vipassana 101

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This is a handout from a meditation class I taught a couple of years ago. It introduces vipassana (insight) meditation and gives instructions on performing it. (Best of course with a teacher.)

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Vipassana 101

Introduction to Vipassana Meditation

About Vipassana 101In this class, youll learn about the meditation practice of Vipassana, or Insight Meditation. Well rst cover the history and intention of this method of meditation, and then well practice with two short meditations. After each youll have a chance to ask questions and discuss your meditation experience. Homer Christensen 298 Figueroa Street Folsom, CA 95630 (916) 220-0141 homer@homerchristensen.com http://TheBodyLuminous.com

OverviewVipassana meditation is style of meditation taught by Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha. In everything Ive read, Gotama never claimed to be other than a man who became enlightened by his own effort. He was not the rst enlightened being -- there were countless other buddhas before him -- and he will not be the last -- there have been many and will be countless buddhas after him. He was not interested in followers or creating a religion (that came later), but instead wanted to teach the path to liberation that he called dhamma. Dhamma, in the language of Gotamas India of 2500 years ago, translates to law, as in the law of nature. It was not based on faith or following anyones teaching, but instead by the personal experience of careful and patient observation of reality as it exists and not as one wishes it to be. By the way, there is no requirement to believe anything or change religious afliation. No imperative to become a Buddhist, much less a monk or nun. Following the path to enlightenment, gaining insight into the way we think and how we react and what the result is--all that Gotama learned and taught--will simply result in making one a better human being, whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew or atheist.

Brief HistoryThe Buddha legend tells us that Gotama was a prince destined for greatness as either a head of state or a religious teacher. Wanting a powerful heir to the throne, his father sequestered him to the palace where everything was perfect and in accord, but one day he snuck out and saw that there was great misery in the world: suffering, illness, poverty, and death. This bothered him greatly and he began to question the purpose and meaning of life.

Vipassana 101 -- Introduction to Vipassana Meditation

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Vipassana 101

Introduction to Vipassana Meditation

He left the palace that night and wandered around for years as a ascetic monk -- one who denies himself pleasure of the esh to develop his spirit. Nearly dead from starvation and ill-health, he realized that hurting oneself was not the way. If one wants to remove suffering in the world, it doesnt do to increase ones own. No, his path would be the middle way. Gotama then sat under a tree with the intention of not moving until he gained understanding into the true nature of things. He sat and meditated without moving, facing the challenges that his body and mind produced, until he tamed them, and then he inquired deeper into reality. In fact, Gotama became so still and so patient of an observer that 2500 years ago he discovered that all matter is impermanent and without solidity. What our quantum theorists are discovering today parallels what he discovered by intense observation: that quarks (he called them kalupas) come into existence and disappear trillions of times each second. Gotama discovered what he termed as the Four Noble Truths. Life as we live it is suffering. Suffering results from desire and aversion and the law of cause and effect (Karma). There can be an end to suffering. Practicing proper morality, concentration, and wisdom is the way to eliminate suffering. Essentially, his four Noble Truths (noble as in they apply to every person, regardless of status or age) stated that life is suffering because we desire something and do not have it, or we have something and do not want it. Good things happen and we want more good things. When they dont occur, we are miserable to a greater or lesser extent. Or we have it and then it is taken away. If a bad thing happens to us, we want it to end. Were not at peace with the reality of our situation, and instead project our version of reality over top of the actual reality. We want it to be one way but it is another way, and the disparity is what makes us suffer. The good news is that there is a way to eliminate the suffering, and the path to achieve that is laid out pretty clearly. The other good news is that we are each responsible for our own peace or unrest, happiness or misery. We have the power to ignore it or to change it.

