The Four Foundations of Mindfulness
A Dhamma Talk by Ven. Sopako Bodhi Bhikkhu
[Note: the comments in brackets are the editor's.]
The dhamma talk tonight is on the four foundations of mindfulness. 'Vipassana' means to develop mindfulness until it becomes insight-knowledge [the realization of impermanence, unsatis- factoriness, and impersonality]. In order to get insight-knowledge you have to observe the four foundations of mindfulness. The foundations are four kinds of objects to put mindfulness on. It's like a table - all four legs have to be stable before you can put something on the table.
Another example is the foundation of a building. Before constructing this meditation center, for instance, someone had to lay the foundation. They had to use materials like steel and concrete. Whether or not it's a good foundation depends on whether the builder was smart enough to do the job right.
It's the same thing with mindfulness. You have to lay the foundation first. The Discourse on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness [Satipatthana Sutta] says that we should use four kinds of material - four objects to lay the foundation for mindfulness. These four objects are: 1) body; 2) feeling; 3) consciousness; and 4) mental objects [the last group includes the five sense-impressions - colors, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches - which are material in nature]. Only when these four phenomena are known in the present, from moment-to-moment, can they be used as objects of mindfulness. When you develop mindfulness based on these foundations, wisdom will arise.
So these four kinds of objects are used to build wisdom - wisdom, as opposed to the pleasure or happiness that arises from strong concentration [wisdom leads to the supramundane happiness of nibbana. This happiness is more correctly expressed as the complete absence of suffering]. If you don't have the correct foundation, wisdom can't appear. It can't grow.
All of us have the materials to lay the foundation already. I have a body and you have a body. We also have feeling. When you sit too long you have pain. When I sit too long I have pain, too. That's feeling. Feeling doesn't belong to anyone [in the ultimate sense, you do not own your feelings because they are not amenable to your control]. Feeling belongs to conditions, to the universe. Everyone has the same materials. Everyone has a body made of the same four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Everyone experiences the same feelings: unpleasant, pleasant and neutral. It doesn't make any difference who you are.
We all have the same types of consciousness, too. For example, everyone has desire, hatred and delusion in the mind - everyone except arahants [those who have reached the highest level of enlightenment]. They have eliminated all mental defilements. Their minds are already pure, clean, and perfect. But those who aren't enlightened - laypersons - all have the same impurities in the mind.
All of us experience the same emotions: sadness, anxiety, anger, excitement, confusion and doubt. Since everyone has the same materials, we know that these things belong to the universe, not to a nationality. They don't belong to Thais or Canadians or Americans. The body belongs to the truth. Feeling belongs to the universe. Consciousness belongs to conditions. Mental objects and emotions belong to cause and effect.
We have to accept the feelings and emotions that arise. That's the way it is. When you feel sad, anxious, frustrated or happy, don't attach to that emotion. Don't think, "I am sad, I am anxious, I am frustrated, I am happy." [In truth, an emotion is an impersonal phenomenon. And even the consciousness that knows the emotion is impersonal. It isn't a self.]
You don't have to attach to the things you experience. Just observe them or know them so they become objects of mindfulness. Just watch to see how long they stay.
Usually they don't last long - they just arise and disappear right away. Sometimes an emotion appears and stays for awhile. After that it passes away. Everything is impermanent. Emotions aren't permanent at all. Everything is unsatisfactory (dukkha) - meaning, it never stays long. It's unstable. Everything in the universe is nonself. It doesn't belong to anyone.
We can't truly control mind and matter. That's the truth, all right? We need to see the truth in each of the four kinds of objects of mindfulness. When we observe them in the present moment, then all four objects, body, feeling, consciousness, and mental contents, will be seen as they really are - as impermanent, unsatisfactory, and not belonging to self.
But how do we know what the correct path is? The Buddha taught that since you have a body and mind, those are the path. The tools to practice with are your own body and mind. You have to separate the two. The body and other material phenomena are called 'rupa.' Mind is called 'nama.'
