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The Differences Between Vipassana (Often Referred to as Insight Meditation) And Transcendental Meditation

Allow me to start this post with an important disclaimer: I am not a transcendental meditation ("TM") practitioner, and I am not a TM teacher. I'm trained in the Vipassana tradition, I personally practice Vipassana meditation and I've taught, or led, numerous classes and other groups.

One hundred percent of what I know about TM is from reading and talking to TM practitioners, and I do believe that one can practice both forms of meditation-- though I've never done so. If anything that follows is incorrect, I'd be more than happy to clarify and be further educated-- my sole purpose is to educate curious readers.

That said, I do believe that the two practices are significantly different in a number of important ways, and a brief discussion of the differences follows:

1. Exclusive Focus of Attention vs. Acceptance of Distraction. It seems that the mind of a TM practitioner never wanders, and distraction is something that simply never occurs, because of concentration on the prescribed repetition of a particular word, phrase or sound ("mantra").

Vipassana recognizes the inevitability of mind wandering and other forms of distraction and recommends the usefulness of what is commonly referred to as an "anchor" (typically the breath) to which one can returns one's attention, before beginning the meditation process again.

2. Repetition of a Prescribed Mantra vs. Open Observation of 
Thought, Emotion and Physical Feeling. As mentioned above, TM practitioners are instructed to silently repeat a prescribed mantra that is assigned by a TM-authorized teacher. Vipassana practitioners have no assigned mantra and are instructed to open their awareness to any thought the mind may be thinking, and any emotion or physical sensation the body may be feeling.

3. Value Free Attention vs. Avoidance of Judgment and Attachment. The TM practice is free from any concern or attention to anything other than a prescribed mantra. The practice of Vipassana teaches practitioners to avoid the qualities of judgment and attachment, while dispassionately observing the workings of the mind and/or body.

4. Recognition of the Mind Exclusively vs. Recognition of Both the Mind and Body. The TM practice directs attention only to the mind, whereas the practice of Vipassana directs attention to both the mind and the body.

5. Prescribed Practice vs. Freedom of Choice. TM practitioners are taught to meditate for a prescribed length of time, at set intervals. The practice of Vipassana has no pre-set times or intervals.

6. Singularity of Purpose vs. Multiplicity of Purpose. The practice of
TM has only one purpose: Relaxation. Vipassana encourages not only relaxation, but also, self-awareness and self-regulation.

7. Effortlessness vs. Effort. TM teaches that a practitioner do nothing other than silently repeat a mantra. In contrast, Vipassana instructs practitioners to open their awareness to any thought the mind may think and any emotion or physical sensation the body may feel and observe them dispassionately, until they pass of their own volition.

8. Confidentiality vs. Absence of Restriction. A TM practitioner's mantra is strictly confidential and zealously protected. As stated above, Vipassana requires no mantra and is not restricted by any standard of confidentiality.

9. For profit vs. Free of Charge. TM practitioners pay a fee for instruction and assignation of a personal mantra. Vipassana instruction is freely available, unless an instructor or third-party provider, requires otherwise.

Is there a "better" or "worse" practice? As a practitioner of Vipassana meditationI suppose you could say that I'm somewhat biased, but I offer no judgment and have tried to be strictly factual in my descriptions of the two most popular kinds of meditation (here, in the States).

Whatever one's preference, meditation is a tremendous tool for self-care. So, start taking care of yourself!


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