My first brush with Vipassana
It was the year 1999, I was in BA 1st Year. I happened to meet a Vipassana Teacher … got indulged in argument … he was not very good with reasoning but he gave me the hard copy of a 4–5 page Newsletter on “What happens at Death?” published by Vipassana Research Institute, and highly recommended me to attend one of their 10 Day residential courses.
Things mentioned in the Newsletter were not verifiable … I was not a very big fan of things which can’t be falsified but I was Intrigued nevertheless with the logical consistency …
Decided to attend their course in Delhi. I was supposed to reach the center by around 6–7 pm but my train got late and I reached around 1 am. It was my first time in Delhi, the center was somewhere in outskirts, looked like some big farmhouse. There was a big gate, which was closed. I knocked but they did not open … My return train was after 10 days, I had only few hundred bucks in my pocket … no scope to go anywhere else … I kept sitting at the gate. They opened at 4 am and refused to take me in as I missed the induction. When I told I’ve nowhere else to go, they let me enter and allotted me a room.
We were required not to speak to anyone. We could only speak to the designated teacher if we had any questions regarding the techniques of meditation.
We were required to sit and meditate in the Central Meditation Hall for around 10–12 hours a day, with few breaks.
For the first 3 days, we were required to observe our breath going in and out at the tip of the nose. It was called the technique of Anapana, meant for concentrating the mind.
For the next 7 days, we were required to focus on every inch of our body, one sq inch at a time. This was the most interesting part. I learned the word “equanimity”.
When ur mind gets focussed after 3 days of anapana, and u focus it on one sq inch of ur skin, u observe many kinds of sensations — few pleasant, few unpleasant. We were asked not to judge them, just observe them with equanimity, as a third person.
Every day at the end of the meditation session, we were shown a recorded video by S. N. Goenka, he was the founder of the initiative. He used to explain the techniques … and tried to justify them using scientific jargon, which in my opinion, was always misplaced. And we can’t raise questions, as the local teacher present there was not supposed to indulge in so-called ‘Intellectual luxury’.
As per Mr. Goenka — If you somehow could achieve to Buddhahood, you won’t have to take the next birth and that should be the highest goal of life. But he assumed that’s difficult, so he kept pushing us towards second best use we can put our life to, and that is to at least get a better birth next time.
I was impressed with that equanimity thing, for the first time I was exposed to the idea that judging is optional. We may train our mind for not judging things in our everyday life.
Once, I asked the teacher about the boundary conditions of taking next birth:
I asked, whoever or whatever decides my next birth, is he bounded by space constraints? He said, No.
I said, can I be allocated to any other planet or galaxy? He said, No, only on Earth. I said, ok.
I asked, is he bounded by time constraints? He said, No.
I said, so I can get the next birth in 560 B.C.? He said, probably.
Ok then, suppose this dog (they had a dog inside the campus) is my next birth. What do I care about his wellbeing … I personally don’t give a damn and u r asking me to give my entire life just to improve the life of this dog?
He said, I don’t get involved in intellectual luxury, if u have any questions regarding Vipassana Technique then ask otherwise go back to your seat. I went back.
I was not convinced with their philosophy, but it motivated me to go deeper into Buddhist philosophy. Overall it was a good experience, and I was damn impressed by this Equanimity thing.
I attended that course later 3 more times.