Mr. S. N. Goenka, Principal teacher of Vipassana meditation have conducted many children courses and have answered broad spectrum of questions from children as well as parents. Few questions are provided below for better understanding of Anapana meditation.
What is the mind?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: The mind is what thinks! The entire thought process is due to the mind. It is the mind that is constantly involved in the various actions of thinking, reading and pondering over what has been read, etc. During its course of thinking, the mind may act beneficially or harmfully. If it adopts the wrong habit pattern, then it will generate feelings of ill will and animosity for others. If instead, the mind reforms itself, then although it will still have thoughts they will now be thoughts for the well being of others. If someone has shortcomings, the mind will want that person to overcome his shortcomings because now the mind knows that due to his shortcomings, that person will perform wrong actions which will make him more miserable and unhappy. So the mind will harbour thoughts of goodwill towards that person. It will want the person to refrain from doing bad deeds and thus save himself from burning in the fires of suffering. We observe that it is the nature of the mind to generate thoughts all the time. Therefore, our most important duty is to guide the mind towards a healthy thought process and prevent it from taking the path of unhealthy thinking patterns. Our entire effort is aimed towards understanding this nature of the mind and correcting it if it goes on the wrong path.
Who reforms the mind?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: It is the mind that reforms itself. A part of the mind is always observing its own functioning. If there are thoughts in the mind, it will analyse the nature of these thoughts. Whenever negativity or a feeling of animosity arises in the mind, this same part instantly issues a warning that such negative emotions are undesirable and should not occur in the mind. This part may be called intellect or the part of the mind which is always alert regarding the functioning of the mind and is trying to reform it. If the mind can develop the habit of observing the truth as it appears, then this fact will become clear- that the moment the mind is defiled, it is punished with suffering; and if it is purified, the suffering is removed. It is this observing part of the mind which will understand this process and thus change itself. Nobody wants to remain agitated. Everyone wants to lead a happy life without miseries. To attain this state, the observing part of the mind tries to change the nature of the remaining part of the mind.
The mind remains full of thoughts and is unable to keep focussed at one place
Mr. S. N. Goenka: We are here to meditate precisely for that reason. If the mind was already concentrated, then why would you have come here? It is an old habit of the mind to wander. Let it wander. The moment we realize that the mind has wandered, we bring it back to the breath. The mind is distracted because of these innumerable thoughts. The nature of the thoughts varies from time to time, but the important thing is how soon we become conscious of the fact that the mind has wandered. It is not good if the mind remains distracted for a long period of time.
I cannot feel the inflow and outflow of respiration
Mr. S. N. Goenka: This indicates that the breath must have slowed down and become very soft. When the respiration is very slow, you lose awareness of its incoming and outgoing flow. When this happens, breathe a little harder, but not very hard. Make a conscious effort to breathe. Be aware that you are breathing deliberately. When you breathe hard, it will enable you to clearly feel the flow of respiration. Then again slow down the breathing. If again you do not feel the touch of the respiration, breathe a little faster and as soon as you can feel it, start breathing slowly.
I feel sleepy while meditating
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Get rid of this feeling of sleepiness. How can you expect to work if you fall asleep? You are engaged in the task of awakening the mind. Therefore you should remain alert, remain awake and remain vigilant. Time and again it is emphasized- remain alert, remain vigilant. If sleep overpowers the mind, then try some hard breathing. Sleepiness will go away. You must fight this enemy. Sleep is your enemy at the time of meditation. At any other appropriate time, it is welcome.
What are we to understand by pure breath? What are we to understand by natural breath?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Good question. The plain, simple breath with nothing attached to it is called pure. The moment something is attached to the breath, it becomes impure. Something is pure if no foreign element is added to it. As long as the milk producer does not add water to the milk, it remains pure. The addition of water to milk makes it impure. Similarly, the breath is pure as long as nothing is added to it. The addition of any word or name with the breath makes it impure. We should not condemn any kind of meditation that gives importance to a particular name, form or image. But in this meditation, the moment you associate any word, name, form or image with the breath, it is no longer a pure breath. Something extra has been added to it. The breath is pure as long as nothing is mixed with it.
Now, what is natural breath? The flow of respiration taking place of its own nature is called natural. The natural breath is one which comes in and goes out on its own without any effort on our part. When we breathe hard, it takes some effort to do so and is therefore not natural. So the respiration which is done effortlessly and which flows in and flows out on its own is called natural.
