Archive | January, 2017

Insights from my 10 day Vipassana Session at Bangalore

30 Jan

It was an intense and powerful program and by the 10th day I could clearly see the benefits. And this they say is just the beginning. A program conducted with deep commitment and compassion that touches you. A program conducted purely by volunteers for which there is no charge. A unique program that all should explore.

Vipassana is a powerful technique of Strengthening & Purifying the mind. Its the original pure technique that Gautama Buddha shared with his followers after his enlightenment. The intent of this Blog is to help first timers attending a Vipassana session to get a fair understanding of how the jigsaw puzzle falls into place over the ten days. My first Vipassna session at Bodh Gaya was about 3 years back and I left on the 5th day. Now after having completed the course I realise that I made a mistake and was looking at it piecemeal day by day. I hope first timers after reading this blog will not make the mistake of leaving in the middle.

Disclaimer – There is no substitute to attending this program – the learnings , benefits , awareness that one will get from attending the program cannot be documented in a blog.

vipassana-buddha

What most people say when you tell them ” I am attending a Vipassana session” 

When I told friends that I was attending a Vipassana Course the initial reaction was – “Its very Tough , you hardly get to eat anything , you have to wake up at 4 and meditate for 10 hrs every day , you can’t talk for ten 10 days… ” – all of this is true. But this was easy for me . I am used to waking up at 4 , and with no physical activity and talk the healthy vegetarian food they provide was enough – never felt hungry. Staying quiet for ten days was a pleasure – away from noise and pollution in a serene and peaceful ambience.

So what makes it Challenging 

Its a mind game. A wild elephant does not want to get tamed. Similarly the mind does not want to be controlled. This is the battle across the ten days. Your mind feels like a paper boat on a stormy ocean being tossed up and down. The mind is so strong and free willed – its been roaming freely for so many years – suddenly trying to control it is a challenge.

Lets step back and define the problem – Why Vipassana , what is the problem that we are trying to solve. 

2500 years back Buddha saw Misery not just in his life but across all his previous births. That stands true today – rich or poor , old or young there is a lot of misery in the Human Mind.

The root cause for Misery is Craving and Aversion. Every seer and enlightened person has said this but nobody has been able to give a solution. Vipassana is a simple, proven technique that when practised regular help us solve for this problem .

 

So whats the solution 

Two skills you need to develop – 1. Be Aware 2. Be Equanimous. These are like the two wings of a bird that helps you soar and overcome the challenges of misery.

Every time there is a Craving or an Aversion you sow a seed in your mind which grows and multiples. By being equanimous you do not sow the seed and over a period the old seeds die.

Vipassana helps you to purify the mind of the old seeds that have been sowed and stop new seeds being planted. So over time you mind becomes pure.

Sounds easy but whats the methodology  

You follow a 3 step process

You need to take a vow and follow the foundation of the practice sīla — moral conduct. Sīla provides a basis for the development of samādhi — concentration of mind, which is the second step, and purification of the mind is achieved through paññā — the wisdom of insight to observe things as it is. This is the third step.

  1. The key percepts of sīla are – Maintain Noble Silence (Silence of body , speech & mind – even eye contact is not allowed). Other rules – No Stealing, No Lies , No Killing ( Not even a mosquito) , No sexual misconduct , No Liquor /Intoxicants and total segregation of male and female meditators.

2. samādhi is about taming the mind and using it in an incisive manner to purify the mind.

3. And finally paññā is about observing things as is – observing the Truth within you with equanimity – neither like or dislike.

A fundamental principle behind Vipassana is that everything is constantly changing – nothing is permanent. The minutest cell in the human body  the smallest subatomic particles that are in constant transition – generating and regenerating itself almost a trillion times every second. In effect the body is nothing but wavelets.

So whats the Viapssana Technique that you practise for ten Days 

There are two Techniques that you Practise.

