THE VENERABLE MAHĀSĪ
A Biographical Sketch
The Venerable Mahāsī Sayādaw was born in the year 1904 at Seikkhun, a large
prosperous village of pleasing appearance lying about seven miles to the west of
historic Shwebo town in Upper Myanmar. His parents, peasant proprietors by
occupation, were U Kan Taw and Daw Oke. At the age of six the Sayādaw was sent
to receive his early monastic education under U Ādicca, presiding monk of
Pyinmana monastery at Seikkhun. Six years later, he was initiated into the
monastic Order as a sāmaṇera under the same teacher and given the
novice's name of Shin Sobhana (which means Auspicious), a name that befitted his
stalwart, impressive features and his dignified, serene behavior. He proved to
be an apt and bright pupil, making quick, remarkable progress in his scriptural
studies. When U Ādicca left the Order, Shin Sobhana continued his studies under
Sayādaw U Parama of Thugyikyaung monastery, Ingyintaw-taik, till he attained the
age of nineteen when he had to make a fateful decision in his young
life--whether to continue in the Order and devote the rest of his life to the
service of the Buddha Sāsana or to return to lay life. Shin Sobhana
knew where his heart lay and unhesitatingly chose the first course. With due and
solemn ceremony, he was ordained a full-fledged bhikkhu on the 26th day
of November 1923, Sumedhā Sayādaw Ashin Nimmala acting as his spiritual
preceptor. Within four years of his ordination, the future Mahāsī Sayādaw, now
Ashin Sobhana took in his stride all the three grades (lower, middle and higher)
of the Pāḷi scriptural examinations conducted by Government.
Ashin Sobhana next went to the city of Mandalay, noted for its pre-eminence in
Buddhist learning, to pursue advanced study of the scriptures under Sayādaws
well known for their learning. His stay at Khinmakan West monastery for this
purpose was, however, cut short after little more than a year when he was called
to Mawlamyaing by the head of the Taik-kyaung monastery, Taungwainggale (who
came from the same village as Ashin Sobhana) to assist him with the teaching of
his pupils. While teaching at Taungwainggale, Ashin Sobhana went on with his own
studies of the scriptures, being specially interested in and making a thorough
study of the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta. His deepening interest in the
satipaṭṭhāna method of vipassanā meditation took him then to
neighboring Thaton where the well-known Mingun Jetawan Sayādaw was teaching it.
Under the Mingun Jetawan Sayādaw's instructions, Ven Sobhana took up intensive
practice of vipassanā meditation for four months will such good results
that he was in turn able to teach it properly to his first three disciples at
Seikkhun while he was on a visit there in 1938. After his return from Thaton to
Taungwainggale (owing to the grave illness and subsequent death of the aged
Taik-kyaung Sayādaw) to resume his teaching work and to take charge of the
monastery. Ven Sobhana sat for and passed with flying colours the
Government-held Dhammācariya (Teacher of the Dhamma) examination in
On the eve of the Japanese invasion of Myanmar, Mahāsī Sayādaw had to leave
Taungwaing-gale and return to his native Seikkhun. This was a welcome
opportunity for the Sayādaw to devote himself wholeheartedly to his own practice
of satipaṭṭhāna vipassanā meditation and to teaching it to a growing
number of disciples at Mahāsī monastery, Ingyintaw-taik (whence the Sayādaw came
to be known as Mahāsī Sayādaw) at Seikkhun which fortunately remained free from
the horror and disruption of war. It was during this wartime period that the
Sayādaw was prevailed upon by his disciples to write his monumental Manual of
Vipassanā Meditation, an authoritative and comprehensive work
expounding both the doctrinal and practical aspects of satipaṭṭhāna
method of meditation.
It was not long before Mahāsī Sayādaw's reputation as an able teacher of
vipassanā meditation spread far and wide in the Shwebo-Sagaing region and
came to attract the attention of a devout and well-to-do Buddhist in the person
of Sir U Thwin who wanted to promote the Buddha Sāsana by setting up a
meditation centre to be directed by a meditation teacher of proven virtue and
ability. After listening to a discourse on vipassanā meditation given
by the Sayādaw and observing the Sayādaw's serene and noble demeanor, Sir U
Thwin had no difficulty in making up his mind that Mahāsī Sayādaw was the ideal
meditation master he had been looking for.
Eventually, on the 13th of November 1947, the Buddhasāsanānuggaha Association
was founded at Yangon with Sir U Thwin as its first President and scriptural
learning and practice of the Dhamma as its object. Sir U Thwin donated
to the Association a plot of land in Hermitage Road, Kokine, Yangon, measuring
over five acres for erection of the proposed meditation centre. Today, in 1978,
the Centre occupies an area of 19.6 acres, on which a vast complex of buildings
and other structures has sprung up. Sir U Thwin told the Association that he had
found a reliable meditation teacher and proposed that the then Prime Minister of
Myanmar invite Mahāsī Sayādaw to the Centre.
After the end of the Second World War the Sayādaw alternated his residence
between his native Seikkhun and Taungwainggale in Mawlamyaing. In the meantime
Myanmar had regained her independence on 4th January 1948. In May 1949, during
one of his sojourns at Seikkhun, the Sayādaw completed a new nissaya
translation of Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta. This work excels the average
nissaya translation of this Sutta which is of great importance for those
who wish to practise vipassanā meditation but need guidance.
