Using Clear Comprehension


Transcription of a dhamma talk given by Bhikkhu Sopako Bodhi (Achan Sobin Namto) during a meditation retreat in Edmonton, Canada, 1988. Edited by Cynthia Thatcher.

Topics covered: continuous mindfulness; adding drops to the cup; the mirror; stretching step-by-step; what is "Buddha"?; the real Triple Gem; the eight-fold path now; what is "sitting"?; observing motion, not body; sun, shadow, tree; four elements; rupa and nama making contact; one moment better than a hundred years; Empire State; the value of practice; dhamma soap; delusion in daily life; more water than Coke; neutrality vs. equanimity; truth not exclusive to Buddhism; the Buddha's enlightenment; observing mind more than body; three characteristics; finding the fire.

Note: the meditators' names have been changed. The commentary in brackets is the editor's.

Using Clear Comprehension: Edmonton Talk #2

While you are here in this retreat you must move step-by-step all the time; you must move your hands one at a time during transitions between postures whether you are sitting, standing, walking, or going back to sit again. Except when you go down to breakfast - then you don't have to move step-by-step exactly. Just move with clear comprehension. Walk slowly and take the food using clear comprehension. Clear comprehension means to be aware of, or be mindful of, whatever you are doing right now. Don't care about what anyone else is doing. Just concentrate on what you are doing in the present, but without breaking your actions into separate movements. [Note: this instruction is for a group of advanced meditators. Beginners should still try to maintain the step-by-step technique as much as possible during a retreat, even when not formally "meditating."]

When you break your actions down into separate moments, like moving the hands one at a time, or walking step-by-step, you are using momentary concentration to support mindfulness. But when you just stand up slowly and walk slowly [Bhikkhu Sopako demonstrating], that means that you're using clear comprehension to know the action. That is nonstop practice, too; you haven't really given up mindfulness, even though you're not moving step-by-step. It's just that you're no longer using momentary concentration to support mindfulness. When you focus step-by-step, on one object at a time from moment-to-moment, and you label the objects with mental notes, you're using momentary concentration to support mindfulness.

But when using clear comprehension you don't need to label the object. Just be aware of what you are doing in the present, now. For example: you know that you are walking. If you are walking too fast you must slow down, because you are meditators. You are not lay people or ordinary people walking on the street. They can walk fast, they can run. But when you are meditators you have to walk like meditators. You have to walk mindfully or walk using clear comprehension. You must always have mindfulness whether sitting, standing, walking, eating, drinking or doing anything. Continuously. Sometimes you maintain continuity with the help of momentary concentration. Sometimes you maintain continuity by using clear comprehension to support mindfulness. So as long as you are here you have to keep practicing step-by-step, even if you are walking in the hall, except when you go to have a meal or go to the bathroom, for example. At that time you can give up the step-by-step technique; but do not give up continuity.

An electric light turned on in the daytime doesn't seem as bright as it does at night. At night the light seems more clear, more bright, because there's no light outside. In the daytime, the light is less clear. But it's still turned on. It's the same for meditators. When they practice step-by-step, noting each separate object from moment-to-moment, it's like the light at night: very clear, very bright. But when they give up the step-by-step technique and just walk slowly with mindfulness and clear comprehension, it's like the electric light in the daytime. But we never turn off the light because we want to practice continuously, nonstop. Why do we need to practice nonstop? Because if we turn off mindfulness, delusion is present. That's why we don't turn off the light, don't give up mindfulness at all, even when we go to eat or do something else; we have to have clear comprehension.

Meditator 1: Do you mean that all the time we have to be mindful and conscious of what we are doing?

Bhikkhu Sopako: Yeah, that's right. That's correct.

Meditator 1: Twenty-four hours?

Bhikkhu Sopako: Yes. Twenty-four hours, except when you sleep. As soon as you wake up you have to continue right away. That's the meaning of nonstop or continuous practice. Whenever you have wandering mind, for instance, just come back to the moment as soon as you're aware of it. Don't worry about how long it lasted. Forget it. Just begin again. As long as you know what's going on, you haven't lost continuity. So you have to continue all day and all night long for the next several days except when you're sleeping. Try to keep the level of mindfulness steady, try to use energy and concentration to work with mindfulness so as to keep it continuous. Just notice how long you can continue or how often you lose mindfulness. How long can you continue with a body object, a feeling object, a consciousness object, or a mental (dhamma) object?

How many drops of water can you put in the cup in a single day, starting from five a.m.? One drop, two drops, three drops, all day long until you go to bed. How much water do you add to the cup? Or, how long do you take a break and stop adding drops? Just keep adding more and more water, more and more "moment-to-moment" objects in your mind. Then you'll be practicing nonstop, continuously. How much water you will have!

The ordinary [unenlightened] mind is the same as dirty water in a cup. There is a lot of greed, hatred and delusion. So we try to pour pure water into the cup. One drop, two drops, three drops until a hundred, a thousand, a million drops. They dilute the muddy water more and more until it becomes clear and pure, until we cannot see the mud at all. The question is, where is the dirty water from before? Where has it gone? Who can answer? It's like a swimming pool outside. When it is full of dirty water, the person who cleans the pool has to understand how to put in fresh water until the dirt is gone.

