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Contemplations leading to the bliss of letting go.
I am very pleased to inform you that… ahem… drum roll please 🥁…
I Wrote a Biiig Book About Advanced Buddhist Meditation!* 🥳
(*and it’s mostly filled with empty space 😅.)
Seriously though, it may change your life, and you can download it here.
The happiest moments in my life have all been due to Buddhist meditation.
When I first tried meditation at the age of 17, though, it felt really uncomfortable.
It took me some time to understand that,
I needed to approach my well-being holistically and do the right kinds of physical exercises to feel comfortable sitting.
I could use certain adjustments in my meditations, most important of which are:
keeping my mouth closed and breathing only through my nose,
tuning into my breath without controlling it, and
keeping my mind light and open.
With proper, consistent training, we can reach a point where we can enjoy most of our meditations, soothe painful emotions in our daily lives, and produce feel-good hormones more or less on demand. This is amazing and the reason why mindfulness has taken the world by storm in the last twenty years, yet this is only the calming part of meditation, known in Pāli, the language of the Buddha, as samatha.
The Buddhist system of meditation has more in store for the world. It has vipassanā: analytical contemplations leading to the freedom and bliss of letting go.
I expect vipassanā to be Buddhism’s next great contribution to mental health care and mainstream society. Yup. Feel free to quote me on this.
After ordaining as a monk in 2009, I have read the 8,646 original scriptures of Buddhism, and at first I didn’t understand anything about the Buddha’s teachings on vipassanā… not only because it’s a profound subject, but also because of what I later realized were mistakes in translation.
In recent years, I have begun to see the amazing value of the Buddha’s teachings on vipassanā. Although I’m still an unripe avocado 🥑 (not a holy guacamole 😅), I know from personal experience that vipassanā practices have tremendous healing and liberating power, and that they can be successfully practiced by anyone, including meditation beginners, provided they receive proper instruction and dedicate a little time to them.
Last fall, after sharing the Daily Wellness Empowerment Program with the second cohort, I proposed them vipassanā workshops. Before entering into vipassanā territory, participants had to accept some rules of engagement: no joking around before the workshop, a clean room to meditate, and utmost silence and seriousness. I told them that I was not interested in setting rules for their own sake but I would not be comfortable sharing about something as sacred as vipassanā in a distracted space. Furthermore, the real value of vipassanā can only be experienced in deep meditation, not by talking or philosophizing, and it would be a pity if they did not give themselves a chance to experience what the Buddha declared to be a higher form of happiness.
They all agreed to these conditions.
Each workshop went something like this:
15 min guided samatha — usually mindful breathing,
15 min guided vipassanā — exercises like those in the book,
15 min integration phase — we opened our eyes but continued meditating, reviewing what we did,
15 min for one or two questions and their answers.
My two goals in these workshops were for everyone to
experience the bliss of letting go, and
be able to practice vipassanā on their own, without my guidance.
To my amazement, all the participants achieved these two goals in the first session.
(A participant recorded this session surreptitiously. It’s here if you’re interested, but the audio quality is not great and the recording stopped during the Q&A. I have asked participants not to record the following workshops, but I’ll try to create guided vipassanās for my YouTube in the future.)
I am not saying this to imply that the practice of vipassanā is easy or to guarantee that you, the reader, will get quick results. Vipassanā is not easy. But it’s definitely easier than what most people think, provided you get the right instructions and give it a serious try.
Here is what some participants said about their experience:
"I had been reading about meditation and doing retreats for a long time, but when I did vipassanā with Brother Promise, I was able to touch a completely new meditative state: my mind dissolved, stillness and deep joy arose. It was a turning point in my practice. After just half an hour of guided meditation, a door had opened, a new path had been discovered. I had to do it again several times to anchor the neural pathway, and since then my mind naturally seeks and finds the bliss of letting go, especially in situations in my life where the inner pressure is too great. Sometimes vipassanā is the only thing that brings me back to peace.”
“Practicing vipassanā filled my heart and mind with peace and tranquility. These practices brought me to a space in the present moment where there was no pain, no worry, no anxiety, and no longing for anything, including knowledge or wisdom.”
"Practicing vipassanā with Brother Promise really helped me in my life. I was able to help myself deal with some challenging life experiences that were getting me down. When I was struggling with unrequited love, the various vipassanā practices Brother Promise taught me such as contemplating the inconstant, unreliable and inappropriable nature of all phenomena allowed me to touch the bliss of letting go and dissolve some of the suffering I was experiencing.”
“Attending the vipassanā workshops with Brother Promise was a great experience. The different vipassanā contemplations gave me a better idea of which ones work best for me and allowed me to taste the bliss of letting go.”
