The Four Noble Truths
Transcription of a dhamma talk with meditation instruction by Bhikkhu Sopako Bodhi (Achan Sobin Namto) during a retreat in Calgary, Canada, 1988. Edited by Cynthia Thatcher.
Topics covered: the Four Noble Truths; three kinds of desire; the eight-fold path; thirty-seven factors of enlightenment; conventional vs. ultimate truth; giving up the technique; mindfulness, insight knowledge and wisdom; instructions for advanced meditators; impermanence, suffering, or non-self; rising-falling needs less concentration; the momentary nature of consciousness; arahants immobile for seven days (nirodha samapatti); eating mindfully. Note: the meditators' names have been changed. The commentary in brackets is the editor's.
The Four Noble Truths. I hope that all of you who have studied abhidhamma [Buddhist metaphysics] will understand the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are: one, [that all formations are] suffering, or unsatisfactoriness, dukkha; two, the cause of suffering [desire or craving, tanha]; three, the end of suffering [the extinction of craving, nirodha]; four, the eight-fold path [leading to the end of suffering, magga].
Just four; only four truths to know. And even when nobody knows them, they still exist by themselves. You still have them with you now, even if you do not know them. You still have ultimate truth existing by itself. But when someone practices until he knows suffering, then suffering becomes special for him [as a consequence of seeing suffering clearly one arrives at supramundane happiness.] That's the meaning of "noble." I'll just mention the Pali name for the Four Noble Truths: ariya sacca.
"Ariya" means "noble"; "sacca" means "truth." The truth is rupa and nama. Even when nobody knows it, it is still true. But then it is just plain truth. It isn't "noble" yet, right? When you practice insight meditation you can see the truth; then it becomes noble, then it becomes excellent for you and eliminates the defilements [i.e., greed, hatred and delusion]. That's important to know.
That's why, for enlightenment, according Buddhism, you have to see suffering, have to understand the cause of suffering, have to know the end of suffering, and you have to complete the eight-fold path by practicing correctly, by going on the right path. That's the meaning of enlightenment. When you complete these things, when you understand suffering, when you know about the cause of suffering and can understand its end, that's the meaning of enlightenment.
How about you? Are you almost complete or not? [Laughter.] I think almost, someone. If you understand what suffering is. Right now, when you're sitting in meditation, how can you know what suffering is? Suffering [dukkha] does not mean pain or unpleasant physical or mental feeling, no. That's not the meaning of suffering in the Four Noble Truths. Suffering is: rupa [material phenomena] and nama [mind or mental phenomena].
What is rupa? What is nama? I tell you all the time that sitting is rupa. [The phenomenon that's sitting is rupa, material form, not a person.] Knowing is nama. That's unsatisfactoriness or suffering. That is suffering. Now, when you know that rupa and nama are suffering, when you focus on them, do you see that or not? Sometimes you see it, I know, but it's not quite clear, or not strong enough. It doesn't go deep enough to the truth exactly. But sometimes, maybe, it's clear. That means that you understand suffering. You have the first of the Four Noble Truths already! [ Laughter.] When you're sitting and meditating, whether you focus on the sitting posture itself, or on rising-falling, it's the same, because both of them are rupa and nama. [You can see dukkha, unsatisfactoriness, equally well no matter which nama-rupa you are observing.] That's suffering, right? What is the cause of suffering? When you sit in meditation, after twenty or thirty minutes you might feel pain or numbness. It's uncomfortable to continue. When you feel pain, you have disliking - nobody likes pain, right? Disliking means vibhava-tanha [the desire for nonexistence or the desire to eliminate something.] Disliking is desire, too.
Most people understand desire to mean liking or wanting something. But according to the second Noble Truth, the cause of suffering, even disliking is desire. Why? Because, when you don't like pain, you want to change. When you don't like this one, you like that other one.
You don't want to sit anymore; you want to change. That means that you still have desire from suffering. [Desire still arises with the object, even when the object itself is undesirable.] So, whenever you have pain, and you dislike the feeling, that is a cause of suffering.