In November of that year, on the personal invitation of the former Prime
Minister, Mahāsī Sayādaw came down from Shwebo and Sagaing to the Sāsana Yeikthā
(Meditation Centre) at Yangon, accompanied by two senior Sayādaws. Thus began
twenty-nine years ago, Mahāsī Sayādaw's spiritual headship and direction of the
Sāsana Yeikthā at Yangon (then in its initial stage of development without the
many appurtenances that grace it today). On 4th December 1949 Mahāsī Sayādaw
personally inducted the very first batch of 25 yogīs into the practice
of vipassanā meditation. As the yogīs grew in numbers later on, it
became too strenuous for the Sayādaw himself to give the whole of the initiation
talk. From July 1951 the talk was tape-recorded and played back to each new
batch of yogīs with a few introductory words by the Sayādaw. Within a few years
of the establishment of the principal Sāsana Yeikthā at
similar meditation centres sprang up in many parts of the country with Mahāsī-trained
members of the Sangha as meditation teachers. These centres were not confined to
alone, but extended to neighboring Theravāda countries like
and Sri Lanka. A few such centres also grew up in Cambodia and India. According
to a 1972 census, the total number of yogīs trained at all these
centres (both in Myanmar and abroad) had passed the figure of seven hundred
thousand. In recognition of his distinguished scholarship and spiritual
attainments, Mahāsī Sayādaw was honored in 1952 by the then President of the
Union of Myanmar with the prestigious title of
Agga Mahā-Paṇḍita (the
Exaltedly Wise One).
Soon after attainment of Independence, the Government of Myanmar began planning
to hold a Sixth Buddhist Council (Sangāyanā) in Myanmar, with four other
Theravāda Buddhist countries (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos)
participating. For prior consultations for this purpose, Government dispatched a
mission to Thailand and Cambodia, composed of Nyaungyan and Mahāsī Sayādaws and
two laymen. The mission discussed the plan with the
Thāthanābaings (Primates of the
of these two countries.
At the historic Sixth Buddhist Council which was inaugurated with every pomp and
ceremony on 17th May 1954, Mahāsī Sayādaw played an eminent role, performing the
exacting and onerous tasks of Osāna (Final Editor) and Pucchaka
(Questioner) Sayādaw. A unique feature of this Council was the redaction
not only of the Pāḷi Canon (canonical texts) but also of the aṭṭhakathās
(commentaries) and ṭīkās (subcommentaries). In the redaction of
this commentarial literature, Mahāsī Sayādaw was responsible for his part for
making a critical analysis, sound interpretation and skilful reconciliation of
several crucial and divergent passages in these commentarial works.
A significant result of the Sixth Buddhist Council was the revival of interest
in Theravāda Buddhism among Mahāyāna Buddhists. In the year 1955 while the
Council was in progress, twelve Japanese monks and a Japanese laywoman arrived
in Myanmar to study Theravāda Buddhism. The monks were initiated into the
Theravāda Buddhist Sangha as sāmaṇeras
(novitiates) while the laywoman was made a Buddhist nun. Next, in
July 1957, at the instance of the Buddhist Association of Moji on the island of
Kyushu in Japan, the Buddha Sāsanā Council of Myanmar sent a Theravāda Buddhist
mission in which Mahāsī Sayādaw was one of the leading representatives of the
In the same year (1957) Mahāsī Sayādaw was assigned the task of writing in Pāḷi
an introduction to the Visuddhi-magga Aṭṭhakathā, one that would in
particular refute certain misrepresentations and misstatements concerning the
gifted and noble author of this aṭṭhakathā,
Ven Buddhaghosa. The Sayādaw completed this difficult task in 1960,
his work bearing every mark of distinctive learning and depth of understanding.
By then the Sayādaw had also completed two volumes (out of four) of his Myanmar
translation of this famous commentary and classic work on Buddhist meditation.
At the request of the Government of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), a special mission
headed by Sayādaw U Sujāta, a senior lieutenant of Mahāsī Sayādaw, was sent to
Ceylon in July 1955 for the express purpose of promotion satipaṭṭhāna
vipassanā meditation. The mission stayed in Ceylon for over a year doing
good work, setting up 12 permanent and 17 temporary meditation centres.
Following completion of a specially constructed central meditation centre on a
site granted by the Ceylonese Government, a larger mission led by Mahāsī Sayādaw
himself left on 6th January 1959 for Ceylon via India. The mission was
in India for about three weeks, in the course of which its members visited
several holy places associated with the life and work of Lord Buddha, Gave
Religious talks on suitable occasions and had interviews with Prime Minister
Shri Jawaharlal Nehru, President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Vice-President
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. A especially interesting feature of the visit was the warm
welcome accorded to the mission by members of the depressed classes who had
embraced the Buddhist faith under the guidance of their late leader Dr. Ambedkar.
