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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.



Satipatthana Vipassana
By the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw


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[Page 1]

Namo Buddhassa

Honor to the Fully Enlightened One

ON COMING ACROSS the Teaching of the Buddha, it is most important for everyone to cultivate the virtues of moral conduct (sila), concentration (samadhi), and wisdom (pañña). One should undoubtedly possess these three virtues.

For laypeople the minimal measure of moral conduct is the observance of the Five Precepts. For bhikkhus it is the observance of the Patimokkha, the code of monastic discipline. Anyone who is well-disciplined in moral conduct will be reborn in a happy realm of existence as a human being or a deva (god).

However, this ordinary form of mundane morality (lokiya-sila) will not be a safeguard against relapse into the lower states of miserable existence, such as hell, the animal realm, or the realm of petas (ghosts). It is therefore desirable to cultivate the higher form of supramundane morality (lokuttara-sila). When one has fully acquired the virtue of this morality, one will be secure from relapse into the lower states and will always lead a happy life by being reborn as a human being or a deva. Everyone should therefore make it his duty to work for supramundane morality.

There is every hope of success for anyone who strives sincerely and in real earnestness. It would indeed be a pity if anyone were to fail to take advantage of this fine opportunity of being endowed with higher qualities, for such a person will undoubtedly be a victim sooner or later of his own bad karma, which will pull him down to the lower states of miserable existence in hell, the animal realm, or the sphere of petas, where the span of life lasts for many hundreds, thousands or millions of years. It is therefore emphasized here that coming across the Teaching of the Buddha is the unique opportunity to work for path morality (magga-sila) and fruition morality (phala-sila).

It is not, however, advisable to work for moral conduct alone. It is also necessary to practice samadhi or concentration. Samadhi is the fixed or tranquil state of mind. The ordinary or undisciplined mind is in the habit of wandering to other places. It cannot be kept under control, but follows any idea, thought or imagination, etc. In order to prevent this wandering, the mind should be made to attend repeatedly to a selected object of concentration. On gaining practice, the mind gradually abandons its distractions and remains fixed on the object to which it is directed. This is samadhi.

There are two kinds of concentration: mundane concentration (lokiya-samadhi) and supramundane concentration (lokuttara-samadhi). Of these two, the former consists in the mundane absorptions, such as the four rupa-jhanas -- the absorptions pertaining to the world of form -- and the four arupa-jhanas -- the absorptions pertaining to the formless world. These can be attained by the practice of tranquillity meditation (samatha-bhavana) with such methods as mindfulness of breathing, loving-kindness (metta), kasina meditation, etc. By virtue of these attainments one will be reborn in the plane of the brahmas. The life-span of a brahma is very long and lasts for one world cycle, two, four, or eight world cycles, up to a limit of 84,000 world cycles, as the case may be. But at the end of his lifespan, a brahma will die and be reborn as a human being or a deva.

If one leads a virtuous life all the time, one may lead a happy life in a higher existence, but as one is not free from the defilements of attachment, aversion and delusion, one may commit demeritorious deeds on many occasions. One will then be a victim of his bad karma and be reborn in hell or in other lower states of miserable existence. Thus mundane concentration also is not a definite security. It is desirable to work for supramundane concentration, the concentration of the path (magga) and the fruit (phala). To acquire this concentration it is essential to cultivate wisdom (pañña).

There are two forms of wisdom: mundane and supramundane. Nowadays, knowledge of literature, art, science, or other worldly affairs is usually regarded as a kind of wisdom, but this form of wisdom has nothing to do with any kind of mental development (bhavana). Nor can it be regarded as of real merit, because many weapons of destruction are invented through these kinds of knowledge, which are always under the influence of attachment, aversion, and other evil motives. The real spirit of mundane wisdom, on the other hand, has only merits and no demerits of any kind. True mundane wisdom includes the knowledge used in welfare and relief work, which causes no harm; learning to acquire the knowledge of the true meaning or sense of the scriptures; and the three classes of knowledge of development for insight (vipassana-bhavana), such as knowledge born of learning (sutamaya-pañña), knowledge born of reflection (cintamaya-pañña), and wisdom born of meditative development (bhavanamaya-pañña). The virtue of possessing mundane wisdom will lead to a happy life in higher states of existence, but it still cannot prevent the risk of being reborn in hell or in other states of miserable existence. Only the development of supramundane wisdom (lokuttara-pañña) can decidedly remove this risk.

Supramundane wisdom is the wisdom of the path and fruit. To develop this wisdom it is necessary to carry on the practice of insight meditation (vipassana-bhavana) out of the three disciplines of morality, concentration, and wisdom. When the virtue of wisdom is duly developed, the necessary qualities of morality and concentration will also be acquired.

The Development of Wisdom

The method of developing this wisdom is to observe materiality (rupa) and mentality (nama) -- the two sole elements existing in a living being -- with a view to knowing them in their true nature. At present, experiments in the analytical observation of materiality are usually carried out in laboratories with the aid of various kinds of instruments, yet these methods cannot deal with the mind. The method of the Buddha does not require any kind of instruments or outside aid. It can successfully deal with both materiality and mentality. It makes use of one's own mind for analytical purposes by fixing bare attention on the activities of materiality and mentality as they occur within oneself. By continually repeating this form of exercise, the necessary concentration can be gained, and when concentration is keen enough, the ceaseless course of arising and passing away of materiality and mentality will be vividly perceptible.

The living being consists solely of the two distinct groups of materiality and mentality. The solid substance of body as it is now found belongs to the group of materiality. According to the usual enumeration of material phenomena, there are altogether twenty-eight kinds in this group, but in short it may be noted that body is a mass of materiality. For example, it is the same as a doll made of clay or wheat, which is nothing but a collection of particles of clay or flour. Materiality changes its form (ruppati) under physical conditions of heat, cold, etc., and because of this changeableness under contrary physical conditions, it is called rupa in Pali. It does not possess any faculty of knowing an object.

In the Abhidhamma, the elements of mentality and materiality are classified as "states with object" (sarammana-dhamma) and "states without object" (anarammana-dhamma), respectively. The element of mentality has an object, holds an object, knows an object, while that of materiality does not have an object, does not hold an object, and does not know an object. It will thus be seen that the Abhidhamma has directly stated that materiality has no faculty of knowing an object. A yogi also perceives in like manner that "materiality has no faculty of knowing."

Logs and pillars, bricks and stones and lumps of earth are a mass of materiality. They do not possess any faculty of knowing. It is the same with the materiality which makes up a living body -- it has no faculty of knowing. The materiality in a dead body is the same as that of a living body -- it does not possess any faculty of knowing. People, however, have a common idea that the materiality of a living body possesses the faculty of knowing an object and that it loses this faculty only at death. This is not really so. In actual fact, materiality does not possess the faculty of knowing an object in either a dead or a living body.

What is it then that knows objects now? It is mentality, which comes into being depending on materiality. It is called nama in Pali because it inclines (namati) towards an object. Mentality is also spoken of as thought or consciousness. Mentality arises depending on materiality: depending on the eye, eye-consciousness (seeing) arises; depending on the ear, ear-consciousness (hearing) arises; depending on the nose, nose-consciousness (smelling) arises; depending on the tongue, tongue-consciousness (tasting) arises; depending on the body, body-consciousness (sense of touch) arises. There are many kinds of sense of touch, either good or bad.

While touch has a wide field of action in running throughout the whole length of the body, inside and outside, the sense of seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting come into being in their own particular spheres -- the eye, ear, nose and tongue -- each of which occupies a very small and limited area of the body. These senses of touch, sight, etc., are nothing but the elements of mind. There also comes into being mind-consciousness -- thoughts, ideas, imaginings, etc. -- depending on the mind-base. All of these are elements of mind. Mind knows an object, while materiality does not know an object.


People generally believe that in the case of seeing, it is the eye which actually sees. They think that seeing and the eye are one and the same thing. They also think: "Seeing is I," "I see things," "The eye, seeing, and I are one and the same person." In reality this is not so. The eye is one thing and seeing is another, and there is no separate entity such as "I" or "ego." There is only the reality of seeing coming into being depending on the eye.

To give an example, it is like the case of a person who sits in a house. The house and the person are two separate things: the house is not the person, nor is the person the house. Similarly, it is so at the time of seeing. The eye and seeing are two separate things: the eye is not seeing, nor is seeing the eye.

To give another example, it is just like the case of a person in a room who sees many things when he opens the window and looks through it. If it is asked, "Who is it that sees? Is it the window or the person that actually sees?" the answer is, "The window does not possess the ability to see; it is only the person who sees." If it is again asked, "Will the person be able to see things on the outside without the window?" the answer will be, "It is not possible to see things through the wall without the window. One can only see through the window." Similarly, in the case of seeing, there are two separate realities of the eye and seeing. The eye is not seeing, nor is seeing the eye, yet there cannot be an act of seeing without the eye. In reality, seeing comes into being depending on the eye.

It is now evident that in the body there are only two distinct elements of materiality (eye) and mentality (seeing) at every moment of seeing. In addition, there is also a third element of materiality -- the visual object. At times the visual object is noticeable in the body and at times it is noticeable outside the body. With the addition of the visual object there will then be three elements, two of which (the eye and the visual object) are materiality and the third of which (seeing) is mentality. The eye and the visual object, being materiality, do not possess the ability to know an object, while seeing, being mentality, can know the visual object and what it looks like. Now it is clear that there exist only the two separate elements of materiality and mentality at the moment of seeing, and the arising of this pair of separate elements is known as seeing.

People who are without the training in and knowledge of insight meditation hold the view that seeing belongs to or is "self," "ego," "living entity," or "person." They believe that "seeing is I," or "I am seeing," or "I am knowing." This kind of view or belief is called sakkaya-ditthi in Pali. Sakkaya means the group of materiality (rupa) and mentality (nama) as they exist distinctively. Ditthi means a wrong view or belief. The compound word sakkaya-ditthi means a wrong view or belief in self with regard to nama and rupa, which exist in reality.

For greater clarity, we will explain further the manner of holding the wrong view or belief. At the moment of seeing, the things which actually exist are the eye, the visual object (both materiality), and seeing (mentality). Nama and rupa are reality, yet people hold the view that this group of elements is self, or ego, or a living entity. They consider that "seeing is I," or "that which is seen is I," or "I see my own body." Thus this mistaken view is taking the simple act of seeing to be self, which is sakkaya-ditthi, the wrong view of self.

As long as one is not free from the wrong view of self, one cannot expect to escape from the risk of falling into the miserable realms of the hells, the animals or the petas. Though one may be leading a happy life in the human or deva world by virtue of one's merits, yet one is liable to fall back into the miserable states of existence at any time, when one's demerits operate. For this reason, the Buddha pointed out that it is essential to work for the total removal of the wrong view of self:

"Let a monk go forth mindfully to abandon view of self"
(sakkaya-ditthippahañaya sato bhikkhu paribbaje).

To explain: though it is the wish of everyone to avoid old age, disease and death, no one can prevent their inevitable arrival. After death, rebirth follows. Rebirth in any state of existence does not depend on one's own wish. It is not possible to avoid rebirth in the hell realm, the animal realm or the realm of the petas by merely wishing for an escape. Rebirth takes place in any state of existence as the consequence of one's own deeds: there is no choice at all. For these reasons, the round of birth and death, samsara, is very dreadful. Every effort should therefore be made to acquaint oneself with the miserable conditions of samsara, and then to work for an escape from samsara, for the attainment of Nibbana.

If an escape from samsara as a whole is not possible for the present, an attempt should be made for an escape at least from the round of rebirth in the hell realms, the animal realm and the peta realm. In this case it is necessary to work for the total removal within oneself of sakkaya-ditthi, which is the root cause of rebirth in the miserable states of existence. Sakkaya-ditthi can only be destroyed completely by the noble path and fruit: the three supramundane virtues of morality, concentration and wisdom. It is therefore imperative to work for the development of these virtues. How should one do the work? By means of noting or observing one must go out from the jurisdiction of defilements (kilesa). One should practice by constantly noting or observing every act of seeing, hearing, etc., which are the constituent physical and mental processes, till one is freed from sakkaya-ditthi, the wrong view of self.

For these reasons advice is always given here to take up the practice of vipassana meditation. Now yogis have come here for the purpose of practicing vipassana meditation who may be able to complete the course of training and attain the noble path in no long time. The view of self will then be totally removed and security will be finally gained against the danger of rebirth in the realms of the hells, animals and petas.

In this respect, the exercise is simply to note or observe the existing elements in every act of seeing. It should be noted as "seeing, seeing" on every occasion of seeing. By the terms "note" or "observe" or "contemplate" is meant the act of keeping the mind fixedly on the object with a view to knowing it clearly.

When this is done, and the act of seeing is noted as "seeing, seeing," at times the visual object is noticed, at times consciousness of seeing is noticed, at times the eye-base, the place from which one sees, is noticed. It will serve the purpose if one can notice distinctly any one of the three. If not, based on this act of seeing there will arise sakkaya-ditthi, which will view it in the form of a person or as belonging to a person, and as being permanent, pleasurable, and self. This will arouse the defilements of craving and attachment, which will in turn prompt deeds, and the deeds will bring forth rebirth in a new existence. Thus the process of dependent origination operates and the vicious circle of samsara revolves incessantly. In order to prevent the revolving of samsara from this source of seeing, it is necessary to note "seeing, seeing" on every occasion of seeing.

Hearing, Etc.

Similarly, in the case of hearing, there are only two distinct elements, materiality and mentality. The sense of hearing arises depending on the ear. While the ear and sound are two elements of materiality, the sense of hearing is the element of mentality. In order to know clearly any one of these two kinds of materiality and mentality, every occasion of hearing should be noted as "hearing, hearing." So also, "smelling, smelling" should be noted on every occasion of smelling, and "tasting, tasting" on every occasion of tasting.

