Home
dhammadana.org; direct link to the beginning of the text Help Accessibility Search Books Fonts Contact
You are here: home > vipassanā > what is it? (1/2)
Next page Bottom of page Previous page Home page of the heading

summary of the page

Detailed teaching about the development of the direct vision into the reality and all the path wich lead to it.

Precise explanations about the notions of "vipassanā", "satipatthāna", "nibbāna", as Buddha expounded them himself.

What is vipassanā? (1)


satipaṭṭhāna

The development of satipaṭṭhāna

In order to develop vipassanā, which is the direct insight into reality, that is to say the fact that phenomena are changing, unsatisfactory and totally devoid of substance, uncontrollable indeed, one must turn his attention to discontinuity, to that which is discontinuous. If we observe something that is continuous, we cannot develop satipaṭṭhāna. We can develop satipaṭṭhāna, a full presence of mind only when we turn our attention to that which is discontinuous. Worthy to be known, when we turn our attention in a punctual manner.

For a short while, we are absorbed into a phenomenon, just at time of its duration. When a itchy sensation does occur, we turn our attention to that itchy sensation and we only know "itchy", just for the time of its duration, not more or less than this. If just after this itchy sensation, a noise is heard, we turn our attention to that noise, or to the fact to hear instead, to the auditive consciousness, to "hearing", to what is heard. And we simply know "hearing". The same thing applies to sights that appear before our eyes, even when we keep our eyes closed, there are images that appear, likened to visions. We can then come to know them as merely being "seeing".

Of course, we make use of words in order to convey the idea, but at the time of doing it, it is out of question to use words, neither verbally, nor mentally except for the fresh beginners whom it can help. Quickly, one must stop all this, and simply turn his attention to reality and know it as it is.

The sole duty

As was repeatedly told to us by our instructor-in-charge, in the Rangoon vipassanā centre, the sole duty, the only responsibility of someone undertaking a training, only lies in knowing. There is nothing else that can be done. By telling this, our instructor exactly repeated what Buddha himself told twenty five centuries back:

"When a sound does manifest, only know what is heard. When a sight does occur, only know what is seen. When there is a smell, only know what is smelt. When there is a taste, only know what is tasted. When there is a mental object, only know what is thought." This is the one of the rare and perhaps only time when Buddha clearly expresses what does the act of knowing, leading to nibbāna, lie in.

Regarding the satipaṭṭhāna sutta

In the satipaṭṭhāna sutta, he doesn't give us this information or we should rather say, not in such a straightforward manner as that. In the satipaṭṭhāna sutta, he does enumerate to us the list of things that can be observed and known without ever telling us how to do it. He simply tells us that if we turn our attention to everything that appears to consciousness, we will observe and know four categories of phenomena, that split up all together into twelve objects.

Unfortunately, there are people who are mistaken about this sutta, and who do believe that vipassanā is a kind of meditation. How many times do we equate these two words with one another (they have nothing to do with each other), and indeed claim that vipassanā lies in doing what is written in the satipaṭṭhāna sutta. Therefore, we are going to do what has been written down. We are going to follow it as if it was a direction of use and we will simply do what is written down. In fact, it is not the right attitude yet.

The satipaṭṭhāna sutta is rather a sutta that tells us what happens while turning our attention to reality, he tells us what it is. It is not really a direction of use or a compound of instructions for doing it.

Wisdom cannot be obtained from books

Those are neither a book, nor some texts that can tell us how to do it. Only a human being, if possible a fully realised being, is enabled to give us the necessary information in order to cultivate this right insight into reality, right understanding of reality and right concentration on it. Books cannot do it.

Even someone who has meditated alone and studied from books, for years, tens of years, will in no wise be able to develop the kind of knowledge, or wisdom, peculiar to vipassanā. This is inconceivable, it has never been seen and it will never be seen either, even if unfortunately some of us do pretend it. Except... Buddha himself. What does differentiate a being like Buddha from his disciples, lies in the simple fact that he found it on his own. From this starting point, it is the very nature of these disciples to be the way they are or of a being like Buddha to have reached it on his own without having ever been told how to do it.

