Insight Meditation

Dr.Chamlong Disayavanish
Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiary,
Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University.
Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand.


The intending meditators should take note of the different types of meditation. The insight meditation (Vipassana) leads to cessation of defilements, while the concentration meditation (Samatha) to tranquilization of defilements. The first way, if completed, defilements are eradicated, the other way defilements remain latent, and persons are prone to self-deception. Those meditators who practice concentration only, may feel that they are achieving something, whereas in fact, their experiences tend to become obstacles on the path of true liberation.

If meditators develop concentration (samadha) by means of repetition of holy names or mantras, sound, divine effulgence, dhyana, meditation on chakras (centers in the body) or any other concepts, the strength of the mind acquired thus, is not favourable for insight meditation or vipassana awareness. It is an extroverted process and will induce the meditator to proceed towards conventional concepts (Pannatti) only.

In fact, in the the practice of insight meditation, the meditators are instructed to focus on the mental (nama) and material (rupa) processes that arise through the six sense-organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind) as they really are. By means of bare attention or wise attention, for example, at every moment of seeing, the meditator is advised to contemplate and note continuously as “seeing, seeing, seeing” At the moment of seeing, without the comtemplation in this manner, the pleasant, the unpleasant or the neutral feelings appears, leading to the arising of desires, attachments and resultant suffering. The attachment to the concept of a creature, a person, I, mine, self, or ego will eventually arise.

However, for the beginners of insight meditation, it is very difficult for them to observe any psychophysical phenomenon or the ultimate reality (Paramattha) that happens through the six sense-doors. They must begin with just a few. Therefore, the contemplation of the body is commonly practiced by taking note of behaviors of the body as they arise, in accordance with the sections on the body postures, mindfulness with clear comprehension and reflection of the material elements. To begin practice, take the sitting posture with legs crossed and then try to keep the mind (but not the eyes) on the abdomen. After a short time the upward movement of the abdomen on inhalation and the downward movement on exhalation will become clear. Then make a mental note, “rising” for the upward movement, and “falling” for the downward movement. The meditators are not concerned with the shape or form of the abdomen, but they have to pay their attention to the bodily sensation of pressure caused by the heaving movement of the abdomen.

For the beginners, this is a very effective method of developing the faculties of faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and clear comprehension. It is noteworthy that to observe the rising and falling of the abdomen is to watch the wind element that is in motion because of the contraction and relaxation of the diaphragm. The wind element (vayo dhatu) or the element of stiffness and motion is the subject for the contemplation of the body. There are six kinds of wind or air element, namely (1) motion upward which may cause belching, hiccup or vomiting, (2) motion downward which carries feces and urine out of the body, (3) wind in the belly outside the bowels, (4) wind in the bowels or intestines, (5) wind that runs through all limbs, giving rise to walking, standing, sitting, lying, bending, stretching and so on and (6) breath, i.e., the in-breath and out-breath. For this reason, the contemplation on the rising and falling movement of the abdomen can not be considered as a form of mindfulness of breathing. Obviously, it is a part of reflection on the material element.

While engaged in insight meditation, instances of the four elements reveal themselves in a “here and now”. In sitting meditation, the meditator’s entire body becomes stiff or hard. The stiffness, hardness or softness is the characteristic of the earth element. One gets a burning sensation at the point of contact. This is a function of the fire element. One is dripping with sweat. This is an illustration of the water element. One observes the movement of the abdomen in the up and down directions. Here are the function and the manifestation of the wind element. A meditator has to understand this language of the four elements.

In general, the practice of insight meditation is based on the four foundation of mindfulness, namely

1. Foundation of the Contemplation of the Body.

a. Sitting meditation. The meditators sit with crossed legs on the floor or seat and try to keep the mind (but not the eyes) on the abdomen. The meditators will thereby come to know the movements of rising and falling of the abdominal wall. Then they are advised to make a mental note, rising for the outward movement, falling for the inward movement. The mental note of each movement must be made while it occurs. From this exercise the meditators learn the actual manner of the movements of the abdomen as already described.

b. Standing meditation. With head up straight and looking forward about five feet in standing position, the meditators make a mental note of, “standing, standing, standing.” To acknowledge the standing position three times is to deepen mindfulness and awareness of the present.

c. Walking meditation. There are six walking exercises in which mindfulness and awareness (clear comprehension) of the movement of the legs and feet become progressively developed.

