So now I fully understand Samatha Bhavana meditation and the goal of all meditative practice - thanks to some of you guys' helpful answers.

However I fail to grasp how to practice the second type of meditation : Vipassana Bhavana.

I've looked at most of the answers attempting to answer similar questions to mine here on this website, but didn't find them that helpful.

I know of course what the position you're supposed to adopt is - most traditionally you'll do it sitting, the back straight preferably against a surface such as a wall, etc.

But what is your mind focusing on during Vipassana ?

Thank you


6 Answers 6


'Vipassana' ('clear seeing') is the mind focused on (i.e. continuous experiencing) impermanence (arising & passing) & also conditionality/cause & effect (eg. how craving & attachment cause suffering or how the absence of craving & attachment result in peace & freedom).

Focusing on impermanence & conditionality will also result in the concurrent clear seeing of 'not-self' (anatta) or 'emptiness' (sunnata).

As quoted previously, vipassana is described below:

And what is the development of [mind using] concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents? There is the case where a monk remains focused on (ānupassī) arising & falling away with reference to the five aggregates: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its passing away. Such is feeling, such its origination, such its passing away. Such is perception, such its origination, such its passing away. Such are fabrications, such their origination, such their passing away. Such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.' This is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents.

AN 4.41


There are these five aggregates (subjects of clinging) where a monk should stay, keeping track of arising & passing away (thus): 'Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance. Such is feeling... Such is perception... Such are fabrications... Such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.' As he stays keeping track of arising & passing away with regard to these five aggregates, he abandons any conceit that 'I am' with regard to these five aggregates. This being the case, he discerns, 'I have abandoned any conceit that "I am" with regard to these five aggregates.' In this way he is alert there.**

MN 122


[13] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in focusing on inconstancy.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out focusing on inconstancy.' [14] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in focusing on dispassion [literally, fading].' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out focusing on dispassion.' [15] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in focusing on cessation [of suffering].' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out focusing on cessation.' [16] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in focusing on relinquishment [of 'self'].' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out focusing on relinquishment.'

MN 118

This commentary may be useful:

Now, observe that in the realization of impermanence there is the realization of many other things simultaneously. When impermanence is truly seen, this characteristic of impermanence is also the characteristic of dukkham, namely, it is ugly and unbearable. We will see the characteristic of not-self in it, also. Because these things are always changing, impermanent, unsatisfactory, and beyond our control, we realize anatta, also. Then we will see that they are void of selfhood, which is sunnata. We will see that they are just thus like that. Impermanence is just thus, just like that, thusness. And so, tathata is seen as well.

Please understand that the realizations of these truths are interrelated. From seeing impermanence, we see unsatisfactoriness, see anatta, see sunnata; see tathata, and see idappaccayata (conditionality, the law of cause and effect), also. Each continues into the next. A complete realization of impermanence must include un­satisfactoriness, not-self, voidness, thusness, and the law of conditionality. When all of these are seen, then impermanence is seen completely in the most profound way. This is how we realize fully the impermanence of the sankhara.

vipassana, insight: literally, "clear seeing," to see clearly, distinctly, directly into the true nature of things, into aniccam-dukkham-anatta. Vipassana is popularly used for mental development practiced for the sake of true insight. In such cases, the physical posture, theory, and method of such practices must not be confused with true realization of impermanence, unsatisfactori­ness, and not-self. Vipassana cannot be taught.


What is meant above by "vipassana cannot be taught" is that it arises naturally from concentration, as explained below:

For a person whose mind is concentrated, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I know & see things as they actually are.' It is in the nature of things that a person whose mind is concentrated knows & sees things as they actually are.

AN 11.2


@Arthur Jacomelli, what I write here is what Vipassana is like in mindfulness of in and out breathing (anapanasati), as in the earlier post @Dhammadhatu has touched on what the scriptures say on this. What I write is what I have learnt from my teacher. Before getting into the subject proper, firstly it is very important to remember that the truth and meaning of Dhamma becomes a private experience by the wise only when there is insight or Vipassana. But Vipassana depends on ones level of concentration (Samadhi). And samadhi depends on Samma-ditthi (acceptance of the Four Noble Truths). Thus, everything in Dhamma is connected. The Buddha spoke in diverse ways, only of one thing and one thing alone – dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.

The Blessed One regularly repeated the phrase, “Atapi – sampajano satima vineyya loke abijjha domanassam.” Satipatthana means the setting up of mindfulness. There are certain requirements that need to be fulfilled in establishing mindfulness.

Atapi is ardent and continuous exertion and perseverance for the development of concentration and deliverance from defilements.

