Fourth Dhamma talk

5 February 2002

Ven. Phra Mettavihari

(Translation Rien Loeffen)


Now you should pay attention to meditation in words and compare them to your own experiences. You have been retreating now for more than sixteen days, and you encounter experiences, like images - what we call mental images - as a result from a certain concentration. Even mindfulness, strong mindfulness is also the result from the practice of this kind of vipassanā meditation retreat. Or sometimes confidence, faith or trust. All this is happening with your experiences.


All this is good, but when these things are too extreme they can be the cause of your failure. This means you are getting nowhere, because you're attached to the experience you have got from your practice.

Then you carry your self with it. I mean the personal entity, that you believe in your self, is becoming strong with this retreating.

That's why we always have to get back to the vipassanā characteristics. Impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and egoless ness or no-self (anatta). You have to keep strict to these three characteristics. If you did not experience these three things in your practice, you're out of vipassanā.

Maybe you practised something else. You can mislead yourself and do samatha practice (concentration meditation). You need concentration all the time during the retreat. Without it you cannot do your work, you cannot make a move, because the concentration itself is a resource of all this moving, of all this going in your retreating, so you need concentration anyway.


You should understand that we have three kinds of concentration. Before I go further I want you to see in what concentration you are.

For those who were listening to this before, maybe it is the same story, the same thing, but it is always new because it's here and now, and so it is different.

First of all we should know that in this kind of practice we have khanika-samādhi. I mean momentary concentration - you have it all the time.

When you make an attempt to do the noting or naming - that attempt is motivation. We call it samma-vāyāma, right effort - it has to be right, not wrong.

How do you know that it is right effort? It's coming together with right recognition. Recognising the right object at the right time. With recognition of the object mindfulness arises at the same time.

The note or the name that you put on the object you are recognising is samma-samādhi or momentary concentration.


So when you have a new object coming up every time because of change - again I come back to change, because when practising meditation with vipassanā you have to be with the change all the time. Because of the change there is also suffering and missing for your ego or for your self. Or sometimes there is the fear that it will change.

When you see or recognise the change, you recognise suffering at the same time, because it makes things insecure for you. We have this insecurity in our life all the time.

It's not remaining, it's insubstantial, it's not real because of change, and in this change you suffer. You don't recognise anything permanent in or about you, especially not in your attachment.


This happens a lot in your experiences. I said: it is very good for those who practise an intensive course like this to see all this, to experience all this. But your personal ego, your self, the belief in your self, what we call sakkaya-ditthi, is not yet removed.

Therefore it is causing you a lot of problems all the time here in this retreat. You are not happy. May be you understand, but you understand only. Being here in the retreat is also suffering for you. Many times you have the idea to stop or to leave the retreat. But many times you are indecisive - that's also suffering.


This is happening with vipassanā meditation. If this isn't happening, it's not true practice, not a true retreat, not discovering the suffering and you fail to obtain wisdom.

Before I go further with vipassanā experiences I want to go back to the concentration.

If you practise momentary concentration, you don't get mental images. During today's interviews I discovered that many meditators here encounter mental images. That means that you are very deeply involved in your concentration. It's going to the second degree of concentration, the so-called upacāra-samādhi, approaching concentration.

The first was khanika-samādhi, that you can follow the object, every time on time. And sometimes you easily recognise, and you name and note with words.

But when you have approaching concentration, deep concentration, you get deep feelings in yourself. When you have deep feelings in yourself, you illustrate or manifest this as a mental image.

Like sometimes your body is jerking or jumping (or it feels as if it is jumping), or your body or your head feel as if they’re growing. Certain meditators encounter numbing, so that you don't feel your arms, one arm sometimes, sometimes both arms, or you don't feel your legs. All these experiences are saying that you have approaching concentration, the second degree of concentration.


And then you get many contrasts. Especially with noise. If somebody suddenly moves in your neighbourhood or makes a hard noise, you easily tremble physically or your heart beats quickly, that happens many times.

