Chapter 06: Wisdom Arises from the Practice
Observing the rising and falling of the abdomen is to practice the mindfulness of the breathing meditation that the Buddha practiced. Firm, unwavering concentration is its base. In developing wisdom through the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, as long as concentration (samadhi) is not firm and unwavering, there will always be defilements and thoughts arising in the mind. We must use mindfulness to observe this. It is not so important how calm the mind is, it is more important how we observe and note the mind in the present moment. Then wisdom will gradually arise, and our habits will eventually be calmed.
As for insight (vipassana) you must develop it gradually. The teaching I give about directing your mindfulness to the solar plexus, you must be able to do this. I have taught this to children. Sometimes when they are taking their exams and they can’t figure out the answer, directing mindfulness to the solar plexus is a technique which has already showed results. That is, observing the long breaths, directing mindfulness to the solar plexus, and slowing noting, “thinking, thinking.” This is for students who are studying in university. In no long time they can think of the answer, and it’s never wrong. It is the practice of observing the solar plexus. Sometimes we don’t know that is going to happen, we don’t know what to do, but if we just direct our mindfulness to the solar plexus, “knowing, knowing” when the mindfulness is good, wisdom arises, and we develop knowledge of many things. This is not a training method, it’s a technique that can be used for particular circumstances.
But the training is at “rising, falling.” Walking meditation is a training method, a routine devised for training. Wisdom is not scholarship. Developing insight meditation according to the Buddha’s way, one must throw out the text books and scholarship, on must just practice according to this way, throwing out our views and our scholastic knowledge. Just keep on observing. It is accumulating credits for the arising of wisdom by observing the ways moods and thoughts arise and how to solve problems in the most certain way. For example, when someone comes and asks a problem, you will be able to answer their problem. This is the first way. The second way is that if a problem arises, like dust getting in the eye, we can use wisdom to solve it. This is how to develop happiness in the family, and this is wisdom. It is not just sitting and seeing things.
The wisdom that sees cause and effect is the wisdom that can help you to remove all badness from yourself and all defilements which arise in the mind, to suppress them in time. It is not the wisdom that knows what to sell and how much to sell it for in order to make the most profit. The wisdom that we experience in developing insight meditation is not something that you can put into words or tell others, nor can it be given from one person to another. It is the gift to each individual. Other teachers may have other techniques, and others have still other techniques for solving problems.
The wisdom of insight is something we can know. If someone else has suffering how can we relieve it? We can talk in accordance with their real mental state, just a the Buddha was able to know the mental states of other beings. Because he knew other people’s mental states he was able to solve their problems in the right way. The wisdom that arises from insight is not wisdom in relation to making a living, but that kind of wisdom can arise, like a side product. For example, wisdom of the real nature of conditions can enable us to know that is going to happen in the immediate future, and we can work to solve a future problem in the present.
Usually we do not know how wisdom arises. Wisdom is not cleverness, but it is the arising of the knowledge of how to solve problems as they arise. It is difficult to find. Like the “seeing” that I talk about. It was a long time before I knew about it. The delusion (moha) that arise within us can be destroyed immediately. When someone is waling toward you, you must try to ascertain what it is they wan to see you about. But you can’t do it. You’ve never observed in this way, so you never have experience with this kind of problem. When people approach us, men or women, we can know, wisdom can arise, what business they have with us. This is not text book knowledge, it is wisdom that arises just from mindfulness. Just seeing their face we can tell what’s going to happen. It is hard to convey to others, you must continue to practice and you will see it for yourselves. If you are a scholar and simply believe the texts without practicing, no fruit of practice will arise.
Studying the practice is difficult, because mental states are always changing. I advise you to observe on thing at a time, study one thing at a time. But when we practice it’s all scattered: the matter of the cows is not over with before the matter of the buffaloes comes in, and it goes on like this. This is because you haven’t practiced sufficiently, you haven’t trained in this way. You don’t have to make a big study about it, just let the practice develop of itself, and the fruits arise in accordance with your wisdom. Wisdom is the important thing. Wisdom is not scholasticism, it is an internal thing. For example ,when there is feeling, just note one feeling at a time. There is pain, as I’ve told you. The pain is so much, but it will soon show its characteristic of aniccam, impermanence, and suffering. It really is suffering. Suffering is the Dhamma. We will only experience happiness afterwards. Feeling keeps arising in profusion and confusion. The matter of the cows isn’t yet over when this or that cuts in: it’s like this all the time, the mind is confused and scattered.