Why do we observe only the breath?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Because it will eventually pave the way for Vipassana. Breath is a true fact. It is the truth that is closely associated not only with our body but also with our mind. Like a scientist, we have to diligently discover the truth about ourselves, our body and mind. Moreover, this knowledge should be based at the experiential level and not on what we are told or study in books, etc. We have started this practice of observing the breath, so that we can learn the truth about ourselves. This will enable us to get rid of our faults on the one hand and conserve and expand our virtues on the other. All this is possible only if we know our minds, and the mind can be known through the breath. We are observing the breath; and in the process, we begin to know our mind. While learning about the mind we can also reform it. Thus, the mind and respiration are closely linked. This will become more evident as you progress on the path of meditation. While observing the breath, some angry thoughts may occur in the mind. You will notice that the normal pace of the breath gets disturbed and it becomes fast and heavy. And the moment the mind gets rid of anger, the breath becomes normal. This shows how the disorders of the mind are related to our breathing process. As you meditate further, you will understand all this better. But you will only understand this phenomenon clearly if you work with the pure breath. If you add anything to the breath, then you will fail to grasp all this. For these reasons, we work with the breath. Respiration is related not only to the body but to the mind as well. When we breathe in, the lungs get inflated with air and when we breathe out, the lungs are deflated. This is how the respiration is related to the body. And as it was just explained, if an impurity arises in the mind, the normal pace of the breath gets disturbed. This is how respiration is related to the mind.
Why do you give so much importance to the observation of normal respiration?
Goenkaji: Because the Buddha wanted you to. He is very clear that one must observe the breath as it is-yathabhuta. If it is long, you are aware, "it is long"; if it is short, you are aware, "it is short". Yathabhuta. If you make your respiration unnatural, artificial, you will give more attention to change the respiration according to your wishes. Your attention will not be with the reality as it is, but with something that you have created.
Therefore, we emphasize it must be always natural breath-as it comes in naturally, as it goes out naturally. If it is long, just be aware that it is long. Don't try to make it short. If it is short, just be aware that it is short. Don't try to make it long. If it is going through the right nostril, then observe that it is going through the right nostril. If it is going through the left nostril, then observe it through the left nostril. When it passes through both the nostrils, observe the flow through both the nostrils.
Then you are working according to the instructions of the Enlightened One. Don't try to interfere with the natural flow of the breath. And if you find that the mind is wandering too much and you cannot feel the natural breath, then you may take a few-only a few-intentional breaths, slightly hard breaths, so that you can bring your mind back to the observation of the breath. You have to keep in mind that your aim is to feel the natural breath. However soft it is, however subtle it is, you must be able to feel it. That is the aim.
Why do you want us to keep our attention at the entrance of the nostrils and above the upper lip while practicing Anapana?
Goenkaji: Because again, it is a very clear instruction given by the Enlightened One. In Patisambhidamagga, he clearly says that you must be aware of the incoming breath, the outgoing breath, and mukha-this area above the mouth. He calls it mukhanimitta. It is clearly explained in Patisambhidamagga and in Vibhanga, what is mukhanimitta: it means nasikagge, the front portion of the nose at the entrance of the nostrils. Also, the Buddha says that it must be Uttarotthassa majjhimappadese. Uttara means above; ottha is lip; and majjimappadese is the middle portion. And in the Mahasatipatthana sutta, he says, establish your awareness here, parimukham satim upatthapetva. Sati means awareness; parimukham means the area above the lips.
The Buddha is so clear in his instructions. We cannot deviate from his instructions. And as you practice, it becomes very clear why the Buddha chose this small area. This is the area over which the incoming breath and the outgoing breath must pass. The incoming and outgoing breath touches the area at the entrance of the nostrils and above the upper lip. That is why he wanted you to keep your attention here. For those with long noses, the breath is likely to touch the entrance of the nostrils. For those with short noses, it usually touches the area above the upper lip. So he chose this area-either at the entrance of the nostril, nasikagge, or the middle part of the upper lip.
The Buddha does not want us to imagine that the breath is coming in or the breath is going out, you must actually feel it. When you are attentive, you can feel its touch somewhere in this area.
For a very new student, we say even if you feel the breath inside the nostrils, it is okay. But ultimately you have to be aware of the touch of the breath in this area. Why? Because for samadhi, concentration of mind, citta ekaggata [one-pointedness of the mind] is very important. For a new student, a bigger triangle including the whole area of the nose is okay. But within a day or two, the student is asked to observe a smaller area. It becomes very clear, as you keep on progressing on the path given by the Buddha, that the area of concentration must be as small as possible.
It also becomes clear that the object of concentration must be very subtle. That is why when the mind is wandering too much, you are allowed to take a few hard breaths, but after that, you must come back to the natural breath. And as your mind gets concentrated, the breath will become softer and softer, finer and finer, shorter and shorter. You won't have to make any effort. It happens naturally. Sometimes the breath becomes so short, so fine, like a thin thread, that it feels as if immediately after coming out it makes a U-turn and enters the nostrils again. So when the area is small, the object of concentration is very subtle, and you continue without interruption, the mind becomes very sharp.