It's the same thing in the mind. You have to pour mindfulness in, more and more. You have to put present-moment objects in the mind every day, all day long except when you sleep at night. How much your mind becomes clear and pure. That's the benefit you get. That's the result from practicing mindfulness; not calmness, not worldly happiness or psychic power at all, right? [But the meditator who completes the eight-fold path will get "supramundane" happiness.] Just a clean mind, a clear mind [to see ultimate truth.]

Like a mirror. When it's too dirty you can't see your reflection. But then you try to clean it. You clean more and more until there's no dust left on the mirror. Then you can see your face very clearly. But where does that clear reflection come from? It comes from cleaning the mirror. The mirror by its nature has to show your reflection. But when there is dust on it, you can't see it. Yet when you clean the surface, the reflection shows clearly. It's the same in the mind. So how can you have a clean or clear mind now? By practicing continuously. Don't give a chance for delusion to arise.

This morning I saw Peter move like this. [Bhikkhu Sopako demonstrates stretching his arms without mindfulness.] That's okay for relaxing or exercising. But when practicing mindfulness, moving that way gives a chance for delusion to arise. Instead, when you want to stretch, do it step-by-step. [Bhikkhu Sopako demonstrates.] Move the body a little bit. Move [the hands] one by one. Move the hand down, touch the floor, move one hand at a time. Which way is of more benefit; to move the way Peter was moving, the way we do in ordinary life, or to move step-by-step? To do it this way [the ordinary way] is okay when not practicing mindfulness. Everyone does that. Most meditators who have studied with another teacher do that [i.e., they stretch unmindfully between sitting and walking practice, which means that they lose continuity.] They do this just to relax the body by changing position, for exercise. But if you want to maintain continuity of mindfulness, you cannot do that, because you'll have two objects at the same time. Mindfulness does not know which one to focus on. At that moment you've left a gap, and delusion can enter.

Let's say that your sitting meditation goes very well; you're able to observe continuously. But when the bell rings or the time is up you give up mindfulness; you break the continuity. [I.e., you jump up and stretch or move carelessly.] But if you want to stretch, like Peter this morning, do it step-by-step. [Bhikkhu Sopako demonstrating.] Bend the body [forward] a little bit; move the hands one by one; then move your head until it touches the floor. That's the same action but it's very good because you have mindfulness. That makes it right action. When you move each hand you are aware of what you are doing. You have energy and effort, you have mindfulness, you have continuity and momentary concentration with the action.

How many drops do you get? Moving the body, one; moving the hand, two; raising up [the hand], three; moving forward, four; moving down, five; touching, six; moving seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, right? Fourteen times [fourteen separate movements]. Okay; back to the example. How much water did you get? Fourteen drops of water [Laughter]. That's a lot. Better than this [Bhikkhu Sopako stretches his arms unmindfully]. Nothing, right? [Laughter.]

It's the same when Thai people see a Buddha statue. They bow right away [i.e., unmindfully and too fast]. That's okay for the custom or cultural tradition. But a meditator should not do that. When you bow like that, you are bowing with delusion; you are not bowing to the Buddha. The Buddha means knowledge or wisdom. You have to bow like this [demonstrating how to bow step-by-step]: move the head. You don't have to move the head all the way to the floor. But if you touch the head to the floor it is the same movement. I will show you now. Move your body down until your head touches the floor and come back again, like this. [Demonstrating.] That is how to bow to the Buddha. "Buddha" means knowledge or wisdom. So when you move your body, you know [that is, you are mindful of what you are doing]. When you move your hand, you know; when you raise it up, you know. That's what it means to bow to the Buddha [wisdom] rather than bowing to the material thing called the "Buddha image." That's not correct.

Bowing to the image is bowing from emotion. How can that be for the Buddha? It just makes people feel happy when they go to the temple and think about paying respect to the Buddha. Then they attach with the statue: "Wow, it's very good. Beautiful." It makes them happy. But according to ultimate truth or correct practice, that's not true. The Buddha image is just a statue to help people think about what he taught. But what did he teach? The dhamma [here "dhamma" means ultimate reality]. Where is the dhamma? [Pointing to his chest] in here. In your own body and mind. The body is rupa [material phenomena]. Knowing is nama [mind or mental phenomena]. That's the truth the Buddha taught.

You have that in you already. Everybody has it already. Someone who knows the dhamma can become a Buddha, too. The Buddha said that whoever wanted to pay respect to him had to practice the dhamma. The Buddha said, "Whoever sees the dhamma sees me," even though he passed away two thousand, five-hundred years ago. We can still see the Buddha now, by seeing the dhamma. So if we want to pay respect to him we have to understand what or who the Buddha is. The Buddha means knowledge [of ultimate reality]. What does the Buddha know? What does knowledge or wisdom know? Wisdom knows the dhamma. What is the dhamma? Rupa and nama. Rupa and nama are the truth or the dhamma.

