Bhavaṅga Meditation [Dhamma Talks by Sayadaw U Candima (Sandima)]


The practice of bhavaṅga meditation is to kill taṇhā by suppressing (vikkhambhana) pain in the body (kāyika-dukkha-vedanā). Here it is not ānāpānasati practice to make the mind feel comfortable at the tip of the nose (i.e., to enter samādhi). Bhavaṅga is known as the element of clarity of mind. This clear mind element exists at the heart-base, a cavity situated within the physical heart (i.e., in the small amount of blood). This is the birthplace of mind and mental factors (cetasika). It is also the place which connects the mind to the kammic wind element (kammaja-vāyo) of the physical body (rūpa-kāya).

The mind wants to move the great elements of the rūpa-kāya or to move the physical body, it has to stimulate from the bhavaṅga to connect them. When the four great elements of the rūpa-kāya are strongly afflicted, the mind element sends the taste (rasa) of the coarse undesirable object from the body contact to the bhavaṅga. And then feeling (vedanā) with mind consciousness arise from the bhavaṅga to experience the taste of the object. The mind with diṭṭhi connects to dukkha vedanā and suffer with pain, unpleasantness, etc., and it continues to increase the mental states of don’t want to experience (dosa) and want to correct it for comfort (lobha). At that time the heart area where the mind relies on becomes tense, but the worldlings don’t know this nature. When the physical body has injuries or affliction, the mind suffers. And then with the deadly affliction it becomes very painful. The practice now is to teach the yogi how to exercise, stripping the mind contact (mano samphassa) from the connection with the mind and the form (body).

With the cessation of mind contact and feeling (vedanā) ceases—mano samphassa nirodha vedanā nirodho; with the cessation of craving and pain ceases. With the cessation of pain (suffering) realize the truth of cessation—nirodha sacca which is nibbāna by suppression (vikkhambhana pahāna). The practice is separated into two parts—such as contemplation with lying down posture and sitting posture. It can be practiced with any postures after understanding with the success of the exercise (i.e., continue with the practice to abandon diṭṭhi-taṇhā).

It teaches you to be able to let go of the "bhavaṅga" and to be able to separate the mind from the body. If you are able to separate them like this, you can contemplate and develop whatever arises one’s meditation object—such as contemplation on mind, 32 parts of the body (as e.g., skeleton, bones etc.) and the four great elements, etc.

If you succeed in this practice, do not be afraid of dying. Because you are able to separate the mind from the body, and this body presses to death, the contact of the mind with the mind contact (mano samphassa) becomes irrelevant; and the suffering ceases and dies in a peaceful way.

In this Dhamma practice, when the four elements afflict the yogi with worldly habits; it stimulates the mind and changes the body accordingly by tensing the heart. At that time the yogi should wait to contemplate to see the non-self nature of the preceding mind with taṇhā and dosa which asking to tense the heart. Do not let the following mind arise to change or adjust the physical body with success. Practice by letting go of the desire mind. The yogi has to put full effort by practicing with patience and endurance to abandon the desire to change the physical body [There are two important factors to overcome it here, namely mindfulness (sati) and forbearance (khanti).]

At that time mind contact (mano-samphassa) can’t incline toward the body and the mind with lobha and dosa (i.e., wanting to change or move and unbearable) are extinguished (by suppression) or bhavaṅga falls off, and the mind becomes peaceful. And no matter how painful the body may be, the mind is painless.

This is dependent arising (paṭiccasamuppāda) machine stops. The mind frees from the taṇhā bondage of wanting to change or correct the physical body.

When practicing this way with lying down posture the bhavaṅga falls off and the mind is in clear state, the yogi himself sees the physical body and the mind are not connected and each by its own (this kind of experience made some people taking the mind as a soul, in meditation or hypnotized state). It is like the yogi himself sitting there and seeing someone sleeping next to him. He himself sees the flesh breathe itself and exhale itself. The yogis continue the practice which was mentioned in the recorded disc.

(This short talk was an introduction to the bhavaṅga meditation. Later he gave two hours each to his yogis in his center for lying down and sitting meditation with this method. I will explain them in gist in the following.)

A yogi falls into bhavaṅga when he gets up has to be careful. The mind and the body are not connected, so he becomes worried about it. What will happen to me? It’s frightening. What happened to me? He becomes worried and concerned about it. (This experience relates to lying down posture).

But don’t worry about it. It was possible, like someone who was possessed by a spirit during his sleep and could not move the body after waking up.

