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Dec 20, 2013

Work Without Wavering

When you are well concentrated, even for a short moment, your mind is cleansed of greed, aversion and delusion for that short moment (of pure happiness). Cannot you keep your continuity of awareness for a longer time-span?

by Most Venerable Webu Sayadaw

You are born at a good time and in a good form of existence. Now then, emulate the wise and put forth effort as strong as theirs, so that you may attain to the awakening to which you aspired. 

What the Buddha taught is the way out of suffering. You don't have to know a vast amount. If you practice one meditation technique properly with strong and steadfast effort, you will come to know for yourselves that you are people of great strength. You will not have to ask others about the Dhamma teachings, and you will not even have to tell others that you are practicing.

Once you have established effort, you will not only know what good teachers told you, but you will clearly know for yourselves how the 'viriya iddhipada' (viriya - effort, iddhipada - a factor needed for enlightenment) arises in a split-second. 

When I increase effort, then the 'viriya iddhipada' factor will increase also. And then what will happen? I will think: "With just this much effort, the viriya iddhipada factor has arisen to this extent. But my energy is not exhausted yet. There is still more. I shall increase my effort further. And the will to increase effort will arise. At this same instant effort increases. As effort increases the viriya iddhipada factor becomes stronger. When these factors have thus arisen to a very high standard, then all your aspirations can be fulfilled.

Work continuously. If you develop continuously, you will become happier and happier.

You will understand that the degree you come out of suffering depends on how much effort you put in and on how strongly the viriya iddhipada factor arises out of this effort.

There will be no more room for doubt because you have now practiced the technique and experienced it for yourselves, and so you know it. You will think, "Even in such a short time I am able to come out of suffering immediately to such an extent, but my strength is not yet exhausted." And the will to exert still more effort arises, and you will become happy with a happiness of which you will never tire.

