- Topics & Settings
Vipassana meditation is a crucial aspect of Theravadin practice, whereby one can attempt to increase capacity for prolonged concentration in order to reach vipassana, or “insight.” It was first popularized for lay people in Burma and emphasizes being aware and present, focusing on your physical and mental experiences in order to see things clearly as they are.1
When I asked Aung Koe to explain vipassana to me, he referred me to Ashin Ariyadhamma, a visiting monk based in Austin, Texas. He described it as a three-step process. The first attainment is sila, or “morality.” It is a discipline of moral and bodily action that leads you to become a good person. The second is samathi, or a concentration of mind. He likens it to combining the diffused rays of the sun, focusing them into one concentrated beam. “Our mind is weak. If we can concentrate our mind on that one spot, it can be very powerful,” Ariyadhamma said. The third and final goal in meditation is vipassana, vi- meaning “especially” and -passana meaning “seeing in detail.” According to Ariyadhamma, once you reach these three goals, you see that “There is no god, no creation, just these three… There is no creator, only you create by yourself.”
For Koe, “This is the highest level of knowledge in the whole world.”
Koe was raised in a traditional Buddhist household, which made daily offerings to Buddha, celebrated Buddhist holidays, and had him ordained as a monk when he was eight years old, but he says that he truly became a Buddhist when he began to practice vipassana meditation. He said that through his meditative practice, he discovered that “We are nothing but changing phenomena… I’m not Aung Koe… We are only matter and mind and changing all the time. This is vipassana.” He was ordained again at the age of 20 when he had reached vipassana.
Although meditation appears to be a very important part of life for Koe and the monks, it seems as though meditations are rarely held at the monastery. Koe says that there used to be weekly meditations, but now people ask the monks to guide them on an individual basis. Many of the people I talked to at the monastery said that American schedules are hectic and make regular meditation difficult. One woman said, “We try as much as we can, but here is a busy life.”