By U Vevekanda
Although few have listened to the basic instructions as given by the late Mahasi Sayadaw of Myanmar, these instructions are quite in detail and there are several points that need to be emphasized and there are few extra points that need to be mentioned. This we will do during this afternoon. We will cover four basic areas namely, essential points regarding sitting meditation; essential points regarding the walking meditation; then essential points regarding the general activities and finally a few important points regarding the interview.
First of all,the sitting process.
When we practice in a meditation retreat we can assume any sitting posture that we can maintain for longer period of time comfortably without developing any postural pains. Sitting in full lotus is best of course but not everybody can do this and as next alternative there is half lotus posture with one foot placed on the thigh of the opposite leg and if this posture proves to be difficult then one could sit in what is called the Burmese posture, namely placing one leg in front of the other without interlocking the legs. Then another thing that is quite helpful in terms of sitting posture; those who are not used to sitting on the floor could use an extra cushion or two to raise the buttocks off the floor and this will have less muscular tensions in the thighs. Later on with more practice you can then gradually remove that extra cushion or two. Then for those who have back problems and elderly mediators sitting on the bench will be ok and those who have had some accidents and had back injury also sitting on a chair is ok but kindly do not lean against the back rest since this will leads to sleepiness.
The basic or the primary object in the sitting meditation practice is as you will know the rising and falling movements of the abdomen. And when the rising movement takes place we label this as rising and then we observe the rising movement from the very beginning through the middle to the very end. We try to know the nature of the rising movement and the same goes for the falling movement. Now, in this, there are three important aspects involved namely the occurrence of the object; secondly the labeling and the observation of the object and thirdly knowing the true nature of the object. These three points, occurrence, labeling and observation and knowing the nature will be explained one by one.
An object will arise by itself either in the body or in the mind. So there is nothing in particular that you have to do. Simply to know for your self which object occurred. And then the second point is the labeling and the observation. So this requires effort on the part of the meditator. One should try to label the object accordingly. When the rising movement occurs then you label this as rising and then when the falling movement occurs you label this as falling. And then the next part is the observation of the entire rising movement or the falling movement. Then the last aspect is namely knowing the nature. By this it means namely knowing the different sensations that occur during the rising movement or during the falling movements; sensations like stiffness, tension, tightness and so on with the rising movement and other sensations like the release of tension, relaxation, release of stiffness, vibrations, and so on and so forth.
In knowing the true nature of the object you don’t have to know something; you don’t have to look for something as a terry, its very simple, just to know the true existing sensations.
Now these three aspects namely the occurrence of the object; the labeling, the observation of it and knowing its nature; these three aspects can be applied to all other predominant object arising either in the body or in the mind. Now when the meditator stays with the rising and falling movements for awhile sooner or later the mind will wander off. It will either go into the events of the past or memories or it will go into the future in the form of planning. Then there are great varieties of various forms of thinking such as reflection, imaginations, fantasies, and analysis and so on and so forth. All these are forms of wandering mind or simply of thinking. When thinking occurs, kindly just label as ‘thinking’, ‘thinking’ and observe it for a while and should the thinking subside and then go back to your rising and falling. Should the thinking or wandering mind not disappear right away then patiently continue to label and observe it until finally it disappears and then return to the observation of rising and falling of the abdomen.
Now with regard to the thinking it is very important for the meditators to understand that vipassana is not the thinking meditation but rather noting and observing the things as they arise. It is also important for the meditators to understand that one should not get lost in the content of the thought. On retreat when they have fascinating ideas coming up in the mind and yet these are just mental events arising and passing away like a soap bubble that forms and pops very soon. So please do not get attach to the content of your thoughts but rather just label as thinking and thinking or reflecting, reflecting etc and let go of it and then come back to the rising and falling. Now having return to the rising and falling movement of the abdomen and noting and observing it for a while sooner or later a pain may arise some where in the body. When this happen you shift your attention to the pain and you start noting or you start labeling and observing it. You label it as pain and then you observe it; and again label it as pain and again you observe it for a while and so on and so forth.
