PRACTICAL INSIGHT MEDITATION - HOW NIBBANA IS REALIZED

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The ups and downs of insight knowledge occurring in the aforesaid manner are comparable to a bird let loose from a sea-going ship. In ancient times the captain of a sea-going ship, finding it difficult to know whether the ship was approaching land, released a bird that he had taken with him. The bird flies in all four directions to look for a shore. Whenever it cannot find any land, it comes back to the ship. As long as insight knowledge is not mature enough to grow into path and fruition knowledge and thereby attain to the realization of nibbana, it becomes lax and retarded, just as the bird returns to the ship. When the bird sees land, it flies on in that direction without returning to the ship. Similarly, when insight knowledge is mature, on having become keen, strong and lucid, it will understand one of the formations, at one of the six sense doors, as being impermanent or painful or without self. That act of noticing any one characteristic out of the three which has a higher degree of lucidity and strength in its perfect understanding, becomes faster and manifests itself three or four times in rapid succession. Immediately after the last consciousness in this series of accelerated noticing has ceased, magga and phala (path and fruition) arises, realizing nibbana, the cessation of all formations.

          The acts of noticing are now more lucid than the previous ones immediately before the realization. After the last act of noticing, the cessation of the formations and realization of nibbana become manifest. That is why those who have realized nibbana would say:

          The objects noticed and the consciousness noticing them cease altogether; or, the objects and the acts of noticing are cut off as a vine is cut by a knife; or, the objects and acts of noticing fall off as if one is relieved of a heavy load; or, the objects and acts of noticing break away as if something one is holding breaks asunder; or, the objects and acts of noticing are suddenly freed as if from a prison; or, the objects and acts of noticing are blown off as if a candle is suddenly extinguished; or, they disappear as if darkness is suddenly replaced by light; or, they are released as if freed from an embroilment; or, they sink as if in water, or abruptly stop as if a person running were stopped by a violent push; or, they cease altogether.

          The duration of realizing the cessation of formations is, however, not long. It is so short that it lasts just for an instant of noticing. Then the meditator reviews what has occurred. He knows that the cessation of the material processes noticed and the mental processes noticing them is the realization of magga-phala-nibbana. Those who are well-informed know that the cessation of the formations is nibbana, and the realization of cessation and bliss is magga-phala. They would say inwardly: "I have now realized nibbana and have attained sotapatti maggaphala." Such a clear knowledge is evident to one who has studied the scriptures or heard sermons on this subject.'19

          Some meditators review defilements—those already abandoned and those remaining to be abandoned. After having reviewed in this way, they still continue the practice of noticing bodily and mental processes. While doing so, the bodily and mental processes, however, appear to be coarse. Both the arising and the passing away of the processes are clearly evident to the meditator. And yet the meditator now feels as if his noticing is lax and has regressed. As a matter of fact he has come back to the knowledge of arising and passing away. It is true, his noticing has become lax and regressed. Because he has come back to this stage, he is likely to see bright lights or shapes of objects. In some cases, this reversion results in unbalanced contemplation in that the objects noticed and acts of noticing do not go together. Some meditators experience slight pain for a while. By and large, the meditators notice that their mental processes are clear and bright. At this stage, the meditator feels that his mind is absolutely free from any encumbrance; he feels happily unhindered. In such a frame of mind he cannot notice the mental process, and even if he does so, he cannot notice it distinctly. He cannot think of any other thing either. He simply feels bright and blissful. When this feeling loses its vigor he can again notice the bodily and mental processes and know their arising and passing away clearly. After some time he reaches the stage where he can notice the formations smoothly and calmly. Then, if the insight knowledge is mature, he can again attain to the "knowledge of the cessation of the formations." If the power of concentration is keen and firm, then such knowledge can repeat itself frequently. In these times, the object of the meditators is to attain to the knowledge of the first maggaphala, and consequently they regain that knowledge repeatedly. Thus far has been described the method of meditation, the progressive stages of insight knowledge and the. realization of sotapatti maggaphala.

          One who has attained the knowledge of path and fruition is aware of the distinct change of his temperament and mental attitude and feels that his life has changed. His faith or trustful confidence in the three sacred gems becomes very strong and firm. Due to this strengthened faith he also gains in rapture and serenity. There arises in him a spontaneous upsurge of happiness. Because of these ecstatic experiences he cannot notice the objects in a distinct manner although he endeavors to do so right after the attainment of magga-phala. However, these experiences wane gradually after some hours or days, and he will then be able again to notice the formations distinctly. In some cases, the meditators, having attained magga-phala, feel relieved of a great burden, free and easy, and do not wish to go on contemplating. Their object, the attainment of magga-phala, has been achieved and their hearts' content is understandable.

