Opening Discourse of a Intensive Vipassana-Retreat

By Venerable Mettavihari Bhikkhu

19 January 2001
(Translated by Rien Loeffen)


Now we start our retreat. It's going to last for three weeks from today on, so it should be a very good retreat. Especially since we didn't have a long retreat like this here in Naarden, it will be an extra help for you in your searching.


I said searching, but in fact you should not search, but stay in your experiences within yourself. Then the world will be open to you. Because in fact it is dark. I don't mean it's dark because of the winter, it is dark even in summer. Maybe we have a lot of sunshine, hundred or thousands of suns, but this doesn't make it light. There's not enough light in this world. In fact it's a world of darkness. So when you come here in the retreat, you should make your aim or your intention to see that the world will be bright and light even without a sun.


This should be done with vipassanā practice. Not with samatha practice. In deep concentration, even when you obtain jhāna, mental absorption, it cannot give you light. You cannot make it light, unless you are polishing your mind on the four foundations of mindfulness.

You should be attentive first at the sense-contact, not to ignore it, but to accept it, and integrate your practice with those senses. That is what we call sīla, discipline, or the refraining of the senses. You practice the teachings of the lord Buddha, namely you practice sīla, you practice samādhi and you practice paññā.


If you would go to the East like Thailand or Burma, and you start a retreat like this, they will invite you first to recite the pathimokkha-samvara-sīla.


When you are a monk, you confess your offences. If you are a samanera you have to renew your ten precepts and if you are a lay person you should observe the upāsaka-sīla, the eight precepts, or the pañca sīla, the five precepts. This is the conventional part of sīla.

In fact there are four kinds of sīla. First there is patimokkha-samvara-sīla. To observe the convention of precepts that I mentioned right now.


The second is ājiva-pārisuddhi-sīla, which means you have to have right livelihood the way of earning your living. This does not concern us now, since we are already in the retreat.


The third is paccaya-sannissita-sīla, using the environment. You have to give proper consideration to using the four requirements, namely clothing, food, medicine and shelter. You need this for your life. These are the four requirements for life, that you have to use in a proper and suitable way.


Eating, drinking and taking food is our nutrition for life. If you have a certain reason not to eat, you may fast only for one day, because not to eat is not good for the body. Not taking nutrition is not majjhima-patipadā, is not the middle way. You have to step on the middle way, to be able to follow your retreating for such a long time. Taking food is also a kind of sīla, it needs discipline to handle it. These kinds of sīla are outside or external discipline.


The fourth sīla, indriya-samvara-sīla is concerned with the refraining of the senses, namely the six senses. Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. The contact of the senses between the inner and the outer object, that makes you aware of the contact.


This is a real sīla for practicing Buddhist meditation. We do not have meditation only in Buddhism, there are many kinds of meditation. Hindus, Christians, Muslims, they practice meditation, but this is not like Buddhist meditation. The difference is that they don't need to observe the six senses. When you've been practicing Buddhist meditation and also other sorts of meditation, then it would be clear to you what's the difference.


Practicing the Buddhist meditation is to practice sīla, samādhi and paññā. Discipline, concentration and wisdom. None of the three can be missed during the practice. So you cannot practice discipline first and after that practice concentration and at last wisdom. It's not that way. That idea should be abandoned while practicing here in the retreat.


We have a lot of garbage inside that needs purification. To get purification of that kilesa or defilement you should be glad that you have time now to clean it up, to burn this garbage. It stinks and it's undesirable, it should be removed.


This is a special retreat, because it's a longer retreat, but when you have expectations and concerns towards that, that's not good. That makes it dark. Dark through the desire. Desire makes things dark, gloomy and also misty. Every time when you have a certain desire it becomes dark, it becomes unclear. And there is also suffering, consequently you are suffering.


If you are aware that there is a certain desire, you become aware of what we call the arising of the mental process. That's the beginning of your darkness, the beginning of your suffering, the beginning of your unease of being here in the retreat, and to clarify this you should make a note every time.


In your room for example, you want to discharge, you note 'I'm wanting'. Know that you want, and note it. You want to go to the toilet to discharge: note 'wanting', to make it clear. Don't go on with the darkness of the desire. Wanting to come here to the hall: note it, wanting to dress: note it and name it. Wanting to drink or eat: note it and name it. Wanting to rest, to sit down: note it, know that you are sitting down. It looks simple.