(This kind of experience happened to me many years ago in a Thai forest monastery, which was a ghost haunted place. One day I was not well and lying down in my kuti and fell asleep. It was during the night when I suddenly woke up, unable to get up or move my body. So I recited the mantra Buddho! After a while, I was able to get up.)

If the yogi becomes like this he has to breathe ānāpāna slowly and regularly non-stop and gripping and stretching the fingers of both hands, curving and stretching both elbows, moving the toes of both legs, curving and stretching both knees slowly. After the blood and air circulate the whole body, turn to the left side and get up slowly. During the lying down meditation, not letting others come and wake you up by calling and moving you. This point has to be careful. Yogis continue the practice according to the instruction.

Explanation on the bhavaṅga meditation

Actually this way of practice is not much different from the diamond meditation (mahāpallaṅka kammaṭṭhāna) which has been described before. The differences are only the ways of development of samādhi. The former one develops strong samādhi with ānāpānasati and with this samādhi develops insight with contemplation on the mind (cittānupassanā).

This practice is direct using cittānupassanā to develop samādhi and insight without using other objects for samādhi separately.

With sati the yogi has to watch and observe whatever arising mind state from the bhavaṅga (mano). In this practice there is no primary object (e.g., the breath) to contemplate because there is always a mind that arises and without it, it will die.

Here it’s contemplating the mind and mind state only. If physical sensation and pain arise, sati mind is not inclining toward any bodily part where it arises.

Only contemplate the preceding mind which knows the sensation with the following sati mind. It’s the same as in the ānāpānasati sutta it did not mention the place of the sensation, just only established mindfulness in front (to the fore) of him.

The important point here is that the yogi practices separating the body from the mind in which the kilesa lurks. So when the yogi contemplates the mind objects, he also does not incline sati to the place where (i.e., bhavaṅga) it arise. Here not concern anything with the body. If concern about it when severe pain arises can’t bear it and easily effect the bhavaṅga, taṇhā comes in to correct the physical body. With sati, patience and endurance (here only sati, but also other path factors), combat with taṇhā; so that it does not affect the mind, and finally taṇhā disappears.

The instruction on bhavaṅga meditation is nearly the same as diamond meditation. So the reader should go back to the instructions mentioned there.

The system is simple, but the practice is not easy, especially for two hours or three hours sitting. The yogi needs a lot of patience and endurance to deal with pains and difficulties. In the instruction, when pains arise, do not allow changing or moving the physical body, even not allow tensing or contracting the bhavaṅga. Therefore, Sayadaw asks yogis to practice lying down first because it is easier to maintain the body's posture than sitting for long periods of time. Sayadaw gave two instructions for two hours each for both. It was encouraged and reminded the yogis not to react to pains and relaxed in body and mind, and for a correct posture. After with the lying posture, the yogis know the practice and also become easy for the sitting.

Here I will give some points mentioned in the lying posture instruction, and the sitting posture instruction is not much different from it. In Sayadaw’s teaching he always emphasizes the importance of posture, it could come from his long hours sitting experiences (see his autobiography). It should be a natural posture without any tension of the whole body in a relaxed way and without any control with the mind to the body. So he asks the yogis to check and relax any part of the body part by part, from the tips of the toe to the head. After the whole body is relaxed and relieved, let it be there like a doll. Do not to move, change or concern anything about it and the mind and the body separate temporarily.

He gives the example of a string puppet—the hands control the strings is like the mind and taṇhā, the strings are nerves of the body and the puppet or doll is the physical body. When the hands let go of the strings and the doll separates from the hands, the doll stays by itself. The body is lying down on the floor by itself, and we may think the mind can be taken as self (atta). He asked the yogis if they could stop the mind and not think anything on their own. He said, "It is impossible to stop thinking; mental objects will arise one after another by themselves, without end." This is its nature. This is the resultant kammic khandha arises by past kamma until it’s finished for this life (see the 12 links of the D. A. process—avijjā → saṅkhāra → viññāṇa). In this instruction, he used quite a few times with the D. A. process to explain them. We can see the importance of D. A. teaching in the practice. Mogok Sayādawgyi's teaching on the D. A. is very important for yogis and Buddhists.

The yogis observe with sati and see the inconstant nature of mind and mental state arise one by one and its non-self nature (anatta). He said that this is not insight practice yet. After practicing for a period of time, the body will experience pain. Its nature (i.e., rūpa or ruppati means—oppressed, afflicted, etc. It undergoes and imposes alteration owing to adverse physical conditions) is dukkha.

