Use Physical or Abstract Phenomena as Your Practice Objects

Be mindful. Your mind has wandered outside. If you want to make quick progress, you must be able to identify phenomena. Don’t leave your practice unguided. Like, when you hear that people practice by breathing, you follow them. Or you hear that people practice by reciting “Buddho,” you follow them. You see that people practice by observing their bellies expanding and contracting, and you may try that. You may also know that people practice by making hand movements. These are all the shells of the practice. If you practice by silently reciting “Buddho.” “Buddho” is a Pannatti (common or relative) object. It is a product of thought. You can also practice by reciting the alphabets. So, when you practice and you don’t really see phenomena, your practice won’t really develop. At most, you may gain peacefulness.

Arammana for Kammatthana (objects for practice) consists of–[CUT]. Aramana (object), not Aramana for Kammatthana, consists of 4 types. Aramana (object) means something that is known or observed. The first is called Pannatti (common, mutual, or relative) objects. This is the subject of your thoughts. These subjects aren’t real. For example, if you’re a woman, you can think that you’re a male bodybuilding champion. Or if you’re a male, you can think that you’re the miss universe. Can you think or imagine so? You can, but the thoughts are not reality.


Peacefulness supports wisdom development

So, when you practice developing wisdom, you must be outside of the world of thoughts, dreams, and imagination. You must know Sabhava (phenomena). Pannatti objects are not phenomena. They don’t manifest Trilaksana (the three characteristics). The body and the mind manifest Trilaksana. They’re Anatta (non-self) and aren’t under your control. You cannot control the body to be free from aging, sickness, or death. You cannot control the mind to only be full of happiness. But for Pannatti (common reality–thoughts), there’s no limit to your happy thoughts, but they’re not real.

For wisdom development, you must see real objects, which are Sabhava (phenomena). There are 2 types of phenomena that are suitable for wisdom development: Rupa-Dhamma (physical phenomena) and Nama-Dhamma (abstract/mental phenomena). Rupa-Dhamma exist. They’re not subjects of thoughts. Nama-Dhamma are also phenomena. For example, happiness, sadness, equanimity, memory and perception, and wholesome and unwholesome fabrications are Nama-Dhamma. You need correct objects for wisdom development. They must be physical and mental phenomena.

The fourth phenomenon, Nibbana (nirvana), can’t be used for Vipassana (wisdom development). Nibbana is permanent. Nibbana is stable and peaceful, but Nibbana has an important characteristic of non-self. Nobody owns Nibbana. Nibbana still exists after the Buddha’s passing. When you practice, you must see real phenomena. Laypeople have never seen Nibbana. Nibbana is first seen very briefly at the moment of Sotapatti-Magga (first enlightenment). Because you haven’t seen Nibbana, you don’t use it as a practice object for Vipassana (wisdom development).

Many people don’t know that in order to develop wisdom, you must use abstract or mental phenomena as practice objects to be observed. So, they try to control or fabricate their minds to be still and empty. They think that, with much peacefulness, wisdom will develop. Peacefulness practice yields peacefulness. Wisdom development yields wisdom. They’re different. But, for wisdom development, a peaceful and vigorous mind is a must. So, peacefulness supports wisdom development.

Practicing peacefulness for a vigorous, stable, and luminous mind is called Samatha-Kammatthana. It supports Vipassana-Kammatthana (wisdom development), which is the essence. In order to be enlightened, you must practice Vipassana. The Buddha said, “one reaches purity through wisdom.” This wisdom is Vipassana-Panna. So, if you don’t develop Vipassana and Panna (wisdom) to see the truth of physical and mental phenomena, you will never become enlightened.

When you do a sitting meditation, and the mind enters peacefulness quickly and stays there, you can’t develop further. Many people don’t know this principle, so they continue to practice peacefulness and stay with peacefulness. Many years can pass without any development. I’ve met a grandma who’s been stuck in peacefulness for almost 70 years. She only had peacefulness. When she encountered something unpleasant, she entered a deep peacefulness where the physical world and her body disappeared. The only thing remained was her peaceful, luminous, and happy mind.

