Vipassana. Of all the types of meditation that I’ve known (And tried my hand at sporadically – like once in 2-3 years or so 😦 ), Vipassana was the only practice that showed some immediate results. There is of course a logical explanation for that. I had no escape from it. I had no other option. Here was I, removed from the urban hullabaloo, at a secluded place somewhere in a village with all my tools of communicating – cell phone, paper, pen etc surrendered at the reception of the resort where this course took place. In addition, I wasnt supposed to talk to anyone AND all that happened for the duration of the course – 10 days, no less, was meditation. From 4. am… till 8 pm. The only windows of communication – daily 2 minute feedback session with the instructor in the afternoon and the series of video lectures every evening at 8 pm – where we were oriented on the philosophy of Vipassana. Of course the video lectures were one way communication – but still they began to matter because quiet and silence can be intimidating!
I was all gung-ho about observing all the rules. Namely, observe silence – try to avoid even meeting eyes with anyone – practise meditation as per the instructions – for as many hours as asked of us and even practise homework given to us. I had a roomie and it helped that even she shared my enthusiasm. For 10 days, both of us observed these rules perfectly, even while sharing a room, we did not look eye to eye and were thankful about it :). I had gone there, simply because I knew it was supposed to be a difficult course – like a penance and I wanted to test it for myself. Besides, I was curious. Now I’d be hard pressed to explain why. In fact perhaps, having experienced it once, it suddenly seems like a difficult thing to do again. Since back then, I had no idea, no pre conceived notions, I nursed a bravado….though the experience was all worth the ordeal I must say.
Though based on Buddhist philosophy, several of its tenets are similar to what we Hindus too believe – especially Karma theory and re-birth. A spirit – ‘aatma’- is eternal – a witness to time. It has been subject to various acts, feelings, emotions, experiences over various births and a sort of debris – of unfulfilled wishes, long-held emotions – positive and negative piles up over the pureness that is aatma.So the inner voice communicates to one’s mind in this birth only through the filters of various ‘sanskars’ or the positive or negative attachments / impressions / trash that has accumulated over lifespans – and so it may not always be pure. That our actions and thoughts in the present life are mostly guided by these sanskars of past lives. Vipassana is the technique to slowly remove the debris and uncover the purity. As you slowly grow into the technique, you begin to experience sensory level various positive and negative vibes. Sometimes you shiver – out of fear, the other times, you shiver – out of pleasure. There are certain very prevalent sensations – you learn to associate them with a feeling. The object of Vipassana is to not only unearth, but also avoid further accumulation of trash. The only way there can be further trash is when mind is not in equilibrium – the non-zero state. Any external stimuli – an event, a person, an object, a place will result in a ‘thought’ – which may be positive or negative – which is actually aatma’s response to that stimulus – but once through Vipassana, one learns to differentiate non-equilibrium state from the equilibrium state at sensory level, one can attempt to restore the balance as soon as possible and thus restrict the impact of that particular stimulus . In other words, if ‘fear’ is the major emotion that I have accumulated over my life spans, Vipassana teaches me to slowly reduce it and also differentiate it at sensory level from other emotion, say ‘anger’. If a meditator practises Vipassana regularly, over the time, he/she may actually recognize when the fear is subtly creeping into the mind, before it manifests itself in a reaction like say anxiety or any other reaction, hold on to that moment and try to prevent that emotion from affecting the spirit any further. Another tenet was to live in ‘Now’, ‘present’ and not dwell either on past or future… that way you can control the amount of unnecessary thoughts.
Hard to explain it is…. but most of the people did experience a plethora of sensations… positive AND negative. The ultimate goal of Vipassana is eventually to become fully detached – to LIVE in a zero state. The seclusion and silence were necessary rules to avoid any external stimuli – so was absence of things like TV, phones, pen, paper, reading materials etc. We were not allowed to practise anything from our religions.
It WAS madness for first 3 days. I couldn’t sleep. I believed then that silence would be capable of killing anyone. I was scared. Thousands of thoughts were floating in my mind, though there wasnt anyone to talk to. At nights I lay awake and wondered how I had made it throught all these years with these many number of thoughts all running parallely…I had never realised it before. Just like when entire city’s lights go off, suddenly, sky seems to be filled with thousands of stars… though not all my thoughts were that beautiful or even remotely entertaining… silence got scarier at times. Not talking to anyone was an unachievable feat for the talkative goose that yours truly can be….
I was repenting the over enthusiastic and uninformed decision that I’d made to take the course. On the 3 rd afternoon, I told my instructor that I hadn’t slept for more than 48 hours. She said it was okay, since I was just breathing – it was all fresh air and in the midst of nature.My body probably did not need the rest and that is why I hadn’t slept. Post lunch, they initiated us into Vipassana (diksha) – when we were finally taught the technique. That is when I felt this was going to work. It was a smooth sailing thereafter. The thoughts slowly reduced. Occassionally I’d drift in and out of thoughtless state. Though I never stayed there for long.
Chanting of mantras, concentrating on a colour, a deity, tratak etc are all ways of stilling mind. Because one busies him/herself in this act, they reach closer to zero state – neither living in past /nor in future, devoid of any emotions. It requires great patience and I admire all those who have maintained patience and continued to practise. Unfortunately, it took me a tragedy to be reminded of the fact that I can make my own living better – that I already know how.