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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.

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.

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. 

No small movements of the body, as reaction to sensations. The body has to be very still, for the mind to be still.

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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Mar 30, 2016

True Yoga of Mind and Matter

by Sayagyi U Goenka

A synopsis of the landmark discourse
(Yoga, as seen in the light of Vipassana ) of  Principal Vipassana Teacher Sayagyi U S.N. Goenka (1924 – 2013) at Kaivalyadham Yoga Academy, Mumbai, April 30, 1990

Saint Kaivalyananda, instrumental in spread of yoga worldwide, expressed a wish that India’s ancient spiritual wealth should again benefit the country and the world. During tours to different countries teaching Vipassana, I interacted with thousands of yoga practitioners and yoga teachers. I feel very happy that so many are benefiting from yoga practice that originated in India.

Yoga is universal, beneficial to anyone practicing it, and not confined to any particular sect or religion. But Sage Kaivalyanand had a more comprehensive beneficial vision of yoga.

Is his original, true, holistic version of yoga being taught in the modern world?

Yoga offers more than physical exercises (asanas, pranayama etc). In modern times, yoga is used to improve one’s physical well-being, to cure ailments. But just as good physical health is essential, we must not forget health of the mind.

A purer mind free from harmful habit patterns leads to a wholesome, happy life. These greater benefits have to be included in modern day teaching and practice of yoga - in accordance with sages who practiced and taught yoga in its entirety.

Reclaiming India's treasures of practical wisdom
In past 2,000 years, India’s vast spiritual wealth has often been devalued. Original spiritual teachings have been misunderstood, misinterpreted, sometimes deliberately distorted by vested interests for selfish personal gains. What we have left is often a partially correct, incomplete or incorrect version of the original spiritual teaching.

It happened to Vipassana. Some misguided people distorted, devalued this invaluable practice, and sold it as therapies for physical ailments.

I personally feel a similar distortion has happened with yoga. Dedicated, true students of yoga and well-wishers must ensure this no longer happens.

We have to study the original teachings of yoga. The spiritual side of yoga has to be also highlighted. Otherwise, this most unfortunate situation continues where partial version of yoga is taught in the name of the great sage Patanjali.

The present situation is acceptable if yoga was spread only on basis of ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ or ‘Gheranda Samhita’. These two books emphasize therapeutic benefits of yoga. But spreading an incomplete, partial yoga in the name of Patanjali is incorrect. 

From original Patanjali texts, we see how he gave very little importance to asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercise). He refers to asanas and pranayama in barely five sentences in his treatise Patanjali Yoga Sutra! But the rest of his treatise has been forgotten! Dedicated students of yoga must take careful note of this fact.

Patanjali has defined asana by one phrase: the posture in which one can comfortably sit for a long time (for meditation). But this single statement of Patanjali on asana has been elaborated up to 84 types of complicated postures. And all of them are now taught in his name.

From being a teacher of a highly beneficial spiritual knowledge, Patanjali has been limited to being a physical exercise instructor. This is injustice to Patanjali.

Breathing exercises and physical exercises are beneficial for good physical health, and give a certain level of well-being of mind. But such exercises cannot eradicate impurities of the mind, the deep-rooted defilements that cause us so much suffering.
We have in fact lost our ancient spiritual treasure contained in Patanjali Yoga Sutra, by treating it as a mere compendium of asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercise).

Not giving the complete picture of Yoga is a great misfortune and loss for the country and the world.

How did this happen? Unfortunately, commentators ignorant about the deeper spiritual dimensions of yoga gave arbitrary misinterpretations of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. 

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra refers to personal experience of the truth, to realizing rational truths i.e. ‘rt’.  People have forgotten actual meaning of ‘rt’. Rt means universal truth or omnipresent reality. It is law of nature that always exists, a universal law not limited only to people calling themselves Hindus, Jains, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs etc.

For example, the intrinsic nature of fire is to burn. This is a natural law, timeless and universal, irrespective of religions.

In ancient India, universal truths were called ‘Dharma’, ‘Dhamma’, or ‘rt’. Universal truths apply to all.

