THE GREAT DISCOURSE ON
Venerable MAHASI SAYADAW
Note: Pali terms in this page are created with Unicode CN-Times font.
ANALYSIS OF IMPERMANENCE
The Blessed One asked: "Is feeling permanent or impermanent?" "Impermanent, Lord, replied the Group of Five. We have spoken about feeling to a certain extent in the previous chapters, but as it is next to be considered according to the Sutta, we shall explain it a little more.
Feeling is of three kinds: feeling of pleasantness or happiness; feeling of unpleasantness or unhappiness; feeling of neither pleasantness nor unpleasantness. Ordinary worldlings regard all three types of feeling as self, living substance, as enduring and permanent. These forms of clinging are called nivāsī attā clinging and vedaka attā clinging.
Nivāsī attā clinging is belief in a permanent, continuous entity or self. Ordinary people believe that there exists a living entity, a self, in their body from the time of conception to the time of death and, some believe, even after death. This is nivāsī attā clinging. They think that this same permanent entity in the body is the one that feels pleasant or unpleasant sensations; this self feels now pleasant in mind and body, now unpleasant and uncomfortable. Thus they believe that feelings last forever, that they are enduring. Actually, when feeling pleasant, there is no unpleasant or neutral feeling; when feeling unpleasant there is no pleasant or neutral feeling. Similarly when feeling neutral, there is no pleasant or unpleasant feeling. There is no feeling which is everlasting. Whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, feeling arises depending on conditions, lasts only a moment and then disappears.
An untrained person who is unable to follow the feelings as they arise is liable to develop the impression that all three feelings exist simultaneously. Thus, while feeling a painful sensation in the body one hears some glad news and is happy over it. Or one may be enjoying a pleasant sensation in the body when one happens to think about an unhappy event and feel unhappy. On these occasions, it is usually believed that both pleasant and unpleasant sensations are being felt at the same time. This is because one lacks the ability to distinguish between two successive minds or feelings. In reality, the feelings arise one at a time, one after another.
Thus when the meditator who is diligently noting the phenomena of rising and falling notices the appearance of a painful feeling in the body, he should give concentrated attention to it and note it continuously as "pain, pain." If his concentration is strong enough, the unbearable pain keeps decreasing in intensity even as he is taking note of it and may disappear altogether. For some, the pain will vanish completely and suddenly as if removed by hand. When there is no pain or pleasant feeling to take note of, the meditator reverts back to noting the usual, neutral phenomena of the rising and falling of the abdomen. This is contemplating neutral feeling. While thus contemplating neutral feeling, if pleasant feeling arises, attention should be switched on to it. Similarly, attention should be given to any unpleasant feeling that happens to arise. Taking note of the pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings as they arise in this manner, personal knowledge confirms that they are not everlasting. This is discerning each kind of feeling as it occurs in the "continuity of the present."
The meditator who has advanced to the stages of udayabbaya and bhaṅga ñāṇa finds that feeling vanishes and ceases section by section, bit by bit. The ordinary phenomena of rise and fall are also found to be passing away section by section, bit by bit. When pleasant feelings and neutral feelings appear in turn, they are separated, not one, continuous phenomenon or process. Similarly with unpleasant feeling appearing along with neutral feeling, they are noted as two distinct feelings. The meditator observing in this manner perceives each feeling or sensation to arise and disappear instantly, and this drives home the fact that feeling is not everlasting. This is knowing the phenomenon section by section in terms of the momentary present. The meditator who is watching the phenomena of rising, falling, and feeling painful is doing so in order to see each phenomenon section by section, bit by bit, in its momentary present.
Therefore, the meditator clearly perceives how pleasant, unpleasant and neutral feelings with respect to sense objects vanish immediately after they have arisen, and he realizes with personal knowledge that all feelings are of an impermanent nature.
In answer to the question, "Is feeling permanent or impermanent?" the Group of Five monks, having reached the stage of Stream Entry through this kind of contemplation, replied from their own personal experience, "Not permanent, Lord."
Is unbearable pain in the body permanent or impermanent? It is not permanent because the pain was not here before, it arose at a certain moment. While noting the pain as "pain, pain," it vanishes. For the meditator whose concentration is getting quite strong, each sensation of pain disappears with each noting. As one sensation disappears, a fresh one arises, only to vanish instantly.
When concentration is very good, good feelings may be observed appearing in the body. When these feelings are noted they quickly disappear. Disappearing thus, are these good feelings permanent or impermanent?
Sometimes unhappiness or worry arise; when these are noted as "unhappiness," or as "worry," they disappear, so they are impermanent.
On seeing a pleasant sight, an agreeable feeling arises; this also disappears when noted. Is it permanent or impermanent? In a similar manner, an unpleasant sight causes a disagreeable feeling which disappears when noted. Pleasant or unpleasant feelings which arise from hearing, smelling or tasting also disappear when noted.
When noting something not particularly pleasant or unpleasant, neutral objects of contemplation such as the rising and falling of the abdomen, the feeling observed is a neutral one, and it also disappears with every noting. Is that permanent or impermanent?
All three feelings, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, are impermanent. When these three kinds of feelings are perceived to be impermanent, it is realized too that they are suffering, not self, just phenomena. The Blessed One continued to question: "That which is impermanent, is it suffering or happiness?" "Suffering, Lord."
