Observe other persons’ aggregates?


Dear Bhante and Robert
I am very interested in that book Venerable Pesala mentioned, If you find it, please let me know.
As for Mahasi Sayadaw’s criticism against others’ claims about vipassana meditation, the article ‘Mahasi Sayadaw Analysis on Today’s Vipassana Techniques’ is very informative.

with metta


I cite the complete article here (not to say I agree with it all)



compiled by Tha-ma-nay-kyaw

translated by Hla Myint Kyaw


Some of the talks and writings on Vipassana are difficult to prove to be true although they have followers. In order to learn the truth in line with canonical texts, I studied works of Mahasi Sayadaw who is highly respected by scholars for his well versed knowledge and practice. I found many remarkable solution he made to the today Vipassana complexities.

There are considerable amount of books by Mahasi Sayadaw such as the discourse on Paticca-samuppada, the discourse on Silavanta, the discourse on Bhara, the discourse on Tuvataka, the discourse on Dhamma-cakka, the discourse on Sallekha, the discourse on The Eight-fold Noble Path to Nibbana, the discourse on Ariya-vasa, the discourse on how to practice Vipassana, the discourse on Anatta-lakkhana, the translation of Satipatthana Sutta, the discourse on Vammika, the discourse on the Basic Vipassana, and so on. I found many of his remarkable solutions to the today Vipassana complexities.

I really admire him for his courage, accuracy, decisiveness, sharp knowledge. So remarkable and worthy of noting are his solutions that I compiled them as a booklet entitled “Mahasi Sayadaw’s Analysis On Today Vipassana Techniques” with the questions I have created for each solution.

Tha-ma-nay-kyaw (May 26, 2000)

QUESTION 1: Is it possible to practice Vipassana without learning elaborately Abhi-dhamma (the advanced doctrine), and Paticca-samuppada (the dependant origination).

ANSWER 1: In view of Cula-tanha-sankhaya Sutta, the discourse on how to get rid of attachment or greed, it is clear that one can practice Vipassana without the knowledge of Abhi-dhamma and Paticca-samuppada if one have learnt that what really exist are nothing but mind and matter, which are subject to impermanence, suffering and non-self.

Regarding Paticca-samuppada, all one needs to learn is that there is no individual person but interrelation of cause and effect. It is, however, not necessary to learn it literally in terms of twelve factors and twenty ways of approach and so on. Otherwise, Venerable Cula-panthaka, would not have become an Arahanto, the fully enlightened person. Ven. Cula-panthaka was not capable to learn by heart a Pali verse which consists of four stanzas with eleven characters in each, and forty-four characters all together, even though he took four months to do it. Let alone learning elaborately Paticca-samuppada, and Abhi-dhamma. He took, however, just a single morning to become an Arahanto by contemplating on a piece of white cloth, mashing or squashing it, reciting “rajo-haranam, rajo-haranam” (bringing about dust, bringing about dust)

Another example: there was a lay woman devotee called Matika-mata, who did not even learn how her monks had been practicing. However, she was doing household chores, practiced as instructed by the monks, and attained Ana-gami-magga (the third level of enlightenment) even before her teacher monks. It is obvious that the household lady had no chance to learn Abhi-dhamma and Paticca-samuppada. There are many more similar examples in the scripture to make the point clear from this aspect. So conclusion should be made that without learning Abhidhamma and Paticca-samuppada, one can accomplish Vipassana if he or she observes mind and body at the arising moment , under the guidance of a teacher.

(The discourse on Paticca-samuppada by Mahasi Sayadaw)

QUESTION 2: Venerable Channa attained Arahattaship after having been taught the Paticca-samuppada. How about that?

ANSWER 2: According to some teachers, it seems to be really impossible to accomplish Vipassana practice without learning Paticca-samuppada the way they approach it. It is really discouraging to practitioners (Yogis), and spoiling Sasana (the Buddha’s teaching). Khandha-vagga Sutta is the discourse which their teaching is based on.

That discourse says that after the Buddha’s demise, Ven. Channa had to receive a punishment called Brahama-danda ( under this punishment, he was ostracized, and taught by no fellow monk.). Later he had to eat humble pie, and practiced as instructed by the monks, contemplating on impermanence, suffering and egolessness of all phenomena, physical, sensational, perceptional, intentional or mental. He, however, with deep delusionary sense of ego, was not able to appreciate selflessness. He got confused, being afraid of finding the ego existing no longer, and thinking of who would be responsible for the deeds one has done unless the doer(ego) exists. Thus, he was back to the ego-belief. The reason for that is mentioned in the commentary as follows:

It is said that the monk Channa developed Vipassana without finding the causes of phenomena or the law of cause and effect. This feeble Vipassana (Dubbala Vipassana), instead of helping him to get rid of ego-illusion, gave rise to wrong view of annihilation, and worry about the ego being supposedly destroyed when emptiness of phenomena occurred to him. By the word ‘the feeble Vipassana’ here, it is meant that it is not real Vipassana developed by observing phenomena arising and passing away moment to moment, but it is imaginary Vipassana.

Such imaginary Vipassana is said as Dubbala Vipassana in the commentary. The real Vipassana is developed systematically in terms of Nama-rupa-pariccheda-nana (the insight into mind and body), Paccaya-pariggaha-nana (the insight into cause and effect) and so on. Such a real Vipassana is called Taruna-Vipassana(the young insight) on its early state, but not Dubbala Vipassana (the feeble insight). In view of this type of feeble insight, one should not discourage yogis who is practicing real Vipassana observing systematically psycho-physical phenomena moment to moment, saying that he or she should not practice without the knowledge of Paticca-samuppada. If someone says so, he or she is destroying Sasana.

When the concentration gets strong by observing mind and body the moment they take place, yogis start to distinguish between mind and body. Then, it is spontaneously followed by the insight into the cause of the phenomena: seeing consciousness, for instance, is resulted from the contact of the eye and visible object; the hearing consciousness is caused by the combination of the ear and sound; due to intention to go, the act of going takes place; the attachment is aroused by the object one fails to observe; because of attachment the attempt is made to fulfill it; thanks to good Kamma one can enjoy good results, and so on. Then it is followed by the insight into impermanence, suffering and non-self. Without the insight into the law of cause and effect, it is impossible to realize impermanence, etc. So, although one has not learnt Paticca-samuppada in detail before practice, one may not get confused like Ven. Channa did.

