What Is Vipassana Meditation?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on August 24, 2022
4 min read

Vipassana meditation is a form of mindfulness meditation that comes from the original teachings of the Buddha. It is a way of observing oneself without judgment, and it is said to be helpful in achieving enlightenment. Usually, it’s done over the course of 10 days. Here’s what you need to know.

Vipassana, meaning "to see things as they really are," is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. This technique is often taught in ten-day courses, during which participants learn the basics of the method and practice it under the guidance of experienced teachers.

These courses, like all meditation techniques, are open to people of all faiths and nationalities. Vipassana requires no belief system, as it's a non-sectarian practice — meaning that it has nothing to do with paranormal or mystical beliefs. Similarly, it’s compatible with any religion or philosophical outlook.

The practice of Vipassana is a journey of self-discovery and presents an opportunity to experience for oneself the truths of ancient teachings. The goal of the practice is the total purification of the mind, the development of values such as compassion and equanimity, and the increase of empathy.

The basic principle of Vipassana is that all mental impurities arise from the basic ignorance of the true nature of reality. This basic ignorance is the root cause of all suffering — Vipassana is a way of removing this ignorance by developing insight into the true nature of reality.

Like most other forms of meditation, Vipassana meditation has a number of benefits that include both physical and mental improvements. Some of the benefits of Vipassana meditation include:

Developing a clear and calm mind. Vipassana meditation helps practitioners to develop a clear and calm mind. The practice of mindfulness can help to reduce stress and anxiety and can also help to improve your perspective about your current situation.

Becoming more aware of the present moment. One of the goals of vipassana meditation is to help practitioners become more aware of the present moment. The practice can help people to become less reactive to their thoughts and emotions and to avoid getting caught up in an endless cycle of contemplating the past and the future.

Improving physical health. Studies have shown that people who attend Vipassana retreats often return reporting better physical health. Although it’s unclear why this happens, experts point to the reduction of stress as the responsible factor.

Reducing negative emotions. The Vipassana meditation technique can also help to reduce negative emotions such as anger, hatred, and greed. This course teaches you to observe these emotions instead of indulging in them — leading to a more vigilant and equanimous self.

Improving judgment. By developing a calm state of mind, Vipassana meditation can stimulate awareness, self-control, and a sense of peace. By improving these factors, you can become a better decision-maker who can be oriented by reality instead of pressure.

While one can reap these benefits by attending only one Vispasanna retreat, it’s always recommended to take a few minutes every day after that to practice the meditation on one’s own. That way, one can continually reap the whole benefits of mindfulness and other meditation-related techniques.

Vipassana is one of India's oldest meditation techniques. It’s said to have originated with the Buddha, who is said to have used it to achieve enlightenment. After that, he taught 60 disciples the Vipasanna technique and sent them in different directions. Vipassana then spread all over northern India, even becoming practiced by kings and emperors.

Allegedly, 200 years after the death of the Buddha, Vipassana reached Emperor Asoka, who ruled over what is now India. Due to a recent war he was waging, Asoka became horrified by the bloodshed and decided to follow the path taught by the Buddha’s disciples. This led to even more teachers spreading the Vipassana technique, traveling all over India and even Egypt and Syria.

In the 1900s, Sayagyi U Ba Khin, a civil servant from Myanmar, learned Vispanna and taught it to many students. He taught that the original, pristine technique should be spread.

Vipassana meditation is almost always done while on retreats, in which you’ll take part in a course taught by meditation experts. You can find many of these courses online, though, and a lot of them are free of charge, as they are mostly supported by donations.

Before attending a Vipassana retreat, it’s always a good idea to get a general concept of what’ll happen during those 10 days. While the exact details may vary from one teacher to another, most courses will follow the same rough guideline. Here’s what you’ll be doing during a Vipassana retreat:

The practice of sila. During the days prior to, and during the course itself, you’ll have to abstain from doing harm. This generally means abstaining from actions such as stealing, using drugs, and lying. By improving the sense of morality (sila), the mind can calm down enough to focus on the retreat.

The practice of samadhi. For the first three and a half days, teachers will ask you to focus on your breathing — a traditional meditation technique that allows you to gain control over your mind. Once your concentration (samadhi) is improved, you can start to work on your underlying mental impurities.

The practice of Vipassana. Finally, for the last six and a half days, you can practice Vipassana itself. This is the practice of breaking down mental barriers to observe your true self, allowing you to purify your mind.

During the course, you’ll reduce your speaking to a minimum and eat at determined times. You’ll also sleep following a set schedule, allowing you to clear your mind of concerns. During the tenth and potential eleventh day, you’ll transition back to your typical, more extroverted self as the course ends.