I had been planning to go for a Vipassana course since a long time but I was never in the right stage. When I was younger I was either too happy or too sad. When I was happy, 10 days in my life I would rather spend on a holiday exploring a new place than in meditation, though meditation was part of my life since my childhood off and on. When I was sad I would rather be with friends who would listen to me cry. Being alone in that state without uttering a word would be too harsh. And most importantly, my life was very busy either packed with institutional routine during my student days or caught up with office responsibilities when I was in a job. 10 spare days at a stretch were difficult to gather.
So, it was only now that the right time had come.
There were so many things to learn and so much to unlearn and most importantly the right attitude to learn in life was so much focussed on. “Anichcha”, as the voice of S.N. Goenka kept coming as a reminder, which means equanimity, not to get attached to likes or get repelled by dislikes and just to keep focus on wisdom through whatever comes.
“Sila” and my encounter with fear
31st Jan, 2018 to 11th Feb, 2018: I was given my room and I unpacked my bag and kept everything arranged by the afternoon, ready for the course to begin. The room that I was given looked a bit old. The ceiling fan was not there and a rusted rod just hung from the ceiling. The basin tap hardly gave any water and had probably got blocked from inside. The washroom floor looked old with the sink cover broken. Mine was the only room that did not have another student sharing it. I thought probably because it is slightly in a bad condition, they avoided another person and that could be an advantage for me especially in a meditation course, not having another person to react to and be socially obliged. I soon got used to all the difficulties and did not want to bother anyone with my minor discomforts.
In the evening, as I returned to my room, one cockroach was already residing there. The broom was kept outside. I flung the cockroach with the broom right in the garden. And afterwards I wondered how I did that. I congratulated myself for this tremendous achievement. This is the first time in my life I took such a great step towards this animal with whom I have bit of a misunderstanding whenever we crossed each other’s path.
After a few moments there was another one. I took a deep breath and got the broom again. I do not want to kill it but little fainting would be good for me to accomplish the task. I gently hit it so that it stops running around and flung it again into the garden. After this, I awarded myself for the tremendous act of bravery by applauding in my mind.
Then, I entered the bathroom and realized this battle of coexistence will go a long way as I discovered the source of the problem. The broken sink on the floor was the entry point for the cockroaches. And 2 of them were already in a queue to come out. I informed the person who was volunteering to serve. She too looked scared but was unable to find a solution. “I will try and see if I can get an insect repellent somewhere” which she could not find and the case was dismissed there.
That evening during the discourse, S.N. Goenka told us about the importance of “Sila” or morality. One should not lie, harm or hurt any animal, should not steal etc at least during the duration of this course. He said, “You have been provided with an environment where you don’t need to either. Make use of this opportunity.” I sighed thinking how my situation here was a little different and killing and hurting is going to probably be my everyday affair.
After the discourse, I entered my room again and flashed the torch before I switched the light on. In the flash of the torch I could see one more cockroach wondering on the floor in my room. I stood there helpless flashing my torch on that animal as it kept running to escape that flash. I did not have any more strength to deal with this. And with the fresh discourse in my mind I did not want to smash it either. I did not have the courage to just gently pick it up and throw it away with my hand. Within one day one can not become a superwoman. Evolution is a slow process. Already I have displayed a lot of courage which was a great achievement. Now I can not push myself any further. I stood there just holding the torch outside my room, helplessly as the little animal ran around.
A Tamil village woman who was also a student in the course saw me standing there. She brought a broom, smashed it and threw it away. She broke her “sila” for me. I was filled with gratitude and bowed and said “thank you” and thus broke my “sila” too. Talking was not allowed.
This entire incident made me rethink the codes of morality altogether. It is very easy to live in a comfortable environment crafted to suit one’s own requirement and talk of morality and high principles. When one is to live on the borderline everyday it is then a real question of what is right and what is wrong. For the city people like me who anyway live far away from the forest, it is so easy to hold a placard “save wildlife” and roam around feeling good about ourselves. The villages on the borderline of Sunderban has a different point of view altogether. Tigers had harmed their children and they lost their dear ones and do not have the same attitude towards the wild. It is so easy for us to overlook the shaky borderline people deal with and to judge them while being away from it not because of an evolved strength but because of a privilege we have.
