The following article has been condensed from a discourse given by S. N. Goenka on the second day of a three-day Vipassana course for old students.
At the surface, the mind plays so many games thinking, imagining, dreaming, giving suggestions. But deep inside, the mind remains a prisoner of its own habit pattern, and the habit pattern of the deepest level of the mind is to feel sensations and react. If the sensations are pleasant, the mind reacts with craving; if they are unpleasant, it reacts with aversion.
The enlightenment of the Buddha was to go to the root of the problem. Unless we work at the root level, we will be dealing only with the intellect and only this part of the mind will be purified. As long as the roots of a tree are healthy they will provide healthy sap for the entire tree. So start working with the roots. This was the enlightenment of the Buddha.
When he gave Dhamma, the Noble Eightfold Path the path of sīla (morality), samādhi (mastery over the mind) and paññā (experiential wisdom) it was not to establish a cult, a dogma or a belief. Dhamma is a practical path. Those who walk on it can go to the deepest level and eradicate all their miseries.
Those who have really liberated themselves will understand that going to the depth of the mind making a surgical operation of the mind has to be done by oneself, by each individual. Someone can guide you with love and compassion; someone can help you in your journey on the path, but nobody can carry you on their shoulders and say: "I will take you to the final goal, just surrender to me; I will do everything."
You are responsible for your own bondage. You are responsible for making your mind impure, no one else. You are responsible for purifying your mind by breaking all the bondages. No one else can do that for you.
Continuity of practice is the secret of success. When it is said that you should be continuously aware, this means that you must be aware with wisdom of the sensations on the body, where you really experience things arising and passing away. The awareness of anicca is what purifies your mind, the awareness of the arising and passing away of these sensations.
Intellectualising this truth will not help. You may understand: "Everything that arises sooner or later passes away. Anyone who takes birth sooner or later dies. This is anicca." You may understand this correctly but you are not experiencing it. Only your own personal experience will help you to purify your mind and liberate you from your miseries. The word for "experience" used in India at the time of Buddha was vedanā, feeling by experiencing, not just intellectualisation. And this is possible only when a sensation is felt on the body.
Anicca must be experienced. If you are not experiencing it, it is merely a theory. And the Buddha was not interested in theories. Even before the Buddha, and at the time of the Buddha, there were teachers who taught that the entire universe is anicca; this was not new. What was new from the Buddha was the experience of anicca; and when you experience it within the framework of your own body, you have started working at the deepest level of your mind.
Two things are very important for those who walk on the path. The first is breaking the barrier that divides the conscious and the unconscious mind. But even if your conscious mind can now feel those sensations that were previously felt only by the deep unconscious part of your mind, that alone will not help you. The Buddha wanted you to take a second step: change the mind’s habit of reacting at the deepest level.
Coming to the stage where you have started feeling sensations is a good first step, yet the habit pattern of reaction remains. When you feel an unpleasant sensation, if you keep reacting, "Oh, I must get rid of this," that will not help. If you start feeling a pleasant flow of very subtle vibrations throughout the body, and you react, "Ah, wonderful! This is what I was looking for. Now I’ve got it!" you have not understood Vipassana at all.
Vipassana is not a game of pleasure and pain. You have been reacting this way for your entire life, for countless lifetimes. Now in the name of Vipassana you have started making this habit pattern stronger. Every time you feel an unpleasant sensation you react with aversion; every time you feel a pleasant sensation you react with craving, in the same way as before. Vipassana has not helped you, because you have not practised Vipassana in the right way.
Whenever you again make the mistake of reacting because of the old habit, see how quickly you can become aware of it: "Look, an unpleasant sensation and I am reacting with aversion; look, a pleasant sensation and I am reacting with craving. This is not Vipassana. This will not help me."
Understand that this is what you have to do. If you are not one hundred per cent successful, it does not matter. This will not harm you as long as you keep understanding and keep trying to change the old habit pattern. If you have started coming out of your prison for even a few moments, you are progressing.
