Practicing Insight on your own




Q: What is the meaning of the word kammatthāna?

A: The word 'kamma' literally means action or practice, and the word 'thāna' means a base or foundation. The word 'kammatthāna' therefore means the base of action or the cause of development.


Q: What is the meaning of samatha-kammatthāna?

A: The word 'samatha' means tranquillity or peacefulness of mind. 'Samatha-kammatthāna' means practice for the tranquillity of mind or mental development based on tranquillity.


Q: What is the meaning of 'vipassanā-kammatthāna'?

A: The word 'vi-' means superb, clear, divers; 'passanā' means seeing, direct perception and right view of reality. 'Vipassanā-kammatthāna' is the practice of the correct view of reality or mental development for clear knowledge to see the truth of all realities.


Q: Why are there only two duties in Buddhism, the duty of study (gantha-dhura) and the duty of practising insight (vipassanā-dhura), but the practice of 'samatha' is not mentioned?

A: The Lord Buddha tried with utmost patience, perseverance and effort to discover that highest Dhamma which leads out of the suffering of the rounds of rebirth, 'samsāra-vatta' the process of birth, old age, sickness and death; the Dhamma which has the function to completely eradicate the 'āsava-kilesa' (worldly bias and defilements) which are the cause of attachment to remain in the 'samsāra-vatta'.


At first, the Lord studied with two renowned teachers, one of them named Alāra Kālāma who taught 'samatha-kammatthāna' to reach the highest 'rūpa-jhāna' (absorption of the fine-material sphere). The second one, Uddaka Rāmaputta, taught 'samatha kammatthāna' to reach the highest 'arūpa-jhāna (absorption of the immaterial sphere). The Lord Buddha experimented with this meditation in every way realizing that this is not the way to 'sammā-sambhodi˝ā, the Full Enlightenment of a Buddha. Therefore he departed and searched for himself until he became enlightened to the four Noble Truths which can destroy 'āsava-kilesa' completely. Thus he became the supreme Arahat 'Samma-sambuddha'.


Then the Lord declared that he was the One rightfully enlightened by himself. In the preaching of the 'Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta' the first sermon, delivered to the group five ascetics at Isipatana deer park near Benares, he pointed out the Noble Eightfold Path or the Middle Way which comprises 'sammā-ditthi', that is 'pa˝˝ā' right view or seeing the four Noble Truths. The practice of the Eightfold Path is actually nothing but the practice of insight meditation, which is 'vipassanā-dhura'.


As for 'gantha-dhura' (duty of study), it amounts to studying the guidelines of 'vipassanā-kammatthāna' in order to understand the way of practice. The Supreme Teacher for most of his life preached that 'rūpa-nāma' (body and mind) are impermanent, suffering, and not self. This is an example of what he thought his disciples who did not yet understand the method of practice until they could understand it by themselves. Then those disciples paid homage to the Supreme Teacher, went to the forest separately, and practised the Dhamma putting forth energy until they attained to the highest qualities of the Dhamma becoming Noble Ones (ariyapuggala) in time of the Buddha.


But 'samatha-kammatthāna' existed before the appearance of the Lord Buddha in this world. Every religion had kinds of this meditation, for example there were sages, ascetics, hermits, monks of other religions. When the Lord had studied thoroughly he realized that this was not the way to eradicate 'āsava-kilesa'.


Vipassanā-kammatthāna however is what the Lord researched and practised by himself; it exists exclusively in the Dispensation of the Buddha. Thus there are only two kinds of 'dhura' (duty) in field of Buddhism, that is 'gantha-dhura' and 'vipassanā-dhura'.


Q: What is the difference between samatha-kammatthāna and vipassanā-kammatthāna?

