Vipassana meditation is a scientific technique of
self-exploration: a system of self-transformation by self-observation, a healing by
observation of and participation in the universal laws of nature. Its theoretical basis,
health potential and practical applications are discussed and reviewed in this paper.
Key Words: Vipassana Meditation, Positive Mental Health,
Self-Actualization, Transpersonal Consciousness.
defined by the World Health Organization, is a state of complete physical, mental and
social well-being and not merely an absence of disease or infirmity. This is considered to
be an idealistic goal, setting out the standard of positive health, with due emphasis on
the promotion and protection of health. "Health for All by 2000 A.D." is the
main social target set the by the 30th World Health Assembly . Health, therefore, is a
dynamic concept and can be described as a multidimensional process involving the well
being of an individual in the context of his or her environment.
This presentation shall deal primarily with the mental
dimension of health since it is the "mind" which is the central directing force
of one's entire life and activity, and also because every health disorder is affected
directly or indirectly by psychological factors. It is truly said that mind matters most.
In Indian parlance, health is a positive concept: "swasthya"
means being oneself. Indian introspectionists over millennia have produced a rich harvest
of profound psychological insights, which needs to be reinterpreted in the contemporary
context and the currently familiar idiom; for example, nibbaana or "nirvana"
by Gotama Buddha as the burning out of passions or mental impurities; "moksha"
by Lord Krishna as freedom from conditioning and constraints of all kinds; "sahaja"
by Guru Nanak as one's nature: literally born along with oneself . Various austerity
and self-control measures and meditative approaches have been detailed in their treatises,
to enable one to attain the desired goal of self-realization or self-liberation, called in
modern parlance a higher psychic state or transpersonal consciousness.
Abraham Maslow , generally regarded as the modern
founder of transpersonal psychology, postulated the concept of
"self-actualization", which emphasizes the importance of maximal growth and
development of human potential. It has also been equated with such terms as
self-realization, optimal functioning, psychological health and individual autonomy. All
these imply the highest stage of personality development or the optimal personality
functioning and positive mental
health. Shostrom  describes self-actualization as an
ongoing process of growth towards experiencing one's potential in terms of creative
expression, interpersonal effectiveness and fulfilment in living. Vipassana is a way and
means to such self-actualization or self-realization.
Vipassana Meditation 
Also known as Insight Awareness or Mindfulness Meditation,
Vipassana is a very ancient meditation technique of India, laudatory references to which
are found even in the Rigveda. Long lost to humanity, it was rediscovered twenty-five
centuries ago by Gotama Buddha. Although Vipassana contains the core of what was later
called Buddhism, it is not an organized religion, requires no conversion and is open to
students of any faith, nationality, colour or background.
To learn Vipassana, one is required to take a ten-day
residential course under a qualified authorized teacher. Meditation teacher Shri S.N.
Goenka and about two hundred assistant teachers trained by him ' hailing from various
parts of the world and practically all walks of life, are discharging this onerous
responsibility voluntarily and selflessly.
There are in all thirty-one permanent Vipassana Centres
across the globe in countries like India (14), Nepal (2), Sri Lanka (1), Myanmar (1),
Thailand (1), Japan (1), the United States (4),Australia (4), New Zealand (1), France (1)
and the United Kingdom (1). The main Centre is the Vipassana International Academy,
located at Dhamma Giri, on the outskirts of the town of lgatpuri in the Nasik district,
about 135 kilometres from Bombay.
Vipassana is a Pali term and it means insight, to see
things as they really are. It is a scientific technique to explore the laws of nature
(called Dhamma), within the framework of one's own mind and body. During the training
period of ten days, the participants follow a basic code of morality, which includes
celibacy and abstention from all intoxicants. For the first three and a half days, one is
trained to focus one's attention on breathing (Anapana) and thereafter, one learns to
examine the reality pertaining to oneself, systematically and dispassionately. One
realizes, by direct experience, the scientific laws that operate on one's thoughts,
feelings, judgements and sensations. One also learns to live in conformity with these
laws, a life full of peace and harmony, a really healthy and happy life.