The mind is made up of consciousness and mental factors. Feeling is a mental factor. Feeling is nama. Everyone has rupa and nama, the same material and mental phenomena. The Buddha said that even after he died, all of us would still have rupa and nama, still have a body, feeling, consciousness and mental factors. That means that we can practice insight meditation anywhere, anytime. Since the way is still here, enlightenment can occur at any time.
To observe everything so that your experience becomes one of continuous, moment-to-moment mindfulness - that's the correct path. That's what the Buddha meant by the right way. Not all meditation techniques go in the direction of nibbana. Only this way, the Buddha said. Only by practicing mindfulness can we destroy greed, hatred and delusion and reach enlightenment. It doesn't matter if the Buddha is still in the world or not. People can find the truth from observing their own bodies and minds.
For the first foundation of mindfulness we observe body-objects. The body-objects that we use are 1) motion and 2) posture. Posture means: sitting standing, walking, and lying down. These are the main objects. The principal object is 'rising and falling' [the expanding and contracting motions of the abdomen that result from respiration].
The second foundation is feeling. We observe unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral feeling, whether it arises from body or mind. [Although the body can be a condition for feeling to arise, feeling itself is always a mental phenomenon.]
The third foundation is consciousness. Thinking is a consciousness object. Even when the mind wanders, that wandering mind can become an object for mindfulness.
The fourth foundation includes emotions such as the five hindrances: anger, lust, doubt, sleepiness, and restlessness. And the five sense-impressions: sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches. All of them can become objects of mindfulness if you try to 'come back to the present moment' to know what is going on now. Using the technique of insight meditation, you will see for yourself that mind and matter arise and pass away every moment - that they are impermanent, unsatisfactory, and impersonal. When you see that, how can you cling to them? How can you build more desire, hatred and delusion?
All you need to do is come back to the present moment. That means to bring your attention back to rupa and nama as they arise - only that. To come back to the present moment means to observe sitting, standing walking or lying down - or any of the other objects.
Sometimes you'll just observe rupa, the body. That's all right. You don't need to worry about nama (mental) objects at first. Not until mindfulness is stable. Then mindfulness will be strong enough to observe more subtle objects. First you take care of mindfulness, then mindfulness will take care of you.
When it's strong, mindfulness will stop greed, hatred and delusion from taking over. It'll stop mental formations from building something good or bad based on the objects that appear to you. It's very important to build mindfulness first, to take care of it first. Afterwards it will take care of everything that happens in your life and in your mind.
Just do it. Meaning, just turn the hand [referring to a meditation exercise using hand movements. See "How to Meditate"]. At same time, observe how you feel. By 'feeling' I don't mean sensation. Just know the feeling of the hand moving, that's all - the feeling of knowing the motion. Just do it lightly. You don't have to concentrate too much or try very hard or pay attention too much. Just keep doing it.
Practicing vipassana means to give the mind a job to work on. That's all you need to do. The job of the mind means that when you aren't observing the hand moving, you observe the rising-and-falling movements of the abdomen [or another object]. That's the job of the mind, too. The mind is still working with or observing the process of life from one moment to the next. But right now we move the hand. That means the mind is working with the hand motions. Just allow the mind to work. The mind means consciousness. Just turn the hand and raise it up lightly, smoothly. You don't have to use too much intention.
In observing the first foundation, the body, you have to understand the two definitions of 'body.' That's what the Pali text says. One is the body that results from karma [volitional action] we did in the past.
The physical body as a whole is a result from karma. Whether our bodies have all the correct parts or not depends on the karma we did before [in previous lifetimes]. If someone is born without all ten fingers, for example, or is missing some other part of the body, that's a result of karma. If someone's body is complete, it's a good result from actions they did in previous lifetimes. [However, simply being born as a human being, in whatever circumstances, is considered the result of good karma.]
We can't make use of the physical body itself for insight meditation because it doesn't come from causes in the present moment [i.e., it's already formed. We can't make it or see it come into being now]. But since we already have a body, we have to have a mind in it, right?
The mind makes certain physical phenomena appear in the present moment. These are the second type of body. What are these physical phenomena? One of them is motion. The motion that appears in the present moment when you move an arm or a leg is different from the arm or leg itself. The first one comes from the mind. The second comes from karma.
