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What is Vipassana Meditation?

By Jim Ramphal
Updated May 17, 2024
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Vipassana meditation, often called mindful meditation, is considered one of the oldest forms of Buddhist meditation. The word vipassana means "to see things as they really are," and is part of a self-awareness process the goal of which is to develop insight into the mind and body through the discipline of meditation. It is derived from the ancient Indian dialect of Pali, favored by the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Siddartha Buddha, as a more accessible language for Buddhist texts. The Pali word passana means "to see with open eyes," and the prefix vi, among other things, means "through."

This form of meditation is one of the key components of Theravada Buddhism, considered the most ancient of all the religion's sects, and the one closest to the original teachings of the Buddha. It involves a deep commitment to self-awareness through focused meditation designed to rid the mind of impurities of thought and negativity, to ultimately reach an enlightened state of harmonious balance with oneself and the universe. By observing and recognizing the importance of the state of now, the conscious mind and body are freed from the constraints of impure thought, making the individual more accepting of love and compassionate experience.

Although it is an integral part of the Buddhist religion, vipassana meditation is not Buddhism per se. It is rather a Buddhist exercise to train the mind and body to attain a higher plane of consciousness. It utilizes some of the basic tenets of Buddhism, such as personal growth through self examination and ridding oneself of that which is unnecessary and harmful in order to achieve a balanced state of being.

Vipassana meditation has been practiced for nearly 2,500 years as a means of self-awareness through the examination of what constitutes a harmonious state of existence. The technique as described by the Buddha was lost in India for nearly five centuries, but kept alive through the knowledge and teachings of devout Buddhist monks who continued to practice it, and through the preservation of sacred Buddhist texts. The spiritually cleansing elements of vipassana meditation have remained as potent and perceptive as they were in the time of the Buddha, appealing to generations of Buddhist followers.

The technique enjoyed more widespread practice outside of Asia in the 1960s. The so-called Hippie generation in the West, young people looking for alternative means of exploring the nature of existence, embraced it along with other Eastern traditions of self-awareness. Vipassana meditation not only addressed their search for a more meaningful way of life that rebelled against disposable consumerism, but appealed to their desire to seek new planes of conscious thought and experience as well.

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