We have dealt considerably with this before, so it needs little elaboration. People like pleasant sensations, they see them as enduring, everlasting. When they see sensations dissolving every moment, not even lasting for a tenth of a second, they lose their passion for them. Just for the sake of enjoying this so-called happiness, they have to go in pursuit of it, not for one hour, not for one day, not for one year, but their whole lives. While in pursuit of this happiness, they meet their death. There is nothing one can rely upon. Even if the happiness one is seeking is not obtained, one has to find means of avoiding unhappiness or unpleasantness, of maintaining oneself in a neutral condition. Even as the neutral feeling of neither happiness nor unhappiness is being sought, physical pain and mental anguish may arise. And they appear because happy feelings and neutral feelings are not permanent. Thus, impermanent happy feelings and neutral feelings are also not dependable. To go after them is suffering; when they disappear it is suffering too, because unhappy feeling comes in to take their place, especially after the disappearance of a happy feeling, when one may be plunged into the depths of despair. Take, for instance, the plight of parents who have been given delight and happiness by the presence of their children, when suddenly deprived of them through death; or of a united, happy family when suddenly bereft of dear ones through death or separation; or of someone who has been happy with his wealth and affluence, and is suddenly deprived of them. They are all subjected to intense unhappiness, which may even cost them their lives. Thus, feeling is terrifying because of its impermanent nature.
Coming to the next paragraph of the Pāli text:
"That which is impermanent, suffering and subject to change, is it proper to regard it as 'This is mine, this I am, this is my self'?" "It is not, Lord."
This is the same type of question and answer employed when explaining form. The difference is that in the case of form, the term involves not only the material qualities inside one's body, but also all external objects, animate and inanimate. As to feelings, it is chiefly the internal ones which are grasped as one's own. In feelings of happiness, one takes delight in announcing, "this is mine." Neutral feelings, being devoid of unpleasantness, have the nature of happiness: although attachment to them is not so strong, there is still some delight in the very fact that they are neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Unpleasant feelings are no doubt undesirable, but thinking "it is I who is suffering," is still grasping them as self.
Attachment to feelings in this way is brought about by ignorance of the real nature of impermanence, suffering and subjection to change. The meditator who is taking note of feelings as they occur knows at once their oppressive nature. Is there any difference between the meditator and the ordinary person with regard to their awareness of feelings? There is indeed a great difference: the ordinary person perceives feeling in terms of self -- "I suffer; I feel happy; I feel pain while delighting in happiness; if this pain goes away, I will feel happy"-- whereas the meditator knows from the very outset that there is just continuous arising and perishing of the aggregates. When unhappy feeling appears, the meditator perceives it as an undesirable intrusion occurring in the continuous process of mental and physical properties. He perceives it as another process of arising and perishing superimposed on the one he has been observing. From its very first appearance, the meditator recognizes its oppressive nature, just like a thorn which has become embedded in the flesh.
A happy feeling appears to be pleasant and good while it is happening, but the effort that has to be made in search of or for maintaining it is itself suffering. If an unwholesome (akusala) act is performed in pursuit of pleasurable feeling, suffering has to be faced in the woeful state to which one will accordingly be doomed. Delight in pleasurable sensations keeps renewing the cycle of existences, resulting in the suffering of old age and death. When happy feeling disappears, the attachment to it gives rise to intense unhappiness. Therefore, happy feeling is to be regarded as suffering.
The Daṭṭhabba Sutta of the Saṁyutta Nikāya describes how these feelings should be noted and regarded:
SEEING FEELINGS AS THEY REALLY ARE
Yo sukhaṁ dukkhato adda, dukkha madakkhi sallato,
"A monk sees the happy feeling as suffering, the unhappy feeling as a thorn and the neutral feeling as suffering too, because of their impermanence."
"That monk has seen the feelings rightly and well (so as not to give rise to notions of permanence, happiness and self) and comprehensively."
The meditator who is constantly noting sees unpleasant feelings as an oppression, like a thorn. Pleasant feelings are seen as frightful, due to the trouble of having to pursue them and the pain caused when they are lost. Neutral feelings are seen as suffering because of their impermanence and the effort required to maintain them. Thus when asked whether it is proper to regard feeling as "This is mine, this I am, this is my self," the Group of Five replied, "Not indeed, Lord."
The Blessed One taught that feeling is not to be viewed as "mine", "me", "my self." For the Group of Five, who were already Stream Enterers, this teaching was for countering the perception of feeling as permanent, as "mine, me," and its subsequent craving and conceit. For the ordinary worldling, the teaching counters the wrong view "this is my self."
IMPERMANENCE OF PERCEPTION
Saññā niccā vā aniccā vāti. Aniccā Bhante. Yampanāniccaṁ, dukkhaṁ vā taṁ sukhaṁ vāti. Dukkhaṁ Bhante. Yampanāniccaṁ dukkhaṁ vipari-ṇāma dhammaṁ kallaṁ nu taṁ samanupassituṁ etaṁ mama esohamasmi eso me attāti. No hetaṁ Bhante.
"Is saññā, perception, permanent or impermanent," asked
the Blessed One.
It is perception which remembers objects previously seen. Perception is an essential factor in learning and remembering. A good saññā will long remember something seen or heard only once. This retentiveness is wrongly taken to be everlasting, to be good, to be self.
