontaneous bodily movements such as the rising and falling of the abdomen, he notices one after another continuously. He also notices the arising in him of mental images such as the Buddha, an arahat, as well as any kind of sensation that arises in his body (such as itch, ache, heat), with attention directed on the particular spot where the sensation occurs. One sensation has hardly disappeared, then another arises, and he notices them all accordingly. While noticing every object as it arises he is aware that a mental process of knowing depends on an object. Sometimes, the rising and falling of the abdomen is so faint that he finds nothing to notice. Then, it occurs to him that there can be no knowing without an object. When no noticing of the rising and falling is possible one should be aware of sitting and touching or lying and touching. Touching is to be noticed alternatively. For example, after noticing “sitting”, notice the touch sensation at the right foot (caused by its contact with the ground or seat). Then, after noticing “sitting”. notice the touch sensation at the left foot. In the same manner, notice the touch sensation at several places. Again, in noticing seeing, hearing, the meditator comes to know clearly that seeing arises from the contact of eye and visual object and hearing arises from the contact of ear and sound.

Further he reflects: “Material processes of bending, stretching and so on, follow mental processes of intending to bend, stretch and so forth.” He goes on to reflect: “One’s body becomes hot or cold because of the element of heat or cold; the body exists on food and nourishment; consciousness arises because there are objects to notice: seeing arises through visual objects; hearing through sounds, and also because there are the sense organs, eye, ear, etc., as conditioning factors. Intention and noticing result from previous experiences; feelings (sensations) of all kinds are the consequences of previous karma in the sense that material processes and mental processes take place ever since birth because of previous karma. There is nobody to create this body and mind, and all that happens has causal factors.” Such reflections come to the meditator while he is noticing any object as it arises. He does not stop doing so to take time to reflect. While noticing objects as they arise these reflections are so quick that they appear to be automatic. The meditator, then, must note: “Reflecting, reflecting,recognizing, recognizing,” and continue noticing objects as usual. After having reflected that material processes and mental processes being noticed are conditioned by the previous processes of the same nature, the meditator reflects further that body and mind in the former existences were conditioned by the preceding causes, that in the following existences body and mind will result from the same causes, and apart from this dual process there is no separate “being” or “person,” only causes and effects taking place. Such reflections must also be noticed and then contemplation should go on as usual.[7] Such reflections will be many in the case of persons with a strong intellectual bent and less in the case of those with no such bent. Be that as it may, energetic noticing must be made of all these reflections. Noticing them will result in their reduction to a minimum, allowing insight to progress unimpeded by an excess of such reflections. It should be taken for granted that a minimum of reflections will suffice here.

When concentration is practiced in an intensive manner, the meditator may experience almost unbearable sensations, such as itching, aches, heat, dullness and stiffness. If mindful noticing is stopped, such sensations will disappear. When noticing is resumed, they will reappear. Such sensations arise in consequence of the body’s natural sensitivity and are not the symptoms of a disease. If they are noticed with energetic concentration they fade away gradually.

Again, the meditator sometimes sees images of all kinds as if seeing them with his own eyes; for example, the Buddha comes into the scene in glorious radiance; a procession of monks in the sky; pagodas (dagobas) and images of the Buddha; meeting with beloved ones; trees or woods, hills or mountains, gardens, buildings; finding oneself face to face with bloated dead bodies or skeletons; swelling of one’s body, covered with blood, falling into pieces and reduced to a mere skeleton, seeing in one’s body the entrails and vital organs and even germs; seeing the denizens of the hells and heavens. These are nothing but creatures of one’s imagination sharpened by intense concentration. They are similar to what one comes across in dreams. They are not to be welcomed and enjoyed, nor need one be afraid of them. These objects seen in the course of contemplation are not real; they are mere images or imaginations, whereas the mind that sees those objects is a reality. But purely mental processes, unconnected with fivefold sense impressions, cannot easily be noticed with sufficient clarity and detail. Hence principal attention should be given to sense objects which can be noticed easily, and to those mental processes which arise in connection with sense perceptions. So whatever object appears, the meditator shall notice it, saying mentally, “seeing, seeing” until it disappears. It will either move away, fade away or break asunder. At the outset, this will take several noticings, say about five to ten. But when insight develops, the object will disappear after a couple of noticings. However, if the meditator wishes to enjoy the sight, or to look closely into the matter, or gets scared of it, then it is likely to linger on. If the object be one induced deliberately, then through delight it will last a long time. So care must be taken not to think of or incline towards extraneous matters while one’s concentration is good. If such thoughts come in, they must be instantly noticed and dispelled. In the case of some persons they experience no extraordinary objector feelings and, while contemplating as usual, become lazy. They must notice this laziness thus: “lazy, lazy”, until they overcome it. At this stage, whether or not the meditators come across extraordinary objects or feelings they know clearly the initial, the intermediate and the final phases of every noticing. At the beginning of the practice, while noticing one object, they had to switch onto a different object that arose, but they did not notice clearly the disappearance of the previous object. Now, only after cognizing the disappearance of an object, they notice the new object that arises. Thus they have a clear knowledge of the initial, the intermediate and the final phases of the object noticed.

At this stage when the meditator becomes more practiced he perceives in every act of noticing that an object appears suddenly and disappears instantly. His perception is so clear that he reflects thus: “All comes to an end; all disappears. Nothing is permanent; it is truly impermanent.” His reflection is quite in line with what is stated in the Commentary to the Pāḷi Text: “All is impermanent, in the sense of destruction, nonexistence after having been.” He reflects further: “It is through ignorance that we enjoy life. But in truth, there is nothing to enjoy. There is a continuous arising and disappearing by which we are harassed ever and anon. This is dreadful indeed. At any moment we may die and everything is sure to come to an end. This universal impermanence is truly frightful and terrible.” His reflection agrees with the commentarial statement: “What is permanent is painful, painful in the sense of terror; painful because of oppression by rise and fall.” Again, experiencing severe pains he reflects thus: “All is pain, all is bad.” This reflection agrees with what the Commentary states: “He looks on pain as a barb; as a boil; as a dart.” He further reflects: “This is a mass of suffering, suffering that is unavoidable. Arising and disappearing, it is worthless. One cannot stop its process. It is beyond one’s power. It takes its natural course.” This reflection is quite in agreement with the Commentary; “What is painful is not self, not self in the sense of having no core, because there is no exercising of power over it.” The meditator must notice all these reflections and go on contemplating as usual.

Having thus seen the three characteristics by direct experience, the meditator, by inference from the direct experience of the objects noticed, comprehends all the objects not yet noticed as being impermanent, subject to suffering, and without a self.