What is incumbent upon us to do is neither reinventing the wheel, nor the gunpowder, we should content ourselves with simply doing what our instructor is requesting us to do. If our instructor tells us: "When something appears to consciousness, whatever it is, do observe and know it as it is", our instructor is giving us here the right instructions. If our instructor does tell us something else, then what he tells is NOT satipaṭṭhāna, what he tells is NOT Buddha's word, he "missed the target".

The vision of the three characteristics

The kind of insight that vipassanā is

samatha, that is a kind of meditation. That is to say, going back again and again to the same thing until it becomes continuous and limpid. vipassanā, that is the direct insight that develops as soon as we turn our attention to everything that rises and passes away, instant after instant, moment after moment. The simple fact to do this will naturally lead us, to see with a right view, that all those things do appear moment after moment, that they do appear and do not last for long. We will do the experience of anicca, which is impermanence. We will see anicca. We will see it as it truly is.

Beware of conceptions

Beware, let us be wary of all these meditation exercises that are sometimes taught, about which we are told: "One must contemplate impermanence. That is an exercise that consists in contemplating impermanence in things, sensations, thoughts, etc."? Such a contemplation would indeed be a conception, an ideation, that would be a meditation on impermanence. Admittedly, it does have its usefulness. That is still quite good, but that is not satipaṭṭhāna and it doesn't allow to develop a direct inner sight of reality, the direct vision of this characteristic, which is anicca.

Some will claim: One should now meditate on the aspect of unsatisfactoriness, of dukkha, we therefore have an exercise to be performed for a whole day, which consists in seeing dukkha in all phenomena. That is not satipaṭṭhāna. That is a mere meditation, an intellectual investigation, which will perhaps lead us to a certain form of intellectual or meditative understanding of what dukkha is. satipaṭṭhāna, that is simply observing reality, observing phenomena and owing to that, enabling oneself to develop the inner sight into this characteristic that is dukkha. The same thing applies to the third characteristic that is anatta.

What is paradoxical lies in that, the last thing that preoccupies us, in satipaṭṭhāna, this is precisely those three characteristics (anicca, dukkha, anatta). We shouldn't take any interests in it, as if by ignorance. We do not try to see, contemplate, observe, know or even understand them. The only thing that matters to us here is consciousness and its object. We should try to simply observe, be heedful, concentrated, on each moment of consciousness, at each instant. As soon as something appears to consciousness, that is what matters to us.

Direct inner sight beyond our acknowledgement

The fact to turn our attention will enable us, unknowingly, to have a direct insight into these three characteristics. As in a few texts is described this process according to which, in vipassanā, we come to know the characteristic of impermanence, some people have imagined that IT was vipassanā. They have imagined that vipassanā consists in observing the characteristic of impermanence. As if there was a method, an exercise or a technique designed for that. Besides, some have truly developed some techniques. What a mistake! As Buddha himself claimed, when does occur a sound, do only know what is heard. Does he speak about anicca in this phrase? Does he speak about anatta? Is he putting up together big theories on vipassanā? He doesn't even utter the word.

Precisely, when we turn our attention to hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, thinking, at this very moment, automatically, will take place, establish and develop itself a direct insight. INTO those "seeing", INTO those "hearing", INTO those "tasting", "smelling", "touching", etc. The vision that they are changing, impermanent, appearing, disappearing, unsatisfactory and totally devoid of substance, will establish itself.

It is owing to this that we succeed in perceiving that this world is desperately devoid of substance and that there is no conductor. There is no primeval and continuous or unconditioned consciousness.

As long as we haven't done this effort to turn our attention to everything that appears to consciousness up to the moment when it does actually appear to it, without investigation, without analysis, by simply turning, holding and sustaining our attention to what has just appeared just at time of its duration, as long as we won't do this, we won't reach a direct insight, totally spare of these three characteristics.

We cannot understand

As long as we will have the feeling of having seen those three characteristics, it will mean that we haven't seen them at all. As long as we will have the feeling to have seen or understood something, it will mean that we have neither seen nor understood anything. That is still a mental fabrication. The ones who followed this training, under the mere guidance of a qualified instructor, and who truly experienced its real outcome, will tell you that they understood nothing. Some of them will also claim that they have neither seen nor understood anything that is mentioned in the scriptures, they didn't see anything like this as such. Precisely! This is what is interesting to us here.

