On the personal request of the Honorable U Nu, Prime Minister, and
Thudhamma Sir U Thwin, President of the Buddha
Sasananuggaha Association, the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, Bhadanta
Sobhana Mahathera, came down from Shwebo to Rangoon on 10th November
1949. The Meditation Centre at the Thathana Yeiktha, Hermitage Road,
Rangoon, was formally opened on 4th December 1949, when the Mahasi
Sayadaw began to give to fifteen devotees a methodical training in
the right system of Satipatthana Vipassana.
From the first day of the opening of the Centre a discourse on the
exposition of Satipatthana Vipassana, its purpose, the method of
practice, the benefits derived therefrom, etc., has been given daily
to each batch of devotees arriving at the Centre almost everyday to
undertake the intensive course of training. The discourse lasts
usually for one hour and thirty minutes, and the task of talking
almost daily in this manner inevitably caused a strain. Fortunately,
the Buddha Sasananuggaha Association came forward to relieve the
situation with an offer of the donation of a tape-recorder, and the
discourse given on 27th July 1951 to a group of fifteen devotees
undertaking the training was taped. Thereafter this taped discourse
has been in constant daily use preceded by a few preliminary remarks
spoken by the Mahasi Sayadaw.
Then, owing to the great demand of many branch meditation centers
of the Mahasi Satipatthana Vipassana, as well as of the public, this
discourse was published in book form in 1954. The book has now run
into its sixth edition. As there is also a keen interest and eager
demand among many devotees of other nationalities who are
unacquainted with Burmese, the discourse is now translated into
U Pe Thin (translator)
Honor to the Fully Enlightened One
On coming across the Teaching of the Buddha, it is most important
for everyone to cultivate the virtues of moral conduct (sila),
concentration (samadhi), and wisdom (pañña). One
should undoubtedly possess these three virtues.
For laypeople the minimal measure of moral conduct is the
observance of the Five Precepts. For bhikkhus it is the observance of
the Patimokkha, the code of monastic discipline. Anyone who is
well-disciplined in moral conduct will be reborn in a happy realm of
existence as a human being or a deva (god).
However, this ordinary form of mundane morality (lokiya-sila)
will not be a safeguard against relapse into the lower states of
miserable existence, such as hell, the animal realm, or the realm of
petas (ghosts). It is therefore desirable to cultivate the higher
form of supramundane morality (lokuttara-sila). When one has
fully acquired the virtue of this morality, one will be secure from
relapse into the lower states and will always lead a happy life by
being reborn as a human being or a deva. Everyone should therefore
make it his duty to work for supramundane morality.
There is every hope of success for anyone who strives sincerely
and in real earnestness. It would indeed be a pity if anyone were to
fail to take advantage of this fine opportunity of being endowed with
higher qualities, for such a person will undoubtedly be a victim
sooner or later of his own bad karma, which will pull him down to the
lower states of miserable existence in hell, the animal realm, or the
sphere of petas, where the span of life lasts for many hundreds,
thousands or millions of years. It is therefore emphasized here that
coming across the Teaching of the Buddha is the unique opportunity to
work for path morality (magga-sila) and fruition morality (phala-sila).
It is not, however, advisable to work for moral conduct alone. It
is also necessary to practice samadhi or concentration.
Samadhi is the fixed or tranquil state of mind. The ordinary or
undisciplined mind is in the habit of wandering to other places. It
cannot be kept under control, but follows any idea, thought or
imagination, etc. In order to prevent this wandering, the mind should
be made to attend repeatedly to a selected object of concentration.
On gaining practice, the mind gradually abandons its distractions and
remains fixed on the object to which it is directed. This is samadhi.
There are two kinds of concentration: mundane concentration (lokiya-samadhi)
and supramundane concentration (lokuttara-samadhi). Of these
two, the former consists in the mundane absorptions, such as the four
rupa-jhanas — the absorptions pertaining to the world of
form — and the four arupa-jhanas — the absorptions
pertaining to the formless world. These can be attained by the
practice of tranquillity meditation (samatha-bhavana) with
such methods as mindfulness of breathing, loving-kindness (metta),
kasina meditation, etc. By virtue of these attainments one will be
reborn in the plane of the brahmas. The life-span of a brahma is very
long and lasts for one world cycle, two, four, or eight world cycles,
up to a limit of 84,000 world cycles, as the case may be. But at the
end of his lifespan, a brahma will die and be reborn as a human being
or a deva.
If one leads a virtuous life all the time, one may lead a happy
life in a higher existence, but as one is not free from the
defilements of attachment, aversion and delusion, one may commit
demeritorious deeds on many occasions. One will then be a victim of
his bad karma and be reborn in hell or in other lower states of
miserable existence. Thus mundane concentration also is not a
definite security. It is desirable to work for supramundane
concentration, the concentration of the path (magga) and the
fruit (phala). To acquire this concentration it is essential
to cultivate wisdom (pañña).
There are two forms of wisdom: mundane and supramundane. Nowadays,
knowledge of literature, art, science, or other worldly affairs is
usually regarded as a kind of wisdom, but this form of wisdom has
nothing to do with any kind of mental development (bhavana).
Nor can it be regarded as of real merit, because many weapons of
destruction are invented through these kinds of knowledge, which are
always under the influence of attachment, aversion, and other evil
motives. The real spirit of mundane wisdom, on the other hand, has
only merits and no demerits of any kind. True mundane wisdom includes
the knowledge used in welfare and relief work, which causes no harm;
learning to acquire the knowledge of the true meaning or sense of the
scriptures; and the three classes of knowledge of development for
insight (vipassana-bhavana), such as knowledge born of
learning (sutamaya-pañña), knowledge born of reflection (cintamaya-pañña),
and wisdom born of meditative development (bhavanamaya-pañña).
The virtue of possessing mundane wisdom will lead to a happy life in
higher states of existence, but it still cannot prevent the risk of
being reborn in hell or in other states of miserable existence. Only
the development of supramundane wisdom (lokuttara-pañña) can
decidedly remove this risk.
Supramundane wisdom is the wisdom of the path and fruit. To
develop this wisdom it is necessary to carry on the practice of
insight meditation (vipassana-bhavana) out of the three
disciplines of morality, concentration, and wisdom. When the virtue
of wisdom is duly developed, the necessary qualities of morality and
concentration will also be acquired.
The Development of Wisdom
The method of developing this wisdom is to observe materiality (rupa)
and mentality (nama) — the two sole elements existing in a
living being — with a view to knowing them in their true nature. At
present, experiments in the analytical observation of materiality are
usually carried out in laboratories with the aid of various kinds of
instruments, yet these methods cannot deal with the mind. The method
of the Buddha does not require any kind of instruments or outside
aid. It can successfully deal with both materiality and mentality. It
makes use of one's own mind for analytical purposes by fixing bare
attention on the activities of materiality and mentality as they
occur within oneself. By continually repeating this form of exercise,
the necessary concentration can be gained, and when concentration is
keen enough, the ceaseless course of arising and passing away of
materiality and mentality will be vividly perceptible.
The living being consists solely of the two distinct groups of
materiality and mentality. The solid substance of body as it is now
found belongs to the group of materiality. According to the usual
enumeration of material phenomena, there are altogether twenty-eight
kinds in this group, but in short it may be noted that body is a mass
of materiality. For example, it is the same as a doll made of clay or
wheat, which is nothing but a collection of particles of clay or
flour. Materiality changes its form (ruppati) under physical
conditions of heat, cold, etc., and because of this changeableness
under contrary physical conditions, it is called rupa in Pali.
It does not possess any faculty of knowing an object.
In the Abhidhamma, the elements of mentality and materiality are
classified as "states with object" (sarammana-dhamma)
and "states without object" (anarammana-dhamma),
respectively. The element of mentality has an object, holds an
object, knows an object, while that of materiality does not have an
object, does not hold an object, and does not know an object. It will
thus be seen that the Abhidhamma has directly stated that materiality
has no faculty of knowing an object. A yogi also perceives in like
manner that "materiality has no faculty of knowing."
Logs and pillars, bricks and stones and lumps of earth are a mass
of materiality. They do not possess any faculty of knowing. It is the
same with the materiality which makes up a living body — it has no
faculty of knowing. The materiality in a dead body is the same as
that of a living body — it does not possess any faculty of knowing.
