Introduction to Insight Meditation
by Venerable Sujiva
Insight and Concentration
The next thing that you need is to be able to differentiate between concentration and mindfulness. It will determine the direction you are heading – whether you are on the path to tranquility or insight development.
Most meditation methods emphasize concentration. They bring the mind to focus on one point or object, thereby achieving strength of concentration. The results are very peaceful states, and in extreme cases give rise to supernormal powers. Isn’t this what people are hoping to achieve? No wonder most head towards that direction!
For Buddhists, that way does not lead completely away from all our sufferings, although it can lighten them considerably for a period of time. The answer to the predicament is Insight, which is the realization of the real Nature of the world as it is, freed from concepts. In simple words, all mental and material processes that make up this world are really impermanent, unsatisfactory and non-self. Seeing thus, one turns away from them and finds refuge in the unconditioned state, the everlasting peace of the absolute reality, Nibbana. Without realizing the unsatisfactory state of conditioned existence, one is greatly attached to it and, therefore, emancipation is impossible.
To develop this Insight, mindfulness is emphasized as the main feature, and concentration steps down to second place as another necessary factor.
To differentiate between mindfulness and concentration we can quote their characteristics:
From here we can conclude that concentration can come without mindfulness, but when mindfulness is present, to some degree, there is concentration.
Normally in tranquillity practice, although concentration is the main objective, there must also be mindfulness to bring it about. But that mindfulness is not as thorough as you would achieve in Insight meditation. Besides, its objects differ, i.e. a conceptual one with tranquility practice.
If one’s aim is to really look within, to discover who and what one really is, then mindful observation must be borne in mind as the main factor. Then one is like a scientist, making a close and thorough observation of his subject. Once there is enough, one gets the full picture with all its details. That is when mindfulness is transformed into insight. So in insight meditation, one observes with concentrated awareness on the objects, eg. rising/falling of the abdomen, sitting/touching, pain, thinking, right foot/left foot, etc., and will soon discover that all these (including the observing mind) are just processes that arise and pass away so rapidly. The meditator then realises that all these processes are changing (impermanent), beyond individual control, and unsatisfactory. In insight meditation this also means an abandoning of clinging to the false self, and there is a return to original nature.
The abolishing of the “I am” – that is truly supreme bliss.
~ Udana ~
Welcome to my favorite world. This world with nobody around, just mental and material processes going on. This is what I find most meaningful. This is where the real meaning of life is! When you are really aware of these things, there’s no place for attachment, anger, hallucinations and all those negative qualities. They just don’t fit in when one is really aware of these things. There you are – the peace and meaning to live by, and that is to discover the final journey within, to be home with the absolute.
Unfortunately, the scope of this little booklet is such that I can only give an introduction to what Insight meditation is, and the basic exercises. There are definitely many more steps to be taken and it will be best if you approach the people who have done it before and are able to give you suitable advice. It is, of course, preferable that you attend a more complete course, under a qualified instructor, on a part-time basis or at an intensive retreat.
For those who are daring enough to try, using just the basic knowledge contained in this booklet, I have one or two more things to say.
Firstly, these minimal instructions are meant only for those without any serious psychological problems. If one is under medication or treatment for mental abnormalities, it is stressed further that this booklet is insufficient. They have to get in touch with a qualified teacher.
Secondly, if one gains concentration, one may meet with various experiences. There may be joyful feelings, visions, voices, or even fear. The simplest step is to note them mindfully. They should eventually subside and pass away within a minute. Do not be attached or panic if they don’t. If worst comes to worst, just open your eyes and get up. Do this also if the mind goes into worse states of restlessness when the sitting progresses after half an hour. This can happen when your mind is burdened by tons of problems or unresolved issues. Do quick walking instead. The principle is to be Mindful. If mindfulness does not increase, but worsens instead, something is wrong.
Last, but not least, seize an opportunity to attend an intensive course or retreat on Insight (Vipassana) meditation. The progress and understanding of the practice in a retreat of about ten days can be better than that achieved in a period of one year, done by oneself on a daily basis.