We cannot SEE those three characteristics. Simply, a direct knowledge of these latter takes place and it can effectively express itself throughout peculiar symptoms. For example, during our training on satipaṭṭhāna, there can manifest unbearable pains on the body, we can feel itchy sensations, states of ecstasy, of bliss. Indeed, all these sensations are owing to the fact that consciousness comes to know reality. While these experiences do occur, we cannot realise that consciousness comes to know reality. But we see the symptom appearing. Exactly in the same way as when a spot appears on our skin, we are not aware that it does so owing, for example, to the liver or the stomach. But we see the spot appearing on our skin.

What is peculiar to satipaṭṭhāna, is that we understand nothing about what is going on. The more we understand, the less we are immersed into it! It doesn't mean, however, that the opposite thing is true; we can perfectly well understand nothing and at the same time, have completely been "led astray" from the right path.

Let us imagine someone who genuinely trod the right path, the "noble eight fold path (maggaṅga)", of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness (that is this mindfulness of each elapsing moment) and right concentration (which is this intense concentration that can be focused on each of these elapsing instants). These eight elements being grouped together at each moment of contemplation. This fellow, as his attention is turned to a phenomenon, how, by definition, could he understand what is going on? He doesn't understand it, he actually sees it! Owing to this simple fact, it would be difficult for him to talk about it.

A detailed map

Thus, "Scriptures" endeavour to give a fine detailed description about the acquisition of direct knowledge.

Contrarily to what we could think, it is not here about a direction of use for vipassanā, but instead a detailed map. It is therefore more interesting to take interest into this literature AFTER following this training into vipassanā for a long time, so as to clearly understand what we have seen and experienced.

There is a class of beings, called arahanta, and only those ones have reached nibbāna, through the four stages, have mastered an extraordinary skilfulness, refinement to permeate, observe, understand and see. And so, the ones who got used to pursue their training into satipaṭṭhāna, keep on observing again and again the appearance and disappearance of consciousness. Owing to their extraordinary intuition, their extraordinary sagacity, their tremendous intelligence, they have been able to see quite minutely and in details the compounds of involved phenomena and mechanisms.

Those are the ones who wrote the scriptures. Those texts that mislead us now a day. Some texts, which we regard as directions of use, or things that ought to be studied prior to starting up a training, but they wrote them after having completed their training. Besides, didn't Buddha himself give his teaching AFTER having reached the goal?

How to reach nibbāna?

A small reminder of nibbāna

nibbāna is not at all a state of consciousness, not a transcendence, neither an absolute truth, nor a location, field or sphere and definitely not a mode of being. That is to say, nibbāna is not a state of saintliness, buddhahood or the divinity.

nibbāna is something, a reality, an object, that is a reality as an object, which is tangible, knowable by consciousness, which can be seen by it, whose specificity lies in that it doesn't appear.

Buddha teaches that there are four things, which are constituent of the universe:

  • Consciousness, whose faculty lies in knowing the three others.
  • Material phenomena (material properties), which, in a broad sense, we call matter.
  • Mental phenomena (mental properties), which are the emotional states and all other forms of perceptions pertaining to the mental sphere.
  • nibbāna.

False views

The idea of a continuum of consciousness or primeval consciousness has been rejected from the very beginning by the monk Gotama, by the awakened one, whom we today call Buddha. We ascribe to him many teachings that he seems to have never taught himself.

From the very beginning, in his first sermon, as it is today handed down by the tradition of theravāda, the "tradition of ancients", Buddha denies the existence of a continuum of consciousness, a continuum, an identity or a self-inherent nature. He denies the existence of a continuous, immutable, eternal substance, which would remain unsullied, immaculate. Even if, after, some specific and modern Buddhist schools, adopting strongly speculative stances, have concocted the opposite theory. Those latter have based all their philosophical system, doctrine, precisely on the idea that, within the five aggregates, is found an immutable, imperturbable and unconditioned continuum of consciousness, which would be the mind resting upon itself in its natural state.

