"There is no path outside of our
lives. Life, really as it is, is the spiritual path....
Deepen into the life you've been offered today."
--Vanessa Stone, Amala Foundation
"It's so obvious that if you
have a thought, some part of you is aware of that thought. So why
do you make the thought the primary truth --and not the awareness
of the thought the deeper truth?"
friends have come up with things like "principles of uncertainty"
and dark holes. They're willing to live inside imagined hypotheses
and theories. But many religious folks insist on answers that are
always true. We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking
that we are people of "faith"! How strange that the very
word "faith" has come to mean its exact opposite."
--Richard Rohr. Theologian
The Dalai Lama Chanting
Om tryambakam yajaamahe
Sugandhim pushti vardhanam
Mrytyor muksheeya maamritaath
We worship the All Seeing One Fragrant, You nourish bounteously From fear of death may you cut us free To realize immortality.
The Dalai Lama has requested this
CD be copied and
distributed freely. It is used for all types of healing.
Mindsight: the New Science of Personal
"Right at this moment, will I choose small self or True
Self? Will I embrace violence (judgmentalism, comparison, greed,
etc.) or nonviolence? Will I try to play it safe or risk for the
truth that I have understood? As Gandhi said, nonviolence is not
for cowards. ... Great honesty and discipline is required to be
able to discern that I am not deceiving myself, so that my life
can truly be an offering to the Supreme Truth which embraces us
all when we have made ourselves ready and transparent."
--Veronica Pelicaric, Pace e Bene
Change your Mind Change your Brain: The
working for the weak
and the frail."
The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation
Everyone seeks peace and harmony, because these are what we lack
in our lives. From time to time we all experience agitation, irritation,
disharmony, suffering; and when one suffers from agitation, one
does not keep this misery limited to oneself. One keeps distributing
it to others as well. The agitation permeates the atmosphere around
the miserable person. Everyone who comes into contact with him
also becomes irritated, agitated. Certainly this is not the proper
way to live.
One ought to live at peace with oneself, and at peace with all
others. After all, a human being is a social being. He has to
live in society--to live and deal with others. How are we to live
peacefully? How are we to remain harmonious with ourselves, and
to maintain peace and harmony around us, so that others can also
live peacefully and harmoniously?
One is agitated. To come out of the agitation, one has to know
the basic reason for it, the cause of the suffering. If one investigates
the problem, it will become clear that whenever one starts generating
any negativity or defilement in the mind, one is bound to become
agitated. A negativity in the mind, a mental defilement or impurity,
cannot exist with peace and harmony.
How does one start generating negativity? Again, by investigating,
it becomes clear. I become very unhappy when I find someone behaving
in a way which I don't like, when I find something happening which
I don't like. Unwanted things happen and I create tension within
myself. Wanted things do not happen, some obstacles come in the
way, and again I create tension within myself; I start tying knots
within myself. And throughout life, unwanted things keep on happening,
wanted things may or may not happen, and this process or reaction,
of tying knots--Gordian knots--makes the entire mental and physical
structure so tense, so full of negativity, that life becomes miserable.
Now one way to solve the problem is to arrange that nothing unwanted
happens in my life and that everything keeps on happening exactly
as I desire. i must develop such power, or somebody else must
have the power and must come to my aid when I request him, that
unwanted things do not happen and that everything I want happens.
But this is not possible. There is no one in the world whose desires
are always fulfilled, in whose life everything happens according
to his wishes, without anything unwanted happening. Things keep
on occurring that are contrary to our desires and wishes. So the
question arises, how am I not to react blindly in the face of
these things which I don't like? How not to create tension? How
to remain peaceful and harmonious?
In India as well as in other countries, wise saintly persons
of the past studied this problem--the problem of human suffering--and
found a solution: if something unwanted happens and one starts
to react by generating anger, fear or any negativity, then as
soon as possible one should divert one's attention to something
else. For example, get up, take a glass of water, start drinking--your
anger will not multiply and you'll be coming out of anger. Or
start counting: one, two, three, four. Or start repeating a word,
or a phrase, or some mantra, perhaps the name of a deity or saintly
person in whom you have devotion; the mind is diverted, and to
some extent, you'll be out of the negativity, out of anger.
This solution was helpful: it worked. It still works. Practicing
this, the mind feels free from agitation. In fact, however, the
solution works only at the conscious level. Actually, by diverting
the attention, one pushes the negativity deep into the unconscious,
and on this level one continues to generate and multiply the same
defilements. At the surface level there is a layer of peace and
harmony, but in the depths of the mind there is a sleeping volcano
of suppressed negativity which sooner or later will explode in
Other explorers of inner truth went still further in their search;
and by experiencing the reality of mind and matter within themselves
they recognized that diverting the attention is only running away
from the problem. Escape is no solution: one must face the problem.
