Summarizing the Stages of Practice

This Dhamma Teaching is a training aid in the cultivation of the mind. It is directly concerned with yourself and therefore in listening to what the Lord Buddha taught, you must aim to bring it into yourself and focus on it there. When you can see the truth in yourself, then you will also be able to see Dhamma.
The practice is aimed both at calming the mind and at attaining to clear knowledge and true insight. I have been explaining this practice of calm stage by stage, but have yet to start on the way of insight. The following sections will now begin to explain the practice of insight which leads to wisdom and true knowledge. First, however, I will summarize and lead in from my earlier teaching.
Centring the mind in oneself aims at calming the mind through concentrating, for instance, on the in-and-out breath together with an awareness of the mind. In your practice have clear comprehension about posture --your sitting here now, for example-- and examine the thirty-one or thirty-two parts of the body, finally analysing them as elements. When the elements disperse, the living body becomes a corpse and decomposes until only the bones remain. Eventually even those bones will completely disintegrate.
While the body is still alive, it has pleasant, painful and intermediate feelings. One must be aware that some of these feelings arise dependant on external attractions (with their baited hooks) and some are born from the practice itself. As such feelings quickly shift into the mind, one must also be fully aware of the mind. When pleasant feeling arises it brings hankering to the mind. Painful feeling will bring dejection and intermediate feeling a state of deluded attachment.
The danger of the hindrances lies in that they prevent the mind from making progress or becoming established in samadhi. Sensual desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and sceptical doubt are the culprits here. The root of these hindrances lies in various external anxieties and concerns which have not yet been shaken off, or else in feeling itself. The pleasant feeling, with its baited hook in external attractions, goes into the mind where liking arises which sways the mind away into those pleasing external objects. The samadhi is thus ruined. The same is true with painful feeling, which deflects the mind away through aversion, and intermediate feeling, which can bring drowsiness, restlessness and doubt. You must therefore be ever watchful and aware lest any of these hindrances start to arise.
In the beginning one must constantly be on guard, examining and combatting all the various obstacles to samadhi. One's samadhi may not yet be firmly established but such self-examination is still much better than giving the mind free rein to wander outside. It's like inspecting and surveying one's own house. At this level of practice, concentration on breathing must be combined with an examination of feeling, mind and any hindrances that might arise. It is therefore a twofold practice. Inspecting the mind in the ordinary way will often lead to one's original aim being overtaken by other, proliferating thoughts. In the beginning, thinking has to be used --but keep it inside (for instance, by using counting or reciting 'Bud-dho' together with the breath). Such thinking is a preventive inspection to forestall any threat to the developing samadhi. When one's concentration succeeds in overcoming such dangers, one's practice of mindfulness of breathing (for example) will strengthen and become steady and sure.

The Method of Practice for Attainment Concentration (Appana Samadhi)

At this level of practice one depends on applied and sustained thought or reflection. However, reflection here means applying the mind to the samadhi object --to the (long or short) in-and-out breaths for instance. This applied-thought can be compared to the first striking of a bell, whereas sustained-thought is the following reverberation. This sustained-thought is the supporting of the mind close to the object of samadhi without allowing it to fall away.
In practice though, the mind often tends to slip away from the samadhi object, and mindfulness must then lead it back. Applied and sustained thought will therefore be constantly needed until the mind becomes steady and established enough for rapture to pervade both mind and body. However, you should not then get carried away with this rapture. Instead, continue concentrating steadily on the samadhi object, and ease of body and mind will arise. This ease is still more refined and the mind will then be firmly centred in a single object. This is one-pointedness free of intrusive concerns and is born from detachment and peace.
The mind, having progressed this far, is at the first stage of attainment concentration: samadhi which has become fixed and established. Previous to this it was still neighbourhood concentration. This first level of attainment samadhi requires: applied thought lifting the mind to the meditation object; sustained thought supporting the mind there; rapture pervading body and mind; ease of body and mind; and one-pointedness focussed firmly on a single object. This is the happiness arising from one's samadhi practice.
In the beginning of one's practice, when one has yet to experience rapture and ease the mind cannot be firmly established in samadhi. But with the arising of rapture and ease, the samadhi becomes steadfast and one is said to experience the flavour of samadhi. One will then come to see the benefits and advantages in samadhi practice of which one was ignorant before.
Even in the activities of the world, a type of rapture and ease is needed. If they are lacking then one won't be able to continue such (external) activities, as watching a film or a play. It is similar in Dhamma practice, where the fruits of rapture and ease are necessary for the establishing of samadhi, and for further progress. This rapture and ease of samadhi are far more refined and rare than other kinds, and bring a much greater happiness and coolness to the mind.
The achieving of this rapture and ease rest with a constant developing of applied and sustained thought. Whenever you resolve to practise, try to keep it up every day. For instance, you may decide to practise each day just before retiring to sleep or on awakening each morning. Such a consistency of practice makes the mind easier to control and when it has progressed sufficiently, the fruits of rapture and ease will arise. This is followed by the first stage of samadhi, which is known as one-pointedness. The firmly established one-pointed mind no longer needs applied and sustained thought because it is now stable in itself. Applied and sustained thought can therefore be left behind and you need not tire yourself with them. All that now remains is rapture, ease, and one-pointedness of mind.
When rapture pervades body and mind there is still some exhilaration present. However, as the mind becomes more refined, rapture fades and is left behind, and only ease and one-pointedness remain.
As the mind continues to become more and more refined, that ease is also left behind and one then experiences one-pointedness and an equanimity (upekkha) which is neutral, neither painful nor pleasant. The mind is now fully established in this high level of samadhi.
However, it is not necessary for you to attain this high state of samadhi. You can consider achieving the level of applied and sustained thought, rapture, ease and one-pointedness, as doing quite well with your samadhi practice. The mind will then be able to stay in that state for as long as you want. However, as soon as you exit from that samadhi you will have to come into contact and be disturbed by various external objects and concerns until you next rest in that peaceful state. The role of samadhi is only to establish a comfortable resting place for the mind. The Lord Buddha then offered a training in the development of insight which is the wisdom clearly to see and to know the truth.

