Vipassana Meditation Instruction
By U Silananda
[The instructions given here are for those who want to practice meditation for an hour or so. So detailed instructions are given only for sitting meditation and walking meditation.]
To practice meditation, you have to look first for a suitable place. A suitable place is a place which offers you the necessary seclusion for your meditation. You may find secluded places in nature. However, when you are meditating inside a house, you have to look for the place which is most suitable for meditation and you will then use this place for meditation each time. You may want to put up a statue or a picture of the Buddha, some flowers, a candle or some incense to assist your meditation, but these items are not so important as is the necessity for a secluded place where you will always practice your meditation in the future.
SITTING MEDITATION: POSTURES
To begin your meditation, please be seated in a comfortable posture, preferably in cross-legged position, and keep the upper portion of your body erect, but not stiff or tense. One of the two kinds of cross-legged position is recommended, namely, the half lotus position or the easy posture, which some teachers call "Burmese posture". In the half lotus position one leg is put on top of the other, but in the easy posture one leg is put in front of the other, thus the pressure on either leg is minimized. If the any of the cross-legged position is still too difficult for you, you may take any sitting posture which is most comfortable for you. Because some comfort is necessary to continue the practice of meditation, you may even sit on a cushion, a chair or a bench. Though the cross-legged position is the ideal position for meditation, you have to decide for yourself in which position you can maintain your meditation best. Important in all sitting positions is that you keep the upper portion of your body erect.
Breaths as Main Object
Now focus your attention on the breaths; keep your mind at the tip of the nose, or at the entrance of the nostrils. When you breathe in, be mindful of the in-breath for the whole duration, or from the beginning to the end. And when you breath out, be mindful of the out-breath for the whole duration, or from the beginning to the end. In-breath and out-breath each last about four or five seconds. Be really mindful of the breaths. You may feel a sensation of the air at the tip of your nose or in your nose. Be mindful of it. And concentrate on the nature of breath, the moving nature or the supporting nature of breath, rather than the shape or form of the breath. Try to see the in-breath and out-breath as two separate things, not just one and the same breath going in and coming out. Do not let your mind follow the breath into your body or outside the body. Your mind is like a gatekeeper standing at the gate, taking note of people going in and coming out. Do not force or strain yourself. Just calmly be mindful and watch the breaths. You may make a mental note when you breathe in and when you breathe out, as "in", "out," "in", "out." Making mental notes, or labeling, is just to help you keep your mind on the object; if it interferes with your meditation, you don’t have to do it, but just be mindful of the object. What is important in this meditation is mindfulness of the object at the moment, and not the notes you make.
If your mind can be on the breaths only, that is very good. However, mind has a tendency to wander quite often. So, if, in the course of keeping your mind on the breaths, your mind wanders or goes out and you are aware of it, do not feel guilty, or be upset; just be mindful of its going out. Or you may say to yourself, "going out, going out, going out," two or three times and then go back to the breaths.
If you see something or someone in your thoughts, be mindful of seeing, or say to yourself, "seeing, seeing, seeing," until that object disappears from your mind; then go back to the breaths.
If you hear somebody talking in your thoughts, be mindful of hearing or say to yourself, "hearing, hearing, hearing," and then go back to the breath.
If you talk to someone in your thoughts, or if you talk to yourself, be mindful of talking, or say to yourself, "talking, talking, talking," and then go back to the breaths.
If you speculate about something, be mindful of speculating; if you analyze something, be mindful of analyzing; if you make judgments, be mindful of making judgments. In Vipassana meditation, you pay just bare attention to the object, without any additions of you own, as "beautiful", "ugly", "good", "bad", etc. Or, in other words, you take the object as it is, without subjective additions of your own.
If you remember something in the past, be mindful of the remembering, or say to yourself, "remembering, remembering, remembering" or "thinking, thinking, thinking," and then go back to the breaths. If you think of the future and make plans, be mindful of it, or say to yourself, "thinking of future, thinking of future, thinking of future,", or "planning, planning, planning," and then go back to the breath.
If you become lazy, be mindful of your laziness, or say, "lazy, lazy, lazy." The laziness will go away after some moments, then go back to the breaths. If you feel bored, be mindful of boredom, or say to yourself, "bored, bored, bored," until boredom goes away, then go back to the breaths. If you have resistance, be mindful of it, or say to yourself, "resisting, resisting, resisting." When resistance disappears, go back to the breaths.
If you have thoughts of attachment or greed or lust, again do not feel guilty, but be mindful of these thoughts, or say to yourself, "attachment, attachment, attachment," or "greed, greed, greed," or "lust, lust, lust," until they disappear and then go back to the breaths. If you are upset or angry for any reason, just be mindful of that anger, or in other words, make that anger the object of meditation. Concentrate on your anger, or you may say to yourself, "anger, anger, anger" or "angry, angry, angry" or "upset, upset, upset." After some moments, the anger will disappear and when it has disappeared, go back to the breaths.
