Category: Buddhist Meditation
Vipassana or "insight" is the penetrative, intuitive, and liberating knowledge attained through direct experience of the impermanency, inadequacy, and insubstantiality of all physical and mental phenomena. It refers to an individual’s ability to clearly witness events as they occur in the present moment. It is through Vipassana that one enters the "supramundane" (the states beyond the world of the Five Aggregates: form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness) and achieves final liberation.
Vipassana (insight) is gained by observing phenomena to reveal their nature as explained in the Three Marks of Existence: impermanence, suffering, and non-self. According to Buddhists, insight is the essential key to liberation, a direct solution to the underlying problem of suffering caused by ignorance.
Vipassana meditation refers to the system of meditative practice based on the Buddha’s instructions for the development of mindfulness contained in the Satipatthana Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 10). Its practice is aimed at gaining a direct understanding of the true nature of reality and is considered to be the unique discovery of the Buddha and an unparalleled feature of his teaching.
When practicing Vipassana meditation, you try to cultivate moment-to-moment mindfulness by meditating on impermanence, dissatisfaction, non-self, aversion, detachment, and abandonment with regard to the Five Aggregates. This mindfulness will create in you a sense of dispassion toward all events, and this releases your mind from suffering. Mindfulness leads to insight and insight leads to Wisdom. It is through wisdom that all ignorance is abandoned.
Vipassana and Samatha
There are two interconnected systems of meditation practice in Buddhism. The first is Samatha meditation (the development of serenity) and the other is Vipassana meditation (the development of insight). Samatha meditation helps you attain strong mental concentration through Jhānas (states of meditative absorption) while Vipassana meditation helps you get a clear view of events as they occur in the present moment.
Vipassana meditation cannot be practiced while absorbed in Jhāna, since investigation and observation are not possible when the mind is in a state of single-pointed concentration. After emerging from a state of Jhāna, however, your mind is cleared of the hindrances, so you can then immediately practice Vipassana by taking advantage of the stillness and tranquility you have just gained.
Concentration is essential in the investigation of events as they unfold, so the best approach is to develop both Samatha (serenity) and Vipassana (insight) and to balance their use in attaining wisdom.
A person who strictly practices Vipassana meditation is called a Vipassanayanika or “one who makes insight his vehicle." A Vipassanayanika does not normally develop the Jhānas before practicing insight meditation. Instead, without entering and emerging from Jhāna, he/she immediately proceeds to investigate the Five Aggregates. Then, after reaching the end of a series of stages of attaining insight, he arrives at the “supramundane path” which brings together wisdom with “supramundane Jhāna.”
"The wisdom instrumental in attaining liberation is divided into two principal types: insight knowledge (vipassanañana) and the knowledge pertaining to the supramundane paths (maggañana). The first is the direct penetration of the three characteristics of conditioned phenomena — impermanence, suffering and non-self. It takes, as its objective sphere, the five aggregates (pañcakkhandha) — material form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. Because insight knowledge takes the world of conditioned formations as its object, it is regarded as a mundane form of wisdom. Insight knowledge does not itself directly eradicate the defilements, but serves to prepare the way for the second type of wisdom, the wisdom of the supramundane paths, which emerges when insight has been brought to its climax. The wisdom of the path simultaneously realizes Nibbana, fathoms the Four Noble Truths, and cuts off the defilements. This wisdom is called "supramundane" because it rises up from the world of the five aggregates to realize the state transcendent to the world, Nibbana." [source]
Note: “Mundane” refers to that which belongs to the world of the Five Aggregates while “supramundane” refers to that which is beyond the world of the Five Aggregates. “Supramundane path” refers to the superior understanding of the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha. (See The Four Paths/Stages Of Enlightenment or The Buddha’s Middle Way for more info)
Although the Vipassanayanika does not use the type of concentration found in the Jhānas of Samatha meditation, he still makes use of a certain type of concentration called "momentary concentration" (khanika samadhi). Unlike the Jhānas, you don’t need to fix the mind upon a single object to develop momentary concentration. It develops naturally during Vipassana practice. The Vipassanayanika’s concentration just flows from object to object while he maintains a constant degree of intensity and collectedness enough to relieve the mind of the Five Hindrances to Meditation.
Practicing Vipassana Meditation
If you want to start practicing Vipassana meditation, here are some articles that may help:
1. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana)
2. Mindfulness Meditation on the Breath (Anapanasati)
3. Contemplation on The Five Aggregates (Skandhas)
4. Practical Vipassana Exercises by Mahāsī Sayādaw (Ebook)
Mindfulness meditation is classically used for developing both Samatha and Vipassana. Contemplation of the five aggregates is also conducive to the development of Vipassana. Although mindfulness is helpful in developing insight, it may not be enough to bring you to the point of total release. Other techniques and approaches are needed as well, so you may need to do some more research or consult with qualified teachers for this purpose.