THE GREAT DISCOURSE ON
Venerable MAHASI SAYADAW
Note: Pali terms in this page are created with Unicode CN-Times font.
"Monks, consciousness is not self ...".
By consciousness is meant eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, touch-consciousness and mind-consciousness. These six kinds of consciousness are held to be self, a living entity: "It is I who sees; I see." "It is I who hears; I hear." In this way, all six kinds of sense consciousness are attributed to one single self. This kind of clinging is easy to understand: objects which are devoid of cognition, such as logs of wood, lumps of earth, or stones, are regarded as inanimate; only those objects invested with faculties of cognition are regarded as animate, as living entities. It is not surprising that eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness and so on are taken to be self, but in fact they are not self, they are not living entities. The Blessed One declared that consciousness is not self, and explained why as follows:
"If consciousness were self, the inner substance, it would not tend to afflict; it is not usual for self to oppress self. It should also be possible to manage so as to have always wholesome states of mind and not to have unwholesome ones. But in fact consciousness tends to afflict and is not amenable to management and control. Thus it is not self, not inner substance.
"Monks, in reality, consciousness is not self. Thus, it tends to afflict and it is not possible to say of consciousness, 'Let my consciousness be thus (always wholesome), let my consciousness be not thus (unwholesome)."'
Between mind (citta) and the fifty-two kinds of mental concomitants (cetasika), most people are acquainted with mind.
Burmese people talk about citta, mind, but they rarely speak of the concomitants such as phassa (sense contact) that always appear in conjunction with mind. Furthermore, they are attached to that mind as "I", self. "It is I who sees, I see"; "It is I who hears, I hear." Not only human beings but even Devas and other creatures cling to the belief that consciousness is self. However, conscious-ness is assuredly not self; not being self, it has a tendency to oppress.
HOW CONCIOUSNESS OPPRESSES
Consciousness oppresses when seeing what is repulsive and horrible, when hearing unpleasant sound, unpleasant speech, when smelling foul, offensive odors, when tasting bad food, when feeling uncomfortable sensations of touch, when thinking of depressing, sad or fearful mental objects.
All beings like to dwell on pleasant sights, but they are forced to face horrible and repulsive sights as circumstances dictate. For unfortunate people, the majority of what is seen is made up of undesirable objects. This is how eye consciousness tends to oppress. In spite of their wishing to hear sweet sounds and sweet words, circumstances may compel them to listen to unpleasant sounds. Stricken with misfortune, they may be subjected to fearful noises, threats, and abuse. This is the way ear-consciousness is oppressing. Again, all beings like to enjoy nice, clean smells, but they have to also put up with foul, fetid odors. This is how nose-consciousness oppresses.
The oppressions by eye, ear and nose consciousness are not very apparent in the human world, whereas in the animal world, the world of petas and the hell realms, the oppressive nature of these kinds of consciousness is very vivid. Creatures in the animal world are almost constantly seeing horrible objects or hearing dreadful sounds, and those existing in filth have to smell putrid, foul odors all the time. It goes without saying that petas and beings in the Hell realms will fare worse than animals. They are constantly submerged in distress, seeing bad sights, hearing bad sounds, and smelling bad odors. In some Hell realms, everything seen, heard, smelt, tasted, touched and thought about is unpleasant; there exists nothing pleasant at all. Beings in such realms are subjected to oppression all the time by the six kinds of consciousness.
All people like to enjoy good tastes, but unfortunate people have to exist on bad food. This is how tongue consciousness oppresses. In this respect, too, the oppression is more apparent in the four nether worlds. Human beings like to feel only pleasant sensations; but when circumstances do not allow, they have to put up with undesirable experiences, say, for instance, when they are suffering from an illness. At such times their suffering may be so oppressive that they yearn for instant death to get release from it. It is far worse, of course, in the four nether worlds.
Human beings would like to have lives that are always carefree, but circumstances do not let them live that way. Instead, there are many who are gripped with depression, disappointment, sorrow and lamentation. Some of them never get out of the trough of miseries and unhappiness throughout their lives. They are victims of oppression by mind consciousness.
Consciousness is not subject to one's will. Arising as determined by circumstances, it is unmanageable and uncontrollable. Although one may wish for a pleasant sight, in the absence of pleasant objects one cannot see one. On the contrary, when there are unpleasant objects around, and when the eyes are kept open, it is unpleasant sights which are seen. This is an example of how eye-consciousness, not being subjected to one's will, arises of itself, dependent on conditions.
Likewise, although one may wish to hear only pleasant sounds, in the absence of pleasant objects of sound they cannot be heard. Hence the necessity to keep oneself provided with a radio or a cassette recorder to produce pleasant sound and voices when desired. Reluctant as we are to hear undesirable sounds, when there are such sounds, inevitably they will come to our ears. Ear-consciousness is thus unmanageable, arising of itself, depending on conditions.
