What is Vipassana?
Vipassana is a technique deriving from the Theravada branch of Buddhism (the other being Mahayana Buddhism). Theravada Buddhism, which is very popular in southern Asia, translates as ‘the doctrine of the elders’ – the elders being senior Buddhist monks.
Many moons ago Buddhism dispersed out of India and went in all four directions, and Theravada is the form that went South, hence why it is known as the Southern branch of Buddhism.
Vipassana sits at one of the two poles of Theravada Buddhism, the other end of the scale being something called samatha.
Vipassana was devised as part of a system to understand and recognise the three marks of existence:
– Suffering and the unsatisfactoriness of every conditioned thing that exists
Within this framework, the goal is to become a sotapanna, a ‘stream-enterer,’ which is considered to be the first stage on the path to liberation.
I've been working with various meditation practices for many years, including Vipassana, mindfulness and loving kindness, but I always found it far too easy to come up with an excuse not to sit and practice - until now that is. I came away from Will's introductory course feeling totally tranquil for the first time in years and I have been able to keep up the practice with ease.
Warren, Groundsman, Sussex
How is it practiced?
Vipassana is commonly taught on retreat, usually over ten days. You go away for these ten days, and engage in a number of practices that help you to face your demons and develop an indifference to pain, joy and suffering through the realisation of their impermanence.
These retreats are held in total silence and the techniques taught are there to help you achieve a profound (and often intense) level of experience. You sit with crossed legs and a fully erect back and practise for ten to 12 hours a day.
During this time, participants use breathing exercises, awareness exercises on the body, mind, and emotions, and contemplation on the impermanence of life. In doing so, insight develops into some of the deeper aspects of reality.
When not sitting in silence, you may receive lectures from the monks, or be shown videos by S.N Goenka, who will talk you through the philosophy of Theravada Buddhism, and its application to modern living.
It is physically uncomfortable, emotionally harsh, and thoroughly brilliant.
You are then instructed to practise for one hour every morning, and one hour every evening, in order to maintain the positive effects of your retreat, and to continue your progression towards a state of knowledge of impermanence, suffering and non-self.
I have practiced meditation seriously for about 20 years, exploring various methods and techniques, and I can sincerely say that after attending Will's meditation course I was very impressed with the profound power of the process he teaches. I very highly recommend Will Williams Meditation to anyone and everyone - beginners and advanced meditators. For those who may be struggling with any problems in life as well as for those who are not and, as this is not a dogmatic religious system, for those who may or may not be practising a spiritual path. This course is truly for everyone...it's the real deal.
Peter, Architect (former Vipassana monk), London
How does Vedic meditation compare with Vipassana?
Whenever the Buddha instructed his disciples to go and meditate, he never told them to ‘go do Vipassana’, he always said ‘go do jhana‘, which is the Pali derivative of ‘dhyana‘. Dhyana is a term from the Vedic tradition and means ‘to let go’, and the context of this was usually a mantra.
It’s difficult to ascertain at what point Vipassana methodologies came into vogue, but it seems to be some time after the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni) passed away. Whatever the similarities of their origins, there are key differences in the way the two techniques are now being practised, and in the effect of these practises on mind and body.
They are both great techniques, and if you have the time and inclination to go on retreat for ten days and face all your demons, you will be rewarded with a profound experience that is simultaneously one of the best and worst things you will ever do! It’s brilliant, but quite harsh.
It’s so easy
The first key point is that you don’t need to take yourself off for ten days in order to learn how to do Vedic meditation. The simplicity of the Vedic method and the power of the mantras each individual is given means you can cut to the chase and get into a powerful state in just the first few days.
Having a little mantra to work with makes it a lot easier than having to concentrate your way into some kind of meditative state. When the mind is already so busy with all the various tasks you have to take care of, adding another concentration-based task to the list can feel a little overwhelming.
We’ve taught many dozens of people who have done both, and in every case there has been unanimous agreement that Vedic meditation is a lot easier, and a lot more effective in delivering the outcomes they were looking for.
Integration into daily life
However, where Vedic meditation really stands out is in its practical application in every day life.
At the conclusion of a Vipassana retreat, you are instructed to go home and do an hour of meditation every morning, and an hour every evening. If you have the luxury of lots of time in your life, then this can be very rewarding. If you don’t have two hours to spare, it can be tricky. It can leave you feeling hungry for the sensation of being away from it all, and you feel yourself unable to integrate the benefits of your retreat experience into every day life.
Vedic meditation is only 20 minutes in the morning and evening and can be easily integrated into every day life. The power of the mantras to take you into a deep meditative state means that 15 to 20 minutes of practice is more than sufficient to give you all the benefit you require.
Vedic meditation is also a lot more comfortable. Sitting cross-legged with your back erect can feel tiring at the best of times, and especially so at the end of a long day. Being able to sit in your favourite chair and do it, or to be able to squeeze it in on the tube or train, is invaluable when life gets busy.
And when your practice is comfortable and easy, and not too time constrained, it also means you enjoy it more and actually look forward to your meditation. This is something we hear regularly and someone recently ended their review, with #bestpartofmyday, which says it all.
Be in the world
Another interesting dynamic that is worth considering is that Vipassana is a monastic practice designed for those living far away from the world. The Buddha himself abandoned his wife and kids to follow his path to enlightenment, and it seems very much that this was his calling in life.
However, the majority of folks in society are not that way inclined and it is worth being wise to the fact that practising techniques that are designed for people living everyday lives usually lends itself to being more easily integrated into modern life.
Find out more
If you want to integrate all the meditative loveliness rather than leaving some of it on retreat, then come and see us. Don’t get us wrong, we love Vipassana, but it’s not for the faint-hearted, and it is difficult to sustain in a busy, modern life.
Ultimately, they are both great paths to wisdom and knowledge, it’s simply a case of seeing which one most resonates with you. And if in doubt, do both!