Anapana Sati – a simple technique to control your mind by observing your breath and then observing the sensations in your body. A sensation is nothing but a Electrochemical reaction and the body is full of sensations – our gross mind is unable to observe them. But when you sit in meditation for ten hours a day concentrating on a specific part of the body you are able to observe the sensations on the 2nd or 3rd day. Anapana Sati is a technique to sharpen the mind.

On the 4th Day evening you are initiated to Vipassana. You now move the mind from the head to Toe and Toe to head observig the sensations all across the body. Sensations may be gross or subtle , some you may like , some you may have an aversion to. The training is to observe the sensations with equanimity and move on. You will also see that every sensation dies after certain time following the rule of impermanence.

As you continue this process observing pain, itching , heat , perspiration , tingling, and many more sensations Gross & Subtle …. in an equanimous manner you are purifying the mind of impurities and they emerge as old hidden thought , as tears , some get gassy , multiple things happen and each experience is unique to an individual. You can sense changes happening within and thats what causes the upheaval of the mind. Thoughts flow in abundance – I remembered my class 8 Newtons Laws and all the Trigonometry formulas from Class 11 / 12. Minute details from 30 – 40 years suddenly come in front of you. Sweet memories make you smile and the bad ones bring tears. Fantasies and dreams float by. And you observe and observe quietly.

How intense can the sensations be

They can be very intense – in one of the Dhamma Talks Goenka Ji talks about a Scientist from US who came to his teachers meditation centre in Burma and his body was literally jumping up and down while in meditation. His sensations were intense – this was not a flying Sadhu who was experiencing weightlessness but a person full of impurities that would require a lot of cleansing.

Sounds simple – so can we cleanse ourselves in ten days by doing this 

This is just the beginning. You will definitely feel a lot better after ten days as you would have started cleaning the store impurities of so many years – but you need to continue this for a long time. The recommendation is to practise for at least 2 hrs a day after the ten Day program and also to attend a Ten Day session once every year.

And its not just the practise you follow the principles of Sīla or morality in your day to day life. Experienced Vipassana practitioners then move on to 15 , 20 , 30 and even 45 day programs.

Which are the most Challenging Days 

Day 2 and day 6 are the most challenging days after learning the Technique and practising them for a day the mind gets boiling and frenetic. There are terabytes of thought that flood your mind, you go up and down. Old memories from childhood, from work , from old friends , acquaintances , good memories , bad memories, they all come gushing out. You are quiet – there is no other outlet to distract you , so you have no option but to reflect.

I had attended an earlier program at Bodh Gaya and exited on day 5 – so I was aware of the 1st 4 days and actually enjoyed it. The routine was quiet , the peace and quiet and serenity was enjoyable. I have been doing Aana Pana for the last 3 years so the technique was not new to me. On Day 3 I went into deep meditation and did not hear the 11 AM Gong for lunch and the friendly attendant had to shake me awake. Maybe If he had not I would stayed in deep meditation for days and got enlighted !

But Day 6 was very challenging. At 5 PM after tea as I was sitting quietly by a corner under a tree reflecting on the burst dam of thoughts a mosquito comes and sits on my nose. I instinctively try to clap and crush it – but remember that I can’t kill it. He is a smart mosquito – he comes back after 6 PM inside the meditation hall during the “Addithanaa” session – this is a 1 hr session where you try to develop strong determination by not changing position , moving legs or opening your eyes. I can sense him sitting on my face. I twitch my face but he hangs on. I can feel the piercing of my skin as he draws blood and I remember the instruction – ” feel the sensation – this will also pass” – and it does pass. The guy sensed easy blood and came back the next day – but this time I was prepared with a. liberal dose of Odomos and had the last laugh.

On different days aI saw different symbols that expressed the state of my mind. On day 3 there was a eagle soaring in the sky – gliding up , coming down sharply and then being static mid air. On Day 6 there were multiple monkeys in a Tree in the campus. Jumping up and down – and thats exactly how the mind was. And on day 9 the same tree was full of parrots chirping happily.

Things start getting better by day 7, and 8. You also tell yourself that 70% done , 80 Done and the end is near – that helps.

