Flavour of Liberation Volume Three

Practice of Vipassana and the Path to the Deathless State

FlavourLiberation3This book integrates the direct and systematic paths to awakening demonstrating the inclusive quality of Burgs approach to teaching meditation. It continues where Volumes I and II leave off and is a detailed account of the practice of Insight Meditation and the Practice of Vipassana. It then goes beyond, to look at the fruits of the practice and the awakened experience, where the awakened mind comes to experience the true nature of reality.

What is truly unique about this series of books is that they do not merely handle the material in a formulaic manner, but rather communicate the profound taste of what the experience of deep meditative attainment might be. You really get a sense of the deep journey of the yogi as Burgs captures the real liberation that lies at the heart of the Dhamma.


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Flavour of Liberation Volume Three Table of Contents

Introduction: Various Experiences of Awakening


PART V: Preparatory Work for the Practice of Vipassanā

1. Mahāyāna and Theravāda Approaches to the Purification of Mind
2. At the Crossroads: Where Serenity Meets Insight
3. Meditate Intelligently, Don’t Lose the Wood for the Trees
4. On Rūpa (Materiality)
5. On Nāma (Mentality)
6. Reviewing Mentality, Part 1
7. Reviewing Mentality, Part 2
8. Don’t Get Lost Down the Rabbit Hole… Some Notes on the Nāma Session
9. Questions and Answers on Five Aggregates Practice, Sense of Self and the Cognitive Process
10. Reviewing Wholesome and Unwholesome Mind-Processes
11. Meditating in the Body Skilfully; Seeing that Mind-Door and Body-Door Processes Are Separate
12. What’s Happening When It’s Not Working
13. The Basic Ground of Our Being
14. On Dependent Origination, and the Transition from Adolesence to Adulthood

PART VI: The Practice of Vipassanā for the Realisation of Nibbāna

15. The Basis of Vipassanā
16. Abiding in Awareness as the Basis for Vipassanā
17. Outlining the Initial Stages of Vipassanā Practice
18. From Vipassanā to the Experience of Suffering in Self and Self in Suffering
19. On Becoming Stable in Vipassanā
20. What is and What is Not the Path
21. The Transition from Personality to Soul
22. The Jungle of saṁsāra and the Riverbank
23. Summounting Nibbidā and Sankar’upekkhā ñāṇa
24. Dissolution and Cessation – How to See Nibbāna
25. The Three Doors to Nibbāna
26. Discussion on Nibbāna and Jhāna
27. Questions and Answers on the Fruition Attainment
28. Cutting to the Point
29. The Vajra Mind-Slayer: There’s no Resolution in the Mind

PART VII: The Wider Scope

30. Sutta, Abhidhamma and the Supramundane Paths
31. Transforming Our Greatest Fear into Boundless Love
32. Anatta and the Causal Cessation of the Five Aggregates of Clinging
33. Dharmakaya, Parinibbāna, Nibbāna and Saṁsāra
34. A Final Pith
35. A Complete Meditation on the Awakened Experience: Dependent Origination as the Creative Principle
36. The Pride of the Sage and the Wisdom of the Fool

Epilogues – Discussions Around the Fire

Pali Glossary

Various Experiences of Awakening

I want to begin my series of discourses on the practical application of Dhamma by giving some insight into the actual experience of the differing and varied states of awakening that arise within us as we progress upon the path, and some insight into some of the more rarefied states of consciousness that we, in time, come to experience.

When we first begin in meditation, perhaps the first significant realisation we come to is that of mindfulness, when we first start to pay attention to what it is that we are doing. Quite often we can live our lives in a way that is so ignorant of ourselves and our actions, paying no attention to the way in which we think, behave, act etc.