When you don't like the old posture, the old position, you want to change. That's kama-tanha [sensual craving; in this case, the desire to find a comfortable posture. Kama-tanha states the same picture in positive terms - the desire to obtain pleasant feeling as opposed to the wish to get rid of unpleasant feeling.]
Now, when you actually change position, a third kind of desire is operating, called "bhava-tanha." [This is the desire for continued becoming. It is a belief that change itself can bring happiness. You want to try something different from what you have now in the hope that it will be better. That hope is based on ignorance of the real characteristics of nama and rupa. You continue to have misplaced faith in the objects of mind and matter, continue to believe that they might yield up some happiness if only you could get the right ones; so you keep desiring something new. Whenever bhava tanha is present you still perceive objects in ordinary terms, knowing their conventional names; you don't yet see them in ultimate terms, as simply namas and rupas that arise only to vanish. When seen as namas and rupas, there can be no hope that a different nama or rupa will provide happiness.]
So there are three kinds of desire that can arise as a result of the sitting posture: vibhava-tanha, kama-tanha, and bhava-tanha. Disliking something, liking something, and the desire for change.
But when you change posture [without awareness] you do not know that the cause of suffering is still there. [Although you are perpetuating suffering, generating its cause afresh by acting out of desire, you don't realize this. On the contrary, you believe that you're improving things.] When you have pain you want to change postures; but when you change position without focusing, that's desire.
That's why I say that you have to keep focusing even when you have pain, right? [In order to break the cause-and-effect cycle of suffering we have to act with awareness instead of automatically following desire. Even when we feel pain we shouldn't let ourselves react by changing position automatically.] Understand that you have to change [posture], rather than thinking, "I want to change." Whenever you feel, "I want to change," desire is present; so you continue to generate the cause that results in suffering. [In the future you will have to experience the result of that desire, namely: unsatisfactoriness, unhappiness, dukkha.]
But when you understand that you have to change [because you are too uncomfortable to continue practicing mindfulness effectively] then you can stop the cause of suffering; you have eliminated vibhava tanha [disliking] already. In that case, when changing posture you focus on every small movement, step-by-step. You have mindfulness all the time, and so you eliminate bhava tanha. That is, you are not expecting to get permanent happiness from the new posture. You understand that even the new posture is suffering, too; that it isn't happiness at all. [The new posture is also unsatisfactory because it, too, is just rupa. And according to the first Noble Truth, all rupas and namas across the board are dukkha, unsatisfactoriness.] Whenever you act mindfully like this while practicing meditation you destroy desire, the cause of suffering, every moment. That means that you have passed the second of the Four Noble Truths.
The third Noble Truth does not really mean nibbana yet. Here it means destroying liking and disliking while you are focusing in the present, from one moment to the next. If you can focus in the present from moment-to-moment every time that you change posture or see, hear, smell, taste, or touch, without liking or disliking, that means that you can get the third Noble Truth, the end of suffering. Why is this the end of suffering?
When you have liking, you still have suffering [dukkha] present. When you have disliking, you still have suffering there from seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, sitting, standing, walking and moving. If you feel liking or disliking with any activity, that means that you still have the cause of suffering there [i.e., you still have desire]. But when you are free of liking or disliking you can finish dukkha; the end of suffering is right there.
So when you see a Buddha statue, for example, just be aware of seeing. That means to separate the [concept of the] Buddha from the color itself. Seeing the Buddha image [rather than bare color] is a matter of perception or memory attaching with the image. But when you separate the concept of the Buddha image from [the act of] seeing or from color itself, then you cannot feel liking or disliking at all. But if you have attachment to the Buddha image, then you will have to feel liking or disliking. If it is a beautiful picture you'll like it; if it's an ugly picture you will dislike it, right?
But when you "just see," when you just see color, when you separate the name or the meaning of the picture from the actual color, then you destroy liking and disliking right away. Liking means greed, desire (tanha). Disliking means hatred. You don't need to worry about delusion because, when you have mindfulness, delusion is already gone. It is the same as in this room; when you turn on the light you don't need to make the darkness go out, because it's gone already. It's very important to understand how you can give up liking and disliking whenever you see, hear, smell, taste, touch, sit, stand, walk, etc. Whenever you can be without liking or disliking in your practice you are completing the third Noble Truth.
