A man may conquer a million men in battle,~ Dhammapada, 10
but one who conquers himself is indeed,
the greatest victor.
To the northern fringe of the Kathmandu valley, lies Nepal's 9th National Park, the Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park. It is a sprawling, lush green well preserved park, the source of two holy rivers The Bagmati and The Bishnumati that run through the valley. It is home to 177 species of birds and numbers of rare orchids. Next to the main entrance of this National Park is the well-maintained Vipassana Meditation Centre where I was going to reside for 12 days of Vipassana – An Insight Into Silent Meditation, being totally disconnected from the world in noble silence. In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, it was just the right choice to get away from the social media noise and the city crowd. Living in complete quietness and solitude, I developed a new sense of lucid awareness. During the course, I dismantled my brain piece by piece and rewired it back again. Vipassana means to observe things as they really are in their natural and their true characteristics of impermanence. It is the process of self-purification by self-observation and one of Buddhist meditation forms originally taught by Gautama Buddha before 2500 years. A tranquility meditation for the purpose of quieting the mind, a preliminary technique for the awakening mode of Buddha.
The original meaning of Dharma (Sanskrit) or Dhamma (Pāli) is "the law of nature" or the truth. The whole idea of Vipassana Meditation (Insight Meditation) is to learn how to live a life with full of peace and harmony following true Dharma.
The meditation center is tucked away across 4 acres of jagged sloping land. Green trees, plants, and many varieties of flowers fill the garden of the center with small resting places. The entire setting of this spiritual tranquility makes one feel at home. However, I was not aware that this residential retreat would be so lengthy and rigorous. The first day began with the introduction of several meditation halls, residential quarters, isolated meditation cells, kitchen, an administrative block, housing for teachers and so forth. I was escorted to a designated seat(mattress) where I would be sitting for a total of 45 hrs. in deep meditation. After the first day of discourse at 8pm, the monastic life in a noble silence started. Men & Women are segregated in groups with the separate compounds. You have to share the room with a fellow meditator, who are people from every walk of life executive, artists, housemakers, rich & poor. You may participate free of charge, but contributions are encouraged. These Vipassana centers are maintained by donations from those who have completed the course. The fine introduction of this course is to teach you the basic fundamentals and techniques of Vipassana Meditation so you can apply it in your life.
The Course Time Table
4:30 - 6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30 - 8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00 - 9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00 - 11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher's instructions
11:00 - 12:00 noon Lunch break
12 noon - 1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00 - 2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30 - 3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30 - 5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher's instructions
5:00 - 6:00 pm Tea break
6:00 - 7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00 - 8:15 pm Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15 - 9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00 - 9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room - Lights out
Every morning at 4am, a man hits the gong (Bell Rings) and the sound vibrates in multiple modes through the buildings and into the Shivapuri forest. Time to get up and drag yourself to the shower. In 20min. another bell would ring, you have plenty of time to roll out of bed and adjust yourself. I would bring the hot bottle from and serve myself green tea before silent walk to the meditation hall at 4:30am. I am not a morning person. I am a night owl. Honestly, I did not like idea and felt a rush of anger in me. I even thought that I would take the gong out and hide it somewhere. After the first two hours of meditation, free yourself to consume a simple vegetarian meal for breakfast. Back to meditation again and again then supper around 5pm and again meditation. Finally, a discourse time where you can sit peacefully and enjoy one and half hour - long theory about Dharma, stories, and meditative experiences by S.N. Goenka. He kept insisting to get the best result of your stay here you have to work very hard diligently, ardently, patiently but persistently continuously as it is your own hard work which would give the best fruit of your stay. These discourses are not intellectual entertainment but to clarify the techniques what is it how you to work. The teachings and the schedule have been structured systematically to get the very most. A quick meditation before bed at 9pm. Remember you are in silent mode.
This 12 Days Vipassana Meditation Course has three phases
The Vipassana training involves avoiding unwholesome action, achieving control over the mind in the service of wholesome actions, applying the mind through the wisdom of insight. The shared idea and aspiration is to become a better human being.
1. Anapana or Anapanasati – Mindfulness of Breath
Making An Analytical Study of Mind and Matter
Good to have mastery of speech,
good to have physical mastery,
but one who is master of his mind
is a warrior of real courage.
Anapanasati is an initial part of Vipassana meditation. It is a meditation in which one obtains mastery over one’s unruly mind through objective observation of natural and normal breath. In Pali literature, it is known as "Anapanasati", which means awareness of one’s own respiration. This practice of Anapanasati meditation helps sharpen the mind and induces peace of mind to the participants for the next step of vipassana meditation. First few days to practice an ānāpānasati (mindfulness of breath) which help develop alert and attentive mind while still holding your body and witness the microscopic details of the three-dimensional landscape of sensations (vedanā). Because Respiration is the truth which is directly connected with mind and matter. Starting with respiration which is the proper point to begin the journey, you observe the reality within yourself and go to a deeper level of mind and matter. Learn how to keep the mind calm and equanimous keeping the attention in the area below the nostrils and above the upper lip.
