the VENERABLE MAHASI SAYADAW
Honor to the Fully Enlightened One
ON COMING ACROSS the Teaching of the Buddha, it is most
important for everyone to cultivate the virtues of moral
conduct (sila), concentration (samadhi),
and wisdom (pañña). One should undoubtedly possess
these three virtues.
laypeople the minimal measure of moral conduct is the
observance of the Five Precepts. For bhikkhus it is
the observance of the Patimokkha, the code of monastic
discipline. Anyone who is well-disciplined in moral
conduct will be reborn in a happy realm of existence
as a human being or a deva (god).
this ordinary form of mundane morality (lokiya-sila)
will not be a safeguard against relapse into the lower
states of miserable existence, such as hell, the animal
realm, or the realm of petas (ghosts). It is therefore
desirable to cultivate the higher form of supramundane
morality (lokuttara-sila). When one has fully
acquired the virtue of this morality, one will be secure
from relapse into the lower states and will always lead
a happy life by being reborn as a human being or a deva.
Everyone should therefore make it his duty to work for
is every hope of success for anyone who strives sincerely
and in real earnestness. It would indeed be a pity if
anyone were to fail to take advantage of this fine opportunity
of being endowed with higher qualities, for such a person
will undoubtedly be a victim sooner or later of his
own bad karma, which will pull him down to the lower
states of miserable existence in hell, the animal realm,
or the sphere of petas, where the span of life lasts
for many hundreds, thousands or millions of years. It
is therefore emphasized here that coming across the
Teaching of the Buddha is the unique opportunity to
work for path morality (magga-sila) and fruition
is not, however, advisable to work for moral conduct
alone. It is also necessary to practice samadhi
or concentration. Samadhi is the fixed or tranquil state
of mind. The ordinary or undisciplined mind is in the
habit of wandering to other places. It cannot be kept
under control, but follows any idea, thought or imagination,
etc. In order to prevent this wandering, the mind should
be made to attend repeatedly to a selected object of
concentration. On gaining practice, the mind gradually
abandons its distractions and remains fixed on the object
to which it is directed. This is samadhi.
are two kinds of concentration: mundane concentration
(lokiya-samadhi) and supramundane concentration
(lokuttara-samadhi). Of these two, the former
consists in the mundane absorptions, such as the four
rupa-jhanas -- the absorptions pertaining to
the world of form -- and the four arupa-jhanas
-- the absorptions pertaining to the formless world.
These can be attained by the practice of tranquillity
meditation (samatha-bhavana) with such methods
as mindfulness of breathing, loving-kindness (metta),
kasina meditation, etc. By virtue of these attainments
one will be reborn in the plane of the brahmas. The
life-span of a brahma is very long and lasts for one
world cycle, two, four, or eight world cycles, up to
a limit of 84,000 world cycles, as the case may be.
But at the end of his lifespan, a brahma will die and
be reborn as a human being or a deva.
one leads a virtuous life all the time, one may lead
a happy life in a higher existence, but as one is not
free from the defilements of attachment, aversion and
delusion, one may commit demeritorious deeds on many
occasions. One will then be a victim of his bad karma
and be reborn in hell or in other lower states of miserable
existence. Thus mundane concentration also is not a
definite security. It is desirable to work for supramundane
concentration, the concentration of the path (magga)
and the fruit (phala). To acquire this concentration
it is essential to cultivate wisdom (pañña).
are two forms of wisdom: mundane and supramundane. Nowadays,
knowledge of literature, art, science, or other worldly
affairs is usually regarded as a kind of wisdom, but
this form of wisdom has nothing to do with any kind
of mental development (bhavana). Nor can it be
regarded as of real merit, because many weapons of destruction
are invented through these kinds of knowledge, which
are always under the influence of attachment, aversion,
and other evil motives. The real spirit of mundane wisdom,
on the other hand, has only merits and no demerits of
any kind. True mundane wisdom includes the knowledge
used in welfare and relief work, which causes no harm;
learning to acquire the knowledge of the true meaning
or sense of the scriptures; and the three classes of
knowledge of development for insight (vipassana-bhavana),
such as knowledge born of learning (sutamaya-pañña),
knowledge born of reflection (cintamaya-pañña),
and wisdom born of meditative development (bhavanamaya-pañña).
The virtue of possessing mundane wisdom will lead to
a happy life in higher states of existence, but it still
cannot prevent the risk of being reborn in hell or in
other states of miserable existence. Only the development
of supramundane wisdom (lokuttara-pañña) can
decidedly remove this risk.
wisdom is the wisdom of the path and fruit. To develop
this wisdom it is necessary to carry on the practice
of insight meditation (vipassana-bhavana) out
of the three disciplines of morality, concentration,
and wisdom. When the virtue of wisdom is duly developed,
the necessary qualities of morality and concentration
will also be acquired.
