The Discourse Summaries - by S.N. Goenka
It’s a good reminder about those insights learnt in a 10-day Vipassana course. I wish they include more interesting stories from the course. The videos were recorded in 1991 while this book was written based on 1984 discourse. Other than the life-after-life arguments, I like the other arguments and analogies in the book. Fortunately, as S. N. Goenka said: “it is not necessary that one should first believe in past lives and future lives. In practicing Vipassana, the present is most important.”
Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:
They are not permitted because the final aim of this meditation is not concentration of mind. Concentration is only a help, a step leading to a higher goal: purification of mind, eradicating all the mental defilements, the negativities within, and thus attaining liberation from all misery, attaining full enlightenment. Every time an impurity arises in the mind, such as anger, hatred, passion, fear etc., one becomes miserable. Whenever something unwanted happens, one becomes tense and starts tying knots inside.
To learn the art of living harmoniously, first one must find the cause of disharmony. The cause always lies within, and for this reason you have to explore the reality of yourself.
On this path, whatever is unknown about yourself must become known to you. For this purpose respiration will help. It acts as a bridge from the known to the unknown, because respiration is one function of the body that can be either conscious or unconscious, intentional or automatic. One starts with conscious, intentional breathing, and proceeds to awareness of natural, normal breath. And from there you will advance to still subtler truths about yourself. Every step is a step with reality; every day you will penetrate further to discover subtler realities about yourself, about your body and mind.
Today you were asked to observe only the physical function of respiration, but at the same time, each one of you was observing the mind, because the nature of the breath is strongly connected to one’s mental state. As soon as any impurity, any defilement arises in the mind, the breath becomes abnormal—one starts breathing a little rapidly, a little heavily. When the defilement passes away, the breath again becomes soft. Thus breath can help to explore the reality not only of the body, but also of the mind.
And when it wanders, where does the mind go? By your practice, you have seen that it wanders either in the past or in the future. This is the habit pattern of the mind; it does not want to stay in the present moment. Actually, one has to live in the present. Whatever is past is gone beyond recall; whatever is future remains beyond one’s reach, until it becomes present. Remembering the past and giving thought to the future are important, but only to the extent that they help one to deal with the present. Yet because of its ingrained habit, the mind constantly tries to escape from present reality into a past or future that is unattainable, and therefore this wild mind remains agitated, miserable.
Now, however, you have all discovered that you are equally mad, lost in ignorance, illusions, delusions—moha. Even when there is a sequence to the thoughts, they have as their object something that is either pleasant or unpleasant. If it is pleasant, one starts reacting with liking, which develops into craving, clinging—rāga. If it is unpleasant, one starts reacting with disliking, which develops into aversion, hatred—dosa. The mind is constantly filled with ignorance, craving, and aversion. All other impurities stem from these three basic ones, and every impurity makes one miserable.
And you cannot crave for more breath, or feel aversion towards your breathing: you simply observe, without reacting to it. In such a moment, the mind is free from the three basic defilements, that is, it is pure.
When the essence of Dhamma is lost, it becomes a sect, and then each sect gives a different definition of piety, such as having a particular external appearance, or performing certain rituals, or holding certain beliefs. All these are sectarian definitions, acceptable to some and not to others. Dhamma, however, gives a universal definition of sin and piety. Any action that harms others, that disturbs their peace and harmony, is a sinful, unwholesome action. Any action that helps other, that contributes to their peace and harmony, is a pious, wholesome action. This is a definition in accordance not with any dogma, but rather with the law of nature. And according to the law of nature, one cannot perform an action that harms others without first generating a defilement in the mind—anger, fear, hatred, etc.; and whenever one generates a mental defilement, then one becomes miserable, one experiences the sufferings of hell within. Similarly, one cannot perform an action that helps others without first generating love, compassion, good will; and as soon as one starts developing such pure mental qualities, one starts enjoying heavenly peace within. When you help others, simultaneously you help yourself; when you harm others, simultaneously you harm yourself. This is Dhamma, truth, law—the universal law of nature.
You cannot choose what sensation to feel, because you cannot create sensations. Just observe; just remain aware. The name of the sensation is not important; what is important is to be aware of the reality of the sensation without reacting to it.
Therefore the third step of Dhamma, paññā: neither giving a free licence to the defilements nor suppressing them, but instead allowing them to arise and be eradicated.
