BuddhaSasana Home Page
English Section

Practical Guidelines for Vipassan‚

by Ayy‚ Khemind‚


First published in the BSQ Tracts Series: March 1994 at the request of the Author.


This succinct exposition of the basic principles for starting mental development or vipassan‚ bh‚van‚, is given on request of yogis who would like to have a practical guideline and a reminder for their regular practice.

After the initial enthusiasm it is often difficult to keep the fire burning, specially when the pressure of social life with all its duties is felt.

With the aim of offering support in those periods when the practice tends to become somewhat dim and the yogi encounters discouraging difficulties, the author has written this treatise. This small contribution to a better comprehension of the instructions for the vipassan‚ practice is by no means meant to be a complete survey. Many other aspects which the yogi will come across in the course of the practice are not discussed as they can only be understood in a better way with the advice and guidance of a meditation- teacher in a personal interview.

1. Why Should one Practice Vipassan‚?

THE answer to this question can be brief: "To cope with the problem of unsatisfactoriness in life in a better way and to become free from it".

All beings yearn for some happiness and security in their life. Unfortunately nobody is able to evoke happiness just because one desires for it, nor is it possible to maintain one's pleasure as long as one wants.

The happiness one can find in the world is fragile. In case one gets what one wants there will be happiness but one can hardly expect to get always those things to which one has a preference. If desires are blocked and one does not get what one wants, there is disappointment and aversion.

Since people are mainly just vaguely aware of these processes in the mind, they are time and again affected by the constant change of fortunes in life, which is quite unsatisfactory.

"In whichever manner people think of things, things turn out to be otherwise. Such is the opposite nature of things. Observe thus the nature of the world." (Sutta Nip‚ta)

Human beings are endowed with a discriminative mind. As such they are supposed to be able to know the reasons for their actions. Nevertheless, people are often not clearly aware of the motive or the purpose of their activities.

They act quite frequently on the spur of the moment according to their moods. When motive and purpose are obscure one may run the risk of using the wrong means. Such uncontrolled behaviour may sometimes have rather embarrassing consequences which cause confusion.

Being confused means that one has no clear sight on the reality of what is happening. To gain more insight into one's own inner behaviour and one's attitude towards other circumstances, one needs to develop the mind. Mental development (vipassan‚) in the Buddhist sense, means to cultivate a deeper understanding of one's own mental and physical actions and their mutual inter-relation. To do this effectively, it requires a mindful observation of one's activities in speech, body and mind.

Starting an important activity like mental development acccording to the teaching s of the Buddha, it needs some preliminary reflections on both motive and purpose. If motive and purpose are not in balance the progress will be hampered. The next step will be to examine what are the right means to reach the set purpose.

The Buddha clearly pointed out that there is but one way to counteract the problem of unsatisfactoriness of life. In other words there is a method which when applied in the right way - heads for happiness. This method (or way) leads to:

"The purification of beings, overcoming arrow Iamentation, elimination pain and grief, reaching the right Path and the attainment of Nibb‚na." (Majjima Nik‚ya 10)

To understand these terms, the Buddha used, rightly, one should take the time to reflect on their true meaning and their connection to one's aim in life.

Purification here, refers to a state of mind which is free from obstructions that cause tension and conflict in oneself.

Generally speaking, just one glimpse of the state of affairs in one's life will be enough to see that there is a lot of stress and disharmony. These states of mind have their roots in craving, anger and confusion which make the mind impure.

Craving brings about the underlying fear of not getting what one wants or to become separated from what is dearly beloved. Being irritable or angry creates conflict and is certainly not conducive to inner peace. Owing to confusion which accompanies invariably all these states rooted in craving and anger, these impurities are not clearly discerned according to their distressing effects on the mind. Because these mental states are mainly considered as part and parcel of one's life and as such something that is inevitable, the according to the teachings of the Buddha, it needs some burden of unhappiness is carried on and on.

