MY VIPASSANA EXPERIENCE – IV

Day 4 (19/04/2015)

Impermanence is one of the most important Buddhist teachings and one that must be fully understood and accepted in order to fully understand life. Nothing is permanent and the sooner you understand its meaning and accept this, you will be able to live a life filled with less expectation from anything and anyone. This is the greatest lesson learnt along with Vipassana on the 4th day. Besides we had learnt the prerequisites to Vipassana in the last three days and will continue to do so till 2.30 pm today.

Today we started the 4.30 am meditation with our focus on a smaller area, the small triangular one just below the nostrils and the upper lip. The smaller the focus, the sharper the mind becomes and thus it becomes ripe enough to absorb Vipassana. Focus was difficult and trying. The mind would ramble and behave like a child in tantrums, and had to be brought under control with utmost perseverance and in between all that one had to observe with equanimity the sensations that arise in the chosen area. Gradually there was some semblance of order. Now I know why we were forced to be completely cut off from the outside world. It did make things easier.

At lunch time I discovered that the foreigner in my room had left, unable to manage the strict code of conduct. Anyone leaving the course midway leaves makes the weak minded long to drop everything like a hot brick and move on. Thankfully I felt otherwise – happy to stay on course for it gave me an opportunity to tell my mind, hey there, I am the boss and not you. 🙂

By the time the 3.00 pm session started everyone were eager to go through the Vipassana session, waiting with bated breath. The instructions were from Acharya Goenka, vide a recorded CD. We were to move our attention from the top of our head and observe sensations. Then we were to focus on each and every part by part and observe objectively and with equanimity the sensations. The top of the head, the scalp, the shoulders and down to the right arm and then the left arm, neck, trunk, pelvic region, right leg up to the foot followed by the left foot was the order. After this the focus was directed to the nape, back, spine, back pelvic region, and the back side of the legs up to the toes. Irrespective of what the sensations are – pleasant or unpleasant – we were to accept the reality moment to moment.

When we started the practice, at first there were sensations in some parts of the body. In some places there were none whatsoever. It also became clear that we experienced easily the intense sensations and not the finer, subtle ones. That came with practice. The most challenging aspect for me was sitting in the same position for two hours continuously – for we were asked to try not to move during the Vipassana time – 3.00 – 5.00 pm. I must say that I was not able to comply with this, thanks to the nagging knee pain as I had been sitting cross-legged all the three days. After the Vipassana experience we had another session from 6 – 7 pm in the evening, a group Vipassana meditation. During such group sessions everyday (four sessions – 8-9 am, 2.30 – 3.30 pm, 6.00 – 7.00 pm and 8.15 – 9.00 pm) we were told to stay motionless. With a nagging knee pain I decided that during the question hour from 9.00 – 9.30 pm I would ask the teacher if I could sit in a chair. The teacher was quick to dissuade me but I told him that I do have a back / knee problem and as he unwillingly relented, there was a sigh of relief in me.

Before hitting the bed I gently applied an analgesic gel on the painful areas hoping and praying it would go away as I wake up in the dawn. But sleep eluded and that worried me. What if I don’t have enough sleep and droop while meditating? After considerable tossing and turning when I drifted into slumber it was way past midnight.

(To be continued)

Prayer of Oneness

Saw this wonderful prayer and wanted to share it with you. Hence re-blogging it.

superaalifragilistic

There are times, when even the most sincere seeker experiences ‘disconnection’. This disconnection can last hours, days or even weeks. Many seekers hence follow a daily ritual. Some follow a particular meditation style, some a breathing technique, because a daily ritual has a very simple purpose – it brings you back home.

This prayer was originally written by my brother GD to help a few friends who said they kept forgetting the core teaching; who kept getting disconnected… and needed a simple, short, crisp reminder of their true nature. So GD created this small reminder – in the form of an ‘advaita’ prayer – to help them stay connected to their essence.

Just one suggestion… please don’t rush through it.

Go slowly… and savor each line to experience the true power and energy of this unique prayer. It will reveal deeper meanings each time you connect with it.

PS: For those of you…

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MY VIPASSANA EXPERIENCE – III

Every evening during the short meditation from 8.30 – 9.00 pm, after the discourse by Acharya Goenka we were given instructions and practice of the next stage of Anapana meditation. This was a technically sound practice as we were able to practice for half an hour immediately and then the whole of the next day. This helped us to get a good grounding in the technique.

