The Satipatthana Sutta is the Buddha’s single most important discourse describing the practice of meditation. Here for the first time is the condensed version of the daily evening discourse given by the author to his students on a seven day retreat. This text can serve as a review after taking a course or for scholars as a further study of the sutta. The book is also a great tool to help meditators practice and as S.N. Goenka said, “Liberation can only be gained by practice, never by mere discussion.” Included is a list of abbreviations, a glossary, and an English translation of Pali passages.
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About the Author
S.N. Goenka was a renowned teacher of Vipassana in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin. He taught tens of thousands of people in more than 300 courses in India and around the world. The technique that he taught represented a tradition that is traced back to the Buddha.
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Satipatthana Sutta Discourses
Talks from a Course in Maha-satipahana Sutta
By S.N. Goenka
Pariyatti PublishingCopyright © 1998 Vipassana Research Institute
All rights reserved.
The first day of the Satipatthana course is over. The technique, and your practice, remain the same. It is however a special course in the sense that you will try to understand the words of the Buddha with reference to the technique. All the teachings, all the discourses of the Buddha are so enlightening, full of wisdom, so precious, just like portions of a big, sweet cake. Every one of them gives the same taste of nectar, ambrosia. The Maha-satipatthana Sutta however is chosen because it deals with this technique in detail.
It is better for serious old students to hear the actual words of the Buddha, to understand both practice and theory more clearly, in more detail, and to come out of any confusion. A few enthusiastic students unfortunately started teaching without proper training or grounding in the technique, and mixed other things with it. In India they attended just a few courses. They mostly had great attachment to their own sectarian philosophical beliefs and no technique of their own. With only superficial knowledge of Vipassana, they were unable to teach it properly. Vipassana students who attended their courses got very confused.
Similarly in the West, people have started teaching with a base of this technique, but differently. Just to differentiate they claim to teach Satipatthana, and say that what Goenka teaches is Vipassana. This caused great confusion. Satipatthana is Vipassana. Vipassana is Satipatthana. The direct words of the Buddha will clarify this. They will give inspiration and guidance, and the understanding of Dhamma at a deeper level. Therefore the technique remains the same but the evening discourses will cover this very important Satipatthana Sutta in detail.
Initially Pali, the ancient language spoken by the Buddha, will seem very new to you. Slowly you will start understanding the words. Later you will be able to develop a working knowledge of the language. Then it becomes so inspiring. If you are a good Vipassana meditator you will feel as if the words are for you, that the Buddha himself is directing your practice. At this beginning stage, understand just a few words, which will be helpful.
The Three Steps
There are three aspects, or important steps of Dhamma. The first is pariyatti: sufficient intellectual knowledge of the teaching. Those who have not even heard or read the words of the Enlightened One cannot understand Dhamma and its universal nature. They will understand Dhamma only as Buddhist religion. They will take it as a sectarian philosophical belief, or a rite, ritual, or religious ceremony, such as they themselves remain involved in. A sutava is one who has heard and will understand Dhamma as universal law, truth, nature, not limited to any sect or community. Having heard, a sutava can practice and apply it in life, and so is a fortunate person compared to an assutava, who has heard nothing about universal truth, and remains confused.
Hearing or reading words of pure Dhamma is very good to give inspiration and guidance to start practicing. However if you remain satisfied just with that and don't practice, because now you feel you know everything at the intellectual level, then it becomes just a devotional game. Actually you lack the knowledge because direct experience is missing. You have just accepted the truth without practicing, which may even become a hindrance to liberation. Therefore every sutava must start practicing.
Patipatti, the next step, is practicing Dhamma. In another discourse the Buddha said:
Supatipanno Bhagavato savaka-sangho.
Savaka means sutava. Savaka-sangho means the sangha which is savaka, that is, those who have heard the teaching of the Buddha and started walking on the path properly — which is to say, supanipanno, "well-practiced." Walking on the path they will reach the final destination of full liberation. Patipatti will do this, not pariyatti alone. With pariyatti you start understanding that as a human being, as a social being, you must live a life of morality in your family and in society. If you disturb the peace and harmony of others, how can you experience peace and harmony? So you abstain from any physical or vocal action which hurts and harms other beings. You abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, harsh words, backbiting or useless, meaningless words which waste your time and that of others, and from taking any kind of intoxicant. You also understand that by abstaining from unwholesome actions you are actually obliging yourself, not only others. Such unwholesome actions cannot be performed unless you generate great impurity in the mind; like craving, greed, aversion, ego, and fear. When you do that, you harm yourself. For this reason you understand the importance of sila, which means "morality."
However even with your intellectual understanding, maintaining sila becomes difficult without control over the mind. Therefore you must practice samadhi, that is mastery of the mind. In certain circumstances, such as the environment of a Vipassana course, it is easy not to break your sila, but walking on the path you have to develop this mastery. You start becoming supatipanno. Now you are practicing using Anapana, awareness of your respiration, which is patipatti.
