Vipassanā – Buddhist Meditation

Vipassanā is an essential part of Buddhist meditation. One cannot meditate properly unless one knows/understands (jānato/passto) “what to meditate on.” Buddhist meditation is certainly not “breath meditation.” 

 Mundane Breath Meditation

1. I asked Grok (Musk’s AI), “How to meditate?” The answer below is almost identical to those by other AIs or a Google Search. 

“To start meditating, follow these simple steps:
  1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. This could be a room in your home, a park, or even a quiet corner in your office.
  2. Sit in a comfortable position. You can sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground, or cross-legged on the floor. Make sure your back is straight, but not stiff. You can also lie down if sitting is uncomfortable for you.
  3. Set a timer for the duration of your meditation. Start with a short time, like 5 or 10 minutes, and gradually increase the duration as you become more comfortable with the practice.
  4. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Don’t try to control your breathing, just observe it. Feel the air moving in and out of your nostrils or the rise and fall of your chest.
  5. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your breath. This is normal and happens to everyone. Don’t get frustrated or judge yourself for it. Just return your focus to your breath and continue.
  6. When the timer goes off, slowly open your eyes and take a moment to re-orient yourself. You can do this by noticing your surroundings, feeling your body in the space, and taking a few deep breaths.”
Buddhist Meditation

2. That type of “meditation” was done even before the Buddha. Even some bhikkhus practiced it while the Buddha was alive. Once, the Buddha admonished a bhikkhu named Sandha not to meditate like a lazy mule (assa khaḷuṅka) but like a horse trained for battle (assa ājānīya.) See “Sandha Sutta (AN 11.9).” We discussed it in the previous post, “Jānato Passato” and Ājāniya – Critical Words to Remember.”

  • In the days of the Buddha, part of a good army was a battalion of well-trained horses (called assājānīya = assa ājānīya, where “assa” refers to a horse and “ājānīya” refers to “excellent quality”). Such horses don’t crave food but are always ready to learn and practice. Of course, here, the word “ājānīya” is used in a mundane sense to describe a horse with superior training.
  • A mule (assakhaḷuṅka – assa khaḷuṅka) is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. It looks like a horse but is of inferior quality and never can be trained for battle; here, “khaḷuṅka” refers to “inferior quality,” and thus an “assa khaḷuṅka” is an “inferior horse.” It wants to eat well and sleep all day. 

3. As we discussed in “Jānato Passato” and Ājāniya – Critical Words to Remember,” those who practice breath meditation are of “inferior quality” (purisa khaḷuṅkawhere “purisa” refers to a “person.”) That is because their efforts are “easy and superficial” (how hard is it to focus on the breath?) and may provide a “temporary relief” but do not lead to “end suffering.”

  • On the other hand, Buddhist meditation requires a deep understanding of Buddha’s teachings and will lead to the permanent ending of all suffering.
  • Most effort in Buddhist meditation is to acquire that deep understanding of the nature of this world.
  • Those who cultivate that deeper understanding (with “insight mediation” or Vipassanā) are Noble Persons (Ariyas) or purisa ājāniyo.
  • It is a good idea to read that post to refresh your memory.
“What to Meditate On” Must Come First

4. Focusing one’s attention on breath does help to calm the mind because it forces the “wandering mind” to stay away from greedy, hateful, or ignorant thoughts. That provides “temporary relief.” Furthermore, if you go to a mundane meditation retreat (like a Goenka program) and spend several days doing that, that “peaceful mindset” seems stable. Yet, after coming back, it wears away. Then, they feel the urge to go to another retreat and get that experience back. 

  • However, Buddhist meditation (Ānāpānasati/Satipaṭṭhāna, the correct versions) involves “insight mediation” or Vipassanā and focuses on “purifying the mind.”
  • That happens in two stages:
    (i) One must first learn the worldview of the Buddha, the true nature of this world with 31 realms of existence, and a rebirth process where one is reborn among those realms. At the end of this process, one becomes a Sotapanna by removing wrong views (sakkāya diṭṭhi, vicikicchā, silabbata parāmāsa) about the world. We could also say a Sotapanna has removed diṭṭhi anusaya, diṭṭhi samyojana, or diṭṭhi vipallāsa; they all state the same. Each way of describing involves different approaches. The result is the same, i.e., getting rid of wrong views. In this series, we will focus on the vipallāsa aspect. Vipallāsa means “distortion,” and thus, “diṭṭhi vipallāsa” means “distorted views.”
    (ii) Once the “distorted views” are eliminated, the next step is to eliminate the “distorted saññā” or saññā vipallāsa.” I have already done the analysis here: “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).”  In this series of posts, I will try to explain how this “distorted saññāis built into our physical bodies via Paṭicca Samuppāda. Most of our cravings arise via saññā vipallāsa.The Buddha directly called saññā a mirage in the “Pheṇapiṇḍūpama Sutta (SN 22.95),” and we discussed that in the post, “Sotapanna Stage and Distorted/Defiled Saññā” and “Fooled by Distorted Saññā (Sañjānāti) – Origin of Attachment (Taṇhā).” This realization has helped me immensely in getting rid of kāma rāga.
Removal of “Diṭṭhi Vipallāsa” Comes First

5. Removing “diṭṭhi vipallāsa” involves one aspect of Paṭicca Samuppāda. This involves grasping the Buddha’s fundamental worldview, which involves existence in 31 realms and a rebirth process based on Paṭicca Samuppāda

Then, one would realize that the two dominant worldviews humans have are incorrect:
(i) One with uccheda diṭṭhi believes that there is no rebirth, and with the death of the physical body, nothing remains or continues.
(ii) The other extreme is to have “sassata diṭṭhi, “i.e., to believe that there is a “permanent soul/ātma” associated with a person. 