This village woman must be living in a hut or a small house where rats enter to eat the grains, insects damage the vegetable plants, snakes and scorpions often enter. There is a love-hate relation with these animals developing constantly for them and they take their decision based on the demand of current situation. Her understanding of Sila is much deeper and real and evolving than mine.
However, on the 3rd day I moved to a different room which was new and nice. The sink was fixed on the floor, the tap worked, the fan moved and the cockroaches were no more there. I realized how material discomfort can directly influence spiritual endeavour. I realized how important it is to have the basics sorted first for the higher living to start.
“Samadhi” and my little world
First 2 days were difficult for everyone. We had to develop concentration for 3 days before we could start practising Vipassana. Many students change their mind and leave the course during this period. It is definitely intense, with little breaks in between and constant meditation which gets harsh for the body and harsher for the mind. As I tried to concentrate at the tip of my nose, my mind from time to time wondered. But this is a win-win situation.
If your concentration gets right, you realize how intense the consciousness can become. From being like a dull torch, it gets sharper and sharper like a laser light. You can then direct it anywhere and wherever you focus shines with wisdom and revelation.
If your concentration does not go right, your mind wonders into the world you created to live in and you get to see what your world consists of. It shakes you up when you realize it is only made up of petty likes and dislikes. What you liked comes back again and again luring you to repeat it in your mind. What you dislike comes back again and again preparing you for an appropriate response next time.
I used to meditate for 2 hours almost everyday before I came for the course here. But in a 2 hours meditation, one quickly gets over this wondering phase and enters a deep concentration and comes out feeling good most of the time. But when one is made to meditate the whole day it is a different ball-game altogether. There are certain time of the day the mind easily gets controlled and there are certain time of the day it is just so difficult. In a constant endeavour to concentrate the mind, sometimes the torch gains more and more focus with built up momentum and sometimes it just gets tired and gets loose to a state where it simply wonders around, farther and farther. You get to see your mind in different stages and time. You get a whole picture of the house, the beautifully arranged living room with fresh flowers and also the piles of papers covered with dust kept under the table untouched.
But whichever room it goes to, however pretty or untidy, you realize it is just a house. You have been wondering around in this same small house from one room to the next and coming back the whole day pointlessly and repeatedly.
Were you not a person who thought higher?
Was your world not bigger than this petty small house?
Is this all you have been doing inside your mind all day and night?
Oh what a waste of time. What a waste of life!
And then starts remorse. Starts a self-shaming episode when you again hear “anichcha, anichcha” being said by S.N. Goenka in the recorder to remind the importance of equanimity. Whether you have a good experience or bad, do not stay with either. Realize both are inconstant. Do not give importance to the feeling it arouses but look at it objectively to see what you can learn.
After these petty like-dislike stage, my mind started evoking memories. The fresh wounds and gifts were too many times opened and scratched and now it went back to fetch more from the past to wonder. I was in Gurgaon when I had a quarrel with an auto driver and realized it was my fault. The guilt was untouched and stuck there. I was in London standing in front of the student accommodation hall. The mind went searching for new areas to wonder.
Without going too far it again came back to the present. I had recently finished my exhibition and 2 presentations. My mind started analyzing many concepts in the light of the present teachings and experiences that I was gathering there. It started looking for new concepts to work on. Few inspiration for the next paintings came in mind. Few concepts discussed in the presentations became clearer as if another layer was peeled off. Many ideas for future presentations came in mind.
The problem during this phase was that though I realized my mind was wondering around, I felt reluctant to bring it back. It was fetching me wonderful ideas and I had to let it wonder so that it gives me enough stock for me to go back home and work.
I wondered if a wondering mind is wondering in the right places is it still bad? After all, it is this wondering mind which is jumping from one dot to the other connecting them to create lines and this is where my inspirations for more work would come from.
If I had a quieter mind which just looked at everything as it is in the present without connecting dots from past or future will I still be able to get inspiration for my work? What will the source be then? How will my mind fetch these connections which at present is a spark created by several dots?
