Practicing Insight on your own

The Direction-Seeing Crow (Disā Kāka)


In former times, when the captain of a big ship was preparing to sail across the deep ocean he would take along a crow in a cage on board ship, in those days, there were no compasses. To fix the course of a ship one had to use the sun, moon and stars as instruments of navigation when the ship had sailed far into the high seas and the shore was out of sight. Picture a heavy thunderstorm rumbling in the bowels of the arching sky, which is covered with clouds and rain, the sea rolling with stirring waves conjured up by the strong wind. There is then no instrument for finding out the directions, so the ship will lose course, the crew not knowing where it will go.


When the weather conditions are like this and the captain wants to determine the direction where the shore is, he will catch hold of the crow which is locked up in the cage and let it fly freely. When the crow is set free, it will at first fly up and perch on the end of the mast, the crow's-nest, in order to find out where the shore is. If it cannot make out the shore, it will fly up higher and higher so as to find the direction. But if it still cannot discover the shore, it will return and perch on the mast-end again. Later the crow will gather its strength in order to fly even higher. If it still cannot find the direction, it will return again and again. But as soon as the crow has discovered the shore, it will immediately fly towards it.


In the same way, the weak sankhārupekkhā-˝āna is like the direction-finding crow. When one has put forth effort in contemplation until reaching sankhārupekkhā-˝āna but the strength is weak and not sufficient for vutthāna-gāminī vipassanā-˝āna, then the knowledge will go back and forth repeatedly between mu˝citukamyatā-˝āna, patisankhā-˝āna, and the weak sankhārupekkhā-˝āna. The reason is that the strength handed over from udayabbaya-˝āna to sankhārupekkhā-˝āna is weak; samādhi will linger on, not being firm. Or, the meditator's rebirth-consciousness may be dvihetuka; or he may have some kamma that needs to be settled.


The main difficulty at this stage are the thoughts and moods belonging to the objects of cittānupassanā. Unreasonable worries, agitation and apprehension may cause loss of upekkhā. Therefore the meditators must take special care to note all the arising objects of the following categories:


1) Dukkha-vedanā, bodily pain, if there is any; they will find that even sharp stabbing pain, which may arise at some moments, vanishes when it is firmly notes.

2) Mental feeling, such as happiness, causes agitation if it is not contemplated; it must be noted resolutely to see the true nature of feeling. Sometimes one feels very detached and then starts worrying; this is because the meditator is not used to seeing neutral feeling so clearly. Any change in feelings must be immediately recognized and noted.

3) Thoughts may arise in the course of contemplation, judging what is going on or drawing conclusions; these are all mental objects arising and vanishing, they have no substance and don't help us to see reality. If you don't note them, you will think: 'It is I who thinks', and then you will get involved in these ideas and the subsequent moods, thus losing upekkhā and samādhi.


But if the meditator applies mindfulness diligently to all mental objects he will achieve a sound basis of upekkhā and understand that all thoughts arise from conditions and they are not important and have nothing to do with him. The mind will then cease to react to various thoughts and remain unaffected, simply contemplating the rise and fall of whatever occurs. Thus the 6 qualities of sankhārupekkhā-˝āna will be manifest.


When sankhārupekkhā-˝āna becomes strong, it reaches the summit of vipassanā-˝āna, called vutthāna-gāminī vipassanā (insight leading to emergence). At that time, one of the three characteristics of existence becomes the focus of contemplation, is noted repeatedly, and understood with unprecedented clarity. It means that only now one really understands how to escape and get rid of sankhāra (conditioned phenomena); one truly comprehends the way preached by the Lord Buddha, and the mind will go that way instantly without hesitation. This is the definite condition for the arising of the Path-process, which encompasses the remaining five ˝āna. When the Path-process follows, it is named after one of the three characteristics, because they serve as the focus of contemplation; thus:


1. When the mind contemplates impermanence, anicca, it acquires the idea of no-sign and consequently achieves the Signless Liberation (animitta vimutti).

2. When the mind contemplates oppression, dukkha, it acquires the idea of no - desire and consequently achieves the Wishless Liberation (appanihita vimutti).

3. When the mind contemplates insubstantiality, anattā, it acquires the idea of no - self and consequently achieves the Void Liberation (su˝˝atā vimutti).


Q: What are the characteristics of the 12th ˝āna?

A: Anuloma-˝āna (knowledge of adaptation) is the last act of noticing belonging to vutthāna-gāminī vipassanā and it arises in the magga-javana-citta-vīthi (mental impulsions in the consciousness-process of the Path). It is the fully developed access-concentration (upacāra-samādhi) with the rise and fall of the 5 rūpa-nāma-khandhā as its object.


The function of anuloma begins to develop when the meditator has reached the 6th purification or the strong udayabbaya-˝āna. That means: The true object of vipassanā is the three characteristics of the rise and fall of rūpa-nāma; yet in the beginning one does not know this object, and there is no other way than the practising of vipassanā or contemplating the present moment in order to realize it.


