Meditation Insight


From the Buddhist point of view, concentration meditation induces transient states of happiness and conflict-free functioning by temporarily suppressing the operation of the drives and the higher perceptual-intellectual functions; but it is the insight form of practice alone which liberates from suffering by bringing about enduring intra-pyschic structural change.

In its contemporary form, Vipassana is described as training in mindfulness, choiceless awareness or bare attention.



Bare attention is defined by two technical paradigms: a particular form of attention deployment and a particular way of managing affect. Cognitively, attention is restricted to registering the mere occurrence of any thought, feeling or sensation exactly as it occurs and enters awareness from moment to moment, without further elaboration. . . . Again in contrast to conventional psychotherapy, attention is kept "bare" of any reaction to what is perceived. The meditator attempts to attend to any and all stimuli without preference, comment, judgment, reflection or interpretation. If physical or mental reactions like these occur, they themselves are immediately noted and made the objects of bare attention. Even lapses in attention - distractions, fantasies, reveries, internal dialogue - are made objects of bare attention as soon as the meditator becomes aware of them. The aim is threefold: to come to know one's own mental processes; in this way to begin to have the power to shape or control them; and finally to gain freedom from the condition where one's psychic processes are unknown and uncontrolled.

In vipassana (insight meditation), on the other hand, mental concentration is cultivated only up to the degree which is sufficient to ensure a steady, undistracted mindfulness. The resulting alert and receptive state of mind is then used to develop an uninterrupted and finely perceptive awareness of whatever comes up before consciousness (whether from internal or external sources), involving the full, continues and fully conscious exercise of all mental faculties. In terms of the previous comparison, we could say that there the beam of light is not narrowed down to an infinitesimal point, but only to a size which will provide a powerful and finely focused but rather broader light field, which follows and illuminates whatever is happening at any given moment. This exercise assiduously practiced and refined, becomes an increasingly intense and characteristic manner of experiencing, which is not a state of consciousness intrinsically different from the ordinary state, but is a modification which opens them up to a new dimension. One is then operating not outside the ordinary states of consciousness, but within them in a new way. Their normal functions remain fully available (working, in fact more efficiently) and, in addition, some new functions of positive value emerge that are not otherwise present in them. This best described as a thorough going reorganization of the human psyche. the person who experiences the insight of vipassana lives differently, whether waking, dreaming or even sleeping. The new manner is distinguished by, among other, a sense of detachment, psychological and mental balance, openness and availability to others, and exceptional relevance and functionality of thought and action. This is what one of the most authoritative exponents of the modern school of transpersonal psychology has defined as a higher state of consciousness. It is a true transmutation which produces new, indelible traits of consciousness. This transmutation is what is traditionally called enlightenment or liberation and, in its highest degree, nibbana.

A word of warning: do not expect instant enlightenment; this transmutation is not something that happens all at once, but rather in progressive stages (even thought the transition from one stage to the next is, in itself, the sudden culmination of a prior process). This is a gradual restructuring of the human psyche, demanding much time and perseverance, which is hardly surprising considering how much there is that needs improving and reshaping in most of us.

Amadeo Sole-Leris - Tranquillity and Sight

Stages of insight meditation

1. Dispelling the illusion of compactness

My sense of being an independent observer disappears. The normal sense that I am a fixed, continuous point of observation from which I regard now this object, now that, is dispelled. Like a tachistoscopic flicker-fusion phenomenon which produces the illusion of an "object" when discrete and discontinuous images are flashed too quickly for normal perception to distinguish them, my sense of being a separate observer or experiencer behind my observation or experience is revealed to be the result of a perceptual illusion, or my not being normally able to perceive a more microscopic level of events. . . . simply a process of knowing and its object. There is no awareness of an observer. There are just independent individual moments of observation.

2. Observation of how the self-representation is constructed in each moment as a result of an interaction with an object and openly as a result of such an interaction , how an object appears not in itself (whatever that might mean) but always relative to my state of observation.

3. I next observe the stream of consciousness literally break up into a series of discrete events which are discontinuous in space and time. In terms of informational processing theory what the meditator is actually experiencing is the temporal nature of perception prior to pattern recognition before stimuli are built up into the recognizable precepts of ordinary experience. . . . Not only does everything change all the time; but there are no "things" which change.

At this level of perception, the normal affective and motivational bases of behavior are experienced as pathogenic and sources of great suffering. . . . . any affective reaction, even the simplest and seemingly innate responses of attraction and aversion, liking and disliking, preferring the pleasant and avoiding the unpleasant, wanting this and not wanting that- irrespective of their particular aims and objects - is experienced as an extraordinarily painful and misguided effort to block the flow of events.

Normally the experience of pleasure/unpleasure leads to an "action" tendency to approach the pleasant and avoid the unpleasant. . . . It returns a previously conditioned response to voluntary control and introduces an important principle of delay.

According to Buddhist analysis, the cause of pleasure principle dominance is faulty reality testing. Desire is conditioned by "ignorance". . . . We misperceive what is impermanent as permanent; what is incapable of satisfying as satisfactory; and what is without substance or enduring selfhood as substantial and having selfhood.

As a clinician I do everything I can to help patients develop the sense of an inner cohesiveness, unity and continuity which is so tragically lacking, with such fateful consequences. As a meditation teacher, I work just as hard to help students see through the perceptual illusion of continuity and sameness in their experience - in Zen terms, to realize there is no-self.

To the clinician, the ego is a collective term designating the regulatory and integrative functions. To "transcend the ego" in this frame of reference would mean to surrender the very faculties which make us human. - the psychological structures that make it possible to think, to plan, to remember, to anticipate, to organize, to self reflect, to distinguish reality from fantasy, to exercise voluntary control over impulses and behavior, to love.

On the other hand, while ego psychologists might think the meditative goal of non-attachment and disidentification from all self-representations a bit odd if not impossible, they do understand the principle that all psychological growth comes about by being able to renounce outworn, infantile ties to objects and to give up or modify self-representations that have become restrictive, maladaptive or outgrown.

Jack Engler - Transformations of Conscious