- Vipassanā (Pāli) or vipaśyanā (Sanskrit) literally, “special-seeing”, “special (Vi), seeing (Passanā)”, sometimes translated as “insight”, is one of two qualities of mind which is developed in Buddhist meditation, the other being Samatha (mind calming).
I believe in scepticism. It keeps you from straying into the wild and the stupid. It helped me a lot. I was able to open my eyes and mind more freely to new ideas. However, I used to delight in an obnoxious flavour, annihilating any idea that cannot stand up to the rigorous scrutiny I put it through. I can affirm that I must have lost at least a bunch of potential friends using that mode of debate. Thankfully, I am not rigid and I’m habituated to laughing at myself-of-yesterday on a daily basis. So that lets me change. I am fully aware that I’ll soon be laughing at the Me-of-today but that’s ok. It’s a process of evolution that I’ve accepted, I have to endure.
My life went through an evolutionary leap recently, precipitated by a course of Vipassanā I attended. I was on one plane of awareness before. From there, I was not catapulted or elevated or raised but was painfully made aware of my own place in this existence. The impermanence of everything started becoming more obvious. Inexplicable emotions of inspiration and compassion started auto-generating in me. All attributable to what?! Merely sitting still and concentrating on one thing; The Present Moment, As-Is.
Based on something slightly more than a whim and my curiosity about the scientific academia’s newfound interest in meditation, I took the decision to apply for a 10-day course at the Dhamma Ketana Vipassanā centre at a beautiful green village called Cherianad in the state of Kerala, India. Meditation apparently has some profound effects on the human brain as per the numerous papers churned out by science. I was convinced that there’s something to it. But I did not and still do not believe that we can control everything around us if control our mind. I just wanted to learn a technique to keep my mind, which has all the qualities of a running and unstoppable train, under some reasonable control. There were no expectations of some divine revelation during the course. In hindsight, I am thankful that I chose the right technique. Vipassanā was the ideal technique that I could’ve learned, as an initiate into meditation. Personally, I don’t think I’ll need any other technique to achieve some “higher” or “exalted” states of awareness. Such concepts are still abhorrent to the sceptic in me who continuously asks the “Why?” question whenever a new philosophy knocks at the door of my mind. I don’t see why I would need any other system. Gradually, in an incremental fashion, Vipassanā revealed certain facets of mine that I was never aware of. It decimated my preconceived notions on what meditation is and what it’s real purpose must be. Let me explain how this simple technique rewired my attitude to life…
I heard of Vipassanā from some friend a few years ago. What attracted me was the peculiar Code of Conduct and rigour of the course. The salient features are listed:-
- No speaking for ten days. Called Noble Silence. Can’t even communicate through eyes or gestures. It is advised that students walk with eyes downcast and not walk together to avoid communicating with others.
- No reading or writing. The phone is deposited on arrival.
- The day starts at 4 am and goes on till 9:30 pm.
- You’ll end up sitting and meditating for at least 8 hours daily.
- You get decent veg food. Breakfast from 6:30 and lunch from 11. After the evening snacks at 5 pm, there’s no dinner.
- You wash your clothes and plates, make your bed.
- Observe the Five Precepts (Panchasila):- No killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no wrong speech and no intoxicants.
- The whole course is free if you can follow the Code of Conduct. It’s run using contributions from old students.
The course offered challenges that I’d love to see myself overcome so I applied on the www.dhamma.org website. Thinking ahead towards avoiding anguish during the course, I suspended my cigarette habit and non-veg food four days before it started and practised some cross-legged sitting. Giving up the phone was not a major challenge anyway. The family was prepped for my hiatus. I was ready for Vipassanā.
On landing at the meditation centre on day zero and signing up the undertaking to follow the rules, I found myself as the roommate of a 28-year-old traveller, Bonnie. His journey was 480 days long so far and so was his beard and moustache. He gave up his job in UAE and was on a journey to discover himself while spending nothing on razor blades. We both were clueless about what we were in for the next ten days but we gelled nicely with some philosophy and his travel stories. We knew that the speaking will stop soon and we made good use of the time to talk all we can.