In the first three ˝āna the meditator investigates the reality that he experiences in the, aspects of arising, change, and vanishing of the rise and fall. This is the parikamma (preparatory sign) of vipassanā; it cannot be perceived through the five senses but only by wisdom arising from the contemplation of the present moment. To acquire this parikamma, a good portion of momentary concentration is necessary which is in strength equivalent to access-concentration in the, practice of samatha-kammatthāna.


From the 4th ˝āna onwards one enters the stages of vipassanā-˝āna and meditates in order to gain a clear comprehension of the three characteristics anicca, dukkha, anattā. One cannot go searching for the tilakkhana; but if one notes the presently existing rūpa-nāma perceiving the arising and vanishing, then the tilakkhana, which are the uggaha-nimitta (acquired sign) of vipassanā, will become more evident. It is the function of anuloma to concentrate on this uggaha-nimitta which is the nature of the 5 rūpa-nāma-kkhandha.


In every consciousness-process, that is in every act of noticing, there arises then: parikamma-upacāra-anuloma-patiloma (preparation, access, thrusting forward, receding again), because the strength of anuloma is not sufficient to yield or turn into absorption. In the development of patipadā-˝āna-dassana or vipassanā-˝āna, understanding and perception of the three characteristics gain power and thus anuloma becomes stronger. It is said, when the meditator has reached sankhārupekkhā-˝āna and makes an effort to contemplate persistently so as to increase and make much of sankhārupekkhā, then saddhā (confidence and faith) of the meditator will become intrepid, his energy will be supported well, sati becomes firmly established, the mind is very concentrated, and sankhārupekkhā becomes unshakable. Then sankhārupekkhā-˝āna of that meditator will become aware that the magga˝āna is about to arise now. Therefore it considers all sankhāra as either anicca or dukkha or anattā.

At that time, anuloma has gained the power to be the immediate condition for absorption and consequently it arises at the beginning of the Path-process, which then has: parikamma-upacāra-anuloma-gotrabhū, (preparation, access, adaptation, maturity). The first three consciousness-moments in the Path-process are collectively called anuloma-˝āna.


The process described here is the development of anuloma in the practice for pa˝˝ā-vimutti (deliverance by wisdom). It is quite a different procedure when practising for cetovimutti (deliverance by the heart).


If the meditator has previously developed samatha-kammatthāna and attained lokiya-jhāna (worldly absorption), the function of anuloma, that is to collect and sum up the concentration practised until its strength is sufficient to enter absorption, is already well-developed and powerful. Only that it has been trained in regard to worldly objects. If such practitioners switch over to vipassanā, the development is much more, rapid. They practise on the basis of jhāna, enter absorption and on coming out of it contemplate satipatthāna. They have citta-visuddhi from the outset, the nīvarana are well subdued, and they have no problem in developing the parikamma of vipassanā and reach the 4th ˝āna without being troubled by vipassanūpakkilesa because they are acquainted with different uggaha-nimitta and don't cling to the wrong objects. They can control the mind and keep it focused on the correct sign, the tilakkhana. Thus, they pass quickly through the vipassanā-˝āna, and anuloma soon builds up the required strength in focusing on the four Noble Truths to enter Supramundane absorption.

The Path-process in cetovimutti begins: upacāra-anuloma-gotrabhū, where upacāra is a single thought-moment of switching over to the object of vipassanā with the fully developed force of samādhi. Thus anuloma is very strong and the meditation leaps into extinction with such power that kilesa cannot stand it.


At the time of the Lord Buddha there were many hermits and monks with jhāna and psychic powers. As soon as they heard the method of vipassanā and understood it properly, they acquired the uggaha-nimitta and, by the strength of anuloma, progressed speedily. In the suttas are many accounts of such yogīs who heard the preaching of the Lord Buddha and became Arahats (Holy Ones) on the spot, fully fledged with supramundane powers. These accounts are true, they are not fairy-tales. But in our days ordinary people don't have this mental power; so the development takes more time. However pa˝˝ā-vimutti or cetovimutti, - when anuloma has gained the minimal required strength it will become anuloma-˝āna and initiate the Path-process. The result is identical; it is the complete relinquishment of fetters according to its level, thus achieving incomprehensible relief which can never again be reversed.


Anuloma-˝āna (knowledge of adaptation) knows according to the four Noble Truths. That means: It sums up the whole course of vipassanā and gathers the accumulated force of the contemplation done by the previous eight ˝āna which are otherwise called pubbabhāga-magga (precursory path). The objects of vipassanā are the rūpa-nāma-kkhandha, which are nothing but dukkha-sacca and samudaya-sacca. Since anuloma-˝āna is the adaptation to the previous eight ˝āna it is the absolutely correct contemplation according to dukkha-sacca and samudaya-sacca.

When the pubbabhāga-magga is developed, it means the 37 bodhipakkhiya-dammā (the Requisites of Enlightenment) are also developed, because they are the means and the application of the correct method in rūpa-nāma.