A: They differ in the sense-objects and have different goals and means. To explain the difference: samatha-kammatthāna is based on conceptualized objects, or objects which are created, such as 'kasina'. The practice of samatha-kammatthāna is the means to pacify the mind, and the method depends essentially on the 'nimitta' (sign) so as to intensify concentration beginning from 'parikamma nimitta' (preparatory sign) to 'uggaha nimitta' (acquired sign) and the 'patibhāga nimitta' (conceptualized sign). When the jhāna-factors vitakka, vicāra, pīti, sukha, ekaggatā (examining, adjusting, zest, bliss, and one-pointedness) arise and are fully developed, then the first absorption is attained (pathamajjhāna).


The objects of vipassanā-kammatthāna, on the other hand, are the five groups of rūpa-nāma (body and mind). The result of vipassanā practice is to attain to the highest quality of Dhamma and to the four Noble Persons, viz. Stream-enterer, Once-returner, Never-returner and the Fully Enlightened One, thus destroying 'āsava-kilesa' according to the respective level until it is completed, destroying the need to come back and repeat death and birth again and again. But the guidelines for the practice will be explained later.


Q: Do we have to know the principles of insight meditation before taking up the practice?

A: We should know the essentials or the heart of the practice first, such as the four Noble Truths, or the two ways of truth, the way of suffering and the way to the end of suffering.


The way to suffering is 'tanhā' craving for objects of the world such as sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, or subtle body and mind, giving rise to clinging attachment (upādāna) to the objects of the world which involve birth, old age, sickness and death, whirling round in a cycle (vatta) of uninterrupted succession without ever breaking the chain.


The way of the cessation of suffering is the Eightfold Path, the Middle Way which is the Realization of the Truth, the way to magga-phala and Nibbāna. It is the way to expel āsava-kilesa, the defilements of the mind, completely. It is the way of people who observe the religious life (brahmachārī), the way of the Purified Ones. It is the path of escape from the repeated deaths and births in the cycle of samsāra by realization of the truth that dukkha (suffering) should be known, samudaya (the cause) should be abandoned, nirodha (cessation) should be realized, and magga (the Path) should be fully developed.


Q: Is there any danger to the meditator who practises this Dhamma?

A: The practice can be dangerous because the meditator does not yet understand the guidelines of the practice correctly. Or, he practises after book study and then make up his own understanding of it. Or, in a case where he practises without a meditation teacher guiding and pointing the correct way, when in the course of practising, phenomena (sabhāva-dhammā) happen to arise, he may hold them to be true and real and believe that they have already reached the final Dhamma. Some meditators become attached to various nimitta, for instance light, images or pictures; some may even become insane. This is more likely to happen samatha-kammatthāna, because one dwells on conceptualised objects, pictures, or kasina nimitta with delusion. If the image or the kasina changes suddenly, or a terrible image appears instead, one may lose awareness and become obsessed.


But the practice of vipassanā-kammatthāna consists of developing mindfulness at every moment of breathing in and out. There are wisdom or clear comprehension (pa˝˝ā, sampaja˝˝a) and exertion working together to note the present object at every moment. Whenever an object arises just be aware of that object as it really is; then release that object at every moment, because the arisen object is bound to fall away naturally. Whatever special characteristics that object may have, it arises and then falls away; it is dukkha ariya-sacca (Noble Truth of Suffering) arising and falling away. This phenomenon being dukkha it is hard to bear. If the meditators can only understand this matter, then the practice of vipassanā-kammatthāna is not likely to be dangerous at all. On the contrary, it will turn us into people possessing increased lucidity of sati-pa˝˝ā (awareness and wisdom).


Q: Some people say that those who practise meditation will become backward people, not progressing in the way of the world; they are stubborn and old-fashioned, not up-to-date. What is your opinion concerning this.....?

A: Everybody who is born into this world has got to have an aim in life or he should know what life is all about. In order to develop one's life, to be a man of highest virtue, what does one have to do? A man is good or bad depending on his own mind. We can prove this by ourselves. This is something which is always up-to-date.