  • Those are the only two views about existence that anyone can come up with without a Buddha pointing out a “previously unknown explanation.”
  • The Buddha rejected both those extreme views. A “person” exists as long as that “lifestream” is sustained via Paṭicca Samuppāda (i.e., until the root causes of greed, hate, and ignorance exist in mind.) Conditions brought about by sensory inputs trigger those root causes.

6. At the Sotapanna stage, one can see that there is no “unchanging self” (a soul in Christianity/or “ātma” in Hinduism). Our experiences arise based on root causes (and conditions for triggering them). 

  • Removal of “diṭṭhi vipallāsa” leads to the automatic stopping of the mind from engaging in “extreme immoral deeds” or “pāpa kamma” (stronger versions of akusala kamma that can lead to rebirths in the apāyās.) Thus, a Sotapanna will never be reborn in an apāya. Thus, we could say that rebirths in the apāyās (the four lowest realms, including the animal realm) are due to “diṭṭhi vipallāsa.
  • Paṭicca Samuppāda explains how various rebirths among the 31 realms originate from kammic energies produced via various kinds of akusala kamma. See “Paṭicca Samuppāda Cycles.”
  • The next step is to stop rebirths in the higher realms of “kāma loka” (the human realm and the six Deva realms.) 
Removal of “Saññā Vipallāsa” Comes Next

7. Rebirths in “kāma loka” can be stopped only by losing cravings for sensual pleasures or “kāma assāda.”

  • Why do we ever want to remove “sensual pleasures”? Most people have a hard time understanding that. The quick answer is: “Until craving for sensual pleasures is removed, it is impossible to stop suffering too.” Pleasure and pain are like two sides of a coin; one cannot be removed without removing the other. Furthermore, a coin has a certain thickness; the faces cannot be there without some thickness. That “depth of the coin” can be compared to ignorance (avijjā.) Removal of the two faces of the coin requires making the depth zero, i.e., removal of the whole coin. In the same way, pleasure and pain are “bound together” by avijjā and can be removed only by removing avijjā from a mind. Also, see “Is It Necessary for a Buddhist to Eliminate Sensual Desires?
  • When the root causes (greed, hate, and ignorance) disappear, no external sensory input, under no circumstance, can trigger generating attachment/repulsion to that sensory input. The key is the following: When one understands this at the Paṭicca Samuppāda level, ignorance disappears, and that will make greed and hate disappear, too.
  • It is impossible to stop greed/hate from arising without eliminating ignorance (avijjā) by comprehending Paṭicca Samuppāda. That happens in stages, and avijjā is entirely dispelled at the Arahant stage.
Origin of “Saññā Vipallāsa” Is Also Explained by Paṭicca Samuppāda

8. How does avijjā lead to cravings? That is the second aspect of the “puzzle of existence” explained by Paṭicca Samuppāda.

  • Removal of cravings for sensual pleasures can, in rare cases, come with the removal of “diṭṭhi vipallāsa.” In fact, for those born with a “higher level of wisdom” (ugghaṭitaññū) like Ven. Bāhiya Dārucīriya, that is possible and even may not require much effort. The Buddha described four types of people in the short “Ugghaṭitaññū Sutta (AN 4.133).” They are ugghaṭitaññū (one who understands immediately), vipañcitaññū (one who understands with brief explanation), neyyo (one who understands with detailed explanation), and padaparamo (one who will not fully understand.)
  • Most people born today fall into the last two categories. Craving for sensual pleasures is hard to be removed by forceful restraining (i.e., willpower), and it could lead to the agitation of the mind (patigha). It would be easier to remove cravings if one can understand that cravings arise due to a mirage (“distorted saññā), as the Buddha pointed out in the Pheṇapiṇḍūpama Sutta (SN 22.95)” among others: “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).”

9. I realized that explanation last year. This has not been explicitly described by anyone in the present day. However, many Noble Persons of the present day (including Waharaka Thero) would have understood it, even without realizing/describing it explicitly (i.e., that “distorted saññā” is built into our physical bodies via Paṭicca Samuppāda.) I am certain any such person would agree with this analysis. In any case, I would appreciate all comments (in the forum or via email to [email protected]), whether in agreement or disagreement. In the latter case, please provide evidence from the Tipiṭaka that contradicts my analysis. I have already done an analysis without explaining how our physical bodies (with “distorted saññā” built-in) arise via Paṭicca Samuppāda: “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).” 

  • The rise of “distorted saññā” can be explained by Paṭicca Samuppāda. Each rebirth occurs with “distorted saññā” built-in by kammic energy!
  • Each realm has a different “distorted saññā” according to Paṭicca Samuppāda. That is why our minds generate the “sweetness of sugar” (and we like that taste), but a pig would not get that saññā. A pig feels a “built-in saññā of a good taste” for rotten food!
  • An Arahant also gets the “distorted saññā” because it is “built-in” to human birth. But Arahant’s mind will not be “fooled by it.” See, for example, “Fooled by Distorted Saññā (Sañjānāti) – Origin of Attachment (Taṇhā).”
  • In this new series, I will try to explain how that“distorted saññā” gets built into our physical bodies via Paṭicca Samuppāda. If one is unaware of that analysis, it is hard to believe that the “sweetness of sugar” or the “beauty of a woman” is a mirage, even though the Buddha explicitly taught that.
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