are many, many books on the subject of meditation. Most
of them are written from the point of view which lies
squarely within one particular religious or philosophical
tradition, and many of the authors have not bothered
to point this out. They make statements about meditation
which sound like general laws, but are actually highly
specific procedures exclusive to that particular system
of practice. The result is something of a muddle. Worse
yet is the panoply of complex theories and interpretations
available, all of them at odds with one another. The
result is a real mess and an enormous jumble of conflicting
opinions accompanied by a mass of extraneous data. This
book is specific. We are dealing exclusively with the
Vipassana system of meditation. We are going to teach
you to watch the functioning of your own mind in a calm
and detached manner so you can gain insight into your
own behavior. The goal is awareness, an awareness so
intense, concentrated and finely tuned that you will
be able to pierce the inner workings of reality itself.
are a number of common misconceptions about meditation.
We see them crop up again and again from new students,
the same questions over and over. It is best to deal
with these things at once, because they are the sort
of preconceptions which can block your progress right
from the outset. We are going to take these misconceptions
one at a time and explode them.
Meditation is just a relaxation technique
bugaboo here is the word 'just'. Relaxation is a key
component of meditation, but Vipassana-style meditation
aims at a much loftier goal. Nevertheless, the statement
is essentially true for many other systems of meditation.
All meditation procedures stress concentration of the
mind, bringing the mind to rest on one item or one area
of thought. Do it strongly and thoroughly enough, and
you achieve a deep and blissful relaxation which is
called Jhana. It is a state of such supreme tranquility
that it amounts to rapture. It is a form of pleasure
which lies above and beyond anything that can be experienced
in the normal state of consciousness. Most systems stop
right there. That is the goal, and when you attain that,
you simply repeat the experience for the rest of your
life. Not so with Vipassana meditation. Vipassana seeks
another goal--awareness. Concentration and relaxation
are considered necessary concomitants to awareness.
They are required precursors, handy tools, and beneficial
byproducts. But they are not the goal. The goal is insight.
Vipassana meditation is a profound religious practice
aimed at nothing less that the purification and transformation
of your everyday life. We will deal more thoroughly
with the differences between concentration and insight
in Chapter 14.
Meditation means going into a trance
again the statement could be applied accurately to certain
systems of meditation, but not to Vipassana. Insight
meditation is not a form of hypnosis. You are not trying
to black out your mind so as to become unconscious.
You are not trying to turn yourself into an emotionless
vegetable. If anything, the reverse is true. You will
become more and more attuned to your own emotional changes.
You will learn to know yourself with ever- greater clarity
and precision. In learning this technique, certain states
do occur which may appear trance-like to the observer.
But they are really quite the opposite. In hypnotic
trance, the subject is susceptible to control by another
party, whereas in deep concentration the meditator remains
very much under his own control. The similarity is superficial,
and in any case the occurrence of these phenomena is
not the point of Vipassana. As we have said, the deep
concentration of Jhana is a tool or stepping stone on
the route of heightened awareness. Vipassana by definition
is the cultivation of mindfulness or awareness. If you
find that you are becoming unconscious in meditation,
then you aren't meditating, according to the definition
of the word as used in the Vipassana system. It is that
Meditation is a mysterious practice which cannot be
again, this is almost true, but not quite. Meditation
deals with levels of consciousness which lie deeper
than symbolic thought. Therefore, some of the data about
meditation just won't fit into words. That does not
mean, however, that it cannot be understood. There are
deeper ways to understand things than words. You understand
how to walk. You probably can't describe the exact order
in which your nerve fibers and your muscles contract
during that process. But you can do it. Meditation needs
to be understood that same way, by doing it. It is not
something that you can learn in abstract terms. It is
to be experienced. Meditation is not some mindless formula
which gives automatic and predictable results. You can
never really predict exactly what will come up in any
particular session. It is an investigation and experiment
and an adventure every time. In fact, this is so true
that when you do reach a feeling of predictability and
sameness in your practice, you use that as an indicator.