Afterward, Ven. Channa became an Arahatta having overcome the confusion right after he listened to the Paticca-samuppada taught by Ven. Ananda. So a yogi, practicing under the guidance of a teacher, can meet the required knowledge listening to the teacher even though he may be in need of it previously. During practice also, any confusion or problem a yogi may have, can be solved with the help of the teacher. So the yogi practicing under the guidance of the teacher need not even be concerned about the requirement of the knowledge. If he has any concern about it, check it as I just suggested.

So the conclusion should be made that one can meet the knowledge required if he or she learn that all mental and physical phenomena are subject to impermanence, suffering and non-self. Moreover, commentary says that the required knowledge can be met if one has ever heard about four-fold noble truths. Furthermore, according to Maha-tika, if one has learnt that there is nothing but cause and effect, then he is regarded to have the knowledge required regarding Paticca-samuppada. Even if he has not learnt before, he can learn when he starts to practice that there is nothing but mind and matter which are subject to the law of cause and effect, and falling victim to impermanence, suffering and non-self, and the purpose of practice is to be aware of them. Thus, the required knowledge can be met by learning from his teacher. (Silavanta Sutta)

QUESTION 3: Is it necessary to analyze or identify mind, matter and their impermanence, etc according to the scriptures or hearsay?

ANSWER 3: Just observing the mind and body the moment they take place, some people think, is not enough to bring about insight knowledge. They can be only satisfied with analyzing mind and body and their impermanence, etc. As a matter of fact, analyzing is not one’s own experience, but bookish or hearsay knowledge just like learning something by heart. So, such is not that effective. Only when one observe mind and body from moment to moment, can he or she gain insight knowledge based on one’s own experience. Suppose, if you keep an eye on the gate of a village, you will, for sure, see someone going in or out, you don’t need to examine according to scriptures or hearsay. For example, suppose you put a clear mirror upright on the roadside, then it naturally reflects the images of anyone or anything passing by. In the same way, if you observe whatever you experience through your six sense doors, the true characteristics of phenomena will be obvious to you on their own accord.

QUESTION 4: How to stop the pain from the tiger’s bite?

ANSWER 4: Here a question may be raised, how to stop the pain from a tiger’s bite. In the story of Venerable Tessa who ensured his spiritual accomplishment by breaking his thigh, the commentary says that the monk stopped the pain and considered his pure moral conduct arousing joy and ecstasy and so on. In view of the commentary it is clear that he stopped the pain first, and considered his moral conduct later. In harmony with the commentary definition of the phrase, Dukha-domanassanam atthangamaya (the only way to overcome pain and mental distress), it is reasonable to assume that it is through Satipatthana mindfulness that he stopped the pain from the tiger’s bite.

For a yogi, he can find normal pain or injury fading away gradually when he notes it with care. This is the observation which helps a yogi stop pain. The pain, however, may reoccur after a while if the concentration and insight knowledge are not mature enough. That is the way the pain is stopped according to the word, Vikkhambhana (long-lasting removal). When Vipassana concentration gets mature enough, the pain may be eradicated. That is why the Buddha, with the help of Vipassana, was able to do away with the serious illness he suffered during his last rain retreat.

Actually, it is also possible to assume that the pain was removed by considering his moral conduct. This story, however, is aimed to prove that Vipassana can help get rid of the pain, and so it is more reasonable to make a conclusion that the pain caused by the tiger’s bite was removed by Vedana-nupassana Sati-pattana (the observation of sensation).

QUESTION 5: Is it possible to accomplish Vipassna just by learning or listening?

ANSWER 5: Without practicing so as to realize the noble truth, the belief in rites and rituals is regarded as Sila-vata-paramasa (the wrong view of rite and ritual). Nowadays, some people are teaching that just listening or learning by heart the characteristics of mind and body can result in spiritual accomplishment. They mean that there is no need to practice Vipassana or to observe morality. So, we need to examine whether or not their belief is free from Sila-vata-paramasa (the wrong view of rites and rituals). In my opinion, their belief should be included in the Sila-vata-paramasa (the wrong view of rite and ritual), because it has nothing to do with morality, concentration and wisdom. (The discourse on Dhamma-cakka-pavattana)

QUESTION 6: Is it possible to practice Vipassana without complete purification of mind through Jhanic concentration?

ANSWER 6 Some people are teaching that one should practice Vipassana with the mind completely purified through Jhanaic concentration. Otherwise, it is impossible to accomplish Vipassana. That is just extremism. In reality, Visuddhi-magga clearly says that the preliminary concentration is good enough to practice Vipassana until Arahatta-phala because it purifies the mind of the hindrances. The Buddha explicitly mentioned in the Suttas like Maha-satipatthana that one can attain Arahatta-phala, the highest enlightenment, through preliminary concentration by contemplating on bodily posture, etc.

In the Anussati Sutta, Aguttara Pali (II 235) the Buddha said that one can become an Arahatta through the concentration cultivated by contemplating on the virtues of the Buddha. Also in the commentary on Sampajanna-pabba, it is clearly said that one can arouse the ecstasy by contemplating on the virtues of the Buddha, or Samgha, and then observe the ecstasy itself arising and passing away until Arahattaship. (The discourse on Dhamma-cakka-pavattana)

QUESTION 7: Does the temporary concentration (Khanika-samadhi)help develop Vipassana.

ANSWER 7: Remember that Visuddhi-magga explicitly mentions that according to Dhatu-manasikara-pabba, the observation of the four fundamental elements the moment they take place, arouses the preliminary concentration keeping hindrances away. Its sub-commentary (Maha-tika I- 436), says that it is not really the preliminary concentration as there is no climax (Jhannic) concentration it can lead to. It is, however, regarded as such in a metaphorical way called Sadisu-pacara, in a sense of its similarity with real one in terms of keeping hindrances away. Such concentration should be called Khanika Samadhi (momentary concentration) in the case of Vipassana. That is why I often call it as Vipassana Khanika Samadhi. Some people, unable to appreciate it, argue that the momentary concentration cannot help to bring about Vipassana, otherwise students would bring about Vipassana insight.