She came to ask for my advice to practice further. She knew what she was practicing wasn’t the way. But I didn’t want to show her, because she’s been addicted to peacefulness for almost 70 years. If I led her out of this, her mind would be untamably restless and unfocused. Given her age, this was risky. If she died with a restless mind, she could be reborn in a bad realm. If that’s the case, then her 70 years of practice would have been a failure, as it could’ve led her to hell. This is the danger caused by not knowing the principles and focusing only on practicing peacefulness.

A few days ago, a man came to this temple. I didn’t know what he practiced. His mind was over-fixating and very tight, as if his chest was about to explode. He arrived at the monk’s mealtime. He asked to see me. A monk here told him that it was my mealtime. He was so stressed out and finally let out a very loud high-pitched scream. After screaming, he was more relaxed and went home. It was a wrong practice to control oneself to the point of breaking. It was smart of him to let out a scream. If he hadn’t had a way out, he could’ve gone nuts.


Principles of Dhamma Practice

So, if you don’t know the principle that you must learn about phenomena as the primary practice, you can practice wrong Samadhi. With correct Samadhi, the mind will be peaceful, stable, happy, vigorous, and refreshed. If you practice by suppressing the mind, not going nuts is already considered successful. So, you must know the principles. The main practice is Vipassana-Kammatthana. The objects for Vipassana are the physical and abstract phenomena. The body consists of physical phenomena. Feelings, mental formations, and consciousness are abstract phenomena. To develop wisdom, you must be mindful of physical and abstract phenomena.

First, know the existence of physical phenomena. Next, know their ever-changing nature. You can do the same with abstract phenomena. First, know their existence, and then know their ever-changing nature. First, know the existence of the body and the mind, then see their ever-changing nature. The body changes because suffering causes conflicts and decays. The body must constantly change its posture. The mind is full of impermanence. It’s chaotic and uncontrollable. Seeing the truth of the body and the mind is developing wisdom.

Samatha-Kammatthana develops a peaceful, stable, and luminous mind. There’s also a principle here. Before the Buddha’s enlightenment, many people in India were meditating. There were many Rishis and Yogis. Many of them had supernatural powers and could perform miracles; their minds could enter deep absorption. When Prince Siddhattha left his palace, he went to study with a Rishi. It’s natural to think of practice as doing sitting meditation. Prince Siddhattha had the same thought. He had just left the palace and wanted to practice, so he went to study sitting meditation from a Rishi. He found that the mind’s impurities and suffering returned when his mind left absorption.

If you’re used to peacefulness in meditation, your impurities and suffering will intensify. When there’s contact with the world, the mind will be on fire and the world will be unbearable. Prince Siddhattha had accumulated much good quality, so he knew that this kind of practice wasn’t the answer. It was like a painkiller. The pain can recur, and more painkillers are needed. When the mind is unhappy, enter Samadhi (absorption). After leaving absorption, unhappiness returns. It wasn’t useful. It’s just a way to temporarily escape suffering. So, he practiced another kind of Samadhi. This Samadhi consists of mindfulness. Peacefulness is no longer the goal, but mindfulness is.

He had experienced this kind of Samadhi when he was little. He attained this from his accumulated past merits. His mind attained this kind of Samadhi without being taught. He was sitting alone under a tree, observing his breathing. When he had a long exhale, he knew so. When he had a long inhale, he knew so. He wasn’t bending his mind towards mindless happiness.

The key difference between his Samadhi and other Rishis’ is the word “know.” When the body has a long exhale, know that the body has a long exhale. When the body has a long inhale, know that the body has a long inhale. Do it until the breathing seems to stop. Piti (joy), Sukha (happiness), and Ekaggata (oneness) then arise in the mind. When he was little, he got to this point without losing mindfulness. When he went to practice by himself, he practiced this Samadhi. The mind with correct Samadhi is a knower. When Vitakka and Viccara arose in his first absorption, he let them cease and entered the second absorption. He then let Piti (joy) cease to enter the third absorption. He let Sukha (happiness) cease to enter the fourth absorption. In the fourth absorption, the mind has Upekkha (equanimity) and Sati (mindfulness).

The mind with the Buddha’s Samadhi is knowing, awakened, and blissful. It is free from the world of thoughts and opinions. If it is wrong Samadhi, the mind can be half-asleep and dreaming. It can see mental visions. It causes misunderstanding that you have many supernatural powers. It lets you see the past, the future, ghosts, divine beings, your past life, your next life, other people’s thoughts, and many other things. The only thing you don’t know about is yourself. But, if you practice the Buddha’s Samadhi, the mind will be mindful and free from delusions, forgetfulness, and mindlessness.