It means that you have gotten off the track somewhere
and you are headed for stagnation. Learning to look
at each second as if it were the first and only second
in the universe is most essential in Vipassana meditation.
The purpose of meditation is to become a psychic superman
the purpose of meditation is to develop awareness. Learning
to read minds is not the point. Levitation is not the
goal. The goal is liberation. There is a link between
psychic phenomena and meditation, but the relationship
is somewhat complex. During early stages of the meditator's
career, such phenomena may or may not arise. Some people
may experience some intuitive understanding or memories
from past lives; others do not. In any case, these are
not regarded as well-developed and reliable psychic
abilities. Nor should they be given undue importance.
Such phenomena are in fact fairly dangerous to new meditators
in that they are too seductive. They can be an ego trap
which can lure you right off the track. Your best advice
is not to place any emphasis on these phenomena. If
they come up, that's fine. If they don't, that's fine,
too. It's unlikely that they will. There is a point
in the meditator's career where he may practice special
exercises to develop psychic powers. But this occurs
way down the line. After he has gained a very deep stage
of Jhana, the meditator will be far enough advanced
to work with such powers without the danger of their
running out of control or taking over his life. He will
then develop them strictly for the purpose of service
to others. This state of affairs only occurs after decades
of practice. Don't worry about it. Just concentrate
on developing more and more awareness. If voices and
visions pop up, just notice them and let them go. Don't
Meditation is dangerous and a prudent person should
is dangerous. Walk across the street and you may get
hit by a bus. Take a shower and you could break your
neck. Meditate and you will probably dredge up various
nasty-matters from your past. The suppressed material
that has been buried there for quite some time can be
scary. It is also highly profitable. No activity is
entirely without risk, but that does not mean that we
should wrap ourselves in some protective cocoon. That
is not living. That is premature death. The way to deal
with danger is to know approximately how much of it
there is, where it is likely to be found and how to
deal with it when it arises. That is the purpose of
this manual. Vipassana is development of awareness.
That in itself is not dangerous, but just the opposite.
Increased awareness is the safeguard against danger.
Properly done, meditation is a very gently and gradual
process. Take it slow and easy, and development of your
practice will occur very naturally. Nothing should be
forced. Later, when you are under the close scrutiny
and protective wisdom of a competent teacher, you can
accelerate your rate of growth by taking a period of
intensive meditation. In the beginning, though, easy
does it. Work gently and everything will be fine.
Meditation is for saints and holy men, not for regular
find this attitude very prevalent in Asia, where monks
and holy men are accorded an enormous amount of ritualized
reverence. This is somewhat akin to the American attitude
of idealizing movie stars and baseball heroes. Such
people are stereotyped, made larger than life, and saddled
with all sort of characteristics that few human beings
can ever live up to. Even in the West, we share some
of this attitude about meditation. We expect the meditator
to be some extraordinarily pious figure in whose mouth
butter would never dare to melt. A little personal contact
with such people will quickly dispel this illusion.
They usually prove to be people of enormous energy and
gusto, people who live their lives with amazing vigor.
It is true, of course, that most holy men meditate,
but they don't meditate because they are holy men. That
is backward. They are holy men because they meditate.
Meditation is how they got there. And they started meditating
before they became holy. This is an important point.
A sizable number of students seems to feel that a person
should be completely moral before he begins meditation.
It is an unworkable strategy. Morality requires a certain
degree of mental control. It's a prerequisite. You can't
follow any set of moral precepts without at least a
little self-control, and if your mind is perpetually
spinning like a fruit cylinder in a one- armed bandit,
self-control is highly unlikely. So mental culture has
to come first.
are three integral factors in Buddhist meditation ---
morality, concentration and wisdom.
Those three factors grow together as your practice deepens.