But once saññā has recognized an object it vanishes. What are recognized later are the functions of later saññā. The same applies to hearing. What is heard and remembered first vanishes, followed by what is heard and recognized later. The meditator who is taking note of everything seen or heard perceives that the two processes of seeing and recognizing, or hearing and recognizing, vanish together. Knowing this, the meditator concludes that saññā is also impermanent. Knowing this, the Group of Five, when asked whether saññā is permanent or impermanent, replied "Impermanent, Lord," because they found the words of the Blessed One quickly vanishing even while hearing and recognizing them.
"Furthermore, that which is impermanent, is it suffering or happiness?" "Suffering, Lord." "Satisfactory or unsatisfactory?" "Unsatisfactory, Lord." "Now, that which is impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard it as ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self'?" "Not proper, Lord."
These are the same questions and answers we have discussed before. It is necessary to know only how saññā is attached to with craving, conceit and wrong view. Generally, people who cannot contemplate corporeal and mental phenomena are pleased with saññā, clinging to it (with craving) as "this is mine". One thinks one's retentive memory is better than others and is proud of it: this is clinging by conceit. One thinks also that every act of seeing and hearing is recognized and remembered by one, which is clinging through the view, "this is my self."
Actually, the saññā of visible objects is imperma-nent, it arises and instantly vanishes. The ever-watchful meditator knows saññā to be impermanent because he sees it arising and instantly vanishing; he knows it to be suffering because of its impermanence. Saññā may retain memories of terrible things and be oppressive. It does not stay in one form but keeps on changing. Saññā is not worth craving as something pleasant, nor taking pride in as everlasting, nor believing to be a living entity. Therefore the Group of Five replied that it was not proper to regard saññā as "mine, me, my self."
The Blessed One asked these questions so as to counter clinging with craving and conceit in the minds of the Group of Five to the impermanent, suffering, changing saññā as "This is mine, this I am", and, for the common worldling, to uproot the wrong view of self.
IMPERMANENCE OF VOLITIONAL FORMATIONS
Saṅkhārā niccā vā aniccā vāti. Aniccā bhante. Yampanāniccaṁ dukkhaṁ vā taṁ sukhaṁ vāti. Dukkhaṁ bhante. Yampanāniccaṁ dukkhaṁ vipari-ṇāma dhammaṁ kallaṁ nu taṁ samanupassituṁ etaṁ mama esohamasmi eso me attāti. No hetaṁ bhante.
"Are saṅkhārā, volitional formations, permanent or impermanent?" asked the Blessed One. "Not permanent, Lord."
Saṅkhārā are the volitional motivations responsible for physical, vocal and mental actions. In the abstract sense, they are the fifty kinds of mental concomitants headed by cetanā, volition, which we have already talked about. They cover an extensive field. The motivating power behind all physical actions, such as going, standing, sitting, lying, bending, stretching, and moving, is saṅkhāra; vocal actions are also caused by the same saṅkhāra agents. My talking now is urged on by saṅkhāra. In talking and reciting, every word uttered has been primed by saṅkhāra. It is saṅkhāra, too, which are at the back of all thoughts and mental proliferation.
Ordinary people think all these actions (physical, vocal and mental) are being done by "me, my self" and this self, the doer, is permanent. But the meditator who is ever watchful of the rising and falling of the abdomen takes note of any activity of the mind as soon as it occurs. Cetanā, volition, accompanied by greed (lobha) is perceived by the meditator to be arousing desire and urging one to go after that which is wanted. The meditator notes these mental activities as "liking," "wanting". When associated with aversion, volition appears as anger or rage that has to be noted as "anger", "rage". When headed by delusion, wrong actions are thought about; these thoughts have to be noted. When associated with conceit, volition bloats one with ego and one has to get rid of it by noting, "conceit, conceit". When accompanied by envy, jealousy, or avarice, volition manifests as envy and avarice, and it should be noted as such.
When volition appears associated with faith and confidence, devotion and piety develop towards the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṅgha, urging one to give homage and respect to them. These thoughts are noted as they arise as faith, devotion and piety. Akusala leads to unwholesome results, but volition may interrupt an unwholesome train of thought, discouraging one from that thought, hindering it. Kusala leads to wholesome results; volition may arouse one to follow it. Volition may manifest in any number of ways, and should be noted accordingly. It may appear accompanied by mindfulness, heedful of the fact that at such and such a time, such a wholesome act will be done. It may arise in various ways, and the mental attitudes of those moments should also be noted. When mettā, loving-kindness, arises with volition, there is a feeling of benevolence to others, thoughts of making others happy. With compassion, volition arises accompanied by pity for others and thoughts of how to help them out of suffering. All these mental attitudes should be carefully noted.
While noting the rise and fall of the abdomen, if feelings of stiffness or heat appear they should be noted. As these are being noted, the thought or urge to bend, to stretch and change postures may appear. These, too, have to be noted. Then there is the urge to lower or raise the head, to move forward or backward, to get up and walk. These are physical activities conditioned and willed by volition, and they are all to be noted.
Then there is volitional urging concerning vocal activities, urging and directing what to say and how to say it, just as I am now talking. The meditator who keeps constant track of all these volitional activities knows from personal experience that they appear and vanish instantly and are, therefore, impermanent.
And the Group of Five had become Stream Enterers through their own knowledge of the nature of impermanence.
While listening to the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta, they saw again the nature of impermanence, by perceiving the constant arising and falling of the saṅkhāra, such as phassa (sense contact), cetanā (intention), manasikāra (attention), saddhā (faith), and sati (mindfulness). Thus, to the question, "Are volitional formations permanent or impermanent?" they replied, "Not permanent, Lord."