The mission emplaned at Madras for Ceylon on 29th January 1959 and arrived at
Colombo the same day. On Sunday the 1st February, at the opening ceremony of the
permanent central meditation centre named Bhāvanā Majjhaṭhāna, Mahāsī Sayādaw
delivered an address in Pāḷi after Prime Minister Bandaranāyake and some others
had spoken. Led by Mahāsī Sayādaw, the members of the mission next went on an
extended tour of the island, visiting several meditation centres where Mahāsī
Sayādaw gave suitable discourses on vipassanā meditation and
worshipping at various places of Buddhist pilgrimage like Polonnāruwa,
Anurādhapūra and Kandy. This historic visit of the Myanmar mission under the
wise and inspiring leadership of Mahāsī Sayādaw was symbolic of the close and
mutually beneficial ties (dating from ancient times) of spiritual kinship
between these two Theravāda Buddhist countries. Its positive contribution to the
welfare of the Buddhist movement in Sri Lanka was a steady revival of interest
and activity in Buddhist meditational discipline which seemed to have declined
in this fraternal land of ours.
In February 1954, a visitor to the Sāsana Yeikthā would be struck by the
spectacle of a young Chinese practising vipassanā meditation. The yogī
in question was a young Chinese Buddhist teacher from Indonesia by the name of
Bung An who had become interested in this kind of Buddhist meditation. Under the
guidance and instructions of Mahāsī Sayādaw and of the late Sayādaw U Ñānuttara,
Mr. Bung An made such excellent progress in about a month's time that Mahāsī
Sayādaw himself gave him a detailed talk on the progress of insight. Later he
was ordained a bhikkhu and named Ashin Jinarakkhita. Mahāsī Sayādaw
himself acted as his spiritual preceptor. After his return as a Buddhist monk to
his native Indonesia to launch a Theravāda Buddhist movement in that country a
request was received by the Buddha Sāsana Council to send a Myanmar Buddhist
monk to promote further missionary work in Indonesia. It was decided that Mahāsī
Sayādaw himself, as the preceptor and mentor of Ashin Jinarakkhita, should go.
Along with 13 other monks from other Theravāda countries, Mahāsī Sayādaw
undertook such essential missionary activities as consecrating
sīmā's (ordination boundary),
ordaining bhikkhus, initiating sāmaṇeras (novices in the
Buddhist Sangha) and giving discourses on Buddha-dhamma, particularly talks on
Considering these auspicious and fruitful activities in the interests of
initiating, promoting and strengthening the Buddhist movements in Indonesia and
Sri Lanka respectively, Mahāsī Sayādaw's missions to these countries may well be
described as "Dhamma-vijaya" (victory of the Dhamma) journeys.
As early as the year 1952, Mahāsī Sayādaw, at the request of the Minister in
charge of Sangha Affairs of Thailand, had sent Sayādaws U Āsabha and U Indavamsa
to promote the practice of satipaṭṭhāna vipassanā meditation in that
country. Thanks to the efforts of these two Sayādaws, Mahāsī Sayādaw's method of
satipaṭṭhāna vipassanā meditation gained wide currency in Thailand
where many meditation centres had come into existence by about the year 1960 and
the number of trained yogīs had exceeded the hundred thousandth mark.
On the exhortation of Abhidhajamahāraṭṭhaguru Masoeyein Sayādaw who headed the
Sanghanāyaka Executive Board at the Sixth Buddhist Council, Mahāsī Sayādaw had
undertaken to teach regularly Ven. Buddhaghosa's Visuddhi-magga Aṭṭhakathā and
Ven. Dhammapāla's Visuddhi-magga Mahāṭīkā to his Sangha associates at the Sāsana
Yeikthā. These two commentarial works of the Theravāda
deal in the main with Buddhist meditational theory and practice, though they
also offer useful explanation of important doctrinal points in Buddha-vāda. They
are thus of the utmost importance for those who are going to be meditation
teachers. In pursuance of his undertaking, Mahāsī Sayādaw began teaching these
two works on 2nd February 1961 and
for one and one-half to two hours a day. On the basis of notes of his lectures
taken by his pupils, Mahāsī Sayādaw started writing his nissaya
translation of Visuddhi-magga Mahāṭīkā and completed it on 4th February 1966.
The production of this nissaya translation was an exceptional
performance on the part of Mahāsī Sayādaw. The section on samayantara
(differing views held by other religions or faiths) formed the most exacting
part of the Sayādaw's task in producing this work. For tackling this part, the
Sayādaw had to, among other things, familiarize himself with ancient Hindu
philosophical doctrines and terminology by studying all available references,
including works in Sanskrit and English.
Mahāsī Sayādaw has to his credit up till now 67 volumes of Myanmar Buddhist
literature. Space does not permit us to list them all here, but a complete
up-to-date list of them is appended to the Sayādaw's latest publication namely,
A Discourse on Sakkapañha Sutta (published in October 1978).