Whenever a negativity arises in the mind, just observe it, face
it. As soon as one starts observing any mental defilement, it
begins to lose strength. Slowly it withers away and is uprooted.
A good solution: it avoids both extremes--suppression and free
license. Keeping the negativity in the unconscious will not eradicate
it; and allowing it to manifest in physical or vocal action will
only create more problems. But if one just observes, then the
defilement passes away, and one has eradicated that negativity,
one is freed from the defilement.
This sounds wonderful, but is it really practical? For an average
person, is it easy to face the defilement? When anger arises,
it overpowers us so quickly that we don't even notice. Then overpowered
by anger, we commit certain actions physically or vocally which
are harmful to us and to others. Later, when the anger has passed,
we start crying and repenting, begging pardon from this or that
person or from God: 'Oh, I made a mistake, please excuse me!'
But the next time we are in a similar situation, we again react
in the same way. All that repenting does not help at all.
The difficulty is that I am not aware when a defilement starts.
It begins deep in the unconscious level of the mind, and by the
time it reaches the conscious level, it has gained so much strength
that it overwhelms me, and I cannot observe it.
Then I must keep a private secretary with me, so that whenever
anger starts, he says, 'Look master, anger is starting!' Since
I cannot know when this anger will start, I must have three private
secretaries for three shifts, around the clock! Suppose I can
afford that, and the anger starts to arise. At once my secretary
tells me, 'Oh, master, look--anger has started!' The first thing
I will do is slap and abuse him: 'You fool! Do you think you are
paid to teach me?' I am so overpowered by anger that no good advise
Even supposing wisdom prevails and I do not slap him. Instead
I say, 'Thank you very much. Now I must sit down and observe my
anger.' Yet it is possible? As soon as I close my eyes and try
to observe the anger, immediately the object of anger come into
my mind--the person or incident because of which I become angry.
Then I am not observing the anger itself. I am merely observing
the external stimulus of the emotion. This will only serve to
multiply the anger; this is no solution. It is very difficult
to observe any abstract negativity, abstract emotion, divorced
from the external object which aroused it.
However, one who reached the ultimate truth found a real solution.
He discovered that whenever any defilement arises in the mind,
simultaneously two things start happening at the physical level.
One is that the breath loses its normal rhythm. We start breathing
hard whenever a negativity comes into the mind. This is easy to
observe. At subtler level, some kind of biochemical reaction starts
within the body--some sensation. Every defilement will generate
one sensation or another inside, in one part of the body or another.
This is a practical solution. An ordinary person cannot observe
abstract defilements of the mind--abstract fear, anger, or passion.
But with proper training and practice, it is very easy to observe
respiration and bodily sensations--both of which are directly
related to the mental defilements.
Respiration and sensation will help me in two ways. Firstly,
they will be like my private secretaries. As soon as a defilement
starts in my mind, my breath will lose its normality; it will
start shouting, 'Look, something has gone wrong!' I cannot slap
my breath; I have to accept the warning. Similarly the sensations
tell me that something has gone wrong. Then having been warned,
I start observing my respiration, my sensation, and I find very
quickly that the defilement passes away.
This mental-physical phenomenon is like a coin with two sides.
On the one side are whatever thoughts or emotions are arising
in the mind. One the other side are the respiration and sensations
in the body. Any thought or emotion, any mental defilement, manifests
itself in the breath and the sensation of that moment. Thus, by
observing the respiration or the sensation, I am in fact observing
the mental defilement. Instead of running away from the problem,
I am facing reality as it is. Then I shall find that the defilement
loses its strength: it can no longer overpower me as it did in
the past. If I persist, the defilement eventually disappears altogether,
and I remain peaceful and happy.
In this way, the techniques of self-observation shows us reality
in its two aspects, inner and outer. Previously, one always looked
with open eyes, missing the inner truth. I always looked outside
for the cause of my unhappiness; I always blamed and tried to
change the reality outside. Being ignorant of the inner reality,
I never understood that the cause of suffering lies within, in
my own blind reactions toward pleasant and unpleasant sensations.
Now, with training, I can see the other side of the coin. I can
be aware of my breathing and also of what is happening inside
me. Whatever it is, breath or sensation, I learn just to observe
it, without losing the balance of the mind. I stop reacting, stop
multiplying my misery. Instead, I allow the defilement to manifest
and pass away.