By day 9 & 10 the mind is so focused and strong that you feel its like a beam of lazor. On day 9 I tried focusing my mind at the eyebrow centre – and boom there was a flash of light and I could immediately sense a strong pulsating sensation at the Pineal gland in the back of the head. Normally this takes 5 – 15 minutes of focused attention during my Yoga sessions and even then I feel a warm sensation and not throbbing. I then tried focusing my attention in all the energy Centres and there was instantaneous reactions there also. ( The practise does not encourage focusing on any specific spots and concepts like Chakras are not talked about in Vipassana – this was my own experimentation)

So what is unique about this Program 

Its an experiential program. There is nothing theoretical about it. Your experience is basis how you implement the teachings. Goenkaji explains this very well with an example. When you visit a Restaurant you see the menu and feel hungry , you then see the person next table relishing the food , that makes you more hungry – but finally you taste the food and relish it. Attending lectures and hearing about the experiences of others is good – but there is no substitute to experiencing the eternal trust as is by yourself.

Its different from other meditation where you chant a mantra or “Om” or Focus on a god or goddess. That helps to calm the mind at the surface level – but does not get deep to cleanse the mind. Been mantras like Om create a high level of Vibration – but these are externally created vibrations – In Vipassana nothing is created from outside , all you do is observe whats happening inside.

Who is the Teacher and how is the course conducted

The principal Teacher is Sri S.N.Goenka ( Late). All the sessions are his Audio / Video recordings. Goenkaji or Guruji was a successful businessman in Rangoon and learnt this technique in 1955 from his teacher U Ba Khin. He worked with him for 14 years and came to India in 1969. The technique that is taught is the pure and pristine form of Vipassana that Gautama Buddha had shared 2500 years back. It had got lost in India and Goenka Ji brought this back to the country. He is a great orator full of compassion and logic. There is no mumbo jumbo of this program – it will appeal to the analytical mind. There was a prophecy that 2500 after Buddhas death the knowledge of his teachings would come back to India and then spread across the world. 1969 was the 2500th year – that was the year Goenka Ji came to India – so maybe the prophecy is coming true.

At the session there are Assistant teachers who facilitate the program and can help you with any questions you may have on the technique.

life-of-s-n-goenka-2

So is this Buddhism

Goenka Ji emphasises again and again that this is universal and people from all religion attend the Vipassana program. It is a program that help in conversion from Misery to happiness. There are no mantras, Talismans , Images, etc referenced anywhere in the program. these are the original pristine teachings of Buddha on how to develop on the path to enlightenment.

However during the program you are told not to practise any other rites or rituals.

Where are the centres located and how do I enrol

There are multiple centres in the Country. You can register online at https://www.dhamma.org/en/about/vipassana. I attended the session at the Bangalore centre in Tumkur. Most sessions get completely enrolled 2 – 3 months in advance. The HQ are at Igatpuri – Nasik and the centre there looks like heaven.

img_2993

Will I get to stay in a single room – How is the food – Whats the schedule …. 

Depends on the centre. The Bangalore Centre has 40 Single rooms and also Dormitories. Old Meditators are given preference for single rooms and then its allotted on first come basis. Rooms are simple but clean and functional with hot water, fan , western toilets etc.

img_2964

The schedule is taxing you start at 4 and and at 9 PM. Food is simple and nutritious. A good sumptuous lunch , and a decent breakfast are the primary meals. Tea and a very light snack are served at 5 PM.

img_2979

Food is simple veg – we had Upma , Poha, Pongal , Idli for breakfast  on different days and Rice , Roti , Vegetables , Sambar , Rasam, Raita , Salad, Buter Milk for lunch. Its self service and you clean your own plates after use. You can help yourself to additional servings if you are hungry.

img_2988

Whats the Charge , who are the attendees 

There is no charge – everything is provided free of cost. On the last day you are free to donate whatever you feel like.  Anybody is welcome to attend- there is no class or sect bar.

img_2971

Any other benefits ? 

