The Beginner's Exercise
IT HAS ALREADY been explained that the actual method
of practice in vipassana meditation is to note, or to
observe, or to contemplate, the successive occurrences
of seeing, hearing, and so on, at the six sense doors.
However, it will not be possible for a beginner to follow
these on all successive incidents as they occur because
his mindfulness (sati), concentration (samadhi),
and knowledge (˝ana) are still very weak. The
moments of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching,
and thinking occur very swiftly. It seems that seeing
occurs at the same time as hearing, that hearing occurs
at the same time as seeing, that seeing and hearing
occur simultaneously, that seeing, hearing, thinking
and imagining always occur simultaneously. Because they
occur so swiftly, it is not possible to distinguish
which occurs first and which second.
reality, seeing does not occur at the same time as hearing,
nor does hearing occur at the same time as seeing. Such
incidents can occur only one at a time. A yogi who has
just begun the practice and who has not sufficiently
developed his mindfulness, concentration and knowledge
will not, however, be in a position to observe all these
moments singly as they occur in serial order. A beginner
need not, therefore, follow up on many things. He needs
to begin with only a few things.
or hearing occurs only when due attention is given to
their objects. If one does not pay heed to any sight
or sound, one may pass the time without any moments
of seeing or hearing taking place. Smelling rarely occurs.
The experience of tasting can only occur while one is
eating. In the case of seeing, hearing, smelling and
tasting, the yogi can note them when they occur. Body
impressions, however, are ever present. They usually
exist distinctly all the time. During the time that
one is sitting, the body impression of stiffness or
the sensation of hardness in this position is distinctly
felt. Attention should therefore be fixed on the sitting
posture and a note made as "sitting, sitting, sitting."
is an erect posture of the body consisting of a series
of physical activities, induced by consciousness consisting
of a series of mental activities. It is just like the
case of an inflated rubber ball which maintains its
round shape through the resistance of the air inside
it. The posture of sitting is similar in that the body
is kept in an erect posture through the continuous process
of physical activities. A good deal of energy is required
to pull up and keep in an erect position such a heavy
load as this body. People generally assume that the
body is lifted and kept in an upright position by means
of sinews. This assumption is correct in a sense because
sinews, blood, flesh and bones are nothing but materiality.
The element of stiffening which keeps the body in an
erect posture belongs to the group of materiality and
arises in the sinews, flesh, blood, etc., throughout
the body, like the air in a rubber ball.
element of stiffening is the air element, known as vayo-dhatu.
The body is kept in an erect position by the air element
in the form of stiffening, which is continually coming
into existence. At the time of sleepiness or drowsiness,
one may drop flat because the supply of new materials
in the form of stiffening is cut off. The state of mind
in heavy drowsiness or sleep is bhavanga, the
"life-continuum" or passive subconscious flow. During
the course of bhavanga, mental activities are absent,
and for this reason, the body lies flat during sleep
or heavy drowsiness.
waking hours, strong and alert mental activities are
continually arising, and because of these the air element
arises serially in the form of stiffening. In order
to know these facts, it is essential to note the bodily
posture attentively as "sitting, sitting, sitting."
This does not necessarily mean that the body impression
of stiffening should particularly be searched for and
noted. Attention need only be fixed on the whole form
of the sitting posture, that is, the lower portion of
the body in a bent circular form and the upper portion
may be found that the exercise of observing the mere
sitting posture is too easy and does not require much
effort. In these circumstances, energy (viriya)
is less and concentration (samadhi) is in excess.
One will generally feel lazy and will not want to carry
on the noting as "sitting, sitting, sitting" repeatedly
for a considerable length of time. Laziness generally
occurs when there is an excess of concentration and
not enough energy. It is nothing but a state of sloth
and torpor (thina-middha).
energy should be developed, and for this purpose, the
number of objects for noting should be increased. After
noting as "sitting," the attention should be directed
to a spot in the body where the sense of touch is felt
and a note made as "touching." Any spot in the leg or
hand or hip where a sense of touch is distinctly felt
will serve the purpose. For example, after noting the
sitting posture of the body as "sitting," the spot where
the sense of touch is felt should be noted as "touching."