In respect of objects not personally experienced, he concludes: ‘They too are constituted in the same way: impermanent, painful and without a self.” This is an inference from his present direct experience. Such a comprehension is not clear enough in the case of one with less intellectual capacity or limited knowledge who pays no attention to a reflection but simply goes on noticing objects. But such a comprehension occurs often to one who yields to reflection, which, in some cases, may occur at every act of noticing. Such excessive reflecting, however, is an impediment to the progress of insight. Even if no such reflections occur at this stage, comprehension will nevertheless become increasingly clear at the higher stages. Hence, no attention should be given to reflections. While giving more attention to the bare noticing of objects, the meditator must, however, also notice these reflections if they occur, but he should not dwell on them.[8]

After comprehending the three characteristics, the meditator no longer reflects but goes on with noticing those bodily and mental objects which present themselves continuously. Then at the moment when the five mental faculties, namely, faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and knowledge, are properly balanced, the mental process of noticing accelerates as if it becomes uplifted, and the bodily and mental processes to be noticed also arise much quicker. In a moment of in-breathing the rising of the abdomen presents itself in quick succession, and the falling also becomes correspondingly quicker. Quick succession is also evident in the process of bending and stretching. Slight movements are felt spreading all over the body. In several cases, prickly sensations and itching appear in quick succession momentarily. By and large, these are feelings hard to bear. The meditator cannot possibly keep pace with that quick succession of varied experiences if he attempts to notice them by name. Noticing has here to be done in a general manner, but with mindfulness. At this stage one need not try to notice details of the objects arising in quick succession,but one should notice them generally. If one wishes to name them, a collective designation will be sufficient. If one attempts to follow them in a detailed manner, one will get tired soon. The important thing is to notice clearly and to comprehend what arises. At this stage, the usual contemplation focused on a few selected objects should be set aside and mindful noticing should attend to every object that arises at the six sense doors. Only when one is not keen on this sort of noticing, then one should revert to the usual contemplation.

Bodily and mental processes are many times swifter than a wink of an eye or a flash of lightning. Yet, if the meditator goes on simply noticing these processes he can fully comprehend them as they happen. Then mindfulness becomes very strong. As a result, mindfulness seems as if plunging into an object that arises. The object too seems as if alighting on mindfulness. One comprehends each object clearly and singly. Therefore the meditator then believes: “Bodily and mental processes are very swift indeed. They are as fast as a machine or an engine. And yet, they all can be noticed and comprehended. Perhaps there is nothing more to know. What is to be known has been known.” He believes so because he knows by direct experience what he has not even dreamt of before.

Again, as a result of insight, a brilliant light will appear to the meditator. There arises also in him rapture, causing “goose flesh,” falling of tears, tremor in the limbs. It produces in him a subtle thrill and exhilaration. He feels as if on a swing. He even wonders whether he is just giddy. Then, there arises tranquility of mind and along with it appears mental agility. When sitting, lying, walking or standing, he feels quite at ease. Both body and mind are agile in functioning swiftly, they are pliant in being able to attend to any object desired; they are wieldy in being able to attend to an object for any length of time desired. One is free from stiffness, heat or pain. Insight penetrates objects with ease. Mind becomes sound and straight, and one wishes to avoid all evil. Through firm faith, mind is very bright. At times, when there is no object to be noticed, the mind remains tranquil for a long time. There arise in him thoughts like these: “Verily, the Buddha is omniscient. Truly, the body-and-mind processes is impermanent, painful and without self.” While noticing objects he comprehends lucidly the three characteristics. He wishes to advise others to practice meditation. Free from sloth and torpor, his energy is neither lax nor tense. There also arises in him equanimity associated with insight. His happiness exceeds his former experiences. So he wishes to communicate his feelings and experiences to others. There arises further a subtle attachment of a calm nature that enjoys the insight associated with the brilliant light, mindfulness and rapture. He comes to believe it to be just the bliss of meditation.

The meditator should not reflect on these happenings. As each arises, he should notice them accordingly: “Brilliant light, faith, rapture, tranquility, happiness and so on."[9] When there is brightness, one should notice it as “bright”, until it disappears. Similar acts of noticing should be made in the other cases too. When brilliant light appears, at the beginning one tends to forget noticing and enjoys seeing the light. Even if the meditator applies mindful noticing to the light, it will be mixed with feelings of rapture and happiness, and it is likely to linger on. However, one later gets used to such phenomena and one will continue to notice them clearly until they disappear. Sometimes the light is so brilliant that one finds it difficult to make it vanish by the mere act of noticing it mindfully. Then one should cease to pay attention to it and turn energetically to the noticing of any object that arises in one’s body. The meditator should not ponder as to whether the light is still there. If he does so, he is likely to see it. If such a thought arises, he should disperse it by vigorously directing his attention to that very thought. While concentration is intense, not only a brilliant light but also several other extraordinary objects arise and may continue if one inclines to one or the other of them. If such inclination happens to arise, the meditator must notice it quickly. In some cases, even if there is no such inclination towards any object in particular, faint objects appear one after the other like at rain of railway carriages. The meditator should then respond to such visual images simply by “seeing, seeing”, and each object will disappear. When the meditator’s insight becomes weaker, the objects may become more distinct. Then, each of them must be noticed until the whole train of objects disappears finally.

One must recognize the fact that cherishing an inclination towards such phenomena as a brilliant light, and being attached to them, is a wrong attitude. The correct response that is in conformity with the path of insight is to notice these objects mindfully and with detachment until they disappear.[10] When the meditator continues to apply mindfulness to body-and-mind, his insight will grow in clarity. He will come to perceive more distinctly the arising and disappearing of the bodily and mental processes. He will come to know that each object arises at one place and on the very place it disappears. He will know that the previous occurrence is one thing and the succeeding occurrence is another. So, at every act of noticing, he comprehends the characteristics of impermanence, painfulness and egolessness. After thus contemplating for a considerable time, he may come to believe: “This is surely the best that can be attained. It can’t be better.” He becomes so satisfied with his progress that he is likely to pause and relax. He should, however, not relax at this stage, but go ahead with his practice of noticing the bodily and mental processes continuously for a still longer time.[11]

With the improvement of practice and when knowledge becomes more mature, the arising of the objects is no longer apparent to the meditator; he notices only their ceasing. They pass away swiftly. So also do the mental processes of noticing them. For instance, while noticing the rising of the abdomen, that movement vanishes in no time. And in the same manner vanishes the mental process of noticing that movement. Thus it will be clearly known to the meditator that both the rising and the noticing vanish immediately, one after another. The same applies in the case of the falling of the abdomen, of sitting, bending or stretching of an arm or leg, stiffness in the limbs, and so on. The noticing of an object and the knowledge of its ceasing occur in quick succession. Some meditators perceive distinctly three phases: noticing an object, its ceasing, and the passing away of the consciousness that cognizes that ceasing—all in quick succession. However, it is sufficient to know, in pairwise sequence, the dissolution of an object and the passing away of the consciousness of noticing that dissolution.

When a meditator can clearly notice these pairs uninterruptedly, the particular features such as body, head, hand, leg are no longer apparent to him, and there appears to him the idea that everything is ceasing and vanishing. At this stage he is likely to feel that his contemplation is not up to the mark. But in fact, it is not so. Mind as a rule takes delight in dwelling on the sight of particular features and forms. Because of their absence, mind is wanting in satisfaction. As a matter of fact, it is the manifestation of the progress of insight. At the beginning, it is features that are clearly noticed first, but now their ceasing is noticed first, because of the progress. Only on repeated reflection, features appear again, but if they are not noticed the fact of dissolution reappears to remain. So one comes to know by direct experience the truth of the wise saying: “When a name or designation arises, a reality lies hidden; when a reality reveals itself, a name or designation disappears.”