All men and women were herded into the dining hall in the evening where a pleasant man briefed us. On how to be good students, on why this is a tough course and how not to give up. He introduced the volunteers (old students) who will help run the course. The end of the briefing signalled the course commencement and all rules including ‘noble silence’ came into effect. We moved to the meditation hall called Dhamma Hall and marched in row-vice to our designated spots. Square cushions were laid four per row on the gents and ladies sides. The teacher sat facing the students in the front. The time was 8 pm.
Vipassanā courses are conducted using the recorded voice of Mr SN Goenka. The teacher is only to answer the doubts of students. With a short tribute to Mr Goenka, the teacher clicked the Play button on his tablet and the course began.
Goenka has a very peaceful and pleasant voice. He likes to chant in Pali, the language of the common man during the days of Siddhartha Gotama. His instructions are clear, simple and detailed. He explained a few basics first. This is what I remember:-
- Vipassanā is the meditative technique developed by Gotama, the Buddha.
- It is not merely to calm or control the mind. It is a deep surgery of the mind aimed towards purification.
- Follow his instructions and do not apply any previously known meditation techniques.
- Don’t mix up any religious rituals/techniques with Vipassanā.
- Sit in any comfortable posture. No yogic postures or mudras were required.
- Take the technique seriously and be ready to work hard.
- Observe the Five Precepts diligently.
- Keep working hard and results are sure to come.
Goenka then went on to teach the first technique of the course – Anapanasati. This was a technique I was expecting to be taught. At his slow pace and calm voice, Goenka explained the method to concentrate our mind on a small area, the triangular area of the nostrils above the upper lip, and watch the ‘touch and flow of breath’ over this small area. The key was to be merely aware and not to manipulate the breath in any way. He explained how the mind will drift away and how to bring it back to the focus point without chastising the mind for being such a wandering one.
The Monkey Mind
The first session lasted one hour. This was the first hour of my life wherein I was made aware of the truly undisciplined nature of my mind. Apparently, the Buddhists call it Monkey Mind. All of us who had ever tried to focus our mind knows that our mind jumps from thought to thought relentlessly. However, the truly insane nature of our thought process is somehow hidden from ourselves. It jumps without any rhyme, reason or logic from one line of thought to another exactly like a lunatic would act. I was appalled. It took nothing more than two breaths for my mind to go hopping around away from where I want it to focus. Repeated failures during the first hour made me realise that the harsher my efforts to tame the monkey mind, the wilder the mind would resist getting tamed. My first lesson in Vipassanā and patience – Thy shall not try to conquer thy mind through brute force will power; it’s futile.
Days One to Three
Old student and volunteer Yaseen Shah woke us up with a bell in hand at 4 am sharp. After a nice cold water bath, I settled down on my cushion in the Dhamma hall, ready to discipline my monkey mind. Day one was a day of many revelations. Such as…
- Taming the mind to undertake the simple task of observing my own breath dispassionately is going to take way more effort than a couple of hours.
- If you take the task seriously, meditation is hard work.
- If you do not take the task seriously, your monkey mind will take you for a ride and soon. No matter what time of the day, you’ll most likely fall asleep.
- The only way to make any progress is to simply follow Mr Goenka’s instructions. When you find that the mind has wandered, acknowledge it without any guilt, smile and get it back to the triangular area of the nostrils. Fighting to get the mind to comply will be very similar to a non-swimmer trying to dog paddle hoping to stay afloat.
- Sitting in any position for a long time without moving is painful. Goenka does teach how to continue keeping your mind focused when you change your posture. However, it still is an impediment to maintaining continuity of focus.
I did not know it during the first three days that every one of these aspects/difficulties that presented itself to me will have important roles to play in training me as the going gets tougher.
