of the Hindu tradition comes Yogic meditation, which
is also purely concentrative. The traditional basic
exercises consist of focusing the mind on a single object
a stone, a candle flame, a syllable or whatever, and
not allowing it to wander. Having acquired the basic
skill, the Yogi proceeds to expand his practice by taking
on more complex objects of meditation chants, colorful
religious images, energy channels in the body and so
forth. Still, no matter how complex the object of meditation,
the meditation itself remains purely an exercise in
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. The Buddhist tradition is very wide, however,
and there are several diverse routes to this goal. Zen
meditation uses two separate tacks. The first is the
direct plunge into awareness by sheer force of will.
You sit down and you just sit, meaning that you toss
out of your mind everything except pure awareness of
sitting. This sounds very simple. It is not. A brief
trial will demonstrate just how difficult it really
is. The second Zen approach used in the Rinzai school
is that of tricking the mind out of conscious thought
and into pure awareness. This is done by giving the
student an unsolvable riddle which he must solve anyway,
and by placing him in a horrendous training situation.
Since he cannot flee from the pain of the situation,
he must flee into a pure experience of the moment. There
is nowhere else to go. Zen is tough. It is effective
for many people, but it is really tough.
stratagem, Tantric Buddhism, is nearly the reverse.
Conscious thought, at least the way we usually do it,
is the manifestation of ego, the you that you usually
think that you are. Conscious thought is tightly connected
with self-concept. The self-concept or ego is nothing
more than a set of reactions and mental images which
are artificially pasted to the flowing process of pure
awareness. Tantra seeks to obtain pure awareness by
destroying this ego image. This is accomplished by a
process of visualization. The student is given a particular
religious image to meditate upon, for example, one of
the deities from the Tantric pantheon. He does this
in so thorough a fashion that he becomes that entity.
He takes off his own identity and puts on another. This
takes a while, as you might imagine, but it works. During
the process, he is able to watch the way that the ego
is constructed and put in place. He comes to recognize
the arbitrary nature of all egos, including his own,
and he escapes from bondage to the ego. He is left in
a state where he may have an ego if he so chooses, either
his own or whichever other he might wish, or he can
do without one. Result: pure awareness. Tantra is not
exactly a game of patty cake either.
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.
The meditator is trained to notice more and more of
his own flowing life experience. Vipassana is a gentle
technique. But it also is very , very thorough. It is
an ancient and codified system of sensitivity training,
a set of exercises dedicated to becoming more and more
receptive to your own life experience. It is attentive
listening, total seeing and careful testing. We learn
to smell acutely, to touch fully and really pay attention
to what we feel. We learn to listen to our own thoughts
without being caught up in them.
object of Vipassana practice is to learn to pay attention.
We think we are doing this already, but that is an illusion.
It comes from the fact that we are paying so little
attention to the ongoing surge of our own life experiences
that we might just as well be asleep. We are simply
not paying enough attention to notice that we are not
paying attention. It is another Catch-22.
the process of mindfulness, we slowly become aware of
what we really are down below the ego image. We wake
up to what life really is. It is not just a parade of
ups and downs, lollipops and smacks on the wrist. That
is an illusion. Life has a much deeper texture than
that if we bother to look, and if we look in the right
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.
mind what I have been taught. Forget about theories
and prejudgments and stereotypes. I want to understand
the true nature of life. I want to know what this experience
of being alive really is. I want to apprehend the true
and deepest qualities of life, and I don't want to just
accept somebody else's explanation. I want to see it
for myself." If you pursue your meditation practice
with this attitude, you will succeed. You'll find yourself
observing things objectively, exactly as they are--flowing
and changing from moment to moment. Life then takes
on an unbelievable richness which cannot be described.
It has to be experienced.
Pali term for Insight meditation is Vipassana Bhavana.
Bhavana comes from the root 'Bhu', which means to grow
or to become. There fore Bhavana means to cultivate,
and the word is always used in reference to the mind.
Bhavana means mental cultivation. 'Vipassana' is derived
from two roots. 'Passana' means seeing or perceiving.
'Vi' is a prefix with the complex set of connotations.
The basic meaning is 'in a special way.' But there also
is the connotation of both 'into' and 'through'. 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.