Webu Sayadaw: And you will fight, won't you? Your enemies do attack and they attack often and with full force. Are sloth, torpor and laziness friends or foes? What do you do when they come? I think it has been some time that you haven't fought a battle?
Meditator: Quite some time, sir.
S: Tell me about the weapons you will have to use, and how you have to fight.
M: We have to fight for one hour every day, sir.
S: Only one hour a day?
M: We can't even always manage that much, sir.
S: Look here! Is this because the weapons are soft or because the warriors are soft?
M: We are soft, sir. We try hard, but we never succeed.
S : But the weapon is fine. You don't understand because you don't fight. You are talking like most. You meditate, you put forth effort, but in spite of that you sound as if there was no effort. There is so much energy in you, but you don't use it. You do have energy. If you put all your stock of energy to use, you will assuredly be successful.
You may say that you have been meditating for so many years, but have you really ever been able to keep your mind focused for a full day?
M: No, sir.
S: By one day I mean a day and a night, twenty-four hours. Now do this: practice the teachings of the Buddha to the full for one day and one night. If you have done this once, you will all be able to appreciate the value of just one single day. 
Some of you may have been practicing for twenty or thirty years and some even longer. But just examine yourselves. Have you really, having established yourselves in complete effort, fulfilled one single day in practice? Have you?
M: No, sir, we haven't.
S: And why have you never devoted yourselves fully for one whole day? You do have the energy required, don't you?
M: Yes, sir.
S: You don't use the energy you have in the right place. You waste it for no purpose. Are you still going to shows and entertainments?
M: Yes, sir. We watch the pwe [traditional Burmese theater, that goes on from evening to sunrise] all night until dawn, without sleeping.
S: How many nights in a row do you do this?
M: About two or three nights, sir.
S: How many shows have you seen in all?
M: I can't remember, sir.
S: You see; there you have plenty of energy. Day and night ! You do have the will to work, but you don't usually use it for this noble purpose, but rather to watch pwe. 
.... Now, if your attention is so firmly fixed on the object of meditation, can sloth, torpor or laziness disturb you?
M: No, sir, they can't.
S: If your attention is firmly established on the in-breath and out-breath and the point of contact, do we still hear other people's conversation?
M: No, sir.
S: What if someone speaks very loudly?
M: It doesn't disturb us, sir.
S: There is no wanting, aversion or delusion. If our minds are thus purged of greed, aversion and ignorance, will there still be loneliness, depression and laziness?
M: No, sir.
S: Are we still missing company?
M: No, sir.
S: Do we still want to know what others are saying?
M: No, sir.
S: If someone comes and invites us out, are we excited?
M: No, sir.
S: We shall not jealously guard what we have got. Good people are not like that. We share it with those with whom we live: "May they also get what I have got." 
Now, what will happen if all establish strong effort from sunrise to sunset, without a break? This is a long time-span, from sunrise to sunset. But will you feel it to be long?
M: No, sir.
S: "Today the time went so quickly! We observed Uposatha and the time just flew! And I really don't know why this day was so short." And after sunset you will again establish awareness of the object and then day will break and you still continue with the awareness of the spot below the nose, above the upper lip until it is light. Without interruption. And you will wonder, "This night passed really quickly; now it is day again!"
This is how they used to practice on Uposatha day. When the direct disciples of the Buddha undertook to practice for a day, they practiced for twenty-four hours. And when day came, they were still not satisfied and said, "In the long cycle of birth and death we have been doing all those other things for a long time, but not this." And they continued their work without wavering. Do you have days like this?
M: Our days contain some interruptions, sir.
S: If someone keeps Uposatha, and his mind wanders here and there — just anybody, I don't mean you — so his mind flits around here and there. But he is at a pagoda or under a holy Bodhi tree, and say he dies at that moment. What will happen to this person?
M: He will go to the lower worlds, sir.
S: How many lower planes are there?
M: There are four lower planes, sir.
S: What are they?
M: Hell, the animal world, the plane of the hungry ghosts, and the demon world.
S: Now, who wants to go to hell or the animal world?
M: I don't, sir.
S: What about the ghost world or the demon world?
M: I don't want to go there, sir.
S: If you take the precepts and then don't firmly put your mind to observing the teachings of the Buddha, is that skilled or not?
M: It is unskillful, sir.
S: If someone observes the Uposatha without keeping his mind focused, where will he be reborn when he dies?
M: In the lower planes of existence, sir.
S: Are you sure?
M: Yes, sir, I'm sure.
S: There are four bodily postures: sitting, standing, walking and lying down. Which of these is prone to let in the enemy? Laziness and sloth come in while lying down, and they come to stay, don't they? If we indulge in laziness and sloth, will we be able to develop in morality, concentration and wisdom?
