On a beautiful day, alone in the midst of one of the busiest streets in New Delhi, Pahar Ganj, I roamed frantically in search of meeting someone new, someone entirely different from me, or perhaps someone who would have enough tolerance to answer all my questions. I went to a coffee shop, and there
was a polite English man sitting alone. He was lean, like most of the westerners in the street who were intoxicated either by drugs or spirituality. Since all other tables were occupied I chose to accompany him.
|Jim, who introduced me to Vipassana|
As we initiated the talk, we directly jumped into the topic of the purpose of life and all those philosophical matters of discourse that we generally shrug off unless we are in some self destructive mood. He is a psychologist by profession (though initially I felt that he must be a pauper seeking a royal rescue in these relatively cheap Indian streets). As we continued to talk I could feel the compassion hiding inside his ascetic life. It was hard for me to learn that he had a disturbed life a few years ago, and was having a terrible time because of some sort of addiction.
I was curious to know how hi life transformed from a disturbed individual to a compassionate and selfless person. I came to know that, he was influenced by an ancient Buddhist meditation technique known as Vipassana, which made him realize the 'truth' and eventually he got out from all worldly addictions. I thought, "one lucky Indian spiritual guru would be rejoicing for getting a new client".
To confirm if Vipassana is a kind of practice that has the essence from Buddha (which I learnt from F.L. Woodward's book, some sayings of the Buddha), I asked him whether there are idols in those ashram? Usually I ask this question while screening an ideology. Perhaps I use such a screening methodology because of my Muslim upbringing, but at the same time I feel it is not a character of an elite in religious ideology to fall for the sentiments of idol worship. He said that not a single idol is found in the Ashram (which was in fact true from my observation in the ashram later). That was a surprise for me, because I have been to a few Tibetan Buddhist temples where statues of Buddha are given all the prominence even though it is totally against Buddha's teaching of reality, truth and impermanence. Our conversation lasted for hours, in fact he even dropped me to the railway station while I left New Delhi.
|An Ancient Buddhist Site in Nagarjuna Sagar|
It was a seed of Vipassana laid in my heart, and since then I couldn't resist nourishing that seed from growing any further. Finally I went to the ten days course in Nagrarjuna Sagar. I had to live the life of a Buddhist monk over there, which means - no phone, no books, noble silence (that is, shouldn't talk with anyone for ten days!), eat food only through alms (the entire course was free of cost including food and accommodation), simple dress (it didn't affect me much, no Buddhist robes), and above all meditation from morning 5 am to night 9 pm with one or two hours break for breakfast and lunch (no dinner).
Well, what was it like? You may find a lot of information on Vipassana in a lot of websites. But here I attempt to write a critical analysis of the entire program. And that is why I chose to write after almost two months from attending the course, so that I will be free from any mental bias towards the technique.
Vipassana is a meditation intended to observe the reality and to understand the truth. And what is truth? In Vipassana first we are trained to observe our breath carefully. This exercise is meant to focus our mind entirely on one thing, without any disturbance. This exercise lasted for three days (when I say three days, it means three entire days just concentrating on our breath!) I observed a very strange feeling on the second day, which intensified on the third day. I could feel air entering the nostrils in small quanta as we breathed slowly. It was like small packets of air coming in, just like our heart beats. I cannot find any scientific justification for such an observation. I tried to formulate many theories during the meditation (which I was not allowed to, because all what I was supposed to do was to observe breath in whichever form it was). I thought that, it could be due to pulses but the packets of breath was faster than pulses, also it did not have a fixed time period like a regular pulse. It is a very strange observation indeed. After the third day we were asked to observe the whole body, and slowly I started feeling some kind of mild vibration all over the body. The strange thing is that, I did not know in prior that someone who is meditating would feel such a vibration, so the feeling was not psychological. It was real by all means.
After ten days of course I was back to my normal life, and I seldom practiced Vipassana ever since. But sometimes that dismal feeling of Vipassana flows in my nerves for a while. And during such instances the thought which naturally comes to my mind is "are we mere atoms?"
Buddhism (according to Vipassana, though Vipassana shuns all -isms including Buddhism) is a peculiar religion in many ways. It is utterly materialistic yet spiritually superior to many religions. Believing in reality through realization of our senses, and then observing and feeling the reality closely and deeply. In doing so we start feeling those strange vibration, and eventually leading us to the quest known as truth. This quest is not through any beliefs, but just observations. Essentially there are no doctrines (though there are like Karma, reincarnation etc.) in Vipassana but it induces our brain to perform the keenest observation possible by humankind. Vipassana allows us to be in a world of a billionth of a second, to be in total darkness which is filled with so much of activity (vibrations) - atoms bouncing hither and thither, and to be in a perfect balanced mind where pain and pleasure are ignored in reality (one one side there is a severe pain from our long static sitting posture, and on the other side there is a pleasure experienced by the ever moving vibrations) - we are constantly advised to ignore both the pleasure and pain. There lies the wisdom, in reality, in the middle-path, and thus there lies the belief of Vipassana, and who knows what the truth is!