A Store-House of Answers by S.N. Goenkaji
Abandoning false illusions, moving towards the truth,
may we keep walking step by step, advancing towards the true goal.
In the course of his Dhamma work, beginning in 1969, Goenkaji has been asked thousands of questions, by Vipassana students and others all over the world. The questions range a fascinating spectrum from what is Dhamma, Vipassana meditation, aim of life, human misery, God, rebirth to insomnia ...
The answers and questions have been broadly categorized under various sections based on the nature of the question. A section on the top, under 'Vipassana Practice', provides clarifications about the practice to Vipassana students.
It must be remembered, however, that Goenkaji's favourite answer is always: " You must experience the truth yourself. Only then it becomes a truth for you. Otherwise it is only someone else's truth". To Vipassana students, Goenkaji has always emphasized that the real answers can only come from continuous and correct practice of Vipassana.
These Q&As, therefore, serves as a guide and inspiration to Vipassana students, and an encouragement to non-students to undertake a Vipassana course, and directly experience its immense benefits.
May all beings be happy!
Clarifications requested from practising Vipassana students (old students only)
1. How can we avoid addictions like smoking cigarettes?
There are so many different types of addictions. When you practise Vipassana, you will understand that your addiction is not actually to that particular substance. It seems as if you are addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, paan (betel leaf). But actually, you are addicted to a particular sensation in the body, a bio-chemical flow caused by that particular substance. Similarly, when you are addicted to anger, passion etc, these are also related to body sensations. Your addiction is to the sensations. Through Vipassana you come out of that addiction, all addictions. It is so natural, so scientific. Just try, and you will experience how it works.
2. Why is drinking only one glass of wine a breakage of sīla?
One glass becomes more. So why not come out it from the very beginning? Once one becomes addicted, it is so difficult to come out of the addiction. Why not refrain from anything that is addictive?
If someone who has come out of all kinds of intoxicants and is progressing in meditation takes even a very small quantity of alcohol, that person will immediately feel that it creates agitation and will feel unhappy. They can't take it. Ignorance causes impurities to develop and intoxicants are closely associated with ignorance. They drown all your understanding. Come out of them as quickly as possible.
3. The method you have just described is very practical, but can everybody benefit from it - even those who suffer from severe addictions, such as to drugs or alcohol?
When we talk of addiction, it is not merely to alcohol or to drugs, but also to addiction to impurities such as passion, to anger, to fear, to egotism. At the intellectual level you understand very well: "Anger is not good for me, it is dangerous, so harmful." Yet you are addicted to anger, keep generating anger because you have not been working at the depth of the pattern of your mind. The anger starts because of a particular -chemical that has started flowing in your body, and with the interaction of mind and matter-one influencing the other-the anger continues to multiply.
By practicing Vipassana, you start observing the sensation which has arisen because of the of a particular chemical. You do not react to it. That means you do not generate anger at that particular moment. This one moment turns into a few moments, which turn into a few seconds, which turn into a few minutes, and you find that you are not as easily influenced by this flow as you were in the past. You have slowly started coming out of your anger.
People who have come to these courses go back home and apply this technique in their daily lives by their morning and evening meditation and by continuing to observe themselves throughout the day-how they react or how they maintain equanimity in different situations.
The first thing they will try to do is to observe the sensations. Because of the particular situation, maybe a part of the mind has started reacting, but by observing the sensations their minds become equanimous. Then whatever action they take is an action; it is not a reaction. Action is always positive. It is only when we react that we generate negativity and become miserable. A few moments observing the sensation makes the mind equanimous, and then it can act. Life then is full of action instead of reaction.
1. How does one escape anger?
With the practise of Vipassana! A Vipassana student observes respiration, or the bodily sensations caused when angry. This observation is with equanimity, with no reaction. The anger soon weakens and passes away. Through continued practise of Vipassana, the habit pattern of the mind to react with anger is changed.
2. I can't suppress my anger, even if I try.
Don't suppress it. Observe it. The more you suppress it, the more it goes to the deeper levels of your mind. The complexes become stronger and stronger, and it so difficult to come out of them. No suppression, no expression. Just observe.
1. I am always full of anxiety. Can Vipassana help me?
Certainly. This is the purpose of Vipassana - to liberate you from all miseries. Anxiety and worry are the biggest miseries, and they are there because of certain impurities deep within you. With practise of Vipassana, these impurities will come on the surface and gradually pass away. Of course, it takes time. There is no magic, no miracle, no gurudom involved. Somebody will just show you the correct Path. You have to walk on the Path, work out your own liberation from all miseries.
1. What is 'atma', 'soul' ?
Practice Vipassana, and you will find the reality of what is happening inside you. What you call soul, atma, you will notice, is just a reacting mind, a certain part of the mind. Yet you remain under the illusion that "this is 'I' ". Through practice of Vipassana, you will realize that this 'I' is not permanent. It's always changing, always ephemeral. It's nothing but a mass of sub-atomic particles, always in a state of flux and flow. Only by directly experiencing this, the illusion of 'I' will go away, and then the illusion of the 'soul'. With no illusions, delusions, all miseries go away. But this has to be experienced. This does not happen by merely accepting philosophical beliefs.
1. You spoke about non-attachment to things. What about persons?
Yes, persons also. You have true love for the person, compassionate love for this person, this is totally different. But when you have attachment, then you don't have love, you only love yourself, because you expect something -material, emotional etc - from this person. With whomever you have attachment, you are expecting something in return. When you start truly loving this person, then you only give, a one-way traffic. You don't expect anything in return, then the attachment goes. The tension goes. You are so happy.
2. How can the world function without attachment? If parents were detached then they would not even care for their children. How is it possible to love or be involved in life without attachment?
Detachment does not mean indifference; it is correctly called "holy indifference". As a parent, you must meet your responsibility to care for your child with all your love, but without clinging. Out of pure, selfless love you do your duty. Suppose you tend a sick person, and despite your care, he does not recover. You don't start crying; that would be useless. With a balanced mind, you try to find another way to help him. This is holy indifference: neither inaction or reaction, but real, positive action with a balanced mind.
3. How can you be passionate about life but remain detached at the same time?
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Come to Vipassana and you will know how! It looks so difficult now because you don’t know how to balance the mind at the deepest level. You try to impose this balance at the surface level. That itself is difficult. And even if you have made your mind balanced at the surface level, the lack of balance remains at the depths. You can’t come out of it. Vipassana is for this purpose, so that you can work at the root level and become really happy.
4. Isn't performing a right action a kind of attachment?
No. It is simply doing your best, understanding that the results are beyond your control. You do your job and leave the results to nature, to Dhamma.
... then it is being willing to make a mistake?
If you make a mistake you accept it, and try not to repeat it the next time. Again you may fail; again you smile and try a different way. If you can smile in the face of failure, you are not attached. If failure depresses you and success makes you elated, you are certainly attached.
All right. So the right action is just the action you take, it’s not …
Just the action, not the result. The result will automatically be good, Dhamma does that. We don’t have the power to choose the result, the result is not in our control. Our control is to do our duty. That’s all: you have done your duty.
It’s getting clearer. Thank you.
5. What is wrong with wanting material things to make life more comfortable?
If it is a real requirement, there is nothing wrong, provided you do not become attached to it. For example, you are thirsty, you need water-so you work, get it, and quench your thirst. But if it becomes an obsession, that does not help at all; it harms you. Whatever necessities you require, work to get them. If you fail to get something, then smile and try again in a different way. If you succeed, then enjoy what you get, but without attachment.
1. Do you think that U Ba Khin taught exactly what the Buddha taught? Did he adapt the Buddha's teachings to modern times? And if so, how and what did he change from the original teachings?
There was no change in the teaching, but U Ba Khin certainly made the way of presenting the teachings of the Buddha more adapted to the people who came to him. To the non-Buddhist, English-speaking Western people, who were more scientific minded, he would present the teaching in a more scientific way. So the explanation was made more palatable to those who were coming to learn, but the actual practical teaching remained the same.
