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Vipassana- A Precious Gift to Humanity

One is indeed one's own master. One is indeed one's own destiny.” -Gautama the Buddha, Dhammapada, Verse 380

For well over 15 years now, I have been a practitioner of Vipassana Meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka ji and his teacher—Sayagyi U Ba Khin. I was introduced to this path by my father when I attended a teenagers' meditation course at the age of 17. I had just come back from the US after spending a year on a ‘youth cultural exchange’ program, and felt distraught due to a ‘reverse cultural shock’. It felt difficult to readjust to life back home in my village in India, where I had grown up. Glamorized by the West and alienated from my cultural roots, I was not able to relate well with my own family and friends for quite a while.

Around this turbulent teenage phase, the 7 days of silence in the blessed presence of S.N. Goenkaji and fellow meditators turned out to be the most profoundly transformative experience of my life. During that Teenagers' Course, I seemed to have stumbled into a state of a complete meltdown of my ego-self, opening up within me the floodgates of immense gratitude and love for all beings. Although flitting, it offered me a glimpse into a more expansive way of being, which my rational mind could not grasp before practicing Vipassana.

With Goenka ji before attending my first Vipassana course as a teenager Since then, my journey on the path of Dhamma (Pali word for Dharma) has been steadily gathering momentum. I recently completed my first 20 days of Vipassana silent retreat and felt called to share the essence of my ever-evolving understanding of this beautiful path. I hope it inspires fellow seekers to tread on it and support mutual growth. The path is simple and arduous at the same time. Any attempt to put it into words may fall short of the actual experience, which is unique to each individual. Nevertheless, as a humble offering, I venture to share it in broad strokes here. “Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. As one starts closely observing what goes on within the body without reacting to it, many truths start unfolding. The scientific laws that operate one's thoughts, feelings, judgments and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace. This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness.”*(

Interestingly, there is ‘nothing to be done’ as a mediator. The practice calls upon us to ‘just be aware’, moment-to-moment, of our breath and physical sensations, with complete equanimity. This ‘doing nothing’ may seem very simple and easy, but perhaps is the hardest thing ‘to do’ for the human mind. This is because of the strong conditioning and constant tendency of the mind to keep itself occupied or distracted, to judge and react, or to escape into some external activity etc. As one closes one’s eyes and attempts to sit still, the mind begins to rebel, to wander into the past or the future. One also begins to notice the ceaseless tendency of the mind to seek pleasure and to resent pain/discomfort. It is an important realization—the nature of our mind and its conditioning. This ‘doing nothing’, staying alert and not reacting, stirs up deep-rooted impressions (Sankharas) which are lying dormant in our sub-conscious mind. No preference is given to any particular thought, emotion or experience. One simply remains witness to whatever is unfolding each passing moment. The breath and the body are chosen as our anchors for staying aware because of their intimate connection with the mind. With continued vigilance, through what feels like an intense, surgical operation, radical shift begins to take place in the nature of our mind at a fundamental level. Just the way a mirror offers us the opportunity to see clearly our physical appearance, Vipassana offers a chance to see clearly our inner reality. With a greater sense of awareness, held with equanimity, deeper insights begin to reveal themselves and new perspectives open up. The difference is quite palpable–as if a foggy window-shield is getting wiped crystal clear, veil after veil (of ignorance & conditioning) is getting lifted off. Such a clearer ‘seeing of reality as it is’, helps in navigating the journey. Like an anti-virus software that scans the computer for any bugs to protect the system, this practice of inner-seeing, inner-knowing, is an ever-present tool for us to be able to constantly scan the subatomic, vibrational field of energy which makes up our mind-body complex. One begins to sense the moment-to-moment arising and passing of the physical sensations which manifest themselves in the form of bio-chemical reactions and electro-magnetic waves. We can now be more conscious of how every tiniest of our thought and inter-action with the world affects our inner reality. At any given moment, we are presented with a choice—to continue to react to the pleasant—unpleasant sensations (as has been the habit pattern of our mind) OR to observe them dispassionately. Moving away from a pre-conditioned, mechanical mode of operating, we may now respond and engage with the world more skillfully. Our capacity to remain calm even in the middle of a storm begins to grow naturally. Even as there is suffering, with each passing moment, there is impermanence is what one begins to realize at a very experiential level. This creates a greater sense of acceptance and detached engagement with life--leading to effortless action. It is indeed a deep dive into hidden layers of our consciousness. The deeper one penetrates, the deeper it cleans-up the past residues formed by the cravings, aversions or ignorance of one's mind. It feels quite empowering to appreciate that ‘liberation’ is not necessarily one final destination but a continuous process and a conscious choice that we can make every moment! During one of my long silent practices, an image came to me—that of being a warrior on a horse, attacked from every direction, wounded and bleeding—the pain was incredible. Something however, offered me the strength to stay the course, vigilant and unperturbed. After over 90 minutes of being still, when I finally opened my eyes, tears started rolling down. It felt as if some deeply held hurt and burden had been lifted off my chest. My heart was filled with immense gratitude towards the Vipassana tradition and the long lineage of Masters who maintained the sanctity of the technique over so many centuries since the time of the Buddha. He re-discovered the technique over 2500 years ago and with great compassion, shared it widely for the benefit of the entire humanity. Does this all mean that I am now enlightened—my friends ask me jokingly! Far from it! The humble realization, rather, is that the path is long and arduous but the choice to walk on it is present every moment.

