Vipassana is a Path to Insight
Vipassana is a meditation technique where the goal is to see reality as it actually is. This practice is also known as insight meditation. The word Vipassana originates from the Pali language of ancient India and it can be translated as meaning clear seeing. The technique was first introduced by The Buddha but nowadays practitioners come from every type of religious and cultural background. Some individuals are only interested in practical health benefits of the technique while others are more focused on the spiritual benefits. Vipassana can be a powerful technique in Alcohol Rehab for committed meditators.
Insight into Reality
The goal of Vipassana is to arrive at a number of insights that can be used to liberate the mind. These insights are collectively referred to as the three marks of humankind, and include the knowledge of impermanence, suffering, and non-self. The insight of impermanence is the understanding that all phenomena will not last forever. The insight of suffering is the understanding that suffering occurs when people try to hold onto things that are impermanent. The insight of non-self is the understanding that the idea of a permanent self is an illusion.
All Buddhists will have heard of the three characteristics, but knowledge about them is not enough. In Vipassana the goal is to have an actual direct experience of these characteristics. Such experience will lead to a profound change in how the individual views the world and deals with life. It is believed that unless people have actual insight into the three characteristics of life, the best they can do is pay lip service to the idea. The normal way of thinking prevents humans from seeing the reality of things. However, when the world is viewed without these mental filters, the truth can be observed. This insight can have a profound effect on someone who is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction.
Release from Suffering
From the three characteristics of existence, The Buddha taught the four noble truths, the fourth of which is release from suffering is possible by following the eightfold path:
* Right understanding
* Right intention
* Right speech
* Right action
* Right livelihood
* Right effort
* Right mindfulness
* Right concentration
Vipassana is what provides the direct insight into the characteristics of existence, the four noble truths, as well as the way out of suffering, and as a powerful guide to following the eightfold path.
There are a number of different meditation techniques that are collectively referred to as vipassana or insight meditation. These practices share a goal of simply seeing reality without trying to interpret or to react to it. The mediator just observes without any attachment or aversion. One method for doing this is to mentally note anything that attracts the mind. So if there is a sound there will just be a mental acknowledgment of sound without any attempt to analyze it further.
Ajan Chah described the process of Vipassana as similar to gazing at a still forest pool. He talked about how lots of interesting animals will appear from time to time to drink from the water. The goal is to just observe these animals without being distracted by them into discursive thinking. The mediator just observes what happens without judgment. From this process, insight can occur.
Insight Meditation vs. Concentration Meditation
There is a tendency in the literature to separate Vipassana from another set of meditation techniques collectively referred to as Samadhi or concentration meditation. This division simplifies things but in reality the separation between insight and concentration is not so clear cut. All the different forms of Vipassana may require at least some element of Samadhi. Even those practicing dry insight will build up a level of concentration, though the actual techniques and goals may differ. The disagreement is largely about the amount of concentration that is required before insight can occur.
One important way that Vipassana does differ from purely concentration techniques is that the meditator is not required to focus on just one point. In Samadhi practices the goal will be to concentrate on a certain object and to remain with this object. This object of focus could be a mantra, visualization, or a particular body sensation such as air passing through the nostril. By remaining with this one object it is possible to build up high concentration levels that can lead to altered mental states known as jhanas. It is believed that jhanas can lead to the development of significant mental powers. These high states of concentration also include profound states of bliss.
Goal of Vipassana is Insight
In Vipassana the meditator is not just thinking about one object. There may be an object such as the in and out breath which is used as an anchor, but the goal is to not be attached to any object. A thought or sensation appears and the meditator just acknowledges it. The aim is not to think about anything but only to experience what occurs through sirect percetion. It is also natural in this practice to move from one object to another as they arise.
Advocates for Vipassana argue that while concentration meditation techniques provide clam and tranquility they are at best a temporary solution. Once the meditator gets up from the cushion they will still have suffering to contend with. The goal of Vipassana is to get to the root of the problem so that there is a final release from suffering. When the individual can clearly see the problem they will be better able to deal with it.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness
The satipatthana sutta is known in English as the four foundations of mindfulness. This Buddhist discourse provides the original instructions for how Vipassana should be practiced. Each of the different schools of insight meditation claim to base their technique on the satipatthana sutta. The differences in teaching method occur due to how this text is interpreted.
The satipatthana sutta offers four classes of objects that are important during meditation and these are body sensations, feelings, mental objects, and mind. The meditator can choose one of these objects as their anchor during the meditation or they can be open to them all. As each objects appears during the meditation they will be acknowledged and let go of.
Vipassana Meditation Techniques
There are a number of different schools of Vipassana and each of these offers a slightly different technique that leads to insight. Three popular methods include:
* The Mahasi method was developed by a Burmese monk called Mahasi Sayadaw. The meditator uses the rising and falling of the abdomen as an anchor but acknowledges thoughts, any other body sensations, and metal states as they arise. This technique is sometimes referred to as dry insight because there is no real attempt to build up concentration levels prior to beginning Vipassana.
* The Thai forest tradition combines concentration with insight techniques. The meditator builds up high levels of concentration using the mantra bud-dho. This strong concentration can then be used for gaining insight. This has been described by using the metaphor of charging up a battery which can then be used to power the light of the mind.
* Another respected form of Vipassana is taught by S. N. Goenka. This approach encourages the meditator to build up high levels of concentration by observing body sensations. The aim is to stay detached no matter what objects or sensations appear to the mind. There is a particular focus on experiencing the kalapas which are tiny particles that cannot be noticed under normal circumstances. This technique is taught during 10 day retreats that occur all over the globe.
The Benefits of Vipassana
The respected Burmese monk Chanmyay Sayadaw discusses 7 benefits of Vipassana meditation including:
* Purification of the mind
* Improved ability to cope with stress
* Less worry due to insight of how the world really is
* An improved ability to handle grief
* Insight leads to an improved ability to handle physical suffering
* Complete knowledge of what we are as humans
* An end to all kinds of suffering
Some of the benefits of Vipassana can sound religious to non-Buddhists, but anybody can gain from the practice. There are now a lot of scientific research that confirms that this technique calms the mind and leads to positive mental health.
Research has also included the specific therapeutic uses and psychological benefits of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. The University of Massachusetts School of Medicine’s Center for Mindfulness provides this definition for mindfulness:
“Mindfulness is a way of learning to relate directly to whatever is happening in your life, a way of taking charge of your life, a way of doing something for yourself that no one else can do for you — consciously and systematically working with your own stress, pain, illness, and the challenges and demands of everyday life.”
Mindfulness-Based Interventions, such as:
* Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
* Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
* Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention
have been utilized in many clinics, hospitals, Employee Assistance Programs, and in private provider offices all over the world. And, various universities now have a Center for Mindfulness, e.g., the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine and the University of California-San Diego.
For further reading, visit our other articles on meditation and mindfulness: