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Oct 13, 2011

Vipassana and cheerfully settling past accounts

(from the Dhamma article Significance of the Pali Term Dhuna in the Practice of Vipassana Meditation, Vipassana Research Institute )

It is meaningless to like or dislike sensations that pass away as soon as they arise. It is this liking and disliking which turns into the very strong attachments, attachments that condition the mind and produce deep suffering.

How does Vipassana help us to stop tying new knots and to open up the old ones, eradicating all the accumulations of the past? 

A Vipassana meditator should sit correctly "nisinno hoti pallankam abhujitva ujum kayam panidhaya" - cross-legged and erect. Then he sits with adhitthana (strong determination) to make no movement of the body of any kind. Now at the grossest physical level, all the bodily and vocal actions are suspended so there can be no new physical kamma (kayika-kamma) or vocal kamma (vacika-kamma).

Now the meditator  is in a position to try to stop mental kamma formations (mano-kamma). For this, the mind has to become very alert, very attentive, fully awake and aware, all the time maintaining true understanding, true wisdom. Aware of what? Anicca vata sankhara, uppadavaya-dhammino -the truth of impermanence; the arising and passing of every compounded phenomenon within the framework of one's physical structure.

A Vipassana meditator soon realizes the difference between apparent and actual truth. By simply observing objectively and equanimously feeling the sensations in one's own body in a proper way, the meditator can easily reach a stage where even the most solid parts of the body are experienced as they really are: nothing but oscillations and vibrations of subatomic particles (kalapas). What appears solid, hard and impenetrable at the gross level is actually nothing but wavelets at the subtlest, ultimate level.

With this awareness, you observe and realize that the entire panca kkhandha (the five aggregates), are nothing but vibrations, arising and passing away. The entire phenomenon of mind and matter has this continuously ephemeral nature. This is the ultimate truth (paramattha sacca) of mind and matter-permanently impermanent; nothing but a mass of tiny bubbles or ripples, disintegrating as soon as they arise (sabbo loko pakampito).

This realisation of the basic characteristic of all phenomena as anicca (impermanent, changing) leads one to the realisation of the characteristic of anatta (not 'I', not 'me', not 'mine', not 'my soul').

The various sensations keep arising in the body whether one likes it or not. There is no control over them, no possession of them. They do not obey our wishes. This in turn makes one realize the nature of dukkha (suffering).

Through experience, you understand that identifying oneself with these changing impersonal phenomena is nothing but suffering.

The more you are established at this level of ultimate truth, the more strongly and more steadfastly you will be established in real wisdom.

In contrast to this, anyone entangled in ignorance will crave for the continuation of pleasant sensations and crave for the cessation of unpleasant sensations. This reaction of the mind-volition based on craving and aversion-is the strongest bondage.

Initially the meditator will find himself in a tug-of-war between the new knowledge of phenomena as impermanent and transitory, and the old attachment to the flow of sankhara (reactions), which is based on ignorance. With repeated practice, you learn to differentiate between what is real and what is illusory. For longer and longer periods truth will predominate. Each sensation felt is recognized as impermanent; hence the perception that accompanies each cognition is free from the self-consciousness of 'I' and 'mine'.

The truth that the sensation immediately passes away begins to predominate, instead of the tanha (craving) for it to continue, or the tanha for it to pass away.

It is meaningless to like or dislike sensations that pass away as soon as they arise. It is this liking and disliking which turns into the very strong attachments that condition the mind and produce the bhava-sankhara, the bhava-kamma (actions which are responsible to give a new birth) driving individuals along the endless rounds of becoming.

A non-reacting mind produces no new conditioning.

The law of nature is such that the old accumulation of conditioning in the flow of the consciousness (bhavanga-santati) will automatically rise to the surface to be eradicated when no new sankhara are given as input. This comes about by remaining equanimous with the direct understanding of the wisdom of anicca (impermanence, constant change), anicca-vijja-nanaa.

Here again, it is the practice of Vipassana which enables the meditator silently and attentively to observe these old bondages of the past, as they arise, in their true impermanent nature.

With heightened equanimity, based on the constant thorough understanding of impermanence at the level of bodily sensations (sampajanna), craving and aversion lose their grip. In a non-reacting mind, the latent conditions cannot multiply-rather they are progressively eradicated.

The most compassionate Sammsambuddha Gotama faced many challenging situations, including being falsely accused of sexual misconduct. He set an example and showed the way how to face such situations - with practice of perfect equanimity, being with the truth, and deep metta.
(The above engraving is part of the collection of engravings and paintings on the Buddha's life, displayed in and around the information gallery of the Global Vipassana Pagoda, Mumbai, India)

At times, however, the fruition of the old kamma is so intense, that an ordinary meditator loses all balance of mind. Wisdom fades away and the true perspective becomes blurred. The impersonal attitude towards the pain is lost, and one begins to identify with the sensations. One may try intellectually to come out of reactions, but actually one begins treating the pain as if it will never end, and the reaction continues.

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

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

With the process of carding and combing, knots automatically open up, and every fibre gets separated from the dirt of defilements. This vibrating string of the pure mind beats out all the impurities of the past. A Vipassana meditator working on physical sensations quite distinctly experiences this process.

This combing process is not 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 can this stage be achieved?

Puranakammavipakajam dukkham tibbam kharam katukam vedanam adhivasento.

The meditator dwells enduring equanimously the fruition of his or her past actions, no matter how painful, severe, sharp and terrible they are (manifesting as bodily sensations).

How is this possible? Not enduring (that is, becoming agitated or crying because of the past habit) would be the complete opposite of the process of purification. One can only endure such intense sensations by developing awareness and the thorough understanding of impermanence (sampajanna), resulting in equanimity (upekkha).

It is by knowing perfectly the true nature (anicca) of the present phenomenon, that one is able to bear these fruits of the past without any reaction.

The meditator becomes an impartial observer of the suffering rather than the sufferer. 

This detachment allows the old bondages to get eradicated, and soon, there will be no observer but mere observation and no sufferer but mere suffering.

From time to time, slight agitation or identification with the sensation may reappear and trigger fresh craving and aversion. But with continuous practice, a vigilant meditator reaches the stage the illusion of 'I' and 'mine' is eradicated.

He or she can bear anything, even the most severe sensations, in the state of avihannamano, free from agitation.

As a result comes sabba kammajahassa - the cessation of all kinds of new kamma formations. Now the meditator is fully engrossed in dhunamanassa pure katam rajam, or continual purification, because he or she has stopped making new sankhara, that is, new cetana (volition) or new kamma.

In this way, the old sankhara naturally get eradicated little by little (thokam thokam) so that the state of visankhara gatam cittam - or total purification of mind, is reached.

A meditator engaged in such a task needs to spend all his or her time in actual practice-attho natthi janam lapetave. Where is the time for useless talk? Every moment is precious, not to be wasted. The only ones who waste time in talking are those who do not realize the seriousness of the task, who do not work properly. The noble practice of truth-realisation is degraded to mere intellectual chatter. 

Liberation can only be gained by practice, never by discussion.

That is why the Buddha burst forth in praise of the monk who was so resolutely practising the sure path of liberation. 'Cross-legged, erect and determined, undergoing the fruition of his past actions, wracked by intense, piercing, gross bodily sensations, with sharpened awareness and the constant thorough understanding of impermanence (sati-sampajanna), making no new kammas, combing out old defilements as they arise, with nothing remaining of "I" and "mine".'

May all beings be liberated from all suffering, be happy.