Vipassana, where self-observation leads to mental peace
The modern world has given us a lot of comforts. The mobile revolution and IT have transformed the world. But the downside is cut-throat competition at work, job instability, breakdown of relationships in the family, and stress levels high and beyond the imaginations of even our parent generation. To cope with stress this generation is in search of any technique that affords mental peace and quietude. I found mine in Vipassana.
Vipassana was brought to India by industrialist Satya Narayan Goenka in the 1960s from Burma. Mr. Goenka had received his training from his guru Sayagyi U Ba Khin. It so happened that his mother was ill and Mr. Goenka had flown down to India to initiate them to this meditation technique. A few of his friends and relatives participated in the course and it was sheer word-of-mouth that Vipassana spread over the decades to over 300 centres around the world.
My first Vipassana course was in Nagarjuna, 140 kms from Hyderabad. The centre is spread over 30 acres with a backdrop of Krishna River flowing into a dam. This is rural setting miles away from city noise and vehicular traffic. The only noises you hear are those of birds and visual of greenery of trees.
The initiation to Vipassana is not easy for it is a ten-day programme. The schedule is from 4:30 am to 9:00 pm and there is a planned activity for every hour of the day. It feels tougher than a commando training. For starters, no communication with fellow meditators is permitted, no mobile phones, and no newspapers with the result that the entire outside world is blocked out for this period. The aim of Vipassana is to examine your own mind and work on it.
The programme is run through audio tapes of Late Mr. S N Goenka who passed away a couple of years ago. There is an Assistant teacher who guides the participants. Men and women are strictly segregated and even their dining centres and residential quarters are kept poles apart. The meditator can only speak to the Teacher during fixed times in the day. They are advised to frame their doubts in the least possible words for talking and meditation don’t go together.
A meditator is expected to sit in silence on a square mat for over 10 hours a day. This to the uninitiated can be intimidating but participants fall into schedule almost seamlessly. I have severe arthritis and couldn’t sit cross-legged even for ten minutes. But when I started this course I found my knees were able to cope with the demands without protest!
Vipassana lays a strong emphasis on morality. Only after the vow of morality is taken, the course begins. As the days pass one feels the mind get less agitated. Mr. S N Goenka keeps referring to mental defilements and how this technique helps. Anger, hatred, ill-will, and animosity are our greatest enemies. Our enemies are not outside us but our own mental defilements. One of the greatest learnings from the course is that a tranquil mind is one’s own best friend. The mind is like a stray elephant. It is wild and ill-tempered but with training, it can be tamed to serve the society.
Once a calm mind is achieved then you spread peace and happiness to yourself and others. After the ten day course there is jubilation among the participants. After meditating for over a hundred hours they are tuned a lot closer to peace and happiness. The best part of a Vipassana course is there are no fees. It is one place where both the rich and poor are meted the same treatment. The entire programme is sustained on voluntary donations. Given that it costs money to provide rooms and food, the purity of the course stems from an idealism that I have not seen elsewhere.
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