March 6-8, 1987

Beginner's Retreat

Forty Subjects of Samatha Meditation

Tape 5


At the retreat we say, "May all beings be well, happy and peaceful." If you want you may say, "May all beings be free from suffering or distress." I want to use positive words, words that bring positive meaning. So I say. "May all beings be well, happy and peaceful." You may say any one you like.

Loving-kindness can be practiced toward any person. Actually loving-kindness must be practiced to all beings. That is why it is called boundless one. 'Boundless one' means there is no limit with regard to loving-kindness. That means loving-kindness must embrace all beings without exception.

That is why we need to forgive others before practicing loving-kindness. If we cannot forgive a person we cannot send thoughts of loving-kindness to him. So before we can send thoughts to him we have to get rid of this grudge or anger against that person.

The second one is compassion. Compassion is a genuine desire to remove suffering from beings or a genuine desire that beings may get free from suffering. Compassion takes beings in distress as object. When you see some being in distress or when you think of some being in distress, you can practice compassion. When you practice compassion you say, "May this being get free from this present suffering. May this being get free from suffering."

It is important when you practice loving-kindness or compassion or sympathetic joy or even equanimity not to fall to what is called the near enemy, disguised enemy.

With regard to loving-kindness its direct enemy is what? Anger or hatred. That is not difficult to see. But there is another enemy. We call it the near enemy. That is attachment. So when you practice loving-kindness try to get away from these two enemies.

        When you practice compassion the direct enemy or the direct opposite is cruelty. You feel pity for the being. The opposite of pity is cruelty. But the other enemy, the subtle enemy, the near enemy is anguish, mentally feeling sorry. If you feel sorry for the person who is suffering, or like the people say if you suffer with this being, you don't practice compassion. You move over into the near enemy which is mental anguish. It is very important to have compassion for all beings. But we must not fall into its near enemy which is depression, or feeling sorry for them. When we feel sorry, when we feel distress, for them our minds are contaminated by what we call Domanassa, displeasurable feeling. Displeasurable feeling is not compassion. It is an unwholesome mental state. When you practice compassion just wish that this being get free from suffering. If that being does not actually get free from suffering, you cannot do anything. Just wish that it gets free from suffering. Do not get angry with those who inflict suffering on these beings. Do not mentally suffer with the beings. If you do that, you have crossed over into the near enemy of compassion.

The third one is sympathetic joy. That means feeling happy at the happiness of others, at the prosperity of others. When you see someone prospering, you should feel happy. That means that one should think, "May this person not fall from his present status, from his present prosperity. May he be able to keep that prosperity." That is called sympathetic joy. Here also the near enemy is something like- it says boredom in the books. That means dislike about other peoples' prosperity. The direct enemy is envy.

The fourth one is equanimity. It is very difficult to practice equanimity. In the books it is said that first you must practice loving-kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy. Only after that do you practice equanimity. Equanimity here does not mean just ignoring. You have these beings in your mind. You don't feel attachment and you don't feel aversion toward them. You can look at them with equanimity, without on the one hand falling into attachment and on the other hand falling into aversion. Equanimity is very important. When you practice equanimity what you reflect upon is that beings have Kamma as their own property. That means beings suffer or beings are happy according to their own Kamma. They have Kamma as their own. They have Kamma as their parents. They have Kamma as cause. By applying this thinking to whatever you come across, you will be able to keep yourself from falling into one of the extremes. You will be able to keep yourself impartial. Equanimity is different from ignoring altogether. Ignoring altogether is not equanimity. It is something like ignorance or delusion. But this is looking at things or looking at people and being impartial.

When you practice compassion, it is important to also practice equanimity because you can fall into mental distress easily if you don't practice equanimity not at the same moment but at the same time. My advice is when you see some being in suffering try whatever you can to reduce suffering or to help it get free from suffering. But if you cannot do anything further, just stop there and practice equanimity. Don't fall into anger or distress. You have done everything you can for that being and still that being is suffering. Then it must have done something, some bad Kamma in the past, and it is suffering its consequences here. In this way keep yourself from falling into either one of the extremes. It is important to practice equanimity along with loving-kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy.

These four are called in Pali Brahma Viharas. That means living like Brahmas. Brahmas are the higher celestial beings. If you get one of the Jhanas in this life and you die with the Jhana intact, you will be reborn as a Brahma. These Brahmas, it is said in the books, spend their time practicing these four kinds of meditation. So these four came to be known as the living of Brahmas. That means their way of life. The way of life of Brahmas is just practicing loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. We can translate Brahma as noble. They call these noble abidings.

These are the four boundless ones. When you practice these you must take all beings. With regard to compassion you must take all beings in suffering. When you practice sympathetic joy you must take all beings in happiness or in prosperity. You must take all beings. There should be no limit of the beings or of the objects. That is why they are called boundless ones, or illimitables, or unlimited ones, or limitless ones. These are the four boundless states.

The next one is the one perception. That is the perception of the loathsomeness of food. Again it may not be popular. The tendency of all people is to enjoy food. You don't think of loathsomeness when you eat food. You want to enjoy food. You may go to restaurants and order exotic foods. You don't think of loathsomeness at that time. It will defeat the purpose.

But Buddha's advice is that when you eat food you eat with this perception of loathsomeness so that you are not attached to food. Here loathsomeness of food means undesirableness of food. We have to reflect upon many things connected with food that are not attractive.

If you are a monk, you have to go out to the village for alms every day, every morning, Nobody wants to leave his place to go out for alms. A monk has to go out because he has nothing at the monastery. Just to get some food to eat he has to leave his abode, his quiet place. He has to walk to the village, stepping on dirty things and stones. Then sometimes he may be chased by dogs or cattle, or even some people in the village may not be friendly to him. All these things he must suffer just because he wants that food. In such a way a monk has to reflect on the loathsomeness of food.

Then when the food is eaten, it is mixed with the saliva in our mouth. One swallows it down. After swallowing it, it becomes something unpleasant and so on. This is one kind of meditation to get rid of attachment to food.

The next is the one analysis. That is the analysis of the four elements. That means analyzing your body into four elements - earth, water, fire and air. Whatever is hard or soft is earth element. Whatever is fluid is water element. Whatever is hot or cold is fire element. Whatever is supporting or extending is air element. You try to analyze yourself into these four elements. This is earth element. This is water element. This is fire element. This is air element. It is to get rid of the perception of a being, a whole. You try to see yourself in parts and not as a whole. This way you lose the perception of a person, a being.

It is very useful in other ways too. In the book called the Visuddhi Magga, The Path of Purification, in connection with getting rid of resentment one of the methods given there is this analysis into four elements. That means if you are angry with some person and you try other methods and you cannot get rid of anger, try this. View that person as just the combination of four elements. This person has earth element, water element, fire element and air element. Ask yourself are you angry with the earth element or the water element. When you divide that person into four elements and ask yourself whether you are angry with this element or that, your anger becomes dissolved. Your anger disappears. This is one very good way of getting rid of resentment.

I want to shock people. If you cannot have success with any of the other methods, cut the person into pieces. That means cut him into four elements and ask yourself whether you are angry with the earth element and so on. This is the one analysis.

Next are the four Arupavacara Jhanas. You will not find it easy to understand. There are the Jhana of infinite space, the Jhana of first consciousness, the Jhana of nothingness and the Jhana of neither perception nor non-perception.

I have told you about Jhanas. There are two kinds of Jhanas. One is fine material Jhana and the other is the immaterial Jhana. These four are called immaterial Jhanas. After you have the fine material Jhanas, you can proceed to these four immaterial Jhanas. You must have the five fine material Jhanas in order to get the four immaterial Jhanas. You practice meditation and you contemplate in a certain way so that you get these Jhanas. There are four subjects of immaterial Jhanas.

Altogether we get how many? Forty subjects of Samatha meditation. When we want to practice Samatha meditation we can choose any one of them.

Nowadays people practice reflection on the qualities of Buddha, Dhamma and Savgha. Then some practice mindfulness on the body, mindfulness on breathing, loving-kindness mostly, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. These are the subjects of meditation most often practiced these days.

Buddha said a monk must practice at least four kinds of Samatha meditation every day. These four are his protections. These four are reflection on the qualities of the Buddha, one of the ten unlovelies, reflection on death and loving-kindness. These for a monk must practice every day.

We have forty subjects of Samatha meditation. Let us see whether all types of meditation lead to attainment of Jhanas. If you want to attain Jhana, you have to choose the meditation that will take you there. At the end of the notes subjects and Jhanas are given. Ten Kasinas can help you get from the first Jhana through the fifth Jhana. Ten unlovelies can help you get first Jhana only, not other Jhanas. The object of unlovelies is gross. So you need a strong mental factor to keep your mind on the object. That particular strong mental factor only arises with first Jhana, not with second, third, fourth or fifth. That is why the unlovelies can lead you to first Jhana only. The first eight reflections do not lead to Jhana. If you want to attain Jhana you do not practice these eight reflections. The ninth reflection, the reflection on the 32 parts of the body, will lead you to first Jhana only, the same as the ten unlovelies. The tenth one, reflection on breathing, will lead to all five Jhanas. The first three boundless ones (Metta, Karuna and Mudita) will lead up through fourth Jhana. The fourth boundless one, equanimity, will lead to the fifth Jhana. Perception of loathsomeness does not lead to Jhana. Analysis does not lead to Jhana. The four Arupavacara meditations lead to the four Arupavacara Jhanas. These are the Jhanas attainable through the different subjects of Samatha meditation.

These forty subjects of meditation are mentioned in the texts and in the Commentaries. If you want to read a detailed description of these subjects of meditation, you can read the book called The Path of Purification. It is a thick book, about 800 pages. There you will find a very detailed description of all these kinds of meditation and also about Vipassana meditation. In fact that book, The Path of Purification, is a handbook for meditators whether you want to practice Samatha meditation or Vipassana meditation. All the intricacies of meditation, all that you will see, all that you will find and so on are described in that book. Actually it was written for the use of monks by a monk. So in some places it may not be easy to understand for lay-readers who are not trained in Abhidhamma. When the author wrote that book, he had in mind monks who already had a knowledge of Abhidhamma. So he did not go on to explain in detail about the Abhidhamma. He refers to Abhidhamma here and there. If you have no knowledge of Abhidhamma, it is impossible to understand. However there are many places that anybody can read and understand. These forty subjects of meditation are explained in that big book.

There is one thing to understand in connection with these types of meditation. That is that people have different temperaments. Some people have tendency to be attached to things or to persons. Some others have tendency to get angry easily. So people have different temperaments. The best thing is to choose a meditation subject according to your temperament. Nobody knows what temperament he has - whether your temperament is attachment, or anger, or delusion. It is difficult to understand. If you know your temperament, you should choose a meditation subject which is most suitable for your temperament. That is you choose the type of meditation which is directly opposed to your temperament. If you have temperament of attachment or lustiness, then you choose one of the unlovely meditations, looking at a corpse and so on. But generally speaking any kind of meditation can be practiced by any person. Every subject of meditation will help you get rid of, or at least reduce the mental defilements. There is not a single meditation that cannot help you eradicate or get rid or reduce mental defilements. Practically you can practice any one of these types of meditation. These are the forty subjects of Samatha meditation, Thank you very much.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!


Vipassana Meditation


Now we come to Vipassana meditation. Before practicing Vipassana meditation, we should know about the fundamentals of Vipassana meditation, fundamentals that underlie the practice of Vipassana. Many people have been practicing Vipassana meditation for a long time, but they may not know what the word ' Vipassana ' means or why they have to watch and so on. Therefore today we will study Vipassana meditation with reference to these questions - what is Vipassana, what do you do when you practice Vipassana and so on.

What is Vipassana? Vipassana is seeing in various ways, that is seeing in the light of impermanence, suffering and soullessness. The word ' Vipassana ' is a Pali word.

Pali is the language sacred to Theravada Buddhists. All the original teachings of the Buddha were recorded in this sacred language. We Theravada Buddhists believe that the Buddha spoke in this language or at least in a language very close to this language. This language is very close to Sanskrit language. Sometimes both languages have the same word, the same spelling with the same meaning. Sometimes a word may be a little different in the other language, but it can be easily traced.

The word 'Vipassana ' is Pali. In Sanskrit it should be Vidarshana. Some people use Vipawyana. Vipassana is seeing in various ways. That is the literal meaning of the word. In the word 'Vipassana ' there are two parts. The first part is 'Vi' and the second is 'Passana '. Passana means seeing and Vi means many. So seeing in many ways or seeing in various ways is the meaning of the word. Seeing here means not seeing with your eyes, but seeing with your mind's eye. In effect Vipassana is comprehending or knowing in various ways.

In which various ways? 'In various ways' can mean anything. 'In various ways' means in the light of impermanence, suffering and soullessness. I told you these are the common characteristics of all phenomena. Everything in this world is impermanent, is subject to suffering or is suffering itself, and is soulless or egoless or insubstantial. The practice of Vipassana helps us to see these three characteristics of phenomena. So if you practice Vipassana meditation, you must see these three characteristics. If these three characteristics cannot be seen, then it may not be Vipassana. Samatha meditation cannot help you to see these characteristics of phenomena. Only Vipassana can help you to see them.

