Dealing with Pain in Samādhi Practice [Dhamma Talks by Sayadaw U Candima (Sandima)]

After sitting in samādhi twice, everyone's experience is different; but the rising of dukkha vedanā is the same. However, the sitting posture may be dukkha vedanā of pains, and aches are the same thing. Here there are two kinds of yogi—someone has the strong five strengths of saddhā, sati, viriya, samādhi and pañña, and someone has weak strengths. Even though feelings of dukkha vedanā are the same, someone who has enough strength can send the mind on the meditation object. My instruction is to free you from dukkha. Dukkha is not the teacher who gives you, but already it’s with you (i.e., vedanākkhandha). Therefore, however, the practice may be that yogis can’t be free themselves from dukkha.

Wherever you keep your mind at the nostril or rising and falling of the abdomen when the khandha is changed (afflicted) dukkha vedanā arise is the same. Mindful of the mind at the object is connecting or applied thought (vitakka)—this is one of the jhānic factors, and keeping the mind on dukkha vedanā is kāma-vitakka and byāpāda vitakka (i.e., sensual thought of not wanting dukkha vedanā and aversion to it.). Keeping the mind on pains, aches and numbness is unwholesome thoughts (vitakka). This unwholesome vitakka and jhānic vitakka are competing with each other.

(This point is very good for contemplation. Even though the mind dislikes unpleasantness, still it can’t let go of them. At near death with severe pain and unpleasant mental states of seeing the painful destinations of rebirth signs also can’t let go of them. Some gained jhānas but with severe illness they lost them again. So it is very important to practice how to deal with vedanās—sukha, dukkha and upekkhā vedanās. Vedanās are giving a lot of problems and sufferings to human beings because they get lost in their ignorance and craving.)

Jhāna—absorption means concentrating one-pointedly (on an object). Concentrating one-pointedly on a meditation object and not letting it fall away from it—is called jhāna. Send the mind to a meditation object is jhānic vitakka and to vedanā is kāma vitakka. So there are two vitakkas (connecting) arising. Every yogi has to encounter these two vitakkas. Could you contemplate insight (vipassanā) if these kāma, byāpāda and vihiṃsā vitakkas (sensual, aversion, harming thoughts) occupy the mind?

These three vitakkas are dangerous. In establishing samādhi, you encounter the first danger of disturbance. This is not what the teacher gives you and the dhamma process. To deal with it is to practice Dhamma. If you don’t know the path and the meaning of Dhamma practice, it becomes useless and for pāramī (perfection only). (This is important, as we can see in some Buddhist traditions.)

Doing the farming is not difficult, but cleaning the field is. To know what one is doing is more important than the practice (This point is related to his own practice) Is there anything more important than to overcome dukkha vedanā in the practice? (This one point is not enough for successful practice. His own biography testified this point without a good teacher (kalyāṇamitta), no Dhamma Knowledge, etc. made him or encountered a lot of difficulties in his practice.) Yogis must encounter jhānic and byāpāda vitakkas. These are jhānic vitakka and unwholesome (akusala) vitakka. Kama vitakka comes to pull the jhānic vitakka. Two vitakkas come and pull the mind. It was like chasing a football, and it’ll get by one who has more strength.

Jhānic vitakka sends the mind to the meditation object and kāma vitakka pulls the mind down to the place of pains, aches, and numbness. You must pull the mind toward jhānic vitakka. Sending the mind toward the entrance of the nostril is jhānic vitakka. Reflecting short and long of the breathing is jhānic vicāra (sustaining or sustained thought). It is not possible with the pain down there. Contemplating at there is wrong sustaining. There is no jhānic vitakka if you follow the pains and aches, and become unwholesome vitakka. This is not the cause of a teacher and by one’s own cause. You must check your own effort. With no absorption (jhāna), there is no path (magga), i.e., jhānapaccayo and maggapaccayo (jhāna condition and path condition).