The more one practices this technique, the more quickly one will
find one will come out of negativity. Gradually the mind becomes
freed of the defilements; it becomes pure. A pure mind is always
full of love--selfless love for all others; full of compassion
for the failings and sufferings of others; full of joy at their
success and happiness; full of equanimity in the face of any situation.
When one reaches this stage, the entire pattern of one's life
starts changing. It is no longer possible to do anything vocally
or physically which will disturb the peace and happiness of others.
Instead, the balanced mind not only becomes peaceful in itself,
but it helps others also to become peaceful. The atmosphere surrounding
such a person will become permeated with peace and harmony, and
this will start affecting others too.
By learning to remain balanced in the face of everything one
experiences inside, one develops detachment towards all that one
encounters in external situations as well. However, this detachment
is not escapism or indifference to the problems of the world.
A Vipassana meditator becomes more sensitive to the sufferings
of others, and does his utmost to relieve their suffering in whatever
way he can--not with any agitation but with a mind full of love,
compassion and equanimity. He learns holy indifference--how to
be fully committed, fully involved in helping others, while at
the same time maintaining the balance of his mind. In this way
he remains peaceful and happy, while working for the peace and
happiness of others.
This is what the Buddha taught; an art of living. He never established
or taught any religion, any 'ism'. He never instructed his followers
to practice any rites or rituals, any blind or empty formalities.
Instead, he taught just to observe nature as it is, by observing
reality inside. Out of ignorance, one keeps reacting in a way
which is harmful to oneself and to others. But when wisdom arises--the
wisdom of observing the reality as it is--one come out of this
habit of reaction. When one ceases to react blindly, then one
is capable of real action--action proceeding from a balanced mind,
a mind which sees and understands the truth. Such action can only
be positive, creative, helpful to oneself and to others.
What is necessary, then, is to 'know thyself'--advice which every
wise person has given. One must know oneself not just at the intellectual
level, the level of ideas and theories. Nor does this mean to
know just at the emotional or devotional level, simply accepting
blindly what one has heard or read. Such knowledge is not enough.
Rather one must know realty at the actual level. One must experience
directly the reality of this mental-physical phenomenon. This
alone is what will help us to come out of defilements, out of
This direct experience of one's own reality, this techniques
of self-observation, is what is called 'Vipassana' meditation.
In the language of India in the time of the Buddha, passana meant
seeing with open eyes, in the ordinary way; but Vipassana is observing
things as they really are, not just as they seem to be. Apparent
truth has to be penetrated, until one reaches the ultimate truth
of the entire mental and physical structure. When one experiences
this truth, then one learns to stop reacting blindly, to stop
creating defilements--and naturally the old defilements gradually
are eradicated. One come out of all the misery and experiences
There are three steps to the training which is given in a Vipassana
meditation course Firstly, one must abstain from any action, physical
or vocal, which disturbs the peace and harmony of others. One
cannot work to liberate oneself from defilements in the mind while
at the same time one continues to perform deeds of body and speech
which only multiply those defilements. Therefore, a code of morality
is the essential first step of the practice. One undertakes not
to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual misconduct, not to
tell lies, and not to use intoxicants. By abstaining from such
action, one allows the mind to quiet down sufficiently so that
it can proceed with the task at hand.
The next step is to develop some mastery over this wild mind,
by training it to remain fixed on a single object: the breath.
One tries to keep one's attention for as long as possible on the
respiration. This is not a breathing exercise: one does not regulate
the breath. Instead one observes natural respiration as it is,
as it comes in, as it goes out. In this way one further calms
the mind so that it is no longer overpowered by violent negativities.
At the same time, one is concentrating the mind, making it sharp
and penetrating, capable of the work of insight.
These first two steps of living a moral life and controlling
the mind are very necessary and beneficial in themselves; but
they will lead to self-repression, unless one takes the third
step - purifying the mind of defilements by developing insight
into one's own nature. This is Vipassana: experiencing one's own
reality, by the systematic and dispassionate observation of the
ever-changing mind-matter phenomenon manifesting itself as sensation
within oneself. This is the culmination of the teaching of the
Buddha: self-purification by self-observation.
This can be practiced by one and all. Everyone faces the problem
of suffering. it is a universal disease which requires a universal
remedy--not a sectarian one. When one suffers from anger, it is
not a Buddhist anger, Hindu anger, or Christian anger. Anger is
anger. When one become agitated as a result of this anger, this
agitation is not Christian, or Hindu, or Buddhist. The malady
is universal. The remedy must also be universal.
Vipassana is such a remedy. No one will object to a code of living
which respects the peace and harmony of others. No one will object
to developing control over the mind. No one will object to developing
insight into one's own reality, by which it is possible to free
the mind of negativities. Vipassana is a universal path.