Day 3 (18/04/2015)

Today during the meditation sessions we were required to be aware of the triangular area of the nostrils and the area just above the upper lip. The smaller the area, the sharper the mind will get. Normally the mind is so gross that one cannot feel subtle sensations. We need to learn to sharpen the mind. So we need to be aware of the touch of the breath anywhere on the inner wall of the nostrils, outer rings of the nostrils or the area below the nostrils or above the upper lip. The smaller the area the subtler the mind will become. This is also symbolic of the progress we make – movement from the gross reality to the subtle reality. However we had to remember that we cannot create subtle realities. We had to leave that to the laws of nature. Whatever manifests there, we had to be aware of it. There would be some biochemical reactions there which will make one feel sensations like tickling, tingling, itching, throbbing, prickling, warmth and so on. We cannot choose sensations. It happens naturally. Whatever comes up, just observe and accept. Just observe the sensation and acknowledge it to be the reality of the moment. This is called Samma Sati in Pali, the right awareness. Do not react – for example don’t scratch when it itches. Just observe. No itching is eternal. Even this will pass away. A new word came to enter our everyday vocabulary – Anicca (pronounced aniccha) – it meant that things rise in one moment and in the other moment pass away. Imagine a river. At no point in time will the water in the river remain the same. It flows and moves on. But the continuous flow of water in the river creates an illusion of permanence in our mind which makes us believe that the water is the same.

Simple, logical things. Why didn’t it occur to me till now? The answer was also readily available. In the fast paced world we don’t observe things. We do things. But we don’t observe. We do things mechanically and never with awareness. And even when we do with some awareness, we do ten things together, that we don’t even remember what we had done. Ah, multi-tasking! In the corporate world we take such pride in this skill.

Day 3 was truly insightful. The practice began at 4.30 am like always and till noon no luck with sensations. But by the end of the day I could feel subtle sensations in the inner wall of the nostrils. Ah, the exhilaration of the “eureka” moment! But wait, that’s precisely what we had to stay away from. Liking something results in craving and hating something results in aversion. Both lead to actions that fulfil the craving or aversion respectively and the next action and the next and so on. A vicious cycle of craving and aversion is born and the mind gets mired in the bog over and over again till the point of no return.

By night however I could feel the gnawing pain in my knees – the result of sitting cross-legged for hours together. There was no hard and fast rule that one has to sit cross-legged. I have been used to doing that and hence my preference for it.  So before going to sleep I liberally massaged my knees with a gel that I had carried with the fond hope that I would feel alright in the morning. I was also looking forward to Day 4 as it was the day when we would be initiated into what is actual Vipassana. Whatever we had been doing for the last 3 days and till 3.00 pm on the 4th day were only baby steps towards Vipassana.

(To be continued)

MY VIPASSANA EXPERIENCE – II

MY VIPASSANA EXPERIENCE – II

The short half hour meditation ended at 9.00 pm drawing a close to a very different day. By 9.15 pm looking forward to another day, I drifted towards sleep. Sometime in the night I woke up and realized that there was no power supply. It was 3.00 am. The tiled roof of the room was as quick to cool down as it was to get heated by noon time. Therefore, once again slumber enveloped me only to be startled by the loud gong of the bell. It’s 4.00 am. It’s still dark – and the power supply hadn’t been restored. That didn’t dampen my spirits and I marched into the washroom to have a bath, armed with my torch.

Day 2 (17/04/2015)

Another gong and I moved in the direction of the meditation hall. The volunteers had kept a few lamps on the path and slowly everybody trickled in. The session began sharp at 4.30. Watch the breath. And when I do that what happens? The mind is focussed on the act of breathing for a few seconds and there it goes on a wild horse ride. To the past, to the future and many a time I realized that there is no order to the kind of thoughts that overwhelm me. By noon with practice I gathered momentum in noticing the drift of the mind and then bring it back to focus on the respiration.

As the morning session ended at 6.30, we moved into the dining hall. We had separate halls for males and females. Breakfast over, I moved to the walking area under the canopy of tall trees – teak, mango, jackfruit, coconut and a huge silk cotton tree. The morning air was cool and fresh. The entire area was full of bird calls and the eastern sky was glowing as the sun rose. I strolled taking in the vibrancy of the place. As speaking was taboo, it was the right opportunity for me to commune with Nature.