Once we're born, we can't make the body look like this or that according to our desire, right? There's nothing much we can do to change it. But in the present time, consciousness makes motion arise. Motion is 'rupa.' [Here, rupa means a physical phenomenon that can be directly experienced as an object of the mind.]
The Pali text says that we should observe 'the body in the body.' But what is in the body? What is in the hand? We can describe bones and muscles and tendons. Or we can say there are four elements in the hand: water, earth, fire and air, nothing else. But that isn't the meaning of 'in the body.' According to the Satipatthana Sutta, 'in the body' means the motion or activity of the physical body. It comes from the mind. The mind makes it happen.
The physical body that comes from our parents is the body from karma. But that body has to sit, stand, walk, work and eat. The actions of the body are 'body in the body.' By observing the actions of the body, you develop the first foundation of mindfulness.
Another rupa [material phenomenon] that comes from the mind is posture. The mind makes the body sit, stand, walk, and move in the present. The sitting posture is 'in the body' - it comes from the mind. When the mind wants to sit, it makes the body sit. When the mind wants to stand up, it makes the body stand. The mind wants to walk - it makes the feet move step-by-step. The mind wants to lie down - it makes the body lie down. Those are the four postures that come from the mind. The mind makes them happen in the present. That means these postures and motions can be objects of mindfulness.
That's very profound and subtle - not easy to understand. It's difficult because the Pali text [in the Satipatthana Sutta] has many descriptions about the physical body and its thirty-two parts. It gives instructions about concentrating on dead bodies in cemeteries in the tradition of the forest monks. But actually those are concentration exercises.
Many meditation teachers make the mistake that observing the thirty-two parts of the body or contemplating a dead body is insight meditation [see the revered text, the Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga) which states that the latter are concentration, not vipassana, exercises]. If we don't understand how to separate the physical body from its movement, it's very hard to use the body as a foundation for mindfulness. We just make a mistake. That's why the Pali text explains that we should observe 'the body in the body.'
Unless you understand how to put mindfulness on the correct foundation, it can't stay. So you have to separate the physical body, which is the result of karma, from the body's movement, which comes from the mind. You can see movement happening right now. It comes from consciousness. The body from karma can't become the object of mindfulness. But the motion of that physical body can be an object for mindfulness.
We should observe only motion or posture when observing the body in meditation. We can use the motion of the leg, the hand or the abdomen [i.e., the abdominal movements from respiration] as a foundation. But we can't use the hand, leg or abdomen themselves as foundations for mindfulness. That's impossible. Why? Because the hand is just material or matter. It has nothing to do with the mind. We can use the physical body to develop concentration, but we can't put mindfulness on the hand itself, or the leg, or any part of the body.
So you need to be smart to separate the body's motion and posture from its corporeality, in order to get the correct foundation to put mindfulness on. That's why [in the hand motions exercise] I tell you to observe the movement of the hand. Don't pay attention to the hand itself. Just observe the motion. Only motion can become the foundation, not the physical hand. If you're still observing the hand, that's not the correct foundation.
It's the same when observing the rising-falling motions of the abdomen. Don't focus on the stomach or the physical body part. Just notice the feeling of motion. By 'feeling' I don't mean the feeling of pleasure or pain that's the second foundation of mindfulness. Just know the movement when the abdomen rises and falls. That's the foundation to put mindfulness on. The technique is to keep mindfulness continuous whether you're sitting, standing, walking, or lying down. Don't give a gap for delusion.
If you don't have the correct foundation, mindfulness can't stay, can't grow. Mindfulness is like a flower seed. All of you have the seeds of mindfulness. But you have to understand how to plant the seeds in good soil. You have to water them, just like one of the monks in this temple waters the flowers every day. All of us have seeds of mindfulness but we don't understand how to take care of them or how to plant them where they'll grow. Sometimes we put mindfulness on the sand. How can it grow? Sometimes we put it on the concrete. It dries up. Sometimes we put the seeds of mindfulness in a lake. They rot and never grow. Many people think they have mindfulness, but they put it in the wrong place.
