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Vipassana Meditation and Mindfulness

Vipassana has gained traction across the world as a mind-calmer, but its main objective is spiritual growth.

“The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” – The Buddha

Introduction

So many are living stressful lives filled with hatred, greed, anger and other unwholesome states of mind. Our head is like a recording machine, playing the same songs over and over again. We are obsessed with multitasking. We are carrying our problems wherever we go, never allowing our mind time to rest. What is the point of a walk in the forest if your mind still is at home sorting through all its problems? How can we be in the present and not in the future or in the past?

Meditation helps to connect the body with the mind so you can learn how to control your mind’s movements. By being aware of what your mind is capable of, it is easier to recognise states of mind that bring negative feelings. It becomes possible to focus and achieve mindfulness in everything you do. Choose the way that leads to happiness and freedom from human weaknesses. You just need to know how and where to go. By meditating you will learn how.

There are two main meditation techniques in Theravada tradition. They deal with “calm” and “insight” and are respectively called samatha and vipassana. Here we will focus on vipassana and how mindfulness plays an important role in vipassana meditation and daily life.  

“The purpose of mindfulness practice is freedom. We remove hatred, greed, and delusion to end suffering. It is important to pay more attention to your own life.” From IStock.

Insight meditation

Vipassana-bhavana is one of the oldest methods of mental training in the world. It was taught by the Buddha and is recorded in the Sitipatthana Sutta. The Buddha was both teaching and practising vipassana-bhavana, which gained popularity and soon spread to nearby regions. Today it can be found all over the world (see URL 1). Vipassana means insight, while bhavana means meditation. This is a good description since the purpose of meditation is to gain insight to the three characteristics of existence (impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) and non-self (anatt?)), mind and matter, and the four noble truths (see URL 2).

Insight meditation focuses on mindfulness, a special mode of perception. This is not the same as concentration where you might give all your focus to one single object, but more like observing something carefully and understanding the content. It is easy to assume that you already are paying attention to your surroundings, but the truth is that we pay so little attention that we might as well be sleeping. We live in an illusion.

“We live in illusion

And the appearance of things.

There is a reality.

We are the reality.

When you understand this

You see that you are nothing.

And being nothing,

You are everything.

That is all.”

– Rosenberg, L. 1998.

Mindfulness

The first step to change this is to pay attention to the fact that you are not paying attention (see URL 1). To actually have mindfulness requires mindfulness itself! After practise you will be able to look at the world in a new way, and have awareness in your everyday activities. The final purpose is to attain nibbana, which is done by insight into the body/mind processes and their true nature. All your energy will be focused on the one thing you are doing. The mind will still slip sometimes, but that is human and will decrease with practise. Just by being aware of scattered thoughts can allow mindfulness to push it aside, and replace it with more wholesome states.

The most important about being mindful is to train to avoid states of mind like greed, lust, hatred, aversion and jealousy. These are buried deep within us, and are hindrances because they control the mind and keep us from living reality. If mindfulness is present, these states of mind will not arise. But if the mind slips, they can take over. A trained person will notice. An untrained person would most likely not understand when hatred and greed takes over. Mindfulness is therefore the cure for the hindrances. It is a non-attached and non-materialistic state, which can help us break free from our human weaknesses (see URL 1).

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought:

it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.

If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought,

happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.”

– Gautama Buddha, Dhammapada

The seven stages of purity

There are seven stages for purifying the mind. They are called the seven stages of purity (visuddhi):

1.    Purity of mortality (sila-visuddhi)

2.    Purity of mind (citta-visuddhi)

3.    Purity of view (ditthi-visuddhi)

4.    Purity by transcending doubt (kankha-vitarana-visuddhi)

5.    Purity of vision in discerning the Path and not-path (maggamagga-nanadassana-visuddhi)

6.    Purity of vision of the Path-progress. (oatipada-nanadassana-visuddhi)

7.    Purity if vision of the knowledge of the four Paths. (nanadassana- visuddhi)

(Meditation subjects (kammatthana), BSTC2006)

Like a set of stairs, you need to reach one before the next. When you gain the purity of mortality, you can purify the mind. When the mind is pure, you can start purifying your view, and so on. When the seventh visuddhi is attained, nibbana can be attained. Nibbana is the mind that has achieved liberation and full access to the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path (atthangika-magga) is the way to purification and removal of all suffering. This path can be divided into three foci:

1.    Training in morality (sila-sikkha)

2.    Training in concentration (samadhi-sikkha)

3.    Training in wisdom (panna-sikkha)

(Meditation subjects (kammatthana), BSTC2006)

The best way is to first start with morality training before proceeding with concentration training (samatha) and finally vipassana to practise wisdom. Being able to control your concentration is a huge advantage, and will make it easier to get insight. (Meditation subjects (kammathana)).

