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The Buddha’s Technique of Meditation (Serenity and Insight)

(By Bhikkhu T Seelananda Forest Monastery WV, USA)

The attainment of Enlightenment or Buddha-hood is the most excellent position in the world. All other positions are temporary, worldly, certainly unstable and permanently impermanent.  It is the only position that is unalterable and unchallengeable by anyone in the world. There are three types of Buddha-hood, namely self-Awakened One, silent Buddha and the Arahant Buddha. Whatever the Buddha-hood is unchangeable because it is a self-victory. Our Buddha attained this excellent position on the full moon day of May 2605 year ago. Once the Buddha himself said, “There is neither a god, nor an angel, nor a Māra or a Brahma to turn into defeat the victory of such a person who is self-subdued and ever restrained in conduct.” [1]

In order to realize the Dhamma and attain enlightenment, our Buddha practiced a technique of meditation. That was nothing but serenity and insight (samatha-vipassana) based on the four establishments of mindfulness. Without mindfulness and Vipassana, there is no Buddhism and no Enlightenment.

In order to achieve this state of real peace and real happiness, one should practice, develop and cultivate both mindfulness and wisdom. It is like delving a tunnel. Tool for the delving is wisdom. Each and every inch of the tunnel, every step is very much significant. Mindfulness is the key for that understanding which is right understanding.

The state of Buddha-hood is the accomplishment of wholesomeness that was acquired through time immemorial with great exertion, dedication, renunciation, and firm determination. That can be achieved only through dedication and clear comprehension, establishing and developing the Dhamma following the Middle Path. It is impossible by mere prayers or simply trying to attain the fulfillment of perfections. It is the unparalleled state of mind and the supreme bliss that one can gain by realizing the Four Noble Truths, the Dependent Origination and the Three Characteristics of Existence. He who knows these three, knows the Dhamma.

The Four Establishments of Mindfulness

 

This is the technique that our Buddha practiced for the attainment of Enlightenment or Buddha-hood. He said, ''Monks, this is the only way for the purification of beings, for overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the entering of the path, for the realization of Nibbana - namely, the four establishments of mindfulness." [2]  

These four are as the Buddha said,

Mindfulness of body as a body

Mindfulness of feelings as feelings

Mindfulness of mind as mind

Mindfulness of mind-objects as mind objects.

As we see, what Our Buddha has taught us from the beginning to the end of this discourse is nothing but tandem meditation. This is popularly known as Serenity and Insight.

Mindfulness of body as body

When practice mindfulness of body as body, there are six different methods. They are:

Mindfulness of breath

Mindfulness of the four postures

Mindfulness and clear comprehension of all activities

Mindfulness of the parts of the body

Mindfulness of the four great elements

Mindfulness of nine different stages of a corpse.

 

In The Great Discourse on the Establishment of Mindfulness, in each section on meditation, the Buddha has instructed us how to switch our concentrated mind to insight. That is how both serenity and insight are conjoined and how the technique becomes a tandem meditation (yuganaddha). The beautiful passage that we come across at the end of each method or section in this discourse is as follows:

 

" In this way he abides contemplating the body as a body internally, or he abides contemplating the body as a body externally, or he abides contemplating the body as a body both internally and externally. Or else he abides contemplating in the body its arising factors, or he abides contemplating in the body its vanishing factors, or he abides contemplating in the body both its arising and vanishing factors. Or else mindfulness that „there is a body‟ is simply established in him to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and mindfulness. And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. That is how a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body." – Feeling as feeling... mind as mind... and mental objects as mental objects..."[3]

 

Mindfulness of feelings as feelings

 

When practicing this method, the practitioner should employ mindfulness of breathing for some time and then switch to observing and understanding feelings as feelings. There are various kinds of feeling in the body. Feeling means not only pains and aches, but also any type of mental or physical sensations. Basically, there are three kinds of feelings. They are:

 

1.     Pleasant feelings

2.     Painful feelings

3.     Neither painful nor pleasant feelings.

 

According to This Discourse on the Establishment of Mindfulness, the Buddha has pointed out feelings as worldly and unworldly feelings. They are again, categorized as worldly pleasant feelings, worldly painful feelings, and worldly neither painful nor pleasant feelings. Unworldly feelings are also categorized in the same manner as unworldly pleasant feelings, unworldly painful feelings, and unworldly neither painful nor pleasant feelings. Thus, the Buddha has taught us nine types of feelings in this discourse. Referring to many kinds of feelings, Our Buddha pointed out that there are 108 kinds of feelings in the discourse on The Many Kinds of Feeling in The Middle Length Sayings of the Buddha.[4]  The practitioner is expected to understand these different feelings while they are present. Though there are feelings, there is no feeling to be grasped as ‘my feeling,’ or ‘feeling is mine,’ or ‘feeling I am.’ That is to be understood clearly. All feelings are not mine, not me, not myself. All feelings are impermanent, unsatisfactory, and without a self. That is how one should train one's mind to see things as they really are. That is pure vipassanā.

