- The Universal Teaching of the Buddha
- S.N. Goenka
A Dhamma talk given by Mr S.N. Goenka in Singapore
ost Venerable Bhante Dhamma-Ratanaji, devotees and admirers of Lord Buddha,
You are all assembled here this evening to understand the universality of the teaching
of the Buddha. A Buddha always teaches Dhamma, nothing else but Dhamma. And Dhamma means
truth, nature, the law of nature, which is universal. Dhamma can never be sectarian; it is
the universal law of nature. There were many at the time of the Buddha, contemporaries of
the Buddha, and there were many before Gotama Buddha who tried to teach the same thing,
but they were not successful.
I come from a family, from a tradition, of very staunch conservative Hindus, and
because I come from that tradition, I know the background of Indian spirituality, I know
the teachings. When I went to my teacher for the first time to take a Vipassana course,
nothing seemed new to me. Buddha taught sila (morality), and the conservative Hindus, and
also the Jain tradition of India, give importance to sila. Buddha taught samadhi, mastery
over the mind, and I found that this was there also. Every tradition teaches how to
control the mind, how to develop mastery over the mind. Buddha teaches panna, wisdom; and
it seemed that that also was not new to me. In the tradition from which I come, one has to
work to purify the mind - to come out of raga, i.e. craving; to come out of dosa, i.e.
aversion; to come out of moha, i.e. ignorance. Nothing was new, and yet everything was
new. Every step that I took was wonderful. And why? Let me explain why.
Like many teachers of different religions Buddha also taught about sila, the five
precepts, the panca sila, and like others he explains to people, in different ways, why
they should observe sila. You should not kill. Why should you not kill? If somebody comes
and kills you, you certainly don't like it. Therefore when you try to kill somebody, that
person won't like it. What you don't like, others don't like. So refrain from actions
which, if performed by others towards you, you won't like. You should not do something
which will hurt or harm others. Therefore don't kill.
If somebody steals something belonging to you which is very dear to you, you won't like
it. Certainly you don't like it. Therefore don't take something belonging to somebody
else, which is dear to that person. You don't steal it because you don't like that to be
done to you.
If someone commits rape or adultery with a member of your family, you don't like it. So
you should not do something like that. Somebody speaks lies and deceives you. You don't
like it. Therefore you should not do a thing like this which others won't like. You may
agree to these four precepts-"Yes, I understand I should not kill. I should not
steal. I should not commit sexual misconduct. I should not speak lies and yet when you get
intoxicated you might commit all these four. You are helpless. You are a slave of the
intoxicant. You are not the master of yourself. Therefore don't take any intoxicant.
Another way of explaining: if you don't break any one of the sila, after death you will
get this heaven or that heaven. Again wonderful!
Another approach: you are a human being and every human being has to live in society. A
householder has to live with the members of his own family, members of the society. Even
if someone renounces the householder's life, yet one remains in contact with the society.
As a member of the society you should not do anything which will disturb the peace and
harmony of the society. You cannot enjoy peace and harmony if all around you there is no
peace and harmony at all. If you want to live a life of peace and harmony, that means you
must encourage peace and harmony around you. If you are surrounded by burning fire, don't
think that you won't suffer from that fire. The heat of the fire will make you miserable.
If you want peace, then don't do anything at the physical level or at the vocal level
which will disturb the peace and harmony of others, which will harm and hurt others.
People keep listening to such discourses, but they listen with this ear, and it goes
out the other ear. This happens with everyone's teaching. We are not here to condemn the
teaching of other religions but to understand the difference. A drunkard knows very well
that drinking is not good for him. He wants to come out of it. A gambler understands that
gambling is not good for him. He would like to come out of it; and yet when the time
comes, he or she can't control himself or herself. He or she commits the same thing. One
understands that one should not do it, and yet one is a slave of one's own mind, because
one does not have mastery over the mind.
So the next step is to develop samadhi, mastery over the mind. Again, the teaching of
samadhi was not just the monopoly of the Buddha. The contemporary teachers at the time of
the Buddha were teaching samadhi. Before the Buddha became Buddha, he himself went to two
teachers, Alara Kiama and Uddaka Ramaputta from whom he learned the technique of deep
samadhi up to the seventh jhana (absorbed concentration) and the eighth jhana. So samadhi
was being taught. Different types of practices of samadhi were there, and yet the teaching
of the Buddha is wonderfully different. There can be no comparison between the samadhi
that was practiced in those days, the lokiya-jhana (mundane absorption), and what he
developed and taught others, the lokuttara-jhana (supramundane absorption).
It is the same with the teaching of panna, wisdom. This mind, this body, which includes
the entire sensorium, is impermanent, anicca, anicca. This cannot be a source of happiness
for us. This is only a source of misery, dukkha, dukkha. This phenomenon is not
"I," is not "mine," is not "my soul." Anatta. To many people
it seems that this was the contribution of the Buddha. But this is not so. Even at the
time of the Buddha we find instances when people who were not his disciples came to him
and he questioned them, "Kim mannasi? What do you believe about this mind-matter
sensorium? Is it nicca or anicca, permanent or impermanent?" And the listener
answered, "Anicca." "Is this sukha or dukkha?" and he said,
"Dukkha". "Is this I, me, mine, myself, or no I, no me, no myself?"