For the path (magga) you use the jhānic condition (jhānapaccayo). You let the mind concentrate one-pointedly on your meditation objects is jhāna. Jhāna sends the mind to the place where the air and nostril point contact (the other objects also the same way). Send it with faith (saddhā—has faith on the practice and oneself). Contemplating with viriya means not letting the mind fall away from the object by giving strength to it. (i.e., connecting and sustaining with strength)

Here, the faith—saddhā is that there is no other way to get rid of the pain of death other than this practice. Even now with this vedanā yogi becomes uncontrollable to his mind and at dying, it will become worse than this situation. If you follow the desire of taṇhā (correct the body), when falling into four woeful existences, it will be more painful than here. Therefore, there I will have no refuge and no one to rely on; I must practice with faith—saddhā. Sending the mind to the object with power is the strength of effort (viriya). Staying alert with mindfulness is the strength of mindfulness (sati). If you practice with these three factors, the strength of concentration (samādhi) develops. Send the mind to the primary object with five strengths, you will get it, if not you don’t get it (i.e., samādhi). Do I have strength in the practice? The mind not staying where it has been sent has no strength and becomes painful. You have to know it. You suffer because of association with unwholesome vitakka (unwholesome dhammas or kilesas are fools. So this is association or consort with the fools). You have to know one’s mistakes. If you do send your mind to the object of meditation as the teacher says, and it is still really painful; that is the teacher's mistake. If you can’t send the mind, that is your mistake. If you free yourself from these two mistakes, it becomes sukha (instead of dukkha). In Dhamma practice, no matter what, the practice will likely encounter dukkha vedanā. Vedanā only stops at death. While still alive, you have to live together with this lump of poison.

Therefore, the most important thing is you have to deal with it. The Buddha warned us to run away from it. The yogis run with strength. Practicing Dhamma is done with strength. Could you be free from it if you don’t have strength?

Ah! It’s painful, and it means you don’t have strength. Regarding worldly things, the thought of letting me die has never appeared to you because you have to feed it (the body). Here we feed the yogis and the floor is carpeted and comfortable. Do you want to be soft? Could you be soft at near death? If you are in an uncontrollable situation even after sitting for only one hour; then it will be worse than that in a situation close to death. Who will have to suffer? You must understand your own problems and examine your own nature. The Buddha described the process of practice in the Vammika Sutta—the Ant-hill Discourse (Sutta No. 23 / Majjhima Nikāya).

The teacher (i.e., the Buddha) asked the student (a monk) to dig up the ant-hill (refer to the body). First, he found out a bar in it (bar refers to ignorance). A house was closed (i.e., doors) by a bar and someone couldn’t enter inside the house (in the same way ignorance prevents people from realizing Nibbāna). He asked him to put the bar away, then continued digging and saw a toad. (toad refers to anger and irritation). After putting it aside and continuing digging, he found a forked path (it refers to doubt; this one is in Burmese translation; in English translation, it’s a fork—a tool). He again put it aside and continued digging, he found out a sieve (representing the five hindrances). He also has to put it away. I'll leave it at that; if you follow the sutta (scriptures), it gets long.

(In the sutta: continued with the digging, he found out the following things:

a tortoise—refers to the five clinging aggregates—five khandhas;
a butcher’s knife and block—represents the five cords of sensual pleasure;
the piece of meat—a symbol for delight and lust;
A Naga serpent—a symbol for arahant.)

Here the teacher was the Buddha or meditation teacher and the student was a bhikkhu or yogi. The ant-hill is yogi’s khandha, an ant-hill referred to the physical body. At day this body is burning with lobha, dosa and moha fires. The bar is avijjā. In the world, there are millions of people, but they don’t know the Four Noble Truths. They don’t know the Dhamma way and can’t practice freeing from saṁsāra. Therefore, avijjā is like a bar that closes the door to Nibbāna. Now, the yogis here know the way of freedom from saṁsāra is like put away avijjā—ignorance (i.e. listening of Dhamma or study of Dhamma). Yogi practicing Dhamma is moved the bar away. During the practice, yogi encounters the toad which is like anger and irritation. This is referred to as dukkha vedanā. Whatever method or system we use and have to encounter it.

(Thae Inn Gu Sayadaw and Sayadaw U Candima—their practices and explanations of the process were quite similar to this Vammika Sutta process. Some teachers of dry insight also gave talks on this sutta explained with their practice. There are some differences. This sutta seems to be the practice process only related to arahantship.)

Wherever you’re practicing, either in the forest or on the sofa the body is always with you. Do the four elements not change or disturb? In the Āsīvisopama sutta, it shows the four vipers and here with the toad (dosa).

The four great elements are disturbed or changed, and the mind becomes domanassa (aversion, irritation, etc.) Without knowing these things, people (only some) are teaching Dhamma. Some teachers asked students to contemplate anicca, dukkha, anatta; but they didn’t know why doing it. The teacher has to explain the beginning, the middle and the end.

(This point is very important. Sayadaw strongly emphasized this point and wasted a lot of time and effort doing many experiments in order to find the right method in his own practice.