The Buddha, in his discourse the Mahāsatipaṭṭāna Sutta, encouraged us to be mindful in four ways – to be mindful of the body; of feelings; of mental states, volitional formations; and of dhammas themselves (that is mindfulness of the five hindrances, the five aggregates, the six sense bases and their objects, the seven enlightenment factors and the four noble truths). This is a very common and popular way of introducing people to the practice of meditation, through trying to gather our awareness up to come out of the ignorance of our actions or our lack of awareness of them and to pay attention. The classic way of teaching is to notice each moment, the way in which we are walking, sitting or eating, to notice the way in which we are thinking or to pay attention to our breathing. This we call mindfulness.

In the initial stages it can be quite a gross, almost contrived state, for it is very much using the lower mind – the active, discursive, thought process, gathering it up to continuously reflect upon, and pay attention to, the experiences that we encounter. But nevertheless it serves the purpose of discouraging the mind from a loss of awareness through wandering off into the past or into the future or into the incessant process of inner-world thinking and subjectivity. This I tend to call ordinary investigative mindfulness, which is a function of the lower mind.

Then there is the first experience of awakening itself, where we come to a direct or spontaneous experience of total presence and we realise that when we actually turn up completely, with full awareness in the moment, we awaken to the fact that there is no truth but the truth of what is actually going on within us and around us right now within our field of perception. That everything else is an abstraction of the mind.

How much time do we spend in a day, lost in a process of inner world thoughts, projecting back into the past or into the future, pulled out of awareness of the present now by our attachments and concerns regarding what has already come to pass and what has not, or what might come to pass in the future? This experience of spontaneous presence, for some is considered to be an enlightened state and at some levels it is enlightening, for it is a waking up, out of the dullness, the lack of awareness of the mind, into the clear, bright and lucid state of spontaneous presence.

And beyond this there is the realisation, or awakening to, what we might call the inherent nature of the mind. Some call this Rigpa, or the Buddha-Nature or even God-consciousness or the awakened mind itself. I tend to call this the clear mind state or the clear light of mind or even just awareness as ‘such’. In truth, all thinking is an elaboration of the mind, which is rooted in ignorance or the not knowing of this true nature of mind. When you think, you lose awareness. You cannot be spontaneously aware and engaged in the thought process at the same time. They are two different experiences, two different functions of consciousness.

For most people, the experience of being alive is a very cerebral experience. It is almost entirely a mental experience. Very little of it is a directly felt and embodied experience when we constantly and continuously avert to this process of thinking. It is very tiresome. Thinking is a substitute for the real experience of direct perception.

This experience of the basic clarity of awareness itself reveals to us a truth, an insight, a realisation that the true nature of the mind is inherently empty. Awareness itself doesn’t actually contain an object of clinging. It doesn’t inherently involve any thought process, reflection or abstraction. It is not, in the final analysis, even a subjective experience. So this awakening to the clear mind state, the inherently empty nature of mind, for some becomes their experience of awakening.

Then we might come through the development of samādhi (concentration) into other rarefied, subtler states of bliss, deep peace and serenity through the stilling of the mind. These first two experiences: of spontaneous presence and awareness of the inherently empty clear nature of awareness itself; these are aspects of mindfulness. They can be experienced without the arising of deep, powerful, penetrating, one-pointed concentration or samādhi. So we might put them into the insight category of meditation.

But the development of samādhi, or one-pointedness, is another thread in the discipline and experience of mental development and cultivation through meditation. Samādhi is the unification of the mind, unification of the mind that knows the object and the object itself. When we begin meditation, one of the efforts that we must put forth is to overcome restlessness, which hankers after variety, and train the mind to still itself on a single object to the exclusion of all else.

In the modern and popular practice of dry vipassanā, we use what we call focussed concentration to review the apparent impermanence of objects in our attempts to break our attachment to them. This focussed concentration may take an object such as the breath, or feelings and sensations in the body, and concentrate upon them to the exclusion of other objects.

As we deepen our concentration and overcome our restlessness, this one-pointedness leads to a calming, a tranquillising of the mind and the arising of serenity and a sense of peace. For some, the pursuit of an ever-deepening sense of peace and serenity is the purpose or goal of their meditation – seeking this samādhi.

