An extract from ‘The state of Mind called Beautiful by Sayada U Pandita’

Chapter 2

Good reasons to ask questions are if you don’t understand something, if the instructions are unclear, or if you need to clarify a point. Bad reasons to ask questions are to oppose the teacher, to give him a hard time or tease him. Questions should be asked with confidence and courage, in the spirit of a family. Asking questions will deepen the family spirit and the Dhamma spirit.

Q1. I thought of asking question – and fear of humiliation arose.

When such mental state arises, they should be noted. All mental states should be noted, whether good or bad. When an object is distinct, it has to be noted. Happiness, sadness, gladness, fear. This answer is very easy.
The questioner’s family spirit is weak; therefore, fear easily arises. In a family the children trust the mother and they know she will support them. If the mother has something to say then the children listen.

When relating to one another and there is fear and unease, and we analyze this, we find there is no confidence, therefore no trust. Friendship cannot grow in such an atmosphere. The children know the mother will always support them, and the mother knows the children won’t give her trouble. Whatever needs to be said is said. As a meditator, if we understand that the teacher is not there to give us trouble, then we will bravely ask any questions we need to ask.
When birds find out that human beings aren’t going to give them trouble, then they gradually learn to go close to those human beings.

Q2. Can effort be too strong?

Yes indeed, effort can be in excess when one is too zealous. If you hope for and search for    objects, you may loose the actual object of observation.  This also will lead to too much thinking. Aiming, vitakka, should be made precise.  This will open up the mind.

When objects arise very rapidly, in a series, a meditator can fell barraged. He or she ask himself,
“where are the gaps between all these things- how did I missed the arising of the objects?’’ He or       she often decides to apply more effort. But if there’s too much energy an d effort it only leads to       agitation.  Instead of connecting with objects, the mind tends to become wide. It can’t stay on the       object, and gets agitated instead.
It won’t stick, but flies up and all around. Concentration is destroyed: the meditator can’t see distinct objects. Tranquility also vanishes when one can’t label, observe, and know the nature of the objects.

When observing and knowing are absent, a meditator understands that the practice is not working and that he or she needs to back off. When there are too many objects, restrict the attention a bit and focus clearly on rising and falling. After the falling movement, one can place the attention 
Momentarily on the whole sitting posture, and then on the pressure points where the buttocks touch chair or cushion. The notes in this case would be: ‘’rising, falling, sitting touching.’ Or else one can note just ‘’rising, falling, touching.’’ This can help.
Khanika samadhi, moment to moment concentration, comes from sustained mindfulness.

Q3. Why is the rising and falling chosen as the primary object?

To meditate, concentration is needed. Stillness of mind arises with stillness of the body. One must sit still and observe objects. Beginners observe distinct objects first; later on they can observe any object.

According to Venerable Mahasi Sayawdaw, more than one primary object is suitable. Anapana,
the breathing sensations at the nose; the rising and falling of the abdomen; and ‘sitting, touching’’ as described in the previous question, are all good. Venerable Mingun Sayadaw, Mahasi Sayadaw’s teacher, used sitting and touching. 

According to a pali expression one should give preference to’ distinct’’ objects.  This means that material objects should be observed more than the mental objects, since mental objects tend to be less clear. Among the four great elements arising in the body, the element of air, vayo-dhatu, is the most distinct experience. The air element consists of sensations of movement, stiffness, hardness, piercing and the like. Vayo-dhatu is predominant in the rising and falling. So we tend to use this as a primary object. 
School children’s lesson should be short and easy.

Q4. Should metta be used to settle the mind at the beginning of a vipassana sitting?

No. In a vipassana retreat one should not radiate loving kindness at the beginning of a sitting. One should label and observe the restlessness of the mind. During a retreat, five minute a day is enough for the four Guardian Meditations, as we have discussed.

Q5. How are the dormant kilesas uprooted, and how does the process unfold?

The latent or dormant kilesas, or anusaya kileses have not yet been uprooted. We use the illustration of a match head. When the right conditions are present, the anusaya will turn into obsessive or transgressive kilesa, just as an apparently stable match head erupts into flame when struck.