Or sometimes you stop your sitting meditation and you want to get up to do your standing and walking meditation, you feel contracting in your heart, like heart beat. That means you are involved in concentration in the feeling in your self, what is called upacāra-samādhi, approaching concentration.


It can happen that sometimes when you sit - you got purification of mind through the purification of your discipline - you can sit for a long time without pain, without feeling. Or sometimes the rising and falling of your stomach doesn't appear at all. You just recognise your body sitting, without thought, without pain, without feeling - like a stone or like a statue. You see yourself as a Buddha statue for example or as a statue of a man. This is a characteristic of full concentration. In Pali we call this appanā-samādhi.


First there is khanika-samādhi which we use to practise with noting or naming. The second is upacāra-samādhi which sometimes makes you confused, especially confused with perception. It is hard to use your orientation to note or to name.

But full concentration means that you finished. There is nothing to do - there's just awareness of your sitting position.

This can happen if you feel very pleasant. It is enjoyable and you feel rapture. That is also a characteristic of mental absorption.

When you mentally have that absorption in your body, there's hardly any object. There is just awareness of one-ness. It does not happen like I have said before. There is no sense of impermanence, no new things happen, just the same things happen all the time. You just recognise your bodily position; there is no suffering and also no experience of egoless ness.


You feel your ego very deeply - you're refining your ego with that full concentration. But it is defilement at the same time. Why is it defilement? Because it hinders your progress towards enlightenment and wisdom.

When you can just sit and nothing happens - no pain, no thought to discover - doesn't mean that you're enlightened. It's not the way to enlightenment.

If you want to get back to the way of enlightenment and wisdom, you have to get back to your suffering, to feel the pain, to feel the dissatisfactoriness, not satisfying yourself, I mean not to satisfy your ego. It has to come back to that again.


People who have been longer in the retreat can do this, but beginners who just join a retreat mostly are discontent with being here, are not very happy with being here.

Sometimes you got the idea that it was wrong for you to come here to the retreat. You're criticising, that means you have no trust, no confidence in yourself. Or maybe you go further: you have no confidence in this method, no confidence in the teacher, no confidence in the teaching.

You say: this is not something for me or I'm not ready for it. Some meditators leave the retreat because of that judgement. You must be careful with that judgement. It means you underestimate everything. Mostly you underestimate yourself. Then you will miss your opportunity.


You miss your fortune that way, if you're criticising, if you see that you are very new. You can look up to see who have been meditating twenty or thirty years, and they keep practising. Someone who has been here for a long time, and they are still doing it. You have to get the idea that it must be something, otherwise they wouldn’t stay that long. If you have that doubt, you do not trust your way of being here, you must look at that every time.


This practice is not new. Gautama the Buddha has been practising the four foundations of mindfulness more than two thousand and five hundred years ago, the same what you are doing here. And it did not change, is still the same thing. It has been carried on from generation to generation in this lineage so long already.

If it were not true, nobody would have followed it, nobody would have practised it. We do follow, we do practise this kind of vipassanā meditation that was discovered by Gautama Buddha already more than two thousand five hundred years ago.

It's still modern, it's not ancient. It's not something far away from human life. It's very good to apply in our life, even in this time, in our civilised society with its high technology. It is still practicable, understandable, knowledgeable.


It doesn't matter in what religion or faith people believe. People from different religions, different backgrounds, different beliefs - when we practise these four foundations of mindfulness, we experience the same things as have been experienced by Gautama Buddha two thousand and five hundred years ago, because it is very human. This is humanism.

It doesn't matter if you use it as a belief or not, because belief is already in it when you have trust in your experiences. It means enlightenment or nibbāna is still there.

Buddha has said that this way of practising, or the Dhamma, will never disappear from this world if mankind still practises it. He guaranteed and announced this in his lifetime.


Therefore we do believe. Not that we believe a dogmatic belief. We believe with trust, with confidence, but also with good reason. Not without reasoning - reasoning in a way that you can prove yourself in the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness. Namely body, you have a body - Buddha had a body before he went into nibbāna; we have feeling - Buddha had the same. We have thought - Buddha had the same; and we have conditioning, so-called dhammanupassanā-satipatthāna, mental conditioning or mind-objects.

