It has now been almost a month since I finished my Vipassana course. I still feel the magic! So I thought that it is apt to write about my experience now – since it has not faded away.
There are a ton of blogs out on the Internet that give a fairly accurate day-by-day account of the Vipassana course. So I wont go into it. I __do__ however, want to give a quick overview of the course content.
Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique, rediscovered by The Buddha 2500 years ago. The technique offers purification at the depth of the mind, promising to remove all defilements.
The course starts by having us develop Sheela. We follow 5 percepts that include – “do not kill any being”, “do not lie”, “do not have any attachments” & “do not engage in sexual misconduct.”
- By eating only pure vegetarian food that they offer us & walking with attentiveness and not accidentally killing ants etc, we ensure that we don’t kill any being.
- By living in an environment that is built by the generous donation of others, we can’t claim ownership or rights to anything in the campus. That’s our first foray into living a detached life.
- By practising noble silence, we remove the possibility of telling lies.
- By adhering to total segregation of male and female genders & generally keeping to oneself; we remove the possibility of sexual misconduct.
Next; the course has us develop Samaadhi, or concentration. We develop the ability to “watch” our breathing. More specifically, we watch the various sensations above the upper-lip and inside the nostrils as we breathe-in and breathe-out. This meditation technique is called aana-paana. We sit in lotus position (well, almost) for 10-11 hours each day and discover what it means to observe breathing, by practising aana-paana.
On the fourth-day evening, we are introduced to Vipassana meditation – which is our pathway to Panya. Here we make use of the concentration developed in the first 3.5 days to begin “watching” sensations in various parts of our body starting from the top of our head until the tip of our toes. The idea is to discover being a watcher of any and every sensation that shows up in the body & not to look for a specific kind of sensation. Also, we need to discover a way of being with sensations which has us not crave for good ones and generate aversion for the bad ones. We are simply being a witness to the phenomenon of sensations. This helps us develop equanimity to all sensations. It eventually manifests as equanimity to everything in our life.
As we practise Panya, we will notice that sensations (both good and bad) come and go & that nothing is permanent. Everything is anicca or impermanent. The experience of impermanence is the beginning of the development of wisdom. It leaves us with the freedom to be with anything and everything. It leaves us with the ability to confront reality as-it-is and not as-we-would-want-it-to-be. We will discover that all worldly-events, objects and people have a “sensation-footprint” on our body & that our reactions/responses are to those sensations – much less to the events, objects and people in themselves. As we develop the ability to just watch the sensations and do nothing, we consciously reduce the power that programmed responses (or Sankharas) have on us. Over a period of time; the mind is freed up from its Sankharas (or programmed responses to good and bad sensations), so we will be left with the ability to generate more conscious responses.
Vipassana is not similar to Relaxation Techniques
On the 4th day, when they introduced Vipassana – I thought that it was drastically similar to progressive & deep muscle relaxation. But then I realised that in relaxation we watch our body with an intention to relax. Here we watch, simply; without any intention to cause any effect. To that end, Vipassana takes a lot more effort (atleast initially).
Sometime on the morning of the third day: I noticed that I was able to just watch my breathing without having thoughts in my head (other than those related to breathing). That was a insanely huge discovery for me. I have never found myself _not_ having random thoughts. To be able to limit thoughts to just breathing and nothing else was a huge breakthrough. I had never thought of it as something possible for me. When I went past that barrier: it occurred to me that with sufficient focus and practise, anything can be mastered.
I had to battle a raging-back-pain, presumably from sitting in lotus position for long hours, for about 6.5 days. On the seventh day, after discovering a way of just watching sensations and not doing anything; I noticed that the back pain just went away. I was so surprised with this, that I went out in the open and did a bunch of stretches just to see if the back-pain had gone away in actuality or if it was just an illusion. It __had__ disappeared in actuality. That was awesome :-).
For all of the ten days, we would be served breakfast at 6:30 AM & lunch at 11:00 AM. We have a really small snack break in the evening comprising of tea and one piece of fruit. But the major meals are breakfast and lunch.
After waking up at 4 AM and beginning meditation at 4:30 AM, I would constantly find myself longing for breakfast time to begin at 6:30 AM. I would desperately wait for 6:30 AM to come. Eventually it occurred to me that “6:30 AM will come, when 6:30 AM comes; not a moment sooner – not a moment later”. This breakthrough (although it seems like common sense) was so profound that it left me being completely at peace with “now”. I was no longer craving for a future moment. After that, 6:30 would somehow seem to come normally not agonisingly slower like it was before.
It is amazing to be able to watch or follow the breath as it moves within the body. Its awesome to be able to feel the breath (inside the nostrils, behind the nostrils, near the rear end of my tongue and almost touching the beginning of my lungs).
It is amazing to watch the size and shape of a headache. I watched my headache feel like a stone starting at the top of my head and then gradually move behind my eyes, near my nose and slip over my cheek bones into the neck and down my back. In the whole process; I was enamored by the ability to “watch a headache” than be bothered by the “pain of the headache” itself.
It was amazing to watch that I sometimes breathe through my left nostril, sometimes through my right, sometimes through both and sometimes while I breathe-in from the right; I breathe out from my left nostril. Its wonderful to just be a witness to this phenomenon.
It was amazing to watch my backache rise and fall & finally disappear.
It is amazing to be able to feel the pulse of heart beat from anywhere in the body.
It is amazing to watch the subtle vibrations that are clearly present everywhere in the body.
What is most amazing is the calm confidence that came about with the realisation that I now know myself (atleast my body) a little more than before.
One month later: the impact of Vipassana and its (almost) daily practice is still there. I am, however, not enlightened. I still get angry, sad, depressed, over-elated etc… I still am immature in several ways. I have not become Buddha. That was not my goal at all.
I __do__ know however, that I am on the “path”. That, according to me, is good progress.
I would strongly recommend this course to anybody and everybody. It is rigorous and painful. But the peace that dawns upon its participants at the end is well worth the pain that one goes through in the beginning.
BUT this is not a course one should do because of recommendation. It is a course one must do because of an intuitive push from within. If you do feel like doing it – JUST DO IT!
Link to Vipassana – Dhamma Paphulla.