Vipassana or Mindfulness Meditation
by Dr. Evan Finkelstein
Buddha asked the question “What is right mindfulness?” And he answered in the following way:
When going, the monk knows “I am going,” or, when standing, he knows “I am standing,” or, when lying down, he knows “I am lying down.” Or in whatever position his body is placed, he is aware of it….Whether he goes, stands or sits, sleeps or is awake, speaks or is silent, he is acting with full attention. Digha Nikaya, II: 292
These days, Vipassana, or as it is more commonly known, Mindfulness Meditation, is practiced by the practitioner having the intention to be an “impartial observer” of some natural process occurring within his or her body, mind or emotions. For example, one is asked to just observe or be mindful of the rising and falling of the abdomen during the process of breathing, or to just impartially observe the incoming and outgoing of the breath itself.
Another, popular form of this meditation is to mindfully observe the body in the natural act of walking or during the process of standing up or sitting down. The key element is to attempt to be continuously aware of whatever process is taking place without in any way interfering with or reacting to, either positively or negatively, the process that is occurring in the moment. This practice is supposed to bring one deep insight, perfect wisdom, into the ultimate reality of the true nature of existence in both its conditioned and unconditioned states.
Unfortunately, this attempt to develop and obtain Insight through the practice of trying to be an “impartial observer” is, in my view, a misinterpretation of what the Buddha meant by mindfulness. The reason is that the “impartial observer,” which alone is capable of “right mindfulness” and genuine Insight, is the fully-awakened and unconditioned state of Nirvana Itself.
The true “impartial observer” is never the attention or mind that is attempting to watch a process. The reason for this is that this very attempt is a part of the process itself; it is not outside the process. In stark contrast to this, the genuine “impartial observer” is completely outside any and every process of the rising and falling of any conditioned state of existence; it is completely beyond the mind and any human intention or effort to observe anything.
In the above quote from the Buddhist scripture, it is vital to note that mindfulness should be present even when one is sleeping. In other words, the process of sleep should be able to be witnessed or observed as it is naturally occurring. At first glance, the impartial observation of sleep would seem to be impossible because if one is asleep how could one observe anything? The key to understanding this is that it is not the individual’s mind that is observing; in the state of deep (dreamless) sleep, the mind is sleeping and is not aware of the sleeping process or anything else.
However, it is possible for the unconditioned state of consciousness, the state of Nirvana, to impartially witness the sleeping process. It is this unconditioned, transcendental, Absolute state of consciousness that is the true impartial observer of all the ever-changing values of the conditioned aspects of life, including the mind and its intentions.
It is this supreme value of unbounded wakefulness alone that is capable of being impartial because only it is without any lack and nothing can be subtracted or added to its status. Consequently, it is only the unconditioned existence of the fully-awakened state of nirvana that is capable of totally penetrating into the true nature of life and gaining the supreme Insight lived, embodied and expressed by a Buddha.
The key question is: how can one gain this state of nirvana?
Since nirvana is an unbounded and non-conditioned state of existence, the only logical path to it would be to consciously transcend all the relative boundaries of space, time and causation. Mindfulness meditation, as it is practiced these days, serves to keep the mind in the conditioned states of existence by keeping one’s attention on the breath, or on any other physical sensation, or inner mental aspect of existence.
What is needed is to transcend all of these limited aspects of life and directly experience the unbounded state of nirvana. This is exactly what Maharishi’s technique of Transcendental Meditation® easily accomplishes!
About the Author
Dr. Evan Finkelstein became a teacher of Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation® technique in 1972. He earned his BA in English and Theatre Arts, a Master’s degree in Social Work and a second Master’s degree in the Science of Creative Intelligence for which he received the Outstanding Student Award. In June of 2005, he received his Doctoral degree in Maharishi Vedic Science and won the prestigious Veda Vyasa Award for outstanding doctoral level scholarship. In his dissertation, entitled Universal Principles of Life Expressed in Maharishi Vedic Science and in the Scriptures and Writings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, he documented the fundamental principles shared among these faiths when seen in the light of Maharishi’s Vedic Science. He also teaches courses on Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism in the light of Maharishi’s knowledge. Dr Finkelstein has served on faculty since 1989 and is a professor in the department of Maharishi Vedic Science. In 2007 he was asked by Maharishi and Dr. John Hagelin to serve as the National Director of Religion and Culture for the United States.