Dhamma-talk given During a Retreat

Ven. Mettavihari Bhikkhu

(Translation Rien Loeffen)

I am glad to be with you today, to appreciate your motivation and your intention to work to your inner experience.

Retreating means to withdraw yourself from your daily activities. Of course you have also daily life, like going to the toilet, to wash yourself, to dress yourself, to move around. If you want to eat you have to go from your room to the dining hall. This is also a daily activity but it is different from what you do at home.

The difference is that at home you do all the things you like. Whatever your desire directs you to do. Every time when we are at home in normal life, we are under our desire’s command. That means every thing you do is commanded by your desire.

When you are here in the retreat, you do not allow your desire to command you, but instead of that you recognize the things coming up as objects for you to be aware of. When you are aware of a certain object you should note or name, just let it be as it really is. Just be. You don’t do a thing; you don’t let things go without becoming clear of the object.

Every time when you make a note or name things and know them, you’re meditating. So you’re retreating or meditating all the time. Let’s say from the time when you wake up till the time you fall asleep you’re meditating. Therefore we call this intensive practicing vipassanā-meditation.

It’s different when you practice three days or four days or five days or a week or longer, but the act of practice has the same intensity. Every time that you are aware you practice intensive.

Of course you know how you have to begin your practice. You have to be aware of your six senses, if the senses are not there, you cannot practice vipassanā-meditation. If the six senses are not there, there is also no life. The six senses keep your lives go on, and at the same time are increasing your karma. Your awareness with the senses is the way to clear your karma. That means if there’s awareness there is also desire, because of the awareness of the sense-contact – I mean the six senses – of your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind.

All these senses when they have contact with an outer object create karma. Especially when your mind reacts immediately on the contact with a thinkable object. You do not even know that you do it. Therefore ignorance is there at the same time. We call this moha, not knowing. It has been with us as human beings all the time.

Because of that we don’t have vipassanā, we don’t have insight. You came here to make your insight working. We’re exercising, so that you become aware, and that you become to know everything what happens to you with your awareness, with your recognition or understanding. And also most of the time accepting. I mean accepting things the way it really is. Then you are in connection with wisdom or with vipassanā-meditation.

If you look back to your life from the time when you were born, you see that you are born into the unknown. When we ask why we are born, we have to answer in the common sense: We were born because of ignorance. Now it is time to come in connection with wisdom.

Wisdom. Sometimes you say it’s the intellect, but that’s not really wisdom. You can learn things, you can know things, you can remember things, you can think of something very clear, sometimes very wise, but intelligent only.

This is not your insight. Intelligence is not your insight but only something what you can learn. There are many things you can learn in this world. Technology, science, literature, all kind of things. You know them clearly, you’re thinking about it very sharply, easily to get comprehension, I mean to get answers for your self.

It doesn’t mean wisdom according to vipassanā. You know things, but at the same time you don’t know. You know something without clarity and integration. What is known is left to be unknown. The questions and also the answers are not yet solved.

Every time when you reply with an answer means it’s not knowing. It’s really logical; if you have to give an answer means that the question is also there. That means that it’s not knowing yet, no real wisdom arises that way.

So, if there is no answer, real wisdom is there. It’s just something that’s just there. You don’t have to answer. To answer on something is burdening. If you are a teacher, you should be aware of the questions and you also have to be aware of the answers, because it’s burdening. It means that you’re carrying, that you’re not free.

So to get freedom you also have to get wisdom at the same time. Most of us are longing for our freedom, but we are never free. You get free from something, but the next time you’re not free. It’s following you all the time.

We are not free from all this following because of our karma. We experience this in the meditation-practice, and at the same time we purify or burn it.

How do you burn your karma?

Pain is karma. You get that karma because you have feeling for it. If you have no feeling for pain, pain is not there.

To be without karma, or to let your karma burn out, you have to experience mainly what we call suffering.

Suffering is a main cause. I mean a main cause for our problems, but in itself it is not the real cause. The real cause of suffering is your desire.

