Little Dhamma Talk by Bhante Vimala, yesterday…

Yesterday I stopped by at the new asapuwa in Tampa where Bhante Vimala gave a very very interesting little Dhamma talk, which I wanted to share with you. It was not planned or anything, but you know me, I like talking about the Dhamma and so I posed a question to the venerable Bhikkhu which I had been contemplating for a couple of weeks.

I asked him about a recurring passage in the Suttas which explains insight meditation in the following way:

Iti rupam iti rupassa samudayo iti rupassa atthagamo, iti vedana iti vedanaya samudayo iti vedanaya atthagamo iti sanna …iti vinnaõam iti vinnaõassa samudayo iti vinnaõassa atthagamoti. Evam bhavita kho bhikkhave, aniccasanna evam bahulikata sabbam kamaragam pariyadiyata, sabbam ruparagam  pariyadiyati, sabbam bhavaragam pariyadiyati, sabbam avijjam pariyadiyati, sabbam asmimanam pariyadiyati, samuhantiti.

in English:

Going into secluded place a trainee abides considering and discriminating (form, sensation, perception, mental activities, consciousness) as impermanent. ” Thus form, thus is origin of form, thus is extinction of form.
Thus is sensation, thus sensation arises, thus sensation ceases. Thus is perception, thus perception arises, thus perception ceases.. These are volitions, thus volition arise, thus volition cease. Thus is consciousness, thus consciousness rise, thus consciousness is cease.” Cultivated thus, Oh Monks, the perception of impermanence when practiced frequently overpowers, uproots, removes and abolishes all lust for Form, all lust for existence, all ignorance and all pride ( i.e. Arhantship).

I asked Bhante, “how has such a meditation to be done” ? (*)
Bhante Vimala was very delighted in talking about this topic, he said he was looking forward to more discussions on these topics which, he said, fascinate him the most.
To answer my question he first went into the Satipatthana Sutta (where this passage occurs as well) but when he implored him to point out to me whether he saw any indicator of “contemplation” in this passage he right away asked me to bring Samyutta Nikaya, Vol. 4 from the library.
He opened the book and looked up a Sutta called “Gelañña Sutta”. You can read the whole sutta online here.
Reading the Pali he made me translate it on the fly to check whether I could follow the text. That’s how we went through the sutta line by line. In the sutta, the Buddha (quoting himself) first explains a section of the Satipatthana Sutta (the same Bhante had mentioned to me earlier) – one of the exercises on how to be mindful while moving the body around, a part of the section on mindfulness of the body, or kayanupassana: “Knowing” while walking that one is walking. Knowing while stretching the arms or legs that one is stretching them…and also when eating, drinking etc. to be aware of the activity. By the way Bhante talked in Sinhala for most of the time so he explained “terum gannawa” for “sampajanakari” which translates roughly as “being aware of”, “knowing, understanding what is happening”.
Here is where it gets interesting. My initial question was especially with regard to how important really “contemplation” or “thinking” was when observing form, feeling, ..consciousness – the five trunks (khandha) that make up what we generally call “our life”, which we are holding onto (upadana+khandha).
So Bhante Vimala, coming back to my question, reminds me that up to this point, in the Gelañña Sutta, the Buddha talks about an exercise which has clearly to do with “knowing” or “just being aware” of the activity as it happens. Period. BUT, after the Buddha finished quoting this awareness-exercise from the Satipatthana Sutta, he goes on to say what will happen, next! This is what the Buddha has to say at this point:

As a monk is dwelling thus mindful & alert — heedful, ardent, & resolute — a feeling of pleasure arises in him. He discerns that ‘A feeling of pleasure has arisen in me. It is dependent on a requisite condition, not independent. Dependent on what? Dependent on this body. Now, this body is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen. Being dependent on a body that is inconstant, fabricated, & dependently co-arisen, how can this feeling of pleasure that has arisen be constant?‘ He remains focused on inconstancy with regard to the body & to the feeling of pleasure. He remains focused on dissolution…dispassion…cessation…relinquishment with regard to the body & to the feeling of pleasure. As he remains focused on inconstancy…dissolution…dispassion…cessation…relinquishment with regard to the body & to the feeling of pleasure, he abandons any latent tendency to passion with regard to the body & the feeling of pleasure.