2. Why is your teaching called "in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin"? Did he inaugurate a tradition of Buddhism?
He always referred to the tradition of the Buddha, the tradition that was transferred to Myanmar and was continued down through the three generations of teachers we spoke about: Ledi Sayadaw, his disciple Saya Thetgyi, and finally U Ba Khin. We use the term "in the tradition of U Ba Khin" because he was the last teacher and was very well-known in his country, but this does not mean that this is a technique invented by him. It's an old -technique which he was teaching in a modern way
3. Can you explain the Buddha's concept that the entire universe is contained within this very body?
Indeed, within this body turns the wheel of becoming. Within this body is the cause that puts into motion the wheel of becoming. And so within this body is also found the way to attain liberty from the wheel of suffering. For this reasons investigation of the body - correct understanding of the direct physical reality within - is of utmost importance for a meditator whose goal is liberation from all conditioning.
4. Is this part of Buddhist religion? Can people of other religions practice it, or does it interfere with other kinds of religious practices? Why would Christians, for instance, want to do this?
One thing should be clear-this definitely is not Buddhist religion. At the same time it is definitely the teaching of Buddha. One should understand that Buddha means an enlightened person, a liberated person. Enlightened, liberated persons will never teach a religion, they will teach an art of life that is universal. They will never establish a sect or religion. So there is no such thing as "Buddhist religion"; it is an art of life. So anybody belonging to any community, to any sect, to any religious group can easily practice it because it is an art.
Peace of mind is sought by everyone; purity of mind is sought by everyone. Christ was a wonderful person who taught not only peace and harmony but also purity of mind, love, compassion. So those who follow the teachings of Christ certainly like to develop this good quality of purity, love, compassion. When they come to courses, they don't feel that they are coming to any foreign religion. A number of times very senior priests and nuns have told me that we are teaching Christianity in the name of Buddha.
5. Was it necessary for Buddha to practice meditation even after enlightenment?
Yes, it was necessary. Even when one becomes a Buddha, it does not mean that the law of nature will be different for this person. The law of nature of this body is that it is decaying, dying. The body requires strength, and when a Buddha goes in this meditative state of nibbāna and comes out, he finds that the whole body has become healthier. It helps, he can serve much more.
There is so much work for the body of one who works all the twenty-four hours, except for two or two-and-a-half hours when he lies down. Some rest is needed. The mind is peaceful, but to rest the body the mind has to go to the depth and reach the nibbanic stage. When one comes out of the nibbanic experience one is physically refreshed.
6. You keep referring to the Buddha. Are you teaching Buddhism?
I am not concerned with 'isms'. I teach Dhamma, and that is what the Buddha taught. He never taught any 'ism', or any sectarian doctrine. He taught something from which people of every background, every religion, can benefits. He taught the way with which one can to live a life full of benefits for oneself and other. He didn't merely give empty sermons saying, ' Oh, People. You must live like this, you must live like that". The Buddha taught practical Dhamma , the actual way to live a wholesome life. And Vipassana is the practical know-how to lead a life of real happiness.
7. All Buddhist meditation techniques were already known in yoga. What was new in meditation as taught by the Buddha?
What is called yoga today is actually a later development. Patanjali lived about 500 years after the time of the Buddha, and naturally his Yoga Sutra shows the influence of the Buddha's teachings. Of course, yogic practices were known in India even before the Buddha, and he himself experimented with them before achieving enlightenment. All these practices, however, were limited to sīla (morality) and samādhi (concentration of the mind), concentration up to the level of the eight jhāna, the eight stage of absorption, which is still within the field of sensory experience. The Buddha found the ninth jhāna, and that is Vipassana, the development of insight that will take the meditator to the ultimate goal beyond the misery of sensory experience.
1. Can you describe in practical terms what is happening in the body and in the mind, how this law of cause and effect works, and how this change can help us?
The Buddha said that understanding the Dhamma is nothing other than understanding the law of cause and effect. You have to realize this truth within yourself. In a ten-day course you have the opportunity to learn how to do this. This investigation of truth pertaining to matter, pertaining to mind and pertaining to the mental concomitants, the mental contents, is not merely for the sake of curiosity, but to change your mental habit pattern at the deepest level of the mind. As you keep proceeding you will realize how the mind influences matter, and how matter influences the mind.
For the answer in more detail: 'The Law of Cause and Effect'
2. Aren’t there any chance happenings, random occurrences without a cause?
Nothing happens without a cause. It is not possible. Sometimes our limited senses and intellects cannot clearly find it, but that does not mean that there is no cause.
3. Is everything in this life predetermined?
Well, certainly our past actions will give fruit, good or bad. They will determine the type of life we have, the general situation in which we find ourselves. But that does not mean that whatever happens to us is predestined, ordained by our past actions, and that nothing else can happen. That is not the case. Our past actions influence the flow of our life, directing them towards pleasant or unpleasant experiences. But present actions are equally important. Nature has given us the ability to become masters of our present actions. With that mastery, we can change our future.
1. What is the effect of Vipassana on the chakras?
Chakras are nothing but nerve centres on the spinal cord. Vipassana takes you to the stage where you can feel activity in every little atom of your body. Chakras are just a part of that. This activity can be experienced in the entire body.
1. We have young children and it is very difficult to find time to meditate. What should I do?
A householder is bound to face such difficulties. But if you wait for the time when there are no hindrances, you will not meditate for your whole life. For a woman, motherhood is good. And if you have children, you have the responsibility to look after them-very good. Along with the responsibility of looking after the child, you must find time to meditate. When the child is asleep, meditate. The child has awakened: all right, again start nursing the child. In this way, even if you don't get a fixed time or place, it doesn't matter, do it in intervals. But meditate, don't stop.
2. At what age could I start to teach my child to meditate?
Before birth. Meditation should be taught when the child is growing in the womb. The child needs good vibrations while in the womb, so practise Vipassana. Every pregnant mother should practise more Vipassana because then you are helping two beings simultaneously. You are helping yourself, and you are helping the being which has not yet come out. Help them.
After that, when the child grows to five or six you can start teaching Anapana. Just be aware of the respiration for a few minutes; two, three, five minutes, enough. Don't push too much. A few minutes of awareness of respiration, and then say; "All right, play." After that, again a few minutes of respiration. So it will become like playing for the child. Later on, as he or she grows, increase the time. In this way you start giving the seed of Dhamma, and the child develops in an atmosphere of Dhamma.
3. You have started giving training in Anapana in some schools. How will this training benefit children?
Actually the entire teaching has only one purpose: One should live peacefully and harmoniously in accordance with the law of nature-not harming oneself or others. Now this art of living is difficult to learn in old age, so the training should start at a young age. In the schools children should learn the art of living a healthy life. Their entire life is ahead of them.
You start by teaching them how to control their minds. Along with this awareness of respiration it is explained that you have to live a moral life, so they understand, "I must not kill, I must not steal, etc. But how can I abstain from that? I must have control over my mind. And look, this helps." The object that is given is universal so a student from any caste, any community, any religion can work on this.
You also tell them that they can develop in this awareness of respiration and then they will live a good life. At further stages they can purify their minds to such an extent that they will live a perfect life, so there is a goal. In school for example, when they learn the alphabet the goal is that they will become very learned people later on. Now they have started with this base of sīla and respiration.
4. Do you think that by this training children can become good citizens?
What is a good citizen? A good citizen is one who does not harm himself or herself and also does not harm other members of society. The whole teaching shows how to live a life of morality. If children start learning this in childhood, when they become adults they will naturally live healthy, good lives. This is how they will become good citizens.
5. What is your feeling about teaching Dhamma to children?
The best time for that is before birth of the child. During pregnancy the mother should practise Vipassana, so that the child also receives it and is born a Dhamma child. But if you already have children, you can still share Dhamma with them. If your children are very young (below age 8), direct your mettā (the technique of Mettā-Bhāvanā to share the vibrations of goodwill and compassion to all beings, taught on the 10th morning of the Vipassana course ) to them after every sitting and at their bedtime. In this way, they also benefit from your practice of Dhamma. And when you are older, explain a little about Dhamma to them in a way that they can understand and accept. If they can understand it a little more, then teach them Anapana for a few minutes. Don't pressure the children in any way. Just let them sit with you, observe their breath for a few minutes, and then go and play. The meditation will be like play to them; they will enjoy it. And the most important is that you must live a healthy Dhamma life yourself, you must set a good example for your children. In your home, you must establish a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere which will help them grow into healthy and happy people. This is the best thing you can do for your children.
6. Could you give advice to mothers with infants, and struggling to keep up their practice?
Why should there be a problem? The child is on the lap and still you can practise. You can give mettā to the child. You can give mettā to others. You must learn how to carry on your Dhamma in every situation. So use Dhamma for all your duties. A mother's duty is to look after the child in a Dhamma way.
7. Is it necessary to introduce Vipassana into education?
Certainly. Vipassana is the practical science of living. The next generation must learn this science at a very young age, so that they can live a very healthy life, a harmonious life. If they understand pure Dhamma, the law of nature, they will live according to the law of nature. When children are taught Vipassana in the schools and colleges, as it is being done now in some cities, there are very good results.
1. How to come out of inferiority / superiority complexes?
This is what Vipassana does. Every complex is an impurity of the mind. As that impurity comes to the surface, you observe it at the level of body sensations. It passes away. It arises again. Again you observe. Again it passes away. Like this, these complexes weaken and ultimately do not rise again. Just observe. Suppression or expression is harmful. Vipassana helps one come out of all complexes.
1. What is the difference between Vipassana and concentration?
Vipassana is not merely concentration. Vipassana is observation of the truth within, from moment to moment. You develop your faculty of awareness, your mindfulness. Things keep changing, but you remain aware - this is Vipassana. But if you concentrate only on one object, which may be an imaginary object, then nothing will change. When you are with this imagination, and your mind remains concentrated on it, you are not observing the truth. When you are observing the truth, it is bound to change. It keeps constantly changing, and yet you are aware of it. This is Vipassana.
2. Why do you give so much importance to the observation of normal respiration?
Because the Buddha wanted you to. He is very clear that one must observe the breath as it is-yathabhuta. If it is long, you are aware, "it is long"; if it is short, you are aware, "it is short". Yathabhuta. If you make your respiration unnatural, artificial, you will give more attention to change the respiration according to your wishes. Your attention will not be with the reality as it is, but with something that you have created.
Therefore, we emphasize it must be always natural breath-as it comes in naturally, as it goes out naturally. If it is long, just be aware that it is long. Don't try to make it short. If it is short, just be aware that it is short. Don't try to make it long. If it is going through the right nostril, then observe that it is going through the right nostril. If it is going through the left nostril, then observe it through the left nostril. When it passes through both the nostrils, observe the flow through both the nostrils.
Then you are working according to the instructions of the Enlightened One. Don't try to interfere with the natural flow of the breath. And if you find that the mind is wandering too much and you cannot feel the natural breath, then you may take a few-only a few-intentional breaths, slightly hard breaths, so that you can bring your mind back to the observation of the breath. You have to keep in mind that your aim is to feel the natural breath. However soft it is, however subtle it is, you must be able to feel it. That is the aim.
1. You talk about conditioning of the mind. But isn't this training also a kind of conditioning of the mind, even if a positive one?
On the contrary, Vipassana is a process of de-conditioning. Instead of imposing anything on the mind, it automatically removes unwholesome qualities so that only positive, wholesome qualities remain. By eliminating negativities, it uncovers the positivity which is the basic nature of the pure mind.
1. Is it okay to have a craving for enlightenment?
It is wrong. You will never get enlightenment if you have a craving for enlightenment. Enlightenment just happens. If you crave for it, you are running in the opposite direction. One cannot crave for a particular result. The result comes naturally. If you start craving, " I must get nibbāna, I must get nibbāna", you are running in the opposite direction of nibbāna. Nibbāna is a state which is free from craving, and you want to reach that state with craving - not possible.
2. Is a strong desire the same as craving?
There is a difference. Whether there is craving or not, will be judged by whatever you desire. If you don't get it, and you feel depressed, then it was craving. If you don't get it, and you just smile, then it was just a desire. It didn't turn into craving. Whenever there is a craving and clinging and you don't get something, you are bound to become miserable. If you are becoming miserable, then there was some craving. Otherwise, no craving.
3. Can't there be wholesome cravings and aversions - for example, hating injustice, desiring freedom, fearing physical harm?
Cravings and aversions can never be wholesome. They will always make you tense and unhappy. If you act with craving or aversion in the mind, you may have a worthwhile goal, but you use an unhealthy means to reach it. Of course, you have to act to protect yourself from danger. If you do it overpowered by fear, then might you develop a fear complex which will harm you in the long run. Or, if with hatred in the mind, if you are successful in fighting injustice, then that hatred becomes a harmful mental complex. You must fight injustice, you must protect yourself from danger, but you can do so with a balanced mind, without tension. And in a balanced way, you can work to achieve something good, out of love for others. Balance of mind is always helpful, and will give the best results.
4. What is wrong with wanting material things to make life more comfortable?
If it is a real requirement, there is nothing wrong, provided you do not become attached to it. Whatever necessities you require, work to get them. If you fail to get something, then smile and try again in a different way. If you succeed, then enjoy what you get, but without attachment.
5. How about planning for the future? Would you call that craving?
Again, the criterion is whether you are attached to your plan. Everyone must provide for the future. If your plan does not succeed and you start crying, then you know that you were attached to it. But if you are unsuccessful and can still smile, thinking, " Well, I did my best. So what if I failed? I'll try again!" - then you are working in a detached way, and you remain happy.
1. What is Dhamma ?
What one's mind contains, at this moment, is Dhamma. Dhamma is everything there is.
2. What is the relevance of Dhamma to a person on the street, whose stomach is empty?
A large number of people living in slums come to Vipassana courses and find it very helpful. Their stomachs are empty, but their minds also are so agitated. With Vipassana, they learn how to be calm and equanimous. Then they can face their problems. It is noticed their lives improve. They come out of addictions to alcohol, gambling etc. Dhamma is helpful to everyone, rich or poor.
3. How can a truly Dhammic person face this adhammic world?
Don't try to change the adhammic world. Try to change the adhamma in yourself - the way in which you are reacting and making yourself miserable. For instance, when somebody is abusing you, understand that this person is miserable. It is the problem of that person. Why make it your problem? Why start generating anger and making yourself miserable? Doing that means you are not your own master, you are that person's slave; whenever that person wants to, he can make you miserable. Be your own master. Then you can live a Dhammic life, in spite of all the adhammic situations all around.
4. How do you equate religion and Dhamma?
If religion is taken in a sectarian sense, like Hindu religion or Muslim religion or Buddhist religion and so on, then it is totally against Dhamma. But if religion is taken as the law of nature, the universal law of nature, then it is the same as Dhamma.
5. Do you believe the Dhamma can guide you?
Yes. Certainly, the Dhamma starts guiding you. As the mind gets more and more purified, your paññā, your own experiential wisdom will get stronger and stronger. When any problem comes in the world, in your life, then you just go a little deep inside and you get the answer yourself. So this becomes your guide. You should not depend on anyone else. You depend on yourself, and depend on Dhamma.
1. Are there Dhamma forces that support us as we develop on the Path?
Certainly – visible as well as invisible ones. For example, people tend to associate with those of similar interest, background and character. When we develop good qualities in us, we naturally attract people who have such good qualities. When we come in contact with such good people, naturally we get support from them.
If we develop love, compassion and goodwill, we will get tuned up with all beings, visible or invisible, that have these positive vibrations, and we will start getting support from them. It is like tuning a radio to receive waves of a certain meter band from a distant broadcasting station. Similarly, we tune ourselves to vibrations of the type we generate; and so we receive the benefit of those vibrations. But all this happens only if we work hard and correctly.