People, however, have a common idea that the materiality of a living
body possesses the faculty of knowing an object and that it loses
this faculty only at death. This is not really so. In actual fact,
materiality does not possess the faculty of knowing an object in
either a dead or a living body.
What is it then that knows objects now? It is mentality, which
comes into being depending on materiality. It is called nama
in Pali because it inclines (namati) towards an object.
Mentality is also spoken of as thought or consciousness. Mentality
arises depending on materiality: depending on the eye,
eye-consciousness (seeing) arises; depending on the ear,
ear-consciousness (hearing) arises; depending on the nose,
nose-consciousness (smelling) arises; depending on the tongue,
tongue-consciousness (tasting) arises; depending on the body,
body-consciousness (sense of touch) arises. There are many kinds of
sense of touch, either good or bad.
While touch has a wide field of action in running throughout the
whole length of the body, inside and outside, the sense of seeing,
hearing, smelling and tasting come into being in their own particular
spheres — the eye, ear, nose and tongue — each of which occupies
a very small and limited area of the body. These senses of touch,
sight, etc., are nothing but the elements of mind. There also comes
into being mind-consciousness — thoughts, ideas, imaginings, etc.
— depending on the mind-base. All of these are elements of mind.
Mind knows an object, while materiality does not know an object.
People generally believe that in the case of seeing, it is the eye
which actually sees. They think that seeing and the eye are one and
the same thing. They also think: "Seeing is I," "I see
things," "The eye, seeing, and I are one and the same
person." In reality this is not so. The eye is one thing and
seeing is another, and there is no separate entity such as
"I" or "ego." There is only the reality of seeing
coming into being depending on the eye.
To give an example, it is like the case of a person who sits in a
house. The house and the person are two separate things: the house is
not the person, nor is the person the house. Similarly, it is so at
the time of seeing. The eye and seeing are two separate things: the
eye is not seeing, nor is seeing the eye.
To give another example, it is just like the case of a person in a
room who sees many things when he opens the window and looks through
it. If it is asked, "Who is it that sees? Is it the window or
the person that actually sees?" the answer is, "The window
does not possess the ability to see; it is only the person who
sees." If it is again asked, "Will the person be able to
see things on the outside without the window?" the answer will
be, "It is not possible to see things through the wall without
the window. One can only see through the window." Similarly, in
the case of seeing, there are two separate realities of the eye and
seeing. The eye is not seeing, nor is seeing the eye, yet there
cannot be an act of seeing without the eye. In reality, seeing comes
into being depending on the eye.
It is now evident that in the body there are only two distinct
elements of materiality (eye) and mentality (seeing) at every moment
of seeing. In addition, there is also a third element of materiality
— the visual object. At times the visual object is noticeable in
the body and at times it is noticeable outside the body. With the
addition of the visual object there will then be three elements, two
of which (the eye and the visual object) are materiality and the
third of which (seeing) is mentality. The eye and the visual object,
being materiality, do not possess the ability to know an object,
while seeing, being mentality, can know the visual object and what it
looks like. Now it is clear that there exist only the two separate
elements of materiality and mentality at the moment of seeing, and
the arising of this pair of separate elements is known as seeing.
People who are without the training in and knowledge of insight
meditation hold the view that seeing belongs to or is
"self," "ego," "living entity," or
"person." They believe that "seeing is I," or
"I am seeing," or "I am knowing." This kind of
view or belief is called sakkaya-ditthi in Pali. Sakkaya
means the group of materiality (rupa) and mentality (nama)
as they exist distinctively. Ditthi means a wrong view or
belief. The compound word sakkaya-ditthi means a wrong view or
belief in self with regard to nama and rupa, which
exist in reality.
For greater clarity, we will explain further the manner of holding
the wrong view or belief. At the moment of seeing, the things which
actually exist are the eye, the visual object (both materiality), and
seeing (mentality). Nama and rupa are reality, yet
people hold the view that this group of elements is self, or ego, or
a living entity. They consider that "seeing is I," or
"that which is seen is I," or "I see my own
body." Thus this mistaken view is taking the simple act of
seeing to be self, which is sakkaya-ditthi, the wrong view of
As long as one is not free from the wrong view of self, one cannot
expect to escape from the risk of falling into the miserable realms
of the hells, the animals or the petas. Though one may be leading a
happy life in the human or deva world by virtue of one's merits, yet
one is liable to fall back into the miserable states of existence at
any time, when one's demerits operate. For this reason, the Buddha
pointed out that it is essential to work for the total removal of the
wrong view of self:
"Let a monk go forth mindfully to abandon view
(sakkaya-ditthippahañaya sato bhikkhu paribbaje).
To explain: though it is the wish of everyone to avoid old age,
disease and death, no one can prevent their inevitable arrival. After
death, rebirth follows. Rebirth in any state of existence does not
depend on one's own wish. It is not possible to avoid rebirth in the
hell realm, the animal realm or the realm of the petas by merely
wishing for an escape. Rebirth takes place in any state of existence
as the consequence of one's own deeds: there is no choice at all. For
these reasons, the round of birth and death, samsara, is very
dreadful. Every effort should therefore be made to acquaint oneself
with the miserable conditions of samsara, and then to work for an
escape from samsara, for the attainment of Nibbana.
If an escape from samsara as a whole is not possible for the
present, an attempt should be made for an escape at least from the
round of rebirth in the hell realms, the animal realm and the peta
realm. In this case it is necessary to work for the total removal
within oneself of sakkaya-ditthi, which is the root cause of
rebirth in the miserable states of existence. Sakkaya-ditthi
can only be destroyed completely by the noble path and fruit: the
three supramundane virtues of morality, concentration and wisdom. It
is therefore imperative to work for the development of these virtues.
How should one do the work? By means of noting or observing one must
go out from the jurisdiction of defilements (kilesa). One
should practice by constantly noting or observing every act of
seeing, hearing, etc., which are the constituent physical and mental
processes, till one is freed from sakkaya-ditthi, the wrong
view of self.
For these reasons advice is always given here to take up the
practice of vipassana meditation. Now yogis have come here for the
purpose of practicing vipassana meditation who may be able to
complete the course of training and attain the noble path in no long
time. The view of self will then be totally removed and security will
be finally gained against the danger of rebirth in the realms of the
hells, animals and petas.
In this respect, the exercise is simply to note or observe the
existing elements in every act of seeing. It should be noted as
"seeing, seeing" on every occasion of seeing. By the terms
"note" or "observe" or "contemplate" is
meant the act of keeping the mind fixedly on the object with a view
to knowing it clearly.
When this is done, and the act of seeing is noted as "seeing,
seeing," at times the visual object is noticed, at times
consciousness of seeing is noticed, at times the eye-base, the place
from which one sees, is noticed. It will serve the purpose if one can
notice distinctly any one of the three. If not, based on this act of
seeing there will arise sakkaya-ditthi, which will view it in
the form of a person or as belonging to a person, and as being
permanent, pleasurable, and self. This will arouse the defilements of
craving and attachment, which will in turn prompt deeds, and the
deeds will bring forth rebirth in a new existence. Thus the process
of dependent origination operates and the vicious circle of samsara
revolves incessantly. In order to prevent the revolving of samsara
from this source of seeing, it is necessary to note "seeing,
seeing" on every occasion of seeing.
Similarly, in the case of hearing, there are only two distinct
elements, materiality and mentality. The sense of hearing arises
depending on the ear. While the ear and sound are two elements of
materiality, the sense of hearing is the element of mentality. In
order to know clearly any one of these two kinds of materiality and
mentality, every occasion of hearing should be noted as
"hearing, hearing." So also, "smelling, smelling"
should be noted on every occasion of smelling, and "tasting,
tasting" on every occasion of tasting.
The sensation of touch in the body should be noted in the very
same way. There is a kind of material element known as bodily
sensitivity throughout the body, which receives every impression of
touch. Every kind of touch, either agreeable or disagreeable, usually
comes in contact with bodily sensitivity, and from this there arises
body-consciousness, which feels or knows the touch on each occasion.
It will now be seen that at every moment of touching there are two
elements of materiality — the bodily sensitivity and the tangible
object — and one element of mentality — knowing of touch.
