Call me an over-enthusiast but presently, the highest priority in my life is to achieve the object of Nirvana or moksha. By performing Vipassana, I want to achieve Nirvana and in this lifetime only. I'm prepared to do anything for it, even leave my current profession and staying as a monk if required.

Trouble is, I just don't understand how exactly to go about meditation. I've read a few suttas but I just don't understand what to do while doing Vipassana meditation. In a 10-day Vipassana course I'd undergone, I'd done Anapana (breathfulness meditation) by keeping my mind on the entry and exit of breath at the nostrils. I've done this for several hours and I still do it sometimes.

I also do mindfulness meditation sittings (by observing my thoughts impartially) for at least an hour in one sitting daily.

Now, all these practices are great and take me into a calm and tranquil state of mind. But I don't seem to be getting anywhere towards my ultimate goal of Nirvana. Is there any way to know how long is it going to take me with this speed, or how do I increase the speed? Most importantly, Is joining the sangha and practicing full-time monkhood the only way to achieve Nirvana?

  • What kind of Vipassana are you trying to learn? What don't you understand? – Lowbrow Feb 17 '15 at 19:07
  • @Uilium - I'm performing Vipassana meditation. Presenlty, all I do is breathing meditation ie. keeping mind on the breath entry/exit points. – Shinu Jacob Feb 17 '15 at 19:23
  • So what do you do if your attention is on the breath and your mind wanders off of the breath? What if you hear a noise, have an itch or pain? What if you find yourself thinking or planning? How would you normally handle such distractions from the breath? – Lowbrow Feb 17 '15 at 21:04
  • @Uilium I handle such situations by impartially observing them. Yeah, it happens sometimes I get carried away with those thoughts, even feel depressed if the thoughts are bitter. But each time, whenever I realize that I've lost, I bring myself back to Diagnostics mode and start observing again. Of late, I've felt that such incidents of mind getting carried away are becoming less and less and I'm now having a continuum of emptiness (for lack of a precise word). – Shinu Jacob Feb 17 '15 at 22:08
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    It will take as long as needed for you to achieve Nirvana, but not any longer. – ruben2020 Jun 15 '15 at 16:16

15 Answers 15

There is a lovely zen saying, a dialogue between new student and master:

"Master, if I put in great effort every day to attain awakening, how long will it take?"

The master replies, "20 years."

"What if I work really really hard?"

The master replies, "40 years."

Wanting enlightenment is paradoxical, because enlightenment is the absence of defilement, not the presence of need.

It would be of great benefit to study the six perfections. You may find this reference useful: http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Six_paramitas

Often people assume enlightenment to be the result of something. If you are happy following causes and their results, then practice the six perfections as much as possible. You must ultimately pair them with wisdom which transcends conceptuality in order to arrive into a state which is beyond.

It will greatly depend on your attitude and your motivation. Thus, I encourage you to study the Buddha's words and keep a superior motivation.

No one can guarantee for you how long it will take, and when you "get there" so-to-speak, there will not be any conventional sense of time to speak of, so instead of asking "how long will it take" we should all ask "what can we do to accelerate the process?"

A skillful question is one which illuminates the how.

If you come with great faith in the teachings and practice with a single-pointed mind, freedom shall dawn. Until the gravity of our imperiled situation in samsara is seen for what it is, benefit yourself and others with study and reflection.

One aspect of enlightenment is freedom from doubt. Clear away all your doubts with the stainfree mirror of the teachings. The Buddha proclaimed that "in the future" [in this era] to come face-to-face with the teachings is the same as coming face-to-face with the Buddha.

At any rate, even if someone told you that it will take 3 long aeons to come to awakening practicing diligently every day all day, what is that in comparison to an unending cycle of dying and being born? What is 3 long aeons in comparison to the nonceasing spin of the wheel of life?

The Buddha himself gave the answer in the Maha Satipatthana Sutta—The Greater Discourse on Steadfast Mindfulness or the Great Discourse on the Establishing Awareness (DN22):

"Indeed, bhikkhus, whosoever practises these four satipatthanas in this manner for seven years, one of two results is to be expected in him: Arahatship in this very existence, or if there yet be any trace of clinging, the state of an Anagami.

Let alone seven years, bhikkhus, whosoever practises these four satipatthanas in this manner for six years, five years, four years, three years, two years, or one year.