I would agree with them on this point if the students developed concentration strong enough to keep hindrances away, by observing present psycho-physical phenomena in harmony with Maha-sati-patthana Sutta. In reality, it is clear that the concentration aroused by reasoning, judging or analyzing the statistics which students have learnt by heart, can by no means keep hindrances away, and that they are not actually observing present mind and body at all, either. So the arguers must be the ones who have no or little knowledge of real Vipassana procedure. In Visudhi-magga, the Khanika Samadhi (momentary concentration) is mentioned as Khanika Citte-kaggata, and in its sub-commentary, the definition is made that Khana-matta-thitiko samadhi, (the concentration lasting moment to moment). On the basis of these commentary and sub-commentary, I call it literally as Khanika Samadhi (momentary concentration), which is called metaphorically as Upacara Samadhi (preliminary concentration). There should not be any confusion if they get the points. (The discourse on Dhamma-cakka-pavattana)

The concentration aroused at the moment of awareness is called Khanika Samadhi, the concentration which lasts the moment a yogi observes. Without such concentration, Vipassana cannot be developed. So it is necessary to have such concentration strong enough for Vipassana insight. For the yogis who practice pure Vipassana without depending on Jhana, this momentary concentration is the one which leads him to the realization of Magga Phala. This vipassana is not to observe a single object, but it requires observation of objects from moment to moment. However changing, mind can be well concentrated on the objects moment to moment. This point is very clear to the yogis who have practiced effectively. (The discourse on Sallekha Sutta)

QUESTION 8: Can the enumeration or itemization of phenomena result in Nama-rupa-pariccheda-nana (the knowledge distinguishing between mind and body)?

ANSWER 8: A yogi cannot develop Nama-rupa-pariccheda-nana just by enumerating or itemizing phenomena. Only when the yogi observe mind and body the moment they take place, will the yogi be able to spontaneously distinguish between mental and physical phenomena. That is really Nama-rupa-pariccheda-nana. (The discourse on Dhamma-cakka-pavattana Sutta)

Real insight knowledge can be brought about by observing the present phenomena, but not by reasoning, analyzing, judging or itemizing: there are 81 types of worldly consciousness (Lokiya Citta), 52 kinds of mental constituents (Cetasika), 28 categories of matter; and so on. Such knowledge is just learning memory (Sanna), but not real knowledge based on one’s own experience. Think about what the 81 types of worldly consciousness (Lokiya Citta) are; whether they all can take place in us. Mahaggata consciousnesses, for example, belong to Jhanic persons only. Even though worldly, Kriya consciousnesses only to Arahantas. How can a person experience an object which does not belong to him or her? Among 28 categories of matter, femininity is owned by women, while masculinity by men. So one cannot experience another’s gender. So, itemizing phenomena which one does not really experience, how can it be the knowledge of ultimate truth? Is it not conceptual knowledge? The answer, if given honestly, will be: “Yes, it is just conceptual knowledge.” Thus, it is crystal clear that such conceptual knowledge, or just memory of learning cannot result in Nama-rupa-pariccheda-nana. As a matter of fact, a yogi cannot bring about even basic insight knowledge without observing mind and matter.

QUESTION 9: Is it true that to became a Sota-panna, there is no need to practice Samatha or Vipassana. All one needs to do is just to appreciate what the teacher teaches?

ANSWER 9: Here, an argument may be raised that the Pali passage just recited (from Dhamma-cakka-pavattana Sutta), does not mention that Ven. Kondanna practiced Vipassana, does it? He attained Sota-panna, called Dhamma-cakkhu during the discourse on Dhamma-cakka, or right after it, didn’t he? Then it is unnecessary to explain how Ven Kondanna practiced Vipassana, isn’t it? No, not unnecessary, because the Sutta itself says that the Eight-fold Noble Path should be developed.

In the Pali canon and its commentary on the phrase, “Dukkhe Nanam” it is mentioned that the truth of suffering and the truth of the cause of suffering are the ones which should be eradicated by practicing. There are more references which explain that only after accomplishment of Vipassana, called Pubba-bhaga-magga, can Magga-nana be accomplished. Also there are Pali explanations that one cannot bring about the Vipassana insights and Magga enlightenments without observing one of the four objects, such as body, sensation, mind and general. There are Pali quotations which say that only when one develops practice of awareness, can the mindfulness, one of the factors of Noble Path, arise. According to these points, it is impossible to bring about the Eight-fold Noble Path without taking the Vipassana Path. So, the conclusion should be made that Ven. Kotanna and his fellow monks accomplished their Sotapatti-magga by practicing Vipassana on the spot as explained during the Dhamma talk. If one could become a Sota-panna by just listening to and appreciating Dhamma talk, Ven. Vappa, and other monks should not have taken trouble to practice for two or three more days. The Buddha, himself might not have encouraged them to do so, either. Instead, He should have given Dhamma talks repeatedly until they accomplished the Sotapatti enlightenment. The reason why the Buddha encouraged them to practice without giving talks once more, should be taken into consideration. Thus, it is crystal clear that the Buddha instructed persons called Neyya (those who need longer practice) to practice to become Sota-panna,. So, it comes into the conclusion that it is insensible, and destroying Susana to teach that in order to became a Sota-panna, one does not need to practice Samatha or Vipassana, and all one needs to do is just to appreciate what the teacher teaches. If you believe in that view, your path to Nibbana will be closed. (The discourse on Dhamma-cakka-pavattana Sutta)

QUESTION 10: Donation made by considering impermanence, etc, brings the donor closer to the Magga Phala, Right?

ANSWER 10: Some people are teaching that one should perform donation by considering the Three Characteristics of phenomena, such as impermanence, suffering and egolessness, of the donor, recipient and things to offer, so that the merit can be accompanied by the knowledge (Nana-sampayutta). Their teaching is due to confusion about how the generosity can be carried out to be Bhavana-maya Kusala (the wholesomeness done by means of Vipassana) according to the explanation in the commentary, Atthasalini. The commentary mentions how to consider on generosity, “going to vanish, going to disappear”. That is actually to do after donation but not during or before it. As a matter of fact, the purpose is not to make the merit to be accompanied by knowledge, but to accrue the merit done by means of Vipassana. If it is necessary to consider Three Characteristics to make sure the merit is accompanied by knowledge, then no merit of donation would be accompanied by the knowledge during the eras when Buddha’s teaching no longer survives. That is not sensible.

