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, begining 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 at the end, 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.
The Q & A Bank, 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!
Questions have been classified under :
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 sila?
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 behavior 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 flow 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. 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. 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 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
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.
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
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 reason 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.
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 nibbana 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.
5. 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.
6. 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
Cause and Effect
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.
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 sila and respiration.
3. 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.
4. 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 metta (the technique of Metta-Bhavana 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.
5. 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 metta to the child. You can give metta 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.
6. 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.
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 nibbana, I must get nibbana", you are running in the opposite direction of nibbana. Nibbana 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 pannya, 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. 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 metta. 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 every 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.
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..
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 metta, the vibrations of love and compassion. He or she will be happy. Wherever you are, your metta vibrations will touch this person. By giving metta, 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 samadhi (concentration of the mind)?
Samadhi can be without equanimity. With the base of craving one becomes fully concentrated. But that kind of samadhi is not right samadhi. That is with the base of impurity. But if the samadhi 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 samadhi 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
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 karma?
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 karma, 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 karma? If it is, does that mean that most people in the West have good karma, and most people in the
Wealth alone is not a good karma. If you become wealthy but remain miserable, what is the use of this wealth? Having wealth and also happiness, real happiness - that is good karma. 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 karma?
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 metta?
Metta or Metta Bhavana 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 metta, to share the merits gained with all beings. Metta vibrations are tangible vibrations whose beneficial power increases as the purity of the mind increases.
2. Does metta get stronger as samadhi (concentration) gets stronger?
Yes. Without samadhi, the metta is really no metta. When samadhi 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 metta, 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 samadhi 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 metta, your mind is quiet, calm, and not generating any impurity. Then whatever metta you give is strong, fruitful, beneficial.
3. Is the generation of metta a natural consequence of the purity of the mind, or is it something that must be actively developed? Are there progressive stages in metta?
Both are true. According to the law of nature – the law of Dhamma – as the mind is purified, the quality of metta develops naturally. On the other hand, you must work to develop it by practicing Metta Bhavana. It is only at a very high stage of mental purity that metta is generated naturally, and nothing has to be done, no training has to be given. Until one reaches that stage, one has to practice.
Also, people who don’t practice Vipassana can practice Metta Bhavana. In such countries as
However, when you practice Vipassana, purification starts. With this base of purity, your practice of Metta 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 metta help in the development of mudita (sympathetic joy) and karuna (compassion)?
Mudita and karuna naturally follow as one develops metta. Metta is love for all beings. Metta takes away the traces of aversion, animosity and hatred towards others. It takes away the traces of jealousy, and envy towards others.
Mudita (Sympathetic Joy)
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 metta 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 sila, in Vipassana courses?
I have seen from a number of students that people who give no importance to sila, or morality, cannot make any progress on the path. Sila 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 sila 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.
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
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.
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 is the importance of nourishment, sexuality and livelihood in helping or hindering progress in meditation?
During an intensive meditation course it is essential that the meditator eat vegetarian food. Outside of that, it is sufficient that the meditator become moderate in nourishment, naturally taking care to eat healthy food. Many students become vegetarians naturally.
In the same way, during a course one is requested to abstain from any sexual activities, but in daily life you can continue to have sexual relations with your wife or husband. We have to also understand that the practice of Vipassana meditation leads you naturally to eliminate sexual desire. Gradually the meditator will become full of love for others without expecting anything in return. Passion is replaced by compassion. At this stage sexual activity becomes inadequate to express such pure love. Without any repression or suppression, the meditator enters into a stage of natural celibacy.
Regarding livelihood, a meditator can do any profession, but it should be a profession that does not harm other beings and that contributes to the welfare of others. In this regard, the most important thing is mental volition. Whatever job you are doing, you should do it with the feeling of serving society, in exchange for which you receive remuneration to maintain yourself and your family.
2. Why is there segregation of sexes on a course?
This would not have been necessary if we were working with other types of meditation which impose a good layer at the surface of the mind, making you forget everything that is deep inside.
But this technique is totally different. From the very beginning it starts an operation of the mind, taking out the impurities from the deepest level. When you operate on a wound, only pus will come out; you can't expect rose water to come out. What is the pus of the mind? Now the worst pus that you have is sexual passion. The entire loka in which you are living is called kama-loka, the loka where sexual passion is predominant. Even at the apparent level your birth is because of the sexual contact of your parents. The base of sexual passion is deep inside. And if sexual passion comes on the surface, it becomes stronger for a male when he is in contact with the vibration of a female. When a female develops passion, it is strengthened by contact with the vibrations of a male. And if you remain intermingled while you are doing this operation, it is dangerous. It will harm you. Instead of your coming out of passion, there is every possibility that you will multiply passion. So better remain separated as much as possible. It is essential.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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. In Dhamma much emphasis has been given to leading a life of simplicity and detachment. In the world today, how can a householder achieve these objectives?
You see, more importance should be given to detachment. Simplicity will follow, but it should not be the aim. Otherwise Dhamma will deteriorate. There will be a class of people who will just make a show, "Look how simply I live," but deep inside there will be attachment for wealth and riches, etc. This does not lead to liberation. So the aim of Dhamma should be to develop detachment. Once detachment is developed, none of these things will hold any attraction. Naturally, simplicity will develop. But if this becomes the aim, it will become a show. More important is purification of the mind through detachment.
2. Can non-householders be allowed during the Vipassana course to do some of the compulsory daily practices of their own religion for a short period-like samayika, pratikramana, sandhya, etc.?
This would be harmful. Understand: The names of practices that are used here-samayika, pratikramana, kayotsarga, sandhya-are all words of pure Dhamma, of Vipassana. But today the essence is lost; it is just a lifeless shell which they are performing.
For example: At the source of the
Dhamma must be kept in its purity.
