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Jul 7, 2011

Vipassana and Freedom from Suffering

by Sayagyi U S.N. Goenka

(from Vipassana Newsletter Archives, summer issue 1983)

A Vipassana meditator soon realizes the difference between apparent and actual truth: that what appears solid, hard, and impenetrable at the gross level is actually nothing but wavelets and vibrations at the subtler level.

By simply observing objectively and feeling equanimously the sensations in one’s own body in a systematic way, part by part, piece by piece, bit by bit, one can easily reach a stage where even the most solid parts of the body are experienced as they really are: nothing but the oscillations of sub-atomic particles (kalapas).

With this same awareness, one can observe and realize that even the four parts of the mind, Vinana (cognition), sanna (biased evaluation), vedana (sensation), and sankharas (mental reaction, conditioning) are also nothing but vibrations arising and vanishing with even greater rapidity. Nothing but wavelets, wavelets.

The entire phenomena (papanca) of mind and matter has this fixed nature of arising and instantly passing away. This is the ultimate truth (paramattha sacca) of mind and matter permanently impermanent, nothing but a mass of tiny little bubbles or ripples, disintegrating as soon as they arise.

Global Vipassana Pagoda, Mumbai - a global light house of Dhamma
(View from the ferry. Photograph by Paul Sonnnenblick, Jan 1, 2011)

This experiential realization of the basic characteristic of all phenomena as anicca (changing / impermanence) leads one to the realization of the characteristic of anatta (Not I, not me, not my soul) as obviously one has no control over them. This in turn makes one realize the nature of dukkha (suffering), as by experience one understands that identifying oneself with the changing impersonal phenomena is nothing but suffering.

The more one is established at this level of Ultimate Truth, the stronger and more steadfast will one be established in real wisdom, the highest state of which is called variously Vijja-Sampanno, Purito Panno in Pali or Sthit-Pragya in Sanskrit.

In contrast, anyone entangled in ignorance of the actual mind-matter reality will imagine that any sensation becomes the cause for generating craving for their continuation, and unpleasant sensations produce craving for their cessation. This reaction of the mind or conditioning based on craving and aversion is the strongest bondage.

Initially the Vipassana practitioner will be caught in a tug-of-war between his knowledge of mind-matter phenomena as impermanent and transitory, and the pull of the old attachments toward the flow of sankharas.

But with practice he can learn the fine art of differentiating between what is real and what is illusory, what is known and what is imagined and what is true knowledge and what is not. For longer and longer periods truth will predominate. Each sensation felt is known as impermanent; hence the perception that accompanies each cognition is free from the “Self-consciousness” of “I” and ‘Mine”. The Sanna (ignorant evaluation) turns into Panna (experiential wisdom).

The truth that the sensation immediately passes away predominates, not the craving for it to continue, nor the craving for it to cease. There can be no liking or disliking sensations which pass away as fast as they arise. It is this liking and disliking which turns into the very strong attachments that condition the mind and produce the kamma, pushing individuals into the endless rounds of becoming (Kammabhava).

A non-reacting mind produces no new conditioning or sankhara. The law of nature is such that the old accumulation of sankharas in the flow of the consciousness (Bhavanga-citta) will automatically rise to the surface and ripen when no new sankharas are given as input.

Here again it is the practice of Vipassana which enables the student silently and attentively to observe these old bondages of the past as they arise in their true impermanent nature. With heightened equanimity the cravings and aversions lose their grip.

In a non-reacting mind thefruit of the past kammas cannot spread like cancer. This “Khinam Puranam” which means that each old sankhara or conditioning is eradicated as soon as it arises without being allowed to multiply. It is the purifying fire of panna which burns the new seed accompanying the fruits of all these old accumulated sankharas.

Sometimes, however, the fruition of the old kamma is so intense that one loses all balance of the mind. Wisdom fades away and the true perspective is blurred. He loses his impersonal attitude towards the pain and begins to identify with the sensations. He may try intellectually to come out of his reactions, but actually he begins treating his pain as if it will never end, and the reaction continues.

To fully realize the impermanent nature of all phenomena and to break the apparent solidity of perceptions, a Vipassana meditator must reach the stage of “uppadavaya dhammino”
- the instantaneous arising and passing of the fundamental vibrations or wavelets of nama-rupa (mind and matter).

This stage can be reached only by the practice of Vipassana meditation, the sure way to break
these intense bondages.

In fact, Vipassana meditation is for the purpose of “dhunamanassa pure katam rajam” - a process of combing out all the old defilements from the fabric of consciousness.

The vibrating string of the pure mind beats out all the impurities of the past.

This combing process cannot be said to be complete while even the smallest knot remains unopened. In the same way, the practice of Vipassana must continue until all impressions
of solidity anywhere in the framework of the physical and mental structure have been removed.

How to achieve this stage?

Let us see: As it is written: “Puran kamma vipakajam dukkham tibbam katukam vedanam adhivasento,” which means that the meditator endures the fruition of his past actions, no matter how severe. How is this possible? Not enduring by becoming agitated or crying over the past - this would be completely opposite to the process of purification.

The Vipassana meditator can only endure such intense sensations by developing awareness with equanimity. It is because he knows perfectly well the true nature of the situation that he is able to bear these fruits of the past without strong reactions. He becomes an impartial observer of the suffering rather than being the sufferer.

This detachment allows the old stock of sankharas to get eradicated, and very soon there will be no observer, but mere observation. And so also there is no sufferer but mere detached observation of impermanent sensations. Anatta! Anatta!

May all beings be liberated !

* Significance of the Pali Term Dhuna in the Practice of Vipassana Meditation

* Vipassana meditation courses worldwide, course venues, online application for Vipassana courses

* Directions to reach Global Pagoda, Gorai / Borivili, Mumbai