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Yoga - as seen in the light of Vipassana

by Sayagyi U Goenka

Adapted from the original 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, who was instrumental in spread of yoga worldwide, fervently 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 all, and not confined to any particular sect. Yoga is helpful to anyone practicing it, irrespective of one’s religion. But it is important to know that Sage Kaivalyanand had a much larger spiritual vision of yoga. 

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

It is true that yoga offers much more than physical exercises (asanas, pranayama etc). In modern times, yoga is used to improve one’s physical well-being and to cure ailments - which is very good and most necessary. Good physical health is essential. But we must not forget the well-being of the mind and necessity to eradicate impurities in the mind. 

A purer mind leads to a wholesome, happy life. These greater spiritual benefits have to be included in modern day teaching, understanding of yoga. And this is in accordance of wishes of ancient sages who practiced and taught yoga in its entirety.

How India's true spiritual wealth has been devalued, distorted
In past 2,000 years, India’s vast spiritual wealth has often been devalued. Many original spiritual teachings have been misunderstood, misinterpreted. Sometimes the pure teachings have been deliberately distorted by vested interests for selfish personal gains. What is left is often a partially correct, incomplete or incorrect version of the original spiritual teaching.

It happened to Vipassana. Some people have distorted this invaluable spiritual practice, and devalued it to being sold as various 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 a partial version of yoga is often 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. This is because 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 gross injustice to Patanjali.

Breathing exercises and physical exercises are beneficial for good physical health. Such exercises also 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. This has happened by treating it as a mere compendium of asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercise).

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

How did this happen? Unfortunately, Patanjali Yoga Sutra fell into the hands of commentators ignorant about the deeper spiritual dimensions of yoga in it. These commentators gave arbitrary misinterpretations of Patanjali Yoga Sutra.

Patanjali uses different terminology, but the experiences he describes are experiences of a Vipassana meditator.

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.

Patanjali's Yoga sutra is not a subject of intellectual entertainment, sermons, debate or to establish superiority of a particular philosophical doctrine. It is a way to personal experience of the truth, to attain experiential wisdom i.e. "rt".

Rt means universal truth or omnipresent reality - an eternal reality without limitations of time and space. It is universal law not limited only to people who call themselves Hindus, Jains, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, 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
Patanjali shared the wisdom (prajna) based on his own experience. He did not talk of wisdom acquired through scriptures, sermons, philosophical discussions, or from speculative theories. Such second-hand wisdom will not give real benefits.

Only wisdom gained from our direct experience of the truth will free us from suffering, because it eradicates impurities within. If such and such cause happens such a result is bound to appear. This is the Law of Cause and Effect. This universal law 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 wisdom. For centuries, India suffered the misfortune of losing Vipassana. 

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

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

We are most fortunate that a neighboring country Burma (Myanmar) preserved in purity both the words and practice of the Buddha. Now India and the world are again immensely benefiting from Vipassana – the path of experiential wisdom.

A Vipassana practitioner sees only the understanding of Vipassana in most of Patanjali's original treatise. Apart from 10 or 15 of his original sutras, the remainder of approximately 155 Patanjali sutras refers to experiential wisdom gained - as is gained through Vipassana practice. It is possible that these discordant 10 or 15 sutras have been added afterwards. It is also possible that Patanjali himself added these sutras - to appease people following other traditions. Future researchers may bring out the facts.

But the fact remains that, apart from the dozen or so discordant sutras, the remainder of Patanjali’s texts contain universal experiential wisdom - in accord with experiential wisdom gained by a Vipassana meditator.
In his original treatise, Patanjali echoes the Vipassana teachings of the Buddha who lived a few centuries earlier. He declared nothing of true, permanent happiness exists in this world. Anyone practicing Vipassana too soon starts realizing the deeper truth of suffering – not merely the obvious reality of suffering.

The daily deeper realities of suffering 
Suffering is an obvious reality. Sickness, unwanted things happening, the wanted not happening – all this makes us feel miserable. This is obvious suffering. But we also find that people having much money, fame, luxuries, adulation are also unhappy. 