The trees are God’s great alphabet: With them He writes in shining green Across the world His thoughts serene. ~Leonora Speyer

The trees are God’s great alphabet:
With them He writes in shining green
Across the world His thoughts serene.
~Leonora Speyer

The schedule for each day is the same and so am not replicating it. Day 1’s long sessions have already started having an effect on me. There’s an ache in the knees for I have been sitting cross-legged. Nevertheless, I am game for Day 2. By noon time we heard some helpers speaking about two in the camp who dropped out in the morning. I wondered how many of us will be around on the last day.

On Day 2 the focus is again on respiration. But this time we were asked to sense the cool air of inhalation and the warm air of exhalation. Vipassana stresses on meditators focussing on normal breath – not hard or contrived breath. Hard breath may be taken only briefly if you just cannot experience breathing at all. Then you are asked to move into natural, flowing breath. Since natural breath is such an inconspicuous and involuntary affair, it is with a lot of struggle that I managed to start experiencing it. For the first few hours I just could not sense either the warmth or the coolness but as the day progressed, I could faintly distinguish both. And then when one feels excited at the success, you are gently reminded, do not be elated at success and do not be frustrated at failure. Be equanimous. Truly a tall order!

The day’s discourse was on the habit pattern of the mind. If one observes it, it is clear that it swings like a pendulum from the past to the present, generating either craving or aversion. One cannot perform an action that harms others without defiling one’s own mind first. The result is anger, ill will, hatred, animosity and the like. And with these negatives in the mind one is surely bound to be miserable. On the other hand when one performs an action that helps others, it naturally generates positive aspects like love, goodwill, forgiveness and compassion. By practicing right awareness one starts breaking that habit. Once you learn to fix your mind on the present reality you enter the realm of Panna, the development of wisdom, of insight, that totally purifies the mind. Thus Vipassana is actually a deep surgical operation of the mind, bringing out the negativity and purifying the mind.

I still cannot figure out how people like me, householders with duties and responsibilities, can live a life of balance, without liking and without hating. We are not monks or nuns to develop complete detachment. I will need more clarifications in this matter. These were my thoughts as I hit the bed at night.

(To be continued)

MY VIPASSANA EXPERIENCE – I

There is only one moment in time when it is necessary to awaken. That moment is now. — Buddha

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. And so it was with Vipassana and me. I had wanted to join the Ten-day Vipassana Meditation Course way back in 2009. That did not happen as the seats were full. The time was ripe only in April 2015.  When I applied online for a place in the course, my understanding was that I would hear from the organizers only in a fortnight. So when I heard from the registrar of the course in about 6 hours flat, it caught me by surprise. And I was truly excited. Yayyy… am finally going to do a Vipassana Course!!

To those of you who are not familiar with it, Vipassana is a word in Pali language which can roughly be translated as “insight meditation”. The word “Vipassana” has two parts; “Passana” means seeing or perceiving, and the prefix “Vi” which has several meanings, one of which is “through.” Vipassana is thus insight which literally penetrates the curtain of delusion in the mind. “Vi” may also be considered as a substitute for the English prefix “dis,” suggesting discernment — a kind of seeing that perceives individual components separately. The idea of separation is relevant here, for insight works like a mental scalpel, differentiating conventional truth from ultimate reality. Lastly, “Vipassana” can also mean intense, deep or powerful seeing.

One of India’s most ancient meditations (over 2500 years old), it has its roots in Buddhism when Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, discovered it. He propounded that the actual cause of suffering can be eradicated by knowing ourselves and our true nature. The practice of Vipassana therefore exhorts us to be calm and peaceful; alert and attentive as well as balanced and equanimous. Though originated in India, Vipassana soon lost its purity in India and many other countries where it had spread to. However, a devoted line of teachers and disciples in Burma (present Myanmar) maintained it in its pristine purity. Vipassana was brought back to India by Sri S N Goenka, a highly respected teacher and an Indian who lived in Burma, and who studied the technique under the venerable Sayagyi U Ba Khin.

The course started from the evening of 15th April 2015 at the Dhamma Ketana Vipassana Centre, at Cheriyanad, 8 kilometres away from Chengannur, in Kerala. Though the registration time was from 3 – 5 pm, I could reach the centre only by 6 pm, thanks to the Parasuram Express which was running late by 2 hours. After a 20-minute ride by an auto rickshaw, I was at the Centre. What struck me as I entered the Centre was its rustic and sylvan locale. After registering for where I had to fill in forms and affirm my commitment to the course, I moved ahead to hand over my mobile phone and valuables for safe keeping. Yes, I had read the code of conduct rather elaborately. It clearly said:

