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Home Teachings Non-Self The Teaching of Non-Self - Vipassana Meditation

The Teaching of Non-Self - Vipassana Meditation

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The Teaching of Non-Self
Material Body
Belief in Creation
Attachment to Self
Vipassana Meditation
Volitional Activities
True Dhamma
What Five Aggregates Are Like
Summary of Processes
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Vipassana Meditation

Practical methods of Vipassana meditation have been elaborately described and explained in Meditation. We need not go over them in detail here; we will just give a brief description of them.

Vipassana meditation consists of contemplation on the upadanakkhandha, aggregates of grasping which manifest themselves at the moment of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking. For the novice meditator, however, it is hard to take heedful note of each and every phenomenon of seeing, hearing, etc. Therefore they have to start their practice with only a few of the most prominent objects of sensation. For instance, while sitting, the meditator can concentrate on the nature of stiffness and resistance felt in his body and note it as 'sitting, sitting.' If the meditator feels that it is too simple to do and does not require much effort to just keep on noting 'sitting, sitting,' he can combine it with noting another phenomenon like touching, and note as 'sitting, touching, sitting, touching.' But the movements of rising and falling of one's abdomen will be more prominent. Thus if one heedfully notes 'rising' as the abdomen rises, and 'falling,' as it falls, one will come to see distinctly the phenomena of stiffening, resisting, distending, relaxing, and moving which are happening inside his abdomen.

These are the characteristics, function, and proximate cause of Vayodhatu, the element of motion. Such contemplation and noting is in accordance with Visuddhi Magga, which states that "the nature of mind-and-body should be comprehended by observing its characteristics, functions, and so on." We have therefore instructed the beginners in the practice of Vipassana to start with observing the rising and falling of the abdomen, but this exercise of noting the rising and falling alone does not comprise all that has to be done in Vipassana meditation. While noting the rising and falling of the abdomen, any thought that may occur, has to be noted too. When feeling stiff, hot, cold , or painful, the meditator has to note these sensations as they arise.

When he bends or stretches his arms or legs, these movements should also be noted. As he rises from the sitting position, the change of posture should be accompanied by heedful noting. While walking, every motion involved in each step has to be noted as, 'arising, stepping forward, dropping.' If possible, all physical activities including even the opening and shutting of eye-lids should come under close observation. When there is nothing particular to take note of, meditator's attention should revert to the rising and falling movements of the abdomen. This is then the brief description of exercises involved in the practice of Vipassana meditation.

While thus occupied in taking note of rising, falling, sitting, and touching as they occur, the desire arises in the meditator to change postures in order to release the pain, the aches, and the sensation of hotness which are developing in his bended arms and legs. The meditator should take note of these wishes as they arise but should remain still, without immediately yielding to the temptation to stretch the limbs. He should put up with the discomforts as long as he can. If the desire to stretch his arms and legs arises once again, he should first take note of them without changing posture. Only when he becomes unbearably distressed with pain and aches, he should slowly stretch out his arms and legs. At the same time note these actions carefully as 'stretching, stretching.'

During each session of meditation exercise, frequent change of posture becomes necessary due to discomforting pains and aches. With repeated adjustments of posture, the oppressive nature of the physical body becomes apparent. Despite his inclination to remain still and quietly seated without changing position for one or two hours, it becomes evident to him that he cannot remain so as he wishes. Then realization comes to him that the body which is constantly oppressing him, afflicting him, is not self, soul , or living entity, but mere physical phenomenon that is occurring in accordance with its own conditions. This realization is knowledge of contemplation of non-self.

One cannot remain very long either seated, lying down, or standing. Thus realization comes too that the body never obliges one with what one wishes, and is unmanageable. Being uncontrollable, it is not self or inner substance, but mere physical phenomenon that is occurring in accordance with its own conditions. This realization, too, is knowledge of contemplation of non-Self.

Again, being repeatedly disturbed by having to answer to the calls of nature, while engaged in meditation in sitting or lying postures, it becomes apparent that the body is oppressive, unmanageable, not amenable to one's will, and being unmanageable, it is not self. While contemplating on the behavior of the body, its true oppressive nature becomes exposed when bodily filths such as nasal mucus, saliva, phlegm, tears, sweat, etc., coze out of the body. Cleanliness cannot be maintained as one desires because of this uncontrollable nature of the body, which is therefore not self. In addition, the body oppresses by inflicting hunger, thirst, old age, and disease. These afflictions are evident even to a casual observer.

But there is likelihood of the notion of self persisting in one who observes just casually, it is only by noting heedfully that the body is exposed not to be self nor a living entity and a mere physical phenomenon which is happening incessantly can one realize that it is non-self. These are just a few examples to indicate the non-self nature of the body. The meditator who is actually taking note of all the phenomena comes to experience much more that establishes the oppressive nature of the body, and make it clear how it is not amenable to one's will and how it is not self.

Thus in the course of heedfully noting all the bodily actions such as rising, falling, sitting, bending, stretching, and perceiving how the body afflicts one, how it is unmanageable and ungovernable, the realization arises in him through personal knowledge: "Although the body appears to be self, since it oppresses me, it is not my 'self' nor my inner core, because it is not amenable to my wish. It is not self or my inner core. I have been all along in error to take it to be my self and inner substance. It is in actuality, not self, and being unmanageable and not subject to my will."

This is the true knowledge of contemplating on non-self, and we have fairly dealt with how the nature non-self is perceived in the body.


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