The sensation of touch in the body should be noted in the very same way. There is a kind of material element known as bodily sensitivity throughout the body, which receives every impression of touch. Every kind of touch, either agreeable or disagreeable, usually comes in contact with bodily sensitivity, and from this there arises body-consciousness, which feels or knows the touch on each occasion. It will now be seen that at every moment of touching there are two elements of materiality -- the bodily sensitivity and the tangible object -- and one element of mentality -- knowing of touch.

In order to know these things distinctly at every moment of touching, the practice of noting as "touching, touching" has to be carried out. This merely refers to the common form of sensation of touch. There are special forms which accompany painful or disagreeable sensations, such as feeling stiffness or tiredness in the body or limbs, feeling hot, pain, numb, aches, etc. Because feeling (vedana) predominates in these cases, it should be noted as "feeling hot," "feeling tired," "feeling painful," etc., as the case may be.

It may also be mentioned that there occur many sensations of touch in the hands, the legs, and so on, on each occasion of bending, stretching, or moving. Because of mentality wanting to move, stretch or bend, the material activities of moving, stretching or bending, etc., occur in series. (It may not be possible to notice these incidents at the outset. They can only be noticed after some time, on gaining experience by practice. It is mentioned here for the sake of general information.) All activities in movements and in changing, etc., are done by mentality. When mentality wills to bend, there arises a series of inward movements of hand or the leg. When mentality wills to stretch or move, there arises a series of outward movements or movements to and fro. They fall away soon after they occur and at the very point of occurrence, as one will notice later.

In every case of bending, stretching, or other activities, there arises first a series of intentions, moments of mentality, inducing or causing in the hands and legs a series of material activities, such as stiffening, bending, stretching, or moving to and fro. These activities come up against other material elements, the bodily sensitivity, and on every occasion of contact between material activities and sensitive qualities, there arises body-consciousness, which feels or knows the sensation of touch. It is therefore clear that material activities are predominating factors in these cases. It is necessary to notice the predominating factors. If not, there will surely arise the wrong view which regards these activities as the doings of an "I" -- "I am bending," "I am stretching," "my hands," or "my legs." This practice of noting as "bending," "stretching," "moving," is carried out for the purpose of removing such wrong views.


Depending on the mind-base there arises a series of mental activities, such as thinking, imagining, etc., or generally speaking, a series of mental activities arises depending on the body. In reality, each case is a composition of mentality and materiality, mind-base being materiality, and thinking, imagining, and so forth being mentality. In order to be able to notice materiality and mentality clearly, "thinking," "imagining," and so forth should be noted in each case.

After having carried out the practice in the manner indicated above for some time, there may be an improvement in concentration. One will notice that the mind no longer wanders about but remains fixed on the object to which it is directed. At the same time, the power of noticing has considerably developed. On every occasion of noting, one notices only two processes of materiality and mentality: a dual set of object (materiality) and mental state (mentality), which makes note of the object, arising together.

Again, on proceeding further with the practice of contemplation, after some time one notices that nothing remains permanent, but that everything is in a state of flux. New things arise each time. Each of them is noted as it arises. Whatever arises then passes away immediately and immediately another arises, which is again noted and which then passes away. Thus the process of arising and passing away goes on, which clearly shows that nothing is permanent. One therefore realizes that "things are not permanent" because one sees that they arise and pass away immediately. This is insight into impermanence (aniccanupassana-ñana).

Then one also realizes that "arising and passing are not desirable." This is insight into suffering (dukkhanupassana-ñana). Besides, one usually experiences many painful sensations in the body, such as tiredness, heat, aching, and at the time of noting these sensations, one generally feels that this body is a collection of sufferings. This is also insight into suffering.

Then at every time of noting it is found that elements of materiality and mentality occur according to their respective nature and conditioning, and not according to one's wishes. One therefore realizes that "they are elements; they are not governable; they are not a person or living entity." This is insight into non-self (anattanupassana-ñana).

On having fully acquired these insights into impermanence, suffering, and non-self, the maturity of knowledge of the path (magga-ñana) and knowledge of fruition (phala-ñana) takes place and realization of Nibbana is won. By winning the realization of Nibbana in the first stage, one is freed from the round of rebirth in the realms of miserable existence. Everyone should therefore endeavor to reach the first stage, the path and fruit of stream-entry, as a minimum measure of protection against an unfortunate rebirth.



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This page was published on Realization.org on November 23, 2000.

Copyright 2001 Realization.org. All rights reserved.