  1. No conversation, verbal and non-verbal, is permitted during the entire course. And this included using mobile phones to communicate with the outside world to something as inconspicuous as making eye contacts with fellow meditators. Music, reading and writing is also taboo. This is called following the principle of Noble Silence. (I learned later that this is to shut out all kinds of stimuli that will create delusions in the mind and which will veer the meditator from the path of discovering oneself.)
  2. Discontinue all kinds of rites, rituals, prayer and worship during the entire course. (We were told that mixing this with Vipassana meditation can seriously impede the meditator’s progress and even regress as Vipassana is thoroughly non-sectarian. Besides one needed to give the technique a fair trial while maintaining in all its purity.)
  3. Physical contact of any kind is a strict no-no; with same sex or opposite. Outside contacts and going outside the centre’s premises are forbidden.
  4. Drugs, intoxicants, sedative etc. must be avoided strictly. Any medicines / special diet due to illness are however permitted albeit with the Teacher’s permission & know how.
  5. Clothing needs to be modest, comfortable and simple. After all you will spend close to 11 hours each day meditating. There’s no facility for laundry – however you are free to do it yourselves during break times. (This made me carry nearly a dozen pair of clothes!)

After tucking my bag underneath the cot and washing my face to ward off the weariness of a long journey, I reported at the meditation hall. The session began at 8.00 pm sharp flagging of the course as well as the code of conduct.

Day 1 (16/04/2015)

I woke up to the first sound of the gong. It’s 4.00 am. When I move into community living, I always loved to have a bath as early as possible (read it as before it gets used, misused and abused by cohabitants) and this time was no different. By the time the second series of gongs went at 4.25 am, I was ready to take on the day, refreshed and energized by a cold water bath. The schedule was quite daunting:

  • 4:00 a.m. Morning wake-up bell
  • 4:30 — 6:30 a.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
  • 6:30 — 8:00 a.m Breakfast break
  • 8:00 — 9:00 a.m Group meditation in the hall
  • 9:00 — 11:00 Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s nstructions
  • 11:00 —12 noon Lunch break
  • 12:00—1:00 p.m. Rest, and interviews with the teacher
  • 1:00 — 2:30 p.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
  • 2:30 — 3:30 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
  • 3:30 — 5:00 Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
  • 5:00 — 6:00 p.m. Tea break
  • 6:00 — 7:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
  • 7:00 — 8:15 p.m. Teacher’s discourse in the hall
  • 8:15 — 9:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
  • 9:00 — 9:30 p.m. Question time in the hall
  • 9:30 p.m. Retire to your room; lights out

We soon found out that all meditations, group or individual, were all in the hall as the centre did not have individual cells for each meditator. There were 2-3 of us in each room and under this circumstance it was quite challenging to meditate in our rooms. The hall was spacious to accommodate over 50 of us. It was simple and Spartan with no pictures, religious objects, talismans etc. true to what Vipassana professed – thoroughly non-sectarian and non-religious. Each one of us had a wide cushion to be used as the seat to sit. There were also plenty of cushions of different sizes to suit your comfort for you had to make yourself comfortable. Long hours of meditation do demand that. Each one of us had a seat and we had to stick to that throughout the course. This was most welcome from the hygiene point of view.

During the meditations, tapes of Acharya Goenka with instructions on meditation were played. Accordingly Day 1 focussed on awareness of the breath. A moment of awareness and then the mind would wander away. We were encouraged not to feel guilty about it and gently bring back the mind to awareness. By the end of Day one, I could find out in a couple of minutes whenever the mind wandered. Taming the mind is such an arduous affair! Besides, one is not used to sitting cross legged or in any other comfortable position for long hours. And not to forget – we cannot talk. No communication from your loved ones back home. We are in new environs. Only simple vegetarian food was served – though not difficult for me, it must have been for many others. Amidst all this and moving far away from our comfort zones, each one of us were trying hard to be aware of respiration; nothing but respiration. The 7.00 – 8.15 discourses were the recorded video tapes of Acharya Goenka. In his first day’s discourse he advised us on how to go about our work and encouraged us to make the best use of the time, the opportunity, and the technique so that we benefit wonderfully. It was very interesting and soon many of us looked forward each day to hear his discourse. His words exuded simplicity, genuineness and limitless compassion. Every now and then in the course of his instructions and the discourses he exhorted: be calm and patient; be alert and attentive; be balanced and equanimous.  Day 1 found me focussing yet, there were very many questions that remained unanswered. Nevertheless I was willing to give Vipassana an honest try.

(To be continued)