Practicing Insight on your own



The Practice


The practice of vipassanā-kammatthāna is the development of the four satipatthāna (foundations of mindfulness).



The four satipatthāna comprise the objects that are the four foundations of mindfulness, this means, kāya vedanā, citta and dhamma (body, feeling, mind and mental objects), the foundations or objects of mindfulness are right here in ourselves.


I would like you to comprehend the field of the objects or foundations of sati so as to make it easy to practise them. Concerning human beings and sentient beings in general the Supreme Teacher preached that the true state of existence of all beings is the five khandhā (groups). That means, we have five separate aspects of nature combining and merging into conglomerate shapes and appearances for which we provide names and say: It is a human being, it is an animal, a woman, a man... Here are the five khandhā (groups) in detail:


1. Rūpa-kkhandha comprises the four mahā-bhūta-rūpa (great elements, viz. element of extension or earth, element of cohesion or water, element of temperature or fire, element of motion or air) and also the derived matter (material phenomena other than the mahā-bhūta).

2. Vedanā-kkhandha has the function to experience objects as pleasant, painful and neither-pleasant-nor-painful.

3. Sa˝˝ā-kkhandha (perception) has the function to remember the objects; to remember sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and the mental objects.

4. Sankhāra-kkhandha is the cetasika (mental factors or qualities) arising together with mind. The wholesome group (kusala) makes the mind meritorious, good; the unwholesome group (akusala) makes the mind demeritorious, bad; the exalted group (avyākata) makes the mind firm and unattached. These three groups of cetasika are mental action. If they are strong they can produce bodily acts or speech.

5. Vi˝˝āna-kkhandha (consciousness) has the function to receive and be aware of the objects of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind, and it also operates as re-linking consciousness in the process of rebirth (patisandhi).



In practice the five khandhā are summarized to only two categories, rūpa and nāma. Rūpa-kkhandha is rūpa (form, material events). Vedanā-, sa˝˝ā-, sankhāra-, and vi˝˝āna-kkhandha are the four groups called nāma (name, mental events).


It is emphasized for better understanding that the objects of vipassanā in brief are only of two categories, rūpa and nāma.


As regards the nature that has the function to be aware of those objects, it is the mind arising together with effort, clear comprehension, concentration, and mindfulness (viriya, sampaja˝˝a, samādhi, and sati).


Concisely speaking, all natural phenomena come to one place which is sati; that means to apply sati for the purpose of knowing the present moment or noting the present object. Sati has been compared with the footprint of an elephant. The footprints of small animals are bound to be covered by the elephant's footprint. If sati does not arise in the present, kusala-dhamma (wholesome forces) will also not occur. When sati arises it implies that only kusala-dhamma will arise together with it. Therefore, the Supreme Teacher urged the development of the four satipatthāna.


When the meditator understands what the objects are and who is the one that knows the objects, then he can begin the practice by fixing mindfulness on the four bodily postures of walking, standing, sitting, and reclining.


The sitting posture of kammatthāna is sitting cross-legged with upright body, the right leg above the left and the right hand on top of the left. Establish mindfulness to note the object to be contemplated. Then contemplate body in the body. The main object to be noted is the Rising and Falling of the abdomen. When the abdomen rises note 'Rising', when the abdomen falls note 'Falling'. Then keep following continuously: 'Rising' - 'Falling' - 'Rising' -'Falling' . . . .


Q: How should one establish mindfulness correctly?

A: The meditator should make his mind comfortable, free from worries, not too serious or too eager. For the arising phenomena are sure to fall away again. It is the characteristic of Nature that everything that arises naturally is bound to fall away naturally.


The meditator should only fix mindfulness on the object just in front of him and see it as it really is, arising and falling away. One should not cling to any object whatsoever but keep the mind central or still. This is called the practice of the Middle Way, not to cling to good objects or to bad objects, not to cling to objects that give rise to a happy feeling or an unhappy feeling. If mindfulness is established in this way so as to be aware of the present object as it really is and then letting it go, this is the right way of establishing mindfulness.


Q: How much time should we devote to the establishment of mindfulness in practice?

A: This depends on the ability of the person. If it is a child at the age of 7 to 10 years, it should practise only for 10 minutes; from 10 to 15 years of age 20 minutes; beginners from 15 years onwards, or healthy grown-ups, should practise 30 minutes.

