I just finished a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat in Bodhgaya, the land of enlightenment of the Buddha. It was a very wonderful experience and there were many learnings. As such I have done several such retreats till now, but this one was special. So thought its time I pen down some thoughts about Vipassana here.
Vipassana means ‘seeing things just as they are’. So what exactly do we see and what exactly do we find ‘just as they are’? Normally in life, we see things and without our conscious awareness we form concepts and meanings of it. Based on these concepts and meanings we also quite unconsciously develop deep roots of likes and dislikes towards whatever we ‘see’ and experience. This is true starting from the simplest things like eating and sleeping to complex things like politics, economics, relationships work etc.
Wherever we suffer in any area of life, it invariably boils down to three fundamental reasons. First, we remember having experienced or are experiencing a thing that we like. We either crave to get back that experience or we fear of losing the pleasant experience and want to prolong it. From what we like, arises fear or craving and our actions gets distorted and unwise due to it, causing us and others much suffering and pain. Second, we remember having experienced or are experiencing something unpleasant. We either fear that experience or simply hate the current experience and want to get away from it. From what we dislike, arises fear or hatred and our actions arising out of this again become unwholesome causing much pain and suffering to us and others. Thirdly, we have this concept called ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’ and due to this concept, anguish arises due to hurt, pride, blame, guilt and conceit or craving for fame, praise and gain.
And so what does this mean? Surely, I can’t stop liking or disliking things, how can I be stoic in life and what’s the point living a life like that? Well no, it just means there’s a different way to experience pleasure and sorrow. And what’s this different way and how does it help anyways?
You see a rose, you see its beauty, and something happens inside – electrochemical reactions in our body. You see a snake or an ugly undesirable experience and the same thing happens inside our nervous system – electrochemical reactions, albeit being unpleasant and hated. That much is a no-brainer. But what we need to realize that, when we suffer, we suffer because our mind clutches on to the sensations that is caused by these electro-chemical reactions. We are unaware both of these bodily sensations taking place every moment of our life and also of the way in which our mind tends to hold them in a foolish way, causing knots in our nervous system and leading to anguish and woes.
For every thought, every feeling and every emotion, we experience these bodily sensations without us being conscious of it. When there is a pleasant sensation, our minds want it to last forever and when there is an unpleasant sensation, our mind wants to remove it. However, in ignorance our minds does not understand that, pleasant or unpleasant, the sensations last for as long as whatever energy causes it and it goes away when that causal energy depletes. Pleasant sensations will go away how much ever we want it to stay on…and unpleasant sensations cannot go away however much we try to force it out. Our mind’s efforts at clutching at them, only results in those energies to reside back as a residue, as a potential energy in our system. Hence it remains as a pattern of habitual suffering, whether that be in the form of fear , anger, addictions or greed or conceit. Layers and layers of such residue develops within our mind without our awareness. The potential energies of such residue, just rises its head up whenever there is a suitable trigger outside, causing us pain and suffering.
On the surface we tend to attribute any pain caused, to an external stimulus and we might try to change our thoughts , change our situations and we might feel we resolved our suffering. We watch TV, we go out with friends, have a cup of coffee, or we pray in a temple perhaps or change our beliefs and thoughts. However, this happens only on the surface, and without being aware of the processes deep inside, we are ignorant that many a time we suppress our suffering and let it multiply deep within our unconscious causing us much anguish later in life. It manifests as habits and addictions. And even if we meditate using concentration techniques the upper layers of our mind remains clear, while all the ‘dust’ settles down at the bottom, only to rise up and dirty up the water when something draws it out!.
Vipassana is like a churner, which churns up all the settled down dirt and gives us a tool to remove that dirt and cleanse and purify the system, slowly and steadily, little by little. Clarity and Serenity is achieved at the deep unconscious roots, not just at the surface. Just by ‘seeing’ our mind with a special super penetrating eye, the mind’s eye.
