Vipassana meditation technique is all about cultivating insight. The actual word Vipassana is the Pali word for“clear seeing” or “insight”. In this guide I will show how to do Vipassana meditation and the benefits of it. But let’s start by looking at the cultural background.
Vipassana Meditation: Introduction
The practice of Vipassana meditation technique began back in the 6th Century during the time when Mahayana Buddhism was expanding through the East from India to South East Asia. This was a time of great development in meditation, a time when many of the techniques used today were first created.
S.N.Goenka tells us, “For five centuries Vipassana helped millions of people in India, the Buddha’s homeland. This era saw the matchless reign of the great Emperor Asoka (273-236 BCE) who united India and initiated a golden age of peace and prosperity. Asoka also sent ambassadors of Dhamma to all the neighboring kingdoms (including what has become Myanmar in modern times), thereby spreading both the practice and the words of the Buddha.
The Vipassana meditation technique taught today in the West is based on teaching from the 1800s, when Theravada Buddhism went through a great rejuvenation. “After about 500 years the practice of Vipassana had disappeared from India,” says Goenka. “Fortunately it was maintained by a continuous chain of meditation teachers in the neighboring country of Myanmar (Burma) until the present day.
Vipassana meditation technique is one of the most important Buddhist mediation techniques. It is used to gain insight into the true nature of reality (along with this other powerful Buddhist insight meditation), a reality which, according to Buddhist belief, is comprised of The Three Marks of Existence: Impermanence, suffering, and realisation of non-self. And as a bonus it is also a very good meditation for concentration.
- Read more abuot the history of vipassana on Dharma.org.
How To Do Vipassana Meditation Technique–Instructions
If you are new to meditation please read my guide to the fundamentals of meditation before starting. And take a look at our Buddhist mediation plan to see how this technique works alongside other meditations.
The Buddha himself said that Vipassana meditation technique is best practiced under a tree in a forest or in a similarly peaceful environment.
You can practice Vipassana meditation technique at home if you prefer, provided that you have a peaceful space to meditate. If you would like help in choosing or creating a meditation space, refer to the article: How To Design A Meditation Room At Home.
Buddha said that Vipassana meditation technique is best practiced while sitting with the legs crossed in lotus position. But if you find this position uncomfortable, feel free to adopt any position in which you are comfortable and in which you will not need to fidget. If you have back pain, for instance, you will find it much better to sit on a chair or to lie on bed, either of which are fine.
- You can learn more about sitting positions in my guide to Zen meditation
It is important to sit with a straight back and with good posture. This helps energy to flow naturally through the body and also helps to create mental stability and focus.
So; here is how to do Vipassana meditation technique.
Once you are sitting down, close your eyes.
Breathe in and focus on your abdomen. Do not attempt to control your breathing, but rather breathe in a relaxed manner. As you breathe, focus on the sensation in your body. Focus on the rise and fall of your abdomen.
Aim to be aware of the entire breathing process.
Reach down with your mind and feel the sensations arising in your abdomen. Hold your focus locked on the breath in the abdomen. Breathe in and breathe out with both body and mind. Body leads and mind follows mindfully.
Come to understand the breathing process as one movement.
- We usually understand our breathing as a process of three steps. We breathe in, pause, and then breathe out. But the process is one and so should the focus be. Focus not on in-breath, pause, out-breath. Be mindful of the entire process as one movement. At the same time, don’t force your mind. The focus should be natural and relaxed and should be no mental strain. Rest the mind on the present moment.
- It can be challenging to maintain focus for extended periods. If your focus wanders, offer your mind support. You can do this by saying to yourself, “My breath is rising… rising. Pausing. And now falling.” Describing the movement of your breath in this way will help you to maintain focus. Alternatively, regain your focus by using these breathing meditations.
- If your mind creates thoughts, simply tell yourself, “I am thinking” and then re-aim your mental focus on your breathing.
- If your mind wanders don’t judge yourself. Don’t say “I’m not focusing enough.” Though we try, it is impossible to maintain focus 100% of the time. Even the most advanced meditator experiences some moments when the mind wanders. Simply guide the mind back to the rising and falling of your abdomen.
- Remember, when you’re learning how to do Vipassana meditation technique, don’t rush and take your time.
- There will be times when a specific noise draws your attention. For instance, if you are sitting and meditating at home when the doorbell rings your mind will immediately jump at the sound. This is one example of an intrusive event. This intrusive events lure the mind. We immediately lose focus and instead of focusing on the breathing we pay attention to the event. In this instance, mindfully observe the event and label it as a sensation. For instance, if you hear a doorbell, mindfully observe the sound and label it “Sound.” This helps your mind to recognise the nature of external stimuli. Having observed and labelled the sensation, return your focus to your breathing.
- At times you will also notice sensations that occur in the body. Perhaps you feel an itch in your legs, or a tingling at the back of your neck. Label these sensations by describing the way the sensation feels. If you feel a warm air moving over your wrist, for instance, mindfully observe that sensation and say “warm movement.” This is just an example.
- Mental sensations such as thoughts and imaginings can also be labelled. For instance, if you see an image in your mind, label it “Mental image.” Describe the precise reality of what the thing is. If you imagine hearing a sound, say “Imagined sound” and so on. This is immensely helpful. Most people are constantly being deceived by their mind. They come to think that the things they see and hear in their mind are real. Just by saying “Mental image” or “Imagined sound” you train your mind to understand the true nature of mentally constructed information.
- There is a specific way to end Vipassana meditation. It is important to not just open your eyes and immediately go about your ordinary day. Instead, open your eyes slowly, telling yourself “opening, opening.” Then, when you begin to choose what to do next, say “Intending, intending”. Then slowly and mindfully begin to go about your day.
- It is best to continue the Vipassana meditation process for the whole day. This doesn’t mean that you have to literally continue meditating for the whole day. Rather, when going about your day, be mindful of what is going on. Do one thing at a time. Should thoughts enter your mind, label them in the manner described above. This helps to cultivate insight and mindfulness in your day to day reality.
Vipassana meditation technique produces insight
The insight you create is awareness into the true nature of reality.
This process of observing and labeling helps the mind to realise what is real and what is a construction of the mind, helps to teach you that your thoughts are not real, and also puts you in touch with the true nature of your own reality. And because of this it is also a great meditation for emotional control.
When you are learning how to do Vipassana meditation technique you may be surprised by what you observe in your own mind
You will find it helpful to extend this insight to other forms of activities. For instance, if you are going for a walk, walk in Zen fashion, being mindfully aware of the process of moving.
Continual practice of Vipassana meditation technique will lead you to deep insight into the true nature of reality. For the deepest insight into true reality, I recommend using Vipassana in conjunction with these very powerful Buddhist insight techniques. And for the best results, use our guide to Meditation For Enlightenment.
Thank you for reading.