Beginning Meditation Class
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Beginning Meditation Class
Beginning Meditation Class

Insight, or Vipassana meditation is a simple form of Buddhist meditation that calms and concentrates the mind. The practice originated with the Buddha over 2,500 years ago. In the form offered here, the practice starts with learning to keep ones attention on the breath. This is a form of concentration practice. The course progresses through mindfulness practices, such as noticing the body, the feelings, ones thoughts and ones life patterns. As the practice continues, one learns to be more present in the moment.

This practice may be combined with any religion because the vipassana form of Buddhism is a meditation practice and not religious system of belief. The course may be taken to learn the practice of meditation, without emphasizing Buddhist ethics or psychology. Or, the course may be taken to explore the practice, as well as the philosophy and psychology of Buddhism.

The course is divided into 5 lessons. These lessons may be taken at ones own pace. One lesson per week is recommended, to give time for the practices and ideas in each lesson to absorbed. Each lesson covers a different meditation technique. The 5 techniques covered are

  • Mindfulness of breathing
  • Mindfulness of the body
  • Mindfulness of feelings
  • Mindfulness of the mind
  • Mindfulness of patterns

Each lesson includes three parts

  • A written discussion of the meditation techniques presented. This is generally a few pages of material to be read.
  • A guided meditation presented as an MP3 audio file which may be played or downloaded. The guided meditations increase in length with each lesson, starting with 20 minues and continuing up to 35 minutes. Vipassana sitting groups generally sit for about 40 minutes, so upon completion of these lessons, you will be ready to sit with a sitting group. There are vipassana sitting groups in many communities throughout the world. It is recommended to sit with a group if at all possible.
  • Written suggestions for practices and activities that may be useful to help one understand the lesson in ones daily life.

The Teacher

The teacher of this course and developer of this website is Mary Helen Fein. She has been meditating since 1993, and has been teaching meditation classes since 2003. In 2008, Ms Fein completed the three year Community Dharma Leader training program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, in Woodacre, CA. This program was conducted under the guidance of teachers James Baraz and Tara Brach. This program including training in how to teach beginning meditation classes and in how to advise beginning meditators on their practice.

In 2009, Ms. Fein completed a month long silent retreat at Spirit Rock.

Currently, she is a participant in the Dedicated Practitioner's Program at Spirit Rock. This is a two and a half year program of Buddhist Studies. It includes study of the Buddha's suttas (talks), learning to work with them as practical teachings for both meditation practice and life itself.

Mary Helen has also been trained and authorized to teach by her teacher of the past 15 years, John M. Travis. Mr. Travis is an active teacher of meditation throughout the United States and especially in northern California. He is the founding teacher of Mountain Stream Meditation, a group of related meditation groups in the California and Nevada Sierra foothills. He is a senior teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. He has trained with senior teachers in Asia including Burmese, Thai and Tibetan teachers in exile. He also trained with Dr. Jack Kornfield at Spirit Rock Meditation Center.


One of the Buddha's central messages is the universality of the human condition. The Buddha taught that anyone can obtain liberation from suffering. He said that there are many different means by which it can be gained, not just the method that he discovered and taught. He advised against the unquestioning, uncritical acceptance of any religious dogma or doctrine, and instead counseled a careful examination of a religion's effects upon its followers and those around them. Many vipassana practioners are involved in other religious traditions, and many are not.

Who Should Take this Course?

This is a course suitable for those with no experience in meditation, and also for those who wish to renew their practice and understanding. If you are experiencing severe mental difficulties, this course is strongly not recommended for you; you would be much better off finding an actual, in person meditation teacher or therapist, someone who can offer you guidance in accordance with your own personal psychology. Please email us from our Contact page for help finding someone qualified in your area. Meditation may not be suitable for those undergoing difficult mental states, and an online meditation course without in-person teacher support is definitely inappropriate.

What do Buddhists Believe?

Buddhists are taught not to believe anything but what they discover for themselves. The Buddha taught that there are Four Noble Truths:

  • Being a human being includes the truth of unsatisfactoriness, stress, and suffering.
  • The cause of suffering is craving.
  • There is way out of suffering.
  • The Eightfold Path offers practical tools to ease and end suffering.

What is the Eightfold Path? This is a way of living that the Buddha said would lessen our sufering and eventually lead to the end of suffering. The eight parts of the path are:

  • Wise View
  • Wise Intention
  • Wise Speech
  • Wise Action
  • Wise Livlihood
  • Wise Effort
  • Wise Mindfulness
  • Wise Concentration

Rather than a system of beliefs, Buddhism is more a way of living. Buddhists work to practice these 5 precepts:
  • Not harming other living beings.
  • Not taking anything unless it is freely given.
  • Not engaging in sexual activities when they are harmful to oneself or another.
  • Not speaking falsely. (Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it the right time to say this?)
  • Not taking intoxicants that cloud the mind.

Most Buddhists draw their own lines with these precepts. No one can tell another how to practice a precept.


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Beginning Meditation Online by Mary Helen Fein is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0