Wednesday, 7 December 2016

To see things as they really are: Meditation Vipassana

Vipassana means to see things as they really are. Meditation means to focus the ruminative quality of mind. Sometimes this is focused on the breath, or a mantra, a visual image, counting, even spinning discs, all for the purpose of developing concentrentration. But vipassana by contrast is all about something else!

The fundamental question of philosophy is how to live a proper life. In Buddhism, there is attention in particular on which mind states make me unhappy (fear, anger etc. and the domino effects they trigger), and how to overcome them. One way of overcoming these mind states might be to express them, but this could harm others. Another way is to suppress them, but suppression buries and does not fix the underlying tensions. A better way is to divert the mind, such as the Japanese fiction writer Murakami’s reaction of going for a run whenever someone upset him. This provides temporary relief, but the problem might still remain. Vipassana meditation is a technique for both facing problems, as well as developing the concentration which makes the mind stronger and less likely to get upset.

It always amazes me that Buddha left his wife and young son at the age of 29 in order to follow this path. There is an image he gives of purifying water in a lake. When alum is sprayed on the water, the dirt in the water sinks to the bottom so you can drink it. Concentration is like this alum on the water. But each time, there’s a storm, it whips up the water again and mixes it up with the mud. So how to clean up the lake for good? This is the aim of vipassana. 

Personally, I approached this with great scepticism, but there have been amazing advances in perceptual psychology in the last few decades, most notably by Milner & Goodale that there are two perceptual pathways by which we process our experiences. These two are the perception, and secondly the sensation as I evaluate that perception and react subconsciously to it. To overcome negative mind-states, Buddha sought to cut the chain of events leading to them at the pattern of sensation, at the deep part of the mind that reacts without me knowing it. New experiments in psychology are showing signals in the brain indicating which way a subject shall make a decision, sometimes even seconds before the subject has consciously evaluated and come to that decision. 

The four foundations of mindfulness are mindfulness of mind (citta), mind contents or qualities (dharmas), mindfulness of body (kaya) and mindfulness of bodily sensations (vedanas). Some interpret the latter as emotions or feelings, but I think it's rather our bodily reactions to those feelings. It is the latter form of mindfulness that vipassana, revived in Burma by Ledi Sayadaw in the last century, focuses on. The other forms of mindfulness will follow along with it. The purpose of this talk is really to intrigue you into doing a 10-day retreat. Let me just end by saying that this mindfulness of bodily sensations involves a dual awareness, not only of what comes up, but also of its changing, impermanent nature… to see things as they really are!

Source: Anonymous. This is merely written up by me.

Published originally on Buddhist Travellers in 2012.

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