Everything is ephemeral, arising and passing away every moment—anicca; but the rapidity and continuity of the process create the illusion of permanence.
As the understanding of anicca develops within oneself, another aspect of wisdom arises: anattā, no ‘I,’ no ‘mine.’ Within the physical and mental structure, there is nothing that lasts more than a moment, nothing that one can identify as an unchanging self or soul. If something is indeed ‘mine,’ then one must be able to possess it, to control it, but in fact one has no mastery even over one’s body: it keeps changing, decaying, regardless of one’s wishes. Then the third aspect of wisdom develops: dukkha, suffering. If one tries to possess and hold on to something that is changing beyond one’s control, then one is bound to create misery for oneself. Commonly, one identifies suffering with unpleasant sensory experiences, but pleasant ones can equally be causes of misery, if one develops attachment to them, because they are equally impermanent. Attachment to what is ephemeral is certain to result in suffering.
One must learn to be aware of all the different sensations without reacting to them, accepting their changing, impersonal nature. By doing so, one comes out of the habit of blind reaction, one liberates oneself from misery.
Previously you tried to push out the unpleasant sensations, to pull in the pleasant ones. Now you simply observe objectively, without identifying with the sensations.
The problem is that one is very alert at harvest time, wanting to receive sweet fruit, but during the sowing season one is very heedless, and plants seeds of bitterness.
There are three types of action: physical, vocal and mental. One who learns to observe oneself quickly realizes that mental action is the most important, because this is the seed, the action that will give results. Vocal and physical actions are merely projections of the mental action, yardsticks to measure its intensity. They originate as mental action, and this mental action subsequently manifests at the vocal or physical level.
As you proceed, it will become clear that there are four major segments or aggregates of the mind.
- The first segment is called viññāṇa, which may be translated as consciousness.
- Then the next part of the mind starts working: saññā, perception. One gives an evaluation of good or bad, according to one’s past experience.
- At once the third part of the mind starts working: vedanā, sensation. As soon as a sound comes, there is a sensation on the body, but when the perception recognizes it and gives it a valuation, the sensation becomes pleasant or unpleasant, in accordance with that valuation.
- Then the fourth part of the mind starts working: saṅkhāra, reaction
Here is the real seed that gives fruit, the action that will have results: the saṅkhāra, the mental reaction. Every moment one keeps sowing this seed, keeps reacting with liking or disliking, craving or aversion, and by doing so makes oneself miserable.
Vipassana teaches the art of dying: how to die peacefully, harmoniously. And one learns the art of dying by learning the art of living: how to become master of the present moment, how not to generate a saṅkhāra at this moment, how to live a happy life here and now.
There are two aspects of the technique: The first is breaking the barrier between the conscious and unconscious levels of the mind. Usually the conscious mind knows nothing of what is being experienced by the unconscious. Hidden by this ignorance, reactions keep occurring at the unconscious level; by the time they reach the conscious level, they have become so intense that they easily overpower the mind. By this technique, the entire mass of the mind becomes conscious, aware; the ignorance is removed. The second aspect of the technique is equanimity.
Similarly one develops attachment to the four mental aggregates of consciousness, perception, sensation, reaction, and clings to them as ‘I, mine’ despite their constantly changing nature. For conventional purposes one must use the words ‘I’ and ‘mine,’ but when one develops attachment to the five aggregates, one creates suffering for oneself.
There are four types of attachment that one keeps developing in life.
- The first is attachment to one’s desires, to the habit of craving. Whenever craving arises in the mind, it is accompanied by a physical sensation. Although at a deep level a storm of agitation has begun, at a superficial level one likes the sensation and wishes it to continue.
- Another attachment is the clinging to ‘I, mine,’ without knowing what this ‘I’ really is. Attachment to what is impermanent is bound to bring misery.
- Similarly, one develops attachment to one’s views and beliefs, and cannot bear any criticism of them, or even accept that others may have differing views.
- Yet another attachment is the clinging to one’s rites, rituals, and religious practices. One fails to understand that these are all merely outward shows, that they do not contain the essence of truth.
Now what is the cause of this attachment? He found that it arises because of the momentary reactions of liking and disliking. Liking develops into great craving; disliking into great aversion, the mirror image of craving, and both turn into attachment.