वयधम्मा सङ्खारा, अप्पमादेन सम्पादेथ Vayadhammā­ sañkhārā, Appamādena sampādetha. "Impermanent are all compounded things, work out your own salvation with diligence." --Gautama the Buddha, Mahaparinibbana Sutta, Verse 185

Vipassana Global Pagoda, Mumbai, India

Sharing below some of the salient aspects of the Vipassana tradition that I really appreciate: Inclusive: All are welcome! Vipassana has universal application in alleviating human suffering. It can be of benefit to anyone who practices diligently, irrespective of their race, religion, culture, socio-economic status, caste, gender or age. It has been found to be extremely transformative in prison settings as well. The essential nature of Dharma is benevolence. It is akin to pristine pure water in the Himalayas. Whoever takes even a sip of it, is bound to feel uplifted. “धर्म न हिन्दू बौद्ध है, सिख न मुस्लिम जैन, धर्म चित्त की शुद्धता धर्म शांति सुख चैन” । “Dharma is neither Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, nor Islam or Jainism. Dharma is the purity of mind, Dharma is peace, joy and harmony.”—S.N. Goenkaji A Precious Gift: Dharma is invaluable indeed! There are no fees to attend the courses. They are gifted forward by the participants who have had a taste of its depth and beauty. Over 200 Vipassana centers have come up around the world and continue to grow organically thanks to the heartfelt contributions of countless, invisible beings. Experiential: The entire path follows the truth as it presents itself every moment. It is the direct experience of truth that is given the highest importance all along the journey. Minimal instructions and theory is offered to build understanding in tandem with the practice. Scientific: The technique is highly scientific—it follows the laws of nature at its core and hence it really works! Several research-projectshave been undertaken and established the relevance and benefit of Vipassana in the modern context. Root Level: Vipassana identifies the root-cause of human suffering as ignorance (Avidya) and addresses it by awakening direct insight (Pragya) into the nature of suffering in its entirety. Timeless: The practice cuts across time and space. It has proven to be of immense benefit in the past, continues to be so in the present and promises to do so in the future as well. Strong Foundation: The practice is built on a strong foundation of basic moral precepts (Sheel) and the concentration of the mind (Samadhi) leading to direct insight (Pragya). Without these firmly in place, there is a danger of deluding oneself or getting lost. Metta (Loving Kindness): It may seem too individualistic, selfish or even un-necessary to focus so much on our inner-work and suffering. Vipassana, however, is always accompanied with the practice of 'Metta' (Loving Kindness). By generating feelings of goodwill, forgiveness and gratitude for all beings, the heart naturally softens up and expands into a sense of oneness and interconnection. This ripples out into the world through our wholesome thoughts, words and actions thus contributing towards the collective wellbeing. Self-Mastery & Discipline: The path puts the entire onus upon the practitioner. It teaches one to be self-reliant. It is not centered around or dependent on any one person or a Guru. A strict, voluntary self-discipline is what it truly calls for. “You yourself must strive. The Buddhas only point the way.” —Gautama the Buddha, Dhammapada, Verse 276 A Note of Caution:

Practicing Vipassana without first completing a 10-day course is NOT advisable, "The technique (of Vipassana) should be learned only in a course where there is a proper environment to support the meditator and a properly trained guide. Meditation is a serious matter, especially the Vipassana technique, which deals with the depths of the mind. It should never be approached lightly or casually." (William Hart in the book 'Art of Living') For more information on Vipassana Meditation and/or to register for a 10-day courses, please visit: Written by: Vipul Shaha, Pune, India Psychotherapist | Yoga-Mindfulness Trainer | Educator-Facilitator | Gap-Year Coach | Youth Mentor | Nature Experience Facilitator



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