One may accumulate all wealth, but when something disagreeable happens, one becomes unhappy. An  aspect of wealth is anxiety about safety of accumulated riches. A rich person becomes tense, insecure about money and property. The fear often arises, “it may be stolen by others”. Or discontent, “this is not enough. That person has more wealth than me.” So suffering starts immediately side by side with accumulation of money, which is otherwise considered source of happiness.

In the same way, a beautiful wife and children also become source of suffering in an untrained mind. The husband may be worried about loss of his beautiful wife, her passing away. Likewise, parents worry about welfare of their children. Similarly, persons having high status and power, or living with great luxuries, are insecure about losing them. With deeper experiential wisdom, we realize that our worldly sources of happiness too carry with them the shadow of suffering. This is not being pessimistic, but being realistic.

Thus, while the “have-nots” suffer from craving for what they do not have, the “haves” too suffer from craving to cling to what they have. 

Strong attraction or attachment towards what we have also causes suffering. When walking the path of experiential wisdom we gain equanimity to deal with reality that whatever we have - an affectionate spouse, children, money, prestige, health, luxuries etc - are not eternal. They all are impermanent, changing every moment. It is bound to change today or tomorrow. It is law of nature. 

That which will change tomorrow, or in near future, is causing anxiety to its owner today: what will happen when this source of happiness is no more? 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 these subtler universal truths.
Patanjali explains similar universal truths in his treatise. His rtambhara prajna (wisdom based on rt), that is wisdom acquired through one's own experience.

A Vipassana meditator experiences the universal truth of impermanence by objectively observing impermanent bodily sensations within. Right now you may accept these truths through lectures or literature, but after practicing Vipassana you will experience them yourself.

Without such 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. But soon knots of  tension accumulated in the deeper, subtler levels of the mind again raise their head; that momentary relief goes. Patanjali described this universal truth  of suffering.
The root cause of suffering
A few centuries earlier, 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 is a source of suffering. 

To remove the cause of suffering, one has to go into the deeper layers of the mind. Just as to fully cure a physical disease its root cause has to be eradicated, and not merely the symptoms, so too suffering is eradicated by eradicating its root cause.

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. 

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

So in Patanjali Yoga Sutra the term ‘samprajnana samadhi’ is used. Even some scholars who are Vipassana meditators disagree over the real meaning of ‘samprajna samadhi’. They are not aware that 2500 years ago, Vipassana, Vidarsana, Vivekakhyati, rtambhara Prajna, Samprajnana were identical terms, used in the same generic sense of Vipassana in India.

Vipassana means to experience the truth. Step by step, penetrating the apparent realities, progressing from gross to subtler truths, 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. Truth directly experienced is called as rationalized 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 realties. This is Vipassana. Thus the truth manifesting at the level of experiential analysis is "Vivekakhyati", i.e. reality revealed through the rationalized application of mind.

But we do not know how to analyze the reality. 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 taught by Buddha about 2,500 years ago. The ultimate reality reveals itself to the Vipassana practitioner. Without applying this technique one cannot explore absolute reality. We are stuck with apparent realities.

As long as Vipassana existed in its purest 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. Fortunately, the neighboring country of 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 practitioners.

From this tradition, we have accounts of Buddha's search for the path to be liberated from all suffering. He had wandered about 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 the deeper levels of the mind. The roots of suffering remained. The Buddha called these ‘anusaya kilesas’, impurities buried so deep in the mind that the jhanas cannot take them out. These impurities will periodically erupt, leading to actions causing nothing but suffering, again and again.

What is the meaning of ‘anusaya kilesa’? The word ‘anusaya’ is a compound of two words anu + saya, wherein anu means ‘follow’ and saya means ‘in dormant situation’. Etymologically, anusaya signifies those defilements which are dormant, deep in the so called sub-conscious mind. They go on flowing with it without our being aware. These impurities are buried so deep in the mind that not even the practice of eight jhanas can reach their roots. And they are like volcanoes dormant at present but bound to erupt when circumstances are conducive in the present or in future. When they erupt, one commits harmful actions resulting in suffering.