The Buddha was sabbaññu-he knew everything so clearly. There is an important nerve centre in this area. When your mind is sharp and you are aware of this area, your mind becomes so sensitive that you start feeling some sensation in this area. The purpose of Anapana, the purpose of samadhi, is to take the next step of Vipassana. Vipassana is not Vipassana if you don't feel sensations.
Therefore, he taught us in a very systematic manner. Start on a small area with the natural breath. The breath will become subtler and subtler; the mind will become sharper and sharper. This area will become very sensitive and you will start feeling sensations. Everywhere around the world, people coming to the courses and practicing the technique given by the Enlightened One, start feeling sensations in this area on the second or third day. The Buddha taught the technique, the path, very systematically. We don't want to deviate from what he taught.
Coming back to the first question of why we work with the natural breath-there are other techniques especially in India where one controls the breath, for example, the technique of Pranayama. One takes a deep breath and stops for some time; one exhales and stops for some time. We don't condemn other techniques. We understand that Pranayama is good for physical health. But the Buddha wanted us to use the awareness of the natural breath to reach the next step of feeling sensations. This controlled breathing, Pranayama, is not suitable because it is artificial breath.
Buddha wanted us to observe natural breath because it takes us to the stage where we can practice Vipassana. Those who want to practice Pranayama for health reasons, let them practice it separately. Don't connect it with Vipassana. When you practice Vipassana, natural breath is important, yathabhuta, as it is.
Why should we work with respiration only?
Goenkaji: Respiration is the truth. Respiration is related to your mind and matter, and you are here to make an analytical study of mind and matter. So you start with respiration, and then go to a deeper level of mind and matter.
What is the difference between Vipassana and concentration?
Goenkaji: Vipassana is not merely concentration. Vipassana is observation of the truth within, from moment to moment. You develop your faculty of awareness, your mindfulness. Things keep changing, but you remain aware - this is Vipassana. But if you concentrate only on one object, which may be an imaginary object, then nothing will change. When you are with this imagination, and your mind remains concentrated on it, you are not observing the truth. When you are observing the truth, it is bound to change. It keeps constantly changing, and yet you are aware of it. This is Vipassana.
How is equanimity related to samādhi (concentration of the mind)?
Goenkaji: Samādhi can be without equanimity. With the base of craving one becomes fully concentrated. But that kind of samādhi is not right samādhi. That is with the base of impurity. But if the samadhi is with equanimity, then it gives wonderful results, because the mind is pure and concentrated, so it is powerful with purity. It cannot do anything that will harm you or harm others. But if it is powerful with impurity, it will harm others, it will harm you. So equanimity with samādhi is helpful.
You have asked us to live in the present. Does this imply that we should not plan for the future at all? Does it mean that we should not be ambitious?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: These are two different questions, and quite relevant as well. It is certainly not wise to live in the present and not think about the future at all. While observing the breath, you are also gaining awareness of the workings of the mind. You have observed that it has become a permanent habit of the mind to always generate thoughts about the past or the future. The mind does not want to focus on its present task of observing the breath. When it is involved in thoughts of future, the mind's energy gets reduced and therefore it is unable to work with full potential on the task at hand. And, when the actual time for taking the right action comes, the mind has exhausted all its energy. So with the mind firmly rooted in the present, think and plan the immediate task at hand. Set your goal and keeping it in sight, walk step by step towards it. Once the goal is set, you should not think about it any more. This way, every step you take will be a step in the present. But remain aware of each and every step you take. This will eliminate all possibilities of making mistakes.
You may wonder how you will be able to lead your life if you do not plan for the future. We have a limited reservoir of energy and therefore it should be utilized with wisdom. We should only use as much as is required for planning the future. We tend to exhaust our energy by unnecessarily tormenting the mind with thoughts of the future. "This may happen or this may not happen. We may do this or we may not do this?" Oh! Indulge in all this thinking only when it is required. Right now, your job is to observe the breath so that you learn to remain in the present. If we adopt the habit of remaining firmly in the present, we will be able to take the next step properly. Thus, to establish this habit pattern of the mind, we emphasize staying with the present.
To be ambitious is not bad at all. We set a definite aim for our life. For instance, we study to fulfil a certain ambition, or we are doing meditation for a certain purpose. But if we get attached to our goal and constantly worry about it while making no efforts to attain it, then it is futile to have any ambition. What is the point in being ambitious about a thing which prevents you from taking the right course of action? Decide about your aim and then strive to achieve it. If you are thirsty, then go and get water. Merely crying for water and worrying about it will not quench your thirst. Make the desired effort to obtain water, drink it and satisfy your thirst. What is wrong with this? Similarly, there is no harm in having a good ambition and making efforts to attain it. But if you get obsessed with it and only worry about its fulfilment without making any efforts in that direction, then you will go off the track and fail- even a good ambition will not be successful. So have the right ambition and strive hard to attain it.