When the meditator notices the objects clearly, he thinks that his noticings are not close enough. In fact, the insight is so swift and clear that he comes to know even the momentary subconsciousness in between the processes of cognition. He intends to do something, for instance, bending or stretching an arm, and he readily notices that intention which thereby tends to fade away, with the result that he cannot bend or stretch for sometime. In that event, he should switch his attention to contemplating the occurrences at one of the six sense doors.

If the meditator extends his contemplation over the whole body, as usual, beginning with the noticing of the rising and the falling of the abdomen, he will soon gain momentum, and then he should continue noticing touching and knowing, or seeing and knowing, or hearing and knowing and so on, as one or the other occurs. While so doing, if he feels that he is either restless or tired, then he should revert to noticing the rising and falling of the abdomen. After some time, when he gains momentum, he should notice any object that arises in the whole body.

When he can contemplate well in such a spread out manner, even if he does not notice an object with vigor, he knows what he hears fades away, what he sees dissolves in broken parts, with no continuation between them. This is seeing things as they really are. Some meditators do not see clearly what is happening because the vanishing is so swift that they feel their eyesight is getting poorer or they are giddy. It is not so. They are simply lacking the power of cognition to notice what happens before and after, with the result that they do not see the features or forms. At such a time, they should relax and stop contemplating. But the bodily and mental processes continue to appear to them, and consciousness, of its own accord, continues to notice them. The meditator may decide to sleep, but he does not fall asleep; and yet he remains fit and alert. He need not worry about the loss of sleep, because on this account he will not feel unwell or fall ill. He should go ahead with noticing energetically and he will feel that his mind is quite capable to perceive the objects fully and clearly.

When engaged in noticing continuously both the dissolution of the objects and the act of knowing it, he reflects: “Even for the wink of an eye or a flash of lightning nothing lasts. One did not realize this before. A sit ceased and vanished in the past so will it cease and vanish in the future.” One must notice such a reflection.[12] Besides, in the midst of contemplations, the meditator is likely to have an awareness of tearfulness. He reflects: “One enjoys life, not knowing the truth. Now that one knows the truth of continuous dissolution it is truly fearful. At every moment of dissolution one can die. The beginning of this life itself is fearful. So are the endless repetitions of the arisings. Fearful it is to feel that in the absence of real features and forms the arisings appear to be real. So are the efforts to arrest the changing phenomena for the sake of well-being and happiness. To be reborn is fearful in that it will be a recurrence of objects that are ceasing and vanishing always. Fearful indeed it is to be old, to die, to experience sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.” Such reflection should be noticed and then dismissed.

Then the meditator sees nothing to depend on and becomes as it were weakened in mind as well as in body. He is seized with dejection. He is no longer bright and spirited. But he should not despair. This condition of his is a sign of the progress of insight. It is nothing more than being unhappy at the awareness of fearfulness. He must notice such a reflection and as he continues to notice objects as they arise, one after another, this unhappy feeling will disappear soon. However, if he fails to contemplate for some time, then grief will assert itself and fear will overpower him. This kind of fear is not associated with insight. Therefore, care must be taken to prevent the oncoming of such undesirable fear by energetic contemplation.[13]

Again in the midst of noticing objects, he is likely to find faults, in this manner: “This body-and-mind process, being impermanent, is unsatisfactory. It was not a good thing to have been born. It is not good either to continue in existence. It is disappointing to see the appearance of seemingly definite features and forms of objects while in fact they are not realities. It is in vain that one makes efforts to seek well-being and happiness. Birth is not desirable. Dreadful are old age, death, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.” A reflection of this nature must like-wise be noticed.[14]

Then, one tends to feel that body-and-mind as the object and the consciousness of noticing it are very crude, low or worthless. By noticing their arising and disappearing he gets sick of them. He might see his own body decaying and decomposing. He looks upon it as being very fragile.

At this stage, while the meditator is noticing all that arises in his body and mind he is getting disgusted with it. Although he cognizes clearly their dissolution by a series of good noticings he is no longer alert and bright. His contemplation is associated with disgust. So he becomes lazy to contemplate. But nevertheless he cannot refrain from contemplating. For example, it is like one who feels disgusted at every step when he has to walk on a muddy and dirty path and yet he cannot stop going. He cannot help but go on. At this time, he sees the human abode as being subject to the process of dissolution, and he does not relish the prospect of being reborn as a human being, man or woman, king or multimillionaire. He has the same feelings towards the celestial abodes.[15]

When through this knowledge he feels disgusted with regard to every formation noticed, there will arise in him a desire to forsake these formations or be delivered from them.[16] Seeing, hearing, touching, reflecting, standing, sitting, bending, stretching, noticing—he wishes to get rid of them all. He should notice this wishing. He now longs for the liberation from bodily and mental processes. He reflects: “Every time I notice them, I am meeting with repetitions, which are all bad. I had better stop noticing them.” He should take notice of such a reflection.

Some meditators, when so reflecting, actually stop noticing the formations. Although they do so, the formations do not stop taking place, namely, rising, falling, bending, stretching, intending and so on. They go on as ever. Noticing of the distinct formations also continues. So, reflecting thus, he feels pleased: “Although I stop noticing the body-and-mind, formations are taking place all the same. They are arising, and consciousness of them is there, by itself. So liberation from them cannot be achieved by mere stopping to notice them. They cannot be forsaken in this way. Noticing them as usual, the three characteristics of life will be fully comprehended and then no heed being given to them, equanimity will be gained. The end of these formations, nirvana, will be realized. Peace and bliss will come.” So reflecting with delight, he continues to notice the formations. In the case of those meditators who are not capable of reflecting in this way, they continue their meditation once they become satisfied with the explanation of their teachers.

Soon after continuing meditation they gain momentum and at that time usually various painful feelings arise in some cases. This need not cause despair. It is only the manifestation of the characteristic inherent in this mass of suffering, as stated in the Commentary thus: “Seeing the five aggregates as painful, as a disease, a boil, as a dart, a calamity, an affliction, etc.” If such painful feelings are not experienced, one of the forty characteristics of impermanence, suffering or no-self[17] will be apparent at every noticing. Although the meditator is properly noticing he feels that he is not doing well. He thinks that the consciousness of noticing and the object noticed are not close enough. This is because he is too eager to comprehend fully the nature of the three characteristics. Not satisfied with his contemplation he changes his posture often. While sitting, he thinks he will do better walking. While walking he wants to resume sitting. After he has sat down he changes the position of his limbs. He wants to go to another place; he wants to lie down. Although he makes these changes he cannot remain long in one particular position. Again, he becomes restless. But he should not despair. All this happens because he has come to realize the true nature of the formations, and also because he has not yet acquired the “knowledge of equanimity about formations.” He is doing well and yet he feels otherwise. He should try to adhere to one posture, and he will find that he is comfortable in that posture. Continuing to notice the formations energetically, his mind will gradually become composed and bright. In the end his restless feelings will disappear totally.[18]