As you proceed on the path properly, as an enlightened person intends you to, you have to control the mind in a proper way, or this control will not take you to the third step of pativedhana. Literally this means "piercing, penetrating." Your samadhi concentrates the mind on the reality pertaining to yourself, your own mind-matter phenomenon, because respiration is related to both mind and matter. However, as you proceed you will notice a great stock of accumulated impurities inside. Although you try to control your physical and vocal actions, yet you get overwhelmed by them from time to time. Therefore you have to reach that depth of truth which will take these impurities out.
Paññatti is apparent truth: it seems to be, it appears to be so. To witness ultimate truth you have to remove this curtain of apparent truth, pierce, penetrate, and cut it asunder. This is Vipassana. In another text it was said:
Paññatti thapetva visesena passati' ti vipassana.
Paññatti thapetva means "having removed the apparent truth." Then Vipassana sees (passati) things by their characteristic (visesena). By piercing, penetrating the apparent, solidified, intensified truth, which has to be dissected, disintegrated, dissolved, you move towards the ultimate truth of what is called "I," "mine" — the material structure, the mental structure, and the mental contents. Then piercing the entire field of mind and matter you can witness the ultimate truth of nibbana, which is eternal, beyond the entire field of mind and matter. This practice of piercing wisdom (pativedhana) which is Vipassana, leads to the final goal of full liberation.
Therefore understand that the purpose of hearing this Sutta during the course is not merely for pariyatti. However helpful this theoretical knowledge might be, all three steps of pariyatti, patipatti, and pativedhana have to be taken. These three cover the entire universe of pañña (wisdom).
In ten-day courses you have heard about the three stages of pañña. Suta-maya pañña is what you have heard. It is someone else's wisdom, not yours. Cinta-maya paññv is your intellectual reasoning, your understanding of someone else's wisdom. Both are good, but only if you take the third step of bhavana-maya pañña, to witness the truth yourself. This repeated observation develops your wisdom and it is this direct experience that takes you to the final goal.
Different words for this threefold distinction are used in another Indian tradition. First is sadda sacca, the truth of the word. Fanatics think that the truth of the scriptures must be accepted even without understanding it. When witnessed, experienced, it may be true, but they have merely heard and developed attachment. It is not truth for them. Next is anumana sacca, intellectual understanding by inference. From smoke you infer fire. You have not seen the fire. Both of these can be illusory, delusional.
Third is the truth you directly witness yourself: paccakkha sacca. The entire teaching of an enlightened person is to inspire you to do this. Belief in the Buddha's words is essential, but unless you yourself witness the truth you can never become enlightened. To listen and understand intellectually is very helpful, but at the same time every teaching has to be witnessed by those who aspire to get liberated. This is what is taught in the Satipatthana Sutta, and its every word should inspire and guide you.
Sati — Awareness
Sati means awareness, the witnessing of every reality pertaining to mind and matter within the framework of the body. Only with proper understanding and wisdom does it become satipatthana. Thana means getting established. Patthana means getting established in a proper way, which means in different ways, or pakarena:
Pakarena janati'ti pañña.
Pañña, wisdom, janati, understands, reality from different angles. Witnessing from only one angle is partial, distorted truth. You have to try to witness the totality, which is done by observing from different angles. Then it is pakarena, and it becomes pañña.
Thus sati becomes patthana when it is joined with pañña. Whenever the Buddha uses the words sati or sato, he also uses sampajano, as in the Sutta:
... atapi sampajano satima ...
Atapi means "ardently." However sati is perfect only with wisdom, sampajano, with the understanding of the nature of reality at the experiential level — that is, its basic characteristic of anicca, arising and passing. Because its nature is to be impermanent, the characteristic of dukkha, misery or suffering, is also inherent. Practicing with pañña, you will understand dukkha with your own experience. Every pleasant experience, every pleasant situation is anicca. Everything within the framework of the body changes into something unpleasant, so it is nothing but dukkha. The law of nature is such. Yet the tendency of the mind is to get attached and cling to a pleasant experience, and when it is gone you feel so miserable. This is not a philosophy but a truth to be experienced by pativedhana: dividing, dissecting, disintegrating, dissolving you reach the stage of bhanga, total dissolution. You witness the solidified, material structure, the body, as actually nothing but subatomic particles, kalapas, arising and passing. Similarly the mind and mental contents manifest as very solidified, intensified emotions — anger, fear, or passion — which overpower you. Vipassana, pativedhana, helps you. With piercing, penetrating pañña you divide, dissect, disintegrate to the stage where this intense emotion is nothing but wavelets. The whole material and mental structures and the mental contents are nothing but wavelets, wavelets, anicca, anicca.
Then the reality about this "I" or "mine" or "myself" becomes clear. They are just conventional words. There is no "I" to possess this mind-matter structure, these material and mental phenomena. Mere mind and matter constantly interact, constantly influence each other, and become a cause for the arising of each other, resulting in currents, crosscurrents, and undercurrents going on in what you call "I." Anatta becomes clear at the experiential level.