Yes its a great detox program – the soulitude , simple food, No talk calms your mind and also helps you to lose weight. I lost 4 kgs of body weight – but I can’t measure the head weight I have lost.

img_2968

 

Thank You – India Railways and Mysore Police

18 Jan

I have heard great things about the Indian Railways and its improved efficiency ever since Suresh Prabhu has taken over. The trains are cleaner, the platforms and the bathrooms are sparkling clean (At least in South India), Trains are punctual.

A few days back I had a great experience – in the Chennai Mysore Shatabadi. On Sun 15th Jan we boarded the Chennai – Mysore Shatabdi at 6 AM headed to Bangalore. We were a group of 6 with 5 suitcases and many small bags and accessories.

hqdefault

After a very comfortable journey in a very neat coach we got off at Bangalore Majestic. I always take count of the suitcases before we leave – but this day there was some miscommunication , and I was not as alert as usual. We came back home and realised that we had left a suitcase in the Train. It was my dad’s suitcase and had his medicines and a few other important items.

I had no clue what to do and there was a sense of panic at home. Searched the web for the station numbers at Majestic and Mysore – but the numbers that popped up were obsolete and not out of service. I then tried contacting some business associates at Mysore who could send someone to the station and pick up the Suitcase from Coach C5. But being a Sunday at 12 Noon – nobody was reachable.

At my wits end I called my friend seeking advice. He asked me to call 139 Railway Enquiry. After a few options I finally reached a friendly call centre advocate who politely told me that she could not help and I would need to contact the Railway Police Mysore for Lost & Found – she was not able to help with the number.

After multiple Google attempts I finally reached this site http://202.138.101.165/railwaypolice/Railway%20Police%20Contact.html. 

Fortunately it had a Mobile Number listed for Mysore (9480802122) – which I immediately dialled. And thats when the efficient miracle started.

The phone was picked up on the second ring and a confident no nonsense efficient voice answered me. I explained the situation – he responded by saying that Shatabadi was just entering the platform and he would send one of his team to C5 to locate the suitcase and call me back.

I waited patiently invoking the universal energy – my mother was very confident that we would get the suitcase back. Expecting a call back from a Govt official was rare. But this man was different – within 10 minutes I got a call back saying he had traced the Suitcase and he would be sending it back with Pappu Khan the pantry boy in C5 Coach and I could pick it up at 420 PM when the train reached Bangalore Majestic.  He gave me Pappu Khan’s number – I called him and established contact.

img_2949

We were there at the station at 4 PM and promptly at 4.20 the train chugged in Platform no 7. As we waited anxiously Pappu Khan was at the gate with our suitcase. We thanked him profusely.

For me a miracle had happened – I had never expected a lost suitcase in the train would be got back so easily. And it all happened because of  Mr S Krishnamoorthy – Sup Inspector Police at Mysore Railway Station.  Thanks a lot Mr Krishnamoorthy – people like you instil confidence that in todays world there are still good people. It was your attitude and efficient approach that made things happen. You are a role model. Thank You Sir – May God Bless you and your Family. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://202.138.101.165/railwaypolice/Railway%20Police%20Contact.html

 

Best of Kanchipuram in 10 hrs

2 Jan

Kanchipuram – The golden city of 1000 temples (Currently about 125 are in good shape),  is just 71 kms from Chennai. Its an irony that I have been travelling to Chennai  multiple times every year for the last 20 years but have never been to Kanchipuram. Most tourists go to Mahabalipuram not realising that the Pallavas Capital – Kanchipuram is equally close.