When the practitioner has developed effort, mindfulness, and concentration (viriya, sati, samādhi), the time should be increased little by little. It should not be increased too quickly. From 30 one should increase to 40, from 40 to 50, and then to 60 minutes. New meditators should not sit more than one hour. They should have understanding in the matter of balancing the mental faculties before sitting longer than one hour.


Q: Sometimes the mind is not calm, there is thinking and pondering fanciful so that one gets annoyed. What should one do in this case? "

A: When thinking, just note mindful: 'thinking, thinking'. When reflecting, make a note as 'reflecting, reflecting'; when the mind is wandering, note it: 'wandering, wandering'; when the mind is annoyed note 'annoyed, annoyed' . . .


When thinking, reflecting, wandering about or annoyance arises, one must note it immediately, and if mindfulness is strong then after noting only once those objects will disappear. If mindfulness is feeble, one should note two or three times or note until those objects disappear. Then bring mindfulness back to note the 'Rising' and 'Falling' again.


Q: Sometimes the mind is irritated, worried, discouraged, bored, lazy, drowsy. How should one handle or contemplate this?

A: Make a note of the mental object which appears in the mind: 'irritated, irritated'..., 'worried..', 'discouraged..', 'bored..', 'lazy..', 'drowsy..', 'dozing..'. When those objects disappear bring mindfulness back to note the 'Rising' and 'Falling' again.


Q: How should one make a note of external objects when they arise?

A: If the object arises through the eye, make a mental note: 'seeing, seeing'; if sound occurs note 'hearing, hearing'; if smell arises note 'smelling..'; if taste arises note 'tasting..'. When the touch of coolness, heat, softness, hardness occurs by way of the body, make a mental note 'cool, cool', 'hot, hot', 'soft..', 'hard..'. When an object appears in the mind, make a note 'seeing, seeing' or 'knowing..', 'thinking..', etc. as the case may be.


Q: When sitting for a long time, feelings of pain and aches in the knees, in the legs, and in the back may appear. How is one to make a note of this?

A: Be mindful of the feeling of aching right there and note it: 'aching, aching..'. If you feel pain make a mental note 'painful, painful'. If there is numbness, note 'numb, -numb'. When that feeling disappears go back and continue to note the 'Rising' and 'Falling' of the abdomen.


Q: If the feeling, after noting it, does not disappear, what should one do then?

A: In contemplating dukkha-vedanā (bodily painful feeling) such as aches, pain, weariness, numbness, when samādhi (concentration) is good, you will be able to acknowledge well and easily that there is a feeling of aching, pain, weariness or numbness, and you can see the arising and vanishing of vedanā distinctly or, when you keep noting it continuously, it may disappear by itself. But if one notes for some time and the feeling does not disappear, this is because the painful feeling is very powerful. Or sometimes rūpa-nāma demonstrates the mark of dukkha (suffering), so that pa˝˝ā (wisdom) can realize the three characteristics anicca, dukkha, anattā. In such a case the feeling of pain is stronger than usual. If one cannot bear it, then one should move the body or change position in order to relieve the pain. But don't forget to note mindful the desire to change as 'desire to change...'. When moving the legs note 'moving, moving', when lifting the legs note 'lifting, lifting', when putting down the leg 'putting, putting'.

When the painful feelings have vanished, go back to the usual 'Rising -Falling' of the abdomen.


Q: In noting painful feeling does one have to note until that feeling disappears, or can one note different objects instead?

A: There are two kinds of bodily painful feeling (dukkha-vedanā). One type is forceful, compelling pain. This must be rectified. Then there is bodily pain that is not compelling. We should be aware of the compelling dukkha, for instance the urge to empty the bowels or to pass urine. This is dukkha that cannot be suppressed. It is impossible to make it disappear by noting. Sometimes a violent pain arises in the body; the meditator simply makes a mental note of it, but that pain increases more and more. If the meditator is already experienced in looking at dukkha-vedanā, then he can bear it. But in the case of new meditators, they cannot bear it. A sense of weariness will arise. They should note the changing of posture and all bodily movements with mindfulness at every moment.


Dukkha-vedanā that is not compelling is only minor dukkha, arising and vanishing. If it is not violent, it is unnecessary to change. Just apply mindfulness and note what is really there: Dukkha-vedanā having the nature of arising and vanishing; even the phenomenon of pain is not permanent, it does not last, it is anicca, dukkha, anattā (impermanent, oppressive, insubstantial) just as material phenomena. It is the same with other mental phenomena (nāma).


Q: Does dukkha-vedanā still appear even if one has meditated for a long time? What is the cause of dukkha-vedanā?