The whole aim of our step lies in clearly seeing at the experimental level that all that is merely FALSE. That is precisely what the monk Gotama did discover. We often refer to the philosophical conceptions of Frederick Nietzsche as something revolutionary, going against the fashion. So, what to say about the teaching of the monk Gotama, which goes against and overthrows ALL the teachings that have been given throughout mankind's history? It also includes the ones that have been given under his name.

During his time, there were monks, who were members of his brethren, who had been admitted into his brethren, who taught things that he never taught himself. It already existed at time of his living. Could you imagine how it can be 2500 years later?

What the monk Gotama did discover, which is revolutionary, which literally goes against what we daily hear among religious, philosophical or mystical systems, whether in the East or in the West, is precisely that there is absolutely no substance. There is nothing continuous as such, there is not A consciousness to be found anywhere.

The path of the monk Gotama

Here is the path taught by the monk Gotama so as to succeed in seeing that clearly with our own mind.

The monk Gotama was a man, not more than this, he was born as a man, lived and passed away like a man. He did discover by himself what he did discover. It happened without anyone's help, without the slightest prayer, reflection, cogitation, meditation, even if he tried all that, without the slightest mantra, devotion to whoever it is (a spiritual master, a divinity, Brahma or God). This man, who himself proclaimed that he was not the emanation or incarnation, neither the visible manifestation of a superior or intrinsic principle, nor the revelation, in the human world, of a transcendental reality, precisely discovered that nothing like this does exist.

He discovered that, at the most, what is real is merely what we can know at a given moment. There is no other reality, in the universe, than what we have the potency to perceive through our senses, quite simply.

The training, which he does suggest us to follow, in order to clearly see on our own this thing, is divided in three steps, which it is essential to successively follow. First of all, the cultivation of mental purity, purity of character through the observance of right conduct and discipline. Then, once the good conduct and discipline have been observed, there is the development of concentration, of a full presence of mind. At last, once that concentration and full presence of mind have been acquired, a direct insight into reality takes place. The path leading to direct knowledge, which is not at all a transcendent knowledge, is the path of direct insight into reality. After all, what we are looking for in Buddha's and our spiritual masters' teaching, is to reach a certain form of happiness. And so, in order to tread the path leading to happiness, many people do imagine that it is necessary to submit to exercises, rituals, utilisation of symbols, recitations, visualisations, exercises of mastery of bodily postures, mental dispositions, discipline through self-control.

We do believe that, through those complicated or simple exercises, we can reach a certain form of transcendence. Though, the monk Gotama himself, asserts that he reached the disappearance of all dissatisfactions, that is to say the disappearance of all these causes, without having ever recited a prayer, mantra, nor joined his palms. Simply by observing reality, nothing else than this.

"Blablayana"

We often talk about "hinayana", "mahayana", "vajrayana", or else "mantrayana" etc. In fact, those are "blablayana"! Buddha, himself, did once utter this term "yāna" by telling: "ekayana", which means "the UNIQUE path". What is this unique path leading to the cessation of suffering? That is the path of foundation of mindfulness, which is applied to the four categories of phenomena. He tells that on numerous occasions, we can verify it in his words uttered in his mother tongue: The unique path leading to nibbāna, which leads where there is no more suffering, is the path of foundation of mindfulness and direct insight into reality: satipaṭṭhāna vipassanā bhāvanā.

If, by chance, it had been needed to practise a form of yoga in order to reach the goal, Buddha would have done it! If, by chance, in order to reach the goal, magic words had to be uttered so as to achieve a state of communion with any deity, Buddha would have done it! If, by chance, prayers, ceremonies, prostrating in a certain manner, putting hands this way, joining feet that way were needed, Buddha would have done it!

But, he didn't do anything like that. He perhaps tried to do all these things, during his childhood, but when he reached the goal he claimed to have reached, he simply sat beneath a tree while observing and contemplating the rising and passing away of moments of consciousness, that's all. After that, as he trod this path in order to reach the complete end of suffering, this is what he taught. He wouldn't have taught what he had not practised prior to it. As he claims: There is only one teaching where is really taught what is put into practice and is put into practice what is taught, that is in mine. Thus, I only teach what I do practise.

This is what the monk Gotama, a man among men, born as a man, having lived the life of a man, having passed away like a man, actually taught to the sake of achieving the complete cessation of unsatisfactoriness.