If you want to swallow your saliva, first be mindful of the intention or desire to swallow, saying to yourself, "intention, intention, intention," or "desire, desire, desire." And when you have gathered the saliva in your mouth, be mindful of the gathering, or say to yourself, "gathering, gathering, gathering." When you swallow it down, be mindful of swallowing, or say to yourself, "swallowing, swallowing, swallowing," then go back to the breaths.
If you have an itching sensation, do not scratch it right away. Concentrate on the place of that itching and be mindful of it, saying to yourself, "itching, itching, itching." In most cases, itching will go away after some time. When it goes away, return to the breaths. Sometimes, the itching will not go away, but will even become more intense. In that case try to be with it, taking note of it and be aware of it, as long as you can. If you think you cannot bear it any longer, you may scratch. But before scratching, be mindful of the intention or desire to scratch; and when you move your hand to the place where you experience the itch, be mindful of moving. Move your hand slowly, following the movement with mindfulness. When your fingers touch the place, say "touching, touching, touching." When you scratch, say "scratching, scratching, scratching." When you take the hand back, say "taking, taking, taking" or "moving, moving, moving." When your hand touches your lap, the knee or the other hand again, be mindful of touching, or say to yourself, "touching, touching, touching." Then go back to the breaths.
If you have painful or unpleasant feelings in the body—numbness, stiffness, or heat—focus your mind on the place of these feelings and be mindful of them. If you have pain somewhere in the body, focus on the place of that pain, and be mindful of that pain, or say to yourself, "pain, pain, pain." You will have to be very patient with painful feelings. Pain will not easily go away. You have to be patient and be mindful of it. It may go away or it may become more acute. Stay with it as long as you can. Actually pain is a very good object for meditation. It is a strong object. Your mind is pulled towards the place where there is pain. So be mindful of it and try to see it just as a sensation, an unpleasant sensation. And it is important that you do not identify pain with yourself, so do not say to yourself, "it is my pain" or "I feel pain." There is just the pain, just the sensation. If the pain becomes so intense that you think you cannot bear it any longer, you may ignore pain altogether and go back to the breaths, or you may make movements or change posture to ease pain. But when you make movements or change posture, first note the intention to change, or be mindful of the intention to change and then make movements slowly, one at a time, following each movement with mindfulness. And when you have made the changes, go back to the breaths.
So the breaths are the home object of your meditation. Whenever there are no other objects to be mindful of, you just continue with being mindful of the breaths. If there are more prominent objects, then you take note of them, be aware of them, or be mindful of them, and then go back to the breaths. Do not use force, do not strain yourself, just calmly watch the objects, take note of them, or be mindful of them. Do not try to forcefully push distractions or emotions or feelings in the body away, just watch them and let them go by themselves.
SITTING MEDITATION: VIPASSANA
Movements of the Abdomen as Main Object
For some people, it is difficult to concentrate on the breath at the tip of the nose. Such people can keep their mind on the abdomen and be mindful of the rising and falling movements of the abdomen. When you inhale, the abdomen extends or rises and when you exhale, it contracts or falls. These movements—rising and falling of the abdomen—can be the main object of meditation instead of the breaths. Keep your mind on the abdomen and be really mindful of the rising movement from the beginning to the end, and also of the falling movement from the beginning to the end. Your mind is like a jockey riding a horse, your mind and your abdomen are both moving. You may even put your hand on the abdomen to feel the rising and falling movements. After some time, you may be able to follow the rising and falling movements without your hand on the abdomen. Here also, you may make mental notes as "rising, falling", "rising, falling", "rising, falling". The rest is the same as for taking the breaths as main object. The only difference is to substitute ‘breaths’ with ‘movements of the abdomen’.
COMMON TO BOTH METHODS
Let your mindfulness be precise, i.e., going concurrently with the objects. Take only one object at a time; take the one which is most prominent and be mindful of it. If you cannot decide which is most prominent, choose just one and be mindful of it. What is important in this meditation is to be mindful of the object at the present moment; so whether you are mindful of the main object or the secondary object, so long as you are mindful, you are doing the right thing. Do not have any expectations, do not expect to experience something strange or to see visions or to get results or even to get concentration. Expectations are good because they motivate us to practice, but when we are right in the practice, they become obstacles to concentration. That is because they are a mild form of greed or attachment which is a hindrance to concentration. So if expectations come up in spite of yourself, do not be irritated by them, but just be mindful of them, or say to yourself, "expecting, expecting, expecting." Then go back to the breaths or the movements of the abdomen. When you practice mindfulness you make effort, mental effort; the effort you make thus must be neither too much nor too little; if you make too much effort, you will become agitated and you cannot concentrate; and if you make too little effort, you will become sleepy and again cannot concentrate. The effort you make must, therefore, be well balanced. If you miss to be mindful and then remember, then be mindful of that missing, or say to yourself, "missing, missing, missing", or "forgetting, forgetting, forgetting." Above all, do not be tight or tense in your mind; be relaxed, and calmly watch, or be mindful, or make mental notes.