What is Insight Meditation?

By Ron Vereen

Insight meditation is translated from the Pali word vipassana, meaning “to see clearly.” The practice of insight meditation develops and strengthens the mental factors of mindfulness and concentration. As our capacity for mindfulness and concentration increases, we experience greater tranquility and a more spacious, expanded awareness.

We may then see the world as it really is, more clearly, rather than through our distorted perceptions. These distortions come from a lifelong pattern of experiencing and acting from a “sense of self,” in which we feel separate from what is arising and passing within and around us.

As mindfulness and concentration continue to strengthen through both formal and informal practices, we can begin to directly comprehend the three characteristics of existence: dukkha, (suffering), anicca (impermanence), and anatta (non-self). These are the principal insights that ultimately liberate us from our constricted views and habit patterns, simply stated as greed, hatred and delusion.

As the Buddha said, “What others see as happiness, I see as suffering; what others see as suffering, I see as happiness.” Though at first we may not fully grasp his meaning, with the Sangha or spiritual community as a support for our journey together, statements such as these begin to make more sense. As the Buddha said to his attendant, Ananda, “the sangha is the whole of the holy life.”

Recommended Reading

  • Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation by Larry Rosenberg
  • What the Buddha Taught, by Walpola Rahula
  • Mindfulness in Plain English, by Bhante Gunaratana
  • The Magnanimous Heart: Compassion and Love, Loss and Grief, Joy and Liberation by Narayan Helen Liebenson
  • Seeking the Heart of Wisdom by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield
  • The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thích Nhất Hạnh
  • The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation, by Thích Nhất Hạnh
  • Loving Kindness by Sharon Salzberg
  • A Still Forest Pool by Ajahn Chah
  • Boundless Heart by Christina Feldman
  • The Four Noble Truths by Ajahn Sumedho
  • Mindfulness by Joseph Goldstein
  • One Dharma, by Joseph Goldstein
  • Awakening Together by Larry Yang
  • Radical Dharma, by the Rev. angel Kyodo williams
  • Mindful of Race, by Ruth King
  • Woman Awake by Christina Feldman
  • Black Buddhists & the Black Radical Tradition by Rika Vesely-Flad
  • The Buddha’s Teachings for Beginners by Emily Griffith Burke
  • Buddhism for Kids, by Emily Griffith Burke

Practice Guides

Insight Dialogue: Instructions for Practice, by Gregory Kramer

Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation

See this excellent introduction to and instructions for mindfulness meditation, starting with mindfulness of breathing, on the website of The Insight Meditation Center, which is led by Gil Fronsdal, founder and co-guiding teacher.