Vipassana Research Institute

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Vipassana Research Institute
Vipassana Practice
Vipassana Research Institute

A store-house of answers by S.N. Goenkaji


Why is it important to sit two full hours every day?
It is essential that you give material food to your body at least twice every day, to keep it healthy and strong. Similarly you have to give some food to the mind to keep it healthy and strong. And with these two hours of sitting, you are doing that.


Vipassana Practice (clarifications requested from practicing Vipasana students)



1. What should we do if both the nostrils are blocked during Anapana?


Try, keep trying. If both the nostrils are blocked atleast one will get opened up. But if you stop trying - and start breathing through the mouth - it won't open up. Keep trying, at least one will get opened up.


2. Is it okay to count the breath?


No, no. That is verbalization. You must observe the natural breath, as it is.


3. My breathing is very forced and shallow and my eye lids flutter. Is that all right?


It doesn't matter. If it is shallow, it is shallow. So long as you feel that the breath is there, incoming and outgoing, then the purpose is served. Not that it should become very deep and not shallow. At times it will become very deep and at times shallow. As the mind gets concentrated you will find that the breath is becoming shorter, shorter, at times it may even stop, and you are aware of it. And then suddenly a deep breath, because you need oxygen. Then again it will become shallow, subtle, and then again a deep breath will come. If naturally it happens, allow it to happen, nothing wrong.


4. When I am doing Anapana( during a 10-day course), I have very similar sensations as when I am doing Vipassana.


Yes. You will get sensations everywhere, but ignore them. During Anapana, only this area (the small area above the upper lip, below the nostrils). Being an old student, tommorow morning (Day Four ) you start giving all importance to this area with sensation. Upto three days, only respiration. So many things are happenng in the body - ignore them during Anapana.


5. Does Anapana get rid of sankharas in the same way as Vipassana does?


To some extent, yes it does. But Anapana is actually to sharpen the mind so that Vipassana becomes stronger.


6. When I meditate, my eyeballs start moving. Is there some particular place to look?


No. Just forget about the eyes and let them be closed. Otherwise, if the eyeballs start moving, they will cause strain and tension. Whenever you find they have started moving, stop them: 'Oh, eyes have got no function in this technique'. They will stop. Then again, after some time they will start rolling - then again stop. Like this, come out of this habit. Let the eyeballs be naturally still.


7. I see a lot of images, when I am meditating, a lot of light, faces...


They are nothing but the projection of your own accumulation at the deep, unconscious level. Whatever you have accumulated starts to be projected. Ignore them, don't give them any importance. Don't try to push them out, nor start taking an interest in them. They will pass away. This is a sign of your progress on the path, because this naturally happens as you go deeper.


8. I am an old student, but when I kneel down like this for forty-five minutes, say, there is still pain. Does that mean there is an impurity or sankhara?


Yes, it has something to do with sankhara. But at the stage when you are doing Anapana, then it is not advisable that you forcefully sit for one hour without changing. That is only after Vipassana. Now, whenever the pain becomes severe, change your position.


9. Is pain necessarily a part of getting rid of sankharas?


Certain sankharas will come out only as pain. So let them come out.


10. When meditating, I experience a lot of pain in my joints.


Good, good. There is no sensation like pain. If you get pain, wonderful ! Learn how to observe it. If there is pain and it tries to overpower you, then try to find the centre of the pain, and then see how far the influence of the pain is. Like this you divide the area, as it is somebody else's pain that you are examing. Examine it like a doctor examines the patient's body. Then you will be detached from it. Most of the time, the pain will over power you. But keep trying. Then, through the pain, you will start feeling something else - maybe pressure, maybe heat, maybe throbbing. Then you will get an undercurrent of vibration through the pain, which is throughout the body. Be as equanimous as possible. Soon, you will reach the stage where pain will not bother you.


11. Do sankharas mainly come out as pain?


Not necessarily pain, they can manifest in different ways. They can come out as heat, they can come out as pressure, throbbing, as subtle vibrations. According to the type of sankhara, that type of sensation there will be.


12. When the sensations are strong on one area, should one try to stay with that area or move?


No. Don't stay in one area. Use the breath. With Anapana, the mind will start moving down. If it gets stuck due to any reason, the breath will help you. Like this, if you keep on working, a stage will come that in spite of severe pain, you can move anywhere you like. If you keep trying, you will be successful.


13. I've been having nightmares (during a Vipassana course).


This is a sign of some very deep fear complex in you that otherwise would not have arisen. Because of this deep operation of Vipassana, it has come up and manifests itself as nightmares. Even during meditation, you might feel some fearful thing, it comes and goes away. When you cut open the wound, the pus is bound to come out. It is a good sign that the pus comes out. It comes out to go away.


