About Vipassana

Insight meditation or vipassana in Pali [the original language of the Buddhist texts] is a simple and direct practice — the moment-to-moment observation of the mind-body process through calm, focused awareness. Seeing life as a constantly changing process, one begins to accept pleasure and pain, fear and joy, and all aspects of life with increasing equanimity and balance. As insight deepens, wisdom and compassion arise. Growth in clarity brings about penetrating insight into the nature of our experience and increases peace and clarity in our daily lives. With this comes an increased awareness that at all times we are practicing not just for ourselves but also for the benefit of all beings.

Along with vipassana the Buddha taught metta as a complementary practice to Insight Meditation. Metta, the Pali word for loving-kindness, is a meditation that helps to cultivate our natural capacity to have an open and loving heart. Metta is traditionally offered along with meditations that deepen compassion, joy in the happiness of others, and equanimity. These practices aid the development of concentration, happiness, and a greater ability to love.

The vipassana practice originates in the Theravada tradition, which is the oldest of the three main branches of Buddhism. It has been taught in Asia for more than 2,500 years and continues to be the core Buddhist practice in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and parts of India. Vipassana meditation was brought to the United States by Western lay practitioners in the 1970s, and it is often referred to as Western Vipassana.

Although the word dharma can have many meanings, it generally means those timeless teachings of the Buddha that awaken our potential for happiness. It also refers to the truth of things as they are. Therefore everything is dharma, and everything is of a lawful nature.

Sangha is a community of people who practice meditation together and are committed to the teachings of the Buddha in the form of the Eight-fold Path. Sangha historically referred to the monks and nuns, but now has the broader meaning of the entire community of practitioners.

Dana is the Pali word for “generosity” or “gift.” It is intrinsic to the Buddhist tradition. The Buddha stated that the teachings were priceless, and thus should be offered freely to those seeking the wisdom of the dharma. The act of giving itself is of immeasurable benefit to the giver, opening the heart, diminishing one’s self-absorption, and valuing the well-being of others. Each week we are given the opportunity to offer such a gift to our teacher in appreciation for his or her willingness to impart this wisdom. There is no suggested amount, since dana is not a payment for a service, but rather a way of inspiring both gratitude and generosity in our hearts. Notice: SFVS can no longer accept checks made out to SFVS intended as dana to our teachers. Dana checks must be made out directly to the teacher. We no longer can act as a pass-through.

This glossary from the Insight Meditation Society includes many additional Buddhist terms used in the Vipassana tradition.