Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. Vipassana is a Pali word, it literary means ‘insight’. In Vipassana camp one practically learns to look inside the self.
I was pretty selfish at first place to go to such camp, I have heard a lot about this camp, heard that it will increase my concentration, will calm me down, will show way to the ‘ultimate truth’ etc. etc. but I just wanted to increase my concentration, nothing else. I am not a person who is bothered to find answer to questions like presence of god, or the ultimate truth etc.
Anyways, following is my experience of Vipassana camp.
I reached Igatpuri in afternoon, had quick breakfast and headed for “Dhammagiri”. Dhammagiri is a small part of Igatpuri which is at half an hour distance from Nashik in Maharashtra. As I entered the gate, I could listen the sound of silence (which means it was quite but windy :p). Gate it is beautifully designed. Wait… lemme put a pic of gate and the dome.
[Entrance to Dhammagiri]
I reached at main office. I had to submit all the readable and writable material along with money and mobile to them which goes safely in locker. (imagine the disconnectivity for 10 days continuously). I had a couple of hour before the program start. So I roamed around a bit to know place better, there was a brief information about Vipassana given in shuddha hindi 🙂
[Meaning of Vipassana]
I got to know that there are different programs for 10, 20, 30, 60 days available. I wonder how people can stay quite for so long. Oh yes… I forgot to tell this before, in this 10 days course we are not supposed to speak a single word, even gestures are not allowed, i.e. “Arya Maun” which literary means “Noble silence”… I call it “Absolute silence” (remember the absolute zero from chemistry :p) although we are free to discuss meditation problems with the teacher.
All gathered in a hall in evening. I could see that the people were not from specific region or specific religion, it was mix from south, north, from different casts and creeds. There were few foreigners who were acting as volunteer.
We were told the schedule for next 10 days which was like this:
0400: Wake up
0430 – 0600: Meditation
0600 – 0630: Break fast
0800 – 1200: Meditation with 5 minutes break in between
1200 – 1230: Lunch and rest
1300 – 1700: Meditation with 5 minutes break in between
1800 – 1930: Pravachan
2000 – 2100: Meditation and questions (if any)
2100: lights off
[Golden Pagoda Entrance]
There are 4-5 such pagodas in Dhammagiri. The design of these pagoda is as per the Myanmar architecture. Which was quite strange as I have seen the Buddhist type of buildings or stupa and this one was very different from that. Later on I got the answer for this: The Vipassana technique was discovered by Gautama in India around 2600 years ago and then from India it spread to the Brahmadesh i.e. Myanmar, Sri Lanka, China etc. But because of various reasons this technique was lost. One of the prime reason was that many of the people tried to add or remove some part of this technique, some tried to attach a name or attached some idol while concentration. It is easy to concentrate on some idol or while chanting. But because of this the effectiveness was lost. And Vipassana vanished from most of the countries. But Myanmar kept the technique alive, unadulterated untouched. From few teachers to few students this technique was preserved as it is. In Myanmar the pagodas are build like stupas in India after asked the reason they said, India gifted us the technique of Vipassana to them hence owing to them they had built pagodas as per the Indian architecture. And since this technique has been preserved by Myanmar the pagodas in India are built as per Myanmar architecture.
We all gathered in a hall, seats were properly arranged at the center of this circular hall. Guruji arrived and first lecture started. Few more instructions were given and the noble silence started. The first pravachan by S. N. Goenka was given. This pravachan was video taped. That gives the brief idea of things followed in Vipassana and I got answer to most of my questions. Following paragraphs will clear some of the common doubts about Vipassana (as I understood).
In Vipassana course and pravachans followed, ‘Dhamma’ is preached. What exactly is this Dhamma? Dhamma in Sanskrit means “Dharma”, but it is not concern with any particular religion. In old Indian culture “Dharma” referred to the work to be done by one i.e. Law, the law of nature. Just to give an example, Dharma of water is to flow, dharma of fire is to burn. Like this, the way human should live, will be nothing but his dharma i.e. Manav Dharm.
