What is insight meditation?

An individual experiences the world through internal six senses and external six objects.

Internal senses are; eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. External objects are; visual forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and thoughts.

When an internal sense organ comes in contact with an external object, a person experiences the world.

Our entire life is a correspondence of internal sense organs with outside objects.

Insight meditation is the reflection on this phenomenon as impermanence, suffering, and non-self.

The comprehensive knowledge one gains through the reflection process can liberate one from suffering and bring enlightenment.

Let us find some facts on insight meditation and how we can develop it.

What is the origin of insight meditation?

The origin of insight meditation is the Buddhist teachings. The Pāli term given to insight meditation was “Vipassanā.”

“Vi” means in a special way and “passanā” means seeing.

Therefore, Vipassanā, or insight meditation means seeing in a special way.

It is a method to see things “as it is.” And “not as you would like it to be.”

It is a deep understanding that can liberate an individual from unhappiness and suffering.

Why should we see things “as it is?”

We should see things “as it is” to understand what really exist in and out.

Generally, an individual accepts all the objects that he experiences through sense organs as the truth.

He/she does not try to see beyond what he sees through his naked eye.

We live in a world where the ultimate truth is covered by conventions.

One has to analyze what is a convention, and what are the ultimate truths.

Otherwise, it is difficult to differentiate between them.

People often delight in conventional truths and make no attempt to understand them.

What is the importance of understanding things “as it is?”

If a person does not understand things “as it is”, he/she cannot discover true happiness.

People are desirous of gaining many things in life. They work hard to earn money so that they can buy what they want.

When a person gets one thing in life, he needs another thing to feel happy. However, there is no end to it.

People build up different relationships with others to live a happy life.

Even if you ask the richest person in the world whether he is happy, he would say, “If I get x, y, and z in my life, I will be happy.”

No one is fully satisfied with what they have at a given moment.

Also, the desires of a person impose a big burden to go on an endless journey in pursuing happiness.

For some people, it is hard to understand happiness is not in the outside world.

Actual happiness is within. The way to find true happiness is to develop insight meditation and understand things “as it is.”

What is a convention?

All animate and inanimate things are conventions.

In inanimate things, 4 primary elements (earth, water, fire, and air) are arranged in a certain way. Some examples of inanimate conventions are; a car, a house, a tree, etc.,

Apart from the above 4 primary elements, animate objects contain the mind element as well. Some examples of animate conventions are a boy, a girl, mother. father etc.

Do objects exist as belief?

Do the living and non-living objects really exist as we believe?

To get an analytical answer, let us unbind the material parts of a car.

If you remove wheels, seats, shutters, etc., can you really call it a car? Once unbound, you can only see some individual material parts here and there.

If you separate body parts of an animal; fur, skin, nails, flesh, bones, etc. can you call the separated parts an animal?

Likewise, when you separate the materiality of any living or non-living thing, you can see a convention. It is just a concept created in the mind.

When the material natures are together as one unit, it is given a conventional name.

Conventional truth is not the ultimate truth.

Conventional truth differs from place to place, time to time, or person to person.

What is the ultimate reality?

The ultimate reality of a living being is the mind (mental process) and matter (physical process).

For example, the physical body of all living things in the world is composed of primary elements; earth, water, fire, and air. These two processes manifest as self.

In reality, mind and matter are completely different natures.

For more details on primary elements, read What are the four primary elements of the body?

How do we realize the ultimate truth at a surface level?

Think about your car. You think “this is my car.” It is a thought generated by the mind.

The conventional truth called “a car” is a different thing. It is a collection of some material parts.

If you touch any part of the car, you feel the hardness. Hardness is the earth element.

The car in the ultimate sense is nothing but predominantly the earth element. There are other primary elements in different proportions as well.

You can contemplate on all conventions in the same manner observing the reality of the concepts.

What are the characteristics of ultimate realities?

Imagine you buy a brand new car. How it would look like in 100 years?

Think about a beauty queen. How she would look like when she gets old?

Similarly, everything we cherish will be subject to change. It is a constant process that should be understood with wisdom.

In Buddhist teachings, change is called “impermanence (anicca).

When things change, we don’t like it. We would like to keep it without any change, but it doesn’t stay the same. As a result, all things have an unsatisfactory nature.

It is called “unsatisfactory nature (dukkha).”

Even if the objects change, you cannot do anything about it. It is called the selfless nature (anatta) of animate and inanimate things.

Those are the characteristics of ultimate realities.

Who can practice insight meditation?

It can be practiced by everyone irrespective of their religious beliefs.

Gaining insight means understanding the truth pertaining to body and mind. When you understand it, you can see beyond the conventional truth.

What are the benefits of insight meditation?

  • Insight meditation helps understanding things as they really are
  • It teaches you how to focus on the present moment
  • It helps you come out of the illusionary conventional world
  • A person can live a life with wisdom
  • Mental health conditions such as; worry, anxiety, depression, etc. will go away

How to get started with insight meditation?

Before practicing insight meditation, it is recommended to practice concentration meditation to calm the mind.

When the mind is covered with hindrances, one cannot see the subtle realities.

However, there are meditators who directly practice insight meditation or those who practice both meditation methods in tandem.

In the Greater Discourse on Steadfast Mindfulness, the Buddha explained four places on which mindfulness can be established.

Mindfulness is the key to understand the reality of all mental and physical phenomena.

The first one is breathing meditation (Ānāpānasati).

Generally, the meditator can sit comfortably at a quiet spot with closed eyes paying attention to the incoming and outgoing breath.

This method should be practiced until he can concentrate to a certain level. Then he can direct the mind to practice insight meditation.

Similarly, you can start to practice any concentration meditation technique that will help in developing insight meditation.

For more details, read What is concentration meditation?


Practicing insight meditation leads to the path of liberation. Otherwise, a person has to live in an illusionary world, without understanding its reality.

He will get attached to things and beings facing a lot of complexities throughout his journey.

It is a lifetime practice with effort and wise attention. If you start today, you can reach the destination of liberation someday.

Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash


Rathsara (Sara) is an attorney-at-law who holds a Diploma in Buddhist Studies in ITBMU. She has engaged in community service in Sri Lanka and the United States helping many individuals. She is interested in reading, writing, and researching areas related to mindfulness. Inspired by spiritually developed individuals around the globe, Rathsara is keen to learn and practice mind-developing techniques. In the meantime, she would like to share her experience and knowledge for the well-being of others.

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