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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Ten Days in Vipassana

Sri Goenka jee dharma wheel

After a thirty minutes ride toward north of Kathmandu, Nepal, we come to Budhanilkantha, a shrine situated on foothills of Shivapuri mountains. Taking further up north for another twenty minutes gets us near Muhan Pokhari. On right side of the road is a closed area called Dharmashringa, site of Vipassana meditation camp.

Vipassana is an age old practice of meditation said to be developed by Buddha more than 2500 years ago. It literally means "Looking into oneself in a special way." In Vipassana alone, there are various forms and methods according to different schools.
The one in this context is said to be practised in Myanmar (Burma) from about 2000 years in a 'Guru-disciple' tradition containing the pure form Buddha taught. From there in the seventies, Sri S.N.Goenka brought it to India and later on to Nepal after being taught by Sri U Ba Khin, an eminent Vipassana teacher. Sri Goenka has been teaching in many countries.

Inside the camp, I had my documents checked and was allotted a room. I unloaded my bag and placed it on the cold, cement floor where it relied attractively on one of the bedposts. Since I don't like to travel or camp heavy, the bag shrunk a bit once it got a reliance.

At six, I had a nice, light vegetarian dinner sitting our legs crossed. At the end of it, we were oriented about the coming ten days starting from next day. We weren't supposed to speak or gesture nor to have communication with each other and nor to leave camp area. Later we clustered around lush green gardens of various flowers, made more soothing by blend of fine aromas. Some of us talked as if it were our last day. A few were singing. One even cried out from the bottom of his lungs standing on a small hill which frightened moths of a lamp to yellow. I split from my group and came back to my room. On my way I saw the sky lit with the advent of a half moon.

In bed, in the absence of an alarm clock, it kept recurring to me that I had to wake up at four in the morning. I cant recall what time I gave in to sleep but was astonished to find myself awake at four.

Inside meditation hall made into two halves for men and women, we started under the primary guidance of Sri Goenka thru TV screen in presence of qualified instructors who were there to sort out our immediate problems in meditation. Beginning with our breath, our respiration, inhaling and exhaling, we were to close our lips and follow breath with our minds and become conscious of passing through our nostrils. Respiration is chosen in this practice because it is universal. All of us whatever the nationality, cast, creed, faith, sect or culture respire without exception. On top of that, respiration is close to us, within us and accessible to all, rich or poor, king or beggar, intellectual or layman, clever or dumb.

Whole day I observed breath and it was not easy. First, I experienced all kinds of pains and aches, particularly in joints. Second, focusing mind on only respiration was not easy because after a while you tend to forget and mind begins to travel, in the past full of memories and in the future full of aspirations compounded with fear and anxiety. Thoughts flowed along with breathing. Day ended in anguish and pain. In the evening, a glass of milk, some fruits and light snack and teachings from Guru (Sri Goenka) thru screen brought some consolation and comfort. At nine, proceedings ended and by ten, I was in bed fast asleep.

Physical pain continued for a few days especially during three one hour periods when one was not supposed to change posture nor move body parts. Gradually, pain diminished. May be my body was used to it and my mind didn't pay any attention. I didn't care. I preferred to `eat mangoes, not count trees.` Sitting relaxed, I found every breath I take in or out is different from previous one. I was aware of short gaps in between. During teachings in the evenings, analogy of a river where it is not the same water flowing made sense. I remembered a hot sunny day, sitting on the banks of a river watching water take its course but it never occurred to my mind then that water came, flowed and disappeared and another water was in the scene to follow. Later as I remembered that my mind was travelling back, it came to the present without much effort.

On the fourth day, we were to begin Vipassana. Upto now, it was preparation through Sila (precepts) and Samadhi (concentration) through anapana (respiration) . Sila was eliminating hindrances through five guidelines and Samadhi was sharpening mind faculty. But this was not enough. The target of Vipassana is eradicating defilements of mind. This is by `Looking into oneself in a special way` as mentioned in the beginning. Now we were to embark on Prajna or Panna in Pali language. We were first initiated, requesting our teacher Sri Goenka to grant us the essence of Vipassana.

It was during that stage I first felt the strength of mind in my life. We had moved from observing breath to observing sensations on our body. Starting from top of the head, I felt sensations in different parts of the body. Wherever in the body I put my mind in, I felt sensations similar to pulses one feels on wrists. I could take my mind along with, like an object. From head to toe, I was feeling those pulses. Sometimes there were blank and blind areas too. In some areas, pulses were gross and in some subtle and later in a continuity too, in a flux of sensations called `Dhara-pravaha.` We were told not to force on to feel sensations but just be aware of them and also not to worry whether a sensation is gross or subtle. The point was to be equanimous, not to have any craving for pleasant sensation, neither have aversion to unpleasant one nor have indifferent feeling. Same would apply in our lives in moments of craving for pleasure or aversion towards pain or feeling of indifference.

Observing sensations with a calm, balanced mind also made me think and feel more about suffering caused by `arising and passing` of them as in case of breaths or water in a river or anything. It gave a feeling of temporariness and constant change whether I was aware or not. And being aware helped in getting inside the heart of the matter and mind and their mechanism and intricacies, at times leading to their interchangeability and sometimes beyond.

Gradually, these thoughts and feelings helped to trigger other thoughts and feelings. Inevitability of change changed into a feeling of `lessness,` something abstract and open which tremored my concepts, foundations and ego. Days of light food and sitting ten hours a day in meditation with regular breaks made body and mind light too. In fact, I lost some kilos and some theories and views, dear and strong. I wasn't prescribed new theories and views in lieu either.

Relying on intuition and experience, faltering and realizing, forgetting and remembering, losing the `I`, as in a paradox, I moved on trying to cling to nothing.

( This write-up of mine was published in The Kathmandu Post )

Dharmashringa dharma wheel

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