Every evening, 7 to 8 pm is the time when the students gather and listen to the discourse by Goenka. He covers a lot of stories from Gotama’s life and the principles of the ‘Eightfold Path’ to enlightenment during this hour. He is humorous, simple in language and lucid. Every evening he raises the level of philosophy by a tiny bit, somehow rendering complex ideas to pragmatic and evidently useful. I used to wait for his ‘debrief’ of the technique that was practised during the day. He would invariably address all the problems that students may have faced, with generous humour, pointing towards solutions to the common issues. Within a couple of evening discourses, I could figure out that the crux of most of his debrief and the foundations of Vipassana are based on two simple techniques:-
- Observing the present and present alone.
- Observing without any judgement on what you feel.
After each night’s discourse, a short half-hour session follows during which Goenka introduces the next tiny increment in the technique. The entire next day’s practice will be using this new addition to the system. So on it goes for the ten days.
As days two and three passes by, the mind ceases to be a completely lunatic monkey, as predicted by Goenka in his evening talks. It still wanders but less often and less wild. It is more agreeable to doing what it is willed to do. Gradually there formed a distinction inside me between the mind and some other entity which controls it. I always had a suspicion that what I call as ‘Me’ is not just the sum total of my thoughts. That would merely be my mind. There’s something else there. Some kind of supra-mind. I still don’t know what it is. The journey of revelations was just beginning.
The purpose of three days of Anapanasati was for two reasons. One was to have reasonable control over the monkey behaviour of the mind and the other was to increase the mind’s sensitivity to bodily sensations. The gentle touch of the normal breath, the almost imperceptible caress of the breath on the upper lip; such sensations that always existed, were now better perceivable. The focus area was, in steps, reduced to the tiny portion of the upper lip in front of the nostrils, sharpening the mind further.
The fourth day was when the main techniques of Vipassanā were taught. It will be a gross injustice to all the Buddhas since Gotama if I attempt to even outline the technique. However, I need to bring out the basic concepts taught:-
- Observation of sensations over own body, as is. Not trying to create anything that we don’t feel nor trying to amplify anything that we do feel.
- Maintaining a detached sense of balance and equanimity as far as the attitude towards good and bad sensations are concerned.
Both these aspects ate crucial to getting the technique right. Experience of three days taught me that equanimity is one hard nut to crack. The pleasant tingling sensations during meditation are easy to get addicted to but are equally easy to observe without any craving for and discard. It is the pain that is the real challenge. It’s hard not to like the good sensations but it is way harder not to dislike pain, especially the kind ensuing from sitting still for too long. During the Vipassanā instruction session, I decided on a cyclical change of position so as to give periodic stretches to my limbs as they start paining. I was all set to dive into the newly introduced instructions in the next session. However, Mr Goenka and Vipassanā shattered my plans and introduced me to a challenge, overcoming which was the most spiritual, revealing and profound experience that I’ve ever had about my self.
The first session after Vipassana techniques were introduced commenced as usual with Goenka chanting in Pali, followed by his reiteration of the techniques to practice. I was reiterating in mind my plan of cyclical position changes whenever the pain starts. However, at the end of the chanting, he added one tiny increment to the technique. He put it simply as, “From tonight, three sessions in the day will be known as ‘Adittaan’ or strong determination. During these hour-long sessions, decide that you’ll not move any of your limbs, come what may”. It was delivered in the typical fatherly calm and compassionate voice of his, but it hit me like a bolt from the blue.
My first reaction, “C’mon Goenka Ji, that’s cheating”. I had never tried anything like that ever. I had a strategy in place to tackle the pain in the legs which was rendered redundant by Goenka. However, with a soldier’s determination, I promised myself that I will comply with the instruction. Unknown to me when I made it, keeping this promise was the kind of trial that tested my will power like very few times in my entire life.
Fifteen minutes is the average time that any uninitiated meditator can sit still cross-legged without feeling pain. Goenka’s calm voice and the instructions on how to scan the body would be followed to the T during that time. At the half an hour mark, the pain below the hip would cross beyond the negligible and it would no longer be possible to maintain a detached observer’s perspective. Goenka’s instructions are thought of less frequently than before. The use of will power to disregard the pain commence sometime during this period.