At one time, Mahāsī Sayādaw was subjected to severe criticism in certain
quarters for his advocacy of the allegedly unorthodox method of noting the
rising and falling of the abdomen in vipassanā meditation. It was
mistakenly assumed that this method was an innovation of the Sayādaw on his own,
whereas the truth is that it had been approved several years before Mahāsī
Sayādaw adopted it, by no less an authority than the mūla (original)
Mingun Jetavan Sayādaw, and that it is in no way contrary to the Buddha's
teaching on the subject. The reason for Mahāsī Sayādaw's preference for this
method is that the average yogī finds it easier to note this manifestation of
vāyo-dhātu (element of motion). It is not, however, imposed as an
obligatory technique upon any yogī who comes and practises meditation at any of
the Mahāsī yeikthās (meditation centres). Such a yogī may, if he likes and if he
finds that he is better accustomed to the ānāpāna way (observing the in
breath and out breath), meditate in this latter mode. Mahāsī Sayādaw himself
refrained from joining issue with his critics on this point, but two learned
Sayādaws brought out a book each in defence of Mahāsī Sayādaw's method, thus
enabling those who are interested in the controversy to weigh and judge for
themselves. This controversy was not confined to Myanmar alone, but arose in
Ceylon also where some members of the indigenous Sangha, inexperienced and
unknowledgeable in practical meditational work, publicly assailed Mahāsī
Sayādaw's method in newspapers and journalistic articles. Since this criticism
was voiced in the English language with its world-wide coverage, silence could
no longer be maintained and the late Sayādaw U Ñānuttara of Kabā-aye (World
Peace Pagoda campus) forcefully responded to the criticisms in the pages of the
Ceylonese Buddhist periodical "World Buddhism".
Mahāsī Sayādaw's international reputation and standing in the field of Buddhist
meditation has attracted numerous visitors and yogīs from abroad, some seeking
enlightenment for their religious problems and perplexities and others intent on
practising satipaṭṭhāna vipassanā meditation under the Sayādaw's
personal guidance and instructions. Among the earliest of such yogīs was former
British Rear Admiral E.H. Shattock who came on leave from Singapore and
practised meditation at the Sāsana Yeikthā in 1952. On his return home to
England he published a book entitled "An Experiment in Mindfulness" in which he
related his experiences in generally appreciative terms. Another such
practitioner was Mr. Robert Duvo, a French-born American from California. He
came and practised meditation at the Centre, first as a lay yogi and later as an
ordained bhikkhu. He has subsequently published a book in France about
his experiences and the satipaṭṭhāna vipassanā method of meditation.
Particular mention should be made of Anāgārika Shri Munindra of Buddha Gayā in
India, who became an antevāsika (close) disciple of Mahāsī Sayādaw,
spending several years with the Sayādaw learning the Buddhist scriptures and
practising satipaṭṭhāna vipassanā (insight) meditation. He now directs
an international meditation centre at Buddha Gayā where many people from the
West have come and practised meditation. Among these yogīs was a young American,
Joseph Goldstein, who has recently written a perceptive book on insight
meditation under the name "The Experience of Insight: A Natural Unfolding".
Some of Sayādaw's works have been published abroad, such as "The Satipaṭṭhāna
Vipassanā Meditation" and "Practical Insight Meditation" by the Unity Press, San
Francisco, California, U.S.A., and the "Progress of Insight" by the Buddhist
Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka. Selfless and able assistance was rendered
by U Pe Thin (now deceased) and Myanaung U Tin in Sayādaw's dealings with his
visitors and yogīs from abroad and in the translation into English of some of
Sayādaw's discourses on vipassanā meditation. Both of them were
The Venerable Mahāsī Sayādaw is profoundly reverenced by countless numbers of
grateful disciples at home in Myanmar and abroad. Today the Sayādaw is already
in the seventy-fifth year of his life and has no longer the strength and vigour
of youth and middle age. But like a true son of the Buddha, he carries on
valiantly, spreading the word of the Master throughout the world and helping
unnumbered thousands and tens of thousands on to the Path of Enlightenment and
Deliverance. May the revered Sayādaw live long and continue to shower the
blessings of the Buddha-dhamma on all and sundry for many many years to come!
Mahāsī Disciple and Yogī
Member of the Executive Committee
The 18th day of October 1978
Although it was
the earnest wish of his devoted disciples that the Venerable Mahāsi Sayādaw
might continue to live for several more years and go on showering the blessings
of the Buddha-dhamma on all those who seek freedom and deliverance, the
ineluctable law of Anicca (Impermanence) terminated, with tragic suddenness, his
selfless and dedicated life on the 14th, day of August 1982.
It was characteristic of the Venerable Sayādaw's disinterested and single-minded
devotion to the cause of the Buddha-sāsanā that, regardless of his advancing age
and enfeebled health, he undertook three more Dhammadūta (missionary) tours to
the West (Britain, Europe and America) and to India and Nepal in the three
successive years of 1979, 1980 and 1981 preceding his death.
Though the great Dhamma Master is no more with us in the flesh, his revered
memory will remained enshrined in our grateful hearts for long and his priceless
teachings on Satipaṭṭhāna Vipassanā Bhāvanā (Insight meditation through
Mindfulness) will be a source of lasting inspiration and enlightenment for all
his devotees. We have happily been able to preserve them in the form of
tape-recorded discourses and numerous publications in the Myanmar vernacular,
with several of them in English translation (Vide "Māhasi Publications
in English" by this writer in this memorial publication).
U Nyi Nyi
Mahāsi Disciple and Yogī
Yangon, 5th Jan: 1983
Practical Vipassanā Meditational Exercises
(The following is a talk by the Ven Mahāsī
Sayādaw Agga Mahā Paṇḍita U Sobhana given to his disciples on their induction
into Vipassanā Meditation at Sāsana Yeikthā Meditation Centre, Yangon, Myanmar.