When the sun shines against a tree it casts a shadow. You can see the shadow. The shadow has the same shape as the tree, but it isn't identical to the tree. You can touch the tree. It's always there in front of the temple. It stays permanently. But the shadow is only there sometimes.
The shadow depends on the sun. It depends on the tree too, but if there's no sun there can be no shadow. The shadow is impermanent but the tree [for all practical purposes] is permanent. Some trees live for thirty or forty or even a hundred years. But the shadow is impermanent [in the sense of being momentary]. In the morning the sun appears in the east and the shadow shows on this side. In the evening, when the sun goes west, the shadow changes to the east. It moves little by little all the time. But the tree stays in the same place. So the shadow is impermanent but the tree is permanent.
Now, the physical body that comes from karma is like the tree. The mind is like the sun. The activity of the body is like the shadow. Just as the shadow is caused by the sun, the motion of the body comes from the mind. We practice insight meditation to see the truth of impermanence. We observe the activity of the body because it's impermanent, like the shadow.
So when we talk about the first foundation of mindfulness, we mean movement and posture. The objects to observe are: 1) the rising and falling motions of the abdomen [that occur from respiration]; 2) the motion of the feet during walking meditation; 3) the motion of the hand during the hand movements exercise; 4) the sitting posture; 5) the standing posture 6) the lying down posture, and 7) touch-points.
The last body-object we haven't talked about yet. It's called a touching-point. That means you bring the mind to rest on a point on the body for one moment at a time, just being aware of knowing the contact - the contact of the mind 'touching' that point. [This is mental touching, not physical.] There is still movement present because the mind moves. Mindfulness can watch as the mind moves to that point, lets the point go, then returns to it again. And you can see the moment of contact arise and vanish.
You can also observe other movements such as the act of reaching for a cup, the movement of the arm when washing your face, and so on. Any physical action can become the foundation for mindfulness if you observe it as it's happening, in the present moment.
Feeling is the second foundation of mindfulness. Feeling objects are more subtle than body-objects. There is feeling that comes from the physical body. When people sit too long they get pain or numbness. They can't stay in the same posture for long but have to move around. That's the suffering that comes from sitting or standing. Like the physical body, feeling is the result of previous karma.
You should observe those mental factors that accompany feeling or result from feeling. When you sit more than thirty minutes, you feel uncomfortable. That's the nature of the physical body. It happens to everyone. You can't prevent it. But what happens then? When people feel pain, they usually aren't aware of it because they move too quickly. If they aren't practicing meditation they change position right away. They follow their desire without knowing what's happening. So one of the mental factors that arises from feeling is desire. That means that 'in' unpleasant feeling, or accompanying unpleasant feeling, is desire.
Think about it. You want something - you want to change posture. Wanting is desire. When you change to another sitting position without awareness, you forget about the pain because you think, "Wow - now it's good. I can keep sitting." But after ten or twenty minutes, the pain begins again. You don't ask yourself, "Is the pain that comes from this posture the same as the pain I felt in the old posture? Or is it different?" You don't care. You just want to change back again, want to move back again.
So you move back to the original position. What causes you to do that? Desire. But the old position caused pain, too, remember? It's the posture you moved out of in the first place. So you see that 'in' [dependent on] feeling is desire. And desire is a cause of suffering. Desire causes you to return to a position that will later become painful.
Finally, you can't sit anymore, so you stand up. You stand up because you were feeling pain. It's desire that wants to stand up, that wants to avoid the pain. Desire makes people change posture. That means that 'in' feeling is the cause of suffering, because the Buddha said that desire is the cause of suffering.
Desire doesn't just mean wanting to do something. Disliking is desire, too [because you want to avoid something]. There are three kinds of desire: liking, disliking, and wanting to change to something new - wanting to get a new posture or sight or smell or something else. Liking comes from desire. Disliking comes from hatred. Wanting to get something different comes from delusion.
Say that I'm sitting. I have pain so I want to change position, because I want to feel good. That's how liking or wanting causes physical motion to occur. The new posture arises because of wanting - because I want to move into a new posture.