Observing reality as it is by observing the truth inside--this
is knowing oneself at the actual, experiential level. As one practices,
one keeps coming out of the misery of defilements. From the gross,
external, apparent truth, one penetrates to the ultimate truth
of mind and matter. Then one transcends that, and experiences
a truth which is beyond mind and matter, beyond time and space,
beyond the conditioned field of relativity: the truth of total
liberation from all defilements, all impurities, all suffering.
Whatever name one gives this ultimate truth, is irrelevant; it
is the final goal of everyone.
May you all experience this ultimate truth. May all people come
out of their defilements, their misery. May they enjoy real happiness,
real peace, real harmony.
MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY
The above text is based upon a talk given by Mr.
S.N. Goenka in Berne, Switzerland.
What is Vipassana?
Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one
of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered
by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him
as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art Of Living.
This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of
mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full
liberation. Healing, not merely the curing of diseases, but the
essential healing of human suffering, is its purpose.
Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation.
It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body,
which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to
the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that
continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind.
It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the
common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting
in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.
The scientific laws that operate one's thoughts, feelings, judgements
and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature
of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees
oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized
by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.
Since the time of Buddha, Vipassana has been handed down, to the
present day, by an unbroken chain of teachers. Although Indian
by descent, the current teacher in this chain, Mr. S.N. Goenka,
was born and raised in Burma (Myanmar). While living there he
had the good fortune to learn Vipassana from his teacher, Sayagyi
U Ba Khin who was at the time a high Government official. After
receiving training from his teacher for fourteen years, Mr. Goenka
settled in India and began teaching Vipassana in 1969. Since then
he has taught tens of thousands of people of all races and all
religions in both the East and West. In 1982 he began to appoint
assistant teachers to help him meet the growing demand for Vipassana
The technique is taught at ten-day residential courses during
which participants follow a prescribed Code
of Discipline, learn the basics of the method, and
practice sufficiently to experience its beneficial results.
The course requires hard, serious work. There are three steps
to the training. The first step is, for the period of the course,
to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely,
and intoxicants. This simple code of moral conduct serves to calm
the mind, which otherwise would be too agitated to perform the
task of self-observation.
The next step is to develop some mastery over the mind by learning
to fix one's attention on the natural reality of the ever changing
flow of breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.
By the fourth day the mind is calmer and more focused, better
able to undertake the practice of Vipassana itself: observing
sensations throughout the body, understanding their nature, and
developing equanimity by learning not to react to them.
Finally, on the last full day participants learn the meditation
of loving kindness or goodwill towards all, in which the purity
developed during the course is shared with all beings.
The entire practice is actually a mental training. Just as we
use physical exercises to improve our bodily health, Vipassana
can be used to develop a healthy mind.
Because it has been found to be genuinely helpful, great emphasis
it put on preserving the technique in its original, authentic
form. It is not taught commercially, but instead is offered freely.
No person involved in its teaching receives any material remuneration.
There are no charges for the courses - not even to cover the
cost of food and accommodation. All expenses are met by donations
from people who, having completed a course and experienced the
benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the opportunity to
benefit from it also.
Of course, the results come gradually through continued practice.
It is unrealistic to expect all problems to be solved in ten days.
Within that time, however, the essentials of Vipassana can be
learned so that it can be applied in daily life. The more the
technique is practiced, the greater the freedom from misery, and
the closer the approach to the ultimate goal of full liberation.
Even ten days can provide results which are vivid and obviously
beneficial in everyday life.
All sincere people are welcome to join a Vipassana course to
see for themselves how the technique works and to measure the
benefits. Vipassana Courses are even being conducted in prisons, with great sucess and wonderful
benefits for the inmates who participate. All those who try it
will find Vipassana to be an invaluable tool with which to achieve
and share real happiness with others.
In mid October, after Congress voted the
unelected American President extensive war powers to inflict the
nightmare of modern technology on Iraq, a dream taught me that
spirits are real. A woman's face appeared above me, her features
perfect, her polished skin the color of olive wood, her face serene.
You are a peacemaker," she said. "Yes." I answered,
"but I don't know how to do it. Will you guide me?"
I needed more than the theory and techniques of peacemaking; I
needed hands-on direction.
This month, I have been grieved by the
amount of mail that I have received that has chronicled arguments
between people and organizations who have fallen into bitter disagreement
about one issue or another though sharing at least one passionate
point of affiliation on behalf of peacemaking and/or the environment.
these letters, I thought back to the dream and wondered how a
peacemaker might respond?