Everyone has this, so this is reachable, understandable, knowledgeable by mankind. Regardless of your background or what you believe in. Because we do not bring belief into this practice. We should do it with what is coming right now. To see your body, to observe your body, to observe your feeling, to observe your thought and to observe your conditioning. These are the four foundations of mindfulness. You have to establish your mindfulness on these four.


In the Satipatthāna Sutta it is said that this is the way, the only way, for the purification of all beings - they mean human beings - and to overcome lamenting, greed, mourning, sorrow and suffering. This is the only way. Maybe someone can prove that there's another way, but it is not true, because this is about what is within yourself, what you have for yourself. You have feeling, you have thought and you have conditioning.

You can have it from other teachers, but it has to be this way. It is the only way to come back to yourself, to your inner.

If you've been out of yourself you're a lunatic - let me put it that way - or it’s an illusion. It can happen that certain people who are not yet enlightened can obtain clear-audience or clairvoyance or can predict things in your future.

For Buddha this is lunacy, it doesn't make any sense. You don't get out of your problems.


Even when you go to a fortune teller, they tell you this and that, true or not, you do not get out of your problems. They say you're going to suffer or they even tell you that you're going to be discontent, and maybe it's true that it happens the way they predicted, but you're not better off. You only know it before it happens. You have the same pain, the same sorrow, the same grief, the same frustration.

It's not the way to get out of your problems, there is no purification. Practising mindfulness based on your body, based on your feeling, based on your thought, based on your conditioning is purifying you.


Therefore if you're hurt, you feel pain because in our lives we have previous karma, we have done many things good and bad.

Everyone has been with all these good and bad actions. Those recordings in you - we have no time to look into them in daily life. Almost no time because the change is too quick, especially in modern times.

We have to follow everything, technology - what you call software - you are always dependent and have to go to the window to see what's going on in the world and have to follow it all the time. No time to come back to yourself.

You just look through the window and you think that you know enough, but this knowledge from the window, from the computer, doesn't make you better off. Sometimes it gives you even more problems.

Sometimes you're so sad because you see the news or other stories on it that make you suffer more - and at the same time it's defiling your mind.

It's going on and on. You can hardly move. You have to follow it. It’s almost like a dog without a tail. Do you know a dog without a tail? He has no tail to move anymore. It has been cut off.

Our wisdom has been cut off by the technology. You should be careful. You may use this, but you should understand that it can cut off your wisdom. Do not be too much in it, but use it at the time you want.


So how to begin to get wisdom? You must begin to look inside yourself.

Where in yourself? Nothing more than body, feeling, thinking, conditioning. This is what you have.

You need time to purify this. Take your time. You must keep trying all the time, repeatedly to obtain wisdom - so-called paññā, knowledge.


You can obtain knowledge through three directions.

First, while now you're hearing my words, you get knowledge too about vipassanā, about life, but you're not enlightened.

Or sometimes through good thoughts or sharp thinking, but you don't get enlightened this way. You're not better off.

You read a lot of books or you philosophise, but still you're not free from your ego, not free from your self.

Unless you're free from your self, you cannot be free from your suffering. If your self is there, you are suffering. Practising vipassanā meditation in a retreat like this is the way to overcome your suffering, but then first you have to have experienced pain.


We know that one day we are going to end up with dying. Death is fearful and painful for mankind. People die with fear, they die with mourning, with frustration, but when you meditate you discover this pain of being human first in yourself.

You need to have patient discipline to deal with pain, to overcome that pain. Without patient discipline we're getting nowhere.

So we start with sīla, discipline, then we'll get concentration. Good discipline supports you to get good concentration. Right concentration makes you overcome suffering in life. Once you overcome suffering in life you are enlightened.

All kinds of pain, all kinds of greed, all kinds of sorrow, all kinds of sadness - you need to have patience to deal with it.


You need concentration - I said concentration is a resource, but you don't demand for big concentration. Momentary concentration only will help you to overcome.

