Meaning of insight meditation
‘Vipassana’ can be translated as ‘insight’, a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. ‘Samatha’ can be translated as ‘concentration’ or ‘tranquility’.
Use of breathe
Using the breath as his primary focus of attention, the meditator applies participatory observation to the entirety of his own perceptual universe. He learns to watch changes occurring in all physical experiences, in feelings and in perceptions. He learns to study his own mental activities and the fluctuations in the character of consciousness itself.
Avoidance of the unpleasant
Meditation is not easy. It takes time and it takes energy. It also takes grit, determination and discipline. It requires a host of personal qualities which we normally regard as unpleasant and which we like to avoid whenever possible. We can sum it all up in the American word ‘gumption’. Meditation takes ‘gumption’.
If only, if only…
Life seems to be a perpetual struggle, some enormous effort against staggering odds. And what is our solution to all this dissatisfaction? We get stuck in the ‘ If only’ syndrome. If only I had more money, then I would be happy.
Change is everything
The essence of our experience is change. Change is incessant. Moment by moment life flows by and it is never the same. Perpetual alteration is the essence of the perceptual universe. A thought springs up in your head and half a second later, it is gone. In comes another one, and that is gone too. A sound strikes your ears and then silence.
How to deal with pleasant and unpleasant during meditation
Between these two reactions lies the neutral box. Here we place the experiences which are neither good nor bad. They are tepid, neutral, uninteresting and boring. We pack experience away in the neutral box so that we can ignore it and thus return our attention to where the action is, namely our endless round of desire and aversion.
No blocking or ignoring
It is a level of functioning where the mind does not try to freeze time, where we do not grasp onto our experience as it flows by, where we do not try to block things out and ignore them. It is a level of experience beyond good and bad, beyond pleasure and pain. It is a lovely way to perceive the world, and it is a learnable skill. It is not easy, but is learnable.
Dealing with craving and aversions
You can’t ever get everything you want. It is impossible. Luckily, there is another option. You can learn to control your mind, to step outside of this endless cycle of desire and aversion. You can learn to not want what you want, to recognize desires but not be controlled by them.
How does the change begin?
You can’t make radical changes in the pattern of your life until you begin to see yourself exactly as you are now. As soon as you do that, changes flow naturally. You don’t have to force or struggle or obey rules dictated to you by some authority. You just change. It is automatic. But arriving at the initial insight is quite a task. You’ve got to see who you are and how you are, without illusion, judgement or resistance of any kind.
“What you are now is the result of what you were. What you will be tomorrow will be the result of what you are now.
We are civil because of society or because of ourselves?
We believe that knowledge makes a cultured person civilized. Civilization, however, polishes the person superficially. Subject our noble and sophisticated gentleman to stresses of war or economic collapse, and see what happens. It is one thing to obey the law because you know the penalties and fear the consequences. It is something else entirely to obey the law because you have cleansed yourself from the greed that would make you steal and the hatred that would make you kill.
Truth is experiential, not because it is moral
It is knowing that something is true because you have seen it work, because you have observed that very thing within yourself. In the same way, morality is not a ritualistic obedience to some exterior, imposed code of behavior.
Vipassana by the Buddha
Vipassana is the oldest of Buddhist meditation practices. The method comes directly from the Sitipatthana Sutta, a discourse attributed to Buddha himself. Vipassana is a direct and gradual cultivation of mindfulness or awareness. It proceeds piece by piece over a period of years. The student’s attention is carefully directed to an intense examination of certain aspects of his own existence.
Development awareness using concentration
Within the Buddhist tradition, concentration is also highly valued. But a new element is added and more highly stressed. That element is awareness. All Buddhist meditation aims at the development of awareness, using concentration as a tool.
Investigating our ownself without any judgement
Vipassana is a form of mental training that will teach you to experience the world in an entirely new way. You will learn for the first time what is truly happening to you, around you and within you. It is a process of self discovery, a participatory investigation in which you observe your own experiences while participating in them, and as they occur. The practice must be approached with this attitude.
Is that the scientific method? No judgement, only observance.
