Vipassana is the oldest of Buddhist meditation practices. This method comes directly from a discourse from the Buddha, the Satipatthana Sutta. Vipassana is a direct and gradual cultivation of mindfulness or awareness. This gradual cultivation unfolds piece by piece over a period of years. The student places her attention carefully on the direct examination of certain aspects of her own existence. With a consistent practice a meditator can be trained to notice more of her own flowing life experience.
Vipassana is a gentle method, but it also is very comprehensive. This ancient and organized system of training your mind uses a set of exercises devoted to the resolve of becoming more aware of your own life experience. Through mindful listening, mindful seeing, and careful testing, we learn to smell with full awareness, to touch with full attention, and truly notice the changes taking place in all these experiences. We teach ourselves to be aware of our thoughts without being caught up in them.
To practice vipassana is to learn to see the truths of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and the selflessness of phenomena (The Three Marks of Existence). We may think we are already aware of this, but that is an illusion. The illusion comes from the fact that we are applying little attention to the continuing surge of our own life experiences. It’s like being asleep.
Vipassana meditation is essentially experiential, not theoretical. The practice of meditation allows you to become sensitive to the real experiences of life and to how things actually feel. The objective is not to sit around developing subtle, aesthetic thoughts about living. You live. Vipassana meditation, more than anything else, is learning to live.
There are numerous of approaches within the vipassana tradition, but the technique we are elucidating here is considered the most traditional and is probably what Gautama Buddha taught his students. The Satipatthana Sutta, which was the Buddha’s original discourse on mindfulness, specifically says that one must begin by focusing the attention on the breathing and then go on to note all other physical and mental phenomena which arise.