In a wonderful way, this sutta handed down to us, is kind of a commentary by the Buddha himself on his own Satipatthana Sutta – but even more important it gives a very direct indicator as to how the monks would have practiced Satipatthana at the time of the Buddha. Clearly, that “discerning” is a thought process. At least in this Sutta, as Bhante pointed out, the Buddha is unmistakably talking about a mental process of reflection going on at that moment. It is a type of reflection, which (and this was my immediate thought) would alter the perception (sannya) of that monk towards the most atomic elements of his life as he experiences it – in a certain way, similar to the effect of a meditation on disgust for the body which would alter the way we look at the body… but in this case of course with an exceedingly more profound implication.
Bhante Vimala was very happy to be able to show me this sutta and said if you deeply understand what this means, the implications of this, in conjunction with the Maha-hatthipadopama Sutta [MN 28 | en ], you have all you ever need to know (to make progress) to Nibbana.
He also added that through a continued contemplation along the lines of what the Buddha suggests, the “ownership” of our feelings which we take for granted and which leads usually to raga, dosa and moha (desire, anger and delusion), will be step by step diminished…in fact, he said, it will turn out to be as if we hand over the “ownership” of the feelings to paticcasamuppada itself – we start seeing them as something “alien” (not ourselves) because we realize that these “things” arise and pass away due to their own nature of being caused (sankhata).
I was very happy to have been blessed by Bhante’s great explanation and great pointer to this excellent sutta and felt I have to share this with some of you who I know are very keen on learning more and more about samatha and vipassana as taught by the Supreme Buddha.
Bhante will be leaving on the 18th for Washington (the new assapuwa there is organizing an event for practicing precepts, Dhamma talk and meditation) and he will be back on the 20th for another couple of days before Bhante Jeevananda arrives.
with metta & appreciation of your friendship
(*)As some of you know I have been intrigued by the use of “iti” in the Pali denoting some form of direct speech for quite some time. “Iti” marks a direct speech or something thought in the mind. I was curious to see how Bhante would interpret a passage like this regarding his (and Mahamevnawa’s) good knowledge of the suttas – and especially their focus on contemplation as a meditative technique.
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  1. Ed

    Very interesting post and very useful in daily practice. Contemplating this from my own experience, I wonder what your perspective on the difference between thought and awareness is? It seems to me almost that we use contemplation to hijack the awareness of a sensation, with the ultimate aim of transcending – or as you put it to ‘alter the perception’. So using thought to overcome ‘thinking driven by craving’?

    • theravadin

      Dear Ed,
      Yes, in a certain way it suggests the “altering of perception”, towards something which could be called “anicca-saññā”, etc. I think “yoniso manasikara” as “wise reflection” in the sense of “contemplation” might be a hugely under-utilized tool in the Buddhist arsenal of meditation practice 😉
      I hope I don’t bore you with this, but what I mean is this: The deep awareness generated by sammā-samādhi seems (under this perspective) almost like an end-product of sammā-diṭṭhi. It seems that right understanding has to be developed to such an extend that samādhi arises quite naturally, but not as the main goal. The main practice could be seen in the constant purification of the mind, which ultimately means changing our perception in accordance with reality. From sammā-diṭṭhi (through the word of others or our own wise reflection) right thinking/intention is produced which sets the stage for sīla. Think about it (;-) – when we think in accordance with the Awakened One, reflect wisely, our life gets affected, virtues arise. Eventually the practice of purifying ones actions leads to -> purification of speech -> leads to purification of lifestyle and produces an ever closer encircling of the source of all suffering. Finally, with the 4 types of right effort the mind is then gradually (but continuously, without interruption, theoretically day and night) transformed. If this plays out properly, the perception of such a person will be affected tremendously, and the focus on the four satipaṭṭhāna will have developed, by that time, quite naturally – and even more importantly: very hard to fall back. If a practitioner (or sekha ;-), a student of the Awakened One, has reached such a point in his continuous and well-grounded mental development effort, the arising of sammā samādhi would not be surprising at all. Cf also MN 20 and the idea of the “mastery” of thoughts in this regard.
      All of the aforementioned, are just my 5 cents, and are just like a little snapshot of my personal understanding at this point. I humbly thank you for stopping by and sharing your ideas!
      Lot’s of metta,
      a theravadin

  2. Ed

    Thank you for this reply, and the attention to my comment. It’s interesting to read your thoughts in conjunction with this article by Thanissaro – both provide much to contemplate on.

    I wonder whether the process is as linear as described in both that article and your comment? In my experience, the development of panna (still ongoing! :) ) is as conditioned and dependent on practice, on sila and on samadhi, as much as sila and sanadhi (excuse the lack of diacritical marks) are conditioned by panna. Similarly dependent origination does not make much sense until you grasp non-duality.

    Of course it’s difficult to describe things in non-linear terms?



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