The course

A perfect conduct

First of all, he teaches the observance of a conduct, of life ethics, as perfect as possible. Moved by a feeling of compassion towards the whole world, all sentient beings populating the universe, we train ourselves on the path of non-violence, of non-aggressiveness, of restraint, we refrain from doing wrong, we renounce. It doesn't mean to forbid ourselves, to get frustrated or castrated. This is not at all the idea that is meant here! Simply, we refrain ourselves. The only thing that matters is to abstain. This is not an abstinence in the religious sense of the word, that is an abstention.

Starting from a vigilant spirit, moved by a natural compassion and benevolence towards other beings, we refrain from doing that which could be detrimental to them.

Admittedly, Buddha has elaborated all this by suggesting rules that, sometimes, to us, look like directions of use or a specific code of discipline. Nevertheless, the idea still remains that, moved amid compassion and mindfulness towards the world, all beings, we refrain from committing any misdeeds.

We refrain from doing evil throughout all our gestures (bodily activities), speeches (oral activities) and even from conceiving any evil (in our thoughts and imagination). We refrain from committing any type of violence, killing, hitting whatever and whoever it is, from ants up to humans and virtually all living beings from all spheres of existence. We even refrain from uselessly devastating vegetation. It can disturb many living beings that live in it (and also allow to feed them), even if we can't see them.

We refrain from telling lies, slandering, uttering hurtful and humiliating words, towards whomsoever, small or tall, child or adult.

We refrain from taking what is not legitimately given to us. We refrain from borrowing something that has not been given to us. We also refrain from committing thefts of any kind.

We refrain from indulging in a licentious sexual behaviour. That is to say a conduct likely to create troubles, whether to ourselves or to others (adultery, incest, prostitution, sexual intercourse with someone who decided to abstain from it, etc.)We refrain from consuming substances that have the property to modify the usual structure of the mind (alcohol, various drugs, etc.)

Who?

The whole thing lies in restraining us by encouraging us to refrain from evil deeds committed whether through body or speech. We can wonder who will be the victim of such evil? Who does act, and who does inherit the fruit of our actions?

From the beginning, the monk Gotama asserts that there is nobody. There is no being, no soul, no substance, no me myself, no ego. Therefore, if there is no me myself, there is no other either. That's why, from the beginning, the monk Gotama simply tells that in this world, there is suffering. Let's refrain from taking part in it. Let's refrain from contributing to it.

If we ignore this point, we will perhaps still cultivate a benevolent attitude towards others, we will try to do good to them and avoid to do them any harm. We will adopt such an attitude by backing up with the idea that there is a fellow being. That is still quite fine. As, according to the law, which teaches that we reap the fruits of our own labour, if we do good to others and we refrain from doing them any harms, in the future, others should do good to us and refrain from doing us any harm in return. But it all starts from a misconception that there is a being different from ourselves.

That's why Buddha tells that guarding oneself against evil deeds towards oneself or towards others is not at all the result of a misunderstanding, as there is neither self, nor other. Thus, altruism, in the most common sense of the word, is admittedly a very good practice. If egotism, that unhealthy interest that we take to the sake of senses' gratification, is beyond contest a unhealthy practice, to Buddha, altruism is still not the panacea. As altruism is still backing up with an erroneous conception.

Egotism and altruism

Replacing egotism by altruism, that is good, very good indeed. Replacing altruism by a spontaneous attitude of benevolence towards all, that is better. Without really worrying about the beneficiary or the source. As according to Buddha, there is no me I mineness and there is no other either. Then how could his teaching be the one of altruism?

That's quite simple, owing to being conscious, having a certain intuition, a certain perception of that which is inherently good, we are doing it. We are not trying to raise, educate, giving care to our child for his sake as a child; we don't do it because it is good for our neighbours' child. We do it because it is good, quite simply. Whether they are our children or neighbours' children, it is good, natural and healthy to give them relief and all the things that they need.

