First Dhamma talk

Ven. Phra Mettavihari

30 January 2002

(Translation Rien Loeffen)


It's now time to listen to some words about meditation.

To do a vipassanā meditation retreat is considered the best effort you can put in your practice. You have time to come here for at least a week, or at the most three weeks, in order to obtain a certain experience with vipassanā practice. Perhaps - especially new meditators or newcomers to the retreat - you have doubts or you are asking yourself what you are doing here.

All the time, all these days, you do not agree with yourself. You do not agree with your situation, and consequently you are not happy with what your ego wants.

First of all you have to be frank and fair with yourself, that you are coming here not to support your ego, not to support your desire. In fact you come here to stop your desire.


Of course you come here with the desire to get vipassanā practice, or to dedicate yourself to the practice, but you don't see results. Most of the time you are unhappy - you recognise this.

Many times your concentration isnít so good and you cannot practise the way you want or as you have been instructed, but you are here with patient discipline.

You do many things wrong, like with paying attention to the rising and falling, or to the bodily characteristics - the vibration of your body at your abdomen - and many times you are not there.

But you keep on sitting, without moving, without changing position although you have a lot of pain. And also you have no concentration. You're very disappointed and unhappy. You are suffering a lot for what you have done.

Is that good?


My answer is that it's very good. It means that you have patient discipline although you get nothing - but you keep doing it, you keep on trying. Then you are already in vipassanā. The motivation for what you are now doing is vipassanā.

Vipassanā first starts to go against your ego, against your habit, itís not something you agree with. You see that you have much suffering here.

I want to be frank with you: the characteristic of vipassanā meditation is dukkha - a Pali word which means suffering - all kinds of suffering, but mostly mental suffering.

Through this training of sitting and walking these days you get used to physical suffering, but your mental suffering becomes bigger and bigger. This is very much according to vipassanā.


The next characteristic is anicca, impermanence. In fact anicca comes first.

Because of the changes you do not see impermanence. You get used to the change. You change something to make you agree with it. You change because you're discontent. If you're not happy with this place, you change and go to another place. If you are not happy with a cup of tea, you make a new cup of tea.


So change is your habit and you see that change is okay, but suffering is not okay. In fact you cannot recognise that. The reason you change is that you are not happy. Why do you change? You're suffering and therefore you change. You're not content with something, you do not agree with something and therefore you change. In everything you do, in everything you perform, you have the tendency to change, but you use other words like Ďto improve yourselfí.

The improvements that you make are endless and you're still not content. After having improved yourself you are not yet satisfied. So wanting to be satisfied is in itself suffering. But people who do not come to retreats, they don't see that it is suffering.

Now when you are retreating: do not allow yourself to change. You feel uneasy - sometimes itís painful, sometimes itís really unbearable. If you come to the maximum of suffering - with patient discipline of course - your vipassanā is truly progressing.


Itís not your concentration that makes you better off, but your patient discipline. It means that your life is improving because you do not change where your desire wants you to change.

Unless change happens by itself, and not that you change.

Nothing can be without change, because we recognise that the true law is anicca, impermanence. But we are changing a lot so that we are in samsāra. And we just follow the flow of desire and defilement.

But now when you come to practise vipassanā intensively like this, you do your practise against the stream, and to win it - to win the stream of life. When you once win the stream of life, we say that you are enlightened.


So enlightenment is possible every moment when you do not follow your desire to change. Like with itching for example; you want to scratch, but you donít. You recognise your tendency to change when you have pain, or to scratch when you have itching, but you observe patient discipline.

This also means that you do not let your ego influence your meditation practice. You do not follow the demand of the ego.

When you donít do what your ego wants, you become ego-less. Then you get into suññatā.

When we talk of suññatā it refers to nibbāna. So every time you do not allow ego to have a role or influence in your life you're in connection or in contact with nibbāna or enlightenment.

So you come to the retreat with the intention to gain happiness in life. But not the happiness you can get outside the retreat. It's different. As Buddha said: The way to gain happiness through nibbāna is going in another direction than the way to gain mundane happiness. It's going against each other.

So you have to be aware first that what you experience here is not what you used to get in your daily life.

Even with eating: In our daily life breakfast, lunch or dinner means time to make yourself happy. If you miss it you become unhappy. Here we go to eat too, but we do not follow the desire.

When you eat you have to be mindful. First you look at the food and you note 'seeing'; then you take your spoon or fork, you pick up the food, lift up the spoon, open your mouth, put the food into your mouth and you know that there's food in your mouth. You're chewing it and you note 'chewing', 'chewing'. You become aware of the taste, and you note 'tasting', 'tasting'.

