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Nov 2, 2016

Vipassana: the universal practice to happiness


This October 29, 2016 marked the 10th anniversary of the special function at the Global Vipassana Pagoda to preserve the authentic relics of  the Sammasambuddha Gotama. On October 29, 2006, the relics were respectfully placed atop the dome of Global Pagoda, above the meditation hall that can seat over 8,000 Vipassana students. 

It has to remembered though that the most beneficial way to express gratitude and pay meaningful respect is to practice Vipassana - the practical quintessence of the Buddha's universal, non-sectarian teachings. 

After all, the relics of an Fully Enlightened Being are also merely kalapas - subatomic particles - arising and passing away...in the impermanence of all phenomena.

When correct and ardent practice of Vipassana is given all importance (instead of to statues, images and relics of the Buddha), the pure teaching of Dhamma will remain preserved for thousands of years -  for the true happiness and liberation of beings.

 Most important is the actual practice of Vipassana to purify the mind...without it, the rest is empty or shallow 'respect'.

The following is Sayagyi U Goenka's article on that historic occasion of October 29,2006, and published in Vipassana Research Institute Newsletter in November 2006:

The Path to Peace and Happiness
In multi-religious and multi-cultural societies such as in India, Vipassana is a wonderful, practical path to unity in diversity. Vipassana, an ancient, timeless heritage of India, is the quintessence of all religions: how to live a moral life, to be a master of one’s own mind, to purify the mind. No religion objects to these ideals. No right-thinking person objects to these ideals. Vipassana is the effective, universal method to achieve these ideals.

In past millennia, and in the present day, we are seeing how Vipassana enables one to live a happy, harmonious life. When more individuals achieve inner peace, peace is achieved in homes, in the neighbourhood, in villages, towns, cities and countries.


The Dhamma Wheel atop the dome (the meditation hall and the world's largest stone structure without supporting pillars) preserving the bone relics of the Sammasambuddha Gotama - as practical inspiration for Vipassana meditators, for thousands of years.

Universal Non-sectarian Path
This unifying process of peace and harmony is visible in Vipassana courses worldwide. During a Vipassana course, people from all religions, castes, nationalities, races and social strata sit together to practice this ancient path. Thousands of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Jews have taken Vipassana courses. They follow the same code of discipline and gain benefit from the Vipassana course.

Vipassana courses have been taken not only by the followers of all religions but also by their leaders. Many religious leaders have later told me, “Goenkaji, in the name of Vipassana, you are teaching our religion!” Vipassana courses have been held in temples, mosques, churches, and monasteries.

True Dhamma
In the ancient Pali language, Vipassana means to see things as they are, not as they seem to be. Gotama the Buddha re-discovered this ancient scientific path to real happiness. This is the true Saddhamma, the truth of the laws of nature applicable to all beings in the universe.

The Buddha did not claim any monopoly on this path; neither did he intend to start any sect, cult or ritualistic religion. He told people who came to debate and sometimes to quarrel with him: “Let us keep aside our differences. Let us talk about what we agree upon. I am teaching sīla (morality) samādhi (mastery of the mind) and paññā (purification of the mind).”

The Science of Mind and Matter
The Buddha was a super-scientist who rediscovered certain universal truths using his own body and mind as the laboratory instruments. He discovered that, at the actual level, there is no solidity in the entire universe, that all material phenomena are made up of tiny kalāpas (sub-atomic particles) that arise and pass away with such great rapidity that they give the appearance of solidity. These kalāpas, the basic building blocks of the material universe are nothing but mere vibrations. The Buddha said:

Sabbo ādīpito loko,
sabbo loko padhūpito;
sabbo pajjalito loko,
sabbo loko pakampito. (Therīgāthā 200)


The entire world is in flames,
The entire world is going up in smoke;
The entire world is burning,
The entire world is vibrating.

The Role of Bodily Sensations

The Buddha discovered that the key to liberation experiencing the different physical sensations in the body and their nature of arising and passing away (anicca). He also realized that misery arises because of the blind reaction of craving and aversion to these sensations.

One comes out of the habit pattern of misery when one learns to remain equanimous with every sensation, pleasant or unpleasant, with the experiential realization that they are all impermanent, changing every moment. This ability to remain equanimous eradicates old impurities and helps one to change the behaviour pattern of the mind.