Now in the observation of pais and aches and other difficult sensations occurring in the body there are four basic aspects that are worthwhile looking into namely; the nature of the pain or if you like its quality; secondly its intensity; thirdly its location and as number four its duration. Now what is meant by the nature of the pain; nature or the quality of the pain. There is a great variety of pains around. Meditators commonly experience stabbing pain, stinging pain, piercing pain, drilling pain, boring pain, and tearing pain and knife cutting like pain; and then compression pain, hardness pain, burning pain and so on and so forth. The list could be extending.
Now, first of all one has to gain clarity for oneself what kind of pain is it that is arising. Then labeling and observing this pain one should find out how this pain behaves in terms of its intensity. Is its intensity increasing or is its intensity staying the same or is it gradually decreasing. Sometimes what may happen is that one pain arises while noting and observing it, it changes it nature and it changes into different sensation. This too should also be observed by the meditator. Now when noting and observing pains and aches it is important that we do so with much patience and determination and that we do not change the sitting posture right away since this may lead to breaking of our momentum of concentration.
With regards to the location of the pain: The pain may have arisen in one spot and while you are labeling and observing it the pain disappears in the exact same spot. Again the pain may arise and you’ll find that it spreads out over a larger area and this needs to be known. Or sometimes the pain arises and while you are noting and observing it, it starts moving around, either in a circle or in zigzag line or in any other possible way. So know this. Sometimes the pain arises and while you are noting and observing it, the pain disappears in the same spot and then after few seconds a similar type of pain arises somewhere else. This is not exactly the same pain, it’s a different pain but the nature is of some what similar. So this also has to be known.
Now in terms of duration of the pains; there are some pains that are short lived, there are other pains that last a few minutes and then there are pains that last possibly for the entire sitting. What ever the case may be meditator should try to know how the pain behaves in terms of duration. So let me give you these four points again. First one is, knowing the nature or the quality of the pain; the second aspect is knowing its intensity; then number three is knowing its location; and then number four is duration. If there is any other feature that strikes your attention, then please take note of it and include it in your report during the interview. Now once the pain has subsided and disappeared then of course you go back on the rising and falling.
Should then some mental object arise like the hearing process then you take that as your next object of observation. So you shift your attention towards the hearing process. When labeling and observation the hearing process, the aim is not to find out or not to reflect on the source of this, or try to find out is it the car driving by or is it motor cycle driving by or what ever, but rather to pay attention to the very basic qualities of the hearing process such as the volume of it, it intensity, whether it is arising or passing away and then also may be some physical sensations in the ear or possibly mental reactions. If it happens to be a pleasant sound, then liking may arise in the mind or if it happens to be unpleasant sound then disliking may arise in the mind. So please be aware of these different aspects in the hearing process. Though a word of warning, the meditators are advised not to spend too much time on external sounds since they have the tendency to distract the mind. So it is much, much better to concentrate on the object of internal object. And then there are a great varieties of other mental states like happiness or joy or sadness or remorse or slot and torpor, sleepiness, drowsiness, restlessness and so on and so forth. The list is quite long. What ever mental state becomes predominant then please take this as your next object of observation and label it and observe it accordingly and when it disappears you come back to the rising and falling. So one of the basic maxim is for the meditation practice is that one should always label and observe and know the most predominant object arising either in the body or in the mind and one starts with the observation of the rising and falling movement of the abdomen and then one takes it from there. So after observing the rising and falling movements for a while, may be wandering occurs next and so you shift your attention towards the wandering mind and once the wandering is gone then you go back to the rising and falling. When the pain arises then the pain becomes the next object; and once the pain is over then back to the rising and falling; then the mental state becomes predominant like the joy, you label and observe the joy and know the joy and when ever the joy is over you go back to the rise and fall.