Vipassana mediation we cultivate this special way of
seeing life. We train ourselves to see reality exactly
as it is, and we call this special mode of perception
'mindfulness.' This process of mindfulness is really
quite different from what we usually do. We usually
do not look into what is really there in front of us.
We see life through a screen of thoughts and concepts,
and we mistake those mental objects for the reality.
We get so caught up in this endless thought stream that
reality flows by unnoticed. We spend our time engrossed
in activity, caught up in an eternal pursuit of pleasure
and gratification and an eternal flight from pain and
unpleasantness. We spend all of our energies trying
to make ourselves feel better, trying to bury our fears.
We are endlessly seeking security. Meanwhile, the world
of real experience flows by untouched and untasted.
In Vipassana meditation we train ourselves to ignore
the constant impulses to be more comfortable, and we
dive into the reality instead. The ironic thing is that
real peace comes only when you stop chasing it. Another
you relax your driving desire for comfort, real fulfillment
arises. When you drop your hectic pursuit of gratification,
the real beauty of life comes out. When you seek to
know the reality without illusion, complete with all
its pain and danger, that is when real freedom and security
are yours. This is not some doctrine we are trying to
drill into you. This is an observable reality, a thing
you can and should see for yourself.
is 2500 years old, and any thought system of that vintage
has time to develop layers and layers of doctrine and
ritual. Nevertheless, the fundamental attitude of Buddhism
is intensely empirical and anti-authoritarian. Gotama
the Buddha was a highly unorthodox individual and real
anti-traditionalist. He did not offer his teaching as
a set of dogmas, but rather as a set of propositions
for each individual to investigate for himself. His
invitation to one and all was 'Come and See'. One of
the things he said to his followers was "Place no head
above your own". By this he meant, don't accept somebody
else's word. See for yourself.
want you to apply this attitude to every word you read
in this manual. We are not making statements that you
would accept merely because we are authorities in the
field. Blind faith has nothing to do with this. These
are experiential realities. Learn to adjust your mode
of perception according to instructions given in the
book, and you will see for yourself. That and only that
provides ground for your faith. Insight meditation is
essentially a practice of investigative personal discovery.
said this, we will present here a very short synopsis
of some of the key points of Buddhist philosophy. We
make not attempt to be thorough, since that has been
quite nicely done in many other books. This material
is essential to understanding Vipassana, therefore,
some mention must be made.
the Buddhist point of view, we human beings live in
a very peculiar fashion. We view impermanent things
as permanent, though everything is changing all around
us. The process of change is constant and eternal. As
you read these words, your body is aging. But you pay
no attention to that. The book in you hand is decaying.
The print is fading and the pages are becoming brittle.
The walls around you are aging. The molecules within
those walls are vibrating at an enormous rate, and everything
is shifting, going to pieces and dissolving slowly.
You pay no attention to that, either. Then one day you
look around you. Your body is wrinkled and squeaky and
you hurt. The book is a yellowed, useless lump; the
building is caving in. So you pine for lost youth and
you cry when the possessions are gone. Where does this
pain come from? It comes from your own inattention.
You failed to look closely at life. You failed to observe
the constantly shifting flow of the world as it went
by. You set up a collection of mental constructions,
'me', 'the book', 'the building', and you assume that
they would endure forever. They never do. But you can
tune into the constantly ongoing change. You can learn
to perceive your life as an ever- flowing movement,
a thing of great beauty like a dance or symphony. You
can learn to take joy in the perpetual passing away
of all phenomena. You can learn to live with the flow
of existence rather than running perpetually against
the grain. You can learn this. It is just a matter of
time and training.
human perceptual habits are remarkably stupid in some
ways. We tune out 99% of all the sensory stimuli we
actually receive, and we solidify the remainder into
discrete mental objects. Then we react to those mental
objects in programmed habitual ways. An example: There
you are, sitting alone in the stillness of a peaceful
night. A dog barks in the distance. The perception itself
is indescribably beautiful if you bother to examine
it. Up out of that sea of silence come surging waves
of sonic vibration. You start to hear the lovely complex
patterns, and they are turned into scintillating electronic
stimulations within the nervous system. The process
is beautiful and fulfilling in itself. We humans tend
to ignore it totally. Instead, we solidify that perception
into a mental object. We paste a mental picture on it
and we launch into a series of emotional and conceptual
reactions to it. "There is that dog again. He is always
barking at night. What a nuisance. Every night he is
a real bother. Somebody should do something. Maybe I
should call a cop. No, a dog catcher. So, I'll call
the pound. No, maybe I'll just write a real nasty letter
to the guy who owns that dog. No, too much trouble.
