For many years, I allowed the chaos of my mind to define me. Fleeting desire and fleeting thought grappled with each other to name the terms of my being, and I let them run rampant.
It formed a system that seemingly worked, and I half-admired it, secretly, and perhaps inadvertently, appreciating the chaos of the randomness of my mind.
But I was never content, and my rational mind knew that something was amiss. I realized what was missing when I took a ten-day Vipassana course during a period when I was particularly adrift.
Vipassana is a technique of meditation which is quite popular in India; its roots tracing back to the the Buddha. For the purpose of this article, I will deal with the strain of the technique taught by S.N. Goenka and his disciples.
Put simply, it puts meditators through a regime of silence and ascetic living, enjoining one to carefully observe and experience the process of respiration. It is usually taught in tenday courses where the student must undertake a vow of silence for ten days while following the principles of Sila, according to which, one must abstain from stealing, lying, killing and sexual activity. One may not bring any form of entertainment for this period, be it technology, books, paper or pen.
The ten days of silence take their toll on many, but they are key to maintaining a purity of thought. The spoken word often fails to do justice to the self, and withdrawing from it completely leaves one at the mercy of one’s own mind. We, who are so accustomed to blurt out any thoughts that creep into our minds, find it enormously challenging to put our tongues on a leash, and realize thus, the wild animals our impulses can be. Once tamed, the mind withdraws, and one is left to seek out whatever else that remains. The remainder is the message.
My review of Vipassana is that it provides a truthful platform for one to analyse the strengths of one’s beliefs, of one’s character. It is in the gaps between thoughts and actions that we discover who we inherently are. Moreover, ten days of break from cell phones and social media is (surprisingly) absolutely delightful; a rediscovery of the real world.
In case I have driven you to think that Vipassana is only a thing of the out-worldly, with no connection to our immediate surroundings, here’s a fascinating little fact! Both Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi share immense respect for this technique. Bedi famously started Vipassana programmes in Tihar Jail in 1995 for over a thousand inmates. The results were highly encouraging, with inmates being immediately and profoundly affected. A documentary was made on the experiment, Doing Time, Doing Vipassana, by two Israeli filmmakers, Ayelet Menahemi and Eilona Ariel. Soon, the technique was put to use in prisons around the world, with notable success as a method of rehabilitation.
Arvind Kejriwal, too is known to undertake Vipassana courses following periods of hectic activity in his life. He went for one session on a polling day for the Delhi Assembly in 2014 and returned to find his party heading to victory. He went again for a 7-day session in Pune after his party’s Lok Sabha campaigning for 2015 was over.
“After retiring from politics, I would like to devote my life to Vipassana”, says Arvind Kejriwal.
There is a tendency among old Vipassana students to expound on its values to anyone who would care to listen. As a meditation technique, it seems so refreshingly separated from any acts of blind faith. There is no religion attached, and it simply serves to test one’s sense of conviction, and consequently attain self-realisation.
But as with all techniques, be they spiritual, physical or both, they need to be experienced in order to be understood, and I have left a lot unsaid. As the course is free and potentially life-changing, I would broadly recommend it for everybody. It is worth taking ten days out of your hectic life, so you may intensely experience the rest of it.
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