The source of the process of suffering, the deepest cause, is ignorance.
Previously, every sensation gave rise to a reaction of liking or disliking, which developed into great craving or aversion, great misery. But now, instead of reacting to sensation, you are learning just to observe equanimously, understanding, “This will also change.” In this way sensation gives rise only to wisdom, to the understanding of anicca. One stops the turning of the wheel of suffering and starts rotating it in the opposite direction, towards liberation.
To start the work, it is not necessary that one should first believe in past lives and future lives. In practicing Vipassana, the present is most important.
This does not mean that by practicing Vipassana one becomes a ‘vegetable,’ passively allowing others to do one harm. Rather, one learns how to act instead of to react. Previously one lived a life of reaction, and reaction is always negative. Now you are learning how to live properly, to live a healthy life of real action. Whenever a difficult situation arises in life, one who has learned to observe sensations will not fall into blind reaction. Instead he will wait a few moments, remaining aware of sensations and also equanimous, and then will make a decision and choose a course of action. Such an action is certain to be positive, because it proceeds from a balanced mind; it will be a creative action, helpful to oneself and others.
As soon as there is a contact, there will be a vibration, a sensation. The perception gives a valuation to the sensation as good or bad, based on one’s past experiences and conditionings, past saṅkhārā. In accordance with this colored valuation the sensation becomes pleasant or unpleasant, and according to the type of sensation, one starts reacting with liking or disliking, craving or aversion. Sensation is the forgotten missing link between the external object and the reaction.
There are two aspects of the technique: awareness and equanimity. One must develop awareness of all the sensations that occur within the framework of the body, and at the same time one must remain equanimous towards them.
No sensation is eternal. Therefore one should not have preferences or prejudices towards any sensation. When a gross, unpleasant sensation arises, one observes it without becoming depressed. When a subtle, pleasant sensation arises, one accepts it, even enjoys it, without becoming elated or attached to it. In every case one understands the impermanent nature of all sensations; then one can smile when they arise and when they pass away.
Anyone who is a Buddha must have the following qualities. He has eradicated all craving, aversion, ignorance. He has conquered all his enemies, the enemies within, that is, the mental impurities. He is perfect not only in the theory of Dhamma, but also in its application. What he practices, he preaches, and what he preaches, he practices; there is no gap between his words and his deeds. Every step that he takes is a right step, leading in the right direction. He has learned everything about the entire universe, by exploring the universe within. He is overflowing with love, compassion, sympathetic joy for others, and keeps helping those who are going astray to find the right path. He is full of perfect equanimity. If one works to develop these qualities in oneself in order to reach the final goal, there is meaning in one’s taking refuge in the Buddha.
Awareness can only be of the reality of the present moment. One cannot be aware of the past, one can only remember it. One cannot be aware of the future, one can only have aspirations for or fears of the future. One must develop the ability to be aware of the reality that manifests within oneself at the present moment.
The external stimulus of the anger is secondary; the reaction is in fact to the sensation within oneself.
If one does not react to the sensation but instead smiles and understands its impermanent nature, then one does not generate a new saṅkhāra, and the saṅkhāra that has already arisen will pass away without multiplying. If one gives fertile soil to the seed it sprouts into a new saṅkhāra, and one’s misery multiplies. However, if one throws the seeds on rocky soil, they cannot sprout; nothing will develop from them. The process of multiplication stops, and automatically the reverse process begins, the process of eradication.
The body needs food only two or three times a day, but the flow of the mind requires an input every moment. The mental input is saṅkhāra. Every moment the saṅkhāra that one generates is responsible for sustaining the flow of consciousness. The mind that arises in the next moment is a product of this saṅkhāra. Every moment one gives the input of saṅkhāra, and the flow of consciousness continues. If at any moment one does not generate a new saṅkhāra the flow does not stop at once; instead it draws on the stock of old saṅkhārā. An old saṅkhāra will be forced to give its fruit, that is, to come to the surface of the mind in order to sustain the flow; and it will manifest as a physical sensation. If one reacts to the sensation, again one starts making new saṅkhārā, planting new seeds of misery. But if one observes the sensation with equanimity, the saṅkhāra loses its strength and is eradicated. Next moment another old saṅkhāra must come up to sustain the mental flow. Again one does not react, and again it is eradicated. So long as one remains aware and equanimous, layer after layer of old saṅkhārā will come to the surface and be eradicated; this is the law of nature.