Why do you say "Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam" three times?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: I say this because it makes me feel good. When we say "May all beings be happy", it fills our mind with happiness. If we generate ill will for others and wish them unhappiness, we will be miserable from within. If instead of generating ill will, we generate goodwill for all, we will feel happy. With purity of mind, if you also say these words of well-being with the feeling that your meditation may benefit one and all, you will find that your mind is filled with happiness. On the contrary, if you abuse someone in a state of anger, your mind will be disturbed and agitated. Who likes having such a state of mind? Everyone wishes to remain calm and happy. So to attain serenity and happiness of mind, these words of well being for others are said.
Let me explain further. Now you have only learned the technique of Anapana. Later, when you advance on the path of Vipassana, you will see that when we want others to be happy and say "Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam", these feelings of well being for others are effective only if generated from within the innermost depths of a pure mind. Wishes coming from a shallow mind do not have much influence. If anyone really wants happiness for others, he may start saying "Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam" from the surface level of the mind but gradually these words must be said from the depths of the mind as it becomes purer and purer. If these words are spoken from the depths of the mind, then they will be meaningful and effective. We want these words to be effective, so saying them should not be made a mere ritual. It should be done in a manner that is beneficial for oneself as well as others.
The mind remains full of thoughts and is unable to keep focused at one place
Goenkaji: It is an old habit of the mind to wander. Let it wander. The moment you realize that the mind has wandered, bring it back to the breath. The mind is distracted because of these innumerable thoughts. The nature of the thoughts varies from time to time, but the important thing is how soon you become aware that the mind has wandered.
You say we are meditating to sharpen the mind. How do we sharpen the mind?
Goenkaji: If you are with the reality and not reacting to it, naturally the mind gets sharpened. The mind gets blunt when it reacts, more and more reaction makes the mind very gross. When you don’t react, its natural reality is very sharp, very sensitive.
How can Anapana help to reform the mind? How can Anapana lead to purity of mind?
Goenkaji: As long as the mind is engaged in doing Anapana, that is, in the observation of the flow of respiration, it is without any thoughts, and as a result of this, it is without any defilements. It is our thoughts which defile the mind. Mostly while we are thinking, there is craving or aversion. Pleasant thoughts generate craving and unpleasant thoughts generate aversion. But when we are observing the incoming and outgoing breath, there is no reason for us to generate either of these emotions and so these are moments of purity in the mind. More and more of these moments of purity will reverse the habit pattern of the mind. The mind that was previously generating impurities will now become pure. This transformation, which initially takes place at the surface level of the mind, will gradually take deep roots as you progress on the path of Vipassana.
How can Anapana help to reform the mind? How can Anapana lead to purity of mind?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: As long as the mind is engaged in doing Anapana, that is in the observation of the flow of respiration, it is without any thoughts, and as a result of this, it is without any defilements. It is our thoughts which defile the mind. Mostly while we are thinking, there is craving or aversion. Pleasant thoughts generate craving and unpleasant thoughts generate aversion. But when we are observing the incoming and outgoing breath, there is no reason for us to generate either of these emotions and so these are moments of purity in the mind. More and more of these moments of purity will reverse the habit pattern of the mind. The mind that was previously generating impurities will now become pure. This transformation which will initially take place at the surface level of the mind will gradually take deep roots as you progress on the path of Vipassana.
I suffer from physical discomfort such as agitation, headache, backache, nausea, etc. while meditating
Mr. S. N. Goenka: It is good if you feel such discomfort during meditation. Do not get disturbed by it. But understand the cause behind it. It is due to this meditation technique. You will observe that as long as your mind remains focused on the breath, it does not generate any craving or aversion. You are only absorbed in the task of observing the breath. There is no craving towards the incoming breath. There is no aversion towards the outgoing breath. So the mind reaches a level of purity without having an iota of craving or aversion, even though it may be for a short period of time. For innumerable births, we have collected a huge stock of defilements, which has corrupted the mind. The moment the mind becomes pure, there is an explosive reaction in the stock of impurities, which appears on the surface of the body in the form of various discomforts. Let us understand this through a simile. Coals are burning in a fire and we sprinkle some water on them. What happens then? The water is cold and the coals are hot. The contact between the hot coals and the cold water will produce a loud hissing sound. The burning coals do not welcome the cold water and thus protest loudly. This reaction is the result of two things coming together with radically opposite characteristics. One has the trait of burning, the other that of cooling. If we continue to sprinkle water on the burning coals, each time there will be a hissing sound but gradually the fire in the coals will be extinguished and they will cool down- now, no amount of water poured on them will produce any sound. Similarly, as the mind gets concentrated, it becomes pure and brings relief. These short moments of purity are like water being sprinkled on the burning coals of negativities. Their contact generates all these physical discomforts like headache, backache, restlessness, nausea, pain in the feet, etc. Do not be disturbed or discouraged by them. Slowly and gradually, these will disappear. Just as continued sprinkling of water on hot coals cools them down, similarly these discomforts will also be cured. You will not come to any harm. So do not get disturbed at all.