In order to know these things distinctly at every moment of
touching, the practice of noting as "touching, touching"
has to be carried out. This merely refers to the common form of
sensation of touch. There are special forms which accompany painful
or disagreeable sensations, such as feeling stiffness or tiredness in
the body or limbs, feeling hot, pain, numb, aches, etc. Because
feeling (vedana) predominates in these cases, it should be
noted as "feeling hot," "feeling tired,"
"feeling painful," etc., as the case may be.
It may also be mentioned that there occur many sensations of touch
in the hands, the legs, and so on, on each occasion of bending,
stretching, or moving. Because of mentality wanting to move, stretch
or bend, the material activities of moving, stretching or bending,
etc., occur in series. (It may not be possible to notice these
incidents at the outset. They can only be noticed after some time, on
gaining experience by practice. It is mentioned here for the sake of
general information.) All activities in movements and in changing,
etc., are done by mentality. When mentality wills to bend, there
arises a series of inward movements of hand or the leg. When
mentality wills to stretch or move, there arises a series of outward
movements or movements to and fro. They fall away soon after they
occur and at the very point of occurrence, as one will notice later.
In every case of bending, stretching, or other activities, there
arises first a series of intentions, moments of mentality, inducing
or causing in the hands and legs a series of material activities,
such as stiffening, bending, stretching, or moving to and fro. These
activities come up against other material elements, the bodily
sensitivity, and on every occasion of contact between material
activities and sensitive qualities, there arises body-consciousness,
which feels or knows the sensation of touch. It is therefore clear
that material activities are predominating factors in these cases. It
is necessary to notice the predominating factors. If not, there will
surely arise the wrong view which regards these activities as the
doings of an "I" — "I am bending," "I am
stretching," "my hands," or "my legs." This
practice of noting as "bending," "stretching,"
"moving," is carried out for the purpose of removing such
Depending on the mind-base there arises a series of mental
activities, such as thinking, imagining, etc., or generally speaking,
a series of mental activities arises depending on the body. In
reality, each case is a composition of mentality and materiality,
mind-base being materiality, and thinking, imagining, and so forth
being mentality. In order to be able to notice materiality and
mentality clearly, "thinking," "imagining," and
so forth should be noted in each case.
After having carried out the practice in the manner indicated
above for some time, there may be an improvement in concentration.
One will notice that the mind no longer wanders about but remains
fixed on the object to which it is directed. At the same time, the
power of noticing has considerably developed. On every occasion of
noting, one notices only two processes of materiality and mentality:
a dual set of object (materiality) and mental state (mentality),
which makes note of the object, arising together.
Again, on proceeding further with the practice of contemplation,
after some time one notices that nothing remains permanent, but that
everything is in a state of flux. New things arise each time. Each of
them is noted as it arises. Whatever arises then passes away
immediately and immediately another arises, which is again noted and
which then passes away. Thus the process of arising and passing away
goes on, which clearly shows that nothing is permanent. One therefore
realizes that "things are not permanent" because one sees
that they arise and pass away immediately. This is insight into
Then one also realizes that "arising and passing are not
desirable." This is insight into suffering (dukkhanupassana-ñana).
Besides, one usually experiences many painful sensations in the body,
such as tiredness, heat, aching, and at the time of noting these
sensations, one generally feels that this body is a collection of
sufferings. This is also insight into suffering.
Then at every time of noting it is found that elements of
materiality and mentality occur according to their respective nature
and conditioning, and not according to one's wishes. One therefore
realizes that "they are elements; they are not governable; they
are not a person or living entity." This is insight into
On having fully acquired these insights into impermanence,
suffering, and non-self, the maturity of knowledge of the path (magga-ñana)
and knowledge of fruition (phala-ñana) takes place and
realization of Nibbana is won. By winning the realization of Nibbana
in the first stage, one is freed from the round of rebirth in the
realms of miserable existence. Everyone should therefore endeavor to
reach the first stage, the path and fruit of stream-entry, as a
minimum measure of protection against an unfortunate rebirth.
The Beginner's Exercise
It has already been explained that the actual method of practice
in vipassana meditation is to note, or to observe, or to contemplate,
the successive occurrences of seeing, hearing, and so on, at the six
sense doors. However, it will not be possible for a beginner to
follow these on all successive incidents as they occur because his
mindfulness (sati), concentration (samadhi), and
knowledge (ñana) are still very weak. The moments of seeing,
hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking occur very
swiftly. It seems that seeing occurs at the same time as hearing,
that hearing occurs at the same time as seeing, that seeing and
hearing occur simultaneously, that seeing, hearing, thinking and
imagining always occur simultaneously. Because they occur so swiftly,
it is not possible to distinguish which occurs first and which
In reality, seeing does not occur at the same time as hearing, nor
does hearing occur at the same time as seeing. Such incidents can
occur only one at a time. A yogi who has just begun the practice and
who has not sufficiently developed his mindfulness, concentration and
knowledge will not, however, be in a position to observe all these
moments singly as they occur in serial order. A beginner need not,
therefore, follow up on many things. He needs to begin with only a
Seeing or hearing occurs only when due attention is given to their
objects. If one does not pay heed to any sight or sound, one may pass
the time without any moments of seeing or hearing taking place.
Smelling rarely occurs. The experience of tasting can only occur
while one is eating. In the case of seeing, hearing, smelling and
tasting, the yogi can note them when they occur. Body impressions,
however, are ever present. They usually exist distinctly all the
time. During the time that one is sitting, the body impression of
stiffness or the sensation of hardness in this position is distinctly
felt. Attention should therefore be fixed on the sitting posture and
a note made as "sitting, sitting, sitting."
Sitting is an erect posture of the body consisting of a series of
physical activities, induced by consciousness consisting of a series
of mental activities. It is just like the case of an inflated rubber
ball which maintains its round shape through the resistance of the
air inside it. The posture of sitting is similar in that the body is
kept in an erect posture through the continuous process of physical
activities. A good deal of energy is required to pull up and keep in
an erect position such a heavy load as this body. People generally
assume that the body is lifted and kept in an upright position by
means of sinews. This assumption is correct in a sense because
sinews, blood, flesh and bones are nothing but materiality. The
element of stiffening which keeps the body in an erect posture
belongs to the group of materiality and arises in the sinews, flesh,
blood, etc., throughout the body, like the air in a rubber ball.
The element of stiffening is the air element, known as vayo-dhatu.
The body is kept in an erect position by the air element in the form
of stiffening, which is continually coming into existence. At the
time of sleepiness or drowsiness, one may drop flat because the
supply of new materials in the form of stiffening is cut off. The
state of mind in heavy drowsiness or sleep is bhavanga, the
"life-continuum" or passive subconscious flow. During the
course of bhavanga, mental activities are absent, and for this
reason, the body lies flat during sleep or heavy drowsiness.
During waking hours, strong and alert mental activities are
continually arising, and because of these the air element arises
serially in the form of stiffening. In order to know these facts, it
is essential to note the bodily posture attentively as "sitting,
sitting, sitting." This does not necessarily mean that the body
impression of stiffening should particularly be searched for and
noted. Attention need only be fixed on the whole form of the sitting
posture, that is, the lower portion of the body in a bent circular
form and the upper portion held erect.
It may be found that the exercise of observing the mere sitting
posture is too easy and does not require much effort. In these
circumstances, energy (viriya) is less and concentration (samadhi)
is in excess. One will generally feel lazy and will not want to carry
on the noting as "sitting, sitting, sitting" repeatedly for
a considerable length of time. Laziness generally occurs when there
is an excess of concentration and not enough energy. It is nothing
but a state of sloth and torpor (thina-middha).
More energy should be developed, and for this purpose, the number
of objects for noting should be increased. After noting as
"sitting," the attention should be directed to a spot in
the body where the sense of touch is felt and a note made as
"touching." Any spot in the leg or hand or hip where a
sense of touch is distinctly felt will serve the purpose. For
example, after noting the sitting posture of the body as
"sitting," the spot where the sense of touch is felt should
be noted as "touching." The noting should thus be repeated
using these two objects of the sitting posture and the
place of touching alternately, as "sitting, touching,
sitting, touching, sitting, touching."
The terms "noting," "observing" and
"contemplating" are used here to indicate the fixing of
attention on an object. The exercise is simply to note or observe or
contemplate as "sitting, touching." Those who already have
experience in the practice of meditation may find this exercise easy
to begin with, but those without any previous experience may at first
find it rather difficult.
