Sunday, 29 April 2012

Vipassana Meditation - Before, During & After-My Experiences-As Taught by Mr. S N Goenka

Vipassana Meditation - Before, During & After-My Experiences-As Taught by Mr. S N Goenka 

We, me & my wife Gayatri,  have been questioning about purpose of Pooja-path, rituals, fasting, statues of all types in temples etc. & about existence of god or super power or nature & rules & regulations of running this world by Mr Super Power.

Besides this the eternal question is why we are unhappy & why we are running after peace but not getting it. What causes unhappiness & how we become miserable? What do we do to remain calm & serene in adverse circumstances?

There are a number of religions, sects, cults & gurus offering solutions. But there are as many conflicts, doubts, problems of followers. Peace & happiness eluding the followers in practically all the cases.
In this context one of the friends of Gayatri discussed Vipassana a few years back but I did not pay much attention to it. About Vipassana there were small news items once in a while in news papers that it is being taught in Tihar Jail. So I thought it is something to do with psycho treatment or some religious concoction to set the criminal minds at rest.

After retirement, however, with time available in plenty search for Vipassana was resumed though with a little scepticism. Internet provided various details about it & various centres where it can be learnt.

2. Various doubts lingered on –whether we may be asked to convert to Budhism? Why no fee is being charged? How is it being run-Foreign donations? Set up of another God-man?

We made enquiries from   “students” who had attended the 10 day programme earlier & finally decided to take the plunge. We registered with Dehra Dun centre on their website & joined on 26th Mar 2012.
We were asked to deposit all the belongings, valuables etc after filling up the form. Thereafter we were asked to leave all other mental luggage as well for duration of the course– your beliefs, statues, mantras, symbols, your style of pooja, fasting etc.                            

No laundry service. Wash your utensils after use. Zero watt bulbs in rooms so no reading or noting possible. Breakfast at 6.30 am, lunch 11.30 am  & tea at 5 pm. No dinner. Simple but wholesome food without spices or  garam masala. Wake up gong 4 am & day-end 9 pm. No newspaper or tv or internet.  Separated dormitories for men  & women folk. Boards in the campus announced –
 “Always Walk Alone!” , “Observe Noble Silence”.

To begin the course, took a pledge of entering into:
Budhamm   Sarnam  Gachhami,
Dhammam   Sarnam  Gachhami,                                                                        
Sangham      Sarnam  Gachhami.

Hereafter one has to observe Noble Silence during the course (No speech, eye contact or gestures, no talking with fellow students or Sewaks). Your questions if any, were to be addressed to the Teacher at fixed times.
Yes! You and you only!

 3. Noble Silence helped us in getting rid of variety of distractions. Noble Silence means no words or gestures or eye contacts & therefore one avoids speaking falsehoods, putting on airs. Students were provided with designated seats-aasans in Prayer Hall. Meditation to start at 4.30 am in a posture comfortable to you – preferably cross legged - with your eyes closed. Take your mind towards the nostrils & observe the breath going in & going out. No need to enhance or slow down the breath. Just observe.


Now it enters through left nostril, now through right, now through both. As it is exhaled it goes out from left or right or both the nostrils. Keep observing the breath without disturbing the rhythm.  But the mind (mun / chitta) would not stick to observing the breath- it runs away at lightning speed. Bring it back- now it runs away -now it has to be brought back- now it runs away!

Not so simple!

There would be all sorts of incidents, persons, feelings, past acts etc running like a video in the mind at astonishing speed. Facts & fiction, past incidents & future wishes, relevant or not, all crammed into one video flash across the mind un-announced. You are distracted again & again.

Bring it back- bring back the mind to observe the breath! It stays for a few moments & flickers away! Bring it back- bring back to work. By day end some sort of control was achieved. Duration of mind on work - that is observing breath- increased. There were lesser & lesser wanderings of mind. Similar exercise was being done by us when in Yoga classes. This also helped in disciplining the mind. However, sitting all day long in cross-legged position was not very comfortable.

