Way To Practice Vipassana Meditation
Burmese abbot explains the technique of insight meditation
in simple, direct language.
By SAYADAW U PANDITA BHIVAMSA
by THARMANAY KYAW
article appeared earlier on Nibbana.com
and is reprinted here by permission.
1. Which place is best for meditation?
Buddha suggested that either a forest place under a
tree or any other very quiet place is best for meditation.
2. How should the meditator sit?
said the meditator should sit quietly and peacefully
with legs crossed.
3. How should those with back troubles sit?
sitting with crossed legs proves to be too difficult,
other sitting postures may be used. For those with back
trouble a chair is quite acceptable. In any case, sit
with your back erect, at a right angle to the ground,
but not too stiff.
4. Yogi, why should you sit straight?
reason for sitting straight is not difficult to see.
An arched or crooked back will soon bring pain. Furthermore,
the physical effort to remain upright without additional
support energizes the meditation practice.
5. Why is it important to choose a position?
is true that to achieve peace of mind, we must make
sure our body is at peace. So it is important to choose
a position that will be comfortable for a long period
After sitting down, what should you do?
Close your eyes. Now place your attention at the belly,
at the abdomen. Breathe normally, not forcing your breathing,
neither slowing it down nor hastening it, just a natural
What will you become aware of as you breathe in and
You will become aware of certain sensations as you breathe
in and the abdomen rises, as you breathe out and the
8. How should you sharpen your aim?
Sharpen your aim by making sure that the mind is attentive
to the entirety of each process. Be aware from the very
beginning of all sensations involved in the rising.
Maintain a steady attention through the middle and the
end of the rising. Then be aware of the sensations of
the falling movement of the abdomen from the beginning,
through the middle, and to the very end of the falling.
Although we describe the rising and falling as having
a beginning, a middle, and an end, this is only in order
to show that your awareness should be continuous and
thorough. We do not intend you to break these processes
into three segments. You should try to be aware of each
of these movements from beginning to end as one complete
process, as a whole. Do not peer at the sensations with
an over-focused mind, specifically looking to discover
how the abdominal movement begins or ends.
9. Why is it important in this meditation to have both
effort and precise aim?
is very important to have both effort and precise aim
so that the mind meets the sensation directly and powerfully.
What is one way to aid precision and accuracy?
helpful aid to precision and accuracy is to make a soft
mental note of the object of awareness, naming the sensation
by saying the word gently and silently in the mind,
like "rising, rising... falling, falling."
When the mind wanders off and you start to think of
something, what should you do?
this time, watch the mind! Be aware that you are thinking.
How can you clarify your awareness of thinking?
the thought silently with the verbal label "thinking,
thinking," and come back to the rising and falling.
Is it possible to remain perfectly focused on the rising
and falling of the abdomen all the time?
making an effort to do so, no one can remain perfectly
focused on the rising and falling of the abdomen forever.
Other objects inevitably arise and become predominant.
Thus, the sphere of meditation encompasses all of our
experiences: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations
in the body, and mental objects such as visions in the
imagination or emotions. When any of these objects arise
you should focus direct awareness on them, and use a
gentle verbal label "spoken" in the mind.
During the sitting meditation, what is the basic principle
to follow? If another object impinges on the awareness
and draws it away from the rising and falling, what
should you do?
a sitting meditation, if another object impinges strongly
on the awareness so as to draw it away from the rising
and falling of the abdomen, this object must be clearly
noted. For example, if a loud sound arises during your
meditation, consciously direct your attention toward
that sound as soon as it arises. Be aware of the sound
as a direct experience, and also identify it succinctly
with the soft, internal verbal label "hearing,
hearing." When the sound fades and is no longer
predominant, come back to the rising and falling. This
is the basic principle to follow in sitting meditation.