A simpler and easier form of the exercise for a beginner is this:
With every breath there occurs in the abdomen a rising-falling
movement. A beginner should start with the exercise of noting this
movement. This rising-falling movement is easy to observe because it
is coarse and therefore more suitable for the beginner. As in schools
where simple lessons are easy to learn, so also is the practice of
vipassana meditation. A beginner will find it easier to develop
concentration and knowledge with a simple and easy exercise.
Again, the purport of vipassana meditation is to begin the
exercise by contemplating prominent factors in the body. Of the two
factors of mentality and materiality, the former is subtle and less
prominent, while the latter is coarse and more prominent. At the
outset, therefore, the usual procedure for an insight meditator is to
begin the exercise by contemplating the material elements.
With regard to materiality, it may be mentioned here that derived
materiality (upada-rupa) is subtle and less prominent, while
the four primary physical elements (maha-bhuta-rupa) —
earth, water, fire and air — are coarse and more prominent. The
latter should therefore have priority in the order of objects for
contemplation. In the case of rising-falling, the outstanding factor
is the air element, or vayo-dhatu. The process of stiffening
and the movements of the abdomen noticed during the contemplation are
nothing but the functions of the air element. Thus it will be seen
that the air element is perceptible at the beginning.
According to the instructions of the Satipatthana Sutta, one
should be mindful of the activities of walking while walking, of
those of standing, sitting and lying down while standing, sitting and
lying down, respectively. One should also be mindful of other bodily
activities as each of them occurs. In this connection, it is stated
in the commentaries that one should be mindful primarily of the air
element, in preference to the other three elements. As a matter of
fact, all four primary elements are dominant in every action of the
body, and it is essential to perceive any one of them. At the time of
sitting, either of the two movements of rising and falling occurs
conspicuously with every breath, and a beginning should be made by
noting these movements.
Some fundamental features in the system of vipassana meditation
have been explained for general information. The general outline of
basic exercises will now be dealt with.
Outline of Basic Exercises
When contemplating rising and falling, the disciple should keep
his mind on the abdomen. He will then come to know the upward
movement or expansion of the abdomen on breathing in, and the
downward movement or contraction on breathing out. A mental note
should be made as "rising" for the upward movement and
"falling" for the downward movement. If these movements are
not clearly noticed by simply fixing the mind on them, one or both
hands should be placed on the abdomen.
The disciple should not try to change the manner of his natural
breathing. He should neither attempt slow breathing by the retention
of his breath, nor quick breathing or deep breathing. If he does
change the natural flow of his breathing, he will soon tire himself.
He must therefore keep to the natural rate of his breathing and
proceed with the contemplation of rising and falling.
On the occurrence of the upward movement of the abdomen, the
mental note of "rising" should be made, and on the downward
movement of the abdomen, the mental note of "falling"
should be made. The mental notation of these terms should not be
vocalized. In vipassana meditation, it is more important to know the
object than to know it by a term or name. It is therefore necessary
for the disciple to make every effort to be mindful of the movement
of rising from its beginning to its end and that of falling from its
beginning to its end, as if these movements are actually seen with
the eyes. As soon as rising occurs, there should be the knowing mind
close to the movement, as in the case of a stone hitting a wall. The
movement of rising as it occurs and the mind knowing it must come
together on every occasion. Similarly, the movement of falling as it
occurs and the mind knowing it must come together on every occasion.
When there is no other conspicuous object, the disciple should
carry on the exercise of noting these two movements as "rising,
falling, rising, falling, rising, falling." While thus being
occupied with this exercise, there may be occasions when the mind
wanders about. When concentration is weak, it is very difficult to
control the mind. Though it is directed to the movements of rising
and falling, the mind will not stay with them but will wander to
other places. This wandering mind should not be let alone. It should
be noted as "wandering, wandering, wandering" as soon as it
is noticed that it is wandering. On noting once or twice the mind
usually stops wandering, then the exercise of noting "rising,
falling" should be continued. When it is again found that the
mind has reached a place, it should be noted as "reaching,
reaching, reaching." Then the exercise of noting "rising,
falling" should be reverted to as soon as these movements are
On meeting with a person in the imagination, it should be noted as
"meeting, meeting," after which the usual exercise should
be reverted to. Sometimes the fact that it is mere imagination is
discovered when one speaks with that imaginary person, and it should
then be noted as "speaking,speaking." The real purport is
to note every mental activity as it occurs. For instance, it should
be noted as "thinking" at the moment of thinking, and as
"reflecting," "planning," "knowing,"
"attending," rejoicing," "feeling lazy,"
"feeling happy," "disgusted," etc., as the case
may be, on the occurrence of each activity. The contemplation of
mental activities and noticing them is called cittanupassana,
contemplation of mind.
Because people have no practical knowledge in vipassana
meditation, they are generally not in a position to know the real
state of the mind. This naturally leads them to the wrong view of
holding mind to be "person," "self," "living
entity." They usually believe that "imagination is I,"
"I am thinking, " "I am planning," "I am
knowing," and so forth. They hold that there exists a living
entity or self which grows up from childhood to adulthood. In
reality, such a living entity does not exist, but there does exist a
continuous process of elements of mind which occur singly, one at a
time, in succession. The practice of contemplation is therefore being
carried out with the aim of discovering the true nature of this
As regards the mind and the manner of its arising, the Buddha
stated in the Dhammapada (v.37):
ye cittam saññamessanti
Faring far, wandering alone,
Formless and lying in a cave.
Those who do restrain the mind
Are sure released from Mara's bonds.
Faring far. Mind usually wanders far and wide. While the
yogi is trying to carry on with the practice of contemplation in his
meditation room, he often finds that his mind has wandered to many
far-off places, towns, etc. He also finds that his mind can wander to
any of the far-off places which he has previously known at the very
moment of thinking or imagining. This fact is discovered with the
help of contemplation.
Alone. Mind occurs singly, moment to moment in succession.
Those who do not perceive the reality of this believe that one mind
exists in the course of life or existence. They do not know that new
minds are always arising at every moment. They think that the seeing,
hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking of the past and of
the present belong to one and the same mind, and that three or four
acts of seeing, hearing, touching, knowing usually occur
These are wrong views. In reality, single moments of mind arise
and pass away continuously, one after another. This can be perceived
on gaining considerable practice. The cases of imagination and
planning are clearly perceptible. Imagination passes away as soon as
it is noted as "imagining, imagining," and planning also
passes away as soon as it is noted as "planning, planning."
These instances of arising, noting and passing away appear like a
string of beads. The preceding mind is not the following mind. Each
is separate. These characteristics of reality are personally
perceptible, and for this purpose one must proceed with the practice
Formless. Mind has no substance, no form. It is not easy to
distinguish as is the case with materiality. In the case of
materiality, the body, head, hands and legs are very prominent and
are easily noticed. If it is asked what matter is, matter can be
handled and shown. Mind, however, is not easy to describe because it
has no substance or form. For this reason, it is not possible to
carry out analytical laboratory experiments on the mind.
One can, however, fully understand the mind if it is explained as that
which knows an object. To understand the mind, it is necessary to
contemplate the mind at every moment of its occurrence. When
contemplation is fairly advanced, the mind's approach to its object
is clearly comprehended. It appears as if each moment of mind is
making a direct leap towards it object. In order to know the true
nature of the mind, contemplation is thus prescribed.
Lying in a cave. Because the mind comes into being
depending on the mind-base and the other sense doors situated in the
body, it is said that it rests in a cave.
Those who do restrain the mind are sure released from Mara's
bonds. It is said that the mind should be contemplated at each
moment of its occurrence. The mind can thus be controlled by means of
contemplation. On his successful controlling of the mind, the yogi
will win freedom from the bondage of Mara, the King of Death. It will
now be seen that it is important to note the mind at every moment of
its occurrence. As soon as it is noted, the mind passes away. For
instance, by noting once or twice as "intending,
intending," it is found that intention passes away at once. Then
the usual exercise of noting as "rising, falling, rising,
falling" should be reverted to.
While one is proceeding with the usual exercise, one may feel that
one wants to swallow saliva. It should be noted as
"wanting," and on gathering saliva as
"gathering," and on swallowing as "swallowing,"
in the serial order of occurrence. The reason for contemplation in
this case is because there may be a persisting personal view as
"wanting to swallow is I," "swallowing is also
I." In reality, "wanting to swallow" is mentality and
not "I," and "swallowing" is materiality and not
"I." There exist only mentality and materiality at that
moment. By means of contemplating in this manner, one will understand
clearly the process of reality. So too, in the case of spitting, it
should be noted as "wanting" when one wants to spit, as
"bending" on bending the neck (which should be done
slowly), as "looking, seeing" on looking and as
"spitting" on spitting. Afterwards, the usual exercise of
noting "rising, falling" should be continued.
