Vol.1 No.2 October, 1990
Words of Dhamma
Sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā’ti
All things are impermanent
- by the Vipassana Research Institute
Change is inherent in all phenomenal existence. There is nothing animate or inanimate, organic or inorganic that we can label as permanent, since even as we affixed that label on something it would undergo metamorphosis. Realizing this central fact of life by direct experience within himself, the Buddha declared, "Whether a fully Enlightened One has arisen in the world or not, it still remains a firm condition, an immutable fact and fixed law that all formations are impermanent, subject to suffering, and devoid of substance." Anicca (impermanence), dukkha (suffering), and anatta (insubstantiality) are the three characteristics common to all sentient existence.
Of these, the most important in the practice of Vipassana is anicca. As meditators, we come face to face with the impermanence of ourselves. This enables us to realize that we have no control over this phenomenon, and that any attempt to manipulate it creates suffering. We thus learn to develop detachment, an acceptance of anicca, an openness to change, enabling us to live happily amid all the vicissitudes of life. Hence the Buddha said that:
To one who perceives the impermanence, O meditators, the perception of insubstantiality manifests itself. And in one who perceives insubstantiality, egotism is destroyed. And (as a result) even in this present life one attains liberation. The comprehending of anicca leads automatically to a grasp of anatta and dukkha, and whosoever realizes these facts naturally turns to the path that leads out of suffering.
Given the crucial importance of anicca, it is not surprising the Buddha repeatedly stressed its significance for the seekers of liberation. In the Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Suttanta, the principal text in which he explained the technique of Vipassana, he described the stages in the practice, which must in every case lead to the following experience:
(The meditator) abides observing the phenomenon of arising . . . abides observing the phenomenon of passing away . . . abides observing the phenomenon of arising and passing away.
We must recognize the fact of impermanence not merely in its readily apparent aspect around and within us. Beyond that, we must learn to see the subtle reality that every moment we ourselves are changing, that the "I" with which we are infatuated is a phenomenon in constant flux. With this experience we can easily emerge from egotism and so from suffering.
Elsewhere the Buddha said:
The eye, O meditators, is impermanent. What is impermanent is unsatisfactory. What is unsatisfactory is substanceless. What is substanceless is not mine, is not I, is not my self. This is how to regard eye with wisdom as it really is.
The same formula is for the ear, nose, tongue, body and mind—for all the bases of sensory experience, every aspect of a human being. Then the Buddha continued:
Seeing this, O meditators, the well-instructed noble disciple becomes satiated with the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind (i.e., with sensory existence altogether). Being satiated he does not have the passion for them. Being passionless he is set free. In this freedom arises the realization that he is freed.
In this passage the Buddha makes a sharp distinction between knowing by hearsay and by personal insight. One may be a sutavā, that is, someone who has heard about the Dhamma and accepts it on faith or perhaps intellectually. That acceptance, however, is insufficient to liberate anyone from the cycle of suffering. To attain liberation one must see truth for oneself, must experience it directly within oneself. That is what Vipassana meditation enables us to do.
If we are to understand the unique contribution of the Buddha, we must keep this distinction firmly in mind. The truth of which he spoke was not unknown before him and was current in India in his time. He did not invent the concepts of impermanence, suffering and insubstantiality. His uniqueness lies in having found a way to advance from hearing truth to experiencing it.
One text that shows this special emphasis of the teaching of the Buddha is the Bāhiya Sutta, found in the Saṃyutta Nikāya. In it is recorded an encounter of the Buddha with Bāhiya, a wanderer in search of a spiritual path. Although not a disciple of the Buddha, Bāhiya asked him for guidance in his search. The Buddha responded by questioning him as follows:
What do you think, Bāhiya: is the eye permanent or impermanent?
That which is impermanent, is it a cause of suffering or happiness?
Of suffering, sir.
Now, is it fitting to regard what is impermanent, a cause of suffering, and by nature changeable, as being "mine," being "I," being one's "self?"
Surely not, sir.
The Buddha further questioned Bāhiya about visual objects, eye consciousness and eye contact. In every case, this man agreed that these were impermanent, unsatisfactory, not-self. He did not claim to be a follower of the teaching of the Buddha, and yet he accepted the facts of anicca, dukkha and anatta. The sutta thus documents that, among at least some of the contemporaries of the Buddha, ideas were current that we might now regard as having being unknown outside his teaching. The explanation, of course, is that for Bāhiya and others like him the concepts of impermanence, suffering and egolessness were simply opinions that they held—in Pāli, mañña. To such people the Buddha showed a way to go beyond beliefs or philosophies, and to experience directly their own nature as impermanent, suffering, insubstantial.
What, then, is the way he showed? In the Brahmajāla Suttanta the Buddha provides an answer. There he lists all the beliefs, opinions and views of his time, and then states that he knows something far beyond all views:
For having experienced as they really are the arising of sensations and their passing away, the relishing of them, the danger in them, and the release in them, the Enlightened One, O monks, has become detached and liberated.
Here the Buddha states quite simply that he became enlightened by observing sensations as the manifestation of impermanence. It behoves anyone who aspires to follow the teachings of the Buddha to do likewise.
