Philosophical and Religious Studies

The Importance of Insight and Acquiring the View

It’s easy to think that calming the mind is the sole purpose of meditation. In this post, I explain that it’s really just a starting point. The real objective of Buddhist meditation practice is obtaining the view.

Human beings suffer terribly. Some suffering is the natural result of ordinary life events and transitions (classically referred to as birth, old age, sickness, and death). A lot of the suffering we experience, however, is not natural. In fact, it’s self-induced being the direct result of dysfunctional thought patterns perpetuated in the mind.

To deal with suffering, both the natural and unnecessary kinds, many people turn to mindfulness meditation. Typically this involves sitting still and focusing our attention on some object of meditation such as the breath for at least 20 to 30 minutes.

Without a doubt, the very act of focusing our attention on something other than our thoughts is an effective way to break our identification with them. This provides a great deal of relief that even carries over into our daily life. Yet, at some point, those pesky dysfunctional thought patterns sneak right back in and have us reeling.

The Importance of Acquiring the View

That’s why, according to esoteric Buddhist traditions such as Dzogchen, acquiring the view is vital. Don’t get me wrong though. Developing mindfulness is a necessary step in the process, but it’s primary purpose is to create mental spaciousness–distance away from thoughts–so that insight may arise. Most importantly, increased mindfulness, especially as it is extended into daily living, allows us to experience just enough distance from our thoughts to begin to question them.

Therefore, mindfulness is extremely important. At the same time, it’s not an end in and of itself. Rather, mindfulness is a primary cause for the development of greater insight which is the true liberating factor.

Three things are needed:

  1. Avail yourself of the wisdom and knowledge of any valid spiritual path. It doesn’t have to be Buddhism. That’s just a personal favorite of mine.
  2. Practice any form of meditation that helps you both break the habit of constant thinking and tap into the greater insight of your intuitive energetic body.
  3. Constantly question your own thoughts, especially the ones that create unnecessary suffering. Do this with a willingness to see clearly.

Engaging the Teachings In Order to Develop Insight

As we reflect on Buddhist principles and apply them directly to our life circumstances, we begin to have those ah-ha moments that can help us turn things around. A contemplative understanding of the teachings is vital to accomplishing this. The teachings provide the framework and invite us to consider things in ways we may not have considered them before–even questioning our own understanding.

When we see the direct relationship between our thought patterns and the suffering they often induce, we automatically put ourselves in a position to break our allegiance with those thoughts. In other words, we are invited to see things differently. In fact, the teachings indicate that with study and practice we will eventually see things as they really are.

Of course, we may think we already see things exactly the way they are. We can be so attached to our own viewpoints and opinions, we don’t even question them. And here’s another point to consider. With so many countering viewpoints out there, how can we ever know if we see clearly?

The Buddhist teachings indicate that the one who sees clearly is the one who no longer suffers unnecessarily. Unnecessary suffering is a clear indication that insight is lacking.

Tranquility and Insight

Let’s look at a couple of Sanskrit terms to help us unravel this. The term for the style of meditation we today think of as mindfulness is shamatha. It translates as calm abiding or tranquility. Practicing shamatha, we learn to rest in quiet repose less involved in our thoughts and more aware of what is happening in the present moment.

We may think quiet repose is the whole point of meditation. In some systems that may be true. However, Buddhist meditation always contains two components: tranquility and insight. The term which translates properly as insight is vipashyana. Vipashyana is developed as we tune into the deeper understanding of our true nature, as well as develop a more contemplative understanding of the teachings.

The innate wisdom of our intuitive body, the mind’s natural state, is always available to us. However, because we chronically engage with our thinking mind, it’s easy to miss the deeper insights always seeking to come through. That, again, is why mindfulness is so useful. It invites us to inhabit the natural space of awareness where insight resides.

Yet, as mentioned, only disengaging from thoughts for short periods of time doesn’t generally help us undermine the dysfunctional thoughts patterns that create the suffering in the first place. Acquiring the view through insight is what helps us deconstruct our habitual thought patterns and see things differently. Even perhaps one day as they really are.

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