Saturday, July 4, 2009

Meditation lessons

On this page I will write about things related to Insight Meditation. In Burmese it is called "Vipassana". Actually it is not a Burmese word but a Pali word. "Vi" means with great effort and "passana" means "look very carefully". In this context it means to look at the mind and body with great focus and attentiveness.

Why do we call it Insight meditation? We call it Insight Meditation because it gives insight to a person. Insight is not the same as education. For gaining insight you need to experience it yourself. You cannot read about it or listen to a lecture about it. Vipassana is something you have to do yourself. The object of meditation is yourself. No one else. No other object. It is possible to get a very good education if we study hard. Eventually we can get a good degree from a university. But that is not enough in life. A university degree can be a help but it certainly is not a be all and end all. That is why my teachers told me when I got my first university degree "this is only the beginning of a very long journey."

I started meditating when I was about fourteen years old. I was in my seventh standard. The person who gave me the most inspiration at that time was the Venerable Webu Sayadaw. He was from Kyaukse which is in upper Myanmar. A lot of Burmese devotees believe that he was a saint. In Myanmar language we call such a person an arahat. In actual fact the concept of a christian saint and an arahat is not the same. The Buddhist concept of an arahat is different. To give a short explanation, an arahat is a person who has seen Nivarna in this very life and who will not be reborn in the 31 planes of existence when he leaves this earthly body. When I was young I have heard some stories that he could levitate and fly in the air. In Burmese we call it "zan pyan de". Incidentally, the Burmese word "zan" and the the word "zen" used by Mahayana Buddhists is the same. I have also heard stories saying that when he was travelling by train some of his devotees saw a very bright light coming out from his compartment. This is the kind of glow that comes out from the head of arahats, peceka Buddhas and Buddhas. I have not seen it with my own eyes so I cannot say for certain. Anyway I think he was a very holy person and did have some supernormal powers.

The first book on mediation that I read was the book written by the Venerable Ledi Sayadaw called 'Magginna dipani." It was a very good book for beginners as it explained in detail the Noble eightfold path. At that time I also read a lot of Vipassana books written by the Venerable Mogoke Sayadaw. He was also considered by many devotees as an arahat. He was the founder of the meditation technique which later came to be known as "Mogoke Vipassana".

So I come back to this question. Why Insight Meditation. The answer is simple. To know the truth about life. What is life anyway. I know that there is life around me because I am alive. For example if I was dead I would not know anything. In this body, which people know as Kyaw Myaing, there is life. It can grow, there is a mind that thinks and the mind has different kinds of emotions. The meditation masters teach us that "what knows it the mind" and the body is matter. What is not permanent is "matter". In pali mind is called "nama" and matter is called "rupa". So the object of Insight Meditation is mind and matter. The purpose is to learn about the true nature of mind and matter.

The Buddhist scriptures tell us that we are nothing but mind and matter. So I said "so what". That is quite evident. How do we apply this knowledge in daily life. Then the meditation books say that we are all controlled by three different types of emotions. The emotion of greed or lust. The emotion of anger and the emotion of "being confused". In pali they are called "loba, dawtha and moha". Some scholars translate moha as delusion. When I was a young boy meditating for the first time, I often wondered how this knowledge will help me in my daily life. At that time I certainly did not want to become a monk or a hermit and spend the rest of my days in the forest meditating day in and day out. I was eager to enjoy life and wanted to know a practical application of this knowledge.

So I said to myself "even if I recite life is suffering, life is suffereing many times a day what good would it do". My aunts heard this and said "young boy, be careful of what you are saying, you will go to hell. You will be reborn as an animal or a ghost". I was quite a naughty boy. I said "so what, when I die I won't know where I go and that will be the end of that." My aunty said "oh dear, what will become of this boy. When will he learn. When will he become good."

Now I am 54 and know better. That is the reason I am writing about my experiences on the World Wide Web in the hope that someone will find my web site and read what I have written.

Let me get on with Insight Meditation. There are two things that we should know properly. The nature of mind and the nature of matter. Then there are three things that we should know about mind and matter. What are they. That mind and matter are not permanent. That they follow their own process. Therefore the whole situation is not very satisfactory. In Pali, they call it anicca, dhukka and annata.

