S. N. Goenka: Notes – Day 2 Discourse

Perform Wholesome action

Don’t perform sinful action

Keep on purifying your mind

That is all.

Dhamma – nothing to take away, nothing to add.

Acting without craving and aversion.

What’s wholesome? Abstain from sinful, and what remains is wholesome.

Universal. Every religion would say this.

The difference in the explanations.

In sectarianism, Dhamma is no more Dhamma. These people, because they believe this, are wholesome people. These people, because they dress this way, look this way, are wholesome people. No…

Oh, I don’t like it when someone steals from me.

I should not steal from others. This will hurt them.

Livelihood. Doesn’t harm others and motivation is good. Right volition.

Sila – concentrate your mind with a base of wholesomeness

Don’t harm others

Don’t take any intoxicants – you know you shouldn’t do something, it is bad for you and others, but you do it anyway, because you are addict. Intoxicants enhance addiction and ignorance.

Don’t lie, speak harmful, uselessly

Don’t kill

Don’t steal

The path is there. The law of nature is eternal. It was there, it is there now and it will be there.

Awareness of the field within the body. The reality within the framework of the body.

Sensation – everywhere there is life, there is a sensation, all over the body.

Observe without reacting, whatever manifests itself, moment to moment, moment to moment

Oh, itching sensation. No itch is eternal. Let’s see how long it lasts.

Just observe. Do nothing. As it is, from moment to moment, moment to moment. Pure awareness.

You must do exercise to keep the body strong. Similarly, if your mind is sick, you must do an exercise to keep it healthy, fit, stable, strong.

A wild animal. Must be tamed, trained, patiently and persistently. Living in a society, among others. A danger to be wild.

And when you are angry, you do not keep this anger to yourself. You share it with others. You send it into the atmosphere around you. How can you feel the calm, cool peace when the atmosphere around is so agitated? Ah, so it becomes clear. I must be cool, calm within.

Breath, and sensation.

Gross to subtle reality. When there is sensation, give importance to sensation.

The longer you hold your attention on the sensation in a limited area, the more concentrated your mind will be.

Exercise to keep the mind healthy:

What vices do I have?

Remove them.

What other vices are there?

Close the doors of your mind so they can’t enter.

What virtues do I have? Don’t develop ego, attachment because of them. They are there. These virtues are there.

I must preserve them and multiply them.

What virtues do I not have? I must develop them.

S. N. Goenka: Notes – Day 1 Discourse

S. N. Goenka: Notes – Day 1 Discourse

You will get the best results of your stay here, the better you work. You must work.

The art of living is missing. This will teach you the art of living.

Someone goes to the other bank of the river and comes back and says, it’s so nice.

One sits crying, craving, calling, “Other bank of the river, come to me. I want to see you.” Whole life spent crying, and it doesn’t work. One has to swim across the river to reach the other bank. So simple.

The breath is a bridge that will bring you to the other bank of the river.

A wonderful tool… Bare breath, nothing but breath.

Like someone is used to riding a black horse. Another comes with a nice white horse, and says, “Try this horse.” He says, “Okay, I will, but I will keep one foot on my black horse and one foot on the white horse.” Similarly, more dangerous, is putting one foot in one boat and another in another boat. More dangerous is mixing the techniques.

Counting, repeating a word, helps the mind get concentrated, but don’t miss breath. Breath was a very helpful tool to go to the depths.

Know thyself, not only at the intellectual level.

They became saintly people because they knew themselves. Know thyself, not only at the intellectual level.

And not because Buddha says so, or another says so.

Their truth is not your truth.

You must walk on the path. Each moment, with your reality.

What does one know about the body?

One may have read books on anatomy, but you don’t know it experientially.

Oh, so there are things on my body that I am not aware of…

Ignorance. You don’t know what is happening deep inside. Knotted from the habit patterns of the mind.

You start reaction.

The body starts reacting. I don’t like it.

The mind starts reacting. I don’t like it.

This I. Who is this I? This corporeal, physical structure? This flickering, fleeting mind? The combination of the two? So much attachment to this I. When there is attachment, there is bound to be misery.

