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How to Practice Vipassana Insight Meditation
Step-by-Step Instructions on how to do this important practice — the foundation of all Buddhist Meditations — from the famed Vipassana master Sayadaw U Pandita.
Vipassana, or insight meditation, is the practice of continued close attention to sensation, through which one ultimately sees the true nature of existence. It is believed to be the form of meditation practice taught by the Buddha himself, and although the specific form of the practice may vary, it is the basis of all traditions of Buddhist meditation.
Vipassana is the predominant Buddhist meditation practice in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was an important revival of this early form of meditation practice led bythe Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma. Following his death in 1982, Sayadaw U Pandita, who studied extensively with Mahasi Sayadaw, was chosen as his principle preceptor. U Pandita is one of the world's leading teachers of Vipassana meditation and has been an important influence on many Vipassana teachers in the West, including Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein of the Insight Meditation Society. He is the founder and abbot of Panditarama Meditation Centre in Yangon, Myanmar.
1. Which place is best for meditation?
The Buddha suggested that either a forest place under a tree or any other very quiet place is best for meditation.
2. How should the meditator sit?
He said the meditator should sit quietly and peacefully with legs crossed.
3. How should those with back troubles sit?
If sitting with crossed legs proves to be too difficult, other sitting postures may be used. For those with back trouble, a chair is quite acceptable. In any case, sit with your back erect, at a right angle to the ground, but not too stiff.
4. Why should you sit straight?
The reason for sitting straight is not difficult to see. An arched or crooked back will soon bring pain. Furthermore, the physical effort to remain upright without additional support energizes the meditation practice.
5. Why is it important to choose a position?
To achieve peace of mind, we must make sure our body is at peace. So it’s important to choose a position that will be comfortable for a long period of time.
6. After sitting down, what should you do?
Close your eyes. Then place your attention at the belly, at the abdomen. Breathe normally—not forcing your breathing—neither slowing it down nor hastening it. Just a natural breath.
7. What will you become aware of as you breathe in and breathe out?
You will become aware of certain sensations as you breathe in and the abdomen rises, and as you breathe out and the abdomen falls.
8. How should you sharpen your aim?
Sharpen your aim by making sure that the mind is attentive to the entirety of each process. Be aware from the very beginning of all sensations involved in the rising. Maintain a steady attention through the middle and the end of the rising. Then be aware of the sensations of the falling movement of the abdomen from the beginning, through the middle, and to the very end of the falling.
Although we describe the rising and falling as having a beginning, middle and end, this is only in order to show that your awareness should be continuous and thorough. We don’t intend you to break these processes into three segments. You should try to be aware of each of these movements from beginning to end as one complete process, as a whole. Do not peer at the sensations with an over-focused mind, specifically looking to discover how the abdominal movement begins or ends.
9. Why is it important in this meditation to have both effort and precise aim?
It is very important to have both effort and precise aim so that the mind meets the sensation directly and powerfully.
10. What is one way to aid precision and accuracy?
One helpful aid to precision and accuracy is to make a soft, mental note of the object of awareness, naming the sensation by saying the word gently and silently in the mind, like "rising, rising . . .,” and “falling, falling. . ."
11. When the mind wanders off, what should you do?
Watch the mind! Be aware that you are thinking.
12. How can you clarify your awareness of thinking?
Note the thought silently with the verbal label "thinking," and come back to the rising and falling.
13. Is it possible to remain perfectly focused on the rising and falling of the abdomen all the time?
Despite making an effort to do so, no one can remain perfectly focused on the rising and falling of the abdomen forever. Other objects inevitably arise and become predominant. Thus, the sphere of meditation encompasses all of our experiences: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations in the body, and mental objects such as visions in the imagination or emotions. When any of these objects arises you should focus direct awareness on it, and silently use a gentle verbal label.
14. During sitting meditation, what is the basic principle to follow? If another object impinges on the awareness and draws it away from the rising and falling, what should you do?
During sitting meditation, if another object impinges strongly on the awareness so as to draw it away from the rising and falling of the abdomen, this object must be clearly noted. For example, if a loud sound arises during your meditation, consciously direct your attention toward that sound as soon as it arises. Be aware of the sound as a direct experience, and also identify it succinctly with the soft, internal, verbal label “hearing, hearing.” When the sound fades and is no longer predominant, come back to the rising and falling. This is the basic principle to follow in sitting meditation.
15. What is the best way to make the verbal label?
There is no need for complex language. One simple word is best. For the eye, ear and tongue doors we simply say, "Seeing, seeing...,” or, “hearing, hearing...” or, “tasting, tasting . . . .”
16. What are some ways to note sensations in the body?
For sensations in the body we may choose a slightly more descriptive term like “warmth,” “pressure,” “hardness” or “motion.”
17. How should you note mental objects?
Mental objects seem to present a bewildering diversity, but actually they fall into just a few clear categories, such as “thinking,” “imagining,” “remembering,” “planning” and “visualizing.”
18. What is the purpose of labeling?
In using the labeling technique, your goal is not to gain verbal skills. Labeling helps us to perceive clearly the actual qualities of our experience, without getting immersed in the content. It develops mental power and focus.
19. What kind of awareness do we seek in meditation, and why?
We seek a deep, clear, precise awareness of the mind and body. This direct awareness shows us the truth about our lives, the actual nature of mental and physical processes.
20. After one hour of sitting, does our meditation come to an end?
Meditation need not come to an end after an hour of sitting. It can be carried out continuously through the day.
21. How should you get up from sitting meditation?
When you get up from sitting, you must note carefully, beginning with the intention to open the eyes: "intending, intending”; opening, opening." Experience the mental event of intending, and feel the sensations of opening the eyes. Continue to note carefully and precisely, with full observing power, through the whole transition of postures until the moment you have stood up, and when you begin to walk.