To remove these anusaya impurities at its roots, the Buddha discovered the practice of Vipassana. He did not invent this practice. He said this was already a timeless practice, but it was lost for a very long time. Vipassana practice penetrates the surface of the mind, reaches the depths and removes the roots of impurities. By eradicating these roots of impurities, the root cause of suffering is eradicated. Vipassana is thus the practice of liberation from all suffering.

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 practice. The 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 to mean '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.

The practice of Vipassana to fully purify the mind
The English language has no corresponding word to ‘sampajañña’. It 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 that are already there every moment in life, the Vipassana practitioner starts with observing the flow of natural breath (Anapana meditation). 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. When the difference between inhaling and exhaling of natural breath is extended, our thoughts gradually fade way. Deep concentration is experienced. The mind becomes peaceful. 

It is noteworthy in this context that the interval between the inhaling and exhaling of natural breath is technically termed as 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 artificially regulating it - the period of kumbhaka will automatically be much longer. 

Those who attempt kumbhaka artificially, by regulating the breathing, have misunderstood Patanjali and his Yoga Sutra. Such a practice may be beneficial for the removal of physical diseases, or calming the surface level of the mind, but it is not useful for removing roots of defilements from deeper levels of the mind.

A big difference takes place when sampajañña i.e., awareness of the arising, passing sensations, with equanimity - is associated with observing one’s natural breath. Then, one becomes a witness, not the participant projecting anything of his own. There is no association of one's individuality in this act, either as a doer or as enjoyer of the resultant tranquility. In this way, one merely becomes objective observer of the reality of impermanence as it is. The meditator gradually starts attaining first, second, and third jhanas as earlier mentioned. It is most important that objective awareness of impermanence (sampajañña) accompanies the experience of high absorption sammadi of jhanas.

In this way, the practitioner attains paññā or experiential wisdom. This wisdom is technically called as rtambhara prajna i.e. the wisdom gained from one’s direct experience of truths within - and not merely by reading or listening to someone’s description of it.  These laws of nature directly realized are rt.

When practicing the preliminary exercise of Anapana meditation (to sharpen the mind to feel subtler realities of sensations) the meditator is carefully cautioned not to link one's natural respiration neither with chanting of manta nor reciting any word, sacred or mundane, along with the breath. Only bare observation of the natural breath, as it is - this is what the Buddha taught, and in later centuries, what Patanjali wished in his treatise. If the bare natural breath is not observed, then it is not possible to experience rt (i.e. laws of nature).

Yet it is very strange how incorrect practices of observing the breath - such as using mantras etc, or regulating the breath and making it a breathing exercise - are being taught in the name of Buddha and Patanjali.

Concentrating the mind using a mantra or words concentrates only the surface layer of the mind. The roots of defilements at the depth of the mind are not touched. One cannot attain rita anbhara prajna through using an external object to meditate. Only natural respiration is to be observed with equanimity, to gain immense benefits of purifying the mind at deeper levels.

The Hindi synonym for equanimity is ‘tatastha’ – it means one sitting on the bank of a river. He cannot interfere in flow of the river i.e., he cannot reverse the flow of the river, or create and stop waves in the river water. In the same way, one merely observes the flow of natural breath – without trying to control it.

What is the reason to only observe and not regulate the breath? Respiration is not merely a bodily process, not merely 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, 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, respiration becomes hard, irregular. But if the mind is calm and peaceful, respiration too is subtler and stable.

Such a experience is the first step towards the wisdom of rtambhara prajna, since it is based on our own experience. Otherwise it can be only sruta prajna (wisdom acquired by inference).

Prajna that is not rtambhara may increase mundane knowledge, bring some intellectual benefits. But it cannot lead to liberation from suffering. Without rtambhara prajna we may claim to be experts in literature containing the Buddha’s practical teaching, or in Patanjali’s treatise. But we can never gain the immense benefits they gained, and wished us to gain.

The Buddha called personal experience of the truth, through Vipassana practice, as bhavanamaya paññā. In later centuries, Patanjali used the term ‘rtambhara prajna’ to denote experiential wisdom. Without personally experiencing the truth through rtambhara prajna, it becomes less effective to give lectures and write scholarly books about what one has not experienced – and claim to understand teachings of the Buddha. It is all the more important for such respected scholars to directly experience the truth, the bhavanamaya paññā.