Its a sheer coincidence that within 10 days of visiting Varanasi (Kashi) I was at Kanchipuram. Many regard Kancipuram to be the second holiest city in India after Varanasi. Its in the list of 7 sacred cities of India (the Mokshapuri cities – it is believed by living or death in these cities you get liberation from the cycle of birth and death). The similarity between Kashi and Kanchipuram is not just in the piousness and the temples but also in the world famous silk sarees that they make.

sri-ekambaranathar-temple-kanchipuram-tamil-nadu

Kanchipuram was under Pallava rule from 6th – 8th century , followed by the Cholas and then the Vijaynagar kings. Many of the amazing temples were built by the Pallava in the 6th and 7th century and still stand majestically in great shape. While most Hindu Temples in South India are Shaivite or Vaishnavite bastions , Kanchipuram has divided itself into Vishnu Kanchi surrounded by the Vardarajan Perumal Temple and Shiva Kanchi surrounded by the Ekambaranath temple while the Kamakshi Amman temple stands in between as a place of Shakti worship.

Kanchipuram has over a 1000 temples and you can spend weeks visiting them – but then there are a few that definitely merit a visit.

We left Chennai at 530 AM and reached our first stop – The food Temple – Saravana Bhawan, on the Chennai Bangalore Highways just before Kanchipuram by 7 AM.(Lakshmi Narayani Complex, NH-4,Banglore Highway | Near Meenakshi Medical College). Lots of parking , spacious , clean toilets – and the standard high quality veg breakfast of piping hot idli , Wada and Pongal – was a good start to a great day.

1st Stop –  Ekambareshwar Temple ( Budget 45 min on a week day not crowded)

6AM – 1230 PM & 4 PM – 8.30 PM 

Most famous Shiva temple of Kanchipuram – considered to be one of the oldest in the country. Here Shiva is worshipped in the form of an Earth Linga. One of the rare temples where no Abhishekam is done on the lingam.  One of the tallest temples in S India the Gopuram soars to a height of 192 feet. The temple is spread over 20 acres. As per Legend Shiva was enraged with Parvathi and sent her packing to earth. She prayed at this temple spot under a mango tree for many years by making a Shiva Linga out of the sand of the Kamba River. Finally Shiva came to earth and stayed with her at this Temple. To this day people worship the mango tree. The 3500 mango tree is believed to produce 4 types of mangoes from 4 branches that stand for the 4 vedas.

The temple compound also has a Vishnu Shrine – Nilathunda Perumal – which is revered as one of the 108 Divya Desams. The temple also has two large tanks. The temple was originally built by the Pallava king and later enlarged by the Chola and Vijaynagar kings. Well maintained – neat and clean it was empty on a weekday we visited – and we could cover it well in 45 minutes.

img_2270

17419487094_c94292210d_b

2nd Stop – Kailasanathar Temple ( Budget 30 – 45 Minutes) 

9.30AM – 1230 PM & 4 PM – 6 PM

img_2272
This temple was built by the Pallava king Rayasimhan in the 8th century. It is perhaps the largest surviving sandstone temple in the world and is considered the oldest structure of Kanchipuram. Looks very similar to the shore temple – but the distinguishing feature are the panels on the walls depicting the life of Shiva.

kailasanathar_temple_statue_1

The temple is unique in its architecture and is viewed more as an architectural beauty than a holy place. When we reached at 920 the temple was closed and the priest was expected only by 930. Legend has it that “Poosalar Nayannar”  a Shiva devotee decided to build a temple – but due to lack of means he built it in his dreams. The day of the consecration of the Kailasanatha temple clashed with that of Poosalar’s imaginary temple. Shiva came to the King and his dreams and asked him to change the date of the Consecration as he would be first visiting Poosalar’s temple given the devotion and passion with which he has built his temple of dreams.

3rd Stop – Kanchi Kudil (Budget 15 – 30 Minutes)

Opens at 930 AM

Its a traditional Mudaliar house that has been preserved like a museum. They also serve a traditional Lunch if you order in advance ( Veg & Non Veg) at 350/ plate – Contact A Udhayakumar – 9941138703

img_2289

img_2295

 

4th Stop – Kanchi Kamakshi Temple (Budget 60 Minutes)

5.30AM – 1230 PM & 4 PM – 8.30 PM

India has 3 main cities where the Goddess Shakti is worshipped – Kanchipuram holds the most important rank amongst the three. The 3 powerful goddesses are Kanchi Kamakshi , Madurai Meenakshi and Kashi Vishalakshi.

