How is "Vipassanavada" defined?

Vipassanaa, “insight”, is seeing (vi + passati), completely and perfectly, phenomena as they really are. As for the quotation of SN/SA texts, you may read pp. 34 ff, 52-3 ff, in Choong MK’s The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism.

You need to look at the verbal form, passati (and also jaanaati), presented in the SN/SA suttas, not the noun form (vipassanaa) in the texts, to understand clearly the teachings of “insight”, which is closely linked to “right view”.

Well, the whole point of this thread is that Bhante has made up a new word to describe a “thing” he and others have observed. Unfortunately the term vipassana is used in other ways, so the new term has some shortcomings.

Also, it should be noted that often a person who initiates a new way, such as the venerable Mahassi Sayadaw, will often not hold the same views as the movement eventually ends up holding.

This is what a lot of movements do, claim that they are showing the one true way, revealing the pure way that has been covered over. As I understand it, Bhante has coined this phrase to call attention the fact that he (and many others) don’t believe the claim and instead feel it is it’s own distinct thing. So there will necessarily be disagreement around the use of the term.


It is not an innovation found by Buddha. It is Vipassana, Vi means specially, Passana is seeing, and that means seeing specially as is. Those who realise at what point they move from Samatha to Vipassana in Anapana sathi know it. That step comes at the stage of Sabbakaya patisanvedi.

The Buddha did not invent or create any new terms at all for his teachings, including “vipassana”. One needs to see clearly the ‘content’ of any common terms being used in the suttas by the Buddha for his teachings.

Regarding the teachings of vipassana, one has to look at the verbal form, passati, presented in the SN/SA suttas, not the noun form (vipassana), to understand clearly the teachings. This is because the term, vipassana, shown in the suttas, is not clearly presented in any concrete details.

The teachings of “passati” presented in SN/SA suttas (see pp. 34 ff, 52-3 ff, in Choong MK’s The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism .) are not found in the texts of Brahmanism/early Hinduism, and the Yoga sutra.

Rather than just repeating the tenets of the vipassanavada

I was afraid this was going to happen. For my self I would like to know what @paul1 meant by

Vipassana is not a modern movement, it is the innovation discovered by the Buddha

“The 6 ‘higher powers’, or supernormal knowledge’s, consist of 5 mundane (lokiya, q.v.) powers attainable through the utmost perfection in mental concentration (samādhi, q.v.) and one supermundane (lokuttara, q.v.) power attainable through penetrating insight (vipassanā, q.v.), i.e. extinction of all cankers (āsavakkhaya; s. āsava), in other words, realization of Arahatship or Holiness.”—-Nyanatiloka

“Another new teaching of the Buddha was that meditative absorption must be combined with a liberating cognition.[51]

Religious knowledge or “vision” was indicated as a result of practice both within and outside the Buddhist fold. According to the Samaññaphala Sutta this sort of vision arose for the Buddhist adept as a result of the perfection of ‘meditation’ (Sanskrit: dhyāna) coupled with the perfection of ‘ethics’ (Sanskrit: śīla). Some of the Buddha’s meditative techniques were shared with other traditions of his day, but the idea that ethics are causally related to the attainment of “religious insight” (Sanskrit: prajñā) was original.”—-“Buddhism & Hinduism,” Wikipedia

At the end of every sutta describing the enlightenment is found a description of the higher powers, usually abbreviated to three, the first two relating to jhana, the last being vipassana, the removal of the cankers. Tranquillity removes the emotional fetters of greed and anger, insight removes ignorance and perfects right view:

"When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of the ending of the mental fermentations. I discerned, as it was actually present, that ‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the way leading to the cessation of stress… These are fermentations… This is the origination of fermentations… This is the cessation of fermentations… This is the way leading to the cessation of fermentations.’ My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, released from the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released.’ I discerned that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’

"This was the third knowledge I attained in the third watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose — as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, & resolute. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.”—-MN 36

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Wikipedia has a reasonable article about the “Vipassana Movement”.

For those unfamiliar, this would give a decent understanding of the 20th century context. The “Vipassanavāda” can be understood as the theoretical underpinnings of the Vipassana Movement.

