translated by Maung
Calm and Insight
What do we meditate on? How do we
insight? This is a very important question.
There are two kinds of meditation:
meditating to develop calm and meditating to develop insight.
on the ten devices only gives rise to calm, not insight.
Meditating on the
ten foul things (a swollen corpse, for example), too, only gives
calm, not insight. The ten recollections, like remembering the
Law and others, too, can develop calm and not insight. Meditating
thirty-two parts of the body like hair, nails, teeth, skin --
are not insight. They develop only concentration.
Mindfulness as to respiration is
concentration-developing. But one can develop insight from it.
Visuddhi-Magga, however, includes it in the concentration
so we will call it as such here.
Then there are the four divine
love, pity, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, and four formless
leading to formless jhanas. Then, there is the meditation
loathsomeness of food. All these are subjects for concentration
When you meditate on the four
inside your body, it is called the analysis of the four elements.
this is a concentration meditation, it helps develop insight as
All these forty subjects of
subjects for developing concentration. Only respiration and
elements have to do with insight. The others will not give rise to
insight. If you want insight, you will have to work further.
To come back to our question, how
develop insight? The answer is: we develop insight by meditating
five aggregates of grasping. The mental and material qualities
beings are aggregates of grasping. They may be grasped with
craving in which case it is called "grasping of the sense objects"
they may be grasped wrongly by wrong views -- in which case it is
"grasping through wrong views." You have to meditate on them and
as they really are. If you don't, you will grasp them with craving
wrong views. Once you see them as they are, you no longer grasp
this way you develop insight. We will discuss the five aggregates
grasping in detail.
The five aggregates of grasping
or form, feelings, perception, volitional activities and
What are they? They are the things you experience all the time.
You do not
have to go anywhere else to find them. They are in you. When you
are there in the seeing. When you hear, they are there in the
When you smell, taste, touch, or think, they are there in the
tasting, touching or thinking. When you bend, stretch or move your
the aggregates are there in the bending, stretching or moving.
Only you do
not know them to be aggregates. It is because you have not
them and so do not know them as they really are. Not knowing them
are, you grasp them with craving and wrong view.
What happens when you bend? It
the intention to bend. Then come the forms of bending one by one.
the intention to bend there are the four mental aggregates. The
intends to bend is the cons-ciousness. When you think of bending
bend, you may feel happy, or unhappy, or neither happy nor
so. If you bend with happiness, there is pleasant feeling. If you
with unhappiness or anger, there is unpleasant feeling. If you
neither happiness nor unhappiness, there is neutral feeling. So,
think of bending, there is the "feeling" aggregate. Then, there is
perception, the aggregate that recognizes the bending. Then there
mental state that urges you to bend. It seems as though it were
"Bend! Bend!" It is the volitional activities. Thus, in the
bend you have feelings, perception, volitional activities and
consciousness -- all four mental aggregates. The movement of
matter or form. It is the material aggregate. So, the intention to
and the bending together make up the five aggregates.
Thus, in one bending of the arm,
the five aggregates. You move once and the five aggregates come
move again and there are more of the five aggregates. Every move
the five aggregates. If you have not meditated on them rightly and
not known them rightly, what happens we need not tell you. You
Well, you think "I intend to bend"
bend", don't you? Everybody does. Ask the children, they will give
same answer. Ask adults who can't read and write, the same answer.
someone who can read, the same answer still if he will say what he
his mind. But, because he is well-read, he may invent answers to
scriptures and say "Mind and matter." It is not what he knows for
Only inventions to suit the scriptures. In his heart of hearts he
thinking: "It is I who intend to bend. It is I who bend. It is I
intend to move. It is I who move." He also thinks: "This I have
before, am now, and will be in the future. I exist for ever." This
thinking is called the notion of permanence. Nobody thinks, "This
intention to bend exists only now." Ordinary people always think,
mind existed before. The same that have existed before am now
bending." They also think, "This thinking I exist now and will go
When you bend or move the limbs,
think: "It is the same limbs that have existed that are moving
is the same I that have existed that am moving now." After
again think, "These limbs, this I, always exist." It never occurs
that they pass away. This, too, is the notion of permanence. It is
clinging to what is impermanent as permanent, clinging to what is
personality, no ego, as personality, as ego.
Then, as you have bent or
your desire, you think it is very nice. For example, as you feel
in the arm, you move or rearrange it and the stiffness is gone.
comfortable. You think it is very nice. You think it is happiness.
and amateur dancers bend and stretch as they dance and think it is
nice to do so. They delight in it and are pleased with themselves.
you converse among yourselves you often shake your hands and heads
pleased. You think it is happiness. When something you are doing
with success, again you think it is good, it is happiness. This is
delight through craving and cling to things. What is impermanent
to be permanent and delight in. What is not happiness, not
but just aggregates of mind and matter, you take to be happiness,
personality, and delight in. You delight in them and cling to
mistake them for self or ego and cling to them, too.