"Furthermore, that which is impermanent, is it suffering or happiness?" ... "Suffering, Lord."
"That which is impermanent, suffering and subject to change ... Is it fitting to regard that as ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self'?" "It is not proper, Lord."
These are the same types of questions and answers as dealt with before. We have only to know here how saṅkhārā could be clung to with craving, conceit and wrong view, and how to become free of these kinds of clinging.
Ordinary people who cannot take note of corporeal and mental phenomena as they occur believe that volitional activities are good and take delight in them. This is clinging with craving. To think that these activities are one's to perform, that one can perform better than others, is clinging with conceit. Thinking that activities such as going, stopping, sitting, bending, stretching, and moving are being done by a self – "I do, it is I who does the action; I talk, it is I who talks; I think, it is I who thinks; I see, hear, look, listen, it is I who sees, hears, looks, and listens" is clinging with wrong view. As the clinging is in the person of the doer, it is known as kāraka attā clinging, the belief that all actions, physical, vocal and mental, are being done by self. Believing that this self resides permanently in one's person is nivāsī attā clinging. Believing that this self which resides permanently in one's person goes when it wants, stands, sits, bends, stretches, talks, and thinks when it wants, when it wills, and is subject to one's control is sāmi attā clinging.
The meditator who is ever on the watch of physical and mental phenomena perceives that every activity that arises, such as desire to think, to see, to hear, to bend, to stretch, to change position, to rise, to go, or to talk, vanishes immediately after it is noted. Therefore, all these activities, incessantly arising and vanishing, are impermanent. Consequently, they are not delightful or dependable, but suffering; thus it is concluded through personal knowledge that there is nothing to cling to as "this is mine," to take pride in as "this I am," or to believe that "this is my self." The Group of Five had realized in this manner and become Stream Enterers. While listening to this discourse too, they perceived the volitional activities arising and ceasing. Therefore they replied to the Blessed One that it was not proper to regard that which is impermanent, suffering and subject to change as "mine, me, my self."
IMPERMANENCE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Viññāṇaṁ niccaṁ vā aniccaṁ vāti. Aniccaṁ bhante. Yampanāniccaṁ dukkhaṁ vā taṁ sukhaṁ vāti. Dukkhaṁ bhante. Yampanāniccaṁ dukkhaṁ vipariṇāma dhammaṁ kallaṁ nu taṁ samanupassituṁ etaṁ mama esohamasmi eso me attāti. No h'etaṁ bhante.
"Is mind, consciousness, permanent or impermanent?" asked the Blessed One. The monks answered, "Impermanent, Lord."
Viññāṇa is mind or consciousness; the term "consciousness" is not as commonly used as the word "mind." Even mental concomitants such as volition, greed and aversion are talked about as mind, because mind plays a leading role. We shall also generally use the word "mind" instead of "consciousness" in this chapter.
Those who cannot watch and note the mind as it is arising imagine that it is continuous, permanent; that it is the one mind that is conscious of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and thinking, the one mind that sees in a sustained manner, and that hears and smells in a sustained manner, the one mind that was in existence when young, is existing now and will continue to exist till death; that it is the one mind that has been functioning throughout the whole of our existence. Some even believe that it will be the same mind that will move on to future existences. This is how mind is regarded to be permanent and everlasting.
When the meditator who is noting the rise and fall of the abdomen, ever watchful of corporeal and mental phenomena, notices the arising of an idea or a thought, he at once notes it as "idea," "thought." When noted thus, the idea or thought vanishes. Thus the meditator realizes: "The thought was not in existence before; it appeared just now and disappeared at once. I have previously imagined thought to be permanent because I have not carefully observed it. Now that I have watched it, and seen it disappearing, I know it truly as it is, impermanent."
When hearing too, if noted "hearing, hearing," the mind keeps on arising, vanishing, arising, vanishing, instantaneously. The same applies to consciousnesses of smelling and tasting. Consciousness of touch is noted to be arising and vanishing quickly, here and there, all over the body. When concentration is very strong, the act of seeing is observed to be arising and disappearing in a series of separate but continuous events, one after another. Thus it is realized that consciousnesses of thinking, hearing, touching, seeing and so on arise separately and disappear one by one, all impermanent, unstable.
The minds that want to change posture, to bend, get up or walk, renew themselves afresh and dissolve instantly. The mind that takes note of each phenomenon also vanishes with each noting. Thus the mind which is conscious of various kinds of objects is incessantly arising and vanishing and is therefore impermanent. The Group of Five had realized the same thing when they became Stream Enterers. While listening to this discourse on the Anattatakkhaṇa Sutta, they saw again the nature of impermanence by perceiving the constant arising and vanishing of consciousnesses. Therefore, to the Blessed One's question, "Is consciousness permanent or impermanent", they replied, "Not permanent, Lord." To the watchful meditator, this is of course very clear.
"Furthermore; that which is impermanent, is it dukkha or sukha ?" asked the Blessed One. "Dukkha, Lord." "That which is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change, is it fitting to regard it as ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self'?" "Not fitting, Lord."
These are the same questions and answers dealt with before. We have only to know how thinking, knowing mind may be wrongly clung to with craving, conceit and wrong view and how to become free from these kinds of clinging.