Just waiting for number four [i.e., the meditator is waiting to complete the fourth Noble Truth, which is the eight-fold path. The eight-fold path is: right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration, right action, right speech, right livelihood, right view and right thought.] Number four means to try to make effort all the time. Even when you are tired, try to do the hand motions - even when you are very tired and the hand seems very heavy [Sopako Bhikkhu is referring to the hand-motions exercise. See, "How to Meditate."] When you are tired or you feel lazy, the hand can feel like a stone. How can you raise it? But you have to make effort; you have to do it even when you feel lazy because you want to complete the fourth Noble Truth. So you have to do the work, you have to continue making objects for mindfulness.
Then you can complete right effort. Also, you have mindfulness to focus. And you continue moving the hand, raising it up, touching, moving. Or you continue to make effort by observing rising-falling or sitting-touching. ["Rising-falling" refers to the abdominal movements that occur during breathing, "sitting-touching" to an exercise that observes the sitting posture and a touching point. See, "How to Meditate."] Or you can make effort by focusing on hearing or thinking. Or if some emotion arises - confusion, worry, or restlessness - you can focus on emotion. Then you are making right effort with a mental object.
If nothing else happens you can just continue observing body objects: rising-falling-sitting-touching [another meditation exercise]. That means that you are completing the factors of right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration during every moment of your practice. Also, when you make effort to observe rising-falling-sitting-touching, or when you move one hand at a time, stand up, walk step-by-step, and go back to sitting again, when you keep going step-by-step, one movement at a time from moment-to-moment, that is the meaning of right action.
Why should you move the hand mindfully? Because you want to complete the factor of right action. If I want to drink, and I just move the hand to take water, that is not right action, because I am not making right effort. I don't have mindfulness to focus. I do not continue observing from moment-to-moment. [Demonstrating drinking water without mindfulness.] Right action would be: when I am thirsty I look at the water, noting "seeing, seeing." Then I focus on the thirst; I observe the feeling of thirstiness. Then I observe the intention to move the hand. I raise the hand [demonstrating], move it straight, move it down until it touches the cup. Then I take the cup, bring it to the mouth, open the mouth [drinking water]. . . that means right action. With every moment, with every action, with every movement, with every step from one moment to the next, I have effort, I have mindfulness, and I have continuity. I continue to observe objects without a break.
This constitutes right livelihood also. Right action, right speech and right livelihood will harmonize with the first three factors: right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. [When the meditator maintains continuity of practice during a retreat, he automatically has right livelihood. Since noble silence is maintained during retreats, he also has right speech.]
So you have six [of the eight path-factors] already. If you continue to practice, then right view and right thought will come after that, when all the factors harmonize. Then you will be able to see arising and passing away or impermanence, suffering, and not-selfness very clearly, more and more deeply.
It's like different shades of white. At first your shirt looks white. But if you have a purer shade of white to compare to the shirt, you can see some spots. Then you feel, "Wow, my shirt is dirty." It's the same when you see impermanence clearly; it becomes more and more subtle.
That means that you are practicing the Four Noble Truths, which will be complete when the eight-fold path is complete, when you can practice the entire eight-fold path in one moment, each moment. When that happens, many groups of dhamma will come together in your mind. [These "groups" are the thirty-seven requisites of enlightenment.]
The "Four Foundations of Mindfulness" constitute the first group. You will complete that, too, when you practice the Four Noble Truths because sitting, standing, walking, lying down, and rising-falling are all body objects [they belong to the first foundation of mindfulness]. Feeling objects include unpleasant, pleasant and neutral feeling [the second foundation]. Wandering mind or thinking is a consciousness object [the third foundation]. Emotions or hindrances are mental objects [the fourth foundation]. But you are completing these already by practicing the Four Noble Truths. So one group - the four foundations of mindfulness - is being completed already.
And then four kinds of energy will harmonize with the other factors. [These are the four right efforts, padhana.] "Energy" means making the continuous effort to develop wholesome states of mind and eliminate unwholesome states of mind so that the mind becomes more and more wholesome.
[Iddhi-pada.] When you have these four mental factors you can be successful in anything you attempt, including worldly work. If you want to study something, for instance, you will be successful.