The concept of dhukka is not that easy to understand. The suffering when we have pain, when we lose our loved ones or do not get what we want is easy to understand. Some people who are extremely attached to each other like star-crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet would even commit suicide because of love. We have also heard of people who kill themselves because they lost big amounts of wealth while doing stocks. Some of them jump out of the windows during the time of the great depression in America. As I see it, dhukka is relative. For example, if you are very hungry you will feel the pain in the stomach and it will burn until you have something to eat. Then, you feel relieved and will say to yourself "oh what a great meal". The pain is gone. Another example is when you are separated from someone you love. You will feel the pain of separation until you are re-united with your girlfriend or boyfriend. Then the pain will go away. The suffering that a poor man feels and the suffering that a rich man feels may not be exactly the same but both feel the pain in their own way. The suffering that the rich man feels and the suffering that a President feels is not the same but they also feel the pain in their own way as long as they have greed, anger and delusion. Therefore the purpose of vipassana is to know about the true nature of one's own emotions.

Some writers on the subject of Insight Meditation translate "dhukka" as "suffering". I do not think this conveys the true meaning of dhukka. To me it means more than suffering. The term suffering is too narrow in sense to convey the true meaing of dhukka. Dhukka is the opposite of "thuka" which means something like bliss. However, it is not exactly bliss. Dhukka means that the whole human existence is not worthwhile when compared to the existence of a higher being like a "deva". However, even "devas" with all their superhuman powers still have lust for life or existence. They too have greed, anger and ignorance to some extent but not as much as ordinary human beings. Some devas engage in pleasurable pursuits all day so much so that they forget the teachings of the Triple Gems - the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Shanga. Thus when the time comes for the end of their existence in the deva plane, they either fall to become a human being or they can even be reborn in the woeful abodes such as the animal world, peta, asurakei or hell. These are the four woeful abodes.

There are many meditation centers in Myanmar(Burma). One of the meditation centers that I like very much is the International Meditation Center founded by U Ba Khin. He has passed away but his tradition is being carried on by Sayamagyi and Guruji Goenka.

I received my first training at the International Meditation Center under the guidance of U Ba Khin. His method is very simple. He establishes concentration of the mind by asking you to concentrate on the breath. This is concentration on the in-breath and the out-breath. In Pali it is called ana pana. When I was his student, U Ba Khin would tell me "don'tb read too many books. They will confuse you. Just do what I tell you to do." But I never listened to him. I would read all the books that I could find.

According to Theravada Buddhism there are 40 methods of concentration. When I arrived in New York in 1993 I came across a very good book on Abhidhamma written by U Kyaw Min called " Buddhist Abhidhamma, Meditation and Concentration". In this book he has explained about the 40 methods of concentration in the following manner: -

1. 10 Kasinas .. 10 devices

2. 10 Asubhas .. concentration on various types of corspes

3. 10 Anussatis .. 10 recollections

4. 4 Brahma Viharas .. (food of the Brahma gods)

5. 4 Arupas .. (Sphere of space, sphere of consciousness, sphere of nothingness, and the sphere of neither-perception nor non-perception)

6. Contemplation on the loathsomeness of food

7. Analysis of the 4 physical elements

(Reference: Buddhist Abhidhamma, Meditation and Concentration; U Kyaw Min, Times Books International, Singapore, 1980)

The "ana pana" concentration method falls under the 10 Anussatis. I would now like to say something about the 10 Kasinas. The Burmese call it Kathein Seibar, which means the 10 kathien. They are as follows: -

1. Earth Device (Mye Kathein)

2. Water Device (Ye Kathein)

3. Fire Device (Mee Kathien)

4. Air Device (Lay Kathein)

5. Blue Device

6. Yellow Device

7. Red Device

8. White Device

9. Space Device

10. Consciousness Device

The 10 Anussatis are as follows: -

1. Recollection of the Buddha

2. Recollection of the Dhamma

3. Recollection of the Shanga

4. Recollection of Virtue

5. Recollection of Charity

6. Recollection of the Devas

7. Mindfulness of death

8. Mindfulness of the physical body

9. Mindfulness of breathing (Ana pana)

10. Recollection of calmness

(Reference: Buddhist Abhidhamma, U Kyaw Min, page 116)

When I was a young boy I was always fascinated by stories of zawgyis flying in the air with the help of their majic wands and Arahats flying in the air by using supernormal powers which are the result of concentration on ana pana (in-breath and out-breath) and concentration on the 10 Kasinas (kathein seibar).


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