We have looked at Satipatthana vipassana in terms of one central principle, three universal characteristics
and seven purifications (or seven stages of purification). Now we
will subdivide these seven stages of purification into 16 nanas,
or (insight) "knowledges". Notice how we are looking at
the meditation practice from the point of view of what we see when
we do this practice. This complex construction of 16 nanas (or 17
nanas if we subdivide maggaphala-nana into magga-nana and phala-nana)
is not found in the Tipitaka, the early Buddhist texts. They seem
to be an invention of the medieval Theravada tradition, and you
can find a complete analysis of them in Buddhaghosas Visuddhimagga.
Now we will confine our attention to the first three of the nanas.
The 16 nanas constitute another way
to categorise our experience. There are any number of ways we can
analyse our experience; there are a potentially infinite number
of categories we can invent into which we can classify our experiences.
What is important is that we remember the difference between category
and experience, and avoid becoming lost in the category. Our tendency
is to get lost in the categories, and in doing so, lose touch with
experience. When we create a system of categories we freeze the
process of living experience and create a solid something in which
our experience must now conform. We now divide our experience into
two basic divisions: those experiences which we can fit into our
system of categories, and which is therefore valid, real and useful;
and those experiences which we cannot fit into our system of categories.
Of course, in the act of meditating, we put more attention to our
valid, real and useful experiences than we do to the other type.
In brief, we become stuck in attachment and aversion, and instead
of investigating our experience, we revert to manipulating it. We
take the practice of freedom and turn it into a prison. This is
inevitably the case when we project reality into the categories
of analysis - whatever system we use - and not into the actual,
living, stream of experience. Hence we must treat this system with
great caution. We must learn to use it, and not be used by it.
Note that purification of ethics (sila-visuddhi)
is prior to meditation practice. Buddhism assumes an ethical foundation
to any form of meditation. Note also that while meditation begins
with the second stage, purification of mind (citta-visuddhi),
this is prior to the manifestation of insight. Purification of mind
in this system is simply the development of a certain amount of
concentration. The meditator becomes so focused on the mind-body
process that thinking is significantly lessened, or even ceases,
and when thinking does manifest the meditator can notice it immediately,
and then it usually subsides. This is the samadhi which is
foundational to the arising of insight. The samadhi in this
technique, of course, is khanika samadhi: a continuous flow
of attention directed to the ever changing succession of discrete
mental and physical experiences.
The lower nanas
1) Knowledge of the distinction
between mind and body - nama-rupa paricheda-nana
When khanika samadhi is established,
the meditator notices that experience break up: Breathing and walking
break up into distinct, separate events of rising/falling; lifting/moving/placing;etc.
The distinction between physical experience (rupa) and the
quality of the knowing of the physical experience (nama) becomes
Further divisions may become apparent
- e.g., "seeing" consists of the interrelation between
the eye, a visual object, the act of seeing, and the knowing of
the act of seeing.`The attention may fall on any or all of these
aspects. For example, sound in the form of "hearing a bird"
may become sound as just sound; or sound as the knowing of sound.
In brief, the meditator sees there
is just experience and the knowing of experience.
2) Knowledge of conditionality
The meditator first sees the apparent
solidity of himself and his world break up into a series of discrete
experiences, either mental or physical. He then begins to see the
relationships between these discrete experiences. He sees how one
experience conditions another. For example:
- Mind conditions body: Without consciousness,
there can be no physical experience. Without an intention to move,
there can be no movement. Without consciousness of seeing, there
can be no visible object.
- Body conditions mind. Without visible
objects, there can be no consciousness of them. An initial glance
at a visual object conditions a series of thoughts about it.
- Mind conditions mind: An initial
distracting thought conditions a storyline. If the initial distracting
thought is noted, the storyline does not manifest.
- Body conditions body: What appears
to be one movement of the arm, for example, is seen to be a whole
series of discrete movements; each movement conditions the next.
The examples may seem mundane when
they are stated baldly like this, but they represent a new, much
more subtle way of seeing oneself and ones world. Solid things
have broken down into flows of experience. The way our experience
of the world is created and maintained becomes much clearer. The
meditator does not take things for granted quite so much as before.
