Tisso ime, bhikkhave, vedana. Katama tisso? Sukha vedana, dukkha vedana, adukkhamasukha vedana. Sukhaya, bhikkhave, vedanaya raganusayo pahatabbo, dukkhaya vedanaya patighanusayo pahatabbo, adukkhamasukhaya vedanaya avijjanusayo pahatabbo.
There are three types of sensations, oh meditators. What three? Pleasant sensation, unpleasant sensation, and neutral sensation. The underlying tendency to crave for pleasant sensation must be abandoned. The underlying tendency of ignorance about neutral sensation must be abandoned.
--Pahana Sutta, Samyutta Nikaya, XXXVI. 3.
Every religion teaches the importance of living a moral life, of developing mastery of the mind, of keeping the mind free from defilements. Reading about such teachings in the scriptures, a religious devotee may accept them out of great faith or of out of intellectual conviction. But merely accepting these teachings will not help at all; the real benefit comes only from practice.
One cannot quench a raging rhirst by reading a description of the molecular structure of water. One cannot satisfy the pangs of hunger by studying a restaurant menu. One cannot be healed of the torment of sickness by reading a doctor's prescription. Neither will diverting the attention give real relief from thirst, from hunger, or from disease. In the same way, trying to forget the problems of life will not solve them, nor will it help merely to talk about the way to solve them. Unless one takes concrete steps to their solution--that is, unless one practices Dhamma--one is bound to remain miserable.
Practice, however, is not so easy; one must work hard to eliminate negativity's from the mind. Far easier is to suppress them or to distract the mind, or to intoxicate it with a pleasurable object. But suppression, diversion, or intoxication are only temporary; when their effects wear off, the problem still remains. So long as defilements exist in its depths, the mind is not cured of the disease of suffering.
Whenever we encounter an unpleasant situation we usually try to run away from it, to escape from the unwelcome reality by busying the mind elsewhere. And life provides so many kinds of entertainment to help us distract ourselves: television, cinema, fairs and circuses, or even worse, intoxicants such as alcohol and drugs. Even if one does not seek such worldly diversions, the alternative is often spiritual intoxication: going to a place of worship and mindlessly repeating prayers or performing ceremonies. Doing so may not be as harmful as worldly distraction but ultimately escapism is escapism. For a time the mind remains engrossed in these diversions, but sooner or later whatever problem lies concealed in its depths will again rise to the surface; and if force has been used to suppress the problem it will erupt with equal force. Diversion and suppression therefore do not eliminate suffering, they actually increase it.
In fact suffering arises not outside but within us. The cause of suffering also lies within, in the defilements and negativities of the mind. Seeking to replace unwelcome external objects with agreeable ones is a form of self-deception, a palliative rather than a real treatment of the disease.
A wiser way to deal with suffering is to try to understand it properly. Someone who does so will first ask himself why he has become unhappy, and the answer will be obvious: when he encountered an unpleasant person, thing, or situation, he started generating mental aversion towards it. This aversion is in fact a form of craving: the desire to be rid of the unpleasant experience. The habit of the mind is to crave for whatever it regards as pleasant, and if instead of pleasant objects it encounters unwanted, unpleasant ones, it develops aversion. So long as the mind remains caught in the habit of craving it will also be caught in the habit of aversion, both of which are bound to make us agitated and miserable.
To understand this much intellectually is good, but to actually relieve the misery this understanding must lead us to action. We must do something to eliminate the habit of craving and aversion. Only then will we be freed from suffering.
Someone may do so. may begin to practice Dhamma, but quickly becomes discouraged by the difficulties he faces. Out of a feeling of inferiority and helplessness, he decides that he is too weak to free himself from misery, that in fact he needs the help of a stronger invisible power. Imagining such an all-powerful entity, this person begs and beseeches it to end all his sufferings. He develops the blind faith that this imaginary almighty being will remove his misery if he simply recites its name or imagines its appearance. He is in fact misled by his own feelings of fear and weakness. He does not realize that should there really be a supreme being, such behaviour insults and devaluates it.
