From Insight Meditation
by Joseph Goldstein
“One of my favorite stories from the Buddha’s time tells
about a disciple of the Buddha who was very dull. His
brother, another disciple, was an arhat, fully
enlightened, and was also very smart. The dullard had
been inspired by the teachings and had been ordained as
a monk. He had the sweetest heart, but his mind was
really slow. Because he was slow, his brother gave him
as his practice a four-line verse of the Buddha’s
teachings to memorize.
The dullard struggled and struggled to learn one line.
Then, as he was trying to learn the second line, it
pushed out the first. One line was all his mind could
hold. This struggle went on and on; he simply did not
have the intelligence to do it. His arhat brother
finally gave up and said, “This is hopeless. You had
better leave the order of monks.” The poor dullard was
totally dejected. He felt so sad, because his heart was
devoted to the Dharma.
As the dullard was walking back to his village, feeling
very low, the Buddha, knowing what had happened, came
and walked by his side. He stroked the poor dullard’s
head and consoled him by giving him a practice exactly
suitable to his condition. “Here’s a meditation subject
for you. Take this white hankerchief and stand out in
the hot sun and rub it.” That was the whole meditation.
So the dullard took the hankerchief, went out in the
sun, and began to rub it. Slowly the hankerchief started
to become dirty with the sweat from his hand. As that
happened, memories awakened in him of previous lifetimes
of practice, when he had seen impurities coming from his
body. As he continued to watch the soiled handkerchief,
a profound dispassion arose and his mind opened. He
became fully enlightened, intelligence and all the
traditional psychic powers came to him, in addition to
deep understanding of the Dharma. The story then ends by
describing some good-humored psychic tricks the former
dullard played on his surprised brother.
I feel great affection for the dullard.”
Excerpted from Insight Meditation
By Joseph Goldstein
The insights of insight meditation are intuitive, not conceptual. Intuitive in this sense does not mean some kind of vague feeling about something; rather, it means clearly, directly seeing and experiencing how things really are.
For example, you are sitting in meditation, watching the breath. All of a sudden your mind settles into a different space. Even if it is just for a couple of moments, you feel a deeper kind of calm and peace. Instead of struggling to be with the breath, you begin just to rest with the breath in a very calm, effortless, way.
That is an insight through direct experience into the nature of calm and tranquillity. You do not think about them or reflect on them. You know that daffodils are yellow because you have seen them. You know the nature of calm and tranquillity because you have felt them in your heart.
There are many such experiences, and many levels of each one; and each time we know them directly, it is as if we open to a new way of seeing, of being. This is insight.
But often our mind becomes so excited by each new experience that we start thinking. “Look at that. I’m so calm. This is great Or we start reflecting discursively on impermanence or suffering or whatever the particular insight-experience has been.
We need to take a lot of care. If we fail to note such reflections and become caught up in them instead – and Dharma reflections can become extremely compelling and interesting – they themselves become a hindrance to deepening insight. Sometimes people become obsessed with Dharma thoughts, with reflections about genuine insights they have had.
So try to differentiate clearly between true intuitive insight and thinking about it. Knowing the difference can save you trouble and delay. You do not have to worry about later finding words to communicate your insights. Our mind very rarely has a problem coming up with the words. Simply staying present with each new arising appearance allows the whole Dharma journey to unfold.