The anusaya kilesas are uprooted through wisdom, panna. With insight knowledge the kilesas are put aside. With sotapatti magga and phala, you get rid of wrong view and are freed from clinging to various views. This is rather profound. These kilesas disappear once and for all. It is not like malaria where you get a high fever every other day.

Q6. What are the best practices and attitudes to extinguished craving?

Satipatthana vipassana meditation.

Q7. What about walking? Should I give it up if I can do long sitting sessions?

The balance of concentration and energy is important. If that balance is disturbed, either restlessness or sloth will result. You must make an effort in the observation during sitting and the same during walking. Yet in walking there is double effort- to keep the mind on the object, and then the physical effort of walking itself. When there are many objects arising, it can be good to do long walking periods, of thirty minutes to one hour. Sitting should generally be one hour minimum.

The five benefits of walking are as follows:You can go on a journey.You will have lots of energy available.You will have good health. Circulation slows if you only sit.You will have good digestion.Durable concentration will develop. Carried into the sitting, it will be easy to develop insight knowledge.

Q8. Are the insight knowledges all the same.

After stream entry, being freed from wrong views and skeptical doubts, the first through third insight knowledges no longer arise. These are the insights distinguishing mind and matter, cause and effect and a preliminary insight into impermanence. If one resumes satipatthana  vipassana meditation at that point, the progress of insight resumes at the stage of udayabaya-nana, insight into rapid arising and passing away of objects.

sotapanna owns anicca and anatta, impermanence and nonself and is free from wrong views. However, she or he has not yet mastered suffering. These people will still come across sankhara   -dukkha, the suffering inherent in formations, in an outstanding manner.

Q9. How do our lives change with stream entry?

This is a great question. It is a question that should be answered by a Buddha. Monks are not permitted to speak of it, and laypeople should also avoid discussing their profound meditation attainments: it could damage the teaching.
Each one must examine oneself in what we called Dhamma-adasa, the mirror of the dhamma. In this mirror one looks at oneself and decides what has taken place. This is the only way. 

Still there is a big difference before and after starting practice. Some students tell me it feels like going from an old to a new life.  A woman wrote that she had been looking for a right place all her life and now she has found a true home. 
Satipatthana vipassana is a sure way and certain way to happiness, said the Buddha. We don’t need more than his assurance.

Q10. It is believed that eventually all beings will be enlightened?

Let us assume you are speaking of ‘’persons’’ and let us also narrow down the question to whether there will be a time when there are no ordinary worldlings left.
Frankly, this does not seem likely to happen anytime soon.

Those who are close to the Buddha and Dhamma, and who have perfected their paramis, will gain the special dhamma. Developing parami is done in every existence. Yogis and meditators are practicing to gain the dhamma– and if they don’t succeed, then the work remains to be done in the next existence. If they laid the ground work in a previous existence, they can complete their task in this one.

Developing parami means performing acts of wholesomeness: generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, resolution, loving-kindness and equanimity. Do so without self interest; work for the benefit of others. If the goal or the benefit is towards others, or for the attainment of nibanna, then such deeds are truly wholesome. Development of the perfections is very important.

Another very important practice for liberation is attasammapaiddhi, proper self- regulation. You must shape your physical, verbal, and mental behavior to be free from flaws, to be lovely and well formed- but you must do so with a particular view towards developing the mind for knowledge. To be able to regulate oneself successfully one must rely on kalyana mitta, a spiritual friend, in other words, a qualified teacher. One must also be in a place where Dhamma Vinaya is well propagated. 
These indispensable conditions- living in a place where teachers are available, meeting the wise, and having opportunity to shape oneself- all come from past good actions.

Q11. What is the most important theoretical and practical thing to know in order to realize nibanna?

To realize nibanna, path and fruition consciousness are needed. Ordinary worldly consciousness cannot realize nibanna. So, Magga and Phala, path and fruition are needed. Magga is the destruction, cutting off, or extinguishing of defilements. Phala is a repeated extinguishing of the fire, like the cooling of the ashes. If the fire is very big, one first extinguishes it and then soak it with water in the second round.
Both magga and phala take nibanna as an object. Magga takes nibanna as object, while takes the       extinguished fire as an object and extinguishes it totally.