What is the characteristic of a pure mind?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Purity is the characteristic of a pure mind. By purity we mean the state of mind which is without any defilements like anger, animosity, ill will, craving, clinging, etc. If there is any such negativity in the mind, how can it be called pure? In fact, it will lead to some negative act of the body or speech. An impure mind will lead to some impure action. This way you not only harm yourself but others as well. On the other hand, if the mind is pure, it cannot act in a wrong way. It will benefit itself and others as well. This is the basic characteristic of this technique- that we purify our mind so that we are saved from doing harmful deeds through our speech and body. We try to develop this quality of purity of mind so that all our acts are beneficial. A pure mind will never generate ill will against any one. Instead, it will generate good will, affection and compassion for one and all. These are the qualities by which the purity of the mind is assessed.
What is the significance of observing noble silence?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: It has a great significance. All our efforts are towards quietening the mind. We have already experienced how talkative the mind is. Even though we want the mind to observe the breath, it hardly observes a couple of breaths before it indulges in its old habit of thinking and talking endlessly with itself. We want it to quieten down and become involved in the task of observing the breath, but despite all our efforts, it does not calm down. On top of this, if you talk with other meditators, then the mind will get more food for thought. It will think about this conversation while meditating, thus weakening your meditation. You have not only harmed yourself but also done a great deal of harm to the other meditator by talking to someone, who has also come to do Anapana like you. Now that person will also lose their concentration by thinking about the conversation with you and they cannot meditate properly either. We have a habit of wasting our energy by talking uselessly and unceasingly. Our conversation should always be purposeful. But for now, our task is to meditate, which we do while observing complete silence.
How can the observation of breath assist in practising the moral precepts (sila)?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: This is indeed a good question. If the observation of breath does not help us to preserve morality and establish ourselves in Dhamma, then it is a futile exercise. This technique will be very beneficial in living a good life. If we continue to observe the natural flow of respiration, we will find that it helps us to gain control over our mind. Our mind will not be as weak and restless as before. Its ability to concentrate will improve. The more it concentrates, the stronger and wiser it gets. Its faculty of awareness improves. If anger arises in the mind, it will instantly become aware of it. Then all you have to do is to observe the respiration. A few minutes of observing the breath will eliminate anger from the mind. Earlier, when we were in a bad mood, we used to either abuse the other person or we would lose control and hit him, thus breaking our sila. So Anapana has prevented us from doing a harmful deed. Any wrong act we perform defiles the mind, and the person practising Anapana immediately becomes aware of this. The only way to get rid of the impurity is to observe the breath for some time. If we continue to observe the breath, the impurity will be removed and we will be saved from breaking our sila.
How does the breath help in preserving our sila?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: As already explained, the irregularity in the respiration gives us a warning signal when morality is not being observed. At that time, by focusing our attention on the respiration, we will become alert and vigilant and not perform an unwholesome action.
Why is it not right to break sila even as a joke?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Why indulge in a sense of humour which prompts you to break your sila? There can be numerous jokes that do not require you to behave immorally. If you break your sila once, even as a joke, you will be tempted to do it again and again. Today you are breaking it as a joke and tomorrow it will become a permanent habit for you. You will find justification in doing it. Immorality under all circumstances is wrong, and so try not to ever indulge in it, even jokingly.
Why shouldn't we kill mosquitoes when they bite us?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: The question you ask yourself should be, "Why can't we drive away mosquitoes when they bite us? Why do you wish to kill mosquitoes?" If they bite you, then get rid of them without killing them. Mosquito coils and repellant can be used to send the mosquitoes away without harming them. Apply these when you meditate or at other times, and the mosquitoes will not come near you. Obviously you don't like it when somebody hurts you. A mosquito is a living being as you are, and it is born with the natural instinct of sucking blood for its food. If you do not wish your blood to be sucked, then adopt methods to keep the mosquitoes away. Do not kill them, only keep them away. You will be breaking a moral precept if you kill them, but not if you just drive them away.
If we lie for some good cause, will it still be an unwholesome action?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: An unwholesome action is an unwholesome action under all circumstances. As I have said before, we get into the habit of justifying a lie even though it is not morally justifiable. First of all, how are you certain that the reason for which you lied is reasonable? Everyone has one's own limitations when it comes to analysing and understanding things, and so do you. It is difficult to become perfect in knowing clearly whether the lie is told for a reasonable cause. And even if you claim to be certain that you lied for a good reason, then you are bound to lie again for some other reason which also appears to be good. If you lie repeatedly, you will not only get into the habit of lying, but you will also justify your habit with the excuse that telling a small lie does not matter. Don't ever get into the habit of doing this. Do not be tempted to lie for any reason, however good it may appear to be. Speak only the truth.
