August 11, 2008

The discovery of Buddha

Introduction to Vipassana by S.N. Goenka

The discovery of Buddha

Be free of your bondages, and enjoy real peace, real harmony, and real happiness. Such are the wishes of S.N. Goenka as he teaches to thousands of people around the world Gotama the Buddha’s 2500 years old technique of meditation known as Vipassana – which means to see things as they are.

To see things as they are is not an easy task, and most of the time we rather not, since reality as we live it in today’s world is full of misery, suffering, anger, hatred, depression, illness and chaos, miscommunication and misunderstanding of each other, everybody has a belief that wants everybody else to summit to at all cost, every religion wants to convert others claiming its monopoly of the gates of heaven and hell, and punishing and reward seems to depend on how much money the Samaritan has to offer; people separate and divide, no mention kill each other, in the irony of fighting for peace.

As a natural cycle, all civilizations seem to have a history of bright times where all is creation and enlightening force and times where all is darkness and destruction, only to come back to bright times in peace and creativity until we manage again to come back to darkness, this goes round again and again, it’s the law of nature, changing, changing, changing. It seems to be a learning process where only the awaken ones survive to carry on the sacred practices that keep humanity evolving towards the final goal of liberation; Liberation of what? Well, there is no need to talk history, philosophy or spirituality to mention a couple of things I would like to liberate myself from: anger, jealousy, hatred, greed, passion, fear, pride, ego…in brief, all defilements of the mind that generate craving and aversion, which unavoidably lead to misery and suffering at the deepest level.

Fortunately, it seems our generation is on the verge of this shift from darkness to brightness again; this generation keeps reviving different cultural prophecies about how near the end of the world as we know it is – and judging from everyday happenings in many places, “near” appears to be very near. Even if most people choose to believe the Earth will disappear (understandable, since we are destroying it ourselves), the reality around us show a shift in awareness, we all want peace, we all want harmony and at the individual level most of us are making an effort towards a community awakening towards happiness.

So this month I went to sit on my butt to practice Vipassana for 10 days – the minimum period required to learn Buddha’s technique – …for the 4th time… in an attempt to release myself from the impurities of the mind and to develop awareness of sensation and equanimity. And what a gift to my self it was! Still, this time I was not prepare for it at all; you see, my first time I was following my yoga guru’s recommendation on what to do to face my anxiety when I had to sing in front of 15,000 people to present my first CD; he said to me “You should take a Vipassana course” and gave me the contact information to find out details www.dhamma.org

I found out the requirements to do the course were simple. I had to make 10 days of my life available to learn the technique and had to prepare myself to be ready to take the vows needed to create the right atmosphere required to get the most benefits out of the practice: silence for 9 days, retreat from contact with others (except the teachers and the course manager in case of having the need), no killing, no false speech meaning no lying, exaggerating or omitting the truth at all (since silence is a requirement this was an easy one), no sexual misconduct (men and women are segregated so this is also a piece of cake) no stealing, and finally abstaining from taking any intoxicants (no alcohol, no drugs). Since my guru’s way of living has all my admiration and respect and he considers S.N. Goenka his teacher, it was so easy for me to accept the challenge. Of course it was also my own curiosity to see if I was capable of such an enterprise of strong determination – to be sitting down from 4:30 AM to 9:00 PM (with breaks for rest and eating, and an interval of 5 minutes of rest between every hour of meditation, don’t panic) and the promise of a heavenly reward help me decide to just DO IT. Not to forget that at that time I was living in my car and the though of having a roof, a bed and three meals a day for no money at all was an answer to my prayers! So I was r e a d y.

But this fourth time I had applied for service, the Vipassana Courses are managed on donations basis by the old students who having experienced the benefits of the practice desire others to receive the same opportunity regardless of social status or money possibilities or any other material circumstances. There I was, exhausted from my own professional scheduling and intense working hours here in Colorado and other parts of the world, from my countless hours of partying and endless enjoying of the pleasures of modern life, speeding through my days at the pace of others to keep up with the busy life of the householder, thinking I was about to work another 10 days cooking and serving for maybe a hundred people. Regardless of the lack of energy, my love for the practice was motivating me to just hang in there and DO IT.