"It is no I, no me, no myself - anatta". He was Bahiya (an outsider), not a
follower of Buddha, and yet he gave these answers. Then what was the wonderful
contribution of Buddha?
First he questioned this person, "Kim mannasi? What do you believe? Is it anicca?
Is it dukkha? Is it anatta?" And this person replied, "Yes, this is anicca. It
is dukkha. It is anatta." And then the Buddha said, "Evam passa (by observing it
so, one becomes liberated from misery). Mere believing won't help you. Passa: you observe
the reality; and with your own observation, jana: direct experience, then you understand
this is anicca, this is dukkha, this is anatta." Herein lies the beauty of the
It is very easy to give sermons and easier still to listen to sermons. "Let's talk
about Dhamma and listen to words of Dhamma. Oh wonderful! Buddha's teaching is
wonderful." With this approach, one becomes an admirer of the Buddha, one becomes a
good devotee of the Buddha, but one does not become a follower of Buddha. To follow the
Buddha, passa-yana: by Vipassana you experience for yourself the truth, the law of nature.
And then you understand. Then it is your wisdom. Otherwise it is the wisdom of the Buddha,
a borrowed wisdom, not your wisdom.
Each individual has to develop his or her own wisdom. Each individual has to develop
his or her own enlightenment. The wisdom developed by Siddhatta Gotama could only help one
person, and that person was Siddhatta Gotama, none else. This person became fully
enlightened because he developed the wisdom himself. Others can get inspiration; others
can get guidance: "Oh, this is how the Buddha practised, and this is how he became
Buddha." But each individual has to take every step on the path to reach the final
goal. If I don't take any step on the path and just keep on praying, "Buddha-Oh
wonderful Buddha," I keep on admiring Buddha-"Oh wonderful Buddha-and wonderful
Dhamma". It doesn't help. For my whole life I may keep on praying to the Buddha. For
my whole life I may keep on admiring the Buddha and Dhamma. But if I don't practise
Dhamma, I don't get the fruits of Dhamma. This was the basic difference between the
Buddha's teaching and the teaching of all other teachers.
Because I come from a particular tradition, everything that I learned from my teacher
at the theoretical level was nothing new to me. But at the practical level my tradition
had nothing new to offer. Later on I found that no tradition had anything to offer. It was
all just talking, talking, talking. There was no way out. One should practice Vipassanas
the Buddha wanted you to practise. "Passa-yana: you observe the reality within
yourself. And then you will understand why I am teaching like this, why I want you to
observe sila." All the other reasons that are given are so superficial or so gross.
The teaching of the Buddha takes you from the gross, olarika, to sukhuma, the subtle:
subtle mind and matter. A constant interaction of mind and matter is going on throughout
one's life. From the time one takes birth to the time when one passes away, there is a
constant interaction. The mind, the matter are influencing each other - are getting
influenced by each other. Mind arises because of matter, the matter arises because of
mind-currents, cross currents, under-currents, and all of this is happening within the
framework of the body.
As you practise Vipassana you will find that there are sensations throughout your body;
but don't take them merely as physical sensations. The body alone cannot feel; the mind is
involved - mind is feeling. A particular sensation has come - mind feels it and a part of
the mind reacts to it. If it is pleasant, it reacts with craving. If it is unpleasant, it
reacts with aversion. When the mind is reacting with aversion, the unpleasant sensation
becomes more unpleasant. This interaction is going on, every moment and one does not know
what is happening.
As you start experiencing these sensations, you will notice that as and when you kill
you generate a tremendous amount of anger or hatred or ill will or animosity. This dosa
must arise in your mind - only then will you kill someone. If you are a good Vipassana
meditator, you will find that as soon as you generate any negativity in your mind - anger,
hatred, ill will, animosity-you are getting agitated, you are becoming miserable. You
can't enjoy peace when you generate anger. As soon as you generate anger you are the first
victim of your anger. This is Dhamma, the law of nature. When anyone arouses anger it
makes no difference if he or she is a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian or a Jain; a
Singaporean, an Indian, an American or Russian, a black, a white or a brown. Anyone who
generates anger, or any negativity, gets punishment here and now. You have broken the law
of nature. When you break the law of the state, the state punishes you. You might escape
that punishment, but when you break the law of nature, you can't escape it. If you break
the law of the state, the punishment may come after a few years, after going to this court
or that court, but with the law of nature there is no wait.
This was the enlightenment of the Buddha. As soon as you perform any action at the
physical level or at the vocal level, you defile your mind, you generate negativity in
your mind. As soon as you generate negativity in your mind, misery starts. At the surface
of the mind you do not know because you have not gone deep inside. But deep inside you
have started suffering.
It is the same with stealing. You can't steal unless you generate greed in your mind.
You can't commit sexual misconduct unless you generate passion in your mind. You can't lie
and deceive others unless you generate ego or craving or some impurity or the other in
your mind. The law of nature is such that as soon as you generate any negativity in your
mind, you start suffering. And it is not that the result of this action will come after
death. It will come after death also but nature doesn't wait for that - it starts
punishing you here and now and it keeps punishing you.