Today is the time of science. We use technology, computers and nuclear power for proving, testing and for material purposes. In fact we use our mind to search for knowledge, competing in the construction of material things. Simply speaking, we are being materialists. This is what we call progressive; but it is only worldly knowledge. If we use it correctly, use it in a peaceful way, it will benefit all human beings. But if we use it with lobha, dosa, moha (greed, hatred, delusion) the result in form of the destruction of mankind is sure to follow in the future, undoubtedly. It will destroy everything in this world. There is no exception and no excuse for anybody who claims: 'I am a pioneer, I am a scientist or 'I am an up-to- date-person'. Now, is this cleverness or is this foolishness, there, in the heart of him who is misled by materialism until he forgets the truth that the most important thing is Dhamma! Dhamma is the Nature which is always up-to-date.


Whoever studies and practises Dhamma, proves Dhamma and realizes the truth of it, analyses Dhamma and make use of it in daily life, such a one uses it to control desire and extravagance, anger, envy, and delusion which delude him into taking poisonous stuff like alcohol, intoxicants, and drugs of all kinds. When our mind has no pollution to defile the heart then this mind is pure and calm and knows the reality of Nature as it really is. His life will be full of true happiness. He will know the principles of worldly affairs and the principles of Dhamma correctly and he can put them into practice in studying and in the conduct of his business for progress and prosperity in the future better than anyone who is not interested in the Dhamma and in the ways of his own mind, knowing nothing about kilesa, kamma, vipāka (defilement, action and result), not understanding that the four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the four Foundations of Mindfulness are the Dhamma for solving problems, the Dhamma for the extinction of mental suffering, the Dhamma for the development of the mind to change from the low state of a worldling (puthujjana) to lofty mind of a Noble One (ariyapuggala).


Even in this present life it is a challenge for everyone to come to know and see without the limitations of endless time, and one who proves through practice will know by himself. Such a one is better than the person who does not know Dhamma and does not practise Dhamma, who actually deserves to be called fossilized and retrogressive, a million-year-old tortoise.



Q: What is the meaning of the four 'sappāya' (favourable conditions) for meditators?

A: At the time of the Buddha the meditators should have the four sappāya, that is


1. Suitable dwelling conducive to calmness, undisturbed by noise, such as a forest, the foot of a tree, an empty house.


2. Healthy food, easily obtained. For Bhikkhus (monks) it means going for alms round in villages not far away and to get sufficient food.


3. A good person, a spiritual friend, a meditation teacher who instructs the meditator always according to the Middle Way.


4. Comfortable 'Dhamma', that is a meditation exercise (kammatthāna) suitable for the disposition of the practitioner, tending neither to develop tenseness nor laxity too much. It is the Dhamma that, when practised, can give quick results for the meditator, as it should.


At this present time, we should look for a temple or a centre where vipassanā is taught and the four sappāya, as stated above, are provided, that means comfortable dwelling, food is not difficult to obtain and appropriate for the meditator, there is a vipassanā teacher who is experienced in this field, and there is kammatthāna suitable for the meditator. At present, the most important point is only the meditation teacher. He should analyze and instruct carefully because it is difficult for us to find such good teachings as in the Buddha's time.


Q: What is the procedure for someone who has never before practised meditation?

A: The first step is that one should study the subject of vipassanā-kammatthāna to have right understanding before beginning the practice. But if one has no ability to do so or has already studied but doesn't understand properly, he should go to learn from a vipassanā teacher in a temple or meditation centre and ask to stay there for the purpose of practising. Even if someone has already studied 'pariyatti' (the scriptures) well it is still necessary to have a meditation teacher who gives instructions and points out the correct practice, because from studying the scriptures (pariyatti) we only know the written words, whereas the practice means to get acquainted with natural phenomena (sabhāva-dhammā) as they really are; and there are differences in the sabhāvā (realities) between people, for instance mind, emotions, moods, and the accumulations of kamma they have are not the same. Then there are phenomena arising from Dhamma, through practice of insight, such as samādhi, pīti, passaddhi, upekkhā etc. (concentration, rapture, tranquillity, equanimity). Some phenomena are not mentioned in the scriptures; therefore it is most important to have a meditation teacher with experience in both pariyatti and patipatti (scriptural knowledge and practice).

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