Insight meditation has its roots in the Theravada schools of Buddhism found mostly in Burma and Thailand. Early pioneer Western teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and Christina Feldman came back from practice and study in Asia in the early 1970s, and it is from this group of teachers that Insight Meditation Centres such as Gaia House in Devon and Spirit Rock and the Insight Meditation Society in the USA were formed. Bristol Insight has close links with Gaia House, and draws inspiration from the wide range of teachings in the worldwide Insight meditation community.
Meditation is about calming the mind, understanding ourselves and freeing the heart. Insight mediation or Vipassana, literally translated as ‘seeing deeply or clearly’, is about developing a calm and mindful investigation into the nature of experience, leading to wisdom, compassion and the end of suffering. (Gaia House) Suffering can be taken to mean any kind of pain or indeed any form of dissatisfaction in life.
Many people ask what is the difference between Mindfulness meditation and Insight meditation. They are closely linked. Insight meditation builds on Mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation helps us to tune in to the detail of our experience in all its fullness, whether it be through our senses, thoughts or emotions. With practise we can come to identify our experience right here and now, in the present. What we tend to notice is that things change! The Buddha placed great importance on knowing our experience and its changing nature as a foundation for a good life:
Let not a person revive the past
Or on the future build their hopes.
For the past has been left behind
And the future cannot be reached.
Instead with insight clearly see
Each presently arisen state
Know that and be sure of it,
The Buddha (Majjhima Nikaya 131)
Insight mediation helps us develop our understanding gained through Mindfulness, so that we can become wiser and cultivate qualities so that we can lead more fulfilling lives. It introduces early Buddhist teachings on how to see clearly into the nature of the body, mind and the heart. Insight meditation helps us gain an understanding of the way things are for us, our reality, without over reliance on opinions or theories.
As one of our sangha, Mike Baker, puts it ‘The essence of the practice of Insight meditation is the cultivation of a path that enables us to respond more appropriately and skilfully to our existential condition. When we align with the way things are, with life’s radical impermanence, the not-self nature of being, and cultivate the capacity to meet pain as well as pleasure with equanimity, we can respond with a greater wisdom, kindness, compassion, joy and intimacy to all that life may bring. A diligent practice of Insight meditation enables such an alignment through the clarity that insight brings.’