When the “knowledge of equanimity about formations” becomes mature, the mind will be very clear and able to notice the formations very lucidly. Noticing runs smoothly as if no effort is required. Subtle formations, too, are noticed without effort. The true characteristics of impermanence, pain and no-self are becoming evident without any reflection. Attention is directed to a particular spot at any part of the body wherever a sensation occurs, but the feeling of touch is as smooth as that of cotton. Sometimes, the objects to be noticed in the whole body are so many that noticing has to be accelerated. Both body and mind appear to be pulling upwards. The objects being noticed become sparse and one can notice them easily and calmly. Sometimes the bodily formations disappear altogether leaving only the mental formations. Then the meditator will experience within himself a feeling of rapture as if enjoying a shower of tiny particles of water. He is also suffused with serenity. He might also see brightness like a clear sky. These marked experiences, however, do not influence him excessively. He is not overjoyed. But he still enjoys them. He must notice this enjoyment. He must also notice rapture, serenity and bright light. If they do not vanish when being noticed, he should pay no heed to them and notice any other object that arises.

At this stage he becomes satisfied with the knowledge that there is no I, mine, he or his, and that only formations arise; formations only, are cognizing formations. He also finds delight in noticing the objects one after another. He is not tired of noticing the objects one after another. He is not tired of noticing them for a long time. He is free from painful feelings. So whatever posture he chooses he can retain it long. Either sitting or lying he can go on contemplating for two or three hours without experiencing any discomfort, spending his time tirelessly. Intending to contemplate for a while, he may go on for two or three hours. Even after that time his posture is as firm as before.

At times formations arise swiftly and he is noticing them well. Then he may become anxious as to what would happen to him. He should notice such an anxiety. He feels he is doing well. He should notice this feeling. He looks forward to the progress of insight. He should notice this anticipation. He should notice steadily whatever arises. He should not put forth a special effort nor relax. In some cases, because of the anxiety, joy, attachment or anticipation, noticing becomes lax and retrogressive. Some who think that the goal is very near contemplate with great energy. While doing so, noticing becomes lax and retrogression sets in. This happens because a restless mind cannot concentrate properly on formations. So when noticing is in good swing the meditator must go on steadily; that means he should neither relax nor put forth special effort. If he does go on steadily, he will rapidly gain insight into the end of all the formations and realize nirvana. In the case of some meditators, they may, at this stage, rise higher and again fall several times. They should not give way to despair but instead hold fast to determination. Heed must be paid also to noticing whatever arises at all the six sense doors. However, when noticing is going on smoothly and calmly, contemplation in such a spread out manner is not possible. So this manner of noticing should begin with the gaining of the momentum in contemplation until it becomes smooth and calm.

If the meditator begins either with the rising and falling of the abdomen or with any other bodily and mental object, he will find that he is gaining momentum. And then the noticing will go on of its own accord smoothly and calmly. It will appear to him that he is watching with ease the ceasing and vanishing of the formations in a clear manner. At this point, his mind is quite free from all the defilements. However pleasant and inviting an object may be, it is no longer so to him. Again, however loathsome an object may be, it is no longer so to him. He simply sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels a touch or cognizes. With six kinds of equanimity described in the Texts he notices all the formations. He is not even aware of the length of time he is engaged in contemplation. Nor does he reflect in any manner. But if he does not develop sufficient progress of insight to gain the “knowledge of the path and its fruition " (magga and phala) within two or three hours, concentration becomes slack and reflection sets in. On the other hand, if he is making good progress he may anticipate further advance. He will become so delighted with the result that he will experience a fall. Then he must dispel such an anticipation or reflection by directing bare noticing to it. A steady contemplation will achieve smooth progress again. But if sufficient strength of insight has not yet been achieved, concentration becomes slack again. In this way, some meditators progress and fall back several times. Those who are acquainted with the stages of the progress of insight by way of study (or by hearing about them) encounter such ups and downs. Hence it is not good for a pupil who meditates under the guidance of a teacher to get acquainted with these stages before meditation begins. But for the benefit of those who have to practice without the guidance of an experienced teacher, these stages have been indicated here.

In spite of such fluctuations in his progress the meditator must not allow himself to be overcome by disappointment or despair. He is now, as it were, at the threshold of magga and phala (the entry and the fruition of the stages of sainthood). As soon as the five faculties (indriya) of faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom are developed in an even manner, he will soon reach magga and phala and realize nirvana.

How Nirvana is Realized #

The ups and downs of insight knowledge occurring in the aforesaid manner are comparable to a bird let loose from a sea-going ship. In ancient times the captain of a sea-going ship, finding it difficult to know whether the ship was approaching land, released a bird that he had taken with him. The bird flies in all four directions to look for a shore. Whenever it cannot find any land, it comes back to the ship. As long as insight knowledge is not mature enough to grow into path and fruition knowledge and thereby attain to the realization of nirvana, it becomes lax and retarded, just as the bird returns to the ship. When the bird sees land, it flies on in that direction without returning to the ship. Similarly, when insight knowledge is mature, on having become keen, strong and lucid, it will understand one of the formations, at one of the six sense doors, as being impermanent or painful or without self. That act of noticing any one characteristic out of the three which has a higher degree of lucidity and strength in its perfect understanding, becomes faster and manifests itself three or four times in rapid succession. Immediately after the last consciousness in this series of accelerated noticing has ceased, magga and phala (path and fruition) arises, realizing nirvana, the cessation of all formations.

The acts of noticing are now more lucid than the previous ones immediately before the realization. After the last act of noticing, the cessation of the formations and realization of nirvana become manifest. That is why those who have realized nirvana would say:

The objects noticed and the consciousness noticing them cease altogether; or, the objects and the acts of noticing are cut off as a vine is cut by a knife; or, the objects and acts of noticing fall off as if one is relieved of a heavy load; or, the objects and acts of noticing break away as if something one is holding breaks asunder; or, the objects and acts of noticing are suddenly freed as if from a prison; or, the objects and acts of noticing are blown off as if a candle is suddenly extinguished; or, they disappear as if darkness is suddenly replaced by light; or, they are released as if freed from an embroilment; or, they sink as if in water, or abruptly stop as if a person running were stopped by a violent push; or,they cease altogether.

