Vipassana Meditation (Part 2)

part 1

Attitude (ch 4)


Within the last century, Western science and physics have made a startling discovery. We are part of the world we view. The very process of our observation changes the things we observe

uh oh …

Eastern science has recognized this basic principle for a very long time. The mind is a set of events, and the observer participates in those events every time he or she looks inward. Meditation is participatory observation. What you are looking at responds to the process of looking.

You mean Eastern science has recognized the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that the product of the standard deviations of position and momentum of a particle is never less than half the Planck constant? AMAZING! No? Then you only embarrass yourself when you brag about how some thought that predates some scientific discovery is loosely analogous to it. Unless you’re saying that some MAGIC source of wisdom caused the thought, that is now SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN, why even mention it? So sad, the authority you claim for Eastern science. What happened to “don’t trust us because of our meditation-expert authority - find out for yourself”?

Anyway, how dense do you have to be to not grasp the difficulty of “thinking about what you’re thinking about right now”? Clearly it’s impossible to hold an exact model in your mind of what’s in your mind. Great job, Eastern science.

The following attitudes are essential to success in practice. Most of them have been presented before. But we bring them together again here as a series of rules for application.


1. Don’t expect anything. Just sit back and see what happens. Treat the whole thing as an experiment. Take an active interest in the test itself. But don’t get distracted by your expectations about results. For that matter, don’t be anxious for any result whatsoever. Let the meditation move along at its own speed and in its own direction.

The only way to introspect. Be quiet.

2. Don’t strain: Don’t force anything or make grand exaggerated efforts. Meditation is not aggressive. There is no violent striving. Just let your effort be relaxed and steady. 

Same as above.

3. Don’t rush: There is no hurry, so take you time. Settle yourself on a cushion and sit as though you have a whole day. Anything really valuable takes time to develop. Patience, patience, patience.

“Anything really valuable takes time to develop.” Let’s try that on for size …

“Valuable” as in “scarce/costly”: obviously, by definition. This is an uninteresting claim. But rhetorically people may believe the statement for other sense of “valuable” because of this interpretation. Sneaky rhetoric.

“Valuable” as in “useful”: something can be novel, useful, and simple. But if extremely so, then you expect it to be widely circulated soon after discovery. And this is what we see: the technique of measuring volume of a solid by displaced water (Eureka indeed), randomly sampling from random samples (bootstrap resampling), “hold your breath and count to ten” (instead of starting a fight) etc. are quickly adopted. So, yes and no. The most valuable tools more than pay for the effort of becoming familiar with them. This is the bar Vipassana has to pass.

4. Don’t cling to anything and don’t reject anything: Let come what comes and accommodate yourself to that, whatever it is. If good mental images arise, that is fine. If bad mental images arise, that is fine, too. Look on all of it as equal and make yourself comfortable with whatever happens. Don’t fight with what you experience, just observe it all mindfully.

Agreed. You can’t possibly sense what your mind does associatively and automatically if you’re screaming at it.

5. Let go: Learn to flow with all the changes that come up. Loosen up and relax.

6. Accept everything that arises: Accept your feelings, even the ones you wish you did not have. Accept your experiences, even the ones you hate. Don’t condemn yourself for having human flaws and failings. Learn to see all the phenomena in the mind as being perfectly natural and understandable. Try to exercise a disinterested acceptance at all times and with respect to everything you experience.

7. Be gentle with yourself: Be kind to yourself. You may not be perfect, but you are all you’ve got to work with. The process of becoming who you will be begins first with the total acceptance of who you are.

Extremely redundant with what I’ve already agreed to above.

8. Investigate yourself: Question everything. Take nothing for granted. Don’t believe anything because it sounds wise and pious and some holy men said it. See for yourself.

Of course.

That does not mean that you should be cynical, impudent or irreverent.

Because he hates it when you question his teachings :)

It means you should be empirical. Subject all statements to the actual test of your experience and let the results be your guide to truth. Insight meditation evolves out of an inner longing to wake up to what is real and to gain liberating insight to the true structure of existence. The entire practice hinges upon this desire to be awake to the truth. Without it, the practice is superficial.

Agree. It’s necessary, but not sufficient, to want the truth in order to find it.

9. View all problems as challenges: Look upon negatives that arise as opportunities to learn and to grow. Don’t run from them, condemn yourself or bear your burden in saintly silence. You have a problem? Great. More grist for the mill. Rejoice, dive in and investigate.

For some reason I don’t consider such perspective-change mental illusions to be intellectually unhygienic. I’m okay with positive thinking, mental dis-integration (compartmentalization), and hypocrisy to the extent that it works (leads to eventually-true belief). I’m just skeptical that any particular “instead of thinking of X as X, think of it as Y, even if that’s not exactly true” admonition is feasible or effective. “Challenge” does seem like a winning frame of mind, though.