Sometimes, you may feel reluctant to speak the truth because it may appear to harm someone. For example, your teacher asks you to tell the name of your classmate who has misbehaved. You know that your friend is the trouble-maker, but you hesitate to tell the truth because you know that your friend will get a punishment from the teacher and you do not want anybody to punish your friend. So in order to save your friend from the punishment, you will tell a downright lie by saying that he is innocent. Understand what has happened because of this. The teacher has not punished your friend, and you think that you have saved your friend. On the surface it appears that speaking a small lie has saved your friend from being punished. But in reality, a great harm has been done to him. You have in fact helped him to misbehave. Since he has not been corrected at the time he committed a mistake, he will feel encouraged to repeat the same mistake time and again. So your one lie has opened the doors of misbehaviour and misery for your friend. If the truth had come out, the teacher would have given him the appropriate punishment, thus preventing him from going astray in the future.
There is no harm in maintaining silence if at some stage you do not wish to make any comment. If you feel that your statement may be incorrect or misleading, then instead of saying something incorrect deliberately, with humility and firmness, you may refuse to give any reply. You have not done anything wrong in telling the truth, which is that you do not wish to speak. Otherwise, if you try to save someone by making a false statement, you may do him more harm than good. Not only can you harm your friend, but you may harm yourself too by acquiring the habit of telling lies due to one reason or another.
How can one protect oneself without breaking one's sila?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Just as you protect others by protecting your sila, similarly protect yourself without breaking your sila. On one hand, you may wish to protect yourself and on the other, you may speak of breaking your sila. By breaking sila, you act immorally, and your action will produce the fruit of misery for you in the future. So how can you claim to have protected yourself? How can you claim to have saved yourself? In fact, you have ruined your own security by not following the right code of conduct. You must strengthen your mind. If the mind is weak, it will give a hundred excuses for breaking any moral principle. It will say that a small lie is excusable if it saves me or someone else. If the mind is strong, it will not listen to such lame excuses and so it will protect the morality of the body and speech. This will be your real protection. Gradually, people will begin to know you as a truthful person and you will experience the sweet fruit of good behaviour.
If we happen to break our sila, how do we make amends for it?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: If you happen to break your sila, then admit it before someone older. Do not hide your mistakes. If you conceal your mistake, then you are liable to repeat it. It will start an endless process. If you confess to someone older and respectable that you have made a mistake, and also promise not to repeat the same mistake under any circumstance, you will see that your mind will gain strength. When you don't conceal any of your bad actions, you are not tempted to repeat them. Moreover, if you are determined not to commit the same mistake again, you will start gaining strength of mind. This is the right way. There is no other way to make amends.
Why shouldn't we smoke cigarettes, or take alcohol or drugs?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Someone might entice you into smoking or taking drugs by arguing that a little bit is not harmful; that it gives pleasure; that only those who drink too much land into trouble and we won't consume too much; that there is no harm in sampling a small amount, etc. You might weaken and start with small quantities. Gradually, you may become addicted. It will be like an incurable disease. It will be impossible for you to come out of it. So why invite such a disease in the first place, which can only cause harm and nothing else? Do not agree even to a close friend who asks you to drink, smoke or take drugs, etc. If you give in easily to his request so that you will make him happy or to maintain friendship with him, you will be the sufferer. You might ask how you can continue to be friends with those who drink if you don't drink. If you are intelligent enough, then you will remain friends. Understand how this happens. First of all, why be friends with such people? And, if for some reason you have to be in their company while they are drinking, then use your intelligence and judgment. If you refuse to drink by saying that now you are a Dhamma person doing Anapana, then this will generate animosity towards you. So firmly decline the offer to drink by saying politely that it does not suit you. This will be a true statement for it can never suit a person to drink if he is walking on the path of Dhamma and is doing Anapana. Consider an example. A man suffering from diabetes goes out with some friends one evening. The friends coax him to eat sweets arguing that one piece will do him no harm. If he eats the sweets, it will only make his condition worse, but if he is a sensible person, he will not yield to their persuasions and therefore not increase his own suffering. He will turn down their offer by politely saying that he has diabetes and therefore cannot eat sweets. He will say that it does not suit him to eat sweets, whereas the others are free to eat them. Similarly, exercise your willpower and firmly but politely decline any offer to smoke or drink, giving the simple but true reason that these do not suit you. You may feel that if you do not join your friends in smoking, drinking, etc., they will shun your company and make you feel like an outcaste. I have just explained to you that this will not happen. Firstly, what will you gain by unnecessarily being part of a group with such bad habits? It is better to stay away from such people. In case you are unable to avoid them, then act as advised above and protect yourself. You might feel that instead of leaving their company, you could try to reform them. Do not attempt to mend their ways. You are not qualified to do that till you have reformed yourself. Suppose you have an injured leg, how can you hope to help another one-legged person? A lame person cannot afford to help another lame person. A blind man cannot show the path to another blind man. So you have to first reform yourself. On seeing the transformation in your conduct, your friends will be attracted to you. Seeking your example, they will follow the path of Dhamma and be benefited by it. Otherwise, what can you hope to reform? Yours is a vulnerable age. In correcting others, you may go on the wrong path yourself. Therefore, at your age, spend as much time as possible in strengthening yourself and establishing yourself in Dhamma. Leave the task of reforming others to someone else.
