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Qualities of the Dharma
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
The True Nature of Existence
  The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta
  Dependent Arising
  Kamma, Nibbana and Rebirth


The Sangha
The Buddhist Sangha



Insight meditation

As mentioned, there are two paths to insight meditation. Following the vehicle of serenity, one develops deep samahdi first, to any level, then go on to develop vipassana. Following the vehicle of insight, the dry insight method, one goes directly into contemplating the factors of mind and body without developing samadhi.

The four foundations of mindfulness

Whichever approach you follow, to develop insight you have to cultivate the four foundations of mindfulness, the mindful contemplation:

  • of the body
  • of the feelings
  • of states of mind
  • of dhammas – the mind factor and mind objects

One time, when a monk approached the Buddha and asked for the training in brief, the Buddha told him:

The Buddha says that the four foundations of mindfulness form:

They are called "the only way", not for the purpose of setting forth a narrow dogmatism, but to indicate that the attainment of liberation can only issue from the penetrating contemplation of the field of experience undertaken in the practice of right mindfulness.

Of the four applications of mindfulness, the contemplation of the body is concerned with the material side of existence — the sense organs, the sense objects. The other three are concerned principally (though not solely) with the mental side, with feelings — the perceptions , the volitions and consciousness . Though no fixed order is laid down in which they are to be taken up, the body is generally taken first as the basic sphere of contemplation; the others come into view later, when mindfulness has gained in strength and clarity.

Vipassana, the next stage, is to see the true nature of phenomena, and this means to see the five aggregates in terms of  the universal all-pervading characteristics of anitcha, dukkha and annata — impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and selflessness.

After examining one's experience in terms of the three characteristics, you sharpen insight by contemplating the rise and fall of these phenomena. One watches the material form of the body, the states of feelings, the perceptions, the mental formations. and consciousness arise and fall away, arise and fall away. And as one contemplates the rise and fall, the three characteristics become clearer, more evident, more pronounced.

Then to deepen insight the meditator drops their attention to the arising phase and focuses exclusively the last stage of the process — the stage of breaking up, of disilusion. When one does this one sees that all the formations of existence are subject of destruction — they all break up and dissolve immediately after they arise.

Note The path of insight meditation will be taught in depth in a future Ashoka course.

Practical meditation instructions

Although this is not a practice-oriented course and an upcoming Ashoka course will teach serenity meditation and insight mediation, we conclude this lesson with a few practical instructions for anapanasati, the mindfulness of breathing. This method, the must fundamental method taught in the Buddhist tradition, is often taught to beginners, but it can also lead to all the higher stages of the path, both in serenity and insight. In fact it was the mindfulness of breathing meditation that was used by the Buddha on the night of his enlightenment.

Sitting position

Developing the mind for calm and insight

Obstacles are bound to arise

The meditation on breathing can be extended either into the level of deep serenity or it can be made a foundation for the practice of insight meditation, vipassana. These will be taught in upcoming Ashoka courses. At the outset it's important to develop a fundamental mindfulness, observing the in and out movement of the breath or the rising and falling of the abdomen. This method is the foundation for practice.