Idha tappati, pecca tappati, papakari ubhayattha tappati.
He suffers now, he suffers after death, in both cases the wrongdoer suffers.
If you perform any action, sinful action, unwholesome action, at the physical or vocal
level - you start suffering, suffering, suffering. This was the Buddha's teaching which is
universal. Anybody who performs any action, physical or vocal, which harms, hurts or
disturbs the peace and harmony of others, starts suffering immediately.
Manasa ce padutthena bhasati va karoti va.
When you perform any action, physical or vocal, with a defiled mind, then what happens?
Tato nam dukkhamanveti cakkam'va vahato padam.
Then misery will keep following you - following you, like the wheel of the cart follows
the bullock, that is yoked to the cart. Wherever it runs, because it is yoked to the cart,
the wheel is there, the wheel is there. Because you perform an action, physical or vocal,
with the base of a defiled mind, you have multiplied your habit pattern of reacting with
the defiled mind. And this habit pattern keeps multiplying, keeps generating misery for
you. One understands this by practicing Vipassana. Every moment that I react with
aversion, I become miserable. The sensation that I experience while generating aversion is
a very unpleasant sensation. It makes me feel so unhappy, and I realize, "Look nature
is punishing me, nature is punishing me now, here and now and will continue to punish me
unless I come out this habit pattern."
This is the law of nature. The Buddha did not create it. Buddha is not the creator of
Dhamma. Dhamma is there. The Buddha discovered it. He went to such a depth that he
discovered the law of nature at the experiential level, which made him an enlightened
Everyone can practise the technique that he discovered and they will get the same
result. Everyone can explore the truth within the framework of the body and can understand
the interaction: "Look what is happening. As soon as I defile my mind the punishment
is there." When you become more and more established in this truth at the
experiential level your sila becomes perfect. If I place my hand on the fire - knowingly
or unknowingly - it burns. The next time I will be very careful: "Oh, I should not
place my hand on the fire - it burns - look, it burns and I don't like this burning. I
want to keep my hand away." As the fire outside burns you as soon as you touch it, so
also, your impurities burn you as you start generating them, and you start experiencing
this burning. You won't want to generate more misery for yourself when you start
experiencing the truth inside.
This is what the Buddha called passa-yana: "With Vipassana you
observe directly; experience this truth and understand the reality. Then you understand my
teaching properly." Otherwise, for your whole life you may say "Everything is
anicca, everything is dukkha, everything is anatta-. We are the believers in anicca, we
are the believers in dukkha, we are the believers in anatta." What do you gain? Tell
me,what do you gain? It is a big delusion. I didn't gain anything until I practised.
Buddha is not in favor of any devotional or emotional entertainment. Buddha is teaching
the actual practice of Dhamma. He taught sila and people reached the stage, whereby,
experiencing the truth inside, they naturally abstained from breaking sila.
He taught samadhi, which before him was just the eight jhanas. As you go deeper in the
technique, you will understand the difference between the eight jhanas of those days,
which are lokiya jhanas, and how Buddha gave a twist, a tum towards liberation making them
lokuttara. Sampajanna in its true sense: constant thorough understanding of impermanence,
was not included in the eight jhanas of those days. Buddha started the practice with
sati-sampayana. By the time one attains the third jhana, the third jhana samapatti
(attainment), the sampajanna is perfect. Sampajanna is perfect only if you are aware of
these sensations - arising, passing; arising, passing; continuously aware day and night.
One who practises Vipassana properly will start understanding the importance of the
words of the Buddha when he says sampajannam narincati, sampajannam na rincati: You can't
afford to miss even one moment of sampajanna. Every moment-sampajanna, sampajanna,
arising; passing, arising; passing, then it is not just a theory, then it is not just a
philosophy, it is a practice. When you are with this arising, passing; arising, passing;
anicca, anicca, anicca, you can't generate a new impurity. And when you are with this
anicca the old impurities keep coming on the surface. They come on the surface and get
eradicated, layers after layers of impurities, come and pass away. Then you become the
master of your mind, and the samadhi is not mere samadhi, panna is included with it.
With sampajanna included, Buddha's practice takes one to the first phala samapatti; as
one becomes sotapanna one experiences the first jhana. Proceeding on the path one gets the
second phala samapatti:sakadagami, which may come with the first jhana or higher jhanas.
As one attains the third phala samapatti: anagami, and the fourth: Arahant, the third and
fourth jhanas are useful. It is not absolutely necessary to practise the fifth, sixth,
seventh and eighth jhanas to attain the phalas, though one can easily do so after these
stages if one wants. But in these first four jhanas, he included sampajanna,
sati-sampajana, which at the time was not available anywhere.