So, when you bend, stretch or move
limbs, the thinking "I will bend" is aggregate of grasping. The
the aggregate of grasping. The thinking "I will stretch" is the
of grasping. The stretching is the aggregate of grasping. The
will move" is the aggregate of grasping. The moving is the
grasping. When we speak of aggregates of grasping to be meditated
mean just these things.
The same thing happens in seeing,
etc. When you see, the seat of seeing, the eye, is manifest. So is
object seen. Both are material things. They cannot cognize. But if
fails to meditate while seeing, one grasps them. One thinks the
with the eye is permanent, happy, self, and grasps it. One thinks
whole material world with the object seen is permanent, beautiful,
happy, and. self, and grasps it. So the form eye and the form
object are aggregates of grasping.
And when you see, the "seeing" is
manifest, too. It is the four mental aggregates. The mere
seeing is the aggregate consciousness. Pleasure or displeasure at
is the aggregate feeling. What perceives the object seen is the
perception. What brings the attention to see is the aggregate
activities. They constitute the four mental aggregates. If one
meditate while seeing, one is inclined to think that seeing "has
before, and exists now." Or, as one sees good things, one
"seeing is good." So thinking, one goes after good and strange
enjoy seeing. One goes to watch plays and films at the expense of
sleep and health because one thinks it is good to do so. If one
think it is good, one will not go to waste money or impair one's
To think that what sees or enjoys is "I", "I am enjoying", is to
with craving and wrong view. Because they grasp, the mind and
manifest themselves in seeing are said to be aggregates of
You grasp in the same way in
smelling, tasting, touching or thinking. You grasp all the more to
mind that thinks, imagines and reflects as being the "I", the ego.
five aggregates of grasping are none other than the
that manifest themselves at the six doors whenever one sees,
or perceives. You must try to see these aggregates as they are. To
meditate on them and see them as they are -- that is insight
"Insight meditation is meditating
five aggregates of grasping." This is in accordance with the
the Buddha. The teachings of the Buddha are called suttas, which
means "thread." When a carpenter is about to plane down or saw off
of timber he draws a straight line using a thread. In the same way
want to live the holy life we use the "thread" or sutta to
draw straight lines in our actions. The Buddha has given us lines
instructions on how to train in morality, develop concentration
become wisdom. You cannot go out of the line and speak or act as
please. Regarding the meditation of the five aggregates, here are a
excerpts from the suttas:
"Material shape, monks, is
What is impermanent, that is suffering. What is suffering, that is
self. What is not self, that is not mine, that am I not, this is
self. As it really comes to be, one should discern it thus by
wisdom." -- Samyutta Nikaya
You must meditate so that you will
this impermanent, suffering, not-self material form is really
dreadfully suffering, and without a self or ego. You should
likewise on feelings, perception, activities, and consciousness.
What is the use of looking upon
these aggregates as impermanent, suffering and not-self?
The Buddha tells us:
"So seeing all these
instructed disciple of the Aryans disregards material shape,
feeling." -- Samyutta
He who realizes the impermanent,
suffering, not-self nature of the five aggregates is wearied of
form as he is of feelings, perception, activities and
"By disregarding he is
That is to say, he has reached the
"Through passionlessness, he is
Once he has reached the Ariyan
passionlessness, he has arrived at the four fruitions of freedom
"In freedom the knowledge comes to
am freed.' "
When you are freed, you know for
that you are so. In other words, when you have become an
whom the defilements are extinguished, you know you have become
All these excerpts are from Yad
Sutta and there are numerous suttas of this kind.
Khandhavagga Samyutta is a collection of them. Two suttas
especially noteworthy: Silavanta Sutta and Sutavanta
In both suttas the venerable Maha Kotthika puts some questions to
venerable Sariputta, who gives very brief but vivid answers. Maha
"What things, friend Sariputta,
attended to thoroughly by a monk of moral habit?"
Note the attribute "of moral
this question. If you want to practise insight meditation with a
attaining the Path and Fruition and Nirvana, the least
need is to be of moral habit. If you don 't even have moral habit,
can't hope for the higher conditions of concentration and wisdom.
Venerable. Sariputta answers:
"The five grasping aggregates,
Kotthika, are the things which should be thoroughly attended to by
of moral habit, as being impermanent, suffering, as a disease, as a
as a dart, as pain, as illness, as alien, as decay, as void, as
What is the good of meditating
In answer the Venerable Sariputta goes on,
"Indeed, friend, it is
possible for a monk
of moral habit so thoroughly attending to these five aggregates of
grasping" to realize the
So, if you want to be a stream
winner and never to be reborn in the four lower states, you have
meditate on the five aggregates to realize their impermanence,
and not-self nature. But that is not all. You can become an
The venerable Kotthika goes on to ask,
"What things, friend Sariputta,
attended to thoroughly by a monk who is a Stream-winner?"