From the beginning, I was instructed to sit still and silent. I had no choice but to practice I observed my breath coming in and going out through my nostrils. Remain aware of the entire length of an incoming breath, the entire length of outgoing breath from the beginning to the end. You have nothing else to do but breath, observe the breath. By doing so I reached the point where I understood how mind & matter are interrelated and influenced. It is so obvious that the nature of the breath is strongly connected to your mind. While observing my breath, my mind took me to a journey of thoughts either into the past or future and I somehow started reacting them. Those past memories were so vivid, stark, and subtler. The breath slowly became abnormal – little heavier and sometimes little faster. The mind went wild to a greater degree, took me to a different realm of thoughts equally illusioned, delusions, mad and lost in ignorance. Those random thoughts never stayed there for a long like Buddha said everything is temporary; emotions, thoughts, people, and scenery. Do not become attached, just flow with it. The goal of this whole process of this mind game is to develop a technique to purify the mind which is filled with ignorance, craving, and aversion, free it from misery, and eradicate the negativities within and liberate yourself to enjoy real peace, harmony happiness.
“Deeper the craving, deeper is the aversion, deeper the aversion, deeper is the affliction.”
2. Vipassana (Insight Meditation)
Living the Life of Morality And Developing Mastery Over the Mind & Matter.
The true Ganges, are Jamuna and Sarasvati, Samadhi and Panna. When this converse, it manifests nibbana.
The basic fundamental message presented in this Vipassana course was that our mind consists of four major segments: Consciousness (Pali: viññāṇa), Perception (Pali: sañña), Sensation (Pali: Vedanā) and reaction (Pali: Saṅkhāra). When the senses (sense: touch, sight, hearing, smell & taste) receive an input, the four mental processes trigger and sensations arise on the body felt by the mind as pleasant or unpleasant and neutral. The Buddha has given foremost importance to the sensation of the ultimate truth. If one is sharply aware of every nature of sensations and remains with an equanimous mind without reacting, despite severe pain can lead to the cessation of sensation and there is no more suffering. By understanding how the entire phenomenon works, you can trace the ultimate source of suffering. It is not an easy but rigorous workout to break our mental habit pattern.
“Strive ardently, oh man, and burn. Purity comes from burning away the dross. Gold must pass through a crucible in order to be re-defined.”
While practicing Vipassana S.N. Goenka clearly instructed to scan your body thoroughly starting from head to toe or vice-a-versa and observe, feel and understand the true nature of physical sensations through each and every part of the body with minds. It could be heat, maybe pulsing, vibrating, tingling, heaviness, numbness, or something happening even in the small area. Just observe it with a great sense of calmness maintaining perfect equanimity with the mere understanding of the law of impermanence (Anicca). It is harmful to neglect some parts of the body that might be in subtler nature and your mind is not aware of it consciously, keep your attention for a minute and move on without craving for a sensation or aversion at blindness. Every sensation comes with the same characteristics arising and passing away. No sensation is eternal. Equanimity must be strongly practiced to achieve the goal.
Rolling and rolling in sense pleasures we keep tying knots. Observing, Observing, Observing. We open all the knots. By practicing vipassana you stop tying new knots untying old ones on its own.
The Strong Determination Sitting (adhiṭṭhāna)
From the fourth day to the 10th day of the vipassana course, there of the one hours meditation sessions each day focused on developing adhitthana, strong-determination in pali text. There are every session during the course every day where you practice strong sitting.
In my first attempt, I could only sit for 45 minutes without moving. The next day, I pushed myself to the limit. Slowly as I extended minutes, pain in my right knee and leg reached to its crescendo. I hold my breath and I remembered a dialogue between Dotte and her coach, Jimmy (Tom Hank) in the movie “League of their own” where he says It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. This pain indeed triggered my existing pain in my upper back. When you practice, the pains get dissolved soon after you stop and straighten your legs. Once you try this strong sitting, it’s a great practice. It is recommended three times a day but I could only do it 2 times a day.
3. Metta – The practice of universal love
Metta (in Pali) connotes love, kindness or friendliness, fellowship, amity, concord, and non-violence. It is an altruistic attitude, a strong wish for the well-being and happiness of others. It is a meditation for universal, unselfish, and all-embracing love. We were instructed to practice Metta a few minutes after we finish the first two phases of Vipassana meditation as we keep cultivating pure mind on the path. Fill your mind and body with thoughts of Loving-kindness to live a life of joyful harmony with all sentient beings.
The mind is the center of what we are. Learning breath awareness helped me investigate the entire mind-body process. I am now a different version of myself and the course led me to a graceful entry into a state of awareness, profound insights and spiritual awakening.
May all beings be from hostility, free from affliction, free from distress; may they live in peace and harmony.
Benefits of Vipassana Meditations
- Vipassana Meditations (Insight Meditation)- It is all about equanimity, Discipline and hard work. Different from mindfulness meditation but focuses on awareness. It involves long body scans in a specific order.
- Breathing with its natural companion provides a varieties of health benefits, including elicitation of the relaxation response.
- Daily Vipassana Meditation helps make us happier, less stressed, more focused and effective and more awake.
- Vipassana teaches the art of dying gracefully. If you learn how to die, you learn how to live.
- Vedanā (Pāli and Sanskrit: वेदना) – Meeting ground, the crossroad where mind and body react, and where our true nature is relvealed in a vivid, tangble way.
- Suñña (Perception) - emptiness, voidness,
- Prajñā (Sanskrit) or paññā (Pāli) – knowledge endowed with virtue
- Anicca (Pali: “impermanence”) - All physical and mental events are not metaphysically real, that they are not constant or permanent, they come into being and dissolve.