Vipassana

Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills (Sayagyi U Ba Khin, 2015).  It is an art of living and way to see the truth (Hart, 1987. p.90). Goenka, the Buddhist founder of Vipassana mindfulness meditation, describes the Buddha’s teaching as “the art of living” and meditation as a “non-sectarian” technique of “self-transformation” through self-observation (Hart, 1987). The teachings from Buddha promote Samadhi, also known as liberation or enlightenment, is simply the concentration of the mind for greater mental clarity and insight into the truth of reality as it is. Vipassana is insight that purifies the mind, an essential component for the practice of Dhamma, also known as Dharma, or the path to liberation and living a life of high conduct (Goswami Kriyananda, 1996, p.23).  Dhamma is the law of nature and liberation, and along with Vipassana, are a path to peace, love, and happiness (Hart, 1987).

Buddhist philosophy provides people with a solid foundation to live an ethical, prosperous, and harmonious life. The terms listed here are written in Pali, they can also be found in Sanskrit also but Pali is the ancient Buddhist and vedic system of knowledge as spread by Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, who inspired his followers to learn this vernacular dialect (Encyclopedia of Britannica, 2015).  Buddhism has three characteristics of all phenomenal existence: anicca or the reality of impermanence, anatta or egoless and without essence, and dukkha is the suffering and unsatisfactoriness present to all sentient beings, and recognition of these three doctrines—anatta, anicca, and dukkha—constitutes “right understanding.” (Hart, 1987; Encyclopedia of Britannica, 2015).

Anatta is the Buddhist teaching that there is in humans no permanent or underlying substance that can be called the soul, or atman. What we think of as our self, our personality and ego, are rather only temporary creations of the skandhas (Barbara Obrien, 2015) It mustn’t be confused with there being nothing that exists, there is existence, but we understand it in a one-sided and delusional way, with an overbearing egotistical mind (Obrien, 2015).

The individual is comprised of five factors that are constantly changing, or skandhas or the five elements that sum up the whole of an individual’s mental and physical existence (Encyclopedia of Britannica, 2015). The self or soul cannot be identified with any one of the parts, nor is it the total of the parts in Buddhism. The first skandha is matter or body, called rūpa, or the manifest form of the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water; second skandha is sensations or feelings, called vedanā;  third are perceptions of sense objects or sanna; fourth are mental formations or sankhāras; and fifth is awareness or consciousness of the other three mental aggregates or viññāṇa (Encyclopedia of Britannica, 2015). All individuals are subject to constant change, as the elements of consciousness are never the same. Man may be compared to a river, which retains an identity, though the drops of water that make it up are different from one moment to the next, as Lao Tzu once said, you cannot enter the same river twice for the water is always changing and flowing. Annica describes that all things are subject to change, like the change in seasons; summer will turn to fall.  This is the impermanence of things, all things pleasant and unpleasant must come to pass. 

Dukkha, or suffering, is the third doctrine of the true nature of all existence in Buddhist philosophy, it is also the first of the Four noble truths. The four truths are: the truth of suffering (dukkha) that in life things are temporary; the truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya) that craving grows from ignorance of the self; the truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha); and the truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga) which in this case would be the Eight fold path;  The Eightfold Path is: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration (Encyclopedia of Britannica, 2015; Barbara O’brien, 2015).

To explain Dukkha further,  there are three types of Dukkha; first, suffering results from pain, such as old age, sickness, and death; second, from pleasure changing to pain; and third, from the fact that, because of impermanence, beings are susceptible to pain in the next moment (O’brien, 2015). Dukkha does not necessarily mean that life is all suffering, it is that pleasureful experiences cease to exist to too, for all things come to pass; therefore Buddhism teaches that the craving and aversion to pleasure and pain are major causes of suffering. Goenka claims that the failure to fully recognize the reality of impermanence and delusions about an enduring self-essence perpetuates existential discontent (Edwin Ng, 2012). Thus with meditation one must realize the self as part of existence not separate, and through this training of wisdom, alleviate suffering that is caused by a false sense of reality.