He becomes much more responsible for his own experience, because
he sees how he is continually constructing his own experience.
At this stage the meditator sees the
arising of experiences but not their cessation. Notice the development
in the practice. Normally we do not see either the beginning or
end of any given experience. We tune into the movie after it has
already begun, and then switch to another movie after its beginning,
and so on. For example, I know my moods change. I may be talking
to someone about satipatthana and feeling calm. He tells me I dont
know anything about meditation, and I get angry about being contradicted.
Later I calm down. What I know of this process is that I am calm;
then later I notice I am already angry. Then later I realise
I have already calmed down to some extent. What I do not
do under normal circumstances is notice the actual moment of the
arising of emotion; and the actual moment of the cessation of emotion.
This is noting the middle, but not the beginning or end of experiences.
During the knowledge of conditionality,
the meditators attention is becoming sharp and he is seeing
the actual moment of the beginning of experience, and its middle;
but he is not yet seeing its end. The attention is drawn to experience
a; as he examines this, his attention is then drawn to experience
b; as he examines this, his attention is then drawn to experience
c; and so on. He is moving from one experience to another
before the first has disappeared.
Also at this stage, meditators who
are inclined to visual images will tend to see a lot of images.
Often they will report a lot of physical pain
3) Knowledge of mastery -
As the meditator continues to practice,
mental images and physical pains fade. His attention is becoming
sharper and more subtle, and he now sees clearly the beginning,
middle and end of the experience he is examining. This stage is
called knowledge of mastery because the meditator acquires mastery
in his understanding of impermanence. For the first time he can
see this complete process of arising, manifesting, and cessation
of experience. In seeing the complete process of impermanence, he
also has more insight into unsatisfactoriness and not-self. The
extent to which these latter two of the universal characteristics
will become apparent depends on the individual. For some people,
they become obvious at this stage; for others they dont.
4) Knowledge of arising and
passing away - udayabbaya-nana
This stage is central to the practice.
As you can see on your chart, knowledge of arising and passing
away includes three purifications: purification of overcoming
doubt in its early stage; and both purification of knowing
and seeing the way in its mature stage. In practical terms,
for most meditators it is a hard slog to get this far; it can feel
like climbing up a steep and rocky hill. In certain respects it
gets easier from here on, because now that the meditator can clearly
see the arising and cessation of experiences he knows he is on the
right path. Whatever he has done to get this far is all he has to
do is continue. Often meditators feel a surge of confidence in themselves
and the practice.
For many meditators, this is the nice
one. They may see light. They experience faith (saddha),
rapture (piti), tranquillity (passadhi) and bliss
(sukkha). The arising and passing away of experience is very
clear. They can notice anything easily, and it seems that the meditation
is going on by itself. All the meditator has to do is sit back and
enjoy the show.
This ease, enjoyment and sense of fulfilment,
however, carry a danger. As I said before, the practice is about
process, once we begin to hang on to anything, process stops, and
the practice bogs down. This stage of the practice is both enjoyable
and dangerous. It is easy to give up and settle for pleasant, even
spectacular meditation experiences, rather than pushing on. It is
this early, immature stage of knowledge of arising and passing
away which is the mature stage of purification of overcoming
doubt, characterised as it is by the clarity of meditative experience
and by the arising of faith.
If the meditator merely watches these
blissful phenomena, they pass. The sense of clinging and attachment
to blissful experience passes, and the meditator enters into the
purification of knowing and seeing what is and what is not the
path. He understands more clearly the importance of just seeing
experience as experience; not getting stuck by projecting any ego
or judgements on to it. As he continues to practice, the process
of arising and passing away becomes faster and faster, until it
becomes almost instantaneous. The attention is moving very rapidly,
but always with clarity and penetration. As soon as something arises,
it is seen; as soon as it is seen, it ceases. At this point, which
is the high point of a meditators sensitivity to impermanence,
the sixth purification, purification of knowing and seeing the
way, begins. And again things change.
5) Knowledge of dissolution
Now we enter an interesting stage of
the practice characterised by a series of nanas known as the dukkha-nanas.
