Sunday, March 6, 2011

10-day vipassana meditation course: The technique

This is one of multiple posts related to my experience at a 10-day meditation course. The first post is here.

The purpose of this post is to give the reader a flavor for what the meditation technique at the course is like. It is by no means extensive enough for one to use as a guide for correct practice. And there is always the possibility of doing oneself more harm than good by practicing incorrectly. While the information below is correct to the best of my knowledge, I can say for sure that is it is not complete. Further, I may be wrong in thinking that even what is presented is correct. So please do not use this description as some kind of instruction manual.

There are 3 meditation techniques that are taught during the course -- anapana, vipassana, and metta -- and they are each introduced at different times during the course. Let's look at each of these in more detail.


The course begins with the technique of anapana. Anapana is a Pali word that literally means "in breath out breath." (This translation was not provided during the course; I found it by doing by doing a web search, so it may be incorrect.) The goal of this technique is to develop the concentration of the mind to the point where vipassana can be performed.

The instruction of anapana is given at the first sit in the evening of day of arrival at the course and this is all that we do during the first 3 days of the course. We begin with trying to sense the in-breath and the out-breath and keep the mind focused on observing the breathing no matter what comes up. The basic instruction is to observe the natural breath without trying to control it in anyway, or without wishing it to be any different. As the practice progresses, we gradually narrow the area of focus to the area inside and around the nostrils, to just the nostrils, and finally to the sensations on the area between the upper lip and the nostrils. The smaller the area of focus, the sharper is the concentration of the mind. If we are able to keep the mind concentrated on this area continuously for a minute, then we can be considered ready for the practice of vipassana.

For nearly 3 whole days all we do is focus on the breath regardless of whether we are just sitting in meditation, or whether we are walking, eating, lying down, etc.


On the afternoon of the 3rd day, the first instruction for vipassana is given. Vipassana is a Pali word that literally means insight or wisdom. Practicing vipassana is supposed to cultivate these qualities in the meditator.

Once the mind is sufficiently concentrated, one may switch to practicing vipassana. In vipassana, we systematically scan the body from the top of the head to the feet in a specific order observing the sensations on each and every part of the body. We are told to observe the sensations as they are no matter how pleasant or unpleasant. The mind must remain equanimous; in other words, there must be complete lack of craving for, or aversion to, any particular sensation. As with anapana, there are several stages. Initially, the scans are slow and the sensations are mostly gross (i.e. large areas of pain or tightness, lack of sensation, etc.). With progress, the sensations become more and more subtle (a sense of particles vibrating) and the speed of scanning is increased. Next, if one gets to the stage where the entire surface of the body is covered in subtle sensations (complete absence of gross sensations) then one begins to scan inside the body. Eventually, if one gets to the stage where subtle sensations are being experienced all over the body, both inside and on the surface of the body, then one is said to be experiencing the state of bhanga or dissolution (i.e. a dissolving of the body into its particles). In this state the mind has been able to pierce through the illusion of apparent or gross reality in which the body appears solid and unchanging. And should one make it to this state, we are told to remain very alert so as not to develop a craving for the sensations observed (it is supposed to be an extremely pleasurable sensation) or we will fall back into the misery that results from the mind's addiction to craving and aversion.

The practice of vipassana regardless of what state one is in is really all about observing sensations without resorting to craving and aversion. Craving and aversion are the habit pattern of the mind which are the cause of misery and suffering. Practicing vipassana is supposed to rid the mind of this habit pattern allowing us to be free from misery.

The practice of vipassana continues from Day 3 until the morning of Day 10.


The third technique of meditation is metta. Metta is a Pali word that means loving kindness. According to S. N. Goenka, the 10 days of vipassana is like performing a deep surgical operation of the mind. The practice of metta is used to close the wound and apply healing balm.

Metta practice begins on the morning of Day 10. This practice is about generating feelings of loving kindness for all beings. It is stressed that metta is as important as vipassana and that one must always follow the practice of vipassana with a short metta practice.

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