So always label, observe and know the most predominant object arising in the body or in the mind. Should there be two or three objects of the same intensity then the choice is with you. Choose one and disregard the other objects. The principle is always to focus one’s attention on one single object at a time and not to observe on several objects at the same time. Then in the meditation practice, there are several mental factors that are very helpful for progress in the meditation practice and the most vital factor here is mindfulness. We can take it even a step further, it is the continuity of mindfulness and by this we mean mindfulness should be present from the very moment we wake up in the morning until the moment we fall asleep. Now during the beginning days of retreat
of course it won’t be possible to have perfect mindfulness. There will be lots and lots of gaps in one’s mindfulness. If one’s make an effort to fill in those gaps then gradually one’s mindfulness will improve. Later on it will become quite continuous and thus quick progress will be ensured. Now this continuity of mindfulness should then be further supported by the following factors namely, proper aiming or precise aiming; secondly an exertion of effort and thirdly rubbing the object. Now these three will be explain one by one.
By aiming we mean the mental factor vitaka. This is actually the jhanic factor but in vipassana practice it is quite helpful. So when an object has arisen then the mind should be focused on the arisen object. One should focus as precisely as possible. Now just focusing the mind on the object will not be enough. Effort is also required to send or propel the mind towards the object. Only when the mind lands on the object so to speak, only when it reaches the object will one be able to know its nature. So when these two mental factors of aiming and effort, vitaka and viriya in the pali language are present then quite naturally the mind will be allowing to land on the object of observation and it will be in close contact with the object and then the mind will rub against the object. This rubbing is known as vicara in the pali language. This vicara is also a jhanic factor which is quite helpful in the vipassana practice. It is with the help of these three mental factors, namely aiming, effort and rubbing that mindfulness arises and eventually the mindfulness becomes quite continuous. Based on the mindfulness, concentration arises namely in the way that the mind falls on to the object, it sticks to the object and then concentration builds more and more. Based on concentration wisdom unfolds, and that’s what we all working towards, the unfolding of wisdom. May be this much regarding a few points in the context of the sitting meditation.
The next part that we are going to look at is walking meditation.
Just now we have mentioned the importance of the continuity of mindfulness. The continuity of mindfulness is necessary not only in the sitting meditation but also during the walking meditation. With this idea in mind, the late Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw has urged the meditators to also do formal walking meditation so that the continuity of mindfulness can be maintained. Now when we practiced sitting meditation for an hour we do usually one hour of walking meditation. Should we not be able to sit for one hour then we will also shortened the walking meditation. Later on as we get easier to practice then we could sit for one hour and then walk for one hour. Now when we do the one hour walking meditation we divide this walking session into three periods of twenty minutes each. In the first twenty minutes, we label as ‘left – right’, ‘left – right’. During the second twenty minutes, we slow down the walking and we divide one step into two parts namely, ‘the lifting process’ and ‘the lowering processes. During the third twenty minutes period we go extremely slowly and we divide one step into three parts namely, ‘the lifting process’, ‘moving process’ and ‘the lowering process’. Now please keep in mind that these three forms of walking meditation are relevant for the first few days of the retreat and gradually as the meditator will slow down more and more, one can let go of the first type of walking meditation and certainly do only the second and third one and later on many, many stages preferred to do only the third type of walking meditation.
Now as for the first type of walking meditation, when the left leg moves we label this as ‘left step’ and we direct our attention on to the most predominant sensation in the left leg what ever that sensation may arise and we try to know that sensation. Now when the right leg moves we label this as ‘right’ and we direct our attention on to the entire leg and the mind is focused on to most predominant sensation arising in the right leg. Again the meditator should try to know the nature of this most predominant object. So basically, ‘left step’, ‘right step’; ‘left step’,’right step’. This type of walking meditation is slower than ordinary walking.
Then this second type of walking meditation. We divide one step into two parts as mentioned before, lifting process and dropping process. We go already slower than during the first type of walking meditation and first we use the entire leg as the field of observation and we focus our attention on the most predominant sensation arising in the leg. During the first few days the most predominant sensation may occur in the leg itself, in the upper or lower leg. Later on, many meditators find that the most predominant sensations arise in the foot itself. What ever the case may be one direct one’s attention towards the most predominant sensation, and then having label as lifting we then try to know this most predominant sensation. Then when the lowering process takes place, again we label it accordingly as lowering and the attention is focused on the most predominant sensation occurring either in the leg or in the foot.
