How do I practice Vipassana [insight] meditation?
Dipa Ma: “Sit [with your back straight]. Close your eyes and follow the rising and falling of the abdomen as you breathe. Feel the breath. When watching the breathing in and out, ask yourself, “Where is the touch of the breath?” Keep your mind on the touch only. You are to do nothing with the breathing, only feel the touch. If it is heavy, let it be heavy. It if is short, let it be short. If it is fine, let it be fine. Just feel it.
When your mind wanders away, notice this and say to yourself, “Thinking,” and then come back again to the rising and falling of the breath. If you feel a sensation somewhere else, like pain in the leg, then take your mind to the pain and note, “Pain.” And when it goes away or fades, then again come to watching the touch of the breath. If restlessness comes, note “restlessness.”
If you hear a noise, say to yourself, “Hearing, hearing,” then again come back to the feeling of the breath. If memories come, know them as “memories.” Anything you see, anything that comes to mind, just be aware of it. If you see visions or lights, just note “seeing” or “lights.” There is no need to keep any of it, to make it stay. Simply observe.
In insight meditation, you are observing the rising and falling of the breath and the phenomena that arise in the mind and body. So there is a shifting of the mind from sensations felt, both painful and pleasurable, to thoughts as well. Whatever is happening is to be noticed, then that will go away, and another thing will come. In this way, insight practice is a method of observation. All six senses [the mind being the sixth] will arise. Just watch them arise and pass away and come back to the feeling of the breath. Anything you see, anything that comes to mind, just be aware of it.”
1) Abide in awareness, always.
“The practice never leaves me.” “When I am moving, shopping I’m always doing it with mindfulness.” “I have mindfulness even in my dreams.”
“Whatever you are doing, be aware of it.Meditation is to know what you are doing. If you are rushing to the office, then you should be mindful of ‘rushing.’ When you are eating, putting on your shoes, your socks, your clothes, you must be mindful. It is all meditation. Even when you are cutting your nails, put your mind there. Know that you are cutting your nails.” And regarding sitting practice: “Even if you only have 5 minutes, do 5 minutes of meditation.” “Never give up the Dharma.”
2) Don’t identify with thoughts.
“Your mind is all stories.” “Thoughts of the past and future spoil your time.” “This problem you are facing is no problem at all. It is because you think ‘This is mine.’ It is because you think ‘There is something for me to solve.’ Don’t think in this way, and then there will be no trouble.”
3) Learn from impermanence.
“There is nothing to cling to in this world.” “When you are alive you might think ‘this is my daughter; this is my husband; this is my property; this is my house; this car belongs to me.’ But when you are dead, nothing is yours. You must really learn that everything is impermanent.”
4) Offer continuous blessing.
“Meditation is love.” “Blessing others will keep your mind attentive.” She blessed everything she came in contact with (humans, animals, cars, airplanes, buildings), modeling a life of continuous blessing one student had “never imagined was possible.” She also lovingly stroked people’s hair, gave blessings from head to toe (the joy of which lasted for days), and treated each person like her own child: “You are my dharma child. If you have nowhere to sit, come sit in my lap.”
5) Be still.
When questioned about her thoughts she said, “In my mind there are only three things: lovingkindness, concentration, and peace.” Dipa Ma’s Dharma was not about words, but about being. “When she would stand, it was like a rock dropping.” “She was a mountain of unshakeable calm.” “I was able to rest in her silence, like resting under a large shade tree.” “She was real stillness.” “She had a vast empty heart with room for all of creation.”
The following is a piece that I wrote for “The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women” by Florence Caplow and Susan Moon.
Dipa Ma was on an airplane with a woman student. It was very turbulent, and the woman screamed. Dipa Ma was sitting across the aisle and took her hand and held it. Then she whispered, “The daughters of the Buddha are fearless.”
The first time I heard this story I thought, “Wait a minute, the Buddha never had a daughter.” Dipa Ma, however, is pointing to a truth here that is deeper than historical facts. First of all she is teaching her student that as Buddhist practitioners each one of us belongs to the Buddha’s family. No one is left out, not by gender, nor by time or history. We all belong to the lineage and the awakening of the Buddha, right here, right now.
Dipa Ma is also emphasizing the fearlessness needed on this path of the dharma. To know the truth one must be fearless, tireless, and loving, no matter what is happening. Whether there is airplane turbulence, or physical injury, can you have a heart and mind that is unshakeable? Waking up is not a part time job for the faint hearted. It is the ability to meet every moment continually without flinching. As a daughter of the Buddha, are you an example to all beings of the willingness to face what is, right now, without fear or argument?
A few months ago I had a lesson in being a fearless daughter of the Buddha. On a balmy sunny morning I decided to go out for a solo swim in the ocean in Hawaii where I live. There were some colorful fish where I was swimming and I became preoccupied with following some of them. Unfortunately I didn’t notice until it was too late that I had drifted out with an ocean current about one mile from the shore. To make matters worse a strong wind suddenly arose, and as I tried to swim to shore, the whitecaps pushed me back for every stroke I took. When I realized I was a long way out, alone, in shark territory, and unable to make much progress against the wind, I had a moment of panic. It was similar to the scream of Dipa Ma’s student on the airplane. But then my dharma practice immediately kicked in. I labeled the feeling, “This is just panic. Panic is not going to help you. Don’t believe panic.” Then my daughter of the Buddha mind said, “Just do what you can do, stay focused on right now, one thing at a time. Start with one kick and one arm movement at a time. You can do that. Don’t worry about anything else.” I put a concentrated focus on the body and stayed out of the mind. I paid attention to the movement of my arms in the swimming motion, one breath at a time, and the kicking of my legs. I noticed that despite the wind I was able to move a tiny bit forward with each stroke. I focused on this small amount I was moving forward, rather than the feeling of being pushed back. A spontaneous resolve arose to not give up no matter how long it took. This protective dharma of the present moment, along with the resolve of the Buddha, eventually brought me back, exhausted, to the shore.
Whether we are experiencing a bumpy flight, a difficult ocean swim, or a turbulent life, our practice is all the same. We are here to meet this moment with willingness, openness, and fearlessness. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or how much the wind pushes us back. If there is a willingness to not give up, and a resolve to keep taking that one next step, then each one of us will find lasting freedom. This is the true legacy of a daughter of the Buddha.
– Amita Schmidt
I never met Dipa Ma, but recently, my wife and I decided to have a family. I have feared this for a while as I thought my practice would suffer. But the day after I decided to let go of these fears, I did a meditation where I was in or around the Jhana of Neither Perception nor Non-perception. While in this state a vision came over me that I was getting taken by the hand by a young girl, someone I later realized was Dipa Ma’s daughter, through an alleyway into Dipa Ma’s house. The vision didn’t last long, but the message was very beautiful and clear, it left me realising exactly what is possible in life, with family, as a devout Buddhist.
The following days have been very powerful, the complete falling away of a large amount of gross suffering, my personality at one point completely fell away and has left me fresh and ready to build up once again, without the grosser level of suffering and habitual bad behaviours. I can sit in formal meditation in a noisy front room, grabbing seconds or even minutes here and there, then head into chores, loving, present and at peace. What a blessing.
(The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, also added a personal note to me: “I thought I would share this with you, as I read the Dipa Ma book some time ago now, and this vision was very much in isolation to the book. I truly feel she is now guiding me as I enter the next phase of my life.”)