Moreover, there is no evidence to prove that the would-be Buddha did donation by considering the Three Characteristics. In fact, the Buddha never taught anywhere to do donation with consideration of the Three Characteristics. What the Buddha, however, really taught is that the more virtuous the recipient, the larger the benefit. So it is important to consider the virtue of the recipient. If the donor is really aware of Three Characteristics of the recipient, he won’t be able to distinguish between the worthy and unworthy recipients. If no virtuous person worthy of donation is found, the merit of donation won’t be strong and its benefit won’t be huge, either.

Here, one may argue: “donation done by considering the Three Characteristics, brings the donor closer to Magga and Phala, doesn’t it?” Yes, that’s right if it’s really to bring about Vipassana. For that purpose, however, it would be much better and closer to Magga Phala to simply practice Vipassana than to perform donation wasting your wealth, bring about artificial Vipassana. Actual purpose of donation is not to develop vipassana, but to reap the benefit of donation. That’s why the Buddha recommended donation to the worthy recipient saying that the donation to the community of monks (Samgha)results in the great benefit, Samghe dinnam mahapphlam To keep right attitude in donation, the Buddha instructed us to do donation with faith in the Kamma and its result, but not to consider the Three Characteristics, impermanence, suffering and egolessness.

In the story of Visakha, it is notable that she did donation considering how virtuous persons were, like Sota-panna, Saka-dagami, Anagami and Arahatta, but not the Three Characteristics. By considering so, she aroused ecstasy and joy, and in turn cultivated mental faculties(indriya), mental strength (bala), factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga). If it were better to do donation considering the Three Characteristics, she might think of dead monks by considering, “They were gone, they disappeared”. If Visakha did not know that, the Buddha might have taught her to do so. ( The discourse on Paticca-samuppada)

QUESTION 11: Does the practitioner see impermanence etc. at the beginning of the Vipassana practice?

ANSWER 11: The way a Vipassana-yanika person (the Vipassana practitioner without Samatha concentration) practices is explained as follows:

Idhekacco pana vuttapakaram samatham anuppadetva pancu-padanakkhandhe aniccadihi vipassati. Ayam vipassana.

Translation: Here in this Holy Order, one practices Vipassna observing the five aggregates of worldly phenomena, in terms of impermanence, etc, without arousing Samatha concentration. That is pure Vipassana.

As mentioned above, a yogi starts to observe the five aggregates of worldly phenomena, in terms of impermanence, etc., without arousing Samatha concentrations, Upacara-samadhi (the preliminary concentration), and Appana-samadhi (Jhanic concentration). It doesn’t mean, however, that he sees impermanence, etc in the beginning of the practice. As long as the yogi cannot stay away from hindrances, that is, wondering thoughts, he cannot be expected to experience the true characteristics of mind and body. In order to purify the mind of those mental hindrances, it is essential for him to develop temporary concentration based on Vipassana. Only then, can he be aware of the true characteristics of mind and body, bringing about the insight called Nama-rupa-pariccheda-nana (distinguishing between mind and body). Then it’s followed respectively by the insight called Paccaya-pariggaha-nana (the insight into cause and effect), and Sammasana-nana (the insight into impermanence, etc.) Because the detail explanation was made in the Visuddhi-magga, here just brief explanation is made that one observes five aggregates in terms of impermanence, etc. Otherwise, if a yogi sees impermanence, etc., in the beginning of his practice, it will be contrary to the Visuddhi-magga’s explanation.

It also contradicts to the procedure or process of seven stages of purification. So, it must be believed to be false. (The Discourse On Eight-Fold Noble Path To Nibbana)

QUESTION 12: Is it possible to arouse real Vipassana insight by reciting, “appear and disappear”, without observing mind and body which are really arising and passing away?

ANSWER 12: It is impossible to really see impermanence, etc., without experiencing the true characteristics of mind and body. Suppose, unless you see the lightening the moment it strikes, you cannot be aware of how the lightening appears and disappears, can you? In the same way, one cannot see impermanence, etc., without observing mind and body the moment they take place. So, the conclusion should be made that one cannot arouse the real insight into impermanence, etc., by just reciting “appear and disappear” without observing mind and body which are really arising and passing away. That is why one should note that only when one observes mind and body arising and passing away, and consequently experiences their impermanence, etc., can it be real Vipassana insight. (The Discourse On Eight-Fold Noble Path To Nibbana)

QUESTION 13: Does one need to observe mind and body in terms of their names, statistics and form?

ANSWER 13: A practitioner is supposed to observe mind and body. Then, what is the correct way to observe? Should it be done by naming, or itemizing or visualizing them as solid form? No, you don’t need to observe them by naming, as name is not important at all, nor by itemizing: so and so are physical or mental phenomena; so and so are mind and their constituents.

Furthermore, there are some people who are practicing by visualizing objects into particles of dust. In reality, particles are characterized by color and touching sensation only, but nothing else. Think about sound, for example which cannot be visualized into particles. The same is true of smell, taste. Even if they could be visualized as physical things, mental phenomena could be, by no means, visualized into particles. Try visualizing, for instance, the consciousness. It is not possible, is it? Try to visualize greed, or anger. Impossible although it’s really obvious. Unpleasant sensation, for example, cannot be visualized although it’s really obvious. In fact, what one should observe is the true nature of the objects, which can be experienced in terms of their characteristics, functions, manifestation or cause. These are not my words, but from Visuddhi-magga, of course. Visuddhi-magga may be, however, the scripture too advanced for some people. The passage from the manual of Abhi-dhamma, called Abhi-dhammattha-sangala, is very clear to every monastic learner, which says as follows:

Lakkhana-rasa-paccupatthana-padatthana-vasena nama-rupa-pariggaho ditthi-visuddhi nama,

Experiencing mind and body, in terms of their characteristics, functions, manifestation and cause, results in the purification of one’s view.

This is the passage learnt by heart, by nearly every Buddhist student including small novices. I have also learnt it by heart in my childhood, it’s still vivid to my memory. If you don’t remember it, you may practice by visualizing objects into particles of dust.

QUESTION 14: Sati-patthana means mindfulness, which comes under the group of concentration (Samadhi-kkhandha). Then, it is a sort of concentration practice (Samatha), but not Vipassana, is it?

ANSWER 14: Some people raised the question as mentioned above because they just analyze the word, Sati-patthana on the basis of their own opinion, without looking thoroughly into the Sutta itself. Actually, even in the brief section of the Sutta, called Uddesa, the word, Sampajano (being aware of phenomena accurately and precisely) is clearly mentioned, which indicates to the insight knowledge. If you look into the full section of the Sutta, called Niddesa, you will find the phrase, Samuday-dhamma-nupassi va ( seeing the causal phenomena). In the case of Samatha, you are never expected to see phenomena arising and passing away, and their interaction, instead, you are supposed to watch a single object perpetually.

And then, you can find the phrases, Anissito ca viharati, (living independent of the attachment and wrong view), na ca kinci loke upadiyati (attaching oneself to nothing in the world). It is only in the case of Vipassana that you can see appearance and disappearance, and that you can attach yourself to nothing, but not in the case of Samatha. So, even the Samath sections like Anapana (the contemplation on in-and-out breath), patikula-manasikara (the contemplation on foulness) are clearly talked with the purpose to show how to practice Vipassana based on Samatha. No need to say about the Vipassana sections like Iriyapath (the contemplation on the postures), Sampajanna (the awareness practice) and so on. It is even more clear that the sections like Vedana-nupassana, (observation of sensation), Citta-nupassana (the observation of mind), Dhamma-nupassana (the general observation) have nothing to do with Samatha, but they are really pure Vipassana. (The discourse on Sallekha Sutta)

QUESTION 15: Did the Buddha teach us to observe ‘going’ as mind and body?

ANSWER :15 “Gacchanto va gacchamiti pa-janati, when going, know going” It is no sweat to know ‘going’ when going. Of course, it is too simple to be believed as Dhamma practice. Luckily it was taught by the Buddha himself, otherwise it would be thrown into the bin. Even then, some peoples argue that it should not be like that, but it should be so and so. It is like drawing the tail of the ( Nange (the twentieth Burmese character) longer then normal when there is nothing to correct or edit. In the same way, they want to argue that if one is supposed to observe ‘going’ when going, then it will make one’s physical gesture awkward. Besides, it is also to observe conceptual but not ultimate object. That is drawing the tail of the Nange longer. What the Buddha taught require no editing. If it were essential to think about ultimate objects, the Buddha might talk otherwise. Maybe, he might talk that Gacchanto va nama-rupanti pajanati, when going, know ‘mind and body’. (The discourse on Ariyavasa)

QUESTION 16: How to observe the in-and-out breath in terms of Samatha or Vipassana?

ANSWER 16: Whether or not one has attained Jhana, it is Samatha if he observes the in-and-out breath in terms of shape or form, Vipassana in terms of touching sensation, or pulsation. (How To Practice Vipassana)

QUESTION 17: Is it true that it is Atta-kilamatha-nuyoga (the self-denial or asceticism) if you keep on observing pain, heat or stiffness without changing your posture immediately?

ANSWER 17: I’ve been told that a lay meditation teacher said that if you have pain, heat or stiffness due to a long single posture, you should change the posture. Otherwise, it is a type of asceticism. That is an insensible opinion, giving too much priority to Sathka-sapajanna, (the sense of benefits). When you practice Samatha or Vipassana, it is essential to have Khanti-samvara (restraint or self-control with the help of forbearance). Only when you keep on with the practice, forbearing with the pain unless unbearable, can the concentration and insight take place. Otherwise, if you often change your posture, there would be no room left for concentration and insight knowledge. Everybody know that if he or she has ever practiced seriously. So, you should keep on practicing with patience as much as possible, without changing posture frequently. That is really Khanti-samvara (restraint or self-control with forbearance), but not asceticism at all, because such patience is not to make oneself suffer deliberately, but to help develop Khanti-smavara, mindfulness, concentration and insight knowledge.

As a matter of fact, the Buddha wants a yogi to keep on practicing relentlessly rather than to change his or her posture until he or she accomplishes Arahatta-phala on the spot. So it is said in the Sutta called Maha-gosinga, Mula-pannasa: Suppose, if one practices meditation sitting with the crossed legs, making resolution, “I won’t unfasten my sitting with the legs crossed until I can keep my mind away from attachment, and rid it of all mental defilements.”, then he is said to make this Gosinga, (Sala grove monastery) graceful. So, those who teach that if one keeps on practice being patient with unpleasant sensation, it is tantamount to self-denial, are insulting the practitioners under the guidance of the Budhha, and blemishing Buddha’s teaching. Moreover, they are destroying the prospect of practitioners who are going to accomplish concentration and insight knowledge.

Khanti-samvara: Oh monks, here in this Holy Order, a monk with proper consideration cultivates patience with cold, heat, hunger, thirst, bugs, mosquitoes, wind, sun, snake, scorpion and insulting words. He even forbears with physical pains or diseases which are sharp, severe, horrible and fatal. Oh monks, to such a monk the tormenting and distressing defilements happen no longer. He can overcome them with the help of patience and forbearance. (Majjhima I, 113)

In the above-mentioned Sutta, called Sabba-sava, the Buddha instructed to forbear even with the fatal pain. That should be kept in mind. Furthermore, in its commentary, there are some stories like that of an elder monk called Lomasa-naga who did not quit, but spent all his time practicing in the open air during period of Antara-ratthaka, the transitional week between the last two months of year, which is said to be the coldest under the snow in the year, considering how cold it would be in the hell called Lokantarika.

So, you should not change your posture due to moderate pains like stiffness, heat, ache. You should keep on observing with the patience insisting on the unchanged posture. If possible, you should even go on practicing with no regard to life. By doing so you can bring about Khanti-samvara, Vipassana insight and concentration. If the pain is unbearable, the posture should be changed noting it very carefully so that concentration, mindfulness and insight are not disturbed.

Some people misinterpret Atta-kilamatha, against the Buddha’s teaching. According to them, to take trouble for practice is also self-denial. Their interpretation is diametrically opposite to the Buddha’s teaching, who even taught us to practice with no regard to our life and limbs. “Let my skin, tendon and bone remain. Let my flesh dry out. I won’t stop my practice until I accomplish the enlightenment of Magga, Phala I want” making such a firm resolution, the Buddha said, one should continue practice relentlessly. So such an intensive practice should not be said as the self-denial Atta-kilamatha as it helps bring about concentration and insight knowledge.