Just keep observing. Now if wisdom arises, the mind can know these thoughts and feeling clearly through observation. The trick is, whatever arises, just observe it. Don’t throw out the Four Noble Truths. When suffering arises, search for its cause, and make that the basis of your practice. Then you will discover the Four Noble Truths. I advise you to practice consistently, just keep observing. When the mind gets into the groove, wisdom will be able to answer ten kinds of problems all at once. When people come with this or that business, our “computer” will be able to analyze them into different kinds. But confusion will inevitable arise if you haven’t practice enough.
I have practiced for a long time, more than thirty years. And I’ve practices devotedly, so that I know that feeling (vedena) is the Dhamma, suffering is the Dhamma, and happiness in only a small thing. In the past I looked for happiness. Everybody wants happiness and prosperity, but if we haven’t gone through suffering, our happiness will always be stained with suffering, it will be unstable. Happiness is assuredly unstable, aniccam.
I’ve practiced in many different ways. I can separate my mind into compartments, and have one part analyzing the causes and effects, looking at the facts, and another part using my wisdom to help others, pointing out the way for them. It isn’t text book knowledge. It is just “rising” and “falling,” seeing them very clearly. If it isn’t clear at first it will gradually get clearer as the practice progresses, just as I advise you to establish mindfulness when you sleep.
I say we should take the one and only way. Other ways may be right for you, but I haven’t practiced them. You may say my way isn’t right, just to have mindfulness is good enough, but I say this is simple enough: the Four Foundations of Mindfulness: body, feeling, mind and Dhammas. You can practice them at all times; the sense bases, the elements, the faculties are our basis. The faculties have the duty of overseeing our work. The mind arises at one of the sense faculties, its duty is to make contact. It is especially constructed for the purpose. We establish mindfulness and it immediately stops. This is the teaching of the supreme way.
The Buddha said the supreme way can be used at all times, whether you stand, walk, sit or lie down turn left or turn right: have mindfulness and clear comprehension at all times. When you pick something up, do it with mindfulness, know what you are picking up. This is the teaching of the Buddha. It is subtle and refined. The postures we use every day can all be bases for the development of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. If you are skilled in the practice it isn’t necessary to note, mindfulness arises of its own accord. When we raise our hand or pick up something, mindfulness tells us what we are doing and what the objective of our actions is. Wisdom will also be involved.
I hold the Four Foundations of Mindfulness as my base in the practice, because that is the technique that has been fruitful for me. It has enabled me to nurture wisdom and to know in advance some of the events of my life. This is another form that the practice can take. At other places the practice may take another form, but they will always be directed toward the same objectives. It’s like the story I often tell of the blind men groping the elephant: it’s all one elephant, you can’t say that others are wrong.
The forty meditation themes are techniques for counteracting specific mental states, in specific circumstances. You may like to look at beautiful forms and still go to Nibbana; you may like to hear pleasant sounds and still go to Nibbana, but they must be looked at in terms of impermanence, suffering and not self, that is the way of insight. Some places don’t practice properly, they go into magic and the occult: that is a different direction altogether.
It doesn’t matter whether your breathing is long or short. The important thing is that you observe the breath in the present moment, “rising”, “falling”, just observe it. If you can’t observe it, if it’s too fast or too slow and you can’t watch it in time, you must set up your observation again. You don’t have to worry about whether the rising and falling are long or short, or too long or too short—don’t worry about that. Just know that you are observing it how it is in the present moment. When you breathe in the abdomen rises; when you breathe out it falls. Just keep observing it, that’s all you need to do. It isn’t necessary to note how long the rising or the falling is, but sometimes the knowledge will arise of itself, you will know how many stages there are in the rising and how many in the falling. Sometimes this knowledge will arise of itself that the rising is long and the falling is short. Sometimes the falling is long, and falls down very deep, then the rising is short. It happens of itself. The only important this is to keep nothing in the present moment.
It took me a long time to master the practice of the rising and falling, because I had practiced “bud-dho” for ten years, the Dharmakaya for six months. Then when I started practicing the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, I would observe “rising,” “falling,” then “bud-dho” would creep in. It would be like this. I could observe the rising and falling for a time, but then the mind would come back to the old theme. I had done it for ten years, so it was implanted into me. But gradually it changed. I say this is the good way to go: “rising,” “falling.” But I couldn’t help going back to “bud-dho” sometimes because I had done it for ten years. As I continued it got worse, there were many thoughts. But “bud-dho” can be used to develop the Four Foundations of Mindfulness too, observing body, feeling, mind and dhammas. It can be used for that too, but observing the solar plexus is much clearer. see it much clearer then. What kind of images (nimitta) arise? Some people say they sit meditation. Some people say this. The fact is that for insight it isn’t necessary to have a nimitta. If a nimitta arises in concentration meditation, just note “seeing, seeing” and it will disappear. In some places the meditators are very sensitive, they cling on to what they see, and they see many things, they are always arising. Sometimes they sit only five minutes and a nimitta arises, they see all kinds of things, but they have to be able to observe them. It is another way of practice.