Ordinary people who cannot take note of the mind as it appears at the six sense doors take delight in sense awareness as "mine, me." They are pleased with the mind which is manifesting at the present moment; they are delighted with the mind which had arisen before and they wish to enjoy such delightful mind in the future. This is clinging with craving. As he notes, the meditator perceives that all consciousnesses with respect to pleasant sights or sounds disappear even as he is taking note of them. Thus he does not delight in them or yearn for them. This is how one keeps free of clinging with craving.
Ordinary people who cannot take note of the mind cannot distinguish the preceding mind from the following one. They think the mind of their younger days persists as one continuous, permanent mind. The mind that was there before keeps on seeing, hearing, touching, and thinking. Believing it to be permanent and having special qualities, conceit is developed, "I know in this way, I won't stand any nonsense, I have a courageous mind." This is clinging with conceit. But the ever-watchful meditator knows that all these moments of consciousnesses are always disappearing as they are being noted. He knows their impermanent nature. Just as no conceit arises in a person who knows he is about to die, no conceit is developed by the meditator with regard to his mind. This is how to become free from clinging with conceit. Ordinary people believe "It is I who sees, hears, smells, touches and thinks; I can know various kinds of objects; I want to bend, stretch, go, talk; all the thoughts and actions are undertaken by my mind, by my self." This is kāraka attā clinging.
Clinging in the form of volitional activities may be classed under saṅkhāra, but is also concerned with mind (viññāṇa). Generally, desire to bend, stretch or do something is classed under mind or consciousness. "This mind or consciousness as self exists permanently in one's person; it is this self which becomes conscious of seeing and hearing." Believing in this manner is nivāsī attā clinging.
Some modern religions talk about a consciousness or soul permanently residing in one's body. According to them, when a person dies, the soul leaves the dead body and goes to reside in a new one. At the time of the Buddha, the monk Sāti took consciousness to be self. His story has been told in Chapter Four. This is the wrong view of conscious-ness as self.
Then there is the belief that one can think if one wishes or control one's mind as one wills. This is sāmi attā clinging.
For the meditator engaged in constant noting, even while noting, "thinking, thinking," the thinking mind disappears; noting "hearing, hearing," the consciousness of hearing disappears; noting "touching, touching," the consciousness of touching disappears; noting "seeing, seeing" the consciousness of seeing disappears. Thus perceiving the disappearance of consciousness even while noting, realization comes that "these various conscious-nesses concerning thinking, hearing, touching, seeing, noting and so on are mere phenomena which arise conditioned by their own causes and then dissolve. They are not self, not a living entity."
Realization comes in this way: in accordance with cakkhuṁ ca paṭicca rūpa ca uppajjati viññāṇaṁ -- eye consciousness arises dependent on eye and visible forms; ear consciousness arises dependent on ear and sound; tactile consciousness arises dependent on the body and tactile object; mental consciousness arises dependent on the heart base (bhavaṅga and thinking) and mental object -- the consciousness of noting arises dependent on the intention (to note) and the object noted. The various kinds of consciousness arise because of their own causes and conditions. With these conditioning causes they come into being and pass away, whether we wish it to happen or not. In the absence of these conditioning causes, no amount of wishing will produce them. We wish the pleasant mind to endure, but it does not last, it quickly passes away.
Thus the meditator can decide with his own personal knowledge that "consciousness is not a self which engages in activities, which is permanent and subject to one's will." It comes into being in accordance with conditioning causes and vanishes, a mere phenomenon. The Group of Five monks' knowledge of these phenomena was not ordinary knowledge; it was the insight resulting from attainment of Stream Entry, entirely free from clinging. Thus, when the Blessed One asked, "That consciousness which is imper-manent, suffering and subject to change, is it proper to regard it as ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self'?" they replied, "Not proper, Lord."
We have fully explained the questions in the teaching dealing with clinging through craving, conceit and wrong view concerning the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and conscious-ness. Now we shall go on to how to contemplate to get clear of these three types of clinging.
ELEVENFOLD ANALYSIS OF FORM
Tasmātiha bhikkhave yaṁkiñci rūpaṁ atītānāgata-paccuppannaṁ ajjhattaṁ vā bahiddhā vā oḷārikaṁ vā sukhumaṁ vā hīnaṁ vā paṇītaṁ vā yandūre santike vā sabbaṁ rūpaṁ netaṁ mama nesohamasmi na meso attāti' eva metaṁ yathābūtaṁ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṁ.
"Monks, since it is not fitting to think of form as ‘This is mine, this is I am, this is myself,' all kinds of material form, whether past, future or present, internal or external, coarse or fine, whether inferior or superior, far or near, should be regarded with right understanding, according to reality, thus, ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.'
In the above statement, material form is described in eleven ways: as past, future, present, internal, external, coarse, fine, inferior, superior, far and near. With respect to time, form is described in terms of past, future or present. "The past" refers to what has arisen and ceased either in previous existences or previously in the present existence. By "future" is meant that which has not yet happened, which is going to happen at some time in the future. The present means what is actually happening now. Sequentially, it covers what happened before, what is happening now and what will happen in the future. Thus, when form is enumerated in these three ways respective of time, all the material form in oneself and in others, both animate and inanimate, are covered.
But for the purpose of vipassanā meditation, disciples are mainly concerned with contemplating what is happening in the body, as clearly stated in the Commentary and Sub-Commentary of the Anupada Sutta in the Majjhima Nikāya. Phenomena happening elsewhere need be known only conjecturally. Thus the meditator needs only to understand the corporeal and mental phenomena happening inside his own body and see their true nature with his own (insight) knowledge.