If they start understanding, "This is an empty shell, and Vipassana is the real essence, yet I can't let go of the empty shell," then at least they should keep the two apart. Do these rites and rituals, then leave a gap and do Vipassana later. They can continue like that, although it is not healthy. But as they grow they have to come out of these rites and rituals. Rites and rituals can't go together with Vipassana.
For the answer in more detail: Vipassana and Rites & Rituals
3. There is great turmoil in some parts of
Vipassana is the only way to solve these problems, not only in
We all want peace in the world but how will it happen? No amount of sermons, punishment, or violent opposition can solve this problem. The only way is for each individual's problems to be tackled with Vipassana.
After all, society is made up of individuals. If you forget the individual and want to change the whole world, you will not be successful. If the whole jungle has withered and you want to see it green and blooming, you have to water the root of every tree. If each tree becomes green, the entire jungle will become green. Similarly, you have to deal with individuals; although it takes time, there is no other way. Vipassana is the only solution.
See that Vipassana spreads. We must have compassion, not hatred, for these miserable people-the terrorists and those who use violence. They need Vipassana. If they get Vipassana, they will certainly change for the better.
People have changed through coming to Vipassana courses, and this is bound to happen because it is the nature of Dhamma. And when the individual changes, society will change. If even ten percent of society practise Vipassana and manifest their purity, goodwill, and metta, they will start to attract more and more people, and the whole society will start changing. This is the only solution.
4. 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.
5. 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, metta. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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. 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
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 practices 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 (dana) 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 dana of others, may others also benefit ". Most important is the volition with which the dana 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 dana 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 dana 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.
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. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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?
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
Vipassana Practice (clarifications requested from practicing Vipasana students)
Why is it important to sit two full hours every day?
It is essential that you give material food to your body at least twice every day, to keep it healthy and strong. Similarly you have to give some food to the mind to keep it healthy and strong. And with these two hours of sitting, you are doing that.
1. What should we do if both the nostrils are blocked during Anapana?
Try, keep trying. If both the nostrils are blocked atleast one will get opened up. But if you stop trying - and start breathing through the mouth - it won't open up. Keep trying, at least one will get opened up.
2. Is it okay to count the breath?
No, no. That is verbalization. You must observe the natural breath, as it is.
3. My breathing is very forced and shallow and my eye lids flutter. Is that all right?
It doesn't matter. If it is shallow, it is shallow. So long as you feel that the breath is there, incoming and outgoing, then the purpose is served. Not that it should become very deep and not shallow. At times it will become very deep and at times shallow. As the mind gets concentrated you will find that the breath is becoming shorter, shorter, at times it may even stop, and you are aware of it. And then suddenly a deep breath, because you need oxygen. Then again it will become shallow, subtle, and then again a deep breath will come. If naturally it happens, allow it to happen, nothing wrong.
4. When I am doing Anapana( during a 10-day course), I have very similar sensations as when I am doing Vipassana.
Yes. You will get sensations everywhere, but ignore them. During Anapana, only this area (the small area above the upper lip, below the nostrils). Being an old student, tommorow morning (Day Four ) you start giving all importance to this area with sensation. Upto three days, only respiration. So many things are happenng in the body - ignore them during Anapana.
5. Does Anapana get rid of sankharas in the same way as Vipassana does?
To some extent, yes it does. But Anapana is actually to sharpen the mind so that Vipassana becomes stronger.
6. When I meditate, my eyeballs start moving. Is there some particular place to look?
No. Just forget about the eyes and let them be closed. Otherwise, if the eyeballs start moving, they will cause strain and tension. Whenever you find they have started moving, stop them: 'Oh, eyes have got no function in this technique'. They will stop. Then again, after some time they will start rolling - then again stop. Like this, come out of this habit. Let the eyeballs be naturally still.
7. I see a lot of images, when I am meditating, a lot of light, faces...
They are nothing but the projection of your own accumulation at the deep, unconscious level. Whatever you have accumulated starts to be projected. Ignore them, don't give them any importance. Don't try to push them out, nor start taking an interest in them. They will pass away. This is a sign of your progress on the path, because this naturally happens as you go deeper.
8. I am an old student, but when I kneel down like this for forty-five minutes, say, there is still pain. Does that mean there is an impurity or sankhara?
Yes, it has something to do with sankhara. But at the stage when you are doing Anapana, then it is not advisable that you forcefully sit for one hour without changing. That is only after Vipassana. Now, whenever the pain becomes severe, change your position.
9. Is pain necessarily a part of getting rid of sankharas?
Certain sankharas will come out only as pain. So let them come out.
10. When meditating, I experience a lot of pain in my joints.
Good, good. There is no sensation like pain. If you get pain, wonderful ! Learn how to observe it. If there is pain and it tries to overpower you, then try to find the centre of the pain, and then see how far the influence of the pain is. Like this you divide the area, as it is somebody else's pain that you are examing. Examine it like a doctor examines the patient's body. Then you will be detached from it. Most of the time, the pain will over power you. But keep trying. Then, through the pain, you will start feeling something else - maybe pressure, maybe heat, maybe throbbing. Then you will get an undercurrent of vibration through the pain, which is throughout the body. Be as equanimous as possible. Soon, you will reach the stage where pain will not bother you.
11. Do sankharas mainly come out as pain?
Not necessarily pain, they can manifest in different ways. They can come out as heat, they can come out as pressure, throbbing, as subtle vibrations. According to the type of sankhara, that type of sensation there will be.
12. When the sensations are strong on one area, should one try to stay with that area or move?
No. Don't stay in one area. Use the breath. With Anapana, the mind will start moving down. If it gets stuck due to any reason, the breath will help you. Like this, if you keep on working, a stage will come that in spite of severe pain, you can move anywhere you like. If you keep trying, you will be successful.
13. I've been having nightmares (during a Vipassana course).
This is a sign of some very deep fear complex in you that otherwise would not have arisen. Because of this deep operation of Vipassana, it has come up and manifests itself as nightmares. Even during meditation, you might feel some fearful thing, it comes and goes away. When you cut open the wound, the pus is bound to come out. It is a good sign that the pus comes out. It comes out to go away.