Let alone such practice, even moral precepts require to take trouble, but it cannot be said to be the self-denial practice as it helps develop concentration and insight knowledge. Suppose, the fasting, for example, during one’s Eight-precept or Ten-precept, is something troublesome especially to the young, isn’t it? It is, however, not said to be the self-denial practice as it is to fulfill one’s morality.

Of course, some people have to take trouble to abstain from killing, etc. The Buddha, however, praised such morality as ‘pain at present, but profit in the future’ in the Sutta called Maha-dhamma-dayada, Mula-pannasa (Page-388-9) as follows:

Oh monks, here one takes trouble mental or physical to refrain from killing, and as a result, he has to suffer pain and distress. (the same is true of nine more wholesome behaviors). He is bound to favorable rebirth after his demise. Oh monks, such a practice of ten wholesome behavior is as ‘pain at present, but profit in the future’

So, a practice should not be regarded as the self-denial if it helps cultivate morality, concentration and insight knowledge, but it is Majjhima-patipada, the Middle Way. On the contrary, if a practice has nothing to do with morality, concentration and wisdom, it should be taken as self-denial, of course. (The discourse on Dhamma-cakka)

QUESTION 18: Is it true that the observation of comfort gives rise to sensual pleasure, while mindfulness of discomfort is identical with the self-denial. So, one should observe neither, but the neutral feeling only?

ANSWER 18: Even in the case of Vipassana practice, some people strangely say that the observation of comfort gives rise to sensual pleasure, while mindfulness of discomfort is identical with the self-denial. So, one should observe neither. The neutral feeling is the only sensation to observe. That’s simply misconception with no evidence to prove it. The Buddha explicitly instructed to observe all types of sensation, in the sensation section of Maha-sati-patthana Sutta as follows:

Sukham vedanam vedayamano, sukham vedanam vedayami-ti pajanati dukkham vedanam vedayamano, dukkham vedanam vedayami-ti pajanati

Translation: When experiencing comfort, know I’m experiencing comfort. When experiencing discomfort, know I’m experiencing discomfort.

Moreover, there are many more Suttas which give similar evidence to prove that all types of sensation should be noted as follows:

yampidam cakkhu-samphassa-paccaya uppajjati vedayitam sukham va dukkham va adukkha-masukham va. Tampi aniccanti yatha-bhutam pajanati.

Translation: Because of eye-contact, appear sensations, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, which should be observed as impermanent.

It comes to the conclusion that any phenomenon which comes under the five Upadanakkhandha (The five aggregates of phenomena which are liable to attachment and wrong view) can be an object to observe. (The discourse on Dhamma-cakka)

QUESTION 19: Is it true that laying clumsily or rolling peculiarly on the floor during one’s intensive practice has something to do with the enlightenment.

ANSWER 19: At the moment of Jhana (the certain state of absorption in the deep concentration), one’s posture is firm and steadfast without making any movement. It can last for long, one, two or three hours and so on. So one can stay on the sitting posture even for the whole day or night, without shaking or falling down. That must be kept in mind. Some people think that laying clumsily or rolling peculiarly on the floor during one’s intensive practice has something to do with the enlightenment. That’s totally wrong because Jhana, or Magga-phala called ‘Appana’ can keep one’s posture like sitting, or standing, firm and steadfast as it was initially. So it is clearly said in the commentary as follows: “Appana-javanam iriyapathampi sannameti, Appana absorption retains posture” So, the conclusion should be made according to the Pali texts that laying clumsily or rolling peculiarly on the floor during one’s intensive practice has nothing to do with the enlightenment.

QUESTION 20: What is the difference between learning in terms of Sanna and noting in terms of Sati?

ANSWER 20: It is Sanna that one notes sense objects to impress them on one’s memory, while Sati just to be aware of their characteristics and Triple Mark, but not to remember or recognize their images, etc. The word Sati, however, literally means to remember, so it is accordingly interpreted as “noting”. It is just the observation of mind and body the moment they take place in order to be aware of them as they really are. So, although the two words sound similar grammatically, but different factually. ( The discourse on Anatta-lakkhana)

QUESTION 21: Does the observation of the rising and falling of the abdomen harmonize with the teaching of the Buddha?

ANSWER 21: The object of the rising and falling of the abdomen is composed of physical phenomena, and so comes under the Rupa-kkhandha, the Physical Aggregate among others. In term of Twelve Sense Bases, it is included in Photthabba-yatana. As a Dhatu(elements)., it is Photthabba-dhatu out of eighteen Dhatus. It is composed of Air-elements in line with Four Fundamental Elements. In terms of Noble Truth, it is said to be Dukkha-sacca, the truth of suffering. Thus, in the ultimate sense, this object of rising and falling the abdomen comes under Rupa-kkhandha, Photthabba-yatana, Vayo-dhatu and Dukkha-sacca, which is qualified as an object for Vipassana in order to realize the Triple Mark, impermanence, suffering and egolessness according to the Buddha’s teaching. (Translation of the Satipatthana Sutta)

QUESTION 22: The would-be Buddha was supremely enlightened into the Buddha-hood by observing Ana-pana (the in-and-out breath.), wasn’t He?

ANSWER 22: The would-be Buddha had aroused Vipassana, by seeing phenomena internal or external in the whole universe, arising and passing away. So the Buddha said:

“Pancannam upadana-kkhandhanam udaya-bbaya-nupassi vihasim” I spent my time seeing five Upadana-kkhandha arising and passing away.(The Five Upadana-kkhandha means the Five Aggregates liable to attachment and wrong view)

Observing five Upadana-kkhandha arising and passing away, he aroused Vipassana insight step by step up to the realization of Nibbana through the enlightenment of Sota-patti Magga. And, again He practiced Vipassana in the similar way, then He experienced Nibbana through Saka-dagami Magga, the second enlightenment. And again He got back to Vipassana, and realized Nibbana through Ana-gami Magga, the third enlightenment. And again He came back to Vipassana, and fully realized Nibbana through the last enlightenment, Arahatta Magga called Asava-kkhaya (the extinction of intoxication of defilements),and became the Buddha who accomplished the omniscience.

