Mahasi Insight Meditation Instruction

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Vipassana – Insight Meditation

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Vipassana – Insight Meditation was first taught by Siddhata Gotama, more commonly known as the Buddha, 2,600 years ago. The word Buddha is a title, not a name and it means one who is awake. So Vipassana meditation is about waking up, this means paying more attention to what is happening in the present moment instead of being caught up in thoughts and dramas inside our heads.

Obsessive Thinking

We all think too much. Obsessive thinking is the most common disease in our society and leads to many other illnesses and problems in our lives. Not having a break from constant thinking leads to emotions such as stress and anxiety etc, to build up in our bodies and eventually manifesting as diseases if we cannot have a rest from it.

Through the techniques used in Vipassana you can build up concentration. Concentration is a magnification or unification of the factor of awareness or knowing in the mind.

E.g: When your mind is not concentrated it is as if you are looking at a crowded shopping centre and can see many people walking around. There is so much activity that you can’t really see any detail or pick out the individual people. You can’t see what they are wearing, how they move or how they are relating to others around them. You also can’t see what they are doing and where they are going, you have no chance of recognising them even if you have seen them before.

When your mind is concentrated it is as if you have focussed in on one person. You can see what they are wearing, how they move and how they are relating to others around them. You can also see what they are doing and where they are going, you might even recognise them if you had seen them before.

Developing concentrated awareness allows you to separate from the busyness of your thoughts so that you can see clearly, how they look, move, what they are doing, where they are going and how they are relating to other things around them. If you look often enough you will come to recognise them as old recurring patterns. Since you are now observing your thoughts instead of being lost in them they will lose their energy as you are not feeding them anymore.

Exercise one:

To develop awareness of the sensations in your body sit down, close your eyes and place your attention on the point in which your buttock is touching the ground or chair. It may feel strange at first but try to feel the different sensations that are present. There is probably hardness, a feeling of pressing, heat, maybe vibration or aching. All of them are ok. Try to look even closer at them with your minds eye. Can you separate them? Now try to see where your buttock ends and the chair or ground begins. You cant, this is the beginning of experiencing the world through meditation.

Insight Meditation – Sitting


To prepare for sitting meditation, let your body and mind relax as much as possible. When sitting on a chair or the floor maintain a well balanced and upright posture, do not change it abruptly or without awareness. If you feel you have to move then make a metal note in your head of “wanting to move” then “moving, moving” coinciding with the movement. Do this gently, using the mental note to keep your awareness in the present moment.

To give balance to your practice every sitting period should be proceeded by a walking one (instructions below) as these two types of meditation support each other. In the changeover form walking to sitting practice, or visa versa, be careful to keep your mindful awareness and concentration continous by moving slowly and paying attention to the feeling of the movements.

Beginning meditation

The starting point in the sitting practice is to establish your attention on the sensations in the abdomen caused by the rising and falling of your breathing. This is done by synchronising mental noting or labelling of the movement by repeating mentally “rising, rising” “falling, falling” concurrent with the actual experience of the sensations involved in the movement. As the movement of the abdomen becomes steady and clear, increase the amount of observations that you notice during the movement of the in and out breath, such as “hard” “soft” Tingling” “hot” “cold” or anything else you experience. If the movements contain too many sensations then just note them in a general way.

Do not disturb the natural breathing by taking sharp or deep breaths, this will make you tired, the breathing should just be normal.

When objects other then the sensations involved in your breathing appear and dominate your attention such as sounds, thoughts, bodily sensations etc label them appropriately as you see them as “hearing, hearing” “thinking, thinking” “feeling, feeling “ and so on. At first it is not easy to note such a variety of objects, but with increased awareness you will be able to do so. When the secondary objects have passed away then go back to noting the primary object, your experience of the abdomen during breathing.

Although we are taught in the beginning to watch the rise and fall of the abdomen we must be careful not to get attached to it, for it is not the only object that awareness can be developed on. The observing of the rising and falling of the abdomen is initially used to increase our concentration, once our concentration is strong them place your attention on whatever is the dominant experience in your meditation, be that pain, thoughts or sensations.

Insight Meditation – Walking

Take the walking meditation seriously, by doing the walking meditation alone it is possible to attain deep awareness. Begin this practice by bringing your attention to the soles of your feet, feel the sensations involved in standing. As you take steps note and mentally label each step as it occurs as “left” “right” “left” “right” etc for the length of your walking area.

Keep your eyes half closed and fixed to the ground four or five feet in front of you, avoid looking at your foot as your are walking or you will become distracted by it. Pay attention to your posture; do not allow your head to sag as this will create tension on your neck. As you become more concentrated the detail with which you note the stepping and the amount of objects you note will increase, the same as the sitting meditation.

When you start in the first 10 minutes keep your noting simple such as “left” “right” and so on. Then increase you noting into three parts such as “lifting” “pushing” “dropping” etc. Finally as your concentration develops increase your noting to “intending” “lifting” “pushing” “dropping” “touching” “pressing”.

Your attention will wander off quite a few times during your walking period, but this is ok, just bring it back to your noting of the experience of walking whenever you realise. Don’t look around, you can do that after you have finished your meditation, if you do during your walking meditation then concentration will not develop and your awareness will stay low. Wandering attention is the most difficult problem for the meditator and the only way to get it under control is to keep reapplying your attention to your meditation object.

Awareness of Daily Activities

Awareness of daily activities is a very important part of your meditation practice, without awareness meditation ceases, along with concentration and deepening understanding. The faculty of awareness becomes powerful by constant and uninterrupted attention to every activity throughout the days practice. Constant awareness gives rise to deep concentration, and it is only through deep concentration that we can realise the intrinsic nature of physical and mental phenomena. This then leads to deep contentment and peace.

In your daily life you can remain aware of how you are relating to people or situations. Instead of giving your full attention to your external problems you can turn your attention inward and watch how you are relating to them. What are your reactions, what feelings, emotions and thoughts are present? Watching them as an observer will separate you from them and therefore you will not get lost in them, taking away their power over you.

Purpose of this meditation Practice

Through this practice you will come to understand better any negative habitual ways of reacting that you might have. If you watch closely enough you will stop feeding them and eventually their momentum will run out. Negative mental patterns only stick around because we invite them to stay, we give them constant exercise and food. Cut off their food supply and they will be like a vine cut off at the base. The fruits will just dry up and drop off. Insight Meditation cuts off the food supply to negative mental patterns through understanding and wisdom that comes from deep observation

Once we understand deeply enough we can cut the cycles and end suffering –what could be better then that

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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you

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