“Vipassana meditation is not an intellectual journey but an experiential awakening.”― Amit Ray
Vipassana, otherwise known as insight meditation, is a form of meditation that requires you to focus on the sensations you experience. It was practiced and taught by “The Buddha” himself. It may vary in a specific form, but it is central to all traditions of Buddhist meditation.
Gautama Buddha first taught vipassana meditation more than 2500 years ago in India, when a group of five ascetics approached him pleading that he teach them how to be free of their sufferings. With this group, he created a set of techniques to rid the mind of all distractions and reach a state of liberation known as nirvana.
Often a question arises, Is Vipassana Meditation Religious? No. Vipassana is not religious and does not conflict with any religion or belief system. The literal translation of "Vipassana" in Pali (an ancient language spoken when Buddhism was developing) means "seeing things" or "seeing things as they are." Its goal is to cultivate universal human values like compassion and understanding. According to the Buddha, Vipassana does not conflict with any other religion. It is only a means to an end and serves as a stepping stone on one's spiritual path toward enlightenment.
Vipassana and Mindfulness
Vipassana is different from other forms of meditation because it focuses on the impermanence of all things, including yourself. This meditation provides peace and harmony by purifying the mind, nullifying suffering, and releasing deep-seated causes of mental pain. As the practice moves forward, one attains total liberation from the enslavement of all mental defilements. So, How is Vipassana different from mindful meditation? Vipassana is similar to mindfulness in that you focus on the present moment. However, Vipassana meditation goes beyond simply being aware of what’s happening around your surroundings. You observe the sensations throughout your body and mind in great detail.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is the practice of being fully aware of the present moment. You are making a conscious effort to be in the now while practicing mindfulness meditation and your mind may wander or become distracted, but you must bring it back to focus again on the present.
Historical Reference and Lineage
Buddhist meditations have different focuses, but the intention is always to remove conceptual delusions to achieve liberation. Kings at the time including Bimbisara, Suddhodana, and Prasenajita all benefited from their practice of Dhamma which supported the propagation of Buddha’s teachings. However, even with this royal support, it was vipassana's efficacy that has led to its popularity among commoner populations of India and the World.
Theravada and Satipatthana
According to Buswell, the form of meditation that Buddha reportedly preached has largely disappeared from Theravada approximately 10 centuries ago.
Theravadins and devoted followers of Buddha's teachings, including monks and nuns, have focused on cultivating moral behavior- protecting the Buddha’s teachings (dharma)- and acquiring good karma through generous giving (dana paramita).
Southern Esoteric Buddhist practices used to be widespread throughout the Theravadin world before it was replaced by the Vipassana movement. Vipassana became of central importance in the 20th century Vipassana movement especially in traditional Theravada Countries by Mahasi Sayadaw, whose teachings had a significant impact on the dissemination of Vipassana meditation, especially in the West and throughout Asia.
The first modern form of meditation was developed in the Theravada-countries in the 19th and 20th centuries and simplified meditation techniques emphasizing Satipatthana and insight were created.
Satipatthana is an important Buddhist term that means "the establishment of mindfulness" or "presence of mindfulness," or "foundations of mindfulness," aiding the development of a wholesome state of mind.
The ‘Satipatthana Sutta’ and the subsequently created ‘Mahasatipatthana Sutta’, are two of the most celebrated and widely studied practices in Theravada Buddhism. They act as the foundation for contemporary vipassana meditational practice. Insight meditation is the basis of all Buddhist traditions and practices. Some aspects of Vipassana, or insight meditation, can be found in suttas which date back to 20 BCE.
Vipassana Techniques and Ways to Practice it
The Two terms often used interchangeably in Buddhism are "Vipassana" and "mindfulness meditation." Vipassana is more specific. It is the act of observing your thoughts and emotions as they come, without judging or dwelling on them.
Vipassana is different from other types of meditation techniques, like pranayama or visualization, as, in these methods, you focus on a task or image. You actively train your mind and body to do something specific. In Vipassana meditation, you are conscious of your experience as opposed to actively controlling it.
Following are the stages or Techniques to follow Vipassana Meditation at home-
Stage 1: Five Moral Precepts
As a Vipassana practitioner, you should follow these moral principles in your day to day life-
- To refrain from killing any being.
- Abstain from stealing.
- To not indulge in any form of sexual misconduct.
- Avoiding wrong speech.
- To steer clear from all intoxicants.
Stage 2: Anapana Meditation( Focusing on Breath)
This practice is for when your mind is restless or dull. The perfect time to try this meditation would be if you’re having difficulty feeling sensations or not reacting to them. You can start with Anapana and then switch in Vipassana, or if needed, continue observing the breath for the whole hour.
To practice Anapana meditation, keep your attention on the area below your nose and above your upper lip. Be aware of each breath as it enters or leaves. If you’re very sleepy or very tense, try breathing a few times deliberately and deeply. Otherwise, just breathe naturally and evenly.
Stage 3: Vipassana or Insight into Mental Thoughts and Feelings
Following are the steps to practice Vipassana-
- Bring your attention to every part of the body by feeling all sensations that arise. From the head down, move systematically through the body starting with toes and ending at the top of the skull.
- Your goal in this meditation is to remain objective, observe the sensations- whether they're pleasant or unpleasant, and appreciate their impermanent nature.
- Close your eyes, take a minute to center yourself, and get in the right frame of mind before renewing attention on whatever sensation is predominant. This might be sounds or thoughts that pop into your head, a physical sensation like soreness from sitting still too long or sensing the body’s position in space.
- Maintain your attention to the different sensations you feel. If your experience is predominantly one physical sensation, deliberately focus and observe it as detachedly as possible. When you work with two parts of the body that have similar subtle sensations, work synchronously to get a refined level of awareness.
- If you experience subtler sensations throughout the physical structure, you may sometimes sweep the entire body and then again work in parts
- At the end of your hour of Vipassana, take a few moments to let any mental or physical agitation subside.
- You can then shift your attention for a while to the subtle sensations in your body, taking care to fill both body and mind with thoughts of goodwill for all beings.
Progress is gradual, mistakes are bound to be made. Learn from them. When you make an error, smile and start again. Meditation can be challenging. It's not uncommon to experience drowsiness and forgetfulness during meditation. Persevere and you will make progress.
“Vipassana meditation is an ongoing creative purification process. Observation of the moment-to-moment experience cleanses the mental layers, one after another.”― Amit Ray