How to Practice Vipassana {Part Three}

These Vipassana articles aren’t getting too many likes or views, but I’m just gonna keep going anyway. 🙂 This is as much for me as it is for you, after all.

In part one, we covered some concentration exercises and the first three Universal Factors. In part two, we finished up with the last two Factors. Now, we’re on to the antidotes and afflictions.

Affliction is a decent translation for klesa, but the literal translation is, “Illness.” The afflictions are ailments that ravage an otherwise healthy mind; harmful actions are the symptoms. So, antidote is a great translation for the wholesome qualities that counteract the afflictions.

With the Five Universal Factors/Aggregates as the focal object for meditation, we bounce into the world of wholesome and afflicted thoughts, views, feelings, desires, fixations, and actions. The five aggregates are like our laboratory; these mental factors are the mysterious chemicals we’re working with in it.

Now I’m going to do something terrible to you: give you giant list. We could easily call Buddhism Listism and still be on the mark. There are hundreds of lists; there are even lists of lists. That’s because lists are a decent way to memorize things, and they actually reveal the true nature of appearances—that all things are compounded.

To keep things from going off the rails, I’m gonna toss a whole bunch of lists together into one. Included are: The Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Immeasurables, The Seven Factors for Awakening, and the Six Perfections. From the Abhidharma-samuccaya, we’re also tossing in: The specific and beneficial factors, along with the primary and secondary afflictions as well the four afflictions related to Wrong View.

Whew! I set up the list as:

  1. Primary affliction – Antidotes
    • Secondary affliction – Antidotes

The antidotes to the primary afflictions apply to the secondary ones as well. When you see a *** next to a secondary affliction, that means it has no additional antidotes on top of the ones listed with the primary. Cool?

You don’t have to memorize this list, just page through it every now and then. Being mindful of the afflictions and antidotes is intuitive as well as logical. When you feel something, you generally already know whether it’s wholesome or not and then it’s fairly easy to note it from there as,  “Anger,” or, “Equanimity,” etc. This list is mostly just a go-to reference for all but the most tediously analytical (like myself).

When you spot an affliction or antidote, it’s (re)mindfulness and Prajna that are picking it out; dhyana (concentration) that’s planting your attention onto it, and Right Effort that’s dealing with it.

Right Effort is a fourfold process of prevent, overcome, cultivate, and maintain. We’re preventing and overcoming affliction by cultivating and maintaining the antidotes. There’s a formula to Right Effort:

  1. Effort of Prevention: Preventing afflictions from arising
  2. Effort of Overcoming: Overcoming afflictions when they’ve arisen by
    • Observing it without judgment, preference, or aversion and letting it decline and dissolve on its own
    • Reminding oneself of its causes and what the result would be by letting it influence actions of body, speech, or thought
    • Viewing it as impermanent, dependently arisen, and full of dukkha (dissonance)
    • Introducing the antidote (i.e., using sympathetic joy to overcome envy)
    • Using willpower to stomp it out by breaking apart one’s perception of it (see the apple exercise in part one)
  3. Effort of Cultivating the Antidotes
  4. Effort of Maintaining the Antidotes

Right Effort kind of folds in on itself. The effort of Overcoming is synonymous with the Effort of Cultivation, and the Effort of Prevention is the flipside of the Effort of Maintaining. It’s a reverse image, like a mirror. We don’t really have to plant wholesome seeds, the antidotes are already present; they’re just hidden below all the clinging and craving.

So, with all that said here’s The List:

  1. Craving – Non-attachment, Right: View, Effort, Intention, Remindfulness, Concentration
    • Envy – Sympathetic joy
    • Selfishness – Generosity
    • Restlessness and worry – Patience, diligence, equanimity
  2. Aversion – Discipline, Patience, Remorse, loving-kindness, compassion, non-hatred, Right: Effort, View, Remindfulness, Intention, Speech, Action
    • Anger – ***
    • Hatred – ***
    • Malice – Nonviolence
    • Harmfulness – harmlessness
    • Lack of conscience – conscience
    • Carelessness – carefulness
  3. Delusion – Non-delusion, Prajna, Dhyana, discipline, diligence, analysis, Right: View, Effort, Remindfulness, Concentration
    • Unawareness – Alertness, sustained attention, curiosity, joy,
    • Distraction – Alertness, discipline, diligence,
    • Forgetfulness – (See delusion)
  4. Pride – Humility, Prajna, non-attachment, non-delusion, Right: View, Speech, Intention, Remindfulness
    • Lack of humility – ***
    • Arrogance – ***
    • Hypocrisy – Discipline
    • Guile – Harmlessness, generosity, loving-kindness, sympathetic joy.
    • Deceitfulness – Conscience, harmlessness, carefulness, loving-kindness
  5. Wrong Views – Prajna, Dhyana, Remindfulness, Right: View, Effort, Concentration
    • Self View: The view that there is a continuous, independent self apart from the parts that compose it and the environment
    • Self delusion: The views, beliefs, and narratives that arise on top of Self View
    • Self pride: Privileging one’s own happiness, pleasure, and survival over another’s
    • Self adoration: Clinging to the imagined self as the center of experience
  6. Doubt (In the Dharma) – Trust, Prajna, Bodhicitta, Right: View, Effort
    • Sluggishness – Diligence, alertness, joy
    • Lack of trust (In the Dharma) – ***
    • Laziness – Diligence, discipline

That wasn’t so bad, now was it? I’ve seen people with grocery lists longer than that.

Most of these are self-explanatory, though if you’ve never research the Noble Eightfold Path, I recommend checking it out.

I felt that the secondary afflictions under “Pride” were a little repetitive, but left them in there anyway. Feel free to make your own list with the pieces that are most relevant to your day-to-day experience.

This isn’t the only list of afflictions and antidotes, by the way. There are longer versions, shorter versions, versions from different traditions… I settled on one from the Abhidharma-samuccaya because I’m a Yogacara guy, and it’s one of the more condensed versions.

There are some ultra-short lists like the Three Poisons, the Five Hindrances, but I don’t think they’re inclusive enough for Vipassana practice. They were designed with Satipatthana in mind, which is similar but not quite the same (we’ll go into Satipatthana sometime too, by the way).

These lists all exist for the sake of remindfulness, so that we can spot all the things that compose our experiences as they happen. As well as working with afflictions, these methods eventually help us understand the true nature of things: that they’re momentary, dependent, and appearance-only.

So, when you’re sitting Vipassana, you can now note an affliction or antidote when it’s present. Let’s say you notice pride, you can note: “Pride,” and then use Right Effort to handle it. Feel free to experiment with Right Effort, trying out different ways of overcoming it.

There’s a little abstract transcript of a Vipassana session available as well.

One thing, before I take off, that’s important about Right Effort is: don’t overdo. Whenever possible, do nothing. If an affliction isn’t present, there’s no need to apply any effort whatsoever. Just be mindful and openly aware.


2 thoughts on “How to Practice Vipassana {Part Three}

  1. Here’s a comment. I practice Vipassana. I did the 10 day retreat and I loved/hated it. I had a couple of experiences there that I don’t want to share, nor do I want to cling to them in the hopes that I have something similar (or relive, such as the annoying sound of THAT guy’s polyester pants every time he moved on day 6). I sit. And I sit again. It’s tough to comment on, although I appreciate having your interpretation written out. I am reminded of the experience of the retreat, and I will continue to sit.


    1. Thanks for sharing Penny! I haven’t been on a 10-day retreat yet, so I can’t comment on it too much. It seems a little extreme to me though. That’s why I’m a fan of a kinda everyday vipassana that can be done anywhere.


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