The True Nature of Phenomena
Here I will present common steps in the process of vipassana meditation. My presentation will end with a brief discussion of nirvana (enlightenment).
1) It will be helpful not to have strong conceptual intention about your goal of attaining insight. You will know when you have entered it via your experiential insight NOT your conceptual learning. You will need to cultivate strong mindfulness so the mind can observe itself; you will also need to cultivate strong concentration so you can apply steady and sustained awareness.
2) Sit very still with internal and external quietude. After sitting for a while, and after sharing silent loving kindness with others, focus full attention on the object of attention – for now your breath. Maintain only present moment awareness while meditating on your breath. Now simply allow your breath to breathe you. On each inhalation and exhalation focus strong attention of the flow of air-sensation at the rims of the nostrils. Continue this focus; your distractions should lessen.
3) Pay close attention to the rims of the nostrils. Allowing the breath to flow, notice that there are two pauses – one on inhalation and one on exhalation. Notice that if you pause too long, tension develops. You may become lost in the cycles of inhalation, exhalation and the pauses. However you explain the pauses (i.e., at the end of exhalation, or at the beginning of inhalation), they overlap. So it is easier to simply notice the gaps without cognitive/verbal clarifications or analysis on time and place.
4) Do not verbalize (say or think) anything to yourself about your experiential process. Simply engage in the non-conceptual experience of awareness of breath at the rims of the nostrils. Let go of all impermanent distractions. Rest in the quietude of the gently flowing breath, which keep you alive and well. By now you may begin to “feel” a subtle calmness in your body. Slow it all down in inner and outer experience as you become more silence in the present moment.
5) Along with awareness of flowing air at the rims of your nostrils, you may be quiet enough to allow your mind to become the object of meditation. This is intentional mind observing reactive mind. Notice how the mind often tracks and chases anything that comes into its consciousness. As you steady your attention on the mind, notice how it active in observing the constantly changing mind-processes at hand. This is important! Reduce ego-involvement and ignore all content of what the mind becomes aware of; simply remain focused on the impermanence of everything your mind makes contact with. With stronger concentration, notice the mind-changing changes in experience. Notice that it is all impermanent. Consciousness is simply the repeating and ceaseless arising and falling away of mental phenomena – one thing after another, after another. So, who or what is watching the mind?
6) At this point in your meditation you may begin to open up insight about you attachments, desires, cravings, clinging behaviors, and emotional reactions. Your conditioned life experience has lead to a place where favoring temporary sense pleasures only leads – over and over again – to transitory joy but not authentic happiness. Once the pleasures fade away, your suffering begins again; you desire the permanent to return of those same (usually unsatisfactory) sense-pleasures. A huge insight might be that cyclical chasing of joy via short-term sense-pleasures, while at the same time working feverishly to avoid any direct contact with painful experiences, causes general unsatisfactoriness in life. This insight may scare you a bit. However, it is a doorway into wisdom about the true nature of personal suffering and happiness.
7) Depending upon your level of insight at this point, you may also notice the changing nature of the nature of change itself. You may experience subtle expansion (boundlessness) and concentration (single-exactness) of experiences – just like everything else in the universe. Everything, including you and your awareness, is arising and falling away without end. Single-exactness and sharp arrow awareness of the boundless, empty universe may shock you at first. It is all about a gentle emptiness of all presumed concrete, separate things being one unto themselves. It is all interconnected.
8) At this point in your vipassana meditation, notice that the mind observing the mind can produce limitless changes to focus on (the ten thousand things). Thoughts, emotions, behaviors, all sensory experiences, memories and even spiritual expression are all possible places of mental contact. All of it has conditioned qualitative characteristics (your attachments, desires, cravings, clinging and avoidances). And, even with all this array of “things” – all of it is impermanent in nature. It all arises and falls away. Even you own living body-mind faces the same ultimate fate.
9) In the true reality of things, we must have radical acceptance of things as they are – NOT as we would like them to be. We now “see” that there is no independent origination, things arising of themselves. There is only dependent arising, or everything (all phenomena) being under the causes and conditions of other things. Noting arises on its own. Also we encounter the reality of “inter-being,” or the understanding that all things and phenomena are interconnected in some way. Impermanence rules! Suffering is directly experiencing change – not getting what we crave for, or getting what we want to avoid. Suffering also occurs when we have sense-pleasures we like, then they end. We cannot act to prolong happiness, nor can we act to avoid suffering. So why cling? The vastness of the emptiness of phenomena allows us to be content, even happy, with whatever is right now. Self-cherishing is replaced by equanimity and compassion for ourselves as well as for others. This is the beginning of no-self, as an independent arising entity.
10) If you wish to actively pursue your vipassana practice for a long time, you may encounter nirvana/ enlightenment. It is not a destination; it is an internal state of wisdom awareness that ends all suffering (dukkha). As equanimity expands, we give up the eight vicissitudes of pleasure vs pain, gain vs loss, praise vs blame, and fame vs disrepute. The four brahma vihares become norms – loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. We let go of ego and the power of sense-door experiences; the mind is now the MIND, and we have much more control over it. It has been tamed! We gently detach from and experience dispassion for all energetic emotional reactions. We are living in the wisdom of so-self. There is cessation of all disturbing emotional reactions. Best of all, we experience this with no nihilistic foundation whatsoever. In fact we are full, more complete and happier now.
May you be highly successful on your wisdom path to ecstasy.
For more information refer to Hart, W. (1987). The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation as Taught by S. N. Goenka. SanFrancisco, CA: Harper Collins Publishers; Catherine, S. (2011). Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana. Boston: Wisdom Publications; Salzburg, S. and Goldstein, J. (2001). Insight Meditation Workbook. Boulder, CO: Sounds True; Gunaratana, H. (1991, 2011). Mindfulness in Plain English. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness
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