As our concentration deepens, as I have explained in earlier discourses, certain states arise in the mind as a sign of concentration. First the nimitta, or mind-produced sign of the original object, arises, maybe a light, or a subtle, perfected mind-produced sign of the original object taken. This we call a nimitta. Lights start to be produced by the mind through the concentration of mental states and the subtle materiality that consciousness produces.

These become unified, as perception of colour produced by a variety of mental states and consciousnesses unifies itself into a clear, white light. With the consistent arising of the wholesome states of mindfulness, concentration and wisdom, that light becomes unified, becomes white and stable and various forms of sign or nimitta are produced along the way of development of various meditations, as I have explained previously (see volume two).

Each meditation has a different nimitta. The ānāpāna nimitta is not the same as the kasiṇa nimittas, which are not the same as the nimitta that arises when we practise body parts meditation, which is not the same as the nimitta that arises when we practise four elements, and so on.

Another thing that will arise is the continuous presence of certain mental states themselves as we approach samādhi. These are the jhāna factors – initial and sustained application; a sense of rapture or elation, a lightening and uplifting of the mind, a physical sense of rapture and bliss; a sense of joy or overwhelming happiness as we start to experience a true ease within the mind; and ekagattā, one-pointedness itself, as the mind stops all wavering and hones in totally upon its object. These are the signs that we are approaching absorption.

And so, in time, we might enter into absorption itself. This experience, as I have said, is often referred to as the change-of-lineage consciousness, This, in a way, is an awakening – for some a realised state. For, with the unification of the mind with its object, all sense of subjectivity, of ‘me’, is gone. For the mind, in that moment of absorption, of unification, cuts off the arising of the bhavaṅga mind states, and so with it the subjective sense of me that is meditating, is gone. There is simply a unification of the knower, the knowing and the known in this state of samādhi or jhāna.

This initial jhāna that we might experience will usually take a mind-produced object as the object of concentration, a nimitta that has arisen from a learning sign or learning object such as earth kasiṇa, water kasiṇa, fire kasiṇa, air kasiṇa, or ānāpāna and its sign. This we call mind-produced samādhi or samādhi which takes a mind-produced object. We call this jhāna.

Then there is another state of absorption, the one which takes the clear mind state itself, the recognition of the inherently empty nature of mind as the object of samādhi and enters into jhāna there. I’ll come back to this with regards to perception of suññata or voidness.

But first I want to begin to talk about those awakenings or realisations that come through the development of insight. These jhānic states of absorption are awakenings or realisations or rarefied states that come through the development of serenity in our samatha practice. Once we have investigated the nature of conditioned states of body and mind, and come to know what constitutes the five aggregates of clinging, we begin to review them to reveal their true nature, and this is the practice of vipassanā, insight meditation.

With regards to vipassanā, the first awakening or realisation we come to is the absolute certainty that everything that we have ever perceived is impermanent. It is constantly changing. It is unreliable. This is how we realise that it is our attachment that is the fundamental cause for the experience of suffering. For these objects that we cling to and are attached to, are impermanent. So it is inevitable that we will suffer their loss with their passing away and if clung to, this loss will be a cause of affliction and suffering. This is the first realisation that comes to us through the practice of vipassanā.

As we continue to investigate impermanence with the eye of wisdom, having broken down perception of compactness, seen all material states as nothing but the arising and passing of four elements, seen the aggregates of feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness as nothing but arising and passing momentarily, insight starts to arise in us. This bhāvanāmayapaññā, this wisdom that is born of experience in meditation, is not merely a reflection on the nature of impermanence, but the direct perception of it.

Eventually we come to a state of realisation of the experience of udayabbaya ñāṇa, a totally incessant, never-ending arising and passing of all conditioned phenomena and then bhaṅga, a total dissolution, an incessant dissolving. These are powerful experiences in the process of vipassanā – the experience of udayabbaya, the arising and passing, and bhaṅga, bhaṅga ñāṇa, dissolution, has a powerful effect of cutting off clinging and attachment.

These are the realisations that come from the reflections on anicca (impermanence). From this is often born quite an oppressive, overwhelming awakening or realisation, what we might call nibbidā, meaning abhorrence. We become so oppressed at the abhorrent experience of this incessant dissolution of all those things that we have previously sort refuge in, that we realise that there is no satisfaction to be gained by clinging to conditioned objects.

This is an awakening in itself, however oppressive it might be, that spurs us on to the further practice of vipassanā that prompts us to either cut off our practice – “It’s too much. It’s overwhelming me,” or prompts us to push on through to a deeper acceptance of the truth of anicca.

This is a crucial time on the path of meditation when we need to take refuge in a skilled teacher who can encourage us to continue and not turn back in the face of this nibbidā, so that we might continue to the first truly satisfying experience on the path of vipassanā where we experience a state of saṅkhār’upekkhāñāṇa – a deep state of acceptance and equanimity towards formations, having come to know that they are inherently void of a sense of self. There is no self inherent within formations, they aren’t inherently there. They are impermanent. They are conditionally arising, instantly, momentarily passing away. As we understand the law of Dependent Origination, as we start to experience directly the casual chain for the coming into being of things, as I have previously explained, there comes upon us in time, as we see the dissolution and fading away of all formations, a deep release that comes from a total acceptance of this truth, a state of saṅkhār’upekkhāñāṇa, equanimity to saṅkhārā (conditioned formations).

This is a release of the heart through the practice of vipassanā. Though Nibbāna, the unconditioned state, has not yet been realised, that clinging (or a large part of it) starts to be cut off. We reach a point where we know that relinquishing our attachment to things is the only route to the cessation of suffering. The affliction that clinging causes is largely cut off through this deep state of upekkhā. So this is then an awakening for some, even within the experience of the conditioned mind, prior to the full awakening, or realisation of Nibbāna.

And then there is the experience of emptiness itself. It comes about in a number of ways through the formulation, embodiment and experience of different threads of awakening, through this complete experience of meditation in its various forms.

The first experience or insight into the nature of emptiness comes when we awaken to the true nature of mind, the clear mind state, when we realise that mind itself is inherently empty; it doesn’t inherently contain all these thoughts, these impressions, this mass of feelings, perceptions, volitional formations.

We also come through the practice of vipassanā and the reviewing of the lower mind, through the seeing of impermanence, the constantly arising and passing of things, to a sense of anatta. There is no inherent self there. This being that I have always perceived myself to be – it is not inherently there. It is dependently arising. Inherently it is empty. Inherently, it is not present. So we might come to an experience of emptiness in this way.

And then there is the experience of emptiness that comes through the deep state of samādhi as we work up through the jhānas – first, second, third, fourth jhāna. In the fourth jhāna the mind is unified with its object. The true jhāna factors of equanimity and one-pointedness alone are present. The bliss and rapture, the elated state of joy, is tranquillised to become a deeply peaceful state of serenity and equanimity. But the mind at this stage is still taking a subtle material object as its object of concentration.

In my discussion of the earth kasiṇa (please see volume two) I explained to you how the sign is extended in all directions infinitely. In my discussion of the arūpa jhānas, the formless or immaterial jhānas, I discussed how we systematically remove the material aspect of the sign to enter into perception of infinite space, then infinite consciousness and finally the seventh jhāna, the experience of nothingness itself. This we might call emptiness, the mind-produced experience of the absence of conditioned formations. This is not Nibbāna itself. This is not the causal cessation of mind and matter. It is just a samādhi that takes perception of emptiness as its object.

So there are these ways in which we come to experience emptiness or voidness. As we develop the thread of samādhi, and the thread of vipassanā that refines the lower mind, and as we get the first glimpses into the true nature of the awakened mind with the clear mind state or the experience of Rigpa, we bring these threads together to get a deepening sense of emptiness that we can enter into as a state of samādhi, either with the wisdom faculty present through the development of insight, or the experience of the clear mind state, or without the wisdom faculty present in the state of seventh jhāna itself. So these are the states of meditation that lead to deep states of absorption and serenity and the states of insight, the realisations and awakenings upon the path of vipassanā.