It was translated from the Burmese by U Nyi Nyi)
The practice of Vipassanā or Insight Meditation is the effort made by the
meditator to understand correctly the nature of the psychophysical
phenomena-taking place in his own body. Physical phenomena are the things or
objects which one clearly perceives around one. The whole of one's body that one
clearly perceives constitutes a group of material qualities (rūpa). Psychical or
mental phenomena are acts of consciousness or awareness (nāma). These (nāma-rūpas)
are clearly perceived to be happening whenever they are seen, heard, smelt,
tasted, touched, or thought of. We must make ourselves aware of them by
observing them and noting thus: 'Seeing, seeing', 'hearing, hearing', 'smelling
smelling', 'tasting, tasting', 'touching, touching', or 'thinking, thinking.'
Every time one sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches, or thinks, one should make
a note of the fact. But in the beginning of one's practice, one cannot make a
note of every one of these happenings. One should, therefore, begin with noting
those happenings which are conspicuous and easily perceivable.
With every act of breathing, the abdomen rises and falls, which movement is
always evident. This is the material quality known as vāyodhātu (the
element of motion). One should begin by noting this movement, which may be done
by the mind intently observing the abdomen. You will find the abdomen rising
when you breathe in, and falling when you breathe out. The rising should be
noted mentally as 'rising', and the falling as 'falling'. If the movement is not
evident by just noting it mentally, keep touching the abdomen with the palm of
your hand. Do not alter the manner of your breathing. Neither slow it down, nor
make it faster. Do not breathe too vigorously, either. You will tire if you
change the manner of your breathing. Breather steadily as usual and note the
rising and falling of the abdomen as they occur. Note it mentally, not verbally.
In vipassanā meditation,
what you name or say doesn't matter. What really matters is to know or perceive.
While noting the rising of the abdomen, do so from the beginning to the end of
the movement just as if you are seeing it with your eyes. Do the same with the
falling movement. Note the rising movement in such a way that your awareness of
it is concurrent with the movement itself. The movement and the mental awareness
of it should coincide in the same way as a stone thrown hits the target.
Similarly with the falling movement.
Your mind may wander elsewhere while you are noting the abdominal movement. This
must also be noted by mentally saying 'wandering, wandering'. When this has been
noted once or twice, the mind stops wandering, in which case you go back to
noting the rising and falling of the abdomen. If the mind reaches somewhere,
note as 'reaching, reaching.' Then go back to the rising and falling of the
abdomen. If you imagine meeting somebody, note as 'meeting, meeting.' Then back
to the rising and falling. If you imagine meeting and talking to somebody, note
as 'talking, talking.'
In short, whatever thought or reflection occurs should be noted. If you imagine,
note as 'imagining'. If you think, 'thinking'. If you plan, 'planning'. If you
perceive, 'perceiving'. If you reflect, 'reflecting'. If you feel happy,
'happy'. If you feel bored, bored. If you feel glad, 'glad'. If you feel
disheartened, 'disheartened'. Noting all these acts of consciousness is called
Because we fail to
note these acts of consciousness, we tend to identify them with a person or
individual. We tend to think that it is 'I' Who is imagining, thinking,
planning, knowing (or perceiving). We think that there is a person who from
childhood onwards has been living and thinking. Actually, no such person exists.
There are instead only these continuing and successive acts of consciousness.
That is why we have to note these acts of consciousness and know them for what
they are. That is why we have to note each and every act of consciousness as it
arises. When so noted, it tends to disappear. We then go back to noting the
rising and falling of the abdomen.
When you have sat meditating for long, sensations of stiffness and heat will
arise in your body. These are to be noted carefully too. Similarly with
sensations of pain and tiredness. All of these sensations are dukkhavedanā
(feeling of unsatisfactoriness) and noting them is vedanānupassanā.
Failure or omission to note these sensations makes you think, "I am stiff,
I am feeling hot. I am in pain. I was all right a moment ago. Now I am uneasy
with these unpleasant sensations." The identification of these sensations with
the ego is mistaken. There is really no 'I' involved, only a succession of one
new unpleasant sensation after another.
It is just like a continuous succession of new electrical impulses that light up
electric lamps. Every time unpleasant contacts are encountered in the body,
unpleasant sensations arise one after another. These sensations should be
carefully and intently noted, whether they are sensations of stiffness, of heat
or of pain. In the beginning of the yogī's meditational practice, these
sensations may tend to increase and lead to a desire to change his posture. This
desire should be noted, after which the yogī should go back to noting the
sensations of stiffness, heat, etc.
'Patience leads to Nibbāna,' as the saying goes. This saying is most relevant in
meditational effort. One must be patient in meditation. If one shifts or changes
one's posture too often because one cannot be patient with the sensation of
stiffness or heat that arises, samādhi (good concentration) cannot
develop. If samādhi cannot develop, insight cannot result and there can
be no attainment of magga (the path that leads to Nibbāna), phala
(the fruit of that path) and Nibbāna. That is why patience is
needed in meditation. It is patience mostly with unpleasant sensations in the
body like stiffness, sensations of heat and pain, and other sensations that are
hard to bear. One should not immediately give up one's meditation on the
appearance of such sensations and change one's meditational posture. One should
go on patiently, just noting as 'stiffness, stiffness' or 'hot, hot'. Moderate
sensations of these kinds will disappear if one goes on noting them patiently.
