THE BASIC VIPASSANA MEDITATION
THE MAHASI METHOD
(Translated by U Aye Maung, Yangon)
The yogi who wants to practise Satipatthana meditation first goes into the forest or to the foot of a tree or a quiet hermitage and pays respect to the three noble jewels viz.the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.
Then he sits cross-legged in a comfortable and relaxed position, gently shuts his eyes and breathes in and breathes out normally. When the abdomen rises with each inhalation he notes mentally 'rising'. When the abdomen falls with each exhalation he notes 'falling'.
As he notes 'rising' and 'falling' if he sees a mental image of something he just notes 'seeing', when the image disappears, he goes back to noting 'rising, falling'. Likewise if he hears something or smells something he notes 'bearing' and 'smelling'. If he develops much saliva in his mouth, he makes note. Heat, cold, pain, cramp, itching, etc. that occur in the body are also noted, as are the states of consciousness such as thinking, imagination, intending and so forth.
When these physical sensations and mental images disappear the yogi resumes noting the rise and fall of the abdomen. He notes and bears the physical pains patiently and stoically until they pass away. In case of unbearable pain he makes adjustment, noting at the same time what he is doing. Adjustment is made only when the pain cannot be endured. Otherwise the yogi has faith in the Buddha's saying that patience leads to Nibbana and practices mindfulness doggedly so as to attain insight speedily.
After the yogi is well-established in the practice of noting the rise and fall of the abdomen he concentrates his mind on the body and adds 'sitting' to his objects of contemplation: 'rising, falling, sitting'. Again, if he sees or hears anything he notes them and then, when they disappear, he goes back to noting 'rising, falling and sitting'.
When the yogi is quite at home in this practice he focuses on the most conspicuous part of his body that is in contact with the floor thereby further extending the range of his contemplation. So he notes 'rising, falling, sitting and touching'. Should he hear, see, or be aware of anything he deals with them as before.
Mindfulness while Walking
While walking the yogi folds his arms, keeps his body straight, eye lids lowered but head unbowed. As he stands still, he focuses on his body from head to foot and notes 'standing'. Then with his mind fixed on the right leg he notes, 'stepping forward with the right leg'. When he stops walking, he first notes his desire to stop walking and then goes on noting the act of stopping. When he turns back he notes the act of turning back, the desire to walk again, the act of walking, the act of putting forward the left leg, and so on. When he gets quite used to being mindful of stepping forward with the right or the left leg, he focuses on two movements of the leg, viz., 'raising' and 'putting down'. After achieving complete mindfulness in this respect he notes three acts, viz., 'raising the leg, stepping forward and putting it down.'
The yogi devotes an hour to these exercises in mindfulness while walking and another hour to practice of mindfulness while sitting. At the Mahasi meditation centres the standard full-time practice means eight sitting sessions and eight walking sessions, each session taking an hour. This time-table leaves four hours for sleeping at night and another four hours for listening to the Dhamma, discussion, interview with the teacher, eating, bathing, etc.
While practising mindfulness the yogi maintains his moral purity (Silavisuddhi).
He has to cope with five kinds of hindrance (nivarana) to spiritual progress, viz.
1. The hindrance arising from the desire for sensual objects such as the family; business, food, clothes, etc.
2. The hindrance rooted in anger, frustration, dejection, etc.
3. The hindrance due to restlessness, distraction, remorse and a guilty conscience over his past mistakes in word and deed.
4. The hindrance of indolence and lassitude that makes him passive and reluctant to practise the Dhamma.
5. The hindrance stemming from doubt about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha and in particular doubt about the meditation teacher and his instructions.
These hindrances usually appear while the yogi is meditating in a sitting position. These hindrances to spiritual progress are to be noted and eliminated, one after another. When they vanish the yogi resumes noting the usual sense objects viz. rising, falling, sitting and touching.
As the practice gains momentum the five hindrances disappear and the consciousness gets into rapport with the object of contemplation. This state of consciousness with the mind clear and always aware of its object leads to purity of the mind. It is called Cittavisuddhi.
When contemplation or mindfulness thus become tranquil and pure, the yogi is able to distinguish clearly between the noted object and the noting consciousness.
For example, he knows that rising is corporeality and awareness of it is consciousness; that falling is corporeality and awareness of it consciousness; that walking, standing, sitting, lying etc. are various forms of corporeality while awareness of them is consciousness. In short, he attains clear insight into the distinction between corporeality and consciousness (nama-rupapariccheda nana). This insight leads to the clear understanding that there is no life, soul or ego apart from corporeality which is not aware of a sense-object and the consciousness which is aware of it. This state of higher consciousness is called (ditthivisuddhi) or purity of view.
Then with the development of mindfulness the yogi clearly sees that the desire to walk, stand, sit or lie down is consciousness acting as cause and that walking, standing, sitting, or lying is the corporeality in the role of cause while awareness of walking, standing, etc. is the consciousness in the role of effect (paccayapariggaha-nana).
Again you walk, stand or sit because you have the desire to walk, stand or sit. Seeing arises because of contact between the eye and the visual form; hearing arises because of contact between the ear and the sound. The smell-consciousness arises because of contact between the nose and the odour; tasting arises from contact between the tongue and the taste; tactile sensation arises from contact between the body and the object of contact and mental events occur because of the mind and the mind object.