And those who develop wisdom by practicing vipassana are called the "sangha." The sangha means [the order of enlightened beings]: sotapanna [the stream-winner], sakadagami [the once-returner], anagami [the non-returner], and arahant [the holy one]. Those are the four levels of the sangha. The real sangha does not refer to the monks who shave their heads, wear yellow robes and take 227 precepts. The organization of monks is the conventional sangha. But the sangha according to the triple gem [the Buddha, the dhamma and the sangha] means the group of beings who have attained enlightenment. It doesn't matter if they are monks and nuns or lay people. That is the real sangha.

Meditator 1: So you don't mean the monks that you see around in Thailand with the yellow robe - you don't mean that?

Bhikkhu Sopako: No. I don't mean that. That is the ordinary sangha of monks that performs ceremonies according to the Buddhist tradition. They can ordain others or do things to serve the people. But if you want to take refuge you have to understand the higher meaning. You have to understand what is really meant by the Buddha, the dhamma, and the sangha. If you understand, then you have taken refuge already. You do not need to go to a temple or ask a monk to do a ceremony so that you can become a Buddhist. It doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter if you are Buddhist or not, if you have knowledge to understand the truth. Anyone who eliminates ignorance and the other defilements can become enlightened, too. That person can become a "Noble One" the same as a Buddhist. The dhamma does not belong to the Buddha or Buddhism exclusively. It is always in the world. Right now, the truth is here in you and me. Everybody has rupa and nama. Rupa and nama are the truth. They are the path. And everyone can practice the eight-fold path, the right path. [The eight-fold path consists of: right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right view and right thought.] How can you practice the eight-fold path right now? Make the effort to move your hand [as in the hand-motions exercise. See "How to Meditate"]. That's right effort. Use mindfulness to focus on moving. Focus on moving, not the hand itself. As you raise the hand up, keep using mindfulness to focus continuously. You will have right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration when you move the hand up or down, when you touch or move, nonstop.

How many steps? Like I said before about the fourteen or fifteen moments of movement [with stretching]. . . every time that you move you have right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. When you maintain step-by-step mindfulness during transitions between postures, when you continue to observe from moment-to-moment, one object at a time, that is right action. When you keep silent, that's right speech. When you eat or drink mindfully, that's right livelihood. So you can complete six factors of the eight-fold path by observing nama and rupa right now. Sitting is rupa; knowing is nama. You are making right effort when you focus on sitting, or focus on rising-falling at the stomach.

[Regarding the rising-falling exercise] Concentrate here, about two inches over the navel. You can focus on this point, on the center of the body, when you breathe in and out. It doesn't matter exactly where you feel rising and falling. But just focus on a point. Like when you take a picture with a camera, you focus on one spot [that is, you don't have to bring each part of the picture into focus individually]. You focus on one point so that, if there are two images, they become one. How can you focus so that the picture is sharp, so that the double image becomes one? If you can do that you will have a good picture.

When you focus correctly, from moment-to-moment, you will have a clear picture in your mind. Rupa and nama will be very clear. Or, like I said before, when you pour pure water into the cup you can eliminate the dirty water more and more. That's the benefit you get all the time, you see? So you have to understand the truth and the meaning of what we are doing. You have to understand the reason. Don't just do it from faith or confidence; that's not correct.

Confidence and wisdom have to work together. For example, you have to understand the purpose of focusing on sitting [referring to the meditation on the sitting posture]. What is the meaning of "sitting"? What is it that is sitting? What is it that knows sitting is happening? You have to find out the truth about the sitting object. Because most people have attachment and they think, "I am sitting." But what or where is the "I" in sitting? Is it the hair or head or body or hand or leg? Where is the "I"? Or, where is "sitting"? You cannot find it. [Pointing to parts of his body] this is the head, not sitting. This is the hand, not sitting. This is the leg, not sitting. This is the hip, not sitting. Where is sitting, Cathy?

Cathy: You focus on a point of sitting. Rupa is sitting.

Bhikkhu Sopako: Yes. Who knows sitting?

Cathy: I can't remember what you said.

Bhikkhu Sopako: Is it correct to say, "I know sitting"?

Cathy: Nama knows sitting.

Bhikkhu Sopako: Nama knows; that's correct. If you answer, "I know sitting," that's not correct. But you are correct; you are right. You understand already that the truth is, "nama knows sitting," not, "I am sitting." Also, it is not the body that is sitting. Sitting is not [identical to] the body. The body is not the same thing as "sitting." Or, when you move the hand up, movement is not the hand. The hand and the movement are two different things.

This morning I mentioned that you have to separate in order to understand the truth. If you are focusing on the hand, you cannot see arising and passing away or impermanence, suffering and non-self. The hand is ego or self; it is [relatively] permanent, right? The hand does not experience suffering or unsatisfactoriness. [When we have pain "in the hand," for example, the painful feeling is actually a mental phenomena. Matter itself cannot feel or experience.] And the hand is self. ["Hand" is a concept, a conventional idea that does not actually exist objectively. What exists objectively are just the material elements, earth, air, water and fire that arise and pass away very quickly. But when we talk about them as a "hand" we perceive these elements as relatively permanent and assume them to belong to a person, an individual, a self. But this assumed self doesn't exist in ultimate terms.]

