Fieldwork in Religion, Vol 9, No 1 (2014)

An Ethnography of the Vipassana Meditation Retreat: A Reflexive Evaluation of the Participant-Observer’s Meditation Experience as an Interpretive Tool

Glenys Eddy
Issued Date: 20 Mar 2015


The practice of vipassana meditation emphasizes the role of meditative experience in coming to understand the Buddhist worldview and in effecting personal transformation. Data obtained from fieldwork conducted between 2003 and 2005 at the Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre (BMIMC) in Medlow Bath, NSW Australia, illustrate the process by which aspects of doctrine come to be accepted through an experiential understanding of their import. Many respondents attributed significance to their experiential understanding of dukkha, suffering, and anicca, impermanence, gained through Vipassana practice. My own significant instance of experiential learning involved that of the five hindrances, outlined in the Satipatthana Sutta as five mental states that hinder the meditator’s development of mindfulness. By reflecting upon the reasons for the difference between my experience and that of my interview respondents, I demonstrate the limitations of the researcher’s own meditation experience used as an interpretive tool for ethnographic data, and the need for the researcher to reflexively examine the way in which their own religious preferences and biases affect the significance they attribute to their own meditation experience.

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DOI: 10.1558/fiel.v9i1.68

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