Dhamma Talk 1.2 – Vipassana Bhumi 2

Vipassana Bhumi 2

23 August 2004

Buddha in the lightContact Bases (Ayatanas)

Vipassana practice depends on contemplating the dhamma condition(s) present at the moment. Mindfulness has to be directed at that present condition, and insight develops when the truth is seen. Contemplating conventional (pannatti) conditions is not the real truth; conventional conditions may manifest as signs, lights, colors or even the body shape, and the result would usually be samatha (concentration). We need to sort these out of the mind and focus on the conditions that are paramattha. The way of practicing this is by directing our attention towards sensations such as cold or the feeling of cold after having contact. This will lead to the understanding of the form (rupa) and the mind (nama).

The second bhumi is what is known as the contact bases (ayatana). It is one of the foundations of vipassana practice.If you hear about the khandas and do not yet understand, there are other bhumis. So, depending on the listener, the dhamma talk can be from different choices in order to benefit that listener. You can try to understand the other bhumis to help with your practice.

Ayatana (contact bases) means to connect, or where something arises, or a connector.

There are two kinds – one is internal, the other external .

The internal ayatana is called ajjhattika ayatana. The external is called bahira ayatana.

When there is contact between the two, there will be an arising of the mind, feeling, etc. The mind process will then continue to move on to wholesome and unwholesome thoughts, speech and action. There will be an arising of varieties of the mind – vedana, craving (tanha), and clinging(upadana).

The internal contact base (ayatana) is only a condition – it belongs to nature, it is not us, it does not belong to us.

There are six inside (internal) contact bases and six outside (external ) contact bases that may be paired together.

Internal                     External

eye nerve                        color

ear nerve                      sound

nose nerve                       smell

tongue nerve                   flavor

body nerve              body contact (heat/cold, soft/hard,tension /relaxation)

mind                       mental factors, refined form (sukhuma rupa), nibbana

In summary, all external contact bases are the mind (citta), mental factors(cetasika), form(rupa) and nibbana.

The inside contact bases are rupa dhamma (all the nerves) and the nama (citta/mind/consciousness).

The outside contact bases are also rupa dhamma (color, sound, smell, taste, body contact). The outside bases of mind contact may be either rupa or nama.

When contemplating the contact bases (ayatanas), we are contemplating the rupa (form) and the nama (mind). We will need to direct our observation to the contact point. When color contacts the eyes, then seeing arises. When sound contacts the ears, then hearing arises, etc. If we are not mindful at the moment of contact, thoughts will arise and expand what we have perceived into shape, followed by name, feeling, etc. This is when all defilements take place. The process through these contact bases occurs in the same way in the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind.

Contemplation will allow us to realize the truth that the process at the inside and outside contact bases arise by nature. There is no self, they are not us, and they do not belong to us. We will see the process of arising nature happen after the inside contact base comes into contact with the outside contact base. This process will deteriorate and disintegrate on its own. Ignorance (avijja) covers it up and attachment (upadana) holds on and presumes that they are us, that they belong to us, that the eyes and ears are ours. When colors or sounds come into contact, we would say that we “saw” or we “heard”. The mental factors help to proliferate this further. We can understand this if we watch closely and repeatedly.

This  body and mind process is not a person, and does not belong to us. It arises from several factors, including past actions (kamma), weather, food, etc. Past wholesome kamma will reflect in being born as a human with good eyes. Unwholesome kamma may bring not good results, such as being born with blindness or deafness. These forms are the ones affected by kamma (kammaja rupa). What outside contact one may experience is also the result of the kamma. Wholesome kamma will result in pleasant colors, sounds, smells, tastes, etc. The unwholesome ones will result in unpleasant contacts.

We need to observe the rising of the contact base and, when contact arises, how it is followed by consciousness. The moment of contact is crucial, since it will show the disappearing. After colors contact the eye, they will disappear. The sounds that contact the ear will disappear. The same thing happens with thought. All the contact bases exhibit impermanence – they cannot be sustained, they are out of our control, and they are nonself. We, as human beings, have wrong views and hold on to them as if they are permanent, they are pleasant, they are self, they are us and belong to us. To see this requires mindful observations on both inside and outside contacts at the time they occur. Know it where it happens: the sound contacts the ears, the color contacts the eyes, touch contacts the body, etc. It happens all the time, so observing it frequently will allow us to see the cause and effect.

The various nerves (pasada) are forms (rupa) that are transparent. They are located in the eyes, in the ears, on the tongue, and on the skin. They are not self and they interact with the outside contact base. After that occurs, perception and other mental processes follow.

The mind is the cause for the next mind to arise. It also causes the form to arise. So, the mind is one of the causes for the form (rupa) and other mind(nama) to arise. Weather (hot and cold) and food are other factors. The form needs food in order to replenish it. Food also has an effect on the mind. If the food is toxic, the mind will suffer as well. Or, if not given enough food, the mind will become weak. When one becomes unhappy and stops eating, the body will suffer. As well, when body is sick the mind will be depressed, contracted, or irritable. These usually happen when we are not mindful. The experienced meditator will know how to take close care of the mind. So, when his/her body gets sick, the mind will not be bothered. The ones who do not have much training will suffer both in the body and the mind. The suffering will bounce around back and forth between them, from one to the other. The scattered mind also has an effect on the body. For example, the brain would become tense. Also, the other organs would be affected, including the immune system. This would lead to other illnesses which might appear. In conclusion, both the body and mind have a cause and effect on each other.

