I'm not sure why but insight practice isnt feeling very insightful to me. I've been practicing for over half a decade every day and I'm not having any profound insight into reality as I have read about many times. Goenkas method they talk a lot about dissolution of the mind and body and seeing the ultimate reality of the subatomic particles etc and Sayadaws method they talk a lot about anicca and the rising and falling always being different etc. maybe I'm missing something but after all this time I still have not really had any profound insight into anything. When I was on retreat I had some pretty freaky and blissful experiences but I had no clue what occurred. All I knew was that it felt good and I wanted more of it. When I spoke to the teachers they also seemed clueless about what occurred. For all I know it could have just been a combination of sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation causing me to go slightly insane. Sometimes I just get really bored of being told to keep watching the rising and falling. So the breath is impermanent, big deal. How long am I meant to keep doing this before I have so called "insight". It seems a bit like Christianity the way they tell people you aren't getting results because you just need to pray more. I also feel like I cannot be really honest about how I feel without others kind of wagging their finger at me in a condescending way and saying its my fault for not doing this or that properly. I feel like I need to have insight into the so called true nature of reality pretty soon or I'm not going to continue. I can't just keep on doing this based in blind faith that what I'm being told is true..

  • If you really want clear results within six months at the most, then you will have to break away from the accepted norms and rules. Would you like to take in good faith what I will tell you and follow through with it even if the whole world tells you otherwise? I will give you a very different meaning to the very words that you have used in meditation. The meanings that you and others have given have not worked for you thus far. So why not start seeing things in a whole new way? Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 0:31
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    – Lowbrow
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 1:38
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    What whole new way?
    – Arturia
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 6:43
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    To me the insight is just that impermanence. Beyond that, any thing considered needs to be considered as it is - dependent on conditions and frames of references, usually slower and for longer. II think in our time impermanence is just more visible, so not as much of a profound thing when discerned. It's a matter of maintaining that understanding throughout imo. Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 12:22
  • I think Satipattana Sutta can help you. I would try the first part, mindfulness of body, following the instructions in the Sutta without any expectation of strange things to happen. Just be with the instructions.
    – user4878
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 15:44

10 Answers 10


IMHO, you should stop this nonsense. Sitting and waiting for insight is not going to work.

Insight meditation is not meant to be waiting. Instead, it is meant to be examination of the elements of your immediate experience:

Look at your thoughts. Where do they come, how do they switch. Who is watching? How do you get distracted and how do you recover focus? Examine these for a long time, until you really see it.

Look at your emotions. Where are they located? What triggers them? How do they subside?

Now, think about this insight you are looking for. Assume at some point you'll get it. Now what? Why do you need it? What's wrong now? What do you want?

Now, think about dukkha, suffering. They say, "suffering comes from craving". What does this really mean? Try remember something that you really really want (or really really don't want). What happens? Now, force yourself to think about something else. What happens now?

Now, think about causes and results. Take objects and events and trace all causal forces that bring them together and then take them apart. Think how this works on the global scale.

Now, think about yourself in terms of causal chains. How many different things come together to make up you and your immediate experience? Were you made once or are you being made daily? What causal elements contribute to that?

This is insight meditation, in my opinion. Sitting and watching how your experience comes together - for hours and hours, until you clearly see how it works. Not sitting and waiting like a log.

  • I'm not sitting and "waiting like a log" at all. I'm trying my best to follow the instruction given. I'm doing exactly what I have been told to do from the courses, retreats and sanghas I have attended and from the things I have read and listened to.
    – Arturia
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 22:41
  • But you can't just follow instructions all the way to enlightenment, that would be too simple, there's gotta be an element of independent rediscovery.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 12:30

Wellcome to the club. This a common problem for many of us. I suggest you start reading Sutta directly. Also, remember it is gradual training. You have some insight already, otherwise, you won't be here posting this question.


Insight meditation cannot occur as a stand alone practice, it needs Morality and Wisdom too, the entire Noble Eightfold Path must be practiced together. All Path factors strengthen and support each other.

There are a different reasons as to why insight might not arise.

Some of them are:

It might be due to one of those reasons or several of them in conglomeration.

A good Teacher can often guide and support one on the Path, e.g. to help one identify the impediment(s) to progress.

  • How is a normal lay person meant to fulfill the impossible list of requirements? Sure if you live in a cave you might have some hope but otherwise good luck
    – Arturia
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 23:17
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    It might look intimidating but its doable. Its a gradual training.. One factor boosts another one. That is the beauty of the Noble Eightfold Path. Its a complete teaching in and of itself.
    – user2424
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 23:19
  • I've read and listened to talks about the eightfold path and it still seems very confusing to me.
    – Arturia
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 6:48

The 'insight' you seem to be searching for doesn't exist. Reality is just what you see in front of you. Accepting it is difficult, so it's easier for many people to cling to dreams - for some worldly dreams, for others spiritual dreams of special states.


