Bhikkhu Ñāṇānanda's opinions on Mahāsi Technique

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
Posts: 121
Joined: Mon Dec 10, 2012 11:43 pm

Bhikkhu Ñāṇānanda's opinions on Mahāsi Technique

Postby rohana » Sat Jan 05, 2013 8:05 pm

Does anyone know about Venerable Katukurundē Ñāṇānanda Thera's opinions on the development of Vipassanā and/or Samatha? I've looked through his book "Towards Calm and Insight" a bit but would like to know if he's ever spoken anything directly about other meditation traditions that he disagrees with.

I'm still working my way through the Venerable's Nibbāna Sermons (and his other works). Given that some of this interpretations go against the Abhidhamma, I am wondering in particular whether they are congruent with a Mahāsi style of practice? His teacher, the late Venerable Mātara Ṣrī Ñāṇarāma Mahathera, also wrote a manual on the development of insight. Not having much experience in Vipassanā I don't know whether how much the three Venerables (Mahāsi, Ñāṇarāma, Ñāṇānanda) deviate from each other in their instructions.

Also there's this, though I'm not sure if Ven. Ñāṇānanda leaving was necessarily due to a change in the meditation style taught:
One of Ven. Nanarama's greatest gifts was his ability to incorporate the Burmese Vipassana techniques into Sri Lankan meditation traditions and balance them with the teaching of samatha meditation. It is here that the famous Buddhist nun Ayya Khema was taught by Ven. Ñāṇanārāma in the practice of the jhāna or samatha meditation.

On his passing away in 1992 a senior pupil, Venerable Panaduwa Khemananda became the new abbot and meditation teacher and served the monastery for 15 years. During this time one of the closest pupils of Ven. Nanarama, Ven. Katukurunde Nanananda Thera (famous for his books 'Concept and Reality', 'Magic of the Mind' and his series of 33 sermons on Nibbana) left the monastery due to its shifting away from the meditation training established by Ven. Ñāṇārāma.
Nissarana Vanaya

"Delighting in existence, O monks, are gods and men; they are attached to existence, they revel in existence. When the Dhamma for the cessation of existence is being preached to them, their minds do not leap towards it, do not get pleased with it, do not get settled in it, do not find confidence in it. That is how, monks, some lag behind."
- It. p 43

User avatar
Posts: 14899
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Bhikkhu Ñāṇānanda's opinions on Mahāsi Technique

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jan 05, 2013 8:31 pm

Hi Rohana,

For discussion that sounds somewhat familiar, coming from a Mahasi background, try:

Bhikkhu K. Nyanananda
SEEING THROUGH - A Guide to Insight Meditation -" onclick=";return false;
Nananda wrote:Whenever there is grasping, there is ignorance present. Grasping is something that leads to the perpetuation of ignorance. But as the phrase `anupubba sikkhà, anupubba kiriyà, anupubba patipadà'[2] [gradual discipline (anupubba sikkhà), gradual action (anupubba kiriyà) and gradual practice (anupubba patipadà), MN 107]implies, there is a gradual training, a gradual mode of action, a gradual path in this meditative attention as well. So it is by stages that one arrives at this realization. At the preliminary stage, one avoids the usual mode of attention in the world such as `woman', `woman', `man', `man' in the case of a visual object, thus dispensing with those details which lead to various unskillful states of mind and attends to those visual objects in such a way as not to encourage those unskillful mental states. So one is content with attending to those visual or auditory objects as `form' or `sound'.

However as one proceeds in Insight Meditation, one comes to reflect that in this mode of attention, there is present a certain illusion - a wrong notion one has been cherishing throughout `samsàra'. That is, the concept of two ends and a middle. When one notes a visual object as `a form' and an auditory object as `a sound', there is a kind of bifurcation between the eye and form, the ear and the sound. So thereby one is perpetuating the illusion, the wrong notion, of two ends. Whenever there are the two ends, there is also the middle. In short, this way of mental noting leaves room for a subject-object relationship. There is the meditator on one side, whoever it may be, and there is the object that comes to his mind; and he attends to it as an object, even though he may not go into its details. Now the meditator has to break through this barrier as well. He has to break this bondage. Why?