The noting should thus be repeated using these two objects
of the sitting posture and the place of touching
alternately, as "sitting, touching, sitting, touching,
terms "noting," "observing" and "contemplating" are
used here to indicate the fixing of attention on an
object. The exercise is simply to note or observe or
contemplate as "sitting, touching." Those who already
have experience in the practice of meditation may find
this exercise easy to begin with, but those without
any previous experience may at first find it rather
simpler and easier form of the exercise for a beginner
is this: With every breath there occurs in the abdomen
a rising-falling movement. A beginner should start with
the exercise of noting this movement. This rising-falling
movement is easy to observe because it is coarse and
therefore more suitable for the beginner. As in schools
where simple lessons are easy to learn, so also is the
practice of vipassana meditation. A beginner will find
it easier to develop concentration and knowledge with
a simple and easy exercise.
the purport of vipassana meditation is to begin the
exercise by contemplating prominent factors in the body.
Of the two factors of mentality and materiality, the
former is subtle and less prominent, while the latter
is coarse and more prominent. At the outset, therefore,
the usual procedure for an insight meditator is to begin
the exercise by contemplating the material elements.
regard to materiality, it may be mentioned here that
derived materiality (upada-rupa) is subtle and
less prominent, while the four primary physical elements
(maha-bhuta-rupa) -- earth, water, fire and air
-- are coarse and more prominent. The latter should
therefore have priority in the order of objects for
contemplation. In the case of rising-falling, the outstanding
factor is the air element, or vayo-dhatu. The
process of stiffening and the movements of the abdomen
noticed during the contemplation are nothing but the
functions of the air element. Thus it will be seen that
the air element is perceptible at the beginning.
to the instructions of the Satipatthana Sutta, one should
be mindful of the activities of walking while walking,
of those of standing, sitting and lying down while standing,
sitting and lying down, respectively. One should also
be mindful of other bodily activities as each of them
occurs. In this connection, it is stated in the commentaries
that one should be mindful primarily of the air element,
in preference to the other three elements. As a matter
of fact, all four primary elements are dominant in every
action of the body, and it is essential to perceive
any one of them. At the time of sitting, either of the
two movements of rising and falling occurs conspicuously
with every breath, and a beginning should be made by
noting these movements.
fundamental features in the system of vipassana meditation
have been explained for general information. The general
outline of basic exercises will now be dealt with.
of Basic Exercises
contemplating rising and falling, the disciple should
keep his mind on the abdomen. He will then come to know
the upward movement or expansion of the abdomen on breathing
in, and the downward movement or contraction on breathing
out. A mental note should be made as "rising" for the
upward movement and "falling" for the downward movement.
If these movements are not clearly noticed by simply
fixing the mind on them, one or both hands should be
placed on the abdomen.
disciple should not try to change the manner of his
natural breathing. He should neither attempt slow breathing
by the retention of his breath, nor quick breathing
or deep breathing. If he does change the natural flow
of his breathing, he will soon tire himself. He must
therefore keep to the natural rate of his breathing
and proceed with the contemplation of rising and falling.
the occurrence of the upward movement of the abdomen,
the mental note of "rising" should be made, and on the
downward movement of the abdomen, the mental note of
"falling" should be made. The mental notation of these
terms should not be vocalized. In vipassana meditation,
it is more important to know the object than to know
it by a term or name. It is therefore necessary for
the disciple to make every effort to be mindful of the
movement of rising from its beginning to its end and
that of falling from its beginning to its end, as if
these movements are actually seen with the eyes. As
soon as rising occurs, there should be the knowing mind
close to the movement, as in the case of a stone hitting
a wall. The movement of rising as it occurs and the
mind knowing it must come together on every occasion.
Similarly, the movement of falling as it occurs and
the mind knowing it must come together on every occasion.
there is no other conspicuous object, the disciple should
carry on the exercise of noting these two movements
as "rising, falling, rising, falling, rising, falling."
