What is Vipassana?
Vipassana translates into English as insight meditation; this exercise focuses on intense attention to the body's sensation whilst one is at rest. Vipassana is very much concerned with the breathing process, as a means of seeing into one's essence: that we are beings immersed and flowing through a stream of existence/experiences. Vipassana expands us by letting our old definitions of the self and how we relate to the world fade away, by looking at small things we too often overlook.
Sakyamuni Buddha, the historical figure who lived and taught in India five hundred centuries before Christ is said to have introduced this meditation pratice to the world, and in its many incarnations it is a fundamental first step to understanding Buddhist thought.
Whilst the practise of vipassana and other elements of Buddhism were lost to its homeland over the centuries, dedicated monks kept it alive in Burma and other parts of Asia, until the right time came to revive the movement in India and Westerners learned about it at the end of the 19th century.
Vipassana has no theological intent, having no object of worship, which means anyone regardless of personal religious affiliations can undertake it. In Australia, vipassana is being taught in Buddhist circles and meditation centres as a journey into self-discovery and contemplation. These centres schedule regular and one-time courses every month, available in all major cities for old and new students. Most Australians will find a Vipassana centre within an hour's drive from their place.
If you are experencing vipassana for the first time, you will go through seven- to ten-day courses to be introduced to this practice, while those who have gone through the inital course can take three-day courses, focusing on lessons from the masters of vipassana meditation. Nearly all vipassana courses in Australia are held entirely expense-free, operating only with volunteers who have mastered vipassana and donations to the centres.
As a campaign, vipassana's concepts have been shared with prison inmates, teen clubs and adults' organisations in order to diffuse tension in the self and within groups, encourage positive responses to discipline and harness mental focus for personal endeavours.
If you would like to experience vipassana in full, during the beginners's course you should abstain from other meditation practices, religious rituals or even the lighting of incense. This is needed in order to remove distractions to successful meditation, and is not meant as a judgement on other rituals and beliefs. Physical contact with other people and outside communication are also distractions to be avoided.
Once you've made the right start, you can engage in vipassana at home, in parks and any other place whenever you find a pressing need to relax and refocus. Turn to the next page to get an overview on doing vipassana the first time!