Let alone one year, bhikkhus, whosoever practises these four satipatthanas in this manner for seven months, one of two results is to be expected in him: Arahatship in this very existence, or if there yet be any trace of clinging, the state of an Anagami.

Let alone seven months, bhikkhus, whosoever practises these four satipatthanas in this manner for six months, five months, four months, three months, two months, one month, or half a month.

Let alone half a month, bhikkhus, whosoever practises these four satipatthanas in this manner for seven days, one of two results is to be expected in him: Arahatship in this very existence or if there yet be any trace of clinging, the state of an Anagami.

This is what I meant when I said: "Bhikkhus, this is the one and the only way for the purification (of the minds) of beings, for overcoming sorrow and lamentation, for the cessation of physical and mental pain, for attainment of the Noble Paths, and for the realization of Nibbana. That only way is the four satipatthanas".

  • What does it mean when at one place, he says 5 years, 4 years, etc.. and at other, 3 months, 2 months, etc. Is the period different according to the existing mental progress? – Shinu Jacob Feb 17 '15 at 15:58
  • @ShinuJacob I take this to mean that the length of time outlined is indeterminate. It's not like levelling up where you just have to do X to get the level Y. It will happen when you have no "trace of clinging" or it will not. – Michael McGriff Feb 17 '15 at 19:01
  • @ShinuJacob - proceed mindfully, breath by breath... – Guy Eugène Dubois Feb 17 '15 at 19:15
  • Paramahansa Yogananda said that if one could sit in unbroken meditation for 24 hours, that would be sufficient. Climb the Glass Mountain. – user2341 Feb 21 '15 at 16:06

Call me an over-enthusiast but presently, the highest priority in my life is to achieve the object of Nirvana or moksha.

This is good! You need enthusiasm to stay motivated in your practice.You also have a sense of urgency which will help you progress.

By performing Vipassana, I want to achieve Nirvana and in this lifetime only. I'm prepared to do anything for it, even leave my current profession and staying as a monk if required.

You can not realise Nibbanna by willing it to happen,you have to create the necessary conditions.Take all the willing( will power,effort,urgency and determination) and apply it to the right spot which is creating the conditions.For example instead of exhausting all your energy on "I have to attain Nirvana in this lifetime",you can say "I have to sit and meditate for 10 minutes today".Because without the journey there is no goal.So make the journey your goal.

Also don't stop thinking/wishing/contemplating Nibbanna.Practicing the Dharma isn't like wandering aimlessly without a goal.Thinking everything is empty so there's no use doing anything.Or not having a goal.This is something you do after you've realised nibbanna not before.You might not know what Nibbanna is but you know it's not suffering like your experiencing now.So thats a good way to motivate yourself.It's also a good way to keep your mind fixed on the other shore Nibbanna.

Let the results arise on it's own.Don't place your effort on the result.Just like when you plant something.You put your effort on watering the plant.Not making it grow.It will grow on it's own.

Trouble is, I just don't understand how exactly to go about meditation. I've read a few suttas but I just don't understand what to do while doing Vipassana meditation. In a 10-day Vipassana course I'd undergone, I'd done Anapana (breathfulness meditation) by keeping my mind on the entry and exit of breath at the nostrils. I've done this for several hours and I still do it sometimes.

Keeping the mind on the entry and exit of breath at the nostril is Samatha Meditation.You do this to calm the mind.Achieve samadhi. It's a tranquility meditation.This should be done before practicing vipassanna.Your not observing anything.Your just staying with the breath.Anything that arises you ignore and return to the breath.Try doing this for a few years first.Whatever suits you.Samadhi is like a steady hand.It's aim is to develop concentration so that you can hold your mind steady on something as slippery,rapid and subtle as thoughts,intentions,feelings,etc(Vippassanna Practice).Samatha can also give the mind a good home or resting place.So something you should be practicing for the rest of your life.

I also do mindfulness meditation sittings (by observing my thoughts impartially) for at least an hour in one sitting daily.

Mindfulness Meditation is like when you sit and do Samatha Meditation.Except this time you don't ignore your thoughts,feelings,intention,sensation etc and return to the breath.You stay with it.Observing it.But when you feel like it's slipping or too painful,powerful, go back to the breath.The breath is your anchor.

Now, all these practices are great and take me into a calm and tranquil state of mind. But I don't seem to be getting anywhere towards my ultimate goal of Nirvana.