Likewise, Patanjali treatise contains universal truths realized through experiential wisdom (paññā) i.e. wisdom gained from one’s own experience.

Wisdom gained from direct experience of the truth
Patanjali shared the wisdom (prajna) based on his own experience, not knowledge acquired through scriptures, sermons, philosophical discussions, or from speculative theories. Such second-hand wisdom will not give real benefits.

Only wisdom gained from direct experience of the truth will free us from suffering, because it eradicates impurities in the mind. With a cause, a particular result appears. This universal law of cause and effect realized through one’s own experience was termed rt.

It is very unfortunate that India had lost the invaluable practice of gaining experiential wisdom – rather than merely hearing someone’s description of the truth.

For centuries, India suffered the misfortune of losing the Buddha’s teaching of Vipassana.

Instead, the Buddha has been wrongly seen as founder of a religion.

This is injustice to a fully enlightened being – this infinitely compassionate universal teacher, a super scientist who re-discovered the actual practice to experience universal truths, be liberated from all suffering and experience true happiness.

Fortunately a neighboring country Burma (Myanmar) preserved in purity both the words and practice of the Buddha. Now India and the world again immensely benefit from Vipassana – the path of experiential wisdom.

In his original treatise, Patanjali echoes the Vipassana teachings of the Buddha who lived a few centuries earlier. He declared that nothing of true, permanent happiness exists in this world.

Anyone practicing Vipassana too realizes the deeper truth of suffering – not merely the obvious reality of suffering.

Daily realities of deeper suffering
Suffering is an obvious reality. Sickness, unwanted things happening, the wanted not happening – all this makes us miserable. But we also find that people having much money, fame, luxuries, adulation, power are also unhappy. One may accumulate all wealth and power, but something disagreeable happens, and becomes unhappy, discontented, or insecure about losing one’s wealth and possessions.

While the “have-nots” suffer from craving for what they do not have, the “haves” too less obviously suffer from great attachment to what they have – and everything we have is impermanent, continuously changing.

Without an inner experience of the truth, we do not understand how objects of attachment cause suffering. We think: ‘today we are happy with our attachment to the good things we have; suffering will arise when we will be deprived of that. So what? We will enjoy now, and suffer if we have to later’. But there is a deeper reality. Vipassana practice enables us to realize how suffering follows attachment in the same moment that attachment arises in the mind.

[ here it must be carefully noted that attachment refers to attachment one's own ego, the  intense attachment to 'I and 'my'. Vipassana does not lead to indifference to responsibilities and being aloof from others. Vipassana practice reduces selfishness, and related suffering]

By generating attachment, the so-called subconscious mind constantly suffers tension that the conscious surface level of the mind is not aware. Only the surface level of the mind gets satisfied for some time with gratification of sensual desires.

We try to suppress the deeper inner feeling of dissatisfaction by diverting the surface level of the mind - indulgences in entertainment, pleasures etc. Or we use spiritual diversions like listening to sermons or reading some sacred text. We get relief for sometime. But very soon the knots of tension accumulated in the deeper, subtler levels of the mind again raises their head and that temporary relief goes away. Patanjali described this universal truth  of suffering.

Vipassana practice enables us to become more quickly aware of this subtler, deeper level of suffering, and to develop equanimity, the strength of mind, to deal with it.
Patanjali explains similar universal truths in his treatise, such as the rtambhara prajna (wisdom based on rt, that is wisdom acquired through one's own experience) - identical to experiences of a Vipassana practitioner.

A Vipassana meditator experiences the universal truth of impermanence by objectively observing impermanent bodily sensations within. 

Now you may accept these truths through lectures or literature, but after practicing Vipassana you will experience them yourself.

Eradicating the root cause of suffering
“There is suffering” - this is a timeless truth. The Buddha went further. He went to the root cause of suffering. Experience this truth at the deeper level, and you will know its deeper cause. What is impermanent, continuously changing, is a source of suffering.