14. I've been having mental storms, and I've been watching the sensation during the time. But it's left me with a feeling of confusion and nausea.
At times, if the storm is very big, and you say you are observing your sensations, actually you are not observing your sensations. This negativity is overpowering you, and only a small part of the mind is observing the sensation. If this happens, use the breath more. When there is a big storm, you stop sailing, put your anchor down and wait for some time. And the breath is the anchor. Come back to Anapana. Wait, wait, wait. Let the mind get a little calmer, and then continue to work with the sensation. Then you start cutting the root of this particular negativity which has surfaced as a storm.
15. As I am meditating (during a course), some thoughts come out in clear sequence, and I feel I'm beginning to solve some of the things that are of concern to me...
Yes. So that becomes a big distraction. Although it is very helpful because every thought that will come at the deeper level will be a good thought, a wholesome thought, and the decision will be a right decision. But now you are not here for decision making, you are here to purify the mind. So even if such thoughts start coming, don't suppress them, but don't take any interest in them. Pay entire attention to the sensation. If you start feeling very delighted with this kind of thought, then you forget the sensation, and your process of purification has stopped. So be with the sensation and let the thoughts come. They won't harm you.
16. Is it all right to practise techniques such as hatha-yoga and pranayama?
The physical aspects of Yoga and pranayama go perfectly all right with Vipassana. But the meditation part of yoga is dangerous with the practise of Vipassana.That should not be added to it. Merely the physical part of it all right, nothing wrong.
17. How can we tell if we are suppressing an emotion or not?
When you are equanimously observing the sensation, then you are not suppressing it. If you are not with sensation, then certainly a part of the mind doesn't want this emotion that has arisen, because it is a misery. So you want to get rid of it. A part of the mind starts pushing it out. That is suppression. But if you accept it, " Well, a certain memory has come, it has come. A certain emotion has come, it has come", and then you give importance to the sensation, then you are cutting the root of this emotion. This will get eradicated, because you are with the sensation, you are working with the root. If you forget the root, and try to rectify the leaves and the branches, it doesn't work. You have to go to the root.
18. If one does not have the power to choose sensation, where is the power to choose equanimity?
That power lies in the part of the mind which is cognizing. This part of the mind is always equanimous. It has become so weak that the fourth part of the mind which reacts overpowers you. Now by Vipassana this power gains its strength, and this part, if it becomes strong, the second, the third, the fourth, they all become gradually weak. And this pure consciousness which is not reacting will become the mind's true nature. So that is the true nature of the first part, vinnana. It remains very pure, so it is regaining its own nature.
19. I'm having problems with emotions coming to the surface (during Anapana).
Good. That is a good sign, because the whole technique is an operation of the mind and you've got so much suppressed emotion in you. So long as they are deep inside you they are a continuous source of misery. Let them come out. This is the time now, let them come out - you are aware of your respiration - then layers after layers will pass away - you will be free from them.
20. How do we know that we are not creating sensations?
You can give yourself a test. If you are doubtful whether the sensations you feel are real, you can give yourself two or three commands, auto-suggestions. If you find that the sensations change according to your commands, then you know that they are not real. In that case, you must throw away the entire experience and start again, observing respiration for some time. But if you find that you cannot control the sensations, that they do not change according to your will, then you must throw away the doubt and accept that the experience is real.
21. What is the reason behind the adhitthana sittings (sitting for one hour with strong determination not to change posture or open the eyes).
You are training to learn equanimity even in severe pain. So you are passing through this torture so that you can learn how to be equanimous, as a training to deal with the painful, difficult situations in life where you cannot do anything, but have to face it. During adhitthana sitting, even if you have equanimity for a few moments, or even one moment, that moment is so powerful it cuts so much of impurity in you. So adhitthana sitting is not just for the sake of torture.
22. Why is it important to sit two full hours every day?
It is essential that you give material food to your body at least twice every day, to keep it healthy and strong. Similarly you have to give some food to the mind to keep it healthy and strong. And with these two hours of sitting, you are doing that.
23. What is the value of attending group sittings?
Whenever a few people sit together, whatever they generate in their minds permeates the atmosphere. If five, ten, twenty, or fifty people meditate together, the vibrations of one or two amongst them might be good vibrations and this may help the others meditate better in that atmosphere.
24. I still get a lot of pain even when I meditate at home. What should I do?
Meditate. What else can you do? Now you have a wonderful object with which you can remove your habit pattern of aversion. Whenever you feel something unpleasant, the old habit of the mind is to react with aversion. Vipassana is to help you be free of all such conditioning. Your aversion toward unpleasant sensations cannot be eradicated unless you face them and change this habit pattern. So welcome all these objects which help you come out of your old habit of aversion. The whole purpose of Vipassana is to change the habit pattern of the mind: neither have craving toward pleasant sensations nor aversion toward unpleasant ones. When you have pleasant sensations observe them without attachment, without reaction, understanding they are anicca. Good, now unpleasant sensations have come; make use of them, work with Vipassana.
25. For a period after each course I can meditate okay. Then it becomes harder, so that I cannot even pass my attention through the body. What should I do?
Continue to work. Keep on fighting your battle. When you come to a Dhamma environment like this, the entire atmosphere is charged with vibrations which are anti-craving, anti-aversion, anti- ignorance. In this atmosphere you can work better, and you gain strength by your practice here. With that strength you have to face the world outside. After all, you have to live in the world. You can't live in a meditation center all the time. You go to a hospital to gain health, not to live there. So gain strength here and then live in the world. After some time you may find that your meditation is again becoming weaker. Understand the reason: the whole atmosphere outside is charged with the vibrations of craving and aversion, and you are doing something which is anti-craving, anti-aversion. The outside atmosphere starts overpowering you and you become weaker. You have to keep on fighting. Whenever you find you have become so weak that you can't work with the body and bodily sensations, come back to Anapana. Breath is something which you can intentionally make harder. If you work with it and you can't feel your breath, make it a little harder. You can intentionally make this object a little more gross. Work with that; the mind becomes calm and you will reach a stage where you can again start working on the body.