One needs wisdom to see how these states of mind create dissension and strife in oneself and for others as well. Comprehending the cause - craving accompanied by confusion - and the effect of conflict (dukkha) which is unsatisfactory, one may feel the urge to free the mind from these painful states.

Wisdom can be developed by methodically analysing one's own mental behaviour when there is a reaction to the unbridled stream of sense-impressions by which people are attacked the whole day. People are mainly not very selective in the intake of sense-data. Consequently there is a lot of unpleasantness. Before one is even clearly aware of it, there is already aversion, aggressiveness, pain and grief.

When there is wisdom, these states will not arise, because wisdom is selective. It knows exactly which things lead to painful states and which will bring about peace of mind.

Wisdom or right view is a factor of the (Eightfold) Path. Starting on the right path requires initially a little wisdom. Following the Path leads to the maturity of wisdom. The end of the Path is the full understanding of life as it is. With that understanding or wisdom, one has arrived at the Noble (Eightfold) Path, which means that cessation of conflict and disharmony is guaranteed.

The first step on the Path to freedom of mind is to cleanse the mind from serious obstacles like aggressiveness, dishonesty, cruelty, envy, malevolence, greed etc., finding an outlet in one's verbal and physical conduct. Developing a clear distinction of what makes one's behaviour an obstacle and in which way one's conduct can become conducive to the development of insight (vipassan‚) needs that basic wisdom. To assist in solving the problems of discerning what is right and what is wrong conduct, the Buddha gave a frame-work of five essential moral principles to work upon.

In a condensed form, they consist of the restraint from killing and harming, stealing, sensual misbehaviour, lying and from taking intoxicants like liquor and drugs.

These basic moral principles are not meant to curb one's development in social life. On the contrary, they serve as an indispensable stepping-stone for any mental development in the social, psychological and spiritual context. Their efficacy, however, has much wider implications with regard to the progress of insight.

The two aspects of the endeavour to purify one's conduct - to restrain from the bad and being engaged in doing good - cover the whole field of moral conduct.

Surveying one's life, one can gauge oneself the disturbing effects of uncontrolled behaviour. One may question oneself whether it would be more preferable to accept these disturbances as something inevitable in one's life or to make a serious attempt to overcome them.

The effort to overcome them is to develop more awareness, being alert when unwholesome thoughts have already arisen in the mind and to curb them. When the alertness is sharpened one comes to know how to prevent disturbing thoughts from arising. This exertion goes together with the development and maintenance of wholesome mental states which gradually will purify the mind from all agitation.

Effort in this context, is another factor of the Eightfold Path which operates together with mindfulness and concentration to bring the mind to tranquillity and insight. Insight consists of right view and right thought.

Someone who has reached the right (Eightfold) Path and follows it consequently is practising mental development which will lead one out of the endless fluctuations of happiness and unhappiness related to objects. It is with regard to objects that disturbances defile the mind and that people experience the short-lived moments of happiness. The happiness and inner peace that one can find at the ultimate end indispensable stepping-stone for any mental development in of the Path is not related to any object but is free from them. This happiness will not fade away. This is the attainment of the bliss of freedom from all conflict and disharmony, which is Nibb‚na.

2. An Outline of Vipassan‚ Bh‚van‚

Vipassan‚-bh‚van‚ means the mental development to see things as they really are. A Chinese saying goes: "If you want to know about the pine, go to the pine." In order to see things as they really are, one has to examine them, not theoretically, but on the spot. That means, one starts to examine one's own body and mind by observing their processes at the moment that they are present. For this observation one needs awareness or mindfulness (sati).

Another term, equivalent to vipassan‚, is satipa‚na which means the establishing of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a bare necessity for the analytical examination of mind and body. It refers to a plain and impartial attentiveness to the object of observation, free from conceptual thinking. Mindfulness restricts itself to having that penetrative attentiveness of noting the occurrence and disappearance of a mental or bodily object (n‚ma-rupa) as it is. For instance, when there is the awareness of hearing, it is immediately noted as such. When the knowledge arises of what is heard, the mind marks just the fact of knowing and drops further interest because another process is already in the making.