4. Q. What this process got to do with finding truth, happiness, peace of mind? Sitting continuously in cross - legged position for almost entire day made knees & ankles cry with pain.  Was it necessary to endure pain to get to the truth?

Next day mind was to be focussed on to area below the nostrils & above the upper lip - moustache area to watch & observe if any sensation is there (in this area). Sensations like itching, warmth, coldness, breath touching the area. In case the mind wanders away, go back to observing breath again & in a while you get concentration back & start observing sensations. If necessary, breath could be enhanced a little & mind focussed again. Now start looking for sensations again on work in hand.

After the morning session, the body – knees, ankles, spine & neck started aching & severally aching. Every 10 – 15 min the posture had to be changed & because of this concentration was lost again & again. It took a great amount of effort to drag the mind to back work, to bring it back to observing sensations in moustache area. The mind wavered, raced to various feelings, to incidents of past- pleasant & unpleasant, to future scenes & wishes & so on & so forth. Colours & lights flashed once in a while.  By evening however, there was some improvement & mind did follow your dictat & started observing sensations in the designated area, notwithstanding the acute physical discomfort in continuously sitting in a particular posture.
Q. What is all this? What is it to do with peace & harmony of mind? How these sensations on a particular space on the body could be used to get nirvana? Am I at right place of learning? First it was “concentrate on observing breath” & then “observe sensation in moustache area”. Where do these things lead to?

5. So the usual routine begins at 4 am next day. Now we have graduated from observing breath to observing sensations in moustache area & mind is a little more disciplined & is obeying your order to work as directed.  Now was the time to sit down cross legged & begin with calm & quiet mind. Bring the mind to top of the head. Observe the sensations. Let the mind roam inside the head very slowly observing the sensations but not getting attached to them. You remain an observer only tatasth drashta & look from Drashta Bhav & not from Bhokta Bhav. From top of the head move the mind very slowly down towards the right toe passing over all the body parts observing sensations or absence of sensation taking care about not getting attached to any of these sensations.

These sensations could be tickling, irritation, perspiration, numbness, warmth, cold, bubbles, liquid flowing through, throbbing, pulls, pressure etc. etc. After reaching right toe start again with calm & quiet mind from top of head very slowly towards left toe. Carefully observe the sensations in various parts of the body but keeping detached from them.  See the sensations pass away.

Meantime the pain in the body became overbearing. The neck, spine, knees and ankles cried with pain. Here also Yoga training helped. In Yoga classes after Yogasans you are required to lie down on your back, bring the breathing to normal & have a Manasik Yatra of the entire body- from top of the head to toes & vice -versa. Similar procedure was to be followed here. Some comfort!

But during this process one thing was sure when mind was focussed on seeking sensations there was no feeling of pain in knees or ankles! How? Why?  Pain disappeared? Or it died? Or mind got diverted? Or mind became Tatasth Drashta thus away from the pain? Have I become immune to the pain? Mind over body?
Q. Well well well ! Still not clear where we are heading to?

6. On fourth day onwards we are to follow the Addishthan i.e. for 1 hour each in morning / noon / evening sessions absolutely NO movement of body! And take the mind in a calm & quiet manner to very slowly scan & observe the whole body for sensations. If mind wanders away take a deep breath bring mind in focus on the breath & start the work again. Do not stick to any of the sensations pleasant or unpleasant. Observe them & let them pass. Be a Tatasth Drashta. The knees, the ankles, the spine & the neck rebelled at the thought of no movement for 1 hour! But once you settle down on the mat, focus the mind & start working on the scan of entire body the pain slips away & so long as the mind is focussed on work the pain stays away! By now perhaps the body also got used to the tough routine.
Some solace!
Now for the toughest part yet. The sensations may occur & can be observed by methodical journey of mind through various organs of the body from top to toe & from toe to top of the head. Once you get accustomed to slow scanning, you may shift to random & finer scanning’s of ribs & spine etc. Whenever you get a pleasant sensation due to an incident, person, touch, object etc. via your senses  you may want to savour it,  relish it & would like it to be repeated, then you are developing a craving-or Raag.
This longing or desire or craving may slip from conscious to sub-conscious to un-conscious mind & may erupt some time later un-announced & un-solicited with no limitation of time. Unfufilment of this lingering craving shall result in frustration, anger, aversion- or Dwesh.