As misery exists, the cause for it also exists. Just as one fully cures a physical disease by removing its root cause, and not merely the symptoms, so too suffering is removed by removing its root cause – not merely the apparent causes.

This process is symbolically termed in Yoga as heya, i.e. suffering, hetu, i.e. craving and hana, i.e. the way to eliminate the root cause. So if the cause is eradicated the disease is eradicated. 

Similarly, if suffering is there and its cause i.e. craving is there, definitely the remedy to remove the habit of craving must also be in existence. That universal remedy is Vipassana - the practice of gaining wisdom through direct experience.

The wisdom filled with experiential wisdom i.e., rtambhara prajna and Vipassana are synonyms to each other.

Vipassana means to experience the truth in its ultimate reality. Step by step, from gross to subtler realities, one experiences the ultimate truth. Truth in its apparent, gross form creates illusion. When the apparent truth is analyzed, dis-integrated into its subtlest form, the seer experiences the ultimate truth.

So Vipassana can be defined as "Vivekena pasyatiti vipasyana". That means to see the truth with a rational outlook. In this context’ ‘rational’ means to see the reality or rather to experience the reality, beyond apparent realities. This is Vipassana.

But we have never tried to peer inside the depth of our mind, what to talk of analyzing the reality coming out of it? It is because we have lost the technique to do so, the universal practice of Vipassana taught by Buddha about 2,500 years ago.

As long as Vipassana existed in its pure form in India, it gave much benefit to practitioners. Millions of people in India, particularly in northern parts of the country, benefited for about 500 years after the passing away of the Buddha.

After attaining full enlightenment, Buddha described the different stages he crossed. Unfortunately that literature no more exists in any of the modern Indian languages. That is why several myths and distorted forms of meditation prevail now in our country. Burma preserved both the theory and practice of Vipassana in its pristine purity, but unfortunately this was limited to a chain of little-known teachers, with limited number of practitioners.

Attaining Full Enlightenment by one's own efforts
From this tradition, we have accounts of the crown prince turned ascetic Gotama's pursuit for truth to be liberated from suffering. He had wandered searching, exploring various spiritual traditions prevalent in India of those times. He learned from various teachers and their meditation techniques. He understood by this time that real happiness does not come from anything in this impermanent world, where all things are subject to change, decay, death. He knew he had to go beyond impermanence, to find something that is not subject to arising, passing away.

He had already acquired knowledge of all the philosophical traditions of the time while he was a prince. In India, philosophy is termed as ‘darsana’ meaning "revelation of truth." But the true meaning has been lost, and philosophy now is more of intellectual perceptions and speculations of the truth, rather than actual experience of the truth. The ascetic Gotama was looking for a practical path.
He next mastered the highest forms of meditation known in those times. He learned the seven jhanas (very highly concentrated states of the mind) from Alar Kalam, and the rarer eighth jhana from Uddaka Ramputta.

But the Buddha still found impurities dormant in deeper levels of the mind. The roots of suffering remained. The Buddha called these ‘anusaya kilesas’, impurities buried so deep that the jhanas cannot take them out. These impurities will periodically erupt in the mind, causing nothing but suffering, again and again.

To remove these anusaya impurities at its roots, the Buddha re-discovered the practice of Vipassana. i.e. sampajañña.

Going beyond the eight jhanas
 Before we move further, let us overview eight levels of meditations (jhanas) referred to above.
The first level of meditation is with
1) vitakka (focusing the mind on object of meditation through respective sense organ);
2) vicara (sustained concentration of the mind on the object of meditation);
3) piti (rapture);
4) sukha (bliss or tranquility)
5) ekagatta (one-pointed concentration of mind).

In this context, we have to consider these words with reference to the meanings ascribed to them in India of over 2000 years ago. For instance, ‘vitakka’ today means discussion or arguments. But in spiritual terminology of that time, it meant focusing the mind on an object through the respective sense organ. Let us consider these terms through this illustration:

A honey bee flies towards a beautiful lotus flower. With contact between the visual object ‘flower’ and sense organ ‘eye’ of the bee, it flies in the direction of the flower in search of honey. So the flying of the bee towards the beautiful flower is like ‘vitakka’.