1. You say that we should practise “effortless observation,” and then you tell us we have to control our minds. Could you please clarify?
"'Effortless observation' means you should not make any effort to create a sensation that you like, or to get rid of any kind of sensation that you don’t like. It is effortless because things are happening and you don’t make any effort to change them. You are not the master of the sensations, it is the law of nature that is working.
"Just observe, do nothing. But effort has to be made to observe. If you don’t make an effort to observe sensations the mind will wander here and there and you will think, 'Oh, this is effortless', but what will you gain by that? So the effort to be aware and attentive is a very important part of the meditation, but effort to create a particular type of sensation is wrong."
1. How can Vipassana be used at the time of death?
At the time of death - death of other people - then you just sit and give mettā. And when your own death comes, observe it, at the level of sensations. Everyone has to observe one's death: coming, coming, coming, going, going, going, gone ! Be happy!
1. You speak of the ego 'I' only in negative terms. Hasn't it a positive side? Isn't there an experience of 'I' which fills a person with joy, with peace and rapture?
Through practice of Vipassana you will find that all such sensual pleasures are impermanent; they come and pass away. If this 'I' really enjoys them, if they are 'my' pleasures, then 'I' must have some mastery over them. But they just arise and pass away without my control. What 'I' is there?
I'm speaking not of sensual pleasures, but of a very deep level.
At that level, 'I' is of no importance at all. When you reach that level, the ego is dissolved. There is only joy. The question of 'I' does not arise then.
Well, instead of 'I' , let us say the experience of a person.
Feelings feel; there is no one to feel it. Things are just happening, that's all. Now it seems to you that there must be an 'I' who feels, but after beginning to practice Vipassana, you will reach the stage where the ego dissolves. Then your question will disappear!
For conventional purposes, yes, we cannot run away from using words like 'I' or 'mine' etc. But clinging to them, taking them as real in an ultimate sense will only bring suffering.
2. I find that I am very egoistic and quick to belittle other people. What is the best way to come out of this problem?
Come out of it by meditating. If the ego is strong, one will try to belittle others, to lower their importance and increase one's own. But meditation naturally dissolves the ego. When it dissolves, you can no longer do anything to hurt another. Meditate and the problem will automatically solved.
3. Why do I keep reinforcing this ego? Why do I keep trying to be "I" ?
This is what the mind is conditioned to do, out of ignorance. But Vipassana can liberate you from this harmful conditioning. In place of always thinking of the self, you can learn to think of others.
1. Isn't anger, aversion, sadness etc all natural human emotions?
You call them 'natural' human emotions, but the mind by nature is very pure. This is a very common mistake. The true, pure nature of the mind is so much lost that the impure nature of the mind is often called 'natural'! The true natural mind is so pure, full of compassion, goodwill.
2: I will give you an example. Suppose somebody close to me dies. It is natural for me to...
Again you are saying the same thing! It is the wrong nature in which you are involved. If somebody dies, no crying. Crying doesn't solve any problem. All those moments when you have been crying you are sowing seeds of crying. Nature wouldn't see why you are crying, nature only sees what seed you have sowed and the seed of crying will only bring more crying.
3: But the feelings I have for that dead person?
You are harming that person also because wherever this person has taken his next birth, wherever this person may be, you are sending vibrations of crying. So poor person, so much agitated. He gets vibrations of misery. Instead of that, at the end of a 10-day Vipassana course, you are taught how to send mettā, the vibrations of love and compassion. He or she will be happy. Wherever you are, your mettā vibrations will touch this person. By giving mettā, instead of crying, you will be helping this person.
1. What do you mean by 'being equanimous'?
When you do not react, you are equanimous.
2. Can we feel and enjoy things fully and still be equanimous?
Certainly. Life is to enjoy wholesome things. But not with an attachment to anything. You remain equanimous and enjoy, so that when you miss it you smile: "I knew it was going away. It has gone away. So what? " Then only are you really enjoying life. Otherwise, you get attached, and if you miss it, you roll in misery. So no misery. In every situation be happy.
3. Surely it is unnatural never to react?
It seems so if you have experienced only the wrong habit-pattern of an impure mind. But it is natural for a pure mind to remain fully equanimous. An equanimous, pure mind is full of love, compassion, healthy detachment, goodwill, joy. Equanimity is purity. Learn to experience that.
4. How can we be involved in life unless we react?
Instead of reacting you learn to act, to act with a balanced mind. Vipassana meditators do not become inactive, like vegetables. They learn how to act positively. If you can change your life pattern from reaction to action, then you have attained something very valuable. And you can change it by practising Vipassana.
5. How is equanimity related to samādhi (concentration of the mind)?
Samādhi can be without equanimity. With the base of craving one becomes fully concentrated. But that kind of samādhi is not right samādhi. That is with the base of impurity. But if the samādhi is with equanimity, then it gives wonderful results, because the mind is pure and concentrated, so it is powerful with purity. It cannot do anything that will harm you or harm others. But if it is powerful with impurity, it will harm others, it will harm you. So equanimity with samādhi is helpful.
6. If someone is purposely making our life miserable - how to tolerate this?
First of all, don't try to change the other person. Try to change yourself. Somebody is trying to make you miserable. But you are becoming miserable because you are reacting to this. If you learn how to observe your reaction, then nobody can make you miserable. Any amount of misery from others cannot make you miserable if you learn to be equanimous deep inside. Vipassana will help you. Once you become free from misery inside, this will also start affecting others. The same person who was harming you will start changing little by little.
1. How is Vipassana different from escapism?
Vipassana is to face the world. No escapism is permitted in Vipassana.
1. I want to know if I can fast?
No, no. Total fasting is not good for this technique. Neither total fasting nor overeating. It is a middle path. Eat less - what is necessary for the body - that's all. Fasting you can do later on just for your body's sake - that's another question. But for meditation, fasting is not necessary.
1. Why is vegetarian food helpful for meditation?
When you eat meat or something, then this being - animal or fish or whatever it is - for its whole life was generating nothing but craving, aversion, craving, aversion. After all, human beings can find some time when they can come out of craving and aversion. These beings cannot come out of it. So every fibre of their body is vibrating with craving and aversion. And you yourself want to come out of craving, aversion and you are giving an input to all of that. So what sort of vibrations you will have. That is why it is not good.
2. Can a non-vegetarian succeed in Vipassana?
When you come to a Vipassana course, only vegetarian food is served. But we don't say that if you take non-vegetarian food, you will go to hell. It is not like that. Slowly, you will come out of eating meat, like thousands of Vipassana students have. You will naturally find there is no more need for you to have non-vegetarian food. Your progress in Vipassana will certainly be better if you are vegetarian.
1. Who is God?
Truth is God. Realize the truth within you, and you will realize God.
2. Is there a God who created earth?
I have not seen such a God. If you have, you are welcome to believe. For me, truth is God, the law of nature is God, Dhamma is God, and everything is evolving because of Dhamma, because of this law of nature. If you understand this, and live according to the law of Dhamma, you live a good life. Whether you believe in a supernatural God or not, makes no difference.
3. Don't we need God's power?
God's power is Dhamma's power. Dhamma is God. Truth is God. When you are with truth, when you are with Dhamma, you are with God. Develop God's power within yourself, by purifying your mind.
4. Are you an atheist?
(Laughs). If by 'atheist' you mean one who does not believe in God, then no, I am not. For me, God is not an imaginary person. For me, truth is God. The ultimate truth is ultimate God.
1. You said Vipassana makes one truly happy. But to remain happy and peaceful even when confronted by the suffering of others - isn't that sheer insensitivity?
Being sensitive to the suffering of others does not mean that you must become sad yourself. Instead you should remain calm and balanced, so that you can act to alleviate their suffering. If you become sad, you increase the unhappiness around you; you do not help others and you do not help yourself. That is why my teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin used to say that a balanced mind is necessary to balance the unbalanced mind of others.
2. Can we get complete happiness and complete transformation through Vipassana?
It is a progressive process. As you start working, you will find that you are experiencing more and more happiness, and eventually you will reach the stage which is total happiness. You become more and more transformed, and you will reach the stage which is total transformation. It is progressive.