Without the conjunction of psycho-physical causes there are no psycho-physical effects. They are not created by a Supreme Being or an Almighty God. Every phenomenon is merely a psycho-physical event that occurs in accordance with the laws of cause and effect.
While practising mindfulness the yogi sees only cause and effect and concludes that there was only cause and effect in the past and that there will only be cause and effect in the future. This leaves no doubt about the law of causation thereby giving rise to a clear insight or kankhavitarana-nana as it is called in Pali.
Again while he is absorbed in contemplation, the yogi sees that every phenomenon arises and passes away one after another, thus he realises that everything is impermanent (aniccanupassana-nana). Then there follows the insight into the truth of suffering (dukkhanupassana nana) in the absence of anything which is eternal or pleasant.
So the yogi concludes that there is no living being or ego-entity apart from phenomena such as seeing-consciousness, hearing-conscious ness, adoring-consciousness, recalling-consciousness, the phenomena of heat, cold, movement, etc. Thus there arises the insight into the fact that it is just a phenomenal, egoless world (anattanupassana-nana).
Therefore the yogi appreciates and reflects on the truth of impermanence, suffering and the non-existence of ego (sammasana-nana).
Lower-Level Insight Into the Origin and Dissolution
While the yogi is just being mindful without reflecting on the impermanence, suffering and non-existence of the ego, he is likely to see lights, or experience ecstasy, rapture, peace and devotion. Because of such unusual experiences his unpleasant feelings vanish, thereby enabling him to keep on being mindful comfortably and easily. What with tranquillity, euphoria and ease he will clearly discern the noting consciousness and the noted object arising and vanishing together at every moment of mindfulness. Such an experience means attainment of nascent insight into the origin and dissolution of all phenomena (udayabbaya nana).
If at this stage the yogi is unduly self-satisfied and pleased with his extraordinary experiences, he is on the wrong track. He should remember that constant mindfulness is the only way to try to attain the discriminative and clear insight about the right path (maggamagga-nana-dassana visuddhi).
Only then can he gain the distinct, clear, high level understanding of the arising and vanishing or the origin and dissolution of every phenomenon at every moment of mindfulness. This is called the higher- level or advanced udayabbaya-nana.
The purity of views ranging from advanced udayabbaya-nana to anuloma-nana is called Patipada-nana-dassana-visuddhi - Purity of Knowledge and Vision Regarding the Course of Practice.
Development of Advance-Level Insights
Later on as his intellect becomes keen and sharp, the origin of everything becomes obscure and the yogi sees only dissolution. Thus he attains bhanga-nana.
As he sees everything dissolving he becomes afraid (Bhaya-nana).
Then he realises that everything is unsubstantial, unreliable and unsatisfactory (adinava-nana).
There follows boredom and weariness (nibbida-nana).
The universality of dissolution and pain leads to the desire to be liberated from the life-cycle which is bound up with these two evils (Muncitukamyata-nana)
The desire for liberation gives impetus to the further practice of mindfulness (Patatisankha-nana).
There also arise clear insights (sankarupekkha-nana) linked with the practice of bare awareness of the arising psycho-physical phenomena without being happy or unhappy because of pleasant or unpleasant sense-objects.
As the tempo of the vipassanapractice quickens, the yogi experiences clear, prompt and extraordinary awareness of sense-objects (vutthanagamini vipassana nana). The forms of this awareness that develop later are called anuloma-nana.
Then the awareness that leads to the extinction of all formations and all conditioned things (sankhara) is gotrabhu-nana. The insight inherent in this extinction is the dual insight into the path and its fruition (magga-phala nana). Of these two kinds of insight the magga-insight means purity of intellectual insight (nanadassana visuddhi).
Looking back and reflecting on the attainment of extinction the yogi has the insight called paccavekkhana nana.
End of the Suffering for the Sotapanna Yogi
When the yogi becomes a sotapanna ariya (noble one) through the practice of vipassana he never takes life, never steals what belongs to another person, never commits adultery, never tells a lie and never indulges in intoxicating drinks or drugs. Because of his life-long commitment to the five precepts he is wholly insured against the sufferings that result from the violations of the precepts.
He also strictly avoids doing any evil that leads to the, four lower worlds of hell, animals, petas and asuras. He will never land in the lower worlds and so he does not need to be afraid of suffering there.
Again the Sotapanna yogi is completely free from five fetters.
1. The fetter of ego-illusion or belief in a permanent self or immortal soul.
2. The fetter of doubt about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.
3. The fetter of devotion to rites and ceremonies or behaviour of animals rather than the Eightfold Noble Path for salvation and happiness.
4. The fetter of miserliness (macchariya) which makes it painful for us to see any person happy or prosperous like us, thereby arousing in us the desire to deny to others the good things of life that we enjoy.
5. The fetter of envy (issa) that makes it bitter for us to see any person who is more prosperous and happier than we are.
The sotapanna yogi who has cast off these five fetters is totally free from all sufferings that have their origin in them.
We have explained the Satipathana Vipassana meditation which as the Buddha pointed out, makes us free from physical and mental suffering. Let everyone who wants to overcome mental suffering practise it thoroughly in the right way.
May those who have heard the present sermon overcome mental and physical pain through the practice of Mahasi Satipathana Vipassana and soon realise Nibbana, the total extinction of suffering.
May you be well and live long, taking refuge in the Buddha.
May you be free from hatred and be happy, taking refuge in the Dhamma.
May you prosper and progress in life, taking refuge in the Sangha.