Involuntary action and voluntary action.

Can you say to your heart, stop beating, or slow down, or speed up? No.

Your breath, you can stop it for a short amount of time. You can take a deep breath intentionally, or a soft breath intentionally. When you don’t give it any orders, it continues to come in and go out.

The mind can only go to two places.

The past and the future.

Oh, so that is why I am so miserable. I do not want to live in the present. So tangled, deep inside.

And it has only two qualities. Pleasant or unpleasant. Oh, this happened, and it feels wonderful. This should happen again and again. Craving. Clinging.

Unpleasant. Something happened and I don’t like it. Aversion, hatred.

The whole technique is just be aware. Just be aware. Do nothing. Just be aware.

As it is.

If you are tired, lie down for 5 minutes, aware of breath. No more. You are here to remain awake, every moment. Every moment is so precious.

When someone says something that is wholesome – good for oneself and good for others, you can say, “Sadhu.”

Well said, I agree.”

Each one of you will realize how mad you are.

You have no sequence of thought. What else is madness?


What a strange word. One definition from dictionary.com is, “a belief that is not based on proof.” This made no sense to me when I was younger. Why would anyone believe in something that can’t be proven? Can’t we just accept that we don’t know everything there is to know? Why do people need to invent faith just to connect the dots?

I made the mistake of believing that the only method to prove something was through logic. After practicing Vipassana for a few years I can now feel if something is right. I can’t explain why it’s right or how it became right, but within the sensations of my body I can feel that it’s right. This is faith.

Blind faith is totally different. Blind faith requires that I take someone elses word for a piece of truth. It requires me to live by a set of rules that someone else explained to me. It means that I’ll be living by and enforcing a set of rules that I can’t fully understand because my understanding is blind. But not all faith is blind. This is still new to me.

The scientist in me wants things to make sense. I want to see the logical progression to the conclusion. So as the number of situations where my sensations tell me what’s right increases, I’m slowly dissolving the need to connect all the logical dots. My faith is growing stronger with each and every experience. I’m not saying that logic and reason are unimportant. I’m saying that faith can be just as real and true as logic and reason. Going one step further, faith and sensations have helped me navigate situations that logic never could. I’m amazed by the new role faith is playing in my life and I’m excited for it to grow stronger. Time to meditate.

The Missing Piece

I’ve been in many conversations about the logic of various religions. We would put each set of religious beliefs up against the scientific method and each other. Logic says that there must be one right way and many wrong ways. In the beginning I viewed Vipassana in the same discussion. I would try to explain why Vipassana was the right spiritual path for me while other spiritual paths must be wrong. After a few years of experience meditating, I no longer feel that Vipassana belongs in this type of discussion.

Instead, I feel that Vipassana allows me to connect with and cultivate a part of myself I didn’t have access before. It gives me the ability to tap into my subconscious mind and clean it out which sharpens my conscious mind allowing me to observe subtler and subtler truths about the world. Vipassana isn’t a belief system that tries to convince you of its truth over other truths. It simply helps you purify your mind so you’re able to see the truth for yourself.

Vipassana contributes to these religious discussions in a different way. It allows individuals to examine their own personal and religious beliefs at a subtler and subtler level. Instead of try to convert people by replacing their religious beliefs, Vipassana allows you find that 5% of your past religious beliefs that were illogical, misunderstood, mistranslated, or just forgotten and allows you to relearn them from a more advanced seat. In the long run this will strengthen and crystallize your religious beliefs into one coherent and easy to understand set of truths.

Vipassana is a technique to help you to discover truth on your own. Once people from different backgrounds experience and understand this truth, they can start walking on the path to enlightenment together. What a cool way to resolve differences. Time to meditate.