After all, if someone is omniscient, he must know that all the beings of the universe are miserable, And if he is really omnipotent, surely he must be able to liberate all beings from misery. If this is so, then to suppose that this all-seeing, all-powerful God will help only those who keep him in good humour by calling upon his name or repeating his praises or by keeping in mind his form is actually to assume that this imagined Supreme Being is an ego-centered person lacking any trace of compassion. Certainly one must be very egotistical to wish to hear one's name constantly on the lips of as many people as possible, to wish to have as many people as possible imagine one's form, to wish to receive the most exaggerated flattery. And certainly one is barren of any real compassion if one will help only those sycophants who dedicate themselves to inflating one's ego in these ways. Could a Supreme Being really be of such a nature? If in fact a Supreme Being exists, such blind faith only degrades and insults him.
Still, without thinking it through logically, one feels great comfort in believing that God will wash away one's sins and sorrows if one simply recites his name or imagines his form. And so one tries to meditate on the form of God, summoning to mind a painting or sculpture that one has seen or a description that one has read. These images in paint, in stone, or in words are actually the products of the imagination of artists who have never themselves witnessed the being whose form they have portrayed. To the meditator the form is very attractive because he believes that the imagined deity will somehow help him. Therefore it becomes easy for him to fix his mind on this object and so to develop concentration. But meditating on such an imaginary object will certainly not lead to truth.
In the same way one finds it very appealing to repeat the name of an imagined god in whom one reposes all one's hopes. This repetition of a word--any word at all--will generate a particular vibration, in which one becomes engulfed. The meditator's hope that his god will fulfill his desires turns into blind faith, which motivates him to repeat the name of his self-created god. With great enthusiasm he keeps repeating the name until the mind becomes ecstatic. absorbed and immersed in the vibrations he has generated. But no matter how pleasurable the ecstasy it engenders, the repetition of a word will not lead the meditator to truth.
Nevertheless such practices have their benefits. The mind forgets whatever unpleasant situation may exist and remains plunged in pleasant vibrations, artificial and imaginary though they may be. Thus it seems to the meditator as if misery has been eliminated. But in fact it still exists, because the roots of misery remain in the mind. Until these are removed there is no real liberation.
In order to dig out these roots. we must penetrate to their level, to the depths of the mind where defilements arise. Mere recitations, contemplations, and imaginations will not help us to do this. We must investigate truth, the truth within ourselves.
As a meditator starts investigating truth within, he soon realizes that external objects exist for us only when they come into contact with the five physical senses or the mind, all of which are found within the framework of the body. To experience truth directly one must explore the world within the framework of the body, giving no importance to external objects. One must be equally careful to avoid all imaginary and artificially created objects, however attractive they might be, however they might conform to one's traditional beliefs.
Instead the meditator must be as impartial as a research scientist, accepting and observing objectively whatever truth he experiences at this moment within himself. If one works in this way, all the mysteries of nature will unfold, all the laws of the universe will become clear. The meditator will understand how misery arises and multiplies, and will be able to see how to get rid of misery. With this wisdom he will naturally be able to uproot the causes of suffering, that is, the mental defilements. All this process will take place by experiencing directly truth within, by feeling the truth through observing bodily sensations.
In the quest for truth, the meditator observes unpleasant sensations objectively. As he does so automatically he divides, dissects, disintegrates, and analyzes the unpleasant sensations until he experiences for himself their nature of impermanence, of arising and passing away. By doing so he uproots the accumulated conditionings of aversion from the mind. In a similar process of penetration he realizes the fleeting nature of pleasant sensations, and so uproots the accumulated conditionings of craving. And by experiencing the transitory nature of neutral sensations he uproots the accumulated conditionings of ignorance.
All other mental defilements are based on these three: craving, aversion, and ignorance. When these three are removed, all are uprooted, and hence all sufferings that arise because of these defilements are ended. This happens because the meditator investigates the truth of body and mind, penetrating from apparent to subtler levels until he realizes the truth of impermanence. With this realization he purifies the mind and becomes capable of experiencing the ultimate truth beyond mind and matter, beyond the world of arising and passing away.
After experiencing the ultimate truth beyond the conditioned world, one becomes truly established in wisdom, the wisdom of detachment. No situation will be able to overwhelm the meditator. Whatever he encounters in life--wanted or unwanted, pleasant or unpleasant--the mind will keep its balance.
Thus by practicing Vipassana one walks on the path leading out of misery. As much as the mind is freed from defilements, that much is one liberated from suffering, and to that extent one enjoys real happiness.
Come, oh meditators! Let us leave all imaginations and artificial creations. With the help of sensations arising naturally within ourselves, let us explore and experience truth within, to eradicate all mental defilements and to attain the goal of real happiness, real peace.