Vipassana in the Buddhist tradition means insight into the true nature of reality. Vipassana is one of the world's most ancient techniques of sitting meditation discovered by Gautama Buddha. It is a practice of self-transformation through self-observation and intropection to the extent that sitting with a steadfast mind becomes an active experience of mind and body. In English, vipassana Meditation is often referred to simply as "insight meditation". It is the intuitive light flashing forth and exposing the truth of the impermanency, the suffering and the impersonal and unsubstantial nature of all corporeal and mental phenomena of existence. It is insight-wisdom (vipassana-panna) that is the decisive liberating factor in Buddhism, though it has to be developed along with the 2 other trainings in morality and concentration. The culmination of insight practice ( visuddhi- VI) leads directly to the stages of holiness (Seventh Purification Sattama visuddhi). Insight is not the result of a mere intellectual understanding, but is won through direct meditative observation of one’s own bodily and mental processes. In the commentaries and the Visuddhimagga, the sequence in developing insight-meditation is given as follows: 1. discernment of the corporeal (rupa), 2. of the mental (nama), 3. Contemplation of both (namarupa; i.e. of their pair wise occurrence in actual events, and their interdependence), 4. both viewed as conditioned (application of the dependent origination, Paticcasamuppada), 5. application of the three characteristics (impermanency, Suffering and Non-self.) to mind-and body-cum-conditions. The stages of gradually growing insight are described in the nine (9) insight- knowledge (vipassana-nana), constituting the Sixth stage of purification: beginning with the ‘knowledge of rise and fall’ and ending with the ‘adaptation to Truth’.

Eighteen chief kinds of insight-knowledge (or principal insights, maha-vipassana) are listed and described in Visuddhi Magga. XXII, 113 :(1) contemplation of impermanence(aniccanupassana), (2) of suffering (dukkhanupassana), (3) of non-self (anattanupassana), (4) of aversion (nibbidanupassana). (5) of detachment(viraganupassana), (6) of extinction (nirodhanupassana), (7) of abandoning (patinissagganupassana), (8) of waning (khayanupassana), (9) of vanishing (vayanupassana), (10) of change (viparinamanupassana), (11) of the unconditioned (or signless, animittanupassana), (12) of desirelessness (apanihitanupassana), (13) of emptiness (sunnatanupassana), (14) insight into phenomena which is higher wisdom (adhipanna dhamma-'vipassana), (15) knowledge and vision according to reality (yathabhutanyan-adassana), (16) contemplation of misery (or danger, adinavanupassana), (17) reflecting contemplation (patisankhanupassana), (18) contemplation of turning away (vivattananupassana). Through these 18, the adverse ideas and views are overcome, for which reason this way of overcoming is called ‘overcoming by the opposite’ (tadanga-pahana, overcoming this factor by that). Thus (1) dispels the idea of permanence. (2) the idea of happiness, (3) the idea of self, (4) lust, (5) greed, (6) origination, (7) grasping, (8) the idea of compactness, (9) 'kamma accumulation, (10) the idea of lastingness, (11) the conditions, (12) delight, (13) adherence, (14) grasping and adherence to the idea of substance, (15) attachment and adherence, (17) thoughtlessness, (18) dispels entanglement and clinging.

Insight may be either mundane (lokiya) or supermundane (lokuttara, q.v.). Supermundane insight is of three kinds: (1) joined with one of the 4 supermundane paths, (2) joined with one of the fruitions of these paths, (3) regarding the extinction, or rather suspension, of consciousness (nirodha-samapatti).


Nyanatiloka, Buddhist Dictionary, Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1980.

Revised on

28th Sept. 2011


Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.