Towards the Sun: The Cross and the Bodhi Tree

Only by searching for your own truth can you come to understand what the great religious leaders of the past were trying to tell us.  Consider these two images:
The differences are striking.  Besides being depictions of humans, these two religious icons seem to represent completely different ways of interpreting reality.  One seems to endorse suffering, while the other seems to endorse sitting (which can also be suffering, if you haven’t tried it).  Like any work of art, though, these images can’t be interpreted as the artist intended without the proper background.  Consider the following stories of Buddha and Jesus and then try looking at the images again.
After years of trying different meditation techniques and looking for the truth of his own reality, so the story goes, Gotama sat down at the foot of a Bodhi tree.  Let my body waste away and my bones be scattered across the ground, but I will not move from this spot until I am fully enlightened, he said (or something along those lines).  On the surface, this is merely a statement of great determination, but determination alone is not sufficient to become enlightened.  The reason Gotama was fully enlightened and became a Buddha in that spot was because his mind was finally ready.  He had come to an understanding – not just conceptually, but deep down, at the deepest level of his mind, and his determination arose from that understanding.  It was a pure determination, not clouded by denial or craving on any level.  It was because he was truthfully and honestly able to feel this way that his mind was able to become enlightened.  This understanding, perhaps, had something to do with the attachment to self, and the complete letting go of that attachment.  This is an idea that you can support conceptually, but to really and truthfully be free of attachment to yourself, requires – much more.
Perhaps the parallel with Christ is now clear.  Looking at the Christian gospels, we see that Jesus came to a similar understanding.  It is implied, more than once, that Jesus allowed himself to be captured willingly, knowing full well what would happen.  According to Luke, “when the time drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus resolutely set his face for Jerusalem.”  He knew the cross was his destiny, and this was a destiny that he sought out.  While on the cross, John relates that he says, “All that I am, the very breath of my being, the very center of my existence, I now give to you, Father.”  According to Fr. Himes (introduced in the previous post), “Jesus gives himself away completely, and because there is nothing left to give, he cannot exist.  The tomb cannot hold him.  If you give your life away, you will see it become everlasting life.”
Take a moment and consider the above images again.  Can you look at them and imagine that these two men are experiencing the same thing?  That although they went about it in different ways, they both came to the same truth?  Both of them are telling us that the truth of existence will be understood when you can completely give yourself away, but not just because you’re convinced that it’s a good idea.  Jesus accepts the worst suffering and humiliation imaginable.  In doing so, he demonstrates that merely having the idea is not enough.  No mere idea could motivate someone to endure the worst possible suffering – only a real, deep, true understanding that makes what would appear as suffering to be nothing of the sort.  While Buddha’s lesson is not as visually dramatic, it places more emphasis on the path to enlightenment.  Looking at Jesus on the cross, you think, what kind of mind must this person have to be able to accept such a thing gracefully?  Looking at Buddha, you see – oh, now I see – this is the kind of mind.
Both Buddhism and Catholicism seek the final goal of a complete giving over of self, but they place the emphasis on different aspects of the search.  A Buddhist focuses on observing this moment as it is, and thereby understanding reality.  As this occurs, the understanding of non-self slowly becomes apparent, and a natural compassion for all other living things arises steadily.  Giving up considerations of the self for the good of others is part of the Buddhist path, but it arises first from observation of reality.  A Catholic, on the other hand, will seek reality through the giving up of self in service.  The giving comes first, and the observation (through prayer and contemplation) second.  The learning is driven by external experiences rather than internal, although both necessarily play a role.  Buddhists are driven initially by the internal experience, while the external plays a necessary role.
Based on a given personality, one approach may be more suitable than the other.  But why keep them so separate?  Why teach our children that Buddhists believe in reincarnation, whereas Catholics believe in heaven and hell, and you just believe whichever one your parents told you?  Christ and Buddha show us the same thing in different ways, and we should accept both of them.  We should find the path that is best for us and understand that it may not be the best path for someone else.  But we should also see that our paths overlap a great deal and lead to the same place.  We can still journey together!  In this global community, we should let go of the superficial aspects of our traditions, and seek out the deeper meanings together.  We aren’t relativists.  We don’t say, you go your way and I’ll go mine, and we’ll just live on the same planet and be nice to each other.  We say, here is my perception of reality based on serious attempts to understand it, what’s yours and how did you get there?  There is only one sun, and as we approach it, we approach each other.
(I haven’t mentioned any other religions here because I’m not educated enough to discuss them meaningfully – but I suspect they’d fit in with this view as well, and probably help to illuminate even more perspectives.  Comments encouraged!)

