Min Soe Thein Aung
October 1999

        In this article my aim is to convey in my own words what I understand about Buddhism.


        Being brought up in a Buddhist family, I have always had a superficial and cultural understanding of Buddhism. Until a few months ago, my role as a Buddhist was to donate food to monks, sit through discourses which I could barely understand, and to meditate for fifteen or thirty minutes when asked to.

        Even though I knew how to meditate, I did not understand the true relevance it bore to Buddhism. Questions always arose in my mind as to why I need to do it e.g. what achievements can be attained from sitting here and noting the physical movements of breathing?

        What is the point of putting myself through intolerable pain after prolonged meditative sitting?"

        "If Buddhism is based on Kamma, what good kammic action is done through meditatively sitting immobile in the same position for a long period of time?"

        Such questions eventually brought me to partake in a meditation retreat during a time in my life when I was not studying, not working, and had literally nothing to do except to ponder over such thoughts that arose in my mind regarding meditation. Initially though, I had no idea what to expect, but was told by my father those questions that arise, would eventually be answered.

        For the first few days of retreat, I found it difficult to continuously meditate for the whole day and would find myself extremely fatigued. My legs would sometimes be in agony, and I also felt mentally drained. However, things be came slightly easier as my concentration improved and my body started to condition itself.

        Through continuous noting of my breath and other bodily sensations I found that my mind was never focussed on one object for long and such wandering of my mind was very common - until I realised that these thoughts and distractions were mostly rooted in desires to leave the retreat - or simply to do something else. Later on I realised that attaching myself to those desires only lead to mental suffering as I was not leaving yet.

        As time went on, when I began to want to do something the 'want' was the object of my noting. What I wanted was irrelevant. On noting my desire it simply faded away, and therefore mental suffering began to decrease to a point where I was feeling at ease, and satisfied all day by simply meditating, sitting and walking. Not only I realised that my desires began to disappear, but anything that I noted seem to vanish, only to be replaced by another object of noting at that present moment.

        Because the object of noting was never under my control and was continually changing a vivid realisation was that, all my mental impulse were completely impersonal and void of an ego or self. All that exist were just body and mind. This may sound strange, but if you reflect on what we really are, we are no more than amalgamation of atoms and molecules coexisting together, to create a form which is sensitive and subject to its environment . The sensory object will either be favourable or unfavourable to the senses. Attachment and aversion would be the result.

        The birth of suffering is in this aversion or attachment to the sense object. It became easy to understand that aversion to something is unsatisfactory. Attachment often leads to dissatisfaction in the way that the want cannot be fulfilled, and if fulfilled will subsequently lead to aversion of that very same sense object. So , from my own introspection I have found that attachment and aversion are both unsatisfactory. I have also found that aversion tends to lead to angry states of mind whereas attachment tends to lead to greedy states, which are both uneasy and unsatisfactory, and could be classified as suffering.

        After realising these things without the aid of books or other people, my retreat became much easier. Questions and doubts which I was asking myself were answered. These realisations and Insight knowledge which I gained through meditation, would now help me to avoid a whole range of suffering and unsatisfactoriness in later life.

        Many people fail to understand that this practice of introspection or Vipassana Meditation is fundamental to Buddhism , and to try to understand the teachings of Buddha without the practice of proper meditation may be well nigh impossible.

        (MST Aung was ordained as a Buddhist monk at he centre in a mass ordination ceremony. He continued to practise Satipatthana Vipassana Meditation as a monk at the centre for several months. He is now studying at the University of London. Ed)

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First posted on 19th March 2000

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