What is the difference between Anapana and any other form of meditation?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Every meditation technique has its own unique features; and, for this reason, one meditation technique differs from the other. In Anapana, the emphasis is on the natural flow of respiration as it comes in and as it goes out. There is a form of meditation where one is asked to take long deliberate breaths, stop for a while and then release the breath. This technique is different from Anapana. In Anapana, the breath has to be kept pure, meaning that nothing extra should be added to the breath; whereas there are techniques which give importance to the use of name, form, or image for meditation. Thus, different techniques have distinctive qualities. Anapana has its own characteristics, which should be protected and maintained.
How does one keep up the practice of Anapana simultaneously with yoga?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Yoga is a beneficial practice. But there is no need to do Anapana simultaneously with it. Make a gap between the two. Yoga and Anapana do not interfere with each other but there is a basic difference between Pranayama (yoga of breathing) and Anapana, which must be understood clearly. In Pranayama, the breathing is done deliberately and consciously. It is an exercise of the breath where you breathe deeply, then hold the breath for a while and then release it. It is a good technique. But in Anapana, the breathing process is natural and effortless. So, if you mingle the two techniques and try to do one immediately after the other, then you are bound to get confused and create problems for yourself. Therefore, do only one thing at a time. After having done Pranayama, wait for some time and then do Anapana.
How can we succeed in this competitive world without being dishonest?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: The essence of leading a virtuous life is that one does not look for excuses to act wrongly. Now, you may have found a reason to justify your wrong actions. You think that you must adopt dishonest methods to succeed in this world because everybody around you is doing so, and progressing at a very fast pace. And, if we who practise Anapana or Vipassana do not do the same, we will lag behind.
Understand that such thinking is the result of weakness of the mind. This meditation will make your mind so strong that you will not even remotely consider doing any sinful act, or breaking your sila, or adopting any wrong ways; and you will find success at your doorstep. On the contrary, if you fear failure because you are not adopting underhand methods to succeed, then this fear will become the cause of your failure, whereas the strength of the mind will bring you success. So you must strengthen the mind and not weaken it on some pretext or the other.
As you grow, you will understand further that those people who have acquired name, fame, position and wealth through dishonest means, and are apparently leading very successful lives, remain agitated and full of misery. When you progress on this path, then you will realize that such a person neither sleeps restfully at night nor is his mind at peace during the day. What has he gained by becoming a successful person? The wealth, position, fame and name are all futile if these cannot generate happiness and peace.
On the other hand, a person who is not so wealthy or famous but who has a contented and compassionate heart is a real noble soul and leads a truly happy life. Thus, in order to compete in the world and attain worldly success, we should not take the wrong path. This is why you are learning to meditate at this young age, so that you do not take a wrong path at any cost. Even for the sake of the right goal, do not walk on the wrong path. Always take the right course for a righteous aim.
What are the characteristics of a good student?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: You have asked a very good question. All of you wish to excel as students. Then you should know the traits of a good student. In ancient India the qualities of a good student were recorded in Sanskrit:
Kakacheshta bakadhyanam, shwananidra tathaiva cha.
Alpahari, brahmachari, vidyaarthi panch lakshanam.
These are the five essential qualities that a student must possess:
Kakacheshta (kaka means crow) - You will find that a crow always remains alert and strives with full effort to do its task. You will never find it lazing around. Acquire this quality from a crow to fulfil one's assigned task ardently and enthusiastically.
Bakadhyanam (baka means crane) - While studying, focus entirely on your books. Similarly, while doing Anapana, do it with full concentration. In developing this quality of concentration, make a crane your inspiration. You may have noticed how a crane stands absolutely still on one leg without moving a single feather as if deep in meditation- with its mind fully concentrated on catching its prey. You should also learn how to meditate with concentration like that of a crane.
Shwananidra (shwana means a dog) - Sleep is essential for everyone. But to fall off into a deep slumber snoring loudly, oblivious of one's surroundings is not the right way of sleeping. The art of sleeping is mastered by a dog who, even though apparently fast asleep, will open his eyes and be wide-awake at the slightest sound. A student should also abandon laziness and unawareness and sleep with inner wakefulness like a dog. With the practice of Anapana and later Vipassana, you will attain the state of complete alertness even while being asleep. Like a dog, you will wake at the slightest movement.