I find this technique very effective, because it helps us to ‘see’ our minds at that depth which we are normally unconscious of. And it involves no analysis, no philosophy, and no religious beliefs. Just like how the mind has a capacity to solve numbers, to read and speak languages, it has a cognitive ability to be aware of these minute sensations that take place every fraction of a second in our body. And these sensations are closely related to what happens in our mind. Once we awaken this special faculty of awareness, we then practice how to let go our minds at the level of bodily sensations. By simply exercising this much ignored and untapped cognitive faculty of our minds, we achieve transformations in mind at a very deep level. And this is what we practice in Vipassana.
For 10 days, we do nothing but this work. We undergo an immersion course to awaken and sharpen this fascinating faculty of our mind, with the help of which, we release deep rooted knots in our conscious and unconscious minds. The first 3 days, we work on sharpening our minds to dip into this unconscious processes, by concentrating continuously on the incoming and outgoing breath for almost 10 hrs a day. The remaining 7 days, we work on becoming acutely aware of our constantly occurring bodily sensations, on watching its close relationship with our mind, on practising to reverse the habit of the mind to react to these sensations. And once we learn how to let go at this deep unconscious level with awareness, we begin to observe that there are gradual and steady transformations in our behaviors and habit patterns – anger, fear, lust, addictions etc.
During the practice there is no focus on specific gross habit patterns, they just arise and when they arise they arise along with bodily sensations . They are all observed at the fundamental level of how we crave for it, how we relish it, how we run away from it, how we fear it. We practice to focus on working on releasing the sensations instead of focusing on the content or object of anger or fear for eg. Or focusing on letting go of abstract anger or fear. Letting go happens more at a very fundamental level rather than on abstract levels. The more we develop that art of releasing on the level of bodily sensations, the more easier it becomes to release our habitual behavior patterns on more grosser levels of our mind. The three fundamental causes of suffering is seen for what it is, clearly and sharply and a way out is also experienced just as acutely, without having to know a lot of philosophy or theories.
Well, easily said than done. It requires patience, persistence and perseverance to get a hold on the whole practice. Just building up the three P’s by it self is a good practice and using it for the purpose of releasing our deeply rooted unconscious ignorance is super beneficial.
Sitting through the hourly sessions all through the day and seeing my mind exercise its faculty in observing the sensations with a continued sense of equanimity, whether it was gross or subtle, pleasant or unpleasant, having the experience of seeing the gross pain dissolve and seeing my mind develop more and more a sense of impermanence was an absolutely amazing experience for me. I could feel my consciousness getting more and more tuned to habitually seeing impermanence in many aspects of the mind both internally and externally. And that kind of a consciousness helps a lot in letting go of many things without having to make a lot of rational and logical analysis of situations, thoughts, feelings and beliefs, persons and concepts. Things start to transform very naturally.
It’s still a long way to go, but for however little I have treaded my path on this simple road, it has really helped a lot in my daily life. My anger has come down a whole lot and I see more and more clarity in my thinking, a lot of love and joy, compassion and kindness, a lot more calm and serenity in what I would call quite a turbulent life, coming a long way compared to the ‘dazed and confused’ soul that I had been for a very long time… :-). A deep gratitude for this practice and for the whole of whatever life gave to me!
Today I laugh more and enjoy more…but in quite a different way many times. I suffer too, and still even that experience differs. After years of practice of Vipassana, I might say, the consciousness with which I experience life in all its colours, starts to change little by little. I feel confident that I see myself evolving, changing towards more positivity and wholesomeness, although of course there are hiccups and obstacles along the way. Sometimes I sway off track, but once on track , it feels like home. I never stop getting fascinated with this amazing and largely untapped cognitive faculty of the mind, which is simply not taught in our schools or anywhere else, yet we are all so capable of it. When we experience its like a a-ha, I didn’t know my mind has this faculty and it can work this way! We come out more clearer, more purer and with a clarity that just naturally and effortlessly spears ahead our daily journey in life as well as lead us to spiritual evolution.
Here’s a link to the Vipassana webpage: