This essay uses some quotations from the teachings of the revered Thai monk and meditation master Luang Phor Viriyang Sirintharo to be used as springboards—just to be helpful—in explicating some of the basics of insight meditation.
Some of us who are disposed thereto will finally find our way to a more safe, more quiet, more protected place where we may abide in calm and peace, devoting time to slowly working our way through whatever other hidden delusions may be continuing to murkily cloud the developing unwholesome states within our minds. It is possible to find peace of mind but one must work at it diligently.
Some of us who are disposed thereto will eventually find the time to develop the highly honed mental skills needed to guide the one-pointed mind. Strengthening the power of mindfulness in a wholesome way that enables us to overcome the otherwise overwhelming currents of the powerful, samasric, psycho-physical world, which perpetually knock and heave us about, in peril of being sucked into a perceptual whirlpool of dangerous undercurrents, from which we would have little or no chance of escape. The mind watching the mind can analyze and find a way of dealing with hindrances.
Luang Phor verifies (II.12-13) that developing insight wisdom is a slow and arduous process, which he compares to a man learning how to read and write:
At the beginning, he did not know or understand anything. Later, he began to understand little by little. Afterward, he was able to read and write basic words. At this point, his ability equates with samatha (tranquility meditation). From that point on, he develops through experience and wisdom and knowledge, just as one would in medicine or architecture or engineering or agriculture, until he finally becomes fully skilled in his craft.
The mind refining the mind becomes one’s main occupation and through constant practice and concentrated effort one keeps getting better and better at it.
Luang Phor is also clear about the curriculum. There is no mystery here:
The structure of insight meditation has clear mechanisms. . . . When he begins to practice he begins to detach his mind from unwholesome attachments by destroying them, by seeing through them, seeing them the way they really are.
When we begin to see how unwholesome intentions lead to harmful ends, we learn to avoid them and gradually eradicate impurities.
In one single sentence, Luang Phor states clearly:
The Four Noble Truths are weapons that enable the insight meditator to reverse the current of the worldly world. This is where you have to look to find the tools you need to fight the ultimate battle.
In other words: 1. There is suffering; 2. There is always a cause of suffering; 3. The cause of suffering is dependent on wanting, desiring, or craving; 4. There is a way out of suffering by following the Noble Eightfold Path: 1) Right Thought, 2) Right Intention, 3) Right Speech, 4) Right Action, 5) Right Livelihood, 6) Right Effort, 7) Right Mindfulness, and 8) Right Concentration.
These phases may be practiced concurrently or separately, dependent on the individual characteristics and inclinations of each practitioner. We usually have a lot of cleaning house to do due to our prior conditioning and wrong views, which will be different in every case.
Luang Phor qualifies that: “The meditator must first ask himself if he is ready. If he does not feel sufficient determination, he is not ready.” And—just so there is no misunderstanding—Luang Phor also states (II.21): “There are very few meditators in the world who have attained insight meditation, and the notion of vipassana meditation is being presented here for your information.” In addition, with the right intention we must exert right effort, which means always exercising determined perseverance.
Another qualification Luang Phor makes clear (II.25) is: “Once the meditator has commenced on meditation, it becomes his own responsibility.” This means that the meditator cannot depend on anybody or anything other than the focused, determined practice of one’s own mindfulness itself. No one can do it for us.
While the above statements may sound somewhat discouraging, Luang Phor also says, on a more positive note, that in strengthening physical health and in aiding in healing, “An attainment of the meditative mind through attentive meditation usually affects the physical body” and can serve as an aid and deterrent to various illnesses. Constant mind-sweeping results in recognizing and rooting out psycho-physical impurities, which makes for improved physical and mental health.
“With a meditative mind and sufficient courage, a mental patient is already halfway recovered from his illness.” (II.26) I think we might agree that, in one way or another, we all remain mental patients for as long as we have not yet attained final release. It is also good that we can be our own therapists, which will save us from having troubles in both our personal internal and external social worlds.
Another paradoxical, yet encouraging, comment which Luang Phor makes, (II.37) is that, although insight meditation goes against our will and our nature, it is still worthwhile to practice insight meditation, and anyone can do so, even in today’s so-called “world come of age.” It is difficult to swim against the stream, but anybody can attempt to do it.
“Anyone can do it” and benefit from it. And those who succeed and do what has to be done in training the mind to watch the mind, constantly refine themselves. In this way, the mind gradually becomes pure in its every action. For those who succeed—by doing what has to be done—the goal is to work at attaining the cessation of suffering, to be able to live a life of happiness and moral purity, which leads gradually through continued practice to the achievement of nibbana.
Before concluding, it is necessary to note that in no way should the above be considered an overall summary of Luang Phor’s teaching on vipassana meditation practice—especially concerning the cultivation of wisdom—which, as those who are close to Luang Phor will know, goes far beyond the limited scope of this essay.
Luang Phor Viriyang. 1999. Meditation Instructor Course. Bangkok: Willpower Institute (private printing of internal handout.)