Of course, there had been other Buddhas, but since the passing of the teaching of the
previous Buddha nobody prior to the Gotama the Buddha or at the time of Gotama the Buddha
or other teachers that came after Gotama the Buddha could understand the proper meaning of
sampajanna. This word had percolated down from the time of previous Buddhas but the real
meaning was lost. In the teaching of the lokiya jhanas it had the meaning of,
"knowing intentionally, or deeper, precise awareness." But the wisdom of anicca
was absent so the actual teaching and practice of sati-sampajana was far away. This wisdom
was the contribution of the Buddha, the wonderful contribution of the Buddha.
And then, with this experiential understanding inside, it becomes so clear that there
is no sectarian teaching at all. This is just the law of nature. It is not necessary that
I must call myself a Buddhist to practise the teaching of Buddha. I may keep calling
myself by any name, because it doesn't make any difference. Even if I call myself a
Buddhist, if I generate raga/lobha, I generate dosa, and I generate moha - is there any
Buddha above the clouds who will come and save me? I will have to suffer; calling myself a
Buddhist won't help. If I really want to come out of suffering I must come out of lobha, I
must come out of dosa, I must come out of moha.
The beauty of Buddha's teaching is that he discovered this law in depth, made use of it
for his own enlightenment and then distributed it to others. "Look; I got
enlightenment by this, I got liberated by this. You can also get liberated, everyone of
you. You just try - you just work with the practice.
And it is the beauty of Buddha's teaching that he says, "I am not teaching to have
you as my pupils." In the Udumbara Sutta he says, "I am not interested to make
you my pupil, I am not interested in breaking you from your old teacher - I am not
interested. I am not interested even to change your goal, because everyone wants to come
out of suffering. Just give me seven days of your life." Buddha says, "Just give
me seven days of your life and try it. Try something that I have discovered and then judge
for yourselves whether it is good or not good for you. If it is good for you, then accept
it. Otherwise, don't accept it." This is Buddha's way of teaching. He is not
interested in snaring pupils. Nor is he interested in establishing a sect, a particular
sect. How will the world benefit if everyone in the world calls himself or herself a
Buddhist but no one practises Dhamma? Rather these people will be helped and the world
will be helped when people practise sila, samadhi, and panna. This starts to benefit
oneself and others. The whole atmosphere becomes purified. It becomes charged with Dhamma
- with the vibration of purity with the vibration of metta, because one starts practising.
The Buddha wants us to practise, not to play intellectual games. These games will not
help; they are a big delusion.
Take as an example the taste of a piece of cake. The cake is very sweet. You accept
that it is sweet because the Buddha said so. And you have great devotion in Buddha, so you
accept it. This is mere acceptance. "Kim mannasi - what do you believe? I believe
Buddha's teaching is wonderful." This is merely your belief. Or suppose you take one
step further and you try to intellectualize: "Oh, Buddha says this is so. Others say
something different. Buddha's words are so rational, so scientific - ah, wonderful!
Buddha's teaching is so wonderful. "Again, what do you gain? The cake is very sweet
because it contains sugar. So naturally it is sweet. It must be sweet.
But is the cake really sweet or not? Only when you put it on your own tongue and you
taste it can you say, "Yes, it is sweet." It is sweet on your tongue . If you do
not practise Buddha' s teaching - you just keep admiring his teaching - then you are a
wonderful admirer of Buddha. You are also a wonderful devotee of Buddha but you are not a
follower of Buddha. And one does not get anything unless one follows what Buddha taught.
Devotion is wonderful. Saddha- (devotion) is the first step on the path of Dhamma. I
say saddha is like preparing a field for cultivation. You plough the field, you remove all
the pebbles and stones, you cultivate it well-and then you sit near this field and keep
praying. "Now I have prepared the field. Oh field, give me a wonderful crop; please
give me a fruitful crop." Similarly, "Oh Buddha, please do something to give me
a wonderful crop." But nothing comes up. You have to plant the seeds in the field;
you have to irrigate it; you have to fertilize properly. Only then will you find that
healthy crops have grown. Devotion is like preparing the ground but don't stop there. It
is a very important step, no doubt. But then, you have to take the next steps and those
you have to take yourself, nobody else can do that for you. A Buddha cannot do that for
you. Your guru cannot do that for you. Your teacher cannot do that for you. You have to
Tumhe hi kiccam atappam, akkhataro Tathagata.
You yourself must earnestly practise, the enlightened ones only proclaim the path.
A Tathagata, will only show the path; he won't carry you on his shoulders to the final
goal. Nobody can carry you on his shoulders to the final goal. Tumhe hi kiccam atappam:
you have to work out your own salvation - you have to work out your own emancipation.
Someone can guide you because he has walked over the path, step by step. As the Buddha
explained, "I walked over this path. I benefitted. If you want to come along, then
you also walk. Start taking steps." As many steps as you take, you will get that much
benefit. If you take all the steps on the path, then you will reach the final goal.
The path is universal. One comes to a course of ten days or longer to practise what the
Buddha taught. And the first requisite is: when you come you have to observe five precepts
during your stay. It doesn't matter whether you have been observing them in the past or
not. While you are in a retreat, when you are trying to practise what he wanted you to
practise, at least for these ten days, you must observe these five precepts very
scrupulously. Hindu or Muslim, Christian,Buddhist or Jain, all will take five precepts.