When I dislike sitting in the old posture, I want to take the pain away. I have to move or change position because I want to take the unpleasant feeling away. That's how disliking becomes desire. I want to do something else. When you get mad at something you want to get rid of it, want to make it go away. That becomes a cause of suffering. When you change position without mindfulness, you continue to generate suffering, because desire is the cause of suffering. All three levels of desire become a cause of suffering.
You can stop the process by observing 'feeling in the feeling.' That means to observe the desire that arises from feeling, instead of acting on the desire right away. When you feel pain, you have to observe the feeling before changing posture. But it's important to know how to deal with pain. Don't try to control it or suppress it with concentration. Just accept it. Just understand that it comes from sitting too long. After that you can change position slowly, observing your movements step-by-step as you change into a new position.
But don't change position with wrong view. Wrong view means thinking, "I want to change posture because the new position will feel good." You want to get happiness. Usually, everyone wants to change because they make a mistake. They think, "If I change, I'll get happiness." But sooner or later even the new posture becomes painful.
I have a saying: "Don't want to change; have to change." If you understand that you have to change position because the uncomfortable feeling is too strong, you won't make the mistake of liking the new posture. You'll know that the new posture is only comfortable for a short time. You'll understand that suffering forces the change in posture.
Even the Lord Buddha had pain when he stayed in one position too long. All of the arahants [Enlightened Ones] have unpleasant feeling from sitting too long, too. But they aren't upset by it. They understand that it's the result from sitting and can't be avoided.
But for us, disliking or aversion always arises in response to pain. That's different from the Lord Buddha and the arahants. They understood what is 'in' the pain. They understood that they had to change position because the suffering was too strong, but they didn't feel disliking or hatred for the pain. They didn't have the desire to get a good feeling. Pain appears because the physical elements are unbalanced. Enlightened beings understand that they have to change the position of the body because the elements are unbalanced.
So you should observe every kind of feeling, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, without liking or disliking. That's the Middle Way.
The third foundation of mindfulness is consciousness. Thinking is a consciousness object. When your mind wanders away from the main object to think about something, just be aware that you're thinking. When you're aware, note, 'thinking' or 'wandering mind,' then return to the main object or the principal object. Don't think more. Don't describe what you're thinking about or get interested in it.
It doesn't matter if you're thinking about something good or bad. Forget about good and bad. Don't pay attention to the content of the thought. Just observe thinking to see that it arises and passes away. To observe consciousness means to observe 'the one who knows.' The 'one who knows' is the mind, the observer. Just go back to observe the mind itself, the knowing itself.
Even when the mind wanders, that wandering mind can become an object of mindfulness if you're aware of it, and if you observe the one who knows. The 'one who knows' is mindfulness or awareness or clear comprehension. If you aren't aware that the mind has wandered but you're still observing the mind [if you are observing the story that the mind is spinning], that's ignorance and desire.
Usually the mind wants to think, wants to fool around. That's desire. You know that you're thinking, but you aren't knowing the correct moment [you aren't observing the phenomenon of thinking arising and passing away, but instead are becoming involved in the content of the thought]. That means knowing by ignorance. Ignorance doesn't mean someone who knows nothing. Ignorance means that you don't know the truth or can't see that the mind arises and passes away from moment to moment. [Consciousness (and its mental factors) arises and vanishes from moment to moment every time it focuses on an object. With each new object, consciousness arises again, and then dissolves.]
At first your mind will wander out often. That's all right. Even if the mind wanders many times per minute, just keep knowing 'wandering mind' and return to the main object. When mindfulness gets stronger the mind will wander less and less often. Just keep coming back to the present moment over and over, a thousand times, a million times. That's the practice of insight meditation.
The fourth foundation of mindfulness is a large group containing many kinds of objects.
All emotions are included in this foundation. As you meditate, pleasant and unpleasant emotions will arise. How should you observe anger, happiness, anxiety and other emotions? By looking at them as if they were actors. But don't become an actor. Don't get involved with them. Don't get onstage. Just watch the play. Sometimes the actors show excitement or happiness. Sometimes they show anger, frustration, fear or sadness.