Vipassana 101 -- Introduction to Vipassana Meditation

copyright 2007

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Vipassana 101

Introduction to Vipassana Meditation

The Basic TheoryThe Law of Karma is one of cause and effect. Everything that occurs has its origin in something that happened before it. For example, to walk through a door, it must rst be opened. To drive a car, it must rst be started. And everything that is will cause some other thing to occur. If you shoot a bullet at someone, that person may get hit. If he gets hit, he may die. If he dies, you may go to prison. That sort of thing. Physicists and quantum theorists tell us that matter is here for a trillionth of a second, and then it is gone for a trillionth of a second (or there abouts). We dont know where it goes, but when it reappears, chances are that it will be identical or pretty nearly identical to what it was before it disappeared. Matter that is gold when it disappears will more than likely reappear as gold. And so it is with thoughts and deeds. Both have a consequence; and both are usually conditioned from some prior occurrence. This is what makes the intention of thoughts and actions so important. A thought will manifest into words, which will develop into a deed. That deed can become a habit and the habit, then becomes the character of a person. As the shadow follows the body As we think, so we become Since matter is impermanent and all matter arises and then disappears, the state of the matter when it disappears determines what it will be when it arises again. Much like a seed produces a plant of the same species. The mind shares the same characteristics - it arises and passes away. Actually everything shares that characteristic, because everything is energy. So a mind that is one way -- angry, sad, happy -- will produce a like mind when it comes back. All this arising and passing away happens so quickly that we tend to think of things as permanent and solid. A block of steel seems pretty solid. But the reality of it is that it is mostly space (the space around and between atoms is greater than the actual physical particles) and not there half of the time. Now, think of the mind as something organic, not some concept. If your mind is happy in this moment, it will tend to stay happy.

Vipassana 101 -- Introduction to Vipassana Meditation

copyright 2007

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Vipassana 101

Introduction to Vipassana Meditation

The Six Sense Doors and Our ReactionsThe Buddha explained that we experience our reality through six sense doors -- touch, smell, sight, hearing, taste, and the mind. A sensation occurs and the mind interprets it and determines the response. The body then reacts accordingly in a biochemical fashion, creating hormones or other compounds, taking action, or some other instinctive response. Our body is receiving sensations through each of the sense doors at every moment on every part of our body. Whenever a sensation is received, it is noted (in a manner of speaking) with more or less permanence. Some sensations are forgotten almost as soon as they occur -- the feel of smooth cloth on your skin, a pleasant smell, gentle heat--and some are etched deeper in our conscious mind: someone we know dies or perhaps we get divorced, injured, or slandered. Sensations are constantly happening to us, so our subconscious is constantly recording our reactions to these sensations. Good, bad. Very Bad.

Feed the Body; Feed the MindMuch like our body needs food to keep it alive, our mind and subconscious needs fuel, too. And this fuel is provided by these recorded sensations. (Gotama called them samskaras.) I tend to think of samskaras as that which we use to dene ourself; I am this kind of person because this horrible thing happened to me or I performed such-and-such action. We store these samskaras and reuse them again and again. In a very real way, these samskaras are what keep us believing that were different (better/ worse/etc) than others; they keep us separate. They keep us suffering. Notice when you think about some dening moment -- particularly when someone did you wrong. Your breath increases, your heart beats faster, and in almost every way, biochemically you relive that moment. Your mind/subconscious is fed and that samskara is re-etched and youre good to go for a while longer.

Chain Chain ChainWhat Vipassana meditation allows one to do is break that chain of reaction. It creates a shortage of fuel for the mind. You simply sit quietly and observe sensations. You notice them, acknowledge them, and then you let them go without reacting. An uncomfortable feeling occurs-- you note where it occurs and how it feels but you do not react to shift your weight or identify with the pain. And a wonderful thing happens. Unrecognized, it simply goes away. Like all matter, it arises and passes away. Another sensation will occur and you note that, too.Vipassana 101 -- Introduction to Vipassana Meditation copyright 2007 4

Vipassana 101

Introduction to Vipassana Meditation

Usually there are enough sensations happening all of the time to us that just noting them may not add to the store of samskaras that your subconscious mind is holding on to as a reserve. But after a period of practice and quiet observation, something wonderful happens. The subconscious mind, now