Now as for the third walking meditation, we divide one step into three parts namely, the lifting process, moving process and the lowering process and this includes placing of the foot on to the ground. This third type of meditation is done much slower than the preceding two types of walking meditation. And there is a maxim here. The slower you can do your slower meditation the more progress you will have in your meditation practice. And it is not the other way round; the faster you do your walking meditation the more progress you have. So please try to slow down as much as you can. And then in the walking meditation there is yet another aspect that is very helpful namely the restraint of the senses. Even though we have eyes to see and ears to hear and other sense doors and yet we should pretend that we are not seeing or not hearing and so on and so forth. So during the walking meditation and also in the general activities we do not look around here and there, trying to find out who walks by and trying to find out what other meditators are doing. Restraint of the senses very much help to develop concentration and it also helps to avoid unwholesome mental states from arising. There is a very nice illustration for this.
If a male meditator is doing his walking meditation with the eyes left unrestrained
and he walks pass a young female meditator and he takes a close look at her, and the result will be our male meditator will end up thinking about this beautiful young woman.
And the thinking may develop into fantasies. Earlier on the mind was quite pure. Now just because our male meditator had seen the lovely young woman his mind becomes defiled. If this male meditator will do his walking meditation with the eyes and the other senses well restraint nothing would happened. His mind will remain pure. Now the same thing goes for female meditators doing their walking meditation with senses unrestrained. So it’s always best to restrain the senses as much as possible even though this may be a little bit difficult and awkward during the first few days of the retreat because its so used to looking around and yet later on once you find the benefits of restraint the senses, you will naturally want to control your senses. You can do your walking meditation either in a hall without disturbing the other meditators or outside the meditation hall and when you do so please ensure that your path does not crisscross with the path of others because this usually leads to some friction. Then there is only one thing left to do namely the demonstration.
When we do the walking meditation, we should keep an upright posture and with the hands either in front of the body or behind, and definitely please do not walk around. Walking meditation is nothing to do with ordinary walking and then focus your eyes at a point may be three or four meters ahead of you and please understand it is not necessary to look at one’s own feet because if you keep doing walking meditation like this then you will end up with a stiff neck within a few days into your retreat.
Now let me demonstrate the first type of walking meditation. When the left leg moves we label as ‘left’, and when the right leg moves we label as ‘right’ or right step and then carefully observe the most prominent sensation in the leg. ‘Left’, ‘right’; ‘left’, ‘right’. Now, let say this is the end of the lane. When you come to the end of the lane, you are standing, then please label as ‘standing’, ‘standing’. And then when you are just about to turn, there is at times, an intention to turn. When you know that this intention is predominant then please labels it as such meaning ‘intention to turn’ follow by the actual process of turning. ‘Turning’ ‘turning’. And then once back in the standing posture, you label as standing’, ‘standing’.
Now, in the second type of walking meditation we go slowly and we divide one step into two parts namely, ’the lifting process’ and ‘the lowering process’. There is one point to observe here. Please do not take a long step like this because if you do like this and then carry on walking then the other foot will come up while the other foot is still on the ground which means you will have two objects at the same time and the mind doesn’t know where to go. So rather than taking long steps, it is much better to take short steps and then to place one foot on the ground as and only after that to start lifting the other foot. Our attention should always go to the foot which is lifted or replaced and not to the other one which remain static on the ground. Now I start with the process of ‘lifting’ and then ‘lowering’, ‘lifting and then ‘lowering’. There is no need to lift the foot awfully high, but just enough that you can then place it again. Always focus your attention on the most predominant sensation occurring either in the leg or the foot where ever it happens to occur. During standing we label as ‘standing’, ‘standing’ and should there be intention to turn this has to be noted as ‘intention to turn’, ’intention to turn’ follow by the physical process of turning.
