In Vipassana meditation, we observe the sensations caused by the breath in order to concentrate from moment-to moment. There are several places where meditators feel the sensation of the breath - at the nostrils or upper lip, rising and falling of the chest or the rising and falling of the abdomen. They vary from person to person.

Our benefactor, the late Most Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw, favored observing the sensations of the breath at the abdomen. With awareness of the breath at the abdomen, a  meditator can observe the characteristics of transience in a very obvious way, for the better part of the day. Our insight into this characteristic, together with that of two other characteristics of dis-satisfaction (dukkha) and being uncontrollable / not-self (anatta) that follows, the three characteristics of existence, are the essential elements that can lead one to liberation from suffering, according to the Buddha. This awareness of the breath at the abdomen is the First unique component of the Mahasi Vipassana  technique.

The Second distinctive component of the technique is “Noting”. Noting is not an end in itself. Paradoxically, the result of noting is that it takes a meditator beyond thinking. The concentrated thought that is necessary in Vipassana practice is usually  established in two stages. The first is a simple act of noting or naming  the object. This act of  noting or  labeling points  the attention  to the object. It  is likened to a bee flying toward a flower. The label is to help encapsulates the whole experience rather than the thought  around the word itself: the feeling of a sensation, the feeling of an emotion, the wandering mind, fantasizing, planning etc.  The thinking and daydreaming for which we have been usually conditioned, keep our attention off the presenting object and distract the mind. The Buddha likened this thinking mind to a monkey that jumps from branch to branch that needs to be  reined in. Shrinking thought down to a a single word is the preliminary effort. At this stage, the meditator has to keep pulling attention out of the wandering mind and into observing. The objective here is to  “recondition” the consciousness to be present and attentive to what’s happening now. Noting at this instance is an acknowledgment or recognition of  what the body, heart and mind are doing.

As one continues to  note with increasing  attention  on the object and really feeling these sensations as they arise and pass away, the mind wondering stops and our attention stays on the object. We are now said to have reached the second stage of development of  “right concentration”.  This stage of developing right concentration is  likened to a bee landing on a flower and gathering the pollen. We have  landed on the flower and now ready to gather the pollen. The thinking has stopped and we are right there with what is happening. It is at this point that “true Vipassana consciousness” -  right awareness (samma sati), arises. Our intuitive intelligence (panna) free of the distortion of thought and image can finally begin to understand and see things as they really are. Such moments of pure vipassana known as “khanika samadhi”, are usually of short duration, but they have great potential for insight. With consistent practice, our experience eventually lengthens into a moment-to-moment concentrated awareness. This enables us to see and experience the three characteristics of existence which can finally lead one to liberation from the sufferings.