Next, the bee reaches the flower, hovers with a humming sound over it to search for honey. This is just like vicara. The bee very soon finds the centre of honey in the flower which generates a pleasurable feeling in it. This is piti (rapture). A step further, the bee penetrates its nozzle into the centre of the flower and has the first taste of honey drop. Thus it experiences the real pleasure of tasting the honey. This is like sukha (bliss).

Then the bee becomes so absorbed in enjoying the taste of honey that all its activities like humming sound etc. are stopped. It becomes totally unaware of all other surroundings so much so that if the flower closes its petals at sunset, the bee does not take notice of that and remains confined within the flower the whole night. Such a state of the bee's mind can be compared with the state of ekagatta (one-pointed concentration).
These different stages of meditation (jhanas) are attained gradually with progressive practiceThe mind reaches a high state of absorption (very deep concentration) at stage of the fourth jhana. The meditator feels a unique feeling of rapture not known to him before. Deeper concentration takes the mind to a feeling of deep tranquility, bliss. But this is not the ultimate stage to stop.

With equanimity, the meditator has to proceed ahead because one is still in the field of mind and matter, the realm of impermanence, the world of suffering. From first to the fourth jhana, the practitioner experiences gradual progress through vitakka, vicara, piti, and sukha as mentioned above. Now at the fourth jhana stage, the mind is active but the sense organs have stopped their respective functions.

A Vipassana practitioner experiences high meditation stages merely as passing milestones in the journey to total purification of the mind. 

For instance, the feeling of ‘sukha’ is experienced. About 2500 years ago the language was quite different to that today. Meanings of words have changed. These changes in meaning have caused confusion. Over 2000 years ago, the term sukha meant the bliss or tranquility in a very highly concentrated state of mind during meditation. In modern terminology, ‘sukha’ means happiness of the kind experienced through mundane happenings. The supra-mundane ‘sukha’ experienced through meditation is beyond compare to the current ‘sukha’ meaning in the mundane world.

As has been said: "Kemi haso kim anando nicce pajalita sati." That is, a meditator experiences the whole of one’s physical-mental structure burning with the hell-fire of craving, where one is pursuing desires either related to craving or aversion. Thus, beings in the mundane world are not at all in the state of ‘sukha’, but always suffering to fulfill one desire after another.

After the fourth jhana, the meditator focuses his mind in infinity of space. In the fifth jhana, all material objects in the universe appear only as mere vibrations. The meditator tries to feel who perceives this infinity of space. In terminology over 2,000 years ago, the part of mind that perceived the infinity was termed as ‘vinnana’. This term approximately corresponds with the modern English term ‘consciousness’. Although the Hindi term ‘vigyana’ is now translated as 'science', it is actually the part of the mind that cognizes the sense objects.

Thus the cognizing part of the mind experiences a state that takes the meditator into the sixth jhana. This is a deeper state of consciousness, a ‘super consciousness’ where even the feeling of vibrations is eliminated. In the seventh jhana, the mind only experiences ‘nothingness’, a state of void.

Then the meditator comes to the conclusion as to which part of the mind is realizing this state of voidness. The part which realizes this state was termed ‘vedana’ in those days. The word ‘vedana’ corresponds with the word 'sensation', which means just feeling. In languages of India, the modern usage of the term vedana is used tmean 'pain', the unpleasant feeling. Thus the terminology Patanjali used at that time was completely distorted by modern commentators. They applied the modern meaning to those old concepts which had different meaning when Patanjali used them in his treatise.

We find that at the stage of seventh jhana there exists not only vedana but saññā  (sangya) or perception, which distinguishes objects of the mind at different levels of absorption - like infinite space, infinite consciousness, voidness, etc. In this process, the meditator finds that the same part of mind is functioning as saññā  and vedana. It means on one hand it is feeling the object in the form of vedana, i.e. sensation, and on the other hand it is evaluating the object as good or bad, agreeable or disagreeable in the form of perception i.e. saññā.
Going into deeper absorption or concentration, the practitioner experiences a realm where the perception exists one moment and does not exist next moment.

