Matrix of Skillful Means
Author Alan Wallace discusses techniques to achieve mindfulness.
BY: Alan Wallace
Vipashyana: Achieving Insight through Mindfulness
Historically, the Buddha himself started with the development of samadhi, but then he moved on. Bear in mind that his world was well populated with contemplatives. Many were wandering ascetics, who were often countercultural figures, living on one meal a day and devoting themselves to the pursuit of truth. With so much competition, how did Buddha Shakyamuni distinguish himself over the others of his era? Of course there are many reasons, but from a contemplative’s perspective, he stands out because he refused to take samadhi itself as the goal.
The Buddha’s greatest innovation was to assert that the practice of samadhi—single-pointed concentration with highly refined attention, which enables very subtle states of consciousness that transcend the physical senses and lead to states of equanimity and bliss—only temporarily suspends the mental afflictions (Skt. kleshas). Instead, the Buddha sought lasting freedom. Standing upon the shoulders of the contemplative giants of his era, the young Siddhartha Gautama developed and refined his samadhi, but then he purposefully applied this stable, clear, and highly focused instrument to an experiential investigation. By closely inspecting his own mind, his body, and the relationships among mind, body, and environment, he founded the genre of meditation for cultivating insight, or vipashyana.
As the Buddha formulated it, insight practice begins with a solid foundation in ethics and a wholesome, non-injurious way of life. Upon this basis, the attention is refined into a reliable tool for investigation and employed to probe the ultimate nature of reality, with the mind at the very center of experiential reality. The Buddha’s great innovation was the unification of shamatha and vipashyana and asserted that the unification is the key to liberation—an irreversible healing and purification of the mind. If the afflictive mental tendencies are irreversibly vanquished by severing the root of suffering, lasting freedom will be attained.
Minding Closely: The Four Applications of Mindfulness by B. Alan Wallace with permission from Snow Lion Publications, www.snowlionpub.com