This, `letting go', not paying further interest is essential for the establishing of a sharp mindfulness. It enables one to follow precisely the arising and disappearing of all these processes.

To understand what is mindfulness and to be able to apply it in the right way, one must make a clear distinction between the function of mindfulness and the normal attention people have, in their various activities. Mindfulness is not just a little bit more attention than one usually has.

Attention (manasik‚ra), in its general meaning, is taking interest in an object, inspecting it with reference to past experiences and anticipating its future usefulness - `This is nice, l would like to have this." The knowledge that the object is nice is derived from a former experience. The wish to have or to keep it is related to the expectation that it will have the same pleasantness in future. On account of these habitual patterns of likes and dislikes one pays attention to objects in different degrees of intensity.

Mindfulness is not discriminating the object. There is no attraction nor rejection. Mindfulness is only facing what is in the present moment without giving a specific emotional value to the object. Mindfulness deals only with the present moment, here and now.

When one accurately notes the objects the very instant they occur and vanish, it will become clear that the moment which has just disappeared is definitely past. It can in no way be taken back.

Though mindfulness has also the aspect of recollecting things that has been noted before, it does not cling to these things. Mindfulness does not allow things to be forgotten. It is therefore the opposite of superficiality. The future is that point-instant that will arise after the present moment. One is not able to predict what one's next thought moment will be. Therefore the future is uncertain.

The specific characteristic of mindfulness is to remain in the present and not to float away from the object. The moment the mind starts to form ideas about what is noted earlier, mindfulness becomes weakened. Remaining in the present refers to the short moment of actual existence of an object when one experiences it. The lifespan of the experienced object is many times shorter than the time one needs to blink one's eyes.

Frequently, recalling past situations or keeping oneself busy with the planning of future events gives rise to speculative thinking. This kind of thinking is merely based on hypotheses or on presumptions which can come true or not. It is only at the present moment that the intrinsic nature of things can become clear, free from imaginative thinking.

Do not get excited by what Is old, do not be contented with what is new. Do not grieve for what is lost, do not be controlled by desire." (Sutta Nip‚ta, 944)

It does not mean a rejection of thinking. People have to think and remember or to plan for the future in daily life. However one should bear in mind that every thought, whether it has a past or a future event as its object, is a present-moment-thought. Being mindful, one sees these thoughts for cannot be separated. They are found in all matter. what they are, fugitive moments in which no security can be found by merely assuming things will happen the way one expects it.

The purifying effect of "remaining in the present" is that one is able to discern plainly how things that arise, fall away immediately, giving way to another phenomenon to arise. When one's noting is unflagging and sharp there is simply no room for thinking other than the noting thought.

To make this mindful observing of bodily and mental processes more accurate and ongoing, it is necessary to take a basic subject of awareness (Kamma‚na). The term Kamma‚na means "working-round" which can be material or mental.

The Buddha gave four basic working~rounds for the establishing of mindfulness. One of them is matter or corporeality (k‚ya), the other three are feeling (vedan‚), the mind (citta) and mental objects (dhamm‚).

The first one, bodily processes, are more easily to note as they are of a gross nature. For example, when one observes the expanding and contracting movement of the abdomen caused by in-and out-breathing, it is not difficult to feel and note these movements. Movement is one of the manifestations of matter (rupa). Hardness, softness, heat, cold, pressure etc. are apparent in the body and can be experienced. Every practising yogi, who is sitting motionless on a cushion for some time, will recognise these various experiences in the body.

Bodily sensations are caused by what are called the four essential or primary elements (mah‚ dh‚tu) which together constitute matter. They are the element of solidity or extension (path‚vi dh‚tu), the element of cohesion or fluidity (‚po dh‚tu), the element of temperature (tejo dh‚tu) and the element of motion (v‚yo dh‚tu). These four work together and cannot be separated. They are found in all matter.

When the element of solidity is strong and dominant, it is felt as hardness. When the element of temperature takes the lead, one experiences heat. The element of motion manifests itself as movement. The element of cohesion is too subtle to be felt in the body. It keeps things together by which they have their shape. One can only know this element through comprehension.