Anicca, dukkha, anatta — that is, impermanence, misery, and egolessness — should not just be taken as a sectarian philosophy. They don't apply just to Buddhists. Everyone, man or woman, of any color or religion, is merely a constant interaction of mind and matter. Out of ignorance, enormous attachment develops to this false ego, this "I," which brings nothing but misery.
The law of nature becomes so clear with pativedhana, with piercing, penetrating pañña. Without this, mere awareness will not help because you will always remain with the apparent truth, and you won't understand the real, ultimate truth. A circus girl on a tightrope is very aware of every step she takes. Her life and parts of her body are in danger. Still she is far from liberation, because she is only with apparent truth, not with pañña inside. The sati is not perfect, because it has to be established with the wisdom of anicca, dukkha, anatta at the experiential level. Satipatthana is sati with pañña. Then it plays a very important part in the practice of Dhamma, of witnessing the truth. The Satipatthana discourse is for this purpose.
In the ordinary ten-day discourses, you hear of five friends: saddha, faith; viriya, effort; sati, awareness; samadhi, concentration; and pañña, wisdom. They were called indriyas by the Buddha. Indra means "ruler," "king." It is the name of the king of the celestial world. The sense doors are one type of indriya: the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body. They are called this because they keep mastering and overpowering us. The five friends, or faculties which we master, are another type, and sati is one of these. These indriyas were also called "forces" or "strengths" (balas). For every meditator these five are very important strengths, and sati is among them. It is so important. Sati is also a very important factor of enlightenment. With every one of the seven factors of enlightenment you start with awareness, and you are aware of it till you reach the final goal. However sati is important and fruitful only if used properly, as explained by the Buddha in the teachings of this Satipatthana Sutta.
Pariyatti — Theoretical Knowledge
Tomorrow we will start reading this sutta. The background given today is to help you understand that practice is most important. There is a great danger that just reading or hearing suttas or discourses may become a life aim. Great care should be taken that the purpose of a Vipassana center remains patipatti and pativedhana, the wisdom that is developed and multiplied by experience: little by little, step by step, as you divide, dissect, disintegrate, dissolve and piercingly, penetratingly move from the apparent truth towards the ultimate truth.
One reason, out of many, why Vipassana got lost in India after the time of the Buddha was because theory and suttas alone were given importance. People felt satisfied just reciting a discourse, or reciting, memorizing the entire Tipitaka — the teachings of the Buddha — as if the purpose of their life was fulfilled. Then came discussions, debates, arguments about the meaning of words. Confusion prevailed, and without practice there was no understanding. The words of an enlightened person are words of experience, to guide people to witness the truth. Playing games with them creates a great hindrance. Therefore we use the Buddha's words to understand how he wanted us to practice. They give inspiration and guidance, but the actual practice remains predominant.
Of course we are not denouncing pariyatti. How can one who is practicing what the Buddha taught be against the words of the Buddha? However the practice, not the words, should remain the main aim of our life. We are very thankful to the Sangha who maintained the purity of the words of the Buddha and those among them who maintained the practice of Vipassana; otherwise it would have been lost long ago. Because of this tradition of ours we received the practice in its pristine purity and we are deeply grateful. Similarly we have great gratitude to those who, whether or not they practiced, at least maintained the words of the Buddha from teacher to pupil for twenty-five centuries.
Now so many queries arise about the Buddha's teaching. Is this the Buddha's teaching or not? Proof is possible only because of those in the Sangha of the school which felt responsible for keeping the Buddha's words intact. So they are called Dhammabhandagarikas, treasurers of the Dhamma — that is, of the words of the Buddha. As a result we can compare the words with the results from the practice of the technique.
Therefore let both pariyatti and patipatti be joined together. Pariyatti gives us confidence that our practice is as the Buddha wanted, in the proper way.
Now this Satipatthana Sutta will be studied. If someone wants to study the entire Tipitaka it is wonderful. Every word is nectar, gives personal guidance, and is so clear and inspiring. However this is not necessary. Proper understanding of a few suttas is good enough. The Buddha said that even one gatha or verse of two lines, if understood properly, is good enough for the final goal. A literal meaning of pariyatti, or pariyapti in Sanskrit and Hindi, is "sufficient." For some a larger number of discourses is sufficient. The words of the Buddha that you get in the evening discourses on a course are pariyatti. You understand how to practice properly, and why in this way, and you develop confidence in the steps you are taking. A few suttas, discourses, can be discussed in the evening discourses at centers, for understanding, but that should not be the main aim. Otherwise they will just become pariyatti centers: for teaching the Tipitaka, for discussion, recitation and debate, and also for emotional, devotional and intellectual games.
Excerpted from Satipatthana Sutta Discourses by S.N. Goenka. Copyright © 1998 Vipassana Research Institute. Excerpted by permission of Pariyatti Publishing.
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Table of Contents
Note on the Pronunciation of Pali,
DAY FOUR]TC1TC1[DAY FIVE,
Pali Passages Quoted In the Discourses with English Translation,
Contact Information for Vipassana Centers,