The whole meaning of the word is: ‘looking into something with clarity and precision, seeing each component as distinct and separate, and piercing all the way through so as to perceive the most fundamental reality of that thing.’ This process leads to insight into the basic reality of whatever is being inspected. Put it all together and ‘Vipassana Bhavana’ means the cultivation of the mind, aimed at seeing in a special way that leads to insight and to full understanding.
Breaking down into parts
Take worry. We worry a lot. Worry itself is the problem. Worry is a process. It has steps. Anxiety is not just a state of existence but a procedure. What you’ve got to do is to look at the very beginning of that procedure, those initial stages before the process has built up a head of steam. The very first link of the worry chain is the grasping/rejecting reaction. As soon as some phenomenon pops into the mind, we try mentally to grab onto it or push it away.
Observing every impulse
The more hours you spend in meditation, the greater your ability to calmly observe every impulse and intention, every thought and emotion just as it arises in the mind. Your progress to liberation is measured in cushion-man hours. And you can stop any time you’ve had enough. There is no stick over your head except your own desire to see the true quality of life, to enhance your own existence and that of others.
Case and effect
It is true, of course, that most holy men meditate, but they don’t meditate because they are holy men. That is backward. They are holy men because they meditate. Meditation is how they got there. And they started meditating before they became holy. This is an important point.
You cannot wait to be moral
The fellow who waits to become totally moral before he begins to meditate is waiting for a ‘but’ that will never come. The ancient sages say that he is like a man waiting for the ocean to become calm so that he can go take a bath.
Blissfulness is not the goal of mindfulness
Meditation does produce lovely blissful feelings sometimes. But they are not the purpose, and they don’t always occur. Furthermore, if you do meditation with that purpose in mind, they are less likely to occur than if you just meditate for the actual purpose of meditation, which is increased awareness.
What to expect:
All living things exchange gasses with their environment in some way or other. This is one of the reasons that breathing is chosen as the focus of meditation. the meditator is advised to explore the process of his own breathing as a vehicle for realizing his own inherent connectedness with the rest of life. This does not mean that we shut our eyes to all the differences around us. Differences exist. It means simply that we de-emphasize contrasts and emphasize the universal factors.
To avoid changing your position, determine at the beginning of meditation how long you are going to meditate. If you have never meditated before, sit motionless not longer than twenty minutes. As you repeat your practice, you can increase your sitting time. The length of sitting depends on how much time you have for sitting meditation practice and how long you can sit without excruciating pain.
After sitting in the manner explained earlier and having shared your loving-kindness with everybody, take three deep breaths. After taking three deep breaths, breathe normally, letting your breath flow in and out freely, effortlessly and begin focusing your attention on the rims of your nostrils. Simply notice the feeling of breath going in and out. When one inhalation is complete and before exhaling begins, there is a brief pause. Notice it and notice the beginning of exhaling.
Focus like a carpenter
A carpenter draws a straight line on a board that he wants to cut. Then he cuts the board with his handsaw along the straight line he drew. He does not look at the teeth of his saw as they move in and out of the board. Rather he focuses his entire attention on the line he drew so he can cut the board straight. Similarly keep your mind straight on the point where you feel the breath at the rims of your nostrils.
Make your mind like a gate-keeper
A gate-keeper does not take into account any detail of the people entering a house. All he does is notice people entering the house and leaving the house through the gate. Similarly, when you concentrate you should not take into account any detail of your experiences. Simply notice the feeling of your inhaling and exhaling breath as it goes in and out right at the rims of your nostrils.
This too shall pass
As your mindfulness develops, your resentment of change, your dislike of unpleasant experiences, your greed for pleasant experiences and the notion of self hood will be replaced by the deeper insight into impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and selflessness. This knowledge of reality in your experience helps you to foster a more calm, peaceful and mature attitude towards your life.
Thoughts after thoughts
The mind is tricky. Thought is an inherently complicated procedure. By that we mean we become trapped, wrapped up, and stuck in the thought chain. One thought leads to another which leads to another, and another, and another, and so on. Fifteen minutes later we suddenly wake up and realize we spent that whole time stuck in a daydream or sexual fantasy or a set of worries about our bills or whatever.
Awareness vs Thinking
There is a difference between being aware of a thought and thinking a thought. That difference is very subtle. It is primarily a matter of feeling or texture. A thought you are simply aware of with bare attention feels light in texture; there is a sense of distance between that thought and the awareness viewing it.