A: This depends on the practice. If the meditator can note the object continuously for a long time, samādhi will be developed to a great extent; then pīti (rapture) and sukha (happiness, bliss) will arise in the mind. He will feel happy and satisfied. This is sukha-vedanā. If under such circumstances dukkha-vedanā in the body arises, it will not be recognized as pain or ache, because the mental sukha-vedanā preponderates. He will be able to continue contemplation until the time fixed for sitting is over. Only when noting is abandoned will he realize that there is pain and ache in the body. With some meditators dukkha-vedanā may occur violently, such as pain in the back or another part of the body. This could very well be dukkha-vedanā originating from kamma, since the meditator explains that in the past he used to hit snakes on the back, or beat dogs and cats or creeping animals. So it is a fruit of kamma and we should endure the ripening of that kamma.


Standing - Walking Meditation



Q: How should one walk for walking meditation?

A: In Mahā Satipatthāna Sutta it is stated that when walking one should know; that is walking. When standing one should know; that is standing. It is not stated how many parts a step has. But the commentator divided the steps in walking meditation into six parts:


1. Right step - left step.

2. Lifting the foot - placing the foot.

3. Lifting the foot - moving forward - placing the foot.

4. Lifting the heel - raising the foot - moving forward - placing the foot.

5. Lifting the heel - raising the foot - moving forward - lowering the foot - placing the foot.

6. Lifting the heel - raising the foot - moving forward - lowering the foot - touching the floor - placing the foot.


For standing meditation one should stand upright. Hold the left hand with the right either behind or in front of the body, whichever is more convenient. Make a mental note of the standing body: 'standing, standing...' about three times. Then start walking with the initial step no. 1 and note 'right step, left step, right step, left step..'. Keep your eyes looking straight in front of you at a distance of about 5 - 6 meters. Establish mindfulness to be aware of the movement of the foot. The word 'right' means, the right foot moves forward; that is the motion of the foot whilst moving, while it is being brought to the front. When walking meditation is done slowly one should make a mental note as - 'right goes thus, left goes thus...'. The word 'thus' should coincide with the moment the sole of the foot touches the ground. When walking rather quick, it should be noted as ,right step, left step..'. Walking quickly is acknowledged as 'right, left, right, left'.

When you reach the end of the walking path you will have to turn around, Note this as 'turning, turning' while the body turns either to the right or to the left. The right heel will move degree by degree; this should be noted: 'turning, turning'. When you are facing the path again, make a note of the standing posture: 'standing, standing'. When you start walking make mental notes, 'right goes thus, left goes thus....'


Q: How long should the walking meditation be practised? How many minutes each time?

A: A new meditator should walk and sit for equal times in any period. This means, when he sits for 30 minutes he should walk for 30 minutes; if he sits 20 minutes, walking should also be done for only 20 minutes; when sitting 10 minutes, walking also 10 minutes. This depends on the ability of the meditator, whether it is a child, a grown-up or an old person. In general, the longer period of time you can walk the better. It increases energy (viriya). The meditators who have a wandering, discursive mind should practise walking equal in time to the sitting or a little bit less in order to increase samādhi so that the mind becomes more calm.


Q: What is the method for the further stages of the practice?

A: According to the procedure of practice it is necessary to have a vipassanā teacher (meditation teacher) to give advice on the correct way of practice. He must know about the phenomena that the meditator experiences, by making daily inquiries, and help to solve any problems. He should guide the practitioner to right understanding so that the practice progresses and obstacles can be overcome. The meditation teacher should raise the standard of the practice by changing the steps of the walking meditation successively.

The Second Step


In the sitting posture, if the 'Rising - Falling' is slow, one should make mental notes of the sitting posture in addition: 'Rising - Falling -sitting...' etc.


Q: How does one contemplate the sitting posture?

A: When sitting one should be aware that one is sitting. That means, at the moment of sitting there is the shape of the sitting posture. Note this sitting form: 'sitting, sitting'.


Q: How is one to note walking meditation according to the second step?

A: Walking with the second step is noted as 'lifting the foot - placing the foot...' or 'lifting, placing, lifting, placing..'. The 'lifting' in this step means to raise the foot about 15 cm from the ground, whereas 'placing the foot' is when the sole of the foot touches the ground. The foot must be put down close to the toes of the other one. For example: Lift the right foot first; when the sole is put down, the heel of the right foot will be a little distance ahead of the toes of the left foot which still remains flat on the ground. When the left foot is moved together with the mental note 'lifting, placing, then the heel of the left foot will be placed just past the toes of the right foot.