Alpahari (one who eats less) - Eat according to your hunger. After having a satisfying meal, we tend to stuff ourselves with more food even though our stomach is full,. We pamper our tongues even on a full stomach. This will lead to lethargy and laziness. How can you hope to succeed when you will be wasting time sleeping, when you should be studying. A student should always remain alert and sleep only as much as is required; he should not get overpowered by sloth and torpor. For this, it is necessary to eat less.
Brahmachari (one who leads a life of celibacy) - A student who does not practise celibacy cannot afford to study. His or her mind will always remain absorbed in such harmful thoughts and thus will be unable to concentrate in studies. Therefore, as a student, one must observe celibacy. So work with this determination.
These are the five traits of an ideal student.
How do we know that we are progressing on the path of Dhamma?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: We know this by seeing whether a transformation is coming in our life or not. If our mind is still generating as much negativity as before, then there is no progress at all. The only criterion is to observe if there is a gradual decrease in our stock of defilements, and if we are developing the virtues that were missing before. If we continue to measure our success by this yardstick, then we will overcome the habit of committing wrong deeds. On the contrary, we will act virtuously. Others will also acknowledge us to be Dhamma people, for Dhamma will become an integral part of our lives.
At what age could I start to teach my child to meditate?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Before birth. Meditation should be taught when the child is growing in the womb. The child needs good vibrations while in the womb, so practise Vipassana. Every pregnant mother should practise more Vipassana because then you are helping two beings simultaneously. You are helping yourself, and you are helping the being which has not yet come out. Help them.
After that, when the child grows to five or six you can start teaching Anapana. Just be aware of the respiration for a few minutes; two, three, five minutes, enough. Don’t push too much. A few minutes of awareness of respiration, and then say; "All right, play." After that, again a few minutes of respiration. So it will become like playing for the child. Later on, as he or she grows, increase the time. In this way you start giving the seed of Dhamma, and the child develops in an atmosphere of Dhamma.
Is it necessary to introduce Vipassana into education?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Certainly. Vipassana is the practical science of living. The next generation must learn this science at a very young age, so that they can live a very healthy life, a harmonious life. If they understand pure Dhamma, the law of nature, they will live according to the law of nature. When children are taught Vipassana in the schools and colleges, as it is being done now in some cities, there are very good results.
Kindly give a few words on how students can use Vipassana.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: We have found good results from students who have started practising even the first part of Vipassana, concentration of mind. Their memory has become sharper, their ability to understand a subject has improved, the comprehending part of their mind has gotten better, and their nervousness has decreased. All these are very helpful to them in their studies. And along with those, character-building starts from the very beginning.
You have started giving training in Anapana in some schools. How will this training benefit children?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Actually the entire teaching has only one purpose: One should live peacefully and harmoniously in accordance with the law of nature—not harming oneself or others. Now this art of living is difficult to learn in old age, so the training should start at a young age. In the schools children should learn the art of living a healthy life. Their entire life is ahead of them.
You start by teaching them how to control their minds. Along with this awareness of respiration it is explained that you have to live a moral life, so they understand, "I must not kill, I must not steal, etc. But how can I abstain from that? I must have control over my mind. And look, this helps." The object that is given is universal so a student from any caste, any community, any religion can work on this.
You also tell them that they can develop in this awareness of respiration and then they will live a good life. At further stages they can purify their minds to such an extent that they will live a perfect life, so there is a goal. In school for example, when they learn the alphabet the goal is that they will become very learned people later on. Now they have started with this base of sīla and respiration.
Do you think that by this training children can become good citizens?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: What is a good citizen? A good citizen is one who does not harm himself or herself and also does not harm other members of society. The whole teaching shows how to live a life of morality. If children start learning this in childhood, when they become adults they will naturally live healthy, good lives. This is how they will become good citizens.
How can children be encouraged to practice at home if their families do not meditate? Can they attend Vipassana group sittings?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: The Vipassana adult group sitting? No. A child should never be brought to the adult group sitting. During the one-hour group sitting the child will get bored within 10 or 15 minutes. Then what will he or she do? The child will develop aversion towards meditation. No. A child should never be brought. If there is a group sitting for children only, then it is all right. That will be only for 10 or 15 minutes, or a maximum of 20 minutes.
How can we remove thoughts of lust while we are studying?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Not only while studying, but all the time! Lust is lust; it is harmful. Love should be pure love. Pure love is one-way traffic; you don’t expect anything in return. Dharma, Vipassana, will help this lust to turn into pure love—pure love is without a trace of passion. Pure love is full of compassion.