How is “rising, falling” clearer? Sometimes the mind will sink down on the rising, sometimes on the falling, and we can see it much clearer then. What kind of images (nimitta) arise? Some people say they sit meditation. Some people say this. The fact is that for insight it isn’t necessary to have a nimitta. If a nimitta arises in concentration meditation, just note “seeing, seeing” and it will disappear. In some places the meditators are very sensitive, they cling on to what they see, and they see many things, they are always arising. Sometimes they sit only five minutes and a nimitta arises, they see all kinds of things, but they have to be able to observe them. It is another way of practice.
When standing, note the crown of the head, establish your mindfulness well. Direct it down to the feet, noting “standing” and observe the tips of your toes. Compose you mindfulness at the feet and then sweep up to the head. Stand quietly and conceive a mental image of the body, from the tips of the toes up to the crown of the head. A mental image of the body will arise for contemplating on. Reflect on this mental image of the body, from the crown of the head to the tips of the toes, five times altogether, then open your eyes. There will be a feeling of numbness over the body, but the thought will arise in the mind. While we are standing sometimes the body will incline to the left and we won’t be able to feel the right side, sometimes it will incline to the right and we can’t feel the left side of the body.
In this practice, note “standing” and see the whole body, conceive a mental image of your standing posture, note the center, from the head downwards to the chest and down between the two feet. Then your body will not sway to the left or the right. Sometimes if we incline to the right, the left side will seem to have on feeling. It’s not paralysis. It’s just a sensation that arises in the meditation. While standing, keep on noting, continuously and slowly. Let the mind wander from the word “standing” a little. Standing form the “left” go to the head. Sometimes the mind will go off to the right or the left, but then we dive down into the mental image, just mentally noting the position of our body.
It is the same with the rising and the falling. At first it may be very clear, but as you continue to note it may become more and more indistinct until it may not even be apparent. If this happens, the rising and falling seem to disappear. If this happens, the rising and falling seem to disappear, then breathe very slowly and deeply, observe, “knowing, knowing,” and reestablish your mindfulness at the solar plexus, noting “rising, falling,” and it will soon become clear once again. If the rising and the falling is not clear, if it is very faint, try putting your hand on the solar plexus to make the sensation clearer, and it will become clearer. Alternatively, just continue to note “knowing, knowing,” reestablish your mindfulness and then go back to noting rising and falling: it will become clear again. Is the mind very scattered? If it mildly scattered then just note it. This is how it is taught according to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, not like the “bud-dho” people: that’s not the way. I’ve practiced that way, it takes a long time to get the mind into the right state, you have to keep at the practice for a long time.
But there is one thing about vipassana that needs bearing in mind: firstly, the wisdom that arises sees the many different kinds of defilements arising within us. We see the law of karma operating, just from the image of feeling that arises. Secondly, whatever arises, it can all be noted according to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. Hold onto this basic principle. Whatever arises, note its cause. Don’t just sink down into a peaceful state. Wisdom does not arise from sinking down into calmness. Knowledge arises from the mindfulness and clear comprehension that we actually develop in the practice. We note the feelings of pain and stiffness that arise here and there, each as it arises, as I’ve explained. Be sure to observe feeling (vedana). The more you can note the feelings the more profound and inspiring your practice will be. When lesser feelings arise they will be only minor concerns. This is an important point.
Sometimes you may remember some past bad karma that you’ve done. Don’t bother thinking about the karma, keep practicing to keep the mind from getting distracted by nothing the feelings that arise. This is the way to practice. You don’t have to look at anything else, just note the feelings that arise within yourself and it will all become clear. If there is a lot of pain, note it. Don’t spread goodwill while practicing meditation. The basic principle is that when you have sat meditation for an hour, say, when you have finished the time determined for the practice, then direct your mind to thoughts of forgiveness. The way to do this is to ask forgiveness for pas bad actions. Once you have asked forgiveness then spread thoughts of goodwill.
For example, a student came from Khon Kaen to study at Ayudhya Teacher’s College. She had such pain she couldn’t sit. Noting it didn’t help. Then she remembered that when she was a child her parents had her go and catch frogs. She broke their legs—while they were still alive. When she told me about it I asked her, When you note the pain does it disappear?” No, it doesn’t disappear. The more I note it the more painful it gets.” “Before, did you ever think of the frogs?” “No, I never thought of them at all.” It got worse and worse—what did she do? She solved the problem by spreading loving-kindness and dedicating the merits of her practice, and the pain disappeared. Now she is a teacher, she finished her diploma. She used the practice that I’ve taught about here.
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