The foundation of Vipassana is to cultivate equanimity for the relinquishment of craving and aversion towards whatever threatens equanimity or balance, peace of mind, and ability to stay present in one’s life (Ng, 2012). What interferes with peace of mind or equanimity is mainly ignorance, craving, and aversion (Hart, 1987). From the book Vipassana: The Art of Living (Hart, 1987, p. 50) there is a list of ways out of suffering by Goenka:

If ignorance is eradicated and completely ceases, reaction ceases;

If reaction ceases, consciousness ceases;

If consciousness ceases, mind-and-matter cease;

If mind-and-matter cease, the six senses cease;

If the six senses cease, contact ceases;

If contact ceases, sensation ceases;

If sensation ceases, craving and aversion cease;

If craving and aversion cease, attachment ceases;

If attachment ceases, the process of becoming ceases;

If the process of becoming ceases, birth ceases;

If birth ceases, decay and death cease, together with sorrow, lamentation, physical and mental suffering and tribulations

Thus this entire mass of suffering ceases

Insight such as Anapana and metta-anapana or awareness on the breath, bodily sensations, and selfless love are the qualities of a pure and wise-minded person (Hart, 1987, p.159, 161). We are all faced with the reality that suffering exists; this is the nature of humanity as proclaimed by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha of all Buddhas.  It is our ignorance and attachment to craving pleasant feelings and aversion to unpleasant feelings that create most suffering in our lives (Hart, 1987, p. 58). Awareness and ones samskaras, or the aggregate of mental formations which is associated with karma, because conscious acts create karma (O’brien, 2015).  Samskara beholds the karma that conditions one’s attitude, for example, one will become aware of their biases, prejudices, follies, and foes. To overcome the innate egotistical conditionings of reaction, craving, and aversion are a simple and effective means for liberation from suffering (Hart, 1987. p.108).  Karma means our innate ability to create and to change, the future is in our hands, as Buddha once said:  “Karma creates all like an artist, Karma composes like a dancer” everything is fluid, impermanent, and interdependent; we can determine how how and why we act (Sogyal Rinpoche, 2002).

There is more to be realized to experience liberation from suffering. The nature of reality is love, consciousness, and bliss, otherwise known as sachchidananda (Kriyananda, 1996, p.63). We can all become Buddha or enlightened beings through dharma or dhamma practice; with quality and character being virtuous, resilient, and in alignment with the universal laws of spirituality and eight limb paths to enlightenment (Hart, 1987, p.57). We can all achieve the goal of liberation from suffering through transcendence of the physical realm into spiritual mastery over the self. By developing awareness and equanimity one can liberate oneself from suffering, for suffering begins because of the ignorance of one’s reality (Hart, 1987. p.95). Once it is realized that all sankharas, or craving and aversions, are impermanent, this is true insight or vipassana, to become detached from suffering. This is the path of purification or enlightenment, or the end of suffering, the end of that karmic cycle of birth and rebirth (Hart, 1987. p.97).

The act of meditation brings the practitioner closer to the truth that, “The Self never changes, decays or dies, the true self is divine, perfect and infinite” (Swami, Rama, 1998.) With the practice of Buddhism, the root of mindfulness meditation it is most effective to understand and practice the teachings of Buddha, regardless if one believes in them. There is a popular saying in India, do not accept nor reject, just contemplate. To contemplate and understand the teaching of Buddha as a way of living to one’s fullest human potential. People may be able to accept their reality, along with all their sufferings, for uttermost peace and contentment, regardless of the circumstances they live with. It is possible for the elderly to live a more mindful existence by accepting their fate and letting go of any attachments to this body or this life, which may be a huge relief from suffering for them; and yoga and meditation may be the practice for that very reason.

It is believed Buddhist insights can continue to be developed, enhanced, and adapted by Western psychological theory, expanding the horizons of both disciplines for the benefit of all (Wallace, B. A., & Shapiro, S. L. 2006). The teachings of Buddha are basically that if we relinquish craving, aversion, and ignorance then suffering will come to an end.  If we put an end to suffering, than peace, happiness, and liberation are what is left (Hart, 1987, pp.97). It may be a natural process for elders to withdraw from the world and further explore their spirituality, their inner world, as a means of coping with the aging process. Part of resilience is the act of letting go of control and resistance, and allowing the impermanence of life to take place. 

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

― Gautama Buddha

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and will all thy getting get understanding -Proverbs, iv. 7. (KJV)

“In the end

these things matter most:

How well did you love?

How fully did you live?

How deeply did you let go?”

― Gautama Buddha

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