The Beginnings of Insight (Vipassana)

In developing insight it is first necessary to base the mind in samadhi. Otherwise wisdom will arise only with difficulty. One follows the methods of samadhi which the Lord Buddha laid down and which I have already explained, stage by stage. Once the mind is sufficiently concentrated, one turns to investigate within oneself. One examines this myself: this one sitting here with such and such a name, as is commonly accepted by the world for each person. Search out: 'what is this thing so designated by that name?' Really, it is all a summing and assembling into parts and groups from the soles of the feet up to the hair on the head, all encased by skin. It is right here, within this area, where what we understand as I-myself appears. So search it out --Where is this I-myself?

The First Section Concerning the Aggregates (Khandhas)

The Lord Buddha taught at this stage to separate out the corporeal aggregate. This comprises the whole of the body made up from the elements of earth, water, fire, wind and space together with the sensory apparatus. These can be put aside and called the physical or rupa aggregate (rupa khandha).
We can now go on to inspecting the aggregate of feeling. There are painful or pleasant or intermediate (neither-painful- nor-pleasant) feelings. For example, bodily and mental feelings of contentment, bodily and mental feelings of distress, or intermediate feelings. These can be put aside and called the aggregate of feeling (vedana-khandha).
Inspect the perception aggregate, with its recognition of this and that, recalling someone's name and voice and various other subjects. These can be put aside and called the aggregate of perception (sannya-khandha).
Inspect the aggregate of mental formations, thinking of this issue and that concern. These can be put aside as the aggregate of mental formations (sankhara-khandha).
Inspect the aggregate of consciousness which is the knowing and experiencing through the visual apparatus, auditory organ, olfactory organ, tactile organ and the mind (mano) which variously knows. This can be put aside and called the aggregate of consciousness (vinnana-khandha).
The rupa aggregate is one portion, the feeling aggregate is another, that of mental formations (which is this thinking) is another, and the aggregate of consciousness is another portion. Or one separates them all into the rupa, vedana, sannya, sankhara, and vinnana groups. What is called me-myself is made up from these various aggregates. They are assembled into groups, conglomerations and into one piece. Yet separating them into different parts forms the beginning of the practice of insight. This requires a focussed examination and realization of the characteristics of each of the aggregates and you will have to come to clearly know them all.

9th September 2504 B.E. (1961)

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Explaining the Five Aggregates