I'll just get an ear plug." They are just perceptual
and mental habits. You learn to respond this way as
a child by copying the perceptual habits of those around
you. These perceptual responses are not inherent in
the structure of the nervous system. The circuits are
there. But this is not the only way that our mental
machinery can be used. That which has been learned can
be unlearned. The first step is to realize what you
are doing, as you are doing it, and stand back and quietly
the Buddhist perspective, we humans have a backward
view of life. We look at what is actually the cause
of suffering and we see it as happiness. The cause of
suffering is that desire- aversion syndrome which we
spoke of earlier. Up pops a perception. It could be
anything--a beautiful girl, a handsome guy, speed boat,
thug with a gun, truck bearing down on you, anything.
Whatever it is, the very next thing we do is to react
to the stimulus with a feeling about it.
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. That sets the worry response
in motion. Luckily, there is a handy little tool called
Vipassana meditation which you can use to short-circuit
the whole mechanism.
meditation teaches us how to scrutinize our own perceptual
process with great precision. We learn to watch the
arising of thought and perception with a feeling of
serene detachment. We learn to view our own reactions
to stimuli with calm and clarity. We begin to see ourselves
reacting without getting caught up in the reactions
themselves. The obsessive nature of thought slowly dies.
We can still get married. We can still step out of the
path of the truck. But we don't need to go through hell
over either one.
escape from the obsessive nature of thought produces
a whole new view of reality. It is a complete paradigm
shift, a total change in the perceptual mechanism. It
brings with it the feeling of peace and rightness, a
new zest for living and a sense of completeness to every
activity. Because of these advantages, Buddhism views
this way of looking at things as a correct view of life
and Buddhist texts call it seeing things as they really
meditation is a set of training procedures which open
us gradually to this new view of reality as it truly
is. Along with this new reality goes a new view of the
most central aspect of reality: 'me'. A close inspection
reveals that we have done the same thing to 'me' that
we have done to all other perceptions. We have taken
a flowing vortex of thought, feeling and sensation and
we have solidified that into a mental construct. Then
we have stuck a label onto it, 'me'. And forever after,
we threat it as if it were a static and enduring entity.
We view it as a thing separate from all other things.
We pinch ourselves off from the rest of that process
of eternal change which is the universe. And than we
grieve over how lonely we feel. We ignore our inherent
connectedness to all other beings and we decide that
'I' have to get more for 'me'; then we marvel at how
greedy and insensitive human beings are. And on it goes.
Every evil deed, every example of heartlessness in the
world stems directly from this false sense of 'me' as
distinct from all else that is out there.
the illusion of that one concept and your whole universe
changes. Don't expect to do this overnight, though.
You spent your whole life building up that concept,
reinforcing it with every thought, word, and deed over
all those years. It is not going to evaporate instantly.
But it will pass if you give it enough time and enough
attention. Vipassana meditation is a process by which
it is dissolved. Little by little, you chip away at
it just by watching it.
'I' concept is a process. It is a thing we are doing.
In Vipassana we learn to see that we are doing it, when
we are doing it and how we are doing it. Then it moves
and fades away, like a cloud passing through the clear
sky. We are left in a state where we can do it or not
do it, whichever seems appropriate to the situation.
The compulsiveness is gone. We have a choice.
are all major insights, of course. Each one is a deep-
reaching understanding of one of the fundamental issues
of human existence. They do not occur quickly, nor without
considerable effort. But the payoff is big. They lead
to a total transformation of your life. Every second
of your existence thereafter is changed. The meditator
who pushes all the way down this track achieves perfect
mental health, a pure love for all that lives and complete
cessation of suffering. That is not small goal. But
you don't have to go all the way to reap benefits. They
start right away and they pile up over the years. It
is a cumulative function. The more you sit, the more
you learn about the real nature of your won existence.
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.
meditation is inherently experiential. It is not theoretical.
In the practice of mediation you become sensitive to
the actual experience of living, to how things feel.
You do not sit around developing subtle and aesthetic
thoughts about living. You live. Vipassana meditation
more than anything else is learning to live.