Realising Nibbanna is not all about meditation.That's why it's not called The One Noble Path.But the Eight Noble Path.It is holistic.It requires every aspect of your life.The Eight Noble Path.You must put the same amount of effort you put on your meditation on your sila.

Is there any way to know how long is it going to take me with this speed, or how do I increase the speed?

No.There's no sure way of knowing.It would depend on one's karma and paramis.But no effort you put in is wasted.

Most importantly, Is joining the sangha and practicing full-time monkhood the only way to achieve Nirvana?

No it's not the Only way. You can realise Nibbanna as a lay person.But monastics have a the advantage of living in an environment that's conducive to their practice.

  • A comprehensive, well-thought out and beautiful answer. – user2341 Feb 21 '15 at 16:18

Becoming a monk is not necessary to attain Nirvana. In the time of the Buddha there were great numbers of laypeople who attained stream entry, a fair number of laypeople who became non-returners, and even a few laypeople who managed to be able to make it all the way to Arahatship, so you can see that monasticism isn't a prerequisite for enlightenment. Becoming a monk is a very helpful tool along the way however, as a Monk has much more time for meditation practice and lives a life that is free from a lot of the distractions that laypeople have.

I think a bigger issue at the moment is to look at your meditation practice. You said you attended a 10 day course on meditation. Was this a course at a Goenka center? Did they teach you how to do Vipassana meditation? If so, just practice that. If not, I think your main priority would be to find a meditation teacher who can help you.

I wouldn't worry about how long it will take. That's impossible to tell. If you start worrying about it, that itself will become a hindrance because it creates expectation. It is better to instead focus on what you are doing in the present.

  • Thanks. I attended it at Goenka center at Igatpuri, India. It was a good experience. The only reason I'm worried is because I'm not feeling any progress. Despite going through hours of meditation, I don't feel anything different or improvising - each session is similar to previous as far as mental state is concerned. Is that considered normal? – Shinu Jacob Feb 17 '15 at 15:54
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    Progress in Vipassana meditation is very counterintuitive. Progressing from one stage of practice to the next doesn't necessarily mean that you are going to feel different, it means that you will begin to understand something more clearly, so you can't judge progress by what your meditation feels like. – Bakmoon Feb 17 '15 at 22:58
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    I was told by my meditation teacher that it is how you are in life rather than what you feel that shows progress. Also, others around you will see the changes that you cannot. Take Heart. – user2341 Feb 21 '15 at 16:09
  • @ShinuJacob why don't you proceed to watch sensations all over the body, subtle or gross, remain equaniomous – TheDarkKnightRules Mar 14 '15 at 9:21
  • @TheDarkKnightRules I do that religiously friend, each and every day. But I don't seem to be progressing anywhere. My mind seems to have become more peaceful, but nothing extra-ordinary has happened yet that can suggest that I'm progressing towards Nirvana. – Shinu Jacob Mar 14 '15 at 11:15

To achieve Nirvana you have to follow he 3 fold practice:

  • Morality
  • Control over the mind so you can bee focused on a chosen object to see its true nature
  • Wisdom through the understanding of reality and universal nature of suffering and the way out off the than looking at the world through your perceptions

Morality will calm your mental wondering and also bodily fabrications mildly so you can develop better concentration. Through concentration and calming your metal fabrication you can develop wisdom. Through calming all fabrications you can come out of misery.

Your practice should evolve around calming fabrication through the 3 fold practice. Also over coming the 5 hindrances when they arise.

Morality

When practising morality you can start this as a rite or ritual by observing the precepts. As you go on you can do it at an intellectual level by rationalising if any action is to your benefit or the benefit of others. Later you can start looking at the formations your volition bring through the sensations it creates and them identify what is conducive and not through wisdom. Moral base is needed to keep you mind at ease without agitation and thought proliferation.

Concentration

You should develop concentration to the extend you mind can stay on the chosen object. You study your mind in the process. This way you can reduce verbal fabrications. Then dominantly sensations and perceptions remain. As concentration goes up perceptions decrease.

Wisdom

By developing wisdom you see things as they really are without being clouded with perception. You should calm your metal fabrications. Once this is done you you will experience some thing beyond sensations and perception. This is your 1st glimpse of Nirvana.

