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Oct 8, 2011

Freedom from Addiction to Mental Impurities

(from Vipassana Newsletter article, Vipassana Research Institute)
The Buddha proclaimed that one who understands Dhamma understands the law of cause and effect. You must realize this truth yourselves. Vipassana is a process by which you can realize the truth of cause and effect.
You take steps on the path and whatever you have realized, you accept it; and step by step, with an open mind, you keep experiencing deeper truths.

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

Every moment within the framework of the body, masses of sub-atomic particles (kalāpas) arise and pass away. How do they arise? The cause becomes clear as you investigate the reality as it is, free from the influence of past conditionings of philosophical beliefs.
The material input, the food (āhāra) that you have eaten, is one cause for the arising of these kalāpas.
Another is the atmosphere (utu) around you.
You also begin to understand how mind (citta) helps matter to arise and dissolve. At times matter arises from the mental conditioning of the past-that is, the accumulated saṇkhāras (conditioning of the mind) of the past.
These realities become clear with Vipassana practice. At this moment, that type of mind has arisen and what is the content of this mind? The quality of the mind is according to its content. For example, when a mind full of anger, passion or fear has arisen, you will notice that different sub-atomic particles are generated in the body.

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

As a scientist you proceed further, observing truth as it is, examining the law of nature. When this biochemical flow produced by passion starts, it influences the next moment of the mind with more passion. Thus the kāmāsava turns into kāmatanhā, a craving of passion at the mental level.
This again stimulates a flow of passion at the physical level. One starts influencing and stimulating the other, and the passion keeps on multiplying for minutes, even hours. The tendency of the mind to generate passion is strengthened because of this repeated generation of passion-filled thoughts and flow of impurities.

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

Mere understanding at a superficial, intellectual level will not help break this cycle of suffering, and may even create more difficulties. Your beliefs from a particular tradition may look quite logical, yet those beliefs will create obstacles for you. The intellect has its own limitations. You cannot realize the ultimate truth merely by intellect because intellect is finite, while ultimate truth is limitless, infinite. Only through experience can you realize that which is limitless and infinite. If you accept this law of nature intellectually but still are unable to change the behaviour pattern of your mind, you remain far away from the realization of the ultimate truth.

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

At the conscious, intellectual level of the mind, one may accept the entire theory of Dhamma, truth, law, nature. But still one keeps rolling in misery because one does not realize what is happening at the depth of the mind. But with Vipassana your mind becomes very sharp and sensitive so that you can feel sensations throughout the body. Sensations occur every moment. Every contact results in a sensation: in Pali, phassa paccayā vedanā. This is not a philosophy; it is the scientific truth which can be verified by one and all.

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

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

For example, you are feeling a particular sensation that may be caused by the food you have eaten, or by the atmosphere around you, or by your present mental actions, or due to old reactions that are now giving their fruit. Whatever the cause may be, a sensation has occurred. With your training in Vipassana, you observe it with equanimity, without reacting to it.
In those few wonderful moments of equanimity, you have started changing the habit pattern of your mind at the deepest level, by observing sensation and understanding its nature of impermanence.
You have stopped the blind habit pattern of reacting to the sensation, and stopped multiplying your misery.
Initially you may be able to do this only for a few seconds or minutes. But by practice, you gradually develop your strength. As the habit pattern becomes weaker, your behaviour pattern changes. You are coming out of your misery.

Addiction is not merely to alcohol or to drugs, but also to passion, anger, fear or egotism. All these are addictions to your impurities. At the intellectual level you may understand very well, "Anger is not good for me. It is dangerous. It is harmful." Yet you are addicted to anger, and keep generating it. After the anger has passed, you are remorseful, "Oh! I should not have generated anger. I should not have behaved in such a manner." Yet the next time a stimulus comes, you again become angry.
You are not coming out of anger, because you have not been working at the depth of your mind.

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

Those who regularly practice Vipassana try to observe how they are dealing with different situations. Are they reacting or remaining equanimous?
The first thing a Vipssana meditator will try to do in any difficult situation is to observe sensations.
Because of a situation, maybe a of the mind has started reacting, but by observing the sensations, one becomes equanimous.
Then whatever action is taken is wise, positive action, not harmful negative reaction. And action is always positive. It is only when one reacts that one generates negativity and becomes miserable. A few moments of observing sensations makes the mind equanimous and able to act. Life is then full of action instead of reaction.

With regular, daily practice and application of the technique, the behaviour pattern starts to change. Those who used to roll in anger for a long time find their anger diminishing in intensity or duration. Similarly, those who are addicted to sexual passion find that it becomes weaker and weaker, and so do those who are addicted to fear. The amount of time that is needed to rid oneself of a certain impurity may vary, but sooner or later the technique will work, provided it is used properly.

Whether you are addicted to craving, aversion, hatred, passion or fear, the addictive aversion or craving is not to any external object or person, but actually to particular sensations that have arisen because of the biochemical flow.

The āsava, or flow, of ignorance is the strongest āsava. Of course, there is ignorance even when you are reacting with anger, passion or fear; but when you become intoxicated with alcohol or drugs, this intoxication multiplies your ignorance. Therefore it takes time to feel sensations, to go to the root of the problem.
When you become addicted to liquor or drugs, you cannot know the reality of what is happening within the framework of the body. There is darkness in your mind. You cannot understand what is happening inside, what keeps on multiplying inside.
We have found that in cases of alcohol addiction people generally start benefiting more quickly than people who are addicted to drugs. But the way is there for everyone to come out of misery, however much addicted or ignorant they may be.
If you keep working patiently and persistently, sooner or later you are bound to reach the stage where you start feeling sensations throughout the body and can observe them objectively.
It may take time. In a ten day Vipassana course, you may only make a slight change in the habit pattern of your mind. It doesn't matter; a beginning is made. If you keep on practicing daily morning and evening and take a few more courses, the habit pattern will change at the deepest level of the mind. You will come out of your ignorance, out of your reaction-out of your suffering.

We keep advising people who are addicted even to tobacco: if an urge arises, do not take a cigarette. Instead, wait a little. Accept the fact that an urge to smoke has arisen in the mind. When this urge arises, along with it there is a sensation in the body. Start observing that sensation, whatever it may be. Do not look for a particular sensation. Anything you feel at that time is related to the urge to smoke. And by observing the sensation as impermanent, anicca, you will find that this urge passes away. This is not a philosophy, but experiential truth.

The same advice applies to those who are addicted to alcohol or drugs: when an urge arises, do not succumb immediately. Instead, wait ten or fifteen minutes. Accept the fact that an urge has arisen, and observe whatever sensation is present at that time.

Those who follow this advice find that they are coming out of their addictions. They may be successful only one time out of ten at first, but they have made a very good beginning. They are striking at the root of their problem.

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

May you all come out of all your addictions - and not only to drugs and alcohol - the addiction to mental impurities is stronger than these.
May you change this strong negative behaviour pattern, to come out of your misery-for your own good, your own benefit, your own liberation. And the process is such that when you start to benefit from the technique, you cannot resist helping others.
Your goal becomes the good and benefit of many. So many people are suffering all around: may all come in contact with pure Dhamma and come out of misery.
May all beings experience peace and harmony, the true peace and harmony of a mind liberated from all defilements.


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