Directly experiencing the truth

The Buddha taught sampajañña (Vipassana) to personally experience the truth. Vipassana practice is experiencing the changing reality within, by objectively observing impermanence of bodily sensations (sampajañña).

Being continuously aware of impermanence of sensations, the Vipassana practitioner progresses to a highly concentrated state of mind where the mind is not separated from sampajañña. The Buddha called this "sampajañña na rincati" – being continuously with sampajañña, in all activities like sleeping, walking, eating, drinking, etc.

Even in sleep (or giving rest to the body), the meditator with sampajañña na rincati is aware of arising, passing of sensations, the creation and destruction continuously going on within. Even in 'sleep' he is aware of this inner reality. He is not awake, not asleep and not dreaming – but he is in a restful state of consciousness known as ‘turiya’. He is aware of the impermanent nature of mind-matter, the entire universe. This meditation with wisdom of impermanence, based on one's experience, is called ‘samprajnata samadhi’.

Practicing sampajañña (Vipassana), the meditator reaches a very high state of absorption concentration for the first time in life. All gross defilements are eradicated, the defilements that lead to birth in the lower fields. Such a pure state of mind is called ‘asampajañña samadhi’’ (beyond sampajañña). This is the samadhi of liberation, or nibbana, or kaivalya. It is a state which is beyond sense doors, beyond description.

With sampajañña, the practitioner understands the truth of one’s mind-matter interaction, how matter influences the mind and how mind influences the matter. And how by blind reaction to pleasant or unpleasant sensations, we generate and accumulate defilements that keep us rolling in suffering, in the endless cycle of birth and death. This whole process becomes clear through sampajañña.

Confusion arising from not practicing Vipassana
Sampajañña is needed in the field of mind-matter, in the field of impermanence. But the successful meditator goes beyond the field of mind and matter, beyond impermanence - the state of liberation, salvation, nibbana, moksa etc. There sampajañña is not needed. Such a state is attained through the gradual eradication of impurities in the mind through Vipassana practice.

However, some commentators have misinterpreted or misunderstood Patanjali. Instead of understanding ‘asampajañña samadhi’ as state of meditation beyond sampajañña  – i.e. upon realizing ‘nibbana’– they have conveyed the wrong meaning of ‘asampajañña  samadhi’’ as meditation without sampajañña! These big mistakes are made by someone yet to directly experience the truth of nature within.

That is why it is important to note that when the real, accurate practice of meditation is stopped, the terminology related to it also gets misinterpreted. And this vicious cycle goes on defiling the pure practice itself. 

In this way it is astonishing to note that Patanjali, who has explained Vipassana-related experiences with such minute detail, has added ten or twelve sutras in his treatise which talk about meditation without sampajañña! If these sutras were added by Patanjali himself, then it is certain that he might have done it keeping in mind the fact that a true Vipassana practitioner would understand the meaning of ‘asampajañña  samadhi’ (the state of nibbana).

Whatever the historical truth, the fact is that the dozen sutras in Patanjali’s treatise are starkly in discord with the remainder of Patanjali’s treatise. Were these dozen sutras added by someone else? Or was this only complete misunderstanding of the term ‘asampajañña  samadhi’?

The majority of over 150 sutras in Patanjali’s treatise are fully in accord with Vipassana practice. The real meaning of Vipassana is to realize the truth within, using penetrating insight, based on one's direct experience. Such a state in Patanjali Yoga Sutra is termed ‘Asmita’. This is the initial stage of an ‘I’ that realizes subtler truths of nature.  

With progress, the meditator experiences the stage where there is no more ‘I’, there is no ‘observer’– there is only the observed. This is a very high, pure state of mind. Patanjali explains this egoless state where the seer is dissolved, and there is only that which is seen.

The Buddha had explained a few centuries earlier: 

"Ditthe ditthamatam bhavissati
sutte sutamatam bhavissati
mute mutamatam bhavissati
vinnate vinnatamatam bhavissati"

The egoless state of no more ‘I’ – and only that which is being observed - is gained with Vipassana practice of purifying the mind.  This state of understanding interaction of mind and matter was called ‘pratyayoh nupashyana’ in the Patanjali texts. Patanjali prescribes it as part of Vipassana. Here the word ‘anupashyana’ denotes continuous awareness of constantly impermanent phenomena.

