It’s easy to intellectually grasp the concept and necessity to be in the present, but how can we make it real in our direct experience? The Buddha’s instruction on this point was to offer a method of investigation. His deep realization told him that wisdom only comes through direct experience of the present moment. Most of us are familiar with his instruction of ehipasseko–to not take the teachings of others on authority or even on faith. The Buddha invited us to come and see for ourselves by direct observation of the nature of the way things are. And so he taught a very effective method for calming the mind that involves slowing down, looking and seeing what is going on.
Vipassana is the Pali word for insight or clear seeing. It builds on mindfulness training and employs it but carries it a step further. We train our minds in a particular method of careful observation of body, feelings, mind and mind objects (mindfulness). We learn that meditation practice is not about zoning out of our bodies or present experience but rather, as Jack Kornfield likes to say, to have an “in the body experience.” At first, we learn the mechanics of sitting or walking meditation, such as posture and breath awareness for one-pointed concentration. We learn techniques for working with bodily sensations and thoughts and emotions. We begin to perceive the feeling tone that accompanies all arising phenomena, observing whether our reaction to the sense object is pleasant, unpleasant, or neither.
Then we move on to vipassana training which leads us to see the true nature of all conditioned phenomena.
Henepola Gunaratana has written “The object of vipassana practice is to learn to see the truth of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness of phenomena. We think we are doing this already but that is an illusion. It comes from the fact that we are paying so little attention to the ongoing surge of our own life experience that we might just as well be asleep. We are simply not paying enough attention to notice that we are not paying attention.”
When in doubt, always return to the breath and to the body. Observe what is present and how it arises, sustains and passes away.