I am extremely pleased to announce the upcoming launch of our new Advanced Vipassana website.The website will be a growing online resource where we publish all of the Advanced Vipassana material that is based on recordings from the Vipassana and Long Retreats over the last 10 years.
The material will include the Flavour of Liberation Volume 3 and all future Vipassana publications. Burgs lastest Vipassana book The Flavour of Liberation Volume 5, On the Nature of Conditioned Phenomena is currently being added to the site, so keep coming back for new chapters.
This is an on-going project and we will release new chapters on a regular basis. The material covers the practice of Vipassana in great detail, covering many key themes. These will include, Dependent Origination and the progression of Insight Knowledge and the Stages of Insight. Beyond this the material becomes a deep exploration into the nature of the ‘I-maker’ and its habitual tendencies and how insight prompts us to relinquish attachment to self in stages. The material looks at Vipassana practice as an actual lived process of deep letting go so that the conditioned mind comes to know the unconditioned state of Nibbana.
I thought for this blog I would include the first chapter from the new Volume Five below.
I hope you enjoy and have a wonderful summer, with metta,
[Discourse given on the first evening Foundation in Vipassana Dec 2019]
Introduction to Vipassana Practice
On our last retreat I finished giving the series of Vipassana teachings to a group that have been working with me for 10 years or more. It took that long to thoroughly explain the process of Vipassana at a pace that kept up with the development of their practice. On this retreat we start a new round of teachings in which I will lay down the ground and framework that the discipline of Vipassana meditation is built upon.
As most of you will know, the purpose of the whole of the Buddha’s dispensation was to teach the path to the causal cessation of suffering1. There are many reasons that we might meditate and there are many ways of meditating. There are also many ways to practise Vipassana because the pathway by which we free ourselves from suffering is not the same for everybody. We all have different makeups and digging out at the root the causes of suffering is not going to be the same for everybody.
The Buddha breaks down the field of meditation into Samatha practice, which constitutes the momentary purification of mind and the momentary freedom from suffering, and Vipassana as that practice which pursues the path to the cessation of suffering. Our meditation effectively splits into two main branches at this point.
The first of which is the practice of Samatha whereby, through the gradual development of ever more rarefied states of concentration, we might come to experience the highest states of peace or bliss that the human consciousness is capable of experiencing. That itself is a tremendous field of endeavour, and the development of deep concentration is a fundamental part of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. But although the experiences that deep concentration open us up to can be profound and even life-changing, from the Buddha’s point of view they were not an end in their own right but a staging post in preparation for the practice of Vipassana.
The Noble Eightfold Path, The Path that leads to Nibbana
With regards to the Noble Eightfold Path, the development of Samatha constitutes the three branches of Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Thereafter the practice of Vipassana constitutes the further development of Right Effort and the development of Right View and Right Understanding, that lead ultimately to the fruition of the path and the causal cessation of suffering, or what the Buddha called the realisation of Nibbana.
Twenty-five centuries ago the Buddha set in motion the Wheel of Dhamma. Having freed himself from suffering, he then pointed out the way to others who went on to free themselves from suffering. This Wheel of Dhamma that the Buddha set in motion is the quintessence of his legacy. There have been countless beings since the beginning of time, who have gone off in search of the ultimate experience, and many of them have found it. But what makes the Buddha, the Buddha? It was not the fact that he realised the causal cessation of suffering. There will have been many great saints in the past who may well have freed themselves similarly, and the Buddha acknowledged this fact. But they did not have the capacity to lay down the map, the roadmap, the pathway, and to explain it thoroughly enough so that those with the inclination to listen and the capacity to understand and the willingness to put forth the appropriate effort could follow those instructions to the end. And in doing so, experience for themselves the same liberation that the Buddha experienced.
Therefore if you are here to learn Vipassana it is assumed that you are here because you have a desire to pursue the causal cessation of suffering as the Buddha did. You have been on retreats with me in which I’ve explained to you how to diminish your suffering. I’ve explained to you how to increase your experience of joy and happiness and loving-kindness and appreciation and compassion. I’ve explained to you how to refine the quality of your character so that you’re easier to live with, less of a nuisance to others and more at peace with yourself. And I have taught you the various practices for the development of concentration.