The same is described in the Satipatthana Sutta, in the Pali language containing the Buddha’s teachings:

"Kaye kayanupassana,vedana su vedenanupassana, citte cittanupassana, dhamme dhammanupassnana". With similar meaning, Patanjali uses the term ‘pratyyo-nupashyana’. In the context of Vipassana practice, the meditator simultaneously observes fundamental truths pertaining to the universe, when experiencing truths pertaining to one’s constantly changing mind-matter phenomena.

Patanjali gave much importance to realizing universal truths through direct experience - experiencing the truth of impermanence. But we carefully note those discordant ten or twelve sutras of Patanjali Yoga Sutra regarding ‘asampajañña  samadhi’, which is wrongly interpreted as meditation without sampajjana. The remainder of Patanjali Yoga Sutra refers to rtambhara prajna as ultimate goal of the practitioner, in the same way as Vipassana meditation involves gaining paññā from one's own experience. In other words it is the knowledge of the law of nature on the basis of one's own experience, which in traditional language was termed as the attainment of dharmaniyamata. This dharmaniyamata is gained by objectively observing mind-matter phenomena "as it is".

Utter confusion resulted when people began deviating from the pure practice of Vipassana. Such persons demanded acceptance of certain concepts like soul, God, etc., prior to the practice- without they themselves having any experience of these elements on the basis of personal experience.

Such a situation completely changed the original purpose of Yoga and Vipassana from the right direction to a wrong one. Now, Yoga and Vipassana was wrongly practiced not to experience reality, as it is, but to prove the preconceived notions of soul and God. Thus the genuine practice and purpose of Vipassana and Yoga was polluted; and a big empire of theologians, philosophers etc was established in the name of Yoga and Vipassana. In time, the actual path to experience the truth was also lost.

Instead, some traditions of philosophy started proclaiming the size of soul as that of a person's body, while another started proclaiming the size of the soul as of one's own thumb. Thus the concentration of mind was misdirected towards various theories of soul etc. This was nothing but a projection of one's own imagination, or strengthening concentration of only the conscious, surface levels of the mind. Thus was defeated the very aim of Patanjali's Yoga and the Buddha’s teaching of Vipassana - which is meant to experience the reality, as it is.
When Vipassana as the Buddha taught is practiced in the pure form, identical results are bound to be attained. False notions and delusions disappear as impurities in the mind disappear. Gradually, one is bound to reach the ultimate truth.

In ten-day Vipassana courses, people realize subtler truths. Progress depends on varying capacities of individuals and correct efforts made. A student deepens experiential understanding by meditating for a minimum of two hours daily, taking more Vipassana courses. One continues to eradicate impurities in the mind. Walking on the same path, sooner or later, one is bound to experience the same stages of truth. The same path has same milestones. 
Progressing, the Vipassana practitioner realizes from direct experience that 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, so small that trillions of such particles can be collected at the point of a needle.

Modern scientists understand that matter is not solid in the sub-atomic level. India’s spiritual scientists too had long before discovered this impermanent nature of all phenomena. But they used their own and mind and body to experience the subtlest truth, not laboratory apparatus. Only this inner wisdom leads to enlightened 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. A serious practitioner of Vipassana directly experiences this universal truth, within one’s own body-mind structure. Patanjali Yoga Sutra similarly refers to the truth of impermanence.

Experiencing how the mind works
One who practices Vipassana, as the Buddha taught, experiences how the mind continuously influences the material body and how body influences mind. How? Let us understand:

For instance, an object in contact with the eye sense door, and 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 - the evaluation of 'pleasant’, ‘unpleasant’ given on bias of past experiences. Almost simultaneously, a pleasant or unpleasant flow of sensations (vedana), vibrations 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 blindly reacting to sensations, observe 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 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 traditions of India in the passage of time. People stopped practicing the meditation, and instead 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.   

