Vipassana Meditation as taught by S.N.Goenka

Goenkaji's Answers to Children

A. What is the mind?
The mind is what thinks! 
The entire thought process is due to the mind. It is the mind that is constantly involved in the various actions of thinking, reading and pondering over what has been read, etc. 
During its course of thinking, the mind may act beneficially or harmfully. If it adopts the wrong habit pattern, then it will generate feelings of ill will and animosity for others. 
If instead, the mind reforms itself, then although it will still have thoughts they will now be thoughts for the well being of others. 

If someone has shortcomings, the mind will want that person to overcome his shortcomings because now the mind knows that due to his shortcomings, that person will perform wrong actions which will make him more miserable and unhappy. 

So the mind will harbour thoughts of goodwill towards that person. It will want the person to refrain from doing bad deeds and thus save himself from burning in the fires of suffering. 
We observe that it is the nature of the mind to generate thoughts all the time. Therefore, our most important duty is to guide the mind towards a healthy thought process and prevent it from taking the path of unhealthy thinking patterns. 
Our entire effort is aimed towards understanding this nature of the mind and correcting it if it goes on the wrong path. 

B. Who reforms the mind?
It is the mind that reforms itself. A part of the mind is always observing its own functioning. If there are thoughts in the mind, it will analyse the nature of these thoughts. 
Whenever negativity or a feeling of animosity arises in the mind, this same part instantly issues a warning that such negative emotions are undesirable and should not occur in the mind. 
This part may be called intellect or the part of the mind which is always alert regarding the functioning of the mind and is trying to reform it. 

If the mind can develop the habit of observing the truth as it appears, then this fact will become clear- that the moment the mind is defiled, it is punished with suffering; and if it is purified, the suffering is removed. 
It is this observing part of the mind which will understand this process and thus change itself. Nobody wants to remain agitated. 
Everyone wants to lead a happy life without miseries. To attain this state, the observing part of the mind tries to change the nature of the remaining part of the mind. 

C. How can anapana-sati (awareness of breathing) help to reform or purify the mind?
As long as the mind is engaged in doing Anapana, that is in the observation of the flow of respiration, it is without any thoughts, and as a result of this, it is without any negativity.

It is our thoughts which pollute the mind. Mostly while we are thinking, there is craving or aversion, greed or dislike. Pleasant thoughts generate greed and unpleasant thoughts generate dislike.

But when we are observing the incoming and outgoing breath, there is no reason for us to generate either of these emotions and so these are moments of purity in the mind. More and more of these moments of purity will reverse the habit pattern of the mind. 

The mind that was previously generating impurities will now become pure. This transformation which will initially take place at the surface level of the mind will gradually take deep roots as you progress on the path of Vipassana (purification of mind by self awareness and wisdom).

D. How can we keep focused at one place when the mind is full of thoughts?
We meditate precisely for that reason. If the mind was already concentrated, then why would you have come here (Vipassana Meditation Centre)? It is an old habit of the mind to wander.

The moment we realize that the mind has wandered, we bring it back to the breath. The mind is distracted because it has so many thoughts.
The nature of the thoughts varies from time to time, but the important thing is how soon we become conscious of the fact that the mind has wandered. It is not good if the mind remains distracted for a long period of time.

E. What is natural breath?
The flow of respiration taking place of its own nature is called natural. When we breathe hard, it takes some effort to do so and is therefore not natural. The natural breath is one which comes in and goes out on its own without any effort on our part.

F. Why do we only observe the breath?
Because it will eventually pave the way for Vipassana (purification of mind by self awareness and wisdom). Breath is a true fact. It is the truth that is closely associated not only with our body but also with our mind.

Like a scientist, we have to diligently discover the truth about ourselves, our body and mind. Moreover, this knowledge should be based at the experiential level and not on what we are told or study in books, etc. We have started this practice of observing the breath, so that we can learn the truth about ourselves. This will enable us to get rid of our faults on the one hand and conserve and expand our good qualities on the other. All this is possible only if we know our minds, and the mind can be known through the breath.

G. How is the breath related to the mind?
We are observing the breath; and in the process, we begin to know our mind. While learning about the mind we can also reform it. The mind and respiration are closely linked. This will become more evident as you progress on the path of meditation. 


While observing the breath, some angry thoughts may occur in the mind. You will notice that the normal pace of the breath gets disturbed and it becomes fast and heavy. And the moment the mind gets rid of anger, the breath becomes normal. This shows how the disorders of the mind are related to our breathing process.

As you meditate further, you will understand all this better. But you will only understand this phenomenon clearly if you work with the pure breath. If you add anything to the breath, then you will fail to grasp all this. For these reasons, we work with the breath. 
Respiration is related not only to the body but to the mind as well. When we breathe in, the lungs get inflated with air and when we breathe out, the lungs are deflated. This is how the respiration is related to the body. And as it was just explained, if an impurity arises in the mind, the normal pace of the breath gets disturbed. This is how respiration is related to the mind.