Vipassana Meditation is one of the oldest meditation techniques. Vipassana is a word from ancient Pali language which means -“insight”. Hence this meditation is also known as insight meditation. Literally, vipassana meditation means “to see things as they are”. Precisely, it is a matter of being aware of things rather than literally seeing through eyes. By things, we mean everything which we are able to perceive through our fundamental body senses- sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.
What is Vipassana Meditation
Remember Morpheus asking Neo in the Matrix, “What is real?” And Neo was unable to answer that. Well, let’s just say had he been practicing Vipassana, he would have the answer.!! 😀
A vipassana meditator introspects and reflects on the true nature of reality by focusing the mind on observing and becoming aware of sensations just as they are- in real. These sensations could be bodily sensations, emotional feelings, sensory perceptions, and literally everything.
Human beings have a basic nature to attach themselves to feelings and sensations of pleasure and avoid feelings of pain. This attachment and aversion to emotions and feelings is what causes suffering. And while those feelings of pleasure and pain might be real and inevitable, suffering is optional. This is because everything goes through cycle of changes and once a person experiences this fact, suffering becomes optional. Vipassana allows a person to have a direct experience of this cycle of pain and pleasure through non-judgmental awareness of both of them.
How Vipassana Meditation Can Help You
The idea is to become aware of reality- reality that is ever changing. Vipassana meditation allows a person to directly experience this impermanence of everything. And through this realization, a person can maintain equanimity in all situations of life. THIS TOO SHALL PASS is the ultimate lesson one can gain from the practice of Vipassana meditation.
However, the most important fact is that you cannot understand it in words even though you feel you do. By observing the reality about our own body and surroundings through Vipassana meditation in a detached manner, we realize that everything is temporary. All emotions and physical sensations- pain, happiness, sadness, anger, jealousy, envy- everything is impermanent if we allow ourselves to observe them in a non-judgmental manner.
By doing vipassana, a person can purify his mind through non-judgmental awareness of his feelings, emotions, or any other sensations . The key thing is to become aware of all these feelings and sensations without suppressing them. Instead one allows them to pass under his awareness without any attachment and let them go.
Origin of Vipassana Meditation
According to scriptures, Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment (528 BCE) through the technique of Vipassana meditation more than 2500 years ago. However, Buddha only rediscovered the technique which had been extinct over the centuries. After Buddha, millions of people in India practiced Vipassana meditation extensively for almost five centuries.
This period also involves the reign of the mighty emperor Ashoka (273-236 BCE). Ashoka, the great conqueror,went through a major transformation after he won numerous battles and ruled over India. He adopted Buddhism in later part of his life and spread the message of peace, love and prosperity. He sent his ambassadors of Dhamma (dhamma means teachings of Buddha) to the neighboring kingdoms of Burma, Myanmar, Nepal, SriLanka, and others.
After about 500 years the practice of Vipassana had disappeared from India. However, it did not completely went obsolete in the neighboring country Myanmar (Burma) where many teachers continued to teach the technique. In this way, a chain of teachers preserved the technique through all these years until S.N. Goenka took Vipassana meditation all over the world.
Rise of Vipassana Meditation through S.N. Goenka
S.N. Goenka was born in Myanmar but was of Indian origin. He learnt the technique of Vipassana meditation from Sayagyi U Ba Khin. Sayagyi U Ba Khin was one of the most renowned Vipassana teachers of his times. He is known for teaching Vipassana meditation to foreigners and western people for the first time.In 1955, S.N. Goenka took his first 10 day course in Vipassana meditation from U Ba Khin. After 14 years, U Ba Khin appointed Goenka as the teacher and asked him to return the Vipassana technique to its origin- India. On returning India, Goenka started teaching Vipassana and conducted the first ten-day course in Mumbai, India, in July, 1969.
For the next 10 years, Goenka focussed his teachings only in India to reinstate the foundation of technique in India. During this time, many western travelers also started their Vipassana practice after meeting Goenka.
The first Vipassana center in India, known as Dhamma Giri at Igatpuri, Maharashtra, was opened for public in October 1976. Since then, many more Vipassana centers have come up not only in India but all over the world. In 1985, the Vipassana Research Institute (VRI) was founded in Igatpuri, India. The institute conducts research into the sources as well as modern applications of Vipassana meditation.
How can you learn Vipassana Meditation
Vipassana meditation is taught free of cost in vipassana meditation retreats all over the world. These retreats range from a minimum of 10 days for beginners to maximum 45 days for highly advanced practitioners. These camps are mostly organized away from towns and cities, preferably amidst natural locations.
However, before getting excited about this idea of a meditation retreat in natural surroundings, you should check their stringent rules and regulations in advance.
For starters, you must maintain noble silence for 10 days. You cannot even make eye contact with anyone, let alone speak. In case of any requirements, you can write it down and hand over to volunteers. Most importantly, you do not have any contact with the rest of the world for 10 days.
Mobile phones, newspapers, pen, pencil, diary, notebooks, etc,-everything is prohibited at Vipassana meditation center. After all this, there is 10 hours of daily sitting meditation involved with regular breaks for meals in which you will discover the noise and chatting of your mind like never before.
This is not to discourage anyone but to give you an accurate description of what it is like to be at a Vipassana meditation retreat. Many people left these retreats in between which is a sheer wastage of time. It is essential to stay for whole 10 days in order to fully learn and appreciate the technique. However, once you make up your mind to take on this journey into the self, it can be one of the most amazing experiences of your life.
If you want to have an idea about what it feels like in such camp, you can read about my experience of first vipassana meditation retreat.