QUESTION 23: Is it possible to be aware of phenomena past or future, as they really are?

ANSWER 23: In the Anu-pada Sutta, Upari-pannasa, it is exactly mentioned that in the case of the disciples’ Vipassana practice, only the internal phenomena are important for practice, and the rest can be experienced just by reasoning or judging. So it is crucial to be aware of internal phenomena from one’s own experience. Among them also, the future phenomena cannot be experienced as they really are, because they do not come into existence yet. Regarding the past phenomena, the phenomena in the past lives, for example, can be by no means experienced as they really are, but just by reasoning or judging. Even in this lifetime, it is not easy to experience the objects encountered previous years, months, weeks or days. Actually, even the phenomena in the last hour, are difficult to experience in the ultimate sense, because no sooner had ordinary people seen or heard an object than they took it as an individual person, oneself or other, male or female.

So, we should start our Vipassana practice observing the present phenomena the moment they take place according to Bhaddeka-ratta Sutta. And then, in line with the Satipatthana Sutta which says ‘when going, know going’ etc., one should start Vipassana with present objects like going, standing, sitting, laying and so on. The elaboration is here made, because this Anatta-lakkhana Sutta starts with the past phenomena, as a result, one may get confused that one should start Vipassana with the past. (the discourse on Anatta-lakkhana Sutta)

QUESTION 24: Is it advisable to practice by reciting and considering “body is impermanent, body is impermanent ”

ANSWER 24: Suppose, one practices by reciting and considering “Rupam Aniccam, Rupam Aniccam (Matter is impermanent, matter is impermanent)” The technical terms he or she uses here are correct, of course. If he or she is asked, however, what exactly he or she is contemplating on, or which matter does, he or she means, impermanent, then the answer will be nothing but name or word. There are many more questions to be raised: which matter he or she is observing, the one in the past, or in the future or in the present; whether it is internal or external. The answer will be vague. Suppose, if it is internal, then from which part of the body is it, from the head, body, limbs, skin, flesh, bowel, liver or what else? The answer is nothing but just name or word, Anicca (impermanence) he is thinking of. That is what he is repeatedly thinking of, just like doing chanting, nothing else.

QUESTION 25: Why isn’t a yogi instructed to contemplate on the in-and-out breath?

ANSWER 25: On my opinion, I’m satisfied with the fact that Vipassana can be developed by observing the breath in and out, experiencing the Air Element and the noting mind involved in it. In the Visuddhi-magga, however, the fourteen sections of Kaya-nupassana (the observation of physical body), are divided into two parts, Samatha and Vipassana. Ana-pana (the contemplation on the breath in-and-out) is classified as Samatha as follows:

Iriyapath-pabbam catu-sampajanna-pabbam dhatu-manasikara-pabbanti imani tini vipassana-vasena vuttani—-ana-pana-pabbam pana patikula-manasikara-pabbanca imanevettha dve samadhi-vasena vuttani. (Visuddhi-magga I, Page 232)

The translation: the three sections such as the contemplation on the four postures, on the four kinds of attentiveness and on the four fundamental elements, are taught in term of Vipassana, —— while only two sections such as the contemplation on the breath in-and-out, and on thirty-two parts of repulsive body in term of Samatha.

As mentioned above, Visuddhi-magga explicitly classifies Ana-pana as development of concentration (Samatha). If I instructed yogis to observe Ana-pana to develop Vipassana, I would bound to get blamed in harmony with the above-mentioned Visuddhi-magga that what I’m teaching is Samatha, but not Vipassana. Then it is impossible for me to insist against the Visuddhi-magga that I’m teaching Vipassana. That’s why I don’t instruct a yogi to practice Ana-pana as Vipassana. I do allow, however, a yogi to observe Ana-pana if he or she insists. I never turn it down.

One thing to note is: Visuddhi-magga, and Pati-sambhida-magga clearly say that when you practice Ana-pana, your mind is to concentrate on the nostril only, but not to follow the air coming in. The purpose is to arouse preliminary and Jhanic concentrations (Samatha). In the case of Vipassana, however, an object is not limited to the physical phenomena on a particular place. If we instruct, however, to observe other phenomena like touching sensation or wondering mind or seeing, hearing, etc. then, my instruction will contradict the above-mentioned authorities, and I’m also bound to get blamed for that. That, I hope, satisfactorily answer the question why I don’t particularly instruct a yogi to practice Ana-pana in order to develop Vipassana. (The discourse on Malukya-putta Sutta)

QUESTION 26: Is the observation of the rising and falling not so remote from the canonical texts?

ANSWER 26: It is not so remote from the Pali texts to note the rising and falling of the abdomen. There are thousands of canonical evidences to prove it, such as Sala-yatana Samyutta, etc. They explicitly mention that failure to observe the phenomena arising from the six Sense Doors, results in mental defilements, and that only when a yogi experiences their true qualities by observing them, will he or she be able to realize Magga, Phala and Nibbana. This Malukya-putta Sutta alone can make this point clear.

You can also find it clearly in this Sutta that the objects one never comes across won’t lead you to mental defilements, whereas those one meet can result in the defilements. The Sati-patthana Sutta also directly mentions how to observe the four Fundamental Elements. At the moment a yogi observes rising and falling, the element which prevails, is the Air Element, and the observation of it is, of course, Dhatu-manasika ( the contemplation on Elements). Instead of technical terms, we use here the every-day language to identify the object in the same way as the Buddha instructs: “when going, know going” By observing that way, one is bound to find the true characteristics of them, such as stiffness, movement etc., arising and passing away moment to moment when his or her concentration and insight get mature enough.