Remember that the meditator has already attained the purification
of overcoming doubt and the purification of knowing and seeing
what is and what is not the path. The essentials of the practice
have already been revealed, and in the process the meditator has
experienced faith, rapture and bliss. What is essential to this
practice is seeing the arising and passing away of experience. In
attaining to knowledge of arising and passing away, the meditator
has already done this.
What happens next? The meditators
awareness and concentration continues to develop. As a result, he
now sees only the passing away of phenomena. It is as if his awareness
is so fast, it is faster than the experiences he is examining, As
soon as he places his attention on some aspect of his experience,
it disappears. This is the knowledge of dissolution (bhanga-nana).
In a weak aspect, this can take the form of the meditator apparently
losing his concentration. It seems like he can no longer focus on
anything; his attention keeps sliding off whatever he tries to look
at. It can be lie trying to grasp something that slips out of your
hand the moment you touch it. In a stronger aspect, it can be like
falling into the black hole of Calcutta. Wherever you look, there
is nothing - only blackness. The meditator is shocked, because he
used to be able to focus on anything. Now, it seems, he can focus
on nothing at all. All his good work has dissolved into nothing.
Another thing that meditators report
at this stage is the disappearance of the form of the body. Before,
the meditator saw experience break up into specific and discrete
experiences, but he always knew that they were experiences of something.
For example, the experience of the rising movement of the abdomen
when breathing in breaks up into movement, pressure, tension. But
there was always the sense, while examining these sensations, that
they belonged together, as different aspect of the same thing. But
now movement is just movement; pressure is just pressure; tension
is just tension. There is no sense of what part of the body these
sensations belong to. The sense of the body disappears; all that
is left is a series of apparently disconnected individual sensations.
There is no "body" as such.
6) Knowledge of fear -
This gives way to the knowledge
of fear, (bhaya-nana). In the disappearance of everything
examined, the mind at some level begins to realise: there is nothing
beneath this parade of changes. There is no foundation. At a fundamental
level, there is nothing at all. The result is existential anxiety.
In its strong form this can manifest as panic. In its weak form,
it can be merely a sense of existential unease, a sense of nothing
going right, a sense of helplessness, a sense of loss of control.
At this stage of the practice, the meditators insight into
anatta, not self, usually takes the form of a sense of loss of control.
The realisation that "I am not in control of my
7) Knowledge of danger
Next comes the knowledge of danger,
(adinava-nana). The meditator realises there is no rest, no
security, in anything. Notice that the emphasis here is on anything.
The meditator by this time is fantasising about escape from, the
meditation centre. He is wondering why he is not in some comfortable
job making a comfortable, secure living. But the power of the insight-knowledge
is such that he knows there is no escape. He knows
that this danger, this disadvantage, remains. Because he knows this
is the nature of experience as such.
8) Knowledge of disenchantment
Hence the knowledge of disenchantment,
(nibbida-nana). Nibbida, or disenchantment, is simply the opposite
of enchantment. Normally we are enchanted by experience. A man sees
a beautiful woman and instinctively is drawn into her circle of
charm. He is "charmed", enchanted. He feels there is real
satisfaction to be gained by possessing her, and so pursues her
to gain that satisfaction. This whole movement is based on the notion:
if only I possess that, then all my problems will
be solved. The essence of the knowledge of disenchantment
is that, even in the very fantasy itself, the meditator knows that
the object of his desire will not solve his problem. He knows that
even if he leaves the meditation centre and attains his most heart-felt
desire, this too is unsatisfactory. There is no situation that he
can imagine which is satisfactory. All his desires and fantasies
are like ashes in his mouth.
9) Knowledge of the desire
for liberation - muncitu-kamyata-nana
Closely allied to this knowledge is
the knowledge of the desire for liberation (muncitu-kamyata-nana),
known by some meditators as the "get-me-outa-here-nana".
And of course, this knowledge includes the understanding that, whatever
situation the meditator escapes to, that too will be unsatisfactory,
and the urge to escape will still be there in that new situation.