Mechanism and Psychological
The teachings of the Buddha embody
"Abhidhamma", a very systematic and intricately laid out psychology, which
presents a set of concepts for understanding mental activity and methods for healing
mental disorder. It differs markedly from the contemporary psychotherapeutic outlook. In
this model of mental activity, every mental state is composed of a set of properties of
mental factors, which gives it its distinctive characteristics. There are 52 basic
perceptual, cognitive and affective categories of these properties. The basic dichotomy in
this analysis of mental factors is between pure, wholesome or healthy and impure,
unwholesome or unhealthy mental properties; healthy mental states are antagonistic to
unhealthy ones, inhibiting them. Vipassana meditation aims to eradicate these unhealthy
properties from the mind; the operational definition of mental health is their complete
absence, as in the case of an arahanta (saint) .
"Everything that arises in the mind is accompanied by
a concomitant physical sensation", said the Buddha. This interrelationship is the key
to the practice of Vipassana meditation. Vipassana trains the concentrated attention to
follow the mechanics of mental processing with the base of physical sensations, in a
detached fashion. This perspective of an observer allows the controlled release of mental
contents such as craving and aversion, past and future, in a seemingly endless stream of
memories, wishes, thoughts, conversations, scenes, desires, dreads and lusts. Thousands
and thousands of emotionally-driven pictures of every kind rise to the surface of the mind
and pass away without provoking a reaction, while simultaneously anchoring one in
concrete, contemporary reality.
The mind is deconditioned with meditation altering the
process of conditioning per se, so that it is no longer a prime determinant of future acts
. A refinement of awareness occurs and one responds consciously to life situations
thereby becoming free from limitations, which were forged by mere reactions to them. One's
life becomes characterized by increased awareness, reality-orientation, nondelusion;
self-control and peace. Such a person is able to make quick decisions, correct and
sound judgement and concerted effort-mental capabilities which definitely contribute to
success in contemporary life.
Vipassana is not merely an exercise to be performed in the
special environment of a meditation retreat. When a ten-day course is over, meditators
take the tool home with them. The path of Vipassana is a continuous, disciplined pursuit
of this experiential gnosis throughout life; it is a human capacity and a personal choice.
Through Vipassana, one can transcend body-mind or even East-West dualism and shake hands
with ethical rootedness, cultivated mindfulness and wisdom in all its enduring forms.
Vipassana, Health and
Healers: A Review
Considerable data is available, documenting the various
biopsychosocial benefits that accrue from the practice of Vipassana meditation. It
indicates the vast th rapeutic potential that Vipassana has. For instance, many case
report studies have been recorded on the positive effects of Vipassana in different
psychosomatic disorders such as chronic pain, headaches, bronchial asthma, hypertension,
peptic ulcer, psoriasis, etc., and so also in different disorders including alcoholism and
drug addiction. Beneficial aspects of Vipassana have also been studied in special
population groups such as students, prisoners and police personnel, besides individuals
suffering from chronic pain and various mental disorders.[11,12,13].
However healing-not disease cure, but the essential
healing of human suffering-is the purpose of Vipassana. Suffering springs from ignorance
of one's true nature. Insight, truth experiential truth-alone frees one. "Know
thyself" all wise persons have advised. Vipassana is a practical way to examine the
reality of one's own mind and body to uncover and solve whatever problems lie hidden
there, to develop unused potential and to channel it for one's own good and the good of
All people need healing, most particularly healers.
"Physician heal thyself" is a well-known phrase. Freud and Jung insisted that
analysts be analysed. The very vulnerability and compassion that sets the healer on a
lifelong journey to heal, coupled to the constant exposure to human suffering, requires a
treatment of its own. Vipassana is acceptable and relevant to healers of diverse
disciplines because it is free of dogma, experientially based and focussed on human
suffering and relief. With its practice, healers are able to deepen their autonomy and
self-knowledge, at the same time augmenting their ability to be a professional anchor to
others in the tumult of their lives. Vipassana is verily the path of all-healing,
including self-healing and other-healing.
A Model for Clinical
The clinical utility of Vipassana is more likely to be in
terms of providing a general psychological pattern of positive mental states rather than a
response to any particular problem. Generally, the conventional psychotherapies are
generated as treatments for the latter. Many therapists [11,12,13], who are themselves
meditators, teach "Anapana"-a preparatory step in the training of Vipassana, to
their clients. The clients may be suffering from various neurotic, psychosomatic and
personality disorders including addictions, and Anapana is taught as a supplementary form
of treatment, with a good clinical response.
Before commencing the formal training in Anapana, the
therapist explains to the patient its potential benefits, particularly relaxation. This
helps reduce the patient's apprehension and enables him or her to cooperate and
participate actively in the treatment. In addition, it is necessary to ensure that the
physical environment is one that will facilitate relaxation; the room should be quiet and
free from interruptions and the patient's couch should be reasonably comfortable.