In the case of studying, "chanda" [concentration of intention] means being interested in the subject you want to learn. "Viriya" [concentration of energy] means the effort to put energy into your studying. "Citta" [concentration of consciousness, citta-samadhi] means having intelligence or common sense with what you're doing. And "vimamsa" [concentration of investigation, vimamsa-samadhi] means to repeat or go over the subject again and again. When you have these four factors you can be successful in whatever you attempt, even insight meditation.
So there are three groups of four factors each that will harmonize in the meditator's mind. Then there are two groups of five: The five spiritual faculties [indriya] and the five spiritual powers [bala]. Then there are seven factors of enlightenment [bojjhanga]. Including the eight-fold path, they total thirty-seven factors. These are called "bodhipakkhiya-dhamma" [the thirty-seven requisites of enlightenment]. When these thirty-seven mental factors join with the Four Noble Truths, enlightenment happens right away, at that very moment.
Then, from a citizen of the world, you become a lokuttara [supramundane] citizen. You are no longer a lay person. From that time on you are a noble person [an ariya, enlightened one].
I hope that everyone understands what I am saying and can get closer [to the goal]. Because everything is in you already. Suffering is in you - rupa and nama are in you. The causes of suffering, liking and disliking, are also in you. The end of suffering is with you all the time, and you are developing the eight-fold path right now.
It's only that the factors are not balanced enough yet. And the other groups of dhamma have not harmonized with them yet. But if you can keep going you can bring the other groups to harmony; at that time your mindfulness will have more power. It will be stronger, deeper, on a higher and higher level. At that time you will know by yourself, "Wow, now I am almost there."
All right; that's enough, but if you have some questions I will give you time - about five minutes more.
Meditator #1: Can you explain in more detail about ultimate truths and ordinary truths?
Bhikkhu Sopako: Ultimate truth [paramatta sacca] is just rupa and nama. Only rupa and nama are ultimate truth. The name of a thing or the name of a person is ordinary truth [sammuti-sacca]. Ultimate truth is without the name; there is just an object. An object, meaning, rupa. The "subject" is nama, who knows the object. Just two things in the world are the truth, all right? One thing stays [that is, manifests itself to the perception so as to be known; this is the object, rupa], another thing [nama] knows it.
For example, when we touch fire we experience heat; we know that it is hot. That's the truth, right? That's ultimate truth. When Thai people touch the fire it's hot, too. When a Canadian touches fire it feels hot. When Japanese or Chinese people touch the fire it feels the same; that's ultimate truth. But I am Thai; you are Canadian or Chinese or Japanese; that's ordinary truth, right? The name or the nationality of the person is different.
Meditator #2: Are all of the Buddha's teachings ultimate truth?
Bhikkhu Sopako: No, he taught ordinary truth too. If he just taught ultimate truth nobody could understand, right? [Laughter.] He had to mention ordinary truth but he tried to separate, separate so that the student would understand which was ultimate truth and which was ordinary truth, something like that. [In order to be understood, the Buddha often used conventional expression. He would refer to a "person," for example, even though no such entity exists in ultimate terms. Hence, most of the sutras or discourses use conventional language. On the other hand, the Abhidhamma Pitaka (a many-volume work on Buddhist metaphysics) refers only to absolute realities.]
Another example [Ven. Sopako rings a bell.] Like this bell; everybody can hear the same thing, the same sound, whether they are Thai or Indian or Laotian or American or Canadian. The hearing is the same. But the ordinary truth is different. English people call it the "bell." Thai people call it "rakang." Japanese say "gong." There is just one thing, but three names, right? Three nationalities, three different names: bell, gong, rakang. But it is the same sound. They are hearing the same thing. Sound is ultimate truth. Hearing is ultimate truth. Sound is rupa; hearing is nama. That's ultimate truth. But the name of the bell is ordinary truth. An English-speaking person has to say, "that is a bell." But Thai people don't know English so they say "no, not bell, rakang!" But Japanese people, if they don't know English, say, "no, not bell - gong."