By the 45th minute, the pain in the legs reach excruciating levels and the entire mental energy is expended on bearing it. Believe me, the feeling was like as if vultures were tearing off flesh from my legs. ‘Am I causing some permanent damage to my legs, because I think I could feel each of my ligament and tendon wailing in unbearable pain?’ Despite my promise to myself, I had to know about others and their ordeal, so I peeked. There were some movers and shakers who had given up around me, boosting my ego. But many of my neighbouring meditators were sitting rock steady like Buddha incarnate. This sank my heart because I was on the verge of giving up the stillness promise and stretch my legs out. Every cell in my body was begging me to end the misery with a simple stretch of the legs.
I’m glad I did not give up. It was the sheer fear of losing face in front of myself that prevented me from breaking the promise of stillness. However, every minute of that pain was truly an hour equivalent of any other physical pain I’ve ever endured. I could observe all the effects of the three stress hormones that were being secreted copiously in my body. There was no way of knowing the time. End of every session is foretold by the voice of Goenka chanting some words of Gotama ending with the blessing, ” Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam” (meaning ‘May all beings be happy’). It takes around five minutes to wind up. Even though the pain in me wanted me to put an end to it then and there, I welcomed the chanting as I knew that only five more minutes need to be endured. I then decided to concentrate on the Vipassanā technique as a distraction. If I endured 55 minutes, giving up with five to go would be a shame, wouldn’t it? During these five minutes of this first Vipassanā session, I got a glimpse of why I may be doing this completely wrong. The first lesson in Vipassanā came back to me – Thy shall not try to conquer thy mind with brute force will power, it’s futile. I was so wrong to have thought otherwise.
Even though I was elated that I could achieve what I thought was impossible fifteen minutes ago during the pain, I was left in serious doubts about my capability to undergo a similar torture session three times a day. My apprehensions about permanent damage to my legs, I found, were not well-founded. They were just fine after five minutes of stretching. It was the pain I felt during the last hour, the level of which was new to me, that gave me the chills thinking about.
However, I remembered that there were these fleeting moments of clarity that marked peace of mind and lessening pain during those times of extreme trauma. The marked reduction of the sting of suffering during the last five minutes, while I was eagerly anticipating redemption from torture, was somewhat of a surprise to me. So maybe there is some method to the maddening pain. So I decided that the next session will be spent practising the technique as closely as taught by Goenka. I did not have the choice of giving up anyway.
Days Five to Nine
With a mind full of apprehensive hope, of not ending the day as the day I gave up, day five started for me with Vipassanā at 4:30. As this was not an ‘Adittaan’ session, I utilised the ‘no stillness’ concession and kept my legs well stretched and blood circulated in prep for the 8 to 9 o’clock session by implementing the cyclical position change I had devised the previous evening before Goenka scuttled it with Adittaan. Meditation went off well with a marked decline in the restlessness of my monkey mind and greater periods of focus on my own bodily sensations. There still were times when I found myself coaxing back my mind from some purposeless trip to some random thought, but my mind was more palatable to being seduced back to Vipassanā. The unstoppable train appeared to have slowed down.
I nevertheless prepped for another test of my will power and hardened up in anticipation. I found that I can decrease the maximum level of leg pain by sliding a small cushion between the calf and hamstring in the cross-legged position. Slouching gave only temporary relief to the back. So I realised that keeping the back and neck straight is not about looking cool like a yogi but an inevitable requirement to survive nine hours of sitting per day without causing damage to your back and neck muscles. I found the optimal cross-legged position which laid the least stress on all parts of my legs. I was physically and mentally ready to face the challenge of Adittaan.
Me, Myself and my Body
Through the day five and it’s three sessions of stillness, I was taught some lessons by my own mind and body that dispelled many myths that I held about myself. Goenka had mentioned about the ways one may gain enlightenment:-
- Through sheer devotion and belief in the words of a Buddha coupled with dedicated practice of virtues as prescribed.
- Through sheer hard intellectual work to dissect reality using knowledge and logic.
- Through the experience of reality.
Gotama said that all three paths may lead you to the same conclusion of enlightenment but there are serious flaws that make the former two less effective for ordinary humans. The personal effectiveness of your own devotion or logic can make you attached to your path of enlightenment while being unable to perceive merit in other subjects of devotion or in the logic of others. You may turn into a snobbish-buddha, which is nothing but an oxymoron.