A tree, for example, is permanent. Although it grows and eventually dies, it doesn't change position from hour to hour. But the tree's shadow moves every minute because the sun moves. When we look at the tree we cannot see any movement or change. But when looking at the shadow, in one hour we can see that it has moved from here to there; we know that it has been moving a little bit all the time. The shadow never stays in the same place; it always has to move.

It is similar to the mind. [In this analogy, the mind is the sun, the body the tree, and bodily movement, the tree's shadow.] For instance, when we raise the hand up, we can see the movement arise and pass away. We can see the knowing of the movement arise and pass away, too. That's correct. That movement comes from the mind. The mind is never permanent. [A movement of the arm or leg, of course, doesn't last as long as the physical body itself. The motion lasts only one moment; we can see it begin and end right now, whereas the physical body can persist for 80 or more years. So the motion is like the shadow because we can see it change in the present. We can see impermanence in it. And the body moves because the mind makes it move, just as the shadow is "produced" by sunlight. The motion and the shadow are impermanent. But the physical body, for all practical purposes, is permanent. Like the tree, we cannot perceive its changes. In vipassana we want to see the truth of impermanence. For that reason motion, rather than the physical body per se, is the correct object of mindfulness.]

When the mind no longer orders the hand to move, the hand cannot move. The hand must stop. When the body is without nama or consciousness, it cannot move. It is like a chair; it cannot move by itself. It is like a dead body. So we should understand that the movement of the hand comes from nama, comes from consciousness.

The mind, with the help of the air element, can make the body light so that it can move. When the body moves or changes into another posture, that's the air element. So where do the four postures come from? They come from the mind. When the mind wants the body to stand up, it orders it to move. When the mind wants to walk, it makes the legs light, not heavy, so that it's easy to walk. Usually, when the mind does not want to move it can make the body very heavy, to the point that it can hardly be moved at all. So there are three things [involved in the act of bodily motion]:

1) Consciousness.
2) the air element.
3) Motion.

Motion and the air element are rupa. Consciousness, awareness of the movement or posture, is nama. For example, right now my mind wants to sit. It is making the body sit, sit, sit.

Correct Object of Mindfulness

The water element makes the body sink. When you lie down, the water element is the leader, because a stream of water always flows downward. When you stand up, the fire element is in charge. Fire makes the body go up since fire always burns upwards, never downwards. When you walk [or otherwise move] the air element is in charge. [And when you sit, the earth element dominates.] They take turns being in charge. That's one meaning of change in the elements or in rupa. Rupa and nama, the mind that orders the body to move, have to work together. When nama and rupa make contact in the present moment, that is the correct object of mindfulness.

If you are just observing the body, that's not the correct object of mindfulness. That's an object of concentration. If you only have nama, that's not a correct object of mindfulness, either. You have to observe rupa and nama as they come together in the present moment, right now. That's the correct object of mindfulness. A student asked about this yesterday in the car. But it's very hard to observe correctly, to observe the present moment exactly. For instance, right now: we are sitting here now. But while sitting here you might be thinking, "I am sitting here now." Okay; you are staying in the present time. But that is not the same as being in the present moment exactly. It is very hard to see it correctly, to bring nama and rupa together. It is very hard to see the exact moment of rupa and nama. [In vipassana, "being in the present moment" has a specific meaning, i.e.: to be clearly aware of one nama and one object as they come into contact. If one sees this clearly, there will be no sense of "I," "myself," or "my body."] A person might practice all day long and only see it one time. That is very special. But someone else will not see it until after two or three days of practicing. For others it might take a week, two weeks, three weeks, a month, two months, seven months. Others might practice [continuously] for seven years until they see the present moment exactly, correctly, even once.

If you see the present moment of rupa and nama even once, that makes your life special. That is better than living a hundred years. [A person who sees this is called "jhula-sota," meaning a "junior" sotapanna. ("Sotapanna" refers to someone who has reached the first level of enlightenment.) A jhula-sota cannot be reborn in the lower realms for three subsequent lifetimes. His or her mind is ripe to reach the first level of enlightenment.] In the Dhammapada it says that someone who lives for a hundred years has not gained anything special. But the person who practices insight meditation and can clearly see, for one moment, the truth of rupa and nama arising and passing away, even if he dies then and there, is far better off than the person who lives a hundred years and doesn't see it. Because those who can see rupa and nama have made their minds clear and clean. They have eliminated doubt. That's important.

For example: the Empire State Building in New York. Some people read about it but never actually see it. Even when they know everything about it from reading, they still have doubts about what it's like. Then there are those who are not interested in the story of the building. But when they go to New York they see the building, go up to the 98th floor and take in the view of the city. They no longer have any doubt about what that building is like. They don't need to read about it, because they have seen it firsthand.

It's the same thing; when you see rupa and nama one time, even if you die, it's better than not seeing it and living for a hundred years. Just living for a hundred years [without knowledge of ultimate truth] isn't special at all because, what is happening during that time? You wake up in the morning, eat, go to work, come home, shop, take a shower, eat again, and go to bed. Then you wake up and it starts all over again. Every day you repeat the same thing. There's nothing new, right? You never know about rupa and nama.