The answer to this came in the next phase “Panna”. I realized that consciousness alone is wisdom. It does not necessarily need to fetch it by jumping around to different locations. If you have a small torch you have to shine it at different areas to get a sense of what the whole looks like. If you instead increase the circumference of the light emitted by the torch, it can encompass the whole at once. You need not then flash it in different areas to collect information and compile them to make sense and then evoke wisdom.
“Panna” and my being, being there and not being
After the 3 days of sharpening the mind one gets ready for Vipassana. “Experience how matter and mind are constantly reacting. Experience how in this very body you can realize the truth and mystery of the entire creation.”
“Panna” is about experiencing. Not belief or philosophy. Not just intellectualizing and feeding the ego creating a new feel-good-attachment to it. This body is made up of atoms which gives it the sense of solidity. Yet the atom itself is not solid. Therefore, the body is there in the physical state and yet just energies. One has to feel it to know what that means. Only then one realizes how futile the petty attachments to this body are and how illusory is the sense of “I” and the bubble around it. One gets through that illusion by experiencing it without losing track of reality. Therefore, no imagination or visualization is taken help of. It starts from reality, from the very physical and goes to examine the reality more deeply when all that is real or was considered real start to disappear into a new realm of reality.
We were asked to concentrate on the different parts of the body starting from the head to toe, part by part, inch by inch focusing on every sensation on every part. As I kept concentrating on the sensations, first the touch of the cloth, then the flow of the air, then either an itching sensation or just a feeling of that part existing there, gradually I could feel a tingling sensation everywhere. This tingling sensation of one part connecting with the next part became a range of tingling sensations that traveled to spread to more parts till the whole body was tingling as if a current kept passing over. The current got stronger and stronger creating many layers till the physical being started to become layers of currents everywhere.
Wherever the consciousness was directed, matter dissolved into energies there. I could see how the matter gradually gave way to energies till everything just became a mass of energies. The physical realm of the body disappeared. There was no boundary between the body and the outside. It dissolved into one big mass of energy sphere.
This was not my first experience with the energy body. Before this I had entered the energy state a few times. So, I was not totally full of surprise. But earlier I did not know how exactly I got there. I concentrated my mind and one day it led to reveal the energy-state, another day it took me to show me how everything is light. So, different days it took me to different planes and though each of those experiences was full of wisdom yet not knowing how to consciously get there was relying on the whim of my consciousness each time. So, I could not explain to anyone how that happened or how everyone could get there.
Vipassana takes one through the big staircase to the palace. During the journey you remain aware which key you used to open which gate and through how many passages you walked to get to the hall there. Next time you want to go again, you know exactly where you need to go and what you need to do. Earlier too I had seen this palace. But one day I would enter through a narrow lane, next day jumped through the window, next day tied a rope to the corridor and climbed and just landed there. Each of those got me to that palace and I realized how through so many ways you can just get there. How all the messages and guidances by different masters and different ways create an arrow-mark to get there. There are many short-cuts one can use. And the more one travels at these lanes one gets smarter at using these short-cuts to avoid unnecessary wondering around.
But I never realized that short-cuts have their own disadvantages. There is a high risk of one gradually becoming pleasure-oriented, merely moving from material pleasure, to now seek spiritual pleasure and miss out the wisdom the path has to offer. Some people out of faith just enter in the lane and the turns and twists of short-cuts wear them out and they soon lose ways. They stay there either fantasizing the palace as described to them by their master and mistake imagination for real for the rest of their life, or after losing ways a several times return with disbelief and resentment towards all those who point that way and hold them as liars.
Buddha tried to show the main road to everyone so that even if you walked just 2 steps, there are less chances of getting lost. If you just keep moving you are bound to reach the main gate, in this lifetime or next or next after next, does not matter. It may be long but the assurance is greater. And every step has its own benefit freeing one from the difficulties of the very present situations without idealizing a stage that is yet too far. No wonder he could teach this technique to all kinds of people, rich or poor, thief or saint whoever is in whatever stage.