That is universal, that is not targeted, that is not centred. That is for now or never. This is the conception of benevolence, according to the monk Gotama. If, in his teaching, he does assert that egotism is unhealthy, to him also, "allocentrisme" (a French word conveying the idea of a non-individualistic and altruistic attitude turned towards others, the community or society), that is to say to be directed towards others, is not much better. It is better in the sense of accumulation of positive qualities, but it is insufficient. The problem lies in "centrist" tendencies, whether it is egocentricity or else "allocentricity". The problem lies in "Ism", whether it is egotism or altruism. To Buddha, there are not hundreds of ways to achieve a healthy livelihood and reach a certain degree of inner purity; one must refrain from doing evil. To commit evil against whom? against all? no one. As this world is empty and desperately devoid of inhabitants.

It is simply about refraining from doing evil. It is unnecessary to indulge in long speeches, or write big books so as to explain what is meant by guarding oneself against all evils. Within ourselves somewhere, we do have this faculty to understand that, whatever our root culture, mother tongue, religion and beliefs might be. One must be mad to imagine that violence could do good to anyone whosoever.

A healthy livelihood

You probably noticed up to now, from the very beginning of that teaching, that this healthy livelihood doesn't call at all for yoga, neither meditations, nor even prayers or feelings of religious devotion. It doesn't need a master and even the notion of discipleship is absent from it. That is simply an attitude of self-mastery, a "self-attitude" as we often say. That is to say, we remain righteous, honest and clear minded towards ourselves, simply, in every circumstance and moment. There is no God, no Buddha. And so, it is totally useless to distract our mind through fruitless recitations of mantras or prayers. It is also as fruitless to stop in front of a monument and to topple over because its form suggests Buddha, Vishnu, Shiva, whatever it is.

It is far more essential that, every time we are facing a situation, we "keep our head straight", as we say, we do "preserve our dignity", that is to say with a clear and pure mind. This idea of clarity is very important, this idea of truth, to be truthful, to be here. It will spare us from the need to clear ourselves. The ones who clear themselves from something are the ones who, when this thing happened, were not "true" unto themselves. As if it wasn't the case, they would not need to clear themselves.

Euthanasia, is it good? In some peculiar cases, should we accept it? In some particular cases, can we tolerate it or not? If, to relieve suffering, bla bla bla, bla bla bla. Books, television and radio programmes are dealing with those subjects that truly miss the right target. To be truthful, to be clear-minded, in all situations, is being far the most important thing. It will spare us from these philosophical gossips.

Buddha has told: Taking the life of a being, in no way can it provide well-being to whomsoever. This is not that much for the being itself, himself/herself, as once it or he/she is dead, no problem will it, he/she longer have to face. That is mainly for the surrounding. Killing someone creates a lot of suffering and pain, not that much to the deceased, as he is no more here with us to experience it, but to his loved ones. That is the most important thing. Whatever our state of mind may be, even if we believe doing good, even if our intention is good and sincere, as soon as we are about to take the life of a being, the mind is obstructed. It is sullied and defiled.

The most difficult and easiest thing at the same time

We shouldn't easily trust the ones who, among us, utter beautiful philosophical parables, and who, upon facing realities, are totally powerless and unable to act. They talk, but they do not put into practice what they say. To refrain from performing deeds, that is at the same time the easiest and most difficult thing to do. That is the most difficult thing because, as soon as we are facing a situation, things happen very quickly and we don't have the time to think. One must have this inspirational impulse, that extraordinary clear-headedness, which lies in remaining completely"truthful", totally united within oneself, with an opened and alert mind and going in the right direction. At the same time, that is the easiest thing as refraining from all actions precisely means doing nothing. Not doing nothing in the sense of being indifferent and letting things follow their natural course in a careless manner, but doing nothing in the sense of not performing any action. It is very difficult to refrain from all actions. Though, somewhere, that is the simplest thing. We will see later on how it is the way and the ONLY way leading to knowledge.

Once we have reached that, we have developed what is called purity of conduct, purity of morality. We are clear-headed, we are lucid. Our daily relationships are unfailing, with our friends, relatives, colleagues. There is no flaw, no hypocrisy and things are clear. It is limpid and transparent.