Dhamma is wonderful and always in synch as the law of nature, giving you what you deserve at all times according to your own actions; this time the Assistant Teacher (since Goenka can’t be everywhere in the world at the same time, he teaches the course through videotapes while his assigned assistant teachers are present meditating with you and helping you through it), so the assistant teacher told me my service application had not been properly sent and there were plenty of servers already, would I have a problem sitting the whole course? I didn’t ask for it, the opportunity was given to me, therefore I took this as a complete sign to take my practice with commitment and devotion, making the effort to work seriously and continuously; after all, as far as this technique goes, “continuously of practice is the secret of success”.

This is what I experienced: I sat down observing only my respiration in Anapana fashion during the first three days, observing the natural respiration as it is, without making an effort to change it. Simply observing it until sensation comes easily to the triangle area of the face – the nostrils and above the upper lips. The smaller the area of attention, the sharper the mind becomes, making it possible to awaken the awareness of sensation in the body. On the fourth day Vipassana is learned. If one has worked properly by the fourth day one already has awareness of sensation very present. By then there are sensations throughout the whole body, from head to feet. One feels those sensations and is asked not to react to them. Just observe; observe, objectively, without identifying yourself with the sensations. By the time I reached the seventh day I started moving towards subtler and subtler reality, by natural law. I observe that the body initially appears to be solid at the level of sensation. Observing, observing, I reached the stage where the entire physical structure is experienced as nothing but subatomic particles; I could go on and tell you how that amazing sensation felt, but then I would be ruining it for you since I might create an idea in your head and your mind could end up being conditioned by what I describe to you about my own sensations, this my cause you to crave for an specific sensation causing more trouble for you, since the practice is all about avoiding craving or aversion towards your sensations. Nonetheless, I can tell you that Buddha’s words become clear by having the experience.

Sabbo pajjalito loko, sabbo loko pakampito
“Everything in the Universe is vibration and combustion.”

Before the Buddha, during the time of Buddha, and after Buddha, countless meditation techniques are practiced. Gotama tried them all in his search of how to eradicate misery. He noticed that the mind would get concentrated, but still suffering was there, so he made the strong determination to sit in the same position without moving until he found how to eradicate it. He figured out that observing reality within the frame of the body is what we must do in order to really understand its nature at the experience level, respiration is always present to be observed and not moving is necessary to keep the stability of the mind without external distractions. Unless you live it yourself through your own experience how can you understand it?

He had already experienced through other meditation techniques that Sila – a life of morality, meaning to not have any action at the physical or vocal level that hurt others – is completely essential to accomplish Samadhi – to become master of your own mind. How to clear the mind from impurities and eradicate suffering was his contribution to meditation. When something undesired happens we feel aversion, any time something desired doesn’t happen we feel craving; which always makes us suffer. At the intellectual level of the mind we try to understand craving and aversion, but most often merely suppress it. Through his deep observation and own experience it became so clear to him: The six sense organs (hearing, sight, smell, taste, touch, mind) come in contact with external objects. Because of the contact, a sensation starts in the body that, most of the time, is either pleasant or unpleasant. After the sensation arises, craving or aversion starts. Not before that. Every sensation arises and passes away, nothing is eternal, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral the characteristic of impermanence remains the same. Anicha Changing, changing, changing this is the law of nature. If one learns how to obverse sensations in the body at all times one can say one has accomplished the goal to “Know thyself”, and if one understands this one law of nature: changing, changing, changing, and remains with a stable peaceful mind without reacting to the difficulties of being human, one has accomplished equanimity. When one accomplishes equanimity, there is no more craving and no more aversion – the roots of suffering- therefore one can live peaceful, harmonious and happy. This ultimate truth it is as simple as the breath. This is the discovery of Buddha.

In the most difficult times during the practice, doubt would arise in my mind about the teacher, about the technique, about my own capacity to do it; in those moments all I wanted to do was to pack my stuff and get out of there! Staying was the one good decision I made, at the end of the day everyday Goenka gives a Dhamma talk with the only purpose of explaining the technique and giving some light to the happenings of that specific day. To me that moment was magic, since Goenka would describe exactly what I had gone through during that day sitting as if it had been him the one going through it, and this was enough for me to recover my determination to stay. If I could give you any advice at all, I would give you the same advice I received from my own guru: when things get difficult for you, DON”T LEAVE. Stay until you are finished. Otherwise you will miss all that happiness, harmony and peace and will create more difficulties for yourself.

May all beings be happy, may all beings enjoy real peace, real harmony, and real happiness.

Be Happy,
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