The duration of realizing the cessation of formations is, however, not long. It is so short that it lasts just for an instant of noticing. Then the meditator reviews what has occurred. He knows that the cessation of the material processes noticed and the mental processes noticing them is the realization of maggaphala-nirvana. Those who are well-informed know that the cessation of the formations is nirvana, and the realization of cessation and bliss is maggaphala. They would say inwardly: “I have now realized nirvana and have attained sotāpatti maggaphala.“Such a clear knowledge is evident to one who has studied the scriptures or heard sermons on this subject .[19]

Some meditators review defilements—those already abandoned and those remaining to be abandoned. After having reviewed in this way, they still continue the practice of noticing bodily and mental processes. While doing so, the bodily and mental processes, however, appear to be coarse. Both the arising and the passing away of the processes are clearly evident to the meditator. And yet the meditator now feels as if his noticing is lax and has regressed. As a matter of fact he has come back to the knowledge of arising and passing away. It is true, his noticing has become lax and regressed. Because he has come back to this stage, he is likely to see bright lights or shapes of objects. In some cases, this reversion results in unbalanced contemplation in that the objects noticed and acts of noticing do not go together. Some meditators experience slight pain for a while. By and large, the meditators notice that their mental processes are clear and bright. At this stage, the meditator feels that his mind is absolutely free from any encumbrance; he feels happily unhindered. In such a frame of mind he cannot notice the mental process, and even if he does so, he cannot notice it distinctly. He cannot think of any other thing either. He simply feels bright and blissful. When this feeling loses its vigor he can again notice the bodily and mental processes and know their arising and passing away clearly. After some time he reaches the stage where he can notice the formations smoothly and calmly. Then, if the insight knowledge is mature, he can again attain to the “knowledge of the cessation of the formations.” If the power of concentration is keen and firm, then such knowledge can repeat itself frequently. In these times, the object of the meditators is to attain to the knowledge of the first magga-phala, and consequently they regain that knowledge repeatedly. Thus far has been described the method of meditation, the progressive stages of insight knowledge and the realization of sotapatti magga-phala.

One who has attained the knowledge of path and fruition is aware of the distinct change of his temperament and mental attitude and feels that his life has changed. His faith or trustful confidence in the three sacred gems becomes very strong and firm. Due to this strengthened faith he also gains in rapture and serenity. There arises in him a spontaneous upsurge of happiness. Because of these ecstatic experiences he cannot notice the objects in a distinct manner although he endeavors to do so right after the attainment of maggaphala. However, these experiences wane gradually after some hours or days, and he will then be able again to notice the formations distinctly. In some cases, the meditators, having attained magga-phala, feel relieved of a great burden, free and easy, and do not wish to go on contemplating. Their object, the attainment of magga-phala, has been achieved and their hearts’ content is understandable.

Fruition Knowledge (phala-ñana) #

If one who has attained magga-phala wishes to attain the knowledge of fruition (phala-ñana) and nirvana once again, he must direct his mind towards that goal and again attend to noticing mindfully the bodily and mental processes. In the course of insight meditation it is but natural that “analytical knowledge of body and mind” appears first to a worldling (puthujjana) and “knowledge of arising and passing away” appears first to a noble person (ariya). Therefore, a meditator at this stage, conscious of the bodily and mental processes, will forthwith achieve the “knowledge of arising and passing away”, followed soon by the other progressive stages of insight, up to the “knowledge of equanimity about formations”. When this knowledge matures, the cessation of formations, nirvana, is reached with the resultant “knowledge of fruition”. This knowledge lasts just a moment to one who has not previously made a resolve on its duration; but it may sometimes last a little longer. But in the case of those who had made a prior resolve on its duration, the “knowledge of fruition” lasts longer, say the whole day or night,or as long as the time resolved, as stated in the Commentaries. Likewise, in these days, in the case of those immersed in concentration and insight, fruition lasts an hour, two hours, three hours, and so on. Fruition knowledge comes to an end only when the meditator wishes to terminate it. Nevertheless, during a period of fruition knowledge, lasting an hour or two, reflective moments sometimes arise, but they disappear after four or five noticings, and fruition knowledge recurs. In some cases, fruition knowledge lasts for several hours, without any interruption. While fruition knowledge lasts, consciousness is absolutely set upon the cessation of formations known by the designation of nirvana. Nirvana is a dharma entirely liberated from the bodily and mental process and all mundane notions. Therefore, during the experiencing of fruition knowledge there arises no awareness of one’s bodily and mental processes and of this world, nor of another mundane sphere. One is absolutely free from the entire mundane sphere. One is absolutely free from all mundane knowledge and inclinations. There are around him all objects to see, hear, smell or touch, but he is not aware of them at all. His posture is firm. If bliss of fruition knowledge comes while he is sitting, his sitting posture remains firm, as firm as before, without bending or sagging. However, when the process of fruition knowledge comes to an end there arises at once in him the awareness of thoughts relating to the cessation of the formations or the objects of sight, hearing, etc. Then the normal contemplation returns or buoyant feeling or reflection. At the beginning the formations appear to him to be coarse and his noticings are not vigorous enough. But in the case of those who are strong in insight, their contemplation runs as smoothly as ever.

A note of warning may be given here. The meditator should make a prior resolve on the speedy entrance into fruition knowledge and the duration of it. He should not turn his attention to a resolve once he has started to notice the bodily and mental processes. Before the maturity of insight is achieved, while he is doing very well in noticing the formations, he may experience “goose-flesh,” yawning, trembling and sobbing, and lose the momentum of contemplation. While the acts of noticing are gaining strength, he may look forward to the goal and thereby loosen the grip on his contemplation. But he should not think of anything else than his contemplation and if he does so unwittingly, he must notice the extraneous thought. Some attain to fruition knowledge only after several losses of the momentum in their acts of noticing. If one’s concentration is weak, then the entry into fruition knowledge is slow, and when it comes it does not last long. This is a description of the process of fruition knowledge.

Reviewing #

Some of the meditators pass through the stages of the knowledge of fearfulness, misery, disgust, desire of deliverance and consequently have no clear view of them. So, one wishing to review them should review each of them for a fixed time. For example, for half an hour or one hour one should pay heed only to the arising and passing away of the objects, with a resolve on the knowledge of arising and passing away. During that period the knowledge of arising and passing away remains intact, and there will be no further progress of insight. However, when that period expires, knowledge of dissolution arises by itself. If it does not arise by itself, then heed must be given to dissolution with a resolve that knowledge of dissolution stays on for a certain length of time. During that period what has been resolved will occur. On the expiration of the time fixed, the next higher knowledge will arise by itself. If it does not, he should aspire to the knowledge of fearfulness associated with fearful objects. Then knowledge of fearfulness will come together with fearful objects. Then he should turn his attention to miserable objects and knowledge of misery will arise very soon. When the mind is directed to disgusting objects it will give rise to knowledge of disgust. Getting disgusted with every noticing, knowledge of disgust will set in. The next stage must then be thought of: knowledge of desire for deliverance. Seized with an ardent desire to be delivered from the formations, he should aspire to the relevant knowledge, and soon that knowledge will come, after some effort. When one inclines towards the next higher stage, one will experience pains, wish to change postures and become disturbed by a feeling of dissatisfaction, but will gain know-ledge of reobservation. Then, the meditator must turn his mind to the knowledge of equanimity. The momentum of contemplation will go on until there arises smoothly the knowledge of reobservation. In this way, one will find that during the stipulated time, while one is noticing, the particular knowledge one aspires to arises and on its expiration the next higher knowledge arises as if it were a barometric rise. If a review of the above-mentioned knowledges is not yet satisfactory, it should be repeated until one is satisfied. To a very ardent meditator the progress is so very swift that he may reach the stage of knowledge of equanimity about formations in a few moments, as also the stage of fruition knowledge. One who is well matured in the practice can attain to fruition knowledge while walking or having a meal.