In my books I underestimated the flexibility and evolving nature of the Vipassanavada. Unlike the traditional schools of Buddhism, which maintained a degree of doctrinal distinction over many centuries, the Vipassana Movement has been in a fairly rapid state of flux. Some aspects of it, of course, remain almost unchanged, but in other cases have changed drastically. Since I did my research we have seen:

  • the rise of “samatha/vipassana in balance” movements globally: Pa Auk, Ajahn Brahm, etc.
  • the rise of various “EBT” movements globally (eg. the Buddhavacana movement in Thailand)
  • The continued and rapid integration of psychology in meditation in the west. (While the relation between psychology on the whole with Buddhist meditation is complex, in terms of the samatha/vipassana distinction, it has probably had an overall positive effect, as it emphasizes a healthy integration rather than a strong distinction.)
  • the rise of “jhana-lite” movements
  • a massive increase in “self-improvement” meditation via apps and the like, which aims at a shallow improvement in calm and awareness, and thus is not really affected by differences in the higher-order goals.

An understanding of the Vipassanavada should really take into account its flexibility and diversity to a greater degree that I have done in the past.


I agree, sometimes the right concepts can bring some order in to chaos. But sometimes it can be like painting the whole earth with a .

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Just to be clear, it doesn’t look like Choong ever mentions vipassana in the book cited or make this connection between vipassana and these verbs. The two sections you’ve cited are presentations of how knowing and seeing and seeing according to reality are discussed regarding the five aggregates in SN/SA.


The book does not mention the connection between the noun form (vipassana) and its verbal form (passati). But this is just a grammar issue of the Pali terms being connected. Just like the connection between the noun pasaada (faith) and its verbal form pasiidati (see p. 235 in the book).

However, Choong in his another book, The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism, p. 45, discusses the connection between vipassana and its verbal form, passati.

Hope this helps.

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Thanks. I can imagine a semantic connection, but it would be interesting to see something more intentional.


The verb form of vipassanā is vipassati, as found in such phrases as tato tattha vipassati (snp5.15:4.4), tattha tattha vipassati (mn131:3.6), bahiddhā ca vipassati (thag7.2:7.2), sammā dhammaṁ vipassato (thig3.8:2.4), anupadadhammavipassanaṁ vipassati (mn111:2.8), and so on.

When prefixes are added or subtracted from verbal forms in Pali, sometimes they make no difference and sometimes they make a great difference. We can only understand this by looking closely at the usage in context.

In most of these cases, vipassanā has a fairly vague sense, and as the tradition says, it is used in a way that is broadly similar to other terms for wisdom. See for example the lists of synonyms in the Abhidhamma (ds2.1.1:28.2 or ps1.1:520.2), or for example mnd16:49.2:

Bodhi vuccati catūsu maggesu ñāṇaṁ paññindriyaṁ paññābalaṁ dhammavicayasambojjhaṅgo vīmaṁsā vipassanā sammādiṭṭhi.
“Awakening” is said to be the knowledge of the four paths, the faculty of wisdom, the power of wisdom, the awakening factor of investigation of principles, inquiry, discernment, right view.

or pe9:51.3:

Vipassanā ca amoho ca aniccasaññā ca anattasaññā ca imāni cattāri padāni vipassanaṁ bhajanti
Discernment and non-delusion and perception of impermanence and perception of not-self: these four states are associated with discernment.

There is no attempt to make any special link between vipassati and passati.

Vipassati is part of a broad spectrum of terms sharing a semantic field. Some of those terms also share an etymological root (anupassanā, sampassati, samanupassati, and so on). But the question is, what is this distinctive term implying and what is its contextual purpose?

While the general meaning of vipassanā is similar to many other terms, when the EBTs use vipassanā in doctrinal contexts, they do so in a unique and highly distinctive way: the meditative development of wisdom (through contemplation of the three characteristics, etc.) as a complement to samatha, the meditative development of tranquility. No other term is used in this way.

Passati and its variants are, by contrast, used in a wide range of senses and do not have the specificity of vipassanā. Some of these uses overlap with those of vipassanā, while others do not. For example, passati is commonly used to denote realization (seeing the four noble truths at stream-entry), psychic powers, jhanas, ordinary seeing, and so on.