So, when you practice for peacefulness and stability, don’t abandon mindfulness. When breathing out, know so. When breathing in, know so. Don’t fixate on the breathing. Just know. Know that the body is breathing out or breathing in. If you want to use postures, know that the body is standing, walking, sitting, or lying down. When the mind enters absorption, mindfulness remains. There’ll be no sleepiness or lapse of consciousness. You can go all the way to formless absorptions. Then, the world seems to disappear, but mindfulness remains. If you enter the 8th absorption, mindfulness is very weak, because Sanna (memory and perception) almost disappears. If Sanna ceases, the mind will cease as well. If the mind ceases, you enter the Asanna-Satta (unconscious being) realm. So, mindfulness and perception is a must. Practice until your mind is stable and vigorous, then cultivate wisdom.


Cultivate Wisdom through Mindfulness of the Body

How do you cultivate wisdom? The first step isn’t yet considered Vipassana. It is a beginner’s wisdom. It is separating the physical and abstract phenomena. When you’re listening to me, your mind automatically has Samadhi (stability), because when you’re close to me, you’re afraid of me, and won’t let your mind be rowdy. That’s why the mind is stable. Now, you guys have stable minds. Do you feel that the body is sitting, and the body that’s sitting is merely something being observed? This is using the physical phenomena as your practice objects.

Knowing the existence of the body isn’t yet Vipassana. You know that the body exists. Don’t let mindlessness make it disappear. Then see that the body is something being observed. Right here, you’ll see that the body isn’t self. It’s something that is being observed. This view is still led by thought, and isn’t real Vipassana yet. If you keep observing the body frequently, you’ll see that suffering disturbs the body constantly. You can sit comfortably only shortly before aching or itching disturbs it. When aching gets stronger, you must make a movement to tame the aching. You’ll see that the body consists only of suffering of varying degrees. Now, you start to have Vipassana-Panna (wisdom) because you see it without thinking about it.

So, if you practice by observing the body while sitting, be relaxed and calm. There’s no need to see much. See the body that’s disturbed by suffering. See whether you can control the sitting body to be only comfortable without any suffering. See the reality, and you’ll see that the body always gets disturbed by suffering. If your Sati (mindfulness) and Samadhi (stability) are sufficient, you don’t need to see the body standing, walking, sitting, or lying down. It’s too slow. You can see the body that’s breathing. Try to inhale for a very long time. Do you suffer or not? You do. So, breathing in is suffering, so you need to breathe out. At first, breathing out brings comfort from not having to breathe in further. If you breathe in and don’t breathe out, you die. That’s how big this suffering is. After breathing in and suffer, you breathe out to tame the suffering from breathing in. After breathing out for a while, suffering arises again. You need to breathe in to tame the suffering from breathing out.

Keep observing, and you’ll see that the body is being disturbed by suffering at every breath. The mind that can see this must have a lot of strength and stability. If your mind doesn’t have that good a quality, see the postures. Sitting for a long time is suffering, and so are standing up, walking, and lying down. At the moment of waking up, don’t stretch yet. Feel the body first, and you’ll notice a lot of aching, even if you’ve just slept for many hours. You stretch to tame this suffering.

After you get up, you wash your body and face. Why do you need to wash yourself? Because the body is full of filth and ugliness. If you don’t maintain it, it’ll be filthy. You can’t even stand your own body’s odor. You also need to poop regularly. You eat good food, but poop that comes out isn’t. This body is like a crap factory. You put in good materials and crap comes out. You can’t even stand the smell of the output. This body is detestable.

Keep observing your body like this. This isn’t yet Vipassana. This will make the mind peaceful. When you see the body as filthy and ugly, the mind will become peaceful. You’ll attain another type of Samadhi. And if your mind is also stable, then it’s good. Keep observing the body, you’ll see that it is constantly disturbed by suffering. Or, some people can see the body as consisting of elements. Elements flow in and out. Food flows in and poop comes out. Elements flow in and out. Water flows in and pee flows out. Like breathing in and out, the elements are circulating.