1. My professional life involves dishonesty. I cannot take up another calling as that will cause great inconvenience.
Practise Vipassana, and your mind will become strong. At present, you are a slave of your mind, and your mind keep forcing you to do things which you do not want to do. By the practise of Vipassana, you will get the strength to come out of this easily, and then you will find some other profession, which will be helpful to you, and which will be wholesome.
1. What is the difference between hypnotism and meditation?
The true meditation techniques of ancient India were totally against hypnotism. Some techniques did use hypnotism, but this is totally against Dhamma. Dhamma makes you self-dependant. Hypnotism will never make you self-dependant. Therefore, these two do not go together.
1. How to deal with insomnia?
Vipassana helps you. When a Vipassana student can't sleep properly, if he or she lies down and observes respiration or sensations, sound sleep comes. Even if they don't get sound sleep, the next day they will get up feeling very fresh, as if they have come out of a deep sleep. Practice Vipassana even when lying down. Try, and you will find that it is very helpful.
2. For the past ten to twelve years, I haven't been able to sleep properly.
Vipassana will solve this problem, depending on how properly you work. If you come to Vipassana with the sole aim of getting sound sleep, then it's better you don't come! You should come to Vipassana to come out of the impurities of your mind. There is a great disturbance because there is so much negativity in the mind, so much worry. All these worries, negativities and impurities will start getting eradicated by Vipassana, and you will start getting very sound sleep.
1. How can we avoid kamma?
Be the master of your own mind. Vipassana teaches you how to become your own master. Otherwise, because of the old negative habit pattern of the mind, you will keep doing actions, that kamma, which you do not want to do. Intellectually, you understand, " I should not perform these actions". Yet, you continue to do so, because you do not have mastery over your mind. Vipassana will help you achieve this mastery over the mind.
2. Is being wealthy good kamma? If it is, does that mean that most people in the West have good kamma, and most people in the Third World have bad kamma?
Wealth alone is not a good kamma. If you become wealthy but remain miserable, what is the use of this wealth? Having wealth and also happiness, real happiness - that is good kamma. Most important is to be happy, whether you are wealthy or not.
3. If all causes have a specific effect, how do we have freedom of choice to liberate ourselves from our kamma?
Because of cause. The cause of your understanding this cause of your understanding. This cause of understanding helps you come out of the reaction of generating new sankharas (conditioning of the mind). The cause of ignorance results in generating more and more sankharas and rolling in it. The cause of wisdom results in helping to come out of it. The cause is there. All the time you are using the cause of ignorance. You keep on rolling in misery. Now by practice of Vipassana, you are making use of the cause of wisdom. You don't make new sankharas.
1. What would you say is the purpose of life?
To come out of misery. A human being has the wonderful ability to go deep inside, observe reality, and come out of suffering. Not to use this ability is to waste one's life. Use it to live a really healthy, happy life!
2. How to practise Vipassana in daily life?
Take a Vipassana course, and then you will understand how to apply the practice in your life. If you just take a course and don't apply it in life, then Vipassana will become just a rite, ritual, or a religious ceremony. It won't help you. Vipassana is to live a good life, every day , every moment.
3. What is life after death?
Every moment one is taking birth, every moment one is dying. Understand this process of life and death. This will make you very happy, and you will understand what happens after death.
4. What is the ultimate goal of life?
The ultimate life, the ultimate goal, is here and now. If you keep looking for something in the future, but you don't gain anything now, this is a delusion. If you have started experiencing peace and harmony now, then there is every likelihood that you will reach the goal, which is nothing but peace and harmony. So experience it now, this moment. Then you are really on the right path.
1. Are there any liberated people living presently?
Yes. Vipassana is a progressive path to liberation. As much as you are free from impurity, that much you are liberated. And there are people who have reached the stage where they are totally free from all impurities.
2. Is meditation the only way to get liberated?
Yes. Just accepting something with blind faith will not help. You have to work for your liberation. You have to find out where the bondage is, and then you have to come out of that bondage. This is Vipassana. Vipassana enables one to directly experience the real cause of bondage, the real cause of misery, and enables one to be gradually liberated from all miseries. So liberation comes from the practice of Vipassana.
1. In your discourses you talk about thirty-one lokas, but often this looks very speculative. Can this be understood at the level of sensations?
Certainly. The whole technique takes you to the stage where you will start feeling-some students, very few, have started feeling - " now what sort of vibration am I experiencing? What sort of vibration?" And according to that, they understand - a vibration of this particular loka, of this particular plane, is of this type. And later on, they can understand in greater detail also. But it is not necessary that one should first accept the reality of these thirty-one planes to progress in Dhamma. Nothing doing. Accept it only when you reach the stage when you can directly experience such very subtle realities.
1. How does Vipassana differ from other meditation techniques like the use of mantras. Don't they also concentrate the mind?
With the help of mantras, visualization of any shape or form one can easily get the mind concentrated, no doubt. But with Vipassana, the aim is to purify the mind. And mantras generate a particular type of artificial vibration. Every word, every mantra will generate a vibration, and if one keeps working with this mantra for long hours, one gets engulfed in the created vibration. Whereas, Vipassana wants you to observe the natural vibration that you have - in the form of sensations - vibrations when you become angry, or when you are full of passion, or fear, or hatred, so that you can come out of them.
1. What is mettā?
Mettā or Mettā Bhāvanā is the technique of generating vibrations of goodwill and compassion that a Vipassana student is first taught on the 10th day of a 10-day Vipassana course. Later, at the end of every Vipassana course, or a 1-hour sitting, a meditator is asked to practice mettā, to share the merits gained with all beings. Mettā vibrations are tangible vibrations whose beneficial power increases as the purity of the mind increases.
2. Does mettā get stronger as samādhi (concentration) gets stronger?
Yes. Without samādhi, the mettā is really no mettā. When samādhi is weak, the mind is very agitated, and it is agitated only when it is generating some impurity, some type of craving or aversion. With these impurities, you cannot expect to generate good qualities, vibrations of mettā, or karuna (compassion). It isn’t possible.
At the vocal level, you may keep on saying "Be happy, be happy’, but it doesn’t work. If you have samādhi then your mind is calm and quiet, at least for a moment. It is not necessary that all the impurities have gone away; but at least for that moment when you are going to give mettā, your mind is quiet, calm, and not generating any impurity. Then whatever mettā you give is strong, fruitful, beneficial.
3. Is the generation of mettā a natural consequence of the purity of the mind, or is it something that must be actively developed? Are there progressive stages in mettā?
Both are true. According to the law of nature – the law of Dhamma – as the mind is purified, the quality of mettā develops naturally. On the other hand, you must work to develop it by practicing Mettā Bhāvanā. It is only at a very high stage of mental purity that mettā is generated naturally, and nothing has to be done, no training has to be given. Until one reaches that stage, one has to practise.
Also, people who don’t practise Vipassana can practise Mettā Bhāvanā. In such countries as Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand, Mettā Bhāvanā is very common in every household. However, the practice is usually confined to mentally reciting "May all beings be happy, be peaceful". This certainly gives some peace of mind to the person who is practising it. To some extent good vibrations enter the atmosphere, but they are not strong.
However, when you practise Vipassana, purification starts. With this base of purity, your practice of Mettā naturally becomes stronger. Then you won’t need to repeat these good wishes aloud. A stage will come when every fiber of the body keeps on feeling compassion for others, generating goodwill for others.
4. How does mettā help in the development of mudita (sympathetic joy) and karuna (compassion)?
Mudita and karuna naturally follow as one develops mettā. Mettā is love for all beings. Mettā takes away the traces of aversion, animosity and hatred towards others. It takes away the traces of jealousy, and envy towards others.
5. Is mettā some sort of energy? Is it limitless? Does the amount of mettā increase and decrease over time?
Well, every individual generates mettā. So it increases and decreases according to the capacity of the individual. If the individual becomes purer and purer, the mettā becomes stronger and stronger. If the mind of the meditator is very weak or full of impurity, then the mettā is very weak. It is generated by the meditator.