In a similar manner, although we like to enjoy sweet aromas, if such smells are not present, our wishes will not be fulfilled. Hence people provide themselves with scents, perfumes and flowers. However unwilling we may be to breathe in bad smells, when foul smells exist around us, we have to suffer from them. They may even cause physical illnesses, such as headache. This is how nose-consciousness is not amenable to will, arising of itself in accordance with causes and conditions.
Although we wish to enjoy good tastes, pleasant taste-consciousness cannot arise in the absence of good food. It arises only when good food is taken. Hence this wild pursuit after food, day in and day out. When taken ill, one seeks relief and cure by taking bitter medicine, which we do not, of course, relish. This is how tongue-consciousness arises, uncontrollably and unmanageably.
Touch consciousness can be pleasant only when there are pleasant objects such as fine clothing, comfortable bedding and good seating. Constant effort has to be made to acquire inanimate and animate objects for delightful sensations of touch. When it is extremely hot or cold, or when we are pricked by thorns, or injured by fire or weapons, or when we are taken with severe illness, we have to suffer, however reluctantly, from the effects of undesirable touch-consciousness. Thus touch-consciousness is obviously uncontrollable, arising on its own in accordance with causes and conditions.
Everyone wants a happy, joyous, and contented life, but it can come about only when we are provided with sufficient wealth and means. Hence the necessity to constantly endeavor to maintain such a way of life. While thus seeking our means of a comfortable, joyous life-style, thoughts about difficulties in everyday life, about loved ones, husbands and children who have died, about financial and business problems, about old age and debility, may arise to mar our happiness. This is how mind consciousness arises unmanageably and uncontrollably.
We have used the expression "in accordance with causes and conditions." The phrase refers to how circumstantial and conditional causes produce certain results; it means also that good causes will give good results, bad causes will end up in bad results. No results can be brought about merely by desire. A given result will arise from a given set of causes, whether one likes it or not. Results are produced from respective causes and they are uncontrollable and unmanageable. It is obvious, therefore, that they are not self, not one's inner substance. The Blessed One therefore stated that mind consciousness is not self, because it is not amenable to one's will.
The Blessed One taught this way to enable us to get rid of the sāmi attā clinging, which holds that there is a self inside one's person which can be controlled and managed at will. When sāmi attā clinging is removed, nivāsī attā clinging, the belief in a permanent self residing in one's person, is simultaneously banished. When it is realized that consciousness results only from conditioning causes and that it soon disappears, it becomes obvious that there is no such thing as a permanently enduring self. For example, eye-consciousness arises only when there is eye and object of sight. Likewise, ear consciousness can arise only when there are ear and sound; smell-consciousness can only arise when there are nose and odor; tongue-consciousness can arise only when there are tongue and taste; body-consciousness only when there are body and tactile object; and mental consciousness, only when there are mind and mental object. When these conditional causes for their respective results are known, the notion of a permanent entity, nivāsī attā clinging, is discarded.
The meditator who is taking note of corporeal and mental phenomena as they occur will perceive clearly that consciousness is constantly arising and vanishing, depending on conditions. Thus the meditator clearly understands that there is no self or living entity which brings about the act of seeing. He realizes that there is only eye-consciousness which arises when the right conditions prevail. In this way, the meditator abandons the kāraka attā clinging, the belief that all actions, physical, vocal and mental, are being done by a self.
For those who cannot perceive the true nature of consciousness as it really is, consciousness is held fast in the form of the notions of sāmi attā, nivāsī attā, or kāraka attā. It appears that the aggregate of consciousness is more firmly attached to than the other aggregates. These days we call it soul or living entity. In everyday language, consciousness is more commonly talked about as self than feeling, perception and volitional formations, even though they are mental concomitants. People talk as if it is the mind that feels sensations, that recognizes things or causes actions.
THE STORY OF THE BHIKKHU SĀTI
At the time of the Blessed One there was a disciple named Sāti who mistook consciousness to be self, and clung to the wrong view of self. The monk Sāti declared that he had understood and grasped what the Buddha had taught thus:
Tadevidaṁ viññāṇaṁ sandhavati saṁsārāti anaññaṁ.
"It is this same consciousness that has been transmigrating and wandering about from existence to existence, no other."
This was his understanding of the Buddha's teaching. He based his views on the Jātaka stories such as King Vessantara, Chaddan the elephant king, and Bhūridatta the Nāga king, who were said to be some of the Buddha's previous existences. In his last existence as Buddha, there were no material aggregates of King Vessantara, nor of the elephant king or the Nāga king, but Sāti believed that the consciousness of the last existence as Buddha was the same that had existed previously as King Vessantara, the elephant king and the Nāga king; it had remained undestroyed, enduring, and stable throughout the rounds of existence. This was how he understood and transmitted the Buddha's teaching. His belief was simply nivāsī attā, clinging to consciousness as a continuous self.