Impermanence is the central fact that we must realize in order to emerge from our suffering, and the most immediate way to experience impermanence is by observing our sensations. Again the Buddha said:
There are three types of sensations, O meditators (all being) impermanent, compounded, arising owing to a cause, perishable, by nature passing away, fading and ceasing.
The sensations within ourselves are the most palpable expressions of the characteristic of anicca. By observing them we become able to accept the reality, not merely out of faith or intellectual conviction, but out of our direct experience. In this way we advance from merely hearing about the truth to seeing it within ourselves.
When we thus encounter truth face to face, it is bound to transform us radically. As the Buddha said:
When a meditator thus abides mindful with proper understanding, diligent, ardent and self-controlled, then if pleasant bodily sensations in him arise he understands, "This pleasant bodily sensation has arisen in me, but it is dependent, it is not independent. Dependent on what? On this body. But this body is impermanent, compounded, arising from conditions. Now how could pleasant bodily sensations be permanent that arise dependent on an impermanent, compounded body, itself arising owing to conditions?"
He abides experiencing the impermanence of sensations in the body, their arising, falling and cessation, and the relinquishing of them. As he does so, his underlying conditioning of craving is abandoned. Similarly, when he experiences unpleasant sensations in the body, his underlying conditioning of aversion is abandoned; and when he experiences neutral sensations in the body, his underlying conditioning of ignorance is abandoned.
In this way, by observing the impermanence of bodily sensations, a meditator approaches ever closer to the goal of the unconditioned, nibbāna.
Upon reaching that goal, Kondañña, the first person to become liberated through the Buddha's teaching, declared, yaṃ kiñci samudayadhāmmaṃ sabbaṃ te nirodha-dhammaṃ—"Everything that has the nature of arising also has the nature of ceasing." It is only by experiencing fully the reality of anicca that he was eventually able to experience a reality that does not arise or pass away. His declaration is a signpost to later travellers on the path, indicating the way they must follow to reach the goal themselves.
At the end of his life the Buddha declared, vaya-dhammā saṅkhārā—"All created things are impermanent." With his last breaths he reiterated the great theme of which he had spoken so often during his years of teaching. He then added, appamādena sampādetha—"Strive diligently." To what purpose, we must ask, are we to strive? Surely these words, the last spoken by the Buddha, can only refer to the preceding sentence. The priceless legacy of the Buddha to the world is the understanding of anicca as a means to liberation. We must strive to realize impermanence within ourselves, and by doing so we fulfil his last exhortation to us, we become the true heirs of the Buddha.
Viriya, The Pāramī of Proper Efforts
- by S. N. Goenka
Pāramīs are virtues—that is, good human qualities. By perfecting them, one crosses the ocean of misery and reaches the stage of full liberation, full enlightenment. Everyone who is working to liberate oneself has to develop the ten pāramīs. They are needed to dissolve the ego and to reach the stage of egolessness. A student of Dhamma who aspires to attain the final stage of liberation joins a Vipassana course in order to develop these pāramīs.
Little by little, one develops these pāramīs in every course. They should be developed in daily living as well. However, in a meditation course environment, the perfection of the pāramī can be greatly accelerated.
A human life is of limited duration, with limited capabilities. It is important to use one’s life to the best purpose. And there can be no higher purpose than to establish oneself in Dhamma, in the path, which leads one out of defilements, out of the illusion of self, to the final goal of ultimate truth. Therefore no effort is more worthwhile for a human being than the exertion of all one’s faculties to take steps on this path.
In a Vipassana course, a meditator makes best use of his energy and of the time at his disposal by developing the faculties of sati (awareness) and of paññā (insight). The student strives to become conscious of everything that is happening within himself, from the grossest to the subtlest level. At the same time, one strives to observe dispassionately whatever reality may manifest at this moment, with the understanding that this experience is impermanent, this will also change. These two faculties, in proper combination, will lead the meditator along the path to full liberation, full enlightenment.
From time to time, because of the ingrained habit pattern of the mind, the meditator is inundated by waves of craving, aversion, sloth and torpor, mental agitation, and scepticism. These are nothing but the reaction of one’s own mental defilements, trying to stop the process of purification one has begun. The wise student persists in the struggle, using all his or her energy to oppose these enemies. One thereby strengthens oneself in the pāramī of viriya.
Truth is God
- by S. N. Goenka
Not long after I started teaching Vipassana in India, a course was organized at Sevagram. This is the village founded by Mahatma Gandhi as a place for people to carry out his ideal of a simple life of service. Among those who participated in the course were several who had been close to Gandhiji in his lifetime. Near the end of the course one of these people, an elderly man, came to me and said, “Now at last I understand what Gandhiji was doing, after all these years!” And he told me the following story.
It had been the custom of Gandhiji to hold mass prayer meetings to which tens of thousands of people would come. At these meetings he would tell all the people to chant prayers or hymns and to clap their hands. But while they did so he would sit silently in front of them, with closed eyes and hands folded in his lap. He did not clap his hands not utter a word himself.
