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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Vipassana, Enlightenment in 10 Easy Steps

ok, well maybe not so easy.
I recently finished a 10 day silent Vipassana retreat. It was as pleasant as going through drug rehab and as transformational.

Vipassana is an ancient Buddhist meditation. Today different styles are taught, but the most influential at the moment is S.N. Goenka's version. Goenka, born in Burma, was taught by Burmese monks who claim to have maintained the purity of Buddha's meditation technique for 2 and a half millenia. He has become responsible for the spread of these teachings around the world through his many Vipassana centres (over 100 I believe, and one only an hour from Toronto)

For 10 days I lived like a Buddhist nun. I had to first take refuge in triple gem - a Buddhist Tradition where one takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma (the law of nature), and the Sangha (the monastic community). From there we promise to keep 5 precepts:
  1. to abstain from killing any living creature;
  2. to abstain from stealing;
  3. to abstain from all sexual activity;
  4. to abstain from telling lies;
  5. to abstain from all intoxicants.
This was pretty easy since participants are only allowed to communicate with the teachers and Dhamma servers (volunteers there to cater to all your needs), and we were meditating 10 hours a day - not much time for much else other than sleeping and eating.

The first 4 days were spent focusing on the breath in order to sharpen the mind and the lat 6 days focused on the Vipassana technique itself where one focuses on the sensations of the body as a way to connect with the subconscious mind.

Needless to say this was a very challenging process from the very beginning. I had to share a room with 4 other girls- without communicating or making eye contact. It wasn't until the 3rd day that I started to realize who my roomates were. My back was killing me as were my knees and shoulders, and other parts I never knew existed. And to top it all off my mind refused to shut up. I've meditated before I thought to myself - and all other techniques I've used have silenced my mind much better than this.

But soon I realized that was the point - to get all the daydreams out of your system so you could focus on the more important work ahead. Everyday I considered leaving. I thought I'll just wait one more meditation and one more discussion and then I'll leave. For the whole term I almost ran away it felt so unbearable. But at the same time my mind began to open up. I started understanding how I'm the cause of my own suffering. Really grasping the understanding not just knowing this intellectually. It's changed how I react to external stimuli. I'm more aware and less negative.

The other incredible thing is that you start to notice all these negativities clearing out of your system. You are able to observe them arise and depart without reacting and creating more negative energy.

However this process really aggravated my back and knees. Staying now in the hills of Bagshu just north of McLeod Ganj and Dharmasala it's been tough walking up the steep hills. But I have discovered the next step in my healing journey -so stayed tuned and I will further elaborate.

Also according to Goenka one should not practice Vipassana and Reiki. He says you have to choose one or the other or risk going crazy. If anyone knows anything about this or has an opinion please leave a comment.

1 comment:

Mark Halpert said...

Too much sitting, I agree! I completely hear you on the whole experience. I presume you chose Reiki and have avoided going insane? That Goenkaji...