The learned disciples of the Buddha tried to explain to him that his view was wrong, but Sāti remained adamant, believing that he knew the Dhamma better than the other monks. It is not easy to point out the true Dhamma to those holding wrong views. They are apt to look down on their well-wishers as antiquated and behind the times, unlike their leader who innovates a new interpretation. As a matter of fact, anyone claiming to be of Buddhist faith should ponder well to see whether his or her views are in accordance with the teaching of the Buddha. If we hold onto views which do not accord with the Buddha's teaching, we are then outside the dispensation.
Having failed to persuade Sāti to abandon his wrong views, some of the monks went and reported the matter to the Blessed One, who then sent for Sāti. When asked by the Blessed One, Sāti repeated his views: "Based on the Jātaka stories as recounted by the Blessed One, I see that the present consciousness is the same as that one which had existed in previous lives. That consciousness has not reached destruction but passed on from existence to existence. This is how I understand."
The Buddha asked him what he meant by consciousness.
He replied, "Lord, consciousness is that which expresses, which feels, which experiences the fruits of good and bad deeds (now here, now there) in this existence, in that existence."
"To whomever, you stupid one, have you heard me expounding the doctrine in this manner?" remonstrated the Blessed One. "I have explained consciousness as arising out of conditions; that there is no arising of consciousness without conditions. In spite of that you have wrongly interpreted my teaching and attribute that wrong view to me. You have caused the arising of many bad deeds; your holding this wrong interpretation of my teaching and so talking about it will cause distress and suffering to you for a long time to come."
Sāti, however, refused to give up that view. Dogmatic views are frightening. Sāti was a monk, a disciple of the Buddha. He followed the Buddha's teaching and claimed to have understood it. Yet we find him obstinately refusing to give up his wrong views even when exhorted by the Buddha himself, which of course amounted to not having faith in the Buddha. Nowadays, too, there are some "religious teachers" teaching that there is no need to keep the five precepts or to practice meditation. They say it is enough just to understand the teaching. When wellintentioned learned people try to point out the true teaching to such "teachers," they are said to have replied scornfully that they would not abandon their views even if the Buddha himself came to teach them.
There are many instances where non-Dhamma is being handed around as Dhamma. It is essential to scrutinize any such teaching so as to weed out what is not the teaching, a concise statement of which is given below:
SUMMARY OF THE TRUE DHAMMA
1. Sabba pāpassa akāraṇaṁ -- To abstain from all evil deeds. Physical misdeeds such as killing, stealing, and maltreating should be avoided. Vocal evils of lying, slandering, and using offensive language should also be avoided. Thinking evil thoughts should also be abandoned. Evil thoughts can only be removed by engaging in the practice of concentration and vipassanā meditation.
Avoidance of all evil deeds, physical, vocal and mental, constitutes the First Teaching of the Buddha.
2. Kusalassa upasampadā -- To develop all forms of meritorious deeds, such as giving alms, keeping precepts and practicing meditation. Morality may be fulfilled to a certain extent by avoidance of evil deeds in pursuance of the first teaching, but one does not become established in the morality of the Noble Path by mere practice of abstinence. That is accomplished only through the practice of vipassanā meditation till the stage of access concentration or absorption concentration.
Some people talk disparagingly of concentration meditation. The Blessed One himself, however, recom-mended cultivation of concentration meditation. The concentration of jhāna is an ideal basis for the development of vipassanā meditation. If even access concentration is not attainable, one has to work for the momentary concentration of vipassanā meditation. Once it is attained, the vipassanā insights will become developed in their own sequence till the Noble Path is accomplished.
In the Buddha's dispensation, the most essential task is to acquire the wholesome merits of vipassanā concentration and vipassanā insight, since Noble Path and Fruition is unattainable without them. Thus, in order to become equipped with the merits of the Noble Path and Fruition, the good deeds of vipassanā meditation must be developed. We cannot afford to ignore any form of meritorious deeds, as the second teaching of the Buddha enjoins fulfillment of all the three types of good deeds.
We hear of "new teachings" which go against these first and second teachings of the Buddha. The proponents of such teachings say, "The unwholesome defilements (akusala kilesa) do not exist permanently; consequently, no effort is needed to dispel them. Likewise no effort is needed to perform good deeds, keep precepts or practice concentration and insight meditation. All these efforts are futile and only produce suffering." It must be understood that all these new teachings are diametrically opposed to the true teaching of the Buddha.