Taking the rising and falling movement of the abdomen, as one's working-ground, the element of motion (v‚yo dh‚tu) is made the basic subject of observation. Though motion is invariably present, it does not always play the dominant role in its co-operation with the other three. Sometimes feelings of heat manifest themselves more clearly than the motion and are accordingly noted. etc..

At times the yogi may become aware of unpleasant or pleasant feelings in the body. By noting these sensations the yogi temporarily leaves the basic subject of observation of the abdominal movement. At that moment of noting the yogi is no longer involved in the contemplation of the body (k‚y‚nupassan‚) but has shifted to the mindful contemplation of feeling (vedan‚nupassan‚).

Similarly one may, during the practice, become aware of the state of mind as distracted or without distraction, confused or not, cramped or relaxed etc.

The yogi exercises that particular moment contemplation of mind (citt‚nupassan‚). Noting for instance the arising of sense-desires, worries, restlessness or the experience of joy and inner calm or one feels one's energy increasing etc., one is occupied for the time being with the contemplation of mental objects (dhamm‚nupassan‚).

In all the temporary shifts to various objects, the movement of the abdomen remains the basic point. After having observed and noted other phenomena, which are more dominant than the rising and falling of the abdomen, one returns to the basic subject.

Accurate noting will bring about the knowledge just enough for remembering the event, preventing the mind to become involved in further elaborations of what occurred earlier.

Thinking about the noted object means in fact that one moves away from seeing things as they really are. One should not try to analyse intellectually the experience during the practice. In that case the yogi misses the opportunity to note the occurence of other phenomena.

When the continuous arising and disappearing of all these mental and physical processes become more evident, ideas of stableness, keeping and holding, become shaky. It will dawn upon the mindful observing yogi that in a constant flux of instantaneous changing (anicca) there is nothing that remains, nothing that is substantial which can be called a perceiver, a thinker, a doer or a feeler. No executive ruling self (atta) can be found therein. There are only variable occurrences which follow each other in a constant flow in which nothing is carried on from the past to the present and that can go to a future state.

The tendency of people to keep and to cling is conflicting with the reality of incessant change (anicca) and being void of any substantiality (anatta). This is what the Buddha dubbed (dukkha) conflict, disharmony, unsatisfactoriness.

Though still tender, the growing insight in the intrinsic nature of things as imperrnanent unsatisfactory and void of self (anicca, dukkha, anatta) is important in the sense that it seriously weakens the obstructive factors of one's practice like excessive craving for sense~impressions, anger, laziness, restlessness and doubt etc. As long as these obstructions are frequently present in the mind, mindfulness and concentration will be deterred.

Mindfulness and concentration work together to establish another important factor for the practice, namely clear comprehension (sampajanna). Clear comprehension enables one to understand immediately what is noticed. It is the knowledge that arises on account of sharp noticing and gives as it were an extra dimension to what is seen, free from intellectual pondering. Mindfulness is like a beam of light that illuminates the object when it is present and clear comprehension sees it as it is according to its characteristic.

The type of concentration used in vipassan‚ bh‚van‚ functions as a strong support for the on-going mindfulness. It has therefore the same characteristic of mornentariness. Momentary concentration (khaika sam‚dhi) is able to follow together with mindfulness the arising and vanishing of objects by maintainig a constant degree of intensity. This type of concentration has the strength to subdue the obstructions, facilitating mindfulness to be sharp and continuous.

Sometimes it may happen that the concentrating loses its momentariness and becomes too deep for its function in the vipassan‚ practice. The concentration becomes fixed and `immovable' and the mind is at that time only interested in just one object. This may occur when the yogi meets with extremely pleasant sensations, like experiencing a deep joy or feeling lightness in the body, etc. Being enticed by the pleantness, one forgets to note and to `let it go'. The mind grasps at the agreeable experience and want to enjoy it for some time. Such an experience may bring the yogi to the wrong conclusion that he or she has reached a certain stage of insight which is an impediment for further progress.