We do live in a world of relationships, not in one organised into hierarchies. Only from the moment when we have reached this degree of purity, which we call the purity of conduct (sīla visudi), can we hope to reach the next stage, which is mental purity (citta visudi). The purity of the mind (or of consciousness), is only obtained by the sole effect of concentration. In order to do so, we focus our mind on a sole object of concentration (one-pointedness of mind). The pali word is sati and it means the idea of collecting the scattered elements of one's own mind, one's own consciousness, and to focus them one a single point.

sati suggests the idea of recollecting upon something, of memorising. It also suggests the idea of concentration, mindfulness, vigilance and a full presence of mind. Once the mind is self-possessed, "elements" have been collected, it has reached a certain degree of unification. Starting from all this, it sticks to its object with heedfulness. It leads to a degree of purity to the far extent that, when it is so absorbed, sensual desires, lecherous thoughts, anger, aversion or slothfulness do no longer manifest in it.

The loss of ignorance

That is not sufficient. Once mental purity has been developed, one must proceed to the third stage, which is very important. That is the one in which does really manifest the acquisition of knowledge or in more appropriate parlance, the loss of ignorance. It will hence lead us, at last, to the experience of nibbāna. That third stage is what we call "ditthi visudi", purity of conceptions.

What is very interesting, once more, lies in that, to the monk Gotama, reaching a correct understanding is essentially done by wiping out conceptions from our mind. Naturally, how can we reach a right understanding if not by refraining from understanding, analysing, conceiving, verbalising? The acquisition of knowledge, by means of direct inner sight, is a process that is quite natural and totally uncontrollable, as all other things are. Only once we have developed a very clear mind, which is not plagued by a feeling of remorse regarding past faults, which is not agitated and perturbed by excitement caused by material projects, which is concentrated, calm and relaxed, are we able to have this idea, this intention, to turn our inner sight to reality. We call this the development of the vision by the establishment of insight.

satipaṭṭhāna vipassanā bhāvanā. "sati" means attention, the full presence of mind. "patthāna" means development, growth, the establishment, the foundation. the word vipassanā, itself, is divided this way: "vi", meaning superior, and "passanā", vision, superior vision, direct vision. Regarding the word bhāvanā, it is literally translated by "cultivation", that is to say a training, a foundation. It is about a training in the sense of a repetition.

The main idea, according to the monk Gotama, doesn't lie at all in getting knowledge, transcendental and dazzling wisdom, which is all pervasive. The problem, to the monk Gotama, precisely lies in that which we have acquired. All the situations we are facing, whatever they are, befall to us owing to what we have acquired. The accumulation of a certain knowledge does create a certain problem precisely because it is an accumulation. That's the reason why, to the monk Gotama, the path leading to inner peace, which he defines as perfect happiness, perfect tranquillity, is not depicted by him as the path of accumulation of knowledge. He has pointed it out as being the path of cessation of ignorance.

As in accumulation of knowledge, there is always a bit of ignorance involved, a kind of ignorance. It is precisely this ignorance that does motivate us. That is precisely this ignorance that incited us to develop a certain kind of knowledge. Thus, instead of collecting, developing ad infinitum, and reaching this "infinitude", that boundless consciousness, that unlimited knowledge or becoming one with the infinite universe, to the monk Gotama, the idea is much more simple, far more potty, we could even say quite silly! One simply has to unplug the plug.

But then, what has to be done in order to reach a complete insight into reality, this type of innner sight in which all seeds of ignorance can no longer be found. What is quite paradoxical, precisely lies in that there is NOTHING to do. As soon as we do something, we are involved in some mechanisms. Those latter usually call for energetic phenomena. We do utilise energies, we do utilise some matter. One must purify some energy, develop a certain kind of energy in order to reach perfect awakening. According to the monk Gotama, this is still not the right method. As working in the field of energies exactly yields the same effect, according to him, as a baby that agitates its arms in the bath. That is to say, it is doing some lather. It doesn't do anything else than lather.

Next page: What is vipassanā ? (2)

Creative Commons


Next page Top of page Previous page Home page of the heading Home Search Help

choice of style

Visit this Website according to the presentation you like...



To know more about these styles.

about this page

Origin: Teaching given at Le Bourget (France)

Author: Monk Sāsana

Date: 1999

Translator: Thierry Lambrou

Date of translation: 2001

Update: 2005, June the 17th