Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 24/07/2022

Why meditate?

Suffering is an inevitable part of human life. Most people try to reduce suffering by dealing with the outer circumstances, but the root of suffering is mainly from our minds. Buddha said working with our mind is the only way we can begin to feel happy and contented with the world we live in. The mind is the source of suffering, and it is also the source of all happiness.

There are three obstructions that prevent us from seeing things as they are:

  1. Our personal subjective view: we are seeing things in a distorted way because we are affected by the things we experience in our own lives such as like or dislike.
  2. Our culture: we are all affected by the environment in which we are born and live.
  3. Our limitations as humans: everyone want to live, do not want to be sick or die, and we want to live comfortably as well for us and for our relatives.

The benefits of meditation:

There are various types of meditation in Buddhism, but they can be grouped into 2 groups:


Samadhi meditation:


It is a practice of cultivating concentration and the practice of letting go.

         Once we are well trained, if the mind has gone to an object that is harmful to us, we can let it go and return to the object of meditation. Suffering arises when the mind has gone to a certain thought and be affected by it. Therefore, if we practice Samadhi meditation, we can live our lives without suffering.


 When we are training to focus, we will obtain great power from focussing on one object. We will be able to move the mind at will, and the mind is no longer affected by our past experiences, emotions, and preconceptions. Just as the body needs exercise, the mind needs the training of concentration.

Samadhi must have as its focus an object that is free from all craving, all aversion, all illusion such as the breath. Fixing the attention on respiration develops awareness of the present moment and we try to maintain an unbroken awareness as long as possible. As concentration strengthens, we begin to feel relaxed, happy, full of energy. At times, it may seem that respiration has stopped as it becomes faint. As the mind becomes tranquil, the body also becomes calm, and the metabolism slows down and less oxygen is required. At this stage some of those who practice may have various unusual experiences: seeing lights or vision or hearing extraordinary sounds. These so-called extrasensory experiences are merely indications that the mind has attained a heightened level of concentration. In themselves, these phenomena have no importance and should be given no attention. Meditators can experience bliss or ecstasy. There are various states of mental absorption that can be attained but we do not discuss here.

Dr Hyunsoo Jeon in his book Samatha, Jhana and Vipassana, described how he could see his 6 past lives and the causes of the aggregate of feeling and rebirth-linking from craving and ignorance in each life. Through the practice of loving-kindness meditation toward all beings (toward ourselves, the people we like, neutral people and the people we dislike), and under the light of deep concentration, he could see many types of beings, beings in the lower realms like hungry ghosts, hell beings and heavenly beings’ “devas”. After having these experiences, he stopped denying the existence of these beings as his fellow practitioners in the Pa-Auk meditation tradition also had the experience of seeing all beings when they practiced loving -kindness meditation.

The Buddha attained up to the highest (eighth) Jhana level, but he was not satisfied that he had achieved liberation.


Vipassana meditation:

Samadhi makes the upper levels of the mind crystal clear, but a deposit of impurities remains in the unconscious, so Buddha practiced Vipassana to become enlightened.


Technique: as described by Mahasi Sayadow in Manual of Insight.

You can begin by placing your mind on your breath or the rising and falling of the abdomen. The nature of the mind is to think. The motivation is not to get rid of thoughts, but to train the mind to stay present. When you notice that your mind has wandered away from the breath, away from the present moment, just return to the breath. When you come back from drifting away from the breath and say “thinking” to yourself with a friendly gentle attitude. Becoming aware of the monkey mind is actually a very good sign: it indicates an increase in your awareness. As your practice develops, you can remain present to your meditation, you experience thoughts arising, but they don’t draw you off. They are happening in the background, and you are still with the object, your breath. You need to practice gentleness and not be critical to yourself. You need patience as well, as some days your thoughts may take you on a complete roller coaster ride. You can have a sense of humour about the fact that your mind is like a wild monkey.

Thought can create fear, joy, sadness, wonder, anger, and other emotions but they are just like dreams and have no real substance, like clouds that come and go so you need to let your mind relax and not grasp them.

Insight meditation is an uninterrupted observation of all phenomena as they arise at the six sense doors, realize the mental and physical phenomena as they really are.

When seeing an object, hearing a sound, smelling an odour, experiencing a taste, touch an object, or thinking a thought, you note “seeing”, “hearing”, “smell”, and so on. You must observe so that no ensuing thoughts such as like or dislike have a chance to arise. When noting a visible form, the nature of “seeing” is obvious, as is the nature of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not self. Insight meditation temporarily removes defilements, so you are not attached to the object nor averse to it, nor entertaining thoughts that things to be permanent, satisfying and self. Being mindful of the visible form, you will know its true nature, it has the nature of just being seen, disappearing after it has arisen, and disappearing even while being noted. You do not mentally grasp it as something to be loved or hated, or as a solid matter.