Perhaps you underestimate that, but it's very powerful, especially in the retreat. If you're proceeding your practice this way, you're going to have an easy time. Don't go like: oooh, I have to sit for so long, I have to walk for so long. It's not too much a help. That's also desire, wanting to sit and wanting to walk is also desire.


Also wanting something in the future, that you expect that you're going to sit for one hour or half an hour or whatever. And after you sit, you have your mental factor that you want your sitting to go on. That is also desire. It makes it dark.

First you must make it clear. Wanting to sit and sitting. Wanting to walk and walking. I want to be very clear to you now because you're going to have a longer time, a special time. To make it special in this way: more knowing of your desire. Being attentive of here and now. To be in the present moment of the situation.


I said it's not a holiday, but if you do the practice of vipassanā, you can get more happiness than you can get in any other kind of work.

If you want to have a holiday here in the retreat, you can have it, but then you have to know every time that you are wanting, and noting or naming that. Then it's all gone, and when gone, there's nothing to do anymore. But it's coming of course, coming every moment.


Now I'm going to talk about discipline and concentration. Every time you note or name on the object of your mind, on the object of your desire, a momentary concentration is already there. It looks almost nothing but it's a lot when you do it all the time and on time.

All the time but not on time is not correct, is not helpful and not effective. When you're not running after it and not waiting for it, that means that you do it on time.


When you're not running after it, you're not getting exhausted, you're not losing energy. When you're waiting for what you want to come, you need a lot of patience. That's also losing energy.


So to make your practice easy, effective, with no waiting, no running after, you must be on time all the time. All the time with momentary concentration.


You have sesame seeds that you can cook; they're small seeds, but when thousands or millions of them are coming together it is powerful and it's tasty. It's the same with doing momentary concentration in the retreat. When you do that from morning until evening it will help you to get an effective and powerful retreat.


You should not do more at the same time than what you can do. Sometimes you're disappointed, distracted or not satisfied with yourself. You blame yourself 'I should do more', but you cannot do more.


If the desire, the darkness started already, try to make it clear and light, noting: 'I'm wanting much more for myself'. You should, instead of condemning yourself or blaming yourself, only note: 'All this is wanting, only what I'm wanting'. Note in your mind: 'too much wanting', or just: 'wanting'. Naming that, noting that, it becomes bright and light at the same time. Like the sun shining.


When you do this practice successfully, wisdom is already there at the same time. When the sun shines, all shining of the sun is wisdom. It's the result of wisdom. Wisdom is coming from your sila, from your samādhi. From your refraining the senses, from your momentary concentration.


If you're doing your retreat you should know that you have obtained your wisdom from the start of your retreating. You should not wait until the end of the retreat, to ask yourself how much wisdom you obtained. That's not the question. The question is: Are you practicing the four foundations of mindfulness or not? If the four foundations of mindfulness are not practiced, it has nothing to do with vipassanā, and nothing with sīla, samādhi and paññā at the same time.


The four foundations: your body, your feeling, your thought and your distraction by the hindrances. If you are aware of them, you should make a mental note on these four foundations of mindfulness. They are the objects of your meditation that should be on time, all the time and one at the time.


Never practice two foundations at the same time, it is always one after the other. You just shift your attention, like while you are observing your body with rising and falling of the abdomen and you become aware of a feeling, like pain. You should not do rising of the abdomen, feeling, and be concerned with pain at the same time. It's not going to work that way.


So you should first shift. Shifting your attention from your physical object directly to the feeling object. From the first foundation of mindfulness to the second foundation.


You have pain. You recognize the pain in your body, like knee or neck, and you note 'pain' 'pain'. When you're noting the feeling, you're not involved with the feeling itself. You do not get into it. When you know, this is pain, you note or you name it, without agitation, without being nervous, but seeing the pain as an ongoing process in your body.


Sometimes you have grief, or frustration. That is also pain, but not a physical pain. Again you have to shift your attention to recognize the fourth foundation of mindfulness. The foundation of natural phenomena that derive from your thought or from your feeling.


Being depressed is also a mental object or mind-object. It's not a physical pain. You note it and make it clear. If you don't make it clear, the darkness will remain. Then you will not see. Everything is dark and almost impossible to be seen, because there is no light.


So you have to make that light through the mental object, what can be a depression, a grief, worry, lamenting or whatever. You note it at first, accordingly I said, one moment for one object, never one moment for many objects, or not even for two objects.