This body is nothing but an aggregation of elements. Earth, water, fire, and wind elements are kept together through the force of Kamma. This is Janaka-Kamma (reproductive Kamma), which dictates the properties of your body. Once you have this body, you think this is your true self. But if you practice Vipassana, you’ll see that the body is just an aggregate of elements, with elements flowing in and out. Keep observing, and you’ll be free of the wrong view that the body is self. It’s just an aggregate of elements. It’s also purely suffering, only varying in intensity. It’s detestable and not worth keeping.

When you see the truth of the body that it’s not desirable, the mind will be dispassionate and the attachment to the body will be lessened. After a point, the mind will let go of the body. This is the wisdom of an Anagami (the almost fully enlightened one). You then practice further. The study for the body is finished, so you continue to learn about the mind.


The Actual Practice

This is the theoretical sequence. Learn about the body, its associated negative feelings, and then the mind. The theoretical sequence is body, feelings, mind, and Dhamma, but the actual practice rarely follows this. You can start from the body, feelings, the mind, or even the Dhamma, if you have sufficient wisdom.

But if we’re to be all-inclusive, know the body. See the truth of the body. What is in the body? Physical feelings are inside. The body isn’t self. It’s an object. It’s an aggregate of elements. It is under continuous disturbance by negative Vedana (feelings). Suffering is something that arises, stays, and decays. It’s impermanent. Suffering comes and goes inside the body. This part may suffer, and the suffering may move to another part. The location keeps changing, but it’s not under your control. You can’t force the body to be free from suffering, aching, tiredness, hunger, feeling too cold, feeling too hot, thirst, urge to poop, or urge to pee. You can’t control it. It’s not self.

When you observe Vedana (feelings), you can see that you can’t control the body or the feelings. You can’t force it to be free from aching, tiredness, or itching. When observing further, you’ll see that when a happy feeling rises, the mind is satisfied. This is already Cittanupassana (observing the mental formations) practice. You see that Raga (lust/greed) rises with your satisfaction. When unhappiness arises, Dosa (aversion) also arises. Seeing Dosa is Cittanupassana Satipatthana (mindfulness using mental formations) practice.

Kayanupassana is using the body as the practice object. Vedananupassana is using the physical or mental feelings. Physical feelings can be either happy or unhappy, while mental feelings can be happy, unhappy, or equanimous. When you practice Cittanupassana (observing the mental formations), you’ll see that when happiness arises, the mind tends to fabricate Raga (lust/greed). When unhappiness arises, the mind fabricates Dosa (anger/aversion). When you’re feeling neutral, with Upekkha Vedana (equanimous feeling), the mind tends to be unfocused and in mindless joy. This mind is consumed by Moha (delusions). If you can observe this, you are observing the mind’s impurities.

The body is the outermost layer. Vedana is the layer next to the body. Cittanupassana, knowing the wholesome or unwholesome fabrications which are reactions to Vedana, is closer to the mind. It’s called Cittanupassana Satipatthana (mindfulness in seeing mental fabrications). If you can see that when the mind comes into contact with undesirable feelings, Dosa (aversion) arises. Dosa is something being observed. Dosa is not Citta (the mind). You’ll see that Dosa and the mind are distinct. The mind will then be a stable observer. Dosa is a foreign object that temporarily rises and ceases. Raga (lust or greed) also rises and ceases. Equanimity also rises and ceases. Citta (the mind) is just an observer.

You will then know that wholesome or unwholesome fabrications also rise, stay temporarily, and decay regardless of their wholesomeness. They are equal in the aspect of rising, staying, and decaying. Right here, you’ll know that mental formations and Citta (the mind) are different. This will allow you to see the real Citta (the mind) and its workings. You’ll see that the mind goes out to make contact with objects through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and the abstract sense. When contacts happen, wholesomeness or unwholesomeness arise. This is beyond your control.

Keep observing, and you’ll see more delicate impurities that’s finer than lusts, aversions, or delusions rising and decaying. The finer impurities are Nivarana, which are hindrances to wholesomeness. For example, when you’re determined to practice, Kāmacchanda (sensual desires) can creep in. You’ll feel that you’ve been sitting to practice for a long time, and it’s time to take a nap. Further practice is Attakilamath·ānuyogo (self torture). Ah, this impurity is tricky. Its teaching sounds like Dhamma. When you’re doing a walking meditation, laziness creeps in. This hindrance is called Byapada (ill will), and your mind will crave for a nap. This craving is Kāmacchanda (sensual desires).