How to Attain to the Higher Paths (Maggas) #

When the meditator gets full satisfaction from the exercises to attain speedily the fruition knowledge of the first path, as also to abide therein for a long time, he should strive to attain to a higher path. He must then make an ardent wish in this manner, having determined a definite period for striving: “During this period I do not wish to experience the fruition knowledge. May there be no recurrence of that knowledge! May I attain to the higher path, the path I have not yet attained! May I reach that goal!” With this ardent wish, he should, as usual, notice the bodily and mental processes. The advantage of the determination of a definite period is that he can easily attain again the fruition knowledge of the path already acquired, if he so wishes. If no such time limit is made, and one goes on striving to attain to the higher path, then it will no longer be possible for him to attain again the fruition knowledge of the lower path. In that event, if one finds that he cannot as yet attain to the higher path nor go back to the fruition knowledge of the lower path, he will be disturbed by a feeling of dissatisfaction and disappointment. The advantage of abandoning the wish for re-attaining the already attained fruition knowledge is the non attainment of the knowledge during the particular period, and if there is maturity of insight, one can attain to the higher path. If the wish is not fully abandoned, then the previous fruition knowledge may set in again. Therefore, full abandonment of the wish is called for during the definite period. When one begins the contemplation with a view to attaining the higher path, the progress of insight will begin with knowledge of arising and passing away. Then the progress of insight is not similar to that one makes while striving for the recurrence of fruition knowledge, but the same as the progress one makes in practicing contemplation for the lower path. Brilliant light or shapes may appear as in the case of the earlier stage of knowledge of arising and passing away. One may experience pain. Distinct arising and passing away of the bodily and mental processes occurs. Although it does not take long to regain the “knowledge of equanimity about formations” while one is contemplating for the recurrence of fruition knowledge, now if insight does not mature one will have to remain long at the stages of lower knowledges. However, no difficulty will confront the meditator as in the case of his contemplation for the lower path. It is possible that he may attain to one knowledge after another up to “knowledge of equanimity about formations” in a day’s time. The mental process of knowledge is much more lucid, distinct and broad. Much keener are his experiences of fearfulness, misery, disgust, desire for deliverance from the ills of the mundane spheres. Formerly, although it was possible to attain fruition knowledge four or five times in an hour, now, if insight is not yet mature for the higher path, “knowledge of equanimity about formations” goes on. Possibly it may last from a day to months or years. On the maturity of insight, distinct noticings of the formations having appeared, the realization of the cessation of the formations comes with the attainment of the higher path and fruition. Then will come to him the “knowledge of reviewing.” He will later return to the stage of “knowledge of arising and passing away” with a very clear mental process. This is the description of the progress of insight leading to the attainment of sakadāgāmi magga, the path of the once-returner.

Again, if one ardently wishes to attain to the third path, anāgāmi magga, one must again decide on a definite period during which one abandons fully the desire for returning to the fruition knowledge of the previous path. Then one resolves thus: “May only the progress of insight relating to the higher path come. May I attain the higher path and fruition.” And he must begin contemplating on body and mind as usual. He begins with “knowledge of arising and passing away”, but soon he will attain the higher knowledges one after the other up to “knowledge of equanimity about formations.” If insight is not yet mature, then that knowledge will linger on. When it matures, then it will reach the cessation of formations and with it the knowledge of the third path and fruition. This is the description of the attainment of the third path and fruition, of the anagami or non returner.

One who aspires to the fourth and final path and fruition, that of sainthood (arahatta magga and phala), must fix a period and give up all desire to re-attain to the fruition knowledge of the third path. Then he must begin to contemplate the bodily and mental processes as usual. This is the only way, as stated in the Satipatthana Sutra. Beginning with “knowledge of arising and passing away, soon “knowledge of equanimity about formations” will be attained. If insight is not yet mature, it will tarry. When it does mature, then the meditator will attain to the cessation of formations with the realization of the final arahatta magga.

In the foregoing paragraphs, the words to the effect that the progress of insight will end up in the realization of the knowledge of the paths and fruitions (magga-phala-nana) refer only to those who have gained maturity in the fulfillment of pāramitas (perfections). Those who have not yet developed pāramitas fully will come to a standstill at the “knowledge of equanimity about formations.” An important point to be noted is that, although the person who has attained the first path is likely to attain the second path soon with comparative ease, he will find it difficult to reach the third path for a long time. The reason is that both of the attainers of the first path and the second path are well practiced in the observance of virtue (sīla) or, in other words, they are the paragons of virtue. In the case of the attainer of the third path, he must have also fully developed concentration (samādhi). Therefore, he is not able to attain the third path easily in that he has to strive hard to develop concentration. Be that as it may, without utmost effort to develop one’s powers, nobody can possibly know whether he is able to attain this path or that path. In some cases, the attainment, of a path comes only after along time, and because one has to strive that long it must not be assumed that one has not yet fully developed pāramitas. Again, the present effort can lead to the fulfillment of pāramitas, getting nearer to maturity. So, one should not waste one’s time by weighing in his mind the matter of one’s having the pāramitas or not.

The meditator should bear in mind the following undeniable point and put forth utmost effort to achieve his aspiration.

Even the development of pāramitas is not possible without effort. Granted that one has fully developed pāramitas, he cannot possibly attain any path without effort. Such a person can attain a path easily and speedily if he puts forth effort. If he has developed pāramitas to an appreciable extent, his effort will lead to its maturity and consequently he can attain the path he aspires to. At the least, he has sown potent seeds for the harvest of a path in the next existence.

Advice #

In these times those who are most ardent and keen to work for their own deliverance from the ills of the world and the attainment of magga-phala-nirvana, which is the highest goal of vipassanā (insight) meditation, they will be well advised to practice by the aforesaid way the contemplations of body, feeling, consciousness and mental objects, called otherwise satipaññhāna meditation. It is, in fact, a “must” for them.

A Special Note #

The technique of insight meditation outlined in this treatise is quite sufficient for persons of fair intelligence. Such persons, having read it, should practice these contemplations with firm faith, keen desire and great diligence, in a methodical manner, and they can be sure of progress. It must, however, be pointed out that the details of the experiences and the progressive stages of insight gone through by meditators cannot possibly be described in full in this short treatise. There still remains much that is worthy of description. On the other hand, what has been described here is not experienced in toto by every meditator. There are bound to be differences according to one’s capabilities and pāramitas. Again, one’s faith, desire and diligence do not remain constant always. Furthermore, a meditator, having no instructor and being entirely dependent on book knowledge, will be as cautious and hesitant as a traveler who has never been on a particular journey. Therefore, it is obviously not very easy for such a person to attain the paths, fruitions and nirvana (magga-phala-nirvana) if he goes on striving without a teacher to guide and encourage him. This being so, one who is really keen to meditate until he attains his goal, magga-phala-nirvana, must find out a teacher who is fully qualified by his own attainments to guide him all along the way from the lowest stage of insight to the highest knowledges of path, fruition and reviewing. This advice is quite in accord With what is stated in the Nidāna Vagga, Samyutta Nikāya: “A teacher should be sought for knowledge about decay and death as it really is.” Should anybody be obsessed with pride—“I am an extraordinary man. Why should I learn from anyone?"—he will be well advised to do away with such pride, as Potthila Mahathera did.