14. I've been having mental storms, and I've been watching the sensation during the time. But it's left me with a feeling of confusion and nausea.


At times, if the storm is very big, and you say you are observing your sensations, actually you are not observing your sensations. This negativity is overpowering you, and only a small part of the mind is observing the sensation. If this happens, use the breath more. When there is a big storm, you stop sailing, put your anchor down and wait for some time. And the breath is the anchor. Come back to Anapana. Wait, wait, wait. Let the mind get a little calmer, and then continue to work with the sensation. Then you start cutting the root of this particular negativity which has surfaced as a storm.


15. As I am meditating (during a course), some thoughts come out in clear sequence, and I feel I'm beginning to solve some of the things that are of concern to me...


Yes. So that becomes a big distraction. Although it is very helpful because every thought that will come at the deeper level will be a good thought, a wholesome thought, and the decision will be a right decision. But now you are not here for decision making, you are here to purify the mind. So even if such thoughts start coming, don't suppress them, but don't take any interest in them. Pay entire attention to the sensation. If you start feeling very delighted with this kind of thought, then you forget the sensation, and your process of purification has stopped. So be with the sensation and let the thoughts come. They won't harm you.


16. Is it all right to practise techniques such as hatha-yoga and pranayama?


The physical aspects of Yoga and pranayama go perfectly all right with Vipassana. But the meditation part of yoga is dangerous with the practise of Vipassana.That should not be added to it. Merely the physical part of it all right, nothing wrong.


17. How can we tell if we are suppressing an emotion or not?


When you are equanimously observing the sensation, then you are not suppressing it. If you are not with sensation, then certainly a part of the mind doesn't want this emotion that has arisen, because it is a misery. So you want to get rid of it. A part of the mind starts pushing it out. That is suppression. But if you accept it, " Well, a certain memory has come, it has come. A certain emotion has come, it has come", and then you give importance to the sensation, then you are cutting the root of this emotion. This will get eradicated, because you are with the sensation, you are working with the root. If you forget the root, and try to rectify the leaves and the branches, it doesn't work. You have to go to the root.


18. If one does not have the power to choose sensation, where is the power to choose equanimity?


That power lies in the part of the mind which is cognizing. This part of the mind is always equanimous. It has become so weak that the fourth part of the mind which reacts overpowers you. Now by Vipassana this power gains its strength, and this part, if it becomes strong, the second, the third, the fourth, they all become gradually weak. And this pure consciousness which is not reacting will become the mind's true nature. So that is the true nature of the first part, vinnana. It remains very pure, so it is regaining its own nature.


19. I'm having problems with emotions coming to the surface (during Anapana).


Good. That is a good sign, because the whole technique is an operation of the mind and you've got so much suppressed emotion in you. So long as they are deep inside you they are a continuous source of misery. Let them come out. This is the time now, let them come out - you are aware of your respiration - then layers after layers will pass away - you will be free from them.


20. How do we know that we are not creating sensations?


You can give yourself a test. If you are doubtful whether the sensations you feel are real, you can give yourself two or three commands, auto-suggestions. If you find that the sensations change according to your commands, then you know that they are not real. In that case, you must throw away the entire experience and start again, observing respiration for some time. But if you find that you cannot control the sensations, that they do not change according to your will, then you must throw away the doubt and accept that the experience is real.


21. What is the reason behind the adhitthana sittings (sitting for one hour with strong determination not to change posture or open the eyes).


You are training to learn equanimity even in severe pain. So you are passing through this torture so that you can learn how to be equanimous, as a training to deal with the painful, difficult situations in life where you cannot do anything, but have to face it. During adhitthana sitting, even if you have equanimity for a few moments, or even one moment, that moment is so powerful it cuts so much of impurity in you. So adhitthana sitting is not just for the sake of torture.


22. Why is it important to sit two full hours every day?


It is essential that you give material food to your body at least twice every day, to keep it healthy and strong. Similarly you have to give some food to the mind to keep it healthy and strong. And with these two hours of sitting, you are doing that.


23. What is the value of attending group sittings?


Whenever a few people sit together, whatever they generate in their minds permeates the atmosphere. If five, ten, twenty, or fifty people meditate together, the vibrations of one or two amongst them might be good vibrations and this may help the others meditate better in that atmosphere.


24. I still get a lot of pain even when I meditate at home. What should I do?


Meditate. What else can you do? Now you have a wonderful object with which you can remove your habit pattern of aversion. Whenever you feel something unpleasant, the old habit of the mind is to react with aversion. Vipassana is to help you be free of all such conditioning. Your aversion toward unpleasant sensations cannot be eradicated unless you face them and change this habit pattern. So welcome all these objects which help you come out of your old habit of aversion. The whole purpose of Vipassana is to change the habit pattern of the mind: neither have craving toward pleasant sensations nor aversion toward unpleasant ones. When you have pleasant sensations observe them without attachment, without reaction, understanding they are anicca. Good, now unpleasant sensations have come; make use of them, work with Vipassana.


