This is the next post on my controversial view of Vipassanā. Here is the complete series:
- What Does Vipassanā Actually Mean? Part 1: Do we have it wrong?
- What Does Vipassanā Actually Mean? Part 2: The Buddha’s Enlightenment
- What Does Vipassanā Actually Mean? Part 3: Amassing Evidence
- What Does Vipassanā Actually Mean? Part 4: Let’s Be Fair
- What Does Vipassanā Actually Mean? Part 5: A Deep Foundational Practice?
- What Does Vipassanā Actually Mean? Part 6: My Own Path
- What Does Vipassanā Actually Mean? Part 7: Why Does it Still Dominate?
The “right way” to meditate is perpetually a hot topic in Theravadan circles.
It is to meditators what black versus green is to tea drinkers. Or what barefoot versus shoes are for runners. Or 4-3 versus 3-4 is in football. Or what German vs. French hand position is to classical double bass players. Sound off Buddhist double bass players!
That is to say, it is something we apparently love to debate, but ultimately there really isn’t a single right answer.
Now, that said, there are clearly wrong answers. The Buddha taught that meditations that arouse feelings of desire, hate, guilt and such are clearly wrong. Meditations that try to identify the true self are clearly wrong. Meditations that go round and round without ever leading us toward liberation are clearly wrong.
But there is no one way to meditate. If you do Vipassana and it is of great benefit to you, for goodness sake keep doing Vipassana! But I don’t do Vipassana. I tried it for years, and it did not bring me great benefit.
My own path began with vipassanā practice. It was what my teachers taught, it was what the “Intro to Meditation” books taught, and it was what I really, really tried to practice for 4 years. My sits were agony. It took just sheer willpower to muscle through. And worse yet, I didn’t feel like I was making much progress. This may be the practice for some people, but it wasn’t working for me. Many times I considering just quitting altogether. It was like jogging. Some people love it and say it’s great. For me it was agonizing, not very productive, and only accomplished through sheer mental determination. Not a very good recipe for success.
It was at that point that I stumbled on the teachings of Ajahn Brahm. I was sitting in a tiny bedroom in Shenzhen, China, and I decided to test how well the Great Firewall dealt with Buddhist websites. I accidently stumbled on Ajahn Brahm’s Travelogue to the Jhanas and was absolutely hooked. I was supposed to be on vacation with my family, but I stole every spare minute I could to meditate or read a bit more of Brahm.
Since that time my practice has been completely transformed, and all for the good. I don’t 100% agree with Brahm’s interpretation of the suttas, but his teaching has been incredibly powerful and useful for me and I know for many others. It nurtures both the mental/intellectual and emotional/heart-based aspects of practice.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about why vipassanā still dominates the Theravadan meditation scene despite being pretty tough sledding for a lot of people.