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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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