There is that work that you do that makes you ripe for the maturing of the insight that frees your mind from suffering, and that is your commitment to virtue and the development of Samatha. And then there is that practice that seeks directly to bring to maturity that insight that frees you from suffering. And that is Vipassana.
So we have to take it as given that you have the capacity to sit, settle your mind and concentrate sufficiently for your practice to become experiential, and not merely reflective or analytical. How much you are able to concentrate will determine your capacity to see into the nature of the experience you’re having. Because the extraordinary thing about what the Buddha taught is that seeing the experience that you are already having as it is, is what will free you from suffering. And the only reason you are suffering is because you cannot see the experience that you’re having for what it is.
He did not say that suffering is innate. He said that suffering is the result of not seeing clearly, which he called ignorance. And as soon as that ignorance is removed from our mind and we see what life actually is, the seeing itself prompts the letting go that frees us from suffering. Now that is an extraordinarily life-affirming thing. It tells us that it’s not life itself that is suffering, but the way we are engaging in it, in our confusion, which brings us to suffering.
Insight, the very word insight, means just that. It means to see into. It doesn’t mean to sit down and try and fathom out in your mind and come to some conclusion that may or may not be true. It means to look until you see. Now the ability to look until you see clearly requires certain qualities. It’s going to require patience. It’s going to require determination. It’s going to require that you can concentrate sufficiently upon your experience without disturbing it, so that you might see it for what it is. And then it is going to require that you have the capacity within you for liberating insight to mature, so that you come to know and see for yourself what it is that you are beholding. That is the path of insight.
So there are two ways, generally, in which we practise. We either practise Samatha and then Vipassana or we practise Samatha and Vipassana alternately in stages, with each being a support to the other. In the first instance, we develop our Samatha which is our capacity to concentrate so that our mind swiftly matures in insight. The Buddha practised in this way. He spent many years cultivating his capacity to concentrate and then one night practising Vipassana. And in that one night of practising Vipassana he became the Buddha. How amazing!
So if any of you, in this or any previous life, have put forth anything like that kind of effort that he put in learning to concentrate, then perhaps simply by listening to pointing out instructions, you may also become an Arahant. However, I’ve been teaching meditation for a while and I don’t see it happening that often. I’m more of the opinion that we’re going to have to develop our concentration in stages. Your concentration matures to a point and then you find that because of various hindrances in your mind, it doesn’t go further. Then whilst practising Vipassana as far as you can go, some of those hindrances are relinquished or removed, so the mind becomes more refined.
Thereafter your capacity for concentration deepens. Deepening your concentration, you get to a point beyond which you cannot go. By using that concentration, you develop further insight. Seeing more deeply into the nature of your experience, you let go further those hindrances that cause you suffering. So, our Samatha or our concentration or the purification of mind, which we call Samatha practice, supports our Vipassana, which is the cultivation of liberating insight. The cultivation of our liberating insight makes us ripe for further purification of the mind through concentration. And this is how I have seen most of my students practising over the years.
They have developed their concentration, they develop their insight, they develop their concentration, they develop their insight. Some swiftly develop concentration and slowly develop insight, and some slowly develop concentration and swiftly develop insight, and a fortunate few swiftly develop concentration and swiftly develop insight.
So the point is, until you start you don’t know what your mind is made of. But in the process of practising, we come to see what our mind is made of. We come to see the tendencies and habit patterns and conditioning that makes the sense of ‘me’ and my little bundle of self. So we have to find the way of practice that is appropriate for each of us, and this is a theme that will be developed throughout the book.
1What the Buddha meant by the causal cessation of suffering will be one of the themes that will be thoroughly explored in these volumes. The Buddha made a very clear distinction between the momentary cessation of suffering which we experience in moments where we do not feel any affliction of any kind, and the causal cessation of suffering which arises when we have dug out at the root all the causes and conditions by which we might come to experience suffering.