“One day,” this man told me, “I asked Gandhiji, ‘Why don’t you chant and clap with everyone? What are you doing as you sit there with closed eyes?’ He replied, ‘I am witnessing God within me.’
‘You witness God within yourself! That is wonderful! Please tell me what form God takes in your inner vision.’
‘Well, throughout my body I can sense change taking place, a constant flux or flow. This is the true nature of this body. I observe this truth. And for me this is God. Whether it is really true that there is a supreme God I cannot say, but there cannot be any doubt that truth is real. For me truth is supreme, truth is God. I experience this truth moment by moment within me.’”
Gandhiji had never even heard the word “Vipassana”, but he had spontaneously started practicing the technique. After all, what is Vipassana except observing the truth about ourselves, the truth of our ever-changing nature? And whoever observes this truth is naturally transformed by it to become a pure-minded person who is fit to experience ultimate truth.
Questions and Answers
Student: Aren’t there any chance happenings, random occurrences without a cause?
Goenkaji: Nothing happens without a cause. It is not possible. Sometimes our limited senses and intellects cannot clearly find it, but that does not mean that there is no cause.
Student: Are you saying that everything in this life is predetermined?
Goenkaji: Well, certainly our past actions will give fruit, good or bad. They will determine the type of life we have, the general situation in which we find ourselves. But that does not mean that whatever happens to us is predestined, ordained by our past actions, and that nothing else can happen. That is not the case. Our past actions influence the flow of our life, directing them towards pleasant or unpleasant experiences. But present actions are equally important. Nature has given us the ability to become masters of our present actions. With the mastery we can change our future.
Student: But surely the actions of others also affect us?
Goenkaji: Of course. We are influenced by the people around us and by our environment, and we keep influencing them as well. If the majority of people, for example, are in favour of violence, then war and destruction occur, causing many to suffer. But if people start to purify their minds, then violence cannot happen. The root of the problem lies in the mind of each individual human being, because society is composed of individuals. If each person starts changing, then society will change, and war and destructions will become rare events.
Student: We’ve talked quite a bit about anicca, impermanence. What about the teaching of anattā, which is ordinarily understood as “no self” and “no abiding self?” Ordinarily we think that we need a self in order to function in the world. We have expressions like “self-esteem” and “self-confidence”, and we believe that “ego strength” is a measure of a person’s ability to cope with daily life. What does this “no-self” teaching mean?
Goenkaji: For those who haven’t experienced the stage of “no-self,” it is true that in the apparent world there must be an ego, and this ego must be stimulated. If I don’t crave anything, I won’t get the stimulation I need to function. In my courses, whenever I say that craving and attachment are harmful, people say that if there were no attachment, no craving, what would be the fun of living? There would be no life. We’d all be like vegetables.
Being a family man who has done business in the world, I can understand their concern. But I also understand that when you work with this technique and reach the stage where ego dissolves, the capacity to work increases many-fold. When you lead a very ego-centred life, your whole attitude is to do as much as possible for yourself. But this attitude makes you so tense that you feel miserable. When, as a result of doing Vipassana, the ego dissolves, then by nature the mind is full of love, compassion and goodwill. You feel like working, not only for your own benefit, but for the benefit of all. When the narrow-minded ego-stimulation goes away, you feel so much more relaxed, and so much more capable of working. This is my own experience, and the experience of so many people who have walked on the path.
This technique does not make you inactive. A responsible person in society is full of action. What goes away is the habit of blind reaction. When you work with reaction, you generate misery. When you work without reaction, you generate positive feeling.
Southwest Vipassana Meditation Centre
In July 1990, the new Vipassana Meditation Centre Dhamma Siri (meaning rich in Dhamma), was purchased. It is located near Kaufman, Texas, which is about a forty minute drive from Dallas.
In August, the inaugural three-day course for old students was held, followed by a ten-day course, which was attended by twelve students.
The building has seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms, located on twenty acres, surrounded by ranch land. At present, about twenty-five to thirty students can be accommodated inside the centrally heated, air conditioned house. There are separate dining rooms for both men and women adjacent to a large kitchen.
Centre Address: S.V.M.C. Dhamma Siri, Route # 5, P. O. Box 275, Kaufman, TX – 75158 U.S.A.
Tel: (214) 932–7868
Seminar on Vipassana, Meditation and Health (November 27 – December 9, 1990)
This coming winter the Vipassana Research Institute (VRI) will sponsor an international seminar at Dhamma Giri on the theme “Vipassana Meditation, the Science of Living a Healthy and Happy Life.” VRI invites health care professionals from all aspects of the healing professions and other meditators to submit papers. These papers will explore the application of Vipassana in the field of sciences, both traditional and alternative, particularly its role in promoting health and preventing disease. This seminar will follow the standard format of recent seminars:
Nov. 27, 4-6 p.m. : Inaugural session;
Nov. 27 to Dec. 8: Practice in Vipassana (patipatti);
Dec. 8 to Dec. 9: Presentation of Papers, Deliberations
and Conclusions (pariyatti).
Those wishing to contribute scientific papers (not exceeding 1000 words) should send two copies before October 15, 1990 to Dr. R. M. Chokhani.