So there is no time to enjoy. It doesn't matter how good the food is, it doesn't matter how good the drink is, you do not allow your desire to arise. But you allow your acknowledgment, your mindfulness - understanding what really is taking place, what really is there when the food on the tongue is tasted.


With every taste there is consequently feeling. That feeling makes you desire, it causes you to eat with desire.

That's what we call mundane eating or normal eating. But with this practice of vipassanā meditation, you eat holy food, you drink holy tea and holy coffee because there is no desire with the food.

It's not poisoning you with desire. You eat your food just as nutrition, to make your body functioning well and to enable your body to work with these exercises. There is no time for ego at all. Therefore every moment, every movement, every act that is performed is for enlightenment.


I said to you some days ago that you should be mindful from the moment you wake up. You are aware that you lie on your bed and you note that. And you can even recognise whether you're breathing in or breathing out at the moment your awareness is there. You note that you lie in your bed, and you note that you want to get out. You want to go to the toilet to discharge. You note the discharging. With washing, you note that you're washing. When dressing, you note the dressing.

Every physical or mental activity - you note them all.

In this way you become ego-less. So you must not underestimate this noting.


Without ego you get freedom. If you know that you have not done anything with your ego, you are in contact with enlightenment. So you are many times enlightened here in the retreat.

Therefore we do things very slowly. We're not walking quickly, we're not moving quickly. Because when you do things quickly, you have no time to note, no time to be aware, no time to be mindful.

You act like a sick person who is recovering in hospital, moving slowly because of the medication. You are not really sick, but that's how you behave here; you move carefully and slowly.

If you are sick you cannot do this practice, you have to have good faculties. Your six senses are your faculties. Good ears, good eyes, a good nose, a good tongue, a good body and a good mind.

Especially in the retreat we do not take medication, because medicine is a drug that suppresses your faculties, your senses. It will make you dull and mentally torpid.


It is the same with the food. If you eat with desire or if you eat a lot or heavy food, you become mentally torpid, drowsy and sleepy. When you sit in your meditation you topple over many times because you are not aware. You are not functioning fully.

Food is nutrition, but it has also certain drugs in it. Therefore you become dull after eating.

But it is also poisoning you when you eat with desire. If you eat while noting and naming 'chewing', and you swallow slowly - to feel your stomach and not your desire - then you have a good practice.


Perhaps it is good to make a remark. I had contact with the cook. She said: 'I want to know what the meditators are doing. I make a lot of food, but it's never enough.'

I said: ĎYour food is too rich for the meditators. It's not good for them. When you make the food too rich, they eat too much with desire.í

One condition of being in the retreat is to be moderate with food. Being moderate with food means: not too much and not too little.

The ancient teachers advised: you stop if you are two or three mouths full from having enough. If you fill up your stomach to the maximum, you get problems with the practice.

So to get moderation in food you take food to overcome your hunger, but when the hunger is not there - although the desire to eat is still there - you stop with eating.

May be even when you do this the cook still complains: ĎNow I am cooking too much, there's so much left.í It's better that way. Itís better for you I mean. The cook will adjust until it's enough for the meditators.


Being moderate with food is one of the sīla for the meditator. You just eat enough and you do not suffer from hungry feelings. You eat less and sometimes you fast.

Not eating anything also makes you dull, because when your body doesn't have nutrition your energy will be low. And when your energy is low, your practice is not functioning.

You should eat neither too much nor too little.


When you get torpid and mentally slothful from eating, you're attacked by the hindrances. So you have a lack of energy although you were eating a lot of food.

I mean the energy of the five faculties, or indriya in Pali. Five things to set up, five points or powers that should be in balance.

When your meditation doesn't work well, you have to look if you have saddhā, confidence. That's the first point.

The second faculty is viriya. If you have viriya you have enough energy to be here and to do your practice.

You must have sati, mindfulness so that while you are here, being mindful, you can recognise things, on time, all the time - and noting or naming it, on time and all the time. Sati is the third faculty.

The fourth point is samādhi. If you have momentary concentration, every moment your concentration is there. How do you know if your concentration is there?

When you do something but you think of something else, you miss your concentration. If you make a move and you can point your finger to that act - and you note that - that means that you have concentration. This means that you are not absent-minded. So every time you act, and you note it, your mind is not absent.

When there is concentration your practice, then you understand paññā, the last point. Then you have the power to carry on your practice.