The Venerable Sariputta answers
that it is
the same five aggregates of grasping that should be thoroughly
by a stream-winner, as impermanent, suffering, not-self. The
moves on to Once-returning. What does Once-returner meditate on?
same five aggregates of grasping. He then becomes a Non-returner.
does the Non-returner meditate on? The five aggregates again. Now
becomes an Arahat. What does the Arahat meditate on? The five
again. From this it is clear that the five aggregates are the
has to meditate on even when one has become an Arahat.
What good is it to the Arahat by
meditating so? Will he become a silent Buddha? Or, a supreme
neither. He will end his round of rebirths as an Arahat and enter
The Arahat has no defilement left unremoved or uncalmed yet. All
defilements have been removed and calmed. So, he has nothing to
order to remove the defilements left unremoved or to calm those
uncalmed. Neither has he any moral habit, con-centration or wisdom
perfect. All the moral habits, concentration and wisdom that ought
perfected have been perfected in him. So, he has no need to work
perfection of what ought to be perfected, nor has he any need to
those already perfected. The insight practice brings no such
One of the benefits the Arahat
meditating on the five aggregates is the happy condition in this
Notwithstanding his being an Arahat, if he remains without
disquiet and discomfort keep coming up at the six sense-doors, now
now there. Here, disquiet does not mean mental distress. As the
sense-objects keep coming up despite himself, he finds no peace of
That is all. Not to speak of Arahats, our meditators of today feel
ease to meet with the sense-objects, eager though they are on
they return home from the meditation centre, they see this thing,
that thing, get engaged in such and such business talks, and there
peace at all. So they come back to the centre. To some, however,
disquiet does not last very long. Just four, five or ten days.
the homely spirit gets the better of them and they are happy with
home life and set to household cares again. The arahat never
his old habits. If he meets with various sense-objects without
only disquiet results. Only when he is absorbed in insight
he find peace of mind. Thus meditating on the five grasping
brings to the Arahat a happy condition in this world.
Again, as he lives in earnest
mindfulness and comprehension of the impermanence, suffering and
keep rising in him. This is another benefit. The Arahat in whom
mindfulness and comprehension keep rising is said to be in a
of life. Such a one can enjoy the attainment to fruition at
time and for as long as he desires. For these two benefits -- a
condition in this world and mindfulness-comprehension -- the
The above are the answers given by
venerable Sariputta in Silavanta Sutta. The same answers
in Sutavanta Sutta too. The only difference is in the terms
silavanta, "of moral habit" or "virtuous", and sutavanta,
"instructed" or "well informed." All the other words are the same.
on these two suttas and other suttas on the aggregate the dictum
from meditating on the five aggregates of grasping.
Now to come back to the grasping
rises through the six sense-doors.
When people see, they think of
or others as being permanent, as having existed before, as
as going to exist in future, as existing always. They think of
being happy, good, or beautiful. They think of them as being
entities. They think likewise when they hear, smell, taste or
"touch" is widespread all over the body -- wherever there is flesh
And wherever touch arises, there
grasping. The bending, stretching, or moving of the limbs
earlier are all instances of touch. So are the tense movements of
and falling in the abdomen. We will come to this in detail later.
When one thinks or imagines, one
"The I that have existed before is now thinking. Thinking, I go on
existing," and so one thinks of oneself as being permanent, as an
also thinks the thinking or imagining as being enjoyable, as being
nice. One thinks it is happiness.
If told that the thinking will
he cannot accept it. He is not pleased. This is because he is
In this way one clings to whatever
through the six sense doors, as being permanent, as being happy,
as self. One delights with craving and clings to it. One mistakes
wrong view and clings to it.
You have to meditate on the five
aggregates that can cling or grasp.
When you meditate, you have to
with method. Only the right method can bring about insight. If you
upon things as being permanent, how can there be insight?
look upon them as being happy, beautiful, as soul, as ego,
there be insight?
Mind and matter are impermanent
These impermanent things you have to meditate on to see them as
really are, as being impermanent. They rise and pass away and keep
oppressing you, so they are dreadful, they are sufferings. You
meditate to see them as they are, as sufferings. They are
lacking in a personality, a soul, a self. You have to meditate to
there is no personality, no soul, no self. You must try to see
they really are.
So, every time you see, hear,
perceive, you must try to see the mental and material processes
through the six sense doors as they really are. When you see, the
seeing is real. This you must note seeing, seeing. In the
when you hear, note hearing. When you smell, note smelling.
