Buddhism · Meditation

How to Meditate: Vipassana

Vipassana comes from the Therevada Buddhist tradition and is also known as Insight meditation. It was the form of meditation practised and taught by the Buddha in order to attain enlightenment. It involves looking into the true nature of the mind to overcome suffering and discover who you really are.

The word has two parts: passana means ‘seeing’ or ‘perceiving’, while vi means ‘through.’ So vipassana means seeing through the delusions of perception. Vi also suggests discernment: the ability to see individual parts clearly with the mind. It can also mean ‘intensive’. So vipassana means an intense, discerning way of seeing which cuts through illusion.

Vipassana helps you to stay focused in the present moment and brings greater clarity to your mind. The practice involves observing your body and mind with single-pointed attention and labelling what you observe. It can be quite forensic as you note every passing sensation, feeling, thought, or sound. You can practice with anything – nothing is off-limits. The meditation can help to release attachments to unhelpful emotional states or patterns of thought. You can even work with very painful or troubling emotions and transform them using this approach.

Vipassana isn’t just about labelling the activity of your consciousness. It’s about applying the practice of mindfulness so you can observe how the mind works without trying to control it. This helps to cultivate wisdom because you can see for yourself exactly how the dharma works in practice.


  • Develops clarity and focus of mind
  • Aids the development of concentration
  • Helps maintain present moment awareness
  • Calms the emotions
  • Encourages the perception of Buddha Mind

Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana is a form of mindfulness meditation and can be practiced when sitting, walking or eating. There are many specific techniques but all involve focusing on sensations in the body. It’s a good idea to attend a vipassana retreat and receive instruction on practicing, if you can.

One form of vipassana involves a body scan starting from the head and working down the body. Another focuses on your breathing and the sensation of the breath passing over your upper lip. The instructions below focus on a point in the abdomen rising and falling as you breathe.

  1. Sit in meditation on a cushion or a hard-backed chair. Relax and breathe naturally. Watch your breath for a few minutes and allow the mind to settle.
  2. Direct your attention to your solar plexus, just above the navel. Breathe in and notice the abdomen expand – this is called rising. Breathe out and notice the abdomen contract – this is called falling.
  3. Observe the rising and falling motion as you breathe. Don’t try to change the breath, just allow it to arise naturally. Keep your attention on the present moment and allow the sensation of rising and falling to fill your awareness.
  4. If thoughts intrude, gently bring the mind back to the sensation of breathing in the abdomen. Don’t think about breathing – just breathe. Awareness of the breath in the present moment arises without effort, there’s no need to strain to concentrate. Simply allow each sensation to rise and fall and let it go.
  5. If you wish, you can add a mental note or label to each sensation that arises: ‘rising’ or ‘falling’ as appropriate. This can help you to stay focused when you first begin to practise, but stop when you feel your attention is strong enough to cope without it. The labels will probably fall away naturally as your mindfulness increases.
  6. Mental labels can be used to note other things that intrude into your awareness as you meditate. When you hear a sound you can label it ‘hearing’; when you notice a pain in your knees you can label it ‘pain’, and so on. When labeling like this, simply make the note then let it go and bring your awareness back to the breath.
  7. Continue to breathe and keep your attention focused on the solar plexus rising and falling. Practicing like this helps you to become aware of the transient nature of all things and prepares the way for the perception of the true nature of Mind.
  8. At the end of the session, bring your awareness back to the body as a whole and sit for a few moments breathing naturally until you are ready to stand and continue your day.

This is a simple but powerful practice that will purge your mind of anything that stands between you and enlightenment – but only if you practise!

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