Usually, teachers are only giving instructions on systems or methods of the practice. Mogok Sayādawgyi was exceptional. Therefore, Sayādawgyi’s Dhamma talks are Dhamma treasures for all yogis whatever their traditions are).

Do you all know where to start the insight practice (vipassanā)?

Starting to encounter dukkha vedanā is the beginning of Dhamma practice. With the great four elements being disturbed or afflicted, dosa arises. Practice to free from abhijjhādomanassa (desire and displeasure) is the first practice.

With regard to strip off vedanā—there are three kinds of sukha, dukkha and upekkhā vedanās. Sukha vedanā (pleasant feeling) is related to the realms of humans and heavenly beings who are enjoying sensual pleasures (kāmaguṇa). Dukkha vedanā (painful feeling) is the four woeful realms (apāya-bhūmi) and no happiness at all, they are living with dukkha. Upekkhā vedanā (neutral feeling) is the realm of absorption (jhāna-bhūmi). Therefore, these are similar to the three realms of existence.

First we have to practice freeing ourselves from dugati-bhūmi—painful realms (hells, animals, ghosts, titans). Dugati-bhūmi comes from painful feelings.

Dukkha vedanā came from the four great elements. It created or gave anger (dosa) and unwholesome (akusala) dhamma. At near death beings can shun away from the four senses of the door of eye, ear, nose and tongue, but they can’t escape from the body door. With the disturbance or affliction of the four great elements, yogi first has to encounter dukkha vedanā. I’ll show you a very beautiful celestial fairy, and your eyes are looking at her. Then that is poked with a thorn into the other eye.

Does the eye (the good one) stay with the celestial nymph or move to the afflicted eye? Therefore, between pleasant and painful feelings where the mind will incline?

Between these two vedanā, dukkha vedanā will dominate the mind. Therefore, the Buddha taught abandoning dosa—the toad first. The Buddha didn’t talk without any reason. This is the khandha process. In Dhamma practice, you can’t practice by overpassing the process.

[i.e., without samādhi power practice insight. Some systems can be exceptions; for example the Mahāsi system—the whole-process represents sīla, samādhi and pañña. Mindfulness process is from the coarser objects of the body to gradually leading to refined objects of dhammas.

Some years ago, I met a Mahāsi yogi in Burma. With the Mahāsi system he has already discerned aniccas, but I didn’t know what was the reason he went to a well known meditation center which taught a different system. The teacher there gave him the meditation of the four great elements. Later what happened to his practice I didn’t know. The right advice should be to ask him to go back to practicing the Mahāsi system with a good teacher.]

When the poison of the four great snakes arises, there is the feeling of dosa which doesn’t want to experience it. How to deal with it is the beginning of the practice. Then how to do with it? To deal with it with the five factors of absorption (the five jhānaṅga). We send the mind to the tip of the nostril, and it becomes the five factors of absorption. Does it arrive there every time you send it?

Does it now fall down? (i.e, toward the pain) Don’t you pull it up again? It doesn’t stabilize and falls down again. It happens going up and down. For going up, you have to put effort. When it falls down there, are you with it? So who is pulling it down there? This problem arises.

We must solve this problem. This mind is free if it has not been pulled down there. If you want to free this mind, it needs to dig out the root of the pulling element. It becomes free if you can easily put or keep it on the top of the head and abdomen (i.e., U Ba Khin and Mahāsi system). Now can you keep it there?

(I have already mentioned some Burmese Systems before. The ways of practice are different. For most people to develop samādhi it takes time. If your practice under U Candima in his center, it is a different thing.)

The pulling element arises, the enemy is there! In sitting meditation, you find out the enemy. If it is your own mind, you can keep it anywhere you like (So mind is anatta and not atta). Now, can you do it? This khandha is not only with one’s own desire, and there is still another one with it. There is another thing sends it toward badness. You have to level out long and short, slow and fast breathing when you send the mind to the tip of the nose. You take the strength at the chest area. Keeping the body in a suitable way (i.e. without any tension, relaxed and natural, you can sit longer). Some yogis are stretching their upper backs of the body. This is a danger. You have to change it. I’ll not allow lifting the waist and stretch the back. Later in the practice, you can’t do anything with it.

If you make the strength like a runner, you can’t continue it. The mind is in the state of the kāma mind process. Instead of becoming the path mind process, if it becomes a kāma mind process, you can’t realize path and fruit (magga and phala).