When you taste, note tasting. When you touch, note touching.
Tiredness, hotness, aches, and such unbearable and unpleasant
arise from contact too. Observe them: tiredness, hot, pain, and
on. Thoughts, ideas, may also turn up. Note them: thinking,
pleasure, delight, as they arise.
But to the novice it is hard to
all that come up through the six sense doors. He must begin with
You meditate like this. When you
in and out, the way the abdomen moves rising and falling is
conspicuous. You begin observing this move-ment. The movement of
you observe as rising. The movement of falling you observe
falling. This observation of rising and falling is void of the
of the scriptures. People who are not used to meditational
of it in contempt: "This rising and falling business has nothing
with the scriptures. It is nothing." Well may they think it is
because it is not done up in scriptural jargon.
Theoretically, however, it is
something. The rising is real, the falling is real, the moving air
is real. We have used the colloquial words rising and
for convenience's sake. In scriptural terminology, the
is the air-element. If you observe the abdomen attentively as it
falls, the firmness is there, the motion is there, the bringing
there. Here, the "firmness" is the characteristic of the
motion is its property, and the bringing out is its manifestation.
the air-element as it really is means to know its characteristic,
and manifes-tation. We meditate to know them. Insight begins with
determination of mind and matter. To achieve this the meditator
with the matter. How?
"(The meditator) should.... seize
of characteristic, function and so on." -- Visuddhi-magga ii 227
When you begin meditating on
mind, you should do so by way of either the characteristic or the
(function). "And so on" refers to the manifesta-tion (mode of
In this connection the Compendium of Philosophy is quite to the
"Purity of view is the
mind and matter with respect to their characteristics, function
(property), mode of appearance (manifestation) and proximate
The meaning is this: insight
the analytical knowledge of mind and matter. In the seven
you perfect the purity of morals and the purity of mind, and then
begin the purity of views. To achieve the analytical knowledge of
matter and the purity of views, you have to meditate on mind and
and know them by way of their characteristics, property
manifestation and proximate cause. Once you know them thus, you
analytical knowledge of mind and matter. Once this knowledge grows
sharper, you develop the purity of views.
Here, "to know them by way of
characteristics" means to know the intrinsic nature of mind and
know "by way of property" is to know their function. Manifestation
their mode of appearance. It is not yet necessary to know the
cause at the initial stage of meditational practice. So we will
just go on
to explain the characteristics, function and manifestation.
In both the Path of Purity and
Compendium of Philosophy just quoted it is not indicated
and matter should be meditated on by name, by number, as material
particles or as incessantly coming up processes. It is only shown
they should be meditated on by way of their characteristics,
manifestation. One should take careful note of this. If not, one
led to concepts of names, numbers, particles or processes. The
commentaries say that you should meditate on mind and matter by
their characteristic, function and manifestation, and so when you
on the air element, you do so by way of its characteristic,
manifestation. What is the characteristic of the air-element?
the characteristic of support. This is its intrinsic nature. It is
element itself. What is the function of the air-element? It is
What is its manifestation? It is bringing out. Manifestation is
appears to the meditator's intellect. As one meditates on the
it appears to the meditator's intellect as something bringing out,
pushing, and pulling. This is the manifestation of the
you meditate on the rising-falling of the abdomen, all the
moving, bringing out, become clear to you. These are the
function and manifestation of the air-element. This air element is
important. In the postures and comprehension, contemplation of the
Satipatthana-sutta, the commentator has laid
emphasis on the
air-element. Here is the Buddha's teaching:
"Gacchanto va gacchami ti
(When he walks, he is aware "I am walking.")
The Buddha is instructing us to be
of the form walking by noting walking, walking, every time
How knowledge is developed from
thus is explained by the commentator:
"The thought I am walking arises.
produces air. The air produces the intimation. The bringing
forward of the
whole body as the air-element spreads is said to be walking."
The meaning is this: The meditator
used to meditating -- walking, walking, every time he walks
realizes like this. First the idea "I will walk" arises. This
gives rise to tense movement all over the body, which in turn
material body to move forward move by move. This we say "I walk,"
walks." In reality there is no I or He that walks. Only the
walk and the form walking. This the meditator realizes. Here, in
explanation of the Commentary, the emphasis is on the realization
moving of the air-element. So, if you understand the air-element
by way of
its characteristics, function and manifestation, you can decide
yourself whether your meditation is right or not.
The air-element has the
support. In a football it is air that fills and supports so that
expands and remains firm. In colloquial speech we say the ball is
firm. In philosophical terms the air-element is in support. When
stretch your arm you feel some stiffness there. It is the
support. In the same way when you press an air-pillow or mattress
your body or head, your body or head will not come down but stay
above. It is because the air clement in the pillow or mattress is
supporting you. Bricks pile up as the ones below support those
the bricks below are not supporting, the ones above will tumble
the same way the human body is full of the air-element which gives
to it so that it can stand stiff and firm. We say "firm"
there is something firmer, we will call it "lax". If there is
more lax, it becomes firm again.