When you want to use your momentary concentration, we call that sukkha-vipasaka, it means you use vipassanā to get freedom or to get happiness in life.

It's not a happiness you've experienced before. It's a new happiness. Happiness without self.

You cannot imagine this, but if you talk about freedom you can imagine it, because all of us are longing for freedom in life. You can be free from everything if you have good management.

But to free yourself from your self is impossible. The only way is the way of the four foundations of mindfulness. I said to you that you can let yourself free, but how to be free?

To be detached from what we call the five attachments - your body, your feeling, your perception, your mental conditioning or your mental functioning and from your mundane consciousness - is the only way to become free and to overcome suffering.


All suffering, every pain comes through your body, comes with your feeling, comes with your perception, comes with your conditioning, comes with your mundane consciousness.

Therefore in this practice we need sīla, we need to have good senses, six senses to be able to practise sīla, discipline - to refrain the senses.

What do I mean with refraining the senses? Do not let your senses mingle with the outer object.

Like hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting with the tongue, contacting with the body and impressing with your mind certain mind-objects, do not let your senses mingle.

Every time the contact comes, it's also recording ignorance for us, or illusion.

We follow it, follow the influence. What influence?

Liking and disliking is influencing you all the time with the senses. So you're being tortured by your desire for contact with the senses.

If there is good contact the desire to keep it is there, the desire to be with it as long as your desire wants. But your desire never ends, so it keeps on wanting.

And with a bad contact you have the desire not to be with that. To change or to stop it, to get rid of it or to escape from it.


So there is always work for you because of the contacts. Therefore we are restless. When the sense contacts are not refrained, when we are without sīla, we are restless. Therefore we have to purify ourselves.

Mankind has six senses for contact of the senses, and they say they are happy. But it is not true, it's an illusion.

They can be happy with a sense-contact, they're happy with a good eye, a good ear, a good mind, a good body, a good tongue, a good nose - they're happy but those contacts of that feeling gives them attachment.

Even not wanting to be with something is attachment, is desire to get out of something. That you do not agree with disliking we call in Buddhist terms abhijjhā-domanassa. Abhijjhā means that you're hankering for it; domanassa means it's irritating you all the time.

So we always get irritation, and it’s piercing you like a nail all the time.

This desire – so-called bhava-tanhā - the desire to be with and the desire to get rid of follow us all the time. This is real suffering, but we enjoy that feeling, and then we get all that's recorded as karma. Wanting to be, not wanting to be, without end, endless; that's so-called samsāra.


But in the method you are now practising, you have been guided not to care about a lot of things. If it's good, when you say or note 'good', you're detached. Naming 'I like it' when there is something you like is also detached.

If there's something you dislike like pain or sorrow or worry, you name 'I worry', 'I worry' and you're detached every time. So every note, every name you put on the object, you must not underestimate it - it's a very little thing, almost nothing - but it's a lot because it gets you to detachment.


There is nothing for you to belong to, not even to this practice. You have to be detached from it. You know this all the time, when something happens, like good concentration, good mindfulness. Sometimes you get problems with your mindfulness, because mindfulness itself can be a defilement for vipassanā, because every time when you put sharp noting on the objects, they disappear because of having good mindfulness - and then it makes you over-confident.

You underestimate that in yourself you are recording: a good thing or a bad thing keeps conditioning you.

Therefore in this practice you burn your garbage. The old karma has the tendency to come out. Sometimes you get saliva in your mouth or in your nose, sometimes you're vomiting. That's just an illustration of the purifying process. Sometimes you have tears. That's also an illustration of having burned your old karma, purifying your old karma.

Sometimes you feel more fear or sorrow in this retreat. This means that it is not new, it's something old in you that has come out. It's purified.


So the old garbage has to get out. And new karma must be prevented. With all this practice with the six senses, with the five aggregates, with the four foundations of mindfulness, with accomplishment, you have the motivation. You're really concerned and you perform the effort and you scrutinise all the time your practice, without ceasing, without stopping. One day you will get a real revelation, that means freedom and the everlasting peace of nibbāna.