"Whatever one may understand inwardly and outwardly, one has to avoid becoming proud of one's conveinctions. For the wise have said that this is not the state of calm" (Sutta Nip‚ta 917)

It will be evident, as is said earlier, that it is important to keep a sharp alertness in all situations and not to grasp at any object., pleasant or unpleasant. The keynote of the practice of vipassan‚ is to protect one's mindfulness. Then mindfulness will protect the yogi against wrong view and confusion about what is real or not.

The effect of a more established mindfulness will be felt in all activities. The five aspects which give mindfulness its specific significance for the vipassan‚ practice will become gradually a natural habit. They are:

  1. Its function to notice the moment of occurrence of an object;
  2. The impartial character of mindfulness;
  3. The ability to slow down one's activities which gives one the opportunity to observe accurately;
  4. To keep the mind focused on the present supported by momentary concentration (khaika sam‚di);
  5. The arising of clear comprehension as an effect of constant alertness.

In case disturbances arise in the mind, one is able to meet them with more calm than one could do previously. One can easily let it go, before the commotion becomes too overwhelming.

The mind tends to become more pliant and it will be easy to remain in the present. Habitual programmings in the mind lose their strong grip due to the increasing insight that the past is definitely past.

Owing to wrong view, the relation between cause and effect is mainly rather vague. This leads often to wrong conclusions. More understanding of what is in the present will engender a cautiousness in one's behaviour, realising that new causes, with their future effects, are created in the present. By missing the moment here and now, dreaming away, following ideas, it may result in embarrassing situations if things turn out to be quite different from that which one has banked on. No external agency or situation can be blamed for the self-created effects of one's deeds and one's reaction when one is confronted with their results.

In the practice of vipassan‚, through noting an clear comprehension, one will gradually understand how these conditions are coming into being in oneself and how they, in turn, are forming new conditions for the arising of other mental and bodily processes.

The emotional value of tenacious habits in the mind which are based on specific ideas about persons and things, including one's own functioning will become abated. Things become obscure and confusing when one's own reaction to them and their emotional import are not rightly understood.

It is not in the contact of the eye with the visible object or of the ear with the audible object etc. itself, that the pleasantness or unpleasantness is present. In that case it will be difficult to become enlightened, because one cannot close one's eyes and ears etc. It is the way the mind picks it up as nutriment for its own activities, by making a distinction between things as agreeable or not.

Just by going to the pine and examining it closely, one will learn more about the pine, similarly, the investigation of mind (n‚ma) and matter (rupa) will reveal something more about their intrinsic nature. That knowledge enables one to see things as they really are, which means that one has come to right view or wisdom (pann‚).

3. The Vipassan‚ Practice and Daily Life Situations

PEOPLE often think that vipassan‚ bh‚nan‚ is limited to sitting on a cushion for some hours, mindfully watching the rising and falling movements of the abdomen together with being alert in the walking exercises. However, when one leaves the mindfulness behind on the meditation cushion after returning to daily life activities, it will bring about but a little result with regard to the attainment of any insight-knowledge.

Vipassan‚ is in fact not a part-time activity. Mental development cannot be done effectively when one confines oneself to only the actual meditation sessions and one, in the remaining time, forgets to be mindful. The mindfulness developed in a retreat or in the daily sessions might have its effect for some time afterwards, but if it is neglected in other activities it will quickly wither away. Becoming absent-minded again, one will soon lapse into one's old habitual patterns of thought.

It goes without saying that in daily life situations, one cannot apply minclfulness with the same acuity as in the actual practice. But when mindfulness is consequently maintained, even at a more superficial level, it will have its benefits for both one's attitude in social life and in the practice itself.

Cultivating the habit of doing things mindfully in normal work-a-day situations has also its effect on the meditative practice in the sense that concentration and mindfulness are already present to a certain extent and can easily be developed to a deeper level necessary for a sharp and unbroken noting. By keeping the mindfulness at all levels on-going, the obstructive factors are prevented from becoming overpowering in daily situations too.