The function of the air-element is
It moves from place to place when it is strong. It is the
makes the body bend, stretch, sit, rise, go or come. Those
insight meditation often say, "If you note bending, stretching,
only concepts like arms will appear to you. If you note left,
right, only concepts like legs will appear to you. If you note
rising, falling, only concepts like the abdomen will appear to
This may be true to some of the beginners. But it is not true to
that the concepts will keep coming up. Both concepts and realities
to the beginner. Some people instruct the beginners to meditate on
realities only. This is impossible. To forget concepts is quite
impracticable at the beginning. You must combine concepts with
The Buddha himself used concepts and told us to be "aware 'I am
when we walk, bend or stretch. He did not use realities and tell
us to be
"aware 'It is supporting, moving'," etc. Although you meditate
language of concepts like "walking, bending, stretching," as your
mindfulness and concentration grow stronger, all the concepts
and only the realities like support and moving appear to you. When
reach the stage of the knowledge of dissolution, although you
walking, walking, neither the legs nor the body appear
Only the movement itself is there. Although you meditate bending,
bending, there will not be any arms or legs. Only the
Although you meditate rising, falling, there will be no
the abdomen or the body. Only the movement out and in. These as
swaying are functions of the air-element.
What appears to be bringing out or
in to the meditator's mind is the manifestation of the
you bend or stretch your arm, it appears, something is drawing it
pushing it out. It is plainer when walking. To the meditator whose
concentration is grown sharper, by noting walking, right step,
step, lifting, putting forward, putting down, this moving
as if being driven from behind becomes quite plain. The legs seem
pushing forward of their own accord. How they move forward without
meditator making any effort is very plain. It is so good walking
like this that some spend a lot of time in it.
So, when you meditate on the air
you should know it by way of its characteristic of supporting, its
function of moving, and its manifestation of bringing out. Only
your knowledge right and as it should be.
You may ask, "Are we to meditate
after learning the characteristic, function and manifestation?"
need not learn them. If you meditate on the rising
know the characteristic, the function, and the manifestation as
There is no other way than knowing by way of the characteristic,
and manifestation when you meditate on the rising mind-and-matter.
you look up to the sky on a rainy day you see a flash of
bright light is the characteristic of the lightning. As lightning
darkness is dispelled. This dispelling of darkness is the
lightning, its work. You also see what it is like -- whether it is
short, a curve, a circle, straight, or vast. You see its
its function, its manifesta-tion, all at once. Only you may not be
say the brightness is its characteristic, dispelling of darkness
function, or its shape or outline is its manifestation. But you
all the same.
In the same way, when you meditate
rising mind-and-matter, you know its characteristic, its function,
manifestation, everything. You need not learn them. Some learned
think that you have to learn them before you meditate. Not so.
learn are only concepts. Not realities. The meditator who is
the rising mind-and-matter knows them as if he were touching them
own hand. He needs not learn about them. If there is the elephant
your very eyes, you need not look at the picture of an elephant.
The meditator who is meditating on
rising and falling of the abdomen knows the firmness or laxity
its characteristic. He knows the moving in or out -- its function.
knows its bringing in and pushing out --its manifestation. If he
these things as they really are, does he need to learn about them?
he wants the realization for himself. But if he wants to preach to
he will need to learn about them. When you meditate right step,
step, you know the tenseness in every step -- its
know the moving about-- its function. And you know its bringing
out -- its
manifestation. This is proper knowledge, the right knowledge.
Now, to know for yourselves how
discern the characteristic and so on by just meditating on what
doing some meditation. You certainly have some hotness, pain,
ache, somewhere in your body now. These are unpleasant feelings
bear. Concentrate on this unpleasantness with your intellect
note hot, hot, or pain, pain. You will find that
are going through an unpleasant experience and suffering. This is
characteristic of suffering -- going through an unplea-sant
When this unpleasant feeling comes
you become low-spirited. If the unpleasantness is little, there is
little low-spiritedness. If it is great, then low-spiritedness is
too. Even those who are of a strong will have their spirits go low
unpleasant feelings are intense. Once you are very tired, you
move. This making the spirit go low is the function of unpleasant
We have said "spirit"-- the mind. When the mind is low, its
get low too.
