Buddhist Meditation and its Forty Subjects
A Brief Description of Vipassanā
With the proper knowledge mentioned above one who desires to practise ‘Vipassanā’ should retire to a quiet place and seat himself cross-legged or in any convenient manner that enables him to sit for a long time, with body erect, and then contemplate by fixing his attention on the physical and mental phenomena which are known as ‘upādānakkhandha’ and which are distinctly arising in his body. These phenomena should be continuously contemplated on every occasion of their arising.
‘Upādānakkhandha’ are those which are distinctly perceived at every moment of seeing, hearing, smelling, knowing the taste, feeling the bodily-contacts and thinking of ideas etc.
At the moment of seeing, both the visual object and the eye, where seeing takes place are perceived. These two things are of the material group. They are neither pleasant nor ‘atta’ nor ‘person’. Yet those who do not contemplate the very moment of their occurrence do not understand that “they pass away immediately and are not permanent”, that “they are originating and passing away relentlessly and are therefore ill”, that “they are neither attā nor living entity but are anatta in that they are subject to cause and effect in arising and passing away.” Because the material group forms the objects of wrong attitude and attachment they are called ‘Aggregates of attachment’ (upādānakkhandhā).
Eye-consciousness (cakkhu-viññāna), feeling (vedanā), perception (saññā) of visual object, and exertion to see visual object, mental activities (sankhārā) are also distinctly perceived at the moment of seeing. They are merely of the mental group. They are neither pleasant nor atta nor person. Yet those who do not notice each and every arising of these phenomena (or each and every one of their arising), do not understand that “they are impermanent, ill and anatta”. They therefore consider these mental elements to be pleasant and are attached to them. They egotistically consider, “I am seeing”, “I am feeling”, “I am perceiving”, “I am looking intently”; and they are attached to them. These are the very reasons by those mental groups are respectively called ‘vinnānupādānakkhandha’, ‘vedanupādānakkhandha’, ‘saññupādānakkhandha’ and ‘sankhārupādānakkhandha’. This is how the five aggregates of attachment (upādānakkhandhā) are distinctly perceived at the very moment of seeing the visual object through the eye.
Similarly, the five aggregates are perceived distinctly at the very moment of hearing the sound through the ear, smelling the odour through the nose, knowing the taste through the tongue, feeling of the tactile sensations through the body and knowing the mental objects through the mind-base. However, in the case of mental objects, there may be both material and mental elements.
Though the material and mental phenomena are arising distinctly at each of the moments of seeing, hearing etc., in their respective spheres, it is not possible for a beginner to contemplate them in the serial order of their arising from the very start of the practice of Vipassanā. In Vipassanā the practice is started with the contemplation, in particular, of the most outstanding objects present in the body. It is just as in schools where lessons easy to learn are, as a rule, taught at the beginning of the studies.
Of the two phenomena of matter and mind, the material phenomena, being more outstanding, should be chosen as the preliminary or prime object of contemplation in Vipassanā-kammatthāna. Again, of the various classes of material phenomena, the bodily contact (bhūta-rūpa) which is more outstanding that the objects of sense-doors (upādā-rūpas) of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, should be taken up as the preliminary and prime object of the contemplation at the beginning of the practice.
Therefore, with a view to notice the particular outstanding bodily-contact, attention should be fixed on the sitting posture of the body and the continuous contemplation carried out by making a mental note as ‘sitting, sitting’. While thus engaged in contemplation the distinct feeling of bodily contact on the buttocks or leg or any part of the body will be noticed. This particular feeling of bodily contact should be taken up as an additional object jointly with ‘sitting’ and continually contemplated as ‘touching, sitting’. If this manner of contemplation is, however, found to be difficult to begin with, then the attention should be fixed at the contact of the in and out-breathing and contemplation carried out there as ‘touching, touching’. If it is still found to be difficult to carry out this contemplation of ‘touching’ then the attention should be fixed on the bodily motion of the abdomen caused by rising (expanding) and falling (contracting) due to the flow of in and out-breathing.
This is an illustration to show the manner of contemplation. Firstly, attention should be fixed on the abdomen. Then it will be felt that the abdomen is expanding and contracting ― there are always bodily movements present in the abdomen. If, at the beginning of the practice, the movement of rising and falling is not clear by the mere act of fixing the attention on the abdomen, one or both hands should be placed on the abdomen. Suspension of breath, and quick or deep breathing should not be done. The natural course of normal breathing should be maintained. As the abdomen is felt rising it should be contemplated by saying mentally 'rising
Attention should be fixed on the gradual rising step by step of the abdomen from start to finish. As the abdomen is felt falling, it should be contemplated as ‘falling’. Attention should be fixed on the gradual falling step by step of the abdomen from start to finish.