Say to yourself, "They're not me," and only watch them to see how long they last. If you don't get involved with them, if you don't cling to them, if you don't think that they belong to you, you won't suffer at all. Only know them, see them, watch them, like watching actors on T.V. When they finish their duty to show this or that thing they leave. Then another actor comes, another feeling or another object. But they aren't real. In the ultimate sense, what they show isn't true - it's just an appearance. And these actors - these feelings and emotions - change all the time.
You believe that everything belongs to you: the body, feeling, memory, mental formations, emotions and consciousness. You think: I am seeing, I am liking, I am disliking, I am hearing, I am smelling, tasting, feeling. We believe that everything belongs to us because we form attachment to all these things. But by the truth, these five khandhas [the five phenomena we regard as self: corporeality, feeling, consciousness, perception, and mental formations] do not belong to anyone. Even your body doesn't really belong to you. Your mind doesn't belong to you, either, because you can't determine what kinds of thoughts will arise. Things just appear in the mind according to conditions.
There are a few more objects belonging to the fourth foundation of mindfulness that are very important for practicing insight meditation. These are: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. You have to observe or focus on objects from every one of the five senses as they arise. An advanced meditator can practice anywhere, any time by observing sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.
In the Buddha's time there was a man named Bahiya. One day he followed the Lord Buddha on his alms round, asking for meditation instruction. The Buddha gave him a very short answer: "When you see, just see; when you hear, just hear; when you think, just think; and when you know, just know." Bahiya got enlightened right away, faster than any of the other disciples.
So just do it. Just observe and let go. Focus and forget it. When you're thinking, don't get involved with the content of the thought. Don't attach to anything that's going on around you. Just let it go. It's very important to know how you can just see, just hear, just smell, just touch, just think, just sit, just walk, just stand, just lie down and just move, whether those objects are pleasant or unpleasant. Don't care whether an object is good or bad. That's not your duty. Only focus and forget it.
'Focus' means to put mindfulness on the object correctly, to pay attention to it. After that, forget it. Why? Because an object of the mind never stays. It isn't permanent. It will change and disappear. Why do you have to keep clinging to it or thinking about it? Why do you have to resist something unpleasant?
Don't cling to something good or resist something bad, because good and bad are the same one. They're like your hand. When you turn it over, you can see the palm. When you turn it again, you can see the back. But it's the same hand. Good and bad are like that. When bad comes to an end, it turns to become good. When good is finished, it changes to bad. Actually, they are the same one. So why attach to them?
You become attached to something good, but then it changes because everything is impermanent. When it changes to bad you're still clinging, clinging to the bad thing too, even though you don't like it. Then you resist a bad object, but it's impermanent, too. And when it changes to good, you're still resisting [because you haven't noticed that the bad thing has already passed away] - so you resist the good, too. What can you say? When you don't understand that everything changes very fast, you just feel excited with something good or try to avoid something bad. But by the truth, there's no difference. Good is just arising and passing away. Bad is just arising and passing away, too.
For example, when you hear pleasant words, the sound only lasts a short time and then it's gone. The good sound can't stay very long. It arises and passes away right away. It's the same when hearing a bad sound. If you just hear the sound [instead of clinging to the meaning of the words] a good sound isn't different from a bad one. It's different only because people attach to the conventional meaning and say, "This is a good word, that's a bad word." But in truth we only have two objects, rupa and nama. Those are the only objects of mindfulness. They aren't good or bad.
So, just see, just hear, just smell, just touch, just think, just sit, just walk, just stand, just lie down, and just move. When you hear, only observe hearing the sound. Don't think about whether it's a good sound or a bad sound. Don't cling to it as belonging to you and think, "I am hearing." Only observe hearing and let it go. Whether you smell a good scent or a bad one doesn't matter. When you smell something, just observe that moment of smelling. Don't think, "I am smelling something."