Such a state of absorption is technically called in the old language "Neva saññā na saññā yatana." That is, in this level of absorption (deep concentration) the perception has become so subtle that sometimes it is cognized, sometimes it is not. This is the eighth jhana, the very rare and highest level of meditation known in those days.

The ascetic Gotama practiced these eight states of meditation (jhanas), in his search for the true practice to fully purify the mind. His mind reached a high state of purity, but he knew he had to work further to remove the subtler defilements at the root level of the mind.
Having mastered the eighth jhana within a few days, the ascetic Gotama found no teacher who knew a higher meditation practice. Instead, they were surprised to know he was not satisfied at having mastered the eighth jhana, a very rare accomplishment.

Then he tried the path of extreme penances, with the prevailing false notion that putting the body to torture will take out all defilements in the mind. When the true practice to purify the mind is lost, true understanding is also lost. And then false practices, blind beliefs, rites and rituals become prevalent. One such notion is that merely washing the body in a holy river will wash out one’s sins. [It is at best a symbolism of cleaning the mind]. But deep-rooted defilements in the mind cannot obviously be washed out with water. As the seed is, so the fruit will be. The kamma, or Law of Cause and Effect, cannot be washed away by river water, or by starving the body.

Seeing that the roots of defilements still remained, the ascetic Gotama gave up the path of extreme penances. He took up the middle path, and found the way to total purification of the mind with the practice of Vipassana i.e. Sampajañña.

Practice of Vipassana to fully purify the mind
The English language has no corresponding word to ‘sampajañña’. It’s has been inaccurately translated as mere ‘comprehension’. The true meaning of ‘sampajañña’ that the Buddha taught is to experience impermanence - by observing, with equanimity, the changing flow of bodily sensations within. This is the practice of Vipassana.

[ note: 'bodily sensations' means any tangible feeling in the body - like heat, heaviness, pain, tingling, itching, cold, tickling - anything felt at the physical level. For whatever reason the bodily sensations have arisen, the Vipassana meditator uses these sensations to develop equanimity, and change the earlier habit pattern of blindly reacting to these sensations with craving or aversion]

To make the mind sharp and subtle enough to experience bodily sensations, the Vipassana practitioner starts with observing the flow of natural breath (Anapana meditation that is taught as a preparatory exercise, during the first three days of a 10-day Vipassana course). One observes the natural incoming and outgoing breath, as it comes in, as it goes out. No regulation of the breath. Only bare observation of the natural breath – as it is.
Patanjali also refers to the same practice of observing one's natural breath. After persistent efforts through struggle, the mind becomes concentrated, peaceful. It is noteworthy in this context that the interval between the inhaling and exhaling of natural breath is termed kumbhaka, i.e. retention of breath, in Patanjali Yoga Sutra. By observing the natural breath, the retention of breath takes place automatically without any effort whatsoever.
But nowadays people try to reach this stage by a forceful effort to retain the breath. This is the distorted version of kumbhaka practice, from that which Patanjali actually taught. Those who think they have reached the thought-free state of mind with this incorrect form of kumbhaka become confused because the mind reverts back to the distracted state when the artificial retention of breath is stopped.
But if kumbhaka is achieved as Patanjali originally taught – by objectively observing the natural breathing, without regulating it - the period of kumbhaka will automatically be much longer.

Respiration is not merely a bodily process, the need of oxygen for the lungs. Respiration is also closely associated with the mind. Respiration is both voluntary and involuntary. By closely observing our natural respiration in Anapana meditation, we find that the flow of respiration is directly associated with the type of mental thoughts flowing in our mind. If anger or craving arises in the mind, we find respiration has become hard, irregular. But if the mind is calm and peaceful, respiration too is subtler and stable.

The subtler mind then experiences the subtler reality of bodily sensations. Vipassana practice is observing, with equanimity, impermanence of bodily sensations (sampajañña) – objectively being aware of the changing reality within.