They don't disagree; they accept this discipline-because the precepts are universal. Which
religion will say, "Yes, you can kill; it doesn't matter. Go ahead, you can steal; it
doesn't matter. You can commit adultery; doesn't matter. You can speak lies." No
religion will teach that, because moral conduct is the greatest common denominator of all
So the first step is to practise moral physical and vocal actions. Next you are asked
to sit down comfortably. You are not required to sit in a lotus or half-lotus posture. You
choose whichever way you can sit comfortably, keeping your back straight. You close your
eyes, close your mouth and your guide will say, "Observe your breath." This is
what Buddha taught: "Observe your breath, natural breath - as it comes in - as it
Suppose along with the awareness of the breath, one is instructed to mentally recite a
word. This is what happens in various kinds of meditation. I passed through such
practices, so I know what happens. You are asked to breathe in while mentally reciting one
word; breathing out, you mentally repeat another word. For example, if I am a Hindu, I
breathe in: "Rama, Rama"; if I am Sikh: "Sata-nama, Sata-nama."Like
this, some word is used, whatever it might be. One who calls himself a Buddhist will say,
"Buddha, Buddha, Buddha."
This is not Buddha's teaching. It is sectarian, because whenever one is given any word
to recite, that word is almost always a sectarian word. How can a non-Buddhist say
"Buddha, Buddha, Buddha"? Certainly, mentally repeating "Buddha,
Buddha," the mind will get concentrated. In the same way if you recite, "Rama,
Rama, Rama,"your mind will get concentrated. You can say, "Christ, Christ,
Christ," your mind will get concentrated. If you say, "Allah, Allah," it
will get concentrated. But these are sectarian words and Buddha's path must remain
universal. Even if you use an ordinary word, like, "clock, clock,clock, clock,"
the mind will get concentrated. If you repeat any word continuously, your mind will get
concentrated. This is a law of nature. But the Buddha never gave his followers any word to
Buddha's instruction is to observe the breath just breath, natural breath. The breath
cannot be Hindu, breath cannot be Muslim, cannot be Christian. You can't give it a title.
This fellow who is breathing: can we say his breath is a Muslim breath, is it a Hindu
breath? No. Breath is breath, natural breath. Buddha's object of meditation is so
In my teaching, everywhere around the world, I find people coming from different sects,
different communities, different beliefs. I ask them to observe breath. It doesn't go
against their religion and they accept it, "Yes, observing breath is not against my
religion." If, along with the breath, I were to instruct them, "You must say,
'Namo tassa bhagvato...'," many would react, "Oh no, no, no, I can't say
this." But if I tell them, "Observe only breath," then yes, they accept it.
Another way of concentration was very common at the time of Buddha, and it still
continues today. Along with the breath a meditator imagines some image - a shape, a form
of this god or that god, of this saintly person or that saintly person, founder of this
religion or that religion. Again, as soon as one imagines this shape or form, it becomes
sectarian, because one shape or form belongs to this particular sect, another shape or
form belongs to that particular sect. Nothing doing! Buddha says no shape, no form, no
verbalization, no visualization, no imagination. Yathabhuta nana dassanam (realization of
the truth as it is). This is Buddha's teaching. Yathabhuta: as it happens, as it is
happening at this moment. The breath has come in. That's all. The breath has gone out.
That's all. If it is deep you are just aware that it is deep. If it is shallow, you are
just aware that it is shallow. You don't interfere with the natural flow of the nature. If
it passes through the left nostril, you are just aware: it is passing through the left
nostril. If it passes through the right nostril, you are just aware that it is passing
through the right nostril. If it is passing through both the nostrils, you are just aware.
Your job is to develop the faculty of awareness.
You are asked to keep the attention at the entrance of the nostrils. For three days you
keep working continuously because nothing else is allowed in a Vipassana course. From
4:00-4:30 in the morning until 9:00-9:30 at night, you are permitted no reading, no
discussions, no arguments, no newspapers, no TV, no radio; nothing else. You are just
observing yourself. What will reading the newspaper do? It will make you more extroverted.
If you are extroverted you can't observe yourself as Buddha wants you to observe yourself.
So no distractions are permitted, no disturbances from outside. You simply observe your
breath. You observe your breath and you are asked to be aware of this area - the entrance
of the nostrils where the breath comes in, where it goes out.
One day, two days, three days pass, then you begin to notice that besides this breath
going in and coming out, something else is happening. What is happening? Some biochemical
reaction or the other. Every moment there is some biochemical reaction throughout your
body, but at the conscious level you are unaware of this. At a deeper level your mind
keeps feeling these biochemical flows and keeps reacting to them. There is some sensation
happening everywhere in the body. It may be heat or perspiration; it may be throbbing,
pulsing,itching, tickling something or the other keeps happening. But you are instructed
to keep your attention on the area of the nostrils.
On the third day you start feeling something happening here. Again, your teacher will
say, "Just observe. Do nothing. If it is itching, just observe. Don't scratch it.