(1) First stage.
Right goes thus, Left goes thus.
When the right feet advance, the meditators acknowledge the movement, Right goes thus,” keeping attention fixed on the soles of the right feet as they move from the point of lifting the legs to the point of placing them down. The word thus notes when feet are placed on the floor. Every step of movement should be acknowledged in this manner

(2) Second stage.
Lifting and Treading.
When the meditators want to lift their feet, a mental note should be made of “lifting,” and when they want to place them down they make a note of “treading.” So the second stage should be notes as “lifting and treading”

(3) Third stage.
Lifting, Moving, and Treading.
In the third stage, the movement of the feet in divided into three parts. As the left or right feet are lifted, the meditators make a mental note “lifting.” As the feet are moving forward, they say in their minds, “moving,” and as the feet touch the floor, they say in their minds, “treading.” To recapitulate, the three stages of the third walking exercise are “lifting, moving, and treading”

(4) The fourth stage
Heel up, Lifting, Moving, and Treading.
The fourth walking exercise in as follows: As the right or left feet are lifted, the meditators must be aware of the heels going up and make a mental note, “heel up.” They next focus attention on the lifting movement of the whole feet and say in their minds, “lifting.” As the feet move forward they make the acknowledge-ment “moving,” and as the feet touch the ground, they acknowledge “treading.”

(5) The fifth stage
Heel up, Lifting, Moving, Lowering, and Touching.
The meditators acknowledge the fifth walking exercise in five steps as follows: “heel up, lifting, moving, lowering and touching.” In this stage the downward movement of the feet in divided into two steps. They must be aware of the downward movement before the feet make contact with the floor by making a mental note, “lowering,” and be aware of the feet making contact with floor by making a mental note, “touching.”

(6) The sixth stage.
Heel up, Lifting, Moving, Lowering, Touching, and Pressing.
The sixth walking exercise is the continuation of the fifth stage and has the following acknowledgements : “heel up, lifting, moving, lowering, touching, and pressing.” The meditators lift their heels up, acknowledging, “heel up,” lift the feet entirely acknowledging, “lifting,” move them forward, acknowledging, “moving.” Then they lower their feet and acknowledge, “lowering.” The next new movement is the touching of the feet on the floor with the toes and the ball of the feet, and this they acknowledge mentally, saying, “touching.” As the last movement, they press the feet entirely on the floor and make a mental note, “pressing.”
To recapitulate, the acknowledgements for the six walking exercises are as follows:
For first stage : Right goes thus, and Left goes thus.
For second stage : Lifting and Treading.
For third stage : Lifting, Moving, and Treading.
For fourth stage : Heel up, Lifting, Moving, and Treading.
For fifth stage : Heel up, Lifting, Moving, Lowering, and Touching.
For sixth stage : Heel up, Lifting, Moving, Lowering, Touching, and Pressing
Walking meditation exercises are alternated with sitting meditation exercise. The transition from walking to sitting should be made smoothly and mindfully.

2. Foundation of the Contemplation of the Feelings.
Because of sitting for a long time, there will arise in the body unpleasant feelings of being stiff, numb, painful, hot and so forth. These sensations should be noted as they occur. The mind should be fixed on that spot and a mental note made as “stiff, stiff, stiff” on feeling stiff, as “numb, numb, numb” on feeling numb, as “painful, painful, painful” on feeling painful, as “prickly, prickly, prickly” on feeling prickly sensations and the like. These unpleasant feelings are a form of suffering and the acknowledgement of these sensations is the contemplation of feelings.

3. Foundation of the Contemplation of the Mind
During meditation, it is very hard to control the mind. Though it is directed to the movements of rising and falling of the abdomen, the mind will not stay with them and will wander to other places. This wandering mind should not be let alone. The meditators should make a mental note of “wandering, wandering, wandering” as soon as they notice that the mind is wandering. On such noticing, the mind usually stops wandering, and then the exercise of noting “rising, falling” should be continued.

4. Foundation of the Contemplation of the Mental Objects
There are various methods of contemplating the mental objects. One method is the contemplation of six sense-bases. There are six sense-base whereby contact between the external stimuli and the sense organs can take place.

In practicing insight meditation, the meditators are required to give just bare attention of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and thinking. They can do this by merely acknowledging. “seeing, seeing, seeing” or “hearing, hearing, hearing” or “thinking, thinking, thinking” and so on, as the case may be.

Mindfulness At All Times
In insight meditation or Vipassana an effort should be made to maintain mindfulness at all times, whatever is being done, such as while eating, drinking, washing, dressing, and so on. It is deemed advisable to keep mindfulness constant, and to acknowledge every activity without letting mindfulness slip away.
To sum up, to watch the rising and falling of the movement of abdomen is to observe the wind element (vayo-dhatu) of the four material elements (maha-bhuta) and the tangible object touchable by the wind element (vayo-photthabba-rupa). This method of insight meditation belongs to the contemplation of the body (kayanupassana) which is one of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. During the whole period of such contemplation, the meditator must develope effort (atapi), mindfulness (satima), clear comprehension (sampajano) and concentration (samahito) at all time.

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