The impurities are very smart. No one can trick them. They will trick you, sometimes very elaborately. If you resolve to do a sitting meditation for 2 hours and an hour has passed, the body starts to ache badly. So, they trick you into giving up, telling you that continuing to practice is a self-torture. It’s not the Buddha’s middle path. You’ve earned your nap. They can trick you like this. Some master, who was about to be fully enlightened, felt that his mind was about to explode. The mind could no longer hold itself together. The master was determined to continue even if this resulted in his death. The trick then showed up. Hey, it’s ok if you die, but if you don’t, you’ll become a mental patient, and you’ll be a burden to other people. When this thought entered his mind, the master was shaken and felt like he should stop practicing.

So, they trick you when you’re doing wholesome acts. These Kilesa-Mara (the evil of impurity) will trick you. When Prince Siddhattha was about to be enlightened, Mara (evil) tried to chase him away from his seat. He reminded himself of all the good deeds he had done, and his determination to become a Buddha to help all beings. He would give his life if that was what it would take. Once he was willing to give his life to fight, Mara lost. Your mind must be very strong and determined, otherwise your mind can’t fight the impurities.

Cittanupassana and Dhammanupassana are different. For Cittanupassana, you see the impurities directly. You see lusts, aversions, delusions, or wholesomeness rise and decay. For Dhammanupassana, you see the cause and effect of these mental formations. Why do Nivarana (hindrances) rise? Why does Kāmacchanda (sensual desire) rise? You’ll also see why Byapada (ill will), Uddhacca (restlessness), irritation, uncertainty, or sloth rises? You will know the cause and the result and your mind will triumph.

Wholesomeness that you observe isn’t the ordinary Alobha, Adosa, and Amoha (absence from lust, aversion, and delusion). Wholesomeness in Dhammanupassana is of a higher level. It’s wholesomeness that’s needed for liberation, which is 7 Bojjhaṅgā (factors of enlightenment). Sati-sambojjhanga is the mindfulness for enlightenment, which is different from Sati that’s used for wisdom development. They’re different. Each phenomenon is more delicate and refined. So, Dhammanupassana is a difficult practice.

Next, you can also observe the Khanda (aggregates). Observing the body is observing a Khanda. Observing Vedana (feelings) is another. Cittanupassana is observing yet another. Dhammanupassana is observing all 5 Khanda and seeing their workings, seeing the teamwork of Khanda. You’ll also see their impermanence, conflict and decay, and non-self nature. You can observe Dhatu (elements), which is a very delicate practice. If you’re studying the body, feelings, and mental formations like this, the learning will converge to 18 elements. These 18 are the 6 sensory inputs, 6 sensory objects, and the 6 Vinnana-Dhatu (element of consciousness) that belong to the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and the abstract. You also see how these 18 elements work, and see that there’s no being or self here. These Dhatu (elements) carry the same name as the physical elements, but they’re different.


Sacca (Truth)

The ultimate lesson in Dhammanupassana is Paṭiccasamuppāda (dependent origination), which is Ariya-Saccā (the Noble Truths). Prince Siddhattha’s merits were incomparably higher than ours, so he attained peacefulness with Anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing). He then practiced Vipassana by using the final chapter in Dhammanupassana called the chapter about Sacca (truth). He learned about the 4 Noble Truths and elaborated their details into dependent origination.

Dukkha (suffering) exists because of Jati (birth). There are 2 kinds of Jati. One caused you to attain this body by physical birth. The more accurate Jati (birth) is when the mind grabs, gets attached to, and utilizes the senses. This is the real Jati, but it is too delicate for your current practice, so I’ll only mention it briefly. The Jati (birth) arises from Bhava (existence or becoming), which is the fabrication of the mind. Fabrication of the mind is the result of Upadana (clinging and attachment). Upadana is intense Tanha (desire or craving). Tanha arises from Kilesa (impurity). Kilesa arises together with Vedana (physical or mental feelings). Vedana, which is happiness, sadness, or equanimity arises from Phassa (contact). The contact between objects and the sensory inputs gives rise to Vedana.