But you have come here for five days. From the moment you wake up you have mindfulness all the time, except when you're sleeping. Sometimes mindfulness is lost a little bit but then you continue again right away. Five days here is better than staying at home. You can keep the benefit of this retreat in your mind the rest of your life. You will feel happy with the experience, happy with having come to this retreat. Here, since you have mindfulness all day long, you're adding pure water to the cup all the time; you have already benefited from what you have done. That's why staying here is very special for your life.

In daily life there is delusion and ignorance in the mind all the time, twenty-four hours. But here, except when you are sleeping for five or six hours, and the few times that you "lose the moment," you are mindful all day long. So you only have delusion for about eight hours, and mindfulness for fourteen or sixteen hours. How special that is, how different from ordinary life, from what you'd be doing if you had not come here. Do you see the difference between staying here and developing mindfulness, and staying at home? Are they different or not? Do you see the difference? Peg?

Peg: Well, it depends on what one does at home.

Bhikkhu Sopako: Okay. What do you do at home?

Peg: Well, if you're on retreat at home, of course you can maintain your mindfulness there, but in day-to-day life, as you were saying. . .

Bhikkhu Sopako: Okay, I agree with that. If you practice insight meditation at home, it's no different from being here. But how long do you have time to practice mindfulness at home? That's the difference. At home you might not have a long period of time like this. Just one or two hours. But here you have almost the whole day until bedtime. We have someone to cook for you and a staff to take care of things. You are very lucky to be practicing rather than doing something else.

Even though you had to spend money for room and board and transportation, it's just a little bit. But the benefit is great. For example, you might spend two or three dollars to buy a box of laundry soap, right? From that one box you can wash a lot of clothes. You get a lot for your money. Same thing: you spend a little money to come here and buy some dhamma soap to clean your mind. [Laughter.] You will be happy from having cleaned your mind, all right? The benefit will continue for your whole life and even into next. Even though you've only spent a little bit to come here, the benefit will last beyond this life, even until you reach nibbana. You are adding paramita, adding background at this retreat, and the benefit will continue into the future.

Meditator 2: Is there always water going into the glass?

Bhikkhu Sopako: Oh, sure. But just be careful about the dirty water.

Meditator 2: Is it always the same amount?

Bhikkhu Sopako: Yes. Because everything in the world should balance. In everyday life either greed, hatred or delusion always arises whenever you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, think, stand, walk, and so on. When you like something, desire arises. When you don't like something, hatred arises. [Although liking and disliking are milder states than greed and hatred, the latter two are the mental factors from which liking and disliking spring. Greed and hatred are always present in the unenlightened mind, lying dormant until triggered by an appropriate object.] When you feel so-so, when you look at a wall, for example, and feel neither liking nor disliking, delusion arises. Delusion arises because you don't know what you are seeing [i.e., you don't perceive the object in ultimate terms, as merely nama or rupa. You still perceive it as a named, conventional thing.] You don't know that the color or image is rupa, and that seeing is nama [the act of seeing is carried out by nama]. Whenever you don't know rupa and nama you have delusion or ignorance. When you are sitting, you don't know that sitting is rupa, and that the agent that knows sitting is nama. You just think, "I'm sitting here." That's delusion. [It's delusion because one has the wrong view that it's a self or an "I" that is sitting.]

If you feel, "I like this chair," that means that desire has arisen. Or if you think, "I don't like this chair. I don't want to sit here," that means that hatred has arisen. You are never without one of these three defilements. If the object is good, desire arises; if the object is bad, hatred arises; if the object is neutral, delusion arises, twenty-four hours a day.

When you're asleep delusion is always present, not mindfulness. As soon as you wake up, if you hear something good, desire arises; if you hear something bad, hatred arises; if you hear something so-so, delusion arises. But from the time of your birth until now, how often have you had a chance to practice mindfulness? This retreat is only five days long. You will only have mindfulness for five days, compared to the many years of having defilements all day long. That's why you have to keep going and set up mindfulness, concentration and wisdom to balance the defilements first. When you balance them [i.e., when mindfulness is as strong as greed, hatred and delusion] then you can add more.

Mindfulness will go up after that. [First you develop mindfulness until it's equal to the three defilements; after that, when it becomes stronger than greed, hatred and delusion, you'll be able to eliminate those factors.]

Take the same example again. Say that I have Coca-Cola in this glass. I take a sip; it tastes strong and sweet, so I add more and more pure water to the glass. When it is balanced, when it is half Coke and half water, I taste it again. Everything is less; the sweet taste is not as strong, even though it is still there. But when I keep adding water, until there is more water than Coke, I cannot taste the Coke anymore. It tastes almost like pure water. The color is clear, too. The question is, where has the Coke gone? Where can it go to? It is still there; but when you have more water in proportion, you cannot taste or see the Coke anymore.

It's the same thing: when we add mindfulness, awareness, wisdom, and concentration to the mind more and more, until we have more of these factors than greed, hatred and delusion, the mind becomes clear. But right now the pure water and the Coke are not balanced, which makes it very hard to continue. [Now there is still more Coke than water.] But when you keep practicing until they are balanced you will feel, "Oh, now it is easy to practice meditation. Now I feel relaxed and I can keep going for a long time."