Generally if you are not progressing, you are not practicing insight as you are supposed to. If you listen to and follow the instruction properly then you will make progress. If not you are not practicing the wrong technique because you have misunderstood it, or perhaps mixing other techniques, or intentionally or unintentionally missing out parts of the instruction.

1st you have to understand how insight is developed with all subtleties. Insight should cover all the following bases:

  • internal (ajjhatta) = physical sense-organs, or in oneself;
  • external (bahiddhā) = physical sense-objects, or another person;
  • gross (olārika) = that which impinges (the physical internal and external senses, with touch = earth, wind, fire);
  • subtle (sukhuma) = that which does not impinge (mind, mind-objects, mind-consciousness, and water);
  • inferior (hīna) = undesirable physical sense-objects (form, sound, smell, taste, and touch), or the sense-world or sense world experiences;
  • superior (panīta) = desirable physical sense-objects (form etc), or the form and the formless worlds or experience of Jhana;
  • far (dure) = subtle objects (“difficult to penetrate”), or distant objects, other universes;
  • near (santike) = gross objects (“easy to penetrate”), or things close by, or anywhere in this universe.

As regards the terms “internal” (ajjhatta) and “external” (bahiddhā), it should be noted that they have two applications:

  1. the aggregates (khandhā) composing a particular “person” are “internal” to them, and anything else is “external”;

  2. the sense-organs (ayatana) are “internal,” but their objects—which may include aspects of the person’s own body or mind, which are “internal” in the first sense—are “external.”

In the commentarial tradition (including the Abhidhamma), “gross” (olārika) refers to the nature of the five physical senses (eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body), while “subtle” (sukhuma) refers to the nature of the mind. The physical senses are said to be “impinged on” while mind does not function that way.

Adopted from this answer and its references.

If you listen to the instructions care fully it mentions:

  • piercingly and penetratingly which is see through gross (dure, olārika) experiences
  • external and internal experience at the surface of the body and within
  • dividing and directing which is to see through gross experiences
  • be equanimous what ever experience (hīna, panīta)
  • in breath meditation narrow down the concentrate on the centre of the upper lip. This is to more from gross to subtle. It might be easy to feel the breath around the districts or tip of the nose as the touch of the breath is more gross and on the centre of the upper lip it is very subtle.

These cover the totality of how you should practice insight.

Also you should see if you are most of the time just sitting that meditating. Many people daydream while doing meditation. For this reason when say scanning the body bring you attention to it. Re affirm your attention is on it and has not wandered away. When you move to a new area ensure you mind is focused in feeling this areas. Re affirms that it is and not distracted. If your concentration is not strong Insight does not arise.

Also see you are leading a moral life. If not there will to too much distraction and your mind may get scattered. Because you do not get concentration you do not get insight.

Also keep in mind you should not evaluate any experience as favorable or unfavorable. From what I gather in your mind you are searching for a fabulous experience which you want to call "insight". This is not insight meditation. Also teachers do not give importance to these experiences because it is not related to progress. If you feel sweaty then this also is insight because you do not pay attention to it. The humidity may be unpleasant and you mindd reacts to it. This also is insight. If you want to go to the toilet and you feel unpleasantness until it and the relief afterwards. That also is insight. Insight is knowing what is happening and how your can keep your mind from not reacting negatively to these esperces. Insight is not a pleasant experience or some experience you seek to get. Insight is knowing what spontaneously happens around you and adjusting your mind not to create negativity.

Also do not mix techniques. If you look at one of the reasons for the decline of Dhamma it is people practice techniques not fully based on the teaching of the Buddha. More on this see this answer. This is when you do you do not get results and people lose faith. If you mix other technique this might not give intended results. So practice the pure dhamma as proclaimed by the Buddha! Then results would sure to follow.

  • i don't do body scans. I practice Mahasi Sayadaw technique.
    – Arturia
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 4:00
  • This seems to happen a lot. See: Doubting the quick attainments of the Mahasi Tradition and the relevant links. Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 4:27
  • I cannot feel breath on the upper lip nose area.mi have tried many times. How am I supposed to focus on the sensations there if I can't feel it? If I say I cannot feel anything there then I need a solution not told to just keep trying endlessly. The post you have linked to may aswell be in a foreign language it's that convoluted.
    – Arturia
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 6:50
  • A beginner will not feel this. To start with a large triangle from the top of your nose and the base of the upper lip. Once you start feeling something continuously you narrow down the region to tip of your nose and the base of the upper lip. Once you start to be able to feel sensation in this area narrow it down base of the upper lip. Once you are sensitive enough to feel feeling in this region then narrow it down to the centre of the upper lip. By doing this you are training yourself to feel gross sensation and slowly progress to more subtler sensations. Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 11:59
  • As I said I don't feel anything
    – Arturia
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 13:20

Please let me offer a few suggestions from the lay person's perspective.

First, a little theoretical/scientific background. Academic and other institutions in the west have began to utilize meditation for students and professionals alike. They do this because they have found numerous physical and mental advantages that may be achieved by taking advantage of the "still mind effect" of meditation.