In the course of contemplation, bearing in mind the following advice of the Buddha, one should go all out to win the goal.

No slacker nor the man of puny strength

May win nirvana, freedom from all ill.

And this young brother, yea, this peerless man

Bears the last burden, Mara’s conqueror.

(The Book of Kindred Sayings)

6. The preceding section describes the "analytical knowledge of body and mind" (nama-rupa-pariccheda-nana), belonging to the "Purification of View."

7. The preceding section refers to "knowledge by discerning conditionality" (paccaya-pariggaha-nana),belonging to the "Purification by Overcoming Doubt."

8. The preceding paragraphs refer to the "knowledge of comprehension."

9. These phenomena are the "ten corruptions of insight." They have the character of "corruptions" only when they cause attachment in the meditator, or lead to conceit, i.e., if, in misjudging these phenomena and overrating his achievements, he believes to have attained to the paths of sainthood. These "corruptions" occur at the stage of "weak knowledge of rise and fall".

10.This refers to "purification by knowledge and wisdom of what is path and not-path."

11. Reference is here to the "final knowledge of rise and fall."

12. "Knowledge of dissolution."

13."Knowledge of fearfulness."

14. "Knowledge of misery."

15. "Knowledge of disgust."

16. "Knowledge of desire for deliverance."

17. There are ten characteristics of impermanence, twenty-five of suffering and five of no-self.

18. This refers to "knowledge of re-observation (or reflection)."

19. At the suggestion of the Venerable Author, the following two references are here quoted, in explanation of the stages in the realization of nirvana, on the paths of stream-entry, once-returning, etc.: a. '"One who sees nirvana, which merges in the deathless (in the sense of the end) realizes it "The seeing of nirvana, at the moment of the first path is realizing as seeing (dassana). At the other path moments it is realizing as developing (bhavana)." b. ". . . Suppose a man who can see is traveling along a path on a cloudy night. The path is obscured by the darkness. Lightning flashes and dispels the dark. In the absence of darkness the path becomes clear. This happens on a second journey, and again on a third journey. Here, like the man who can see his setting out on the path, is the effort of insight put forth by the disciple for the stream-winning path. Like the obliteration of the way in darkness is the darkness covering the truths. Like the moment when the lightning flashes and dispels the darkness is the moment when the light of the stream-winning path arises and dispels the darkness covering the truths. Like the manifestation of the way when darkness clears is the time of the manifestations of the four truths to the stream-winning path; and what is manifest in the path is even manifest to the person who has got it. Like the second journey is the effort of insight to get the once-returning path... Like the third journey is the effort of insight to get the never-returning path."

Appendix #

Following is a concise excerpted translation from the Pāḷi of the Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta accompanied by a commentary from the author, Mahasi Sayadaw. This is offered as an expanded aid in this meditational technique, a reference to the source from which all Satipatthana meditations arose, the words of the Buddha.

Techniques of Meditation #

The The Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta states:

• “And moreover, bhikkhus , a brother, when he is walking, is aware of it thus: ‘I walk’; or when he is standing, or sitting, or lying down, he is aware thereof.”

• “And moreover, bhikkhus, a brother, whether he departs, or returns, whether he looks at or looks away from, whether he has drawn in or stretched out (his limbs), whether he has donned underrobe, overrobe, or bowl, whether he is eating, drinking, chewing, savoring, or whether he is obeying the calls of nature—is aware of what he is about. In going, standing, sitting, sleeping, watching, talking, or keeping silence, he knows what he is doing.”

• “And moreover, bhikkhus, a brother reflects upon this very body, however it be placed or disposed, with respect to its fundamentals [i.e.,the four elements].”

• “Herein, O bhikkhus, is a brother when affected by a feeling of pleasure, aware of it, reflecting, ‘I feel a pleasurable feeling.’ So, too, is he aware when affected by a painful feeling.”

• “Herein, O bhikkhus, a brother, if his thought be lustful, is aware that it is so, or his thought be free from lust, is aware that it is so.”

• “Herein, O bhikkhus, a brother when within him is sensuous desire, is aware of it, reflecting, ‘I have within me sensuous desire.'”

In consonance with these teachings of the Buddha, it has been stated in colloquial language thus: “rising” while the abdomen is rising; “falling” while the abdomen is falling; “bending” while the limbs are bending; “stretching” while the limbs are stretching; “wandering” while the mind is wandering; “thinking, reflecting” or " knowing” while one is so engaged; “feeling stiff, hot” or “in pain” while one feels so; “walking, standing, sitting” or “lying” while one is so placed.

Here it should be noted that walking and so on a restated in common words instead of “being aware of the inner wind element manifesting itself in the movement of the limbs,” as is stated in the Pāḷi texts.

Rising and Falling Movement of the Abdomen #

It is quite in agreement with the Buddha’s teachings to contemplate on the rising and falling movement of the abdomen. Such rising and falling is a physical process (rūpa) caused by the pressure of the wind element. The wind element is comprised in the corporeality group of the five aspects of the physical and mental phenomena of existence (khandha); in the tactile object of the twelve bases (āyatana); in the body impression of the eighteen elements (dhātu); in the wind element of the four material elements (mahā-bhūta); in the truth of suffering of the four noble truths (sacca); corporeality group, a tactile object, a body impression and truth of suffering are certainly objects for insight contemplation. Surely they are not otherwise. The rising and falling movement of the abdomen is therefore a proper object for contemplation,and while so contemplating, being aware that it is but a movement of the wind element, subject to the laws of impermanence, suffering and unsubstantiality, is quite in agreement with the Buddha’s discourses on khandhas, āyatanas, dhātus and saccas.

While the abdomen is rising and falling the pressure and movement experienced thereby is a manifestation of the wind element which is tactile, and perceiving that rightly as such is quite in consonance with what the Buddha taught as briefly shown below.

• “Do ye apply your mind thoroughly, brethren, to body and regard it in its true nature as impermanent.”

• “Brethren, when a brother sees the body which is impermanent, as impermanent, this view of his is the right view.”

• “Herein, O bhikkhus, a brother reflects: ‘Such is material form, such is its genesis, such its passing away.'”

• “Do ye apply your minds thoroughly, brethren, to the tactile objects and regard their true nature as impermanent.”

• “Brethren, when a brother sees tactile objects which are impermanent, this view of his is the right view.”

• “But by fully knowing, by comprehending, by detaching himself from, by abandoning the tactile objects, one is capable of extinguishing ill.”

• “In him that knows and sees tactile objects as impermanent, ignorance vanishes and knowledge arises.”

• “Herein, O bhikkhus, a brother is aware of the organs of touch and tangibles.”

• Whatever is an internal element of motion, and whatever is an external element of motion, just these are the element of motion. By means of perfect intuitive wisdom it should be seen of this as it really is, thus: This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.”