The first path and fruition consciousness are called sotapatti magga and sotapatti phala, the path and fruition of the stream entry. After stream entry there are three more levels of liberation. Sotapatti extinguishes three fetters- sakaya ditthi, the belief in enduring self essence, together with vicikiccha, skeptical doubts: the idea that one can gain Dhamma through rites and rituals; and the defilement that lead to rebirth in papaya, or states of loss such as hell, or the realm of hungry ghosts and animals. Greed, hatred and delusions are weakened and it is said that one will have only seven more rebirths. However, other kilesas will linger on, to be dealt with in the higher path and fruition consciousness.
All unwholesome actions based on the eradicated kilesas will stop. When there are no more kilesas, the action will stop; the result will stop as well.

In order to gain final peace, one will have to develop small fractions of peace in the early stages of practice. We must guard the mind in every moment of arising. Satpatthana vipassana means an  intense observation of distinct targets, namely, the four foundations or ‘’establishments’’ of mindfulness. We observe physical sensations; we observe pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings; we observe mental activities like thinking and planning; and we observe all general activities.

In an intensive retreat or a formal sitting practice, awareness is anchored in the rising and falling movement of the abdomen. In the rising, there will be tension, and the knowing of tension. If the rising is seen in this manner, this is right view. Anytime the mind is properly aligned with the target of observation it will be free from wrongful thoughts and intentions, miccha sakappa.

Sati, or mindfulness, needs help from other mental factors as we have seen. Most important is viriya which has the nature of distancing the defilements. Once this has been done, satiprotects the mind, and samadhi unites it. With these three factors, viriya, sati, and samadhi, there ca be momentary peace.

Sila, or morality, extinguishes transgressive defilements.  Samadhi, or concentration suppresses the obsessive defilements. Panna, or wisdom, cuts off the latent or anusaya defilements. As one practices, one progresses through the insight knowledges and ends up in magga-phala. With sincere practice the pubbe-bhaga-magga, the forerunner path, can be fulfilled. This forerunner path consists of nothing other than satipattha vipassana, direct observation of objects as and when they arise. 

One must also associate with the wise, and be straight forward to practice, and practice to completion. These three factors are important.

Q12. If consciousness dies at death, then how does kamma continue from birth to birth?

To realize nibanna, path and fruition consciousness are needed. Ordinary worldly consciousness cannot realize nibanna. So, Magga and Phala, path and fruition are needed. Magga is the destruction, cutting off, or extinguishing of defilements. Phala is a repeated extinguishing of the fire, like the cooling of the ashes. If the fire is very big, one first extinguishes it and then soak it with water in the second round.
Both magga and phala take nibanna as an object. Magga takes nibanna as object, while takes the extinguished fire as an object and extinguishes it totally.

One moment of consciousness arises and it disappears right away. So death is nothing unusual. The last moment of consciousness in a life is death consciousness, cuti citta. It leaves nothing behind and is immediately followed by pattisandhi citta, the first consciousness of the next existence. 
Some think that the consciousness is jumping from one existence to the next. It is not like this. You may be familiar with a seal that leaves a mark or impression on a paper. The connection between the seal and its mark is like the connection between cuti citta and pattisandhi citta. It is also like an echo of a loud sound in a cave.  The echo is not the original sound, but it is related to the sound.
Similar is the link between an old and new existence. In any case, the three vattas continue to turn, until avijja is destroyed.

Q13. Is it correct to say that the latent kilesas are all object- related kilesas not cut off by path and fruition consciousness?

Q14. What should we do when we leave a retreat? How important is it to read books and listen to the Dhamma talk between the retreats? Should we support monks and Dhamma teachers? And what about morality?