M: No, sir, we won't.
S: Laziness and torpor are our enemies. The Great Monk Maha Kassapa rejected the one posture in which the enemy attacks (posture of lying down) and adopted the other three postures (sitting, standing, walking) in which the enemy can't remain for long.
There are thirteen ascetic practices (*see note below) and Maha Kassapa practiced all thirteen. Only those among the disciples of the Buddha with the strongest determination practiced the sitter's practice, i.e., did not lie down for twenty-four hours a day. 
If one takes up the sitter's practice and makes the strong determination not to sleep, this sloth and laziness can't overpower him. Though these noble disciples of the Buddha neither lay down nor slept, they lived long and were very healthy. 
If you practice without sleeping, you are establishing full effort and are always keeping your attention firmly fixed on the object, day and night. If you practice in this way, your morality, your concentration and control over the mind, and your insight and wisdom will become stronger and stronger. They will develop from moment to moment.
If you watch a show all night, you will feel tired in the morning. But if you practice the teachings of the Buddha all night, you will experience happiness and joy without end, and you will not feel sleepy. 
Do you understand? This the Buddha taught — it is not my teaching. If you follow the teachings of the Buddha and don't rest until you have understood them completely, you will really know.
If people tell you, "This shade is cool," don't simply believe them, but try it out for yourselves. If you just repeat, "It is cool, it is cool..." because others say so, you don't really know about its coolness; you merely talk about it. If someone just babbles along, he doesn't show appreciation. But if someone speaks from experience, then will he not be able to speak with deep appreciation, and radiant happiness, and compassion?
So pay attention and practice. If you practice, you will reach your goal. Not just hundreds, not thousands, not ten thousands, not hundreds of thousands — all who follow the teachings will master them.
Well then, what will you do when tiredness and laziness really arise?
M: I shall probably fall asleep, sir.
S: Then, Wake up. Put forth effort and you will become perfect. You have all you need.
All of you have acquired the elements of insight (Vipassana) and renunciation. Because of this, you now esteem the teachings of the Buddha, you want to fulfill and practice them. 
If the accumulation of the perfection of renunciation is small, your ears will be blocked to the teachings of the Buddha. For instance, if somebody tells you to come to this place, you don't want to come because you are bored by this. But now you are attracted by this teaching. All you need now is the same amount of effort that the noble disciples of the Buddha made.
When you begin to practice you may worry, "If I sit for one or two hours I am aching and stiff. How can I possibly sit for a whole day and night? I think that's quite impossible." 
But don't worry in this way. The Buddha did not teach suffering. He taught the way leading to happiness. You may not believe this because you think your own thoughts. But you have to work with full effort and without wavering. Now, when you meditate with full effort, the viriya iddhipada factor will arise. You will understand this.
Keep your attention at the spot where the air touches when you breathe in and out. If you keep it fixed on this spot with full effort, at some time you will find the place of no sleep. 
If you sleep and postpone meditation until you are rested, you will wake up when it is light and there will be no time left to meditate. I am just telling you what the Buddha taught. There is nothing I know. All the Buddha taught is true.
Only when your attention wanders away, the continuity of awareness is broken.
Will greed, aversion and delusion still arise when your attention is focused on the spot of meditation? When you are well concentrated, even for a short moment, your mind is cleansed of greed, aversion and delusion for that short moment. Cannot you keep your continuity of awareness for a longer time-span?
M: Yes, sir, I can.
S: So, make a strong effort and keep your attention there. If you keep it there, is there any drowsiness or laziness disturbing you?
M: They don't come up, sir.
S: But what will happen if you reduce your effort?
M: Laziness will come in, sir.
S: Sloth and laziness (enemies) will come and your concentration will become weak. This is because you're at the beginning; later it will improve.
Will you undertake the sitter's practice (of renouncing the posture of lying down)? Or will you, when sleepiness and tiredness set in, change to another (of the four) postures and reduce your effort?
M: We won't reduce our effort, sir.
S: Now, then, undertake to carry out the sitter's practice! Make it a firm vow!
You may think, "It wasn't right that we just gave in to sleepiness in the past." Well, now you have undertaken the sitter's practice, and I think it is for the first time.
M: Yes, sir, the first time.
S: Now, then. Undertake to carry out the sitter's practice. I'll say it in Pali, repeat after me: 
"Seyyaṃ paṭikkhipāmi, nesajjikaṅgaṃ samādhiyāmi" 
I renounce the posture of lying down. I will train into the practice of remaining seated, even at the time of taking rest. (Nesajjika dhutanga*)