When we are practising vipassanā itself, once we have broken down perception of compactness in all formations we begin to see their momentarily arising and passing away. We see their dissolution. We can take this anicca, this dissolution of formations as the object of samādhi and just glue the mind deeply into perception of impermanence itself and in this way we might experience what we might call a vipassanā jhāna.

This vipassanā jhāna (though not a true state of absorption because the object is too gross to be a full absorption) nevertheless has the jhāna factors present. It’s an upacāra samādhi, approaching jhāna, when we are deeply locked into perception of impermanence. All that we perceive is the incessant arising and passing of formations momentarily and the jhāna factors of initial and sustained application, bliss, joy and one-pointedness are present.

It is this vipassanā jhāna that opens the way beyond nibbidā, the abhorrence and oppressive experience of impermanence, into one of equanimity towards formations as that state of joy and bliss starts to arise in the mind with the experience of impermanence. This is very key. This is why we must develop such a strong state of samādhi. For without the arising of bliss and joy (pīti and sukha) in the mind as we pay attention to impermanent objects, to their impermanence, the mind will not be gladdened by this experience. It is only the gladdening of the mind that causes the cutting off of clinging.

If there is dukkha in the mind, suffering present in the mind, then there will be some subtle aversion still present. This is an unwholesome mental state. The unwholesome mind-door is still open. It is a misconception to believe that the door to Nibbāna opens because we are oppressed by suffering. That is not the case. The Buddha spent many years practising extreme states of suffering and realised that the experience of suffering as suffering and the aversion to it did not open the door to awakening. Only when he came back to the bliss of his samādhi and the mind began to delight in its states of meditation did the wholesome mind-door stay open.

The door to deliverance, to the realisation of Nibbāna, does not open through the unwholesome mind-door. It opens through the wholesome mind-door. And we need this deep samādhi, that experiences this happiness and bliss in the face of this impermanence and anatta, to go beyond nibbidā into the upekkhā ñāṇa stage, equanimity stage, when we begin to deeply accept and surrender in the face of all of this previously experienced suffering, knowing that we are now truly turning away from it. It’s kind of a paradox that impermanence is the cause of suffering for one who clings but it is cause for a deep feeling of relief for one who has awakened. For it is a constant reminder that there is no need to cling. It is a constant reminder that to have let go was the right response.

So our first experience of this bliss, of relief, of letting go, comes as we enter into vipassanā-jhāna; this state of bliss that takes impermanence itself, or anatta itself, as the object of concentration.

And then there are those states of samādhi which take the love aspect. Those who cultivate their meditation in pursuit of the divine principle, to know what may be called God, or to come to experience deep states of unconditional, boundless love. When we begin to practise mettā, as with the four foundations of mindfulness, it is initially a contrived mental state that we create through reflection, through directed thought-processes.

We reflect upon goodwill, directing it towards ourselves with the reflection, “May I be happy”, directing it to others, “May they be happy”. But again, only when our samādhi starts to arise through deep concentration in this practice of loving kindness, does the deeply felt, embodied experience of love arise within us.

When we practice mettā-jhāna, the absorption on loving kindness, it is not the person who we are sending loving kindness to that we continue to concentrate upon. This object is far too gross to develop real samādhi. It is the felt, embodied experience of love itself that we enter into and this mettā-jhāna, this feeling of boundless, unconditional love creates in us a sense of grace, a sense of something divine. I have discussed this in my talk on mettā – loving kindess in volume two.

And so for others, their awakening is this experience of pure love and the unification of the mind with those exalted beings who are abiding continuously in this state of love, of love as the creative principle itself. This is the awakening of others on the path of spiritual investigation through meditation.