After they are balanced you can continue to add more and more water, diluting the defilements even more. Right now the defilements are high and mindfulness is low. You need to develop mindfulness until it is balanced with the defilements first; after that it can fight with them and win. If you continue practicing after they are balanced, then mindfulness will go up higher than the defilements. Mindfulness will get higher and higher, the defilements, lower and lower.

That's the nature of the truth; that is what Lord Buddha taught. It is not something special; it's just the truth. That truth is always in the world. But it doesn't mean that you should expect to get something special or become happy from meditating. No. [I.e., you should not take up vipassana expecting to have exciting or blissful experiences. But a superior kind of happiness will arise from giving up attachments.] Meditation is just for balancing the unwholesome and wholesome factors in your mind. You have to think about which one is higher. What do you want to ask?

Meditator 3: Well, I think I've worked it out. My question was, what is the difference between neutral and equanimity and balance.

Bhikkhu Sopako: What is the difference, right? The object is different. The object of neutrality is ordinary truth. The object of equanimity, in insight meditation, is ultimate truth.

When we feel neutral toward something [such as a wall], we are perceiving a conventional truth object. When equanimity arises from tranquility practice [concentration meditation], the object is also an ordinary truth object. But in that case the mind stays on a single object.

But the equanimity in insight meditation is different; in that case we have an ultimate truth object, and there is no attachment to it. Because we can see the momentary nature of phenomena, because we can see that all namas and rupas arise and pass away equally, we realize that they are all impermanent, or unsatisfactory, or lacking in self, and because of that we feel equanimity toward them. So neutrality and equanimity differ in that they have different objects.

For example, when you concentrate on the Buddha statue and close the eyes and repeat the word "Buddho, Buddho, Buddho," over and over, you develop more and more concentration with the object. Tranquility becomes deeper and deeper until you enter a trance, from the first jhana to the fifth jhana. [Bhikkhu Sopako is referring to the meditation practice of repeating the Buddha's name. The meditation object in this and other concentration techniques is an object of conventional reality. The "jhanas" refer to various levels of trance induced by strong concentration.] On the other hand, you could look at the Buddha statue without attaching to its conventional meaning, and without holding the wrong view that it is a self or a material eye that sees. You could just observe, "seeing, seeing, seeing," [the act of seeing], and understand the truth that the thing you are looking at is just color. Color is rupa. There is just nama seeing rupa. There is nothing going on except nama seeing rupa. There is no me or you; there is no Buddha statue.

So give up the name of the object, give up ordinary truth. Then you just have ultimate truth. Then you can answer the question, "What is seeing?" or, "What is it that sees?" Then you understand that there is just color and [the act of] knowing color. When you continue observing "seeing, seeing, seeing" in the present moment, every moment, until you can see one moment arise and pass away, until you can see impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-self, then you can eliminate attachment, attachment to [the wrong view of] permanence; or you can dilute liking and disliking for the object more and more until you have correct understanding of the truth. That's the meaning of "insight."

At first we label objects [with mental notes] in order to develop momentary concentration. It is concentration, but not really tranquility. [I.e., this is "concentration in insight," concentration mixed with mindfulness, as opposed to the pure concentration of the trance-states.] At first you try to make your concentration strong enough to perceive objects in a moment-to-moment fashion, one by one; but after that you give up the label. You just do it. You just let mindfulness focus in the present. That's correct vipassana, all right?

Meditator 4: I have a question. When you say, "Seeing, seeing, seeing," isn't that being neutral? And if it is, how is that delusion? I thought that was. . . if you are being neutral you're not attached to it, you don't love it and you don't hate it, it's just there. So I don't understand how you said, "If you're neutral that's delusion." I'm confused here.

Bhikkhu Sopako: If you see [if you think you are seeing] a Buddha statue, that's neutrality; that's ordinary truth. When you don't know about ultimate truth, when you do not realize that it is impossible to see a Buddha statue, that's delusion. Even if you are aware of, "seeing, seeing," when you don't know that we can only see color, and that it is not actually the physical eye that sees, but consciousness; when you do not know that consciousness only sees color, not a Buddha statue, that means that you have delusion. If you cannot separate ordinary truth from ultimate truth, and focus on ultimate truth only, you will have delusion. So the correct path is to ignore the name of the thing you are seeing or hearing [or smelling, tasting, knowing, and so forth] and focus only on ultimate truth. But if you just keep observing ordinary truth, delusion will be present.

The practice of tranquility meditation uses ordinary or conventional truth objects. It is for developing concentration, not wisdom. Sometimes a name is used to develop concentration, as in mantra practice. [A mantra is a special word or phrase that is repeated, like the word "Buddho."] You memorize it and say it again and again. Even the practice of focusing on the hair, skin, nails and so on makes concentration arise, too. [Bhikkhu Sopako is referring to the practice of meditating on the "thirty-two parts" of the body. The body-parts are conventional-, not ultimate-truth objects, so they are suited for developing concentration, not insight.] Anything else?

Meditator 4: Thank you. I'm still deluded but I understand better now.

Meditator 3: If we are so non-mindful so much of the time, how do we ever get the glass filled up with pure water?

