What is Insight Meditation?
What is Insight Meditation?
Vipassana (insight meditation) is the ultimate expression of Socrates' dictum, "know thyself." The Buddha discovered that the cause of suffering can actually be erased when we see our true nature. This is a radical insight. It means that our happiness does not depend on manipulating the external world. We only have to see ourselves clearly— a much easier proposition (but in the ultimate sense, knowing oneself with clarity reveals there is no permanent self, as the Buddha taught).
Vipassana meditation is a rational method for purifying the mind of the mental factors that cause distress and pain. This simple technique does not invoke the help of a god, spirit or any other external power, but relies on our own efforts.
Vipassana is an insight that cuts through conventional perception to perceive mind and matter as they actually are: impermanent, unsatisfactory, and impersonal. Insight meditation gradually purifies the mind, eliminating all forms of attachment. As attachment is cut away, desire and delusion are gradually diluted. The Buddha identified these two factors— desire and ignorance— as the roots of suffering. When they are finally removed, the mind will touch something permanent beyond the changing world. That "something" is the deathless, supramundane happiness, called "Nibbana" in Pali.
Insight meditation is concerned with the present moment— with staying in the now to the most extreme degree possible. It consists of observing body (rupa) and mind (nama) with bare attention.
What is Mindfulness?
Vipassana practice cultivates mindfulness. Mindfulness in insight meditation refers to bare awareness of the physical and mental phenomena occurring in the present moment. These phenomena include the movements of your body, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations of touch, pain or pleasant feeling, thoughts, etc.
The present moment refers to the initial instant that a phenomenon (called an "object") such as a sound, sight or movement makes contact with consciousness. Think of a match striking the side of the box, resulting in flame. That's what the contact of the present moment is like. The mind is one thing, the object another. When they strike together, a moment of experience happens: a moment of hearing, seeing, smelling, moving, touching, tasting, feeling or thinking.
Mindfulness is the mental factor aware of this contact from one moment to the next. Furthermore, mindfulness knows the beginning and ending of each instance of contact. That is, it sees each sight or sound arise and then immediately pass away.
With mindfulness you do not judge or react to passing phenomena, but merely note them impartially, without attraction or repulsion. We should emphasize that mindfulness of the body, thoughts, feelings, sense-impressions, and so on does not mean thinking about those things, but merely knowing them with bare attention as soon as they arise (i.e., at the moment of contact), then letting them go. The technique of simply knowing and letting go of sensations without reacting to them eventually purifies the mind of all unwholesome traits.
Is insight meditation a religion?
No. Although it was discovered by the Buddha, insight meditation is not Buddhism. It is the method by which the Buddha and his disciples freed themselves from every form of suffering and attained awakening. This simple technique is a democratic method, open to people of any faith or those who ascribe to none.
Is insight meditation an escape from reality?
No. On the contrary, it is the ultimate confrontation with reality.