Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Vipassana Reflection

Dhamma Sitting Hall and Dhamma Student Residence

My Vipassana Reflection

Last month from June 3rd to June 14th, 2009, “to know thyself” more I took a ten-day Vipassana course as taught by Shri Satya Narayan Goenka at California Vipassana Center, Dhamma Mahavana at North Fork. After taking the course for the third time, I find the course to be beneficial to me. I have learned how to live from the inside out, not from the outside in through introspection, a process of self-observation and self–examination. I must admit it was still a hard and rigorous experience.

I believe the way to be most helpful to others is for me to do the thing that right now would be helpful to me. Since I consecrate my life to teach and help others for the improvement of livelihoods, I want to develop and strengthen insightful learning about myself. I want to directly experience the truth, not just intellectually in the realm of ideas and theories but the inner reality of the mental-physical phenomenon by observing things as they actually are, not as they appear to be. I want to make best use of my time, the opportunity, the technique to learn to liberate myself from the bondage of craving (raga), aversion (dosa), delusion (moha), and to enjoy real peace, real harmony, real happiness. I want to learn to live in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past and reeling into the unknown future. I truly believe with a strong heart and mind training, there is no situation so bad that I cannot be accepted patiently with an open accommodating and peaceful heart.

After taking refuge in the triple gem, the quality of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, and along with more than one hundred students and Dhamma workers, I was committed to a challenging ten days timetable from 4:30 AM to 9:30 PM while maintaining complete “noble” silence, silence of body, speech and mind. I was confined in a room that prohibited me to read, write, and pray. To give a fair trial, I was asked to accept and comply fully to the teacher’s guidance and instructions with an open mind. As an old student, I also abstained from eating after midday. Furthermore, I was expected to sit more than 11 hours a day, often without moving for an hour at a stretch, watching my respiration and experiencing body sensations (vedana).

There are three steps to the training given in a Vipassana meditation course. First, I undertook the five precepts (sila) for the duration of the course, a code of morality, not to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual misconduct, and not to use intoxicants. By abstaining from such actions, I allowed the mind to calm down in order to proceed further.

The next step was to develop control, mastery over the mind by training it to remain fixed on the breath (samadhi). During the next three days, I was asked to observe the physical function of the respiration. I kept my attention on the triangular space between the upper lip and the nostrils. I observed natural and normal breath as it was, as it came in, as it went out (Anapana). While I focused on my respiration, I observed the nature of the breath was strongly connected to my mental state. I encountered and experienced many difficulties to keep my mind from wandering around. The reality of my mind had its tendency, its habit of wandering from one object to another, and one feeling to another, one thought to another. It just didn’t want to stay in the present moment. It escaped from the present reality into the past or the future. It didn’t want to stay on the breath or any object of attention; instead it ran wild, untamed. Lost in ignorance, illusions, delusions (moha), my wild mind remained agitated and miserable. Therefore, through this exercise, I kept my mind on a present reality: breath that is now entering or leaving the nostrils. When the mind wandered away, I started accepting the fact. I realized as soon as the mind has wandered, naturally, automatically, it will return to awareness of respiration. I learned to concentrate my mind, making it sharp and penetrating as much as possible, capable of the work to the next step. By observing respiration, I have started not only to concentrate the mind but also to purify it. I had to fight my own battle. I had to work myself. No one can do the work for me. To liberate myself from this wild mind madness, I had to explore reality within myself.

The third step was to attend and purify the mind of defilements by developing insight. I sat for the next seven days to practice Vipassana (Bhavana-maya panna): experiencing my own reality by the systematic, choice less and dispassionate observation within myself of the ever-changing-matter phenomenon manifesting itself as sensations.

Since our life is the creation of our mind (mano-maya), it is very important to understand the real meaning of heart and mind. In Pali, heart and mind are one word (citta), but in English we have to differentiate between the two to make the meaning clear. When we attend to the mind, we are concerned with the thinking process and the intellectual understanding that derives from knowledge, and with our ability to retain knowledge and make use of it. When we speak of heart we think of feelings and emotions, our ability to respond with our fundamental being. Although we may believe that we are leading our lives according to our thinking process, which is not the case. If we examine this more closely, we will find that we are leading our lives according to our feelings and that our thinking is dependent upon our feelings. The emotional aspect of ourselves is of such great importance that its purification is the basis for a harmonious and peaceful life.

There are two aspects of the training technique: awareness (sati) and equanimity (upekkha. The first is to break the barrier between the conscious and unconscious levels of the mind. Hidden by ignorance, reactions keep occurring at the unconscious level; by the time they reach the conscious level, they have become so intense that they easily overpowered the mind. By this technique, the mind becomes conscious and always aware. The ignorance was removed. The second aspect is to remain equanimous; aware of all the sensations and not reacted to them, to tie to new knots of craving and aversion.

To understand the truth at the experimental level, I use my body as my own laboratory. I started investigating reality within the framework of the body via sensation. I sat and let reality happened. I learned to observe “what is; that is what is required. I accept reality as reality is to me now”. From observing respiration within a limited area of the nostrils, I proceeded to observing sensations throughout the body. I encountered gross, solidified, intensified, unpleasant sensations such pain, pressure, discomfort. I continued to experience the habit pattern of my mind, restless, always wandering from one thing to another, to roll in pleasure and reel in pain, remaining agitated like a wild animal. Here and now, I worked patiently, persistently and continuously to break the old habit of generating new sankhara (reaction) and attachment. On this path, whatever was unknown to me must become known.

My struggle was worthwhile, but it was a struggle nonetheless and one I will never forget. For a few moments, despite severe pain from sitting and the rigorous schedule, I tried to remain aware and equanimous to the sensations. It was a very difficult and challenging task. I learned to observe and watch the different sensations without reacting to them and accept their changing, impersonal nature. I experienced sensations arising in the body and feeling in the mind. By repeated practices, continued works, while I was in severe leg and back pain, I determined not to move until I had understood anicca, the impermanence nature of matter-mind within myself. I remembered at one precious point on the eighth day, I experienced bhanga, the experience of the dissolution of the apparent pain into subtle vibration. The strong sensation gradually became weaker, constantly arising and passing away. I also gained the knowledge of the impermanent self, anatta because there was no hard core to which I clung on to. Such moment was pleasant, very important and powerful in changing the habit pattern of my mind. However, if I developed craving and attachment to this subtle sensation, it defeated the purpose of Vipassana meditation. It was imperative to remain aware and equanimous at any moment.

The other important part of the Vipassana was to spread goodwill (metta-bhavana) to all beings at the end of the course. As all the Buddha’s teaching, the practices lead to personal growth and enhance the growth of all beings. Sitting there and after spending a challenging operation of the mind, I felt the wonder of experiencing a new untapped reality of the mind. I focused on sending strong and positive vibes to others. I wanted to share my peace, my harmony, my happiness and my merit to all.

Vipassana taught me the art of living with awareness and equanimity by eradicating craving and aversion. I have taken the first three hard and rigorous steps. It wasn’t easy but I keep walking on the path, step by step, towards my own liberation. I have realized I still have a long way to go.

Bavatu Sabba Mangalan
May all beings be happy!