Moreover, this is really harmonious with Sati-patthana Sutta Ayatana Dhamma-nupassana-pabba, which mentions as follows: kayanca pajanati, photthabbe ca pajanati (Being aware of the body, being aware of the touching sensations.) That Sutta mentions how to be aware of touching sensation on any part of the body, touching point and delicate physical elements involved. So it is not remote from Pali texts, but harmonizes with them. So, we reasonably assume that any physical behavior, except the four postures, is to be observed in accordance with the Pali passage: yatha yatha va panassa kayo panihito hoti, tatha tatha nam pajanati, whatever way the body is gestured, be aware of it the way it is. Yet, if one cannot be satisfied with the observation of rising and falling, but insist on practicing using the terms which are directly mentioned in the Satipattana Sutta, then he or she is instructed to note consistently ‘sitting, sitting’ when sitting; ‘standing, standing’ when standing; or ‘laying, laying’ when laying. Yet, we don’t instruct a yogi to observe Ana-pana lest it will be contradicting to Visuddhi-magga, and the commentary on Satipatthana sutta which mentions how to practice Vipassana only after arousing Jhana by observing Ana-pana. . I do allow, however, anybody to observe Ana-pana if he or she insists. I never turn it down. (The discourse on Malukya-putta Sutta)

QUESTION 27: Is it Samatha (the development of concentration) if one observe the rising and falling?

ANSWER 27: The rising and falling is included in the Air Element called Assasa-passasa, one of the six kinds of Air Elements. As a matter of fact, the rising and falling belong to four kinds of Air Elements such as Anga-manga-nusari-vayo (the air going through the parts of the body), Assasa-passasa-vayo (the in-and-out breath), Kucchisaya-vayo (the air in the stomach), and Yam va tam va vayo (the air in general).

But, the object, the rising and falling is included in the in-and-out breath as it is mainly connected with it, and manifest as its effect. Yet, I don’t mean it to be Ana-pana, because in the case of Ana-pana practice, a yogi is instructed to concentrate the mind on the air passing through the nostril and upper lip according to Pati-sambhida-magga and Visuddhi-magga, etc. So it is not Ana-pana practice although one observes the breath in-and-out if it is moving about in the abdomen. But, it is Dhatu-vavatthana (the contemplation on the analysis of the elements.) because any type of element can be observed to develop Vipassana, external or internal, which are liable to the attachment and clinging. (The translation of Maha-sati-patthana Sutta)

QUESTION 28: The Satipatthana Pali says that a yogi should observe the in-and-out breath, making clear its beginning, middle and end, while the Pati-sambhida-magga mentions that observing the in-and-out breath following its beginning, middle and end can results in destruction of concentration. Why do they contradict each other?


Sabba-kaya-patisamvedi, being aware of the whole breath. (Pali)

Adi-majjha-pariyosanam viditam karonto, making clear its beginning, middle and end (The commentary)

Api ca kho phusana-vasena ca thapana-vasena ca manasi katabbam, A yogi has to observe the breath making clear its beginning, middle and end, but it must be only on the nostril where the air obviously touches. (Visuddhi-magga I, Page 272)

According to the above-mentioned Pali and commentaries, only when one focuses his mind on the nostril, can Samatha concentration take place. Otherwise, if one follows the breath inside or outside the nostril, then it will result in wondering mind going in or coming out. Actually, it is meant to develop the Samatha concentration. To develop Vipassana, it is said that Sabbam abinneyyam All should be watched, that is, physical phenomena occurring anywhere can be watched. (The answer to the question raised by Sayadaw U Sundara, Mahasi)

QUESTION 29: The observation of rising and falling, bending and stretching, etc., is conceptual knowledge, but not ultimate truth, is it?

ANSWER 29: There are remarks made by some people who never practice intensively: if one note ‘bending and stretching’, it will results in the delusory sense of the shape or form of the hand; noting ‘right step, left step’ will give rise to the conceptual knowledge of the solid form of the foot moving in a awkward manner; observation of the rising and falling will arouse the imagination of the form of the abdomen. Their remarks may be somewhat true to the beginners. It is, however, not true that only conceptual knowledge takes place all the time. In the beginning of the practice, one time conceptual knowledge takes place, another time awareness of the ultimate truth like movement or pulsation arises. Again, some teachers instruct to observe motion only. It is, however, impossible for the beginner to observe the motion only. In the beginning, one cannot do without the conceptual knowledge.

The possible way is to observe with the help of conceptual knowledge, using everyday language. So the Buddha himself gave his talks in everyday language: “when going, aware of going”; “bending, stretching” and so on. The Buddha did not give his talks using ultimate language like ‘Be aware of stiffness’, ‘Be aware of motion’ and so on. Although a yogi practices using everyday language like bending, stretching, etc., he or she is bound to be aware of true characteristics, such as stiffness, motion etc., beyond the solid form or shape, when his or her concentration and mindfulness get mature enough. (The Basic Vipassana)

QUESTION 30: Is it important to behave as if a yogi were a sick person, doing things slowly and gently?

ANSWER 30: A yogi is supposed to behave as if he or she were a blind despite good eye-sight; as if he or she were deaf in spite of good hearing; as if he or she were a dumb fool although he or she is a good speaker; as if he or she were feeble although strong. It is mentioned in the Thera-gatha and Milinda-panha as follows:

Cakkhumassa yatha andho, sotava badhiro yatha.

Pannavassa yatha mugo, balava dubbaloriva.

Atha atthe smuppanne, sayetha mata-sayikam

Translation: Although having good eye-sight, behave as if one were a blind, (That means one should not pay attention to others than meditation objects). In spite of good hearing, behave as if one were a deaf. Although wise enough to talk, behave as if one were a dumb fool. Despite strength, behave as if one were a feeble. As a maximum, in case motionlessness is required for a purpose, behave as if one were a dead body, laying motionless. (The discourse on Tuvataka Sutta)

The yogi should behave as if he were a weak invalid. People in normal health rise easily and quickly and abruptly. Not so with feeble invalids, who do so slowly and gently. The same is the case with people suffering from ‘back-ache’ who rise gently lest the back hurt and cause pain.

So also with meditating yogis. They have to make their changes of posture gradually and gently; only then will mindfulness, concentration and insight be good. Begin therefore with gentle and gradual movements. When rising, the yogi must do so gently like an invalid, at the same time noting as ‘rising, rising.’ Not only this: though the eye sees, the yogi must act as if he does not see. Similarly when the ear hears. While meditating, the yogis concern is only to note. What he sees and hears are not his concern. So whatever strange or striking things he may see or hear, he must behave as if he does not see or hear them, merely noting carefully.

When making bodily movements, the yogi should do so gradually as if he were as weak invalid, gently moving the arms and legs, bending or stretching them bending down the head and bringing it up .

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