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Feb 6, 2014

My Vipassana Journey Within


from Most Compassionate Sayagyi U Goenka's article 'Why Vedana and What is Vedana?'

Dhamma eradicates suffering and gives happiness. Who gives this happiness? It is not the Buddha but the Dhamma, the knowledge of anicca (impermanence) within the body, which gives this happiness. 
That is why you must practice Vipassana and be aware of anicca continually.
- Sayagyi U Ba Khin
The first time I met my Vipassana teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin, I had gone with great attachment to my beliefs and misgivings about the Buddha's teachings.

Sayagyi knew I was a leader of the local Indian Hindu community in Rangoon (Burma). So he asked me: "Do Hindus have any objection to sila- a life of morality, to samadhi- mastery over the mind. and to panna- wisdom to purify the mind?" Certainly not, sir. 
"Well then, this is what the Buddha taught. This is all I am interested in, and this is all that I am going to teach you." Sayagyi had made clear that Vipassana is beneficial for all.
My first 10-day Vipassana course changed my life forever. I experienced how much the Buddha's teaching is logical, practical, pragmatic, universal and non-sectarian. 

Religious sermons ask people to avoid committing unwholesome actions. But how to actually remove impurities of the mind that result in harmful actions? Only when I started observing bodily sensations during Vipassana practice that I realized: here is the actual practice to purify the mind, not merely preaching.

Mere intellectual discussions could not have attracted me to the Buddha's teaching of Vipassana; I was content with beliefs of my tradition. It was only the here-and-now benefits of Vipassana practice that convinced me. I experienced how the process of objectively observing bodily sensations removes garbage from the mind.

More I practiced Vipassana, more I was convinced that the Buddha was foremost scientist of mind and matter, foremost analyst of the truth about suffering and its eradication.

Global Vipassana Pagoda, Mumbai, India.
The landmark Dhamma facility to enable practice and sharing of Vipassana, as taught by Sammasambuddha Gotama 

What makes the Buddha the most unique scientist in human history? It is his re-discovery(*) that tanha (the suffering of craving) arises in response to vedana (bodily sensations). The Buddha revealed that it is only apparent reality that we crave for objects in the outside world; the actual truth is we crave, or have aversion, for a particular bio-chemical flow of sensations in the body.

Spiritual teachers before and after the Buddha understood that tanha (craving) as the cause of misery. But this was partial truth that tanha arises due to sense objects outside. That tanha arises with vedana (bodily sensations) inside is Buddha's unparalleled gift of truth to humanity. He gave us the self-dependent key to open the doorway of liberation within.

"Samahito sampajano, sato Buddhassa savako;

vedana ca pajanati, vedanananca sambhavam.
Yattha ceta nirujjhanti, magganca khayagaminam;
vedananam khaya bhikkhu, nicchatonicchato parinibbuto'ti."(1)

"A practitioner of the Buddha's teachings, with concentration, right awareness and constant thorough understanding of impermanence, knows with wisdom the sensations, their arising, their cessation and the path leading to their end."

A Vipassana meditator who has experienced the entire field of sensations and gone beyond, is free from craving, is one who has fully purified the mind, and experiences immeasurable, infinite benefits.

Hence the Buddha practiced and taught Vipassana - objective awareness of mind and matter (nama and rupa), at the level of bodily sensations. 
Without generating craving or aversion towards sensations, a meditator maintains upekkha (equanimity) based on understanding of anicca (impermanence).

My Vipassana journey within revealed to me how the mind generates impurities such as ego, anger, passion etc. One continually reacts, 
knowingly or unknowingly, with craving and aversion to bodily sensations.

The mind becomes a prisoner of its own behaviour pattern of blindly reacting to sensations, and generating impurities. The Buddha called these strongly entrenched impurities anusaya kilesa (sleeping volcanoes) dormant deep within the mind. They erupt from time to time, and overpower intellectual understanding at the surface level of the mind. One again commits unwholesome actions.

The Buddha's most beneficial discovery of Vipassana destroys these sleeping volcanoes of impurities. We are free from generating craving and aversion - and generating misery.

Inside the Global Pagoda dome - the Dhamma hall enabling over 8,000 students to practice Vipassana, and to share merits thereby gained with all beings

Among many other meditation techniques I have come across or have heard about, there is none that goes to the root cause of impurities in the mind, and eradicates the root cause. In no other practice other than Vipassana is the way to eradicate even the latent tendencies of craving, aversion and ignorance so clearly spelled out.

"Sukhaya, bhikkhave, vedanaya raganusayo pahatabbo, dukkhaya vedanaya patighanusayo pahatabbo, adukkhamasukhaya vedanaya avijjanusayo pahatabbo."(2)

" Eradicate the latent tendency of craving using pleasant sensations (by equanimous observation of the pleasant sensations understanding their changing nature), eradicate latent tendency of aversion using unpleasant sensations, and eradicate the latent tendency of ignorance using neutral sensations." 