While thus being occupied with this exercise, there
may be occasions when the mind wanders about. When concentration
is weak, it is very difficult to control the mind. Though
it is directed to the movements of rising and falling,
the mind will not stay with them but will wander to
other places. This wandering mind should not be let
alone. It should be noted as "wandering, wandering,
wandering" as soon as it is noticed that it is wandering.
On noting once or twice the mind usually stops wandering,
then the exercise of noting "rising, falling" should
be continued. When it is again found that the mind has
reached a place, it should be noted as "reaching, reaching,
reaching." Then the exercise of noting "rising, falling"
should be reverted to as soon as these movements are
meeting with a person in the imagination, it should
be noted as "meeting, meeting," after which the usual
exercise should be reverted to. Sometimes the fact that
it is mere imagination is discovered when one speaks
with that imaginary person, and it should then be noted
as "speaking,speaking." The real purport is to note
every mental activity as it occurs. For instance, it
should be noted as "thinking" at the moment of thinking,
and as "reflecting," "planning," "knowing," "attending,"
rejoicing," "feeling lazy," "feeling happy," "disgusted,"
etc., as the case may be, on the occurrence of each
activity. The contemplation of mental activities and
noticing them is called cittanupassana, contemplation
people have no practical knowledge in vipassana meditation,
they are generally not in a position to know the real
state of the mind. This naturally leads them to the
wrong view of holding mind to be "person," "self," "living
entity." They usually believe that "imagination is I,"
"I am thinking, " "I am planning," "I am knowing," and
so forth. They hold that there exists a living entity
or self which grows up from childhood to adulthood.
In reality, such a living entity does not exist, but
there does exist a continuous process of elements of
mind which occur singly, one at a time, in succession.
The practice of contemplation is therefore being carried
out with the aim of discovering the true nature of this
regards the mind and the manner of its arising, the
Buddha stated in the Dhammapada (v.37):
ye cittam sa˝˝amessanti
far, wandering alone,
Formless and lying in a cave.
Those who do restrain the mind
Are sure released from Mara's bonds.
far. Mind usually wanders far and wide. While the
yogi is trying to carry on with the practice of contemplation
in his meditation room, he often finds that his mind
has wandered to many far-off places, towns, etc. He
also finds that his mind can wander to any of the far-off
places which he has previously known at the very moment
of thinking or imagining. This fact is discovered with
the help of contemplation.
Mind occurs singly, moment to moment in succession.
Those who do not perceive the reality of this believe
that one mind exists in the course of life or existence.
They do not know that new minds are always arising at
every moment. They think that the seeing, hearing, smelling,
tasting, touching and thinking of the past and of the
present belong to one and the same mind, and that three
or four acts of seeing, hearing, touching, knowing usually
are wrong views. In reality, single moments of mind
arise and pass away continuously, one after another.
This can be perceived on gaining considerable practice.
The cases of imagination and planning are clearly perceptible.
Imagination passes away as soon as it is noted as "imagining,
imagining," and planning also passes away as soon as
it is noted as "planning, planning." These instances
of arising, noting and passing away appear like a string
of beads. The preceding mind is not the following mind.
Each is separate. These characteristics of reality are
personally perceptible, and for this purpose one must
proceed with the practice of contemplation.
Mind has no substance, no form. It is not easy to distinguish
as is the case with materiality. In the case of materiality,
the body, head, hands and legs are very prominent and
are easily noticed. If it is asked what matter is, matter
can be handled and shown. Mind, however, is not easy
to describe because it has no substance or form. For
this reason, it is not possible to carry out analytical
laboratory experiments on the mind.
can, however, fully understand the mind if it is explained
as that which knows an object. To understand
the mind, it is necessary to contemplate the mind at
every moment of its occurrence. When contemplation is
fairly advanced, the mind's approach to its object is
clearly comprehended. It appears as if each moment of
mind is making a direct leap towards it object. In order
to know the true nature of the mind, contemplation is
in a cave. Because the mind comes into being depending
on the mind-base and the other sense doors situated
in the body, it is said that it rests in a cave.