1 saddhā, confidence,

2 viriya, energy,

3 sati, mindfulness,

4 samādhi, concentration,

5 paññā, wisdom or understanding.


If these five are separated they have no power. They have to be together to be able to drive away the negativity in you, considered as hindrances:

- Kāmacchanda, desire or sensuous desire,

- vyāpāda, ill-will,

- thina-middha, drowsiness or sleepiness, it's always coming up in us. Sometimes it comes up because you have

- uddhacca-kukucca, you are restless, and you worry;

and the last one is:

- vicikicchā, sometimes you have doubt and you cannot do your practice.


(Momentary) concentration can give you warm feelings. And when you get warm feelings, you get sleepy. Many times when you are cold and you go to sit near the heater, the warmth makes you drowsy. First you agree with the feeling, and when you agree with the feeling you absorb your mental conditioning. That means your mind rests because you are not being disturbed by the outside nature, but you easily drop into sub consciousness of mind. So you get sleepy from having cold contrasting with warmth.

In tropical countries you have air-conditioning, to condition the air from heat into cold, and when you agree with your senses there, that makes you sleepy too.

The same thing when you are all the time restless and you get a certain concentration. At once you fall asleep.

Sometimes you sit, half awake, half asleep - that proves that you already obtained concentration. Therefore you fall asleep.


Mindfulness keeps you awake. You have to be aware of the object. Doing vipassanā meditation is being full time with nāma-rūpa, with mind and object. When there is no object, your mind is not there either.

There must be two. In fact all that exists is only nāma and rūpa.

With every object that you are aware of, your mind is there. And you have to make a mental note. If you do not make a note, mind and object are continuing to control us, and that makes it a mess.

When doing vipassanā meditation you should be like a chauffeur who drives his car. The car itself is material, like your body consisting of the four elements. The gasoline is considered the energy or the mind. When you drive the car you need these two things, the car cannot drive without gasoline.

Itís the same with mind and matter. The car needs a driver, otherwise it is getting nowhere.

Vipassanā practice is the same. When you make a movement, movement is the matter - it is the object for the mind. When you do the walking exercises the movement of the foot is the object your mind dwells on - where your mind is aware - and you make a mental note of it.


Every walking meditation is as good as driving a car. You'll get somewhere. Do not think that you get nowhere. You'll get somewhere, but you have to do the noting, recognising that awareness of your foot is there.

But also many times you are shaking or trembling with your walking when your car is without a driver. Then it is easy to get an accident. You can fall down or the car drives without control. It happens many times that you experience this.

So this is the beginning of seeing. When you see your walking for some time, you feel a lot of energy. That means you have done your purification properly.

What is this purification?

We call it sīla-visuddhi, purification of discipline and citta-visuddhi, purification of the mind. It is purification of the mind, because the mind is not manipulating when you follow with momentary concentration the movements of your walking meditation every time. Your mind is there, the object is there and noting is there.


So you purify yourself with sīla-visuddhi and citta-visuddhi. When you have purification of mind you also have purification of your view (ditthi-visuddhi), or seeing things as it really is. You see how the movement is going the way it really is. It's helping you to get right view of what is here and now as regards nāma-rūpa, mind and matter.

When we talk about ditthi-visuddhi it means you don't have any idea other than nāma-rūpa, mind and matter. We stick to this first.

Every time your thought is coming in, citta-visuddhi is not there and ditthi-visuddhi is not there, because you are not seeing nāma-rūpa. Mind and matter are not there.

When mind and matter are not there, samsāra is there. And what is samsāra? Going around - you always like to go around with your mind.

What you do is that you torture yourself with your desire. I mean you have preference. You do something with preference, something you like, or you try to get away from something you dislike.

Of course that is good, but for nibbāna it's not good, because with nibbāna you go in the opposite direction. Let's say nibbāna or enlightenment is not to do anything your ego wants.

Just to be with how it is, how it truly is, and you get the right view of everything. Even of yourself, even of your ego, but it is only matter and mind that you recognise.

So if you do understand it like this, it will help you to practise vipassanā better and to go deeper and deeper in your practice.


All motion, every movement that is happening, see them as mind and matter. Not as what I am, not as what you are.

With seeing, just seeing as matter, a visible object. Hearing, just an audible object; smelling, just a smelling object; tasting with the tongue when food and drink comes in contact with the tongue, just an object with flavour; contacting physically, just tangible object; when thought comes, a thinkable object.

The thinkable object itself is matter, the awareness of it is the mind, noting every time.