The Importance of Morality (Sīla)
At the start of the Vipassana course, the student undertakes to observe a moral code of conduct. The student experiences how morality is the essential foundation to inner peace and happiness, not merely an empty, unrealistic ideal. One cannot do any harm to others without first harming oneself:

Pubbe hanati attānaṃ; pacchā hanati so pare.

Anapana
The student in a Vipassana course starts meditation practice with Anapana — observation of the natural incoming and outgoing breath, as it is, without regulating the natural reality of the breath. The student is instructed not to add any shape, colour, form, philosophy or image to the breath. As the natural breath is linked directly to the mind, one observes the mind by observing the breath. For instance, when one is angry, the breath becomes hard and irregular; when one is calm and peaceful, the breath becomes soft and subtle.

The truth of the natural breath can be experienced by anyone; this is not the monopoly of any religion or country. Then the student observes the touch of the breath at the point below the nostrils, above the upper lip where the breath touches.

When the student starts observing the point of contact of the breath with the body, he or she begins to experience the truth of sensations on the body: any physical feeling like heat, cold, vibration, tingling, itching, pain, etc.

Vipassana
During the practice of Vipassana, the student is instructed to observe the truth of sensations throughout the body. It is a choiceless observation. The student is instructed not to give any importance to any particular sensation or to have any bias or preference for any sensation.

The student proceeds from the gross truths to the subtler truths to ultimately reach the subtlest truth. He observes the mind-matter phenomenon, the truth of the so-called ‘I’, the truth about the causes and effect of suffering and the way out of suffering. He makes this observation within the framework of the body, without any illusion, delusion, imagination or visualization.

The Vipassana student observes the truth of the moment, as it is. So he experiences the truth of the changing reality, from moment to moment, within the framework of the body. Nature is playing its role, one just observes. One realizes how difficult this is! One also realizes how necessary and beneficial this is!

From Reaction to Equanimity
Soon, the Vipassana practitioner experiences how the mind is blindly reacting to these bodily sensations with craving or aversion, with attachment or hatred. He experiences how this habit pattern to the pleasant or unpleasant reality of sensations—which is not in his control—causes a vicious cycle of suffering and misery.

As the apparent truth, one seems to be reacting to objects, situations and people in the outside world. In reality, one is constantly reacting to the sensations caused by the outside objects coming in contact with the sense doors of eyes, ears, nose, body, tongue and mind. This deep-rooted habit pattern of blind reaction is the cause of suffering of oneself and others.

By training the mind to objectively observe the sensations, instead of blindly reacting to them, the Vipassana student progresses on the path leading to real happiness. Every time a negative thought or emotion arises, instead of suppressing or blindly expressing these negativities, the student enjoys the benefits of the middle path of mere observation. One realizes that nothing can arise in the mind without a sensation arising on the body. One experiences how the negative habit pattern starts weakening at the root level by dispassionate observation of the sensations. When no new fuel is added to the fire, the fire gradually dies out. One starts experiencing real happiness in life, the happiness of a pure, peaceful mind.

Mettā Bhāvanā (Loving Kindness)
Towards the end of the Vipassana course, the student learns how to share this peace and harmony with all others. When one truly benefits, then one cannot resist sharing the benefits with others. The practice of mettā bhāvanā, an essential part of Vipassana, enables one to share one’s peace, happiness and harmony with all beings. One wishes for the well being of others from the depth of a purified mind. By the practice of mettā, one becomes peaceful and happy and the entire atmosphere around is suffused with peace and harmony.

The Universal Law of Nature
This practical path to real happiness can be called by any name. For conventional, linguistic purposes, it is called Vipassana. Just as the law of gravity works in the same way irrespective of whatever name we give it, the practice of coming out of suffering by objective observation of sensations is beneficial to all, irrespective of whatever it is called.

People from all religions and backgrounds understand this universal truth: one has to have a balanced, pure mind to be happy amidst the vicissitudes of life. They also understand that the saints of the past must have been practising this technique of developing equanimity to sensations. How else could they generate infinite compassion for the very people who were torturing them to death, as many noble saints of the past from all religions did?