The advantage of guarding mindfulness in one's daily life is that one becomes less forgetful. It means not wasting one's time and energy looking for things that are put down somewhere thoughtlessly or not remembering things at the moment one needs to know them, because of a lack of attentiveness. There are numerous instances in which one finds oneself in a quandary because one was unmindful.

Being mindful in all activities prevents unnecessary irritation to arise, because one is fully aware of what one has done earlier. Verbal and physical behaviour will become more well~imposed.

Another benefit of being mindful is that less mistakes will be made. One is sharply aware of what one is doing, not allowing oneself to dream away or to try to do various things in the shortest time possible. That little time extra that one gives oneself in being mindful and to do just one thing at a time, will work out to be more efficient. It often takes more time to restore one's mistakes than the time one needs to do things fully alert.

There are circumstances in which one can hardly be alert. They are called the direct enemies of mindfulness. The first opponent is one's uncontrolled bodily movements. For example, roaring with laughter, giving vent to one's pleasurable mood by slapping another person's back, can certainly not be considered as a mindful act. Arahats, who are always mindful and experience happiness, only smile.

People tend to make in their verbal and physical activities a lot of unnecessary gestures of which they are hardly aware.

Another imminent danger to mindfulness is the unbridled stream of sense-impressions people `swallow' daily. They provide daily nutriment for unwholesome states of mind. The mind certainly has wholesome states too which arise on account of sense-impressions like the compassion one may have when seeing the suffering of others. However, thoughts that are rooted in attachment, anger and delusion mainly outnumber the ones based on, for instance, thoughts of impartial friendliness, benevolence and wisdom. Guarding the sense doors and being more selective in the intake of sense-data will not only sharpen the mindfulness but it also curbs one's habitual emotional reaction to them.

The third enemy is one's passions. States of mind related to anger, greed and confusion are closely associated with the arising of emotions. Emotions have the tendency to become overwhelming when they are not curtailed by mindfulness. They are mainly based on a clouded view on reality with the strong inclination to self-centred interest i.e. "my experience", "I am hurt", etc.

To maintain mindfulness as much as possible in daily life, one needs to be selective in order to protect oneself against these hazards and to be steadfast in noting whenever one is able to do it. It will be helpful to have regular contact with persons who practise mindfulness themselves and who are advanced in vipassan‚ bh‚van‚.

Though it cannot always be prevented one should avoid close contact with persons who show no interest in the practice or who do not see the benefit of mental development. However, it does not mean that one should consider these persons as potential enemies to one's practice. The only thing one has to do is to protect one's own state of mind rather than having ideas about others. When one can share good experiences with others, with regard to the benefits the development of mindfulness has for one's life, one should do it at any time.

With the inclination to establish mindfulness it will come naturally and will gradually become a habit.

The development of bare attention or mindfulness (sail) is instrumental in terminating inner conflict (dukkha) and disharmony in one's life. It is not an end in itself.

In this context, it will be useful to realize that every time there is sharp noting, dukkha cannot arise at that specific moment, because there is no room left between the moments of sharp noting of mental and bodily events. The efficacy of mindfulness is the gradual fading away of attachment which is the cause of dukkha.

People often consider attachment an indispensable ingredient of social life. In a way they are right. It is because of attachment that people start family life or a certain career. It is however, also on account of attachment that there is a lot of conflict in the social contacts people have. There is, in fact, nothing against attachment but one should realise that it has its consequences - dukkha.

On the other hand, it is also possible that people develop a genuine concern for each other with impartial friendliness (mett‚) and compassion (karun‚) or that they are rejoicing at other's success and happiness (mudit‚). These high qualities of mind can only come to their full scope when they are not hampered by attachment. Their effect will be a tranquil mind free from preferences. Attachment makes people prejudiced and partial.