S: This is the weapon. With this weapon you can fight your battle. With this weapon you will be victorious. If you fight with a pillow as a weapon, you cannot win.

M: We shall work hard.

S: You have the teachings, the meditation technique. All you need now is effort. And why do you need effort? Because during meditation the enemies will come to disturb you. Keep your attention on this small spot. 

If your limbs ache, work that you reach the state where there is no aching. 

When you are drowsy, work that you reach the state where there is no drowsiness. 

Good, good. Establish effort and meditate, work to make an end to all suffering.

* Nesajjika dhutanga - One of the thirteen voluntary ascetic practices that the Buddha permitted, for rigorous efforts in practicing Vipassana to purify the mind.


May all beings be happy, Make all right efforts to be free from all impurities of the mind, and be liberated from every suffering.

Dec 16, 2013

Being Free from the Poison of Passion

You keep generating impurities, and your misery continues. You can't stop it because there is a big barrier between the surface of the mind (intellect) and depth of the mind (the so-called 'unconscious' mind that is actually very active, every moment). Without Vipassana practice, this barrier remains.
 - Sayagyi U Goenka

From Principal Teacher of Vipassana Saygyi U Goenka's article On Addiction, October, 1991:
The Buddha said that one who understands Dhamma understands the law of cause and effect. You must realize this truth within yourselves. Vipassana is the process by which you can do so. 

You take steps on the path of Dhamma by practicing Vipassana. Then, whatever you realize, you accept it. Step by step, with an open mind, you experience deeper truths of mind and matter.

It is not for curiosity that you investigate the truth pertaining to your own mind-matter and mental contents. Instead, you change habit patterns at the deepest level of the mind. As you progress, you will realize how mind influences matter, and how matter influences mind.

Every moment within the framework of the body, masses of sub-atomic particles (kalāpas) arise and pass away. How do they arise? The cause becomes clear as you investigate the reality as it is, free from influence of past conditionings of philosophical beliefs. The material input, the food (āhāra) that you have eaten, is one cause for arising of these kalāpas. Another is the atmosphere (utu) around you. 

You also begin to understand how mind (citta) helps matter to arise and dissolve. At times matter arises from the mental conditioning of the past - that is, the accumulated saṇkhāras of the past. By the practice of Vipassana, all of this starts to become clear. At this moment, that type of mind has arisen and what is the content of this mind? The quality of the mind is according to its content. For example, when a mind full of anger, passion or fear has arisen, you will notice that different sub-atomic particles are generated.

When the mind is full of passion (lust, sexual cravings), then within this material structure, sub-atomic particles of a particular type arise, and there is a biochemical flow which starts throughout the body. This type of biochemical flow, which starts because a mind full of passion has arisen, is called in Pali kāmā asava,-the flow of passion.

Like a scientist you proceed further, observing truth as it is, examining the law of nature. When this biochemical flow produced by passion starts, it influences the next moment of the mind with more passion. Thus the kāmā asava turns into kāma tanhā, a craving of passion at the mental level, which again stimulates a flow of passion at the physical level. One starts influencing and stimulating the other, and the passion multiplies for minutes, even hours. The tendency of the mind to generate passion is strengthened because of this repeated generation of passion.

Not only passion but fear, anger, hatred and craving, in fact every type of impurity generated in the mind simultaneously generates an āsava, a biochemical flow. And this āsava stimulates that particular negativity, or impurity. The result is a vicious circle of suffering. You may call yourself a Hindu, a Muslim, a Jain or a Christian; it makes no difference. The process, this law of nature is applicable to one and all. There is no discrimination.

Mere understanding at a superficial, intellectual level will not help break this cycle, and may even create more difficulties. Your beliefs from a particular tradition may look quite logical, yet those beliefs will create obstacles for you. 

The intellect has its own limitations. You cannot realize the ultimate truth merely by intellect because intellect is finite, while ultimate truth is limitless, infinite. Only through direct experience can you realize that which is limitless and infinite.

If you accept this law of nature intellectually but still are unable to change the behaviour pattern of your mind, you remain far away from realizing the ultimate truth. Your acceptance is only superficial, while your behaviour pattern continues at the depth of the mind. 

What is called the 'unconscious' mind is actually not unconscious. At all times it remains in contact with this body. And with this contact a sensation keeps arising. You feel a sensation that you label as pleasant, and you keep reacting. At the depth of your mind you  react with craving or aversion. You keep generating different types of saṇkhāras, negativities, impurities, and the process of multiplying your misery continues. You can't stop it because there is such a big barrier between the surface level and the depth of the mind. Without the practice of Vipassana, this barrier remains.

True freedom comes only with conquering lust - the sexual craving for another's (filth-filled *) body - which, in reality, is only craving for a particular flow of sensations (kāmā asava) within one's own body. The ascetic Gotama successfully fought through this great inner battle against lust, in his journey to total purification of the mind with practice of Vipassana. He reached the ultra pure state of a Sammasambuddha, to serve all beings with infinite compassion. 
(Painting from the Global Pagoda Art Gallery of the Buddha's life).