Bhikkhu Sopako: Oh, that's a good question too. If you understand precisely what is correct, if you can follow the correct path, it is easy to fill up the glass; maybe you can do it in just one day or one hour. But usually meditators do not understand in a precise way; not having right understanding, they cannot follow the right path. That means that they go quite slowly. They have farther to go [because they can't find the direct route]. It takes them longer because they still have doubt in their minds.

Or they practice with desire; they want to get something in return, want to have something. That's why it's very hard to add drops. Even when they add a drop, it isn't pure water. That's why I always try to make sure that you understand correctly, that you have enough right understanding for me to give instructions so that you can keep going. If you do not have correct understanding, then, even if I give instructions, you will not be successful. You'll only get concentration. Everybody feels calm or happy at times during sitting meditation. But you are satisfied with this. You are happy when you get a little bit only. But that has no benefit at all. [Meditators aim too low; they are satisfied with the calmness of concentration, not true insight. But that mundane peace is temporary and doesn't advance one toward nibbana, permanent freedom from suffering.]

The Real Benefit

Real 'benefit' means: seeing nama-rupa arise and pass away, even for one moment. Like I said before: if you see that one time, you are better off than someone who lives for a hundred years but doesn't see it.

Because seeing this is not for everyone. It can only be seen by those who have paramita or background enough. [Here "background" refers to an aptitude for understanding, arising from previous wholesome actions. Although few people have this "merit," all beings are capable of developing background if they so choose.] Even to hear the dhamma that I am explaining now is not easy. Only a few people can understand it. Only a few people are interested to come and listen. If you compare the people here now with the population of Edmonton - how many million are there? Who knows?

Meditator 5: Six-hundred thousand [people in Edmonton].

Bhikkhu Sopako: Six-hundred thousand, right? But here there are just twenty-one people. The sutras compare the number of wise people in the world to the horns of a cow - there are only two horns. But the number of foolish people are compared to the number of hairs on a cow. Too many to count, right? But the horns are easy to see. Everybody knows that there are only two. But the hairs on a cow are very hard to count. It would take too long.

So the teachings are not very hard to understand if someone has knowledge, or background, or paramita to understand them. Then it is easy. That's why I am happy to teach even a few people. I am happy to teach the dhamma because I know that the dhamma is not for everyone. It belongs to someone who has experience or good kamma [karma, intentional action] from the past. People have to have background from before, perhaps from their last life, in order to understand these teachings. Even if you don't believe about past or future incarnations, it doesn't matter. But those who understand this dhamma already have background.

All of you who have come here have background or paramita enough. If you didn't have paramita, you would not have had the confidence and energy to spend time to come here. But most people are not interested; that's because they don't have background. That's why I keep talking; because I know that everyone here has enough background to understand. [The mere fact of being interested in vipassana can be an indication of "background."]

Truth Does Not Change

The truth does not change. Lord Buddha said that he did not teach the impossible. He did not teach something that wasn't the truth. He taught what was possible to reach; he taught the dhamma, the truth, to the world. But the dhamma does not belong to Lord Buddha. It belongs to the universe. Rupa and nama are still here. The eight-fold path is still here. Enlightenment is still possible. If you continue on the path you can become enlightened anytime, anywhere. It doesn't matter whether it's the time of the Buddha, or now, or the future. If people understand the correct path, they can keep going; they can be free from suffering. They can reach enlightenment, nibbana, when they reach the end of the path.

Meditator 3: What you're saying is that truth is not Buddhism, but Buddhism is truth.

Meditator 5: Truth doesn't belong to Buddhism.

Bhikkhu Sopako: No, it does not belong to Buddhism. But Lord Buddha knew the dhamma; that's why he could teach the truth. Only Lord Buddha could get enlightened by himself. [It's said that only the Buddhas (Samma-Sambuddhas and Pacceka-Buddhas) can realize the Four Noble Truths independently, without having heard them from anyone.]

Why could he be enlightened by himself? Because he had learned a lot; he had many, many teachers. The teachers told him that he was enlightened already, that he had eliminated the defilements already. But he didn't believe that. He felt, "Even when the teachers approve my enlightenment, I still have confusion and doubt in my mind. How can I be enlightened already?" But when he looked for another teacher he couldn't find one. He had studied and practiced with all the great teachers already. That's why he tried to practice by himself.

Before that he had tried mortification practices such as going without food. But then he knew that starving himself was not the correct path, so he tried to follow the Middle Way [between the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification]. He made a strong resolution to find enlightenment by himself, to find the truth. He already had concentration enough to enter a trance. When he began to develop mindfulness he thought about what the happiness from the trance state was. When a person achieves the trance level [jhana] he feels happiness or joy with the object. When he sits, he makes that happiness the object of his meditation. He brings nama to know the object. Usually those who reach the trance level attach with the object. They feel good; they are able to sit for a long time.

But Lord Buddha pulled his mind back from the object. He focused on nama [the knowing mind itself] rather than on the object. Because the object of concentration is permanent. It doesn't change. It is always steady. The Lord Buddha was very smart; he withdrew his mind from the object and focused his mindfulness on nama instead. When his mind no longer attached with the object, he was able to look at the mind. So he tried to look at his mind, to look at the nama that knows the object.

