अत्तदीपा विहरथ अत्तसरणा अनञ्ञसरणा।
धम्मदीपा विहरथ धम्मसरणा अनञ्ञसरणा।।
-Make an island of yourself, make yourself your refuge; there is no other refuge.
-Make truth your island, make truth your refuge; there is no other refuge.
— Mahā-Parinibbāna Sutta, Dīgha Nikāya, 16.
The technique of Vipassana is a simple, practical way to achieve real peace of mind and to lead a happy, useful life. Vipassana means "to see things as they really are". It is a logical process of mental purification through self-observation.
From time to time, we all experience agitation, frustration and disharmony. When we suffer, we do not keep our misery limited to ourselves; instead, we keep distributing it to others as well. Enlightened people have therefore advised 'Know thyself', which means not merely knowing yourself at the intellectual level, or accepting at the emotional or devotional level, but to experience the truth about yourself, within yourself, at the experiential level. To achieve this, a technique of Vipassana meditation was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal problems.
Vipassana enables us to experience peace and harmony by purifying the mind, freeing it from suffering and the deep-seated causes of suffering. Step by step, the practice leads to the highest spiritual goal of full liberation from all mental defilements.
The entire path (Dhamma) is an Art of Living and has nothing to do with any organized religion or sectarianism. For this reason, it can be freely practiced by everyone, at any time, in any place, without conflict due to race, community or religion, and will prove equally beneficial to one and all.
In the following videos, Principal teacher Mr. S. N. Goenka explains what is Vipassana meditation and its various aspects.
The practice of Vipassana meditation involves following the principles of Dhamma/ Dharma, the universal law of nature. It involves walking on the noble eight-fold path, which is broadly categorised into Sila (Morality), Samadhi (concentration) and Pañña (wisdom, insight).
To learn Vipassana, it is necessary to take a ten-day residential course under the guidance of a qualified teacher. The courses are conducted at established Vipassana Centers and other non-center locations. During the entire duration of the retreat, students remain within the course site having no contact with the outer world. They refrain from reading and writing, and suspend all religious practices or other disciplines. During the course, participants follow a prescribed Code of Discipline. They also observe noble silence by not communicating with fellow students; however, they are free to discuss meditation questions with the teacher and material problems with the management.
There are three steps to the training:
First, students practice sila (Morality) - abstaining from actions which cause harm. They undertake five moral precepts, practising abstention from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and the use of intoxicants. The observation of these precepts allows the mind to calm down sufficiently to proceed further with the task at hand.
Second, for the first three and a half days, students practise Anapana meditation, focusing attention on the breath. This practice helps to develop samadhi (concentration) and gain control over the unruly mind. These first two steps of living a wholesome life and developing control of the mind are necessary and very beneficial, but they are incomplete unless the third step is taken: purifying the mind of underlying mental impurities.
The third step undertaken for the last six and a half days, is the practice of Vipassana: one penetrates one's entire physical and mental structure with the clarity of Pañña (wisdom, insight).
Students receive systematic meditation instructions several times a day, and each day’s progress is explained during a taped evening discourse by Mr. S. N. Goenka. Complete silence is observed for the first nine days. On the tenth day, students resume speaking, making the transition back to a more extroverted way of life. The course concludes on the morning of the eleventh day. The retreat closes with the practice of metta-bhavana (loving-kindness or good will towards all), a meditation technique in which the purity developed during the course is shared with all beings.
Impact on Course Participants
While many students often find the ten-day vipassana course a life-changing experience, the real changes are understood over time. The balanced view of “know yourself, by yourself, for yourself”, as some students call it, helps one live peacefully and harmoniously with oneself and with others. The transformation in one's attitude at the end of the course reduces stress while increasing mental equanimity.
Other common benefits are growth in concentration and work efficiency, positive behaviour changes, effective decision-making, gentle speech and harmonious feelings towards others. Since the wisdom is gained through personal experience, one finds prejudice being replaced by compassion; jealousy at the success of others changing to joy; greed and arrogance getting transformed to generosity and humility.
After experiencing the immeasurable benefits of the technique themselves, students naturally feel the desire to spread this wonderful technique for the benefit of people. The dedicated support of such students has led to establishment of the Vipassana Research Institute, a dramatic growth in the number of Vipassana centers, Mitra Upakram, courses in prisons, schools and other institutions. To read experiences of course participants, please click here.
Varied and detailed research has been undertaken to study the impact of Vipassana on different sections of the society. To read research reports, please click here. To read impact of Vipassana on society, please click here.
In this video, recorded at Dhamma Dipa meditation centre, UK, course participants share their experiences after 10-day Vipassana course.