The manifestation of unpleasant
physical oppression. It manifests itself as a physical affliction,
something unbearable to the meditator's intellect. As he meditates
hot, pain, pain, it comes up to him as something oppressing in
body, something very hard to bear. It shows up so much that you
groan. If you meditate on the unpleasant feeling in your body as
you know the undergoing of undesirable tangible object its
the waning of associated states -- its function, and the physical
affliction -- its manifestation. This is the way the meditators
You can meditate on mind, too.
cognizes and thinks. So what thinks and imagines is mind. Meditate
mind as thinking, imagining, pondering, whenever it arises.
will find that it has the intrinsic nature of going to the object,
cognizing the object. This is the characteristic of mind, as it is
"Mind has the characteristic of cognizing." Every kind of mind
The conscious-ness of seeing cognizes the object, as do the
of hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking.
When you work in collective, you
leader. Consciousness is the leader that cognizes the object that
at any sense door. When the visible object comes up to the
consciousness cognizes it first of all. It is then followed by
perception, desire, delight, dislike, admiration and so on. In the
way, when the audible object comes up to the ear, it is
cognizes it first. It is more obvious when you think or imagine.
idea comes up while you are meditating "rising", "falling"
have to note the idea. If you can note it the moment it appears,
disappears immediately. If you can't, several of its followers
delight, desire, will come in succession. Then the meditator
consciousness is the leader -- its function.
"Mind precedes things."
If you note consciousness whenever
rises, you see very clearly how it is acting as leader, now going
object now going to that object.
Again it is said in the
"Consciousness has the manifestation of continuity." As you
rising, falling, etc., the mind sometimes wanders away. You
and it disappears. Then another consciousness comes up. You note
it and it
disappears. Again another consciousness appears. Again you note it
again it disappears. Again another comes up. You have to note lots
comings up and goings away of consciousness. The meditator comes
realize: "Consciousness is a succession of events that come up and
one after another. When one disappears, another appears." Thus you
the continuous manifestation of consciousness. The meditator who
this also realizes death and birth. "Death is nothing strange
It is just like the passing away of the consciousness I have been
To be born again is like the coming up of the consciousness I am
noting that has risen in continuation of the one preceding it".
To show that one can understand
characteristic, function and manifestation of things even though
not learnt about them, we have taken the air-element out of the
qualities and the unpleasant feeling and consciousness out of the
qualities. You just have to meditate on them as they arise. The
applies to all the other mental and material qualities. If you
them as they arise, you will understand their characteristics,
and manifestation. The beginner in meditation can meditate on and
understand the mental-material aggregates of grasping only by way
characteristics, function and manifestation. At the initial stage
analytical knowledge of mind and matter and the knowledge by
conditionality, which are elemental in insight meditation,
that much is enough. When you come to real insight knowledges like
knowledge of investigation, you know the characteristics,
suffering, and not self as well.
The question now arises: What do
meditate on the grasping aggregates for? And, as regards time,
do we meditate on, the past, the future, the present, or
What do we meditate for? Do we
the aggregates of grasping for worldly wealth? For relief from
For clairvoyance? For levitation and such supernatural powers?
meditation aims at none of these. There have been cases of people
cured of serious illnesses as a result of meditational practice.
days of the Buddha persons who got perfected through insight
had supernatural powers. People today may have such powers if they
perfected. But fulfilment of these powers is not the basic
Shall we meditate on phenomena
gone? Shall we meditate on phenomena not yet come? Shall we
the present phenomena? Or, shall we meditate on phenomena which
neither past, future, nor present, but which we can imagine as we
read about them in books?
The answer to these questions is:
meditate to not grasp and we meditate on what is arising.
Yes, people not practised in
grasp at the rising mind-and-matter every time they see, hear,
become aware of. They grasp at them with craving – are pleased
They grasp at them with wrong views, as permanent, happy, as the
ego. We meditate in order not to let these graspings arise, to be
from them. This is the basic aim of insight meditation.
And we meditate on what is
arising. We do
not meditate on things past, future, or indefinite in time. Here
speaking of practical insight meditation. In inferential
meditation we do
meditate on things past, future, and indefinite in time. Let me
Insight meditation is of two kinds, practical and inferential. The
knowledge you gain by meditating on what actually arises by way of
characteristic, function and manifestation is practical insight.
practical knowledge you infer the impermanence, suffering and
things past and future, things you have not experienced. This is
"The fixing both (unseen
and seen) as one
by following the object..." --
The Path of Purity explains this
"....by following, going
after the object
seen, visually determining both (the seen and unseen) as one in
nature: 'as this (seen) one, so what goes as complex broke up in
and will break up in the future also'." --
"The object seen"-- this is
insight. And "going after the object seen ... determining both ...
past ... in the future" -- this is inferential insight. But here
inferential insight is possible only after the practical. No
be made without first knowing the present. The same explanation is
in the commentary on Kathavatthu.
"Seeing the impermanence
of even one
formation, one draws the conclusion as regards the others, as
are all the things of life'."