This is what the Buddha wanted you to do: practise the Noble Eightfold Path. Practise sīla so that you can have the right type of samādhi. For those who keep breaking sīla there is little hope that they will go to the deepest levels of reality. Sīla develops after you have some control over your mind, after you start understanding with paññā that breaking sīla is very harmful. Your paññā at the experiential level will help your samādhi. Your samādhi at the experiential level will help your sīla. Strong sīla will help your samādhi become strong. Strong samādhi will help your paññā become strong. Each of the three will start helping the other two and you will keep progressing, progressing on the path.
There were many techniques in India in those days, and also later on, practising which meditators started feeling subtle vibrations throughout the body, when the solidity of the body had dissolved. The truth is that even the subtlest vibration one can experience is still a phenomenon in the field of mind and matter. It is arising, passing, arising, passing; still in the field of anicca, a field of constant change.
Some meditators of old tried to impose a philosophy on this subtle experience. Having reached the stage where they experienced nothing but vibrations, they postulated: "Throughout the universe, there is this subtle energy. This is God Almighty. I am experiencing this; I am with God Almighty. The entire universe is one. Every being is God. Why should I have any kind of preference or prejudice?" It is a very positive mental suggestion but it only helps at a superficial level.
The reality is that even this very subtle experience is still in the field of mind and matter; it is not the ultimate truth that is beyond mind and matter. All these suggestions, however positive they may be, cannot liberate anyone. You must be with reality: all vibrations are nothing but a flux, a flow. This realisation removes the deep-rooted habit pattern of reacting to the sensations.
Whatever sensations you experience pleasant, unpleasant or neutral you should use them as tools. These sensations can become tools to liberate you from your misery, provided you understand the truth as it is. But these same sensations can also become tools that multiply your misery. Likes and dislikes should not cloud the issue. The reality is: sensations are arising and passing away; they are anicca. Pleasant, unpleasant or neutral it makes no difference. When you start realising the fact that even the most pleasant sensations you experience are dukkha (suffering), then you are coming nearer to liberation.
Understand why pleasant sensations are dukkha. Every time a pleasant sensation arises, you start relishing it. This habit of clinging to pleasant sensations has persisted for countless lifetimes, and it is because of this that you have aversion. Craving and aversion are two sides of the same coin. The stronger the craving, the stronger aversion is bound to be. Sooner or later every pleasant sensation turns into an unpleasant one, and every unpleasant sensation will turn into a pleasant one; this is the law of nature. If you start craving pleasant sensations, you are inviting misery.
The Buddha’s teaching helps us to disintegrate the solidified intensity that keeps us from seeing the real truth. At the actual level, there are mere vibrations, nothing else. At the same time, there is solidity. For example, this wall is solid. This is a truth, an apparent truth. The ultimate truth is that what you call a wall is nothing but a mass of vibrating subatomic particles. We have to integrate both these truths through proper understanding.
Dhamma develops our understanding, so that we free ourselves from the habit of reacting and understand that craving is harming us, aversion is harming us. And then we become more realistic: "See, there is ultimate truth, but there is also apparent truth, which is also a truth."
The process of going to the depth of the mind to liberate yourself is done by you alone; but you must also be prepared to work with your family, with society as a whole. The yardstick to measure whether love, compassion and goodwill are truly developing within you is whether these qualities are being exhibited toward the people around you.
The Buddha wanted us to be liberated at the deepest level of our minds. And that is possible only when three characteristics are realised: anicca (impermanence), dukkha (suffering) and anattā (egolessness). When the mind starts to become deconditioned, layer after layer becomes purified until the mind is totally unconditioned. Then purity becomes a way of life. You will not have to practise mettā (compassionate love) as you do now at the end of your one-hour sitting. Later, mettā just becomes a part of your life. All the time you will remain suffused with love, compassion and good will. This is the aim, the goal.