Because of sitting for a long time, there will arise in the body
unpleasant feeling of being stiff, being hot and so forth. These
sensations should be noted as they occur. The mind should be fixed on
that spot and a note made as "stiff, stiff" on feeling
stiff, as "hot, hot" on feeling hot, as "painful,
painful" on feeling painful, as "prickly, prickly" on
feeling prickly sensations, and as "tired, tired" on
feeling tired. These unpleasant feelings are dukkha-vedana and
the contemplation of these feeling is vedananupassana,
contemplation of feeling.
Owing to the absence of knowledge in respect of these feelings,
there persists the wrong view of holding them as one's own
personality or self, that is to say, "I am feeling stiff,"
"I am feeling painful," "I was feeling well formerly
but I now feel uncomfortable," in the manner of a single self.
In reality, unpleasant feelings arise owing to disagreeable
impressions in the body. Like the light of an electric bulb which can
continue to burn on a continuous supply of energy, so it is in the
case of feelings, which arise anew on every occasion of coming in
contact with disagreeable impressions.
It is essential to understand these feelings clearly. At the
beginning of noting as "stiff, stiff," "hot,
hot," "painful, painful," one may feel that such
disagreeable feelings grow stronger, and then one will notice that a
mind wanting to change the posture arises. This mind should be noted
as "wanting, wanting." Then a return should be made to the
feeling and it should be noted as "stiff, stiff" or
"hot, hot," and so forth. If one proceeds in this manner of
contemplation with great patience, unpleasant feelings will pass
There is a saying that patience leads to Nibbana. Evidently this
saying is more applicable in the case of contemplation than in any
other. Plenty of patience is needed in contemplation. If a yogi
cannot bear unpleasant feelings with patience, but frequently changes
his posture during contemplation, he cannot expect to gain
concentration. Without concentration there is no chance of acquiring
insight knowledge (vipassana-ñana) and without insight
knowledge the attainment of the path, fruition and Nibbana cannot be
Patience is of great importance in contemplation. Patience is
needed mostly to bear unpleasant bodily feelings. There is hardly any
case of outside disturbances where it is necessary to exercise
patience. This means the observance of khantisamvara,
restraint by patience. The posture should not be immediately changed
when unpleasant sensations arise, but contemplation should be
continued by noting them as "stiff, stiff," "hot,
hot," and so on. Such painful sensations are normal and will
pass away. In the case of strong concentration, it will be found that
great pains will pass away when they are noted with patience. On the
fading away of suffering or pain, the usual exercise of noting
"rising, falling" should be continued.
On the other hand, it may be found that pains or unpleasant
feelings do not immediately pass away even when one notes them with
great patience. In such a case, one has no alternative but to change
posture. One must, of course, submit to superior forces. When
concentration is not strong enough, strong pains will not pass away
quickly. In these circumstances there will often arise a mind wanting
to change posture, and this mind should be noted as "wanting,
wanting." After this, one should note "lifting,
lifting" on moving it forward.
These bodily actions should be carried out slowly, and these slow
movements should be followed up and noted as "lifting,
lifting," "moving, moving," "touching,
touching," in the successive order of the process. Again, on
moving one should note "moving, moving," and on putting
down, note "putting, putting." If, when this process of
changing posture has been completed, there is nothing more to be
noted, the usual exercise of noting "rising, falling"
should be continued.
There should be no stop or break in between. The preceding act of
noting and the one which follows should be contiguous. Similarly, the
preceding concentration and the one which follows should be
contiguous, and the preceding act of knowing and the one which
follows should be contiguous. In this way, the gradual development by
stages of mindfulness, concentration and knowledge takes place, and
depending on their full development, the final stage of
path-knowledge is attained.
In the practice of vipassana meditation, it is important to follow
the example of a person who tries to make fire. To make a fire in the
days before matches, a person had to constantly rub two sticks
together without the slightest break in motion. As the sticks became
hotter and hotter, more effort was needed, and the rubbing had to be
carried out incessantly. Only when the fire had been produced was the
person at liberty to take a rest. Similarly, a yogi should work hard
so that there is no break between the preceding noting and the one
which follows, and the preceding concentration and the one which
follows. He should revert to his usual exercise of noting
"rising, falling" after he has noted painful sensations.
While being thus occupied with his usual exercise, he may again
feel itching sensations somewhere in the body. He should then fix his
mind on the spot and make a note as "itching, itching."
Itching is an unpleasant sensation. As soon as it is felt, there
arises a mind which wants to rub or scratch. This mind should be
noted as "wanting, wanting," after which no rubbing or
scratching must be done as yet, but a return should be made to the
itching and a note made as "itching, itching." While one is
occupied with contemplation in this manner, itching in most cases
passes away and the usual exercise of noting "rising,
falling" should then be reverted to.
If, on the other hand, it is found that itching does not pass
away, but that it is necessary to rub or scratch, the contemplation
of the successive stages should be carried out by noting the mind as
"wanting, wanting." It should then be continued by noting
"raising, raising" on raising the hand, "touching,
touching" when the hand touches the spot, "rubbing,
rubbing" or "scratching, scratching" when the hand
rubs or scratches, "withdrawing, withdrawing" on
withdrawing the hand, "touching, touching" when the hand
touches the body, and then the usual contemplation of "rising,
falling" should be continued. In every case of changing
postures, contemplation of the successive stages should be carried
out similarly and carefully.
While thus carefully proceeding with the contemplation, one may
find that painful feelings or unpleasant sensations arise in the body
of their own accord. Ordinarily, people change their posture as soon
as they feel even the slightest unpleasant sensation of tiredness or
heat without taking heed of these incidents. The change of posture is
carried out quite heedlessly just while the seed of pain is beginning
to grow. Thus painful feelings fail to take place in a distinctive
manner. For this reason it is said that, as a rule, the postures hide
painful feelings from view. People generally think that they are
feeling well for days and nights on end. They think that painful
feelings occur only at the time of an attack of a dangerous disease.
Reality is just the opposite of what people think. Let anyone try
to see how long he can keep himself in a sitting posture without
moving or changing it. One will find it uncomfortable after a short
while, say five or ten minutes, and then one will begin to find it
unbearable after fifteen or twenty minutes. One will then be
compelled to move or change one's posture by either raising or
lowering the head, moving the hands or legs, or by swaying the body
either forward or backward. Many movements usually take place during
a short time, and the number would be very large if they were to be
counted for the length of just one day. However, no one appears to be
aware of this fact because no one takes any heed.
Such is the order in every case, while in the case of a yogi who
is always mindful of his actions and who is proceeding with
contemplation, body impressions in their own respective nature are
therefore distinctly noticed. They cannot help but reveal themselves
fully in their own nature because he is watching until they come to
Though a painful sensation arises, he keeps on noting it. He does
not ordinarily attempt to change his posture or move. Then on the
arising of mind wanting to change, he at once makes a note of it as
"wanting, wanting," and afterwards he returns again to the
painful sensation and continues his noting of it. He changes his
posture or moves only when he finds the painful feeling unbearable.
In this case he also begins by noting the wanting mind and proceeds
with noting carefully each stage in the process of moving. This is
why the postures can no longer hide painful sensations. Often a yogi
finds painful sensations creeping from here and there or he may feel
hot sensations, aching sensations, itching, or the whole body as a
mass of painful sensations. That is how painful sensations are found
to be predominant because the postures cannot cover them.
If he intends to change his posture from sitting to standing, he
should first make a note of the intending mind as "intending,
intending," and proceed with the arranging of the hands and legs
in the successive stages by noting as "raising,"
"moving," "stretching," "touching,"
"pressing," and so forth. When the body sways forward, it
should be noted as "swaying, swaying." While in the course
of standing up, there occurs in the body a feeling of lightness as
well as the act of rising. Attention should be fixed on these factors
and a note made as "rising, rising." The act of rising
should be carried out slowly.