It’s anti-path and fruit. Clinging the object with kāma is only the kāma mind process—kāma-citta vīthi. (His interpretation of Dhamma and usages are different from others.) The kāma mind process is covered with lobha, dosa and moha. Therefore, don’t control the kāma body (rūpa) with the mind by erecting it. If you do it in a normal way, the body will calm down. So you don’t need to be concerned and look after it.

The reason you can’t send the mind to the tip of the nostril is (when pain increases) with fear and control of the khandha (body). Then it becomes a lump of dukkha, so you get only dukkha (i.e., resist the pain with force). You can’t get sukha by doing it. Now, you are going and looking at the pain, aches and numbness below (yogi has to neglect about it or not concerning it. Later we’ll have a reflection on pain by other teachers). Do you not suffer by looking at it? This is saṁyojana—fetters—dukkha fetter; fetter of view, this is the clinging fetter of “my body”, “my body”. Does it give you dukkha or sukha? “Dukkha, Venerable Sir” (a yogi’s response). Instead of abandoning the diṭṭhi fetter, you’re sticking with it. You’re with this diṭṭhi for a long time of beginningless saṁsāra. You have tried hard to abandon it. Furthermore, you contemplate the touching point as like seeing with the mind when the air is touching with the tip of the nostril.

In contemplating the rising and falling of the abdomen, the yogi knows the arising and falling. He contemplates the nature of the arising of form with noting as like seeing with ñāṇa. If the falling of form arises, contemplate the nature of falling with noting as seeing with the mind. In this way, contemplating with strength and systematically is possible to achieve it.

(Here we have to know the practical nature of the Mahāsi system. Rising and falling of the abdomen is a primary object, but not as a basic object to develop jhāna samādhi. The yogi has to contemplate whatever arising at the present without missing any object—even painful sensations until it subsides. And then continue with the contemplation, whatever is distinct for him at the present moment.)

Every time the sensation at the top of head arises if the yogi can contemplate it with the five strengths, and it’s also possible. (Here also we have to know the nature of practice in U Ba Khin or Goenkaji or Anagam Saya-Thet’s system. The sensations on head is not their basic object for developing samādhi—i.e., upacāra-samādhi as mentioned by the commentary. Only the yogi attains samādhi, do the scanning of sensations in the whole body starting from the head.

One time I had a strange experience with a sensation on the head. One day I was lying down on the bed and watching the breaths. After some time, there was a strong sensation that arose at the center of the head. It was like an iron drill drilling into the head. It was not painful, but I was surprised, and my hand went there and touching the place This was clinging to the head with diṭṭhi—my head. Mogok Sayadawji in one of his talks mentioned the following. In the daytime there are many people and sounds and voices around you. You’re also busy. At that time, you can’t hear ordinary sounds. But after midnight, a small lizard falls from the ceiling to the floor. It makes a loud “thud” sound, and you hear it very clearly. There is such power in the mind becoming quiet.

We-bu Sayadawji’s meditation instruction is very simple and direct. He only taught one Dhamma, not complicated as most teachings, which are developing jhānas and using abhidhamma teachings for insight. He asked or taught people to observe the sensations arising when the air of in breath and out breath touch the tip of the nostril—in all postures. According to Sayadawji, if your Samādhi develops, you’ll see or discern anicca there. Later the whole body will show its true nature also. U Ba Khin’s teaching was confirmed by We-bu Sayadawji and Anagam Saya-Thet's teaching was confirmed by Ledi Sayadaw.)

So what are the differences among these systems or methods? From the arising of the abdomen to the falling of it, the yogi has to wait for it. And then the mind runs toward dukkha vedanā. You must wait from the time of descent to the time of rising again, the mind does not stay in it, and moves toward dukkha vedanā (because pain is coarser and distinct than the sensation of rising and falling of the abdomen). It’s easier falling on to dukkha vedanā that rising and falling object needs more effort. It does not mean it’s impossible, but it requires more effort to do it. When contemplating the preceding mind with the following mind (i.e., maggaṅgas) the mind moves to vedanā (if vedanā arises). Knowing of pain, aches, numbness of the mind arises. Contemplate anicca (rise and fall) of the knowing mind. Contemplate the impermanence of whatever arising mind. You must be able to contemplate it. It’s possible if you have the strength.

In ānāpāna kammaṭṭhāna—working-ground, subjects of meditation, the touching points are close to each others. Also, the knowing minds (contemplative minds) are near each other so that there is no free time to delay. So it’s easy to overcome pain. Therefore, I choose this kammaṭṭhāna (the main point here is this system is Thae Inn Gu method—the way of strong breathing).