At the conscious, intellectual (surface) level of the mind, one may accept the entire theory of Dhamma, truth, law, nature. But still one rolls in misery because one does not realize what is happening at the depth of the mind. But with Vipassana practice your mind becomes very sharp, sensitive, penetrating - so that you can feel sensations throughout the body. 

Sensations occur every moment. Every contact results in a sensation: in Pali, phassa paccayā vedanā. This is not a philosophy; it is the scientific truth which can be verified by one and all.

The moment there is a contact, there is bound to be a sensation; and every moment, the mind is in contact with matter throughout the physical structure. The deeper level of the mind feels these sensations, and it keeps reacting to them. But on the surface the mind keeps itself busy with outside objects, or it remains involved in intellectual games, imagination, emotion. Therefore, you do not feel what is happening at the deeper level of the mind.

By Vipassana, when that barrier is broken, one starts feeling sensations throughout the body, not merely at the surface level but also deep inside. By observing these sensations, you start realizing their characteristic of arising and passing, udaya-vyaya. By this understanding, you start to actually change the habit pattern of the mind.

For example, you are feeling a particular sensation may be caused by: 1) the food you have eaten, 2) the atmosphere around you, 3) your present mental reactions, 4) old reactions (saṇkhāras) that are now giving their fruit. Whatever the cause may be, a sensation has occurred. With your training in Vipassana, you observe sensations with equanimity, without reacting to them. 

In those few wonderful moments of equanimity, you have started changing the habit pattern of your mind by observing sensation and understanding its nature of impermanence. You have stopped the blind habit pattern of reacting to the sensation and multiplying your misery. 

Initially you may not react to sensations only for a few seconds or minutes. But by practice, you gradually develop your strength and purity of equanimity. As the habit pattern of reaction becomes weaker, your behaviour pattern changes. You are coming out of your misery.

When we talk of addiction, it is not merely to alcohol or to drugs, but also to passion, anger, fear or egotism. All these are addictions to your impurities.

At the intellectual level you may well understand , "Anger is not good for me. It is dangerous. It is harmful." Yet you are addicted to anger, and keep generating it. And when the anger is over, you keep repeating, "Oh! I should not have generated anger." Yet the next time a stimulus comes, you again become angry. You are not coming out of anger, because you have not been working at the depth of your mind where the actual problem multiplies.

By practicing Vipassana, you start observing the sensation that arises because of the biochemical flow when you are angry. You observe, and do not react to it. That means you do not generate anger at that particular moment. This one moment turns into a few seconds, a few minutes, and you find that you are not as easily influenced by this flow as you were in the past. You have slowly started coming out of your anger.

Those who regularly practice Vipassana try to observe how they are dealing with different situations. Are they reacting or remaining equanimous? The first thing a Vipassana meditator will try to do in any difficult situation is to observe sensations. Because of the situation, maybe part of the mind has started reacting, but by observing the sensations, one becomes equanimous.  Instead of the mind being swept away by the torrent of impurities, the bio-chemical flow of impurities fades away.

With regular, daily practice and application of Vipassana, the behaviour pattern starts to change. Those who used to roll in anger, fear for a long time find their anger, fear diminishing in intensity or duration. Similarly, those who are addicted to passion find that it becomes weaker.

The time needed to fully free oneself of a certain impurity may vary, but sooner or later the process of Vipassana works, if one works properly.

Whether you are addicted to craving, aversion, hatred, passion or fear, the addiction is actually to particular sensations that have arisen because of the biochemical flow.

The āsava, or flow, of ignorance is the strongest āsava. Of course, there is ignorance even when you are reacting with anger, passion or fear; but when you become intoxicated with alcohol or drugs, this intoxication multiplies your ignorance. Therefore it takes time to feel sensations, to go to the root of the problem. 

When you become addicted to liquor or drugs, you cannot know the reality of what is happening within the framework of the body. There is darkness in your mind. You cannot understand what is happening inside, what keeps multiplying inside. 