Vipassana correctly practiced in its pure method breaks the chain-reaction of creating sankaras (conditioning of the mind) of craving, aversion. Impurities are eradicated from the depth of the mind. Life changes for the better, in the real sense.
The Vipassana practitioner understands impermanence, at the level of experience, of mind, body and the universe. Observing impermanence of bodily sensations without the earlier habit pattern of craving or aversion, the meditator realizes that consciousness is not permanent, as it is generated only by contact of a sense organ and its respective object. 

Thus every sense object has its respective consciousness that arises with contact between the sense organ and object, and disappears when this contact disappears – leaving behind the imprint of sankaras of blind reaction. The mind itself and its components are revealed as impermanent to the Vipassana meditator. 

Observing with equanimity the arising and passing of bodily sensations - that arise with contact of sense door with its object - only then anusaya (deep-rooted) impurities of craving and aversion are eradicated.
This work of eradicating anusaya sankaras is accomplished with sampajañña, i.e the Vipassana practice of observing arising and passing of bodily sensations with equanimity. But confusion arises when the true meaning of ‘sampajañña’ is lost. We just talk about sampajañña  in our lectures and do not try to know as to what it is and how it is practiced.

The Buddha repeatedly tried to make its meaning clear through actual practice. A person practicing Vipassana is termed as Vipassi in terminology of the Buddha’s teaching, and sampajani or the attainer of vivekhyati in the terminology of Patanjali.

The Vipassana meditator experiences mind and body as impermanent, but a particular part of mind termed as ‘consciousness’, that is viññana in Pali terminology, may create much confusion. To an inexperienced Vipassana practitioner, the viññana seems permanent. This halts progress as pre-conceived notions of a permanent atma (soul) etc seems to fit with this seemingly permanent viññana. So at this point an immature meditator may think the final goal has been reached and no more meditation is needed.

But a wise, experienced Vipassana practitioner continues working hard - piercing, penetrating, observing, with equanimity, the very subtle sensations experienced at that time. He finds that even viññana is not permanent; it is divided into six parts related to each of its respective sense organ.

Such a consciousness (viññana) arises when a sense organ contacts its respective object – as the eye seeing a flower. It ceases to exist the moment its function i.e. knowing of an object, is completed.

When these consciousness are observed with equanimity, the practitioner experiences their very nature of impermanence. Thereby, the illusion of atma (soul) etc., gets removed. 

In Yoga such a practice is termed as ‘pratyanupushyana’. In this practice, one not only concentrates attention on the function of sense organ and its respective consciousness, but also on its respective object. He finds that the sense organ, respective consciousness and respective object all are sheer vibrations. The whole existence seems to be a mass of vibrations. This truth is experienced by the meditator. . 

Attainment of experiencing one’s mind-matter structure as only impermanent sensations, no 'I', is termed ‘anatta’ by Buddha. After attainment of this state the practitioner is free from the illusion of ‘my’ and ‘mine’.
While describing this state, Patanjali explains that unless one attains it, liberation from suffering is not possible. One's ego ‘I’ has to be eradicated, in order to be liberated. As long as the meditator identifies with this ego ‘I’, ‘my’, ‘mine’, or there being a doer of deeds, then one keeps rolling in the cycle of suffering. 

With Vipassana practice of observing the continuous arising and passing away of this mind-matter phenomenon called 'I',  at the level of impermanent sensations, gradually all illusions of ego are dissolved. Only then one realizes this ‘I’ is only an apparent truth, used for conventional purposes for life in the mundane world. 

In such a state of realization of the truth about this ‘I’, all illusions and ignorance are peeled off layer by layer– just as a peeled onion is revealed as just a mere component of petals. The Buddha termed as ‘dhammanupassana’ this observation of the truth of a non-existent ‘I’.

Benefiting from spiritual heritage, not merely being proud of it
The practice of ‘dhammanupassana’ reveals all truths of law of nature. It carries the practitioner beyond the realm of sense organs. In those days, such a state was termed ‘indriyatita avastha’. Up to fourth jhana, consciousness exists. But in higher absorption of fourth jhana, as we mentioned earlier, the working of sense organs and even consciousness stops. This was the high spiritual knowledge of India practiced in ancient days. 