26. If I am not able to experience subtle sensation in the body, how can I practice metta?
It is true that if you practice metta with these subtle sensations, it is very strong, very effective, because then you are working with the deepest level of your mind. If you are experiencing a gross sensation, that means only the surface level of your mind is working and the metta is not that effective. But it doesn't matter. In this case just keep thinking at the intellectual, conscious level, "May all beings be happy. May all beings be happy." And keep on working. When you reach the stage where there are subtle vibrations, you will work at a deeper level and the metta will be more effective.
27. When thoughts and emotional upsurges come, how can I observe them equanimously?
It is not necessary to observe thoughts and emotions. Just accept the fact that now there is some chattering going on in the mind; good enough. No thought or emotion can arise in the mind without a sensation on the body. When you are working with sensations you are working at the root level of your mind. You are purifying your mind at the root level. So stay with the sensations, and just accept the fact that some chattering is going on or some emotion has arisen, that's all. Don't go into the details of it.
28. My mind still remains immersed in sexual desire and as a result I am unable to maintain the continuity of practice. What can I do?
Fight this battle. Lust is something which keeps following you life after life and it is a very deep sankhara. Whenever sexual desire arises in the mind don't focus on the object of the lust. Just accept the fact of lust as lust. "At this moment my mind is full of lust." Accept this, and see what sensation you have. At that moment start observing whatever sensation predominates anywhere in the body, and keep understanding, "Anicca, anicca. This is not permanent, this is not permanent. This lust that has come is also not permanent; let me see how long it lasts." In this way the sexual desire becomes weaker and weaker and passes away.
29. Should I simply observe the sensations and let Dhamma do the rest, or should I also make a conscious effort by thought or in other ways to understand anicca?
Not only by thought, but by experience. You are observing sensation and you are experiencing the reality, "Well look, it is anicca." Then it works. Otherwise, if you just experience sensations and don't understand, "This is impermanent," how will you develop equanimity, how will you develop panna?
30. I feel like my meditation has become really sloppy, and I'm not sure why. I want to see what I'm doing wrong.
No, no, Nothing is wrong. What you call a good meditation is actually a good operation. Every time you meditate--being very attentive,aware, equanimous--then an operation of the mind starts. Some storm comes up, the pus of the wound starts to come out. When this happens, you will feel as if your meditation has become weak. But this storm has to arise. If it continues to lie deep inside, you will not be relieved of it. When at sea, if there's a big storm you stop sailing, you put down your anchor and wait until the storm is over. Here, your anchor is Anapana. Forget about Vipassana when a storm is present. Work with Anapana, slightly hard breathing. Then your mind will start to calm down, and you can return to Vipassana. A storm is not a regression. It is part of the technique. It happens. Don't worry.
31. Is the fifth precept to abstain from intoxicants or to abstain from being intoxicated? After all, drinking in moderation, without becoming drunk, does not seem particularly harmful. Or are you saying that drinking even one glass of alcohol is breaking sila?
If you practise Vipassana seriously and one day you drink a glass of wine out of forgetfulness or at a social gathering, that day you will find that your meditation is weak. Dhamma cannot go together with the use of intoxicants. If you really wish to develop in Dhamma, you must stay free from all intoxicants. This is the experience of thousands of meditators. By drinking even a small amount, in the long run you develop a craving for alcohol. You don't realize it, but you take a first step towards addiction, which is certainly harmful to yourself and others. Every addict starts by taking just one glass. Why take the first step towards suffering?
Dhamma Service (Goenkaji answers questions pertaining to serving in Dhamma Centres and Vipassana courses)
What contribution can we make in the spread of Dhamma?
The best contribution is to help yourself. Get established in Dhamma, and see that people
start appreciating Dhamma by seeing your way of life.
1. What is the value of Dhamma service ?
You are learning to apply Dhamma in day-to-day life. Dhamma is not an escape from daily responsibilities. By learning how to deal in a Dhammic way with students and situations here in the little world of a meditation centre, you train yourself to act in the same way in the world outside. Despite the unwanted behaviour of another person, you practice trying to keep the balance of your mind, and to generate love and compassion in response. This is the lesson you are trying to master here.
You are a student as much as those sitting in the course. Keep learning while humbly serving others; keep thinking, "I am here in training, to practice serving without expecting anything in return. I am working so that others may benefit form Dhamma. Let me help them by setting a good example, and in doing so, help myself as well".
2. What should we do when we are giving Dhamma service and a conflict arises with another Dhamma worker?
When you are in conflict or confrontation with others, retire from service; don't serve. When you cannot keep your mind free from negativities, keep the mind calm, quiet, full of love and compassion for others, then understand: "I am not fit to serve now-I had better meditate." Otherwise, you will only be distributing this vibration of negativity to others.
You may say, "The other person is at fault, not me." But whatever the apparent cause may be, your mistake is that you have started generating negativity.
If you find that there is some fault with those who are working with you, then very politely and very humbly you can point it out: "To me, it looks like this is not correct, this is not according to Dhamma." If the other person does not understand, then very humbly and politely explain again after some time. Still the other person may not agree. You have given all your reasons, explained your point of view calmly, without making your mind unbalanced.
Suppose this doesn't work. I would say that to explain your view twice is enough. In very rare cases you can do it a third time, but not more than that, never ! Otherwise, no matter how correct your view may be, it shows that you have developed a tremendous amount of attachment to it. You want things to happen according to your view, and that is not helpful. When pointing something out to your Dhamma brother or sister who has made a mistake, you can mention it once, twice, at the utmost, thrice. If that doesn't help, then, without backbiting, politely tell him or her: "Well, this is my understanding. Perhaps our elders can explain it to you better than I can."