What is the best way to make the verbal label?
is no need for complex language. One simple word is
best. For the eye, ear, and tongue doors we simply say,
"Seeing, seeing... hearing, hearing... tasting,
What are some ways to note sensations in the body?
sensations in the body we may choose a slightly more
descriptive term like warmth, pressure, hardness, or
How may we note mental objects?
objects appear to present a bewildering diversity, but
actually they fall into just a few clear categories
such as thinking, imagining, remembering, planning,
What is the purpose of labeling?
using the labeling technique, your goal is not to gain
verbal skills. Labeling helps us to perceive clearly
the actual qualities of our experience, without getting
immersed in the content. It develops mental power and
19. What kind of awareness do we seek in meditation,
seek a deep, clear, precise awareness of the mind and
body. This direct awareness shows us the truth about
our lives, the actual nature of mental and physical
After one hour of sitting, does our meditation come
to an end?
need not come to an end after an hour of sitting. It
can be carried out continuously through the day.
How should the yogi get up from sitting meditation?
you get up from sitting, you must note carefully --
beginning with the intention to open the eyes. "Intending,
intending... opening, opening." Experience the
mental event of intending, and feel the sensations of
opening the eyes. Continue to note carefully and precisely,
with full observing power, through the whole transition
of postures until the moment you have stood up, and
when you begin to walk.
Besides sitting and walking, what else should the yogi
be aware of throughout the day?
the day you should also be aware of, and mentally note
all other activities, such as stretching, bending your
arm, taking a spoon, putting on clothes, brushing your
teeth, closing the door, opening the door, closing your
eyelids, eating, and so forth. All of these activities
should be noted with careful awareness and a soft mental
Is there any time during the day in when the yogi may
relax his or her mindfulness?
Apart from the hours of sound sleep, you should try
to maintain continuous mindfulness throughout your waking
It seems like a heavy task to maintain continuous mindfulness
throughout the day.
this is not a heavy task; it is just sitting and walking
and simply observing whatever occurs.
What is the usual schedule during a retreat?
a retreat it is usual to alternate periods of sitting
meditation with periods of formal walking meditation
of about the same duration, one after another throughout
How long should one walking period be?
hour is a standard period, but forty-five minutes can
also be used.
How long a pathway do retreatants choose for formal
formal walking, retreatants choose a lane of about twenty
steps in length and walk slowly backand forth along
Is walking meditation helpful in daily life?
A short period -- say ten minutes of formal walking
meditation before sitting -- serves to focus the mind.
this advantage, the awareness developed in walking meditation
is useful to all of us as we move our bodies from place
to place in the course of a normal day.
What mental qualities are developed by walking meditation?
meditation develops balance and accuracy of awareness
as well as durability of concentration.
Can one observe profound aspects of the Dhamma while
can observe very profound aspects of the Dhamma while
walking, and even get enlightened!
If a yogi does not do walking meditation before sitting,
is there any disadvantage?
yogi who does not do walking meditation before sitting
is like a car with a rundown battery. He or she will
have a difficult time starting the engine of mindfulness
During walking meditation, to what process do we give
meditation consists of paying attention to the walking
When walking rapidly, what should we note? Where should
we place our awareness?
you are moving fairly rapidly, make a mental note of
the movement of the legs, "Left, right, left, right"
and use your awareness to follow the actual sensations
throughout the leg area.
When moving more slowly, what should we note?
you are moving more slowly, note the lifting, moving,
and placing of each foot.
Whether walking slowly or rapidly, where should you
try to keep your mind?
each case you must try to keep your mind on just the
sensations of walking.
When you stop at the end of the walking lane, what should
what processes occur when you stop at the end of the
lane, when you stand still, when you turn and begin
Should you watch your feet?
not watch your feet unless this becomes necessary due
to some obstacle on the ground; it is unhelpful to hold
the image of a foot in your mind while you are trying
to be aware of sensations. You want to focus on the
sensations themselves, and these are not visual.
What can people discover when they focus on the sensations
many people it is a fascinating discovery when they
are able to have a pure, bare perception of physical
objects such as lightness, tingling, cold, and warmth.