who do restrain the mind are sure released from Mara's
bonds. It is said that the mind should be contemplated
at each moment of its occurrence. The mind can thus
be controlled by means of contemplation. On his successful
controlling of the mind, the yogi will win freedom from
the bondage of Mara, the King of Death. It will now
be seen that it is important to note the mind at every
moment of its occurrence. As soon as it is noted, the
mind passes away. For instance, by noting once or twice
as "intending, intending," it is found that intention
passes away at once. Then the usual exercise of noting
as "rising, falling, rising, falling" should be reverted
one is proceeding with the usual exercise, one may feel
that one wants to swallow saliva. It should be noted
as "wanting," and on gathering saliva as "gathering,"
and on swallowing as "swallowing," in the serial order
of occurrence. The reason for contemplation in this
case is because there may be a persisting personal view
as "wanting to swallow is I," "swallowing is also I."
In reality, "wanting to swallow" is mentality and not
"I," and "swallowing" is materiality and not "I." There
exist only mentality and materiality at that moment.
By means of contemplating in this manner, one will understand
clearly the process of reality. So too, in the case
of spitting, it should be noted as "wanting" when one
wants to spit, as "bending" on bending the neck (which
should be done slowly), as "looking, seeing" on looking
and as "spitting" on spitting. Afterwards, the usual
exercise of noting "rising, falling" should be continued.
of sitting for a long time, there will arise in the
body unpleasant feeling of being stiff, being hot and
so forth. These sensations should be noted as they occur.
The mind should be fixed on that spot and a note made
as "stiff, stiff" on feeling stiff, as "hot, hot" on
feeling hot, as "painful, painful" on feeling painful,
as "prickly, prickly" on feeling prickly sensations,
and as "tired, tired" on feeling tired. These unpleasant
feelings are dukkha-vedana and the contemplation
of these feeling is vedananupassana, contemplation
to the absence of knowledge in respect of these feelings,
there persists the wrong view of holding them as one's
own personality or self, that is to say, "I am feeling
stiff," "I am feeling painful," "I was feeling well
formerly but I now feel uncomfortable," in the manner
of a single self. In reality, unpleasant feelings arise
owing to disagreeable impressions in the body. Like
the light of an electric bulb which can continue to
burn on a continuous supply of energy, so it is in the
case of feelings, which arise anew on every occasion
of coming in contact with disagreeable impressions.
is essential to understand these feelings clearly. At
the beginning of noting as "stiff, stiff," "hot, hot,"
"painful, painful," one may feel that such disagreeable
feelings grow stronger, and then one will notice that
a mind wanting to change the posture arises. This mind
should be noted as "wanting, wanting." Then a return
should be made to the feeling and it should be noted
as "stiff, stiff" or "hot, hot," and so forth. If one
proceeds in this manner of contemplation with great
patience, unpleasant feelings will pass away.
is a saying that patience leads to Nibbana. Evidently
this saying is more applicable in the case of contemplation
than in any other. Plenty of patience is needed in contemplation.
If a yogi cannot bear unpleasant feelings with patience,
but frequently changes his posture during contemplation,
he cannot expect to gain concentration. Without concentration
there is no chance of acquiring insight knowledge (vipassana-˝ana)
and without insight knowledge the attainment of the
path, fruition and Nibbana cannot be won.
is of great importance in contemplation. Patience is
needed mostly to bear unpleasant bodily feelings. There
is hardly any case of outside disturbances where it
is necessary to exercise patience. This means the observance
of khantisamvara, restraint by patience. The
posture should not be immediately changed when unpleasant
sensations arise, but contemplation should be continued
by noting them as "stiff, stiff," "hot, hot," and so
on. Such painful sensations are normal and will pass
away. In the case of strong concentration, it will be
found that great pains will pass away when they are
noted with patience. On the fading away of suffering
or pain, the usual exercise of noting "rising, falling"
should be continued.
the other hand, it may be found that pains or unpleasant
feelings do not immediately pass away even when one
notes them with great patience. In such a case, one
has no alternative but to change posture. One must,
of course, submit to superior forces. When concentration
is not strong enough, strong pains will not pass away
quickly. In these circumstances there will often arise
a mind wanting to change posture, and this mind should
be noted as "wanting, wanting." After this, one should
note "lifting, lifting" on moving it forward.
bodily actions should be carried out slowly, and these
slow movements should be followed up and noted as "lifting,
lifting," "moving, moving," "touching, touching," in
the successive order of the process. Again, on moving
one should note "moving, moving," and on putting down,
note "putting, putting." If, when this process of changing
posture has been completed, there is nothing more to
be noted, the usual exercise of noting "rising, falling"
should be continued.
should be no stop or break in between. The preceding
act of noting and the one which follows should be contiguous.