3. Sacitta pariyodapanaṁ -- To keep one's mind pure. The Path must be developed through practice of vipassanā. With the Path developed thus, and Fruition attained, the mind is completely free of defilements and hence absolutely pure. According to the Commentary, the degree of purity to be attained is no less than that of an Arahat. This statement is in full agreement with the Pāli texts. Nevertheless, there are those who are doing harm to the dispensation by discouraging the practice of keeping precepts, developing concentration and vipassanā meditation, saying they are futile actions which will land one only in suffering. "Keep the mind rested, not engaged in any activity. Place it in a blank spot in one's person where no unwholesome activities are developing. In this way the mind will remain pure." This is a teaching which is entirely devoid of reason, foundation and support. To discourage the practice of sīla, samādhi, and bhāvanā (morality, concentration, and wisdom cultivation) is to despoil the Buddha's dispensation. It is impossible to keep one's mind pure without the practice of concentration and insight meditation. Consciousness is by nature insubstantial, uncontrollable and unmanageable. To assert that mind can be kept as one wishes without the help of meditation is to refute the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta, which states that it is not possible to say of consciousness, "Let consciousness be thus, let it not be thus." This is worth thinking about.
The last sentence in this concise statement of the Teaching says: Etaṁ Buddhāna sāsanaṁ. "These three --namely, avoidance of evils, promotion of all that is good, keeping the mind pure are the Teachings of all the Buddhas." The Buddhist Dispensation essentially constitutes these three factors. For the Dispensation to endure, to prosper, one must avoid all evil deeds as far as possible and others should be taught as far as possible to avoid evil deeds. One must perform as far as possible meritorious deeds and teach others to do the same. If someone is found teaching the non-Dhamma, "Don't avoid evil deeds; don't do good deeds," one must do the utmost to prevent him from teaching such wrong views. One should purify one's mind by practicing meditation and exhort others to do likewise. It is thus for the purpose of safeguarding the teaching and promoting its prosperity that we have to point out the wrong teaching and explain to people how they have deviated from the right one.
We have digressed somewhat from Sāti's story by mentioning the dangers to the Dispensation from wrong teachings. To continue with the story: When Sāti adamantly held to his wrong views, the Blessed One addressed the monks:
"Have you ever heard me expounding the Dhamma in the way Sāti expressed?"
"No, Lord. We have heard only that consciousness arises from conditions, and that there is no arising of consciousness without conditions."
Then the Blessed One explained further:
"Each consciousness arises because of its own conditions and is named according to the condition through which it arises. On account of the eye and visible objects arises a consciousness and it is called eye-consciousness; on account of the ear and sounds arises a consciousness and it is called ear-consciousness; on account of the nose and odors a consciousness arises and it is called nose consciousness; on account of the tongue and tastes arises a consciousness called tongue-consciousness; on account of the body and tactile objects arises a consciousness called tactile (body) consciousness; on account of the mind and mind objects arises a consciousness called mental consciousness. just as a fire that burns on account of wood is called a wood fire, and one that burns on account of bamboo splinter, grass, cow dung, paddy husk, or refuse, is called a bamboo fire, a grass fire, a cow dung fire, a paddy husk fire or a refuse fire, just so is consciousness named according to how it is conditioned."
In the Sutta concerning Sāti's view, the Blessed One also gave a comprehensive treatment of the Law of Dependent Origination, but I have no time to go into it here. I shall confine myself to dealing more fully with the simile of fire.
A forest fire might originate from burning of refuse or dried leaves. If there is constant fuel supply and no one to extinguish the fire, it will rage on for miles around. It might seem that the same fire continues burning all the time, but careful observation will reveal that the fire that burns the refuse is not the fire that burns the grass; similarly grass fire is not a leaf fire. Among leaf fires, the fire that burns one leaf is not the same as the one that burns another.
In just the same way, eye consciousness and ear consciousness, which normally appear to be one and the same consciousness, are seen by careful observation to be distinct, separate consciousnesses arising dependent on conditions. When we consider just one form of consciousness, such as eye-consciousness, we will find different consciousness arising from different colors, such as white and black. Narrowing down to just one color, such as white, the vigilant meditator who has advanced to the stage of udayabbaya ñāṇa and bhaṅga ñāṇa, will see, in the seemingly continuous and single consciousness of white color, preceding consciousness separate and distinct from the succeeding ones.
The distinction is more pronounced in the case of hearing than in seeing; similarly, in smelling and tasting, each consciousness is noted separately and distinctly. The most numerous note-taking and the most pronounced distinction between each consciousness is involved in the phenomenon of touching.
When feeling pain, careful noting as "pain, pain" enables one to distinctly see each consciousness of pain, moment by moment as it arises. Similarly, mental consciousness of thought and ideas can be noted separately as each consciousness arises.
If any thought or idea intrudes while noting rising and falling of the abdomen, it should be noted as it arises. Usually the intruding thought or idea ceases as soon as its arising is noted, but if thoughts persistently arise conditioned by the same mental objects, they should be observed appearing turn by turn in sequence. When the attention moves over to another mental object, the arising of separate consciousness is very distinct.