Sampajana means clear comprehension for deliverance from defilements, wrong views and perceptions.

Satima is mindfulness to focus the mind on the anapanasati, to the exclusion of all other thoughts and to fix the mind there.

Vineyya loke abijjha domanassam - Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind are the world. The world as experienced from these faculties, is continually correlating with the world of form, sound, smell, taste, tangibles, and mental objects. Interaction with the external world normally creates defilements like greed and distress. Therefore, we must tame and restrain this greed and distress,

Vipassana is a method to investigate with insight, by analyzing aggregates, material elements, sense spheres, etc. In Supreme Buddha’s Dhamma (Ananda Sutta, Girimananda Sutta), it is clearly explained how mindfulness of in and out breathing is developed and pursued so as to bring the four foundations of mindfulness to their culmination. When first developing mindfulness of in and out breathing, the meditator discerns the differences of his breathing, and remains focused on the breath. This is kayanupassana. Anapanasati (mindfulness of in and out breathing) is a form of kayanupassana (contemplation of the body).

Thereafter, he discerns the differences of the mind as he trains himself to breathe in and out sensitive to rapture and pleasure. Thus, he is experiencing feeling and perception. Further, perceiving the differences (of feeling and perception in his mind), he trains himself to breathe in and out calming mental formations. At that point, he remains focused on feelings (vedananupassana) – ardent, alert, and mindful, with continuous exertion for deliverance from mental defilements (atapi) and from clear comprehension (sampajano). Some people become elated when they get the feeling of happiness and bliss to the body and mind. A mind that is obsessed by elation cannot concentrate. Concentration, rapturous joy, calm, and peace of mind and body, are causally dependent; they are conditioned results.

This is how mindfulness of in and out breathing brings the contemplation of body and contemplation of feeling to their culmination. Once he trained himself to breathe in sensitive to pleasure, and to breathe out sensitive to pleasure, he will now develop equanimity – the result of a calm concentrated mind. Without clinging to the gladdening of the mind by calming; without being scattered; and without being obsessed by sense desire, ill will or sloth and torpor, he trains himself. . By concentrating on anapanasati to a higher degree, he brings the cittanupassana to its culmination. He will now develop dhammanupassana (contemplation of mind objects).

Dhammanupassana (contemplation of mind objects) needs time and regular practice. We cannot properly analyze ourselves without first practising a meditation. Other meditations that will help in this regard is the meditation on repulsiveness (asubha), the meditation on loving kindness (metta), the concentration of reflection on material elements (dhatumanasikara), meditation on the extraordinary qualities of the Supreme Buddha (Buddhanussati).

Now, he trains himself to breathe in contemplating impermanence, and he trains himself to breathe out contemplating impermanence. His effort, mindfulness and concentration are now being directed towards focusing on impermanence. He is contemplating on impermanence within anapanasati. He can see the impermanent nature of his own breath in its rise and fall; the impermanence of his body; and the impermanent nature of the pleasant feeling and perception that he experienced. The recognition of perception is called sañña (perception) which is also subject to change as it is conditioned by contact. Perception changes due to impermanence of contact.

Perception is followed by sankhara (mental formations). If the mental factor was directed to a certain matter, on that occasion there is volitional activity, and this is called sankhara. Here, he observes the impermanence of the mental formation with the change of contact. All these are based on the activities of the mind. Now he understands every aspect in this life process which was considered as self (form, feeling, perception and formation); or anything pertaining to a self. He has real wisdom to see things as they really are.

Finally, he sees the impermanent nature of all that has been cognized (the rise and fall of breath, rapture, joy, feelings, and perceptions). It is through this insight that the true nature of the five aggregates of clinging is understood and seen in the light of impermanence:

material form (rupa) derived from the four great elements, feeling (vedana) that is conditioned by contact, perception (sañña) that is conditioned by contact, mental formations (sankhara) that is conditioned by contact, and consciousness (viññana) that is conditioned by mentality-materiality (nama-rupa)

Now, based on the impermanent breath, he understands the impermanent nature of the five aggregates of clinging. He realizes that whatever is impermanent and subject to change, is suffering (dukkha). And, whatever is impermanent is without self (anatta). It is through this insight that the true nature of the aggregates is clearly seen; in the light of three signs (ti-lakkhana): impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and without self (anatta). With this realization, he understands clearly that what is impermanent is not worth clinging to. If his mind was obsessed by the five hindrances, he would not be able to concentrate successfully on an object of a wholesome nature, and he would not be able to avoid clinging.