I want to make it theoretically clear for you.

We have two different kinds of desire in us all the time in every sense-contact of one of the six senses. Therefore if you practice vipassanā-meditation you begin with sīla (discipline). Discipline with what? Discipline with the sense-contact. I mean to be aware at the point, at the moment where the contact comes. If you are there all the time you have discipline.

If you are not there your discipline is not there. If your discipline is not there you don’t get purification. If you have no purification through the discipline, you have no concentration. When you have no concentration you get disturbed and you get distracted and your mind is unreal because it has been influenced by the contact of the senses. Your mind is always carrying something and reacting on something.

I said you have two kinds of desire in you. One is bhava-tanhā in pali, the desire to be. The second one is vibhava-tanhā, the desire of not to be. You have it all the time when you look into yourself.

When you have the desire to be with, you’re hankering on it. You want to get or become something. Doesn’t matter what. The second one – the desire not to be with – there is something where you do not have the desire for, that you do not like, that you do not want, and you want even to be without this. This appears in your mind all the time and therefore you are unhappy, you are suffering for this. That is the cause for our suffering.

Sensual desire is the third one. We have the contact of the five senses: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body (without mind) The contact of physical organic processes.

Your eye sees a picture, your ear hears a sound, your nose smells, your tongue tastes when eating and drinking, your body experiences cold and warm, hard and soft. This is sensual desire. We want only the preferable ones, the good ones to contact the senses, but it is unavoidable that things that you do not like are also coming in contact with the senses.

With every sense-contact you get two kinds what you call feelings in your language. In the language of vipassanā this is a wrong term. Normally when we have a sense-contact then a feeling arises – what feels good is a good contact – a nice picture: feels good – nice sound or nice music, you like it. Same thing happens with nose, tongue, body and mind.

Favorable and unfavorable is coming all the time.

So if you want to make your sīla work, you must not take (something) with preference on your sense-contact. Not with preference and not with non-preference. You don’t take it (at all).

When you don’t take something with preference or non-preference, you don’t create karma in your contact with the senses.

So the contact is merely process or natural going on of the senses. On that moment you are real and feel that you’re purifying.

You’re purifying your senses, you’re purifying your sīla, and you’re purifying your discipline at that moment. When your discipline is purified you do not get disturbed anymore.

When you have no disturbance from the sense-contact, then you have concentration. With that concentration you become clear. Clarity, nothing more than clarity. What is ongoing with the sense-contact is nothing more than clarity. Clarity is wisdom and freedom at the same time.

And there’s also no questioning, no answering. You are free, and you understand where freedom is.

So there is no way to get freedom as a human being in the mundane process, because you have always something to answer, there are questions coming to you all the time. Also you have to prepare to answer, even though you get answers you get problems at the same time.

Often you don’t get answers for your life, and therefore you become mad, angry, crazy, and eventually you feel lonely. Now you see why we are often so lonely. Because we do not get answers. You’re longing for your answer, you don’t get answers and you feel lonely. Answer to what? Answer to your sense, to your mind-sense.

You’re always thinking of something or longing for something in your mind. That makes you lonely, because many times when your thoughts come up or you are aware of certain things you don’t get answers. And when there’s no answer, you get lonely. Loneliness is the worst part. Although we live with a lot of people, sometimes you’re very busy, having many contacts, but you’re still lonely. You feel very cold and unhappy, not warm.

So the practice of vipassanā-meditation that you are trying to do in these days is going into that direction. You have been advised to use the technique of noting and naming with every object that comes. But sometimes you have the problem that you try to be strict with the object. You have been instructed by the teacher to follow your breathing, rising/falling. You complain that you try to follow the rising and falling and you see only that as your meditation. But many times you do not get your rising and falling, you even do not see your breathing.

Why do you not see this? The breathing is always there. The breathing is part of your body to bring you air. We advice you to do the breathing through the physical vibration of the stomach. You have to watch your stomach. Many times you watch it but you don’t see anything and you complain that your meditation is not working.