Each one influences the other, so you cultivate the
three of them together, not one at a time. When you
have the wisdom to truly understand a situation, compassion
towards all the parties involved is automatic, and compassion
means that you automatically restrain yourself from
any thought, word or deed that might harm yourself or
others. Thus your behavior is automatically moral. It
is only when you don't understand things deeply that
you create problems. If you fail to see the consequences
of your own action, you will blunder. The fellow who
waits to become totally moral before he begins to meditate
is waiting for a 'but' that will never come. The ancient
sages say that he is like a man waiting for the ocean
to become calm so that he can go take a bath. To understand
this relationship more fully, let us propose that there
are levels of morality. The lowest level is adherence
to a set of rules and regulations laid down by somebody
else. It could be your favorite prophet. It could be
the state, the head man of your tribe or your father.
No matter who generates the rules, all you've got to
do at this level is know the rules and follow them.
A robot can do that. Even a trained chimpanzee could
do it if the rules were simple enough and he was smacked
with a stick every time he broke one. This level requires
no meditation at all. All you need are the rules and
somebody to swing the stick.
next level of morality consists of obeying the same
rules even in the absence of somebody who will smack
you. You obey because you have internalized the rules.
You smack yourself every time you break one. This level
requires a bit of mind control. If your thought pattern
is chaotic, your behavior will be chaotic, too. Mental
culture reduces mental chaos.
is a third level or morality, but it might be better
termed ethics. This level is a whole quantum layer up
the scale, a real paradigm shift in orientation. At
the level of ethics, one does not follow hard and fast
rules dictated by authority. One chooses his own behavior
according to the needs of the situation. This level
requires real intelligence and an ability to juggle
all the factors in every situation and arrive at a unique,
creative and appropriate response each time. Furthermore,
the individual making these decisions needs to have
dug himself out of his own limited personal viewpoint.
He has to see the entire situation from an objective
point of view, giving equal weight to his own needs
and those of others. In other words, he has to be free
from greed, hatred, envy and all the other selfish junk
that ordinarily keeps us from seeing the other guy's
side of the issue. Only then can he choose that precise
set of actions which will be truly optimal for that
situation. This level of morality absolutely demands
meditation, unless you were born a saint. There is no
other way to acquire the skill. Furthermore, the sorting
process required at this level is exhausting. If you
tried to juggle all those factors in every situation
with your conscious mind, you'd wear yourself out. The
intellect just can't keep that many balls in the air
at once. It is an overload. Luckily, a deeper level
of consciousness can do this sort of processing with
ease. Meditation can accomplish the sorting process
for you. It is an eerie feeling.
day you've got a problem--say to handle Uncle Herman's
latest divorce. It looks absolutely unsolvable, and
enormous muddle of 'maybes' that would give Solomon
himself the willies. The next day you are washing the
dishes, thinking about something else entirely, and
suddenly the solution is there. It just pops out of
the deep mind and you say, 'Ah ha!' and the whole thing
is solved. This sort of intuition can only occur when
you disengage the logic circuits from the problem and
give the deep mind the opportunity to cook up the solution.
The conscious mind just gets in the way. Meditation
teaches you how to disentangle yourself from the thought
process. It is the mental art of stepping out of your
own way, and that's a pretty useful skill in everyday
life. Meditation is certainly not some irrelevant practice
strictly for ascetics and hermits. It is a practical
skill that focuses on everyday events and has immediate
application in everybody's life. Meditation is not other-
this very fact constitutes the drawback for certain
students. They enter the practice expecting instantaneous
cosmic revelation, complete with angelic choirs. What
they usually get is a more efficient way to take out
the trash and better ways to deal with Uncle Herman.
They are needlessly disappointed. The trash solution
comes first. The voices of archangels take a bit longer.
Meditation is running away from reality
Meditation is running into reality. It does not insulate
you from the pain of life. It allows you to delve so
deeply into life and all its aspects that you pierce
the pain barrier and you go beyond suffering. Vipassana
is a practice done with the specific intention of facing
reality, to fully experience life just as it is and
to cope with exactly what you find. It allows you to
blow aside the illusions and to free yourself from all
those polite little lies you tell yourself all the time.