During the course of practice it is most appropriate if a yogi
acts feebly and slowly in all activities just like a weak, sick
person. Perhaps the case of a person suffering from lumbago would be
a more fitting example here. The patient must always be cautious and
move slowly just to avoid pains. In the same manner a yogi should
always try to keep to slow movements in all actions. Slow motion is
necessary to enable mindfulness, concentration and knowledge to catch
up. One has lived all the time in a careless manner and one just
begins seriously to train oneself in keeping the mind within the
body. It is only the beginning, and one's mindfulness, concentration
and knowledge have not yet been properly geared up while the physical
and mental processes are moving at top speed. It is thus imperative
to bring the top-level speed of these processes to the lowest gear so
as to make it possible for mindfulness and knowledge to keep pace
with them. It is therefore desirable that slow motion exercises be
carried out at all times.
Further, it is advisable for a yogi to behave like a blind person
throughout the course of training. A person without any restraint
will not look dignified because he usually looks at things and
persons wantonly. He also cannot obtain a steady and calm state of
mind. The blind person, on the other hand, behaves in a composed
manner by sitting sedately with downcast eyes. He never turns in any
direction to look at things or persons because he is blind and cannot
see them. Even if a person comes near him and speaks to him, he never
turns around and looks at that person. This composed manner is worthy
of imitation. A yogi should act in the same manner while carrying out
the practice of contemplation. He should not look anywhere. His mind
should be solely intent on the object of contemplation. While in the
sitting posture he must be intently noting "rising,
falling." Even if strange things occur nearby, he should not
look at them. He must simply make a note as "seeing,
seeing" and then continue with the usual exercise of noting
"rising, falling." A yogi should have a high regard for
this exercise and carry it out with due respect, so much so as to be
mistaken for a blind person.
In this respect certain girl-yogis were found to be in perfect
form. They carefully carried out the exercise with all due respect in
accordance with the instructions. Their manner was very composed and
they were always intent on their objects of contemplation. They never
looked round. When they walked, they were always intent on the steps.
Their steps were light, smooth and slow. Every yogi should follow
It is necessary for a yogi to behave like a deaf person also.
Ordinarily, as soon as a person hears a sound, he turns around and
looks in the direction from which the sound came, or he turns towards
the person who spoke to him and makes a reply. He does not behave in
a sedate manner. A deaf person, on the other hand, behaves in a
composed manner. He does not take heed of any sound or talk because
he never hears them. Similarly, a yogi should conduct himself in like
manner without taking heed of any unimportant talk, nor should he
deliberately listen to any talk or speech. If he happens to hear any
sound or speech, he should at once make a note as "hearing,
hearing," and then return to the usual practice of noting
"rising, falling." He should proceed with his contemplation
intently, so much so as to be mistaken for a deaf person.
It should be remembered that the only concern of a yogi is
the carrying out intently of contemplation. Other things seen or
heard are not his concern. Even though they may appear to be strange
or interesting, he should not take heed of them. When he sees any
sights, he must ignore them as if he does not see. So too, he must
ignore voices or sounds as if he does not hear. In the case of bodily
actions, he must act slowly and feebly as if he were sick and very
It is therefore to be emphasized that the act of pulling up the
body to the standing posture should be carried out slowly. On coming
to an erect position, a note should be made as "standing,
standing." If one happens to look around, a note should be made
as "looking, seeing," and on walking each step should be
noted as "right step, left step" or "walking,
walking." At each step, attention should be fixed on the sole of
the foot as it moves from the point of lifting the leg to the point
of placing it down.
While walking in quick steps or taking a long walk, a note on one
section of each step as "right step, left step" or
"walking, walking" will do. In the case of walking slowly,
each step may be divided into three sections — lifting, moving
forward and placing down. In the beginning of the exercise, a note
should be made of the two parts of each step: as "lifting"
by fixing the attention on the upward movement of the foot from the
beginning to the end, and as "placing" by fixing on the
downward movement from the beginning to the end. Thus the exercise
which starts with the first step by noting as "lifting,
placing" now ends.
Normally, when the foot is put down and is being noted as
"placing," the other leg begins lifting to begin the next
step. This should not be allowed to happen. The next step should
begin only after the first step has been completed, such as
"lifting, placing" for the first step and "lifting,
placing" for the second step. After two or three days this
exercise will be easy, and then the yogi should carry out the
exercise of noting each step in three sections as "lifting,
moving, placing." For the present a yogi should start the
exercise by noting as "right step, left step," or
"walking, walking" while walking quickly, and by noting as
"lifting, placing" while walking slowly.
While one is walking, one may feel the desire to sit down. One
should then make a note as "wanting." If one then happens
to look up, note it as "looking, seeing, looking, seeing";
on going to the seat as "lifting, placing"; on stopping as
"stopping, stopping"; on turning as "turning,
turning." When one feels a desire to sit, note it as
"wanting, wanting." In the act of sitting there occur in
the body heaviness and also a downward pull. Attention should be
fixed on these factors and a note made as "sitting, sitting,
sitting." After having sat down there will be movements of
bringing the hands and legs into position. They should be noted as
"moving," "bending," "stretching," and
so forth. If there is nothing to do and if one is sitting quietly,
one should then revert to the usual exercise of noting as
If in the course of contemplation one feels painful or tired or
hot, one should make a note of these and then revert to the usual
exercise of noting "rising, falling." If one feels sleepy,
one should make a note of it as "sleepy, sleepy" and
proceed with the noting of all acts in preparation to lie down: note
the bringing into position of the hands and legs as
"raising," "pressing," "moving,"
"supporting"; when the body sways as "swaying,
swaying"; when the legs stretch as "stretching,
stretching"; and when the body drops and lies flat as
"lying, lying, lying."
These trifling acts in lying down are also important and they
should not be neglected. There is every possibility of attaining
enlightenment during this short time. On the full development of
concentration and knowledge, enlightenment is attainable during the
present moment of bending or stretching. In this way the Venerable
Ananda attained Arahatship at the very moment of lying down.
About the beginning of the fourth month after the Buddha's
complete passing away, arrangements were made to hold the first
council of bhikkhus to collectively classify, examine, confirm and
recite all the teachings of the Buddha. At that time five hundred
bhikkhus were chosen for this work. Of these bhikkhus, four hundred
and ninety-nine were Arahats, while the Venerable Ananda was a sotapanna,
In order to attend the council as an Arahant on the same level
with the others, he made his utmost effort to carry on with his
meditation on the day prior to the opening of the council. That was
on the fourth of the waning moon of the month of Savana (August). He
proceeded with mindfulness of the body and continued his walking
meditation throughout the night. It might have been in the same
manner as noting "right step, left step" or "walking,
walking." He was thus occupied with intense contemplation of the
processes of mentality and materiality in each step until dawn of the
following day, but he still had not yet attained to Arahatship.
Then the Venerable Ananda thought: "I have done my utmost.
Lord Buddha has said: 'Ananda, you possess full perfections (paramis).
Do proceed with the practice of meditation. You will surely attain
Arahatship one day.' I have tried my best, so much so that I can be
counted as one of those who have done their best in meditation. What
maybe the reason for my failure?"
Then he remembered: "Ah! I have been overzealous in keeping
solely to the practice of walking throughout the night. There is an
excess of energy and not enough concentration, which indeed is
responsible for this state of restlessness. It is now necessary to
stop walking practice so as to bring energy in balance with
concentration and to proceed with the contemplation in a lying
position." The Venerable Ananda then entered his room, sat down
on his bed, and began to lie down. It is said that he attained
Arahatship at the very moment of lying down, or rather at the moment
of contemplating as "lying, lying."
This manner of attaining Arahatship has been recorded as a strange
event in the Commentaries, because it is outside the four regular
postures of standing, sitting, lying and walking. At the moment of
his enlightenment, the Venerable Ananda could not be regarded as
strictly in a standing posture because his feet were off the floor,
nor could he be regarded as sitting because his body was already at
an angle, being quite close to the pillow, nor could he be regarded
as lying down since his head had not yet touched the pillow and his
body was not yet flat.
The Venerable Ananda was a stream-enterer and he thus had to
develop the three other higher stages — the path and fruit of
once-returning, the path and fruit of nonreturning, and the path and
fruit of Arahatship in his final attainment. This took only a moment.
Extreme care is therefore needed to carry on the practice of
contemplation without relaxation or omission.
