I have noticed that there are perhaps two main different approaches to experiences/sensations in vipassana.

One of them (e.g. Mahasi Sayadaw) describes experiences/sensations through words:

  • Mahasi Sayadaw, Kenneth Folk, Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu: pick a word that describes the experience accurately

The other (e.g. Goenka) asks to focus entirely on the experience/sensations:

  • Goenka: Feel the sensation. Not visualize, not name it, but feel it.

At the retreats of Goenka, in one evening talk, he explicitly says that there is a misunderstanding. That is, the Buddha meant not to name experiences/sensations but to feel them.

So the questions are:

  • how relevant is this difference?
  • Is there any relevant consequence/effect/repercusion on our progress if we decide, say, to describe with words rather than focusing on the experience, or the otherway around?

Answers with references are strongly appreciated.

  • Thank you for this question.its puzzled me whether to note or just experience.looking forward to an answer.
    – Orion
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 12:22

4 Answers 4


Texts are all over the place about this.

For instance, one school of thought criticizes our tendency to conceptualize our experience, at the expense of actually experiencing the thing -- and says this is us sleep-walking through life (the dream is the conceptual template we overlay on experience). For instance, I encounter a tree, think "this is a tree" and never actually see the thing before me. This would seem to imply that labeling during mindfulness is a repetition of this mistake.

Another school of thought sees the labeling as a way to step outside of the experience, to not get sucked into it.

So who is right?

It depends.

The issue here is not getting pulled in by attachment and habitual reactions. While these are a function of conceptualization, they are a function of a specific type of conceptualization.

For instance, if someone does something I dislike, and I conceptualize this person as a "jerk", I likely have a strong reaction to this, and am falling into the same attachment (aversions) that have caused me so much pain.

On the other hand, if I experience a reaction of aversion towards the way this person treated me, but start labeling the components my experience as Skhandas, then I'm effectively deconstructing the experience and undermining attachment in the process.

On the other other hand, if I watch the experience as it is, then I can be with the sensations without the problematic concepts.

So really, there is no right or wrong answer; the key is whether your technique takes you out of the conceptual trap that keeps you attached to the phenomena or reinforces it. In this case, it's about fighting fire with fire (concepts with concepts) or fire with water (concepts with bare sensations).

The upshot is that you don't have the luxury of treating anyone as an authority, but have to see how you respond, and decide on the most effective method.

  • Awwsome answer man!
    – Orion
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 11:45

Imagination, visualisation, verbalisation all leads to verbal fabrications. One objective of insight meditation is to progressively calm the fabrications. So any activity which feeds into creating fabrications and also perceptions is strongly discouraged.

But for a beginner you may use it as a aid if it helps, but it is discouraged.

  • It is as Suminda says. Notice what it is. This may mean labelling the phenomenon that occurs. This may mean "feeling" it. This all actually means the same thing. If Goenka implies by "feeling" that we should TRY something, then no, that is not correct. Vipassana is not about TRYING anything. Just experience it as it is, note-ing it, changing, moment-by-moment.
    – Ahmed
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 4:44
  • I would slightly deviate in my opinion. You have to try to maintain equanimity experiencing the changes from moment to moment. You have to apply some effort towards maintaining your equanimity and observe objectively without getting carried away or react to any painful, pleasant or neutral sensations. The effort is directed at to just observe. With out this minimum effort you might not observe or stop observing or even give up the session early. Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 4:56
  • 1
    Yes, I didn't mean entirely effortless--just don't try too hard to create some sort of observation. Of course maintain efforts on balancing the Five Faculties and factors of jhana and being clear about what you are observing. Eventually this too will become habit and you just have to bring your mind back to the object..
    – Ahmed
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 5:04
  • That's right :-) Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 5:30

I believe both are good and important and help each other rather than contradict each other. There can be no experience without a perceptual framework, conceptualizing sensations clarifies this perceptual framework and makes the experience deeper and more meaningful. On the other hand, to conceptualize clearly, a keen experiencing mind is called for and developed. Personally I would practice Vipassana meditation (and there only focus on sensations) but also write a diary or meet with a fellow practitioner and describe my sensations.


The feeling of sensations can only make us know their arising and passing away. How anicca will develop?

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