Why don't we meditate on things
future? Because they will not make you understand the real nature
cleanse you of defilements. You do not remember your past
in this existence, you do not remember most of your childhood. So,
meditating on things past, how can you know things as they really
their characteristics and functions? Things of the more recent
past may be
recalled. But, as you recall them, you think, "I saw, I heard, I
It was I who saw at that time and it is I who am seeing now."
There is the
"I" notion for you. There can even be notions of permanence and
So recalling things past to meditate on do not serve our purpose,
grasped them and this grasping is hard to overcome. Although you
them as mind and matter with all your learning and thinking,
notion persists, because you have already grasped it. You say
"impermanent" on the one hand, you get the notion "permanent" on
other. You note suffering, but the notion "happiness" keeps
up. You meditate on not-self, but the self notion remains
and firm. You argue with yourself.
In the end your meditation has to
to your preconceived ideas.
The future has not yet come, and
be sure what exactly it will be like when it comes. You may have
on them in advance but may fail to do so when they turn up. Then
craving, wrong view, and defilements arise all anew. So, to
the future with the help of learning and thinking is no way to
as they really are. Nor is it the way to calm defilements.
Things of indefinite time have
existed, will not exist, and are not existing, in oneself or in
They are just imagined by learning and thinking. They are
and look intellectual, but on reflection are found to be just
names, signs and shapes. Suppose someone is meditating, "Matter is
impermanent. Matter rises moment to moment and passes away moment
moment." Ask him: What matter is it? Is it matter of the past or
present or the future? Matter in oneself or in others? If in
it matter in the head? The body? The limbs? The eye? The ear? You
find that it is none of these but a mere concept, an imagination.
So we do
not meditate on indefinite time.
But the present phenomenon is what
up at the six doors right now. It has not yet been defiled. It is
unsoiled piece of cloth or paper. If you are quick enough to
it just as it comes up, it will not be defiled. You fail to note
it and it
gets defiled. Once defiled, it cannot be undefiled. If you fail to
the mind-and-matter as it rises, grasping intervenes. There is
with craving -- grasping of sense-desires. There is grasping with
view -- grasping of wrong views, of mere rite and ritual, of a
the self. What if grasping takes place?
"Conditioned by grasping is
conditioned by becoming is birth; conditioned by birth, old age
grief, suffering, sorrow, despair and lamentation come into being.
comes to be the origination of this entire mass of ill." --
Majjhima Nikaya i 333; Samyutta
Grasping is no small matter. It is
root-cause of good and bad deeds. One who is grasped works to
what he believes are good things. Everyone of us is doing what he
is good.What makes him think it is good? It is grasping. Others
it is bad, but to the doer it is good. If he thinks it is not
course he will not do it. There is a noteworthy passage in King
inscriptions: "One thinks well of one's work. One never thinks
one's work." A thief steals because it is good to him to steal. A
robs people because he thinks it is good to rob. A killer kills
thinks it is good to kill. Ajatasattu killed his own father, King
Bimbisara. He thought it was good. Devadatta conspired against the
the Buddha. Why, to him it was good. One who takes poison to kill
does so because he thinks it is good. Moths rush to a flame
thinking it is
a very nice thing. All living things do what they do
think it is good to do so. To think it is good is grasping. Once
really grasped you do things. What is the outcome? Well, it
good deeds and the bad deeds.
It is a good deed to refrain from
suffering to others. It is a good deed to render help to others.
It is a
good deed to give. It is a good deed to pay respect to those to
respect is due. A good deed can bring about peace, a long life,
health in this very life. It will bring good results in
lives, too. Such grasping is good, right grasping. Those who are
grasped do good deeds like giving and keeping precepts and cause
to bring about good karma. What is the result then? "Conditioned
becoming is birth." After death they are born anew. Where are they
In the Good Born, in the worlds of men and gods. As men they are
with such good things as a long life, beauty, health, as well as
birth, good following, and wealth. You can call them "happy
gods, too, they will be attended by multitudes of gods and
be living in magnificent palaces. They have been grasped by
of happiness and in a worldly sense, they can be said to be happy.
