Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on August 6, 2014

In these blogs I have done my best to introduce readers to basic meditation, what is called Shamata. This is where most of us begin and, like breathing, we continue to do it from then onward. But Shamata is not considered an end point by itself. It is meant to be used in combination with another form of meditation, Vipasanna Meditation. Once we learn Shamata, most of us next learn Vipasanna, which is also called Insight Meditation, the term I will use here.

Although Insight Meditation can't easily be done without the foundation of Shamata, many have asked if I would say more about Vipasanna and how it differs from Shamata. With that in mind, what follows is intended to at least give a flavor of what Insight meditation is all about. Like Shamata, Insight Meditation affects all areas of life, but here (for clarity's sake) I will limit myself to talking about examining dharma concepts using Insight Meditation. And I warn you that this type of meditation is very different from basic Shamata meditation. In my own experience it is amazing, unlike anything I had ever experienced. I will have to work hard even come near a useful description, so my description of it may be a little over the top.

In Shamata we learn to concentrate mindfully and to simply allow the mind to rest naturally; in Vipassana we rest within the activity of the mind itself, which I will try to explain. To be more precise, we rest in the clarity that comes from actively engaging the mind itself. It is a little like back in the Old west, gold miners would dynamite to free up the gold ore. A flash of Insight Meditation frees up the mind so that some bit of realization explodes in our mind. As much as Shamata is all about resting calmly, Insight meditation is about resting in activity clearly. I can see that this is going to be hard to put into words.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche called Insight Meditation "art in everyday life," which definition itself stretches the mind. In my experience Insight Mediation might be described as being intensely creative, which is pretty much the same thing. Using this form of meditation, we find ourselves interacting creatively with the mind itself, and we can do it at will. Instead of the usual intellectual understanding (where we are the outside observer), here we find ourselves interactively participating with our own mind, which is very exciting. Insight Meditation is direct and non-dual. No subject and object, just realization. If nothing else, it is so nice to be included and not forced to objectify everything. Insight Meditation is all first person experience.

And this from of meditation is an all-you-can-eat sort of thing. Just as we tend (at least in the beginning) to confine Shamata to the cushion, Insight meditation is something we learn to do all of the time, which should tell you how important it is.

With Insight Meditation we re-discover the various truths and concepts of the dharma that we have previously understand, one by one, for ourselves, but this time we "realize" it personally (rather than just abstractly) and can explain it to others. We take our understanding of dharma, realize what it means through Insight Meditation, and then can put it in our own words. And we don't have to memorize anything. We can realize what we only intellectually understood before on the spot and from scratch.

As mentioned, with Insight Meditation there is no longer any need to memorize or store what we learn, and to otherwise try and keep count or track of it. With Vipasanna we now have a magic decoder-ring. We can translate dharma from rote-understanding to realization at will, right on the spot. We can take dry dharma-texts, realize their meaning, and then express it in our own language. There is no guarantee that anyone but us will appreciate how we see it, but at least we will, totally, and this is enough. This form of meditation is, no doubt, a spiritual Odyssey in which we play the role of Odysseus.

And we are no longer in danger of being caught out, off our contacts, and unable to remember what this or that dharma principle is. Just give us the teaching and we can make some immediate sense out of it, at least to the best of our ability. In this regard, Insight Meditation is an automatic phenomenon – tell-it-like-it-is. We just point the clarity of our mind at the concept and, presto, its meaning unfolds in front of us.

Let me repeat. With Insight mediation we point the laser beam of the mind at a concept and that concept expands and comes alive. It is a little like one of those museums where we walk around, touch a button, and things are explained to us. With Insight Meditation we literally tease concepts out of static-understanding (dry concepts) until they catch fire and illuminate themselves so that we can see and realize what they are about, almost like a mini-enlightenment. Best of all, it is effortless. All we do is direct the mind, and the rest is automatic. That thought or concept reveals its essence and meaning. It does take time to become proficient at this, but the path to proficiency itself is riveting. Every step of the way we are walking on new ground.

As mentioned Vipasanna is often translated as "Insight Meditation," which gets right to the heart of what this technique is about. This process of "realizing" what the dharma means through Insight Meditation is accompanied by its own light and energy. In a real sense, Insight Meditation itself is just the light and energy that comes from telling it like it is – a kind of dharma automaton. With Insight Meditation, as we grasp and realize a thought, it expands and releases its essence to us which includes clarity (light) and enough space around it (emptiness) for its meaning to step forth illuminate our mind. It singularly stands out from any background noise.

Insight Meditation should not be confused with the English idea of "contemplation," you know, contemplating this or contemplating that thought, which in this context is but a half-truth. Insight meditation does not have the duality inherent in the concept of "someone" contemplating "something." Insight meditation cuts out the middlemen of subject and object. It is direct voice.

Insight Meditation is instantaneous realization that precludes any duality and floods the mind with light that is both blissful and clear at the same time. The essential meaning is realized and it is up to us to find words to express what is seen. With insight, we don't have to even think, but rather just look (and rest) our focus and allow the insight to expand clearly as it will, illuminating itself so that we can clearly see what it is. It is the most intense and absorbing (and fun) thing I know of.

Insight Meditation happens all at once and, once we are plugged in, is highly addictive. It definitely has an illuminating component, not unlike those flares shot into the sky that illuminate the night sky and then slowly descend on a parachute. Insight meditation provides that same kind of illumination and gradual light decay. In other words, insight meditation is self-illuminating and self-clarifying. And insight is effortless. It just spontaneously happens.

I know this probably sounds too good to be true, but believe me, it is true. And while words cannot fully describe it nor do it justice, Insight Meditation is everything I have presented here and much more. It is actual. Why is everyone not doing this? The answer is twofold. As mentioned earlier, Insight meditation is generally not easy to learn until we have mastered basic Shamata meditation, resting, and you can't fake mastery. In this case, you have to have it.

Once that is done, Insight Meditation generally requires a skilled teacher who can help to introduce us to it, and that is not easy to come by. And I realize that by speaking of Insight Meditation so highly it may sound like I am teasing you with it. That is not the intent. The intent is to let you know that there are different kinds and even levels of meditation. At some point what started out as a casual or even serious interest on our part, learning meditation, can become much more transformative than we ever imagined, not that we could imagine much of anything about something we have never known. But that is the point here, to let you know what is out there.

In my case, learning Shamata and then Insight Meditation stopped being an option, and became a necessity.

[Photo taken recently.]