 

Here also we have to understand that mindfulness of breathing is practiced as concentration and then gradually switch to insight by seeing the nature of the changing and arising and passing of the breath. In this manner, the practitioner practices both serenity and insight in tandem. Both develop together as a conjoined effort to realize true peace and real happiness.

 

Mindfulness of mind as mind

 

Again, in this section too, first the practitioner is expected to practice mindfulness of breathing for some time and then observation of different kinds of mental states. When observing mind as mind, one can clearly comprehend various kinds of mental states. When the mind is affected by lust, he understands that it is affected by lust; when it is unaffected by lust, he understands that it is unaffected by lust. When it is affected by hate, he understands that it is affected by hate and when it is unaffected by hate, he understands that it is unaffected by hate. When it is affected by delusion, he understands that it is affected by delusion and when it is unaffected by delusion, he understands that it is unaffected by delusion. Whenever the mind is distracted, he understands that it is a distracted mind. Whenever the mind is contracted, he understands that it is contracted. If it is an exalted mind, he understands that it is an exalted mind. If it is an un-exalted mind, he understands that it is an un-exalted mind. If it is a surpassed mind, he understands that it is a surpassed mind and if it is an unsurpassed mind, he understands that it is an unsurpassed mind. If it is a concentrated mind, he understands that it is a concentrated mind and if it is an un-concentrated mind, he understands that it is an un-concentrated mind. If it is a liberated mind, he understands that it is a liberated mind and if it is an un-liberated mind, he understands that it is an un-liberated mind. This is how our Buddha has taught us the way to practice contemplation on mind as mind.

 

Now, we assume that most people, at least meditators are well aware of how to practice and develop the first three establishments of mindfulness. Therefore, we would like to examine the last one, which is Mindfulness of 'mental objects as mental objects' within the limitation of the available space and time for this article.

 

Mindfulness of Mental Objects As Mental Objects  

 

These are the realization of the Dhamma. When the practitioner is practicing and developing the first three establishments of mindfulness (body as body, feelings as feelings, and mind as mind), his or her mind comes to the state of calmness and relaxation with the subsiding of the five hindrances and eventually all hindrances fade away or come to the complete extermination. With that realization, the practitioner sees his/her mind is more and more clear and clearer. That clear mind can realize the true nature of things, Dhamma as Dhamma.

With the complete eradication of the five hindrances, the practitioner mindfully observes the five aggregates of existence as they really are. He/she, while observing these five aggregates with mindfulness and clear comprehension, sees form, feelings, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness as they really are. The realization is as follows: This is form, this is the arising of form, and this is the cessation of form. This is feeling, this is the arising of feeling, and this is the cessation of feeling. This is perception, this is the arising of perception, and this is the cessation of perception. These are volitional formations, these are the arising of volitional formations and these are the cessation of volitional formations. This is consciousness, this is the arising of consciousness, and this is the cessation of consciousness. In such a way, he/she realizes the nature of dukkha within this fathom high body with consciousness and perception.

 

While the practitioner is practicing further, he /she can then understand and realize the six internal and six external bases. Here, he knows the eye, the form that impinges on the eyes, and the fetter that binds the two together. What one should really understand is this fetter. That is desire.

 

Since the practitioner's mind is quite developed by this time, he can understand clearly whenever the un-arisen fetter arises, whenever the arisen fetter passes, and also he can realize that the passing fetter never comes to arise again. Thus, the practitioner becomes free from the fetters of the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, and the mind. It is this fetter that once Ven. Sariputta explained to Ven. Maha Kotthita with the simile of the fettered rope of the two bulls – black and white. He said, "Friend Kotthita, it is neither the base nor the object is fetter but desire".[5]

 

Next, the practitioner pays attention to understand and realize the seven factors of enlightenment. They are: Mindfulness, Investigation of the dhamma, Energy, Rapture, Tranquility, Concentration and Equanimity.

 

These seven are the factors, which lead us for the attainment of enlightenment. The Buddha said, Bhikkhus, when these seven factors of enlightenment have been developed and cultivated in this way, seven fruits and benefits may be expected. What are the seven fruits and benefits? “One attains final knowledge early in this very life. If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life, then one attains final knowledge at the time of death. If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life or at the time of death, then with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters one becomes an attainer of Nibbāna in the interval. If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life ... or become an attainer of Nibbāna in the interval, then with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters one becomes an attainer of Nibbāna upon landing. If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life ... or become an attainer of Nibbāna upon landing, then with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters one becomes an attainer of Nibbāna without exertion. If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life ... or become an attainer of Nibbāna without exertion, then with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters one becomes an attainer of Nibbāna with exertion. If one does not attain final knowledge early in this very life ... or become an attainer of Nibbāna with exertion, then with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters one becomes one bound upstream, heading towards the Akanittha realm. When, bhikkhus, the seven factors of enlightenment have been developed and cultivated in this way, these seven fruits and benefits may be expected.”[6]

 

As a result of practicing, developing and cultivating of the seven factors of enlightenment, the practitioner comes to the realization of the Four Noble Truths. Our Buddha was the first who realized these four aspects of truth for the first time in this human history. Thus, he became the Noblest one. Since the Noblest One realized these four for the first time, they are called 'Noble Truths'. With the understanding and realizing of the four Noble Truths, one can realize the Dependent Origination through which one can understand the co-existence or interdependency in all things in the world and finally the three characteristics of existence of all things as well.

