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founded by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin






Importance of Vedana and Sampajanna in the Vipassana (Insight) System of Meditation

-By Venerable Bhikkhu Lokopalo,

International Friends of Buddhists, Bangalore

It is true that everybody seeks happiness in the world. Hence, all possible efforts are made to destroy suffering and experience enjoyment and happiness. As real happiness is conditioned by attributes of mind, training the mind is the path which some people earnestly practise to eradicate suffering. The suffering associated with old age, disease, etc. is not overcome by material means but can be overcome by training and developing the mind. In this connection, 2,500 years ago, the Buddha gave a well-known discourse-the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, in which he declared-

This is the only way, the 'sole way', for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destroying of pain and grief, for reaching the right path, for realisation of nibbana, namely, the four foundations of mindfulness. What are the four foundations of mindfulness?

1. Contemplation of the body (kaya)

2. Contemplation of the feelings (vedana)

3. Contemplation of the mind (citta)

4. Contemplation of the mind objects (dhamma)

This is the way to be followed by those who wish to eradicate impurities of the mind, which are the cause of their suffering. All vedana, even those perceived mentally, are found only in the framework of the body. Vedana arise for some reason or another. But we must understand that some kind of vedana or other is always in every part of the body. One may ask, if that is so, why is it not felt? Our mind is not in that part of the body. The mind is fully engaged in material enjoyment and pleasure, so the vedana is not felt. But a Vipassana meditator notices the feelings in all parts of the body as he observes them with right awareness. As his observation with right awareness goes to the feeling in each and every part of the body, he notices the vedana (feeling) there. All these sensations should be observed with equanimity. In this way, the impurities of the mind are gradually eradicated. The Vipassana meditator will see that all the sensations arising and found in various parts of the body are changing. The Vipassana meditation re-discovered by Lord Buddha is the purification of mind and observation of things as they really are. By this kind of observation, the impurities of the mind, which are the cause of suffering, are eradicated and the mind slowly becomes purified. The sensations, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, should be observed objectively, by which the impurities (evils) are washed away, while the good deeds are accumulated. It is just like observing a rogue or robber sitting near by. When the rogue or robber notices that he is being observed by someone, he runs away from the site because of his guilty conscience. But when a saint or a noble man finds himself being observed, he will come closer to the observer and enquire as to why he is being observed or whether the observer is in need of anything from him. In this way, the impurities (evil deeds) are eradicated and good deeds accumulated by observation-be they pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. This is the fruit obtained by a Vipassana meditator, as the Vipassana system of meditation teaches only observation of the various vedana in various parts of the body.

Until now we have been dealing with vedana which exist in all parts of the body (kaya). When vedana are observed as they really are, the defilements are eradicated and the mind purified. With further development, the meditator realizes the three characteristics of impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and soullessness (anatta), that is, he understands that everything is transient (anicca), everything which is transient is painful (dukkha), and everything which is transient and painful is not self, soulless (anatta). Then the meditator comes to the conclusion that 'this is not mine (netam mama), this I am not (neso ahamasmi), and this is not my soul (nameso atta)'. Thus he finds out about himself, about his body and about his soul (or the lack thereof) which is a great achievement for the meditator.

Now let us pass on to sampajanna. In the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, Lord Buddha declared-

Kaye kayanupassi viharati atapi sampajano satima...

Vedanasu vedananupassi viharati atapi sampajano satima...

Citte cittanupassi viharati atapi sampajano satima...

Dhammesu dhammanupassi viharati atapi sampajano satima...

Here we find that the Buddha emphasises and gives great importance to sampajanna. From these words, one can understand that mere sati (mindfulness) without sampajanna will not be of any use and will not serve any purpose, but sampajanna is essential. Sampajanna must be with sati. Sati without sampajanna is just like a flower without odour or colour. Hence in each and every foundation of mindfulness, the Buddha forcibly tells us that sampajanna goes along with sati to make the sati meaningful and fruitful. Hence sampajanna plays a very vital part in the Vipassana system of meditation and guides sati in the right way to get good results, that is, to reach samadhi (concentration) and panna (wisdom).

Sampajano is fourfold-

1. Satthaka Sampajano (Comprehension of purpose)

2. Sappaya Sampajano (Clear comprehension of suitability)

3. Gocara Sampajano (Clear comprehension of the domain of meditation)

4. Asammoha Sampajano (Clear comprehension of reality of non-delusion)

Satthaka Sampajano

Here the teaching is that before acting, one should always question oneself as to whether the intended activity is really in accordance with one's purpose, aim or ideal-whether it is truly purposeful in the practical sense as well as the ideal. Satthaka sampajano has the negative function of counteracting the aimlessness and wastefulness of an inordinately great part of human activity in deeds, words and thoughts.