Our brains are nothing more than sensory interpreters, albeit complex ones. They take sensory input from our frail, limited form and compare it to past sensory inputs to recognize patterns. It's like a computer that is on all the time but it will change modes if the input given to it is slowed down (sleep) or completely comes to a halt (sensory deprivation). In both of those cases the mind will eventually fill the lack of input in with dreams in the case of sleep or random manifestations in the mind in the case of sensory deprivation.

But before the mind gets to those extremes it encounters a resting state where it can focus intently if the stimuli is controlled with a secure, familiar, non-threatening or even non-changing input. Something that requires no thought and is no threat. Like a mantra hummed in a constant tone at a medium pitch or a singing bowl even. kind of like background noise helping someone study. Same principle.

While the back of the mind is occupied with the low-resource using background "noise" its' other resources are free to wander or focus or be easily guided. A state of high susceptibility and deep reflective thought if so guided. This is what powers meditative practice and it is scientifically and empirically supported.

So the first step is reaching that state. It requires relaxation and effort to focus on a simple familiar stimulus. It doesn't require perfect focus. Every little step you take achieves a benefit to your mind. Each step taken opens you a little more.

Now you still need prior sensory input for your mind to compare and contrast (as is its' nature) as your mind wanders or is gently guided. This is where your past experiences or the dharma become important. Your mind will be able to explore sides of thoughts that you dont normally get access to. This is where the insights come from. Once the chaff is blown away we receive the benefits.

So trust the physical side of it if you think the other is failing you. This certainly helped me get past my hesitations and reservations like you seem to be encountering. I hope this could help.

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    Very beautifully stated. I don't know if this is "Buddhist", but on first glance it appears to be helpful.
    – user2341
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 23:58
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    I am a skeptic at heart so it became easier for me when I found some plausible physical description that jibed with modern neurology. Is it 100% accurate? We don't know yet, but the empirical data suggested and the benefits accrued are all cited and categorized scientifically. A body of work is developing quickly that supports hindu and buddhist ideology alike ... much like the support confuscianism found in modern educational theory.
    – Kauvasara
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 0:08

The moment we talk about awareness, we must know we need to transit from being enjoyer (Object) to being knower (Subject). Insight won't help unless we are knower. Meditating being enjoyer won't work. From my own experiences, I will suggest these.

  • While eating, just know who is eating & witness the act of eating rather than enjoying. E.g, you are not the one who is eating, teeth & mouth are eating & senses are tasting. So become knower only rather than enjoyer. You're indeed something different from the eater.

  • Do the same for every act like breathing, walking, bathing etc.

Note that the journey is always like this.
Enjoyer (Object) { Worldly people } -> Knower (Subject) { Meditators } -> Neither Enjoyer nor Knower ( neither subject nor object) { Enlightened being}.

  • I've tried all this many times and none of it changes anything. I do not see that I am "not the one who is eating" etc. all I see is me sitting here eating and feeling bored about trying to see that it's not me. It's not profound in any way.
    – Arturia
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 22:47

I like the question.

Right view is the first step in Theravada Buddhism, so it makes sense that you're not getting anywhere, supposing you lack it. If you don't have "right view" you have a few obvious alternatives to choose, not necessarily mutually exclusive:

  1. Read the literature, talk with Buddhists, try to work out for yourself what is reasonable to believe.
  2. Give up your insight practice.
  3. Find a tradition which doesn't ask you to hold a view you don't have.

etc. I gather that the merit from reaching dhyana means that "you" will be reborn in a heaven (for a while) anyway, so even if you give up you may have gotten something out of your 1st retreat, at the very least.


Obviously you are doing it wrong. To gain proper insight, you have to practice all 4 Satipattanas: bodily actions, feelings, metal activity and phenomena.

If you feel bored, note it as bored... bored... bored...

If you are expecting progress, note it as expecting... expecting... expecting...

If you are annoyed, note it as annoyed... annoyed... annoyed...

If you feel blissful, note it as blissful... blissful... blissful...

Here's a simple guide book to get you started on the correct technique.

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    Even "doing it right" it could take time. Everyone's tendencies differ.
    – user2341
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 16:04

Before looking for your next teacher read Käläma sutta, the original translation, from the beginning to the end. In it Buddha takes a practical approach of explaining how one can pick a proper religion / approach to follow. Especially note how Buddha shows, before certainty, the five ways one uses to chose a practice / religion (Faith, Liking, Schools of Though, Contemplating, Views)

  • Can you please link me to it as I can't seem to find it.
    – Arturia
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 22:22
  • I don't know what was meant by "the original translation" but there is a translation here: Kalama Sutta translated from the Pali by Soma Thera
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 19:57
  • Thanks for the link Chris. Original translations are those that were translated out of the original pali (written in sinhalese) sutra. This is how the modern world got Theravada Buddhism. Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 0:28

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