by Sayagyi U Goenka
Adapted from the original landmark discourse (Yoga, as seen in the light of Vipassana) of Principal Vipassana Teacher Sayagyi U S.N. Goenka (1924 – 2013) at Kaivalyadham Yoga Academy, Mumbai, April 30, 1990
Is the original, true, holistic version of yoga being taught in the modern world?
A purer mind leads to a wholesome, happy life. These greater spiritual benefits have to be included in modern day teaching, understanding of yoga. And this is in accordance of wishes of ancient sages who practiced and taught yoga in its entirety.
How India's true spiritual wealth has been devalued, distorted
In past 2,000 years, India’s vast spiritual wealth has often been devalued. Many original spiritual teachings have been misunderstood, misinterpreted. Sometimes the pure teachings have been deliberately distorted by vested interests for selfish personal gains. What is left is often a partially correct, incomplete or incorrect version of the original spiritual teaching.
Wisdom gained from direct experience
Patanjali shared the wisdom (prajna) based on his own experience. He did not talk of wisdom acquired through scriptures, sermons, philosophical discussions, or from speculative theories. Such second-hand wisdom will not give real benefits.
Instead, the Buddha who rediscovered Vipassana has been wrongly seen as founder of a religion.
This is injustice to a fully enlightened being – the infinitely compassionate universal teacher, the super scientist who re-discovered the actual practice to experience universal truths, be liberated from all suffering and experience true happiness.
The daily deeper realities of suffering
That which will change tomorrow, or in near future, is causing anxiety to its owner today: what will happen when this source of happiness is no more? Vipassana practice enables us to become more quickly aware of this subtler, deeper level of suffering and to develop equanimity, the strength of mind, to deal with these subtler universal truths.
[ here it must be carefully noted that attachment refers to attachment one's own ego, the intense attachment to 'I and 'my'. Vipassana does not lead to indifference to responsibilities and being aloof from others. Vipassana practice reduces selfishness, and related suffering]
A few centuries earlier, the Buddha went further. He went to the root cause of suffering. Experience this truth at the deeper level, and you will know its deeper cause. What is impermanent is a source of suffering.
To remove the cause of suffering, one has to go into the deeper layers of the mind. Just as to fully cure a physical disease its root cause has to be eradicated, and not merely the symptoms, so too suffering is eradicated by eradicating its root cause.
Likewise, if suffering is there and its cause i.e. craving is there, definitely the remedy to remove the habit of craving must also be in existence. That universal remedy is Vipassana. The wisdom filled with knowledge i.e., rtambhara prajna and Vipassana are synonyms to each other.
Before we move further, let us overview eight levels of meditations (jhanas) referred to above.
For instance, the feeling of ‘sukha’ is experienced. About 2500 years ago the language was quite different to that today. Meanings of words have changed. These changes in meaning have caused confusion. Over 2000 years ago, the term sukha meant the bliss or tranquility in a very highly concentrated state of mind during meditation. In modern terminology, ‘sukha’ means happiness of the kind experienced through mundane happenings. The supra-mundane ‘sukha’ experienced through meditation is beyond compare to the current ‘sukha’ meaning in the mundane world.
The English language has no corresponding word to ‘sampajañña’. It has been inaccurately translated as mere ‘comprehension’. The true meaning of ‘sampajañña’ that the Buddha taught is to experience impermanence by observing, with equanimity, the changing flow of bodily sensations within. This is the practice of Vipassana.
[ note: 'bodily sensations' means any tangible feeling in the body - like heat, heaviness, pain, tingling, itching, cold, tickling - anything felt at the physical level. For whatever reason the bodily sensations have arisen, the Vipassana meditator uses these sensations to develop equanimity, and change the earlier habit pattern of blindly reacting to these sensations with craving or aversion]
It is noteworthy in this context that the interval between the inhaling and exhaling of natural breath is technically termed as kumbhaka, i.e. retention of breath in Patanjali Yoga Sutra. By observing the natural breath, the retention of breath takes place automatically without any effort whatsoever.
Directly experiencing the truth
Confusion arising from not practicing Vipassana
Sampajañña is needed in the field of mind-matter, in the field of impermanence. But the successful meditator goes beyond the field of mind and matter, beyond impermanence - the state of liberation, salvation, nibbana, moksa etc. There sampajañña is not needed. Such a state is attained through the gradual eradication of impurities in the mind through Vipassana practice.