In the case of `saññà' or perception, there are the six kinds of percepts - rupa saññà, sadda saññà, gandha saññà, rasa saññà, photthabba saññà, dhamma saññà (i.e., the percepts of form, sound, smell, taste, touch and idea). These are the six objects of the senses. The Buddha has compared the aggregate of perception to a mirage. Now if perception is mirage, what is `rupa saññà' or a visual percept? That also must be a mirage. What about `sadda saññà'? What about the auditory percept or what strikes the ear? That too must be a mirage. Though it is not something that one sees with the eye, it has the nature of a mirage.

To take as real what is of a mirage-nature, is a delusion. It is something that leads to a delusion. It is an illusion that leads to a delusion. In order to understand deeply this mirage-nature in sensory perception, there is a need for a more refined way of mental attending. So the meditator, instead of attending to these objects as `form', `form' or `sound', `sound', moves a step further and notes them as `seeing' or `hearing'. Now he attends to these sense-percepts even more briefly, not allowing the mind to go far - as `seeing- seeing ', `hearing- hearing', `feeling-feeling',`thinking-thinking'.

In short, the attempt here, is to escape the net of `saññà' or perception and to limit oneself to the bare awareness. To stop short just at the bare awareness. This is an attempt to escape the net of language, the net of logic and also to be free from the duality of two ends which involves a middle. Everywhere one is confronted with a subject-object relationship. There is one who grasps and something to be grasped. There is a seer and an object seen. But this way of attending leaves room for delusion.

Now, if perception is a mirage, in order to get at this mirage nature, one has to be content with attending simply as `seeing, seeing'. One way or the other it is just a seeing or just a hearing. Thereby he stops short at the bare awareness. He stops short at the bare seeing, bare hearing, bare feeling and bare thinking. He does not grant it an object status. He does not cognize it as an object existing in the world. He does not give it a name. The purpose of this method of mental noting or attending, is the eradication of the conceit `AM', which the meditator has to accomplish so a to attain release. The conceit `AM' is `asmi-màna'.

It is at this deep level that one is able to truly observe: "whatever aising-dhamma cessation-dhamma", not at the "conceptual" or "mirage" levels of "man", "woman", or the somewhat deeper levels of "form", "sound".

I made some comments on this in these threads: ... 80#p173622" onclick=";return false; ... 80#p157002" onclick=";return false;


Posts: 121
Joined: Mon Dec 10, 2012 11:43 pm

Re: Bhikkhu Ñāṇānanda's opinions on Mahāsi Technique

Postby rohana » Wed Jan 09, 2013 3:47 pm

Thanks, Mike. That second thread was particularly helpful.

In his book, Ven. Ñāṇārāma writes:
There are three kinds of concentration qualifying as Purification of Mind: access concentration (upacàra-samàdhi), absorption concentration (appanà-samàdhi), and momentary concentration (khaṇika-samàdhi). The first two are achieved through the vehicle of serenity (samatha), the last through the vehicle of insight (vipassanà). Momentary concentration possesses the same strength of mental unification as access concentration. Since it is equipped with the ten conditions mentioned above, and holds the five hindrances at bay, it aids the attainment of insight knowledge. However, because it does not serve directly as a basis for jhàna as such, it is not called access concentration.
The 7 Stages of Purification and the Insight Knowledges

Since the adequacy/inadequacy of khaṇika samādhi seems to be the main criticism of the Mahāsi technique, I would guess that they were in agreement about the validity the technique.
"Delighting in existence, O monks, are gods and men; they are attached to existence, they revel in existence. When the Dhamma for the cessation of existence is being preached to them, their minds do not leap towards it, do not get pleased with it, do not get settled in it, do not find confidence in it. That is how, monks, some lag behind."
- It. p 43

Return to “General Theravāda Meditation”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 11 guests

Google Saffron, Theravada Search Engine