The word “Vipassana” conjures up the stereotypical image of elderly people, or monks and nuns sitting in meditation, chanting and lighting incense in a pagoda. In reality, Vipassana meditation is a technique that can be practiced by anyone – regardless of origin, background or religious beliefs. Anyone interested in the technique is qualified to participate.
Vipassana means to see things as they are, not as we wish to see them. Its main objective is to eliminate suffering and promote peace of mind. Vipassana was re-discovered by Gautama the Buddha some 25 centuries ago and has been passed down from generation to generation.
Despite its prime focus on seeing reality and keeping peace of mind, different teachers of Vipassana may have slightly different approaches to the technique. “The Art of Living” focuses on a meditation technique taught by the Burmese-born Indian Vipassana teacher, Shri Satya Narayan Goenka, in the tradition of his teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin.
Goenka suffering from a severe headache, and after pointless medical treatments one of his friends suggested he try Vipassana meditation with U Ba Khin, and he did. The technique got rid of the pain, so he decided to devote himself to the technique, and even assisted his teacher in spreading Vipassana to India and countries world-wide.
U Ba Khin learned the technique from his teacher Saya Thetgyi, who learned it from the venerable Ledi Sayadaw, all of whom were Burmese.
“The Art of Living” was written by William Hart, one of the first assistant teachers of Vipassana appointed by S. N. Goenka himself. It contains basic explanations and guides to Vipassana meditation, along with some folktales that align with points of the technique, as well as questions answered by Goenka himself. Buddhist terms are all in Pali language and are translated in the glossary at the end of the book.
I came into contact with this book on the last day of a ten-day Vipassana meditation session in Battambang; it was one of my personal tasks for the completion of my final production thesis.
Before reading the book, I knew all I needed to know about the technique; but I believe that having heard or read about the technique is not enough to internalize the fundamental aspects of Vipassana meditation.
As a practitioner, researcher, and filmmaker on the topic, I sincerely believe you should participate in at least one ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat. If it works – great! And if not – no harm done.