Vipassana practice is the way to study life so that we reduce our clinging – we have already seen the impermanence and the suffering, which is inescapable. When we have this body, we have contact bases that occur both inside and outside. They will come together then deteriorate, disintegrate and disappear. Each form and each mind will carry that suffering.

Contemplate this life that is suffering. From the moment that you are born, you will encounter aging, sickness and death, as well as  the separation from loved ones, and not getting what you want, etc. When you suffer, if you do not train your mind, you will suffer more. Be diligent with the practice while you are still healthy. When sickness arrives, you will be able to handle it. If you wait until that moment to train your mind, it will be too late. Contemplate the suffering that you get from the cycle of birth, old age, sickness and death – this cycle will keep going, on and on.

When one person suffers, the others around him/her will also be unhappy. Suffering will occur to everyone and it cannot be substituted or delegated. It is your own suffering – one who has ended suffering has achieved it by oneself, and others cannot do it for them. It will all depend upon his/her own effort, mindfulness and wisdom that he/she has developed. We may want to try blaming our suffering on other things, but ultimately it comes from us. We may ask, why must we face this or that – it all came from our past actions (kamma), which determine what happens to us.

It is very important to do wholesome acts in this life. Some people are born in good physical health, with a good family and with wealth. But, despite that, they may have wrong views and do only unwholesome things. It does not matter how long they will live if bad kammas are the only things they have accumulated. In this way, their lives will end with debt. Some are born into a bad situation and still continue to do bad things – for them, nothing was gained in this life. Those who are born poor may realize that it was because of their past action, and thus would start to make more merit. There are ways to make merit without spending money. You can help others by doing good deeds, keep the precepts, and gain even more merit by practicing meditation. Those fortunate ones who have wealth, power and status can make even more merit if they have the right view and right intention. They can use what they have to extend their abilities to help others.

We have to put effort into training our habits and our mind. We can build up faith by listening to dhamma talks or reading dhamma books. We need to remind ourselves not to become lazy in our practice. We are lucky to have an interest in meditation. If it isn’t done now, when will we do it? Time passes by very quickly – every moment we are closer to death. Old age and sickness will make it harder for us to practice. We will also lose the opportunity to do it when we die.

Death is a good reminder for anyone who wants to end suffering. The Buddha taught us to reflect upon death to prevent heedlessness from occurring. Look at the people around you – your relatives, friends, and people you know – they will get sick and die. We too, will have to face that one day as well. Frequent reflection on death will lead you to become disenchanted with life and have more of an urge to put effort into your practice. Sickness will always be waiting for us. Our past kamma can catch up to us at any moment. Very few people are lucky enough to never get sick. When someone does get sick, they will suffer. With that in regard, we actually cannot help them much except in reminding them to keep the dhamma, to make merit, and guide them so they can reduce suffering in the mind. Usually, when the body suffers the mind will become irritated. If they have never practiced before, it will be hard for them to calm the mind or let go of the pain. When a person dies, the family will also experience suffering. Life itself is full of suffering, and it is always the same in this world.

Why do people still dwell in sensual pleasures in spite of this suffering? This seems very pitiful! The comparison can be made to chickens that are ready to be killed. They still fight each other and still compete for space or food in their pen. Human society is like that: we fight to eat, to live, to have power, etc. But eventually everyone will die, so no one gains anything!

We are lucky to have the chance to listen to the Buddha’s teachings. We have practiced mindfulness and have some wisdom so we should not be heedless. Before the Buddha passed away, his last sermon given was about heedlessness.

All conditioned things deteriorate and vanish. Perform your duties without heedlessness.

Our life is uncertain, it could change and end at anytime, and we would have no way of knowing it. Therefore, we should contemplate death at every moment. We would die if we breathed in but did not breathe out. The breath works nonstop, and the heart is beating at all times. This body, it is very fragile. It can be compared to earthenware, which breaks when it comes into contact with something hard. We would die if the breath stopped for a few moments. The body would then fall apart and would face another rebirth in the next mother’s womb. We all have to go through this cycle of suffering again and again, with no end in sight. Every birth then, is also suffering!

The Buddha gave us a path that can lead us out of suffering. Vipassana meditation is that path with which we should be interested in. The wealth, the family, etc. does not follow us – we have to leave them all behind. We arrive alone and will also depart alone. No one can help us – our salvation is only achievable by ourselves. The merits that we have done and the mindfulness and wisdom that we have developed are the only things that we can depend upon.

We can avoid heedlessness by contemplating the contact bases (ayatanas). Observe the moment of contact between inside and outside – the eyes contact the color, the ears contact the sound, the nose contacts the smell, the tongue contacts the flavor, the body contacts the sensation and the mind contacts the thought. Watch where the contact takes place. We all have these within us, so there is no need to look outside. Suffering is here, so ending of suffering is also here. After seeing the process repeatedly, mindfulness and wisdom will arise. This is the path, the way to end suffering. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body suffer because they change all the time. The color, sound, smell, taste, touch and thought also suffer because they too change. Some of them are causes of suffering such as craving and hatred. They are the mental factors that arise within the mind. The practice and the end of suffering also reside in the mind. They are all right here, inside this body and mind!

This is the end of the dhamma talk. I wish you prosperity and the progress in the dhamma.

Photo courtesy of Tom Sparks.

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