Core of Purity

Every religion has a wholesome essence of love, compassion and goodwill. The outer shells of each religion are different: the various rites, rituals, ceremonies or beliefs. However, all religions give importance to purity of mind. Vipassana helps us to experience this wonderful, happy unity in diversity.

Emperor Asoka: Respect for All Religions
One of the truest followers of the Buddha’s teaching was Emperor Asoka. In one of his rock edicts, he gave us this benevolent message:

“One should not honour only one’s own religion and condemn other religions. Instead one should honour other religions for various reasons. By so doing, one helps one’s own religion to grow and also renders service to the religions of others. In acting otherwise, one digs the grave of one’s own religion, and harms other religions as well. Someone who honours his own religion and condemns other religions, may do so out of devotion to his religion thinking ‘I will glorify my religion,’ but his actions injure his own religion more gravely.”

Let all listen: Concord is good, not quarreling. Let all be willing to listen to the doctrine professed by others.

When this important quality of respecting other religions arises, there will be no sectarian conflicts. One who respects the noble qualities of other religions, instead of finding fault, becomes a true and inspiring representative of his religion.

By practicing tolerance for all religions, Emperor Asoka did not become a weak ruler. There is no record of any communal conflict or foreign invasion during his reign after he renounced violence. On the contrary, his reign was the golden age of Indian history.

Sayagyi U Ba Khin: A Life of Integrity
My Vipassana teacher and Dhamma father, Sayagyi U Ba Khin, is an inspiring example of how Vipassana enables one to live an active, honest, beneficial, and efficient life and to serve others tirelessly and selflessly. He was the first Accountant General of independent Myanmar and a trusted confidant of the Prime Minister of Myanmar. Yet Sayagyi U Ba Khin did not hesitate to point out any impropriety in the government that conflicted with established laws and norms. He took immediate action against anyone attempting to bribe him. He often took a strong position against the government. Yet the government kept extending his period of service and postponing his retirement and even changed governmental regulations to allow him to serve longer!

People from all religions came to take Vipassana courses from Sayagyi U Ba Khin, even though he called himself a staunch follower of the Buddha’s teaching. I was a leader of the Hindu community in Myanmar when I approached him to take my first Vipassana course. He told me, “I will not convert you to a Buddhist. I will teach you a technique that will make you a better human being.”

From Bondage to Liberation
I took the Vipassana course and all my doubts and fears were removed. I found that Vipassana is Bhagavad Gita in practice. This is the only conversion that Vipassana does: the conversion from misery to happiness, from ignorance to enlightenment, from bondage to liberation.

As more and more individuals in the world experience this path of converting themselves from misery to happiness, all violence will be eradicated and there will be peace and prosperity all around. This happened during the reign of Emperor Asoka and I have no doubt that it will again happen in the future.

May all beings be happy, be peaceful, be liberated!

 Original Vipassana Research Institute article

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Apr 19, 2016

Adhitthana, the Parami of Strong Determination


Dhammam saranam gacchami

Adhitthana, meaning strong determination, is the backbone of the ten paramis* (qualities to be perfected for full enlightenment. Please see note below). All ten paramis are needed and developed through Vipassana practice to fully purify the mind, and to share with all beings benefits thereby gained.

Adhitthana must be strongly developed to attain success, to gain strength of mind to fulfill the paramis - and to serve all beings with infinite compassion.

Each of these ten qualities (paramis) are also of course enormously helpful in daily life. These qualities are necessary to beneficially cope with situations, challenges, ups and downs in life, in more harmoniously dealing with others. Developing the paramis not only serves long-term benefits, but give benefits here and now.

Greater benefits from a most beneficial Dhamma service undertaking, greater could be hurdles, obstacles, fears, distractions, storms and temptations to pause, postpone or give up the work. But the parami of adhitthana gained through Vipassana practice gives strength to stay the course, purify the mind, live a wholesome life and continue undeterred in endless Dhamma service to all beings.

Attending the Vipassana course after the application has been confirmed is one adhitthana (strong determination) undertaking fulfilled. Steadfast, unshakable iron-will to undertake, complete the Vipassana course. No weak mind of surrendering to negative forces within, and postponing by saying "I will do it later, I"m too busy now." Time is now. 