In this way it is astonishing to note that Patanjali, who has explained Vipassana-related experiences with such minute detail, has added ten or twelve sutras in his treatise which talk about meditation without sampajañña! If these sutras were added by Patanjali himself, then it is certain that he might have done it keeping in mind the fact that a true Vipassana practitioner would understand the meaning of ‘asampajañña samadhi’ (the state of nibbana).
One who practices Vipassana, as the Buddha taught, experiences how the mind continuously influences the material body and how body influences mind. How? Let us understand:
It leads to arising of the evaluation part of the mind called ‘saññā ’- the evaluation of 'pleasant’, ‘unpleasant’ given on bias of past experiences. Almost simultaneously, a pleasant or unpleasant flow of sensations (vedana), vibrations permeate the body. The apparent truth is that we react to outside objects, people and events. The actual truth is that we blindly react to these sensations with craving or aversion. This habit pattern of blind reaction creates conditioning of the mind called ‘sankara’. Deep-rooted sankaras are called ‘anusaya kilesas’ – latent impurities that are the constant source of all our suffering.
With this wisdom of impermanence, there is no more blind reaction of craving or aversion to sensations. The habit pattern of generating new sankaras of suffering is broken. The old sankaras arise to the surface as sensations and pass away. The mind is getting purified. One is coming out of misery.
Vipassana correctly practiced in its pure method breaks the chain-reaction of creating sankaras (conditioning of the mind) of craving, aversion. Impurities are eradicated from the depth of the mind. Life changes for the better, in the real sense.
Thus every sense object has its respective consciousness that arises with contact between the sense organ and object, and disappears when this contact disappears – leaving behind the imprint of sankaras of blind reaction. The mind itself and its components are revealed as impermanent to the Vipassana meditator.
Observing with equanimity the arising and passing of bodily sensations - that arise with contact of sense door with its object - only then anusaya (deep-rooted) impurities of craving and aversion are eradicated.
The Buddha repeatedly tried to make its meaning clear through actual practice. A person practicing Vipassana is termed as Vipassi in terminology of the Buddha’s teaching, and sampajani or the attainer of vivekhyati in the terminology of Patanjali.
In Yoga such a practice is termed as ‘pratyanupushyana’. In this practice, one not only concentrates attention on the function of sense organ and its respective consciousness, but also on its respective object. He finds that the sense organ, respective consciousness and respective object all are sheer vibrations. The whole existence seems to be a mass of vibrations. This truth is experienced by the meditator. .
Attainment of experiencing one’s mind-matter structure as only impermanent sensations, no 'I', is termed ‘anatta’ by Buddha. After attainment of this state the practitioner is free from the illusion of ‘my’ and ‘mine’.
With Vipassana practice of observing the continuous arising and passing away of this mind-matter phenomenon called 'I', at the level of impermanent sensations, gradually all illusions of ego are dissolved. Only then one realizes this ‘I’ is only an apparent truth, used for conventional purposes for life in the mundane world.
In such a state of realization of the truth about this ‘I’, all illusions and ignorance are peeled off layer by layer– just as a peeled onion is revealed as just a mere component of petals. The Buddha termed as ‘dhammanupassana’ this observation of the truth of a non-existent ‘I’.
Benefiting from spiritual heritage, not merely being proud of it
But we have forgotten it now. Now, we just argue and talk about it, and that too in the name of different sects like Jains, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. But we have forgotten that ultimate reality has no sects. It is universal, like the law of gravitation is applicable anywhere on earth.
To accept what is impermanent as permanent is ignorance. It is ignorance to accept what is impure and unwholesome as pure and wholesome. Such wrong views hinder the way out of suffering. But mere intellectual acceptance of impermanence, substance-less ‘I’ etc is not enough.
Beginning a new life with a 10-day Vipassana course
Whether it is the Bhagwad Gita, teachings of the Buddha or Patanjali's treatises, we will find great emphasis only on attaining rtambhara prajna - which means realizing the truth from one's own experience.
Nobody can attain liberation from deep-rooted impurities of the mind by merely observing precepts or penance. Nobody has attained real liberation merely by practicing pranayama neti or dhauti etc. It is not possible at all. Unless the mind is purified at deeper root levels where habit patterns and conditioning takes place, freedom from suffering is not possible.
May all be peaceful, happy, liberated.
From the original 'Yoga - as seen in the light of Vipassana', Vipassana Research Institute