When there is an attempt to note, it is samma-vāyāma (right effort). Recognising the object is samma sati (right mindfulness). Noting itself is samma-samādhi, moment-concentration.

When right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration is there, everything is only vipassanā. And everything becomes 'no'. Why is it 'no'? Because it has no preferences. Every time when you prefer something or you like or dislike something you leave the zero. When you remain as zero, there is nothing to count.


A human being starts with 'one', and is going for more and more - for millions - and you are attached to it.

That attachment means that you are not free and vimutti (deliverance) is not possible.

In your meditation experiences, when your practice is good, you also get defilements from your practice what we call vipassanā defilements. When you have good concentration or when you are having a good time and you recognise that it is good, this is already a defilement for vipassanā.

So you should be careful in your practice too. Every time you recognise: ĎOh, I obtained somethingí, that is wrong. Because you started with number one and it will go up to a million or more, and you're attached to it - then ego is there.


So remain as zero. I want you to be strict in your opinion about everything that happens in your practice. Sometimes while sitting you can follow the rising and falling full time; even when a slight thought comes you note it, or a pain disappears when you put your effort on it, and at that moment you become proud, you are delighted.

This is a defilement which hinders your progress. You are attached to it, you are not free. Keep strict to zero and attach to nothing.



We see nibbāna as zero, as nothing inside, as blank. It is nibbāna, but it is just drawing the picture.

When someone asks what nibbāna looks like we say: nibbāna looks like the moon, the full moon, but with nothing in it. In fact there is still something in the moon, so it cannot be nibbāna. Bright and light but zero - no spot - nothing.


So your practice has to aim for zero. I repeat again, if you practise and you expect to become something, even to get nibbāna, it will hinder you from the beginning. If you want to be enlightened, it will hinder you from the start.

So you must all the time be aware that when something happens and you want to give your opinion or do some interpreting - say 'no, no, no, I just see what it is, I just recognise what it is'. No more interpretation.

Even when you want to bring your experience on a level with my talk - Mettavihari is saying that it's true - forget him, leave him alone, keep him out, he's not there with you when your experience comes; and if he's there it is a big problem for you.


The book you read, the tape you listen to is also not there. Every time say 'no'. If you say 'no' all the time, you remain zero.

But keep on exercising with effort. Right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration - on and on. One day you go to the end of this road for sure, if you keep on practising.

Many of you have been coming back to the retreat because you just came to walk the path of nibbāna. That's the reason you are doing it. You are not coming for concentration or for something I have said.

Some meditators are having problems, let's say they are almost dying here. Nothing is good, nothing is happy here, but you know that you get the answer to what vipassanā practice is. Vipassanā is suffering. If you're not suffering, you are not in vipassanā. So I guarantee that when you are suffering, you are in vipassanā.

We start with dukkha, anicca and anatta. Nothing for the self. When you do something for yourself it's not anatta. Anatta is opposite from atta, self.


Selflessness, egoless ness - then it becomes suññatā. Every noting makes suñña. When you hear something - normally when you hear you get something from your hearing - you just say 'hearing' 'hearing'. It doesn't matter If itís good or bad, leave it alone, do not involve - then it is suñña.

Or let's say a meditator, a young person, looks at a girl, and he has the tendency to like. When he says 'liking, 'liking' the girl becomes suñña. The lady becomes nothing and so attachment is not there, lust is not there and you become easy. This is not talk but real practice. You have to do it.

The same with food. Every time you think: 'hmmm, nice food' you note 'tasting', 'tasting', 'tasting', until the taste is gone, and you're enlightened for that moment. Yes, I guarantee that you are enlightened. If you still follow the food that you like with taste, you eat poisoned food as far as the practice of nibbāna is concerned. So, note 'tasting', 'tasting', 'tasting', and swallow your food. Maybe the cook will be disappointed that you do not taste her food. But never mind that she is disappointed, she gets puñña by your disappointment, she gets merit.


This is how you should practice, how you should behave in the retreat. I do not want to talk to you every day - though I have a lot to say - because that isn't so useful for you, but now and then I come to guide you with my words. I said you can listen to the words but the words are not your meditation.

It's just like a mirror, where you can look at your face. When you see your face in a mirror you touch the mirror, and you think you touch your face, but you feel nothing. You have to go back to your face and feel your face.

Itís the same with meditation experiences. It's not in words, the words are only the mirror. Do not just think you have results or you are experienced with the words. Seeing only what it is, that what you experience, that would be enough.

So now you can carry on your practice. I would like to encourage you to go back to your intensive practice. For tonight we have had enough words. Thank you.