Now you’ve got a tamed elephant that can be put to useful work. In this analogy the wild elephant is your wildly active mind, the rope is mindfulness, and the post is our object of meditation– breathing. The tamed elephant who emerges from this process is a well trained, concentrated mind that can then be used for the exceedingly tough job of piercing the layers of illusion that obscure reality. Meditation tames the mind.
Why focus on the breathing?
It should be portable, easily available and cheap. It should also be something that will not embroil us in those states of mind from which we are trying to free ourselves, such as greed, anger and delusion. Breathing satisfies all these criteria and more. Breathing is something common to every human being. We all carry it with us wherever we go. It is always there, constantly available, never ceasing from birth till death, and it costs nothing.
Living in the past of the future
We don’t normally live in the present, of course. We spend most of our time caught up in memories of the past or leaping ahead to the future, full of worries and plans. The breath has none of that ‘other-timeness’. When we truly observe the breath, we are automatically placed in the present. We are pulled out of the morass of mental images and into a bare experience of the here-and-now. In this sense, breath is a living slice of reality.
No control, just awareness
As a meditator, you focus your attention on that single spot of sensation inside the nose. From this vantage point, you watch the entire movement of breath with clear and collected attention. Make no attempt to control the breath. This is not a breathing exercise of the sort done in Yoga. Focus on the natural and spontaneous movement of the breath. Don’t try to regulate it or emphasize it in any way.
Breathing is mundane or complex?
Breathing, which seems so mundane and uninteresting at first glance, is actually an enormously complex and fascinating procedure. It is full of delicate variations, if you look. There is inhalation and exhalation, long breath and short breath, deep breath, shallow breath, smooth breath and ragged breath. These categories combine with one another in subtle and intricate ways. Observe the breath closely. Really study it. You find enormous variations and a constant cycle of repeated patterns.
Confronting the situation now
Your mind is a shrieking, gibbering madhouse on wheels barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed. You are also no crazier than everybody else around you. The only real difference is that you have confronted the situation; they have not.
Looking at the problem straight
Ignorance may be bliss, but it does not lead to liberation. So don’t let this realization unsettle you. It is a milestone actually, a sign of real progress. The very fact that you have looked at the problem straight in the eye means that you are on your way up and out of it.
Avoid the sinking mind
The sinking mind is almost the reverse. As a general term, sinking mind denotes any dimming of awareness. At its best, it is sort of a mental vacuum in which there is no thought, no observation of the breath, no awareness of anything. It is a gap, a formless mental gray area rather like a dreamless sleep. Sinking mind is a void. Avoid it.
Meditation is not problem solving
The purpose of meditation is not to deal with problems, however, and problem-solving ability is a fringe benefit and should be regarded as such. If you place too much emphasis on the problem-solving aspect, you will find your attention turning to those problems during the session, sidetracking concentration. Don’t think about your problems during your practice. Push them aside very gently.
Be gentle - Flow psychology
Trust yourself, trust your own ability to deal with these issues later, using the energy and freshness of mind that you built up during your meditation. Trust yourself this way and it will actually occur. Don’t set goals for yourself that are too high to reach. Be gentle with yourself. You are trying to follow your own breathing continuously and without a break.
Routine for meditation is important
We set aside a certain time, specifically devoted to developing this mental skill called mindfulness. We devote these times exclusively to that activity, and we structure our environment so there will be a minimum of distraction. This is not the easiest skill in the world to learn. We have spent our entire life developing mental habits that are really quite contrary to the ideal of uninterrupted mindfulness.
Forcing it will make the aversion stronger
The very act of sitting still being mindful causes this settling. In fact, any effort on our part to force this settling is counterproductive. That is repression, and it does not work. Try to force things out of the mind and you merely add energy to them You may succeed temporarily, but in the long run you will only have made them stronger.
Meditation is a time to revisit
During normal activity, you get so caught up in the press of events that the basic issues with which you are dealing are seldom thoroughly handled. They become buried in the unconscious, where they seethe and foam and fester. Then you wonder where all that tension came from. All of this material comes forth in one form or another during your meditation. You get a chance to look at it, see it for what it is, and let it go.
Avoid burn out
There’s a burn- out phenomenon we often see in new meditators. They dive right into the practice fifteen hours a day for a couple of weeks, and then the real world catches up with them. They decide that this meditation business just takes too much time. Too many sacrifices are required. They haven’t got time for all of this. Don’t fall into that trap. Don’t burn yourself out the first week. Make haste slowly. Make your effort consistent and steady.
Vipassana meditation is an exercise in mindfulness: egoless awareness. It is a procedure in which the ego will be eradicated by the penetrating gaze of mindfulness.
Examine the unpleasantness to death
In the long run, avoiding unpleasantness is a very unkind thing to do to yourself. Paradoxically, kindness entails confronting unpleasantness when it arises. One popular human strategy for dealing with difficulty is autosuggestion: when something nasty pops up, you convince yourself it is pleasant rather than unpleasant. The Buddha’s tactic is quite the reverse. Rather than hide it or disguise it, the Buddha’s teaching urges you to examine it to death. Buddhism advises you not to implant feelings that you don’t really have or avoid feelings that you do have. If you are miserable you are miserable; this is the reality, that is what is happening, so confront that.
Those who have studied Buddhism superficially are quick to conclude that it is a pessimistic set of teachings, always harping on unpleasant things like suffering, always urging us to confront the uncomfortable realities of pain, death and illness. Buddhist thinkers do not regard themselves as pessimists–quite the opposite, actually. Pain exists in the universe; some measure of it is unavoidable. Learning to deal with it is not pessimism, but a very pragmatic form of optimism.
Some pain in life is always unavoidable
Most human beings spend all their energies devising ways to increase their pleasure and decrease their pain. Buddhism does not advise that you cease this activity altogether. Money and security are fine. Pain should be avoided where possible. Nobody is telling you to give away all your possessions or seek out needless pain, but Buddhism does advise you to invest some of your time and energy in learning to deal with unpleasantness, because some pain is unavoidable.
When the pain becomes demanding, you will find it pulling your attention off the breath. Don’t fight back. Just let your attention slide easily over onto the simple sensation. Go into the pain fully. Don’t block the experience. Explore the feeling. Get beyond your avoiding reaction and go into the pure sensations that lie below that. You will discover that there are two things present. The first is the simple sensation – pain itself. Second is your resistance to that sensation.
When there is pain, move and watch
This is an exercise in awareness, not in sadism. If the pain becomes excruciating, go ahead and move, but move slowly and mindfully. Observe your movements. See how it feels to move. Watch what it does to the pain. Watch the pain diminish.
Some people get itches. Others feel tingling, deep relaxation, a feeling of lightness or a floating sensation. You may feel yourself growing or shrinking or rising up in the air. Beginners often get quite excited over such sensations.
Sleep, eat, rest, then meditate
Take care of your body’s physical needs. Then meditate. Do not give in to sleepiness. Stay awake and mindful, for sleep and meditative concentration are two diametrically opposite experiences.
Thoughts of immediate activities
If you have been to the best movie of the year, the meditation which follows is going to be full of those images. If you are halfway through the scariest horror novel you ever read, your meditation is going to be full of monsters. So switch the order of events. Do your meditation first. Then read or go to the movies.
Deal with daily conflicts first
Try to resolve your immediate daily conflicts before meditation when you can. Your life will run smoother, and you won’t be pondering uselessly in your practice.
Beginners in meditation are often much too serious for their own good. So laugh a little. It is important to learn to loosen up in your session, to relax into your meditation. You need to learn to flow with whatever happens. You can’t do that if you are tensed and striving, taking it all so very, very seriously. New meditators are often overly eager for results. They are full of enormous and inflated expectations.
Sitting through restlessness is a little breakthrough in your meditation career. It will teach you much. You will find that agitation is actually a rather superficial mental state. It is inherently ephemeral. It comes and it goes. It has no real grip on you at all.
Dealing with distraction
Thinking about compassion does not lead to being compassionate
Thoughts of compassion produce only superficial compassion. Therefore, these skillful thoughts will not, in themselves, free you from the trap. They are skillful only if applied as antidotes to the poison of unskillful thoughts.
Watch the sequence
Watch the sequence of events: Breathing. Breathing. Distracting thought arises. Frustration arising over the distracting thought. You condemn yourself for being distracted. You notice the self-condemnation. You return to the breathing. Breathing. Breathing. It’s really a very natural, smooth-flowing cycle, if you do it correctly.
