I recently attended a 10 Vipassana Meditation retreat at Dhamma Surabhi (The Fragrance of Dhamma) in Merritt, BC. It is a 10-day meditation retreat conducted in silence taught under the guidance of S.N. Goenka.
Here’s a summary of the teaching:
Vipassana means to see things as they are. It’s a universal meditation technique teaching the path of Dhamma (The Law of Nature – Impermanence). It’s a simple, scientific, pragmatic, and a result-oriented technique to free us from suffering and bring true happiness into our lives and the lives of those among us. It is self-purification through self-observation.
A unique and powerful aspect of Vipassana is that this technique guides us through experiential understanding instead of intellectualizing or philosophizing the teachings. This is to say that each individual experiences uniquely for themselves the principles of nature, which in turn allows – experientially – for the cessation of suffering to take place by breaking the negative habit patterns at the root level of the mind. Everything is verified and experienced by the student. No blind devotion or faith.
So, how does Vipassana offer this type of experiential understanding? Each individual learns to work within the framework of their own body at the level of respiration and body sensations. The goal is to objectively observe these sensations, without reacting to them. However, we are conditioned at the root level of the mind to react to these sensations; when we observe pleasant sensations, we react through craving and when we observe unpleasant sensations, we react through aversion to such sensations. We react through wanting what we don’t have or having what we don’t want – craving and aversion. Instead of observing reality as it is, we observe it as we would like it to be – and that causes us to suffer. So how to observe such sensations objectively, without reacting to them?
By experiencing for oneself, physical body sensations we understand at the actual level the nature of these sensations; they arise and pass away. Within the framework of our own bodies we gain experiential understanding that our sensations are subject to the Law of Nature, which is to say they are subject to impermanence; that whatever is given birth will ultimately pass away. As you read this, you can easily intellectualize what I am saying, but the technique allows you to experience it for yourself.
As we continue to observe the body sensations, we experientially understand two things: one, that such sensations are subject to the Law of Nature and are impermanent, and two, that we react to these sensations through craving and aversion which yields us to suffer. With this in mind, it becomes meaningless to crave pleasant sensations because we know for ourselves that they will arise and pass away. Thus craving leads to unnecessary suffering. Why crave (and suffer) for something we know will ultimately pass away? Similarly, it is meaningless to have aversion to unpleasant sensations as they too are subject to change. Thus aversion leads to unnecessary suffering.
With this internalized wisdom, we can now begin to observe the physical body sensations with some level of objectivity, with a balanced mind – this is the concept of equanimity! Our goal is to observe the physical body sensations with equanimity, without reacting to the sensations.
For example, because the back pain you observe while sitting in meditation is subject to the law of nature (which you yourself understand internally) then instead of reacting through aversion by shifting to ease the pain, just observe the pain with the understanding of impermanence – the pain has arisen, but will ultimately pass away. Likewise for pleasant sensations.
By observing objectively, without reacting through craving and aversion, we begin to break the mental habit patterns of craving and aversion that we have so firmly established at the root level of the mind. As we break these chains of bondage, we are purifying the mind at the deepest level. When you remove all of the impurities of the mind, one is left with a pure mind, and one who’s mind harbours but pure thoughts will manifest but pure wholesome actions.
When one observes body sensations equanimously and objectively by understanding the Law of Impermanence, it becomes meaningless to attach our sense of selves to sensations because everything is subject to change. Pleasurable sensations will rise and pass; it is meaningless to crave them. Sensations of discomfort will rise and fall; it is meaningless to have aversion towards them. There is no need to make physical sensations into mental sensations, to identify yourself with the sensation. Observing through this lens of equanimity breaks the deeply rooted habit patterns of the mind, which would otherwise react through craving and aversion, ultimately manifesting as suffering and misery on the surface.
In turn, this practice is so practical and result-oriented! Once developed withing the framework of they body, it can then immediately be applied in the external world. It is the skill of observing reality with awareness and equanimity, as the reality is, not as we would like it to be. Once we are on the path to purify the mind, we can act through pure intentions of compassion, harmony, peace, and love – this is Vipassana, this is the Art of Living.
This is just my take on the teachings and my own application of SN Goenka’s discourse. If you’re interested in Vipassana in BC, check out Dhamma Surabhi’s website:)