When the meditator can perceive the arising of each distinct consciousness with each separate noting, he comes to realize personally the impermanent nature of conscious-ness, its stressful nature due to constant arising and vanishing, and its insubstantiality because of its subjection to uncontrollable and unmanageable conditions. It is most important to gain such personal realization.
Having explained fully how the five aggregates are not self, I would like to provide further illustrations on the subject. They are extracts from the Pheṇapiṇḍupama Sutta of the Khandhavagga, Saṁyutta Nikāya:
MATERIAL FORM LIKENED TO FROTH
Material form, rūpa, is like the froth which we see floating about in creeks and waterways, made up of air bubbles entrapped in droplets of water. These bubbles congregate to form frothy scum, the size of a human fist, a human head, the size of a man or even bigger. Casually seen, a big mass of froth may appear to be of substance, but when carefully observed, it turns out to be insubstantial, useless for any purpose.
Likewise, the human body, complete with head, trunk, hands and feet, in male or female form, appears to be substantial. It seems permanent, it looks beautiful, seemingly a living entity. But when subjected to mental analysis, the body turns out to be just like a mass of froth -- insubstantial, a mere conglomeration of thirty-two unclean parts such as head-hair, body-hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, muscle, and bone. On further detailed analysis, it is found to be a conglomeration of minute subatomic particles, invisible to the naked eye. It may be likened to a big pile of sand made up of minute individual sand particles. Alternatively, we may take the example of flour consisting of minute individual grains of rice or wheat powder. When soaked with water it turns into dough, a substantial mass which can be made quite big by using large amounts of flour. This substantial dough may be shaped into a figure of a man of massive size but it is not one solid mass, it is a conglomeration of fine grains of rice or wheat powder. Similarly, the body is not one solid mass but made up of small particles of matter massed together in one big heap -just like the mass of froth, it is devoid of inner substance.
There is no permanent core, no beautiful substance, no living entity called "self." The visible material qualities form a part of the body. Remove those visible qualities and the body will become devoid of shape and form. The earth element of extension (paṭhavi) forms that part of the body which is manifested in the sense of touch as rough, smooth, hard or soft. The elements of heat or cold and motion form the other parts of the body. Remove these three elements and the human body which can be touched and felt will no longer exist. The material quality of odor also forms a constituent part of the body. The human body can therefore be sensed by its odor; remove that too and nothing remains by which the human body may be recognized or identified.
We see things because we have the sensory organ of eye; without it the body cannot see anything, it is blind. We also have the sensory organ of ear which enables us to hear; the sensory organ of nose which enables us to recognize smell; the sensory organ of tongue which enables us to recognize taste; and the nervous system of the body with which we receive the sensation of touch. All these small but useful constituent material qualities congregate to assume the form and shape of a human body, and all contribute to its utility. Without them, the human body would have no utilitarian value. As a matter of fact, without these constituent parts the human form as such cannot exist.
As stated above, if these constituent parts are pulverized or disintegrated, the human body will no longer exist. All that remains would be fine particles of matter. Furthermore, these sensitive material qualities, such as eye and visual objects, do not exist permanently, they are always arising and vanishing, the new replacing the old. Thus this body is like a lump or mass of froth, a conglomeration of insubstantial material qualities.
When examining and analyzing the body, one should start from where phenomena most clearly manifest. When walking, the material qualities of extension and motion are most prominent. Therefore, in accordance with the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta -- gacchanto vā gacchāmīti pajānāti --"When going, he knows 'I am going', -- the meditator should take note, "going, going", "raising", "stepping out", "dropping". While standing, the meditator should note, "standing, standing", while sitting, "sitting, sitting" "touching, touching", "rising", "falling", and so on. When the limbs are seen, it should be noted as "seeing, seeing," when body odors are smelt, "smelling, smelling," when limbs are moved and stretched, "stretching, stretching", "moving", "changing". Carefully noting in this way, the concentration gets stronger and the meditator realizes that an act of going consists of desire to go, followed by motion and expansion. Acts of standing and sitting are made up of desire to stand or sit followed by a series of motions and expansions. Likewise with bending, stretching and changing postures. In an act of seeing, there is eye consciousness and visual object; in smelling, nose consciousness and odor. Each phenomenon is seen to arise for the moment, only to instantly pass away. The limbs, hands and feet, the head and the shape of the body are no longer felt and recognized as such. They appear merely as recurrent physical processes, incessantly arising and passing away. At that stage, the meditator comes to understand by himself how the body is like a mass of froth.
FEELING LIKENED TO A BUBBLE
Feeling is likened to an air bubble. When rain drops fall on the water surface, little pockets of air become trapped in the surrounding wall of water, forming minute bubbles. Children produce similar bubbles in play, by blowing softly through a blow pipe. The conglomeration of these minute bubbles forms a mass of froth.