Weak vs deep-seated distractions
Mindfulness is a function that disarms distractions, in the same way that a munitions expert might defuse a bomb. Weak distractions are disarmed by a single glance. Shine the light of awareness on them and they evaporate instantly, never to return. Deep-seated, habitual thought patterns require constant mindfulness repeatedly applied over whatever time period it takes to break their hold. Distractions are really paper tigers.
Thinking logically is easy
For most of us, we have earned high marks in school and in life for our ability to manipulate mental phenomena – concepts – logically. Our careers, much of our success in everyday life, our happy relationships, we view as largely the result of our successful manipulation of concepts. In developing mindfulness, however, we temporarily suspend the conceptualization process and focus on the pure nature of mental phenomena.
Mindfulness is participatory observation. The meditator is both participant and observer at one and the same time. If one watches one’s emotions or physical sensations, one is feeling them at that very same moment. Mindfulness is not an intellectual awareness. It is just here. Mindfulness is objective, but it is not cold or unfeeling. It is the wakeful experience of life, an alert participation in the ongoing process of living.
We can use these activities as functional definitions of the term:
Concentration vs Mindfulness
Concentration is pretty much a forced type of activity. It can be developed by force, by sheer unremitting willpower. And once developed, it retains some of that forced flavor. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a delicate function leading to refined sensibilities. These two are partners in the job of meditation. Mindfulness is the sensitive one. He notices things. Concentration provides the power.
Distraction-free emotional environment
Just as important, however, is the creation of a distraction-free emotional environment. The development of concentration will be blocked by the presence of certain mental states which we call the five hindrances. They are greed for sensual pleasure, hatred, mental lethargy, restlessness, and mental vacillation.
Concentration is easier than Mindfulness
Mindfulness is more difficult to cultivate than concentration because it is a deeper-reaching function. Concentration is merely focusing of the mind, rather like a laser beam. It has the power to burn its way deep into the mind and illuminate what is there. But it does not understand what it sees. Mindfulness can examine the mechanics of selfishness and understand what it sees.
Too much of awareness or concentration
Too much awareness without calm to balance it will result in a wildly over-sensitized state similar to abusing LSD. Too much concentration without a balancing ratio of awareness will result in the ‘Stone Buddha’ syndrome. The meditator gets so tranquilized that he sits there like a rock. Both of these are to be avoided.
Mindfulness every moment
Meditation that is successful only when you are withdrawn in some soundproof ivory tower is still undeveloped. Insight meditation is the practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness. The meditator learns to pay bare attention to the birth, growth, and decay of all the phenomena of the mind. He turns from none of it, and he lets none of it escape.
Meditating on boredom
If you are moving through your daily activities and you find yourself in a state of boredom, then meditate on your boredom. Find out how it feels, how it works, and what it is composed of. If you are angry, meditate on the anger. Explore the mechanics of anger. Don’t run from it. If you find yourself sitting in the grip of a dark depression, meditate on the depression. Investigate depression in a detached and inquiring way. Don’t flee from it blindly. Explore the maze and chart its pathways.
Manifestations of ego
Those things that we called hindrances or defilements are more than just unpleasant mental habits. They are the primary manifestations of the ego process itself. The ego sense itself is essentially a feeling of separation – a perception of distance between that which we call me, and that which we call other.
Watching and knowing yourself
You watch yourself twisting reality with mental comments, with stale images and personal opinions. You know what you are doing, when you are doing it. You become increasingly sensitive to the ways in which you miss the true reality, and you gravitate towards the simple objective perspective which does not add to or subtract from what is. You become a very perceptive individual.
Change is everything
In this state of perception, nothing remains the same for two consecutive moments. Everything is seen to be in constant transformation. All things are born, all things grow old and die. There are no exceptions. You awaken to the unceasing changes of your own life. You look around and see everything in flux, everything, everything, everything.
You vividly experience the impermanence of life, the suffering nature of human existence, and the truth of no self. You experience these things so graphically that you suddenly awake to the utter futility of craving, grasping and resistance. In the clarity and purity of this profound moment, our consciousness is transformed. The entity of self evaporates.