What do you do when you practice Vipassana meditation? You watch, or you observe, or you keep yourself mindful. These mean the same thing. You watch, you observe, you keep yourself mindful, or you make mental notes. So Vipassana meditation is just watching meditation, observing meditation, keeping mindfulness or simply mindfulness meditation.

Since it is mindfulness when you practice Vipassana, you keep mindfulness always. You try not to lose mindfulness at any moment. When we give instructions or when we talk about Vipassana, we use the word 'watch', sometimes 'observe', sometimes 'keep mindful', or sometimes 'make mental notes'. These all mean the same thing. Vipassana is mindfulness meditation. When you practice Vipassana, what you do is just keep mindfulness With you or just be mindful.

What must you watch? You watch what when you practice Vipassana? You must watch the five aggregates of clinging. That is the language of the books. In plain language it means everything that can be clung to or grasped at with attachment or wrong view.

When you read books on Buddhism you will come across this word 'the aggregates of clinging', 'the aggregates of grasping'. So you need to understand the meaning of this word. When Buddha analyzed the whole world, beings and also outside things, he analyzed it into five things. These five are called aggregates. The five aggregates are 1. aggregate of matter (That means material things, material properties.) 2. aggregate of feeling or sensation 3. aggregate of perception 4. aggregate of mental formations 5. aggregate of consciousness. The Buddha analyzed a being into these five aggregates.

A being has a physical body. That is the aggregate of matter.

A being has a mind. In his mind there is feeling. When he experiences something, he has a pleasurable feeling, a displeasurable feeling, or neutral feeling. So feeling is one of the aggregates.

Then there is perception. Whenever you experience something, there is something like making a mark, making a note. That is called perception. This perception helps us recognize the thing when we see it again. Perception is compared to carpenters making marks on the timber so they know where to put which part. Also they know which part is to be sawed off, which part is to be taken. In the same way perception or in Pali Sabba helps us to recognize a thing when we experience it again.

The fourth is the aggregate of formations. 'Aggregate of formations' means aggregate of mental states. Actually feeling is one mental state. Perception is one mental state. But there are some more mental states. They are collectively called formations or Savkhara. To be exact there are fifty such mental states.

Among them there is what we call Cetana in Pali, volition. That means something like mental effort when you do something, or you may call it will. Since Cetana is at the head of these fifty mental states, they are called Savkhara. Savkhara is another name for Cetana. The word 'Savkhara ' is translated as formations, or mental formations, or Kamma formations. But if you are not acquainted with Buddhist terms, this may mean nothing. Aggregate of mental formations means aggregate of mental factors.

The last is the aggregate of consciousness. In Buddhist psychology mind is said to be composed of four things - consciousness, feeling, perception and the other mental states. Consciousness means the awareness of the object, the bare awareness of the object. It is not like the awareness we experience during meditation. Awareness experienced during meditation is closer to mindfulness or it may even be mindfulness. Here 'awareness of the object' means just the bare awareness of the object.

We can take water and color for an analogy. Water, pure without color, is comparable to consciousness. Different colors are comparable to different mental factors. When some color is put into the water, we get blue water, red water and so on. When some mental states accompany consciousness, then consciousness comes to be known as wholesome consciousness, unwholesome consciousness and so on.

There are these five aggregates in the world. All of these aggregates can be the object of clinging, can be the object of attachment and wrong view. We can be attached to any one of these aggregates. We can have a wrong view with regard to any one of these aggregates. The aggregates which are the object of clinging, which are the object of attachment and wrong view are called the aggregates of clinging. 'Aggregates of clinging' means the aggregates which are the objects of clinging. Clinging here means attachment and wrong view.

If you look at things you find that everything comes under the five aggregates of clinging. You see a rose. You can be attached to it. So that is an aggregate of clinging. You see a person. If you are attached to him or her, then he or she is the aggregate of clinging. Everything in this world is aggregate of clinging. The only things that are aggregates, but not objects of clinging, are the Path consciousness and the Fruition consciousness. I told you about it in my previous talks. Path consciousness and Fruition consciousness belong to supramundane world. Since they belong to supramundane level, they are not the objects of attachment and wrong view. Otherwise everything we see, or we hear, or we experience in the world belong to the aggregates of clinging. So when we say you must watch the five aggregates of clinging we are virtually saying you must watch everything, everything that can be the object of attachment or wrong view.

We can have wrong view about things. Buddha said everything is impermanent, but we can have wrong view and take things to be permanent, take things to be beautiful, take things to be substantial and so on. Also we may have wrong view regarding Kamma and its effect. We may have wrong view that there is no Kamma, or that there is no result of Kamma and so on. We can cling to things, mind and matter by attachment or wrong view. So when we say you must watch the five aggregates of clinging, it means you must watch everything.

