Mar 30, 2016

True Yoga of Mind and Matter

by Sayagyi U Goenka

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

Saint Kaivalyananda, instrumental in the 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 the 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 the 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 a 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 the 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 the actual meaning of ‘rt’. Rt means universal truth or omnipresent reality. It is the 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 the 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.

[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 the 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 some time. But very soon the knots of tension accumulated in the deeper, subtler levels of the mind again raise 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 a 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 an illusion. When the apparent truth is analyzed, disintegrated 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 a 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 the 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 ‘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 the 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 rediscovered 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 the object of meditation through the 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 center 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 center 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 the 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 the 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 from that today. The meanings of words have changed. These changes in meaning have caused confusion. Over 2000 years ago, the term sukha meant 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 on the 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 the mind that perceived this 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 the 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 meanings when Patanjali used them in his treatise.

We find that at the stage of the 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 the 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 the 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 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 their 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 for 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 one's 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, the 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 the direct realization of universal truths through direct experience - rtambhara prajna as the 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 the impermanent flow of bodily sensations.
Progressing, the Vipassana practitioner experiences how the gross solidity of the body is nothing but wavelets, vibrations, a 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 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 the 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) permeates 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 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, giving or hearing 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 the best use of the high spiritual wisdom attained by the 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 the realization 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 the 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.