          Fruition Knowledge (Phala-nana) If one who has attained magga-phala wishes to attain the knowledge of fruition (phala-nana) and nibbana once again, he must direct his mind towards that goal and again attend to noticing mindfully the bodily and mental processes. In the course of insight meditation it is but natural that "analytical knowledge of body and mind" appears first to a worldling (puthujjana) and "knowledge of arising and passing away" appears first to a noble person (ariya). Therefore, a meditator at this stage, conscious of the bodily and mental processes, will forthwith achieve the "knowledge of arising and passing away," followed soon by the other progressive stages of insight, up to the "knowledge of equanimity about formations." When this knowledge matures, the cessation of formations, nibbana, is reached with the resultant "knowledge of fruition." This knowledge lasts just a moment to one who has not previously made a resolve on its duration; but it may sometimes last a little longer. But in the case of those who had made a prior resolve on its duration, the "know ledge of fruition" lasts longer, say the whole day or night, or as long as the time resolved, as stated in the Commentaries. Likewise, in these days, in the case of those immersed in concentration and insight, fruition lasts an hour, two hours, three hours, and so on. Fruition know ledge comes to an end only when the meditator wishes to terminate it. Nevertheless, during a period of fruition knowledge, lasting an hour or two, reflective moments sometimes arise, but they disappear after four or five noticings, and fruition knowledge recurs. In some cases, fruition knowledge lasts for several hours, without any interruption. While fruition knowledge lasts, conscious ness is absolutely set upon the cessation of formations known by the designation of nibbana. Nibbana is a dhamma entirely liberated from the bodily and mental process and all mundane notions. Therefore, during the experiencing of fruition knowledge there arises no awareness of one's bodily and mental processes and of this world, nor of any other mundane sphere. One is absolutely free from the entire mundane sphere. One is absolutely free from all mundane knowledge and inclinations. There are around him all objects to see, hear, smell or touch, but he is not aware of them at all. His posture is firm. If bliss of fruition knowledge comes while he is sitting, his sitting posture remains firm, as firm as before, without bending or sagging. However, when the process of fruition knowledge comes to an end there arises at once in him the awareness of thoughts relating to the cessation of the formations or the objects of sight, hearing, etc. Then the normal contemplation returns or buoyant feeling or reflection. At the beginning the formations appear to him to be coarse and his noticings are not vigorous enough. But in the case of those who are strong in insight, their contemplation runs as smoothly as ever.

          A note of warning may be given here. The meditator should make a prior resolve on the speedy entrance into fruition knowledge and the duration of it. He should not turn his attention to a resolve once he has started to notice the bodily and mental processes. Before the maturity of insight is achieved, while he is doing very well in noticing the formations, he may experience "goose flesh," yawning, trembling and sobbing, and lose the momentum of contemplation. While the acts of noticing are gaining strength, he may look forward to the goal and thereby loosen the grip on his contemplation. But he should not think of anything else than his contemplation and if he does so unwittingly, he must notice the extraneous thought. Some attain to fruition knowledge only after several losses of the momentum in their acts of noticing. If one's concentration is weak, then the entry into fruition knowledge is slow, and when it comes it does not last long. This is a description of the process of fruition knowledge.