When the pubbabhāga-magga is concluded, then the bodhipakkhiya-dhammā, which are noting but magga-sacca, come together simultaneously and balanced. When magga-sacca is completed, nirodha-sacca (Cessation) will be realized; since anuloma-˝āna is the adaptation to the 37 bodhipakkhiya-dhammā it is the absolutely correct contemplation according to magga-sacca and nirodha-sacca.


If we were to express the characteristics of anuloma-˝āna in words, it contemplate like this:


Comprising this aspects of contemplating rūpa-nāma, anuloma-˝āna (knowledge of adaptation) is the final conclusion of vipassanā practice and the irrevocable refutation of all sankhāra. This is the condition for the 37 bodipakkhiya-dhammā to arise fully developed and unified; the mind is prepared and adjusted to enter Supramundane Absorption.


Q: What are the characteristics of the 13th ˝āna?

A: The 13th ˝āna is gotrabhū-˝āna (maturity knowledge). It is the knowledge that changes the lineage; this ˝āna also belongs to the magga-javana-citta-vīthi and it arises immediately in succession to anuloma-˝āna.


Anuloma-˝āna is the link between the course of practice followed and refined since udayabbaya-˝āna and the 37 bodhipakkhiya-dhammā which are the final results of the contemplation. Thus it links this life to the seeds of Enlightenment and then its duty is fulfilled. But gotrabhū has the function of bringing this seed to Nibbāna which is the utter Cessation of all sankhāra. Thus it links the beginningless past of samsāra to the stream of cessation which is Nibbāna.


Gotrabhū-˝āna changes from lokiya-citta (worldly mind) to lokuttara-citta (Supramundane mind). As regards the individual, it is the change from puthujjana (worldling) to ariya-puggala (Noble one). According to the natural principles, samādhi which in anuloma-˝āna has been upacāra-samādhi, will increase its strength in this ˝āna to be appanā-samādhi (fixed concentration). While anuloma-˝āna knows that rūpa-nāma must come to an end, yet it does not know what will happen after this end because it has the object of rūpa-nāma. When gotrabhū arises the object is Nibbāna, and gotrabhū realizes that, the destruction of rūpa-nāma does not mean annihilation of something existing or a blank nothingness. It realizes that the characteristic of Nibbāna is Peace.


Gotrabhū-˝āna can be compared with moving a foot across the threshold of a door. The other foot still remains outside the door but one foot is already past it. The Door of Nibbāna is just like that. Outside the Door of Nibbāna there are still rūpa and nāma as objects; when entering inside Nibbāna there is no rūpa-nāma but there is Nibbāna as object; Nibbāna is khandha-vimutti, deliverance from the 5 rūpa-nāma-kkhandha. So the 13th ˝āna, gotrabhū-˝āna, is like the Door of Nibbāna because when the magga-vīthi (Path-process) has arisen there is nothing in the way anymore.


Q: What are the characteristics of the 14th ˝āna?

A: The teaching about magga-javana-vīthi-citta (the Mind in the Thought-process of the Path) is pariyatti (comprehensible teaching); it is not the practice, because the practice is paccattam, the meditator as a matter of fact understands by himself and sees for himself. When gotrabhū-˝āna has arisen, the magga˝āna will follow in succession without interruption. Samādhi at that stage is appanā-samādhi (fixed concentration); it is appanā-vīthi (mental process of absorption). The mind is quenched and Nibbāna is the object.


The magga-citta is the Experience of the immutable, unconditioned Reality, which is unborn, it does not arise and cannot vanish, therefore it is Indestructible (amata). The magga˝āna cuts off and cools down kilesa, the machinery of sorrow, which are listed as the 10 samyojana (fetters), according to the four levels of magga. This is the moment of deliverance; it is the identity of cause and effect. The magga-citta will not return again.


Q: What are the characteristics of the 15th ˝āna?

A: The 15th ˝āna is phala-˝āna (Fruition-knowledge). It arises in consequence of the magga-citta without interruption for two or three moments, depending on conditions and the rebirth-consciousness. Phala-citta (Fruit-consciousness) has Nibbāna as object and it is appanā-samādhi.

While magga is the highest kamma (action) in that it renders kamma inoperative according to its level, phala is the vipāka (result) of that kamma and is aware of Cessation after the destruction of kilesa; the phala-citta may return when the practice is continued. Magga and phala are both lokuttara-citta (Supramundane mind).


Q: What are the characteristics of the 16th ˝āna?

A: The 16th ˝āna is paccavekkhana-˝āna (knowledge of reviewing). This knowledge is lokiya-citta (worldly mind). It is the ˝āna which considers the magga-phala that has just happened, and how much kilesa has been left. This ˝āna has rūpa-nāma as object.


In practice, this process of the Path does not last as long as the snap of a finger or a flash of lightning. For the meditator it is a single act of noticing. He will remember the vutthāna-gāminī vipassanā and that afterwards all feelings broke off for a moment. The destruction of kilesa, however, is permanent and qualifies for the Final Nibbāna, if it was the true Cessation in the magga. Therefor one should examine carefully, when cessation of some sort has been experienced.

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