In this practice of calm and insight, the way of insight begins with an investigation into the five aggregates (panca-khandha). I will recapitulate these for you. Please centre your mind, looking inwards to see these five aggregates in yourself.
Focus so as to know about the rupa aggregate or group, which are the great-entities and primary qualities of matter (maha-bhuta-rupa). The hard portion being the earth element, the fluid portion being the water element, the heating portion being the fire element, the moving and blowing portion being the wind element, and the empty spaces being the space element. See that your physical body (rupa-kaya) is solid because of the earth element, is moistened through the water element, is warmed by the fire element; is aired and has breath because of the wind element and has various cavities which are the space element. The properties and qualities of the physical body are called the great entities.
This body also has a sensory system. There are the visual organs, the auditory organs, the olfactory organ, the gustatory organ and the tactile sense organs. There is the condition of femininity or masculinity. There is a softness and suppleness, not being stiff like a corpse. There is the display of different mannerisms of body and speech. All these various properties and qualities are termed the derivatives (upadaya-rupa) or secondary properties dependent on the great-entities. The physical body, made up from both the great-entities and their derivatives, is together known as the corporeal or rupa aggregate (rupa-khandha). It is that which we grasp and hold to as me-and-mine, as self, and it is therefore called the grasping aggregate (upadana-khandha).
Originating as an embryo in the mother's womb, this physical body grows and develops with food as its nutriment. This food is none other than the four elements (earth, water, fire and wind) which need to be consumed so that the body can grow and flourish. The corporeal or rupa aggregate therefore arises dependant on food (or the four great-entities) and the body ceases when its food is ended, or through various other causes which come together to destroy it.
After examining the rupa aggregate and understanding its properties, its arising and its disappearing, we now look into the feeling aggregate. This consists of pleasant, painful and neither-painful-nor-pleasant feelings. I'll give some examples: Should a cooling, refreshing breeze flow by while you are sitting here, this is pleasant feeling. However, if a mosquito bites or you feel an ache, this is painful feeling. Whatever feeling is left after disregarding painful and pleasant feeling is what is called intermediate, neutral or neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. This intermediate feeling is usually the most basic one and as such is commonly present but unnoticed if one does not investigate. People normally only show interest when a painful or pleasant feeling intrudes.
Look to see exactly how feeling manifests. Examine throughout your body and you will find it in most parts. It arises because of contact (phassa). That breeze touching the body and the biting mosquito are examples of contact. There must also be consciousness (vinnana) for contact to be complete. Feeling arises dependant on this completed contact which must include both the sense impression and consciousness. Lacking such contact, the feeling will disappear and this arising and disappearing is, in fact, the natural course of things. Set yourself to see the properties of feeling (vedana); how it arises and disappears.
Now move to look at perception (sannya). This is the perceiving and recognition of sights, sounds, odours, tastes, tangibles (which touch the body) and of the affairs which the mind thinks about. See these in yourself and note how perception arises. It arises dependant on contact together with feeling, and disappears through lack of contact or according to the natural course of things. Look to see these properties of perception, its arising and its disappearing.
Now move to look at the mental formations (sankhara). This is the thinking about sights, sounds, odours, tastes, tangibles and mental objects. See into your own thinking and realize that mental formations arise dependant on contact together with perception. They disappear according to their natural course, or because there is no more contact.
Now move on to look at consciousness (vinnana) which is the knowing of seeing sights or of hearing sounds (etc.). If the sense organs (which I mentioned before) are whole and functioning, consciousness is required actually to see a form (for example) in order to know that form. The auditory organ needs consciousness to know the hearing of a sound; the olfactory organ needs consciousness to know the smelling of an odour; the gustatory organ needs consciousness to know the tasting of a flavour; the mind base (mano) needs consciousness to know about the mental images and ideas (dhamma). Consciousness is therefore overseeing all the sense bases (ayatana).
If consciousness is lacking then even though the visual and auditory senses organs be whole, no form will be seen or sound heard. It's similar to a corpse: however newly-dead it may be, the visual and auditory senses will still not be able to see and hear. Consciousness is therefore what knows throughout all the senses: the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and the mind.
Consciousness arises dependant on mind-and-body or nama-rupa. Thus the body (rupa-kaya) is complete and the mental group (nama-kaya), which is feeling, perception, mental formations, together with consciousness, are present and supporting each other. The body needs to be living --as it is for us here now-- for consciousness to arise. If there is no nama-rupa or if it has already dispersed, then consciousness also cannot arise. Be aware of the properties of consciousness, its arising and disappearing, right here in your own self.
Feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness are known as the grasping aggregates because we grasp and hold to each of them as mine, as me-myself.

Concerning the Sense Bases (Ayatana)

The normal state of affairs is for the mind to be supported in the rupa aggregate, while for the mental aggregates (nama-khandha) to arise firstly requires consciousness, that knowing of the sense-experience. The condition of contact together with consciousness then leads to the arising of feeling, perception and mental formations (or thinking). One thinks about something and the knowing about that is consciousness. Then, in circular fashion, feeling (for example) arises. Therefore the condition for the arising of the mental aggregates lies with nama-rupa or mind-and-body which conditions the arising of consciousness. By nama-rupa here I mean this corporeal or rupa group complete with the mental group (as I have explained before). They are not defective. They have life, a nervous system and functioning sense bases. You must therefore focus on these sense bases because this is the avenue by which the mental factors arise. The sense bases (ayatana) comprise:
Internally the eye (cakkhu) or visual organ, and externally the visible form (rupa) which is seen --this forms one pair.
Internally the ear (sota) or auditory organ, and externally the sound (sadda) heard --this forms one pair.
Internally the nose (ghana) or olfactory organ, and externally the odour (gandha) smelt --this forms one pair.
Internally the tongue (jivha) or gustatory organ, and externally the flavour (rasa) tasted --this forms one pair.
Internally the body (kaya) and its tactile organ, and externally whatever touches as a tangible object (photthabba) --this forms one pair.
Internally the mind (mano or mana), and externally the mental-object (dhamma) --this forms one pair. These mental objects consist of various past sensory impressions (sights and sounds, for example) picked up by the mind as a subject to think upon.
These are called the sense bases, being that which connects and joins the internal connection to the external connection. For example, the eye (as internal connection) joins to the visual object (as the external connection).
These various sense bases are active in their connecting and joining in everyone from their awakening in the morning until their going back to sleep. For example, if you should open your eyes now,(9) then eyes and visual form must come together. Similarly, with one's ears and sounds. Some of the sounds here now will come from this Dhamma talk and some from the cars outside and various other noises. The nose and odours, the tongue and tastes, the body and tactile sensations, and the mind and thoughts (as mind objects) are each connecting up together all the time.