How is walking usually noted?
we divide walking into three distinct movements: lifting,
moving, and placing the foot.
How can we make our awareness precise?
support a precise awareness, we separate the movements
clearly, making a soft mental label at the beginning
of each movement, and making sure that our awareness
follows it clearly and powerfully until it ends.
minor but important point is to begin noting the placing
movement at the instant that the foot begins to move
Is our knowledge of conventional concepts important
us consider lifting. We know its conventional name,
but in meditation it is important to penetrate behind
that conventional concept and to understand the true
nature of the whole process of lifting, beginning with
the intention to lift and continuing through the actual
process, which involves many sensations.
What happens if our effort to be aware of lifting is
too strong, or alternatively, too weak?
our effort to be aware of lifting the foot is too strong
it will overshoot the sensation. If our effort is too
weak it will fall short of this target.
What happens when effort is balanced?
and accurate mental aim helps balance our effort. When
our effort is balanced and our aim is precise, mindfulness
will firmly establish itself on the object of awareness.
What mental factors must be present for concentration
is only in the presence of three factors -- effort,
accuracy, and mindfulness -- that concentration develops.
What is concentration?
is collectedness of mind, one-pointedness. Its characteristic
is to keep consciousness from becoming diffuse or dispersed.
What will we see as we get closer and closer to the
we get closer and closer to this lifting process, we
will see that it is like a line of ants crawling across
the road. From afar the line may appear to be static,
but from closer up it begins to shimmer and vibrate.
As we get even closer, what will we see?
even closer the line breaks up into individual ants,
and we see that our notion of a line was just an illusion.
We now accurately perceive the line of ants as one ant
after another ant, after another ant.
48. What is insight?
is a mental factor. When we look accurately, for example,
at the lifting process from beginning to end, the mental
factor or quality of consciousness called "insight"
comes nearer to the object of observation. The nearer
insight comes, the clearer the true nature of the lifting
process can be seen.
49. What is the progress of insight?
is an amazing fact about the human mind that when insight
arises and deepens through vipassana, or insight, meditation
practice, particular aspects of the truth about existence
tend to be revealed in a definite order. This order
is known as the progress of insight.
What is the first insight which meditators commonly
first insight which meditators commonly experience is
to begin to comprehend, not intellectually or by reasoning,
but quite intuitively, that a process such as lifting
is composed of distinct mental and material phenomena
occurring together, as a pair. The physical sensations,
which are material, are linked with, but different from,
the awareness, which is mental.
51. What is the second insight in the classical progress
We begin to see a whole succession of mental events
and physical sensations, and to appreciate the conditionality
that relates mind and matter. We see with the greatest
freshness and immediacy that mind causes matter as when
our intention to lift the foot initiates the physical
sensations of movement, and we see that matter causes
mind as when a physical sensation of strong heat generates
a wish to move our walking meditation into a shady spot.
The insight into cause and effect can take a great variety
of forms; but when it arises, our life seems far more
simple to us than ever before. Our life is no more than
a chain of mental and physical causes and effects. This
is the second insight in the classical progress of insight.
52. What is the next level of insight?
we develop concentration we see even more deeply that
these phenomena of the lifting process are impermanent,
impersonal, appearing and disappearing one by one at
fantastic speed. This is the next level of insight,
the next aspect of existence that concentrated awareness
becomes capable of seeing directly. There is no one
behind what is happening; the phenomena arise and pass
away as an empty process, according to the law of cause
and effect. This illusion of movement and solidity is
like a movie. To ordinary perception it seems full ofcharacters
and objects, all the semblances of a world. But if we
slow the movie down we will see that it is actually
composed of separate, static frames of film.
article is reprinted from Nibbana.com
with permission. Copyright
restrictions may apply to it.
U Pandita Bhivamsa is the founder and abbot of Panditarama
Meditation Centre in Yangon, Myanmar. See below for more