“You must experience the truth yourself. Only then it becomes a truth for you. Otherwise it is only someone else’s truth”
– Acharya S. N. Goenka
When the word Vipassana is uttered, lots of descriptions and myths come to surface due to ignorance. Some are like ‘Isn’t that something by which you can be a Buddhist?’ or ‘That breathing-concentration-exercise, ya I do it everyday along with Yoga’ or ‘you want to become a monk/nun by practicing Vipassana?’ , and the list goes on.
Well, just to remove this dust from the facts – Vipassana is an ancient technique founded in India around more than 2500 years ago by Siddhartha Gautama, Buddha (the enlightened one). Here I would like to explain in very simple words and try to keep it as brief as possible, since this is a vast topic and one can write a lot about it!
Vipassana is the technique by which one concentrates on the mind and body and the sensations that arise and pass away. It is the way to see things as it is – as Nature has provided. Dhamma or the Universal Law of Nature lets us see and feel things as it is. It is important to realize that nothing is permanent. Everything has to pass – the good and the bad too.
Human beings are the most rational and intelligent beings on the Earth. However, people most of the time remain tensed, stressed, unhappy, worried, depressed, etc. Somewhere or the other they look for happiness and contentment outside. But just hold on here! Are you really looking for the most important feelings outside your mind and body? Think again.
Whatever we feel inside – stressed, agitated, excited, satisfied and all other feelings that we feel inside our mind and body are same that we experience and see outside too. This is purely science which explains that when we are happy and content, the sensations in our body changes and so the breath. The sensations are pleasant at this time while the breath is subtle and relaxed.
On the other hand, when we are angry, stressed and depressed, the sensations are totally different and so is the breath. It becomes faster and restless. This makes us react differently making things worse most of the time. What is inside us, the same we see outside too.
Also, have you ever noticed that instead of you controlling the mind, the mind controls you? Try the simple experiment – focus and concentrate on your breath (the natural free flow of your own breath as it is), without thinking anything else. How long could you concentrate? 2 seconds, 5 seconds or 10 seconds? Your mind stays with you on the breath for hardly few seconds and then it wanders off to its own free will here and there. Your own mind doesn’t listen to you! You become agitated and impatient on this behavior of your restless mind. But calm down and relax! Everything has a solution, a practical proven solution. Vipassana it is.
“Meditation brings wisdom, lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads your forward and what hold you back and choose the path that leads to wisdom”
From the time of his enlightenment, Siddhartha Gautama – Buddha wandered from place to place, year after year overflowing with love and compassion, he taught Dhamma to the people in the villages and most of Northern India. The theme in all his addresses was the same – sila (morality), samadhi (control over one’s own mind) and panna (wisdom, insight, purification of the mind by wisdom). He taught a practical technique to help mankind to come out of all suffering and misery and lead a life of peace and happiness.
For all different kinds of feelings that we feel within us especially the negative ones like depression, anger, agitation etc, we find a quick fix to these in the outside world. Example, when we are stressed, we try different stress busters – eat the food that we love, music, dance, reading books, going for a long walk, talking to the loved ones,etc. Yes! it works. But these solutions are just on the surface and help deal with the situation momentarily. But what happens when the same thing happens over and over again?
What if we get a deeper solution to our negative feelings and thoughts? What if we could control our own mind and thoughts for our betterment everyday? Sounds great isn’t it?
It’s very much possible through this practical technique which has been tried and tested by millions of people over thousands of years! It is not a quick fix but a deeper cleanse.
Vipassana is not merely a concentration technique. It is “observation of truth within from moment to moment. You develop your faculty of awareness, your mindfulness. Things keep changing, but you remain aware – this is Vipassana. But if you concentrate only on one object, which may be an imaginary object, then nothing will change. When you are with this imagination, and your mind remains concentrated on it, you are not observing the truth. When you are observing the truth, it is bound to change. It keeps constantly changing, and yet you are aware of it. This is Vipassana.” – as described by Acharya S. N. Goenka. To know more details about this angel who brought back this technique to us in its purest and original form read here.
To achieve something great and deep in life, one has to abide by some rules. In this case they are discipline, being true to yourself and learn the exact technique as it is as taught by the Vipassana Master himself without customizing it a bit for our ease and comfort.
To learn this technique in its truest form, there are Vipassana centres all over the world by Acharya S. N. Goenka. The first learning is necessary to be learned in the centre because of few reasons – let’s take an example. When we need any surgery, we go to hospital, for learning any new course we go to schools and colleges of that particular subject or interest. Similarly for learning Vipassana, we need to learn from the place where the environment is only for Vipassana and nothing else.
To train and tame our mind, we have to concentrate on something. Buddha chose it to be the ‘breath‘ after trying out different things. We can concentrate on any other object like candle flame or chanting in our minds – but in this case the object is outside and mind would concentrate on that ‘something’ else. But ‘breath’ is the only thing that stays with us from our birth till we die. ‘Breath’ is the only thing that’s present with us in the ‘present’ time without any external factors.
Hence, focusing on breath, the natural breath (as it is) as it is coming in and going out, without regulating it a bit is the first step. Simply observe the breath. Every breath that comes in and goes out is never repeated. Every breath is a new one. This observation points to the very important reality of ‘arising and passing’. Nothing is permanent.
Once the focus is stable and our mind is not wandering here and there, we start observing the sensations in our entire body, from head to toe on the surface level. We feel and observe every kind of sensations that arise and pass away – heat, cold, itchy, gross, subtle, pain, pleasant and tons of other sensations that are continuously happening in our body at any given point of time anywhere. Slowly once we feel this, we go a little deeper and feel and observe the sensations inside our body and not merely on the surface level.
Once you understand and grab the technique you realize how impermanent our sensations are. And how directly these are related to our feelings in the real world. This shows and explains us the nature of ‘craving’ and ‘aversion’. How craving for any pleasant sensation leads to clinging to it. Similarly, how we dislike any unpleasant sensation and avoid getting through it. It gets clear how this actually helps in real life to deal with everything happening with us and within us all the time. Once you start practicing Vipassana, every outlook in the real life changes to a positive one and you start feeling the positive change inside you miraculously!
As mentioned in the beginning, the truth is true when you experience it yourself. Only theory will never help in learning Vipassana or any technique for that matter. Only through disciplined practice one can come out of all miseries and sufferings in life which are buried deep inside us without our knowledge.
How I began learning about this technique and the detailed explanation to its basic 10-day course of Vipassana (Igatpuri, India) is penned down here.