Vipassana (also known as Insight or Mindfulness) Meditation is a simple technique that has been practiced in Asia for over 2,500 years.
Mindfulness cultivates a sense of wholeness that brings us into the experience of “things-as-they-are” moment by moment. Cultivating awareness of breath, body, and the processes of heart and mind, mindfulness offers insight into the transient (impermanent), unsatisfactory (suffering) and universal (selfless) nature of reality.
Mindfulness practice develops clarity of understanding and allows grasping, judgment, and fear to fall away. As these obscurations fall into abeyance, one discovers loving-kindness, compassion, equanimity, joy, and wisdom as the qualities of our true nature. The ultimate aim of Dharma practice is to end suffering. Buddha described this freedom, not based on external conditions, as “the unconditioned.”
The Three Jewels
Over 2,500 years ago in northern India a young prince named Siddhartha Gautama was gripped by the realization that as human beings we are all vulnerable to suffering because of sickness, old age, and death. Six years later, after an intensive quest, he discovered an answer to this universal problem of suffering through profound insight into the nature of life. As he began to share his understanding with others, he was known as the “Buddha,” or Awakened One – one who has come to great depths of wisdom and compassion through his own realization.
The Buddha’s teaching is referred to as the “Dharma,” a Sanskrit word meaning “Truth” or “Law” or simply, “the way things are.” The Buddha’s “Dharma” was a rediscover of universal truth.
One who practices the teaching of the Buddha is said to be a member of the “Sangha,” or community of followers of the Dharma. These three facets of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are known collectively as the Three Refuges or the Triple Gem.
After the Buddha’s death, his teaching spread from India throughout Asia. As it encountered other cultures it took different forms. Three main schools of Buddhism thrive in Asia today. The Theravada (Way of the Elders) still flourishes in Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. The Mahayana (Great Vehicle) characterizes the various traditions within China, Korea, and Japan. The Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle) is associated primarily with Tibet and Bhutan. The San Francisco Insight Meditation Community, part of the emerging western tradition, draws primarily from the practices and dteachings of the Theravada but is also influenced by the other Buddhist traditions.
The foundation of the Buddhist path is a life of non-harming, which expresses compassion in our relationship to all living things. Entry into the Buddhist path is marked by taking the Five Precepts:
- To refrain from killing living beings. Reverence for life.
- To refrain from stealing or taking what is not ours. Respect for others.
- To refrain from sexual misconduct that causes harm to ourselves or others. Respect for the power of sexuality.
- To refrain from false speech. Respect for the power of language and communication.
- To refrain from using alcohol or drugs that intoxicate the mind. Recognizing that we have all we need to be happy.
These ethical guidelines are the natural outer expression of realization. Through their guidance we discover the heart of compassion within us.