  • Aren't these three ways called sila, samadhi & pradnya respectively, and for development of last two, samatha and vipassana meditations needed? Can you recommend me some good text for learning vipassana meditation? – Prahlad Yeri Feb 18 '15 at 14:13
  • Yes. But using English wordings. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Feb 18 '15 at 15:54

Nirvana is not another project, don't manage it. One has several awakening experiences that are popularly known as stream entry etc, but enlightenment is a journey in which one never arrives.

One must lose all ideas of gaining something.

Embody compassion, virtue, kindness, loving sympathetic joy, don't think for a moment about nirvana. It'll happen on its own when you're ready for it.

If you have a desire to be a monk, go ahead and do that. It's no guarantee of anything, but at least you'll have time to think about the idea, and a sense of satisfaction of having tried.

Truth is a pathless land, no guru or teaching can guarantee enlightenment. Even the Buddha only converted a handful of his disciples into Arahats.

Your discovery may take days, months, years or life times. Who knows... Relax, live in this moment, do good, be good.

  • I like that quote: "Do Good. Be Good." Swami Sivananda? Pathless - but you are already on your path, you cannot get off of it. – user2341 Feb 21 '15 at 16:14
  • Nobody, just something I wrote. – Buddho Feb 21 '15 at 16:53
  • @nocomprende The expression reminds me of "Ceasing to do evil, Cultivating the good, Purifying the heart: This is the teaching of the Buddhas". – ChrisW Jun 16 '15 at 8:18

It's like asking when one will become a master of martial arts or a master pianist if one starts training now. There're lots of different factors involved: the conditions of equipments, training facilities, quality of the teacher, one's own effort and time, one's own innate potential, etc. That's why the length of time will vary greatly from person to person. Just notice that while becoming a fulltime monk might gives some advantage in terms of equipment and "training facility", a person is still on his own regarding effort, time, and innate potential..

A householder or householder's son, hearing the Dhamma, gains conviction in the Tathagata and reflects: 'Household life is confining, a dusty path. The life gone forth is like the open air. It is not easy living at home to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, like a polished shell. What if I were to shave off my hair and beard, put on the ochre robes, and go forth from the household life into homelessness? ~~ DN 02 ~~

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    "How old will I be by the time I learn to play piano?" "The same age as if you don't"! ha ha! – user2341 Feb 21 '15 at 16:15

Liberation is not to be gained in the future. It exists forever, here and now. To seek and grasp implies a projected concept of separation which is opposite from Truth.

Before you can even practice vipassana--which is just present-minded awareness--one must have strong mastery of the jhanas, at least the 1st jhana.

Only then will you automatically go through the 10 Stages of Insight, especially by doing a retreat! Thus in answer to your question, the most methodical sure way is to take yourself to a powerful concentration state and then just be aware of the present moment especially as the Maha Satipatthana Sutta instructs. Then, one will automatically go through the 10 Stages of Insight (so long asone doesn't cling to any of them) and attain Fruition/Emptiness for the first time.

Thus, the question becomes... how to attain jhana methodically as possible? And how does anapanasati relate to samatha and vipassana? The answer to the last question is that anapanasatti integrates both practices exactly in the samatha->vipassana sequence mentioned!

Also, in answer to your question if joining a Sangha is necessary, no it is not, although it is certainly conducive to it.

The most important is your own jhana power prior to retreat. If you do a retreat without jhana (basically the ability to concentrate with ease and happiness) then you'll get nowhere. So practice 2 hours each day and night until you can do that much at least before doing an all-day retreat!

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    I've done 2-weeks Mahasi-style vipassana without prior practice of jhanas. With that kind of dry vipassana, one builds concentration and mindfulness skills simultaneously. – eudoxos Feb 24 '15 at 15:46
  • I would be interested to know which schools endorse the idea that jhana is required for Vipassana practice. – Anthony Feb 28 '15 at 5:08
  • All schools do! The Buddha had mastered all the dhyanas before he was able to properly break through! I'd like to go into a long discussion as to why having good concentration is important to cultivating insight but I would rather let the book "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha" explain. Also remember that the 1st training is morality, the 2nd training is concentration, and THEN the 3rd training is wisdom (vipassana training). – Ahmed Feb 28 '15 at 13:16

If you are CRAVING nibbana, Goenkaji says you are working contrary to Vipassana. Therefore, your craving causes new sankharas and you are pushing yourself that much farther away from nibbana.

  • Hello and welcome to Buddhist.SE! We've put together some information to help you get started here. – Robin111 Jun 15 '15 at 15:41

As someone pointed out, "if I try harder" -> "it takes more time".