That makes people fight, because of ordinary truth. But there is never any fighting over ultimate truth because sound is sound [the same vibration strikes everyone's ear]. Hearing is only hearing. It has no nationality. It is not American or Asian. There is no me, no you, no man, and no woman in hearing, in sound. That is what is meant by ultimate truth. It is without a name. There are no males, no females, no names, no bell, no gong, no rakang - just sound, just hearing, all right? [Likewise, there is just seeing, tasting, smelling, touching, feeling and so on; all of these are ultimate phenomena.]
[Sopako Bhikkhu gives meditation instructions to the advanced students.] In meditation practice we try to develop the mind so that mindfulness and concentration balance each other, by following the step-by-step technique. [We try to develop mindfulness and momentary concentration simultaneously, so that they increase at the same rate. To this end we practice a step-by-step method, breaking each action down into a number of smaller, discrete motions.]
But you are not beginners. All of you are either intermediate or advanced meditators. So you can give up the six steps of walking and the four steps of sitting. [Meditators who have gained enough experience should give up the step-by-step technique and observe objects more naturally.] But what should you do, what should you focus on when you give up the four steps of sitting or the six steps of walking? How should you practice? Who can answer?
Meditator #3: Just be aware of whatever is going on.
Bhikkhu Sopako: That's correct. When you are able to be aware of what is happening in the present moment, you don't need to wait for objects to come. You don't need to look for objects. But don't try to do it by desire. Don't say, "I prefer to focus here; I don't like this object. I'm waiting for that object to come. I don't want to see this object here, in the present moment." That's not correct. No matter what object appears in the present moment you have to be aware of that one, have to see or know or focus on that object.
When we are focusing on an object in the present moment, we cannot separate mindfulness from clear comprehension, awareness, knowledge or wisdom, because they are mixed together. All of them are working in the mind but since none stands out by itself we cannot separate them, right?
It's like cooking; you put everything into the same dish - soy sauce, pepper, sugar and other ingredients. Then you taste it; if it is too hot, you say that there is too much pepper. But the soy sauce and sugar are in there too, it's just that they don't show. It's the same thing in the mind; when one mental factor appears stronger than the others, you can only recognize that one. But mindfulness, awareness and wisdom are there too, it's just that they do not show. We cannot know how strong each of them is, only that they are working in the present moment.
But we can understand this: when focusing in the present moment right now, that means mindfulness. All right? That means mindfulness. When you can see arising and passing away, that's insight knowledge or vipassana nana. When you can see impermanence in the present moment, or suffering, or not-selfness, that is wisdom.
So it doesn't matter where the object comes from, or whether it is good or bad. Just focus and forget it, good or bad. Don't worry about that. That's the duty of a yogi or meditator. You have to continue with whatever object comes to you. You have to receive it or focus on it. But if you are not sure whether your mindfulness and concentration are strong enough or steady enough, then you can go back to labeling the object.
For today, observe rising-falling only. Don't worry about sitting or touching. But if you want to focus on the sitting posture, then just observe sitting by itself for five, ten or thirty minutes. Just sitting. Forget about rising-falling. Or if you want to focus on touching, then just observe touching by itself. Don't add rising-falling or sitting. [Just keep practicing one exercise, rather than combining the rising-falling, sitting and touching exercises.] But ninety percent of meditators observe rising-falling because we are always breathing. Rising-falling is always present, automatically. [We don't have to "make" an object for mindfulness as we do when observing the touch-points.] So you can keep practicing continuously with rising-falling, even when you go back home.
In your daily practice, when the retreat is over, you should observe rising-falling; only those two steps, for whatever length of time you want to practice - ten minutes, or fifteen minutes at a time, or half an hour. If [concentration and mindfulness are] strong enough to give up the label, then observe rising-falling without it. Give up the mental notes and just observe naturally. Mindfulness will keep the mind on the object so as to understand impermanence in rising-falling, or suffering in rising-falling, or non-self.
But don't make the mistake that impermanence, suffering and non-self are three different things to see. There is only one truth, one characteristic. But someone has the temperament to see impermanence; that person should focus on impermanence only. Others have the temperament to see unsatisfactoriness. They should stay with that characteristic and not worry about impermanence or non-self, because these three are actually the same one. Someone else has the temperament to see non-self; that kind of meditator should keep observing non-self only. Arising and passing away - that's non-self. Changing all the time - that's non-self. The fact that the object cannot stay - that's non-self. Just pay attention to the characteristic that is clear to you [because these three characteristics are merely different aspects of a single truth].