There are references to Buddha. Does Vipassana teach Buddhism? The answer to this question would be a YES and a NO. Vipassana is one of the most ancient meditation technique. There have been many “Buddha” (which literary means enlightened) before and after Siddharth. There have been many “Rishimunis” before Gautama who have achieved “Nibbana” i.e. Nirvana following the path of Vipassana. But this technique was lost after that and it was Siddharth Gautam who discovered, and hence there are references to Gautama the Buddha. Vipassana does not teach Buddhism. It teaches the technique of meditation and Dhamma. Ofcourse Buddhism teaches Dhamma as well but so as Hinduism, Jainism… in short, Vipassana does not teach any ‘ism’, it purely teaches the Dhamma.
Why isn’t anyone allowed to speak? Well, Vipassana is technique by which one tries to attain the state of thoughtlessness. If one speaks to other it triggers the process of thoughts. So, one is refrained from talking.
Can anyone leave course in midway? :p Vipassana is like a operation of mind. Imagine what happens if patient runs away from operation theatre in the middle of operation. So, to avoid such dangerous situation no one is allowed to leave the course midway.
OK! Enough of question answers let me tell you how my 10 days course went… and what I learned from it.
There was a big bell (Ghanta) in campus which was responsible to wake me up everyday at 4AM. First 4 days was tough for me to get up… but after that even 4 hours of sleep was too much… I had lost my appetite for sleep :p
First three days we had to concentrate on breathing. As the breath goes in and as it goes out. NOTHING else! It is called Ana-Pana. Pretty difficult to do huh… but not impossible. There are few variations, i.e. one has to concentrate hard to know the path of breath, where it touches in side the nose, the temperature of breathe coming out is higher than when it goes in, at a time we breath from single nostril only, but these are the things which you come to know without dedicated effort. One just has to concentrate on breath. The aim is to concentrate as per your will. One is not supposed to attach any name or any figure while concentrating mind. It is just plane breath. As it is, in its true sense. After hours of workout you can actually experience the difference. This is what I like about Vipassana. It does not just claim the things; one can experience the change practically. It is one of the teaching of Gautama the Buddha: “Do not simply believe whatever you are told, or whatever has been handed down from past generations, or what is common opinion or whatever the scriptures say. Do not accept something as true merely by deduction or inference, or by considering outward appearances, or by partiality for a certain view, or because of its plausibility , or because your teacher tells you it is o. But when you yourselves directly know, that the principles are wholesome, blameless, praised by the wise; when adopted and carried out they lead to welfare and happiness. Then you should accept and practice them” In Vipassana I could sense the change in myself as the days went by, through experience.
On fourth and fifth day the area on which we had to concentrate was increased from nose to complete head. On fifth day the actual Vipassana was taught. In Vipassana technique one learns to enter in our own body through the path of breath i.e. we can direct our mind to enter in our own body. There are no words, no idol, no virtual figure used while concentrating. In this technique one has to concentrate on a part of body, starting from the Brahmsthaan i.e. top of the head understand whatever sensation occurred on that part e.g. prickling, tingling, itchy, cold, hot, feel of air on that part etc. etc. whatever it is just accept it as it is and proceed. Do not react to this sensation. One has to start from top of the head to tip of the toe and then return from tip of the toe to top of the head. If practiced in correct manner, a sensation like goosebump is found to flow from top to bottom and back to top. When I had pain in my knee I understood that I had pain in my knee. That’s it! No special treatment to that pain… Just treat it like a normal sensation. ‘This part is paining’, accept it and concentrate on the next part. If one practices as per the instruction a time will come when this pain will vanish. For me it took two rounds of head to toe and toe to head but finally the pain was gone. And I felt the flowing effect on my body and it was indescribable. I could have sat for hours without moving an inch. One has to feel it to understand it. Unfortunately this sensation was only for small portion of time. I tried to attain that state but it was worthless. Later I understood that if one starts desiring such feeling, it is lost. This is teaching of Vipassana, that all the sensations should be treated equal; one should never desire or hate any sensation.
