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.
To tell the truth – I’m not that much into animals.
Ok. That was not entirely true. I’m NOT AT ALL into animals…or birds or insects…(or reptiles or fish or amphibians and all the other categories that I can’t remember)….
Yes, I’m all for wildlife preservation and I’m totally against cruelty to the animals, but the maximum that I can contribute to this cause is by sending money to PETA, WWF etc. Besides, apart from sporadic spraying of mosquito repellent, thrashing of a stray cockroach and setting up an occasional mousetrap, I’m ‘mostly harmless’ towards other living beings of non-human variety (not that I’m other than mostly harmless towards beings of human variety – thought it was better to clarify).
As a policy, I avoid purchasing anything made out of leather, fur etc. Additionally, being a vegetarian, how much do I have to lose in supporting campaigns against meat?? – ‘none at all’ . That’s pretty much it. Sometimes though, I find it strange that I have such an apathy towards animals, while I flaunt my love for the nature all the time. But its true. One cannot be always appreciative of ‘life, the universe and everything’. I cannot make myself love the animals. To me, animals looks great / majestic/delicate (insert whatever adjective) only from a distance – like when they are in forests / oceans / muck / tree – whatever is their natural habitat. Nevertheless, by some ‘strange coincidence’ (Yeah, I’m a fan of the Hitchhiker’s guide in case it was not apparent) I have been thrust into the company of animal lovers and pet-keepers all the time since my childhood. Does it indicate my destiny / karma etc to take up a pet or something? Nah, I don’t think so.
Growing up, I had to cope with those periodic visits to my various aunts’ place whose houses had members of quadrupedal variety (and sometimes non-pedal variety, otherwise known as ‘Fish’). There were birds even, at some point. Not that I was particularly afraid of these animals. What I always found tedious was to pay compliments. I mean… these animals came and licked you and you were supposed to find that cute. Or they just landed on your lap and purred and then left like a huge hairball on your new clothes and you were supposed to talk about how these beings ‘exude’ love while trying not to sneeze!!! …..or when some of these beings chittered and chattered suddenly for some reason exactly when you were trying to nap, you woke up and excitedly proclaimed (instead of shouting with annoyance) that they were trying to predict some natural calamity or something!!! There were times when you hid into a corner and ate something for the fear that it will be pounced upon and snatched away….
So far so good.. a pup wags its tail and looks with those puppy eyes, a cat purrs and all, so there’s definitely something to talk about there. Birds usually would be love-birds and would have various colours so despite the nuisance value of each of these there would be things to talk about. But I would be stumped the moment I’d move on to the fish…(those beings which couldn’t even hear the names that my cousins had kept for them and those that made the fish-tank and the surrounding area utterly stinky). For sure, some had nice colours, but I could never go beyond ‘ I think this fish is trying to kill this other fish’…(which was all the action that was happening in that fish-tank). I thank my stars that they never ventured to keep some pet tortoise or even lizards or something!! What would I have said then? my head hurts from the lack of imagination!
All I noticed over all these years was the lengths that the owners were required to go, to feed, clean and train these animals and yet remain friendly with people like the next door neighbours, people within the locality, the mail-man and sundry delivery men etc. I wonder at the enthusiasm of my cousins who have survived several such pets of various variety and their generations…
Having seen much of the pet (keeping and maintaining) world I eventually (that wasnt really a gradual process) decided to maintain minimum contact with these beings concluding that I don’t understand them. Surprisingly, most of the friends that I made in my adult life were animal lovers. So I am from time to time subject to the discussions about the antics of their pets, where I have to laugh, nod and indicate that I am listening!!
Of course it’s not exactly like I’m totally away from animals… they have made a place for themselves in my life in their own way…
…like those pigeons that are currently in their nth generations on the loft above my house and occasionally set up a makeshift nursing home in my window-grill, enter the house just to perch on a fan-blade and then fly helter and skelter within house when chased, instead of returning the way they came ( through the wide window in the room!!).. I was once told by my brother that pigeons are actually related to dodo birds – which I have come to believe
…that stray bitch which has made the passage on the first floor of my building as her permanent home and is always positioned outside this out-of-town neighbor’s door. Doesnt wag tail or anything when I pass by, but lets me (and other residents) pass by quietly and barks at any newcomer. 🙂
…or the Myna (a.k.a. Salunki in Marathi) which has set up its neat nest outside of the bathroom window and sometimes acts as vocal accompaniment to any random bathroom singer from our house 🙂
….or a hitherto unidentified bird of spring that has been amusing itself by repeatedly pecking on the wind-shield of this car which we can always see through our drawing-room window,every morning around 8.30 – 9.00!! – cannot understand. Why? why only at specific time? Why only that car when there are numerous others parked next to it? Is it trying to break in? long way to go pal… or maybe its trying to check itself in glass-made mirror or it sees itself in this mirror and thinks there is another of its kind…or its eating some insects stuck there …where exactly? on the glass?? maybe there are invisible bacteria like insects there..
….A crow that regularly visits us every 10 – 15 days. Whenever this happens, my mother mentions the death anniversary (what is it called in English though? we call it Punyatithi in Marathi/Hindi) of some close relative which is coincidentally approaching etc and believes that the ‘Kauva’ wants to remind us of it – and then offers some food and water.
I think I already have my hands full with these pseudo pets. So if someone wants to question my animal-love or lack thereof, I can definitely point out these pseudo-pets and claim that there’s no ‘animosity’ between the animals and myself. 🙂