Why is it that people can see three different characteristics when there is only one truth? Why does someone see impermanence, someone else, unsatisfactoriness, and someone else, non-self? It depends on the background or paramita of each person. ["Background" or "paramita" refers to a natural aptitude that comes from wholesome actions performed in the present existence or in previous lives. Since people have performed different kinds of wholesome actions they have different temperaments, and because of that their minds perceive different facets of the truth.] Those who have practiced generosity and morality more than concentration, or more than activities pertaining to wisdom, see impermanence more clearly. If someone has practiced renunciation or attained strong concentration in the past, that person sees suffering more clearly than impermanence or non-self. But those who have developed wisdom or have practiced by making strong resolutions can see non-self more clearly than the other characteristics. So it's important to know that even when there is one truth we can see it from three different angles depending on the person.
That's the instruction for sitting. Usually we do not go through the different stages of practice as quickly as we have in this retreat. Most of the time we observe rising-falling for seven days, then add sitting for another seven days, then add touching in the third week. After one month the four steps of sitting will balance and you can observe each object, rising-falling, sitting and touching, equally well. But here it's just four days. That's ok; you did very well. However, a meditator's progress depends on his or her background, paramita. It doesn't have to take a month to balance. Someone can do it in just one day, very fast. They can understand how to observe rising-falling right away without the label and can go on to sitting and touching correctly, right away. It depends on which of the four types of meditator one is [for the first type, progress is quick and pleasant; for the second, quick and unpleasant; for the third, slow and pleasant; and for the fourth, slow and unpleasant]. It doesn't always have to take a long time. So, if you want to observe the sitting posture today, just do that; don't pay attention to rising-falling. Just notice how long your mind wanders, or how long the object is clear or unclear.
When I practiced vipassana for seven months without a break I could observe sitting continuously for a maximum of two hours. During that time I was not interested in rising-falling or anything else. The mind just kept observing the sitting posture, without a break. But after two hours some other object would come. Wandering mind might arise but would disappear very fast as soon as I focused on it. Or some kind of emotion would arise. That meant that concentration could not stay on the object more than two hours. Concentration went down but I still had mindfulness. That's why wandering mind or emotion could arise. If concentration still works with mindfulness, these things cannot appear.
So today, just focus on rising-falling or sitting only. If you want to test your concentration, just focus on sitting. You might be able to stay with the object steadily for five, ten or even twenty minutes. It depends on the conditions you have. During that time you won't have wandering mind at all. You won't feel any emotions. You will not feel that another object can arise. That means that momentary concentration is working with mindfulness, with the sitting posture. It's easy to test your concentration by observing the sitting posture.
But if you're observing rising-falling you can stay on the object longer, even if you don't have as much concentration. That's the secret; because you have movement all the time, right? Whether you note it or not, there is always movement when you breathe in and out. That's why you don't have to have too much concentration to observe it. With the sitting posture you need to have good momentary concentration to work with mindfulness. If someone has more paramita than myself, for example, they can focus on the sitting posture for an entire day without needing to focus on anything else. Wandering mind or emotions do not arise; they just keep knowing the sitting posture only; just that one object. [But this differs from fixing the mind on the object to the point of trance, because in vipassana the meditator still observes sitting arising and passing away from moment-to-moment.] The wisdom or paramita of each person is different.
Just like when you test the depth of the ocean by dropping a line down. It's the same thing in the dhamma; the depth of knowledge of each person differs. The Buddha, for example, had deeper knowledge than the arahants [fully enlightened beings] or disciples.
About walking meditation: choose the step that was clear to you this morning, whether four, five or six step. If none of them were clear, do three step or two step. Usually you can keep three because that's in the middle between one and six. So if four, five and six are very hard for you or uncomfortable, then just continue with three step. You can practice three step when you go back home, too.