Symptoms of this stage of the practice can include a great deal
of physical pain and restlessness. The meditator may be unable to
hold any posture of the body for any period of time - any posture
is painful. Sometimes meditators retreat to bed to sleep for long
periods of time, just to escape the pain involved in being conscious.
10) Knowledge of re-consideration
These dukkha-nanas culminate in the
knowledge of re-consideration (patisankhanupassana-nana). This
is characterised by two things. Firstly, the meditator may be assailed
by all the kinds of suffering he has gone through before, as well
as some new experiences. He may feel as if he has lost all insight
he may have had before. He may feel he has lost the ability to concentrate.
He may even go through periods when he "forgets" how to
do the practice itself!
11) Knowledge of equanimity
regarding formations - sankharupekkha-nana
Progress through the knowledge of
re-consideration is marked by the development of equanimity.
At some point, a subtle but fundamental shift takes place, and the
meditator enters a stage of the practice called the knowledge
of equanimity regarding the formations (sankharuppekha-nana). This
is the reward for all the work he has done and the suffering he
has endured up to this point.
Now the dominant factors in the meditators
mind are awareness and equanimity - as in the fourth jhana. All
forms of pain either disappear or are minimised. There is little
or no sense of mental disturbance. The meditation carries on by
itself, with little or no conscious effort on the meditators
part. He finds he can sit and walk for long periods of time, and
needs little sleep. The attention rests naturally on a few experiences,
staying on the same experience for long periods of time.
At this point the meditator feels he
understands the practice as if for the first time. It is so simple
and so obvious! This attitude of clarity and simplicity carries
over into everything else. Life itself is so simple and so obvious!
How could he ever have got himself tangled up in big problems! Everything
is fundamentally OK. A meditator at this stage of the practice is
very difficult to upset.
The knowledge of equanimity regarding
formations may continue for a long time, gradually becoming
more subtle and refined, or it may end fairly quickly. If the meditator
relaxes his effort and just cruises along, enjoying and clinging
to the pleasant aspects of the nana, then unknown to him his awareness
declines, his equanimity turns into indifference, and he may, with
a sense of great shock, find himself back in the dukkha nanas. It
can be difficult to convince some meditators to maintain the momentum
of the practice. If they do maintain the practice, then at some
point they fall through the trap-door.
Stages 12 to 15
The knowledge of insight leading
to the emergence (vitthanagamini-vipassana-nana) is the slide
into the trap-door. It lasts only a few moments, during which time
one of the three universal characteristics becomes dominant in the
meditators mind. This characteristic is the "door"
through which he enters nibbana. The universal characteristic which
predominates during knowledge of insight leading to emergence
will condition the meditators understanding of the dominant
characteristic of nibbana.
The next two stages, knowledge of
adaptation (anuloma-nana) and knowledge of connection (gotrabhu-nana)
are momentary in the extreme. They may just be theoretical constructs
to explain the sudden manifestation of the next stage, knowledge
of path and result (maggaphala-nana). In practice, what happens
is that the meditator is practicing, every aspect of his meditation
is subtle, clear and bright, and then suddenly there is a sense
of falling-into (knowledge of insight leading to emergence)
and then the lights go out. There is a momentary sense of nothingness,
and then the lights come on. If the meditator checks the watch,
he realises some time has passed - depending on the strength of
his concentration, this could be anything from a few minutes to
a few days and he has "awoken" suddenly into a situation
in which the practice is continuing, but the experience is much
less subtle than before. The meditator is now in the knowledge
of arising and passing away (udayabbaya-nana).
16) Knowledge of review -
What happened? Has he fallen asleep?
No, because of the suddenness and clarity of the beginning and end
of the experience of unconsciousness, and because there has been
absolutely no physical movement. What the meditator has experienced
is the total cessation of the mind-body process. He did not "know"
this while it was happening., because there was no sense of a mind
to know it. All he "knows" about the experience is his
reflection on what has just happened. This reflection is the final
nana, the knowledge of review (paccavekkhana-nana).
The journey of Insight: from normal
experience, to increasing subtlety of experience, to the most subtle
experience of all - the cessation of experience.