When you leave a retreat, the most important thing to do is to carry this practice along to your home. If you take the dhamma home, and don’t practice, you will loose and destroy the habit that you so carefully build up during the retreat. In daily life, you must learn to set aside the time for formal meditation sessions, while of course also leaving time for other activities. One hour a day is a minimum to develop one’s skill further. If you want to attend further retreats in the future, it is good to maintain one hour a day, or even more, if you can. Then, when you arrive at a retreat you will maximize the benefit you can reap in the limited time you have available.
Meditation is similar to playing the piano. Even highly accomplished players always maintain hours of practice. Great athletes, too, spend a lot of time on the training field. 
Think of yourself as a patient suffering from a disease, who has had to be hospitalized. When you leave the hospital, the doctors will recommend a special diet and medicine. If you, the patient, adhere to these recommendations, then your disease will be cured. So don’t leave the medicine when you go home!
As for reading books, ordinary books will not at all contribute to Dhamma progress. Even among dhamma books it is no good to read in an unselected manner, here and there. One should seek out books that give precise meditation instructions. By reading books that present the correct scriptures you will come to know what you did not, and deepen knowledge that you already had. Reading dhamma books also dispels doubts and straightens out some of the problems. It has many benefits, though in itself reading books is not a cause for the arising and increasing of insight. Only direct observation will do that.
Approaching and supporting Buddhist monastics is also appropriate and necessary. These teachers should be genuine, though- only then is it good to support them.
As for practicing sila, if morality is broken, one cannot establish correct mindfulness. Only if morality is kept will meditation become possible. The field of dhamma discipline has three sikkhas, which we have discussed extensively. Every one of them gives benefits. Morality is the foundation of dhamma practice. One cannot skip past sila. Nor can one go directly to panna, wisdom, without developing concentration. We need all three.

Q15. Can you give us more guidance for refining our noting practice? Can you give an example of a single powerful note?

You have to get very close to the object to see it well. In the body, distinct objects arise. They all have to be known distinctly and clearly. They arise and pass, arise and pass. Heat is not just one thing but a series of heat sensations. First it is seen as composite, and then you recognized that it is breaking up.
Send the mind towards the object. Align with it. As sati gets closer and closer it gets better and better. The object will be seen in great detail.
A line of ants, from far away, is seen as a dark line across the road. As one gradually approaches, one sees it wavering slightly and then it is composed of many, many individual ants. Crouching down, one begins to make out individual ants, with spaces between them- in fact it is no longer so much a line that one perceives, for that concept has dropped away. At some point, one can appreciate the antennae, six legs and three sections of a single ant’s body and may be some small crumb it is carrying in its jaws.

Q16. When it is better to cut off thoughts and sensations and when should one continue to note them?

It is never taught that you should cut off an object. When wandering mind arises, it should be noted, not cut off. Only the defilements are to be cut off. First they must be observed and then cut. This generally means not remaining involved with them. 
The instruction says,’’Bhuta butati passato, see existing things as they are.’ The instruction does   not say, cut things off!
However, if wandering mind arises too often or strongly, and you become weary, you must set it aside and contemplate another object. Physical objects should be noted. But one can get wearied of one particular object after sometime. If this happen, just put it aside.
In general, noting objects as and when they occur in the present moment is the best.

Q17. How do we know when noting is good?

When noting is good, objects arise automatically. You don’t feel you have to go looking for them. It is like playing a piano- you reaches a stage where you no longer need advice.

Q18. Where does this fall in the stages of insight- when the suffering is so intense, the mind let go of the object and then there is release from suffering, and then it is seen only as a mental and physical process, empty in essence?

Some meditators study the stages. Some meditators want to know the answer in advance. In a mathematical formula, is it the formula that is important, or the answer?
Listen to the formula and learn how to make the calculation. Then do the calculation yourself. An answer given, without having made the calculation yourself, will not be accepted by the teacher.
The formula has been given. If you make a personal calculation, this is good. Otherwise, you may go wrong and it will become a dhamma danger.

Q19. Is something lacking in the practitioner’s development if he or she has no question?

Please don’t think that progress depends on whether you have questions or don’t have questions. Knowing the object from moment to moment is what constitutes progress. You are not lacking in anything.
Taste for yourself tranquility and the other results of meditation practice. Don’t ask questions just to ask- it will interfere. But if you don’t understand something, then by all means ask!
The mind becomes clear and calm. If you practice steadily, the Noble Eightfold Path will develop. Then you will no longer need to ask questions.
Your question is not a sign of flaw. If someone offers you food and you ask about its origins, you won’t taste the food. So continue to eat!