Sometimes you might look like you are walking normally, just slower than normal, but mindfulness can perceive one step of the foot as having three distinct parts or motions. So you have three motions from nama, or from sensation, or feeling or knowing, not three motions objectively. Subjectively, mindfulness will make the experience into three steps: lifting, moving and placing. Mindfulness will do this automatically, very fast. When mindfulness is strong it separates your experience of the object into several smaller steps by itself. Sometimes when I move my hand or do something else I don't focus on the object step-by-step, but mindfulness makes it that way by itself, so that I can see the individual moments of the movement, even when I'm not following the technique but moving normally.
When I practiced vipassana for seven months continuously, after the third month, even when I walked in a way that appeared almost normal, I could still perceive one action as having separate moments. When I was doing something I just moved slowly, not step-by-step. But on the "inside" I continued to experience the movement as a moment-to-moment phenomena, even though I was moving normally on the "outside." Because, who is knowing [what is it that is knowing]? Nama is knowing. What is it that arises and falls, or is born and then dies? Consciousness. Consciousness is like a vibration. A vibration arising and passing away, arising and passing away, arising and passing away.
Whenever you see something, for example, it is not a single consciousness seeing that object for two or three minutes, no. There are many, many individual moments of consciousness, one after another, but we don't know that. They are very subtle, very fast, very deep. It's the same thing with hearing. There is not just one consciousness when hearing a sound; there are many, many separate moments of consciousness that are hearing - a hundred or a thousand - depending on how long that sound is still there. But we cannot see that. It depends on the wisdom of each person whether he or she can have knowledge to see the deeper level of consciousness.
[Bhikkhu Sopako holds up his finger and moves it slightly, one time.] During a single finger-movement like this, the Lord Buddha could see almost a million moments of movement. He could see about a million different moments of consciousness arise and fall away during the single finger-movement. But to our perception, we see only one moment. For us, movement arises and falls away just one time; we see it as just a single movement. We can see the finger move, and we can know that it was nama [the mind] that ordered the finger to move, and that the agent that knows the finger-motion is also nama. But it's just one movement. We can see something arise and pass away only once. But those who have deeper or higher wisdom can see many, many increments in that movement, can see arising and passing away or the moment-to-moment of nama happen many, many times during that single action.
So during walking this morning just keep practicing whatever level feels clear, or the one in which you feel mindfulness can be steady. If four step is clear, for example, just keep doing four step for the whole day. You can choose. I will look and see which step you are doing. If you are doing it correctly then I won't need to interview and ask what step you did today. I will see, I will know that you are doing three, or four, or five or six or two step or one step, if you are doing it correctly. But if you're not doing it correctly I will ask what step you're doing. If you say, "Four step," for instance, I will tell you or show you how to do that step correctly. That's the duty of the teacher. If you are already practicing correctly, the teacher does not need to interrupt you because that breaks the continuity of practice. Today everyone has freedom to practice independently.
For advanced students I do not give instruction often. I just let them practice more, because having an interview or listening to instruction like this makes them break their continuity, and that isn't good, either. But if someone does not understand then it's important to explain, even if it means they have to stop practicing for awhile. That is better than to keep going without right understanding, with confusion, thinking, "Am I doing this well or not?" or, "I don't know whether I'm doing it right or not. How can I know?" Then thoughts like these are always in the mind. You're always wondering, "How can I do it right, how can I know whether I'm following the correct path?" That means that you are practicing with confusion. How can you be successful?
Or sometimes you practice with desire, thinking, "I want to be successful, I want to be a good meditator. I don't want to lose mindfulness or have wandering mind." Right? When the mind doesn't wander, you think, "Wow, good. I am doing well now." When the mind wanders, "Oh, this is terrible. Why isn't meditation helping me? Why did I come here? My mind isn't calm at all. I don't have any concentration." Then you feel upset or disappointed.
When your attitude to practice, and your practice itself, are not correct, then all kinds of things will be going on. If practice is good, you'll have attachment. If it's bad, you'll be disappointed or sad. But that's not correct. If you are practicing correctly, you won't feel that it's good or bad; you will not feel any liking or disliking, you will just continue more and more. That's correct.
Today I have not given much instruction, but I will demonstrate eating meditation at lunch time. If you can follow that technique it will be very good for you. Everything I know, I want to share with you. I don't want to carry it [his knowledge] back to Chicago, all right? [Laughter.] . . .