          Reviewing: Some of the meditators pass through the stages of the knowledge of fearfulness, misery, disgust, desire of deliverance and consequently have no clear view of them. So, one wishing to review them should review each of them for a fixed time. For example, for half an hour or one hour one should pay heed only to the arising and passing away of the objects, with a resolve on the knowledge of arising and passing away. During that period the knowledge of arising and passing away remains intact, and there will be no further progress of insight. However, when that period expires, knowledge of dissolution arises by itself. If it does not arise by itself, then heed must be given to dissolution with a resolve that knowledge of dissolution stays on for a certain length of time. During that period what has been resolved will occur. On the expiration of the time fixed, the next higher knowledge will arise by itself. If it does not, he should aspire to the knowledge of fearfulness associated with fearful objects. Then knowledge of fearfulness will come together with fearful objects. Then he should turn his attention to miserable objects and knowledge of misery will arise very soon. When the mind is directed to disgusting objects it will give rise to knowledge of disgust. Getting disgusted with every noticing, knowledge of disgust will set in. The next stage must then be thought of: knowledge of desire for deliverance. Seized with an ardent desire to be delivered from the formations, he should aspire to the relevant knowledge, and soon that knowledge will come, after some effort. When one inclines towards the next higher stage, one will experience pains, wish to change postures and become disturbed by a feeling of dissatisfaction, but will gain knowledge of reobservation. Then, the meditator must turn his mind to the knowledge of equanimity. The momentum of contemplation will go on until there arises smoothly the knowledge of reobservation. In this way, one will find that during the stipulated time, while one is noticing, the particular knowledge one aspires to arises and on its expiration the next higher knowledge arises as if it were a barometric rise. If a review of the above-mentioned knowledges is not yet satisfactory, it should be repeated until one is satisfied. To a very ardent meditator the progress is so very swift that he may reach the stage of knowledge of equanimity about formations in a few moments, as also the stage of fruition knowledge. One who is well matured in the practice can attain to fruition knowledge while walking or having a meal.
 

How to Attain to the Higher Paths (Maggas)

          When the meditator gets full satisfaction from the exercises to attain speedily the fruition knowledge of the first path, as also to abide therein for a long time, he should strive to attain to a higher path. He must then make an ardent wish in this manner, having determined a definite period for striving: "During this period I do not wish to experience the fruition knowledge. May there be no recurrence of that knowledge! May I attain to the higher path, the path I have not yet attained! May I reach that goal!" With this ardent wish, he should, as usual, notice the bodily and mental processes. The advantage of the determination of a definite period is that he can easily attain again the fruition knowledge of the path already acquired, if he so wishes. If no such time limit is made, and one goes on striving to attain to the higher path, then it will no longer be possible for him to attain again the fruition knowledge of the lower path. In that event, if one finds that he cannot as yet attain to the higher path nor go back to the fruition knowledge of the lower path, he will be disturbed by a feeling of dissatisfaction and disappointment. The advantage of abandoning the wish for re-attaining the already attained fruition knowledge is the nonattainment of the knowledge during the particular period, and if there is maturity of insight, one can attain to the higher path. If the wish is not fully abandoned, then the previous fruition knowledge may set in again. Therefore, full abandonment of the wish is called for during the definite period. When one begins the contemplation with a view to attaining the higher path, the progress of insight will begin with knowledge of arising and passing away. Then the progress of insight is not similar to that one makes while striving for the recurrence of fruition knowledge, but the same as the progress one makes in practicing contemplation for the lower path. Brilliant light or shapes may appear as in the case of the earlier stage of knowledge of arising and passing away. One may experience pain. Distinct arising and passing away of the bodily and mental processes occurs. Although it does not take long to regain the "knowledge of equanimity about formations" while one is contemplating for the recurrence of fruition knowledge, now if insight does not mature one will have to remain long at the stages of lower knowledges. However, no difficulty will confront the meditator as in the case of his contemplation for the lower path. It is possible that he may attain to one knowledge after another up to "knowledge of equanimity about formations" in a day's time. The mental process of knowledge is much more lucid, distinct and broad. Much keener are his experiences of fearfulness, misery, disgust, desire for deliverance from the ills of the mundane spheres. Formerly, although it was possible to attain fruition knowledge four or five times in an hour, now, if insight is not yet mature for the higher path, "knowledge of equanimity about formations" goes on. Possibly it may last from a day to months or years. On the maturity of insight, distinct noticings of the formations having appeared, the realization of the cessation of the formations comes with the attainment of the higher path and fruition. Then will come to him the "knowledge of reviewing." He will later return to the stage of "knowledge of arising and passing away" with a very clear mental process. This is the description of the progress of insight leading to the attainment of sakadagami magga, the path of the once-returner.

          Again, if one ardently wishes to attain to the third path, anagami magga, one must again decide on a definite period during which one abandons fully the desire for returning to the fruition knowledge of the previous path. Then one resolves thus: "May only the progress of insight relating to the higher path come. May I attain the higher path and fruition." And he must begin contemplating on body and mind as usual. He begins with "knowledge of arising and passing away," but soon he will attain the higher knowledges one after the other up to "knowledge of equanimity about formations." If insight is not yet mature, then that knowledge will linger on. When it matures, then it will reach the cessation of formations and with it the knowledge of the third path and fruition. This is the description of the attainment of the third path and fruition, of the anagami or nonreturner.

