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What is Vipassana meditation? What is it to watch the breath?

Author Acharya Prashant

Acharya Prashant

8 min
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Acharya Prashant (AP): That which you call “Vipassana” today, is a very recent phenomenon. They claim that it comes from the Buddha, actually, it is not. The stream flowing from Buddha got extinct around the 8th or 10th century AD. This modern Vipassana came up in Burma, just around a 100 years back. And, this is not what the Buddha taught. It is a very much improvised thing.

If you could really look, first of all, you would look into what you are doing right now. Why would you be someone who has the capacity to look at something as subtle as the breath? And, yet he is not able to look at something as gross as his actions. It’s about looking, right? Observing—Vipassana, observing rightly. The breath is subtle, actions are so loud. If you could look, what is it that you would first of all look at? Your actions!

And, if you are able to directly look at your actions, do you really need to look at your breath, or this or that?

See how you are living, that’s all. Seeing is important, obviously, seeing is important. But, what to see, ‘breath’? There is nothing wrong with the breath, why are you watching the breath? Or maybe watching the breath is a convenient way to avoid watching that which really needs to be watched. You need to watch your behavior towards your wife, instead of that, you are watching your breath. Nice trick, Smart chap. You need to watch; how greedy you are towards your customers and how exploitative you are towards your employees. And, instead of that, you are watching -your breath. (Sarcastically) Nice, pretty nice!

You need to watch your restlessness when you are waiting at the traffic signal. And, it’s so evident, it’s observable. Look at the tension, in your calves. See, how you are constantly pushing at the clutch pedal or the accelerator. Even though, you fully well know that the car is in neutral. There are forty more seconds to go before it goes green. And, you see how your legs are twitching and you’re fiddling with the controls. The moment it goes green, you honk. Now, is that not observable?

Is that not observable? Then what is all this drama about -watching the breath, observing the breath?

Can’t you observe the thousand things you are continuously doing? But probably you want to, as I said, avoid watching your real life, your day-to-day life. So, you go for a ten-day vipassana retreat. Ten-day of watching the breath and then you can come out with a certificate, that helps the inner lie, "I am spiritual, now I can go back to my shop and, continue adulterating and looting!"

You won’t observe the face of the Goat or the Chicken being slaughtered for your food in front of your eyes. Do you observe that? No, that’s something you stubbornly want to avoid observing. But you want to observe your breath? How exotic! Seriously spiritual, right? If you want to observe – look into the eyes of the bird being slaughtered for your taste buds. No, but all these teachers won’t tell you that. They say, "observation means- breath". If you want to observe, observe the eyes of the cow being milked for your cheese. Go observe. That’s far more real.

You want to observe, observe your face after freshly receiving a bashing from your boss. Retire to the washroom, as you anyway do, having been spanked by your boss. And, there honestly look into the mirror and observe your face- that’s vipassana.

Observation is great, and yes, the Buddha did teach the observation. But, observe what?

Questioner (Q): So, all these meditation techniques of watching and observing breath are best to avoid?

AP: Observe, but observe the real thing. I am repeating this.

Q: But they pose themselves as, "we are real."

AP: We don’t want to talk about them. We have very little time. Should we spend this time talking about Charlatans? And, I don’t even want to accuse them. They themselves are misled. Maybe they never had a teacher who could tell them a few nuanced things. They are just following a tradition. Their guru was observing the breath, so was his guru. And, so now they have opened a shop and all with all these things happening and once you have been following a tradition it becomes very difficult for you to break out, break away rather.

Q: Because it seemingly becomes a part of you.

AP: It becomes a part of you and what would you tell yourself that, all this while you have been a fool? Not only have you been a fool, but your guru and his guru have also been a fool. It becomes very humiliating to accept this.

Q: But it has to be done?

AP: Has to be done and then one needs compassion, one needs to say, "After all, they too were mortals and mortals do make mistakes. Mistakes don’t need to be prolonged, stretched. Mistakes need to be rectified."

Q: When we do meditation techniques like dynamic meditation, it feels good.

AP: They have a certain value. They introduce you to something beyond yourself. But, that’s a mere introduction. Beyond that there has to be intimacy, right?

When you’re talking of love, does introduction suffices? Beyond introduction you need intimacy. Where is the intimacy? All techniques just give you a glimpse of something. They give you a glimpse so that you fall in love with the glimpse and then you demand more. You must demand more but, what if you get satisfied with the glimpse? What if the glimpse itself becomes a competitor, a substitute for the real thing?

That’s how wicked we can be. You were given a glimpse so that now you take a few extra steps to move into the land of the unknown, the beloved. But, instead of that, you get the glimpse and then you retreat and when you again feel restless, you again take the glimpse, and then you again retreat into your habitual world, and then you again feel restless and you take the glimpse. That’s how man misuses the methods of meditation. So, when you are feeling very uneasy within, you use the dynamic method. And then you return to your old world. That’s not good. That’s not what the creators of these techniques wanted. If you’re talking of dynamic, Osho himself categorically said so many times that ‘ultimately you have to give up all methods'. His favorite analogy was, ‘Once the river has been crossed, you cannot keep sitting in the boat’.

Q: So, sadhana has to evolve. It cannot be a repetition.

AP: Yes, surely wonderful!

Q: Because truth itself is a living thing.

AP: No, these are Krishnamurthy’s words, 'Truth is a living thing.' Sadhana has to keep evolving because you are at different points in your journey. So your movement, your strategy, yourself all are continuously changing. One thing that was suitable a year back, will no more be suitable a year later if you have really advanced. You cannot give class sixth textbooks to a class eighth student. Can you? It’s as commonsensical as that.

Q: Acharya Ji, how do we find those extra steps to be taken after trying techniques of meditation?

AP: When you were in class twelfth, and you were chasing her. How did you know what to do next? How did you know? You found out. In love, one finds out.

Just got a glimpse of her in the school fest and she is from some other school, some other class. But, you found out everything including the name of her ex doggy. You figured out everything flat in two days. And, now you’re asking, "Having got a glimpse how do I proceed further?"

Where is love?

Q: Does it comes down to the thirst of...

AP: Obviously, everything comes down to that including this. Why else are you here? (Smilingly) Does one come to Goa for this? (referring to the Satsang)

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