Posted on March 20th, 2020

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

By regular practice of Bhavana” or Buddhist meditation, one could go beyond everyday consciousness to a deeper level of consciousness or a deep state of mental calm which leads one to a state of awakening to realities of life, to self-understanding and the ultimate meaning of life. According to the teachings of the Buddha, Bhavana” is the key to understanding your true nature or discovering who you truly are.  It helps one to develop one’s understanding of oneself that comes from a clear view of reality. Buddhist meditation is not a means of escaping reality. It enables one to discover who you really are. In other words, meditation helps one to unmask the causes of one’s stress, discontentment, and suffering and to dispel one’s mental confusion. Deep meditation helps one to develop emotional intelligence, self-regulation, and empathy necessary for successful relationships to face interpersonal challenges and eventually to experience true happiness.

Samatha” and Vipassana” are the two common types of Bhavana or Buddhist meditation practices or methods of mental development that help to raise human consciousness to a higher level, bringing one’s mind to a state of equilibrium. Samatha is the development of tranquility and Vipassana is the development of insight. Samatha aims only at concentration whereby the individual is constantly conscious of one object and this concentration is directed along a single channel of one-pointedness until serene mental tranquility is reached.  It is noteworthy that this form of mental development does not bring about an understanding of reality, nor of its cause and effect. It brings only tranquility. One can begin with Samatha or the development of mental tranquility and after having achieved concentration, one can proceed to vipassana or the development of insight or wisdom.

Vipassana meditation practice purifies the mind to enable it to gain insight. Insight means wisdom which enables one to see that mental states and matter are impermanent or transitory, unsatisfactory or suffering, and non-self or impersonal. Vipassana is the realization of the three signs of being- anicca” (impermanence), dukkha” (suffering), and anatta” (non-self), by direct insight at a deeper level of awareness at an intuitional” plane where it is experienced as a psychological fact


Complete self-awareness is possible only by those who have advanced in the development of their minds through regular meditation. Such a mind can have a clear perception of what you, in fact, is mistakenly considering as ‘yourself’. According to Buddhism, there is no permanent soul” or self”. An individual is subject to constant change, as the elements or skandhas” that constitute the individual or what we identify as me”, or self” is a combination of five constantly changing skandhas. A person may be compared to a river, which retains an identity, though the drops of water that make it up are different from one moment to the next. There is no one, no soul” or self” sitting inside me, as we think there is. Anatta” or no permanent self is at the core of the teachings of the Buddha.

In other words, what we identify as self” is a combination of five skandhas” or aggregates,  namely:  

1. rupa” or the body or the manifest form of the four elements – earth, air, fire & water; 
2. vedana” or sensations or feelings;   
3. sangna” or perceptions of sense objects; 
4. sankaras” or  mental formations;   
5. vinnana” or consciousness or awareness of the other mental aggregates.

These five skandhas sum up the whole of an individual’s mental and physical existence. They are impermanent, constantly changing, transient processes that function continuously on an ongoing basis and we cling on to these processes considering them as self”. In other words, the tendency is us to consider the skandhas as ‘self’ and to cling on to the illusion of a permanent self. Identifying themselves with their transient personal characteristics such as thoughts, feelings, volitions, and consciousness with the notion of permanence, people cling on to these transient skandhas. Such attachment brings about craving, greed and associated fear, hatred, jealousy and prejudice resulting in stress and suffering. In order to find deep abiding peace and serenity, we need to learn to let go of any attachment to or habit of fixating on to a self-identity.

If we really want to get rid of suffering, completely and totally, then clinging to the illusion of a permanent self must be dropped. Letting go of one’s attachments is not an easy task. In order to be free of attachments and thereby free of suffering one must realize the non-existence of this illusion of self”. This calls for wisdom or a higher degree of mental development or a deeper level of consciousness available when you focus your mind in meditation. In other words, such a mind can be developed by those who have advanced in the development of their minds through regular meditation.

Buddhism stands unique in the history of human thought in denying the existence of a separate ‘soul’ or ‘self’. According to the teachings of the Buddha, the idea of a soul or self is an imaginary false belief which has no corresponding reality. It produces harmful thoughts of me” and mine”. The self” is not a rigid, unchanging entity but a living evolving organism. It is an ever-growing changing bundle of attributes or characteristics, forming our character and personality.  All defilements like greed, hatred, and ill-will, etc., have their root in the wrong notion of a soul or self. The hindrance caused by defilements like greed, hatred, etc., is eliminated by the realization of the doctrine of ‘no soul’. The Buddha teaches that, what we call ego, self, soul, personality, etc., are merely conventional terms not referring to any real independent entity. And he teaches that there is only to be found this psycho-physical process of existence changing from moment to moment. Without understanding the ego-lessness of existence, it is not possible to gain a real understanding of the Buddha-word; and it is not possible without it, to realize that goal of emancipation and deliverance of mind proclaimed by the Buddha.

According to Buddhist teachings, what we regard as self or ego or soul are miscomprehensions arising from lack of knowledge of absolute truth about these so-called entities. In reality ‘self’ is but a very rapid continuity of birth and decay of mental states and matter. Insight has as its function, the destruction of all hidden defilements, cravings and wrong views. The insight will enlighten us to the true nature of mental states and matter or in other words that mental states and matter are not lasting, they bring about suffering. Mental fetters bind us tightly to ‘dukkha’ or suffering. These fetters are mind defilements namely, greed, hatred and delusion (loba” dosa” moha”), along with their many offshoots such as anger, malice, jealousy, stinginess, hypocrisy, obstinacy, conceit, arrogance, vanity and heedlessness.


Self-purification is a prerequisite for the removal of these defilements. The work of self-purification is to be undertaken by treading the Noble Eightfold Path, with its three divisions of virtue, concentration and wisdom (‘seela’, ‘samadhi’, ‘panna’). Each of these divisions of the Eightfold Path is intended to remove the defilements at successively subtler levels. It is only when these defilements have been completely uprooted by direct insight into the true nature of phenomena through deep meditation practice, that ‘dukkha’ can be completely removed and Nibbana or the highest happiness, peace freedom and security is attained right in this very life. The Buddha points out that real happiness, peace, freedom, and security must be attained by overcoming these mental defilements. The training in ‘samadhi’ or concentration aims at eliminating the active eruption of the defilements into our thought processes. Panna or wisdom helps to eradicate defilements at the fundamental level. It is only when these defilements have been completely uprooted by wisdom or by direct insight into the true nature of phenomena, that ignorance is completely removed, and one reaches the state of highest happiness, peace, freedom, and security right in this very life. 


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