          One who aspires to the fourth and final path and fruition, that of sainthood (arahatta magga and phala), must fix a period and give up all desire to re-attain to the fruition-knowledge of the third path. Then he must begin to contemplate the bodily and mental processes as usual. This is the only way, as stated in the Satipatthana Sutta. Beginning with "knowledge of arising and passing away," soon "knowledge of equanimity about formations" will be attained. If insight is not yet mature, it will tarry. When it does mature, then the meditator will attain to the cessation of formations with the realization of the final arahatta magga.

          In the foregoing paragraphs, the words to the effect that the progress of insight will end up in the realization of the knowledge of the paths and fruitions (magga phala-nana) refer only to those who have gained maturity in the fulfillment of paramitas (perfections). Those who have not yet developed paramitas fully will come to a standstill at the "knowledge of equanimity about formations." An important point to be noted is that, although the person who has attained the first path is likely to attain the second path soon with comparative ease, he will find it difficult to reach the third path for a long time. The reason is that both of the attainers of the first path and the second path are well practiced in the observance of virtue (sila) or, in other words, they are the paragons of virtue. In the case of the attainer of the third path, he must have also fully developed concentration (samadhi) Therefore, he is not able to attain the third path easily in that he has to strive hard to develop concentration. Be that as it may, without utmost effort to develop one's powers, nobody can possibly know whether he is able to attain this path or that path. in some cases, the attainment of a path comes only after a long time, and because one has to strive that long it must not be assumed that one has not yet fully developed paramitas. Again, the present effort can lead to the fulfillment of paramitas, getting nearer to maturity. So, one should not waste one's time by weighing in his mind the matter of one's having the paramitas or not.

          The meditator should bear in mind the following undeniable point and put forth utmost effort to achieve his aspiration.

          Even the development of paramitas is not possible with out effort. Granted that one has fully developed paramitas, he cannot possibly attain any path without effort. Such a person can attain a path easily and speedily if he puts forth effort. If he has developed paramitas to an appreciable extent, his effort will lead to its maturity and consequently he can attain the path he aspires to. At the least, he has sown potent seeds for the harvest of a path in the next existence.

Advice

          In these times those who are most ardent and keen to work for their own deliverance from the ills of the world and the attainment of magga-phala-nibbana, which is the highest goal of vipassana! (insight) meditation, they will be well advised to practice by the aforesaid way the contemplations of body, feeling, consciousness and mental objects, called otherwise satipatthana meditation. It is, in fact, a "must" for them.
 

A Special Note

          The technique of insight meditation outlined in this treatise is quite sufficient for persons of fair intelligence. Such persons, having read it, should practice these contemplations with firm faith, keen desire and great diligence, in a methodical manner, and they can be sure of progress. It must, however, be pointed out that the details of the experiences and the progressive stages of insight gone through by meditators cannot possibly be described in full in this short treatise. There still remains much that is worthy of description. On the other hand, what has been described here is not experienced in toto by every meditator. There are bound to be differences according to one's capabilities and paramitas. Again, one's faith, desire and diligence do not remain constant always. Furthermore, a meditator, having no instructor and being entirely dependent on book knowledge, will be as cautious and hesitant as a traveler who has never been on a particular journey. Therefore, it is obviously not very easy for such a person to attain the paths, fruitions and nibbana (magga-phala-nibbana) if he goes on striving without a teacher to guide and encourage him. This being so, one who is really keen to meditate until he attains his goal, magga-phala-nibbana, must find out a teacher who is fully qualified by his own attainments to guide him all along the way from, the lowest stage of insight to the highest knowledges of path, fruition and reviewing. This advice is quite in accord with what is stated in the Nidana Vagga, Samyutta Nikaya: "A teacher should be sought for knowledge about decay and death as it really is." Should anybody be obsessed with pride—"I am an extra ordinary man. Why should I learn from anyone?"—he will be well advised to do away with such pride, as Potthila Mahathera did.

          In the course of contemplation, bearing in mind the following advice of the Buddha, one should go all out to win the goal.

No slacker nor the man of puny strength

May win nibbana, freedom from all ill.

And this young brother, yea, this peerless man

Bears the last burden, Mara's conqueror.

(The Book of Kindred Sayings)