[Later that day] I would like to give more detail about eating meditation. Before I came here I gave a retreat at the Thai temple in Chicago. There were about twenty-one people, all very serious meditators. All of them were able to follow the practice of mindful eating.
All right; eating meditation. You have to be aware of seeing the food first. If greed arises for the food, then you have to concentrate on that. Or you have to concentrate on the feeling of hunger.
What is the reason that we have to eat? Why do all beings need to eat food? Because if they don't they'll die, right? But they do not die right away. After seven days without food, some parts or cells of the body die and disappear. After seven days without food, even though you are still alive, some parts of the body begin to die. So the food we eat can help the body have life for seven days. That's why it was possible for some arahants to meditate for seven days without eating or drinking anything. But after seven days they had to get up and eat.
That state is called "nirodha-samapatti" [attainment of extinction. It is a temporary suspension of consciousness, perception and feeling]. Those who attain it have no feeling at all when sitting. The breath becomes very subtle so that it's almost imperceptible; you cannot see the rising and falling of the abdomen. They cannot feel the heat of fire, cannot feel a knife cutting them. "Nirodha" means to give up knowing any object. But it is not really concentration; it happens by the power of attaining the highest level of consciousness or wisdom to separate nama from rupa, the object. These people cannot see, know or feel anything at all for seven days. They are able to continue longer than seven days but they know that the body needs to eat, so they come out of meditation. That's nirodha samapatti. The person can control the mind or can sit without eating or drinking, without feeling or knowing at all. So we should not eat out of desire or lust. We should not eat for doing some unwholesome bodily action. We should eat only so the body can stay alive.
When someone offers food to the monks, the monks chant in Pali very fast before eating. Some monks chant silently in their minds, others chant aloud. The words they say mean something like this: "I do not eat food to have happiness or to follow desire; I eat food so that I may have life in the world for teaching dhamma or practicing dhamma or helping people." It's the same with meditators. We have to remember that we are eating so that the body can have energy to practice meditation. If not in a retreat, we can remember that we are eating to have a strong body for working or following right livelihood while living in the world. So after you focus on the feeling of hunger, and after you understand the reason to eat, then you should try and concentrate on moving step-by-step.
Eating this way takes time; in my experience, more than two hours. It may not be convenient or comfortable here because we are sitting on chairs, eating at a high table and it is not easy to move the hand up and go straight - we have to lift it up too high. But when I was practicing seven months they only cooked food that was easy for the meditators to pick up and we sat on the floor. The table wasn't too high or too low. It was easy to pick up the food, to take the spoon or fork and cut the food with just one utensil. They didn't bring any food that was hard to cut. Everything was bite-sized. Not like the grapefruit this morning! No way to eat that. You have to cut, cut, cut. . . [laughter.]
So you have to take the food [place it on the fork or spoon] and then move your hand slowly until the fork or spoon touches your mouth. Then open the mouth and take the food. But don't chew at first - not until you put the fork back. Then close the eyes. Taste will appear. If it's a strong taste you have to focus on that before chewing. While you are chewing, taste will be there too, so you'll have two objects at the same time. [But only focus on one.] If the flavor is strong or spicy then you shouldn't focus on chewing; just focus on knowing taste.
If the taste is bland you have to focus on the movement of the jaw, on chewing, until you swallow the food. Then open the eyes. Look at the food again, and note the intention to take the food again; then move the hand, step-by-step. Sometimes it takes two hours or more [to finish a meal.] Sometimes you feel full after eating only half the food because you're too tired, right? [Laughter.] It takes too long. [Laughter.] Sometimes, if the food is soft, you just swallow right away because it takes too long to chew and desire wants to swallow immediately. There are many things happening. You can get a lot of experience with eating because most people have a great deal of desire when it comes to food. [For step-by-step instructions on mindful eating, see How to Meditate.]
The 37 Requisites of Enlightenment (Bodhipakkhiya-dhamma):
The four foundations of mindfulness
The four right efforts
The four roads to power
The five spiritual faculties
The five spiritual powers
The seven factors of enlightenment
The eight path-factors