30b4eb0131af399f7a2703734610ad7e

The Kamakshi temple is an ancient one and was built in its current state by the Cholas in the 14th century. Spread across 5 acres the sanctum is gold plated. While the goddess Parvati is seen standing in most temples she is found sitting here in a yogis posture – Padmasana  and is referred to as Parabrahma Swarupini. She has four arms and is seen holding a bow, a lotus, a parrot and a sugarcane.

It is believed that Kamakshi was originally a Ugra Swaroopini and Adi Shankara on establishing the Sri Chakra personified her as Shanti Swaroopini. The temple structure is complicated and when we visited in Dec 2016 – it was undergoing renovation.

You can reach very close to the sanctum sanctorum and get an excellent Darshan of the powerful deity. Fortunately the day we visited it was not crowded.

 

5th Stop – Vardaraja Perumal temple  also known as Devraja Temple (Budget 45 – 60 Minutes)

7AM – 12 PM & 3.30 PM – 8 PM

Dedicated to Lord Vishnu this temple is located in Vishnu Kanchi a short drive from the Kanchi Kamakshi temple. The main temple here is Lord Varadaraja who is seen standing and facing west. It is considered a very holy site for Vaishnavites. It was built immediately after the Kailasanatha temple by Paramaeshwaravarman Pallava in the 7th century. The majestic Gopuram with its intricate carvings is a sight to behold.

img_2301

The 100 pillared hall is the unmistakable legacy of the Vijaynagara rulers. The unique features of this temple are the lizards carved above the sanctum that are plated in gold. A large temple spread over 20 acres. Very well maintained.

img_2297

 

5th Stop – Vardaraja Perumal temple also known as Devraja Temple (Budget 45 – 60 Minutes)

6th Stop – Shankaracharya Mutt (Budget 30  Minutes)

One of the Mutts established by Adi Shankara – for the religious Tamil Brahmin its a rare honour to visit the Mutt which is home to the Shankaracharya of Kanchi. We stopped by for 30 min – steeped in rituals and tradition it may be very religious but sadly it lacked spirituality.

 

kanchi-kamakoti-peetam-mutt

7th Stop – Lunch at another Saravana Bhawan – in the Main Kanchipuram city

We were lucky as the temples were almost empty we reached the Saravana Bhawan at Gandhi Road for lunch. We had made good time and we reached by 12 noon. The City is clean and well maintained. None of the temple we were hounded by priests for extra money neither were there VIP Q’s .

For the ambitious post lunch you can travel to Mahabalipuram. Chennai – Kanchipuram – Mahabalipuram form a Triangle. But we decided to head back. Our timing was great and we were back home by 3.30 in the afternoon well before the traffic rush.

Kanchipuram can get very hot in the summers – best time to visit is between Nov – Feb. 

If you have the time and energy here are a few other temples you could visit

  1. Ulahalanda Perumal temple
  2. Kumara Kottam Subramaniam Swami temple
  3. Kacchapeswarar temple
  4. Chitragupta Swami temple

And visit some stores for the Original Kancheepuram silk sarees

The driver we engaged was excellent – Raju owns a well maintained clean Innova. You can contact him at + 91 9941404541 or +91 8939756776. He is efficient and professional.

For those travelling from Bangalore its best to plan an overnight trip. Leave Bangalore by 10 AM and reach Kancheepuram by 2.30 3. Check into the GRT hotel – freshen up and start your temple tour by 4 PM when the temples open for the evening Darshan. Complete a set in the evening and do the rest the next day morning 6.30 – 9.30 AM. Have Breakfast – check out and leave by 1030 AM to Reach Bangalore by 230 – 3.

Regency Kanchipuram by GRT Hotels

Address: 487, Gandhi Road, Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu 631502.

Contact No: 044-27225250

E-mail: reservationskanchi@grtregency.com