Its positive function is to concentrate the dispersed energy of man, to render it a fit tool for the task of winning mastery over life. As such, satthaka sampajano aids in the formation of a deep strength in one's character, powerful enough to gradually co-ordinate all one's activities. It strengthens the mind's leadership qualities by giving it skilful and determined initiative in cases where the mind used to yield passively in the past. It takes care of wise selection and limitation in man's activity, which is necessitated by the confusing multitudes of impressions, interests and demands with which one is faced in life.

Sappaya Sampajano

This kind of sampajano teaches the 'Art of Practicality', the adaptation to the conditions of time, place and individual character. It restrains the blind impetuosity and wilfulness of man's wishes or desires, aims and ideals. It will save many unnecessary failures which man, in his disappointment or discouragement, often blames on the purpose or the ideals themselves instead of attributing them to his own wrong procedure. Sappaya sampajano teaches that skilfulness in the choice of a right means (upaya-kusala). This was a quality which the Buddha possessed in the highest degree, and which he so admirably applied to the instruction and guidance of man.

Gocara Sampajano

It is explained by the old commentators as not abandoning the subject of meditation during one's daily routine and can be explained in two ways-

Firstly, as in many cases, if no link can be established between one's present work and his particular meditation or if such a connection would seem too vague or artificial to be of real value, then the subject of meditation would be deliberately put down like goods carried in the hand, but one should not forget to take it up again on the completion of the work.

Secondly, if one's meditative practice concerns mindfulness, as advocated, there will never be a need to put aside the subject of meditation, which in fact will include everything. Step by step, the practice of Right Mindfulness should absorb all activities of body, speech and mind, so that ultimately the subject of meditation will never be abandoned. The object for the followers of this method is that life becomes one with the spiritual practice. The gocara (domain) of the practice of Right Mindfulness has no rigid boundaries. It is a kingdom that constantly grows by absorbing ever new territories of life. It was in reference to this all-comprehensive domain of the satipatthana method, that once, the Master (the Buddha) spoke as follows-'Which, O monks, is the monk's domain (gocara), his very own pastoral place? It is just these Four Foundations of Mindfulness.'

Asammoha Sampajano

This removes the deepest and most obstinate delusion in man, which is his belief in a self, a soul, or an eternal substance of any description. Asammoha sampajano is the clarity and presence of knowledge that there is no abiding personality, self, ego, soul, or any such substance. Here the meditator will be confronted with the strongest inner opposition, because, against this greatest achievement of human thought (the anatta doctrine of the Buddha), an obstinate resistance will be offered by the age-old habit of thinking and acting in terms of 'I' and 'mine', as well as by the instinctive and powerful 'will to live' manifesting itself as self-affirmation. Only by training oneself again and again to the presently arisen thoughts and feelings as mere impersonal processes, can the power of deep-rooted egocentric thought habits and egoistic instincts be broken up, reduced and finally eliminated.

In conclusion, we must know that vedana and sampajano are very vital factors, for which the Buddha has given much importance in the Satipatthana Sutta while he was explaining the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness are the Vipassana System of Meditation. By following this method of meditation ardently and diligently, the meditator gets one-pointedness of mind (samadhi) by which he is able to keep his mind under control and, when further developed, he attains panna (wisdom). The importance of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness is stressed in the last discourse of Lord Buddha to Venerable Ananda, which goes as follows-

Be your own island, be your own refuge! Let the Teaching be your island, let the teaching be your refuge, do not take any other refuge!

And how, Ananda, does a monk take himself as an island, himself as refuge, without any other refuge? How is the Teaching his island and refuge and nothing else?

Herein a monk dwells practising body contemplation on the body...

Feeling contemplation on the feeling...

Mind contemplation on the mind...

Mental-object contemplation on the mental-objects, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome covetousness and grief concerning the world. In that way, Ananda, will a monk be his own island and refuge, without any other; in that way will he have the Teaching as his island and refuge, and nothing else.

And all those, Ananda, who either now or after my death, will dwell being their own island, their own refuge, without any other, having the Teaching as an island and refuge and nothing else-it is they among my bhikkhus who will reach the utmost height, if they are willing to train themselves.

When explaining the Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha clearly declared that this is the only way for the purification of beings, for the destroying of pain and grief, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for reaching the right path, for the realisation of nibbana, namely the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

When the Buddha clearly showed the path, for the welfare of the many and for the happiness of many, people who were in search of a way to destroy pain and grief, sorrow and lamentation, practised ardently and diligently and gained the fruit-the realisation of nibbana.

As Satipatthana is the Vipassana system of meditation, the meditators, though they may not go to the extent of the realisation of nibbana, are often cured from diseases, they become active and energetic. After such meditation, we find that meditators become sympathetic, gentle, honest and sincere. They also will be blessed with the heart of loving-kindness (metta).

May all follow the path shown by the Noble Master, the Buddha, and enjoy the fruit of the realisation of nibbana! May all living beings be well and happy!