The Development of Wisdom
method of developing this wisdom is to observe materiality
(rupa) and mentality (nama) -- the two
sole elements existing in a living being -- with a view
to knowing them in their true nature. At present, experiments
in the analytical observation of materiality are usually
carried out in laboratories with the aid of various
kinds of instruments, yet these methods cannot deal
with the mind. The method of the Buddha does not require
any kind of instruments or outside aid. It can successfully
deal with both materiality and mentality. It makes use
of one's own mind for analytical purposes by fixing
bare attention on the activities of materiality and
mentality as they occur within oneself. By continually
repeating this form of exercise, the necessary concentration
can be gained, and when concentration is keen enough,
the ceaseless course of arising and passing away of
materiality and mentality will be vividly perceptible.
living being consists solely of the two distinct groups
of materiality and mentality. The solid substance of
body as it is now found belongs to the group of materiality.
According to the usual enumeration of material phenomena,
there are altogether twenty-eight kinds in this group,
but in short it may be noted that body is a mass of
materiality. For example, it is the same as a doll made
of clay or wheat, which is nothing but a collection
of particles of clay or flour. Materiality changes its
form (ruppati) under physical conditions of heat,
cold, etc., and because of this changeableness under
contrary physical conditions, it is called rupa
in Pali. It does not possess any faculty of knowing
the Abhidhamma, the elements of mentality and materiality
are classified as "states with object" (sarammana-dhamma)
and "states without object" (anarammana-dhamma),
respectively. The element of mentality has an object,
holds an object, knows an object, while that of materiality
does not have an object, does not hold an object, and
does not know an object. It will thus be seen that the
Abhidhamma has directly stated that materiality has
no faculty of knowing an object. A yogi also perceives
in like manner that "materiality has no faculty of knowing."
and pillars, bricks and stones and lumps of earth are
a mass of materiality. They do not possess any faculty
of knowing. It is the same with the materiality which
makes up a living body -- it has no faculty of knowing.
The materiality in a dead body is the same as that of
a living body -- it does not possess any faculty of
knowing. People, however, have a common idea that the
materiality of a living body possesses the faculty of
knowing an object and that it loses this faculty only
at death. This is not really so. In actual fact, materiality
does not possess the faculty of knowing an object in
either a dead or a living body.
is it then that knows objects now? It is mentality,
which comes into being depending on materiality. It
is called nama in Pali because it inclines (namati)
towards an object. Mentality is also spoken of as thought
or consciousness. Mentality arises depending on materiality:
depending on the eye, eye-consciousness (seeing) arises;
depending on the ear, ear-consciousness (hearing) arises;
depending on the nose, nose-consciousness (smelling)
arises; depending on the tongue, tongue-consciousness
(tasting) arises; depending on the body, body-consciousness
(sense of touch) arises. There are many kinds of sense
of touch, either good or bad.
touch has a wide field of action in running throughout
the whole length of the body, inside and outside, the
sense of seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting come
into being in their own particular spheres -- the eye,
ear, nose and tongue -- each of which occupies a very
small and limited area of the body. These senses of
touch, sight, etc., are nothing but the elements of
mind. There also comes into being mind-consciousness
-- thoughts, ideas, imaginings, etc. -- depending on
the mind-base. All of these are elements of mind. Mind
knows an object, while materiality does not know an
generally believe that in the case of seeing, it is
the eye which actually sees. They think that seeing
and the eye are one and the same thing. They also think:
"Seeing is I," "I see things," "The eye, seeing, and
I are one and the same person." In reality this is not
so. The eye is one thing and seeing is another, and
there is no separate entity such as "I" or "ego." There
is only the reality of seeing coming into being depending
on the eye.
give an example, it is like the case of a person who
sits in a house. The house and the person are two separate
things: the house is not the person, nor is the person
the house. Similarly, it is so at the time of seeing.
The eye and seeing are two separate things: the eye
is not seeing, nor is seeing the eye.
give another example, it is just like the case of a
person in a room who sees many things when he opens
the window and looks through it. If it is asked, "Who
is it that sees? Is it the window or the person that
actually sees?" the answer is, "The window does not
possess the ability to see; it is only the person who
sees." If it is again asked, "Will the person be able
to see things on the outside without the window?" the
answer will be, "It is not possible to see things through
the wall without the window. One can only see through
the window." Similarly, in the case of seeing, there
are two separate realities of the eye and seeing. The
eye is not seeing, nor is seeing the eye, yet there
cannot be an act of seeing without the eye. In reality,
seeing comes into being depending on the eye.
is now evident that in the body there are only two distinct
elements of materiality (eye) and mentality (seeing)
at every moment of seeing. In addition, there is also
a third element of materiality -- the visual object.