Other kammaṭṭhānas are also not wrong. It’s unnecessary for argument on your kammaṭṭhāna or my kammaṭṭhāna is right. When vedanā arising unwholesome dhammas of taṇhā, mana, diṭṭhi sink the mind in the mud. We use the five strengths to pull it out.

We contemplate the meditation object not only with faith (saddhā), mindfulness (sati), effort (viriya), samādhi and discernment (paññā) of the five strengths but also with the five jhānic factors—vitakka, vicāra, pīti, sukha and ekaggatā (connecting, sustaining, rapture, pleasure and one-pointedness). If you relax the mind, and it’ll move to vedanā.

Could you relax it near death? Develop the mind to be free from vedanā (pain) by adjusting short and long breaths at the tip of the nostril. When practicing you have to exhort yourself with the frightened mind and doing the practice blindly leads to failure. Even though now you aren’t free from vedanā, later you’ll be free from it for sure. U Zin (i.e., himself) gives you the guarantee. I’ll send you or show you to the place where it is free by giving of my time.

[This is not an exaggeration. Later one of his talks on interview with yogis (including a nun, a woman and a man) discussed their experiences with him. They overcame the pains and gained samādhi. I gave the title for it as “With samādhi overcome the hindrances”. Here the yogis could sit for two hours and three hours at a time. They gained samādhi—some had skeletons as nimitta (mental sign); some 32 parts of the body and some had discerned the four great elements (these were the majority). For yogis had bones nimitta with samādhi power by contemplating its nature and overcame wrong view, craving with hatred. Now it has become vipassanā. It was very similar to the Thai forest tradition which developed jhānas and after coming out from samādhi contemplated dhammas—such as, four elements, 32-parts of the body (asubha), skeleton, etc.

U Candima’s systems are more akin to Thai than Burmese. He rejected some Burmese systems or practices as not really vipassanā. Some Thai forest monks also view some Burmese vipassanā practices in the same way.

It seems that there are two ways of development in vipassanā practice.

Some Buddhists even go to extremes to say that commentaries, Abhidhamma and vipassanā without jhāna samādhi are not authentic. Indeed, there is no enlightenment without meditation (jhāna). In every realization (the four stages) there are vipassanā jhānas.

There were many evidences in the suttas many people without any jhāna practices by listening the Buddha’s teachings realized Dhamma—e.g., Santati minister, Suramutta—the drunkard, Suppabuddha—the leper, some citizens, even sensual devatas (not include brahma-gods).

Some well-known Burmese Sayadaws like Ledi Sayadaw, Mogok Sayadaw, Mahāsi Sayadaw, etc. were not ordinary monks and very good pāḷi scholars and practicing monks. It doesn't really matter whether the teachings and practices of others are right or wrong, what matters is your own knowledge and your own practice. ]

I want you all to have the strength to pull the mind out from the kilesa mind. I am training you to have the strength to bear dukkha vedanā and to pull yourself out from it. It’s like kneading a dough. In making bread by mixing the flour with water, knead it until it becomes dough. While kneading, you can’t do it in a comfortable manner. To make a thick and sticky dough, you have to use force. It is better to become a thick and sticky dough. For three or four days is like kneading the flour with water and can’t take comfort in doing it. It’s not yet arriving at the stage of making the cake of vipassanā. All of your minds are very coarse with lobha, dosa and moha. Ultimate reality—paramatā mind and body (form—rūpa) are so refined that you can’t work with this coarse or rough mind. We’re making our minds (contemplative minds) to become refined. Now we’re doing the sitting an hour each for five times. Later we’ll practice for two hours for each sitting.

Yogis who want to practice with my meditation (ānāpānasati) adjust the short and long breathings, and keep your mind toward you. After nine days, you can stay as you wish.

Anyone who gives up the effort only ends up with loss and will not easy to die at dying. If you now push away the teacher’s welcoming hand to save you and at dying will have an ugly face to die. Now, this kind of vedanā will not kill you, it’s just a little bit. You have to practice keeping the mind free, and to keep the momentary happiness aside. We do the in and out breathing like seeing with the mind at the touching point. If we breathe the same as the machine, then don’t incline the mind toward the machine. Only to be aware of the sound coming toward you and adjust your breath as the same to the sound. If you are able to do it, then don’t pay attention to the sound. You only adjust your short and long breathings to become equal. The mind gradually arrives at the jhānic process, and you don’t want to come out from it. From onward, I’ll only explain its nature.

revised on 2022-04-28

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