The path of liberation is the path of working at the deepest level of the mind. There is nothing wrong with giving good mental suggestions, but unless you change the blind habit of reacting at the deepest level, you are not liberated. Nobody is liberated unless the deepest level of the mind is changed. And the deepest level of the mind is constantly in contact with bodily sensations.
We have to divide, dissect and disintegrate the entire structure to understand how mind and matter are interrelated. If you work only with the mind and forget the body, you are not practising the Buddha’s teaching. If you work only with the body and forget the mind, again you are not understanding the Buddha properly.
Anything that arises in the mind turns into matter, into a sensation in the material field. This was the Buddha’s discovery. People forgot this truth, which can only be understood through proper practice. The Buddha said, "Sabbe dhammā vedanā samosaraṇā:, anything that arises in the mind starts flowing as a sensation on the body.
The Buddha used the word asava, which means flow or intoxication. Suppose you have generated anger. A biochemical flow starts, which generates very unpleasant sensations. Because of these unpleasant sensations, you start reacting with anger. As you generate anger, the flow becomes stronger. There are unpleasant sensations and, with them, a biochemical secretion. As you generate more anger, the flow becomes stronger.
In the same way, when passion or fear arises, a particular type of biochemical substance starts flowing in the blood. A vicious circle starts, which keeps repeating itself. There is a flow, an intoxication, at the depth of the mind. Out of ignorance, we become intoxicated by this particular biochemical flow. Although it makes us miserable, yet we become intoxicated: we want it again and again. So we keep on generating more and more anger, more and more passion, more and more fear. We become intoxicated by whatever impurity we generate in the mind. When we say that someone is addicted to alcohol or drugs, this is untrue. No one is addicted to alcohol or drugs. The actual truth is that one is addicted to the sensations that are produced by the alcohol or drugs.
Buddha teaches us to observe reality. Every addiction will be undone if we observe the truth of the sensations on the body with this understanding: "Anicca, anicca. This is impermanent." Gradually we will learn to stop reacting.
Dhamma is so simple, so scientific, so true a law of nature applicable to everyone. Whether one is Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian; whether one is American, Indian, Burmese, Russian or Italian it makes no difference; a human being is a human being. Dhamma is a pure science of mind, matter, and the interaction between the two. Do not allow it to become a sectarian or philosophical belief. This will be of no help.
The greatest scientist produced by the world worked to find the truth about the relationship between mind and matter. And discovering this truth, he found a way to go beyond mind and matter. He explored reality not just for the sake of satisfying his curiosity but to find a way to be free of suffering. So much misery in every family, in every society, in every nation, in the entire world. The Enlightened One found a way to come out of this misery.
There is no other solution: each one must come out of misery oneself. When every member of a family comes out of misery, the family will become happy, peaceful and harmonious. When every member of society comes out of misery, when every member of a nation comes out of misery, when every citizen of the world comes out of misery only then will there be world peace.
There cannot be world peace just because we want world peace: "There should be peace in the world because I am agitating for it." This does not happen. We cannot agitate for peace. When we become agitated, we lose our peacefulness. Let there be no agitation. Purify your mind. Then every action you take will add peace to the universe.
Purify your mind: this is how you can stop harming others and start helping them. When you work for your own liberation, you will find that you have also started helping others come out of their misery. One individual becomes several individuals there is a slow widening of the circle. But there is no magic, no miracle. Work for your own peace, and you will find that you have started helping the atmosphere around you to become more peaceful, but only when you work properly.
The biggest miracle is changing the habit pattern of the mind from rolling in misery to freedom from misery. There is no bigger miracle than this. Every step that is taken toward this kind of miracle is a healthy step, a helpful step. Every other apparent miracle is only bondage.
May you all come out of your misery, come out of your bondage. May you all enjoy real peace, real harmony, real happiness.
Vipassana course for blind students in Nepal
A ten-days Vipassana course for 13 males and 12 females visually impaired students was organised at Dharmaśriṅga, Kathmandu last month. A unique feature of this course was that there were as many Dhamma workers as students in the course. All the students completed the course successfully and expressed deep joy and gratitude at the end of the course.