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Thread: Vipassana question

  1. #1

    Vipassana question

    So, my knowledge of zen and Buddhism is cursory and haphazard. Years ago, when I was first researching Buddhism in general, the idea of vipassana meditation really appealed to me as I have a great deal of inner confusion and turmoil. But I know that labeling of thoughts runs counter to the "just sitting" Dogen style of meditation. Or does it? Is there any place for vipassana within Zen?

  2. #2

    Re: Vipassana question

    MMh don't think so, as they are different flavors of meditation, as Jundo says...not really sure if you can order an ice cream cone with two different flavors at Treeleaf's :wink: But letīs hear what the masters have to say on this

  3. #3

    Re: Vipassana question

    I suspect you are right.

  4. #4

    Re: Vipassana question

    Hi Robb,

    Yes, we "just sit" ... we let thoughts go without analysis during Zazen. There is nothing to do or attain in the sitting, nothing to examine or focus upon ... and that non-doing and non-examining is VITAL and SACRED.

    However, "vipassana" (in the meaning of insight into the human mind theatre) is also vital in about every corner of Buddhism, Zen included. For example, "thought labeling" as thoughts and emotions arise during our busy day ... when tired, hot, a little angry, happy, etc. ... is a wonderful practice. I also advocate a practice of labeling, just not --during-- Zazen itself (when we are not to be adding anything). Labeling is, however, a very important part of learning to observe our mind's workings and tricks. So, for example, instead of just feeling angry, greedy or tired, and instead of just saying to ourselves merely "I am feeling angry/greedy/tired now", we should learn to say to ourselves such things as "this is my mind now temporarily feeling angry/greedy/tired during present conditions ... I can feel it arising, I can feel it developing, I can feel it passing away, I can let it go". When we learn to do that, experiencing the emotions of the mind becomes just watching a bit of theatre.

    All that is good, just not a practice for "during" Zazen, when we observe everything and nothing in particular.

    Here is more that I wrote on the topic ...

    Buddhist Practice is usually described as flying upon the twin wings of Samatha (calming thoughts and emotions, illuminating and dropping body-mind) and awareness and understanding of vipassana (insight and awareness primarily into the nature and workings of 'self' and mental functions). That is true in Zen practice no less than most other forms of Buddhist practice.

    In a nutshell, Vipassana might be described as insights and awareness, based on Buddhist psychology, as to how the mind works and plays it games. It is an understanding of the Skandhas (form, sensation, perception, mental formation, consciousness ... those words always sung in the Heart Sutra), how our thoughts and emotional reactions arise, how we label and divide the world. We should also understand the Buddha's ideas about how suffering arises within us, which is intimately tied to all that.

    However, unlike some schools of Buddhism, in Shikantaza we do not pursue any particular practices --during-- Zazen itself in order to cultivate such vipa?yan? insight ... and much insight naturally arises from Zazen as "Zazen does its thing". Perhaps we might say that, just in "just sitting" Shikantaza ... dropping thoughts of this and that, thus quieting the mind's "mind games" ... we develop a natural sensitivity and understanding of the mind's "mind games" (much like one first comes to really appreciate what "urban noise" is when one first drives out of the city to the middle of the desert or some other truly quiet place).

    Apart from "on the Zafu" sitting times, however, in the rest of our Buddhist studies and practice, it is good to contemplate and develop such insight, and come to identify the workings of the Skandhas and such within us day to day.

    For example, if you feel an angry or jealous thought arising within you during your day, it is very helpful to identify that as a "bit of temporary mind theatre" and "just the self judging and conflicting with another perceived self". That gives us some distance from the passing emotion, and we no longer see the emotion as quite as inevitable and "true" as we might have before.

    For example, in the case of anger ... We need to develop a sensitivity to how anger arises within us, the triggers which tend to set it off, the first feeling of it starting to arise and the cycle it follows until vanishing. We need to catch ourself more and develop the ability to say, "I am feeling the emotion of anger now, but it is only the mind created theater which is present in this moment ... it need not be so." We need to see it as a story the self writes for itself, "catch it" and thus not be "sucked in" and fooled as much. (Most people who feel anger do not realize it is just a mind created bit of theater which can be replaced by something else ... it is not the way things "have to be". E.g., most people think, when they become upset, that they have "reason to be upset, and it is true and justified", not an optional response to the circumstances). That realization and understanding of how our inner theater works is a step to developing the ability to "rewrite and change the story" at will.

    So, yes, "samatha/vipassana" are both important.
    Here is a practice called Nurturing Seeds, related to all this and inspired by some of the writings of Thich Nhat Hahn, which we encourage around here.

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 01-20-2013 at 07:16 AM.

  5. #5

    Re: Vipassana question

    Great!! So, you can have a little bit of each ice cream, just don't eat them at once :wink:

    Labeling outside your Zazen time may help you be more compassionate, alert, kind... while you are off the Zafu, helping you to understand how do you create this gap between "you" and "others"..... but when on the Zafu, let go of all insight of the mind, to realize that there isn't such gap in the first place. Good luck Robb

  6. #6

    Re: Vipassana question


    might I add my two fox spittle Unsui cents that a lot of people talking about Vipassana these days refer to Mr. Goenka's practise tradition in particular and not necessarily about the Mahayana Vipashyana/Shamatha distinction.

    Just in case anyone reading this thread stumbles over the words one of these days.


    Hansw Chudo Mongen

  7. #7

    Re: Vipassana question

    Thank you Hans for the two fox spittle Unsui cents


    T. with his three Bears spittle whatever cents

  8. #8

    Re: Vipassana question

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans
    might I add my two fox spittle Unsui cents that a lot of people talking about Vipassana these days refer to Mr. Goenka's practise tradition in particular and not necessarily about the Mahayana Vipashyana/Shamatha distinction.
    I hadn't heard of Goenka so I looked him up. My guess is that his technique is not in the mainstream. If you look at books in English, the standard techniques taught people like Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, who created the Insight Meditation Society, are by far the most common. Perhaps in some countries Goenka's practice is more common, but, again, I had never heard of him before.

  9. #9

    Re: Vipassana question

    Hello Kirk,

    it always depends whom one asks obviously, but my research and random discussions with individuals (outside of the internet) have led me to believe that Goenka is definitely the founder of an extremely massive practise-tradition that kinda defines how Vipassana is seen in a majority of cases here in Germany and other parts of the world. My guess is that the Insight Meditation Society might have had a bigger impact in English speaking countries, although to my knowledge they have fewer practise places.

    Goenka comes from the U Ba Khin lineage, whilst Kornfield, Goldstein and Salzberg were trained by Mahasi Sayadaw (if I am not mistaken, which could well be), they seem to be more open and syncretistic than the Goenka followers.

    Here's a list of practise places under the guidance of Goenka (quite a lot actually taking into account that he only really started spreading his approach a few decades ago:


    Hans Chudo Mongen

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