You must watch everything that becomes evident at the present moment. Everything becomes clear or that becomes evident to you whenever you see something, when you hear something, when you smell something and so on must be noted. According to this answer the object of Vipassana is everything. That is why there is no fixed object for Vipassana meditation. Everything that becomes prominent becomes the object of Vipassana meditation. So you watch everything that can be clung to through attachment or wrong view.

Why must you watch them? Why do we have to watch them? You must watch them so you do not cling to them.

Why are we afraid of clinging so much? According to the Doctrine of Dependent Origination when there is clinging, there are actions, good and bad actions or good and bad volitions which accompany actions. When we have clinging, we cannot avoid doing these actions.

Suppose somebody told us about the celestial world. We heard that person and we wanted to be reborn as a celestial being. Then there is attachment for that celestial world. There is clinging for that celestial world. That clinging makes us do something so we will be reborn in that celestial world. Sometimes we follow the right path and do meritorious deeds. Sometimes we follow the wrong path and do unwholesome deeds like killing, sacrificing animals and others. When there is clinging, there are actions. And when there are actions, there are reactions to them. There are results of these actions, here in the form of rebirth in future existences. When there is rebirth there is old age, disease, death and all kinds of suffering. So when there is clinging this round of rebirth, this round of suffering goes on and on and on.

We want to cut this round of rebirths. If we do not want the results, we must not do the causes. In order not to do the actions, good and bad actions which are the causes of rebirth, we have to avoid clinging. Because when there is clinging, there will always be actions. When there are actions, there are results which entail suffering. So if we want to avoid suffering, we must avoid clinging. In order to avoid clinging to the five aggregates of clinging, we must watch them. So why must you watch them? You must watch them so you will not cling to them. In order not to cling to them you must watch them.

When, at what moment, must you watch them? At the present moment, or past aggregates, at future aggregates? At what moment must you watch them? You must watch them at the moment they are present. Watching them is trying to know them correctly. In order to learn something about something you must observe that thing. That thing which you observe must be with you, must be present with you. You cannot examine a thing which you saw yesterday. You cannot examine a thing which you will see tomorrow, simply because the thing is not with you. So to know something about thing, that thing must be present with you. It must be in front of you. Only then can you understand it. In the same way we do not want to cling to the five aggregates. In order not to cling to the five aggregates we must watch them so that we know their true nature. In order to know the true nature of these five aggregates we must watch them when they are present, when they are there. When they have passed, we cannot watch them and understand them thoroughly. When they have not yet come to us, we cannot watch them. So the moment you must watch these five aggregates is the present moment. That is why the present moment is very important in Vipassana meditation. The past has already passed. The future has not yet come. So what is important is the present moment. You must not miss to watch the present moment. If you miss to watch, then you have already clung to that object. Once clung to it is always clung to. In order not to cling to things you have to watch. Not to cling to things means to understand the real nature of these things. When you understand the real nature of these things, you don't grasp them. You don't cling to them. So the present moment is the most important moment for the practitioners of Vipassana meditation.

When you observe something closely again and again, you know more about that thing...Even reading a book - at the first reading you may not understand very well. But you read it again and again. Then you understand the book thoroughly. In the same way you try to watch things as they are present. This constant observation can help you see the real nature.

Let us say you are watching your thoughts. One thought comes. You are aware of that thought and you make a mental note, "thinking, thinking". That thought goes away. When that thought goes away, the mind that is making notes also goes away. Next there is another thought. And your mind is aware of that thought too. That goes on one thought after another. One thought comes and disappears. Another thought comes and disappears. And so when you observe your thoughts in this way you come to know that thoughts do not last long. They just exist for a moment and then disappear. Anything that does not last is not desirable, not satisfactory.

You cannot make these thoughts permanent. You have no authority over them. Also they have no substance. They just appear or they just arise when there are conditions. Then they disappear after existing for just a moment. This impermanence of things, this unsatisfactory nature of things and this soulless nature of things you come to see when you observe closely, when you observe constantly. So in order to know the real nature of things you observe them. And you observe them when they are present.

How must you watch them? Must you watch them as permanent, as beautiful, as desirable? No. You must watch them so that you know, or are fully aware, that "I am going, when you are going." and so on. That means when you practice Vipassana meditation, you must make yourself mindful of everything. When you walk, you must know that you are walking. When you sit, you must know that you are sitting. When you are lying down, you must know you are lying down. Whatever you do, you must know you are doing this.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!