As the frenetic energy of summer quietly fades, temperatures drop, and days shorten, it feels natural to turn inwards. Here at Namchak, we are turning our attention to Vipassana or special insight meditation for the month of October.
We will follow the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Buddha’s fundamental teaching on meditation) as our Vipassana guide as we hone our awareness of the world around us. Common to all Buddhist traditions, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are a systematic guide to practicing insight meditation in progressive stages, detailing the four areas of life to which mental awareness should be applied. Those four areas are mindfulness of body, feelings, mind, and phenomena or mental objects.
But, first: preparation! Shamata or calm abiding is a foundational practice that paves the way into Vipassana. Shamata builds concentration and stability which allows us to begin the further inquiries of our insight practice. Namchak teacher Khen Rinpoche tells us that a person could spend years honing concentration, so it’s best to move into Vipassana when you feel you have a stable Shamata practice. If this is all new to you, begin with our ecourse or find some guided Shamata meditations here.
Once we are comfortable with Shamata, we dive into the waters of Vipassana. We start by exploring the first two foundations of mindfulness: body and feelings. The idea is to gain an awareness of our body and feelings as they are, rather than as we think they are. We often identify our own experiences and feelings as ultimate truth, rather than remaining curious to different realities.
Vipassana meditation includes mentally scanning your body to see what you find. Usually this begins with finding sensations in the body like an itch or discomfort. Then you move deeper into mentally exploring things like your muscles and skin and truly seeing if you can tell how they feel or what’s happening in specific parts.
This practice teaches the impermanence of our bodies and feelings as we discover that they aren’t solid things we can hold on to. Let’s say you are experiencing negative feelings about another person or yourself. If you practice Vipassana and scan your body and mind searching for those feelings as singularly existing things, most likely the thoughts will dissipate.
Through this practice we learn that whatever we are feeling is impermanent and not a solidly existing thing. If we believe right now that a negative feeling is real and don’t investigate it, then we will most likely experience suffering. For example, if we grasped onto a negative feeling about someone rather than investigating it, that would most likely cause us distress. However, if we investigate it and look for it as a solidly existing thing, we would find that it isn’t as real as we thought. The further our assumptions are from reality, the more we suffer. Through Vipassana we learn to see reality.
This realization of impermanence of our body and feelings leads us on the path of liberation or freedom from suffering. When we learn there’s truth beyond our assumptions, we suffer less.
We recommend that you begin your Vipassana journey with a teacher to help navigate the complexity of these methods.
Stay tuned this month for more explorations of mindfulness of mind and of phenomena!