In the act of lying down, contemplation should therefore be
carried out with due care. When a yogi feels sleepy and wants to lie
down, a note should be made as "sleepy, sleepy,"
"wanting, wanting"; on raising the hand as "raising,
raising"; on stretching as "stretching, stretching";
on touching as "touching, touching"; on pressing as
"pressing, pressing"; after swaying the body and dropping
it down as "lying, lying." The act of lying down itself
should be carried out very slowly. On touching the pillow it should
be noted as "touching, touching." There are many places of
touch all over the body but each spot need be noted only one at a
In the lying posture there are also many movements of the body in
bringing one's arms and legs into position. These actions should be
noted carefully as "raising," "stretching,"
"bending," "moving," and so forth. On turning the
body a note should be made as "turning, turning," and when
there is nothing in particular to be noted, the yogi should proceed
with the usual practice of noting "rising, falling." While
one is lying on one's back or side, there is usually nothing in
particular to be noted and the usual exercise of "rising,
falling" should be carried out.
There may be many times when the mind wanders while one is in the
lying posture. This wandering mind should be noted as "going,
going" when it goes out, as "arriving, arriving" when
it reaches a place, as "planning," "reflecting,"
and so forth for each state in the same manner as in the
contemplation while in the sitting posture. Mental states pass away
on being noted once or twice. The usual exercise of noting
"rising, falling" should be continued. There may also be
instances of swallowing or spitting saliva, painful sensations, hot
sensations, itching sensations, etc., or of bodily actions in
changing positions or in moving the limbs. They should be
contemplated as each occurs. (When sufficient strength in
concentration is gained, it will be possible to carry on with the
contemplation of each act of opening and closing the eyelids and
blinking.) Afterwards, one should then return to the usual exercise
when there is nothing else to be noted.
Though it is late at night and time for sleep, it is not advisable
to give up the contemplation and go to sleep. Anyone who has a keen
interest in contemplation must be prepared to face the risk of
spending many nights without sleep.
The scriptures are emphatic on the necessity of developing the
qualities of four-factored energy (caturanga-viriya) in the
practice of meditation: "In the hard struggle, one may be
reduced to a mere skeleton of skin, bones and sinews when one's flesh
and blood wither and dry up, but one should not give up one's efforts
so long as one has not attained whatever is attainable by manly
perseverance, energy and endeavor." These instructions should be
followed with a strong determination. It may be possible to keep
awake if there is strong enough concentration to beat off sleep, but
one will fall asleep if sleep gets the upper hand.
When one feels sleepy, one should make a note of it as
"sleepy, sleepy"; when the eyelids are heavy as
"heavy, heavy"; when the eyes are felt to be dazzled as
"dazzled, dazzled." After contemplating in the manner
indicated, one may be able to shake off sleepiness and feel fresh
again. This feeling should be noted as "feeling fresh, feeling
fresh," after which the usual exercise of noting "rising,
falling" should be continued. However, in spite of this
determination, one may feel unable to keep awake if one is very
sleepy. In a lying posture, it is easier to fall asleep. A beginner
should therefore try to keep mostly to the postures of sitting and
When the night is advanced, however, a yogi may be compelled to
lie down and proceed with the contemplation of rising and falling. In
this position he may perhaps fall asleep. While one is asleep, it is
not possible to carry on with the work of contemplation. It is an
interval for a yogi to relax. An hour's sleep will give him an hour's
relaxation, and if he continues to sleep for two, three or four
hours, he will be relaxed for that much longer, but it is not
advisable for a yogi to sleep for more than four hours, which is
ample enough for a normal sleep.
A yogi should begin his contemplation from the moment of
awakening. To be fully occupied with intense contemplation throughout
his waking hours is the routine of a yogi who works hard with true
aspiration for the attainment of the path and fruit. If it is not
possible to catch the moment of awakening, he should begin with the
usual exercise of noting "rising, falling." If he first
becomes aware of the fact of reflecting, he should begin his
contemplation by noting "reflecting, reflecting" and then
revert to the usual exercise of noting "rising, falling."
If he first becomes aware of hearing a voice or some other sound, he
should begin by noting "hearing, hearing" and then revert
to the usual exercise. On awakening there may be bodily movement in
turning to this side or that, moving the hands or legs and so forth.
These actions should be contemplated in successive order.
If he first becomes aware of the mental states leading to the
various actions of body, he should begin his contemplation by noting
the mind. If he first becomes aware of painful sensations, he should
begin with the noting of these painful sensations and then proceed
with the noting of bodily actions. If he remains quiet without
moving, the usual exercise of noting "rising, falling"
should be continued. If he intends to get up, he should note this as
"intending, intending" and then proceed with the noting of
all actions in serial order in bringing the hands and legs into
position. One should note "raising, raising" on raising the
body, "sitting, sitting" when the body is erect and in a
sitting posture, and one should also note any other actions of
bringing the legs and hands into position. If there is then nothing
in particular to be noted, the usual exercise of noting "rising,falling"
should be reverted to.
Thus far we have mentioned things relating to the objects of
contemplation in connection with the four postures and changing from
one posture to another. This is merely a description of the general
outline of major objects of contemplation to be carried out in the
course of practice. Yet in the beginning of the practice, it is
difficult to follow up on all of them in the course of contemplation.
Many things will be omitted, but on gaining sufficient strength in
concentration, it is easy to follow up in the course of contemplation
not only those objects already enumerated, but may many more. With
the gradual development of mindfulness and concentration, the pace of
knowledge quickens, and thus many more objects can be perceived. It
is necessary to work up to this high level.
Washing and Eating
Contemplation should be carried out in washing the face in the
morning or when taking a bath. As it is necessary to act quickly in
such instances due to the nature of the action itself, contemplation
should be carried out as far as these circumstances will allow. On
stretching the hand to catch hold of the dipper, it should be noted
as "stretching, stretching"; on catching hold of the dipper
as "holding, holding"; on immersing the dipper as "dipping,dipping";
on bringing the dipper towards the body as "bringing,
bringing"; on pouring the water over the body or on the face as
"pouring, pouring"; on feeling cold as "cold,
cold"; on rubbing as "rubbing, rubbing," and so forth.
There are also many different bodily actions in changing or
arranging one's clothing, in arranging the bed or bed-sheets, in
opening the door, and so on. These actions should be contemplated in
detail serially as much as possible.
At the time of taking a meal, contemplation should begin from the
moment of looking at the table and noted as "looking, seeing,
looking, seeing"; when stretching the hand to the plate as
"stretching, stretching"; when the hand touches the food as
"touching, hot, hot"; when gathering the food as
"gathering, gathering"; when catching hold of the food as
"catching, catching"; after lifting when the hand is being
brought up as "bringing, bringing"; when the neck is being
bent down as "bending, bending"; when the food is being
placed in the mouth as "placing, placing"; when withdrawing
the hand as "withdrawing, withdrawing"; when the hand
touches the plate as "touching, touching"; when the neck is
being straightened as "straightening, straightening"; when
chewing the food as "chewing, chewing"; while tasting the
food as "tasting, tasting," when one likes the taste as
"liking, liking"; when one finds it pleasant as
"pleasant, pleasant"; when swallowing as "swallowing,
This is an illustration of the routine of contemplation on
partaking of each morsel of food till the meal is finished. In this
case too it is difficult to follow up on all actions at the beginning
of the practice. There will be many omissions. Yogis should not
hesitate, however, but must try to follow up as much as they can.
With the gradual advancement of the practice, it will be easier to
note many more objects than are mentioned here.
The instructions for the practical exercise of contemplation are
now almost complete. As they have been explained in detail and at
some length, it will not be easy to remember all of them. For the
sake of easy remembrance, a short summary of the important and
essential points will be given.
Summary of Essential Points
In walking, a yogi should contemplate the movements of each step.
While one is walking briskly, each step should be noted as
"right step, left step" respectively. The mind should be
fixed intently on the sole of the foot in the movements of each step.
While one is in the course of walking slowly, each step should be
noted in two parts as "lifting, placing." While one is in a
sitting posture, the usual exercise of contemplation should be
carried out by noting the movements of the abdomen as "rising,
falling, rising, falling." The same manner of contemplation by
noting the movements as "rising, falling, rising, falling"
should be carried out while one is also in the lying posture.
If it is found that the mind wanders during the course of noting
"rising, falling," it should not be allowed to continue to
wander but should be noted immediately. On imagining, it should be
noted as "imagining, imagining"; on thinking as
"thinking, thinking"; on the mind going out as "going,
going"; on the mind arriving at a place as "arriving,
arriving," and so forth at every occurrence, and then the usual
exercise of noting "rising, falling" should be continued.
When there occur feelings of tiredness in the hands, legs or other
limbs, or hot, prickly, aching or itching sensations, they should be
immediately followed up and noted as "tired,"
"hot," "prickly," "aching,"
"itching," and so on as the case may be. A return should
then be made to the usual exercise of noting "rising,
When there are acts of bending or stretching the hands or legs, or
moving the neck or limbs or swaying the body to and fro, they should
be followed up and noted in serial order as they occur. The usual
exercise of noting as "rising, falling" should then be
This is only a summary. Any other objects to be contemplated in
the course of training will be mentioned by the meditation teachers
when giving instructions during the daily interview with the
If one proceeds with the practice in the manner indicated, the
number of objects will gradually increase in the course of time. At
first there will be many omissions because the mind is used to
wandering without any restraint whatsoever. However, a yogi should
not lose heart on this account. This difficulty is usually
encountered in the beginning of practice. After some time, the mind
can no longer play truant because it is always found out every time
it wanders. It therefore remains fixed on the object to which it is
As rising occurs the mind makes a note of it, and thus the object
and the mind coincide. As falling occurs the mind makes a note of it,
and thus the object and the mind coincide. There is always a pair,
the object and the mind which knows the object, at each time of
noting. These two elements of the material object and the knowing
mind always arise in pairs, and apart from these two there does not
exist any other thing in the form of a person or self. This reality
will be personally realized in due course.
The fact that materiality and mentality are two distinct, separate
things will be clearly perceived during the time of noting
"rising, falling." The two elements of materiality and
mentality are linked up in pairs and their arising coincides, that
is, the process of materiality in rising arises with the process of
mentality which knows it. The process of materiality in falling falls
away together with the process of mentality which knows it. It is the
same for lifting, moving and placing: these are processes of
materiality arising and falling away together with the processes of
mentality which know them. This knowledge in respect of matter and
mind rising separately is known as nama-rupa-pariccheda-ñana,
the discriminating knowledge of mentality-materiality. It is the
preliminary stage in the whole course of insight knowledge. It is
important to have this preliminary stage developed in a proper
On continuing the practice of contemplation for some time, there
will be considerable progress in mindfulness and concentration. At
this high level it will be perceptible that on every occasion of
noting, each process arises and passes away at that very moment. But,
on the other hand, uninstructed people generally consider that the
body and mind remain in a permanent state throughout life, that the
same body of childhood has grown up into adulthood, that the same
young mind has grown up into maturity, and that both body and mind
are one and the same person. In reality, this is not so. Nothing is
permanent. Everything comes into existence for a moment and then
passes away. Nothing can remain even for the blink of an eye. Changes
are taking place very swiftly and they will be perceived in due
While carrying on the contemplation by noting "rising,
falling" and so forth, one will perceive that these processes
arise and pass away one after another in quick succession. On
perceiving that everything passes away at the very point of noting, a
yogi knows that nothing is permanent. This knowledge regarding the
impermanent nature of things is aniccanupassana-ñana, the
contemplative knowledge of impermanence.
A yogi then knows that this ever-changing state of things is
distressing and is not to be desired. This is dukkhanupassana-ñana,
the contemplative knowledge of suffering. On suffering many painful
feelings, this body and mind complex is regarded as a mere heap of
suffering. This is also contemplative knowledge of suffering.
It is then perceived that the elements of materiality and
mentality never follow one's wish, but arise according to their own
nature and conditioning. While being engaged in the act of noting
these processes, a yogi understands that these processes are not
controllable and that they are neither a person nor a living entity
nor self. This is anattanupassana-ñana, the contemplative
knowledge of non-self.
When a yogi has fully developed the knowledge of impermanence,
suffering and non-self, he will realize Nibbana. From time
immemorial, Buddhas, Arahats and Ariyas (noble ones) have realized
Nibbana by this method of vipassana. It is the highway leading to
Nibbana. Vipassana consists of the four satipatthana,
applications of mindfulness, and it is satipatthana which is
really the highway to Nibbana.
Yogis who take up this course of training should bear in mind that
they are on the highway which has been taken by Buddhas, Arahats and
Ariyas. This opportunity is afforded them apparently because of their
parami, that is, their previous endeavors in seeking and
wishing for it, and also because of their present mature conditions.
They should rejoice at heart for having this opportunity. They should
also feel assured that by walking on this highway without wavering
they will gain personal experience of highly developed concentration
and wisdom, as has already been known by Buddhas, Arahats and Ariyas.
They will develop such a pure state of concentration as has never
been known before in the course of their lives and thus enjoy many
innocent pleasures as a result of advanced concentration.
Impermanence, suffering and non-self will be realized through
direct personal experience, and with the full development of these
knowledges, Nibbana will be realized. It will not take long to
achieve the objective, possibly one month, or twenty days, or fifteen
days, or, on rare occasions, even in seven days for those select few
with extraordinary parami.
Yogis should therefore proceed with the practice of contemplation
in great earnestness and with full confidence, trusting that it will
surely lead to the development of the noble path and fruit and to the
realization of Nibbana. They will then be free from the wrong view of
self and from spiritual doubt, and they will no longer be subject to
the round of rebirth in the miserable realms of the hells, the animal
world, and the sphere of petas.
May yogis meet with every success in their noble
About the Author
The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, U Sobhana Mahathera, was
one of the most eminent meditation masters of modern times and a
leader in the contemporary resurgence of Vipassana meditation. Born
near Shwebo town in Burma in 1904, he was ordained a novice monk at
the age of twelve and received full ordination as a bhikkhu at the
age of twenty. He quickly distinguished himself as a scholar of the
Buddhist scriptures and by his fifth year after full ordination was
himself teaching the scriptures at a monastery in Moulmein.
In the eighth year after ordination he left Moulmein
seeking a clear and effective method in the practice of meditation.
At Thaton he met the well-known meditation instructor, the Venerable
U Narada, also known as the Mingun Jetawun Sayadaw. He then placed
himself under the guidance of the Sayadaw and underwent intensive
training in Vipassana meditation.
In 1941 he returned to his native village and
introduced the systematic practice of Vipassana meditation to the
area. Many people, monks as well as laymen, took up the practice and
greatly benefited by his careful instructions.
In 1949 the then Prime Minister of Burma, U Nu, and Sir
U Thwin, executive members of the Buddha Sasananuggaha Association,
invited Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw to come to Rangoon to give training in
meditation practice. He acceded to their request and took up
residence at the Thathana Yeiktha Meditation Centre, where he
continued to conduct intensive courses in Vipassana meditation until
his death in 1982.
Under his guidance thousands of people have been
trained at his Centre and many more have benefited from his clear-cut
approach to meditation practice through his writings and the
teachings of his disciples. More than a hundred branch centers of the
Thathana Yeiktha Centre have been established in Burma and his method
has spread widely to other countries, East and West.
Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw also holds Burma's highest
scholastic honor, the title of Agga Mahapandita, awarded to him in
1952. During the Sixth Buddhist Council, held in Rangoon from 1954 to
1956, he performed the duties of Questioner (pucchaka), a role
performed at the First Buddhist Council by the Venerable Mahakassapa.
Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw was also a member of the executive committee that
was responsible, as the final authority, for the codification of all
the texts edited at the Council.
Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw is the author of numerous works on
both meditation and the Buddhist scriptures in his native Burmese.
His discourses on Buddhist suttas have been translated into English
and are published by the Buddha Sasananuggaha Association (16
Hermitage Road, Kokine, Rangoon, Burma.)
Wheel Publication No. 370/371 (Kandy: Buddhist Publication
Society, 1990). Transcribed from the print edition in 1995 by
Philip L. Jones under the auspices of the DharmaNet Dharma Book
Transcription Project, with the kind permission of the Buddhist
Publication Society. Copyright © 1990 Buddhist
Publication Society. Reproduced and reformatted from Access to
Insight edition © 1995 For free distribution. This work may be
republished, reformatted, reprinted, and redistributed in any
medium. It is the author's wish, however, that any such
republication and redistribution be made available to the public
on a free and unrestricted basis and that translations and other
derivative works be clearly marked as such.