And now I come to the question: Have you been enlightened in this practice, or are you just hearing my talk or idea of philosophy?


I want to give you an example.

When you note your knee, you have pain at your knee. I said: first recognising your knee, that is mindfulness. And making an attempt to note, that is right effort. When you're saying a note, this is right concentration.

You're now stepping on the path leading to the end of your pain.

How do you do that? You have the full attention in what you're saying, like 'pain', 'pain'. For that moment you're not with the pain. Where were you? You were with your word. When with all attention you note the pain, and you recognise that it is still there, you do it more times. It's purifying. Pain is becoming less, or when it is not less it is there because of certain physical tension, but it doesn't matter, it doesn't do you harm. At that moment you are enlightened.


So you make a collection of your enlightenment, with all this noting or naming, every time. Let's put it this way: in every noting and naming you are enlightened. So if you just sit without noting and naming you're not enlightened.

It is very obvious that you can obtain absorption or concentration but it does not make you enlightened.

Enlightenment is not too far away. It's under your nose. In very breath it is there with you. So do not underestimate your breathing. So you note the breathing, rising and falling (that is your body character, the foundation of the body). Then you note the pain - I want you to understand this well. If you put your attention on your physical pain, like in your knee, pain has the power to suck you in like a magnet. Then you're attached to it, you're not free from it.


So you must never go too close to the spot where your pain is. Pay attention from a certain distance - recognising it first - and make a mental note on the right object. Be careful, if you say 'pain', 'pain' without recognising the pain you practise mantra meditation. A mantra is leading to concentration only, without discovering the suffering, without wisdom.

So you have to see what is the object of your mind. I said nāma-rūpa in previous talks, nothing exists - only nāma-rūpa, mind and matter. The matter that your mind is with, that is the object you should note or name.

So when you sit you observe your breathing, rising and falling, but when pain comes you should not be with the breathing anymore. If you still try to repeat 'rising', 'falling', you practise mantra meditation.

You have to shift your attention to recognise the spot where the pain is. Don't get close to it. Because pain is also feeling, it is khanda, vedanā-khanda, the aggregate of feeling. You must never get into your khanda's. Do not get into your body, do not get into your feeling, do not get into your perception, do not get into your mental conditioning, do not get into your mundane consciousness.


Be above them, because they are your ego. Once you come above your ego, above your self, then you are enlightened. Then you are in lokuttara, you are beyond, you are not in something. Therefore never allow yourself to get into something


When you leave these five groups of aggregates alone, then you're very free. They'll just be the way they are. I mean: enlightenment is just coming from these impurities, the khandhas. The body is not pure, feeling is not pure, perception is not pure, conditioning is not pure. The mundane consciousness that makes you aware of this is not pure.

You should not be concerned with that, because you practise mindfulness.

Enlightenment is in your mindfulness, so when you have full time mindfulness you're enlightened.

The perfectly enlightened one like the arahant, they don't sleep because they have mindfulness all the time. When they sleep, only their body rests. Their mindfulness is functioning.

For sleeping you have to go into sub consciousness. But not the perfectly enlightened one. They are above this, therefore they are in lokuttara, they are above these mundane things, these worldly things. They are not concerned with it anymore.


So you are here, trying to build your mindfulness on these four foundations. Many times, in these hours, except for the time you sleep, you are with enlightenment. So don't underestimate that. You get freedom.

Maybe you don't see it yet, but with more polishing, with more experiences, you will get real wisdom and real freedom.


So you have time now to do your retreat. You should consider yourself fortunate to be here. And the time is running out. You had three weeks, but now there are only two days left.

Don't underestimate the last two days. It can be a very good, a critical time for you. So put right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration in your practice.

Maybe you will experience something, or maybe something will come that will make you enjoy this retreat for these days.

In the sutta's it says that when you practise from the morning till the evening you will be enlightened. Or when you begin in the evening and you practise ardently and correctly, in the morning you are enlightened.

The time doesn't sound a lot, but you need time to make it correct. If you are lucky, just lucky, you can get enlightened in one day. I hope this will happen for you.

Thank you for listening.