10. Don’t ponder: You don’t need to figure everything out. Discursive thinking won’t free you from the trap. In mediation, the mind is purified naturally by mindfulness, by wordless bare attention. Habitual deliberation is not necessary to eliminate those things that are keeping you in bondage. All that is necessary is a clear, non-conceptual perception of what they are and how they work. That alone is sufficient to dissolve them. Concepts and reasoning just get in the way. Don’t think. See.

I don’t know. I’ll try it. I think the risk of reasoning is that you’ll make salient other problematic thoughts/feelings. It does seem to conflict with awareness of natural thinking processes if you’re always sidetracking things.

11. Don’t dwell upon contrasts: Differences do exist between people, but dwelling upon then is a dangerous process. Unless carefully handled, it leads directly to egotism. Ordinary human thinking is full of greed, jealousy and pride. A man seeing another man on the street may immediately think, “He is better looking than I am.” The instant result is envy or shame. A girl seeing another girl may think, “I am prettier than she is.” The instant result is pride. This sort of comparison is a mental habit, and it leads directly to ill feeling of one sort or another: greed, envy, pride, jealousy, hatred. It is an unskillful mental state, but we do it all the time. We compare our looks with others, our success, our accomplishments, our wealth, possessions, or I.Q. and all these lead to the same place–estrangement, barriers between people, and ill feeling.

The meditator’s job is to cancel this unskillful habit by examining it thoroughly, and then replacing it with another. Rather than noticing the differences between self and others, the meditator trains himself to notice similarities. He centers his attention on those factors that are universal to all life, things that will move him closer to others. Thus his comparison, if any, leads to feelings of kinship rather than feelings of estrangement.

I have noticed that emphasizing in my mind what I have in common with a group of people helps me enjoy spending time with them. However, I don’t think it makes sense to hide from true comparisons. I don’t think justified and accurate pride or humility is harmful (except socially, if you advertise it indiscriminately). I see he says “unless carefully handled” and “don’t dwell”, so I’ll consider this a point of possible agreement.

Breathing is a universal process. All vertebrates breathe in essentially the same manner. All living things exchange gasses with their environment in some way or other. This is one of the reasons that breathing is chosen as the focus of meditation.

Stupid reason, except I guess that automatic breathing is indeed regulated by part of the brain. Though I can’t rule out that it’s helpful to choose breathing in particular, I’d like to hear a better case than this. Note that it’s dangerous to let people suggest crazy ideas machine-gun style and then try to evaluate each as though it might be true; you eventually slip up and make the mistake of believing something you never should have focused on (see Privileging the Hypothesis).

the meditator is advised to explore the process of his own breathing as a vehicle for realizing his own inherent connectedness with the rest of life. This does not mean that we shut our eyes to all the differences around us. Differences exist. It means simply that we de-emphasize contrasts and emphasize the universal factors.

Weird. Seems motivated by the silly ‘all evil is due to egotism’ belief in Buddhism, so unlikely to be true. But I’ll give it a shot.

The recommended procedure is as follows:

When the meditator perceives any sensory object, he is not to dwell upon it in the ordinary egotistical way. He should rather examine the very process of perception itself. He should watch the feelings that arise and the mental activities that follow. He should note the changes that occur in his own consciousness as a result. In watching all these phenomena, the meditator must be aware of the universality of what he is seeing. That initial perception will spark pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feelings. That is a universal phenomenon. It occurs in the mind of others just as it does in his, and he should see that clearly. Following these feelings various reactions may arise. He may feel greed, lust, or jealousy. He may feel fear, worry, restlessness or boredom. These reactions are universal. He simple notes them and then generalizes. He should realize that these reactions are normal human responses and can arise in anybody. 

The practice of this style of comparison may feel forced and artificial at first, but it is no less natural than what we ordinarily do. It is merely unfamiliar. With practice, this habit pattern replaces our normal habit of egoistic comparing and feels far more natural in the long run. We become very understanding people as a result. we no longer get upset by the failings of others. We progress toward harmony with all life.

Sounds nice. But I’d actually like to do the opposite - to become more cognizant of the fact that others are NOT like me in their thinking (they don’t know what I know, etc.) - because I know I sometimes do a poor job of communicating when I don’t model that well. I guess “we’re all BASICALLY the same” doesn’t conflict with that more specific modeling of others’ knowledge/goals/capabilities, and might be a nice anchor to attach fellow-feeling to. I also know that it can be great fun to laugh at the failings of others with friends, but I suppose all mirth won’t cease just because I regularly stoke a generalized empathy.