Now the third type of walking meditation. We go extremely slowly and we divide one step into three parts namely the lifting process, moving process and the lowering process.
When lifting the foot, and our entire attention goes towards the most important sensation; the most predominant sensation and we try to know it. Then the beginning of the moving process we label as moving and we try to know the most predominant sensation. It could be anything. It could be lightness, it could be heaviness. It could be some tension there or stiffness or trembling movement, swaying movement and so on and so forth. Then when lowering the foot you label as lowering, lowering and carefully observe the sensations that occurred during the process and please do pay particular attention to the very moment when the heel touches the floor. What kind of sensation predominant at that point is there? Is there hardness or softness? Is there roughness or smoothness? Is there pressure increasing or decreasing? Is there heat or cold or warmth? There is a great variety of possible sensations. Then, as one is placing the foot, more and more on to the ground other sensations like pressure or relaxation in the foot may occur. All these sensations have to be known according to the reality. ‘Lifting’, ‘moving’, and ‘lowering’. When you do the walking meditation please do take your time. There is no dead line to be met. All you need to do is just mindfully walk up and down. And then once you are at the end of the lane, while standing, you label as ‘standing’, ‘standing’, and when turning around label as ‘turning’, ‘turning’. Should the intention be predominant then you include intention to turn around.
Now, this much for the demonstration of walking meditation and we shall proceed to the third part which is the general activities.
As said already earlier on, mindfulness should be there all day long, from the moment we wake up until the moment we fall asleep at night. This means that we try to know the most predominant object that arises when waking up. Is it a thought? Or is it a sound? Or is it a particular sensation that we experience in the body. What ever the object may be we have to label it, observe it carefully and know its nature. Now mindfulness of general activities mean, all activities that is not included in sitting meditation and formal walking meditation. So a process like waking up and getting out of bed is general activity and getting dressed, one’s opening and closing the door, opening and closing the eyes, and then once in the bath room washing the face, using the bathroom, taking the laundry, taking a shower etc. All these are activities come under general activities. Involves here is also taking a meal either the breakfast or lunch or the juice in the afternoon. Please understand that the general activities are as important as the sitting meditation and the walking meditation. It is the continuity of the mindfulness throughout the day that makes the progress. We should not look down on the general activities like thinking they are not important, so no need to be mindful. Not so. With regard to the mindfulness of the general activities, there again these two aspects that are very helpful namely, to slow down all of one’s activity as much as possible. In slowing down, the whole new microcosm of new experiences emerges. These experiences and these various sensations and mental objects need to be known. We do things in a rush and a quick manner, then missing out on so many things. Therefore slowing down things is very helpful. Also it helps to develop concentration and based on the concentration the wisdom unfolds. Now the second helpful aspect is the restrain of the senses.
Just like we need to practice the restraint of the senses during the walking meditation, so too have we to practice it during the general activities. So please try to restrain your eyes, ears, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind as much as possible. And looking around or following external sound has a way of distracting the mind. A distracted mind is not a concentrated mind. And when the mind is not concentrated then it is very difficult
for the wisdom to arise. So basically, the mindfulness of general activities means that we carry out every single general activity with utmost mindfulness from moment to moment to moment. And we label every activity, we observe it carefully and we try to know the nature of the most predominant object involved. This much regarding the general activities.
There is only one part left namely the interview process. The daily interviews are integral and very important part of our satipathanna meditation practice. Without interviews the meditators would probably not progress as much as they could with interviews. When one comes into the interview, first of all, one should do so with hundred and fifty percent mindfulness. The moment you enter the interview room you should be super duper mindful because the meditation teachers tend to be very perceptive and just the way you walk into the interview room will tell where your practice is at. Then in terms of form of respect slowly and mindfully you walk towards your seat then mindfully you change from the standing posture to sitting posture, you bow down three times and then you clasp in front of your chest and then you wait for your turn. At the end of your interview again you bow down three times and then mindfully you get up and then leave the interview room.
