Venturing into Vipassana
Shiv and Savy describe their encounter with Vipassana which helped to bring a few undiscovered insights to the fore
We, Shiv and Savy, are from a beautiful temple town, Trichy, and are seekers in the pursuit of gathering new experiences. We recently stumbled upon a Vipassana camp at Chennai and attended a 10-day course.
The course was at the Thirumudivakkam campus on the outskirts of Chennai. From Tambaram bus-stand, we took an auto, and after a twenty-minute jumpy ride, we spotted a Pagoda which directed us to the campus. The registration process was simple: no elaborate forms with Adhaar card number or voter ID needed to be filled. The only question they kept asking was“Are you prepared to attend this 10-day course completely?”
We were put into rooms on a sharing basis with attached toilet/bath. Men and women were separated by a ‘Hadrian’sWall’ and were not to come into any form of contact for the next 10 days, even if they were members of a family.
Then came the ‘most unkindest cut of all.’ We were asked to relinquish our mobile phones, and reading and writing materials. On the appointed day, we assembled at the meditation hall (Dhamma Hall) and had to take the oath of silence.
The strict rules
We also had to practise the five precepts of sila (Buddhist word for ‘ethics’): 1) No stealing—how could we; all our valuables were already in the locker. 2) No lying—how could we; we were not even allowed to open our mouths. 3) No killing— how could we; we were only given satvik (conducive to spiritual practice) food, but we also had to be careful to watch our step when we walked lest we trampled on the snails that traversed our path. 4&5) No talking and no sexual immodesty— how could we and with whom; we were all members of the same sex.
The first three days, we were jolted out of our beds at 4.00 a.m. and tirelessly asked to observe our breath using the anapana technique. Every session, Guruji S N Goenka’s voice would thunder over the sound system ‘Start again’ and it would ricochet in my mind—“Oh no! not again.”
What amazed me was the commitment of these participants, mostly between the age group of twenty to thirty, who assiduously endured this harrowing process.
Only after the morning rigmarole would breakfast be served. There was no morning bed coffee and no puri bhaji or aloo paratha. It was the same routine of upma or pongal and tea. Lunch would be served after three more hours of meticulous breathing. Again, no biryanis, gulab jamun,or butterscotch ice-cream. Only rice, dal, vegetables, and buttermilk, and shockingly, men had to wash their plates with ‘their very own hands’ after eating. No one complained!
Evening bread pakoda, aloo tikki and tomato sauce were missing from the platter. Every evening, it was the very same puffed rice, a plantain, and a cup of tea—exciting, isn’t it?—which would be followed by ardent breathing and a discourse by Guruji S N Goenka.
At night, we had a Barmecidal dinner—nothing! During the breaks, the aimless men, devoid of their goal-driven tendencies, trudged up and down a boulevard pathway gaping at the flights which would go over our head with periodic regularity, thanks to the airport nearby.
Shri S N Goenka, we understand, was a rich businessman in Burma, who gave up his material pursuits to bring back Vipassana in its pristine form to India from Burma. Destiny had it that the essence of Gautama Buddha’s teaching of Vipassana would become effervescent at its roots, seek refuge in Burma, pass down generations of masters, undistorted by Chinese whispers, and come back in its original form to India after a 2500-year hiatus. Goenkaji was on a mission and was the Hanuman carrying Buddha’s gifts back to its roots.
His message was simple, limpid, and cut through our mind chatter. Slowly, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle—the entire process of sila, samaadhi, panna, anapana, vipassana, and metha bhavana—fell into place.
The ‘aha’ moments came periodically, shook us out of our illusions, delusions, and layers of conditioning by bringing about a paradigm shift, and our entire life stood in front of our eyes.
The following are a few insights we got:
• We have been carrying the ‘monkey mind’ which had been ruling our lives. The other mind, the ‘monk mind,’ which we label with names like ‘being,’ ‘presence,’ and ‘essence’ sat quietly in the background, allowing the ‘monkey mind’ to play havoc with our lives. The ‘monk mind’ started coming to the forefront and the agitated ‘monkey mind’ tried to fight its Mahabharat in the Kurukshetra between our ears.
• The next insight we got was that whatever Western science had been proclaiming to know about the body and mind was all wrong. The body was the reflection of the mind and vice versa. So long, the observer (the mind) had observed the object (the body) through images and vocalisations. Now the tables had turned. Through Vipassana, the body now became ‘the observer’ and the mind ‘the observed,’ and this was spoken in the language of sensations. Visuals get translated to sensations and sensations to visuals. For the first time, we realised that we had trapped ourselves in the enchanting ‘empires of the mind,’ which Buddha had termed as ‘misery.’
• The third insight for us was that there is a way to escape from the clutches of the mind. This is by leading a life of breath awareness, sensation, and compassion, and by deftly avoiding the twin traps: cravings and aversions.
We understand that it is very challenging to explain the sound of a falling tree to a deaf person. The only way you can gather this experience is by attending the Vipassana course. But beware; think twice before you enter its portals. This is a ‘one-way ticket.’
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