Q: When noting the sitting and the walking of the second step with ease, what should be noted next?

A: Go on to the third step. For the sitting the next step is noting the body-touch. In noting 'touching', one should note the spot where the right side of the buttocks touches the ground. The spot to be noted is a circle the size of a small coin. Note 'Rising-Falling- sitting-touching..'. The main object of contemplation is the Rising-Falling. If Rising-Falling becomes quick so that you cannot note four steps, leave out the 'touching', just note 'Rising, falling, sitting'. If Rising-Falling is so quick that sitting cannot be noted, leave out the 'sitting', only note 'Rising, Falling'. Rising-Falling is the main object, which must be noted continuously. In case that the Rising - Falling is too subtle, unclear, or too quick, then note as 'knowing, knowing' until the Rising - Falling becomes clear again. Then continue to note as 'Rising-Falling'.


The addition for walking in the third step is 'lifting the foot - moving forward - placing the foot'. When walking, lift the foot about 15 cm above the ground. ',Moving forward' means the foot moves forward about 20 cm. When 'placing the foot' the entire sole of the foot should be on the floor.


Q: Please explain the 4th, 5th and 6th steps so that I know how to practise them.

A: The fourth step is noted as 'lifting the heel - rising the foot -moving forward - placing the foot'. The word 'lifting' means that only the heel is lifted, while the ball of the foot still remains on the ground.


The fifth step: Note 'lifting the heel - raising the foot - moving forward - lowering the foot - placing the foot': The noting of lifting, raising, moving are like those of the fourth step. As for 'lowering' one should note while the foot is being lowered until it reaches a distance of about 5 cm from the ground. After that make a mental note when touching the floor as 'placing..'.


The sixth step: 'lifting the heel - raising the foot - moving forward -lowering the foot - touching the floor - placing the foot'. While walking with this step the noting of lifting, raising, moving, lowering is the same as with the fifth step. The mental note 'touching' means that the toes and the ball of the foot touch the ground, but the heel is still up. 'Placing' means pressing the heel down to the floor.


Q: Is the contemplation of the sitting, standing, and walking posture always done as already explained or is there any more difference?

A: There is only one stage in standing meditation, noted as 'standing, standing..'. But one may also note standing for a long time. Walking meditation has 6 stages as stated above.


Concerning the sitting posture there are more additional touching-spots. They should be used when the mind is indolent and drowsy. When noting the touching, refer to the left side of the buttocks also and note both sides, first the right, then the left: 'Rising-Falling-sitting- touching-touching'. When drowsiness and inactivity of the mind still remain, the noting should include the ankles. Add the right one first and, if that is not enough, note the left one also.


Noting the touching-spots should only be done when there is a space between the Falling and the next Rising. When the Rising occurs, it must be noted as 'Rising - Falling - sitting. . .'. If, however, Rising - Falling cannot be noted at all because it is unclear, one may note 'sitting, touching, sitting, touching...', etc., employing those touching spots in turn until the Rising -Falling becomes evident again.


Sometimes, if mindfulness is keen, it may have the power to clear away drowsiness and inactivity and make the mind more energetic.


Q: When it is time to sleep, how is one to contemplate the lying body?

A: Before lying down one should first note other postures such as 'standing, standing'. Note the moment of lowering the body also: 'lowering, lowering'. When the buttocks touch the bed or floor: 'touching, touching'; when sitting note 'sitting, sitting'; when bending the body so that it leans over to lie down note 'leaning, leaning'; when the back touches the ground note 'touching, touching'; when stretching the legs 'stretching, stretching'; when bending the knees 'bending, bending'; when moving the body 'moving, moving'; when arranging the posture 'arranging, arranging'; when supporting the body by pressing with the hand or arm on the floor 'pressing, pressing'. When you are in the lying position note 'lying, lying' until you fall asleep or, if the Rising-Falling of the abdomen is clear, make a note of it mindfully. In this posture you must contemplate in a relaxed way; don't note too strenuously; because then it is difficult to fall asleep.


In the opening phases of the meditation one must assiduously exercise the contemplation of the sitting, standing; walking, and reclining postures, noting continuously with mindfulness at every moment. In order to develop skilfulness one should never be absent-minded and have clear awareness of the presently existing rūpa-nāma at each and every moment.


This is the practice of insight meditation in the first phase, which has so far been explained in detail so that the characteristics may be known.

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