Similarly, the preceding concentration and the one which
follows should be contiguous, and the preceding act
of knowing and the one which follows should be contiguous.
In this way, the gradual development by stages of mindfulness,
concentration and knowledge takes place, and depending
on their full development, the final stage of path-knowledge
the practice of vipassana meditation, it is important
to follow the example of a person who tries to make
fire. To make a fire in the days before matches, a person
had to constantly rub two sticks together without the
slightest break in motion. As the sticks became hotter
and hotter, more effort was needed, and the rubbing
had to be carried out incessantly. Only when the fire
had been produced was the person at liberty to take
a rest. Similarly, a yogi should work hard so that there
is no break between the preceding noting and the one
which follows, and the preceding concentration and the
one which follows. He should revert to his usual exercise
of noting "rising, falling" after he has noted painful
being thus occupied with his usual exercise, he may
again feel itching sensations somewhere in the body.
He should then fix his mind on the spot and make a note
as "itching, itching." Itching is an unpleasant sensation.
As soon as it is felt, there arises a mind which wants
to rub or scratch. This mind should be noted as "wanting,
wanting," after which no rubbing or scratching must
be done as yet, but a return should be made to the itching
and a note made as "itching, itching." While one is
occupied with contemplation in this manner, itching
in most cases passes away and the usual exercise of
noting "rising, falling" should then be reverted to.
on the other hand, it is found that itching does not
pass away, but that it is necessary to rub or scratch,
the contemplation of the successive stages should be
carried out by noting the mind as "wanting, wanting."
It should then be continued by noting "raising, raising"
on raising the hand, "touching, touching" when the hand
touches the spot, "rubbing, rubbing" or "scratching,
scratching" when the hand rubs or scratches, "withdrawing,
withdrawing" on withdrawing the hand, "touching, touching"
when the hand touches the body, and then the usual contemplation
of "rising, falling" should be continued. In every case
of changing postures, contemplation of the successive
stages should be carried out similarly and carefully.
thus carefully proceeding with the contemplation, one
may find that painful feelings or unpleasant sensations
arise in the body of their own accord. Ordinarily, people
change their posture as soon as they feel even the slightest
unpleasant sensation of tiredness or heat without taking
heed of these incidents. The change of posture is carried
out quite heedlessly just while the seed of pain is
beginning to grow. Thus painful feelings fail to take
place in a distinctive manner. For this reason it is
said that, as a rule, the postures hide painful feelings
from view. People generally think that they are feeling
well for days and nights on end. They think that painful
feelings occur only at the time of an attack of a dangerous
is just the opposite of what people think. Let anyone
try to see how long he can keep himself in a sitting
posture without moving or changing it. One will find
it uncomfortable after a short while, say five or ten
minutes, and then one will begin to find it unbearable
after fifteen or twenty minutes. One will then be compelled
to move or change one's posture by either raising or
lowering the head, moving the hands or legs, or by swaying
the body either forward or backward. Many movements
usually take place during a short time, and the number
would be very large if they were to be counted for the
length of just one day. However, no one appears to be
aware of this fact because no one takes any heed.
is the order in every case, while in the case of a yogi
who is always mindful of his actions and who is proceeding
with contemplation, body impressions in their own respective
nature are therefore distinctly noticed. They cannot
help but reveal themselves fully in their own nature
because he is watching until they come to full view.
a painful sensation arises, he keeps on noting it. He
does not ordinarily attempt to change his posture or
move. Then on the arising of mind wanting to change,
he at once makes a note of it as "wanting, wanting,"
and afterwards he returns again to the painful sensation
and continues his noting of it. He changes his posture
or moves only when he finds the painful feeling unbearable.
