i have spent the last 10 days doing a Vipassana course in anuradhapura, sri lanka.
vipassana is the essence of Buddha's teachings, but let me state now, it is not sectarian or buddhist in any religious understanding. vipassana has helped thousands of people from all cultures, backgrounds and beliefs.
it is super simple in theory, very hard and challenging in practice. it's taught during 10 days and is open to anyone who sincerely wants to get to know their inner reality better. during 10 days, participants remain at the facilities where the course is held, having no contact with the outside world. for the entire time, they must follow a strict code of morality which includes celibacy, abstention from intoxicants and noble silence - silence of the mind and speech.
during the first 3 days we practiced mental concentration by focusing on the natural breath and feeling sensations on our upper lip. after we were introduced to Vipassana in its essence: observing the body's sensations and learning how the root of all suffering stems from craving, aversion and ignorance.
how so? well quite simply: if we want something and don't get it, we become miserable. if we don't want something to happen and it does, we become miserable. we understand this on an intellectual level, but it's difficult to experience. Vipassana is created with this aim in mind; to experience the truth. when you have been sitting in silence for 10 hours, your body begins reacting, it is not happy. it wants to be distracted, it's in pain. it craves attention, becomes averse to sitting in the same position. and this makes us miserable. the technique teaches you not to give in to these desires, but to observe them. by observing them, they become weaker and weaker until they disappear. so we experience suffering and the truth behind it: that it eventually goes away.
Vipassana means "insight" in the ancient pali language Buddha spoke; insight into how the sensations on the body affect our mental balance. in fact, the two words most pronounced by Goenka, the teacher, during the course are: awareness and equanimity. through these two values we will learn how to be happy. by being aware, we are able to observe ourselves and not react. if the weather is sunny, we are aware it makes us happy but we think "i am aware this shall change". when the sun goes away and it becomes stormy, we are aware of it and think "the clouds are here but this shall change". it is about accepting the changing nature of the universe and not reacting. only this way shall we have an equanimous, balanced mind. and a balanced mind that is not constantly reacting with "like!", "dislike!", is a happy mind.
once, Buddha was asked to explain real happiness. he said:
"when faced with all the ups and downs of life,
still the mind remains unshaken,
not lamenting, not generating defilements, always staying secure;
this is the greatest happiness"
on the last day of vipassana, we were taught the loving-kindness meditation, in which one sends love to every being. it's beautiful and the logical conclusion of Vipassana meditation: the development of goodwill toward others.