:: Introduction to Vipassana :: The heart and soul of the Buddha’s teachings are the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. In these two – the latter consequent of the former – are contained the whole of the Buddhist teaching. The Buddha has gifted the world a huge golden vessel called the atthangika magga (Pali) or astangika marga (Sanskrit), containing the nectar called nibbana (Pali; Sanskrit, nirvana), the state of lasting peace: all are free to taste it. In fact, everyone wants this nectar because all of us ate suffering in this world. The Buddha struggled to discover that existence is suffering (or that life is existential misery), that this suffering has a cause which is ignorance (Pali, avijja, Sanskrit, avidya), that suffering can be eliminated, and that the road to eliminating this suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path. Ignorance goads us to become deluded by the objects of the world (moha)-to either love (lobga) or hate them (Pali,dosa). It’s ignorance, again, that leads to volition (Pali, kamma; Sanskrit, karma). Our actions may be good (kusala) or bad (akusala). These kammas leave impression on the mind (Pali, samkharas; Sanskrit, samskaras), which attain fruition (vipaka) and lead to volition once again. The chain is endless. So we become bound and suffer. Avijja binds us to the world and we keep on coming and going here, suffering endlessly. The Buddha discovered a noble path to freedom from this existential suffering: he gave the Eightfold Path. Of the eight stages that he taught, three are moral teachings (Pali,sila;Sanskrit,prajna). Morality, concentration, and wisdom are the three thresholds- one leading to the other- to the abode of lasting peace. The preliminary virtues like Right Speech (speaking the truth, not hurting etc), Right Action (non-killing, non-stealing, and doing good to society) and Right Livelihood (leading Pious lives) are called moral virtues. Though these virtues have been classified as normal (Pali, lokiya) and supranormal (Pale, lokuttara; Sanskrit, lokottara), the Buddhist spiritual masters say that practicing moral disciplines aren’t everything. They may lead to birth in the higher worlds, all right, but we have to come down again. Therefor, we should rise higher. In order to rise higher, the only method is controlling the mind. This leads to concentration. Even in concentration or samadhi, there are two divisions: worldly absorption (lokiya) which leads to absorption in worldly forms (rupa- jhanas), and otherworldly (lokuttara), which leads to absorption in the formless (arupa-jhanas). Even this samadhi will not suffice, say the Buddhist scholars, because though this may lead to pure lives and the higher worlds, we shall have to come down to the world once again. Secondly, mere concentration will not help much, because the effects of past actions (samkharas), which are in the mind, may become more active. To eliminate them, the attainment of tranquillity (samta) is necessary and vital. Unless wisdom (panna) is attained, ignorance remains and so do the effects of past actions. The only way, therefore, to attain lasting peace, and to be released from suffering, is to attain wisdom. This wisdom, again, is of two types. Worldly wisdom (lokiya) is born of learning (Pali,suttamaya-pana), reflection, etc. But the lokuttara or supramundane wisdom is had only through vipassana bhavana. This leads us to vipassana. :: What is Vipassana? :: Vipassana, a meditation technique of Hinayana, is the Pali word for the Sanskrit term, vipasyana. Pas means “to see”. The prefix vi means that we should look inwards. We should be mindful of every one of our movements and actions. Simply put, it is the art of self-observation. To “look inward”means to develop insight-to become mindful of every wave of the mind. In short, vipassana is the art of observing that we do or think. Sobin S.Namto says in Wayfaring (Buddhist Publication Society, Sri Lanka, 1979,p.6): “The purpose of training in vipassana is to know the mind, in its actual condition, moment-to-moment. Training is undertaken to establish the true power or the mind, its only purpose: the realization of Enlightenment.” Why is this insight needed? Says Sobin S. Namto: “Correct practice of the Noble Eightfold path. … Mindfulness is our only protection from delusion and suffering in the world.” (Wayfaring, p. 20). The Buddha himself says in introducing the vipassana technique: This is the only way, monks, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, and for the attainment of nibbana.” The Buddha gave an important discourse, called the Stipatthana Sutta (Pali; Sanskrit, Smrti-upasthana Sutra, “The Hymn of the Awakening of Consciousness”). In this discourse, included in the Majjhima Nikayua, the Buddha tells his monks that they should go to a solitary place, sit down, and practice the four types of mindfulness. These four are: Kayanupassana, (Pali, Sanskrit, kayanupasyana, ‘meditation on the body’): In this technique comes the famous art of mindfulness of breathing (Pali, anapanasati, Sanskrit, pranapana-smrti). This is the mindfulness of breathing. Counting mindfully the in-and –out breaths, connecting them, etc, are the methods. Mahasi Sayadaw, the great exponent of vipassana from Burma, has added a new method of observing the rising and falling of the abdomen method are the mindfulness of walking, talking, hearing, and other bodily functions, the postures of the body, the repulsiveness of the body, and the none ‘cemetery reflections’ too are included in this group. This technique, when perfected, will lead to the differentiation between the material and non-material (Pali, nama-rupaparicceda-nama). Then comes the knowledge that everything is rising and falling, everything is impermanent, and that there is no permanent self here. When this idea of impermanence, suffering, and non-self comes, the way to the attainment of peace, nibbana, has opened. :: Vedananupassana, (Pali; Sanskrit, vedaana-anupasyana ‘the mindfulness of feeling’) :: In this technique, the feelings like desire and aversion, pleasant and unpleasant are observed minutely. Says Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi in the Noble Eightfold Path (p.84): ‘Feeling acquires a special importance as an object of contemplation because it is feeling that usually triggers the latent defilement’s into activity.’ So by being mindful of the feelings, we can understand that feelings are not something permanent. This idea of impermanence ‘overturns the three unwholesome roots’, greed, delusion, and aversion. This in turn leads to wisdom. :: Cittanupassana, (Pali; Sanskrit, cittanupasyana, ‘the mindfulness if consciousness or mind’) :: Here, the aspirant is asked to concentrate on the various functions of the mind: the awakening of desires, their dissolution; the awakening of anger, its going; the distraction of the mind, its dissolution, and so on. What happens when we observe the functions of the mind? The waves that arise in the mind are restrained. This could be compared to controlling the modifications of the mind that Patanjali’s Yoga teaches. There may be a doubt here: since Buddhism doesn’t advocate the Self or anything permanent beyond the mind, what is it that observes the mind and its activities? Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi answers (The Noble Eightfold path p. 87): ‘As contemplation deepens, the contents of the mind become increasingly rarified. …At times there might appear to be a persisting observer behind the process, but with continued practice even this apparent observer disappears. The mind itself- the seemingly solid, stable mind-dissolves into a stream of cittas, flashing in and out of being moment by moment, coming from nowhere and going nowhere, yet continuing in sequence without pause.’ The natural fallout of perfection in this awareness is the attainment of nibbana, release from suffering. :: Dhammanupassan (Pali; Sanskrit, dharma- anupasyana, ‘the mindfulness of mental objects’) :: In this final stage of vipassana, the aspirant concentrates on the five mental hindrances (sloth, anger, doubt, lust, greed); the five aggregates of clinging (formation of forms, forms themselves, their perception, feeling arising as a consequence, and the mental reaction to them); the six internal bases of the senses (the roots of eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, and the mind); and finally, the one positive element is the contemplation on the seven factors of enlightenment. This leads to true wisdom, consequently leading to the attainment of liberation from existential suffering. This is the scheme of vipassana bhavana. :: The Tradition of Vipassana :: Thus, vipassana is a wonderful technique of observing our body and mind. The purpose of this observation is to know the ‘player’ behind the play. However, as the Buddhist becomes perfect in his contemplation, he understands that there is no ‘player’ behind the play at all! It’s all void (Pali, sunnata; Sanskrit, sunyata). This sunnata is not to be misunderstood as zero or nihilism. It is only an expression to say that everything is transitory or momentary. The goal, then, is to know this truth of sunnata and thereby become free from suffering. Though the Buddha had taught Satipatthana Sutta over 2,500 years ago, except for Burmese Hinayanists, not many kept this tradition alive. It was owing to the efforts of some Burmese Buddhists- especially Mahasi Sayadaw- that vipassana gained universal popularity. This technique was introduced (or re-introduce!) into India in 1969, thanks to Sri S. N. Goenka- the famous exponent of this art. Though vipassana is a method of spiritual practice, its increasing popularity is more for its worldly benefits: release from mental tensions, attaining peace in worldly life, etc.