Well-applied mindfulness leading to the profound understanding of the fugitive nature of all phenomena (anicca), reveals the opposite character of attachment. Because attachment means holding on, clinging to, it causes dukkha. When one has done away with attachment, one is consequently free from dukkha. That does not imply that one becomes indifferent in a hedonic way. Knowing oneself what dukkha' is in one's life and becoming gradually free from it, one will have compassion towards oneself and others as well, considering the fearful position of being in the endless cycle of becoming. Having made the mind free from all states of defilements, one will be able to help others more effectively, apart from self-interest which has a close relationship with attachment.

4. Practical Guidelines for Vipassan‚

FOR the yogi it is important to know the instructions for vipassan‚ bh‚van‚ thoroughly and to apply them correctly. Though there are a number of different methods of vipassan‚, they all aim at the development of insight and wisdom by observing mental and physical processes (n‚ma-r–pa). To climb a mountain, one can make use of different possibilities and techniques to come at the top. All who start climbing, want in one or another way to reach the summit.

If one starts with one method, it is not advisable to combine it with other instructions or to mix different methods together. This will certainly lead to confusion which is opposite to the aim of vipassan‚ namely to reach non-confusion or wisdom. Before embarking on the practice of vipassan‚ the yogi should take the following points into consideration. One should be aware whether one's own purpose to start the practice is according to the aim of vipassan‚. The yogi should realise that the practice of vipassan‚ demands a certain `fighting spirit' in the sense of not giving up too easily. The yogi can be compared to a warrior going to the battlefield to conquer defilements, i.e. dukkha in all its manifestations and hidden forms. It requires a transparent honesty towards oneself. One has to be courageous and not too proud to admit less pleasant things in oneself and there should be a willingness to work on them.

In any battle one needs also some rest to regain strength. One should avoid over-stressing. It will have more effect when one makes the mind calm and well-equipped by way of developing concentration and mindfulness gradually. Without patience and self-acceptance, the practice will become ill-balanced. Self-acceptance means to take oneself as one is at the specific moment as a starting point to work on it. Ideas about oneself, what one should be or should not be, are an obstacle for progress and are certainly not a result of keen insight.

Starting the practice, one should wear. loose clothes, covering the body property. During a retreat one should put one's things in the kuti or room in order and conveniently arranged. In that case one does not have to waste time and energy searching for things. One should only bring the most necessary things. books and writing-paper should not be used.

From the beginning of a retreat one should make an effort to slow down in all activities and to keep strict silence. Talking is a considerable hindrance for one who is practising vipassan‚ intensively.

5. The Sitting Position

IT is important to give some attention to one's posture first. One should sit crossed-legged on a small cushion on a mat or cloth (both legs placed on the floor in full or half lotus position). The knees must touch the floor, the back straight, the upper arms hanging straight down. The hands are resting on the lap, the right hand upon the left, the palms turned upwards, the thumbs touching each other lightly.

The face should be relaxed, the eyes and mouth closed.

In order to relax the body one may take three times a deep in-breath and let the breath come out slowly. Subsequently one directs the attention slowly to that part of the body which is called abdomen.

When the movement of the abdomen can be felt clearly, one starts to observe it by taking mental note according to what one discerns. If one is aware of a rising movement, one notices it accordingly with `rising' as many times as one is aware of rising. When the movement is experienced as going down one notes `falling' in the same way. It is not advisable to try to visualize the particular part of the body or to look at it. If the movement is not clear, one may put the hands lightly on the abdomen and registrate the movement in this way.

In the beginning it is preferable not to pay attention to other objects unless they become too dominant to ignore them. For example, when there is a sensation of pain, one takes mental note `pain' a few times. Without paying further interest one returns to the initial meditation subject, that is the movement of the abdomen. lithe pain is persistent, one repeats this. One should not allow oneself to change one's position. Only in case the pain becomes unbearable, one can take the decision to move. Doing that mindfully, one observes all changes which take place in the body and the mind as well.