These bubbles are formed as rain drops fall on the surface of the water only to vanish instantly. Feeling, the experience of sensations, is likened to bubbles because of its nature of incessant arising and perishing. This is in conformity with what meditators experience, but at variance with what ordinary people assume. The ordinary person's view, on looking long at a beautiful object, is that the pleasant sight remains for a long time. When an unpleasant sight has been seen for some time, they also see it as long lasting. Neutral objects, neither pleasant nor unpleasant, are also thought to last long, to remain permanently. In a similar manner, whatever is pleasant or unpleasant to hear is believed to be enduring. Painful feelings, in particular, are thought to remain for days, months or years. Thus, the ordinary person's view of feeling is not quite what really happens. Feeling quickly vanishes like a bubble. To personally realize this truth, one must constantly observe the psycho-physical process happening inside the body.
While ardently observing the psycho-physical process, the meditator's perception will progress to the stages of udayabbaya and bhaṅga ñāṇā, seeing that whatever is pleasant or unpleasant to see, hear, or smell vanishes instantly. The passing away of painful feeling is especially vivid. When the painful feeling is observed as "painful, painful", it is seen to perish with each noting. At the stage of sammasana ñāṇa painful feeling becomes more vividly and more frequently noticed. At each noting, the pain from each place of observation vanishes, now from one place, then from another, as if instantly removed by hand.
Thus for the meditator whose concentration is strong, a pleasant sight vanishes as soon as it is noted. But since there is eye and visual object, the sight is seen again. Every time it is seen, it is noted and quickly vanishes. The same process takes place with unpleasant objects and neither pleasant nor unpleasant objects. Disappearance of pleasant, unpleasant and neither pleasant nor unpleasant sensations of sound with each noting is more distinct. Sensations of smell also disappear when noted. Taste sensations are specially vivid to the meditator: the delicious taste he feels while chewing the food keeps on vanishing and arising with each act of noting. Pleasant, unpleasant and neither pleasant nor unpleasant sensations of touch, too, arise and vanish when noted in this way.
Similarly, feelings of unhappiness, sorrow, sadness, happiness and gladness will be seen, when subjected to heedful noting, to vanish quickly. Thus feelings are just like bubbles, ephemeral and untrustworthy -- impermanent, suffering and not-self.
SENSE PERCEPTION LIKENED TO A MIRAGE
Sense perception, the apprehension of sense-objects as reality, is likened to a mirage. A mirage is an optical illusion caused by atmospheric conditions. It commonly appears as images of sheets of water or houses in the hot gases that rise from the earth in the midday sun of the last month of the summer. Mirages are optical illusions. Wild beasts such as deer roam about in the summer heat in search of water. Seeing what appears to be a body of water in the distance, they run towards it only to find a dry tract: they have been misled by a mirage and put to a great deal of trouble.
Just as a mirage gives the illusion of a body of water or of houses where no such things exist, so also saññā (perception) deceives people into thinking that whatever is seen, heard, touched or known is a human being, a man or a woman. With their illusory perceptions of what is seen, heard, touched or known, people become involved in multiple activities concerning them, just like the deer of the wild forests who go after a distant mirage, taking it to be a mass of water.
To realize that perception is illusory and to save oneself from the sufferings of pursuing after nonexistent objects, one must take heedful note of all material and mental phenomena as they occur. As concentration improves, it is seen that in every phenomenon there are only the material object known and the mind knowing it; later it becomes known that each phenomenon is a related event of cause and effect. Finally it is personally experienced that the knowing mind, as well as the object to be known, keep on perishing while they are being noted.
Thus what was formerly held by saññā to be enduring, permanent, an individual, a being, a man, a woman, or a self, is now seen as a deception, an optical illusion, like a mirage. The meditator realizes that in reality it is merely a process of incessant arising and vanishing, impermanent, suffering and not-self.
SANKHĀRA LIKENED TO A PLANTAIN TREE
Volitional formations are likened to a plantain trunk. A plantain trunk looks like an ordinary tree, with a solid, hard core, but when cut up and examined, it is found to be made up of layers of fibrous material with no substantial, inner core. Volitional formations are like the plantain trunk, void of inner substance. They consist of fifty kinds of mental concomitants, headed by cetanā, volition. The outstanding members of this group are sense-contact (phassa), attention (manasikāra), one-pointedness of mind (ekaggatā), initial application of mind (vitakka), sustained application of mind (vicāra), effort (viriya), greed (lobha), hatred (dosa), delusion (moha) conceit (māna), wrong view (diṭṭhi), doubts (vicikicchā), non-greed, non-hatred, non-delusion, faith (saddhā), mindfulness (sati), loving kindness (mettā), compassion (karuṇā), and sympathetic joy (muditā): all are mental concomitants forming saṅkhāra. Cetanā, responsible for all volitional activities (physical, vocal and mental), is its leading member. There are many volitional formations and, being involved in all activities, they are very prominent. Thus volitional formations are mainly responsible for the attā clinging to the notion of self as an active agent.
