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Breaking the cycle

by Danai Chanchaochai, Bangkok Post,Aug 1, 2005

Bangkok, Thailand -- As we progress with our Vipassana meditation we become more eager in our pursuit of Dhamma wisdom, and many questions arise for which we seek answers. Some of us remain puzzled even after we receive the answer. That is not unusual and can be a good thing. While we're still in a state of puzzlement we will continue to be driven to seek answers, and that's always a good thing.

Phra Acharn Manop Upasamo provides more answers to some common questions. Those answers may well provoke more questions. That is how it should be and how it will always be, because without questions, there can be no answers.

What is the difference between "the knowing mind" and "mindfulness"?

It is the same thing. When your mindfulness is powerful enough, it gets to know the nature of your body and your mind as it truly, naturally is.

There are, however, many different levels of "knowing." This is partly explained in an understanding of the Five Aggregates, or Khanda. The five "groups" are called the five aspects, in which the Buddha has summed up all the physical and mental phenomena of existence and which appear to the ignorant man as his ego, or personality. These are described as the corporeality group (rupa-kkhandha), the feeling group (vedana-kkhandha), the perception group (sanna-kkhandha), the mental formation group (sankhara-kkhandha), and the consciousness group (vinnana-kkhandha).

There is no need to label the type of "knowing" we are experiencing each moment, and all we need to do is to observe it as it happens and as it eventually fades away.

The goal of Vipassana, after all, is to be able to see the impermanence of things so that we will be less and less attached to them, and experience less suffering. The key to achieving this goal is the ability to be mindfully "in the present" and observe things as they are without trying to add our own judgment or imagination. And what is it that we should observe? Nothing more than what goes on in the mind and how our body behaves.

Does the karma of parents determine or affect the karma of their children? For example, it can be observed that children inherit the physical characteristics of their parents.

Physically, the karma of children is generally determined by the karma of their parents. Thus, healthy parents usually beget healthy offspring, and unhealthy parents cannot help but beget unhealthy children. On the other hand, morally, the karma of a father or mother does not in any way affect or determine the karma of their child. The child's karma is a thing apart of itself _ it forms the child's individuality, the sum-total of its merits and demerits accumulated in its innumerable past existences.

For example, the karma of the Buddha-to be, Prince Siddattha, was certainly not influenced by the joint karma of his parents, King Suddhodana and his spouse, Queen Maya. The glorious and powerful karma of the Buddha-to-be transcended the karma of his parents which jointly were less potent than his own.

How can we escape the cycle of birth and death ('Samsara')?

Most people do not know or care about why they are born. It's our own karma that keeps us in this endless cycle of birth and rebirth. Everything that we do, think or say, good and bad, will have its consequences. The reason we keep doing things that keep us locked in this cycle is ignorance. When the mind does not know the nature of life _ that it is in fact one of suffering _ the result is that we think, say, and do things that lead to our rebirth.

If we do a lot of good things, we might be able to escape being born into hell or as an animal. By doing good deeds we might be born again in the realm of the devas, but even devas are subject to rebirth. Only those with the knowing mind would not want to be born again. And they would practice their mindfulness as much as possible so that one day they will attain the wisdom of enlightenment and eventually be liberated from the cycle of birth and rebirth.

Remember, according to Lord Buddha, Vipassana meditation is the only path that leads to total freedom of the mind, and out of Samsara.

And for this reason, we should be very grateful to Lord Buddha. Without him, no one would know how to practice mindfulness and be liberated. Before his time, there were many people in the ancient Indian sub-continent who were already practicing Samatha, or deep concentration, meditation. Some of them, including Lord Buddha's early teachers, were able to develop a degree of supernatural mental power.

But Lord Buddha, having mastered all the various techniques, concluded that they did not provide a way out of the birth and rebirth cycle. Mental defilements were still there and deep concentration meditation could not get rid of them. Only Vipassana meditation is able to do that.

But before Lord Buddha was able to discover for himself the true path to liberation he endured six years of trial and error. When we think about it, Lord Buddha's approach was identical to that of modern day scientific research.

In his day, self-inflicted physical pain was widely practiced, but he found such practices were also not the way. In rediscovering the ancient practice of Vipassana meditation, the Buddha eventually achieved enlightenment. Lord Buddha showed us the way, all we have to do is persevere in the practice of Vipassana.

There is also one more thing that I should mention. Contrary to what you may believe, we are more fortunate to be born a human being rather than, say, a deva. Why? Because, with a greater capacity to experience suffering, human beings have the highest potential to attain enlightenment! Every Buddha in the past had to be born in a human form to achieve this enlightenment.

So we humans should not waste the opportunity we have been given. The path is in front of us and Lord Buddha has laid it out very clearly. We simply have to follow it.

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The teachings of Phra Acharn Manop Upasamo are transcribed and translated for Dhamma Moments by Nashara Siamwalla.



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