Even in connection with the phenomena happening inside oneself, one can only understand things in the future by inference, because they have not yet occurred. What has occurred before cannot be known as it really is, other than through guess work. Even with those phenomena that occur during one's life time, it is not easy to see what really happened some years ago, some months past or even some days previously. It is hard even to know the absolute truth of what happened a few hours ago because, for ordinary people, once an object is seen, heard or touched, it is immediately attached to in terms of conventional concepts as "I" "he," "a woman" or "a man."
As stated in the Bhaddekaratta Sutta, "Paccup-pannañca yo dhammaṁ, tattha tattha vipassati: Only the present should be contemplated in vipassanā meditation, that is, as phenomena are being seen and experienced." In the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, too, it is stated that the present phenomenon occurring while walking, standing, sitting, and lying, should be noted initially. I have carefully analyzed this paragraph because it mentions "past, present, future," and doubt may arise whether one should start meditating about what had happened in the past. This analysis should remove such doubts.
Only those mental and physical phenomena which manifest at the six doors at the time an object is seen, heard, tasted, smelt, touched or thought should be noted, just as our meditators are now taking note of the phenomena of rising, falling, sitting, touching and so on. In this way, as the concentration is strengthened, the meditator comes to differentiate between the rising and the noting of it; the falling and the noting of it. The extension, pressure and motion of the moment of rising do not last till the moment of falling; they disappear at the moments of their respective occurrence. The distension and motion at the moment of falling do not last till the next moment of rising; they disappear and cease then and there.
While walking too, the extension and motion involved in the "right step" do not stay on till the "left step"; similarly the material properties of the "left step" are not retained till the "right step." They vanish at the moment of their appearance.
The material properties of the "raising" moment do not last till the moment of "stepping out"; those of the "stepping" moment do not stay on till the moment of "dropping down"; they all vanish at their respective moments of arising.
Similarly in bending and stretching, each phenomenon disappears at its respective moment of appearance. When the concentration gets particularly strong, the meditator will observe, during the period of one act of bending or stretching, the process of dissolution in very quick serial succession happening in the same place without change of position.
The meditator realizes that the nature of these phenomena was not known before because they were not heedfully noted. Now that he is noting them, he perceives that the aggregates do not pass on from one moment to another, they constantly perish at the very moment of their appearance. Thus the material properties which had occurred before do not last till the present moment; they have all perished. The material properties which are manifesting now in rising, falling, bending, stretching, stepping, dropping, moving will not reach a future moment, they will vanish in the present. The material properties of coming phenomena will also cease at their respective moments of arising.
Therefore, all kinds of material properties are impermanent, incessantly arising and disappearing. They constitute suffering, not self, mere phenomena, because they are not amenable to one's control, they arise and vanish in accordance with their own conditioning causes. The meditator comes to realize them through his own knowledge.
To enable such realization, the Blessed One exhorted that meditative effort should be made until it is perceived that "this is not mine."
CONTEMPLATION ON NETAṀ MAMA AND ANICCĀ -- A DISCUSSION
Netaṁ mama -- "This is not mine"-- According to this teaching it may be asked whether contemplation means reciting this formula. No recitation should be done. Meditation should be carried out so as to know the true nature of things as impermanent, suffering and not-self. To know the real nature of compounded things is to know the meaning of the ancient Pāli idiom, netaṁ mama.
In the Channa Sutta of the Saḷāyatanavagga of the Saṁyutta Nikāya, there is a passage where Channa is asked "Do you perceive thus: ‘This is mine, this I am, this is my self'?" and Channa replies, "I perceive thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self'." The Commentary explains that it means that Channa perceived things as merely impermanent, suffering and not-self.
Here, seeing "this is not mine" is the same as perceiving that, as things are incessantly arising and passing away, there is nothing delightful or dependable, there is just suffering. Seeing "this I am not" is the same as perceiving that it is not permanent. Conceit arises because things are believed to be permanent. When the truth of their impermanent nature is known, there is nothing to take pride in. Seeing "this is not my self' is seeing anattā. Failing to take note of corporeal and mental phenomena as they arise at the six doors and believing them to be permanent leads to the conceit "this I am." But when phenomena are perceived to not last even the blink of an eye, when everything is seen as impermanent, conceit cannot arise. As long as things are not known to be selfless, there is clinging to self; when things are seen to be not-self, no self-clinging is possible. This is obvious and needs no elaboration.
Ordinary people who cannot observe sensory phenomena at the moment of their arising believe that the material properties at the moment of seeing linger on to become material properties at the moment of hearing, or vice versa, lasting from one moment to the next. They believe also that it is the same "I" who sees as that which hears and touches. They believe too that the material properties of the past have arrived at the present, and the present ones will go on to the future, which is clinging to the belief in their permanence.
But the meditator who is watchful of these phenomena knows that the material properties at the moment of seeing perish then and there, they do not reach the moment of hearing; the material properties at the moment of hearing perish then and there, they do not reach the moment of seeing. Every act of seeing, hearing, touching and knowing is a new arising. This is knowing the truth of impermanence as it really is. Knowing this, the meditator realizes that the material properties of the past have ceased in the past, they have not come forward to the present; the present material properties are always perishing even as they are being noted, and will not reach the future. He knows also that material properties of the future will also perish at the moment of arising. He realizes that a material property does not endure even for the flick of an eyelid. Realizing thus, there is no opportunity for the arising of clinging through craving "this is mine," clinging through conceit, "this I am," or clinging through wrong view as "this is my self." The Blessed One exhorted the Group of Five to contemplate in this way so as to be rid of clinging by craving and conceit. Ordinary worldlings are also instructed to contemplate so as to be free of the clinging by wrong view.