6: What is true compassion?
It is the wish to serve someone, to help him come out of suffering. But it must be without attachment. If you start crying over the suffering of another, you have no real compassion for that person, you only make yourself unhappy. This is not the path of Dhamma. If you have true compassion, then with all love you try to help others to the best of your ability. If you fail, you smile and try another way to help. You serve without worrying about the results of your service. This is real compassion, proceeding from a balanced mind.
1. What is mudita?
When you see other people progressing, becoming happier, if your mind is not pure, you will generate jealousy towards these people. "Why did they get this, and not I? I’m a more deserving person. Why are they given such a position of power, or status? Why not I? Why have they earned so much money? Why not I?" This kind of jealousy is the manifestation of an impure mind.
As your mind gets pure by Vipassana and your mettā gets stronger, you will feel happy when seeing others happy. "All around there is misery. Look, at least one person is happy. May he be happy and contented. May he progress in Dhamma, progress in worldly ways". This is mudita, sympathetic happiness. It will come.
1. What is mind? Where is it?
The mind is there in every atom of your body. This is what you will understand by practising Vipassana. With it, you will make an analytical study of your mind, an analytical study of your matter, and the interaction of the two.
2. You spoke about taking out the bad qualities from the mind. What does that mean?
Like you have emotions in you- feelings of depression in you-feelings of animosity towards others. All those are bad qualities. They keep you unhappy. With these you harm yourself and you harm others. Little by little you have to take them out. And you will enjoy great peace of mind.
3. What is the connection between the mind and the brain?
The brain itself is just a physical organ. As you deal with other parts of the body, you deal with the brain in the same way, that's all. Nothing special to do with the brain. But the mind is totally different. In the West, all importance is given to the brain as if the mind is located here. Nothing doing, it is everywhere. The mind is in the whole body. So give attention to the whole body.
4. If you purify the body, you purify the mind?
No. Even though you purify the body, the mind may remain dirty and it will again make the body impure. So the root is the mind, not the body. The body is just the base. With the help of the body, the mind is working, but the mind has to be purified. You keep on washing your body as much as you can, but the mind is not washed. Mind remains still impure. Mind has to be pure. But if you purify the mind, the body gets purified. It has an effect. The aim of Vipassana is to purify the mind.
5. You say we are meditating (during Anapana) to sharpen the mind. How is the mind sharpened?
If you are with reality and not reacting to it, naturally the mind gets sharpened. The mind gets blunt when it reacts. More reaction makes the mind more gross. When you don't react, its natural reality is very sharp, very sensitive.
1. Why do you give so much importance to morality and maintaining the five precepts of sīla, in Vipassana courses?
I have seen from a number of students that people who give no importance to sīla, or morality, cannot make any progress on the path. Sīla is the foundation of Dhamma. When the foundation is weak, the whole structure will collapse. For years such people may come to courses and have wonderful experiences in meditation, but in their daily lives there is no change. They remain agitated and miserable because they are only playing a game with Vipassana, as they have played so many games. Such people are real losers. Those who really want to use Dhamma in order to change their lives for better must practise sīla as carefully as possible.
2. We should lead a moral life, but morality is deteriorating in the whole world.
It is all the more important that Dhamma should arise at this time, when morality is deteriorating! The time when there is darkness all around is the time when the day should break, the sun should arise.
3. Is it against morality to kill an enemy if you are a member of the armed forces?
Yes. But at the same time, the army is necessary for the protection of the country, for the protection of the civilians. The army should not be used just to kill others. It should be used to show the strength of the country, so that an enemy cannot even have the thought of being aggressive and harming people. Therefore, the army is necessary. But not to kill, just to show strength. If somebody is harming the country, then the first thing to do is to give a warning. Otherwise, if it becomes necessary, action has to be taken. But then again, the soldiers have to be trained not to have anger, not to have animosity. Otherwise, their minds will become unbalanced, all their decisions will go wrong. With a balanced mind, we can take good decisions, right decisions, which will be very helpful to us and helpful to others.
1. How can the mind remain balanced when we are in pain?
Whenever something happens in the external world that we do not like, there are unpleasant sensations in the body. A Vipassana meditator focuses the entire attention on these sensations without reacting, just observing them very objectively. It is very difficult in the beginning, but slowly it becomes easier to observe the gross unpleasant sensations - what we call pain - with a balanced, calm mind. Pleasant, unpleasant, makes no difference. Every sensation arises only to pass away. Why react to something that is so ephemeral.
1. Why don't we live in a state of peace?
Because experiential wisdom is lacking. A life without wisdom from one's own direct experience, is a life of illusion, which is a state of agitation, of misery. Our first responsibility is to live a healthy, harmonious life, good for ourselves and for all others. To do so, we must learn to use our faculty of self-observation, truth-observation.
2. What is the point of seeking peace within when there is no peace in the world?
The world will be peaceful only when the people of the world are peaceful and happy. The change has to begin with each individual. If the jungle is withered and you want to restore it to life, you must water each tree of that jungle. If you want world peace, you ought to learn how to be peaceful yourself. Only then can you bring peace to the world.
3. Suffering, war and conflict are as old as history. Do you really believe in a world of peace?
Well, even if a few people come out of misery, it is good. When there is darkness all around and one lamp has started giving light, it is good. And like this, if one lamp becomes ten lamps, or twenty lamps, the darkness will get dispelled here and there. There is no guarantee that the entire world will become peaceful, but as much peace as you can make yourself, that much you are helping the peace of the world.
1. What about hardened criminals, can they do Vipassana?
Certainly. Vipassana is to purify the mind; the technique is to make people come out of their tensions and miseries. Those who have committed such serious crimes as murder or rape or arson are very miserable people; their minds are full of tension. And now Vipassana courses are being held in many prisons in India. In fact, Tihar Jail, in Delhi, one of the largest Dhamma Tihar, [first permanent centre for the practice of Vipassana inside a prison].
1. Do you believe in re-birth?
My believing or not believing will not help you. Practice Vipassana, and you will reach a stage where you can see your past, and you can see your future. Then only believe. Don't believe something just because your teacher says so. Otherwise, you will be under the clutches of a guru, which is against Dhamma.
1. How does one find the balance between selfless service and taking care of oneself?
(Laughs) If one cannot take care of oneself, what service will one give? First take care of yourself, and then start giving selfless service
1. What about sex within the framework of Vipassana?
For a new Vipassana student, we don't say that you have to have suppressed celibacy, forced celibacy. It is not healthy. It creates more difficulty, more tensions, more knots. So that is why the advise for a Vipassana student is have relations with one spouse, one man-one woman, and disciplined sex. And if both are Vipassana meditators, a time will come that they will naturally come out of the need for sex. Sex is not necessary. By nature, they are contented, so happy, the body relations have no meaning. But that should happen naturally, not forcefully. So as one starts practicing Vipassana, it is not necessary one should be celibate. But at the same time, there must be relations with only one person; otherwise, this madness will continue. Then the passion keeps on multiplying, one cannot come out of it.
2. What is disciplined sex?
Disciplined sex is where you don't go mad about sex, where one is not a sex maniac. If one keeps running from one sexual relation to the other, one is not disciplined. If you are with one person, then naturally the sex relations becomes less. If you have sexual relations with many, then it multiplies. The law of nature is such. When you put petrol on the fire, the fire multiplies.
3. What is the difference between right and wrong sexual conduct? Is it a question of volition?
No. Sex has a proper place in the life of a householder. It should not be forcibly suppressed, because a forced celibacy produces tensions which create more problems, more difficulties. However, if you give free licence to the sexual urge, and allow yourself to have sexual relations with anyone whenever passion arises, then you can never free your mind of passion. Avoiding these two equally dangerous extremes, Dhamma offers a middle path, a healthy expression of sexuality which still permits spiritual development, and that is sexual relations between two persons who are committed to each other. And if your partner is also a Vipassana meditator, whenever passion arises you both observe it, at the level of bodily sensations as Vipassana trains you to do. This is neither suppression nor free licence. By observing you can easily free yourself of passion. At times a couple will have sexual relations, but gradually they develop towards the stage in which sex has no meaning at all. This is the stage of real, natural celibacy, when not even a thought of passion arises in the mind. This celibacy gives a joy far greater than any sexual satisfaction. Always one feels so contended, so harmonious. One must learn to experience this real happiness.