Don't rub it. Just observe the itching. See how long it lasts." You observe, observe,
observe. . . and it passes away. No itching is eternal; it doesn't stay forever. It
increases and decreases, and sooner or later it goes. "Oh, anicca. Oh, anicca. After
all,it passes away; sooner or later it passes away." You understand anicca. Like
this, everything that arises, arises to pass away; it arises to pass away.
Initially you are concentrating on the area at the entrance of the nostrils. By the
time you reach the fourth or fifth day, you will explore the entire physical structure and
you will find that everywhere there is some sensation or the other. There is no particle,
not the tiniest particle in the body, where there is no sensation. Wherever there is life,
there is sensation. Again, you just observe: yathabhuta. You are observing objectively:
yathabhuta nana dassanam. You are not identifying yourself with this sensation. It is not
necessary that you start naming this sensation. Instead of naming the sensation, you
understand its nature. Whatever sensation has come up, you are trained to observe:
"Let me see how long it lasts. Let me see how long it lasts." And you find that
sooner or later, it passes away: anicca, anicca. Buddha wanted you to understand this
anicca at the experiential level. If you simply understand at the intellectual level -
"Well, everything in this world is anicca. Look, see how people take birth and die.
Buildings get erected and later they get demolished. Oh, everything is anicca" - this
is merely intellectual understanding; it is not the passa-jana that Buddha wants you to
have. With Vipassana you must understand, "Look how very impermanent, how very
ephemeral! Arising, passing; arising, passing; constantly arising, passing; arising,
passing.Everywhere throughout the physical structure arising, passing; arising, passing;
Again this is universal. This is not something Buddha created for you, me or for
anybody else. This is true for everybody but people don't have the eye of wisdom. They
don't have this technique of Vipassana, to feel this process of mind and matter
interaction - arising, passing; arising, passing; arising, passing. And this is the
specialty of Buddha's teaching. As I say, in the tradition from which I came, that
teaching was there: "You must be free from craving-ra-ga"; in that teaching vita
raga is the highest goal. "You must come out of aversion"; vita dosa is the
highest goal. "You must come out of ignorance"; vita moha is the highest goal. I
used to recite all that in the Gita. I used to recite these in different Upanishads of
Vedanta. But how to come out of raga? How to come out of dosa? How to come out of moha?
These are nothing but sermons: "Oh, you people of the world,you must come out of
greed; this is very dangerous for you. Oh, you people of the world, you must come out of
aversion; this is very dangerous for you. People of the world, you must come out
ignorance; it is very dangerous for you."
If Buddha had also said only this, then there would have been no difference between
Buddha and other teachers. Buddha tells us how to come out of our suffering: "Look,
here is a technique. Where the greed starts, you go to the depth where it is generated.
Where the aversion starts, you go to the depth and you see how it starts." By
practising Vipassana you will start to understand. Initially you will experience very
unpleasant sensations, gross, solidified sensations like heaviness or pressure or heat.
But as you keep observing, observing, observing, you will find that they get
disintegrated, they get dissolved. And then you come to very subtle vibrations throughout
the body. There is nothing but a flow of subtle vibrations which is very pleasant. One
feels like having more and more. Students come to me in the middle of the course and they
say, "Oh, wonderful! Oh, Goenkaji, today's meditation was so wonderful. I had a free
flow, so much piti (joyful delight). So wonderful! So wonderful!"
At this point we must remember Buddha's words: - adinava (dangerous), bhaya (fearful).
This is dangerous for you. When you start experiencing pleasant sensation, if there is
assada (relishing), a very big danger has come. You will start to generate craving for it.
You will start generating attachment to it; and then, as soon as you miss this pleasant
flow of sensation, you will come running to me. "Oh, my meditation has gone very bad.
Please do something, Goenkaji. I'm not getting that wonderful flow. "Oh, this is
dangerous. So when you get a very pleasant sensation-flow throughout the body the teacher
will remind you, "Anicca. Look, this is also anicca."
Samudaya dhammanupassi va kayasmim viharati. vaya dhammanupassi va kayasmim viharati.
samudaya-vaya dhammanupassi va kayasmim viharati.
The meditator dwells observing the phenomenon of arising in the body. He dwells
observing the phenomenon of passing away in the body. He dwells observing the phenomenon
of simultaneous arising and passing away in the body.
When you experienced gross sensation, there was arising - samudaya dhammanupassi
viharati. After some time, vaya dhammanupassi viharati - look, it has arisen, and after
some time, it has passed away. But it comes to a stage when it turns into very subtle
vibration. Then the change occurs with such high velocity - samudayavaya dhammanupassi
viharati. There is no gap between samudaya and vaya, arising and passing away. But it is
all anicca. Whether it passes away after some time or it passes away instantly, it does
pass away. It is not permanent. Experiencing this one starts changing the habit pattern of
Unless you go to the depth of the mind, you can't change its habit pattern at the
deepest level. This is what the Buddha found by practising all eight jhanas - the anusaya
kilesa (sleeping impurities) remain. These impurities are the behavior pattern of the mind
from so many lives and they will continue in future lives unless you strike at the root,
unless you cut that root. Otherwise there is no possibility of getting liberated.