We All Believe in God

What is the one, single, ultimate truth, of which you can be absolutely sure, before anything else?  It is your experience in this moment.  This experience may not represent external reality completely or at all (à la The Matrix), but this experience is, without a doubt, happening, because you are experiencing it.  Note that at its root, this truth is not a logical statement; we cannot say this experience is something other than itself, or that this experience is doing anything other than existing, which is redundant.  The one truth, then, and your starting point for any search for answers, is simply this.
Father Michael Himes, a Catholic priest and author of the insightful Doing the Truth in Love, writes:
“And so we need to recognize that the word ‘God’ is not a proper name.  It is not the name of some great big person somewhere ‘out there.’  The word ‘God’ functions like x in algebra.  It is the stand-in for the mystery, just as, when someone works out an algebraic equation, all the attention focuses on x which designates that which is unknown.  So, too, the word ‘God’ functions as a handy bit of shorthand for the absolute mystery which grounds and supports all that exists.  Now, I grant you that it becomes awkward to talk about ‘the absolute mystery that grounds and supports all that exists,’ so we just say ‘God.’  One could just as well call it ‘Charlie’ or ‘Mary Ann,’ but traditionally we have used ‘God.’  The word is a stand-in for absolute mystery.”
If  you don’t believe in some supernatural being that controls the universe, then what you do not believe in is not God.  It may be an idea that many people unfortunately confuse with God, but God it is not.  Do you believe in an absolute mystery that grounds and supports all that exists?  Maybe so and maybe not, but belief is actually irrelevant here.  There is an experience occurring in this moment, whose nature is a mystery.  You can’t say anything about external events, or about other things existing, but you do know that an experience is happening and you don’t know why or how.  Well?  That “why” and “how” is what the major religions refer to as God.  To believe in God is only to understand this.
Nietzsche’s madman cries:
“Whither is God? I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning?”
Father Himes is familiar with this story, and I see his explanation of God as a response to the madman.  We can’t kill absolute mystery, but we can stop looking for it.  We can stop making it a part of our culture.  The madman’s God used to be a big deal in the West – even if people had their misconceptions and invalid explanations for the mystery, they still understood it to be all-important, both individually and as a community.  They still had shared ideas, which may have been unskillfully founded, but were still attempts to make sense of the mystery underlying all things.  Look around now, and see how much the mystery of existence plays a role in our society.  We can no longer take the old religions seriously, and we stray through an infinite nothing.  We value personal achievement and reward both our successes and failures with pleasures.  Our work hopefully gratifies our ego and certainly provides us with comfort.  Above all, we prize satisfaction.
In the wake of the Newtown, CT school shooting, Mike Huckabee opines:  “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools.  Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”  If Huckabee is calling for a return of the old religions – if he wants the old God back – it’s too late for that, and unhelpful.  But what if he’s talking about God the way Hines describes?  What if he’s saying that a culture bereft of a spiritual path is lost?  (How about we interpret it that way, regardless?)
In the breath of this empty space, most light their own lanterns of personal challenges and pleasures, old religions, reasonable ideas – substitutes.  For a few, though, lanterns either are not enough to hide the reality of darkness, or they go out.  Lost in this dark, we may sense the presence of a sun to look for; otherwise we succumb to despair.
The CDC estimates that 1 in 10 adults in the United States suffers from depression.   Is our answer to the massacre in Newtown to give more effort to mental health outreach?  To get at least 10% of our population in treatment?  No.  Our culture itself is mentally ill.  Changing gun control laws (one way or the other) and strengthening mental health systems are like prescribing aspirin for a malignant cancer.  We ask, how can we get involved?  How can we work to stop this?  We need to work to change ourselves and our culture.  We need to extinguish our lanterns and search for the sun, together.