Apart from cravings for pleasant sensations, there may be unpleasant sensations due to unacceptable situations, unliked persons or objects creating anger, frustration, aversion or Dwesh.

7.  Both these- cravings or aversions- leave their marks by way of sensations of different types in the body at the very beginning or on subsequent occurrences. You train your mind to observe them but do not stick to them do not get attached to them but let them pass.  As you train your mind to observe sensations as observer as Drashta & not as a person attached to the sensation or Bhokta you develop a distance from them or it can be said that you are developing equanimity or Samata Bhav. 

Therefore as & when you feel these sensations observe them in Samta Bhav or the equanimity.  This equanimity or Samta Bhav towards cravings or aversions keeps you in peace & harmony. The misery or the Dukha which is generated due to cravings or aversions about a place or person or an object or an incident is thus kept away by developing equanimity or Samta Bhav. Thus you begin a new journey in this world equipped with wisdom of equanimity or Samta Bhav. This is beginning of Vipassana.
Simple! Brilliant! Genius!

Q. Is it that so simple? Were not any mantra / deity / god / guru required? Once you get to know equanimity or Samta Bhav, it’s over? We live happily in peace & harmony thereafter?

 We have several senses of seeing, breathing, hearing, tasting & touching & we have various feelings generated from them like sexual urge, anger, jealousy, craving, aversion, pity etc. Let’s keep them divided in two main broad categories -cravings & aversions or Raag & Dwesh   Now, the cravings & aversions that is Raag & Dwesh, get generated every now & then, may be every day or may be every hour or may be even in seconds. In fact cravings & aversions have been building up in our lives since childhood. We have accumulated huge amount of cravings & aversions piled up in the back of our minds- conscious, sub-conscious & un-conscious. And we have a constant stream of eruptions of these accumulated cravings or aversions every now & then due to incidents, persons, taste etc felt earlier in our lives or past happenings correlating to present happenings.

8. So we have a stream of painful sensations about unaccomplished tasks, un-gained objects, unfulfilled desires every now & then resulting in misery or Dukha in day to day life.  
Similarly, we have a stream of pleasant sensations about accomplished tasks, gains & about persons, for whom we wish repetitions, crave but are unable to get due to time or age or distance again resulting in misery or Dukha in day to day life.

Now, as we learn not to get attached to a sensation whether pleasant or unpleasant, develop a Samata Bhav or equanimity, we stop the misery at that point of time. But the accumulated stocks of sensations have yet to be tackled & cleared & made to “pass”. Items from this stock of sensations emerge as pop-ups un-announced & un-scheduled & these are as capable in destroying peace & serenity of the mind as alive incident happening now. Thus first, you train the mind for passing off sensation being felt just now & then also look upon fragments of accumulated sensations as & when they pop-up as an observer as a Drashta & not Bhokta & slip into equanimity or Samata Bhav. So what does it imply? It implies that this is a continuous process of cleansing. Therefore you have to settle for a routine of Vipassana on regular basis. On a day to day basis.
As you continue journey of your mind through various parts of the body searching for sensations, you go through sub-parts of the body & smallest part of sub-parts of the body. The scanning may be further refined & fine tuned to smaller to smallest parts & eventually to molecules & atoms. Sensations of waves, jumping particles etc may be felt.

