By Amit Jayaram
Insight meditation, whether we call it vipassana meditation, preksha or mindfulness meditation, maybe the master key that unlocks a whole new world
Often, families tend to do the same thing. In some, nine out of ten are doctors, while in others no lawyers in a generation is enough to cause consternation. My family is a family of meditators. And that, too, of insight meditators. With the noble exception of my father who probably decided to be a balancing factor, all of us have done the vipassana course conducted by S.N. Goenka and teachers trained by him.
Vipassana, or insight meditation, is a non-religious, nonsectarian technique said to have been devised or discovered by Gautama Buddha, in which insight is the key. The mind observes the mind, initially through the observation (not control—there is no control in Vipassana) of breath and then through the observation of sensations in the body.
Equanimity is important because when you observe sensations, painful or pleasurable, without reacting to them, it slowly loosens the grip of samskara or deep-rooted tendencies. The practice ends with the meditators blessing all beings in the universe and pledging the merits of meditation to them. Insight meditation is widely considered to be one of the purest and finest techniques; some people even consider it the ultimate technique. With continual practice, maintaining equilibrium through choiceless insight, the meditator breaks free of his conditioning and prejudice, to rest in the ultimate state. Many people have given many names to this state, but in this context, it seems most appropriate to use J. Krishnamurti’s famous phrase: choiceless awareness.
I found the course excellent, but the rules and regulations, which may have been fine for most people, were too Spartan for me. Always a bit bohemian, I have never taken over-kindly to rigid external discipline, particularly in matters religious. However, while I did the course, I followed instructions to the letter. The course was my first experience in rigorous meditation, in an environment where it was not easy to be lazy and put it off. It was stimulating, purifying and invigorating. Although I did only one course and practiced regularly in the prescribed manner for a very short time, I value doing the course greatly. In a sense, it set me on the road to intense meditation and prepared the ground for adventures ahead. It has also given me a technique, which is available to me, any time I want to use it.
Much more recently, I came across two more meditation techniques, almost identical to vipassana but with some differences in flavor. The first is called Preksha. A nonsectarian and non-religious meditation course conducted by Acharya Tulsi’s organization, Preksha is another word for insight and has been chosen because the word vipassana has already become firmly associated with the Buddha’s meditation technique. Far more broad-based in a scientific and social context, Preksha aims to integrate this insight into a well-defined daily-life social matrix and is even being taught in schools.
The second, called Mindfulness Meditation, is fascinating. Not because it is essentially different, but because it is far more every day, so much more part of the so-called normal routine life of the man on the street that, if pursued, it is likely to have more far-reaching results, in the broadest sense of the word.
Mindfulness means watching whatever is from moment to moment. You can passively observe the body, feelings, state of the mind or its contents. Very often, meditators, like many other people who do a particular thing, wonder whether they are just a small group of people talking and relating to each other in an incestuous sort of way, without affecting the world out there at all. This is often a subject of introspection for academics too. Mindfulness meditation is the development of our skills of observation.
Many people feel that, if it is a closed circuit, then it is by definition pointless. The waves must move outwards, into the world at large, for the process to assume a larger meaning, in social and environmental terms. When insight meditation becomes an adjunct to therapy for patients in a hospital, as it does in Mindfulness Meditation, it leaps out of the confines and definitions that imprison it as ‘a technique used by odd antisocial types after an almost-certainly non-existential thing called enlightenment at gatherings only their types would attend’. It becomes a psychotherapeutic technique—which all meditation surely is in essence—used to benefit people on a large scale. Importantly, the results have been tabulated and verified.
There are those who feel that meditation is beyond machines and mechanisms, that it is an organic and internal process that gets demeaned and debased by becoming the subject of scientific inquiry. I agree and disagree. Essentially, in terms of my present understanding, which is far from clear, meditation is organic and certainly not mechanical.
But the effects of meditation—and there are wonderful ones, ranging from a reduced metabolic rate to the clearing of psoriasis, the prevention of panic attacks to a rejuvenated immune system—must be measured, and the more empirically and scientifically the better. Because, if we are to build a more congenial and integrated world, where violence and hatred, possessiveness and jealousy, division and discord do not exist, meditation is the master key.
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