Vipassana is a meditation belonging to a specific tradition just as yoga represents a specific tradition. There are people who can mix sweet and salt together and enjoy the taste, and there are people who keep sweet and salt separate and enjoy the taste. As far as the path and the system of teaching of these two traditions is concerned, they are different paths altogether.
Vipassana or vipashyana is an old yogic practice used by Buddha to attain silence in the mind. Vipassana becomes part of tapasya, austerity. In the process of tapasya and meditation, there is no interaction with people, there is limited food, limited speech or talk and for sometime one is isolated from the normal modes of communication. People just live in silence observing their mind and nature. For some people, it can be confronting as silence is not the natural tendency of an individual. Speech is the natural tendency of people, and when they have to practise silence, it is a new experience.
Some people enjoy it and say, “I don’t have to talk to anybody. I can just be silent and look at myself.” That is how people are looking at Vipassana today. When Buddha used the practice of Vipassana, he was using it as a practice of yoga, as in the pratyahara practice of antar mouna. Vipassana is a practice of pratyahara, not dharana or dhyana.
The language at the time of Buddha was not Sanskrit, it was Pali, and the script was different. Antar mouna was translated in Pali as Vipashyana. The meaning of Vipashyana is pashya, to see, to observe, and vi, specific. Therefore, it is specific observation. Antar mouna is also specific observation, observation of thought, stopping of thought, entering the zone of no-thought. Antar mouna and Vipassana are the same thing.
Different teachers teach according to their own belief, understanding and experience. Vipassana taught today is like a retreat for one week or ten days. People go, live in isolation, don’t talk to other people, don’t do anything. They just keep quiet. People consider this as a retreat, yet retreat is not meditation.
Meditation is a practice which one can practise anywhere in the world, even in the isolation of one’s room. In a retreat, a group looks after the proper organization and arrangements. Therefore, retreats are much more intensive and of short-term duration. However, once the basic principles of Vipassana are learnt, one has to incorporate them in one’s daily practice. That is the advanced antar mouna.
As far as the practice is concerned there is no difference between Vipassana and yogic pratyahara. However, in regard to tradition and application, there is a difference for Buddhists use Vipassana or the advanced antar mouna to experience the no-thought state, shoonyata, by stopping all inner activity, all inner thinking, and just experience the state of silence.
That state of silence, nothingness, shoonyata is a precursor, a precondition, to experience luminosity, prakasha. Sri Swami Satyananda said many times in his satsangs and lectures that shoonyata and prakasha, nothingness and luminosity, are two different conditions of consciousness.
In shoonyata, there is disconnection with everything sensorial. There is no pull of the mind towards anything. The mind is static and that static nature of mind has been defined by Buddha as nirvana where nothing is seen, where everything is just still. Beyond that state of shoonyata, nirvana, or nothingness where the disconnection has taken place, there is the transcendental nature.
Yoga takes the aspirant one step further to the realization of the transcendental nature. Sri Swami Satyananda explained that Buddhism takes one to the finality of disconnection with the senses and sense objects so that one experiences nothingness, however, beyond nothingness, one has to connect with the transcendental for this nothingness represents one’s gross self, not the connection with one’s higher self. Therefore, the connection with the higher self is the luminosity and disconnection with the lower self is nirvana.
The Buddhist tradition speaks of moving up to disconnection with the lower self when one experiences peace and nothing more. The yogic tradition takes one further by saying that beyond that nothingness and disconnection is the existence of the transcendental reality, the super-self, the super-consciousness and the need is to connect with that.
Zen meditations are abstract meditations, which do not link one with some definite expression and behaviour of consciousness. They make one aware of different impressions and visualizations. Zen meditations are used not for the attainment of enlightenment, but for the management of one’s stressors in life. That is the purpose of Zen meditations.
Once one has gone through the process, maybe in that state of silence, stillness and oneness, one can experience the unity intertwining the globe. Until then Zen meditation is becoming aware of various visualizations, ideas and concepts and connecting and identifying with them.
Not all meditations take the practitioner to the same point and destination. Each meditation works on a specific area of human expression and behaviour. There is no complete system of meditation for in all traditions, whether it be Buddhist, Chinese, Shaivite, Vaishnavite, Christian or Islamic, the focus is moving from the active state of mind to a peaceful state of mind.
One’s effort and sadhana is to acquire the state of pratyahara and dharana: concentration, focus, withdrawal and disconnection, not dhyana. That is the training that one requires, and once the training is acquired and perfected, meditation is experienced automatically, spontaneously, naturally.
—18 October 2015, Ganga Darshan, Munger