As I continue my travels in South America on a journey of self discovery, I had the opportunity to head back into Colombia and attend the first 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat to be held in Cali.
The Vipassana course as taught by S.N. Goenka is a unique meditative experience. It follows the technique given by Guatama the Buddha in its purest form.
The discourses by S.N. Goenka that are shown during the course intentionally break down the teachings of Gautama the Buddha to the very bare bones so that his ancient Vipassana technique remains available to anyone of any faith or no faith.
S.N. Goenka recently passed away, but the courses on how to become completely happy and free from all suffering will continue to be held in cities all over the world. And they are always free. Having completed a course, participants give a donation as they feel fit and their individual situation allows.
The course starts with sīla – moral practice – which the Buddha explained to mean ‘to commit only wholesome actions.’ A wholesome action is to be loving, kind and compassionate to every living creature, including ourselves; therefore the food served during the course is vegetarian, one cannot smoke, drink alcohol or take any form of intoxicants, and speech must be pure and wholesome. That means no complaining, no lying, no swearing, etc, and so it is for this reason, and also so that mediators can focus fully on their own experience for the duration of the course, that no talking is allowed until the final day.
Samādhi, the next stage, is to begin practicing awareness, or mindfulness.
We do this by practicing ānāpānasati – awareness of respiration – because whether we think about our breathing or not, we breathe. We are therefore training our mind to focus on something that we are always doing in the present moment, although we are usually unaware.
The Buddha said that our mind always wandering into the past or future is our biggest obstacle to being constantly happy. We understand that the past is gone forever and the future has not yet arrived, but we still struggle to live in the moment now and are unable to make the most of the reality as it is.
Cravings & Aversions
Paññā is the final stage and the wisdom that Gautama contributed. He found that we create immense attachment to the external and then suffer greatly from craving (wishing for something that we do not have) and aversion (wishing that something we do or will have would not be the case).
He found a way for us to not just understand but actually experience the impermanence of everything; thus becoming awakened (enlightened) to the true reality at the experiential level; in turn freeing ourselves of our suffering.
This technique he called Vipassanā – ‘to see things as they really are’.
Every moment there are electromagnetic and biochemical reactions on the body as we react to the environment around us, but it is the more intense sensations that we notice.
Whenever we are scared, our heart rate increases; when we are nervous, we sweat; when we are stressed, we develop twitches – we shiver, we shake, we itch. Every time we have reacted to intense situations in our life, we have formed a new sankhāra – or deep-rooted sensation -on the body. When we practise Vipassana meditation, all these sankhāras start coming to the surface. S.N. Goenka describes the course as carrying out a deep surgical operation on the mind, and it is a tough 10 days.
As we sit for an hour at a time in Vipassana meditation, we focus on the sensations of the body as they rise and pass away and the way that we are actually reacting to them. Initially, the sensations we experience are the unpleasant ones -itching, twitches, aches and pains – so we react with immense irritation and a desire to get up and leave, but as we continue, we begin to observe and accept without reacting. We experience the mind becoming balanced and peaceful, and feel no irritation; with time even our deepest-rooted sankhāras stop surfacing and fade away.
As we fine-tune our mind, pleasant sensations also arise as we begin to experience the mass of vibrations that are tingling all over our body, and the ephemeral nature of these particles as they continually arise and then pass away; yet we observe with equanimity and without craving.
With Vipassana meditation, one experiences directly the ultimate truth about matter –that everything is constantly changing and impermanent; the only moment is now.
So if all of our suffering comes from desiring things to be or not to be, is it wrong to want? Absolutely not!
Now when we decide we want something, we take positive action to make it happen rather than suffering because we wish it were so, but then if something we want does not happen, we can accept that situation without reacting with aversion, and then continue with further positive action.
But if we actually stop all of our suffering in the real world by remaining balanced and not reacting at all times, does this mean that we should never enjoy pleasurable experiences? Not at all. We enjoy our pleasurable experiences to the max because we understand their impermanence and so make the most of now, but by not reacting, we enjoy but we do not crave.
You are at a party with your friends, but that special someone that you really wanted to see does not show. Now you accept the situation the way that it is. You do not react with craving or aversion to the fact. You do not get annoyed or frustrated or sad and sit in a huff somewhere; instead you accept and concentrate on enjoying the situation as it is. You sing and dance and enjoy the party!
10 days of total silence meditating every day all day except for (yummy) meals, rest and lights out is an intensive crash course in a serious meditation technique. Not everyone may be ready, but if you have a real determination to give this technique your complete commitment, sort out some serious bum cushioning, and go take a course because Vipassana Meditation changed my life forever, and it can certainly do the same for you.
For more information on Vipassana courses near you click here
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