Sunday, December 18, 2011

Becoming Spirit: Vipassana (Part 2 of 5)

Friends: This is a 5-part transpersonal theory series on spiritual unfolding and personal practice. I presented this paper at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in 2004. Before continuing, you may wish to read Part One (Introduction) here first. ~ ER


Vipassana Meditation and Personal Practice

Before examining the question, “What is Vipassana?” it is important to note what attracted me to Buddhism in the first place. Perhaps most significant, in the words of the Buddha himself, is the message“be a lamp unto oneself” – not taking any one person’s word for it at face value, and investigate thoroughly. Put simply, to practice Buddhism is to practice being awake.

As Huston Smith points out so eloquently, the Buddha taught that “on every question, personal experience was the final test of truth. ‘Do not go by reasoning; nor by inferring; nor by argument.’ A true disciple must ‘know for himself.’” (Smith, 1991, p. 98) For myself, after two decades of New Age-type experiences ranging from zowie-wowie crystal healers to blue-green algae zealots, Wiccan Beltane ceremonies, and “the little people living inside Mount Shasta,” it was time to “get real,” and awaken to my own truth.

Vipassana – called Lhakthong in Tibetan and Vipashyana in Sanskrit (Tendzin, 1982) – is, put in its simplest terms, the insight meditation practice which is the foundation of Theravada Buddhism. Theravada is known as “the Way of the Ancients” or “the Way of the Elders.” Theravadan Buddhism is differentiated from Mahayana or Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism in that the concentration is on wisdom rather than compassion (Smith, 1991). Compassion, metta, or loving-kindness is seen as a result of Vipassana mindfulness meditation practice, rather than the other way around.

In my own practice, I have stayed with Theravada and Vipassana meditation because of its minimalist approach. At this point in my journey, “less is more.” At the core of Vipassana is mindfulness – “paying attention to the details of our experience.” (Tendzin, p. 32). We become mindful of the breath without trying to change it, just as we become mindful of the gaps between exhaling and inhaling. In my own meditation tradition, taught by S.N. Goenka of the U Ba Khin Burmese lineage, we expand this observation to include vigilant awareness of bodily sensations. The practice is simple, portable, and effective. Maintaining equanimity and balance of the mind, we become increasingly non-reactive to our tendencies of avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure.


Works cited in this series of posts:

Dhammadaro, A. L. (1998). Inner strength: sixteen talks Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastary.

Smith, H. (1991). The world’s religions: completely revised and updated edition of The religions of man. San Francisco: Harper.

Tendzin, O. (1982). Buddha in the palm of your hand. Boulder, CO: Shambala Publications, Inc.

Trungpa, C. (1973). Cutting through spiritual materialism. Berkeley, CA: Shambala.

Wilber, K. (1997). A spirituality that transforms. What is Enlightenment magazine, 12.

Wilber, K. (1999). One taste: the personal journals of Ken Wilber. Boston, MA. Shambala.

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