Impurities of the mind can be fully uprooted only at the junction where they were formed - blind reaction to sensations. The harmful conditioning of the mind is therefore de-conditioned by simply not reacting to these sensations. This is the most beneficial truth of nature the Buddha discovered.

Observing impermanence, arising and passing of bodily sensations with equanimity (sampajanna) is core practical essence of  Buddha's teaching. And Buddha's teaching of Vipassana is subtlest, deepest experiential understanding of science of mind and matter.

Studying Buddha's teachings, I realized how much importance he gave to experiencing the truth for oneself, rather than blind acceptance because someone said so. This is highest scientific tradition: personal investigation of the truth; no delusions, blind beliefs. All my misconceptions, misgivings about the Buddha's teaching melted away.

The Buddha repeatedly said, "jana, passa"- know thyself, with your own experience. 

The actual experience of the truth, as it is, from moment to moment, ensures there are no illusions or delusions, no imagination, dogma, cult and personality worship on this path of Vipassana. 

I no longer had any doubt that objectively observing arising, passing of physical sensations (Vipassana) is the way to liberation from all suffering.

The Buddha explains:

"Katamanca, bhikkhave, dukkham? Yam kho, bhikkhave, kayikam dukkham kayikam asatam kayasamphassajam dukkham asatam vedayitam, idam vuccati, bhikkhave, dukkham."(3)

"What now, O monks, is pain? If there is, O monks, any kind of bodily pain, any kind of bodily unpleasantness or any kind of painful or unpleasant feeling as a result of bodily contact - this, O monks, is called pain."

"Katamanca, bhikkhave, domanassam? Yam kho, bhikkhave, cetasikam dukkham cetasikam asatam manosamphassajam dukkham asatam vedayitam, idam vuccati, bhikkhave, domanassam."(4)

"What now, O monks, is grief? If there is, O monks, any kind of mental pain, any kind of mental unpleasantness or any kind of painful or unpleasant feeling as a result of mental contact- this, O monks, is called grief."

This again makes it clear that when the Buddha describes dukkha vedana, he is talking about bodily sensations.

"Kathanca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajano hoti? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno vidita vedana uppajjanti, vidita upatthahanti, vidita abbhattham gacchanti. Vidita vitakka uppajjanti, vidita upatthahanti, vidita abbhattham gacchanti. Vidita sanna uppajjanti, vidita upatthahanti, vidita abbhattham gacchanti. Evam kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu sampajano hoti. Sato, bhikkhave, bhikkhu vihareyya sampajano. Ayam vo amhakam anusasani'ti."(5)

"And how, O monks, does a monk understand thoroughly? Here, monks, a monk knows sensations arising in him, knows their persisting, and knows their passing away; he knows each initial application of the mind on an object arising in him, knows its persisting and knows its passing away; he knows perceptions arising in him, knows their persisting, and knows their passing away. This, meditators, is how a meditator understands thoroughly. A monk should abide mindful and composed. This is our instruction to you."

The clear, practical and result-oriented practice of Vipassana leaves no scope for intellectual games or blind faith. 

Sometimes arguments arise about why I give so much importance to bodily sensations. I explain I do so because the Buddha gave all importance to bodily sensations. Vipassana - observing impermanence of the bio-chemical flow of bodily sensations - is the Buddha's teaching [not a 'Goenka technique' or a 'U Ba Khin technique' ]. I then very humbly request him or her to come and give a trial to a 10-day Vipassana course, to experience and examine whether this is in accordance with the Buddha's teaching.

Objectively observing arising, passing of bodily sensations (Vipassana), one directly experiences the Buddha's teaching of how to come out of all suffering. The real happiness of deep-rooted impurities going away is experienced. Then, all doubts too go away.

With deeper benefits gained with more intensive practice of Vipassana, I realized how much the Buddha is the greatest scientist of mind and matter, the most compassionate physician of mind the world has ever produced.

Let us waste no time in making best use of Vipassana - of objectively observing impermanence of bodily sensations - and experiencing true happiness.

May all be happy, be peaceful, be liberated.

(*) Sammasambuddha Gotama declared after full enlightenment that his discovery of Vipassana is not of something new, and this was the teaching of Sammasambuddhas before him. The law of nature (Dhamma) is there, timeless, whether beings are there or not. The Dhamma destiny of a Sammasambuddha is to receive, nurture within the practice of Vipassana through innumerable lifetimes across countless eons - and in his final lifetime, to re-discover from within and share the most precious of all that was lost to all.
Notes: (All references Vipassana Research Institute edition of the Tipitaka)
1. Samyutta Nikaya 2.4.249
2. Samyutta Nikaya 2.4.251
3. Digha Nikaya 2.393
4. Digha Nikaya 2.394
5. Samyutta Nikaya 3.5.401