Volitional formations appear to possess a hard core or inner substance, but in reality they are devoid of such inner substance. The meditator can see this reality by constantly taking note of corporeal and mental phenomena. While walking, for instance, the meditator notes "walking, walking", and "raising", "stepping", "dropping". As concentration becomes stronger he comes to notice the arising of the desire to walk or take a step. This desire is also observed to arise and vanish. Although desire to go is usually described as "having a mind to go, " it is actually volitional formations under the guidance of cetanā that motivates the action of going. Urged on by cetanā, the act of walking, involving raising, stepping and dropping, is accomplished.
Before such knowledge is gained, there was the notion that it is "I" who wants to go -- "I go because I want to go" -- which is clinging to self. Now that the desire to go is seen to be impermanent, the knowledge appears that there is no self, only phenomena. The desires to bend, to stretch, to move, or to change position are also seen in this true light. In addition, the efforts put in to fulfil these desires are also momentary volitional formations. It is realized that they are void of essence, not self, mere fleeting phenomena.
Further it is seen that when thinking, vitakka, investigation, vicāra, and effort, viriya, are noted as they arise, they vanish instantly. Thus they are also devoid of essence. As greed and aversion make their appearance, they are noted as "wanting", "liking", "anger", and they soon disappear, establishing the fact that they are also not self, having no essence or hard core. When faith, loving- kindness and compassion arise they are noted as they are. They vanish instantly and are therefore insubstantial, void of essence, not self. This analytical knowledge brings home the fact that volitional formations are like a plantain trunk, which, when cut open and examined layer by layer, has no solid, inner core.
CONSCIOUSNESS LIKENED TO A CONJURER'S TRICK
Becoming conscious of something is like producing a conjuror's trick. When seeing an object, a person ordinarily knows that he sees a man or a woman; he also knows that "I see; it is I who sees." When hearing anything too, he knows, "I hear a man's voice, I hear a woman's voice." "I hear, it is I who hears." Smelling an odor, he knows. "This is the smell of such and such a person," "I smell;" when eating, he knows, "This food is prepared by such and such a person, it is I who eats." When touching he knows, "I have touched so and so, it is I who touches." In thinking, too, he considers, "I think, it is I who thinks." To know, to become conscious of things in this manner is not knowing things as they truly are. judged from the standpoint of the ultimate truth it is knowing wrongly. Such wrong knowledge is not brought about by the five viññāṇas, namely, eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue consciousness, and body consciousness. These five viññāṇa cognize only what is ultimately true, namely visible sight, sound, smell, taste and bodily feeling, not as the misconceptions of man or woman. But misconceptions, such as of man or woman, are liable to occur at the end of a full process of cognition (citta vithī), when reflection takes place with the arising of mind consciousness (mano viññāṇa).
I shall briefly explain the process of cognition with respect to seeing and the process of reflection. If the eye has caught sight of visible form, the flow of bhavaṅga is interrupted, to be followed immediately by pañca-dvāravajjana (advertence through one of the five senses; in this case cakkhudvārāvajjana: apprehension through the eye door), the consciousness that turns to and considers the sensation. Immediately afterwards the pure eye consciousness arises (cakkhuviññāṇa), the first cognition of the sensation of sight. As yet there is no reflection about it in conventional terms such as man or woman. As that consciousness ceases, it is followed by recipient consciousness, sampaṭicchana, a moment of reception of the object seen. After its cessation comes the investigating consciousness, santīrana, the momentary examination of the object so received. After this comes the stage of determining whether the object seen is pleasant or not with the determining consciousness, known as voṭṭhāpana. When this consciousness ceases, there arises the impulsive or active consciousness called javana, seven times in rapid succession. With the cessation of the last javana, comes the registering consciousness, tadālambana, which is repeated twice on the object of attention. At the expiration of this registering consciousness, the process of cognition is complete and there follows a series of bhavaṅga, passive states of mind like that in deep sleep.
To recapitulate: the consciousness that arises from the bhavaṅga state is the mind door consciousness (āvajjana); it is followed by eye consciousness and recipient consciousness (sampaṭicchana). Then comes the investigat-ing consciousness (santīraṇa), followed by the determining consciousness (voṭṭhāpana). Then follows the impulsions (javana consciousness) seven times in rapid succession; then the registering consciousness (tadālambana) appears twice in succession. Thus, every time a sight is seen, from the appearance of the sense-door consciousness to the cessation of the last tadālambana, there are altogether fourteen thought moments in a normal process of cognition. If the impression of the object is not very strong, it survives only as far as the consciousness in its javana stage. When a person is very enfeebled, near death's door, javana consciousness occurs only five or six times. When the impression of the object is very obscure, the process of cognition runs up to the stage of voṭṭhāpana, after two or three thought moments of which the process of cognition comes to an end. When vipassanā is very strong, the process does not advance till the javana stage, it abruptly ends after two or three thought moments of voṭṭhāpana and sinks back to the bhavaṅga level. This is in accordance with the meditation instructions given to the Venerable Pothila by the young novice [*], who instructed that the process of cognition with respect to five sense doors should not proceed to javana state.