At times the visual object is noticeable in the body
and at times it is noticeable outside the body. With
the addition of the visual object there will then be
three elements, two of which (the eye and the visual
object) are materiality and the third of which (seeing)
is mentality. The eye and the visual object, being materiality,
do not possess the ability to know an object, while
seeing, being mentality, can know the visual object
and what it looks like. Now it is clear that there exist
only the two separate elements of materiality and mentality
at the moment of seeing, and the arising of this pair
of separate elements is known as seeing.
who are without the training in and knowledge of insight
meditation hold the view that seeing belongs to or is
"self," "ego," "living entity," or "person." They believe
that "seeing is I," or "I am seeing," or "I am knowing."
This kind of view or belief is called sakkaya-ditthi
in Pali. Sakkaya means the group of materiality
(rupa) and mentality (nama) as they exist
distinctively. Ditthi means a wrong view or belief.
The compound word sakkaya-ditthi means a wrong
view or belief in self with regard to nama and
rupa, which exist in reality.
greater clarity, we will explain further the manner
of holding the wrong view or belief. At the moment of
seeing, the things which actually exist are the eye,
the visual object (both materiality), and seeing (mentality).
Nama and rupa are reality, yet people
hold the view that this group of elements is self, or
ego, or a living entity. They consider that "seeing
is I," or "that which is seen is I," or "I see my own
body." Thus this mistaken view is taking the simple
act of seeing to be self, which is sakkaya-ditthi,
the wrong view of self.
long as one is not free from the wrong view of self,
one cannot expect to escape from the risk of falling
into the miserable realms of the hells, the animals
or the petas. Though one may be leading a happy life
in the human or deva world by virtue of one's merits,
yet one is liable to fall back into the miserable states
of existence at any time, when one's demerits operate.
For this reason, the Buddha pointed out that it is essential
to work for the total removal of the wrong view of self:
a monk go forth mindfully to abandon view of self"
(sakkaya-ditthippahañaya sato bhikkhu paribbaje).
explain: though it is the wish of everyone to avoid
old age, disease and death, no one can prevent their
inevitable arrival. After death, rebirth follows. Rebirth
in any state of existence does not depend on one's own
wish. It is not possible to avoid rebirth in the hell
realm, the animal realm or the realm of the petas by
merely wishing for an escape. Rebirth takes place in
any state of existence as the consequence of one's own
deeds: there is no choice at all. For these reasons,
the round of birth and death, samsara, is very
dreadful. Every effort should therefore be made to acquaint
oneself with the miserable conditions of samsara, and
then to work for an escape from samsara, for the attainment
an escape from samsara as a whole is not possible for
the present, an attempt should be made for an escape
at least from the round of rebirth in the hell realms,
the animal realm and the peta realm. In this case it
is necessary to work for the total removal within oneself
of sakkaya-ditthi, which is the root cause of
rebirth in the miserable states of existence. Sakkaya-ditthi
can only be destroyed completely by the noble path and
fruit: the three supramundane virtues of morality, concentration
and wisdom. It is therefore imperative to work for the
development of these virtues. How should one do the
work? By means of noting or observing one must go out
from the jurisdiction of defilements (kilesa).
One should practice by constantly noting or observing
every act of seeing, hearing, etc., which are the constituent
physical and mental processes, till one is freed from
sakkaya-ditthi, the wrong view of self.
these reasons advice is always given here to take up
the practice of vipassana meditation. Now yogis have
come here for the purpose of practicing vipassana meditation
who may be able to complete the course of training and
attain the noble path in no long time. The view of self
will then be totally removed and security will be finally
gained against the danger of rebirth in the realms of
the hells, animals and petas.
this respect, the exercise is simply to note or observe
the existing elements in every act of seeing. It should
be noted as "seeing, seeing" on every occasion of seeing.
By the terms "note" or "observe" or "contemplate" is
meant the act of keeping the mind fixedly on the object
with a view to knowing it clearly.
this is done, and the act of seeing is noted as "seeing,
seeing," at times the visual object is noticed, at times
consciousness of seeing is noticed, at times the eye-base,
the place from which one sees, is noticed. It will serve
the purpose if one can notice distinctly any one of
the three. If not, based on this act of seeing there
will arise sakkaya-ditthi, which will view it
in the form of a person or as belonging to a person,
and as being permanent, pleasurable, and self. This
will arouse the defilements of craving and attachment,
which will in turn prompt deeds, and the deeds will
bring forth rebirth in a new existence. Thus the process
of dependent origination operates and the vicious circle
of samsara revolves incessantly. In order to prevent
the revolving of samsara from this source of seeing,
it is necessary to note "seeing, seeing" on every occasion
in the case of hearing, there are only two distinct
elements, materiality and mentality. The sense of hearing
arises depending on the ear. While the ear and sound
are two elements of materiality, the sense of hearing
is the element of mentality. In order to know clearly
any one of these two kinds of materiality and mentality,
every occasion of hearing should be noted as "hearing,
hearing." So also, "smelling, smelling" should be noted
on every occasion of smelling, and "tasting, tasting"
on every occasion of tasting.