Practise

Vipassana meditation can be practised straight away or after samatha meditation. It will be easier to achieve insight in vipassana meditation if you already have concentration from samatha meditation. Anapanassati is one way to practise, and is used for both samatha-bhavana and vipassana-bhavana. This kammatthana is practised by all Buddhas, and is both easy to practise and can be done anytime, anywhere.

You can sit, lie or walk while you are mindful of your breath (or any other process, like the movement of the chest). The purpose is to be totally aware of the breath when breathing in and breathing out; how long the breath is and perceiving the body’s reactions to breathing in or out. Sometimes the mind will wander, but just notice it and again focus on the breath.

Pain and unpleasant feelings

By practising long enough the focus will change from just the breath to the whole body because your awareness is moving around to different parts. Are you cold, warm, or in pain? You can feel your shoulder itching, or your leg hurting. The trick is to focus on it without doing something about it. You cannot decide whether you are going to feel unpleasant feelings or not. But you can change how you relate to those feelings: “If we relate with mindfulness – that is, simply noticing, simply observing – then in that moment of mindfulness we are purifying our heart, because in that moment we are free from greed for the pleasant, aversion to the unpleasant, and delusion about what is really there.” (Goldstein, J. 1993, s. 40).

On the path, unpleasant feelings need to be explored in order to attain freedom. If unpleasant feelings are constantly being pushed away instead of explored, we will always be running from something, therefore give us something opposite of freedom and happiness, which is the goal. (Goldstein, J. 1993, s. 44-47)

Outcome

The purpose of mindfulness practice is freedom. We remove hatred, greed, and delusion to end suffering. It is important to pay more attention to your own life. No one lives forever, and we should do the best out of it, which insight meditation can help us with. Focusing your mind on the present, and not the future or the past will also help you understand your own nature better. People in general are so similar in biology, yet so unique in personality. Therefore by understanding ourselves better, we will also understand others. (Goldstein, J. 1993. S. 170-171).

Conclusion

Vipassana-bhavana, or insight meditation, aims to reach the ultimate state of mind. To reach this state of mind, you need to achieve all seven stages of purification, where you will attain nibbana at the last stageThe meditation can be done with anapanassati, which you can do everywhere and anytime. Then, focusing on aspects of your body will expand your bodily understanding. This technique can also be used on suffering. When you have achieved mindfulness you are able to live in the present, and also be present and aware of all activities in daily life. A controlled mind lets you know yourself, and since we all have the same mind and body with different personalities, insight will also let you know others.

Sources

Books

GOLDSTEIN, J. 1993. Insight Meditation; the practise to freedomMassachusetts. Shambhala       Publications, Inc.

GOLEMAN, D. 1988. The Meditative Mind. New York. G.P. Putnam´s Sons.

ROSENBERG, L. 1998. Breath by breath; the liberating practise of insight meditation. Massachusetts. Shambhala Publications, Inc. 

Internet sources

URL 1: Vipassana fellowship. Mindfullness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana. Retrieved 12. Dec 2012 from: http://www.vipassana.com/meditation/mindfulness_in_plain_english.php

URL 2: Vipassana fellowship digital edition. Maha-Si Insight Meditation. Retrieved 12. Dec 2012 from: http://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/Insight-Meditation.pdf

URL 3: Buddha Dharma Meditation Education Association inc. The seven stages of purification & The insight knowledges. Retrieved 12. Dec 2012 from: http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/bm7insight.pdf

Class handouts

Meditation subjects (kammatthana). BSTC2006 Buddhist Psychology and Mental cultivation.Personal experiences and outcomes from the meditation retreat were also used in this essay.  

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