The truth as explained by Buddhas like Gotama or Jesus is their truth, not yours. Not until You experience it. When you experience it, the conviction you feel is a natural fall out and not some belief that you subscribe to merely to conform to the beliefs of your tribe. Therefore the Buddha says, that experience is the only path which guarantees solidification of belief into conviction. And experience I did.
I found that as the pain in the leg starts, if I treat it like something that I am observing from afar, the intensity reduces magically. While I am scanning other parts, it is easier to reduce the pain in the legs if I focus better on the parts that I am supposed to focus on. The better the diligence in the technique I follow, the lesser the pain I feel. Therefore in time, I understood that the pain is, in fact, the stimulant that forces my mind to focus rather than stray. Like an alarm, the pain returned every time the monkey mind tried to go thought-hopping. And it diminished every time I cajole the mind back to practising the technique. The higher the level of pain, the easier it was for me to do this cajoling.
It was somewhat magical to the incorrigible sceptic in me because the torturous pain I felt the day before was very real and unceasing. Clearly, my body was signalling me to get back normal blood circulation into the legs, threatening permanent damage if I don’t. However, as I practice this seemingly simple technique, I am made to believe through experience that the pain is only as real and intense as I deem it to be. If I watch it with the same dispassion that I assume for discarding pleasant sensations, the pain though still very much existing, feels like a boring play I am watching. The throngs of it as it travels in waves up and down my legs, I could contemplate it without the use of much will power or adrenaline. It was a groundbreaking revelation at a personal level for me. There appeared to be three entities in interaction here.
There was this body of mine programmed physically to respond to external stimuli with self-preservation as the core principle. There’s this mind of mine programmed to use its conscious, subconscious and “unconscious” parts in advancing the interests of the body it resides in. Most of our definitions of self encompass only these two entities. Under the present scope of science and logic, not much of leeway exists for factoring in a third entity that is associated with the “Me” in us. And so I thought until I could experience my Self as three different elements. There certainly was this third entity which was distinct, independent and seemingly exalted than the other two parts of what constitutes ‘Me’.
This ‘Me’ could exercise control over both my mind and body. Without the existence or ‘assistance’ of this entity, it was not possible to view the reality of my existence with clarity. Without me using its firm but almost passive control over my mind and body, I descend into unbearable pain. It appears to be a more calm and mature version of my mind. It occupies a sublime level of existence, with the equanimity in thought that I was hoping to manifest in me by the help of this course. It does not crave or detest. It does not consider anything as good or bad but as mere manifestations of reality. Nothing to lose one’s peace over. I admired this new discovery. This new entity in me.
At the end of day five, I was eagerly waiting for Goenka’s evening discourse, hoping that he will bring some comfort by elucidating the experience of day five and its trials. He did and convincingly enough to leave me in hope for the rest of the course. He covered every one of the problems that I faced during the day and some. He had a persuading justification for the need to overcome the discomforts of meditation through meditation itself. There was no counter-argument that I could think of because everything that he asserted had been demonstrated to me by my own experiences during the day. There is no teacher better than experience, I learned.
Armed with the confidence that I can endure and the periodic assurances of Goenka’s recorded voice, I took on days six to nine with sincerity. I surprised myself on my ability to adapt to the slow but incremental complexity of the technique taught every evening. I did not experience any ‘continuous flow of vibrations’ that some Vipassis (practitioners of Vipassanā) experience. However, my mind’s sensitivity and ability to focus steadily improved. By day nine, I had explored my body thoroughly from head to toe and back again over and over numerous times and perceived sensations that I never knew existed within me. It was hard work no doubt, but I could see that most of the meditators around me had also adapted well. I could feel that there is less movement during sessions and hardly anyone was late for sessions or took breaks.