Before putting the case to anyone else, first talk with the person with you have a difference of opinion. Only then inform the elders, senior students, assistant teachers or, in rare instances, the Teacher. But first you have to speak with the person concerned. Only then there is no unwholesome speech. Otherwise, you are backbiting, you are breaking your sila, which is wrong.
Still, if nothing has worked and this person is not improving, then don't have aversion, have more compassion. You always have to examine yourself whether you are getting agitated when you want something very right to be done and it is not being done. If so, it means your ego is strong; your attachment to your ego, your views is strong. This is not Dhamma. Try to correct yourself before trying to correct others.
3. Please throw light on the role, and the relationship between Dhamma servers, trustees and assistant teachers?
If one serves Dhamma with the hope of material gain or even hoping for the subtler attraction of status and fame, one is not fit to be an assistant teacher, a trustee or a Dhamma server. One should generate only love and compassion for others and serve out of a feeling of gratitude and a wish to help them come out of misery, without expecting anything in return.
The position in which one works makes no difference; one must be, as far as possible, free from ego. If your service generates ego in your mind, it is polluted. When it cannot help you, how can it help others? A sick person cannot help another sick person. Come out of your own sickness first.
Once you have started serving, if you notice that you keep trying to assert your views, you should understand that at this time you are not fit to serve. You’d better meditate and come out of this egotism as much as possible before you continue with service. If this understanding develops at a deep level of the mind, the relationship between the assistant teachers, servers, management and trustees will be cordial; otherwise not.
The Buddha said that if somebody points out a defect to you, thank him. He is showing you a hidden treasure; you don’t know how useful this treasure is. Thank whoever points out your errors and examine yourself, thinking, “Yes, several people have told me I have this defect so I certainly must have it. Now I should not justify it, I’d better examine it and try to get rid of it.”
That is the best thing to do. It is difficult to discover whether one is at fault or not because the tendency is to justify one’s actions to oneself and others; but if you find you get irritated when people criticize you then yes, there really is something wrong within you. If you can’t bear somebody criticizing you, it shows you are still very weak in Dhamma.
The Buddha wanted us to live in cordiality without quarrelling. Buddha’s sons (buddhaputra) and Buddha’s daughters (buddhaputri) never quarrel, they always have piyacakkha, eyes full of love. Their relationship is like khira odaka, milk and water. Once combined, they can’t be separated. All those who are working for Dhamma should be like khira odaka, milk and water.
Whatever the way in which you serve Dhamma, you are a Vipassana meditator first and last, so work to eradicate your ego. If you do this, relationships will automatically be-come cordial. Make use of Dhamma for good
4. Why is it so important to maintain the Five Precepts on Dhamma land?
It is important to observe the Five Precepts everywhere but it is especially important
on Dhamma land. The first reason is that it is so difficult to observe these precepts in the outside world. In daily life there are many reasons why people break their sila (morality). But on Dhamma land, where there is a wonderful Dhamma atmosphere, the influence of Mara is much weaker than in the outside world, so you should take advantage of this to strengthen yourself in sila. If you cannot observe sila in an atmosphere like this, how can you expect to maintain sila in the world? How will you develop in Dhamma?
Secondly, it is meritorious to observe sila anywhere, but observing sila on Dhamma land is more meritorious. Equally, it is harmful to break sila anywhere, but breaking sila on Dhamma land is more harmful. Understand why this is so. As soon as a defilement is generated in the mind you contribute a bad vibration to the atmosphere, and you can’t break any sila unless some impurity first comes in the mind and then manifests as an unwholesome action of speech or body. If you generate that kind of vibration in a marketplace full of unhealthy vibrations, you contribute something bad to the atmosphere, no doubt. But it is already full of bad vibrations, so your contribution is inconspicuous—just as a new stain on a dirty shirt is inconspicuous. But if you generate mental defilements in the good atmosphere of a centre, you pollute the atmosphere in the same way that even a tiny spot of dirt spoils a clean white shirt.
The mind doesn’t stay idle; it generates either impurity or purity. When you don’t generate impurity you generate purity, good vibrations, and these are your positive contributions to the atmosphere. After all, how does land become Dhamma land? By the meditation of goodhearted people generating good vibrations, which permeate the atmosphere. This is your dana to the centre, and it is far superior to material dana.
The more people who meditate in one place, the stronger the vibration becomes. And the good vibrations at a Dhamma centre are helpful not only to those who attend the present courses; they also accumulate. This atmosphere of pure Dhamma will support students for generations, for centuries. You don’t know who will come to your centre after five or ten generations, after centuries. What a wonderful gift you are giving to those unknown people. Your dana is wonderful.
Equally, the negative vibrations you generate are harmful not only to the present meditators, but also to future meditators who won’t get the strong, good atmosphere that they should. That is why it is important to observe sila on Dhamma land. It is fruitful for the one who generates good vibrations by observing sila, and fruitful for others now and in the future.
Therefore observe sila. It is the foundation of Dhamma. Keep this foundation strong.
5. We feel that the hardest sila for us to observe when we are serving is right speech. As Dhamma servers it is difficult to avoid engaging in idle chatter or gossip, and sometimes we unwittingly spread misinformation or negativity. Also, private information about
students is sometimes discussed. Can you guide us as to how to practise right speech?
Idle talk is a form of wrong speech; you are breaking your sila by indulging in idle talk and gossip. If somebody wants to gossip, they had better leave the Dhamma centre. Here, as the Buddha repeatedly used to say, have either Dhamma talk or tunhibhavo—noble silence, complete silence, nothing else. Otherwise, all the types of wrong speech that you mentioned are bound to occur. When you are chatting idly your mind is so loose that the talk becomes looser and looser, and you won’t care what you are saying, with the result that you may create difficulties for other students. This must be totally avoided.
6. Sometimes when we are serving a course, the topic of other techniques and therapies comes up naturally in conversation.
Just as gossip comes up naturally! Take out this “naturally” business! Whenever something wrong happens, people say it is happening “naturally.” Change that!