But we have forgotten it now. Now, we just argue and talk about it, and that too in the name of different sects like Jains, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. But we have forgotten that ultimate reality has no sects. It is universal like the law of gravitation is applicable anywhere on earth.
In same universal truths, our sages discovered that as long as anusaya kilesas exist in the mind, the habit pattern of craving and aversion continues. Liberation from suffering is far away. For liberation, one has to experience the truth that the root-cause of suffering is avijja or ignorance of the actual truth. Ignorance is acceptance of suffering as 'happiness', and rejecting true happiness as 'suffering'. Ignorance is not being aware of our blind reaction to the impermanent flow of sensations.

To accept what is impermanent as permanent is ignorance. It is ignorance to accept what is impure and unwholesome as pure and wholesome. Such wrong views hinder the way out of suffering. But mere intellectual acceptance of impermanence, substance-less ‘I’ etc is not enough.
In India, most people accept, at the intellectual level, the truth of impermanence etc. There are also people here believing an eternal soul inside the human body. Followers accept them only on intellectual level. They do not know from their own experiences what they believe as the truth. They just accept the words of others without verifying them through self-experience. They do not know that mere acceptance of realities, does not constitute rtambhara prajna or knowledge acquired on the basis of one's own experience. Without this direct experience of the truth, we cannot understand the actual truth.

One feels proud that ancient sages of India are teachers to the whole world (vishwa guru). But it is not enough to be merely proud of our wise ancestors. Merely reading, praising or giving sermons about the joyous spiritual feast of our ancestors is not going to help us. 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.

It is most unfortunate to merely rejoice that our country was the source of such high spiritual knowledge, but we do not ourselves practice it. Actual practice is the only means to benefit from this invaluable spiritual heritage. 

Beginning a new life with a 10-day Vipassana course
Whether it is the Bhagwad Gita, teachings of the Buddha or Patanjali's treatises, we will find great emphasis only on attaining rtambhara prajna - which means realizing the truth from one's own experience.
I request you to try acquire rtambhara prajna on the basis of your own experience.

Howsoever sweet and delicious a food may be, it can relished only when we taste it. Likewise the truth could be truly understood by practicing the path leading to it. Only then can we truly realize the heights of spiritual attainment of our ancestors in ancient India, be free from mere intellectual exercises, and truly inherit the real spiritual wealth of our country.

Practicing asanas is good for physical health, whether we practice it according to Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita or Patanjali Yoga Sutra. This is also our ancient knowledge. But it should not be at the cost of keeping us away from the real practice towards liberation from all our suffering. Likewise acupuncture and acupressure are good, but they should not be practiced in the name of Vipassana.

Vipassana is to fully purify the mind and be free from all suffering - not merely physical ailments. Using Vipassana for any other purpose, forgetting its real use, will be doing injustice to Vipassana practice. In the same way, one who is satisfied merely with practice of asanas, pranayama, or other practices that clean only surface of the mind, cause an injustice to Patanjali. One must eradicate impurities in the mind.

Vipassana eradicates the deep-rooted causes of our suffering – and liberates us from generating negativities like anger, hatred, envy, fear, passion, insecurity etc.

During the time of Buddha too we find a similar situation as prevailing today. People practiced different penances or some precepts to extremes, and considered it as the right spiritual path. The Buddha explained how extreme practice of a precept or a penance is also a craving that causes hindrance to real spiritual attainment. He asked people not to get stuck in the preliminary stage, but to go ahead further on the path to real happiness. So he encouraged people to make efforts to gain prajna, and freely shared the way to attain it: Vipassana.
Similarly today, if we limit ourselves only to asanas and pranayama, overlooking the real goal of Yoga: not only for physical well-being, but also for mental well-being by eradicating deep-rooted impurities in the mind

Nobody can attain liberation from deep-rooted impurities of the mind by merely observing precepts or penance. Nobody has attained real liberation merely by practicing pranayama neti or dhauti etc. It is not possible at all. Unless the mind is purified at deeper root levels where habit patterns and conditioning takes place, freedom from suffering is not possible.
Taking a 10-day Vipassana course is a beginning. The more you walk on this universal path, the more benefits you gain.

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. 

May all be peaceful, happy, liberated.
From the original  'Yoga - as seen in the light of Vipassana', Vipassana Research Institute