Now, he focuses on cessation. It is the cessation of what? It is not the cessation of material form, feeling, perception, mental formations or consciousness. It is the cessation of the wrong view of personality-belief, which he held with regards to the five aggregates of clinging, as this is ‘mine’, this ‘I am’, and this is ‘my self’. He understands the non-substantial (non-self) nature of the five aggregates of clinging.

Now, the seven factors of enlightenment (satta bojjhanga) should be cultivated in the mind. The Pali term ‘bojjhanga’ is composed of bodhi and anga. ’Bodhi’ is the realization of the Four Noble Truths and ’anga’ means ‘conducing factors’.


In summary: vipassana means 'clear seeing' and is a meditation technique. The meditator knows the arising and ceasing of any/every object that comes to his/her mind without reacting with greed or aversion. The aim is to see the 3 characteristics of reality with one's own mind: impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and non-self (anatta). non-self means that there is only mind and an object arising to mind, but nothing else (no permanent self) beside.


what is your mind focusing on during Vipassana ?

At the END focus on 'Nibbana'(Nirvana)(Sunnya).

At the beginning focus on worldly things like 'Breathing'.

During practice focus on impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and without self (anatta) of that "Object'.

This is a natural process like 'a hen warming an egg': after sufficient maturity the chick 'beeps'.


You asked, "But what is your mind focusing on during Vipassana?".

I think you're right, that when you do Samatha meditation then you "focus" your mind on something.

For example (to reference a concise summary), Wikipedia says,

Objects of meditation

Some meditation practices such as contemplation of a kasina object favor the development of samatha, others such as contemplation of the aggregates are conducive to the development of vipassana, while others such as mindfulness of breathing are classically used for developing both mental qualities.

In the Theravada tradition there are forty objects of meditation. Mindfulness (sati) of breathing (ānāpāna: ānāpānasati; S. ānāpānasmṛti) is the most common samatha practice. Samatha can include other samādhi practices as well.

So you focus on something like: the breath; or mettā; or etc.

In contrast, in Vipassanna I think the mental activity is described as "noting" rather than "focussing": you note that you're thinking something, you note that you're feeling something, that you're seeing, touching, or hearing something, etc. The object of meditation is "the aggregates". When you do that you'll notice that the things (e.g. sensations) you're noting come and go, they are thus impermanent.

I think that's what Dhammadhatu's answer meant when writing, "the mind is focusing on impermanence (arising & passing)": i.e. the mind notes anything/everything (a.k.a. "the aggregates") and understands that what it notes, what it's noting, is impermanent.

You can also notice other things from/of/about what you're noting, e.g. that it (each/any noted thing) is ultimately unsatisfactory; and that it's conditioned (e.g. that one thing causes another); etc.

Finally, you benefit from this meditation by "seeing" or noting things, whatever they are, clearly -- the "goal" is e.g. learning to not "grasp" things, not to be greedy for and attached to things.

  • The word 'vipassana' means 'clear seeing'. It does not involve 'noting' (mental labeling). "Noting' is not required to discern change (impermanence) or to feel/touch suffering . The word "focussing" is an inaccurate translation of 'ānupassī', which means to 'continually see', 'experience' or 'observe'. Also, samatha does not require "focusing". Because of improper samadhi, meditators "focus". When this does not bring results, they turn to "noting" distractions. One method is too suppressed & the other method is too lax; not yet in "the middle". Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 0:43
  • Thanks for your explanation. I think that 'noting is often used in the context of Vipassana. 'Seeing' might be a difficult verb to understand if you have to talk about 'seeing pain' for example, or any other object that's not visual. I think another way to describe it might be 'clear awareness' (but I don't think there's a modern English verb associated with awareness).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 11:02
  • Or maybe 'noting' is one technique used in meditation ... so you shouldn't say "meditation is noting" but you could say that "noting is (part of) meditation". Or maybe noting is associated with specific schools of meditation (I think there are different lineages).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 11:06
  • To summarize, I think that "focus" might give the impression of "to focus exclusively" on something, i.e. to try to focus on something and to exclude other things (apart from that object) from awareness; whereas Vipasanna is maybe the opposite, i.e. it's being aware of (not trying to exclude from awareness) anything/whatever one may be aware or become aware of.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 13:17
  • 1
    How about 'knowing'? Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 15:22

You focus should be in

  • arising and passed away of
  • sensations, (pleasant, unpleasant and neither pleasant nor unpleasant)
  • while maintaining utmost equanimity to the sensations,
  • and conditioning that follows, if you react to the sensations.

For more details see my answer here.

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