I posted a video on my YouTube providing a brief explanation of Vipassana. I just wanted to provide a transcript for the video in case you’d prefer to read, rather than listen. Also, since I made reference to certain terms that may be unfamiliar to you, this transcript may serve as a companion to the video.
Vipassana is the form of meditation that Siddhartha Gautama (commonly known as The Buddha) practiced thousands of years ago. The Buddha is actually a term that means enlightened one, so anybody has the potential to be The Buddha. Anyway, that’s a whole other discussion. For now, I just want to focus on some of the basic concepts of Vipassana. So, without further ado, here’s a brief summary of what I learned from the discourses that we watched every night from Goenka, the preeminent teacher of Vipassana meditation, who I found out just passed away on September 29th at the age of 89.
Gautama saw suffering everywhere and sought to find the cause of suffering. He discovered that whenever we have a craving, whether it’s to cling to a pleasant sensation or to wish an unpleasant one would go away, we suffer when that craving is not fulfilled. In other words, whenever there’s attachment, there is bound to be misery, and the greater the attachment, the greater the misery. To get to the root of this suffering, he investigated within himself. He discovered that everything we encounter we register through our six senses–the five physical ones, as well as the mind, which generates emotion. Because of our senses, everything produces sensations in our body. Some sensations may be settle, others may be gross. Some are buried deep down, others are on the surface. Whenever a pleasant sensation arises, we like it and want it to last forever. Whenever an unpleasant sensation arises, we don’t like it and want to get rid of it and if we can’t we wish it away. These momentary reactions of liking and disliking develop into craving and aversion, respectively, which are both forms of attachment. Because of our attachments we generate strong reactions, called sankhara, which make deep impressions in our mind and causes suffering. So the source of suffering is this habitual reaction to sensations in our body that arises from everything we encounter in our day-to-day lives. He calls this habitual reaction ignorance.
According to Gautama, the way out of suffering is to break this chain of ignorance, in which every sensation gives rise to a reaction of liking or disliking, which develops into great craving or aversion, which causes misery. So, instead of habitually reacting to sensations, we learn to just observe the sensations equanimously with the understanding that “whatever arises passes away” (this understanding is called anicca). So instead of ignorance, these sensations now give rise to wisdom. So the entire purpose of Vipassana is to change the normal habit pattern of the mind of constantly reacting to sensations with craving or aversion, generating one sankhara after another. In order to do this, Vipassana meditation is a systematic way of becoming aware of the sensations in our body. Sensations refers to ANYTHING you can feel physically in or on your body. And by anything, I mean anything. It can be the dryness on your lips, a pulsing sensation on your temple, moisture around your eyes, an itchy sensation on your forearm, a sharp pain in your back, soreness in your muscles, warmth from wearing a winter hat, etc. Anything!
I won’t get into the particulars of the meditation, but the idea is to feel these sensations in your body in a systematic way and train yourself to be aware of all the the sensation in your body, but not to react to them with craving or aversion. To remain completely equanimous. In other words, the purpose of Vipassana is to develop your level of awareness and equanamity so you break the chain of ignorance and stop habitually reacting to situations or events that arise in your day-to-day life. I know some may think Vipassana is trying to train people to be a bunch of passionless vegetables, cause that’s what it sounds like. But it’s not about turning people into unfeeling beings. It’s about getting you to not be a slave to your habitual patterns of constantly reacting to everything you encounter so you can see the big picture. Because when you’re constantly reacting with craving or aversion, you’re too busy reacting you can’t see the big picture of what is happening in the moment. Eckhart Tolle, the writer of The Power of Now, says, “Right now, there are no problems.” What he means is that there are only situations, but your mind makes a problem out of these situations. For example, if your car is stuck in the mud, that is a situation. But when we generate aversion to the situation, then that is our mind making a problem out of the situation. In other worse, because we dislike the situation of our car being stuck in the mud, we want the situation to go away, so we keep focusing on how much we hate the situation and how much we wish that situation to not be so. This is what it means to generate a sankhara. But when we come out of our habitual pattern behavior of constantly reacting we see the situation for what it is and we come up with a plan to get out of the situation, rather than continue to cling to how much we hate the situation. I hope that clears things up some.