4. In the West, many think that sexual relations between any two consenting adults are permissible.
That view is far away from Dhamma. Someone who has sex with one person, then another, and then someone else, is multiplying his passion, his misery. You must be either committed to one person or be living in celibacy.
1. How does Vipassana solve the problems of society?
Society, is after all, nothing but a group of individuals. To solve the problems of society, the problems of the individual must first be solved. We want peace in the world, yet we do nothing for the peace of the individual. How is this possible? Vipassana makes it possible for the individual to experience peace and harmony. Vipassana helps to solve the individual's problems. This is how society begins experiencing peace and harmony. This is how the problems of the society begin to be solved.
2. Isn't excusing a sinner encouraging sin?
Never encourage sin. Stop people from committing sin. But don't have aversion or anger towards the sinner. Have love, compassion, mettā. This person is a miserable person, an ignorant person, who doesn't know what he is doing or she is doing. They are harming themselves and harming others. So you will use all your strength, physical and vocal, to stop this person from committing sin, but with love and compassion towards them. This is what Vipassana will teach you.
3. If a negative act is committed for the good of others, is it bad ?
Certainly it is bad. A negative act starts harming you. When you have harmed yourself, you can never help anybody else. A lame person cannot help another lame person. First you have to make yourself healthy, and then you will find that you have started helping others.
4. You always condemn ritualism in society, but what is wrong with expressing our respect and gratitude?
There is nothing wrong with that. Respect and gratitude are not rituals. Rituals are when you don't understand what you are doing, when you are doing something just because somebody asked you to. If deep inside you understand, " I am paying respect to my parents", or " I am paying respect to a particular god or goddess" - then, see: what are the qualities of that god or goddess? Am I giving real respect to that god or goddess by developing the same qualities within myself? Am I giving real respect to my parents by developing their good qualities? If the answer is yes, then you are doing these actions with understanding, and they are not rites or rituals. But if you perform something mechanically, then it becomes a rite or ritual.
5. Isn't society influenced by the actions of one another?
Of course. We are influenced by the people around us and by our environment, and we keep influencing them as well. If the majority of people, for example, are in favour of violence, then war and destruction will occur, causing many to suffer. But if people start to purify their minds, then violence cannot happen. The root of the problem lies in the mind of each individual human being, because society is composed of individuals. If each person starts changing, then society will change, and war and destruction will become rare events.
6. How can we help each other if each person must face the results of his own actions?
Our own mental actions have an influence on others. If we generate nothing but negativity in the mind, that negativity has a harmful effect on those who come into contact with us. If we fill the mind with positivity, with goodwill toward others, then it will have a helpful effect on those around us. You cannot control the actions, the kamma of others, but you can master yourself in order to have a positive influence on those around you.
1. Why do people cause suffering for us?
Nobody causes suffering for you. You cause suffering for yourself by generating tensions in the mind. If you know not to do that, it becomes easy to remain peaceful and happy in every situation.
2. What do we do when someone else is doing wrong to us?
You must not allow people to do wrong to you. Whenever someone does something wrong, he harms others and at the same time he harms himself. If you allow him to do wrong, you are encouraging him to do wrong. You must use all your strength to stop him, but with only good will, compassion, and sympathy for that person. If you act with hatred or anger, then you only aggravate the situation. But you cannot have goodwill for such a person unless your mind is calm and peaceful. So practice to develop peace within yourself, and then you can solve the problem.
3. Isn't suffering a natural part of life? Why should we try to escape from it?
We have become so involved in suffering that to be free from it seems unnatural. But when you experience the real happiness of mental purity, you will know that this is the natural state of the mind.
4. Can't the experience of suffering ennoble people and help them to grow in character?
Yes. In fact, this technique deliberately uses suffering as a tool to make one a noble person. But it will work only if you learn to observe suffering objectively. If you are attached to your suffering, the experience will not ennoble you; you will always remain miserable.
5. If one does something wrong, then one is bound to suffer in the future?
No, not in the future, but here and now! The law of nature punishes immediately, at the very moment one starts generating a defilement in the mind. One cannot generate a defilement and feel peaceful. The misery is instant. Only when you realize that suffering is here and now that you will change the habit pattern of generating defilements that lead to wrong verbal or physical action. If you think, 'Oh, I'll be punished only in future lives, and I'm not bothered now', it won't help.
1: How do we stop the force of thoughts? How do we make our minds free of thoughts?
Goenkaji: When you find that the thoughts are overwhelming you and you are unable to observe your sensations, then focus on the breath, on Anapana. Make the breath a little stronger. With this, when the mind starts getting a bit more focused, then move your attention through the body while continuing to observe the breath. As you observe the breath along with the sensation then the force with which the mind was running helter-skelter will start calming down automatically.
2: The mind cannot remain empty without thoughts. Do we focus on breath and sensations in order to make our minds thought free?
Goenkaji: Becoming free from thoughts is good. However, if we are aware of sensations and at the same time we are aware of the flurry of thoughts in our minds, then this is fine. We need not start analyzing these thoughts, because if we do we will forget the sensations and the breath. At that moment, what is important is that there is breath or sensation and awareness of the mind being busy with thoughts; that is all. Having thoughts will not harm us if we do not get agitated due to this, or go into the details of the thoughts.
Even though kamma will take place as a result of these thoughts, it will be weak like a line being drawn on the water. However, if we forget these sensations, then those same lines will be like lines drawn in sand or even carved in stone.
1. What are vibrations? How do they affect us?
Everything in the Universe is vibrating. This is no theory, it is a fact. The entire Universe is nothing but vibrations. The good vibrations make us happy, the unwholesome vibrations cause misery. Vipassana will help you come out of effect of bad vibrations- the vibrations caused by a mind full of craving and aversion. When the mind is perfectly balanced, the vibrations become good. And these good or bad vibrations you generate start influencing the atmosphere all around you. Vipassana helps you generate vibrations of purity, compassion and goodwill - beneficial for yourself and all others.
1. What do you suggest to people who cannot attend a ten-day course?
Make a determination to attend a ten-day course. Without that, nothing can be done. There is no magic, no miracle. Why should I ask people to spare ten days of their life, if I could just sit here and teach them in an hour? That would be easy, but it wouldn't work. One has to spare ten days of one's life to learn the technique. It is such a deep, subtle technique. Ten days is the minimum time needed to learn it properly.
2. Can one learn Vipassana from a book?
No. It can be very dangerous. Vipassana is a very delicate and deep operation of the mind. One must take a 10-day course, to make a beginning.
3. How can one take a Vipassana course?
Applications for a Vipassana course can be sent to any Vipassana centre in India or abroad. There are certain rules, a Code of Conduct that one must agree to follow before applying for a course. Doing a Vipassana course is voluntary, there can be no compulsion here. But during a Vipassana course, the course rules have to be strictly followed. These rules are to enable a student to get maximum benefits from doing a Vipassana course.
4. What are the charges / fee for a Vipassana course?
Charges?! Dhamma is priceless! There is no fee and there can never be a fee charged for teaching Vipassana. Vipassana courses are completely free of charge. Earlier, for a short time, some small actuals were charged for boarding and lodging expenses. Fortunately, that has been removed. So one does not have to pay anything to attend a Vipassana course.
