Nobody walks into a Vipassana camp without reason. It is intensely lonely, decidedly tough, and if you survive those ten days, wonderfully cathartic. You come out like a clean white sheet of paper, naked as the day you were born.
I had my reasons for spending those ten days at Dhamma Paphulla Vipassana Meditation and Research Centre on the outskirts of Bengaluru. I took to it at a low point in my life, lower than I have ever seen in two decades. When you are down and out, the mind makes strange choices. Even meditation can seem tempting.
A Year Later
One year later, only a small vestige of Vipassana remains with me. I have strayed from the path. Far too many things have happened. Some good, some not so good. But in the end, these are only excuses: hardly enough to cover the litany of lies we live with each day.
After living a monk’s life for ten days, observing noble silence and eating just two frugal meals a day, I came out thinking I will be changed forever. Wishful thinking, as it turned out.
Change by Choice, not by Chance
In the days that followed, Madhuri observed how I had changed; waking up at 4 AM and sitting cross-legged on a mat for an hour, morning and evening. She was worried. Where was the chatterbox, the person who used to listen to rock music and enjoy a glass of wine in the evening? This was not the man she had lived with for two decades. Something wasn’t quite right.
She wanted the old version back. You have no vices worth its name, she insisted. It’s too early to give it all up, she pressed. Eat what I cook, sit and talk to me. Don’t go into that Buddhist world. You don’t need it yet. I want you back, she pleaded, holding my hands in hers.
The fact is, it’s a long, tough road, full of traps and temptations. I gave up too soon. The one hour sessions turned into a 30-min formality twice a day. Then 15-min once a day. Slowly, Vipassana left me like a perfume wears away with time.
A year later, life is back to usual. Cravings and aversions rule my life. Likes and dislikes disrupt the Buddha who found a gentle awakening inside me last July.
The most important part of life, the breath, again goes unnoticed. So much learning has become water under the bridge.
And yet when I look back, some changes still remain. Perhaps I should list them down before they also desert me.
When you are not allowed to speak, read, write, not even exchange glances with fellow meditators, you realise the worth of each word, each syllable. Ours is an age of hyperbole and over-expression. Vipassana taught me there is infinite wisdom in silence. Measure each word before it leaves you. Everything you say should leave the world a better place. Each nuance must have a reason.
Silence has a beauty that is indescribable. Pause sometimes to take in the stillness and enjoy nature’s delectable orchestra. You are nothing. You don’t matter. What’s all the noise for?
If you can survive on two simple vegetarian meals (served at 6:30 AM and 11 AM with a cup of tea at 5 PM), live out of a small, hard bed and a handbag of clothes, you realise how overstated our material world is today. You came in naked as a baby. When you go, you go back unto dust.
Austerity has an essence that is lost on our generation. When is the last time you sized up your material belongings and asked how much of it you really need to live? How much have you given back to society? Maybe it is this mindless ‘take-more-than-you-give’ culture that is slowly eroding the foundations of our society.
Before Vipassana, the term attachment was a PDF document or a JPEG file for me. It took an immensely lonely ten days to realise how many strings have I attached to the people I love, people who will cry when I die. Silent contemplation revealed how difficult it is to break free of each string. By the third day, I was ready to run back home. A similar feeling came to me when I had joined the Naval Academy three decades ago. But if you want to do something of purpose, you have to leave the comfort zone. I am happy I didn’t flee the Academy or the meditation camp. It’s never as tough as it seems on the outside. Never give in. The straight and narrow path is difficult but it exists because somebody cut through the bushes and thorns and walked down that path. Find your calling, stick with it, and don’t let anybody tell you it’s not worth it. Often, we give up too soon.
Each day at 4 AM, a gong would go off in the meditation camp. A Dhamma volunteer would then walk through the accommodation blocks ringing a small bell. There is something magical about that hour. The world is a beautiful place when you are up and ready by 4:30 AM. Even after meditating for two hours, it was just 6:30 AM. The rest of the day is a walk in the park after that. Nature welcomes you into her bosom with a symphonic orchestra if you are up with ‘Brahma Muhurtham‘. Try it sometime.
Put that phone away
A small alarm clock or your pet dog is your best friend to wake up to. I survived those ten days without a smartphone or computer. Now I am back to fiddling with the phone at 6 AM and consuming the toxins it brings. Gone is the substratal “calmness of a mountain lake” Vipassana left me with. I know most of us need our devices to run our lives. Run or ruin, the choice is ours.
A Compass for Life
I have strayed from the path for sure. But Dhamma is a compass that enters your system and stays there for life. You may follow it or disregard it. Both are choices you make. Just because you don’t follow it doesn’t mean the path isn’t there. Nowadays, when I feel wronged or angry, I hear a little voice inside that tells me the Dhamma way of dealing with it. Sometimes I listen, sometimes I react without wisdom. But that small voice is still there and I am so happy I found it.
It takes more than a lifetime to conform to and abide by the Buddha’s eight-fold path of Dhamma. Hoping that ten days will transform your life is but an optimistic over-valuation. Yet if there is anything I have ever done right in my life, it is those days spent in Vipassana.
Don’t get lost in all the noise and negative vibrations. Keep aside two weeks. It will change your outlook on life. Even if you are a rascal like me who preaches what he couldn’t practice.
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2018. All rights reserved. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org