Manual of Insight - Foreword
The most comprehensive manual of the practice of insight meditation (vipassana), written by one of its foremost twentieth-century proponents, is translated into English for the first time.
Foreword by Joseph Goldstein
The Venerable Mahāsi Sayadaw, one of the foremost Burmese monks of the twentieth century, played a critical role in disseminating the liberation teachings of early Buddhism. He was a rare example of someone who combined the most extensive and thorough knowledge of the Pali texts with the wisdom that comes from the deepest realizations of meditation. The range of both his theoretical and practical understanding was acknowledged when he was asked to be the chief questioner at the Sixth Buddhist Council, held in Yangon in 1954.
In his teaching role, Mahāsi Sayadaw was largely responsible for the widespread practice of vipassanā, or insight meditation. In Burma he established hundreds of meditation centers around the country where ordinary lay practitioners, as well as monastics, could come and receive instruction and guidance in Satipaṭṭhāna meditation, the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, which the Buddha declared to be the direct path to liberation. In these centers and those in other Asian countries, hundreds of thousands of people were introduced to this meditation practice. Through his disciples these teachings were later brought to India, the birthplace of the Buddha, and then to the West.
The widespread introduction of mindfulness now taking place in America and other Western countries has its roots largely in the teachings of Mahāsi Sayadaw, and his great ability to convey the practical means of awakening. Although mindfulness in its secular applications has tremendous benefits, it’s helpful to remember that the original teachings of the Buddha are about liberation—that is, freeing the mind from those mental states that cause suffering to oneself and others.
In this extraordinary work, Manual of Insight, Mahāsi Sayadaw explains in depth and great detail the entire path of practice, beginning with the Purification of Conduct and ending with the realization of Nibbana, the highest freedom. It integrates some of the most abstruse elements of theoretical knowledge with the most direct and accessible practical teachings. Manual of Insight is a text to study slowly, it is a reference work to deepen our understandings, and it is ultimately a guide for our own path of awakening.
Foreword by Daniel Goleman
In Manual of Insight, the Burmese meditation master Mahāsi Sayadaw offers a gift from an ancient wisdom tradition that speaks to the urgent needs of the modern world. Many of the teachers who brought vipassanā, or insight meditation, to the West studied with Mahāsi Sayadaw or his students. And now that mindfulness meditation, a modified form of insight vipassanā, has become so popular, the time is auspicious for this deep explanation of the full path that mindfulness begins.
My own connection with these teachings was through studying with students of Mahāsi Sayadaw, mainly Sayadaw U Paṇḍita, with whom my wife Tara Bennett-Goleman and I spent remarkably fruitful time on retreat. Sayadaw U Paṇḍita has taken pride in following to the letter the path set out in the Manual of Insight. In contemporary vernacular, Sayadaw U Paṇḍita uses the term “SQ,” spiritual intelligence, to refer to the deep insights and practical tools contained in Manual of Insight, the method he has taught to thousands of students in Burma—including Aung San Suu Kyi—and around the world.
From my perspective, SQ describes the spiritual level of emotional intelligence. The keystone in emotional intelligence is self-awareness, and vipassanā gives us that ability in the most profound way. With this lens on our mind and body we can re-experience the comings and goings in our own phenomenology in a fine-grained way that breaks down the illusory sense of self that cognitive science tells us we synthesize from disparate internal inputs, weaving together these random parts into an ongoing personal narrative. That narrative, we can see with vipassanā, hides more essential truths about our true nature.
Then there is self-regulation, the many ways in which we routinely apply that self-awareness to manage our lives. With vipassanā comes sīla, the voluntary self-discipline essential to balancing and focusing our mind freed from the routine distractions and attachments of our daily lives. With this self-discipline we can create an oasis in our life where the deep introspection of vipassanā allows us to experience deeper truths about our very being.
The third part of emotional intelligence, empathy, comes in three varieties: cognitive understanding, where we see how others think; emotional attunement, where we sense how they feel; and empathic concern, where we care about their wellbeing and stand ready to help if need be. This last quality of empathy creates a caring community, a quality that modern society sorely lacks. The practice of mettā and karunā, aspects of vipassanā where we cultivated compassion and lovingkindness, speak to this need.
And finally we put these capacities together in having fruitful relationships. In the evolution of being that this path of insight aims for, the end-result shows up in a transformation of being. As people approach the goal of that path, their personal qualities become a spiritual equivalent of the heights of emotional intelligence: equanimity in all circumstances, an absence of negatives like jealousy and anger, an abundance of lovingkindness and compassion, and being awake in the present moment.
While for centuries a materialist mentality could dismiss such claims as religious superstition or cultural myth, neuroscience has begun to tell us a very different story. As recent findings with highly advanced meditation practitioners are showing, the structural and functional changes in their brain are consistent with the ancient formulations of the enduring traits that intensive practice can bring.
Fresh news from the brain lab urges us to look more seriously at these maps of the mind and how to upgrade our very being. The timing of this translation appears fortuitous.