STREAM ENTERERS - INSTRUCTED TO CONTEMPLATE NOT-SELF
Why was the Group of Five, who had already become Stream Enterers, instructed to get rid of self-view with the reflection "this is not my self'? This is something to ponder upon.
According to the Visuddhimagga, Stream Enterers are free from the illusions of wrong view of self clinging (diṭṭhi vipallāsa), illusions of perceptions (saññā vipallāsa) and illusion of the mind (citta vipallāsa). Since the monks of the Group of Five were free from all the three kinds of self clinging, on account of what kind of clinging was this exhortation on nonself given?
In the first part of this book, it was explained how this Anattatakkhaṇa Sutta was taught to remove asmi māna, which is akin to self clinging. But here, as separate instruction has been given to remove asmi māna in the phrase neso hamasmi, "this I am not," the instruction to contemplate on na meso attā, "this is not my self," cannot be for removing asmi māna.
Then to remove what kind of clinging is this teaching for? This is the point to consider.
It is not easy to find a definite and accurate solution to this problem. We shall attempt to solve it in three ways:
(1) In the Sīlavanta Sutta, it is mentioned that the Arahats also meditate on the nature of not-self. Reference may be made to page 470 of my discourse on the Sīlavanta Sutta [Burmese edition]. Although a Stream Enterer has no self clinging to be rid of, he nevertheless contemplates on nonself just like the Arahats for the attainment of higher knowledge. If this first answer is not satisfactory, here is our second answer:
(2) This is in accordance with what is provided on page 330 of my discourse on the Sīlavanta Sutta. There is no doubt that the Stream Enterer is free from the illusion of belief in the permanency of self. As to the illusion of perception, it should be understood that a Stream Enterer is free from it only when he is intentionally reflecting on it or when engaged in contemplation on impermanence and not-self. Only then may the Stream Enterer be said to be free from wrong perceptions of permanence and self. To say that he was free from these illusions on other occasions also, when no particular attention is being paid to them, would be putting Stream Enterers on the same level as Arahats, who know all acts of seeing and hearing as impermanent and have no conceit or lustful desires regarding men or women.
Therefore, at inattentive moments, a Stream Enterer can have wrong perceptions or notions of things. To enable the Group of Five to get rid of such wrong perceptions and notions, they were asked to contemplate on not-self. (3) This is based on an explanation offered by the Venerable Khemaka, who had already reached the stage of anāgāmi. Khemaka said that he did not cling to material form as "I am" nor to each of the other aggregates of feeling, perception, volitional formations and conscious-ness, but with regard to the five aggregates as a whole, he was still not free of the notion "I am". Just as in this explanation, for a Stream Enterer, there is no clinging as self towards any of the aggregates of form, feeling, perception, volitional formations or consciousness, but with regard to the five aggregates as a whole, a Stream Enterer is not free from the perception of them as man or woman. Not being free from this perception, the sensual passions can still arise in him, even to the extent that he may settle down to married life. Therefore it should be regarded that the monks of the Group of Five were exhorted to contemplate on not-self so as to become free from such ordinary perceptions and notions.
This is an attempt to reconcile the text in the Pāli Canon with the statement in the Commentary, which states that Stream Enterers are free from perceptions of self or notions of self.
THE ELEVENFOLD CONTEMPLATION
I shall now discuss how material form of the past, present and future are contemplated as impermanent. We have already described how the meditator, observing how the physical properties at the moment of rising and falling perish as they come into being, comes to know the characteristics of impermanence, suffering and not-self. The meditator who knows thus can deduce from his own experience that forms of the past have not reached the present and that presently occurring forms will not reach the future; they perish at the moment of coming into existence and are therefore impermanent. Consequently, they are suffering, not self, mere phenomena. The reflection is as follows:
1. Forms of the past have ceased to exist; they do not carry over to the present. As they have ceased now, they are impermanent. Because they disappear instantly, they are fearsome, a source of suffering. Not being a controlling authority (sāmi), a permanent entity (nivāsī), a doer (kāraka), an experiencer of sensations (vedaka), they are not self, without essence.
2. The forms of the present will perish and cease now, they will not reach the future. As they are ceasing and vanishing, they are impermanent. Because they are constantly disappearing, they are fearsome, a source of suffering. Not being a controlling authority, a permanent entity, they are not self, without essence.
3. The forms which will come into being in the future will cease to exist then and there, they will not be carried over to any further existence. As they are constantly passing away, they are fearsome, a source of suffering. Being without essence, they are not self.
This is how the true nature of forms is generally considered. During the meditation, we reflect as follows:
1. Past forms at the moment of last rising (of the abdomen) did not reach the stage of falling; the past forms at the moment of falling did not reach the stage of rising, they perished at the moment of their rising and falling and are therefore impermanent. Because they are impermanent, they are suffering; because they are unmanageable, they are not self.
The last material form at the time of last seeing and hearing did not reach the present moment of seeing and hearing; it is therefore impermanent, suffering, not self.
2. Material form rising in the present moment does not reach the stage of falling; the presently falling material form does not reach the stage of rising. They perish even while rising and falling and are therefore impermanent, suffering, not self.