But from the point of view of the
teaching, these happy men and gods are not exempt from
"Conditioned by birth are old age and dying." Although born a
he will have to grow into an old "happy" man. Look at all those
old people in this world. Once over seventy or eighty, not
all right with them. Grey hair, broken teeth, poor eye-sight, poor
hearing, backs bent double, wrinkles all over, energy all spent
good-for-nothings! With all their wealth and big names, these old
women, can they be happy? Then there is the disease of old age.
cannot sleep well, they cannot eat well, they have difficulty
or getting up. And finally, they must die. Rich man, king, or man
power, dies one day. He has nothing to rely on then. Friends and
there are around him, but just as he is lying there on his
closes his eyes and dies. Dying he goes away all alone to another
existence. He must find it really hard to part with all his
wealth. If he
is not a man of good deeds he will be worried about his future
The great god, likewise, has to
too are not spared. A week before they die, five signs appear to
flowers they wear which never faded now begin to fade. Their
never got worn-out now appear worn-out. Sweat comes out in their
an unusual thing. Their bodies which always looked young now look
Having never felt bored in their divine lives, they now feel
these five signs appear, they at once realize their imminent
are greatly alarmed. In the days of the Buddha, the Sakka, (King
the gods) himself had these signs appear to him. Greatly
he was going to die and lose his glory, he came to the Buddha for
The Buddha preached the dhamma to him and he became a
stream-winner. The old Sakka died and a new Sakka was reborn.
It was lucky of him that the
there to save him. Had it not been for the Buddha, it would have
disaster to the old great god.
Not only old age and dying "...
suffering, sorrow, despair and lamentation come into being." All
sufferings. "Thus comes to be the origination of this entire mass
So, the good life resulting from grasping is dreadful suffering
Men or gods, all have to suffer.
If the good life resulting from
is suffering, had we better not do them? No. If we do not do good
bad deeds may come up. These can lead us to hell, to the realm of
to the realm of ghosts. The sufferings of these lower planes are
worse. Human and divine life is suffering compared with the
deathless Nirvana but compared with the sufferings of the lower
human or divine life is happiness indeed.
Right grasping gives rise to good
Likewise wrong grasping gives rise to bad deeds. Thinking
is good to do so, some kill, steal, rob, do wrong to others. As a
they are reborn in bad bourn -- in hell, in the realm of animals,
realm of ghosts. To be reborn in hell is like jumping into a great
Even a great god can do nothing against hell fire. In the days of
Buddha there was a great mara-god by the name of Dusi. He was
of the Buddha and the members of the holy Order. One day he caused
death of an arahat. As a result of this cruel deed the great god
was reborn in Avici hell. Once there he was at the mercy of the
of purgatory. Those people who are bullying others in this world
the same fate as that met by the great god Dusi one day. Then,
suffering for a long time in hell, they will be reborn animals and
So grasping is dreadful. It is
important too. We meditate to let this grasping not be, to put an
it. We meditate not to grasp with craving or wrong view, not to
permanent or happy, not to grasp as self, ego, the I. Those who
meditate grasp whenever they see, hear, feel or perceive. Ask
if you don't grasp. The answer will be too obvious.
Let's begin with seeing. Suppose
something beautiful. What do you think of it? You are delighted
pleased with it, aren't you? You won't say, "I don't want to see, I
want to look at it." In fact, you are thinking, "What a beautiful
How lovely!" Beaming with smiles you are pleased with it. At the
you are thinking it is permanent. Whether the object seen is a
or an inanimate thing, you think it has existed before, exists
will go on existing for ever. Although it is not your own, you
take possession of it and delight in it. If it is a piece of
mentally put it on and are pleased. If it is a pair of sandals,
mentally put them on. If it is a human being, you mentally use him
and are pleased, too.
The same thing happens when you
smell, taste or touch. You take pleasure on each occasion. With
the range of your delights is far wider. You fancy and take
things not your own, long for them, and imagine them to be yours.
are your own things, needless to say, you keep thinking of them
pleased with them all the time. We meditate to check such taking
in and graspings. We grasp with wrong views, too. You grasp with
personality view. When you see, you think what you see is a
ego. Your own consciousness of seeing, too, you take as a person,
Without a thorough insight knowledge we grasp at things the moment
them. Think of yourselves and you will see for yourselves how you
such grasping in you. You think of yourself as well as of others
as an ego
that has lived the whole life long. In reality there is no such
Nothing lives the whole life long. Only mind and matter rising one
another in continuation. This mind-and-matter you take as person,
grasp. We meditate to not let these graspings with wrong views be.
But we have to meditate on things
come up. Only then will we be able to prevent the graspings.
come from seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and
come from six places -- six doors. Can we cling to things we
No. Can we cling to those we cannot hear? No. The Buddha himself
"Now what think you,
Malunkya's son? As to
those shapes cognizable by eye, which you have not seen, which you
never seen before, which you do not see now, which you have no
see in future, -- have you any partiality, any passion, any
"Not so, my lord." --
Samyutta Nikaya iv. 72
What are those shapes you have not
before? Towns and villages and countries you have never been to,
women living there, and other scenes. How can anyone fall in love
and women he or she hasn't ever seen? How can you cling to them?
do not cling to things you have never seen. No defilements arise
respect of them. You do not need to meditate on them. But things
are another matter. Defilements can arise -- that is to say, if
to meditate to prevent them.
The same is true of things heard,
tasted, touched, thought on.