One should not start with taking mental note of other phenomena before the awareness of the rising and falling movement of the abdomen is quite clear and can be watched for some time without a break. lithe mindfulness becomes sharper all other events in body and mind that are more prominent than the rise and fall of the abdomen, should be noted accordingly. After noting them one returns to the basic subject if there is no other object to take note of.

While one is noting, it is important to know what is noted. In order to get that knowledge the yogi `labels' that what is arising and is noted. It means that one mentally labels or names, the object of awareness according to its nature, like `thinking' the moment one is aware of thinking. In the same way one may note hearing, smelling, heat, pain, itching, etc. when they become objects of awareness. This labeling must be kept short, without giving the object more attention than necessary for knowing it. In case one does not know how to classify an object, one just lets it go taking further mental note of the following objects.

6. The Walking Practice

THOUGH walking in the practice does not get so much attention compared to the sitting posture, it is of equal importance. One should practise walking and sitting alike. In both it is the element of motion (v‚yo dh‚tu) that is the object of awareness though in a different `setting'.

When the yogi decides to do the walking practice, he or she mindfully changes the posture from sitting via pushing up the body to the posture of standing. The standing position deserves as much mindful attention as all other postures. One should take the time to observe movement in standing as well. Gradually one directs the attention to that part of the body on which one is standing, namely the feet. When starting with walking, one notices the various movements as lifting, pushing forwards, going down and pressing etc.

In the beginning of the walking practice one can walk a little bit more slowly than one's normal tempo, noting the steps, right, left. Gradually one should slowdown the movement and walk as slowly as possible. This gives one the opportunity to observe more mindfully the different processes in walking.

During the walking one should not let the eyes wander around but keep the eyes half closed looking at the floor in front. When the end of the walking-path is reached, one notices `standing' again before starting to turn around. One may turn slowly in three times, carefully noting the things of which one becomes aware. After having adopted the standing posture, one starts walking again.

When there are distracting thoughts, one should stop walking, no matter in which position one is, whether the foot is lifted or not. One brings the attention back to the actual and continues the walking. When one wants to resume the sitting posture, one goes slowly back to one's seat and sits down mindfully, noting whatever is clearly discerned.

In all other activities, like eating, drinking, chewing, swallowing, washing oneself, dressing, lying down etc. one should be steadfast in noting them, not allowing the mind to wander around or to lapse into fantasies etc.

When one is able to get a bit more insight into one's own functioning during a retreat, it will be more easy to maintain mindfulness in daily life situations too. Mindfully noting and slowing down one's activities are both indispensable for the practice of vipassan‚.

7. A Few Points to Keep in Mind

IT should be remembered that in the vipassan‚ practice all phenomena are just noted without giving any value to them in the sense of good or bad, with regard to their being preferable or not. They are just present for a brief moment and vanish immediately. One should try to be aware of those particular moments of arising and vanishing of objects.

When the word investigation or examining is used, these terms stand merely for the open-mindedness with which one is able to discern things in their true nature and to understand them in the right way. When one, for instance, is aware of distracting thought, one may, with clear comprehension, recognise immediately whether the thought is rooted in craving, anger or that it has arisen because of confusion. When mindfulness is sharp and clear comprehension present, it takes no time to come to that knowledge.

The yogi should bear in mind that there is in fact no "good" or "bad" meditation. There should be just the right effort to see mindful- what is in present in body and mind. Any idea about `my practice' is based on conceptual thinking associated with self-centeredness.

In order to come to a profound understanding of the intrinsic nature of things, including one's own life, one should develop the establishing of mindfulness with, great endeavour. To become free from inner conflict, not causing contention and disturbance is really understanding one's responsibility in life.

Because one lives, one has the responsibility to do something with this life with regard to one's own inner development as well as in the social context. Every serious attempt to make an end of all conflict (dukkha) in one self is in fact the best social attitude one can have.

One who has overcome conflict and disharmony in one's own life will not create any trouble for others too. Such a person is a happy one.

Source: The Buddhist Society of Queensland Home Page, http://www.uq.net.au/slsoc/budsoc.html, BSQ Tracts on Buddhism No. 13

[Back to English Index]