Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How Vipassana Meditation Purifies the Mind (Based on Yoga Philosophy)

Vipassana Meditation Technique

The Vipassana meditation technique taught by Goenka during the 10-day Vipassana retreat is a simple but powerful technique.  In my opinion, comparing this technique to the teachings of Yoga, and the experiences of the Indian yogis, can help us understand its benefits even better, such as the mental purification. 

Continued from: The 10-day Vipassana Meditation Retreat (My Comic Experience)

What is the Vipassana meditation technique?

The only thing you do in Vipassana meditation is to witness the gross and subtle sensations of the body, without having any positive or negative reaction towards them, without creating attachment or aversion to any experience.  Or in other words without expecting anything.

This is called the practice of “equanimity” and it is developed by becoming a witness of the experiences and by understanding “anicca” (pronounced anitcha) impermanence. Since no body sensation (gross or subtle) is permanent there is no reason to become attached to any experience.

As I understood from the evening discourses, this simple process of witnessing the sensations of the body from head to toes and toes to head, with equanimity, helps to purify the mind. 

By observing the gross sensations of the body you later start experiencing more subtle sensations like tingling, the feeling of flowing energy, vibration, energy waves, and even a stage called the “dissolution of the body” I think, where the body feels like exploding into tiny particles. There is no more a feeling of a physically limiting body anymore.

This “dissolution of the body” is the main experience that the Vipassana technique of meditation brings. By having this experience, again and again, and by going deeper into it, we should be able to realize that we are not the body nor the mind. 

But, although you are looking for this experience you are not really looking for it, cause you know... you should be just a witness of any body sensations without any sense of craving or aversion.

And by practicing equanimity, avoiding creating any feeling of aversion or attachment, little by little we stop creating new saṁskāras (mental habit patterns of aversion and attachment).  And the previous saṁskāras are able to come up to the surface, from the subconscious to the conscious, to be finally extinguished. This is a lifelong process.

Well, this is what I understood from my first Vipassana retreat so I'm definitely not an expert. Maybe is better that you hear from Goenka himself. You can read about the technique on their official website: What is Vipassana?

Vipassana viewed from a Yoga philosophy perspective.

In my opinion, while practicing meditation you should always practice equanimity, regardless of the meditation technique you are following. 

Just to give you an example, if there is no equanimity and a positive experience arises during the meditation then the meditative state will get interrupted, because our attachment and expectation will make us feel excited. 

This excitement will stimulate again the breath, the heart rate, and the nervous system, which had already become very serene thanks to the meditation.  So the meditative state that we were just about to reach fades away because the mind and the body have become once more agitated. 

But if we are able to remain still, calm, and serene without any expectation and without any feeling of craving or aversion to whatever experience might arise, then we could go deeper into such a state until it naturally fades away.

This is what the Indian yogis teach, such as Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Rama.

Additionally, according to yoga philosophy, there is a certain subtle energy that pervades the whole creation. It is in the air that we breathe, in the food that we eat, in the water that we drink, and in our own physical bodies. 

This energy is called prāṇa, the same energy that is known as Qi or Chi in martial arts.  It is more subtle than electricity. It cannot be measured but it can certainly be experienced.

The prana in the physical body is the energy that allows the body to perform its different functions like breathing, digestion, procreation, sneezing, coughing or even crying. 

It is divided into five types of pranas (the Pancha Pranas) according to the function that it performs.  One of these pranas is called Vyana which is the prana that pervades the whole body.

There are yogic practices similar to Vipassana where one works with Vyana Prana. By simply putting the attention to any body part the prana can be felt as subtle sensations, and by moving the attention or rotating the awareness around the body we stimulate the flow of this prana. 

This process of scanning the body and feeling the prana (subtle body sensations) in each body part stimulates the flow of prana and removes energy blocks on the pranic body, which are nothing but mental blocks, past traumas, and other saṁskāras.

“Wherever the mind goes the prana flows”

It is also said that the grossest manifestation of prana is the physical body and the subtlest manifestation of prana is the thoughts, the thinking process, and the mind. So the connection between the mind and the physical body is prana itself.

Contemplating these teachings of the Indian yogis helps me to understand Vipassana from a different perspective.  It makes a lot of sense why Goenka says that this technique purifies the mind. 

Now it is important to mention that Goenka reminds us during the discourses and guided meditations: 

“We should not play with the subtle sensations of the body but just observe them with equanimity, otherwise we are going back to the same old habit pattern of creating aversion or attachment.” 

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