In this case he also begins by noting the wanting mind
and proceeds with noting carefully each stage in the
process of moving. This is why the postures can no longer
hide painful sensations. Often a yogi finds painful
sensations creeping from here and there or he may feel
hot sensations, aching sensations, itching, or the whole
body as a mass of painful sensations. That is how painful
sensations are found to be predominant because the postures
cannot cover them.
he intends to change his posture from sitting to standing,
he should first make a note of the intending mind as
"intending, intending," and proceed with the arranging
of the hands and legs in the successive stages by noting
as "raising," "moving," "stretching," "touching," "pressing,"
and so forth. When the body sways forward, it should
be noted as "swaying, swaying." While in the course
of standing up, there occurs in the body a feeling of
lightness as well as the act of rising. Attention should
be fixed on these factors and a note made as "rising,
rising." The act of rising should be carried out slowly.
the course of practice it is most appropriate if a yogi
acts feebly and slowly in all activities just like a
weak, sick person. Perhaps the case of a person suffering
from lumbago would be a more fitting example here. The
patient must always be cautious and move slowly just
to avoid pains. In the same manner a yogi should always
try to keep to slow movements in all actions. Slow motion
is necessary to enable mindfulness, concentration and
knowledge to catch up. One has lived all the time in
a careless manner and one just begins seriously to train
oneself in keeping the mind within the body. It is only
the beginning, and one's mindfulness, concentration
and knowledge have not yet been properly geared up while
the physical and mental processes are moving at top
speed. It is thus imperative to bring the top-level
speed of these processes to the lowest gear so as to
make it possible for mindfulness and knowledge to keep
pace with them. It is therefore desirable that slow
motion exercises be carried out at all times.
it is advisable for a yogi to behave like a blind person
throughout the course of training. A person without
any restraint will not look dignified because he usually
looks at things and persons wantonly. He also cannot
obtain a steady and calm state of mind. The blind person,
on the other hand, behaves in a composed manner by sitting
sedately with downcast eyes. He never turns in any direction
to look at things or persons because he is blind and
cannot see them. Even if a person comes near him and
speaks to him, he never turns around and looks at that
person. This composed manner is worthy of imitation.
A yogi should act in the same manner while carrying
out the practice of contemplation. He should not look
anywhere. His mind should be solely intent on the object
of contemplation. While in the sitting posture he must
be intently noting "rising, falling." Even if strange
things occur nearby, he should not look at them. He
must simply make a note as "seeing, seeing" and then
continue with the usual exercise of noting "rising,
falling." A yogi should have a high regard for this
exercise and carry it out with due respect, so much
so as to be mistaken for a blind person.
this respect certain girl-yogis were found to be in
perfect form. They carefully carried out the exercise
with all due respect in accordance with the instructions.
Their manner was very composed and they were always
intent on their objects of contemplation. They never
looked round. When they walked, they were always intent
on the steps. Their steps were light, smooth and slow.
Every yogi should follow their example.
is necessary for a yogi to behave like a deaf person
also. Ordinarily, as soon as a person hears a sound,
he turns around and looks in the direction from which
the sound came, or he turns towards the person who spoke
to him and makes a reply. He does not behave in a sedate
manner. A deaf person, on the other hand, behaves in
a composed manner. He does not take heed of any sound
or talk because he never hears them. Similarly, a yogi
should conduct himself in like manner without taking
heed of any unimportant talk, nor should he deliberately
listen to any talk or speech. If he happens to hear
any sound or speech, he should at once make a note as
"hearing, hearing," and then return to the usual practice
of noting "rising, falling." He should proceed with
his contemplation intently, so much so as to be mistaken
for a deaf person.
should be remembered that the only concern of
a yogi is the carrying out intently of contemplation.
Other things seen or heard are not his concern. Even
though they may appear to be strange or interesting,
he should not take heed of them. When he sees any sights,
he must ignore them as if he does not see. So too, he
must ignore voices or sounds as if he does not hear.
In the case of bodily actions, he must act slowly and
feebly as if he were sick and very weak.