You get confused, because you see a lot of them. Which one should I note? With which one should I deal? Note what is nearest to you and when its strong enough. Sometimes it's near but not strong enough occurring to your awareness.


Your awareness of the strong occurring of that object is refraining the mind-sense. Your mind comes in contact with the object, of what's occurring there now, and you make a mental note, or you name it.


Some of you ask what is the difference between noting and naming. Sometimes when you are having a hard time, and noting doesn't work because you do not have enough concentration, you should name. Also when you do not have enough energy, you should name. When you have enough concentration, and you feel that your energy is okay you only note. That's the difference, the trick and the technique, and all this is to be found in yourself. These are only my words, but the experience will come for you to make it work in your meditation practice.


Sometimes you feel uneasy and disturbed when you need to name. Naming sometimes is disturbing too, so you note that. In that case you're only noting.


Once again, sometimes you are having problems with the words. Which words to use. Sometimes there is not a clear word for something.


The word itself is not important. The act of noting is important. What you do for it is not important. After all, the word is not needed, but to know what is there, to note or to name is more important than finding the word.


Sometimes you look for the word and you are too late, everything is gone and the consequence is that you collapse at the end. You cannot do it and you do not know what to say anymore.


That happens a lot with meditators during retreats. You're trying to define or youre looking for words, the right words, and then you collapse, because the process is going very fast, and you are too slow, you are too much delayed to be on time here and now.


If you have difficulty finding the word immediately, you just note or name what is there, what you know it is, what you think it is at that moment. That's important. Then it is already successful.


So when you're trying to get the word, you are too late. Things have gone and gone. You're just running after things, and you get exhausted.


All this is happening in the retreat and this is the whole technique: You should be very careful to be with one object at the time, and on time. There is not much to do in this kind of retreating, in this kind of practicing vipassanā. Just doing one thing, a small thing, no big things, but you do it every time, on time, and your retreating turns out to be a holiday. You will have a good time, without being disturbed, and very free.


All this is the practice of Buddhist meditation. It's different from other meditation like mantra or praying or whatever. We don't do mantras, we don't pray, but we do concern ourselves to be with the present moment.


In your concern to be with the present moment, everything is present to you. There's nothing absent. All kinds of faith, belief, philosophy, understanding are present to you completely. This completeness of being present, we call paramita, a path of perfection.


As human beings we cannot be perfect in this life. There's always something missing, something is wrong. Something is not going the way you want to see it. Maybe perfection is there with you for short moments, and other times it's not.


So to get paramita you have to practice this. Paramita occurs to you, when you come here to the retreat. That's also the question for the meditators who have been here many times. Why do you do it so often? Why do you do always the same thing? In fact it's increasing your paramita, increasing your path of perfection.


Why do we do it again and again?


You see that you still have something not complete or you miss something, so then you go to the retreat. You make everything present to yourself, nothing is absent. You are present, your mindfulness being here and now, not before, not after, with the right object. From the many objects near you, you pick up one object at the time and note or name it. You are already connected with perfection and completeness then.


Perfection means that nothing is wrong. If you see something is wrong in yourself or in anyone, that means you're not perfect, you're not happy then. Perfection is absolute happiness. Perfection is enlightenment in itself. You come here to practice meditation concerning your personal well-being and enlightenment. We are doing here nothing more than that. But how do you come to that? I say: Every moment you start momentary concentration with the right object, on time and all the time.


One full day you miss nothing because you're never running after something. One full day you're never waiting for something. Your energy is fully restored that way and because of restoring your energy, you get perfection. Your greatness, feeling greatness and happiness is obtained that way.


It looks simple, but it needs your initiative to make a step to do it that way. First be careful with the desire. When sometimes you are arguing with me, the argument comes: If there's no desire, what's life for?


Life without desire is the complete life. Life with desire is always missing and following, wanting and getting depressed. That is the truth that you know for yourself already.


During this retreat you should follow the practice strictly and correctly, so that you will see the difference. You will not be disappointed, or regret that you came here, for you are coming to do the right thing for yourself.


Today is the opening day of your retreat which will last for three weeks. You're going to have a good time with this retreat, I guarantee that, but then you should do your work. If you're just sitting here passing the time, you are going to have a hard time.


Thank you for coming to the retreat. I'm so happy with you. I appreciate it and I visit you now and then, every time it is needed.