When eating, don't like or dislike the taste of the food. It doesn't matter whether it's junk food or health food, delicious or awful. When you taste it, just observe the act of knowing the taste. That's the middle way between liking and disliking. When you touch something, just observe the feeling of contact. When thinking, just know that there's thinking. Don't get involved with the content of the thought. If it's a pleasant thought, don't cling to it. If it's a negative thought, don't get upset. Just know, "Thinking is happening now." That's the Middle Way.
All five sense-impressions are rupa (material phenomena). Nama (mind) is aware of them. Color is rupa; nama sees color. Sound is rupa; nama hears sound. Fragrance is rupa; nama smells fragrance. Taste is rupa; nama knows taste. A touch is rupa; nama knows touch. When you practice insight meditation you must be aware of color, sound, taste, smell and touch as they arise in the present. Don't describe them or think about them more. Just know them as they appear.
Just seeing, just hearing, just touching, just tasting, and just smelling: that means that when you practice mindfulness you stop at the point of seeing or hearing before you get to the name of the thing. [You're aware of the sight, etc., before the mind has time to recognize or name it. In daily life, perception and recognition seem to be simultaneous. But with mindfulness you can be aware of the pure sense-datum before evaluating it.] That way you separate ultimate reality from conventional truth.
Conventional truth means the name of the object. [Picks up a bell] This is a bell, right? [Picks up a tape recorder] This is the tape recorder. People make up the names of these things. That's conventional truth. The bell is not the tape recorder. The tape recorder isn't the bell. That's true, right? But that's conventional truth.
When practicing vipassana, the bell is just rupa because you just see the color when you look at it. The tape cassette is just rupa, too. You just see color, which is rupa. According to ultimate truth, there's no difference between the bell and the tape recorder because in both cases you only see color.
It's the same when hearing sound. [Rings bell] Everybody hears the same sound. English people say they hear a bell. But that's not true. Thai people say they hear a rakang. But that's not true, either. How can you hear a bell or a rakang? You don't hear a bell - you only hear sound. The bell can't physically go to your ear. [Points to the bell on the floor] It's still here, right?
The sound is rupa. Ear consciousness hears it. But English people say, "I'm hearing a bell," and Thai people say, "I'm hearing a rakang." They are hearing the same thing, the same sound waves. But the language is different. That's conventional truth - the name of the thing, or the words to describe it as good or bad. People make it up.
Conventional truth means the name of the thing. But ultimate truth means just rupa [material phenomena] and nama [mental phenomena]. Try to remember that the objects of awareness in vipassana are only rupa and nama. All four foundations of mindfulness can be reduced to these two: rupa and rupa.
If you don't understand rupa and nama, how can you practice vipassana? If you don't remember what rupa and nama are - well, that's all right if you have a teacher who can give instruction and tell you how to keep observing from moment-to-moment with mindfulness. But if you don't understand what rupa and nama are, and the teacher can't tell you exactly how to observe from moment-to-moment, there's no way to follow the technique of vipassana at all. Then you're just practicing another kind of meditation or using concentration to suppress emotions or feel peaceful for a short time.
So when you practice vipassana, you have to understand what rupa is and what nama is. Just remember rupa and nama. I'll conclude by saying: sitting is rupa, standing is rupa, walking is rupa, lying down is rupa, moving the hand is rupa. The agent that knows these phenomena is nama, the mind. Also, color is rupa, sound is rupa, smell is rupa, taste is rupa, and [tactile] contact is rupa.
The agent that sees a picture, smells, hears, tastes, or touches, is nama. The meditator has to observe or focus on every sense. You can practice this way in daily life, by observing the sense-objects. A long time ago the Buddha taught people to practice vipassana and they were able to practice at home, at work, or anywhere because they understood that.
Practicing insight meditation is easy because we use the materials from daily life. You don't have to do anything special or different. All you have to do is observe what is happening NOW. Just know: seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, hearing, thinking, and feeling. Just be aware of anger, excitement, fear and other emotions when they appear. Just know and let go. If you keep observing the four foundations of mindfulness without liking or disliking, you will gain wisdom and reach the happiness of nibbana.
Edited by Cynthia Thatcher