The yogi has to contemplate the mind which experienced the pain and not on the body where it arises. (Here the yogi has to be careful not to pay any attention to any part of the body).

If the pain becomes stronger, taṇhā comes in and wanting to change the body or correct the body for its comfort. A yogi should not give in and follow his desires; he should contemplate with patience and endurance the nature of anatta. Rising up with khandha is sakkāya. If it becomes unbearable and takes it as my pain, it becomes sakkāya diṭṭhi; it will stimulate the mind and volition (cetanā) or kamma to arise, in terms of changing or moving the body. Then paṭiccasamuppāda continues. Sayadaw urged the yogis not to give in and give up to taṇhā. If you give in to taṇhā, you will die again and again in saṁsāra and never end. (In battling with taṇhā, yogi will never die. We die because of allowing taṇhā killing us.)

Even the bodhisatta before his enlightenment practicing to utmost with patience and endurance and the body became like a skeleton and not died (i.e., with wrong practices by torturing oneself). Noble warriors will never die, and only ignoble warriors will die forever—i.e., worldlings. Once, Loong Por Cha said as follows—

If you feed a tiger in a cage every day, it will become stronger and stronger and at last it will kill you. Here, also, the yogis are feeding the desire of the taṇhā tiger whenever it demands it; thus the taṇhā becomes stronger and stronger, so that it cannot be controlled.

(Now we can see this in today's world. There are a lot of human problems going on from politics, economics, environmental problems—such as all sorts of pollution, climate change with many disasters. Instead of solving these important issues together, some leaders and governments are finding faults, quarrelling and fighting each other. The world becomes an unpleasant place.)

If these two enemies diṭṭhi and taṇhā combine, it becomes destructive. He can’t bear the pain and follow taṇhā and change or move the body which conditions a new khandha. If you do not follow taṇhā, and it gradually disappears to extinction, that is nibbāna (taṇhā nirodho—nibbānam). In one of Mogok Sayadawgyi’s talk on Nandakovāda Sutta (MN 146), he said that it was better to cut off taṇhā directly. Bhavaṅga meditation is cutting off taṇhā directly. After taṇhā ceases, bhavaṅga fall off and the mind is clear and peaceful. The yogi sees the physical body and the mind are not connected, and each one is by itself. This is purification of the mind (citta-visuddhi).

Some yogis have skeleton nimitta, some discern the four elements, and some continue to contemplate the mind. Contemplation with samādhi power becomes insight (vipassanā).

In one of Sayadaw Candima’s talks—Living, Dying and Future, he mentioned the following incident. A female disciple’s brother was near death with cancer in a hospital. This young man was in agony with pain and crying. She requested Sayadaw’s help, and he went to the hospital to see him. He instructed him with teaching and meditation.

Sayadaw did not mention what he taught him. I was quite sure that it was not ānāpānasati because he was in a serious condition with some blood transfusion and oxygen to his body. It was quite possible that Sayadaw taught him bhavaṅga meditation in lying posture, as mentioned above. It was more suitable for the situation. After four days of diligent practice, he overcame the pain and later died peacefully, leaving a body which was soft and pliable.

Before his death, the elder sister went to see him. He showed his upright thumb to her not to worry about him. When a person was drowning, he would grasp anything near him. In the same way, a yogi in near death will apply full effort in the practice, nothing is important and reliable for him any more except Dhamma.

There was a documentary film on death and dying from China. It included some death of old people. Some had difficult and unpleasant dying in hospitals with life supporting machines. Some old people who were Buddhist yogis dying with their faces in peace and smile (most of them could be Pure Land practicers). In there, a beautiful actress died with cancer in a hospital, and before she died saw ghosts on the ceiling. She died with fright and her face was in grimace looked like ghost. Her skin color liked ashen color the whole body was stiff and tense, especially the fingers and toes were stiff and crooked, and her body was emaciated. She left behind a big house and wealth to her husband without children. The man also did not dare to stay in the house.

Living, dying and the future—these three matters are very important for everyone. We are not in this human world just for pleasure, wasting time and doing foolish and stupid things. If our dying are not good, future births are also very bad. Human births are very rare. It is very important for everyone to prepare for his or her dying. It seems to me Sayadaw U Candima’s teaching on bhavaṅga meditation is very good for that. It is most likely that everyone will die in a lying posture. Therefore, we should use the lying posture exercise as mentioned above.


revised on 2022-04-28


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