Theravāda (Pali, literally “school of the elder monks”) is a branch of Buddhism that uses the teaching of the Pāli Canon, a collection of the oldest recorded Buddhist texts, as its doctrinal core, but also includes a rich diversity of traditions and practices that have developed over its long history of interactions with various cultures and communities. It is the dominant form of religion in Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar,¹
S.N.Goenka – Click here to find retreats
Ten-day Vipassana courses are held all over the world where students learn the technique while observing Noble Silence and following a strict moral code of conduct. To quiet the mind, students are asked to have no contact with the outside world or other students, though they may talk to an assistant teacher about questions concerning the technique or to a student manager for any material problems.
Courses start with observation of natural (i.e. not controlled) breath, which allows the mind to become concentrated. This concentration prepares one for the main part of the practice—non-attached observation of the reality of the present moment, as it manifests in one’s own mind and body. This is the Vipassana practice itself which involves systematic “scanning” the surface of the body with one’s attention and observing the sensations with equanimity, becoming progressively more aware of their ever-changing nature.²
Mahasi Sayadaw – Click here to find retreats
The tradition of the late Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw of Myanmar, Vipassana meditation consists of continuous mindfulness in sitting meditation, walking meditation, and all general activities. During sitting meditation one’s awareness is directed to the most prominent physical or mental object of observation, beginning with the rising and falling movement of the abdomen. Slowing down bodily movements throughout all one’s daily activities and restraining the senses are essential parts of the practice. Meditators are supported and guided in their practice through regular interviews and discourses. All meditators are required to observe the “Eight training precepts” and to maintain “Noble silence” throughout the course of a retreat.³
Thai Forest Tradition – Click here to find retreats
The Thai Forest tradition is the branch of Theravada Buddhism in Thailand that most strictly holds the original monastic rules of discipline laid down by the Buddha. The Forest tradition also most strongly emphasizes meditative practice and the realization of enlightenment as the focus of monastic life. Forest monasteries are primarily oriented around practicing the Buddha’s path of contemplative insight, including living a life of discipline, renunciation, and meditation in order to fully realize the inner truth and peace taught by the Buddha. Living a life of austerity allows forest monastics to simplify and refine the mind. This refinement allows them to clearly and directly explore the fundamental causes of suffering within their heart and to inwardly cultivate the path leading toward freedom from suffering and supreme happiness. Living frugally, with few possessions fosters for forest monastics the joy of an unburdened life and assists them in subduing greed, pride, and other taints in their minds.¹
Pa-Auk Sayadaw – – Click here to find retreats
In brief, the main practice is to begin with Samatha (tranquility) meditation, which is to develop absorption concentration, also called jhāna. A yogi (meditator) is free to choose any of the forty Samatha subjects as taught by The Buddha.
As an alternative, the yogi may omit the development of jhāna. A yogi will be taught instead to develop the less powerful access concentration with the Samatha subject of Four-Elements meditation, prior to the practice of Vipassanā meditation. In either case, the concentration attained by the yogi produces the ‘light of wisdom’.
Having completed the development of their Samatha meditation, the yogi is then taught to protect his practice with the Four Protective Meditations of Mettā (Loving Kindness), Buddhānussati (Recollection of The Buddha), Asubha (Repulsiveness of the Body), and Maranānussati (Recollection of Death).
Following that, the yogi will be taught to prepare the way for Vipassanā meditation, which is to use the ‘light of wisdom’ to discern ultimate materiality and mentality. The yogi will also be taught to discern the workings of Dependent Origination (paṭṭiccasamuppāda). This means he will discern a number of past and future lives, and to discern the causes for certain rebirths.
Only upon having discerned ultimate materiality and mentality and their causes (Dependent Origination), does the yogi have the necessary objects for Vipassanā meditation. The practice of Vipassanā meditation is to discern the three characteristics of impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha), and non-self (anatta) in ultimate materiality and mentality – of past, present, and future, internal and external, gross and subtle, inferior and superior, far and near.
In this way, the yogi may progress through the different insight knowledges, preliminary to the attainment of Nibbāna.²