After a ten day Vipassana course, you may only make a slight change in the habit pattern of your mind. It doesn't matter; a beginning is made. If you maintain the (minimum) one-hour practice of Vipassana every morning and evening and take a few more Vipassana courses, the habit pattern will change at the deepest level of the mind. You will come out of your ignorance, out of your habit pattern of reaction - out of your suffering.

When the addictive urge arises (whether for a sexual action, alcohol, drugs, tobacco etc), along with it there is a sensation in the body. Start observing that sensation, whatever it may be. Do not look for a particular sensation. Anything you feel at that time is related to the urge. And by observing the sensation as impermanent, anicca, you will find that this urge passes away. This is not a philosophy, but experiential truth.

Those who follow this advice find that they are coming out of their addictions, whether it be to tobacco, drugs, alcohol, anger and sexual cravings. They may be successful only one time out of ten at first, but they have made a very good beginning. They are striking at the root of their problem.

It is a long path, a lifetime job. But even a journey of ten thousand miles must start with the first step. One who has taken the first step can take the second and third; and step by step, one will reach the final goal of full liberation.

May you come out of all your addictions, addiction to mental impurities. May you change this strong negative behaviour pattern of rolling in impurities, and come out of your misery - for your own good, your own benefit. The Dhamma is such that when you start to benefit from Vipassana, you cannot resist serving others. Your Dhamma goal becomes the good and benefit of many, the liberation of all beings. 

So many people are suffering all around: may they all practice Vipassana, the pure Dhamma, and come out of their misery. May they start enjoying peace and harmony, the peace and harmony of being liberated from all impurities of the mind.

(from the Vipassana Newsletter article On Addiction, October, 1991)

* Contents of the human body: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidney, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, stomach and contents, faeces (excreta, body waste), bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, nasal mucus, synovial fluid, and urine. This is its nature. (from the Mahā-Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta discourse)
[To see the true nature of the human body, go to Google Images, enter search word 'autopsy' ]
That aversion or craving is generated only to one's own bio-chemical flow of sensations within, not to external objects, is the fundamental, life-changing truth realized by practicing Vipassana.

May all beings be happy, be free from all impurities of the mind, be liberated from every suffering.

Dec 9, 2013

The Buddha taught universal Vipassana, not "Buddhism"

From an interview with Principal Vipassana Teacher Sayagyi U Goenka, broadcast on India's Doordarshan National Television. Published in the Vipassana Newsletter, dated August 12, 2003.

Question: You are a meditation teacher. But there are so many different forms of meditation that there is some confusion about what meditation really is. What is meditation according to you?

Goenkaji: The word 'meditation' gives the impression of one concentrating one's mind on one object and submerging into it. This is so with most meditation techniques but Vipassana meditation is different. 

In Vipassana, there is an awareness of the totality of the body and mind interaction. One keeps on observing what is happening inside. Because of one's ignorance about what is happening at the depth of the mind, feelings of craving and aversion keep on multiplying until finally one is overpowered by these feelings and becomes helpless. So one performs unwholesome actions at the physical level and repents later. Vipassana meditation changes this habit pattern.

Question: Vipassana, the form of meditation that you teach, literally means mindfulness. To what degree is this circumscribed by Buddha's other teachings such as the four noble truths and the middle path? To what degree is a commitment to, or understanding of, those explanations and systems important to the practice of Vipassana?

Goenkaji: The practice of Vipassana follows the teaching of the Buddha-the four noble truths. The noble path has to be experienced and Vipassana is the way to experience it. It is not merely an intellectual game or philosophy to accept at an emotional or devotional level. One has to experience the truth-see, for example, the truth of misery. One is observing the misery and one finds the cause of the misery at the level of experience. Thus, one can come out of all misery.

Question: So is there a scriptural, textual, philosophical, intellectual context from which you approach this teaching? Is it purely experiential?

Goenkaji: Though the references of Vipassana are found in the scriptures, knowledge of the scriptures or acceptance of a particular philosophy is not necessary to learn Vipassana. It deals with reality as it exists. The Buddha himself, time and again, emphasized two words: jāna and passa (Sanskrit: pashyah). Jāna and passa both mean to feel, to observe, to experience. Paññā (Sanskrit: Prajña) means knowledge, which is acquired through one's own experience, not bookish knowledge or something you learn through discussions or by intellectual inference. It has to be experienced.