What you need to keep in mind is that we're all here to fulfill our purpose. The important part is to do that every day with absolute equanimity, yet best effort. Once you go through that path, you will reach Nirvana.

Vipassana is not a technique for Nirvana, its a technique for equanimity. And equanimity is a way to Nirvana. Becoming a monk is sometimes easy because it protects you from the outside world and hence its harder for some of your samskaras to come to the fore, and hence you never face them with equanimity. Its like playing a game against a weaker opponent vs. playing against a more challenging opponent - the latter scenario will develop you more.

To sum up, your goal should be to live your life with equanimity in any situation, Nirvana or no Nirvana. This also applies on a meta level, try to be equanimous towards your attachment/aversion- by that I mean avoid aversion against attachments and aversions. Only then will you be able to get over them. Having said that, if your job requires you to do things that are not ethical, then by all means quit your job. Basically do something that's meaningful.

I should add that if you do feel like becoming a monk and think that you're equanimous in general, or are not but have no attachment to anything, then by all means, feel free to become a monk. On the other hand, if you do feel like you are still attached, but would like to ease up things, then try to go for a longer meditation retreat.

As I said staying away does make things easy, so maybe start with easy first and do the difficult later.

You're already doing great. Instead of focusing on achieving Nirvana, focus on smaller steps and forget about Nirvana completely.

Meditate upon these questions: How does everything arises and ceases in myself?

When you find the answer, progress to the next question: Who am I?

And so on...: How everything arises and ceases outside myself? Why does everything arises and ceases?

Questions will come and answers will come. Just don't force it. Let go and just let it happen. If you let it happen and it happens, Nirvana will come when you answer all your questions.

The book"art of living" by william harts gives a little brief outline of the sankharas,process of becoming and eradication . it is very helpful book for at least beginners who do not know any thing of sankharas,becoming etc. Dont concentrate on big/huge word like nirvana. concentrate on liberation from the age old habit of mind of reacting with aversion or craving to the asised sensations. REFER DEPENDENT ORIGINATION. Now it is very very true that we are ignorant , that is why we are in this birth. We are equipped with five sensory bases and the mind with its four faculties as soon as birth is taken in human form. The contact with external world and encountering of mental thoughts/emotions/feeling is bound to happen through this six sensory bases. sensation thus arised is reacted by mind "s reacting faculty only to strengthen further its habit/conditioning of doing same. If care is taken to abide from five sensory bases to receive inputs. Then the stored sankharas ,since many lives cropps up . If that arising is not reacted upon with craving/aversion it passes away . Till the mind"s habit/conditioning of reacting is slowly slowly weakened and finally eradicated and understanding permanently at experiential level the anicca,i.e impermanence of whatever is arising (with preceding some condition) ,liberation is not possible. If we are to eradicate each sankhara (kamma vipakas) then you can imagine how many are stored sankharas since numerous lives ,which we will have to eradicate. The liberation seem almost impossible. But the experience of anicca ,one cannot say when it will come. A student in school learns something with receiving one cane on hand by the teacher or learns after 10 canes. It cannot be concretely said as to when . A person"s wife dies, at least for a year or so he loses all his craving in material world. The habit of reacting with craving is retarded a bit ,but only at conscious level. The subconscious is busy 24/7 reacting to the sensations arise abiding to its age old habit. So concludingly there are two factors how many kamm vipakas are there stored in you and how much strengthened/tough your habit /conditioning of mind to react is. the development of internal wisdom/pradnya cannot be said exactly when it will occur. Even Buddha also has 11 kamm vipakas left to be eradicated on achieving enlightenment. You mar refere the site "pure dhamma" in which the kilesas,cetasikas,kamma vipaka are all elaborated ,very helpful. Forget enlightenment first cleanup yourselves with the stored sankharas .When there are only good sankharas are dominant at death , you will again be having birth ,a chance to continue your process.

depends upon how much sankaras(defilement), you have accumulated in past

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

You have planted your mango tree, and you keep it well nourished and watered, protect it from harm and from parasites. That's excellent, but you cannot wish it for it to grow in one day, no matter the amount of effort.

For the mango tree to produce its sweet juicy fruit, it takes both time and effort.

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    "Nine women cannot make a baby in one month."-! – user2341 Jun 16 '15 at 13:11

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