If we reduce the meaning of the specialized term vipassanā to the general term passati we are eliding meaningful distinctions and end up not being able to explain the thing we wanted to explain. There are reasons why the modern meditation movement is called vipassanā, not passanā or anything else. Those reasons evolved from how vipassanā is used in the early texts, as a specific term for the meditative development of wisdom in partnership with samatha.

The EBT teaching of the complementary qualities of samatha and vipassanā became, in the Commentaries, teachings on different meditation methods. In the 20th century those meditation methods became the foundation for different meditation schools.

The Burmese vipassanā schools, in particular, adopted a coherent and distinct set of doctrinal interpretations, defining themselves first and foremost as teachers of vipassanā, while de-emphasizing, sidelining, or outright rejecting the practice of samatha. These doctrinal interpretations are well known, and have always been contested in Theravada. It is to give a name to this set of of doctrines that I coined the term vipassanavāda.


I think that’s a really good assessment. My impression of the modern vipassana movement has been that it primarily gained traction in the west from a small handful of American seekers like Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield and Sharen Salzberg who encountered Burmese teachers like Mahasi, Goenka and Munindraji and were captivated by a heavily Abhidhamma influenced practice that was radically different from the religions they knew. I don’t follow this movement or those teachers, but my perception is that Goldstein has been pretty open and malleable to the EBTs and Kornfield’s Spirit Rock seems to be a heavy hitter in the mainstream Vipassanavāda.


Bhante, I’ve read a few of your books (including Swift Pair of Messengers and big part of History of Mindfulness), and I’ve agreed with almost everything you wrote there and it helped me greatly to understand modern modes of practice and my concerns with some teachings. But right now I’m not sure I follow this change in defining vipassana-vada. If vipassana-vada is a movement that generally put strong emphasis on vipassana practice without prior need for deep development of samadhi, then how can “samatha/vipassana in balance” be considered vipassana-vada? Especially when Ajahn Brahm is put there as an example. I don’t know a teacher who did more for popularising deep jhanas as buddhist samadhi, and speak so much about serenity and joy as path to jhanas, which he over and over says are essential to Awakening. I know that both satipatthana and samatha are needed for samadhi in balance, but can we call this vipassana-vada? Isn’t point of vipassana-vada claims that we don’t need that much samatha for Awakening? If you could please elaborate this point Bhante, or check if you truly intended to convey that message in your post (maybe I misunderstood you) I would be grateful. :anjal: :slight_smile:


Sorry, my careless phrasing, that’s not what I meant. I simply meant that the nature and role of the Vipassanavada has changed in the global meditation context due to the increased prominence of respected teachers who do not accept it.

I think we would probably find that these days teachers are, on the whole, less dogmatic and more flexible in their approaches, which is a good thing.


Thank you for clarification Bhante :slight_smile: Now I understand, this points were just “new movments” outside of vipassana-vada. Well things are looking up a bit… but for example S.N. Goenka vipassana-vada don’t have any flexibility, and still their courses are full of people.

But hopefully other branches of vipassana-vada are indeed evolving, or rather going back closer to the roots of balance. :slight_smile:


Right. But the meditation culture those people encounter outside a Goenka retreat is more broad, less monopolized. Fun fact, both Vens Akaliko and Vimala were long-term Goenka meditators with many retreats under their belts.


This might just reflect my own experience, but a massive part of the appeal of Goenka Vipassana retreats is that they are free, safe and reliable – you know exactly what you are going to get (after the first one). If a Theravada-based Buddhist organization teaching the integrated approach could replicate what Goenka created, I think it would be even more successful. What novice meditator wouldn’t want instruction and practice in tranquility as well as insight?

If that same organization could also foster a community as welcoming and supportive as the Plum Village tradition, it would be no contest.

Too bad moneybags Goenka met Sayagyi U Ba Khin and not Ajahn Chah.


And I believe Ven Analayo is also in that category. His book and guided meditations
Satipatthana Meditation: A Practice Guide use body scans to work through several of the exercises: body parts, elements, feelings, …


I think the word “replication” explains why this hasn’t happened. One essential element of Goenka’s “replication” is that he was happy for his centers to teach via simply playing a video. I personally would never want this to happen, and I don’t know anyone who would. You have to see the people that you’re sharing with, talk to them, get a feel for where they’re at. And that makes it much harder to “replicate” the experience on a large scale.

Oh, yes, I forgot.