sensation of touch in the body should be noted in the
very same way. There is a kind of material element known
as bodily sensitivity throughout the body, which receives
every impression of touch. Every kind of touch, either
agreeable or disagreeable, usually comes in contact
with bodily sensitivity, and from this there arises
body-consciousness, which feels or knows the touch on
each occasion. It will now be seen that at every moment
of touching there are two elements of materiality --
the bodily sensitivity and the tangible object -- and
one element of mentality -- knowing of touch.
order to know these things distinctly at every moment
of touching, the practice of noting as "touching, touching"
has to be carried out. This merely refers to the common
form of sensation of touch. There are special forms
which accompany painful or disagreeable sensations,
such as feeling stiffness or tiredness in the body or
limbs, feeling hot, pain, numb, aches, etc. Because
feeling (vedana) predominates in these cases,
it should be noted as "feeling hot," "feeling tired,"
"feeling painful," etc., as the case may be.
may also be mentioned that there occur many sensations
of touch in the hands, the legs, and so on, on each
occasion of bending, stretching, or moving. Because
of mentality wanting to move, stretch or bend, the material
activities of moving, stretching or bending, etc., occur
in series. (It may not be possible to notice these incidents
at the outset. They can only be noticed after some time,
on gaining experience by practice. It is mentioned here
for the sake of general information.) All activities
in movements and in changing, etc., are done by mentality.
When mentality wills to bend, there arises a series
of inward movements of hand or the leg. When mentality
wills to stretch or move, there arises a series of outward
movements or movements to and fro. They fall away soon
after they occur and at the very point of occurrence,
as one will notice later.
every case of bending, stretching, or other activities,
there arises first a series of intentions, moments of
mentality, inducing or causing in the hands and legs
a series of material activities, such as stiffening,
bending, stretching, or moving to and fro. These activities
come up against other material elements, the bodily
sensitivity, and on every occasion of contact between
material activities and sensitive qualities, there arises
body-consciousness, which feels or knows the sensation
of touch. It is therefore clear that material activities
are predominating factors in these cases. It is necessary
to notice the predominating factors. If not, there will
surely arise the wrong view which regards these activities
as the doings of an "I" -- "I am bending," "I am stretching,"
"my hands," or "my legs." This practice of noting as
"bending," "stretching," "moving," is carried out for
the purpose of removing such wrong views.
on the mind-base there arises a series of mental activities,
such as thinking, imagining, etc., or generally speaking,
a series of mental activities arises depending on the
body. In reality, each case is a composition of mentality
and materiality, mind-base being materiality, and thinking,
imagining, and so forth being mentality. In order to
be able to notice materiality and mentality clearly,
"thinking," "imagining," and so forth should be noted
in each case.
having carried out the practice in the manner indicated
above for some time, there may be an improvement in
concentration. One will notice that the mind no longer
wanders about but remains fixed on the object to which
it is directed. At the same time, the power of noticing
has considerably developed. On every occasion of noting,
one notices only two processes of materiality and mentality:
a dual set of object (materiality) and mental state
(mentality), which makes note of the object, arising
on proceeding further with the practice of contemplation,
after some time one notices that nothing remains permanent,
but that everything is in a state of flux. New things
arise each time. Each of them is noted as it arises.
Whatever arises then passes away immediately and immediately
another arises, which is again noted and which then
passes away. Thus the process of arising and passing
away goes on, which clearly shows that nothing is permanent.
One therefore realizes that "things are not permanent"
because one sees that they arise and pass away immediately.
This is insight into impermanence (aniccanupassana-ñana).
one also realizes that "arising and passing are not
desirable." This is insight into suffering (dukkhanupassana-ñana).
Besides, one usually experiences many painful sensations
in the body, such as tiredness, heat, aching, and at
the time of noting these sensations, one generally feels
that this body is a collection of sufferings. This is
also insight into suffering.
at every time of noting it is found that elements of
materiality and mentality occur according to their respective
nature and conditioning, and not according to one's
wishes. One therefore realizes that "they are elements;
they are not governable; they are not a person or living
entity." This is insight into non-self (anattanupassana-ñana).
having fully acquired these insights into impermanence,
suffering, and non-self, the maturity of knowledge of
the path (magga-ñana) and knowledge of fruition
(phala-ñana) takes place and realization of Nibbana
is won. By winning the realization of Nibbana in the
first stage, one is freed from the round of rebirth
in the realms of miserable existence. Everyone should
therefore endeavor to reach the first stage, the path
and fruit of stream-entry, as a minimum measure of protection
against an unfortunate rebirth.