How to note the general activities of the body:

When walking, you should note “walking”, “stepping”, “right, left” or “lifting, moving, dropping”. When your mindfulness and concentration grow strong, you will be able to note the intention to walk or the intention to move before starting to walk or move. When we are aware of lifting, the fire element is understood; when we are aware of moving forward and pushing, the air element is understood; when we are aware of releasing, the water element is understood and when we are aware or dropping and pressing, the earth element is understood. So, who is going forward? In an ultimate sense, only selfless elements go forward, only elements stand, only elements sit down, only elements lie down. Thus, along with the physical phenomena, the preceding mind vanishes, and the subsequent mind appears, like the current of a river that ceaselessly flows forever.

With each noting of “intention” and “going”, one is aware that what exists is only physical phenomena that are moving, and not being a being, person, self, woman, or man. It means that what appears to one’s awareness is the uninterrupted and continuous occurrence of intentions and movements without the concept of a solid form or shape.


How to note feelings:

When you note feelings, you see that they instantaneously arise and pass away. You also realize that you feel happy, unhappy, or neutral due to pleasant, unpleasant, or neither-unpleasant-nor-pleasant objects and that you do not have those feelings in the absence of such objects.


Contemplation of mind:

Craving, lust, and desire are called “mind affected by lust”. When this state of mind occurs, note it as “desire, desire”. If it persists, continue to note it until it fades away. When the mind is free of wanting and liking, it becomes pure and clear.

Anger, frustration, hate, hostility, and cruelty are called “mind affected by hate”.  If it continues, note it repeatedly until it disappears.

The mind that is simply confused or restless, in the grip of ignorance or delusion, is called “mind affected by delusion”. Sensual thoughts, hypocrisy and delusions of identity are considered states of mind rooted in desire and affected by delusion. Unpleasant states of mind, such as fear, worry, grief, sadness, aversion, jealousy, and regret, are all states of mind rooted in hate and affected by delusion.

Other states of mind should be noted when it arises, like indolent state of mind, a distracted state, a concentrated or unconcentrated state of mind or when the noted mind is temporarily liberated from mental defilements or an unliberated mind where there is no awareness of the wandering mind that is subject to defilements.

The observation of states of mind as they are from moment to moment is called contemplation of mind. There is realisation of the arising and passing away of mind. One also realizes that a particular state of mind arises only in the presence of such conditions as its specific mental factors, a physical basis, past actions, delusion, and attachment. Every time you note a state of mind, you realize there is no person or being, no “I” or “mine” but only awareness of an object. You can perceive the mind independently of conditioned conceptual images. Thus, your mindfulness and insight knowledge improve, and attachment weakens.


Contemplation of Mental objects.

Taking the mental and physical phenomena that appear at the six-sense door to be permanent, satisfactory, self, and attractive is unwise attention. For example, we do not stop at the process of seeing or hearing … as we begin to think about it, whether we like it or not... Ordinary people are generally inclined toward sense objects that arouse mental defilements. This is how karmic impulsions arise based on greed, hatred, and delusion.

The five aggregates:

If you note “seeing, seeing” at the moment of seeing and is aware of your eye sensitivity or the visual object, then you are aware of the physical aggregate. If you are aware of a pleasant, unpleasant or neither unpleasant-nor-pleasant feeling connected with the visual object, you are aware of the aggregate of feeling. If you are aware of recognizing the visual object, you are aware of the aggregate of perception. If you are aware of mental formations arising in contact with the visible object, the volition to see it, greed, faith and so on, you are aware of the aggregate of mental formations. If you are aware of eye consciousness, you are aware of the aggregate of consciousness.

You can experience mental factors when in contact with mind objects such as desire, wish, aversion, delusion, jealousy, regret, benevolence, compassion, faith, mindfulness, moral shame and fear of consequences, wisdom, and so on.




When you practice noting every mental and physical phenomenon and your mindfulness and concentration and insight mature, you will find that the noting mind and the noted objects occur in pairs. You will see there is only the rise and fall of the abdomen and the mind noting it, or only the sitting posture and the mind noting it. Nothing exists but the mind and body. When you clearly experience physical sense objects, the sense bases, and the knowing mind, you can reflect that there are only mental and physical phenomena.

As practice matures further, the intention to move becomes obvious by itself when you intend to move the body. Initially, you note “intending to move” before changing your posture. After some practice, you will experience that only after the intention to move has arisen can the movement of bending, stretching and so on can take place. At the beginning you often change your posture without noticing it.

By noting every object that occurs, you will experience that the noting mind arises whenever there is an object and different causes will give rise to different effects.

You can then realize how the law of cause and effect, or the interaction of mind and body operates in this life, you will comprehend how it operated in past lives and how it will operate in future life as well. The mental and physical phenomena of past and future lives had, or will have, the same causes as these present phenomena. There is neither an independent person, a being, nor a “creator” that exists in relation to them, but only the law of cause and effect.

While noting, you will often see extremely clearly the arising and passing away of mental and physical phenomena. You will understand the impermanence, the unsatisfactoriness and the no self. Then, the five mental faculties- faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom- will then fall in harmony, and the noting mind will become quicker than ever before.

