how to meditate - vipassana
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How to Meditate
Note: These instructions are drawn from the vipassana traditions of Mahasi Sayadaw and
Chao Khun Bhavanapirama Thera. It is assumed the reader is familiar with the article, What is
A Suitable Place
Exercise 1: Rising and Falling
Limit Your Goal
Primary and Secondary Objects
One Object at a Time
Know and Let Go
Mindfulness When Changing Posture
Exercise 2: Walking Meditation
Exercise 3: Hand Motions
Exercise 4: Sitting
If Strong Emotions Arise
Letting Go of "I"
How to Observe Objects
Exercise 5: Sitting-Touching
Exercise 6: Rising-Falling-Sitting
Exercise 7: Rising-Falling-Sitting-Touching
Exercise 8: The Lying Down Posture
Exercise 9: The Standing Posture
If You Experience Bliss
Desire is Not Your Guide
Paying Respect to the Teachings
The Moral Precepts
A Natural Method?
Sharing Merit and Lovingkindness (Metta)
Mindfulness in Daily Life
This article offers step-by-step instructions for nine insight meditation exercises, as well as a
detailed explanation of mindful eating, hints on dealing with problems such as wandering
mind, sleepiness, disturbing mental images, unpleasant emotions, and more.
The following exercises are not necessarily listed in order of difficulty. Exercises suitable for
beginners are noted. We generally recommend beginners start with the rising and falling or
hand motions exercise. Basic walking meditation is also appropriate for beginners.
To start, choose one or two exercises and practice them daily. Even after you gain more
experience, you don't have to do all the exercises. Practicing just one exercise consistently
is more important.
If there's something you don't understand at first, please don't let that daunt you. Although
vipassana is a very simple method, many aspects of meditation only become clear by actually
doing it. The best way to understand is to practice the exercises.
Although these Buddhist meditation exercises come from the traditions of the Burmese
teacher Mahasi Sayadaw and the Thai teacher Chao Khun Bhavanapirama Thera, you don't
have to be a Buddhist to practice them. Vipassana is a non-secular method.
[Note: This information is not meant to substitute for the guidance of a qualified instructor.
Anyone serious about insight meditation should eventually find a teacher who can offer
individualized counsel. In order to better understand some of the ideas presented here we
recommend reading the link: What is Vipassana?]
A Suitable Place
Find a place where you can sit comfortably, without interruptions, for at least ten minutes.
Although complete silence isn't necessaryor even desirablefor insight meditation, the
room should be free of obtrusive noises such as music, television, constantly-ringing phones,
and nearby conversations. Even quiet talk can distract you because the mind will try to
understand the words.
On the other hand, background noises like the sound of traffic, the bark of a dog or a ticking
clock should not be considered hindrances, and in fact can be legitimate objects of
mindfulness. Don't wear earplugs in an attempt to "soundproof" your practice.
If you meditate in the bedroom it's better to sit on the floor instead of the bed, which may
cause sleepiness. (If you are ill or disabled, however, it is fine to practice in bed). Your
sitting meditation space doesn't have to be large. Even a walk-in closet will do.
Wear loose clothing if possible, and remove your shoes. Sometimes you might want to
practice away from home (at the office, perhaps) and you won't be able to change clothes.
But as long as you have privacy you can loosen your belt, remove your jacket and footwear,
and find a comfortable place to sit.
The following postures are suitable for sitting meditation: 1. Half lotus; 2. Full lotus; 3.
Cross-legged tailor fashion; 4. Legs bent with one leg in front (Burmese style); 5. Kneeling on
a meditation bench; 6. Sitting in a chair.
The first pose, half lotus, is the one most often seen in the Buddha statues of Southeast
Asia. The legs are crossed and the right foot rests on the left thigh. This position is
appropriate for most meditators. The next pose, full lotus, is only practical if you are very
flexible. The right foot rests on the left thigh, the left foot on the right thigh.
Tailor fashion is less stable but easier than half lotus. Easiest of all the floor positions is the
Burmese pose in which the legs are bent but not crossed. One leg lies in front of or "outside"
the other. Both legs rest on the floor but don't touch each other. If these postures are too
difficult you can sit on a chair or a meditation bench.
When using a chair, keep your feet flat on the ground and try not to let your back touch the
chair. If you need to change posture because of discomfort, do so slowly and mindfully,
observing the intention to move before shifting the body. Whatever pose you choose should
be comfortable enough that you can maintain it without moving for at least twenty minutes
(unless you're practicing for a shorter time, of course).
When sitting on the floor it will help to use a cushion. The cushion should be firm enough that
it won't be compressed flat when sat on. The ideal thickness is somewhere between two and
six inches. You'll want to experiment and find out what works best for you. Place the cushion
under your buttocks with your legs touching the floor. The legs should not rest on the
cushion. Elevating the hips takes stress off the neck and back vertebrae and aligns the
spine, which allows you to sit comfortably for longer periods.
Regardless of which position you choose, don't let your back slump too much. On the other
hand, you shouldn't sit so straight that you tense the body. Mind and body should feel
relaxed, yet alert. Striking the right balance between the two extremes will take some
experimenting. Think of tuning a guitar string: it should be just rightneither too tight nor
Having found a comfortable position, put your hands in your lap, one on top of the other,
with the palms facing upward. Traditionally the back of the right hand rests on top of the left
palm. Don't clench your hands. In all the exercises except walking meditation your eyes can
be either open or closed (in walking meditation your eyes must be open).
We advise beginners to close their eyes, which allows for easier concentration. But
sometimes concentration becomes stronger than mindfulness. In that case opening the eyes
may help disperse the excess concentration and bring the two factors into balance again.
Only momentary concentration is needed for insight meditation. Occasionally a meditator may
experience disturbing mental images, in which case it may help to open the eyes.
Now you are ready to begin meditating. Choose one of the following exercises and practice it
for at least ten minutes. Remember that all physical movements, such as walking and moving
the hands, should be performed slowly, with continuous mindfulness. Shall we dive in?
You may wish to make a resolution before each practice-session. Doing so will help
strengthen your determination. You can use your own words, but the spirit of the aspiration
should be something like this: "By this practice of insight meditation may I reach the end of
suffering. May others also benefit from this wholesome action." Don't just repeat the words.
Really concentrate on the resolve for a moment or two.
Exercise 1: Rising and Falling
(Suitable for beginners)
We recommend this vipassana technique for everyone. Adopt one of the sitting postures. If
you are disabled or have a chronic illness you can do the exercise lying down.
If you choose a sitting position, place your hands in your lap, palms facing upward, the right
hand on top of the left. If doing the exercise lying down, put your hands on the abdomen,
one on top of the other, or at your sides. Close your eyes.
Next, direct your attention to the abdomen, an inch or two above the navel. Find the point
that seems clearest to you. Don't actually look at the spot. Just place your mind there. The
point should lie along the vertical midline of the body.
As you breathe in, the abdomen expands; as you breathe out, it contracts. In meditation
these movements are called, respectively, "rising" and "falling." They never cease to
alternate as long as you live.
As the abdomen rises, observe the motion from beginning to end with your mind. When the
abdomen falls, do the same. That's all there is to it. Just keep watching the rising and falling
movements. You don't have to do anything to them. Just know the movements without
judging or describing them.
If it is difficult to perceive the rising and falling motions, put your hand on your stomach in
order to feel them clearly.
Instead of making a continuous loop, the rising and falling motions are actually separate
movements. Imagine a rock thrown straight up in the air. When reaching the highest point