“I have extensive experience with psychedelics but I am a beginner in Buddhism. After attending the vipassanā workshops with Brother Promise, I can say that psychedelics may point the way but vipassanā is the real thing, the pearl of Buddhism, a systematic training to completely let go without the need for external substances. In our first workshop, Brother Promise led us into increasingly higher states of concentration, like a space rocket being launched. At some point though, he invited us to let go of meditation altogether. I was unsure at first, but decided to trust and let go. Soon after it was like, “Oh, sh*t!” I really saw this beautiful space of surrender, where everything is still happening but there is no more judgment, no more regret, no more resistance. After vipassanā, my mind contracts back and gets distracted, and I’m not enlightened, but at least I understand how suffering works: it’s the mind getting attached to changing things and losing touch with reality, and I know that I don’t have to practice meditation for hours a day to get in touch with the bliss of letting go.”*
“Before the first vipassanā workshop, I was really anxious. I thought, ‘I can’t do this. My meditation practice is not good enough.’ I was also afraid of going crazy. But I told myself, ‘Okay, just trust and try.’ During the first meditation, when self-doubt came up, I just came back to the guidance, and I eventually experienced the bliss of letting go: a sinking in, a release of tension, an arrival in the here and now, and the mind feeling like, ‘Oh, okay…. I don’t have to take life so seriously, everything is fine.’ It felt so good to let go. It wasn’t something I ‘did’. I just trusted and followed the guidance.”
“Vipassanā allows us to see things as they are, without our concepts getting in the way. It allows us to see that what makes us suffer are all these concepts that divide things and create duality where there is only a movement of things that ultimately do not belong to us. Vipassanā brings us back to an open and luminous state of mind that allows things to simply exist as they are. We are open, available, and whole, without any concept of ‘I’ or separation. In the workshops, I remember touching an eternal space without beginning or end, and allowing life to simply be as it is. I am so glad you are sharing this book, to help people not just read about the bliss of letting go but actually experience it.”
Success in Vipassanā
As I understand it, the likelihood of success in one’s vipassanā practice depends first on
the quality of the instructions.
And second, on a combination of
one’s baseline level of desire and aversion (the more equanimous, the easier the vipassanā practice),
one’s previous experience with meditation, and
the seriousness with which one commits to the vipassanā exercise.
Any one of these factors can offset the two others. Someone with an extraordinary baseline of mental purity may understand vipassanā even if they lack prior meditation experience or intensity of commitment to the practice. Someone with extraordinary meditative capacity may understand vipassanā by temporarily suppressing their strong baseline of desire and aversion and paying only a moderate attention to the instructions. And someone with extraordinary commitment to the vipassanā exercise may temporarily suppress their desire and aversion, contemplate successfully and experience the bliss of letting go, even if they have no or very little prior meditation experience. I have seen it happen.
Having said that, it is of course best to put all these three factors on our side by cultivating mental purity in our life, training in meditation for some time, and committing seriously and intelligently to the vipassanā exercises.
The exercises in this book are based on the original teachings of the Buddha, while being colored with my own understanding, phrasing, and meditative experience. My hope is that this book will give you simple, clear instructions on how to begin your vipassanā practice without having to invest a lot of time and energy in studying all the suttas and wrestling with difficult Pāli terms.
However, if you want to make up your mind about the Buddha’s teachings, you will eventually have to read all of the suttas for yourself and become familiar with some Pāli terms. In nature, when chicks are newly hatched, it is natural for them to rely on their mother bird to hunt and pre-chew their food for them, but when they grow up they have to learn to hunt and chew for themselves. In the same way, when we are born into the Dhamma (the Buddha’s teachings), it is a good idea to learn from someone with more experience who can pre-chew the teachings for us and offer them to us, in our own language, in a way that is relevant to where we are, but as we grow up in the Dhamma, we should all be able to seek out the Buddha’s teachings and chew on their meaning for ourselves.
To do this, I suggest you go to suttacentral.net, make a map of the five collections of discourses (nikāyas) and start reading, keeping track of what you’ve read and what you have left to read. If you’d like more tips on how to study the Buddha’s teachings, you can drop me a line and I’ll write an article about it in the future.
This whole Mental Health Revolution is about empowerment.
And the Buddha’s teachings are “ehipassiko”, “that which calls you to come and see”, and “paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhī”, “to be realized by each individual through wisdom”.
Vipassanā is the real deal, and even if vipassanā practices seem strange in the beginning, I believe that if you give them a serious try, reading the instructions carefully and setting aside quiet, undistracted time for them, you will soon have a taste for their amazing healing and liberating potential.
We will talk more about vipassanā in the future, as I hopefully deepen my own understanding and practice. Until then, the best of what I currently know about it is in this book. 🎁
Happy letting go.
This newsletter is free and will remain free. It is 100% written by me. I only use AI to help me with the spelling, grammar, and word use. I welcome concrete and specific suggestions for improvement.
The #1 thing you can do to get started on this Mental Health Revolution is to print a Daily Wellness Empowerment Program (DWEP) Sheet and get going.