The arising of Insight-knowledge occurs spontaneously and intuitively. This realisation of truth differs, however, from knowledge born of focusing on painful physical and mental phenomena. The Noble Truth of Suffering is not restricted solely to negative conditions of body and mind, nor to the readily observable facts of birth, sickness, old age and death. The suffering, which the Buddha, repeatedly emphasised, concerned the profound truth of the lack of stability of all phenomena in the mental and physical world… the primal insecurity.
The acknowledgement of this particular aspect of suffering is the gateway to deeper levels of Insight-knowledge. All unliberated beings have this original dis-ease, for we have not penetrated fully the profound magnitude and significance of suffering. The root causes of pain—craving and attachment—have not been completely exposed. By entering training in Insight development, the meditator experientially discovers the Dharma. The truth becomes a living reality.
The great majority of Buddhists content themselves with superficial knowledge of the teachings, convinced that spiritual evolution is quite beyond their capacity. Let us not be so sceptical of our potential for development! Neglecting to take advantage of our good fortune to practise Insight Meditation is to have wasted the finest opportunity for growth afforded a human being.
The Buddha-Dharma pulses with life. Even the distance of 2,500 years has not obscured the way for the earnest seeker. The path is clearly marked. Why delay any longer?
Novice meditators often enter Vipassana (Insight) meditation practice with keen expectations of experiencing blissful or mystical states of mind; in fact, occasionally meditators seek training specifically to develop supernormal powers. If we believe the purpose of training is gauged specifically to yield altered states of consciousness, we seriously misunderstand Insight Meditation training. The purpose of training in Vipassana is to know the mind, in its actual condition, moment-to-moment. Training is undertaken to establish the true power of the mind. Its only purpose is the realisation of enlightenment.
The calm and spiritual ease born of Insight is that knowledge giving clear vision of the true nature of existence. We awake to see the illusory nature of the ego concept. The misery-making defilements of the mind are finally totally exposed in the powerful beam of mindfulness. And as we grow watchful and alert, their ability to delude the mind is gradually weakened. This is the coolness that quenches the burning . . . the unshakeable calm born of seeing things as they are. It is the refuge giving protection amidst the diffuseness of the world.
Insight training builds mindful awareness. It develops clarity of mind that is strong and precise. Meditation is not our goal, but rather serves as the tool enabling the unfolding of Insight into the real nature of the world.
Meditators are often discouraged during the early stages of practice to discover they are experiencing greater mental and physical pain than ever before. Becoming disheartened and lacking proper guidance, many abandon training, or continue “meditating” in a haphazard, unproductive manner, with little or no discernible progress. This unfortunate situation may prevail for some years. And it is not uncommon to see serious mental disorders result from such mismanaged practice. Mind development should be cultivated with emphasis on careful progression.
Initial resistance to training the mind is a normal occurrence, and when the rope of mindfulness is finally applied, the struggle for freedom is intense and searing. Applied too tightly, strain is bound to result; applied too loosely, the mind drifts away. It is at this crucial stage that meditators who are experiencing difficulty should seek all possible means to seek proper guidance.
Meditation training follows the same principles governing the mastery of any skill. Step-by-step training assures steady, sure progress. The perfection of the mind requires the utmost determination and a most decidedly courageous attitude to pursue training through the inevitable confusion, the boredom and restlessness, the physical discomforts and the desire to escape the necessity of disciplining the mind. The desire to run away is strong. But how can we run, shackled as we are by greed, hatred and delusion? The weight of the deluded, unknowing mind is oppressive. We can drop that weight and be free, now!
Beginning meditation instruction is simplicity itself: when bodily calmness is present, focus is naturally centred on the breath, an easily discernible object. This main object of mindfulness (the breath) is temporarily averted any time there is awareness of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching or thinking. The mind is then brought back gently to the breathing.
Lapses in attention are a normal occurrence in the early phases of practice. As concentration is stabilised and the mind is calmed, mindfulness is naturally sharpened. The meditator learns to observe the mind objectively. All feeling-tones, desires, memories, etc, are exposed and scrutinised—gently and non-judgmentally. We learn to look closely at what is actually present.
Newcomers to training often feel that meditation is “not going well.” Surrendering to depression and impatience, they often wish to terminate practice. The correct procedure to follow is to maintain the position of observer, simply acknowledging all feelings which arise in consciousness in a calm, detached manner. Nothing is suppressed. We should try to train calmly, patiently, sincerely . . . not yearning for quick results.
Training should not be deferred until some nebulous “future time.” No certainty exists to guarantee that our mental and physical capabilities will be sufficient to the task. The Buddha had many lay and ordained disciples who made the resolution to practise under the most trying circumstances. Occasionally the ocean of suffering was crossed at the cost of life itself. They felt it was the proper decision, preferable to continuing to live a meaningless existence—a life of desolation and emptiness.
It is not difficult to compose a myriad assortment of rationalisations to justify putting off training to another day. Sometimes, as we approach the moment of commitment, hesitation causes us to retreat . . . fear is awakened, for we are approaching unknown territory and we wonder if perhaps it isn’t better to continue as we are . . . we might miss something. And why, after all, should we embark on such difficult training? Immersing ourselves in the normal round is, after all, so easy.
Ultimately, the great incentive for training is our growing sensitivity to suffering and the vacuous, insipid nature of life. It is not really a question of renunciation of the so-called pleasures of life, but rather of interest dying naturally—the allurements fade and grow dim. Until such time as we are stirred by our own unrest, the mind will be uncertain, wavering and full of doubt.
It is crucial that we become aware of our internal drives and the impulse to remain in the world. The most fatal of attachments can be the clinging to suffering itself: the fear of “letting go,” the fear of freedom. So we go on clutching suffering to our hearts. Perhaps that is the only thing we have, and we are afraid. The time may come when we realise there is no need to suffer at all, no need to fear the unknown.
One may speak of the spiritual journey as leaping to the “Other Shore”—to Nibbana. Leaping here signifies dedicating the mind to the task completely, committing ourselves with the some determination as the first astronaut who jumped from the space capsule onto the moon.
When the woman or man reaches awakening, deluded ways of thinking are abandoned. Though life continues rather normally, the mind is free and luminous. It is an immutable condition, impossible to fully relate to others—as is the astronaut’’s experience not wholly communicable to earth-bound people. No matter what our circumstances in life, each one of us can attempt this journey.
The birth of Insight is not very far from us, especially when cultivation of the mind is continuous and resolution is present. There is a saying in Thailand that enlightenment is right under one’’s nose! So continue breathing mindfulness!
Clarity and radiance appear in the minds of the Liberated Ones. The unenlightened mind is dark. Worldly people do not have a crystalline pure, unfettered mind. If we did, there would be no need to practise.
(Source: excerpt BPS Sri Lanka Wheel 266 published 1979. For Free Distribution)