 

As the Buddha said, the Dependent Origination is the most profound teaching of the Buddha (Abhidhamma).[7] In accordance with this magnificent teaching of the Buddha, what always arise within our mind are the five hindrances. It is because of these hindrances that ignorance arises. They are interdependent. Thus, dependent on ignorance, volitional formations arise. Dependent on volitional formations, consciousness arises. Dependent on consciousness, mentality and materiality arise. Dependent on mentality and materiality, the six-fold base arises. Dependent on the six-fold base, contact arises. Dependent on contact, feeling arises. Dependent on feeling, craving arises. Dependent on craving, attachment arises. Dependent on attachment, existence arises. Dependent on existence, birth arises. Dependent on birth, aging and death arise and, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. Thus, there is the arising of this whole mass of suffering.

 

As the Buddha has clearly illustrated here through the entire cessation of this ignorance, volitional formations cease. Through the cessation of volitional formations, consciousness ceases. Through the cessation of consciousness, mentality and materiality cease. Through the cessation of mentality and materiality, the six-fold base ceases. Through the cessation of the six-fold base, contact ceases. Through the cessation of contact, feeling ceases. Through the cessation of feeling, craving ceases. Through the cessation of craving, attachment ceases. Through the cessation of attachment, existence ceases. Through the cessation of existence, birth ceases. Through the cessation of birth, aging and death cease, and sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. Thus, there is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.

 

According to the Four Noble Truths, it is clear that whole mass of dukkha arises because of craving. With the cessation of craving all dukkha come to cease. For the cessation of dukkha, there is a path. That path is solely the Noble Eightfold Path. That is the only path for the attainment of enlightenment. When one practiced and developed this Noble Eightfold Path, it becomes the Tenfold Path and eventually any practitioner attains full enlightenment by realizing the true nature of all things.

After his attainment of supreme enlightenment, Our Buddha delivered his first sermon on the full moon day of July. In this discourse, he talked about the Four Noble Truths very clearly. When he described what is dukkha he said, “Birth is dukkha, decay is dukkha, disease is dukkha, death is dukkha, associating with unpleasant ones is dukkha, dissociating from pleasant ones is dukkha, and not getting what one desires is dukkha, in short, the five aggregates affected by clinging are dukkha.” He revealed craving as the cause of dukkha. Craving is threefold, namely: craving for sensual pleasures (kāmatanhā), craving for existence (bhavatanhā), and craving for non-existence (vibhavatanhā). The cessation of dukkha itself is the attainment of enlightenment and the path for that enlightenment is the Noble Eightfold Path or the Middle Path.[8]  As the Buddha said, dukkha should be comprehended (pariññeyyam), the cause of dukkha should be abandoned (pahātabbam), the cessation of dukkha should be realized (saccikātabbam), and the path for the cessation of dukkha should be developed (bhāvetabbam).

 

Dukkha should be comprehended within these five aggregates. It is not in the external world out there, but within us. Whenever, the Buddha used the term loka (world) he referred to the so-called individual. Therefore, when he says dukkha is in the world, that means dukkha is within oneself.  Thus, if we practice this wonderful Dhamma, wonderful and unparalleled technique of meditation as the Buddha has taught and assured by himself that one could attain full enlightenment or Arahant-ship within seven (7) days. Therefore, let us all trust our Buddha and learn this technique and meditate so that one day we all can attain Nibbana. May we all attain supreme bliss of Nibbana!

 

References

1.     Digha Nikaya (The Long Discourses of the Buddha translated by Maurice Walshe, Wisdom Publications- 1995)

2.     Majjhima Nikaya (The Middle Length Sayings of the Buddha Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications – 1995

3.     Samyutta Nikaya (The Connected Discourses of the Buddha Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom Publications – 2000

4.     The Dhammapada Translated by K.Sri Dhammananda, published by Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardhana Society Malaysia -1992.

 

[1] Dhammapada (Verse 105)

[2] D.N. Sutta N0 22 and M.N. Sutta N0.10 (Satipatthana Sutta translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

[3] Ibid  

[4] M. N. Bahuvedaniya Sutta (No. 59)

[5] S. N. 35. 232. 5. Kotthita Sutta

[6] S. N. 46. 3. 3. Virtue

[7] D.N. Maha Nidāna Sutta (No. 15)

[8] S. N. 56. 11. Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta