Manual of Insight is a hefty and exquisitely-presented hardback volume of around 700 pages in which Mahasi Sayadaw presents a comprehensive and detailed guide to the theory and practice of vipassana, or insight meditation. It is thanks in no small part to the teachings of Mahasi Sayadaw that insight meditation has become so popular in the West, and this book contains many of those teachings in English, and in their full context, for the very first time.
The culmination of fifteen years of work by the Vipassana Metta Foundation Translation Committee, Manual of Insight takes the reader on a journey from the most basic foundational principles of insight meditation right through to a detailed exploration of the insights that are realized at the end of the path.
All of this takes place over seven huge chapters, which are broken down as follows:
The first chapter discusses Purification of Conduct, and explains how one can establish an ethical foundation for the practice. The code of conduct for monks is described here, but the primary focus is on the principles which should be adopted by the laity and on how conduct can be purified with meditation.
Purification of Mind is the topic of the next chapter, and this is divided into two main sections – one which deals with Mental Purification in broad terms, and another that discusses Mental Purification for Those Who Take the Vehicle of Insight to Enlightenment. As in all chapters of this book, Mahasi Sayadaw balances his presentation of theoretical principles and concepts with plenty of practical instruction, enabling the reader to actually apply what is being taught.
A chapter on Absolute and Conventional Realities follows, and here Mahasi Sayadaw begins by looking at the question: What is Reality? before discussing The Two Meanings of Activity, Two Kinds of Insight and Lessons to Learn from Those Who Take the Vehicle of Tranquillity to Enlightenment.
The Development of Mindfulness is divided into seven sections, which are: Checking Meditation Against the Pali Texts, Contemplation of the Body, Contemplation of Feeling, Contemplation of Mind, Contemplation of Mental Objects, Mindfulness of the Four Noble Truths and The Benefits of Mindfulness.
A chapter entitled Practical Instructions comes next, and here Mahasi Sayadaw delivers his teachings on The Basic Practice, Insight and The Experience of Nibbana. The depth of teaching that is provided in each chapter of Manual of Insight is tremendous, and this chapter is no exception, with the practice of meditation, and of the author’s famous ‘noting technique’, being described in great detail.
Stages of Insight Knowledge provides rich descriptions of the stages of insight that a practitioner will progress through on his or her journey, from Insight Knowledge that Discerns Mental and Physical Phenomena all the way to Nibbana.
The final chapter in the Manual of Insight focuses on The Eighteen Great Insight Knowledges, and provides discussion on The Seven Main Contemplations and The Remaining Contemplations, followed by Mahasi Sayadaw’s Closing Words.
Manual of Insight is an extraordinarily comprehensive work, and it is therefore no surprise that it also contains plenty of additional material in the last 150 pages or so. This extra material includes a section of Notes, a Pali-English and English-Pali Glossary, Bibliography and Index. There is also a Removable Insert in a pocket inside the back cover which provides a number of charts and tables outlining The Progress of Insight, Planes of Existence, Mental Factors Present in Each Consciousness, and more.
It is no exaggeration to say that Manual of Insight is a volume which all serious meditators will benefit from immensely, and those who specifically practice insight meditation (vipassana) are likely to find it quite indispensable. It is a book to learn from, refer to and treasure for a lifetime, and we applaud everyone who was involved in making these teachings of Mahasi Sayadaw so readily available.