Meditation is a centrepiece of Buddhist practice. It is a method to develop the mind. The emphasis is on concentration, focus, clarity, calmness, and insight. There are different techniques; most of them are easy to learn and very useful in daily life. The following is an introduction to samatha-vipassana meditation in the Thai Theravada tradition (adapted with minor amendments from the Bung Wai Forest Monastery, Thailand).
Introduction to Insight Meditation
The purpose of Insight Meditation is not to create a system of beliefs, but rather to give guidance on how to see clearly into the nature of the mind. In this way one gains first-hand understanding of the way things are, without reliance on opinions or theories – a direct experience, which has its own vitality. It also gives rise to the sense of deep calm that comes from knowing something for oneself beyond any doubt.
The term Insight Meditation (samatha-vipassana) refers to practices for the mind that develop calm (samatha) through sustained attention and insight (vipassana) through reflection. A fundamental technique for sustaining attention is focusing awareness on the body; traditionally, this is practiced while sitting or walking. This guide begins with some advice on this technique.
Reflection occurs quite naturally afterwards, when one is ‘comfortable’ within the context of the meditation exercise. There will be a sense of ease and interest, and one begins to look around and become acquainted with the mind that is meditating. This ‘looking around’ is called contemplation, a personal and direct seeing that can only be suggested by any technique.
Focusing the mind on the body can be readily accomplished while sitting. You need to find a time and a place which affords you calm and freedom from disturbance. A quite room with not much in it to distract the mind is ideal. Timing is also important. It is not especially productive to meditate when you have something else to do or when you’re pressed for time. It’s better to set aside a period – say in the early morning or in the evening after work-when you can really give your full attention to the practice.