This contact is possible because the existence of Saḷāyatana (sensory inputs). Sensory inputs arise because Namarupa (the abstract and the physical) exists. Eyes are physical. Eyes without the mind don’t give rise to contact. You need eyes, images, and visual consciousness to have Phassa (contact). If you’re deep in thoughts and someone walks by, you won’t notice that person because your consciousness is in another sense. You need all 3 parts, the eyes, the images, and the visual consciousness for this sensory input to work. The mind is behind all this, and the mind arises from fabrications. To study this, you must practice diligently. Casual learning without really seeing won’t lead to an understanding.

Mental fabrications have 3 types: wholesome, unwholesome, and those aimed at preventing future fabrications. These fabrications arise from Avijja (ignorance) of not knowing that the 5 Khanda (aggregates) are suffering. So, the mind fabricates. Some people fabricate wholesomeness, some unwholesomeness, and some try to avoid future fabrications. Avijja is the lack of understanding of Ariya-Sacca (the Noble Truths). It is not knowing that the 5 aggregates are suffering. Not knowing this prevents you from eradicating the cause of suffering. As long as cravings, which are the cause of suffering, exist, the mind won’t see Nibbana (the lack of suffering). When the mind is free from cravings, Nibbana immediately is visible.

What gives rise to Avijja (ignorance)? Asava (mental intoxication) does. This is a very fine impurity. Asava intoxicates and soaks the mind. It isn’t the mind. It’s a contamination, but its nature soaks and engulfs the mind. It’s like if you’re in slavery unknowingly, you don’t think about liberation. If your mindfulness and wisdom are sufficiently strong, you can be free from Asava. You’ll be free because of a full understanding of the 4 Noble Truths. So, there’s no need to study much. Know about the 4 Noble Truths: Dukkha (suffering), Samudaya (the cause of suffering), Nirodha (the cessation of suffering), and Magga (the path to be free from suffering). Just pick one of these 4.

But, for Savaka (disciples) abilities, know the suffering. It’s impossible to know Nirodha (the cessation of suffering). At the moment of knowing Nirodha, the mind already knows the suffering. You see Nirodha after fully knowing the suffering, eradicating the cause of suffering, and having completed Ariya-Magga (the path). So, know Dukkha (suffering). What is suffering? The 5 Khanda are. Your body and mind are suffering. So, be mindful of the body and mind. First, know the existence of the body and the mind. Then, see Trilaksana (the 3 characteristics) of the body and the mind. After a certain point, the mind will let go of the attachment in the body and mind. Asava (mental intoxication) will be eliminated, because Avijja (ignorance) has been eliminated. Asava is caused by Avijja, and Avijja is also caused by Asava. If the mind is free from Avijja (ignorance), Asava can’t enter the mind.

So, practice. The important thing to do is to know the suffering. Be mindful and observe the body and the mind as they are. But, to know so, you must have Samadhi (stability). The mind with Samadhi will be stable and impartial. You need to practice this. First, you need the tools to practice. They are Sati (mindfulness) and Samma-Samadhi (right stability). Mindfulness arises from learning to observe phenomena frequently. Once the mind can recall the phenomena accurately, mindfulness will arise. Samadhi is the stability of the mind. Use mindfulness to practice by knowing your own mind. This is called Citta-Sikkha (studying about the mind), and it gives rise to the mind’s stability without intention.

When the mind is stable, and mindfulness knows an object, the mind can be happy or unhappy. Know so. The mind will be impartial because of mindfulness. Now, you can have mindfulness that knows the body and the mind as they are, with a stable and impartial mind. The mind will be without bias. So, it will see the truth of the body and the mind. The body and the mind are impermanent, in conflict and decay, and are non-self. When the mind sees the truth, the mind will be dispassionate, will let go, and will be liberated. When the mind is liberated from the physical, the abstract, the body, and the mind, it will be free from Tanha (desires and cravings). That is Vimutti (liberation) and Viraga (freedom from lust). It’s free from compositions, which is called Visankhara. That is Nibbana (nirvana). If you want to experience Nibbana, practice what I just taught.


Luangpu Pramote Pamojjo
Wat Suansantidham
14 January 2024