The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Vipassanā (Sanskrit: vipasyanā) is the Buddhist meditation practice of Insight Meditation. While the meditation practices themselves vary from school to school, the underlying principle is the investigation of phenomena (Sanskrit: dharmas) as they manifest in the five aggregates (Skandas) namely, matter or form (Rupa ), sensation or feelings (Vedana ), perception (Samjna ), mental formations (Sankara) & consciousness (Vijnana ). This process leads to direct experiential perception, Vipassanā.

In a broader sense, vipassanā has been used as one of two poles for the categorization of types of Buddhist meditation, the other being samatha. Samatha is a focusing, pacifying and calming meditation, common to many traditions in the world, notably Hindu Yoga, from which much of Buddhist terminology derives. It is used as a preparation for vipassana, pacifying the mind and strengthening the concentration in order to allow the work of Insight. This dichotomy is also sometimes discussed as "stopping and seeing." In Buddhist practice, it is said that while Samatha can calm the mind, only Insight can reveal how the mind was disturbed to start with, which leads to prajna (knowledge) and jnana (pure wisdom) and can thus can lead to preventing it from being disturbed again.

The term is also used to refer to a religious movement modelled after Theravada Buddhism which employs Vipassana and [[anapana|]] meditation as its primary techniques and places emphasis on the teachings of the Satipatthana Sutta. Vedana (sensation/feeling) is the primary initial subject of investigation.



Vipassanā is a Pali word from the Sanskrit prefix "vi-" and verbal root √dr. It is often translated as "insight" or "clear-seeing," though, the "in-" prefix may be misleading; "vi" in Indo-Aryan languages is cognate to our "dis." The "vi" in vipassanā may then mean to see apart, or discern. Alternatively, the "vi" can function as an intensive, and thus vipassanā may mean to see deeply. In any case, this is used metaphorically for a particularly powerful mental self-perception.

A synonym for "Vipassanā" is paccakkha (Pāli; Sanskrit: pratyaka), "before the eyes," which refers to direct experiential perception. Thus, the type of seeing denoted by "vipassanā" is that of direct perception, as opposed to knowledge derived from reasoning or argument.

Practice of vipassanā

Vipassanā meditation consists of an energetic observation of physical objects and mental representations (nama and rupa) and thought-processes in their aspects of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and lack of an inherent, independent essence or self.

To see through the mode of impermanence means to examine things as to whether they are permanent. To see through the mode of unsatisfactoriness means to examine things as to whether they are satisfactory or are imbued with stress or suffering. To see through the mode of non-self means to examine things as to whether they have a permanent identity or self, or an essential nature.

In Vipassanā meditation, the meditation object is one's own consciousness, although it can be further refined to be one's consciousness while observing, say, the breath, as in ānāpāna meditation. In this context, the modes of seeing refers to focusing on those aspects of consciousness which appear to have (or not have) these characteristics.

A major 19th century vipassanā instructor in Burma was Ledi Sayadaw.

Vipassanā today

Today, the term "Vipassanā" also refers to the meditation technique used by many branches of modern Theravada Buddhism, for example in modern Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos and Thailand, and to a specific branch of Buddhism popularized by the Indian businessman S. N. Goenka and his mentor U Ba Khin as a nonsectarian form of Buddhism, and also by Americans Joseph Goldstein , Sharon Salzberg , and Jack Kornfield (who were inspired by the monks Mahasi Sayadaw and Ajahn Chah) under the rubric "insight meditation."

"Vipassanā" centers exist throughout the world. In Thailand and India, locals and visitors can have vipassanā training, often free of charge including accommodation and meals, in many temples around the country as well as some modern-day training centers run by veteran vipassanā instructors.

Vipashyana in the Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana

The small vehicle is the common path shared by Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, sometimes referred to as the Sutra path. Vipashyana as practiced in the Theravada is the understanding of the Four Noble Truths that were taught by the Buddha. It is understanding the transitory nature of phenomena and the selflessness of persons, that the conceptual consciousness, "I" does not exist.

Mahayana Vipashyana consists of meditating on the two truths: conventional truth and absolute truth. One realizes that phenomena likewise have a lack of inherent existence, and have the nature of emptiness (Shunyata). This is determined by the inferential path of reasoning and direct observation through meditation.

Mahamudra and Dzogchen use Vipashyana extensively, though in a different manner than in the Theravada. In the Vajrayana (Tantric) path, the true nature of mind is pointed out by the guru, and the practitioner takes the path of direct experience.

"In the Sutra path (Theravada) one proceeds by examining and analyzing phenomena, using reasoning. One recognizes that all phenomena lack any true existence and that all appearances are merely interdependently related and are without any inherent nature. They are empty yet apparent, apparent yet empty. The path of Mahamudra is different in that one proceeds using the instructions concerning the nature of mind that are given by one's guru. This is called taking direct perception or direct experiences as the path. The fruition of Shamatha is purity of mind, a mind undisturbed by false conception or emotional afflictions. The fruition of Vipashyana is knowledge (prajna) and pure wisdom (jnana). Jnana is called the wisdom of nature of phenomena and it comes about through the realization of the true nature of phenomena."

-Thrangu Rinpoche, Looking Directly at Mind : The Moonlight of Mahamudra

See also

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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04