What is there is there. You are who you are, and lying
to yourself about your own weaknesses and motivations
only binds you tighter to the wheel of illusion. Vipassana
meditation is not an attempt to forget yourself or to
cover up your troubles. It is learning to look at yourself
exactly as you are. See what is there, accept it fully.
Only then can you change it.
Meditation is a great way to get high
yes and no. Meditation does produce lovely blissful
feelings sometimes. But they are not the purpose, and
they don't always occur. Furthermore, if you do meditation
with that purpose in mind, they are less likely to occur
than if you just meditate for the actual purpose of
meditation, which is increased awareness. Bliss results
from relaxation, and relaxation results from release
of tension. Seeking bliss from meditation introduces
tension into the process, which blows the whole chain
of events. It is a Catch-22. You can only have bliss
if you don't chase it. Besides, if euphoria and good
feelings are what you are after, there are easier ways
to get them. They are available in taverns and from
shady characters on the street corners all across the
nation. Euphoria is not the purpose of meditation. It
will often arise, but it to be regarded as a by- product.
Still, it is a very pleasant side-effect, and it becomes
more and more frequent the longer you meditate. You
won't hear any disagreement about this from advanced
Meditation is selfish
certainly looks that way. There sits the meditator parked
on his little cushion. Is he out giving blood? No. Is
he busy working with disaster victims? No. But let us
examine his motivation. Why is he doing this? His intention
is to purge his own mind of anger, prejudice and ill-will.
He is actively engaged in the process of getting rid
of greed, tension and insensitivity. Those are the very
items which obstruct his compassion for others. Until
they are gone, any good works that he does are likely
to be just an extension of his own ego and of no real
help in the long run. Harm in the name of help is one
of the oldest games. The grand inquisitor of the Spanish
Inquisition spouts the loftiest of motives. The Salem
witchcraft trials were conducted for the public good.
Examine the personal lives of advanced meditators and
you will often find them engaged in humanitarian service.
You will seldom find them as crusading missionaries
who are willing to sacrifice certain individuals for
the sake of some pious idea. The fact is we are more
selfish than we know. The ego has a way of turning the
loftiest activities into trash if it is allowed free
range. Through meditation we become aware of ourselves
exactly as we are, by waking up to the numerous subtle
ways that we manifest our own selfishness. Then we truly
begin to be genuinely selfless. Cleansing yourself of
selfishness is not a selfish activity.
When you meditate, you sit around thinking lofty thoughts
again. There are certain systems of contemplation in
which this sort of thing is done. But that is not Vipassana.
Vipassana is the practice of awareness. Awareness of
whatever is there, be it supreme truth or crummy trash.
What is there is there. Of course, lofty aesthetic thoughts
may arise during your practice. They are certainly not
to be avoided. Neither are they to be sought. They are
just pleasant side-effects. Vipassana is a simple practice.
It consists of experiencing your own life events directly,
without preference and without mental images pasted
to them. Vipassana is seeing your life unfold from moment
to moment without biases. What comes up comes up. It
is very simple.
A couple of weeks of meditation and all my problems
will go away
meditation is not a quick cure-all. You will start seeing
changes right away, but really profound effects are
years down the line. That is just the way the universe
is constructed. Nothing worthwhile is achieved overnight.
Meditation is tough in some respects. It requires a
long discipline and sometimes a painful process of practice.
At each sitting you gain some results, but those results
are often very subtle. They occur deep within the mind,
only to manifest much later. and if you are sitting
there constantly looking for some huge instantaneous
changes, you will miss the subtle shifts altogether.
You will get discouraged, give up and swear that no
such changes will ever occur. Patience is the key. Patience.
If you learn nothing else from meditation, you will
learn patience. And that is the most valuable lesson