Experiencing happiness of Dhamma early....

.....Anapana meditation courses (preliminary to Vipassana) for children worldwide

Question: You mentioned that sometimes, if we are not mindful, we may commit certain actions which we regret later. Is there a moral framework that circumscribes Vipassana?

Goenkaji: The base of Vipassana is the eight-fold noble path which is divided into three sections: sīla or morality; samādhi or mastery of the mind; and jñana or wisdom. You must purify the totality of your mind by developing your own wisdom. So, all three aspects are crucial but the base is morality, without which the other two steps cannot be complete.

Question: Do you require your students to follow these moral structures, framework, and guidelines to be more effective practitioners?

Goenkaji: This is true because morality is the foundation of the entire path of Vipassana. If the foundation is weak, the structure of meditation will collapse and one will not benefit. When people go for a course, they must follow five precepts for ten days. After the course, they are their own masters. Many of them find that these precepts are good and should be followed throughout their life; they start to live a moral life. Without morality, sammā samādhi or right concentration of the mind cannot be achieved.

Question: You use the word 'wisdom' a number of times. So, Vipassana assumes that wisdom is inherent and sometimes there are defilements that need to be eliminated and then natural, spontaneous wisdom will emerge?

Goenkaji: This is true. The so-called surface of the mind, which is a very small part of the mind, keeps on working at this level. But the larger part of the mind is constantly a prisoner of its own habit pattern. It is constantly reacting to the sensations on the body. If one feels a pleasant sensation, one immediately reacts with craving. If the sensation is unpleasant, immediately there is aversion. So, sensations are there throughout the day, all the time. Vipassana teaches one to feel the body sensations and remain equanimous. Thus, one starts changing the habit pattern by understanding the entire physical and mental structure, which is constantly changing and in flux.

Question: Given this sort of intimate relationship between mind and body, modern research is looking at the biochemistry of the brain and a lot of work is being done on using chemicals to cure mental illness. How does Vipassana view the developments in the biochemistry of the brain, particularly in treating mental illness?

Goenkaji: Having experienced the Buddha's practical teaching and having studied his original words in the Pali language, I realized that he was not the founder of any religion but a scientist. 

He understood that at the apparent level one seems to react to sensual objects. When a shape, a form, a colour comes in contact with the eyes, there is a sensation. Similarly, sound for the ear, smell for the nose, taste for the tongue, touch for the body and thought for the mind. 

As soon as something comes in contact with a sense organ, another part of the mind recognizes it and evaluates it based on past experience. Depending on the evaluation, one feels pleasant or unpleasant sensations and one reacts with either craving or aversion. Thus, one reacts to the world, to the shape and the form. The Buddha used the word 'āsava' (Sanskrit:āśrava), which means the defiling flow. This results in a flow of biochemicals, which is very intoxicating. Again, one begins to react to it and so the āsava becomes stronger and the vicious circle begins. This happens with all the defilements of the mind. Every defilement of the mind generates the secretion of particular biochemicals, which start flowing.

Question: You have taken pains to emphasize that the practice of Vipassana is essentially secular and can co-exist with one's faith or the practice of one's religion. Yet it does derive from the teaching of the Buddha. This teaching makes some essentially Buddhist assumptions about reincarnation, about aspects of the subtle mind, etc.

Goenkaji: The Buddha never taught Buddhism. He never made a single person 'Buddhist'. The entire teaching of the Buddha, which is contained in about 55,000 pages, including commentaries and sub-commentaries, does not use the world 'bouddh' or 'boddh' anywhere. In our research, we found that until about 500 years after the Buddha, the word 'Buddhism' or 'Bouddh Dharma' was never used. When we started using such words, the Buddha's teaching was degraded. The Buddha was totally against casteism: one is not high or low because of one's birth. He was against sectarianism of all kinds. 

