Are there several forms of Vipassana in Burma?
There are indeed different approaches to Vipassana practice. There is that of the great Indian master Goenka, who lived in Burma and spread his method around the world. It is the one taught by my master Sayadaw U Janaka. But the best known is that of Mahasi Sayadaw. Whatever the approach, the main principle is to see things as they are by being attentive, and to understand the nature of physical and mental processes by observing them with a calm mind. Developing calm and mindfulness is an essential prerequisite for practicing Vipassana.
In your teachings, you often speak of the “dynamism of the mind”. What is it about ?
The dynamism of the mind serves as the basis for perceiving what we see, hear and think. With meditation Vipassana, that is, with attention and concentration, we realize and understand that our mental states – thoughts and emotions – are impermanent and are just a dynamic process that changes all the time. Realizing by observation that they change helps to not identify with thoughts and emotions. But our ego thinks the mind is a permanent process, it identifies with them. Hence our problems! Meditation allows us to observe and differentiate beneficial emotions from those that are not. This helps us reduce our suffering. If we can see a negative emotion as an impermanent mental state, it fades faster and impacts us less.
How do you define forgiveness?
To forgive – to oneself and to others – means letting go, for our own good, with the hurt we feel. This avoids maintaining the suffering. When we offer forgiveness, it is primarily to heal ourselves. Forgiving is an act of self-healing that gives us great strength. It's a way to let go and make peace with the past.
Is forgiveness also a way of abandoning our role as “victim”?
Often it is easier to blame than to forgive. We externalize the problem thinking that the other person is the culprit and we are the victim. This role is very ego-pleasing. Elisabeth Kubler Ross (the only survivor of her family from the Auschwitz camp) said of forgiveness: “It is the radical abandonment of the role of victim”. When we forgive, we regain our power, our freedom, because we are no longer in the presence of hatred, frustration, anger. Without letting go, without forgiving ourselves for our own mistakes, we remain in the grip of our negative emotions, and the feeling of remorse and guilt can follow us for a long time.
“Forgiving is an act of self-healing that gives us great strength. It's a way to let go and make peace with the past. »
To forgive oneself is to recognize that one could have acted differently. When we recognize that we could have acted better or differently, if we hadn't been caught in the trap of our automatic reactions, it is soothing. We forgive ourselves because we recognize the strength of our “automatic pilots”. By realizing it, we give ourselves the possibility of acting another time, differently, for ourselves and for the other.
Are compassion and benevolence inseparable from forgiveness?
Compassion (karuna) and benevolence (metta) are closely related to forgiveness. These are qualities of the human heart that have the power to turn anger into forgiveness. If hatred disappears, forgiveness can take place. If we can forgive others and ourselves the hurts, the suffering, then there can be healing.
What can stand in the way of forgiveness?
Hate and the desire for revenge, unfortunately widespread in our Western societies, are serious obstacles to forgiveness! If we act out of revenge, it gives the ego temporary relief. But nothing more, because here again, we lock ourselves into our own suffering and it ends up eating us away.
For you, Metta and Vipassana complement each other, that is?
Metta is to cultivate and strengthen benevolence, kindness of heart. It is the opposite of anger, aversion, frustration… The stronger the benevolence is and anchored in the mind and in the heart, the weaker the aversion. It is easier to deal with a painful or uncomfortable emotion if it arises during Vipassana practice, as we learn to be kind to all experiences.
Vipassana is the inner sight based on mindfulness or being present. Attention helps to be vigilant in life to maintain a benevolent attitude (metta) and not fall back into our automatic and negative mechanisms. All of this complements each other.
How to integrate these notions and the practice of Vipassana in daily life?
We can practice Vipassana and Metta with full awareness of what we are doing. When we climb stairs, we can pay attention to the movements of the legs or the whole body. And, we can practice Metta for example for someone who is with us in a queue, be attentive to our breathing on the bus… The secret is to integrate these practices into daily life and not wait to be seated cross-legged on a cushion to be mindful! It is above all a state of mind that is cultivated every day in small gestures.
Do you recommend both walking and sitting meditation?
Walking meditation is as beneficial as sitting meditation. It may even be easier to practice, especially if the mind is restless. The mind concentrates on the movement and this calms the flow of thoughts. Afterwards, you can continue with sitting meditation.
What is important to keep in mind during daily practices?
We must remember to be attentive, benevolent, patient, tolerant, to forgive… At the beginning of our practice, we are trapped by our automatic rhythms and habits which often are not beneficial. The practice is a form of deconditioning unhealthy reactions (aversion, greed, jealousy, rage, impatience, attachment, etc.) and reconditioning i.e. cultivating and strengthening reactions such as generosity, compassion, benevolence, patience, honesty, etc.