Practising these lokiya jhanas, you may enjoy wonderful ecstasy which does bring purity of
mind at the surface level. With this layer of mental purity, after death you may attain
this loka (plane of existence) or that loka; but still you are rolling. You are rotating
in the loka. You cannot go beyond that. Only when you cut the root - the root of all the
anusaya kilesa, where the impurities arise - only then will you get liberated.
Understand that there is a big barrier, a very big barrier between the so-called
"conscious mind" and what is called the half-conscious or unconscious mind by
Western psychologists. Buddha never used these words because no part of the mind is
unconscious. What is called "conscious mind" he called paritta citta, a very
tiny part of the mind.
But still, if you understand the Western psychological terminology, then call them
conscious, half-conscious, unconscious. Day and night the so- called unconscious mind is
aware of these sensations in the body-day and night, every moment. And it is not only
aware of them; it is reacting to them - every moment, it is reacting. That means it is
multiplying the behavior pattern of craving, of aversion; of craving, of aversion. Either
the sensations are pleasant or unpleasant, and this part of the mind keeps reacting, over
and over. The conscious mind doesn't know what is happening at all. This tiny mind at the
surface doesn't know at all.
An example - it is night time and you have gone to bed. You are in deep sleep. Who is
in deep sleep? The conscious mind is in deep sleep. But the so-called unconscious mind
never sleeps. It is constantly in contact with these body sensations. You are in deep
sleep. A mosquito has come and bitten you. The unconscious mind immediately feels - there
is an unpleasant sensation - and it reacts. It will drive the mosquito away or kill the
mosquito. Still, this unpleasant sensation is going on. Now it will scratch and the
conscious mind doesn't know at all. In the morning if somebody asks you, "During the
night, how many mosquitoes bit you?" You don't know. You will know nothing about it,
and yet the whole night you were reacting to these mosquito bites.
And it does not happen only at night. This barrier remains all the time, twenty-four
hours a day. For example now, at this moment, I am sitting. If I am not a good Vipassana
meditator, what happens? While I am talking, my conscious mind is working: "Look, I
have said so much. Now I must conclude in this way. Time is getting short. I must finish
the talk now. And whatever I am saying - are people listening to it? Are they
understanding or are they getting bored? They have started yawning. They are looking at
their watches. I must stop talking." My conscious mind is doing this job. The
unconscious mind has nothing at all to do with it. The unconscious mind is busy feeling
sensations. Sitting for one hour in one position with this heavy weight, a pressure starts
somewhere in my body. When a pressure starts this unconscious mind says, "I don't
like it. You better move." So I move a little. After some time another pressure
appears. Again I move a little. Some itching might start up and automatically I scratch
it. My conscious mind doesn't know what I am doing. Try observing someone. Keep watching
him or her for 15 minutes. Do nothing: just observe the person. You will notice how
frequently he or she is shifting like this and fidgeting here and there. What is he doing?
Even the person himself or herself does not know what he or she is doing. This is because
there is such a big barrier between the conscious and the unconscious part of the mind.
The conscious mind is occupied with so many things. The unconscious mind is busy only
feeling sensations and reacting, feeling sensations and reacting.
This barrier needs to be broken. You may have the intellectual understanding: "Oh
everything is anicca, everything is anicca, there should be no lobha, no dosa." And
yet there is lobha, there is dosa. This mind, this unconscious mind does not understand
that this is anicca. When there is pain, it doesn't like it: "Oh, this is unpleasant.
I don't like it." It keeps on reacting. Now, with Vipassana, you go to the depth
where the mind feels the body sensations. It is at the level of the bodily sensations that
the unconscious mind is reacting; and it is at this level that you can stop this
unconscious mind from reacting. Whatever may have been understood at the intellectual
level, now this mad mind, the blind mind, also starts understanding: "Look-anicca,
Look, these sensations are anicca." Then the behavior pattern at the depth of the
mind starts changing.
This was Buddha's enlightenment: this paticca samuppada (dependent origination). He
said whether there is a Buddha present or not, the law of paticca samuppada is always
there. Other teachers will say, "Oh, you must not react with craving to anything
pleasant that you see, or to anything pleasant that you hear, or to any pleasant thing you
smell, taste, touch or think. You must not react with craving. Or, whatever unpleasant
experience there may be, something that you see, you hear, you smell, you taste, you
touch, or you think - do not have aversion." This teaching was there. Even today many
are giving this teaching. Buddha found out that there is a gap between the outside object
coming in contact with the six sense doors and the reaction of craving or aversion. He
discovered a missing link, and that missing link is vedana, the sensation on the body.
Salyatana paccaya phasso; phassa paccaya vedana; vedana paccaya tanha.
With the base of the six senses, contact arises; with the base of contact, sensation
arises; with the base of sensation, craving and aversion arise.