[* Reference is to a story in the Dhammapada Commentary. It tells of a senior learned bhikkhu who takes teaching from a young, enlightened novice. The novice gives the analogy of a man catching a lizard that has gone into a termite mound with five holes in it. In order to catch the lizard, the man must close off five of the holes and wait at the only remaining hole to catch the lizard. In the same way, the meditator "closes off' (that is, restrains) the five senses and puts all his attention on the mind door.]
As stated above, in the process of cognition through the eye door, the object is only the ultimate visible sight, not the conceptual form of a man or a woman. After running the complete process, the mind sinks down to the bhavaṅga, which runs its course for some moments. Then the process of cognition through the mind door, manodvāravithī, arises through reflection on whatever has been seen. Arising from bhavaṅga, the mind door apprehending consciousness, manodvārāvajjana, appears, followed by the javana process which runs for seven moments and the tadālambana consciousness which lasts for two moments. The whole course, therefore, runs for ten thought moments after which it sinks down to bhavaṅga level again. In this thought process, the (mental) object is just a reflection on the sight that has been seen, it is not yet based on any wrong concept of previous experiences.
When the reflective process of cognition takes place for the second time, it is the concept of form and appearance that have become its object -- the form and appearance of a man or a woman, say. When the process is repeated for the third time, it is the concept of name (of man and woman) that has become the object. From then onwards, every time there is a reflection on what has been experienced previously, the object is always simply a concept: "I see a man". "I see a woman". This is how consciousness plays conjuring tricks and substitutes concepts for realities.
1. In the first process of cognition of sight, consciousness registers only the ultimate reality of visual object.
2. In the first round of reflection on the visual object, there is still consciousness of what has actually been seen, namely the sight. No misconception has appeared yet. If heedful noting is done at this stage, wrong concepts cannot arise and cognition will rest only on the ultimate object.
3. In the second round of reflection, the concepts of form and shape (features) of visual object begin to appear.
4. In the third round of reflection, the concept of identity of visual object has appeared. Likewise in the process of cognition of sound, odor, taste and touch, the same sequence of transition from consciousness of reality to consciousness of concept takes place.
When consciousness of sight and sound arises, or when the first round of reflection on what has been seen or heard takes place, if careful noting (as "seeing," "hearing," "smelling," "tasting," "touching" or "thinking") is done instantly, wrong concepts cannot arise. The consciousness will rest on the reality of what is actually cognized. Keeping consciousness with reality is the raison d'Åtre for taking note of sensory awareness at the instant it arises. If note is taken as "seeing, seeing" while an object is being seen, the process of cognition will cease just with the fact of seeing, and the subsequent process of cognition of concepts acquired through reflection cannot take place. In accordance with the teaching diṭṭhe diṭṭhamattaṁ bhavissati, "just seeing at the time of seeing" consciousness of seeing ends its course there.
There follows the analytical knowledge of the unknowing matter, such as eyes and sounds, of the body and the knowing mind which is consciousness of the objects. There is also knowledge that seeing and noting recurrently arise and vanish. Realization comes that there is only impermanence, suffering and not-self.
Similarly with what is heard, smelt, tasted, touched or thought about: constant noting of these phenomena will reveal the difference between physical and mental properties, and their impermanent, stressful and not-self nature. Realization comes to the meditator: "Previously, because there was no taking note of the phenomena, wrong concepts were believed to be reality; the conjuring tricks were accepted as reality. Now that the phenomena are noted as they are, there is no perception of any self, there is only incessant arising and ceasing."
When seeing an object, the eye consciousness vanishes immediately after it has arisen, there is no such thing as seeing for a long time. There is only fresh arising of eye consciousness with each act of seeing and its instant ceasing. Likewise with hearing, touching, and thinking. There is no substantial hearing. With each act of hearing, the ear consciousness arises and instantly vanishes. There is no sustained touching: at each act of touching, the touch consciousness arises and instantly vanishes. There is no sustained thinking; with each act of thinking, the mind consciousness arises and instantly vanishes.
Therefore everything is impermanent. Arising is always followed by cessation; there is nothing reliable, trustworthy, only terror and suffering. Everything happens as conditioned by causes and conditions, not as one wishes: all things are not self. It is obvious from this Pheṇapiṇḍupama Sutta that the five aggregates are void of permanent substance, or any wholesome, pleasant inner core which is subservient to one's will. They are not self, they are insubstantial.
I have amplified these points sufficiently, and shall end the discourse here today.
See also: Vietnamese Translation
Source: Sakyamuni Meditation Center, California, U.S.A.