When concentration is good and strong, even intense sensations tend to
disappear. One then reverts to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen.
One will, of course, have to change one's posture if the sensations do not
disappear even after one has noted them for a long time, and if on the other
hand they become unbearable. One should then begin noting as 'wishing to change,
wishing to change.' If the arm rises, note as 'rising, rising.' If it moves,
note as 'moving, moving'. This change should be made gently and noted as
'rising, rising,' 'moving, moving' and 'touching, touching.'
If the body sways, 'swaying, swaying.' If the foot rises, 'rising, rising'. If
it moves, 'moving, moving.' If it drops, 'dropping, dropping.' If there is no
change, but only static rest, go back to noting the rising and falling of the
abdomen. There must be no intermission in between, only contiguity between a
preceding act of noting contiguity between a preceding act of noting and a
succeeding one, between a preceding samādhi (state of concentration)
and a succeeding one, between a preceding act of intelligence and a succeeding
one. Only then will there be successive and ascending stages of maturity in the
yogī's state of intelligence. Magga
and Phala ñāṇa (knowledge of the path and its fruition) are
attained only when there is this kind of gathering momentum. The meditative
process is like that of producing fire by energetically and unremittingly
rubbing two sticks of wood together so as to attain the necessary intensity of
heat (when the flame arises).
In the same way, the noting in vipassanā meditation should be continual
and unremitting, without any resting interval between acts of noting whatever
phenomena may arise. For instance, if a sensation of itchiness intervenes and
the yogī desires to scratch because it is hard to bear, both the sensation and
the desire to get rid of it should be noted, without immediately getting rid of
the sensation by scratching.
If one goes on perseveringly noting thus, the itchiness generally disappears, in
which case one reverts to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen. If the
itchiness does not in fact disappear, one has, of course, to eliminate it by
scratching. But first, the desire to do so should be noted. All the movements
involved in the process of eliminating this sensation should be noted,
especially the touching, pulling and pushing, and scratching movements, with an
eventual reversion to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen.
Every time you make a change of posture, you begin with noting your intention or
desire to make the change, and go on to noting every movement closely, such as
rising from the sitting posture, raising the arm, moving and stretching it. You
should make the change at the same time as noting the movements involved. As
your body sways forward, note it. As you rise, the body becomes light and rises.
Concentrating your mind on this, you should gently note as 'rising, rising.'
The yogī should behave as if he were a weak invalid. People in normal health
rise easily and quickly or abruptly. Not so with feeble invalids, who do so
slowly and gently. The same is the case with people suffering from 'back-ache'
who rise gently lest the back hurt and cause pain.
So also with meditating yogīs. They have to make their changes of posture
gradually and gently; only then will mindfulness, concentration and insight be
good. Begin, therefore, with gentle and gradual movements. When rising, the yogī
must do so gently like an invalid, at the same time noting as 'rising, rising.'
Not only this: though the eye seeds, the yogī must act as if he does not see.
Similarly when the ear hears. While meditating, the yogī's concern is only to
note. What he sees and hears are not his concern. So whatever strange or
striking things he may see or hear, he must behave as if he does not see or hear
them, merely noting carefully.
When making bodily movements, the yogī should do so gradually as if he were a
weak invalid, gently moving the arms and legs, bending or stretching them,
bending down the head and bringing it up. All these movements should be made
gently. When rising from the sitting posture, he should do so gradually, noting
as 'rising, rising.' When straightening up and standing, note as 'standing,
standing.' When looking here and there, note as 'looking, seeing.' When walking
note the steps, whether they are taken with the right or the left foot. You must
be aware of all the successive movements involved, from the raising of the foot
to the dropping of it. Note each step taken, whether with the right foot or the
left foot. This is the manner of noting when one walks fast.
It will be enough if you note thus when walking fast and walking some distance.
When walking slowly or doing the cankama walk (walking up and down),
three movements should be noted in each step: when the foot is raised, when it
is pushed forward, and when it is dropped. Begin with noting the raising and
dropping movements. One must be properly aware of the raising of the foot.
Similarly, when the foot is dropped, one should be properly aware of the 'heavy'
falling of the foot.
One must walk, noting as 'raising, dropping' with each step. This noting will
become easier after about two days. Then go on to noting the three movements as
described above, as 'raising, pushing forward, dropping.' In the beginning it
will suffice to note one or two movements only, thus 'right step, left step'
when walking fast and 'raising, dropping' when walking slowly. If when walking
thus, you want to sit down, note as 'wanting to sit down, wanting to sit down.'
When actually sitting down, note concentratedly the 'heavy' falling of your
When you are seated, note the movements involved in arranging your legs and
arms. When there are no such movements, but just a stillness (static rest) of
the body, note the rising and falling of the abdomen. While noting thus and if
stiffness of your limbs and sensation of heat in any part of your body arise, go
on to note them. Then back to 'rising, falling'. While noting thus and if a
desire to lie down arises, note it and the movements of your legs and arms as
you lie down. The raising of the arm, the moving of it, the resting of the elbow
on the floor, the swaying of the body, the stretching of legs, the listing of
the body as one slowly prepares to lie down, all these movements should be
To note as you lie down thus is important. In the course of this movement (that
is, lying down), you can gain a distinctive knowledge (that is, magga-ñāṇa
the knowledge of the path and
its fruition). When samādhi (concentration) and ñāṇa (insight)
-are strong, the distinctive knowledge can come at any moment. It can come in a
single 'bend' of the arm or in a single 'stretch' of the arm. Thus it was that
the Venerable Ānandā became an arahat.