What you’re not seeing is that your breathing is only part of your meditation. You do not have to see your breathing all the time. If you think that that’s meditation it’s a wrong conception.

(If you do not see the rising, what do you do when you do not see anything? When you pay attention to watch your breathing and you don’t see it, you just note that you’re not seeing it.)

So I want to make it simpler for you to practice vipassanā and try to make clear to you the difference from samatha. If you all the time see your body, and are not aware of anything at all, you practice samatha, not vipassanā. Even when the technique is vipassanā but you are always in your body – rising/falling – you are in samatha, because you belong to a certain object, fixed on an object, be concentrated on it.

You need samatha for a certain time. In the beginning (let’s say it that way). To do it more advanced you don’t need such a strong samatha. You need more flexibility all the time. Everything may come as an object for the mind to be recognized.

So we say nāma/rūpa is vipassanā.

Our object where your mind to be recognized at is rūpa (matter). The awareness of it is nāma (mind). So to practice vipassanā-meditation is to be full time with mind and matter – nāma/rūpa – only.

If you are aware of nāma/rūpa, and you make a note of that all the time, nothing exists anymore. Even your self doesn’t exist.

No man, no woman, no animal, no whatever conventional name that we created for us or for the world, does exist. This world dissolves. It’s no longer there anymore when you practice vipassanā. There are only two things, all the time. Mind and matter only. Mind is the awareness and matter is the object where you can be aware of.

Rūpa can be anything. It can be a tangible object or thinkable object.

A tangible object you can make physical contact with. Thinkable means you can only think about it, but both objects are rūpa.

These two things, nāma and rūpa, mind and matter, are going on all the time.

So the ongoing process what is a natural thing, exists that way. But because we were born with ignorance – as I said – you are always aware of something. What you have with you as your property, where you were born with, is mind and matter. Mind and matter makes you carry at the same time. You’re not free from it.

To get the freedom from the burdening of carrying mind and matter, you have to go to zero. Not to have anything with you.

Let’s say mind and matter is your property. If you purchase your property, you have the responsibility to take care because of this property.

Now we leave all our worldly property aside, but we still have our property in the form of our karma where we are born with. So to make this disappear, to make nāma/rūpa disappear is the aim of vipassanā-meditation.

So I have to be frank and fair to you why you have to take a lot of time to do this intensive practice. You do this intensive practice because you want to dissolve the nāma/rūpa. That is the meaning of doing this. If you are a bit too late – or sometimes premature – you miss the point. Every time when you miss the point, ignorance is there for you. When you are at the point, ignorance has gone at the same time. When ignorance has gone, wisdom is there. Instead of ignorance you obtain wisdom at that moment.

So the practice has to be on time. On time on the object where you can be aware of, doesn’t matter what. We have the four foundations where we can increase our mindfulness on. Namely body, feeling, thinking and conditioning. You can be aware all the time of these four. Pick up one at the time, not four at the time – on time. And what you should do – very simple – noting and naming. Finish with it, not to carry it. Then you’re very free.

So if you really do vipassanā-meditation practice correctly, intensively, it’s the biggest happiness you can get in this life. Nothing more to carry, nothing more to do. What you do is very short, very little. When it’s long that means that you did it wrong. Such a momentary concentration we call kanikha-samādhi. For a single moment only. Single moment, single concentration, but it comes every time, all the time.

A small seed of sesame, but we need maybe a thousand or millions of sesame seeds to get oil. The same thing with the concentration, you need only a very small moment of your noting or naming at the mind and matter.

If you can do this successfully – when you start in the morning – you can be enlightened in the evening, but it has to be intensive practice and has to be right on time and all the time. When you do not do it all the time – you only do it for a few minutes – it is not enough to get wisdom.

