An Introduction to Vipassana Meditation

Acharn Helen Jandamit, Rev. Sadharama

Insight meditation uses the techniques of Samatha (Calmness) meditation as a base to gradually build concentration, or one-pointedness of mind. Then awareness is broadened to include whatever occurs in the present moment, whether it be thoughts, feelings, or sense impressions. Vipassana isn’t really a technique, it’s an attitude. It’s a way of looking at whatever occurs in the present moment, without partiality or prejudice.

In both Samatha (Calmness) meditation and Vipassana meditation, the mind is directed towards an object. In Vipassana the main object when walking is the movement of the feet, and when practicing sitting meditation, it is the rising and falling movements of the abdomen when breathing. The mind is focused on the point where the abdominal movements are clearest. This is usually about two centimeters below the navel.

The aim in Vipassana meditation is to develop concentration so that we can keep the object of our attention in clear awareness long enough to see its essential characteristics, to see as it arises; as it has being, and as it passes away. We need to develop bare awareness, i.e., awareness without judgment or emotional reaction, without partiality or prejudice.

Usually when a sense impression arises, it is accompanied by a reaction. This reaction may by positive, negative, or indifferent. If you see a slice of chocolate cake, this is usually accompanied by a positive reaction. You would like to eat it. If you become aware of a bad smell, such as the odor from an open drain, you want to avoid it, to go away from it. This is a reaction too. If you are in a department store which has constant, piped, background muzak, there may be an indifferent reaction. In Vipassana what we are aiming for is none of these. If it is an attitude which transcends all reactions, it is based on equanimity.

Vipassana means being aware of all sense impression, thoughts, and feelings at the instant they arise, without reaction.

The meditator allows the sense impression to come into awareness and pass away without trying to shut out anything or to hold on to anything.

I must emphasize that Vipassana meditation is not rejection. Letting sense Impressions, thoughts, and feeling come is just as important as letting them go. This is not the same as Samatha meditation where the mind is channeled away from sense impressions into absorptions, which are termed Jhana states.

To maintain this attitude by an effort of will is virtual impossible. We need to train the mind to develop bare awareness. The method begins with making mental acknowledgment of whatever arises, e.g., during meditation you may become aware of sound, of the gentle humming, of an air-conditioner, or the jarring screech of a car braking. In either case, whether the sound is pleasant or unpleasant, you deal with it in the same way. You become aware of your ears and say in your mind “Hearing, hearing, hearing” and then return your attention to the main object: the rising and falling movements of the abdomen or the movements of the feet. If there is a sensation of pain or itchiness or a feeling of contentment or peace, attention is focused on the part of the body which is experiencing the sensation or feeling and the mental acknowledgment “feeling, feeling, feeiing” is made. The sensation usually diminishes of its own accord or goes away completely. Sometimes it may be necessary to make more than three acknowledgments.

If the sensation of pain is unbearable, you may move. However, you need to be aware of the desire to move. Say in your mind “Intending to move” three times. Then, as you move your foot, or whatever part of your body moves, you say in your mind “moving, moving, moving,” or “sitting down, sitting down, sitting down.” As a feeling of relief arises, you make the mental acknowledgment “feeling, feeling, feeling,” and return your attention to the main object again.

Vipassana is the straight path to enlightenment. It can help you realize the true nature of the universe. When practicing Vipassana or Insight Meditation you become aware of the changing nature of existence. You can speed up your perception so that you can see the beginning and ending of each moment of perception and be freed from the suffering that permeates life. However, this level of perception doesn’t usually occur the first time you practice. It takes time. It is necessary to build up concentration and develop the mind.

Vipassana allows us to experience life in a completely new way. It allows us to know “When seeing, just see, and when hearing, just hear.”