The Ven. Ānandā was trying
strenuously to attain Arahatship overnight on the eve of the first
Buddhist council. He was practising the whole night the form of vipassanā
meditation known as kāyagatāsati, noting his steps, right and
left, raising, pushing forward and dropping of the feet; noting, happening by
happening, the mental desire to walk and the physical movement involved in
walking. Although this went on till it was nearly dawn, he had not yet succeeded
in attaining Arahatship. Realizing that he had practised the walking
meditation to excess and that, in order to balance samādhi
(concentration) and viriya (effort), he should practise meditation in
the lying posture for a while, he entered his chamber. He sat on the couch and
then lay himself down. While doing so and noting 'lying, lying,' he attained
Arahatship in an instant.
The Ven. Ānandā was only a
sotāpanna (that is, a stream winner or one who has attained the first
stage on the path to Nibbāna) before he thus lay himself down. From
sotāpannahood, he continued to meditate and reached sakadāgāmihood
(that is, the condition of the once-returner or one who has attained the second
stage on the path), anāgāmihood (that is, the state of the non-returner
or one who has attained the third stage on the path) and arahatship
(that is, the condition of the noble one who has attained the last stage on the
path.) Reaching these three successive stages of the higher path took only a
little while. Just think of this example of the Ven. Ānandā's
attainment of arahatship. Such attainment can come at any moment and
need not take long.
That is why the yogīs should note with diligence all the time. He should not
relax in his noting, thinking "this little lapse should not matter much." All
movements involved in lying down and arranging the arms and legs should be
carefully and unremittingly noted. If there is no movement, but only stillness
(of the body), go back to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen. Even
when it is getting late and time for sleep, the yogī should not go to sleep yet,
dropping his noting. A really serious and energetic yogī should practise
mindfulness as if he were forgoing his sleep altogether. He should go on
meditating till he falls asleep. If the meditation is good and has the upper
hand, he will not fall asleep. If, on the other hand, drowsiness has the upper
hand, he will fall asleep. When he feels sleepy, he should note as 'sleepy,
sleepy,' if his eyelids droop, 'drooping'; if they become heavy or leaden,
'heavy'; if the eyes become smarting, 'smarting'. Noting thus, the drowsiness
may pass and the eyes become 'clear' again.
The yogī should then note as 'clear, clear' and go on to note the rising and
falling of the abdomen. However perseveringly the yogī may go on meditating, if
real drowsiness intervenes, he does fall asleep-It is not difficult to fall
asleep; in fact, it is easy. If you meditate in the lying posture, you gradually
become drowsy and eventually fall asleep. That is why the beginner in meditation
should not meditate too much in the lying posture. He should meditate much more
in the sitting and walking postures of the body. But as it grows late and
becomes time for sleep, he should meditate in the lying position, noting the
rising and falling movements of the abdomen. He will then naturally
(automatically) fall asleep.
The time he is asleep is the resting time for the yogī. But for the really
serious yogī, he should limit his sleeping time to about four hours. This is the
'midnight time' permitted by the Buddha. Four hours' sleep is quite enough. If
the beginner in meditation thinks that four hours' sleep is not enough for
health, he may extend it to five or six hours. Six hours' sleep is clearly
enough for health.
When the yogī awakens, he should at once resume noting. The yogī who is really
bent on attaining magga and phala ñāṇa, should rest from
meditational effort only when he is asleep. At other times, in his waking
moments, he should be noting continually and without rest. That is why, as soon
as he awakens, he should note the awakening state of his mind as 'awakening,
awakening.' If he cannot yet make himself aware of this, he should begin noting
the rising and falling of the abdomen.
If he intends to get up from bed, he should note as 'intending to get up,
intending to get up.' He should then go on to note the changing movements he
makes as he arranges his arms and legs. When he raises his head and rises, note
as 'rising, rising'. When he is seated; note as 'sitting, sitting.' If he makes
any changing movements as he arranges his arms and legs, all of these movements
should also be noted. If there are no such changes, but only a sitting quietly,
he should revert to noting the rising and falling movements of the abdomen.
One should also note when one washes one's face and when one takes a bath. As
the movements involved in these acts are rather quick, as many of them should be
noted as possible. There are then acts of dressing, of tidying up the bed, of
opening and closing the door; all these should also be noted as closely as
When the yogī has his meal and looks at the meal-table, he should note as
'looking, seeing, looking, seeing.' When he extends his arm towards the food,
touches it, collects and arranges it, handles it and brings it to the mouth,
bends his head and puts the morsel of food into his mouth, drops his arm and
raises his head again, all these movements should be duly noted.
(This way of noting is in accordance with
the Myanmar way of taking a meal. Those who use fork and spoon or chopsticks
should note the movements in an appropriate manner.)