When he focused on nama he was surprised because he saw that nama was never permanent, never steady. He could see the individual moments of nama [as they arose and passed away]. As he kept observing nama, he lost interest in the object. He realized that when the mind did not attach with the object, there was, in effect, nothing there. There was no happiness from the trance state anymore. The object had disappeared.

When we hear a sound now, whether it's my voice as I talk or a sound from outside, we can know that sound vibrations are present. When you turn on the radio in your room, you can hear a song or the news. But when you don't hear anything, that means that, for you, there is effectively no sound in the world.

It's the same thing; when the Buddha did not attach with the object from the trance state, the trance became empty; there was no object there. Instead, he just worked with [observed] nama from moment-to-moment, until he realized that nama was not permanent. Nama couldn't stay long; it just arose and then passed away immediately. He knew that it was only his previous attachment with the object of jhana that had caused the feeling of happiness. [The Buddha withdrew his mindfulness from the trance-object and observed the knowing mind itself. But then he saw that consciousness was intermittent; it arose and died out in an instant. That impermanence meant that consciousness was unstable and unsatisfactory; it could never be a reliable source of happiness. Yet by seeing this fact he gained the greater happiness of nibbana.]

Impermanence, Unsatisfactoriness, Non-Self

When people see nama from moment-to-moment they never feel happy. On the contrary, they must see unsatisfactoriness, or one of the other three characteristics, more and more. [The three characteristics of all phenomena are: impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness or suffering (dukkha), and non-self (anatta).]

Someone who has previously attained a trance state will see suffering more than impermanence or non-self. [Meditators will see the characteristic most opposed to their own wrong views. Those who have attained a trance believe strongly that nama and rupa can provide happiness; so to them, unsatisfactoriness is more striking than impermanence or non-self.]

The Buddha also had panna paramita [the perfection of wisdom], so he could see non-self clearly, too. Ordinary meditators can only see one of the three characteristics. But the Lord Buddha could see all three. Those who have practiced generosity or morality in the past can see impermanence. Those who have practiced forbearance [khanti], loving-kindness [metta], or have developed strong concentration, for example, can see unsatisfactoriness more. Those who have developed wisdom or strong resolve [adhitthana] can see non-self. But since the Buddha had developed all ten perfections he could see all three characteristics. That's special. There is only one truth, but it has three characteristics. The Buddha could see all of them. But disciples or meditators can only see one.

Meditator 5: So he [the Buddha] looked at nama and he saw that nama continued to fluctuate; and because he saw the fluctuation and lack of substance he could see that it wasn't satisfactory.

Meditator 3: Which is why, when we are moving our hand, we are not to think of the hand, just the movement?

Bhikkhu Sopako: Yes. That's the way the Lord Buddha developed insight. Before, he attached with the object just as we attach with the hand now. If we try to move but still attach to the hand we cannot see motion [as an object by itself]. Because the hand is permanent. [To our perception a chair is motionless, even though we've learned that, according to physicists, it is comprised of sub-atomic particles in constant motion. On that level, the "chair" isn't stable at all. Likewise, rupa and nama are constantly moving and changing, arising and vanishing. But since we can't yet perceive this micro-level, rather than blips of mind and matter arising and exploding very quickly, we perceive permanent conceptual things called "hand," "foot," "chair," and so on. But that permanence is only a misperception.]

Just as when we concentrate on a tree; we cannot see it changing because the tree is permanent. [The tree stays in the same place in the ground; it doesn't change position.] But when we observe the tree's shadow we can see that it moves a little bit all the time. It's the same thing: when we try to observe movement, we can see it arise and pass away, because it comes from the mind, just like the moving shadow comes from the sun. Since the shadow is cast by a moving object, it, too, has to move. So you have to pay attention to nama. The hindrances or defilements are in the mind, not the body, you see? We are practicing to eliminate hindrances, defilements or unwholesome states of mind. So we have to focus on nama.

Say that there is a fire in this building. If we send the fire department to another building, how can we be successful? How can we put out the fire here? It's the same thing: if we put knowledge or wisdom in the wrong place, or send it in the wrong direction, we cannot be successful. That's the secret.

Meditator 5: So if you put your attention to the object you're sending the fire department to the wrong building.

Bhikkhu Sopako: Yes. You have to make sure which building the fire is in. Where does the fire burn? Which building do you need to pour water on? You have to think about that. So try to pay attention to nama more than rupa. The truth of arising and passing away must be seen in nama, in consciousness.

If we were without consciousness we couldn't perceive sound vibrations, for example. But when we are hearing we can verify that there are sound waves present. When we are not seeing anything, how can we know that there is a visual object or color there? When we don't smell anything, we cannot know if there is a fragrance present. It's just empty [of an object.] It is only when nama is present to receive an object that we can verify that an object exists. So we have to think about what the truth is or how we can see it. We have to pay attention to see nama [the mind] more than the object. Only two things are the truth; one thing stays to be known; another thing is actively knowing it. The thing that stays to be known is rupa [here "rupa" simply means, "an object of awareness," which can be either material or mental.] The thing that knows the object is nama. Only nama and rupa exist right now. Only they are the truth.

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