If we are going to save anything, we must
give up our insistence that we are the righteous and good ones,
must relinquish our reflexive intention to gain, win, protect
or impose our own position and truth. We must give up our reflexive
defensiveness and its inevitable hostilities. We cannot continue
to favor our own survival, safety and self-preservation over the
survival of all. We cannot. We must not. This is the time for
constant and repeated self-scrutiny in order to see where we are
inadvertently contributing to the hostilities, and so losing sight
of the essential places where we are in agreement and are inter-dependent.
I am speaking now about our behavior as
individuals as well as our behavior as a nation. Not, "I
want" or "I believe," but "How do we work
this out?" We will be more successful when we begin to think
consistently and reflexively in terms of mutuality, alliance and
A respected friend said, "The bottom
line is the earth, the preservation of the natural world."
She could have easily said, "The bottom line is peace for
everyone and all beings and what contributes to it." The
power of alliance will come to us when we can agree on these bottom
lines while very honestly recognizing that each of us
has been given a different but effective vision of how to accomplish
them. This is not the chaos described by the legend of the tower
of Babel. This is the visionary wisdom of ecological models. In
order for an ecosystem [and a human system] to survive and function
extraordinary diversity is required. Vitality depends on each
eco-niche combining with all other diverse eco-niches to form
the single piece of music we might call the natural world.
My colleague, Valerie Wolf, a dreamer in
the Nez Perce tradition has also dreamed the advent of peacemaking
spirits, as have others we know. What distinguishes these dreams
is that they do not announce the appearance of a messiah, but
offer individuals the role and responsibility of peacemaking.
Her dreams have led us to study the tradition
of White Buffalo Woman, who brought the Sacred (Peace) Pipe and
its practices to the Sioux. The Pipe ceremony enjoins us to pray
for others, to be at peace with all things and within ourselves.
The ceremony of the Pipe initiates one into peaceableness.
The question behind peacemaking is: How
be consistently peaceable within oneself and with others? As a
nation, we have a mistaken idea that peace can be achieved through
the diplomatic efforts of intrinsically argumentative, belligerent
people. We strategize peace without living it. We thrive on debate
and conflict. We honor competition and winners. We define others
as losers. Some of these ways are seemingly innocent but their
far-reaching consequences are grave.
The cliché regarding American's
fascination with violence obscures its horrific reality. Violence
is imprinted on each of our interactions. The media is saturated
with it. Our economic, political and military policies systematically
undermine all indigenous and wisdom traditions devastating peacemaking
traditions everywhere. Despite our spurious rationales, we have
made our lives, and lives all over the world, grotesqueries. We
are responsible. That a nation, even the United States, 'legally'
declares war or insists on the righteousness of extreme 'defense'
policies does not justify anyone's participation in such hostilities.
International law, as established in the Nuremberg Trials after
World War II, asserted the primacy of individual responsibility.
As a child, I was taught that the Messiah
would come when everyone was ready, that is at peace and living
an ethical life. Being peaceable, a most difficult spiritual practice
and way of life, is more difficult and demanding than warfare.
Among other qualities, peaceableness accepts diversity. We need
to awaken our hearts to other ways of seeing and being.
There is still time to change the trajectory,
but no Messiah will save us though peacemaking spirits or peacemaking
intelligence will probably appear to guide whomever volunteers
his or her life. To have peace, we must have peaceable cultures
and hearts first; to achieve these is a challenging inner adventure.
Cultures develop from the integrity of
the innumerable lived details that underlie what is believed,
taught, enacted, from the art created and the ways all beings
are treated. At this time in human history, each individual's
original, daily, on-going contributions and commitment are critical.
As I was about to post this, I focused
again on the heartbreaking divisiveness in our communities and
realized that such behaviors occur when people are terrified,
exhausted and hopeless or when they are traumatized. We are all
being driven mad by the tension of the war mongering, the incitement
and exaggeration of terrorism, the
valorization of torture and destruction, the horrific possibility
that the US might make pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons, the
horror of the erosion and destruction of our democracy, and what
all of this might mean for each of us, our families and the people
and beings in the rest of the world. So, in addition to everything
we must do, let
us be very kind to each other and forgiving and understanding
of each other's fears. Let us awaken our hearts to other ways
of seeing and being.
If we ground ourselves in the future, rather
than in history, decidedly imagining a vital future that includes
the natural world and all of us, the task becomes easier. We see
the future in our mind's heart and we take the small next step
that will enable us to get there together. This is the activity
of radical hope.
Peace and Blessings,
[An expanded version of "Where
Peace Begins, Local Activists Speak
Out," The Whole Life Times, Issue 248, December 2002.
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