For particular attention it may be mentioned here that the words ‘rising’ and ‘falling’ should not be repeated by mouth, but they should be repeated mentally. In fact, words are not of real importance. To know the actual movements of the abdomen and the bodily motion present therein is of real importance. However, if the contemplation is carried on by the simple act of mental observation without the act of repeating the words mentally, the contemplation will be casual and ineffective and with many drawbacks such as that the attention fails to reach closely enough to the object to which it is directed, that the objects are not clearly distinguished and perceived separately and that the necessary energy deteriorates. Hence it is directed that contemplation should be carried out by repeating mentally the necessary words on the respective objects.
While being occupied with the contemplation as ‘rising, falling’ there may be many occasions when the mind is found wandering to other objects. These wandering mental states should be contemplated as they arise.
For Illustration: If it is found that the mind wanders to objects other than those to which it is directed, it should be contemplated as ‘wandering’, if the mind intends to do something it should be contemplated as ‘intending’, if it is reflecting it should be contemplated as ‘reflecting’. In the case of wanting something it should be contemplated as ‘wanting’; in the case of being pleased or angry or disappointed, it should be contemplated as ‘pleased’, ‘angry’ or ‘disappointed’, respectively, and in the case of feeling lazy or happy it should be contemplated as ‘lazy’ or ‘happy’ as the case may be. The contemplation should be carried out repeatedly until these wavering mental states cease. Then the contemplation should revert to ‘rising, falling’ of the abdomen and carried on continually.
If any disagreeable sensations (dukkha-vedanā), such as being tired in limbs or feeling hot or feeling painful etc., arise in the body, attention should be fixed on the spot of the sensation and contemplation carried on as ‘tired, tired’, ‘hot, hot’, or ‘painful, painful’ as the case may be. On the ceasing of the disagreeable sensations the contemplation of ‘rising, falling’ should be reverted to.
But when the painful sensations are so acute that they are unbearable, then the posture of the body and the position of hands and legs have to be changed to ease the situation. In this case of changing, also, attention should be fixed on the outstanding major movements of the body and limbs and contemplation carried on as ‘bending’, ‘stretching’, ‘swaying’, ‘moving’, ‘raising’, ‘putting down’ etc., in the successive order of the changing process. When the change is completed then the contemplation of ‘rising, falling’ should be reverted to.
At times when anything is being looked at it should be contemplated as ‘looking, seeing’. If anything is seen without being looked at, it should be contemplated as ‘seeing, seeing’. When one happens to be listening to something it should be contemplated as ‘listening, hearing’. If anything is heard without being listened to, it should be contemplated as ‘hearing, hearing’. If a reflecting thought follows then it should be contemplated as ‘reflecting, reflecting’. Then the contemplation of the original objects should be reverted to.
In the case of changing from the sitting posture to that of standing and changing to the lying posture, contemplation should be carried out by fixing the attention on every outstanding major movement of the body and limbs in the successive order of the changing process.
In the case of walking, contemplation should be carried out by fixing the attention on the moving of each step from the moment of lifting the foot up to the moment of putting it down and by making a mental note as ‘walking, walking’ or ‘moving forward, moving forward’ or ‘lifting, moving forward, putting down’.
In summary it may be mentioned that the contemplation should be carried out on all actions of body and limbs such as bending, stretching, raising, moving etc. so as to perceive them in their true form as they occur. The contemplation should be carried out on all physical sensations and mental feelings (vedanā) so as to know their true nature as they arise. The contemplation should be carried out on all thoughts, ideas, reflections, etc., so as to know there true nature as they arise. If there are no outstanding objects of specific nature to be contemplated while remaining quietly in the sitting or lying posture, contemplation should be carried out by always fixing the attention on any of the bodily contacts. Instructions are, therefore, given here to treat or keep the rising and falling movements of the abdomen, which are easy to explain and easy to contemplate, as the primary and main objects of contemplation.
But there are two other cases of contemplation already mentioned above, namely (i) the contemplation of sitting and touching, and (ii) the contemplation of the touch of in and out-breathing, either of which may be chosen, if so desired, as the primary and main objects in the contemplation.
On achieving the high state of contemplation where it is possible to contemplate on any objects as they arise, there is no need at all to go back to the primary and main objects. Contemplation should be carried out on every moment of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, knowing the bodily contacts, thinking, ideas etc. in the order of their arising.
The disciple who has developed, by this means of continuous contemplation, strong enough concentration (samādhi) and insight (ñāna) will personally perceive a rising and passing away of the mind for many times in a second. But a disciple who has just begun the practice will not be able to perceive such a quick succession. It is just like the case of a person, who at the beginning of his study, cannot read so fast and so well as the one who has already advanced in studies. Nevertheless, a disciple should endeavour to perceive the rising and passing away of the mental states not less than once in every second in the beginning of his practice.
(This is the basic summary of the practice of Vipassanā).