And finally there is the experience of the unconditioned state – Nibbāna, the cutting off at the root of the causes of suffering itself, the causal cessation of suffering. The first entry into Nibbāna where the mind first goes beyond conditioned formations that have been forever identified with, clung to, is called Path Knowledge. Having previously reached the state of saṅkhār’upekkhāñāṇa we become equanimous to all these formations and in time disinterested in them. And it is this disinterest that eventually disinclines the mind from averting towards them.

As we review conditioned states as impermanent, suffering, or as dependently arisen, this disinterest in the object that we are reviewing causes us to just go beyond and finally recognise this unconditioned state, that is the non-arising of the conditioned states of mind and matter. This is the experience of Nibbāna.

The first experience will be a momentary glimpse, almost like a shock, as we glimpse past this conditioned realm to the unconditioned state. But as we become more familiar with it, accessing more consistently the Nibbāna object, our mind becomes more deeply engaged in it and there comes a point where the mind can concentrate upon the Nibbāna object itself and take samādhi, or enter into samādhi, upon the unformed object. No longer taking a mind-produced object, or even taking the clear state of mind, the inherently clear state of Rigpa as the object of samādhi, we take the unconditioned state of Nibbāna, the cessation of mind and matter as the object of our concentration and enter into jhāna, or samādhi, upon it.

At this point the wisdom aspect – the culmination of the insight practice that leads to the causal cessation of suffering, and the serenity aspect – the deep state of tranquillity and samādhi in the mind that leads to the momentary cessation of suffering, are unified, as we deeply enter into and unify the mind with the unformed, deathless, unconditioned state.

So this is the spectrum of experiences that those who engage in meditation might come to. The experience often depends upon the teacher that they come to, what it is that they teach and the practice that they encourage us to take up.

But the yogi who wants to master his mind completely should seek to embody all of these experiences, to know what each and every one of them is as an embodied experience of awakening so that he can understand the path that others have taken. So that he can empathise with their sense of deliverance or their sense of awakening and enlightenment. So that we do not argue amongst ourselves, “This is the nature of enlightenment.” “No, this is the nature.” “It does not lie in samādhi, it lies in insight.” “No it is just to awaken to the presence of now”. There is no point to this, these are not mutually exclusive experiences. Eventually our insight matures to the point of seeing that all these states of awakened experience are conditionally and momentarily arising within the basic space of awareness itself. And even when we watch formations come to cessation and the Nibbāna object appears to us, it does so within this basic space of awareness.

Ultimately, whether we have sought the direct and swift path to the cessation of suffering, without the investigation of these sublime, exalted states of consciousness, or whether we have spent lifetimes investigating one or other or all and each of these exalted states, in the final analysis we will inevitably come to the realisation that there is no refuge for the mind in any conditioned states.

The only true refuge lies in bringing all conditioned states to cessation with the realisation of Nibbāna, and the clear experience of the basic ground of awareness within which all these experiences appear.

Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa

May you all come out of suffering. May you all realise the momentary cessation of suffering that is the blissful peace of samādhi. May you all awaken to the true nature of your mind, to the pristine experience of spontaneous presence.

May you all cut off at the root all your clinging that is the cause of your suffering. And experience the blissful release from clinging that is that equanimity towards all formations and the disinterest in them, so that you may enter into the path of appreciative joy; just appreciating things for what they are without a trace of inclination to cling to them.

This is the enjoyment round of rebirths at the tail end of the path where we can dance fearlessly, no longer oppressed by the arising and passing of things.

And when you are ready, when you have walked your path and filled your heart with the experiences and seen that it was not a pointless journey merely of suffering, but an extraordinary opportunity to experience life at the most exalted level, then may you free yourself of all suffering. Then, when you are ready and you can say to yourself, “That for which I came into being to know, has been known by me. It is time to take my ease”, then will you blissfully go beyond this round of conditioned becoming for all its grace and boundless states of love. All these extraordinary experiences, we might go beyond even these into the deathless, unconditioned state of Parinibbāna.

May you all delight in the practice of meditation and the realisation of these deep states of serenity and peace, these awakenings of insight within you. Walk the path to its completion and find the eternal peace at its end.