When he chews the food, he should note as 'chewing, chewing.' When he comes to
know the taste of the food, he should note as 'knowing, knowing.' As he relishes
the food and swallows it, as the food goes down his throat, he should note all
these happenings. This is how the yogī should note as he takes one morsel after
another of his food. As he takes his soup, all the movements involved such as
extending of the arm, handling of the spoon and scooping with it and so on, all
these should be noted. To note thus at mealtime is rather difficult as there are
so many things to observe and note. The beginning yogī is likely to miss several
things which he should note, but he should resolve to note all. He cannot, of
course, help it if he overlooks and misses some, but as his
samādhi (concentration) becomes
strong, he will be able to note closely all these happenings.
Well, I have mentioned so many things for the yogī to note. But to summarize,
there are only a few things to note. When walking fast, note as 'right step,'
'left step,' and as 'raising, dropping' when walking slowly. When sitting
quietly, just note the rising and falling of the abdomen. Note the same when you
are lying, if there is nothing particular to note. While noting thus and if the
mind wanders, note the acts of consciousness that arise. Then back to the rising
and falling of the abdomen. Note also the sensations of stiffness, pain and
ache, and itchiness as they arise. Then back to the rising and falling of the
abdomen. Note also, as they arise, the bending and stretching and moving of the
limbs, bending and raising of the head, swaying and straightening of the body.
Then back to the rising and falling of the abdomen.
As the yogī goes on noting thus, he will be able to note more and more of these
happenings. In the beginning, as his mind wanders here and there, the yogī may
miss noting many things. But he should not be disheartened. Every beginner in
meditation encounters the same difficulty, but as he becomes more practised, he
becomes aware of every act of mind wandering till eventually the mind does not
wander any more. The mind is then riveted on the object of its attention, the
act of mindfulness becoming almost simultaneous with the object of its attention
such as the rising and falling of the abdomen. (In other words the rising of the
abdomen becomes concurrent with the act of noting it, and similarly with the
falling of the abdomen.)
The physical object of attention and the mental act of noting are occurring as a
pair. There is in this occurrence no person or individual involved, only this
physical object of attention and the mental act of noting occurring as a pair.
The yogī will in time actually and personally experience these occurrences.
While noting the rising and falling of the abdomen he will come to distinguish
the rising of the abdomen as physical phenomenon and the mental act of noting of
it as psychical phenomenon; similarly with the falling of the abdomen. Thus the
yogī will distinctly come to realize the simultaneous occurrence in pair of
these psychophysical phenomena.
Thus, with every act of noting, the yogī will come to know for himself clearly
that there are only this material quality which is the object of awareness or
attention and the mental quality that makes a note of it. This discriminating
knowledge is called nāmarūpa-pariccheda-ñāṇa, the beginning of the
vipassanā-ñāṇa. It is important to gain this knowledge correctly. This will
be succeeded, as the yogī goes on, by the knowledge that distinguishes between
the cause and its effect, which knowledge is called paccaya-pariggaha-ñāṇa.
As the yogī goes on noting, he will see for himself that what arises passes away
after a short while. Ordinary people assume that both the material and mental
phenomena go on lasting throughout life, that is, from youth to adulthood. In
fact, that is not so. There is no phenomenon that lasts forever. All phenomena
arise and pass away so rapidly that they do not last even for the twinkling of
an eye. The yogī will come to know this for himself as he goes on noting. He
will then become convinced of the impermanency of all such phenomena. Such
conviction is called aniccānupassanā-ñāṇa.
This knowledge will be succeeded by dukkhānupassanā-ñāṇa, which
realizes that all this impermanency is suffering. The yogī is also likely to
encounter all kinds of hardship in his body, which is just an aggregate of
sufferings. This is also dukkhānupassanā-ñāṇa. Next, the yogī will
become convinced that all these psycho-physical phenomena are occurring of their
own accord, following nobody's will and subject to nobody's control. They
constitute no individual or ego-entity. This realization is
When, as he goes on meditating, the yogī comes to realize firmly that all these
phenomena are anicca, dukkha and anatta, he will attain
Nibbāna. All the former Buddhas, Arahats and Ariyas
realized Nibbāna following this very path. All meditating yogīs should
recognize that they themselves are now on this sati-paṭṭhāna path, in
fulfillment of their wish for attainment of magga-ñāṇa (knowledge of
the path), phala-ñāṇa (knowledge of the fruition of the path) and
Nibbāna-dhamma, and following the ripening of their pāramī
(perfection of virtue). They should feel glad at this and at the prospect of
experiencing the noble kind of samādhi (tranquility of mind brought
about by concentration) and ñāṇa (supramundane knowledge or wisdom)
experienced by the Buddhas, Arahats and Āriyas and which they
themselves have never experienced before.
It will not be long before they will experience for themselves the
magga-ñāṇa, phala-ñāṇa and Nibbāna-dhamma experienced by the
Buddhas, Arahats and Āriyas. As a matter of fact, these may be
experienced in the space of a month or of twenty or fifteen days of their
meditational practice. Those whose pāramī is exceptional may experience
these dhammas even within seven days.
The yogī should, therefore, rest content in the faith that he will attain these
dhammas in the time
specified above, that he will be freed of sakkāya-diṭṭhi (ego-belief)
and vicikicchā (doubt or uncertainty) and saved from the danger of
rebirth in the nether worlds. He should go on with his meditational practice in
May you all be able to practise meditation well and quickly attain that
Nibbāna which the Buddhas, Arahats and Āriyas have
Sādhu (well done)! Sādhu! Sādhu