Some students find these conversations helpful in clarifying differences between Vipassana and other methods.
The conversations may also be helpful in creating confusion, so leave aside such clarification. You can discuss that sort of thing outside the centre, but not at the centre; not at any cost. If you want clarification take your question to an assistant teacher or teacher.
7. Please clarify how Dhamma service helps us to develop our paramis?
Dhamma service is actually one of the paramis, because a server contributes to the dana of Dhamma. People come here to receive the Dhamma and your service ensures that this gift of Dhamma can occur. Of the ten paramis, dana is one of the greatest, and dhammadana is the highest form of that dana. The Buddha said, Sabbadanam dhammadanam jinati—The highest dana is the dana of Dhamma.
When you give dana to a hospital, a school or an orphanage, people benefit—it is a parami—but later on the recipients will once again lack medicine, food or clothing. If you give monetary dana to a place where Dhamma is taught, it is more valuable because the Dhamma gives people the path from misery to liberation, and nothing compares to that. So donating to an organization or a centre that gives Dhamma is a valuable parami, but the parami of dana is even more valuable when you give physical service.
What, after all, is parami? It is just a mental volition. Before you give a monetary dana you feel, “Ah, wonderful, my money will be used for a very good purpose!” That volition becomes your parami. But when you give service for ten long days—whether you are cooking, managing, or sweeping the floor—you keep thinking, “Look, by my service so many people are benefiting. How can I help so that they can work peacefully, without any obstacles or hindrances?” This wonderful volition continues for the whole ten days.
So the dana of Dhamma service is higher than the dana of money. We don’t say that giving money is bad, no. It is important, it is good, and it gives very good results. But giving service is many times more fruitful because you generate metta and goodwill for such a long time. Every moment during service your parami is developing. So to me Dhamma service is the greatest dana. But when you serve on a ten-day course you have an opportunity to develop all the other paramis too, not only the dana parami.
While giving service there will be times when the students are agitated and negative because a deep operation is going on, and they throw this agitation at you. You smile and understand, “Oh, this person is miserable.” You don’t react with negativity but generate metta for them, so your khanti parami, the parami of tolerance, becomes stronger, and your metta parami becomes stronger. Then two or three times a day you meditate and your pañña parami is strengthened. Similarly for the paramis of sila, nekkhamma [renunciation], viriya [effort], sacca [truthfulness], adhitthana [strong determination], and upekkha [equanimity]—all are strengthened by giving Dhamma service.
When you sit a course you deal only with yourself, but when you serve you learn how to deal with others and how to live properly in the outside world. You may have practised Vipassana diligently and maintained equanimity towards all sensations, but you are not supposed to live in a glass house. You have to apply Dhamma in the world outside, and that is not easy. In a centre you are in a protected, healthy, wholesome atmosphere and that gives you the strength to apply Vipassana to face the vicissitudes of life.
I know from my own experience and also from that of others who have started giving Dhamma service, that meditation improves after serving. The meditation is deeper, the equanimity is stronger, and there is more metta. This is because the paramis have increased by giving Dhamma service. In every way Dhamma service gives wonderful results.
8. Sometimes on a course we find that for one reason or another conflicts arise between Dhamma servers. How can we best use our service to confront our own egos and to develop humility?
When you are not able to keep your mind calm, quiet, full of love and compassion for others, and negativity arises, you should retire from service. You may say, “It’s not my fault, the other person is to blame.” Whatever the truth is, it is your fault that you have started generating negativity. You have become involved in conflict with others, so you should understand that you are not fit to serve at that time. You had better meditate. Sit and meditate. You can’t serve people when you are generating negativity because you would throw the vibration of negativity at them.
If you find there is a fault with another server, politely and humbly place your view before him or her. Calmly explain your concerns and sincerely try to understand the other’s point of view. If this person doesn’t change, after some time you can again politely and humbly explain your concern. Perhaps the other person still doesn’t agree, but I would say explaining your view twice is enough. In very rare cases you can discuss the problem a third time, but never more than that. Otherwise, however correct your view may be, raising the same concern more than three times shows that you have developed a tremendous amount of attachment; you want things to happen according to your understanding. That is wrong. Explain your concern once, twice, at most three times, and if there is still no change politely tell him or her, “Well, this is my understanding, now let’s put the question to a senior.” But before putting the case to anybody else, first talk with the person with whom you have a difference of opinion.
After that you can inform your seniors—whether it is a senior student, the trustees, an assistant teacher, a senior assistant teacher, the local teacher or the Teacher.
Remember that first you have to discuss the problem with the person concerned. If you work in this way there will be no unwholesome speech; otherwise there would be backbiting, which is wrong.
If nothing happens and this person does not amend their ways, don’t have aversion for them, have more compassion. Always examine yourself. If you feel agitated because something you want is not being done, it is clear that your ego is strong and your attachment to your ego is predominant. This is not Dhamma. Amend yourself before trying to amend others.
9. Sometimes it seems that we are picking up negativity, fear, etc. from the students we are serving. How does this happen and what can we do?
You can’t pick up anything from others. If you are affected by a student’s emotions, it is because you have a stock of the same kind of impurity within you. For example, if a fear complex comes to the surface in a student because of their practice of Vipassana, the atmosphere around them will become charged with that kind of vibration and that stimulates your own stock of fear to arise. Be thankful to the student that this situation has allowed your own impurity to be eradicated. Meditate, observe sensations, and come out of it. Why worry?
While you are here in this atmosphere, you can work on anything that comes up and eradicate it. If you are free from a particular impurity, nothing will happen when you come in contact with that impurity. Let’s say somebody generates anger near a Buddha, anger would not arise in the Buddha because he is totally free from anger. So long as you have the seed of a particular impurity within you, when the same impurity arises in your vicinity it will stimulate your own impurity.