The material forms at the present moment of seeing and hearing do not reach the next moment of seeing and hearing. They pass away even while seeing and hearing. They are, therefore, impermanent, suffering, not self.
3. The material forms at the moment of future rising and falling will not reach the next future moments of rising and falling. They will fade away at the respective moments of coming into being. They are, therefore, impermanent, suffering, not self.
This is how the material forms of the past, present and future are considered while taking note of the phenomena of rising and falling. There is also a method of reflecting on the material forms of the past and the future by contemplating the material forms of the present. We shall recite this method of reflection.
Just as there are impermanent material forms with respect to rising, falling, bending, stretching, raising, stepping, dropping, seeing, and hearing, which rise and fall and perish even while they are being noted, so there have been similar material forms with respect to rising, falling, bending and stretching in the past perishing at their respective moments of coming into being. They are, therefore, impermanent, suffering and not self.
Having perceived by oneself how the material form in one's person passes away, there remains the task of reflecting on the material forms of other people, and the material forms of the whole world. Just as the material forms in one's person perish while being noted, the material forms in other people and in the whole world will also perish and are therefore impermanent, suffering and not self.
Contemplating internal and external material form
People imagine that when they spit, defecate or excrete, the material form from inside the body gets expelled or thrown outside the body. When food is eaten or air is breathed in, the external material forms are believed to have come into the body. Actually, it is not like this. Material forms undergo dissolution at the moment and place of their coming into being, and new material forms rise afresh at the new place. The meditator who is taking note perceives such dissolution and cessation taking place at each place of origination.
And this is how it is perceived: when mindfulness and concentration get strong, the out-breath (during noting the rise and fall) is seen to break into small sections in the chest, throat and nose before it finally makes the exit from the body. The in-breath is also seen to be entering, pushing in, in a series of small sections. The meditator who smokes knows the smoke going out and pushing its way in, in a series of small portions. A similar phenomenon is seen while drinking water, as it pushes its way down the throat. Therefore, internal material forms do not get outside; external material forms do not get inside.
They cease and vanish at the place where they come into being, and are thus impermanent, suffering, and not self.
Contemplation of coarse and fine material forms
Ordinarily people believe that it is the tender material forms of our young days which have become the coarse, gross material forms of adults; the healthy, light, fine material forms that become the unhealthy, heavy, gross material forms; the unhealthy, heavy, gross material forms that become healthy, light, fine, material forms. The meditator who is constantly watching tactile bodies perceives these material forms breaking up into tiny bits even while being observed. Thus perceiving, he knows that gross material forms do not become fine material forms, neither do fine material forms become gross material forms. The gross, hot or cold material forms do not become fine, cold or hot material forms; fine, cold or hot material forms do not become gross, hot or cold material forms. Gross, stiff, extending, moving material forms do not become fine, stable, still material forms. They all vanish at the moment of arising; they are thus impermanent and void of self.
Contemplating in terms of inferiority or superiority
Ordinarily, it is believed that the unhealthy, inferior material forms become the healthy, superior material forms; the youthful material forms become the material forms of an old man. But the meditator who keeps track of material forms at the moment of their arising perceives that any material form that arises ceases and vanishes as it is being noted and therefore knows that the inferior material form has not become the superior material form, nor does the superior one become an inferior one. Thus they all have the nature of being suffering and nonself.
Contemplating in terms of far and near
To normal perception, it seems that when a man is seen coming from afar, he brings with him the material form of that far distance. When a man goes from a near to a far distance, he carries away the material form of the near distance. But the meditator who is always noting corporeal and mental phenomena knows when watching, for instance, the phenomenon of stretching the body, that the material form that stretches vanishes in a series of blurring fade-outs without reaching any distance; when bending, the material form that bends fades away in a series of blurring fade-outs without reaching any distance. Perceiving thus, the medi-tator is convinced that the material form which is near has not gone afar; the distant material form has not come near. They vanish at the respective moments of becoming and are, therefore, impermanent, suffering and not-self.
While looking at a man approaching from a distance, and noting, "seeing, seeing," we see him disappearing section by section, part by part in a series of quick blurring fade-outs. While looking at someone leaving from nearby and noting "seeing, seeing," the man disappears section by section, part by part in a series of quick, blurring fade-outs. Thus the material form from a distance has not come near; the material form which is near has not gone to a distance. The old material form keeps on vanishing and the new material form keeps on arising, giving the appearance of someone coming from afar and someone going away. Only the meditator who has reached the stage of bhaṅga ñāṇa and whose discernment is sharp can perceive the phenomena as they really are in this manner. Others with not so sharp insight may not perceive so clearly.
Again, while walking to and fro and noting raising, stepping and dropping, raising appears separately as one stage, stepping separately as one stage and dropping separately as another. When insight is well developed, the movements of body and limbs are seen as series of blurring fade outs. Perceiving thus, the conclusion is reached that material forms do not reach from one place to another; they cease and vanish at the place they come into being. This is knowing in accordance with the statement of the Sub-Commentary, "Absolute realities do not move over to another place; they cease and vanish at the places they come into existence." Therefore, material forms from afar do not come near; material forms which are near do not go afar. They cease and vanish at the place where they come into existence. They are, therefore, impermanent, suffering and not self.
This is how material forms described in eleven ways are contemplated as "this is not mine" ... netaṁ mama.
See also: Vietnamese Translation
Source: Sakyamuni Meditation Center, California, U.S.A.