Thus it will be seen that the contemplation of the rising and the falling movement of the abdomen is in accord with the above discourses and also with the * Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta (Dhātumanasikāra Pabba-Attention to Elements)*.

Again, the wind element that causes the movement and pressure of the abdomen, comprised in the corporeality group, is the truth of suffering.

• “And what, monks, is the truth about ill? Ill, it should be said, is the fivefold factor of grasping.” “Monks, ill, as a truth, is to be fully understood.”

Starting with Materiality #

An insight meditator should start with materiality, which is more easily discernible than mentality.

• “But one whose vehicle is insight discerns the four elements.”

• “And as regards those phenomena that are amenable to comprehension a beginning should be made by comprehending those among them that are obvious and easily discernible by the individual [meditator].”

• “Insight meditation begins with what is discernible. So a beginning should be made by comprehending those that are discernible. But later what is not easily discernible must somehow be made discernible and comprehended.”

Depending also on the aforesaid commentarial and subcommentarial statements, instructions are given to the meditators to begin with the rising and falling movement of the abdomen with a view to facilitating their meditation. However, when concentration has been developed, contemplation should be made on whatever arises at all the six sense doors. Instructions to this effect are also given to the meditators. As instructed, the meditators can very well carry on with their contemplation. Therefore,no doubt should be entertained whether it will be sufficient to contemplate only on the rising and falling movement of the abdomen.

Contemplation on the Arising at the Six Sense Doors #

Although contemplation must be made on whatever arises at all the sense doors, it must not be accompanied by thoughts about it. Only bare attention is to be paid to what arises at one or the other of the six sense doors.

• " He who for things he sees no passion breeds, But mindful, clear of head, can suffer sense, With uninflamed heart, nor staying clings.”

• “He who for things he hears, or smells, or tastes, Or for things touched and felt no passion breeds, But mindful, clear of head, can suffer sense, With uninflamed heart, nor staying clings.”

Contemplating on the rising and falling of the abdomen, one who knows its pressure and movement is “he who for things he felt no passion breeds, but mindful,clear of head, can suffer sense.”

• “Brethren, the all is to be fully known. What all, brethren, is to be fully known? The eye, brethren, is to be fully known, visual objects are to be fully known, eye consciousness is to be fully known, eye contact is to be fully known, that weal or woe or neutral state experienced, which arises owing to eye contact—that also is to be fully known. Ear is to be fully known, sounds are to be fully known . .. nose . . . scent . . .tongue … savors . . . body is to be fully known,things tangible are to be fully known . . . mind is to be fully known, mind states are to be fully known. . ..”

In the above passage “fully known” means the awareness of the material and mental arisings at the six sense doors. The awareness of the rising and falling movement of the abdomen is comprised in “things tangible are to be fully known.”

• “Brethren, the eye is to be comprehended, visual objects are to be comprehended, body is to be comprehended, things tangible are to be comprehended, mind is to be comprehended, mind states are to be comprehended.”

Insight Meditations Without Prior Jhana Development #

It is possible to begin straightaway with insight (vipassanā) meditation without having previously developed full concentration in knowledge (jhāna) meditation.

• “Herein, some persons contemplate on the five aggregates of clinging as impermanent and so on without having previously developed tranquility. This contemplation is insight meditation.”

This commentarial statement shows that it is possible to start with insight meditation without having striven to achieve access and full concentration. It has been stated that one whose vehicle is insight discerns four elements,which also goes to show this possibility. Besides, of the twenty-one parts of Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta, all except those dealing with mindfulness of breathing, the reflection on the repulsiveness of the body and the nine cemetery contemplations, show the manner of insight meditation, and so it is obvious that insight meditation is possible thereby. However, as the Commentary observes that these parts deal with access concentration contemplations, it should be understood that access concentration is developed while contemplating on the postures of the body and so on and, having overcome the five hindrances, purity of mind is attained. Therefore, of the said parts, Visuddhimagga treats the reflection of the material elements concerned with insight meditation, under the heading of a meditation subject called “discerning the elements” (dhātu-vavatthāna) and points out that, while contemplating the four elements, the hindrances are over-come and access concentration is attained. On the strength of this commentarial statement, it should be borne in mind with confidence and firmness that while contemplating on either all the four or on one, two or three of the four, access concentration can be developed,the hindrances overcome and purity of mind attained. It is the personal experience of those who practice meditation ardently.

Attainment of Purity of Mind by Access Concentration #

• “Purity of mind is the twofold concentration of the accessory and the ecstatic stage.”

• “The purification of consciousness, namely, the eight attainments, together with access concentration….”

• “Access concentration being like full concentration, the base of insight meditation is as well purity of mind. That is why the commentator states ‘together with access concentration.'”

• “When ordinary people and trainers develop it,thinking, ‘After emerging from one of the eight meditative attainments we shall exercise insight with concentrated consciousness,’ the development of absorption concentration provides them with the benefit of insight by serving as the proximate cause of insight, and so too does access concentration as method of arriving at wide open (conditions) in crowded (circumstances.”

• “As a method of arriving at ‘wide open’ means as a method of getting an opportunity, the ninth opportunity (the lifetime of the Buddha) for the benefit (of attainment of the path, fruition and nirvana). To elaborate: as it is very difficult to come across the dispensation of a buddha, a person, terror-stricken, is so very eager to gain deliverance from samsara that he, without awaiting the attainment of full concentration, begins insight meditation, basing it only on access concentration.”

These two passages show most clearly that purity of mind can be attained also by access concentration, and insight meditation is possible thereby.

• “The five grasping groups . . . are the conditions which should be pondered with method by a virtuous brother, as being impermanent, suffering, sick, as an impostor, as a dart, as pain, as ill health, as alien, as transitory, empty and soul-less.

“By a brother who is a stream-winner… it is the same five groups of grasping that should be so pondered.

“By one who is a once-returner… so pondered.

“By one who is a non returner… so pondered.

“Indeed, friend, it is possible for a virtuous brother so pondering with method these five groups of grasping to realize the fruits of stream-winning; for a brother who is a stream-winner… to realize the fruits of once-returning: for a brother who is a once-returner… to realize the fruits of non returning; and for a brother who is a non returner… to realize the fruits of arahatship.”

This discourse on virtue shows clearly that one who is virtuous can ponder the five grasping groups and, by so pondering, realize, by stages, the fruits of stream-winning,once-returning, non returning and arahatship. The rising and falling movement of the abdomen is the wind element comprised in the corporeality group. So it should be borne in mind steadfastly that the technique of meditation based on the rising and falling movement of the abdomen and the contemplation of five grasping groups that arise at the six sense doors is proper and right, leading up to the realization of the fruits of arahatship.

In conclusion, special attention may be drawn to the fact that it is quite proper to contemplate on whatever is of material nature in any part of the body, and that it is equally proper to contemplate on whatever is of wind element in any part of the body.

Bhaddanta Sobhana,
Agga Maha Pandita,

October 10, 1970
Mahasi Sayadaw

Source: The Satipatthana Vipassana Meditation - 2nd Reprint 2003 - Department of Religious Affairs (Rangoon Burma) | local copy