During a Vipassana course, students develop adhitthana at various levels. The student follows the necessary beneficial rules and code of discipline for the course duration. Facing all difficulties that may arise during the course, and completing the course requires strong adhitthana.

At a much deeper level, the three one-hour group meditations daily during a 10-day Vipassana course (8.00 am to 9.00 am, 2.30 pm to 3.30 pm and 6.00 pm to 7.00 pm) with strong determination purifies the mind and develops adhitthana.

For this one hour, the student resolves not to change posture, not to make any movement of the body (a reaction) and observe objectively impermanent, changing sensations that arise and pass away within one's physical structure. 

For instance during the Vipassana process of cleaning the mind, the impurities buried deep in the mind could surface as the sensation of pain. It could feel like hot daggers driven into the body. Or these impermanent, continuously changing sensations could be very pleasant. The earlier habit pattern was to react blindly with aversion or craving to bodily sensations, thereby multiplying the suffering. Now one observes the bio-chemical flow of sensations as it is, with balance of mind, without any evaluation of past conditioning. The habit pattern of blind reaction weakens, the impurities dissolve and the mind becomes purer, stronger.

Whatever sensation manifesting in the body is used as a tool to develop equanimity. This equanimity purifies the mind at its root level, and strengthens the parami of adhitthana.

Strong determination (adhitthana) is needed to keep the mind in reality of the present moment by observing arising and passing sensations - and not letting the mind wander away, rolling in impurities.

Without adhitthana, no Dhamma commitment can be fulfilled.

Strong, resolute determination is root of success in every undertaking. Fully steady the mind. All wandering, wavering of the mind, weakness and temptations must be overcome in steadfast progress towards the Dhamma goal - however long it takes, however hard the path may be.

Developing his paramis in lives across countless eons, the ascetic Gotama had reached the last night before attaining full enlightenment. On that full moon night on  banks of Neranjara river, he took adhitthana not to arise from his seat of meditation - not even if his bones were scattered - until he reached his final goal of total purification of the mind. This fixed determination, accumulated purity, and unshakable will-power enabled him to steadfastly overcome all negative, anti-Dhamma forces trying to distract, stop him from reaching the final goal.

Even after attaining the final goal of full enlightenment, the Sammasambuddha continued living the life of an ascetic. He could have spent the remainder of his life in the luxury of his father's palace. Or he could have taught Vipassana living in palaces of the kings who were dedicated Vipassana students. But out of infinite compassion for all beings, he lived a homeless life of complete renunciation - to show the world what is real, most superior happiness: attaining ultra purity of mind, selfless Dhamma service - not dependence or addiction to luxuries and physical comforts, but the deep peace, happiness and mental comfort of a pure mind with no ego, no clinging and craving.

"Adhitthana literally means determination, resolution or fixedness of purpose. Adhitthana can be regarded as a foundation for all the perfections, because without a firm determination one cannot fulfill the other paramitas. Although one’s determination can be extended to either desirable or undesirable way; it should be clearly understood that the determination for the line of unwholesome deeds cannot be regarded as a perfection.

A person with a wavering mind or who sits on the fence cannot succeed in any undertaking.

One must have an iron-will, an unshakable determination to overcome any difficulties of hardship in order to achieve success. 

He who has no determinative mind would easily give up his work before it is successful. Such a person with weak and unsteady mind should get disappointed easily and disheartened quickly. Even a word of criticism would be adequate to put an end to his projects.

A Bodhisatta, who has an unshakable resolution and who is a man of principles, will never give up his noble effort even at the point of death. He is capable of setting aside any obstacles in his way and going forward, turning his eyes towards his goal.

Our Bodhisatta, when he was Sumedha Pandit, made a firm determination at the feet of the Buddha Dipankara in this way: “O Sumedha, from now on you must fulfill the perfection of strong determination as well. 

Be steadfast in whatever Dhamma resolution you make. 

As a rock, even while the wind beats upon it on every side, does not tremble nor quake but remains in its own place, you must likewise be unshaken in your resolution until you become a Sammasambuddha.
Ten paramis:
nekkhamma (renunciation), sila (morality), viriya (effort), panna (experiential wisdom), sacca (truth), khanti (tolerance), metta (unconditional compassion for all beings), upekkha (equanimity), adhitthana (strong determination), dana (donation).
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