With sampajañña, the practitioner understands the truth of one’s mind-matter interaction, how matter influences the mind and how mind influences matter - and how by blind reaction with craving or aversion to sensations, we generate suffering. This whole process becomes clear through sampajañña.

Patanjali gave much importance to direct realization of universal truths through direct experience - rtambhara prajna as ultimate goal of the practitioner, in the same way as Vipassana meditation involves gaining paññā from one's own experience.
Beginning a new life with a 10-day Vipassana course
In ten-day Vipassana courses, people begin to experience subtler truths by objectively observing impermanent flow of bodily sensations.
Progressing, the Vipassana practitioner experiences how the gross solidity of the body is nothing but wavelets, vibrations, mass of sub-atomic particles continuously arising and passing away. The Buddha called these impermanent sub-atomic particles ‘kalapas’ – the basic, indivisible particle of matter that is so small that trillions of such particles can be collected at the point of a needle.

Modern scientists have reached the state of understanding that matter is not solid at the sub-atomic level. India’s spiritual scientists too had long before discovered this impermanent nature of all phenomena. They used their own and mind and body to experience the subtlest truth, not laboratory apparatus. Only this inner wisdom leads to liberation from suffering.

2,500 years ago, the Buddha said "sabbo pajalito loko, sabbo loko pakampito", everything in the universe is in a state of vibration, combustion. By correctly practicing Vipassana, we directly experience this universal truth - within one’s own body-mind structure.

One who practices Vipassana, as the Buddha taught, experiences universal truths through observing interaction of one’s own mind-matter phenomenon: how the mind influences the material body and how body influences mind. 

How do the mind and body continuously interact?

An object comes in contact with the eye sense door, the eye consciousness arises. The part of the mind cognizing the mind-body contact is called ‘viññana’ or perception. It leads to arising of the evaluation part of the mind called ‘saññā ’.

Next, based on the ‘pleasant’, ‘unpleasant’ evaluation given on the bias of past experiences, a pleasant or unpleasant flow of sensations (vedana) permeate the body. The apparent truth is that we react to outside objects, people and events. The actual truth is that we blindly react to these sensations with craving or aversion. This habit pattern of blind reaction creates conditioning of the mind called ‘sankara’. Deep-rooted sankaras are called ‘anusaya kilesas’ – latent impurities that are the constant source of all our suffering.

The Vipassana practitioner experiences how this entire process of suffering is broken at the level of sensations. Instead of the earlier habit pattern of blindly reacting to sensations, one observes the impermanent sensations with equanimity.

The objects of sense doors are impermanent; the consciousness arising from sensory contact is impermanent, the bodily sensations are impermanent. Why react and generate suffering to something that is changing, impermanent, no longer there? 

With this wisdom of impermanence, there is no more blind reaction of craving or aversion to sensations. The habit pattern of generating new sankaras of suffering is broken. The old sankaras arise to the surface as sensations and pass away. The mind is getting purified. One is coming out of misery.

Such a process leading to pure happiness was polluted in the spiritual tradition of India. Instead of practicing meditation, people started debating, giving sermons or lectures about the above truths. But with no experience of the actual truth, they began distorting the real meaning. Gradually only conflicting philosophies remained and the actual practice was lost, the benefits lost.

It does not help to be merely proud of our wise ancestors and call them as teachers to the world (vishwa guru). Merely reading, praising or sermons about the joyous spiritual feast of our ancestors is not going to cure our hunger. We have to make efforts to directly experience the feast of the truth. Only then we are making best use of the high spiritual wisdom attained by true, pure sages of India. 

Actual practice is the only means to benefit from this invaluable spiritual heritage. Rtambhara prajna of Patanjali's Yoga means revelation of the truth from one's own experience. 

I request you to benefit from gaining rtambhara prajna - experiential wisdom. Taking a 10-day Vipassana course is a beginning. The more you walk on the path, the more benefits you gain from self-realized wisdom of vivekakhyati or sampajañña

Vipassana is a path of self-dependence, self-realization, directly experiencing the truth.  It frees us from all impurities in the mind - and we experience true peace and happiness.