How would you view a programme where a group of men and women, completely freed of their worldly responsibilities, spend 10 days at a camp following a strict regimen that includes, in the main, only two activities – sleeping and sitting on the floor with eyes closed?
No talking, no eye contact with others, no physical touch or gestures, no reading, no writing, no singing or chanting, no gadgets of any kind. You will be served breakfast at 6:30AM, lunch at 11AM and tea with a light snack at 5PM. No dinner. You will stay in a small room with only a hard bed and attached washroom. In short, you will be living the life of a monk.
Ten days with just you and your terribly unruly mind.
I spent those invaluable days at Dhamma Paphulla Vipassana Meditation and Research Centre at Alur village, about 25 kilometres from the city of Bengaluru. Here’s a short summary written with my usual spirit that anything good or useful is worth sharing.
Vipassana means ‘to see things as they actually are’. It is an ancient meditation technique discovered over 2500 years ago by Gautama Buddha, the Enlightened One. The technique works alongside an eightfold path of Dhamma, the universal law of nature. Although it had its genesis in India, the technique was almost lost to India through the centuries. Shri. SN Goenka, an Indian born and raised in Burma, learnt the technique through his Burmese teacher Sayagui U Ba Khin for fourteen years. He then returned to India and started teaching the same in 1969. The courses are completely free of cost, non-sectarian and open to all faiths and religions.
Over the years, Vipassana courses as taught by SN Goenka have spread over the world. The basic course is for ten days and there are advanced courses beyond that. During the course, participants have to follow a strict code of conduct and eschew all contact with the outside world. The day starts at 4AM and concludes at 9PM with almost 12 hours of meditation in between.
Thousands have benefitted from these courses. In 1994, then IG (Prisons), Dr. Kiran Bedi even introduced this course in Tihar Jail, one of India’s most dreaded jails with hardened criminals. It runs today in many jails across India and some parts of the world.
Within a day, participants will realize how notoriously fickle and unruly the human mind is. It is this mind the technique seeks to master, ultimately bringing it to the “calmness of a mountain lake at dawn, revealing its depths to those who look more closely” (‘The Art of Living as taught by SN Goenka’, by William Hart, Vipassana Research Institute, 1987).
During the first three days, participants do nothing but observe their respiration. The strict code of conduct slowly calms down agitated minds and prepares it for the actual technique of Vipassana taught from the fourth day onwards. The vow of ‘noble silence’ is broken on the tenth day and the course concludes morning of the eleventh day. By this time, participants will have a fair idea of ‘self-purification through self-observation’, which ultimately must come through own efforts and self-determination. There is no magic pill.
Vipassana centres are usually located in quiet and green spaces outside cities. But in India, no place is far from religious edifices and their loudspeakers. On the ninth day, two discrete sound streams from the village outside – a temple belting out Vedic chants and a muezzin’s call to prayer – intersected over the meditation centre. Students experiencing different types of sensations, subtle and gross, were slowly trying to reign-in their subconscious minds with the newly acquired wisdom of ‘Anitya’ – the universal law of impermanence. Outside the meditation hall, the symphony of a thousand birds was reaching a crescendo, their minds reacting instinctively to the physical environment around them. We behave no differently – our minds always a jumble of emotions and turmoil, jumping from past to future, future to past, simply refusing to focus on the present. The practise of Vipassana and the path of Dhamma, comprising ‘Sila’ (morality), Samadhi (control of one’s mind) & Panya (wisdom), was the Enlightened One’s answer to break this conditioning and find true happiness in life.
For those who wish to learn this technique, do visit www.dhamma.org and find your nearest centre and dates. It may well set a direction to your life, freeing it of the many entanglements that constitute nothing but misery in the long run.
Soon, it was closing day. The gates were opened for us first time in eleven days. I gunned my motorbike to life, drove out of the camp and turned east into Bengaluru city for the 25 kilometres that separated me from home and loved ones. Being a Sunday, the city’s entropy was low, as was the August temperature. A warm, peaceful feeling coursed through my entire body & mind. But surely this time it will be a quiet and poised reunion. How can I forget? Nothing is permanent. Learn to maintain equanimity.
Vipassana. Some call it a journey of discovery undertaken with closed eyes.
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2017. All rights reserved.