While I progressed along the path of meditation, some side effects began to show itself. Firstly, I began forgiving myself for many of my shortcomings. The facets of me that revealed the selfishness or indifference that I harboured emerged clear and bare. A sense of unconditional compassion for fellow beings was felt like a natural sensation, beyond what I thought I was capable of. I was made aware of the enormous baggage that I need to shed so as to embark on the path to enlightenment. This knowledge, of how far I am from enlightenment, did not dishearten me in the least because of the certainty that this indeed is the path. I could feel it, though unexplainable using the limited medium of language. The resultant feeling of peace and well-being I was undeniably experiencing was proof that even if I may never attain liberation from worldly joys and pains and become the next Buddha, this simple technique of observing the Self-of-Now with no attachment or aversion to any sensations, holds the key to training the inner self towards seeing everything as it really is; Vipassanā. Nothing is anything more or anything less or more joy-giving or pain-inducing than anything else.
The course was winding down and the tenth day arrived. After the last Adittaan session, at 10 o’clock, it was announced that the course was virtually over and the Noble Silence rule was no more in effect. It was the first time all meditators were getting to interact. There were people of four religions and five nationalities in the course. Everyone bonded spontaneously and shared their experiences, especially about the first few torture sessions of Adittaan. How the others ‘hacked’ their mind, using methods different from mine! Everyone reached more or less the same conclusions regarding the body, mind and self. Everyone had the same difficulty in expressing why they felt what they did by practising simple mindfulness. The ones who were second and third timers to the course had stories of changes to their life after their first Vipassanā course and why they came back. Telephone numbers and contacts were exchanged between new friends. I reconnected with Bonnie, the hairy traveller, my silent roommate of ten days.
As a parting lesson, Goenka added one “suffix” to the technique of Vipassanā as a five-minute verbalisation/visualisation exercise to be included at the end of every meditation session. It was called Metta Bhavana (Maitri Bhavana in Sanskrit) which stands for benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness, amity, goodwill, and active interest in others. It is basically a five-minute session wherein you assert your love, benevolence and willingness to help others through self-affirming statements. It’s a nice method to program your mind with good thoughts and attitude because you tend to be highly receptive to positive assertions after a session of Vipassanā. At the end of the discourse of the last night, Goenka said, “Now you know the technique and the path that the Buddha used to attain liberation and Nirvana. All you need to do is follow the Five Precepts and practice Vipassanā daily”. Basically, be a good person and meditate correctly.
There really does exist a way of looking at everything with equanimity. And it is plainly clear that if a human attains complete and perfect equanimity in all things good or bad, that person would surely be a marvellous specimen. Half of Goenka’s evening discourse was Buddha stories. I developed a whole new level of respect for the man not merely because of the stories of Christ-like compassion, but for his development of such a wonderfully simple-to-understand system that can be learned by even the most mentally less endowed among us.
I, like almost all people of all caste and creed, had this unopposed and free admiration for the man. Hinduism, a cool concept, has its time immemorial habit of absorbing any of the enlightened guru figures roaming around aplenty in the Indian subcontinent into its list of 33 Crore (330 million) gods. So Gotama Buddha was promptly added as an incarnation of God. I used to think that, that was a bit of an overkill. But when I experienced the merits of his technique and read more about him after the course, I changed my opinion about Gotama. He really was as close to God as was possible for us to know and remember as real. There really does exist a level of enlightenment wherein those who attain can be described as nothing but God -sans the magic and clairvoyance. To paraphrase Mr Goenka and put it in a dramatic way…
When someone says that I believe in Jesus because he was Son of God… (chuckle..) So what? Do you think Jesus needs your approval and adoration on a daily basis for remaining God? (chuckle, followed by calm fatherly voice..) But he was God. Because he was so liberated from all the impulses that can waver you from having nothing but compassion for others. Judge him from what he says with death staring in his face. He prays for forgiveness for the Roman soldiers “as they knew not what they do”!
Satya Narayan Goenka
Gotama Buddha was such a character, apparently. He attained enlightenment at the age of 30. He had by then sampled all types of meditation techniques and philosophical schools of belief and thought. He arrived at the most practical and simple of systems to follow for any human of any mental calibre. A system that automatically programs the inner self to see everything as they really are. All he did for his life from 30 till his death bed (literally) at the age of 80 was to roam around North India spreading the message of love and compassion through the practice of the ‘right kind of meditation (Samma Samadhi).
