Vipassana and Varanasi

I completed my first Vipassana meditation course in Chennai, India, earlier this month.  After the course I headed straight to Amma’s ashram leaving me little time to fully process the intensity of the experience.

I left the ashram a week ago and ventured north solo.

It’s hard for me to describe or even write about all of the experiences I had. In short, I learned to be quiet. I’ve become much more aware of how much constantly talking can be depleting. This awareness extends itself to my tendency to waste words in making conversation, possibly seen as a strength to every day society or networking parties, but a weakness to my spiritual development.

For this meditation, the silence is the easy part. In Vipassana you meditate ten hours daily. You begin with two hours at 4:30a.m. and are in bed, exhausted from meditation by 9:30p.m.

There is a shift and a certain detachment that occurs during the meditation. It’s a very rational and objective practice without any new age frills. The purpose is to retrain your mind to see things as they are, not as one would like them to be. Vipassana was the meditation utilized by the Buddha to reach enlightenment. The practice was preserved in Burma in its purest form. It was brought back to its country of origin, India, by a man named Goenka.

It is a complete experiential practice and best described in a ten day Vipassana course, now happening in various meditation centers all over the world. The Buddha understood that intellectually knowing or understanding concepts or theories is useless unless one has the experience bodily that gives one the wisdom to understand something holistically and in its entirety.

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I can say that through my own experience I do understand the impermanence of all things (I can’t promise my reactions will mirror this understanding all the time) and being here in Varanasi, where Hindus come from all over India to burn the bodies of their loved ones and feed the bones into the Ganges, gives a whole new meaning to the state of all things as being impermanent. In this deep rooted realization is the ability to remain equanamous to life’s waves because whether a situation great or poor, it will change. It is the law of nature.  Not even this very life that we so cling to is permanent.

I also learned that when I am not living in the present, my mind is either craving or averting something. I’m either recalling a beautiful moment from the past or building up my plans for my future (craving) or I’m regretting something I just did or thinking about what I don’t want to happen (aversion).

I don’t believe one can change in just ten days, old habits and thought patterns are hard to break.  Even here, backpacking through India with the scenery constantly changing, it is a struggle to not repeat old ways of thinking or doing things.  That being said, there are many who have quit smoking, drinking, drugs etc. after completing a course, but I cannot speak for those people.

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The primary gift that completing the Vipassana course has given me has been an awareness within me to facilitate a real change.  Yet I am changing all the time; we all are.  What we become tomorrow is born of our actions today.

In the course, Goenka used the following story to relay what type of life philosophy Vipassana teaches: a mother gives her son ten rupees to purchase a liter of cooking oil. The boy trips and loses half the bottle of oil.  The pessimist boy comes home crying because the oil is half gone.  The optimist boy comes back happy because he was able to save half the oil.  The Vipassana boy calmly explains that half the oil is gone and half remains then he goes out to find work so he can make five rupees to replace the oil he lost.

Moral of the story is that Vipassana is not the lazy man’s (or woman’s) type of meditation, it demands your hard work and for many people that I’ve met they consider it the most difficult thing they have ever done.

I think that if you do the work and allow it to, it can change you.

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  2. GRRRL TRAVELER - February 5, 2014

    That was a good take away lesson. It’s hard to live in the moment. I used to meditate a lot and I practice yoga, but the best living meditation I’ve found was actually travel.

    I think with all the foreignness and change I experience when entering a different country, conflicts, connecting and relating I encounter with my external environment, and with the preciousness of time and wanting to absorb the moment fully because you know it will be gone in the next second… I don’t have time to ponder upon my own past or future. I can’t help but live in the moment or engage with life. It gets to feeling like Zen.

    ps. Haven’t tried Vipassana yet. =)

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