10. Why are both students and Dhamma servers asked to refrain from physical contact with others at a course site or centre, whether a course is going on or not? Can’t physical contact also be a way of expressing metta?
You say physical contact is just an expression of metta, but that is slippery ground because you don’t know when you will get caught in passion. It is very important to avoid this danger.
There can be no justification for physical contact at a centre. People keep telling me that in the West physical contact doesn’t involve passion. Maybe not always, but I have seen cases in the West where a student on a course started having physical contact saying it was without passion, and ultimately it resulted in an unhealthy situation.
You have to be especially cautious because you are working on Dhamma land, and the anti- Dhamma forces will always try to pull you down. You are representing Dhamma. If you have any little weakness (and passion is a great weakness) these anti-Dhamma vibrations will arouse passion in you, and you will spoil the entire atmosphere. So you’d better avoid any kind of physical contact. However people may justify it, don’t listen to their arguments. It is a strict rule in every Dhamma centre or even at a non-centre course that no physical contact is allowed.
11. When students are serving on courses or staying at centres, they might feel an attraction to a person with whom they would like to establish a relationship, and hopefully, a Dhamma partnership. How should students who are at the beginning stages or later stages of a new relationship conduct themselves when they are serving on courses or at centres?
It must be very clear that Dhamma land is not the proper place for any kind of courtship—whether it is the early or the later stage of a relationship makes no difference. If any Dhamma server finds that he or she is becoming attracted towards another person they should immediately leave, they should not stay at the centre even for a minute. Develop your romantic relationships outside the Dhamma centre. At a Dhamma centre you have to behave towards each other like brothers and sisters. Even a trace of passion arising in the mind of anyone will disturb the atmosphere of the centre, and this has to be avoided at all costs. It should be made crystal clear to every Dhamma server that a Dhamma centre is not a place for courtship.
12. Why is it necessary to maintain segregation of sexes on the courses and at the centres?
For the same reason as given above. Passion is the greatest weakness, and it will find some way or the other to express itself unless you maintain segregation. So it is better to remain segregated. This is healthy both for you and for the students who have come for the course.
13. While I am serving when should I practice Anapana? When should I practise Vipassana? And when should I practise metta?
This is a good question. Instead of sitting the course, you are serving, and so you should decide how to work just as you do in your daily practice at home. You have to decide whether you should start by practising Anapana or work with Vipassana straight away, and if you do start with Anapana you have to decide for how long. That is at the discretion of each server. If you feel that your samadhi is very weak and you want to strengthen it by doing Anapana for the first three days and then switch over to Vipassana, this is acceptable.
Most important is that you meditate two times or three times per day while you are working on Dhamma land. If you don’t sit you won’t be able to give proper service, you won’t generate good vibrations. So in your own interest, and also in the interest of the students whom you are serving, it is essential that you sit. One difficulty has been noticed. Sometimes, even if there are very few Dhamma servers on a course, each one wants to meditate with closed eyes during the group sittings. That is wrong; you are a Dhamma server here, not a student.
During the sittings one or two of you should keep your eyes open and see if the students have any difficulties. Of course, if there are many servers you can divide the responsibility amongst yourselves: One or two females and one or two males keep their eyes open while the others meditate seriously, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if all the servers meditate with closed eyes you create difficulties because the teacher cannot get your attention if he or she needs assistance. That should be avoided.
14. If a student is having a storm and the assistant teacher is not immediately available, can we, as Dhamma servers, help the student by giving meditation instructions—for example, saying to use more Anapana and to work on the extremities, or to work in a more relaxed way by lying down or taking a walk?
That would be risky. You must understand that when somebody is authorized to give Dhamma as an assistant teacher or a senior or a fullfledged teacher, the good vibrations associated with Dhamma come in contact with this person while they are sitting on the Dhamma seat, and that helps the students. A server is not an authorized teacher, and should never play the role of teacher because the AT is supposedly unavailable. You may think, “Somebody is in trouble so I’d better give advice,” but be very careful not to do so. At most you can say, “Go and lie down and relax. When the teacher is available, I will ask you to meet him or her.” That is not a technique, and has nothing to do with the practice. Don’t say anything more than that; don’t try to give any instructions. There is every possibility that your instructions might create difficulty for the student.
Authorization and establishing contact with the Dhamma vibrations play an important part in the work done by the assistant teachers.
15. When we are serving courses or staying at centres, we are asked to restrict our reading either to materials related to the Buddha’s teaching or to newspapers and magazines. Servers often ask why they cannot read other things that they feel are compatible with Vipassana. Can you explain the reason behind this rule?
Who has the authority to say that this book is compatible, and that one is not? You can’t expect the assistant teacher to go through all the literature that you bring. You’d better leave aside all your books. You can read them outside the centre. Why disturb the atmosphere here? A server should always keep in mind that he or she is staying at a centre in order to help build good vibrations there. If you want to read certain books that might go against the vibrations of the centre, it is better that you leave. It is difficult to build up a Dhamma atmosphere, and we want it to become so strong that it will be helpful for generations, even for centuries. Be careful not to disturb it; it is not healthy to risk disturbing the atmosphere on any pretext.
16. What should I do if I have a big storm but need to finish my work because there is nobody else to do it? If I am really having a hard time as a long-term server, when is it best to meditate more and when is it best to leave the centre?
The assistant teacher on duty is in the best position to give you guidance. You’d better meet him or her and discuss your situation.
17. Dhamma servers commonly do not get enough exercise while they are serving. Is it permissible for them to practise yoga while serving a course or staying at a centre?
The physical exercises of yoga are quite compatible with Vipassana, but don’t do them at the centres; the students would get distracted if they see you. It is unwholesome to create any hindrance to the progress of the students. If a Dhamma server has a separate room there should not be any difficulty about doing yoga exercises there as long as they do not disturb anybody. But even then, permission must be sought from the assistant teacher on duty; only if the assistant teacher is satisfied that yoga will not become a disturbance can it be done, otherwise not. Walking is good enough exercise.