The patient is asked to lie comfortably on the couch,
close his eyes and observe, that is, cultivate awareness, of his respiration at the
entrance of his nostrils-whether in-breath or out-breath, deep or shallow, fast or slow;
natural breath, bare breath and only breath. When his mind wanders, the patient is asked
to passively disregard the intrusion and repeatedly focus his attention on his breath,
without getting upset or disturbed about the drift of his mind.
Two things happen. One-his mind gets concentrated on the
flow of respiration. Two-he becomes aware of the relationship between his mental states
and the flow of the respiration; that whenever there is agitation in the mind-anger,
hatred, fear, passion, etc.-the natural flow of respiration gets affected and disturbed.
He thus learns to simply observe and remain alert, vigilant and equanimous.
The patient is advised to continue practising the
technique on his own, twice daily-in the morning and in the evening, each session lasting
f6r about thirty minutes. The therapist reviews the progress of his patient from time to
time, simultaneously counselling and motivating him to undertake a regular ten-day
Vipassana meditation course. The patient is thus encouraged to continue to strive for his
personal autonomy9, that is, to take personal responsibility of his own health and
Vipassana's ability to tranquillize the human mind,
changing its turbulence to calmness with increased vitality, makes it a positive mental
health measure and an excellent human potential development method. The meditator becomes
free to live for higher values, richer goals: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy
and peacefulness. Vipassana thus leads people from narcissism to mature, social love, to a
life of altruiSM3 and this personal transformation becomes the catalyst for social change
More scientific research needs to be pursued on the role
of Vipassana, both as a self-regulation strategy for specific psychotherapeutic and
psycho-physiological aims and as a discipline and way of life for deep self-exploration
and transformation. The various psycho-physiological changes with Vipassana ought to be
studied with the aid of modern sophisticated instruments. Also, long term prospective
studies on meditators, besides multicentred controlled clinical trials of this technique,
need to be conducted to clarify which individual types and health disorders respond to and
benefit from the practice of Vipassana. Such endeavours will make "Health for AW' a
more realistic proposition.
. Fleischman P.R., "The Therapeutic Action of
Vipassand' and "Why I Sit," Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka,
. Fleischman P.R., "Vipassana Meditation: Healing
the Healee' and "The Experience of Impermanence," Vipassana Research Institute,
lgatpuri, India, 1991, 3-15.
. Goenka, S.N., "Altruism: Quintessence of
Religion," in Issues of Biomedical Ethics - Proceedings of the Festival of
Life International Congress, December 1988, Bombay; Editors: Vas C1 & de Souza E1,
McMillan India Ltd., Delhi, 1990, 95-102.
. Goleman D., "Meditation and Consciousness: An
Asian Approach to Mental Health," American Journal of Psychotherapy, 1977, 30:
. Hart W., "The Art of Living"in Vipassana
Meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka, Harper and Row, New York, 1987.
. Maslow A.H., Motivation and Personality,
Harper and Row, New York, 1954
. Neki J.S., "Psychotherapy in India," Indian
Journal Psychiatry, 1977, 19(2): 1-10.
. Shostrom E.L., "Comments on Test Review: The
Personal Orientation Inventory," Journal of Counselling Psychology, 1973, 20:
. Surya N.C., "Personal Autonomy and Instrumental
Accuracy," in: Psychotherapeutic Processes, Editors: Kapur M., Murthy VX,
Sathyavathi K., & Kapur R.L., N.I.M.H.A.N.S., Bangalore, India, 1979, 1-19.
. Thray Sithu Sayagyi U Ba Khin, The Real Values of
True Buddhist Meditation, Buddha Sasana Council Press, Yegu, Rangoon, Bunna, 1962.
. "Vipassana Research Institute: A Reader
International Seminar on Vipassana Meditation," December 1986, Igatpuri,
. "Vipassana Research Institute: A Reader:
Seminar on Vipassana Meditation, Relief from Addictions, Better Health," November
1989, Igatpuri, India, 1990.
. "Vipassana Research Institute: A Reader:
International Seminar on Vipassana Meditation and Health," November 1990,
Igatpuri, India, 1990.
. World Health Organization, "Health for All,"
Sr. No. 1, Geneva, 1978.
Sincere thanks to
Phramaha Witoon Thacha for retyping this article.