by S. N. Goenka
The following article was originally published in the Vipassana Journal, second edition, September 1985. It has been slightly adapted.
Man is a social being. It is neither possible nor profitable for him to live separate from society. His contribution to make the social fabric more peaceful and harmonious is the true yardstick of his merit as a useful member of society. The basis of any healthy, harmonious society is always the healthy and harmonious individuals who populate it. Disharmonious people not only remain tense and unhappy themselves, but also make others around them unhappy because of their tension and disharmony. Therefore, it is obvious that a society can be happy, healthy and harmonious only when each individual in it is happy, healthy and harmonious. Only if each individual has a pure, peaceful mind can we expect peace in the society. Dhamma is a unique way for attaining peace for the individual, and hence a way to attain peace and harmony for the society and the world.
Dhamma does not mean a particular sect. Sects, dogmas and creeds always build barriers and divisions, and create differences between people. Dhamma, on the other hand, breaks all such barriers and differences and removes these divisions between people. Otherwise, it no longer qualifies to be called Dhamma.
True Dhamma uproots the sense of superiority as well as the sense of inferiority from different sections of society; it eliminates the impurities of the mind and establishes it on a sound foundation of equality where neither of these unhealthy complexes can exist. This purity of mind imparts the quality of equanimity. One gains the ability to view every situation, every individual and every state of existence in its true nature, in its true colour; one is able to see things as they really are. Such purity also frees the mind of false exaggeration and blind dependence, which is often characteristic of individuals, steeped in emotional devotion to some supernatural power. The ability to see things as they really are, without clouding one’s vision with the conditioning of the mind, imparts insight, wisdom and understanding of the Truth. One is able to become an objective witness of the truth within; one’s insight is freed from the veil of ignorance.
The conditioning of the mind, which is a result of our past experiences, becomes a barrier to our ability to see things in their true nature. Our traditional beliefs and convictions colour our vision so thoroughly that we see objects and situations in a distorted light and fail to see their untarnished reality. In the name of Dhamma, we have bound ourselves with these golden chains of dogma and blind belief, which in ignorance we begin to regard with pride as ornamental achievements and erudite understanding. However, to be totally liberated from all our ignorance and suffering, we will have to break asunder all emotional and intellectual bondages of dogma and creed.
If we wish to be liberated from hate, greed, delusion, antagonism, envy, fear and other negativities that defile the mind, it is necessary to set aside all our philosophical beliefs, delusions, and emotional devotion and learn to live in the present moment, as it is. To live in the present moment means to live in the reality of the present moment. Those moments that have passed are no longer real; there can only be the memory of those moments. Similarly, the moments that are yet to come are not real, as we can only have expectations, hopes and fears about them. Living in the present moment means to be totally aware of whatever is being experienced at this very moment. The pleasant and unpleasant memories of the past as well as the pleasant and unpleasant hopes and fears about the future take us away from the reality of the present moment and do not allow us to live a life of reality. A life that is not lived in the present moment is a life of delusion, which leads to all kinds of difficult situations in life causing defilements in the mind and resulting in anxiety, tension, dissatisfaction, frustration and suffering. However, as we learn to live and observe the truth of the present moment, we automatically begin to experience freedom from these negativities.
The Supreme Enlightenment attained by the Buddha revealed a path that enables one to learn to live in the present moment. It purifies the mind by eliminating all past conditioning and eradicating the defilements of aversion, craving and delusion, thus leading to full liberation from all suffering. After liberating himself completely by this method, the Buddha taught this way of liberation for the rest of his life. He called this liberating technique Vipassana.
A student of this technique learns to be completely aware of whatever he experiences at this very moment. He develops mindfulness and awareness about his physical structure and thus practises kāyānupassanā. He develops awareness of bodily sensations that he experiences pleasant, unpleasant or neutral and thus practises vedanānupassanā. He develops awareness of the mind, and thus practises cittānupassanā. Similarly, he is mindful of all the wholesome and unwholesome states of his mind, their origin, their cause and their nature and thus practises dhammānupassanā. Transcending the entire field of physical and mental experiences, the entire sensual field, the field of relativity, he experiences the ultimate reality, nibbāna. The practice of such mindfulness eradicates all the deep-rooted conditioning, which is caused by unwholesome states of mind. With the reduction and elimination of past conditioning, the mind slowly becomes free from attachment, from lust for sensual pleasures, and from loss of equanimity towards the pain inflicted by the memories of the past as well as anxieties about the future. Gradually, the mind becomes calm, peaceful and pure.
This technique of Vipassana which frees mankind from all negativities, which calms the mind filled with tension and anxiety, and teaches one how to be free from all suffering, is beneficial for one and all, irrespective of one’s caste, community, nationality, language or religion. One is not required to declare oneself a Buddhist before one can practise it or benefit from it. One need not burn incense and prostrate oneself before the image of the Buddha or perform any traditional rite or ritual. One is not required to meditate on the form or the name of this great teacher who gave us this technique.
When one takes refuge in Buddha, one must be careful that this devotion does not turn into blind devotion. Such madness may lead us to believe that the Buddha will end all our suffering. On the other hand, after witnessing the process of purification taking place in oneself and in others with the practice of this technique, if one’s sense of gratitude towards the compassionate Enlightened Teacher begins to overflow, any expression of respect and gratitude would certainly not be out of place. When our devotion is inspired by wholesome qualities that liberate and purify us, such devotion inspires us to acquire these qualities. Devotion of this nature does not become a blind belief and turn into bondage; it becomes a factor of enlightenment. This factor of enlightenment makes the mind tender, which is of great assistance in the process of purification through the practice of Vipassana.
The object of Vipassana meditation is not the Buddha; it is the awareness of the moment-to-moment changing nature of one’s own body and mind. Vipassana teaches us to be constantly aware and mindful of the real nature of things every moment. Such a practice that trains us to live in and to be aware of the present moment, to see and experience things as they really are, can be accepted and practised by all. One learns to observe oneself and to study one’s own nature. One examines one’s own body and mind and observes the manifestation of the conditioning of the mind in the course of life at each moment. One sees the arising of craving and aversion. By the practice of such awareness one can liberate oneself from all mental defilements and get established in true Dhamma. Such a pure being is respected and esteemed regardless of his sect. Such a person, with mind free from all fetters, is not only happy and peaceful himself; he becomes an instrument for enhancing the happiness and peace of others.
May the munificent, all-embracing, benevolent, universal nature of Dhamma reach all suffering beings and be the cause of their peace, happiness and liberation.
May all beings be happy!