This is definitely a huge contribution of Buddha to the mankind. People who are oriented, will sooner or later get there anyway but people who are facing the other direction and are going round and round in their own maze how could one orient them? Buddha’s contribution to that is tremendous.
I could also see that this technic is nothing so new either. It deals with breath “Prana” on which experiments have been done in India to great depths. It deals with body and sensations and concentration which chakra yoga is all about. The ancient yogis have observed the body thoroughly to create ailments. They observed the energy-body to such detail that every chakra and the function was crystal clear to them. They observed 3 other layers to the body beyond that. So, these were not new to India which had piles and piles of research work by many sages.
But to take the benefit of these work, one has to be trained with a dedicated, focussed and conscious mind. When the culture of the country becomes such that every individual is spiritually oriented and trained, it is possible to not have these misused at that time. But in a current stage, more than half of the population are not trained to take advantage of the treasure this country has. Therefore, misuses are very evident.
In the time of Buddha, the Brahmins had misused these for their own advantage. The common people remained deluded. It was in that context Buddha’s teachings happened. Buddha’s contribution is this unique approach of holding on to reality whatever it is for that individual and from that plane making progress. Moving into spirituality not by ignoring materialism but transforming matter into spirit consciously being there to see how the matter turned into spirit, step by step, moment by moment.
I was filled with so much respect towards Buddha and towards S.N. Goenka both. I was filled with so much gratitude that this course is so abundantly being taught all over the country and world. I am hopeful for a better world.
3 times in a day 1 hour each “Adhitthana” is practised, when one becomes determined to keep sitting in the same posture even through the pain. In one such session my legs had started to hurt. But the current in my body was building up. Any slight movement would disturb that and bring the consciousness back to the physical layer again. So, I kept sitting still despite of the pain. The pain was increasing and so were the layers of current, consuming my physical body and dematerializing it in every step till the whole body was not felt. As I was present there just being a mass of energy I could feel no physicalness and so no pain. But I knew my physical body of course still existed. Its just that I am not identifying with it at this moment. But when I return to the physical consciousness I am again going to feel the pain. “Oh by then it would become so much increased and unbearable”, was my last thought before I was totally consumed in energy-layers.
But to my surprise when I returned to my physical plane, there was no pain. When that session was over and I straightened my leg it didn’t have any trace of pain. Whereas, if I looked at it logically the pain should have remained in the physical body while I explored the energy body in a different plane. Since it was gone, it could mean that we can easily remove any physical discomforts or diseases just by entering the energy body and adjusting the energy flow there. Probably thats what self-healing meant.
At another session, as I was approaching the energy field I had also developed a sense of impatience. I took the opportunity of understanding that emotion and focussed on where the impatience was accumulating. It was in the centre of my chest I felt energy getting dense. They were quickly busting around causing impatience. I took deep breaths to scatter the energies there. They started to loosen and became even with the rest of my body and the impatience was thus removed from my system.
From the 8th day onwards, the short breaks that the meditators get in between the sessions was also asked to be turned into meditations. One should walk in meditation, eat in meditation and sleep in meditation. One should either keep focussing on the breath or the sensation even while doing any other work in between the allocated meditation-sessions.
During one such break I was walking in the path laid out between the gardens, still in meditation, observing my breath and senses. My feet touched the ground and the sensation was felt. My body had become more sensitive by now with these practices. The feeling of the feet touching the ground was so pleasant. The boundary between earth and my feet was not rigid. The skin of my feet felt like that of a new-born. The sensations entered my feet like a communication and energy-conversation between the earth and I. The sun’s rays fell on my arm and shoulder and the sensation was so pleasant. It almost went 2 inches inside my body than usual dissolving my boundary from the surrounding environment. There were birds in the trees chirping. The sound went inside my ears and echoed like inside a hall. I looked at the trees, grass, sky as if I saw these for the first time. I realized if I was energy, these too were energies without any boundary between one form and the other. They exist in my illusion and I exist in theirs. What a falsehood this entire universe of colours and forms are and yet so beautiful.
In every sound, every colour, every form, what a beauty is spread everywhere!