9. It dawns that all these waves get created & get destroyed continuously even in the smallest parts & even in molecules & atoms implying thereby that basic building units of the body get created & destroyed continuously. Sense it as an observer or as a Drashta. So you are nearer to the truth that every wave or bubble which is created in smallest of the body parts gets destroyed & that it is a continuous process.
This creation & destruction is now understood by way of sensations in the body & “felt” or “sensed” by mind as an observer –a Drashta & not as a notion based on reading or discussion or after listening to a discourse or after recitation of a mantra or symbol or a visualisation based on imagination.

So the truth has been “felt” & “sensed” through our own body through our own efforts through our own mind that the creation & passing out of sensations is continuous process. The truth has been felt & sensed through our own body that basic building particles of the body are having a continuous process of creation & destruction implying thereby that the resultant body is subject to creation & destruction. Thus the body, which is a bunch of organs, muscles, molecules & atoms & resultant sensations is IMPERMANENT –ANITYA.
Continue with calm & quiet mind to focus on sensations deeper & deeper into the body, continue to train the mind to observe even the smallest, the finest sensations & continue to practice non attachment to any sensation whatsoever.  More you practice finer & more subtle sensations are discovered while scanning the body, you observe them & let them pass because you are an observer. More peace & happiness descends on you.
At one stage of practising of Vipassana everything in mind gets liquefied, floating & everything gets dissolved in a state of flux or Bhung. Ultimate Bhung  Gyaan.  As the mind becomes calmer, quieter & serene you begin to feel & radiate happiness. It infects family, friends & environment near you thereby spreading happiness towards all.

10. On the last but one day we were allowed to break the Noble Silence only to speak to fellow students without touching or shouting. It seemed I had lost my tongue & failed to utter any single word for quite a while.  Just sat under the tree, collecting my thoughts. Very slowly I muttered oh marvellous! Chatter of students started building up. I waited for Gayatri to come to common area. She also smiled & we could understand feelings of each other without many spoken words.On the last evening were absolved of our pledge given on the first day towards:

Budhamm  Sarnam  Gachhami,
Dhammam Sarnam Gachhami,
Sangham    Sarnam  Gachhami.

Q. What was the impact of Vipassana? Was Vipassana fruitful? Would I practice it? Would I go for it again? Was this an ultimate choice? Would it lead to a lonely & secluded life away from society? Should it be recommended to be undertaken by family members? Is it a universal solution of happiness? Why do they depend on donations? Is Bhiksha acceptable? Is living like a Bhikku acceptable?

11. After having undergone the 10 day Vipassana course a whole lot of questions got dissolved in air. A few new questions have surfaced.
I feel humble & simple somewhat un-cluttered. Head is clearer & therefore little more calm & quiet. I do practice it albeit irregularly. For an illustration I would like to narrate the following.

Presence of  a friend always made me allergic, irritated & angered. His boasting of small insignificant achievements in superlative terms always made me fume & fret. My opinions always get brushed aside. So I sat down for Vipassana, looking for a solution, observed the sensations as a Tatasth Drashta, arising out of behaviour of my friend & let them pass. My bitterness has gone down by 75% & I am at ease in his presence & dialogue with him is easier now.

Well a peg or two of good whiskey accompanied by chicken is always a delight & a pleasant sensation! Now the urge has gone down! No more burning desire in the evenings.

Overall there is a refreshed thinking, views & vision for tomorrow.

To live on Bhiksha is not acceptable as yet. To live away from the family & devote time for spread of Vipassana not acceptable as yet.

I intend to join for another Vipassana course to go deeper into mind as soon as possible. I have requested my both sons to go for it at their earliest. Yes I like that there is no statue or photo of god, no mantra, no symbols & nothing artificial to hang on about the whole thing. It is natural & logical path to follow. Not so easy but not very difficult.
So I will follow the Vipassana path with a smile! 



Dehra Dun- 26-03-12 to 04-04-12 Vipassana Participants