But when fire actually comes, one turns on the petrol pump and starts a conflagration.
However, you must be careful not to justify your actions only after the event. You must examine the mind before acting.
The Buddha said that there are four types of people in the world: those who are running from darkness towards darkness, those who are running from brightness towards darkness, those who are running from darkness towards brightness, and those who are running from brightness towards brightness.
Recognizing that he is ultimately responsible for his own suffering, he calmly and peacefully does what he can to change the situation, but without any anger or hatred towards others; instead he has only love and compassion for those who are harming him.
The future is merely the past plus what is added in the present.
A fully enlightened person finds a real solution: don’t run away from the problem; face it. Observe whatever impurity arises in the mind. By observing one does not suppress it, nor does one give it a free licence to express itself in harmful vocal or physical action. Between these two extremes lies the middle path: mere observation. When one starts to observe it, the negativity loses its strength and passes away without overpowering the mind.
However, enlightened persons discovered that whenever a defilement arises in the mind, simultaneously two things start happening at the physical level: respiration will become abnormal, and a biochemical reaction will start within the body, a sensation. A practical solution was found. It is very difficult to observe abstract defilements in the mind, but with training one can soon learn to observe respiration and sensation, both of which are physical manifestations of the defilements. By observing a defilement in its physical aspect, one allows it to arise and pass away without causing any harm. One becomes free from the defilement.
Seeing from only one angle, one imagines that one’s suffering is caused by other people, by an external situation. Therefore one devotes all one’s energy to changing others, to changing the external situation. In fact, this is a wasted effort. One who has learned to observe reality within soon realizes that he is completely responsible for his misery or happiness.
What does one react to? An image created by oneself, not the external reality. When one sees someone, one’s image of that person is colored by one’s past conditionings. The old saṅkhārā influence one’s perception of any new situation. In turn, because of this conditioned perception, bodily sensation becomes pleasant or unpleasant. And according to the type of sensation, one generates a new reaction. Each of these processes is conditioned by the old saṅkhārā. But if one remains aware and equanimous towards sensations, the habit of blind reaction becomes weaker, and one learns to see reality as it is.
This is the purpose of Dhamma: to practice the art of living, that is, to eradicate mental impurities and to develop good qualities, for one’s own good and for the good of others.
Someone who discovers the way to enlightenment is a Buddha. The way that he finds is called the Dhamma. All who practice this way and reach the stage of saintliness are called Sangha. Inspired by such persons, one takes refuge in Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in order to attain the same goal of purity of mind. The refuge is actually in the universal quality of enlightenment which one seeks to develop in oneself.
This does not mean that one should observe individual thoughts. If you try to do that, you will start rolling in the thoughts. You should simply remain aware of the nature of the mind at this moment; whether craving, aversion, ignorance, and agitation are present or not. And whatever arises in the mind, The Buddha discovered, will be accompanied by a physical sensation. Hence whether the meditator is exploring the mental or the physical aspect of the phenomenon of ‘I,’ awareness of sensation is essential.
To deal with the reactions, one must become aware of them at the point where they start; they start with sensation, and so one must be aware of sensations. The discovery of this fact, unknown before him, enabled Siddhattha Gotama to attain enlightenment, and this is why he always stressed the importance of sensation. Sensation can lead to reactions of craving and aversion and hence to suffering, but sensation can also lead to wisdom with which one ceases reacting and starts to emerge from suffering.
A good gardener takes special care of a young plant, and because of the service given it, that little plant gradually grows into a huge tree with thick trunk and deep roots. Then, instead of requiring service, it keeps giving, serving, for the rest of its life.
If the practice starts to become mechanical, change the way in which you move your attention. In every situation remain aware and equanimous, and you will experience the wonderful benefits of Vipassana.
Instead of harming others, have you started helping them? When unwanted situations occur, do you remain balanced? If negativity starts in the mind, how quickly are you aware of it? How quickly are you aware of the sensations that arise along with the negativity? How quickly do you start observing the sensations? How quickly do you regain a mental balance, and start generating love and compassion?
Keep growing in Dhamma, and you will find that by the example of your life, you automatically attract others to the path.
Everything that arises in the mind is accompanied by sensation.
Wisdom is knowing things in different ways.