What is Vipassana Meditation?

“Originally derived from the Theravada school of Buddhism, Vipassana can be practiced by followers of any (or no) religion as a useful mental skill set. Removed from its cultural and doctrinal trappings, Vipassana meditation (usually under the name mindfulness) is finding clinical application in the fields of pain management, stress management, compulsions and as an adjunct to psychotherapy.”  – Shinzen Young

Vipassana, also known as Insight Meditation or Mindfulness Meditation, is a system of techniques and principles going back 2500 years to the time of the Buddha. It consists of two main components:

  1. Samatha, or Calm Abiding. This is done through developing concentration, usually through single-minded focus on the sensations of breathing. Achieving deeper states of relaxation helps the mind to let go of its usual fixations and compulsive grasping after satisfactory experiences and aversion to unsatisfactory ones – and arrive at a state of equanimity, inner poise, and serenity.
  1. Insight. Insight in this case means recognitions (“re-thinkings”) about the world, reality, and one’s self. Typical elements of contemplation during the insight phase of Vipassana include what are called the Three Characteristics of existence. These are not merely intellectual understandings, but direct experience of these characteristics “in action”.

The Three Characteristics:

  1. Impermanence. Everything we can perceive through the bodily senses and the mind is changing by its nature, subject to arising and passing away.
  2. Unsatisfactoriness. We can never find lasting satisfaction in the desirable elements of life, nor avoid the undesirable elements. Basing satisfaction on objects and conditions, lasting happiness is not possible.
  3. Not Self. Those things we identify as “I” or “Me” are also always changing. They include the body and its conditions, mental abilities, and thoughts and emotions. They are only elements which come together in different combinations, and then dissolve, giving way to new combinations. They provide no stable, continuous basis for a “self”.

By directly experiencing these characteristics of existence, and understanding the Four Noble Truths, we gain insight into the ever-changing and unsatisfactory nature of life, and the un-findability of a self. We come to recognize the sources of our suffering, the limits of our control, and become more accepting of reality as-it-is, at the same time developing more skillful means with which to live.

The Four Noble Truths are one of the earliest teachings of the Buddha.

  1. Life includes unsatisfactory and painful experiences. There is no escape from life’s ups and downs.
  2. Suffering results from being averse to unpleasant experiences, grasping after pleasant experiences, and the behaviors that result from these reactions.
  3. Suffering can be relieved by learning to accept the transient nature of both pleasant and unpleasant experiences, curbing our thirst for pleasant ones and increasing our tolerance for unpleasant ones.
  4. 4. The way to do this is through the Eightfold Path that Buddha taught.