Now in presenting one’s meditation report to the meditation teacher there are three principles to be adhered to. One is accuracy, the second one is brevity and the third one is precision. These are standards and that are adhered to in the modern sciences and these three qualities, accuracy, brevity and precision are also very helpful in the context of the meditation practice. Then when you give your report please start by presenting a report on your best sitting meditation followed by brief report on your best walking session that you had during the last twenty four hours of your meditation practice. Sometimes meditators say all they have difficulty to choose the best sitting. In this case choose the sitting that best reflects your practice even if the experiences are very difficult and just be honest and explain the teacher what’s happening in your practice and this way the teacher will be able to assess your practice and then give proper advice. Now when you give your
report please try to structure it by using the three aspect that we mention at the very out set namely, the occurrence of the object, the labeling and observation of the object and finally knowing aspect, knowing the nature of the object. So please try to adhere to this reporting format as strictly as possible. So you could report as follows: the rising movement of the abdomen occurred, I label it as rising and I observe tension and towards the end of the rising movement the tension increased. And then these seems to be a gap and then the falling movement occurred, it was noted as falling and there was a release of the tension and towards the end of the movement there was contraction and then you continue to describe your experiences in the same way by adhering to the three aspects of occurrence, labeling and observation and knowing aspect. And when you give your report please do so in a sequential manner by starting of with the description of the rising and falling movements of the abdomen and then you take it from there. If the mind wanders after observing the rising and falling movements for a while then the wandering mind become your next object. So you describe this. Then once the wandering mind has disappeared and you are back to the rising and falling then you give an accurate description of the rising and falling movements of the abdomen at that point in the sitting. Later on when the pain become predominant then you describe you take that pain as your next object and you describe it as accurately as you can. Always try to tell the teacher what ever happen to the object observed. And when you give your report please always use simple language. Simple day to day usage rather than complicated pali trans like anicca or I’ve seen dukkha or anatta is so clear to me. The meditation teacher will not accept this kind of reporting language. Then yet there is another aspect that should be understood namely not to report from imagination. Some meditators think that they have to impress the meditation teacher. So rather than describing the reality they try to describe the experiences from imagination. Please know that the meditation teacher had a very good sense of what is the true experience and what is an imagination. So refrain from reporting form imagination. Then when you give your report please try to be short to the point and also refrain from evaluating your own practice. This is the job of the teacher who is much more experienced than you. When you give your report or even before you give your report please don’t get nervous. You don’t have to feel like a patient who is going to see the dentist in a few minutes all shaking and trembling. Please see your meditation teacher as your friend who is there to help you in your meditation practice who is going to give you some valuable advice so that you can progress swiftly in your meditation practice. Now the interviews have a galvanizing effect on the meditation practice which means they tend to cause on making the meditator to work hard and look more carefully and see new things. Apart from this aspect the meditator also received some advice for the next twenty four hours of practice and with that it will be easier to practice. Since there are a big number of meditators here several teachers will be interviewing the meditators and there may be sight difference in style and the advice given from one teacher to the next. If this is the case please be patient and always try to accept what ever advice that is given to you. We can learn different things from different teacher. May be second last thing is in order to save time during the interviews come in some what earlier before the previous meditator has finished his or her report. And then as described earlier on you go to your seat, you bow down and then you wait until your turn comes and then when the other meditator has finished then it’s your turn. This is the last point. Some meditators unfortunately has poor memory they find it hard to recollect what happened the previous day during the sitting from one O’clock to two O’clock. And people who have a poor memory please feel free after sitting to write down on your experiences and because then the experiences are still relatively fresh in the mind. And then before your interview comes up among the difference descriptions from the various sitting choose the best sitting, best walking session and describe those. One thing you should not do namely to write down the experiences during sitting since this will make an awful lot of noise and it will disturb other meditators. Now this brings us to our conclusion of our session and let me end by wishing you that may all the practical points that mentioned be helpful to you in your meditation practice and may they help you to stimulate your practice and may they help you to have quick and swift progress while you are here and lastly may be able to attain peace of nibbana in the shortest possible time.
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!