As mentioned last week, I attended 10 days' Vipassana (Vipashyana) and would like to share my experience with readers. The following striking features of Vipasana are worth mentioning.
Origin: As per its founder Late Shri Satya Narayan Goenka, the practice of Vipashyana existed in India much earlier than it's currently known propounder Gautam Buddha. Buddha rediscovered, practised and preached it for the benefit of millions of people not only in India but also in other countries. After Lord Buddha, again the practice was lost from India, however, luckily it was maintained in its truest and purest form in Burma and carried on through Guru Shishya parampara. Sayagayi U Ba Khin was the Guru from whom S N Goenka learnt and eventually brought it to India, and spread it across the world. I attended it at Dhamma Pith, near Ahmedabad.
Simple life: I saw that all participants- Sadhaks were required to follow simple life. Use of perfume, ornaments etc were not permitted. During the stay, they eat simple, satvik vegetarian food which comes from the money donated by other Sadhaks who have participated in earlier shivirs. We are also required to wash our own plates and clean our own rooms. This Bhikshu-like life is intended to give much-needed humility to Sadhaks. Personally, I liked this approach of simplicity and was comfortable following the rules. Food never became an issue as I was comfortable with whatever was being offered.
Strict Schedule: A rigorous schedule of Sadhna is followed throughout the period of ten days, from 4 AM to 9 PM, spanning over 17 hours. It required us to sit for more than 12 hours in meditation/lecture every day, as per a pre-decided schedule. Timing for food is fixed, except when Sadhaks are not allowed to eat. The Dhamma Sevaks (volunteers) would go to every room, ringing a small bell, if the sound of a large bell coming through speakers installed on the campus does not do the job to wake you up. After the 4th day, Sadhaks also follow Adhisthaan bethaks - no-movement sittings for certain hours every day. For me, waking up early was a big challenge but the body clock got set in two days. As the sitting sessions were quite long, during my free time I did lots of walking on campus.
Meditation process: The process of Sadhna involves observing your own breath, not controlling but only observing as it is when you inhale and exhale. As days pass, Sadhna goes on to observe subtle vibrations in the body, maintaining complete equanimity and a balanced approach, developing an awareness that nothing is permanent. No music or chanting or other process is involved in meditation. Observing the sensations of the body, without being judgemental about them, is the main tool through which a Sadhak has to learn to remain equanimous in life. This was a new thing I learned here, and during the course of Shibir, at times, I could feel subtle sensations in my body. This has to be practised even after the Shibir is over for more benefits.
Philosophy: It is absolutely non-sectarian in nature and mainly follows the tradition of Buddhist Dhamma which is based on the rules of the universe. Our sense organs feel sensations which in turn generate reactions from our subconscious mind. These reactions give birth to desire or dislikings. These desires create insatiable positive or negative cravings - trishna. The philosophy is not to remain completely away from the sensations, as it is not possible while living in this world, but it tells us to disassociate the sensations from trishna, and it can happen by understanding the non-permanent - anitya - nature of everything. I liked the logical approach and explanation behind the whole process. I tried but keeping the mind absolutely free of thoughts for a longer time is not possible initially.
Nobel Silence: This is the key feature we generally know about Vipasana. The ten days every Sadhak is required to maintain Nobel silence - means no external communication in any form, neither through speech or gesture. This Sadhna also compels you to remain away from mobile, laptops and any other kind of connectivity. It also didn't permit the use of a pen and diary, or even reading a book. It was a complete disconnect from the outer world and aimed at connecting with the inner self. This was manageable, speaking was not required, and things were quite well set and systematic. I missed reading and writing, though. I had written articles earlier and scheduled them through email, so you got last week's column. Other things one has to settle before submitting mobile, and family should be informed of any urgent work. Overall, it was a new and different experience for me to go for the 10 days' Vipassana. It helped in many ways, cleared my mind to a certain extent (at least for some time), gave me the much-needed break from constant work and worked as a process of digital detoxification.