When insight knowledge develops to the next stage, you will no longer see objects arising but only passing away. You will think they are disappearing faster and faster. When noting becomes clear enough that you can see both sense objects and your awareness of them disappearing in pairs, you will lose the illusory sense of conceptual forms or shapes, such as the form of your body, head, arm, legs…You will only experience instantly disappearing phenomena. You experience insight knowledge of dissolution first. When you deeply understand that both objects and the noting mind instantly disappear, you will reflect, they are indeed impermanent.

Eventually, your insight meditation will strengthen enough that you will reach equanimity toward phenomena. The noting mind will become so clear and subtle that your awareness will seem to be easily flowing by itself. When you understand the difference between mental and physical phenomena, you are likely to reflect that neither the mind nor the body alone can perform actions such as sitting, standing, hearing…Only the mind and body together can perform these activities, in reality there is no “I” or being that sits, stands, walks but only mental and physical phenomena.

You will know “these phenomena are not me or mine, and they are also not anyone else’s. They are only conditioned mental and physical phenomena. Conditioned phenomena are noting conditioned phenomena.


The experience of Nibbana

You will attain the path and fruition while experiencing Nibbana as the cessation of both the noted objects and the mind that notes them. Both the objects and the noting mind were abruptly cut off and stopped. This experience of the cessation of conditioned mental and physical phenomena does not last very long, it is as brief as a single moment of noting. After this, you return to noting mental and physical phenomena as usual. The mental attitude of those who have achieved path and fruition is not the same as before: it is so special that they feel as if they have been reborn. Their faith becomes extremely strong, and they experience very powerful rapture, tranquillity, and happiness. During fruition absorption, the mind is fully absorbed in its object, nibbana, the cessation of all conditioned phenomena.


Purification of view: seeing things as they are.

A tree is so called because it includes a trunk, branches, and leaves, but apart from these parts no tree can be found.

In the same way, a being is so called because he or she is composed of the five aggregates subject to clinging to mental and physical phenomena. The ultimate reality is, there is no being that exists. The five aggregates are material form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness.

For aging and death to occur, there must first be arising or rebirth that have been generated by volitional actions. Volitional actions are generated by clinging and craving mental and physical phenomena brought about by pleasant or unpleasant feelings. Feelings arise by contact between the mind and sense objects from the sense bases like eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. The sense bases come into existence based on the mental and physical phenomena that are generated by various types of consciousness such as relinking consciousness. Consciousness has its origin in volitional deeds that one has performed in past lives(karma) for one’s wellbeing and volitional actions arising from ignorance.


Rebirth: death and relinking.

We have performed countless karmas throughout our lives. In the last moment of this life, on our death bed, one of those karmas, or an image that was impressed in our memory, or an image of the new life we will go to will arise in the mind. When our present life ends, rebirth, with the first emergence of the five aggregates in the next life will immediately follow, taking the same image as the one that appeared last to us on our death bed.

If a meditator sees mental and physical phenomena in terms of volitional actions and their results, he understands the process of death and relinking. When a visible form strikes the eye, for example, adverting consciousness occurs immediately followed by eye consciousness. In the same way, there is no gap between death consciousness and relinking consciousness. When the last moment of consciousness in the previous life ceases, the first moment of consciousness in the new life arises due to previous volitional actions.

The truth of suffering is produced by karma, which is initiated by clinging, attachment for the five aggregates subject to clinging. If one eliminates clinging, new karma cannot be formed, nor can the karma that has already been formed, give rise to a new life. Nibbana is the cessation of craving and the cessation of the mental and physical aggregates. Therefore, craving for these mental and physical aggregates will no longer arise and we will no longer experience rebirth.



The benefits of Vipassana meditation in daily living.

Vipassana meditation focuses on seeing the characteristics of impermanence, suffering, and no self in materiality, mentality, and dependent origination. Vipassana is knowing the properties of things as they are, the mental and physical phenomena arise and pass away moment by moment.

Once we see the fundamental nature of the mind and body and understand which way of living is best for us through Vipassana meditation, we become one with Nature.  We will not get too agitated once the body continuously changes and that suffering is inevitable. The mind then doesn’t suffer even if the body suffers. The mind isn’t in pain when the body is in pain. We must prevent vicious cycles that arise from our misunderstanding.

Everything changes, suffering also disappears as time passes but happiness can also disappear. We can experience less suffering if we are not clinging to happiness.

Everything changes according to the law of cause and effect. We will see that adverse events occur because they were meant to, and we will accept them. We can also make the best decisions in those situations with a calm and stable mind, and we will live calmly without being agitated.

Through practice of observing our body, our feelings or sensations, our mind, and our sense objects, in life we can be aware at the point where the process of reaction begins such as anger is going to arise, we can choose not to allow any reaction to occur or to intensify. Therefore, there is no chance to develop into craving or aversion, into powerful emotion that can overwhelm us: it simply arises and passes away. The mind remains balanced and peaceful. We are happy now, and we can anticipate happiness in the future, because we have not reacted. When we can maintain equanimity in any situation, our mind remains continuously at peace. This is how suffering can be stopped.  






1-Manual of Insight by Mahasi Sayadow

2-Vipassana Meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka by William Hart

3-Samatha, Jhana and Vipassana: Practice at the Pa-Auk Monastery: A meditator ‘s Experience by Hyun-soo Jeon.