5. Why are there no fees charged for doing a Vipassana course?
One reason, as I said, is that Dhamma is priceless. It cannot be valued in money. Another reason is that a student taking a Vipassana course practises renunciation from the householders' responsibilities, for the duration of the course. He or she lives like a monk or a nun, on the charity of others. This is to reduce the ego, a big cause of one's misery. If one even pays a small token fee, then the ego gets built up, and one may say, " Oh, I want this. This facility is not to my liking", " I can do whatever I want here", and so on. This ego becomes a big hindrance in progressing on the path of Dhamma. This is another reason why no fee is charged. This has been the Dhamma tradition for millennia. The Buddha did not charge any fee for distributing this invaluable gem of Vipassana!
6. How are expenses met for a Vipassana course, since no fee is charged from students?
The expenses are met from voluntary donations (dāna) from students who have completed at least one Vipassana course. The donation, in money or services, is given with the Dhamma volition that, "as I benefited by getting this wonderful technique due to the generous dāna of others, may others also benefit ". Most important is the volition with which the dāna is given. Even a handful of fertile soil given with a pure Dhamma volition, is far more beneficial than a bag of gold given with ego, or with no Dhamma volition. The dāna given with a pure mind gives benefits to the giver.
However, this does not mean that somebody will go around at the end of the course, asking every student if he wants to give a donation. A table is put in a quiet corner, and whoever wishes to give dāna goes there and gives it, that's all.
7. Why do you say the early morning hours are good for meditation?
Going to bed early and getting up early is a very good habit. It keeps you healthy. The early morning hours are also very good for meditation, for your daily practice, because that is the time when all others are sleeping ; so most of this craving - when people awaken, everybody craves, the whole atmosphere is full of craving, you can't meditate better. Everybody is sleeping, you meditate - best time.
1. There is an apprehension that the pagoda coming at Mumbai might lead Vipassana into another sect.
Well, if this teacher will have at least a few more years of his life, you will see that he is so strict that he will not allow anything that we are doing to take the turn of sectarianism. If the pagoda becomes a tool for making Buddha's teaching a sect, an organized religion, then all our teaching has gone to mud. If this pagoda is used for people who come and pray : "Oh pagoda, please give me this, please give me that, I need this, I need that", then the whole thing will become an organized religion, certainly.
However, we are going to use the pagoda in the correct Dhamma way. That is, the pagoda is only for telling more and more people about Vipassana. They will first come to the pagoda out of curiosity - " such a magnificent building, what is there in it?" And when they come there, they get the information : " well, look, he was the Buddha, and what sort of Buddha, and what he taught, and what happened in his life, and the Vipassana that made him a Buddha, and Vipassana that made him a good Dhamma teacher for the whole world, and people got so much benefit". We will give this information, and out of , say ten thousand people who come, even if at least a hundred are benefited and the rest get at least the right message. So we will see that this pagoda is not allowed to build up another sect. Otherwise our purpose will be lost.
1. Please give a brief and clear definition of Vipassana.
Paññatti ṭhapetvā visesena passatī’ti vipassanā. Vipassana means seeing things properly by going beyond the apparent truth and moving toward ultimate truth, paramattha. This body, its bones and organs, its motions, sensations such as an itch—all that is paññatti, apparent reality.
But when the body itches and you understand “This is arising, this is passing,” you are breaking through the apparent and moving toward ultimate reality. This is what the Buddha taught us to do. Vedanā helps because every time you feel a physical sensation, you experience the truth of arising and passing away. You understand that the entire body is composed of subatomic particles in a constant state of flux. You observe the reality of yourself in a proper way, in the right way. And this is Vipassana.
2. In which discourse did the Buddha teach Vipassana?
Every teaching of the Buddha is Vipassana. But at many places, he has gone into detail. For example, in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, he says, Kāye kāyānupassī viharati—The meditator abides observing body in the body, from moment to moment. The meditator abides observing sensation in sensation, or mind in mind, or mental contents in mental contents from moment to moment, practicing continuously. This sutta gives many details. But everywhere, Buddha’s teaching is full of Vipassana because Vipassana is the Buddha’s contribution to the world.
3. How can professionals, who have less time, practise meditation?
Meditation is all the more important for professionals! Those who are householders, who have responsibilities in life, need Vipassana much more, because they have to face situations in life where there are so many vicissitudes. They become agitated because of these vicissitudes. If they learn Vipassana, they can face life much better. They can make good decisions, correct decisions, which will be very helpful to them.
4. Can we combine two or more meditation techniques ?
You can combine as many techniques as you like, but don't combine them with Vipassana. Vipassana is unique technique, and combining it with anything else will not help you. It may even harm you. Keep Vipassana pure. Other techniques only give a veneer to the surface of the mind. But Vipassana makes a deep surgical operation; it takes out complexes from the depth of the mind. If you combine it with any other technique, you are playing a game which may be very harmful to you.
5. Isn't it selfish to forget about the world, and just to sit and meditate all day?
Meditation as a means to acquiring a healthy mind is not at all selfish. When your body is sick, you enter a hospital to recover health. One doesn't say, 'Oh, I'm being selfish'. One knows that it is not possible to live a proper life with a sick, wounded body. Or one goes to a gymnasium to make one's body stronger. Similarly, one doesn't go to a meditation center for the whole life, but simply to make the mind more healthy. And a healthy mind is most necessary to live one's day to day life in a way that is good for oneself and others.
6. I can understand meditation will help maladjusted, unhappy people, but how can it help someone who already feels satisfied with his life, who is already happy?
Someone who remains satisfied with the superficial pleasures of life is ignorant of the agitation deep within the mind. He is under the illusion that he is a happy person, but his pleasures are not lasting and the tensions generated at the deep levels of the mind keep increasing, to appear sooner or later at the surface of the mind . When that happens, this so-called 'happy' person becomes miserable. So why not start working here and now to deal with that situation?
7. Does Vipassana heal the physical body?
Yes, as a by-product. Many psychosomatic diseases naturally disappear when mental tensions are dissolved. If the mind is agitated, physical diseases are bound to develop. When the mind becomes calm and pure, automatically they will go away. But if you take the curing of a physical disease as your goal in practising Vipassana, instead of the purification of your mind, you achieve neither one nor the other. I have found that people who join a course with the aim of curing a physical illness have their attention fixed only on their disease throughout the course: 'today, is it better? No, not better...Today is it improving? No, not improving!' All the ten days they waste in this way. But if the intention is to purify the mind, then many diseases automatically go away as a result of meditation.
8. How would you compare psychoanalysis and Vipassana?
In psychoanalysis you try to recall consciousness past events that had a strong influence in conditioning the mind. Vipassana, on the other hand, will lead the meditator to the deepest level of the mind where conditioning actually begins. Every incident that one might try to recall in psychoanalysis has also registered a sensation at the physical level. By observing physical sensations throughout the body with equanimity, the meditator allows innumerable layers of conditioning to arise and pass away. He or she deals with the conditioning at its roots and can free himself or herself from it quickly and easily.
9. How many times does one have to attend a Vipassana course?
It depends, but I would say attend for ten days, and see for yourself how it has helped you. If you find that you can apply it in life, very good. Later on, go for another ten days. But the main thing is not merely going to the courses for ten days, but applying the technique in life. If Vipassana is manifesting itself in your day-to-day life, then you are practicing properly. Otherwise, merely going to courses will not help.
10. Isn't this technique self-centred? How can we become active and help others?
First you have to be self-centred, you have to help yourself. Unless you help yourself, you cannot help others. A weak person cannot help another weak person. You have to become strong yourself, and then use this strength to help others and make others strong also. Vipassana helps one develop this strength to help others.
11. If we keep observing ourselves, how can we live life in any natural way?
We'll be so busy watching ourselves that we can't act freely or spontaneously. That is not what people find after completing a Vipassana course. Here you learn a mental training that will give you the ability to observe yourself in daily life whenever you need to do so. Not that you will keep practising with closed eyes all day throughout your life, but just as the strength you gain by physical exercise helps you in daily life, so this mental exercise will also strengthen you. What you call "free, spontaneous" action is really blind reaction, which is always harmful. By learning to observe yourself, you will find that whenever a difficult situation arises in life, you can keep the balance of your mind. With that balance you can choose freely how to act. You will take real action, which is always positive, always beneficial for you and for all others.