25. For a period after each course I can meditate okay. Then it becomes harder, so that I cannot even pass my attention through the body. What should I do?


Continue to work. Keep on fighting your battle. When you come to a Dhamma environment like this, the entire atmosphere is charged with vibrations which are anti-craving, anti-aversion, anti- ignorance. In this atmosphere you can work better, and you gain strength by your practice here. With that strength you have to face the world outside. After all, you have to live in the world. You can't live in a meditation center all the time. You go to a hospital to gain health, not to live there. So gain strength here and then live in the world. After some time you may find that your meditation is again becoming weaker. Understand the reason: the whole atmosphere outside is charged with the vibrations of craving and aversion, and you are doing something which is anti-craving, anti-aversion. The outside atmosphere starts overpowering you and you become weaker. You have to keep on fighting. Whenever you find you have become so weak that you can't work with the body and bodily sensations, come back to Anapana. Breath is something which you can intentionally make harder. If you work with it and you can't feel your breath, make it a little harder. You can intentionally make this object a little more gross. Work with that; the mind becomes calm and you will reach a stage where you can again start working on the body.


26. If I am not able to experience subtle sensation in the body, how can I practice metta?


It is true that if you practice metta with these subtle sensations, it is very strong, very effective, because then you are working with the deepest level of your mind. If you are experiencing a gross sensation, that means only the surface level of your mind is working and the metta is not that effective. But it doesn't matter. In this case just keep thinking at the intellectual, conscious level, "May all beings be happy. May all beings be happy." And keep on working. When you reach the stage where there are subtle vibrations, you will work at a deeper level and the metta will be more effective.


27. When thoughts and emotional upsurges come, how can I observe them equanimously?


It is not necessary to observe thoughts and emotions. Just accept the fact that now there is some chattering going on in the mind; good enough. No thought or emotion can arise in the mind without a sensation on the body. When you are working with sensations you are working at the root level of your mind. You are purifying your mind at the root level. So stay with the sensations, and just accept the fact that some chattering is going on or some emotion has arisen, that's all. Don't go into the details of it.


28. My mind still remains immersed in sexual desire and as a result I am unable to maintain the continuity of practice. What can I do?


Fight this battle. Lust is something which keeps following you life after life and it is a very deep sankhara. Whenever sexual desire arises in the mind don't focus on the object of the lust. Just accept the fact of lust as lust. "At this moment my mind is full of lust." Accept this, and see what sensation you have. At that moment start observing whatever sensation predominates anywhere in the body, and keep understanding, "Anicca, anicca. This is not permanent, this is not permanent. This lust that has come is also not permanent; let me see how long it lasts." In this way the sexual desire becomes weaker and weaker and passes away.


29. Should I simply observe the sensations and let Dhamma do the rest, or should I also make a conscious effort by thought or in other ways to understand anicca?


Not only by thought, but by experience. You are observing sensation and you are experiencing the reality, "Well look, it is anicca." Then it works. Otherwise, if you just experience sensations and don't understand, "This is impermanent," how will you develop equanimity, how will you develop panna?


30. I feel like my meditation has become really sloppy, and I'm not sure why. I want to see what I'm doing wrong.


No, no, Nothing is wrong. What you call a good meditation is actually a good operation. Every time you meditate--being very attentive,aware, equanimous--then an operation of the mind starts. Some storm comes up, the pus of the wound starts to come out. When this happens, you will feel as if your meditation has become weak. But this storm has to arise. If it continues to lie deep inside, you will not be relieved of it. When at sea, if there's a big storm you stop sailing, you put down your anchor and wait until the storm is over. Here, your anchor is Anapana. Forget about Vipassana when a storm is present. Work with Anapana, slightly hard breathing. Then your mind will start to calm down, and you can return to Vipassana. A storm is not a regression. It is part of the technique. It happens. Don't worry.


31. Is the fifth precept to abstain from intoxicants or to abstain from being intoxicated? After all, drinking in moderation, without becoming drunk, does not seem particularly harmful. Or are you saying that drinking even one glass of alcohol is breaking sila?


If you practise Vipassana seriously and one day you drink a glass of wine out of forgetfulness or at a social gathering, that day you will find that your meditation is weak. Dhamma cannot go together with the use of intoxicants. If you really wish to develop in Dhamma, you must stay free from all intoxicants. This is the experience of thousands of meditators. By drinking even a small amount, in the long run you develop a craving for alcohol. You don't realize it, but you take a first step towards addiction, which is certainly harmful to yourself and others. Every addict starts by taking just one glass. Why take the first step towards suffering?


Vipassana Research Institute
Vipassana Research Institute