His teaching is so clear. Vipassana is not a religion at all and there is no place for prayer in the Buddha's teaching. Somebody may show you the path but you have to work for your own salvation. The Buddha said, 'I can only show the path.' The Buddha only showed the path; one has to make the entire journey oneself.

Question: What is the work of the teacher? 

Goenkaji: The teacher shows the path. One must walk on the path and experience it step by step. Unless somebody walks on the path, one cannot reach the goal. Every step takes one nearer to the goal. But every step has to be taken by the person himself-there is no gurudom. The teacher cannot liberate you; you have to work out your own liberation.

Question: So what are the qualities of a perfect teacher?

Goenkaji: One must have a good understanding of the technique so that there is no deviation. 

One should experience for oneself, at least to a certain extent, so that one can guide others. 

One must have a lot of love, compassion and goodwill for others. 

One must teach selflessly without expecting money, power, name or fame in return. 

These are the four qualities on the basis of which we train people to become teachers.

Sometimes, one starts teaching and starts asking for money, which is totally prohibited in Dhamma. Every teacher must have a means of livelihood. The teaching of Dhamma must be free service. 

Question: You learned this teaching from your master (Sayagyi U Ba Khin) in Myanmar at a time when you were struggling with problems of psychosomatic ailments. You used to get headaches and you went to this teacher to learn Vipassana to address a specific problem. Could you tell us what happened?

Goenkaji: Sayagyi U Ba Khin refused to teach me Vipassana, saying that if I wanted to treat the migraine, I should go to a doctor. He said that I was devaluing the great spiritual teaching of my own country by trying to use it to cure a physical ailment. This response attracted me even more towards his saintly personality. He told me to come back only if my aim was to purify my mind. 

When I expressed doubt about conversion to Buddhism, he asked whether my religion had any objection to learning morality-sīla. Then, he said, "One cannot lead a moral life unless one had control over one's mind. Otherwise, at the depth of the mind, the behaviour patterns remain the same. In Sanskrit, you have a word, 'prajña'. Prajña will help you to purify the mind at the deepest level." 

But I was still hesitant that this is Buddhism and these people don't believe in Soul, they don't believe in God. After a few months I decided to try it. I was an egocentric person who thought I was very intelligent. This ego made my migraine so severe. A change started coming within me after my first course and the defilements started passing away. I started to live a happier and more peaceful life. Hundreds of my Indian friends went to the same teacher and experienced the same results.

Question: You mentioned this aspect of happiness. There are different notions about happiness. Popular culture, popular media tells us to get the best car or a beautiful wife or handsome husband to be happy. What is your notion of happiness?

Goenkaji: The happiness that comes from these pleasures is not true happiness. It is transient and bound to turn into misery sooner or later. This kind of happiness is full of agitation, therefore it is unstable. Eternal happiness is something beyond mind and matter. One starts with equanimity of the mind. One tries to maintain equanimity as long as possible. Then, with purification of the mind, one transcends the entire field of mind and matter and that is the state of real happiness.

Question: Is that nirvana

Goenkaji: One may call it moksha or mukti or somebody else may call it God Almighty. We are not here to quarrel about the words.

Question: Have you reached the experience of that stage? 

Goenkaji: I simply say that I am a tremendously changed person from when I started forty-five years ago. I am a much happier person and I teach to share my happiness with others.

Question: Do you have any aspirations or goals for yourself, or will you simply carry on and surrender to the future?

Goenkaji: The goal comes naturally, step by step, if I practice properly. I don't have to worry about that. 

I also want to do what I can to dispel the misunderstandings about the Buddha's teaching in India. We have great respect for the Buddha. However, much of what is said about the Buddha's teaching is totally wrong, totally baseless. 

I feel that the greatest son of our country was discarded. He got glory around the world but we have missed his teaching. Let us make use of his teaching, especially now when the country needs it so much. There is so much division because of casteism, because of communalism, sectarianism; there is so much unhappiness in the country. If we practice his teaching of Vipassana, all these divisions will go away and we will have a peaceful, prosperous and strong country.