The vipassanā movement, also called the Insight Meditation Movement, refers to a number of branches of modern Theravāda Buddhism which stress insight into the three marks of existence as the main means to attain awakening and reach Nirvana.
It finds its origins in modernist influences on the traditions of Burma, Laos, Thailand and Sri Lanka, and the innovations and popularisations by Theravāda teachers as Mahasi Sayadaw ("New Burmese Method"), Ledi Sayadaw (the Ledi lineage), Anagarika Munindra, and Ajahn Chah (Thai Forest Tradition), as well as nonsectarian derivatives from those traditions such as the movement led by S. N. Goenka (with his co-teacher wife Illaichi Devi) who studied with teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin.
The vipassanā movement emphasizes the use of vipassanā to gain insight into the three marks of existence as the main means to attain awakening. Its main goal is not Nirvana but stream-entry, since it is believed that we live in degenerated age in which full awakening is impossible. The emphasis on vipassanā goes back to Buddhaghosa who, in his Visudhimagga emphasized vipassanā over samatha.
Schools and traditions
The Thai Forest Tradition is a tradition of Buddhist monasticism within Thai Theravāda Buddhism which was in part a reaction against this perceived dilution in Buddhism. Practitioners inhabit remote wilderness and forest dwellings as spiritual practice training grounds.
The Thai Forest Tradition emphasizes direct experience through meditation practice and strict adherence to monastic rules (vinaya) over scholastic Pali Tipitaka study. Forest monks are considered to be meditation specialists. In contrast with the "New Burmese Method", the Thai Forest Tradition also teaches and practices the use of jhana.
The Forest Tradition is usually associated with certain supernatural attainments (abhiñña). It is widely known among Thai people for its orthodoxy, conservatism, and asceticism. Because of these qualities, it has garnered great respect and admiration from the Thai people.
Adherents model their practice and lifestyle on those of the Buddha and his early disciples. They are referred to as 'forest monks' because they keep alive the practices of the historical Buddha, who frequently dwelt in forests, both during his spiritual quest and afterwards.
The New Burmese Method strongly emphasizes vipassanā over samatha. It is regarded as a simplification of traditional Buddhist meditation techniques, suitable not only for monks but also for lay-practitioners.
The Ledi lineage
S.N. Goenka is a well-known teacher in the Ledi-lineage. According to S. N. Goenka, vipassanā techniques are essentially non-sectarian in character, and have universal application. One need not convert to Buddhism to practice these styles of meditation. Meditation centers teaching the vipassanā popularized by S. N. Goenka exist now in Nepal, India, Asia, North and South America, Europe, Australia, Middle East and Africa.
In the tradition of S.N.Goenka, vipassanā practice focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind.
Mahasati Meditation is another example of these practices.
Women have been quite prominent as teachers in the vipassanā movement. Though the formal Theravāda vipassanā tradition has been maintained by an almost exclusively male monastic tradition, nuns and non-monastic female adepts have played important roles, despite being completely absent or only noted in the background of the historical record. These teachers and practitioners expand the framework of vipassanā to incorporate the immanence of the female body and its innate opportunities for enlightenment through the cycles of its physiology and the emotions of marriage, childlessness, childbearing, child loss, and widowhood.
The modern Indian teacher Dipa Ma, a student of Anagarika Munindra, was one of the first female Asian masters to be invited to teach in America. As a widowed, single mother, Dipa Ma was a householder (non-monastic) who exemplified liberation and taught vipassanā as not only a retreat practice but also a lifestyle. Her message to women and men was you don't have to leave your family to reach high states of spiritual understanding, and she taught a radical inclusiveness. She encouraged women who were mothers of young children to practice vipassanā through the daily activities of mothering. She once said to Joseph Goldstein that "Women have an advantage over men because they have more supple minds... It may be difficult for men to understand this, because they are men." When asked if there was any hope for men, she replied "The Buddha was a man, and Jesus was a man. So there is hope for you."
Dipa Ma's Metta (Lovingkindness) meditation instruction was a core component to be practiced after each vipassanā session. It involves five stages, the first of which was the mastery of self-compassion in mind and heart, then continuing to the other stages. The prayer of the first stage, given in English is as follows:
Indian teacher Ilaichidevi Goenka, wife of the Burmese-trained S.N. Goenka and mother of six children, began practicing adhittan vipassanā when her youngest child was four years old, eventually joining her husband on the teaching platform as co-teacher to thousands of students at retreat centers and prisons /Prisoners who do vipassanā meditation reportedly experience less behavior problems while incarcerated and have lower rates of recidivism, see: Doing Time, Doing Vipassana/ all over India as well as internationally. "Mataji" as she is lovingly referred to by her students, also leads chants with her husband.
Indian Shambhavi Chopra, a former textiles designer and divorced mother of two who is now co-director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, writes of her 10 day vipassanā meditation training at a retreat center in Germany in her book Yogini: The Enlightened Woman, and encourages students to explore vipassanā practice and mastery as a devotion to the Divine Mother of all.
Vipassanā in prisons
Vipassanā movement traditions have offered meditation programs in some prisons. One notable example was in 1993 when Kiran Bedi, a reformist Inspector General of India's prisons, learned of the success of vipassanā in a jail in Jaipur, Rajasthan. A ten-day retreat involved officials and inmates alike was then tried in India's largest prison Tihar Jail near New Delhi. This program was said to have dramatically changed the behavior of inmates and jailers alike. Inmates who completed the ten-day course were less violent and had a lower recidivism rate than other inmates. This project was documented in the documentary film, Doing Time, Doing Vipassana.
- Mohnyin Sayadaw (1873–1964)
- Sunlun Sayadaw (1878–1952)
- Ajahn Naeb (1897–1983)
- Taungpulu Sayadaw (1897–1986)
- Mogok Sayadaw (Venerable Sayadawgyi U Wimala) ("Mogok Sayadaw PayarGyi") (1900–1962) Burmese monk ::and meditation master
- Mahasi Sayadaw (1904–1982) Burmese monk and meditation master
Notable living teachers