You can compare it with when you rub wood to make fire. Two pieces of wood (nāma and rūpa) rubbing with each other. When you dry the wood and rub the wood, but you do it only for a few minutes and then you take a break (to take a cup of tea or have a good time) and you start again, it will not work. You will not get fire that way.

You should not stop. You must go on for a successive period until the conditions are in a way that you can get fire. So it is with wisdom. You practice wisdom now, but you take a break every time. That’s our problem. Tomorrow you may get it, that’s not too long. But maybe the wood is still wet. You keep rubbing but it has to dry. It gets dry and warm when it has been rubbed enough. With us it’s the same, we’re very wrong. I mean we have a lot of mundane things; we have a lot of desire. It’s very wrong for example when the wood is just cut of from the tree. It’s not easy then to get fire. You have to rub more to get it burn.

How do you know when it will start to burn?

You get certain problems during the retreat; many of you are having pain. Sometimes you have unusual pains never experienced before, but they happen in this retreat. That means that you are in the process of purifying. That means your raw wood becomes hot, and when it becomes hot it’s going to burn by itself. It becomes dry and gets in fire at that moment.

So suffering is with you and because of that suffering you get wisdom.

Buddha said that when there’s no suffering, there is no wisdom. When there’s no pain there’s no happiness. So you don’t get it for nothing. You have to have something to exchange. It’s not coming also with praying – if you pray to get wisdom, you don’t get it. You will get a certain samatha or concentration (experience) with praying, but it is not vipassanā, not wisdom that way. Wisdom has to come through exercising with nāma/rūpa, mind and matter. Exercising mind and matter in the vipassanātechnique makes you uneasy sometimes – not comfortable.

Now I want you to give you a guide that you know for yourself if you are in vipassanā or that you are not in vipassanā.

If there is a time that you are not comfortable, you are in vipassanā. Every time that you feel comfortable you are very far away from it.

What would you take?

Would you prefer to be very comfortable in your practice during the retreat while you are far away from the aim where you were coming for?

Sorry, but when you’re not comfortable you should welcome it and you will have a good time here. Your bad time is in fact a good time.

Every time when you feel uncomfortable it is bad for your ego, but it is good for your vipassanā-meditation. For your ego it is very bad, that’s for sure. When you see this you will walk in this direction, work in this direction, and one day you will be successful.

When you are not enlightened – I said – practicing vipassanā-meditation is the happiest way to be in this world.

When you do your work with your mind – recognition of the objects your mind is in contact with – let the senses go and become nothing. Then you are in suñña. Suñña is emptiness. Emptiness of your senses. You heard of it a lot of times. Suññatā, emptiness is the aim of this practice.

Every time when your sense-contact comes, and there is nothing what stays with you, then you are in suññatā. When you are once in suññatā you are also in nibbāna. Nibbāna means nothing. You’re seeing nothing in the sense of mundane or common terms.

Why do we have to work so hard? We work so much for nothing. Of course you have to work hard and work much for nothing because nothing has a meaning. That doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. It’s not very dry, but very positive, and very free at the same time.

You have to be aware of everything all the time. For example hearing.

When you hear something and make a note: ‘hearing’, ‘hearing’, ‘hearing’. And then? You don’t get sense (impression). Something you like is not there.

Sound, – good sound is not there, bad sound is not there – you’re in suññatā then. The six senses come in contact, and when you recognize or are aware of  that – it’s the same as with hearing – it’s nothing for you and you’re in suññatā. The same happens with thinking: if it’s nothing for you at that moment. It becomes suññatā at once.

So you have to do it quick, on time. If you do it too late, not on time, it’s distracting you, it can kill you sometimes. When you want to be safe and sound you have to practice the technique of vipassanā-meditation. Then you will be safe and sound all the time.

Even when you are not yet enlightened, when you are safe and sound, your personal well-being is already there. Your personal well-being is different from your desire. It’s nothing that you like and it’s nothing that you dislike. It’s just safe and sound only.

Let’s continue the practice. When I heard from your teachers that you are suffering I smiled because it means that you do well. Thank you for listening.