Within, there is trigger to stop suffering

By Vijay Badhwar

It was in 1996, probably, that I went for my first 10-day Vipassana meditation in Blackheath. I had heard about the life-changing meditation from my role model uncle (who died recently from COVID in Detroit).

May be it was his memory that drove me to register again for another 10-day course in March, although, in between, I had attended a three-day course and a similar duration sojourn as a volunteer.

From my reflections of the full course, I wouldn’t  have looked forward to torment myself again from the comfort of a leisurely retirement, to spend ten days in a dormitory full of people and the dread of going to outside toilets in the middle of night.

Then, I was a smoker – a chain smoker – that was forbidden completely. Also, enjoyed reading, that was denied. No exercise, no relief for aching legs. No watch to keep track of the stretched meditation sittings that would go on and on and on.

Then, three days was enough to reach my limit. Unable to communicate with family (or, for that matter, with anyone else around me), I had had enough. Wanted to run away, complain of bland food and lack of it. Shout. Scream!

Until the Assistant Teacher meditated for a few minutes with me. ”˜Annichcha’, he said, “Everything is temporary; this will pass,” I remember till this day.

I persevered till the course ended, packed my bags and rushed to the railway station. The petrol station was across the road to buy a packet of cigarettes. I was on the bridge over the railway tracks. I could wait, I thought, and took the train without the pack.

There was a change, I noticed, and many more to come. Slowly. It was a life-transforming experience.

The centre has developed a lot since. Now there are rooms with ensuite facilities and heated floors. While the fishpond outside the dining hall remains the same, the landscaping outside the meditation hall is a treat for the senses, riot of colours and exotic plants that decorate the rocks like jewellery.

The meditation hall is warm (not needing anymore clinging to wall heaters) and comfortable. What remains unchanged is Goenka ji’s guided meditation during the day and a video that lightens up the serious meditation.

During the course, I am with a friend, Bhav Dutt, and it feels awkward to look away from him – down or sideways – even when sitting next to him for breakfast and lunch. In the meditation hall, he sits in the chair ahead of me and motivates me to straighten up and concentrate when I slump in my seat.

In spite of the strict regime, the silent conversation goes on nevertheless: imagining from the slippers on the door if my neighbour, Omar, is in the room or meditating in the cell; marking people from the tracksuits they are wearing – what animal trademarks embellish their lapels or if the caps are tick-marked et cetera.

During meditation the mind wanders (one minute rule focusing hard on breath works to increase concentration) through the streets and people in the past, the ”˜sankharas’ they may have created, the books one has read, and sometimes the ”˜jihad’ that goes with rationality.

Comes to mind historian Yuval Noah Harari (who has dedicated his following book ”˜Deus’ to his Guru Goenka ji), the author of best-selling, Sapiens, who echoes the evening video talks by Goenka ji that ”˜there is momentary rush of sensations but these never last forever: annichcha.

”˜People are liberated from suffering when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings and stop craving them. Witness the ceaseless arising and passing of feelings and realise how pointless it is to pursue them.’

Another researcher, Dr Norman Swan, amazes at the alternative neural pathways once the default network of our past experiences is shut. It opens up a whole new kaleidoscope of colourful worlds never even dreamed of before as talked by our sages.

At the completion of ten days several participants openly cry and share their experiences as the welled up emotions suddenly burst open. There is a day-long opportunity to discover those you communicated with only silently.

I was somewhat emotive and temperamental when I had applied for the course. But, now, it all seems resolved. I won’t go to the extent of our PM Scott Morrison claiming divine intervention but may, perhaps, invoke resolution of sankharas to explain the inane.

(Now there is a new Vipassana Centre, Dhamma Pasada, at Lower Portland, Hawkesbury. It can accommodate 50 students and features 11 self-contained cottages, a comfortable hall surrounded by verandas, a main residence with four potential bedrooms, lounge and dining rooms, and a commercial kitchen. For more information: info@pasada.Dhamma.org) 

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