From seventh day till ninth day one has to practice Vipassana in ‘Aditthana’ which means “drudh nishchay” in Marathi. One has to maintain the same posture for complete hour without moving even an inch. NO movement whatsoever. Cause our movement is responsible for losing our concentration. It is said that Gautama sat months and months in Aditthana before become Buddha. I could not do the Aditthana on seventh day…missed by 10 minutes. But on eighth day I decided to maintain aditthana under ANY situation. First 20 minutes went without a hitch, but then knee started to hurt. By end of 40 minutes(I guess) it was hurting so bad that I wanted to cut it apart… but still I continued. I had decided not to move a bit unless I hear the big bell which signals end of Aditthana. I was continuously concentrating from top of the head to the tip of the toe and from tip of the toe to the top of head without giving special attention to the killing knee. And it happened… the knee stopped hurting… I could feel the continuous flow top of the head to tip of the toe and from tip of toe to top of head.
Vipassana teaches that no feeling, no sensation is for forever, everything passes with time. May that be a happy feeling or sad one, a paining one or the soothing one. So, one should not give any special importance to such feeling, it is our mind which treats it happy or sad and increases its intensity. Vipassana does not teach to suppress this feeling. It just tells that one should understand the feeling, the sensation however it is; and accept it, as it is, without reacting to it. It teaches that everything passes with time i.e. ‘anichya’ (momentary). It is the technique by which one learns from self experience that if no special treatment is given to hurting, throbbing part then the pain is relieved; it cures because everything is ‘anichya’. Gautama has said that not only these sensations are ‘anichya’, infact all the things, right from our thoughts, to this human body, everything is anichya. He had claimed that this human body is not made of solid matter, but these are waves which originate and dies in for “hazaar shahastra hazaar”times. i.e. 100,000,000 in 1/10th of a second. Modern science proves that the solid matter is not exactly matter, but these are the waves with frequency of 1,000,000,000. This proves that “hazaar shahastra hazaar” is not merely a phrase used by Gautama, but it holds true as per the modern science discoveries.
Vipassana is not relaxation, it is hard work! One has to work continuously in order to attain goal. One has to be very attentive in meditation. Constant Vigilance! But this vigilance is limited. The thought process is not triggered, only the current situation is understood. For example, say I look up at sky, a clear blue sky, the information from this would be the sky is looking clear blue that’s it. Nothing else. Otherwise, if thought process is triggered this can lead to: the sky is looking blue, I like blue eyes, in India mostly people have brown eyes, but in US there are many people with blue eyes etc. See..just in a moment or two.. from India to US :p that’s why some say, the speed of mind is greater than that of light :p These kind of thought process tires our mind. In Vipassana one learns to end such kind of thought process and hence our mind is fresh it does not tire much. And hence even few hours of sleep is sufficient for fresh mornings.
On the tenth day we were allowed to speak with each other out side the meditation hall and at our residential cells. It was fun to talk after 10 days. It was like learning to talk again. We were handed our belonging on this day. On this day we had option of meditating in the zero cells. This zero cells are in Pagodas. These zero cells are of size 3 feet in breadth and 5 feet in length and 6 feet in height. All white dome shaped figures with hole at centre are zero cells. One has to sit in this zero cell facing at centre of pagoda. (At centre of pagoda there is ‘nothing’.)
End of 10 days and here I was, back in the noisy world, but still, nice :p
I was happy that I made the right decision to join this 10 days course. On my way back from Igatpuri I was thinking about how perfect this place is for meditation. It is far from all the noise of city yet it is reachable. Weather is nice there and scenic beauty surrounds this place. Following are the snaps taken from Dhammagiri.
Following is the snap taken at Phalke Smarak which is near Nashik. There is a 20 feet bronze statue at this place in quite huge stupa.
You can see more information about Vipassana at http://www.vri.dhamma.org/