But I have had my major conflicts of opinion with his ideology before. I used to think that Gotama wanted us to give up all desires and live a poor life. The depth, pragmatism and most importantly, the optimism in the Buddha’s teachings were not apparent to me before. I’m not claiming any expertise in the subject nor do I intend to pursue Buddhist philosophy earnestly. Maybe when I’m too old to move around, but presently I’m convinced that, I don’t need anything else other than what Vipassanā teaches me.
What Vipassanā Does to You
Every Vipassi I have spoken to have attributed certain side effects of practising it. In varying degrees, they report the following qualities:-
- General mental peace.
- Increased love and compassion for others.
- Increased ability to forgive.
- Less lying.
- Less/no intoxication.
- Less procrastination, more action.
- More will power to persist with the aim.
- Less attachment to luxuries, exotic food, drinks, gadgets, expensive clothes and accessories etc.
- Likely to give up bad habits. (I gave up cigarettes).
- More balanced acceptance of pain and sorrow.
- More acceptance of the temporal nature of everything.
A curious fact is that the extrapolation of all of the above-listed qualities in a human will result in what we call Buddha. Once you have transcended the limit of each of these qualities, you can call yourself liberated. It is undoubtedly hard work. Nirvana is not cheap. For many of us, it may be unattainable in this lifetime. However, since we can’t be sure of another chance at life and enlightenment, we need to invest all we can into the technique.
I distrust all forms of self-help and yoga/meditation gurus-cum-entrepreneurs. I think they prey on the vulnerability of people, rich and poor alike. They are even political instruments due to their affiliations to religions. However, the Vipassanā movement has passed the sceptical dissection that I subjected it to. I think the Vipassanā movement is not a fraud and is good for every single human because…
- It is non-sectarian. There is a deliberate attempt, by Gotama I presume, to keep out any influence or even remote affiliation to any religion, creed or tribe. Absolutely impartial and compatible with any religion.
- It’s an excellent mind-calming exercise.
- It is simple and not veiled in some secret or patented technique ‘sold’ at a premium in the ‘wellness markets’ as this yoga or that.
- The purpose of this meditation technique is not to attain some ‘super-sensory’ bliss. Technique is merely to observe the present reality within the framework of your body and to do it with equanimity towards all sensations good or bad.
- Its free. Only conditions are that you observe the timings and follow the Five Precepts. Just be a good boy or girl. You may donate after the course.
- You may donate only if you have done the minimum 10-day course. So there are no big ‘investors’. You need to work hard to invest.
- It’s hard enough to be worth the effort and sense of achievement but certainly not that hard to give up. The proof is in the attrition rate. Only one in ten give up.
- Office bearers are volunteers. You may volunteer only if you are an old student.
- Vipassanā is not advertised or promoted by anything other than word of mouth and free courses conducted.
- There is no element of compulsion in Vipassanā. The mind is willed into compassion through training.
- You generally tend to gravitate towards being a truly good human when you start practicing the technique.
It is no more some esoteric high-end knowledge for a mere lay person like me. The nuances of inner self ,though not plainly clear already, are accessible to everyone, I’m convinced. A degree in theology or philosophy is certainly not a prerequisite and may even be a distraction. The inner workings of the Self are most certainly complex. However, you don’t need to search into neuroscience or psychology to devise an Inner Self training regimen. Vipassanā arms you with the ability to access the nooks of yourself that were beyond yourself to perceive before your mind developed the sensitivity for it through this technique.
I think. Think endlessly. Think in trains of thought fit for lunatics. With every thought sweeping over the past events -hurtful and joyful- or the future -with hope or despair. But I never pause to absorb the present into me. I’ve failed to see all these years that it’s the present that I own. The only moment I own. I’m immensely delighted that I learned Vipassanā – the method of seeing things As is!.
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” — Buddha
The only thing that is ultimately real about your journey is the step that you are taking at this moment. That’s all there ever is.