18. Is there any purpose behind the old students’ chanting of sadhu and bowing, or is this just a rite or ritual?
They are not part of a rite or a ritual. As I said earlier, the extremity at the top of the head can receive vibrations. When a teacher expresses metta by saying Bhavatu sabba mangalam (May all beings be happy), he or she generates good vibrations, and when you bow down you accept those vibrations of metta at the top of the head. It is in your own interest to accept good vibrations. If you are thirsty and somebody offers you water, you will get the water only if you cup your hands together. If you keep your hands apart the water will be lost.
Saying sadhu is an expression of sympathetic joy, and you join with the teacher’s feeling of joy when you say this. Both bowing and saying sadhu are in your own interest, they are not part of any rite or ritual. They are a healthy tradition from the past. Make use of them.
19. What qualities do you take into consideration in the appointment of assistant teachers and trustees?
A long list of qualities, but I keep them private. However, I would like to say something that disqualifies somebody from becoming an assistant teacher or a trustee. If someone is eager to become a teacher, eager to become a trustee, a secretary, a manager, eager to have some position, status or power, then a red line is marked under the name of this person. Such a person is not fit to serve in the field of Dhamma. Somebody who has the volition, “I want to serve and I am willing to serve in any position. If I am asked to stand as a watchman, I will serve as a watchman; if you ask me to sweep the latrine, I will sweep the latrine”—and he or she does that, then this person is fit. One day, as he or she develops other qualities, such a person can reach the highest position. Dhamma service is not to develop the ego. It is to dissolve the ego.
20. You have always emphasized that we should have compassion towards the cruel. But in view of the large-scale violence and killing of innocent people that is going on all around, what role can we perform as students of Vipassana, as Dhamma servers, trustees or as assistant teachers , teachers?
A very important question, no doubt. There are two aspects of Dhamma. One aspect of Dhamma is purification of the individual. Another aspect is purification of the society. Both are important. But to purify the society, the purification of the person is a prerequisite. Unless individuals are purified—unless they have love, compassion and goodwill for others— we can’t expect a true Dhammic society. So at this stage we are trying to introduce Vipassana in
21. What contribution can we make in the spread of Dhamma?
The best contribution is to help yourself. Get established in Dhamma, and see that people start appreciating Dhamma by seeing your way of life, “Look, before going to Dhamma, this person was one way, and now what a big change has come! A change for the better has come!” If they find that there is no change in this person, or he or she has become worse and started generating ego now, thinking, “I am a grand Vipassana meditator. I am a very purified person!”—then they will run away from Dhamma. In trying to spread Dhamma, no purpose will be served.
Each individual is a representative of Dhamma, so each individual has to be very careful. If one is a Vipassana meditator, or somebody in the Vipassana organization with more responsibility, then one is in the limelight now. People will look at you, at your behaviour, your way of life, your way of dealing with things. And if they find defects in you, this will make people run away from Dhamma. To encourage people, the best thing is to become an ideal person yourself. People will get encouragement from this. Giving information to people that there is something like this going on, that there is a technique which can help us to come out of our misery—this information is very important. In the West you have started to have public talks, showing videotapes—a few people gather, and there are people to answer questions. In this way also, people should hear about Dhamma. A large number of people, the vast majority, do not even know that there is something like this going on. This information should be offered in a very humble way. This will help.
22. Goenkaji, every time assistant teachers enter and leave the meditation hall, Dhamma servers bow down. The students are watching this, and when they offer Dhamma service they do the same thing. It has become almost a ritual. Could you please advise on this?
In pure Dhamma no ritual at all should be allowed. Dhamma and ritual cannot co-exist. I find nothing wrong in somebody paying respect to an assistant teacher, provided that this person understands one is paying respect to Dhamma. An assistant teacher or whoever sits on the Dhamma seat—assistant or senior assistant or deputy or teacher, anybody—is representing the Buddha, the teachings of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the entire lineage of the teachers of Vipassana. He or she lives a life of Dhamma and is serving people in Dhamma. One develops a feeling of devotion, of gratitude towards this person. Actually one is bowing down to Dhamma, paying respect to Dhamma. But when this becomes merely a formal rite or ritual, it goes totally against Dhamma. If someone bows out of respect and others feel, “If I do not bow then people will consider me a very discourteous person, so I must also bow,” again, there is no Dhamma. To act with Dhamma is always to have a pure volition in the mind. Otherwise it is just a mechanical exercise: You bow down and give good exercise to your back! If these back exercises are to be done, better do them in your own room.
If somebody does not bow because at that particular moment he or she has not developed the volition of devotion towards Dhamma, I feel happy, “Very good.” Bowing must be with this volition of paying respect to Dhamma, not to the individual.
Even the Buddha did not like people paying respect to him. He said, “You may be with me all the time, holding a corner of my robe, yet you are far away from me. But if you are practising Dhamma with purity of mind, though you may be thousands of miles away, you are near me.”
Yo dhammam passati so mam passati, yo mam passati so dhammam passati. One who is observing Dhamma—that means observing Dhamma inside—is observing me, is seeing me. If one is not observing Dhamma, then bowing down is merely a mad exercise.
23. All of us want to spread the Dhamma to relieve misery around the world. None of us, however, wants to create the impression of pushing Vipassana on others, as if we want to expand the size of our sect. Could you give some guidelines about spreading the word of this wonderful technique without giving others reason to label Vipassana as a cult?
If you are pushing Vipassana on others, you are pushing people away from Dhamma. How can anyone push this wonderful Dhamma on others? Actually the tradition—a healthy tradition— is that the Dhamma is not given to anyone unless the person very humbly requests it. How can you push it on others? If somebody requests, then you give it. Anybody who is trying to push Dhamma on others is certainly spreading cultism, certainly spreading sectarianism.
Dhamma is Dhamma, it has to be given with all the compassion and love. And people should accept it willingly, with all respect. Only then is it Dhamma, otherwise it is not.