I may think that I am free from craving or aversion when I hear something pleasant or
unpleasant, but deep inside where the sensations have started, my mind keeps reacting. At
the depth it keeps reacting. If I do not work with this link which is deeper than my
superficial, intellectual understanding, I cannot come out of my misery because I cannot
change the habit pattern of my mind. This is what the Buddha found out: salayatana paccaya
phasso - at the six sense doors, there is contact. Phassa paccaya vedana: at every
contact, there is sensation. When there is a contact at the ear sense door, or eye sense
door, or nose sense door, or tongue sense door, or body sense door, or mind sense door -
there is bound to be sensation on the body: vedana. Then vedana paccaya tanha: only after
vedana will this craving and aversion arise. If you miss vedana, how will you know where
the tanha has started? You won't even know that tanha has started. You may try to keep the
impurities away at the surface level of the mind, but at the depth, long before the
reaction becomes strong enough to emerge at the conscious level, it has already tied so
many knots, so many knots! The behavior pattern becomes stronger and stronger. You can't
come out of it by working only at the intellectual level.
The beauty of Buddha's teaching is that he gave this wonderful technique, which is
universal. Anybody who goes to the depth and takes out all the impurity becomes a
liberated person, and can keep calling himself by any name. It makes no difference. But
someone who cannot penetrate to this depth keeps on rotating in misery. This law is
universal, applicable to one and all. Buddha rediscovered this law, made use of it for
himself, became liberated and then started distributing it to others with so much love, so
much compassion. As people started practising it, they benefitted from it.
People of this wonderful island, I am glad you have so much devotion to Buddha. You
admire Buddha. You admire Buddha's teaching. Therefore the base is wonderful. You all have
the seed of Dhamma in you. Otherwise you would not have come to a talk like this. By now,
perhaps, you would have been in some theatre or some cinema or some dance hall or
somewhere else. You are here. That shows that you have got the seed of Dhamma in you. But
if for the whole life the seed remains only a seed, you won't get anything. The seed must
grow and give wonderful fruits. And certainly the seed can give wonderful fruits. I invite
all of you. As Buddha says, "Give me seven days of your life. Just give a
trial." I am not a Buddha. I say, "Give me ten days of your life and try. Just
try." Accept it only after you have passed through these ten days. You will find that
Buddha's way is really beneficial - that it gives results, akaliko, here and now. You
won't have to wait until after death. You will benefit here and now, and keep on
Idha nandati pecca nandati katapunno ubhayattha nandat.
Here and now he rejoices, after death he rejoices, in both cases the well doer
The moment you start practising Dhamma, you will see that you are benefiting. In the
beginning, it is beneficial; in the middle, it is beneficial; at the end, it is
beneficial. But it is beneficial only when you practice.
I hope all of you, sooner or later, will find the time to begin the practice of
Buddha's teaching. You have done a lot of intellectual entertainment already. Today also
you have listened for one hour, which was only intellectual entertainment. But now take
this hour and turn it into the strong determination that whenever you find time, you will
pass through a practice of ten days.
May all of you pass through a practice of ten days.
May all of you get the best benefit of Buddha's teaching,the best fruits of Buddha's
May all of you enjoy real peace, real harmony, real happiness.
The Ten-day Course
To learn Vipassana it is necessary to take a residential ten-day course under the
guidance of a qualified teacher. For the entire ten days students live within the course
site and meditate, with breaks for eating, washing sleeping, etc. Each day's progress is
explained during an hour-long discourse in the evening.
During the course, all must abstain from any action, physical or vocal, which disturbs
the peace and harmony of others. Therefore, a code of moral conduct, sila, is an essential
first step of the practice. One undertakes not to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual
misconduct, not to speak lies, and not to use intoxicants. By abstaining from such
actions, one allows the mind to quiet down. Students maintain noble silence for the first
nine days of the course. This means abstaining from any communication amongst themselves,
vocally or by gestures or writing. This noble silence is simply to give everyone the best
opportunity to meditate, and thereby gain the maximum benefit from their course. If one
has a question pertaining to the technique, one is free to ask the teacher whenever any
need for clarification arises.
The course is a practical one in every respect. The work of controlling and purifying
the mind is given top priority and the results speak for themselves. The costs for board
and lodging are completely financed by donations from those who have taken a course,
experienced benefits themselves, and wish others also to have the opportunity to benefit.
Neither the Teacher,the assistant teachers, nor those serving at the centres profit in any
material way from the courses.
Shri S.N. Goenka learned this technique in 1955 from the late Sayagyi U Ba Khin of
Burma, a reknowned teacher of Vipassana. For nearly fourteen years Goenkaji received
training under his teacher. Sayagyi wished that the technique of Vipassana should return
to India, the place of its origin and from there spread throughout the world to help
liberate mankind from its suffering.
Goenkaji has taken this as his life's work; he has been teaching Vipassana in India
since 1969 and in other countries since 1979. In that time he has conducted over 350
ten-day courses attended by tens of thousands of students from many countries and from all
walks of life. Since 1982 he has trained and appointed over 100 assistant teachers who
conduct courses of Vipassana using Goenkaji's taped instructions and discourses. The main
centre for the training and practice of Vipassana is the Vipassana International Academy
at Igatpuri, India, about 135 kilometers from Bombay. In addition, students have founded
several other centres in India, Australasia, Europe. North America, and Asia.
- Sincere thanks to Dr. Binh Anson for providing us with this
- Buddhism Today, 2-7-2000